1926 : House of David Cult Leader Arrested in Benton Harbor

November 16, 2020 all-day
Image result for Picture of Mary and Benjamin Purnell

Picture of Mary and Benjamin Purnell

State police broke into the House of David at Benton Harbor to arrest its religious leader, King Benjamin Purnell.

Long a nuisance to law enforcement officials in southwest Michigan, a decision to raid the Israelites’ House of David was made when a former member came forward and stated that the group’s leader, Benjamin Purnell, had had sexual relations with minor girls living at the compound. In 1927, Purnell faced trial for defrauding his followers, having sexual relations with women and girls as a religious rite, teaching perjury to protect himself, and teaching his followers to obstruct justice by hiding him. He was found guilty of teaching and practicing perjury and ordered to exile himself from the community. Purnell died on December 16, 1927.

For more information about Benjamin Purnell and the House of David, see Brother Benjamin: A History of the Israelite House of David by Clare F. Adkin. Available via MeL.

“Michigan Historical Calendar”, courtesy of the Clarke Historical Library at Central Michigan University.

John Carlisle, “Benton Harbor remembers cult destroyed by sex scandal“, Detroit Free Press, November 14, 2016

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