Saturday, July 9, 2011

Divine Profetil, Author and Private History Writer: The Life, Work and Murder of Benny Evangelist and His Family

The brutal mass murders of Benny Evangelist and his family on July 3, 1929 were the culmination of a bloody decade in Detroit which saw gangland, political and so-called voodoo killings on the rise. The brutality seen in the Evangelist slayings was particularly grievous though as the self-styled prophet was decapitated, his wife nearly beheaded while holding the couple's 18 month old son who was hacked and bludgeoned to death along with the family's three other children, all under the age of 8 years old.

Although the killer was never caught the motives and suspects were numerous. Evangelist was a practicing "mystical healer" who received as much as $10 per "reading" as he used various methods of religion and black magic to spiritually heal both the mentally and physically affected.

Police followed leads that the murders were possibly financially motivated as Evangelist had accumulated modest wealth both as a carpenter/builder and a soothsayer and engaged in a business deal the day before. He was later found by a real estate agent who had come to collect the mortgage payment on a newly purchased farm only to find the gruesome carnage.

Just as well Evangelista had enemies in the mystical field with one convict claiming he had killed the family in revenge for the prophet bilking him of his life savings. Another supposition was that it was simply a cult slaying as other such crimes had permeated the area of immigrants and southern transplants during the city's transition into an industrial Goliath.

In addition to Evangelist's practice as a spiritual healer he also managed to write one book of a planned voluminous four set Bible entitled "The Oldest History of the World" which can be read here in pdf form. The book is a pastiche of religious fanaticism with moments of clarity, delusion and illiterate beauty. Having been an immigrant partially versed in the English language the language is ofttimes clunky and the poetry stilted but the message is clear: though an apprentice in the field Benny Evanglest was a mystic nonetheless.

There are also several newspaper columns from the Detroit News and Detroit Free Press included in the text along with a biographical introduction by the editor of the work which sheds much insight into both his life and death.

As for the newspaper articles below: there are many factual errors in the earliest reports including Benny's name being wrongly cast as Paul and one of his young sons being mis-named as a girl called Margaret, not to mention varying accounts of the states of the bodies from article to article.


Kentucky New Era - Jul 5, 1929


Axe Used To Kill Parents And Kiddies; The Border Cities Star, July 3, 1929

Bodies Are Found At Home In Detroit; The Evening Independent, July 3, 1929

Bodies Found In Their Beds By Neighbor; The Pittsburgh Press, July 3, 1929

Dead, Nude Bodies Found By Neighbors; The Washington Reporter, July 3, 1929

Family Of Six Is Found Slain; The Prescott Evening Courier, July 3, 1929

Husband And Wife, 4 Children Slain By Detroit Fiend; The Owosso Argus-Press, July 3, 1929

Six Found Killed In Home At Detroit; The Berkeley Daily Gazette, July 3, 1929

Six Of Family Are Hacked To Death In Beds; The Washington Reporter, July 3, 1929

Arrest In Cult Murder; The Evening Independent, July 4, 1929

Arrest One For Detroit Murders; The Telegraph-Herald and Times-Journal, July 4, 1929

Detroit Police Hunt Ax Fiend; The Toledo News-Bee, July 4, 1929

'Healer' And Family Of 5 Slain With Ax; The Milwaukee Sentinel, July 4, 1929

Hunt Maniac As Killer Of Six Persons; The St. Joseph Gazette, July 4, 1929

Murder Of Six Brings Arrest Of Detroit Man; The Miami News, July 4, 1929

Police Plan Reward For Fiend Arrest Pt. 2; The Border Cities Star, July 4, 1929

Man Held In Slaughter Detroit Family; The Spartnaburg Herald-Journal, July 5, 1929

Parents And Four Children Hacked To Death; The Grape Belt, July 5, 1929

Religious Cult Head, Wife And 4 Children Slain; The Meriden Daily Journal, July 5, 1929

Six Victim Of Detroit Ax Murderer; The Kentucky New Era, July 5, 1929

Funeral Of Six Murder Victims Attracts 3,000; Reading Eagle; July 6, 1929

Killing Of Six Thought To Be 'Hex' Murders; The Sarasota Herald-Tribune, July 6, 1929

Link Evangelista Slaying With York Hex Murders; The Lewiston Daily Sun, July 6, 1929

Bodies Of Six Are Buried In Single Grave; The Pittsburgh Press, July 7, 1929

Crowds Watch Funeral Of Detroit Family; The Telegraph-Herald and Times-Journal, July 7, 1929

New Clue In Search For Ax Killer Of Family; The Rochester Evening Journal, July 8, 1929

Hunt For Slayer Narrows Down To Detroit Section; The Washington Reporter, July 9, 1929

Slayer Of Cult Leader Sought In North Detroit; The Telegraph-Herald and Times-Journal, July 9, 1929

Given Clue To Family Killing; The Daily Times; July 11, 1929

Mafia Is Blamed; The Pittsburgh Press, July 11, 1929

Follow Clue In Case Of Family's Murder; The Newburgh News, July 12, 1929

Probe Detroit Murders Is Shifted To Lansing; The Ludington Daily News, July 15, 1929

Robbery Seen In Ax Deaths; The Border Cities Star, July 31, 1929

Exposing The 'Evil Eye' In Civilized America; The Spokesman-Review, August 2, 1929

Border Man Says He Killed Leader Of Fanatic Cult; The Border Cities Star, August 20, 1929

Border Man Says He Killed Leader Of Fanatic Cult Part 2; The Border Cities Star,August 20, 1929

Italian Held For Crime; The Montreal Gazette, August 21, 1929


Murder Of Six Seen By Wandering Dog; The Owosso Argus-Press, March 13, 1930

Seek To Link Maniac To Ax Killing Case; The Pittsburgh Press, July 2, 1930

Suspected Axe Murderer Held At Richmond; The Warsaw Union, July 23, 1930


Suspect Rearrested In Mystic Massacre; The Toledo News-Bee, March 23, 1932

Cult King Is Slayer; The Border Cities Star, November 21, 1932

Negro Confesses Killing Another In Cult Sacrifce; The Sarasota Herald-Tribune, November 21, 1932

Tells Of Killing Negro On Altar; The Spokesman-Review, November 21, 1932



Shots Greet Black Hand Ring Chiefs; The Border Cities Star, February 20, 1926

Gets Police Guard; The Border Cities Star, February 25, 1926


2 Children And Mother Killed; The Prescott Evening Courier, June 17, 1929

Axe Murderer Slays Three In One Family; The Nevada Daily Mail, June 18, 1929

Hammer Slayer Wipes Out Family At River Rouge; The Ludington Daily News, June 18, 1929

Maniac Kills Woman And Her 3 Daughter; The Schnectady Gazette, June 18, 1929

Three Found Dead In Hammer Murder; The Sarasota Herald-Tribune, June 18, 1929

No Clues In Axe Slaying; The Border Cities Star, June 19, 1929

Mystery Killing; The Sunday Morning Star, June 23, 1929

Declare Wood Plot Was Not Regarded As Serious Matter; The Owosso Argus-Press, September 13, 1929


Detroit's Grand Jury Probe; The Owosso Argus-Press, December 1, 1930


Check Clues In Windsor's Murder Wave; The Windsor Daily Star, August 21, 1945 Pt. 1

Check Clues In Windsor's Murder Wave; The Windsor Daily Star, August 21, 1945 Pt. 2

63-Year-Old Man Sought As Killer; The Windsor Daily Star, August 25, 1945

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