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Erik Visits an American Grave, Part 1,107

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This is the grave of Susan Alamo.

OK, well, sometimes when doing this series, you focus on people who do a lot of evil. That is Susan Alamo. Tony Alamo too, but for some reason I deleted the picture of his grave. Well, he’s there a bit below her.

Born Edith Opal Horn in 1925 in Alma, Arkansas, Horn grew up Jewish. This must have been fascinating, as there couldn’t have been a lot of Jews in small-town Arkansas. In any case, let’s just say that the evangelicalism that surrounded her, uh, made an impact. She married and divorced twice and had a daughter. Then she moved to Hollywood. She wanted to become an actress. That didn’t work. Then she became an evangelist, but one with a special call–going to preexisting churches, calling herself a missionary in need of support, and then scamming the money for herself. This was Cold War America and it was a fertile period for right-wing evangelism. She was all-in on the fire and brimstone and the grift. Never forget the grift. In the mid-60s, she met a guy named Bernie Hoffman. He was a Jewish convert to evangelicalism originally from Joplin, Missouri, nine years younger than Susan. He was a pop singer who also owned some minor music labels. They fell in love over evangelical Christianity and all the hate that meant and mostly all the opportunity to get rich.

In 1966, both Horn and Hoffman divorced and then they married each other. They changed their name. He became Tony Alamo (what a ridiculous name) and she became Susan Alamo. They started their own ministry in 1969. The Alamo Christian Foundation was based in Hollywood. This was the worst form of evangelicalism. It was a pure cult around the two figures of Susan and Tony Alamo. They went after young people, and there were lots of lost kids in early 70s Hollywood searching for anything. They were under the complete control of the Alamos and did a lot of street work directly confronting people and trying to get them to church. This formed the basis of their “ministry.”

In 1976, the Alamos left the moral cesspool of Hollywood and moved to Good America, i.e., Dyer, Arkansas, Susan’s home town. There, the church grew and sought all kinds of ways to make money. Some of this was pretty standard Bible-pushing stuff, such as printing tracts and starting churches in hip places, including Chicago and Miami Beach, the type of towns that would bring in people with money. They had their own TV evangelist show too. But some of the fundraising was pretty unique. Susan Alamo also had experience as a clothing designer. She took jackets and fancified them up with all sorts of additions that made them colorful. Yes, it is a Susan Alamo jacket that Michael Jackson wore on the cover of Bad. Given this kind of design, the Alamos also opened a big country music clothing store in Nashville, where gaudiness was the order of the day. So yeah, they got super rich.

Their positions were taking the worst parts of evangelicalism and make them even worse. They ranted and raved against everything. They despised queer people. They hated Catholics (making all those old things new!). This included believing the Vatican was the real power behind the White House. They believed that the King James Bible was the only legitimate version. I’ve run into that one before with evangelicals and it is among the most nonsensical parts of their belief system, as if God and Baby Jesus himself were speaking through early 17th century English dudes? Drugs, birth control, abortion? All sin. What wasn’t sin? Turning all your assets over to the Alamos with the claim that they would take care of you. Yeah, OK. Let’s just say that a group devoted to the scam wasn’t real concerned with labor law. In 1976, the federal government started coming after them for not paying their workers. One wouldn’t always expect the beginning of the end for a religious cult to be violating the Fair Labor Standards Act but it got so bad that even their own converts began finding ways to get paid by going to the government.

in 1982, Susan died of breast cancer. She was 56 years old. If anything, she was even more controversial in death than in life because Tony claimed she would return from the dead. She was embalmed and then kept on display for the public to see for six months while Tony tried to bring her back. Ugh. It got worse. Alamo’s daughter had nothing to do with her after Susan turned into an evangelical lunatic and she blamed Tony for it all. She had to bring suit against Tony for stealing the body from its rightful place in a grave. Finally, her stepfather obtained a court order forcing Tony to return it so it could be interned.

At the same time that Susan died, all the fraud and abuse was starting to come down. You may not be surprised that these grifters were engaging in massive tax fraud. The IRS came a-callin. For the next 17 years, Tony tried to fight this, but the courts consistently ruled against him since the church was just a personal income front for them. He was in prison from 1990 to 1998 on tax fraud. There were reports of serious child abuse and an FBI raid confirmed that. When he got out of prison, he went straight back to he grift. In 2009, Tony Alamo’s penchant for young girls finally cost him. He was convicted on ten counts of transporting underage girls across state lines for the purpose of sex. Some of this was beyond creepy. He married a girl from Sweden who had converted and then forced her to get plastic surgery so she would look like a young version of Susan. He died in prison in 2017.

Susan and Tony Alamo are buried in Memorial Park Cemetery, Tulsa, Oklahoma. This is a crazy story in itself. The fight over Susan’s body led to her being buried in a few places before her family finally got her in this mausoleum. Now, they did not want Tony buried with her, which is why he is not. But it’s a newish facility, there’s a lot of space, and so he just bought one nearby.

If you would like this series to visit other American cult leaders, you can donate to cover the required expenses here. David Koresh is in Tyler, Texas and Ervil LeBaron is in Houston. Previous posts in this series are archived here.

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