7 virgins AP Associated Press Beyond 90 Seconds breaking news Child Protective Services churches Clayton CPS crimes against children cults fast fasting Grand Jury Las Cruces Sun-News law enforcement Michael Travesser New Mexico News polygamy religeon seven virgins Strong City The Lord Our Righteousness Church true crime Union County video virgin virgins Wayne Bent Willow youtube

Bent’s Web site, “New Mexico returns Willow”

Update (July 17): This is a second version of the Strong City video concerning Willow’s return home.  It runs 3:35, just over a minute longer than the earlier version:

Update (June 18): The following video of Willow’s return to the Strong City church property in northeastern New Mexico was posted on youtube today (runs 2:42):

Update: Associated Press updates its story with a correction.
Update: LOR’s Web site has posted video of child’s return to Strong City.
Update: Here is a link to an Associated Press article published in The Las Cruces Sun-News.

(June 17, 10:41am PST) From the Web site of The Lord Our Righteousness church leader Wayne Bent:

At 10:32 A.M. today, Tuesday June 17th, the case for Willow Dawn Travesser was dismissed by the State of New Mexico, and Willow was released out of State custody back to her parents. She is on her way home now, and will come to Strong City for a meal with the family. My fast will end today when I see her face.

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Prudence Welch’s mother responds to controversial remarks

One day after posting my video interview with former LOR church member Prudence Welch, I have received an e-mail from Welch’s mother.

The e-mail comes from “Amana Travesser.” She identifies herself as the mother of Prudence Welch and concludes her message, “Sincerely, Amana (Louise Cline)”

Welch’s mother lives at the Strong City church property in northeastern New Mexico and a is a member of The Lord Our Righteousness Church.

Her e-mail includes links to two videos (Part 1 & Part 2) posted on youtube May 4.

The videos were posted on youtube by a fellow church member.

In these videos, Welch’s mother addresses controversial remarks made during Welch’s recent interview with Shepard Smith of FOX News. More directly, comments suggesting that LOR leader Wayne Bent (aka Michael Travesser) convinced Welch’s mother to forgo medical treatment for breast cancer.

The fellow church member who posted the May 4 videos writes on youtube:

On Shepard Smith’s interview with Prudence Welch he said he looked forward to hearing more about her mother. Well Sir here she is in person.

I think this controversy is best explained by the people involved, and in chronological order.

We’ll begin with the Shepard Smith interview, followed by the two videos on youtube featuring Welch’s mother.

We’ll conclude with a link to my interview with Prudence Welch conducted yesterday. In it, Welch goes into greater detail about her mother’s health and Wayne Bent than time afforded her in the FOX News interview.

My interview with Prudence Welch may take a minute to load.

Other versions of this interview: QuickTime, iPod (video)/m4v, mp3.

Beyond90Seconds: Where I report and you really do get to decide…

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Child Protective Services churches CPS cults Idaho law enforcement Michael Travesser New Mexico News Prudence Welch religeon Safford Sandpoint Strong City television The Lord Our Righteousness Church Union County video Wayne Bent

British documentary might have triggered New Mexico church’s battle with State


Prudence Welch VIDEO interview about Wayne Bent’s arrest and much more (May 6)

Breaking News: Wayne Bent arrested (May 6)

Wayne Bent (aka Michael Travesser) responds to this story in “comments” section (May 2)


Let me say it right from the start. This post will be “video driven.” Videos that are well worth considering if you want to learn more about the story unfolding in the rolling hills of pinon and juniper cradled within the northeastern corner New Mexico. Not far from the Colorado border to the north. And even closer to Texas, a few miles to the east.

It is this quiet space where Wayne Bent’s church says biblical prophesies have been realized, with more to come to affect us all.

They call the place Strong City. But there’s nothing that looks like a city for miles around. The reference to “Strong City” appears to be strictly biblical. You’ll find it mentioned in a bible verse a bit later in this post.

In addition to video, you will also find some additional research here, to include documents.

But let’s start with a documentary. THAT documentary. The one that first appeared on British television’s Channel 4. It might just be the catalyst behind the State of New Mexico’s decision to remove three teenagers from the Union County church property.

I suspect that investigators might even consider the documentary to be their “smoking gun.”

You can watch that video just below. But, hey, don’t click on it just yet. In fairness, I’m also presenting a video produced by The Lord Our Righteousness Church. In its video, the church claims the British film crew it welcomed onto its property last year produced a story that is both sensationalized and guilty of presenting statements grossly out of context.

Consider the following three paragraphs taken from church member Shecanaiah Travesser’s blog:

Last year we opened up our homes and our hearts to a film crew from Firefly Film and Television Productions Ltd in London who spent several weeks with us interviewing and filming our lives here in Strong City. They stayed in a motel in the nearest town forty miles away, but each day they sat at our lunch tables as friends.

From the material they gathered while they were here they produced two documentaries, the first one titled, “End of the World Cult”, that was broadcast on Channel 4 in the UK on December 12, 2007. It was a sensationalized film filled with lies and distortions of the truth of what has actually occurred here in Strong City.

The second one, a remake which they titled “Inside A Cult”, was geared to capture the interest of the American viewing audience. It broadcast on the National Geographic Channel (NGC) in the United States on April 23, with an encore scheduled for May 7.

Note the dates. New Mexico State Police and representatives from the state’s Children Youth and Families Department first removed one child, a 16-year-old girl, April 22, 2008. Just one day before the documentary—according to Shecanaiah Travesser’s blog—aired on national television.

Authorities soon returned to remove a 13-year-old girl and a 16-year-old boy from the church grounds.

Such a story isn’t exactly good PR for any state largely standing on it tourism legs. And no governor likes to be embarrassed. Governor Bill Richardson–very much in the limelight these days–wouldn’t seem to relish the feared potential of what news headlines have already called the “doomsday cult.”

Okay, let’s cue up the videos. You’ll notice that they’re not brief. Here’s a look at the documentary End of the World Cult:

As mentioned above, members of church were far from pleased with the British doc. They say they’ve been betrayed, solidifying–it seems–a position now stated on the church’s Web site stating that the media are part and parcel of “the Beast.” On her myspace site, church member Danielle, 21, provides a “sequel” to the British film. Her offering is titled, The End of the World Cult II. On myspace, Danielle writes:

This little movie shows the contrast between the false picture that Ben presented the world with and the true picture of how things actually are here in our little group. Things are far different than Ben showed the world.

Danielle has been busy posting several videos on myspace. Above a video titled, Love’s Cost, Danielle writes:

I made this little movie for my precious Messiah Husband. This movie came out of my heart feeling Michael’s heart of pure love and the great sacrifice that He has given for us.

On its Web site, the church at Strong City has also posted a 113-minute video detailing its position on the spiritual role of “Michael” (Wayne Bent) during the final days of the world as we know it. You can watch that video, titled, Experiencing the Finished Work by Strong City, here: By now, assuming you’ve watched the British doc and the other videos (or parts of them), you may have picked-up on a “Heaven’s Gate” vibe.

On its Web site just last week, the group itself posed the question, Is Strong City a suicide cult? It’s a question that’s actually the title of—you guessed it—yet another video:

Enough video for now. More later.

Right now, let’s talk about documents, history…background.

While published reports say the legal name of the church’s leader is Wayne C. Bent, court records indicate that some in his flock have legally changed their names, taking on the surname “Travesser.”

For example, in December 2004, a girl younger than 14, legally changed her name from Julia Irene Thompson to Willow Dawn Travesser. Court records in Union County indicate that her father, Jonathan Thompson, consented to the name change. The actual petitioner is the child’s mother, Anaiah Michal Travesser.

Divorce records also reveal the name “Travesser” in two separate cases. In each case, the wife petitioned for the divorce and had already assumed her new surname.

In July 2004, Mesha Travesser divorced Patrick B. McCullough in Union County.

And in December 2005, Shecanaiah M. Travesser divorced William L. Carpenter Jr. in Union County, too.

It’s not difficult to find information about how Bent and his followers found their way to New Mexico. The church’s Web site and its members’ blogs provide accounts of their collective migrations. The blog of Shecanaiah Travesser is

especially detailed; although I’ve not found a Bible matching her translation of Isaiah 26:1.

You can compare this verse to other translations of Isaiah 26:1 here. Yes, the words “strong city” often appear in translations of this verse.

The journeys that, ultimately, landed The Lord Our Righteousness Church in New Mexico are often addressed on the church’s cyberspace writings.

In Part 1 of her blog, Shecanaiah Travesser writes about her earlier life in Spokane and Moses Lake, Washington. In Part 9, she writes that, in 1993, she and her church family had moved to an area called Castle Dome, located 50 miles north of Yuma, Arizona.

We would camp there in our temporary houses (RVs) on a parcel of land that Father had provided for us at the foot of Castle Dome.

There are 20 parts to the story Shecanaiah Travesser has titled, “Homeward Bound.” In Part 11, she writes about the church’s history in Sandpoint, Idaho and Safford, Arizona .

Indeed, a records check shows that a Wayne Curtis Bent, born May 18, 1941, lived on Wits End Road in Sandpoint, Idaho (Bonner County) when he received an Idaho driver’s license in 1999.

As I conclude this post this morning, what amounts to a gag order remains in effect. Wayne Bent is not providing comment. The case has yet to play out in court.

I am hoping that you have found the videos, links and documents useful as you seek to better understand this story.

No doubt, some will say they didn’t need ALL of this information to reach their conclusions…to form their opinions about what’s been going on within in those beautiful, rolling hills of Union County. Fair enough.

But the aim of remains a simple one: To go deeper than what you’ll see on a typical local TV news story. And to attempt to do that absent of gossip, meanness and judgment.

Pretty simple really. Put as much useful info and links out as possible. And leave it for you to decide.

Thanks for stopping by. I hope some of you will post your thoughts here.

Oh, I did mention I’d come back to more videos, didn’t I? So let’s finish up with one more. It’s a look at the first teenager, named “Healed”, being removed from the church property April 22, 2008. The video is produced by Bent’s church and was posted on youtube:

bloopers News reporting television video

The perils of *LIVE* TV “caught on tape”

I’ve worked in TV long enough to see a fair share of things go wrong, including a homeless woman stripping in the distance before running up behind a reporter interviewing an FBI Special Agent-in-Charge.

Yes, all of it “live.”

Another bit of bad luck happened to a reporter as I anchored an evening newscast in Albuquerque. She appeared lively and enthusiastic at the beginning of her live shot. But when she reappeared at the end of her report, she was soaked and dripping with determination to get through an uncomfortable moment. Turns out she was standing next to a sprinkler.

I am also thankful for the moments that were not live. A late 1990s meth bust in the East Mountains outside of Albuquerque comes to mind. For at that secluded scene within the pinon and juniper, a dog raced towards me and fervently established an undeniable connection with my leg. This was a very friendly canine.

It was so bad, I had to seek refuge in the live truck. Yet another good reason for responsible pet ownership: Get them spayed and–in this case–NEUTERED.

At least it wasn’t “live.”

The reporters that appear in a montage (below) posted on YouTube just yesterday weren’t so lucky.

They now know, first hand, the potential perils of TV news reporting (much of what you’ll see was live).

Some of these broadcast journalists, no doubt, would have gladly accepted an encounter with a “friendly” dog or a sprinkler surprise in exchange for the fates that unfolded here…

Beyond 90 Seconds California Juliana Redding law enforcement Mark Horner murder mysteries News police Salpointe Santa Monica true crime Tucson unsolved unsolved mysteries

Who killed Juliana Redding?

NEW:  (March 10, 2009)  TV station removes Juliana Redding “arrest” story from its Web site

(August 30, 2008):  DNA links Santa Monica man to three murders

Check out this June 2, 2008 story:  Photos offer closer look at condo rented by Redding

Check out this May 21, 2008 story: Santa Monica’s third homicide of 2008

Check out this May 5, 2008 update: Posters asking “Who killed Juliana Redding?” plaster Venice street

Check out this April 14, 2008 update: Maxim photos reveal Redding’s beauty

Your comments on the Juliana Redding case are welcome here.


Juliana Redding

  • KNBC, (*on Merman case*) Autopsy reveals Santa Monica artist stabbed, beaten, March 24:
  • The LookOut News (*on Merman case*), Homicide victim stabbed to death, coroner concludes, March 24:

Alexander Merman, who was found dead in his Santa Monica condo last week, died of multiple stab wounds, according to the Los Angeles County Coroners Office. -The LookOut News

The findings of the autopsy conducted Saturday dispelled a report in the Los Angeles Times that Merman had been shot to death. Police had reported that Merman died as a result of “blunt force trauma.” -The LookOut News

Both Merman and Juliana Redding, who took several courses at Santa Monica College, were living alone and discovered after their mothers had asked for someone to check in on the victims, concerned after having difficulty reaching their children. -Santa Monica Daily Press

  • KNBC, Investigations into two Santa Monica murders continue, March 21:

Alexander Merman, 35 — who was apparently beaten to death — was found dead in his apartment at 520 Montana Ave. at about 8:05 p.m. Wednesday, said Santa Monica police Lt. Alex Padilla. -KNBC

“The mother had not been able to get in contact with her son for several days,” Padilla said. It was unknown how long Merman had been dead, he said. -KNBC

  •, Details come out on second Santa Monica murder, March 21:

Police say the two murders in Santa Monica are unrelated, but both draw eerie similarities. Both murdered in their multi-family complexes, 3-miles apart, Juliana Redding, found dead on Sunday, and Alexander Merman, found on Wednesday, were discovered in their states at the request of each of their mothers for someone to check on them since communications had lessoned.

An artist’s body is found in his Montana Avenue apartment. Police say there is no apparent connection between his death and the killing of a woman whose body was found Sunday about 3 miles away. -Los Angeles Times

2nd victim: Alexander “Sasha” Merman

Merman’s Web site

  • KFOX, Police investigate 2nd “suspicious death” in Santa Monica, March 20 (article updated 7:49pm PDT)

Last fall a woman was assaulted in her Princeton Street home by a 17-year-old man from Oxnard who was believed to have been working on her house during the day.

The two incidents were unrelated but occurred on women who were believed to be living alone at the time.

When it comes to safety… -Santa Monica Daily Press

  • KCBS: Santa Monica man’s death now called suspicious, March 20:

Santa Monica police were expected to release more information about the discovery later on Thursday, Toti added. -KCBS

(on the Juliana Redding case)
Assistant Chief Ed Winter of the coroner’s office said that Redding’s autopsy was completed, but Santa Monica police put a “security hold” on the results. Winter said it would probably be 30 to 60 days before the results would be made public. -KCBS

  • KNBC: Man’s body found inside Santa Monica apartment, March 20:

Police on Thursday investigated the “suspicious death” of a man whose body was found inside a Santa Monica apartment, the second apparent homicide in the normally tranquil city since the weekend. -KNBC

Police, meanwhile, continued to investigate the death of Juliana Maureen Redding… -KNBC

Kovacik said police had determined there was no connection between the man’s death and Redding’s murder. -KNBC

  • Long Beach Press-Telegram, March 19 (10:58pm), a perspective column about recent violence against young people, including Juliana Redding

My sister Ginny Clements is on the line from Tucson, and she sounds distraught.

“What’s wrong?” I ask.

“A girl I knew who was the granddaughter of a close friend was murdered in Santa Monica,” she said. “Her name was Juliana Redding, and I just feel terrible about it.”-Long Beach Press-Telegram

“The preliminary investigation has revealed no bullet or stab wounds,” Winter told the paper, though he declined to elaborate on Redding’s injuries or disclose a cause or time of death.

KABC reported that the autopsy results won’t be released for 30 to 60 days.

Police said they were working with DNA taken from the scene.

“We have collected some evidence at the crime scene that we’re looking at, both DNA and other,” Padilla told KABC. “And so any of that information will certainly be evaluated.”-FOX News

With tears in their eyes, friends from the Venice wine bistro where she had worked part time for about a year brought flowers to her apartment building Tuesday, placing them by a nearby palm tree. -LA Times

  • Arizona Daily Star (Tucson), March 19, California cops hunt leads in death of Salpointe graduate
  • KNBC-TV (Los Angeles) *video* 10:19pm, Tuesday, Friends remember 21-year-old aspiring actress, model
  • KABC, (March 18 ) Autopsy completed on murdered actress
  • KVOA-TV (Tucson) has just reported at 6pm that Redding was attending community college in Santa Monica and was working as a hostess in a restaurant
  • KABC reporter appearing on Tucson’s KGUN-TV at 6pm: Police say it appears Redding died from blunt force trauma

In high school “she was involved in the drama department, as well as the Salpointe golf team and student council, she was a good student,” said Kay Sullivan, a spokeswoman for the school. -Tucson Citizen

“I was divinely placed in a position to see how the music made those living in poverty feel so good,” he (Cipes) says.

  • Tuesday’s 11am video from KNBC-TV.
  • “ex-boyfriend” Greg Cipes tells KNBC Redding was “very lonely and scared of being in her apartment” and claims Redding worked at strip club on Sunset Boulevard.
  • FOX 11 (LA) latest video and article: “She was not shot. She was not stabbed.”


Anyone with information about this case is asked to call the Santa Monica Police Department at 310-458-8451.

A young woman who went to California to pursue her dream of becoming an actress and model was found dead inside her Santa Monica apartment early Sunday evening.

KABC-TV in Los Angeles reports that 21-year-old Juliana Maureen Redding was murdered and that police discovered the victim’s body after receiving a phone call from Redding’s concerned mother. Juliana ReddingThe news station reports the mother had made “several attempts” to contact her daughter.

A KNBC-TV (Los Angeles) story states that police believe Redding was killed Sunday.

According to KABC, police have said Redding was “assaulted.” KNBC reports that “there was some trauma to the body.”

No word yet on the cause of death.

(*KABC has several videos now on the Redding story. Video “New details in Santa Monica murder” shows police investigating what appears to be a trail of blood near Redding’s apartment. This video also includes a movie clip featuring Redding and an interview with her high school golf coach).

Redding had moved to California from Arizona. According to published reports, she graduated from Salpointe High School in Tucson.

Juliana Redding

While the Internet Movie Database does have a listing for a “Julianna Redding,” the popular movie Web site has no listing for a “Juliana Redding.”

*Update: Movie trailer and cast info for film featuring Juliana Redding. This appears to be the same person killed in Santa Monica.

There are some conflicting reports concerning the spelling of Redding’s first name. KGUN-TV (Tucson) appeared to spell it “Julianna.” However, this could not be verified as the station has not published the Redding story on its Web site.

As of early Tuesday morning, KOLD-TV (Tucson) used “Juliana” in its copy/text portion of its Web report. However, “Julianna” appears beside the victim’s picture at

In a November 28, 2004 article, the Arizona Daily Star (Tucson) included Juliana Redding of Salpointe High School in its “honorable mention” list of standout high school golfers.

At this time, has decided to use the Associated Press spelling of the victim’s name.

If learns that a correction of the victim’s name is needed here, the correction will be made promptly.

Your comments on the Juliana Redding case are welcome here.

Additional links

Santa Monica Daily Press


Los Angeles Times

*special thanks to Tami over at Crime Interrupted who sent me some of the links concerning Greg Cipes.

Dawn Wells News true crime video

Attorney: Dawn Wells “devastated” by “ruthless, false statements”

Headline writers were flying high this week as news broke out of Idaho that Gilligan’s Island star Dawn Wells had been “caught with drugs,” resulting in a “nearly three hour tour of the Teton County Sheriff’s Office and jail” for the actress who played the role of Mary Ann.

“Perhaps they should have called her Mary Jane,” was the lead sentence in the March 11 Associated Press article.

All unfair–even flat-out wrong–according to Wells’ attorney.

“She is devastated by the ruthless and false statements being made about her,” Ron Swafford wrote in a March 12th e-mail to me.

The skeptic will wonder if the attorney’s effort is simply aimed at “damage control.”

The cynic has already delighted in having made that conclusion.

But this blog’s aim is to keep an open mind about all possibilities.

More than four months have passed since the Wells arrest.

And because so much time has passed, this case has already played out in court.

Dawn Wells pleaded guilty to one count of reckless driving. Swafford emphatically states that Wells never served any jail time. He says published reports–including an Associated Press article–suggesting that Wells did serve jail time are simply incorrect.

Wikipedia’s update on Wells states she was sentenced to five days in jail for the October 18, 2007 arrest. Wikipedia cites the Seattle Post Intelligencer which, by the way, ran the AP’s version of the story. (*Just noticed Wikipedia has now further updated its Dawn Wells entry to include Swafford’s side of this story).

So, where’s the rub?

In fairness to the AP (an organization that I respect), it properly reported that Wells was “sentenced” to five days in jail. However, it appears to have left out the important distinction that the jail time was suspended.

Precisely, according to Wells’ lawyer.

“Yes,” Swafford began. “This judge routinely orders 5 days, then suspends all of it, and puts them on informal probation. This only means that they must pay the fine and not commit any serious crime in the future. Traffic/driving incidents are not usually of concern. They leave and it is over. It is just a routine with some judges in Idaho. They have done it for years, and hold on to their patterns. She (Wells) served absolutely no jail, and as stated, in fact received a withheld judgment so that it will not appear on her record. I was there. It happened just that way. There just isn’t more to the story.”

Swafford also points out that there was never a plea bargain regarding the marijuana charge. He said the State dismissed the drug charge after a “third party” appeared in court and claimed “full and exclusive responsibility for the existence of the marijuana.”

Wells was pulled over by a Teton County Sheriff’s deputy last fall as she drove home from a surprise birthday party. Everyone agrees that Wells’ vehicle did “weave” on the roadway.

Swafford asserts that Wells’ weaved as she was “reaching for her heater controls in an unfamiliar new car.” He maintains that his client’s vehicle had been used by someone else “the entire day” on the date of Wells’ arrest. And that this “third party” had left a small amount of marijuana in the car without Wells’ knowledge.

Swafford also provided me with a copy of his Media Relations Statement of Facts further outlining his side of this story.

On that October night of her arrest, Dawn Wells turned 69. She’s lived a quiet life with–according her attorney–no criminal history prior to this incident.

“It is unfortunate that people forget they are making jokes which cause genuine pain and harm to people’s lives, careers and livelihoods. Dawn plead guilty to one charge—which unfortunately is defined as reckless driving in Idaho. It is defined in Idaho Code 49-1401 as driving carelessly, heedlessly or without due caution and circumspection. She weaved and admitted it. She did not serve jail time; it was not a plea bargain. Quite the opposite. It was one of those cases where the investigation revealed her only offense was driving carelessly,” Swafford told me in an e-mail.

Damage control? You decide. But best to do so after reading more on this case. And getting past the media frenzy for a celebrity mug shot.