KIM HENDERSON: Previously on Truth Be Told . . .
MATT WILLIAMSON: I’m young, and I’m a reporter and I want to be fair. I want to give the guy the benefit of the doubt.
BILL GOODWIN: There were probably weeks on end—that I received letters from victims saying, “Thank you for doing what you did.
NATE LAMB: I was not normal. I wasn't healed. I wasn't whole, I was totally a wreck.
DARLENE LAMB: And I’d go downstairs and say, “You know, Nate, you want to talk? We’re here for you.”
This is Truth Be Told.
BILLY WAYNE THORNHILL: We walked down into the woods about a hundred yards from their house. And Nathan said, “David Earl King had gave me this to use.”
This podcast is about a shocking criminal case . . .
TONEY RUSHING: We never did catch her. The money was gone.
One that involves religion...
GOODWIN: You know, you don’t mess with the preacher. People hate to believe that a man of God could do such a thing.
LEAH GIPSON: I will refer to him as King. I won’t ever say his whole name.
CLERK: I started reading it and reviewing the court records, and I couldn’t put it down.
NATE: Now I'm not only keeping a secret from my family, but I'm dealing with the guilt of what happened.
ANDREW SCHMUTZER: Most perpetrators are people the victim knows...
KIM HENDERSON : Dr. Andrew Schmutzer is Professor of Biblical Studies at Moody Bible Institute, where he’s taught for more than 23 years. Schmutzer’s office in Chicago is a long way from Jayess, Mississippi, but there’s a common thread running between his story and Nate’s. They’re both sexual abuse survivors.
Schmutzer regularly speaks to audiences about sexual abuse, and he’s written extensively on the subject. In 2016, he contributed to the book, Naming Our Abuse: God's Pathways to Healing for Male Sexual Abuse Survivors.
Last spring, I asked Schmutzer to take a look at the David Earl King case. I was hoping he could help answer the question I asked at the beginning of this podcast: How could this happen?
ANDREW SCHMUTZER: You know, it's not just individuals that abuse. Many times, particularly within religious scenarios, there is an ecosystem that supports what they're doing. And if anybody raises their hand and says, “Why is this happening?” or “Is this right?” They're smacked down very quickly. So, when you have something that goes on for decades, like this, this person has blocked the exits. This person is a brainwasher. This person has a dynamic Type A personality, this person tends to be a smooth talker.
Schmutzer says institutional loyalty keeps potential whistleblowers quiet about abuse, whether it’s Valley of the Kings or the Boys Scouts of America.
SCHMUTZER: Which is what you saw for decades going on with Penn State football, Jerry Sandusky. There were signs, there were signals, there were allegations, but it went so contrary to what they wanted to believe, they could not go there.
He says the number of King’s victims isn’t all that unusual. Socially dynamic places like churches and ballparks are often the preferred site for predators.
SCHMUTZER: These Type A kinds of personalities gravitate to high density places where they have access to multiple victims. And when people finally hear about this, of course, they're aghast. How did this happen?
Sadly, familiarity seems to be another routine component, just like in Nate’s situation.
SCHMUTZER: This is not someone they don't know. This is not “stranger danger” that was common when I was a kid. That mantra is baloney. Most perpetrators are people the victim knows, because that's how they have access to them . . .
So as Christians, how are we to process this sort of evil? Schmutzer admits there’s no simple answer. He says sexual abuse is an extreme evil because it’s a complex evil. But the root sin is as old as The Fall,
SCHMUTZER: From Genesis on all the way through Scripture, you have a kind of sexual preying on people. It's always been around. You could say it's one of the oldest evils we have--even our Lord—they took his clothes from him, too. He who clothed Adam and Eve was stripped of his clothes.
And as Schmutzer stresses, right thinking—theologically sound thinking—is crucial for Christians dealing with abuse fallout.
SCHMUTZER: Christians are damaged too. We don't get an exemption card in this life. We go through the same things that those who don't know Christ, the unredeemed, go through. But we have a hope that they don't. So it's important to apply the Christian gospel—that all of my justice doesn't come now. There may be some justice that comes now. Absolutely. If you need to put a perp away, put them away. We're not not talking about whether or not we do that. What we're saying is the gospel gives one not only an identity in the now, but it's an identity that reaches into the future--that enables me to bring perspective to my suffering, perspective to my trauma.
And perspective regarding ultimate healing.
SCHMUTZER: There is a taste of healing now. But ultimate healing comes in the next life. We don't get it all in this life. And Christians—Christians need to understand that.
While he was being abused, Nate Lamb vowed to have nothing more to do with church and ministry. He especially wanted nothing more to do with any preachers. But something happened in March, 2001, while he and his family were hiding out at the hotel, waiting for officers to arrest David Earl King.
The pastor of a local church sent a member to visit them. Darlene Lamb says he brought them $300.
DARLENE: And he brought that check to the hotel to us. So out of respect, we felt like coming to Pine Grove to thank him, and we never stopped coming to Pine Grove.
Under Rev. King’s leadership, the Lambs hadn’t been allowed to fellowship with other congregations. So this was a totally new experience, to be somewhere other than Valley of the Kings for worship. As she made her way to a pew, Darlene finally realized just how terrible things had been. And how good it felt to be in a real church.
DARLENE: Everybody was so friendly. Everybody hugged you and welcomed you. I went out crying and said, “I can’t go to church here,” because I wasn’t used to all of this.
For Nate, the experience was equally altering. He and the whole family quickly plugged in to their new church. And for the first time in his life, Nate had a pastor who was worthy of respect and trust.
NATE: Kenneth Rocco -- Bro. Rocco -- was a true shepherd, true pastor. He had love for the soul and nothing else. He didn't have love for money. Didn't have love for personal gain. Didn't have love for popularity, but he truly shepherded the flock . . .
God had sent a kind and gentle shepherd to help Nate pick up the pieces. . . .
NATE: . . . the broken pieces, to allow a new season of my life to come to pass . . .
Week after week at the new church, Nate heard the gospel clearly presented. That winter, he responded. And the real healing began.
NATE: The Lord gave me a new life. God filled me with His spirit. He cleansed me. He washed me out inside and out; the beginning of healing and restoration. Growing and being patient with myself and being patient with God to help me . . .
Nate doesn’t disregard the helps that are out there, like counseling. But he credits other things for propelling him past his past.
NATE: Just the community around me and the church people around me. I was a part of the volunteer fire department. They just let me live and move on from it without bringing anything up. That was probably the biggest thing that helped me the most, other than Jesus, obviously. Instead of petting me and letting me be a victim forever, they just let me live my life.
In a totally separate interview, Darlene gave basically the same answer—almost word for word.
DARLENE: Jesus was the main thing that helped us through everything. But we had good church structure. Community structure. People were for us we didn’t even know would be for us.
But not everybody was for the Lambs. Many of King’s family members didn’t accept the outcome of the trial. The Enterprise-Journal ran a surprising story a year later—2002. The title was “David Earl King still leader of his family even from a jail cell.”
It went on to describe a shrine at the altar of the Valley of the Kings church, complete with a wallet-sized portrait of King. Cassette tapes of King’s preaching played in his absence. The congregation had dwindled to just 13 members.
But over time most of King’s followers came to a different conclusion. Ruth King eventually divorced her husband. She had to fight for the compound property in court because Rev. King had transferred his holdings to a daughter.
Darlene Lamb remembers being at a funeral a few years after the abuse trial. One of King’s daughters was there, too. The woman walked up to Darlene and apologized. She also had something to say. She whispered, “I know he was guilty.”
That admission was huge. She now acknowledged her father was guilty of crimes against Nate Lamb and so many others. But what about all those years before? When the abuse was happening right under the noses of people living at Valley of the Kings?
Professor Schmutzer offered an important perspective on this issue, but I was still wrestling with how it could happen in this specific instance—with David Earl King.
I figured the Gipson sisters with their stash of Polaroids and memories could probably understand this better than anyone.
You’ll remember that they grew up at Valley of the Kings after their mother became a devoted follower of Rev. King. They, like other women on the compound, were forced to peddle homemade candy on streets stretching from Monroe, Louisiana, to Mobile, Alabama. And if they didn’t sell their quota? King beat them, starved them, even threatened to kill them.
JOANNA: We had to sell at least $40 worth of candy. If we didn't, if we brought less than $40 home, we would get in trouble. Sixty was better, but 40 was the base minimum.
That was the oldest sister, Joanna. But by all accounts, Leah Gipson had it the worst. She was strong-willed. That doesn’t bode well for someone in a cultish situation. It may be hard to understand, but she, and later Tabitha, too, chose to marry into the King family. It was a way to stop Rev. King’s physical abuse.
LEAH: The abuse had gotten so violent, I knew I was going to get killed. King had already pointed out that I would have nobody to hunt for me. Nobody would come for me. He had already pointed out that he had complete control of Mom.
She considered going to her dad, but she didn’t think he would take her. She didn’t have money to get to her grandparents in Iowa. That’s when King’s oldest son approached her.
LEAH: He said, “Leah, I got something I want to ask you” -- because during all the abuse. Ruth King and his oldest son had stood up for me several times at their expense. They got beat for trying to stand up for me . . . He said, “Look, if you will marry me” -- he's 28 at the time. I'm 14 -- and said “If you marry me, I will stop them from beating you.” I said, “Deal.
At this point in our interview Joanna leans across the table and slides a photo toward Leah. It gets kind of quiet.
LEAH: That was me at 15, for my wedding day. [KH: Tell me about that picture. What do you see when you look at it?] I see me excited to get out of the abuse. I thought I was going to be okay. I was going to survive finally, you know? I was, I asked my brother to walk me down the hall because I thought that was my only chance. You know, I finally had my brother back for a moment.
In another picture from the ceremony, Leah’s face is covered by a white veil, her arm threaded through the groom’s. Rev. King is standing nearby, with his arms crossed defiantly.
Leah says her husband, like King’s other 10 children, was affected by his environment—cut off from society, and educational and employment opportunities.
LEAH: . . . he really never had a chance . . .
All three of the Gipson sisters escaped from the compound in their early 20s and never returned. These were harrowing, individual escapes. Each sister had to decide for herself when she’d had enough. By that point, Leah and Tabitha had seven children between them. They escaped, too.
But each sister faced a steep learning curve as she maneuvered her new life.
JOANNA: So I went to apply for a job. I had no idea how to apply for a job. I could read, of course, and write. And so I filled in everything, but I didn't really understand the concept of getting a job.
TABITHA: There's a gap because we didn't -- we weren't raised with TV. and so there's a communication gap . . . they make a reference to something that age wise I should know, but I don't know because I wasn't exposed to that at that time.
SISTERS: The world was so different. For one thing, it was very free. Everybody was doing what they wanted to do, for Pete’s sake. Whoever heard of that? Not asking somebody for permission. I mean, you had to ask permission before you went to town, before you took a trip. You had to get, not just ask for, permission.
Still, I’m trying to picture these women who are seated around the table with me -- these women who today have pedicures and shag haircuts and flared jeans -- I’m trying to picture them living at the compound. I’m trying to picture them as teenage brides with toddlers, sidled up next to a different kitchen table. The one at their father-in-law’s house.
Tabitha was the other sister who married one of King’s sons. She fills me in.
TABITHA: We had Sunday dinner. Well, we didn't know him as the monster. As the child predator. I didn't. [KH: You didn’t?] I didn't know that he preyed on children. I mean, there was no, we weren't in the room when it happened. We weren't shown any pictures of the abuse. So it was this -- you needed to take this person's word, who you had been taught wasn't trustworthy, you know, this person who always got in trouble. And so he made them outcasts. And so they're blowing the alarm. They're saying, “Hey, the sky is falling. The sky is falling.” And you just think they’re this little hen running around that you don't listen to. And so, yes, it was true. Everything was true, but we couldn't see it.
I could press more, but I don’t. I mean, did she just ignore King’s odd relationship with her brother? She slides in a quick comment that I think really gets to the heart of the matter.
TABITHA: You had to suspend in order to continue your lifestyle. You, you know. (KH: Oh.]
They had to suspend their belief to survive. For the time being.
Ironically, the sisters point to their peanut brittle sales as a saving grace. Because they went into communities to sell it, they met people. Made friends. They gained a little experience in the world. They learned there was life outside Valley of the Kings.
SISTERS: It absolutely gave us a window on the world, the good, the bad, the ugly. It absolutely did that. When we were ready to leave, then we knew it wasn't that scary.
But their mom, Adra Gipson, remained firmly entrenched.
The sisters’ stash of photos has a few of Adra. In one she’s in her Navy uniform, right beside her Marine husband, who’s wearing his uniform, too. They’re fresh-faced, smiling.
And somehow they have a photo of Adra on the street with her arms loaded down with baskets of peanut brittle. It, like all the later pictures, show her gaunt. Sunburned.
The sisters say something happened at the end of Adra Gipson’s life that gave them insight into the woman in those photos.
SISTERS: Mom's life revolved around pleasing men, whoever that man was in her life at the time, the pastor or whatever she had a friend from her childhood that she had reconnected with, and she couldn't communicate on her deathbed. She couldn't -- she was not verbally communicating at all with any of us, but they got him to call, and she heard his voice and she sat up in bed blabbering, incoherently trying to communicate with this fellow. Yes. We still don't understand that because we're there, we're talking to her and there's nothing.
Even so, they struggle to explain how she got under King’s spell. And why she stayed under it.
TABITHA: You know that his followers as adults, they chose to listen to him and be okay with whatever he said do. What adult -- what in their life caused them to think that was okay? You know, that that was a good life for their children to lead? That's what I don't understand. LEAH: King only was able to do what he did because people gave him power. If people had not given him power, he wouldn't have been able to do what he did.
The youngest Gipson sister, Tabitha, was the last to leave. She was making plans for an escape not long before King started abusing Nate. Tabitha didn’t know anything about that, but she knew she and her children were in danger. Her husband had beaten her so badly she had to be hospitalized.
TABITHA: I didn't know it was against the law for a husband to beat a wife. I really did not know that was illegal. I knew I didn't like it, but I didn't know there was a law in order to, for it to be prosecuted until I was taken to the hospital.
After Tabitha’s husband got out of jail, the situation worsened. So one Sunday afternoon she threw birth certificates and other important items into a cardboard box and took off with her kids. Tabitha left Valley of the Kings for good. It was a hard adjustment to life on the outside, and a few months later she was in despair. Tabitha feared she was going to lose her children to their grandfather, David Earl King.
Then she heard Nate was pressing charges against King. In a way, Nate’s bravery changed the course of Tabitha’s life and that of her children.
TABITHA: I'm trying to get custody of the kids. And it looks like because King has money -- it looks like on paper -- he's going to win, you know, and I was willing to do anything to not have my kids live there without me, especially. And I get the news that they have arrested King on the charges of child abuse while I'm at work. And at that point I said, “We got it.” You know, even though it wasn't all complete and the judge has still said, “Oh, you can't use this.” I knew that with King and his money out of the picture and him trying to fight his own legal problems, that me and my kids would be okay.
The Gipson sisters beat the odds in a lot of ways. In the corner of the dining area where we sit, Joanna’s wedding portrait hangs. She’s stunning, in an elaborate gown with a flowing train. She also started her own business. Tabitha did too. Leah and Tabitha went on to get college degrees. They’re all homeowners. Their kids are giving them grandkids now.
But if the sisters suffered from their past in any obvious way, they say it’s been their relationships. Tabitha and Leah have four divorces between them. But one relationship has remained strong, despite the false teaching they were under so long -- and that’s their relationship with God. The sisters say their story -- every part of it -- testifies to God’s faithfulness.
LEAH: I looked at what we were being taught, and I said, “That's not right. That can't be right,” at a very early age. I realized that that's crazy. And I said, “I want to know more about what should and shouldn't be.” So I started talking to God at six, seven years old, and I was like, “Show me. Show me what's right.”
Bible reading was required at the Valley of the Kings school.
JOANNA: To graduate, you had to have read the Bible through at least twice. [KH: You could have truth, but it was skewed.] Yes, absolutely. It was. It was, but that's where having a personal walk with the Lord makes all the difference, being able to read the Bible for ourselves and work out our own salvation, basically.
Not long after Tabitha left the compound and started a new life, she set up an email account. She included symbolic lettering in her address. It read: “freendeed.” Based on John 8:36. It’s remarkable that the Gipson sisters came though such difficult circumstances with their faith intact. Professor Schmutzer says it’s even more remarkable that Nate did.
SCHMUTZER: When a minister who serves and claims to be a messenger and a vessel of God is the one directly bringing damage into that person's life. Any faith dynamic is crushed, because the connecting ligaments to organized faith in general, can be such messy connections now.
And there’s another important angle to Nate’s story that we really haven’t explored yet: Males rarely tell anyone that they’ve been sexually abused. Schumtzer says that reality has borne catastrophic results.
SCHMUTZER: For generations, men were never allowed to stand up and say this was wrong. And this happened to me. And the effect of that is that they in turn pass that on to the next generation.
Perceptions have changed, but Schmutzer maintains Christians and the church still have a long way to go in ministering to male survivors.
SCHMUTZER: . . . A willingness to hear from all broken people, not just those of a certain gender . We need to address this in redemptive ways, not ways that are simply grasping for more self announcement. We need to redeem this - particularly within the faith community.
On January 27, 2002, the Enterprise-Journal ran a headline. It read: “Hearings closed, documents sealed regarding King case.” That was five months after the trial, and King’s lawyers were preparing for another trial. Not an appeal on Nate’s case. No, this time the state tax commission said King owed more than $336,000 in back taxes and penalties.
But let’s go back to that headline, the part about “documents sealed.” Early in my research of Nate’s case I heard the judge had ordered all the court documents sealed. No big surprise there. I didn’t even pursue seeing the documents for myself. Until something happened.
I met administrative assistant Sherry Sandifer in the Walthall County Sheriff’s Office one afternoon when I was conducting interviews. She’s friendly, with a quick smile—and she's a local resident—so I asked her if she had any memories of King’s abuse trial, the first trial.
SANDIFER: I just remember when I did come to work for the county, pulling the file records, going back to that file and reading some of the material that’s documented in the circuit clerk’s office was just—I didn’t realize the horror that those victims had to experience.
She read the files? Sandifer suggested I walk across the breezeway and visit the circuit clerk’s office. It’s in the Walthall County Courthouse, a 3-story structure built in the early 1900s. Strangely enough, the site of King’s initial hearings is an exact replica of the Franklin County Courthouse, where they ultimately held King’s trial. Same architect, same floor plan, same color brick. So even though the trial was moved because of publicity, the courthouses were virtually the same.
I went inside the Walthall County rendition and found the circuit clerk, Vernon Allford. He’s a grandfatherly type, with suspenders and an ink pen clipped to his front pocket. When voters elected him 12 years ago, Allford says he found the King case documents in his new office.
VERNON ALLFORD: I started reading it and reviewing the court records, and I couldn’t put it down. I read the whole thing. I went through all the motions, judge’s orders, sentencing, the indictment . . .
If the King trial documents were ever sealed, they certainly aren’t any longer. Allford had no problem letting me see them. The problem was finding them. They store 20 years of the most current records in his office suite, which is actually a vault—albeit a vintage vault. The original shutters are metal armor with bars. Sitting near a window is almost like being in a cage.
Allford and his clerks decided to start looking here first. Nothing. That’s when I learned records older than 20 years are housed upstairs in a locked attic. I followed behind one of Allford’s employees, an office worker named Audrey Stogner.
AUDREY STOGNER: So technically four flights of stairs . . .
The attic room was filled with heavy filing cabinets and boxes. It was dark. Stogner had to use the flashlight on her phone to get around.
STOGNER: Ahh. There it is.
But upon closer examination, we discovered it was the wrong trial. It was documents from King’s subsequent tax evasion trial. Not what I wanted. So the hunt continued. Upstairs and downstairs. They were pretty determined to find the documents.
Eventually, they did. A full three inches worth. Dusty. In a red paper binder.
STOGNER: Let’s see. It looks a lot different now than it used to. (laughs)
Some of the legal jargon in it was hard to understand, but I discovered it also held newspaper clippings showing the compound as it looked then, with tidy fences and large barns. There was a restaurant receipt for 16 plate lunches for court personnel. And a list of evidence gathered from King’s bedroom - including everything from an adult magazine to sermon notes.
The documents also revealed things I didn’t know, like Adra Gipson was a witness, and the defense made a motion to strike the term “compound” from being used by prosecutors.
And then there was something Assistant District Attorney Bill Goodwin didn’t mention. A hit-and-run driver injured him less than two weeks before the trial. He had to go to the hospital. The possibility that a King supporter had something to do with the hit-and-run was one reason the judge denied a request for continuance. Judge Smith believed the trial should proceed quickly to avoid any further trouble.
But the biggest surprise was what I saw on Jury Instruction No. 11. It was Nate’s name—Nathaniel Lamb—listed for all the world to see. At least, anybody who cared to stroll into the Walthall County Circuit Clerk’s office.
When I told Nate what I found, he shook his head in disbelief. All these years he thought the records were sealed. His name wasn’t even redacted.
On the next episode of Truth Be Told, healing 20 years down the road.
LAURA: He got justice for all those families and victims. And um, it's terrible. I know. I'm so proud of him.
CLOSING ANNOUNCER: Truth be Told is a special four-part story written by Kim Henderson and produced by the creative team at WORLD Radio.
If you’d like to comment on this special report, our email address is: firstname.lastname@example.org. To share this episode with a friend, or learn more about the case, visit our website at wng.org/truthbetold. Thanks for listening.
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