NATE: We lived seven or eight minutes from, from the church and their house. There was a phone call to our house stating that they seen individuals and heard threats of them coming toward our place to potentially kill us all.
KIM HENDERSON: It’s the last week of February 2001. Dark has fallen, and even though daffodils have decided it’s time to bloom, winter’s cold still lingers. Maybe that’s why Nathaniel Lamb is shivering. Or maybe it’s something else.
He’s barely 14, an eighth-grader with sandy hair, wire-rim glasses, and size 13 sneakers. Unlike other kids his age, Nathaniel has never seen Jurassic Park or any of the Star Wars thrillers, but right now a real drama is unfolding, and he’s at the center of it . . . Nathaniel Lamb is living moments he’ll have on instant recall for the rest of his life.
NATE: And we -- Dad, Mom -- got us all into a room, the furthest room that had the most walls that would protect us. And we, we feared that bullets would come through the wall and that we would be, we would not make it out alive that night.
The Lambs live in Jayess, Mississippi, a sparse community built around railroad tracks laid to transport timber a hundred years ago. Their frame house sits close to the road on 16th section land. An open pasture stands between the back door and woods Nathaniel likes to explore. The closest house is a half a mile away.
NATE: I remember (pause with emotion) my dad gathering us around in a circle in that living room that night crying out for help to our God. We turned off all the lights, locked all the doors. We didn't want no evidence that we were in the house. . .
Just 48 hours earlier, Nathaniel sat in the same living room. It was then his mom had pressed him to tell the truth. She wouldn’t let up. Nathaniel’s dad, a hard-working, 12-hours-a-day diesel mechanic was there, too. But nothing could have prepared the Lambs for what their only son told them. Now, with their whole world turned upside down, the family of six is huddled on the floor.
NATE: I kinda creeped to the side away from the circle by myself. I remember kneeling down wondering, “What's going to happen next?” And I just simply closed my eyes with my knees bent to the ground and my face on the carpet on the floor and said, “God, will you help me?” And it was in that moment (voice cracks) it was just a small nudge of hope and peace that God was going to help me through this.
KIM HENDERSON: From the creative team that brings you The World and Everything in It, this is Truth Be Told.
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 . . .
RUSHING: We never did catch her, and the money was gone.
One that involves religion...
GOODWIN: You know, you don’t mess with the preacher. And that protected him for a long time . . . people hate to believe that a man of God could do such a thing.
LEAH: 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. I read the whole thing.
NATE: I'm not only keeping a secret from my family, but I'm dealing with the guilt of what happened.
SCHMUTZER: 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.
More than three decades of abuse. That’s what the Associated Press reported on March 10, 2001, the day a circuit court judge denied bail for the accused abuser, David Earl King. It began a process that could put him away for the rest of his life.
DARLENE: And they was so worried that I was going to back out, you know, that I was going to kind of get under stress and just drop it. And I looked at Bill Goodwin and I said, “I ain’t doing it. We are going to go through this.”
I’m Kim Henderson. A few years ago I met Susie Harvill while working on a different crime story. One about human trafficking.
HARVILL: A lot of people, it’s ugly and they don’t want to get involved. We’re churchy people, and we absolutely don’t talk about things like this.
In January 2021, she introduced me to Nathaniel Lamb, the victim at the center of this case. Later, he made a four-hour drive to the Mississippi Gulf Coast to give me an interview. There, Harvill welcomed Nathaniel, who’s now 34 and prefers to go by “Nate.”
AMBI: SOUND OF NATE ENTERING BUILDING
For months after that meeting, I couldn’t shake Nate’s story. I poured over news archives. I tracked down the prosecutor. Interviewed an abuse expert. Opened dusty court records. And with each new layer I peeled back, I wondered, “How could this happen?”
But to really understand this story, we have to go back. Back to where the nightmare began.
SOT: KH walks and says, “The red brick on the outside of the building is faded. There’s a retaining wall. Mature holly bushes.
In the late 1970s, Rev. David Earl King purchased these 58 acres along a ribbon of blacktop called Enon Sartinville Road.
AMBI: FARM SOUNDS
It’s in tiny Jayess, Mississippi. King came to live here with his wife and their passel of children—eventually numbering 11. His apostolic congregation followed him to Jayess, too. Members were charismatic in their style of worship and had a plain style of dress that made them stand out in the community.
In fact, this spot came to be known as “Valley of the Kings.” It could have been a reference to the burial ground of Egypt’s pharaohs and noblemen. But more likely, it was connected to the leader’s name.
Today, different owners occupy the sprawling blonde-brick house constructed at the center of the property. The two-story church out front appears to be a holding space for office furniture. And the scattering of mobile homes where family and church members lived? Well, they’re gone, as well as the school and the used cars David Earl King sold. It's a strange place. Some people still call it a compound.
Yes, a compound. But that’s a word with implications. Maybe that’s why King’s defense attorneys filed a motion to prohibit use of the term during his trial. You’ll hear more about the trail later, but was this property really a compound? Was King’s church a cult? Joanna Lawrence grew up at Valley of the Kings. She says it was.
JOANNA: I would definitely call it a cult because to me a cult, the definition of a cult, is taking something of a spiritual nature, inputting your own personal twist on it, and then forcing people to live by it. And that's what he did. That is a cult, regardless of what the end game is, regardless of how much truth you put into it. If people can't wear red, and if they can only go to town once a week. If they can only wear heels, uh, an inch high. If you can put that kind of your own personal likes and dislikes into something and force people to do it, that's a cult.
But Bill Goodwin, the assistant district attorney who prosecuted King, says it wasn’t.
GOODWIN: It may have been cultish, but it wasn't a cult in the strictest sense of the term. There were a lot of good people out there who went to church out there. They had fundamentalist Christian beliefs that I don't share, but I never thought that that made them in a cult. The Lambs had been going to church there for many, many years, and they are the ones that turned him in. That doesn't happen in a cult. That doesn't happen in a cult.
Still, area residents thought the setup was odd.
SOUND: CAR DRIVING BY
When Matt Williamson was a student, he would take this road, Sartinville Road, on his way to the University of Southern Mississippi.
WILLIAMSON: Sometimes I would ride with friends and we'd pass by this church, and we would make comments like, “Well, that's just weird. You know, there's a church out there that looks like a used car lot.” It's got the little triangle flags and stuff, you know, hanging above the cars. It turns out that, you know, when it came for the tax evasion trial, that was a big subject of all that. He never reported any taxes on this stuff. And he would say, “Well, I'm a church. I'm tax exempt.” The state's argument was, “No, this is a continuous business. This is, this is money on the side. This is not a barbecue chicken fundraiser.”
Tax evasion wasn’t the only problem at The Valley of the Kings. Behind a fundamentalist facade lay something sinister. But Rev. King was good at covering it up. That’s what Nate Lamb’s mother, Darlene, remembers. She’s the same woman who was crouched down, hiding in her darkened house at the beginning of our story.
But now, almost 20 years later to the day, I meet Darlene Lamb in a different living room, a different house. It’s in the middle of nowhere. Tilton, Mississippi, with its one-lane roads and timber tracks cleared for quick cash.
The Lambs’ house is a two-story set on top of a hill. An American flag flies from under the porch eaves, and inside, sunlight pours through a bank of windows behind the recliner where Darlene sits, gently rocking. The Lamb matriarch is matter-of-fact, almost detached, as she recounts the events of 2001. But she softens a little as she recalls moving from Florida at age 10 to be in King’s first church.
It was in Baxterville, Mississippi—before the church moved to Jayess. Darlene says the main draw of the church at Baxterville was its school.
DARLENE: My mother and them thought, you know, the best thing for me to do was to come to a Christian school. And, uh, I was having a lot of issues in Florida. And, um, and so we, we moved to Mississippi . . .
Darlene was their only child. So her parents sold all their furniture, took the 60 dollars, and crossed two state lines to make a fresh start. That was 1971. Baxterville was another rural community, about an hour south of Jayess.
Like this televised preacher from the time, King was equally animated and direct. Popular and engaging. The church grew under his leadership. But King was also autonomous and answered to no one.
DARLENE: They loved him. We all did. We looked up to him as a minister. We had a love for him and his family. A lot of our foundation in living for God was through his ministry . . .
It was during that time that deputies arrested David Earl King. Church members believed his story about some sort of mix up, but law enforcement had King on their radar, so he decided it was time to get out of Baxterville. But not before the church building mysteriously caught fire. Prosecutor Bill Goodwin uncovered those details during an investigation some 25 years later.
GOODWIN: We know that when the church went up in flames, the organ that he was very proud of, all the hymnals and lots of the pews just miraculously weren't in the church when it went down.
So, just to clarify. Before the Valley of the Kings—before the compound in Jayess—David Earl King had another church. He left that community—Baxterville—under a cloak of suspicion. But church members didn’t believe the rumors.
DARLENE: We were always taught to be careful about a minister, what you said about a minister, even though he went to court a couple times. We all was told it was lies at the time . . .
So Darlene’s parents moved again, joining some 75 other church members at the new start in Jayess. By this time Darlene was a teenager, and she found herself drawn to a young man named Edward Lamb. He was from Detroit and new to the congregation … a former Catholic who embraced King’s charismatic teaching. Edward and Darlene married inside the church at The Valley of the Kings, the one Edward helped build. Edward also helped build King’s new house at Jayess, the one at the center of the compound. Ironically, Edward and Darlene’s son would one day describe rooms in that very house for officers—as part of a criminal investigation.
Three months after being introduced to Nate Lamb, I drove to Seminary, Mississippi, a tiny town known for its canoeing outfitters on the Okatoma River. I had an appointment to meet the Gipson sisters. They grew up at the Valley of the Kings, and I’d been corresponding with Leah, the middle one, for a couple of months. A funeral brought her back to the state and I found myself sitting around a table with Leah and her two sisters, Joanna and Tabitha.
AMBI: SISTERS LOOKING AT PHOTO
You can tell they’re related. It’s not so much their dark hair or wide set eyes. Instead, it’s their easy talk. The knowing glances that pass between them. The silences that they’re in no hurry to fill.
The four of us are pretty close in age. But the truth is, our backgrounds couldn’t be more different. I grew up watching Happy Days and taking baton lessons, while they were on the streets in three states selling peanut brittle made back at the compound. It was a big business. And when the sisters didn’t sell enough, David Earl King beat them.
JOANNA: I sold candy from the time I was 8 ’til 20, uh, in the summer, it was six days a week. And every Saturday, regardless . . .
That’s Joanna. Earlier, you heard her take on cults. At 50, she’s the oldest of the sisters.
JOANNA: I remember being in a town, Jena, Louisiana, by myself, not knowing anyone else, and I was 9 years old. That's the first I remember just selling, going door to door. We would have about 50 to 70 dollars worth of candy in our baskets that we were carrying, and that's a heavy load for a child . . .
It’s Joanna’s house where we’ve gathered, and it’s her memories of guarding her siblings that we’re mining.
JOANNA: I remember being very—holding them close. I was old enough that I felt responsible for them, Grandma's not here and Mother's not able. She was the adult, but she couldn't make the decisions (and) for our safety and to keep us safe. I knew something wasn't right with her relationship with King, it just was not that she was dumb. She was not dumb. She was brainwashed. That's just the only thing I can lay it to . . .
The sisters’ parents met in the military. Their dad, a Marine, brought his bride to his hometown—Baxterville—yes, that Baxterville. They had four kids in six years. He was unfaithful, and Leah says her mother started seeking something deeper.
LEAH: She was going through a lot. She had a lot on her plate. My dad's father introduced her to a church and this church was, um, I will refer to him as King. Um, I won't ever say his whole name. Um, but it is David Earl King's church.
Not say his whole name? Why would she be adamant about that? Tabitha, the youngest sister, helps Leah explain.
TABITHA: It seems to give him more respect than he deserves.
LEAH: It does give him power when we name him, his whole name. So I only refer to him as his last name. So my mom got involved, um, with this church . . .
Their mom, Adra Gipson, got very involved with the church. Now again, this is the church in Baxterville, King’s first church—back before the sanctuary burned. Back when Darlene Lamb’s parents were moving from Florida to put her in the church’s school.
LEAH: My mom leaned on King's strong personality to give her direction, and his wife was the same way. Now, he married his wife when she was just 14 years old, and he knew what he was doing when he did that. And he knew what he was structuring to set up. He knew every woman that he brought in with, you know, children, he knew what he was setting up. And when he saw my mom, he pretty much saw a target with children, especially with my brother.
Yes, the sisters have a brother.
When King encouraged Adra Gipson to leave her husband, she did. Like others who joined King’s church, Adra isolated herself and her children from all of their extended family.
After King’s run-in with the law, Gipson followed him to the new church start in Jayess where she and her children spent the next years living in a mobile home on the compound. The girls peddled peanut brittle with their mom and other ladies from the church. But their brother, Shawn, the oldest of the bunch, never did.
Remember those rumors that were flying, the ones that caused King to leave Baxterville? Church members ignored them, but prosecutor Bill Goodwin knows they were true.
GOODWIN: He was under investigation over there for molesting children. Some had told their parents, you know, but you don't mess with the preacher, and that protected him for a long time, most of his life, people just hate to believe that a man of God would do such a thing.
The sisters think King started abusing Shawn when he was just 5 years old. They say their mom’s devotion to King wouldn’t allow her to see what was happening.
LEAH: My mom literally gave him to King when he was 10 years old. I remember King telling my mom, “You are not qualified to raise a boy. You're only qualified to raise girls because you're a female.”
Joanna passes a photo around the table.
JOANNA: That’s one of our last pictures that we took while he was with us.
The sisters have been pretty matter-of-fact until this point, but Leah breaks down as she looks at the photo—at her family—back in 1979. Shawn with his shirt tucked in tight, an arm draped around Joanna’s shoulder. The sisters wearing dresses to their ankles and hair pulled back tight by barrettes. Everyone smiling.
LEAH: I remember Shawn running out the back door of that house crying. And I remember him begging Mama to help him and take him away. And I remember her slapping him in his face and sending him back in there. And she denied everything. She denied that he was getting hurt. She denied everything. At that point he gave up. He could not help what happened to him. And I have never blamed him for what he done. I don't excuse what he done and what he has done since, but I don't blame him at all. It is not his fault.
Rev. King brought their brother to the main house to live and even changed his name. And it was Shawn’s new name—Nathan Paul King—that authorities would later use. They’d use it a lot, starting when they arrived at the compound to make arrests some twenty years later.
By then, the Gipson sisters would be gone, but their lives were forever entwined with the Valley of the Kings. Remember when I told you Leah was in town for a funeral? It was her sister-in-law’s funeral. David Earl King’s daughter. Leah got married when she was barely 15...To King’s oldest son.
Not all of King’s church members lived on the compound. Eddie and Darlene Lamb had their own place a few miles away. Over time, their family grew. Each new addition was a home birth, as encouraged by the church. King’s wife, Ruth, always assisted as midwife. In fact, she was at Darlene’s side when Nate let out his first cry.
Nate remembers his growing up years as happy, for the most part.
NATE: I grew up in a family of six. I had three sisters. I had no chance for survival (laughs). Unfortunately. But no, they're great. Great sisters . It was a very country setting where we grew up. The closest town was probably 30 minutes in any direction . We were very much involved in the outdoors, and early memories around the house that we have were growing things in the garden. And I learned a lot of my life's lessons hoeing a garden . . .
Nate and his sisters attended the church school. Their whole lives centered around the church. Looking back, Nate’s mother, Darlene, can recognize there were problems.
DARLENE: They didn’t really allow us to go nowhere. They didn’t want us to go visit other churches, stuff like that, which would have been great, you know, to have fellowship with other people and the kids could have had more friends.
The church at the Valley of the Kings had no elders, no deacons. Only one leader—David Earl King. Darlene Lamb says he made excessive demands on her husband’s time.
DARLENE: “Oh, I need you to come over here and work on something or other.” Then he’d go over there and work until midnight, and then he’d have to get back up at 5 o'clock in the morning and go to work. He was tied up more over there at times than at home.
And while Eddie Lamb was busy doing carpentry and mechanic work at the compound, Nate was there a lot, too. He remembers when he’d just turned 13.
NATE: It was a period of time where the pastor at the church began to “groom” me.
King, then 66 years old, told the Lambs that Nate needed a grandfather. He volunteered to fill the role.
DARLENE: You know, I thought that that was good. And he would buy things for Nathaniel a cowboy hat, different things, you know.
Darlene didn’t know what else King had offered to give Nate. A truck. One of the used ones on his lot. At no cost if Nate would just come to King’s house and stay for a while.
But over time, Darlene started to notice a change in her son. Nate was distant. Disobedient. And every time they went to church Nate wouldn’t look at the preacher. He just stared out the window. Finally, she knew she had to ask him. She brought her husband and Nate into the living room.
DARLENE: I told the girls, I said, “Y'all go in there and shut the door.” And I had Nate to sit down on the couch. And I was determined I was fixing to find out something before that night was up. And I asked him, I said, “Son, I want you to tell me the truth.” I said, “Has David Earl King done anything to you?” And he just dropped his head down, and lots of remorse and stuff. He said, “Yes.” I said, “How many times?” He said, “Several.”
Nate counts that as one of the hardest nights of his life . . . telling his parents what had happened.
NATE: I was totally violated, violated from another man. And unfortunately this was my pastor. I was a young man, you know, trying to find my way in life and develop good traits to become a good man. I was just completely ashamed to talk to my mom or my dad, no close friend. When you get in those situations, you know, you want to go to the church for help, but in this case, I couldn't go to the church for help.
But as difficult as it was to recount his abuse to his parents, Nate had been hoping for an out all along.
NATE: There were several occasions where we would be riding in the truck and, um, he would, uh, go down a dirt road and, um, you know, and, um, it just kept going on and on and on. And the one thing that struck me as this kept repeating itself, I knew at some point there was going to be a way out. But I didn't know how I was going to get out, but I knew in my mind being raised in a home that taught Biblical values. I knew that what was happening was wrong and something had to happen at some point.
And the abuse wasn’t just physical. King was also guilty of spiritual abuse.
NATE: He said if I knew what I was doing was wrong, I wouldn't be doing it. I remember riding down the country road in a small community in a tan Ford F150 with those words coming out of his mouth. And it shook the core of me, and I thought to myself, “Oh my God, what can I do?” And as a 13 year old boy, young man, it shook, I can't hardly describe how it shook the core of my being to where that if my pastor thought that violating another young man was Biblically right, or right in any form, and he had no conscience to realize that that was wrong, then I wanted nothing to do with church. I wanted nothing to do with anything connected to church . . .
Something else about Nate’s abuse would come out later. King wasn’t the only one involved in these crimes.
DARLENE: The other guy didn't do anything to him, but he watched. He was like, you know, an accessory of it, so to speak. But he was a victim also from his young years.
Darlene is referring to Nathan Paul King—or Shawn Gipson to his sisters Joanna, Leah, and Tabitha—the sisters who grew up on the compound. Shawn was King’s victim, even though he was now 32 years old and inflicting abuse himself. And as prosecutors would soon find out, Shawn and Nate only represented the tip of an iceberg.
The truth was, King was a master at acquiring victims. His compound welcomed runaways and delinquents. Single moms with young children. He promised them a good life on the compound that operated as a row-crop farm. Church members viewed King’s actions as benevolent work, good deeds. The kind of stuff they should emulate.
But Nate Lamb didn’t fit King’s typical victim M-O. He was well-adjusted, with protective parents. He didn’t live on the compound. He wasn’t a little kid. And that’s where authorities like Toney Rushing say King made his mistake.
AMBI: STREET SOUNDS
Last spring I traveled to Tylertown, Mississippi, population 1,464. It’s the county seat where the compound was located. Tylertown is also where the Walthall County Sheriff’s office sits, the place I needed to go. I wanted to find out if any of its current officers were employed there 20 years ago. I wasn’t disappointed.
Toney Rushing is the chief deputy now, with his own desk and a well-worn office chair. But he was an investigator back in 2001. In hushed tones, his administrative assistant told me the King case has always bothered Rushing. I believe her. It seems to pain him to talk about it. Especially the years prior to King’s final arrest.
RUSHING: There had been reports that young boys would either run away from that facility, uh, compound there, Valley of the Kings. And during the night or during the day, just run away. After a while, you get to wondering why they're running away. Nothing ever really surfaced, you know, you couldn't -- nobody stepped up.
Until Nate. But it didn’t happen right away. After Nate told his parents what had happened, they took a few days to pray things through before they went to the authorities. Darlene wanted a doctor to examine Nate first. Really, she was hoping the doctor would file charges so they wouldn’t have to. The Lambs had seen David Earl King get out of trouble before, and they didn’t want to face his anger if it happened again.
Nate remembers being afraid.
NATE: Mind you now, this man was very influential. He was very powerful. He had a lot of guns.
It turns out, the Lambs had every right to be afraid. Somehow word got around that Nate was going to report King. A friend called and told the Lambs they were in danger. Immediate danger. Someone was headed to their house. Nate describes how he felt as they took shelter inside their home.
NATE: Our life was upside down. Our family of six, conservative home, conservative family. God-fearing people. Dad, hard-working man, working 10, 12 hours a day to provide for his family. Mom, staying home with the kids and taking care and doing the motherly duties. Our life was a wreck. It was upside down . . .
The whole family hid in the dark. Darlene tells what happened next.
DARLENE: We had a scanner because .my son and my husband were in the fire department. Within probably 15 minutes the whole entire fire department crew was in our yard because they heard it on the thing. And they knew what was going on. Some had loaded guns, parked down the road from us . . .
Back then, Billy Wayne Thornhill was a deputy. Now, he’s a captain, with rank bars stacked on his collar to prove it.
THORNHILL: David Earl King—I grew up more or less, mostly everybody knew him...
I met Thornhill outside the sheriff’s office in Tylertown. He was perched on a metal rail with his arms crossed against his chest.
THORNHILL: Me being kind of naive, I'm thinking, "Well, he runs a church, runs a little school, and it's a good guy," you know? But oh, that turned out not to be so true.
Thornhill was on duty the night the Lambs called for help. He got to their house in Jayess as fast as he could.
THORNHILL: The Lambs were upset. They were mad. Uh, course, if your child had been molested, you'd be mad, too.
Thornhill had been called to the area before, back when a child ran away from the Valley of the Kings. This time, he thought things might turn out differently.
THORNHILL: Nathan was a strong young man, a big old tall boy. Big old tall string-bean boy. Just a country boy, good old country people. I thought we might have something if Nathan Lamb and the Lambs would help us. So that's when I told them just don't talk to nobody. You're safe now. He's not going to harm you . . .
Officer Thornhill went to the compound and warned the King family to stay away from the Lambs. Meanwhile, Edward Lamb, Nate’s father, camped out in his living room . . . with a loaded rifle.
On the next episode of Truth Be Told, Nate Lamb remembers the trial.
NATE: We were in to hear the verdict of the jury. All the way around the building of the courthouse was surrounded with law enforcement. They were all in the courthouse, shoulder to shoulder . . . there were tremendous threats . . .
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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