Kidnapping for Christ

Time Magazine: Religion

March 12, 1973, North America

Wes Lockwood, 20, a junior at Yale, had a dental appointment at 4pm last Jan 16. He never made it. Nor did he show up at 6pm for his job as a dishwasher at the Faculty Club. He was next seen being driven through a tollgate on the Pennsylvania Turnpike, where he cried for help and said he was being kidnapped. Police stopped the car, which also contained two white men and a black. One of the white convinced the cops that the boy was mentally ill. They then drove on to an apartment in Masontown, Pa., 40 miles south of Pittsburgh. Lockwood was held captive there for 2 ½ days.

Thirteen days later, Dan Voll, 20, a good friend and former roommate of Lockwood’s at Yale, was walking along 119th street in Manhattan when a 6-ft. 2-in., 200-lb, white man grabbed him by the arm, and a smaller black man pushed him into a waiting car driven by a middle aged white woman. “Don’t you know you are possessed by demons?” The woman said, according to Voll. The youth screamed for help so persistently that the police intervened and freed him, unhurt except for a dislocated finger.

The police might have pressed kidnapping charges against Voll’s abductors except for one fact: they included his mother and father, a junior high school principal in Farmington, Conn. The Lockwood disappearance involved his father, a stockbroker in Los Angeles, plus an uncle. The black man in both cases was Ted Patrick, 42, a former community-relations consultant for California Governor Ronald Regan. He now heads a “deprogramming” organization that helps parents recapture children who have taken up with exotic religious sects. Patrick, a church-going Methodist, began heretic hunting as a leader in the FREECOG (Free Our Children from the Children of God) movement, a parents’ vigilante group organized to reclaim offspring who joined that authoritarian fundamentalist sect (Time, Jan 24, 1972). Now Patrick claims to have an underground network of deprogrammers throughout the US. They have recovered, he says, some 600 youths form 61 different fundamentalist, Pentecostal or Oriental religious sects during the past two years. “Team members” of the underground network say that Patrick charges no fee for his services except what is necessary for travel and other expenses. He also claims that the child’s parent must assume the basic responsibility of any abduction. The abductions are justified, Patrick feels, because the youths have already been “psychologically kidnapped” by offbeat religious sects. Parents, he says, are only “rescuing” them.

Patrick and his team members – mostly concerned parents, already deprogrammed kids and an occasional clergyman – are not known to have any professional credentials in psychology. Nevertheless, they claim their treatment always works. They liken it to an encounter group session. Other accounts of deprogramming indicate that the process, which can last from two days to two weeks, is something between a brainwashing and an inquisition. According to Pat (“Biff”) Alexander, 23, a former member of the Jesus movement who recanted and is now a member of Patrick’s team, the first step is an intensive interrogation, sometimes lasting from morning until midnight. This is designed to “break” the subject by demolishing his false religious views. When he is sufficiently pliable, his parents take him home with them for “finishing,” the reconstruction of his old family and church ties.