The state of Ohio executed Jeffrey Lundgren this morning for murdering 5 members of his cult.
This case has a strong Missouri connection. That’s why we are providing the report from from Joe Pagoonakis (audio link below) with WEWS-TV, Cleveland, who was at the Lucasville Ohio prison this morning when Lundgren was executed.
Lundgren was born in Independence in 1950. He attended then-Central Missouri State University for a couple of years where he met and married Alice Keehler, a native of Mack’s Creek. Both dropped out of college. He served in the Navy for four years and they moved to Independence in 1974 to find a job.
He split from the RLDS (now Community of Christ) Church in 1981 and formed his own group based on the teachings of the Bible and the Book of Mormon as he interpreted them. Among his followers were Dennis and Cheryl Avery.
Lundgren led his group to Kirtland Ohio, where Mormon founder Joseph Smith had established an early temple, claiming he was directed by the scriptures to take his group there. They arrived in August of 1984 and Lundgren and his wife were given jobs as tour guides at the temple. He claimed to have found the buried plates of the Book of Mormon in nearby Chapin Forest. It is thought that he stole about $25,000 from temple while working there and living in a nearby house provided by the church. He began to form a new group in his home. In 1986 he said he had gotten revelations for the return of Christ. When those visions were faulty, he announced a vision had told him his group had to seize the temple on May 3, 1988 and execute ten RLDS leaders and anyone else who got in their way.
Dennis and Cheryl Avery moved to Kirtland from Independence in April of 1987. They gave him $10,000 of the money they’d gotten from the sale of their Independence home. Lundgren, however, was critical of them for liberal tendencies.
In Sept, 1987, the RLDS church revoked Lundgren’s ministerial credentials because of his radical teachings. He withdrew from the church membership and moved to a farm near Kirtland and became even more militant.
In February, 1988, a deserter from his cult told the FBI about the planned temple takeover. The FBI passed information along to Kirtland police.
During this time, Lundgren apparently had a vision that he had to sacrifice the Avery family because it was becoming increasingly sinful. He enlisted the rest of his followers in his plan. A large hole was dug in the floor of the barn at Lundgren’s farm and on April 17 the entire Avery family–the parents and three children–were shot to death and their bodies were buried in the hole.
The Lundgren group went to West Virginia and established a compound but stayed only a short time before Lundgren decided to return to Missouri. After the group stayed briefly in a barn near Chilhowee, Lundgren decided the group needed to break up for the winter, earn some money, then reassemble in the spring. On December 31, 1989, one of the group went to the FBI in Kansas City, told the entire story, and information was sent to Kirtland where the bodies were found on January 3, 1990. A few days later, five Lundgren followers were arrested in KC. Three more surrendered later. Lundgren was tracked to southern California and arrested.
Lundgren was pronounced dead at 9:26 a.m., central time, today in Ohio. Several of his followers, including his wife, remain in prison.
The summary above is drawn from “The Kirtland Cult Killings,” by David Lohr.