Police search for evangelist’s alleged enforcer
LITTLE ROCK, Ark. (AP) — Seth Calagna recalled lying on the Fort Smith warehouse floor, feeling every strike of the board against his backside as blood oozed onto the winter-cooled concrete.
Calagna told detectives months later that John Erwin Kolbeck, an alleged enforcer for jailed evangelist Tony Alamo, paused after 20 strikes to order another ministry member to pull off the 17-year-old’s pants and thermals. Kolbeck slammed the wooden board against the teen’s underwear and bare skin until the board finally broke, according to a police report.
A police detective noted Calagna’s offense: “He said he made a sarcastic remark about Harry Potter.”
Kolbeck, 49, faces an arrest warrant on a second-degree felony battery charge over the incident. He hasn’t been seen since federal agents and state troopers raided one of the ministry’s Arkansas compounds more than a month ago.
Alamo, 74, faces charges he took children across state lines for sex. The evangelist has said “consent is puberty” but denies the allegations.
At a federal detention hearing Wednesday for Alamo, several witnesses said Kolbeck beat Alamo’s followers for even minor infractions like playing with a spray bottle. John Wesley Hall Jr., a Little Rock lawyer representing Alamo, declined to comment about the allegations against Kolbeck.
Former followers said Alamo sometimes introduced Kolbeck by mimicking Jack Nicholson’s menacing “Here’s Johnny!” from “The Shining.”
On Oct. 15, an FBI agent called Fort Smith police, asking detectives to talk to Calagna, now 18. Detectives described Calagna as initially reluctant to talk, as Alamo’s followers “have been taught that law enforcement (is) evil,” according to a report. However, he warmed up to officers and told them how his family still lives at an Alamo compound.
Calagna described the ministry as a place run on fear, where followers report on each other to Alamo, who metes out punishment through beatings, according to a detective’s report. Calagna said his father once chose to be beaten by Kolbeck rather than be forced out of the church.
Reports released Friday by the Fort Smith Police Department show officers first learned of Kolbeck in March 2006, after getting an anonymous call about a marriage between a 13-year-old girl and a 34-year-old man at Alamo’s church there.
Kolbeck met officers and told them he had just performed a marriage ceremony and the couple already left the church.
“I asked him how old the bride was and he replied, ‘She is about this tall,’ and raised his hand about chest level,” a report by Officer Joey Boyd reads. “I asked him if the bride was 13 years old and he stated, ‘Maybe.'”
Kolbeck refused to answer any other questions without a lawyer present, though he later tried to draw a distinction between a legal marriage and a ceremony, according to the report.
Officers later filed a rape report on the incident, which remains open, Fort Smith police Sgt. Levi Risley said. No charges have been filed.
While Risley said Alamo’s upcoming trial didn’t necessarily make finding Kolbeck an urgent matter, the sergeant said detectives and officers continued to search for the alleged enforcer.