PLAINFIELD — “God’s House” is empty. Neighbors are happy.
When Plainfield police hauled away Lee Ecker, 72, also known as “J.C. Foster,” and Theresa Bellavance, 41, also known as “Sister Rachel,” from 88 Church St., also known as “God’s House,” Thursday, the neighbors cheered.
Some took the day off to videotape it. Others popped champagne corks. “I think it’s just great,” said Church Street resident Paula Malboef. “I’m just relieved.”
For nearly two decades, the white structure with apocalyptic Biblical writing adorning its exterior has been home to inhabitants claiming they were preordained to live there, though they didn’t own it or pay rent.
The removal of Ecker and Bellavance Thursday was the final act in a summerlong saga regarding the controversial religious group’s eviction from the property, according to Willimantic lawyer John McGrath, who represents Richard Asal of Thompson.
Asal is the financial conservator for Benjamin Zimmerman, who is living in a Norwich nursing home. According to town records, Zimmerman owns the property and was a member of “God’s House.”
“What I thought was interesting was the neighbors’ reaction,” McGrath said. “The neighbors are kind of glad to see it happen after 20 years.”
When 9 a.m. rolled around Thursday — the judicial marshal’s deadline for the duo to leave per court eviction orders — a circus-like atmosphere enveloped the normally quiet neighborhood.
With television news cameras and print media present, all eyes were on “God’s House’s” front door, where Judicial Marshal Richard W. Smith ordered Ecker and Bellavance to leave.
When they did not, as they had said they wouldn’t, they peacefully were handcuffed and taken away by police, who charged them with first-degree trespassing and failure to submit to fingerprints.
The two had words for the media and the crowd, however.
“I’m being taken from out of this house, but I’ll be back,” cried Ecker.
“This is what is happening and I say ‘hallelujah’ to it,” added Bellavance. “God is going to take care of us. May God have mercy on you all.”
Two former “God’s House” inhabitants, who called themselves “Sister Esther” and “Magdal,” sat in lawn chairs on the well-kept front grass to “support” Ecker and Bellavance.
Magdal said God told her three houses on Church Street, including “God’s House,” will come down and a “palace” will be built there instead.
The “God’s House” group first made headlines in the early 1980s, when they lived in the gazebo at Davis Park in Danielson.
Then, amid much fanfare and town scrutiny, the group relocated to Zimmerman’s house in Moosup, where they have lived since, bringing attention to themselves by dressing in long white robes.
McGrath said the house is Zimmerman’s only financial asset and it must be sold to pay his nursing home bills. Ecker and Bellavance refused to vacate the house, however, and the eviction process worked its way through the courts all summer.
“We’re going to have to get the house ready and sell it, because Mr. Zimmerman is in a nursing home,” McGrath said, as town workers took the furniture from the house and contractors changed the locks.
Ecker and Bellavance are being held on bond and are slated to appear in Danielson Superior Court today.
It is not known where they will stay should they post bond. Church Street residents said they’re just glad it won’t be at “God’s House.”
They said the bizarre signs on the property with their apocalyptic references against neighbors and townspeople, harmed the neighborhood’s character and may have lowered property values.
“It’s horrendous,” said former Church Street resident Margaret St. Amour, who grew up in the shadow of “God’s House.”
“What does it do to your house value when you have these wackos here?”