Cleveland Man Intent On Reclaiming His Daughter
How far would you go to reclaim a child or loved one from the grasp of a religious cult? What if a stranger asked you for your help?
These are questions Greg Badger asked himself and others when he set out to rescue his 18-year-old daughter, Stephenie, from a group known as the Brethren.
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Stephenie was an intelligent, deeply religious high school senior. She was well on her way to college after graduation from high school. But Stephenie mysteriously disappeared one day. It was her disappearance that set off a chain reaction of strangers to the aid of Greg and Kathy Badger.
Stephenie became the target of cult members working out of a house on Kinsman Road on the east side of Cleveland. After Stephenie was recruited, the group quickly packed up and left town. Stephenie went with them.
The members, working under the direction of cult leader Jim Roberts, pictured, are asked to cut off all contact with their families — to pick up and leave everything behind. They live a life of self-inflicted extreme poverty, often seen picking food out of garbage cans.
Greg Badger says Jim Roberts is the reason he is forced to break the law.
“I see Jim Roberts as somebody who is a fanatic. He puts people in a position where in order to correct the wrong that he’s done, you actually have to disobey the law.”
Greg Badger Greg and Kathy, normally law abiding citizens, were prepared to kidnap Stephenie from the Brethren’s grasp in St. Louis, Mo. It was there that the first stranger came to the couple’s aid. His name is David Campbell, a St. Louis breadmaker.
Acting on a hunch, Greg faxed copies of Stephenie’s picture to Great Harvest bread companies throughout the St. Louis area. Members of the Brethren were known to have begged for food at the company in the Cleveland area. With luck, Greg thought someone might recognize his daughter.
He was right. Campbell saw Stephenie, and called Greg.
“I want to make clear. I don’t care how anyone leads their life. You’re over eighteen; you got the right to do whatever you want. My kind of motto is, your rights stop at my nose,” said Campbell.
David says he chose to help a stranger because he was moved by Greg Badger’s passion.
“I wasn’t passing judgment on the cult,” he said. “I’m just trying to help a man find his daughter.”
But for Greg and Kathy, finding Stephenie was only the first step. Getting her to go with them, either on her own, or by force, would become the trickiest part of their plan. That’s where another stranger came into the picture.
“Yeah, he was a stranger, but when he started talking to me he was just another parent. Whether he was from next door, around the corner, or Cleveland. He was another parent who wanted his kid,” says Peggy Jarus, pictured.
Once the Badgers located Stephenie, Jarus tipped off the Badgers when the Brethren starting packing up to make yet another move. Jarus also pulled out a baseball bat and came to Greg’s aid as he pulled an uncooperative Stephenie out of the house.
“So when I saw that they were going to stop him, I reacted. I’m a mom. I grabbed the baseball bat. I used what I had to do at the time and I helped. [One of the cult members] walked toward me and I told him ‘I’ll knock your damn head off,'” said Jarus. “I don’t care how peaceful you are. This is his daughter. He wants her back and he’s gonna get her back.”
Investigator Tom Merriman asked Jarus what motivated her to take a baseball bat and help a stranger, who was pulling a young girl out of a home in handcuffs.
“Love,” she replied. “Because I’ve got four kids. And at that point he when he was in that car and he was begging her, ‘And I love you, please come home,’ that was my daughter he was talking to.”
Handcuffed, kidnapped, and virtually unresponsive, Stephenie is forced to hide out with her parents at a Motel Six on the outskirts of St. Louis. The next part of their journey would be the most stressful. They would spend several hours driving to Chattanooga, Tenn. Once there, however, Stephenie surprised everyone and agreed to go to counseling.
Greg Badger feels he’s doing the right thing, and in no way does he believe he’s trampling on his daughter’s religious freedom.
“I see a madman who is using unethical methods to gain control of other people’s lives for his own egotistical purposes. And unfortunately, it’s done under the cloak of freedom of religion. After considering all the options that we had available to us, there really weren’t any others, there just weren’t any other options,” says Greg.
No where to turn. No other options. Just the kindness and cooperation of complete strangers.
Stephenie has left her mark on the life of Peggy Jarus.
“I’ve never seen her face. I hope someday that I get to meet her and give her a hug cause she’s never gonna leave my heart,” said Jarus.
Stephenie is now living back in Cleveland and finishing up her course requirements at Collinwood High School.