Pastor missing since 1980 found

The pastor of a Hammond church who mysteriously vanished in 1980 in what was described as an abduction by a satanic cult has been rediscovered as an Arkansas mayor.

Don LaRose admitted to newspaper reporters Tuesday he left his wife and two daughters behind in Hammond. He said he fled because he was about to be abducted by a group of shadowy figures who had kidnapped him in New York five years earlier.

LaRose admitted to his actions Tuesday only after The Benton County Daily Record in Bentonville, Ark., pieced together the story based on tips from family members and Internet research. He confirmed the story in a phone interview with The Times.

LaRose has gone by the fake name Ken Williams for 27 years, and maintains a talk-radio show, a new marriage and has served as the mayor of Centerton, Ark., since 2001.

“I had an idea that sometime this would come down,” LaRose said in an interview Tuesday night. “It had been a lot of years, though.”

LaRose’s original missing persons report from Hammond police in 1980 said he was born in Allentown, Pa., in 1940.

He told his parishioners in Hammond he was abducted by a cult in 1975 from Maine, N.Y., for “blaspheming Satan,” Hammond Times articles from the time say. He claimed he was given shock therapy to erase his memory and then dumped in Minneapolis.

Rather than return to the East Coast, LaRose settled with his wife in the Midwest, where he joined the Hessville Baptist Church and became its pastor around 1978, when the former pastor died.

“He seemed to be a great man, with integrity, honesty, a good rapport, he loved people, good communicator,” said Lee Roy Floyd, the janitor at the church and a 45-year member of its Deacon Board. “You think, good gracious, this is a good find.”

Floyd said LaRose began acting strangely just before he disappeared. He began telling people that Satanists were threatening him and his family again because he was speaking out about cults.

The day before he disappeared, he was speaking to a group in the church, and in the middle of his sermon he stopped talking and looked at the back of the room. No one who turned around saw anything, but LaRose later claimed he had seen one of the Satanists through a window.

“And the next day he left. He was gone,” Floyd said.

LaRose said Tuesday he was ordered by the kidnappers — whom he now claims are an “underworld” crime group, not a Satanic cult — to get into a car waiting in a school parking lot so he could be kidnapped again.

“I was told I had crossed the line and had to disappear again,” LaRose said, adding that his abductors threatened to kill his family if he did not cooperate.

He said he went to Calumet City, bought a bicycle, and rode out of town. An account of the experience he has published online under the name Don LaRose, said he drifted out West for several years before ending up in Arkansas.

The Daily Record found that LaRose has been using the name and Social Security number of a Bruce Kent Williams, who was killed in a car wreck in Middleport, N.Y., in 1958.

LaRose told The Times his captors provided him with the Williams identity when they dropped him off in Minneapolis, and he resumed it after he left Hammond because he “didn’t know what else to do.”

He was remarried 21 years ago, and said he has lived in fear of discovery ever since. His closest call was when he appeared on a televised fundraiser for cerebral palsy, he said.

He moved to Centerton, a bedroom community near Wal-Mart’s world headquarters in Bentonville, and was appointed mayor in 2001. He has won two elections since. Now, he intends to resign.

LaRose said Tuesday he fears the rush of publicity from his discovery will again put his family in jeopardy.

“I’m afraid even now that because this has come out, that they might be in danger,” LaRose said.

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Religion News Blog posted this on Wednesday November 21, 2007.
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