Skowhegan woman seeks return of father’s body
Blethen Maine Newspapers, Aug. 2, 2003
By ALAN CROWELL, Staff Writer
SKOWHEGAN — Buried in a cemetery in a small German town near the city of Augsburg is the body of Crystal Towle’s father, and part of her childhood.
Towle, now 26 and living in Skowhegan with her husband and two children, wants them back.
Ad: Vacation? City Trip? Weekend Break? Book Skip-the-line tickets
From the time she was 6 until her father died in August 1988, Towle, her mother, two sisters and brother lived a life dominated by a tiny nondenominational church that Towle’s father, Carroll A. Rines, had joined while serving in Germany as a sergeant in the Army.
The church, which Towle calls a cult, determined how they dressed, wore their hair, who they could socialize with and even when they ate — requiring week-long fasts that all of the children had to follow.
It controlled every facet of the family’s life and its domination ended only when Towle’s father, Carroll A. Rines, a retired sergeant 1st class who had served in Vietnam, died.
Then, Towle’s mother, Effie Rines, broke with the church and moved the four children to Maine.
Church members tracked the family down, harassing Effie Rines and accusing her of taking her children to “Satan’s territory,” according to Effie Rines, who now lives in Norridgewock.
After changing her number four times, Rines said she thought her family was rid of the cult, until Towle received a call from a church member in June.
The church member said that the 15-year lease on Carroll Rines’ grave was up and that unless the family renewed the lease, his body would be removed and “disposed of.”
Repeated efforts to reach members of the church by phone this week were unsuccessful, but Towle has provided documentation of the lease for her father’s grave.
Now Towle has less than three weeks to raise the $4,360 it will take to bring her father back to a grave in the state where he was born and in the country that he served.
“In my heart I feel like my dad should be home,” she said.
A third option, to sign the grave over to the church, Towle refuses to consider because she says she wants her father removed from the control of the church that dominated his life and hers for five years.
“I loved my father a lot and I forgive him for things that happened in my life. I think he was really, really badly influenced by that church,” Towle said.
Growing up in the United States when her father was stationed in Massachusetts, Towle said she remembers piggyback rides, her father teaching her to ride a bike and family camping trips.
“But when he got heavily involved in the church, it was school, sleep and eat. That was it,” Towle said. “I feel I lost all my childhood.”
Towle’s father, a thin man with dark hair and huge hands who was so tall at 6 feet, 7 inches that Towle remembers it hurt her neck to look up to him, joined the church when he was serving in Augsburg, Germany, and his family was still in Massachusetts.
Towle said she remembers packing her toys after her father called the family to join him.
“He said once you get here, we have a lot to talk about,” she said.
When they arrived in Germany, their toys, their television and anything that smacked of America was thrown away.
Even a Raggedy Ann doll was discarded for fear of witchcraft.
But perhaps most disturbing was the change in Towle’s father.
A sometimes stern man raised on a farm in Harmony, he became a harsh disciplinarian, sometimes tapping his children’s heads with a hammer or the handle of a screwdriver for a perceived misdeed.
A wooden board inscribed with a Bible verse was used for more formal punishment.
The children were kept isolated from all outside influences, home schooled in the family basement and forbidden from playing with children outside the church community.
Because of the church’s mistrust of modern technology, faith healing was prescribed for illness.
When Towle had appendicitis at 8, she endured flu-like symptoms for two weeks until her mother finally convinced her father to take her to the hospital where doctors rushed her into surgery for a burst appendix.
“Their way of living was strictly by the Bible,” Towle said.
When Carroll Rines became ill with lung cancer, the influence of the church only became more pronounced.
Obedient to the church, Rines at first refused medical treatment. But as his illness progressed, he was finally taken to a military hospital, where he died Aug. 20, 1988.
When he died, church members decided what to do with the body and two women members of the church told Edith Rines they would move into her house to help her raise her family.
It was then that Edith Rines rebelled, using words that Towle had never heard before.
She told the two women that she was going to move her family back to the United States to be with family members.
Rines said this week that it was a shock to discover that her husband’s body could be returned to his country after 15 years.
She said having him here would be good for her children and she believes it is what her husband wanted in his final days battling cancer.
“At the end, he grabbed my hand and he said ‘home.’ And the tears came and I knew right then he wanted to come home,” she said.