Commuters pass it every day on their way to work. Neighbors have reported odd sightings and have been threatened for getting too close. Vans come and go two or three times a day. There is 24-hour security and large white fences that block the view of the housing complex near the highway.
Up Sierra Highway past Davenport Road in Agua Dulce sits the storied Tony Alamo Christian Church.
The church was deemed a hate group by the Southern Poverty Law Center because of its anti-Catholic teachings.
Rumors of brainwashing and polygamy have surrounded the ministry since its establishment in the 1960s. Its founder, 77-year-old Tony Alamo, was sentenced Nov. 13, 2009, to 175 years in prison for trafficking underage girls across state lines for sex.
A call to the church hotline reveals: “Pastor Alamo is currently serving the ministries from prison, writing scripture and sending it here to us, along with providing salvation for the terrorists and murderers in prison with him.”
Public records list Twenty First Century Holiness Tabernacle Inc. as the owner of the property where the church complex is located. The company also owns a parcel of land and some houses behind the Halfway House Café, farther down Sierra Highway.
The company was founded and run by Tony Alamo, and it is the name most of his properties are under today.
Public records also show the property is managed by Rodi Pollock Pettker Galbraith, a Los Angeles law firm. Company officials refused to comment about their involvement with Tony Alamo and his businesses.
Locals describe it as a suspicious place. No one knows what is going on behind closed doors, except for the religious followers.
Neighbors report that vans pass by the Halfway House at least once a day at around the same time, but the property looks to be vacant with the exception of a standard-looking white Ford van and an old station wagon. Blinds in all of the houses are drawn, and there is no movement or noise.
Waitress Sally Moore reports witnessing strange things since she started working at the Halfway House.
“My son used to play with some of the kids who lived back there,” said Moore, 50. “All of them were home-schooled and I never saw any girls, only teenage boys.”
Although her son never reported any strange occurrences, Moore never let him enter any of the Alamo homes.
“About a year ago a young girl ‘escaped’ with a man,” she said. “They sat in the corner of the café for about an hour to wait for a taxi. Another middle-aged man showed up and tried to convince the girl to come back to say goodbye to the rest of the people at the complex. In the middle of a heavy rainstorm, the two people went outside to wait for the cab, arguing with the middle-aged man until they finally left.”
Twenty-four hour security keeps watch over people entering or exiting church property.
Lauren Weightman, 21, of Agua Dulce, was riding a quad one day on the mountains behind her house, which sits near the back of the church property. She ran out of gas and continued to walk down the mountain to meet someone who had brought her gas for the quad.
“A man popped out of the bushes,” she said. “I didn’t hear him coming, so it scared me. He told me to get off the church’s property because I was trespassing. I thought it was weird he was out in the middle of nowhere.”
Neighbors report séances held at the late hours of the night.
“I went outside and heard voices, so my family and I went to check on it,” said Kaitlyn Clunich. “We got too close, and they warned us if we didn’t leave and go back in our house, they would call the police.”
Child Abuse Claims
The church complex was raided in 1988 by the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s detectives who were investigating reports of child abuse. The deputies found three boys who were subjected to the abuse and returned them to their fathers who had been previously excommunicated by the church.
Victims have come forward to appear on the Oprah Winfrey show to share their stories of Alamo and the hellish environment he created.
Victims told Winfrey they were made to be Alamo’s “spiritual wives” at the tender ages of 8 to 12. They said they were sexually assaulted, drugged and beaten by Alamo until they escaped.
Tony Alamo started his ministry in Hollywood in 1969 with his late wife, Susan Alamo. Born Bernie Lazar Hoffman, Alamo has been in and out of jail since that time for an assortment of crimes including tax evasion, theft, trafficking of underage girls, child abuse, illegal weapons charges, violating the Fair Labor Act, and he has been accused of polygamy.
Persons at the Tony Alamo prayer and information hotline declined to comment on Alamo’s conviction on 10 counts of transporting underage girls across state lines for sex. They did, however, comment on why there is 24-hour security.
“There have been shootings and violent crimes against members of the church and the church’s property,” a spokesperson said.
Alamo’s lawyers have indicated they plan to appeal his verdict and to prove his innocence.
Read Tony Alamo’s story in his own words here: http://www.scvhistory.com/scvhistory/alamo-alamo.htm