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Knowledge of our past is our inheritance. What we do with that knowledge will shape our destinies...

Monday, July 21, 2014

Crime Tidbit: Evangelist/Voodoo Murders

Have you heard of the Evangelist Murders of 1929?

Benny Evangelist was a mystic and "faith" healer who used a combination of religion and mysticism to heal the ailments of his community. He may have dabbled in voodoo as well. He was moderately wealthy, both due to his soothsaying as well as because he was something of a realtor.

On July 3, 1929, a neighborhood real estate agent went looking for Benny. When he got no answer to his knocks at the door, he let himself in and made a grisly discovery. Not only was Benny Evangelist dead, but he'd been decapitated. His entire family--wife Santina and four children aged 7, 5, 4 and 18 mos. had been killed as well. They were all hacked to pieces.

Benny Evangelist was an Italian immigrant who had founded a cult entitled, "Great Union Federation of America." He held worship services in his office amidst grotesque wax figurines which represented the planets. One was a huge eye, electronically lit, which Evangelist referred to as "the sun."

As with most unsolved cases, police of the time made a mess of things, the crime scene was trampled and compromised, and no one was ever charged. The Italian immigrant community was stubbornly tight-lipped, which didn't help matters.

Benny Evangelist (Source)
Still, police had three major theories. 

One involved a quasi-secret criminal band called the Black Hand, which Evangelist was tied to. Police found several letters from them, one of which was signed, the Vendetta, with a hatchet drawn underneath. This theory was kept open constantly, but nothing ever came of it.

A second theory involved a man named Umberto Tecchio. Tecchio was the last man to see the Evangelists alive, and three months prior to the murders had killed a man with a knife in an argument over a debt. He stopped by the house the evening prior to the murders to make a final payment on a house Evangelist had sold him. A friend who went with him reported nothing strange in the meeting between Tecchio and Evangelist. Yet, later a paperboy reported that Tecchio was seen on the Evangelists' porch early the morning the bodies were discovered. Tecchio died in 1934, and an important witness was deported to Italy, essentially blocking the pursuit of this theory.

A third, more disturbing theory involved a man named Aurelius Angelino, another Italian immigrant who had been acquainted with Evangelist in New York (where he'd previously lived). In 1919, Angelino tried to murder his entire family with an ax. He succeeding in killing two of his children before being stopped. He was sent to an insane asylum, where he broke out twice and was brought back. In 1923, he broke out a third time and was never seen again. Police wondered if perhaps Angelino had made his way to Detroit, where his old friend had set up shop. After all, the crime scene was “much more suggestive of the fanatic run amok than it is of the neighborhood bad man.” (Source)

Still others believed Evangelist himself was insane. He wrote a book entitled "The Oldest History of the World." It's "a pastiche of religious fanaticism with moments of clarity, delusion and illiterate beauty." (SourcePerhaps he was really into voodoo, or perhaps that was a cover to rip people off and make money. It is believed that he relieved more than one of his clients of their life savings.

What do you think of this cold case? Was Evangelist crazy, or just a con man? Were one of the two named suspects the culprit, or was it the Black Hand? Or someone else entirely? What strikes you about this story?


  1. I would say it was a mob hit. Italian immigrant that makes a lot of money ripping people off. And how grewsome the crime scene was. Maybe that insane guy got some help getting out of prison so he could kill this guy and his family.

    1. Yeah that definitely sounds plausible. Good point about the gore of the scene seeming pretty mafia-ish. I hadn't thought of it that way. Thanks Bud! :D