The Rev. DeVernon LeGrand,
who headed St. John's Pentecostal Church of Our Lord in Brooklyn,
recruited many teenage "nuns" who solicited money for his church. In
1975 the pastor, age 50, was convicted of raping one of the 17-year-old
In 1976 the bodies of two more of the
girls were found in a pond at LeGrand's farm in the Catskills. He and a
son were convicted of murdering them. In 1977 the pastor was found
guilty of murdering his former wives, who died in 1963 and 1970. He's
serving life in prison.
A New York native, born in 1925, LeGrand was arrested on charges of kidnapping, assault, and firearms possession in 1965.
Three years later, police accused him of snatching a 23-year-old woman from her home, assaulting and raping her before she managed to escape. Neither case was prosecuted, but in 1975, LeGrand was convicted of bribery and sexual misconduct with a 17-year-old girl.
That same year, along with his 20-year-old son Noconda, LeGrand was convicted of kidnapping and rape; he drew a sentence of five to 15 years in prison, while his son got off "easy" with an eight-year prison term. Such conduct is not unheard of in New York City, but it is peculiar for the leader of a church.
A self-styled holy man, LeGrand had organized St. John's Pentecostal Church of Our Lord a decade earlier, putting down roots in the Crown Heights district of Brooklyn. His headquarters, a four-story townhouse, was occupied by eleven "nuns" and their 47 children, many of them fathered by LeGrand.
According to police, LeGrand did most of his recruiting by seduction, impregnating young women, then threatening them or their children if they refused to beg for money on the streets. His black-clad "nuns" were often seen around Grand Central Station, and others had been jailed on misdemeanor charges in New Jersey. It was within the Crown Heights "chapel" that LeGrand had raped his final victim, during August 1974, and authorities suspected that sexual assault was only the tip of the iceberg.
In 1966, LeGrand's "church" had purchased a 58-acre spread in the Catskills, near White Sulphur Springs, converting the place to a summer retreat for the faithful. Over the next eight years, state police received steady complaints from the neighbors, alleging child abuse and health violations, wild parties and indiscriminate gunfire. Children from the camp roamed freely through the countryside, begging and stealing, while horses were cruelly beaten and left to starve.
Authorities raided the camp in October 1968, seizing drug paraphernalia, photographing clogged toilets and general squalor, but LeGrand's troop returned each summer, without fail, immune to public opinion.
Church members Gladys Stewart, 16, and her sister Yvonne, 18, had testified for the prosecution in LeGrand's bribery trial, but they were missing when the D.A. sought to use their testimony in the later rape case. Informants said the girls were dead, dismembered in the Brooklyn "church," with their remains transported to the Catskills for disposal. State police dug up the ranch in mid-December 1975, but they came away empty-handed.
Three months later, on March 6, assorted bones and bits of cartilage were found in Briscoe Lake, and Brooklyn raiding parties turned up human bloodstains in the Crown Heights townhouse. By April, state police were confident that Devernon LeGrand had murdered a dozen or more victims, dumping some of them in Briscoe Lake. The list included three wives, two of LeGrand's step-children, the Stewart sisters, and two male employees of his "church."
In May 1976, LeGrand was indicted on four counts of murder, including the Stewarts and two of his wives, slain in 1963 and 1970, respectively. The "reverend's" son, 26-year-old Steven LeGrand, was also charged with murdering the Stewart sisters, plus two men employed by his father as pimps.
Father and son were convicted together in the Stewart case, on May 7, 1977, and both drew prison terms of 25 years to life.
Michael Newton - An Encyclopedia
of Modern Serial Killers - Hunting Humans
Back to Brooklyn house of evil
Bizarre sisters act writes new chapter in horror
story of rape, cages and murder
By Brad Hamilton - NYPost.com
August 1, 2010
The girl met her killer at Adventur ers Inn, a second-
rate amusement park in College Point, Queens.
Elizabeth Brown, 15, was at the park with friends one
summer night in 1974 when he rolled up in his chauffeur-driven, cream-colored
Cadillac -- with its own bar and TV -- and stepped out. He would have
been hard to resist: a dapper preacher in a silk suit with movie-star
looks, wealth and charm.
But this "pastor," Devernon "Doc" LeGrand, 50, had no
intention of saving her soul. His slick approach was intended to snare
the girl into his commune in Brooklyn, where he plied teens with drugs
and booze, seduced them and forced them to panhandle in nun garb.
Brown became LeGrand's concubine and beggar, hitting
up subway riders by day and having sex with him and dropping angel dust
"She had a good heart but was very angry, very
belligerent," said Brown's sister Cathy. "Our father was sick with
cancer and dying. She was looking for stability. A kid like that
attracts dirtbags like magnets."
Thirty-six years later, authorities assumed LeGrand's
cult, which eventually devolved into rape and murder and scandalized the
city in the 1970s, was long gone. But last week they opened a new probe
into the remnants of his clan after The Post found Mindy LeGrand, his
daughter-in-law, pulling the same old sister act in Little Italy.
Investigators have returned to the dark secrets of
222 Brooklyn Ave., a Crown Heights row house where for two decades
LeGrand headed one of the most notorious crime families in city history.
LeGRAND fathered 46 children, many of whom lived in
tiny bedrooms upstairs in the four-story headquarters where Devernon
preached on the first floor. For years, kids were kept in cages, starved
and beaten -- until cops busted LeGrand for child-abuse in 1965.
"They had these tiny little rooms. The kids would
stay with their mothers or just run around everywhere," said Eugene
Jarkow, who investigated LeGrand for the Brooklyn District Attorney's
Office. "The street-level floor is where they had the church. There was
a big meat freezer in the basement, supposedly where he'd put the bodies,
but there was no proof of that."
Every morning, LeGrand's phony nuns would pile into
his Cadillac and he would drop them off at locations across the city.
One fake sister, Vivian Roye, "was olive-skinned and passed as Italian
-- she did very well on Mulberry Street," recalled former Brooklyn
prosecutor Harold Rosenbaum.
The church took in an estimated $250,000 a year,
enough to buy the Crown Heights building and a 58-acre farm in Sullivan
County, which LeGrand paid for with rolls of coins.
When Devernon wasn't in a rage, life could be good.
There were tailored outfits, luxury cars and gambling trips to Atlantic
City. Booze and drugs flowed freely.
"They lived what they thought was the good life,"
Jarkow said. Cathy Brown added, "There was always a party at that
Jarkow even admitted to a certain fondness for the
"I liked him -- and I knew the horrors he committed,
the grief he brought on this earth," said Jarkow. "The guy could have
sold me anything. He was very charming. . . . He was like an entertainer."
LeGRAND, born in 1924, said he came to New York as a
12-year-old with his parents from Laurinburg, NC. He claimed he was
ordained in 1954 on Long Island and got a doctorate in a psychology and
theology from an unnamed institute in Newark.
LeGrand was charged with killing his first wife, Ann
Sorise, and his second wife, Ernestine Timmons. The wonder is that he
got away with so much for so long. City and state officials never
figured out a way to shut down the panhandling swindle. And as many as
23 additional "parishioners" went missing and couldn't be located. Cops
wondered: Had LeGrand killed them?
Twice cops dug up the basement of the church looking
for bodies -- in 1965, after three members vanished, and 10 years later
while looking for the remains of two teenage sisters. It was a long time
before they would learn the full truth.
The cloak began to fall away in 1975 when LeGrand and
his son Noconda were convicted of first-degree rape after they
repeatedly sexually assaulted a 20-year-old woman in the church. Then
two cult insiders -- Kathleen Kennedy and the church handyman, Frank
Holman -- came forward to say LeGrand had killed his own daughter-in-law,
Gladys Stewart, 18, in a fit of rage.
The truth was much worse.
Stewart, who had married LeGrand's 20-year-old
stepson, Donald Stewart, had had enough of the family and wanted out.
She had also secretly helped prosecutors get the rape conviction. When
she made it clear to Donald on Oct. 3, 1975, that she was leaving for
good, he flew into a rage, and LeGrand intervened.
LeGrand detained both Stewart and her sister, Yvonne
Rivera, 16, who was visiting, and ordered the rest of the congregation
downstairs to the first-floor meeting room, where he demanded they stay
"until I tell you to come out." Over the next two hours, from 6:30 p.m.
to 8:30 p.m., LeGrand and another stepson kicked and beat the two teens.
A LeGrand daughter went in and told the flock, "Daddy's stomping Gladys."
Holman said he heard a woman scream, and the group
began to sing hymns. They stayed until 2:30 a.m., when LeGrand came in
and sent them to bed. Weeks later, LeGrand boasted he'd killed and
dismembered the girls and had their remains incinerated at his upstate
"You all remember Gladys," he said. "Daughter or no
daughter, you'll join the bitch. You know what I do with bitches. I burn
them. . . . That little bitch [Yvonne] came down to see about her sister
and I got her, too."
Holman, who joined the church after leaving his job
as an autopsy assistant with the Brooklyn Medical Examiner's Office,
said he was ordered to load two big garbage bags into his car and drive
them to the farm. When he got there, something had spilled from a bag.
It was Yvonne Rivera's severed head.
He dumped the jumble of body parts into an old
bathtub, doused them with paint thinner, and set the contents on fire.
They burned for two hours. He then put the ashy remains in a garbage
can, which he tossed into a pond near the camp. He later led
investigators to where the bone fragments were submerged.
"I was given two large Kentucky Fried Chicken buckets
with bones and told, 'Here, try the case,' " said Rosenbaum.
The prosecutor said he enlisted an expert from the
Museum of Natural History to piece together the fragments, and LeGrand
and stepson Steven LeGrand were convicted of the double homicide; each
got 25 to life. Devernon LeGrand died in prison in 2006 at age 82.
THE family business, renamed St. Joseph's Church of
Christ and Home, is now headed by LeGrand's son, Noconda, the convicted
rapist, and is under investigation by the state attorney general. The
agency wants to know why Mindy LeGrand is lying about being an Episcopal
sister and raising funds for an orphanage that doesn't exist.
The Attorney General's Office served LeGrand with a
subpoena after The Post's front-page expose last Sunday, sources said.
The city Health Department sent inspectors to 222
Brooklyn Ave. last week after her son Quomenters claimed to The Post
that the church took in orphans and provided child care. The inspectors
found no evidence of either, a department spokesperson said.
Perhaps more worrisome was Quomenters' insistence
that nine youths who lived in the house were "away at summer camp" on
the family's farm in White Sulphur Springs, the same place -- now
abandoned -- where Holman burned up the Rivera sisters' bodies.
A Job Description Contradicted by Killings
By Joseph P. Fried - The New York Times
Sunday, September 1, 2002
He ran a house of God, he said, but it turned out to
be a house of horrors.
In the 1970's, women in black habits resembling those
of nuns became a familiar sight in New York City as they solicited alms
on the street and in the subway. Actually, they were from St. John's
Pentecostal Church of Our Lord, which Devernon LeGrand, who called
himself a bishop, presided over in Crown Heights, Brooklyn.
Soon, the public learned that there was more to Mr.
LeGrand than his dispatch of charity seekers whose garb confused many
New Yorkers. In 1975, he and a son were convicted of raping a young
woman in the four-story building at 222 Brooklyn Avenue that housed the
church and the LeGrand family.
Then, amid bigger headlines in 1977, he and a stepson
were convicted of charges that in 1975 they had beaten and stomped two
teenage sisters to death in the building and dismembered their bodies.
The men murdered the sisters, the prosecutors said, to keep them from
testifying in the rape case. Later in 1977, Mr. LeGrand was convicted of
having similarly murdered and dismembered his wife in 1970 in the
Now 77, Mr. LeGrand has served 27 years of his prison
sentence (25 years to life) for the three murder convictions and the
rape. He is to be considered for parole in October. He was first
considered for parole in early 2001, after reaching the minimum 25 years
of his term. He insisted he had not been involved in any of the crimes
but had been the victim of lying witnesses and an ambitious prosecutor.
''I was a minister, and I liked a lot of women,'' he
told the parole commissioners interviewing him at the Shawangunk
Correctional Facility in Wallkill, N.Y., where he is confined. But he
said he had ''nothing to do with that woman,'' referring to the rape
victim. He blamed the sisters' killings on the husband of one of them.
And his own wife's killing? ''She's in Africa,'' he said. ''She left and
went to Africa.''
In denying him release then, the parole commissioners
said, ''Your conduct indicates a depraved indifference for human life
and no respect for the law.''
As for 222 Brooklyn Avenue, it is the site these days
of St. Joseph's Church of Christ and Home, with the Rev. Noconda LeGrand,
a son of Mr. LeGrand, listed among the ministers.
No Jobs, Just Suits After Labor Day Parade
Four Labor Days ago, the annual parade in Broad
Channel, Queens, took an infamous turn.
A group of men on one float wore blackface and Afro
wigs. Some threw watermelon to the crowd, and one re-enacted a black
man's being dragged to his death behind a pickup truck in Texas. The
group included two New York City firefighters, Robert Steiner and
Jonathan Walters, and a police officer, Joseph Locurto.
Though they had been off duty, they were fired from
their jobs, deemed to have undermined their departments' images and
standing with the public. The men said they had not meant to offend
black people and had been mocking the views of their fellow whites in
mostly white Broad Channel.
Now they are using another argument in a court fight
to get their jobs back. ''Their constitutional right to free speech was
denied to them when they were fired,'' Marvyn M. Kornberg, a lawyer for
Mr. Steiner, said last week.
In July, the city, which says it had every right to
fire the men, was rebuffed in its latest effort to get the lawsuits
dismissed, and a combined trial in the three suits is expected in