On June 29, 1994 Jon Michael Bell, a former reporter hired to 
investigate Fred Phelps and Westboro Baptist Church by Stauffer 
Communications, Inc.,filed a lawsuit in Shawnee County District Court in 
Topeka, Kansas against Stauffer Communications alleging the Topeka 
Capital-Journal owed him compensation for overtime and to clarify 
ownership of his notes and work product. The work product in question, 
"Addicted to Hate"  chronicling the life and times of Fred Phelps, was 
attached to the lawsuit as Exhibit A making it, therefore, a public 
document. Learning of the suit, members of Topeka's anti-Phelps 
underground delivered a certified copy of the lawsuit to a copy shop 
near the courthouse.  
Within 48 hours, Stauffer Communications had written all area media 
outlets and issued veiled warnings about using the information contained 
in "Addicted to Hate". A rival Topeka newspaper, the Metro News, 
announced it was considering publishing the lawsuit in it entirety. The 
Kansas City Star abided by Stauffer Communication's wishes, but several 
other media outlets aired or printed portions of the manuscript. Within 
48 hours of the filing, Stauffer Communications persuaded a judge to 
seal the suit so the Clerk of the District Court could no longer make 
copies for the public. No matter - no such order was issued to the copy 
shop or to the hundreds of citizens that already had copies.  
On July 8 the Capital-Journal, which had deep-sixed the Phelps project 
and fired the publisher who authorized it when it was completed last 
fall,  suddenly began its watered-down, copyrighted series on Phelps 
that they  had earlier claimed they wouldn't print. Bell also withdrew 
his suit the  same day.   
By this time, however, TV networks, wire services, and eastern 
newspapers had obtained copies of the manuscript, and Stauffer's 
unprecedented attempt to suppress media discussion of the document 
attracted the interest of several major East Coast newspapers on First 
Amendment grounds.  
Phelps, a self-proclaimed advocate of the First Amendment, whose 'free 
speech activities include libel, slander defamation of character, 
intimidation, obscene language, battery, promptly denounced Stauffer 
Communications and denied the allegations of child abuse, spouse abuse, 
and other illegal activities. Anyone familiar with Phelps and his 
children who remain loyal to him, however, can clearly see these adult 
children and his wife suffer from the grotesque and obvious behaviors 
symptomatic of severe, long-term abuse. Where and how the twisted saga 
of Fred Phelps will end is anyone's guess.  
The volunteer distributors of this file wish to emphatically state that 
Jon Michael Bell did not suggest, encourage, or take part in the 
transfer or distribution of his typewritten manuscript (Exhibit A) to 
ASCII format. Volunteer distributors make no guarantees either expressed 
or implied and cannot be responsible in the use of this file.  
Jon Michael Bell, one of the authors of "Addicted to Hate", seeks no 
compensation for his work. If, however, after reading "Addicted to 
Hate", you would like to make a contribution in his name to 
organizations in Topeka assisting AIDS victims, abused children and 
battered women, please send your donations to:  
1. Hospice for AIDS Victims 
c/o Topeka AIDS Project 
1915 S. W. 6th Street 
Topeka, Kansas 66606  
2. Project Safe Talk 
200 S.E. 7th Street 
Topeka, Kansas 66603 
3. Battered Women Task Force 
225 S.W. 12th Street 
Topeka, Kansas 66612 
Let the word go forth that the overwhelmingly vast majority of Topekans 
and Kansans DO NOT support Westboro Baptist Cult and Fred Phelps' hate 
campaigns against all who disagree with him. The District Attorney in 
Shawnee County (Topeka) has filed several criminal cases against members 
of the Westboro Cult ranging from disorderly conduct and battery to 
felony charges of aggravated intimidations of victims and witnesses. 
of these cases are delayed pending the outcome of the second of the 
lawsuits  filed in federal court by Phelps Chartered. There will 
probably be more. Fred and his lawyer offspring and in-laws continue to 
abuse the judicial system much as Fred did before his state and federal 
disbarments. The case  is expected to be heard in federal court in early 
fall, but few expect that this will be the end. 
Please let Topeka officials and Federal Judge Sam Crow know that many of  
Fred Phelps' and WBC activities (as outlined in the above paragraph and  
documented by both "Addicted to Hate" and the Capital-Journal series)   
are NOT protected by the First Amendment and encourage them to take 
whatever steps are necessary to prosecute Phelps for those activities 
which are clearly crimes to the fullest extent of the law. Please do it 
The Hon. Sam A. Crow 
Frank Carlson Federal Courthouse 
444 S.E. Quincy 
Topeka, Kansas 66603 
(913) 295-2626 
Joan M. Hamilton 
Shawnee County District Attorney 
200 S.E. 7th Street Suite 214 
Topeka, Kansas 66603 
(913) 233-8200 Ext. 4330 
Commissioner Don Cooper 
Chairman, Board of Commissioners 
200 S.E. 7th Street 
Topeka, Kansas 66603 
(913) 233-8200 Ext. 4040  
The Hon. Butch Felker 
Office of the Mayor 
215 S.E. 7th Street 
Topeka, Kansas 66603 
(913) 295-3895 
Chief Gerald Beavers 
Topeka Police Deaprtment 
204 S.W. 5th Street 
Topeka, Kansas 66603 
(913) 354-9551 
...............COURT DOCUMENT FOLLOWS................ 
Case No. 94CV766 
(Pursuant to K.S.A. Chapter 60-1701 et. seq.) 
COMES NOW the Plaintiff Jon Bell and states: 
1.Plaintiff is a resident of Kansas. 
2.Defendant Stauffer Communications, Inc. is a corporation organized 
under the laws of Kansas and may be served by serving its resident agent 
The Corporation Company, Inc., 515 S. Kansas Ave., Topeka, Kansas 66603. 
3.Plaintiff was an intern and employed by Defendant to work for its 
newspaper Topeka Capital Journal, in Topeka, Shawnee County, Kansas. 
4.  As part of his work he was assigned by the managing editor to 
prepare stories and/or manuscripts concerning one Fred Phelps, pastor of 
Westboro Baptist Church, Inc.  
5.  That Plaintiff's employment was originally undertaken for 
compensation of $1300 per month (37 1/2 hours per week at $8.00/hour). 
As the scope of the Phelps project expanded to book length, Plaintiff  
indicated his willingness to do a book for the compensation he was being 
paid.  It was represented to him by the managing editor, Mr. Sullivan, 
that the  publication of the book would have such value to Plaintiff's 
reputation as an  author that the publication plus the salary was just 
In reliance upon the representation that the book would be published by 
Defendant, he continued with the project to the point of final 
manuscript and dedicated overtime hours (for which he was not separately 
compensated) having a reasonable value in excess of $10,000.  
6.  Plaintiff has been advised by Mr. Hively, the publisher of the 
Topeka Capital Journal that Defendant does not intend to publish the 
book or any portion of it.  
7.  Plaintiff has been separately advised by the defendant's attorney 
that Defendant does not grant Plaintiff permission to publish the book 
(Ex. B attached).  
8.  Plaintiff claims that he has intellectual property rights in the 
manuscript and desires to publish it and that in the absence of 
compensation for his overtime or because of his reliance on Mr. 
Sullivan's representation if Defendant chooses to waste the work that he 
has the right to publish the book.  
9.  In that Defendant has asserted superior rights to the manuscript, 
but, has likewise has declared an intent not to publish and the fact 
that the material may become dated, or alternatively, lose its 
timelessness (the subject of the manuscript is currently running for the 
Democratic nomination for Governor of the State of Kansas), it is 
important to resolve the rights of the parties in and to the manuscript 
as it relates to the contract of employment which previously existed 
between Plaintiff and Defendant, and terminate the controversy over 
rights to the manuscript which gives rise to these proceedings.  
10.  Plaintiff feels uncertain and insecure of his legal position in the 
absence of a judicial declaration of his rights, and for that reason, 
brings this action.  
WHEREFORE, Plaintiff prays that the Court construe the terms of his 
employment and his rights to publish the manuscript marked as Ex. A and 
attached hereto, and permit the Plaintiff the right without restriction, 
and subject to any fair accounting to Defendant, to publish the 
(Signature of Jon Bell) 
Jon Bell, pro s 82 
(Home address intentionally omitted) 
Lawrence, KS 66044 
(Document contains the seal of the District Court of Shawnee County, 
Kansas and the signature of Leslie Miller, Deputy Clerk of the District 
Court of Shawnee County, Kansas and dated 6-29-94.) 
(Letterhead of the law firm of Goodell, Stratton, Edmonds & Palmer) 
515 South Kansas Avenue 
Topeka, Kansas 66603-3999 
Telecopier: 913-233-8870) 
June 2, 1994 
Mr. Jon Bell 
(Home Address Intentionally Omitted) 
Shawnee, Kansas 66216 
In re:Topeka Capital-Journal 
Our file:31143 
Dear Jon: 
I understand that you are in some way marketing or trying to develop an 
interest in the Capital-Journal's investigatory work on Fred Phelps.    
Be advised that you are not authorized to engage in this activity. This 
work is the property of The Topeka Capital-Journal, and does not belong 
to you. My client will make all decisions regarding the piece. You are 
not authorized to speak on behalf of The Capital-Journal regarding this 
work, or even to reveal its existence for that matter. If you are taking 
any steps to develop a market or other interest in this work, you are 
required to cease immediately.  
Meanwhile, please advise Pete Goering at The Capital-Journal of any 
steps you have taken in this regard.  
Very truly yours, 
(Signature of Michael W. Merriam) 
Michael W. Merriam 
cc: Mr. Pete Goering 
(Note: This document contains the time stamp of the Clerk of the 
District Court, Shawnee County, Kansas showing the document was filed 
with the Clerk at 1:05 p.m. of June 29, 1994.) 
By Jon Michael Bell 
with Joe Taschler 
and Steve Fry 
(Note: The contents of the following document shows the time stamp of 
the Clerk of the District Court, Shawnee County, Kansas and shows that 
the document was filed at 1:05 p.m. on June 29, 1994.) 
"And be sure your sin will find you out." 
(Num. 32:23) 
A frequent quote of Pastor Fred Phelps 
Reverend Fred Phelps: lawyer and Baptist minister; head of the Westboro 
Baptist Church; 64 years old. Disbarred.  
Marge Phelps: wife of Fred; mother of his 13 children;  68 years old. 
WBC member. 
1.  Fred Phelps, Jr.: lawyer and employee at the Kansas Department of 
Corrections; 40 years old. Oldest son. WBC member.  
Betty Phelps (Schurle): wife of Fred, Jr.; lawyer and owner-operator of 
a day-care home; 41 years old. WBC member.  
2. ***Mark Phelps: businessman in Southern California; estranged from 
the family cult; 39 years old. 2nd son.  
Luava Phelps (Sundgren): wife of Mark; childhood sweetheart; 36 years 
3. ***Katherine Phelps: lawyer; suspended from the bar; living on 
welfare; 38 years-old; oldest daughter. Not in WBC.  
4.  Margie Phelps: lawyer and employee of the Kansas Department of 
Corrections; 37 years old; 2nd daughter. WBC member.  
5.  Shirley Phelps-Roper: lawyer at Phelps Chartered; 36 years old; 3rd 
daughter. WBC member.  
Brent Roper: husband of Shirley; lawyer and businessman in Topeka; 30 
years old; WBC member.  
6. ***Nate Phelps: businessman in Southern California; estranged from 
family cult; 35 years old. 3rd son.  
7.  Jonathon Phelps: lawyer; 4th son; 34 years old; WBC member.   
Paulette Phelps (Ossiander): wife of Jonathon; 33 years old; high school 
graduate; WBC member.  
8.  Rebekah Phelps-Davis: lawyer at Phelps Chartered; 32 years old; 4th 
daughter; WBC member.  
Chris Davis: husband to Rebekah; 38 years old; raised from childhood in 
the WBC.  
9.  Elizabeth Phelps: lawyer at Phelps Chartered; night house manager 
staff at Sheltered Living, Inc. Topeka; 31 years old; 5th daughter; WBC 
member. Former counsel for the Shawnee County Sheriff's Department.  
10.  Timothy Phelps: lawyer and employee of the Shawnee County 
Department of Corrections; 30 years old; 5th son; WBC member.  
Lee Ann Phelps (Brown): wife of Timothy; lawyer and employee of Shawnee 
County Sheriff's Department; 27 years old; WBC member.  
11.***Dorotha Bird (Phelps): lawyer practicing independently in Topeka; 
6th daughter; not a WBC member; changed her last name to avoid family's 
notoriety. 29 years old.  
12.  Rachel Phelps: lawyer at Phelps Chartered; YMCA fitness instructor; 
28 years old; 7th daughter; WBC member.  
13.  Abigail Phelps: lawyer and employee at SRS-Youth and Adult 
Services, Juvenile Offender Program; 25 years old; 8th daughter; WBC 
Fred Wade Phelps: the Rev. Phelps' father; he lived in Meridian, 
Mississippi. He was a railroad bull.  
Catherine Idalette Phelps (Johnson): the Rev. Phelps' mother; she died 
when he was a small child.  
Martha Jean Capron (Phelps): the Rev. Phelps' only sibling; a former 
missionary to Indonesia, she now lives in Pennsylvania; the brother and 
sister have not spoken for years.  
***Denotes a Phelps child who has left the family cult.  
(Note: The next portion of Exhibit A contains some handwritten notes 
denoting ages of the Phelps' children, some names of some of the non-
Phelps WBC members (George Stutzman, Charles Hockenbarger, Jennifer 
Hockenbarger, and Charles Hockenbarger), names of some of the Phelps' 
grandchildren (Benjamin, Sharon, Sara, Libby, Jacob, Sam, and Josh), and 
2 items pasted onto the document which are published documents showing 
the Phelps family tree and a map of the area surrounding Meridian, 
He rang the doorbell. It was winter, and with his thick gloves he could 
barely feel the button.  
No answer. 
He waited. A cat, caught like him on this cold night outside, walked 
along the porch rail. Toward him.  
He watched it. 
In the street behind them a solitary car passed. Like urban sleigh 
bells, the chains on its tires chimed rhythmic into the pounded street 
No one was home. The cat. Was rubbing against his leg. 
He set the candy down and picked it up. It purred. And purred more when 
he tucked it under his warm arm. Like a football. Against his thick 
He could see into its eyes. Up close. He liked it that way. 
When he wrapped his thick fingers round its tiny neck... 
Pinning its legs against his side, he slowly squeezed, watching the eyes 
widen in alarm. Feeling it push against him. Desperately struggle. For a 
long time struggle.  
The lids droop slowly down. The light pass from the eyes. 
He let go. Another car rattled metal links by in the snow. 
Watching the light return. The animal terror that followed. Flooding the 
look in those helpless eyes. It pierced his soul.  
A shock wave of remorse flamed hot. In all his cells he could feel it. 
Or was it love. Yes, warm love for this tiny being. 
I want to do it. Again. Now. 
Yes, I want to know what it's like once more. 
He squeezed the cat's thin neck. And when it has succumbed, he felt the 
same pity again warm flooding him.  
And only horror at himself. As he did it once more. 
And when it was over he... 
But this time the cat mustered the last of its tiny animal ferocity and 
writhed free.  
He felt...watching it streak away...he felt jarred awake it 
ran from him...yes, he was awake now...  
And terrified 
Had anyone seen him? Would they know? 
In a panic he ran 
Home to his father's house... 
"Introductions All Around" 
A TIME magazine article from 1950 hangs framed on the wall. It's about a 
college student's crusade against necking on a campus in Southern 
That student's office in Kansas today is aclack with fax machines and 
ringing phones, but the chair behind the great mahogany desk is empty.  
When the former campus evangelist finally bursts in, he is trailed by 
grandchildren-so many sixth-grade secretaries-gophering, sending faxes, 
fetching papers-and a glass of water for the reporter.  
Thoughtful. It's 93 outside. 
"Sit down," says Fred Phelps, rumored ogre, with an effusive Southern 
graciousness. "But I got to tell you, you know we're going to preach the 
word, the same thing I've been preaching for 46 years, and it's 
supremely, supremely irrelevant to us what anybody thinks or says. "You 
get a little bit of this message I'm preaching, you can't ask for 
anything more. God hates fags-that's a synopsis."  
Phelps, 63, a disbarred lawyer and Baptist preacher from Mississippi, is 
on a mission from God. His face lights up like a kid's on Christmas 
morning when he talks about how the nation is reacting to his anti-
homosexual campaign. He contends the Bible supports the death penalty 
for sodomy:  
"I'm not urging anybody to kill anybody," he adds, then matter-of-factly 
explains how his interpretation of the Bible calls for precisely that:   
"The death penalty was violently carried out by God on a massive scale 
when the biblical cities of Sodom and Gomorrah were destroyed by fire 
and brimstone," says Phelps. "I am inclined to the view that the closer 
man's laws come to God's laws, the better off our race will be."  
Phelps has found the national spotlight by disrupting the mourners' 
grieving at the funerals of AIDS victims. His followers carry picket 
signs outside the services with such stone-hearted messages as GOD HATES 
Last spring, he and his tiny band traveled to Washington, D.C., to taunt 
the gay parade, creating a near-riot. Since then, Phelps has been the 
subject of a 20-20 segment, appeared on the Jane Whitney Show twice to 
mock homosexuals, and is now regularly interviewed on both Christian and 
secular radio across America.  
Fred Phelps, pastor of the Westboro Baptist Church in the Kansas capital 
of Topeka, since 1990 has also been an unsuccessful candidate for mayor, 
governor, and United States Senator. Currently he is negotiating his own 
radio show-one that will be heard throughout the Midwest. 
His message is simple: God hates most everybody and He's sending them 
all to hell. Makes no difference how they lived their life.  
For the Pastor Phelps, except for a handful of 'elect', the human race 
is composed of depraved beasts. God hates these creatures and so do His 
favored few. The world is divided sharply and irreversibly between the 
multitude of the already-damned (called the reprobate or the Adamic 
Race) and those chosen by God to attend Him in heaven. Those selected to 
be elect were tapped, not for the rectitude of their lives, but by what 
could best be described as the Supreme Whim of the Deity.  
While this is the theology of predestination, one that in less vengeful 
minds is a mainstay of many Protestant sects, in Fred Phelps' mind it 
has become a green light to hatred and cruelty.  
Recently, Pastor Phelps has added a corollary to this thesis that God 
hates the human race: God reserves His most pure and profound hatred for 
the homosexuals among the Adamic race.  
At 63, Phelps is a triathlon competitor who bikes or runs every day. The 
strongest thing he drinks is what he calls his 'vitamin C cocktail', 
consisting of Vitamin C, Diet Pepsi, and water.  
The pastor basks in the heat of the outrage triggered by his campaign 
against homosexuals.  
"If you're preaching the truth of God, people are going to hate you," he 
grins. "Nobody has the right to think he's preaching the truth of God 
unless people hate him for it. All the prophets were treated that way."  
Phelps delivers this with all the drama, fire, and brimstone of a man 
who used to be a trial lawyer and is still a preacher. His voice and 
tone are spellbinding and chilling. He doesn't stumble over his words.   
Clearly, he believes he is a modern day prophet.   
Phelps says he and his family have been hated and persecuted almost from 
the time they arrived in Topeka in 1954.   
"The more opposition we get, the more committed we get," says Liz 
Phelps, one of the pastor's daughters.   "Nothing, short of the 
elimination of homosexuality in the world, will make us stop," announces 
the pastor.   In an unexpected reprieve from the anticipated 'sodomite' 
label pasted on all who disagree-especially the press-the former vacuum 
cleaner salesman gives his visitor a warm smile and immediately takes to 
calling him warmly by his first name.   He leads a brief tour through 
his church.   It adjoins his office: a long room, with a low ceiling and 
a rusty red carpet and dark, oaken pews. It has enough seating for twice 
the current congregation of 51.  
The reporter asks to go to the bathroom. A stocky teenage grandson with 
training in judo is sent along. He waits outside, no dummy, for the 
reporter to finish.   Then it's upstairs to the study, a high, spacious 
room filled with books of biblical exegesis dating back to the 
Reformation. Fred is eager to prove his Bible scholarship, and perhaps 
frustrated, even contemptuous, when he realizes he is talking to a 
Bible-ho-hum humanist.   Downstairs, the pastor leads to the garage 
where their wardrobe of picket signs is kept. Stacked high against the 
walls are messages for every occasion-all of them gloomy.   No good news 
Outside, one would never guess they were at a church. Westboro Baptist 
is actually a large home in a comfortable Topeka neighborhood. In fact, 
Phelps and his wife have lived in the house for almost 40 years, and 
raised their 13 children within its walls.    For many years, his law 
office was also located in the residence Fred Phelps insists is still 
his 'church'.  The pastor's large family has always composed nearly all 
of his congregation and loyal following.   As his children grew up, they 
bought the adjoining houses on the block, creating a tight compound 
around the church. Today, one finds a citadel of modest homes joined by 
fences, sharing a common backyard.   
In a small revolution in urban design, the space behind their houses has 
not been sub-divided, but made into a wide grass park, complete with 
swimming pool, ball court, and trampoline. The grandchildren wander from 
their separate houses to play together.   The effect on the nervous 
reprobates outside the walls is a sense of Waco in the air.   
>From his compound, like a knight sallying forth from the Crusaders' 
citadel of Krak, Pastor Phelps and his child band make war on the Adamic 
race.    When not doing TV talk shows, radio interviews, or appearing on 
the cover of the national gay magazine, The Advocate, Phelps lays siege 
to his hometown, nearby Kansas City, and local universities.  
The Westboro congregation pickets public officials, private businesses, 
and other churches, many of whom have had only tenuous connection to 
some form of anti-Phelps criticism. Until a city ordinance was passed 
against it, the Westboro warriors even picketed their opponents' homes.  
For the last two years, this tiny group, by virtue of their tactics, 
dedication, and discipline, have held the Kansas capital hostage. Fred 
Phelps has been able to intimidate most of the residents of Topeka into 
a fearful silence, though he himself is a shrill and vigorous defender 
of his own First Amendment rights. Those who would disagree with his 
brutal remedies to his perception of social ills face a three-fold atta  
ck:  Lawsuits: If the rest of America has justly come to fear the 
anonymous lone nut with a gun, it has yet to experience a community of 
eccentrics stockpiling law degrees.   Picketing: One prominent 
restaurant in Topeka is now failing after being picketed daily for 
almost a year. "Patrons just got tired of the harassment," sighs the 
owner. The cause of the pickets? One of the restaurant's employees is a 
Faxes: Phelps has gone to court and won on his right to fax daily almost 
300 public officials, private offices, and the media with damaging and 
embarrassing information from the private lives of his opponents-most of 
it false, wild, and unsubstantiated.   One city councilwoman was called 
a "Jezebelian, switch-hitting whore" who had sex with several men at 
once. A police officer saw his name faxed all over town as a child 
molester, one who had lured young boys to a park outside the city and 
had sex with them in his patrol car.  Despite his daughter Margie's 
assertions that Phelps has the evidence to prove such accusations 'big 
time', no such proof has ever emerged.    Over the weeks, one learns 
about the family. Of Fred's 13 children, nine remain in the community. 
Five of them are married and raising 24 grandchildren.   All of the 
members of Westboro Baptist-children, in-laws, and grandchildren-
participate in the pastor's anti-gay campaign.   Despite their image 
from the pickets, most of the adults are friendly and socially 
accomplished. Each of them has a law degree, and some have additional 
postgraduate degrees in business or public administration. The adults 
pay taxes, meet bills, and obey the laws. The grandchildren are perhaps 
less demonstrative than most children, but in an earlier day that was 
called well-behaved. Many of their parents hold or have held important 
jobs in local and state agencies.   The pastor's first-born, Fred, Jr., 
and his wife, Betty, were guests at the Clinton inauguration. The former 
northeast Kansas campaign manager for Al Gore in 1988 has a stack of VIP 
photos, such as the one of him, Betty, Al and Tipper, and even soon-to-
be Kansas governor Joan Finney smiling and yucking it up at the Phelps' 
place just a few years ago.   Clearly these are not streetcorner flakes 
taken to carrying signs.  The only discordant note here is the Pastor 
Phelps, pacing about in his lycra shorts and windbreaker, looking like a 
triathlon competitor who made a wrong turn, ended in a bad neighborhood, 
and had his bike stolen. But he can easily be discounted while listening 
to his wife reveal just exactly how she managed to raise those thirteen 
kids.   How?  Well, for starters, the woman born Margie Simms of 
Carrollton, Missouri, had nine brothers and sisters herself. Her own 
tribe she raised by the same five rules she grew up under: keep their 
faces clean, their hands clean, and their clothes clean; keep the house 
clean and keep 'em fed. No Game Boys, college funds, and cars on 
sixteenth birthdays.   She did most of the cooking at first, and her 
grocery bill, she estimates, would be over two thousand a month today. 
Many of the 24 grandchildren still spend time at Gramp's house, she 
said, and their food costs are over a thousand a month, even now.   
Mrs. Phelps smiles. Before the kids got old enough to be finicky, she 
could fill one tub and bathe them all, then line them up to brush their 
teeth and clean their fingernails. They had six bedrooms furnished with 
bunkbeds, and everyone wore hand-me-downs. Her laundry pile was so huge, 
she needed two washers and two dryers:   "I'm afraid that Maytag 
repairman wasn't lonely with us. He was always out at our house. We went 
through washers and dryers every three years. They worked all day long.   
"The part I dreaded most about raising so many children? When they were 
sick. Then you had to pay all your attention to that one-and hope the 
others would make out all right."   Later, she adds, the older kids took 
over most of the chores and her job became considerably easier.  
The children used to listen to their father preach twice on Sunday, says 
daughter Margie. Once at eleven and again at seven that evening. "But 
there's too many conflicting schedules now. So we only have the one 
sermon at eleven-thirty,"   Margie tells how their household was abuzz 
with political bull sessions. All the candidates and wannabes came 
through there:  "My dad was complete activity and whirlwind. My mom was 
the calm at the center of the storm. She's the one who inspired our 
closeness. Getting us to look out for our brothers and sisters; bond 
with each other."   Mrs. Phelps describes how everyone had to take piano 
lessons. They had two pianos in the garage and three in the house. 
(Chopsticks in fugue-five as a backdrop to any childhood might explain 
why the adults seem so tense today.)  Margie tells of their family 
choir. How they practiced a cappella and harmony. Even today, their 
counter-protestors grudgingly admit the Phelps sound good when they 
raise their collective voice in hymn from across the street.   Once for 
their father's birthday, says Margie, the children learned to harmonize 
"One Tin Soldier", the theme song from the film, "Billy Jack".   She 
laughs at the memory. "He was of two minds about that: flattered that 
we'd done it. And not too pleased by the lyrics. ("...go ahead and hate 
your neighbor...go ahead and cheat a it in the name of'll be justified in the end... ")  "We had good times...lots 
of good times," says Mrs. Phelps. "I would not have had any other 
childhood but that one," adds her daughter.   If they're not holding 
harassing signs saying, 'God Hates Fags', calling deaf old dowagers 
'sodomite whores', or bristling at startled churchgoers, Fred's kids are 
back at home being model parents and neighbors, attending PTOs and 
Clinton coronations.   The stark contrast of the two masks-decent and 
repulsive, hateful and considerate, forthright and devious, stupid and 
clever-creates a polarity that begins to weigh on the observer. 
Contrasts frequently are the visible edge of contradiction. And 
contradictions sometimes arise from very deep and secret undercurrents. 
Currents of pain.   One day in the pickup with the pastor and his wife, 
driving the signs to the picket line, Fred suddenly jams on the brakes 
and pulls over.   
"Why'd you do that?" asks the mother of 13.   "We're gonna make sure 
those kids are safe," the pastor replies.  The objects of his concern 
are in the yard across the street. There is absolutely no chance he 
could have hit them. It's odd and unnecessary and exaggerated behavior.   
His wife knows it; even the children know it-they've pulled back and are 
watching the truck suspiciously.   Mrs. Phelps gives her husband a 
strange look. As if she had some secret knowledge.   It's obvious Fred 
intended this as an awkward display of altruism for the press. The 
message is: "The pastor loves kids".  But the message one gets is a 
warning from Hamlet: "The play's the thing wherein we'll catch the 
conscience of the king."   Because that boy, now a man, ran home to his 
father's house. The house of Fred Phelps.   Where all good things end. 
Where any family counselor will assert that a child who strangles pets 
has almost certainly been brutalized as well.  
"Daddy's Hands" 
Mark Phelps feels nauseated whenever he remembers that night. He was hit 
over 60 times and his brother, Nate, over 200 with a mattock handle.   
Nate went into shock. Mark didn't. A boy who became a compulsive counter 
to handle the stress, Mark counted every stroke. His and Nate's. While 
their father screamed obscenities and his brother screamed in pain.   
Every 20 strokes, their mother wiped their faces off in the tub. Nate 
passed out anyway. That was Christmas Day.  
Though he believes he should be the next governor of Kansas, Pastor 
Phelps has never believed in Christmas.   A mattock is a pick-hoe using 
a wooden handle heavier than a bat. Fred swung it with both hands like a 
ballplayer and with all his might.   "The first blow stunned your whole 
body," says Mark. "By the third blow, your backside was so tender, even 
the lightest strike was agonizing, but he'd still hit you like he wanted 
to put it over the fence. By 20, though, you'd have grown numb with 
pain. That was when my father would quit and start on my brother. Later, 
when the feeling had returned and it hurt worse than before, he'd do it 
again.   "After 40 strokes, I was weak and nauseous and very pale. My 
body hurt terribly. Then it was Nate's turn. He got 40 each time.   "I 
staggered to the bathtub where my mom was wetting a towel to swab my 
face. Behind me, I could hear the mattock and my brother was choking and 
moaning. He was crying and he wouldn't stop."   The voice in the phone 
halts. After an awkward moment, clearing of throats, it continues:   
"Then I heard my father shouting my name. My mom was right there, but 
she wouldn't help me. It hurt so badly during the third beating that I 
kept wanting to drop so he would hit me in the head. I was hoping I'd be 
knocked out, or killed...anything to end the pain.  "After was 
waiting that was terrible. You didn't know if, when he was done with 
Nate, he'd hurt you again. I was shaking in a cold panic. Twenty-five 
years since it happened, and the same sick feeling in my stomach comes 
back now..."   Did he? Come back to you?  
"No. He just kept beating Nate. It went on and on and on. I remember the 
sharp sound of the blows and how finally my brother stopped screaming...   
"It was very quiet. All I could think of was would he do that to me now. 
I could see my brother lying there in shock, and I knew in a moment it 
would be my turn.   "I can't describe the basic animal fear you have in 
your gut at a time like that. Where someone has complete power over you. 
And they're hurting you. And there is no escape. No way out. If your mom 
couldn't help you...I can't explain it to anyone except perhaps a 
survivor from a POW camp."   Last year, Nate Phelps, sixth of Pastor 
Phelps' 13 children, accused his father of child abuse in the national 
media. The information was presented as a footnote to the larger story 
of Fred Phelps' anti-gay campaign.   But the deep currents that lie 
beneath the apparent apple-cheeks of the Phelps' clan were stirring. A 
series of interviews with Nate resulted in an eyewitness account of life 
growing up in the Phelps camp.   These reports contained allegations of 
persistent and poisonous child abuse, wife-beating, drug addiction, 
kidnapping, terrorism, wholesale tax fraud, and business fraud. In 
addition, Nate described the cult-like disassembly of young adult 
identities into shadow-souls, using physical and emotional coercion-
coercion which may have been a leading factor in the suicide of an 
emotionally troubled teenage girl.  
The second son, Mark Phelps, who according to his sisters was at one 
time heir to the throne of Fred, had refused comment during the earlier 
spate of news coverage. He and Nate have both left the Westboro 
congregation and now live within four blocks of each other on the West 
Coast.  But, like the icy water that waits off sunny California beaches, 
the deepest currents sometimes rise and now Mark has surfaced with a 
"My father," says the 39 year-old, now a parent himself, "is addicted to 
hate. Why? I can't say. But I know he has to let it out. As rage. In 
doing so, he has violated the sacred trust of a parent and a pastor.   
"I'm not trying to hurt my father. And I'm not trying to save him. I'm 
going to tell what happened because I've decided it's the only way I can 
overcome my past: to drag it into the light and break its chains."   
Mark believes that Fred Phelps, no longer able to hate and abuse his 
adult children if he hopes to keep them near, by necessity now must turn 
all his protean anger outward against his community. Mark has decided to 
tell the truth about his father so that others will be warned.  He and 
his brother have now come forward with specific and detailed stories, 
alarming tales, ones that could be checked and have been verified. 
Mark's testimony supports Nate's previously, and both men's statements 
have been confirmed by a third Phelps' child. In addition, the Capital-
Journal has uncovered documents which substantiate this testimony, and 
interviewed dozens of relevant witnesses who have confirmed much of this 
information.   "One of my earliest memories...," the voice in the phone 
pauses, painful to remember: "was the big ol' German shepherd that 
belonged to our neighbors. One day it was in our yard and my father went 
out and blew it apart with his shotgun."   
Mark says he has no memories prior to age five.   "Living in that house 
was like being in a war zone, where things were unpredictable and things 
were very violent. And there was a person who was violent who did what 
he wanted to do. And that was to hurt people, or break things, or throw 
a fit, or whatever he wanted to do, that's what he did. And there was 
nobody there to say different."   
One day when Mark was a teenager, he came home to find his mom sitting 
on the lip of the tub, blue towel on her head, her lips pursed with 
anger and hurt.   "Do you know what your father did today?" she asked.  
To Mark, it felt surreal. His mother never spoke out nor vented her 
emotions. She seemed quite different just then.   
He looked at his father. Pastor Phelps was standing across the room with 
his arms folded, smiling (the bathtub was in the parents' bedroom).   
"No," said Mark. "I don't know."  His mother stood up and whipped the 
towel down her side. "He chopped my hair off," she announced, tears 
coming to her eyes.   The son stood aghast at the grotesque head before 
him. His mother's former waist-length hair had been shorn to two inches-
and even that showed ragged gouges down to the white of the scalp. 
"Why?" he asked.   "Your father says I wasn't in subjection today," she 
replied.  According to Mark and Nate, all of the Phelps children were 
terrified of their father:   "Usually we had to worry what mood we'd 
find him in after school. You didn't make any noise or racket, or cut-
up; you had to walk on eggshells, tiptoe around him; you didn't fight 
with your siblings; you did your jobs, performed your assigned tasks, 
and hoped not to draw his attention."   If you did draw it and he was in 
a foul mood, say the boys, summary punishment at the hands of the dour 
pastor involved being beaten with fists, kicked in the stomach, or 
having one's arm twisted up and behind one's back till it nearly 
Sometimes Pastor Phelps preferred to grab one child by their little 
hands and haul them into the air. Then he would repeatedly smash his 
knee into their groin and stomach while walking across the room and 
laughing.   The boys remember this happening to Nate when he was only 
seven, and to Margie and Kathy even after they were sexually developed 
teenagers.   Nate recalls being taken into the church once where his 
father, a former golden gloves boxer, bent him backwards over a pew, 
body-punched him, spit in his face, and told him he hated him.   Mark's 
very first memory in this life is an emotional scar: their mom had gone 
to the hospital to give birth to Jonathon. Mark remembers being very 
upset, since now they would be alone in the house with their father, his 
threatening presence left unmitigated by her maternal concern.   Though 
only five, already Mark could use the phone and, one day while his 
father was out he dialed the number she'd left.  
When he heard her voice, he told her, "Mom, I'm scared. I need you." But 
before she could respond, the Pastor Phelps came on. He had gone to 
visit the new mother.   "What the hell are you doing calling here?" the 
father shouted into the phone. "Don't you ever call here and bother her 
again!"   That is Mark Phelps' earliest memory. That, and the feeling, 
when his father hung up, that there would be no rescue and no escape 
from the fear and pain contained in the word, 'daddy'.   When Fred 
Phelps came home, he beat the little boy's first memory of the world in 
to stay. From that moment, Mark whispers softly in the phone, "I 
resolved to be a total yes-man to my father. If I couldn't escape his 
violence, then I'd get so close to him he wouldn't see me. I'd survive 
that way."   
"We had clothes and food," adds Nate. "What we didn't have was safety. 
He could throw fits and rages at any moment. When he did, the kids would 
respond by turning pale and shaking, standing there shivering and 
listening-Mark would pace and count the squares in the floor."   "But I 
learned exactly what I had to stay safe around him," continues 
Mark. I did a good job of it."   He admits he used to beat his brothers 
and sisters if his father ordered 
him: "If you fell asleep in church, you got hit in the face. Once I hit 
Nate so hard, it knocked over the pew and blood splurt across the 
floor."    After a moment, he tells us quietly: "My brothers and sisters 
are entitled to hate me."    Physical abuse? Nonsense, say sisters 
Margie and Shirley. They laugh. 
Well, maybe during their father's period of preoccupation with health 
food. Every morning they were required to eat nuts and vitamins, curds 
and whey.   "I hate nuts," says Margie "We'd take the vitamins and drop 
them in our pockets. Throw them out later." She adds: "Little Abby was 
the only one who liked curds and whey. Poor kid. She'd have to eat every 
bowl on the table when my dad wasn't looking."   
Against this charming story is set another.  For all her reputation as a 
minotaur of the Kansas courtrooms, Margie Phelps was like a second mom 
to the younger children. Today, she remains well-liked by her siblings, 
including Mark and Nate.   When her father was beating someone and 
screaming at the top of his lungs, frequently Margie would take her 
terrified younger brothers and sisters away for several hours. When they 
thought it was over, they'd come back like cautious house cats, sneaking 
in softly, Margie on point, to see if the coast was clear.    The boys 
tell how one day their father was in a barbershop and noticed the 
leather strap used to sharpen razors. It struck his fancy as a backup to 
the mattock handle, so he had one custom-made at a leatherworker's shop 
near Lane and Huntoon.   
"It was about two feet long and four inches wide. It left oval circles-
red, yellow, and blue," says Mark. "Usually the circles would be where 
it would snap the tip-on the outside of your right leg and hip...because 
he was righthanded."   According to Mark and Nate, their father wore out 
several of the leathermaker's straps while they were growing up.   As 
Mark Phelps became the angel-appointed in Fred's family cult, Nate was 
assigned the role of sinner. For Mark, his brother was the needed 
scapegoat. For the rest of the family, Nate was a problem child, the 
delinquent of the brood.   Brilliant like his dad (Nate's IQ has been 
measured at 150), the middle son followed another drummer from the time 
he was a toddler. When he was five, he remembers his father telling him, 
'I'm going to keep a special eye on you'. The regular beatings started 
shortly thereafter.   
Nate endured literally hundreds of such brutalities before walking out 
at one minute after midnight on his eighteenth birthday.   His siblings 
both inside and outside the church agree that Nate got the lion's share 
of the 'discipline'.   "Nate was a very tough kid," says Mark. "I don't 
know how he endured it, but he did. He'd get 40 blows at a time from the 
mattock handle. He was just tougher than the rest of us and my father 
adjusted for that."  
Today, raising his family in California, Nate is a devout Christian and 
a warm, friendly, considerate, mountain of a man. But at 6'4" and 280 
pounds, it would see father and son in the same 
room today with one mattock stick between them.   "I sensed early on 
this man had no love for us," says Nate. "He was using us. I knew it. 
And I always made sure he knew I did."   
in fact, Mark adds, Nate's obstinate resistance so angered his father 
that, by age nine, when a family outing had been planned, frequently 
Nate not only missed it, but Fred would remain behind with him. "And 
during the course of the day, my father would beat Nate whenever the 
spirit moved him.  "  Mark remembers the family coming back once to find 
Pastor Phelps jogging around the dining room table, beating the sobbing 
boy with a broom handle; while doing so, he was alternately spitting on 
the frightened child and chuckling the same sinecure laugh so disturbing 
to those who've seen him on television.   When he wasn't allowed to go 
along, says Mark, "Nate would literally scream and chase mom as she 
drove off with us kids in the car. He knew what was coming after we 
left."   The older brother remembers the little one racing alongside the 
windows, begging for them not to leave him until, like a dog, he could 
no longer keep up.   Mark sorrowfully admits he felt no empathy for him, 
only relief it wasn't happening to himself. "I just stared straight 
ahead. I didn't know what he was yelling about. I was just glad to get 
the hell out of there."   But how could their mom tolerate that? 
Wouldn't the maternal instinct cut in at some point? Wouldn't the 
lioness turn in fury to protect her cub?   
It turns out Mrs. Phelps was herself an abused child, according to her 
sons.   "The only thing she ever told us about her dad was that he was a 
drunkard who beat them. She said she'd always run and hide in the 
watermelon patch when he was raging."   Though most of her nine brothers 
and sisters either settled in Kansas City or remained in rural Missouri, 
Mrs. Phelps has had virtually no contact with them during the last 40 
years. Not since she married Fred.   "My father was very effective at 
jamming Bible verses down her throat about wives being in subjection to 
their husbands," Nate says. "She was a small woman and very gentle. She 
felt God had put her with Fred and she had to endure."   "Oh, mom would 
try to interfere," adds Mark. "She'd come running out, finally, into the 
church auditorium as the beating would escalate, and yell wildly, 'Fred, 
stop it!" You're going to kill him!'  "And then my father would turn on 
her. I remember him screaming, 'Oh, so you want me to just let them go, 
huh? You don't believe in discipline, huh? Why don't you just shut your 
goddam mouth before I slap you? Get your fat hussy ass out of here! I'm 
warning you, goddamit, you either shut up or I'm going to beat you!'  
"And then," Mark continues, "she'd shut up till she couldn't take it 
anymore, then she'd start again. When she did, he'd start beating her 
and hitting her with his fist, and sometimes she'd just come up and grab 
him. Sometimes she'd run out the front door, and sometimes he'd just 
slap her and beat her until she'd shut up.   "I can remember times when 
she'd get hit so hard, it looked like she'd be knocked out, and she'd 
stagger and almost fall. She would give out this desperate scream right 
at the moment when he would hit her.   
"Sometimes, after he'd get done beating her, he'd have forgotten about 
the kid. Sometimes he'd go back to the kids and beat even harder. Then 
he'd blame the kid for what had happened."   The phone line falls 
silent.  "Out in public," recalls Nate, "she wore sunglasses a lot."   
Mrs. Phelps was beaten even when she wasn't interfering. After Nate and 
Kathy, the boys figure their mom was victimized the most.   They 
remember their father finishing one session by throwing her down the 
stairs from the second floor.   "It had 16 steps," says Mark.  "And no 
rail," continues Nate. "Mom grabbed at the stairs going over and tore 
the ligaments and cartilage in her right shoulder. The doctor said she 
needed surgery, but my father refused. We had no medical insurance back 
then. She's had a bad shoulder ever since. My father often chose that 
same shoulder to re-injure when he was beating mom. He'd grab her right 
arm and jerk it. She'd yelp."   The voice in the phone sighs: "But...I 
guess I do still feel that very deeply...that she betrayed a gut, 
primitive bond when she drove off and left me. I do love my mom. But I 
wish she'd put a stop to it. She could have and she didn't."   Pastor 
Phelps denies beating his children or his wife. "Hardly a word of truth 
to that stuff. You know, it's amazing to me that even one of them 
stayed." He grins, referring to the nine daughters and sons who remain 
loyal to him.   Why?  
"Because teachers have the kids from age five. And children are besieged 
by their own lusts and foreign ideas.   "Those boys (Mark and Nate) 
didn't want to stay in this church. It was too hard. They took up with 
girls they liked, and the last thing them girls was gonna do was come 
into this church.   "Those boys wanted to enjoy the pleasures of sin for 
a season. I can't blame them. I just feel sorry for them that they're 
not bound for the promised land."   Margie is the second-oldest daughter 
and the fourth Phelps child. Her mom goes by 'Marge", so she is 
'Margie'. Some say Margie is the de facto head of operations for her 
father's war on the community. Anticipating bad reviews from Nate, at 
least, she explained:  "My brother is furious with his father because he 
(Nate) is married to another man's wife. My dad and our whole family do 
not accept that."  
 On the abuse issue, her denials take a softer tone: "There were times 
in our childhood when each of us had bruises on our behinds. My dad had 
a capacity to go too far. In what he said even more than what he 
did...yet, as obnoxious as he can be one minute, he's the most kind, 
caring person another minute.   "I have a marvellous relationship with 
my father as an adult. He respects me. He listens to me. And he helps 
me. Most people, when they get older, they don't have that kind of 
relationship with their parents."   Margie, as a single woman, adopted a 
new-born infant boy nine years ago. "Jacob doesn't have a father," she 
says, "and my dad fills in there. He's one of Jacob's best friends. He's 
just a wonderful grandfather to him."   For his part, Nate remembers 
Marge bringing home bad grades one day and going running to avoid a 
beating. When she got back, she was in an exhausted state. Fred beat her 
anyway. So badly, she lost consciousness and lay in a heap on the floor.   
The Pastor Phelps kicked his daughter repeatedly in the head and stomach 
while she out.   "I saw her interviewed on television," adds Nate. "And 
she said we weren't abused, just strictly brought up."   He was 
concerned when he heard her say that: "If she remembers that as a 
'strict upbringing', then there's no moral suasion there for her not to 
'strictly bring up' her own child, the adopted Jacob.    "Nate would 
have ended in the penitentiary without his father's discipline," says 
his mother. "I believe it's him who's the bitter one. He needed a lot of 
discipline."   That's fair. All large families have a black sheep. But 
this one has four:   Nate and Mark rebelled, accepting they'd be turned 
back from the gates of heaven by their father who was acting as St. 
Peter's proxy. They later received an official letter from the Westboro 
Baptist Church, informing them they had been 'voted out of the church 
and delivered to Satan for the destruction of the flesh'.   Katherine 
and Dottie suffered the same fate but continue to reside in Topeka.   
"Dottie only cares about her career," says her mom. "Family is an 
embarrassment."   And Kathy?  "She's been a bitch since high school," 
says Margie.  
"Mark," reflects Mrs. Phelps, "was always well-behaved. Of the ones who 
left, he was a surprise."    According to Mark and Nate, fathering to 
Pastor Phelps meant the rod and the pulpit. "My dad never once stood 
with me, or sat with me, or worked with me to teach me anything about 
the practical life of a Christian," says Mark. "It was just preach on 
Sunday. There was no focus on the human heart or being a human-you know, 
how we were supposed to do that."  
When it came to their formal education as well, Fred's input to the 
curriculum was limited to the rod and the wrath of God.   "Our dad had 
no use for education. He wanted us all to be lawyers, and for that we 
needed good grades. But he would sneer at our subjects, never helped us 
with our homework, never went to any school meetings and skipped our 
graduations. All he cared about were the grades. On the day they 
arrived, that was the one day he got involved in our education-usually 
with the mattock."   "The only time he met our teachers," adds Nate, 
"was when he was suing them  ."  Mark remembers a day when the boys had 
gathered in one room to do their homework. They'd been working quietly 
for some time when the dour pastor walked in.   
After staring in simmering malevolence at each of them, he intoned: "You 
guys think you may be foolin' me. But on a cold snowy day, the snow will 
be crunchin' under the mailman's tires, and under his boots, when he 
puts that letter in our box. Your grades. And that's when the meat's 
gonna get separated from the coconut..."    When the report cards 
arrived from Landon Middle School one day in January, 1972, it wasn't 
snowing. But Jonathon and Nate's grades were poor and the meat got 
separated from the coconut.    The beatings were so severe, the boys 
were covered with massive, broken, purple bruising extending from their 
buttocks to below their knees. Neither Jonathon or Nate were able to sit 
down, and the blows to the backs of their legs had caused so much 
swelling they were unable to bend them.  Today, Nate has chronic knee 
complaints whose origin may lie in early trauma to the cartilage.   And 
after the beatings came the shaming.  It was 1972-the age of shoulder 
locks. Both boys had begged their father not to have crewcuts. They 
already felt exposed to enough ridicule as the odd ducks whose father 
didn't believe in Christmas, whose home no one was allowed to visit, and 
who were forbidden to visit others' homes. Jonathon and Nate had a 
teenage dread of braving the corridors with flesh-heads in an era of 
long manes, and their father had relented. Their hair had been allowed 
to touch their collars.   But when the grades turned bad, out came the 
clippers.  No attachments. Brutally short. Shaved bald.  "It was not a 
haircut," says Nate. "It was a penalty. And a further way of cutting us 
off from the outside world."  
On the following day-a Thursday-the boys came to school wearing red 
stocking caps. When asked to remove them in class, they declined. This 
upset their teachers almost as much as their refusal to take their 
seats.    One instructor demanded Nate remove his headgear. Finally, 
Nate did. The teacher stared at his bald head. So did his classmates. 
"On second thought," said the charitable man, "put it back on."  
For gym class that Friday, the boys had a note from their mom excusing 
them all week.   By now, the faculty had a pretty good idea what the 
clothes, notes, and funny hats were covering, and Principal Dittemore 
asked Jonathon to come into his office. Waiting for him were the school 
nurse and a doctor from the community.   
They asked the 13 year-old to show them his bruises. He refused.  
Feeling their hands were tied, the staff released Jonathon, only to have 
the pastor himself show up a few hours later. During a stormy second 
meeting, Phelps accused the school, first of slackness and poor 
discipline, then, paradoxically, of beating his sons and causing the 
bruising themselves. He threatened to slap a lawsuit on anyone who 
pursued the matter.   
Not a man to be intimidated, Dittemore reported the suspected child 
abuse to an officer of the Juvenile Court.   On Monday, the same routine 
occurred-unable to sit down and insisting on the stocking caps. Until it 
came time for gym once more.   The note had excused them for a week, but 
now the coach demanded they show it again, saying he'd thought it was 
only for a day. The boys had left their note at home.  
The coach took Nate into the locker room and stood there, waiting for 
him to get undressed. Nate refused.   At that point, the faculty 
relented, and Jonathon and Nate thought they were off the hook.   But, 
as they walked out of Landon to their mom's station wagon after school, 
they saw two police cars waiting. One of the teachers pointed the boys 
out to the officers. Before he knew it, Nate was in a squad car on his 
way downtown.   "I was terrified. Not because I was afraid of the 
police. I was afraid of my dad. I kept thinking it was all over but the 
funeral. What would my old man do? This was my fault and he was going to 
beat the daylight out of me and I could still barely walk from the last 
one."  At the station, Nate remembers everyone was very kind to him. 
They spent an enormous amount of time and energy trying to allay his 
fears and coax him to allow them to photograph his naked backside. 
Finally he did.   When the police allowed Mrs. Phelps to take her boys 
home, Nate's worst nightmare came true.   After nearly getting arrested 
for delivering a tirade of obscenities and threats to the juvenile 
detectives, the dour pastor rushed back to the house and delivered a 
fresh beating to his exhausted sons.  
For the moment, however, it had gone beyond the pastor's control.  
Police detectives investigated the matter, and it was filed as juvenile 
abuse cases #13119 and #13120. Jonathon and Nate were assigned a court-
appointed lawyer, as a guardian-ad-litem, to protect their interests. 
The assistant county attorney took charge of the cases, and juvenile 
officers were assigned to the boys.   
In his motion to dismiss, the ever-resourceful Phelps filed a 
pontifically sobering sermon on the value of strict discipline and 
corporal punishment in a good Christian upbringing.   "When he beat us, 
he told us if it became a legal case, we'd pay hell," says Nate. "And we 
believed him. At that time, there was nothing we wanted to see more than 
those charges dropped. When the guardian ad litem came to interview us, 
we lied through our teeth."  
Principals involved in the case speculate the boys' statements, along 
with superiors' reluctance to tangle with the litigious pastor, caused 
the charges to be dropped.   The last reason is not academic 
speculation. The Capital-Journal has learned through several sources 
that the Topeka Police Department's attitude toward the Phelps' family 
in the '70s and '80s was hands off-this guy's more trouble than it's 
Three months later, the case was dismissed upon the motion of the state. 
The reason given by the prosecutor was "no case sufficient to go to 
trial in opinion of state".   The boys were selling candy in Highland 
Park when they learned from their mom during a rest break the Pastor 
Phelps would not go on trial for beating his children. "I felt elated," 
remembers Nate. "It meant at least I wouldn't get beaten for that."   
But if Nate's life was so full of pain and fear, why didn't he speak up 
when he was at the police station and everyone was being so nice to him?   
Nate laughs. It's the veteran's tolerant amusement at the novice's 
question. "We'll do anything not to have to give up our parents," he 
answers. "That's just the way kids are. That's the way we were."   
"Besides, when it (abuse) occurs since birth, it never even crosses your 
mind to fight back," interrupts Mark. "You know how they train 
They raise them tied to a chain in the ground. Later, it's replaced by a 
rope and a stick. But the elephant never stops thinking it's a chain."   
The loyal Phelps family are of two minds on the case.  Margie admitted 
it had occurred. Jonathon denied it. The pastor never decided. Instead, 
he launched into a lecture on the value of tough love in raising good 
Since their juvenile files were destroyed when the boys reached 
eighteen, but for their father's vindictiveness, there might have been 
no record of this case. As it was, he sued the school.   This caused the 
school's insurance company to request a statement from Principal 
Dittemore, who complied, describing the events which led to the 
faculty's concern the boys were being abused.   The suit was dropped. 
 When contacted in retirement, Dittemore confirmed he'd written the 
letter and acknowledged its contents.   The family now accuses Nate of 
fabricating his stories of child abuse. They claim he is spinning these 
lies out of the malice he has over their opposition to his marriage 
(Nate's wife is divorced).   But Nate was married in 1986. The described 
case of abuse was a matter of record 14 years earlier-and 21 years prior 
to Pastor Phelps' controversial debut on national television.   The 
Phelps family has since maintained that, while the case did exist, the 
charges were invented by the school to harass their family. They say 
they were raised under loving but strict discipline, and that is how 
they're raising their children.   Jonathon Phelps, who admits he beats 
his wife and four children, for emphasis reads from Proverbs, 13:24:   
"He that spareth his rod, hateth his son. But he that loveth him, 
chasteneth him betimes."   Yes...but...where does it say the purple 
child is a child much-loved?   Betty Phelps, wife of Fred, Jr., glowers 
at the questions. Anytime you spank a child, you're going to cause 
bruising, she explains. And sneers: "I'll bet your parents put a pillow 
in your pants."   Jonathon, staring straight ahead and not looking at 
the reporter, states in a barely controlled voice of malevolent threat 
that, should the reporter tell it differently than just heard, said 
scribbler is evil and going to hell.   Assuming there'll be space, the 
doomed dromedary of capital muckraking must tell it differently.  
To begin with, the reporters on this story were raised in the same era 
and locale as the Phelps boys. They also grew up under strict 
discipline, and one of their fathers was, at one time, a professional 
boxer.   Daddy's hands sometimes swung a mean leather belt, but only a 
few strokes, and it left no bruises. After a few minutes, one could sit 
down again.   The moving force behind the pastor's hands was not 'tough 
love', as he so often claims, but malice aforethought.   The Capital-
Journal has established from numerous sources conversant with the case 
that the injuries to Nate and Jonathon Phelps in January of 1972 went 
far beyond the bounds of a 'strict upbringing'-even by the standards of 
the strictest disciplinarian.   Those injuries would have been seen as 
torture and abuse in any era, at any age, in any culture.  
Mark's front porch tale is instructive. Any psychologist hearing the 
story about choking that cat today would know immediately to investigate 
the child's home life for abuse. Back then it was not the case.   That 
child would have been left to find his own way out of the terrible 
subterranean world another had made for him.   Most don't. Research 
shows nine out of twelve die down there.  
In their heart. When the light in their soul goes out. If their bodies 
live on, they grow up mangled and mangle those closest to them.   And it 
all takes shape down there. In the dark new universe of a young child's 
mind.   Mark Phelps escaped.  
His father did not.  That man came to the Kansas capital instead. And, 
after 40 years, he still haunts its porches, tormenting its innocents.    
The Capital-Journal went see if it could learn 
where and when...perhaps how...the light went out for Fred Phelps.   
It followed him to Colorado and California, Canada and New Mexico. For 
three months, it turned every stone in Topeka, seeking the truth about 
this man.   What follows is the monster behind the clown, the 
streetcorner malevolence mocking the cameras.   
"God's Left Hook" 
The air hangs heavy, torpid, and hot. Pulling the warm steam into one's 
lungs leaves only a disturbing sense of slow suffocation. Under the 
harsh subtropic sun, the magnolia blossoms slip from the black-green 
leaves, falling like wet snow-petals to perfume the red-clay earth. In 
the heat, it leaves a heavy, hanging smell...the wealth of Dixie.   Fred 
Phelps spent his first years here.  
Outside the courthouse, flags sag limp and breezeless. Above the doors 
are cut the words:   Thou Shalt Not Bear False Witness Against Thy 
Neighbor  It's Meridian, Mississippi, town of old store fronts, 
mouthwatering cornbread, and 40,000 people. Surrounded by 100-foot pine 
forests, its business is lumber. Trucks and flatbed railcars loaded with 
freshly cut logs rolls slowly by. To the sensual fragrance of the 
magnolias is added the sweet aroma of pine. While great pyramids of logs 
await processing into lumber at the plant on the west side, Navy jets 
roar overhead...the other source of revenue. The federal government 
threatens to close the base down; the locals fight to keep it.   
Meridian was sacked by General Sheridan during the Civil War. The 
implacable bluecoat burned the town and tore up what, till then, had 
been a rail hub of the South.   The town has since recovered. The 
railroad did not.   In the cemeteries can be found gravestones of the 
Confederate dead. Among them, a more recent marker reads:   Catherine 
Idalette Phelps, Age 28   Fred's mother used to open all the windows in 
the house and play the piano, according to Thetis Grace Hudson, former 
librarian in Meridian and a neighbor of the Phelps family during the 
Depression. The other households on her street were too poor to afford 
any entertainment, she says, so everyone remembered Catherine Phelps for 
her kindness.  
Apparently she played well.  Whenever she was at their house, Hudson 
remembers she used to ask Mrs. Phelps to play the hymn "Love Lifted Me" 
on the piano. Fred's mother always obliged, even if she was busy.   But, 
after an illness of several months-those who still remember the family 
say it was throat cancer-Catherine Phelps died on September 3, 1935.   
Fred was only five years old.  Since the little boy's uncle was the 
mayor of nearby Pascagoula, and his father was prominent in Meridian, 
the honorary pallbearers at her funeral included the local mayor, a city 
councilman, two judges, and every member of the police department.   Ms. 
Hudson says young Fred was bewildered at the loss. After his mother's 
death, a maternal great aunt, Irene Jordan, helped care for Fred and his 
younger sister, Martha Jean.   "She kept house for the daddy," adds a 
distant relative who declined to be identified. At times, work caused 
the boy's father to be away from home and Jordan raised the children.   
The woman Fred Phelps has referred to as 'his dear old aunt' died in a 
head-on collision in 1951 as she was driving back to Meridian from a 
nearby town.   The boy had lost two mothers before he'd turned 21.   
Family friends remember Fred's father was a tall, stately man. A true 
Southern gentlemen, they say. And a fine Christian.   But the elder 
Phelps also had a hot temper, according to Jack Webb, 81, of 
Porterville, Miss. Webb owns a general store, the only business in 
Porterville, a town of about 45 elderly people.   "If he got mad, he was 
mad all over," said Webb. He was ready to fight right quick. He was mad, 
mad, mad."   Webb is a frail man, slightly hard of hearing. Walking into 
his general store is like stepping back into the 19th century. The 
shelves, all located behind a 100-foot wooden counter, are stocked with 
weary tins of Vienna sausage and dusty bottles of aspirin. Coke goes for 
30 cents. Glass. No twist-off.   
Despite the temper, Webb adds, the elder Phelps was an honorable man. In 
Meridian, he had been an object of great respect.   Fred's father was a 
veteran of World War One, and throughout his life suffered from the 
effects of a mustard gassing he'd taken in France. He found work as a 
detective for the Southern Railroad to support his family. The railroad 
security force or "bulls", as they were called, had a reputation for 
brutality when they patrolled the yards to prevent the itinerant 
laborers, washed out of their hometowns by the Depression, from riding 
the freights.   "My father," says Pastor Phelps, "oft-times came home 
with blood all over him."   Suddenly he stands up, turning his face 
away, and exits. Several minutes later he returns, smiling, apologizing:  
"You got me thinking about those days," he offers, then bravely charges 
into a round of the town's official song:   "Meridian, Meridian... a 
city set upon a hill; Meridian, Meridian... that radiates the South's 
good will." 
The elder Phelps was a "bull" throughout the Depression, says Thetis 
Hudson, and the pay was good. The family lived comfortably at a time 
when the other families in town were being ravaged by hardship.   What 
was the son like?  "Fred Phelps had as normal and beautiful a home life 
as anyone ever wanted," commented a relative who didn't want their name 
used.   "His childhood was very good," says Hudson. "There was nothing 
in his family out of the ordinary."   "All I know is it's a tragedy, and 
it stems from within Fred Phelps," adds the anonymous relative, 
referring to the homosexual picketing. "It has nothing to do with his 
As a teenager. Fred was tall and thin and sported a crewcut. He was 
extraordinarily smart, but thought to be a bit overbearing about it at 
times. A reserved and serious high school student, he never dated anyone 
while there.   "He was not a real socializer, but he knew a lot of 
people. Everyone had the greatest respect for him," says Joe Clay 
Hamilton, former high-school classmate, now a Meridian lawyer.   The 
future Pastor Phelps earned the rank of Eagle Scout with Palms, played 
coronet and base horn in the high school band, was a high hurdler on the 
track team, and worked as a reporter on the school's newspaper. In a 
class of 213 graduates, he ranked sixth. When he was voted class orator 
for commencement of May, 1946, received the American Legion Award for 
courage, leadership, scholarship, and service, then honored as his 
congressman's choice for West Point, Fred Phelps was only 16 years old.   
A year later this young man, touted as the quiet achiever, had turned 
his back on West Point, his former life, and his future promise. The 
summer of '47 would find him a belligerent and eccentric zealot, 
antagonizing the Mormons in the mountains of Utah.   Because of his age, 
Phelps had to wait one fateful year before entering the military 
academy. During that time he attended the local junior college. While 
waiting for his life to start, Fred, along with his best friend, John 
Capron, went to a revival meeting at the local Methodist church.   It 
was there the budding pastor felt the 'call', and the dreams of going 
north to West Point melted like the river ice washed down and marooned 
on the hot mud of the Mississippi banks.  
Fred Phelps, by his own description, "went to a little Methodist revival 
meeting and had what I think was an experience of grace, they call it 
down there. I felt the call, as they say, and it was powerful. The God 
of glory appeared. It doesn't mean a vision or anything, but it means an 
impulse on the heart, as the old preachers say."   The revival had a 
profound effect on both Phelps and Capron. "The two of them 'got 
religion'," said Joe Hamilton. Friends and relatives claim the two boys 
became so excited, they were unable to distinguish reality from 
idealism-they were going off to conquer the world.  One relative still 
in Meridian described it this way: "Fred, bless his heart, just went 
overboard. If you didn't accept it, he was going to cram it down your 
Was this radical change in behavior a characteristic of the conversion 
experience? Or was there something hidden in the young man's character 
that drew him to the experience and its consequent license for loud and 
abusive behavior?   If the latter, then some heart should be heard 
pounding beneath the floorboards in the old Phelps' house. Yet, there is 
little to be heard.   
Fletcher Rosenbaum, a retired lieutenant colonel in the U.S. Air Force 
who lives in Meridian, went to high school with Phelps. "He was good at 
whatever he tried," Rosenbaum says. "He was a first-class individual. I 
would be surprised if he wasn't a top-notch citizen in Topeka."  
Picketing AIDS funerals and the fax attacks on members of his community 
by Phelps surprised Rosenbaum:  "He was very reserved in high school. 
Very quiet. I'm surprised he would be involved in aggressive activities. 
To me, it would be out of character for him."   This observation may not 
be entirely accurate.  One woman, a librarian at the Meridian Public 
Library, said she remembers Phelps and went to school and church with 
him. "He doesn't bend," she observed. "He never did." She also described 
him as "spooky", "different", and "a preacher prodigy."   "You tell him 
not to do it, and he'll do it," said another Meridian woman. "He was a 
very determined person. That's to be admired, but it can be taken too 
far."   Even Fred himself remembers differently. He was a boxer 
throughout high school and, reminiscing briefly about his days in 
Meridian, he chuckles to himself.   If any of the other boys came to 
class with a puffy face or shiner, their friends would ask if they'd 
been sparring with Phelps.   He always left his mark on them, he tells 
me proudly.  
Sid Curtis, a grade-school classmate of Fred's, remembers the future 
pastor drew well, even then.   What did he draw?  Boxers.   
A golden glove contender in high school, Fred fought twice in state 
meets, winning matches which, according to him, were head-on slugfests.   
Not aggressive?  Not the Bull of Topeka yet, but clearly it was in his 
character.   A story in the high-school paper, predicting the futures of 
Phelps and his classmates, reads: "Fred Phelps will box in Madison 
Square Garden next June, 1954. Young Phelps will fight for the world 
championship."   One can only wonder what deep currents rose in the 
teenager whenever he climbed into the ring.   Recalling the earlier 
testimony of his sons, Nate and Mark, and remembering that research has 
proven abusive behavior is passed with high probability from one 
generation to the next, the question must be raised: Was the Pastor 
Phelps equally abused as a child?  In the South, there is an unwritten 
code you don't bad-mouth one of your own. Strangers are welcome unless 
they ask too many questions, or speak ill of Southern folks and ways.   
In fact, if ET had come down in Meridian instead of Southern California, 
and a yankee inquired about that today, folks would probably scratch 
their chins, figure the carpet-baggers with a knowing eye, and say he 
was a quiet boy, little short for his age...but had good hands for the 
piano...  If the stories his sons have told are true, the outside 
observer has two choices in understanding Fred Phelps: either there's a 
pounding heart under the floor in that old house or the teenager's Saul-
into-Paul experience produced the character change. However, many 
Christians might find it difficult to believe that discovering Jesus 
would render a good-natured, quiet lad into the bullying hostile whose 
trail we will shortly follow from Vernal, Utah to Topeka, Kansas.   If 
something did happen to throw Fred Waldron Phelps off track, something 
that mangled him for life, no one in Meridian wanted to say. Doing that 
no doubt would be to speak ill of the dead-something Pastor Phelps also 
was taught to avoid.  
Yet, suddenly at 16, the child has become the man: fanatic, unempathic, 
combative, and vindictive.   If there is an answer to the question, 'why 
does Fred hate us all so much?', perhaps it lies in those years, age 
five to 15, when his father was largely absent and Fred and his sister 
were cared for by Irene Jordan.   
"If he were dead, I'd talk," says Fred's sister, Martha Jean Capron, now 
residing in Pennsylvania. "But as long as he's alive...that's up to 
him..."   Following the revival experience, Phelps abandoned plans for 
West Point. He moved to Cleveland, Tennessee, where he attended Bob 
Jones College, a non-denominational Christian academy.  
John Capron went with him. While Fred and his boyhood chum would 
eventually separate over religion, Martha Jean and Capron never would: 
they were married and moved to Indonesia as missionaries. John was a 
minister there for ten years. Later he would smuggle Bibles into 
Communist China.   Pastor Phelps' brother-in-law died of a heart attack 
in 1982. 
Perhaps it's a shame Phelps didn't go to West Point. An army career 
could have provided a healthy outlet for his aggression, been more 
compatible with his demanding and commanding nature, while his strong 
body, mind, and will would have been an asset to the service and his 
country.  If he'd survived Korea as a 2nd lieutenant, probably he'd have 
been a lieutenant colonel by Vietnam. There he'd almost certainly have 
chipped his Manichaean mandibles of dualism on that war's hard bone of 
moral ambiguity. Either he'd have ended on a river somewhere, whispering 
"the horror...the horror..." to bewildered junior officers, or gained a 
wider horizon and returned home to retire an urbane cynic and Southern 
gentleman.   But in 1946, Fred Phelps had a year to kill instead of 
Nazis or North Koreans. The revival took him from Meridian to Bob Jones; 
from there the future pastor found another outlet for his anger.   This 
one gave instant gratification and conferred adult license to abuse 
almost overnight: lip-shooting preacher; revivalist minister.   And, 
unlike Vietnam, here God was unequivocally on his side...   
As part of a Rocky Mountain mission assignment in summer, 1947, Phelps 
and two other students from Bob Jones were to seek out a fundamentalist 
church, convert non-believers to Christianity and steer the converts to 
that church. The three men chose Vernal, a town in northeast Utah. They 
would be working to convert, not secular hedonists, but a population 
that was predominantly and staunchly Mormon.   When Fred and his friends 
got there, they set up a meeting tent brought from Bob Jones in the city 
park. A local Baptist minister provided them food and lodging (B.H. 
McAlister, who would later ordain Phelps).   During the day the do-it-
yourself apostles went door-to-door, seeking converts to the good news. 
At night, they conducted revival meetings in the tent.   Only no one 
So Ed Nelson, one of the trio, had an idea.  He went to a local radio 
station and asked if he might buy a block of time.  Nope, was the reply. 
Not if you're going to attack the Mormon church.  Ok, said Ed, can I 
announce I'll be giving an address tonight at the tent? 
Sure.  So Ed Nelson announced on the radio he'd be doing just that. And 
the title of the speech? 'What's Wrong with the Mormon Church?' says Ed, 
over the air.   That night, continues Nelson, now 69 and a traveling 
Baptist evangelist based in Denver, a huge crowd arrived. It was so 
large, the trip had to roll up the sides of the tent.   Ed was nervous, 
but he gave his speech. The crowd listened politely. When the young 
evangelist was finished, a man in the crowd asked would there be 
questions.   Sure, said Ed. 
But the very first one stumped him, Nelson confesses disarmingly, and he 
panicked. Flustered, he announced there would be no more questions.   
Several in the throng protested, saying that, after sitting in courtesy, 
listening to their religion attacked, they weren't going to let the 
young men off so easily-that they should be willing to answer the 
crowd's questions.  
At that, Fred rushed one of the men speaking and started to throw a 
punch, but Ed grabbed his arm and shouted:   "Fred! Fred! No! Don't you 
do it!"  "And," Nelson recounts, "Fred looked at that guy and he said, 
'you shut your mouth, you dirty...' something or other."  
Which, to Ed, only compounded their troubles.  Fred's companion then 
raised his arms and shouted, "Folks, the meeting's over! It's over!" And 
he rushed out and killed the lights inside the tent.    This discouraged 
any further theological discussion. 
It would seem this format-speak one's mind, then take violent offense at 
anything less than complete agreement, and suppress all opposing views 
by any means handy-was the major life lesson learned by Fred Phelps 
during his sojourn among the Vernal heathen.  "He was hot-headed and 
peculiar," remembers Nelson about Fred then. Eventually the minister 
decided to cease his association with Phelps because of his hostility 
and aggressiveness.   "The last time I saw him, he was traveling through 
(on the road preaching). My wife and I gave them a hundred dollars and a 
bunch of handkerchiefs."   When told of what Phelps was doing today, Ed 
said: "I'm not surprised. He was heading that way. He was so brilliant, 
he was dangerous. He was getting involved in the idea that only he was 
saved...going into heresy..."   Though vandals damaged the tent, the 
boys from Bob Jones continued to hold nightly meetings there during the 
rest of their vacation. No one came, but Nelson reports they did manage 
to convert two teenage girls-at least for the summer.   
At the end of their stay, Fred got ordained.  Ordained? At 17? Isn't 
that too young?  "No, it isn't," replies B.H. McAlister, who did the 
ordaining. "If he can pass the test, he is eligible. I don't think the 
word of God is bound by age."   
Phelps was at least three years younger than most when they become 
ministers.   Southern Baptists do not require a candidate for the 
ministry be a graduate of seminary.   McAlister, who has helped ordain 
hundreds of ministers, said an examination board of 10 to 20 ministers 
would ask a candidate questions about doctrines and scriptures. Not 
everyone passed.   Fred Phelps did-but only after McAlister and a 
missionary convinced the teenager he was wrong on a scriptural fine 
point.   Which point was that?  According to McAlister, Phelps 
considered the local church to be more than a place of fellowship-for 
him, membership in the local congregation directly corresponded to 
membership in the Body of Christ.   Phelps may have conceded the point 
to be ordained, but, for 40 years, his family and church members in 
Topeka have been controlled by his threat that, if they depart his 
congregation, they must carry a letter of permission from him. In 
addition, they must join a congregation that he approves. Otherwise, as 
with Mark and Nate, the pastor Phelps draws up the dreaded missive 
ordering the straying sheep to be 'delivered to Satan for the 
destruction of the flesh.'  "We barely knew him," admits McAlister, who 
settled upon Fred the distinction of having been both baptized and 
ordained in a single eventful summer.    
Phelps returned that autumn to Bob Jones, but left after a year without 
graduating. Later he would say he did so because the school was racist.   
In 1983, the IRS revoked the tax exemption of Bob Jones, accusing it of 
practicing racial discrimination.   From there, Fred went north to the 
Prairie Bible Institute near Calgary, Alberta. But after two semesters 
he moved on.  
Sources have disclosed the head of the college felt pastor Phelps might 
be clinically disturbed.    Compatible with that diagnosis, Fred's next 
stop was Southern California. There he enrolled at John Muir College in 
Campaigning to change community sexual mores with a sign and a sidewalk 
harangue has been a four-decade effort for Fred. His implacable efforts 
at John Muir to root out necking and petting on campus and dirty jokes 
in the classroom reached the pages of TIME magazine (11 June 1951).  
After being forbidden to preach on campus and getting removed at least 
once by police from college property, Fred finally found a following 
that cheered his defiance of authority when he returned to harangue from 
a sympathizer's lawn across the street.   TIME speculated it might 
presage a movement back to more solid values by the younger generation.    
Phelps cashed in on the notoriety of the TIME article to become a 
traveling evangelist again-this time with more success than in Vernal.  
In return for spending a week or two preaching at an established church 
or giving a revival, he would receive a bed, his meals, and a small 
stipend for gas to the next assignment. It was during one such ministry 
in Phoenix that he met his wife, Marge.   She was a student at Arizona 
Bible School and an au-pair with the family that took in the itinerant 
evangelist. Today's Mrs. Phelps remembers being curious about the 
minister who'd been in TIME magazine.   Laura Woods, the mistress of the 
house who gave voice lessons during the day, remembers Fred was the 
perfect guest. He helped build a room, mowed the lawn, made the beds, 
and washed the dishes, she said.   When the couple decided to get 
married, Mrs. Woods made Marge Simms two dresses-a wedding gown and an 
outfit to travel in. They were married May 15, 1952. Laura and her 
husband, Arthur, remain friends today with Fred and Marge Phelps.   The 
couple moved to Albuquerque for a year, where Marge kept house while 
Fred traveled a circuit around the Southwest-one that took him from 
Durango, Colorado to Tucson, Arizona.   Fred Jr., the first of their 
thirteen children, was born May 4, 1953.  
The family then lived in Sunnyslope, Arizona for a year while pastor 
Phelps continued his itinerant ministry.   Mrs. Phelps was eight months 
pregnant with Mark when Pastor Leaford Cavin at the Eastside Baptist 
Church in Topeka invited Fred to come and preach.    
On Fred Jr.'s first birthday, the family arrived in the Kansas capital 
to find it an auspicious day indeed: May 4, 1954 was the day the U.S. 
Supreme Court handed down its historic decision, Brown vs. Board of 
Education of Topeka, the landfall desegregation case which ruled 
separate but equal schools for blacks and whites were unconstitutional.   
The Pastor Phelps saw the coincidence of the Brown decision -just as he 
was deciding where to settle-as a sign telling him that Topeka was The 
Place.   On that watershed day for America, if the new arrivals visited 
the state capitol building, perhaps Phelps was struck by the dramatic 
mural of the raging giant on the burning prairie, rifle in one hand, 
Bible (law book) in the other.   Perhaps, as he has hinted, Pastor 
Phelps came to Topeka, saw it had become a national forum on black civil 
rights, saw the power of the legal profession, and decided it had fallen 
to him:   Kansas would have a new John Brown.     
"Dog Days for the Pastor" 
Before greatness could be thrust upon him, however, this new John Brown 
would suffer his dog days.   At first, the new arrivals sailed smoothly 
into the Eastside Baptist community. Fred was roundly admired for his 
thunderous preaching, and was quickly hired an associate pastor. The 
ladies at Eastside all liked Marge and made the young mother welcome in 
their circles.  
Things went swimmingly.  The Eastside congregation was planning to open 
a new church across town, and it seemed natural when their pastor, 
Leaford Cavin, asked Fred to fill the job.   The Eastside church issued 
bonds to purchase the property at 3701 12th Street. To help Brother 
Phelps get underway, the congregation re-roofed the building, painted 
it, and bought the songbooks necessary. A start-up group of about 50 
former members of Eastside volunteered to attend services at Westboro. 
The church formally opened on May 20, 1956.   Fred had it all. A fine 
church and a congregation of his own.  What went wrong?  
What did provides an insight into the man who craves a greater and 
greater role as a moral arbiter of our times.   "We gave him his church; 
painted; roofed it; even bought his songbooks; and after only a few 
weeks, he turned on us," says a long-time member of Eastside.   
Apparently not everyone in Leaford Cavin's church was enthusiastic about 
Phelps. One from that time recalls Fred, Marge, 2 year-old Fred, Jr., 
and 10 month-old Mark were in the pews one Sunday with the rest of the 
congregation, listening to Cavin preach.    Mark began squirming 
suddenly.  To the appalled amazement of his fellow worshippers nearby, 
the junior pastor repeatedly slapped the infant across the face with an 
open palm and backhand, snapping Mark's tiny head to and fro.   
Afterwards, several of the men in the congregation confronted Fred and 
told him never to do that again.   Mark Phelps laughs to hear that story 
relayed: "My mom once told me-proudly, as if she'd effected a big change 
in his behavior-that my father had beaten my older brother when he was 
only five months old. She said she'd argued with him about it and he'd 
agreed to hold off beating the kids till they were a year old."   
"Phelps was wrapped pretty tight, even back then," recalls an old member 
of Eastside. "He was very severe with his children and a lot of people 
didn't care for him. But we all thought he was a man of God."   
Within weeks after receiving his new status, building, and congregation, 
Fred Phelps warmed on the hearth of Eastside's hospitality and but the 
hands that had helped him.   He and Leaford Cavin had an almost 
immediate falling-out over whether God hated the sinner as well as the 
sin.   "Today, Fred will tell you it was theological differences," says 
an acquaintance of Cavin, "but those differences didn't seem to bother 
him when he needed out help."   Adds another: "Theological differences? 
Brother Cavin was a very staunch Baptist."   But not staunch enough for 
"I don't know if there ever was a man more strict than Leaford Cavin. 
Really, it was the anger in Fred, not doctrine, that caused him to act 
the way he did."   When a man in Fred's new congregation came to him for 
marital counseling, the pastor recommended a good beating for the wife. 
The man followed his spiritual guide's advice.   
Later, he called the pastor to ask for bail: apparently separation of 
church and state didn't apply to assault and battery.   Phelps paid the 
confused Christian's bail, but stuck to his guns: a former members of 
the early Westboro community remembers the following Sunday Pastor Fred 
was fiery in his message that a good left hook makes for a right fine 
wife:   "Brethren," preached Phelps, "they can lock us up, but we'll 
still do what the Bible tells us to do. Either our wives are going to 
obey, or we're going to beat them!"   "Leaders," observes B.H. 
McAlister, the minister who ordained Fred, "break down into shepherd and 
sheep-herders. The first lead, the second drive the sheep. If love is 
absent, the pastor is one who drives the flock; with love, he leads it."  
Mark remembers his father used to frequently tell of the time he 
purified the flock and paid the price for his courage.   Apparently a 
female member of that early Westboro congregation was discovered having 
an affair with a soldier from Ft. Riley.   Only the males in the 
congregation were allowed to vote, and the pastor prevailed upon them to 
cast the magdelene from the midst.   Away from the effects of his heated 
rhetoric, however, many of those swayed felt first remorse, then disgust 
at their part in the moral lynching.   Mark remembers his father always 
referred to this incident to explain why his congregation had deserted 
In later years, Phelps was convinced he was alone in his church with 
only his children to listen because those who'd opened Westboro were too 
weak for the harsh truth of God: that He hated sinners as well as the 
sin; and therefore His elect must also hate the sinners-even those who 
might be assembled with them.   If the local Baptist churches were still 
unsure about the new fire and brimstone brother from Arizona, shooting 
his neighbor's dog didn't help. Aside from etching one of his children's 
earliest memories, shotgun-blasting the large German shepherd that had 
wandered into his unfenced yard quickly got the novice pastor notice in 
his community.   The incident was discussed in the papers, and the dog's 
owner sued the arrogant minister. Fred defended himself and won, an 
action his son Mark believes may have encouraged his father's turn to 
the law.  
 But the irrationality and violence of the act sent the last of his 
congregation scurrying back to Eastside.   For weeks after the shooting, 
one church member recalls, someone placed signs on the lawn in front of 
Westboro at night that declared prophetically:   "Anyone who'd stoop to 
killing a dog someday will mistake a child for a dog."    Soon it was 
clear no one wanted any part of Fred's god not if he hated like Fred. 
And that posed a problem for the Pastor Phelps: he still owed 32 dollars 
a week on the bonds for the church, and no one was paying for his hate 
show on Sundays.  
 To cover his mortgage and support his family, the failed pastor turned 
his pitch from God to vacuum cleaners. During the following five years, 
he went door-to-door in Topeka, selling those and baby carriages and, 
finally, insurance.   In a pattern that held ominous overtones for the 
future, Phelps at some point sued almost everyone who employed him 
during that period.  
 He also carried on a running feud with Leaford Cavin at Eastside 
Baptist. Cavin spent several years trying to discover how to repair his 
mistake and stop the nightmare unfolding at the Westboro church.   
"Eastside held the mortgage on Westboro," remembers one churchgoer who 
was involved in the finances there, "and we always hoped Fred would miss 
a payment so we could foreclose. But he never did."  
 To save money, the pastor moved his wife and children into the church.   
Since the congregation at Westboro was essentially the Phelps family, 
Cavin convinced John Towle, county assessor, that Westboro should be 
taxed as private residence.   The controversy was covered in the media, 
and the exemption for 3701 West 12th was lifted. But again the fighting 
Pastor Phelps taught himself enough about the law to successfully 
contest the decision before the Board of Tax Appeals.   For good 
measure, he sued Cavin and Stauffer Communications for libel.  He lost 
the suit, but the lines of his future had now been drawn: Fred Phelps 
had his castle and his church and he'd learned how to defend them. 
His chosen community detested him, but that was to be expected when one 
was elect and immersed in a world of damned souls.   Fred was content 
that his god hated those who questioned him. And he was content to 
remain in his private La Rochelle and sally forth occasionally to smite 
the reprobate.   One old member of Eastside is philosophical about the 
feud with Pastor 
Fred: "I'll tell you one thing, we can feel awfully lucky he turned down 
that slot at West Point. Right now, he'd probably be a general-with his 
finger on the button."    It was during this period that the Pastor 
Phelps cut the final ties with his original family.   
When talking with friends, Fred's father never discussed the son he had 
in Topeka, says Fred Stokes, a retired army officer who lives outside 
Meridian. Stokes was a close friend of the elder Phelps and a pallbearer 
at his funeral in 1977: "He had some fundamental beliefs that were 
unshakeable, but he didn't force them on anyone."   In his later years, 
Stokes says, Fred's father was active in the Methodist Church. "He was a 
very kind, grandfatherly person. He was at peace with himself and didn't 
have any rancor toward anybody at the time of his death."   Marks tells 
how his grandfather, Fred, (whose name he learned only recently from 
Capital-Journal reporters) once came to visit them in Topeka when Mark 
was a child.   What he recalls most vividly is standing on the platform 
at the railroad station with his father and grandfather. As they waited 
to put him on the train back to Meridian, the preacher told the weeping 
old man never to come back, not to call, nor to write.    "I remember my 
grandfather was crying. He told my father to get back in the Methodist 
Church and stop all this nonsense."   
Pastor Phelps admits there was a rift between him and his father. "He 
was disappointed when I didn't go to West Point, which is 
understandable. He worked hard to get that appointment for me, and he 
was a very active Methodist, so he was disappointed in that. But my dad 
was a super guy that I loved deeply and I miss him."   Relatives in 
Mississippi said the elder Phelps never really got over his abandonment 
by his son. "It grieved him a lot," remembers one.  
 When Pastor Phelps was 15 and in his last year of high school his 
father, 51, married a 39 year-old divorcee named Olive Briggs.   The son 
would leave home soon after and grow up to be a fierce critic of 
divorce.   Olive's sister, who didn't want her name used, said Olive was 
a kind Southern lady who never had children and treated Fred and his 
sister, Martha Jean, as if they were her own.   The new Mrs. Phelps 
often talked to her sister about the trouble between the former railroad 
detective and his son, the Baptist preacher. "Olive would say he grieved 
over that every day of his life. That he never would have parted ways. 
It was his son who parted ways."  
Other relatives recalled that, each year, the grandparents sent birthday 
and Christmas presents to their grandchildren in Topeka. Each year they 
were returned unopened.   Photos of grandpa and grandma the pastor gave 
his extra touch: "When they once sent him pictures of themselves for us 
kids to have, I remember watching my dad cutting them meticulously into 
little pieces with a pair of scissors. Then he placed them in an 
envelope and mailed them back." 
 When the elder Phelps died in 1977, and Olive Briggs in 1985, of the 
two not inconsiderable wills, Fred's father left him one-eighth and his 
sister, seven-eighths. Fred's stepmother left her entire estate to 
Martha Jean.   There would be no relatives dropping by from mother's 
side either. Though Marge Phelps had nine brothers and sisters still 
living in rural Missouri or nearby Kansas City, with one notable 
exception, her own children never met them or so much as knew their 
names.  And the firm pastor forbade his children to play or talk with 
the rest of the youngsters in the neighborhood. Says Mark:   "I wanted 
friends to share with and talk to, but felt it was the wrong thing and 
felt guilty. They would initiate conversation or want to play, and I 
would feel real scared and not know what to do or say. Sometimes I 
couldn't avoid talking, and it made me feel real uneasy and scared that 
I would get caught.   "My dad used to make me go and tell the neighbor 
kids they couldn't play by the fence, or talk to us, or come in the 
yard. He'd say, "I'm tellin' you, if those fucking kids are in this yard 
again and I catch them, it's you I'm going to beat!"  
 "I used to have to fight the kids sometimes, or yell at them, or push 
them out of the yard; or I'd turn my back and ignore them so they 
wouldn't want to talk or be friendly and get me in trouble."   While 
this is in keeping with the 'fortress Phelps' mentality the pastor 
embarked on shortly after opening Westboro, it is interesting to 
speculate how much of the strange goings-on within the fortress the 
pastor feared his children might reveal had they been allowed outside 
confidants.  When Fred's sister, Martha Jean, and her husband, Fred's 
teenage best-buddy, John Capron, returned to the U.S. on a year 
sabbatical from their Indonesian mission, they came to see Fred. In 
part, they'd come to arrange a reconciliation between the brittle pastor 
and his devastated father.   
They never got started.  "He wouldn't even talk to me," Fred's sister 
told her nephew, Mark. The good pastor bid her also leave and never 
return.   Mark remembers riding his bike along in the street, both 
curious and embarrassed, watching his aunt go weeping down the sidewalk 
for three blocks from their house.  
 With that, the vengeful minister had succeeded in cutting all lines 
leading to his captive congregation. Anyone in the outside world who 
might know of their existence or be concerned for their welfare had been 
driven off.    After he had sold insurance for several years, Phelps had 
amassed enough commissions off the yearly premiums to allow him to stop 
working and go to law school. He had already transferred credits from 
Bob Jones and John Muir to Washburn, then taken coursework there to 
receive his degree.  Fred Phelps had guts.  When he entered Washburn Law 
School, he had a wife and seven children. When he graduated, his family 
had grown by three.  
 Phelps was editor of the Law Review and star of the school's moot 
court. He is remembered by some of the faculty as perhaps the most 
brilliant student ever to pass through Washburn Law.   If the public 
performance was impressive, however, the private life grew even more 
"It was a very rare occasion," says Mark, "when he would come anywhere 
in the house that the kids were. While he was studying the law, he'd fly 
into rages because we were making noise. Mom would hide us-for the good 
of all."   In fact, Phelps began to spend more and more time in his 
bedroom, cut off from his family except when they were needed to run 
errands for him; cut off except for his wife, whom he forced to remain 
with him in his bedroom for days at a time. Apparently the pastor's 
sexual appetites were voracious, and his emotional dependency even 
greater:   Says Mark, "Mom had to spend the major portion of her day 
sitting next to him in bed, trying to say the right things to keep him 
calm, while he bitched and moaned and complained and railed and carried 
on.   "He left the older children to take care of the younger ones while 
he monopolized our mother's time and attention. We were literally left 
on our own for the major portion of our childhoods."   While the pastor 
lolled now grossly overweight in his bed like some Ottoman pasha, 
rolling in his law books and 100 pounds of excess blubber, lecturing the 
wife and walls on the evils of the reprobate, wallowing in gluttony and 
goat-like sexual appetites, he resembled, not so much the John Brown of 
his earlier ambitions, as he did an esquired Jabba the Hut.  
"The kids would sit in grime and scum and filth for hours at a time," 
says Mark, "tied into their high chairs or strollers by mom, for their 
safety, until she could sneak away from him to give them a diaper 
change, redo their ties, and set it up for the older kids to feed them, 
so she could get back to him.   
"I remember when she'd come downstairs, all the kids would cluster 
around her like a swarm of bees, just to touch her and talk to her."   
Mark goes on: "I started doing most of the grocery shopping, by bike, 
with my brother Fred when I was only seven or eight, because our mom had 
such a hard time getting away. We had baskets on our bikes. We were 
given money but it was never enough. It was humiliating because we would 
hold up the line at the checkout while the cashiers would ask us what we 
wanted to keep or take back, and then they'd do the figuring for us," 
Mark sighs in the phone:   "When he wanted a chicken dinner, he'd stay 
in bed and have me ride my bike two miles each way to get him one. He 
never thanked me.   "We'd run errands for that, or he'd send us out for 
a piece of apple pie with cheese on it. And we had to get back fast. 
Damn fast, or he'd complain his apple pie wasn't hot enough.   "It was a 
mile or two back, the pie riding in a mesh basket, and we had to get it 
to him hot."   Mark pauses.  "It's pretty unbelievable when I think 
about it. At breakfast, my father got bacon and eggs; the kids got 
oatmeal and grits. At dinner we'd have beans and rice while he ate 
chicken or hamburger. Now that I'm a father myself, that just seems 
incomprehensible to me.  "My father had to take care of us each year 
when my mom went into the hospital to give birth. Whatever he had to do, 
he'd always lose his temper and start screaming.   
"We'd be too scared of him to eat-and then he'd beat us for not eating. 
My saliva would not work when he was in the room and mom was gone, so, 
to clean our plates, we'd throw our food under the table or into our 
laps and flush it down the toilet later.   "When he took care of us, I 
tried to stay out of the same room with him at all times. He would be 
real hard on the little ones when he dressed them. He'd push and jerk 
and tug real hard. My father was so impatient and unpredictable. You 
never knew what to expect or how to act."  When the children did run 
into Jabba-the-Dad out of his bed, it was usually unpleasant. Mark tells 
of one such time:   "The day my brother, Tim, was born, Fred, Jr., and I 
were in the dining room fooling around and Fred started to chase me out 
the back door. I ran right into my dad."  
 According to Mark, the pastor started screaming at them not to horse 
around. He punched both boys several times and ordered them outside to 
work in the yard. On his way out, Mark rounded a corner and 
inadvertently stumbled into his father a second time.   Enraged, the 
pastor connected with a hook to the side of his son's head. Mark fell 
down dazed and stunned. The pastor began to kick him, and kept kicking 
him, but Mark couldn't get up. His father screamed at him to go out in 
the yard, but the boy's legs felt like jello and "the room was rolling 
in vertigo".   Finally, his father left him there, sprawled and dazed 
like a defeated boxer.   When Mark could stand up, he joined his older 
brother already at work.  
 Three hours later, their dad called them in.  "He told us to get into 
bed and not to move. He told me to turn my face to the wall. For hours I 
lay like that, too scared to roll over because I thought he might still 
be standing there, watching me. Finally, I fell asleep.   
"When we woke up the next day, we found he'd been at the hospital with 
mom the night before. And we had a new baby brother."   Their father 
often slept all day and got up in the afternoon, remembers another 
Phelps child. "And then everyone would hide because 'daddy was up'.   
"He habitually had violent rages that included profane cursing, beyond 
any sailor's ability to curse, where he threw and broke anything he 
could get his hands on," states Mark.   "My father routinely demolished 
the kitchen and dining room areas, as well as his bedroom. He would not 
only beat mom and the kids, he would smash dishes, glasses, anything 
breakable in sight; he'd even throw everything out of the refrigerator.   
"He'd literally cover the floor with debris. I remember seeing so much 
broken crockery once it looked like an archeologists's dig. There was 
ketchup and mustard and mayonnaise splashed across the walls, cupboards, 
and floor like a paint bomb had gone off in there.  "Afterwards he'd go 
upstairs to the bedroom-and force mom to go with him. It would take 
hours for us kids to clean up after his rages. He never helped-he'd just 
dump on us and leave.  
 "But he wouldn't stop raging. While we were cleaning the mess 
downstairs, he'd force mom to sit at his bedside upstairs while he 
continued to curse and complain to her about whatever had gotten his 
goat."   Nate and Mark confirm the pastor's dish tantrums occurred 
regularly, usually once or twice a month. Sometimes there'd be several 
in one week.   
"It established a life habit for me," says Mark. "Even today, the moment 
I get home, I'm thinking 'Is Daddy mad?'  "Our walls were stained with 
food," he continues. "And my mom used to cry because she couldn't keep 
good dishes. My father would also bust holes in the walls and doors. If 
they were on the outside, he'd fix them quickly. On the inside, he'd 
leave them unrepaired for months.  
"And, remember, whenever my father was beating us, or if he was tearing 
up a room, the violence might only last a few minutes, but he would keep 
up his tirade for hours on end.   "I'm not exaggerating. My father would 
literally scream-not talk-scream-of-consciousness non-stop insults at us 
for hours.   "His mouth was, for all the years I knew him, the most 
foul, vulgar, cursing mouth you've ever heard. There's nothing he 
wouldn't say, including cursing God openly. I watched him, one day, 
stand at the back of the church auditorium just outside the kitchen 
door, and literally jump up and down and scream curses at the top of his 
lungs, like a grown-up two year-old man."   The content or nature of 
those tirades is instructive. If, in fact, Phelps did maintain this kind 
of vitriol for hours one end, it indicates an individual who is 
seriously clinically disturbed.   Since one man's scandal might be 
another's vernacular, the Capital-Journal asked Mark and Nate for a 
sample of one of their father's marathon four-hour tirades.   The 
following, if read in a loud and angry voice (not everyone can scream), 
will have a very different effect on one than if it is only scanned. It 
offers a sudden and shocking subjective experience of what it must be 
like inside the pastor's head-of the twisted rage and volcanic hate that 
must seethe in there-assuming the sample is accurate.   Most functioning 
individuals are able to carry on the following Fauve impressionist 
vitriol for only a minute or so...Phelps reportedly maintained it for 
Shitass, Goddam, tit-ass, piss-ass Goddam, ass-hole bastard, piece of 
shit, dick, son-of-a-bitch God forsaken filthy measly-assed piece of 
fucking shit Goddam horses ass. You're not worth shit. You're a no good, 
no account, God forsaken piss-assed little bastard. Get your ass in 
there and lean over that Goddam bed, you're going to get a licken. 
Bitch. Fucker. Prick, Fucker, Prick, Goddam fucker, Goddam prick, 
asshole, prick, prick, fucker, fucker, fucker, fucker, fuck you, you 
Goddam fucking piece of garbage. Go to hell. Fuck you. Go to hell. 
Prick. Fucker. GODDAMN YOU, you fucker. You worthless piece of shit. 
Goddam you, you worthless piece of shit of Goddam fucking shit. Fuck 
you. Go straight fucking to hell you Goddam fucking son-of-a-bitch. God 
Damn You! God Damn You!!! God Damn You!!! You Goddam asshole son-of-a-
bitch. God Damn You! How dare you, you asshole bastard prick turd. You 
turd. You lying, mother fucking stinking piece of fucking shit. Fuck 
you, you lying sack of shit, you. Get the fuck out of my face. Go to 
hell. I hate you, you bastard. I hate you, you asshole. You Goddam prick 
asshole bastard, dick, piece of fucking rank stinking fucking garbage 
that's as full of shit as anyone could ever be. Get the hell out of 
here, you fucker. Fucker. Fucker. Go to fucking hell you bastard. Piss-
ass. Horses ass. Goddam fucker. Fucker. Fucker. Fucker. Fucker. Fucker. 
FUCKER! FUCKER! FUCKER! Asshole. You bastard. You sick Goddam son-of-a-
bitch. You worthless little bastard. You Goddam asshole prick bastard. 
God Damn It!! God Damn YOU!!! GOD DAMN YOU!!! Fuck you, you bastard. 
You're going to hell. You little Tit-ass. Shit-ass. Fucker Tit-ass. You 
little Shitass. Piss-ass little bastard. You Goddam little bastard, I'm 
going to teach you. Get the hell up there. Why did you do this to me? 
Say!! What's the big idea? What the hell do you think you're doing, 
bringing reproach on the church of the Lord Jesus Christ? I'm not going 
to put up with your sissified wimpy asshole ways. Shut up. God damn it. 
God damn it. God damn it. Keep those Goddam kids quiet. I'm not going to 
tell you again. What's the big idea making all of that Goddam racket? 
Say! Didn't I tell you to not make a fucking sound? You think you're so 
Goddam smart thinking for yourself, when I told you what the fuck I 
wanted. Keep those Goddam kids quiet or I'm going to beat the hell out 
of all of you, you bitch. You bastard. You bitch. Fuck you. Fuck you, 
God damn it. I'm going to beat the hell out of you; I warned you and now 
you're going to catch it. Where do you think you're going. Get the fuck 
back over here you son-of-a-bitch and take your beating like a man. 
Fucking asshole bastard son-of-a-bitch chicken shit piece of crap, no 
good little bastard. What the hell do you think you're doing, for 
Christ's sake? I'm not going to put up with you, do you understand me? 
Do you? I won't tolerate this bullshit. God Damn you!! I'll beat the 
living shit out of you. Watch it. I'm warning you. I warned you what I'd 
do. It's your own God Damn fault. I warned you, for Christ's sake. 
What's the big idea getting this family in trouble like this? I'll beat 
you until you can't stand up or sit down. God damn son-of-a-bitch, 
asshole. I told you what I'd do if you didn't get them Goddam grades up. 
You little prick. How do you like that? Does that hurt, does it? Goddam 
it, does it hurt? It better hurt. If it doesn't I'll make sure it hurts. 
Are you fucking crazy? Are you crazy? You must be insane. Jesus Christ, 
how many Goddam times am I going to have to beat you? When are you going 
to learn? Say! Say! Is that right? Is that right? When you are going to 
learn? You no account little bastard. In the old testament they used to 
take kids like you out and stone them to death. That's what you deserve. 
You ought to be taken out and stoned. At least parents in that time had 
some Goddam solution to a problem like you. That's what would cure you. 
You've been nothing but Goddam grief to your mother and I since the 
fucking day you were born. I wish you were dead. I hate you. Jesus 
Christ, I hate you. I can't stand you. I can't stand the sight of you. 
You're sniffing after some whore, for Christ's sake. You got your dick 
wet and now you've just gone crazy sniffing after that fucking whore. 
You hot blooded little bastard. Keep your Goddam pants on and keep your 
fucking dick inside. Horse piss, bullshit, balderdash, crap, lying 
bastard, son of belial, reprobate. ballamite, Goddam Horses Ass! God 
damn you God, you lying asshole letting them do this to me. God damn You 
God, how could you let them do this to me! What the hell do you think 
you're doing? God damn you God. You son-of-a-bitch. Hey you bitch, got 
any good words for me? You better say something or I'm going to kick the 
living shit out of you. Speak up. Say!!! What the hell good are you? 
Say, what the hell good are you? What the hell is on your Goddam mind? 
Speak the hell up. I'll slap the living shit out of you until you 
fucking can't see straight. You pussy whipped little bastard. You horse 
manure. Fuck you. Go to hell. You're going to hell. Go to hell. Shitass. 
Bastard. Bitch. Horses ass. God damn chicken shit bastard son-of-a-bitch 
little fucker, get the fuck out of my sight. You little chicken shit. 
You piece of garbage. You're God damn worthless. You'll never amount to 
a God damn thing. You're a loser and always will be. You go along fine 
for a while and then you do something like this to fuck it all up. You 
little asshole. You'll never amount to anything. You're a God damn 
loser. You'll end up in jail you God damn deadbeat. Shut your big dumb 
ape mouth, you look like some kind of fucking idiot with your big Goddam 
dumb mouth hanging open. I'll beat that foolishness out of you. Look at 
that foolishness leaving him, I can see it with every hit of this Goddam 
mattock. It does my heart good to hear those screams and see that 
foolishness leaving. What's the big idea doing that to me? Say! Why did 
you do this to me Say! Say! How could you treat me this way? How could 
you treat me this way you little bastard? What's the big idea? Say! I'm 
not going to put up with this kind of bullshit. You're going to get a 
beating. Lean over there Goddam it. You think I'm going to put up with 
you? You think I don't know how to deal with the likes of you, you God 
forsaken little bastard? We know how to deal with asshole kids like you. 
I'll beat you. I'll beat you like the Bible says to beat you and you 
won't die. Dammit woman, you know the Bible says that if you beat your 
child they won't die, so shut your Goddam mouth or I'll slap you. Do you 
want me to beat you fat ass? You Goddam hussy. You fat Goddam hussy. 
You'd think you could give me some Goddam fucking support instead of 
always fighting me and causing me all of this Goddam fucking grief. I'm 
not going to put up with your Goddam sassy mouth talking back to me or 
telling me what to do, you fucking bitch. I'm telling you; Goddam it; 
I'm warning you, I'm going to slap the hell of out of you; you're going 
to catch it if you don't shut your Goddam God forsaken mouth and back 
off. I'm not going to tell you again. The next time I'm going to turn my 
Goddam attention to you and you're going to be sorry. I'll cuff you 
around and give you a Goddam beating. Don't interfere with my beating of 
this Goddam bastard one more time. I want this fat off of that ass. I'm 
not going to put up with that fat ass. If you don't lose by tomorrow, 
you'll get another beating. I want that fat ass off of you, you fat 
bitch, you Goddam fat slut, do you get it, you think headed bitch?   
"My sisters and brothers just stood around and shaked and farted and 
looked scared when dad was throwing a fit," brags Mark 
uncharacteristically. "but I learned how to control my fear by working 
with my hands and getting things done.   "I used to stand in the back 
room of the house, which was called the dryer room, and fold clothes for 
hours upon hours. I learned to feel secure if I was getting something 
done that was bottom line."  
 The voice pauses.  "Still, he'd wake us up at night with mom screaming 
from fear as he threw his fits. I'd come awake and lie there feeling 
afraid and upset.   "I wasn't worried about being woken up, that he was 
upset, or even that he was hurting mom. I was worried about survival. 
About what could happen if it got worse. I was thinking about lying 
still in case he came in, so he wouldn't know I was awake.   "Because, 
he was so crazy, we didn't know that someday he wouldn't kill us all."   
Back in those days, during the '60s, when Fred was in law school and 
then a young lawyer, the neighbors would often see Marge on the porch.  
 "She'd just be sitting out there, crying her heart out," remembers one 
former neighbor. "We all felt so sorry for her. But none of us ever went 
over there to comfort her. Her husband had us all intimidated."   But if 
life with father was bad already-it was about to get worse.   According 
to Mark, who was 10 when his father graduated, Fred Phelps became 
heavily dependent on amphetamines and barbituates while in law school.   
Every week for 6 years, from 1962-1967, their mother would give Mark a 
20 dollar bill and ask him to go down and pick up his father's 'allergy 
medicine'. Mark always got the bottle of little red pills from 'the tall 
blond man' at the nearby pharmacy. He was told they were to 'help daddy 
wake up'.  
 He also picked up bottles of little yellow pills that were to 'help 
daddy get to sleep'.   But the beast already so poorly penned within 
Fred now came out. Under the conflicting tug of speed that wouldn't wear 
off and the Darvon he'd taken to sleep, the Pastor Phelps would often 
wake his family in the middle of the night while doing his imitation of 
a whirling dervish whose shoes were tied together:   "With all the 
drugs, he had very little body control," remembers Mark, "so we weren't 
really scared of him then. But he would fall and break the bed apart; 
get up and knock over all the bedroom furniture.   "Mom would start 
screaming and call Freddy and me to help her get him under control and 
put the bed together.  
 "My dad's face would look totally stoned, and he couldn't focus his 
eyes. He couldn't walk in a straight line, and sometimes he couldn't 
even get up off the floor."   Adds Nate: "Another time when he was 
stoned on drugs, my dad started going after my mom. She was yelling for 
help. My two older brothers, probably 12 and 13 at the time, went 
running upstairs and tried to force my dad back into his bedroom. He was 
ranting and raving like a lunatic.  "They managed to get him inside his 
room and slammed the door shut and locked it from the outside. He 
started pounding on the door and screaming incoherently.   "Finally, he 
actually broke the door down. That seemed to calm him a bit, and he fell 
back on the bed and passed out."  
 Without referring to his records, the pharmacist named by Mark 
immediately denied he had ever filled any kind of prescription for the 
Pastor Phelps-except once.   Blessed with preternaturally accurate 
recall, the pharmacist claimed that, since 1962, he'd only filled one 
order for the pastor-a skin cream several years ago.  
 Questioned again later, the pharmacist admitted he'd been filling 
prescriptions written to Mrs. Phelps for decades. But he denied ever 
selling her amphetamines.   According to Mark, the physician who wrote 
those prescriptions delivered all or most of the Phelps children, and 
was their family doctor when they were growing up. During the period in 
question, he at least twice reported his doctor bag stolen and its 
narcotics missing. The thieves were never caught.   When this physician 
shot himself in a Topeka parking lot in 1979, he was under investigation 
for providing drugs illegally to his female patients in exchange for 
sexual favors.   What kind of drugs? 
 Amphetamines.   "There was fighting one night," Mark recalls. "In the 
middle of the night. Dad was stoned on drugs again. He shot the 12-gauge 
into a roll of insulation.   
"It was probably a suicide attempt. Only my mom and he were in the 
bedroom, and it was during the middle of the night.   "What I think 
happened was, he was so under the influence, he was so screwed up, and 
he was so mad that he was doing one of those know...I'll 
show all of you...I'll just get rid of this whole problem by killing 
"And I think he just did it. I think he did it for the dramatics of it-
of course, he missed.   "After the incident, that roll of insulation sat 
in their bedroom for almost a year.   "Our mom tried to keep things 
quiet and keep things contained," says Mark. "She acted as a mother to 
him as well as us. Having him in our family was like having a little 2 
year-old in an adult's body-with an adult intellect. But it's a 2 year-
old that can do whatever it wants, because there's no adult discipline, 
instruction, or correction involved. My father does not subject himself 
to accountability of any kind.   "He didn't care about our mom, except 
for how she could meet his needs. He treated her like an animal.    
"We had two dogs-Ahab and Jezebel. I used to throw rocks on top of their 
dog house and Ahab would viciously attack Jezebel. I thought it was 
funny.    "That was the way my dad treated my mom. If anything would 
happen that my dad didn't like, he would beat on her, blame her, make 
her life miserable, and take it out on her-even if it was out of her 
Mark remembers one morning when he was downstairs and heard a tremendous 
racket coming from their bedroom above. Furniture crashing. Fred 
screaming. Their mother begging him to stop. Then her screaming too.   
This went on for 20 minutes until finally his father stormed out.   All 
Mark stole up the stairs, afraid his father would come back. He peeked 
in. (At this point, Mark's voice breaks. It takes him a long time to 
describe this, speaking in short phrases, interrupted by long pauses to 
control his emotions.)  The mattress was thrown from the bed. Sheets 
were ripped away. Drawers were flung out of the dresser, and the dresser 
kicked over. Lamps and tables, everything was smashed and strewn about 
the room.  
 "Mom?" he called.   He couldn't see her. "Mom?"  Mark heard a sob. Then 
a long, low agony moan.  He walked stiffly into the mess. Picked his way 
across the floor. In the corner, behind an open closet door, he found 
his mother cowering. Her face in her hands as the sobs wracked her body, 
she told her frightened child over and over: "I can't take this 
anymore...I can't take this anymore...I   can't take it...I don't know 
what I'm going to do..."  For awhile she did nothing.  
Mark remembers there were times when his mother would get out and go to 
the store, especially when his father was asleep:   "She'd go to 
Butler's IGA. And after she'd go to the bowling alley and the little 
coffee shop there. Four or five times I saw her in there when she didn't 
know I did. It made me feel sad, because it was such a lonely thing to 
see her, sitting with that coffee and donut, and know it was her safe 
harbor, the only time she had alone. She looked so unhappy and 
despairing, sitting there staring at nothing, the coffee getting cold 
and the donut untouched."   Then one winter Saturday afternoon when Mark 
was 9 years old, his mother called him over to her. She whispered: "I've 
had it. I can't take it. Would you get the children's clothes and load 
as much as you can in the trunk and the back seat?"   
Mark packed the clothes in the old white Fairlane 4-door. When the 
pastor, luxuriating in his bed upstairs, fell asleep around 4 p.m., 
their mother came down softly. She had Mark gather the rest of the kids.   
"We're leaving," she told them.  Somehow they all fit inside the car, 
the mother behind the wheel, and the 9 kids wherever they could find 
 "We looked ridiculous," admits Mark. "And I remember the toll-takers at 
the turnpike laughed at us. But I'll never forget that day...the feeling 
I got as we drove away from that house.   "It was a cloudy day, and 
cold, but I remember feeling hopeful. Thinking we were headed to a new 
life. And it was going to be better than the one behind us."  
 Marge fled the good Pastor Phelps with her flock to Kansas City. She 
went to her sister Dorotha's apartment. Most of her original family 
hadn't seen Marge in 15 years, not since she'd left for school in 
Arizona.   Dorotha's Profitt's husband drove a truck for a renderer, a 
business that collected dead animals for glue. Marge Phelps' sister no 
doubt gave her the bad news: driving for a rendering company didn't 
bring in enough to feed 10 extra mouths; and the apartment couldn't 
possibly hold them all; she couldn't stay there...   In fact, there was 
no place for a pregnant woman with 9 children to run except back to the 
man who beat her, but paid the bills.   Mark remembers his mother 
stoically dialing the number for the Westboro church. Silently, the 
children crawled back into their niches among the clothes-filled car.   
When they arrived home that night, the pastor was waiting for them.   
His son recalls he had arms folded and he was smiling. It was a cold 
leer that Mark will never forget:   "It was smug, it was cruel; and it 
said, 'there is no escape'." 
"The Children's Crusade" 
The pastor's heavy drug use continued from 1962 until late 1967 or early 
1968, according to Mark Phelps.   Confined to itself and tormented by an 
increasingly explosive, abusive, and erratic father, the family hung on 
day-to-day.   Finally, Fred's system could no longer withstand being 
wrenched up by reds in the morning and jerked down by barbituates at 
night. One day, he didn't wake up.   Mark remembers seeing the long, 
gray ambulance in the driveway. His father had slipped into a coma from 
toxic drug abuse.   Fred Phelps remained in the hospital for a week, 
while Mrs. Phelps told the children he had suffered an adverse reaction 
to an 'allergy medicine'.   
 When he emerged, Phelps was drug-free and powerfully resolved to regain 
control of his body. If it was the temple to his soul, he had neglected 
it.   With an astounding strength of will, he immediately plunged into a 
water-only fast, dropping from 265 to 135 in 47 days. During the fast, 
"he looked like a scarecrow," says Mark. "He stalked about the house 
with a scarf around his head, clutching a bible to his chest."  But the 
Pastor Phelps broke his addiction and never relapsed.  To keep his 
weight down, he turned first to health foods and then to running. 
Emaciated at 135, Phelps today is a trim 185 on a 6'3" frame.   One day, 
after he had been running for some time, the pastor read about the new 
science of aerobics on the back of a Wheaties box and decided the entire 
family should join him.   Fred loaded the ten oldest children in the 
station wagon, drove them to the Topeka High track, and, not unlike 
Fred's Foreign Legion, ordered them to march or die. Actually, they were 
told to run or get beaten.   Their ages when this concurred were  5, 6, 
7, 9, 10, 11, 12, 13, 14, and 16. Of the three youngest, two were little 
girls.   They were forced to run five miles a day-sun, rain, or snow-and 
then the pastor upped it to ten. By the summer of 1970 a year later, 
Phelps decided they were ready for the marathon.   Every weeknight the 
10 children, now aged 6 through 17, ran 10 miles around the track. On 
Saturdays they ran a marathon. Only on Sundays were they allowed to 
rest.   "We'd run from the courthouse in Topeka, down Highway 40 to the 
courthouse in Lawrence," says Mark. "Or from Topeka to Valley Falls or 
St. Mary's. My mom would follow with the three toddlers in the station 
wagon, going up to the lead, and coming back to the stragglers."  
According to Mark, that lead runner was usually him, with the pastor a 
distant second. "I was the ultimate yes-man all the time I was growing 
up," he confides, "but not that. I decided every time we ran I was going 
to beat him-do it bad."   And run he did. Mark reports that, by the time 
the family entered the Heart of America marathon in Columbia, Missouri, 
he was climbing off his daily 10-mile training runs in 60 minutes. He 
placed 17th overall in the Columbia race. He was only 16 years old. Tim, 
the six year-old who'd turned seven a few weeks before the race, 
finished last behind his father and nine siblings. It took him seven 
hours to complete the course.   "It's one of the more difficult runs in 
the U.S.," observes Mark Thomas, owner of Tri-Tech Sports in Lenexa, 
Kansas. He has spent over 20 years as an athlete and sports consultant. 
On his staff are current and former members of the U.S. National 
Biathlon and Triathlon Teams.  
He remembers the 1970 Heart of America race. A runner's club he had 
organized in Sedalia, Missouri competed there.   "I remember several in 
our group came back disgusted as what they had seen. Apparently some of 
the smaller Phelps children had told them they weren't running 
voluntarily."   In general, says Mark Thomas, experts don't recommend 
running marathons under age 16. (Prominent sports physicians contacted 
by the Capital-Journal concur, but they declined to be named in an 
article on Fred Phelps.)  "It's just not a wise idea, especially for a 
six year-old," continues Thomas. "Even without medical advice, common 
sense and a minimum of parental concern is all you need to see the 
stupidity of that,"   
Among the potential negatives reviewed were  soft tissue damage; 
developmental problems in the knee joints; high vulnerability to fatal 
heat stroke; and hitting the 'wall' (running out of glycogen) long 
before the adult limit at 20 miles. The last is important, advise sports 
doctors. A small child forced to run through the physical agony of their 
'wall' can be emotionally damaged by the experience.   To put it simply, 
forcing six, seven, and eight year-old children to run 26 miles is 
nothing short of brutally abusive.   However, Runner's World found the 
running Phelps newsworthy, not once-but twice. They were featured in an 
article about the Columbia marathon in the November, 1970 issue, and 
again in November, 1988.   Though Pastor Phelps had given up speed and 
downers, ate healthy, and ran daily, the radical mood swings, rages, and 
aggression remained  "One day my father and I were running down at the 
track inside the YMCA. There was an old blind man who always jogged on 
the inside lane because he could feel the edge of the track with his 
cane.   "My father was in a sour mood that day, and the old man was 
weaving a bit as he worked his way around the track with his stick to 
guide him. My father began to threaten him each time he lapped him, 
telling the blind jogger if he didn't stay out of my father's way, my 
father would knock him out of the way.   "Finally, the old man started 
crying. He left the track and stood there crying-I guess what were tears 
of frustration-and then he left.   "I never saw him back there again."  
Phelps was also a poor loser, according to his sons. Sometimes Mark and 
the pastor would go on long runs around the town. They started to race 
on the home-stretch once, and Mark beat him back by several blocks. At 
first his father took it with grace, says Mark, observing his son 'has 
really shifted gears and left him behind'. Minutes later however, when 
were standing in the kitchen, each with a large glass of icewater, 
suddenly the elder Phelps flung his hard fist into his son's face. And 
stalked out.   
If his body was healthy, Pastor Phelps had yet to achieve wealthy and 
wise. More trouble was ahead for him-money trouble.   According to Mark, 
in 1968 their finances were still very tight, even though Fred had 
passed the bar. The son remembers his mother opening the mail one day 
and showing him a $100 check. "It's all we have for a month," she told 
him, and she started crying.   
Later, the pastor was melting some World's Finest Chocolate to make 
chocolate milk. In the midst of stirring it, he suggested someone should 
take the rest of the candy and see if they couldn't sell it around the 
neighborhood. Mark jumped at the chance    "I watched my mom cry and cry 
when the checking and savings accounts were empty. I watched her cry 
when the mail box didn't have a check in it because dad hadn't worked in 
so long.   "So I worked. I worked so my dad would like me. I worked so 
mom would love me. I worked so dad wouldn't beat me. I worked so I would 
feel like I was on the team. I worked when dad was throwing his rages. I 
worked when I saw mom crying. I worked because mom said, 'you're my good 
little helper, and I need you to do this because I have to be with him'. 
I worked because mom would cozy up to me and ask me to work, like a 
confidant and partner would ask another close partner to stand with them 
to get through a tough circumstance. But it was never enough."   Not 
long after, Fred Phelps was suspended from the bar two years for 
cheating and exploiting his clients. During that period, the candy sales 
would be the family's only source of income.   
The Phelps children were up to the challenge  "Basically, we had to 
raise ourselves," says Mark. "It would have been a lot easier if we'd 
just been left alone to do our own parenting, but we also had to look 
out for a crazy father. I mentioned Fred Jr. and I began doing all the 
grocery shopping when we were only six and seven years-old? And the kids 
did all the household chores? So, working for a living we just took in 
stride with the rest of our adult responsibilities."   
During the school year, Mrs. Phelps would pick the children up after 
class and take them directly to that day's targeted area. The vertically 
challenged sales staff would then divide into teams of two or three for 
safety, canvassing neighborhood homes and businesses. Every hour, they 
would rendezvous back at the LZ for resupply from mom at the station 
wagon. Workshifts on weeknights went from 3 30 to 8 p.m.   On weekends 
and during the summer, the candykrieg blitzed major metropoles within a 
4-hour drive of Topeka  Kansas City, Lawrence, Wichita, Omaha, and St. 
Joseph. Hours, including wake-up, preparations, and transport, stretched 
from 5 a.m. to 10 p.m.   "There were a lot of times when we would be out 
there well after dark, and snow was on the ground," says Nate.   The 
Phelps family selling candy door-to-door at night and in the snow 
attracted the attention of Topeka police, who received occasional 
queries about the welfare of the children, a law enforcement source 
recalls.   But detectives found no violation of the law, and no charges 
were ever filed.   "We sold candy, and we sold candy," observes Mark.  
"It was an art," agrees Nate.  Family loyalists Margie, Jonathon, and 
Shirley are quick to defend their memories. Public sales taught them a 
lot about the world outside their church, they insist. And they learned 
a good deal about human nature, adds Margie. Today, the Phelps children 
are full of stories about their adventures on candy crusade.   
Jonathon and Rachel tell of selling in a bad part of Kansas City one 
night and realizing the women on the sidewalks around them were actually 
men. The boy is father to the man, and Jonathon immediately held forth 
with the latest 'fag' joke making the rounds at his junior high.  One 
transvestite pulled a switchblade and gave chase. Jonathon grabbed 
little Rachel (age 8) and, clutching their boxes under their arms, they 
fled down an alley pursued by the man in high heels.  
Jonathon, say Shirley and Margie, laughing till tears come to their 
eyes, can still remember the sound of the candy rattling inside his 
boxes and the click of high heels on pavement behind him.   The end of 
the tale?  It was a blind alley. Jonathon Phelps got 'bitch-slapped' by 
a guy in a dress to teach him a lesson, chokes Margie.   Many of the 
stories center around Tim, the youngest Phelps son-the tough little kid 
who spent his sixth year training for the marathon.   According to the 
Phelps sisters, 9 year-old Tim was slightly built, with red hair, a 
freckled face, and big blue eyes. But he had a booming voice that belied 
his frail size and innocent appearance. "He sold the most candy, by 
far," says Margie. "He did it on cute."  Once, giving his carnival pitch 
in his King Kong voice on a crowded elevator at the Merchants' Bank in 
Topeka, Tim overwhelmed a modeling scout who happened to be riding down 
with him. The scout got him a job in a television ad for Payless Shoes.   
On another occasion, the host of a radio show in Wichita heard Tim 
hawking his Coco Clusters one night, and invited the lad to open the 
show. So Tim did, bellowing out  "It's Diiiiiiick Riiiiiiipy!"    The 
owner of a restaurant in North Topeka felt sorry for Tim, his sisters 
report. Whenever Tim went there, the man always bought all of his candy, 
then gave him a coke and let him sit at a table to rest his feet and 
daydream. One night when he was doing just that, Tim overhead a diner 
speaking ill of his father.   Up popped the little boy, gripping his 
ice-cold glass. Determinedly, he marched over the offending table and 
flung the Coke in the surprised man's face.   If the diner was outraged, 
he was in for another surprise  the restaurant's owner kicked him out 
and let Tim stay.  
 "During those years," Margie observes, "we learned more about dealing 
with people than most learn during their entire lifetime."    While Mark 
and Nate also have funny stories to tell from their time on the 
candyblitz, according to them, the Phelps' sisters are selective in 
their recollections.  
 At first, say the brothers outcast, their father asked them to sell on 
commission.   "That didn't last very long," adds Mark. "One night we 
came home and he said he'd changed his mind-he wanted us to hand over 
our share. We kids were reluctant at first. We'd worked hard for it and 
now he was going back on his word. Then he went into a rage and-believe 
me-we turned it over real quick."   From there, things went from bad to 
worse. The former door-to-door vendor of baby carriages and vacuum 
cleaners knew about sales quotas and target volumes.   "If we sold 
enough candy that day, my fatherwould be in a good mood that evening and 
everyone could relax. But if we came back not having generated the 
amount expected, my father would take it and then get real moody. Sooner 
or later, he'd find something to get mad about and one of us would get a 
beating that night."   Mark goes on to explain how he became the 'bull' 
in charge of motivation in the field. If one of his siblings hadn't sold 
their share of the candy, in the car on the way home suffered the 'chin-
chin'. The offender, sitting in back, had to lean forward and rest their 
chin on the front seat. Mark, sitting in front, would then slug them in 
the face.   The laggard peddler was called to justice by the harsh 
command  (So-and-so) Chin-chin!   "We never celebrated the holidays." 
Mark's voice is sad with memory. "We sold candy instead. You know the 
only Christmas cheer I ever saw as a kid? Sometimes I'd ring the bell 
and there'd be a big gathering inside for Christmas dinner and they'd 
invite me in and give me pie or a plate of food. I'd sit there and eat 
and watch everyone and wish it were my family and that I never had to 
leave."   Sources connected to law enforcement assure the Capital-
Journal that Margie's glowing memories of the candy campaign are indeed 
selective.   Because of the mounting pressure from their father to 
return with larger cash sums, the children allegedly began to steal from 
purses and unwatched registers in the offices and businesses they 
frequented to sell their sweets.   In many of the cases, complaints were 
filed with statements from eyewitnesses.   Nate Phelps admits he was one 
of the thieves. He seems ashamed, though he never spent the money on 
himself-although in a way he did  When the day's take was disappointing, 
it was often Nate who drew the black ball in the pastor's secret lottery 
for violent retribution.  Among police sources, another Phelps child is 
remembered as having the hottest hands. That child was allegedly 
connected to purse pilfering in a legion of stores. On one occasion, the 
culprit was questioned by juvenile officers concerning cash theft from 
the old historical museum on 10th and Jackson in Topeka. Allegedly the 
child then confessed to a string of similar crimes.    Charges were 
never filed, say law enforcement sources, not even in the museum case. 
Apparently no one in the D.A.'s office wanted to tangle with Fred Phelps 
or his children unless the crime was serious and the evidence airtight.  
 But if the Westboro Baptist Church's gang of urchin vendors is 
remembered for anything by law enforcement officials, it is their 
alleged raid on the general offices of the Santa Fe Railroad. There, on 
three separate floors, witnesses observed one child allegedly 
distracting employees while other Phelps children allegedly rifled those 
employees' purses.   Nate Phelps states he knew nothing about that 
According to sources, the reports of theft grew so numerous that Topeka 
police suspected the Pastor Phelps of running a 'Fagin operation' (from 
the character of that name in the film "Oliver"  an older man provides 
food and shelter to a horde of orphans and street urchins in return for 
their working as pickpockets).   
Both Nate and Mark Phelps insist this was not the case. The stealing was 
strictly the kids' idea, they say. But it was usually done to top off 
the kitty so they wouldn't get beaten.   "My family sold candy from 1968 
until 1975," says Nate, "and some of those places we'd gone into a 
hundred times. By then, everyone knew the candy sale was a scam. But, 
even if I'd been told 'no' a hundred times, I still had to go back 
eventually for the 101st. And, if they said 'no', I still had to bring 
home cash to show my dad. So..."   In the evenings, reports the boys, if 
their father didn't fall into a rage and select one of his children out 
for a beating, then he usually remained upstairs in bed-and demanded his 
wife stay with him. Whether it was to listen to his tirades or 'comfort' 
him (Fred's biblical euphemism for, one trusts, the missionary position 
exclusively), the result was the children were left nightly to their own 
 Since most of them were unable to care for themselves, and Mrs. Phelps 
no longer tied the younger ones in their high chairs while she was gone, 
the older kids had their hands full downstairs.   "Just trying to 
control the younger ones, and get them down for the night without any 
noise to piss the old man off was task," says Nate.   
As a consequence, the house was frequently left uncleaned.   Then, in 
the middle of the night, the Pastor Phelps would "wake us screaming and 
cursing and raging," says Mark, "hollering we had all gone to bed 
without properly cleaning everything. He would have us do a thorough 
cleaning of the house then, between 2 30 and 4 00 a.m. While that was 
going on, he would come up behind and kick us, push us into walls, hit 
us with hand and fist on the head, beat us.  
 "He would make us vacuum around the edges and cracks, wash dishes, etc. 
I would get up shaking physically from the sudden awakening, and from 
getting out of bed so quickly in such a frightening situation.   "I 
would be real scared and try to work hard and fast, so he wouldn't do 
any more than he'd already done. I'd try to appease him quickly so he'd 
calm down and stop his violence.  
 "It's weird how you can feel secure in a situation like that. I'd work 
hard to get warm, and the concentration and physical work would help me 
get through the fear and back to a point where I felt relief from the 
intense anxiety and shaking." Mark continues   "My father would usually 
quiet down before the cleaning was done. He'd go back to doing what he 
wanted  watching television and eating in bed. It was such a relief when 
he'd gone back upstairs, that a lot of my siblings would knock off and 
stop working.   "I was too mad and upset to do that. I would keep 
working a lot longer. I was real mad, and I was going to work and work 
and work until he apologized, or at least until I showed him that I 
could take whatever he did to me."   
Even after a night like that, reveille was always at 5 a.m. in the 
Phelps household, adds Mark. "He'd take his big brass bell and go 
through the house ringing it with a great big grin on his face."   Five 
a.m. brought more chores and errands before going off to school, say the 
boys. After class their mom would pick them up for candy sales until 8 
p.m. As soon as they got home, they'd have to change into their running 
clothes, drive to the Topeka High track, and stride out 10 miles. 
 The runner would not return home and clean up before 10 or 10 30. After 
that came dinner.   "Our family never ate together," says Nate. "Mom or 
one of our sisters usually made something and left it on the stove for 
people to eat when they got the chance."   
Sometime after dinner and before they fell asleep, the children were 
expected to cover their homework. Trying to stay awake for that, after 
having run 10 miles, humped over suburban hill and dale selling peanut 
brittle, and spent a day at school, was frequently physically 
impossible.  Yet, if they brought home bad grades, they were beaten and 
savage abandon.    
In addition, it was usually during the homework period from 10 30 to 1 
a.m. that their father would go on a rampage, or their mom would be 
called up to him and leave the babies with the older kids.   With this 
as their daily schedule, Fred Phelps allowed his young family an average 
of only four to six hours of sleep each night.   "In general, he was 
happy to keep us busy or gone," observes Nate.  
 Mark agrees  "My father could tolerate no human needs outside his own. 
If you had a problem, it was not appropriate to turn to a parent for 
comfort, advice, or a solution. He would get outraged whenever one of us 
had some difficulty that focused attention off himself. To have a 
problem was to get a beating, regardless of what kind of a problem it 
was, or even if it wasn't your fault.   
And if it was?   Mark takes a deep breath. He recalls one time very 
clearly when he drew attention to himself.   "One night, Nate and I were 
out selling candy together. We were in a residential area, and while we 
were selling, we'd unscrew a tiny Christmas light from the evergreens 
outside people's houses. One of those tiny bulbs on a string?   "We were 
only doing it occasionally for kicks. We'd 'launch' them over the street 
and listen to them pop on the pavement. We didn't think anything about 
it. Nate was 10 and I was 14.   "Well, I remember very clearly when we 
got home. I walked into the dining room where the bottom of the stairs 
were, going up to his bedroom. He was coming down those stairs just as I 
came in.   "Mainly I remember the look on his face. He said, 'Who was 
selling on Prairie Road tonight?'  "It took me a few seconds to register 
that, first of all, he was really angry, and secondly, it was Nate and 
me who had been selling on Prairie Road that night. I got sick to my 
stomach immediately. I remember the intense fear that came over me. I 
didn't know much yet, but between the  look on his face and the 
questions, I knew something was wrong."  Nate Phelps  "Nobody answered. 
He asked again. By that time, Mom had come in. Her face was white. She 
said, 'Why?'"   Mark Phelps  "He said, 'I got a call from some guy who 
told me that there were two boys that had come by his house tonight, and 
that he was a retired police detective. Was this the church that the 
boys were selling candy for. I told them it was, and asked why. He told 
me that, he was sorry to have to report it, but that I should know the 
boys were stealing light bulbs from Christmas trees and then trying to 
sell them door-to-door. Who was it?' (The truth was, we were at the time 
also selling 'Paul Revere' light bulbs that had a lifetime guarantee). 
Before I could say a word, someone told him that it was Nate and I. He 
said, 'Let's go.'"  
 Mark Phelps  "We went upstairs. He never asked me or Nate one word 
about whether it was true. He never asked us for our side of the story. 
All he said, after we got upstairs was, 'How could you endanger the 
church like that, after all the problems we have? How could you do it, 
bring reproach on the church like that?'"   Nate Phelps  "By that time, 
I was so scared, all I can remember saying was, 'I'm sorry, Daddy. We 
didn't mean it. We're so sorry'."   What followed was the brutal, 200-
stroke beating with the mattock handle described at the beginning of 
Chapter Two.   Nate proceeds to describe more of life in the house of 
Fagin.   His father would pass through periods of manic, frenetic 
activity and bombast, then spend days in bed, watching television and 
eating as he had in his days of obesity.   Despite their full schedules 
of school, running, and child labor, the pastor had yet one more task 
for his offspring during his days abed  he kept a bell on his headboard 
to ring for service.   "For food, or drink, or Mom, or even the tiniest 
thing," remembers Nate. 
"He just wouldn't get out of bed. And we'd all try to avoid going up 
there. Eventually, he'd get really mad and ring and ring and one of us 
would have to go. It would usually turn out he wanted a glass of water 
or something like that-only a few steps away."   It would seem to be 
reminiscent of their father's Jabba-the-Hut days, when the fat pastor 
sent his eight and nine year-old sons out, four miles roundtrip on their 
bicycles, to fetch him a chicken dinner or a piece of hot apple pie 
while he wallowed in bed-except Fred Phelps no longer ate those kind of 
things  with a newly experimental palate, he was in hot pursuit of his 
fading youth. His eye on Methuselah, he was searching out new foods 
that, paradoxically, might postpone his assured arrival among the elect 
in the heaven of his hating god.  If the children living in the house of 
Fagin already performed the functions of domestic servants, financial 
underwriters, and kickbags, now they also had to endure the role of lab 
rats for Fred's eccentric diets a-la-Ponce-de-Leon.   Returning from 
their 10-mile runs after 10 p.m. each night, not having eaten since noon 
lunch at school and having paced the pavements for five hours selling 
candy, the starving children of the earnest Pastor Phelps frequently 
faced such enticing entrees and one-half head of steamed  cabbage and a 
handful of brewer's yeast tablets. Nate remembers  
 "He'd read a book and one month we'd get nothing but raw eggs in a 
glass twice a day. Then he'd read another book and we weren't to eat 
eggs, period."   Nate has a different perspective on Margie's charming 
tale about the curds and whey    
"My father would buy a sack of powered milk and mix it with water in a 
five gallon stainless steel pot. Then he'd leave it uncovered for a week 
beneath the stairs. After it smelled enough to make you throw up, he'd 
skim the curds off the top and make us eat it in bowls. It smelled so 
horrible, some of the kids would have to go in the bathroom and vomit."   
Given the massive caloric cost of being teenagers, walking a sales 
route, and running 10 miles each day, it's no surprise the Phelps 
children turned to the nearest, richest source of calories to satisfy 
their needs  the candy they carried at work and which was stored in 
their very bedrooms.  For a period of about six years, the brothers 
report, the sweets they sold were also the principal element in their 
diet. So principal, that some of the children began to gain weight. This 
visible development, particularly in Nate and his sister, Katherine, 
caused the pastor great upset, says Nate. First, after his own 
successful battle against obesity, Fred Phelps had little patience for 
it elsewhere in the family; second, the Captain suspected some of the 
crew might be eating the strawberries.   Jonathon Phelps admits he was 
of them  "You don't muzzle the oxen when you want them to tread the 
grain," he remembers with a laugh.   It is difficult to imagine anyone 
who runs 10 miles a day becoming obese. In fact, Nate reports that, at 
the time his father imposed his Nazi Weight Loss program, the teenager 
was 5'10" and 185.   Not leathery and lean, but not worthy of comment on 
a large-boned male.   But to the pastor Phelps, that extra thickness on 
his son meant thinner profits from the children's crusade.   So, in 
what, for those who didn't have to endure it, may begin to read like a 
Marx Brothers script, Fred Phelps took steps. He designed a weight-loss 
regimen for Nate and Kathy.   "We were required to weigh ourselves in 
front of him each night," says Nate. "On his doctor's scales sitting 
outside his bedroom. If we didn't weigh less than we had the day before, 
we got beat."   Sometimes the two were beaten every night of the week 
with the mattock. 
 "I'd eat lunch," Nate says, "but I'd throw up before going home. Or 
take Ex-Lax. So would Kathy. His expectations were impossible, so we 
learned to manipulate the scales.   "We'd place a small piece of tape 
with several metal nuts attached in the palm of our hand. As we stepped 
onto the scales, we'd stick the tape to the backside of the balance 
beam. This would show our weight to be lower than it actually was.   
"Unfortunately, one day the tape wouldn't stick properly and fell down. 
The old man didn't see it fall, but he did see that my weight was eight 
pounds higher than expected.   "'You've been eatin' my goddamed candy 
again!' he yelled.  
"This led to an 10 hour ordeal of beatings, followed by marathon running 
sessions, followed by more beatings, followed by running.   "The net 
result was that, at the end of the day, I'd lost 14 pounds and seriously 
injured my hip. The irony is that, since that weight loss was all fluid 
dehydration, when I replaced the fluids, I regained the weight. But I 
didn't know that, and neither did my father."  
The next day, when Nate had mysteriously shot up 14 pounds, the vexed 
pastor fell into the frustrated fury reserved for benighted reformers, 
and son Nate got beaten once more.   The incident manifests Pastor 
Phelps' trademark career combination of ignorance and violence.   
Afterwards, the teenager was literally forbidden to eat until he lost 
those extra pounds.   Breakfast, Nate never got after that. And when the 
family lined up for the food cooked in the great pots, Nate wasn't 
allowed to eat with them. If the menu called for cabbage, curds, or 
liver pills, his siblings would envy him. But if Fred relented, and 
something tasty awaited the hungry children-chicken spaghetti, or stew-
Nate was never given any.   
Today, the man is philosophical about the trials of the boy  "I'd just 
sneak food from the fridge later, or eat candy from the boxes," he 
observes.   Incredibly, this father-enforced fast went on for five 
years.   All the while, Nate's weight continued the same, and the pastor 
continued to accuse him of eating candy.  
 "Well...duh!" laughs Nate today. "If, after five years, I was still 
alive, I must have been eating something, right?"   On his daughter, 
Kathy, the good pastor imposed an even harsher solution  she was locked 
in her room for the biblical 40 days, given only water to drink, and 
allowed exit only to the bathroom.   
Kathy is the oldest daughter and the third-oldest child. She shared a 
bedroom with Shirley and Margie, the fourth and fifth of the Phelps 
kids. All three were close at the time.   Both Nate and Mark remember 
that either Margie or Shirley once smuggled Kathy a glass of tomato 
juice.   Fred caught his eldest daughter with it after she'd taken it to 
her room. 
When Kathy refused to tell who'd given her the tomato juice, the boys 
report their father yelled and swore and beat her for nearly two hours. 
They remark it was one of the worst beatings she ever received. It was 
delivered by both fist and mattock handle to what was, literally, a 
starving teenage girl.   Even Mrs. Phelps was not immune to the weight-
watcher from hell.  
"He got mad at her once. Said she was getting too fat," remembers Mark. 
"Right in front of me, he beat her with the mattock. I was a 
real...real degrading, humiliating kind of experience to watch your 
mother treated like that."   Fred Phelps wears a bullet-proof vest to 
all his pickets yet his new-found notoriety may not hit him in the 
chest, as he fears.   
No, if fame hath its costs, the pastor may need a padlock for his 
checkbook, for ancient creditors do stir.   The man who stands so self-
righteously on streetcorners daily, denouncing the sins of others, it 
seems forgot to pay for a lot of candy.    When sued for payment by his 
suppliers, the spiritual leader of the Westboro Baptist Church claimed 
under oath that the candy received was broken, stale, and melted; 
consequently, it was unsuitable for sale.   The fact that his children 
had already sold it was considered a testimony to their upbringing.   
However, since it had been sold and there was none to return, the court 
decided the pastor should pay for the 'melted' candy, irrespective of 
whether Topekans in the gallery were eating peanut brittle or peanut 
puddles.   Joe Sanders, of the Money Tree Candy Co., in Minneapolis, 
Minnesota, to whom alone Fred still owes $20,000, including simple 
interest, has retained a lawyer to resuscitate the debt. "Back in '72, 
we got a court lien, but we could never find his account," Sanders 
Mr. Sanders may find Mark and Nate Phelps willing to testify how their 
father coached them perjury, suggesting the impressionable teenagers 
state under oath that the candy, which was fresh and good, was in fact 
stale and melted.    This litany of greed is not yet done.   
After two years of the candy sales, the house of Fagin diversified. A 
notice was placed in the paper asking for pianos to be donated to an 
unspecified church. Another notice was placed in the sales' column, 
advertising pianos.   According to Mark and Nate, this arrangement 
flourished from 1971 through 1972, until someone in the Attorney 
General's office connected the two ads. Fred was ordered to stop. And 
 "But we moved a lot of pianos before then. And we made 150 to 200 bucks 
each from them," says Mark.   Also, starting in 1970, for three summers, 
Mark and his older brother, Fred, Jr., were cut loose from the candy 
sales to run a new Phelps enterprise, a lawn care/trash hauling general 
clean-up business. Mark describes it   
 "At age 16, I had a pick-up and my brother had a pick-up, and we had 
three lawn mowers. My dad paid for these items from our work selling 
candy.   "He was dispatcher and the scheduler. We were the ones that did 
the work. He arranged things so tightly, we just plain worked our butts 
off from 5 a.m. to 10 p.m.   
"He'd rush us out before dawn, no showers, no breakfast, and we'd be out 
to the dump to empty our trucks and begin our first job.   "He wouldn't 
budget us money, nor schedule us time for lunch. My dad had me so 
intimidated, I would have gone along with it, but Fred Jr. usually said 
otherwise. He'd insist we take time and dollars to go to McDonald's. 
Then I'd have to overbid the next job, and we'd have to finish early so 
our dad wouldn't catch us."  
The children's candy crusade at Westboro Baptist carried on for seven 
years, from 1968 to 1975. Its stated purpose was to raise money for a 
new organ in the church.   The one finally purchased had two keyboards 
and nine to twelve foot pedals, say Mark, who, along with Fred, Jr., 
played it at church services. "It was a Baldwin."  
The equivalent organ today sells for around $4,000, far more than it did 
20 years ago.   During the later years of the fundraising campaign, 
Pastor Phelps claimed the church needed the money for a new carpet. At, 
say, 100 square yards, it would cost $3,000 to lay a moderately priced 
carpet in the present church, far more again than in 1973.  
The target goal of the fundraising could then be safely placed at 
$7,000.    Mark and Nate Phelps have submitted their estimates of the 
daily cash flow volumes during the candy sales from 1968-1975. These are 
not wild guesses, as Mark was the accountant for the operation  he 
collected the money and counted it at the end of each day. 
Candy that was sold to our best recollectionsEstimated dollarsHalf the 
year, 1968$22,710The entire year, 
the year, 1975$22,710Estimated total dollars from candy sales:$317,940We 
estimate the average dollar amount sold for the specified 
days:Weeknights during the school year$75/nightSaturdays during school 
year$300/SaturdaySix days a week during the summer$220/dayBased on this, 
you can follow the figuring below:Nine months of the school year, 
approximately would be:Five week night x $75/night$375Saturdays$300Total 
per week$675$675 x 36 weeks, approximately  $24,300Three months of 
summer months, approximately would be:$220 x six days$1,320 per 
week$1320 x 16 weeks$21,120  $24,300+$21,120$45,420/yearAs one can see, 
$318,000 does significantly overshoot the stated goal's estimated cost 
of $7,000. Which leaves $311,000 unaccounted for, plus the income from 
the piano sales.  
The candy was marked up 100 to 200 percent from the suppliers' price. 
Assuming an average 150 percent markup, $191,000 went to the Phelpses 
and $127,000 to their suppliers.   But a cursory search of local court 
records for the years 1971 to 1974 alone turned up almost $11,000 in 
unpaid debt to three separate candy companies.   
According to Joe Sanders at the Money Tree Candy Co., the Pastor Phelps 
placed an order with them in 1971. The company first sent him only a 
small order to determine if he was trustworthy. When they received 
payment, they were happy to fill a much larger order, one amounting to 
thousands of  dollars.  They never got their money.  
Sanders believes the Pastor Phelps may have been running a scam where he 
paid for the first order and stiffed the suppliers on a much larger 
second one.   "There were so many candy distributors back then, it would 
have taken him years to work through the list," observes Sanders.   Most 
of those suppliers have long since gone out of business. Their records 
disappeared with them. But, if a cursory local spot check can show that 
almost 10 percent of Fred Phelps' debt to his suppliers went unpaid, the 
inquiring mind might ask how many other companies never went to court, 
but accepted partial payment or wrote it off as a bad debt.   Assuming 
the boys' estimates upon which these figures are based are correct-and 
that as equal a portion of unpaid debts were written off as went to 
court-a very rough guess of the income off candy sales for the seven 
years, 1968-1975, would be $210,000-or $30,000 a year.  Twenty-five 
years ago, that was nearly three times the annual salary of the average 
Topekan.   Some organ.  Some rug. 
 What happened to the rest?  "It's obvious isn't it? says Nate. "We used 
it to live on."  In fact, Pastor Phelps defrauded his community of over 
$200,000 earmarked for a non-profit religious enterprise. It was instead 
consumed as personal income without paying a single rusty penny in 
While a church must originally file an exemption from income tax as a 
non-profit organization, separation of church and state mean that, 
unlike other non-profit groups, a church is not required to file the 
annual form 990-a yearly accounting of its cash income and outlay.  
Nevertheless, a church is required to keep books and records and be able 
to demonstrate to IRS auditors that all income has been properly 
The burden of proof lies on the church audited.  When Westboro Baptist 
was incorporated in May of 1967, ominously close to the start of the 
candy crusade, the church was to be used for religious purposes only-
including weekly public services, public prayers, singing of gospel 
songs and hymns, receiving of tithes and offerings, and observance of 
baptism and communion.   'Receiving of tithes and offerings' might well 
have meant legal fees in the pastor's mind. For 11 years, his law 
offices were located in the building on which he paid no taxes because 
it was a church. So, too, was his domicile:   In 1960, the Eastside 
Baptist Church, holder of the original lien on the property at Westboro, 
attempted to foreclose and evict Phelps. The cause, as discussed in 
Chapter Four, was his altering the function of the property from a 
public congregation to a private residence.  Indeed, with only a few 
exceptions, since 1958, the 'congregation' at Westboro has been just the 
Phelps family.   The benefits of calling one's own family a church? 
First, one can go into fundraising for oneself instead of gainful 
employment. Each of us can at last be our own favorite charity.   
Second, bango to those pesty property taxes.  Third, if one owns a 
business, they can operate it from within their church at a fraction of 
the honest overhead.  
 To an observer, it seems remarkable that someone who has paid no 
personal, property, or corporate taxes for a profitable operation-a.k.a. 
"religion"-would have the inaccuracy to lecture his community ad nauseam 
about its misuse of taxes.   Mark Phelps estimates the summer lawn and 
hauling enterprise of 1970, 1971, and 1972 netted between eight to ten 
thousand a season. Since it was turned over to their father, no doubt it 
was declared by him as taxable personal income for those years.   After 
the pastor was reinstated to the bar in 1971, the older children were 
required to put in long hours assisting at the law office. By 1975 and 
the end of the candy sales, they were coming out of law school, ready to 
take their place in the trenches against the Adamic race, and willing to 
underwrite their dad's fantasies with an estimated 10 to 25 percent 
tithe on their personal incomes.   The final irony of all this?  In the 
actual Children's Crusade of 1212, fervent Christian children from all 
over France were inspired to free Jerusalem from the Moslems. Over 
20,000 youths, most of them between the ages of seven and twelve, 
marched across France to the port of Marseille, where they hoped the 
pope would provide them ships to the Holy Land.   Unfortunately, the 
ship captains were mostly pirates. When the fleet sailed, it wasn't to 
Jerusalem, but to the slave ports of North Africa. A generation of child 
idealists were sold into chains and never heard from again.   Of course, 
the pirates probably weren't ever heard from either. Certainly they 
never became moral commentators or social reformers. But, back then, 
pirates had more grace and self-knowledge. That is, if Gilbert and 
Sullivan can be trusted.       
"The Law of Wrath" 
Nowhere was the volatile and abusive nature of Fred Phelps more visible 
than in the law courts.   Six years before the bar, the ill-tempered 
reverend had already discovered the law was a perfect mattock-handle to 
punish the world outside his walls. Between 1958 and 1964, Phelps filed 
14 lawsuits against his employers, his customers, Leaford Cavin (the 
Baptist minister who'd given him his new church), the radio station KTOP 
(Phelps had paid to broadcast for 15 minutes each Sunday morning, but 
then had his show terminated as too inflammatory), Stauffer 
Communications, former friends, and public officials.  In addition, 
according to a local attorney who recalls those early days when Fred 
sold baby carriages and cribs door-to-door, Phelps flooded the 
equivalent of the small claims courts with requests to garnish the wages 
of young couples who'd missed their payments-however briefly. 
In one case, Fred Phelps vs. Rastus Lewis, which reached the District 
Court in 1961, Phelps was accused by Lewis and his wife of tricking them 
with lies: when they thought they were signing a note vouching for the 
good credit of another couple, they were actually buying a baby-stroller 
for a baby they didn't have.   The Lewises were an uneducated black 
Phelps was just entering law school seeking, in his words, "to relieve 
the oppressed" and to achieve social justice via the courtroom-or what 
he called "the judicial remedy".   There seemed, even then, no limit to 
the pastor's greed and no grasp of decency in his actions:  "I remember 
we were amazed," one member of the court recalls, "that anyone who 
hadn't been to law school could be so robustly treacherous."   One of 
those must have been Judge Beryl Johnson, who threw more than one of 
Fred's cases out of court. And, apparently, the judge would remember the 
pastor's avarice and utter lack of ethics.   To be admitted to the bar, 
Phelps needed a judge to swear to his good character. The process is 
usually routine. Not for Fred. No judge was willing to do that.   Phelps 
claims it was the same Beryl Johnson, now deceased, who lobbied the 
other judges not to sign the young graduate off. Eventually, the pastor 
was able to gain entry after providing numerous affidavits from other 
character witnesses.   
Phelps is still bitter about that today. He claims 'they' were closing 
ranks against his Bible message and against his stated intent to use the 
courtroom to attack social injustice. In a 1983 interview with the 
Wichita Eagle- Beacon, Fred defined the 'they' who tried to keep him 
from the bar as "the leading lights of the Jim Crow Topeka 
community...the presidents of the First National Bank, Merchants 
National Bank, Capitol Federal Savings and Loan, and the Kansas Power 
and Light Company..."   
The pastor states that, though 'they' tried to stop him, he knew what he 
had to do:   "I was raised in Mississippi. I knew it was wrong the way 
those black people were treated," he says. He also accuses Lou 
Eisenbarth, a Topeka lawyer, of having led a delegation of attorneys who 
tried to block Phelps' admission to Washburn Law School.   
Eisenbarth just shakes his head in quiet surprise. "Not me." He 
remembers beating Phelps in one of the pastor's law school civil rights 
suits, but says there was no delegation to block Phelps going to 
Washburn.   And the judges unanimously refusing to sign off?   "If that 
did happen, it was Phelps' bad temperament and poor judgement that had 
alarmed community members enough to strenuously object to him practicing 
the law.  It was his litigious and malicious behavior-not fear of any 
future civil rights work."   A few months after Phelps told Capital-
Journal reporters, 'I was raised in Mississippi; I knew it was wrong the 
way those black people were treated', the following incident occurred:   
A black woman, having to walk through the anti-gay pickets outside the 
courthouse and minding her own business utterly, politely asked Jonathon 
not to thrust the camera in her face. Pastor Phelps, unaware a member of 
the press had come up behind him, screamed at the black woman so loud 
the pavement should have cracked:   "YOU FILTHY NIGGER BITCH!"  Once 
inside the bar, within two years, the young esquire provided his elders' 
fears were not unfounded.   As the court-appointed attorney from October 
to December, 1966, for a man arrested in a forgery case, Phelps received 
$200 from the defendant's ex-wife to bond the man from jail.   Several 
days later, the ex-wife hired Phelps to handle a divorce she now sought 
from her current husband. She paid the pastor $50 to do the legal work. 
The divorce was granted. Phelps kept the $200 for himself, preparing 
court records to show he had been paid $250 for the divorce.  Meanwhile, 
the lady's ex-husband remained in jail.  In the year prior, there had 
been more unethical conduct. Phelps had been hired to represent another 
woman seeking a divorce in March, 1965.   
Before firing him as her attorney a month later, the woman had paid the 
pastor $1,000 of the $2,500 fee he was charging her. Phelps had filed an 
attorney's lien for the balance of the unpaid bill. But a Shawnee County 
District Court judge had ruled Phelps' services weren't worth more than 
the $1,000 already paid by the woman, and disallowed the $1,500 lien.   
So Phelps had filed a lawsuit against the woman in the same court, 
seeking the $1,500.  
 The Kansas Supreme Court said that amounted to harassment of his 
client. It stated Phelps' conduct in the case "demonstrates a lack of 
professional self-restraint in matters of compensation."   Assistant 
Attorney General Richard Seaton would later observe that Phelps had 
shown a pattern of conduct illustrating "an uncontrollable appetite for 
money-especially the money of his client."  
 The pastor didn't agree.  In May, 1966, he filed for the Democratic 
nomination to the Kansas House, 45th District. "As a Democrat, I am 
liberal in my thinking," he announced, "but conservative in spending the 
people's money."   Meanwhile, behind the walls of Westboro, the pastor 
lay up for days in bed, addicted to drugs, beating his wife and helpless 
toddlers, and sending seven year-olds to fetch his hot apple pie.   A 
potential public servant perhaps-but one straight out of ancient Rome.    
In l969, Phelps was brought before the State Board of Law Examiners on 
seven counts of professional misconduct.  
 Seaton and then Attorney General Kent Frizzell argued that the Westboro 
minister's conduct as an attorney "is one of total disregard for the 
duties and the respect and consideration owed by an attorney to his 
clients. Where money is concerned, the accused simply lacks any sense of 
balance and proportion. Whatever the reason for this, it appears to me a 
permanent condition."   
Frizzell and Seaton wanted Phelps disbarred. Instead, State Supreme 
Court Justices chose in 1969 to suspend the pastor for two years.   
Phelps landed on his feet however: the children's candy sales took up 
the slack in family income-and then some.   But the court's sanction did 
trouble him. It was on the first anniversary of his suspension that 
Phelps decided his wife wasn't in proper subjection to him and shaved 
her long hair down to a bad crewcut.   Mrs. Phelps later told the 
children: "He's just upset; it's been one year today since he was 
suspended."   Nine months after he was released from the penalty box for 
cheating and exploiting his clients, Phelps had the temerity to place 
his name on the ballot for District Attorney of Shawnee County.  
 At the same time, not only had he just been disciplined for his lack of 
professional ethics, but he was also being sued by three different candy 
companies, having stiffed them for almost $11,000.   To make matters 
worse, he had also just eluded criminal charges for beating Nate and 
Jonathon, and danced in front of his children at the news his oldest 
son's fiancee had committed suicide.  
 One can only imagine what new turns the pastor's hate would have taken, 
invested with the power of the D.A.'s office.   Because no one else had 
filed in a race against a popular Republican D.A., Phelps ran unopposed 
in the August Democratic primary. However, the D.A. was required to have 
practiced law in the county for five years prior to holding office. As a 
result of his suspension, Phelps had those years cumulatively but not 
consecutively.   He held he qualified. The State Contest Board held he 
did not.   Phelps appealed first to the District Court, then to the 
Kansas Supreme Court. He lost. He was disqualified September 28, 1972, 
leaving the Democrats only five weeks to find another candidate. They 
Since then, the pastor has maintained bitter relations with a succession 
of D.A.s-none of them Fred Phelps.   Having stumbled at the start of his 
public career, Phelps returned to private practice and quickly confirmed 
his colleagues' fears: the angry reverend's working preference was for 
largely unfounded lawsuits which the defendants would settle out of 
court to avoid the nuisance of litigation.  
"I was waiting in the Denver airport with him. We were working a civil 
rights case," remembers Bob Tilton, a former Democratic state chairman 
and an acquaintance of Phelps. "He told me had to file 20 lawsuits to 
get one judgement. I said to him, "But what about the other 19 people 
you sue? It costs them a lot of money and heartache to defend 
themselves.' He just laughed at me."   Phelps sued Kentucky Fried 
Chicken for $60,000 when a female client claimed she'd discovered a 
'bug' in her breadroll; at the same time, he sued a restaurant owned by 
Harkies Inc. for $30,000 because the same woman claimed to have dined 
there and found abone in her barbecue.  The client admitted she hadn't 
eaten either the bug or the bone, and that she'd sought no medical 
treatment, yet she claimed personal damages totaling $10,000 and 
punitive damages of $80,000.   
KFC settled out of court for $600. Harkies likewise for $1,000.  In a 
third case (all three of which were first described in the 1983 expose 
of Phelps by Steve Tompkins of the Wichita- Eagle Beacon), Fred sued a 
Denny's restaurant for $110,000. He claimed slander against his client 
when the man was accused of palming a dollar bill lying beside a 
The restaurant settled out of court for $750.  For the most authentic 
taste of the law according to Pastor Fred, however, one must turn to 
Sylvester Smith, Jr. versus Kevin P. Marshall. Excerpts from the opinion 
of the court, delivered by Judge J. McFarland, tell all:    "On May 30, 
1975, the plaintiff was a passenger in a car driven by the defendant. 
The defendant drove his vehicle to the left curb of a one-way street in 
Topeka, Kansas. Plaintiff exited the vehicle from the passenger side and 
walked in front of the vehicle. Defendant attempted to put the vehicle 
in reverse, but instead put it in neutral or drive. The defendant's 
vehicle moved forward. The plaintiff's lower right leg was caught 
between defendant's vehicle and a parked automobile. These facts are not 
in dispute. The residual effect of plaintiff's injury was a 
discoloration of a small area of skin on his leg."  
 The discoloration was the size of a quarter, and the plaintiff's skin 
was black. A chiropractor, called by the plaintiff to testify, made a 
gallant attempt:   "That is a scar right here. If you hold it just 
right, you can pull it and see a scar."   
In effect, Phelps had tied up first the District Court, then the Court 
of Appeals, and here, the Supreme Court of Kansas over a bruised shin-a 
quarter-sized scar the pastor insisted constituted a $100,000 
disfigurement.   To garner the real flavor of civil litigation behind 
the looking-glass, the lay reader is invited to listen in on the court's 
discussion of the point at issue:   "The record should show that the 
Court did observe the right leg of Mr. Smith. The parties should also 
note the Court's observations, the Court did run his finger on the leg 
in the area that Dr. Counselman described. And the Court's observation, 
from just a visual and from a touch indication, was that there was no 
scarring as we understand broken skin with a lesion over the scarring. 
In other words, it was a smooth feeling.   
 "That area that the Court did observe was ascertainable, discernible, 
it being more of a, at least to the visual view of the Court, it was 
more of a discoloration of Mr. Smith's leg.   "The record should show 
Mr. Smith is black. The area in question was darker. It was more of a 
dark brown area. It was about an inch and a quarter in length and in the 
middle point running North and South on the leg toward the center, as 
Dr. Counselman indicated, and toward the center of the area. It extended 
to, perhaps, about a half an inch. But I would say it would be East and 
West across the leg and about an inch and a quarter long. Now that is 
what the visual observation indicates..."   That Phelps could get a 
bruised shin all the way to the Supreme Court certainly testifies to his 
persistence. It also reveals the predatory, surreal and parasitic nature 
of civil litigation in our society.  
 However, before the reader loses all faith in a fast-fading 
institution, we hasten to point out that reason did prevail. The Supreme 
Court reversed the Court of Appeals and affirmed the decision of the 
trial court which had found in favor of the defendant:  "Assuming it to 
be permanent, I cannot believe it is the type of 'disfigurement' 
intended by the Legislature to support this plaintiff's claim for 
$100,000 in damages. It seems to me this is a prime example of those 
'exaggerated claims for pain and suffering in instances of relatively 
minor injury' the Court recognized in Manzanares, and just the type of 
'minor nuisance' claim the Legislature intended to eliminate."   The 
appellation of 'minor nuisance' may, in the end, sum up the life, law, 
and ministry of Fred Waldron Phelps.   
Perhaps the most ridiculous example of the pastor's apparent obsessive 
need to chisel for chump-change is the $50,000,000 lawsuit filed against 
Sears and Co.   When Mark and Fred, Jr. placed a color television on 
Christmas layaway in September of 1973, they didn't realize it had been 
set aside on paper, not actually taken off the shelf and held in the 
stockroom. When they paid the balance in November, they were told their 
TV would be ready at  Christmas-as they had originally contracted.  
Three days later, the pastor filed suit in his sons' names and those of 
1,000,000 other Sears' layaway customers.   "We didn't have anything to 
do with it," says Mark. It was strictly his idea. In fact, when I left 
home that year right after Christmas, it put him in a bind. He had a 
case that was missing a plaintiff."  
Court documents show Sears called the Phelpses and told them the 
television would be available later in November. The two Freds chose not 
to accept it. Instead, they pressed their suit.   Nearly six years of 
litigation followed. Motions and counter motions were filed. Lawyers 
argued aspects of the case in front of judges. A judge threw out the 
class action section of the suit.  
 Finally, after countless hours of legal work and an original request 
for $50,000,000, the case was settled in favor of the Phelpses for 
$126.34.   The boys had originally paid $184.59 for the set, but they 
never received it.   These are not the files that will one day inspire a 
new Earl Stanley Gardner.   By 1983, according to the Wichita Eagle-
Beacon, there had been "more complaints filed against Phelps, and more 
formal hearings into his conduct, than any other Kansas attorney since 
records have been kept."   If in fact he did lead the judges' conspiracy 
to block Fred Phelps from the bar, few would fault old Beryl Johnson 
 In 1976, the reverend-esquired was investigated by the Kansas Attorney 
General's office.   In 73 percent of the pastor's lawsuits, the inquiry 
discovered the defendants had settled or agreed to settle out of court.   
In the 57 cases already settled, Phelps had demanded a total of 
$75,200.00-but then taken an average of only $1,500 per case to walk 
away. Litigation would have cost his adversaries far more.   It was 
naked extortion, nothing more.   Phil Harley, the Assistant Attorney 
General who led the investigation, now an attorney in San Francisco, 
confirmed to the Capital-Journal a statement he made to the press 10 
years ago: "Based on my experience with him, I reached the personal 
conclusion that Mr. Phelps used the legal system to coerce settlements 
and abuse other people."   In an opinion filed in a 1979 civil rights 
case, Federal Judge Richard Rogers-no stranger to the pastor's ways, a 
significant portion of his docket was taken up by Fred's lawsuits-
supported Harley's conclusions:   "I feel Mr. Phelps files 'strike 
suits' of little merit in the expectation of securing settlements by 
defendants anxious to avoid the inconvenience and expense of 
litigation."   In fact, when those sued by Phelps did not blink, but 
forced him into court, the angry pastor lost 75 percent of the time-an 
astonishing record that explodes the myth of the invincible Fred Phelps, 
a myth which intimidates his community even today.    
On November 8, 1977, the state filed a complaint seeking to have Phelps 
disbarred in its courts.   The complaint centered on the pastor's 
behavior in a lawsuit filed against Carolene Brady, a court reporter in 
Shawnee County District Court. Phelps sought $2,000 in actual damages 
and $20,000 punitive damages, alleging Brady had failed to have a court 
transcript ready when he'd asked for it.  
According to court documents, prior to filing the lawsuit, Phelps 
allegedly told Brady "he had wanted to sue her for a long time".   
During the trial, the pastor called Brady to the stand, had her declared 
a hostile witness, and cross-examined her for several days. Phelps not 
only attacked Brady's competence and honesty, he also attempted to 
introduce testimony about her sex life.   
The Kansas Supreme Court would later observe: "The trial became an 
exhibition of a personal vendetta by Phelps against Carolene Brady. His 
examination was replete with repetition, badgering, innuendo, 
belligerence, irrelevant and immaterial matter, evidencing only a desire 
to hurt and destroy the defendant."   The Supreme Court went on to 
comment, after the jury had found for Brady and Phelps sought a new 
trial: "The jury verdict didn't stop the onslaught of Phelps. He was not 
satisfied with the hurt, pain, and damage he had visited on Carolene 
Brady."   In asking for a new trial, Phelps prepared affidavits swearing 
to the court he had new witnesses whose testimony would weigh in 
dramatically on his side. Brady obtained affidavits from eight of those 
witnesses, showing they would not testify as the pastor had claimed, 
that, in fact, Phelps had lied to the court.  
 The formal complaint against Phelps would not be for harassing Brady, 
but that he had "clearly misrepresented the truth to the court".   Phil 
Harley, the same Assistant Attorney General who had investigated Phelps 
in 1976, represented the state in the 1979 disbarment proceedings. 
Harley wrote:   
"When the attorneys engage in conduct such as Phelps has done, they do 
serious injury to the workings of our judicial system. Even the lay 
person could see how serious Phelps' infractions are. To allow this type 
of conduct to go essentially unpunished is being disrespectful to our 
entire judicial system. It confirms the layman's suspicion that 
attorneys are 'above the law' and can do anything they please with 
impunity."   Harley continued: "Phelps has now been given two chances to 
show that he is capable of conducting himself in a manner that is 
expected of an attorney. On both occasions, he has flagrantly violated 
the oath he swore to uphold. He should not be given a third opportunity 
to harm the public or the judicial system. Fred W. Phelps should be 
disbarred."   The Kansas Supreme Court agreed, adding: "The seriousness 
of the present case, coupled with his previous record, leads this court 
to the conclusion that respondent has little regard for the ethics of 
his profession."  
 The date was July 20, 1979.  Even so, the vindictive pastor would have 
his revenge cold, however small the portion: When Mark Bennett, the 
attorney chairing the state grievance committee originally recommending 
Phelps be disbarred died, the aggrieved Fred came to the wake and signed 
the guestbook. Beside his name, Phelps wrote the numbers of a chapter 
and verse from the Bible.  
 When the shattered widow looked it up, it said 'vengeance is mine'.    
Based on his state court disbarment, Phelps was banned from practicing 
law in federal courts from October, 1980 until October, 1982.   
Amazingly, the pastor was back in trouble almost immediately following 
his return. Demand letters sent in 1983 to people Phelps planned to sue 
brought him right back up for disciplinary charges in federal court.   
Initiated by Wichita lawyer Robert Howard, the complaint charged that 
Phelps sent letters to businesses and individuals he intended to sue, 
informing them of litigation unless they paid money to the pastor's 
Called before a panel of three federal judges barely two years after he 
had returned to the law, nonetheless Fred and his family of flyspeckers 
had been busy: Phelps Chartered had almost 200 lawsuits pending in the 
U.S. courts.   In one, the pastor was suing Ronald Reagan for appointing 
an ambassador to the Vatican. In others, he was demanding an injunction 
against moments of silence in schools; suing a local teacher who had 
criticized the doctrine of predestination' and asking $5,000,000 in 
damages for libel from the Wichita Eagle-Beacon for the story it ran in 
1983.   All of these suits would come to nothing.    The sheer number of 
cases generated out of Phelps Chartered, and the family's genius for 
antagonization set the stage for the next conflict: 
Fred on the deserted platform, waiting to stare down the federal judges 
arriving on the noon train.   Too late, Phelps would learn that, in a 
staring contest with a federal judge, one should be a fish if they 
expect him to blink first. The hard lesson would soon take the 'esquire' 
out of the irascible pastor.   Of the five active federal judges in 
Kansas, two of them, Earl O'Connor of Kansas City and Patrick Kelly of 
Wichita, had already voluntarily removed themselves from hearing any 
cases involving Phelps Chartered. Lawyers from the family had filed 
motions accusing them of racial prejudice, religious prejudice, and 
conspiring to violate the civil rights of the seven Phelps attorneys.   
At first, the judges were only too happy to comply: they were as eager 
to be rid of the Phelps brand of tawdry courtroom hysteria as the pastor 
and company wanted to be done with them. Kelly, in fact, even told the 
pastor "good riddance" to his face during a special hearing the judge 
had called to upbraid Phelps-a hearing for which Kelly would later be 
reprimanded.   Believing he had intimidated them, Fred made his fatal, 
final mistake as the bad boy of the Kansas courts: he went for a third 
judge.   The pastor publicly accused Richard Rogers of the U.S. District 
Court in Topeka of racial prejudice, dislike of civil rights cases, 
engaging in a racially motivated vendetta against the seven Phelpses, 
and conspiring against them with Judge O'Connor.   Rogers counter-
charged the Phelpses had launched a campaign to disqualify him from 
hearing Phelps litigation in an attempt to go 'judge shopping'.   Even 
if Rogers had wanted to remove himself, his hands were tied. Almost 90 
of those 200 lawsuits generated by Phelps Chartered had been assigned to 
Rogers; court-approximately one-fifth of his entire caseload. If Rogers 
bowed out, it would leave only two federal judges, Dale Saffels of 
Kansas City and Sam Crow of Wichita, to handle the swarm of 200 Phelps 
suits, as well as their dockets from the rest of the state.   "I'll 
grant you it creates a logistics problem," admitted Margie Phelps at the 
time, "but I didn't create the problem. If it takes going to the other 
end of the United get another judge and bring him in to hear 
our cases, that's what the law requires."  When Rogers refused to 
acquiesce to the pastor's demands, Phelps began a campaign of innuendo 
and wild accusations that Topekans today will recognize as pure Fred. An 
article in the Capital-Journal, January 16 of 1986, describes this early 
forerunner of the Phelps' fax campaign:  
"The judge has disputed affidavits filed by Phelps clients who say he 
has made derogatory comments about the Phelpses at the Topeka County 
Club, the YMCA, in an elevator at the First National Bank, and at a 
judicial conference last September in Tulsa.   "For example, the 
Phelpses accuse Rogers of telling Chris Davis, a Topeka man who attended 
the Tulsa conference, "You had better not plan on practicing law with 
the Phelps firm in my court, because I intend putting them out of 
business before much longer'.  "They also quote an affidavit given by 
Brent Roper, a Topeka man who said Rogers became angry at the conference 
banquet when a band leader drew attention to the Phelps attorneys. 
Rogers is said to 'stalked from the ballroom', saying, 'Those - - 
Phelpses, they're everywhere showing off,' and 'It will be harder now, 
but I will destroy them.'"   The irony here is that both 'Topeka' men 
quoted as apparent uninvolved bystanders were, in fact, Fred Phelps' 
sons-in-laws, or soon to be.   Chris Davis was one of two families, the 
Hockenbargers and the Davises, that remained in the Westboro Church. He 
married the seventh Phelps child, Rebekah, in 1991.   The other "Topeka 
man", Brent Roper, joined the Westboro community as a homeless teenager, 
was put through law school by the pastor, and married Shirley Phelps.   
The image of a federal judge stalking from a ballroom uttering darkly, 
"it will be harder now, but I will destroy them," it seems, on its face, 
a rather amateurish dip in slander. These are lines from the movies, 
from a Lex Luthor, and not a Richard Rogers.  
It is noteworthy here to mention that Roper is also the author of a 
privately published book that argues AIDS was first introduced to the 
United States by Truman Capote, following a book promotion in South 
Africa. According to Roper, both JFK and Marilyn Monroe contracted the 
disease simultaneously from Capote during a touch football game in the 
White House Rose Garden. The CIA was forced to kill the fab couple, he 
says, to keep them from spreading the deadly virus to the rest of the 
Copies may be difficult to find. After Rogers remained stubborn despite 
the slanderous attacks, he claimed the Phelpses threatened to sue him on 
behalf of a client Rogers didn't know.    It was not an empty threat. In 
August, 1985, the pastor Phelps and his daughter, Margie, had brought a 
suit against Judge O'Connor on behalf of a former federal probation 
officer. Though the man had been removed from his position by a vote of 
the full court of federal judges, the suit named O'Connor. At the time, 
O'Connor was under pressure from the Phelpses to disqualify himself (and 
did) from a 30-judge panel that would rule on the pastor's 1983 demand 
letters.   The family Phelps had started a shooting war in the wrong 
On December 16, 1985, a complaint signed by every federal judge in 
Kansas was lodged against the Phelps lawyers. It called for the 
disbarment of the seven family attorneys-Fred, Fred, Jr., Jonathon, 
Margie, Shirley, Elizabeth, and Fred's daughter-in-law, Betty, and the 
revocation of their corporate charter.   The 9 angry judges accused the 
Phelpses of asserting "claims and positions lacking any grounding in 
fact", making "false and intemperate accusations" against the judges, 
and undertaking a "vicious pattern of intimidation" against the court.   
"Time and time again," says Mark Phelps, "I can remember something would 
happen in the way of actions or lawsuits being filed against him or one 
of his clients. He would fume and cuss and strain and spew and carry on. 
Then, he would come up with his plan of attack.  
"He'd get real excited after his deep depression, and he'd carry on 
around the law office crowing about the cunning, brilliant strategy he 
had come up with. He'd put it into action, and he'd just thrill over it.   
"He'd say: 'Do we know how to deal with these types? You bet we do. We 
goin' to sue the pants off of them. We goin' to slap them with the 
fattest lawsuit they ever did see. We goin' to frizzle they fricuss and 
burn all the lent right out of they navel. When they get this, they 
goin' think twice about messin' with ol' Fred Phelps.'  "He'd have a 
ball thinking about how he was going to get even-and even better than 
even-and then he'd go into action.   "Next thing you knew, they'd 
respond with some action. And I guess he always thought they'd be like 
his won family-willing to take anything he dished out. I guess he just 
naturally expects people to roll over and play dead. So, when they'd 
come back with a logical, predictable response to his behavior, he'd go 
crazy:   "'These heathen! These Sons of Belial! These enemies of God and 
His Church! God's gonna get them! He won't let them (get) by with this!'  
"My father would complain and yell at God, and throw a fit at Mom, and 
carry on at the kids."  
In September of 1987, the federal judicial panel investigating the 
demand letters sent by Phelps found evidence to sustain two of the four 
charges against him.   The pastor had been accused of demanding money 
and other relief for claims he knew to be false. The panel of judges 
issued a public censure of him.   
In layman's terms, Pastor Phelps had attempted to strong-arm money from 
the innocent and been caught.   And, come high noon, there would be one 
less Phelps at the bar.   When the nine judges first entered their 
complaint in 1985, Margie, the spokeswoman and courtroom representative 
for the family in the matter, said: "The bottom line is we will fight 
every charge, every way."  
 But, upon hearing the extent of the evidence collected against them, 
the Phelpses asked the judges and investigator to find a way to end the 
case without resorting to litigation.   They agreed to the punishment 
specified in the consent order. Margie signed the order, acknowledging 
her family accepted it voluntarily and waived any right to appeal.  
The resulting compromise singled out those who, according to the 
investigator, were the three worst offenders: Fred, Jr. was suspended 
six months from practicing in federal courts. Margie received a one-year 
suspension, in part because she had maliciously misrepresented a 
conversation she'd had with Judge O'Connor.   Having been suspended from 
the state courts for cheating his clients, and then barred from them for 
lying to a trial judge, having been censured in federal courts for 
pursuing claims he knew to be false, the angry pastor was now barred 
from them forever because he had lied about the judges in an attempt to 
impugn the integrity of the court.   The leopard may be older, but it 
still has its spots.   
The federal disbarment deprived Fred Phelps of his last arena of legal 
abuse. Unless he could find a new outlet for his hate, the defrocked 
esquire from Mississippi was now just an angry eccentric, no lawyer, not 
even a pastor-except in the fear-conditioned eyes of his family.  
Nonetheless, Fred Phelps has always held that all the bad things 
happened in his law career because he was a tireless Christian soldier, 
battling for black civil rights. A careful examination of his more 
salient cases, however, reveals once again how, with such odd 
regularity, some men of the cloth seem to confuse community service with 
lip and self-service.   The hallmark of a devoted civil rights reformer 
who is also a lawyer ought to be a record of court decisions that, taken 
together, create legal precedents influencing future cases and, 
therefore, future society.   Sadly, close inspection of Phelps' civil 
rights record shows he followed the same greedy star he did in the rest 
of his cases.   Lawsuits were filed, but rarely went to trial-and even 
more rarely reached a decision. Instead, Phelps practiced what he always 
had: 'take-the-money-and run'.   A settlement out-of-court has zero 
impact on legal precedent. Both sides continue to maintain they were 
right, only one party pays the other a little money to shut up and go 
away.   In what are probably Fred Phelps' three most famous civil rights 
cases, he did exactly that each time.   In the multi-million dollar 
Kansas Power and Light case, Phelps filed a class-action on behalf of 
2,000 blacks who had accused the utility of discrimination in their 
hiring and promotion practices.  
 Fred settled out of court for the following:  *Two black employees 
received $12,000 each.  *$100,000 was paid out to the other plaintiffs. 
If one counts the original 2,000, that made for 50 bucks each.   
*Phelps scooped $85,000 in attorney's fees and expenses.  *KP&L admitted 
no wrongdoing and suffered no coercion to alter its allegedly racist 
policies. KP&L officials claimed they'd settled to avoid an expensive 
legal battle.    "It's unprecedented what we just did," the pastor 
 Certainly it left no precedent.   In the American Legion suit, which 
stemmed from a police raid on a Topeka post with a largely black 
membership, again Phelps settled for small cash outside of court.   
Perhaps his most publicized case was the Evelyn Johnson suit, touted as 
son of Brown vs. Board of Education, the landmark school desegregation 
case filed against another Topeka USD 501 school in 1955. Brown vs. 
Board of Education, along with the Selma bus case, became the basis for 
the civil rights movement in the sixties.   In 1973, Evelyn Johnson's 
aunt and legal guardian, Marlene Miller, sue the Unified School 
District, number 501, a state entity which contained the Topeka area 
public schools.   Miller, represented by Fred Phelps, claimed the 
district had failed to comply with the ruling in Brown vs. Board of 
Education. It had not provided the same educational opportunities and 
environments to the black neighborhoods as it had to the white areas of 
the city.  Phelps boosted Miller's complaint into a 200 million dollar 
class action suit.   When that was tossed out, he pressed on with the 
individual action on behalf of Mrs. Johnson. In 1979, the pastor agreed 
to settle out of court with the district's insurance company.   Phelps 
accepted the company's condition the settlement be sealed from public 
scrutiny to discourage others who might have been inclined to sue for 
the same reasons. Hardly the act of a hard-knuckled civil rights 
reformer.   When the contents of the settlement were revealed later, it 
turned out the pastor had collected $19,500 from the insurance company-
$10,600 himself, and $8,900 in a trust for Johnson.   If the attorneys 
for Brown had settled for cash outside the courtroom instead of a 
decision, there would have been no legal grounds for the federal 
government to pressure a segregated America to conform to the new social 
standards, and quite possibly no civil rights movement.  In light of 
that, it is difficult to understand how $8,900 in trust to a 15 year-
old, uneducated girl was going to remedy either her or her school-mates' 
problem. After the settlement, Evelyn Johnson attended Topeka High 
School, rated one of the best in the nation. She performed poorly and 
dropped out without graduating.   Certainly her life and prospects, and 
those of her peers, remained generally unchanged by the out of court 
pay-off. Since no ruling was made and no precedent established to 
reinforce Brown vs. Board of Education, nothing came from six years of 
Phelps' litigation except $10,600 for himself and a reputation, however 
undeserved, as a civil rights hero.   
In other instances, the issue of civil rights was so flimsily connected, 
and the case so absurd, that any serious interest in social change on 
Phelps' part has to be questioned:   In 1979, the pastor sued Stauffer 
Communications, owner of WIBW-TV, for over $1,000,000 on behalf of a 23 
year-old black man, Jetson Booth, who had appeared in footage aired by 
the station. Booth was shown surrounded by police during camera coverage 
of a shoot-out involving the officers and two unidentified men.   "If 
plaintiff had been a white man, defendants (WIBW-TV) would not have 
treated him in this fashion," Phelps asserted in the suit.   The case 
was dismissed for lack of cause shown.   In 1985, Phelps Chartered was 
order to pay attorney's fees amounting to $7,800 for police officer Dean 
Forster after the firm had sued him for civil rights violations of a 
client.   It turned out Forster had no connection to the incident in 
question, and, furthermore, the Phelps lawyers had known that from the 
beginning of their litigation.   In an astonishing number of his cases, 
it would seem the pastor thought 'civil rights' was an open sesame to 
the good life-for himself.   In 1979, Phelps was sued by a Wichita law 
firm that claimed he had "tortiously interfered in the lawyer-client 
relationship". Three black women and two of their children had been 
grievously injured in an auto accident. One of the women was in a coma 
for years.  Allegedly, Pastor Phelps learned about the case through 
local black ministers. He also somehow discovered that the liable 
insurance company's coverage was not the $100,000 they were claiming-but 
1.1 million, of which the lucky attorney representing the victims would 
scoop up 35 percent  .  The aggrieved law firm protested Phelps had 
wooed the clients with his erstwhile reputation as a civil rights 
advocate. Because of his interference, they asserted, the goose of the 
golden eggs had fired its midwife attorneys and taken their 35 percent 
to Phelps Chartered.  Phelps responded the other law firm was "all 
white", and that, in part, they'd lost their clients because of their 
"racially biased and overbearing treatment of said black people."   In 
the final settlement, however, the judge awarded $644,000 to the victim 
and $366,000 to the lawyers-of which only $122,000 went to Fred. 
Disappointing work for one who'd chased his ambulance with such laudable 
ethnic sensitivity.    Probably the most bizarre and ludicrous example 
of Fred Phelps exploiting the title of 'civil rights crusader' was in 
1983, when three of his children failed to make the cut for Washburn 
School of Law.   
The pastor filed suit in federal court on behalf of Tim, Kathy, and 
Rebekah, claiming his children should be granted minority status because 
of his civil rights work. Furthermore, Phelps argued, Washburn Law's 
record on affirmative action was inadequate.    They needed to accept 
more blacks into their freshman class each year.   
"It is important to note this case is brought by white applicants who 
are asking to be treated as blacks," observed Carl Monk, dean of the law 
school. "They would not be asking to be treated as blacks unless they 
felt such treatment would help them."   That case was still in court the 
following year when Washburn allowed Timothy in but again denied 
admission to Kathy and Rebekah.   
The reverend filed suit once more, but this time with a twist. In the 
second suit, he offered his children were the victims of reverse 
discrimination because they were white. He complained the law school had 
admitted blacks in 1984 who were far less qualified than his own 
offspring.  So much for the family commitment to affirmative action.  
U.S. District Judge, Frank Theis, was not amused. Ruling on the 1983 
case, he stated first that, "the plaintiffs simply were not qualified 
for admission to law school," and second, that the new 1984 case 
weakened the case before him from 1983. The judge told Phelps he could 
not argue the school discriminated against blacks, and then sue again, 
saying it preferred blacks over whites, and be taken seriously.   
Katherine and Rebekah eventually got their law degrees down at Oklahoma 
City University. Phelps Chartered got spanked with a $55,000 assessment 
by the court to pay Washburn's attorneys' fees. It was negotiated down, 
and Pastor Fred signed the check over at $12,000 in restitution for 
bringing a 'frivolous suit of no merit' against the college.   In 
Phelps' eyes, it had been another blow against empire for the bold 
pastor.   There is an interesting sidebar to this story. When the Phelps 
children were first turned down by Washburn in 1983, they appealed to 
the law school's internal grievance committee. It found no race-based 
discrimination in the rejection of the three Phelps.   However, one of 
the panel members, Karl Hockenbarger, a Washburn University employee, 
filed a dissent, stating it was clear to him the three had been "denied 
admission to the law school because of their identification with Fred 
Phelps Sr., and the cause of civil rights for blacks." Hockenbarger went 
on to add: "Blacks in Kansas generally depend on the Phelps family and 
firm as their last and best hope for attaining equal justice."   He is, 
of course, the same Karl Hockenbarger who daily pickets with the 
Phelpses, and one of the few non-family members who still attends the 
pastor's church at Westboro.  
 Mr. Hockenbarger's shared concern with his pastor for the plight of 
Kansas blacks may not be as deep as it appears: Police surveillance of 
the Westboro community has allegedly tied Hockenbarger to white 
supremacist groups like the Posse Comitatus and the Ku Klux Klan.  
"Civil rights lawsuits presented a vast opportunity to make money back 
then," says Nate Phelps. "My father used to say he had a huge target and 
all he had to do was shoot. I don't blame him for choosing a lucrative 
area of the law, it's just that he was not motivated by some noble, 
altruistic desire "to champion the case of the downtrodden."   Asked if 
he filed "nuisance lawsuits" once, Pastor Phelps replied: "They think 
it's a nuisance if you call a black man a nigger. That's just trivial to 
them, bit it's not trivial to him, and it's not trivial to his 
 During their teenage years, both Mark and Nate worked as law clerks in 
their father's office. "When a black client was in there," recalls Nate, 
"my father would play the 'DN' game with us. It stands for 'dumb 
nigger'. We would all try to use the acronym as often as possible in the 
presence of the person involved."   In the 1983 interview with the 
Wichita Eagle-Beacon, Phelps intoned, echoing Abraham Lincoln:   "The 
air of the United States is too pure for racial prejudice to keep going, 
and the nation can't long endure half-slave and half-free. There is not 
any doubt that the problems of this country derive, in my humble 
opinion, from the way this country continues to treat black people."  
But according to his sons in California, part of the theology of the Old 
Calvinism Fred taught held that blacks were a subservient race because 
they were the sons of Ham, the son of Noah.   Cursed for ridiculing 
Noah's nakedness, Ham's children were born black, according to the 
Bible. Some scholars attribute apartheid in South Africa to the fact 
that the white minority is predominantly Calvinist and takes the Ham 
story to heart.   
Mark definitely recalls that his father taught the Ham story and took it 
to its Calvinist conclusions: the black race was cursed and meant to be 
the "servants of servants" - i.e., subservient to whites.   Nate agrees. 
"He taught that in Sunday sermon many times while we were growing up."   
Both boys recall their father used to tell black jokes.  
"And he'd imitate them after they'd left our office," remembers Mark.   
However, the piece-de-resistance in the ongoing saga of Phelps hypocrisy 
is the pastor's relationship with the Reverend Pete Peters of La Porte, 
Peters is the guru-philosopher of the Christian Identity Movement. Known 
simply as "Identity", the movement believes the white race is God's true 
Chosen People. They assert the Jews are animal souls that rewrote the 
Old Testament to give themselves the Chosen's birthright. Blacks are 
"mud people" who also possess animal souls-meaning they are not immortal 
and cannot go to heaven. According to Identity, blacks and Jews want to 
eliminate the white race and rule the earth.   
Randy Weaver, the man arrested in the Idaho mountaintop shout-out with 
F.B.I., was a member of the Posse Comitatus and a follower of Identity.   
Peters broadcasts his shortwave radio program, "Scriptures for America", 
around the world, calling for death to homosexuals and warning against 
the international Jewish conspiracy.   Fred Phelps has done broadcasts 
on "Scriptures for America", and tapes of his anti-gay message and 
offered for sale in Peters' mail order catalogues.   When asked about 
it, Pastor Phelps only smiles enigmatically and offers that Pete Peters 
owns the rights to those broadcasts and can sell them if he wants.   But 
Peters, reached by phone at his church in La Porte, says: "If he (Fred 
Phelps) didn't want them out, even if I had a right, I wouldn't put them 
out. I have the greatest respect for him." The militant white 
supremacist then adds ominously, "He's got the support of god-fearing 
people across this country that are not afraid to back a man who tells 
it like it is.   "And he's got my support if he needs help-whenever he 
needs help."   Not empty words. 
Though Peters himself was cleared, it is still widely believed by 
Klanwatch and other groups monitoring extremist activity that the right-
wing hit team that killed Alan Berg, the Denver talk radio host, came 
from or were associated with Peters' congregation.  Reverend Fred 
Phelps, friend of the struggling black?  
Listed next to one of Fred's tapes in Pete Peters' catalogue is one by 
Jack Mohr, a man who describes himself as the "Brigadier General of the 
Christian Patriot Defense League", but whom the F.B.I. has identified as 
a weapons instructor for the Ku Klux Klan.  Why in the world would a 
person with these associations proclaim himself a civil rights' 
In the words of 'Deep Throat', "follow the money."  And in those of 
Richard Seaton, the Assistant Attorney General who led the first attempt 
to disbar Phelps back in 1969, the pastor had "an uncontrollable 
appetite for money-especially the money of his clients."     
"Nightmare of Twelfth Street" 
"Since no one else would join, my father sired us for congregations," 
observes Mark. "We were the only members because we had no choice. When 
we got old enough to make our own decisions, choose our life's work, and 
our life's mates, did you think he'd permit that? 
"Without his children, my father had no church and he has no income." 
Fred Phelps' bizarre behavior toward his children as struggled to become 
adults is as disturbing as it is revealing.  
Growing up in the pastor's family meant going from door-to-door sales, 
domestics, and wage earners to lawyers and tithe payers. To Phelps, 
adulthood for his children meant soldiers for his wars.   To accomplish 
this, he would attempt to arrest and redirect each child's path to 
fulfillment. They were not to leave his nest, nor learn to fly:   "The 
Bible may say you're gonna be the head of your house. But I'm tellin' 
you right now, goddammit, that ain't gonna happen! I'm gonna be the head 
of your house! And you better start gettin' that through your head right 
now!"   Mark pauses at the memory. "You know, he couldn't say, I 
desperately need you; please don't leave me." His heart was too closed 
off by some devastating unknown injury, and his mind was so 
sophisticated, so intelligent, he could weave a steel cape around us we 
couldn't get out of. 
It was emotional. And it was the use of religion."   But how could Fred 
Phelps maintain control of the lives and dreams of his children?   
Against his desire for a family that would be an extension of himself 
were arrayed some formidable forces: the adolescent's yearning for 
independence was one; the pull of hormones and the heart of another. In 
addition, the harshness of the children's upbringing left them with 
little genuine respect or love for their father.   Then what wrought 
such conformity? Two obstacles, both too high for 9 of the 13 to 
surmount. They are the twin secrets of Pastor Phelps' sway over his 
troubled flock.   First, and most important, while they may not be 
overly enthusiastic about his job as a father, the Phelps' children 
still accept, respect, and obey him as the head of their church. Since, 
in their belief, the Elect may reach heaven only through the portal of 
The Place, he who runs The Place holds the keys to the gates of 
Paradise.   The children weren't afraid to disobey or argue with their 
father when, in later adolescence, they didn't seize the hand beating 
them or leave the place holding them. Rather, they were terrified to 
oppose the will of heaven's gatekeeper and imperil their souls. 
Literally, to was the fires  of hell and not the mattock whose heat they 
felt in all their choices.  "My father established early on the 
expectations of each child in the family for their entire life," says 
Nate, "and the consequences if those expectations weren't met. According 
to him, each of us would finish college, get lour law degree, work for 
him, and marry whom he chose, when he chose.   By no means were we 
allowed to leave that situation, or it would be seen as 'abandoning the 
church'. If we did that, we'd be excommunicated."   Besides being 
groomed as lawyers, Mark says he and his siblings were constantly told 
they were different.   "We were taught we were abnormal from the time we 
were able to learn," he says. "That the rest of the world out there was 
evil. That we The Place. And inside The Place, people were good and 
going to heaven.   "Outside The Place they were all damned and going to 
hell. And, if that other world ever got us down, we were taught to find 
strength by imagining the terrible horrors that would happen soon to 
everyone outside The Place."   
'The Place' was how his father referred to the church, add Nate. "If you 
left, you were forsaking the assembly and you were delivered to Satan 
for the destruction of the flesh. He had his repertoire down.   "Of 
course, he justified it by manipulating various passages in the Bible.    
"One passage refers to a child 'leaving his father and mother and 
cleaving to his wife'. He interpreted this to mean a child was not to 
leave his parents until he was married. But, since he decided who and 
when we were to marry, he controlled this.   "Another passage mentions 
'not forsaking the assembling of yourselves together'. Since he had long 
ago established in our minds that his church was where the Elect came to 
assemble, that it was 'The Place', he could lead us easily to the belief 
that to leave home was to 'leave' the company of the Elect, to join the 
innumerable multitude of the damned."   And the second of the twin 
secrets?  "To cast the world beyond The Place as evil and fatal to the 
soul. Then manipulate the local community so they would react with 
hostility and aggression whenever a kid would venture out. It's why my 
father insisted we go to public school, you know. Thanks to him, we were 
hated before we even got there on Day One. And people were so mean to 
us, that, when we came home, Fred could say, 'See, I told you so. 
They're evil and reprobate. They're not like us.'"   The family does not 
believe in Christmas, states the Pastor Phelps, because there is no 
mention of it in the Bible; nowhere does it say Jesus Christ was born on 
December 25. (The date for many Christian holidays, in fact, derive from 
pre-Christian Europe: Christmas from the winter solstice on December 21; 
Easter from the vernal equinox on March 21; All Souls for Halloween from 
the Feast of the Samhain or the Day of the Dead, on October 31.)  While 
accurate, if somewhat unnecessary theology (since Christmas in America 
is really a shopping, not a religious, holiday), as sociology, Fred's 
'bah-humbug' to the season of comfort and joy did significantly add to 
the burden of 'otherness' that caused the world outside to repel his 
children and grandchildren back to The Place.  
 "From kindergarten, we were not allowed to stay in the classroom if 
there were Christmas activities going on,: says Nate. "We always had to 
go to another room, usually the library. My father threatened to sue the 
schools if they did not remove us during those times."  The man pauses, 
remembering the sorrows of the boy: "Our humiliation was constant."  
 Even so, from suing the schools to shooting his neighbor's dog, Fred 
Phelps' personal and litigious behavior would have ensured his children 
a cool reception in their community-without an encore as the pastor who 
stole Christmas.   "We weren't allowed to participate in any activities 
at school," adds Nate. "Not through most of our childhoods."  
 "No sports, not even track," says Mark. "Until my senior year.  "And no 
outside friends. No one was allowed to visit, and we weren't allowed to 
go anywhere. To birthday parties or anything. Then, shave our heads. My 
father wanted the world to reject us. It would drive us right back to 
him. To the Place. The world-within-a-world. The one that was 
Spouses were not welcome in such a world-except as a last resort to hold 
the child. There were to be no girls for the boys. And no boys for the 
girls.   "If my dad had his way," confesses Shirley, "none of us would 
have gotten married. He'd just as soon keep everyone away, thanks."  
 "Kathy's was my father's favorite," remembers Margie. "She had blue 
eyes and dark hair. She was very pretty and he would spoil her. He used 
to bounce her on his knee and sing 'The Yellow Rose of Texas' to her. 
But after she was about 15 or 16, they had nothing to say to each other. 
She'd be home, but she kept her distance from him.   "And she was a 
bitch throughout her teen years. She was very mean to the rest of the 
kids. Kathy became very self-destructive back then, and she's stayed 
that way since."   Concludes Margie: "I never understood why."  Perhaps 
her brothers on the West Coast have a clue: "Then came a time when 
suddenly Kathy got in my dad's doghouse," relates Mark. "A boy had 
called once or something. From that time on, he commenced to beating 
her, and he stayed on her and stayed on her rear end that wouldn't l; 
because of how often and how severely she got beat.   "He'd beat her 
routinely in the church, against the foundation pole. He'd beat her with 
mattock and then twist her arm behind her back. She'd be screaming-
bloodcurdling screams-and all because someone had called her up on the 
"Later, it got so if the phone rang and they hung up, he'd assume it was 
a boy looking for Kathy, and that she was 'doing' him, and then she'd 
get beaten for that.   "And, on top of that, she and Nate were getting 
beaten several times a week for their weight.   "Later, when Mark and 
Fred were in college," says Nate, "Mom would take everyone out to sell 
candy, but she'd leave Kathy home alone with Fred. She'd get beaten 
during those times, just like I had."   Kathy tried to escape the 
nightmare called 'home' at the Westboro Baptist Church at least three 
times between the age of 17 and 18.   Each time, the pastor found out 
where she was living and led a Phelps' quick-reaction team to literally 
snatch her away from her life and bring her back.   In one incident, 
Kathy was living in a quiet Topeka neighborhood and dating a boy Mark 
knew from high school.  "It was the summertime, about 6:30 in the 
evening," Nate recalls. "Her boyfriend pulled in to pick her up on a 
date. We'd been waiting for her to come out of the house, and when she 
did, we just swooped in. We had two cars. Mark was driving one and my 
dad the other. It was real 'Starsky and Hutch'. We blocked off the 
departing vehicle, and pulled her out of the car while her date just sat 
there stunned."   "At home my father beat her terribly," says Mark. "It 
was then she was locked in her room for 40 days on nothing but water."   
Mark remembers one of the 'parental intercessions' was actually a 
kidnapping: Kathy was 18 when it occurred.   Though she eventually 
finished college and graduated law school, according to some of her 
siblings, Kathy has yet to find resolution to her anger and self-
destruction. In recent years, she has allowed her active status at the 
bar to lapse, waitressed at Topeka's Ramada Inn, been laid off, gone of 
public assistance, and been convicted on passing bad checks.   
"My sister, Kathy...," reflects Mark, "...everything my father's done to 
her...she's just been so deeply hurt as a human being, I don't think she 
can cope out there..."   Nate has one memory that sticks in his mind.  
Once, while she was going to college and living in the compound, Kathy 
went jogging late one night, as was her habit. But, this time, the sight 
of a woman running through a darkened residential neighborhood after 1 
a.m. caught the attention of a patrol car. When the officer tried to 
question her from the rolling vehicle, Kathy turned and ran the other 
way. When he overtook her on foot, humped ahead of her and tried to 
block her passage, she kept on him like a wild animal. Other officers 
were called and Kathy fought them with the same grim ferocity.  She was 
finally subdued and arrested. When the case went to court, Nate was 
there:   "The judge asked why she fought when the officer tried to stop 
her. She turned to him-and I was shocked by how hate was in her face-and 
she almost spit out the words: 'I can't stand for a man to touch me!'"   
Continues Nate: "That face full of hate I'll never forget. My sister was 
very, very angry about something."  
In high school, says Mark, "I couldn't grasp the concept of career day."  
The only one he and his brothers and sisters were told they could 
consider was the law. Says the pastor with a groan: "Hell, I think 
everybody today should have a law degree. You need one to defend 
yourself. Yeh, got to have one now or you can't take care of yourself or 
 Adds Mark: "His attitude was always that school was bullshit, but you 
had to get As and get out so you could have the law degree. With that 
you could support and defend the church.   "To say 'no' would have been 
the same as drafting-dodging during WWII: it was every kid's duty to 
enlist in the bar and protect our homeland against the evil that 
threatened from without."  
 But Fred Jr. wanted to be a history teacher.   "Ever since he'd been a 
kid, he wanted to do that," Mark says. "At Washburn he was a masterful 
history student. He wanted to teach it, and he held on to that. He'd 
say: 'I have that right', and my dad would try to beat it out of him. My 
father would make it clear to Fred Jr. that he wasn't going to teach 
history. He'd yell: 'You guys are mine and you're never gonna leave 
me!'"    "Then always follow with: 'And you better start gettin' it 
through your head right now!'  "I can remember my father beating Fred 
when he was 19 or 20 about that. I couldn't believe my brother would 
even try to argue with him! My father wouldn't hear of it. Fred Jr. was 
going to be a lawyer.   "Eventually, I think, my brother's spirit was 
broken and he became one. But it wasn't the beatings that caused him to 
lose heart-it was Debbie Valgos."   What follows may be the saddest tale 
found during this investigation. It is a profound and tragic example of 
the fruits of hatred when it is directed by the angry against the 
innocent.   Says Mark: "He was deeply in love with her, a girl from St. 
Vincent's Orphanage several blocks from our house. They were just crazy 
in love...   "She was a free spirit. And a great looker. Noisy. Loud, 
hearty laugh. She was very warm, and friendly, and loving."   
"She was cute, thin, blonde, and sexy," laughs Nate.  "That name...," 
sighs one of the nuns from the orphanage, "is like a punch in the 
stomach..."   Debbie was not an orphan. She lived with her mother, Della 
A., and her stepfather, Paul A., on Lincoln Street in Topeka.   
When she was 11 years old, for reasons undisclosed, Debbie was placed in 
St. Vincent's. She went to Capper Junior High and later attended Topeka 
West High School.   When she was 14, Debbie sent this poem to her mom:   
I settled down west from town, though no one knew I was a clown, My face 
was clean, and all around were children, though I heard no sound.  She 
signed it, 'Mom, I love you very much!' with seven asterisks for 
emphasis.   Bernadette, an older sister who still lives in town recalls: 
"She sang. She had a beautiful voice. And she played the guitar. She was 
a pretty little thing."   Debbie's mom has an album of photos taken by 
the nuns of her daughter while she lived at the orphanage. Pictures of 
her as a cheerleader at Capper; smiling on a dock at the Lake of the 
Ozarks with some other girls from St. Vincent's; clutching her pom-poms, 
watching the players; pictures of her 15th birthday party at the 
They met at the skating rink.  Sometimes Fred and Mark would trick their 
father. When he thought they'd gone out on their obligatory 10 mile run, 
instead they'd go skating. Or if they'd had a good night on candy sales, 
Jonathon, Nate, Mark, and Fred would knock off early and hit the rink 
before going home.  "Debbie was a good skater," rememberJs Mark. "She 
came to the rink with  other kids from the orphanage. She skated fast 
and reckless."  The voice over the phone sounds as if it's smiling at 
the memory.  "At first my brother saw her secretly, during stolen 
moments. Then he'd go by the orphanage when the four of us boys were out 
selling candy."    
Mark stops.  "You should know, when I was 9 and Fred 10, we began to 
hear degrading, insulting sermons from my father about how no good it is 
for boys to have girl friends: "You'll meet a girl someday and she'll 
start saying things like, "Aren't you cute; aren't you handsome; 
ooooooh, you're really something", and like some kind of ignorant, 
stupid lamb being led to slaughter, you'll fall for it, and the next 
thing you know, she'll want to kiss you or some bullshit like that. I'm 
telling you now, I'm not going to put up with it. If you think you're 
going to have some whore coming around sniffing after you, you better 
know right now that I'm not going to put up with it. You better start 
gettin' it through your head right now. You just have to trust the Lord 
to provide you a good woman who will subject herself to the authority of 
the church...'"   Mark clears his throat. "They met, I think, in the 
fall of 1970. On the candy sales, Fred would drive and I'd ride shotgun, 
with Jon and Nate in back. We'd pick Debbie up on the way out and she'd 
sit between us.   "When we got there, the rest of us would sell candy, 
and Fred and Debbie would stay behind in the car.   "Boy, did they kiss. 
Every time was for the last time. Like Bogart and Bergman at the Paris 
train station.  
 "She was cute, but it wasn't only sexual. Those two were very, very 
much in love. I was there. I saw it. I watched them together-kissing, 
walking, being together. Fred and I shared the same bedroom and I knew 
my brother.    "It was obvious they were meant for each other. That 
romance had so much voltage, it could have lit the city."  
Fred and Debbie's special song was "Close to You", by the Carpenters, 
but that didn't keep them from fighting. Says Mark: "Debbie had a hot 
temper. She was very intense and dramatic. So they kissed and fought, 
kissed and fought. But they loved each other terribly hard-none of us 
doubted that."    Debbie also got a kick out of hanging around with all 
of Fred's brothers, remembers Mark. "She used to say it was her instant 
family."   Many of Debbie's teachers still remember her vividly. And 
they remember her long-lasting romance with Fred Phelps. "She was 
craving a family environment, with all the emotional outlet and loving 
she imagined went with it," recalls one. "When she was dating Fred, she 
thought she'd become an adjunct member of his family and she wanted to 
be a part. When she thought she was, she was very happy."  
 "She was such a warm, sweet girl," remembers another, "it's just a 
shame what happened to her."   "In the car on candy sales and at the 
skating rink was the only time they could see each other," says Mark.   
Apparently Debbie was either narcoleptic or suffered from epilepsy. 
"Periodically she'd pass out. I saw it happen 10 to 12 times. Suddenly 
she'd stop talking and when you looked, she'd be limp, her head back and 
eyes closed, though still breathing."   Debbie told Fred what it was, 
but Mark's brother never revealed it.  After they'd been stealing time 
together for several months, Fred Jr. somehow found the resources to buy 
Debbie a gold band with a tiny diamond. 
Mark remembers her showing it off proudly in the car that day. Fred was 
17, she was still 16.   They began to talk of getting married.  "Before 
you jump to conclusions about another teenage marriage," Mark observes, 
"remember my family didn't believe in dating around. We believed God 
would send us our mates. That it would just happen one day, and we would 
know it in our hearts. When it happened, that was it-whether you were 16 
or 66.   "Of course, my dad thought he was the god in charge of that. 
But I wouldn't assume Fred and Debbie's union would have been another 
miscast teenage marriage-and therefore my dad was right to do what he 
did."   Why not? 
 "Because my wife of 17 years, and my best friend for 22, is the same 
Luava Sundgren I met at the rink that May of '71. We've been together 
since I was 16 and she, 13, and we're still totally nuts about each 
other.   "You see, I think God has a hand in these things. And maybe 
it's naive of me, but I think all that we went through as kids made us a 
lot wiser about people than most grownups."  
Mark estimates the passionate romance was kept from their father through 
the New Year of 1971. Sometime shortly after, however, the Pastor Phelps 
caught wind of his son's happiness.   "After that, my father forbade 
Fred to see her. He tried everything to get Fred to stop."  
Though Mark's brother was only a few months shy of 18, the pastor 
regularly took the mattock to him to stop his 'slinkin' with that 
whore'.    In February of that year, Debbie left the orphanage and moved 
back in with her mother and stepfather in the house on Lincoln Street.   
The boys would swing by and pick her up there.   Shortly after she 
moved, Fred and Debbie moved again: they made their bid for a life 
together free of their burdened pasts. They eloped.   Mark remembers 
they took one of the family cars, a '66 Impala wagon.   "And I had a 
pair of top-notch skates. They cost me a hundred bucks. I was a serious 
skater back then, and I carried them around in a slick black case and 
felt very professional. But my brother Fred took them along for gas 
money. He sold them at a rink in Kansas City for ten bucks.  Fred's next 
younger sibling sighs. "I missed my skates, but I wasn't mad at him. 
Back then, we had no sense of personal boundaries. If you needed 
something, you just took it. Besides, I wanted them to get away." He 
laughs: "Just wish he'd gotten more for those skates. Ten bucks was 
insulting."   With a borrowed car and a tank full of gas, the intrepid 
couple hit the great American highways-though not with that era's open 
agenda of 'wherever you go-there you are!'  To Fred Jr., the available 
universe consisted of two addresses and the highway that connected them. 
One was on 12th Street in Topeka, the other was the home and church of 
Forrest Judd in Indianapolis.   "My dad and Judd met at a Bible 
conference. Forrest was a Baptist preacher and they hit it off. They 
used to come to Topeka and visit a lot. He and my dad were doctrinally 
alike, but Forrest was a very different personality. He was a jolly fat 
Santa type of guy-a factory worker and a really neat fella. He had three 
sons of his own, but he'd become sort of a 'good' father figure to a lot 
of us kids.  
 "His church was the only one my dad approved of-and the reason that was 
important to Fred Jr. is the same reason he's-they all-have been unable 
to escape.   "You see, no matter what differences we had with him as the 
head of our house, none of us questioned his authority as head of our 
church. It was a certified gathering of the elect, remember. And the 
only way to get to heaven was to do that, to assemble with the elect.  
"My dad interpreted that, and we accepted it, as membership in a 
physical congregation certified by him as elect...The Place...   "And 
there was only one Place besides his-Forrest Judd's.   "So my brother 
had nowhere to run, you see. Not if he wanted to get to heaven. To a 
believer, even the most wonderful love in this world isn't worth an 
eternity in the fires of hell.   "As long as we accepted my father had 
the power to so that-send us all to hell-he had the trump card in any 
showdown over our choices."   After Judd and the Pastor Phelps conferred 
by phone, the father figure convinced Fred Jr. there'd be no room on the 
Indy bus to heaven. If he wanted to get there, he'd have to go back to 
Kansas.   A member of the staff at Topeka West remembers the pastor 
called the school to rage at them, holding them responsible and 
threatening to sue:   "As I recall, the father stopped the marriage; and 
he was demanding the school go and get them. He wanted returned 
separately so they wouldn't 'fornicate' on the way home.  
 "School officials tried to point out to him that Fred and Debbie were 
teenagers, and they'd been alone together for over a week-the damage was 
done."   From the moment the disappointed lovers started down the road 
they had came, the clock began to tick toward tragedy.   
Back in Topeka, Debbie moved in with her mom again, and Fred counted the 
weeks till his 18th birthday. Though his father did everything in his 
power to separate them, "those afternoon candy sessions went on just as 
they had before," says Mark.   In May of 1971, the pastor changed his 
strategy. It would be OK for Fred Jr. to see Debbie, but only when she 
came to services on Sunday.   
By this time, Mark had met his future spouse, also at the skating rink, 
and Luava was convinced to come to church as well.   "The only way we 
could see his sons officially," says Luava, "was if we came to his 
church for Sunday service. They had no social life; they weren't allowed 
to date."   So they came to service. Luava remembers that first Sunday: 
"When I arrived, Debbie was already there, sitting in one of the pews, 
waiting for it to begin. She looked back at me and smiled. I was nervous 
and her warmth touched me. She was quite radiant and seemed very happy 
that day."  Luava fared better than Debbie under the pale-hearted 
pastor's basilisk eye. She had long hair and was shy-a quality the 
pastor mistook for subjection to her man.   
"My father took an instant dislike to Debbie," Mark recalls. "She had 
all her signals wrong: she had short hair; she was vivacious, 
passionate, and fiery; she was direct; and she had an open, honest 
laugh."   That day, and forever after, the good pastor called her a 
'whore' from the pulpit, in person, to Fred, and the family.   "She 
didn't argue," says Mark. "She looked shell-shocked. She started to cry, 
but did it quietly. After the service, she disappeared.    "After that, 
he preached to Freddy she was a whore from pulpit every Sunday.   "Then 
one day," says Mark, "my father announced that the entire family was 
going roller skating. Even mom. He said we'd have some 'fun' together."  
 The voice on the phone laughs. "It was a very peculiar experience. You 
have to realize, in all the time we were growing up, our family never 
did that. We never, not once, went on an outing together. We'd go sell 
candy, or to run. but never to have fun. He never took us to the zoo, 
the movies, out to eat, to the park, on a picnic, vacation, Thanksgiving 
at the relatives, to see the fireworks on the Fourth of July-none of 
these things.  
 "Now you can begin to understand what a selfish man our dad was. We 
spent our entire childhoods and adolescence waiting on him and working 
for him and getting beaten up by him. The idea of parenthood or 
fatherhood is an alien concept to that man.   "So we were suspicious 
when he announced he was taking us all skating. Sure enough, it turned 
out he'd caught wind of what was going on down at the rink."   Fred and 
Mark had made plans to meet Debbie and Luava there that day, and now the 
pressure had the drop on them. Though she'd already been to services at 
their church, Mark only nodded to Luava as if she were a passing 
acquaintance. When the pastor made fun of her parents within earshot of 
Luava, Mark felt forced to laugh.   
Fred and Debbie skated together briefly, but they didn't hold hands.   
Everyone was watching the good Pastor Phelps.   Fred Sr. strapped on a 
pair of skates and storked out on the floor looking like a new-born calf 
on ice.   "I wanted to show off for him," Mark recalls, "so I started 
skating backwards and doing jumps when I knew he was watching. Do you 
think he liked it? No way. My father went into a seething rage. He said 
he could see I'd been spending all my goddam time down there, trying to 
get my dick wet. What a guy-by the way, both Luava and I were virgins 
when we were married...five years after we met."   Possibly due to the 
stress of the unexpected confrontation, Debbie had another seizure. In a 
gloomy portent of what was to come, none of the Phelps boys dared go to 
her aid. She lay unconscious and abandoned by the good Christians of 
Westboro Baptist before 13 year-old Luava noticed and rushed to her 
side.   At that, the pastor glared at Mark. "Someone should tell that 
girl we don't associate with whores," he glowered. Then, as the 
steadfast teenager revived her friend, Good Samaritan Phelps wobbled 
past on his skates and muttered, "whore" at Debbie while she was 
recovering her feet.  
 The charitable timing of his comment caused Fred Jr.'s girl to burst 
into tears. Luava helped her off the floor and into the ladies' room.   
"I don't know why Fred's old man hates me so much," Debbie sobbed. 
"You're lucky that he likes you."   Luava never forgot the bitterness of 
those sobs: SOS from the threshold of a soul's despair.   Debbie went to 
services at the Westboro Church several times after that, and, each 
time, she was called a whore from the pulpit.   Then why did she go?   
"The hope of having Fred Jr. was greater than the pain of his father's 
words," says Mark. "She even came over once and asked my father what it 
was he wanted her to be. He told her she'd have to get an education and 
amount to something if she wanted his son. That she'd have to go to 
college and law school first, and, while she was doing it, she'd have to 
stay away from Fred Jr. 'But right now,' he told her, 'you're just a 
whore'.   "Debbie said she could do it-she just needed a chance to prove 
it. I remember my father laughed in her face and said she'd always be a 
whore.   "Another time, Debbie had been riding along with us on the 
candy sales, and afterward she and Fred intended to sneak out to a 
movie. Fred Jr. asked her to wait in the candy room while he changed 
clothes. You see, my dad never went in there."   The pastor chose that 
time to fly into one of his rages with Fred Jr.  
 "Of course, whenever my father started beating someone, the rest of the 
kids would run into the candy room. It was sort of our bomb shelter. 
They'd be pacing nervously, waiting for it to end, like a herd of cows 
from the candy boxes to the laundry dryers and back.   "My father was 
beating on Fred and screaming things like, 'You son-of-a-bitch! You got 
your dick wet! And now you're sniffin' after that whore!' It made them 
both feel dirty for what was really the best thing that had happened to 
them so far in their lives-their first love.   "Debbie got hysterical 
when she heard those things. She ran out crying." Mark pauses. "And we 
were very nervous because she wasn't supposed to be in there. I remember 
several of us followed her out to ensure she didn't make a scene. That's 
where we were back then: nothing mattered except keeping my dad cooled 
 "Outside in the street, Debbie was crying her heart out. She kept 
asking, 'why does he say those things about me?'"   Mark isn't sure of 
the timing, but he believes shortly after is when Fred, how 18, decided 
to move out. The pastor vehemently opposed it, but Fred stood up for 
Finally they compromised: the son would go and live with one of his 
father's business associates.   Bob Martin was a retired army officer 
who ran Bo-Mar Investigations, a private detective agency. After Fred, 
Jr. had been staying with Martin for a week in his house, Mark remembers 
his father got a phone call.   It was Martin.  
 "Let's go," said the pastor to Mark, who'd become the squad leader in 
his father's schemes.   While they drove to the detective's place, the 
pastor explained the plan he and Martin had for Fred Jr.: wait till he 
was in the shower and then confront him; a naked man feels vulnerable 
and powerless.   
Mark's father told him Fred Jr. had just come in from work and gone into 
the bathroom. "When he comes out, we'll be waiting," chuckled the 
guardian of one of the two portals to the Kingdom of Heaven.   And so 
they were.   As Fred Jr. came out, towel around his waist, he was 
confronted by his father, by Mark, and a suddenly hostile Bob Martin.  
 "Get your clothes! You're going home!" snapped the pastor.   The eldest 
son complied without argument.   "The next part I'll never forget," says 
Mark. "When we got out to the car, I was in the back, my father was 
behind the wheel, and Fred was in the front passenger seat. Bob had 
followed us and he opened the door on my brother's side.   "Through the 
space between the front seat and the door, I could see him place a 
revolver against my brother's knee. And he said: "If you run away again, 
I have orders to come after you. And when I catch you, I'm going to 
shoot you right here."   At the time, 'knee-capping' had spread to the 
United States from Italy and France as the preferred punishment in 
underworld circles. It left its victim crippled for life.   This article 
does not imply Fred Phelps Sr. has underworld ties. It only remarks that 
anyone who dresses badly, who lives handsomely off the work of urchins 
hustling in the streets, who disciplines subordinates by beating them 
senseless, who fosters filiar piety by threats of knee-capping, who 
knocks his wife around regularly, who surrounds himself with lawyers, 
and who is apparently beyond the long arm of the law could have made a 
very respectable gangster.   Certainly not a pastor.   Fred Jr. enrolled 
at Washburn University that fall and Debbie returned to Topeka West. 
Though the pastor had forbidden them to see each other outside church, 
they continued to do so.  
 "My brother was struggling with his love for Debbie and his very real 
fear of hell. A lot of non-Christians might find that hard to believe. 
But if you grew up with your imagination open to Fred Phelps, believe 
me, hell was a concrete reality."   The battle inside Fred Jr. would 
last until the following spring, but the war had been lost when he 
turned back from Indiana.  
 In late September, Debbie dropped out of high school and moved in with 
girlfriends at a house on Central Park Avenue. It was just a few blocks 
from the Washburn campus.   "We went there a lot when we were out 
selling candy," says Mark. "That lasted into December, probably, because 
I remember being there when it was very cold and we were wearing winter 
 But the pastor was relentless. And not only with the mattock.   "He 
knew Fred Jr. was still seeing Debbie, and he hit heavy, heavy on him 
from the Bible. From things they said, I think my brother and Debbie had 
probably become lovers at some time in the relationship, and I'm sure 
Fred Jr. felt guilty about that.   
"So, he was vulnerable to my father's framing of the situation as 
'Debbie the Whore...the Agent of Satan sent to lure him into temptation 
and directly down into the gaping jaws of hell'."   Says Mark: "He'd 
spend time with her, then try to avoid her. In addition to the guilt he 
was getting some pretty bad beatings.   While Fred Jr. drifted in fear, 
Debbie fought to hand on to the man she cherished and the only person 
who'd ever cherished her.   Margie Phelps remembers Debbie would wait 
for her brother outside after his classes on the Washburn campus. She 
would beg him to come back to her in Play-Misty-for-Me scenarios, where 
a mentally ill woman stalks her former lover.   "If she did do that," 
says Luava, "it was in hurt and frustration that he would betray the 
love we all knew he felt."   "And, besides, it always worked," Mark 
adds. "He always went back to her, at least while he was at Washburn."   
"I don't think he ever stopped loving her," agrees Luava. "He was just 
more scared of hell than he was of losing her."   
Sometimes in December, 1971, events turned murky, fast. and fatal.   
Apparently willing now to give Debbie up, but afraid he wouldn't be able 
to do it while they lived in the same town, and also furious at his 
father for forcing him to leave her, Fred Jr. ran away again, despite 
Bob Martin's threat to find him and kneecap him if he did so.   From 
late December till mid-February, the following events are known:  
 Fred Jr. disappeared and no one in the family knew his whereabouts.   
One night in January, shortly after Nate and Jonathon had been shaved 
and beaten and the school had notified the police, Fred Jr. stopped by 
the house without his father knowing. Nate remembers he asked to see 
their heads and then commiserated with them about their embarrassment at 
the police station.  
 About the same time, Luava's father saw Fred Jr. at a Washburn 
basketball game. He had a K-State jacket and a rash on both arms. The 
other man became concerned about Fred's welfare, and, with nothing to go 
on but the jacket and the rash, he was able to track the troubled youth 
down working at a produce business in Manhattan, where the state college 
was situated.    
Fred Jr. turned down all offers of money or help.   At the time, he was 
living in the basement of a young married couple.   Whether Debbie 
visited him or even joined him up there is unknown.   What is known us 
that, on Valentine's Day, Fred Jr. showed up in Topeka with a new girl 
for his father to meet.  
 "Betty," says Mark, "was a lot closer to what my father demanded. She 
was another Luava-or at least who my dad originally thought Luava was-
she had long hair, and she was very quiet and submissive. She had also 
been raised Methodist. A lot of Baptists started out as Methodists, you 
know.   "Debbie...was a Catholic."   
A few weeks after Valentine's, Debbie came to see her mom.   Della A. 
remembers they went for a walk in the small park near where Debbie had 
lived with her friends. Her daughter's spirits were very low, she 
recalls.   Debbie confessed Fred had given her an engagement ring and 
they had eloped, but that Fred's dad had made them come back. She 
admitted bitterly that his father had told her she wasn't good enough 
for his son, and the younger Phelps had been forced to obey him.   "Now 
Fred's found another girl," she told her mother. As they walked, Della 
remembers her daughter took off the ring and threw it in the bushes. 
"He's never going to marry me, Mama," she said, "but I know I'll never 
love anyone else."   
The mother says she tried to cheer her up, and later, thinking Debbie 
might regret it, she returned to search for the ring in the grass.   She 
never found it, and even if she had, Debbie never would have received 
it. The mother and daughter's walk in the park that afternoon would be 
their last time together.   The remainder of Debbie's hopeful life can 
be found, not in the memories of those who knew her, but in the dusty, 
impersonal files of the U.S. Army Intelligence Criminal Investigations 
Division.   After seeing her mother that day, Debbie went up to Junction 
City, an army town that served nearby Ft. Riley. It was also only a 20 
minute drive from Manhattan, where Fred was living.   Whether they saw 
each other during that time is not known. From the part of her life that 
has been documented in the Army's investigation of her death, it seems 
unlikely.   During her final days, Debbie Valgos touched a match to her 
longing soul. She flamed up in a white-hot blaze of self-directed 
violence, anonymous sex, amphetamines, heroin, and rock and roll.   All 
the things Pastor Phelps said she was, she'd be.  
She moved in with a soldier. She shot smack. She partied for days 
without sleep. The speed she was constantly on burned through her body 
till she'd gone from 130 to 87 pounds. In less than a month the 5'7" 
girl had become a walking corpse with the wide, burning eyes of the 
starved.   Perhaps that is when her face could at last reflect her 
heart: faltering into despair after a lifetime without sustenance.  
 Because the effect was so striking, Debbie's new acquaintance nicknamed 
here 'Eyes'.   But 'Eyes' had stared into her abyss, and she knew. At 
the end of all worlds. Was a single lost soul.   The last days of Debbie 
Valgos' life, those few weeks in Junction City, were one long 
suicide...a death dance through the Army bars...a soul signing off. When 
she lost Fred Phelps, Debbie must have felt she had forever lost her 
way...that she was never coming back...and so she touched a match to her 
despair.   Her new friends told CID agents she had tried to commit 
suicide four times in the weeks prior to her death: by jumping out a 
window, rolling off a roof; and twice by drug overdose.  
Each time they had stopped her or brought her through it.   The came the 
night of April 17, 1972.   Debbie was in the Blue Light, a soldier's 
bar. Though she had a soldier waiting at home, that hardly mattered. She 
let two more pick her up. When they invited her back to their barracks 
to 'party', she said 'yes'.  
 As they left, a girl who lived in Debbie's house insisted that she come 
along. She'd been there during Debbie's earlier attempted suicides, and 
she worried that the frail runaway might try it again.   They were 
spirited past the gates of the fort, hiding on the floor of the car. The 
soldiers parked in an alley and had the girls crawl through a window 
into their barracks room. Once inside, one of them offered Debbie some 
speed.   It was a bottle of crushed mini-bennies, according to CID 
reports.   Debbie took it, and the soldier turned to put on a record. 
When she gave it back, the boy was amazed. "You took way too much!" he 
said. "You'll be up three or four days!"   
Debbie only smiled at him.   What might have been a four-day problem for 
a 180 pound man, Debbie undoubtedly hoped would solve all her problems 
at 87 pounds, less than half the other's body weight.   Shortly after, 
"Eye started to have a 'body trip'," states the girl who had accompanied 
her. "She shut her eyes and just started moving with the music. She did 
that for awhile and then she started to act dingy. She called me over 
and said she felt like little needles were poking her all over her whole 
body and she was tingling. I told her I would stay with her and not to 
make any noise in the barracks."   When Debbie started rolling around on 
the floor and mumbling, her friend worried she might hurt herself, and 
so she sat on her.   
The other girl, who apparently was quite obese, continued drinking and 
talking while she kept Debbie pinned beneath her.   The party went on.   
Debbie was babbling incoherently.   After almost another hour, everyone 
became alarmed at Eye's grotesque physical contortions. They pulled her 
back through the window, loaded her in the car, and smuggled her off 
base. Returning to her new boyfriend's house, they woke him and ran the 
tub full of cold water.   By then, Debbie had passed into coma.   She 
would not be taken to Irwin Army Hospital At Ft. Riley until 5 a.m., 
nearly five hours after she'd ingested almost half a bottle of crushed 
benzedrine.   Debbie lasted 20 hours unconscious in ICU, just long 
enough for her sister, Bernadette, to find her.   At 1 a.m., her heart 
stopped. Her spirit had flamed up and was gone.   She was 17. She was 
sunny and loving and only wanted to be loved. After all she'd been 
through, Debbie Valgos thought she'd found safe haven with the family 
Phelps.   She died for her mistake.   In that spring of 1972, one of the 
Top 40 songs playing on the rock and roll radios Debbie no doubt 
listened to while riding her dark current of heroin, amphetamines, and 
despair was a tribute to Janis Joplin, sung by Joan Baez:   "She once 
walked right by my side I know she walked by yours, Her striding steps 
could not deny Torment from a child who knew, That in the quiet morning 
There would be despair, And in the hours that followed No one could 
repair...   That poor girl... Barely here to tell her tale, Rode in on a 
tide of misfortune Rode out on a mainline rail...   But the Pastor 
Phelps, devotee of a hateful god, had made up a song of his own:   "I 
remember getting home from school the day it appeared in the papers," 
says Mark, "and my dad came dancing down the stairs, swaying from the 
knees and clapping his hands, singing: 'The whore is dead! The whore is 
dead!'  "He paraded around the house, singing and laughing with that 
maniacal giggle he has, 'the whore is dead!'"   Mark pauses to let the 
horror of the scene settle in.   One is reminded of the warning from the 
first epistle of John: "He who has no love for the brother he has seen 
cannot love the God he has not seen..."   Margie Phelps remembers 
shortly after Debbie's death Fred Jr. came to visit their mom secretly. 
Margie says she didn't know he was in the house. She came into a room 
inadvertently and saw Fred Jr. and her mother sitting in chairs, facing 
each other. The eldest son had his head in her lap and she was stroking 
his hair.  
 "Fred was crying," says Margie. "I heard afterward it was for Debbie."   
"There's no question that my brother wanted to spend his life with 
Debbie," says Mark. "She was who he loved. And I knew her well enough to 
say my brother was the first light of hope she'd had in her life. When 
he left her, that light went out."   
The phone voices, bouncing along microwave relays from California, 
cease. The ghostly dishes wait, sentinels in the wheat fields, the 
mountain passes, the desert, and the ancient western forests beyond.   
"We think of Debbie sometimes," says Luava softly. "We know Fred does 
too."   "She'd had a hard life before, but all she really needed was 
someone who would value her," Mark observes. "If my dad had allowed 
that, Debbie and Fred would have really blossomed.   "You know in 
Matthew 12:20? Where Jesus says, 'the bruised reed I will not break; the 
flickering candle I won't snuff out; instead I will be your hope'? With 
the evil and the hurt he's caused during his life, my father has no 
right to the name of 'pastor'-nevermind 'guardian of The Place."   
Della A. is more direct. She has a message for the pastor:   "You tell 
Fred Phelps I'll wait in hell for him."   Margie remembers Debbie's 
sister, Bernadette, knocked on their door one day. "She went on about 
how we were responsible for Debbie's death."   Bernadette admits doing 
that. "I do blame them," she says. "My sister had a tough enough time 
without those people. If she hadn't met them, she'd probably be alive 
today."   "We thought she was really coming along," reflects a former 
staff member at Topeka West. "Of all the kids there who had difficult 
backgrounds to overcome, we felt sure she'd be one of those who would."   
No one who knew her has forgotten her. Not the sisters at St. Vincent's, 
not her teachers, not even her dentist when she was a child.   "I was 
just thinking of her," admitted one.   You were? Why?   "Oh...your 
thoughts return to someone like young and full of promise...a 
really sweet girl...and then to die before her life ever had a chance to 
start...yes...Debbie comes to mind from time to time."   "Valgos?" Fred 
Jr.'s voice sounds eerie and distant over the phone. "That name isn't 
familiar."   Silence.   "But then I had lots of girlfriends. At least 
five or six in high school."  
No one else remembers that.   "Oh...oh, I remember now. The little girl 
at the orphanage?"   Two years later, Fred Jr. married Betty, the woman 
he'd brought home that Valentine's Day. Betty was approved by his 
She was the second woman he'd ever dated.    For the moment, this 
article shall abandon cynicism and consider beginner's luck in the 
search for mates. After all, Mark Phelps is quite happy with his first 
date of 22 years ago. So is Luava. And, if Fred Jr. and Debbie were 
destined for each other, what happy chance they met on his first date.   
However, the odds that Fred would then meet Miss Right directly after he 
met Debbie begin to gnaw at the suspension of disbelief in this fire and 
brimstone fiction of predestined characters.   "I think not being able 
to have Debbie, and her committing suicide, I think that just broke my 
brother," observes Mark. "After that, he submitted totally. He'd lost 
his thrill for life. He went to law school, like his dad wanted; he 
married a girl his dad approved; and he shouldered a role in The Place.   
"And that's where he is today. He just turned 40."   Betty was a music 
major at K-State when she met Fred Jr. She had perfect pitch and played 
between eight and ten instruments. However, she transferred to Washburn 
for her last two years of college, and went to law school on command.   
Mark remembers a time in 1973, when Betty was visiting Fred Jr. in the 
kitchen and the pastor started beating Nate savagely with the mattock in 
an adjoining room.   Betty had been eating a cantaloupe and she shoved 
her spoon all the way through it and screamed: Stop it!"   Says Mark: 
"The old man came in from the church where he'd been beating Nate, and 
he said to Betty: 'You got a problem with this?' Then he turned to Fred 
Jr.: "If that girl has a problem with this, then I'm not going to put up 
with it! You better get her under subjection, or you're not gonna be 
marryin' her!"   
In one of his fax missives, the pastor has stated:   "Wives who have 
strayed too far traditional family values of home and children need to 
be whipped into godly obedience. Sparing the rod and sparing either the 
children or the women is a strategy that fundamentalist Christians 
reject. Complacency and misplaced 'equality' notions produce tormented, 
social misfits like (here Phelps names several female city officials) 
who are hormonally and intellectually incapable of rational thought. 
Like the termite, these so-called modern ideas promulgated by Satan's 
servants are destroying the studs of the family unit."   Nate remembers: 
"Betty was put in her place, both by the old man and Freddy. And she was 
the butt of numerous comments from the pulpit over the following months 
until she finally displayed the 'proper spirit of obedience'.   
Luava recalls that, some time after Debbie's death, Betty and she were 
talking when suddenly Fred's new girl started crying. "He still carries 
her picture in his wallet," she sobbed. "He's in love with a dead girl."   
The Phelps family forbade reporters from asking Fred Jr. about Debbie 
Valgos during interviews, and threatened to sue the paper if it printed 
the story of the couple's broken dreams.   
"That child was very precious to us," says the former director of St. 
Vincent's, Sister Frances Russell, who refused to give an interview, 
"and all my instincts are to protect her-even in death."   Sister 
Therese Bangert came to the orphanage the year after Debbie died, "so I 
didn't know her," she says. "But I remember her because of the impact 
her death had on everyone who was there. Even today, mentioned the name 
of Debbie Valgos around some of the sisters would be like knocking the 
wind out of them."   Just as he threatened to shove the blind runner off 
the track when the old man was in his way, charitable Fred Phelps 
toppled Debbie Valgos into her abyss when she threatened to lure one of 
his Chosen from The Place.   "He was scared of her He knew she'd take 
Fred Jr. from him," says Mark. "My father saw Debbie's weak spot-her 
self-esteem-and he did everything in his power to drive a sword through 
it...right into her heart.   "Debbie didn't hate life like my father. 
She loved it. He knew she'd never fit in there. Eventually she'd leave 
and pull Freddy with her."   The pastor's second son adds: "If, during 
the course of your investigation, you'd discovered my father had 
something to do with Debbie's death, I would not have been surprised. 
That's how far I think he was willing to go to keep us on as adult 
servants to his ego."   This chapter focused on the torture, kidnapping, 
and later troubles of Kathy Phelps and the tragedy of Fred Jr. and 
Debbie Valgos because these facts provide a clear insight into the 
horror coming of age held in the house of the good pastor Phelps.   It 
has been an inquiry into a man who gathers a following wherever souls 
are writhing in agony from the evil done to them. It is a look behind 
the veil of a false prophet who, with investigation, appears more and 
more as a new type of serial killer: Pastor Phelps is too clever, too 
cowardly, and too lawyerly to kill the bodies.   His life is a trail of 
murdered souls.   And his worst victims have been his own family.  
 No man or woman living on the Phelps block has been allowed to become 
the plant foreshadowed by the seed.   This chapter has revealed the 
betrayal and murder of three spirits by Phelps, would-be prophet of the 
subdivided prairie, hopeful John Brown of religious radio.   
Kathy Phelps' life remains at the level of subsistence and self-
destruction. Her brother, Nate, has been diagnosed with Post Traumatic 
Stress Disorder. It is quite likely that Kathy suffers from it also.   
Today, but for the statute of limitations, the brutal beatings and 
torture this pretty teenager experienced would bring a long jail 
sentence to their perpetrator.  
 Fred Jr. never became a history teacher. Recently, he left the law 
profession and works for the Kansas Department of Corrections.   Debbie 
Valgos died of a broken heart.   A quick survey of the curricula vitae 
of the Phelps children shows his astonishing success in their conforming 
to his wishes. In fact, the Phelps Plan because a sausage factory for 
loyal and legal support of one man's ambitions:   *Of the 13 children, 
11 got law degrees-nine of those from Washburn University  *Of the nine 
loyal offspring and four approved spouses, all but one took law degrees; 
eight have undergraduate degrees in Corrections or Criminal Justice.   
One can only wonder why the pandemic fascination for prison among the 
Phelps loyalists.   For the nine kids who stayed with Fred, God provided 
only three spouses from within the church. Fred Jr. and brother Jonathon 
had to provide for themselves. They became Westboro outlaws to find 
mates among the damned. 
When they eventually returned to the fold, these 'tainted women' were 
only accepted after a long probation and apprenticeship at being a wife-
in-subjection.   Six of the Phelps daughters remain the compound. Two of 
the, were betrothed to Chosen already residing in The Place.   The rest 
grow old. Perhaps bitter. Alternately resentful and desperately 
dependent on the one man in their life.   To chronicle the failures of 
others among the loyal Phelps children in their youthful attempts to 
escape over the wall of their father's fear and ego is to compose a 
litany of unhappy and sordid tales, ones that would burn the ears of the 
listener.   "You know she's admitted she's a whore," says Phelps of 
Shawnee County D.A., Joan Hamilton.   "She hasn't admitted she's a 
whore," replies ABC's John Stossell. They're taping for 20/20: "She 
admitted she had a one night stand."   "Then, if you believe the Bible, 
she's a whore," insists Phelps. "Shackin' up with some guy one night or 
a thousand nights, she meets the Bible definition of a depraved, 
adulterous, whorish woman."  
 Pastor Phelps would be wise to take a quick poll of the home team, 
especially his daughters. He might find his glass house full of 
mischief.    The misadventures of the clan Phelps can be pursued into 
allegations of adultery, fornication, illegitimacy, and abortion without 
fear of libel.   
However, since it is also the thesis of this article that his children 
are actually the principal victims of Pastor Phelps, it is not 
appropriate to expose the rest of these embarrassing stories in detail. 
Despite their strident condemnation of others' equal and lesser sins, it 
will suffice to point out the foibles of his children would make as 
interesting reading for the pastor's fax gossip as anything he's 
printed.   If those without sin shall toss the first stones, the grim 
clan at 
Westboro will have to keep a tight grip on theirs.   With his private 
genetic following, Pastor Phelps has found a world perhaps he's always 
sought. One where they care for him and do his bidding and never leave 
him.   To make that happen required the promise of their youth be 
devoted to the unsettled scores of his past. Fred Phelps crushed the 
innocence and joy, the dreams of all but three of his children.   His 
reputation as a civil rights advocate is perhaps ironic.   The pastor's 
chains are subtle, but stronger than the iron ones worn by the ancestors 
of those he often brags he's helped free.   The children who were raised 
in the nightmare of 12th Street carry their shackles in their hearts. It 
is their fear of their father's key to hell, and their view that the 
world is hateful and hates them, that, like the elephants in India, 
keeps them serving the will of a man who, by now they must realize, is 
much smaller than themselves.   The vulnerable pastor hoards his hell-
stunned flock close around his own flickering candle. He pulls them like 
a threadbare cloak about his old wounds, huddling against the cutting 
hawk of a cold soul wind blowing from somewhere out of his past.    
Sitting in her mother's house, the sinking afternoon sun pours through 
the screen door, casting its soft gold across the widow's tattered 
carpet.   Della A. offers, a little reluctantly and her eyes bright with 
guilt, the last moments of her daughter: a First Communion veil; a dried 
corsage from an Easter Sunday get-to-together, and the photo album 
Debbie kept at the orphanage.   On its cover, printed in the awkward, 
block letters of a bruised but hopeful new reed, a flickering candle not 
yet quenched, are the words:    
"Debbie Valgos was a whore extraordinaire," snaps Margie. But the 
father's words sound empty and formulaic on the daughter's tongue.         
"Over the Wall at Westboro"  
Listening to Fred Jr. pretend he doesn't remember a girl named Debbie 
Valgos is an eerie experience. It's as if one were listening to a 
teenager deny he borrowed the car while his parents were gone.   
"They're all still children," observes Mark. "Still trying to please 
their father because they're afraid of him."   What are they afraid of?  
 "They've been conditioned all their lives to cringe at his anger or 
disapproval. Even now, with families of their own, they'll conform. In 
fact, a lot of what your article reveals about my siblings that my dad 
didn't know-my sisters taking lovers, the details of Debbie and Fred, 
and Jonathon stealing on candy sales-my brothers and sisters are going 
to panic at that. Even today, they're still frightened of his 
Research indicates that three out of four children in criminally abusive 
families will be unable to surmount their experience. As adults, they 
will rationalize their past and will accept abusive behavior as the norm 
in both the outside world and their personal lives.   As adults, they 
will rationalize their past and will accept abusive behavior as the norm 
in both the outside world and their personal lives.   
It is instructive that nine of the 13 Phelps children, almost exactly 
the predicted ratio, continue to embrace the pastor's abusive world and 
ways.    But this chapter is not about the ones who tried to climb their 
father's barrier and slipped back. It's about two who made it over the 
wall at Westboro; who went on to lives that are beacons of hope to 
others who have survived abusive families.  
Mark Phelps might be his father's pointman today but for a pretty 13 
year-old named Luava Sundgren.   In May of 1971, a few months after Fred 
and Debbie had been dragged back from their aborted elopement, Fred and 
Mark met Debbie at the skating rink. His brother and Debbie paired off, 
and Mark remembers he was rolling along alone on his rented skates, 
wishing for his hundred dollar pros his brother had sold, when suddenly 
a petite girl, slim and shapely, with long dark hair hanging halfway 
down her back sailed by, fixed her beautiful blue eyes on him, and 
smiled.   "You're a good skater," she said. And she pulled Mark's heart 
right off his sleeve.   He was only 16, and she, 13, but for Mark the 
search for his life's mate was over.   Only two months after rescuing 
his eldest for the moment from the charms of the 'whore-extraordinaire', 
the Pastor Phelps found another wily ally of the serpent threatening his 
second son.   Except this girl was no fragile psyche, vulnerable and 
clueless, as Debbie Valgos would be. Raised Catholic, Debbie had no 
criteria by which to identify Protestant heresies, and, coming from a 
broken home, she had no expectations of esteem or consideration from the 
outside world. Luava Sundgren came from a conservative Lutheran family 
firmly grounded in unconditional love.   "Even as a young teenager," 
says Mark, "my wife had high self-esteem and a very clear idea of right 
from wrong. Her parents were as firm about their god of love and their 
love for her as my father was about his hateful god and his hate for 
all."   The pastor had met his match.   This girl, though slight and 
shy, was not going to accept the pastor's interpretation of the Bible as 
his personal myth; nor would she take to being called a 'whore'. But, at 
first, things went well between the two.   
A few weeks after the teenage couple had met to skate again and Mark had 
been calling her secretly by phone, Luava came to church. It was on that 
Sunday in early June that Debbie first came as well.   Things went 
better for Luava because the pastor believed her long hair showed her 
subjection to God and man. And her naturally shy and quiet way belied 
the stout heart within her.   
If his boys had to have mates, here was a good example of the kind of 
girl Fred Phelps wanted to see joining his church. Not the sassy, 
rebellious, Catholic, blonde sex-rocket with the page boy cut Fred Jr. 
had brought home.   In high school, the disfavor of their family name, 
combined with the pastor's refusal to allow his children any 
participation in extracurricular activities, assured the Phelps kids 
were the pariahs of Topeka West.   Across town under the gothic vaults 
of Topeka High, Luava was quite the opposite. She had many friends and 
became one of the school's cheerleaders. It was a mystery to everyone 
why she insisted on dating a member of the Addams family over on 12th 
Street.   Luava remembers the curious questions and the biting comments 
she got.  
So why did she?   She laughs: "At first? Because he was a good skater, 
and he was cute-but remember, I was only 13. That's what 13 year-olds 
notice. Later, it's not so important if they skate or not-" she laughs 
again.   "Seriously though, he had so much energy and he was very smart 
and he was really sweet to me. What chance did I have? Even my dad told 
me I wouldn't find a better one!"   Because she was just 13, Luava's 
parents at first would only allow Mark to visit her at their home. He 
would sneak out whenever he could, or drop by while on candy sales. 
After a year and a half, her father agreed to let them date. He even 
offered to give  Mark enough for dinner and a movie out. (Luava had been 
attending services every Sunday at the pastor's lonely keep, and she had 
invited her parents several times-enough for her dad to feel sorry for 
Mark.)  The Pastor Phelps knew nothing about Mark's home courting 
advantage, nor the teenager's plans to date.   Mark refused Mr. 
Sundgren's offer to pay for their date and instead found a weekend job 
as a busboy in a steakhouse.   That lasted one shift. His father found 
out about Mark's endeavor to expand his independence and promptly beat 
him. After, he forced Mark to quit the job and forbade him to take 
another. As was shown in Chapter Five, it wasn't his son's study hours 
the pastor was concerned about; rather, any time spent working elsewhere 
was time one could be working for 'The Place'.  
So, Mark had to shave a dollar here and there off his candy sales and 
summer yard work to court Luava. When his dad shut himself in the master 
bedroom for days, eating and watching television, Mark would sneak the 
car for a few hours and take Luava to a movie or dinner at a fast food 
restaurant.   Once, they were in the Taco-Tico at 15th and Lane around 9 
p.m. when the place was robbed. Two men ski masks came in, and the young 
teenagers ducked under the table.   "After the hold-up," says Mark, with 
Luava laughing in the background, "we ran out too. We didn't want our 
names involved as witnesses because my dad would have heard about it and 
the jig would have been up-my secret life of dating."   
Luava is still laughing.   "Trouble was, after we hit the sidewalk 
running, only then did it occur to us everyone would think we were the 
ones who'd just robbed Taco-Tico."   Despite Luava's quiet demeanor and 
biblical mane, Mark soon realized she was not plugged in to the world 
according to Fred.   
For example, one day after Debbie had died, Mark, Nate, and Jonathon 
were out in the car selling candy. After his older brother's habit, Mark 
had brought Luava along with them, and they sat and smooched while the 
two younger boys worked in the neighborhood.   When Nate came back to 
report scant sales for that day, Mark gave the command by reflex: "Chin-
chin!" And Nate put his chin on the back of the front seat.  
 With Luava sitting beside him, Mark punched his little brother 
painfully in the face.   In equal reflex, one from another moral world, 
Luava immediately slapped her boyfriend hard enough to bring stars.   
"Why did you..." he asked in stunned bewilderment.  
 "Why did you do that?" she demanded.   Soon the esteem Mark had for 
this petite firecracker-five-two, eyes of blue, and with a fist like his 
father-caused him to begin opening his heart to her radically different 
view of human relationships.   For several years before he met Luava, 
Mark had been his father's assistant master-at-arms: when there was a 
whipping due one of his siblings, sometimes the pastor would order Mark 
to do it.   "At first I thought it was a great idea," says Nate, who 
received most of his elder brother's ministrations, "because he didn't 
have my father's violent spirit when he swung the mattock. However, that 
was short-lived. After a few less than satisfactory beatings-from my 
father's viewpoint-he threatened to beat Mark instead. Suffice it to say 
that afterwards I couldn't tell the difference between one of my dad's 
and one of my brother's beatings-except maybe in their angle of attack."   
"My dad would tell me to do it," agrees Mark, "and then he'd go upstairs 
and yell down to us in the church: 'If I don't hear it up here, it's you 
who'll get the beating!'"   Now, however, confused by his new feelings 
for this remarkable girl, Mark began to slam the mattock onto the pew 
cushions instead.   "It sounded exactly the same as it did when I hot 
Nate," he recalls, with what must be a smile at his end of the line. 
"And Nate would just howl in pain every time I hit the pew. It worked 
perfectly.   "But it wasn't until Luava that it would have ever occurred 
to me to do that. I've been told children from abusive homes never 
develop empathy. 
Boy, that was us. It was survival...period. Save yourself.   "Remember 
how I said I felt when Mom used to drive off with everyone in the car, 
and Nate would get left behind, running alongside my window, begging not 
to be left alone with my dad? I literally could not feel for him. I 
didn't even know how to consider what he might be going through. I was 
just glad I was getting out, and that was all that mattered.   
"But, after I'd been around Luava, what was going on inside other people 
suddenly started to matter. I guess you could say she kissed me and 
changed me from the frightened little frog my father had made me..."   
They laugh.   "But after I fell in love with her, it made me want to 
care about others."   
 Little wonder Mark's wife is Nate's favorite sister-in-law still today.   
Though Luava refused to join the pastor's church, she continued to 
attend Sunday services there for nearly two years.   "I knew if I 
didn't, Mark's father would make it even harder, if not impossible for 
me to see him," she says.  
 "During that time, I learned things about Fred Sr. I didn't like."   
Such as?   "That God hates. It seemed to me he was putting his own words 
in God's mouth. I mean, Mark's father was a pretty disturbed guy. I 
could see that and I was only 15. It's just sad he didn't have the self-
knowledge to leave religion out of it and get some help.   "Also I 
didn't like his attitude toward family. His belief in beating children 
and that women were servants to men. As a future wife and mother, that 
left me little motivation to join his claustrophobic community."   
Toward the end of Luava's two-year ceasefire with the pale-hearted 
pastor, she arrived for services early one Sunday-too early. Kathy 
Phelps was getting beaten with a mattock upstairs.   In shock, Mark's 
girl listened to his sister's screams of pain and sobbing pleas for the 
good minister to stop. He didn't. Luava turned on her heel and walked 
out.   Shirley Phelps, who always wept hysterically whenever her father 
went into his whipping mode, ran after Luava. At the door she grabbed 
her arm. 
"Please...please...," she sobbed. "He doesn't mean it...he doesn't know 
what he's doing..."   Mark, who was there, remembers Luava "stopped and 
looked Shirl dead in the eye. 'No, Shirl,' she said, 'you're wrong. He 
does mean it.' And she left."   Shortly after, the pastor decided to 
dish Luava some of the abuse he'd used on Debbie Valgos. Following 
Sunday services, while Luava waited within earshot in the church, the 
pastor collared Mark for a 'talk' in the law offices adjoining.   "He 
was punching and kicking me," remembers Mark. "And yelling in crude 
anatomical detail everything he said he bet I was doing to her when we 
were alone. He knew she would hear, that's why he did it."   
And that was Luava's last Sunday at the Westboro Church. She walked out 
and down to the shopping center on Gage Boulevard where she called her 
father to come pick her up.   When she told Mark it was over, Luava says 
she never asked him to leave the church. She didn't believe he could. 
She knew he had been taught that, if he left, he would be taken by God 
during the first night while he slept and that he would wake up in hell.  
 Mark, for his part, was in despair. The 19 year-old flung himself face 
down in Luava's yard and cried. And there he remained for two hours, 
embarrassing her parents in front of the neighbors.   Luava's dad even 
came to her and told her, "I didn't realize you were so hard-hearted,"   
Such emotional firmness in a 16 year-old was remarkable. But Luava 
didn't know what else to do. She had no intention of joining the 
Westboro family cult and raising children in that kind of environment, 
she says. And she Mark wouldn't leave.   Meanwhile, one can only imagine 
the kind of talk this generated among the deeper keels in Luava's 
cheerleading set. She was certainly a girl with a foot in both worlds.  
 After the break-up, reportedly neither Mark nor Luava slept or ate for 
days. "I walked around in a fog," says Mark.   Then he found out he 
would get a 'B' instead of an 'A' in one of his courses at Washburn.   
"That meant I was in for more trouble," he adds. "Somehow, the idea my 
father might now hurt my body after making my heart so 
just seemed insane and ridiculous...and if all this misery was to please 
God, I was beginning to think it was awfully mean and petty for a Being 
that had created such a majestic universe...   "And that's when I began 
to hope Luava might be right. That God was a loving God, and not full of 
hate like my father...and that if He was made of love...then he wouldn't 
send me to hell for loving her so much, would He?   "So I did it.   "I 
just grabbed some clothes and went to a friend's house. He'd told me if 
I ever wanted to leave, I'd be welcome to stay with his family the first 
few days. I just showed up on their doorstep and they took me in."   
Mark pauses.   "It might seem funny now, but those were the most 
terrifying hours of my life. I lay awake most of the night in their 
guest room, in cold, absolutely cold terror. Waiting for God to take me. 
Afraid if I fell asleep, I'd wake up in hell. Literally. The ultimate 
nightmare.   "But I didn't. I woke up in the same bed the next morning. 
It was then I realized God might be nicer and the world bigger than my 
father had taught."   Mark landed on his feet, renting a room from a 
retired couple and working, first as a busboy, then as a salesman in a 
downtown shoestore.   He and Luava were re-united, dating on weekend and 
talking every night on the phone.  
 However, Mark was in a serious car accident six weeks later and 
miraculously escaped injury. "That shook me up," he says. "I thought God 
was giving me one last chance before He did what my father said He'd do. 
So I high-tailed it back home."   And Luava broke it off again. "This 
time I wasn't so strong," she recalls. "I was totally miserable. I 
almost went over there many times."  
 By this time Fred had taken to calling her 'the Philistine whore', so 
life with father and a broken heart soon had Mark willing to play tennis 
with death once more.   After a few weeks, he returned to his new life.   
Only to have the pastor swoop in to snatch him back, as he had with 
  "That time, however," says Mark, "I was lucky. Just as we pulled up to 
the church on 12th, some of my dad's law clients pulled up too.   "It 
was like a Hitchcock film: my father couldn't do anything in front of 
them, so I just got out, walked through the front door, and out the 
back. Nobody stopped me."  
 After that, Mark held on to his independence and his dreams with an 
impressive tenacity.   "I knew I made enough money for only two of the 
following," he says: "an apartment; a car; and college tuition. I needed 
the car; and-now that it was for me and not my father-I wanted to finish 
For two years, Mark slept in his car or in the backroom of the print 
shop where he worked all day. In the evenings he took classes, and on 
weekends he worked as a dishwasher in a restaurant. He took his showers 
at the gym.    Luava completed her junior year and senior years at 
Topeka High, dating Mark on weekends.   
Despite the pastor's curiously vivid and explicit imagination, the young 
couple's relationship remained chaste and unconsummated.   When his 
brother Fred asked Mark to be his best man at his wedding, Mark was 
thrilled and agreed. But when he showed up at the Westboro church for 
the ceremony, the pastor demanded Mark recant or depart before they went 
"It was a trap," says Mark wearily. "If he ever missed a beat at being a 
jerk-he did it before I was born."   Mark departed. He has never been 
back.   Nor did the pastor miss his beat damning his second son to the 
fires of hell. When Mark refused to die in his sleep, Phelps sent him 
his notice of eviction from the assembled elect of The Place: Mark was 
cast out and "delivered unto Satan for the destruction of the flesh".   
The pastor then tore up both Mark and Kathy's pictures in front of the 
rest of the family. (Kathy was also gone by then: she was working as a 
waitress and living with a soldier on 12th and Topeka; apparently the GI 
took a dim view of anyone kidnapping his girlfriend, and the Phelps 
quick-reaction team left her unmolested.)  
Mark did see his father again however.   At the YMCA gym one day, the 
pastor took the time to stalk up to Mark, close so no one else could 
hear, and whisper, his glittering with hatred: "I hope God kills you."   
God didn't.   
In May, 1976, Mark graduated from Washburn University with a business 
degree. In August of that year, he married his childhood sweetheart 
after a courtship that had lasted since 1971. He was 22. She was 19.   
Though the family Phelps were all invited, none of them came. Many of 
them might have wanted to be there, but they had been forbidden to 
attend. Pastor Phelps had threatened anyone who did with being 
"delivered unto Satan for the destruction of the flesh".  
 If Fred Phelps is ever granted the preponderance of his wishes, old 
Satan will be burning the midnight oil, destroying all that flesh. But, 
devil knows, weddings are a lot work.   The newlyweds cramped apartment 
on 15th and Lane quickly became the headquarters for Phelps exiles. At 
one point, both Nate and Margie were living within its tiny confines 
alongside Mark and Luava.  
 "We didn't have much time to ourselves," laughs Mark's wife. "He 
brought half his family out with him. Fortunately, Nate and I have 
always been friends. And, back then at least, Margie and I were too."   
Later the dissident couple would be the consolation and support for 
Paulette, Jonathon's mistress driven from Westboro when she became 
pregnant by him. Abandoned by Jonathon and rejected by his family, "she 
went through some pretty tough times," remembers Mark.   Nate's 
departure was more dramatic. Inclined towards the freethinker and 
sceptic, and long the family's designated scapegoat, Nate was initially 
not so torn about leaving the assembly of the elect.   "He constantly 
told me I was worthless," says Nate about his father. "That I was a son 
of Belial (Satan); I was going to end up in prison; I was evil. That 
message came through loud and clear. For years since, I have had to 
struggle to achieve any sense of worthiness in the eyes of God or man.   
"My father often opined I was such a loser, I'd never even make it 
through high school. Two weeks before the end of my senior year, when it 
was apparent I would, he decided my weight needed constant watching. 
Instead of being allowed to take my final exams. I was pulled out of 
school and made to ride a stationary bicycle six hours a day. 
Now...there's a rational act...a real daddy-non-compis-mentis.   "So I 
didn't graduate. I had to take the GED later for my high school 
diploma." Nate clears his throat.:   "A few weeks before my 18th 
birthday, I bought an old Rambler for $350. I parked it down the street 
and I didn't tell anyone I had it. I took my things out to the garage a 
little at a time, and I hid them amid the mess out there."   On the 
night before his birthday, around 15 minutes to midnight on November 21, 
1976, Nate pulled his car into the drive, opened the garage, and loaded 
his few personal belongings in the back.   Leaving his keys in the 
ignition, the black sheep walked into his childhood house of fear and 
pain. He climbed the stairs to the room where his father slept and 
he...screamed.   At the top of his lungs. And left.   That night, Nate 
slept in the men's room of an APCO gas station because it was heated. He 
found work and eventually ended up living with Mark, Luava, and Margie 
(who was also experimenting with adult independence).  
 When the couple moved to St. Louis, Margie and Nate took an apartment 
and jobs in Kansas City. The Nate went to work and for Mark at a print 
shop in St. Louis, and Margie returned to the Westboro community.   She 
would become one of Pastor Phelps' staunchest defenders.   In 1978, 
Mark, Luava, and Nate returned and opened their first copy shop in 
Prairie Village, a suburb of Kansas City. It was a success. In 1979, the 
couple opened another shop in Topeka, and Nate stayed in Kansas City to 
manage the first.   At that point, says Nate, "it hit me."   It was the 
first time he'd ever been totally separated from all of his family. 
Though he held no illusions about his father, deep down Nate had always 
wanted to be a part of the rest-his mother and brothers and sisters-in 
some other capacity than the bad seed.   Now, he felt cut off and alone.   
It was exactly then that his sisters began calling him, pressing him to 
return, saying they could call be one family again, and that their 
father had stopped his beatings.  
 So, three years after his Jim-Morrison-exit, the prodigal returned.   
However, the pastor's idea of a welcome was to draw up, not a feast, but 
a document.   Nate remembers they had him sit down and pen a letter to 
Mark-which they dictated. It was left on Nate's desk at the shop in 
Kansas City, and it informed Mark he had lost his manager without notice 
due to Mark's serving as ballast for that manager's slide into hell.   
In August of 1993, in a desperate attempt to discredit what she must 
have imagined was going to be devastating testimony from the 'bad' son 
(as much or more of the evidence against the pastor came from the 'good' 
son), Margie Phelps announced to Capital-Journal investigators she had 
"the smoking gun to prove Nate is lying".  
 It was a copy of Nate's sign-off to Mark of 14 years before.   The 
letter, she said, proved Nate was on good terms with his family three 
years after he'd claimed he'd cut his ties to them.   Curious as to why 
the copy of a letter written by Nate and delivered to Mark would find 
its way into Margie's possession so long after the fact, investigators 
then heard from Nate how Shirley and Margie had given him the paper and 
dictated the letter to Mark as one of the terms for Nate's return.   The 
fact that the Westboro Church kept it on file, as a potential lever on 
Nate at some point in the future-even if that future came nearly in the 
next generation-can only finds its parallel in the handbooks of the KGB.   
 The Phelps family congregation may not be able to place the name or 
face of the girl the pastor drove to suicide, but they never misplace a 
letter-even if that letter was never addressed to them.   For Nate, 
rebirth into his family came with the pastor's umbilical drawn tight 
around his neck. He was hazed like a plebe at Fred's West Point.   
Though he got his meals now, Nate was expected to work in the law office 
full-time for that and a room. He was also expected to complete college 
and attend law school. "And, in return for my work, my father would pay 
my tuition," says Nate. "But I had nodesire for law school, and I had 
debts to pay. I needed a cash income-not just room and board."   Nate 
declined the work in the law offices and found employment outside the 
 In the meantime, his father refused to talk to him, handling any 
business through intermediaries. Nate attended services, but was 
excluded from the adult male congregation. Instead, he worshipped with 
the women and children.   "Every Sunday, just prior to services, all the 
men in the church would congregate in the old man's office to sit and 
chat. When they filed out nd took their seats in the auditorium, it 
signaled services were beginning. It was a rite of passage for the older 
boys when they were allowed to join. You know, then or before, I was 
never included."   During the ensuing months, his father still refused 
to speak to him. Instead, envoys were sent to inform Nate the pastor was 
displeased he was working 'outside'. Again and again, it was suggested 
to Nate he ought to give up the 'outside' job and work in the law 
office; that his father ould pay him for this by sending him to law 
school.   Nate always refused. He didn't want to go to law school. And 
he needed cash to pay his debts. He was 21 at the time.   "If my dad had 
paid a wage, even a small one, it would have been OK. But money in your 
pocket, to him, meant less control over you. It implied mobility and 
independence, something he was not going to tolerate."  
 All of the loyal Phelps children and their approved spouses followed 
the pastor's formula: they worked as law clerks, legal secretaries, and 
gophers for Fred as he churned out lawsuits. In return, the pastor took 
care of what he had decided were their needs.   Finally, one Sunday 
their father devoted his entire sermon to denouncing the reprobate in 
the midst: Nate was not of The Place, not one of the elect, or he would 
be happy to join in the toils of the family enterprise. The pastor 
announced there would be a meeting after the service where the family 
would 'decide' whether Nate should stay or go.   "I started packing my 
bag," says Nate. "Family councils never contradicted my dad. He just 
called them when he wanted everyone else to feel responsible for 
something he had every intention of doing, regardless."   
After he'd thrown his few belongings together, Nate remembers he dozed 
off on his bed, waiting for the verdict. He was awakened by a fist 
pounding on his door. It was Jonathon. The two brothers were less than a 
year apart.   "You have to go,: Jonathon told his older brother. "You 
have to go tonight."   The Phelps family scapegoat nodded stoically. He 
hoisted his bag and stepped through the door. His younger brother gave 
him no hand to shake, no pat on the back, no words of farewell-only 
silence.   Nate has not seen his father since.   Once, he went back to 
visit his mom: "It had been years since I'd talked to her," he relates 
bitterly. "She'd only see me for two minutes at the back door. And she 
kept looking over her shoulder the entire time. I felt like a hobo 
asking for a meal."   But Nate, who, like Kathy, had taken the brunt of 
his father's cruelty and abuse, would find he could not leave his past 
behind so easily. When he drove away that night after his family 
council, rejected, wounded, and now self-destructive, Nate Phelps-gratis 
the pastor-had become dangerous to himself and his community. Like 
Debbie Valgos, Nate would now be all the bad things his father had said 
he was.  
 Unlike Debbie, Nate was 6'4" and 280 pounds. And, unlike her, he was 
just as inclined to violence against others as he was against himself. 
He plunged into a world of drugs, drink, violence, and hooligan friends, 
and very nearly accomplished his parents' self-fulfilling prophesy that 
he would be the convict of the family.   "When I first left," says Nate, 
"right away I moved in with some wild boys living above the VW shop on 
6th Street. They had a perpetual party going there for almost four 
months. A keg was permanently on tap.   "When I hit that, boy, did I 
have an attitude. I remember I was real belligerent and anti-authority."   
Ten months later, addicted to speed and crystal meth, without shoes, 
penniless, and desperate, the prodigal giant appeared on Mark and 
Luava's doorstep only a few days before the couple moved to California.   
Haunted by ghosts of his father's hatred, enraged by the memories of his 
physical abuse, and emotionally disemboweled by the knowledge his mother 
and his siblings had offered him up, an entire childhood sacrificed, to 
save themselves, Nate Phelps had become a rider on the storm.   Soon the 
pastor might have had reason for dancing and clapping his hands again.   
But the pastor's appointed angel and his projected devil knew instantly 
they were veterans from the same war. They needed each other. Each 
sensed he might be able to redeem his brother: the one of his guilt; the 
other from a coffin void of love or self-esteem.   Thus, the former 
favorite of Fred and back-up mattock-beater was the only Phelps who 
could understand and forgive the rage of the family's designated 
criminal and black sheep. The 'good' Phelps boy forgave the 'evil' one 
his impulsive betrayal of the year before, and he invited his little 
brother to come to California with them.   Today, Mark Phelps owns a 
successful chain of copy stores in Southern California. He and Luava 
have two children.   
Nates manages the largest in the chain. He is happily married, drug-
free, and content. He and his wife, Tammi, are raising four children. 
Nate still receives treatment for Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, and, 
ironically, some of the Vietnam vets who receive the same therapy say 
their year in hell sounds preferable to his 18 inside the walls of 
Westboro.   Both brothers say they cringe at the thought of anyone 
touching their kids. They know what darkness may yet linger in their 
souls from their father's nightmare, and they daily guard against it 
emerging in their behavior toward their own children.   Mark and Nate 
live four blocks from each other in an upscale Orange County community 
surrounded by pine forest. Both couples are devout Christians-though the 
god the boys worship is now a loving one. And, after growing up with the 
Pastor Phelps, not much can rattle them"   
Recently, after answering some questions concerning minor details for 
the story, Nate announced calmly, "Well, I should get off. I have to 
pack now."   Were they going somewhere?   "Yes. For now. The fire is 
coming down the mountain. It's only two miles from here,"  
 "Fire? That's terrible! What about Mark and Luava?"   "Oh, she was 
packed three hours ago."   The racing blaze missed their homes, (Not the 
kind of punishment predicted by the pastor for those he feels have 'gone 
against' his assembled elect at the compound in Topeka.) 
 While the emotional cocktail mixed at the Phelps of Westboro seems 
perpetually one part cruelty, one part anger, one part hysteria, and one 
part maudlin self-pity, the lasting impression left after hours of phone 
conversations with Nate and Mark is one of serenity.   They have the 
calm wisdom of mariners who have been rescued from a wild sea. The one 
saved by a brother's love; the other buoyed up by a teenage girl's moral 
courage.   Mark and Nate Phelps have found their peace and happiness. 
They would like to help their brothers and sisters do the same, but they 
have not yet discovered how to reach them.   And the two brothers, 
survivors, themselves are not unscathed.   
"I'm OK during the day," says Nate. "It's late at night when it all 
comes back. I sometimes just sit and there after my family is asleep. 
You know, and it comes back. All the feelings of pain, and violation, 
and outrage. And I try to deal with it. Then I'm OK again."   Mark 
laughs. "I've had a recurring dream for years now. I'm out driving 
around and I turn up a street and it looks familiar. I can't place it so 
I keep driving. Then I see the church and realize where I am. I hot the 
gas to get out of there, but the car suddenly dies.  
Then my father and my brothers and sisters start coming out. But I can't 
start the car. I'm cranking the engine for dear life and it's not 
catching.   "As they come out in the street, I'm trying to lock all the 
doors and roll up the windows...but I forget the driver's door...   
"They pull me out.  
And Daddy says: 'What the hell do you think you're doing? Were you 
selling on Prairie Road tonight?'"         
"The False Prophet"  
Sometime around 1975, Phelps began to find his option to beat his family 
restricted. By then, Mark and Kathy had already rebelled and left, and 
the other children were fast becoming adults of not inconsiderable size. 
About a year before Nate left, he remembers an incident which must have 
put the abusive pastor on notice to find new outlets for his hate.   
"One day he was beating mom upstairs," Nate recalls. "He'd been doing it 
for some time. Shirley and Margie and I were in the dining room 
downstairs, and Margie and I were getting madder and madder. Shirl 
wouldn't get mad-she'd always start crying and pacing around whenever 
anyone was getting beaten.   "Margie finally went and got a butcher 
knife from the kitchen. The three of us went to the bottom of the 
stairs. But our voices stuck in our throats. We couldn't call out. None 
of us. We were so scared."   
When the raging reverend chased his wife out onto the landing, he saw 
them.   Fred stared down at them: "Get the hell outta here."   Margie 
held the knife up where he could see it. "You've got to stop this," she 
told him.   
The pastor slowly descended the steps.   His children backed up but 
didn't leave.   For a long moment he glared at them. Then he said 
quietly: "Fine, you SOBs." And he turned and went back to his bedroom.   
For three weeks after that, Fred Phelps had no contact with his family 
except at church. He stayed in his room until it was time to give his 
sermon.   After Nate departed the fold in 1976, apparently the pastor 
began to worry about the success of his methods. He'd raised a 
congregation from his loins, and now they were bailing out at the first 
opportunity. Fred Jr., Mark, Nate, Kathy, Dorotha, Margie, Rebekah, and 
Jonathon would all leave home at some point. It was at this point that 
his wife and daughters apparently convinced Phelps that, if he wanted 
his family, he'd have to stay his hand.   From then on, it was the 
outside community which more and more would become the outlet for the 
pastor's rage.   Nate was coaxed back to the family compound three years 
later by his sisters' assurances 'the old man' had changed, that things 
were better now, and he wasn't beating anymore. But, as Nate quickly 
found out, the pastor still sought total control over his children's 
private and emotional lives.   He left for good.   Nate's younger 
brother, Jonathon, met Paulette when he was still in law school. She 
joined the Westboro church and was highly cooperative, though the pastor 
frowned on her for not following his path (Paulette has no law degree.).   
Later, when it was discovered they were fornicating, Paulette was driven 
from The Place. Jon was allowed to stay.   Though by this time he was a 
practicing lawyer, all of Jon's adult privileges were taken away by his 
father. Members of the church were assigned to accompany him 24 hours a 
day to guard against his backsliding with Paulette. As a hedge against 
his leaving, each day he was given only enough money from the common 
family finances to buy his lunch.   But the damage had already been 
done. Paulette had conceived.   Living with her parents, abandoned by 
Jonathan, an object of contempt to his family, Paulette turned in 
desperation to the Phelps boys who'd moved to California. Mark and Luava 
say they had many a late-night counseling session over the phone with 
Paulette while she carried her baby to term.   After their child was 
born, apparently Jon's girl wanted nothing more to do with him. But Jon 
was having second thoughts. Six months after he'd become a father, he 
petitioned the court for joint custody and visitation rights.   
According to court records, Jon claimed Paulette would not accept 
payments of support, that she had refused him visitation rights, and 
that she would not allow him to take their child from her parents' home.   
When the couple actually confronted each other before a judge, however, 
Paulette saw only Jon, and he only had eyes for the woman he loved and 
their tiny daughter. And Fred Phelps with his threats of hell and hatred 
of Christmas must suddenly have seemed so very far from the god who had 
given them their little girl.   Jonathon deserted the Westboro church 
and moved in with Paulette's family. They were married soon after.   By 
now, it was apparent to the pastor that Mark and Nate's move to 
California in 1981 was going to be permanent.   
"So, when Jonathon left, my father had lost three sons," says Marks. "At 
that point," he adds, referring to his and Luava's long conversations 
with Paulette at the time, "my dad decided it might be better to relax 
his rules and keep his family than end with an empty church."   Jonathon 
and Paulette were allowed to return to the congregation with their 
illegitimate child in 1988.   
Unable since then to either beat and browbeat his family, the Pastor 
Phelps seems to have focused instead on his therapeutically malicious 
law practice. This is the period, 1983-1989, when he is reprimanded for 
this unchecked spate of extortional demand letters, when he eventually 
federally disbarred for his wild and vitriolic attacks on three judges, 
and when he sues Ronald Reagan over appointing an ambassador to the 
Fred's swan song in the federal courts in February, 1989 left him unable 
to express his most persistent of urges: to hurt and humiliate other 
human beings.   Already prevented from punching up his grandchildren, 
and now banned from the barrister's ring, the old pugilist took stock 
and realized he still had his fists and his faithful urge to abuse.   
Buffalo Fred took his wild ego show out of his house, out of the 
courtroom, and into the streets. Within months, he was running for 
governor, tramping importantly about the state and churning out position 
papers on the general corruption of the Adamic race.   The spotlight, so 
comforting and necessary to prankster pastor, had returned.   
He only garnered six percent of the vote.   No matter. Nine months after 
losing the election, Fred Phelps unveiled his next therapeutic crusade: 
his left hooks rained on same comparatively helpless and unsuspecting 
heads when he opened the "Great Gage Park Decency Drive"-which quickly 
escalated into his current death-to-fags campaign.   
To hear the pastor describe his new venture, one feels in the presence 
of a Napoleon crossing the river Neiman to invade Russia-two great 
empires, the one good, the other evil, about to clash, finally, and to 
the death.   To read his crusading literature, however, leaves a 
different impression: The "Great Gage Park Decency Drive" hovers between 
vaudeville and the bizarre. One campaign fax churned out during November 
of 1993 would seem to cover both choices.  
 For vaudeville, the pastor poses a question: can God-fearing Christian 
families picnic or play touch football there (Gage Park) without fear of 
contradicting AIDS? HELL,NO!" He then describes the enemy activity in 
suspicious detail:   "Open fag rectal intercourse in public restrooms, 
in the rose garden, in the rock garden, in the theatre, in the 
rainforest, in the swimming pool, on the softball fields, on the swing 
sets, or the train-it's everywhere..."   And for the bizarre:   In the 
same fact epistle, Fred to the Sodomites, the pastor reviews his son-in-
law's opus of investigative endeavor, The Conspiracy within a 
Conspiracy. For those arriving late, Conspiracy is the privately 
published book by Brent Roper, who made the "it will be harder now, but 
I will destroy them" attribution to Judge Rogers in Chapter Six.   In 
the fax, Fred defends Roper's thesis that Truman Capote passed AIDS 
simultaneously to both Jack Kennedy and Marilyn Monroe during a touch 
football game in the Rose Garden "when a gang tackle went awry".   
According to the fax, the CIA later killed both the president and 
Marilyn to keep them from infecting the country-Capote's own longevity 
notwithstanding.   In any case, touch football seems to be the one thing 
consistently on Fred's mind here.   In the midst of his anti-gay 
campaign, the pastor also ran for the U.S. Senate in 1992 for Topeka 
mayor in 1993. He lost both races. Of the two, his Senate bid will 
likely be the better-remembered: Phelps, in a great plains parody of the 
late senator from Wisconsin, warned the voters darkly that homosexuals 
were taking over America, and accused Gloria O'Dell, his opponent for 
the Democratic, of being a lesbian.   Unelected after three races, the 
angry pastor maneuvered to advance his hate-gays crusade from local TV 
spots and neighborhood pickets to the national media. The Westboro 
congregation traveled to Washington, D.C. to taunt the Gay Pride March 
in the spring of 1993.   It was red meat for a sensation-hungry press. 
Fred and found his rhythm.   Even before then, however, the nine 
children still loyal to him had campaigned enthusiastically alongside, 
picketing in rain, snow, or sun. Why?   
Says Nate: "You known that Lite beer commercial where the guy goes up to 
the two other guys and gets them to fight over his comparison of two 
incomparable issues ('Tastes great!/Nope, less Filling!)? My dad does 
that.   "Deep down, my brothers and sisters know they've been denied the 
right to be themselves-free adults-and that combines with all of his 
abuse and anger toward them until their rage is uncontrollable inside. 
He helps them find a focus to vent that out. And then he steps aside."   
Mark agrees: "Everyone is very angry there. That's why they overeat. 
It's a very charged atmosphere. All that frustrated energy needs to be 
discharged in some form of conflict."   Though this latter observation 
is almost 13 years old, it still provides an accurate summation of one 
reporter's experience who spent six weeks in daily contact with the 
family Phelps in the fall of 1993.   Fred has a captive family 
congregation: their fear of hell and fear of him still control them, 
like the elephant's rope. His loyal children have fulfilled his 
ambitions rather than their own. They live at his side and do his work.   
And since his rage has become their outrage, a wrath they dare not turn 
back on him, Fred's kids have eagerly joined in whenever he has sallied 
forth from Westboro to smite the Adamic race.   Margie Phelps admits 
many in her family have become emotionally dependent on the death-to-
gays crusade:   "A lot of us have been able to work through emotional 
problems because of the picketing," she says. She explains the bonding 
and the sense of goals have brought them closer and taken each person's 
focus off their own personal difficulties.   "It would be very hard for 
them to give up the picketing now," she observes, and quotes with some 
apparent relief the circumstances outlined by her father for an end to 
his grim campaign: the return of Jesus; the capitulation of all 
homosexuals; "or they kill us. Otherwise it will go on."  
 What's important here is the Phelps family has found something they can 
all enjoy doing together. And it's helping them to grow and realize more 
about themselves.   All except one.   Dorotha, on of the youngest Phelps 
children, left the compound in 1990. 
She was 25 at the time and already an established attorney.   "We were 
all supposed to get law degrees, stay home, and live happily every 
after," she says. "The problem was, I wasn't happy.   "My father's 
operating mode is one of perpetual warfare. I thought once he'd been 
disbarred, it would die down, and he would stop-you know-being so 
aggressive. He wrote that book (still an unpublished manuscript) 
comparing the courts to the Corsican Mafia...but I guess it didn't go 
anywhere.   "And then he started all these other things...   "It's just 
not going to die down. It's not going to quit. He's such an egomaniac. 
He liked to keep things stirred up because he likes attention. He likes 
to be center stage. It just wore me out. The constant pressure there was 
just too much.   "But," adds Dorotha, who goes by 'Dottie', "despite all 
his flaws, he's the leader of the church as well as a father. If they 
(her family back at the compound) believe, they also accept him."   The 
pastor is enthusiastic about his new therapy: "The Bible approves only 
of sex within marriage," he insists. "But whoremongers and adulterers 
God will damn to hell!   "No premarital sex! No extramarital sex! No 
divorces, no remarriages-and for God's sakes-NO ANAL COPULATING!"   (In 
which case, come the Rapture, Westboro Baptist will still be holding 
Fred continues: "Anytime a famous fag dies of AIDS, we're going to 
picket his funeral, wherever it is." He adds he subscribes to the New 
York Times because it identifies gays who've died of AIDS.   Phelps is 
literally giggling now, able to appear on shows like Jane Whitney, Ricki 
Lake, and 20/20 and talk dirty to gays.   On top of the verbal abuse the 
pastor heaps from the television screen, he claims he's doing gays a 
favor by disrupting their funerals, outraging their mourners, and 
picketing the businesses that employ them. Raising this kind of ruckus 
is...well...a bit of necessary bad taste to get the "good word" out.   
Interviewed on KBRT radio in Los Angeles, Phelps was asked: "What about 
the Bible advice that Christians are to have the wisdom of serpents and 
the meekness of doves?"  
 To which he responded: "The next to last verse in Jude says we were to 
make to a sharp difference in how we are to approach people to win them. 
On some, have compassion, making a difference. Others you should save 
with fear.   "That means using the authority of terrorizing people about 
the coming fires of God's judgement and wrath, as opposed to approaching 
them with compassion."   Trouble is, Phelps may have yet to meet the 
sinner he deems worthy of the compassionate path.   The pastor has 
generated most of his notoriety from public outrage at his desecration 
of funeral and burial rites. To this, he has a formulaic response, most 
recently offered to Chris Bull of the The Advocate in defense of 
emotionally brutalizing the mourners for Kevin Oldham, a native of 
Kansas City who had found success in New York as a composer:   "Compared 
to hell and eternal punishment, their (the mourners) suffering is 
trivial. If Kevin could come back, he would ask me to please preach at 
his funeral, and he say, 'For God's sake, listen to Fred Phelps.' Dying 
time is truth time. These poor homosexual creatures live lives 
predicated on a fundamental lie, and they die engrossed in the lie. It 
seems to me to be the cruelest thing of all to stand over their dead, 
filthy bodies keeping the lies going."   Yet Phelps doesn't believe 
homosexuals can be redeemed, an attitude which cast his actions, not as 
salvation-through-fear, but as pointless and abusive.   Almost any day 
on the picket line in Topeka, he can be heard announcing to the 
occasional passerby who stops to talk: "Deep-dyed fags cannot be saved. 
God has given them up."   The pastor seems uninterested when other 
Christian ministers attempt to show him differently. One the same KBRT 
talk show, Phelps intoned: "It's my position that they (gays) fit in 
that category of the most depraved and degenerate of Adam's race. And 
probably these guys are past hope for salvation.  
 "And it was a long time coming to that. I've never seen one such person 
converted in 46 years of preaching this Bible."   "I've seen a number of 
homosexuals come to Christ," protests the announcer, up to now quite 
warn to Fred's message.   "I'd like to meet one," says Fred.  
 The announcer mentions a young man, a reformed homosexual, who, after 
'coming to Christ', has established an AIDS ministry that is now 
nationwide. "Herb Hall," says the how's host, "is one of the most solid 
soul winners I've seen in decades."   They reach Hall by phone at his 
home in Garden Grove, New Jersey. He invites Fred to come and see, that 
there's plenty of gays who turned to Christ and ceased their sodomy.   
"I think it's a put-on," says Fred. He resists the suggestion that 
Phelps and Hall confer on what they've learned during their separate 
campaigns against homosexuality.   "I'd love to sit down and talk with 
you, and meet with you," begins Hall.   
 "We'll have to do that," responds Phelps, "because your story so far is 
not convincing, and it sounds very canned and put on to me."   When the 
announcer again vouches for Hall, Phelps says reluctantly: "I gotta talk 
to him first, and I gotta know more..." Then to Hall: "Are you gonna 
call me?"   
Announcer: "Oh! We've just hung up on him. But we have his number, and 
we'll give that to you, OK?"   Phelps: "OK. Thank you. I'm very 
interested."   But Preacher Phelps never called. So Hall called him. He 
remembers their conversation below:   
"Pastor Phelps, when Jesus approached the prostitute, all the people who 
had surrounded her, He wrote their sins in the dirt. That's why they 
left her alone. Unless we show them (homosexuals), love and compassion, 
and really comfort them, we'll never be able to reach them."   Hall says 
Phelps told him he'd never seen a homosexual that had ever changed, and 
he doubted that Hall had.   
"Pastor, I am a homosexual. I've changed. And I will be in heaven 
someday."   According to Hall, Phelps doubted that also.   "So you think 
it (homosexuality) is the one unforgivable sin?"   Yes, said Phelps.  
 In an interview with Jim Doblin, a television reporter for WIBW-TV, 
Channel 13 in Topeka, Phelps shared a bit more.   If everyone was 
predestined from the womb, regardless of what they did in life, asked 
Doblin, wouldn't there be a homosexual or two among the Elect?    
No, Phelps insisted. "Three times within eight verses in Romans, Chapter 
1, it says God has given these people up. If the only power in the 
universe that can call you to Jesus Christ has given you up, how you 
gonna get there?"   In fact, Phelps has shown little interest in getting 
the "good word" out at all. His record in this new campaign shows his 
focus is on ego dominance, insult, and therapeutic lashing out.  
 Offers Phelps from the same interview with Doblin: "My ol' dad used to 
say, 'you're gettin' people mad at you, bubba! An' if you're determined 
to get 'em mad at you, I recommend you just walk up and kick 'em in the 
shins-it won't take so long!'  "I believe I finally took my ol' dad's 
advice: just walk up and kick 'em in the shins!" The pastor breaks into 
a big grin: "God hates fags!"  
 He's obviously enjoying himself.   But why kick them in the shins if 
they can't be saved? Fred can't answer that. Because she knows he's not 
trying to save anyone. For his own secret reasons, he needs to hurt 
people, and he's chosen homosexuals.   Reacting to a joint statement 
condemning his anti-gay activities that was signed by 47 Topeka area 
religious leaders, Phelps, in a letter to The Advocate wrote: "I love 
it. I'm a Baptist preacher, and that means I'm a hate preacher."   When 
it comes to any serious attempt to explore a religious issue via 
considered argument and fair rebuttal, however, Pastor Phelps has proved 
a no-show, On August 23, 1993, Dick Snider, a columnist for the Capital-
Journal, printed part of the letter from an English professor at Spoon 
River College in Canton, Illinois. Farrell Till was a Bible debater, and 
he wanted a chance to debate Fred on God's hatred of homosexuals.   By 
midmorning, the faxes came rolling in at the newsroom and offices all 
over the capital: a photo of the pastor, looking pensive and studious at 
his desk, and the words emblazoned:    
Followed by the missive:   "Not since two of my heroes (Clarence Darrow 
and William Jennings Bryan) slugged it out at the famous Scopes Monkey 
Trial at Dayton, Tennessee in July, 1925, has the issue of the inerrancy 
of the Bible been properly debated. If Farrell Till is for real, let's 
get it on.   "Your newspaper can work out the details and send 
circulation off the charts. And your own involvement to date in this 
historic event will more than justify your otherwise pitiful existence 
on this earth as a wayward son of Adam. Kindest regards. Fred Phelps."   
Farrell Till was notified his challenge had been accepted. He 
immediately sent the pastor a courteous letter, via the Capital-Journal, 
outlining his qualifications to engage in a serious scholarly exchange 
and requesting Phelps contact him to work out a compatible date.  Fred 
forgot.  Though he was reminded several times by both the paper and 
Till, the impulsive pastor never remembered to set that date.  
 By Christmas, Till reported he had inquired by phone or letter five 
times and received no response.   Coincidentally, during the same time 
period, the Capital-Journal had arranged for a round-table exchange in 
print: participating with Phelps would have been Tex Sample, a liberal 
minister from St. Paul's School of Theology in Kansas City; Rabbi 
Lawrence Karol, an old testament scholar in Topeka; and Scott Clark, a 
primitive Baptist (old Calvinist) minister from Fred's own sect, now 
working on his doctorate in theology at Oxford University.   Fred would 
exchange views in print with clergymen of three differing faiths to 
avoid the discussion becoming mired in minor sectarian conflicts.   
All four agreed to participate, and all agreed to the tennis format: 
Phelps would serve by responding to three questions; the others would 
return with comment, and Phelps would bat it back.   To the three 
questions-Does God hate? Does God hate gays? By what authority do you 
judge?-Phelps submitted a brief response.   His turbid theology was 
quickly returned to him, analyzed as unfounded and unbiblical-even by 
the Oxford Calvinist of his own sect.   Now here was a battle of the 
Titans! Let's get it on!   But again the would-be William Jennings Bryan 
fled the field, muttering he'd heard all those false arguments before 
and couldn't be bothered refuting them again.   
Pity.   All those reprobates out there who've never heard his would be like water to parched souls...   Twice turning 
tail at the opportunity for his truth to confront publicly the world's 
falsehoods...a very odd response indeed for someone who claims his only 
aim in his crude, cruel, and vindictive behavior is to get the "good 
word" out to a world of stubborn reprobates.   Each time has been 
offered the chance to present his message in a fair and sober forum-sans 
shin-kicking and street theatre-the earnest pastor has passed.   In 
fairness, it would be observed that, since his tent emptied that night 
in Vernal, Utah, Phelps has preached almost entirely to the converted 
and the blood-related. He may find an opinion differing from his own to 
be a frightening and flight-triggering experience. Or perhaps the 
amateur Biblical erudition gained during that long, arduous summer 
Phelps spent between his baptism and ordination failed him when he 
entered the arena of professional scholarship.   Whatever the cause, the 
pastor appears long on antics, insults, and threats-short on good news 
the reprobates can use. Of the 12 abominations listed in the Old 
Testament, pride in one-homosexuality is not.   "His dad couldn't care 
less about God or the Bible," says Luava. "He just happened to embrace 
that structure to create a framework for himself as god. What he says, 
goes. In his mind, and in his life, he is god."   "He's not for anything 
but Fred," adds Nate. "Whatever it is he has to do to get attention, 
he'll do it."  
 Mark interrupts: "...He helped himself to any behavior he ever wanted 
to have and then left it for others to clean up. He's operating at the 
level of a two year-old. My little girl just goes up and shoves someone 
sometimes, but she's two. He does not hesitate to do what my little 
Becky does, but he does it in adult ways.   "He's completely out-focused 
and totally high right now. He's got the best fix: drugs, beatings, all 
the raging and abusing he's done, all the political stirring-up he's 
caused, nothing compares to what he's doing now."   Nate adds: "And each 
time it seems he has to ratchet it a little higher. Eventually it could 
end in tragedy for a lot of people." He shakes his head. "My father 
likes to hurt people. And he needs to hate them. Why, I don't know. But 
you can be sure of one thing: he'll always do it with the Bible.   
"They'll give us the fags," says Margie, referring to Topeka's generally 
hostile response to the pastor's message, "it's the 'God hates' part 
they can't stand. The notion that God hates humans is rejected so deeply 
by most people-that's what everyone is so angry about."   If the strange 
case of Fred Phelps were, in fact, a doctrinal and not a mental health 
phenomenon, it would revolve on two issues: whether God hates some souls 
regardless of their character or actions and whether he hates 
homosexuals most of all.   Absolute predestination-the theory that some 
people are bound for heaven before they are born, while others have a 
one-way ticket to hell-best focuses the beliefs of Westboro Baptist and 
its basilisk leader.   
"It goes like this," says Fred, shifting into his preacher voice, 
talking slowly and emphasizing every syllable, "the everlasting love of 
God for some men and the everlasting hatred of God for other men is the 
grand doctrine that razes free will to the ground.   "Hate in the deity 
is not a passion like it is with humans, you know. It is a purpose that 
is part of His nature and His essential attributes."   
The Bible is chock full of hate, says the pastor. "From all eternal ages 
past, God has loved some of Adam's race and purposed to do them good, 
and he's hated the rest and purposed to punish them for their sins."   
Attributes of God linked to hate, anger, wrath and punishment are used 
two-thirds more often in the Bible than attributes linked to love, 
mercy, pity, long-suffering, gentleness and goodness, he claims  
"You can't be a Bible preacher without preaching the hatred of God, the 
wrath of God. It is a fabrication, this modern Christianity, that says 
good old God loves everybody."   Implicit in all this talk of 
predestination is the assumption that Fred, at last, is going to heaven.   
Yet the Bible, as it interpreted by predestinists, says the elect will 
not be revealed until the Judgement Day. Tacitly, the pastor's 
congregation counts him early in that tiny group and looks to him for a 
sign they'll be a part too.   Not only is Phelps without Bible authority 
to designate them elect, he may not be elect himself. His ministry could 
be that of a reprobate.   A summary of some of the objections raised to 
the pastor's philosophy of hate by Sample, Clark, and Karol is listed 
below. The text of the original exchange is contained in the appendix.    
1) It rejects a 3000 year-old rabbinical interpretation of the Jacob and 
Esau story in favor of one of his own.    
2) It mistranslates and falsely equates the words for the anger and 
wrath of God that so often occur in the Old Testament with a divine 
hatred of mankind.    
3) When the Bible does speak of God hating, God is described as hating 
the act or the sin-not the sinner.    
4) The speaker in the book of Psalms does profess hatred for the sinner-
but the voice is that of the psalmist, not of God.   
5) Phelps pointedly ignores the emphasis in the New Testament on love 
and forgiveness. One may find lichen growing on the floor of a redwood 
forest-but that does not make it a moor, not so long as the landscape is 
dominated by the giant trees.     
The prophet of hate grins broadly when asked how it feels being the 
target of so much hatred himself now:  
 "You guys don't seem to understand what motivates me." He chuckles. As 
usual, a Bible verse serves as his answer. "Blessed are ye when men 
shall hate you and revile you and say all manner of evil against you 
falsely for my sake. Rejoice and be exceedingly glad: for great is your 
reward in heaven."   Phelps seems giddy, His words roll off his tongue 
in a Mississippi drawl tinged with excitement.   "I love them to death," 
he says of those who criticize him. "If they weren't doing that, how am 
I going to get all that 'great is your reward in heaven'? If you are 
preaching the truth of God, people are going to hate you. And they can't 
often or always articulate why, and so they fall back on specious, 
insincere and false reasons for why they hate you. And you swim in a sea 
of lies. And I love it!"  
  Phelps seems to lead a euphoric life, Today he is wearing his 
trademark running shoes, running shorts, and shirt and tie with a nylon 
running jacket, sleeves rolled up to his biceps. He has just returned 
from a noontime picket in downtown Topeka.   "If the call was good, it 
never goes away," he chirps, referring to the 1946 revival that called 
him to preaching. "I have a hard time getting to sleep some nights from 
pure happiness."   A wide smile blossoms on his windburned face. His 
eyes gleam and glitter. It's hard to imagine so much happiness taking 
root and growing out of so much hate.   "If my father's going to become 
a spokesman for the Christian Reform Movement, it's important Christians 
realize who he really is," states Mark. "What worries me most is my 
brothers and sisters may see him as a Christ-like figure.   "He has 
nothing to do with Christ. He is a sad, sick man who likes to hurt 
people. For a long as I've known him, he has been addicted to hate."   
Even a cursory glance at the pastor's most recent published material 
would seem to beat this out. The following random excerpts from his 
faxes can't be defended as "scaring 'em to salvation". They are mean and 
hateful and nothing more:    
(December 2, 1993) Next to the headline, "FAGS: GOD'S HATE SPEAKS 
LOUDEST", is the text: "Fag Bishop Fritz Mutti...confessed his sins to 
ANTICHRIST CLINTON: He raised 2 fag sons for the Devil; they died of 
 (December 9, 1993) "Court Clerk JOYCE REEVES dying of cancer? Couldn't 
happen to a better dyke...May explain why she's super bitchy to the 
help. N.Y. Fag Son TODD's arrived, looking like AIDS on a stick. 
Patronize his Westboro Shop and go home with AIDS?"    
(December 16, 1993) [When Topeka Police Sergeant, Dave Landis, only 45 
years-old and with a wife and children, was suddenly paralyzed by a 
stroke, Phelps found time to gloat.]  "You don't scare us, Officer 
Landis! Not even before the Lord turned you into a limp vegetable!   
"Westboro Baptist will picket fag cop Landis fundraiser...Fag cop John 
Sams and his FOP (Phaternal Order of Phags) will try to raise $12,500 to 
unscramble the brain of fag cop Dave Landis...Forget it, guys! When God 
scrambles eggs, man can't unscramble 'em. Westboro Baptist has picketed 
this evil Son of Belial at the VA hospital for 4 months now; Westboro 
Baptist will picket his funeral to give him a proper send-off to 
Many of Fred Phelps' former adversaries and law school classmates have 
gone on to become luminaries, while he has slowly dissolved into a 
disbarred lawyer and failed preacher, supported by his abused children. 
The more his own life slips into the periphery, the more stridently 
abusive he becomes.   Pastor Phelps is one of many false prophets to 
come who will seek to exploit the loss of faith, soul, and identity in 
North America. As a society that has lost its path in a steaming, 
sensual, violent marsh of mindless, me-first, frantic consumerism, 
America is entering its dark middle age stupified by television and 
content to let its values be formed, not by saints, heroes, and 
visionaries, but by default, by advertising and market forces appealing 
to the basest urges in each of us.    Our culture has grown childish and 
narcissistic, slothful and irrational. With the winter of our nation 
will soon follow the wolves-fierce white toothed beasts come to trip the 
flesh of our indolence.   
Fred Phelps is one of them.   And in our chaos and confusion, the false 
prophets will claim to lead us into a new day. But by this mark we shall 
know them: no matter how bright their vision, always it will demand 
someone or group be punished before a new day can come.    
The dark angels will promise a bright tomorrow but ask for blood today.  
Fifty years ago, looking ahead to our time, the poet, Yates, would 
"The best lack all conviction and the worst are filled with a passionate 


Ray Russ , , 
Queer radical actively promoting the "Gay Agenda" (ie, basic and fundamental
human rights and equality) as defined by such dangerous and subversive 
documents as the Constitution, the Bill of Rights, and the United Nations 
Declaration on the Rights of Man-to mention a few. Pretty scary eh?