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The Hare Krishna Murders: Sowing the Seeds | 2

The Hare Krishna Murders: Sowing the Seeds | 2

Tue, 05 Mar 2019 08:05

When devotees at the NYC temple confront Keith Ham, he decides to found a commune of his own in West Virginia. Krishnas in temples across the country come up with illegal ways to raise money for the group, including drug dealing and money scams.

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It's October of 1967. Keith Ham, also known as Kirtana Nanda, strides into the Manhattan harry Krishna temple with his head high and a blissful smile on his face. The rumors act with Krishna devotees dressed in colorful robes and beaded necklaces made from tulisi wood. The beads are said to protect the wearer from bad dreams, accidents and attacks by weapons. In a room filled with colorful garm, Keith stands out. Instead of robes and beads, he's dressed in black with a white clerical collar around his neck. Room is tense, but when Keith steps to the front and raises his palms, it goes silent. He loves being able to quiet a room without saying a word. He knew when he arrived back from India three weeks ago that his priestly attire and new ideas would be controversial. But he's not presenting the ideas as his. He's saying he's acting on orders from Swami Prabhu Pad, the founder of the movement. He tells them that the Swami had a vision. He realized they needed to become more mainstream in order to expand. And he sent Keith back to New York to spread the word. It's all a lie, but it's good for the movement. At least that's what Keith tells himself. He's certain that if the Swami returns from India and sees the pack temple, he'll realize that Keith was right and should be his successor. And should the Swami die in India? Well, Keith is the only anointed American Swami, so it would make sense for him to take the Swami's place. Either way, Keith comes out on top. He looks out at the sea of faces, some gaze at him with adoration. Others give him a darker look. He doesn't care. The ones who are opposed him still show up to hear him speak. How re Krishna? Welcome everyone. Keith calmly walks over to the side table and picks up the basket to prepare for offerings. When Brahmannanda, the leader of the New York temple steps out of the crowd, put that down. He waves a letter above his head and points an accusing finger at Keith. Keith's heart pounds when he tries to keep calm. He knows Brahmannanda feels threatened. It's supposed to be his temple, but Keith is the one drawing crowds. What do you want Brahmannanda? Don't interrupt me. You were exposed. This letter came today from the Swami himself. I wrote to him as soon as you returned and asked him point blank, did you authorize this new vision? Kirtananda is preaching? And today I received his reply. Listen to this everybody. The Swami's words. News of Kirtananda has given me much pain. The best thing would be to prohibit him from speaking at any of our functions. It is clear he has become crazy and he should once more be sent to Bellevue. Keith forces a laugh. Nonsense. I was in India with the Swami. He chose me to come back and share his new vision with you. You've betrayed him. You've betrayed us all. You're lying. Now give me that letter. No. Your lie, black Keith. A young man rises to speak in Keith's defense, but Brahmannanda's angry voice stops him. You are banished, Kirtananda. Get out. Keith backs away, trying to speak, but a devotee steps forward and spits on him. Others follow suit, cheering and spitting on Keith as he runs out of the temple doors. For most people, such a disgraceful exit would be the end. But not for Keith Ham. They may spit on him now, but they'll be frustrating themselves at his feet soon enough. Whether it's blind ambition or divine providence, he knows he's destined for greatness and he's going to make it happen by any means necessary. If you're into true crime, the Generation Y podcast is essential listening. We started this podcast over 10 years ago to dissect some of the craziest and most notable murders, crimes and conspiracy theories together and we'd love for you to join us. Follow the Generation Y podcast on Amazon Music or wherever you listen to podcasts. From Wondery, I'm Lindsey Graham and this is American Scandal. This is the second episode in our five part series on a scandal that started with peaceful chanting and ended in murder. In the last episode, an elderly swamie arrived from India with a few dollars in his pocket and a dream of sharing the gospel of a playful boyish god named Krishna. Within a few years, the movement is bigger than he could have ever imagined, but Keith Ham, once his favorite disciple, has betrayed him. This is episode 2, Sowing the Seeds. In 1967, New York City's Greenwich Village is the worldwide center of cool and that's where Keith wants to stay, but staying has become difficult. He finds himself taking detours to avoid walking past the Hari Krishna Temple on 2nd Avenue, avoiding cafes if he sees anyone inside wearing an orange robe. He's where he wants to be and yet he feels lost. The Hari Krishna movement gave his life focus and meaning. Now he's a pariah. What he's not ready to give up, he still believes in Krishna and more importantly, he believes in himself. Ever since Keith was drummed out of the New York Temple, he's been scheming about how he and his lover Howard can build their own movement. After all, where would the swamie be without Keith? And when he's finished, Iskan will be begging to be part of it. Iskan is the International Society for Krishna Consciousness, formed by swamie propupad just 18 months earlier. Keith takes a page from the swamie's book by giving his group an equally long name, the first United Church of Krishna, Youth Organization Underground. The group has two members, Howard and Keith, but that doesn't stop Keith from printing up letterhead and sending angry missives to all the people who spoke out against him and called him Black Keith. He hopes they're smart enough to read the message in the acronym, FUCKYU. When that doesn't work, Keith takes another page from the swamie's book. Actually, he takes 900 pages, a 900 page translation of the Bhagavad Gita that Howard has been working on since they met propupad. Now, Keith takes the manuscript, replaces the swamie's name with his own and shops it to publishers, but no publisher will buy it. They find it hard to believe that two young Americans could have done the translation from Sanskrit in just a couple of years. Keith is forced to admit that while he has the intellect, the passion and the charisma to be a religious leader, he lacks a plan for how to become one. So he does what he always does when he needs an answer. He asks Krishna for guidance and he chants. He promises to keep an open mind, in an open heart, and look for any signs that might appear in unexpected ways. Two months later, he's sitting in a cafe when he opens a copy of the San Francisco oracle. The oracle is one of the nation's first psychedelic newspapers. Inside is a letter to the editor. Dear Sirs or Matams, I am, have been for nearly 20 years, trying to form an ashram of sorts here in West Virginia. The author is a man named Richard Rose. He is a farm in rural Appalachia, a dream of turning it into a commune. The letter continues. The conception is one of a non profit, non interfering, non denominational retreat or refuge, where philosophers might come to work communally together. Certainly the letter is a little strange, and Keith hasn't exactly been dreaming of a move to the backwoods of West Virginia, but Rose is offering free use of his land in exchange for kindred spirits to help him realize his vision. Keith rushes home and composes a letter. A few months later, Keith and Howard travel to Mountsville, West Virginia. It's a beautiful drive through Appalachian Hills dotted with snow covered maples and poplars and aged red barns. Spring is around the corner, but there's still a winter chill in the air. Looking around, Keith sees a sign for limestone hill road, and the young men follow a gravel drive over a bridge. At the end is a 90 acre goat farm. Waiting for them is the owner, Richard Rose. But this isn't the farm he's offering. He tells them to hop in his truck to drive to his ashram of sorts. It's an abandoned property with no electricity and a single dilapidated building. There's not even a passable road. They have to hike the last mile to reach the farmhouse through a foot of snow. The farmhouse itself is falling far. The roof looks like it won't survive the winter. Richard Rose turns to Keith and Howard. This is it. Let's go in and get out of the cold. But inside it's not much warmer. The wind blows right through the cracks in the siding. Needs a little work, of course, but it's a beautiful spot, isn't it? Keith forces a smile. He doesn't dare look at Howard. Howard thought this was a crazy idea right from the start, and he's not completely wrong. Keith has never run a farm, but when he looks out the window at the snow covered hills and the stands of hardwood trees, the voice whispers inside him. This is it. You belong here. Richard Rose keeps up a steady pattern of small talk, telling them about all the letters he received, mostly hippies who ramble on about acid trips and higher consciousness. Rose's thick white mustache and heavy boots make him look like a farmer, but instead of a cowboy hat, he wears a black beret. He's a little bit country, a little bit beatnick, and a little bit crazy. I've studied all the great religions and they're all a pile of bullshit. I'll tell you what I am. I'm a rebel in search of the truth. I'll tell me about you. Keith senses that what Rose wants more than anything is to feel like someone understands him. He nods and fixes Rose with a sympathetic stare. We are seekers too, but it's been a difficult journey. There are so many charlots since out there. In fact, we're former christianists. You don't say, but if you don't mind, why'd you leave? The movement is doomed. The swami doesn't have any vision. We're here because we want to start over. Make our own commune. And this place looks perfect. How much are you asking? Rose shakes his head so vigorously, his brain nearly flies off. No, not for sale. No long term leaves. No dodma. No one religion. No rules. I want to make sure this is a place where anyone is welcome. Keith looks out the window again, but this time he imagines beautiful temples and devotees tending cows. He's certain it's the answer to his prayers. And now, every sermon he's preached, every argument he's won, every ounce of charm and charisma he's mustered have come down to this moment. He's going to convince this man that the farm should be his. Keith talks to Rose into the night and through the next day trying to convince him that they share the same vision. But Rose wants to say and how the communes run and he's highly suspicious of anyone who wants to be in charge. Keith promises every seeker will be welcomed with open arms. Finally Rose agrees to let them stay, but he still won't give them a lease. It's a start. And for the first time in months, Keith has reason to be hopeful. Back in India, Swami Prabhu Pada is busy as well. Devotees tell him he must rest and recover, but Swami's brush with death has given him a newfound sense of urgency. He is more determined than ever to follow his dream of bringing Krishna consciousness to the world in whatever years he has left. He chooses disciples to open new temples in Seattle, Santa Fe, and Boston. He returns to San Francisco where he draws huge crowds and golden gate park for his San Cure Tons. Joyous public performances of call and response chanting, dancing and music. Young people disillusioned with the world created by their parents are enthralled. Don't trust anyone over 30, maybe their mantra, but they make an exception for the elderly Swami. He's a genuine celebrity who has captured the soul of the counterculture. Keith has got to feel the sting. He defied the Swami and has been expelled from the movement while the Swami is expanding Krishna consciousness throughout the world. Meanwhile, Keith is trying to patch up a rundown farmhouse with no electricity. How are his taking a teaching job so Keith is mostly alone? He thinks of it as his own walled and pond. He bathes in the creek, forages for wild blackberries and edible plants, and chants by candlelight every night. But he can't build the commune on his own. He needs followers, and preferably followers, with carpentry skills. While Howard works on recruiting his students, Keith tries to recruit everyone he meets. Neither of them are very successful though. Lots of people have heard of the Hari Krishna's, but when Keith explains that they aren't those Hari Krishna's and rock stars won't be visiting. And actually, there's no temple yet, but they can go to West Virginia to help build it, but they won't be paid. Well, it's a tough sell. They can't compete with the old Swami in the saffron robes. But Howard has kept in touch with him, coming to believe that trying to set up a rival organization is a fool's errand. The Swami is exotic, wise, and most of all famous. People love him. Keith and Howard are just a couple of nobodies, and Howard is pretty sure they won't get anywhere without the Swami's blessing. He tells Keith it's time to apologize to the Swami and get back in his good graces. Apologies don't come easily to Keith, but he finally agrees to send the Swami a letter. He writes that he was imprisoned by Maya, the world of illusion that seeks to derail those who are making spiritual progress. He tells the Swami he sees both his mistakes and his mission clearly now. Then he goes on to describe the farm and lays out his vision of a beautiful agrarian community where devotees can live in Krishna consciousness. In late May, he gets a response from the Swami himself. His hands tremble as he tears open the envelope and reads, My dear Kirtana Nanda Swami, please accept my blessings. I was so glad to receive your letter and my gladness knew no bounds, exactly like that when one gets back his lost child. It's the reply Keith's been praying for. He's back in the Swami's good graces and more importantly, he's back in the movement. The two continue to write. The Swami advises him on how to build the community and the Swami's plans are even grander than Keith's. He wants to convert the entire state of West Virginia into a Krishna commune. He'll be called New Vrindaban, he says, named for the town of Vrindaban in India, where the Swami did his spiritual study. He tells Keith it's good that the farm is primitive and isolated. Humans can live simply and raise cows and grow crops. They can be completely independent. He advises Keith to convert Richard Rose to Krishna consciousness and get him to sell the farm. He tells Keith that without owning the land or having a long term lease, there's no point in building a commune. But Keith is worried. Rose has made his position very clear, he is not selling. Keith collumly considers that he may have to give up on his dream. Maybe he should join one of the other temples, but he's not up for another political battle for power. Here, on his farm, there's no one to challenge him. He'll be in charge, he will provide the vision and give the orders. He'll build a community that will be the envy of every other temple in the world. But first, he needs the farm to be his, which will take a miracle. But just like the ad in the oracle, miracles come in very unexpected ways. If you're into true crime, the Generation Y podcast is essential listening. We started this podcast over 10 years ago to dissect some of the craziest and most notable murders, crimes and conspiracy theories together, and we'd love for you to join us. Generation Y is one of the longest running true crime podcasts out there, and we are still at it, unraveling a new case every week. We break down infamous cases like the Evil Genius Bank robbery, and lesser known cases like the case of Kimberly Rico. Did she actually kill her husband after they took part in a murder mystery game? We cover every angle, breaking down theories, diving deep into forensic evidence, and interviewing those close to the case. And with over 450 episodes, there's a little something for every true crime listener. Follow the Generation Y podcast on Amazon Music, or every listen to podcasts, or you can listen ad free by joining Wondry Plus in the Wondry app. Is July of 1968, and Richard Rose is still getting replies to the ad he placed in the San Francisco Oracle to help build a countercultural mecca. Most people who answer are hippies with vague dreams of living off the land and peace and harmony. Some come to visit and invites them to stay at his goat farm, which upsets the locals and moundsville a few miles down the road. They're suspicious of their new neighbors. The local paper runs an article about hippies who talk to trees. Rose is worried enough that he puts up no trespassing signs, make sure weapons are always handy. Late one night, Rose is asleep when gunshots fring out. He jumps out of bed and grabs his rifle. The car is idling outside. He returns fires the car speeds away. The state troopers arrive quickly. But instead of investigating, they arrest Richard Rose. It turns out the attackers were just local kids, and they didn't have guns. The noise Rose heard was firecrackers. Rose's gunfire injured a 17 year old boy. With the parents sue, he could lose everything. He needs money for a lawyer, and Keith and Howard are anxious to oblige. Rose has never quite trusted Keith. He may be charming, even charismatic to some people, but to Rose he feels more like a politician who knows exactly what to say. And he's clearly not above lying to serve his own needs. Rose is studied enough religions to know that when a man with that combination attracts followers, he can be downright dangerous. But right now, Rose is desperate. He's ready to make a deal with the devil. Keith stays in the background while Howard works out the details with Rose, a 99 year lease on the property for $4,000. Keith is ecstatic. Maybe Krishna is guiding him after all. He has a farm for his flock. Now he just needs to call them in. While Keith struggles to find followers, the leader of the London Temple is doing fine, and soon sets his sights on the most famous For some in the world. When Makunda ran the San Francisco Temple, he organized a hugely successful rock concert that began with a Swami leading the audience in the Hari Krishna chant. So he knows the power of melding music and spirituality. If he can get the Beatles to join, everyone in the world will know Krishna. But getting the Beatles to join is not as easy as he thinks. He and his senior disciple come up with a plan. They send an apple pie to the Beatles apple records with Hari Krishna iced on top. When they get no response, they send a wind up walking apple and then a tape of chanting. The only response they receive is a rejection letter. Finally, one of the devotees puts on his robes and plants himself in apple records waiting room and waits for one of the band members to walk in. It's just his luck. The first one who sees him is George Harrison. Harrison tells him it's about time he's been trying to meet the Krishna's for over a year. Then he introduces Makunda and his group to the entire band. A few weeks later, one of the devotees shyly asks Harrison if you consider recording a chant. Harrison doesn't want better, and offers to produce a record with a Krishna group chanting. He offers up Paul McCartney's help. When the record is released a year later, it will sell 70,000 copies the first day. Young people all over the world will be singing along. A few weeks after Keith takes the long term lease on the property in West Virginia, the Swami pays a visit to the San Francisco Temple. As he finishes a sermon, a young devotee stands to ask a question. She's so nervous she can barely make eye contact. He smiles at her and her face lights up. Swami, I was wondering, Kirtana Nanda is building a commune in West Virginia. It's very beautiful there. Is it permissible for devotees to go? Before the Swami can answer though, a senior disciple jumps to his feet. How dare you ask that? Black Keith is a heretic, a traitor. The young woman tries to stammer an apology, but the Swami raises his hand and the temple goes silent. I received a letter from the fallen God brother. He humbly sees now that he advanced too rapidly and tried to do too much. Krishna has led to him a beautiful farm where Westerners can come and experience the infinite love and joy of Krishna. He is doing a great service. The disciple quickly pivots. I see and let us stop condemning Kirtana Nanda. Let's follow our spiritual master's example and welcome him back into our midst like a lost brother. And with that, Black Keith is officially forgiven by all. A week later, the young woman and three other devotees packed in belongings into a Volkswagen bus and head for West Virginia. The new Vrendauban commune has its first residence. Over that summer and fall, more devotees trickle in, drawn by tales of a spiritual paradise. A farm blessed by the Swami where they can live off the land and leave the rat race behind. But the truth is less rosy. There are no toilets, no running water, and while mother nature has decorated the commune with songbirds, colorful wildflowers, and majestic stands of trees, she's also about to test their resolve. Winter is harsh, with freezing temperatures and a foot of snow on the ground. It's not an easy place to be living and most of the devotees scatter. But in the spring, about two dozen residents return. This time they get to work fixing up the farmhouse and building apartments in the Ramshackle barn. They repair windows, replace curtains and order cloth from India for the alters. Keith is a tough taskmaster, checking and rechecking their progress, insisting on perfection. And he has a reason to drive everyone so hard. The Swami is coming for his first visit. If he's sufficiently impressed, surely he'll realize that Keith should be his successor. On a clear May morning, Keith and the residents of Lufrendaben impatiently wait at the bottom of the dirt road that leads up to the farm. The Swami is arriving any minute and they're filled with nervous excitement. But no one is more nervous and excited than Keith. This is the most important day of his life. If his commune gets the Swami's blessing, word will spread and devotees will come from around the world. He paces, parking out orders. All right, everyone line up, half of you on each side of the road. Okay, okay, there he is. Now bow down. A Lincoln town car rounds a bend and Keith and the devotees quickly lay prostrate on the ground, stretched out face down, arms slightly bent over their heads as the car rolls to a stop. Welcome to Newvrendaben, Swami. The Swami takes a deep breath of the clean air, looks at the assembled devotees and smiles happily. There are so many of you waiting for me. Hari Krishna. The devotees get up and scramble to load the Swami's luggage into an old Dodge truck that will take him up the rotted road to the commune. The Swami climbs in and Keith gets in beside him. The Swami looks out at the countryside. It's more beautiful here than I could have imagined. Keith smiles. But then the truck belches smoke, lurches a few feet and dies. Keith is mortified. This is not the auspicious beginning he'd hope for. I'm very sorry, Swami. We need a new truck, but we've been putting all our money into buildings. Why do we need a truck, your tunananda? We have a lovely road to walk along. It's two miles to the farm, Swami. If we walk, I can see more of this beautiful land. It reminds me something of the forest of Rindavan where Krishna tended the calves. The Swami takes off at a brisk pace. Keith quickly falls in beside him, pointing out landmarks and detailing his future plans. But the Swami's vision is even grander. He stops at the top of a rise and counts the surrounding hills. I count many hill tops, your tunananda. In my mind, I see seven temples on seven hills. Perhaps I will make my headquarters here in this blessed land. Why return to Vrindavan India when Vrindavan has come to America? Keith could not have dreamed for a better outcome. Maybe it was fate that the truck didn't start. The Swami isn't chanted by nuv Rindavan. When they finally arrive at the farmhouse and bring him fresh milk from their cow, he declares he hasn't tasted milk like it in fifty years. When they bring him honey from their hive, he tells them that they have everything they need for a happy life. As the Swami visits other temples, word spreads that his new headquarters will be a beautiful commune in West Virginia. Keith decides to build a residence for the Swami and a temple for Krishna. And then instead of a house, he decides to build a palace of gold. It will be the most spectacular temple outside of India. And if it impresses the Swami and proves that Keith is the most devoted and worthy of all his disciples, so be it. They break ground in 1973. No one is a trained architect or builder, but no matter. There are carpenters, and Keith himself has drawn up the plans and give an order to do everything to his specifications. He loves flexing his newfound power and influence. New devotees seem to arrive by the day and pretty soon nuv Rindavan is thriving. To accommodate the growing community, the residents build a workshop and more cabins for the new arrivals. Then they purchase enough cows to run a small dairy. In the evening, Keith holds Darshan's, an audience with a spiritual master. When Swami promulpods Holt's Darshan's, he sits beatifically smiling and chanting and gives blessings. It's an opportunity for devotees to feel the love of Krishna, but Keith keeps the devotees waiting. And when he finally arrives, he throws a handful of cookies in the air and watches the followers scramble like starving animals. The Swami would never dream of treating as devotees like this, but no one at Newv Rindavan complains or questions it. For some Krishna followers, it's all they know. Newv Rindavan continues to grow, and expansion means they need more money. They manufacture and sell incense, but it's not enough to fund new buildings. One summer evening, after Darshan, Keith announces a plan. Next weekend, the rolling stones are playing in Philadelphia, the perfect place to gather Lakshmi for Krishna. Lakshmi is the goddess of wealth. Gather Lakshmi for Krishna is a nice way of saying, go panhandle, solicit donations, and recruit new devoties. Keith is far from the only temple leader to seek funding through creative means. The Swami's original idea was to fund Iskhan by selling books and ask for offerings at temple services. But most of the temples around the world have come up with new, more aggressive schemes to raise money. And their legality is dubious. They sell bootleg posters, t shirts and stickers at rock shows wearing street clothes, so they aren't recognized as Krishna's. The most attractive women are sent out to solicit people on the street for donations to non existent charities. The scams are called picking. One of the most lucrative versions has its own name, the citation line. A clean cut Krishna hunts the parking lot of a rock concert and approaches a group smoking a joint. He flashes a badge and tells them, I saw what you were doing, I'm going to have to give you a citation. Then he smiles and hands them a ticket that reads, guilty of having too much fun. And explains that he's raising charitable contributions for poor orphans and asks for donations. It almost always works. Giving up a few bucks for charity is easy when a moment before you thought you were going to jail. It goes further, some of the devoties even sell marijuana and other drugs. They turn over the profits to the temple leaders who are happy to look the other way. Worldwide, the Krishna hustlers are raking in millions. Keith is especially ruthless. He'll even scam fellow Krishna's. When his crew goes to Philadelphia, he reminds them that everything at the Philadelphia temple belongs to Krishna. In other words, it belongs to Keith. Steal their candles, silver, and whatever else you can carry. Within a few years, Keith becomes more crime boss than spiritual master. But new vrndobbant is thriving and the more it grows, the more power Keith has. Keith tells the devotees it's not stealing or conning people when they're doing it for Krishna and no one questions it. No one seems to question anything Keith does, which suits him fine. His lover Howard serves as temple president. They govern together, but Keith is the spiritual leader the devotees look up to. Howard is the brains focusing on writing articles about Krishna philosophy. Not that Howard or Keith follow the Krishna philosophy. They are neither monogamous nor celibate. Technically, Howard is even married. The Swami arranges many marriages among devotees for the practical purpose of creating households. He doesn't believe much in romantic love. Love is reserved for Krishna. The sex is limited to just once a month for procreation. It doesn't work out very well. The divorce rate is 80 percent, far higher than society at large. And while feminism is gaining power in America, it's ignored in the Krishna community. All the positions of power in the Hari Krishna's are held by men. Women must be obedient and subservient to their husbands. Some of them are sent out on the road with their force to put in long hours running scams and soliciting donations. And sometimes they're given amphetamines to stay awake and they're beaten if they don't bring in enough money. The Swami is probably unaware of the abuses that are going on. But Keith and most of the other temple leaders know they're part of something big, a higher calling that can justify their transgressions. They're ambitious young men, hungry for influence and power, what led to do great things. What sometimes, great things come at great cost. Throughout the early 1970s, Keith is intently focused on expanding Newfoundamon. This means growing their real estate holdings. The problem is the locals are not interested in selling their land to weird local hippies and orange robes. So Keith solicits the help of a local sympathetic to his cause. Randall Gorby is a steel worker who was stationed in India during World War II and developed an interest in Hinduism. When he first met Keith and Howard, he hid it off with them immediately. So Gorby agrees to serve as a straw man, buying property from local farmers without telling the neighbors who it's for. With Gorby's help, the Krishna's expand their commune to 4,000 acres. But with the growth of their holdings, so too grows the hostility of some of the locals. They see someone in a row walking down the country roads, they roll down their window to yell slurs, or swerve their cars to try to scare them. So far, there hasn't been real violence, but tensions are rising, and they could shatter at any moment. In early June 1973, Deputy Sheriff Tom Westfall is at his desk when a frantic call comes in. The commune is under attack by a dozen men with automatic weapons. Deputy Westfall runs to his cruiser and speeds toward the commune. He's been uneasy about the Krishna's since he started on the force two years ago, and has been expecting something like this to happen. Westfall's cruiser skids and bounces up the rutted road to Newverendobin. When he arrives, he grabs his AR15 and shields himself behind the car's door. He scans the landscape, listening for gunshots. But all he hears is a screech of a hawk, and the murmur of distant voices. There's no gunfire, no armed intruders, just devotees wandering around in the days. A man rushes over to him, yelling they attacked our temple. It's Keith Ham, the leader of the sect. Deputy Westfall follows him to a farmhouse where Keith shows him broken windows, a group of smashed altars inside. Clearly, there was some sort of incident. It was a motorcycle gang, Keith tells him. There was at least six of them, maybe more. Keith goes on to tell Westfall that the gang marched him out at gunpoint, and that one of them grabbed a shovel and told him to dig his own grave. He called me a hippie freak, Keith says. Sirens wail in the distance. Deputy Westfall tells him to sit and collect himself, that backup is on the way. Meanwhile, he'll talk to other witnesses and get to the bottom of it. State troopers arrive, and they fain out to search the farm and question the residents. But everyone has a different story. It was two men, or a dozen men. They had shotguns, or automatic rifles. The descriptions of the suspects are all different too. No one managed to get a license plate number. Just doesn't make sense. Westfall leaves more confused than when he arrived. Later that night, Deputy Westfall gets a call from a newverin gob in resident. The caller won't identify himself, but he wants to set the record straight. It was just two middle aged guys, he tells Westfall. They weren't part of any gang. One of them was just trying to find his daughter. A couple of months ago, a hurry Krishna bus broke down over in Louisville. One of the devotees became friendly with a local girl, and when the bus was fixed, she was on it. Her father's been desperate to get her back, as she is only 15. The anonymous caller gives Deputy Westfall the name of one of the men and hangs up. It's enough for the Louisville police to track the men down and arrest them. Westfall drives to Louisville to question them. They admit they went to the commune looking for the girl, and they brand a shotguns when they couldn't find her, and the gun accidentally went off. But there were no automatic rifles, no death threats, and certainly no motorcycle gang. It was just two hapless men trying to get a child back. Westfall is stumped and intrigued. Why would Keith embellish the story? Is he crazy? He runs a background check, and it reveals a brief stinted Bellevue, but is otherwise clean. Still, maybe Keith is crazy like a fox. He's leading a religious sect, and persecution is something he might be trying to use to his advantage to engender sympathy. Either way, Deputy Westfall is left with a very uncomfortable feeling. He decides to keep close tabs on the commune. The next morning, Keith is up early. He writes a letter to the Swami describing the attack in breathless detail. In this version, it was an attack by Biker gangs, but the devotees managed to overpower two of the attackers. After in prompt to trial, they decided to show Krishna's mercy and let the attackers go. It's a calculated lie, one that the Swami falls for. When the Swami writes back, he tells Keith he sees the incident as a positive event. He tells Keith, their show of mercy means the devotees and newvrendaban are on the right path, but he tells Keith, next time he shouldn't turn the other cheek. The Swami writes, when newvrendaban has been attacked twice, thrice, why are you not keeping guns? Where violence is, there must be violence. We are not followers of Gandhi's philosophy. Ars began on the fields of war. If somebody attacks you, you must protect yourselves to your best capacity. It's exactly the reaction Keith was hoping for. He doesn't like the looming threat of the locals and their harassment. It's not good for business. He's marketing newvrendaban as a loving, peaceful commune. If word gets out that is dangerous and vulnerable to attack, well that's the end. It has to be safe. And so it's time to create his own armed security force, one that he commands. He'll make it clear to the locals that if they mess with the krischnas, it's at their own risk. Recruiting labors to help build is over. He needs new recruits with darker pasts to serve as protectors. Men with records for violent crime, conspiracy theorists who believe society is out to get them, and are ready to create a utopia that's heavily armed. The most frightening of the new recruits is Thomas Drescher. He joined the Buffalo New York Temple in 1972, drawn in by the devotees bold, free style. He's not a hippie. He has neatly trimmed blonde hair and wears round glasses with an amber tint. But he feels a bond with anyone who is a nonconformist. His first glimpse of newvrendaban is in 1973 when he reaches the top of a ridge on his bicycle. He's ridden there from Buffalo, 275 miles away. It took him four days. The vrendaban residents find him unsettling. His rap sheet started at age 11 for trespassing and grew longer every year. At 18 he went to Vietnam. When he came back he had a purple heart, a bronze star, and frightening PTSD. He relishes telling stories about the vietcong soldiers he killed, filling in every gory detail. The first time he hears Keith speak, he's drawn in by Keith's confidence and absolute certainty that there is a path to enlightenment. It's a comforting message after the instability of his childhood. He was an orphan whose adoptive father was a violent alcoholic. His adopted mother died in a mental institution. Keith is the stable father figure he never had, confidently guiding him on his spiritual journey. In the mid 1970s by the time he becomes a permanent resident in newvrendaban, he's known as someone you don't want to cross. Keith is unsure he can control Dresher but he's willing to take the risk. Dresher is unstable but he's useful. He has the expertise to build an arsenal of weapons and train the residents how to use them and he looks up to Keith is willing to protect him even violently. It's an unholy alliance and that suits Keith Ham just fine. From Wondering, this is episode two of eight of the Harry Christian murders for American Scandal. On the next episode, Keith's alliance with Thomas Dresher grows deeper and darker, moving beyond threats of violence and turning deadly. If you'd like to learn more about the Harry Christian murders, we recommend a book killing for Krishna, the danger of deranged devotion from Henry Doctorski. This episode contains reenactments and dramatized details and while in most cases we can't know exactly what was said, all our dramatizations are based on historical research. American Scandal is hosted, edited and executed produced by me Lindsay Graham for airship, sound signed by Derek Barrett's. This episode is written by Steve Chivers, edited by Andrew Stelson. Executive producers are Stephanie Jenns, Marsha Louis and her nonlopes for Wondering.