Mike Warnke: The Man Who Sold Satan
In January 1972, televangelist Morris Cerullo introduced a young man named Mike Warnke to the evangelical Christian community. Cerullo had a rare specimen, indeed: A real, live former Satanist who had found Jesus and wanted to share his testimony with the world. And he had the ability to do it. Warnke possessed native speaking ability and natural charm, enrapturing revival crowds with no visible effort. And to top it all off, he was funny. Warnke’s blend of true confession, Christian stand-up, and born again sermonizing was a winning combination.
Morris Cerullo “cures” 4-year-old Natalia Barned of cancer in 1992
So winning that by 1973, Warnke had broken away from Cerullo to form his own Alpha and Omega Outreach ministry and published his autobiography (co-written Les Jones and David Balsiger of Noah’s Ark infamy), The Satan Seller. It pushed Warnke into the national Christian spotlight, winning him speaking engagements at some of the nation’s most popular evangelical venues.
With his niche firmly established, Warnke enrolled at Trinity Bible College in Tulsa, Oklahoma. In 1975, his first Christian comedy album (Alive!) cemented his fame. Warnke quickly became the best-selling Christian comedian of all time.
Despite his chequered past, Warnke seemed stable and well-prepared for ministry. He was a Vietnam vet married to his college sweetheart, the former Sue Studer. The Warnkes had two young sons. Fellow Christians were amazed at how far Mike had come in such a short time. Truly, this was God’s hand at work.
Less than ten years earlier, Mike Warnke had been high priest in a violent Satanic cult, a drug dealer, and an addict. He viciously dominated and abused the women in his life, cut himself off from his family, and led his followers into increasingly demented behaviour. The way Mike describes himself on Alive!, he was a ruthless gangsta junkie – as badass as 50 Cent, looking worse than Sick Boy from Trainspotting:
“I’d had hepatitis four times from shooting up with dirty needles. I had scabs all over my face from shooting up crystal. I was a speed freak. I weighed 110 pounds soaking wet. My skin had turned yellow. My hair was falling out. My teeth were rotting out of my head. I’d been pistol-whipped five or six times. My jaw had been broken. My nose had been almost ripped off. I had a bullet hole in my right leg. Two bullet holes in my left leg.”
His childhood, while not as tragic as Doreen Irvine’s, had been rough. Born in 1946, he grew up in Coffee County, Tennessee, son of a truckstop owner called Whitey and his fifth wife. Whitey sold drugs and was mixed up with gangsters; he carried a tommy gun in his car, which was full of bullet holes from deals gone bad. He had affairs with many young women, including the teenage waitress who became his sixth wife after Mike’s mother died in 1955.
For the next three years, Mike was at the mercy of a stepmother who whipped him with a dog leash at every opportunity.
Whitey died when Mike was 11. The orphaned boy lived for a short time with his mother’s devoutly Christian sisters, and their influence stayed with him, just as Doreen Irvine’s Sunday school teachers planted the seeds of salvation in her youth. Then he was sent to California, to live with half-sister Shirley Schrader, her husband, and their son. The Schraders raised Mike as their own child, bringing him up Catholic in the tight-knit community of Crestline.
Warnke’s teen years were typical for a Catholic California boy in the ’60s: Dances, parties, cruising with the guys. He never got into serious trouble, but he loved to tell tall tales and act out weird jokes. A favourite trick was to go into a restaurant with one of his pals and pretend he was a Russian who couldn’t speak much English. The friend would “translate” for him. Later, at a college coffeehouse, he pretended to be an Englishman for eight months. In The Satan Seller, he boasts repeatedly that he could talk his way out of anything.
After graduating from Rim of the World High School in 1965, Warnke enrolled at a junior college, San Bernadino Valley College. It was here, on a grassy campus full of mission-style buildings, that he went to the dark side. He had already abandoned the church, having been kicked out of Bible study for asking too many questions.
College gave him the opportunity to break away entirely. He severed contact with this family in Crestline, grew his hair long, and bought outrageous clothes that made him stand out on campus. He became a kind of guru of the quad, dispensing wisdom to like-minded freshmen. He hung around campus all the time even after flunking out of all his classes.
Though he doesn’t give us many time markers, we know that everything Warnke experienced at college occurred between his enrollment in the fall of ’65 and his enlistement in the Navy in the summer of ’66. Keep that in mind.
In The Satan Seller, Warnke tells us he was already an alcholic by the age of 18. At college, a clean-cut fellow student he calls “Dean Armstrong” offered him some pot to counteract the sour stomach and blackouts that resulted from his continuous heavy drinking. Dependence on pot led to a dependence on speed, also supplied by Dean. He also dabbled heavily in peyote, mescaline, and LSD supplied as part of a government-funded research experiment. Then Dean suggested he try something even stronger. He directed Warnke to a gathering held at a posh house in the hills; beautiful hippies smoking pot, talking religion and philosophy before having a free-love orgy.
As Mike realized after attending several such gatherings, these people were Satanists or witches (just like Doreen Irvine, Warnke uses the terms interchangeably). The sex parties were just a lure to bring selected people into the coven.
His introduction to the coven was extremely gradual, unlike the sudden initiation described by Irvine. Though time markers are few and far between, Warnke gives us the impression that a significant amount of time passed before he was allowed to proceed to the “second level”. In the meantime, he became a big-time drug smuggler and dealer for Dean Armstrong. He tells us the coven was handling a “large percentage” of the drug traffic for the Inland Empire at that time.
The “secondary meetings” consisted of rituals that were blasphemous but surprisingly tame. Initiates learned simple witchcraft. Warnke estimates there were “several hundred” regional coven members at this, from all walks of life. There were even a few ministers and priests.
Warnke itched to explore the deeper mysteries of the group, so he obediently served as Dean’s drug gofer and message boy until he was admitted to the “third stage”. This was the inner sanctum, the core group of real Satanists. Dean revealed that he was one of the leaders, a “Master Counselor” (there were three Master Counselors at a time, which is rather bizarre).
Warnke’s first “third stage” meeting was a Black Mass held in a barn near Redlands. A nude girl laid on an altar consisting of a granite slab atop two sawhorses while the three Master Counselors desecrated the sacraments, uttered blasphemies, and read from the Satanic bible, which Warnke calls The Great Mother. It was apparently far less weighy than the massive Book of Satan used by Doreen Irvine’s cult, because Dean was able to rest it on the naked altar-girl’s stomach without crushing her. You’ll notice, in the course of this series, that the world-wide church of Satan doesn’t seem to have standardized scripture. At all. Each ex-Satanist describes different books, different magical systems, and different modes of worship. Orgies are the only consistent feature. You’d think that a secretive cult angling for world domination would be slightly more organized than this.
At the end of the Black Mass, the Satanists cast curses on enemies (i.e., ex-members who were telling people about the coven and Christians who were preaching and praying against Satanism). Warnke was so impressed with this that he asked to be initiated as soon as possible. Dean told him he could join the coven at the next full moon, three weeks later.
We now see the darker side of Warnke. Up to this point, he’s just a speed freak curious about Satanism. After the third meeting, he’s kind of a monster. He admits to holding his girlfriend captive in his apartment for a week, using her as his “whipping girl”, then pushing her out on the street for no reason.
At his initiation, also held in the barn, Mike knelt naked in the center of a circle and received a new Satanic name, Judas. He was “baptized” with holy water mixed with urine. He was given a black robe, a hood resembling those worn by Eastern Orthodox priests, a silver ring to be worn only for “Satanic business”, and a necklace bearing his zodiac sign. This ceremony bears little resemblance to Doreen Irvine’s initiation ritual, which involved drinking the blood of a sacrificed rooster. Instead of signing a parchment, Warnke signed his name (in his own blood) within a large leather-bound book. Some of the names already inscribed in it appeared in green ink, and Dean explained that the blood magically turned green as soon as someone betrayed Satan.
This group called itself The Brotherhood.
To his credit, Warnke tells us much more about the beliefs and attitudes of Satanic witches than Doreen Irvine did. He informs us that Satanists believe in God, but reject God in favour of the thrills and short-term benefits Satan can provide. They have elaborate rituals and spells. They don’t just burn Bibles, like Irvine’s “black witches”. Nor does Warnke claim to have superpowers like those Irvine developed; he can’t levitate, kill birds with his mind, or make himself invisible.
But Warnke doesn’t get too specific about the doings of his cult. He doesn’t reveal any of the contents of The Great Mother, doesn’t provide real names, and gives only vague descriptions of meeting places.
Mike learned a lot about Satanic witchcraft in a very short time. First, a female witch revealed to Warnke that the powers of spells, curses, and potions came from demons. These demons had been pressed into service by their master, Satan, and performed their tasks reluctantly. So if any rule was broken or any mistakes made, the demon could lash out violently against you. An “enraged demon” had clawed her forehead once, leaving a nasty scar. Later, he learned that two Satanists had been crushed to death by an invisible force because they carelessly stepped on the wrong part of the circle during a ceremony.
Next, Dean made it clear that he was expected to go out and recruit new members. In stages, he would lure them to a female witch’s apartment for sex, then offer drugs, then ease them into witchcraft. Dean supplied him with a fake ID so that he could cruise bars for “marks”. Mark brought 1000 people into the Brotherhood in this manner, raising regional membership to 1500. He repeats this number at least four times in the book.
At some point, Dean told Mike that the “big guys” were giving him a big promotion, and Mike would be taking his place as a Master Counselor.
One week later, again on the night of a full moon, he was initiated into his new role. He became the “Master of Ritual” (the other two counselors were known as the Keeper of the Seal and the Keeper of the Books). Perks of Mike’s new job included free rent, free groceries, a chauffeur, unlimited drugs and alcohol, and two pretty “roommates” who submissively catered to his every whim. According to Warnke these two young women were considered “slaves, or menials, or whatever”, and were “just there for show and for my pleasure”. But they also performed secretarial tasks, did all the cooking and cleaning and entertaining, and prepared his snacks and his drugs.
At meetings, Warnke intoned certain chants while he “exorcised” ritual knives with belladonna-laced incense, outlined a pentagram on the floor with the tip of a sword, and mock-disemboweled the naked girl on the altar. At some point he would summon a demon to do the bidding of the coven (the pentagram had to be outlined perfectly, because it magically “caged” the demon; if there was even the slightest break in the pentagram, the demon could escape and do serious damage).
After this was done, Satanists could step forward with petitions to curse their enemies.
Warnke introduced two innovations into meetings: Blood-drinking and host desecration. These things had never been done by the coven, and Warnke says he took “sadistic pleasure” in watching the female witches nervously take their first sips of blood.
From this point in his narrative, Warnke begins to hint that the “fourth step” in the Satanic hierarchy is the Illuminati. The people at this level were well-dressed professionals, almost aristocratic in bearing. Strangely, Warnke never asked his fellow Satanists about the fourth level. He seemed content to let the upper echelons remain shrouded in mystery until he was considered worthy to join their ranks.
Perhaps he was satisfied with the power he wielded. Warnke ritually summoned demons at each Satanic ceremony, and the demons did his bidding. He tells us demons are capable of possessing people and driving them to insanity and suicide. They can cause disease and impede spiritual growth.
One night, to impress a childhood pal who was visiting, Warnke summoned a demon and ordered it to burn down a bar. A short time later, the building was ablaze.
Later, the coven cursed the two young daughters of a Valley College professor who had spoken dismissively of witchcraft, and caused an ex-member to have a near-fatal car accident.
Impressed with his performance as a Master Counselor, some fourth-stagers sent Warnke to a gathering of high-level witches organized by Bridget Bishop of Salem, Massachusetts – a descendant of the first witch executed during the Salem witch trials. (Some of Bishop’s descendants do still live in the area, and a decade ago several of them called for Bridget’s full exoneration. A “Bridget” was not among them. According to Warnke, Bridget Bishop was a stunningly beautiful young woman who lived in a large old house stuffed with antiques.)
At this witch convention, the main topic was organization. We learn that the U.S. Satanic witch movement has a corporate-style structure and uses tactics culled from big business and the military to keep everything running smoothly.
Hearing this, Warnke had his New World Order revelation. He suddenly realized there could be a fifth stage controlling everything, not just Satanism but world events.
“A world-wide, super secret control group with perhaps as few as a very dozen at the top…with key men controlling governments, economies, armies, food supplies…pulling the strings on every major international event…and not just now, but for generations, centuries, since the beginning of civilization…manipulating men by their egos and their appetites, rewarding and depriving, enraging and pacifying, raising up first one side and then the other, maintaining a balance of frustration, bitterness, and despair?” (p. 93, ellipses in original)
He heard other attendees talking about the demons that had controlled the worst dictators of history: Nero, Hitler, Stalin. A light went on in his head, showing him that demonically inspired Satanists and their human puppets were the force beyong international finance, politics, war, industry, and everything else.
“I laughed, a little hysterically, but the light show wouldn’t shut off. So that was how it was done! The global-conspiracy buffs were right, after all. Lee Harvey Oswald, James Earl Ray, Sirhan B. Sirhan – they were the pawns of a much bigger plot.“
Keep in mind that Warnke was supposedly having this revelation in 1965 or ’66. Ray and Sirhan were nonentities.
He also realized that he and all the other Satanists were just pawns in Satan’s campaign of jealousy and hatred, and that Satan probably hated humans just as much as he despised the God who had denied him his rightful place in heaven.
It didn’t bother him too much. He just got on with his Satanic business. He attended another witchcraft convention in New York, where he learned that some Satanists were sacrificing their fingers (mentioned repeatedly by Doreen Irvine) and eating human flesh.
Warnke introduced both practices to his coven, and added cat sacrifice to the rituals as well. He also suggested that his group collect blood from stray dogs if they couldn’t get enough human volunteers, and he later learned that reports of exsanguinated dogs shot up 500% in the area.
After an occult convention in San Francisco (where he met Anton LaVey), he used a new “formula” during a meeting and inadvertently sent a young woman into a screaming, frothing fit of demonic possession.
In accordance with The Great Mother, he decided it was time to start raping virgins at sabbats. He and three other Satanists convinced a college student named Mary to accompany them to the orange grove where they usually held their rituals, then violently forced her to disrobe and lay on the altar. She was raped by an unspecified number of men before being taken to a doctor affiliated with the coven – someone who wouldn’t talk.
Meanwhile, Warnke’s speed use was spiralling out of control and he was becoming very paranoid. He feared the Mafia, Communists, and every bump in the night. The higher-ups evidently decided he was a liability, so his slave-girls were instructed to give him an overdose of heroin. While he was drifting in and out of consciousness, cult goons removed him from his apartment and dumped him on the sidewalk in front of a hospital. He registered as John Doe and went through agonizing withdrawal for a week.
When he returned to his pad, the slave-girls were gone and most of his Satanic paraphernalia had been removed. He had been ejected from the Brotherhood. He also lost his part-time job at a hamburger stand.
With few choices left, he joined the Navy. Withdrawal made bootcamp a nightmare, but the two Christian men in his unit lovingly tended to him day after day. These guys, Bob and Bill, seemed to be filled with a calm and peace that the others lacked. One day, Warnke’s eye fell on Bill’s Bible. It was open to John, and 3:16 caught his eye. He picked up the book and began reading it in the privacy of a broom closet. He found himself unable to put it down, so he read throughout the night. By dawn, he was saved.
After basic training, Warnke visited his family for the first time since he left Crestline for Valley College. While there, he ran into an old classmate named Sue Studer, another born again Christian. They were soon engaged. He told her all about his Satanic past. Both Sue and Mike claim that Satanists were gunning for Mike at this time; their friend Lorrie narrowly escaped being shot while snooping around a warehouse where the Brotherhood was gathering, and someone fired on Mike’s car from a Cadillac.
Mike himself was a danger to those around him. Still in the grip of demons, he tried to strangle Sue one night. She realized what was happening and ordered the demons to depart in the name of Jesus, which seems like a rather strange reaction to a murder attempt by your fiance.
In 1967 the newlyweds settled in San Diego, where Mike went through training to become a Navy medic. They befriended a pastor who is now a household name: Tim LaHaye, co-author of the Left Behind novels. When Warnke told him about the Brotherhood and their efforts to scare him, LaHaye replied, “I’ve been attacked by witches,” and filled him in on the history of the Bavarian Illuminati.
Every Christian who heard Mike’s story was equally supportive and accepting. No one suggested that he turn himself in to the police for abduction and rape. No one advised him to seek psychological help or drug treatment. In fact, church members urged him to become a Sunday school teacher!
Just as Sue learned she was pregnant, Warnke was shipped to Vietnam. In this dismal atmosphere of death and devastation, he soon reverted to drinking and popping pills. His newfound faith in Christ dwindled. Though he was not supposed to be armed, he was, and one day an officer ordered him to execute a suspected Vietnamese spy.
In October ’69, his unit was withdrawn. He returned to California in March of the following year. By this time, he had 3-month-old son, Brendon.
Their Christian friends helped Warnke regain his footing in the faith. He began giving his testimony at Jesus People gatherings in San Diego, Coronado, and La Mesa. Dick Handley introduced him to Anaheim Bulletin writer/photographer David Balsiger, who would become one of his co-authors. Balsiger was also a media director for Morris Cerullo at this time, though Warnke doesn’t mention that. Cerullo and Balsiger had constructed an educational “witchmobile” full of occult paraphernalia, and Cerullo wanted Balsiger’s help in writing a book titled Witchcraft Never Looked Better. In the end, Balsiger and Warnke left Cerullo out of their collaboration (Balsiger assisted Cerullo with his ’73 book The Back Side of Satan).
Balsiger considered himself something of an occult expert, and Warnke donates several pages to his “knowledge”. Among Balsiger’s pearls of wisdom:
– “We discovered that occult practitioners open themselves to mental derangement, criminal tendencies and possible self-destruction or the destruction of other persons…many witches say that only Satanists and black arts practitioners go off the deep end and kill people or commit other crimes, but we researched eleven recent criminal cases…[and] occult practices were directly or indirectly linked to each case.” He doesn’t explain who conducted this research, how it was conducted, how occultism was connected to the cases, or even which cases were examined. We pretty much have to take his word for it.
– “witchcraft is being taught as an official course or as part of a lecture series in public schools all across the country under a variety of course titles, including the ‘Literature of the Supernatural‘.”
– “40 to 50 percent of those undergoing treatment for various neuroses in and out of mental institutions have dabbled in the occult, and it never occurs to most psychiatrists to ask about this, nor would they know how to deal with it if they did ask.” (Balsiger’s wife, Janie, chimes in, “That’s because it’s a spiritual problem, and only a Christian psychiatrist would be able to cope with it successfully.”)
– The peace symbol has a Satanic origin. Also, “it was used on Hitler’s Nazi death notices and as part of the official inscription on the gravestones of Nazi officers of the SS, the leaders of which, incidentally, were Satanists.” (The Morning of the Magicians by Bergier and Pauwels is cited as a source for this factoid)
– “In some parts of the country the occult epidemic is more serious than the drug-abuse scene among young people.”
At the urging of Balsiger and others, Warnke applied for early release from the Navy (he had four years left to serve) so he could launch an anti-occult ministry.
He tries to convince us that Satanism poses a real threat to the average American. On page 195 he writes, “Drug pushers and political revolutionists are using devil worship as a way to rake in millions of dollars, weaken the government, and destroy law enforcement.” When a reporter asked for his opinion on the Manson murders, he said, “Well, the main point here is that lots of crimes are committed as a result of occult involvement, and people should report to the police if they see someone going around wearing human bones as jewelry, or if there’s a group meeting under a full moon.”
What Warnke advocates, basically, is a new witch hunt. He even scoffs at the notion that Medieval and early modern witchhunts were “nothing but mass paranoia”. At a press conference, he urged people to “get uptight” with bookstores that sold occult literature and theatres that screen horror movies.
As soon as his early release was granted – which Warnke portrays as a miracle – he began setting up speaking engagements to share his testimony.
Morris Cerullo, the preacher who got him started on this path, is not mentioned anywhere in The Satan Seller. He and Warnke had a falling-out when Warnke went off on his own, and Warnke reportedly forbade Cerullo from using any part of his life story in his revival sermons. Cerullo did include some of Warnke’s anecdotes in his ’73 book, The Backside of Satan, however, and those tidbits would come back to haunt Warnke.
The story of The Satan Seller concludes with Mike and Sue starting out on their glorious new ministry. At the end of the book is a list of suggestions for combatting the occult: write to congressmen and senators about the occult menace, picket bookstores and movie theatres, and “investigate schools” to make sure they aren’t teaching kids about things like supernatural literature.
Warnke networked widely in the evangelical community, forging ties with the Jesus People, the Full Gospel Business Men’s Fellowship, Pentacostal preachers, Charismatics, and anyone else who unquestioningly accepted his testimony. They adored him. He was real, solid proof that an occult underground was devouring America’s youth.
As mentioned in Part I, Warnke moved Sue and their two children to Tulsa, Oklahoma in 1974 so he could attend Trinity Bible College. The Warnkes became friends with another student at the bible college, Carolyn Alberty. Her testimony, while not as thrilling as Mike’s, still grabbed attention: She was “third-generation Mafia”, with a dad who ran gambling dens and a mom who ran brothels.
By the end of the school year, Mike and Carolyn were having an affair.
It was also around this time that Warnke made the peculiar decision to become a deacon in the Syro-Chaldean Church, a renegade offshoot of the Eastern Orthodox church. He would later lace his own services with Orthodox accoutrements such as gaudy robes and incense, which is very much at odds with the negative picture he paints in The Satan Seller of the “almost sensual” trappings of Catholicism. (p. 7)
After graduating from Trinity in the spring of ’75, the Warnkes moved to Denver. Mike lured his mistress, Carolyn, there with the promise of employment at Pastor Wally Hickey’s Happy Church, where Mike held an unpaid position as an evangelist for one of the church’s lay ministries.
By the end of the year, he and Carolyn were openly a couple and his “employment” with The Happy Church was over.
In September ’76, Mike moved with Carolyn to Nashville. He divorced Sue that December, despite desperate efforts by friends to negotiate a reconciliation. In early ’77, Carolyn and Mike married. Though a few Christian associates frowned heavily on the divorce and remarriage, it didn’t put a serious dent in Warnke’s public image. He appeared on the cover of the October ’76 issue of the Christian magazine Harmony. In the article, he’s quoted as saying, “Now, I’m a strong civil rights advocate. The last time I had been in Alabama was with Dr. Martin Luther King, back in my college days when I went down there on Freedom Rides. The last time I was there was to march in a civil rights demonstration. “
As you know from Part I, Warnke was in college (very briefly) in 1965. The Freedom Rides were in ’61, when Warnke was 15 years old and living in California.
In the fall of 1978, the future seemed bright for Mike Warnke. His three albums were the most popular Christian comedy albums every recorded, and his ’79 tour was going to be his biggest yet. He had also written a second memoir, Hitchhiking on Hope Street.
He was touring continuously while Carolyn remained in Nashville with her mother. You can probably see where this is going. In Kentucky, Warnke met a young woman named Rose Hall and began courting her openly. The lovers met in various cities while Warnke was on the road, dishing out Christian comedy and salvation.
His relationship with Carolyn allegedly turned violent. One night that summer, according to Carolyn, Mike shoved her into a wall during a fight and split her head open. He told her, “If you go to a local hospital and tell them what your name is, I’ll kill you. I don’t have to do it physically. I can do it from another room or another state.”
They divorced in November. Warnke told several friends that Carolyn had died.
In January 1980, he married Rose Hall. She would take a more active role in his ministry than either Sue or Carolyn, but this union was also doomed.
Sometime after his third wedding, Warnke became a “bishop”. Independent “bishop” Richard Morrill had married Carolyn and Mike in Nashville, and in 1980 he consecrated Warnke a bishop in his “Holy Orthodox Catholic Church, Eastern and Apostolic” (registered in the state of Texas).
In 1982, Mike and Rose registered their own ministry as “The Holy Orthodox Catholic Church in Kentucky”.
The centre of Warnke’s ministry remained anti-occult, though. Throughout the early eighties, he and Rose traveled the country warning Christian audiences of the occult menace, and described their work in Kentucky helping victims of Satanism. One such victim, a little boy they called “Jeffy”, was so traumatized by years of Satanic ritual abuse that he had lapsed into catatonia.
To date, no one has been able to locate “Jeffy”.
On May 6, 1985, ABC’s 20/20 program aired a special on Satanism in America, The Devil Worshipers. This allegedly “skeptical” report by Tom Gerold was alarmist in tone from beginning to end. On the Ricky Kasso case: “Despite numerous signs that Kasso was into Satanism and rock music associated with devil worship, police steadfastly refused to label this case Satanic. The offical explanation: A drug-related crime.” Well, it was a drug-related crime. The victim, Gary Lauwers, allegedly stole ten packets of angel dust from Kasso, and Kasso (a small-time dealer) vowed he wouldn’t get away with it.
Much of the program is taken up with the problems of juvenile graffiti, dog mutilations, and horror movies, but then Warnke shows up as a “former Satanist” to describe some of the practices of devil worship. He sits behind an arrangement of props that include a sword, a goblet, and a human skull. Holding up a bone, he explains that Satanists use them to tell the future. He says he was drawn into Satanism as a young man because he “wanted to be somebody special.”
Cut to stark black-and-white photos of a teenage boy’s corpse. Writing is faintly visible on his skin. “This is a 15-year-old boy who also wanted to be special,” Tom Gerald tells us. The boy hung himself after scrawling Satanic slogans and symbols on his body. As we’ll see, tying a bizarre teen suicide to Warnke’s cult confessions was not a wise journalistic move.
Other “occult experts” interviewed for the program included “cult cop” Sandi Gallant and Dale Griffis, a former police chief whose academic credentials were exposed as bogus during the trial of Damien Echols and Jason Baldwin.
Contributions to Warnke’s ministry topped $1 million in 1985, and reached over $2 million each year from 1987 to 1990. By ’91 he had released eight albums and produced a video (Do You Hear Me?). Until the spectacular collapse of Jim and Tammy Faye Bakker’s multimedia Christian empire, he was a regular guest on The PTL Club.
Warnke’s account of his year as a Satanist had become more elaborate over the years. Though the only famous person to appear in The Satan Seller is Anton LaVey, Warnke told Morris Cerullo and others that Charles Manson attended one of his coven’s rituals in 1966 and was unimpressed, apparently disappointed that Warnke only pretended to disembowel the nude altar girl. Manson also attended the same San Francisco occult conference as LaVey, Warnke said.
Between June 1960 and March 1967, Manson was in jail for violating the Mann Act and his probation. Warnke could not have met him in the flesh unless he traveled out to McNeil Island penitentiary.
These weren’t the only stretchers Warnke was telling. In ’82, he told Contemporary Christian Music magazine he had earned a Ph.D in philosophy, a master’s degree in theology, and a second master’s degree in Christian education. Since his single term at San Bernadino Valley College back in ’65, the only schooling he had was his year in bible college. The degrees were completely fictional.
Beginning in late ’86, the Warnkes talked of establishing a treatment facility for children rescued from Satanism, and began taking donations for it. This centre never materialized. By April of 1987, the lovely brick complex of Warnke Ministries in Burgin, Kentucky, consisted of offices, chapel, and library. There were no medical facilities, no rehab quarters, and no staff trained to deal with traumatized children. Dr. John Cooper was hired as director of the centre in 1989, but was fired later that year without treating a single child.
Mike and Rose separated the same year. They divorced in ’91, and six weeks later Mike married his fourth (and current) wife, Susan Patton. They returned to California. Mike published his third book, an “educational” tome titled Schemes of Satan, quickly followed by his fourth book (co-written with Rose), Recovering from Divorce. Warnke was becoming something of an expert on the latter subject.
Warnke’s fibs and confabulations had not gone entirely unnoticed in the Christian world. In the late ’80s, Cornerstone magazine quietly launched an investigation into his ministry and background. This was a publication of Jesus People USA, established and run by Christians. Warnke was being examined by his own people.
Cornerstone writers Jon Trott and Mike Hertenstein had already examined Lauren Stratford’s popular memoir of child abuse and Satanic worship, Satan’s Underground (which we’ll see later in this series). They found that Stratford’s story didn’t correspond in any way to the known facts of her life. This was a disappointment to the many Christians and anti-occult activists who had supported “Lauren” and promoted her testimony, but the publishers of Cornerstone felt the truth was more important than protecting the reputations of fellow Christians.
They took the same approach to Warnke’s background. Trott and Hertenstein interviewed family, classmates, friends, associates, and former employees of Warnke. They also waded through a swamp of divorce proceedings, financial documents, and academic records to ferret out which of Warnke’s many claims were true.
The results were stunning. Trott and Hertenstein learned from Warnke’s own mother (half-sister Shirley Schrader) that he had not wandered away from church life as a teenager. In fact, he asked to be confirmed as a Catholic in his senior year of high school.
When he was supposedly living with two slave-girls in a Satanic bachelor pad, strung out on speed, with bleached hair down to his butt and black-painted fingernails, Warnke was actually engaged to a devoutly Catholic nursing student named Lois Eckenrod. They met within the first two months of college, got engaged in the winter of 1965, and spent every day together until Mike joined the Navy the following June. Lois says Mike was a Christian who always kept his hair short. He lived alone. He showed no signs of drug or alcohol abuse.
His college friend Greg Gilbert, with whom he lived for a while, described 18-year-old Warnke in much the same way. He was part of a loose-knit group of clean-cut, mostly Christian, students who bowled, played croquet, and drank very little.
His high school and college buddies had never seen him take a drag, much less move hundreds of kilos into the Inland Empire at the behest of Satanic kingpins. While Mike “Judas” Warnke was supposedly lopping off the fingers of devil-worshipers and sipping blood from a chalice, the real Mike Warnke was bowling, sharing hot fudge sundaes with his Catholic girlfriend, and listening to folk music at campus coffeehouses.
While Warnke claims he avoided his family after enrolling at college, Shirley Schrader says Mike had Christmas dinner in Crestline with the family in ’65. She noticed nothing out of the ordinary about his appearance or demeanor.
The recollections of his friends and family members weren’t the only things that contradicted Warnke’s story. Trott and Hertenstein used the handful of time cues in The Satan Seller to figure out just how long it took Warnke to become a drug-addicted Satanic high priest. In their side-article “Why the Dates Don’t Work“, they explain how his chronology is flat-out impossible.
They also sorted out Warnke’s confusing claims about his education, learning that he didn’t possess a single degree aside from the one issued by Trinity Bible College – a nonaccredited school.
They heard allegations of death threats and abuse from Warnke’s second wife, Carolyn. They learned that he had carried on an affair during this marriage even before meeting his third wife, Rose.
They spoke to former ministry employees who quit or were fired after they realized that all the money being raised wasn’t being spent in the ways it was supposed to be spent. The rehab center for child victims of Satanic ritual abuse, for instance, never existed as anything more than a fantasy.
Cornerstone published the results of Trott and Hertenstein’s research as a cover article in June 1992: “Selling Satan: The Tragic History of Mike Warnke“.
Testimonials supporting Warnke immediately cropped up: David Balsiger, first wife Sue Studer, Bob Larson, Pat Matrisciana, Joanna Michealson, and others stood behind him. Note that all of these people met Warnke after his supposed year of Satanic involvement.
His record label, Word, also pledged loyalty to Warnke. Warnke himself penned a scathing letter to Cornerstone, declaring that he stood by his autobiography “exactly as published”, boasting of his “nationally recognized expertise on the occult”, and dismissing ex-wife Carolyn as a “cold-hearted and calculating temptress”.
The Lexington Herald-Leader then picked up the ball, printing an expose of financial irregularities in Warnke’s ministry.
Word promtply dumped Warnke.
In September, the Warnkes shut down their ministry. Warnke ultimately admitted that his coven of 1500 Satanists actually consisted of 13 people. He declined to give their names, claiming that 8 of them were deceased, and never provided any evidence in support of his testimony.
In the spring of 1993, a panel of ministers assembled to sort out Warnke’s problems, both spiritual and financial. The group rebuked him for his ungodly behaviour, recommended changes to his ministry (including accountability reports and salary caps), and advised that he pay back taxes to the IRS. Warnke reportedly complied with everything.
Warnke’s ministry took a severe beating for a few years, but in the grand tradition of American preacher scandals, he was rehabilitated and welcomed back into the arms of the Christian community. By 2000, he was back on tour. The born again was born again.
But he wasn’t entirely chastened by his scandal. In 2002 he published a book titled Friendly Fire: A Recovery Guide for Believers Battered by Religion, in which he vented about his treatment at the hands of other Christians. And to this day, he maintains that his experiences with Satanism are essentially as he described them back in the ’70s.
Today, Warnke and his fourth wife run Celebrations of Hope Ministry. Warnke’s fellow preachers skirt around the whole Satanic thing these days, focusing instead on his trials and triumphs as a temporary Christian pariah. During Warnke’s appearance on The New Jim Bakker Show in 2007, Bakker told the audience, “Mike was saved out of Satanism or something.”
Warnke’s own comments during this show are illuminating. He joked that exaggeration on the part of televangelists is “evangelasticity”. Explaining how he got into comedy/ministry, he said, “I was a child of the Jesus Movement, and of course in the Jesus Movement we all had to have a testimony. If you had been to seminary, if you had six doctorates, if you’d been in the ministry for 25 years, nobody wanted to hear a word you had to say. If you killed your mom, in say 15 minutes they’d let you pass [into] the church.” In time, he realized that his own “four-star testimony” was bumming out his audiences, so he leavened it with comedy.
He says he entered the Navy to escape murderous Satanists. He figured there wouldn’t be any Satanists or homosexuals there.
Today, Warnke is a “Right Reverend”, and the website of Christian Communion International identifies him as a doctor.
The long hair is gone, the evangelasticity is a little less springy, but he’s still the same “former Satanist” who scared the hell out of millions of Christians for nearly two decades. His four-star testimony convinced them that all witches, Pagans, and Satanists are a threat to every American family, and that the occult menace of Halloween celebrations and rock music must be destroyed.
The rehabilitation of his career demonstrates that truth is of secondary importance to certain quarters of America’s faith community.