The Grisly Story of Minnesota’s Forgotten “Whipping Cult” Murders
Ever heard of Minnesota's Whipping Cult?
I hadn't until stumbling across this article by The Body International -- an online publication whose mission is to share the stories of destructive cults.
The story of the Whipping Cult goes back to the early 1950's and is set in Lauderdale, Minnesota. What makes the story fascinating -- amongst other things -- is that the "cult" was led by a woman -- Marie Doyle, "a stocky, Midwestern housewife." As The Body International tells it, Doyle and her husband Pat were voted out of their Baptist church over their rather extreme interpretation of certain Bible verses, including Proverbs 20:30, which says "A good thrashing purges evil; punishment goes deep within us." (The Message).
After leaving their church, they somehow managed to convince some "impressionable friends" to join them in joining their new "church," which was little more than a gathering in their home in Lauderdale. Not only did some of those friends join them, but they moved in; The Body International reports that when the cult finally got busted seven adults and seven children were all living in the house.
Worth noting, the Whipping Cult didn't actually call itself by that name. In fact, it didn't have a name but was given that name by the press for its literal interpretation of Proverbs 20:30.
The Body International tells a much more in-depth version of accounts, but in short Doyle and her followers would likely have gone unnoticed had things not turned deadly. One night in 1951, Curtis Lennander -- one of the cult members living in Doyle's house -- felt remorseful for his sins and woke up his wife Ardith who was asleep next to him. He dragged her to the living room, stripped her of her clothes and began whipping her with a three-foot-long whip. Doyle and her mother Anna Halverson were in the room at the time, and -- when she felt the whippings had become too violent -- Halverson stepped in to stop the beating. Instead, Lennander turned his attention to her and began whipping her (Doyle, notedly, sat by watching silently). By the time others walked into the room -- including Doyle's brother and Halverson's son Luther -- it was too late. Horror History reports that Halvorson (64) suffered broken right ribs, a broken left rib, a broken breastbone and “was covered with welts and blood clots.” She would die the next day in the hospital. Lennander's wife Ardith was also left clinging to life; she passed away two days later in the hospital. When asked if she tried to stop things, Marie Doyle reportedly replied, “No, why should I?”
Curtis Lennander was sentenced to two consecutive 7-to-30-year terms for a total sentence of 14 to 60 years. Anne Halvorson's son and daughter-in-law Luther and Esther Halvorson were sentenced to 90-day workhouse terms. Marie Doyle and her husband Pat avoided jail time. According to a clipping from the Minneapolis Star available at Newspapers.com, several of the children living in the house at the time were taken into custody by the court and placed in boarding homes.
After doing some further investigation, we've been unable to find anything more related to the cult or murders since then, including where those involved -- both adults and children -- ended up.
For a deeper dive into Minnesota's "whipping cult," follow these links to The Body International, Horror History and Newspapers.com.
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