Books by Cynthia Stalter Sassé

Released: Oct. 15, 1991

Murder by scripture dominates this compelling if unevenly told story about kidnapping and mass murder performed by an extremist faction of Latter-day Saints. SassÇ prosecuted the case; Widder is an Ohio attorney. Jeff Lundgren was a consummate religious demagogue, with charisma, physical prowess, a talent for seducing the insecure, and the zeal to be ``carnal, sensual and devilish'' under a holy guise. An avid follower of Mormon teachings, he eventually concocted his own theology, sect, and military arsenal to fulfill an apocalyptic mission: to sacrifice a family of recalcitrant followers in preparation for Christ's Second Coming to Zion, which would take place not in Jerusalem but near Lundgren's headquarters in Kirtland, Ohio. SassÇ and Widder spin this ``baroque tale of religious and sexual perversion'' with legal savvy and a dominant tone of objective professionalism, but they indulge in graphic detail as a couple and their three young daughters are lured, blindfolded, bound, dragged into a barn, pushed into a pit, shot, and buried beneath piles of debris. The crime occurs at the book's midpoint, and is followed by an informative but anticlimactic account of subsequent arrests, exhumations, and the ``frantic scramble'' for evidence and other ``legal maneuvering.'' The narration becomes asymmetrical as SassÇ breaks into the first- person to confess how her personal biases (especially a dislike of organized religion) affected her prosecution efforts. Stranger still was the defense, which attempted to show Lundgren not so much as a thief, wife-abuser, coprophile, and killer but as a misguided fanatic whose actions were ``logical extensions'' of Mormon doctrine. Ironically, this argument is obliquely reinforced by SassÇ and Widder's digression into the history of Mormonism and its founder, Joseph Smith, Jr., who advocated ``blood atonement'' for sins. Choppily told, but well-researched and sufficiently bolstered by SassÇ's insider's view of the case to appeal to anyone interested in keeping up with America's continuing cult-murder saga. (Photographs—not seen.) Read full book review >