When Homeschoolers Turn Violent: Benjamin Matthew and James Tyler Williams

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Series note: “When Homeschoolers Turn Violent” is a joint research project by Homeschoolers Anonymous and Homeschooling’s Invisible Children. Please see the Introduction for detailed information about the purpose and scope of the project.

Trigger warning: If you experience triggers from descriptions of physical and sexual violence, please know that the details in many of the cases are disturbing and graphic.

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Benjamin Matthew and James Tyler Williams

Benjamin Matthew Williams (31) and James Tyler Williams (29) were brothers who believed in white supremacy. On July 1, 1999, motivated by self-professed hatred of gay people, they murdered Gary Matson and Winfield Mowder, a gay couple living in Redding, California.

On July 1, 1999, motivated by self-professed hatred of gay people, Benjamin Matthew Williams (l) and James Tyler Williams (r) murdered Gary Matson and Winfield Mowder, a gay couple living in Redding, California.
On July 1, 1999, motivated by self-professed hatred of gay people, Benjamin Matthew Williams (l) and James Tyler Williams (r) murdered Gary Matson and Winfield Mowder, a gay couple living in Redding, California.

Benjamin and James grew up in Palo Cedro, a small community in Shasta County, California. Their parents were fundamentalist Christians who kept to themselves. A neighbor described them as “heavy Bible thumpers, really into that stuff.” The Williams family briefly attended a Baptist church in Palo Cedro, but they left when the church refused to kick out a bi-racial couple. The Williams’ parents were apocalyptic survivalists who grew their own food and homeschooled their children until they reached high school. In highschool, Benjamin and James were prohibited from participating in extracurricular activities, though they were honor students.

The family eventually moved to Redding because their father believed he received “God’s orders” to do so. After high school, Benjamin briefly served in the military and then attended  University of Idaho. In Idaho, he joined a a local Charismatic church and become interested in “purification diets,” hoping to achieve “perfect bowel movements.” He eventually left the Charismatic church and immersed himself in literature from the internet on white supremacy and anti-Semitism. This literature led him to the Christian Identity movement, a fact seemingly relevant since “proponents of that movement advocate death to homosexuals.”  James was also interested in white supremacy.

Benjamin and James knew their victims — Gary Matson and Winfield Mowder, who had happily been a couple for 14 years — through involvement in the local landscaping industry. The brothers began planning the murders 2 weeks prior, when met Gary and Winfield at the Redding Farmers Market. Both Benjamin and the couple had booths at the market. Benjamin specified to James the couples’ homosexuality as reason for targeting.

On the night of the murder, the brothers used their father’s vehicle to drive to Gary and Winfield’s home. Gary and Winfield were already asleep. Benjamin personally shot both men, emptying an entire clip from a .22 calibre handgun. He then reloaded and fired 5 more shots. When asked later about the murders, Benjamin said he was “not guilty of murder” but rather “guilty of obeying the laws of the Creator.” He called other Christians gut-less, declaring that, “So many people claim to be Christians and complain about all these things their religion says are a sin, but they’re not willing to do anything about it. They don’t have the guts.”

2 years after the murders, in September 2001, both Benjamin and James pled guilty to numerous charges unrelated to the murders: setting fire to three Sacramento synagogues and an abortion clinic in 1999. For those charges alone they were sentenced to prison: Benjamin for 30 years and James for 21 years. The following year, 1 month before his murder sentencing was scheduled, Benjamin committed suicide in prison.  Several months later, James pled guilty to his role in Gary and Winfield’s murders and was sentenced to an additional 29 years to life in prison.

View the case index here.

When Homeschoolers Turn Violent: Eric Robert Rudolph

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Series note: “When Homeschoolers Turn Violent” is a joint research project by Homeschoolers Anonymous and Homeschooling’s Invisible Children. Please see the Introduction for detailed information about the purpose and scope of the project.

Trigger warning: If you experience triggers from descriptions of physical and sexual violence, please know that the details in many of the cases are disturbing and graphic.

*****

Eric Robert Rudolph

Eric Robert Rudolph is known today as “the Olympic Park Bomber” and a terrorist. Responsible for a string of anti-abortion and anti-gay bombings across the U.S. from 1996 to 1998, he is serving a life sentence at the ADX Florence supermax prison in Florence, Colorado.

Former U.S. Attorney General John Ashcroft called Eric Robert Rudolph "the most notorious American fugitive on the FBI's 'Most Wanted' list."
Former U.S. Attorney General John Ashcroft called Eric Robert Rudolph “the most notorious American fugitive on the FBI’s ‘Most Wanted’ list.”

Eric was born on September 19, 1966. His mother and father (who died in 1981) had extreme beliefs “ranging from hatred of Social Security numbers to a naïve faith in the curing powers of laetrile.” After her husband died in 1981, Eric’s mother Patricia moved herself, Eric, and Eric’s five siblings to Topton, North Carolina. In Topton, his mother — and subsequently Eric — became immersed in the Christian Identity movement, which is “a virulently anti-Semitic ‘religious’ sect that preaches that Jews are descended from Satan and that God made non-whites inferior to whites.” Followers are “fiercely opposed to race-mixing, abortion and homosexuality.” They also are “taught to shun birth certificates, Social Security numbers and marriage licenses,” and have “a taboo on antibiotics.”

A year after moving to North Carolina, Patricia and Eric traveled to Missouri and stayed for several months in a Christian Identity compound. Patricia spent time with Nord Davis, an Identity advocate who “advocated killing gays and those who engaged in mixed-race relationships.” She homeschooled Eric and his siblings except for one year when he attended ninth grade at Nantahala School. (During that one year attending school, he “wrote a class paper denying the Holocaust ever happened.”) In fact, Patricia said that she “was drawn to the [Christian Identity] group by the promise of home schooling.” She reportedly used homeschooling to “drill her brand of idealism and independence into her offspring with a vengeance,” teaching that “the government was  a threat to society” and her ideas about God had a “racist slant” with “overtones of the KKK and Nazis.”

After receiving a general equivalency diploma for high school, Eric briefly attended Western Carolina University. He dropped out after two semesters, though, and then enlisted in the Army in August 1987. After 1 1/2 years in the Army, he was discharged “for smoking marijuana.”

In the time between being discharged from the Army and his string of bombings, Eric grew “increasingly paranoid” about the government and society. Then on July 27, 1996, Eric detonated a bomb during the 1996 Summer Olympics at the Centennial Olympic Park in Atlanta. The blast killed 1 person and wounded 111 others. His reason for doing so, he wrote, was “to confound, anger and embarrass the Washington government in the eyes of the world for its abominable sanctioning of abortion on demand.”

A year later, on July 16, 1997, Eric also bombed an abortion clinic in the Atlanta suburb of Sandy Springs, injuring 50 people. A mere month later, on February 21, 1997,  he bombed the Otherside Lounge, a lesbian bar in Atlanta, and injured 5 more people. His last attack was one year later on January 29, 1998, when he bombed an abortion clinic in Birmingham, Alabama, killing a police officer and critically injuring a nurse.

From 1998 until 2003, Eric became a fugitive, “hiding in the Nantahala National Forest of western North Carolina.” During those 5 years, Eric was featured on the FBI Ten Most Wanted Fugitives list. At the time of his capture on May 31, 2003 in Murphy, North Carolina, Eric was “the nation’s most wanted domestic terrorist.” In fact, former U.S. Attorney General John Ashcroft called him “the most notorious American fugitive on the FBI’s ‘Most Wanted’ list.”

Eric was finally captured in May of 2003 in North Carolina when a police officer “spotted Rudolph at about 4 a.m. behind a Save-a-Lot grocery store during a routine patrol.” In April 2005, Eric revealed his motives for all the attacks. After pleading guilty to the attacks, he issued an 11-page statement blaming them on “the legalization of abortion and ‘aberrant sexual behavior.'” Abortion and homosexuality, he explained, were to be met with “force if necessary.” He also said he had no regrets or remorse over the deaths he caused. In August 2005, Eric was sentenced to life in prison without parole.

View the case index here.

When Homeschoolers Turn Violent: Israel Keyes

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Series note: “When Homeschoolers Turn Violent” is a joint research project by Homeschoolers Anonymous and Homeschooling’s Invisible Children. Please see the Introduction for detailed information about the purpose and scope of the project.

Trigger warning: If you experience triggers from descriptions of physical and sexual violence, please know that the details in many of the cases are disturbing and graphic.

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Israel Keyes

Israel Keyes has been referred to as “the most notorious serial killer in a generation” and “the most meticulous serial killer of modern times.” He also was homeschooled.

Israel Keyes has been referred to as "the most notorious serial killer in a generation."
Israel Keyes has been referred to as “the most notorious serial killer in a generation.”

Israel was born in 1978 in Richmond, Utah. His parents were fundamentalist Mormons and homeschooled him and his siblings. When his family moved to Stevens County, Washington, they attended a Christian Identity church called “The Ark,” known for its racism and anti-Semitism. While attending the Ark and living in Washington, the Keyes family became neighbors and friends with the aforementioned Kehoe family. Israel, Chevie, and Cheyne were childhood friends who remained friends through their teenage years.

Israel’s criminal activities allegedly began around 1996 when, at age18, he raped a young girl in Oregon. He intended to kill her, but eventually decided against it. He then began a series of burglaries and robberies. In 2007, Israel created Keyes Construction in Alaska and became a construction contractor. Through his business, he traveled around the U.S. and planned and committed an alarming number of murders. His killing tactics were indeed meticulous: “he would choose a random victim in a remote location, murder the person, and leave,” and “he only killed strangers.”  He financed these trips by robbing banks. He had “murder kits” — with items like shovels, plastic bags, money, weapons, ammunition and bottles of Drano — “to help dispose of the bodies.” After his murders, he would bury his kits. His kits have been discovered in Alaska and New York, but he claims he also buried some in Washington, Wyoming, Texas, and Arizona.

In February 2012, Israel kidnapped an 18-year-old barista named Samantha Koenig in Anchorage. The abduction was caught on video by the coffee shop’s surveillance system and a massive search began for her. Unfortunately, Samantha was killed not long after the abduction. Israel raped her and strangled her to death, then left her body in a shed and went on a 2-week-long cruise. When he returned after the cruise, he then dismembered her body and dumped it in a lake. Israel was finally caught because on March 16, 2012, he used Samantha’s debit card while in Lufkin, Texas.

While being interrogated, Israel confessed to eight murders. He also said he studied the tactics of other serial killers but “was careful to point out” that “he used his own ideas, those of other famous killers.” He added that, after murdering, he “liked to return to Alaska and then follow the news of his murders on the Internet.”

On December 2, 2012, Israel committed suicide in his Anchorage jail cell by cutting his wrists and strangling himself with a bed sheet. He did not leave a straightforward suicide note, but rather a four-page “Ode to Murder.”

To this day, the FBI is “still having trouble identifying many of his victims.” They have created a timeline of his criminal activities from what they know. As of August 12, 2013,

Federal authorities released new information on Keyes, revealing that they suspect him to have a final death toll of eleven victims, all killed from 2001 to 2012, and that there are presumably other victims in Canada (where he sought out prostitutes) and other countries.

View the case index here.