JCD NOTES-Satanism in Austin? A few cases in local history | Austin Found

The recent unveiling of a satanic statue in Detroit rankled the religious community while piquing interest in a relatively unknown sect that began in the mid ’60s.

The story is unique in that Satan and the occult are not often making headlines in today’s world. But there were plenty of stories in the Austin American-Statesman archives that have referred to the Christian embodiment of evil.

The March 26, 1939, issue of the Statesman included the front-page headline “Houston Figures Mount Bonnell Was Place Satan Showed Savior.”

An image of the March 26, 1939, American Statesman. The article on Houston and Williamson is below left.

The story goes that General Sam Houston and Williamson County namesake R.M. Williamson viewed the sprawling Hill Country from Mount Bonnell. The alluring landscape led Houston to say “Upon my soul, Williamson, this must be the very spot where Satan took our Savior to show and tempt Him with the riches and beauties of the world!”

Williamson retorted, “Yes, general, and if Jesus Christ had been fallible, he would have accepted his Satanic majesty’s proposition.”

Another story that ran Jan. 8, 1918, quotes Evangelist J. Gordon “Black Billy” McPherson, who had acquired a sort of local celebrity status for his East Austin revivals. In one sermon, he condemned “… his satanic majesty, ‘Kaiser Bill’ and the grog shops that are damning our boys and ruining the fair and beautiful girls of many homes.”

Following Anton LaVey’s establishment of the Official Church of Satan in the late ’60s, media attention and curiosity grew on satanism and the occult. In March 1974, LaVey’s daughter, Karla LaVey, spoke to a crowd at St. Edward’s University about the emerging pseudo-religion, which she called a “law and order institution”:

An image of the March 22, 1974 article on Karla LaVey visiting St. Edward’s University.

“She said Anton Szandor LaVey, a former police photographer and now an honorary police inspector in San Francisco, found the religion after witnessing repeated tragedy and questioning ‘God’s ability to care for man.’ ”

The story concludes with Karla LaVey admitting “that liberal trends in sexuality and religious practices have made the Church of Satan’s views similar to the ‘do what you want’ philosophy of today.”

More than a decade later, a Statesman story about a woman’s alleged kidnapping by satanists may be a good example of the “Satanic Panic” phenomenon during the ’80s.

The Statesman reported in July 1989 that a woman told Austin police she was blindfolded and kidnapped by a man and woman who took her to Austin. For nearly three months, she said she was imprisoned in a windowless room while the couple read her materials related to Satanism.

But a week later police found out the woman had made up the entire story:

“Instead, (the woman) lived in a downtown Austin home for nearly three months and gave birth to a child at Seton Medical Center, said Sgt. Gary Richards, of the Austin Police Department assault unit.”

In 1995, Austin had its own episode of a satanic-looking statue that drew its own interest and ire. But, out of all things, this statue inadvertently helped raise funds for a Christian music radio station.

Twenty years ago Statesman humor columnist John Kelso wrote about a carved wooden statue that had the head of a man and legs of a goat. An antique shop on North Lamar Boulevard had the statue on consignment and left it in front of the building. The bizarre statue caught the eye of quite a few passersby.

The fact that people were so interested in it became a blessing for KNLE-FM, a Christian radio station next door to the antique shop. The publicity from the statue helped bring out a good-sized crowd for a radio station fundraiser.

One case of alleged satanism only recently came to a conclusion. After being imprisoned for nearly two decades, former day care operators Fran and Dan Keller were freed after a bizarre child sexual assault case.

Dan and Fran Keller outside of the Travis County courthouse. RICARDO B. BRAZZIELL / AMERICAN- STATESMAN

Several children who were interviewed by a child psychologist said the Kellers sexually abused them “during horrific rituals that included unearthed corpses, dismembered pets and babies, a blood baptism and videotaped sex acts with adults and other children.” Though the Kellers’ lawyer argued the allegations were part of a national hysteria regarding Satanism and cults, the jury found them guilty.

But in 2013, Travis County prosecutors acknowledged that the doctor who played a key role in the outcome of the trial recanted his testimony due to his inexperience in pediatric exams. After spending more than 22 years in prison, the Kellers were finally free.

Outside of that court case, the only other satanic behavior around Austin seems to be Satan’s Cheerleaders. But luckily the group seems more intent on entertaining crowds than summoning evil spirits.


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