It’s well known that I’m an unapologetic true crime afficionado, and one of my (oh, so many) stock lines is you couldn’t make this stuff up, which is my flip way of expressing that a good true crime writer, by sticking to the facts, is able to present a truer vision of at least a certain, undeniable facet of human nature than the fiction writer who cannot help sentimentalizing or conceptualizing their dramatization of crime. What some people do really makes you question what it means to be human.
Which brings me to Taylor Helzer, the subject of Claire Booth’s excellent 2008 true crime book The False Prophet. Taylor was a promising youth, charismatic and lauded in his Mormon community for his ability to quote passages of The Book of Mormon and his enthusiasm for the religion. Yes, the boy would go far and might even become a prophet in sixty or so years. Unfortunately, the fact that real leadership and power are reserved for the geriatric grated on Taylor’s exalted sense of self, and he broke away to found his own little world beyond good and evil. The Latter Day Saints are a newer religion than most, with a prophetic tradition fresher than that of traditional Christianity. You haven’t been able to say God talked to you in mainstream society without getting burned at the stake or put in a nuthouse since the time of Jesus’s disciples, but not only did God tell the Mormon founding fathers to do some pretty kooky things fairly recently, but the old boys at the main temple evidently still have a hot line to the Big Guy. Taylor wanted some of that unconditional credibility now rather than later, but he was only able to get his perpetually second fiddle brother and a friendless loser to really buy into his divinity and the hair brained schemes the Spirit was revealing to him. As in many cults the small failures merely inspired Taylor to up the ante until they were murdering and dismembering in the name of God, not to mention dollars, a few million of which would allow The Children of Thunder (as they called themselves) to really bring peace and love to mankind – the ones they hadn’t killed, presumably.
Anyhow, like I said, you couldn’t make this stuff up, and Claire Booth lays it all out clearly and without a lot of cant. Here’s some of the choicest, grossest passages, followed by the inspired words of Taylor Helzer himself:
“Spirit says you get to know this isn’t a dream,” Taylor said. And then he slit Selina’s throat. The only sound in the bathroom was the air hissing out of her windpipe. He pushed her under the water. Her dark hair rose in a watery cloud around her face as the hissing slowly stopped.
Then he fished out a piece of flesh and dangled it from the tip of his finger. He had been interested for some time in what exactly his dogs would eat. Now was the perfect opportunity to find out. He called Jake the rottweiler over and showed him the tattoo he had cut from Selina’s shoulder. He coaxed the dog to eat the piece of skin as Dawn watched.
Anything Dawn had done, she did after consultation with Taylor the prophet and with the approval of Jesus Christ. She was surrounded that very moment by a band of angels.
Judging whether belief in a prophet is a delusion or simply religious faith can be a tricky thing. The mental-health field has made obvious allowances for major world religions; doctors cannot go around finding every Christian, Muslim or Jew crazy simply because they believe that God has spoken through a chosen few. So when does faith cross the line to insanity?
– Claire Booth
MOMMA, I AM NOT ASHAMED THAT I AM IN CONSTANT COMMUNICATION WITH THE LORD AND HIS ANGELS AND I DO NOT NEED YOU TO TRY TO HELP ME BY BEING DISHONEST ABOUT THESE THINGS.
I’ve been shown to only focus on the Lord’s will and not get caught up in the dramas of the 3rd dimension.
– Taylor Helzer