Child custody court case decisions typically are lengthy and complex, and deal with a multitude of legal issues. The following case summaries will generally include only those issues in which religion was a factor. Some summaries may omit issues relevant to the court's decision, but not relevant to the theme of this website.
LOST: ONE HUSBAND. Henry Roach Came to Topeka and Then Disappeared. Chief of Police Eaton has been asked by Mrs. Catherine Roach, of Frankfort, Kan., to locate her husband, Henry Roach, who left his home at Frankfort, July 14, for Topeka, to attend a convention of Bible students conducted here, July 15, at the Auditorium, by Charles T. Russell, of Allegheny, Pa. He did not attend this convention, nor has he been heard from directly by his wife since leaving home. It is feared by his relatives that his mind has become temporarily deranged from the heat, and that he is wandering around somewhere in this section of the state. A description of Mr. Roach was given to the police as follows: Forty-five years old. five feet seven inches in height, weight 150 pounds, light complexioned, blue eyes, dark hair, red moustache sprinkled with gray. He wore a black moleskin suit, and black hat and tie when he left home. Mr. and Mrs. Roach came to Frankfort from Oklahoma City about two months ago. They belong to a religious cult now in process of formation which is to be called the Believers in the Millenium Dawn. Mr. Roach is spoken of as a sober and industrious man, of good habits. His wife is now in this city trying to get some trace of him or his whereabouts. Mr. Roach, a few days ago, wrote a letter from some Kansas town, presumably Mayetta, to Mrs. Roach's brother at Frankfort, in which he stated that he was not coming home again, and asked the brother to so notify his, the writer's wife, Mrs. Roach. Mrs. Roach stated today that their marriage relations had always been of the most pleasant kind; that she planned this trip for Mr. Roach in the hopes that it would benefit his health, which has been very poor. She fear that he has fallen ill and that his mind has become temporarily affected as a result. She stated that her husband was not yet a convert to the Millenium Dawn faith, but that she was. Mr. Roach had $41 in his possession when he left home. -- The Topeka Daily State, July 23, 1908.
NEW YORK v. JAMES SULLIVAN was a 1909 New York criminal court case which aptly demonstrates how the WatchTower Cult of the pre-1914 time period viewed children and child-rearing. Also see opening section of this website's HOME PAGE linked above.
James Sullivan was the 15 YEAR-OLD son of BETHELITE and WATCHTOWER PILGRIM, Owen L. Sullivan, whom also had two older daughters and a son-in-law who all were BETHELITES at WatchTower HQ in Brooklyn. Those two older daughters were the children of O. L. Sullivan and his deceased first wife (Alabama), while James Sullivan had been born to O. L. Sullivan and his second wife in 1894 -- soon after their marriage (Tennessee).
It appears that Owen L. Sullivan had become a WATCHTOWER BETHELITE sometime around 1907, so we are guessing that James Sullivan's mother had died sometime shortly prior to 1907, and that after her death, O. L. Sullivan had abandoned the rearing of his then 13 year-old son to either relatives or a boarding school. At some unknown point in time, WATCHTOWER BETHELITE and PILGRIM, O. L. Sullivan, had forced James Sullivan to live at Fox River Academy, which was a SEVENTH DAY ADVENTIST "school" located in Illinois. Notably, the name of that "school" had been changed in 1908 from Sheridan Industrial School to Fox River Academy -- admittedly to improve the "institution's" image. In reality, this "school" was a working farm where the students were required to perform all of the manual labor when they were otherwise not being indoctrinated with SDA beliefs and practices, and given a free basic education in exchange.
James Sullivan foreseeably did not like living as a "slave" at Fox River Academy, and ran away to live with relatives sometime during the Spring of 1909. Around July 1909, 15 year-old James Sullivan traveled to WatchTower HQ, in Brooklyn, where he thought that he would find his "loving" father, Owen L. Sullivan. However, at the time, O. L. Sullivan was traveling with Charles Taze Russell in the western Pacific states. Apparently, BETHELITE brother-in-law A. G. Wakefield arranged for James Sullivan to also become a BETHELITE and work at WatchTower HQ. After a month or so of performing slave labor for room and board at WatchTower HQ, James Sullivan ran away to relatives living in Philadelphia.
James Sullivan apparently was "tricked" into returning to WatchTower HQ, where brother-in-law, Averett G. Wakefield, and James Sullivan's two half-sisters had him arrested and jailed with the intent of having him legally declared a "juvenile delinquent", and shipped off to a REFORM SCHOOL. Outcome unknown.
JOSEPH E. DAVIS v. MARY E. DAVIS was a 1908-11 Pennsylvania divorce case involving a then Millvale, Pennsylvania couple with 4 children -- two boys and two girls. Typically, the marriage began to have problems just as soon as the wife -- not including the husband -- converted to the WatchTower religion. Amongst many complaints, Joseph Davis alleged that Mary Davis began neglecting her children and household duties in favor of attending religious meetings and activities. Outcome unknown, but couple may have eventually reconciled.
The Brooklyn Daily Eagle
Readers should not under-estimate the multiple Bios posted in these DIVORCE pages which tell the same tale of home-alone wives being lured into the WatchTower Cult by meddling Jehovah's Witness door-knockers. No family is immune. 2021's MOST BELOVED male country singer (even by his fellow singers) lost his first marriage to the WatchTower Cult.
WARNS RELIGIOUS SECT FROM HOME
MIDDLET0WN DEVOTEES OF "PASTOR RUSSELL" TROUBLESOME
Angered at the alleged persistent intrusions of the devotees of "Pastor Russell" in his home, Frank E. Bradley, of No. 115 Cross Street, took the bull by the horns yesterday, and gave notice in a local paper, warning all members of the sect to keep away from No. 115. The prohibition, as worded by the irate Mr. Bradley, extends to "all persons interested in any way in the Pastor Russell doctrines."
The story told by Mr. Bradley is that the Pastor Russell followers are trying to get his wire to leave him. He says she did leave about two months ago, but returned to the shelter of the connubial roof with the understanding that she might attend two meetings of the sect each week, and read as many as she chose of Pastor Russell's dissertations on the non-existence of hell -- his favorite theme.
The visits of the Russell exhorters continued, however, Mr. Bradley says, and yesterday morning one of them capped the climax by making a gesture of derision at the indignant husband when the latter came to the door to shoo the Elder away.
Mr. Bradley then proceeded to the police station, and asked for help in keeping his premises clear of Russell missionaries -- afterward inserting the "advertisement" referred to above. If these milder methods of persuasion do not prove effective, Mr. Bradley threatens to take drastic measures which will put in the shade the famous ducking of Elder Stiggins in the horse trough by Samuel Welier. -- Hartford Courant, Hartford, Connecticut, December 21, 1911, edited.
ALEXANDER v. ALEXANDER
ALEXANDER v. AGAR
As reported by The Toronto Evening Telegram, July 1913:
The International Bible Students Association has been in convention only one day, but already it is the indirect cause of a Writ for $10,000.00 damages for slander being issued at Usgoode Hall today. The plaintiff is J. H. Alexander, ... and the defendant is Thomas Agar, one of the delegates to the [IBSA] convention. Here is the claim as lodged today:
"Ten thousand dollars for slander uttered by defendant when the plaintiff had stated his opinion of Pastor Russell and the damning effect of his teachings and life upon many who follow him, and on stating the fact that Russell stands charged with fraud, cruelty, and immorality, and has not met the charges."
Speaking to the Telegram, Mr. Alexander stated that his wife and daughter were lured from his home through the influence of Russell literature.
"When I was [away] from home on business." he said, "they sold the furniture." Fortunately, I was able to intercept the money. My life was made a hell for me, and I attribute it all to the Russell influence.
"Last night," he continued with a reference to yesterday's episode, I was outside the convention building at the Exhibition Grounds. I was talking to a policeman and some others, telling them what Russellism had done for me, and warning them that it was a fake, when Agar came forward and said: "Don't believe that man; he's a liar." I went and issued a Writ first thing today.
Alexander and Agar both come originally from Linknow, Ont. Now they reside in Toronto. Mrs. Alexander also resides in Toronto, but separate from her husband. ...
IN RE MABEL C. HEIN (1914) and WILLIARD C. HEIN v. MABEL C. HEIN (1914-15) were related West Virginia court cases. Mabel Hein, of Morganton, WV., converted to Russellism and gradually devoted more and more of her time and effort to the cult, and to the detriment of her WVU college professor husband. Williard Hein first attempted to have his wife declared "insane" and committed to a state institution, but Mabel did not qualify so. Williard Hein then obtained a job at Bethany College, relocated, and filed for divorce.
IN RE CHARLES A. DUVALL was a 1915 Indiana state Insanity proceeding in which 43 year-old Charles Duvall of South Bend, Indiana, was committed to the state's asylum in Logansport on the petition of Duvall's wife and other family members. Notably, it was May 1915, and Pastor Russell's prophecies for 1914 had just gone unfulfilled.
"I wrote to Pastor Russell asking him to desist in sending my husband literature, as I found he was becoming irrational. I referred Pastor Russell to two local doctors who knew my husband's condition, but the literature continued to come, and this is the result."
MYRTLE M. DUVALL v. CHARLES A. DUVALL was the inevitable July 1916 grant of divorce based on the grounds of desertion.
VIRGINIA AEBERSOLE v. C. AEBERSOLE was a 1920-21 Oregon divorce case. This couple originally was from Oklahoma, and they had three daughters during twelve years of marriage. Wife complained that after recently converting to the WatchTower Cult that her husband had stopped working at his well paying trade as a cement worker, and now worked as a farm laborer -- presumably part time, so he could door-knock. Husband claimed that world had ended in 1914, and was in process of wind down, so there was no need to maintain nor accumulate additional property. That, and husband's incessant preaching and attempts to convert wife had negatively affected both wife's physical and mental health. Wife had already taken three daughter and left husband. Sought custody, absolute divorce, an support.
EMMA HUFFMAN v. JAY O. HUFFMAN was a 1920-21 Kansas divorce proceeding between Jay Huffman, age 42, and his wife, Emma Huffman -- both Methodists, who lived in Hutchinson, Kansas, along with their six children. Jay Huffman evidently provided well for his family given that he was the local District Manager for the Kansas Life Insurance Company. However, after the Huffmans lost four of their children all within one year, Emma Huffman almost went insane until she found solace in the teachings of the WatchTower Cult. (In March 1919, the Huffmans 3 year-old son and 1 year-old son both died within days of each other -- possibly from the Spanish influenza. In November 1919, the Huffman's 7 year-old daughter and 9 year-old son were killed in an automobile accident which also SERIOUSLY INJURED Jay Huffman, who despite his injuries saved the life of his wife.)
Jay Huffman later claimed that he tried to understand and go along with his wife's "new religion", but as other husbands in this same predicament have claimed, the wife became obsessed with promoting the WatchTower Cult religion to the point of neglecting her duties to both her husband and her remaining two children -- excepting that she was also attempting to teach Russellism to the couple's children. The straw that broke the camel's back for Jay Huffman was when Emma Huffman started going door-to-door in their hometown with a WatchTower Petition which sought the pardon and release from prison of some draft-evading Russellites. Thereafter, Jay Huffman did what he could to stop his wife's nonsense and humiliation of their family.
Emma Huffman left home with her two children in mid 1920 and went to live with a sister in Wichita, Kansas, where Emma Huffman filed for divorce, including seeking custody of the couple's remaining two children, Marion Huffman, age 6, and Dorthea Huffman, age 12, PLUS division of the marital property. Emma Huffman alleged the grounds of "cruelty", claiming that Jay Huffman had burned her WatchTower literature, threatened to burn her "meeting" clothes, and once even forced her into a chair to make her listen to his reasons for opposing Russellism. Jay Huffman also cross-claimed for a divorce.
In August 1921, the trial judge refused to grant either party a divorce. Instead, a legal separation was granted, and Jay Huffman was ordered to pay $50.00 per month in child support. Although the judge did not order Jay Huffman to pay separate maintenance for Emma Huffman, the ordered child support payment was high enough to support all three individuals in 1921.
In 1922, a religious monthly magazine related that they had received a letter from a woman living near Troy, New York, who reported that her longtime husband had deserted her due to her objections to his recent religious conversion. After refusing to attend church for the previous 20 years, her husband began to proclaim that, "Millions that are now living will never die!". My husband does not work, but takes his time to sell their books and says that it is the Lord's will. "My husband says that he expects to sit on the right hand of Christ to judge the world. ... He delights in the text, 'I come not to bring peace but a sword.'"
HOWARD E. KING v. JULIE E. KING was a 1923 Ohio divorce. Howard King, of Midvale, Ohio, was a local lecturer for the WatchTower Society. His wife, Julie King had not converted, and still attended a local church. Whatever problems this couple had -- their main issue obviously was "religion". In December 1923, Howard King filed for a divorce asserting that Julie King was an adulteress. Julie King crossclaimed also for a divorce, and sought full custody of the couple's children. Julie King denied being an adulteress, PLUS alleged that Howard King was a pistol-packing, illegal whiskey-making bootlegger, who forced her to sell and deliver his products. Julie King further claimed that Howard King referred to her local church as a "hell hole", and claimed that her husband abused her because she refused to convert to the WatchTower Cult.
AGNES H. HUDGINGS v. WILLIAM F. HUDGINGS was a 1925-26 Nevada divorce proceeding which involved a WatchTower Society HQ Elite couple. William F. Hudgings has the distinction of being the ONLY WatchTower Society Officer or Director to have a court case decided by the Supreme Court of the United States.
In August 1925, Agnes Hudgings left her husband and fled from WatchTower HQ to Nevada, where she filed for divorce. Agnes' complaint alleged that her work as Joseph F. Rutherford's secretary led to her suffering a nervous breakdown only a few months after they were married in February 1917. Agnes also claimed that living in the communal setting of Brooklyn Bethel adversely affected her health. Agnes further claimed that when he was angry with her that William F. Hudgings would not speak to her for days and even months at a time -- writing notes when communication was absolutely necessary. Agnes further claimed that her husband would sometimes leave Bethel without informing her, and thereafter, not inform her where he had been. Agnes also claimed that her husband frequently called her vile names. Finally, she claimed that he told her that he did not love her, and that he wished that he had married another Bethelite female.
UNNAMED WIFE v. JOHN WILLIAM STANTON was a highly publicized, embarrassing 1928-29 New Zealand court case filed by the Wife of an "Elder" of the "International Bible Students Association" named John W. Stanton, age 62, whom had left her after 20 years of marriage without adequate financial support. There were also allegations of "other women" in "John Willie's" life. In January 1929, the maintenance Court at Gisborne granted Wife a legal separation along with 2 pounds per week support.
NORMAN GRAY v. IRENE GRAY was a 1937-41 Baltimore, Maryland divorce case. African-American Baptist Minister Norman Gray married Irene Gray the week of Thanksgiving 1936. Irene informed him that she was one of Jehovah's Witnesses during Christmas 1936. Irene Gray informed Norman Gray that she could no longer remain the wife of a Baptist Minister and deserted him five weeks later. Rev. Norman Gray waited until 1940 before filing for divorce on the grounds of desertion. That, after three years of probable LIES told to friends, family, and coongregants.
CUCKOLDED HUSBAND NAMES "JUDGE" JOSEPH F. RUTHERFORD
Bible Student Leader ... in Binghamton
Joseph F. Rutherford, leader of the International Bible Students' Association, paused long enough over his fruit cup in the Community Coffee shop today, to ... the tall, portly leader of the Bible group which is affiliated with Jehovah's Witnesses, ... Mr. Rutherford, accompanied by two young women and a younger man, said the party had left New York by automobile this morning to motor to his farm for a rest. He declined to locate the farm other than to say it was near Binghamton. He also declined to identify his companions, waving away any attempts of the reporter to obtain their names. The two young women and the man -- all in sport dress -- sipped their cocktails and said nothing. Mr. Rutherford, in a high wing collar, said "that's not necessary" when the reporter asked the man if he were William Heath. -- The Binghamton Press, June 28, 1939.
RELIGIOUS LEADER NAMED IN [DIVORCE] HEARING
Machinist Granted Divorce From Wife Who Had 'Call To Faith'
The name of Judge J. F. Rutherford of Brooklyn, N. Y., identified as the widely known founder of Jehovah's Witnesses, was injected into an Akron divorce proceedings today by a rubber company machinist who said his wife's response to a "call of faith" had shattered his home.
Alfred L. Peale testified that his wife had accompanied Judge Rutherford, a male member of Rutherford's executive staff (William "Bill" Heath), and the Judge's secretary (Bonnie Boyd) on a trip to London, Eng., last year. Since their return she has visited at Judge Rutherford's ranch in Southern California, he said. Both trips were described in letters that he had received from his wife, Peale testified in Judge Ray B. Watters' court Peale was granted the divorce.
Peale, of Hillside Dr., R. D. 4, said that he had married Berta Peale on Nov. 10, 1923, and that they had lived congenially until 1936, when she developed an interest in Jehovah's Witnesses. Peale said this followed the visit to Akron of Judge Rutherford, whom he identified in testimony as head of the religious sect.
He also testified that his wife had received a check of $1,500 (over $28,000.00 in 2021 dollars) from Judge Rutherford's secretary shortly after Rutherford's departure from Akron. The secretary was identified as "Bonnie" in court. It was she, Peale said in later testimony, who accompanied the party of four on the London trip described by his wife.
Peale said his wife was directed to buy an automobile with the money. He testified that she did buy the car and in June, 1938, went to Brooklyn and has not returned. After receiving the letters in which his wife described her trip with the Rutherford entourage, Peale said he went to Brooklyn and made repeated efforts to effect a reconciliation. His wife, however, refused to return, he told the court. -- The Akron Beacon Journal, March 20, 1940, edited.
ANNA E. ROYAL vs. HAROLD O. ROYAL (1939) and EDNA E. ROYAL vs. HAROLD O. ROYAL (1945-49). About September 1, 1939, shortly after a divorce obtained in Massachusetts by Anna E. Royal against Dr. Harold O. Royal had become absolute on July 28, 1939, and during the period of two years after the decree became absolute during which Dr. Harold O. Royal was prohibited by Massachusetts law from marrying again, Harold O. Royal and Edna E. Smith, both residents of Massachusetts, were married in Virginia, on September 2, 1939, and immediately returned to Massachusetts, intending to live here as husband and wife during the remainder of said period of two years and afterwards.
The question of the validity of the Virginia marriage was raised in the Probate Court for Norfolk County on the petition of Edna E. Royal against Harold O. Royal for separate support, in which a decree was entered in favor of Edna E. Royal on December 19, 1946, from which no appeal was taken. In entering that decree the Probate Court impliedly found that Edna E. Royal acted in good faith in living with Harold O. Royal as his wife until the two year period during which he was prohibited from marrying again expired on July 28, 1941, and afterwards until sometime in 1944. The question of the validity of the Virginia marriage was again raised upon a petition filed by Harold O. Royal on January 29, 1947, to vacate the decree of December 19, 1946, which petition was dismissed by the Probate Court. The decision of this court on May 3, 1948, affirming the dismissal of that petition, left the decree of December 19, 1946, in full force, and established the fact that Edna E. Royal had become the lawful wife of Harold O. Royal.
A second petition was filed by Harold O. Royal on July 20, 1948, to revoke the same decree of December 19, 1946, and on two petitions filed by Edna E. Royal, one for contempt of that decree and the other to modify it by ordering additional payments. The petition by Harold O. Royal to vacate the decree of December 19, 1946, was based upon the ground, already raised by him in defence to the petition for separate support upon which the decree of December 19, 1946, was based, that Edna E. Royal obtained a decree of divorce from Harold O. Royal in the Circuit Court of Polk County, Florida, in February, 1945.
Edna E. Royal went to Florida, and brought a suit for divorce there, alleging that she had been a bona fide resident of the State of Florida for more than ninety days immediately preceding the filing of the suit for divorce. Harold O. Royal filed an answer, admitting her allegations as to residence in Florida, waiving notice of hearing, and consenting that the suit be heard ex parte. It does not appear that he went to Florida, or was represented by counsel in the Florida court.
However, Edna E. Royal never acquired a domicil in Florida. She went there about January 1, 1945, and had remained there less than the ninety days required by the Florida statute before she filed her suit for divorce. Immediately after the decree of divorce she returned to Massachusetts.
The decree of separate support of December 19, 1946, impliedly determined that the Florida divorce was invalid, and that Edna E. Royal remained the wife of Harold O. Royal. From that decree there was no appeal.
The decree determined -- whether rightly or wrongly is immaterial -- that Edna E. Royal had no domicil in Florida, and that the Florida court had no jurisdiction to grant a divorce, even though in truth Harold O. Royal as well as Edna E. Royal had so far participated in the Florida divorce suit that both parties were bound by the divorce decree.
Therefore the petitions filed by Edna E. Royal, one on May 19, 1948, for punishment for contempt, and the other on June 28, 1948, for an increase in the amount to be paid, are to stand for hearing and decision. The petition filed by Harold O. Royal on July 20, 1948, to vacate the decree of December 19, 1946, was dismissed.
MASSACHUSETTS v. DR. HAROLD O. ROYAL and E. ROBERT ANDERSON (1929). Defendant Dr. Harold Royal offered proof of, and the judge received in evidence, the following statement:
"That on the first day of September A. D. 1929, commonly called Sunday, the defendants and each of them did call at one or more houses in the city of Melrose in said Commonwealth and did then and there ... deliver books, pamphlets and magazines containing Bible sermons and instructions and received from one or more persons money therefor, ... and on said occasion of so calling upon the persons mentioned, and at the homes mentioned, and at the time and places mentioned, the defendants and neither of them had a license as specified and contemplated by [the laws] of said Commonwealth of Massachusetts." ...
The defendants made seven requests for rulings, all being to the effect that [Massachusetts law] in relation to the sale of goods, wares and merchandise did not cover religious books, tracts and pamphlets and that if they attempted to cover them they were unconstitutional. As respects these requests the judge ruled as follows: "I believe it to be the law that each defendant has a constitutional right to disseminate his religious belief, but I further rule that that doesn't cover the selling of books from house to house without a license." ...