Raised in a radically anti-Catholic cult, a woman recounts abuse and her eventual escape from her own mother and stepfather
Chris Coie's mother and stepfather, Susan and Tony Alamo, were at the height of their powers in the late 1960s. Coie describes their relationship as manipulative and highly destructive. Photo by Gilbert B. Weingourt/Zuma Press
Christhiaon Coie (pronounced COO-ee) is the stepdaughter of Tony Alamo, a self-styled prophet and convicted tax evader who for nearly four decades has preached rabidly anti-gay, anti-Catholic and antigovernment doomsday rhetoric. She was among a large number of former members of Alamo's cult — Tony Alamo Christian Ministries, with branches in Arkansas, New Jersey and California — who contacted the Intelligence Report after its publication last fall of a story detailing the exploits of Alamo, including accusations that he had taken child brides (Alamo has advocated polygamy and sex with girls as young as 10). Today, Tony Alamo remains holed up in his cult's compound near Texarkana, Ark., where he continues to spew venom and threaten his perceived enemies with God's wrath on his weekly radio shows. (His organization has been listed as a hate group by the Southern Poverty Law Center.)
Chris Coie, whose late mother, Susan, was the co-founder of the cult, says she narrowly escaped the group in 1971 and has never returned. Here, in an exclusive interview, she offers the little-known story of the origins of an extremist organization that from its beginnings was based more on hatred and financial gain than genuine religious sentiment. Now 57, Coie begins her story when she was about 13 years old, growing up fast on the streets of Hollywood, Calif., under the bizarre "guidance" of her mother, a woman Coie calls an exceptional con artist with a keen intellect and few morals. The Report has omitted questions and paraphrased several sections of Coie's interview for purposes of brevity and readability.
Mama had great dreams of being a star. She was beautiful in the weirdest way, not like you would look at her and go, "Wow, a striking beauty," but when she walked into a room, she had so much command that people stopped talking. We'd go from a few bucks to absolute poverty — I mean the kind of poverty that mom and I would be living in a one-room apartment with a pulldown Murphy bed and a hot plate, and we would do mystery cans, where we'd go buy cans that had no labels. You would open these cans and whatever you opened, you ate.
And then when we'd get really broke, Mama decided to go into religion. She'd say, "Put on your dress, we're gonna go do a church." We would go, and there were certain churches that knew her. She'd say, "I have a message from the Lord and I need to speak." I would sing and she would speak and they'd do a love offering and we'd leave with money. And that's pretty much how we survived.
As Coie entered her early teens, she began picking up work as a background vocalist, turning all her money over to her mother. Coie says that her mother dated a stream of men, at times disappearing for days. But all that changed one day when mother and daughter were seated at a Hollywood bar and in walked Tony Alamo.
I knew who Tony Alamo was. I had seen him around the boulevard. He was supposed to be this great big promoter who had promoted the Beatles, but I knew he was a bald-faced liar. I knew that he was living with a girl who was pregnant with his child. He wasn't living with her. He was living off of her.
So I see this creep coming in with a producer I've worked with, and he's coming right toward the table and my mother's sitting there. I'm thinking to myself, "Oh crap, not this clown!"
She usually picked out men who had a little style and a lot of money. He sits down at the table and he's bullshitting until his face is about to fall off. "I promoted the Beatles" and "I promoted this guy and that guy and Sonny and Cher." Is he kidding with this? And my mother's doing the "Well I'm an actress, been around the studio for years and my daughter's a singer" thing. He's like, "I just heard her tape, she's fantastic, I can make her a big star."
And I'm watching them and it's like a tennis match of horse crap. They both think the other's got money. He gets up to go to the bathroom and I turned to my mother and I said, "Listen to me, this guy is an absolute bum. He's living with that little pregnant girl…"
She puts her finger in my face, which she did often, and said: "You mind your F-ing business. When he gets back, you wait a few minutes and politely excuse yourself from the table. And don't come home tonight."
He comes back, sits down, she looks at him and she says, "Tony, I've got to ask you a question. Did you know that Jesus Christ is coming back to earth again?" And he looks deep in her eyes and says, "Why, yes, Susan, I do know. But how did you know?" And she says, "Well, let's go up to my apartment and talk about it."
And that's how the [Tony and Susan Alamo] foundation started.
Tony and Susan invited hippies into her apartment to be saved, to pray, and to turn over their worldly possessions. Soon after founding their ministry, however, the couple left Coie and California, claiming the lord had a mission for them in Las Vegas. They left instructions for their followers to get jobs and send them money. But Alamo's claims of being a big promoter weren't panning out. He and Susan fell on hard times. Chris missed her mother intensely and flew to Vegas to see her. The reception was chilly. And it got worse.
Tony raped me in Vegas, and my mother didn't believe it and told me to get my ass out and I was a liar and I was trying to take her man. [Editor's note: No criminal complaint was ever filed against Alamo in the alleged rape of Chris Coie; however, she did testify about it under oath in a civil trial. Alamo has declined to respond to the Report's requests for comment on this and all other matters.] So I left and I came to Los Angeles. The whole time I'm swearing I'll never talk to her again because she knew I was raped. It wasn't like I was just telling her something; she caught the tail end of the mess. And she reacted by looking at me and saying, "You little, fucking whore." That's how it started. "You little fucking whore." It was just insanity, but it was such complete betrayal. I hurt.
The Alamos returned to Los Angeles a few months later in style, promoting a motorcycle-driving opera singer named Rovan. Susan Alamo called her daughter and summoned her to a lunch meeting.
She said, "I forgive you for everything you did. I love you, honey. Come and meet us for lunch." I said to myself, "I don't know if I can sit at a table with that piece of crap without putting a knife in his jugular."
I go to meet them and he's wearing an unborn calf coat, the most disgusting thing I've ever seen. My mother's wearing all this fabulous leather and she's got some new diamonds and she's looking good. I said, "Who'd you kill?" She laughs and says, "Sit down and order whatever you want." She says, "We're promoting this singer Rovan, and he's gonna be a huge star and we've got a lot of backer money." Well, what they did was they took the money.
Tony and Susan fell back on their ministry when their show biz schemes ran out, Coie says. Susan began it again in earnest when she "saved" Coie's boyfriend, Ed, who lived with Coie in a house along with a dozen or so other musicians. Coie described the first time Susan Alamo met Ed.
She says, "Ed, sit down a minute. I want to talk to you. I know you're messing around with my daughter. But do you know why you're here, young man? You're here because the Lord Jesus Christ brought you here, not my tramp daughter." She had his ass on his knees in 10 minutes. She goes over to their house. All she knows is the rent is paid and there are 10 guys in this house and they're starting a ministry. She does her magic and they're falling like trees, boom, on their knees.
Now, I'm living upstairs, she's got my boyfriend downstairs and all my friends, and she's ruining my life again. I've got services going twice a day down there. They're taking food out of trashcans, going out and getting more kids to eat the food out of trashcans. One of her scams was she would say to them, "You know, I could be wrong. I could be absolutely dead wrong, but I'm happy. But if you're wrong, you're going to hell."
It was a moneymaking operation. She loved to boss those kids around. She was queen, she talked to God, and those kids believed it.
She put them out collecting welfare. They used to go in for what they call "nut checks." Nut checks are when you went down to the welfare office and you'd say: "I was taking acid, I left school and I was taking acid and… What are we talking about? Oh yeah, anyway I can't get a job and, uh, where is this place, do you have any acid?" And they'd go, "Uh, psycho, give him a check." And so these checks were coming in to the foundation left and right. As the foundation grew, it was thousands of dollars.
She'd pack us all up in cars and buses and take us to big churches. She'd deliver this big message about how, "Look at this, we brought this bunch of crazy kids, I'm keeping them from coming around like [murderous cult leader] Charlie Manson did and cutting your throat. I brought them to the Lord." Boom, the money would fly in because Manson had just murdered all these people.
By 1971, with serious money rolling in, Tony and Susan had purchased property outside of Los Angeles in Saugus, Calif., where they ran their compound and church. Chris had two young children by this time. She'd also had enough of her mother's schemes. She wanted out of the foundation.
I made the biggest mistake of my life. I said, "Mama listen, I've done everything you've wanted and you know that. I just want to go now. I'm gonna take my kids and go. My hand to God, I will never say a word; if they subpoena me, indict me, I will never say a word. But I have to go. I love you and you're my mother, but I just can't be in this any more."
She said, "Don't be stupid. Don't make me kill you. You're my daughter, but there is too much fucking money and too much at stake here. And if you try to leave, I'll kill you." Being the wise woman that I am, I said, "You know what, you're not going to do that. You'll do a lot of shitty things but you won't do that."
Coie called a cab. The moment she hung up, she says, foundation members, including her mother and stepfather, came storming through her front and back doors.
They beat me into insensibility. All of them. I had my baby in my arms, so it was all I could do to [keep] her from getting hit. My eyes were black, my lips were big as balloons, my nose was busted, hair ripped out. Some of them even pinched me. They were going to put me in a coma and say I'd fallen down the stairs. My mother always used to tell people after she'd beaten me that [whispers] "she hurts herself."
The cab driver arrived and interrupted the beating. He called the police. Coie says she put a towel over her face to keep from scaring her young daughter with her injuries. Susan Alamo told the police that her daughter, Coie, was a psychotic drug addict. Her injuries were a result of trying to restrain her, she explained.
The next thing I know, everything goes black. The two cops had gotten another call and had left and I didn't know it. And somebody cracked me in the back of the head with the telephone. And when I come to, my children are gone. They're gone. I called the police and the same two cops come back out. Now the blood is running down the back of my head. I say, "You walked out of here and they stole my kids." And I said, "It's a cult and they took my children." The cops were furious because they knew they had been had. So they go upstairs into my mother's house and they say, "Where are those kids?"
Coie says the police found her oldest child hidden in a closet, but the baby was nowhere to be found.
We get to the police station. They said, "We need to take you to the hospital, but can we get some pictures taken of you first? Can you hold up?" I said, "Okay." We go to the police station, just getting ready to take the pictures, and there was a phone call. I picked up the phone and I hear a voice saying, "Chris, don't say anything about who's on the phone. If you file anything, you'll never see your daughter again. If you want your daughter, you need to leave there right now. Don't sign anything, and come back to the house and get her." What would you do? That was the last time I saw my mom, the day she beat my brains out.
Susan Alamo died of cancer in 1982. Tony Alamo believed she was an immortal prophet who would rise from the dead and ordered foundation members to pray for her resurrection, which they did for months in 'round-the-clock prayer vigils.
When my mother first died, that miserable piece of crap [Alamo] took her [body] back to that house and kept her for months. He knew that she was the secret to the power and if he did not have her, he couldn't control them. He would have to take her body out because how could she talk to him if he didn't? How could she communicate directly with him from God if he would allow her to be taken over by the commie, Antichrist government?
Susan Alamo's corpse was eventually entombed in a heart-shaped marble mausoleum, but not for long. When federal agents raided the cult compound over charges of criminal tax evasion in 1991, they found her tomb split open and her remains missing. Coie knew Alamo had taken her mother's remains and was furious. She would eventually go to court to recover the body, and was also awarded a $100,000 judgment against Tony Alamo. Coie never sought to collect the money.
I finally had to go to court in Fort Smith [Ark.] and that was bizarre. Tony [had counter-] sued me for defamation of character for $2.5 million. So my attorney says, "You have to come up with a figure." I said, "I don't want a dime from him. I just want my mother's body buried." We finish this mess and they say there will be a written verdict.
We leave and we go to Memphis [Tenn.] to see an old friend. We went to the Civil Rights Museum and I'm seeing the horrible things that were done to Dr. King and how all he wanted was justice. That's all, justice. Treat people decently, fair play. And I'm thinking, "God, that's all I want right now is justice." I called my attorney's secretary from the museum. She says, "The verdict just came in." She said, "He has to return the body and the judge ordered you $100,000." I busted up laughing and said, "That's the funniest thing I've ever heard. He's not ever going to give me that money and I don't want that money. That's baby blood money."
Coie has cooperated with law enforcement in the past; in recent months, other ex-cult members have also done so in an attempt to put an end to the abuses they believe current foundation members, especially young girls, are suffering at the hands of "Papa Tony," who still rules over his followers with near-absolute control.
One of the reasons more people don't throw up their hands and go, "Let me out of this mess," is that they've raised their families in this. They have allowed him to mistreat them, to sexually abuse them, and how many men and women have the guts to say, "I just gave you 35 years of my life and now I'm gonna go out into a world I have no clue how to live in. I don't remember how to do a bank account." How do you tell your kids, "I was just a simpleton"? These people have given their children to him as gifts to be sex toys.
I gave up my life to be her daughter and then to fight her and now to fight him. And I lost everything and he's worse than he ever was. This man is dangerous, very, very dangerous, and if he actually thinks he's going down, he's gonna very possibly hurt a lot of people. He's that kind of psycho slime. He's been a king for a long time. He won't go to jail again quietly, and I'm afraid he'll hurt those kids.