Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

Prayer Group’s Sex Rituals Surface After Murder of Bethany Deaton

Bethany Deaton. Family photo.

Bethany Deaton’s future seemed bright. The 27-year-old had finished nursing school and planned to become a missionary with her charismatic husband Tyler who had recently graduated from International House of Prayer (IHOP) University in Kansas City. Bethany’s husband was also the spiritual leader of a prayer group composed of other IHOP members, some of whom had followed the couple from Texas to Kansas City. The tightly knit group’s devotion to Tyler Deaton and his fellowship was so great that several members lived in the same house with the couple.

But more was going on inside the house than prayer meetings. Beneath the veneer of religious fellowship lurked darker secrets Deaton and his followers harbored. Several of the members, when interviewed by police, described rituals and practices that were more like those of a cult than a Christian prayer group, involving sexual assault and tragically, the murder of Bethany.

The police first classified Bethany’s death as a suicide when they found her body in a parked van at Longview Lake near Kansas City a day before Halloween. Her body was curled up in the back seat and a white plastic bag was pulled over her head. There were two bottles of acetaminophen next to her in the back seat–one was empty and the other full.  In the front of the van, police also found several CDs from IHOP.

Police found what they first thought was a suicide note near the body that read: “My name is Bethany Deaton. I chose this evil thing. I did it because I wouldn’t be a real person and what is the point of living if it is too late for that? I wish I had chosen differently a long time ago. I knew it all and refused to listen. Maybe Jesus will still save me.”

A Not-So Religious Motive

About 10 days after Bethany’s body was found, Micah Moore, who was one of Bethany and her husband’s housemates and prayer group members, promptly confessed to Bethany’s murder when summoned by police. “I killed her,” he told police unequivocal terms.

Moore described how he  placed the bag over Bethany’s head. He said he held the bag over her head until her body began to shake just before she suffocated to death.

Before the murder, Moore said that he, several other housemates, and her husband Tyler had repeatedly sexually assaulted Bethany. He said they regularly gave Bethany the antipsychotic medication Seroquel before sexually assaulting her and on the day of the murder.

Micah Moore. Police photo.

The sexual assaults, Moore told police, were part of a ritual the housemates in the prayer group practiced. They took turns filming the assaults using Moore’s iPad. They also used the iPad to write poems about their experiences.

The roommates became worried when they learned that Bethany was seeing a therapist and thought she might say what they were doing to her. One of the housemates, whose name is hidden in the police report, told Moore that he should kill Bethany. The housemate told Moore that “he had it in him to do it.”

After Moore’s confession, police began to interview Moore’s roommates about what they might know about the murder. They used the interviews to piece together a scenario involving religion, sex, and Deaton’s cult-like following. Police learned that some of the housemates had followed Tyler from Texas to Kansas City to be part of the “community,” while others had been recruited locally.  Tyler was described as their spiritual leader who had “control over the members of the household.”

Some of the housemates described secret bisexual liaisons with Deaton. One of the men who had followed Deaton from Texas, described how he was “groomed” to fit into the men’s sexual group at the house. This once involved Tyler climbing in bed with him where he “held him.”

Another housemate said he had left the house but continued to maintain a sexual relationship with Deaton. He described Deaton as both “controlling and manipulative” and said that the sex was part of a “religious experience.”

Deaton’s mission as a spiritual leader began long before he made the pilgrimage to become closer to IHOP in Kansas City in 2009.  According to a report in the Kansas City Star, Deaton had founded a particularly zealous Christian prayer group when he attended Southwestern University in Georgetown, Texas. There, he was known for his religious fervor and preaching and his strong conviction that only his interpretation of the Holy Bible was the right one. The Kansas City Star described how members of Deaton’s religious group once lifted a paralyzed man out of a wheelchair and sought to use the spirit of the Lord to make a blind woman see again. The group’s use of the university chapel at all hours of the night was eventually banned.

Deaton also struggled with his homosexual leanings at Southwestern University, which he considered to be wrong, the Kansas City Star reported. At one point, Deaton thought he had achieved a “victory,” when he thought he “overcame” his feelings for the same sex.

The IHOP Connection

Tyler Deaton. Family photo.

Deaton began to forge ties with IHOP while still at Southwestern University. When he made the move to Kansas City, he enrolled at IHOP University and graduated in May 2012. However, despite the group of followers who either lived or congregated at his house with Bethany, IHOP representatives say that Deaton has never held an official leadership role at IHOP or at any of its affiliated organizations.

But while Deaton may have never held an official role at IHOP other than being a student there, he attracted IHOP’s attention before Bethany’s murder. In June, someone came forward and reported concerns to an IHOP official about Deaton’s manipulative behavior towards members of his independent Bible study group. “The director met with Deaton and mistakenly concluded that these concerns had been resolved,” IHOP said in a statement. “This we deeply regret. This individual again voiced concerns in mid-October, and we began to investigate the situation.”

However, IHOP said the individual who had complained about Deaton never referred to “sexual perversion, sexual assault, or malicious practices that were exposed only after Bethany’s death.”

IHOP did acknowledge that Deaton was the “spiritual leader” of an “independent, close-knit, religious group that began in Texas over five years ago.” “Deaton’s group relocated to Kansas City over the last few years and operated under a veil of secrecy,” IHOP said.

IHOP also said it regretted accepting Deaton at its university and its other dealings with Deaton, which included the receipt of Deaton’s application for funding to form a missionary group four days before Bethany was killed.

“Knowing what we know now, we deeply regret our failure to discern the nature of Deaton’s alleged secretive, perverse, cultic practices,” IHOP said.

An Evil Demeanor?

During Bethany’s funeral, a report in the Kansas City Star described how Deaton gave an emotional speech at Bethany’s funeral as he reminisced about Bethany’s love of water and “lakeside woods and its simple animals, its birds and squirrels.”

But Deaton’s housemates said Deaton’s exhibited angry and devious feelings that he harbored towards Bethany during and after her murder. His demeanor before her death was described as “angry and frustrated.” One housemate said that Deaton was confident that other members of his religious group would lie for him if he needed them to. In a particularly damning statement, Deaton told one of his housemates that he had dreamed about suffocating Bethany to death three days after her body was found.

Kansas City police have not arrested Deaton after charging Moore with first degree murder. Investigators also say the investigation of Bethany’s death is ongoing, but have not made any statements about whether or not Deaton’s is considered a suspect or even a person of interest, despite his roommates’ statements in the police report.

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