Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

Bethany Deaton Killed Herself, Says Accused Bible Cult Killer’s Attorney

Bethany Deaton. Family photo.

Micah Moore, a member of a cult-like prayer group, was arraigned last week for murder of Bethany Deaton, the wife of the group’s spiritual leader, Tyler Deaton. Moore had allegedly confessed to killing Bethany in order to keep her from revealing the sexual abuse she was subjected to by members of the group. An attorney for Moore says Bethany committed suicide.

Moore’s attorney, Melanie S. Morgan, maintains that her client gave a false confession after contacting police, which she says was prompted by his involvement with the tight-knit bible study group. Morgan is building her case around her claim that Moore was pressured into wrongly confessing that he killed Bethany. Her body was found curled up the backseat of a parked van at Longview Lake near Kansas City a day before Halloween. A white plastic bag covered her head. She was 27.

If Moore did indeed give a false confession, then it would be just one of several bizarre incidents involving a rogue prayer group, bizarre sex rituals, and manipulation by the religious group’s charismatic leader.

Stopping short of saying that Moore was brainwashed by a cult, Morgan noted that members of the prayer group had taken Moore to the police station.

“Micah told a fictional account that was bizarre, nonsensical, and most importantly, untrue. They were the statements of a distraught and confused young man under extreme psychological pressures as a result of his friend Bethany’s untimely suicide and the sudden removal of his spiritual leader, Tyler Deaton, from their close-knit religious community,” Morgan said. “The doctrines taught in that community affected Micah’s mental state and unfortunately dominated his thinking. Micah’s fiction to police led to the filing of the complaint in this case.”

Policed originally treated Bethany’s death as a suicide, until Moore came forward. For Morgan, the police should thus continue to gather evidenced that might help them to conclude that her death was the result of a suicide.

“We trust the local authorities will focus their investigation equally into disproving Micah’s story as much as they would be inclined to try to substantiate it,” Moore said.

A spokeswoman at Morgan’s office said Morgan would not comment further on the case, and spokeswoman at the Kansas City courthouse said the trial would not begin for several months. Moore was released from custody after posting $250,000 bail.

Not long before her death, Bethany had finished nursing school and planned to become a missionary with Tyler, who had recently graduated from International House of Prayer (IHOP) University in Kansas City. Some of the members in Tyler Deaton’s prayer group had followed the couple from Texas to Kansas City. Several lived in the same house with the couple.

But more was going on inside the house than prayer meetings. 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.

Tyler Deaton. Family photo.

When police discovered Bethany’s body curled up in the van, they also 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.”

After describing how he killed Bethany in the confession that he reportedly gave police, 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.

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, allegedly 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 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 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.

Micah Moore. Police photo.

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.

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 death. 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.

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 death. 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 have also not made any statements about whether or not Deaton is considered a suspect or even a person of interest, despite his roommates’ statements in the police report.

More on the case. 

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