Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

Sex Slaves: The Psychology of Mastery

Religious Rite

Map of Nebraska with Rulo locator
Map of Nebraska with Rulo locator

Outside Rulo, Neb., in August 1985, two bodies were unearthed on an 80-acre farm associated with the white supremacist Christian identity movement. One was five-year-old Luke Stice and the other James Thimm, 26. There was evidence that both had been tortured before they were killed, writes Daniel Levitas in The Terrorist Next Door. In fact, they'd been subjected to extreme brutality by a man who wanted to assert his authority.

High school dropout and trucker Michael Wayne Ryan was arrested for these crimes and the police learned that he had acted as a prophet, proclaiming the end times. He had a following among people seeking a "paramilitary salvation," so violence was not unknown to his brand of religion.

Among his cult members was Luke's father, Rick Stice, who managed the farm. Rick was attracted to Ryan's ideas because he and his wife were struggling financially, and Sondra soon died from cancer. Stice opened his farm to Ryan's group, but soon became the focus of Ryan's jealousy. Ryan demoted Stice to "slave" status.

Book cover: The Terrorist Next Door
Book cover: The Terrorist Next
Door

Around 21 people inhabited the various buildings, a large percentage of them children. They stockpiled weapons and vitamins, urged on by Ryan, who called them the "true Israelites" and assured them that the final Armageddon would take place there in Nebraska. James Thimm had been an avid follower, so he'd come to the farm with a friend, 30-year-old David Andreas. Ryan grew angry with Thimm as well and relegated him to a lesser status. He had to do what his superiors told him.

To torment Stice, Ryan became abusive toward Luke. He penned "666" in red on the boy's forehead and insisted he was a child of Satan. Stice fell into line, whipping and beating Luke as Ryan commanded. But after a while, Stice briefly left the farm. When he returned, he was chained to the porch. Ryan also ordered him to sexually abuse Luke, and Stice complied. He was then ordered to sodomize Thimm and accept the same treatment, which he did.

Still, Ryan was not satisfied. One day he hit Luke hard, breaking his neck and killing him. He forced Stice to dig a grave, and in the midst of this task, Stice once more fled, leaving two of his children behind.

Thimm did not get away, but instead came in for a terrible course of abuse. He was shot in the face and then tortured for several days before he finally died. Levitas writes that he was chained in a hog shed and forced to have sex with a goat, even though he suffered from a serious facial wound. Then several of the men, at Ryan's command, took a shovel handle and repeatedly raped him anally before Ryan whipped and kicked him, breaking his arm. The next day, as he still breathed, his legs were broken and skin was stripped from his body. Ryan them crushed Thimm's chest by stomping on it, which finally killed the man. Ryan ordered one of the others to shoot Thimm in the head for good measure before laying him out in an unmarked grave.

On June 25, 1985, police descended on the farm, finding illegal weapons and ammunition as well as stolen goods. The cult members were arrested. It took several months, but Stice became an FBI informant, helping to get the goods on Ryan. The bodies were exhumed and Ryan was arrested. When Stice testified in court, he was asked why he had participated in abusing his son. He said, "I thought that was what was to be done."

Ryan was convicted of second-degree murder for Luke's death and first-degree for Thimm. He received the death penalty.

Many captives do survive their abuse and are able to tell their stories themselves.

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