Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

Killing for God

The Pregnant Assassin

Standing 6'8 and weighing in at 260 muscle-popping pounds, Dean Vest was a physically intimidating man.  He was a Vietnam vet living in San Diego when he followed his father's footsteps to the Church of the Firstborn of the Fulness of Times and had stayed on after his father grew disillusioned with the church and left it in the late 60s.

Ervil made him the church's military general, and he taught Ervil's foot soldiers the explosives and weapons tactics he'd used in the jungles of Vietnam. Dean laid out the blueprint for the Los Molinos raid.

But Dean's wife Cheryl was never gung-ho about the chauvinist teachings of a church where a woman's primary value was her breeding potential. After years of asking Dean to leave the church, she left him and moved to Washington State with their two children.

The 36-year-old was devastated and started reconsidering his allegiances. He started to spend more and more time fixing up a rusted-out barge he'd bought and less time in church. Then he made the mistake of telling people his dream of sailing up the coast in his barge for a joyful reunion with his wife and kids.

He should have known better. There was no way that Ervil would let his military commander simply walk away. It would make him look bad. He didn't want Dean to prompt a mass defection. According to Civil Law, Ervil said, Dean must be blood-atoned.

Ervil chose one of the least suspicious people in his clan to kill the weapons expert, his 10th wife, Vonda White. Vonda was living near San Diego with a "sister wife" - as the wives called each other - and a houseful of children, and Dean often stopped by frequently for a home-cooked meal or company.  He'd never suspect that Vonda - who was barely 5'3 and six months pregnant - would kill him. But Vonda had already proven herself a lethal asset to the Lamb of God church when she'd murdered her sister wife Noemi Zarate the past January.

On June 16, 1976, Dean learned his wife and daughter had been injured in a car accident and immediately booked a flight to Seattle, according to Anderson.  Before heading to the airport, he stopped by Vonda's house to pick up some things he'd stored there and give her the news. When Dean knocked on the front door, Vonda was playing the role of the loving mother, preparing lunch for six children.  But she switched to killer mode as soon as Dean said he was leaving for Washington. She was worried that he'd reconcile with his wife and never come back from the trip. Ervil told her to kill him, and it was now or never.

But first she had to feed the kids. She chatted with him while the young ones ate. When the kids were done eating, she shooed them upstairs, telling them to stay out of Dean's way as he packed. Then she pulled out a loaded .38 Colt revolver from a dresser drawer, tucked it into a pocket of her maternity dress and went back downstairs.

Dean was getting ready to lug his baggage to his car when White asked him to look at her washing machine, according to Bradlee and Van Atta.  She told him it wasn't working right and he needed a man to check it over.  Dean couldn't find the "problem," but he did get his hands grimy fiddling with the motor. As he washed up at the kitchen sink, White stepped behind him and raised the gun. She was wearing rubber gloves. She tiptoed toward Dean's massive back and squeezed the trigger. The first shot ripped through his liver, and Dean straightened over the sink and started to turn right. The second shot pierced his lung, and as he continued turning toward his attacker, blood spewed from his mouth in a five-foot arc. Vonda quickly ducked to avoid the torrent.

After Dean collapsed on the linoleum floor, she delivered the coup de grace behind his left ear, then washed up and called the police, Anderson writes.

"Shots have been fired," Vonda White - wife, mother, murderer - calmly told the dispatcher.