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Koresh, Bright and Dark: The Bizarre Charmer

March 02, 1993|CATHLEEN DECKER and MIKE WARD | TIMES STAFF WRITERS

"I remember distinctly in 1983-84 he was always teaching that he was going to be killed and going to be a martyr," said Mitchell, who strongly disapproves of Koresh. "That's part of his thing: If he's martyred . . . that's the sign (for followers to heed his commands)."

According to La Verne police, among those commands was an order that if Koresh were killed, his enemies were to die as well. Because of that, Bunds and her family are under police protection, officers said.

While Koresh appeared to have insisted upon an ascetic lifestyle for his followers--who were shielded from the outside world in their primitive Texas compound--he seemed to follow no such restrictions himself.

In San Bernardino, Koresh was surrounded by followers from Australia and Hawaii who supported him with their savings and with money earned from baking bread, one acquaintance said. Several people told The Times that Koresh reported having brought a Hawaiian millionaire--and his bank account--into his fold.

While there, Koresh spent time largely with his legal wife, Rachel, whom he married in 1984 when she was 14, and their infant son, Cyrus, the acquaintance said.

Yet several years later, in both La Verne and Los Angeles, Koresh made no secret of his multiple wives, whose presence appeared to be a tenet of his religious beliefs. In addition to the houseful of "wives" in La Verne, Koresh lived with three women in a home off Melrose Avenue in Los Angeles, one would-be follower said.

"What they tell you is that after Judgment, every man, just like Adam, is going to have his perfect woman created for him, and all the women are going to be Christ's wives," said one Los Angeles man who dealt extensively with Koresh's followers and met him repeatedly as well.

"And he's Christ, so what the heck?"

But music appeared to be the governing force for Koresh when he was ensconced in Los Angeles. A talented guitar player by several accounts, Koresh sought out musicians with the call that they come to Texas to "play for the Lord," according to one acquaintance.

The Los Angeles man, who demanded anonymity amid concerns for his own safety, said Koresh was charmingly appealing to young musicians, since he supplied many necessities--like clothes, money and musical instruments--and never demanded their money.

"This guy does have a very magnetic quality to him," he said of Koresh. "When you first see him . . . you think, 'Who's this guy kidding?' But when he's talking, it's like something comes over you and you get swept up with it.

"A little bit of charm and you get to the point where you believe this, you believe that, and you come so far, it's just that you believe all of it."

Even those who fully disagreed with Koresh's actions found him appealing. "Very personable," said Doug Mitchell, the Santa Ana carpenter. "He could get you laughing and crying in 30 seconds."

But there remained a troubling suggestion of violence, which Koresh himself seemed to feed.

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