A few days after paddling his only son Joseph so much that the child died, the obligaC tion fell upon Stuart Green, his wife, Leslie, and other members of a Christian commune near here called Stonegate to bury the remains of the 23-month-old boy.
The public paddling of children had always been an essential practice within the commune, to ensure absolute obedience, according to former members. "Spare the rod and spoil the child," Dot McClellan, the 46-year-old leader of the group, would tell her flock, citing biblical references to support her stance: If a child did not learn to obey its parents, it could never learn to obey the will of God.
And now, as they were about to inter Joey in the cemetery on their farm, some of the 20 adults and 20 children in the commune came to believe that Joey's death had been the will of God, according to former members still in contact with residents of Stonegate.
"Whose philosphy was this? Who told us to spank, who taught us to spank?" says Tina Orlowski, a former group member. "Dot McClellan." According to Orlowski, it was something that the woman taught each new adult member of the commune, from the very beginning of its existence in New Jersey.
And so when Joey struck another boy in the group and refused to apologize on Oct. 5, he was paddled. His mother, Leslie, brought him into the children's playroom in the 11-bedroom Victorian farmhouse, along with the child he had struck. She began to hit him, according to testimony given by other commune members to a Jefferson County special grand jury.
I minister now to children whose parents desire God and his ways. What a difference! We now experience the freedom to administer God's love, without fear of appearing partial.
What do I desire for my children and the children here? Simply to experience God in a real way. To have them wholly yielded to Him, their allegiance and their love. Devoting spirit, soul and body.
-- Leslie Green, in a letter to Dot McClellan's husband, John, after he had been expelled from the group
Joey refused to say he was sorry. His father soon came into the room and paddled Joey while his mother -- nine months pregnant with another child -- held the young boy.
Around the house, several members of the commune heard Joey crying, according to grand jury testimony. But this was not unusual; children were paddled on an almost daily basis, former commune members say. At one point, according to a state trooper's statement given at a preliminary hearing before magistrate Peter Dougherty, Dot McClellan came into the room briefly. (Dot McClellan and other members of the group refused to be interviewed for this story.) The grand jury heard testimony that at least one other adult came into the room and that no one interceded.
After two hours of paddling, Joey turned pale and then blue, and his father took him to the emergency room of Jefferson Memorial Hospital, where he was pronounced dead of hemorrhagic shock from the beating of his buttocks. Ten days later the grand jury indicted Stuart and Leslie Green for the involuntary manslaughter of their son.
"I thought Joey's death would bring the group around to reality, and now they think they're being persecuted," says 50-year-old John McClellan, the husband of Dot McClellan for 21 years, expelled from the group 18 months ago. "I'm not afraid of the physical well-being of the children, although I was not afraid of Joey's either. I am concerned about their emotional well-being."
"They are vindicating Joey's death," says Tina Orlowski, "because they think God blessed Stuart. God took that child and blessed him with another child that same week, when his wife had their third baby. Dot honestly believes the reaction to Joey's death has been part of the persecution of the group."
We've begun to realize how the early Christians were willing to suffer persecution and even death rather than deny their love for Jesus Christ or give up their fellowship with one another in that love.
-- Dot McClellan, in a letter of March 12, 1982, to former members of the group
The members of Stonegate buried Joey Green in the cemetery on their 100-acre farm.
And they named the cemetery Moriah.
When Ed Schlosser, a former member of the Stonegate commune, heard about Joey's death and the subsequent naming of the cemetery, he was appalled. He couldn't believe the group would have stopped Genesis 22 short at Verse 2, because he knew -- and he knew they knew -- that the angel of the Lord appeared in Verse 11, and that in Verse 12 the angel called out to Abraham:
Lay not thine hand upon the lad, neither do thou any thing unto him.
To Schlosser, it was just another manifestation of the way the group tended to cite biblical interpretations and divine intervention in ways that justified whatever happened at the commune . While there had been suggestions of this for years, according to several former members, it had become more apparent in the summer of 1981, when Dot McClellan announced that God had moved her to leave her husband and love Tom Wahl, another member of the group.
For Ed Schlosser, it all confirmed what he had thought 15 months ago, when he finally decided to remove his family from Stonegate:
"We had to leave," he says, "because Dot McClellan had changed the group from its original precepts based on the Bible into a cult. She thought she had a direct line to the Lord."
"Something changed in her," says John McClellan, referring back to the summer of '81. "Her basic response is, 'This is God's will, it's His sovereignty, and there's nothing you can do about it.' She told me once that God would give her all the financial means she wanted."
There had been the time, not too long ago, when the commune had defaulted on the payment of a note. Dot McClellan was summoned to the office of Bank of Charles Town President Donald Smith, who asked how she was going to make good on the obligation.
And Dot McClellan said, according to Schlosser, "You don't seem to understand, Mr. Smith. God told us that we don't have to make any more payments on this note." (Smith declined to comment on this, citing the confidentiality of his relationship with bank customers.)
I am no longer motivated by obligations, responsibility, ought to's, standards of any kind or duty. It is only the love of God that motivates me now . . .
-- Dot McClellan, in a letter of Feb. 14, 1982, distributed to former members of the group.
All of this seemed so far away from the day, a decade and a half ago, when Ed Schlosser had first encountered the Stonegate group in its early stage, long before it was called Stonegate.
He was living in Peapack-Gladstone Township in New Jersey, attending high school and suffering through his parents' divorce. He had heard that there was a couple living in the township whose marriage was about as solid as could be imagined.
He went over to this house one evening, as did many of the kids living in the area, and he discovered John and Dot McClellan, and their children, and two women who lived in the house: Tina Maretta (later Tina Orlowski) and Louise Goodman. There were also four men -- the three Price brothers and Tom Wahl -- who lived together nearby and came over to the house for Bible study classes. "Their family was different than anything I had ever experienced," Schlosser says. It made Schlosser wish he had a family that close.
"A lot of us were coming out of all sorts of crazy things in the '60s," says Schlosser's wife, Ginny. "I remember Susan Roberts who would later marry Richard Price saying she didn't see how marriages could work, so Dot invited her to live with them and see how a Christian marriage worked."
They had all come from different places and different backgrounds. The McClellans had grown up in Florida. They were both raised as Baptists but quickly became disillusioned with institutional religion. When they moved to New Jersey, where John McClellan took a job with the accounting firm Deloitte Haskins & Sells, they initially lived in Bernardsville and met several of the young people who would later join the group.
In 1971, John McClellan was transferred to Washington by the accounting firm. By now the group had become quite tightly knit, often sharing meals and studying the Bible together, and the McClellans offered a chance for everyone to move and live communally in a rambling neo-Colonial home they had bought in McLean Hamlet.
Everyone accepted the invitation. At first the house contained the McClellan family, the two single women and the four single men. On weekends the ranks would be swelled by others who had heard about the group. The visitors included Ed Schlosser, who would travel down from New Jersey, and Ginny Crum, who was an art student at East Carolina University, where she had met some friends of Tina.
Eventually there were 33 people living in the house at 1362 MacBeth St., in addition to the 10 members of the McClellan family. The group often spent its evenings studying the Bible. By day, most of the men worked construction jobs; the women cleaned the house, cooked and did needlework. Newspaper articles were written about the McClellans, describing how theirs was an example of the perfect Christian marriage, which they held up as an example to teen-agers and lost souls in their early twenties who had come to live with them.
Some of the young people fell in love: Tina Maretta and Peter Orlowski, Louise Goodman and George Price. John McClellan says he cited Scripture to suggest that any couples wanting to get married ought to move out and begin their own families; but his wife objected. "Dot implied that it would be against God's will for them to leave," says Ed Schlosser. So they stayed together.
At first the group was hardly noticed in the suburban development. "They were real nice people," says Marge Atkins, the widow of Richard Nixon's presidential photographer, Ollie, who lived next door. "They kept to themselves. They had some motorcycles, but they were always quiet."
But by early 1974, the Fairfax County Zoning Board said there was a violation at the McClellan household: More than four unrelated people were living under the same roof; the group was given six months to find a new residence.
John McClellan continued to work at Deloitte Haskins & Sells. His income was always the major financial support for the commune, although from time to time friends and business acquaintances would dip into their pockets to help support his good works. Meanwhile, Dot McClellan was scouting possible locations where the group could create a new community. John McClellan's idea was that each family would build its own home on a large piece of property, and that the group would establish the community as a nonprofit Christian study center.
The first place Dot McClellan seriously considered was an estate called Stonegate in West Virginia's Greenbrier County. "She told us that the name was a sign from God that we should buy this property," says Ed Schlosser, "since Christ is the rock and he's also the gate." There were two small problems: The group needed an immediate $5,000 binder to sign the contract, and on April 15 it would have to come up with another $400,000 to close the deal.
"The $5,000 came from a member of the group, Kristin Karan," says Ed Schlosser. "She just happened to get a $5,000 inheritance, and Dot said this was another sign of God's will. She worked to convince people that God would provide the other money. They would literally run out to the mailbox every day and look for the check." But the money did not come, and the place was eventually bought by golfer Sam Snead, who worked nearby as the pro at the Greenbrier in White Sulphur Springs.
"At first I thought this was nonsense, but the group was quite convincing," says John McClellan. "I think I believed it myself. When I think back on it now, I realize that a number of people had been giving me money all along to help care for these young people we took in. But in that 90-day period, we did not get one nickel."
Shortly after this, Dot McClellan found the farm where the group now lives. At $150,000, the place was affordable with a $30,000 down payment from the sale of the McLean real estate. The major problem was the property's crumbling house, which John McClellan quickly named "The Green Sea Monster." It had been built in the late 19th century by Charles "Broadway" Rouss. Rouss became a wealthy trader during the Civil War, selling mercantile goods that Rebel blockade runners managed to land in Virginia. Eventually he moved to New York, where he operated a fabric business. Rouss gave the city of Charles Town its firehouse, which still stands across the street from the Jefferson County Courthouse. It was there, in October of 1859, that John Brown, the abolitionist, was convicted of treason and sentenced to hang; in the same building, last month, Stuart and Leslie Green were indicted.
On the farm, which had belonged to his father, Rouss built a house as a gift for his son. But the boy died of typhoid fever. And Rouss himself did not enjoy it long; by 1898 he had gone blind, and he offered a reward of $1 million to anyone who could restore his sight. He died three years later, and natives of Charles Town recall that the estate later became the site of the brutal beating death of a farmhand; another owner is said to have hitched one of his sons up to a plow to work the almost untillable land. "It was always an eerie place," says Mary Perry, who has lived in the area since her birth in 1901. "Some called it a haunted house."
John McClellan's instinct was to bulldoze the decaying building; other members of the commune, including his wife, thought it could be fixed up quickly enough to allow the entire group to move in by late spring. Crews of commune members started shuttling from McLean to West Virgina in an old Volkswagen van. They rebuilt the chimney and divided several large rooms into bedrooms and bathrooms that were needed by the ever-increasing numbers of married couples and children. They kept the name Stonegate from the place Dot McClellan had found in southern Virginia, and on June 20, 1974, the members of the commune moved into the refurbished house.
After moving, the Stonegate community members experienced some of the joys of country living. Charlie Fansler planted a huge garden that first year, and the women spent the entire summer canning vegetables. There were also chickens (100 slaughtered and plucked in one day), pigs and even a dairy cow. They were baking all their own bread, churning their own butter and building a pole barn.
But already there were harbingers of later problems. "If Gordon didn't strip the cow right when he was milking," says Ed Schlosser, "and it got mastitis, Dot would accuse Gordon of thinking only of himself. A small incident was made out to be a rebellion. And if you weren't submitting to the group, you weren't submitting to the Lord."
It got to the point, says Tom Wahl, that you would say to yourself, " 'I sense that I am not being unconditionally accepting, but I know I am.' We doubted ourselves."
Because John McClellan's job required him to travel so much -- he estimates he was generally home about three days a week -- it was essentially Dot McClellan who made decisions for the group. According to former members, some were prudent, and often based on common sense: You ate only homemade bread and fresh food; you did not use drugs. Others seemed more personal: Mothers should not have long nails; women should not use contraceptives or wear T-shirts. Most of the women dressed in maternity smocks, Tina Orlowski recalls, "because Dot thought anything else made us look too seductive to the men."
But the rules set for the house were less problematic than the deeper issues about control, none more so perhaps than the matter of spanking.
"Spanking was a practice that began back in Peapack-Gladstone," recalls Ed Schlosser. Louise Price says that the spankings at the farm were usually administered with objects that "ranged from a six-inch wooden spoon to a small bread board to an especially large, 1 1/2-foot-long, inch-thick board. Any adult could paddle any child, and all the children were required to witness it. The theory was that it taught the child discipline and submission to authority, but it became so frequent that it lost its value."
"It got to a point where the child made no decisions," says Ed Schlosser. "He got spanked until he did what the parents wanted him to. Dot told us this was a way that you show a child love."
"I had watched children spanked, I had seen children bleed, and I was accused once of not paddling a child hard enough," says Louise Price. "I'm not a parent, but I knew it was wrong."
"Leslie Green once spanked my daughter Tobie for 45 minutes," says Tina Orlowski. "She told me she was a severe discipline problem. I went upstairs to change her. Her buttock was purple, a radiating bruise. That was when I knew I had to leave."
There were other issues of control that bothered some members of the group. "If you got money from relatives, you had to give it to the group," says Tina Orlowski. "To buy a pair of underpants or a can of deodorant, you had to go to Dot's son Butch and ask for money." And there were the meetings -- "group confessions," in the words of Louise Price -- that could be called at any time with the ringing of a dinner bell.
"You lived in fear that the bell was going to ring and you would be the point of the meeting," says Ginny Schlosser. "You might concede a sin of sex with a previous boyfriend to Dot , and then she'd call the group together and reveal this," says Tina Orlowski. "Or she would claim to have had a revelation, and want to expound her spiritual truths."
An interlude came to Stonegate in 1976, when John McClellan was transferred to the Dallas offices of his accounting firm. He and his wife traveled south with their children, and the remaining members of the group stayed on the farm. A year later the McClellans returned. "Dot told us she just couldn't live without the group," says Ginny Schlosser.
But this was a new Dot McClellan, says Louise Price. "She was driving a Lincoln Continental; she was wearing tight jeans."
"She had these long, fake nails," says Tina Orlowski, "and lots of Merle Norman makeup. She decked them all out, the single girls. They got to wear no bras and dress like hot little numbers."
At about the same time, Ed and Ginny Schlosser heard a series of tapes that had been made by an evangelical minister named John Todd, who lived in Texas and taught that Christians should have a retreat from which they could defend themselves against a hostile world.
"Dot read 'Helter Skelter' while she was listening to the Todd tapes," says Tina Orlowski, "and decided that Stonegate should become self-sufficient."
They started stockpiling: toothbrushes, baby bottles, food--and guns.
"They pulled up the boards in my bedroom to store ammunition," says Louise Price. "There were guns stashed in the root cellar," says Tom Wahl. "We had claymore mines, and belts of heavy ammunition . . . We'd go out and practice, and that whole valley would sound like an artillery range."
At one point, an acquaintance of the group named Dan Lutz visited the Winchester field office of the Treasury Department's division of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms to point out that a potentially dangerous situation existed at the house.
"We investigated a complaint that these people were collecting illegal firearms, and our investigation did not bear this out," says James Brightwell, ATF's special agent in charge for the area that includes the Winchester office.
"And then, all of a sudden," says Tom Wahl, "Dot decided that we shouldn't be stockpiling. She said, 'This isn't trusting God.' "
"At this time Dot felt that we should get out of debt," says Ed Schlosser. "We started up a sandwich shop in Charles Town, and then the restaurant Stonegate & Co. Dining Rooms and English Manor Antiques."
Even these establishments created certain problems. The antique shop folded quickly, and there was some disagreement about how the restaurants should be run. Eventually Dan Lutz was hired to operate the sandwich shop.
"They called Dot 'Mama,' " he recalls. "I wound up managing the place until Dot accused me of being lazy. She started in on a diatribe, screaming, 'Mama is talking to you.' I screamed back:
" 'In the name of Jesus Christ, shut your mouth!'
" 'Are you rebuking a demon?' she asked.
" 'I certainly was.'
" 'Do you think I'm demon possessed?' she asked.
" 'Yes, I do.' "
It was that summer of 1981, says Ed Schlosser, when "things really started to go crazy. Dot said she was having revelations that she and John should get divorced and she should get together with Tom Wahl."
"Tom came home one night from the restaurant," says Lucinda Wahl, "and said our marriage was over. He and Dot decided that God was bringing them together. I was expelled from the house on July 7, 1981. John was also expelled, and Dot filed for divorce. John's children told him he didn't exist anymore."
Would all you out there quit praying for us we don't need it. When you call us of saten sic you are calling God of saten. I do not consider you as my father anymore.
--Dennis McClellan, 14, in a letter to his father after he had been expelled from the group
"It was horrible, getting these letters from my children addressed, 'Dear John,' " says John McClellan. "I remember being in my home, and here was a man walking around with my wife on his arm in front of my children. It was very strange. When Dot first came to announce that she had been led to love Tommy, my eldest son, Butch, came to me and said, 'This is God's will.' Well, there's only so much faith will do. This wasn't God's intervention; it was a case of people deciding they wanted to get divorced. The frightening part is how far the logic can be carried."
"I left two months after my wife did," says Tom Wahl. "I had come to the realization that what I had done was wrong. The week after I left, Susan Price left. She was dragged out of there kicking and screaming. Her husband Richard drove her to the airport. He gave her a ticket and $20. He opened the door and didn't even help her out of the car. She had to sue to get her children back."
Last summer produced the crisis that decided for everybody here once and for all about divine love . . . Three new relationships developed which involved the break up of five marriages. If ever there was going to be a test of doctrine versus love, it was now! First, everybody was hit with "Mama" who never allowed "hanky-panky" . . . What a leap! But God was there all the time. I'm beholding God everyday now and He's so big!
--Dot McClellan, in the letter of Feb. 14, 1981
Charles Town has been shaken by the events at Stonegate. "How could anyone with an ounce of compassion watch such an atrocity," Toni Erchak, a nearby resident, wrote in a letter sent to the local judge, the U.S. Attorney General, the attorney general and governor of West Virgina, and a number of other federal and state politicians.
"We're speaking up," says Ed Schlosser, who still lives in the area, "because people need to know that Dot McClellan is running a cult right outside Charles Town."
After Stuart Green was initially charged with the killing of his son, his 1-year-old daughter Tiffany was placed under protective custody, where she remains. The grand jury also directed the West Virginia Department of Health and Welafare "with all due haste, to conduct an investigation into the health, saftey and welfare" of the 20 children still living in the commune. "All I can say is we are conducting an investigation," says Dennis Pentony, social services director of the department. The Greens have not been arraigned, and their attorney has asked the West Virginia Supreme Court to remove the case from the jurisdiction of the local judge. A hearing on the matter was held in Charles Town on Nov. 18; no decision has been reached. (It was on leaving the courtroom, following this hearing, that Dot McClellan refused to be interviewed; previous attempts to arrange an interview with her and the Greens, through their attorney, were unsuccessful.)
During the grand jury investigation, Stonegate member George Price was asked what effect the death of Joey Green would have on the group's paddling practices.
"We'll probably use rubber spatulas instead of wooden spoons," Price responded.