WACO, TEX., APRIL 27 -- They wed when she was 14. And through the nine years of their marriage, Rachel Jones never seemed to question her husband, David Koresh -- not when he preached about the world's fiery end, not when he consulted an "Anarchist's Cookbook" to fashion his hand grenades, not when he took as many as a dozen other women to be his wives.

In the sad tale of Ranch Apocalypse and the Branch Davidians who died there, Rachel Koresh and her relatives are central figures, devoted followers, the core family of a tyrannical leader who ruled his compound as if he owned everyone within its boundaries.

"She was polite and pleasant and very quiet," said Houston lawyer Jack Zimmermann, one of the last outsiders allowed within the compound to talk with Koresh on April 4. "She acted like a wife whose husband was conducting business at home, and she was carefully letting him do his business."

Zimmermann described Rachel as a pretty woman with long blond hair, dressed in dark slacks and a sweatshirt. She entered the room once with a baby in her arms, once again to deliver a message to her husband, a last time to serve Zimmermann, Koresh and Houston lawyer Dick DeGuerin a tray of military-style MREs (Meals Ready to Eat). The menu that day was chicken a la king.

Rachel Koresh, 23, apparently believed so deeply in her husband's teachings that she died about two weeks later with him and their two children, Cyrus, 8, and Starr, 6, in the April 19 fire that destroyed the compound and ended the cult's 51-day standoff against federal agents.

She died along with her older brother, David, 38, one of Koresh's trained "Mighty Men" warriors, and her younger sister, Michelle, 18, who had joined Koresh's harem at an early age. Michelle's two children, Serenity Sea Jones, 4, and Bobby Lane Koresh, 16 months, who also perished in the inferno, were reportedly fathered by the self-styled messiah.

Rachel and her brother and sister already had lost their father, Perry, 66, in the Feb. 28 shootout at the compound with agents of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms. Until his reportedly slow, painful death from a gunshot wound to the abdomen, Perry Jones had served as Koresh's chief errand runner, contracting with Waco-area companies for everything from propane to backhoe equipment for constructing a swimming pool. Described as a polite older man, bespectacled and somewhat frail, he was well known at various businesses in the Waco community.

"He was nice and he had good manners," said Tim Jander, general manager of Star Tex Propane in Waco. "He came in here every few days or so to get propane -- they used it for cooking -- and he always paid promptly, in cash."

Already strong believers before Koresh entered their lives in the early 1980s, the Jones family -- including mother Marybelle, who still lives outside Waco, and nine other children -- had spent summers for more than 25 years on the prairie compound when it was used as a summer camp for an independent sect of the Seventh-Day Adventist Church. Mark Bunds of Waco, whose family also became intertwined with the group, remembers being baptized in a pond one summer with Rachel Jones.

"Rachel used to be a real bubbly kid, real loving and happy and fun," Bunds said. "She didn't seem to be the same way when I came back to Waco four years ago. She was definitely more serious, and quiet."

Perhaps her change in demeanor could be traced to the changes at the Branch Davidian compound, and in her husband, who preached ever more stridently about the evils of government and seemed to savor the growing hold he had over his followers -- especially the women.

Several years ago, he ordered the men in the group to practice celibacy and to relinquish their wives to him. And although Rachel remained his only legal spouse, soon there were a dozen women at Ranch Apocalypse who were proud to say they belonged to David Koresh. Birth control was never exercised, and they bore him perhaps a dozen children. Many of them apparently died with their mothers in last week's immense fire.

"That was a hidden issue to the outside world for a long, long time," said Bunds, whose sister, Robyn, was one of Koresh's wives and bore him a son before becoming a vocal enemy. "I don't know how Rachel felt about it, but apparently, she went along with anything he did."

So, too, inexplicably, did Rachel's father, sister and brother. David Jones, although he worked as a mail carrier for the U.S. Postal Service, also led a double life as a protector of Koresh, sleeping with a firearm next to his bed, according to a federal affidavit. An autopsy this week showed that Jones died of a single gunshot wound to the side of the head. Authorities have not determined whether the wound was self-inflicted.

Despite the sacrifices Koresh ultimately forced his family to make, his attorneys insist that he was a devoted husband and father who constantly worried about their welfare -- even to the end. In his last days, they said, he was working on a will.

"He wanted his kids to be taken care of," Zimmermann said. "All it needed was his signature, but he never got a chance to sign."