cover image Without a Prayer: The Death of Lucas Leonard and How One Church Became a Cult

Without a Prayer: The Death of Lucas Leonard and How One Church Became a Cult

Susan Ashline. Pegasus, $26.95 (400p) ISBN 978-1-64313-072-9

The Word of Life Christian Church in Chadwicks, N.Y., seemed a little odd, but the upstate town and then the entire country were shocked by the 2015 beating death of 19-year-old Lucas Leonard by the congregation, including his own parents. In her excellent debut, journalist Ashline details what led to the murder, the church’s fanatical founder, his strange death, and the succession of his daughter, who inflicted bizarre emotional and verbal abuse on her congregation. One method of control was through threatening action for any sexual misconduct, which spiraled into allegations of child abuse against Leonard and his 17-year-old brother, Chris. When locked in the church and confronted by the pastor, the pastor’s family, and the boys’ parents, they were beaten and whipped until they “confessed” to their sins. Even then, the abuse went on for hours, until Lucas was left for dead. Ashline then follows the trials of nine members of the cult and details the mounds of evidence against them. Most were defiant, though after one defendant received a lengthy prison sentence, the rest agreed to pleas for shorter jail time. In the end, only Lucas’s father seems to realize the how and why of the tragedy and accepts his own guilt in a jailhouse letter written to the author. Meticulously researched, this is a gripping account, but it’s not for the faint-hearted. [em]Agent: Lane Heymont, Tobias Literary Agency/Seymour Agency Partners. (Aug.) [/em]