The Tragic History of Mike Warnke
By Jon Trott & Mike Hertenstein
Copyright 1992 by Jon Trott & Mike Hertenstein
The Satan Seller a Best-seller
Logos International released The Satan Seller in early 1973. At that moment, Christian publishing was in the midst of an unparalleled boom with the success of blockbusters like The Late Great Planet Earth by Hal Lindsey and the Praise books by Merlin Carothers. While the party lasted, Logos was the life of the party, the industry leader in both output and income.
Yet, as a former Logos editor has admitted, the boom-time books were often "too quickly written." That same year, Logos published Michael, Michael, Why Do You Hate Me?, the purported story of born-again rabbi Michael Esses. A later expose revealed Esses' bogus credentials and immorality.
Into this heady atmosphere The Satan Seller was born. The book was positively reviewed in publications ranging from Moody Monthly to The Christian Century, with nary a question as to its credibility. "The only thing I remember about that book is that it sold better than we thought it would," says Logos founder Dan Malachuk. Indeed, by April 1973, The Satan Seller was a religious best-seller.
Other ex-Satanist testimonies followed Warnke's. John Todd's warnings about the Illuminati and a conspiracy of witches were promoted in a series of Jack Chick comic books. According to Ron Winckler, Todd visited the Hotline once with a group of underlings to check out Mike Warnke. "There was a backstage confrontation," says Ron Winckler. "Todd accused Warnke of stealing his material about the Illuminati."
Another alleged ex-Satanist, Hershel Smith, purchased the Witchmobile from Morris Cerullo and began his own tour. Smith's testimony, seen in the 1974 book The Devil and Mr. Smith, coauthored by Dave Hunt, was an apparent effort to one-up The Satan Seller.
Hershel Smith eventually dropped out of sight. Todd's story was later discredited. When a book debunking Todd was written, Mike Warnke wrote the forward. "We as Christians have to be careful of those who take the name of the Lord in vain," said Warnke. In Ron Winckler's analysis, "Mike Warnke had the jump on John Todd. He understood the Full Gospel mind-set better."
Now a published author, Mike Warnke found increasing demand for his story and told it in coffeehouses and churches beyond the West Coast. In August of 1973, Warnke spoke at a Christian music festival in Pennsylvania. The Jesus Movement had spawned its own music, and Warnke gravitated toward this fraternity of musicians. Tim Archer of the group The Archers, told the crowd of Jesus '73, "Mike Warnke is the Chaplain of Gospel Rock."
In his travels, Warnke had met Charles Duncombe, an elderly Pentecostal evangelist. "Brother D," who started in the ministry under English preacher Smith Wiglesworth, was loved and respected by all who knew him. In 1974 Mike, Sue, four-year-old Brendon, and newborn Jesse all moved to Oklahoma near Duncombe's small school, Trinity Bible College. Mike would attend school while Sue tended children.
Trinity Bible College was a nine-month preparation for ministry, located in a big country house outside Tulsa, Oklahoma. The thirty students were mostly new converts, many from a counterculture background and eager to learn. "Within two weeks of our conversion my wife and I were in Trinity," says John Witty, who with his wife Vicki Jo had been a nightclub comedian.
Fellow students Bob and Karen Siegal ran a Jesus People ministry in southern Illinois and had met Brother D at a Full Gospel Businessmen's meeting. "We were the token hippies at FGBM," says Karen. "They'd bring us in there and have us give our testimonies," Student Bill Fisher, known as "Wild Bill," was a colorful local who later became Mike Warnke's traveling partner and confidant.
In some ways Mike Warnke was the star pupil, since he was already doing what everybody else was just learning to do: ministering in churches around the country. "Here was a guy who was going out on weekends and leading hundreds to Jesus," says John Witty. "He was a hero to us all."
On local gigs, Trinity students would tag along, sometimes even joining Warnke on stage. "Mike liked to introduce me as a former hippie or drug addict--which I'd been, but wasn't proud of," Karen Siegal says. "Then he started introducing me as a former prostitute, which I'd never been. I had to ask him to stop."
Another new convert at Trinity, one with a sensational testimony of her own, was to see her real-life story blended with Mike Warnke's. "Part of the program at Trinity was to tell your testimony," she says. "I got up and said, 'My name's Carolyn Alberty and I'm third generation Mafia. My father ran gambling houses, and my mother ran brothels. We had connections in political circles and the entertainment business.'"
This story caught Warnke's interest, says Carolyn. "Mike told me he knew me from some parties I had given in California." He convinced her he'd been to some, though she didn't remember him. "Then he started inquiring about my connections and ability to promote."
Carolyn rattled off a list of things Warnke needed to do to further his ministry. "Mike brought me to his home, introduced me to Sue, and said, 'I really think Carolyn can help us.'" Carolyn assembled his first real promotional package and called churches to make connections for speaking engagements. She says she told Mike, "Ease up on the satanic stuff and concentrate on the funny stories you've started to tell."
It didn't take long for the relationship to move beyond a professional level. "Mike started telling me he and Sue had different ideas about what they wanted out of life, and that he didn't love her anymore," says Carolyn. "Mike began passing notes to me in class, with stuff like 'Hubba, hubba' written on them."
As the year wore on, Karen Siegal realized something was up. "Carolyn and Mike started getting really hot and heavy," says Karen. "I confronted them and said, 'This is not godly.' They basically told me it was none of my business." Karen took her concerns to fellow students, but they suggested she was being judgmental.
Brother D was taken by Warnke's sincerity, says Karen. John Witty adds that the rest of the class was too naive to realize what was happening. "Back then, Mike and Carolyn seemed to be just what Jesus freaks would call 'bothers and sisters in the Lord.' I now realize the relationship had warning signs all over it from the beginning."
Karen Siegal protested one last time. "I'd repeatedly told Mike he needed to clean up his act with Carolyn," she says. "One time he came over to our house when nobody else was home. I made the mistake of confronting him again. All of a sudden, he said, "It's not Carolyn or Susie I love. It's you.' He grabbed me. It freaked me out and I pushed him away. I yelled, 'Get out of here! I love my husband!'"
Carolyn Alberty admits her relationship with Warnke took the inevitable turn near the end of the school year. "We'd been assigned to paraphrase the book of Isaiah. Mike rented a cabin outside Tulsa to do his work, and he offered to help me with my homework there. I thought that sounded reasonable, since I was living with the Siegals and had no privacy."
After they'd worked at the cabin for awhile, Carolyn says, the two went for a drive, and Warnke stopped at a convenience store. "He asked what kind of cigarettes I used to smoke, and I said, 'Pall Mall Gold. Why?' He just shut the door and kept on walking. I went, 'Uh-oh.'" Warnke returned to the car, says Carolyn, with "two bottles of Annie Greensprings wine, two packs of cigarettes, and a package of peanut butter cookies." That day they began an affair that would lead to marriage two years later and divorce two years after that. "I guess from day one I was wrong," says Carolyn.
Meanwhile, recalls John Witty, "Mike's testimony was just starting to break nationally. he was beginning to get calls from big churches."
Among the churches calling Warnke during this time was the Golden Heights Christian Center in Brockport, New York. Pastor Don Riling tried his best to disciple the young Christian musicians and speakers who came to his church. "I loved Mike Warnke as a son," he says. But soon problems cropped up. "We had a woman in the church who'd just become a Christian. She began to hang out with Mike Warnke--he seemed to have an eye for people with weaknesses," Riling says. "Later, she confessed to me she'd met him a number of times in hotels for sex when he was in the area."The Syro-Chaldean Connection