Selling Satan

The Tragic History of Mike Warnke

By Jon Trott & Mike Hertenstein

Copyright 1992 by Jon Trott & Mike Hertenstein.

Storytelling in the Tomahawk Room

Storytelling developed into an art form among the Tomahawk Room crowd. One student, Gary Manbeck, is remembered as having some of the best stories. "Gary always told stories about being in the Green Beret," says Dawn. "He was very good, but I never thought any of it was true."

Mike Warnke joined right in. "Gary and Mike vied for attention with stories, trying to be the life of the party," says George Eubank,[28] another of the Tomahawk crowd. "Who can one-up ya. That's a real good description of the two of them together."

Warnke produced a never-ending stream of tall tales. "He claimed he had some kind of white witchcraft background." recalls Greg Gilbert. "He claimed he'd been reincarnated any number of times, that he was born in the Irish moors in the 1570s. Along with his other stories, he claimed he'd once been a Trappist monk."

In The Satan Seller, Warnke paints himself as a freshman guru, dispensing wisdom to an eager audience of disciples:

Most of my friends were the pseudo-intellectual type. We liked to lie out on the lawn in the quad after classes and discuss psychology, philosophy, religion, art, and politics. Other students began coming around, and they seemed to look to me for answers to their questions. Anything I said was okay with them. And it was certainly okay with me. If they were hung up for a leader, I was happy to oblige.[29]

Greg Gilbert remembers things this way: "We sat out under the trees at school, all right. And there were times we listened to Mike tell his tall tales. But if Mike thought we believed what he was saying, or that we looked at him like some kind of guru, he was greatly mistaken. We were all part of the same bragging team."

It was difficult, at times, to know whether Warnke believed his own stories or not. "I don't think it was in fun. I think he himself wanted to believe it," says Phyliss Catalano,[30] Lois's best friend. "I used to sit there and be embarrassed, because I'd think, How could somebody that young have done all these things? He'd done everything. And everything he told was with a straight face."

Phyliss's mother, Mary Catalano,[31] saw Warnke on a regular basis when the gang gathered at the Catalano house. "He was a likable young man when he visited our house," she says, "but anything brought up in conversation--he'd done it. He said he'd been a Greek dancer, and he'd dance for us, round and round. He said he'd been a professional ambulance driver. And he was a monk--he'd come to the house all dressed in black. Of course, we never believed him. We just said, 'Boy, is he one big liar.'"

In college, as he'd done in high school, Warnke continued to costume himself for his roles. Mike particularly liked being a priest. "I remember at Halloween he dressed up like a priest and went around pretending," says Dawn. "My parents saw him--they're very Catholic--so I heard about it." Another occasion for the priest impersonation was a double date with Lois and Phyliss and her boyfriend David Gibbet. "I'll never forget when he went dressed as a priest to Jay's Coffeehouse," says Lois. "He met us there, and came walking in wearing robes and a white collar. I about died."

Yet another student, Tom Bolger,[32] recalls Warnke boasting how he'd dressed as a priest and gone panhandling in downtown San Bernardino. "He said he'd made fifty dollars." And finally, Greg recalls Mike unsuccessfully using the priest bit to get drinks. "He got the robes at a costume shop, went to Corky's Liquor Store, and tried to get Christian Brothers wine for the mass. They just laughed him out."

The Satan Seller and the Way Thinks Really Were