KTXS Special Report: Mystery still surrounds House of Yahweh
In the highly guarded, quiet community of Eula, down a private road and behind a huge gate, there's a group of people who believe their compound is the only place that will survive the apocalypse. House of Yahweh members follow the word of their leader Yisrayl Hawkins and believe in Yahweh's laws, all 613 of them.
Kay Hawkins met and married Buffalo Bill Hawkins long before he changed his name to Yisrayl Hawkins and took over the House of Yahweh. After Buffalo Bill was suspended and later resigned from the Abilene Police Department, he was ordained an elder in the House of Yahweh.
The sect was founded by Bill's brother Jacob Hawkins in Odessa. Bill changed his name to Yisrayl in 1980 and started the House of Yahweh in Abilene. When the religion developed a large following, a second campus was created in Eula.
After years of working with Yisrayl, Kay Hawkins was told she was not the leader’s only wife.
"On July 24, 1993 [an elder] gave the sermon that polygamy was now a law in the House of Yahweh," Kay said.
Kay thinks that's when Yisrayl ruined what she said could have been an honorable religion.
"He builds something up and then one way or another he will destroy it. He built up the House of Yahweh, and then he destroyed it by making it become a polygamist, doomsday, slave compound," she said. That’s when Kay chose to leave the compound.
In 2008, Yisrayl Hawkins was arrested and charged with bigamy and child labor violations. Two different birth certificates of children born at the House of Yahweh had Yisrayl listed as the child's father, but the bigamy charges were dropped after members said they had no knowledge of Yisrayl's supposed multiple wives. Yisrayl is on probation after pleading no contest to child labor violations.
The same year, Yadidiyah Hawkins, an elder in the church, was convicted of sexually assaulting a child and sentenced to 30 years in prison.
Brain Butcher represented the child victim in Yadidiyah’s case.
"My client experienced sexual abuse almost the entire time that she was at the House of Yahweh. As far back as she can remember she was being sexually exploited by her stepfather and we've developed evidence that the House of Yahweh elders knew that this was going on," said Butcher.
A civil case charging Yisrayl with failure to report the sexual abuse of a minor is set for trial in March.
Butcher said Yisrayl’s response to the case was to deny the whole thing.
"They think that her stepfather, who's in prison for what he did to her, was wrongfully convicted and that he's some sort of martyr," said Butcher.
"She’s been exploited and I think she feels like the House of Yahweh knew it was happening. They let her down. They should have protected her and that's something that she struggles with," he added.
Yisrayl’s secretary said he was too busy with other work to comment on the charges.
Butcher said after talking to dozens of former and current House of Yahweh members, he learned the practice of marrying minor females to elder males is common.
"I think there's a wide array of abuses that are happening within the House of Yahweh. I think there are members within the House of Yahweh who are exploited financially, emotionally and sexually," said Butcher.
Kay said she often drives past the compound and thinks about those still living there.
"Those poor people, they are prisoners and they don't even know it," Kay said.
Butcher said many of those who might want to leave the compound are unable to.
"They become financially dependent. Their housing is through Buffalo Bill, their jobs are through Buffalo Bill, and when everything that you have is tied up within a cult it's hard to get out of the cult," Butcher said.
Kay said some of them are afraid to leave.
"They are advised if they leave the House of Yahweh they are doomed to burn in hell," Kay said.
Kay spent 17 years writing a book about her experience with Yisrayl Hawkins and the House of Yahweh. She said it helped her heal and she hopes it might help other former House of Yahweh members.
"If you have someone who understands and you have someone to say 'I know exactly how you feel,' that is a powerful validation because people who have never been through something like this have no idea. It’s a different world," said Kay.
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