KIRTLAND, Ohio — On October 24, 2006, Jeffrey Lundgren, who was convicted of murdering a Missouri family, received a lethal injection at a correctional facility in Lucasville, Ohio.
Lundgren was originally from Independence, Missouri and claimed to be a prophet of God who killed the Avery family of five. He claimed the killing was a sacrifice demanded by a higher power.
Dennis and Cheryl Avery were a diligent and unassuming couple who resided in Independence, Missouri. They were devoted parents to their three daughters and deeply committed to their faith and church.
However, by September 1986, the Avery family had become entranced by Jeffrey Lundgren, a persuasive and influential figure with extreme religious convictions. He had a reputation for being a skilled manipulator.
Lundgren formed a cult out of members of the Reorganized Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, which is now known as the Community of Christ. He had about 20 members, and they lived in the town of Kirtland in Ohio.
Lundgren moved to Ohio from Missouri to take a position in the RLDS. He would later be after being dismissed in 1987 as a minister for the RLDS, an offshoot of the Mormon church.
According to the State v. Lundgren, he relocated with his family from Missouri to Ohio to take on the role of senior temple guide, which was unpaid but provided housing for his family.
Lundgren adhered to the traditions of the RLDS faith by reporting visions, direct spiritual experiences, and divine communication with prophets. During his three-year tenure as a temple guide, Lundgren also taught Bible and Book of Mormon classes. Despite the church’s instructions to hand over all contributions from temple visitors to the church, he collected and kept donations received from visitors.
As a result, the temple contributions decreased significantly, and the temple bookstore faced financial shortfall. The church ultimately dismissed Lundgren from his role as a religion teacher and expelled him from his quarters near the temple in October 1987.
The Avery family joined Lundgren in his home in the spring of 1987, when they moved from Missouri to follow his teachings. His cult required his followers to contribute their paychecks and other money for group expenses.
After Lundgren was evicted from the original RLDS, he, his family, and followers moved into and rented a farmhouse. This is the location where the Avery family would later be killed.
Lundgren taught classes, emphasizing the significance of the Kirtland Temple and the need for his followers to reclaim it. This is the temple he was rejected from. He claimed that an earthquake would raise the temple and that Christ would then return to establish Zion. Which is known as the hill of Jerusalem on which the city of David was built. Or known as the kingdom of heaven.
Reclaiming the Temple
Lundgren also spoke of his claimed conversations with God and his visions. He referred to the Book of Revelations and the Book of Mormon and talked about “pruning the vineyard.” This is his belief of sacrificing ten followers before Zion could be established. Eventually, the male members of the group received paramilitary training to prepare for an assault on the temple.
Lundgren initially planned to recapture the temple on May 3, 1988, which was his birthday. He later postponed the plan, stating that the time was not right. The Averys, who were on the periphery of the group, were only invited to a few of Lundgren’s prayer meetings.
In the early months of 1989, Lundgren emphasized the necessity for his followers to embark on a wilderness trip before the establishment of Zion. By April of the same year, under Lundgren’s direction, the group prepared for the journey.
Some members resigned from their jobs, while others purchased supplies. Lundgren urged everyone to max out their credit cards, and all members, including the Averys, gathered their belongings to sell for money.
Around April 12 some of Lundgren’s followers secretly dug a six-by-seven-foot hole in the dirt floor of his barn. He instructed Cheryl Avery to write a letter telling her family that they were moving to Wyoming.
On April 17, 1989, he invited the Averys to dinner. The Averys and their daughters ate dinner at the farmhouse. After dinner, Lundgren went out to the barn with four of his followers and his son, Damon. The Averys stayed in the house.
He instructed a cult member to individually lead each Avery family member out to the barn. They were bound and gagged and placed in the pit. When all the family members were in the pit, they were then shot.
The next day, April, 18, police officers and FBI agents showed up at the farmhouse to investigate a tip about the planned temple assault. The FBI left without arresting anyone after interviewing the cult members. The cult denied knowing anything about a temple assault and said they were at the farm voluntarily. After the FBI left, Lundgren and his followers left for their wilderness trip.
Eight months later, an opposing cult member was upset that his wife was selected to become Lundgren’s second wife. The slaying the of Dennis, 49, Cheryl, 41, Trina, 15, Rebecca, 13, and 7-year-old Karen were tipped off to the authorities.
Investigators started digging in the pit of the barn on January 3, 1990. This is how Dennis Avery’s body was found. The next day, law officials found the rest of the Avery family.
The Cult in Court
The Dayton Daily News reports that thirteen cult members were charged in the case, including Alice Lundgren, his wife at the time of the killings, and their son, Damon. They are now both serving prison terms.
Lundgren said that he shot the Avery family in his opening statement. At the end of the trial, the jury decided that he was guilty of five counts of aggravated murder. The jury also found he is guilty of five counts of kidnapping.
The court gave Lundgren the death sentence for each count of aggravated murder. He was also put in jail for each kidnapping. His sentences were supposed to be served consecutively. He died by lethal injection at a prison in Lucasville, Ohio on October 24, 2006
Lundgren’s last words were, “For my final words, I would profess my love for my God, my family, my children, and my beloved wife, Kathryn. I am because you are,” he said at 10:15 a.m. while strapped to a gurney, as reported by The News-Herald. Lundgren reportedly never apologized for the crimes or said they were wrong.
If you would like to learn more about the Avery Family, check out this article.