ONE LIVED, ONE DIED
For Gladys Ottman, it’s still hard to leave the “loving place,” as she calls the Branch Davidian compound in Waco, Texas, in the poems that she scrawls on bits of scrap paper. The compound became a smoking ruin, a funeral pyre for the self-declared messiah, David Koresh, and more than 80 of his followers. Fortunately for Ottman, she left Koresh’s encampment 25 days before it exploded and burned. But as she sat last week in a Salvation Army hostel in Waco, contemplating the journey that brought her all the way from Timmins, Ont., to the fiery apocalypse on the Texas plain, she would not disavow the man who drew her there. For her, the word of God still abides with Koresh—even in death. “My loyalty,” she says with a quiet but chilling insistence, “is with David and his followers.”
Two Canadian women followed different paths to Waco’s Ranch Apocalypse
Novelette Sinclair cannot speak for herself. Like Ottman, she journeyed from Canada to Waco to give herself over fully to the Davidians’ message of cataclysm and redemption—and to Koresh’s seductive personal spell. But unlike Ottman, Sinclair did not emerge from the flames that engulfed Mount Carmel, as the Davidians called the sprawl of wooden buildings in which they were incinerated on April 19. Her body almost certainly lay amid the ashes and rubble through which searchers were carefully picking their way late last week.
Two women: one lived, the other died. In many respects, they could have hardly been more different. Gladys Ottman, bom 67 years ago in the hardscrabble mining community of Timmins, lived in small towns and cities across southern Ontario, from Dundas to Port Credit to Oshawa. Novelette Sinclair, three weeks shy of her 38th
birthday when Mount Carmel burned, was born in a little town with the poetic name of Halfway Tree, on the outskirts of Kingston, Jamaica. Her journey to Waco took her through Montreal, Oshawa and Toronto. Ottman’s life, by her own account, has been marked by poverty, family breakdown and personal tragedy. Sinclair, in contrast, grew into a bright young woman who was clever enough to win university scholarships and capable enough to embark on an international career as a linguist, translator and teacher.
But beneath their obvious differences lay similarities that propelled both women into the psychic grip of Koresh’s cult. As a young girl, Ottman now says, she endured years of sexual abuse. And she describes her home life as sometimes violent. Sinclair was also traumatized by a troubled home and the breakup of her family. Ottman’s childhood abuse led to a lifelong obsession with sex that left her vulnerable to Koresh’s manipulation of his followers’ sexual weaknesses. In a series of rambling interviews last week in Waco, she told Maclean’s that she would gladly “have been a wife to him”—even though she was more than twice the age of the 33-year-old cult leader. And Sinclair, according to friends, enjoyed flaunting her sexuality and got involved with the Davidians at least partly because she was sexually drawn to Koresh. “She fell in love with him,” says Charles Pace, a Canadian who knew both Sinclair and Koresh in the mid-1980s and is now pastor of a Branch Davidian church in Alabama.
Together, their stories shed light on the tortuous personal journeys that led to last week’s televised Armageddon in Texas. Koresh and other Davidian leaders, including his onetime guru and lover, Lois Roden, treated Ontario as a significant recruiting ground for their increasingly erratic sect. He pro-
"He gets them tired out and brainwashes them. Their brains were gone." —Doreen Ottman claimed that he was the messiah, and he twisted biblical teachings to preach that he had the right to possess both his disciples’ minds—and their bodies. Koresh was not choosy: the women he had sex with were as old as 67 and as young as 10. In Gladys Ottman and Novelette Sinclair, he found two more confused women ready to accept his self-serving teachings as the revealed word of God.
Gladys Ottman lived in an intensely religious environment from early childhood. Her parents were both strong Salvation Army supporters who migrated from Halifax to Ontario in 1918 in search of work. They settled in Timmins, where her father worked underground at the MacIntyre mine just outside town, and eventually bought 160 acres of bush land. It was a hard existence, which became even harder after her father drowned while ice fishing in 1937. Gladys, one of 10 children, was just 12 at the time and, she says, already being subjected to regular sexual abuse that lasted from age 9 into her midteens. Like so many children in that situation, she told no one about the traumatic events for years. When she finally told her mother and a friend, she says, “They believed me and said that they had often wondered what I was going through, why I couldn’t relate to people and why my nerves were so bad.”
After her father’s death, her mother moved the family south, first to Dundas, Ont., and then to Port Credit. In 1940, she remarried. Ottman’s stepfather, she remembers, drank, fought and beat her brother. He rejected her and even deprived her of food, leaving her with a sense of worthlessness. “I became bitter,” she says. “I hated my mother for what she was putting us through. These things scar you for life.”
Ottman was 21 when she married her husband, Ralph. He was, she recalls, a kind, quiet man who didn’t smoke or drink. He was also 15 years older than she. Gladys Ottman had become a Seventh-day Adventist in Timmins after meeting a family there that supported the church, and she persuaded her new husband to adopt her beliefs. They built a house in Dundas and settled down to a comparatively stable and outwardly normal life. Ralph drove a truck for a living, and the couple had five children. In 1965, though, Ralph Ottman had a heart attack and could no longer work, forcing the family to move to cheaper housing in Oshawa, 50 km east of Toronto. That put them close to the Canadian headquarters of the Seventh-day Adventist Church, located on King Street in Oshawa. The Ottmans were active members of the church, whose followers do not smoke, drink alcohol, dance, gamble or eat meat, and teach that the second coming of Christ is imminent. More ominously for Ottman’s future, the Branch Davidians originated as a splinter group that broke off from the church in California in 1934. Their founder, Victor Houteff, believed that Christ could not return to earth until a purer church was established. Even though the two groups have no formal links and the Seventh-day Adventists vigorously oppose Houteffs teachings, the Davidians often target Adventists as potential recruits.
Beneath the surface calm of the Ottmans’ life in Oshawa, however, lay more troubles. Gladys’s son Paul died of a brain tumor in 1973 at the age of 22, and two years later her husband died as well. Both men suffered painful, lingering deaths, and Ottman’s 44-year-old son, David, now says that his mother was profoundly disturbed by them. “The deaths were so close together and so drawn out,” says David Ottman, who owns a maintenance and janitorial business in Cobourg, Ont. “It’s a real load on a family when a person takes a year to die and another person takes a year and a half. It makes people vulnerable.” In Gladys Ottman’s case, she became vulnerable to missionaries from the Branch Davidians who were seeking converts.
KORESH UNDER SIEGE
On Feb. 28, more than 100 agents of the feder al Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms (ATF) storm the Branch Davidian religious com pound outside Waco, Texas, in search of illegal weapons. A firefight en sues, killing four agents (photo) and six cult
members. Court docu ments made public last week show that authori ties carried out the raid despite a warning from an ATE undercover agent that the cultists, who numbered about 120, knew of-and were pre pared for-the impend ing assault.
After talks with the FBI, cult leader David Koresh agrees to surrender peacefully if a local radio sta tion broadcasts a 58-minute religious message from him. Authorities comply, and the rambling sermon goes out on the airwaves. But Koresh later changes his mind, saying that God had told him to await a sign. The FBI quotes Koresh as saying: "We're ready for war. Let's get it on." It is the first of several times
that Koresh dashes hopes for a quick and bloodless end to the cri sis. By this time, as more than 400 federal agents and police ring the 77-acre compound, 16 children and two adult cultists come out-the first of about two dozen to leave spo radically over the next seven weeks.
DAY 22 SYCHOLOGICAL WARFAR1~
After a week of shining bright lights at the com pound each night, FBI agents step up the pres sure by blasting music and noise through loud speakers. The cultists are subjected to blaring tapes of Tibetan chants, pop songs, reveille, Christmas carols and screaming rabbits being slaughtered. FBI special agent Jeffrey Jamar later describes the audio as sault as "a progression in terms of negotiation,"
control over them." Brown became a second mother to Novelette, but the trauma of the broken home had a deep effect on the girl. Dorothy Ford says that her family’s early troubles may explain what eventually drove Novelette to the Davidians. “We were all hurt as children,” says Ford. “There’s no doubt about that. And maybe Lobsey felt the hurt more than any of us, more than any of us even realized at the time. Maybe Lobsey just wanted to find some place where she belonged.” Another sister, Colette, voiced a similar thought, “She was clearly searching for something to replace the family that was broken apart when she was so young.” DAY 30 PASSOVER BREAK
To her family and close friends, Novelette Sinclair will always be remembered as “Lobsey,” the endearing nickname that her brother Reginald coined for her in childhood. Born in the foothills of Jamaica’s Blue Mountains, she came to Montreal in 1965 at the age of 10. The Sinclairs at first did well, moving from humble downtown housing to a more comfortable home on Northcliffe Avenue in the city’s Notre-Dame-de-Grace district. The four children attended Victoria Primary School, where Novelette was a shy little girl who did very well. “Her teachers loved her,” recalls Jerline Sinclair, a childhood friend who later married Reginald Sinclair. “It was obvious even way back then that Lobsey was a lot smarter than most other little kids.”
The family members were all churchgoers, regularly attending services at the Seventh-day Adventist Church in neighboring Westmount. And young Novelette was the most serious, devoting her weekends to church activities. The family seemed happy and even relatively prosperous. But trouble was already brewing below the surface. Novelette’s sister Dorothy Ford recalls that her father did not live up to the strict ideals of his church. “He was a womanizer,” she says now. “He lived a lie, going to church and pretending to be something that he wasn’t.” Four years after the family arrived in Montreal, the parents separated. Novelette’s mother, Daphne Sinclair, sent the girl, then 14, to live with a friend, a nurse named Norma Brown.
"I would gladly have been a wife to him."
Even if that is true, it was not apparent for many years. Novelette was sent away once more, this time to live with a family in Oshawa. There, she first encountered the Branch Davidians who were recruiting in the city. But she continued to excel at school, winning a scholarship to the University of Ottawa and earning a master’s degree in linguistics in 1977. She taught French in Brussels, then won a job as a translator at the United Nations in New York City. There, she lived with a West Indian immigrant named Danny Simon; her family hoped they would marry, but it never happened. Instead, Sinclair became increasingly involved with the Davidians. When Simon would not join in, she broke off the relationship. “In the end,” recalls Dorothy Ford, “Lobsey chose her cult over Danny.”
In the early 1980s, the paths of the two women converged. By 1978, Branch Davidian missionaries in Oshawa had converted Gladys Ottman to their cause. She had become a follower of the group’s leader at the time, Lois Roden, who posed as a prophet and preached that the Holy Spirit was feminine. In 1980, Ottman visited their headquarters in Waco for the first time, and met Roden again when she visited Canada on recruiting missions later that year, as well as in 1981, 1983 and 1986. Ottman actively tried to convert Seventh-day Adventists in Oshawa to her new group, often handing out Davidian
literature to people outside the King Street church and quoting Lois Roden as sole authority for her beliefs. Church leaders, who disavow any connection with the Davidians, say that she began to force the material on their members. They were determined to stop her, and in February, 1983, they “disfellowshipped” (in effect, expelled) her from the church. ‘We didn’t want the taint on the church,” recalls Harry Sackett, who was the senior church pastor at the time. “We believe some of the ideas are so extreme.”
In 1981, Roden was accompanied on her trip to Ontario by a newcomer to the Waco sect: Vernon Wayne Howell, the would-be rock musician who in 1990 changed his name to David Koresh. Howell was raised as an Adventist in Dallas but found the apocalyptic teachings of the Davidians more to his taste. Howell quickly made an impact on the group. Although he was in his early 20s when he arrived in Waco, he became the lover of Lois Roden, who was then 67. Roden sent tapes of her teachings, as well as sermons by Koresh, to Davidian groups across North America. Some of them reached Toronto, where in 1982 both Gladys Ottman and Novelette Sinclair attended a Davidian study group at the home of Myrtle Clarke, a Jamaican-born woman who had been involved in a similar sect there called Shepherd’s Rod.
People who knew Sinclair then remember that she seemed to enjoy talking about her sexual history, which contrasted with the Davidians’ professed puritanism. “She bragged of her sinful past,” says one woman who recalls watching as Sinclair, dressed in a long skirt and tightly-buttoned blouse, described a string bikini she once wore. Sinclair, she said, was sexually attracted to Koresh, who seduced many of his female followers by convincing them that by sleeping with him they would become brides of Christ. By then, Sinclair’s family in Montreal was seriously worried about her. In 1983, she quit her job at the United Nations, moved to Toronto and became even more deeply involved with the Davidians. The following year, she sold all her possessions, gave the money to the sect and moved to Texas. After that, her family had only sporadic contact with her.
Gladys Oilman on cult leader Koresh
Ottman was just as deeply involved, along with her son Philip and her daughter Ruth Ellen Riddle, who was one of only nine people who survived last week’s inferno in Waco. Riddle spent 11 weeks in Waco in 1982, and later served as Lois Roden’s secretary during a trip that the self-style prophetess made to Israel the following year. Ottman, however, made only sporadic trips to Texas. Instead, she moved her family to the tiny town of Tweed, midway between Toronto and Ottawa. She opened a vegetarian restaurant called the 10-4 House of Bread on Highway 7, where she painted a tree on one wall and encouraged customers to sign their names on the leaves, and made religious literature available to them. It had been a truck stop before the Ottmans took over, and the truck drivers did not take to the new fare of soya burgers and carob coffee—or to the Ottmans’ attempts to preach to them. Not surprisingly, the 10-4 House of Bread closed after only a year.
For the first time, on March 29, the FBI allows lawyers to enter the compound to meet face-toface with their clients. Emerging from the meeting, Koresh’s lawyer,
Dick DeGuerin (right, with Koresh’s mother, Bonnie Haldeman), expresses confidence that a surrender is imminent. But over the next few days, newly re-
leased cult members lower expectations.
They say that surrender is unlikely until after the group’s Passover observance, to end on April 13.
DAY 46 MORE DELAYS
After sending the FBI a letter warning that agents would be “devoured by fire” if they tried to harm him, Koresh promises on April 14 to surrender when he finishes a manuscript on the biblical seven seals, or future visions, referred to in the Book of Revelation, or Apocalypse. (The symbolic seals suggest a pattern of persecution, punishment and struggle before the final judgment of God.) FBI agent Jamar later describes Koresh’s pledge as “another sham, another stall.”
DAY 49 MOMENT OF DECISION
In Washington, Attorney General Janet Reno approves an FBI plan to raid the compound with tanks after consulting with President Bill Clinton. She later cites reports of child T abuse inside the compound as well TBW as the weariness of federal agents in Waco and fruitless negotiations w ; with Koresh as key factors in her decision to end the standoff. FBI * \ officials refuse to give details, but it appears that some of their intelli-
gence has been gleaned by electronic surveillance equipment hidden inside parcels of food and medicine that they periodically sent into the compound. Early last year, both Ottman and Sinclair went back to Waco—and this time they stayed. Lois Roden had died of breast cancer in 1986, prompting a yearlong struggle for control of the group between her son, George, and Koresh. The battle culminated in a 1987 shootout on the Waco compound between their two factions. Roden ended up in a state mental hospital; Koresh established total control over the cult. He claimed to have received a revelation that he was the seventh and final angel who would bring about the end of the world. In his vision, Armageddon would start in Texas when the army attacked the Davidians at Mount Carmel—a scenario that hauntingly prefigured the siege of the compound that began on Feb. 28. In the meantime, Koresh acted on his theory that his female followers, as well as the wives and daughters of his male disciples, should be sexually available to him. His children by various women—most estimates put their number at more than 20—were regarded as heirs to what he called the House of David. DAY 51 THE FINAL SIEGE
"Never, never did I think it would end like that." —Gladys Ottman
At the same time, Koresh developed elaborate theories about social and sexual laws based on his reading of the Bible. He brought sex into Bible study groups; according to Gladys Ottman, his followers would sit in a circle while Koresh would ask who among them had masturbated or engaged in oral or anal sex. Ottman found the sessions cathartic; she confessed to Koresh that she had misbehaved sexually and had what she called “illicit sex” with another man during her marriage. No one before Koresh, she says, had linked sexual behavior so directly to Bible teachings: “He brought it out of the scriptures and showed us what was right and wrong.”
In the final months before the siege began, Koresh’s followers stocked Mount Carmel with stores of food and ammunition. They held target practice on a range behind the buildings, repeatedly watched videos of Koresh’s favorite Vietnam War movies like Full Metal Jacket and Platoon and renamed their compound Ranch Apoca-
lypse. Some former followers charge that the Davidians engaged in child abuse. Ottman strongly denies that there was any sexual abuse at Mount Carmel, but she says that Koresh did believe in disciplining children with paddles that he called their “helpers.” “He never beat any child until they bled,” she says. “He was strict and there were paddles, called their helpers, so when a child made a mistake they were given their helper.”
On Feb. 28, Koresh’s vision of an army attack that would precipitate Armageddon seemed to be coming true, at least to the more than 100 inhabitants of Ranch Apocalypse. Over 100 agents of the U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms surrounded the compound and were met with a hail of bullets when they attempted to force their way in. Four agents died, along with six of Koresh’s followers, and the 51-day siege began. On March 25, Ottman left the compound with several other older women. God, she says now, had summoned her to leave. Police held her in jail for several days as a material witness, and then sent her to the Salvation Army hostel where she remains, writing lengthy poems in block capitals. But her 30-year-old daughter Ruth Ellen stayed inside, and so did Novelette Sinclair.
Ottman, however, was not concerned about Ruth Ellen. She did not believe that the federal agents would attack the compound, as they did in the daybreak hours on April 19, by punching holes in the buildings and inserting tear gas in a bid to flush out the cult members. “Never, never, did I think it would end like that,” she says. “David was going to come out. I expected to see them alive. David would never have kept them in there.” Instead, the attack led to the fire and explosions that devastated the compound. Ruth Ellen survived, suffering a broken ankle and bums to her shoulders, arms and hands after jumping from a second-storey window. Novelette Sinclair did not get out.
For the families of Ottman and Sinclair, the trauma of what happened at Ranch Apocalypse continues. Doreen Ottman, David Ottman’s wife, angrily blames Koresh for keeping her motherand sister-inlaw prisoners in his bizarre world. “I’d punch him if I saw him,” she says. “He gets them tired out and brainwashes them. Their brains were gone.” To Sinclair’s brothers and sisters, the bright little girl they knew as Lobsey had long been little more than a memory. She had been so deeply involved in the Davidians for so many years that they felt they had lost her long ago.
In what FBI agent Bob Ricks calls “the next logical step,” authorities warn the cultists on the morning of April 19 to surrender or face an assault. The cultists ignore the warning. Army tanks punch holes through the walls of the compound and pump tear gas inside. Authorities say that the objective is to drive the cultists out of the complex. But fire breaks out, quickly engulfing the wooden buildings. Only nine people escape the inferno, leaving as many as 86 people, including 17 children under the age of 10, presumed
dead. Critics accuse the FBI of acting rashly. Some of the survivors claim that the as-
iL âd ] sault set the fireAlleges
* cultist Renos Avraam: “A tank 1 knocked over a gas lantern and it started a fire with the bales of hay that were lying around. There were no plans j| for suicide.” But the FBI says r J ’S that the cultists set the fire de-
ll liberately, and they hold KoreBpc 4 g sh responsible for the deaths.
RECALLING THE OKA STANDOFF
The Waco siege was a chilling reminder of what could have happened in Oka, Que., in the summer of 1990. A land dispute between town officials and Mohawks in nearby Kanesatake led to an armed standoff that lasted 78 tension-filled days.
As in Waco, it began with a botched raid. On July 11 that year, about 100 provincial police attacked a highway barricade erected by the milg itant Mohawk Warriors. A f gun battle ensued in which al, police officer was killed/
Over the next several weeks, intermittent negotiations—and an escalating, encircling military presence—failed to convince the heavily armed warriors to give up. But on the night of Sept. 26, the Mohawks suddenly did so—calling it an “honorable disengagement”—and the siege was over with no further bloodshed. At the time, warrior Robert Skidders explained that, having raised the profile of native issues through the 11 -week standoff, “Our mission is accomplished.” And Indian Affairs Minister Thomas Siddon credited the “good sense and wisdom” of both the warriors and the soldiers for the bloodless end to the conflict.
Her sister Dorothy Ford, a nurse and teacher in Bulawayo, Zimbabwe, recalls phoning Novelette in 1990 and inviting her to Africa. “She just told me she was serving the Lord’s needs,” says Ford. “She sounded strange, as if she was drugged or something. I wondered then what had happened to the Lobsey that I knew and loved.” In the final days, though, they hoped that the siege might lead to something positive. “I was hoping it would be the end of the nightmare,” says Ford. “I thought they would get Koresh and expose him so that my sister might finally see the kind of evil she was involved with.”
For Gladys Ottman, however, the inferno on the prairie changes nothing. She sits in the Waco hostel, proclaiming loyalty to David Koresh and his vision. “David revealed what was good and what was evil,” she says. “It was like I had another love. I had found God. I loved God but I really didn’t know him before I met David Koresh. He was a godly man.” Even the possibility of incineration cannot alter her devotion. “Had I been in the fire,” she says, “I would have accepted it, but God had a different plan for me.” Her poems, too, show a faith that remains unshaken:
Put your hand in the hand of God’s son He’ll keep you on the right path
Into that glorious kingdom where no sin or sorrow abides.