The Redstone Cult of Crown King

How a cult could terrorize a small Arizona town for over a decade — and get away with it — remains the subject of much debate, especially amongst the survivors who were there. There are some who say that a solid sense of Arizonan independence kept people from calling for help from the big cities; that they preferred death and torture to the dishonor of accepting aid from decadent city slickers. Others say that fear amongst the locals overwhelmed all sense of reason, and with the single road manned and fortified to prevent escape, caused an entire town to turn into a veritable prison camp with apocalyptic aims.

And there are some who whisper, much more quietly, that it was because they were willing collaborators in the monstrous horror that was the Redstone Cult.

How Crown King, Arizona — a former mining town in the Bradshaw Mountains — could have been held by a fanatic band of self-destructive flesh mutilators is up for debate, perhaps. What is not is what happened on October 14th, 1980.

On that day, an United States Air Force F-16 from Luke Air Force Base lost its armed payload somewhere over the sky-island of the Bradshaw Mountains. The payload, a pair of 500-pound gravity bombs, officially slipped because of a mechanical failure on a training mission. They supposedly fell harmlessly away from man and beast in the thin forests of Crown King’s mountains. The Air Force report commends the weather — a forest fire being averted thanks to a rather rain-soaked October.

According to the Air Force, it was a mere accident, a Cold War oversight, in an era full of lost bombs and training mishaps.

According to the lore of Crown King, it was a deliberate military operation designed to obliterate an unnatural evil brought into this world by the Redstone Cult.

That everything but the payload drop remained out of the newspapers is testament not only to the effectiveness of the official narrative but also the confusion of the unofficial ones. These unofficial narratives agree on only a handful of facts, and few events, as they twist around the central legend of the Redstone Cult. It is thus with difficulty that an account of the Cult is compiled.

What is generally agreed upon is that the Cult began back East in the 1920s, either in Boston or New York, by a cadre of philosophers convinced that World War I had presaged the opening of a great physic wound that would bring about a cataclysmic horror. This horror is alternatively described as a consuming force and a restoring one, an apocalyptic harbinger and an imposer of a new, better order. Regardless of its intent, it was a world-shaping force that would ultimately see the end of civilization as we knew it.

Discovering a rare reddened gem in the archives of some unknown university, the cult had named themselves the Redstone Faith, and set about compiling an ever more elaborate and confused system of belief designed to compel the entry of the force they worshipped. During the Second World War, they migrated further west, certain that the psychic damage of another world war had produced conducive conditions to carrying out their grotesque plot.

They settled in Nevada in the late 1940s, and found themselves drawn ever closer to the spectacles of the atomic bombs set off in the desert. But in doing so, they came to the attention of the U.S. government, who found their interest in atomic warfare — and their pseudo-revolutionary rhetoric — too close to Communist subversion. In 1949, several members of the cult were rounded up by the FBI.

The crackdown shook the cult to its core, and where before it was a group of learned men and women from academia, the experience of arrest and release left many disillusioned, especially as the 1940s became the 1950s and many of the cult’s central tenants failed to come true. Atomic bombs did not unleash their god-horror, nor did bloody wars elsewhere seem to create the psychic tear necessary to fulfill their prophecies. By the 1960s, there were but a handful of believers who had retreated into the Arizona hinterlands, and had settled on the small, former mining town of Crown King, nestled in a sky island of pine overlooking the desert.

Here, they were found by Dr. Maximillian Forrester — a man barely deserving of the title.

Forrester, a Los Angelino who had lost his medical license, was an extreme believer in the psychic potential of the destruction of the human body, and persuaded many young people in the tumultuous 1960s to follow him to his own retreat in the California desert. But the watchful eye of the law loomed too closely over his shoulder, especially in the wake of the Manson family murders in 1969. He decided to take his followers to the hidden highlands of Arizona — and there, discovered the work of a bustling Redstone Cult in Crown King. Forrester saw the immediate potential in their goals, and merged his own cult with theirs.

Forrester was a deviant with an obsession with the refashioning of the body into extreme distortions of itself; his surgical tools were often at work cutting and slicing and sticking together followers who were rarely allowed anesthesia. He was also powerfully charismatic, and by the early 1970s had taken charge of not only the Redstone Cult but much of the town of Crown King, who lived in fear of his dictates and summons. Forrester produced the most monstrous of experiments to fulfill the Redstone’s bloodlust, and while for a time he had a steady stream of tortured volunteers, he eventually was forced to impress members into the service of his bloody duties.

One such experiment was described by a survivor. The incident apparently took place in 1975, at the height of the cult’s power. Martin Walterman, a Crown King resident, attended a public “surgery.” His version of events are recorded on a now-deleted Geocities blog on Arizona horror; they were last retrieved in 2004. The description follows:

By then the Yavapai sheriff stopped visiting the Bradshaws, on account of the rumors and the lack of welcome. Flattened tires and smashed in windows had convinced the sheriff that patrolling the mountains wasn’t worth it. That left Dr. Forrester in charge, and with his inner circle of Red Hoods he was unleashed. People who tried to leave town got caught more often than not, though a couple did slip away in the early days. And if you got caught trying to escape — that’s when he’d put you on the slab.

The slab was on the edge of town, near their cabin they used as their temple. It was outside in the trees, just a big, mostly flat, natural rock pretty close to the ground. You had to crouch down to touch it, but Forrester had rigged up a table that sat over it. The slab, he said, was a sacred site — nobody could approach it but the Red Hoods and Forrester himself. Nobody wanted to anyway, on account of the smell and the things that happened there.

“Just after we got confirmation that the sheriff wouldn’t send deputies our way anymore, Forrester announced a big ceremony at the slab — a celebration for all the good work that had been done. Two kids, couldn’t have been more than 20 either of them, were to take part. They were California kids, pretty new to the Bradshaws, lured up there with offers of sex and drugs by a Red Hood recruiter. They’d been indulged like all the other new recruits were — weed was in steady supply, as Forrester kept a good crop of it, and magic mushrooms as well — but now it was time to pay up for all the free hedonism.

Forrester had them standing side by side, naked in full public view — and that particular night, nobody felt confident to stay home, me included. The whole town, hundreds of us, crowded around the slab. The lucky ones couldn’t see much.

The two kids, a young man and a young woman, were set down on the table, their arms and legs tied. Forrester stood over them, surrounded by his Red Hoods, and said something in the weird language he always spoke. Then he said, ‘Flesh is flesh, we open it to open gates.’ That’s when the cutting began.

Those kids, they screamed. I don’t know if they knew what was gonna happen. They were pretty new. But there wasn’t any mistaking it now, as Forrester sliced them on their skin and then swapped their flesh back and forth. He’d sew up a patch, then pull it off, stick it another place. They both passed out after a while, that was lucky of them, though the Red Hoods kept trying to wake them up. We all just sat in silence. By that point, we’d seen enough things like this to avoid making a comment.

I guess what was different this time around was the finale. When those two kids were too far gone to manage even a word, Forrester stood over them, soaked in blood, and took a giant knife and plunged into the young man’s chest. He pulled it down real slow, and by the time he was done, there were two halves of him. The boy, he woke up, he gave a scream, but there wasn’t much point. After, Forrester stuck random bits of the boy on the girl, sewed them in place, and sent her away to the recovery ward.

All things considered, it wasn’t so much the mutilation that stuck with me. It was the fact that the girl woke up just as they were leading her away. Her eye — she only had one good eye by this point — shot open. And I think most expected a scream. But instead, she limped over to Forrester. And she — well, she hugged him. And she said, pretty clearly, ‘Thank you.’ And I swear to my dying day she had a glow to her that seemed — well, it wasn’t there before.

I think I speak for most when I say not many slept well that night.”

In the late 1970s, Forrester’s experiments grew ever more bizarre and cruel. Yet for years few heard from Crown King, few fled, and a steady stream of recruits from other states worked their way up the long road into the Bradshaws. A single exile in 1978 is on record in Prescott as reporting the mysterious cult behaviors of the Redstone to the sheriff’s office. But the sheriff dismissed the incident as a drug-induced hippie invention.

It would take a bigger event than the ramblings of half-mad citizens to arouse the authorities. In early 1980, Luke Air Force Base detected an odd radar signature where there ought to have been none. It inspired a cursory investigation of Crown King. The sight of military men arrived in Crown King alarmed Forrester, who was convinced that the government would soon sweep in on the cult as they had in the late 1940s. He accelerated the pace of his experiments, believed he was closing in on his final goal.

He did not have to wait long. In summer 1980, the Air Force, convinced something nefarious was afoot, sent military police to arrest those associated with the odd radar signal. Forrester had armed his handful of surviving followers — most had already perished in his experiments — and ordered them to hold off the MPs. A short gun battle ensued in which several soldiers and followers were killed, but Forrester ended up in custody.

But there was not much of Forrester left to interrogate. His mind was already blown through with his obsession with the red stone, and he babbled incoherently to his captors about sights and sounds that made little sense. Moreover, there was something dramatically changed about him — for Forrester had not escaped even his own experiments. His form mutilated and his appendages mangled by self-surgery, Forrester’s condition rapidly deteriorated, even as doctors and surgeons did what they could to keep him alive. His body, such as it was, gave out just hours after arrest.

What did not end was the radar signal, which went from a simple blip to a recurring pattern of ever gathering strength.

Repeated investigations turned up nothing at the site of the Redstone cult — nothing besides buried bodies and remnants of the horror of Forrester’s time as death leader. Even the mythic red stone had vanished. But still the signal droned on and on.

In late September 1980, Ham radio operators around the world began to detect the signal, and on October 4th, the USSR formally complained to the United States that a domestic signal was beginning to interfere with the operation of its satellites. Crown King was abuzz with military intelligence, as the Air Force interviewed witnesses and compiled as much information as they could about the Redstone Cult and its tyrannical rule over the mountain town in the 1970s. The more information they gathered, the more alarmed the military acted.

What was clear was that the radar signal was not a natural event, but a deliberate act by the Redstone Cult. Its exact location was known, but repeated investigations turned up no direct source — just an ever-rising radar tone, and a drop in temperature.

The complaint by the Soviet Union spurred the Air Force brass to action. On October 14, a lone F-16 jet “lost” its payload over the Bradshaws — and the signal ceased.

Well, almost ceased.

As the citizens of Crown King busied themselves with forgetting the events of the 1970s, either by moving away, or by burying the memory, the radar signal associated with the Bradshaws would, on occasion, flicker to life — just for brief moments. Often, these flickers would be associated with some regional tragedy — a bus accident on the nearby Interstate 17, or a fatal fire in Prescott. They usually did not last long. Yet recur they did, year after year, at irregular intervals, almost as if a bolted door had been weakened, and that which was behind it was steadily pushing inwards with each moment.