This was a different kind of crime family.
Though they called him “The Reverend,” there was nothing holy about Devernon “Doc” LeGrand and the house of horrors he kept in Crown Heights, a four-story home at 222 Brooklyn Ave.
From the outside looking in, during the early 1960s LeGrand was the pastor of St. John’s Pentecostal Church of Our Lord. But behind those heavy doors LeGrand led a depraved cult.
LeGrand lured young women into the church, who investigators characterized as concubines. LeGrand dispatched them daily across the city to panhandle. These habit-adorned young women became a regular NYC fixture in the 1960s in many neighborhoods.
When they returned each night to LeGrand’s “House of Horrors,” as it was dubbed by the New York Post, the women were forced to take dangerous narcotics, including Angel Dust, the hallucinogenic drug phencyclidine (PCP). Having since fallen out of favor due to harsh side effects, PCP produces intoxication, hallucinations, and euphoria in low to moderate doses, as well as suicidal impulses, aggressive behavior, convulsions and seizures.
The drugged women were sexually abused and raped on a regular basis.
On the first floor of the multi-story building on the corner of Brooklyn Avenue, LeGrand preached, calling himself “the Bishop,” while upstairs the women and children were imprisoned in a warren of small makeshift rooms. Many of the children were kept in cages, starved, beaten.
LeGrand fathered 46 children with his victims, and the panhandling brought in more than a quarter of a million dollars a year. With those ill-gotten gains, LeGrand purchased the Crown Heights property and erected a compound on 58 lush acres in Sullivan County in upstate New York.
LeGrand paid cash, much of it in rolls of coins.
According to eye-witness testimony from victims and neighbors, there was always a wild party raging within the walls of 222 Brooklyn Avenue. But by mid-1970s, the party seemed over, as the cult began to unravel during a series of trials.
In 1975, LeGrand and his son, Noconda, were convicted of first-degree rape for the vicious assault of a woman who barely escaped with her life. That was followed by a 1977 conviction in the beating death of two teenage sisters LeGrand lured into his nightmare. LeGrand and his stepson killed the two innocent girls, before dismembering the bodies, fearing that they would testify against him in an upcoming case on the earlier rape charges.
Later that year LeGrand was also convicted of murdering and cutting up the body of his daughter-in-law. Gladys Stewart, married to another LeGrand stepson, Donald Stewart, was cooperating secretly with prosecutors when she tried to leave her husband. LeGrand and Stewart attacked her, along with her 16-year-old sister Yvonne Rivera.
During the next two hours, LeGrand sent his members down to a room on the first floor while he and his stepson tortured and stomped the two sisters to death, as the others listened in horror.
They sang hymns to drown out the screams.
LeGrand was slapped with a 25-years-to-life sentence for the rape and three murders. After serving the initial 25-year sentence, LeGrand came up for parole first in 2001, denying his guilt and insisting he was the victim of lying witnesses.
Locked away in the remote Shawangunk Correctional Facility in Wallkill, N.Y, the unrepentant reverend has since been denied parole on multiple occasions.
Though LeGrand was convicted of three murders, more members of his flock are still missing. Investigators ripped up the floor in the basement of the building on Brooklyn Avenue on two separate occasions, though the search failed to yield additional bodies.
In 2006, Devernon LeGrand died in prison at the age of 82.