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8/07/2005                                                                                       View Comments

The journey to heal


Ex-cult members say it's time to set the record straight

The All Saved Freak Band started in 1968 with (from back left) co-founder Joe Markko on guitar, co-founder Larry Hill, piano; Mike (last name unknown), drums, and Randy Markko on bass.

EDITOR’S NOTE: This is the second of a three-part series resulting from former members of an Ashtabula County church coming forward to tell their stories after reading about the reported cult-like activities at the Apostolic Faith Church in Jefferson Township.

In 1963, Larry Hill was a street evangelist working in Chicago, when he invited 15-year-old Joe Markko to say "the sinner’s prayer." Five years later, the twosome would start one of the first Christian rock bands in America. In 1971, Hill convinced Ron Taggart to move to his farm/church in Windsor Township. After leaving the church, Taggart began a movement to educate the public about cults.

By SHELLEY TERRY
starbeacon.com


When Joe Markko walked away from the Church of the Risen Christ in 1979, he was an elder in the church, a licensed minister and the Rev. Larry Hill’s "spiritual son."

Now 57, Markko searches for healing - not from the emotional scars of a dysfunctional childhood and living on the streets of Chicago, or from the loss of his hands after being electrocuted with 27,000 volts of electricity; but rather, from the horrific memories of the 11 years he spent at Hill’s farm/church in Windsor Township.

The recent news reports about cult-like activities at the Apostolic Faith Church in Jefferson Township brought back nightmares of abuse for Markko: "Adults were beaten, I was beaten, but beating children until they quit crying."

Markko never finished the sentence.

He said until he read the May 12 Star Beacon article and an article in the December 2004 edition of Cleveland Scene magazine, where Hill blamed his former members for his demise, he and (former member) Ron Taggart had not plan to step forward.

"We decided it’s time to speak up," Markko said. "He’s lying and we’re not going to take it any more."

Markko’s story really begins at birth when his 15-year-old mother abandoned him, leaving Markko to grow up in foster homes. By the time he was 15, Markko had discovered alcohol and drugs as a way to escape. He met Hill on a street corner on Chicago’s north side. Hill introduced him to Christianity, but the preacher moved back to Ohio shortly thereafter.

Markko’s parole officer later sent him to live with Hill and family at their home in Jefferson. Markko returned to Chicago, but Hill continued to visit him, looking after him as a father would a son.

In August 1968, Hill made one of his trips to Chicago. Markko blames a combination of drugs and a family member’s eerie premonition of death for his wife’s subsequent panic attack and decision to follow Hill back to Ohio.

Afterwards, life became work and church. The group bought a farmhouse in Windsor Township and, although some left the flock because they didn’t like the idea of a commune, about 45 people, moved to the farm, Markko said.

All week they worked on the farm and every weekend, they witnessed and distributed a homemade newspaper, "Freedom Bell" on the streets of Cleveland, talking to prostitutes and addicts, musicians and bartenders, even to Hells Angels. They also took on Ashtabula County, going door-to-door and leasing a tent at the fair. After the Kent State University riots in May 1970, Hill moved his mission work there.

Hill and Markko had started a band, forming what would later be called the All Saved Freak Band. Hill played the piano; Markko, guitar; Hill’s oldest son, Brett, percussion, and Markko’s brother, Randy, bass. Their first song, "There is still hope in Jesus," became the closing song for a local Saturday night radio broadcast: "Time for the Risen Christ."

In the midst of all this, 21-year-old Markko was trying to be a good parent to three young children. He turned to Hill for guidance.

Markko preferred not to talk about what followed, other than to show an old, yellowed copy of "Freedom Bell," where Hill wrote, "The scripture teaches, ’Beat thy son with a rod, and let not your soul spare his tears.’ We’re so squeamish about bruises on our children’s legs, but we can stand and watch their souls and emotions be mutilated."

Today, Markko’s children will have nothing to do with church.

"I did what I did because I believed I was doing it for God," he said. "Intentions were pure, but misguided."

Taggart said he was beaten 13 times with a bullwhip, up to 40 lashes at a time.

Hill, now 70, denied charges of any abuse.

Throughout 1971, the group shuttled back and forth to Kent and the farm, working day and night. Some men kept watch of the farm at night, others dug a tunnel after Hill prophesied China would invade America, and God would only save his prophet, Hill, and his followers, Markko said.

"We were sleep deprived over a long period of time and then sent out on a cross-country drives in the middle of the night," Markko said.

Brett Hill was killed on the way home from a New Year’s Eve concert in Kent. The driver, Tom Miller, fell asleep at the wheel of Taggart’s truck. The vehicle jumped a ditch, crossed a cornfield, the passenger door opened and Brett fell out, rolling under the wheels.

Taggart said when Brett died, he thought Hill would realize the price of sleep deprivation. But that wouldn’t be the case.

More would die, Joe Markko would be maimed, child abuse charges would emerge and Hill would forever blame Taggart for his son’s death.

"He poked me in the chest and said, ’You owe me for the rest of your life. If you had fixed the door of the truck like I told you, my son would still be alive,’" Taggart said, noting there was no time to fix the truck. "Besides, when you joined the church, your possessions were no longer yours."

During a phone interview Thursday, Hill said Taggart told him before the concert that he had fixed the truck.

"He lied to me ... I sold the truck immediately," Hill said.

Today, Taggart, 53 lives in Akron and volunteers for Cult Information Services of Northeast Ohio. For more information, call (330) 929-9734.

15 comments:

Anonymous said...

I was beaten with a whip by Larry Hill in 1977 when I was less than 3 years old. I was punished for crying because I was not allowed to go with my mother as she ran an errand in town.

.:webmaster:. said...

Whoa...

How long were you in that cult anony?

Anonymous said...

My family left shortly thereafter. I would feel more comfortable e-mailing rather than public posts if you have any more info on the current goings on with Larry Hill and his band.

Hanah said...

My family was also part of the cult, the physical violence agains my brothers and sisters and I are unspeakable not to mention the mental abuse

Anonymous said...

I attended a church pastored by Joe Markko for about 4 years in the late 80s to very early 90s. Joe started out OK and he was very well liked and his teachings were very good but after awhile his behavior became increasingly bizarre. He built a new church. That was a trip! It was too big and there always seemed to be a shortage of money. He became moody and distant. My spouse had had enough and could see the hand writing on the wall long before I did. My spouse quit going and months later I quit too. We heard later (sometime in the 90s) that he had been cheating on his wife (while we were still attending his church) with a therapist he knew who was much younger than him. If I remember correctly, he left the church in 1991. He divorced his wife of many years. I don't think he's with his girlfriend anymore but I am not totally sure about that. I know he had 6 kids. I have heard nothing about him since until now. I have not attended church since. I am not anti-church but he just pretty much soured me on attending at all. That is just my choice. I know there are good people and good churches out there but this turned out not to be one when Markko was in charge. It was just one big mess and turned out very sad for many. I was amazed to find out about him on here. Thanks God for Google!

Anonymous said...

I ran across Larry Hill and whats left of his "family" very much by accident several weeks ago. I can assure you hes still on the farm but seems only to have a couple followers,mostly women from what I could tell. At the time of meeting, I had no clue regarding the shady history of this guy and the things that took place there. I will say I came away from my encounter there with a really bad vibe and was curious enuff about this guy to google him Only after an internet search did I discover the story and sordid details of this monster's life. I hope all those who have gotten out from under his control are working on and gaining there lives back. Very Scary Guy.

Anonymous said...

I can verify the comment of Hanah. I saw many such incidents and went to court to stop the child abuse. .I knew Hanah and used to change her diapers. A precious child. When this all started we were out for the winning of souls and evangelism through music. There wasnt abuse to my knowledge. I just read a comment about a frog put in cold water and then slowly turning up the heat. That is how it was. Brainwashing is a very slow process. Our cause was Christ and to deny ourselves no matter the cost. Things progressed deeper and deeper to where I did all I could to stop it. and...it did stop. Thanks to God and His grace. This is a very long story and always people would ask..how could you let someone do that to you. Our hearts were doing Gods will. We were sleep deprived, worked beyond what human beings can endure. Remember this a slow process or none of us would have stayed. We were brainwashed. I now am free and am so thankful to God, but.....would be more than ready to talk to someone to help them see the light. To tell you the truth, without Christ it is impossible to get through to them. Number one, they wont talk to you. They are in such fear. Id love to see Hanah again, and many more of the exmembers. Lives have changed for good the ones that I know. There is hope.

Anonymous said...

I I am an ex member and can verify everything in the article by Markko and Ron. There is so much more, but you wouldn't believe it. We are trying to go forth in our lives, but want the truth to be known if needs be.Oprah would have a field day with us. ha.

Anonymous said...

As a former member I would love to know in detail as much as possible who was at the meeting anonymous went to when they went to the farm. did 2 girls play strings and sing? Did Larry do any music alone or with the girls. Did they give you a tour of the farm animals,if any or was it all a secret? Did they try to get you to come back again? Was it a religious type meeting? What did they talk about. What day was it on. How long did the meeting last. Did you feel they wanted you to come back? Was there a very pretty long dark haired girl there with brown eyes who doesn't live on the farm, but is part of the farm there? She would be a person that would be able to look you in the face. The other girls weren"t supposed to when I was there. She could though. She was personable and sweet too. If the 2 girls played strings and sang ...they are sisters from very well to do families of influence. Highly educated families. I am just interested to see who was left. I think that I know somewhat. I hope this person logs on and fills me in. I also accidently visited in 1999. The place looked terrible. It use to be a very attractive place. Flowers planted,fenced all around,painted. He (larry) has lost his free labor and meal tickets from all the folks that were there. And.they were there for God and were deceived and brainwashed by a man. It was a different era then..the 70's,Vietnam..People thought different then. If you aren't old enough to have been there, it might be difficult to understand. I hope anonymous writes back with some info Really Intersted..

Carole said...

I wrote on your blog as an ex-member of Larry Hills church/cult. I was the one interested in the person who had visited the farm lately and I asked a lot of questions as to the nature of things now. I was there for 6 yrs and did go to court in Ashtabula City. to stop the child abuse. It did break up the place. Slowly, but surely. Joe Markko'a and Ron's story is accurate. Everyone saw a different side of things and it is interesting after these 33yrs to come in contact with one another and see what went on behind the scenes. Most of us have moved on to better places. I met Hanah's sister this summer, but just haven't called her to talk. She was an infant when I was there and I changed her diapers. We were there for the cause of serving Jesus. It was such a gradual process that happened to us. We never would have done it otherwise. I am new at the computer skills and don't know if it is possible to hook up with the person that went to the service. As i said I am just interested. My brothers were also members of the farm also called the Church of the Risen Christ. We had a band,The All Saved Freak Band and this july4th made a best of CD called Harps on Willows. Actually Joe put the CD together. It is available on Amazon. I am going to be promoting it in the Atlanta area. My brother,who is in the media in Tenn. is going to promote it there. No money will be made for profit but sent to a missionary that we all know personally in Cuba. He also was at the farm. Just like the beginning, No one made any profit, and no one will now. The same reason for the music now as was then. The ASFB is historically recorded as one of the first contemporary Christian music groups out there. We didn't know we were . We were just doing what we were doing. Thought you might want to know.

Best Wishes
Carole King Hough
mhough AT bellsouth DOT net

JMarkko said...

To the gracious soul from Carrollton,

With great sorrow of heart I can only apologize and ask forgiveness for betraying your trust and providing a hindrance to your faith. I am deeply, deeply sorry. At the lowest point of my life I made a terrible choice and got involved in something from which I could find no exit. While agonizing with myself over my own dark sin I became heavy-handed, to the point of being mean and insulting, with God's gentle people. In order to save the assembly from growing discomfort with my "bizarre behaviors," I resigned my pastorate, relocated and then resigned my credentials with the Assemblies of God, confessing my sin to them. Fifteen years later, I remain quietly active in reaching out to hurting lives, trying to bless and encourage others. My unexcusable failings have served to temper me, moving me toward the gentleness Christ rightfully expects from those who claim to be his. Our family is doing very well with 10 amazing grandchildren and a life of peace after many years of pain. I've paid a bitter price for my sin and, though forgiven, will continue to regret the choices that set such a destructive wheel in motion. I pray you won't allow my failure to keep you from His grace.

Joe Markko
Cleveland, Ohio

Anonymous said...

Joe,

Just finished reading your online account dating from your chigaco youth to present (fairly) day. I was moved by your writing, especially your take on how children change our lives. You sound as if you have had a remarkable journey. I accidently stumbled across Larry,Dianne and Laura about a year ago out on Fourtney.The chance meeting left me with a bit of a weird feeling and subsequent obsession about what was happening out there during those long ago jesus-freak years. Since, I have done much research regarding the whole cult thing, speaking via phone with Ron T and "connecting the dots" about the local music scene regarding Schwartz,Keeagy, JB's, Faraghers etc etc. All a part of my life in some weird way.
As a devout Humanist, I shall refrain from saying God bless you, but wish you well and hope your future brings much happiness. KB

Anonymous said...

Larry Hill, Diane Sullivan and Laura Markko are all that remain of the cult. They are all that remain of the brainwashed followers. The heartache Hill caused the Sullivan family, esp. Diane's mother and father, continuesit today. You can only imagine ... it seems hopeless and yet her father prays for her every morning. The day Hill dies, wear shoes with extra thick padding because Hell will be stoked and ready! I'm just thankful for the people who came forward and got the others out in the early 1980s. he's a monster who ruined his own children's lives, as well as others. stay away from him!

Terry said...

hi Joe - terry/nancy m. here. glad to find your site. julie b. (through holly) told us about your site. stop and see us when you in town. dick b. has always prayed for you and was glad to hear about you. us and also browns would love to visit with you. barb told us she saw you in IGA. just found out sara lives around here. sent a note to her through shirley b son adam friend that works where sara takes her kids. terry and john b are going on second trip to Israel with our church group of 35 for 12 days end of march. we very active in canton Trinity Gospel Temple. terry is an assisting pastor = fills in on preaching or teaching ware needed. we help whereever needed at church = i'm with the church quilting baby quilts for community. just stop by , not need to call. or call - we in phone book, you know where we live. love terry/nancy

boomSLANG said...

I have a request---could you religious folk exchange email addresses, or phone numbers, or something?... then that way you could discuss quilting tips and your various religious ventures privately, as opposed to doing on an EXchristian web-blog? You could? Okay, cool, thanks.