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  • Writer's pictureJohn Thompson

Aimee Slept Here?

The Jim Baker trial was a thoroughly entertaining media extravaganza that rivaled the most sensational trial in Los Angeles in the Roaring Twenties. The plight of 35-year-old Aimee McPherson, America's premier woman evangelist of the 1920s, created headlines throughout America, and especially here on the Central Coast. Just as the news sensationalized Tammy Baker's sit-com drama, articles in 1929 theorized about the mysterious disappearance of the flamboyant, copper-haired Reverend Aimee.

The long-haired and charismatic minister claimed she had been kidnapped on May 18, 1926, at Ocean Park Beach near Los Angeles. At first, her weeping congregation feared her drowned, and one diver died searching offshore for her body. Then, a ransom note from an "avenger" demanded a half-million dollars, claiming that Aimee was tied up in some dank dungeon.

The very next day rumors began to circulate in Carmel that there was a mysterious couple snuggled into a little stucco bungalow on Scenic Drive, not far from Robinson Jeffer's Tor House. A handsome fellow calling himself George McIntire had wandered into the Carmel Realty Company and rented a romantic hide-a-way for three months, paying cash for the $150- a-month cottage.

The building's owner was Henry C. Benedict, a retired insurance adjuster, who was pleased to find a reliable tenant. The cottage was nestled under moonlit cypresses just above Carmel's dazzling white-sand beach.

Mr. and Mrs. McIntire seemed to thoroughly revel in this passionate setting.

A week after the McIntires arrived, they strolled along San Antonio past the home that journalist Lincoln Steffens would soon purchase. When they reached Ocean Avenue, a tourist on his way to the beach stopped in amazement. Ralph Hersey had attended a revival in Aimee's cavernous L.A. Temple and he recognized her immediately.

Much later Aimee appeared worn and frazzled in the Arizona desert, claiming that she had finally escaped the dastardly kidnappers. Los Angeles District Attorney Asa Keyes sent staff members to Carmel to investigate the rumors that "Aimee Slept Here" (as one sign outside the abandoned bungalow declared). Later a mischievous local altered the sign to read "Aimee Slipped Here."

After a meticulous investigation, Keyes came to the conclusion that the man Hersey saw squeezing Aimee's hand was her business manager, Kenneth Ormiston, who also could not account for his whereabouts in late May and June of that year.

Hersey was only the first to testify in the packed L.A. courtroom. Mrs. Bostick of the Carmel Realty Company admitted on the witness stand that the man who rented Benedict's cottage resembled Ormiston.

Mrs. Jeanette Parker, who lived next door to the cottage, testified that she only saw the mysterious couple at a distance but yes, they did resemble the accused. Ralph Swanson testified neither of the accused were seen downtown or in his grocery store, requesting that food ordered over the phone be left on the cottage's back doorstep. A handwriting expert examined a scribbled grocery note and admitted the cursive closely matched Ormiston's handwriting.

Aimee's team of lawyers were at least as clever as the bright evangelist, and their skill soon created doubts and contradictions in the witnesses. Aimee's devoted flock believed Aimee's long-winded sermons defending her innocence, never losing their faith in the confident leader who quoted Biblical scriptures in describing her martyrdom and plight. This same congregation wept as it sang hymns to her honesty.

The citizens of the Central Coast followed the radio broadcasts and newspaper articles covering each twist and unexpected turn of the long and complex trial. The people here tended to be more skeptical as more of them stepped forward with bizarre Aimee sightings of their own.

Aimee's Temple loudly celebrated her acquittal, praising the creator of the universe for not allowing their leader's wild tale to be fully disclaimed. Aimee and Kenneth saw little of one another after that emotional trial, and each died young after offering their contribution to the secret history of our community.

We wish to thank John Thompson for his contribution and it is reprinted as submitted without editorial comment or change.

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