1The snake-handling pastor who died from a snake bite
In February 2014, "Snake Salvation" star and Pentecostal pastor, Jamie Coots died after a snake he was handling bit him.
Coots believed that a passage in the Bible that suggests poisonous snakebites will not harm believers as long as they are anointed by God. A third-generation "serpent handler," he hoped to one day pass the practice and his church, Full Gospel Tabernacle in Jesus Name, on to his adult son, Little Cody.
Just a few months after his dad's death, Cody was bitten by a rattlesnake during a sermon. The bite caused swelling and severe vomiting, but Coots put his faith in prayer. He said, "For a rattler bite, it wasn't bad at all. I told the Lord that I wouldn't go to the hospital."
The National Geographic show featured Coots and cast handling all kinds of poisonous snakes, including copperheads, rattlers, cottonmouths. The practice is illegal in most states (for the obvious reasons), but it still goes on, primarily in the rural South.
2The Sufi master who killed a follower to prove he could bring him back to life – and failed
In September 2014, a pir (Sufi master) was arrested for killing a follower to prove his claim that he could bring him back to life.
Muhammad Sabir, a resident of Mubarakabad in Bahawalnagar, gained popularity over the last five years for his ability to perform "miracles." When he claimed, he could bring the dead back to life, 40-year-old Muhammad Niaz, a daily wage worker and father of six children, volunteered for the miracle.
Niaz was placed on a table in a square, and his hands and legs were bound. Sabir then sliced his throat as people looked on. By the time police reached him, Niaz had died. Witnesses said Sabir uttered some words to bring him back to life, but when he realized his "miracle" had not worked, he tried to flee.
A charge against the cleric was lodged in the Saddar police station.The body of the victim was taken to the Tehsil headquarters hospital for an autopsy and later handed over to the family for burial.
3The faith-healing couple who were jailed after their second child's death
Herbert and Catherine Schaible were sentenced in February 2014 after their 8-month-old son, Brendon, was the family's second child to die as a result of their faith-based refusal to seek medical help. The child died in 2013 after the Schaibles chose prayer over seeking medical assistance.
Prosecutors claimed that Herbert and Catherine prayed over Brandon as his condition worsened instead of seeking the assistance of a doctor who might have been able to save the child.He suffered from diarrhea and breathing issues for at least a week and was reportedly not eating.
As members of the First Century Gospel Church in Philadelphia, Pa., the couple embrace faith healing — the practice of praying over and for an ill individual rather than seeking medical attention.
They had already landed themselves in legal trouble after their 2-year-old son, Kent, died from pneumonia in 2009. In this earlier case, the Schaibles were convicted of involuntary manslaughter and child endangerment, put on probation for ten years and ordered to get their children medical care. So when another child died as a result of their refusal to seek a doctor, prosecutors found the parents had violated probation.
“You've killed two of your children … not God, not your church, not religious devotion — you,” Philadelphia Common Pleas Judge Benjamin Lerne said, before the couple was sentenced to between three and a half and seven years in prison. The couple's remaining children have been put in foster care.
4The psychic network that refunded money to believers for "failed miracles"
Seniors in Iowa looking for divine intervention were left empty handed when a psychic network failed to deliver on its promises.
In April 2015, the Iowa Attorney General's Office reported that 325 Iowans will receive refunds as part of a settlement against Nature Plus Limited, of Stratford upon Avon.
Mostly older Iowans responded to the personalized psychic solicitations, by sending money at the request of "Mary Theresa" or "Lady of Hearts" in response to the mailings promising wealth and miracles. The letters requested a fee between about $20-$54. Some lost hundreds of dollars.
The company has agreed to refund $7,000 and has also been ordered to stop all mail solicitations.
5The faith healer who was murdered after failing to perform a fertility miracle
The failed promise of a fertility miracle resulted in the deaths of a faith healer and his wife in Gaya, India in May 2015.
Janaki Manjhi and wife Laxmi Devi were killed after promising a co-villager, Sohrai Manjhi, they would treat his wife's infertility. Janaki allegedly took money from Sohrai to perform the miracle. Despite prolonged faith healing, the man's dream of being a proud father never materialized.
When Sohrai demanded his money back, the men argued. The argument escalated, and Sohrai hit Janaki with a blunt object, causing his death. Laxmi then came to her dying husband's aid, but also met the same fate.
After committing the double murder, Sohrai fled the village and, as of this writing, has yet to be apprehended.
6The "possessed" pastor who was murdered by a man during a failed exorcism
A failed exorcism resulted in the death of a Maryland pastor by a man who told investigators that he believed the victim was possessed by demons.
In March 2015, Roland Zinneh, 38, of Darby, Pennsylvania, was charged with first-degree murder in the death of Connery Dagadu, 57.
Police said Dagadu visited the home after he was asked to "pray over" Zinneh to help with "voices." The homeowner told investigators she heard a commotion in the basement the next morning and went downstairs. The woman says Dagadu was sitting on the floor and appeared unresponsive. Police say Zinneh believed Dagadu was possessed by demons, and that the two got into a physical fight that morning.
Dagadu, who specialized in “deliverance ministry,” was the lead cleric of the Beautiful Feet World Impact Center. He routinely counseled friends and strangers who felt evil spirits had invaded their souls.
An autopsy in Baltimore determined Dagadu died from asphyxiation.
7The miracle machine that turns water into wine – or does it?
Can you believe there's a machine in existence that can turn water into wine much like Jesus was rumored to have done in the Bible? If you thought it was possible, you'd be wrong. A home appliance called the Miracle Machine, which claimed to do just that in three days, is a phony.
The magic water-to-wine machine went viral at the beginning of March 2015. Some 7,000 people signed up for more information about the fake product.
The device would supposedly be linked to an app with which you would pick the type and properties of the wine you wanted to make. Water, a special concentrate, and yeast would all sit in a "fermentation chamber" and, after 72 hours, you would have vino that "would normally cost at least $20." The machine was to retail for $499.
The fake machine, touted by Kevin Boyer and Philip James of CustomVine, said they knowingly put their reputations on the line to raise awareness for a cause they support – a North Carolina-based organization called "Wine to Water," which provides people around the world with access to clean water. Wine to Water has given more than 250,000 people in 17 countries access to clean water since it was started in 2004.
"Almost two million children die each year from contaminated water and poor sanitation," James said. "The miracle of turning water to wine might remain out of reach, but Wine to Water has shown that the real miracle of providing clean water is easily within our grasp."
8The Australian woman who was killed by her husband and friends during a botched exorcism
In 1993, the tiny Victorian town of Antwerp, Australia became national news when 49-year-old Joan Vollmer died in a bizarre exorcism ritual.
The saga began when Ralph Vollmer, Joan's German-born husband, became convinced his wife was possessed by demons due to her strange behavior, which he claimed included her using “terribly filthy language," acting like a prostitute and looking and sounding like a pig and a dog. He initially enlisted the help of two amateur exorcists, a mother of four, Leanne Reichenbach, and a farmer named David Klingner. The threesome met through their shared religious fervor shortly after the Vollmers arrived in Antwerp in 1987, initially through the Salvation Army and later through their joint interest in the more extreme and sect-like Charismatic movement.
Their attempts to rid Mrs. Vollmer of her demons began a week before death and involved lots of praying and forcibly keeping her inside the house. On one occasion, she was tied to a chair because she had been throwing herself on the floor and lying in a “sexual position." When she violently resisted being restrained, her husband went a step further and used her stockings to also tie her feet to boards to further restrict her movement. (He claimed the demon was gaining strength from this legs-apart position.) When nothing they were doing seemed to work (including forcibly holding her eyelids back by pulling the skin up to the bone “so she could see the presence of the Lord"), they called in the big guns. Enter 22-year-old Matthew Nuske.
Nuske, a self-proclaimed exorcist, took the leadership role in the process, which involved destroying several of Mrs. Vollmer's most treasured possessions because he believed demons were living in them. The group reached what ended up being the fatal decision to forcibly remove the demons from Mrs. Vollmer by squeezing and pushing them up from the woman's womb and out through her mouth. An autopsy later found the pressure on Mrs. Vollmer's neck helped cause a fatal heart attack as her thyroid cartilage had been fractured.
The strange story doesn't end there – the group thought they had indeed rid Mrs. Vollmer of her demons and were waiting for her to come back to life. They prayed around the body for two days, until it started to decompose in the searing summer heat.
When the group was picked up by police, they were all convinced they had done nothing wrong and were doing what was necessary to help the possessed woman. Leanne Reichenbach and David Klingner were later convicted of Mrs. Vollmer's manslaughter and of falsely imprisoning her. Matthew Nuske was also found guilty of falsely imprisoning the woman.
In reality, Joan was a troubled person who suffered child sex abuse and endured the suicide of her first husband. She also suffered from schizophrenia. Mr. Vollmer recently said he wouldn't have had to take matters into his own hands if the hospital he took her to for psychiatric help had done a better job.