Behind the walls of a cult: victims share their stories

MICANOPY, Fla. (WCJB) - The woman investigators say was the leader of a cult in Micanopy, Anna Young, had her second court appearance this week. She was arrested in December for the murder of a child during her time running the "House of Prayer" church.

Investigators are compiling a case against Young, trying to prosecute her for multiple crimes of torture, abuse, and mysterious deaths. They charged her with the murder of a three year old child, Emon Harper, nicknamed "Moses," and his mysterious disappearance.

It's a case that multiple agencies have weighed in on, learning about decades of horrific events. The sheriff's office has released dozens of reports of child abuse, and death investigations at the House of Prayer. What came as a surprise to many is the testimony of Young's own daughter, Joy Fluker.

"I had nightmares about moses for years," said Fluker, who now lives out of state.

She lived as a child at the "House of Prayer" with her mom, the matriarch at the church community intended to be a refuge for troubled people seeking God. She said, "I thought I was a princess down there."

Young was arrested in Ohio in 1968 for child abuse against a five year old girl. Deputies believe just five years later, she killed a six year old Catherine Davidson as a result of cruel punishment in Michigan.

"The first murder i guess you would call it that, was my sister who i didn't even know existed for a long time," said Fluker. "If you are so violent to kill someone through your anger to try to make them do right, then you can do it again."

Investigators think she did.

Last month, John Neal told us the story of his baby sister Katonya, who's death in 1983 he says was swept under the rug. "Kay was evidently born in sin because my mom was not married when she had her, and Kay had a demon in her so Anna was exorcising this demon out of her which was her excuse for all of her harsh treatment," he said.

Neal has been instrumental in bringing other victims together, sharing his story with law enforcement to get justice for his baby sister.

"I remember seeing her on America's most wanted," said Michael Guzman, who spent three years as a child at the church. Members like Guzman, who got his schooling at the church in Micanopy and stayed overnight on weekdays, were exposed to things other members weren't.

"When I was young I wet the bed when I was there, and I remember getting beat every time I wet the bed," Guzman said.

In the mid '80's Anna Young and her husband, Jonah, took in the toddler named Emon Harper, renamed "Moses."

"He just looked sad. He wasn't happy anymore," said Darla Taylor, Guzman's mom and an adult church member. "Because he was always a really happy little boy, and he would dance and everyone would laugh at him and he would think it was funny, but when he started coming in, you could tell his feet hurt him really really bad and I knew that was beyond the regular spanking."

"Mother Anna" was known for spanking children on the feet and using cruel tactics to punish members when they sinned.

"I remember her believing that she was doing God's will. I remember her feeling like God was using her and she'd start talking in a deep voice and everybody believed it was God talking through her," said Fluker.

Members thought Moses was adopted by Jonah, and considered him Joy's brother. Jonah died in 1988 when a car mysteriously fell on top of him.

"After he died, everything just got awful," said Fluker. The abuse, she said, got worse for Moses.

"I remember his eyes being completely dilated, it was like they were glossy and they were so big and I couldn't understand how they got so big. Now as an adult, I know it's because he was starving," said Fluker.

One weekend, he was forced to fast and kept in Young's room.

"I remember hearing this boy scream and being beat and stuff and how i just felt so bad and so wrong about that," Guzman said. He said Moses went missing out of the blue in the late 1980's. "He disappeared and of course we were asking and they just told us he was in a better place or he went with somebody that could better take care of him, I don't know."

"As an adult, I felt survivor's guilt, I wanted to reach out and find him so I could make up for not being the sister I should have been," said Fluker.

As she searched, the investigation into his whereabouts picked up at the Alachua County Sheriff's Office. ASO Cold Case Detective Kevin Allen told me in an email police dogs used to sniff out bodies have been sent to the property from Palm Beach Sheriff's Office and Jacksonville Sheriff's Office. UF's pound lab used ground penetrating radar over seven acres and underneath the House of Prayer, all to find Moses' remains, even searching inside the septic tank in Micanopy.

Fluker said, "I was looking for Moses to see if my nightmares might not be real."

Reports show Young ordered several of the men to build a large fire, carried Moses' body in a straw hamper to the fire, but when Detective Mike Lentz met Young face-to-face with questions about his disappearance, she told him, "There was no child there named Brother Moses or Emon and had no knowledge of anyone by that name ever being there."

Former members said they recognized Young's strange mood swings.

"Sometimes she would be like a helpless young child that sister Lois would have to take care of, dress her, help her, like she was very helpless. Then there was the other time when she would be bold and forceful. Then there was another one that she would be just really mean and abusive," said Taylor.

Fluker said she remembers the incident that brought an end to the House of Prayer -- a 13 year old named Nikki Nickelson burned by chemicals in a bathtub in 1992. This was the incident that caused Young to run.

"I was on the run, I couldn't have any friends, couldn't know my family, had to have a fake name," said Fluker.

She was sentenced to six months in jail in 2001, found out of state on the run, but Fluker said she's no longer running from her mom's actions, so she's seeking justice for all the people affected.

"They're suffering through it without getting justice for their loved ones, and it's just deplorable and I don't want to be that kind of person," she said.

ASO and FDLE detectives have spent more than $10,000 traveling to interview witnesses and members of the church community. Victims of her violence and abuse are coming forward, seeking justice through her prosecution.

"I've never been so frightened in all my life," said Sabrina Hamburg, who was a member as a young adult.

"It's a concentration camp, that's the only way I can explain it," said Fonda Favors, Hamburg's little sister who spent four years at the House of Prayer as a child.

"It's almost like a little girl inside of me that's protecting the big girl. It's like the two, and it's trying to become the one, but it can't because the little girl doesn't want to tell the secret," said Favors.

She tried to remember by visiting the house in Micanopy for the first time in decades. "I need to face it, I'm all for healing, I'm all for moving forward," she said.

Hamburg spent almost 10 years here as a young adult. "I didn't really notice anything until as time went on Anna said that I had unnatural affections for my son," she said.

"It was a cult. they were doing all this in the name of god which makes it so much worse," said Guzman. "I came home and I was literally black and blue, from my back all the way down my legs, my feet, even my hands and everything."

Members say Young's personality was attractive at first. "She had a lot of truth in what she said, so much so that i had never heard anybody speak like her until that point, so i really thought she was a prophetess but since i've learned the devil comes as an angel of light also and he also knows the word," said Taylor.

It started when she invited you in, and changed your name.

"My name was Rachel. Everyone was given a biblical name out of the bible," said Favors.

"She didn't want anybody knowing anybody's true identity," Taylor said.

Then, she forced you to give her your money. "Once she got your finances, then she separated people," said Hamburg.

The church community was based on the Book of Acts.

Hamburg said, "We had this one pot, everybody would work, and there was one pot. it was sort of like socialism, you know, people giving and the underdogs get nothing but the people at the top get everything."

"She twisted the Word to accommodate what she wanted," said Favors.

Hamburg was recruited first with her son, she later brought her mom and sister with her. She said Young was in charge of what she called "discipline" when members sinned.

"She just tortured my son and beat him so badly, and I couldn't protect him at all. I had to watch her cage him and I couldn't protect him," said Hamburg.

Favors said they used 33 lashes, like the lashes Jesus received before being crucified. "They held you in a group, spread eagle, arms, legs, bare, naked, anything, two-by-four, anything, whip."

"I remember being beat, it hurt so bad, and all of a sudden I saw the board hitting me, but my body went completely numb," Hamburg said. Her stories range from being physically attacked, to being locked in the back of a truck for hours.

"We were just trembling we were in there for so long, and you know, young women, we peed on each other. We were so scared and we passed out," Hamburg said.

Guzman said, "There was one guy that castrated himself. It was insane."

"She put cow dung in my mouth and made me swallow it," said Hamburg.

The only person safe from the intense torture was Joy, Young's daughter.

"Joy had turned the TV to "Soul Train" and Anna walked in, and the look she gave, I ran away. I didn't want to go back because I knew that I would get 33 beatings," said Favors.

Favors said she remembers her mom being tortured simply because she wanted an apple from the store. "They stripped her of her veil and of her clothing to the knees and threw her in the barn and I can remember they used me to feed her out of a dog bowl."

Her mom ran away, and later came back for her. "It made me realize today that I am a survivor, because these are things you read in Nancy Drew books. I love Nancy Drew books, you know The Children Under the Stairs... But this is real. One minute she would praise you and the next minute she would belittle you."

The worst for Hamburg has been her effort to find her two year old son she was forced to leave outside of a church in Puerto Rico, under Young's command. "This has been a pain in my heart for the past 25 years. I have never gotten over it," she cried.

Young's daughter, testifying against her mom in the case, believes her mom is mentally ill. "I have a child who has Asperger's, a son, and she would tell me all the time, 'He doesn't have Asperger's, he's just letting the devil use him.' It's almost like she didn't believe mental illness existed."

Fluker's involvement in the case has caused her family to tear apart, but she said she wants the best for everyone involved. "For her I hope that she faces what she's done and is genuinely sorry. I want her to help the victims to get closure."

Young's next court appearance is March 5th for a case management hearing.