The Tragic History of Mike Warnke
By Jon Trott & Mike Hertenstein
Copyright 1992 by Jon Trott & Mike Hertenstein
Enter Rose, Exit Nashville
Warnke was on the road almost constantly. "We figured it out one time," says Bill Fisher. "We traveled over 280,000 air miles in about ten months that year, with three days off a month." About halfway through the whirlwind ten-month tour, Warnke performed in Hazard, Kentucky. It was there, says Rose Hall, that she first met Mike Warnke.
Carolyn confirms this story. "While Mike and I were still married, he went to Kentucky to do a show, and that's where he met Rose." Carolyn says Mike came home very excited about something. "Then he went down to a jewelry store where we'd established credit and began buying jewelry for someone else, who I later found out was Rose."<.P>
The story of Mike Warnke's romance with Rose is told in her book, The Great Pretender. Rose never mentions Carolyn or the fact that Mike was married to Carolyn during his courtship with Rose. She says she met Warnke in various cities and stayed with him--in separate rooms. "Looking back, it had never occurred to me to say, 'You're a minister, an evangelist; are you married?' It never entered my mind."
During the time she was traveling around with Warnke, Rose says she went with him to Nashville. There, she writes, both his road manager and his agent objected to the relationship. Wes Yoder says, "Rose came along before Mike and Carolyn were divorced. The whole thing with Carolyn, I couldn't deal with personally. With Rose I did. But I was still there. I was so wrong."
Mike Warnke's relationship with the Johnsons went from bad to worse. As Karen Johnson tells it, "Mike called on the phone and said he wanted to come over, because he knew I was angry with him over what had happened to my Mike. I told him no, that I felt he was leading people astray, and I didn't want him associating with my husband because he was helping destroy our marriage. But later Warnke came over anyway and said, 'Karen, I don't want you to dislike me. I want us to be friends.' I said, 'Then change what you're doing. You're deceiving people. You're committing adultery.' He said, 'I can't change.'"
After Karen told Warnke to get out, "He came at me like he was going to kill me." Mike Johnson says of this episode, "I was in pretty good shape back then, and I was ready to go at it there in the living room." Warnke left, says Karen, "screaming obscenities at me."
The end for Mike Warnke and wife Carolyn was, as she tells it, the stuff of melodrama. "We were fighting and he threw me into a wall and split my head open. He said, 'If you go to a local hospital and tell them what your name is, I'll kill you. I don't have to do it physically. I can do it from another room or another state.'"
There was a revolver in the nightstand," Carolyn says. "I took it out and said, 'If you hit me again Mike, I'm gonna kill you, because I'm tired of your beatings. I just can't take it any more.'" Carolyn says she jumped into her car, started driving, and didn't stop until she reached Pensacola, Florida.
Tom Carrouthers found Carolyn in a convenience store in Pensacola that summer night in 1979, dazed and bleeding. "Carolyn said she and her old man had gotten into it," says Carrouthers. "She had a big gouge on the top of her head, and a wad of dried blood. I took her to the hospital. When we got there, she was like a kid and didn't want me to leave. She stayed with my sister and me for a week or so."
Carolyn gave us a note she received from Mike. "Dear Carolyn," it reads, "I don't know how we ever got to this place. All I know for sure is that we are here....I can't blame you for not wanting to be around me right now. Nor can I condemn your disgust at my rages and tantrums. I'm trying hard to get control.... I'll always be there when you need me. The scar on my wrist will never fade....Peace to you. Many Horses."
Carrouthers remembers Carolyn talking with Warnke on the phone during the two weeks she was there; things seemed to be improving. But when Carolyn finally returned to Nashville from Florida, she was in for a surprise. "I came home and there was a 'For Sale' sign on the house. All the locks had been changed, and everything in the house was gone. In just a matter of days, I had no funds, no furniture, nothing," she says.
Carolyn didn't go back to Dharma. She felt most of the people she knew in the industry had been siding with Mike, who was telling everyone the stories about her unfaithfulness. In a bizarre twist, Carolyn got a job working as an undercover narcotics operative with the Regional Organized Crime Information Center, a law enforcement organization in Nashville.
Mike and Carolyn's divorce was final on November 29, 1979. Mike Johnson says Warnke told him that Carolyn was rubbed out by the mob, "bludgeoned to death in a ditch." A friend from the Trinity days, Clarence Benes, heard from Warnke that Carolyn had been killed in a boating accident. Don Riling says he was told by Warnke that Carolyn had drowned.
From Carolyn's viewpoint, "Mike is one of the greatest con artists I've ever known in my life. And coming from my background, that says quite a bit."
Mike and Karen Johnson divorced two years later, and he is no longer in Christian music. "Mike Johnson has really reaped what he has sown," says ex-wife Karen. "He has no family, no friends, no career, no money. no life. It makes me angry that Mike Warnke, on the other hand, seems to be making money, going on with life, and continuing to deceive people."
Among the friends that took a different path than Warnke at the end of 1979 was Bill Fisher. "Mike and I parted when he moved to Kentucky to be with Rose," says Bill. "He was divorced, but that's not grounds for moving in with someone. Mike said, "We married each other before the Lord.' I said, 'Do it before the state, too.'"Holy Orthodox Catholic Church in Kentucky