Selling Satan

The Tragic History of Mike Warnke

By Jon Trott & Mike Hertenstein

Copyright 1992 by Jon Trott & Mike Hertenstein

The Ministry and the Money

Another point which perplexed the women was HOCCK's finances. Roxanne Miller had been hired to get control of the finances and says that while she was there (1985-1986) HOCCK covered various expenses for Mike and Rose. "We paid for the car, we paid for the gas, we paid for the parsonage, we paid for their clothes and their food," she says. Yet she says her job was a continual battle of the budget. Mike seemed to have no concept that money made by a non-profit ministry is different than personal income. Once, she says, Mike Warnke responded to her efforts to curb his spending this way: "He told me, 'Every bit of the money is mine. I earned it. If I wasn't out front, there would be no money.' "

Jan Ross told us, "On several occasions Rose said to me that anybody who was in the position she and Mike were in deserved to have the best of everything because of who they were and what they had given up to be where they were. I thought, 'What did you give up' "[143]

Phyllis Swearinger said there were problems making ends meet.[144] "I'd worked at banks before, so I was used to handling large amounts of money. But the amount that came in here each week sort of threw me. And then to find out it just wouldn't go far enough! Once Mike called me, upset because he needed some trees pruned at his home, and I wouldn't write a check for it because we didn't have enough money in the account at the moment. What struck me about this conversation is Mike told me he felt he deserved to make as large a salary as Jimmy Swaggart was making."

The Warnke's home was certainly in line with his high aspirations. Back in July of 1983 Rose's mother, Blanche Hall, had purchased a huge mansion (at one time a plantation) near Danville. "Lynnwood Farm" was leased to HOCCK for several years and later sold to Rose, who with Mike referred to it as "the parsonage."[145]

Tax returns indicate HOCCK's total revenue for 1984 was over $900,000. In 1985 HOCCK grossed over $1,000,000, with over $500,000 in love offerings alone. In 1986, the total went over two million: love offerings brought in over $1,000,000; product sales (I.e., books and records) grossed over $180,000; and direct public support totaled over $450,000. The 1987 total was $2,239,927. Revenue figures for 1988 through 1990 continued at slightly over $2,000,000.[146]

HOCCK tax returns show that the Warnke's personal salaries [147] steadily rose (see Table 1).

Table 1: Warnke's annual income
Mike Rose
1984 $34,500 $11,500
1985 $95,617
$83,417
1986 $163,632
$155,418
1987 $177,450
$177,450
1988 $183,917
$183,917
1989 $204,383
$204,383
1990 $239,291
$230,291

The growth of Warnke Ministries in the mid-eighties paralleled a sudden explosion of public fears about Satanism. In March of 1985, Mike Warnke appeared on an ABC "20/20" report called "The Devil Worshipers," part of a deluge of talk shows and books on contemporary Satanism. Stories of hideous satanic crimes were often woven together by self-proclaimed "experts" to demonstrate the existence of a worldwide satanic conspiracy similar to the illuminati network outlined in The Satan Seller.

Each year, goes the theory, thousands of children are being sacrificed in satanic rituals laced with sex and violence. Alleged adult survivors of satanic ritual abuse testify to the hidden cult's existence. The Satan Seller seems tame in comparison. Yet when evidence for the conspiracy is requested, true believers (including a few therapists and police officers) often refer skeptics to Warnke and his book as a final authority.[148]

In the early eighties, when Mike and Rose began to speak about their Kentucky ministry to audiences on the road, they offered descriptions typically centered around their work helping victims of the occult--like "Jeffy."

"Supposedly, Jeffy was this little boy who had become a vegetable because of all the satanic abuse he's had," says Jan Ross. "The story was used to raise money to 'help all the Jeffys of the world, so there wouldn't be so many Jeffys.' Mike would say, 'What if your child was sent to preschool and this happened? How'd you like this to happen to your child?' ".

The home office would always know when Mike was telling the Jeffy story, says Dot Green. "People would write on the offering envelopes, 'This is for all the children like Jeffy.' It was amazing how many envelopes would come back with Jeffy's name on it. Mike always had to count the money after a concert and call Rose to give her an idea of what was there," Dot continues. "She'd ask if he'd told the Jeffy story. If he hadn't, she'd say, 'You tell the Jeffy story tomorrow night.' " Several staffers say the Warnkes' interest in the at-home ministry never made it home from the road. Says Dot, "I'd try to tell them about somebody who wrote needing help, and they didn't want to hear."

Adds Jan Ross, "We didn't get that many calls, maybe four or five actual calls a day. Some people just wanted attention, but every once in a while there'd be people with real problems. Mike and Rose just didn't want to deal with them. They'd go on the road and say, 'We're here to help you,' but when you called they didn't want to deal with you."

For a while, Dot Green tried to ignore everything at Warnke Ministries that wasn't connected to her counseling duties. "I loved my job so much," she says. "I fooled myself into thinking it was my ministry, since Mike and Rose didn't seem to have any interest in it. But I started realizing the people I was writing to were sending in offerings. I always put a pink offering envelope in with each letter. I began marking my envelopes so I could tell which came back with my mark. The month I left, my letters brought in over $21,000. At that point, the Lord let me know I was just as guilty as they were as long as I stayed."

Jan Ross was in the midst of her own struggle. The staff attended a series of Warnke shows in Cincinnati. "We did this concert; it was just a super evening. Then we walked out and went to a bar. The Warnkes were buying rounds of drinks, dancing. I kept thinking the whole time, I wonder if anybody's going to come in and recognize them."

Roxanne remembers that trip. "We went to Cincinnati once. It just grossed me out. They went out and drank and carried on afterwards, Mike and the road guys. I said, 'I just can't handle this.' "

Dot Green and Jan Ross left Warnke Ministries at the end of 1985. Roxanne Miller was fired in February 1986 (for refusing to give Rose several signed, blank checks, she says), and Phyllis quit soon after. "It's not been something we have forgotten easily," says Jan Ross. "It's scary to think you can get involved with something like that with a pure heart, to serve God, and then find out it's run on deception, lies, and thievery."

Warnke Ministries continued to expand. In October of 1986, the Warnkes purchased property in Burgin, Kentucky, which they then sold to HOCCK.[149] A newsletter announced that a long-promised "Center" was about to become a reality. Plans included rehab and medical facilities. "Phase I" was the construction of an administration building.[150]

The fund-raising campaign began. "This Center is fast becoming a reality and will be a reality if you make it one." said Mike in a ministry newsletter. "Your gifts, offerings, and prayers enable Warnke Ministries to continue its missions."[151]

By April of 1987, Warnke Ministries was able to move to Burgin and into their beautiful new colonial-style brick office complex.[152]

Dr. John Cooper worked for a short time in this building. In the late eighties, Warnke Ministries opened a seminar department to teach police and others the gruesome facts about Satanism and occult crime. Dr. Cooper, a former college professor and author of twenty-nine books, was hired in 1989 as director.

Cooper has this to say about the Warnkes' "Center": "They were raising money for a children's center for refugees from Satanism. Phone calls would come to my office, people wanting to send kids there, I'd explain to them that there wasn't any such thing there, only a building with offices. The only parts of that building not dedicated to getting Mike speaking engagements or handling receipts were a large room set up like a Greek Orthodox Church and a library."[153]

Cooper disputes the Warnkes' claim of 50,000 counseling calls and letters a month.[154] "There isn't any way in the world for that to be so," he says. "My guess would be, on a daily basis, they might get 6 calls." (Such a figure, if accurate, would translate to 120 calls per month.) "The only ministry I know of that went on there was one fellow who worked part-time answering the phone. And he'd usually just give out other ministry numbers and tell people to call them."

John Cooper spent several months preparing a seminar presentation, which he premiered in May. Shortly afterwards, he was fired. He later tried suing the Warnkes, but the case died in court.

A more important court case for Warnke Ministries was the 1991 divorce of Mike and Rose. According to the Warnkes' new book, Recovering from Divorce, the serious problems in the marriage date as far back as November 1984. In the book, Rose notes an "It's over isn't it?" talk with Mike that took place in his office in December of 1984.[155]

Some comparison with Rose's previous book is enlightening. Written in mid- to late 1985, The Great Pretender reveals how Rose caught Warnke in an "affair" in 1984. "We had a situation this last year when we felt there was nothing left between us. We weren't communicating, and Satan provided a woman to fill the gap in Michael's life."[156]

The conversation in the first book goes like this:

He began to tell me there's nothing to this and that I'm misunderstanding it all.

"Okay, okay," I growled, "I don't want to hear it. If you're not going to tell the truth, don't say anything. . . . You're throwing your ministry away, your life, the whole works. I'll guarantee you, people will not accept this. You're not going to go through another divorce and people accept it."[157]

Rose says she threatened on Christmas Eve to call the woman, and Mike responded by moving out. Later, after Warnke had promised to end the relationship, Rose found out he was still calling the woman. Says Rose, "He hid all the guns. Michael's a big gun collector, and I know how to shoot. . . . I said, 'I'll continue running the ministry, I'll get myself established ministry-wise, then I don't care what you do. You're not going to wreck my life. I'll establish myself. You do what you want."[158]

These incidents go unmentioned in the new book. Instead, Recovering from Divorce presents a rather psychologizing story of a marital mismatch, doomed from the start. While the Warnkes are evasive on the exact reasons, they make it clear their marriage was a painful experience for both of them. Court records say the couple last lived together in October of 1989.[159]

Despite her earlier warnings in The Great Pretender about how people would not accept another divorce, Rose Warnke filed for divorce on September 4, 1991. A property settlement agreement drawn up by Rose's attorney and signed by both Mike and Rose was filed the same day.[160]

Blanche Hall had deeded Lynwood Farm to Rose in April of 1991. In the divorce property settlement, Rose was awarded 327 additional acres surrounding the farm, which the couple purchased in April 1991 for $525,000 (despite the fact that they hadn't lived together there since October, 1989.)[161] Mike Warnke also agreed to pay half the mortgage for the new acreage.[162]

Additionally, Rose got a condominium the Warnkes owned in Stewart, Florida (purchased in May, 1986, for $398,000), and another condominium the couple owned near Danville (purchased in July, 1989, for $398,000).[163] Further, Rose got everything in all the houses mentioned above, plus the Yamaha piano, the 1985 Cadillac, and the couple's four horses.

Mike also agreed to pay Rose $8,000 per month ($96,000 per year) for the rest of her life via a wage assignment out of Mike's salary from HOCCK. Mike agreed to assume responsibility for paying various lien, pay for the education of Rose's daughters until the year 2001, divide a $15,000 IRA with Rose, and also split the debt to their accountant.

Rose also got 65 percent of Warnke's ownership of his copyrights for and royalties from absolutely everything he will make from his books and recordings. Mike agreed to keep various existing life insurance policies and take out an additional $2 million life insurance policy on himself, with Rose as the beneficiary, for the next fifteen years.

Finally, Mike agreed to pay Rose $20,000 to equalize the division of property.

In the same property settlement, Mike Warnke was awarded whatever property was located at the condo where he was staying, his motorcycle, and visiting rights to the horses.

October 2, 1991, the Warnkes' divorce was granted.[164] The local paper quoted a ministry spokesman who said nothing would change. Rose, who was identified as the music director and an administrator, would continue to do separate shows and possibly make joint appearances with Mike.[165]

When it came time for Mike Warnke to announce his third divorce officially to the friends of Warnke Ministries, he used a rationale which he was sure his fellow believers would respect: He did it, he said, for the ministry.

"As many of you know," wrote Warnke, "Rose and I, after seeking the Lord's guidance, and two years of intensive Christian counseling, accepted the fact that our marriage was beyond reconciliation, and the only hope of saving the Ministry we have poured our lives into, was divorce."[166]

Six weeks after his divorce was finalized, on November 18, 1991, Mike Warnke married Susan Pattton, an old Rim High classmate, and moved to California.[167]

As of this writing, Mike and Rose are scheduled to appear together at the Christian Booksellers Association convention in late June, where they will be promoting their new book, Recovering from Divorce. According to CBA press material, the Warnkes will be available for interviews to discuss their "unique perspective on the troublesome issue of divorce."

Their unique perspective: forgive and forget. In the book, Mike and his ex-wife share the pain of their relationship and parting; then the experiences are interpreted by their editor, Lloyd Hildebrand, and therapist, John Joy. There is much talk of how sad divorce is, and much assigning of blame to dysfunctional backgrounds and a codependent relationship. Although they could not be married, Mike and Rose conclude, they can now be friends.

"Perhaps no one is ready for this book," writes Mike. "Could being 'up front' about our failure cost it all? That's the chance I must take. Rose feels the same way. We both have come to the place where we know that the only real choice we have is to go on as ourselves."[168]

For those who would raise objections to what is, indeed, in the Christian Church a "unique" perspective, Mike Warnke fires a preemptive blast. "So I messed up. Does that change who Jesus is?"[169] Likewise, he decries "the Gospel Gestapo" who feel bound to discover and publicize the failures of those in ministry, "even if the evidence proves to be true."[170]

After our research was complete, we contacted Mike in early May to set up an interview with him, to which we had invited some other Christian leaders (Ron Enroth, Don Riling, and others). Mike declined our interview and said he would only meet with us at his attorney's office in Kentucky. We considered this a matter for the Body of Christ, with no lawyers being necessary, and asked about the possibility of meeting somewhere convenient for everyone. Mike's response: that we have no further contact with him except through his attorney. This ended our communication.

This concludes a long and painful survey of the life and ministry of Mike Warnke. We did not prepare it lightly, but solemnly and with counsel from many dedicated ministers.

A Biblical Plan of Action