By Jon Trott & Mike Hertenstein
Copyright 1992 by Jon Trott & Mike Hertenstein. Reproduction or publication of the content in any manner, without express permission of the author is prohibited.
This article first appeared in Cornerstone Magazine, Vol. 21 Issue 98.
An expanded version of this article is available in book form.
This is the story of well-known comedian, evangelist, and professed ex-Satanist Mike Warnke.
Known as “America’s Number One Christian Comedian,” Mike Warnke has sold in excess of one million records. June 29, 1988, was declared “Mike Warnke Day” by the governor of Tennessee. The Satan Seller has, according to its author, sold three million copies in twenty years. His 1991 Schemes of Satan quickly climbed the best-seller list. Mike Warnke’s press material includes credits for appearances on “The 700 Club,” “The Oprah Winfrey Show.” “Larry King Live,” “Focus on the Family,” and ABC’s “20/20.” Mike has won numerous awards from the recording industry, including the 1992 Grady Nut Humor Award. He continues to perform two hundred live shows a year. He is truly a figure of national prominence.
Mike Warnke’s ministry and public profile are based upon the story he tells of his previous involvement with Satanism. As written in The Satan Seller, the story goes like this: a young orphan boy raised in foster homes drifted from whatever family and friends he had to join a secret, all-powerful satanic cult. First, he descended into the hell of drug addiction. Then he ascended in the satanic ranks to the position of high priest, with fifteen hundred followers in three cities. He had unlimited wealth and power at his disposal, provided by members of Satanism’s highest echelon, the illuminati. And then he converted to Christ.
A generation of Christians learned its basic concepts of Satanism and the occult from Mike Warnke’s testimony in The Satan Seller. Based on his alleged satanic experiences, Warnke came to be recognized as a prominent authority on the occult, even advising law enforcement officers investigating occult crime. We believe The Satan Seller has been responsible, more than any other single volume in the Christian market, for promoting the current nationwide “Satanism scare.”
Through the years, Cornerstone has received many calls from people who felt something was not right concerning Mike Warnke. After our lengthy investigation into his background, we found discrepancies that raise serious doubts about the trustworthiness of his testimony. We have uncovered significant evidence contradicting his alleged satanic activity. His testimony contains major conflicts from book to book and tape to book, it contains significant internal problems, and it doesn’t square with known external times and events. Further, we have documentation and eyewitness testimony that contradict the claims he has made about himself.
The evidence we present here includes testimony from Mike’s closest friends, relatives, and daily associates–people whose names Mike disguised or omitted entirely in his “official” testimony. These people knew the real Mike Warnke, who was not a drug fiend or a recruiter for Satanism. But he was a storyteller.
Michael Alfred Warnke was born November 19, 1946, to Alfred “Al” Warnke and his wife, Louise. Mike’s parents lived in Evansville, Indiana, and according to their son’s confirmation certificate, had Mike baptized at St. Anthony’s Catholic Church.
When Mike was five, the Warnkes moved to Manchester, Tennessee, where Al opened Warnke’s Truck Stop. Located on Highway 41, north of town, the diner soon became part of the local landscape. On January 15, 1955, Louise, on her way home from town, lost control of the family’s brand-new Packard and was killed. She was thirty-seven; Mike was eight years old.
Mike had other family, too, from his father’s previous marriage. His half sister, Shirley Schrader was twenty-two years older than he was. She first met Mike in 1954, when Al brought his family to California on a visit. As Shirley recalls, “Dad, Louise, and Michael came out to California in the mid-fifties. Prior to that, I wasn’t writing my father. I didn’t even know where he was. My dad had abandoned me when I was little. He was an alcoholic, and maybe twice in my childhood did he make any effort to communicate with my mother. So I was working and they came to my office, very unexpectedly. He says, ‘I’m your father,’ and he came on big and strong. ‘Oh my daughter, my daughter.’ They spent maybe a week in California, and then went back to Tennessee.”
When Mike’s mother was killed, Al flew Shirley to Tennessee for the funeral. During that visit, Al Warnke asked Shirley if she and her husband, Keith, would move to Manchester and help run the truck stop. “You always think, Wouldn’t it be neat to know your own dad? That was probably one of the biggest mistakes I ever made.”
Shirley, Keith, and their six-year-old son Keith, Jr., came out to Manchester in February of 1955. But Al and Shirley soon had their problems. “He had me working days, with Thursday off, and he had my husband working nights, with a different day off. Then there was the fact that my father was a drunk. We weren’t there but a few days when he went off on a big binge and didn’t show up again for a week. There would have been enough money to support us all. But he forgot we were supposed to be paid.”
Al Warnke seems to fit the description given him by his son in his books and records. But what about Mike Warnke? Shirley recalls Mike as a little boy who spent a lot of time “sitting two feet from the television. I tried to tell my dad, ‘Hey, the boy can’t see.’ And he’d say, ‘Don’t try to tell me about my son!’ And my dad would give the kid ten bucks and send him uptown. That was a lot of money for those days.”
Disgusted with Al and his truck stop, but feeling empathy for Mike, the Schraders returned to California. Two years later, Al Warnke was dead of heart failure.
Mike Warnke’s story of his life, The Satan Seller, opens just after Al’s funeral, with adults discussing Mike’s future as he eavesdrops. As the book indicates, the eleven-year-old boy was initially placed with his two aunts, Dorthy and Edna, who lived in Sparta, Tennessee. Warnke has a segment on his Mike Warnke Alive! album called “Tennessee Home and Blankety-Blank,” in which he describes how he raised one aunt’s dander with his crude, truck stop ways.
The first night I was up there this lady came out and she said, “Well, honey, how do you think you’re gonna like it here?” And I said, “Well, this is a pretty nice blank-blankety-blank place. We oughta get along pretty blank-blankety-blank well as long as you feed me blank-blankety properly.
Aunt Edna Swindell denies any such child appeared at her Tennessee home. “He was just a typical boy. We had no problems.” What about his claims about being a foulmouthed brat? “He wasn’t that here” Meanwhile, Shirley Schrader was trying to get custody of young Mike. “We wanted Michael,” Shirley recalls. “And we fought through the courts for Michael for months before they let him come out here.”
Aunt Edna notes, “He stayed with me seven months. I guess if I wanted him, I could have kept him the entire time. His half sister in California wanted him, and that’s where he wanted to go.”