A man who claims to be the custodian of Mount Carmel tried to run off T-shirt vendors catering to tourists Tuesday.
John Ellis, an adviser to jailed Branch Davidian Renos Avraam, recently put up a sign offering a $1,000 reward for people caught trespassing.
Tuesday he added an official-looking paper mounted on a board that claimed the property extended to the middle of Double EE Ranch Road. The paper was topped with “District Court, McLennan County, Texas, 19th Judicial District.”
However, it was neither signed nor notarized by the court.
Ellis claimed on the notice that “vendors by making blood money off of the blood of martyrs degrade and demean the cause for which the martyrs died, are an ongoing reminder and enforcer of the ATF genocidal holocaust, in effect, and in actuality, these vendors are terrorizing the Davidians as they reside in their domicile residence and as they worship in their church.”
Not so, said McLennan County Judge Jim Lewis.
He said the vendors could sell T-shirts in the area from the road to the fence, or property line, as long as they did not create a traffic hazard. Beyond the property line is a misdemeanor violation and past the quarantine signs a felony.
Tourists continued Tuesday to stop by the burned-out remains of the Branch Davidian compound on Double EE Ranch Road. Many looked puzzled at Ellis’ notices.
Lora Robert, a T-shirt vendor from Axtell, said Ellis was “just blowing smoke.”
Robert said she’d been selling T-shirts for two weeks. She said sheriff’s deputies had come out many times on trespass calls but none had ever said anything about her setup in the ditch near Mount Carmel’s gate.
“I don’t want someone coming out here and pushing me around and bullying me,” she said.
The Mount Carmel site was quarantined as a health hazard May 14. Authorities later limited the quarantine to the area around the remains of the compound, but the property still has signs warning against trespassing.
Some of the quarantine signs were stolen by souvenir seekers, so Texas Water Commission workers replaced the signs Tuesday.
Violation of the quarantined area is a third-degree felony punishable by two to 10 years in prison and a fine of up to $10,000.
Many people, though, have risked arrest for artifacts from the compound, which burned to the ground April 19. During the fire, cult leader Vernon Howell and more than 80 others died.
Following the fire, Ellis purchased advertisement in the Tribune-Herald decrying the “government killing machine,” which he said caused the deaths of the Branch Davidians.
Ellis, who is not a lawyer, calls himself “resident custodian” of the 77-acre property. He offered a $1,000 reward for the arrest and conviction of anyone caught trespassing and taking items off Mount Carmel land.
However, Gary Coker, a Waco attorney for eight Branch Davidians, said Ellis has no legal standing to take such action or run off vendors.
Coker filed a court order about six weeks ago on behalf of eight longtime Branch Davidians to protect Mount Carmel’s land and remove valuable contents.
Tuesday, Ellis used Coker’s court order to try and drive people away, but Coker said Ellis had no right to the document.
“He doesn’t have any authority,” Coker said. “He’s not my agent. He’s just some guy that’s attached himself to the Davidians.”