Vernon Howell’s voice drifted out from the car speakers, bringing him back from the grave for a few fleeting moments as the ruins of Mount Carmel drew nearer.
His voice changed from soft and beguiling to screaming and menacing on the tape, pieces of recorded sermons compiled by Marc Breault and Elizabeth Baranyai.
The former Branch Davidians listened to the tape as they drove to the site Monday for the first time since they fled the cult in 1989. For them, the tape seemed to symbolize Howell’s progression toward destruction.
Returning to Mount Carmel dredged up a slew of emotions for the couple, who flew in to Waco from Australia to appear on a national TV show today.
“It’s a weird feeling,” Breault said as the car turned onto Double EE Ranch Road. “You almost think they’re still there.”
Looking at the compound grounds made Breault remember all the children who once romped there and played tag. Now there is only rubble—and silence.
“You just expect it to be the same, but it’s not,” Baranyai said. “It makes me angry because it shouldn’t have happened.”
“It’s sad that people died, but it’s a good feeling knowing that I’m free of him,” Breault said.
His memories are not pleasant, for the most part. He remembers driving the route back to the compound thinking he wanted to be anywhere else but at Mount Carmel. He dreamed of getting a chance to sneak out for food, which was restricted in the cult.
“H-E-B was the highlight,” he said. “A lot of times you’d be going on an errand and you’d be able to slip off.”
Mount Carmel was where Breault and Baranyai married in April 1989, in one of the small houses that used to dot the property before the huge compound was built.
“The honeymoon suite was a toolshed,” Baranyai said in a wry voice.
She left that May, and Breault followed in August—both no longer able to swallow Howell’s teachings, which by that time included that all women were to be at his sexual beck and call, even girls just reaching puberty.
Breault, once Howell’s closest confidant, became his chief critic after he and his wife left and tried to expose Howell, also known as David Koresh, to law enforcement.
He and Baranyai are in Waco to appear on “The Maury Povich Show” along with current Branch Davidians, Channel 10 reporter John McLemore and others at the Waco Convention Center.
The show, which will include an audience of about 400, will mark the six-month anniversary of the fire that killed Howell and at least 80 of his followers on April 19.
Stan Sylvia, a Branch Davidian who was in California during the 51-day siege at Mount Carmel, has agreed to be on the set with them, they said.
Other current Branch Davidians said they refuse to be on the same set with Breault and Baranyai, the couple said. Some surviving Davidians have blamed Breault for his break with Howell and his subsequent attempts to have law enforcement officials investigate the cult leader.
Breault and Baranyai said they wanted to appear on the show to confront the Davidians and outline allegations of abuse at the compound, which include Howell’s sexual relations with girls as young as 12.
Perhaps, Breault said, confronting the Davidians will lead some to realize Howell wasn’t the new Messiah.
He said some of his friends who survived the fire and are in jail, such as Kevin A. Whitecliff, are suffering for a man who lied to them.
Baranyai said Sept. 25 was one of the many dates predicted for Howell’s return. Breault said Howell preached he would return up to 1,335 days after his death, which would put the latest date at Dec. 14, 1996.
The couple, who succeeded in drawing some others out of the cult after they left in 1989, feel no ill will against those who stayed behind, Baranyai said. “A lot of people think we hate those people, but we don’t.”