Daily Independent (Ashland, KY)

Local News

January 14, 2011

FBI most wanted found dead in Louisa

Accused of abusing children, Kolbeck, 50, was featured on several television segments

LITTLE ROCK, Ark. — A man sought for more than two years following accusations he paddled children until they were bloody in his role as convicted evangelist Tony Alamo’s enforcer has died in Kentucky, police said Friday.

John Erwin Kolbeck, 50, died Thursday in Louisa, from what appeared to be a heart attack, said Fort Smith police spokesman Sgt. Daniel Grubbs. The death still is under investigation.

Kolbeck, who for a time lived in Fort Smith, vanished after Alamo’s compound in Fouke was raided on Sept. 20, 2008. Alamo was arrested five days later in Arizona and convicted the following year of taking children across state lines for sex. He is serving a 175-year federal prison sentence.

Kolbeck was wanted on charges of felony battery and fleeing and had managed to hide from authorities despite widespread media attention, including several segments on “America’s Most Wanted.”

Grubbs said authorities figured out Kolbeck was the deceased person in Kentucky because a woman with him was also wanted. The FBI also has been looking for Kolbeck’s wife, Jennifer Kolbeck. Grubbs did not know if she was the woman with him when he died. Authorities confirmed Kolbeck’s identity through his fingerprints and tattoos.

The Little Rock FBI office didn’t return a message seeking comment Friday. U.S. Attorney Deborah Groom, whose Western District of Arkansas office prosecuted Alamo and sought Kolbeck, said she had no comment.

Witnesses in Alamo’s case described beatings Kolbeck had administered to children in Alamo’s ministry. One witness testified that Kolbeck hit him in the face about 15 times and then struck him hard about 30 times with a three-foot wooden paddle on three separate occasions. The witness said he was punished for insignificant misbehavior.

The FBI’s wanted poster for Kolbeck recounts a time Kolbeck paddled an unclothed boy until he was bruised and bloodied, stopping when the paddle broke. Kolbeck was described as 6 feet, 4 inches tall and weighing 250 pounds.

State welfare officials seized six girls in the 2008 raid, the findings from which led to other children being taken into state custody. Ultimately, the state was authorized to seize more than 100 children, most of whom investigators could not find.

Witnesses testified during Alamo’s trial that Alamo took girls as young as 9 years old to be his “wives” and that he ran his Tony Alamo Christian Ministries and businesses with threats and intimidation, with Kolbeck on hand to administer beatings.

Alamo had other compounds in Fort Smith; Moffett, and Muldrow, Okla.; and Los Angeles. He also had congregations in New York and New Jersey.

Alamo, whose real name is Bernie Lazar Hoffman, lost his criminal appeal in December before the 8th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals. Five young women who testified Alamo took them as “wives” and sexually assaulted them when they were minors won a $2.5 million civil judgment against Alamo last January.

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