Unspeakable Times

David Koresh's Childhood Explains How He Became A Magnetic Cult Leader 

Jodi Smith
Updated April 1, 2019 7.3k views 13 items

David Koresh is one of the most recognizable names that arise in conversations about modern religious cults. His rules and teachings in his sect of Branch Davidians led followers to stockpile arms within their compound in Waco, TX. He used his philosophy to manipulate and prey on young girls, whom he claimed he needed to impregnate to prepare for the apocalypse. Most famously, Koresh's Waco compound went head to head with the FBI in 1993 and lost nearly every member in a fire, as ordered by their prophet, Koresh.

Less known is how Koresh was raised and who his parents were. As the child of an unmarried 14-year-old, Koresh and his turbulent origins laid an unstable foundation for his beginnings in life. He eventually went on to become a cult leader. From his immersion in scripture to the lack of positive male role models in his life, Koresh's twisted childhood led to a group of women, men, and even his children finding themselves trapped in a burning religious compound in Texas.

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Photo: McLennan County Sheriff's Office/Wikimedia Commons/Public Domain
He Was Born To A 14-Year-Old Single Mother

David Koresh - his birth name Vernon Wayne Howell - entered into the world on August 17, 1959, born to 14-year-old Bonnie Clark and 20-year-old Bobby Wayne Howell. Koresh's father was not involved in his son's life or upbringing, as he married another woman soon after Bonnie gave birth.

After spending his first 18 months with his mother and her new husband, Koresh spent the rest of his childhood moving from one family member's home to another. As a young adult in the late 1980s, he shared an apartment with his uncle before jumping headlong into his Branch Davidians cult in Waco, TX.

He Reportedly Engaged In Multiple Affairs With Young Girls

The Washington Post reported in 1993 Koresh attempted to use the Bible to convince a member of the Tyler Seventh-Day Adventist Church to allow him to date a 15-year-old when he was 20. Other sources claim Koresh impregnated a preacher's daughter. Yet another source says Koresh wanted to take the preacher's daughter as his wife, prompting Koresh's removal from the congregation.

Dick J. Reavis's book, The Ashes of Waco: An Investigation, relayed the story of Koresh meeting a 16-year-old girl in 1977 when he was 18. According to the book, Koresh once gave the girl a ride home from an arcade and, supposedly, no inappropriate interaction occurred. The second ride, however, ended in relations that resulted in the girl's pregnancy. 

His Stepfather Allegedly Mistreated Him Before He Moved In With His Grandparents

Soon after the departure of Koresh's biological father, Koresh's mother, Bonnie, remarried. Allegedly, this stepfather physically mistreated Koresh until he was 2 years old, at which time he was sent to live with his maternal grandparents. Bonnie divorced her second husband and, around 1964, married a man named Roy Haldeman.

When Koresh was 5 years old, he left his grandparents' home and returned to live with his mother and her new husband. He later claimed he endured similar mistreatment under Haldeman, but both Haldeman and Bonnie denied these allegations.

At age 14, Koresh returned to his grandparents' home before getting kicked out and sent back to his mother's house.

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Photo: Federal Bureau of Investigation/Wikimedia Commons/Public Domain
He Supposedly Never Had A Positive Male Role Model

Koresh's biological father left him when he was an infant. The two didn't meet until Koresh initiated contact with his father when he was in his late teens or early 20s. Though Koresh lived with his grandparents from a young age to escape his first stepfather, Koresh's grandfather had a heavy drinking habit and never showed any affection.

Koresh moved back home with his mother and new stepfather, Roy, whom he also accused of maltreatment and described as a cold, unfeeling man.