The woman came into the church off the streets of Nassau in the Bahamas. The parishioners knew of her, but they had never seen her in this church, a charismatic Church of God.
Lillian Wolff, of Kansas City, Missouri, and her husband ministered this church in the mid-1960s. Their daughter Terry Byrd, also of Kansas City, grew up in that church. “It was wonderful to live down there,” she said. “There are different cultures. Voodoo and things like that. It was very strange. The people are wonderful.”
But darkness grew over the Wolff family the day the woman appeared. Lillian remembers the woman well, although she hasn’t seen her for more than forty years.
“She was black, I would say she was in her mid to late thirties,” Lillian said. “I don’t recall her ever being in church before.”
Terry was about ten years old that day; a day burned into her memory. “Her name was Naomi,” Terry said. “She had been a dancer and a hooker.”
Naomi, seemingly in a daze, had slipped into the back of the church and silently dropped into a pew.
“This lady was sitting in the congregation kind of normally as people do in church,” Lillian said. Then the woman changed. “During the service she began to act very strangely and making some kind of unusual noises. If I recall they were kind of grunting type noises.”
As the pastor stood at the pulpit preaching, Naomi began to speak. “She said very bad things you would never hear in a church,” Terry said. “He would be preaching and she would call him a liar. He would go on preaching.”
That is until Naomi rose from her pew and sank to the floor. The pastor stopped, and the congregation turned toward this strange woman.
“She kind of slithered her way down the aisle,” Lillian said. “By that I mean she got down and kind of crawled until she got in front of the altar. And then my husband came down from the platform.”
He knew something was wrong. “He recognized there was a demon in her,” Lillian said.
As Naomi crawled, lizard-like, toward the alter, she came closer and closer to the front row where Terry sat. “It was a lady but it was a wicked voice that came out of her,” Terry said. “A kind of fighting; off and on, good against bad.
Naomi’s face contorted as she fought whatever was inside her. Lillian said ugly crawled across the face of this attractive woman spewing hate.
“It’s hard to describe what the sound was. It was very eerie; it wasn’t a woman’s voice that was coming out. It was very scary,” Terry said. “The elders of the church came and prayed. They were really praying.”
The pastor laid hands on Naomi’s forehead, “and prayed in the name of Jesus that this ugly demon spirit would come out of her,” Lillian said. “It must have come out of her because she kind of relaxed.”
Terry’s young eyes were fused to the scene before her. “He cast out the demons and they left,” she said. “You could tell that after a long time the spirit that was inside of her came out and the woman wasn’t even the same lady. It was like 180 degrees the turn that this lady made.”
Naomi stood from the spot of her exorcism, turned and walked toward the back of the church, then sat down.
“After that moment she became a Christian until her death, but it was freaky. Freaky freaky,” Terry said. “I’ve remembered it all my life. I can close my eyes and see it all again.”
The Wolffs moved from the Bahamas to Kansas City, Missouri, in 1968 to minister the Calvary Temple Church, and evil came calling again.
The church sits on St. John Avenue, the old building once the Belmont Theater during the era of neighborhood movie theaters. Terry’s daughter Julie Honeycutt said as a six-year-old, she was fascinated traveling to that church. “It was culture shock,” she said. “So many strange things happened around that church I couldn’t tell you. Prostitutes walking by. There was a bar next door and two bars across the street. It wasn’t odd that people would walk in intoxicated.”
Like that day in the Bahamas, a woman strange to the congregation walked into the church. Like the woman from all those years ago, she was attractive, in her thirties, with long black hair. “She wasn’t uncommonly beautiful but she had a striking appearance,” Lillian said. “I think she had been a go-go dancer.”
Much like Naomi, this woman sat in the back, left her seat during the service and made her way down the aisle, voices spewing forth, evil voices, voices not her own. Deep, hissing spewed from this woman’s mouth, repeating ‘we’re going to kill her and you can’t stop us.’ “That’s what she was saying as she was coming down the aisles, over and over,” Lillian said.
Terry sat in a pew with her husband as this woman walked by. “I’m an adult at this point,” Terry said. “This person started behaving weirdly. Good and evil fighting. It was like in a movie.”
As this woman walked on shaking legs, the pastor asked the congregation to gather around the woman and pray, pray for her to be rid of her demon. People rose from their seats and surrounded this howling, spitting woman. “We prayed for her,” Lillian said. “These demons came out of her.”
As the howls and rising chant of prayer filled the sanctuary, the pastor challenged the devil himself. “My father was saying, ‘Satan, come out of this person and come into me,’” Terry said.
Julie can still hear those words. “‘Come into me.’ That’s what he said. ‘If you want to pick on somebody, pick on somebody of my size. Come into me,’” Julie said. Although she was young, the memory is crisp. “(Before the exorcism) I remember him saying, ‘have your mind on God, and if you don’t think you can do that, leave the sanctuary,’” Julie said. “They were afraid of (the demon) going into other people. I think back now, not that anything bad happened in my life, but I should have just left.”
Julie escaped unscathed. Her grandfather wasn’t as lucky.
“Within months it’s like his life went downhill,” Julie said. “At the time, we didn’t think of (the exorcism).”
The change in the pastor began slowly. “One incident was while he was preaching, he thought he could walk along the back of a pew,” Julie said. “You know how small that is. He ended up falling and hurting himself.” Then it escalated. Terry and Julie are convinced the demon accepted the pastor’s invitation. “I think to this day it’s what happened to my father,” Terry said. “I believe with my whole heart that when he cast those demons out of that lady, they went into him. He’s not the same man I grew up with.”
Soon after the exorcism, Terry’s father changed from a solid family man and Holy Roller preacher, into someone the family no longer recognized.
“He started in with a woman in the church who had been in my wedding and my sister’s wedding,” Terry said. “He slept with a married woman. I understand preachers are human, but for a loving father to change and be with a lady my age? No, that’s sick.”
Julie grew up with this changed man, and still can’t believe the severe shift in his life. “He lost the pulpit,” Julie said. “He was a very angry person. Just a complete personality change after that. On my twenty-first birthday he was at a bar buying me drinks.”
As the grandchildren grew, and great-grandchildren born, the man left his wife and disappeared from their lives. “He kind of dropped us, but we kind dropped him too,” Julie said. “I was very, very close to my grandparents. Contact is gone; there is none. It is sad. Any of us are going to open up a newspaper and he’ll be dead. That’s where we’ll find out he’s dead.”
But his legacy of exorcisms will stay with the family always.
“I had nightmares,” said Julie, who still sleeps with covers up to her neck. “My husband is amazed. We’ll watch ‘The Exorcist’ and he’s cringing and I’m like, hey, you haven’t seen it in real life. You might see a movie and think it’s not real. It is.”