Since it’s Halloween and all.
BROOMFIELD TOWNSHIP, MI — When 24-year-old Rebekah Gay suddenly vanished in the small town of Broomfield Township, Michigan, Pastor John D. White asked his followers at the Christ Community Fellowship church to pray for the young woman’s safe return.
It was Halloween 2012, and police scoured Isabella County, looking for any trace of Gay. Pastor White was engaged to Sally Gay, Rebekah’s mother, and she was one of his followers at the church.
The pastor also sometimes babysat Rebekah’s three-year-old son, Conway, so her vanishing seemed, on the surface, to be very troubling to John D. White. But the reality of the situation was much more disturbing than anyone could imagine.
Pastor White’s congregation had no idea that the person responsible for Rebekah Gay’s disappearance was the man who had been preaching Sunday sermons to them for the past three years, a 55-year-old ex-convict with a dark and violent past — and a dreadfully taboo obsession.
As Halloween and the next day unfolded, the truth about what happened to the missing woman came to light, and Pastor White’s flock and the people of Isabella County learned what a supposed man of God was capable of.
John D. White once told the 14 members at the Christ Community Fellowship church, “We need to check closely the seeds we sprout in ourselves. Nothing can be hidden from God.” Perhaps Pastor White should have taken the advice he preached to his followers. White was a troubled man whose past crimes were ghastly, but as a result of a dysfunctional justice system, he was a free man in 2012.
White served in the Navy and worked as a long-haul trucker in his younger days. His first known violent attack against a woman occurred in 1980 when he was 22-years-old. White lived in Battle Creek, Michigan, at the time and he was married.
One day he invited a 17-year-old neighbor named Theresa Etherton to his basement to check out the stock car racetrack he had set up. Without warning, White attacked the teenage girl, stabbing her 15 times and choking her. Etherton later told police that White said, “You’re going to go now. I’m really sorry you had to go like this. But what the f–k, you’re just a woman.”
But Etherton survived the brutal assault, and White was arrested. He was sent to prison, but he appealed and won — on the grounds that his attorney did not raise an insanity defense. White was released from prison in 1983 after only two years and was given two years of probation and mandatory mental health treatment.
Theresa Etherton had no idea that White was out of prison, and a few years later she recognized his voice while standing in a line and turned around to see White smiling at her. Despite her attempted murder, John D. White was a free man.
In July 1994, 26-year-old Vicky Sue Wall disappeared from Comstock Township, Michigan. John D. White was still married and now had two children and another baby on the way.
White worked a maintenance job at a textile company, where he met Wall and the two had an affair. Surveillance video from a grocery-store parking lot showed Vicky Sue Wall getting into a black pickup truck with a bearded man at 3 A.M. It was the last time anyone ever saw her alive.
White was picked up for police questioning and admitted the affair with Wall, but claimed he dropped her off safely later on. Police didn’t believe White’s claims, but there was no body and no real evidence to charge him.
Six weeks later, Wall’s body was found dumped in a rural area two miles from the grocery store where the two were captured on video. Her body was so badly decomposed that police could not determine a cause of death. She was naked except for a shirt and a bra around her neck.
White refused to talk with police or take a lie detector test. A luminol test of White’s pickup truck showed evidence of blood in several areas, but the evidence was severely limited. Due to this lack of evidence, White agreed to plead no contest to involuntary manslaughter and received an 8-15 year sentence in prison.
A sheriff’s deputy said of the case, “You'd like to see him go away for life, but you know, you get what you can get.” The judge added, “it appears from your previous violent acts against a woman and this unexplained violent action, that you have a dangerous level of self control.”
While behind bars, White admitted to a prison psychologist that he had violent fantasies about wanting to kill and have sex with women’s dead bodies. He served more than 12 years in prison and was released in 2007. Once free, he then migrated north, found religion, and became a pastor at the Christ Community Fellowship church in the town of Mt. Pleasant, Michigan.
A few years later, White was living in a trailer park 11 miles west of Mt. Pleasant and was engaged to Sally Gay. In the weeks leading up to October 31, 2012, he began having bizarre fantasies about sex with dead women.
In the early hours of Halloween, after drinking several beers, White walked to the mobile home of Rebekah Gay — the daughter of his fiancée — in the same trailer park he lived in and entered the dwelling. White attacked Gay, hitting her in the head repeatedly with a rubber mallet until she was unconscious. He then tightened a zip-tie around her neck, strangling her until she was dead. Gay’s three-year-old son, Conway, was in the next room of the trailer. White then dumped Gay’s lifeless body in a ditch behind some pine trees about a mile from her mobile home.
After disposing of the corpse, he returned to Gay’s trailer and looked after her son. He then dressed Conway in his Halloween costume and dropped the oblivious boy off to his father in a grocery store parking lot.
When Rebekah Gay did not show up for work that day, her coworkers reported her missing. Police searched for the young woman, and White made his plea to the members of his church to pray for her.
The pastor was picked up by police and taken in for questioning. Investigators tried to appeal to White and told him that Gay’s body would deteriorate and decompose in the cold, wet weather. A day later, John D. White, the killer and church leader, admitted to police that he had killed Rebekah Gay and he gave them the exact location of her corpse.
White told authorities that the murder had been fueled by pornographic videos that involved necrophilia. He added that he didn’t remember if he had sex with Gay’s dead body, even though he removed all of her clothes.
Armed with his admission, authorities were determined to put John D. White away for the rest of his life. In April 2013, the 55-year-old White was sentenced to 56 years in prison. Only four months later, on August 28, 2013, White was found hanging in his prison cell just after 4 A.M. Prison officials attempted to revive the convicted killer, but it was too late. White was dead at the age of 56 and he left behind a legacy of hatred and violence toward women.
It was White’s son Gabriel who may have summed up his late father’s life the best when he said, “he was completely crazy until the end.”
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