book reviews

Reposted review of Wolves Among Sheep: The True Story of Murder in a Jehovah’s Witness Community

I originally posted this review on my old blog in February 2016. I am reposting it for the curious. Controlling religions can really mess up a person’s life.

I just finished reading an incredibly sad book.  It’s yet another one about the Jehovah’s Witnesses and a man whose life was dramatically and negatively impacted by having been a member… and married one.  The book, written by Canadian James Kostelniuk, is entitled Wolves Among Sheep: The True Story of Murder in a Jehovah’s Witness Community.  It was published in 2009.

There are a lot of true crime stories where people are members of religious communities and the religion is just an aside.  Jim Kostelniuk’s story is one in which I believe the Jehovah’s Witnesses are somewhat culpable in the horrors of what happened.

The basic story

Back in the 1970s, Jim Kostelniuk met 18 year old Kim at a party held by Jehovah’s Witnesses.  She was several years younger than he was, slender, with a clever way of speaking, and had slate blue eyes.  Kim was looking for a worthy Witness husband.  Jim was looking for a romantic relationship.  In 1972, they got married in a very low key JW ceremony, even though both of their families objected.

Kim was a very devout JW, while Jim was less invested in the faith.  Though they were young and Kim was attractive to Jim, their marriage was never rock solid.  Kim found sex disgusting and would only do it to procreate or because it was considered a “wifely duty”.  She worked very hard to be a good JW, perhaps because her parents had divorced.  The Witnesses, at least in the 70s, only allowed divorce in cases of adultery.  Though her mother later remarried, the divorce had cast a pall over Kim’s home life and she seemed to be very stigmatized about it.

Kim’s and Jim’s marriage lasted six years and produced two children, a boy named Juri and a girl named Lindsay.  By the time they divorced, Jim had lost his faith.  Witnesses typically don’t associate with people who leave the religion, so Kim worked hard to push him out of their children’s lives, even though he was a loving father.  She also accused him of adultery so they could divorce and she could find another worthy Witness to marry.  In 1981, an article in the Witness publication The Watchtower, reiterated that Witnesses were not to associate with people who were disfellowshipped, which Jim was at the time. 

Kim undertook a serious parental alienation agenda and pushed Jim far to the sidelines of their children’s upbringings.  Jim was basically powerless to stop it.  In the 70s and 80s, fathers rarely got custody of their children after a divorce.  The Witnesses would pay for lawyers that would keep Jim out of the kids’ lives.  Jim didn’t have the money or the time to fight his ex wife in court, so he stood by helplessly.  He found a new woman to marry, a non Witness named Marge.  They were allowed to see Lindsay a few times, though Juri completely fell away from his father’s influence and wouldn’t even talk with him on the phone.

In 1980, Kim went on a vacation to Hawaii.  While she was there, she met an American from Texas named Jeff Anderson.  Anderson claimed that he lived and worked in Hawaii.  He was also a Jehovah’s Witness.  He was clean cut and had nice manners.  He appeared to be gainfully employed.  Kim entered into a relationship with this man based on what he’d told her and they got married in Houston, Texas in August 1981. They then began their lives together in Canada.

The marriage was a complete disaster.  Jeff’s claims about his life turned out to be a pack of lies.  He gained a lot of weight because he was addicted to junk food.  He was unemployed and abusive.  It was true that he was a Witness; his mother had been involved with the faith for a couple of months when he was a kid.  Though she eventually fell away from the religion, Jeff became active within it, mainly because of its teachings about marriage and because it gave him a group of people he could exploit. 

Even though the marriage was basically a sham and based on lies, Anderson used Witness teachings to keep Kim from divorcing him.  He would get church elders to “counsel” Kim on the importance of being a good wife and standing by her man.  Because she was such a devout JW, Kim couldn’t consider divorcing a second time.  However, Jeff Anderson became more and more abusive and horrible, and Kim finally considered splitting from him.  On August 29, 1985, Jeff Anderson murdered his wife, Kim, and Juri and Lindsay Kostelniuk, with a shotgun.  Originally, he’d planned to make Kim watch him kill the children first, but decided there was too much of a risk that she’d overpower him. 

Because Canada abolished the death penalty in 1976, Anderson did not have to worry about being executed for his crimes.  He was sentenced to three concurrent “life sentences”, which means 25 years.  Incredibly, after he was incarcerated, Anderson began corresponding with Kostelniuk.  For five years they exchanged letters.  As they traded correspondence, Jim Kostelniuk learned what a truly monstrous yet pathetic man his ex wife had married… and how his children suffered because Anderson was in their lives.  Kostelniuk was left with the guilt of how his kids lived and died after their mother remarried.

My thoughts

If you read this blog, you may know that my husband was married before he married me.  He and his ex wife became Mormons.  Though Bill eventually left the Mormon church, his ex wife stayed in it and the church was used as a tool to separate him from his children.  Although as far as we know, the ex hasn’t been murdered and the children (five by three different men) are all still living, I related a lot to Kostelniuk’s story.  I watched as Bill was pushed out of his kids’ lives with the church used as an excuse.  In fairness to the Mormon church, Bill’s ex wife did the same thing to the father of her eldest child and she did that before they were LDS.  Still, there is no denying that the church played a role in pushing Bill out of his kids’ lives.  It was a very effective parental alienation tool, just as it was for Jim Kostelniuk.

Still, as absolutely horrible as Bill’s story is, Jim’s story is so much worse and more tragic.   This guy wanted to be in his kids’ lives, but they were brainwashed against him.  Every attempt he made to see his kids, particularly his son, Juri, was rebuffed.  He couldn’t fight for them because the Witnesses would get involved and help his ex pay for lawyers that would beat him in court.  All he could do was helplessly watch until a criminal– a liar, who had convinced his ex wife that she had to stay with him– literally destroyed his ex wife’s and children’s lives in a very violent way. 

As bad as the murders were, what was even more bizarre and horrible were the details that came out about Anderson’s life in the letters he sent to Jim.  The man was a loser and a criminal who’d failed at almost everything he tried.  The only reason he was a Witness was because the faith is so patriarchal. When he married a devout Witness woman, especially one who had already been divorced, he knew he had someone who wouldn’t leave him because it would mean she would be ostracized.  Since Kim had grown up being viewed as somewhat “damaged goods” because her parents were divorced and then she herself had gotten divorced, she couldn’t risk another split… even though her second husband was much worse than her first had been.  Kim had tried to keep the kids away from Jeff, but never took the final step of divorcing him or having him arrested.  Even if she had done that, though, the end result may have been the same.

Also… because Kim so reviled sex and Anderson wanted it, he resorted to molesting the children.  Lindsay, in particular, suffered when Kim refused to perform her “wifely duties”.  Though Kim did take some steps to protect her children, they weren’t nearly enough.  And she didn’t give her ex husband, a much better man who was not abusive or perverted, the chance to help protect the kids.

This book is written in a somewhat formal style that, at times, is a little dry.  However, I’m glad I stuck with the story because it did eventually did get very interesting in a horrible way.  If you’re interested in reading about deviants and how badly things can go awry for the unaware, Jeff Anderson is definitely a memorable character.  If anything, it drives home how extremely important it is to really know someone before you marry them, especially if you have kids.  And frankly, it presents an example of how very destructive overly restrictive religions can be, especially for children.  It also gives readers a glimpse at the legal and prison system in Canada, which may have many American readers shaking their heads in disbelief. 

Anyway, if you can stomach it, I think Wolves Among Sheep is well worth reading. 

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