In September 2004, Farkel posted an article on this forum called "Rutherford Exposed: The Story of Berta and Bonnie." His essay, which subsequently was translated into several languages and which received over 10,000 views after the first month, spawned a thread that ran 28 pages and contained the collaborative research efforts of many in JWD. This thread was thought by some moderators to be the best in the forum -- not necessarily because of the claims in the original essay but because it inspired a staggering amount of research aimed at assessing the credibility of the claims made in the essay, as well as adding to our knowledge of this fascinating yet obscure chapter of Watchtower history.
And then, it was all gone. Through some software quirk, the thread became corrupted and would no longer load. But a number of participants in the thread had the foresight to download the thread and save copies of it -- though in varying degrees of completeness. Fortunately, it was enough to recover virtually all the content from the original thread. Last fall, I spent a week reconstructing the thread by creating tables in Microsoft Word that simulated the formatting of JWD, and by cutting and pasting content into the appropriate cells. After this painstaking work, I produced a PDF that has both the look and feel of the original thread. This PDF (13.7 MB in size) can be downloaded here:
I have also included an appendix containing similar material from earlier threads in JWD. Please use the bookmarks panel in your PDF program to easily navigate from page to page in the thread.
So what did the original essay claim? In short, here are several of its main revelations:
- A JWD poster named larc (Carl Thornton) is the nephew of a woman named Berta Peale who was a close associate of JF Rutherford from 1937 to his death in 1942. (Verified by public records that show that the Berta who was an associate of Rutherford was indeed larc's aunt)
- Berta told larc's relatives regarding Rutherford: "He was like a husband to me in every way". (Unverified, but larc's wife also testifies to this)
- Rutherford was married and had a son, but he was separated from his wife. (Verified by public records, which show that Rutherford and his wife lived separately from the mid-1920s onward)
- larc reveals that Berta herself abandoned her husband of 15 years to go to Bethel in 1938. Her husband Alfred Peale, a resident of Ohio, filed for divorce on the grounds of abandonment, which was granted in 1940 (Berta's marriage to Alfred is verified with public records, larc had a copy of the paperwork from Alfred's filing)
- Berta was a friend of Rutherford's personal secretary Bonnie Boyd who travelled with Bonnie and Rutherford to Europe the summer before 1938. (Verified with actual ship records) Unlike nearly everyone else who came to Bethel, Berta started at the top.
- Berta lived thereafter with Rutherford as his personal dietician, despite not having any training in nutrition. Rutherford already had a qualified dietician at Bethel, yet Berta assumed this job quickly after arriving to Bethel in 1938 (Verified with data from the Moyle trial transcript and public records)
- A few months before Berta came to Bethel, Bonnie Boyd married William Heath, a Coca-Cola heir from Atlanta, GA. This was very controversial at Bethel at the time, as it broke rules on marriage with non-Bethelites (Verified with public records and the Moyle trial transcript)
- Prior to Berta's arrival to Bethel, Bonnie had been one of Rutherford's closest associates, working for many years as his private secretary. Bonnie publically claimed to have been Rutherford's adopted daughter, even though she was not. (Verified with public records)
- Farkel points out the following similarities between Berta and Bonnie: (1) Both women were among to "closest" people to Rutherford while he was president, (2) Both women were constant traveling and living companions, (3) Both women broke the organization's rules on marriage but were in Rutherford's good graces, and among other things, (4) Both were quickly propelled to the top of the organization.
- Finally, there are a few other unverified stories that add to the suspicion of Rutherford's infidelity. Farkel reported an account, previously posted by AlanF, that once when Rutherford was staying at a hotel, the person who straightened up his room found a lady's hairpin in his bed. According to AlanF, this occurred in 1928 and the incident led to the stumbling of a number of Bible Students in the Buffalo, New York, area. Both claim that M. James Penton has been doing research on this incident. Moreover another poster, cyberguy, was friends with an elder from Long Beach, CA who knew Berta. He related that Berta had a bedroom adjoining Rutherford's in the train car they used in their travels, with a directly connecting door between the two rooms. He learned this when Berta met with the elders before she died and gave them a full confession, showing them home movies of the two of them together.
None of this proves beyond doubt that Rutherford had "improper" relationships with other women, but when taken together the evidence is especially suggestive. Various posters in the previous thread held different opinions on the matter, but larc effectively presents the case along these lines:
"I do like your questions they add a lot to our party, but let us analyze the situation. 1. Berta starts her career at the top of the organization, not at the bottom, like all other sisters. 2. She is hired as Rutherford's dietician, even though he already has one. The guy doesn't go to Europe and Beth Sarim, Berta does. Berta had no training whatsoever for this job. According to my cousin, Berta was the dumbest of the 6 children in her family, albeit, she was a classical beauty. 3. She wears scandalous underwear which would get a sister disfellowshipped today. 4. She lives at Beth Sarim until it was sold. Obviously, she was in good standing. 5. She left her husband in Ohio to move to Bethel. He had to file for divorce, and all the paper work was sent to Bethel. One thing I forgot to mention, my wife remembers Berta saying, Rutherford was like a husband to me, now now what does that mean? I used to be embarrassed about this, but I really don't care any more. Can I absolutely prove this. No, I have no photographs of them in bed, but I do think the circumstantial evidence is overwhelming."
Jim Penton also presented much of this evidence in his recent book Jehovah's Witnesses and the Third Reich: Sectarian Politics Under Persecution (the foreword of which was written by larc). On pp. 102-103, Penton wrote:
"There is also strong circumstantial evidence that he [Rutherford] was somewhat of a womanizer and may have had a mistress in the last years of his life. Regarding Rutherford's possible womanizing, Peter Moyle has written: 'It has also been known, albeit 'carefully covered,' that Rutherford liked his women and his whiskey.' In support of this allegation, family members of Rutherford's female dietician and nurse are convinced she was his mistress. The woman in question, a Mrs Berta Peale, was a close friend of Bonnie Boyd, Rutherford's stenographer. She accompanied Boyd to a Watch Tower convention in Europe at some point in the mid or late 1930s. At that convention she evidently met Rutherford. Thereafter, in June 1938, she abandond her non-Jehovah's Witness husband of fifteen years and moved to the Brooklyn Bethel where at least outwardly she became Rutherford's dietician and nurse. In November 1939 her husband, Albert Peale, filed for a divorce from her. It was granted in March 1940. Naturally, these facts raise serious questions. Why did Rutherford accept her at Bethel when she had openly deserted her husband? Such behaviour was in clear violation of biblical teachings as understood by Jehovah's Witnesses. Why did the judge make her his nurse and dietician when he already had a male nurse and when she had no formal training as either a dietician or a nurse? And why, finally, did he take Mrs Peale, an attractice southern belle, with him wherever he went? That was something he did not do with his male nurse, Matthew Howlett.
"Another strong indication that Rutherford may have been sexually adventurous is that his wife obviously felt quite bitter toward him. She had not lived with him for many years. His excuse was that she was an invalid and could not give him his 'marital dues'; however, there was more to the matter than that. He seldom if ever bothered to visit her. So when he was dying of cancer, both she and their son Malcolm practically ignored him even though both were living nearby in southern California.
"Despite Peter Moyle's assertion, the facts surrounding Rutherford's highly questionable relationship with Mrs Peale, his alienation from his wife and son, and various rumours that circulated among disillusioned Bible Student-Witnesses that raise questions about his conduct, there is no direct proof that he was sexually immoral. Still, with so much evidence to suggest he was, it is difficult to believe he was not."
However, Farkel's thread gave us all an opportunity to check out the claims and dig up new evidence. The field of inquiry widened beyond simply the question of Rutherford's likely infidelity, but towards understanding who these people were in this era of Watchtower history....what do we know about the families and lives of Bonnie Boyd, Berta Peale, the Balkos (the caretakers of Rutherford's mansion, Beth Sarim), Malcolm and Mary Rutherford, William P. Heath, etc. In the course of this research, we uncovered a number of new revelations. Among other things:
- The caretakers of Beth Sarim, August and Blanch Balko, had two children born around the time Beth Sarim was built: Princess Bonnie Balko and Prince Joseph Balko. It is striking that they named their two children after the two other major residents of Beth Sarim: Bonnie Boyd and Joseph Rutherford. But here is the weird thing: Bonnie Balko was born and named "Bonnie" in 1929, before the Balkos moved out to California to live with Rutherford and Boyd. So what connection did the Balkos have with Bonnie Boyd and Rutherford BEFORE they took their jobs at Beth Sarim? There may have been a link with Bonnie's mother Victoria, who lived part of her life in Texas -- the same state the Balkos came from.
- William Pratt Heath, himself wealthy from his family's interests in Coca Cola, had a sister Susette (also a converted JW) who married Eugene R. Black. Black was the president of the World Bank from 1949 to 1962. Prior to this he was a very successful New York investment banker. Such a close family connection with Bonnie Boyd is striking in light of Rutherford's constant vitriol against "Big Business" and international bankers.
- We also discovered that William P. Heath himself had been married to another woman, Dorothy Smith Heath, whom he divorced just one week before he got a "quickie" wedding with Bonnie Boyd in Las Vegas. Divorce was still quite scandalous in the 1930s, yet we see that two divorces occurred around the same time with two of Rutherford's closest associates, William divorcing his wife to marry Bonnie and Alfred divorcing his wife Berta because she abandoned him to become Rutherford's dietician. Because of the timing of the divorce, William would have courted Bonnie while he was still married.
- A big unexpected surprise was the finding that Malcolm Rutherford and his wife Pauline accompanied his father Joseph Rutherford, Bonnie Boyd, William Heath, and Berta Peale on the S. S. Mariposa, headed to Honolulu, HI. This calls into doubt the assumption that Rutherford had no contact whatsoever with his son. It is unknown however what happened between them and on what terms they left things when they parted.
- The most significant discovery is that Bonnie Boyd's age varied widely (and maddingly) in the different records she was mentioned, especially immigration-customs records. This suggests that she falsified her age in government documents such as her passport. There was also a pattern in her age discrepency. In 1924, a year after she came to Bethel, she claimed she was 27 years old and born on 7/17/1896. This birthdate gradually drifted upward through the years, to 7/17/1898, then to 7/17/1899, then 7/17/1900, 7/17/1901, 7/17/1902, 7/17/1903, until finally she claimed an age of 34 and a birthdate of 7/17/1904 in 1938. This made her 19 years old when she came to Bethel in 1923. Finally, in the interview with a San Diego newspaper in 1942, she claimed that she was 16 years old when she first became a companion of Rutherford, as his "adopted daughter". This duplicity has made it almost impossible to determine when Bonnie was actually born, although I suspect that 7/17/1896 is probably the original birthdate, not the later more recent ones. What makes this intriguing is that a similar pattern of age misrepresentation surrounded Rose Ball, with whom Charles T. Russell was accused (by his wife Maria Russell) of having an improper relationship. In defending Russell from criticism in the press, Rutherford argued that Russell could not have acted untoward with her because Rose was only a little girl when she came to the household and, being an orphan, was treated like an adopted daughter. This claim turns out to have been false, as Rose was neither an orphan or a juvenile at that time (as public records demonstrate). Since Rutherford used this age deception as a means of defending the president of the WTB&TS from rumors of sexual immorality, the question is raised if the situation was similar with Bonnie Boyd's claims about her age and relationship with Rutherford.
I have started this new thread to continue the discussion and research. There are still many avenues worth pursuing in discovering new details about these persons from the Watchtower Society's past. I also hope the talents of some of the newer members of JWD may be applied to this subject.
Finally, it must be mentioned that sadly larc passed away a few years ago. He was a friend of many here and is greatly missed, and this thread is dedicated to him.
In my next post, I will repost Farkel's original "Rutherford Exposed" essay.