The Three Freds and Change, a story

by jst2laws 11 Replies latest watchtower scandals

  • jst2laws

    An old thread of Metatron's was brought up yesterday discussing an incident at bethel that occurred in August of 1971. The story has become a legend to some including, as legends often do, a little myth. This story illustrated Metatrons point that the WT does not change because it loves truth, but changes when it is forced to.

    A family with a BA (bad attitude)

    The spirit at Bethel had become rather discontent. The aid book had been out for several years and many were wondering why the environment at Bethel was not that of a Christian congregation but strictly an industrial institution, big business. The average stay at Bethel was about one year despite the fact that all made a commitment upon entering to stay at least four years. As Onacruse said in another post, we had recently purged about 40 homosexuals from the Bethel staff, including one of the Gilead instructors.

    To try to improve the Bethel environment Pappy Knorr brought in several married Circuit and District overseers and instructed them to basically do there at Bethel what they had been doing in the field, shepherd the flock. There seemed to be a thing about the name Fred because the three who took their job seriously were Fred Hilmo (District Overseer), Fred Fredean, and Fred Barns (both Circuit Overseers). These three were assigned to the Machine shop, Plumbing shop, and Electric shop, all on the fifth floor of the #2 factory building where I worked..

    To the extent that YOU did it to one of the least of these my brothers, YOU did it to me (Mat 25:40)

    They soon were hearing horror stories and not much later they experienced a few of their own. Department overseers were abusing their authority and dealing ruthlessly with the young naive brothers. Ego and power, saving face and self advancement were common characteristics found in many, but not all overseers.

    An example of abuse was experienced by Fred Fredean himself. He was an excellent machine designer with impressive experience before going into the 'full time work'. But the department overseer, Russel Mock, thought of himself as the only capable designer at Bethel. He was desperate to maintain his image and status. After all, he couldn't let it be thought that he may have got his job just because he was the brother-in-law of Nathan Knorr. So as soon as it became obvious that Fred Fredean was a Thomas Edison and Russel Mock was a Rube Goldberg Fred had to go. He was taken off the fifth floor and moved to a paper storage floor so he would have little contact with the guys. He was given a sheet of plywood set up on two paper rolls as his office. Fred soon learned this was the pattern as the same thing had happened to Don Datersman before him and John Kursen, the inventor of the vertical phonograph. Meanwhile the machine shop continued to churn out non-functional robot feces using the voluntary donations of the brothers. The situation was so bad and so widely known in the factory that when Duwane Wilkie, overseer of the Magazine department, wanted to automate material handling in his department he hid the project from Mock. Fred and I did it on the sly with Wilkie's approval.

    Taking it to the loving head of Jehovah’s organization

    As history began to paint a clear picture of abuse of power Fred Fredean was talking with Barns and Hilmo who were likewise uncovering a mass of injustices going on in the factory. Soon they were accumulating stories out of the 'home' (the Bethel home was run by a separate administration under George Couch). So one morning in August the "three Freds" approach Pappy after breakfast and told him they had some problems they had uncovered that they wanted to go over with him. It was their impression this was exactly what Knorr wanted them to do, what they had been called into Bethel to do. They, and the rest of us involved were in for a surprise. What non of us were aware of was the turmoil the Watchtower administration was going through at the time. Knorr took offense and immediately went ballistic.

    The 'three Freds' were given one week to get their witnesses together and meet in the Bethel Kingdom Hall in the bottom of the 107 building. They went to work. It was scary times as we felt like a line had been drawn and we were on the wrong side, waiting for lightning bolts and the earth to open up. The Freds pushed ahead confidently as Knorr's reaction had validated their findings and exposed the source of the spirit of abuse that existed.

    That black day came and we met at the KH. All Bethel heavies were there, every Bethel department overseer and over one hundred witnesses waiting to testify. The Freds stayed calm and presented their findings in a business like manner despite the negative atmosphere Knorr had created. Witnesses were presented one by one, many being called down from the empty Gilead classrooms upstairs where they waited, frequenting the rest rooms to puke their guts out, sick with anxiety. The summary at the end was made mainly by Knorr and Freddie Franz. Knorr basically called it a shame and compared the Freds to Korah, Dathan and Abiram. Freddie was a little more cautious and suggested we give it some thought before reacting.

    Why the overreaction

    At that time the GB was trying to convince Knorr and Freddie that the new understanding of the 'elder arrangement' revealed in the Aid to Bible Understanding should likewise apply to the administration of the Watchtower Society. When Dan Kalistead, while engaged in a relaxed conversation in the 124 steam bath, asked Freddie Franz if this new understanding would effect change at the top Freddie's response was "all the power of this organization is invested in the president". It turned out that he and Pappy were desperately trying to keep it that way. We and the three Freds had no idea what doo doo we were stirring by presenting the 'abuse of authority' issue at that point in Watchtower history.

    The immediate outcome was that the three Fred's were treated like lepers. No official action was taken against them or any of the witnesses that I'm aware of. Later a few department overseers got shuffled but no official action was taken against them for the abuses, that I'm aware of. Over all, however, this event helped change the Watchtower forever. Ray Franz, who was also at this meeting, recently told me that this event laid the foundation for the eventual take-over of the presidency by the Governing Body. That certainly was not the intention of those involved, but Knorr's own reaction probably sealed the significance of this event in1971.

    My reaction

    The day after the meeting I turned in my fourteen day notice for leaving Bethel. Nearly five years there was enough in view of the turmoil that had just occurred. I returned to Bethel about three years later with my wife thinking Bethel had changed, which it had, and was yet going to change in the next 8 years. Yes change does occur at Bethel but with great pain and not always for the good. I left Bethel permanently in 1976. In just four more years the GB was going to become worse than the Presidency. There determination to keep things from changing any further lead to the witch hunt of the 1980’s and the eventual disfellowshipping of good men like Ed Dunlap and Ray Franz. Even Franz feels this atrocity would not have occurred if president Knorr had still been alive and in control.

    I do not tell this story to make Bethel or the WT society look bad. From my experience most of the men and women there are genuine in good motivation. They believe it is the "truth" as I did. They support it despite it's flaws believing there is no where else to go, as I believed. It is the self perpetuating system that is responsible for misleading its supporters. Its is a "movement" going through its phases as all movements will (See Eric Hoffer, "True Believer") If I understand Hoffer correctly it will eventually mellow and become a more mainstream religion or it will gradually loose it’s relevancy until it completely disappears. If it were not for the personal harm so many of us have endured from our Watchtower experience we would easily dismiss this organization as a meaningless flash in the pan. It’s just another movement, making changes as it needs to stay alive like a blind man running through a forest. But, OH, how we once thought it was Divine.

    If anyone else was there and would like to add to this it would be fun to reminisce.


  • zev

    i enjoyed reading that and the experience you shared with us jst2laws.

    i once wanted and dreamed of going to bethel. if i had it would have been right in the 1980 time frame and i would possibly have seen so much of the goings on.

    something held me back, kept me from pushing forwards. (or is it backwards? )

    all the better for me in the end though

    i'm SO GLAD to be out of that whole mess.

  • bikerchic

    jst2laws Incredible!

    A family with a BA (bad attitude)

    can you say DISFUNCTIONAL?

    I had just finished reading Metatron's reserected thread so this was quite a tie in and good reading putting it all into perspective for me.

    I remember my younger brother's words about why he decided NOT to go to Bethel. He toured the factory in the late 60's and up to that time had wanted to be a Bethelite. He said it was such an eye opener for him, when he got back his words were, "That's no place for me, heck I don't think it's for anyone, hell no I won't go!" To this day he says he feels that was one of his best decisions!


    PS I hope your hangover headache is taking the place of your backache, he,hee enjoyed talking to you lastnight.

  • COMF

    That was a great telling of your eye-witness experience, Jst2. Thanks!

  • Joyzabel

    Zev, and Bikerchic

    i once wanted and dreamed of going to bethel Zev
    I remember my younger brother's words about why he decided NOT to go to Bethel Biker

    I do not regret my going to Bethel, although going twice has questionable merit. If I was in the stinking institution at all it I might as well get familiar with the crazyness of the headquarters. I even have memories of some good times. But institutional life definately is not for everyone. I could not stand it anymore. And since the early 80's the life regulation there is even worse than before.

    Not to mention that I would now find it imposible to support an organization I have come to know is corrupted in its leadership and flawed in its teachings.


    I just got back on and saw this post by Joy and thought, hey, how did she happen to come up with a comment Identical to mine. DUH! I changed computers and forgot to check who was logged on.

  • hillary_step

    Hello Just2Laws,

    Many thanks for this insight into Bethel life in the 70's. I have sadly met so many over the years who would like to escape from this environment, but have become so institutionalized that their fear of the outside world overreaches their desire for freedom. My own experiences of Bethel life were very enjoyable for easily understood reasons. They were brief, I was allowed to live outside as I was on ‘special assignment’, I was in a foreign land and I thoroughly enjoyed my work.

    I remember a JW I met at Mill Hill in the 1970’s who was close to forty years of age and had been in Bethel since he was nineteen. He desperately wanted to leave Bethel but feared for his future as his skills both where employment and life were concerned were limited. I used to drag him to the Jazz clubs in Soho and Barnes, his eyes would light up like a dog who knows his time for exercise has approached as soon as he greeted me in reception.

    I met him again in the mid nineties, gray and old before his years still trudging the polished corridors. He used to say that he has died a few years beforehand but that nobody had noticed. Everybody thought that this was a joke except for him.

    I have also met others, ambitious, mean-spirited, spittle-lipped, ruthless little men ( and women ) in whom the milk of human kindness had long since soured. These people would do virtually anything to protect and preserve their assignments.

    I once bought at auction in France the diaries of a Nun who was sequestered in one of the Alpine Convents in the 1830’s. It was a dismal and miserable record of an obviously sensitive women who found herself trapped within a religious edifice, with virtually identical emotional experiences to many whose Bethel lives I learned about. I remember when translating the diaries, that she mentioned that during one period in her life how the only thing that held her sanity was the trip to the market in her local town each Saturday where she basked in the noise of children laughing.

    Religion has bought much that is good to mankind, but for all that it has given, it has taken.

    Best regards - HS

  • onacruse

    jst2, I must have my chronology messed up (LOL, I was a JW, so what's new? LOL).

    I went to Bethel in March, and it was like 2 (?) months later that the "purge" occurred. You say that was in '71? That makes more sense...I would have been 19. The past becomes grey.

    HS: Eloquent and touching, as usual. The kindness of your soul is like a beautiful tapestry.

    Religion has bought much that is good to mankind, but for all that it has given, it has taken.

    So true, so very true.


  • Blueblades

    Hi JST2LAWS ! Great story ! Did you know Dan Kalistead personally ?Please E-MAIL me if you did.I have something I want to discuss with you about him,ok.


  • jst2laws


    I'm not sure what year the purge took place. It was probably 69 or 70. It was just one of those disasters that offered evidence that there were problems in Bethel.

    What year do you think yuo came in?


    The diary of the nun is too sad. It shows again that while the WT is our experience, it is not the only religion to twist peoples lives.

    I knew so many in Bethel of the type you describe. The 40 something yet still single type were the most pitiful. I was determined I would not let that happen to me. So I went out and married a teenager.

    I always enjoy your observations.


  • jst2laws


    I do not know how to look up email addis here so contact me at

    Anyone else know any of the people mentioned in the above thread?


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