Rutherford Exposed: The Story of Berta and Bonnie

by Farkel 739 Replies latest watchtower scandals

  • crazyblondeb

    OMG!!!! Where are ya'll getting this stuff? I've been searching for records for my family!!

    I didn't know Rutherford was from here in Missouri. Is he buried here, too?


  • Kenneson


    Chapter 6 of "Visions of Glory: A History and Memory of Jehovah's Witnesses" by Barbara Grizzuti Harrison contains quite a bit of information on Judge Rutherford. The answer to your question can be found there.

    "His lieutenants, squabbling with local authorities who refused permission to bury Rutherford in a crypt at Beth Sarim, did not disclose his death to his followers. The news was released by a local mortician. [The New York Times, Jan. 10, 1942] He was buried three months later, on April 26, in Woodrow Cemetery, next to what was then the Watchtower radio station, WBBR.

    "I worked the summer of 1953, at the Watchtower cannery in Woodrow, and I never knew Rutherford's grave was there. For all his public exposure, the private man remained mysterious, remote, inaccessible. His grave is unvisited."

    It would be great if someone could find that article in the New York Times (Jan. 10, 1942) and post it here.

  • Merry Magdalene
    Merry Magdalene

    Great Van Amburgh run-down, Leo! I wondered about the timing, as to whether or not the Boyds or Paulings could be connected with them in some way. But Ramsey and Rice Counties aren't even adjoining.:-( If there is a family connection, it will take more work to find....

  • Leolaia

    I have been thinking more about Bonnie Boyd's pervasive deception about her age, which involved the falsification of identification documents. Barring the discovery of a birth certificate or other unimpeachable document, we may never know for sure which year she was born. However, the culminative weight of the evidence does point to 7/17/1896 as the true DOB, as opposed to the whole slew of other dates she provided (including 7/17/1904 which was submitted to Social Security). This is because "Bonnie Boyd" in the 1910 census was indicated as 13 years old (i.e. born in 1896-1897), and she appears in the place of "Marjorie Boyd" in the 1900 census who was explicitly designated as born in July 1896.

    My earlier table of Bonnie's age deception was based on the assumption that 7/17/1904 was the correct DOB. The following revision presents the pattern of discrepensies on the basis of 7/17/1896 as the genuine DOB:

    1924 (S. S. Paris) 27277/17/1896

    +0 years

    1925 (S. S. Paris) 28277/17/1896

    -1/+0 years

    1926 (S. S. Columbus) 29297/17/1896

    +0 years

    1927 (S. S. Ile de France) 3139 [? 29]7/17/1898

    -2 years

    1929 (S. S. Rotterdam) 33307/19/1899

    -3 years

    1930 (U.S. Census) 3331[c. 1899-1900]

    -2 years

    1931 (S. S. Breman) 34317/17/1896

    -3, +0 years

    1931 (S. S. P. Hoover) 35317/17/1900-4 years
    1932 (S. S. P. Coolidge) 35307/17/1901

    -5 years

    1933 (S. S. Statendam) 36357/17/1896

    -1/+0 years

    1934 (S. S. Santa Lucia) 37307/17/1903-7 years
    1934 (S. S. Statendam) 38367/17/1898-2 years
    1935 (S. S. Lurline) 3832[c. 1902-1903]-6/7 years
    1936 (S. S. Statendam)40407/17/1896+0 years
    1937 (S. S. Santa Elena) 40357/17/1902-5 years
    1937 (S. S. Normandie) 41337/17/1904-8 years
    1938 (S. S. Mariposa) 41417/17/1896+0 years
    1938 (S. S. Queen Mary) 42347/17/1904-8 years

    On this analysis, Bonnie was actually 26 or 27 years old when she first came to Bethel and she truthfully presented her DOB for the first several years, up to 1926. But starting in 1927, she began to shave a few years off her age, moving her DOB forward from 1896 to 1898 and then to 1899, 1900, 1901, 1902, 1903, and finally 1904 by the late 1930s. This last date made Bonnie a teenager when she first came to Bethel in 1923. When Rutherford died in 1941, Bonnie apparently had moved her DOB as far as 1907, resulting in a total discrepency of -11 years and making herself a sweet sixteen when she first came to Bethel.

    This pattern of age-lowering reminds me of what happened with respect to Rose Ball, the woman that Pastor Russell was accused of having an improper relationship with. We know from her death certificate that Rose was 81 years old in 1950, i.e. born in 1868-1869. According to the 1880 census [1], Rose was 11 years old in 1880, i.e. born in 1868-1869. Barbara Anderson has two additional documents that confirm this DOB: (1) Rose's marriage certificate states that she was 26 years old when she was married in Buffalo, New York on 9/11/1897, i.e. born c. 1869-1870, and (2) her obituary in The New Covenant Advocate notes that her Australian Certificate of Registration gave her DOB as 3/19/1869. Finally, Mrs. Maria Russell states that "she was about 19 or 20 years old when she first came to us" (Russell vs. Russell, Court Record, p. 67 [2]), and since this happened in 1888 (ZWT, 2/15/1900), this again points to a DOB of c. 1869.

    The accusation made by Mrs. Russell was that Charles Russell "put his arms around" Rose "and kissed her ... and he called her his little wife" and "daughter, as a daughter has nearly all the privileges of a wife," and Maria also claimed (hearsay) that her husband told Rose that he is "like a jellyfish. I float around here and there. I touch this one and that one, and if she responds, I take her to me, and if not, I float on to others" (Ibid, p. 19). This supposedly happened in 1894, that is, when Rose was 25 years old. In his self-defense (ZWT, 7/15/1906, p. 220-222), Russell emphasized that the girl "was quite childish in appearance", perhaps because of the clothes she wore, and that he thought she was about 13 years old in 1888 (rather than her true age of 19). The implication was that Russell would not have put the moves on Rose if he thought she was really 13 years old (or even 10 years old, as "another who knew her" claimed):

    Rutherford however did Russell one better by actually stating outright that Rose was a little girl at the time. He wrote in his 1915 booklet Great Battle in the Ecclesiastical Heavens: "But the most conclusive facts disclosed by the record showing her statement to be untrue are these: Miss Ball came to them in 1889, a child of ten, and was taken into the home of Mr. and Mrs. Russell. She was treated as a member of the family. She was an orphan. She kissed both Mr. and Mrs. Russell good night each evening when she retired. They treated her as their own child" (p. 19). We know from the above records that this is completely untrue; Miss Ball was actually 19, a young woman. She also was not an orphan; both were parents were alive until 1911. Rutherford was thus either completely mistaken or had no qualms about lying about Miss Ball's age and parental status.

    This misinformation was then picked up by later writers and stated as fact. Marley Cole in his Watchtower-approved book New World Society (published in 1955) reproduced Rutherford's claims:

    Moreover, the Watchtower's own historical account in the 1975 Yearbook repeated Rutherford's misinformation about Miss Ball:

    *** yb75 pp. 69-70 United States of America (Part One) ***

    The girl in question came to the Russells in 1888 as an orphan about ten years old. They treated her as their own child and she kissed both Mr. and Mrs. Russell good night each evening when retiring. (Court Record, pages 90 and 91) Mrs. Russell testified that the alleged incident occurred in 1894, when this girl could not have been more than fifteen years old. (Court Record, page 15) After that Mrs. Russell lived with her husband for three years and was separated from him for about seven years more before filing suit for separation.

    Notice that this passage cites p. 15 of the Court Record as support for the claim that "the alleged incident occurred in 1894, when this girl could not have been more than fifteen years old," but this is not what the page says at all [3]. Rather, we already have seen from p. 67 that Rose was supposedly "19 or 20 years old" when she came to the Russells in 1888, and would have thus been about 24 years old in 1894.

    I find it quite curious that Rutherford defused the rumor of Russell's infidelity by altering Rose's age by as much as 9 years, making her too young to have been the object of Pastor Russell's affections (giving rise to false accusations in recent times that Russell was a "child molester," an ironic unintended consequence of the misinformation). I have to thus wonder if there is a similar objective behind Bonnie's own deceptions about her age. In this case, Rutherford himself faced rumors of infidelity with Bonnie; one might recall the "hairpin story" from around 1927 or 1928 (according to AlanF's posting from 2001). It was around this time that Bonnie started altering her age. By the 1930s, she made herself a teenager when she first came to Bethel, as young as 16. In the San Diego Union article cited above, she even called herself the "adopted daughter" of Judge Rutherford, practically putting herself in the same role that Rose Ball had with Pastor Russell in Rutherford's erroneous representation of the relationship (i.e. Ball as an orphan "adopted" by the Russells).

    What makes this proposal a little problematic is that Bonnie did not assert in the beginning that she was a teenager in 1923, but gradually adjusted her age year-by-year incrementally. I still don't know why she couldn't just adopt 7/17/1904 as her birthdate at the outset, rather than assume a plethora of DOBs that would only make exposure of the deception more certain.

  • Leolaia

    Does anyone have a copy of the 1913 Souvenir Notes of the ISBA Convention? It is supposed to reproduce the interview J. F. Rutherford gave to the Springfield Homestead newspaper, in which he talked about his wife to some extent.

    Would much appreciate seeing a copy.

  • Earnest

    The article in the New York Times referred to by Kenneson (above) was January 11, 1942, p.46 :


    Head of Jehovah's Witnesses Stricken in 'King David's' Mansion in San Diego


    Anti-War Organization, Based on Bible Prophecies, Said to Number 2,000,000

    SAN DIEGO, Calif., Jan. 10 (U.P.)

    Judge Joseph Franklin Rutherford, founder and leader of an estimated 2,000,000 Jehova's Witnesses, died at his palatial "King David's" mansion here yesterday, Harvey Lewis Jr., a mortician, revealed today.

    News of Judge Rutherford's death did not become known until today, when Mr. Lewis reported that the body was being held at the funeral parlors (sic) awaiting instructions for burial.

    Judge Rutherford was 72 years old and leader of one of the largest sects in the world. He claimed a following of more than 2,000,000 in thirty-six different countries.

    Death occurred in the twenty-room Spanish mansion which Judge Rutherford had built less than ten years ago as a home for King David "when he returns to earth." The Judge has been occupying the house since its completion as a "caretaker".

    The Jehovah's Witnesses which Rutherford founded in 1919 is an anti-war anti-Fascist group based upon the belief that the prophesies (sic) of the Bible control the world. Its members have figured prominently in the news because of their anti-war demonstrations throughout the country.

    Rutherford's title of "judge" supposedly was granted when he held a Circuit Court judgeship in Missouri shortly after being admitted to the Missouri bar. There has been considerable doubt as to the authenticity of the title.

    His first connection with a religious movement came in the early Nineteen Hundreds when he acted as legal adviser to Charles Hayes Russell, head of a group known as the Russellites which corresponded to the present Jehovah's Witnesses. After Russell's death Rutherford became head of the organization and changed its name to the Jehovah's Witnesses.

    Rutherford spent nine months in the Federal penitentiary at Atlanta, Ga., in 1917 for advocating that Americans refuse to take an active part in the World War. A Court of Appeals order freed him.

    He was the author of seventeen books and more than seventy pamphlets describing the work of the Witnesses and contributed regularly to the sect's periodical, The Watchtower.

    He leaves a widow, Mary, and a son, Malcolm C. Rutherford.

  • Leolaia

    Have we ever had any indication of what Bonnie's original middle initial was? I have not seen anything in my records of one, and I wonder if Bonnie's full name was "Bonnie Marjorie Boyd," which would explain why she was "Marjorie Boyd" in the 1900 census and "Bonnie Boyd" in the 1910 census.

  • Kenneson

    I just came across Olin Moyle's Letter to J.F. Rutherford and found this interesting tidbit. I don't know if it was presented somewhere in these many pages and if it has, please forgive the repeat.


    "Here again is shown unequal and discriminatory treatment. One brother left Bethel some time ago for the purpose of getting married, and, so I am informed, was refused the privileges of pioneering in New York, apparently as an official disapproval of his action in leaving Bethel. On the other hand when Bonnie Boyd got married she didn't have to leave Bethel. She was permitted to bring her husband to Bethel in spite of the printed rule providing that both marrying parties should have lived there for five years.

    "Harsh treatment of one and favored treatment of another is discrimination, and should not have a place in the Lord's organization."

  • Leolaia

    Kenneson...Rutherford actually gave a response to this statement:

    "I have made no discrimination with reference to marriage. When Bonnie Boyd got married that was her business. It was my business to determine whether or not she should remain in the home. I either had to let her husband remain here or else dispense with her services. She had been my secretary for fifteen years and the most efficient one that I have had in the office. She had taken dictation for everything I have written, speeches, magazine articles, Watchtower, books and booklets. It was for me to determine whether she should remain in the office and I did determine that she should and that was my affair and my responsibility, and not that of someone else" (Minutes of the Joint Meeting of the Boards of Directors, 8 August 1939, Moyle vs. Franz, et al., p. 1980).

  • Leolaia

    Here is another interesting thing from the Moyle trial. Bonnie Boyd Heath testified that when she first moved to Bethel in 1923, she lived in Room 121 on the first floor. Then a new building was erected at the same address and it was completed in 1927. Then she began to live with her mother on the seventh floor where Rutherford had his office, which occupied most of the floor. "Q. And who was on the seventh floor, besides yourself and your mother, when you first took up residence there? A. Mr. and Mrs. Donald Haslet. Q. How long did they remain there? A. They remained there until, I think, 1935. Q. And then who occupied the quarters up there from 1935 to 1939? A. From then it was Mr. Keller, and then it was turned into a treatment room, that room that Mr. Haslet had. Q. So only you, and your mother and Mr. Rutherford were up there during those four years? A. That is right" (p. 1380-1381).

    So after 1935, it was just Rutherford, Bonnie, and Victoria Boyd living on the seventh floor. Then Victoria left Bethel for good in the fall of 1937, accompanying Rutherford and Bonnie when they went out to San Diego (p. 1366). This followed the European trip in August, which was the first overseas voyage for Berta Peale and William P. Heath, Jr. Then after a stay in California for several months, Bonnie married Mr. Heath in Las Vegas on 1/25/1938. Then they returned to California and the whole gang sans Victoria (with Malcolm and Pauline Rutherford in tow!) went on a tour of the Pacific in March or April 1938. Berta, Malcolm, and Pauline disembarked in Hawaii and remained there, while Joseph Rutherford, Bonnie Heath, William Heath, and Matthew Howlett went on to Australia, where Rutherford gave the public address at a convention. Then Rutherford gave other addresses on the trip back in New Zealand, Samoa, and then in Hawaii (with the ship being delayed). Then Berta, Malcolm, and Pauline accompanied Rutherford on the trip back to California, while Bonnie and William Heath stayed a little longer in Hawaii (possibly because they were giving talks on the neighbor islands of Hawaii). Berta accompanied Rutherford back to Bethel, where she took Victoria's place as housekeeper (p. 1369). And Bonnie returned with her new husband William Heath, to continue on as Rutherford's stenographer. William Heath's new residence at Bethel however raised a few eyebrows, as it was at variance with paragraphs 54-55 of the Bethel Home Rules and Regulations (see p. 344).

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