Arizona played a part in one of the great hoaxes of the 1920s when Aimee Semple McPherson, a popular Hollywood show business evangelist, was allegedly kidnapped by a band of kidnappers.
Aimee was born the daughter of a zealous tambourine-thumping soldier in the Salvation Army. Early on she became steeped in rigid, fundamentalist Protestantism. She grew up endowed with unique evangelistic talents and a silver tongue.
By 1913 Aimee was holding tent revivals and drawing standing room only crowds. Three years later she and her mother traveled the Southern states in her 1912 Packard touring car with the words, “Jesus is Coming Soon-Get Ready,” painted on the side.
The money was rolling in and Aimee moved to Los Angeles where she built a church she named the Angelus Temple. It could hold over 5,000 people and was filled to capacity three times a day, seven days a week. She had no problem using the media or the glitz and glamour of Hollywood and she didn’t hesitate to “use the devil’s tools to tear down the devil’s house.”
She was a pioneer in the art of using the media, especially radio to preach her religion. By the mid-20’s she headed multi- million-dollar religious empire and had become one of the most charismatic and influential people in America.
“I can’t stand the jingle of coins,” Sister Aimee told her adoring admirers, mostly male, adding “make it a silent offering. I can’t hear paper money.”
It might have been one of those rare times in history where husbands dragged their wives to church rather than the other way around.
Then, on May 18, 1926, she mysteriously disappeared off the coast of Santa Monica. A good swimmer, according to her private secretary, Emma Schaeffer, she just walked into the ocean and vanished. Her disciples went into a frenzy
Hundreds searched in vain for days and found no trace. Meanwhile, her congregation prayed. Some claimed they saw visions of her rising from the ocean and descending into heaven. A plane flew over Santa Monica Bay and dropped a huge load of red and white roses.
Then thirty-seven days later she reappeared in the Mexican border town of Douglas, Arizona. She’d been “resurrected from the dead” said the headline of Tucson’s Arizona Daily Star. Supposedly, she was kidnapped from the beach by bandits and taken to Mexico and held for a half-million dollars ransom. She told how she’d been chloroformed and gagged but managed to make a harrowing escape followed by “20 miles of delirious wandering in the Mexican desert.”
News photos created dramatic reenactments of her daring escape from her captors.
Others however noticed the buxom lady appeared to be in excellent shape after her long ordeal. Her clothes and shoes showed no signs of wear and tear.
Soon the sympathetic press reversed itself and decided it was really a romantic tryst and she was actually sharing a cottage with a married man, Ken Ormiston up in Carmel, California. The story remains shrouded in mystery. What was she doing between her disappearance in Santa Monica and her resurrection 3 weeks later in Douglas? Doesn’t sound like much of a mystery to me.