Is a cult responsible for a respected English professor’s disappearance?
In a haunting video message to his family, Don Hoffman revealed he had terminal cancer–a diagnosis he said was confirmed by three different doctors. Then, just hours after making the video, Don took his own life. An autopsy, however, found no trace of cancer. On the videotape, Don Hoffman said goodbye to five different family members. But there was no farewell to the heir to Hoffman’s estate–his second wife Terri, founder of a spiritual movement known as Conscious Development of Body, Mind, and Soul.
Terri Hoffman is at the center of what some might call a “circle of death.” The victims include Mary Levinson–drug overdose; David and Glenda Goodman–shot to death, probable double suicide; Jill Bounds–beaten to death; Sandy Cleaver–drove off a cliff in broad daylight; Sandy’s 14-year-old daughter Devereaux–drowned.
Eleven untimely deaths… eleven people with a direct or indirect link to Terri Hoffman. Now some believe a 12 th name should be added to this somber list–Charles Southern, Jr., a respected English professor. Southern mysteriously disappeared and his family now believes it may be no coincidence that he was a disciple of Terri Hoffman.
Peace, harmony, and enlightenment. Hoffman offered all this and more to Charles Southern and the others who joined her group, Conscious Development. Peter Muth was a former member who belonged to Hoffman’s sect for more than a decade:
In Chicago, Charles joined a local branch of Conscious Development. Charles was assistant chairman of the English department at a local junior college. Joining Hoffman’s group was his most recent foray in an ongoing search for spiritual truth, an odyssey that had taken him to India and Africa. Charles rose quickly in Hoffman’s organization. He was soon teaching classes and leading meditation sessions. Eventually, he was invited to Terri Hoffman’s home in Dallas. By then, Terri Hoffman had begun to portray herself as a target of attack by the so-called Black Lords. During special meditation sessions, Hoffman exhorted her trusted inner circle to erect “a psychic shield around her.” Peter Muth says he saw Charles at one of these meetings:
According to his sister, Cheryle, Charles was one of those who apparently collapsed under the pressure:
After his release from the hospital, Charles stayed active in the group, but eventually became disillusioned with Hoffman. As Christmas neared, he made plans for a trip to India. In the days before he was supposed to leave, his mother, Ingerborg Southern, got a feeling that something was very wrong:
That was the last time she spoke to her son. After two weeks and no word from their son, Charles’ father became worried:
Charles’ parents drove the 300 miles from Cincinnati. When they broke into their son’s house, a nagging concern for his well being turned to outright fear. Placed on a ceremonial stool from Africa were Charles’ winter dress hat and his coat, neatly folded inside out. Only later would his family learn that this was a Nigerian tribal symbol of death. Charles’ parents also discovered two barely legible notes–apparently his last will and testament. One said in part, “I came under a bad influence, and I was trying to fight it myself.” Terri Hoffman was mentioned twice and named executor of his estate. Over a 12-year period, two of Hoffman’s four husbands, her only son, six followers, and two people related to or employed by a follower came to an unnatural end. Causes of death: one murder, four fatal accidents, and six suicides.
In over half of these cases, Hoffman was named heir or beneficiary. She was designated to receive over a half a million dollars in cash, plus hundreds of thousands more in real estate, fine art, and jewelry. But authorities have not directly linked her to any of the deaths. Charles Southern is still missing. He is 6’2″ tall, weighs 180 pounds, and may have a full beard.