The Harrisonburg Church of Christ is an unlikely setting for a bedtime horror story, the kind of Southern Gothic tale involving murder and mendacity and money and treachery and, by many accounts, the handiwork of Satan himself.

Nestled in a small town in the scenic Shenandoah Valley, the church situated on seven acres is a homey, one-story red-brick affair with a white steeple. There’s a grassy yard perfect for hosting dinner on the grounds, a fellowship hall and a gravel parking lot. The people of the nondenominational church are few and mostly conservative and elderly.

In the fall of 2008, this modest assembly needed a new minister. Its governing elders — Robert Thomas, a retired lieutenant from the Virginia Department of Corrections, and Gary Rexrode, a retired builder — were delighted to find that a man such as William M. Drumheller III was eager to take the job at $600 a week with free housing in the parsonage.The 66-year-old Virginia native was an ordained minister, held a master’s in divinity degree, had served in the U.S. Navy and had run his own medical supply business. Tall, trim and bespectacled, with closely cropped gray hair and a steady blue-eyed gaze, “Bill” appeared soft of voice but firm of religious conviction, quoting scripture and sprinkling his speech with biblical observations. He laughed readily and shook hands firmly, appearing if not gregarious, then highly personable.

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