Child brides of sex cult speak out
PEBBLES Rodriguez and Amy Eddy were just 12 and 14 respectively when they were forced to marry Tony Alamo, the deranged leader of an apocalyptic Christian cult four decades their senior.
Now, a year after his death while serving a 175-year prison term for child sex abuse offences involving girls as young as nine, Ms Rodriguez and Ms Eddy have broken their silence about growing up in the bizarre sect.
"I don't know exactly why Tony chose me to be a bride," Ms Rodriguez, now 32, says in a new documentary to be aired in June.
"I can surmise many things, I was extremely, extremely young looking. I think he liked the fact that I looked like a child."
Ms Rodriguez was forced to wed the polygamous Alamo, then 62, in 1998 at the age of 12 after he picked her out from his followers during a stint in jail, telling devotees to prepare her for his release.
Little did the youngster know, her best friend Amy was already married to Alamo but had been forced to keep it a secret.
"My friend Amy said: 'I'm a wife too. I couldn't tell you this whole time because you weren't one but now that you are going to be one, I can tell you'," Ms Rodriguez recalled.
"I was just kind of in shock. All this was just too overwhelming to even try to process."
Like Ms Rodriguez, Ms Eddy had grown up in the Tony Alamo Christian Ministries thanks to their mothers, who joined the bizarre sect before their daughters were born and were convinced that Alamo was a prophet of god.
"I think I was around 11 or 12 when my mum had told me the only person you're ever going to marry is Tony Alamo," Ms Eddy, now 34, says in the documentary.
The program features a chilling audio recording of Alamo outlining the fate of young girls in his cult and justifying his oft-repeated mantra: "Puberty is consent".
"When a woman reaches puberty, she, according to god, is able to be married," Alamo says.
"They should be able to be married at 13, 14 and 15 years old. And in some cases, if they've menstruated already, 12 years old."
Alamo formed the cult way back in 1969 with his wife Susan when he was a flamboyant preacher on the streets of Hollywood.
They named the group the Alamo Christian Foundation before forming the Tony Alamo Christian Ministries, attracting hundreds of followers with its offbeat conspiracy theories.
In fiery sermons, Alamo preached that the Pope was the anti-Christ and that the Vatican controlled all churches and governments.
But he had another more sinister agenda, grooming the daughters of cult members for his own sexual gratification.
Ms Rodriguez and Ms Eddy both suffer from post traumatic stress disorder and say seemingly normal activities can trigger panic attacks and flashbacks of the abuse they and others experienced at the hands of Alamo.
"Every day is a milestone," Ms Eddy says. "Some days are easier than others."
Ms Rodriguez says she still wakes up in a sweat in the middle of the night.
"I don't think it will ever be easy," she says in the documentary. "There are things that are out of my control, like recurring nightmares. There is nothing I can do to make it go away, but I try my hardest."
In a bizarre twist, Alamo had a highly successful side line as a designer, manufacturing a line of rhinestone-studded custom jackets. By the 1980s, the jackets were a fashion staple in pop culture, favoured by some of world's biggest celebrities, including James Brown, Prince, Madonna, Michael Jackson and even Mike Tyson.
The iconic black studded leather jacket worn by the King of Pop on the cover of his 1987 album Bad was an Alamo original.
What nobody knew at the time was that those jackets were manufactured using underpaid child labour at Alamo's rural compound in the southeastern US state of Arkansas.
Prosecutors would later allege that he forced the children in his congregation to work on the custom jackets in makeshift on-site factories.
Cult awareness site Tony Alamo News, which chronicled the preacher's life, said Alamo "realised that their small hands and fingers were perfect for handling the delicate rhinestones". "They were to report to the warehouse directly after school and worked until as late as 10pm in the evenings," the website says. "They were never compensated for their efforts."
Incredibly, Alamo was a fugitive at the time, hiding out at the compound to evade arrest on felony child-abuse charges relating to the beating of an 11-year-old boy struck with a metre-long paddle more than 140 times.
Despite the terrible nature of the accusations, Alamo's jackets remained as popular as ever.
Authorities finally caught up with him in 2008, when he was charged with taking girls as young as nine years old across state lines to have sex.
He was convicted of multiple child sex offences and sentenced to 175 years in jail. Alamo died in May last year at a federal hospital prison in North Carolina at the age of 82.
People Magazine Investigates: Cults premieres on June 4 on Investigation Discovery.