WASHBURN, Mo. – The minister of a rural Ozarks church, his wife and her two brothers have been accused of molesting young girls from their congregation for years, sometimes as part of a religious ritual, officials said.
The county prosecutor says the Rev. Raymond Lambert, 51, of Grand Valley Independent Baptist Church, repeatedly had sex with two underage girls with the help of his 49-year-old wife, Patty, according to court records.
For 10 years, the pastor told the girls, "We are preparing your body for service to God," the prosecutor said.
Patty Lambert's brothers — Paul Epling, 53, and Tom Epling, 51 — each are accused of repeatedly having sex with girls as young as age 4 in the late 1970s and early 1980s.
All four defendants face molestation and sodomy charges. Their attorney said they denied the allegations.
All four turned themselves in on Monday and were released on bond. A preliminary hearing was scheduled for Oct. 2 to determine whether formal charges will be filed.
Lambert's church is on property owned by the Epling brothers and houses up to 100 people on a 100-acre farm in western McDonald County, Sheriff's Deputy Michael F. Le Seuer said.
"They refer to it as a compound," Le Seuer told The Associated Press.
The compound is behind a high gate marked "Grand Valley Farm" on a gravel road about 13 miles west of the small town of Washburn. The gate was barred with "No Trespassing" signs on Wednesday, and attorney Robert W. Evenson said the four would not speak to reporters.
"This is a matter of facts for the court, not of public opinion," Evenson said.