BROOMFIELD TOWNSHIP, Mich. – A central Michigan pastor accused of beating and strangling a neighbor to fulfill a sexual fantasy was engaged to the victim's mother and had asked church members to pray for the young woman before police found her body, a friend said Friday.
Ex-convict John D. White told investigators that after killing 24-year-old Rebekah Gay in her trailer in rural Isabella County early Wednesday, he hid her body in nearby woods then returned to the trailer to dress her 3-year-old son in a Halloween costume, ready for the boy's father to pick him up.
White told investigators he repeatedly struck Gay's head with a mallet then strangled her with a zip tie, according to the Isabella County sheriff's office. He said he stripped her but does not remember if he carried out his fantasy of having sex with Gay's dead body.
"We are all absolutely floored," said Donna Houghton, 76, who had a role in hiring White to be pastor at the 14-member Christ Community Fellowship three years ago. She said she protested his innocence until she heard he had confessed.
"Then he had no leg to stand on," she told The Associated Press.
White led investigators to Gay's body in a wooded area a half-mile away from the trailer park and later Wednesday was charged with first-degree murder. He remained jailed without bond on Friday.
Gay and White lived in the same trailer park in Broomfield Township, 85 miles northwest of Lansing, and White was engaged to Gay's mother who was a regular at his Sunday sermons, Houghton said. She said the pastor often watched Gay's son while she was at work.
White "really liked this young man," Sheriff Leo Mioduszewski said.
Houghton said that before White was arrested he had called her to ask that she contact other church members and start a prayer chain for Gay, who was still missing at the time.
"He was pretty shook up. He said the police were giving him a hard time," Houghton said.
She said the tiny congregation was aware of White's criminal past when he joined the church. He was released from prison in 2007 after serving nearly 12 years for manslaughter in the death of a 26-year-old woman in Kalamazoo County, according to the state Corrections Department.
White also was sentenced to probation for choking and stabbing a 17-year-old Battle Creek girl in 1981.
"He was absolutely contrite," Houghton said. "All kinds of people turn around and meet the Lord and they are a different person. He was doing a lot of good in the community. ... He was doing a lot of good and Satan did not want him doing good, and Satan got to him."