Special Reports

Bible group scrutinized in Tiller killing

They met in each other's homes on Saturday, their Sabbath, for a potluck dinner and Bible study sessions.

Among the topics: Scripture, their Hebrew roots and the "secret societies" attempting to control government and culture.

Among the group members: Scott Roeder, the Kansas City man accused of killing Wichita abortion provider George Tiller.

As the investigation continues into whether Roeder acted alone in Tiller's May 31 death, members of the Bible study group have found themselves in the spotlight, showing up on the witness list for the prosecution and being interviewed by the FBI.

Even a rabbi at an Overland Park congregation of Messianic Jews has been questioned, although Roeder's group broke away after some members were asked to leave the synagogue.

"People are trying to make something out of nothing," said Michael Clayman, an attorney who was host for the group for a time in his Merriam home.

"It was like any other Bible study around town. It was a bunch of guys having spaghetti and meatballs, talking about philosophy. It wasn't a bunch of Jim Jones people meeting or drinking Kool-Aid or plotting things. No cult, no nothing."

The group does help explain the foundation of some of Roeder's beliefs, which included distrust of government and opposition to abortion.

Those attending the Bible study describe themselves as Messianic Jews who, unlike mainstream Jews, believe that Jesus was the Messiah. Some people who call themselves Messianic Jews, such as Roeder, are not Jewish.

Messianic Jews differ from most Christian churches by observing many Jewish customs, including dietary laws and holidays.

In a recent interview, Roeder said he "had become a believer" around 1992.

"I converted, born again to Christianity," he said. "I guess you could say Messianic, or turned to Jesus, Yeshua, as my Savior." He said Messianic believers such as himself had gone "back to our Hebrew roots."

Roeder said he preferred going to a Bible study instead of a more formal religious setting because "organized religion is 501(c)3 tax-exempt organizations, which are businesses."

"We stay away from them," he said, adding that religious organizations receiving tax-exempt status become corrupt because they are beholden to the government.

Roeder and other members of the Bible study used to attend the Or HaOlam Messianic Congregation in Overland Park but split off, some said, because the leaders did not want to hear their talk about Freemasons and other "secret societies."

They also didn't approve of Or HaOlam being registered as a nonprofit corporation with the state of Kansas.

Rabbi Shmuel Wolkenfeld of the Or HaOlam congregation confirmed that Roeder and the others left over disagreements. Wolkenfeld said he hadn't seen them for several years.

"We had such divisive conversations with them," he said. "Scott became displeased with us because we were an incorporated Kansas charity."

He said the group also espoused conspiracy theories — including an assertion that Prince Charles is the Antichrist — and that eventually, he and the elders had to "uninvite" two of Roeder's friends.

"With Scott, we had a bunch of discussions, then he just disappeared," he said. "I wish we could have helped him, but he had his own opinions."

Wolkenfeld said the congregation was shocked by Tiller's slaying.

"Our congregation is certainly pro-life," he said. "So for something like that to happen is abhorrent. All it does is bring disgrace on the whole cause."

Wolkenfeld said two Wichita police detectives paid him a visit after Tiller's killing to ask about Roeder.

"What they said was they knew we had a history with him and they were looking for any possible lead," he said.

After leaving Or HaOlam, the group began meeting on Saturday afternoons, first at Clayman's house and most recently at an apartment in Westport that Roeder shared with another man.

The man asked not to be identified because he fears losing his job, saying he already had lost a new roommate who discovered his ties to Roeder.

The man said the Bible study was suspended after Roeder's arrest.

He said he last saw Roeder the day before Tiller was killed. Roeder told him that he was going to visit his family in Topeka and didn't come home that night. The next day, he said, the FBI knocked on his door at 4:15 p.m. and started asking questions.

Agents took his home computer and laptop and also Roeder's computer, he said, along with some Hebrew teaching tapes. He said he's met with FBI agents five times since Tiller's death.

Tim Parks, who was Roeder's roommate for five years before Roeder lived with Clayman, said he attended some of the Bible studies. He said, however, that "I disagreed with a lot of that stuff." Some of the beliefs, he said, were "kind of off the wall."

"To me, it's PFA theology," he said. "Plucked from air."

Parks said he isn't convinced that Roeder killed Tiller.

"A bunch of us think he is being framed," said Parks, who also has been interviewed by the FBI. "To me, the entire judicial system is suspect."

Clayman said he met Roeder about two years ago while attending a different Bible study group. He said Roeder lived with him for 11 months but moved out April 1 because he'd lost his job and wasn't paying his rent.

Clayman said Roeder took the abortion issue to the extreme.

"Scott believed that the Bible was literal, the word of God," he said. "Where he went astray was he had this crazy, fanatic doctrine that you could somehow justify killing somebody just because they were an abortion doctor."

Clayman said Roeder talked often about his belief that killing an abortion provider was an act of justifiable homicide.

"When he brought up that in theory — but he never did threaten anybody when I was around — I said, 'How can you repay evil with evil?' " he said.

Clayman said investigators won't find any conspiracy behind Tiller's killing, especially among the Bible study group.

"A Bible study is studying the Bible," he said. "We'd read from the Bible and say, 'What do you think about that?' Then we'd discuss it. We didn't sit around and have sacrifices in the backyard."

As for Roeder, Clayman said, "He's going to be tried, and he's going to try and do a dog-and-pony show in front of the media. He wants to tell the whole world. He's a martyr, see? That's what he wanted to be."