Real Name: Charles Southern Jr.
Nicknames: No known nicknames
Location: Chicago, Illinois
Date: December 1987
Occupation: College Instructor
Date of Birth: July 25, 1948
Height: 6' 2"
Weight: 180 lbs.
Marital Status: Single
Characteristics: African-American male, full beard
Details: Charles Southern was the assistant chairman of the English department at a Chicago junior college; he vanished in December 1987. His disappearance could be connected to spiritual leader Terri Hoffman and her group, Conscious Development of Body, Mind, and Soul. According to her, it fought against "black lords" that lived on various planes of existence and worked for Satan. She had followers around the country and Charles was one of many that joined her Chicago chapter. His family believes that he joined it as a part of his search for enlightenment and religion.
Charles rose quickly to a position of influence in Terri's organization. He began teaching classes and leading meditation sessions. Eventually, he was invited to her home in Dallas. By then, she claimed that she was being attacked by the black lords. She used her inner circle to create a so-called "psychic shield" around her. Those in the inner circle began to fear that they were actually under attack. As a result, many began to suffer from mental and emotional problems.
One day, Charles was found wandering the streets, holding a newspaper and saying "I lived for art". His sister took him to the hospital, fearing that he was suicidal. During his recovery, his mother, Ingerborg Southern, visited every day. Two of the group's members also did so; surprisingly, they asked her to leave so that they could talk to him alone. After he was released, he returned to his normal activities. He was still involved in the group, although he had an apparent falling out with Terri.
By December 1987, Charles had planned a trip to India that would occur during his Christmas break. He talked to his family several times prior to his scheduled departure date. Ingerborg believed that something was wrong. However, during their last conversation, he said that he was fine and would be leaving in three days. Two weeks passed, but his family was not concerned because they assumed that he was still on his trip.
When Charles' parents entered his home, they found that his passport had no entry stamps for India. In a drawer, they found a powerful medication similar to the lethal South American poison, curare. This is normally used as an anesthetic to paralyze; it can only be injected. They also discovered that his coat had been folded inside out on a ceremonial stool with his hat on top. They later learned that the display was the Nigerian tribal symbol of death. Finally, they found two barely legible notes. One stated, in part: "I came under a bad influence and I was trying to fight it myself". The other was apparently his last will and testament naming Terri as the executor of his estate.
Terri is also believe to have been involved in the death of her two husbands, her only son, six followers, and two people connected to followers. The causes of death were: one murder, four fatal accidents, and six suicides. Those mentioned in the segment were:
- her fourth husband, Don Hoffman, who might have been tricked by her into suicide
- follower Mary Levinson, who died of a suspicious drug overdose
- followers David and Glenda Goodman, who were found shot to death, possibly of a double suicide
- follower Jill Bounds, who was beaten to death by an unknown killer
- follower Sandy Cleaver and her housekeeper, who drove off a cliff in broad daylight for no apparent reason
- Sandy's fourteen-year-old daughter, Deveraux Cleaver, who drowned just months before Sandy's death.
Many believe Charles' connection to the group lead to his disappearance, and that he, like the others, died as a result of Terri. Many of these people named her as their beneficiary in the event of their deaths in insurance polices equaling half a million dollars and hundreds of thousands more in real estate, fine art and jewelry. She has not been charged for any of the deaths, but she is a person of interest.
Suspects: Terri Hoffman is considered at the center of what is nicknamed the "Circle of Death". She may be responsible for the deaths of several people around her, many of whom were her followers. Many of them had left money and property to her before their deaths. Two claimed to have terminal illnesses, although autopsies showed otherwise.
Terri is also believed to have been responsible for Charles' disappearance and presumed death.
Extra Notes: This case first aired on the November 10, 1995 episode.
Terri did not respond to the show's request for an interview.
The other deaths related to her (not mentioned in the segment) include:
- her second husband Glenn Cooley, who died of an overdose in 1977, shortly after their divorce was finalized
- her son Kenneth, who supposedly fell to his death in 1979 while working on a building under construction
- follower Robin Ostett, who committed suicide in 1987, shortly after telling her ex-husband that she had viral hepatitis; tests later showed that she did not have the disease.
Results: Unsolved. In 1994, Terri Hoffman was sentenced to sixteen months in prison for bankruptcy fraud. However, she was never determined to be accountable for any of the deaths. She later remarried and took the name "Terri Lilya Keanely". She died in October 2015.
Sadly, Charles's mother Ingerborg passed away in 2015 at the age of 94.
- Charles Southern Jr. on Unsolved.com
- Charles Southern Jr. on The Charley Project
- Terri Hoffman's Website
- Texas Monthly - The Curse of the Black Lords
- Troubling deaths of spiritual seekers: Allegations of mind control follow Dallas couple's suicide
- Police Seek Link Between Cult Leader, Nine Deaths
- Prosecutor out to prove that beliefs can kill
- Mystery Lingers About Mystic and 10 Deaths
- After nearly four years, mystery remains in case of mystical leader
- Families charge meditation expert caused death of loved ones
- Dallas mystic sentenced to jail for fraud
- D Magazine’s 40 Greatest Stories: Death in a North Dallas Cult
- The Deaths Surrounding Terri Hoffman