Unsolved Mysteries Wiki
Unsolved Mysteries Wiki

Tony and Susan Alamo

Real Name: Bernie Lazar Hoffman
Aliases: Tony Alamo
Wanted For: Child Abuse, Harrassment, Tax Evasion
Missing Since: February 16, 1991


Details: In 1969, Tony Alamo and his wife Susan started a church and made a compound in California. Six years later, they moved their headquarters to a remote section of Arkansas. Their compounds were often composed of the down-and-out. The compounds were known for having strong emphasis on cohesion where members prayed, ate and slept together, often in bunkhouses where as many as twenty people lived (without plumbing). The Alamo compound was not as controlling as the Moonies, in which many followers did get jobs as day workers and returned at dusk. However, they usually turned their money over to the Alamos. Some resentment among the followers grew as they lived a spartan existence, while the Alamos had a lavish lifestyle. However, this was mollified with the promise of similar rewards to the faithful.
In 1980, Susan was diagnosed with cancer; she died two years later. Tony buried her in an elaborate heart-shaped mausoleum. His personality also became more erratic, being prone to increased anger outbursts on the followers and being a martinet to any children of the followers, prescribing corporal punishment for kids who misbehaved. One child suffered from epilepsy, but Tony claimed that she was "possessed by the devil" and needed it to beaten out of her. Followers also stood vigil with 24-hour a day prayers by the mausoleum, with Tony claiming his deceased bride will be resurrected as a proof of a miracle.
Despite this dictatorial behavior, outside the compound Tony had gained the reputation of a country singer and a businessman, who emphasized the importance of men's fashion. He had even gained notice of Hollywood stars and sports figures such as Mr. T, Michael Jackson and Hulk Hogan. Aside from the compound, Tony became famous for jean jackets which were beautifully painted with themes such as animals or American geographic areas, and encrusted with crystals. Some of these jackets sold for four figures. His net worth rose to over $60 million.
As a result of his success, Tony began spending less time at the compound. However, he still maintained control over his followers by calling them and having others inflict punishment on those who "misbehaved". When he did visit the compound, he was not there as a leader, but as a "task master". He produced his jackets by getting his followers to paint and affix the crystals, and it was not uncommon for people to work 10-14 hour days. The compound had essentially become a sweatshop.
One former follower complained to police and the Department of Labor in 1985 that compensation had not been forthcoming, and charges were prepared against Tony for tax evasion and having ipso facto slave labor. When word got out, the jackets lost appeal with the public. Followers began to leave the compound and the organization.
In 1988, two female followers claimed they had been molested, and separate charges of child abuse had been prepared against him. Two former members received $1.4 million in civil damages. US Marshals seized the compound to satisfy the settlement. Before Tony could be arrested, he fled in 1989. He later began threatening federal judges and claiming that he would kidnap them in order for them to stand in his court.
On September 27, 1990, police surrounded a rental truck on Highway 64, west of Dyer, Arkansas. They believed Tony was inside. Three men were found inside the truck, but none were him. On February 16, 1991, Tony and others removed his wife Susan's body from her crypt; he and her remains have not been seen since. He is wanted for child abuse, tax evasion, threatening to kidnap a federal judge, and other crimes.
Extra Notes: The case was featured as a part of the May 15, 1991 episode. The case was also documented on an episode of People Magazine Investigates: Cults.

Tony Alamo in 2008

Results: Captured. On July 5, 1991, Alamo was arrested in Tampa, Florida due to viewers' tips. He had been living there for the past two years. Incredibly, he was operating a local restaurant and hosting several pre-recorded religious radio programs. He faced charges in Arkansas for threatening the life of a federal judge. He also faced charges in Los Angeles for child abuse.
In September, Alamo was acquitted of threatening to kidnap the federal judges. In 1994, he was convicted of tax evasion and sentenced to six years in prison. In March of 1995, the child abuse charges were dropped. That same year, Susan's daughter filed suit against him regarding Susan's remains, which were finally returned three years later. He was released in 1998.
However, in 2008, new allegations of child abuse and sexual abuse were made against Alamo. During the 1990s, he allegedly made young female cult members his "wives" and took them across state lines to sexually abuse them. He was arrested and convicted of the charges in 2009. Alamo was sentenced to 175 years in prison; he remained there until his death on May 2, 2017.