David Koresh

The Branch Davidians

The Sinful Messiah

David Koresh was the spiritual leader of a religious group known as the Branch Davidians. In 1993 the ATF conducted an investigation into the Branch Davidians which led to a raid of the group’s headquarter which eventually resulted in the deaths of 86 people. The Waco Siege was the largest military operation conducted to arrest a civilian in the United States.

David Koresh was born in Houston, Texas in 1959, to a teenage single mother, Bonnie Sue Clark. Bonnie was a 14-year-old girl when she gave birth to Koresh. He had a troubled upbringing and because of his poor study skills and dyslexia Koresh was put in special education classes.

Fellow students made fun of him for being dyslexic and gave him the nickname Mr. Retardo. Koresh dropped out of High School in his junior year. He found solace in the Bible, and he had memorized the New Testament by the time he was 12. According to his mother, he would go out in the barn and pray for hours.

Rachel Jones

In 1984, Koresh married Rachel Jones, the 14-year-old daughter of two Branch Davidians, Perry and Marybelle Jones. Rachel was born into church, and that was all she had ever known. Rachel was one of David’s most passionate followers.

Rachel bore Koresh a son, Cyrus, and a daughter, Star. Rachel was Koresh’s only legal wife. Rachel’s younger sister, Michele, became one of Koresh’s spiritual wives at age 12. Michele’s children, Serenity and Bobby, were allegedly fathered by Koresh. Rachel’s brother, David Jones, was a bodyguard for Koresh.


In 1982 Koresh moved to Waco to join the Branch Davidians. According to some accounts, Koresh had an affair with then 65-year-old Lois Roden, the prophetess of the Branch Davidians. In 1986 Lois Roden died at age 70 and her son George Roden inherited the position of prophet. Koresh and George Roden clashed over the leadership position.

George dug up a body from the local cemetery and challenged Koresh to prove his Messianic claims by bringing it back to life. Koresh wisely refused. Eventually, Koresh retreated with a group of about 25 of his followers to eastern Texas and ended up near the city of Palestine, Texas.


On November 3, 1987 Koresh and seven of his followers returned to Mount Carmel armed with semiautomatic rifles and tried to take over the commune by force. George Roden grabbed his Uzi and a gunfight followed.

The sheriff was called, and the shooting stopped. No one was killed, but Roden was slightly wounded in the hand and chest. Koresh and his followers went on trial for attempted murder. The seven followers were acquitted and Koresh’s trial ended in a hung jury.

Two years later in 1989, George Roden killed his roommate, Wayman Dale Adair. Roden claimed that Wayman had been sent by Koresh to kill him. Roden was put on trial for murder and was found not guilty by reason of insanity and confined to a state mental hospital.

King David

Koresh became the leader of the Branch Davidians. In 1990 Koresh legally changed his name from Vernon Wayne Howell to David Koresh, a combination of “King David” and the Hebrew name for Cyrus the Great.

In September, 1990, Koresh was introduced to Henry McMahon, a licensed gun dealer, who taught Koresh about guns and the firearms trade.

Koresh and his men increasingly bought and sold guns at gun shows to be prepared for self-defense in the assault that Koresh predicted would occur as part of End time events and to make money to support the members of the community.

The Raid

On February 28th, 1993 the ATF conducted an investigation into the possession of illegal firearms and explosives which led to a raid of the groups headquarter at Mount Carmel Center. A two-hour gun fight resulted in the deaths of four government agents and six Branch Davidians.

The ATF failed to raid the ranch and the FBI took over the operation which resulted in a siege lasting 51 days. During the siege, the FBI used sleep deprivation tactics, including floodlighting the compound and playing sounds of rabbits being slaughtered.


On April 19, the last day of the siege, Attorney General Janet Reno approved a final assault on the compound. The FBI launched a teargas attack trying to force the remaining members of the group out of the ranch. During the attack, three fires broke out and engulfed the ranch.

Nine of the people located inside the ranch escaped, the rest perished in the inferno. Most died of suffocation by carbon monoxide and smoke inhalation, others were crushed to death when the building collapsed.

The medical examiner reported that five children had been shot, and a three-year-old had been stabbed in the chest. The medical examiner believed these deaths were mercy killings by the Branch Davidians trapped in the fire with no escape.

In total, 76 people died that day, including 22 children. Koresh died of a gunshot wound to the head. It is unclear whether his death was a suicide or a homicide. The tragedy came to be known as the Waco massacre.

Bonnie Sue Haldeman

Waco Member Victim List