Cobb woman who led religious cult gets 30 years for child deaths

Anna Elizabeth Young (Cobb County Sheriff's Office)
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Anna Elizabeth Young (Cobb County Sheriff's Office)

A Cobb County woman who ran a deadly religious cult in the 1980s was sentenced to 30 years behind bars in a Florida court Wednesday.

Anna Elizabeth Young, who went by Mother Anna, pled no contest to a charge of second-degree murder for killing Emon Harper, who was between ages 2 and 3 when his mother gave him to the cult. He died locked in a closet, deprived of food and water.

Young also pled no contest to manslaughter for the deadly seizure of 2-year-old Katonya Jackson because she withheld medication. She was given 15 years in prison for that death, and will serve that time concurrent with the longer sentence.

March 15, 2018 North Metro: A picture and tribute to her mother, Anna Elizabeth Young, sits on a shelf in the home of Joy Fluker on Thursday, March 15, 2018, at her home in north metro.   Curtis Compton/ccompton@ajc.com
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March 15, 2018 North Metro: A picture and tribute to her mother, Anna Elizabeth Young, sits on a shelf in the home of Joy Fluker on Thursday, March 15, 2018, at her home in north metro. Curtis Compton/ccompton@ajc.com

Credit: ccompton@ajc.com

Credit: ccompton@ajc.com

Young, who turns 80 this year, was arrested at her Marietta home in late 2017 and has been in jail since.

Shortly after her arrest, The Atlanta Journal-Constitution interviewed family members and survivors about the abuse endured inside the House of Prayer for All People.

ExploreFrom 2017: Ex-‘cult leader’ living in Cobb arrested on Florida child murder

An AJC reporter in 2018 visited the former Florida cult site on a four-acre property in a rural stretch of North Florida near Micanopy, which calls itself “The Town that Time Forgot.” The AJC also reviewed hundreds of police and court documents related to the cult — a paper trail that dates back to 1973, and stretches from Michigan to Puerto Rico.

Though Young is being charged with the deaths of two children, survivors tell stories of many more people left scarred, scared and dead. Three of them — including Young’s daughter, Joy Fluker — testified in court Wednesday.

Metro Atlanta is home to Fluker and Katonya’s brother John Neal, who also testified at the hearing in an Alachua County courtroom.

Joy Fluker (center) is shown as a young girl with her mother Anna Elizabeth Young and other family members. Photo provided by Joy Fluker.
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Joy Fluker (center) is shown as a young girl with her mother Anna Elizabeth Young and other family members. Photo provided by Joy Fluker.

Fluker told the court that she is still haunted by her memory of Moses’ last words in the closet, by flashes of his face in her mind, and by the sound of his voice in her head.

“Moses only lived a few short years, but he taught me life is too big to be swept under a rug, imprisoned in a home, or buried in the ground,” Fluker said to the judge.

Neal also told the court he remains scarred by his childhood in the cult, and by his sister’s death.

“We still love and miss her to this day,” Neal said of Katonya. “She was a human being. She was good. She was loved. She would have been 30 years old this year.”

Judge Mark W. Moseley was obviously moved by the testimony.

“The traumatic events that happen when we are children, we carry them our entire lives,” the judge said. “They are impossible to remove, especially when they are unresolved. You are victims, too.

“I hope this day will give you closure, so you can move beyond these events and heal.”

ExploreFrom 2017: Georgia woman describes growing up in mom’s violent cult

Daughter goes to police

A mother-daughter shouting match a few years ago began Fluker’s journey for justice.

During the argument, Fluker said she blurted out: “How can you tell me how to raise my children when you killed two children?”

Fluker said she knew her accusation was true by the look on her mother’s face. And she went to police.

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Daughter of cult leader discusses why she turned her mother, Anna Young, in for alleged murder. Video by Curtis Compton, edit by Erica A. Hernandez.

Fluker said she has lost contact with her family, some of whom deny Young’s responsibility in the deaths. Fluker started a group named Prevent The Pain to help others who struggle with speaking up.

On Wednesday, Fluker told the court about her mother: “I know a different side of her that is loving and kind. I’m hoping that side of her would be proud of me.”

Witnesses told police that Moses’ tiny body was burned in a thin straw hamper. Sometimes, Fluker said, the terrible smell returns to her and she has to place perfume under her nose for relief.

She told the AJC before the hearing that she hasn’t spoken to her mother since 2015.

Neal saw Young at a Marietta Walmart while the investigation was going on. His stomach immediately tightened, the 6-foot-5-inch Air Force combat veteran told the AJC in 2018.

Neal said he still has literal and emotional scars from a brutal beating he says Young ordered over a piece of candy when he was seven. Neal said Young sentenced him to 33 lashes — a reference to Jesus being 33 years old when he died on the cross.

ExploreFrom 2018: Mother Anna: Survivors of violent cult describe abuse by Cobb woman

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John Neal discusses his experiences of abuse growing up inside the House of Prayer for All People cult. Video by Curtis Compton. Edit by Erica A. Hernandez.

Neal’s mother, Lea Vera Jackson, told the judge that Katonya was 2-years-old when she joined the cult. Jackson called her “Kay.”

“Kay was beat to death,” Jackson said. “John was nearly beat to death and has scars on his back that are still there. We were all beat. I’m here to stand up for my daughter and say justice was done. It hurts, but justice has been done.”

Just as the judge was about to adjourn the hearing, defense attorneys asked if Young’s daughter could be allowed to hug her before she was taken away.

“No,” the judge said. “I’m sorry, but I can’t allow that.”

For more about Mother Anna, go to specials.myajc.com/mother-anna/.

Story so far

The House of Prayer for All People religious cult began to crumble in 1992 after police investigated Anna Elizabeth Young for bathing a 12-year-old girl in bleach. Young served six months on a child-abuse charge before retiring to a quiet life in Marietta for 15 years. Young was arrested on a murder charge in November 2017 after her daughter alleged the cult leader was responsible for the deaths of multiple children in the 1980s. An AJC investigation of the cult uncovered multiple survivors who reported beatings and other abuse at the hands of Young.

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The idea for the House of Prayer for All People started in Zebulon, Georgia, before it eventually moved to its permanent home outside Micanopy, Florida in 1983. It ended about nine years later when its leader Anna Young went on the run for child abuse.