On September 8, 1889, local law enforcement reported to a disturbance that neighbors had supposedly witnessed, though after the fact the name and information of the informant mysteriously disappeared. Dr. Pike and the members of his commune had not been seen for months–since at least December 8, 1888.

Police found the compound in disarray. They found the body of a young woman in the main laboratory–she had bled to death in a manner that could not be accurately ascertained, although the coroner later compared it in broad strokes to postpartum bleeding. The remaining members of the 23 disciples–of whom there were, at that point, only 6–were found at various places throughout the compound, lifeless, but without any visible wounds. Dr. Pike himself, writing furiously in his journal, was found alive, seated before his “Electro-Mechanical Messiah.” Eyewitnesses describe the mechanism as “ticking weakly” though by the time of the formal inquest it was no longer producing any motion.

Under questioning, Dr. Pike insisted that the female follower, his “Mary,” had imbued the Messiah with a spark of life, but that the voices of the 23 had deserted him and he feared that he had made a terrible mistake. Only, he wrote, by “starving” the mechanism had he been able to prevent a catastrophe. When pressed as to the nature of this catastrophe, Pike would only say that he had been “fooled” and that the motive power that had filled his Messiah was “no kind and loving God of any sort.”

After a perfunctory trial, Dr. Pike was found guilty of murdering the members of his disciples and was executed by hanging. Even on the gallows, Pike maintained that he was a hero for averting catastrophe, though he reportedly did not resist his fate, describing it as “just punishment.”

As for the “Electro-Mechanical Messiah,” it passed into the collection of one J. Albert Tillmann, a Chicago eccentric and amateur Spiritualist whose menagerie of curiosities was well-known at the time. It was believed destroyed after an 1899 fire consumed his house.

  • Like what you see? Purchase a print or ebook version!