Religion: House Divided

Little flurries of snow fell last week in Benton Harbor, Mich. Under the leaden sky a melancholy old lady picked up all her belongings and traipsed a half-mile to a new home. She was "Queen" Mary Purnell, wife of the late "King" Benjamin Purnell, self-proclaimed Messiah, founder of the famed, bewhiskered religious cult called House of David.

"King" Benjamin died in December 1927. Soon the House of David became a house divided. "Queen" Mary vied for control with H. T. Dewhirst, onetime California jurist. For 28 years she had inhabited Shiloh, as the cult's...