Unsolved: The brutal massacre of the Evangelist family

Self-proclaimed prophet and his family hacked to death with an axe

Unsolved: The brutal massacre of the Evangelist family
Benny Evangelist and his entire family was murdered in 1929

During the early 1900s, many immigrants left their countries for better opportunities in America. One such immigrant was a 19-year-old man named Benjamin Evangelista. He left Italy and arrived in America in 1904. He then changed his name to Benny Evangelist and worked as a carpenter. Benny Evangelist had gotten married, started a family, and then settled into a home on St. Aubin Street in Detroit, Michigan. He built a comfortable life for his family.

Two years after arriving in America, Benny had an epiphany. He believed God had called him for an unspecified mission. He even wrote his own Bible and called it “The Oldest History of the World: Discovery by Occult Science.” He built an odd contraption consisting of wax figures depicting celestial planets and an electrical eye. The contraption served as an altar. Benny had a fascination with the occult. He chanted and made potions.

For people with health ailments, Benny took them down to the basement and performed a healing for anyone willing to pay up to $10. In today’s currency, this would be equivalent to around $300. But if it healed you, then it was money well spent. Benny’s faith healing also created enemies. Disgruntled customers who went unhealed became angry with the self-appointed prophet.

Detroit's oldest cold case was brutal

The Evangelist family would become the subject of one of Detroit’s most gruesome murders. Benny had bought salvageable lumber from a recently leveled home. On the night before Benny’s death, he arranged for a truck driver to pick up the wood on the following day. Benny wouldn’t live long enough to meet with the driver. On July 3, 1929, someone broke into the Evangelist home and used an axe to murder Benny, 43, his wife Santina, 36, and four children: Angeline, 8, Matilda, 5, Jay, 3, and their 18-month-old son Morrio. The killer also decapitated Benny. A neighbor wanting to discuss a business deal with Benny discovered the tragedy the morning after the murder.

The police investigated the brutal murders. They believed someone killed the entire family for money since they found none in the home. One of the most troubling aspects is the truck driver who never showed up to meet Benny. One might think he would show up if he knew Benny carried cash. Did the driver somehow know Benny wouldn’t arrive? There are many theories about the murders.

One theory is that a disgruntled customer killed the family after paying for a healing he didn’t receive from the self-appointed prophet. Another popular theory is that a random madman had broken into the house and robbed the family. Perhaps the killer realized the family stored cash collected from healings in the house. Police also thought a rival religious leader may have killed the Evangelist family.

The police offered a $1,000 reward for information and interviewed several suspects. A man named Robert Harris was the only suspect given any serious consideration for committing the crime. However, police ruled out Harris as a suspect. No one ever collected the reward.

Today, the case remains unsolved. The Evangelist home that once sat on 3587 Saint Aubin Street in Detroit no longer exists. It’s just a plot of dirt. The Evangelist murders remain one of Detroit’s oldest and most gruesome cold cases. On a stranger note, people have reported seeing supernatural activity on the land. Supposedly, a rumor exists about a wandering headless man in the area. There have also been reports of screams coming from unseen people. This could explain why no one is interested in building a home or business over the site. The mystery of the Evangelist family murders will forever remain unsolved. But it hasn’t stopped true crime aficionados from trying to figure out what happened on Saint Aubin Street on a warm summer evening in July 1929.

investigation
Marc Hoover
Marc Hoover
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Marc Hoover

Marc Hoover is a Hooper award winning columnist for the Clermont Sun newspaper in Ohio. Contact him at www.themarcabe.com or through Facebook: www.Facebook.com/themarcabe. Marc also has a podcast called Catch my Killer.

See all posts by Marc Hoover