Claims to fame: He: ex-pastor, Emmanuel Baptist Church (Bristol, Tennessee); ex-head, Hyles-Anderson College Bible Department; child rapist and batterer; She: child abuser
The story: Pastor Joe and his wife Evangeline were having trouble conceiving, so in 1977 they adopted a four-month-old girl — Esther Alice Evangeline Combs. And then the Combses abused (and literally enslaved) this little girl, all the way to adulthood, in ways bearing a sickeningly remarkable resemblance to the “Christ”-inspired torture tactics of Sybil‘s psychotic mother.
Recounts The Biblical Evangelist:
The Combses made that precious soul their personal slave and subjected her to a life of horror and abuse – physical, mental, emotional and social – one that ended only when she went to authorities in Georgia and told her tale, bringing to termination nearly two decades of horror. (She had been sent to that State to live with Joe’s brother and his family because Tennessee police had filed a petition for guardianship on Esther – and for the first time in her life she discovered living.)
A life of horror for Esther? Let me count some of the ways.
• Her earliest memory was of being thrown down the stairs while strapped in her high chair.
. . .
• Accused by siblings of jumping on a bed, Mrs. Combs hurled her against the wall and knocked out two front teeth, which were hurriedly placed back in their sockets and grew oddly spaced and crooked.
• On one occasion, in a fit of temper, Mrs. Combs threw a shoe at her, hitting her in the head and opening a bloody cut. Evangeline promptly sewed it up with needle and thread, then referred to the scars as “her marks of the beast.”
• She was beaten with a hose for falling asleep in church.
. . .
• While the other children were home schooled, she rarely got to attend. When a baby sitter taught her to write her name, Esther was beaten and the greatest Bible teacher in Christendom told her that Jesus didn’t learn to read and write until He was 12 years old, and she shouldn’t either. By the way, this girl and another sitter testified that they suspected abuse, but were afraid of this highly revered Bible professor. The other girl did report her misgivings to the school president, but no action was taken. (The policy is, you may recall, If I didn’t see it, it didn’t happen; even if I did see it, I was probably mistaken; and even if I did see it and wasn’t mistaken, someone else had to have seen it in order to confirm that I saw it!)
. . .
• It was also as a teen-ager that the greatest Bible teacher in Christendom raped her repeatedly, usually on church property (where they were living).
. . .
• Finally, as a legal teen-age adult, desperate and unhappy, she decided to end her life by drinking antifreeze. She was found unconscious and rushed by ambulance to an area hospital and the seeds for ending the abuse were planted. Physicians found layers of scar tissue from wounds and fractures than had not healed properly. She had no birth certificate, no school records, no medical records, and no Social Security. Because the frightened girl denied being abused, she was returned to the horror house, but a few months later the police filed their petition for guardianship.
A medical examiner, noted the April 18, 2000, edition of the Kingsport Times-News, testified that Esther had 410 scars all over her body.
“Some in the congregation,” the paper also reported, “noticed Esther sometimes had black eyes, scars or her arm in a sling. But when told Esther was clumsy and fell a lot, they believed Combs. After all, he was a man of God, they said.”
That’s a running theme throughout all the criminal activity connected with Hyles-Anderson College: It didn’t happen, it couldn’t happen… and if it did, just shut up about it.
Ultimately, concludes The Biblical Evangelist:
Joseph Combs was found guilty on 11 counts … of especially aggravated kidnapping, aggravated assault, aggravated perjury, aggravated rape, and 7 other counts of rape. The jury imposed fines totally $240,000. Evangeline Combs was found guilty on 6 counts, namely, charges of especially aggravated kidnapping, aggravated assault, and 4 counts of aggravated child abuse. The jury levied $150,000 in fines against her.
In May, 2000, Judge Jerry Beck sentenced Joe Combs to a total of 114 years in prison, and Evangeline Combs to 65 years.
Footnote: The Combses managed to produce four biological offspring after adopting Esther (now known as Elsa), one of whom, not surprisingly, turned out to be quite a piece of work himself: David Combs, who, after the Combses were evicted for never paying any rent, was busted for vandalizing the house — and then failed to show up for the hearing.
(It wasn’t the first time the Combses failed to live like civilized human beings; at their residence — actually the Emmanuel Baptist Church gymnasium — “a probe into fire code violations revealed the family lived in squalid conditions.” Between the gym and the house from which they were evicted, they lived in another that “burned down after they started a fire in the woodstove.”)
But that’s nothing compared to David Combs’ refusal to admit witnessing his parents’ abuse of Esther at any time during some twenty years. “According to Esther Combs, some of [the Combses' other children] not only witnessed these acts of brutality but actively took part in them.”
Then again, honesty isn’t exactly a Combs “family value.” In 2002, Joseph Combs’ brother, Tim, was convicted of two counts of aggravated perjury (actually, he pled guilty, but only after confronted with irrefutable evidence against him) committed during the Combses’ trial.
You really hurt me. You made me feel like I wasn’t anything. Like I didn’t even exist. You took my childhood away. You took my self-respect, my confidence, innocence, joy and trust away from me.
I tried so hard to be the daughter that you wanted, but nothing I could ever do was good enough. All I ever wanted was for you to love me and be proud of me. That was all that mattered to me. I just wish you could tell me what I did to make you hate me because I loved you so much, even though you put me through hell. Because I told myself you did it because you loved me.
— Esther Combs to Evangeline Combs
at the latter’s sentencing
Suggested Bible reading for Joe and Evangeline Combs:
None. These monsters are headed straight to hell.