Mother Divine, who died on March 4, 2017 at the age of 91, in a file photo from 2003 at her home at Woodmont in Gladwyne, Pennsylvania (AP Photo/Jacqueline Larma, File)

We’ve looked at a number of different cults and cult leaders here at Paleofuture, and they usually have pretty hefty FBI files. Synanon? 346 pages. The Bhagwan Shree Rajneesh? 591 pages. But a cult leader who recently died this past March has a shockingly small FBI file. How small? Just six pages.

Edna Rose Ritchings changed her name to Sweet Angel Divine (or, Mother Divine) when, at the age of 21, she married the 65-year-old cult leader Father Divine. The year was 1946, and Father Divine still had two decades of overseeing his cult before he died in 1965. But after his death, Ritchings took over as the cult’s leader, preaching the gospel of racial harmony and love (sans sex), but with all the financial trappings and submission you’d expect of a cult. Ritchings died just a few months ago at the age of 91, but it would appear that the FBI didn’t have much interest in her.

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I filed a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request with the FBI to see if they had anything in their archives about the more scandalous accusations surrounding the cult that was started by her husband, which had set up shop in Philadelphia by the time she joined—accusations from manipulation of its followers to rumors that the entire cult was sex-mad.

Like many cults of the 20th century, the Peace Mission Movement, as it was officially known, came under fire for allegedly swindling followers out of money, particularly older people with sizable bank accounts. The church was sued a number of times for misusing funds and even breaking up marriages, as Divine taught that sex should not be allowed. Father Divine, who claimed that he was God, also preached that his wife Ritchings was the reincarnation of his first wife, who had died. Mother Divine swore until the day that she died that she was a virgin.

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The entirety of the six-page file, obtained through my FOIA request, is an extortion complaint filed by Ritchings in 1961, four years before Father Divine died. The extortion allegedly occurred because a longtime follower of the cult, John Wuest Hunt believed that some money had been owed to him. Not to mention a murder allegation.

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From the FBI’s subject file:

Screenshot from the FBI file of Mother Divine, born Edna Rose Ritchings, who died in March 2017 and alleged an extortion attempt was made in 1961 (FBI/FOIA)

The letters, sometimes signed JWH, are confusing. Excerpts from the letters like the one above are bizarre to me, but probably made sense to Hunt and the cult run by Divine, who were eccentric to say the least.

From John Wuest Hunt’s letters to Father Divine and Mother Divine:

Screenshot from the FBI file of Mother Divine, born Edna Rose Ritchings, who died in March 2017 and alleged an extortion attempt was made in 1961 (FBI/FOIA)

But religious teachings and rambling sermons aside, the one thing that’s clear from the file is that Hunt and his brother believed $200,000 which had been given by their mother to Father Divine was owed to them.

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From the FBI’s subject file:

Screenshot from the FBI file of Mother Divine, born Edna Rose Ritchings, who died in March 2017 and alleged an extortion attempt was made in 1961 (FBI/FOIA)

One letter in particular even says that Hunt’s mother was murdered and that the inheritance is rightfully owed to Hunt and his brother. From one of the letters it sounds like Hunt, who was working for Father Divine for 13 years as a photographer, wants to come back to the cult after the inheritance is paid.

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From John Wuest Hunt’s letters to Father Divine and Mother Divine:

Screenshot from the FBI file of Mother Divine, born Edna Rose Ritchings, who died in March 2017 and alleged an extortion attempt was made in 1961 (FBI/FOIA)

After investigation of the letters by the FBI, the agency came to the conclusion that the wording didn’t constitute extortion. There’s no mention of whether the murder accusation was being made of Divine or whether Hunt believed his mother had been murdered by someone else.

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From the FBI’s subject file:

Screenshot from the FBI file of Mother Divine, born Edna Rose Ritchings, who died in March 2017 and alleged an extortion attempt was made in 1961 (FBI/FOIA)

In the late 1930s, Hunt had run off with a teenaged girl, leading the FBI on a multi-state manhunt, something that’s curiously never mentioned in the FBI file. Hunt was charged with rape and served three years.

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You can read the entire FBI file here, which contains plenty more excerpts from Hunt’s letters. I’ll be appealing the response to my FOIA request, as I’d be shocked if they didn’t have more pages.