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1930s & Earlier / Aimee Semple McPherson Scandal 1926
Sex scandals involving evangelists are not new. The first one occurred back in 1926, when the leading radio evangelist of the day, Aimee Semple McPherson, was allegedly involved in a doozy with a married man. On May 18, 1926, the 35-year-old McPherson arrived at Ocean Park Beach in California with her secretary for a day of swimming. Shortly after their arrival, McPherson disappeared. McPherson's mother delivered a sermon that night in place of Aimee and informed the congregation that Aimee was 'with Jesus.' The following day, hundreds of concerned parishioners ventured to Ocean Park Beach to look for their beloved Sister Aimee. One parishioner drowned and another died of exposure in the unsuccessful search. Not long after Aimee vanished, Kenneth G. Ormiston, the married engineer of the radio station McPherson owned, also disappeared. Five weeks later, Aimee emerged from the Mexican desert in a town just across the border from Douglas, Arizona. She claimed she had been kidnapped, drugged, tortured, and held for ransom in a shack. Aimee further stated she had escaped from her captors and walked 13 hours through the desert to freedom. Her story was implausible, to say the least. No shack was ever found. Aimee's shoes showed no signs of a 13-hour desert trek. (Moreover, they had grass stains on them!) She was last seen wearing a bathing suit, but reappeared in a dress and wearing a wristwatch she hadn't taken to the beach. Several witnesses claimed they had seen McPherson with Ormiston at various motels during the 35 days she was missing. McPherson and her mother were eventually charged with obstruction of justice, but the charges were dropped early the following year.