I am one of those who receive headlines from the Joplin Globe each morning by e-mail. Until this morning, I believed those e-mails were designed to keep me informed as to what the top story was in the day's edition.
I no longer have that belief.
On a day when reporter Derek Spellman takes the most thorough look yet at the cult behavior at the Grand Valley Independent Church in the Washburn area of McDonald County, there is no mention of it in the e-mail headlines.
The stories Globe editors thought readers would be most interested in were:
"Gridiron tradition continues at MSSU"
"Seneca refuses bagged leaves"
"No. 6 Trojans embarrass Razorbacks"
"PSU runs away in opener"
"Soybean farmers look for alternatives"
"Soybean farmers combine efforts for dairy operations"
Fortunately for those who went ahead and looked at the Globe website or at the print edition despite those headlines, they were treated to another Spellman spellbinder that grabs the interest from the start and never lets go.
This is the first story to even touch on the sway the late Cecil Epling has on this family two decades after his death:
This is the land that beckoned a West Virginian named Cecil Epling, who fathered the Grand Valley Independent Baptist Church, more than 30 years ago. Epling is now dead, but his disciples have since expanded his church.
Information revealed in Spellman's article also brings more of a focus on Judge John LePage's decision to set bail so low for Rev. Raymond Lambert, 51, his wife (and stepsister) Patty Lambert, 49, and her brothers (and of course, Lambert's stepbrothers) Paul Epling, 53, and Tom Epling, 51.
Those in-laws also described the church as a place where officials jealously guarded their control. At one point, they said they were visiting their daughter in a room outfitted with microphones and surveillance cameras.
"You were never left alone," said Linda Jester, who, along with her husband and son-in-law, ultimately had to go to court to take her disabled daughter out of the compound. "You were monitored."
With all of the businesses this group has (which are also detailed in Spellman's article), and expensive surveillance equipment to protect their interests, it would have been reasonable to have asked for a steeper bond.
Spellman is also the first reporter to go into specifics about the tax-exempt property at the compound at Cecil Epling Way:
Properties that fall under the umbrella of the church and are thus tax exempt include the log cabin, the community center, a pair of buildings that house the "Grand Valley Christian Academy" and a kennel called "Grand Valley Kennels," according to the assessor's office. Proceeds from the kennel go to the academy, according to several Internet advertisements.
The rest of Cecil Epling's property is taxed and contains more than a dozen structures and has a total appraised value of more than $501,000, according to the assessor's office.
I am still curious as to just how much money this cult's tax exempt status is keeping away from the McDonald County School District, one of the poorest in the state.
The Globe's weekly Internet column featured comments on the Grand Valley cases.
Though the Globe featured the first in-depth print report on the activities at the Grand Valley compound, the Neosho Daily held its own, thanks to continued excellent work by John Ford and some hustle by reporter Todd Higdon, concentrating on another aspect of the story.
Higdon, who grew up only a few blocks from where the Eplings lived when their operation was based in Newtonia (I lived a few blocks on the other side of the Epling house), joined KODE on the spot in Grove, Okla., where Raymond Lambert, Patty Lambert, Paul Epling, and Tom Epling were staying at the Bear's Den Resort, where the Grand Valley group has a membership (another indication that the bond should have been higher). Higdon took a photo of Raymond Lambert, which is featured on the Daily's website.
Ford's article in this morning's edition details the removal of the four accused church leaders from Bear's Den Resort. Higdon's photo accompanies this post.
The coverage of the Grand Valley Independent Baptist Church and its Newton County spinoff has been dominated by KODE's Tara Brown (KOAM was running close behind early, but appears to have dropped off for the moment) Ford and Spellman, with the Globe's Jeff Lehr also providing solid reporting.
Though the main purpose of journalism is not awards (and those should flow from reporters and editors doing their jobs), expect to see Ford and Spellman honored next year in the Associated Press Managing Editors and Missouri Press Association contests. And if things go as they usually do, you'll only read about Spellman's honors in The Turner Report, since the Globe doesn't seem to consider the strong work its reporters do to be news.
Hopefully, reporters will see fit to dig into court records and find out how accused sex offenders are treated in McDonald County and elsewhere. When people face multiple counts of sexual offenses involving children, are there normally no restrictions placed on their contact with children? John LePage placed none on the Lamberts and Eplings. Are there usually no restrictions placed on the movement of suspected sex offenders. Judge LePage placed none on the Lamberts and Eplings. I would be interested in seeing if this is standard procedure for sex cases in McDonald County and in surrounding counties, or if the Grand Valley group received preferential treatment.