Well, We Had Been Warned
by Owen White, TN
Well, we had been warned, anyway.
As a recent commenter on my blog noted:
“Old Friend From Chicago Days” (OFFCD), aka Khalil Habib, close friend of the Gabriels (‘from Chicago days,’ as Kh. Lynn put it), wrote the following words on www.theantiochian.com one day before letting slip his rather astonishing “private detective” post:
Philip has also been an empire builder and he will leave a beautiful legacy to his flock. The only problem is there are too many too anxious to get their hands on that which he has built. There are those in other jurisdictions who smell blood and wealth and would be only to see him fall." (Emphasis added.)
To my knowledge Khalil Habib was the first to mention the use of private investigators against real or supposed “agitators” with regard to the recent AOANA scandal. In the same week that he left his menacing words on that website, I received two emails from parishioners in a parish in Chicago who claimed to have heard conversation(s) concerning the hiring of private investigators to look into persons dissenting from the rule of +Philip. I did not know what to make of any of this at the time.
In addition to these odd words, many of us who had raised the cry of ANAXIOS! had heard the story of Gail Sheppard. A parishioner at St. Barnabas in Costa Mesa, CA Sheppard sent two letters to +Philip concerning regarding questions she had concerning the distribution of AOANA funds in the Middle East. Here is her description of what happened to her:
“ I confronted Metropolitan Philip directly with this back in April, the day before the bishops were supposed to have their meeting to sign away their rights. I also copied a few of the bishops. I demanded that he retire and said if he didn’t, I’d turn him into the FBI and the IRS, which I ultimately did. Metropolitan Philip was furious with me. He called my priest and told him to tell me to “back-off.” He also threatened to prosecute me for blackmail. He then called one of our deacons to verify my address. Within 24 hours my home and car were vandalized and my family received restricted phone calls in the dead of night on our cell phones.”
Ms. Sheppard subsequently filed a police report. I had also heard a number of rumors and innuendo, but nothing easily verifiable or the sort of information one can, well, do much with. Most of this came to me via emails, most of them via gmail accounts that could not be traced, sometimes from persons using obvious pseudonyms. I did not know if they were from people genuinely concerned for my well being, or if these “friendly warnings” were rather veiled threats from persons who wished to intimidate me.
On Wednesday, August 12, two Caucasian men, one perhaps late 30s, the other perhaps late 40s, were walking down the street in front of my house. They acted like they were looking around, but the display seemed odd to me. One of them was shuffling papers. As my wife was nursing our youngest and I was in the living room with her, we saw the whole thing. The man shuffling papers looked in the direction of my truck’s license plate, and spoke into what appeared to be a small voice recorder. When he finished speaking into the voice recorder, he started to put it into his pocket, but then when my dogs started barking from the back-yard, he walked a few steps further down the road veering his head past my house to look at them, pulled the apparent voice recorder out again, and spoke to it further. My window is perhaps 35 feet from the front yard. The men noticed me at the window staring at them. They walked up to the house.
They said they were ADT salesmen and that there was a sale on ADT systems in my neighborhood. They knew my name. They began asking questions about our home security, how long we lived here, noted that I was home during the day (do I work at night?) and so forth. I acted noncommittal and asked a few questions regarding the service they claimed to be providing in order to get a better sense of the possible legitimacy of what they were saying. I did not get the sense that they were actually who they claimed to be. I never opened the security door - they gestured as if they wanted to come in to talk. They conveyed an urgency, but not the same sort of pushy urgency one associates with door-to-door salesmen, it was an inquisitive urgency – I don’t think they had expected me to be at the window. They kept trying to look into the house, without seeming to obvious. I told them that my brother, a police officer handled my security needs and that if they would like I would talk to him about their offer (I pointed toward his house).
They then left rather abruptly. They walked up a cross street.
My wife, whom they had not seen, got into our car which they had not seen and followed them. They walked very quickly in an odd zigzag route, to a location several blocks from our house where they were picked up by a large grey luxury SUV and sped off. They did not stop at any other house along the way to this pick-up point.
I contacted ADT twice, making ADT quite aware of my situation. I was assured that they were not ADT salesmen, and the second time I called an ADT manager assured me that these men were definitely not subcontractors for ADT. I also called the local police. The police came and took my statement, etc. My brother has friends at a local police precinct, and his next door neighbor is a member of the Bartlett police department (I live right on the Memphis/Bartlett border – both police departments patrol our neighborhood). There have been increased patrols in our neighborhood since this event.
We get cased from time to time in our neighborhood - but it has always been criminals of an apparently lower socio-economic range than these men. Our house, which is typical in our neighborhood, is worth maybe 90-95K these days. I am not much of a lawn person so the property is not what anyone would call attractive. My beat up old truck sits out front. The house is a cheap ranch home that needs a new roof. These men were well spoken (northern accents, clearly not from these parts), well dressed, with gadgets, etc. I don’t think that such a crew would be all that interested in my house or my neighborhood, thus I do not think they were casing the property But, of course, I have no way of knowing, and this is Memphis, so I cannot say with any assurance that this event was anything other than a strange coincidence.
Another strange coincidence occurred in Memphis the same week.
Sarah Hodges, the schoolteacher who at the recent AOANA Convention brought to the floor the motion to no longer financially support +Demetri and who holds one of my daughters at most Divine Liturgies, is married to Mickey Hodges, who is known to many Orthodox in America due to his participation in a number of ministries including OCF. The Hodges also experienced some strangeness. They describe their event thus:
"The Hodges household received a middle of the night visit. Sarah was having trouble sleeping and was on the couch in our living room about 12:30 am. She noticed a bright searchlight slowly coming down our busy street, shining at the houses. It was the only car on the street at the time. The car moved slowly until it was square in front of our house where the numbers are, and came to a dead stop. The searchlight began exploring our property. Our oldest son, Chris, who is a night owl and was in the kitchen, noticed the light and came into the living room. Sarah got up, flipped on the porch light, opened the front door and yelled at the car. The car suddenly peeled off – it did not simply accelerate. A week before this, Chris Hodges had also noticed a Lincoln Town Car-style vehicle stopped in front of the house, with the driver talking on a cell phone. We have reported these incidents to the police. A lawyer friend said it sounded like private investigators. The recently-retired Memphis police officer who handles our security for St. John told me that Tennessee has a new stalking law that any PI would do well to heed."
I also want to make this disclaimer – I am not making accusations against any particular person. The facts are as I have related them (or as they have been related to me), and we are all free to speculate or not as to their causes. If these strange happenings are at all related (as I happen to believe), I certainly don’t have sufficient knowledge, yet, as to discern a coordinator behind them. But, perhaps that may come, in time.
Whatever the case may be, as a good friend of mine says, it is time for everything to be brought into the light. Anyone who lives in Memphis for any length of time is used to a fair amount of criminal activity. I don’t think that anyone who knows the Hodges or my family would characterize us as paranoid. I do think that some might characterize us as observant, and resolved. I put forth these matters into the public record, hoping that they never really amount to anything.
(Owen White's blog, "The Ochlophobist" may be found here.)