White supremacist pastor Gordon Winrod, 85, is scheduled to be released from prison May 11 after having served just over 10 years of a 30-year sentence for kidnapping six of his grandchildren and keeping them at his rural Ozark County farm to indoctrinate them.
Winrod was arrested in May 2000 after law enforcement officials raided his farm southeast of Gainesville. Following his arrest, the grandchildren holed up in a secret bunker at the farm for four days until officials were able to coax them out.
Winrod was pastor of Our Savior's Church and had been linked to the Christian Identity Movement. For years he published "The Winrod Letter" a newsletter that was chockful of anti-Jewish rhetoric. Winrod claimed law enforcement, government and most business leaders were Jews, and he often referred to the court system as the "Jewdiciary."
His grandchildren disappeared from their home in North Dakota in 1994 and 1995. Authorities long suspected they were living with Winrod. Police raided his 400-acre farm in May 2000 and then worked four days to talk the children, then ages 9-16, into surrendering. The children had been brainwashed by their grandfather and hid in a "priest hole" on the property.
The children were held on the massive Ozark County compound, where they took shifts guarding the front gate with a loaded pistol. Erika Leppert, now 29, testified at a civil trial in May 2002 that while on "guard duty" she and the other children used a secret signal to alert people at the house if visitors were friend or foe. Friends were relatives. Foes were police.
"If police tried to grab us, we were to defend ourselves with (the pistol)," Erika Leppert told the jury.
Winrod's farm has since been sold to help satisfy a $26 million civil judgment against Winrod by two of the children's fathers, Joel Leppert and Tim Leppert, and two of the abducted children, Erika and Nathan Leppert. Three of Winrod's adult children were also charged in connection with the abductions.
A Missouri Department of Corrections official confirmed Winrod's upcoming release on parole.
There was no indication of where Winrod would live once he is released from prison. He is being held at the Western Missouri Correctional Center in Cameron.
"I'm glad he's being released," said Steve Bartlett, who was Ozark County sheriff at the time Winrod was arrested. "He's paid plenty. He's an elderly man, and it's time he was released." Bartlett said Winrod never gave his officers any trouble the entire time he was incarcerated in the Ozark County Jail.