On this week's episode of Liminal Criminals, we continue the story of the Congregation of the Oversoul's rise to power. We discuss the snafus and lucky breaks that its leaders, Jason DeGroot and Holly Beech, encountered during their first religious mission to San Francisco. How did two teenagers establish their religion so quickly? How does the Congregation tie into the history of Silicon Valley? Find out here, only on Liminal Criminals.
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CONTENT WARNING: Liminal Criminals is a fictional crime/comedy podcast, and contains elements which may not be suitable for all audiences. Listener discretion is advised.
Hello dear listeners. I just want to let you all know that this episode is part 2 of an ongoing series. If you’re the sort of person who likes things to make sense, and haven’t yet heard episode 1, I suggest you go back and do so.
Also, It should be noted that when this series was first recorded in 2022 CE, I heavily edited it to avoid drawing the attention of the Congregation’s pack of rabid lawyers. However, as the Congregation of the Oversoul does not appear to exist anymore, and as I live in a part of the world that views fringe religious groups as an active security threat, I feel safe in releasing this episode in its uncut form. Should any still-living members of the Congregation wish to come to SCWR headquarters in the Chthonic Riviera to air their grievances, I request that you direct all complaints to my colleague, Krysta Golden. You will recognize her by her short stature, blonde hair, and attempts to viciously bludgeon you with a crowbar if you startle her.
[Krysta, muffled: “I said I was sorry!”]
[lost place theme fades out]
On last week’s episode of Liminal Criminals: Jason Mackerel DeGroot, the child of two cultists, started school at San Vertedero High in Infierno Real, Arizona, after spending the first fourteen years of his life being educated in academics, esoteric belief systems, and emotional manipulation among the fringe religious groups of the American West. Using his knowledge of group dynamics and the human psyche, DeGroot amassed a following from the bottom rungs of San Vertedero’s social ladder. By the time he graduated, he had turned this group of disparate losers into his personal army and the instrument of his vengeance.
After graduation, DeGroot absconded with his followers and his hapless father’s credit card as they made their way to the quasi-remote mountain town of Fugged Point, California. There, DeGroot was struck with the inspiration for the two central tenets of his religion, namely that A: We are all one, and B: identity theft is actually a good thing. With his cult, the Congregation of the Oversoul, now in full swing, DeGroot and his trusted lieutenant, Holly Beech, stole the only credit card in Fugged Point and travel to San Francisco, ready to make a name for themselves and their new religion. What they found there, however, would alter the course of their cult forever.
I’m Sam Putnam. And you’re listening...to Liminal Criminals.
As DeGroot walked with Beech along the side of the county road, trying to hitch a ride back to the Greyhound station in the nearby town of Fog Mountain, he began to hatch a plan. While Bethany Miller, the owner of their most-recently stolen identity, would eventually notice that her credit card had been stolen, it would likely take a few days for her to do so. Most businesses in town formerly had been run by the Society of People, who believed that credit cards were baubles of modern greed that would lead one to moral dissolution, sexual depravity, and worst of all, the consumption of carbonated beverages. Even after the Society disbanded following a scandal involving three sex worker and five bottles of off-brand cola, the town was slow to abandon its religious ideals. The nearest establishment that took credit cards was a gas station five miles outside of town. Bethany Miller, in the meantime, had recently broken her leg, and was unlikely to stray too far outside of Fugged Point. According to DeGroot’s rough estimate, that would give them about three days where they could, as he put it, “become financially one with the universe through the unknowing generosity of Bethany Miller.” They could then use said oneness to print off some pamphlets, spread the good word, and, hopefully, reconnect with enough members of DeGroot’s former religions to establish a social foothold in town. After flagging down a passing van, DeGroot finished his explanation, and the two began the first leg of their journey west.
As Beech rode with DeGroot in the van, trying to avoid looking too closely at the visibly-shaking driver his collection of vintage meathooks piled in the back of the vehicle, some doubts began to stir in her mind. “I think that, even then, I wasn’t sure of what we were doing,” said Beech in a 2016 interview with crime journalist Amanda Lipinsky, “I mean, we hadn’t even spent a couple weeks in that trailer, and we were about to take a 6-hour trip out to San Francisco with a stolen credit card and the hope that we could find some of Jason’s old buddies from, like, years ago. But then I took a look at Jason as he was talking to the guy driving us, and he seemed so sure of himself. By the time we got to Fog Mountain and he let us off, I had forgotten my worries that our enlightened leaders may have been an idiot.”
This encounter was doubly impressive considering that the man that DeGroot had conversed with was Michael Hooker, better known as the Meat Hook Killer. DeGroot’s gift of gab was enough to get them through the rest of the journey. It was enough to smooth-talk the clerk at the ticket counter in the Greyhound station into ignoring that the name on the card that Jason had given belonged to somebody named “Bethany.” Most impressive of all, it enabled him to maintain a conversation with other people on the bus for the entire ride to San Francisco without seeming like an over-talkative jackass. As the two stepped off the bus in San Francisco, they felt the cool, fishy evening breeze rustle their hair and were thus invigorated. They strode into the city, ready to execute DeGroot’s vision.
There was just one problem with Jason DeGroot’s plan. It was thought of by an eighteen-year-old boy, and was, therefore, incredibly stupid. His idea to reconnect with his former cultists hinged upon the idea that they wanted anything to do with him. This was not the case. The bulk of DeGroot’s would-be social network had either gotten recruited by other cults, or had moved out of Northern California entirely. The handful of former cultists that DeGroot could actually make contact with responded to his presence with disdain. As it turned out, DeGroot’s ability to ascend the clerical ladder while still a child did little to endear him to his fellow cultists. Apple Leary, one of the people that Jason attempted to contact, later told reporter Lara Yen, “I was 22 when I joined up with the Cosmic Fish Fellowship, and never got any higher than being an acolyte. That little prick got into the Order of Leviathan while he was barely out of diapers. I had half a mind to throw him into the Bay right there and then. That’d show the little f[bleep]er”
Undeterred, Jason decided that he would continue on his holy mission without the aid of his former peers. Retiring to a nearby copy shop, the two drafted up a pamphlet that vaguely detailed the Congregation’s beliefs in an evocative but non-legally-actionable way. After paying for several dozen copies with Bethany Miller’s credit card,`` they walked to a street corner in the neighborhood of Haight-Ashbury and began to proselytize.
Sadly, not even DeGroot’s way with people could translate into a successful run as a street preacher. In two hours of his fervent oration about the nature of God and the ways of the universe, he and Beech managed only to hand off a small fraction of his pamphlets, which were primarily used as receptacles for gum, or, in a few particularly sad instances, as toilet paper. Just as DeGroot and Beech were about to pack up and walk, dejected, back to the Greyhound station, however, a gangly, bespectacled man in a button-down flannel came up to them and asked for a pamphlet. This man, as luck would have it, was Guy Fredericks.
If that name sounds familiar to you, that may be because Guy Fredericks was a founder of Phaethon Incorporated. Founded in 1980, Phaethon Incorporated is now better known as “Phaeth,” a conglomerate of tech and social media companies, including AllRoads, a content aggregation network, Hearth, an online real estate company, and, most infamously, HappyNinja, a mobile game developer that has been directly linked to three deaths and five dismemberments. Part techno-libertarian, part wannabe-mystic, and part credulous rube, Fredericks had built his company alongside his business partner, Michael Herman. Earlier in 1989, however, Herman had convinced Fredericks into an early retirement, a generous severance package, and stringent non-competition agreement, leaving him wealthy, but restless. To cope, Fredericks had taken to walking through San Francisco and people-watching. It was on one of said walks that he stumbled upon DeGroot and Beech.
“A lot of that the two were talking about was stuff I had already heard a million times over,” said Fredericks in his interview with Lara Yen, “You know, ‘we are all one,’ ‘all religions are true,’ ‘you can reach enlightenment by giving us all of your money,’ all that crap. But from the way that the two were preaching, I could tell that they were holding something back. Something that they didn’t want to proclaim to a bunch of strangers on the sidewalk. And, well, I just got a little bit curious.”
Fredericks talked to DeGroot and Beech, trying to probe the two for information. DeGroot, ever the opportunist, invited Fredericks to lunch, that he could give him the full brunt of his cult’s sales pitch. Fredericks obliged.
“I kept trying to get Jason to fess up about what the Congregation actually believed,” said Fredericks, “but he just kept getting vaguer and vaguer about it. By the time that he paid for our food, he was talking about how, since we were all technically manifestations of the same god, a lot of conventional morals weren’t actually true. I was about to ask him what he meant by that, when the waitress came back and uh, well, what happened then kinda answered it for me.”
Shelly Fields, a server at the Hilltop Diner, came back to the table and informed DeGroot that the card he had given her had been reported stolen, and that she had phoned the police. Jason DeGroot and Holly Beech, realizing that their ritual of criminality had just come to an end, immediately bolted out of the restaurant. Fredericks, half-outraged and half-enthralled, followed after, shouting at them to come back.
After chasing DeGroot and Beech for several blocks, Fredericks, his determination and long legs compensating for his lifetime dedicated to avoiding cardio, managed to catch up with the two as they caught their breath. In between desperate gasps for air, Fredericks explained to the two young cultists that he still was interested in their religion, and in the Congregation’s seeming vision of a utopia where identity theft was the norm. What was more, he continued, he had something that the two didn’t have: a presence in the San Francisco Bay Area and access to legally-acquired funds.
“I could tell from the look on his face that Jason didn’t want to go along with it at first,” said Beech, “I’m pretty sure he just wanted to rob Guy and keep running. But we were out of breath, I could hear sirens in the distance, and if this excursion turned out to be a total loss, I was going to make sure that Jason would have needed to think about his religion’s afterlife really damn quickly. So I managed to cut him off before he could speak and welcomed Guy into the flock.”
Beech reached out and shook Fredericks’ hand. Degroot, apparently not wanting to lose face, did the same. Evidently hearing the sirens himself, Fredericks ushered the two down a side street and led them back to his house, doing his best to keep his new religious guru hidden from the police. When they finally reached Fredericks’ home, they piled into his four-door sedan and peeled out, back towards Fugged Point.
Upon coming back to the Congregation’s headquarters, DeGroot, intensely aware of his status as a fugitive and decidedly unhappy about it, was faced with a choice. On the one hand, he could lie low for a little bit and let his underlings handle the public-facing end of his cult. From what his followers could tell him, Fugged Point’s police department consisted of Sheriff Price, a former member of the Society of People known for his scatterbrained nature and refusal to get cataract surgery, and Wolfie, a well-meaning German Shepherd who had crossed the line from “Elderly” to “Decrepit” about five years ago. If he were to stay in town and not make waves, he could probably lie his way out of trouble. At worst, he could let one of his followers take the fall. On the other hand, he could accompany Fredericks back into the city and help oversee the further development of his new religion, but with a far higher chance of getting arrested. In a rare show of discretion and planning ability, DeGroot chose the former. He and Beech would stay behind in Fugged Point, while Fredericks and a few of the more trusted members of the Congregation would go back to San Francisco to work on DeGroot’s brainchild.
Before Frederick’s return to the City by the Bay, he and Beech spent the next few days hatching a plan, while DeGroot, unused to being out of the driver’s seat of his own cult, offered occasional, sulky proposals. Ultimately, the three settled on a course of action. Fredericks and crew would rent a couple of storefronts around the city, advertising themselves as “holistic wellness centers,” selling the standard array of healing crystals, culturally-appropriated spiritual symbols, and mass-produced paintings of something called “The Cosmic Lingam,” an unfortunate geometric design whose popularity in the early 90s put several tattoo removal specialist’s children through college a few years later. As the Congregation’s wellness centers found their feet, they would start advertising a mountain wellness retreat in Fugged Point. As the unfortunate yuppies poured into Fugged Point, DeGroot would be able to work his magic, placing the seeds of indoctrination into their minds, watering them with lovebombing, and nurturing them industrial-grade fertilizers of emotional manipulation, mental abuse, and physical labor. With this income and the free work that came with it, the Congregation would be able to build their religion into something other than a bunch of teenagers living in a derelict Airstream.
How did this plan go? How did Guy Fredericks lead the Congregation of the Oversoul’s first major religious venture? How did Beech and DeGroot fare, now that DeGroot was no longer at the reigns of his miniature empire? We’ll find out on the next episode, but I’ll give you a hint: it didn’t go well.
This has been Liminal Criminals. I’m Sam Putnam. I’ll see you next time, and remember: They started this so very long ago. They started this yesterday. They started this tomorrow.
Liminal Criminals was originally a true crime podcast by Liminal Studios. It was originally researched, written and created by Sam Putnam. It is edited for broadcast and distribution with the generous support of the Chthonic Riviera government and Deeps Self-Preservation League. Up next, I’ll be playing some fragments of vaporwave remixes that I never finished, after which I’ll be recapping this week’s news with the Sunday edition of Studio Community Worldwide Radio.
Also, Krysta, if you’re listening...actually wait, I think you’re still here. Gimme a second, I’ll just ask you in person.
Liminal Criminals is a fictional podcast by SCWR productions. It is written and edited by Sam Putnam. It is cowritten by Krysta Golden, who featured in this week’s intro. Our theme song is Chthonic Riviera by Cornu Ammonis.
Follow us on Twitter at “liminal cast,” or like us on Facebook. Subscribe to us, rate us, and review us on iTunes, Spotify, or your podcast platform of choice. Tell a friend about us. Go to that store on the corner and tell the cashier to initiate phase B. They’ll know what you’re talking about. All links are in the show notes