Seductress of the Saints

Inside the mind--and suitcase--of Sandra Bridewell, religious charlatan

Four weeks later, Bridewell was still there. She'd basically taken over, urging his children to call her "Mommy Camille." They were going to marry and have a great ministry together, she said.

Crane insisted she sleep on the couch. Though Bridewell wasn't sexually aggressive, she was suggestive--revealing that she didn't wear underwear and that despite giving birth to three children, she was still "very snug down below."

Crane insists they never had sex. And he wanted her out of the house. Every few days, she had another place to stay lined up, but it always fell through. Crane couldn't call the police; his soon-to-be ex-wife would use it as ammunition against him.

A snapshot of Sandra Camille Bridewell on the California coast, taken from a roll of film labeled "Point Reyes, CA." At bottom, a sample of her notes.
A snapshot of Sandra Camille Bridewell on the California coast, taken from a roll of film labeled "Point Reyes, CA." At bottom, a sample of her notes.
A glimpse of Bridewell's "Promised Land Farms," a $3.2 
million property in Marin County where she wanted to 
establish her "ministry." Bottom: a letter she forged in an 
attempt to close on the purchase.
A glimpse of Bridewell's "Promised Land Farms," a $3.2 million property in Marin County where she wanted to establish her "ministry." Bottom: a letter she forged in an attempt to close on the purchase.

When Bridewell insisted on tagging along to a children's sports tournament, Crane was stunned to overhear her introducing herself to strangers as his wife. When he confronted her, Bridewell shouted, "I will not be treated this way. I'm a woman of God." Crane yelled back, "You're going to be treated this way because you're not welcome here."

Each time it happened, Bridewell would call someone to get her the next day; the next day, nobody would show up.

Crane began to wonder if she was demon-possessed. Coming in late one night, he tiptoed past the couch and heard a deep voice say, "Hello, Daniel." It stopped him in his tracks: "It was her voice, but it wasn't," Crane says. "There was power in that voice she normally didn't have. A demon calls you by name and thinks that intimidates you."

It ended "ugly, ugly, ugly," Crane says, after an intense, heated argument, Bridewell spitting fury then throwing the phone at his chest. Crane had to fight the urge to strike back. Bridewell finally called a young preacher she knew in Atlanta; Crane dropped her at the meeting place and drove away in relief.

Today, Crane wonders why Bridewell seemed so intent on marrying him. He isn't wealthy; his legal troubles had drained his savings. What did she want?

A few weeks after she left, Crane was watching the broadcast of a service by Bishop Eddie Long, pastor of New Birth Missionary Baptist Church in Atlanta. The camera panned the audience, and he saw Bridewell looking out of the TV at him.

"Hello, Daniel." The memory still makes his skin crawl.


·· ·ITEM: Page from a small lined notebook, with Bridewell's printing in purple ink:

Every resource I need (tangible or intangible) is possessed by someone somewhere at this very moment. I must find these individuals & persuade them to provide me with these resources.

I AM A MONEY MAGNET

I ATTRACT MILLIONAIRE/BILLIONAIRE MENTORS

I ATTRACT MY DREAM TEAM

I AM A BILLIONAIRE IN CHRIST JESUS

I AM A GIVER, A GENEROUS CHEERFUL GIVER

I ATTRACT MULTIPLE SOURCES OF INCOME

·· ·ITEM: Blue daily agenda of Camille Powers, beginning January 1, 2004. On the first page: "Write Vision, Goals, Plan" and "mail tithe and seed." The goal, in summary: to find rental property that will provide "cash flow" of at least $10,000 a month and to find her "promised land"--a fabulous compound that would bring together everything she longed for: her estranged children, her "ministry" and her obsession with a wealthy lifestyle. The agenda entries end on April 28, 2004, with a note to pick up her wedding dress.]

In December 2003, four days after their memorable flight to California, Michelle was still paying Bridewell's hotel bills.

"Of course, I had to feed her," Michelle says. "She had no money." Michelle got in touch with a Santa Rosa minister, who suggested that Bridewell could have a place to live and $100 a week in return for taking his fiancee's wealthy relative, 92-year-old John Retter, to dialysis several times a week.

Though Bridewell resisted others' suggestions to get a job, she jumped at the offer. While Retter was in dialysis, she began researching real estate at the Sonoma County records office.

By early January, Bridewell had Michelle and the Retter family embroiled in turmoil and intrigue. Bridewell, claiming the old man was being mistreated by his younger wife, Charlotte, enlisted Michelle to engineer a secret meeting with his son Steve, who lived an hour away. "She said that Charlotte mentally abused him, she restricts him, he can't turn on the TV without wearing headphones," Steve Retter says. "Thinking back, she capitalized on the fact that we weren't terribly fond of Charlotte." And why would a missionary lie?

Within just a few days, Charlotte had become fed up with Bridewell's attentions to her elderly husband--rubbing his feet, mouthing "I love you," kissing him goodnight--and kicked her out of their home.

Steve Retter arrived in the middle of the drama.

"I have no place to go," Bridewell pleaded. "You said I could stay with you."

Steve Retter called his wife and said that Bridewell would be living with them until he could figure out what his father wanted to do. They gave her the guest room and showed her how to work the hot tub. But for everyone involved, Bridewell's answers about her past weren't adding up. Charlotte learned that, in addition to the pittance she was paid, Bridewell had been taking large checks from her elderly client. She called the police.

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