Seductress of the Saints

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

Bridewell arrived at the Arnolds' house in a taxi on May 5 with her green suitcase and boxes of belongings, complaining that the man with whom she was living had tried to have sex with her. Arnold agreed she could stay two weeks.

Arnold started suspecting a con when Bridewell asked him for $1,000 so she could pay for a puppy. He refused. Realizing how little they knew about her, Arnold arranged a subterfuge. While Bridewell was in Chico, California, at his daughter's house to speak to a women's group, he had someone sneak a peek in her purse. They found a temporary California drivers license in the name of Sandra Camille Bridewell, which she had obtained in February, and ran a background check.

After discovering Bridewell was using various names, addresses and Social Security numbers, the Arnolds located the driver of the cab, who remembered where he'd picked her up. That led them to the businessman who'd provided her with the SUV and gas card to look for rental properties. "She'd squeezed all this money out of him," Arnold says. "I think I was plan B."

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.

The background check linked Bridewell to the East Coast and her daughter Emily, who told the Arnolds to check the Observer's Web site for the story about her mother. "It's very accurate," she told them.

Alarmed that Bridewell was a suspect in the murder of her third husband, Arnold notified his daughter, who confronted Bridewell at her Chico home and told her to leave. When she refused, a neighbor called police. The daughter paid for a taxi to take Bridewell to a homeless shelter.


·· ·ITEM: Scrap of paper with cursive writing in black ink:

Eph. 6: 7 signs may be a curse in your life: Mental or emotional breakdown, Rptd or chronic illness, Barrenness reptd miscarriages female problems, Family and marriage brkdown, Continued financial problems, Constant injury or accident, Suicides and unnatural or untimely deaths, dying young. False gods = idolatry. This probably opens door to more severe curse and penalties...than any other.

The last known sighting of Sandra Camille Bridewell was in early May 2004: A Chico police officer found her at the local homeless shelter, sitting with grim dignity among others whose lives had collapsed, a big Bible on her lap.

The next day, she was gone.

The cop tracked her to a diner. A waitress said Bridewell had arrived late the night before and sat at the counter before hitching a ride with a compassionate couple, once again in pursuit of her Promised Land.

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