Virginia Preacher's Peers
Contemplate His Fall
by Jennifer Lenhart
Washington Post Staff Writer
May 24, 1999
James Ogle -- teacher, pastor, dreamer -- was adrift. The hope of building his own church had shattered, and he wandered the region in search of a place to land.
At Herndon High School, where he once taught math, he passed out business cards, trolling for work as a calculus tutor. He visited the Capital Bible Seminary in Lanham, seeking solace in the place where years ago he'd received a divinity degree to launch a second career as a born-again evangelical minister.
His fledgling congregation in Manassas was gone now. Ogle's growing marital problems had prompted the elders to shut down the church and dismiss the 6-foot-4, 225-pound pastor -- a gentle giant, as friends described him.
The public fall from grace had left Ogle, 46, despondent and alienated, say those who saw him during his wanderings. But a steeper fall was coming. Within a few weeks, the minister was locked up at the Prince William County jail, accused of hatching a murder plot straight out of a Hitchcock film. He allegedly told a congregant who came to him for marital advice: Kill my wife, and I'll kill yours.
The case against Ogle, who is scheduled to go to trial in July on charges of attempted capital murder and solicitation of a felony, relies not only on tape-recorded conversations but also on a most unusual document -- what prosecutors contend is the minister's written guide to eliminating his wife. The two typewritten pages are crafted with the care of a teacher's lesson or a sermon, a novice's idea of what a hit man should know. Such as, "When 'game day' arrives, be sure to load using gloves or some other way to avoid fingerprints."
In the close-knit world of evangelical churches that have bloomed in the Manassas area, Ogle's fellow worshipers and preachers were stunned by his arrest. If the charges were true, they wondered, what could have driven such a man to contemplate murder?
They speculated among themselves: Could Ogle have been tempted into sin by satanic forces? Could he have been faking his conversion all along? Was he a Judas in their midst?
Best Choice -- "A Drive-by Shooting" -- This appears to be a "spur of the moment" event ... As we drive by, we'll be driving in the left lane (I'll be driving). You drive up beside us on the right and fire when you have a clear shot (and I'm not in the background). Fire away. Chances are I'll lose control of the car and wind up in the median strip. You can just go on home ... unless a policeman happens to be parked nearby, you should have plenty of opportunity to drive at normal speed and get home safely. -- letter allegedly written by James Ogle to Scott Jinks
Their romance had a storybook beginning. James Elrod Ogle and Judith K. Christensen were high school sweethearts, already in love before he graduated in 1970 from Mount Vernon High School.
James Ogle received a degree in mathematics education from Virginia Tech in 1974, and the couple moved to Leesburg, where he took a job in the Loudoun County schools. Ogle switched to Herndon High in Fairfax County in 1981. He kept a "low profile" and was known as a "committed family man, mild-mannered ... patient," said Cathy Bobzien, a fellow math teacher.
He was steady. Most teachers would alter their schedule of classes from time to time to avoid boredom, but Ogle stuck to the same courses -- calculus and Algebra 1 -- year in and year out.
The Ogles moved to a two-story duplex on a quiet cul-de-sac in the Loudoun County community of Sterling Park. Judy Ogle provided day care in her house and also supervised the home education of the couple's four children: Cynthia, who graduated from Lynchburg College in January with a bachelor of arts in child development; Carol and Catie, avid softball players; and Chris, a neighborhood helper who routinely volunteered to walk an elderly woman's dog.
The Ogles both were active in their daughters' Lower Loudoun Girls Softball League.
Neither Ogle nor his wife agreed to be interviewed for this article, which is based upon court records and interviews with friends, neighbors and former colleagues. Ogle's court-appointed attorney, William J. Baker, declined to comment on the facts of the case.
Sharon Mathews, 45, a friend and neighbor who took her granddaughter to Judy Ogle's day care center for two years, characterized James Ogle as agreeable but reserved. In social settings, Judy Ogle was comfortable meeting and mixing, while her husband held back, Mathews said.
"I wouldn't say that Jim was gregarious," Mathews said. "He seemed to have blinders on in terms of being focused spiritually."
Before deciding to leave teaching for the ministry, Ogle "thought long and hard about making the change," which meant giving up his teacher's salary and pension, Bobzien recalled. When he finally decided to make the leap, he initially took a leave of absence, just in case.
Mathews, the Sterling neighbor, said Judy Ogle supported her husband's dream even though it meant "a big drop in income" for them.
"She was there for him," Mathews said. "She said he had a calling."
Possibility #2 -- An Assassin's Bullet ... For now, the most private setting is when the two of us leave the marriage counseling appointment ... At one end of the sidewalk is dense trees. And when we leave it will be VERY dark in that direction ... Judy usually walks about 5 feet in front of me & I just stay to the side of the sidewalk that she's NOT on.
For years, the Ogles attended Baptist services but eventually were drawn to Herndon's Chantilly Bible Church, in a century-old converted barn in the middle of Frying Pan Park. Some of the children joined the youth ministry, and the parents became fast friends with the pastor, Steve Austin, a former civilian engineer in the Navy.
The math teacher stood out, Austin said, for his involvement and the look of "peace and contentment" on his face. He said it came as no surprise when, at age 38, Ogle said he'd been born again and called to the ministry himself.
In Lanham, Ogle thrived at the Capital Bible Seminary, situated on a hill at the end of a winding drive lined with dogwood trees. An older, seasoned student, he twice was elected student chaplain and attended parties at the home of seminary President Homer Heater.
"I remember him as being mature, taking leadership, being committed," Heater said. "No negatives."
When Ogle received his master of divinity degree in 1994, he set out -- in seminary parlance -- to "plant" a new church rather than take over an existing one. A group of 20 seminarians, including George Harton, the academic dean, went door-to-door in the Manassas area. Are you saved, they would ask. Do you have a plan for the afterlife? A new pastor was coming who could help.
At first, Ogle gathered groups of friends and a few neighbors in his basement recreation room. Then he rented space at the Manassas campus of Northern Virginia Community College, setting up a sandwich board on the walkway outside campus, inviting people to his Bull Run Bible Fellowship.
After three years at the college, Ogle relocated the flock in early 1998 to the Manassas Seventh-day Adventist Church, where renting the sanctuary normally cost $1,500 a month. Adventist officials said they agreed to charge $1,000 for the first year and jump to $1,500 a month on renewal.
Manassas, a center of born-again Christian activities in Northern Virginia, was fertile ground for Ogle, and he quickly joined in. He led prayer meetings for the Christian Coalition's Prince William chapter, became a "prayer warrior" -- the term for people who pray daily on political and social issues -- and marched in a fund-raising walkathon for the Crisis Pregnancy Center in Manassas, which opposes abortion.
Still, the church's elders were growing concerned about the future. Ogle's fellowship was losing members, down to 75 or 80 born-again believers. The rent was about to go up. And at the core of their worries loomed the pastor's marital problems.
The nature of the marital problems are not known outside Ogle's immediate circle, but when the elders heard about them, they questioned whether their minister could continue his moral leadership. "If you've got a wife who's not with you," said Heater, the seminary president, "you're wasting your time."
The church elders weighed these things and decided to close. We "felt it was God's direction to do so," said Elder Richard Hendershot, a certified public accountant.
Ogle's official status was "disfellowship," Heater said. He could get his church back, but he'd have to endure the public humiliation of being disciplined by church members, a long process requiring him to repent three times for failing his flock and his wife: publicly, privately and to the elders.
Possibility #3 -- Another Assassin's Bullet ... As the daylight starts to grow longer & the temperature warmer, Judy will sit on the front porch of our home to read the newspaper ... She will sit there from approximately 6:30 AM until her first kid arrives ... The problem with this one is that Catie has been getting up with Judy. However, Catie is to wash the kitchen floor while Judy is reading the paper.
In the days following the collapse of his church, those who talked to Ogle came away with the same impression: He blamed his wife for his failure. But Ogle also was giving out at least two stories. He told some people that she ruined his life when she made him give up his secure teaching job to join the seminary. But in the other version, his wife forced him out of the ministry because she wanted him home more.
Then one day, Ogle found Scott Jinks on his doorstep. The 36-year-old Manassas plumber had asked his wife for a divorce, and she had gone to Ogle for advice. Jinks -- according to his testimony in a preliminary hearing in Prince William County District Court -- didn't like the idea of Ogle's hearing only one side of the story. So he also sought out Ogle -- whom he had known for eight years -- even though Ogle had been unfrocked.
Jinks testified that he was surprised when Ogle "revealed to me the depth of his marital troubles" and made a veiled suggestion. "He said he would help me out of my situation if I would help him out of his," Jinks testified.
On Feb. 24, Jinks told the court, Ogle paged him and Jinks called him back. "He asked me to 'put Judy down,' to 'fire her,' " Jinks testified. "I gave Mr. Ogle the benefit of the doubt. I said, 'Do you mean to insult her?' He said, 'No, pull the trigger.' " The proposal was eerily similar to the plot in Hitchcock's "Strangers on a Train."
Jinks guessed that Ogle picked him because they had been out target shooting together. He contacted police and agreed to tape conversations with Ogle. The next time the two men spoke, Jinks said in court, he expressed "concerns over what to do with the body, the noise." Jinks asked
Ogle to mail Judy Ogle's daily schedule to Jinks' post office box. What arrived, police say, was the guide to a murder, now part of the case file.
On the morning of Feb. 28, after the Ogles returned from Sunday worship -- they were back at Chantilly Bible Church -- police cruisers pulled into the street. Ogle's family didn't know he'd been under investigation. Neighbors peered through curtains and figured there must have been a burglary -- until they saw the minister hauled out in handcuffs. He has been held without bond in the Prince William County jail since then.
In his office at the seminary, Heater said news of the charges swept through the Gothic hilltop tower like a chill wind. "I stood here and cried," he said.
Austin, the pastor at Chantilly Bible, said he doesn't quite know what to make of the turn of events, though he doesn't presume that Ogle is guilty. Like many of the born-again Christians in Ogle's circle, he decided that the former math teacher had been a genuine evangelical preacher, perhaps led astray by darker forces.
"Whether or not Satan was actively working is an open question," Austin said. "Every Christian is under Satan's attack. The more committed a person is to God, the greater the attack will become."
After Ogle's arrest, the pastor's children weren't seen around the neighborhood at first.
But within a month, neighbor Mathews said, the family had returned to its routine, "just life as normal." Judy Ogle dined out with friends recently, Mathews said, and "didn't talk about it, but otherwise seemed fine."
Judy Ogle helps with the softball league again. Her son has resumed walking the neighbor's dog.
And the family hasn't lost its faith. They still worship with Austin's congregation, where the pastor teaches that in church, unlike in the criminal justice system, redemption is always possible no matter what the transgression.
For those who own up to their sins, forgiveness "is immediate before God. As to the individuals affected, that's up to the person whether they're willing to forgive or not," Austin said.
"If in fact Jim has done everything that it appears he has, and he confesses his sins, then God would want Judy to forgive him."
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