Murders of prominent Gospel musicians remain unsolved

Killed as L.A. became music hub

William Covington | 6/26/2014, midnight

Author’s note: Sept. 30 1975. I was traveling southbound down McKinley Avenue, and I noticed something very odd—a church building draped in black fabric. It appeared to be hundreds of yards of cloth hanging from the roof along the front of the building and blowing periodically in the wind. As a 16-year-old youth, I thought it was a special religious celebration or some Christian holiday I wasn’t aware of.

I knew I would shortly have the answer, because that day I was chauffeuring my mother and her best friend, Mrs. Ruby Tolliver.

Mrs. Ruby was a true church sister of the 1970s. She was a “holy roller:” a woman of rather large stature, always ready to discuss the Lord, and she did not mind calling bad kids “demons,” when they were acting up. Sometimes she was very descriptive when using the word demon. She knew everything about church and if it was a church holiday, she would know.

Overlooking my mom, I immediately asked Mrs. Ruby, who attended her church seven days a week, why this particular church was draped in black? Was it a special religious holiday?

Mrs. Ruby looked at me and said, “No son. Someone is going around here killing these ‘sissy’ preachers. The man preaching at this church was found dead around the corner from you, and they cut his penis off and put it in his mouth.”

Two years later I was leaving a chemistry class with a student I had just met, and he asked me what high school I went to? I told him Jefferson High. He then asked me if I lived on the Eastside. I told him yes. When I told him the location of my house, he informed me that he used to attend church in my neighborhood—Victory Baptist Church. He asked if I knew about someone killing Rev. Peters and I responded “yes.” After another second of silence he asked, “Man did they really find him with his penis cut off?”

A few years ago some African American local scholars were asked if they knew about a conspiracy to kill all Black gay preachers, and 75 percent of them said “yes” after thinking about it. When asked if there was anything they remembered in particular about the situation, most of the males responded with “didn’t they cut off someone’s penis?”

The age of individuals I asked was 50 plus, and they all referred to the murder of Rev. Arthur Atlas Peters.

In addition to Rev. Peters, Rev. Alphonso Smith, and Gospel music director Thurston Frazier were murdered between March 1974 and September 1975; all were rumored to have been gay.

In researching these murdered clergy, I discovered that other religious leaders, like James Cleveland, went out and hired private body guards in the wake of the killings.

Rumors about these murders are still alive in the African American community today.

By the 1950s and 1960s, Los Angeles had emerged as a national center for Gospel music. Not only had these artists—Rev. Arthur Peters (who met with Martin Luther King Jr., when he visited Los Angeles in 1961) , Alphonso Smith aka “the minister of love,” and musician Thurston Frazier—established themselves along with James Cleveland left a legacy in the industry. It is also believed by local elders in the community, that these individuals settled in Los Angeles to take advantage of opportunities in churches and the expanding Gospel music industry (radio, recordings, and television).