One young man who joined the sessions in 1970 recalls that students would bring special meditation mats, usually bathmats or scraps of carpet, to Terri’s home in Farmers Branch. Terri would lead them into meditation — a state much like a hypnotic trance — and tell them they were entering a higher plateau of spiritual development where they could find the temples of the world’s spiritual masters. Christ was a master; so were Buddha, Lao Tzu, Mohammed and Bahá'u'lláh.
During the meeting, Terri would lead the students on a tour of the temples of the higher realms — astral for the emotions, mental for logic, and ether for the highest realm, where the soul itself resided. She would describe the temples as a Washington tour guide might aid a busload of blind tourists, and the students would add descriptive touches as if they, too, were looking at a brick and mortar building — which they often thought they were. Whatever they said about the temple they were touring, Terri would agree.
Acceptance and love were her bywords, and she blessed her followers like a Pope. To one girl who spent 1969 and 1970 in her high school group, Terri autographed a wallet-sized photo of herself:
To a sweet and dear friend ... May the love, wisdom and power of God be with you 10 lead you and guide you all your life bringing to yourself and others true blessings. Always be an example. Keep god in your heart, bring him to your mind and then live god all day. I send you peace, joy love, light and harmony. Love always, Terri.
Terri instructed her students on the Akashic Records, as she said the Lutheran church woman had instructed her. The records, she told her students, gave her knowledge of their past and future lives, and of their love lives. If asked (and who could resist asking?), she would look into the records to see whether her students had found their "soul mates." Usually they had, but one young couple was devastated to hear that their souls were not right for each other. "We took that very seriously. We would sit around and talk about it — ’Well, we love each other but we’re not soul mates,’" says one girl.
Without seeming to brag outright, Terri told her students of her powers. "She claimed that she levitated her body in bed one night," a former student recalls. "Her husband woke up one night, ’and there she was floating above the bed! He didn’t know what to do.’"
She said she could heal the sick; when her son, Kenneth, who was on a picnic with one group, dislocated his thumb so painfully that her students could see the bone straining against the skin, Terri said she didn’t want the boy to see a doctor. She wanted to heal him through meditation.
She claimed that she could protect her students from harm; one evening she told a Hillcrest High School student that his girlfriend was due to die in a car accident. Only an emergency meditation session could save her. After the session, Terri smiled serenely. The accident had been averted.
Even death did not render Terri powerless. After Jimi Hendrix’s demise, she told the group that his soul needed a boost to reach a higher plane. Jimi’s drug use had brought him bad karma, but he deserved better because he had made beautiful music. The group meditated, and a beatific look swept over Terri’s face. "Jimi’s in the room!" she said. "Can’t you hear him?"
Nor, thanks to the Akashic Records, was Terri fazed by deaths occurring centuries ago. She would turn off the room lights and have a student hold a piece of tinted plastic in front of his face. Then she would shine a flashlight on his features. There! Now everyone can see that Billy (or Allen or Jimmy or Cindy or Suzy) was a Chinese wiseman!
Gradually, those episodes plus Terri’s incongruous interest in material goods — Have you seen our new boat? Isn’t it wonderful! — turned her students into skeptics. Some would leave, but others would take their places. John Wilder, who never believed in her "powers" in the first place, says her behavior also led to the dissolution of the Wilder household.
Wilder says he couldn’t go along with the idea of breaking up teenage romances "because they weren’t soul mates." And Terri’s work with adults was becoming a point of contention. She was selling "lessons" in spiritual development — mostly borrowed from established religions and from other authors, Wilder thought. By the late '60s, she had started a group called Conscious Development of Body, Mind and Soul, and she was accepting "love offerings" for the lessons and her private "consultations." Sometimes the love offerings would amount to $50 or $100. "It was a little hard to take," Wilder would say later. "I was making $101 a week."
Equally hard to stomach were some of Terri’s disciples, who followed her like puppies. Sandra Cleaver was one. Wilder remembers Sandy telling him that she thought of Terri "as Jesus." He also remembers Sandy giving Terri "a tremendous amount of jewelry ... a necklace, a bracelet, rings." He told Sandy to take the jewelry back, "and she got on her knees and begged me to let her [Terri] have it."
And there was Glenn Cooley, a student at North Texas State University, who always tried to sit next to Terri at the meetings, so he could hold her hand during meditation sessions. Terri says her husband’s unfounded jealousy of Glenn drove him to distraction and her to court.
Terri filed for divorce on December 28, 1970. Soon she was taken by sheriff's deputies to Parkland Hospital for a psychiatric evaluation. Wilder and her mother had signed the committal papers. She was released and insists that her doctor at Parkland "decided I was fine." But in the subsequent divorce, she lost custody of her young son and daughter. Under the divorce decree, granted on March 23, 1971, Terri gained custody of her teenage daughter, her 1968 Mustang, an assortment of stocks, a shotgun, a rifle and a pistol. John Wilder kept the house, the two youngest children, the furniture, and the family bank accounts.
Within months, Terri, then 33, had married Glenn Cooley, who had just turned 20. They went to New Mexico for the ceremony, accompanied by Sandy Cleaver. Then they returned to Dallas, bought a house at 4163 Dunhaven Drive, and began revising and expanding the Conscious Development literature. Terri, like any missionary, wanted the world to know that she had the answers.
Sandra Cleaver had the questions.
Sandy was in many ways Terri’s mirror image. Terri was plump while Sandy was slender. Terri grew up poor; Sandy, through a skip-generation trust, benefited from the inherited wealth of the Beatty and Roden families of Alabama. Terri never graduated from high school but grew up streetwise; Sandy grew up naive, but attended an exclusive girls’ school in Birmingham and graduated in three and a half years from DePauw University in Indiana. She took a double major and earned nothing but As and Bs.
And yet the women had much in common. Terri’s mother died of tuberculosis; Sandy’s was in a mental hospital by 1951, when Sandy was 12. One of Terri’s sisters died at birth; Sandy’s sister, Susan Devereaux Beatty, died in an auto accident in 1961, at the age of 17. Both were interested in the mystical powers of jewelry and in all things metaphysical. Terri’s marriage with John Wilder was on the rocks; so was Sandy’s life with Chuck Cleaver.
Sandy had met Chuck Cleaver at DePauw. Chuck was hard not to notice: He played center for the school basketball team. He and Sandy were a good match — both thin, good-looking, quiet, serious, and intelligent. Sandy’s fervent intensity played well against Chuck’s easygoing manner. They married fresh out of college in 1960 and settled in Dallas at 4434 Manning Lane. Neighbors talked about dinners at the Cleavers, where they were less likely to discuss sports or the weather than to analyze a popular book or song. "I remember one night we were over there and we talked about the song 'Look What They’ve Done to My Song,'" says one neighbor. "Looking back, that’s pretty poignant."
In 1964 they had a daughter, whom they named Susan Devereaux Cleaver in memory of Sandy’s sister. They were spending a good bit of Sandy’s money — it would be years before Chuck got the kind of high-power job that his neighbors felt his abilities merited — but Sandy had money to spare. She also had excess energy, which she burned off on community and church projects.
But in 1966, Sandy’s father died. He had retired from an engineering professorship at Purdue University and was piloting a single-engine Beechcraft on its final landing approach when the engine failed. Sandy told Chuck she wished she could have spoken with her father one last time. There were so many loose ends.