Sandy embarked on her spiritual search in the midst of the Age of Aquarius. Mysticism was to the late '60s what jogging was to the late '70s, and Sandy was captivated by most of the fads. She read Edgar Cayce’s The Sleeping Prophet; she read An Autobiography of a Yogi; she began to attend meditation and treatment sessions hosted by a plumber of Oriental extraction. She took up Silva Mind Control, vegetarianism and homeopathic medicine. She believed that certain jewels possessed healing properties and, fearful of letting herself go unshielded by her gems, would wear several bracelets and necklaces plus roughly 14 rings, even in the shower.
Sandy’s mystic friends were seeing a "homeopathic doctor" who, from the legal haven of Mexico, would diagnose their illnesses over the cosmic airwaves and prescribe homeopathic pills to cure them. The pills, shipped to Sandy via Greyhound bus (to avoid possible conflicts with U.S. Postal Service regulations) filled an entire kitchen cabinet. Sandy would take 20 of them a day, which worried Chuck. Then she began to talk about the doctor’s prescriptions for 6-year-old Devereaux, which terrified him.
He took the pills to a medical doctor, who found them to be mere placebos. "It’s not what’s in the pills that you need to be concerned about," the doctor told him. "What you need to be concerned about is a young, impressionable girl and the psychological implication that, first, there is something seriously wrong with her, and, second, that you solve it by popping pills."
One afternoon Chuck came home to find Sandy and Devereaux heading out of the house, suitcases packed. Sandy was holding two plane tickets to San Diego. She wanted to take Devereaux to her homeopath so he could put her in a special machine that tuned out all the world’s "bad vibrations." Chuck grabbed Sandy by her shoulders and shook her. No! Absolutely not! Over my dead body! It was as close as he ever came to physical violence.
He didn’t think Sandy was trying to hurt Devereaux. Throughout her life, she seemed to want whatever was best for her family and friends. But now Sandy believed conventional medical doctors were quacks, unable to cure what really ailed Devereaux.
One night Chuck found Devereaux’s bedsheets damp with her own sweat. She was hot to the touch and florid. Chuck wanted to take her to a pediatrician. Sandy wanted to treat her with meditation, incantations and incense. Chuck insisted. Over my dead body! Sandy replied, I’m not taking her to doctors anymore! Chuck lay awake until 5 a.m., scooped Devereaux out of the bed and quietly bundled her into the back seat of his car. They drove around North Dallas for two hours, until he woke Devereaux’s pediatrician. She had scarlet fever.
From that morning, Chuck knew that he was staying at home purely to be near Devereaux, who became something to fight over. During one argument, Sandy waved a butcher knife around the kitchen and said, "Sometimes I think Devereaux would be better off in heaven."
Devereaux was not the only thing that drove them apart. There was Sandy’s new friend, Terri. Chuck thought she was a phony. He didn’t want Devereaux visiting her house. Terri and John Wilder sometimes argued violently, and they had a large gun collection. Chuck begged Sandy not to get herself or Devereaux into Conscious Development. "I really have to help Devereaux overcome all the problems that are caused by your bad vibrations, your bad feelings about Terri," she replied.
Sandy had only good feelings about Terri. She told Chuck that her new friend was St. Theresa reincarnated, that Terri could diagnose illnesses over great distances, that with the proper jewelry — which Sandy could supply — Terri could help cure even cancer. Terri could put a protective shield around Devereaux, Sandy said — a shield Terri had promised would be strong enough to save her from anything "except the negative vibrations from your husband, which are very powerful." When Chuck complained about Devereaux’s welfare, Sandy told him all their problems stemmed from his negative thoughts. Thoughts that strong, she said, could actually produce bacteria and viruses that would infect her daughter.
Sandy wrote Terri a check for $3,000, and Chuck complained, but he didn’t leave the house. Sandy, attending a dinner party, announced that she would turn the wine back into grape juice. Chuck didn’t even complain. He held his tongue when Sandy announced that she was a former high priestess of Atlantis and when she told a family friend that they were compatible because in a previous life they’d been married. The stranger Sandy got, the closer Chuck stayed to home.
In December of 1970, Sandy told Chuck that Terri was divorcing her husband "because he was impeding her spiritual growth." On April 22, 1971, Sandy told Chuck that she had filed for divorce: "You are impeding my spiritual growth."
Their breakup was not tidy. Devereaux became the object of a bitter custody fight, with Sandy begging neighbors to write letters saying she was a competent mother and giving them detailed accounts of what she said were flaws in Chuck’s character. Chuck, meanwhile, was compiling a list of Sandy’s forays into the metaphysical. It ran from astral projection to witchcraft. And he was telling his lawyers about the late-evening calls from neighbors puzzled that Sandy, who had dropped Devereaux off at their house before a Conscious Development meeting, had never returned to pick the child up.
It is customary for the county juvenile welfare office to investigate the parents in child-custody cases and to make a recommendation to the divorce judge. Parents are not allowed to see that report, but their lawyers are. Chuck says that before the scheduled custody trial, he met with his lawyer and with Sandy’s lawyer. Both men, he recalls, told him that he stood an excellent chance of winning but that if he got custody, Sandy might well kill Devereaux. The two lawyers — Sandy was not at the meeting — advised him to settle for visitation privileges. Chuck agreed, then went to the home of his friend Gene Coker and drank.
Though Terri later would claim that Chuck was after Sandy’s money, lawyers for both sides say money was the last thing on Chuck’s mind. Under the divorce agreement, all Chuck kept of the marital estate was a 1971 Mercedes and his personal property. One thing he insisted upon was a provision in the divorce settlement saying that Sandra would have Devereaux treated only by "recognized physicians admitted to practice in Texas."
While the divorce was pending, Sandy paid for a Hawaiian honeymoon trip for Terri and Glenn Cooley. She went with them, taking Devereaux along for the ride despite a court order not to remove her from the state. After the divorce, Sandy and Terri became practically inseparable. Sandy helped Terri and Glenn make the jewelry that supported them. Her kitchen table was covered with jewelry-making tools. Terri would sell some of their wares to Conscious Development members — I think this ring is just right for your energies — but their work was good enough to sell at craft fairs throughout the state. Often Sandy went on those trips, leaving Devereaux in the care of Louise Watson, known to friends as "Weasie."
Sandy would meditate for hours with Terri and helped write the lessons Terri was selling under the Conscious Development name. She bought the group a printing press, which she installed in her home. She was far more than Mrs. Chuck Cleaver now; she was founding a new religious movement.
Conscious Development was the hottest thing in the Dallas metaphysical community, maybe even in the Southwest. It was attracting serious, good-hearted people who wanted to become better in some way — who wanted to explore the aspects of their world and themselves — which the physical sciences could not explain. Some joined purely because of Terri’s charisma and knack of knowing what was important to people. But many had a crying need for something: balm for the pain of losing a loved one, help in dealing with a crippled body, or merely the warmth and loyalty of a tight-knit group.
Janine Schneider was attracted by Terri’s reputation and obvious intuitive gifts. She joined Conscious Development in 1974, when there were 110 local students attending weekly meetings, plus perhaps thousands receiving correspondence courses. Janine was educated, sensitive and hard-working, and quickly rose to become "executive director" of Conscious Development. Almost as quickly, she became disillusioned with Terri, whom she saw as a person with great gifts and talents but without the psychological roots to use them properly.
For one thing, Terri saw no distinction between Conscious Development’s funds and her own. Donations, fees for lessons and, later, the proceeds from the estates of some of her followers all would go into her personal bank accounts.
For another thing, Janine had read enough philosophy to know that some of Terri’s mystic revelations sounded much like the work of various (mortal) writers. Sometimes Terri would tell people that in their past lives they had been a great spiritual leader and then quote them a biography straight from a well-known book. Sometimes Terri would give the same illustrious past life to two or more of her followers.
And there was Terri’s insistence on being the star — the highest master of Conscious Development, perhaps even the "revelator" of her generation, as Christ and Buddha had been for theirs. By 1977, Janine Schneider saw Conscious Development assuming some of the more disturbing aspects of Terri’s personality. Conscious Development, she thought, was on the road from study group to cult. Its members were sworn to secrecy and induced to feel extravagant admiration for Terri, who increasingly played on their feelings of guilt and anxiety. Terri was changing from guide to guru.
Joyce Tepley, a Dallas psychotherapist who has since quit Conscious Development, was in the elite "teachers’ group" at the time. Members were handpicked by Terri and were told that they were spiritual masters, put on the Earth to help their fellow men. Even death should not scare them because it would only allow them to move to a higher plane of existence. The Earth, Terri said, was the 17th-lowest planet in the universe, in terms of the "vibratory energy" that determined the peace and happiness available on a planet.
The 40 men and women in the teachers’ group formed the nucleus of Conscious Development. In 1977, Joyce and several other former members contend (despite Terri’s denials), Terri told them that she had been meditating and had been informed by the spiritual masters that she and her friends had to do more than just study. They had to fight. There were two forces in the world – positive and negative, good and evil. They must help the good.
The evil forces, Terri announced, were called black lords. They traveled in lodges and could be fought only in the spiritual realms, not the physical world. The teachers’ group had been selected as worthy of carrying on the battle. It would be a dangerous fight, but she could guide them through it.