The Carny Cult

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When carnivals come to town, the bright lights and enchanting sounds always draw in a crowd. 

I particularly love the food. Corn dogs and cotton candy are my favorite. 

A carnival has something for everyone. Games, rides, entertainment… But have you ever considered the individuals who set up all of the spectacular sights and sounds? Those who travel along with carnivals are often called carny’s, they help set up, keep rides running, and tear everything down when it’s time to move to a different location… 

But do we know anything about these individuals? Are they safe to be around? Are they murderers? 

This is the case of the  Carnival Cult and the murder of William Ault.

When Mark Goodwin was in school he was given an assignment to write about the meaning of Halloween. To assist him in his writing he would study satanic books in the library. He also began drawing inverted crosses within his notebooks.

Throughout his years, he continued his interest in Satanism. He began dressing in black clothing and isolating himself from others. He truly believed he could gain powers from Satan if he performed rituals, which would include animals. 

By the time Mark was 15, he had formed a cult. He named it Satan’s Disciples. 

Mark hand-picked his members, they were all close friends of Mark. To become a member they had to pledge their loyalty to satan. The group would spend their time reading the satanic bible, written by Antone Levay. And other times they would visit cemeteries wandering through the headstones. 

The members of the group were typical rebellious teens, smoking and drinking, disobeying their parents, but in time, Mark wanted the group to evolve into something a bit darker. During their gatherings, he didn’t drink or smoke and began wearing a black robe when they gathered. While everyone else was intoxicated, Mark would draw a pentagram on the ground and make the others chant with him an invocation to satan and to conjure demons to do their bidding. 

In time, Mark felt the group’s loyalty to satan needed to be proven further. To show their loyalty, he believed they needed to make sacrifices, so they began catching vermin and killing it. 

The group then began to catch cats to drain their blood and Mark would drink it… 

A cat would be killed with a knife and its blood drained out of it into a silver chalice, they would then pass around the chalice and drink the cats’ blood from it, and then sing and dance around an altar they had made.  They believed the blood possessed them with the spirit of Satan and would help them attract other demons. After, they would dive into sex… Heterosexual, bisexual, and even homosexual sex, was all part of the ceremony. 

Mark would go on to make the other men wear black robes during their gatherings. The few women that were part of the group were not allowed to wear robes, but instead would be required to wear black lingerie or be naked… 

Women were not allowed to be actual members. 

It wasn’t long before locals noticed this group of young people. It was reported that the group would invite young women to the local cemetery, offer them drugs, and have sex. Many would say they conducted orgies inside the cemetery.

While Mark had a good amount of control over the group, he seemingly had boundaries at this time. When one member of the cult suggested that they kidnap and murder a human infant… Mark disbanded his cult and moved on. 

Mark did want to pursue his interests in satanism and cults. Mark’s family knew he was into satanism and highly disagreed, so he continued his satanic rituals on his own, till he was 18 staying away from cult-like activity. 

But then he met Keith and David Lawrence. 

He met the two brothers while working in a fast-food restaurant. Keith was 18 and David was 21. Mark noticed a satanic necklace Keith had around his neck and they quickly realized they both were interested in satanism. 

Keith had been bullied throughout school and was sent to therapy as a result and ultimately he was sent to a boarding school during the 7th grade. His parents believed this would assist him, but it did quite the opposite. 

Keith had discovered satanism and spent his time at the boarding school learning more about it. When he came home, his brother David noticed that Keith’s whole personality had changed and he was angry and full of hate. Keith introduced David to satanism and David simply went along with what Keith taught him. 

This also led to a strange dynamic between the brothers that was noticeable when they met Mark. Keith the younger brother was more vocal and David was quiet. Keith would often tell David what to do and he would just go along with it. 

Though early on David did not want to pledge his loyalty to satan, Keith chased him through their home with a knife and forced him to pledge his loyalty.

Mark and Keith were very close in age and shared the same interests and tastes in music, they spent their time listening to lyrics in some of the metal bands they liked and read as much as they could on satanism. 

The two became so engrossed in satanism, that they wrote a contract swearing to satan that they would dedicate the next 20 years of their life to Satan. In the contract, they also noted that after 20 years Satan could do whatever he wanted with them.  

They signed this contract in their own blood.

David would be a spectator to this blood-signing ceremony. All three young men were having trouble at home and were close to being homeless. Leaving the fast-food job, the three joined an amusement company, this job would have them traveling with carnivals throughout Indiana and Ohio. Along the way, they decided to form a new satanic cult. During their last stop-in at the DeKalb County Free Fall Fair, the three met Jimmie Lee Penick, who claimed to be a Satanist. He said he was just looking for like-minded people that he would fit in with. At this time, Jimmie was actively practicing satanism. 

During this time the four of them would attempt to recruit other carny’s who may have an interest in satanism. During this recruiting, they would trade stories of their crimes, mostly petty crimes, but they quickly learned that Jimmie had murdered someone at a carnival earlier in the year, in Ohio. 

Jimmie murdered 18-year-old Andrew Wright. Andrew was another carny who worked with Jimmie and had learned of another crime that Jimmie committed. To keep Andrew silent, he murdered him. Jimmie slit Andrew’s throat and threw his body off of a turnpike. 

A few knew the murder took place and then rumors began to spread. Previously, within Mark’s first cult, he was repulsed by the idea of actually murdering a human, but at this time, he almost appeared to be intrigued by Jimmie’s crime.

As with any large group, rumors continue to spread, but the rumor of Jimmie’s crime made it to 21-year-old, William Anthony Ault, who went by the nickname Tony. He had some interest in satanism, but nothing that matched the interest of Mark or the others. He met Mark in September of 1991 as he was working at the same carnival. 

He told Mark he wanted to know more about Satanism and join their cult, Satan’s Disciples. Through rumors, Tony had discovered that Mark had operated this cult before, he had heard of all of the rituals and wanted to be part of the group. Tony was often an outcast and it seemed that he just wanted a group to fit into. 

The group rejected Tony, repeatedly, so he became desperate. Tony resorted to blackmail. Through the rumors, he had heard of the murder Jimmie committed and stated to the group that if they did not let him into the cult, he would go to the police with Jimmie’s crime. 

The group finally agreed to invite him in and start with a ritual to initiate Tony into the cult. 

On September 25th, 1991, Mark had a girlfriend by the name of Brenda Ferguson he told her he needed her help finding a secluded place where they could perform Tony’s initiation into the group, he also instructed her to make sure the location was good enough to take a photo to record the moment. 

This day would be the last day of the carnival as it packed up for the season. Brenda had found a location and drove, Mark, Keith, David, Jimmie, and Tony to a secluded barn.

Brenda was told to leave and come back for them in a few hours, so she left. The group began scavenging wood to build a bonfire. They used an old door as an altar and they pushed Tony to lay on the altar on his back, unsuspectingly. As Tony lay on the door, the others worked at tying his legs and arms to the door.

Once he was unable to move, Jimmie pulled out a knife, he began to make small cuts around Tony’s throat and neck.  At one point, he dragged the knife from his neck to his pelvis, but the wounds were not deep, Tony began to demand he be untied. He no longer wanted to be part of this ritual. 

The group had no intention of releasing Tony. To muffle his pleas, they stuffed a cloth into his mouth. They took turns carving satanic symbols and inverted crosses all over his body and chanting to invoke satan. The group continued on to cut both of Tony’s ears off.

If this wasn’t gruesome enough, Keith had an idea to cut open Tony’s chest to remove his heart while it was still beating. Keith began to open Tony’s chest and attempted to pull his heart out, but it became too difficult so he decided not to continue. 

As Tony lay on the makeshift alter, Jimmie whispered to him, Are you ready to die?

Jimmie then took the knife and cut open Tony’s Jugular vein… They all watched his life fade away. After Tony was dead, the group began dismembering him. They cut his head off and hands and threw them in the bonfire, then disposed of the rest in a field. 

After Tony’s skull had been burnt to just bone, Keith pulled it out of the fire, he buried it, and said he would come back to dig it up later. He wanted to give the skull to someone as a gift. 

The group took Tony’s money and when Brenda came back they went to Arby’s to eat. 

The four would work for a few more carnivals till October, then Jimmie would go home to Shelbyville, Indiana, and Mark and the Lawrence brothers headed to Florida to look for winter carnival jobs. During the drive to Florida, they named the van Rigor Mortis, they eventually found work and things were quiet, except for Mark. Mark was struggling with guilt. 

The amusement company they all worked for disbanded and Mark stayed in Florida, while the Lawrence brothers went to the Bahamas to work. 

Remember… Mark turned his back on his high school cult because he didn’t want to commit murder. And now… He had committed murder. Becoming overwhelmed with the guilt he called his father in Indiana and told him everything. 

After this phone call on December 12th, 1991, Mark’s father, called the police. He stated his son had witnessed the murder of a man during a satanic sacrifice. On December 13th, officers found Tony’s dismembered corpse, skull fragments, and hand bone fragments as well as traces of fire. 

Mark was arrested and charged with conspiracy to commit murder. Jimmie was arrested in Shelbyville and charged with murder. Jimmie did confess to the police. The Lawrence brothers were now working in the Bahamas at this time and were charged with aiding in murder once they came back into the country.

David Lawrence pled guilty and told authorities he wasn’t even into satanism, but went along because his brother wanted him to. He also told police that he never touched Tony during the ritual. 

A judge ruled that David was manipulated by his younger brother and received an 8-year sentence. 

Keith was charged with conspiracy to murder because he carved crosses and tried to tear out Tony’s heart, he received  30 years in prison 

Jimmie pled guilty and received 60 years in Ohio, and 20 years to life in Indiana.

Mark and David served their 8 years and are free today.
Keith only served 11 years and was released in 2004. But his freedom ended once again in 2006 when he was arrested for intoxication, battery, and criminal confinement. He was sentenced to 180 days and then released again. 

Mark and Lawrence brothers are all free today. 

What do you think? Did these young men get consumed with the hype of Satanism? Or were they just torturing Tony because he knew too much? 

Either way, we will just leave this one to the realms of the unexplained…

That one was full of twists and tons of gore… In my opinion, I don’t think enough time was served amongst the men that were released. I was a bit shocked at the leniency of the sentences, especially since this occurred during the peak of the Satanic Panic era. 

What do you think? Should more time have been spent in prison? Share your thoughts on the comment section of our  or on our socials. 

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