Gold, Guns and God, Vol. 5: The Murder and the Mandir

A Biography of Swami Bhaktipada and a History of the West Virginia New Vrindaban Hare Krishna Community in Ten Volumes, by Henry Doktorski

Purchase Gold, Guns and God: Vol. 5

Henry Doktorski’s landmark 346-page non-fiction book about Swami Bhaktipada and the West Virginia Hare Krishna commune called New Vrindaban, can be purchased in several ways:

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November 11, 2020

Oh, Henry. Oh my God. I was on my way to work at 1 am in the morning, and I saw your book, Gold, Guns and God, Vol. 5 sticking out of my mailbox. After my shift was finished, I began almost running back home, and I thought, “I’ll just glance through Henry’s new book, and have a coffee.” I was very anxious to “dive in” into this extraordinary blast-from-the-past story of the deranged devoted devotees of the New Vrindaban community.

The next thing I know, several hours had passed, and I finished reading 90 pages: until just after they killed Chakradhari. Oh my God, Henry, it’s such a detailed explanation and expresses the viewpoints of all the characters in this story. You’re taking this to the next level. You took it to the next level. You’re a truth seeker, exploring the truth, revealing the truth. I admire your cojones. I truly and deeply appreciate your detailed style of writing, dear friend. You definitely make sure that “no stone is left unturned,” with excellent documentation: references, letters, quotes, etc. You have no hidden agenda. You simply present the plain facts, which basically speak for themselves.

I’m looking forward to reading the rest of this enormous and absolutely vital historical biography of Swami Bhaktipada. I also hope that your books will help others to heal the wounds of deranged devotion, as they helped me. Om Shanti. Om Tat Sat.

Rafael Kotowski
Former ISKCON devotee and former disciple of Indradyumna “Swami”
Hamburg, Germany

PS I have all four of your books, as seen in the attached photo.

December 4, 2020

Hi Henry,

I finally finished reading your excellent Gold, Guns and God, Volume 5—The Murder and the Mandir. Again, a great read; enlightening and informative! Thank you so much for your first person perspective and information. Appreciate everything you’ve done to enlighten my knowledge of the “Black Sheep of the Ham Family!” Looking forward to future chapters!

Here’s a picture to share, and you can add my comments as well if you want to! I can’t wait to go to New Vrindaban again and really see for the first time the magnitude of the devotion, the extremely difficult and tumultuous times, and the dedication to survive and make the community what it is today. I not all is not perfect and never will be, but I find New Vrindaban to be a great place to visit, relax, and rejuvenate. I missed going to New Vrindaban in 2020. Here’s to a better 2021!!

Take care, Hare Krishna, God Bless, and Thank You!

Barbare Michaels
Bath, Pennsylvania

December 5, 2020

Five Stars

Excellent and fascinating historical document!

This volume provides tremendous insight into the backstory of how the Palace of Gold came to be in West Virginia. The entire story of the New Vrindavan Community from start until Keith Ham’s incarceration in 1996 is nothing short of dramatic and full of the twists and turns of a great novel. I find the story, the community, the characters absolutely fascinating. At the same time it is quite revolting. The author accomplishes quite a historical document here. The reader gets to enjoy a front row seat of the details, planning, and financing of the famous Palace of Gold. There are plenty of facts that are well documented to paint an exciting picture of the better years of New Vrindavan.

Of course, the more important aspect of this story is that the author also embraces the unfortunate series of events that eventually led to the downfall and excommunication of its leader and community. From a historical perspective, I can’t thank and admire the author’s meticulous attention to detail. The amount of hard work to provide the reader with an accurate depiction of how New Vrindavan came to be is to be celebrated and recognized. Henry has my profound respect for this.

I’ve always been fascinated by the character that is Keith Ham. Amazing how such a flawed person (known even in the 26 Second Ave days) was welcome back to ISKCON after Prabhupada personally banned him. Even when the writing was on the wall (stealing the Gita and trying to get it printed as his own, disobeying Prabhupada after taking sannyasi vows, dressing in suit and tie) he was able to rise to be such a prominent “guru” within ISKCON. I’ve always wondered if this says more about Keith as a person or ISKCON as a spiritual institution. In any case, Keith Ham is definitely a complex character and aside from the generally known deviations about him (sexual, philosophical, religious), this book reveals there were more than I originally thought. Reading about them is somewhere between deeply disturbing and complete disbelief.

Today I finished this volume only to find out that the volume I’ve been anticipating the most—Volume One about the biography of Keith Ham was just released! Thanks Henry! You have single handedly made my free time disappear!

Pedro Ramos
Atlanta, Georgia

From a review at Amazon.

December 12, 2020

Henry’s books are fascinating. I think they’re important to American religious history, and I think they’re important to anybody interested in Christian apologetics, specifically with regards to the dynamics of cults.

Rev. Jack Davila-Ashcraft
From an interview with Henry about Gold, Guns and God, Vol. 5, at Expedition Truth Radio.


Volume 5 of Gold, Guns and God covers a ten-year time span roughly from 1982 to 1992. During this period, especially in the early- to mid-1980s, New Vrindaban was becoming accepted by the mainstream media. Newspapers and television and radio shows often had something good to say about the Hare Krishnas for a change. Millions of dollars per year flowed into the community from New Vrindaban “pickers” (panhandlers), construction proceeded in high gear, and architectural plans were being drawn for the largest South Indian-style temple to be built, some claimed, in the last thousand years.

The Groundbreaking Ceremony for the Great Temple of Understanding, as Bhaktipada called it, to be constructed of millions of tons of solid, hand-carved, black granite blocks, was held in May 1985, and was attended by two ISKCON gurus, Marshall and Ohio County mayors, police chiefs, politicians in West Virginia state government, and a United States Congressman. The sun of good fortune was basking down on New Vrindaban, and all of ISKCON benefited from the positive publicity. Many ISKCON spiritual masters visited New Vrindaban and praised Bhaktipada’s vision with flowery words.

Unfortunately, also during this time, abominable anomalies of immoral and criminal activities were polluting the holy atmosphere, behind the scenes. And the saddest part of all: the most heinous aberrations were coming from the top. One former Brijabasi, during a telephone conversation with the author described in Chapter 47, relates how once he had walked unannounced into a Fringe devotee’s house and observed Bhaktipada drinking beer and preparing to shoot a line of cocaine. Bhaktipada left immediately without speaking.

The next day, as explained to the author, Bhaktipada took the Brijabasi on a ride in his vehicle up to a pond on New Vrindaban property. Bhaktipada stopped the vehicle, turned to him, and ordered him to leave New Vrindaban immediately, or else his body might wind up at the bottom of the pond, where, Bhaktipada claimed, a few others were already buried. Our friend promptly left the community. Unfortunately, in less than a year, another Brijabasi’s body would be buried under a creek not far from the pond; murdered with authorization from the top.

Chapters 48 and 49 discuss the New Vrindaban Fringe community, the plot to kill Charles Saint-Denis (Chakradhari), the June 1983 murder, and the banishment of the principal assassin from the community. Although the killing was carefully planned and executed in secret, many Brijabasis correctly guessed who was the killer: Thomas A. Drescher (Tirtha dasa), the community’s chief enforcer. Tirtha’s murder trial will be discussed in Gold, Guns and God, Vol. 7.

In the meantime, a new temple for the principal deities of New Vrindaban was constructed in record time behind the Palace, near the guest lodge. The deities were installed with great fanfare in July 1983, less than a month after the murder of Chakradhari. His body was buried under a creek on community property hardly three miles distant. Yet the installation festival was packed with residents, visiting ISKCON devotees, a visiting ISKCON guru, and thousands of tourists coming to visit Prabhupada’s Palace of Gold. All were blissful, except a handful of people who were close friends to Chakradhari.

Plans for the Great Temple of Understanding were revealed, as well as plans to construct a spiritual theme park, something like Disneyland, called Land of Krishna. The dairy herd grew so rapidly that a new cow barn and state-of-the-art milking parlor were constructed. Bhaktipada began talking about building the largest carillon (bell tower) in the world at New Vrindaban. The steel frame for the massive Great Maha-Dvarum Gateway of the Holy Name, the first phase of construction for the Great Temple of Understanding, was completed on Krishna’s birthday in 1988. Six enormous computer-controlled bronze bells were installed in the gateway four years later.

To many, it seemed as if the sky was the limit regarding the expansion of New Vrindaban as an international place of pilgrimage for ISKCON devotees and Hindus in North America. Unfortunately, unknown to all except a select few, an undercurrent of evil permeated the atmosphere, and in time, karma would demand an eye for an eye. The “Golden Age” of New Vrindaban would not last for long.


Chapter 47: Show-Bottle Guru

    Prabhupada warns about showbottle “gurus”
    Bhaktipada exhibits his “lingam”
    Deranged devotion
    The “Swami” enjoys intoxicants
    Randall Gorby confirms Kirtanananda’s secret pleasures

Chapter 48: King of the Fringies

    Chakradhari dasa
    Ambhudara devi dasi
    Sex and intoxication
    Chakradhari had a temper
    Nine Fringies “expelled”
    Bhaktipada appreciates Chakradhari’s service
    Chakradhari starts a nursery business
    Tirtha builds a house
    Murder met his personality
    Tirtha incarcerated for manufacture of methaqualone
    Tirtha becomes New Vrindaban’s chief enforcer
    Tirtha protects the Brijabasis
    Showbottle excommunication
    Doctor Nick
    Chakradhari requests a loan from the community
    Daruka dasa’s troubles:
    (1) An alleged attempted rape of Daruka’s wife
    (2) The death of the sons of Chakradhari and Daruka
    (3) The alleged rape of Daruka’s wife
    Daruka decides to kill Chakradhari
    Daruka informs Bhaktipada of his plan to murder Chakradhari
    Vedic scriptures permit killing an aggressor
    Tirtha’s alleged motive for killing Chakradhari
    Tirtha becomes more and more violent
    Bhaktipada’s motive for authorizing Chakradhari’s murder

Chapter 49: The Murder

    Daruka has second thoughts about the murder
    News of the murder spreads through New Vrindaban
    The gravesite oozes fluid
    Chakradhari’s house burned
    Daruka leaves New Vrindaban
    Tirtha leaves New Vrindaban
    Tirtha banished from New Vrindaban

Chapter 50: The Mandir

    A New temple for Radha-Vrindaban Chandra
    Radha-Krishna, Gaura-Nitai, and Gopal Nathji
    Procession to Guruban
    Installation of the deities
    Lord Nrisimhadeva installed
    Rama, Sita, Lakshman and Hanuman installed
    Lord Jagannath, Lady Subhadra and Lord Baladeva intalled
    New Vrindaban North, South, East and West
    Bathing ghat excavated
    Giant Gaura-Nitai statues erected
    The swan boat
    Other gigantic sculptures at New Vrindaban
    Malini the elephant
    Jharikhanda Wildlife Sanctuary
    Palace Press
    Song of God
    Christ and Krishna
    “Dear Swami”
    Palace Television
    Computers at New Vrindaban
    Harassment of devotees by neighbors decreases
    Assessor increases New Vrindaban taxes

Chapter 51: Cows, Calves and Bullshit

    The goshalla
    An agricultural community
    The tractor controversy
    Tractors at New Vrindaban
    New Vrindaban goshalla expands
    Govardhan dairy

Chapter 52: The Temple of Understanding and Land of Krishna

    Radha-Vrindaban Chandra’s proposed Palace
    The proposed Great Temple of Understanding
    New Vrindaban: a transcendental city
    Land of Krishna
    European tour
    Stone quarry purchased
    Excavating the proposed temple site
    Ground-breaking ceremony for the proposed temple
    U. S. congressman speaks at New Vrindaban
    Installation of Ananta-Sesa
    The Cities of God
    Favorable publicity
    New Vrindban patronized by local businesses, ISKCON gurus
    Public opinion changes again
    The Maha-Dvaram gateway

Chapter 53: For Whom the Bell Tolls

    Bells in Vaishnava tradition
    The bells of New Vrindaban
    The carillon
    Verdin bell company contracted
    Six bells installed in the Maha-Dvaram gateway
    The bells malfunction
    Bhaktipada praises Hindu culture
    Success believed assured


U. S. Geological Survey topographic map of McCreary Ridge showing location of principle sites of New Vrindaban.

His Divine Grace A. C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada. Chakradhari (Charles Saint-Denis) at top right wearing a white shirt.

Chakradhari (Charles Saint-Denis)

Chakradhari (Charles Saint-Denis)

Daruka (Daniel Reid) (c. January 1987)

Tirtha (Thomas Drescher), mug shot (c. June 1986)

Tirtha (Thomas Drescher) (c. December 1986)

Ambudhara (Deborah Gere) (December 1986)

Map of Bahulaban, showing cabin where Chakradhari was murdered and creek where he was buried (lower right). From Brijabasi Spirit (April 13, 1975).

Bhaktipada supervises a construction marathon; building Radha-Vrindaban Chandra’s new temple.

Head priest Gaura-Keshava (Gregory Jay) offers aroti to the straw man (July 2, 1983).

Procession for the deities from Bahulaban to the new temple (July 2, 1983).

Preparing to install the chakra on the roof of the new temple (July 2, 1983).

The “spiritual master” invites the Supreme Lord to enter into the deity of Gopal Nathji (July 2, 1983).

The main altar.

The presiding deities of New Vrindaban, Radha-Vrindaban Chandra, on their new altar. At their feet are Radha-Madhava and Radha-Vrindaban Nath. On the lowest level are the original little Radha-Krishna deities (acquired in September 1968) and two Salagram Silas: Sri Hiranyagarbha and Sri Sudarsan.


Sri Gopal Nathji with Govardhan Sila at his feet.

Altar of Nrsimhadeva and Prahlada.

Altar of Lakshman, Rama, Sita and Hanuman.

Altar of Balabhadra, Subhadra, and Jagannath.

Hindu pilgrims attend aroti.

Behind bars: Head pujari Gopinath dasa (Ronald Nay), after 1986 known as Radha-Vrindaban Chandra Swami.

Waiting patiently for prasadam on the first floor of the Guest Lodge.

Fireworks at Kaliya Ghat.

Bathing at Kaliya Ghat.

Forty-foot-tall heroic sculpture of Chaitanya Mahaprabhu under construction.

Heroic sculptures of Lord Nityananda and Lord Chaitanya.

The Swan Boat.

Heroic concrete elephant greets pilgrims as they drive into the temple parking lot.

Heroic earth-moving equipment.

Malini and her mahout, Tattva (Thomas Reidman).

Hot-air balloon reflected in Kaliya Ghat. RVC temple, with steeple over the deities and skylight, is top left. To the right of the temple is the Sacrificial Arena (Yajna-sala) and Guest Lodge.

The first book published by Palace Press, Understanding God Through Bhagavat-Dharma (1983).

Second book published by Palace Press, The Song of God (Bhaktipada Books; 1984)

Third book published by Palace Press, Christ and Krishna (Bhaktipada Books; 1985).

Gurukula student with cow at New Vrindaban (c. 1969-1971)

Milking time. Ambarish (Anthony Monge), Madhava-Ghosh (Mark Kjos Meberg), Chirantana (George Crocker), Ganendra (Gerald Monge) and two unidentified cows (1976).

The New Barn at Wilson Valley.

Drawing of the proposed Palace for Radha-Vrindaban Chandra. Side view.

Drawing of the proposed Palace for Radha-Vrindaban Chandra. Front view.

Artist’s painting of the proposed Great Temple of Understanding at New Vrindaban

Artist’s rendition of the proposed Great Temple of Understanding, showing the main tower (Vimana) and at top right, the Great Gate (Maha-Dvaram) by the reflecting pool.

Artist’s rendition of the proposed Great Temple of Understanding, view from the front plaza.

Drawing of the proposed Great Temple of Understanding interior, showing a teacher with school children by the altar of Lord Nrsimhadeva, with singing stone chimes left and right.

Artist’s rendition of the Chaitanya and Kaliya Ghats, the boat house, and time share cabins.

Artist’s rendition of Bhaktivedanta Boulevard, Kaliya Ghat, the proposed Kaliya statue/fountain, time share cabins, the RVC Temple and Guest Lodge.

Artist’s rendition of Land of Krishna (Part 1).

Artist’s rendition of Land of Krishna (Part 2).

Murti dasa (William Walsh), chief architect for Land of Krishna and head of Planning Department.

Land of Krishna Hotel.

Hotel interior.

Entrance to Krishna Book Forest Park.

Heroic sculpture of Bakasura, the demon bird.

The Aghasura Grotto.

The giant Pralambhasura.

Dhenakasura and his wild herd.

Kaliya Serpent Lagoon.

Birch Forest—the gopis feeling separation from Krishna.

The rasa dance.

Pilgrims on a gondola ride view the temple of Hanuman.

Aerial tramway with swan-shaped gondolas passing over dancing elephant and chanting devotees.

Gardens of Chaitanya Mahaprabhu.

Sukadeva Goswami and the sages of Naimisaranya.

Bhaktivedanta Museum of Fine Arts and Park Information Center.

Reclining Lord Vishnu, Goddess Lakshmi and the Lake of Creation.

The Conservatory, Arjuna’s Chariot of Gold and the Lake of Victory.

Hillside amphitheater.

Painting of Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada and Kirtanananda Swami Bhaktipada, walking side by side and touring the New Vrindaban of the future, with seven temples on seven hills.

Banner announcing Srila Bhaktipada’s arrival in Ghana, Africa (undated).

The Sila Ropana Ceremony; placing Ananta-Sesa into the pit.

U. S. Congressman Alan Mollohan speaks at New Vrindaban.

Tying the steel reinforcing rods for the Maha-Dvaram Gateway.

Construction crew at the Maha-Dvaram.

Fanciful drawing of the proposed bell tower.

Steel frame of the Maha-Dvaram Gatewy with six bells on top.

Six bells in the Maha-Dvaram Gateway.

Somadasa dasa (Thomas Graves) and Gaura-Shakti (Gregory Carlson) install the bells.

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