Gold, Guns and God, Vol. 7: Trials and Tribulations

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

Gold, Guns and God, Vol. 7 front cover

Gold, Guns and God, Vol. 7 front and back cover

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July 29, 2022


To my surprise and delight—my review of Volume 7 has to start with the Foreword by Bhakta Eric Johanson (formerly Vrindaban Chandra Swami). One of the more exciting parts of reading (for me) is when I find language for ideas I’ve conceived, but never found a way to articulate. Prior to reading Chapter 69 (first chapter of Vol. 7) I re-read the Foreword thrice. One of the virtues of the Foreword is how eloquently the stage is set for Vol. 7 and Dr. Henry’s opus on New Vrindavan and ISKCON in the larger context.

The opening sentence was enough to blow me away; it left me contemplating and reflecting on so many aspects of ISKCON since Prabhupada’s departure. “...ISKCON institution’s leadership has provided any number of cul-de-sacs... (for spiritual seekers).” The fact that this was pluralized makes me consider that this is actually a rhetorical question. The problems since A. C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada’s departure are impossible to count or categorize even if it’s already common knowledge and the evidence irrefutable. Here is where Eleven Naked Emperors provides a deep dive or “beginning of the end” type of analysis into these problems. Hats off to Bhakta Eric for enhancing this volume and the entire series with clear and “to the point” language.

Bringing to light the complete disregard for morality by many leaders operating within the confines of ISKCON is a sad reality to come to terms with. The damage done caused a spectacular exodus of devotees and it’s painful to think how many good souls departed from Prabhupada’s mission and movement. However, reading these pages provides a compelling reason to do so. I had never made the connection between this hemorrhaging of devotees and the present-day dependency on followers of Indian descent. Suddenly, the current state of ISKCON that one can appreciate in temples all over the United States (and world) makes sense. This Foreword alone will provide, in few words, great insight and explanations to what we all can see today.

Moving on to Volume 7, one of the more interesting aspects described is the legal proceedings following a murder conspiracy. Most of us have a general sense of how the judicial system works and the deals can be worked out between law enforcement/judicial system and the accused. Volume 7 provides a front-row seat to the unfolding drama after Sulochan’s murder. Still hard to imagine that someone who so fiercely verbalized the determination to kill a “demon” did not serve prison time. Accountability may elude anyone willing to cooperate—I guess the fear of prison time; “snitches get stitches.” At least now there is some clarity as to why so many were involved and so few paid the price.

On a personal level I was looking forward to learning how Keith Ham and the New Vrindaban community got the boot from ISKCON in 1987. While there are too many reasons for Keith to have never returned to ISKCON in 1968 after getting booted the first time, it was the more compelling to learn exactly how he was thrown out after he built a Palace and a thriving community raking in money (in the millions), tourists, and great PR for ISKCON. This book documents the GBC’s resolution to support the excommunication. Here is yet another sad case where evil can be overlooked in the name of money and power. The fact that he made it one decade (after the passing of A. C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada) and stayed in ISKCON is amazing by any measure and especially considering that even prior to GBC approval he started initiations in New Vrindaban. I’m still baffled every time I read the incredible amounts of cash that was pouring into the community from sankirtan in the early ’80s. There are several references to this and while there can’t be an exact amount documented—what is certain is that we’re talking about millions of dollars. This volume continues to document the “dangers of deranged devotion” and how it goes deeper and beyond a murder conspiracy. While this history is fascinating it continues to leave the reader oscillating between wonder, repulsion, and tremendous sadness that Prabhupada’s home was so tarnished by ego, power trips, corruption, and “deviations in the dhama.” Thanks Henry for continuing this project that serves as a healing journey for so many and the hope that much can be learned to avoid repeating the same disastrous mistakes. All Glories to Srila Prabhupada.

Pedro Ramos
Atlanta, Georgia

From a review at


Volume seven of Gold, Guns and God begins with the immediate aftermath of the May 1986 murder of the former New Vrindaban resident and Hare Krishna dissident Sulochan (Steven Bryant), and the attempts of the murderer, Tirtha (Thomas Drescher), to get the money he was promised to do the hit. He and his family were ordered to fly to India and hide out far from U. S. law enforcement, but no one at New Vrindaban was willing to give him the money, until Bhaktipada himself became personally involved three days after the murder.

This delay in procuring the escape money undoubtedly gave police the precious time they needed to find and arrest the murder suspect while he was still in Kent, Ohio, only five miles from his home. When Tirtha was arrested, he and his wife and young son were on their way to New York City to purchase airline tickets and flee the country. Those conspirators from New Vrindaban, Cleveland ISKCON and Los Angeles ISKCON who had assisted in the murder became gripped with fear. Would they be next to be arrested?

Volume seven continues with the government investigation of Swami Bhaktipada and the New Vrindaban Community, Bhaktipada’s speedy excommunication from ISKCON in March 1987, and several court cases he had to fight against. Bhaktipada counter-attacked by inaugurating a year-long First Amendment Freedom Tour during which he appeared on many dozens of radio talk shows and television news programs—including several nationally-syndicated television shows such as CBS Evening News with Dan Rather, Larry King Live on CNN, the Sally Jesse Raphael Show, and West 57th on CBS. He preached to millions of listeners and viewers in an attempt to spread the message that New Vrindaban was a holy place and was being unfairly and unjustly attacked by greedy and evil politicians and law enforcement officers in an effort to run the Hare Krishnas out of West Virginia.

Volume seven concludes with Bhaktipada’s far fetched claim that the court cases and harassment were nothing more than “persecution, pure and simple.” Due to Bhaktipada’s considerable charismatic authority and charm, he bamboozled hundreds if not thousands of his gullible disciples and followers to imagine that the United States, West Virginia and Marshall County governments were trying to seize the community and turn Prabhupada’s Palace of Gold into a casino—not because of alleged criminal activities, but because of religious bigotry.

TABLE OF CONTENTS—VOLUME 7: Trials and Tribulations

Chapter 69: The Cavalry Comes to the Rescue

    Bhaktipada refuses to authorize money for Tirtha
    Bhaktipada possibly knew little or nothing of the murder plot
    Some say Bhaktipada knew about the murder plot
    Some say Bhaktipada did not know about the murder plot
    Bhaktipada agrees to authorize escape money for Tirtha
    Bhaktipada claims money was for a loan for a vehicle purchase
    Radhanath claims money was for Tapahpunja’s bail
    Dharmatma claims he was not confused: the money was for Tirtha to escape to India
    “Packed and ready to fucking go”

Chapter 70: The Rats Jump Off the Sinking Ship

    Tirtha and Tapahpunja arrested
    Kuladri very, very frightened
    Tapahpunja flees the U. S.
    Tirtha allegedly offered deal
    Tirtha takes full rap
    The relationship between Tirtha and Radhanath Swami
    Radhanath Swami visits Tirtha in jail
    Government’s principal witness nearly killed by gas explosion
    Gorby found dead
    Foul play suspected
    Bhaktipada meets with conspirators in Bombay
    New Vrindaban leaders abandon the sinking ship
    California ISKCON conspirators jump ship
    New Vrindaban manager hires expensive attorney
    Tirtha saddled with public defender
    GBC leaders concerned about bad publicity for ISKCON
    New Vrindaban lays off 187 employees
    Grand jury meets
    “Now the Krishnas have their turn”
    Sulochan’s three-year-old son drowns

Chapter 71: Tirtha On Trial for the Murder of Chakradhari

    Daruka reveals location of Chakradhari’s body
    Chakradhari’s murder and Tirtha’s conviction: a turning point
    Tirtha allegedly threatens suicide
    Tirtha allegedly offered immunity for implicating the Swami
    Tirtha becomes a New Vrindaban folk hero
    The FBI raid
    New Vrindaban children enrolled in public schools
    Bhaktipada’s First Amendment Freedom Tour
    Direct mail marketing to Hindu Indians
    Remains of four bodies unearthed at New Vrindaban

Chapter 72: The Berkeley ISKCON Takeover Attempt

    Bhaktipada visits California
    Hansadutta moves to New Vrindaban
    Hansadutta offers Bhaktipada gold coins
    Bhaktipada attempts to take over the Berkeley temple
    California temples raided
    Lawsuit filed against Bhaktipada, Hansadutta and New Vrindaban
    Suit settled
    Sheriff protests Hansadutta’s presence in Marshall County

Chapter 73: Expelled from ISKCON

    Bhaktipada ignores the GBC
    Bhaktipada orders his Eastern Canadian disciples to New Vrindaban
    Problems in Toronto
    New Vrindaban pickers devastate ISKCON fundraising
    Bhaktipada brings his “unclean” guard dog into ISKCON temples
    Bhaktipada: equal to Prabhupada
    Kirtanananda infected with Mayavada disease
    Bhaktipada asked to resign from ISKCON
    North American Temple Presidents’ Meeting
    Bhaktipada expelled from ISKCON

Chapter 74: Defiance

    “Without surrender, there is no religion”
    Bhaktipada meets White House aide
    Bhaktipada threatens ISKCON with $100 million lawsuit; “I am the real ISKCON.”
    Kirtanananda allowed to rejoin ISKCON if his “act cleaned up”
    New Vrindaban Community expelled from ISKCON

Chapter 75: A Blessing in Disguise

    “Dial Om for Murder”
    Snoopy’s revenge
    Pickers sent to the Far East
    Tirtha’s wife leaves him
    Tirtha becomes a swami

Chapter 76: It’s Persecution, Pure and Simple

    “Get ready for war”
    Bhaktipada and Tirtha plead, “not guilty” to arson-for-profit scheme
    Bhaktipada found “not guilty”
    Monkey On a Stick
    The “suicide” of Tapomurti
    Illegal immigrant worker murdered
    The trial of Tirtha for the murder of Sulochan
    Is there proof beyond the shadow of a doubt?
    A mistrial declared
    Bhaktipada indicted
    Who was behind the persecution?
    Indian astrologer claims Bhaktipada “wrongly accused”
    Bhaktipada’s 53rd birthday party
    “Religious persecution”
    Brijabasis blinded by great emotional investment
    Devotees believe allegations are “rumors and hearsay”


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

Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada in the pavilion on the hill behind Bahulaban (September 1972).

Swami Bhaktipada on the Larry King television show.

Tirtha (Thomas A. Drescher), New Vrindaban’s chief “enforcer” and hit man, in court.

His Holiness Tapahpunja Swami (Terry Sheldon) and Radhanath Swami at New Vrindaban (c. 1983).

Kuladri (Arthur Villa), New Vrindaban’s temple president, known as “Number Two.” Here officiating as a priest at a New Vrindaban fire sacrifice during which Radhanath dasa Brahmachari became Radhanath Swami (May 1982).

Dharmatma (Dennis Gorrick), Director of New Vrindaban’s multi-million dollar “Scam-Kirtan” panhandling operation. Image from Brijabasi Spirit (January-February 1977).

His Holiness Radhanath Swami (Richard Slavin), “gentle and humble” sannyasi dearly loved by the Brijabasis (May 1982).

Russell “Randall” Clark Gorby, retired steel worker, longtime “friend” of New Vrindaban, vocal advocate for the murder of Sulochan, and government informant.

Daruka (Daniel Reid) (c. January 1987)

Digging for Chakradhari’s bones (January 1987). Photo by Nelson Hooker.

Chakradhari’s skull (January 1987). Photo by Nelson Hooker.

Hansadutta at New Vrindaban, with Garga-Rishi (undated).

Krishna parade in Moundsville, West Virginia (May 1987). Photo by Nelson Hooker.

Krishna parade in Moundsville, West Virginia (May 1987). Photo by Nelson Hooker.

Cultured marble replicas of Radha-Vrindaban Chandra ride in their Rath Cart. Photo by Nelson Hooker.

Malini the elephant and her keeper Tattva dasa (Thomas Reidman). Photo by Nelson Hooker.

Malini the elephant with Varshan Swami and gurukula boy. Photo by Nelson Hooker.

Bhaktipada keeps a low profile in his Cadillac limousine. Photo by Nelson Hooker.

Tirtha's wife: Suksmarupini devi dasi (Suzanne Bludeau). Photo by Nelson Hooker.

Maitreya-Muni, Hrishikesh (Henry Doktorski), Dayasara (Damian Herrod), Devanananda-Pandit (Dennis Moreau), Pavana, Rupanuga (Ramesh Patel), Jyotirdhama (Joe Pollock, Jr) and Premarnava (Charles Clayton, with megaphone) outside the Delf Norona Museum in Moundsville. Photo by Nelson Hooker.

Outside the West Virginia Penitentiary. Photo by Nelson Hooker.

Gurukula children outside the Pen. Photo by Nelson Hooker.

Tapomurti and Kuladri assist Bhaktipada in the temple (c. December 1985). Photo from Brijabasi Spirit, Vol. 14, No. 4 (January 1986)

Tapomurti (far left) enjoys a humorous exchange with Bhaktipada and other New Vrindaban residents (undated).

Devamrita Swami in the Far East (from the cover of his book Cutting the Knot).

Two Far East pickers: Chandra (Chow Weng Hong) and Krishna-Chaitanya, a disciple of Varshan Swami.

Four Far East pickers: Krishna-Chaitanya, Krishna Balaram Swami, Supreme Truth Swami (Talavana), and Maheshvara (Manuel Roberto).

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