Skip to main content
You have permission to edit this article.
Accused minister once a local Bible teacher

Accused minister once a local Bible teacher

Combs and his wife were quiet neighbors whom no one suspected of illegal adoption, abuse

The fundamentalist Baptist minister charged with kidnapping, raping and

torturing a girl he took from a Porter County children's home was once a

respected Bible teacher at Hyles Anderson College in St. John Township.

When the Rev. Joseph and Evangeline Combs allegedly illegally adopted a 4-month

old girl from the Baptist Children's Home and Family Ministries in Kouts, he

was "probably the foremost Bible instructor at Hyles Anderson," said Jerry

Kaifetz, a former student at the school and now an ordained minister. The

family settled in a comfortable ranch home along a cul du sac in northwest

Merrillville, where neighbors say the children were polite, well behaved and

said they were not allowed to talk to adults unless their parents were present.

Joseph Combs, 50, was charged Nov. 5 by Tennessee authorities with kidnapping,

aggravated assault, perjury and seven counts of rape. He was pastor of the

Emmanuel Baptist Church, in Bristol, Tenn.

His wife, Evangeline Combs, 49, is charged with kidnapping, aggravated and

misdemeanor assault and child abuse. Each is being held in lieu of $250,000

bail in the Sullivan County Jail, in northeastern Tennessee.

Joyce McGowan, a neighbor of the Combs family when they lived in Merrillville,

said the Combses often tried to talk McGowan and her husband into accompanying

them to Sunday services at First Baptist Church in Hammond. The Combs children

were not allowed to exchange even small talk with McGowan, she said. McGowan

also said she recalled the Combses often commenting how often their adoptive

daughter seemed to be ill.

"She was the one we didn't see too often," McGowan said. "She was small at that

time, I think she couldn't have been but 9 or 10 when they moved away. When we

did see her, she had the saddest little face you ever saw."

Prosecutors in Tennessee said the girl lived a hellish existence with her

adoptive parents, being tortured and sexually abused as she was brainwashed

into believing she was being raised to be the family's slave because it was

"God's will." The alleged abuse was discovered when the woman, who turns 21 on

Monday, was hospitalized after a suicide attempt last year.

Federal court records show the Combses were given the little girl in March 1978

by the operators of the Baptist Children's Home. The adoption process was never

completed. In a lawsuit filed Friday in federal court in Hammond, lawyers for

the woman said their client was systematically tortured by the Combses, never

allowed to attend school and not told she was adopted or that a judge never

awarded custody of her to the Combses. The lawyers are suing the Combses for

their alleged abuse and the Baptist Children's Home for negligence. The lawsuit

does not specify the damages being sought.

Kaifetz said Combs was a very private man who allowed his family to have little

contact with others. Kaifetz said he visited the family's home only once, but

can't ever remember talking to Evangeline Combs or her children, even though he

became well acquainted with Joseph Combs.

"I was fairly close to him while he was a teacher at Hyles Anderson," Kaifetz

said. "At that time, I appreciated and admired him. His wife, though, and his

family, they were somewhat secluded. They would sit in the church hallway

during services, not come in for the service. He fiercely guarded his privacy."

Kaifetz said Combs left the area, probably in 1985, during a controversy over

his sale of Bible study books at the college. He has had no contact with Combs

since then, but did see an advertisement for his ministry several years ago in

a religious publication.

The Rev. Jack Hyles, the pastor of the First Baptist Church and chancellor of

Hyles Anderson College, could not be reached for comment Saturday. Beverly

Hyles, his wife, said neither one of them has had any contact with the Combses

since they left the area, taking 40 or so Hyles Anderson students with them to

start their Tennessee church.

"He has called us several times," Hyles said. "We have not returned any of his


The woman's lawsuit says she faces huge medical bills as the result of her

alleged mistreatment. Among the injuries the Combses are alleged to have

inflicted upon the woman were broken bones, dislocated joints, severe and

repeated lacerations and trauma and damage to the nervous system and vascular

systems. She is being cared for in Michigan by a foster family and has met both

of her birth parents since her suicide attempt, said Gregg Herman, one of her


Jennifer Talirico, another former neighbor of the Combses, said she was

horrified to learn of the charges pending against the Combses.

"They kept to themselves, they certainly weren't the type to have neighbors

over or anything like that," Talirico said. "But God, I wish I knew what was

going on in that house."


Be the first to know

* I understand and agree that registration on or use of this site constitutes agreement to its user agreement and privacy policy.

Related to this story

Get up-to-the-minute news sent straight to your device.


News Alerts

Breaking News


Entertainment & Dining

Latest News

Local Sports

NWI Prep Sport News

Weather Alerts