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
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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."