Cover image for Ungodly : the passions, torments, and murder of atheist Madalyn Murray O'Hair
Ungodly : the passions, torments, and murder of atheist Madalyn Murray O'Hair
Dracos, Ted.
Personal Author:
Publication Information:
New York : Free Press, [2003?]
Physical Description:
291 pages : illustrations ; 24 cm
General Note:
Includes index.
Personal Subject:
Format :


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BL2790.O38 D72 2003 Adult Non-Fiction Central Closed Stacks

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Obscene, belligerent, obsessive, and brilliant, the infamous and outrageous Madalyn Murray O'Hair succeeded in becoming "America's Most Hated Woman." Now award-winning journalist Ted Dracos reveals the incredible true story of the life and murder of the woman who changed the religious habits of an entire nation.As the woman who won a longshot, landmark Supreme Court case to ban prayer in public schools -- and also the millionaire murdered for her ill-gained money -- Madalyn Murray O'Hair was one of the most powerful personalities of the twentieth century. Investigative reporter Ted Dracos presents an amazing account of O'Hair's life -- a story that is rare in the annals of crime and is truly stranger than fiction.With impeccable research based on thousands of pages of court records, nearly one hundred interviews in fourteen states, and never-before-released documents UnGodly traces the self-anointed atheist high priestess from her public skirmishes with the law through her remarkable legal maneuverings and her schemes to siphon off enormous sums of money from the foundations she created. O'Hair's private life proves as bizarre as her public life. UnGodly also explains for the first time the full story of the kidnapping and murder of O'Hair, her son, and granddaughter -- a grisly multiple murder masterminded by a genius ex-con who hoped to pocket nearly a million dollars worth of loot in a pitiless and cunning plot.Fearless, combative, and domineering, O'Hair led one of the most unforgettable -- and almost unbelievable -- lives in American history. UnGodly -- a seamless blend of biography and murder mystery -- is a chilling portrait of a fascinating, complex woman whose life finally became a living hell.

Reviews 2

Booklist Review

The murder of Madalyn Murray O'Hair has a long and complicated backstory. In 1960, O'Hair sued the Baltimore school board for requiring her son to say prayers in class. The case wound up in the Supreme Court, and in 1963, O'Hair won a bigger victory than she initially had sought: prayer was banned in public schools across the country. That same year, O'Hair founded the American Atheists, the country's first organization devoted to atheism. Thirty years later, she hired a man named David Waters, who would later plead guilty to stealing money from American Atheists and the O'Hair family. Soon after that, Madalyn, her daughter, and her granddaughter were kidnapped and murdered. In January 2001, David Waters pleaded guilty to the crimes. It's an intellectually stimulating, convoluted, and emotionally draining story. O'Hair was a complex person, committed to her beliefs and unbending to criticism, and Dracos, a veteran investigative journalist, deftly walks the fine line between biography and true crime, telling the story vividly and dramatically but without stinting on detail. Given its subject matter--the battle between church and state--the book could have wandered off on numerous tangents, but the author keeps to the spine of the story, giving us as much of the sociopolitical context as we need, but not enough to distract us. One of the best true-crime sagas of recent years. --David Pitt Copyright 2003 Booklist

Publisher's Weekly Review

Madalyn Murray O'Hair, the notorious atheist who launched the Supreme Court case taking prayer out of America's public schools, was also the victim (along with her son and granddaughter) in a brutal Texas murder that went unsolved for years. Dracos, a print and TV journalist who has consulted for America's Most Wanted, reviews the case in full true-crime mode, the prose purpler with every page. But in a departure from genre conventions, the book heaps more abuse on the victims than the killer. It's one thing to deflate the "godless Joan of Arc" legend built up around O'Hair by discussing the shortcomings in her legal arguments or speaking candidly about her pervasive bigotry, but those revelations are just a warmup for gratuitously cruel swipes at her physical appearance and lurid intimations of lesbian incest. (There's even a brazen assertion that her husband was paid to marry her by the FBI so they could keep tabs on her.) For all its excesses, though, the narrative handles the family's disappearance and the subsequent investigations well, describing how an ex-convict finagled his way into O'Hair's inner circle and manipulated her and her finances, making it look as if O'Hair had fled the country. The ruse was good enough to fool the local police (portrayed here as bumbling incompetents) for years, until an investigative reporter and a private eye began to uncover the details. The book's pulp sensibility, complete with fevered imaginings of O'Hair's thoughts, may obscure the subtleties of her life, succeeding only in its main priority of unraveling the mystery behind her death. (Oct.) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved

Table of Contents

1 The Secret Place
2 The Making of an Atheist Amazon
3 Jihad!
4 Celebrity, Money, and Cultural Combat
5 Pup's Death
6 Victory on High: Madalyn at the Supreme Court
7 The Battle of Baltimore
8 The Fugitive and Scourge of the Islands
9 The Reverend Christos Logos
10 Mexican Fiasco
11 Texas and Freedom
12 The Atheist Empire and Gulag
13 The Family Dysfunctional
14 The Disastrous Final Offensive
15 David Waters
16 The Killer Inside
17 From the Brink to the Abyss
18 The Vanishing
19 The Mystery
20 Prospects -- New and Ominous
21 The October 2 Epiphany
22 The Feds
23 Brought to Bay
24 Trial in Absentia
25 The Deal Is Done
26 Endings
Author's Note