BROOKLYN, N.Y. (PIX11) — Up to 70 men, women, and children were living in a large, four-story home at the corner of Brooklyn Avenue and Sterling Place on October 3, 1975, when the patriarch of the house, Devernon LeGrand, ordered everyone into one room for a “party.” Typically, this was a room used for prayer services, too, and the self-proclaimed Bishop LeGrand would officiate. But on this day, rock and roll music was playing, and the doors were locked and watched by bodyguards.
One of the children happened to see the brutality that was going on in another room.
“Daddy’s stomping Gladys,” the child said, referring to Bishop LeGrand. All the children in the house called him Daddy. He was father to at least 46 of them. Some of the mothers were young women that LeGrand forced to dress as nuns each day, to beg for money in the subways. The practice was earning LeGrand $250,000 a year in the mid-1970’s.
Gladys was Bishop LeGrand’s daughter-in-law, and LeGrand was apparently upset that she messed up in her testimony at his bribery and kidnapping trial. LeGrand was convicted and was awaiting sentencing. Gladys Rivera’s sister, Yvonne, had shown up with at the house with a baby, and Yvonne, too, became a victim of the butchery at 222 Brooklyn Avenue.
When the night was over, 18-yea- old Gladys Rivera Steward and her 16-year-old sister, Yvonne, were dead.
Gladys had given birth to a baby girl just the month before.
Bishop LeGrand needed help getting rid of the bodies, and he had just the man for the job. It was his handyman, Frank Holman, who used to work for many years in the Medical Examiner’s office.
Holman would later testify for the prosecution in LeGrand’s murder trial. He said he and the Bishop drove to LeGrand’s 58 acre estate in White Sulphur Springs, New York and proceeded to burn the dismembered bodies in a bathtub, using paint thinner. The bones were dumped in Lake Briscoe nearby.
LeGrand was convicted of killing the two sisters and one of his wives, but there were many more victims in the house who never saw justice. One of them was 17-year-old Elizabeth Brown, who was picked up by LeGrand at the Adventurer’s Inn Amusement Park in College Point, Queens, when she was just 14-years-old.
Liz Brown’s mother had died of ovarian cancer when Liz was five-years-old, and her older sister, Cathy, had to take over “mom duties” at age 11. When Cathy Brown turned 18, she married a military man and moved to Scotland. Liz, at age 12, was often left to fend for herself. When she was 14, her father was dying of colon cancer.
And so it was that Bishop LeGrand, with his cream-colored cadillac and flashy clothing, was able to seduce Liz Brown with alcohol and angel dust and bring her into his dangerous web. Soon, Liz Brown was dressing as a nun and soliciting cash in the subways. One source told PIX 11 nuns were expected to make $100 a day, or they faced a beating by LeGrand.
LeGrand was already on trial for killing the Rivera sisters and his former wife, Ernestine Timmens, in early 1977, when Liz Brown vanished. One person who lived in the house said “Doc” LeGrand was mad that Liz Brown didn’t wan to be “his woman.”
Up to 23 people vanished from 222 Brooklyn Avenue in the 60’s and 70’s, and most have not been accounted for.
The head nun in the household called herself Right Reverend Vivian Jenkins, and she had received a pastor’s certificate in the south.
Her real name is Vivian Sannicola, and she is a former barmaid from Buffalo.
PIX11 has been seeking to speak with Vivian Sannicola about what happened in the house over the years, as she coordinated the schedules of many of the girls. Our search involved a trip to South Carolina.
PIX will be airing several segments on this story. Two have been produced, so far.
The next report is scheduled to air on Monday, February 10th.