Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

Children of Thunder: The Helzer Brothers

Murder Mystery Dinner

Dawn Godman was as much an outcast as either of the Helzers, according to court documents and press accounts.

Dawn Godman
Dawn Godman
Raised in the shadow of the Sierra Mountains in the town of Sutter Creek, population 2,300, Godman was a loner in high school. She married at 18, bore a son who died soon after birth, had a second son who lived, and divorced a few years later. Her ex-husband was granted custody of her son when he revealed in court proceedings that she tried to overdose on pills and was living out of a car, according the San Francisco Chronicle.

She moved in with her relative who was living in Martinez and got a job at a grocery store. She started attending services at the Mormon Church, desperate to find direction in her life. Instead, she found Taylor and Justin Helzer.

Justin Helzer
Justin Helzer
The trio met at a fitting event, considering the horrific deeds they would commit: a murder mystery dinner held at a Mormon temple on Memorial Day 1999. At such events, the hosts give guests clues to a murder mystery, which they attempt to solve while they eat. The Helzer boys showed up dressed in black and stood out among the suburban, starched shirt and chinos crowd, Godman later recalled.

She started dating Justin Helzer, although press reports say she was fascinated by his charismatic older brother.

Taylor convinced Godman to sign up for a self-awareness seminar, according to the Chronicle. The group spent four days in a room without windows confronting their inner demons with a tough-talking facilitator whose badgering sometimes made people run sobbing from the room. When Godman had completed two of the three levels of the program, Taylor told her that he would take over her lessons.

He started to offer her spiritual guidance, and eventually convinced her that he was a prophet of God. In January 2000, he drove her to the Mormon temple in Oakland, where he told her his plans to defeat Satan by starting a self-help group. It was his destiny to take over the Mormon Church, he told her, by assassinating the church leaders, if necessary.

"Spirit's telling me it's time you get to know everything," Taylor allegedly told her as they sat in the parking lot, which offers sweeping views of the San Francisco Bay.

San Francisco Bay view
San Francisco Bay view

He told her his scheme to extort money from and kill an ex-client to obtain seed money for his self-help group. He asked Godman if she'd be willing to kill in God's name, and she told him she'd consider it a blessing, she testified later in court.

"He made you feel like you were the most important person in the world," Godman told jurors, when she testified against the brothers to avoid the death penalty.

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