Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

Charles J. Guiteau

Religious Fervor

As noted in the neighbors correspondence, Luthers religious beliefs were seen as odd by the society of that time. Luther was an ardent follower of John H. Noyes and Noyess teachings that promoted communal living, multiple sex partners, and other beliefs that were seen as questionable (if not downright evil) by Victorian society.

Young Charles Guiteau
Young Charles Guiteau
Young Guiteau also came to believe in Noyess doctrines and, after reaching adulthood, traveled in 1860 to live in the Oneida Community, a New York commune that was the center of Noyess cult.

With his inflated ego and abrasive personality firmly in place, Guiteau rubbed most members of Oneida the wrong way. And when it came to enjoying Oneidas loose sexual morality, Guiteau repelled more women than he attracted.  Indeed, in the several years he was living at Oneida, Guiteau would later testify that he had remained strictly virtuous...aside...from three distinct women in a very short time.

Communal living did not agree with Guiteau.  He no doubt wanted to be seen as better than the rest of the residents.  The History House -- whose Web site includes many original documents and trial transcripts quoted throughout this article -- cites a letter from an Oneida elder to Luther complaining that Guiteau had:

..a decided repugnance to labor with his hands, and indeed to business of all kinds. He wrote Noyes a long communication, in which he was very insolent, charging him with tyranny and oppression.

The letter concluded with the opinion that Guiteau had an unsound insane mind.

It would not be the last time that someone in authority reached that conclusion.

Guiteau left Oneida in 1865 and, regardless of supposedly believing him to be an oppressive tyrant, attempted to set up a newspaper in New Jersey that would, according to the Lauinger Library, spread Noyess teachings.

The newspaper never got off the ground, and, only 14 weeks after leaving, Guiteau rejoined Oneida.  He immediately resumed his feelings of superiority over the other commune members, and tensions quickly escalated to a point where Guiteau left Oneida for good on November 1, 1866.

Out on his own, Guiteau began a long history of shady business practices, sneaking out of his lodgings in the dead of night without paying his bills, short stays in jail, and moving around to keep a step ahead of his growing number of creditors.

After Oneida, Guiteau attempted to sue Noyes and the community for what he felt was owed him for all the work he had done during his residency.  Pointing out that work done in a communal living environment is done, by definition, for no payment, Noyes refused to make any monetary settlement.  Guiteau then considered blackmailing Noyes by going public with lurid stories of rampant sex in Oneida.  When, according to the Lauinger Library, Oneida countered by threatening to have him prosecuted for attempted extortion, Guiteau gave up and moved to Chicago.

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