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Did Bad Management Cause the Murder of Madalyn Murray O'Hair?

Aug 23, 2007
We often look to cause and effect for the answer to the question 'why?' This experience is one that I've thought on for a number of years and can't quite seem to resolve and by the way, it's true.

An old friend was raised in a conservative, fundamentalist family. As a rebellion to his upbringing, he studied philosophy and psychology and eventually came into contact with Madalyn Murray O'Hair, the famous atheist that challenged prayer in schools in the famous Supreme Court Case in 1963. The good folk of Austin, Texas referred to her as Mad Madalyn. She was always in the local newspapers doing something outrageous...

My friend made several trips to Austin and the American Atheist Center. O'Hair eventually offered him a job as office manager for the Center. He understood that working for a 'cause' organization would require long hours with meager pay but he believed in the cause and moved to Austin.

He lived simply so the minimum wage pay was enough for him to get by. His 40 hour week soon ballooned to 60, 80 and 100 hours. O'Hair kept giving him more work. Even without benefits and half the minimum wage he gladly put in his long hours. He would go home to sleep and fix most of his 'meals' at work. He became sleep deprived and malnourished but it was all in the name of the 'cause'. He told me that others before him had done the same. It was expected by Mad Madalyn...

Incredibly this continued for years as he took on more and more responsibility. When his landlord raised his rent, he asked Mad Madalyn for a raise citing his long list of responsibilities and long hours as a justification. Madalyn escorted him to the door and told him not to come back. My friend could easily be replaced as there were many others willing to 'work for the cause.' And maybe even for less money...

She replaced him and the cycle continued. Eventually, she hired a manager that had a criminal background but was willing to work cheaply for the cause. He worked for the cause but mostly for himself and managed to embezzle $50,000 in the process.

But not to worry...there were always more willing to work for the cause. She just found another office manager and the cycle continued.

But one day she just disappeared. Employees could not find her and a list of creditors showed the Center was in deep financial trouble. Most people on the inside thought she had left the U.S. with her son and granddaughter and gone to New Zealand, a plan she had spoken of before. And so she remained incognito with only an occasional article questioning what beach resort she had retired to.

And then piece by piece, it began to unravel.

The police began to pursue an ex office manager and the trail began to warm. After a number of months and speculation, the case broke.

An ex office manager and some of his criminal cronies had kidnapped the O'Hairs and held them for ransom, eventually getting $500,000 in gold coins that had come from the 'cause.' After they had gotten the coins, which were stored in a storage locker, they killed the O'Hairs, chopped them up and buried them in a shallow grave on a south Texas ranch. She had pushed one employee a bit too far.

At one point I conducted a four hour taped interview with O'Hair. She came across as intelligent, insightful, and committed to ridding the world of the evils of religion. She made no apology for the way she treated her employees.

If there is a moral to the story it's that short term employee exploitation can bring short term results but watch out for long term consequences...ha.

If Mad Madalyn were alive today, would she admit her management style was flawed?

Or would she say, 'hey, you, you're not going to church on Sunday...why can't you work?'
About the Author
Jack D. Deal is the owner of Deal Business Consulting. Related articles may be found at http://www.jddeal.com and http://www.freeandinquiringmind.typepad.com
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