Murder for Money
In the early 1970s, the demand for farm commodities greatly increased. In fact, in 1973 the real farm income jumped from $48.4 billion to $92.1 billion. This was great news for farmers at the time, but this all started to change in the late 1970s. The Federal Reserve made some policy changes to fight inflation that reduced global demand. This ultimately caused many farmers to fall into debt or declare bankruptcy which was known as the farm crisis.
Many farmers were angry or trying to understand what had happened. In the 1970s, a group called The Posse Comitatus was formed. This group was a Christian Identity and White Supremacy hate group. When the Farm Crisis hit in the 1980s, Posse Comitatus started spreading their doctrine to farmers all across the Midwest and the Great Plains. One of the people who was affected was a truck driver named Michael Wayne Ryan.
Mike and his wife lived in Kansas and had 3 children. In 1982, Mike Ryan lost his job as a truck driver, and times for the family were tough. During this time, he started attending meetings of The Posse Comitatus in Hiawatha, KS. While attending the meeting, Mike Ryan met John David Andreas (who went by David) and James Thimm who were both friends. He also met Rick Stice who had a pig farm in Rulo, NE.
Mike Ryan took the parts of The Posse Comitatus that he agreed with, such as the old testament, antisemitism, and anti-government views, and used them as a basis to basically create his own religion. Through The Posse Comitatus meetings, Mike Ryan actually got together a small group of followers of his own. Rick Stice who had the pig farm in Rulo, was living alone with his three children at the time and he invited Mike Ryan and his family to move onto the farm with him. So, in 1984, about 14 adults moved onto the farm, and some of them also brought their children.
On the farm, all the men stayed in a trailer together, and the women and children stayed in the main house. With Mike Ryan as their leader, the group would spend hours reading scripture and Mike would preach to the group because he claimed to possess the spirit of the Archangel Michael, and was a prophet.
He also introduced The Arm Test, which would be the basis for everything in this group. Basically, the way that it worked is that a person would be asked a question by Ryan. During the questioning, the person would hold their arm at a 90-degree angle from their body. Ryan would place a hand on the other person's shoulder and another on their wrist. Then he would ask Yahweh a question and then push down on their wrist. If the arm fell, then the answer was no. If the arm stayed up, the answer was yes. This was Yahweh (or God) speaking through the person.
The farm was once a peaceful and orderly place, where punishments for mistakes and wrongdoing usually involved several days of fasting. However, things took a dark turn when Mike Ryan began physically abusing those who he felt were having bad thoughts, failed The Arm Test, or made mistakes. This included full-grown men and even children.
The atmosphere on the farm quickly changed as a sense of fear took hold. One Sunday, Rick and James Thimm expressed their doubts about Yahweh and The Arm Test. Even Rick's 5-year-old son, Luke Stice, expressed similar doubts. As a result, Rick, who was once the high priest and 6-star general, was demoted to the rank of slave. James Thimm was also demoted to the rank of slave and both men were given all of the worst jobs and were chained to the porch at night to sleep outside. Little Luke after that was known as "dog," "mongrel," "dogshit", or "gook”.
Rick Stice and James Thimm were also forced to perform violent sex acts on each other. They were instructed to have sex with a goat, and they were forced to abuse young Luke.
Luke also suffered severe physical abuse from Mike Ryan. One day in March 1985, Mike Ryan knocked Luke into a cabinet, causing a head injury that was too great to survive. Since he never received medical treatment, Little Luke Stice died at the age of 5. Rick was forced to bury his own son on the farm property.
After Luke's death, Rick contacted the FBI, but it wasn't safe to talk over the phone. So, when Mike Ryan and his wife were on their honeymoon, Rick found his opportunity to escape. He was able to outline all of the thefts, which was the FBI's starting point. It's important to note that owning guns and having strange religious beliefs isn't a crime, but theft is. And it's a federal crime to transport stolen livestock across state lines.
Rick was gone for a total of 7 days but returned due to his fear of eternal damnation. After that, he and James Thimm were kept chained to the front porch of the trailer at all times. Rick did find one more opportunity to escape, and he would not return again after that. Unfortunately, James Thimm became the target of all of the abuse in Rick's absence.
On April 27, 1985, Ryan accused Thimm of poisoning the group's meal. He was moved to the pig shed where he was violently tortured for 3 days before Mike Ryan murdered him. Listen to the episode if you want some of those details.
On June 26th, Rick finally went back to speak with Agent Dun. The information provided, including details about the murder of his son, helped the FBI get a warrant to search the farm. In a twist, before the FBI could execute the warrant for the search of the Rulo farm, David, a friend of James Thimm, and another individual were arrested while stealing from a farm. Along with the theft charges, they were also carrying concealed weapons. Agent Dun, who was investigating the case, went to speak with David and the other individual and they provided information on the murders of Luke Stice and James Thimm.
The FBI was faced with the challenge of how to raid or search a property where a heavily armed cult lived. But the local Sheriff managed to convince Mike Ryan to come to the station for a meeting, where he was taken into custody. After that, the police and FBI swarmed the Rulo farm and found the weapons and the bodies of Luke and James. Mike Ryan was charged with first-degree murder, found guilty, and sentenced to death. His son Dennis Ryan, Timothy Haverkamp, John David Andreas, and James Haverkamp were also charged and convicted for their roles in the murder. Mike Ryan died on May 24, 2015, at 5:45 p.m. in Tecumseh State Correctional Institution.