The Alabama preacher who tried to kill his wife with a snake

On October 4, 1991, a violent crime was reported in the sleepy town of Scottsboro, Alabama.

An ambulance was summoned to a ramshackle house in the remote outskirts of town. The driver was asked to shut off the headlights and approach the residence quietly. Darlene Summerford was already waiting for them in the driveway. She was clutching a substantial wound on her wrist that was weeping blood. The skin surrounding the gash had already turned black and necrosis began to take root of her soft tissues. 

The weapon? A five-foot rattlesnake. 

Darlene claimed that she was held at gunpoint by her 47-year-old husband Glenn Summerford and forced to stick her hand into a box of poisonous serpents. Glenn Summerford was a beloved snake-handling preacher that performed frenetic religious rituals for his devout Pentecostal congregation known as the ‘Church of Jesus With Signs.’   

The allegation rocked the radical fringe Christian community. What followed was a sensational booze saturated tale of adultery, religion and attempted murder-by-python that continues to haunt Southern Appalachia almost three decades later.

HBO’s forthcoming documentary, Alabama Snake (premiering December 9) explores the obscure serpent-handling practice and paints a Southern Gothic portrait of the mystifying events surrounding the unusual case in the heart of America’s bible belt.  

Glenn Summerford (right) was a criminal turned born-again serpent handling minister for the fundamentalist 'Church of God with Signs Following. HBO's forthcoming documentary, 'Alabama Snake' tells the shocking story of how Glenn Summerford attempted to murder his wife, Darlene (left) with a rattlesnake in October 1991. She claimed that Summerford forced her at gunpoint to thrust her hand into cages filled with venomous serpents because he believed that she was cheating on him with another preacher. By the time an ambulance responded to her 911 call, Darlene's skin had already turned black and necrosis had began to destroy the healthy tissues surrounding the bloody wound

Glenn Summerford (right) was a criminal turned born-again serpent handling minister for the fundamentalist 'Church of God with Signs Following. HBO's forthcoming documentary, 'Alabama Snake' tells the shocking story of how Glenn Summerford attempted to murder his wife, Darlene (left) with a rattlesnake in October 1991. She claimed that Summerford forced her at gunpoint to thrust her hand into cages filled with venomous serpents because he believed that she was cheating on him with another preacher. By the time an ambulance responded to her 911 call, Darlene's skin had already turned black and necrosis had began to destroy the healthy tissues surrounding the bloody wound

Glenn Summerford (right) was a criminal turned born-again serpent handling minister for the fundamentalist ‘Church of God with Signs Following. HBO’s forthcoming documentary, ‘Alabama Snake’ tells the shocking story of how Glenn Summerford attempted to murder his wife, Darlene (left) with a rattlesnake in October 1991. She claimed that Summerford forced her at gunpoint to thrust her hand into cages filled with venomous serpents because he believed that she was cheating on him with another preacher. By the time an ambulance responded to her 911 call, Darlene’s skin had already turned black and necrosis had began to destroy the healthy tissues surrounding the bloody wound

Summerford was eventually convicted of attempted murder and sentenced to 99 years in prison. Darlene said Summerford was in a drunken rage when grabbed her by the hair and dragged her to a shed in the backyard where they kept 15 poisonous snakes. At gunpoint, the preacher gave his wife a choice: she can stick her face or hand in the box. 'He took a pipe and hit the cages real hard so the snakes got real mad and then grabbed me by the hair and said he would push my face in if I didn't stick my hand in there,' she testified. 'He said I had to die because he wanted to marry another woman'

Summerford was eventually convicted of attempted murder and sentenced to 99 years in prison. Darlene said Summerford was in a drunken rage when grabbed her by the hair and dragged her to a shed in the backyard where they kept 15 poisonous snakes. At gunpoint, the preacher gave his wife a choice: she can stick her face or hand in the box. 'He took a pipe and hit the cages real hard so the snakes got real mad and then grabbed me by the hair and said he would push my face in if I didn't stick my hand in there,' she testified. 'He said I had to die because he wanted to marry another woman'

Summerford was eventually convicted of attempted murder and sentenced to 99 years in prison. Darlene said Summerford was in a drunken rage when grabbed her by the hair and dragged her to a shed in the backyard where they kept 15 poisonous snakes. At gunpoint, the preacher gave his wife a choice: she can stick her face or hand in the box. ‘He took a pipe and hit the cages real hard so the snakes got real mad and then grabbed me by the hair and said he would push my face in if I didn’t stick my hand in there,’ she testified. ‘He said I had to die because he wanted to marry another woman’

The snake handling tradition dates back to 1909 when a popular Pentecostal minister named George Went Henseley (not pictured) introduced the practice into the Church of God in Cleveland, Tennessee. Even though he ultimately died from a snake bite in 1955, it was Henseley who is said to have picked up snakes while preaching Mark 16 after a man rained down a box of rattlesnakes in front of him. Above, the pastor Eli Sanders (right) at the Pentecostal Church of God in Harlan County, Kentucky hoists a serpent aloft, he later died from a snake bite in 1958

The snake handling tradition dates back to 1909 when a popular Pentecostal minister named George Went Henseley (not pictured) introduced the practice into the Church of God in Cleveland, Tennessee. Even though he ultimately died from a snake bite in 1955, it was Henseley who is said to have picked up snakes while preaching Mark 16 after a man rained down a box of rattlesnakes in front of him. Above, the pastor Eli Sanders (right) at the Pentecostal Church of God in Harlan County, Kentucky hoists a serpent aloft, he later died from a snake bite in 1958

The snake handling tradition dates back to 1909 when a popular Pentecostal minister named George Went Henseley (not pictured) introduced the practice into the Church of God in Cleveland, Tennessee. Even though he ultimately died from a snake bite in 1955, it was Henseley who is said to have picked up snakes while preaching Mark 16 after a man rained down a box of rattlesnakes in front of him. Above, the pastor Eli Sanders (right) at the Pentecostal Church of God in Harlan County, Kentucky hoists a serpent aloft, he later died from a snake bite in 1958

Darlene’s hellish ordeal began on Friday night when she said her husband, Glenn Summerford accused her of having an affair with another preacher. He forced her hand into a snake cage where she was bit for the first time, and denied medical attention.   

The domestic squabble carried over into Saturday night when Summerford, in another drunken rage, grabbed Darlene by the hair and dragged her to a shed where he kept 15 poisonous snakes. The preacher gave his wife a choice: she can stick her face or hand in the box, and Darlene chose the latter. 

‘He took a pipe and hit the cages real hard so the snakes got real mad and then grabbed me by the hair and said he would push my face in if I didn’t stick my hand in there,’ she testified. ‘He said I had to die because he wanted to marry another woman.’  

From the pulpit to prison: New HBO documentary explores the sensational 1991 case from Alabama that saw Glenn Summerford, a snake-handling Pentecostal minister convicted of trying to murder his wife with a rattlesnake

From the pulpit to prison: New HBO documentary explores the sensational 1991 case from Alabama that saw Glenn Summerford, a snake-handling Pentecostal minister convicted of trying to murder his wife with a rattlesnake

From the pulpit to prison: New HBO documentary explores the sensational 1991 case from Alabama that saw Glenn Summerford, a snake-handling Pentecostal minister convicted of trying to murder his wife with a rattlesnake 

By the time paramedics arrived, the snake venom had already began to take effect. ‘It was black, her skin was starting to die. That’s when I got real concerned because if that gets in your bloodstream, it can go to your heart,’ recalled David Kennamer, the on-call paramedic that evening.   

Darlene was taken to the local hospital and subsequently rushed to another facility in Birmingham, over 90 miles away because they didn’t have the life saving anti-venom medicine in stock. 

When she recovered, Darlene pointed the finger at her husband. The lurid story turned into a media frenzy surrounding the trial of Glenn Summerford who was eventually convicted of attempted murder and sentenced to 99 years at Bullock County Correctional Facility (where he remains to this day). 

Two prior felonies and a long legal rap sheet all but clinched a death sentence for the disgraced pastor who led a life of crime before he ‘found god’ and became a minister for the ‘Church of God with Signs Following.’

Director Theo Love sets the tone with a bleak picture of Alabama’s Sand Mountain region during the 1990s. The countryside is littered with burned-out house trailers, vehicle graveyards, collapsed chicken farms and the ubiquitous totems of strip malls- liquor stores, a Piggly Wiggly and neon video rental signs. Marijuana is a major cash crop on the mountain. Illegal cockfighting is a favorite pastime. The lack of opportunity has replaced hope with lawlessness.

‘I think people that live up on the mountain tend to take care of their own problems, they don’t need or want the policing that you would find here in Scottsboro,’ explained a uniformed officer.

Glenn Summerford tells his life story to HBO through lengthy audio tapes that were originally recorded by Appalachian anthropologist, Dr. Thomas G. Burton. Born in 1944, Glenn remembers how he was picked-on as a boy before his war-veteran stepfather taught him how to defend himself. Alcohol, fist fights and a hairline trigger temper turned into a way of life as he aged into adulthood.  

His first wife, Doris explains: ‘I loved him but at times I was afraid of him. Fear and love, they went together.’ She recalls how Glenn nearly murdered a man during an organized brawl for cash prize. ‘I beat his eyes plum out of his head,’ said Glenn on the tapes. ‘I hit him in the side of his head and his eyeball come out of his nose.’ 

As retaliation, their house was set on fire, killing his youngest daughter. ‘He wasn’t the same after that,’ she said.  

HBO traces Glenn Summerford's journey from a picked-on boy in poverty-stricken Appalachia whose stepfather taught him to stand up for himself with fists. Alcohol, fights and a hairline trigger temper turned into a way of life as Glenn aged into adulthood. He was known for his violent behavior and had a long history of conflict with the law that resulted in two prior felonies. Summerford renounced his former ways to become a holy roller

HBO traces Glenn Summerford's journey from a picked-on boy in poverty-stricken Appalachia whose stepfather taught him to stand up for himself with fists. Alcohol, fights and a hairline trigger temper turned into a way of life as Glenn aged into adulthood. He was known for his violent behavior and had a long history of conflict with the law that resulted in two prior felonies. Summerford renounced his former ways to become a holy roller

HBO traces Glenn Summerford’s journey from a picked-on boy in poverty-stricken Appalachia whose stepfather taught him to stand up for himself with fists. Alcohol, fights and a hairline trigger temper turned into a way of life as Glenn aged into adulthood. He was known for his violent behavior and had a long history of conflict with the law that resulted in two prior felonies. Summerford renounced his former ways to become a holy roller 

Glenn Summerford turns the light on over his makeshift church that was an old abandoned gas station. Because snake-handling is outlawed in all states except for West Virginia; Holiness Pentecostals usually conduct their services under the cloak of secrecy. Snake handling churches are often held in remote locations like an unassuming shack at the end of an unpaved mountain road in Appalachia, the basement of a motel, or a dilapidated church

Glenn Summerford turns the light on over his makeshift church that was an old abandoned gas station. Because snake-handling is outlawed in all states except for West Virginia; Holiness Pentecostals usually conduct their services under the cloak of secrecy. Snake handling churches are often held in remote locations like an unassuming shack at the end of an unpaved mountain road in Appalachia, the basement of a motel, or a dilapidated church

Glenn Summerford turns the light on over his makeshift church that was an old abandoned gas station. Because snake-handling is outlawed in all states except for West Virginia; Holiness Pentecostals usually conduct their services under the cloak of secrecy. Snake handling churches are often held in remote locations like an unassuming shack at the end of an unpaved mountain road in Appalachia, the basement of a motel, or a dilapidated church

Old VHS tapes reveal Glenn and Darlene stirring themselves into a state of religious ecstasy while speaking in tongues and wielding deadly rattlesnakes aloft. 'The Church of God with Signs Following' is a small Pentecostal congregation where services include singing, praying, speaking in tongues, preaching and most controversially, snake handling. The fringe Christian group believes that snakes are incarnations of evil and thus congregants are invited to handle the venomous reptiles in front of the church to prove the power of the holy spirit over the serpent devil. Followers of this small but fiercely devout church also drink poisons, such as strychnine and battery acid, or hold flames to their skin to show their faith

Old VHS tapes reveal Glenn and Darlene stirring themselves into a state of religious ecstasy while speaking in tongues and wielding deadly rattlesnakes aloft. 'The Church of God with Signs Following' is a small Pentecostal congregation where services include singing, praying, speaking in tongues, preaching and most controversially, snake handling. The fringe Christian group believes that snakes are incarnations of evil and thus congregants are invited to handle the venomous reptiles in front of the church to prove the power of the holy spirit over the serpent devil. Followers of this small but fiercely devout church also drink poisons, such as strychnine and battery acid, or hold flames to their skin to show their faith

Old VHS tapes reveal Glenn and Darlene stirring themselves into a state of religious ecstasy while speaking in tongues and wielding deadly rattlesnakes aloft. ‘The Church of God with Signs Following’ is a small Pentecostal congregation where services include singing, praying, speaking in tongues, preaching and most controversially, snake handling. The fringe Christian group believes that snakes are incarnations of evil and thus congregants are invited to handle the venomous reptiles in front of the church to prove the power of the holy spirit over the serpent devil. Followers of this small but fiercely devout church also drink poisons, such as strychnine and battery acid, or hold flames to their skin to show their faith

He met Darlene in 1974, she was just 19-years-old and they got married despite him still being legally married to Doris. ‘From the first day I got married to him, I didn’t want to be married no more,’ said Darlene on camera who was looking worse for wear. ‘I was scared to death of him.’  

Their explosive relationship was defined by alcohol abuse, violence, and the hopeless desperation of poverty that plagues much of Appalachia.  

But things changed when two missionaries introduced Glenn to the bible. ‘God spoke to me,’ he said on the audiotapes. ‘When God delivered me, he delivered me.’ Inspired by what felt like divine intervention, Glenn spent one month reading the bible and fasting in an Appalachian cave before he came out a true man of faith. 

Glenn and Darlene were baptized as Holiness Pentecostals who believe that man can be redeemed from all previous sins. ‘Me and Darlene went to church every night once we started.’ 

Glenn stopped drinking, renounced his former ways and began preaching. 

‘It was like someone else just stepped in his body and it wasn’t him no more,’ said his son Marty. ‘He was on his knees every night.’ 

The two born-agains began snake handling in front of their spellbound congregation. Old VHS tapes reveal Glenn and Darlene stirring themselves into a state of religious ecstasy, speaking in tongues while wielding deadly rattlesnakes aloft.

‘The Church of God with Signs Following’ is a fundamentalist Pentecostal sect where services include singing, praying, speaking in tongues, preaching and most controversially, snake handling. The fringe Christian group believes that snakes are incarnations of evil and thus congregants are invited to handle the venomous reptiles in front of the church to prove the power of the holy spirit over the serpent devil.  

Followers of this small but fiercely devout church also drink poisons, such as strychnine and battery acid, or hold flames to their skin to show their faith. 

The tradition dates back to 1909 when a popular Pentecostal minister named George Went Henseley introduced the practice into the Church of God in Cleveland, Tennessee- though some historians dispute this. Even though he ultimately died from a snake bite in 1955, it was Henseley who is said to have picked up snakes while preaching Mark 16 after a man rained down a box of rattlesnakes in front of him. 

Hensley argued that if believers truly had the Holy Spirit within them, they should be able to ingest poison without suffering and survive any number of venomous serpent bites. 

Glenn met Darlene in 1974, she was just 19-years-old and they got married despite him still being legally married to his first wife, Doris. 'From the first day I got married to him, I didn't want to be married no more,' said Darlene on camera. 'I was scared to death of him'

Glenn met Darlene in 1974, she was just 19-years-old and they got married despite him still being legally married to his first wife, Doris. 'From the first day I got married to him, I didn't want to be married no more,' said Darlene on camera. 'I was scared to death of him'

Glenn met Darlene in 1974, she was just 19-years-old and they got married despite him still being legally married to his first wife, Doris. ‘From the first day I got married to him, I didn’t want to be married no more,’ said Darlene on camera. ‘I was scared to death of him’ 

Glenn Summerford's first wife, Doris tells HBO: 'I loved him but at times I was afraid of him. Fear and love, they went together.' She recalls how Glenn Summerford was never the same after their daughter died in a fire. When asked if she thinks her abusive ex was capable of killing someone, she paused before answering, 'possibly'

Glenn Summerford's first wife, Doris tells HBO: 'I loved him but at times I was afraid of him. Fear and love, they went together.' She recalls how Glenn Summerford was never the same after their daughter died in a fire. When asked if she thinks her abusive ex was capable of killing someone, she paused before answering, 'possibly'

Glenn Summerford’s first wife, Doris tells HBO: ‘I loved him but at times I was afraid of him. Fear and love, they went together.’ She recalls how Glenn Summerford was never the same after their daughter died in a fire. When asked if she thinks her abusive ex was capable of killing someone, she paused before answering, ‘possibly’

The Reverend Oscar Hutton, leader of a snake cult, shows his faith by wearing a rattler around his neck and holding aloft five Copperheads at a meeting of his congregation. Hutton was often in trouble with the law for his snake-handling, but continued to pursue it with the fervor of a martyr. The practice is illegal in all states except West Virginia. There have been 150 documented deaths from the lethal practice but experts suspect there could be many more. Meanwhile believers think death confirms their own submission to the Bible as the Word of God and resign themselves to the idea that their time is up

The Reverend Oscar Hutton, leader of a snake cult, shows his faith by wearing a rattler around his neck and holding aloft five Copperheads at a meeting of his congregation. Hutton was often in trouble with the law for his snake-handling, but continued to pursue it with the fervor of a martyr. The practice is illegal in all states except West Virginia. There have been 150 documented deaths from the lethal practice but experts suspect there could be many more. Meanwhile believers think death confirms their own submission to the Bible as the Word of God and resign themselves to the idea that their time is up

The Reverend Oscar Hutton, leader of a snake cult, shows his faith by wearing a rattler around his neck and holding aloft five Copperheads at a meeting of his congregation. Hutton was often in trouble with the law for his snake-handling, but continued to pursue it with the fervor of a martyr. The practice is illegal in all states except West Virginia. There have been 150 documented deaths from the lethal practice but experts suspect there could be many more. Meanwhile believers think death confirms their own submission to the Bible as the Word of God and resign themselves to the idea that their time is up

His fanatic followers think that the Bible should be taken very literally, in particular, verse Mark 16: 17 which reads: ‘And these signs shall follow them that believe: In my name shall they cast out devils; they shall speak with new tongues. They shall take up serpents; and if they drink any deadly thing, it shall not hurt them; they shall lay hands on the sick, and they shall recover.’ 

If a handler is bitten, it is interpreted as a lack of faith or righteousness. Bitten believers rarely seek medical help and look to God for their healing. There have been 150 documented deaths from the lethal practice but experts suspect there could be many more. Meanwhile believers think death confirms their own submission to the Bible as the Word of God and resign themselves that their time is up.

Because of the inherent danger in this obscure religious practice, it has been outlawed in all states except for West Virginia. 

Thus Holiness Pentecostals usually conduct their services under the cloak of secrecy. Snake handling churches are held in remote locations like an unassuming shack at the end of an unpaved mountain road in Appalachia, the basement of a motel, or a dilapidated church.

It was in this vein that the born-again Rev. Glenn Summerford and his wife Darlene addressed their flock of believers, out of an old, abandoned gas station. 

Glenn routinely handled poisonous snakes, drank strychnine and touched live electrical wires during his rollicking services. 

‘I saw demons cast out, I saw my daddy do it,’ said Marty Summerford to HBO. ‘Saw him cast one out with one guy at church and it literally came out and run across the floor. I mean it was crazy looking.’

When it comes to the days leading up to the crime, the case is far from cut and dry, ‘Nobody knows what happened,’ said Dr. Thomas Burton to HBO. ‘We have what Glenn says happened and we have what Darlene says happened.’  

The truth lies somewhere in between. 

The investigation and subsequent trial descended into a game of he said/ she said. Testimony indicated that both parties wanted out of their marriage, but divorce was not an option because Darlene feared losing custody of their 13-year-old son, and Glenn wanted to keep preaching. Murder seemed the only way out. 

The defense did their best to portray Darlene as a woman with suicidal tendencies and an unhealthy fixation on the snakes. While Darlene claimed that Glenn attempted to stage her suicide by coercing her into writing a suicide note before he forced her hand into the lethal snake box for a second time. 

Glenn’s attorneys brought forward a 23-year-old witness from their congregation named Tammy Flippo. She testified that Darlene was actually bitten while trying kill her sleeping husband. ‘She told me that she got Glenn so drunk he passed out and went out to the shed to get a snake to put on him but it bit her instead.’ Prosecutors discredited Flippo’s testimony when proved that she had an ambiguous sexual relationship with Glenn Summerford.

Glenn Summerford renounced his past when two missionaries introduced him to the bible. Above, Darlene Summerford's son, Marty inspects the Appalachian cave where his father spent one month, isolating himself from the outside world in order to read the gospel. 'God spoke to me,' said Summerford on the audiotapes. 'When God delivered me, he delivered me.' Glenn left the cave a true man of faith and was baptized as a Holiness Pentecostal

Glenn Summerford renounced his past when two missionaries introduced him to the bible. Above, Darlene Summerford's son, Marty inspects the Appalachian cave where his father spent one month, isolating himself from the outside world in order to read the gospel. 'God spoke to me,' said Summerford on the audiotapes. 'When God delivered me, he delivered me.' Glenn left the cave a true man of faith and was baptized as a Holiness Pentecostal

Glenn Summerford renounced his past when two missionaries introduced him to the bible. Above, Darlene Summerford’s son, Marty inspects the Appalachian cave where his father spent one month, isolating himself from the outside world in order to read the gospel. ‘God spoke to me,’ said Summerford on the audiotapes. ‘When God delivered me, he delivered me.’ Glenn left the cave a true man of faith and was baptized as a Holiness Pentecostal 

Darlene claimed that Glenn tried to make her murder look like a suicide. He forced her to write a suicide letter before holding her at gunpoint in the rattle snake den. The defense did their best to portray Darlene as a woman with suicidal tendencies and an unhealthy fixation on the snakes

Darlene claimed that Glenn tried to make her murder look like a suicide. He forced her to write a suicide letter before holding her at gunpoint in the rattle snake den. The defense did their best to portray Darlene as a woman with suicidal tendencies and an unhealthy fixation on the snakes

Darlene claimed that Glenn tried to make her murder look like a suicide. He forced her to write a suicide letter before holding her at gunpoint in the rattle snake den. The defense did their best to portray Darlene as a woman with suicidal tendencies and an unhealthy fixation on the snakes

In the trial, Darlene Summerford was acknowledged as 'the foremost lady snake handler' in the Southeast, but she said that snake handling in church was a spiritual experience. 'It makes you feel different. It's just knowing you got power over them snakes'

In the trial, Darlene Summerford was acknowledged as 'the foremost lady snake handler' in the Southeast, but she said that snake handling in church was a spiritual experience. 'It makes you feel different. It's just knowing you got power over them snakes'

In the trial, Darlene Summerford was acknowledged as ‘the foremost lady snake handler’ in the Southeast, but she said that snake handling in church was a spiritual experience. ‘It makes you feel different. It’s just knowing you got power over them snakes’

Clarence Bolte as the lead investigator on the case. 'The snake became the evidence,' he said.  'Your facts and your evidence is what makes your case.' In this investigation, it was Darlene's statement against Glenn's. 'I was surprised that we got in there, I didn't think the case was that strong.' said Bolte

Clarence Bolte as the lead investigator on the case. 'The snake became the evidence,' he said.  'Your facts and your evidence is what makes your case.' In this investigation, it was Darlene's statement against Glenn's. 'I was surprised that we got in there, I didn't think the case was that strong.' said Bolte

Clarence Bolte as the lead investigator on the case. ‘The snake became the evidence,’ he said.  ‘Your facts and your evidence is what makes your case.’ In this investigation, it was Darlene’s statement against Glenn’s. ‘I was surprised that we got in there, I didn’t think the case was that strong.’ said Bolte

In the days leading up to the Saturday night attack, Glenn recalled that Darlene, ‘hadn’t been acting right.’ He admits that they were suffering from marital problems: ‘At that time I was real close to the Lord and I wasn’t really paying no attention to her.’ He says that Darlene mistakenly believed he fell out of love with her; and turned to the comforts of other men for attention.  

History of snake-handling   

The tradition dates back to 1909 when a popular Pentecostal minister named George Went Henseley introduced the practice into the Church of God in Cleveland, Tennessee- though some historians dispute this. Even though he ultimately died from a snake bite in 1955, it was Henseley who is said to have picked up snakes while preaching Mark 16 after a man rained down a box of rattlesnakes in front of him. 

Hensley argued that if believers truly had the Holy Spirit within them, they should be able to ingest poison without suffering and survive any number of venomous serpent bites. 

His fanatic followers think that the Bible should be taken very literally, in particular, verse Mark 16: 17 which reads: ‘In my name shall they cast out devils; they shall speak with new tongues. They shall take up serpents; and if they drink any deadly thing, it shall not hurt them; they shall lay hands on the sick, and they shall recover.’ 

If a handler is bitten, it is interpreted as a lack of faith or righteousness.

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‘The bed was defiled,’ he told Burton. 

According to Glenn, Darlene goaded him with details of her affairs. ‘She was trying to get me to beat her up,’ he said, in a trap that would put him behind bars. 

When he didn’t take the bait, Glenn explained how Darlene took things up a notch. ‘She said, ‘Long time ago, I used to get in bed with two of your sons when you’d be gone.” (Referring to Glenn’s children from his first marriage).

His eldest later maintained that ‘Darlene had made them have sex with her since they was 12-years-old.’ Though the other son denied the allegations entirely. 

Glenn said that despite the troubles they were having in recent weeks – Friday night, October 3, was relatively uneventful. He recalls how Darlene mentioned that she had been bitten by one of their pet snakes but insists there was no evidence or swelling or blood, except for a scab where their pet raccoon had bitten her a week before. 

They ran errands around town the next morning on Saturday, and Glenn felt that Darlene seemed better. ‘If she would’ve got bit on Friday night, she wouldn’t have been going places. You know, she would’ve been sick.’ A clerk at the video rental store also testified that she didn’t notice any swelling on Darlene’s hand.

Glenn said he went to bed early on Saturday evening and woke up later that night to find Darlene missing with a suicide note on the table. 

Darlene paints a paints a completely different picture: ‘Psycho preacher, that’s what he was, a psycho preacher.’

She said days of arguing culminated on Friday night when Glenn forced her hand into the rattle snake box. ‘The first time I got bit, hit right in the meat of my bone.’ 

According to Darlene, Glenn told her on Saturday morning that he would take her to seek medical attention if she’d go to the store with him to pick up more whiskey. It was a false promise, ‘He could make you believe anything he want to. He’s a smooth talker.’ 

‘When we got back to the house he said, ‘At 7 o’clock you’re going to get bit again and you’re going to die this time.’ It was then, that Glenn made Darlene forge the suicide note.  

In the trial, the D.A. noted how the letter was especially suspect – particularly the sentences that repetitively absolved Glenn of any crime. ‘This is not a suicide note, this is an alibi note,’ he told the jury. ‘This man was trying to build an alibi.’ 

Close to passing out on the couch from the pain and swelling of her initial bite, Darlene said she was suddenly awakened by Glenn peeing on her head. He dragged her to the shed out back that housed their rattlesnakes and forced her once again to grab the deadly serpent. 

Glenn fell asleep in a drunken stupor and left Darlene for dead. She was knocking on death’s door when she called 911. ‘I was scared,’ she tells HBO. ‘And the ambulance driver, he was my hero.’

The trial lasted only two days. The jury found Glenn Summerford guilty of attempted murder. Due to his prior arrest record, he was given a mandatory 99-year in prison – where he remains today at 76-years-old. 

In 2003, Summerford briefly escaped from prison when he slipped out of sight during his work detail. He was found 45 minutes later hiding in a dumpster. 

Darlene Summerford was relieved with the verdict and felt justice had been served. But life after the trial in the small town wasn’t so easy. Many of Glenn Summerford’s followers believed that he was innocent. 

‘I got up at church and tried to tell them what he was doing. Beating on me, you know that kinda stuff. They didn’t believe me,’ said Darlene. ‘They started casting the devil out of me.’    

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