The Frisby Legacy

God told Neal Frisby to build the Capstone Cathedral. Then He told him to give it away

At various points, Frisby complains that his vertebrae are out of joint, that his knee hurts, that his feet need to be popped into place, that his tailbone hurts, and finally, that he can't breathe. Out of the blue, he discusses going back to California, the IRS, and the dentist. Perhaps remembering his former life as a barber, Frisby twice discusses his need for a haircut.

None of it makes much sense.

In one transcript, Dr. Seitz talks to Frisby's wife, Margaret.

Shane Rebenschied
Robert Brooks, the unlikely heir to Neal Frisby's cathedral.
courtesy of Robert Brooks
Robert Brooks, the unlikely heir to Neal Frisby's cathedral.

"I know he hasn't been sleeping," Seitz tells her. "He needs to get his rest, too."

"He needs it," Margaret agrees.

"You okay, sweetheart?" Seitz asks. "Margaret, can I help you?"

Margaret says that she's just worried.

"Not moving his body, staying in bed all day, those things have slowly but surely taken away his strength," the chiropractor explains. "He needs to get into life, not into bed." (Seitz declined to comment.)

But no one knew how to motivate him. Frisby lost so much weight, he became almost skeletal. His reclusion appears to have verged on agoraphobia.

"It got where he didn't leave the house in two years," says Pauley.

By the fall of 2003, his sons and supporters agree, it was clear that the 69-year-old evangelist wasn't going to get well. And with Curtis banned from the pulpit and Neal unwilling to turn over operations to anyone else, the ministry was falling apart.

So the family summoned Leroy Jenkins to Phoenix.

The theatrical Jenkins — Pauley calls him "a cross between Engelbert Humperdinck and Elvis Presley" — was an Ohio-based evangelist famous enough to have two movies made about his life. He'd been good friends with the aging Mae West, and Faye Dunaway played West in one of the films; Jenkins' Web site prominently displays the photo of himself with Dunaway.

A traveling crusader, Jenkins had hosted meetings at Capstone a few years before, during one of Neal's bad periods. For decades, Jenkins says, he and Neal stayed in touch by phone.

So when Jenkins got a series of urgent phone calls saying that Neal was dying, he agreed to move his ministry to Phoenix. In September 2003, Neal's board of directors officially made Jenkins the ministry's executive vice president. According to the written agreement they drew up, Jenkins would have total control.

That lasted all of three months.

In January 2004, just before Jenkins' next series of crusade meetings was scheduled to begin, the board terminated his role. When Jenkins showed up for the evening meeting, he was barred from entering the cathedral.

The matter ended up in a bitter lawsuit, which Jenkins filed in July 2004. The Frisbys filed a counterclaim soon after.

Coming from one of Frisby's few friends, the suit is devastating: It portrays an inner circle that's fallen apart, thanks to squabbling and Neal's neglect. The suit even claims that staffers were helping themselves to cash from the offering plate.

And, Jenkins claims, one of Neal's sons, Ferrell, was on the payroll but not doing any work. (Ferrell Frisby does not have a listed phone number or address. Curtis says he hadn't talked to him in months and was unable to provide a phone number. Chris Frisby, the only other sibling surviving today, also does not have a listed phone number or address.)

"There was something wrong with his foot," Jenkins recalls. "I told them, 'He can stuff envelopes. There's nothing wrong with his hands.' But he wouldn't do it."

In his suit, Jenkins also claimed that someone had accessed pornography on church computers.

The Frisbys denied the charges vehemently, and in their counterclaim, they fired back that Jenkins had promised not to change the appearance of the church, yet had ordered new landscaping. They also claimed that Jenkins had tried to persuade Neal to sign away his property — and that Jenkins planned to sell part off to a developer.

Neal, somehow, managed to stay outside the fray. Jenkins says he has no ill will toward his friend. He blames Neal's brother Gerald for his eviction.

"He saw that place blossoming, that I brought people back to the church," Jenkins says. "It ate him up."

Curtis Frisby agrees that the two men clashed, but he insists that the decision to oust Jenkins was strictly his father's.

"He just got tired of the arguing," he says. "He told me that Leroy had to go."

The old man had seemed to rally when Jenkins was around. For everyone in the Frisby house, Neal's word had always been law. But Jenkins pushed back.

Jenkins ordered Neal to eat — "and no more of this baby food," he'd say in disgust, since Neal at the time was mostly subsisting on purées, spoon-fed by Curtis. When Neal would beg for his pain pills, Jenkins would substitute half a Tylenol. For the first time in 30 years, Neal Frisby even went to a restaurant.

But once Jenkins left, Neal fell back into his old habits. His family, as usual, didn't have the strength to fight him. Curtis says that the weight his father gained began to fall away, rapidly.

Once again, the family began to prepare for Neal Frisby to die.

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