Welcome academics, journalists, researchers, historians, and seekers of fact. This is the website for Ernie Lee Russell Yost who lived from 1904 – 1948. He is one of the first documented devil worshipers in the United States. The public learned about his satanic ties in newspaper articles after he murdered two people—Tucker Rock Moroose and Nellie Marie Yost (his wife)—and set off bombs in the small town of Fairmont, West Virginia. Then Yost committed suicide.
Yost’s crimes made headlines across the nation in April 1948, but as is often the case with news stories—even shocking ones—they are soon forgotten.
Fortunately this case was not lost to history. It was instead revived and further investigated by Dr. Charlotte Laws (a former private detective who has worked with the FBI). She was determined to learn the truth about her grandfather, Tucker Moroose (one of Yost’s victims). She spent five years digging up old newspaper articles and photos, rifling through public archives, interviewing over a hundred locals, and visiting landmarks (such as the crime scene and Yost’s former home). Based on her findings, she penned the 2018 nonfiction novel, Devil in the Basement.
Laws learned that only three life-size dolls existed prior to the 1950s (according to doll museum specialists and experts on satanism). They belonged to: 1) Helen Duncan, 2) Dr. Herbert Sloane, and 3) Ernie Yost. In December 2017, Jim Howard (an academic and expert on the history of satanism) worked with Laws to research possible connections between Yost, Sloane and Duncan. This was their conclusion….
Yost may have been inspired by Dr. Herbert Sloane, who lived in Cleveland (a three and a half hour drive from Yost) and who started the first satanic cult in the United States. He called it, “Our Lady of Endor Coven.” Sloane had a life-size doll named “April Belle,” to which Yost may have been familiar. This page has a photo of Sloane and his doll. April Belle and Sloane were buried together.
According to paranormal expert, Alexandra Holzer (daughter of the renowned Hans Holzer), “The people in the occult world of the 1940s were underground, secret, and close-knit. There was always chatter among them. This world was secretive because it was all very taboo. Everyone knew each other or knew of each other. So Yost, who was a devil worshiper, would have, at the very least, known who Sloane was. Maybe he would have met him.”
There is likewise reason to believe that Sloane (and possibly Yost) was influenced by Helen Duncan, who had the first (known) life-size doll named “Peggy.” She was the last person imprisoned under the British Witchcraft Act of 1735. She went to jail in 1944, only two years before Sloane made his doll and four years before Yost’s doll was discovered by police and newspaper reporters. This page has a photo of Duncan with her doll.
Sloane admitted that he got his doll idea from a book. There were many books and articles written about Duncan in the 1930s and 1940s, so it is likely Sloane saw at least a few of them. Alexandra Holzer says, “I am 100 percent certain Sloane was inspired by Helen Duncan.”
Chris Bilardi, expert on witchcraft and author of the book, The Red Church, says, “Dolls, although not necessarily life-size ones, were found in cult lodges and witchcraft circles in the 1940s and before. A doll could function as a place where a spirit could rest (similar to a Spirit Lodge) or it could also be used to amplify a message or to communicate.”
Dr. Bruce Goldberg, the author of Protected by the Light (a guide focused on white magic, black magic, and demonology) says, “Careful examination of the evidence on Ernie Lee Russell Yost establishes beyond doubt that he was a devil worshiper.”
It should also be noted that Yost was born and raised in Mannington, West Virginia (13 miles from Fairmont). Although this town has a tiny population of 1600 – 3000, it has a big reputation for ghosts, witches, haunted houses, and tales of supernatural experiences. The books, The Telltale Lilac Bush and Coffin Hollow by Ruth Ann Musick delve into some of this folklore.
The most famous Mannington ghost was named “Willie,” who reportedly stalked Edith Looman’s house in the early twentieth century. Yost and Looman were two years apart and probably attended school together. As for the school, Mannington Middle School was said to be haunted. It was such a big problem that the board of education brought in a paranormal team to investigate. Yost and Looman may have also been related by marriage at a later date (via Yost’s sister). Did Yost and Looman share religious beliefs?
Bilardi states, “There is an indigenous ‘diabolotry’ (not to mention other forms of mysticism) in the region of West Virginia, Ohio, and Pennsylvania.” There is and has always been definite preoccupation with ghosts, witches, and spirits. This could have influenced Yost.
It should also be noted that there was an anti-cult mentality and a focus on black magic in the 1930s and 1940s. This could have influenced Yost, who hated Christianity and who strove to be a heretic. According to Penn State academic, Philip Jenkins, “there was a revival of the ancient idea… (of) devil-worship and human sacrifice…. Evil cults, witches and devil-worship were… familiar components of popular culture… By the 1940s, America experienced a short-lived but none the less ferocious Satanism scare…” In addition to countless articles about the occult, there were films: The Seventh Victim (1943), about a Satanic cult which performed human sacrifice, Weird Woman (1944) and I Married A Witch (1942). There were also popular novels, such as Burn, Witch, Burn (1942), featuring devil dolls, and Conjure Wife (1943) about witches. In other words, culture and community—as well as family and friends—may have impacted Yost, steering him toward the occult.
The newspaper excerpts on this website should be of particular interest to readers as these articles cannot be found elsewhere on the Internet, and the newspaper outlets no longer have copies. This website can also be used as a supplement to Devil in the Basement.
(The photo at the top of this page depicts the satanic doll or effigy, created by Yost).