In part one of missing Chicago English professor Charles Southern Jr., we went into the events leading up to his disappearance in 1987. We now go into the family’s search for answers and deaths related to Conscious Development of Mind, Body, and Soul.
The idea that a college professor or anyone with influence or authority could fall in with a cult can seem unbelievable. When most think cults and their leaders it’s someone like Jim Jones who drew his membership from the Black community and liberal-minded people who wanted to make a change in the world.
While some of his members came from the middle class, the bulk was working class and poor. Then you have cult leaders like Shoko Asahara of Aum Shinrikyo, responsible for the 1995 Tokyo subway bombings. His cult recruited from all classes and had a number of members who were scientists, professors, police officers, and soldiers.
It’s mainly dependent on the cult leader’s charisma and the audience they’re addressing. In Charles Southern Jr.’s case, Terri Hoffman was able to speak to something spiritual but open minded in him. Hoffman had a background in motivational speaking, hypnotism, and was charming enough that she could sell Conscious Development to Southern.
The Circle of Death
The first note mentioned that Southern “came under a bad influence” and would try to fight it on his own. The other note was his will, leaving everything to Terri Hoffman. This meant she would gain access to property and life insurance policies in addition to other precious belongings.
What’s interesting about the will is that several other unexplained deaths in the organization had victims who named Hoffman as executor of the estate. In total, it’s believed that Hoffman definitely had a hand in the deaths of eleven people.
Six of those were followers, four were those close to followers, two were husbands and her only son. Of these deaths only one was said to have been a murder, the others were mostly considered suicides and four were “accidents.”
In the month before Southern went missing, 33-year old Mary Levinson was found dead in a hotel room of an apparent overdose. She had joined the organization’s Chicago branch earlier that year and probably would’ve been acquainted with Southern.
Levinson had gained $125,000 in a divorce and had thousands in jewelry. All of this was missing when the family began searching. She left a recorded will stating the settlement was used to cover debts and she left the rest to unnamed animal shelters.
Her brother was originally the beneficiary but it was changed to a boyfriend she had met through the group. The family’s belief is that Terri Hoffman was involved in some way.
Justice for Charles Southern Jr.
Collectively, the murders have been referred to as the “Circle of Death” with Terri Hoffman being at the center of it all. It’s believed that Professor Charles Southern Jr. is another victim and that it’s possible others not named have been killed.
His family continued to look for answers but none have surfaced. Southern’s mother would pass away in 2015. Towards the end of the year in October, Terri Hoffman would pass away as well. She was never charged with the deaths that occurred in her group.
For readers who are in or from the Chicago area or might know something about Charles Southern Jr.–or any of the suspicious deaths in Conscious Development–contact the Chicago PD at 312-747-6222.