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Everything Is Going Down, But The Word Of God……Rufus Sanders haunts Victor Matthews to this day, a long shadow hanging over him with memories of Bible passages and of allegedly being repeatedly raped and molested by him.
Erie County Common Pleas Judge Paul Work, in 1979, awarded Bishop Rufus Sanders, the founding minister of Emmanuel Temple Church on East Adams Street in Sandusky, custody of Victor Matthews, then a junior and a student athlete like his older brothers at Perkins High School.
Victor was in trouble for something that happened at school, and he had previous scrapes with the law. The judge told him at a prior court hearing he’d be sent to a detention facility if he got in trouble again.
“My parents were up in age so my mother contacted our pastor, Elder Rufus Sanders, to accompany my father to the courthouse,” Victor wrote in a narrative about his memories.
Sanders asked to speak with the judge privately, and afterward, the judge ruled that Sanders and his wife, Jo-Ann Sanders would be Victor’s guardians until he turned 18.
“I don’t know what Elder Sanders said to Judge Work to convince him to release me into his custody. I do know if he said he would take care of me, he lied. Elder Sanders made me and everyone else believe he wanted to save me, but little did I know what was coming next.”
Victor asks: Why me?
In his own words, told to a friend and transcribed into a statement, Victor, who is now 56 and living in Chicago, described what happened.
“The sexual abuse began the first week I moved in with him and Jo-Ann. He waited until he thought Jo-Ann and I were both asleep. He came into the living room, which was also where I slept. He pulled the covers back, reached down and put his hands between my legs. I was very resistant, and that’s when he whispered to me, ‘you better remember what the judge said. You don’t want me to go to the courthouse and tell him you’re not following his orders. Now just let me do this.’
“I was in shock. I couldn’t move. I felt like I was standing outside my body watching this happen. He performed oral sex on me. Elder Rufus Sanders raped me … I had never had a sexual experience with a girl. I was a virgin. He took my virginity, because I didn’t give it to him.”
“The sexual abuse went on from 1979 until 1989. You might be wondering why I didn’t tell someone? Well, I didn’t feel I had anyone I could tell. Based on my behavior as a teen, Rufus Sanders was considered the ‘savior,’ a ‘hero.’ He rescued ‘bad Victor’ from a life in prison. I didn’t think anyone would hear me.”
Victor said he would make noise, push over a lamp or other furniture to cause a ruckus intending to wake up Jo-Ann Sanders so she could help him.
“I was hoping she would wake up and catch her husband raping me,” Victor said.
Looking back on it now, he said he doesn’t understand how she couldn’t hear what was happening.
Sanders also isolated Victor.
“He would make me feel like my family didn’t love me. He used to tell me, ‘You aren’t a Matthews anymore, you are a Sanders now.’ He brainwashed me into believing I was unwanted by my family. The thought of that being true made my life worse for me.”
Victor is the tenth son of 11 sons of Achie and Odell Matthews, a family that also includes four girls. They lived on Doerzbach Avenue, in the Searsville neighborhood in Perkins Township.
He lovingly includes their middle names or the initials, when he lists his siblings by name: “Henry B., Jerry Lee, Bobby Gene, Bennie Allen, Mevelyn O., Deborah Kay, Tony Lynn, Earl Clarence, Floyd Wesley, Brenda E., Nate, Roy Anthony, Minnie P…”
Wake me up, please
For Victor, Rufus Sanders was a nightmare he couldn’t escape.
“The sexual abuse happened two to three times per week. I would try to stay away from him, but he always found a way to get me alone,’ Victor recalls.
Sanders also took Victor with him to revivals and national religious conventions.
“He kept me separated from other convention attendees at night. He then would come into the room and again, sexually abuse me. I would just lie there hoping he would just get it over with. I felt like an empty shell, like someone had reached inside of me and scooped out my soul.”
Sanders’ alleged abuse also impacted him spiritually, Victor said.
“I found myself angry with God, because I felt he too didn’t love me because he allowed this man to repeatedly abuse me. He was supposed to guide me spiritually. Instead, he just abused his authority as my pastor, by going so far as to sexually abuse me in the very place he would stand to preach God’s word.”
“I felt betrayed by God and didn’t believe he loved me anymore. Rufus Sanders placed much guilt and shame on me by the things he did. I knew it wasn’t right and couldn’t understand why he kept hurting me. He controlled my life. He would prohibit me from contact with girls my age and anytime they were around, he’d tell them to ‘stay away from Victor.’ I liked girls and wanted relationships with them, so I would sneak away to spend time with those I liked. It seemed like he was tracking me because he would find and reprimand me for being with them. I felt like I was trapped and I just wanted to die.”
“I believe my life would have turned out differently if the sexual abuse had not happened. Did I have some issues prior to moving in with Rufus Sanders? Yes, however, I truly believe I would have turned out a different man if he had not taken so much from me. The abuse inflicted by Rufus Sanders has affected my relationships, with my now ex-wife, and my children. The emotional damage has made it extremely difficult to trust someone, without wondering if betrayal is inevitable. Rufus Sanders took my childhood, my voice as an individual, my ability to show, as well as receive love. He took the most precious, beautiful thing that is to be shared between a woman and a man and made it vile.”
Both brothers suffered
His younger brother, Roy, also contends Sanders abused him, starting in 1978 when he was 13. The two did not know until years later that both of them had been abused.
Roy contacted Obnoxious Media after learning about recent news coverage in the newspaper about clergy abuse in the Catholic Church. Roy and Victor went to Sandusky police in November 2016 and reported the sexual abuse they allegedly suffered as children.
After learning the statutes of limitations had expired — since the abuse ended about 30 years ago — they asked to meet with Bishop Sanders and Jo-Ann Sanders. Ten of their siblings — with their wives or husbands — were with them March 14, 2017, when they confronted the couple during a meeting that lasted 3-1/2 hours.
Read Family confronts Sanders, On Obnoxious
Obnoxious Media sent Rufus Sanders an email on Monday detailing their allegations of sexual abuse. Sanders, on Wednesday, sent a one-sentence reply to the inquiry: “In as much as I would like to respond to your questions posed to me by Obnoxious Media, I have been advised by counsel, attorney Lurlia Oglesby, not to do so,” Bishop Sanders wrote.