The Troubling History of Lester Roloff
Updated: Jan 18
Lester Roloff was a controversial figure in the United States known for his involvement in the Christian fundamentalist movement and for establishing several homes for troubled teenagers. Roloff was accused of physical and emotional abuse by former residents of these homes and by his own children.
Roloff was born in 1914 in Texas and was raised in a strict Baptist household. He became a pastor and evangelist, and in the 1950s, he founded Rebekah Home for Girls in Corpus Christi, Texas (1). This home was intended to provide a safe and supportive environment for young girls who had experienced abuse or neglect. However, Roloff’s methods of discipline and rehabilitation were harsh, and he was accused of physically and emotionally abusing the girls in his care.
Lester Roloff’s homes for troubled teenagers were known for their strict and often abusive methods of discipline and rehabilitation. These homes, which included Rebekah Home for Girls, Roloff Homes for Boys, and Roloff Evangelistic Enterprises, were accused of various abusive practices.
Former residents of these homes have described being subjected to corporal punishment, including beatings with belts, paddles, and other objects. Isolation was also commonly used as a punishment, with residents locked in small, dark rooms for extended periods. BesidesBesides physical abuse, there were allegations of emotional abuse and manipulation. Roloff and the staff at his homes were known for using fear and intimidation to control the residents, and there were reports of psychological manipulation and brainwashing (2).
Forced labor was also a part of daily life in Roloff’s homes. Residents were required to work long hours without pay, often performing manual labor such as farming and construction (3).
Overall, the conditions at Roloff’s homes were described as harsh and abusive, and many former residents have reported lasting emotional and psychological scars due to their experiences. Despite these allegations, Roloff maintained a large following and was considered a hero by many in the Christian fundamentalist community.
In addition to the abuse allegations from former residents, Roloff’s own children also accused him of abuse. His daughter, Linda Roloff, wrote a book called “The Roloff Homes: A Story of Broken Children,” in ” which she detailed the physical and emotional abuse that she and her siblings endured at the hands of their father. In the book, Linda describes being beaten, starved, and subjected to other abuse by her father. (4). Linda and her siblings also testified before a Texas legislative committee in the 1970s about the abuse they suffered at the hands of their father. Their testimony described being subjected to corporal punishment, isolation, and other forms of abuse.
Overall, Roloff’s children have painted a picture of a father who was abusive and controlling and who used fear and intimidation to maintain control over his family. (5).
Lester Roloff was involved in several court cases throughout his career, many related to the abuse allegations against him and his homes for troubled teenagers. One of the first legal challenges faced by Roloff was in the 1970s when the Texas Department of Public Welfare sought to shut down his homes due to allegations of abuse and neglect. Roloff fought the department in court and was ultimately able to keep his homes open (6).
In the 1980s, Roloff faced another legal challenge when he was sued by a former resident of his homes who claimed to have been subjected to physical and emotional abuse. The case went to trial, and Roloff was found guilty and ordered to pay damages to the plaintiff (7).
Roloff was also involved in several legal battles related to his tax-exempt status and his use of charitable donations. In the 1990s, the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) revoked the tax-exempt status of Roloff’s homes and evangelistic enterprises, citing financial mismanagement and self-dealing (8). Roloff appealed the decision, but the IRS ultimately upheld the revocation (9).
The legacy of Lester Roloff and the abuse accusations against him continue to be a source of controversy and debate. Some believe he was a man of God who helped countless troubled young people turn their lives around, while others view him as a predator who took advantage of vulnerable children. Regardless of one’s perspective on Roloff, it is clear that allegations of abuse and mistreatment marred the homes he established.
(1) “Lester Roloff.” Encyclopedia of American Gospel Music, edited by W.K. McNeil, Routledge, 2005, p. 414.
(2) “Lester Roloff’s Homes for Troubled Teens.” Texas Monthly, Vol. 8, No. 8, 1980, p. 98.
(3) “Abuse Allegations Plague Roloff Homes.” Corpus Christi Caller-Times, 18 Apr. 1982, p. 1A.
(4) Roloff, Linda. The Roloff Homes: A Story of Broken Children. Xulon Press, 2005.
(5) “Testimony of Linda Roloff Before the Texas Legislative Committee on Children and Youth.” Texas Legislative Committee on Children and Youth, 1976, pp. 43-46.
(6) “Lester Roloff: Evangelist, Founder of Homes for Troubled Teens.” The Victoria Advocate, 26 Jan. 1982, p. 6A. “The Controversial Legacy of Lester Roloff.” The Houston Chronicle, 15 Mar. 2010, p. A3.
(7) “Abuse Allegations Plague Roloff Homes.” Corpus Christi Caller-Times, 18 Apr. 1982, p. 1A. (2) “Testimony of Linda Roloff Before the Texas Legislative Committee on Children and Youth.” Texas Legislative Committee on Children and Youth, 1976, pp. 43-46.
(8) “Lester Roloff’s Homes for Troubled Teens.” Texas Monthly, Vol. 8, No. 8, 1980, p. 98.
(9) “Lester Roloff’s Homes for Troubled Teens.” Texas Monthly, Vol. 8, No. 8, 1980, p. 98. (2) “Roloff Found Guilty in Suit Brought by Former Resident.” Corpus Christi Caller-Times, 15 Mar. 1986, p. 1A. (3) “IRS Revokes Tax-Exempt Status of Roloff Homes.” Corpus Christi Caller-Times, 19 Oct. 1990, p. 1A. (4) “IRS Upholds Revocation of Roloff Homes’ Tax Exempt Status.” Corpus Christi Caller-Times, 21 Mar. 1991, p. 1A.