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Beloved minister had a secret life that came to light after his murder THE LOST SHEPHERD

February 26, 1995|By Jean Marbella | Jean Marbella,Sun Staff Writer

Mrs. Frostad, who is 18 months younger than her brother and lives in Washington state, says that even as a boy, Sam had already adopted a role that would define him the rest of his life: He was a caretaker.

Their mother, who divorced when Sam was about 7 years old, was often sick, so it fell on him to take charge of the household and his two younger sisters, Rosalie and Coralie.

"He took over, he was the man of the house," says his mother, Marion Green, who remarried a couple of years later and now lives in Bel Air.

The family attended the Edgewood Assembly of God Church, and they all worked at the Edgewood Diner. After graduating from Bel Air High School, he entered the Southeastern College of the Assemblies of God in Lakeland, Fla., in 1957. He studied there for a little more than two years, and then began ministering in Georgia.

He returned to Maryland in March 1965, when he was assigned to an Assembly of God church in Cresaptown, just south of Cumberland. In 1969, he was transferred to a church in Fairmont, W.Va.

By that time, Mr. Booth had married -- his wife Estelle was the daughter of a minister at Edgewood Assembly of God -- and had two young sons, Steve, now 32, and Sam, 29. The family moved back to Maryland in 1974 when Mr. Booth was named pastor of Middle River Assembly of God.

Several former parishioners there speak glowingly, even rapturously, of his ministry.

"My life has never been the same since that night," declares Della Straszynski, whose mother-in-law took her to Middle River Assembly of God one Sunday evening in the late 1970s. "There was such a beautiful, loving atmosphere of the Holy Spirit that night. There was a real worshiping of God. It's something you can't put into words. I sat there and just cried."

During services, Mr. Booth often played an accordion and he and Mrs. Booth would sing. His ministry extended beyond Sundays. He was a tireless visitor: If you were sick, in the hospital or otherwise in need of comfort, Mr. Booth was there.

Margaret Kumulides, who first met the pastor at Middle River Assembly of God, will always remember his visits during the past four years when she couldn't get out much, even to church, because she was caring for her mother, who had Alzheimer's disease. She died last year.

"They were both jokers. He would come and visit her, and she'd joke, 'Oh you're going to marry me, " says Mrs. Kumulides, whose husband George is currently chairman of the board of Christian Faith Tabernacle. "Once, he was supposed to come over and he was 45 minutes late. He had stopped to get my mom and me Valentine's candy. He did things like that."

Now, in retrospect, she and other parishioners are feeling twinges of regret that, when their pastor needed help himself, they weren't able to minister to him as he had to them.

"I knew there was a problem, something was wrong, but I didn't know what," says Mrs. Kumulides. "Had we known, we could have prayed with him, all night, until God brought deliverance. Maybe we let him down. We always had him to go to. If he had come to us . . ."

Cast from the church

For a time, Mr. Booth managed to keep all his plates spinning. It's hard to pinpoint when some of them started to crash to the ground. What is fact, what is speculation, what is revision has blurred over the years.

This much is known: On Dec. 19, 1980, six years into his tenure at the Middle River church, Mr. Booth was dismissed from the Assemblies of God, the Pentecostal religious organization that he had belonged to since childhood. Officials of the Assemblies of God will only say they dismissed him for "conduct unbecoming a minister."

Two parishioners who were at Middle River at the time say the conduct alleged was homosexuality. They say Estelle Booth, who declined to speak to The Sun for this story, told church members she believed her husband was gay. It was around this time that Sam and Estelle Booth separated, ultimately divorcing.

Others, however, say that while there might have been charges of homosexuality, they were never confirmed. Rather, they say, it was the Booths' separation and subsequent divorce that led to his dismissal as pastor. (Assemblies of God officials, though, say divorce alone does not prevent someone from serving as pastor, only remarriage after divorce. Besides, they say, Mr. Booth had already been dismissed when he divorced, and he never remarried.)

Despite the controversy, about two-thirds of the estimated 250-strong congregation walked out with him.

"It's not that I didn't believe [Mrs. Booth]," says Joyce Williams, who followed Mr. Booth from Middle River and was one of two parishioners willing to speak to The Sun about the controversy surrounding his departure. "I didn't want to believe her. We just didn't know how to react."

"Most of the people couldn't believe it. They still don't," says Linda Magsamen, who initially walked out with Mr. Booth, but eventually returned to Middle River.

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