In May of 1910, Halley’s comet was to pass over the night sky, its first appearance in 75 years, and Henry Heinman of Leesburg led 40 members of a cult known as the Select Followers in their mission to save the world.
The Select Followers were based in Oklahoma, and they were hurriedly prepared for the comet’s appearance, which they believed would mark the world’s end. They burned their earthly possessions and arranged their affairs in order.
High atop Oklahoma’s Glass Mountains, Heinman prepared for the end of times. Heinman told his followers that he had received a divine message from God that the world was to come to an end on May 18, 1910. He declared that the heavens would “roll up like a scroll” once the tail of the comet passed over Earth. The only way to avert the tragedy that would follow the comet’s appearance was a human sacrifice, he said.
Heinman found a willing victim in local Oklahoma teen Jane Warfield. She had just turned 16 and was determined to save the world from certain destruction. The Cherokee Republican, a newspaper based in Cherokee, Oklahoma, reported that Warfield was Heinman’s stepdaughter, though that was never verified.
On the day of the sacrificed, Warfield was dressed in a long, white robe, a wreath of white roses placed on her head, and her hands were bound.
Heinman’s followers formed a circle around Jane, worshipping and praying to the heavens. Some sang and danced; others knelt and cried. Jane trembled nervously, standing motionless in the circle, her hands still tied behind her back. Heinman brandished a long hunting knife, and he raised the blade high above his head, setting his sights on the young girl’s heart.
Heinman didn’t have time to lower the knife to Warfield’s heart before the local sheriff arrived on horseback, flanked by dozens of officers.
The men untied Warfield, who had fainted. Heinman was taken into custody, and the rest of the cult scattered.
Though the details of this story differ depending on the report, this is the original and most consistent account of the events.
Information for this story came from historian Guy W. Moore’s series “The Virgin and the Comet,” which Moore wrote for the Halley’s Comet Watch Newsletter in 1985.
Isabella Warner is a stringer for The Times-Gazette.