White, an ex-convict, has been a pastor at the small town’s Christ Community Fellowship for three years. He reportedly asked his congregation of 14 members to start a prayer chain for 24-year-old Rebekah Gay when she was still missing, before making his startling murder confession to investigators, said a friend of White’s to the Associated Press.
"He was pretty shook up. He said the police were giving him a hard time,” said Donna Houghton, 76, a church elder who helped hire White back in 2009.
The 55-year-old pastor was charged with first-degree murder on Thursday, and remained jailed without bond on Friday at the Isabella County Courthouse.
"We are all absolutely floored," said Houghton, who claimed that she had defended White’s innocence up until she was told that he had already confessed to the murder. “Then he had no leg to stand on.”
Houghton said that White was close with Gay and had frequently babysat her 3-year-old son while she was away at work. White told investigators that after burying Gay’s naked body in a wooded area nearby, he went back to her trailer and dressed up her son in a costume so that the child’s father could pick him up for Halloween.
White also admitted to repeatedly striking Gay’s head with a mallet and strangling her with a zip tie, allegedly in pursuit of a sexual fantasy of having sex with her dead body. He said that he could not remember if he had had intercourse with her after she lost consciousness.
According to the Lansing State Journal, it’s not the first time White has been charged with a similar crime against a young woman. Houghton said that she and the entire congregation had all been aware of White’s criminal history when he applied for the pastor position at the church.
White served almost 12 years in prison for manslaughter, after killing a 26-year-old woman in Kalamazoo County. He had previously been sentenced to probation in 1981, for choking and stabbing a 17-year-old girl in Battle Creek, Mich.
"He was absolutely contrite," said Houghton. "All kinds of people turn around and meet the Lord and they are a different person. He was doing a lot of good in the community. ... He was doing a lot of good and Satan did not want him doing good, and Satan got to him."