Details of Disappearance
Southern was employed as an English professor at a community college in Chicago, Illinois in 1987. He was a member of Conscious Development of Body, Mind and Soul, a spiritual movement founded by Terri Hoffman.
Many consider the sect to be cult-like in its beliefs. Southern's status position rose in the organization during his membership and he began teaching classes and leading meditation groups. He also visited Hoffman's home in Dallas, Texas.
Former participants with the organization said that Hoffman often held meditation sessions with selected members. She apparently said that she was being attacked by "Black Lords" and requested that the members build a "psychic shield" around her for protection. The former members stated that many of the sessions' participants became fearful of the "Black Lords'" supposed attacks and developed emotional problems as a result.
Southern's family discovered that he was walking the streets of Chicago and speaking incoherently during 1987. Southern was hospitalized afterwards. His family visited him daily, as did two members of Conscious Development of Body, Mind and Soul. Southern resumed his normal routine after his release, but friends said that he seemed disenchanted with Hoffman. Nevertheless, he remained active in her organization.
Southern planned to travel to India for two weeks in December 1987 during his college's winter break. His mother said that she was concerned about him during this time and offered to visit with him prior to his scheduled departure. He declined and told his mother he was simply not feeling well. He has never been heard from again.
His family checked his residence after Southern's scheduled arrival time home passed without a word from him. They discovered that his passport was inside his house and no entry stamps from India were recorded.
A vial of a drug similar to the poison curare was found inside one of Southern's drawers. His winter dress hat and coat were folded inside-out and placed on a ceremonial stool; Southern's family later learned that this was a Nigerian tribal symbol for death.
His relatives also located two poorly-written notes which appeared to be Southern's wills. There was no sign of him inside the residence.
Hoffman told Southern's family she was not involved in his disappearance. She has never been charged in connection with Southern's case. Almost a dozen of Hoffman's associates have died untimely deaths through the years, many by suicide. Hoffman was named as beneficiary in several of the cases and collected thousands of dollars in cash, property and other assets. One family filed a wrongful death suit against her.
Authorities do not know if Southern chose to leave of his own accord or if other forces were at work. It is possible that he suffered another emotional breakdown that served as the catalyst to his disappearance, but nothing is certain. His case remains unsolved.