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The Billy Joe Moy Story : From Life in Prison to Life as ‘Minister’

Times Staff Writer

Billy Joe Moy’s life story reads like a Johnny Cash song--$20 pistols, serving Jesus, escape from the state pen. There’s the fickle woman, the vengeful lawman, living on the lam. And now, a new chapter in San Diego.

“I know what it’s like to take a stale piece of bread and have it taste like angel food cake,” the sandpaper-voiced, leathery-skinned, self-proclaimed “born-again” minister said recently, surrounded by street people in the front room of his year-old City of Angels Mission.

“That’s why I can sympathize with these guys,” he said.

Moy says he was born in the tiny town of Krebs, Okla., and was put up for adoption at 18 months. By the time he came of age, he says, he had racked up an impressive juvenile record. In his twenties, “I got the big one. Life.”

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He’d been living in Detroit with a stripper, he said. She ran off with another guy, so Moy bought a pistol and headed south to find her. “I mean, hey, it’s always a guy’s right to ask,” he explains. “It’s always a woman’s prerogative to say no.”

In Fayetteville, Ky., Moy says, he got into a fight. He fled to New Orleans and got a job in a steak joint. The cops came one day, shoved his face into his plate of lunch, and took him back to Kentucky, he says. He was convicted of assault with a deadly weapon and sentenced to life in prison, Kentucky prison officials confirm.

He served six years in the state penitentiary in Eddyville. In 1961, he escaped. Over the next five years, he worked on shrimp boats and sojourned to Mexico. He picked lemons and worked for a stucco company and a major department store.

Then one night he was baby-sitting in Los Angeles for his new family. The FBI appeared at the door and took him back to Kentucky. A year and a half later, he was out on parole--because of the straight life he had lived during his years on the run, he says.

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Later came two years of correspondence courses with a Bible school in Kansas and an alliance with another mail-order minister’s food program in Laredo, Tex. After a lot of publicity and a grand jury investigation that led nowhere, the two men headed west and set up shop in Los Angeles.

Last May, Moy surfaced in San Diego, after some “trouble with the law” in Los Angeles, 30 days in jail and some time in Mexico, he says. He grabbed a bucket and began collecting at the zoo. By June, he’d opened the San Diego branch of the City of Angels mission.

Moy says he served 60,000 meals between June and December, filled 15,000 bed spaces and performed six marriages. He says his group returned 23 runaways and distributed 283 Bibles and five to six tons of donated clothes.

To illustrate his persuasive powers, Moy tells a story. He says he was trying to get some bread from a San Diego baker. The baker balked, so Moy pointed out that TV cameras would be there for the giveaway. The baker hesitated again, so Moy drew his trump card.

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What if the reporters asked him why there was no bread? Moy said. “Me being a minister, I would have to say.” The baker, who Moy wouldn’t name, buckled. “We got it right off the end of the assembly line. Hot bread.

“Then I went to another company and got 450 loaves!”


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