Who Was Rachel Koresh, The Doomed Wife Of Branch Davidian Leader David Koresh?

Published May 12, 2024
Updated May 13, 2024

The only legal wife of polygamous cult leader David Koresh, Rachel Koresh spent her life in the Branch Davidians before dying in the 1993 Waco siege at age 23.

Rachel Koresh

Elizabeth Baranyai/Sygma via Getty ImagesRachel Koresh alongside David Koresh and their two children, Cyrus and Starr.

When the Branch Davidian compound in Waco, Texas went up in flames in 1993, its leader David Koresh went with it. But he didn’t go alone. It was soon revealed that 76 Branch Davidians died that day, including members of Koresh’s family, like his 23-year-old wife, Rachel Koresh.

An enigmatic figure who lived in her husband’s shadow, Rachel’s story is little known or understood. She was just one of David’s many wives — but his only legal spouse — and the mother of two of his children.

Her life, and the life of her family, was deeply intertwined with David’s and with the Branch Davidians at large. So who was she?

Here’s everything we know about Rachel Koresh, David Koresh’s wife who died at his side during the infamous 1993 Waco siege.

A Deep Affiliation With The Branch Davidians

Born in 1969 as Rachel Jones, Rachel Koresh had a deep affiliation with the Branch Davidians even before David came on the scene. According to the Washington Post, her family was long associated with the Davidians, an offshoot of the Seventh-day Adventist Church, which became the Branch Davidians after Benjamin Roden took over the group at the end of the 1950s.

Rachel and her family — her father Perry, her mother Marybelle, and her nine siblings — spent summers at the Branch Davidians’ Mount Carmel compound in Waco, Texas, when it was used as a summer camp. There, former Branch Davidian Mark Bunds said he was baptized with Rachel.

“Rachel used to be a real bubbly kid, real loving and happy and fun,” he told the Washington Post in April 1993, shortly after the Waco siege ended. “She didn’t seem to be the same way when I came back to Waco four years ago. She was definitely more serious, and quiet.”

Branch Davidian Compound

Robert Daemmrich Photography Inc/Sygma via Getty ImagesThe Branch Davidian compound in Waco, Texas. March 1993.

By then, Rachel’s life had changed. In 1981, a charismatic Bible teacher named Vernon Howell arrived at the compound. Howell, who later became known as David Koresh, slowly began to take over the group. And about two years after his arrival, he declared that God had told him to take a wife.

David Koresh, who was by then in his mid-20s, eventually chose Rachel Jones, who was just 14 years old at the time.

Becoming Rachel Koresh, David Koresh’s Wife

According to former Branch Davidians, Rachel’s father quickly agreed that David Koresh could marry Rachel despite his daughter’s young age.

“[David] went to Perry Jones and he told Perry that, you know, ‘I need Rachel to come with me and I need you to give your daughter to me in marriage,'” Debbie Bunds, another former Branch Davidian, said in the MSNBC documentary Witness to Waco: Inside the Siege (2009).

“Perry, being the devout follower that he was, woke his daughter up in the middle of the night, and he told her, ‘You’re going to go with Vernon and you do whatever he tells you to do. He’s gonna be your husband now.'”

Rachel Koresh's Husband

Elizabeth Baranyai/Sygma via Getty ImagesDavid Koresh (left) with Branch Davidian member Clive Doyle (right) in 1986.

According to Debbie Bunds, Rachel left the property with David Koresh that night and married him. Rachel later fell asleep in his van, and when she woke up, “[David] was making his presence known as her husband.”

David and Rachel later had two children together: Cyrus and Starr. But David’s involvement with Rachel’s family went much deeper than their marriage. As his power over the Branch Davidians grew, he took on other “spiritual” wives (Rachel was his only legal wife), some of whom were as young as 12. And David eventually wed Rachel’s younger sister Michelle.

“I don’t know how Rachel felt about it, but apparently, she went along with anything he did,” Mark Bunds, whose sister Robyn became one of David Koresh’s wives before speaking out against him, told the Washington Post.

Rachel’s father, Perry, also worked closely with David as his “chief errand runner,” and Rachel’s brother David, a U.S. Postal Service mail carrier by day, was one of the Branch Davidian leader’s bodyguards.

Rachel Koresh With Her Family

Getty ImagesRachel Koresh with David Koresh and their son, Cyrus.

Rachel Koresh and her family were apparently devoted to her husband. During the 51-day siege of the Waco compound in 1993, she, her children, and many of her family members would all perish alongside David Koresh.

Inside The 51-Day Waco Siege

On February 28, 1993, the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives (ATF) came to the Mount Carmel compound to investigate allegations that the Branch Davidians were stockpiling firearms. But the encounter quickly turned violent. Though it’s unclear who fired first, five ATF agents and five Branch Davidians — including Perry Jones — were killed.

Then, the Waco siege began.

For 51 days, the FBI — who replaced the ATF — besieged the compound. Over 600 agents surrounded Mount Carmel as negotiators tried to convince David Koresh to let women and children leave the building. According to Koresh, however, his followers didn’t want to leave his side.

Mount Carmel During The Siege

Federal Bureau of InvestigationsThe Mount Carmel compound as seen from above during the Waco siege. 1993.

Indeed, Branch Davidians believed that the siege was part of the “Fifth Seal,” which stated that they were expected to suffer two rounds of bloodshed separated by a long pause. (Koresh had long preached that he was the “Lamb” mentioned in the Bible that would “unlock” all Seven Seals.) The firefight on February 28th was seen as the first round, and David Koresh’s followers expected that there would be another round soon.

In the interim, it’s impossible to know what was going through Rachel Koresh’s mind. But it seems that she was obedient to her husband’s will. Thanks to FBI bugs in the Mount Carmel compound, David could be heard calling to Rachel and telling her to “keep those children under control.”

“She was polite and pleasant and very quiet,” recalled Houston lawyer Jack Zimmermann, who was allowed inside the compound on April 4th to talk with David Koresh. “She acted like a wife whose husband was conducting business at home, and she was carefully letting him do his business.”

Zimmermann described her as pretty, with long blond hair. He saw her three times: once with a baby in her arms, once to deliver a message to David, and once to serve Zimmermann, David, and another lawyer food.

But Zimmermann would be one of the last outsiders to see Rachel Koresh alive. On April 19, 1993, the FBI raided the compound.

Rachel Koresh’s Death And Murky Legacy

Shortly after the FBI raid began, a fire spread through the Mount Carmel compound. However, its origins are disputed. Though some believe that the Branch Davidians started the fire, some survivors of the raid claim that the FBI’s tanks knocked over kerosene lamps. According to Texas Monthly, it’s also possible that tear gas used by the FBI could have triggered the blaze.

Regardless, the outcome was deadly. The fire tore through the compound and by the time the smoke cleared, 76 of the 85 Branch Davidians at the complex were dead, including 25 children. The dead included David and Rachel Koresh, their children, and Rachel’s siblings David and Michelle.

Branch Davidian Compound On Fire

Greg Smith/Corbis via Getty ImagesThe Branch Davidian compound in Waco, Texas caught fire during the FBI raid. April 19, 1993.

The Waco siege would have long-ranging implications, inspiring right-wing extremist Timothy McVeigh to plan the Oklahoma City Bombing of 1995 and leading to other anti-government movements that still exist today.

But in the chilling history of David Koresh, the Branch Davidians, and what happened during the infamous Waco siege, Rachel Koresh’s story is often lost. Who was the 14-year-old girl who became David Koresh’s bride and bore him two children? What did she think about her husband’s teachings, and how did she feel as the FBI closed in around their compound?

It’s impossible to know, though Rachel’s family ties with the Branch Davidians and David Koresh’s teachings certainly ran deep. When her mother was contacted a few days after the raid, Marybelle Jones told the Waco Tribune-Herald that she was certain that no one had suffered, and suggested that the violent end to the Waco siege had been God’s will.

“Maybe that’s what happened today,” Marybelle said of the blaze that had killed her family members and dozens of other Branch Davidians. “It could be maybe God set the fire. Have you ever thought about that?”

After learning about Rachel Koresh, the wife of Branch Davidian leader David Koresh, discover the stories of some of history’s most notorious cult leaders. Or, see what life was like in some of the world’s most infamous cults.

Kaleena Fraga
A staff writer for All That's Interesting, Kaleena Fraga has also had her work featured in The Washington Post and Gastro Obscura, and she published a book on the Seattle food scene for the Eat Like A Local series. She graduated from Oberlin College, where she earned a dual degree in American History and French.
John Kuroski
John Kuroski is the editorial director of All That's Interesting. He graduated from New York University with a degree in history, earning a place in the Phi Alpha Theta honor society for history students. An editor at All That's Interesting since 2015, his areas of interest include modern history and true crime.
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Fraga, Kaleena. "Who Was Rachel Koresh, The Doomed Wife Of Branch Davidian Leader David Koresh?." AllThatsInteresting.com, May 12, 2024, https://allthatsinteresting.com/rachel-koresh. Accessed May 23, 2024.