Arts and Entertainment

The written word | Olalla author tells of murder, deceit and a minister's fall from grace

At just 28 years old, Nick Hacheney was a salesman of a preacher, and he spoke with the cadence of a man who’d spent a lifetime peddling God to the lost and hurting.

“Every time they look up, they see the newness of God,” he says, his voice sounding from an old cassette tape, emitting from a dust-covered player. His words are charismatic, and his tone begins to rise. One can imagine his hands held high. “Oh God, you’re holy.”

It was 1997; later that year, Nick’s wife Dawn would be killed in an early morning house fire in Bremerton. Five years from then, to the day, he would be tried and convicted of her murder.

The convoluted tale is the subject of Olalla author Gregg Olsen’s newest true crime venture. “A Twisted Faith: A Minister’s Obsession and the Murder that Destroyed a Church,” released to store bookshelves March 30, is now the subject of national attention, as the country discovers the details of one of Kitsap’s most heinous crimes. Olsen will talk about the book at 9 p.m. April 9 at the Manchester Family Inn.

Olsen presses a button on his aged player and the magnetic strip stops spooling. The sounds from that cassette, of a man with an unusual charm, help explain how an ex-Bainbridge Island pastor, less than average in physical appeal, could carry on affairs with several of his married female congregants just weeks after the death of his wife. It sounds like a page from a soap opera script, with shades of cultish persuasion and outright deceit.

“A Twisted Faith” tells what happened among the members of the now-defunct Christ Community Church from 1997, the year of the fire, to 2001, when Nick was arrested for Dawn’s murder. Details of the trial are scant in the book, a purposeful move by Olsen, who hopes readers form their own opinions from the information he presents.

Plenty have begun eyeing the case, including NBC’s “Dateline,” which will air a full hour on the story of “A Twisted Faith” next week. Olsen said there is already interest in a movie version.

The interest is late in coming, as Nick’s initial arrest occurred Sept. 12, 2001, the day after the World Trade Center towers tumbled. Local newspaper articles were few, and national coverage, on morning news broadcasts and in-depth evening formats where a story like this would commonly appear, was nonexistent. It was a sinister revelation, and it fell quickly off the radar — save for Olsen’s careful attention. He watched the case for years, as the trial and subsequent appeal unfolded. He suspects he’s interviewed more than 100 people in the last four years as he gathered his research.

“A Twisted Faith” is dedicated to Dawn, a woman Olsen called sweet, nice, the type of character not normally associated with a sensationalized snarl of religion and abuse. Olsen attempted to give her a voice, and talked with nearly every member of her family and her friends. He also spoke with convicted killer Nick, first contacting him via letters, then, after gaining permission, twice visiting him in prison in Monroe. He also spoke with Nick’s friends and family and former members of the church.

Nick, who will be eligible for parole in 2025, maintains his innocence, as does his family, who feels his conviction is an injustice.

“People on both sides of the murder have expectations and hopes,” Olsen said. “When you lay the truth down on a page and it’s bare and it’s in black and white, it is very hard for people to take.”

In “A Twisted Faith,” Olsen tempers shocking details with an intricate recounting of the lives of those involved. It’s rather chaste for a story involving so much connived philandering.

It begins with a dramatis personae and map of Kitsap, like the start of a mythic saga.

Depicted in the book is a church congregation that takes its every cue from God; called getting a “Word,” members pass on prophecies they believe they have received, some of them as innocuous as a message to buy a new car, others more terrifying, foreseeing natural disasters or the deaths of specific congregants.

Olsen said there is more to “A Twisted Faith” than a disturbing account of murder. In a way, it’s a warning, coming from a story that many may find hard to believe happened in the wooded, ethereal beauty of Kitsap.

“This seems so Kentucky, but it’s not,” he said. “I do feel that there are a lot of warning signs in this book that could help people from making the same mistake.”

Olsen is now working on “Closer than Blood,” a Kendall Stark follow-up to his latest novel, “Victim Six.” “Closer than Blood” will be a psychological thriller, set in part at South Kitsap High. He isn’t sure whether he’ll write another true crime novel, or if “A Twisted Faith” will be his last.

Olsen points out that, like any true-to-life account, the players in “A Twisted Faith” are real, are decent and in many cases, still local to Kitsap.

“The headlines in this story are really bad: ‘Pastor has sex with congregants, kills wife.’ They’re salacious and terrible, but the people aren’t,” he said.

Olsen added he found each person he interviewed to be respectable, and all of them today still follow the faith they clung to in the past — a faith that, for some of them, became twisted. He said this isn’t meant to be the story’s end; that has yet to be written. And it’s possible, he contended, that more will come of the case in the wake of its newfound attention.

“I don’t know what happened on Dec. 26,” he said, adding despite the damning evidence, there are many in prison who have been wrongly convicted. But “if Nick Hacheney is guilty, then another person shares the blame too.”

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A Twisted Faith

A Minister’s Obsession and the Murder that Destroyed a Church

by Gregg Olsen

St. Martin’s, 304 pp., $25.99

Meet the author

Author Gregg Olsen will discuss and sign copies of his latest true crime account, “A Twisted Faith,” at the Manchester Family Inn in Manchester at 9 p.m. Friday, April 9. At 10 p.m., watch NBC’s “Dateline” along with Olsen, as the show airs an hour-long documentary about the book and the case of Dawn and Nick Hacheney. The event is a fundraiser for the Kitsap Regional Library.

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