updated 7/30/2008 2:52:08 PM ET 2008-07-30T18:52:08

Police believe a body found in a small-time evangelist's home freezer is his wife and a mother of eight, and arrested him on a murder charge as he preached at a south Alabama church.

Anthony Hopkins, 37, was being held in the Mobile County jail Wednesday awaiting a bond hearing and appointment of an attorney.

Police said no one reported 36-year-old Arletha Hopkins missing, even though she hadn't been heard from in three years. The body was discovered covered in a freezer in a utility room during a police search of the home in Mobile after a relative of the preacher contacted police.

Hopkins was arrested Monday night at a revival in Jackson, a town in rural Clarke County where he has roots, Mobile Police Chief Phillip Garrett said.

The pastor of Inspirational Tabernacle Church of God in Christ, Beverly Jackson, told reporters that Hopkins told her he was a single parent because his wife had died in childbirth.

Police awaited results of forensic tests to determine the cause of death, but Garrett said authorities believe it is Hopkins' wife. The freezer was moved to a forensics lab.

Anthony Hopkins, the father of six of the eight children, was charged with rape and sodomy in a separate case involving the female relative and could face more charges related to another relative, Garrett said.

The children who lived with Hopkins are ages 3 to 19. They were taken into protective custody by the Department of Human Resources, said John Tyson Jr., Mobile County's district attorney.

The 'Rev.' and his kids
The Hopkins children were home-schooled. Hopkins "kept to himself," and apparently moved from place to place. Neighbors called him "Rev." because he attended church so often, loading the children into a van, Garrett said.

He preached at various churches and did not appear to be affiliated with a particular denomination, police said.

At the church in Jackson, Hopkins was delivering a message about forgiveness that drew encouraging "amens" from the congregation.

Clarke County Sheriff's Chief Investigator Sgt. Ron Baggett said he listened through the church door before assisting in the arrest about 10 p.m. Monday. About 25 people were in the congregation at the time.

Copyright 2008 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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