Dec 19, 2016

CULT OF THE CHILD-STEALERS

Anne is now 96 and in a nursing home
Anne is now 96 and in a nursing home
Australian cult-leader, who claimed to be the reincarnation of Jesus, stole children at birth, drugged them with LSD and oversaw beatings and starvation

Anne Byrne 'collected' 28 children and kept them in cruel conditions




The Scottish Sun
BY EMILY FAIRBAIRN
18th December 2016,

LYING in her nursing home bed, robbed of her mind by dementia, 96-year-old Anne Hamilton Byrne has her loyal friends by her side.

But this seemingly vulnerable old lady is “the most evil person with the most evil set of crimes”, according to one detective.

As leader of The Family cult, she stole babies at birth, drugged children with LSD and oversaw a wicked regime in which youngsters were beaten and starved.

The “friends” at her bedside are the few remaining followers she has.

Claiming to be the reincarnation of Jesus, Byrne “collected” 28 children and would dress them in matching clothes and bleach their hair white.

She also scammed millions of dollars out of her loyal followers, handpicked from among Melbourne’s wealthy elite.

But she has never been brought to justice and has only one minor criminal conviction to her name.

Lex de Man, one of the senior detectives who tried to bring charges against Anne, said: “She is the most evil person with the most evil set of crimes I have ever investigated. If you want to know the definition of evil, you look at Anne Hamilton-Byrne.”

So how did she get away with it? The story begins in Sixties Melbourne, Australia, where charismatic yoga teacher Anne started playing on her wealthy devotees’ desire for alternative spiritual fulfilment.

Preaching a mishmash of Christianity, Eastern mysticism and apocalyptic prophecy, she promised salvation to those who joined The Family — a doomsday cult with the motto “unseen, unknown, unheard”.

By recruiting Brit Raynor Johnson, a physicist from Leeds who was based at Melbourne University, Anne gained access to well-heeled, professional circles — and a veil of respectability.

Her followers were no hippies. They were doctors, psychiatrists, lawyers, nurses and social workers.

Anne, along with third husband Bill Byrne, was able to squeeze her flock constantly for donations and membership fees, growing fabulously rich.

As well as sprawling property in Australia, she had a mansion in Langton Green, Kent, and an estate in the Catskills, US, all paid for by followers.

Ex-member Fran Parker said: “We hear about ancient enchantresses who could enslave people with one glance. There was a glamour about Anne that meant everyone was besotted.

“We didn’t see ourselves as a cult, that would be ridiculous. This was a very gradual immersion in new values.”

Her middle-class followers — who included the stepfather of Wikileaks founder Julian Assange — would have been horrified to find out the true scale of the abuse Anne was overseeing at the cult’s isolated wooden lodge at Lake Eildon, north-east of Melbourne.

From the early Seventies, Anne started to “collect” children, through bogus adoptions or “gifts” from followers, and house and school them at the lodge.

Cop Lex explained: “You had babies delivered by sect doctors, given to a sect nurse, handed to a sect social worker and then taken straight from the hospital and given to Anne Hamilton Byrne.”

Cult lawyers would then draw up fake adoption papers.

Most of the children, who were dressed in identical, Von Trapp-style outfits, were told that Anne was their birth mother.

An army of “Aunties” — middle-aged followers — kept the children in check by doling out vicious beatings and ­limiting food supplies to two plates of vegetables a day.

Children who broke the rules, by committing such minor offences as getting their clothes dirty or not screwing the toothpaste cap back on, would be starved for several days.

Survivors recall eating leaves and grass or gnawing on bones left out for the dogs.

One recalled: “Denial of food was a very large component of control. It’s better to keep your victims weak so they have less ability to fight back.”

As if that wasn’t enough, the children were given daily doses of Mogadon — used to treat insomnia — and Valium to keep them docile. Most disturbing of all was The Family’s ritual of giving children enormous doses of LSD when they reached the age of 14 as they underwent formal initiation into the cult. Some claim to have been dosed up from age eight.

LSD was also given to new adult followers, all as a means of reinforcing Anne’s status as the female Messiah.

At a private Melbourne hospital run by three cult psychiatrists, LSD was dished out to potential recruits.

Anne would then appear in the doorway of their room in the middle of their trip, dressed all in white, promising salvation.

Many of them believed she was the female Jesus and promptly signed up.

The daughter of a railway guard and a mother who spent time in a mental hospital with schizophrenia, Anne spent time in orphanages as a child.

Her obsession with gathering children around her stemmed from her envy of conventional families as a child.

She would do whatever it took to control her perfect “family”.

Another cult survivor, David Whitaker, described what was expected of members once they joined.

He said: “There was only one rule: Do absolutely everything Anne said. That included what to think, what to wear, what to eat, who to marry. Total obedience.”

Anne’s activities continued until 1987 when the police, acting on information from two child escapees, raided the cult and freed the remaining kids.

Anne and Bill promptly fled overseas, leaving Lex and his team to piece together a case against them.

The potential charges against Anne were severe. They included physical and emotional abuse of children, perjury, providing false birth documents and falsifying adoption documents.

However, to Lex’s immense frustration, they needed a rock solid case to extradite Anne back to Australia and the most serious charges wouldn’t stick.

The children were deemed to be too traumatised to be reliable witnesses to child abuse, and Anne’s Mafia-like hold over her adult followers meant there were no willing witnesses.

She was eventually arrested in upstate New York in 1993 on relatively minor fraud charges, involving conspiracy to falsify birth certificates. The court in Australia was only able to hand her a £3,000 fine.

Lex claims the system let the victims down. He said: “That is going to be with me for the rest of my life.”

Bill died in 2001, while Anne has advanced dementia. She has lived in a Melbourne nursing home for the past 12 years, confined to a wheelchair.

Ben Shenton was one of the children rescued in the 1987 raid. He recently visited Anne at the nursing home and says he finally has closure on his horrific upbringing.

He said: “What she did was totally evil and wicked. But I cancelled the debt. I said, ‘Anne, you no longer owe me anything. And therefore you no longer have the power to keep me bitter and cause hate.’”

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