Feb 24, 2017

Woman opens up about abuse she endured at hands of paedophile leader 'Little Pebble' after being trapped in a religious doomsday cult for a decade

Claire Ashman pictured with her ex-husband and children around a table at William Kamm's religious doomsday cult before she escaped
Claire Ashman pictured with her ex-husband
and children around a table at William Kamm's
religious doomsday cult before she escaped
Belinda Clear
Daily Mail Australia
February 24, 2017

A woman who became stuck in an extremely religious doomsday cult run by a notorious paedophile has revealed how she and her eight children escaped and how she struggled with normality.

Claire Ashman became a member of William 'Little Pebble' Kamm's cult based in Nowra on the New South Wales south coast in 1997 after her then husband became obsessed with the cult leader's way of life.

'My ex-husband wanted to move to the country and to become self-sufficient, I did not want this but came from a very religious family where I learnt the husband was the head of the house,' she told Daily Mail Australia.

'He went to meet Kamm and came back insisting we move from Melbourne to Nowra to join his organisation.'

Kamm told his followers he spoke with the Virgin Mary and she had chosen him to repopulate the earth after the apocalypse.

This message appealed to Ms Ashman's now ex-husband so he sold the family home and forced his wife and children to move to the leader's property.

'Ultimately my ex-husband wanted to be living in a where everybody held the same beliefs and we all did the same thing every day.'

The forced move into the hands of the paedophile preacher was not Ms Ashman's first dealing with religious cults – her parents brought her up in a very strict religious sect known as The Society of St Pius X.

'The sect started with good intentions but ended up as an open cult,' she said.

Her upbringing was very sheltered. From the age of seven she was home schooled on her parent's property 20kms from Ballarat in Victoria.

'We had very little interaction with the outside world.

'The only people who came to the house were members of the church – and we left the house once a week to go to mass in Melbourne.'

Ms Ashman met her first husband at home – he had come to stay with the family to help with home schooling Ms Ashman and her children.

When Ms Ashman was 18 she married the then 31 year old and moved to Melbourne.

'I married because I was lost, insecure and directionless. When he talked about it I thought it would be a good idea because he would look after me.'

For eight years the couple lived out of reach of the religious sect which had dictated Ms Ashman's childhood. But then they moved to Kamm's cult.

'As soon as I saw that place I hated it – I knew something wasn't right,' she said.

'He had set up his cult on a 40 acre caravan park – he kept the licence so he was allowed to have so many people living there at once.

'It was surrounded by barbed wire – my husband and I lived in a house next door with our children. It was surrounded by barbed wire fences as well. We were told it was to protect us from the outside world.'

Ms Ashman had to wear religious garb during her time at the notorious cult – which reminded her of the strict dress-code she had been forced to follow for the first 18 years of her life.

'I had to be covered from my neck to below my knees and have sleeves to my elbows,' she said.

Kamm disguised himself as a religious man put on god's earth to do work for the Virgin Mary.

But Ms Ashman who was brought up under the religious law noticed Kamm didn't have to abide by the same strict rules as everyone else in the cult.

'There was no sex before marriage, no dancing or drinking to entice men,' she said.

'Yet Kamm was having sex with up to 10 women at any time that I know of – including his wife and girls as young as 16.

'I think some of the parents were proud to offer their daughters as princesses for Kamm. I think they were looking for the glory for themselves.'

Ms Ashman couldn't think of anything worse than Kamm's eyes being set upon one of her eight children.

She argued discrepancies in the rules to Kamm in a series of letters and was seen as a 'trouble maker' by many in the cult.

'From that time on I was ostracised.

'My husband didn't want to leave – and while I was told by Kamm that I could leave whenever I wanted he also said if I was hit by a bus or struck down with cancer that it would be god's punishment.'

So the mother of eight kept her children close and continued to live under the paedophile's rule.

'We were made to go to mass three times a day and it went for an hour each time – the women were on rosters and had to prepare everything,' she said.

'When we weren't doing that we were expected to do things like the gardening.

'Kamm didn't like it when we spent too much time at home. If we were at home we had to be stockpiling clothes or learning skills which could help us in the apocalypse.'

The apocalypse was first supposed to occur with Halley's comet in 1986, another big event was the turn of the century – every time the world failed to end Kamm had an excuse.

'He would tell his followers that we had been spared by the mercy of god and that enough people had prayed at the right time to stop the apocalypse from happening.

'We were told each time that god was testing our faith,' she said.

Ms Ashman left the cult before her eldest daughter turned 16. But she didn't realise Kamm had been grooming girls before they turned 16 until he was charged with having sex with someone underage.

'I wasn't in the cult when police charged him. But he told members that it was god testing his faith and he wouldn't go to jail.'

This denial echoed her ex-husband's views on the paedophile leader years before when Ms Ashman had brought up her issues with Kamm's sexual behaviours.

'My husband told me Kamm had permission from the Virgin Mary, that what he was doing was okay.'

In 2006 Ms Ashman escaped from the cult. She admitted she had 'no experience in the outside world and had to play catch up alongside her children'.

The family who now live in Brisbane have thrived since leaving both religious organisations behind. Ms Ashman remarried after discovering 'real love' and is working hard to tell her story – so other vulnerable people don't get trapped like she did.

'Cults prey on people's vulnerabilities. You don't just join a cult – you join a group of people with the same ideas, or the same hobbies.

'If someone in your life is at a vulnerable point you should ask them if you can help – or wrap them in a warm hug so they don't look to these places for comfort.'

Ms Ashman believes there to be about 3000 cults currently operating in Australia. Some from isolated properties where people all live together and others in situations where the families live alone and only communicate with other group members, like in her childhood.

'If I had grown up in a normal childhood and if I was allowed to go to school and watch television or read the paper – if I was taught about the world I wouldn't have become trapped by Kamm.

'But I wasn't, I was socially naïve and I didn't have the skills I needed to survive in the world.'

Kamm was jailed for nine years in 2005 – and continues to run a website devoted to his ideas and teachings.


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