Aug 3, 2018

A severed leg led police to a Connecticut cult's 'chief apostle' who went missing 14 years ago

Allyson Chiu
Washington Post
August 2, 2018

The historic Shuttle Meadow Country Club in Kensington, Conn., sprawls over nearly 400 acres of land. Surrounded by dense forests and rolling hills, the club’s picturesque 18-hole course is a golfer’s dream.

About 14 years ago, New Britain police made a grim discovery there. Responding to a report of human remains on Aug. 27, 2004, police arrived to find part of a leg, severed so that they could come to only one conclusion: Someone had been killed.

The source of the leg would remain a mystery until 2016, according to a recently released arrest warrant. In April that year, New Britain police learned from the National Missing and Unidentified Persons System that the Southington Police Department had an open missing person case for a man named Paul Sweetman. Police also learned that the FBI was investigating a claim that Sweetman had been murdered, dismembered and his body parts buried around New Britain, the arrest warrant said.

Sweetman, who had gained local fame as the self-described “chief apostle” of a religious cult known as “the Work,” was reported missing by his wife, Joanne Sweetman, on July 24, 2004, according to the warrant. He was 70 years old.

Using DNA from Sweetman’s son, authorities confirmed that the leg’s DNA was a parental match.

Connecting Sweetman to the leg was one of the first major developments in an investigation that culminated this week with the arrests of 72-year-old Rudy Hannon and 42-year-old Sorek Minery. The men face charges of murder and felony murder, according to court records.

Hannon and Minery were also members of the Work, which was based in central Connecticut, the warrant said. In its heyday, the cult boasted a following of several hundred people and was led by Julius Schacknow, who believed he was Jesus Christ reincarnated. Plagued by run-ins with the law and claims from former members of sexual and financial exploitation, the group began losing followers in the early 1990s, the Hartford Courant reported at the time. Schacknow died in 1996.

Police say the men allegedly murdered Sweetman based on the wishes of Joanne Sweetman, also an influential member of the cult who was described by its members as “the holy spirit.” Joanne Sweetman died in 2011, the Hartford Courant reported.

The mystery surrounding Sweetman’s disappearance began unraveling about 12 years ago. According to the warrant, Hannon was interviewed in February 2006 by the FBI under a proffer agreement, meaning he was cooperating. During the interview, Hannon accused Minery of killing Sweetman.

Hannon told the FBI that he took Sweetman to Minery’s construction workshop, where he then waited in his car. The warrant said he said he thought Minery only planned to “work [Sweetman] over,” not kill him. Hannon claimed Minery beat Sweetman to death, adding that he saw Sweetman lying on the ground with “a large amount of blood” on his face and shirt, the warrant said.

According to the warrant, Hannon said he did help Minery put Sweetman’s body into a freezer and told the FBI where to find the body parts. Sweetman’s torso, he said, could be found at a residence owned by Minery underneath a shed and a slab of concrete, the warrant said.

The warrant does not explain why this information was not given to New Britain police.

In October 2016, local authorities went to the address Hannon gave the FBI. Behind the white clapboard house on a tree-lined street, they unearthed the remains of a headless human torso wrapped in three layers of garbage bags and buried under a large slab of concrete. A DNA test confirmed that it was Sweetman. Also found with the body was a gold watch and two gold rings. One of the rings had “Joanne” inscribed on it, police said.

Two days later, Minery was brought in.

Although he allegedly told police he did dismember Sweetman and dispose of the body parts, he pointed the finger at Hannon for the killing.

According to Minery, in the months leading up to the murder, Hannon tried to convince him that Sweetman “needed to be killed because he was hurting his wife Joanne Sweetman” and that “God would have wanted them to kill Sweetman,” the warrant said.

Minery said because he “respected Joanne Sweetman and looked up to her as a high religious figure . . . he began believing Hannon and believed Paul Sweetman needed to die,” according to police.

In Minery’s version of what happened, he walked in on Hannon standing over Sweetman’s body, the warrant said. Then, it was Hannon who asked for help to put Sweetman into the freezer, Minery said.

According to the warrant, after a few days had gone by, Minery told police that he returned and dismembered the body using an electric saw. He allegedly took Sweetman’s legs and head to a wooded area near the New Britain Reservoir and buried them in a shallow grave, the warrant said. He hid the arms and torso at his house, the warrant said.

In addition to blaming the murder on Hannon, Minery also alleged that Hannon threatened to tell police about the crime unless he wired him money, the warrant said.

In June 2017, police traveled to the Southern Desert Correctional Center in Nevada where Hannon was jailed at the time for violating parole. According to the New Britain Herald, court officials said Tuesday that Hannon has a lengthy criminal record and served time in federal prison.

After allegedly failing a polygraph exam, Hannon admitted that he was not waiting outside the workshop when Sweetman was killed but said Minery was the one who did the beating, the warrant said.

According to the warrant, Hannon said that “he watched Minery severely beat the victim, striking him in the head and ribs before placing him in a rear chokehold.”

Then, Hannon disclosed new information: Sweetman may not have been dead after being beaten up.

He told police that while Sweetman was lying on the ground, he “suddenly sat up at the waist, vomiting a large bloody mass,” before falling back down. Hannon said he saw Sweetman “hold his arms across his own body, slightly elevated above his torso.”

According to the warrant, after both men put Sweetman into the freezer, Hannon allegedly put his finger under Sweetman’s nose and told police it felt warm. He then said Minery “placed a large bag or box of heavy tools across the freezer lid,” the warrant said.

“A reasonable person would believe that this action was done to prevent the escape of Paul Sweetman from inside the freezer,” the warrant said. “Furthermore, a reasonable person would believe that a person who had been violently assaulted and purposely placed into a freezer would succumb to death if they did not receive medical treatment.”

According to court records, Hannon was extradited and arrested by New Britain police Tuesday. He is being held on $2 million bond. His attorney J. Patten Brown III told reporters Wednesday that his client, who is recovering from medical treatments including bypass surgery, “seems to be in as good spirits as one can be.” Brown could not be reached for comment.

Minery was also arraigned Wednesday, and his bond was also set at $2 million, according to court records. No attorney was listed.

Minery is scheduled to appear in New Britain Superior Court on Tuesday. Hannon’s next court date is Aug. 27. Neither men has filed pleas.

No comments: