Jan 27, 2022

Man, 77, accused of killing reputed CT cult leader dies after contracting COVID in prison, attorney says

Rudy Hannon after New Britain police arrested him in 2018.  New Britain Police Department / Contributed photo
Lisa Backus

CT Insider
January 20, 2022

A 77-year-old man accused of participating in the murder of a reputed leader in the Brother Julius cult died from complications of COVID-19 while he was incarcerated awaiting trial, his attorney said Thursday.

Rudy Hannon, 77, was arrested by New Britain police in July 2018 and charged with murder and murder during the commission of a felony in the death of Paul Sweetman, the second-in-command in the Brother Julius cult who went missing in Southington in 2004, according to court documents.

Julius Schacknow, known as Brother Julius, was accused of enlisting hundreds of residents from the Northeast in the 1970s and 1980s to join the cult, which discouraged education or any free thought, former followers said, according to court documents.

Schacknow died in 1996, leaving Sweetman and others to continue the cult on a smaller scale, former members said, according to court documents.

According to an arrest warrant, Hannon and Sorek Minery, another cult member, killed Sweetman in Plainville in 2004, placed his body in a freezer and then dismembered him, burying his remains at various locations in New Britain.

Hannon, however, maintained his innocence to the end, his attorney J. Patten Brown III said Thursday.

“He was going to trial,” Brown said. “The tragic thing is that because of COVID, he sat there for years.”

Brown was notified last weekend by Hannon’s family that he had died with COVID-19 while being held on $2 million bond. His case had been essentially stalled by the pandemic and no trial date had been set, Brown said. During a routine court date next month, the case would have likely been continued again, Brown said.

New Britain State’s Attorney Brian Preleski said Thursday he will dismiss the charges on Feb. 1, which was Hannon’s next scheduled court date.

Minery pleaded no contest to a single charge of conspiracy to commit murder in the case. He is expected to be sentenced in the next few months, Preleski said.

Hannon became ill after contracting COVID-19 while incarcerated and later died at a local hospital on Jan. 15. He is the 27th Connecticut inmate to die from complications of the virus.

Officials at the state Department of Correction declined to confirm that Hannon had died.

A press release issued by the agency on Wednesday said that a 77-year-old inmate being held on $2 million bond on murder charges had died from COVID-19 complications. The inmate had entered the DOC system on July 31, 2018, the agency said. It was the same day that Hannon was arraigned in Sweetman’s murder.

Hannon’s arrest and death brings mixed emotions, said Lisa O’Neil Guerci, who was raised in the cult, but escaped with her young daughter more than 30 years ago.

“Nothing good comes from a cult except the insight you gain when you leave,” O’Neil Guerci said in an interview Thursday. “I look back and feel sorry for everybody. With Hannon’s death, unless Sorek comes to justice, justice has not been done.”

O’Neil Guerci fled the cult when she was 26 years old, she said. By that point, she had never held a regular job unless it was within the financial empire Schacknow and Sweetman had built and never graduated high school because she was forced to leave, she said.

Although she is now an accomplished writer and has a job and a regular life, she is in the process of obtaining her GED to make up for being forced to drop out of school at 17.

“I wanted to be a writer, but cult leaders don’t want people to be free-thinkers,” she said.

According to his arrest warrant, Hannon lured Sweetman to Minery’s construction shop in Plainville in July 2004.

New Britain police investigated the discovery of a human leg found in the area of Shuttle Meadow Golf Club in August 2004, an arrest warrant said. The state medical examiner determined the leg had been severed with a sharp object likely during a homicide, police said. But the case remained open for years without an identity of the person.

Although Hannon had told federal investigators about his role in the homicide in 2006, the information was never provided to New Britain police, according to the warrant. A decade later, a lieutenant who had been part of a team of detectives who solved homicides of unidentified people found in New Britain, was checking NAMUS, a national database for missing persons, when she discovered that Sweetman had disappeared around the same time the leg was found, an arrest warrant said.

DNA provided by Sweetman’s son confirmed the leg belonged to his father, the warrant said. New Britain police interviewed Hannon and Minery in 2016 and 2017 who provided conflicting stories about who committed the homicide, blaming each other for the crime, the warrant stated.

Both men said after Sweetman was beaten and incapacitated, they stuffed his body into a freezer, the warrant said. Minery later used a saw to cut off Sweetman’s arms, legs and head, and buried the remains in at least two locations, the warrant stated. Sweetman may have been alive when he was placed in the freezer, Minery told police, according to the warrant.

Detectives found Sweetman’s torso buried under a garage in New Britain that at one time belonged to Minery after they reviewed Federal Bureau of Investigation documents in 2016, the warrant said.


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