The founder of the brutal The Family cult, in which children were tortured after being stolen through adoption scams, has died in a Melbourne nursing home.
- Anne Hamilton-Byrne’s actions were described as “evil and wicked”
- She and her husband acquired babies from unmarried mothers
- A former detective says victims should be compensated
Anne Hamilton-Byrne, who convinced people she was Jesus Christ reincarnated, led the doomsday sect with her husband Bill Hamilton-Byrne from 1963 to 1987.
The cult was made famous by images of children with bleached blonde bowl cuts and matching outfits.
The children were drugged with LSD and subject to beatings.
They ate a strictly vegetarian diet and did lots of yoga and exercise.
They were brought up to think they would take over the world when it collapsed, which the cult leaders said was imminent.
The children in the cult were not all blood relatives, and the Hamilton-Byrnes were not their parents.
Some of the babies were willingly handed over to their care.
Other children were taken from young mothers who were shamed from having babies out of wedlock.
Ben Shenton, one of those who grew up in the cult, described what Ms Hamilton-Byrne did as “evil and wicked”.
‘May she rot in hell’
Eventually police raided the property, at Lake Eildon in Victoria’s alpine region, in 1987 and the children were rescued.
Ms Hamilton-Byrne was arrested in the US with the help of the FBI in 1993, but was only prosecuted for minor offences in Australia.
She was never charged with abuse, but fined $5,000 for falsifying the documents of three of the children.
Former detective Lex de Man, who spent six years investigating the doomsday cult, said Ms Hamilton-Byrne was the epitome of evil.
“Normally when you hear of a death there’s a period of sorrow, I couldn’t be further from that today,” Mr de Man said.
“Today to me is a good day because one of Victoria’s most evil persons no longer breathes the same air that I’m breathing or, more so, the same air that many of her survivors are now breathing.
“May she rot in hell.”
Call to compensate victims
After receiving news of the death, Mr de Man spoke to some of those who grew up in the cult.
He said it was a day of mixed emotions for many.
“I feel for those who are no longer with us, who suffered at the hands of Anne and her cult, for the police who were on the taskforce and who are no longer with us,” he said.
“The survivors, they need to be compensated, they need to receive some acknowledgement of the horror that they went through at the hands of this evil person.”
Mr de Man recalled the terrible situation at the cult’s property seemed unbelievable to some.
“It’s not some bizarre American cult, this is a Melbourne-based cult,” he said.
“What it boils down to is it’s about money and, I believe, money and power for Anne.
“It changed me in the context that [you should] never accept what you’re told, never accept what you read.”
Ms Hamilton-Byrne had been suffering from dementia before she died aged 98.
The cult was the subject of an ABC documentary called The Cult of The Family.
Rosie Jones, who directed another documentary on the cult, said Ms Hamilton-Byrne lured many of her victims in with her charm and good looks.
“She was basically Jesus Christ reincarnated in the view of her followers, and I think in her own view,” Ms Jones told ABC Radio Melbourne.
“She was charismatic and gorgeous and she knew how to reach people’s weak spots.”
Ms Jones said the children were let down by authorities and the police.
“Some of the children were literally stolen out of public hospitals. It is shocking,” she said.
“I think police weren’t used to looking into domestic situations.
“This was something that involved women and children, [it] wasn’t seen as proper police work.”