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The Family



Cult of the child stealers

“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 crime,’ 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. … 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. … 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. … The children were deemed to be too traumatized 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. … The Family, by Chris Johnston and Rosie Jones, published by Scribe, is out now.” (The Scottish Sun, 12/18/16) [IT 8.2]


The Family’s “Living God” Fades to Grey, Estate Remains 

Although she can walk and talk, according to former cult members, Anne Hamilton-Byrne, Australia’s most notorious cult leader, doesn’t talk much, and her once-plentiful assets and properties are being sold, transferred, or given away. At 84, Hamilton-Byrne is frail and isolated, cared for inside the dementia-care wing at Centennial Lodge nursing home at Wantirna South, a long way from the messianic figure who ruled The Family in Melbourne through three decades from the 1960s.

Cult member Stevenson-Helmer, who is related to former governor-general and prominent Melburnian Sir Zelman Cowen, is poised to lead what is left of the cult, together with Geoff Dawes, the son of former senior cult member Leon Dawes and former cult “aunty” Helen Buchanan. Stevenson-Helmer saw Hamilton-Byrne recently and said she was “stable” and that “it is always wonderful to be with her.” He claims not to know anything about her assets. Dawes and a fellow cult member from Gembrook, Helen McCoy, a wildlife campaigner and principal of a school in Wheelers Hill for disabled children, control Hamilton-Byrne’s affairs. (The Age, 5/17/14) [IT 5.3]

Anne Hamilton-Byrne, leader of The Family, the infamous Melbourne cult, is said to be close to death in a nursing home while the remaining members of the group jockey for control. From the 1960s, dozens of children obtained through adoption scams were allegedly kept on cult property, cruelly treated, and administered LSD. Since 2010, Hamilton-Byrne’s lawyers have used her dementia as a defense in several civil-court actions brought by victims alleging they suffered abuse, cruelty, false imprisonment, mind control, and the effects of drugs while in the group. These suits have all been settled out of court for about $250,000 each. Hamilton-Byrne’s estate is estimated to be worth between $10 million and $20 million. (Age, 7/22/13) [IT 5.1 2014]

Winnfred Wright has been sentenced to 16 years in prison in California for felony child abuse that led to the 2001 death of a 19-month old infant, one among the 12 children he fathered with three women who lived with him. Prosecutors said Wright was the leader of a cult-like group called The Family, which raised children under severe conditions determined by a “Book of Rules” that restricted their diets and called for binding and whipping. (San Anselmo-Fairfax Patch, 11/22/10) [IT 2.1 2011]

Sarah Hamilton-Byrne, who became a physician—Dr. Sarah Moore—after leaving The Family, now suffers from bi-polar disorder and recently lost a leg following a suicide attempt. She says she sees the 87-year-old Ann Hamilton-Byrne as her mother. “I do love Anne, and my feelings are still mixed about her. . . I had put my life on the line to oppose her . . . as I believed at the time that to oppose her, to betray her, was to die. . . She is a powerful and charismatic person, and I believe she initially meant well with both creating the cult and collecting us children. Both acts were in compensation and delusional repair for her own childhood.” [csr 8.2, 2009)

Ann Hamilton-Byrne, leader of The Family, the notorious cult still operating in Victoria, Australia, has reconciled with daughter Sarah Hamilton-Byrne, whose report to authorities about life in the group precipitated a 1987 raid that saw a number of children taken into custody. It was learned at the time that these and other children—who thought they were Hamilton-Byrne’s biological offspring—were actually children of single mothers pressured into giving them up for adoption, or the children of other cult members. They were reportedly raised in almost complete isolation, their hair dyed peroxide blond, dressed in identical outfits, allegedly half-starved and beaten, forced to take large quantities of tranquilizers to calm them, and fed LSD when they became adults. Ann Hamilton-Byrne defends the way she raised the children and calls those who say she mistreated them “lying bastards.” She refused to discuss any specific allegations, although she said, “Everything on earth has its uses,” when asked about the alleged use of LSD. As she spoke, “elderly helpers in colored wigs and heavy make-up scurried around, avoiding eye contact.” There are said to be as many as 50 followers, living on the property or in surrounding hills, who still “defer” to Hamilton Byrne. [csr 8.2, 2009)

Suit Alleges Long-term Psychological Injuries 

Anouree Crawford, 34, removed along with a number of other youths in 1987 by police from the Victoria (Australia) cult known as The Family, has sued leader Anne Hamilton-Byrne for the psychological disorder Crawford says stems from her treatment in the group. Crawford alleges her experience included denial of adequate food, education, and socialization as well as emotional, physical, sexual, and psychological abuse. (ABC News, Australia, Internet, 7/16/04) [csr 3.2 2004 2004]