Brazil link to missing Nannup residents
7th August 2008
The search for a family who disappeared from WA more than a year ago in mysterious circumstances is now centred on an isolated Brazilian town known for its religious cults.
The West Australian understands that former internet cult leader Englishman Simon Kadwell, 45, Chantelle McDougall, 27, their daughter Leela, 6, and friend Tony Popic, 40, may have sneaked out of the country to New Zealand before travelling to Rio Branco, in Brazil’s east.
It can also be revealed that police have evidence that Mr Popic booked into paid accommodation in Perth city, possibly with Ms McDougall and Leela, on July 16 last year.
This confirmed sighting of Mr Popic was just three days after what had been considered the last sighting of any of the quartet in Busselton, where they had sold a car for $4000 to a local dealer and drove away in a waiting vehicle.
Detectives believe Mr Popic, Ms McDougall and Leela may have made their way to New Zealand soon after the sighting in Perth.
It is understood police believe Mr Kadwell may have already left for Brazil to find accommodation for the group.
None of the missing adults has used their bank accounts or mobile phones since their disappearance.
Ms McDougall’s father Jim said yesterday that his daughter had told him during their last conversation on July 13 last year — the day the quartet went missing from their rented accommodation in Nannup — that they were going to live in a small religious community on the outskirts of Rio Branco.
Rio Branco is known as a base for secretive religious cults which are involved in nature worship and consume hallucinogenic liquids which they believe help them reach an elevated state of mind.
When the owner of their Nannup property went to the house in the days after they left the town, he found a note on the front door which read, “Gone to Brazil”.
Mr McDougall said he had thought the family’s Brazil trip was a cover story after he made unsuccessful attempts to locate them through the Australian embassy in Brasilia.
But after being made aware yesterday of Rio Branco’s strong association with cults, he said: “That sounds exactly like Simon’s kind of place — isolated, secretive and somewhere he could indulge his desire to become a religious leader of sorts.”
Mr McDougall said he was considering travelling to Brazil to try to find his daughter.
“I desperately want to find them and now that there is some clearer indication of where they might be, we’ll think very strongly about heading over there to look for them,” he said.
Det-Sen. Sgt Casey Prins of the major crime squad said detectives were aware of claims the quartet had gone to Brazil and had been in contact with authorities there. But they had not found any evidence that the group were in Brazil or that they had left Australia.
While living in WA, Mr Kadwell operated a secretive doomsday internet forum called The Gateway.
He was called Si on the chat forum, which involved about 40 members around the world, who referred to themselves as The Forecourt — a religious reference to the place where believers wait for “judgment day”.
Ms McDougall’s parents have accused Mr Kadwell of brainwashing and seducing their daughter when, as a 17-year-old, she started babysitting for him and his partner, Deborah, in 1998.
The teenager had been introduced to Mr Kadwell and Deborah through friends in Victoria and would follow them to WA, Britain and back again.
By September 2000, Mr Kadwell, Deborah, their son Daniel and Ms McDougall were living in WA.
The same year, Ms McDougall, who was pregnant, and Mr Kadwell moved to a rented house in Floreat, where they continued to believe that the planet was on “red alert” and it was time for “awakening servers of the divine plan” to come forward. Mr Popic moved in with them.
With baby Leela, the couple and Mr Popic moved to Denmark.
In 2004, the group shifted to Nannup, where Ms McDougall worked at a fish and chip shop and taught swimming. Mr Popic lived in a caravan at the rear of their property.
Disclaimer:This news page is about groups, organizations or movements, which may have been called "cults" and/or "cult-like" in some way, shape or form. But not all groups called either "cults" or "cult-like" are harmful. Instead, they may be benign and generally defined as simply people intensely devoted to a person, place or thing. Therefore, the discussion or mention of a group, organization or person on this page, is not necessarily meant pejoratively. Readers are encouraged to read widely on a topic before forming an opinion. Never accept information from a single source at face value. This website only holds a small amount of information and should not be relied on as a complete source. For example, if you find older information, this should be weighed up against newer information as circumstances can change.