Capture of wanted killer sheds light on life in polygamist cult
February 19, 2011
THE revelation that one of Australia's most wanted killers took sanctuary in an obscure polygamist cult in the Cairns hinterland has finally lifted the veil on the secretive sect, which former followers say has thrived for more than 30 years.
Headed by millionaire property owner Daniel Landy-Ariel, the Jesus People preach an orthodox Christian lifestyle in which adherents speak ancient Aramaic and some forms of violence against women and children are allegedly encouraged.
Guided by their spiritual father, the cult's 150 followers are crammed into urban properties in Sydney and Cairns, as well as three massive kibbutzes in remote areas of Queensland and NSW.
Police are now investigating the extent to which cult members may have sheltered convicted murderer Luke Andrew Hunter, 42, and whether or not they helped him obtain work with Queensland Health.
Hunter changed his name to Ashban Cadmiel, and there is no suggestion the cult was aware of his true identity.
Hunter is alleged to have escaped from Borallon Correctional Centre, near Ipswich, in 1996. He was serving a 21-year jail term after being found guilty in 1990 of the "cold-blooded assassination" of his lover's husband.
Like other cult members, Hunter took a biblical name and he worked as a groundskeeper at the Herberton hospital in far north Queensland from 1997 to this year. His arrest shed light on the reclusive group, with several former members coming forward to describe the culture of fear they say exists, , especially for women, who say they are "sub-citizens".
Mr Landy-Ariel, 59, who admits taking two wives, has long shunned media attention. But in an affidavit, obtained exclusively by The Weekend Australian, the man known as "Reshan" (or "the head") last year gave an official history of his sect, its practices, and defended himself against allegations levelled against him.
"Any number of people ejected from or rejecting the community could use us as their pincushion," Mr Landy-Ariel said.
"Many who are asked to leave are bitter because they can't return or because they realise that they know they may be committing some sin . . . (the) ratio of people who have left and those asked to leave is probably 50-50."
But a former follower, who asked to be known as Jeremiah, said he had witnessed "some of the worst violence" during his nine-year stint. "I saw a chair smacked over a girl's back. I saw another girl who had a brick put to her head," he told The Weekend Australian.
"Women have to obey their husbands. If a wife were seen causing trouble -- as will inevitably happen at some time -- if he (the husband) was seen only to have mildly harsh words to her, he'd be seen as not carrying his weight in the community."
In his affidavit, Mr Landy-Ariel said domestic violence did occur in the sect, but "in comparison to Australia and world statistics . . . our statistics are very good".
Jeremiah, who said he never participated in violence, claimed the violence went unreported because of the closed communities. Several former adherents said followers were required to hand over their possessions, ATM cards and future income to Mr Landy-Ariel who, with his group leaders, decided how money was spent.
"They had some money from young apprentices but the bulk of the money came from Centrelink," said Madeline Hardess, who spent two years with the group last decade.
Asked why the followers gave their possessions to him, Mr Landy-Ariel wrote he was afforded that responsibility out of respect, which he earned through such exploits as a 41-day water-only fast he endured in 1996.
"The doctor told me I wouldn't live through it . . . I often joke with the brethren (concerning) how many brain cells I would have lost," he wrote. "Whether it is seen to have been silly or not, they know it was my life or theirs."
Mr Landy-Ariel wrote how he established the group on the streets of Cairns in the 1970s by running a Christian coffee shop before forming a kibbutz in Atherton. The sect, also known as the Jesus Group of north Queensland, believed in the total separation of church and state. The group is therefore not registered as a church and does not register its "marriages" with authorities.
Contraception is also banned in the community because Mr Landy-Ariel believes it encourages promiscuity. "(It is) an easy way for a girl to get married to whoever she wants. 'Oh, dear, I'm pregnant, the pill didn't work!' " Mr Landy-Ariel wrote. "We are a community not a sewer." He wrote that children in the community are home-schooled through a Christian college, since at mainstream schools "their moral standards were being badly affected".
The three kibbutzes are near Herberton in far north Queensland; Gympie, 160km north of Brisbane; and near Parkes, 360km west of Sydney. Mr Landy-Ariel and the Jesus People could not be reached for comment.
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