The Family

Claiming to be the reincarnation of Jesus Christ, she stole children, bleached their hair and injected them with LSD. She was trying to create a master race that would save the world.

Anne Hamilton-Byrne, the leader of Australia’s notorious cult known as ‘The Family’ aka ‘The Great White Brotherhood’ , held 28 children captive, isolated them from the outside world and told them she was their birth mother. There was only one rule, do absolutely everything she tells you.

Anne took up yoga after her husband was killed in a car accident. She began to engage in Eastern religions and sought to find meaning in life. After studying different religions, she created her own religion, and she became a new age guru and quickly gathered a following.

In 1961, Anne met a physicist, Dr Johnson, who was captivated by her charisma and thought she was a clairvoyant. Johnson helped Anne find new members for the cult and he introduced her to some of his friends in the medical field, doctors, nurses and psychiatrists. Johnson offered Anne his property, on the outskirts of Melbourne, as her headquarters.

Spellbound

Anne held spiritual meetings and preached a mix of Christianity, Buddhism and apocalyptic prophecy to her followers. She promised spiritual enlightenment, and many of her followers believed she was the reincarnation of Christ. Avid users of LSD, the members of the cult became increasingly engrossed in their own reality.

At its peak, the cult consisted of about 500 members, and had branches in the United States and other countries around the world. Spellbound by her charm, her followers came completely under her control. The inner circle of the sect believed that they were the reincarnation of the apostles of Jesus Christ.

During one of her many LSD trips, Anne had a vision and told her followers that she had received a message from above. Her job on Earth was to create a master race, and she needed children to accomplish this job.

Anne Hamilton-Byrne with the cults first adopted child

Newborns

The cult started to collect infants and young children. Some were children of the cult members, who offered their newborns to Anne, but others were stolen or obtained through false adoption procedures. The latter was made easier because many members of the cult worked in the medical field and in the legal system.

All in all, the cult ‘acquired’ 28 children, all of whom believed Anne to be their biological mother. Their identities were changed, and they were given false birth certificates. Their last name was changed to Hamilton-Byrne and their hair bleached in an attempt to make them believe they were all related. The children lived separately from the adult cult members, in their own isolated compound.

Female members of the cult called ‘Aunties’ looked after the children. They groomed the children and dressed them as identically as possible. Children who did not follow the rules were beaten, starved and psychologically tortured. Auntie Anne usually handed out the severe beatings herself, but when she wasn’t there, the ‘regular’ Aunties handed out the penalty, and Anne often listened in on the telephone as the children were being beaten.

Acid Injections

The children were frequently dosed with different types of psychiatric drugs in order to keep them calm and docile. The children were brainwashed, and they were told that one day they would take over the world. When the children reached adolescence, they underwent a bizarre ceremony in which they were injected with a dose of LSD and locked in a dark room.

After the LSD kicked in, Anne would appear, dressed in a white gown, and she would whisper softly in the kids ears ‘I am the Messiah, the reincarnation of Christ himself’. Under the influence of the hallucinogenic drug, the young children were convinced that Anne was Jesus Christ.

Anne started applying this technique to adults as well. For the followers who got out of line, or didn’t obey her, there was always the threat of the mental hospital. She would say it only takes two psychiatrists to commit someone, and she had no shortage of psychiatrists.

Horror Stories

One day, one of the children had had enough of the abuse. Leeanne Creese, now 15 years old, didn’t want to be a part of the cult anymore and had had enough of Auntie Anne’s antics. She confronted Anne, whereupon Anne answered her with violence. Leeanne, no longer a small child, hit her back. Freaked out by her own reaction, Leeanne didn’t wait around for Anne’s response.

Leeanne jumped out of a window and ran towards the adjacent lake. She ran as far as she could until she saw a house with a light burning. The residents, an elderly couple, opened up and asked her, ‘are you one of those kids who lives near the lake?’ All Leeanne said was, ‘please help me’.

The elderly couple called the police, and Leeanne told the police officer about the horror stories that unfolded in the cult. She told him about the severe beatings, about how Anne beat the children with her stiletto heels and all sorts of objects, she told him about the waterboarding, starvation, and how the children sometimes ate the dog food out of sheer desperation.

The police officer called the cult headquarters, and was told by the Aunties that Leeanne was unstable, suffering from mental illness, and that it would be best for her to return as soon as possible. The officer didn’t believe the incredible story of the teenage runaway, and brought her back to the cult, thinking he did a good deed. It would be another two years before Leeanne would have the courage to run away again. Her second attempt at escaping the cult was successful and she was placed in foster care.

The Beginning of the End

As the horror at the cult’s headquarters continued, another child, seventeen-year-old Sarah Moore, had had enough of the cult, and she was determined to leave. Her decision would change the future of the cult kids forever. Sarah became rebellious and confronted Anne. Against all odds, Anne, realizing that Sarah would soon be an adult, and that she could no longer control her, told Sarah that she was no longer part of the cult and had been excommunicated. She told Sarah she could go and die in the gutter.

Sarah didn’t die in the gutter, instead, she was taken in by some friendly locals, and it wouldn’t be long before Sarah and Leeanne were reunited, this time in freedom.

But the two couldn’t leave the other kids behind. Sarah and Leeanne went to the police and told their story. This time the police believed their story. When Anne learned that the two girls had betrayed her, she proclaimed the two to be Judas. During a ceremony, Anne wrote the girls’ names on a piece of paper and ceremoniously put the piece of paper in ice. According to Anne, the two girls were now doomed forever.

Raid

The world first learned of the cult on August 14, 1987, when the police raided the cult’s compound, freeing the remaining children. Police found a child nearly dying of malnutrition. Anne herself was not present during the raid. The adults present were not arrested during the raid, but were allowed to await the investigation in freedom. The adult cult members were quite shocked by the raid, and many left the cult.

In 1988, prosecutors had built their case against eight adult cult members. Because there were no photos or hospital reports of the children’s injuries, the adults could not be charged with child abuse. Instead, they were charged with falsely applying for government benefits; money that was funneled to Anne Hamilton-Byrne.

The adults pleaded guilty of Social Security fraud. Some were given a few months in prison, while others were only fined. The cult kids felt cheated.

Manhunt

In 1989, a special team was set up to investigate The Family. Codename ‘Operation Forest’. The fugitive Anne Hamilton-Byrne was their No. 1 target. There were rumors that Anne was in the UK, then there were rumors that she was in the United States. There were sightings of her everywhere except Australia. One day the detectives got a break. The cult’s attorney, Peter Kibby, had left the cult, and he had evidence that Anne had forged birth certificates for some of the children.

The detectives finally had something on Anne, even if it was a minor charge, but it was enough to bring her back to Australia. The detectives found Anne and her husband Bill in Hawaii, but the two were too quick for the police and disappeared again.

It would be another three years before the two fugitives resurfaced. The secluded town of Hurleyville, New York, would become the center of the world, when the fugitive cult leader was found and arrested there. Finally, the six-year international manhunt was over.

Anne and her husband, Bill Hamilton-Byrne, were extradited to Australia. She was no longer the glamorous cult leader she had once been. She had undergone numerous plastic surgery treatments to change her appearance. She’d had so many facelifts that her hairline was now somewhere in the middle of her head. She turned in to a very frail-looking woman.

The detectives still could not prove that Anne was guilty of child abuse. The prosecutors could only charge the cult leader for conspiracy to make a false statement. Anne wouldn’t spend a day in prison. Instead, the woman who had ruined countless lives was sentenced to a $5,000 fine. Anne Hamilton-Byrne passed away at age ninety-seven on June 13, 2019. And The Family? They still exist today…