021 - PTB discusses Anne Hamilton-Byrne, cults and our anniversary
Anne Hamilton-Byrne was born on December 30, 1921 in Sale, Victoria as Evelyn Grace Victoria Edwards. She was the oldest of seven children. Her mom died in an asylum after being diagnosed as paranoid schizophrenic. Her dad was unable to raise the children so she spent more of her childhood in orphanages.
Hamilton-Byrne had one kid and lost her first husband in a car crash. After this, she started taking then teaching yoga. She was drawn to its connections with Eastern religion and eventually began teaching yoga to curious middle-class housewives in Melbourne. This is how she began her cult.
During the 1960’s Hamilton-Byrne built a reputation in Melbourne for people interested in Eastern religion and mysticism. This is where she met Dr. Raynor Johnson. He is quotes as saying that she was “unquestionably the wisest, the serenest, and most gracious and generous soul I have ever met.” The two experimented with LSD and Johnson introduced her to doctors, nurses, and lawyers who were also seeking new age wisdom. Johnson also helped recruit her to the cult and let her use his property on the outskirts of Melbourne as their headquarters, building a lodge on the grounds for group meetings and discussions. The hospital that Johnson worked at was used as a way to find new members. A cult member ran a psychiatric hospital and would threaten to commit people if they tried to leave the cult.
The cult was a combination of mishmash of Hindu, Buddhism, and Christianity and Hamilton-Byrne thought of herself on the same level as deities Jesus Christ, Buddha, and Krishna.
She would force people to take LSD and then open a door and stand there in a white gown with a bucket of dry ice behind her and people believed that she was a holy being.
The cult became known as ‘The Family’ and eventually grew to 500 people and began stealing babies. They would target newborns and used psychological drugs to force to make women sign over adoption papers while giving birth. They also took children from the cult members. They eventually ended up with 28 children. Hamilton-Byrne wanted to create the perfect VonTrap Family.
They would drug, starve and beat the kids. Other women in the cult known as ‘aunties’ would punish the children. They would also water board the kids and ask them questions to ensure that they were loyal to the cult. The fridges where the kids lives would be locked but the cult’s pets were always fed and sometimes that kids had to scavenge food from the pets. When the pets died they would leave them in the house and force the kids to share a bedroom with them.
The kids were forced to hide if the police came by and were told that the police would beat them if they were found.
When the kids turned 14 they would be initiated into the family and were given LSD for days.
Two of the kids had had enough and tried to escape. Leanne confronted Hamilton-Byrne about wanting to leave and Hamilton-Byrne slapped her so Leanne jumped out a window and ran away to a nearby house. The couple called the cops and an officer took her back while the aunties convinced him that everything was fine. Two years later she tried the same thing and this time she refused to go back to the house and was taken to foster care.
The other child, Sara, was still in the cult but had a fall out with Hamilton-Byrne and was excommunicated and forced to leave. She was taken to the same house as Leanne. The two worked together to rescue the other children. They told the police about what had happened to them.
This lead to a police raid in 1987 called Operation Forest. Hamilton-Byrne was overseas when this happened. No adults were arrested but the kids were taken. Hamilton-Byrne didn’t come back and moved from one of her properties to another, eventually her husband joined her.
Prosecutors started to build a case against 8 of the cult members, including three of the aunties. Because there was no proof of child abuse they were charged with filing for false government assistance and social security fraud. They spent a few months in jail and had to pay back the 200K they stole.
Hamilton-Byrne was on the run and no one could find her but then her lawyer left the cult and started to talk to the police. He explained that he helped forge birth certificates. It was enough to bring them up on charges but they still couldn’t be found. They were located in Hawaii but disappeared again.
Hamilton-Byrne called Sara, even though she knew that Sara was working with the cops and the call was traced to the Catskill Mountains. They were arrested and extradited to Australi in 1993. They were charged with making a false statement. Each only paid a 5,000$ fine and served no jail time.