7 Nov 2010

One of 8 Mennonite men charged in Bolivian mass rape case killed by his Mennonite brethren

The Guardian - UK, Associated Press, September 17, 2009

Mennonite father dies in Bolivia after being hung for nine hours

Death comes three months after prosecutors charged eight Mennonite men with raping dozens of women

A Mennonite father of nine has died after being hung from a pole for nine hours by 22 of his brethren who accused him of rape, abuse and violating their religious rules, police said.

There have been no arrests for the death of Franz Wieler Kloss, 37, but police said community members thought he was a participant in a two-year mass rape case that was uncovered this summer.

"The Mennonites punished Kloss according to their customs and that punishment killed him," said Cololnel Miguel Gonzales, special crime unit director.

The murder comes three months after Bolivian prosecutors charged eight men from several Mennonite farming villages with raping dozens of women at the settlement. [see story below] Prosecutors say more than 60 women, from 11 to 47 years old, have accused the men of rape. The men were suspected of using some form of aerosol spray to drug the women.

Kloss had been locked in a cage as punishment several times for a variety of alleged sins including mistreating his wife and children, drinking alcohol, and slacking off on his farm work, according to Bolivia's El Deber newspaper.

His final punishment came almost two weeks ago, when his accusers tied him onto a pole and left him there for nine hours. When he was taken down he couldn't move his arms. He was taken to a hospital a few days later and placed on a respirator, but he died yesterday, police said.

Bolivia's insular Mennonite community lives traditionally, shunning modern conveniences such as electricity as they farm soybeans, corn and other crops. They use wagons, not cars, for transportation and sew their own clothes.

This article was found at:
The Guardian - UK September 10, 2009

'The work of the devil': crime in a remote religious community

by Andres Schipani

Mennonite women and girls in the lowlands of east Bolivia. Photograph: Bojan Brecelj/Corbis

The road to Manitoba is dusty and the four-hour drive terribly hot. But at its end, there is a scene from a fairy tale. Shiny milk tanks line the entrance to farmhouses set amid impeccably manicured lawns. Laughing children pass on a horse-drawn carriage along a well-kept road without cars or lorries. Behind a gaggle of geese run a clutch of little blond girls wearing big straw hats with dark bows and flowery dresses.

But something has poisoned this apparent idyll. A little further on, three blue-eyed men sit by the roadside, all in the classical Mennonite outfit of dark overalls and baseball caps. One is Carlos Knodel. In the quiet sunshine, he tells me his family's scarcely believable story: Knodel's 57-year-old mother, his 29-year-old sister Ángelita, who has learning difficulties, his wife, his two teenage female cousins, his aunt and his pregnant sister-in-law have all been raped. Not – it's said – by outsiders, but by young men from within this devoutly religious 2,000-strong community. With breathtaking understatement, he tells me: "This has changed us. This has changed us for ever." The other two nod in agreement.

Here, in the lowlands of eastern Bolivia, a remote religious colony has been turned upside down. Investigators dealing with the case have arrested eight men and are questioning them about dozens of alleged rapes, but are now speculating that the number of victims could reach 300.

The eight men – all Mennonite, seven from Manitoba and one from a nearby community – have been charged with child abuse and rape. Their alleged victims range from five-year-old girls to women as old as 65.

The Mennonites are a Protestant group that fled religious persecution in 19th-century Europe to create isolated communities in America and elsewhere. Estimates suggest there are some 1.5 million worldwide. They follow the teachings of Menno Simons, a 16th-century radical Dutch Protestant reformist leader. Most are second- or third-generation Dutch; they reject wealth and power and to a certain extent the trappings of modern life. When North America modernised too much for their taste, some fled south to the less developed but fertile lands of Central and South America. Many went to Mexico in the early 1920s, where they were granted religious freedoms. But when they were stripped of some of those privileges in the late 30s and early 40s, some went even further south, to Bolivia's eastern lowlands and neighbouring Paraguay.

Since then, they have carved settlements out of the jungle. Now, about 50,000 of them live there in farming communities. Families tend to be large, often with six to 12 children. The most orthodox Mennonite colonies eschew all forms of modernity, from rubber tyres to electricity.

Mennonites traditionally handle crime and punishment themselves. But not this time. "This was way too big to deal with," says Johann Klassen, a community elder. "That is why we handed these people to the Bolivian authorities. We don't want them back."

Klassen knew the suspects. "I thought I knew them quite well," he says. "But I remember they were not hard workers." He adds: "There was always talk about those things happening here; there was a woman who said so, but no one believed her."

Some of the elders, including Klassen, became suspicious after they noticed that one of the men was getting up particularly late in the morning – Mennonites are devoted workers who start the day at sunrise – and followed him. They caught him about to break into a house. He then named seven other men. They were all locked up in a warehouse for a couple of days; there were suggestions that cells should be built, to keep them locked up for 15 years. Eventually the community's council of elders decided to hand them to the police.

Uncertainties abound. There is speculation that the alleged rapists used a narcotic spray to drug their victims and members of their families. "I remember smelling the spray," recalls Knodel. "It smelled terrible. It used to give me a horrible headache, make me vomit, feel dizzy. It was very hard to wake up in the mornings." His sister Ángelita is standing barefoot next to him beneath the porch, looking concerned. "I cannot remember a thing," she says in a faltering voice. Her mother thinks that she herself was raped several times but can only remember pain and seeing torchlight one night. Her family are still waiting for the results of forensic tests.

When the women and girls woke up in pain, or naked, some wives blamed their husbands. Some said it was the work of the devil. The same story is repeated at farm after farm. Two miles from the Knodels' property is the isolated farm of their cousins, the Neufeldts. They believe the rapists broke in several times, attacking the mother Isabel and her daughters, Inés and Sancha. "I've felt presences over and over again," says Isabel. "One night I felt something on my leg, but I couldn't wake up. I just managed to open one eye but fell asleep instantly again. A couple of mornings I woke up with my body aching, and really, really tired."

'I felt a lot of pain for days'

Speaking in Plattdeutsch or Low German – an old dialect that mixes German and Dutch – 15-year-old Inés says: "I woke up a couple of times with my nightclothes upside-down. I felt a lot of pain for a couple of days." According to the Bolivian forensic scientists working on the case, she had been raped three times. "And now . . . I don't know . . ." Her voice fades away.

Mennonite religious orthodoxy is emphatic that women must be virgins at marriage. This is an added worry for the victims. "I hope that when they turn 18 or 20, they will get married, because it was not their fault," says Peter, Inés's father. "I hope they won't have problems in finding a husband. But I don't know. This is the first time something like this has happened. The ministers are still deciding what to do."

Wherever they have settled, Mennonites have tended to lead quiet, dedicated, religiously inspired lives. They are known for their espousal of non-violence. Nevertheless, these events have started to change things. "If I had found this man raping my wife, I don't really know what I would have been capable of doing," says Knodel. "That is something not to be forgiven. The Bible says everything can be forgiven, but I don't think it is easy to forgive such a thing."

This view echoes around the community. A man named Juan tells me that he was gripped with rage after his wife was a victim of rape during her pregnancy. "After, my wife gave birth to a premature child that fitted in the palm of my hand," he says. "I am not sure if he will survive or if he will have life-lasting consequences. She is traumatised. This is too painful, too painful."

The alleged attacker is the woman's brother, Martin Wieler, a ginger-haired, long-faced man, who is accused of raping his pregnant sister twice: the first time he threatened to kill her if she told her husband; the second time she was deeply asleep.

Wieler is now in custody in the town of Cotoca, about 20 miles from Bolivia's richest city, Santa Cruz. He greets me from behind the bars, with an unnerving half-smile. He is being held, together with the other seven suspects, in a single white cell that looks more like the sleeping quarters in a refugee camp: rubber flip-flops, dirty sheets and towels, plastic Coca-Cola bottles filled with water and sliced lemons, and cigarette butts litter the floor. The eight men are lying on thin mats on the ground. They are expressionless.

"We have done nothing and we have nothing to say," one says. He is Abraham Wieler, an untrained veterinarian who is also being prosecuted for "forming a criminal gang" and supplying its members with Viagra pills and other drugs.

It is alleged that the gang raped women for about two years, some of them in neighbouring Mennonite communities. "But those colonies are more orthodox than Manitoba," says Freddy Perez, the Santa Cruz prosecutor. "It will be hard to make them talk to us. The women there are afraid of being pushed away by the community and their own husbands.

Perez says the trial is expected to start early next year; he hopes the men will serve at least 15 years behind bars, with no prospect of bail. "I feel I need to make every possible effort as the Mennonites are very concerned about these people being left free. This is the first time they have come to us. They've been very cooperative."

Despite the arrests, no one in Manitoba feels secure. Bars are being put on windows and locks on doors; this in a village where houses were traditionally left wide open. The tranquillity of this community has been replaced with paranoia. "There are more, there are still rapists around," Felipe, Knodel's brother, tells me. "We are living in fear now. This used to be a very peaceful community and people are scared, they cannot sleep in peace."

Sleeping in basements for safety

As I leave the community, I stop by Manitoba's small, red-brick church and peek through the window. Four women, of different ages, are praying together in silence. Two wear black headscarves, showing that they are married. The two others wear white scarves, meaning that they are single. Were these women victims; and if so, what will their futures hold?

Back on the road, Klassen is feeding the pigs on his farm. Wiping his forehead with a spotless white handkerchief, he says: "We are still worried. We are sure this is not the end. We think there are more. We feel we cannot trust anybody any longer. This is not over."

A few weeks later, Klassen's fears are confirmed when another man, Peter Kennel, is arrested. He had allegedly travelled to a neighbouring community with the intention of raping his sister-in-law. In his confession, Kennel said he began raping four years ago. "I raped about 23 women . . . I cannot say why, but after the first time it became a habit and I used to do it twice a week."

The prosecutor tells me that he has the names of at least three other men thought to be involved in the attacks.

Some of the families in Manitoba have apparently started sleeping in their basements for safety. "The Bible says that in the last days we will see such things," Abraham Waal, one of the town's elders, reportedly told prosecutors. "The devil must be very happy with all this."

Some names have been changed

This article was found at:



Bolivia: 8 Mennonite men accused of raping dozens of women and underage girl

Mennonite abuse survivor speaks out against church

Mennonite Church of God in Christ leaders knew of incest and did nothing


  1. In Bolivia, a Trial Tears Apart a Religious Community Aug. 17, 2011


    Katarina Wall remembers little about the worst night of her life. She recalls waking up in her bed, seeing a man on top of her and feeling her arms too heavy to lift in resistance. The next thing she knew, it was morning — but her pajamas were torn, and the sheets beneath her and her sleeping husband were stained with blood from her vagina. "It was like a terrible dream," Wall, 36, tells TIME in her native Low German, weeping as she stands outside a courthouse in Santa Cruz, Bolivia.

    But the nightmare appears to be all too real. Wall is among 130 women and girls of the Mennonite colony in Manitoba Colony, who claim that between 2005 and '09, the same cloudy horror visited them. They're the victims of what is allegedly one of the ugliest sex scandals in the history of the Mennonites, a pacifist Christian Anabaptist denomination founded in Europe in the 1500s, if not Bolivia and South America. In a criminal trial now underway in nearby Santa Cruz, Peter Weiber, 48, a Mennonite veterinarian, is accused of transforming a chemical meant to anesthetize cows into a spray to be used on humans. For four years, Weiber and eight other Mennonite men allegedly sprayed the chemical through bedroom windows in Manitoba at night, sedating entire families and raping the females. One of the men is a fugitive, the others have pleaded not guilty. If convicted, each faces a maximum 30-year prison sentence.

    The criminal charges detail depraved acts few would expect inside a supposedly upright sect like the Mennonites. "When there were no grown women" in the houses that the men allegedly targeted, says Wilfredo Mariscal, an attorney for the victims, "they did what they wanted with the kids." Court-ordered medical exams reveal a 3-year-old girl with a broken hymen (most likely, doctors note, from finger and not penis penetration). The formal indictments list victims ages 8 to 60 years old, including one who is mentally retarded and another who was pregnant and sent into premature labor after allegedly being raped by one of the men — her brother.

    More than 50,000 Mennonites with roots in Canada and Germany populate the Bolivian lowlands, and they are notoriously reclusive, especially in ultraconservative "old colonies" like Manitoba Colony. Their world of horse-drawn buggies and sorghum fields is segregated from the surrounding indigenous country; cars and electricity are prohibited, as are music, sports and television. Women's lives are even more circumscribed. They don't attend school after the age of 12 and, unlike many Mennonite men, rarely learn Spanish. They wear uniform, hand-sewn dresses, raise large families and seldom venture to (and almost never beyond) bustling Santa Cruz, three hours by car and cultural light years away from Manitoba.

    That entrenched, patriarchal seclusion, say those familiar with such communities, can breed behavioral rot and a culture of cover-up. "The denial of major problems in these colonies for decades has significantly compounded the problem," says Abe Warkentin, founding editor of the German-language Die Mennonitische Post, a newspaper published in Canada that circulates widely among the hundreds of thousands of Mennonites who live throughout Latin America.

    read the rest at the link above

  2. Bolivian Mennonites jailed for serial rapes


    A court in Bolivia has sentenced seven members of a reclusive conservative Christian group to 25 years in prison for raping more than 100 women. The men, members of a Mennonite group, secretly sedated their victims before the sex attacks. The victims' lawyer said the 2000-strong Mennonite community where the rapes happened welcomed the sentence.


    An eighth man was sentenced to 12-and-a-half years for supplying the sedative used to drug the women. ... The court heard that the men sprayed a substance derived from the belladonna plant normally used to anaesthetise cows through bedroom windows at night, sedating entire families. They then raped the women and girls. The youngest victim was nine years old.


    The exact number of those raped is not clear. Some women had no recollection of being raped, while others feared being ostracised in the deeply conservative community, lawyer Oswaldo Rivera said. Mr Rivera said almost 150 had taken part in the trial, but he feared there could be another 150 too ashamed to give evidence.

    The BBC's Mattia Cabitza in Santa Cruz said it proved difficult to gather evidence from the victims because of the community's isolation and patriarchal structure. The convicted men were also accused of threatening the fathers of some of the victims not to speak out. ... Mr Rivera welcomed the sentences but said he feared some of the women had suffered irreversible damage.

    [read the full article at the link above]



    By Jean Friedman-Rudovsky, Vice

    For a while, the residents of Manitoba Colony thought demons were raping the town’s women. There was no other explanation. No way of explaining how a woman could wake up with blood and semen stains smeared across her sheets and no memory of the previous night. No way of explaining how another went to sleep clothed, only to wake up naked and covered by dirty fingerprints all over her body. No way to understand how another could dream of a man forcing himself onto her in a field—and then wake up the next morning with grass in her hair.

    For Sara Guenter, the mystery was the rope. She would sometimes wake up in her bed with small pieces of it tied tightly to her wrists or ankles, the skin beneath an aching blue. Earlier this year, I visited Sara at her home, simple concrete painted to look like brick, in Manitoba Colony, Bolivia. Mennonites are similar to the Amish in their rejection of modernity and technology, and Manitoba Colony, like all ultraconservative Mennonite communities, is a collective attempt to retreat as far as possible from the nonbelieving world. A slight breeze of soy and sorghum came off the nearby fields as Sara told me how, in addition to the eerie rope, on those mornings after she’d been raped she would also wake to stained sheets, thunderous headaches, and paralyzing lethargy.

    Her two daughters, 17 and 18 years old, squatted silently along a wall behind her and shot me fierce blue-eyed stares. The evil had penetrated the household, Sara said. Five years ago, her daughters also began waking up with dirty sheets and complaints of pain “down below.”

    The family tried locking the door; some nights, Sara did everything she could to keep herself awake. On a few occasions, a loyal Bolivian worker from the neighboring city of Santa Cruz would stay the night to stand guard. But inevitably, when their one-story home—set back and isolated from the dirt road—was not being watched, the rapes continued. (Manitobans aren’t connected to the power grid, so at night the community is submerged in total darkness.) “It happened so many times, I lost count,” Sara said in her native Low German, the only language she speaks, like most women in the community.

    In the beginning, the family had no idea that they weren’t the only ones being attacked, and so they kept it to themselves. Then Sara started telling her sisters. When rumors spread, “no one believed her,” said Peter Fehr, Sara’s neighbor at the time of the incidents. “We thought she was making it up to hide an affair.” The family’s pleas for help to the council of church ministers, the group of men who govern the 2,500-member colony, were fruitless—even as the tales multiplied. Throughout the community, people were waking to the same telltale morning signs: ripped pajamas, blood and semen on the bed, head-thumping stupor. Some women remembered brief moments of terror: for an instant they would wake to a man or men on top of them but couldn’t summon the strength to yell or fight back. Then, fade to black.

    Some called it “wild female imagination.” Others said it was a plague from God. “We only knew that something strange was happening in the night,” Abraham Wall Enns, Manitoba Colony’s civic leader at the time, said. “But we didn’t know who was doing it, so how could we stop it?”

    No one knew what to do, and so no one did anything at all. After a while, Sara just accepted those nights as a horrific fact of life. On the following mornings, her family would rise despite the head pain, strip the beds, and get on with their days.

    Then, one night in June 2009, two men were caught trying to enter a neighbor’s home. ...

    read the rest of the article at:


  4. I was seeing a massage therapist who had been raised Mennonite, and she told me that her grandfather gave all his daughters "massages" when they went to bed at night. I found this bizarre as my mother would never have permitted my father to give us massages when we were in bed. She told me this in seeming innocence, but as her behavior has become increasingly strange I wonder just what happened to her mother and aunts.