Sydney Morning Herald - Australia February 18, 2011
The leader of a north Queensland cult which harboured convicted murderer Luke Hunter says he was not aware of the killer's past.
Hunter was recaptured at Herberton, west of Cairns, on Sunday after 15 years on the run.
The 42-year-old had served only five years of a 21-year sentence for murdering his lover's husband when he escaped by cutting through a fence at a Queensland prison.
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Hunter had sheltered with a secretive north Queensland religious sect called the Jesus Group for many years after his escape.
The cult's leader Dawid Landy-Ariel told Network Seven on Friday he was not aware of the killer's past despite him being, at the time, number four on Australia's most wanted list.
Mr Landy-Ariel said he probably would not have taken Hunter in if he had known he had murdered someone.
But he said he believed Hunter was a genuine person.
"We met him out on the street and he seemed like a genuine person and I really believe he is," he said.
"I'm not going to condemn somebody to hell just because they lied about their past to protect themselves.
"What happens when someone confesses their sins to a priest is up to the church, (as to whether) to dob him in.
From 1997 until his capture, Hunter had worked for Queensland Health at Herberton Hospital under the false name of Ashban Kadmiel.
He was employed the year after he escaped from Borallon Correctional Centre, near Ipswich.
Brisbane Times - Australia February 14, 2011
Killer revelations shock community
by Dan Nancarrow
He might have spent 15 years on the run from police as one of Queensland's most notorious fugitives, but convicted murderer Luke Andrew Hunter has been remembered by some Herberton townsfolk as "a really nice guy".
The 42-year-old was tracked down by police in Herberton yesterday after escaping from Borallon Correctional Centre, near Ipswich, in 1996.
Hunter had previously been a member of a secretive cult, the North Queensland Jesus Group.
A former cult member, using the name "Rose", told Fairfax Radio 4BC Hunter was with the group for about 10 years.
"I just met him while he was in the group and he was a really nice fellow," she said.
"[I] had no idea about any of his previous history. That's the same as everybody who actually joins that group. You die to your own self, that's what they teach you ... you die from your past life and become a new person.
"So everything from your past life is forgotten and wiped out, so nobody talks about their past life."
Rose said Hunter was a "hard worker" and she had counted him as a good friend.
"He was a lovely character, he was a nice fellow, but now I've found out about all this I realise that it's not so true anymore," she said.
Hunter was serving a minimum 16 year jail sentence at the time for the 1990 murder of his lover's husband in New South Wales.
Hunter's recapture in the small township, with a population of less than 1000 people, has shocked locals.
Most contacted by brisbanetimes.com.au today said they had never heard of, or seen, the man who flashed across their television screens as news of the arrest was broadcast last night.
But he was known to some.
Nadia O'Grady from Herberton Newsagent said Hunter's recapture had been the talk of the small town, with customers that knew the man surprised he was a convicted murderer.
"I didn't know him at all but those who did said he was a really nice guy," she said.
Detective Inspector Ed Kinbacher said Hunter had been living on the tablelands since at least 2005 and could have been living in Cairns for a brief period beforehand.
Police have also received information he may have been in Sydney before moving to north Queensland.
Police begun a covert operation named Operation Blaze after being provided with "vague" information suggesting Hunter was in Herberton last month.
Plain clothes police approached Hunter as he left his home for a jog on Sunday morning.
Detective Inspector Ed Kinbacher said Hunter did not attempt to evade police and complied passively.
"The operation was entirely predicated to make sure that this was done safely for Mr Hunter's perspective and also the police perspective and the general community," he said.
"Because we didn't really know his mindset we were very cautious to ensure it was done in a controlled fashion and it was done safely."
Inspector Kinbacher said Hunter was a high priority target of the corrective services but was not a high risk escapee.
"I don't believe he would have necessarily presented any risk to anyone in north Queensland," he said.
Inspector Kinbacher said Hunter had not altered his appearance but had possibly been using a number of aliases.
Police will be investigating whether members of the public were complicit in keeping Hunter on the run, but Inspector Kinbacher said those immediately around him in Herberton had no idea of his history.
"Certainly the lifestyle he maintained was very low profile, very quiet probably he wouldn't have been known to a large number of people in the community," he said.
Australian Hotel publican Maree Tewhare said Hunter must have kept a low profile in a town where "everyone knows everyone".
"Everybody's shocked to find out we had someone living here like that," she said.
"This is a family town."
North Queensland Jesus Group members were present at Cairns Magistrates Court today where a decision was made to transfer Hunter to Arthur Gorrie Correctional Centre at Wacol this afternoon.
Inspector Kinbacher said at the time of Hunter's recapture he was estranged from the Jesus Group.
"I understand at the time he was estranged from this group and had no direct links to them," he said.
The Courier-Mail - Australia February 15, 2011
'Fugitive hid with cult'
by Peter Michael | Courier-Mail
FUGITIVE Luke Hunter hid out in a religious cult and kept secret his alleged jailbreak during nearly 15 years on the run.
But his split with the north Queensland Jesus Group sect may prove to have been his undoing.
Hunter, 42, was arrested as he went for his morning jog in the tiny town of Herberton on Sunday.
Police acting on a tip-off ran a three-day, 10-man covert surveillance team, dubbed Operation Blaze, before arresting one of Australia's most wanted fugitives.
Locals say the tall, heavily tattooed, and freckled redhead had moved into a unit in the former tin-mining hamlet on the Atherton Tablelands with a younger woman about eight months ago.
He had been working as an odd-jobs man and groundkeeper in town.
Yesterday Hunter was supported in Cairns Magistrates Court by two women and a toddler, all wearing headscarves, one of the emblems of the cult, and a bearded man.
Police are investigating whether the religious cult helped harbour Hunter.
The Jesus Group has strict rules about associating with outsiders and has strongholds in Cairns, on the Tablelands, near Brisbane and at Parkes in NSW.
Detective Inspector Ed Kinbacher said the former jailbird appeared to have severed ties with the sect.
"I understand at the time (of his arrest) he was estranged from the group and had no direct links with them," Inspector Kinbacher said.
"Those immediately around him had no clue as to his background. He was just someone they met and who had kept quiet about his past, naturally enough."
He denied suggestions Hunter had undergone plastic surgery to disguise his identity.
"His appearance was the same, obviously 14 years had passed, but there are just the natural changes of years gone by."
It is understood Hunter may have first fled to Sydney before making his way to a new life under an assumed identity briefly in Cairns and then on the Atherton Tablelands in 2005.
"He was living with a younger woman, which was just a friendship, they were cohabiting together in the same unit," said Det Insp Kinbacher.
"He had no children.
"He was a high priority target as the state's sole outstanding jail-breaker."
Fellow Herberton lawn maintenance worker Harold Hellmuth said the arrest was the talk of the town.
"You can't run forever," said Mr Hellmuth.
"It goes to show it catches up with you."
Hunter, who did not appear in court, was yesterday escorted under high-security to be flown to Arthur Gorrie prison in Brisbane.
Deemed a "high-risk prisoner", he was remanded in custody to appear by video-link on a charge of unlawful escape from custody on March 2.
Hunter is alleged to have escaped from Borallon Correctional Centre, near Ipswich in 1996.