9 Mar 2011

Canadian apocalyptic cult leader who maimed and murdered followers in religious rituals killed in prison

Warning: This story contains graphic details

Toronto Sun - Canada    February 27, 2011

Inmate arrested after cult leader slain


MONTREAL – A 59-year-old cell inmate was arrested after Quebec cult leader Roch "Moses" Theriault was killed in his New Brunswick prison cell, RCMP say.

Correctional Service Canada confirmed to QMI Agency that the death of Theriault, 63, on Saturday is being investigated as a homicide.

He was found lifeless in his cell at Dorchester Penitentiary about 9 p.m., local time, said Etienne Chiasson of the CSC.

“Medical workers were called and tried to resuscitate him, but failed,” Chiasson said. “He was pronounced dead a few minutes later at 9:30 p.m.” Chiasson gave no other details regarding Theriault’s death due to the ongoing investigation.

Theriault, known as Moses, led a religious sect in Quebec and Ontario during the 1980s. He manipulated and physically abused his followers, including hacking a woman's right arm off.

In 1988, he used a butcher knife to disembowel his wife Solange Boilard during a cult ritual. He was sentenced to life in prison for her murder in 1993.

In recent months, Theriault told reporters he was plagued by guilt and overwhelmed with shame for the atrocities he committed.

Theriault was said to be weak and sick.

He made headlines in the past few years after he decided to write poems and sell his paintings on the Internet. The CSC forced him to stop and a federal court rejected Theriault’s appeal to reverse the decision.

In 1993, one of Theriault’s followers, Gabrielle Lavallee, wrote a book called “Alliance of the Sheep,” which describes her 12-year relationship with Theriault. The book was republished in 2009.

A movie was also made in 2002 about Theriault’s life called “Savage Messiah,” by director Mario Azzopardi.

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CBC News  -  Canada   February 28, 2011

Inmate suspected in cult leader's death: RCMP

Quebec cult leader Roch Thériault, shown in this 1981 file photo, was serving a life sentence at Dorchester Penitentiary near Moncton, N.B.

The New Brunswick RCMP say an inmate at a medium-security prison is under investigation after a former cult leader was found dead in his cell on Saturday morning.

Dorchester Penitentiary, which is southeast of Moncton and holds roughly 440 inmates, was locked down on Sunday and a 59-year-old inmate was being investigated in the death of Roch Thériault, 63.

The RCMP say the inmate who is believed to be involved in Thériault's death has not been charged.

Thériault, who was also known as Moses, was serving a life sentence for murder and other violent crimes in the 1980s.

Sgt. Greg Lupson said early indications are that Thériault's death came as a result of an assault.

"It's an ongoing investigation, so like all other homicide investigations there's very little information that can be communicated to the public," Lupson said.

"At a later time, if a charge is laid, there will be a court process and at some point during that court process the details of exactly what happened to Mr. Thériault would become public."

Thériault was a notorious Canadian figure as the leader of a fringe religious cult in Quebec and Ontario. He fathered more than 20 children with several women.

The cult was called the Ant Hill Kids, named for their hard work and self-sufficiency.

One of his victims was partially disembowelled with a kitchen knife and another had her right arm cut off with a cleaver.

Gabrielle Lavallee, who was a commune wife and had her arm severed, spoke to CBC News in 2002 after Thériault was denied parole.

"I went through hell for 12 years. We worked just like slaves," she said.

Prison safety

Étienne Chiasson, a spokesman for Correctional Service of Canada (CSC), said the penitentiary is co-operating with the RCMP and coroner's investigation.

"The safety of the inmates, of our staff and the public are paramount for CSC," Chiasson said.

"That's why in such events under any circumstances and no matter who the inmate is or the victim, we take that seriously and it's important to us to investigate and find out what happened."

This is the second homicide at the prison in recent months.

Daniel Pépin, 44, of Quebec, died after an altercation with another inmate in September. Joshua Robert Terry, 24, was charged with first-degree murder in provincial court in Moncton in December. The RCMP said in February that Matthew Ryan Robinson, 25, of Heathland, N.B., was also charged with manslaughter and aggravated assault with a weapon.

Tries to sell prison art

Theriault made headlines again in 2009 when he tried to sell his artwork on a U.S.-based website MurderAuction.com, which called itself a "true crime auction house." The website was willing to sell some of Theriault's drawings and poetry.

CSC had to step in to stop Theriault's work from leaving the Dorchester Penitentiary. Stockwell Day, the federal public safety minister at the time, wrote to the CSC to express concern that the killer was benefiting from work in prison.

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Montreal Gazette  -  Canada    March 1, 2011

Slain cult leader was ‘victim of his past’

Thériault often assaulted by other inmates: lawyer

By Paul Cherry  |  Postmedia News

Former cult leader Roch Theriault was found dead in his jail cell in Dorchester, N.B., on Saturday Feb. 27, the victim of what police are calling an assault.   Photograph by: Frame grab, Gazette

MONTREAL - Roch Thériault, the former doomsday cult leader who was killed in his cell over the weekend, paid dearly and often for his crimes, his lawyer says.

Renée Millette, a Montreal lawyer who represents inmates for procedures like parole hearings, said Thériault was attacked often by other inmates over the last two decades while he served time for amputating the arm of one of his followers and killing another. Millette said the assaults include others at Dorchester Penitentiary, the medium-security institution near Moncton, N.B., where he died Saturday. He had been incarcerated there since 2000.

“He was often a victim of his past. The assaults had nothing to do with how he acted while incarcerated. It was because of his past,” Millette said, adding Thériault had regrets about his time as the spiritual leader of a group he began in Quebec in 1978 and later moved to Burnt River, Ont., where the cult became known as the Ant Hill Kids.

Millette said she was stunned to hear Thériault was likely assaulted in his cell. She said he did not share his cell and that the section of the federal penitentiary was well-monitored.

Correctional staff found the former cult leader inside his cell shortly after 9 a.m. Saturday. According to a release issued by Correctional Service of Canada, Thériault was “unresponsive” and the victim of an apparent assault. Attempts to revive him failed.

Millette said she first met Thériault in 1995 while he was incarcerated in a penitentiary in Portneuf and was experiencing problems there.

“He was no longer a dangerous man. I don’t hesitate in saying that,” Millette said of Thériault, who was turned down for parole in 2002 because the National Parole Board deemed him too high a risk of reoffending. Millette said Thériault walked out on his 2002 hearing before it ended and never sought parole again.

Millette said Thériault’s health problems, in particular diabetes and a bad heart, made him very weak. She said he recently spent two weeks in a hospital to be treated for two severely blocked arteries.

Thériault started a commune in the Gaspé region, near New Carlisle, in 1978 and attracted followers while proclaiming himself a prophet who could predict the end of the world. The cult moved to Ontario in 1984 and settled in Burnt River. It was there that Thériault committed the crimes that resulted in the life sentence he was serving. In 1989, he was sentenced to 12 years for amputating the arm of Gabrielle Lavallée, one of his followers. Lavallée told police Thériault believed he was a doctor whenever he drank. It was while investigating what he did to Lavallée that police discovered Thériault killed 32-year-old Solange Boislard, another woman who lived with him. He was sentenced to life in 1993 after pleading guilty to second-degree murder.

Charges were not laid Monday even though the RCMP arrested and questioned a 59-year-old inmate after Thériault was killed. The inmate's name was not made public.

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Canoe News  -  Canada   March 1, 2011

Retired judge recalls encounter with cult leader

By ALAN R. CAPON, Special to QMI Agency

PICTON, Ont. - News of the death of convicted cult leader and murderer Roch "Moses" Theriault at a New Brunswick prison reminded retired local Judge George Inrig of the time the infamous cult leader appeared before him in a Lindsay court.

Theriault, 63, who was recently found dead in his cell at Dorchester Penitentiary, led a notorious religious sect in Quebec and Ontario during the 1980s. Known as Theriault, he physically abused his followers and, in 1988, disembowelled his wife Solange Boilard during a cult ritual. He was sentenced to life in prison for her murder in 1993.

Inrig, now retired and living in Picton, recalled there was a commune consisting of two or three men and several women who had come from the Gaspe region of Quebec to the Kinmount area of Victoria County, south of Haliburton. Some members of the commune had appeared before him for shoplifting. They had sewn winter coats with several pockets on the inside and Theriault would send them out with a shopping list of things to steal.

When one of the women in the commune, Gabrielle Lavalee, injured her arm, Theriault decided to amputate it. Without any anesthetic, she was held down and her arm was removed by a jack-knife and a saw. Police learned of this some months later, Inrig said, and Theriault was charged.

He appeared in court and stated that he wanted to plead guilty to the charge. He refused counsel and said in court, "If she says I did it, then I did it." Inrig explained to him that he should have a lawyer represent him on the matter of sentencing. He was adamant that he was going to plead guilty and wanted to be sentenced that day.

"Again, I tried to encourage him to have legal representation," Inrig said, but he refused. Theriault was sentenced to 12 years in the penitentiary and three years concurrent for his attempt to cauterize Lavallee's wound using a steel rod heated with a blowtorch.

"The following day, in the Toronto Star, there was an editorial stating that in Victoria County they knew how to expedite matters," said Inrig.

A week later, a Toronto lawyer wrote to the Star suggesting things had moved too quickly and the matter should have been adjourned until Theriault could hire a lawyer. The lawyer stated that he had represented Theriault on previous matters.

"Obviously, Theriault was not impressed with this fellow as a lawyer or he would have retained him. I gave him lots of opportunity to obtain a remand of the matter until he could retain counsel."

Inrig said he next heard of Theriault last Sunday when the RCMP said his body had been found in his cell. Another inmate has been charged with his murder.

According to news reports from 1988, Theriault called his mob of followers the "Ant Hill Kids" and the Kinmount-area commune included eight "wives," one of whom was Lavalee and another Boilard, whom Theriault killed by partially disembowelling her. He later buried her corpse on the commune property.

Only after his arrest on four assault charges involving Lavallee did another cult member step forward and tell police about Boilard's death -- which had remained secret for more than a year.

As Theriault stood before Inrig -- and perhaps explaining why he was anxious to have the assault matter dealt with quickly to skirt the issue of murder -- no one outside the Ant Hill Kids knew that Theriault had brutally murdered Boilard in a bizarre "healing" ritual in which she was partially gutted.

The cult leader is dead after being brutally beaten at Dorchester last weekend, but his legacy is a long one as he fathered more than two dozen children with members of his female flock. Some of his former "wives" had even set up a bakery near Millhaven several years ago, to be near their cult master.

Theriault even fathered at least one child while incarcerated at Millhaven: one of the bake shop followers gave birth to a baby conceived with Theriault in a conjugal visit trailer on the Millhaven grounds. Theriault was transferred from Millhaven to Dorchester more than a decade ago at his own request, it was said, to get away from "the anglo media."

-with files from the Belleville Intelligencer

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Vancouver Sun  -  March 3, 2011

Notorious cult leader's throat slit with homemade knife: sources

By Gary Dimmock, Postmedia News

OTTAWA — Moments after notorious cult leader Roch Theriault was slain in his prison cell Saturday morning, his killer walked up to a guard and threw down a bloody knife, then said the dying, self-styled prophet might need some help.

News of the Ontario cult leader's death has made headlines around the world with reports that he was beaten to death. In fact, the Ottawa Citizen has learned that the 63-year-old who liked to be called Moses was slashed in the throat with a homemade knife.

Prison guards had last seen Theriault alive at 8:15 a.m. Saturday.

The RCMP have revealed little about the cult leader's killing, though their investigators quickly established that he had been attacked by another inmate at 9:10 a.m. Saturday.

Theriault, who was serving a life sentence for killing his "wife" in a secret cult ritual, died 30 minutes after the knife attack and before an ambulance had arrived at Dorchester Penitentiary near Moncton, N.B.

The guards tried to revive him but there was nothing they could do.

The leader of Ant Hill Kids, a violent cult based at a camp north of Toronto in the 1970s and 1980s, Theriault killed one of his "wives" while trying to disembowel her with a knife during a ritual.

The cult buried the body of Solange Boislard but the secret grave was found a year later in 1989, not far from the cult's camp.

Theriault, who had at least three "wives" and 25 children, presented himself as a prophet who wrongly declared the world would end in 1979.

But his followers stood by him and, by some of their own accounts, worked like slaves for the cult, named the Ant Hill Kids for its work ethic.

But they were also subjected to torture, and in at least two cases, death.

One woman who complained of a toothache had several teeth extracted by Theriault with a pair of pliers. He later amputated her arm with a meat cleaver. No anaesthetic was administered.

In 1981, Theriault and two of his followers were arrested in the death of a two-year-old boy who was beaten for crying.

Theriault once used a pair of scissors to remove a lump on the boy's penis. The body of the boy, whose parents were cult members, was later burned.

Theriault was later convicted of criminal negligence in the boy's death.

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  1. Are Cult Members Insane?

    A new study of cult murders in the U.S. suggests that even the deepest and most disturbing convictions are no proof of mental illness—nor, some argue, should they be.

    by TRISTAN BRONCA Pacific Standard March 9, 2016

    Cults are viewed as both sinister and strange. We associate them with gruesome violence, bizarre delusions, and perverse spirituality. Even if not all cults are sinister, the label becomes a way to distinguish more common religious beliefs from the more exotic ones.

    But where does distinction become a diagnosis? Do cult beliefs, for example, qualify as psychotic? Are some so strange that adherence ought to be taken as proof of a neurochemical dysfunction? That question is the center of a paper entitled "Killer Cult Members and the Insanity Plea: Exploring the Line Between Belief and Delusion," published this month in the Journal of the American Academy of Psychiatry and Law.

    Dr. Brian Holoyda of the University of California–Davis examined eight cases of cult murder in the United States beginning with the Mansons in 1969. He found that, in four of these cases, the defendants had pleaded not guilty by reason of insanity (NGRI) and, of those, only two received psychiatric diagnoses—one with paranoid schizophrenia, another with a shared psychotic disorder. Neither was successful.

    While Holoyda acknowledges that such cases are extremely rare, he concludes that American courts ultimately view cult beliefs—even those that have driven people to murder—as voluntary, no different from religious belief. He points to one ruling in particular: the 1999 trial of Jacques Robidoux in Massachusetts, where Robidoux deprived his infant son of all solid food based on a revelation Robidoux had received from God. The boy starved to death.

    "In our diverse religious cultures, Christian Scientists are often committed to resist conventional medical treatment in situations even where the results can be dire, and Jehovah's Witnesses may oppose blood transfusions even where doctors say this is essential," wrote the presiding judge.

    Because the legal system rarely treats these beliefs as representing insanity, the judge ruled that Robidoux's case would be no different. Nor, apparently would it have been in any other state.

    To the layperson, the first two cases Holoyda presents may seem especially unusual: the murders of 26-year-old James Thimm and five-year-old Luke Stice at the hands of Michael Ryan and his 15-year-old son Dennis.

    Michael Ryan was the leader of a cult based on the Stice farm in Rulo, Nebraska. He claimed to channel the spirit of an archangel and made wild claims about the impending battle of Armageddon. When police raided the cult, they found evidence of preparation for such a battle: 150,000 rounds of ammunition, 30 semi-automatic rifles, 15 machine guns, more than a dozen pistols, and $250,000 worth of stolen farm machinery.

    The cult's divine directives were confirmed through something called "the arm test." One of the group members would hold out their arm while another member, usually Michael Ryan, would hold their wrist and shoulder, forcing it down like a lever. If the arm yielded to questioning, Yahweh's answer was no. If it held up, the answer was yes. "Every detail of every activity at the farm was determined by consulting Yahweh through ... the arm test," the court syllabus says.

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  2. Sometime in early 1985 several members of the group including Thimm, Luke Stice, and his father, Rick, fell out of favor with Yahweh. Michael Ryan began torturing them, often forcing Rick to beat his own son and using the boy's mouth as an ashtray. Luke died after Michael Ryan shoved him into a shelf and hit his head. When Ryan forced Rick to dig the grave, Rick fled, leaving two of his other children behind on the farm.

    At this point, the Ryans turned their attention to Thimm. He was shot in the face and, while horribly injured, forced to have sex with a goat. Michael Ryan sodomized him with a shovel handle, shot off his fingers, and skinned him alive, slicing flesh from his leg and peeling it off with pliers. Thimm finally succumbed when Michael Ryan stomped on his chest and Dennis shot him in the head.

    As the court syllabus reads:

    [Michael Ryan's attorneys] were faced with the almost impossible task of defending a man who had repeatedly committed various acts of most horrible torture upon another human being; who did these acts in the name of an angry deity; who heard this deity speak audibly to him; who believed that every aspect of his life, as well as the lives of others in the group was directed by that deity through an arm test; who believed he possessed the spirit of an archangel; who believed he could predict the future and read the minds of others in the group; who saw visions in the sky; who believed that a female group member's infant had been divinely conceived....

    As one of the men tasked with defending him, Richard Goos, would testify at a post-conviction hearing "the man was obviously either insane or he was unbelievably cruel and subhuman."

    Michael Ryan was examined by a clinical psychologist, Dr. Maurice Temerlin, and a psychiatrist, Dr. Wingert, both hired by the defense. Temerlin testified that Ryan suffered from paranoid schizophrenia and believed he was "doing a virtuous deed" when he murdered Thimm. Wingert testified that Ryan believed it was "something commanded by God" and that "he was obligated to obey." Wingert also described Ryan as "clearly delusional" and "not under the influence of any kind of cognitive control."

    The two prosecution experts, however, didn't agree. They found that Michael Ryan did understand the nature and likely consequences of his actions. The jury sided with the prosecution and sentenced him to death.

    As for Dennis Ryan, he was found to have suffered from a shared psychotic disorder under the influence of his father. Still, the psychological experts believed that at the time of the crime he was capable of distinguishing right from wrong. The jury convicted him of second-degree murder, which, after climbing to Nebraska's Supreme Court, would eventually be reduced to manslaughter. He was released from prison in 1997, 12 years after he was convicted in 1985.

    Dr. Michael First is a forensic psychiatrist at Columbia University and one of the authors of the fourth edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, the de facto bible for psychiatrists. He's testified in a number of high-profile cases regarding religiously motivated violence, including that of fundamentalist Mormon Ron Lafferty, and of Zacarias Moussaoui, the so-called 20th hijacker who was arrested before the 9/11 attacks.

    First says he isn't at all surprised the NGRI plea failed in the cases Holoyda examines. While a good defense attorney will flag unusual beliefs as hints of an underlying mental illness—what First calls "the tip of the iceberg"—simply holding those beliefs doesn't begin to check the boxes required for a diagnosis. According to Dr. Paul Appelbaum, one of the nation's leading forensic psychiatrists (and a colleague of First's at Columbia), a few of those boxes include evidence of heritability, susceptibility to treatment, or a natural history that aligns with the clinical understanding of the progression of an illness.

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  3. In Moussaouis case First found several markers of mental illness, but they had nothing to do with his religious beliefs. Rather, they were deluded proclamations that George Bush would set him free. There was also the telling fact that other members of Moussaoui's family suffered from psychotic disorders.

    Still, even with a diagnosis, securing an NGRI verdict is a moonshot. Most of the work involves proving the disorder interfered to such an extent that the cult member was unable to distinguish right from wrong at the time of the crime, according to Appelbaum. On this point, mental health experts very rarely reach a consensus.

    "This is fairly nuanced thinking to be able to wade through these things," First says. "You can easily imagine how different experts might disagree on these conclusions." The fact is that the vast majority of violence is not the result of mental illness, First says, adding that history is full of examples of evil individuals who betray zero clinical evidence of any sort of psychological defect. Yet it's hard to abandon the idea that certain crimes are so inexplicably and horrendously bizarre that no sane person would commit them. Whatever the courts say, colloquialisms about a particular brand of criminal being "insane" exist for a reason.

    Not all religious beliefs are mere variants of human behavior. There are such things as "religious delusions," but these are difficult to identify because they—like other religious beliefs—aren't falsifiable.

    You can provide evidence to disprove that the Federal Bureau of Investigations is tapping into the phone of a paranoid schizophrenic, for example. If the paranoid schizophrenic rejects that evidence, you have a clear indication that he or she is deluded. Here's where religion makes things tricky: "If God or whatever told them to do it how can you disprove that?" First asks.

    "Religion is the standard," First continues. "If anything, having very strong religious beliefs is normal. So at what point can you say that someone with a very strong religious belief is not normal? How extreme does it have to be?" That elusive (and touchy) distinction is why, to Appelbaum's knowledge, neither religious fanaticism nor cult belief has been seriously considered for its own distinct category in the DSM.

    But the last two editions of the DSM both mention cults. In the fourth edition (issued in 1994), cults are referred to under Paranoid Personality Disorder; in the fifth (issued in 2013), cult involvement was listed as a potential cause of "identity disturbance due to prolonged and intense coercive persuasion." Other such causes included brainwashing, thought reform, indoctrination, long-term political imprisonment, and recruitment by terror organizations.

    Holoyda suggests that, under this relatively new definition, cult involvement would serve more as a mitigating factor in a criminal case rather than proof of genuine psychosis. "Someone could testify that a cult member was so beaten and broke by their cult that they simply did whatever they were told to save their lives or to protect themselves," Holoyda says.

    Both definitions contain only traces of what is arguably at the heart of the question: the possibility of choice. While First objects to this as a means of distinguishing the sane from the insane, Appelbaum feels it is as close as anyone is likely to get to summing up the difference between a psychiatric disorder and an insane-seeming religious belief. And until the courts or profession of psychiatry are ready to wade into the debate on free will, that may be where the questions should stop.