The Family: Notorious Australian cult leader dies
SECT leader Anne Hamilton-Byrne, the face of a notorious cult The Family - known for brainwashing members and stealing children - has died in Melbourne.
The founder of The Family suffered from dementia since 2007.
Hamilton-Byrne, 98, died while in palliative care in a nursing home in Wantirna South in Melbourne.
The cult stole children through adoption scams and held them captive at a house at Lake Eildon, north east of Melbourne, in the 1970s and 1980s. The cult also had property at Ferny Creek.
Hamilton-Byrne initiated at least 28 children into the cult, stealing some and getting others by brainwashing adult sect members.
The Family came to public attention in 1987 when police raided its Kai Lama compound after her adopted daughter, Sarah, was expelled.
Police removed the children from the property but Hamilton-Byrne and her husband were overseas and it was not until 1993 that the couple was arrested in the US by the FBI.
The sect was made up of professional people, who, according to former Victoria Police detective Lex De Man, "worshipped Anne Hamilton-Byrne as Jesus Christ reincarnated in the female form".
Hamilton-Byrne had a "vision" while under the influence of LSD that many children would be needed to repopulate the world as either World War III or a natural disaster was about to cause millions of deaths.
The sect was co-founded by former Melbourne University master of Queen's College Dr Raynor Johnson, who met Hamilton-Byrne in the 1960s and they jointly formed the Great White Brotherhood that became known as The Family.
He wrote in his diary that "from that date onwards there was but little doubt in my mind that I had met my master".
Former sect members have come forward to share their stories, including claims of children being starved and beaten.
Some reported being given what they suspected had been tranquillisers and other drugs including LSD, with some saying they were drugged and put in dark rooms.
Former County Court Judge Carolyn Douglas prosecuted Hamilton-Byrne for fraud.
She described the cult leader as "having an enormous hold on people and it was admiration, adulation and fear. It's a little like an organised crime syndicate, they would never ever give evidence against her or make a statement against her".