To some, Anne Hamilton-Byrne was a yoga teacher with a penchant for plastic surgery. To others, she was the evil leader of The Family — an apocalyptic cult with about 500 followers and more than 28 children. Some were the children of cult members, others were newborns that came from unwed mother tricked into thinking their babies were going to good homes, a few were out and out stolen, investigators say.
Now, some of those children are speaking out about Hamilton-Byrne’s attempt to build a perfect race through a collection of children — some of whom were forced to have their hair bleached blonde, were home-schooled on an isolated property, and were injected with LSD as part of an initiation ritual.
The harsh treatment was carried out by some of the women known as “Aunties,” loyal cult members who lived with and taught the children. The children believed they were brothers and sisters and thought Anne and Bill Hamilton-Byrne were their parents until they were rescued by police and the cult was broken up.
“The Family” is also the story of the incredible determination of a detective in Australia and an agent at the FBI who joined forces to bring the Hamilton-Byrnes before a judge.
“My whole life was wrapped up in this investigation,” says Lex de Man, a former detective with the Victoria Police Department in Melbourne, Australia. He tells “48 Hours” correspondent Peter Van Sant, “She is the most evil person that I’ve ever met.”
In the Catskills region of New York State, Lex de Man is far from home. He is here to retrace the steps of the biggest case of his career — hunting down a dangerous fugitive cult leader.
Lex de Man: It’s incredible, absolutely incredible that I’m standing here … unbelievable feeling.
Peter Van Sant: Lex, for a man who has been emotionally as well as professionally involved in this case for so many years, to see this house for the first time, what has this day been like for you?
Lex de Man It’s been a tough day. …it brought back memories for me of some of the victims.
Innocent victims — children who had no choice — and true believers who de Man says fell under the spell of Anne Hamilton-Byrne, a one-time yoga teacher-turned-cult leader who convinced followers she was the female reincarnation of Jesus Christ.
Anne Hamilton-Byrne sermon: If you would learn how to tread the path of attainment, you must go to the one who has successfully passed through it.
Her cult was known simply as The Family.
Peter Van Sant: The Family still lives.
Lex de Man: Well, even today, The Family still lives in Australia. It still exists. There are still followers.
Now, some of the cult’s children are telling their stories of what life was like inside The Family’s fenced-in compound in Australia with its leader…