Sex cult leader lived in West Virginia

George Feigley released from Pennsylvania prison last week

The Charleston Gazette/August 22, 2008

A convicted child rapist and the leader of a sex cult, who led his followers from a compound in West Virginia after escaping from prison in the 1970s, has been released from jail after serving out his sentence.

George Feigley is now 68 years old and living in Harrisburg, Pa., where residents protested his release Aug. 15. But 30 years ago he was a convicted sex cult leader hiding from police on a compound near Grafton.

"If it hadn't been for a parent of one of the children there, they could have operated a long time," said Joe Long, editor of the Mountain Statesman newspaper in Grafton at the time. "We thought they were religious types."

In 1975 Feigley was convicted of raping three girls who were students at a private school affiliated with the Neo American Church, which Feigley ran from his Harrisburg home, according to The Associated Press. At the time, prosecutors called the school a sex cult.

The following July, Feigley escaped the Pennsylvania Correctional Center at Rockview, where he had been serving his 10- to 20-year sentence, according to Gazette reports at the time.

He then set up his Neo American Church at a 100-acre farm in Thornton, Taylor County. He may have had well over 100 followers, according to Gazette reports at the time.

He lived there more than a year, even going before the Taylor County school board - under the alias Dr. Daniel Bamburg and claiming to be a West Virginia University professor - to get approval to open a parochial school, just weeks before he was arrested.

"He was very quiet, very intelligent, very well spoken," said Long, who remembers attending the school board meeting in 1978. "He had religious garments on, robes, skullcaps. ... He came across as very religious."

Long remembers going through the house with investigators after Feigley and his followers left. There were large computers in the basement of the main house and a huge library, he said.

"There were little houses out back and some kind of ritual circle that he had made," Long said. "He had this doomsday theory that was fascinating, that California was going to slide off into the ocean and send a tidal wave from west to east. The spot, the mountain where Thornton is would be safe. He had writings to support it. ... The guy was a genius, a maniacal genius."

Among documents found at the commune were extensive volumes on sex, from biological studies to pornography. Under his alias, Feigley used nationally circulated advertisements to find mates for young women in the cult.

According to reports at the time, Feigley kept two wives and a girl, referred to as his "Nazarene," who helped perform ritual encounters. Followers at the commune referred to him as "The Master."

On Sept. 22, 1978, police searching for Feigley tracked him to the farm in Taylor County and arrested him.

He would not be in jail long. One month later, Feigley convinced James Lee Gilbert, who was serving a six-month sentence for petty larceny, to break him free from jail.

Gilbert returned early from a work release job and pulled a gun on the jailer, then locked up a trustee, bound and gagged the jailer and left with Feigley.

In February 1979, Feigley and Gilbert were arrested at a farm in Tennessee.

Gilbert was convicted of pulling the pistol on the Taylor County guard. While in prison, still apparently under Feigley's control, he demanded special foods and took to wearing a yarmulke, the traditional Jewish skullcap.

Gilbert was released in 1983 after serving his sentence. A few months later, on Aug. 1, 1983, he and another cult follower entered a storm sewer outside the prison where Feigley was being kept, in an attempt to break him out of jail.

Heavy rain flooded the sewer and drowned both of them. Their bodies were found the next day, along with digging equipment.

For the next 25 years Feigley would remain in prison. When he was released a week ago today, he returned to the Harrisburg home where he lived when starting the sex cult. About 15 people blocked his driveway, shouting and holding up signs protesting his return to the neighborhood.

Police say Feigley's movements can't be restricted because he served his full term. He isn't required to register as a sex offender because his crimes occurred before that law existed.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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