Alleged cult leader defends 'manservants'

"Queen Shamhia" says that her man servants and children wait on her hand and foot because they love her, not because they're forced to

MSNBC News/January 4, 2000
By Chip Consoer

FORT MYERS, Fla., Jan. 4 - A woman calling herself "the queen" says she's here to spread the word of God. However, authorities are trying to connect her group to several armed robberies around the state.

THIS WOMAN, WHO calls herself "Shamhia", says she is staying in Fort Myers, hoping her manservants will be freed and that her eight kids will be given back to her.

Three of them, Anthony Menendez, Lawrence Ansaroff and Ismael Castilleja are each charged with burglarizing local stores, restaurants and movie theatres in our area.

The eight kids traveling with her have been placed in a children's facility and the queen hasn't been able to see them. "I am cooked for, I am cleaned for. They do everything for me, not because they're forced, not because they're scared, but because they love me," she says of the children.

Hand in hand with one of her manservants Tuesday, "Shahmia" said that she has been forced to stay at the Salvation Army, a far cry from the Sanibel Harbor Resort at which she had been staying.

"Regardless of what my three men servants have been accused of, I am here to represent my father's kingdom and their love for me is sure," she says.

Five separate stores were hit over the weekend, leading authorities to the suspects. Police say they are now connecting the group with crimes throughout the state. Surveillance video from a Tampa area store apparently shows two of the same men doing their dirty work there.

However, Shamhia claims her manservants were innocent. "We had been through the police cuffing my manservants, throwing them down, calling the dogs and then quietly apologizing, saying 'oops, we were wrong,," Shahmia claims.

With no money left and nowhere to go, she says that she'll stay at the shelter until her servants are freed. She also accuses all of us of not understanding what she and her followers are here to do.

"The people have been accusing us of being gypsies or of being this cult because it is simply something you do not understand," she says.

It's something that sheriff's deputies don't understand either, and their investigation is continuing.

The Arrests

The Lee County Sheriff's Department busts an alleged religious cult that they say is behind a string of crimes in our area. They say that the cult moves around the state and is now preying on locals.

A rash of violent robberies over the weekend at several restaurants and stores sent police on the cult's trail. It ended in a police pursuit Sunday night.

Three men are now in custody, charged with the burglaries, but investigators say that these men are just the tip of the iceberg. They say a woman who calls herself "Queen Shamhia" is possibly the ring leader of the cult.

Investigators say the woman is staying at a resort near Sanibel Island, and that she has eight children staying with her, all of whom serve the woman, bowing and genuflecting in her presence.

Law enforcement officials are now trying to get to the bottom of where this cult came from. Stay tuned to NBC2 News for the latest on the investigation.

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