Headquarters of secretive religious sect 'Twelve Tribes' is raided by police as investigators dig for the bodies of stillborn babies at two of its properties

Daily Mail, Australia/March 2, 2020

By Charlotte Karp

A search for the bodies of stillborn babies is underway at the headquarters of secretive religious sect Twelve Tribes.

Two police raids at Peppercorn Creek Farm in Picton and at a 78.5-hectare property near Bigga, south-west of Sydney, began on Monday.

The operation is part of an ongoing investigation into the high number of stillbirths within the community which rejects modern medicine and technology.

Three graves have been uncovered at the Bigga site which has no running water or electricity and is only used when members are exiled for questioning their beliefs, A Current Affair reported.

It is illegal to bury a body without registering the death with the Registry of Births, Deaths and Marriages.

Council permission is also required to bury a body on private property.

The operation is expected to continue over the coming days.

A police spokeswoman told Daily Mail Australia no on has been arrested.

The search follows a six-hour raid at the Picton property on February 19.

Daily Mail Australia has contacted Twelve Tribes for comment.

The raid comes after former member Rosemary Cruzado told the publication her late-term stillborn baby was buried at the Bigga property.

She believes her baby's death could have been avoided if she had seen a modern doctor earlier in her pregnancy.

Twelve Tribes has been investigated by police since September 2019.

The sect is a registered religious charity and has been in Australia since the '90s.

It has about 90 members in its Picton, Katoomba and Coledale communes and runs cafes in Sydney and the Blue Mountains.

The cult does not align itself with any denomination.

Members believe the Messiah will return if the church is restored to its original form in the Book of Acts - the first book in the new testament of the Bible.

Twelve Tribes has been guarded about its privacy and members are expected to live by a set of rigid guidelines which govern almost every aspect of their lives.

Communication with the outside world is largely forbidden.

Women are expected to be subservient to men and everyone must marry within the group.

Children are home-schooled and raised on the back of a 300-page manual which insists they are obedient, do not question their superiors, are forbidden from playing with toys or the make-believe and are to be spanked with a 50cm rod for any indiscretions.

Or Mathias, 26, left the cult more than eight years ago and previously told The Sunday Telegraph he spent the first six years of his life living in a Brazilian commune with 'strange men' before finally moving to the Picton branch in south-west Sydney.

Mr Mathias said while he keeps in contact with plenty of ex-members, most are too afraid to speak out.

He claims he was beaten with a thin rod and forced to work from a young age. He was also given limited opportunities for an education.

Mr Mathias claims he watched an eight month old baby be disciplined during his time with the Picton sect because she cried at the dinner table.

Andrew McLeod, who manages one of the sect's many cafes in the Blue Mountains and is an original member of the Australian branch of the group, previously said allegations of child abuse and child labour were untrue.

'We want our children to have a well-balanced life and what we do and our beliefs have somehow been taken out of context to portray us as a fundamentalist cult that bashes our children, which is just not true,' he said.

'It's sad that so many people are gullible enough to believe what they believe without looking into it themselves.'

What is Twelves Tribes?

The commune began in 1975 in Chattanooga, Tennessee, when former carnival showman Gene Spriggs broke away from the First Presbyterian Church after finding services were cancelled for the Super Bowl.

He and his wife Marsha earlier opened the first Yellow Deli a few years earlier and were living communally with a small group from 1972.

Twelve Tribes practices a hybrid of pre-Catholic Christianity and Judaism mixed with teachings by Spriggs.

The group's stated aim is to bring about the return of Jesus - whom they refer to by the Hebrew name Yahshua - by reestablishing the 12 tribes of Israel.

All members are forced to sell their possessions and give to proceeds to the cult and are assigned a Hebrew name discard their old ones. Spriggs himself is known as Yoneq.

These tribes would include 144,000 'perfect male children', which accounts for the group's obsessive and controversial child-rearing practices.

The Sabbath is observed in line with Jewish tradition, along with conservative dietary rules and abstinence from alcohol, tobacco, and drugs.

Birth control of any kind is banned, as is much modern medicine - they instead rely largely on homeopathy and 'natural' remedies.

Marriage outside the sect is forbidden and couples must go through a series of supervised talks to get to know each other. Only after marriage can they even kiss or hold hands.

Children aren't allowed to play with toys, engage in make-believe, or any of the normal childhood activities, and must be supervised at all times.

They must be strictly obedient and are beaten with a 50cm rod for every infraction by any adult watching them, not just their parents.

All children are homeschooled and do not attend university as it is considered a waste of time and not a good environment.

Instead, children work in the community from a young age, sparking accusations of child labour.

Estée Lauder and other businesses cut ties with the organisation after finding children were involved in making their products.

Members don't vote and are not allowed to watch TV or any other media as 'the crazy box robs your time and pollutes your soul'.

Twelve Tribes has 3,000 members and operates in the U.S., Canada, France, Spain, Argentina, Brazil, Germany and England, arriving in Australia in the early 1990s.

There are now about 120 members living in Balmoral House in Katoomba, Peppercorn Creek Farm near Picton, and a small number in Coledale, north of Wollongong.

Numerous businesses include a network of cafes in every country, all called the Yellow Deli or Common Ground, and bakeries, farms, and furniture, construction, and demolition businesses.

These are believed to be very profitable because none of the workers need to be paid.

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