Who Are The Women In 'The Family?'

ABC7/May 6, 2003

How did one man maintain control over a cult-like group that's become known as 'The Family?' Dan Noyes gives you the inside story.

The first question most everyone has when talking about this story is, how could a man exert so much control over four, apparently intelligent women? Even to the detriment of their children? The short answer is sex, drugs, and violence. But evidence the I-Team has obtained from the criminal case shows, the story goes much deeper than that.

Dan Noyes: "What is it about you that women see that's attractive?"

Winifred Wright, family leader: "It's just love, it's just love, you know, it's just love."

Winifred Wright had a sure-fire way to meet women. He sent the mothers already in 'The Family' to scour local parks, bus stops and coffee shops with a story. They were looking for models for an art project, back at the group's home.

Barry Borden, prosecutor: "Sometimes women would, in fact, take them up on that offer and go home with them."

Dan Noyes: "Did you ever have sex with the women who came in?"

Winifred Wright, family leader: "Um, I think that maybe once or twice, maybe three times, yeah."

Some of the women filed police reports, accusing Wright of rape, false imprisonment or indecent exposure. He was never charged. Others stayed with him for years.

Fred Marziano, Marin County Sheriff's Department: "And they were all approached at these lows in their life, and they're brought in and shown love and affection, and that's how they were introduced into the group."

Dr. Margaret Singer treated one woman who left 'The Family' more than 10 years ago. She compares Wright to Charles Manson, leading a "cult based on conceit."

Dr. Margaret Singer, cult expert: "These guys know how to approach homely, horse-faced women and convince them they're gorgeous by lying to them."

And, once they joined the group, several of the mothers say Wright became violent. He blames his drug habit.

Winifred Wright, family leader: "I had gotten caught up in the crack cocaine epidemic at that time."

The mothers said in court documents that Wright would insist on marathon sessions of sex while on the drug, sometimes involving all the women at gunpoint.

Deirdre Wilson, who happens to be the heiress to the Xerox fortune, told a therapist, one time she was "near a wall furnace and her leg was severely burned. She still did not move out of fear." Singer's client told her about one especially brutal attack.

Dr. Margaret Singer, cult expert: "The lady told me that one day he broke his arm while beating a lady."

Singer's client also told police about the incident, involving the group's head mother.

Dan Noyes: "Her words, that you tied up Carol Bremner's hands and feet and beat her until she went unconscious. She was spitting up blood."

Winifred Wright, family leader: "Oh, no, that's not true right there."

But, descriptions of the violence showed up in police reports over the years. And, just last summer, Wright tried to send this rambling letter to his oldest children. Authorities intercepted it.

"Our whole circle is at war because these devils have attacked us and dispersed our people," he wrote. "At any time soon enough, executions may be the only (expletive) resolution."

The family of Dierdre Wilson is understandably relieved it's all over.

Dick Wilson, father: "She loves her children. She's a devoted mother. She cares very, very much for them and is working very hard to make sure whatever their future, it will be positive and strong."

Wilson's father still supports her, even though years ago, at Wright's direction, she hired famous San Francisco attorney Melvin Belli to go after her inheritance.

Deirdre Wilson, Mary Campbell and Winifred Wright are now serving prison terms for child endangerment. Charges were dropped against Kali Polk-Matthews. The head mother, Carol Bremner, died in jail from leukemia. After their arrests, each of 'The Family's' surviving women gave birth, bringing Wright's total to 19 kids by 5 women.

Dan Noyes: "Is that a source of pride for you, the number of children you've had?"

Winifred Wright, family leader: "No, I don't even think of it in that way, it's just love, and let love do as it will."

One final note: Mary Campbell sums it all up in this letter she sent to the judge:

"One very important lesson I have learned is that I will never again give up my power to another person."

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