Calif. Family Neglect Case Widens

The Associated Press/February 14, 2002
By Ron Harris

San Francisco -- The leader of a cult-like family who is charged with murder in the apparent starvation death of his 19-month-old son also fathered a daughter who died mysteriously 12 years ago, authorities said.

San Francisco police investigated, but authorities listed the girl's cause of death only as "sudden death in infancy'' and said she had no apparent injuries. No criminal charges were filed against Winnfred Wright or the girl's mother, who later left Wright.

The death raised suspicion because the body of the 2-month-old girl was kept at home for three days. The mother told police she didn't immediately report the death "since it takes that length of time for the soul to leave the body,'' a coroner's report said.

Wright later moved his family from San Francisco to suburban Marin County, where the group grew to four women and 13 children before the 19-month-old boy died in November.

Authorities learned of that death when at least two of the women took the dead boy to a San Rafael hospital. Authorities then discovered that the rest of the children - ranging from 8 months to 16 years - were malnourished and several suffered from rickets, a softened-bone condition rare in the United States since the introduction of vitamin D-fortified milk.

Among those present at the 1990 death was Carol Bremner, one of four women facing charges with Wright of severely neglecting the children, according to a medical examiner's report.

Wright, 45, and Bremner, 44, were part of a living arrangement that also included Deirdre Wilson, 37, Kali Polk-Matthews, 20, and Mary Campbell, 37, whom authorities said was the mother of the boy who died.

Wright, Bremner, Campbell and Wilson each face one count of second-degree murder and multiple counts of involuntary manslaughter and child endangerment. Polk-Matthews, who has no known children of her own, faces one count of involuntary manslaughter and one count of child endangerment. All five were arrested Friday after a grand jury returned an indictment.

They appeared in court Wednesday to enter pleas, but a judge rescheduled the hearing for Feb. 21.

Police asked cult expert Margaret Singer - who analyzed members of Charles Manson's "family'' - to interview the dead girl's mother after she fled the group about a year after the child died in June 1990. Singer said Wright used a mixture of charm and psychological coercion to make the women stay.

Singer said the woman told her Wright was attractive because of his strong convictions, which included the promise to "help them work off their white karma.'' At the time of the 2-month-old's death, several women, all of whom were white, were living with Wright, who is black.

According to the woman, Singer said, Wright told the women in the house that white American men oppressed black men and that they could cleanse themselves "by taking care of him physically, financially, sexually.''

Authorities said Wright is unemployed and two of the women had jobs that apparently supported the group.

Bremner's lawyer, Jack Rauch, said his client led a normal life but that the group was secretive because they knew outsiders would frown on their relationships.

"My client has been together with the gentleman for 20 years,'' Rauch said. "She's raised two happy, healthy teen-age daughters who are very devoted to her.''

He also said the kids had rickets because of a strict vegetarian diet.

In the 1990 case, the medical examiner reports determined that the dead girl had been well developed and well nourished. However, the baby had received no medical attention since being born at home. Prosecutors found no evidence of crime, and did not file any charges.

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