Retired doctor reminisces about rescuing Moonies cult followers in the 1970s

ABC News, Australia/October 29, 2017

By Simon Royal

She's a retired doctor and devoted owner of two schnauzers.

But there's an aspect of Dr Stuart-Kregor's past that doesn't quite fit the picture, and she's worried what her bridge club will make of it when they find out.

"The club think it's bad enough that I am a Port Power supporter, but if they knew I was a part-time kidnapper, I'll probably be banned!" she laughs.

In the late 1970s, Dr Stuart-Kregor helped kidnap three young people in San Francisco

One of the three was her then 22-year-old stepson.

All of the young people had fallen in with the Unification Church, or the Moonies.

"He [my stepson] was totally under their thought control."

The Moonies had their origin in South Korea, under the leadership of the Reverend Sun Myung Moon.

Followers would refer to Moon and his wife as true parents, or father and mother.

The group was known for holding mass weddings.

Historian Dr Prudence Flowers said it was no surprise that California became an epicentre of the Unification Church's activities outside South Korea.

"Through the '60s and '70s, there's all these kind of movements that come to California, and San Francisco in particular," she said.

"It's a place where quite outlandish forms of behaviour and belief are just kind of accepted as run of the mill.

"And so you've got these quite disparate political and new religious groups, but all are kind of promising members something, some way of understanding their place in society, some way of understanding their authenticity."

'He's been picked up by one of the cults'

In 1979, Dr Stuart-Kregor's stepson was spending his Christmas holidays in California with a friend.

"We subsequently found out he was befriended by a young couple at the bus station when he arrived in San Francisco," she said.

"They asked him to coffee and then to dinner, where by some remarkable coincidence they had someone speaking about the subject my stepson was studying ... it just went from there.

"When we hadn't heard from him, we called the police and then we rang friends in America and Canada to see if they had any idea what could have happened to him.

"They immediately said 'oh he's been picked up by one of the cults'."

That might elicit just a shrug of the shoulders now, but in 1979 being "picked up by one of the cults" would send a shiver through any parent.

The previous year, almost 1,000 followers of the self-appointed Reverend Jim Jones, were part of a mass murder-suicide at that cult's settlement in Guyana.

Dr Stuart-Kregor said she was told by police they couldn't search for her stepson because he was an adult.

Dilly bag key to finding stepson

The Stuart-Kregors, who were living in the UK at the time, flew to the US to search for themselves.

By the time the family arrived, the British consulate had established the young man was indeed with the Moonies.

A staff member took them to the group's property just outside of the city.

"[The Moonies] said they'd never heard of my stepson, they didn't have any idea of what we were talking about ... so we were walking through a dormitory and I saw my dilly bag," Dr Stuart-Kregor said.

"When we finally saw him, I just couldn't believe that someone had changed so much.

"He said, 'hi, what are you doing here?'. I was just furious and I said 'what the hell do you think we are doing here? We've been worried out of our minds about you'."

With the help of former Moonie members, the Stuart-Kregors spent 16 months trying to get their son, and others out.

Dr Stuart-Kregor points to some jewellery and books she's kept from that time.

"They came from Karen, the first person we got out," she said.

"They'd sell this jewellery on the streets to raise money, and the book is their Moonie bible."

In the end, with the tacit approval of local authorities, the Stuart-Kregors snatched their son off the streets of San Francisco.

"We'd hired an unmarked white van with a sliding door and no side windows ... it was my job to slide the door shut," Dr Stuart-Kregor said.

Dr Stuart-Kregor's stepson eventually returned to his studies and went on to a distinguished professional career.

His time with the Moonies is a chapter not much broached in the family's life these days.

"I don't know how he feels about me talking about it," Dr Stuart-Kregor said.

"I expect he'd prefer I didn't, but I just feel it happened, and it happened to a lot of children and I can see nothing wrong with talking about it.

"I don't think these days cults are the same sort of menace [Sic], but that said, it I think it is still a menace."

"To see more documents/articles regarding this group/organization/subject click here.

Educational DVDs and Videos