International hunt for cult 'guru' over Nannup family disappearance

WA News, Australia/May 26, 2011

One of Western Australia's greatest mysteries has gained international exposure as Australian Federal Police try to re-ignite new leads into the case of missing Nannup mother Chantelle McDougall and her daughter Leela.

The 30-year-old and her six-year-old daughter went missing in October 2007, together with partner Gary Feldman, 45, and friend Antonio Popic, 40.

Mr Feldman was only ever known in Australia as Simon Kadwell, a false alias he picked up from England before emigrating in 2000. He was also Leela's father.

Since their disappearance, he has been linked to a sect based on a doomsday book called Servers of the Divine Plan, which calls on "servers" to take up their positions on Earth before the world's imminent end and rebirth.

The family and their lodger, Mr Popic, who lived in a caravan on their South-West property, mysteriously vanished, leaving behind wallets, credit cards and dirty plates on the table.

They were last seen in a Busselton car yard north of Nannup heading towards Perth, where they sold Ms McDougall's car for $4000. The money remains untouched in her bank account.

Ms McDougall's parents, Jim and Cathy McDougall, have not given up hope of finding their daughter and granddaughter safe and well, but remain convinced it was Mr Feldman who persuaded them to disappear.

"Originally this guy - Gary Feldman, as we know him now - claimed to be some sort of religious guru and he enticed them into his little flock that way," Mr McDougall said.

"(It) was September two years ago that we found he was English, and his parents were from England, and he had taken money off people, and that his name was Gary Feldman, and the real Simon Kadwell was quite a nice guy in England."

He said his daughter was a vulnerable and naive teenager when she met Mr Feldman in Victoria.

"He was operating in Melbourne when Chantelle met 'Simon Kadwell', if you want to call him that. Chantelle was only a teenager, only 16 or 17. She's 30 now," Mr McDougall said.

"That guy had other young girls with children and when they moved over there (to WA) she went over to help with the kids and it went on from there.

"I think she was fairly naive in believing in what this guy was telling her."

Mr McDougall thought they may have travelled to Brazil, after Ms McDougall suggested the family was planning a holiday there months before they disappeared. But there has been no evidence to show the group left Australia.

"We did a bit of work but everything we found was a dead end, in the end. So we never really got anywhere ... we couldn't find any reason about where they had been, where they had gone, so there was just no clues to help to find them," Mr McDougall said.

"It is unresolved and completely strange but also it is very frustrating for us and the police and Missing Persons and everybody because there are four people missing, not just one person missing."

AFP Missing Persons Co-ordination Centre team leader Rebecca Kotz agreed, saying: "This case is so baffling to police because there are no leads."

Investigators have so far worked with WA Police, Scotland Yard and US authorities. However this week, as a part of Missing Person's Week, they have stepped up the campaign by involving the global missing children network, which has 19 member countries.

"All of the profiles that are submitted (to the International Centre for Missing and Exploited Children), of which Leela was one of our Australian profiles, will be featured all around the world," Ms Kotz said.

She said the centre has started a Facebook page this year which includes every profile on AFP's website

Although Ms McDougall and her daughter's physical appearances may have changed, her parents say the pair was unlikely to go unnoticed.

"Leela was very loud child, she wasn't quiet and she loved to know exactly what you were doing.," Mrs McDougall said.

"She would go up and talk to different people and ask them what they were doing and she loved to dance, play little jokes and that.

"So I don't know how you would keep a child like that quiet, you would notice her, and Chantelle was always a very kind, thoughtful and caring sort of person.

"She liked to joke too and she was happy and things like that, and if she was in a community people would notice her."

Although they still visited WA to see Mr Popic's family - who were too traumatised by the disappearance to speak publicly - they could no longer bring themselves to go to Nannup, saying it was "too heartbreaking".

"It never gets any easier. You always relive it every day of your life, every day it gets a little bit harder," Mr McDougall said.

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