'We were psychologically, spiritually, and morally raped': Victims of obscure New York City SEX CULT that lured in members with promises of debauched parties and cheap rent reveal horrific abuse they were subjected as a form of new-age 'therapy'

Daily Mail, UK/June 25, 2023

Today, the Upper West Side is one of the wealthiest and most wholesome zip codes in Manhattan - yet just three decades ago, it was also home to an extremely closed-off and sordid sex cult that courted high-profile members and preyed upon naïve victims who were lured in with the promise of a hedonistic 'therapeutic' sanctuary.

Known as 'the Sullivanians,' the group's initial appeal was simple: cheap rent, easy sex, debauched parties, and accessible therapy, all within the heart of New York City.

Indeed so alluring was this picture-perfect face that the cult even courted a host of high-profile artists and celebrities, including Jackson Pollock, singer Judy Collins, actress Joan Harvey, and the novelist Richard Price.

But beneath the shiny veneer of utopian promise was a sinister sex-crazed leader named Saul Newton who exercised complete control over his followers under the fake premise of 'psychotherapy.'

His dogma eschewed traditional family values in favor of self-exploration and creative expansion through sexual promiscuity. Members were expected to sleep with someone new every night.  

In a conservative post-war era, Newton provided the ultimate license to live, urging members to drink copious amounts of alcohol and cheat on their spouses.

The 'nuclear family' was considered to be the root of all evil, and motherhood was a prison for both parent and child.

Nonetheless, Newton was married six times and fathered ten children from various women he saw as patients. He frequently demanded oral sex during therapy sessions and then charged them for his time.

At its peak, the Sullivanians had over 600 disciples - all living in cramped same-sex dormitories in three buildings on Manhattan's Upper West Side. To the outside world, many of them led normal lives as doctors, lawyers, academics and accountants.

Over time, the organization manipulated its followers into handing over their finances, while isolating them from family members and former friends.

As one former member described it: 'We got psychologically raped, we got spiritually raped and we got morally raped.'

For three decades since the death of its founder in 1991, the cult remained relatively unknown. Now a captivating new book titled The Sullivanians: Sex, Psychotherapy, and the Wild Life of an American Commune by Alexander Stille spotlights the dark history with unsparing detail.

The group began in 1957 by Saul B. Newton and his fourth wife, Jane Pearce as an alternative therapy program inspired by renown psychiatrist Henry Stack Sullivan, a doctor who advocated for a conversational, interpersonal approach to therapy during a time when the cold Freudian approach was the status quo.

Newton took Sullivan's teachings and twisted the into an entirely different entity that was far more radical: 'the Sullivan Institute for Research in Psychoanalysis.'

The son of Russian Jewish immigrants, Newton was a graduate of the University of Wisconsin before he moved to Chicago where he joined the Communist Party and worked as a labor organizer for shoe factory workers.

In 1937, he volunteered to fight in the Spanish Civil War against Mussolini's Fascist regime, an experience that he dined out on for years among his left-wing disciples of the Sullivan Institute.

While in Chicago, Newton began simultaneous affairs with two different women while still married to his second wife. 'He cheated on every wife he ever had, so he had no problem with that,' said one of his daughters, Esther Newton in the book.

One of these women was a successful intellectual named Jane Pearce who had finished her M.D. and trained as a psychoanalyst at the William Alanson White Institute in New York City.

They officially married in 1948 and moved into a palatial townhouse on West 77th Street, and without any medical degree of his own, started a therapy practice known as the Sullivan Institute.

From the beginning, they were the least likely two people to be leading the way to enlightenment.

'My mother was a depressive alcoholic, and my father was an irascible person, prone to anger,' said their son, Paul Newton to Stille.

Pearce chugged vodka during sessions from a baby bottle to measure the number of ounces she consumed and would sometimes offer drink to her patients.

Newton demanded oral sex from almost all his female patients and domestic help.

One Sullivanian therapist named Ellen Barrett, was known to be especially cruel to her patients. She instructed one young girl to 'kill herself' when she slept through her alarm while babysitting Amanda Newton (Saul's daughter with his fifth wife).

Years later, Ellen told Stille how she was also a victim of financial and sexual exploitation for almost two decades. Invited to live with Newton and his wives at the group headquarters, she said, 'I became kind of courtesan.'

Desperate to avoid his advances she recalled: 'Toward the end of his life, I was peeing in a bottle in my room so I didn't have to go down the hall, on the chance that he might see me.'  

For many devotees, the prospect of easy sex and a ready-made social life was enticing.

The novelist Richard Price was first introduced to the group in through his favorite professor at Columbia University, who suggested he go to therapy during a mental slump.

'It felt to me like this is just: add water and it's instant friends,' he told Stille. 'It's instant sex life. You don't have to get engaged to get laid. That's crazy.'

Sullivanians condemned conventional family values as the enemy of creative freedom. Monogamy prevented personal growth and therefore marriages were strictly banned in the program.

By the early 1960s, the Sullivanians were inviting members to live in large group apartments on the Upper West Side. The dormitory-like sleeping arrangements were separated by gender so that nobody could be tempted to form traditional family units.

They were encouraged to carry out as many sexual liaisons with each other as possible — in what Kaethe Cherney, whose siblings fell under the Sullivanite spell — referred to as 'f**k rotas.'

Mothers were thought to be particularly malevolent.

In a co-authored manifesto Newton and Pearce described motherhood  as 'an unmitigated nightmare' wrote Stille, 'a kind of death trap from which both parent and child needed to be liberated.'

Cherney, 68, recalled to DailyMail.com how her mother was instantly villainized by her two siblings after they joined the Sullivanians.

Her older brother Chris tried to convince her that their mother wanted her dead: 'You had a bad attack of croup but she fell asleep on purpose,' he said. 'She wanted you to die.'

He also told Cherney that she never wanted children, and only had them to please their late father. 'He said that Daddy chose his cancer and chose to die because he was so unhappy with mom,' recalled Cherney to DailyMail.com. 'That hurt.'

Into this fold Cherney's brother fell for 15 years. 'I don't recall ever getting a birthday or Christmas card from Chris once he joined. He well and truly left. The only time he made contact was to try and get money from mom or my grandparents.'

Similarly, a former Sullivanite named Michael Bray, was brainwashed into believing that his mother tried to kill him as a child when she accidentally handed him a hot plate without using an oven mitt, scalding his fingers.

Eventually Pearce and Newton's marriage had fallen apart over his serial cheating. Newton had fathered an illegitimate child with one his patients, a former soap opera actress named Joan Harvey who joined the group and trained to become a therapist. She gave birth to a second child in 1969.

By then, Newton began a third extra-marital affair with a young aspiring therapist named Helen Moses. Together, the four of them - Newton, his wife and two mistresses occupied a grand apartment in the exclusive Belnord building on the Upper West Side.

Pearce, though often considered the original 'brains' of the project was eventually pushed out and moved into one of the communal dormitories.

Overtime, rules became more stringent and Newton exerted increasing control over his followers and their finances.

If a female Sullivanite wished to get pregnant, she had to receive permission from Newton. Then she was forced to sleep with multiple partners in what they called a 'sperm pool' in order to create uncertainty of the child's biological father.

One of the more well-reported stories to come out of the clandestine cult was the juicy custody battle between Paul Sprecher (a former member who was banished from the cult) and DeeDee Agee (daughter of the famous writer, James Agee).  

Sprecher and Agee had fallen in love and after receiving permission from the top brass, decided to have a baby in 1983.

Under the guidance of her therapist, Agee was directed to have sex with multiple men during her fertile period.  'What you wanted to get was the highest sperm count,' said Sprecher in the book. 'So she would have sex with four guys would be in a good rotation. One extra, just in case.

'Morning and night, morning and night. And that's how we conceived David.'

But soon after their son David was born, Agee's female roommates began spying on her mothering behavior to her newborn son. When the baby cried, had trouble sleeping, spit up and felt hungry after feeding, they accused Agee of manipulating the child to need her.

At one point, Newton decreed that Agee could nurse David for only seven minutes per breast.

David was taken away and put under the care of babysitters as to prevent any maternal feelings from developing.

Disillusioned by the cult, Sprecher eventually left and sought custody in 1988, which played out in the papers. It was the first time that New Yorkers had been privy to this top secret cult that was hiding in plain sight.

The fundamental Sullivanian premise was to break the bonds between parent and child: 'splitting the atom of the nuclear family,' writes Stille, 'and scattering its pieces.'

As children got older, they were shipped off to boarding schools.

One member, known only as Josephine, told New York Magazine in 1988, how her therapist conditioned her into believing that she was 'an envious, jealous, selfish bitch and a terrible mother.’

As a result, she followed instructions to place her two daughters in boarding schools and had only seen them a handful of times over 13 years.

When her younger daughter Margaret showed up at her doorstep, drunk and penniless, Josephine was ordered to ignore her pleas.

In 1975 the group started an experimental theater group called, the Fourth Wall. Esther Newton said, 'it combined the worst of Marxism, psychoanalysis and the musical theater.'

Members were financially exploited – one was charged $2,000 for calling a therapist too early in the morning. Another was talked into making a $100K donation to the community because it would be good for his ‘personal growth.'

All of them are expected to contribute to the workload, cooking, cleaning, making stage sets and babysitting as their bank accounts were being drained to support the lifestyle of Newton and a few members at the top.

By the 1980s, they owned: a workshop in the Catskills, a house in Vermont, the Fourth Wall Theatre, a building on  West 91 Street, and 2542 Broadway. All in, it was estimated to be worth $12 million. (Roughly $44 million in today's money).

As time went on, the cult became more paranoid and increasingly violent.

On the evening of July 29th, 1985, members of the Sullivanians covered their faces with nylon stockings and broke into the neighboring apartment to destroy and brutalize its occupants.

As part of a coordinated revenge attack, they smashed sinks, toilets, TV sets, and slit open mattresses. The goal was to send a message to the neighbor, whose only crime was that he had accidentally spilt paint on the enigmatic group's outdoor wall.

It spelled the beginning of the end for the 'psychosexual' cult that had a vice-like grip on New Yorkers.

By that point, the Sullivanian Institute was splintering under the weight of defections, custody battles, negative media attention, and investigations into professional misconduct.

At least four of the group’s therapists, including Joan Harvey and Helen Moses, lost their licenses.

Adult children of the cult began connecting with one another to share the detective work of tracking down biological fathers and siblings, which made for 'a strange and ironic ending to the story of a group that had set out to dismantle the nuclear family,' Stille writes.

By that juncture, the Sullivanian Institute was buckling under defections, custody disputes, adverse media scrutiny, and inquiries into professional impropriety.

Among the group's therapists, including Joan Harvey and Helen Moses, at least four had their licenses revoked.

The grown offspring of the cult members started collaborating, engaging in the investigative task of locating biological fathers and siblings.

Stille says its a 'strange and ironic ending to the story of a group that had set out to dismantle the nuclear family.'

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