A mother who allegedly beat her 2-year-old daughter to death with a piece of plastic pipe while living in a cult in rural Sydney in 1987 has pleaded not guilty to murder.
Ellen Craig was extradited to Australia last year after she was arrested in Palmerston North in 2021, where she had been living for almost 30 years following the alleged murder.
Today Craig, once a member of the Ministry of God cult, appeared via video link in the Bathurst Local Court west of Sydney and pleaded not guilty to the charge.
The cult's leader, Alexander Wilon, did not make an appearance, though he faces charges of helping Craig dispose of the toddler's body by burning it in a barrel and dumping the remains in a creek.
Police have scoured the property but have been unable to locate Tillie Craig's body.
Both Craig and Wilon were due to make pleas in late February but Craig's lawyer told the court she had been assaulted while in prison and was in hospital receiving treatment at the time of her court appearance.
Several magistrates at the Bathurst Local Court have expressed annoyance at the length of time it has taken to get to this stage, with lawyers for Craig and Wilon explaining there were hundreds of pages of evidence to sort through.
Today the charges were finally committed by the Community Magistrate - which in the Australian court system means there was sufficient evidence for the case to be heard by a higher-level court.
Craig will appear for arraignment at the Sydney Supreme Court in July in preparation for a trial. Wilon is yet to enter a plea and is due back before the Bathurst Local Court next month.
The Ministry of God cult
Alexander Wilon founded the Ministry of God cult in the late 1980s and ran it out of a secluded property in Porters Retreat, several hours' drive west of Sydney.
Wilon went by the name Alfio Nicolosi at the time and held prayer sessions at the property.
After the cult disbanded, Nicolosi changed his name and became a Justice of the Peace and a security consultant, conducting firearms training and other security training for a range of government organisations.
Some of the allegations from Craig's time at the cult were put on record in the late 1980s when one of the cult's ex-members, Margaret*, testified to the Australian Supreme Court about alleged abuse she claimed she saw there.
Margaret, not her real name, told the Herald she tried to contact Craig after they had both moved back to New Zealand.
"I'd call [Craig's] mother every six months or so and I'd ask about Tillie."
After the alleged murder, Craig moved home to New Zealand where she worked at the Palmerston North Women's Refuge under a different name.
Tillie was never officially reported as a missing person and authorities were only made aware of her disappearance when a witness came forward to Australian police in 2019.
However, Tillie's father Gerard Stanhope had been searching for his daughter for years, including leaving messages for her on an Australian missing persons page long after Tillie was presumed to have died.
"I spent years looking for you. It almost consumed me," he wrote.
Stanhope told the Herald his former partner changed her name when she moved to New Zealand.
Craig was at her Kāinga Ora home when police came knocking on her door in November 2021 as part of a joint operation with the New South Wales Police, while Wilon was arrested at an address in rural Sydney at the same time.