Children of Attleboro religious sect aided investigation

Associated Press/June 16, 2002
By Denise Lavoie

Boston -- When police knocked on the door of a Seekonk house on Nov. 8, 1999, they were looking for a 1-year-old boy they feared had been starved to death by members of a religious cult.

They soon found out there were two dead babies: Samuel Robidoux, who died three days before his first birthday; and Jeremiah Corneau, who was either stillborn or died during his birth.

But it wasn't the parents who helped investigators. It was the children of the sect members.

As Jacques Robidoux was convicted of murder Friday in the starvation death of his son, Samuel, prosecutor Walter Shea credited the children for helping authorities solve the case.

''The children told us the truth, which is more than their parents did,'' he said.

''The children, by virtue of the fact that they were children, had not yet been indoctrinated with the beliefs of the adults (in the sect). They were still innocent. They were open to the police and trusting of them.''

The sect, known as ''The Body,'' is a Christian fundamentalist group that rejects modern medicine, government and science. The group is made up of two large extended families based in southeastern Massachusetts, on the Rhode Island border.

When authorities first began investigating the disappearance of Samuel, they found 19 children living with the sect.

A judge gave the state custody of 12 of the children; another seven went to live with their fathers, who were not members of the sect.

Two years later, all but four have been adopted or permanently placed with relatives outside the sect.

The breakup of their homes and their extended sect family was sudden and traumatic. But state officials say relatives came forward quickly and offered to raise the children.

''As of our last contact, the kids were doing well. They seemed to be getting appropriate care and nurturing from their relatives,'' said Michael MacCormack, a spokesman for the state Department of Social Services.

Dennis Mingo, who left the sect in late 1998 after becoming increasingly concerned about the group's extreme beliefs, was awarded custody of his five children, who range in age from 11 to 5 years old.

Mingo's ex-wife, Michelle Robidoux Mingo, is awaiting trial as an accessory in the death of Samuel Robidoux. Prosecutors said she urged Jacques and Karen Robidoux to withhold solid food from Samuel as part of a religious prophecy. The boy died after 51 days because his mother was pregnant and was not producing enough breast milk to nourish him.

Two of the Mingo children gave authorities early help in finding the bodies of Samuel and Jeremiah after adult members of the sect refused to cooperate. They told investigators they saw two tiny bodies placed in boxes and put in the cellar of the Seekonk home.

They also described a trip to Maine, when members of the sect towed a red trailer with the two boxes inside. They said that during the three-week camping trip, they saw Jacques Robidoux, David Corneau, and two other members of the sect head into the woods with a rope and shovels.

Later, one of the Robidoux children drove up to Maine with investigators and pointed out landmarks he remembered to help pinpoint the location of the bodies in Baxter State Park.

Eventually, David Corneau led police to the bodies.

The four children of Rebecca and David Corneau parents of Jeremiah officially remain in state custody as the Corneaus continue to fight the state's bid to terminate their parental rights. All four, who range from 20 months to 8 years old, are all living with relatives who are not sect members, MacCormack said.

The Corneaus said Jeremiah was stillborn. State child welfare officials said they believe the baby died during his home birth because his lungs were not properly cleared a routine procedure in hospital births.

The Corneaus were not charged in Jeremiah's death. But when Rebecca Corneau became pregnant again in 2000, the state confined her for six weeks after she refused to have a prenatal exam. While in state custody, she gave birth to Kattereina, who was immediately placed with a foster family. The girl has since been placed with relatives.

Rebecca and David Corneau have been jailed since February for refusing to cooperate with state investigators seeking information about another child.

The Corneaus have said Rebecca had a late-term miscarriage in November. But officials from the Department of Social Services have said they believe the Corneaus may be hiding the baby.

Jacques and Karen Robidoux's two remaining biological children, a 5-year-old girl and a 3-year-old boy, are living with relatives. A 12-year-old boy and a 10-year-old boy Karen Robidoux had before she married Jacques are living with their biological fathers.

Karen Robidoux is scheduled to go to trial in September on a charge of second-degree murder in the death of Samuel.

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