A Cult, A Killing And “Brother Julius”: What You Should Know About The Murder Of Paul Sweetman

Hartford Courant/August 2, 2018

It has all the makings of an episode of “Criminal Minds.” The arrests this week of two men in connection with the 14-year-old slaying of Paul Sweetman has revived interest in a mysterious religious cult that attracted hundreds of followers in central Connecticut during the 1970s, ’80s and ’90s. Here’s what you should know about the crime, the cult and the characters:

Who was Julius Schacknow?

Schacknow was born into a Jewish family in Brooklyn in 1924 and converted to Christianity after he served in the Navy in World War II. He was 45 when he moved to Connecticut, proclaiming at an outdoor revival in Trumbull in 1970 that he was Jesus Christ reincarnated.

Known as Brother Julius, he set up a base in Meriden and commanded national attention as the leader of a cult called “The Work.” Several hundred idealistic young people, hungry for spiritual direction, flocked to the guidance of the long-haired preacher who wore a white robe and had mesmerizing green eyes.

He led six-hour-long Sunday services in a rented Veterans of Foreign Wars hall on Route 10 in Plainville.

At least two women, including a stepdaughter, accused Schacknow in separate lawsuits in 1986 and 1988 of having sexually abused them when they were children. Their civil suits were settled out of court for undisclosed sums, and no criminal charges were ever brought against him.

Former followers said Schacknow circulated among seven "wives," staying with each one no more than one or two days a week, a regimen he followed for years. His main "wife" lived in Berlin.

He died in 1996.

What businesses did Schacknow and his followers operate?

Who was Paul Sweetman?

Driven by what they saw as a holy mission to advance The Work, Schacknow's followers throughout the 1980s oversaw the building of an expanding, multimillion-dollar real estate and construction business.

Among the businesses was J-Anne North/Century 21, a real estate company based in Southington that operated five Century 21 franchises in central Connecticut and did $100 million in sales a year.

Their contracting business, County Wide Construction Co. and its affiliate, County Wide Home Improvement and Maintenance Co., did major work for towns, private developers and homeowners.

Who was Paul Sweetman?

Sweetman, who lived in Cheshire at the time before moving to Southington, was Schacknow’s self-proclaimed “chief apostle.”

Along with apostle Joseph Joyce, he directed many of The Work’s businesses.

Sweetman had several run-ins with the law during his stewardship of the cult’s businesses. In 2000, he was sentenced to three years in federal prison on conspiracy and fraud charges and was ordered to pay $1.5 million in restitution after fraudulently obtaining a $3.2 million loan from a Hamden bank. Sweetman also improperly dipped into pension and profit-sharing plans for the cult’s businesses to back loans, according to the government.

Sweetman was married to Joanne Sweetman, Schacknow’s former wife, who died in 2011. She was known by members of the cult as the “holy spirit.”

What were the circumstances of Paul Sweetman’s death?

Sweetman had been reported missing by his wife on July 24, 2004. His disappearance received little attention given that The Work had largely fallen off the public’s radar after Brother Julius’ death eight years earlier.

Court records released this week allege that two former members of the cult, Rudy Hannon and Sorek Minery, were involved in Sweetman’s killing. His body was dismembered and parts were buried throughout New Britain. Police say the slaying was at the behest of Joanne Sweetman, who was in a struggle for control of the cult with her husband.

How did authorities solve the case?

The court records provide some details but leave questions.

In August 2004, part of a human leg was found at the Shuttle Meadow golf course in New Britain. It wasn’t until 2016 when New Britain police developed information that Southington police had an unsolved missing person’s case involving Sweetman and that the FBI had developed information in 2006 connecting Hannon to the slaying through a “proffer agreement” an agent made with Hannon.

Police obtained DNA from Sweetman’s son in April 2016 and determined that the leg was Sweetman’s. After conferring with the FBI, police found other body parts in places Hannon had told an agent about in 2006. Subsequent police interviews of Hannon and Minery led to their arrests.

The affidavit for Hannon’s arrest does not explain the lag between the 2006 FBI interview with Hannon and the 2018 arrests.
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