The notorious cult leader Anne Hamilton-Byrne has died in Melbourne.
Hamilton-Byrne, guru of a cult known as The Family, is reported to have died at an aged care home on Thursday night. She was 98 and had had dementia for many years.
From the 1960s until the 1980s, the cult treated children cruelly and violently, bringing them up in virtual isolation from the rest of the world at a base north-east of Melbourne.
Members of the sect were reported to have stolen babies, while others were brainwashed into handing over their children to Hamilton-Byrne and “aunties” to be raised as part of a so-called master race.
The children reported having their hair dyed platinum blonde, being drugged with LSD, beaten and starved.
Former Victoria Police detective Lex De Man, who led investigations into the cult, said he had received a number of confirmations on Friday that Hamilton-Byrne had died.
“The normal reaction when you receive the news of the death of someone is one of sadness,” he said. “It’s quite the contrary for me today. Today was a great day in that she is now dead. She can rot.
“The lives that she affected and her evil deeds, I shed no tear. Not one drop.”
De Man said he had spoken to a number of survivors since news broke of her death.
“She left a trail of broken lives, ruined people and the one good thing I’ve seen is that the former children who were victims of some horrible things have moved on with their lives and they’re good people,” he said.
“I think of them today and what they went through.”
In 1995, former cult victim Dr Sarah Moore published a book about her experiences bringing it to even wider attention.
In March, the ABC aired a three-part series on Hamilton-Byrne called The Cult of the Family, made by documentarian Rosie Jones. In 2016, Jones had also released a feature-length documentary on the cult, and a book co-authored with journalist Chris Johnston.
Victims have attempted to pursue Hamilton-Byrne through the supreme court to get justice for the abuse of more than 20 children.
Despite police raids on the Lake Eildon property and a massive investigation, the only penalties ever imposed on Hamilton-Byrne and her husband and sect co-founder Bill Hamilton-Byrne were $5,000 fines for falsifying a statutory declaration.
De Man said his one regret was that Hamilton-Byrne never faced justice for more serious crimes.
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