ATTLEBORO — Roland Robidoux, the founder of a local religious cult whose beliefs led to the starvation death of his grandson, has died, apparently after a lengthy illness, authorities said Wednesday.
Police were called to the group’s home at 196-198 Knight Ave. late Tuesday afternoon where Robidoux, 65, was found dead, police Capt. David Proia said.
Family members called police about 4:15 p.m. to report the death about an hour after Robidoux died, police said.
His body was taken to the state Medical Examiner’s Office, but it was undetermined Wednesday whether an autopsy would be performed.
It is unclear what illness Robidoux had, but family members told police he had complained about his sinuses and of headaches and neck pain, police said.
The cause of death is under investigation by Attleboro police Detectives James Cote and Russell Castro.
Also investigating are state police detectives assigned to the Bristol County District Attorney’s Office.
Proia said Robidoux’s death was not suspicious, and that the investigation was routine for a death at home.
Home when police arrived were Robidoux’s widow, Georgette, and son-in-law and daughter, David and Rebecca Corneau.
Roland Robidoux, who worked for years as a chimney sweep, is the second sect elder to die at the home. In March 2002, co-founder Roger Daneau, 62, Karen Robidoux’s father, died at the home. Karen Robidoux was the mother of the infant who died of starvation.
A charismatic and religious man, Robidoux formed a Bible study group of extended family members that later changed into a cult with strict controls on the thoughts and beliefs of its followers.
The insular cult shunned strangers and even family members who did not share their rejection of modern institutions, such as the medical establishment, the legal system and public education.
Authorities began investigating the group, which called itself “ The Body,” after Robidoux’s grandson, Samuel, was starved to death by his parents shortly before his first birthday in April 1999.
Members of the group believed they were obeying orders from God.
Because of the group’s beliefs, the boy’s death was known only to its members, who brought the boy’s body to a state park in Maine and buried it.
Authorities did not find out what occurred until November 1999, after a former member went to police with suspicions about the boy’s death and a page from a journal depicting Samuel’s demise.
Robidoux’s son and the boy’s father, Jacques Robidoux, is now serving a life sentence without parole after he was convicted in 2002 of first-degree murder.
The boy’s mother, Karen Robidoux, argued that she was brainwashed by the male-dominated cult, was found innocent of murder in a separate trial, but was sentenced to time served on a lesser assault charge.
Pardon, who conducted “ exit counseling” for Karen Robidoux and other cult members, holds Roland Robidoux responsible for Samuel’s death and ruining the lives of Jacques and Karen Robidoux.
“ It’s unfortunate that he was not held accountable at the end of his life or to bear in public responsibility for what, I think, is total responsibility for what occurred to them,” said Pardon, executive director of the New England Institute of Religious Research.
“ His son should not be in jail for the rest of his life. Roland was really responsible. He should have come forward during the trial or soon afterwards to take responsibility. But it’s too late now,” Pardon said.
Bristol County District Attorney Paul Walsh Jr. did not charge Roland Robidoux with any crimes, citing state law which limits responsibility of care of a child to the parents.
Jacques and Karen Robidoux withheld solid food from Samuel for 51 days following a perceived prophecy they believed Jacques’ sister, Michelle Mingo, received from God.
Mingo pleaded guilty in 2004 to being an accessory after the fact of assault and battery on a child, and was released after spending four years in jail.
Cult members stonewalled authorities about what happened to Samuel even after Walsh began a grand jury investigation.
Several cult members, including Roland Robidoux, were jailed for weeks for refusing to testify to the grand jury.
Cult member David Corneau finally broke the silence of the group and led authorities to the graves of Samuel and his own son, Jeremiah, who was still-born four months after Samuel died.
Before Corneau decided to cooperate, Massachusetts and Maine authorities had searched Baxter State Park for the graves without success.
At the time, Corneau was battling with authorities for custody of his own children, who were taken away by the state Department of Social Services along with other cult children.
Besides his wife Georgette, 64, and son Jacques, Roland Robidoux is survived by four daughters, Trinette Daneau, Michelle Mingo, Rebecca Corneau and Nicole Kidson. Kidson and her husband, Richard, left the cult before Samuel Robidoux died.