Born into an evil cult, called the Children of God, sisters Celeste, Kristina and Juliana Jones were abused from the age of three. Torn from their parents, their childhood was dominated by the warped cult leader David Berg.
The cult – first exposed by the Daily Mail in 1994 – still exists. While their father, the son of a British Army officer, is still in the cult, the three sisters have escaped its clutches. Here the eldest, Celeste Jones, 32, a clinical psychologist, who lives in Somerset with her eight-yearold daughter, gives a chilling account of life in the grip of a sinister madness.
There is an old, grainy home video from my childhood which I sometimes sit down to watch and which never fails to make me shudder. It starts innocently enough – I am six years old, a small, slim, dark-haired child dancing to pipe music for the camera. But this is no ordinary family movie.
As the camera focuses, you can see that I am naked, dancing behind a white veil.
I remember filming the video as if it was yesterday – and how the man “directing” it asked me to rub my bottom and to wriggle for the camera-The tragedy is that already at that age I had been forced to become sexualised. Quite simply, sexual grooming was an everyday part of my life.
I was born to ordinary, middle-class English parents, and by rights I should have enjoyed a perfectly normal childhood. But my parents – a former public schoolboy and rather naive young teenage girl – were members of the sinister Children of God cult, in which adult orgies and sex between adults and children were considered the highest expression of love.
Sickeningly, the cult leader David Berg, or ‘Mo’ as he called himself, claimed that God intended everyone to become part of a sexual experience. The result was a childhood of abuse and pain.
It should have been so different. My father, Christopher Jones, was born in December 1951, the son of a British Army officer. Educated at public school in Cheltenham, he studied drama at Rose Bruford College and joined the Children of God in 1973.
My mother Rebecca was born in 1957 and had a secure upbringing in the south of England. Her father was a civil engineer and her mother a devoted housewife. Rebecca was recruited during a visit to her school by the Children of God when she was just 16, and married our father a year later in 1974.
I was born on January 29, 1975, and we were sent to join a commune in Bombay which was part of the cult, and where my sister Kristina was born 18 months later.
Months later, Berg decreed that sex was the highest expression of love, and giving it was called “sharing”.
Both my parents started sharing their bodies with others – but after the birth of my brother David in April 1978, Mum became increasingly depressed.
When she met another family member, Joshua, she decided to return to England with Kristina and David. “But I insisted on keeping you,” Dad would tell me, “you’re my girl.”
I was just three years old when my mum left. When I was five, my father announced that he had fallen for our young German nanny Serena, who became my stepmother.
We lived in a commune known as Loveville, led by Paul Peloquin and his wife Marianne.
Discipline was strict. Reveille was at 7.30am, and after breakfast, I’d go to our communal school. We were shown illustrated stories which were often filled with scenes of explicit sex, nudity or gruesome demons.
When I was six, Berg requested the women to dance naked for him on the video which I still have today. I watched the women, then the other girls, strip and dance. Then a white veil was tied around my neck, which I was supposed to take off during the dance, and Paul gave directions from behind the camera: “Wiggle nicely and rub your bottom, honey.”
I simply copied the motions I had seen the adult women perform earlier. “Good, very good! Now blow kisses,” he said. Watching it now makes me feel physically sick. Nude pictures were taken of us girls on a regular basis and sent to Berg.
Sex was completely open and transparent in our world. The adults had no inhibitions about making love in front of us and actively encouraged us to explore our bodies.
My father never did anything to me in a sexual way but his friend Soloman, a Londoner, would ask me to dance for him naked in his bedroom. “You’re so sexy!” he would say.
One man, Manuel, helped teach us our dance routines. As I slept in a caravan one night with my friends, he woke me, pulled down my pants and started kissing me.
“This is how the adult women do it,” he explained. I was about seven years old and was terrified. I just wanted to scream, but nothing came out. When I watched the adults having sex, they seemed to enjoy it, so why didn’t I?
Once a week, our commune would gather for a dance night, and the adults – all those over the age of 12 – paired off for sex.
Meanwhile, during the day, everything would stop for so-called “Cuddle Time” – a euphemism for group sex.
I remember lying horrified in the clutches of my teacher, Johnny Appleseed (some of the cult members took stupid, folksy names), while other adults were having sex around us. When he finished assaulting me, he said a prayer as I lay in terror.
In June 1981, my half-sister Juliana was born to my father and Serena. We moved to a commune and during one sermon, the leader stripped off his clothes. Everyone, including the children, obediently followed.
Everyone sat together naked, arms around each other, then the men were instructed to take a sip from the communal cup and pass it on to the mouth of their female partner. When the wine came round, my adult partner took a gulp and then fixed his mouth on mine. It was disgusting.
In the commune, I was forever scared of being singled out for punishment. Once, when I angered the leader, Paul, he singled me out for public humiliation – telling me to hold out my hand and raining down blow after blow on it. The pain was so excruciating, I could barely move my wrist for a week.
Around that time, we moved to a communal house rented by the sect and were ordered to change our names – possibly because the leaders wanted us to be untraceable by our families in England. I chose Rebecca – Dad renamed himself Happy, which I thought was very odd.
Families were separated all the time. When I was eight, the leaders decided to keep me apart from Dad, and only let me see him once a week, while other couples helped to raise me.
Can you begin to imagine how distressing that was for a little girl who had already been ripped away from her mother?
All the while, bizarre missives continued to spew forth from the cult leader.
Berg decided we were all to use spoons, instead of forks. We could not use black pepper, women could not wear jeans, and men replaced their briefs with boxer shorts just because he expressed his dislike for them. Fruit and vegetables had to be soaked in salt water for 20 minutes – which made them taste awful.
Other orders were far more sinister. Paul Peloquin announced during one meeting that all adults had to write down in order of preference who they would like to be on the “date schedule” – in other words, who they wished to have sex with.
When I was 11 years old, Paul decided that my best friend Armi and I had to have sex with two boys, Patrick and Nicki, aged 12 and nine. This was to happen once a week.
Armi and I were also “scheduled” with the adult men – sex with men old enough to be my father.
It was an horrific assault on my prepubescent body, but I had to bear it; I was powerless to stop it. Now, when I look back at the terrible things that were done to me, I see that my father should have done something to stop it, but he didn’t.
How could a man stand by while his 11-year-old daughter was effectively raped by another man?
The former Fleetwood Mac band member Jeremy Spencer was a member of the cult. On the regular dates we had, he would play a tape of saxophone music. The routine was, by now, familiar – undress, pray, kiss and then perform lewd acts for him.
One night, a short, fat, bald man called Eman came into my room. I simply couldn’t bear the thought of having sex with him, and I ran to the one adult I hoped might save me – my school teacher Sally.
“He’s horrible and disgusting,” I told her.
“Sweetie, sometimes it can be difficult to share,” she replied, “but God gives us the strength to do it. Why don’t we pray together?”
I listened in disgust to her prayer, feeling betrayed and helpless – and was led back to this pervert’s room. I don’t know how long his assault lasted, but it gave me nightmares for years.
I never thought of telling Dad how I felt, especially after one evening when I walked in on him lying on the bed half-dressed with my 11-year-old friend Armi. Years later, he claimed that this young child had made a move on him. He always insisted that nothing sexual had happened.
The thought of that encounter deeply disturbed me. We never talked about any of my sexual experiences, nor did he ask me.
I spent most of my time with my foster parents, Patience and Michael. But when Michael demanded sex from me and I complained to the leaders, I was forced to write endless letters of repentance.
In 1987, I was taken to a Teen Training Camp, where we were given questionnaires and told to answer honestly.
I detailed the traumatic sexual experiences I had suffered, and as a result was “sentenced” to a month in isolation, not allowed to talk to anyone else and given only soup and water for three days. The hunger pains were my only company as I was confined in a small room set apart from everyone else.
At 14, I learned that my mother and 12-year-old sister Kristina – whom I had not seen for many years – had left the cult. Kristina had been sexually abused from the age of three by my mother’s second partner Joshua, and then other men from the cult.
When my mother finally realised just how badly her daughter had been abused, she found the courage to flee to England, along with her youngest five children.
Then, on my 18th birthday, some of the cult leaders told me that Mum and Kristina were causing a media storm in England, appearing on television and speaking out against the cult. They told me I was to be ‘media trained’ and then sent to England to meet them and defuse the situation.
My heart began beating faster at the thought of meeting Mum – and the night before I flew home, I could hardly sleep.
We were brought together at a house in North London. Mum walked into the room and the childhood image I had carried in my head starkly contrasted with the woman that stood in front of me.
She had put on weight – and she was a stranger. I had no idea what to say to her except for “Hi, Mum.” It was only when I uttered that word that she kissed me.
“You’ve grown,” she smiled. “What shoe size are you?” I had no idea.
I didn’t even know how to react to a mother overcome with emotion at seeing the young daughter she had been apart from for almost 15 years.
“I want you to know that I never wanted to leave you,” Mum said, and burst into tears. I was unsure how to respond. I should have gone to hug her, but instead I sat awkwardly in front of her.
After lunch, Mum introduced me to my sister Kristina, brother David and my grandparents – I was greeted with hugs, kisses and questions and I so wanted to get to know them better.
The leaders of the cult who had accompanied me made me draft an affidavit stating that I hadn’t been abused as a child. Lying on a desk, I found another affidavit which Kristina had written, saying she had been abused from the age of three by grown men including her stepfather.
I felt physically sick and I knew instantly that she wasn’t lying because I had suffered the same abuse. But I was too scared to leave The Family – it was the only world I knew.
Over the next year and a half, I appeared on a number of television programmes, including Sky News and the BBC, to deny the stories my mother and Kristina were openly talking about.
After a few days, I flew back to the cult. I know people will find it hard to believe that I wanted to go back to that, but I was so indoctrinated that I knew no other way.
It was to be several years before a life-changing event made me realise I had to escape. I fell pregnant by a man named Vince who was in the cult – I’d never used any contraception – and my daughter Cherie was born on August 9, 1998.
When she was just a few weeks old I began to be horrified at the debauchery that was still raging around me. I constantly suffered flashbacks to the abuse I’d suffered and I knew I could never allow my own daughter to suffer the same fate.
I flew back to England having saved the money for my fare from the secretarial job the cult had allowed me to do. Back in Britain, I joyfully joined my mother and Kristina.
Since then, I have slowly rebuilt my life. I worked as a volunteer for the charity Parentline Plus, and graduated from Nottingham Trent University in 2006 with a degree in Psychology and Education.
I live with my daughter in Somerset, where I am pursuing a career as a clinical psychologist.
Together, we have founded an organisation called RISE International which works to protect children from all forms of abuse in isolated and/or extremist cults.
The leaders of the Children of God continue to live in hiding, and have never accepted responsibility or shown remorse for those hurt by their wicked doctrines.
They call us liars, and they may well claim they no longer practise the brutal physical punishment or adultchild sex, but how does this rectify the crimes that were committed against us and so many other innocent children?
July 12, 2007