She lived in a world where parents willingly gave up their children to a man who declared himself “The Light of the World.”
A world where children were beaten for letting anyone but fellow cult members see them, and their genitals were pierced with a lock to be controlled by this so-called prophet. It was a world unimaginable to most people, but it was her reality for seven years, from the time she was 5 until her mother broke free of George Feigley’s grip.
Three decades later, that world still haunts her through dreams occasionally featuring Feigley and his flock of followers. She was shocked to learn from a reporter that the man who beat her, made her call him “Master,” and photographed her in graphic sexual poses would be released from prison this week.
“He’s not a man who should be out with society,” said the woman, who asked to be called “J.” The Patriot-News has a policy of not identifying the victims of sexual crimes. “He preys on — at least he did — the people who believed in him.”
And he could do it again, said J, other victims and prosecutors.
On Friday, Feigley, 68, will leave the State Correctional Institution at Laurel Highlands, a minimum-security prison near Somerset, a free man. He will not be on probation or parole, and he will not have to comply with Megan’s Law when he returns to his home near 13th and Derry streets in Harrisburg.
He will have served the maximum time to which he was sentenced for rape convictions in 1975, and subsequent convictions for escapes and conspiracy to commit a sex crime while in prison.
Feigley, who was a rare-book dealer, denied that the Neo-American Church he started at his Harrisburg home was a sex cult. He also denied abusing the girls and told a newspaper reporter in March 1984 that his conviction and charges filed later against the women in his group were part of a conspiracy to destroy the religion.
His victims and his prosecutors, however, have the scars and the evidence to prove otherwise.
Basing his description on personality tests given to Feigley after his conviction, a psychologist described Feigley as a “very bright, imaginative, self-centered, self-seeking, grandiose, highly motivated, but confused man” who was seemingly guilty of a “neurotic need for continuing support and love.”
Words written by Feigley, whose IQ is above average, to his flock of at least 20 show the power he wielded even from prison:
“I require total devotion to my desires. You may not have a will nor desire of your own which do not project my wishes. I expect this complete commitment from my wives, my concubines and my children … Make yourselves my delight. If there is discord among you, I will have you whipped.”
Feigley wielded fear like a conductor’s baton. He forced the children to obey his commands for sex with him and other cult members, often with onlookers and to be photographed using sexual devices.
One of the cult children contacted for this story declined to be interviewed out of fear, even though only a few cult members, including Feigley’s wife, remain.
Some of the cult children, who are now grown, have moved away from the Harrisburg area, but one, a girl known as “Sunflower,” continues to associate with them.
Fear is one way psychopaths like Charles Manson and Jim Jones keep a stronghold on the people they victimize, said Mark Safarik, who spent 22 years as an investigator in the FBI’s behavioral sciences unit.
Safarik can’t say for certain whether Feigley is a psychopath, because a person must be tested for that, but he concluded after reading about the case that Feigley possesses many psychopathic traits.
What makes Feigley so dangerous, Safarik said, is his charismatic personality and his ability to identify those, particularly those with low self-esteem, who would be receptive to him. Then he grooms them.
People like Feigley can’t be changed in prison, he said.
George Feigley was so charismatic that he persuaded parents, including a psychiatrist, to hand over their children for “religious training” that involved sex acts performed on children, starting from birth.
Two prison escapes, a deadly breakout attempt, and a conviction for a sex-related crime while in prison followed in the years after George Feigley’s 1975 conviction for raping three girls he was teaching at a school he opened four years earlier.
Those events helped to secure Feigley’s place as one of Dauphin County’s notorious criminals. His sordid tale can be found in a patchwork of newspaper clippings, court records and recollections of those who grew up in the cult.
Feigley was 34 when he went to prison, and he’ll be 68 when he’s released from the State Correctional Institution at Laurel Highlands this week. His release adds another twist to his 35-year saga.
Church founded in 1971
Before he was labeled a cult leader and sex offender, Feigley was known as George G. Stoctay, who fancied himself an astrologer, a rare-book dealer, a photographer and local historian. He published two books on Dauphin County’s history and was considered a knowledgeable source on history books about sorcery, witchcraft and erotica.
In 1971, the Philadelphia native founded a church and private school, which he ran at his home in the 1300 block of Derry Street in Harrisburg. The Neo-American Church School operated under Feigley’s leadership for four years before it came under suspicion.
A mother of two of the school’s students went to the Dauphin County district attorney’s office in early 1975 to explain her suspicions of sexual abuse. Feigley denied having sex with the girls, blaming their accusations on rebuffed schoolgirl crushes, but a jury didn’t believe him and he was convicted of raping three girls, ages 11, 13 and 15.
His wife, Sandra Feigley, was found guilty in the same trial of corrupting the morals of a minor. She served 2 years’ probation while her husband was sent to prison.
“J,” a former cult child, recalled hearing about Feigley’s 1976 escape from SCI Rockview when her parents joined the group two years later. She was 5.
Feigley had scaled the prison wall and jumped onto a waiting motorcycle with another person and disappeared with his followers.
It took police two years, but they found him living in a commune he established on a farm in Grafton, W.Va., in September 1978. The group had started a private school and had two students enrolled at the time of his arrest.
J was introduced to George Feigley at that West Virginia farm. There, she and other children given to Feigley by their parents were abused mentally, physically and sexually by the man who referred to himself as “The Light of the World.” The abuse by cult members, at Feigley’s direction, went on even after police descended on the farm to take him away.
Feigley was back in prison less than a month when he persuaded a fellow prisoner to help him escape from the county jail while waiting extradition.
Clearly still in control of his flock, George Feigley and his followers moved from town to town to evade police. J has memories of those places, including a farm in the mountains near Sneedville, Tenn., where FBI agents tracked him down and returned him to prison two months after his second escape. Feigley has been in prison since then.
Those whom George Feigley left behind when he was returned to prison became obsessed with freeing him, devising elaborate escape plans involving hot-air balloons and helicopters that were never carried out.
One of their less eccentric plans killed Gilbertson, who joined the cult, and another one of Feigley’s followers.
2 in cult died in sewer line
The August 1983 deaths of Laura Seligman, 26, and Gilbertson, who had changed his name to James Gilbert, 27, rattled the group, J said. She was about 10 when the two cult members drowned in a sewer line close to Western Penitentiary near Pittsburgh, where Feigley spent time after his second escape. They were swept into the Ohio River by a sudden rain that flooded the line.