(Reuters) – Former Nazi Paul Schaefer, who founded a secretive German cult in Southern Chile in the 1960s and was later convicted of sexually abusing children, died of heart failure in a prison hospital Saturday, officials said.
He was 88.
Courts also investigated Schaefer for keeping a huge cache of illegal weapons and helping former right-wing dictator Augusto Pinochet’s secret police kidnap and torture political prisoners.
For decades, the residents of Villa Baviera, initially called Colonia Dignidad, submitted to the authoritarian whims of Schaefer, who banned almost all contact with the outside world at the commune 210 miles south of Santiago, the capital.
In 2006, former members of the cult issued a public apology and asked for forgiveness for 40 years of sex and human rights abuses in their community, saying they were brainwashed by Schaefer, who many viewed as God.
He was in jail serving a 20-year sentence for sexually abusing children at the Colonia Dignidad, some during Chile’s military dictatorship.
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The former Baptist preacher established the colony in southern Chile in 1961, after fleeing Germany to escape separate child abuse charges.
While under Schaefer’s control, most of the commune’s residents are believed to have been held there against their will.
He had fled Chile in 1997 and was convicted of sex crimes in absentia. He was found hiding in Argentina in March 2005 and sent back for a fresh trial.
A Chilean congressional report has said that Colonia Dignidad – which means Dignity Colony – operated as a “state within a state” during the Pinochet regime, thanks to Schaefer’s close ties to the country’s ruling elite.
Chile’s government took over the 13,000-hectare (32,000-acre) colony in 2005.
After Chile’s courts began investigating Mr. Schaefer for sexual abuse charges in the late 1990s, he fled to Argentina, where he hid until he was found in 2005.
After being returned to Chile, he was sentenced to 20 years in prison for sexually abusing 25 children.
Mr. Schaefer was also sentenced to three years for violating weapons control law after a huge military arsenal was found on Colonia Dignidad grounds, to seven years for homicide and to three years for torture.
Sebastián Piñera, Chile’s president, said Saturday that while Mr. Schaefer now cannot be judged in court for additional crimes he was suspected of, “there is another justice that never ends, which is divine justice.”