Capture of wanted killer sheds light on life in polygamist cult

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The revelation that one of Australia’s most wanted killers took sanctuary in an obscure polygamist cult in the Cairns hinterland has finally lifted the veil on the secretive sect, which former followers say has thrived for more than 30 years.

The Australian says:

Headed by millionaire property owner Daniel Landy-Ariel, the Jesus People preach an orthodox Christian lifestyle in which adherents speak ancient Aramaic and some forms of violence against women and children are allegedly encouraged.

Guided by their spiritual father, the cult’s 150 followers are crammed into urban properties in Sydney and Cairns, as well as three massive kibbutzes in remote areas of Queensland and NSW.

Police are now investigating the extent to which cult members may have sheltered convicted murderer Luke Andrew Hunter, 42, and whether or not they helped him obtain work with Queensland Health.

Hunter changed his name to Ashban Cadmiel, and there is no suggestion the cult was aware of his true identity. […]

ike other cult members, Hunter took a biblical name and he worked as a groundskeeper at the Herberton hospital in far north Queensland from 1997 to this year. His arrest shed light on the reclusive group, with several former members coming forward to describe the culture of fear they say exists, , especially for women, who say they are “sub-citizens”.

Mr Landy-Ariel, 59, who admits taking two wives, has long shunned media attention. But in an affidavit, obtained exclusively by The Weekend Australian, the man known as “Reshan” (or “the head”) last year gave an official history of his sect, its practices, and defended himself against allegations levelled against him.

“Any number of people ejected from or rejecting the community could use us as their pincushion,” Mr Landy-Ariel said. […]

But a former follower, who asked to be known as Jeremiah, said he had witnessed “some of the worst violence” during his nine-year stint. “I saw a chair smacked over a girl’s back. I saw another girl who had a brick put to her head,” he told The Weekend Australian. […]

Mr Landy-Ariel wrote how he established the group on the streets of Cairns in the 1970s by running a Christian coffee shop before forming a kibbutz in Atherton. The sect, also known as the Jesus Group of north Queensland, believed in the total separation of church and state. The group is therefore not registered as a church and does not register its “marriages” with authorities.

AAP reports:

The cult’s leader Dawid Landy-Ariel told Network Seven on Friday he was not aware of the killer’s past despite him being, at the time, number four on Australia’s most wanted list.

Mr Landy-Ariel said he probably would not have taken Hunter in if he had known he had murdered someone.

But he said he believed Hunter was a genuine person.

“We met him out on the street and he seemed like a genuine person and I really believe he is,” he said.

“I’m not going to condemn somebody to hell just because they lied about their past to protect themselves.

“What happens when someone confesses their sins to a priest is up to the church, (as to whether) to dob him in.

Earlier this week the Courier-Mail said that Hunter’s split with the north Queensland Jesus Group sect may prove to have been his undoing:

Detective Inspector Ed Kinbacher said the former jailbird appeared to have severed ties with the sect.

“I understand at the time (of his arrest) he was estranged from the group and had no direct links with them,” Inspector Kinbacher said.

“Those immediately around him had no clue as to his background. He was just someone they met and who had kept quiet about his past, naturally enough.”

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This post was last updated: Feb. 18, 2011