ALLEGATIONS OF STOLEN CHILDREN, DRUGS, ABUSE AND A LEADER WHO CLAIMED TO BE THE SECOND COMING OF CHRIST -
"48 HOURS" INVESTIGATES THE TRAIL OF A CULT THAT BEGAN IN AUSTRALIA AND LED THE FBI TO NEW YORK
48 HOURS PRESENTS: "The Family," Saturday, Feb. 24, 9:00-11:00 PM, ET/PT
To some, Anne Hamilton-Byrne was a yoga teacher with a penchant for plastic surgery. To others, she was the evil leader of the Family, an apocalyptic cult with about 500 followers and more than 28 children. Some of the children were stolen at birth from unwed mothers, while others were the children of cult members.
Peter Van Sant brings viewers their dramatic stories in an encore of 48 HOURS PRESENTS: "The Family" to be broadcast Saturday, Feb. 24 (9:00-11:00 PM, ET/PT) on the CBS Television Network. In the two-hour broadcast, Van Sant and 48 HOURS track the cult from Melbourne, Australia to the Catskills region of New York.
48 HOURS PRESENTS: "The Family" is a terrifying story of one woman's attempt to build a perfect race through a collection of 28 children, some of whom were forced to have their hair bleached blonde, were home-schooled on an isolated property, and were injected with LSD as part of an initiation ritual.
"They were mean. They starved us. They beat us," says Leeanne Creese, who lived in the cult from birth until she was 17. "They did all sorts of horrible things to us."
48 HOURS PRESENTS: "The Family" is also the story of the incredible determination of a detective in Australia and an agent at the FBI to stop Hamilton-Byrne before the victim count could get higher.
"She's the most evil person that I've ever met," says Lex de Man, a former detective with the Victoria Police Department in Melbourne, Australia, who spent years trying to stop Hamilton-Byrne and her husband Bill Hamilton-Byrne.
Anne Hamilton-Byrne formed the Family in 1963. She changed some of the children's names to her own and in some cases made other followers leave their marriages to have children with new partners she selected. Some members of the Family gave their babies to her. But some came from unwed mothers, who were tricked into signing over their newborns to be raised by the cult, police say. Hamilton-Byrne was helped by members of the Family who were doctors and nurses at a nearby hospital. The children of the cult, now adults, tell 48 HOURS harrowing stories of the treatment they received by some of the women known as "Aunties," loyal cult members who cared for the children. Many of the children had no idea who their real parents were until the cult was broken up.
But in 1987, after years of rumors and speculation about what was going on under Hamilton-Byrne's guidance, police stormed a rural property in Australia to rescue seven abused kids. Because there was no physical evidence and no prior police reports, the "Aunties" who had abused the children only faced charges relating to welfare fraud. Bill Hamilton-Byrne joined his wife overseas, and for years their whereabouts were unknown to authorities in Australia.
Finding Bill and Anne Hamilton-Byrne became de Man's obsession. He received a break in the case when Anne called one of the children who grew up in the cult from the U.S. Enter FBI Special Agent Hilda Kogut in New York, who would track her down to a farmhouse in the Catskills region.
How was the Family able to thrive in Melbourne for so many years, and why did it take so long for Australian officials to respond? And would those children of the cult ever get justice?
"Even today," de Man tells Van Sant, "the Family still lives in Australia. It still exists. There are still followers."
48 HOURS PRESENTS: "The Family" is a co-production with Australian filmmakers Rosie Jones and Anna Grieve. Paul LaRosa is the senior coordinating producer for 48 HOURS. Jones and Grieve are the senior producers. Clare Friedland and Kat Teurfs are the producers. Gabriella Demirdjian is the associate producer. Phil Tangel, Joan Adelman, Marcus Balsam, Richard Barber, Marlon Disla and Diana Modica are the editors. Linda Martin is the update producer. Anthony Batson is the senior broadcast producer. Barbara Ghammashi is executive producer with Women Make Movies. Nancy Kramer is the executive story editor. Susan Zirinsky is the senior executive producer.
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