Boys Taken From Commune Were Abused, Fathers Say
SANTA ANA, Calif. (AP) _ Three boys removed from a religious commune by court order and returned to their fathers, at least temporarily, had been physically and emotionally abused by cult leaders, the fathers say.
Deputies surprised devotees of the Tony and Susan Alamo Foundation communes in Saugus on Thursday, reuniting the children with their fathers before a custody hearing in Orange County Superior Court.
″There was a lot of confusion and cries of anguish from the adults,″ Los Angeles County sheriff’s Sgt. Larry Brakebush said. ″There were people everywhere, people running around the grounds shouting.″
The boys’ mothers weren’t at the Alamo Holy Christian Church commune when the raid took place.
Alamo gained notoriety when he vowed that his wife Susan, who died of cancer in 1982, would be resurrected. He kept her embalmed body on display for six months while followers prayed.
The custody dispute involves brothers Carey and Robert Miller of Orange, who were banished from the commune after 15 years as members following a disagreement over control of a trucking firm they operated in Arkansas.
″My wife is absolutely and completely brainwashed by Tony Alamo to the extent that she has now consented to live with another man as husband and wife,″ Carey Miller, 34, said in a sworn statement. ″I am given to understand that I was now an outsider and would be prevented from seeing my wife and children.″
The men filed court statements contending the children were abused, physically and emotionally, by their mothers and cult leaders, and that they feared their sons would soon be taken to Canada if they didn’t act to regain custody. Both have begun divorce proceedings.
They also said they were wrongly separated from their families after a business dispute with church leaders, contentions the commune’s founder denied.
″They abandoned their wives and children, embezzled money from the church and lied in court about it,″ Alamo said Thursday in a telephone interview from New York.
The foundation has sued the brothers for allegedly emptying the trucking company’s bank accounts when they left the commune. Alamo said commune members agree to sign over all property to the church, something the brothers balked at doing with their trucking company.
Judge Ronald Owen granted the Millers temporary custody of the boys, ages 11, 9 and 4, until an informal mediation session April 6 and a court hearing five days later to hear arguments about permanent custody.
Attorneys for the two mothers, Carol Ann and Susan Miller, and the church said the women were in New York City selling clothes made at the commmune northwest of Los Angeles.
The Miller brothers said they fled the commune in fear of their lives in September after an altercation with Alamo and church officers.
″I never threatened anybody,″ said Alamo.
Alamo and his wife started preaching on Hollywood’s Sunset Strip in 1966. They attracted numerous young followers and formed a commune in Saugus, later moving it to Arkansas. Recently they moved their headquarters back to California but still have centers in Chicago, Miami, Arizona and Arkansas.