Category:Child Abduction

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Since the early 1970s, there have been increasing reports of children of former members of the Children of God (now known as The Family or The Family International) being abducted and moved to other countries to prevent their parents, law enforcement authorities and child welfare agencies from finding them. In many cases, parents whose children remained in the unlawful custody of the Family have found it difficult or impossible to find their children and get them back. Even in cases where Interpol arrest warrants have been issued and law enforcement agencies around the world have visited Family Homes looking for missing children, The Family has usually refused to cooperate in the investigation and return the missing children to their parents who have lawful custody.

There have been many cases of alleged child abduction in the Family. Only a few are listed here. One of the earliest reports of child abduction by members of the organization was noted in a September 1974 report by the New York Attorney General's Charity Frauds Bureau:

Just two weeks prior to the birth of her second child (her third pregnancy) some COG members wanted to know how to have intercourse with pregnant girls. David Berg ruled that someone would have to demonstrate. Paul Berg volunteered but Sarah refused to cooperate. Her husband then beat her across the stomach with a "two by four". She sought medical assistance and gave birth in a "systems doctor's" office over the objections of the family who follow Berg's admonition that the cult is to have nothing to do with "system doctors".

As punishment her son was taken away from her and she and the new child were kept prisoner in a trailer. On the second night she slipped past the guard who had walked away without permission. She walked six miles carrying her new-born daughter and escaped. She later returned, with others to the COG Thurber commune to get her infant son, she was refused by Paul Berg and John Treadwell to obtain the child.

She obtained a final decree of divorce in 1973. After her husband's death, she wrote the attorneys for the COG asking their help in locating her missing son, (then age 2 1/2). She was advised that they "had determined through appropriate inquiry that at the time she and her husband separated, her son was left in the custody of her husband;" and that COG was unaware of her son's whereabouts. Testimony elicted from other witnesses established that her son is under the care and custody of a COG member known as "David Z" or "David Zebulon". Information in our files leads us to believe that he and the child may be in British Columbia. Sarah Berg has been unable to locate her infant son from the time she escaped from the COG commune to the present.

Source: Final Report on the Activities of the Children of God to Hon. Louis J. Lefkowitz Attorney General of the State of New York — 1974-09-30.

An investigation into the whereabouts of four missing children, whose mother, Ruth Frouman, was expelled from the group in July 1987, eight months after being diganosed with breast cancer, and not allowed to leave with her children, resulted in police raids on 10 Family Homes in Buenos Aires, Argentina in September 1993. Mrs. Frouman alleged that when she tried to leave the group in 1987 with her three younger children, she was held in a warehouse in Corrientes, Argentina where she was starved and physically and psychologically tormented for several weeks until she had a complete mental and physical breakdown and was then expelled from the group without her children. She and her children also alleged that the Family member who abducted her children, Stuart Harris Baylin, violently abused her and her children for many years and that his "domestic dispute and child discipline methods resulted in bleeding, black eyes, broken bones, bruises, and severe pain."

After her death, the investigation continued at the request of the children's father. In April 1993, Claire Borowik and Stuart Baylin returned two of the abducted children but refused to say where the younger two children were. It was later discovered that the missing children were taken to Uruguay, Brazil and Mexico. It has been alleged that senior members of the Family, including Claire Borowik, Mario Roberto Torres and Alice Sophia Dow, participated in a conspiracy to abduct the Frouman children and provided financial assistance and other support to Stuart Harris Baylin to flee with them to other countries a step ahead of law enforcement agencies in the United States, Argentina, Brazil, Paraguay, Uruguay and Mexico. Some Family spokespersons claimed that Interpol and the U.S. State Department pressured Argentine authorities to raid Family homes in Argentina because they had been infiltrated by agents of the Cult Awareness Network.

More than 10 years after Ruth Frouman first tried to leave the group with her children and more than 6 years after her death, the two remaining missing Frouman children were finally reunited with their father and other relatives in July 1997. In April 2005, official Family International spokesperson Claire Borowik claimed that, in April 1993, the Frouman children, then aged 12 to 20 (anyone under 21 is considered a minor in Argentina), were "technically not minors." [1]

Another case is that of the children of April Richert, whose children were abducted by a member of the group and later found in 1987 by a private detective, Michael Intravia of Allied Intelligence, in Peru and Mexico. There was also the case of the children of Candy Ann Pickus. Mrs. Pickus alleged, in civil suit filings and police reports, that after she left the Children of God in Spain with her children, returned to Hawaii, filed for divorce and obtained full custody of all her children, that, in Sepetmber 1980, Brian Edward Pickus, four hired thugs and an undertermined number of members of the Children of God broke into her house, beat her up and kidnapped two of her children. Shortly thereafter, an Interpol arrest warrant was issued for Brian Edward Pickus for the crimes of burglary, kidnapping and unlawful flight to avoid prosecution. In 1989, Brian Pickus was arrested in Bahia Blanca, Argentina and held pending extradition to the United States. The Family promptly posted $70,000 USD in cash to bail him out of jail and provided lawyers to appeal his extradition. After a lengthy appeals process, in July 1998, the Supreme Court of Argentina affirmed the decision of a lower court and ordered him captured and extradited to the United States. However, he eventually fled to Brazil where he is currently living as a fugitive and a full-time member of the Family International. Yet another kidnapping case involved the children of Pamela Eckhardt, who, according to a story in the Atlanta Journal Constititution, disappeared in 1979 and were later found by police detectives in a Family Home in Thailand in 1988.

On October 17, 1983, Peter Bevan Riddell kidnapped a 17-month-old child from Australia and fled to Japan. The child's mother went to Japan to find her baby and reported the abduction to law enforcement agencies. In 1984, Riddell was convicted in Japan of child kidnapping and forgery and deported to Australia. After he was released from prison, he returned to the Family to work for Karen Zerby and David Berg.

The Family has argued that investigations into the whereabouts of missing children in the Family are part of a conspiracy by the Jews, the Anti-Christ, disgruntled defectors and the anti-cult movement against them. In response to a question about cases where Interpol and other law enforcement agencies are seeking the return of the children of former members, David Berg wrote:

18. QUESTION: SOMETIMES A WIFE HAS LEFT THE FAMILY, VOLUNTARILY DESERTING HER HUSBAND & BABY, WHO REMAIN. However, later on she decides that she wants the baby with her & starts trying to get it back, even calling in the Police, INTERPOL & detectives who harass the local Homes, watch the mail boxes, open the mail, etc., even if the husband & baby are no longer there. This usually causes a lot of problems for the Family, especially local Homes. Wouldn't it be best to sacrifice the baby or child for the sake of the entire Work in such a case, give it back to the backslidden parent?--WS Staff Member.

ANSWER: When the mate has actually deserted the Family & his or her own Family mate & children & later wants them back to take them into the System, we're certainly opposed to that! I think we should do everything we can to keep'm from letting the backslidden mate steal the children! In most of those cases the best is for the Family mate & his child or children to flee, usually to some other country somewhere else & get lost far away! If they keep hassling the Home where he was, all you can do is say, "Well, he's not here any more & we don't know where he is." It's not your fault he left. We've had plenty of cases like that, & that's the only way we've been able to help the Family mates keep the child, because the System is against us & its laws are against our Members, very unjust & unfair & anti-Christ & often of the Devil!

Source: Answers To Your Questions! No. 5 (DO 1458, 4/83)


See also: Child custody, Divorce, Marriage