CBS News correspondent Peter Van Sant investigates “The Family,” a religious cult that began in the 1960s in Melbourne, Australia and was run by Anne Hamilton-Byrne. The former yoga teacher who considered herself a reincarnated Jesus Christ collected 28 children – some were natural children of members of The Family, others acquired (some claim they were stolen) through “irregular” adoptions. Some of the children’s identities were changed using false birth certificates and given the surname Hamilton-Byrne. The children’s hair was dyed blonde, their outfits always matched. Hamilton-Byrne said: “I wanted them to look like brothers and sisters – I must admit this.” The children who were kept in seclusion were allegedly drugged daily with LSD, often starved and were beaten.
One of the children, Sarah Hamilton-Byrne, was expelled by “her mother” in 1987 for “rebellious behavior” and she went to the Victorian police. The house was raided and all children were removed from the premises. Sarah went on to become a doctor, and eventually met her biological mother. In 1993, Anne Hamilton-Byrne was found in the Catskills Mountains in upstate New York and arrested and extradited to Australia. She was charged with conspiracy to defraud and was fined $5000. Sarah Hamilton-Byrne wrote the 1995 memoir Unseen Unheard Unknown (which is no longer in print), in which she says the children were punishing for rocking. “We used to rock ourselves to sleep at night because we felt so miserable, sitting up on our haunches and swaying to and fro, or just rocking our head from side to side.” She explains that “Rocking was considered to be bad because even when we were tiny children it was interpreted as a form of sexual gratification.” Dr. Sarah (Hamilton-Byrne) Moore died in May 2016. She was 46. Anne Hamilton-Byrne is still alive (in her 90s) and living in Australia. The 2016 documentary film The Family is dedicated to her (trailer below). The 48 Hours special ‘The Family’ airs Saturday, May 29 at 9pm on CBS.