Jim Jones controlled the most notorious American cult of all time — the Peoples Temple. In 1978, Jones’ leadership brought on the largest mass suicide and cult murder in modern history, where over 900 people died. We investigate how Jones and his idea of utopia led to such a devastating mass murder.
With Greg Polcyn & Vanessa Richardson
Mystery. Manipulation. Murder. Cults are associated with all of these. But what really goes on inside a cult? More specifically, what goes on inside the minds of people who join cults and leaders who start them? Every Tuesday, Greg and Vanessa (co-hosts of the podcast Serial Killers) explore the history and psychology behind the most notorious cults. Cults is part of the Parcast Network and is a Cutler Media production. Ad-free archives of episodes six months or older are now available through Stitcher Premium.
In 1993, The Branch Davidians—under David Koresh’s leadership—were raided by ATF agents just outside of Waco, Texas. Following the deadly raid, The Branch Davidians and the FBI underwent a 51-day stand-off that ended in the deaths of more than 70 Branch Davidians, including Koresh and about two dozen children.
David Koresh, born Vernon Wayne Howell, became an internationally name in 1993 as he led many of his followers in The Branch Davidians, and himself, to violent deaths after a 51-day standoff with the FBI. We focus on Koresh and how his childhood filled with abandonment and rejection led to his troubling reign as a controlling cult leader.
In part two of Aum Shinrikyo, we take a deeper look at the members of one of the most notorious cults in modern history. Shoko Asahara, the cult’s leader, established deep connections with his followers. These connections created a deadly devotion as the group worked toward destroying humanity.
In the 1980’s, a Japanese Buddhism-inspired cult, called Aum Shinrikyo, formed under a leader who tried to end the world. Greg and Vanessa explore Aum Shinrikyo—one of the most feared cults in history—its leader Shoko Asahara, and the group’s desire to eliminate humankind.
Greg and Vanessa further examine how Warren Jeffs’ leadership impacted the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of the Latter Day Saints. Jeffs inherited the role as Prophet of the Church, giving him more power and control over his followers. Jeffs abused this power, leading many of his followers down a path of everlasting pain and destruction.
Greg and Vanessa explore the twisted life of Warren Jeffs and his influence on the Fundamentalist Cult of Jesus Christ of the Latter Day Saints. Jeffs’s upbringing helped shape him into a cult leader who controlled his followers’ every move—from limiting their access to education to dictating who could marry who. His desire for power and control led him to the FBI’s 10 Most Wanted List.
As the Children of God grew, David Berg began passing his own perverse thoughts on to his followers as scripture in what were deemed the “Mo Letters”. From “flirty fishing”, the exploitation of women to recruit new followers using sex as an incentive, to pedophilia, to child pornography, the Children of God steadily grew into a cult centered around abuse. Despite the intervention of anti-cult groups, and their transition into what is now called The Family International, nothing could be done to repair the mental and emotional damage inflicted on the second generation of the Children of God.
The child of missionaries and grandson of a reverend, David Berg was destined for religious leadership. But, as a victim of sexual abuse who never received support, David developed twisted ideas. Greg and Vanessa discuss this apocalyptic cult’s charismatic leader, the concept of dual validation and how the cycle of abuse influenced David Berg’s beliefs.
Leader of the Ant Hill Kids, Roch Thériault, took advantage of Canada’s cultural mosaic to cut his followers off from society as they awaited doomsday. Greg and Vanessa examine the young followers who fell under Roch’s sway, and why they stayed as Roch tortured, mutilated, and murdered loyal followers and their children.
The Ant Hill Kids, one of the most notorious cults in Canadian history, was lead by Roch Thériault. Believing the world was coming to an end, Roch lead his followers into the woods where he brutally mutilated and tortured his followers and their children in the 1970’s and 1980’s. The master manipulator, he was even able to convince psychiatrists and psychologists that he was sane. Greg and Vanessa track Roch’s evolution from a boy who loved to read to a brutal cult leader.
Anne Hamilton’s “Family” commonly called The Great White Brotherhood of Initiates and Masters - operated for 30 years, raising stolen children, planning for the apocalypse, and taking LSD. This week, Greg and Vanessa dig into the cult’s crimes, specifically the abuse the Family’s “perfect” children endured and how the harrowing actions of one of these children led to this cults downfall.
All Anne-Hamilton Byrne wanted was a family, with children. Unfortunately, she would stop at nothing to get it, even if it meant starting an abusive cult. Greg and Vanessa dig into Anne’s rough childhood, eastern religious influences, and powerful charisma. How was Anne able to amass over 500 followers, and quietly kidnap 28 children?
Over a thousand people were lured into Credonia Mwerinde and Joseph Kibwetere’s cult, believing that Credonia had spoken to the Virgin Mary herself. Once they joined, guilt, isolation, and even the fear of AIDS kept members psychologically trapped within the Movement’s compounds. Greg and Vanessa examine the leaders’ manipulation tactics and study the horrific destruction inflicted when the cult became too much for Credonia to handle.
In a country torn apart by civil war, Credonia Mwerinde and Joseph Kibwetere were united by their desire for power and reverence. Claiming that they were messengers of God called upon to save the world from its impending apocalypse, Mwerinde and Kibwetere preyed upon the vulnerable and passionately religious in Ugandan society. Greg and Vanessa investigate the lives of these cult leaders, and how they began to build what would become one of the deadliest cults in history.
Members of the Heaven’s Gate UFO cult believed they were meant to shed every scrap of humanity they had. Paradoxically, they ran a promotional website and made videos promoting their beliefs. Greg and Vanessa dig into the minds of members who joined and later left the cult, as well as those who followed cult leaders Nettles and Applewhite’s shared delusion from the 1970’s until the cult’s dark end in 1997--the largest mass suicide on US soil.
Marshall Applewhite and Bonnie Nettle believed their bodies were merely hosts for extraterrestrial angels, and that they would one day ascend on a UFO to the “kingdom-level-above-human.” How did they come to believe this? Greg and Vanessa dig into the early lives and first meetings of “the UFO Two”, comparing Applewhites nomadic, musical Christian background to Nettles’ New Age Spiritualism, and then recounting the Near Death Experience that eventually led to 39 suicides.
Before, during, and after the Manson Family Murders, Charles Manson used psychological warfare to control his “Family”. But who was drawn into this “Family” and how? Greg and Vanessa explore several of Manson’s techniques, including mystical manipulation, group LSD trips, and the way Manson would break members down psychologically until they were terrified of leaving--so terrified, they would commit murder to stay in Manson’s good graces.
In the first episode of “Cults” Greg and Vanessa explore the life of Charles Manson: how he turned from a troubled “callous and unemotional” child into an infamous cult leader, where Manson got his inspiration, and what psychological factors molded a murderer so charismatic and manipulative that his murder weapon of choice was not guns, knives, or axes, but other human beings.
Mystery. Manipulation. Murder. Cults are associated with all of these. But what really goes on inside a cult? More specifically, what goes on inside the minds of people who join cults and leaders who start them. Every Tuesday we take a psychological approach to analyzing a cult and its founder. Cults premieres Tuesday September 26th. Here is a sneak peak.