Police dig for babies’ bodies at religious sect
POLICE are into their second day of digging for the bodies of stillborn babies at two remote properties owned by the controversial Christian sect called Twelve Tribes.
NSW Police told news.com.au investigations at both locations - Picton, 100km southwest of Sydney, and the tiny town of Bigga, 300km west of Sydney - were continuing but could conclude this afternoon.
Aerial coverage of yesterday's dig showed police officers in blue forensic overalls digging with hand tools and breaking up ground with mattocks and shovels.
Officers wearing gloves peered into the ground in what may be the graves of babies who suffered stillbirths - dying in utero before reaching full term - to members of the Twelve Tribes.
The religious movement is being investigated over the deaths of babies after it was alleged the sect disposed of stillborn children without informing authorities, which is illegal.
A Current Affair reported a former member named Rosemary lost her child at 38 weeks and the infant's remains were taken from her and buried at a secret location.
"She was told at the time she lost her baby because it was God's will … punishing her for her sins," ACA reporter Alison Piotrowski said.
"She didn't know where it was taken, but she believes it was buried at Bigga."
The Twelve Tribes sect, which started in Tennessee in the 1970s, has a headquarters in the Blue Mountains, a coffee shop, the Bigga property and 22ha at Peppercorn Creek Farm in Picton.
The Bigga estate, which is outside the Southern Tablelands town which lies between Goulburn and Cowra, had no electricity or running water and was a place of "exile" for disobedient sect members, ACA said.
Helen from the Bigga General Store told news.com.au that a male member of the Twelve Tribes sect was occasionally seen in town, but the 200 townsfolk knew nothing of secret gravesites.
Police used a bolt cutter to gain access through a chained and locked gate on the Bigga property.
ACA reported police expected to find the remains or five or six infants at Bigga and two more at Picton.
Channel 7 reported "an alarming number of stillbirths" within the sect, which does not believe in modern medical care during pregnancy and "stillbirths were covered up".
The Sunday Telegraph reported last year that the sect bans anyone who leaves it from contact with loved ones who remain.
Former member Rosemary Cruzado told News Corp that Twelve Tribes preached intense corporal punishment for unruly children which she believe amounted to "beating" babies.
Spanking with a thin rod is allegedly a form of religious observance within the sect.
NSW Police formed Task Force Nanegai last September to investigate allegations surrounding stillbirths and Blue Mountains local area command was carrying out the operation.
Crime scene warrants were issued for Picton and Bigga and are yet to conclude.
"No one has been arrested and no further information is currently available in relation to police activity," a spokesperson said.
"Investigators are expected to provide an update at the conclusion of the operation."
It is unclear when the operation will finish.
According to its Australian website, The Twelve Tribes sect members live at Picton, Katoomba and at Coledale, north of Wollongong.
"We are an extended family of married couples, children and single people who have become a part of each other's lives," the site says.
"This oneness of heart creates a life of care and growth."
Eight families plus several single men and women live at Picton, and the sect runs a food truck at events such as the Royal Easter Show and Woodford Folk Festival.
The website said members "follow Yahshua the Messiah, commonly referred to as 'Jesus' in the New Testament" and "we have many children … they love being involved in everything we do".
Members "gather twice a day, early in the morning and in the evening where we play music, dance, sing and speak from the things within our hearts".
Rosemary Cruzado told New Corp she had been forbidden contact with her daughter and grandchildren since leaving the sect.