WA cult leader 'planned suicide pact' before he and his family disappeared

The leader of an internet doomsday cult who disappeared in WA a decade ago told online followers he was planning a suicide pact involving his partner, five-year-old daughter and another man, an inquest has heard.

 

However, one of his overseas disciples or so-called "servers", a US woman, advised him against it, saying it would constitute murder to involve his child.

Gary Felton, a self-styled spiritual leader who went by the alias Simon Kadwell, predicted a looming doomsday or judgment day in several books he sold on his website.

However, the 45-year-old had been increasingly despondent about life in posts leading up to disappearing in July 2007 along with his partner Chantelle McDougall, 27, daughter Leela and friend Tony Popic.

Chantelle McDougall, 27, and her five-year-old daughter Leela vanished almost a decade ago. Photo: 7 News

Gary Felton, a self-styled spiritual leader who went by the alias Simon Kadwell, predicted a looming doomsday or judgment day. Photo: 7 News

Three of his followers in North America committed suicide.

A coronial inquest is being held over three days in Busselton this week into what is one of the nation's most unusual missing persons mysteries.

No trace of the four people has been found since they disappeared.

Coroner Barry King suggested to investigator Senior Sergeant Greg Balfour that it was difficult to be sure beyond reasonable doubt that they were dead because of possible sightings, the possibility they left by boat, and Mr Felton's history of having false identities.

"Yes, I could not say one way or the other that they were missing persons or deceased," said Sen-Sgt Balfour, who investigated the case.

Friend Tony Popic also went missing with the mother and daughter. Photo: 7 News

When the group disappeared they left all of their furniture in the Nannup farmhouse they rented, and their computer and other electronic gadgets.

However, they sold their dogs and cars, took all of their clothes and the house had been cleaned and was "spotless", said landlord Elizabeth Crouch.

They told numerous people and left a note at the farmhouse stating that they were moving to Brazil to live an alternate lifestyle in an Amazonian religious group.

Mr Felton was described in court as an odd and quiet person who did not have a job, stayed up all night on his computer and slept during the day.

Mr Felton tried to ban Leela from seeing her grandparents, who would "poison her". Photo: 7 News

He tried to ban Leela from seeing her grandparents, who would "poison her", and had a psychological and controlling hold over Ms McDougall and Mr Popic, who were described as "avid followers" and "subservient", despite the fact they were hard workers who provided the income he lived off.

Senior Sergeant Balfour said Mr Felton was skilled at manipulating people and had stolen the identity of the real Simon Kadwell, a former colleague in his native UK.

The police investigation failed to find any evidence of any of the four after their disappearance, including in Brazil.

Mr Popic - and possibly Mr Kadwell - likely travelled under false names on trains to Kalgoorlie and Bunbury on the same week.

Their bank accounts were never accessed.

Readers seeking support and information about suicide prevention can contact Lifeline on 13 11 14. Suicide Call Back Service 1300 659 467.

When the group disappeared they left all of their furniture in the Nannup farmhouse they rented. Photo: 7 News

Back To Top
feedback