SURVIVORS' SUFFERING: Victims of sick cult stuck in limbo
The woman who stole children from their parents, drugged them, tortured them and kept them hidden in Victoria's most notorious cult is dead, but her victims are still not free.
Anne Hamilton-Byrne died on June 13, aged 98. She had suffered from dementia since the mid-2000s and lived out her final years a shadow of her former, all-powerful self.
For almost 20 years, the yoga teacher-turned doomsday fanatic gathered new members of what she called The Family.
Behind barbed-wire fences, she carried out a strict daily routine and kept her peroxide blonde followers in line with threats.
It all came tumbling down when in 1987 police raided the cult's headquarters at Lake Eildon, a three-and-a-half hour drive northeast of Melbourne.
Those who escaped the grip of Hamilton-Byrne and her husband Bill went on to tell horror stories of life growing up with a woman who thought she was Jesus reincarnated.
Survivors, including Ben Shenton, said they felt like a "chapter closed" after news of the matriarch's death.
But the story is not finished.
The Herald Sun reports survivors were suing Hamilton-Byrne over the abuse they suffered during the 19 years the cult was operating. But a two-week trial that was set to begin in July has been postposed until next year at the earliest.
The class action will need to wait until after the Supreme Court obtains Hamilton-Byrne's will. Some estimates suggest Hamilton-Byrne's estate is worth $20 million.
The emotion overflowed for many following news of the 98-year-old's death.
Former Victoria Police detective Lex De Man, who led investigations into the cult, said he was pleased to hear about it.
"The normal reaction when you receive the news of the death of someone is one of sadness," he told AAP.
"It's quite the contrary for me today. Today was a great day in that she is now dead. She can rot.
"The lives that she affected and her evil deeds, I shed no tear. Not one drop."
Mr De Man said he had spoken to a number of survivors.
"She left a trail of broken lives, ruined people and the one good thing I've seen is that the former children who were victims of some horrible things have moved on with their lives and they're good people," he said.
"I think of them today and what they went through."
Mr Shenton, whose mother was convinced by Hamilton-Byrne to give him up as a child, offered an incredible insight into life with The Family in an interview with news.com.au.
He told journalist Nathan Jolly, cult members lived by Lake Eildon behind barbed wire fences, big brown gates which promised that trespassers would be prosecuted.
"If the authorities knew (what she was doing) they would have arrested her and her cronies, shut her down, and removed the money she solicited from wealthy members through false claims," he said.
He talked about horrendous occurrences - "water torture, beltings, missing out on meals for days on end, loss of the meagre privileges we had, fingers being held over candles".
But even after years of suffering, he did not want to leave.
"When the police came I physically fought against being removed. It's like my whole world, my whole future was mapped out - I thought it was going to be taken away from me," he said.
Mr Shenton and his birth mother last visited Hamilton-Byrne in 2012. He has his own family now and sees life much differently. He has forgiven his mother completely.
"My anger is directed at the source, the devil, and not the victim, my mother."
Sarah Moore, another of Hamilton-Byrne's "children", wrote the book Unseen, Unheard, Unknown: My life inside The Family of Anne Hamilton-Byrne.
In it, she revealed how she lives in fear of members of the sect.
"Many sect members have taken a vow to kill those who harm their Master," she wrote.
"They will not walk up to me with a gun. But if I mysteriously drive over a cliff one night because my brakes are suddenly not working, or perish in a sudden fire in my flat, it will be them."