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The Chilling Story Of The Ant Hill Kids Cult And The Leader Who Tormented Them For Over A Decade

From 1977 to 1989, a charismatic French-Canadian man named Roch Thériault led a small cult known as the Ant Hill Kids. Located on a commune in Burnt River, Ontario, Canada, Thériault claimed to be the reincarnation of the biblical Moses and made the nine women living in the Ant Hill Kids commune his wives.

Known to his followers as "Papy," Thériault was by all accounts manipulative, abusive, and even murderous. The reports of violence at the commune are chilling, and Thériault was only brought to justice after his wife Gabrielle Lavallee escaped in the summer of 1989.

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  • Church Leader Roch Thériault Began Building His Cult, The Ant Hill Kids, In The Late 1970s

    Church Leader Roch Thériault Began Building His Cult, The Ant Hill Kids, In The Late 1970s
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    Roch Thériault was born in 1947 and reportedly dropped out of school at age 13. Eventually he began studying the Old Testament and came to believe that the end of the world was fast approaching. Thériault left Catholicism to become a Seventh-day Adventist and became a popular speaker in his church. He even began leading workshops meant to help church members quit smoking.

    Thériault gradually gained a group of young, devoted followers. At this time, in 1977, he formed what would become the Ant Hill Kids cult in Sainte-Marie, Quebec. The cult's name not only referenced working hard like ants building an anthill, but it emphasized teamwork as a core value.

    As time went on, Thériault became more and more controlling of his followers, forcing them to cut ties with family, sell their worldly possessions, and eventually commit acts of violence against themselves and each other.

  • The Group Began As An Offshoot Of Thériault's Church And Was Initially Non-Violent

    During a hike in the woods in 1977, Roch Thériault claimed that he heard and saw God's presence, and as a result, he moved the Ant Hill Kids to a more remote part of Quebec that he allegedly believed to be holy land. His group of followers quit their jobs and opened a health food store known as the Healthy Living Clinic. Group members also began wearing identical tunics around this time as a symbol of equality among members.

    Thériault was later kicked out of the Seventh-day Adventist Church in April 1978. At this time, he instituted new beliefs and rules within his cult that were the start of his own religion. He called himself Moïse, after the biblical prophet Moses, and assigned the group's women more biblical-sounding names.

    He told his followers the world would end in February 1979 and that they would leave Earth together. No one was allowed to leave the group, and if any member committed an infraction, Thériault would reportedly fly into a rage and punish the offender.

  • Thériault Had Multiple Wives And 26 Children

    In 1967, Thériault married his first wife, Francine Grenier, when she was 17 and he was 21. The couple had two children together, but their marriage quickly deteriorated due to Thériault's health issues and alcohol abuse. Grenier filed for divorce, and at this time, Thériault became more active in the Seventh-day Adventist Church.

    As Thériault grew the Ant Hill Kids, he reportedly made all nine of the women in the group his wives and had over 20 children with them. Even after being sentenced to life in prison, Thériault would have conjugal visits with the few women who remained devoted to him. During his time in prison, Thériault had four children by two different women.

  • Thériault Isolated His Followers And Forced Them To Marry One Another

    Following the Ant Hill Kids' move to a remote area in Quebec, Thériault began instituting new rules within the group. He forced his followers to perform massive amounts of physical labor to build the homestead, and members would often go hungry, leading to intense exhaustion.

    Thériault also forced his followers to cut off all contact with their families, which further isolated them in the Canadian wilderness. As Thériault became more paranoid, he refused to let members speak to one another.

    After isolating cult members, Thériault ordered them to marry one another, even though they weren't in existing relationships. Thériault himself performed the marriage ceremonies, which were not legally binding. These marriages were apparently a way of asserting dominance over women in the group. In later years, couples could only have sex if they received permission from Thériault.

  • Families Of The Cult Members Begged For Police Intervention, But To No Avail

    Family members of the Ant Hill Kids, unable to make contact with their loved ones, continually asked police to go investigate Thériault's commune. Not until the mid-1980s did an investigation result in the removal of 17 children from the commune.

    Despite this progress, Thériault reportedly convinced social workers and law enforcement that he was merely a member of a healthy and nature-focused commune that made decisions as a group. During one investigation, a psychiatric evaluation found him to be "normal." One member of law enforcement even argued that the children should be returned to the commune.

  • Thériault Became Increasingly Violent And Inflicted Cruel Punishments On His Followers

    As time went on, Thériault became increasingly abusive. He would hit, kick, and urinate on his followers. He would also force members to cut off each other's fingers and toes to prove their loyalty to him. Members even had to break their own legs with sledgehammers as punishment for various infractions.

    Following a 1987 police investigation of the cult, Thériault began performing "purification" ceremonies on members, which involved whipping them while they were naked. These examples represent only some of the abuse incurred at the Ant Hill Kids commune.

    In addition to the physical abuse practiced within the cult, two of Thériault's followers died after receiving homeopathic treatments from him for their health issues.