Cults

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 a Spotify Original from Parcast.

True Crime
History
Society & Culture
1
The Ramtha School of Enlightenment Pt. 2
Judy Z built a business empire by channeling Ramtha and his Atlantean wisdom. She converted her home into a headquarters and held gatherings for thousands of followers from all over the world. By the 2000s, she began using her influence and cash flow to step into politics — gaining favor until 2016, when she started catering to QAnon believers.
38 min
2
New Season! Impostors: The Commander
What if Mr. Right turns out to be Mr. So Wrong? On season 2 of Impostors, Abby Ellin tells the story of one conman who entangled his lovers, friends, family, and coworkers in an identity fraud scheme that stretched all the way to the Pentagon.
11 min
3
The Ramtha School of Enlightenment Pt. 1
Judy Z spent her early life in poverty before making a living as a cable salesperson in the early 1980s.
37 min
4
Queen Antoinette’s Corrupt House of the Lord
In the mid-2000s, Toni Ellsberry claimed to hear the voice of God, and ruled over her followers in a small Baltimore apartment. But when a toddler there died of starvation, One Mind Ministries began to crumble from within.
33 min
5
Buddhafield Pt. 2: A Hawaiian Escape
Fleeing to Austin, Texas in the early ‘90s was supposed to be a clean break for “The Teacher” and his followers. For a while, it was.
31 min
6
Buddhafield Pt. 1: A Poisoned Oasis
Jaime Gomez came to the U.S. from Venezuela in the 1960s looking for stardom, but when careers in dance and film didn’t materialize, he shifted focus.
32 min
7
Miracle of Love Pt. 2
After Gourasana passed away, his wife Kalindi took over Miracle of Love and propelled the group to new heights. She held increasingly demanding seminars that broke down attendees until they joined the fold. As time wore on, Kalindi’s enthusiasm and exploits brought many of her followers to the brink, and she showed no signs of slowing down.
34 min
8
Miracle of Love Pt. 1
By 1987, David Swanson and his wife Carol Seidman had been on a decades-long journey to find enlightenment.
34 min
9
The Church of Wells Pt. 2
The Church of Wells cemented its place in the small Texas town by being uncompromising and radical.
33 min
10
The Church of Wells Pt. 1
When Baylor University students Sean Morris and Ryan Ringnald met in the mid 2000s, they both felt the world around them was spiritually empty.
32 min
11
Brother Julius and The Work Pt. 2
By the 1980s, The Work was a real estate empire worth millions. But Julius didn’t concern himself much with the business. Instead, he focused on preaching armageddon and engaging in “special work” with his young female followers.
38 min
12
Brother Julius and The Work Pt. 1
While stationed in the South Pacific with the Navy during World War II, Julius Schacknow had a divine vision. Armed with the knowledge of his supposed destiny, he established a devoted following in New England in the 1970s.
41 min
13
William Miller Pt. 2: The Great Disappointment
As the Adventist movement spread across the United States, and as the date of Miller’s predicted apocalypse approached, his followers prepared to leave the world behind.
39 min
14
William Miller Pt. 1: Grandfather of the Advent...
The origins of the 19th-century preacher who founded Millerism, revived belief in Jesus’ imminent return, and landed himself at the center of a historic religious crisis in America.
37 min
15
Jeong Myeong-seok: The Bride Collecting Messiah...
By the late 1990s, the Providence movement had expanded its reach internationally. But when word got out about Jeong Myeong-seok abusing his “spiritual brides,” he fled.
36 min
16
Jeong Myeong-seok: The Bride Collecting Messiah...
After cutting his teeth in the rapidly growing unification movement in South Korea in the 1970s, Jung Myung-seok began having grander ambitions — as the new messiah of a religious movement.
36 min
17
Faizrakhman Sattarov and the Underground Russia...
In the 1960s, Faizrakhman Sattarov experienced a holy vision when sparks shot down from a trolley car in Russia.
37 min
18
“Jesus Army” Noel Stanton Pt. 2
By the late ‘80s, Stanton had fully embraced military metaphors in the Bible, mobilizing his Jesus Army to wage war against sin and save British souls.
36 min
19
“Jesus Army” Noel Stanton Pt. 1
During WWII, while serving in the British Royal Navy, Noel Stanton had an encounter with an evangelist that changed his life.
38 min
20
Serial Killers Crossover: “The Narcosatanist” A...
After amassing wealth and influence as a spiritual advisor in the 1980s, Adolfo Constanzo set his sights on the lucrative drug trade in Matamoros.
55 min
21
Serial Killers Crossover: “The Narcosatanist” A...
Schooled in the darkest corners of his family’s Afro-Carribean religion, Adolfo Constanzo decided to make his fortune using magic granted through animal sacrifices.
48 min
22
“Be’er Miriam Seminary” Aharon Ramati
For over a decade, a self-described rabbi ran a seminary in an orthodox neighborhood of Jerusalem.
38 min
23
“Hermes Far Eastern Shining” Gerald Hart Attril...
Increased government scrutiny in the early 2000s didn’t stop Hermes Far Eastern Shining from growing into a small business empire.
31 min
24
“Hermes Far Eastern Shining” Gerald Hart Attril...
A fast-growing cult in Australia absorbed hundreds of people into its fold in the late 1990s.
36 min
25
“Fiat Lux” Uriella
Deep in the heart of the Black Woods on the border between Switzerland and Germany, an eccentric spiritual medium named Uriella set up a commune for her growing community of fanatical followers.
38 min
26
“The Church of God Preparing for the Kingdom of...
In the 1990s, Ronald Weinland began issuing doomsday prophecies from his online pulpit.
33 min
27
“The Church of the Creator” Ben Klassen and Mat...
When Ben Klassen died by suicide in 1993, Matthew Hale picked up his mantle as leader of the sputtering Church of the Creator.
41 min
28
“The Church of the Creator” Ben Klassen and Mat...
After a short but controversial run in politics, Ben Klassen founded the Church of the Creator in 1973.
42 min
29
“Miracle Healers” Pt. 4: U.S.A.
From creating costly “healing instruments” to engaging in group sex activities, the Gentle Wind Project claimed to address traumas through spiritual energy work in the 1980s and ‘90s.
39 min
30
“Miracle Healers” Pt. 3: Tanzania
Known as “Babu” to locals, former pastor Ambilikile Mwasapile gained international attention after claiming in 2010 that he had found a cure for cancer, diabetes and AIDS.
32 min
31
“Miracle Healers” Pt. 2: Brazil
Around 2007, a new miracle healer stepped on stage in Brazil, claiming to cure cancer, heart disease, and HIV.
31 min
32
“Miracle Healers” Pt. 1: Russia
Ukrainian psychotherapist Anatoly Kashpirovsky led hypnotic TV healing sessions in the late 1980s and ‘90s, drawing millions of viewers across Eastern Europe.
35 min
33
“The Light of the World” George Feigley
Described as “hypnotic” and “disarming,” George Feigley used his silver tongue to convince countless people that he was a scholar and religious figurehead.
40 min
34
“The Aetherius Society“ George King Pt. 2
In 1959, George King traveled to Los Angeles to complete his interstellar mission.
37 min
35
“The Aetherius Society“ George King Pt. 1
When an angel appeared before him in a dark forest, George King knew his life would be special.
38 min
36
“The King of the Ozarks” James Ellison Pt. 2
In the 1980s, rigorous training and illegal weapons turned Ellison’s once peaceful commune into a murderous militia.
41 min
37
“The King of the Ozarks” James Ellison Pt. 1
Expelled by Lincoln Bible College in 1962 for being too radical, James Ellison spent the next decade preaching about God’s judgment and establishing a commune in Arkansas, where he transformed his followers into a heavily armed white supremacist terror organization.
36 min
38
“New World Comforter” Allen Michael Noonan
In 1947, a 31-year-old sign painter experienced a supernatural event that left him convinced he was the newly anointed savior of the world.
37 min
39
“Chino Shoho” Yuko Chino Pt. 2
When her doomsday prophecies failed to materialize in the early aughts, Yuko Chino faded from the headlines.
32 min
40
“Chino Shoho” Yuko Chino Pt. 1
As a young woman in 1960s Japan, Hidemi Masuyama took nightly walks in the nude, talking to entities only she could see.
35 min
41
The Sodder Family Tragedy: 75 Years Later (Pt. 3)
For decades, family members and sleuths have tried to determine what really happened the night of the fire.
35 min
42
The Sodder Family Tragedy: 75 Years Later (Pt. 2)
In the aftermath of the fire, a startling number of tips, twists, and witnesses came forward regarding the fate of the Sodder children.
36 min
43
The Sodder Family Tragedy: 75 Years Later (Pt. 1)
Early Christmas day in 1945, Jennie Sodder woke up to her house on fire.
32 min
44
“Ho-no-Hana Sampogyo”: Hogen Fukunaga
In the late 1980s he claimed to be the final savior of the world, but behind Hogen Fukunaga’s grandiose claim was a shrewd businessman who scammed millions from loyal followers.
42 min
45
“Lord RayEl”: Raymond Elwood Howard-Lear
He’s not your typical cult leader: Lord RayEl doesn’t have a large church, or host large gatherings.
35 min
46
“Attleboro Sect”: Roland and Jacques Robidoux P...
After starving his infant son in 1999, Jacques Robidoux and his followers went to drastic lengths to bury the evidence.
38 min
47
“Attleboro Sect”: Roland and Jacques Robidoux P...
Shunning mainstream religion, school systems, and science, this small Massachusetts sect withdrew from secular society in the ‘70s.
33 min
48
Conspiracy Theories Crossover: Bohemian Grove P...
Deep in the heart of the redwood forests is a 2,700-acre plot of land that’s home to an exclusive gentleman’s fraternity.
41 min
49
Conspiracy Theories Crossover: Bohemian Grove P...
Deep in the heart of the redwood forests is a 2,700-acre plot of land that’s home to an exclusive gentleman’s fraternity.
42 min
50
“Sky Kingdom”: Ayah Pin Pt. 2
Branded religious deviants by local leaders and the Malaysian government, Ayah Pin and his followers argued for their freedoms in Syariah Court.
34 min
51
“Sky Kingdom”: Ayah Pin Pt. 1
In the mid 1990s, a strange compound sat hidden amongst the hills of northern Malaysia — a wonderland complete with themed buildings and a giant teapot.
34 min
52
Satanic Panic Pt. 5: The Real Victims
In the years since the Satanic Panic, it's become obvious that the crimes people were accused of never really happened.
41 min
53
Satanic Panic Pt. 4: The Rise of Evangelical Ch...
Emboldened by power- and money-hungry conmen, Evangelical doomsdayers set the stage for an epic showdown of biblical proportions.
43 min
54
Satanic Panic Pt. 3: The Cults That DID Exist
From Adolfo Costanzo and the Narcosatanists to the gruesome Chicago Rippers, these horrific groups showed that fears of murderous devil-worshipping cults weren't entirely unfounded.
40 min
55
Satanic Panic Pt. 2: Serial Killers
In the 1980s, “Satanic Panic” was a mass hysteria that consumed communities and ruined lives—all over things that never even happened.
38 min
56
Satanic Panic Pt. 1: Origins
In the 1980s, “Satanic Panic” was a mass hysteria that consumed communities and ruined lives—all over things that never even happened.
40 min
57
“The Palmarian Church”: Clemente Domínguez Gómez
In the late 1960s, a listless young man craving significance began claiming he could see and hear messages from the Virgin Mary.
39 min
58
“Movement of Spiritual Inner Awareness”: John-R...
At the height of his power in 1983, John-Roger Hinkins hosted a star-studded awards show for his “movement.”
35 min
59
“Movement of Spiritual Inner Awareness”: John-R...
After waking up from a nine-day coma in 1963, Roger Hinkins claimed his body was housing a spiritual personality named John.
34 min
60
“The Gatekeepers”: Chris Turgeon
In 1990s Everett, Washington, a charismatic man named Chris Turgeon started a small group Bible study with a few of his friends.
36 min
61
“The God Squad”: Douglas Metcalf
In 1972, self-appointed bishop Douglas Metcalf had his followers build a new heaven on earth in New Zealand.
35 min
62
“The Chicago Rippers”: Robin Gecht Pt. 2
In the early 1980s, Satanist Robin Gecht and his three followers terrorized the women of Chicago.
35 min
63
“The Chicago Rippers”: Robin Gecht Pt. 1
In the early 1980s, contractor Robin Gecht recruited three of his employees to join a violent cult.
40 min
64
“Friends Landing”: Whitewind Swan Fisher
When Whitewind Swan Fisher founded Friends Landing in 1985, it was marketed as a safe space for spiritual healing.
40 min
65
“Concerned Christians”: Monte Kim Miller
In 1985, Monte Kim Miller was an anti-cult activist, speaking at churches to warn against brainwashing and manipulation—until he began using the same tactics he preached against to extort, coerce, and compel his own followers into radical behavior.
35 min
66
“NXIVM” Pt. 4: The Fall
In 2017, news of Keith Raniere’s predatory sorority finally hit the airwaves.
43 min
67
“NXIVM” Pt. 3: The Master and the Slave
By 2006, 46-year-old Keith Raniere had made NXIVM alluring enough to attract billionaire heiresses and Hollywood actresses.
41 min
68
“NXIVM” Pt. 2: The Parasite and the Producer
In 1999, after the collapse of Consumers Buyline, 39-year-old Keith embarked on a new business venture.
41 min
69
“NXIVM” Pt. 1: The Carrot and the Stick
After acing an IQ test in 1988, 28-year-old Keith Raniere was able to brand himself “The Smartest Man in the World.”
44 min
70
“Gloriavale”: Neville Cooper
Founded in New Zealand in the late ‘60s, Gloriavale was supposed to be a sin-free utopia.
38 min
71
"Knutby Filadelfia" Pt. 2: Helge Fossmo
In 2004, Swedish Pastor Helge Fossmo used “spiritual shunning” to alienate and manipulate the congregation at his Pentecostal church.
33 min
72
"Knutby Filadelfia" Pt. 1: Helge Fossmo
In the mid-’90s, Pastor Helge Fossmo was hand-selected by the so-called “bride of Christ” to help lead a Swedish Pentecostal church.
38 min
73
“Circle of Friends” Pt. 2: Bruno Gröning
By the mid 1950s, Bruno Gröning was famous.
38 min
74
“Circle of Friends” Pt. 1: Bruno Gröning
In 1949, faith healer Bruno Gröning was thrust into the limelight after German newspapers reported he had cured a young boy of muscular dystrophy. However, with fame came increased scrutiny from the legal authorities...
37 min
75
“Conscious Development of Body, Mind and Soul” ...
As the 1980s began, Terri Hoffman and her followers seemed to be flying high.
37 min
76
“Conscious Development of Body, Mind and Soul” ...
In the 1970s, Terri Hoffman went from high school drop-out to leading New Age mystic.
39 min
77
“Christian Catholic Apostolic Church” Pt. 2: Jo...
In June of 1888, John Alexander Dowie moved his family to the United States to found the holy city of Zion.
42 min
78
“Christian Catholic Apostolic Church” Pt. 1: Jo...
His drive for independence eventually led him to create a spiritual movement all of his own in the late 1800s.
40 min
79
“Endeavor Academy” Chuck Anderson
Founded by Charles “Chuck” Anderson in the Wisconsin Dells in 1992, Endeavor Academy was a religious group claiming to be able to lead its students to enlightenment.
36 min
80
“The Rama Cult” Frederick P. Lenz
Founded by software guru Frederick Lenz in 1981, the Rama Cult operated in the Los Angeles and Tri State areas until 1998.
33 min
81
“Access Consciousness” Gary Douglas
Founded by Gary Douglas in the 1990s, “Access Consciousness” went from a mystical meditation clinic to an international media empire.
36 min
82
“The New Lighthouse Movement” Arnaud Mussy
Operating in France from 2001 to 2004, members of the New Lighthouse Movement believed that after the apocalypse, humanity would ascend to heaven with the help of Aliens. This ascension could only be possible with the help of their founder, Arnaud Mussy.
33 min
83
“Dera Sacha Sauda” Pt. 2: Gurmeet Ram Rahim
He built the Dera Sacha Sauda by exploiting the people who trusted him most.
36 min
84
“Dera Sacha Sauda” Pt. 1: Gurmeet Ram Rahim
In 1990, Gurmeet Ram Rahim became the leader of Dera Sacha Sauda movement. Originally, the group promoted charity and taught meditation practices, but under Gurmeet, its activities became significantly darker. Eventually, Gurmeet had over 60 million followers, who he exploited for his every desire.
35 min
85
Crossover Week: Female Criminals (Linda Hazzard...
In 1911, Dr. Linda Burfield Hazzard took her cruel alternative medicine practices to a new level by opening her infamous sanitarium in Washington—which locals would dub "Starvation Heights.”
45 min
86
Crossover Week: Female Criminals (Linda Hazzard...
She was a turn-of-the-20th century medical practitioner who preached starvation as a method of curing disease.
47 min
87
Cults Daily: "True Russian Orthodox Church " Py...
According to leader Pyotr Kuznetsov, the world would end in May 2008, so in November 2007 he proposed his group move to an underground cave and wait out the apocalypse.
5 min
88
Cults Daily: "The Brethren" Jimmie T. Roberts
Based on his belief that religious institutions had been sullied by modern practices, this apocalyptic cult aimed to cleanse themselves by abandoning their families and possessions, and living as a roving group of dumpster-divers.
6 min
89
Cults Daily: "The Manson Family" Charles Manson
In the late 60s, Charles Manson preached that the end of the world would come about due to an apocalyptic race war, which he dubbed "Helter Skelter."
5 min
90
Cults Daily: “Chen Tao” Hong-Ming Chen
What do UFOs, Abraham Lincoln, and God making his television debut have in common? They’re all strangely linked to the Chen Tao cult, and the imminent nuclear apocalypse prophesied by leader Hon-Ming Chen.
7 min
91
Cults Daily: “The Millerites” William Miller
He gave numerous dates for the apocalypse, but none resulted in the end of the world. But it did result in the eventual formation of the Seventh-day Adventist movement.
6 min
92
Cults Daily: “Family Radio” Harold Camping
He said that life on earth would end on May 21st, 2011. When it didn’t, he amended his date to October 21st, 2011. It didn’t end then either. Meet Harold Camping, a Christian radio evangelist
7 min
93
Cults Daily: Y2K
As society approached the year 2000, there was worry about a Y2K bug that might cripple technology. But there was also fear that cults with doomsday prophecies would do whatever it took to fulfill them.
6 min
94
Cults Daily: “Sullivan Institute” Saul Newton &...
Today we’re looking at the Sullivan Institute founded by Saul B. Newton and his wife, Dr. Jane Pearce in 1957. It was designed to be an alternative to the traditional nuclear family—part therapy center, part polyamorous commune.
6 min
95
Cults Daily: “The Holy Rollers” Franz Edmund Cr...
Franz Edmund Creffield was the leader of the Brides of Christ church. Often referred to as the Holy Rollers, members were known to roll on the floor pleading, for God’s forgiveness.
6 min
96
Cults Daily: “House of Yahweh” Yisrayl Hawkins
Along with his brother Yaaqob, Yisrayl Hawkins founded the House of Yahweh in 1980. They produced their own version of the bible and made numerous predictions that did not come true.
7 min
97
Cults Daily: “Happy Science” Ryuho Okawa
The three main points in Ryuho Okawa’s teachings are love, enlightenment, and the creation of utopia. But Happy Science is also a political party and they have some strong views about neighboring countries that shape their worldview.
5 min
98
Cults Daily: “Eastern Lightning” Zhao Weishan
Eastern Lightning preached that Jesus Christ had been reborn and walked the Earth. Founder Zhao Weishan said the woman he was in a relationship with, Yang Xiangbin, was there to save their souls before the world ended.
7 min
99
Cults Daily: “The Seekers” Dr. Charles Laughead
Dorothy Martin claimed to receive communications from outer space, warning of disastrous loss of life in 1955. Her wild prophecies attracted Dr. Charles Laughead and a small group of followers known as the "Seekers."
6 min
100
Cults Daily: “Dami Mission” Lee Jang Rim
He frightened his followers around the world into believing that the Rapture was coming—an apocalypse which would end humanity on October, 28th, 1992. But after that date came and passed, many members of the Dami Mission were left in a different kind of devastating state.
6 min