~ the ant hill kids
Roch Thériault was released in February of 1984. His followers wanted to stay together in the city, perhaps in a rented house.
Moïse had other ideas.
They would go back into the bush and start all over again: this time on Lot 4, Concession 5, in Somerville Township, Burnt River – near the town of Lindsay, in Victoria County, Ontario. He had stopped drinking, he told them all, and there wouldn't be any more violence; and after all, as God's emissary they were obliged to follow him. And in May of 1984, he moved the band to their new home, and began the construction of a new cabin, as isolated as their old home had been. Thériault designed and assembled a rough sawmill from a chainsaw, a snowmobile engine, and some bicycle parts. He also designed a horse-drawn treadmill to mill water from a spring on a neighbouring concession. Roch (now calling himself "Rock," the anglicization of his French name) commissioned an A-frame cabin, a two-storey house with a kitchen, a bakery, a maple sugar shack, a smokehouse, a root cellar, and a stone "sanctuary" or altar upon which he would commune with God. This was all built by his two male and nine female followers – four of whom were pregnant, and all of whom were also responsible for the commune's ten children, ranging in age from one to fifteen. They worked through the summer in long pants and sweaters, to keep the mosquitos away.
Rock established a new hierarchy for the group, assigning each of his wives different responsibilities. The lowest of them all was Maryse Grenier; Thériault forbade Jacques and Maryse from sleeping together, and encouraged Jacques to beat her if she talked back to him or to Rock – even though she was pregnant. Rock also convinced Jacques that a birthmark she had looked like "666." He eventually ordered her to live apart from everyone else in her own hut with her own two children, until Rock later accepted her eldest daughter into the main group.
Nobody who visited the compound from Somerville had any idea of the group's strict and brutal organization; nor did they have any idea of the group's past in Québec. The members of the commune were regarded as eccentric, but hard-working neighbours.
Victoria County, however, had different ideas about welfare than they had in Québec. The group was refused funding on the basis that the group constituted an institution, rather than a family. This only served as proof that the outside world was hostile to the group's way of life, and reinforced their alienation and isolation. As far as Rock was concerned, if the rest of the world wouldn't voluntarily give them what they needed, they would have to take it. He began ordering his wives to steal from the local grocers of the town of Lindsay: dairy products, vegetables, meat, canned goods, suet, pop, toilet paper, anything and everything they needed but could no longer afford to buy. They even made special jackets with huge inner pockets to facilitate their sprees of petty crime.
On January 31, 1985, a police officer caught Jacques Giguère shoplifting. Nearby, he tracked down Gabrielle, Claude, Nicole Ruel, and Roch jr (who had fifty feet of rope coiled around his waist). Between the five of them, they had lifted $453.37 in goods. Their sentence was to be banned from shopping in Linsday ever again.
So Rock encouraged his followers to hit up their parents. If the parents refused, it would only reinforce what he had always said about them; if they agreed, the group would have money to continue its way of living in isolation. In fact, Rock had so brainwashed his followers into thinking only negative thoughts about their parents that some of them begged him not to make them call. The typical response, of course, was that the girls could have money, but only if they left Rock. This, of course, was not to happen.
So the group began selling fruit, and later pastry. This proved to be a success, and Rock organized the group into a company. He called them the "Ant Hill Kids" because they worked together like a nest of ants. Though the members of Rock's group still had to subsist on corn and potatoes, at least now they were making some money, and everything seemed to be going well.
But as Rock became less desperate to survive, he became increasingly bored. And as he became bored, he began to drink again. He stopped working, again using his aching guts as an excuse. He prescribed himself a case of beer for any pains. When he was drunk, he'd often go on at length about his treasures, which consisted of some worthless costume jewelry – the rest of the group was too terrified to do anything but feign interest. He would also play the wives off against each other, manipulating their self-esteem to his whim. He would also organize no-holds-barred nude wrestling matches between the women, or he would put a man in the middle of a circle and tell the women to hit and kick him. Sometimes he would join in the matches, but then the rules changed; if you scored a hit on him, it would come out of your food rations.
Sometimes he would beat or whip his followers; sometimes he would strike them with the broad side of an axe, or with a hammer. They were forbidden to go to the hospital. Sometimes he would urinate on them, or force them to perform analingus on one another or smear themselves with each other's feces. Once he slashed Jacque Giguére's jugular with a broken wine glass. He also ordered Jacques to be circumcised, his whole glans removed.
This all had a cathartic effect on his followers – he had punished them for their sins, and they were now purified as a result. And Rock would always weep the next day, after all the alcohol had left his system; he would beg God, his Master, to stop using him as a vehicle for God's cruel justice.
On January 26, 1985, somewhere shortly after 9:00am, Gabrielle put her five-month-old baby, Rock's son Eleazar, in a wheelbarrow. It was snowing, and the temperature was -10°C (14°F). By 10:45am, the baby was dead. Rock had hated the child, and said it bore the mark of the Devil; he had often beaten it. Gabrielle thought that this would be an act of mercy for the infant.
The county coroner, Al Lackey, a friend of Thériault, claimed that it had been sudden infant death syndrome.
The county Children's Aid Society began watching the commune like hawks.
~ horrors & atrocities of a new
old-school old testament messiah
After a year of having been forbidden to have relations with her pre-cult husband Jacques, Maryse Grenier, the only adult woman of the group Thériault hadn't taken as his own wife, was permitted to leave with two of her three surviving children – a two year old and an infant. The only condition: that her eldest daughter, the girl she had borne before her days with the cult and who was now nearing puberty, remain behind – destined to become the next of Rock's wives. Maryse hot-footed it out of there, but after months of learning how to function in the real world after having spent eight years under Thériault's rule, she decided that she would persue legal action to get custody of the remaining daughter.
Part of this legal action involved testifying on the conditions under which the children of the compound lived. This was all that was needed for the CAS to sweep in and take the kids to foster homes. In their new environments, however, they exhibited disturbing behaviour which indicated that they had been abused on the compound. As the children were asked about conditions in the commune, more and more horrifying details were revealed.
Rock seperated the children of the compound into two groups: his own, chosen children, who enjoyed a privileged position in the commune; and those who were not his own, particularly the children of Maryse Grenier as well as the young Simon Ouellette, all of whom were regarded as animals and slaves. Rock saw to the care of his own children; the mentally deficient Paul Veer had been taken on to look after Grenier's bastards. Grenier's children crawled like animals and were severely malnourished; adults and children alike were, for the most part, forbidden from speaking with them. Grenier said later that she actually would have preferred Paul Veer to look after her children, over Rock Thériault.
Although Rock considered his children to be the children of God and the next generation of his religious following, their situation was utterly wretched. Only Moïse was permitted to express any warmth whatsoever towards the children. Sometimes he would hold two women's children over a fire and threatened to throw one of them in; he loved watching his wives beg for their own child to be spared. He would also nail children to trees by their clothes, and tell the other children to stone them or knife them – only to call them off at the very last minute, again playing God to the children's Abraham and Isaac. Some children had mouths full of rotting teeth; some would randomly scream, rock, chant, or bang on things. The children had chores around the commune such as hand-washing the adult women's sanitary napkins. They were deprived of sleep, of food, and of hygeine.
The children were also deprived of education – except Rock's own brands of religious education and sex education. Thériault told the children that God lived underground (because flowers grew up from the ground), and that God sometimes demanded blood sacrifice – as when, in a secret ritual held just for the kids, a naked Thériault disemboweled a goat that one of his daughters had hand-raised and bathed himself in its blood, arising from a pit with much pomp. There were reports of chanting rituals and upside-down crosses; the children also were able to go into great detail about group sex rites which were held in the cabin, and which involved the whole "family." Thériault and his teenage son, Roch jr, also sexually molested and sometimes raped the children. Rock sr would sometimes have the children masturbate him, or watch as members of the group masturbated one another or themselves, believing this to be the proper method of sexual instruction.
But the court ordered an independent assessment, and that team, including Dr Rhéal Huneault and Dr Martine Miljkovitch, recommended that the children be returned to Burnt River immediately. In their 300-page report, they celebrated Thériault's pioneering spirit and experimental attitude regarding sexual education. They accused the government of trying to persecute the group, trying to force them to disband by witholding welfare, a gross infraction of their rights as citizens.
The CAS also launched its own report, of which Thériault seemed to have intimate knowledge right from the start. Rock was sweet-talking everyone who came to assess his dominion.
But in the end, on October 26, 1987, the court ruled that the children be made wards of the Crown. There was to be no parental access, as the Court believed Thériault to be a manipulative despot who posed a significant risk of molestation and exploitation. The 83-page Court ruling also suggested that the testimonies of Huneault, Miljkovitch, and the sympathetic CAS agents, francophones all, were more the result of a cultural prejudice of sympathy for any French-speaking community in a predominantly English environment, than of objectivity or concern for the welfare of the children in the group.
But there still wasn't enough evidence to press further criminal charges against Thériault. Even Maryse Grenier wasn't willing to testify against Rock.
Thériault began networking. He discovered the Mormon Fundamentalist movement, and this was how he met up with forensic psychiatrist and LDS branch president Dr Jess Groesbeck. In addition to dealing with cases of altered consciousness and dissociative disorders, he was drawn to shamanism, and with the history of polygamy. He and Thériault (polygamist and self-proclaimed healer) became good friends. Rock also hooked up with polygamist Alex Joseph of Big Water, Utah – though Joseph didn't much like Rock's attitude.
During this time, Rock was also charged with obstruction of justice that occurred in connection with an incident in which he and his followers were harassing the daughter of one of Rock's children's foster parents. He also assaulted one of his neighbours, a canoe-builder named Jean-Marc Martin, with whom Rock had had previous friendly dealings. He also got into some trouble with the police during his trip to Utah, which resulted in a $75 US fine and a pair of soiled trousers.
His home life wasn't getting any better, either. It only took a few beers to get him going on about the Master of Life and Death, the Good and Bad Creator. One day, he became enraged at Claude Ouellette for some reason no one remembers, and ordered him to walk around with an elastic band wrapped tightly around his scrotum. Claude kept it on overnight, which caused irreperable damage to his testicles – which, of course, prompted Thériault to operate: he used a razor blade to cut open Claude's scrotum and plucked out an infected testicle with his fingers, then cauterized the wound with a hot piece of iron. Then, he held a vote to determine whether Claude should be stoned to death for offending God; when that motion was defeated, Rock took up an acetylene torch and threatened to open Claude's stomach.
Claude managed to escape into the woods, where he stayed until Thériault was sober once again. In fact, retreating into the woods for a couple of days became a common tactic for Claude, Gabrielle, Gisèle and the others. Gisèle, in particular, would sometimes retreat to her father's house for a few days, until Rock would call and convince her to come back to her "real" family. He would then treat her nicely for a few days, but invariably she would be punished for running away and bringing him dishonour. One night in February, 1987, Rock threw a hunting knife at Gisèle, creating a wound three inches deep in her thigh which immediately began gushing blood. Thériault's response was to go and get another beer and go to sleep. When he awoke two hours later, a clot had formed in Gisèle's leg, which had swollen. Rock decided to operate, pressing the leg to cause the wound to re-open, probing it with a red-hot iron file, and pouring cup after cup of boiling water on the leg. A week later, the wound was infected, Rock decided to fill the wound with salt, olive oil, and spruce gum. After her leg healed a bit she tried to escape again, but a few days later she went back to Rock. She had to stay with her husband, after all; it was her role in God's plan.
He passed the acetylene torch over Josée's back until the skin bubbled. He also passed it over Nicole's tummy the day she gave birth for the first time. He hit Jacques in the head with a blunt axe, and broke his ribs with a wooden club. He punched his first-born son, Roch jr, in the face when he refused to wrestle his brother François. He beat Nicole, three months pregnant, causing her to miscarry. On another occasion, he shot a .303-calibre bullet through her shoulder. He broke Gisèle's ribs with his steel-toed boots. He methodically sprained Claude's toes; another time he used a piece of broken glass to slice Claude's arm open. He pulled eleven of Claude's teeth with a pair of pliers, when there was nothing wrong with Claude's teeth. He had one of his wives break Claude's legs with a sledgehammer. He squeezed Gabrielle's and Gisèle's nipples with vicegrips until they bled. He hog-tied Claude and suspended him from the ceiling for an hour. He ordered his wives to pluck Claude's pubic hair bald. He poured boiling water on Claude; another time he made Claude sit down on a lit stove. He beat one of his horses to death with a chain, and ordered Claude to burn the body.
He made his followers eat excrement and dead mice. He punched Solange in the neck, knocking her out. He shot a .22 at Claude. He had Jacques pound Gabrielle's thigh with a sledgehammer. He squeezed Gabrielle's hand in a vice. He whipped Gabrielle in the eye with his belt. He stuck a hypodermic needle in her back with an unknown concoction in it, and twisted it so the tip broke off under her skin. He burned Gabrielle's breast and genitals with the torch. He had Jaques cut off half of Gabrielle's left baby finger with a pair of wire cutters. He broke Gabrielle's fingers with a board. He made her cut a hole in the ice of a pond and jump in the freezing water. He threw a knife at Francine, and at Marise. He broke Solange's cheekbone when she was six months pregnant.
At one point, Gabrielle's uterus prolapsed; after a hard day of working, the organ actually protruded three inches outside her vagina. Rock attempted to fix it himself, punching the uterus back inside Gabrielle's body and fashioning a wooden cone and truss to plug everything up. Although Gabrielle fled to a women's shelter, she returned to the compound instead of seeing a doctor. Rock's next treatment was to tie a piece of string around the exposed portion of uterus and yank at it like a loose tooth. It was a whole year before Gabrielle would have the opportunity to get a partial hysterectomy at the Ross Memorial Hospital in Lindsay, when Rock was on his first trip to Utah.
They always held Rock Thériault blameless.
Good day Moses, my Master,
I would have liked to have talked to you yesterday evening but I think it is preferable to write these things down rather than saying them for fear of talking too much. I am going to talk to you about the last fit of anger that your Master exercised through you. I really believe that what you did doesn't come from you, but from someone much higher. For my part, I really believe that you were possessed by a very powerful spirit. That's what I saw in what you did: the throwing of the knife, the rifle shot, the harm done to Mamy. My eyes saw things that went beyond them. My body is very afraid of all these things. I understand it very well because of the Law of Death in which it exists, but within myself I am well. I am very well and very happy to belong to a REAL MASTER who himself belongs to the only real Master of Life.
~ master of life and death
In the fall of 1988, Solange had begun to feel ill. Thériault convinced her that there was something wrong with her liver, and that there would have to be an operation. One afternoon, he got exceedingly drunk. He started strangling the women, asking if they knew that their breath belonged to him. Then he decided to put on his jewelry. Then he turned to Solange and said, "Rachel, are you ready? I'm going to treat you tonight." Leading them to the bakery, he cleared off the table, and Solange undressed herself and lay down. Rock roughly tried to insert an enema tube into Solange's rectum; the enema fluid was a mixture of molasses, oil, and water. He spent a half an hour trying to get this done, and encouraged her not to be embarrassed about losing control of her bodily functions. He started pressing and punching Solange's stomach; when she put her hands up to fend him off, Rock simply told her to move her hands, and she did. Then he inserted a tube down her throat, and told everyone else to blow and suck on the tube.
Taking a knife, Rock made a five-inch vertical incision on Solange's right side, below the ribs. Then he pulled out a strip of tissue, about four inches long and a quarter of an inch thick, and tore it off, telling her, "There. You're going to be all right." Then he had someone else sew her wound closed, and Solange got up. Everyone went back to the cabin, and Rock ordered a warm bath for her, filled with cherry. This made her feel worse. Then Rock gave her a cold bath. When she went back to her bed, blood started coming out of her mouth, and she died. The doctors later said that she had died of acute perionitis, an inflammation of the peritoneum caused by digestive fluids leaking into the abdominal cavity. It was fatal.
At first, Rock was distraught, and tried killing himself in a number of ways – he tried to get Jacques Giguère to shoot him, then he tried to overdose on Tylenol Extra Strength tablets, and finally he tried to drown himself. But then, according to a letter Thériault wrote to the spirit of the deceased, "a strange force entered my arms and tore the bindings from me. I came out of the water yelling, 'God doesn't want me to die!'" After sending Jacques to fetch Gisèle from her parents' house, he made a call to Dr Jess Groesbeck. Travelling to Utah on October 16, 1988, Thériault told Dr Groesbeck that Solange had died suddenly in the woods from a spontaneously-erupted vein in her esophagus. Dr Groesbeck reassured Thériault that there was nothing Rock could have done to save her, but Thériault informed Groesbeck that God had named Groesbeck as Thériault's guide. Thériault explained that he had been having strange dreams in which Solange was inside Thériault's body; dreams in which Solange takes shape from Rock's spilt semen. Thériault and Groesbeck convinced themselves that Solange was to be the first "reverse birth," a spiritual rebirth through the belly of the male to parallel the carnal rebirth through the womb of the female. Rock became convinced that he was pregnant with his deceased wife Solange.
Thériault convinced Alex Joseph to perform a post-mortem marriage by proxy for himself and Solange, to make "official" what he had only recognized for himself: the marriage between "Moïse" and "Rachel" – and Joseph even threw in an ordination for Thériault, which named Thériault as king over Lot 4, Concession 5. He then returned to Ontario, and after a couple of days, ordered Claude to exhume Solange's body. He had Gabrielle open Solange's body and pour vinegar on her internal organs, to keep worms away; then they buried her again. But a few days later, he had them dig her up again – her body was beginning to decay, but Thériault had big plans. He got Jacques to make a hole in Solange's skull with a hand drill.
Then he masturbated into the hole, spilling his seed onto Solange's rotting brain, convinced he would be able to resuscitate her.
Gisèle told Thériault that Solange's wish had been to be cremated, and Rock agreed to have the group burn Solange's body. Before the cremation, he had Gabrielle remove one of Solange's ribs, which Rock kept in a leather wrapping to carry around with him. After the cremation, everyone took some of the bones to keep. Rock collected some fragments and put them in a jar with olive oil as a preservative. He would regularly masturbate into the jar, in his "sanctuary" and in his bedroom, in an attempt to bring Solange back to life through reverse birth.
Thériault would make another visit to Utah, this time to entrust his next baby, by Francine, to Joseph's care, so that it couldn't be taken by CAS. But during that visit, Joseph and Thériault had an argument, apparently over the way Thériault treated his wives. Joseph successfully stood up to Rock, and this made an impression on Rock's wives; someone had stood up to Moïse and triumphed. Thériault was not all-powerful. This, however, only motivated Rock to be ever more despotic in order to keep control of his family. This wasn't entirely successful; Josée Pelletier left Rock for good in the winter of '88-'89. However, Rock did succeed in concealing the birth of two more children, as well as hiding all knowledge of Solange's death from her family and from the police.
July 26, 1989, Rock became drunk. This was not unusual, and Gisèle, Claude, Francine, and Marise all managed to sneak away into the bush to hide.
Gabrielle, however, did not. Thériault remembered that Gabrielle had a stiff pinky finger (the one that he hadn't already cut off with the wire cutters), and told her to put her hand on the kitchen table. Instead of looking at the finger, however, he stabbed her hand with a hunting knife, pinning her to the table. Blood began to pour out of the hand, but Rock just went to get another beer. Gabrielle forced herself to remain conscious, and after forty-five minutes, Rock came back over to see that Gabrielle's whole arm had turned blue. "It's not looking so good, is it?" he said, fetching a carpet knife. He began whittling her arm away halfway between the elbow and the shoulder. He whittled it all the way to the bone. Too drunk to finish, he called Chantal over to finish the job. She cleared away a narrow band of exposed bone that went all the way around Gabrielle's arm. Then, Rock dislodged the hunting knife which was pinning Gabrielle's arm to the table, and took her over to a stump that was sticking out of the kitchen floor. Taking a dull meat cleaver, Thériault swung at the exposed bone. His first swing missed. His second swing amputated Gabrielle Lavallée's arm completely off.
Gabrielle hadn't cried out the whole time. The next day, she went to a women's shelter, but returned to the compound on prompting from Jacques. A couple of days later, Thériault decided that Gabrielle's stump was gangrenous, and used a pair of scissors to cut out the infection. He also cut a chunk from her breast, and then whacked her on the head with the side of an axe; she fled into the bush, and when she came to her senses two days later, she found that insects had laid eggs in her headwound. She returned to the cabin, only to find Thériault still drunk and itching to operate. Jacques used the acetylene torch to cut a piece off the drive shaft of one of the old junk cars they had in the yard; Rock heated this metal until it was red-hot, and pressed it against Gabrielle's stump. He was so drunk he kept dropping it on Gabrielle's body before he finally finished.
Gabrielle escaped. On August 16, 1989, she made it to a hospital, and concocted some story to explain the missing arm. But the police were called, and the constable filed a charge of aggravated assault against Rock Thériault. But when the police arrived on August 19 with a warrant for Rock's arrest, the compound was deserted. Rock Thériault, Jacques Giguère, Chantal Labrie, and Nicole Ruel, together with the two youngest babies, had fled to Québec. The others had gone home to their families, Rock's spell finally broken.
It took the police six weeks to find Thériault. And it was not until October 6, 1989 that Gisèle decided to tell anyone about Solange's death – unbeknownst to Gisèle, the very day Rock was apprehended by the police at last. Everyone pleaded guilty to all charges laid against them relating to Gabrielle's amputation; Rock netted twelve years (later reduced to ten years because of Rock's "genuine remorse and concern for the victim" – in the words of the court), Jacques five years, Chantal two years less one day, and Nicole eighteen months. The police also pressed charges against Rock for first degree murder, but when the Court found there was insufficient evidence that the murder had been premeditated, Thériault was committed to a trial for second degree murder. Rock's lawyers made a deal that Rock would plead guilty to this charge if no further charges were brought against him.
On January 18, 1993, Rock Thériault was sentenced to life in prison. He was eligible for parole in 1999. Francine, Chantal, and Nicole – Hogla, Ruth, and Debora respectively – remain loyal to Rock. The others have tried to adapt to a new life without him. His many children (somewhere over twenty) are distributed among foster homes across the continent, including the 12-year-old boy who lives in Utah with Alex Joseph.
I don't know if parole has ever been granted, but the prison staff always spoke very highly of Thériault.
They find him very charismatic.