An Inquest Is Looking at How a WA Cult Leader and His Family Vanished Into Thin Air
Four people left their Nannup home in July 2007. There have been zero leads since.
Kadwell in the background with his family. Image via YouTube
A coronial inquest began Wednesday into the 2007 disappearance of three adults and a young girl from their home in WA. Chantelle McDougall, 30, her cult leader boyfriend Simon Kadwell, 45, their daughter Leela McDougall, six, and a friend and lodger Tony Popic, 44, were last seen on July 13, 2007 when they sold a car to a dealer. The $4,000 that was transferred to Chantelle’s account was never touched.
The landlord later found their house in Nannup—two hours south of Perth—spotlessly cleaned, but with food left in the fridge. The only clue to their whereabouts was a note that read, "Gone to Brazil." Despite this investigators have never found evidence any of them left the country, nor arrived in Brazil. The case has since become one of Western Australia’s most enduring mysteries, fuelled by a series of weird details unearthed by investigators.
Simon Kadwell was described in court as eccentric and jobless, often staying up all night on his computer and sleeping during the day. The court also heard that his real name was Gary Felton, while “Simon Kadwell” was the identity of a former colleague that he’d stolen some 15 years earlier.
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At night, he wrote under the pen name “Si” to around 40 followers of his online teachings, The Truth Fellowship. He’d also written two books prophesying judgment day, claiming that Earth was approaching the end of a 75,000-year cycle and only those who learned "the lessons of the physical plane” could be saved. New copies of his book, Servers of the Divine Plan, can still be bought on Amazon for US$158.
According to several reports, Kadwell had become increasingly despondent in the weeks before disappearing. He told several people online that the family was moving to join a religious cult in Rio Branco, Brazil, on the edge of the Amazon. Chantelle McDougall’s mum also told Insight that a passport had shown up at the house for her granddaughter, which was an event none of the adults would discuss.
Their disappearance has sparked some pretty interesting theories, including the possibility they were killed in a Brazilian air crash a few days after leaving. Tam Airlines domestic flight 3054 overshot the Sao Paulo Airport runway on July 17, killing all 181 passengers. While the names of the missing Australians didn’t appear in Tam Airlines’ records, investigators have looked at the possibility Kadwell forged everyone’s documents. The fact that around a third of the recovered bodies were burned beyond identification has added weight to the theory.
Last year, another internet theory proposed that a homeless, English-speaking teen found in Rome might be Leela McDougall. An image of the woman appeared on a US Facebook page for missing people, and some members suggested she resembled Leela, a decade older.
The coronial inquest examining the family’s disappearances will continue in the WA town of Busselton. In a brief opening address, counsel assisting the coroner Sergeant Lyle Housiaux summarised that: “extensive inquiries have failed to locate any of them and they remain as long term missing persons.”
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