Vanished family could still be alive

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Pierra WillixBusselton Dunsborough Times
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It is the decade-long mystery that has made news headlines across the world and the hunt for answers began in Busselton last week. Pierra Willix reports.

In July, 2007, four people, including a six-year-old girl went missing from their Nannup home, leaving behind a note that simply said “Gone to Brazil”.

None of their bank accounts have been touched since and no trace of any of them, dead or alive, has ever been found.

However, a coronial inquest into the disappearance and suspected deaths of self-styled internet cult leader Simon Kadwell, his partner Chantelle McDougall, their daughter Leela and friend Tony Popic, hopes to provide some answers.

The three-day inquest — held in Busselton from December 6-8 — was told that after the group’s disappearance, it was discovered Simon Kadwell, real name Gary Felton, had assumed the identity of a former colleague in the UK years earlier.

He had also published several doomsday books and had a global following of believers, three of whom took their lives before he vanished.

His teachings centred on the belief followers should prepare for judgment day and crossing into another dimension, which would involve taking their own lives.

Police clinical psychologist Kris Gieson described Mr Felton as a “narcissist” and “con man” who used spiritual doctrine to “hide his own self-interests”. Ms Gieson told the inquest she strongly doubted the group had ever travelled to Brazil and said it was a “ruse” that would allow them to escape scrutiny and enable them to end their lives.

“I do believe it was also about protecting the family from worrying and grieving,” she said.

The lack of evidence from immigration records of the group leaving the country and the fact their bank accounts had not been touched led Ms Gieson to believe the bodies were still in Australia.

“It seems likely they did not travel far from Nannup or live for very long,” she said.

However, she said she could not form an opinion that Mr Felton was also dead and said he could be living under an assumed identity.

Throughout the inquest, witnesses were called, including a former lover and follower of Mr Felton, who said she had previously lived with him, Ms McDougall and another woman, with all of whom Mr Felton had intimate relationships.

Chantelle’s parents, Catherine and Jim McDougall, said the inquest had revealed new information for them.

Speaking about Mr Felton, Mr McDougall said he had “brainwashed” their daughter, while Mrs McDougall described him as a “con man”.

WA Coroner Barry King’s ruling will not be handed down until mid-2018 but he said his inclination was that the group was still alive.

“It is very difficult to exclude the possibility that somehow all of these people are living somewhere else under a pseudonym,” he said.

“My inclination is that there is simply insufficient evidence to find beyond reasonable doubt that everyone is dead, although possibly one or more could be dead.”

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