A self-styled cult leader physically intimidated and threatened an ex-girlfriend when she tried to leave after being involved in a polygamous relationship, an inquest has been told.
Simon Kadwell, his partner Chantelle McDougall, their five-year-old daughter Leela, and friend Tony Popic vanished from their farm house in the South West WA town of Nannup in 2007.
A coronial inquest into their disappearance has not yet heard any concrete evidence of the group being alive or dead.
The inquest, held this week in Busselton, has heard how Mr Kadwell’s philosophical teachings may have driven two other followers to take their own lives.
Cult leader’s multiple relationships
Mr Kadwell’s former girlfriend Justine Smith testified on Wednesday that she lived in a house in Perth’s western suburbs in the early 2000s with Mr Kadwell, Ms McDougall and another woman.
She said Mr Kadwell had intimate relationships with all three women before he and Ms McDougall moved out when she fell pregnant with Leela.
“Even when I was there I thought of it as a cult at times,” Ms Smith said.
“We were discouraged to make contact with our own families.”
Ms Smith said when she decided to leave the group, Mr Kadwell physically abused her.
“He came to my door when it was dark — he almost stalked me in a way — and forced his way in and held my arms above my head,” she said.
“It didn’t cause me harm but it showed me the potential he had for physical force.”
She reported the incident to police but there was not enough evidence to proceed any further.
The inquest heard Mr Kadwell later emailed Ms Smith to apologise for his treatment of her, saying “dark forces” had been interfering with his mind.
She said she had to see a psychologist after the ordeal.
Ms Smith also provided insight into Mr Kadwell’s beliefs.
“I know it’s been referred to as a death cult, but it’s not like you would force yourself to die,” she said.
“A day would arrive where a sort of catharsis would happen and you’d be caught up in that and your soul would rise up to another dimension.”
Brazil note a decoy
Ms Smith said she believes the “Gone to Brazil” note left behind at the couple’s Nannup farmhouse was a decoy.
“I think it’s more likely they would be hiding, based on how I knew them,” she said.
“The only inkling I would have is that maybe they would go where there’s someone from their group, or a place with positive spiritual energy.”
She suggested Mr Kadwell may have feared somebody had discovered his true identity. He was born Gary Felton, but later adopted the identity of Simon Kadwell.
Ms Smith also recalled being surprised when Mr Kadwell’s parents referred to him as “Gary” during a one-off dinner together.
“He had told me [after] that he had a friend at school, Simon, that had been adopted and he had taken on that name,” she said.
The inquest also heard from Elanor McKie, who had become friends with Ms McDougall at their daughters’ playgroup in Nannup.
She believed Mr Kadwell had brainwashed Ms McDougall.
“It seemed like she would do anything he said,” Ms McKie said.
“I just don’t think they ever felt like they belonged in modern society. They couldn’t wait not to be here.”