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10 Female Partners of Cult Leaders and Their Fates

by Alexander Heathfield
fact checked by Darci Heikkinen

Love is blind to hearts of darkness in these chilling cases of women who devoted themselves in body, mind, and soul to some of the most infamous cult leaders in history. Whether it’s Stockholm or the so-called Bonnie and Clyde syndrome, there is something in the air that leads lonely hearts to seek out monsters.

Some started as sheltered, innocent individuals but were drawn into the darkness by charismatic figures. The role of a cult leader’s wife or girlfriend, while seen by some as prestigious, also involved sinister responsibilities.

Related: 10 Mysterious (Sometimes Gross) New Facts about Ancient Cults

10 Patricia Krenwinkle

Patricia Krenwinkel, Leslie Van Houten on why they followed Charles Manson: Part 2

Charles Manson, synonymous with the term “cult,” much like Hitler is associated with tyranny and genocide, crossed paths with Patricia Krenwinkle in Manhattan Beach, California, in 1967. For the 20-year-old Patricia, Manson was the first person to ever call her beautiful, filling a void of affection in her life. She joined him and other girls on a journey through the American West, marked by drugs and promiscuity, resembling stoned hippies frolicking in the woods, with Manson playing the flute.

The idyllic hippie façade soon revealed a darker agenda as she took on a prominent leadership role, acting as an enforcer of Manson’s oppressive rule, forcing the other women in the cult to obey and preventing them from escaping. The Manson Family committed brutal murders driven by an impending apocalyptic race war conspiracy called “Helter Skelter.” The murders include the infamous Tate-Labianca murders in August 1969, with Krenwinkle implicated. She even used the victims’ blood to write “Helter Skelter” on a wall.

Initially sentenced to death, Krenwinkle and her fellow cult members saw their sentences reduced to life imprisonment when California briefly suspended the death penalty in 1972. Patricia Krenwinkle remains incarcerated at the California Institution for Women. She has been denied parole ten times. In May 2022, she was granted parole, but Governor Newsom reversed that decision, keeping Krenwinkle in prison… for now.[1]

9 Tomoko Matsumoto

Japan’s Most Dangerous Cult, explained.

Tomoko Matsumoto was drawn to AUM Shinrikyo leader Shoko Asahara’s non-violent doctrine, which emphasized not harming any living creature. She married Asahara in 1978, resulting in the birth of two sons and four daughters. However, Asahara’s mental state deteriorated in 1985 when he claimed to have received revelations from the god Shiva, appointing him as “Abiraketsu no Mikoto.” He was tasked with building the utopian Kingdom of Shambhala consisting of individuals with “psychic powers.” This delusional transformation culminated in the infamous 1995 Tokyo subway chemical attack, causing 14 deaths and over 1,000 injuries.

Tomoko faced legal consequences when a fellow AUM follower was murdered in 1994, and she was charged with conspiracy to commit murder. Although she denied active involvement in the murder and claimed no role in the 1995 Tokyo sarin gas attacks, she was sentenced to six years in prison in 1999.

Tomoko was released from prison in 2002, changed her name to Akari Matsumoto, and returned to Tokyo with her children. However, in 2017, her youngest daughter legally severed all ties with her parents. In 2018, Tomoko sought custody of Shoko Asahara’s ashes, but her request was denied. Current reports suggest that she resides with her youngest son.[2]

8 Mary Sue Hubbard

Ironies of Scientology – #2: Hubbard’s wives

Mary Sue Whipp’s life took a dramatic turn when she began an affair with L. Ron Hubbard, the controversial founder of Scientology. In 1952, she married Hubbard after becoming pregnant. In the late 1960s, as Scientology faced intense media scrutiny and government investigations worldwide, Hubbard moved to the high seas to avoid hostile governments’ attention. This tumultuous period culminated in a massive FBI raid on the Church of Scientology’s offices in 1977, exposing a covert “dirty tricks” campaign against perceived enemies of Scientology, orchestrated by Mary Sue as the head of the Church’s Guardian’s Office.

A year later, Mary Sue Hubbard was indicted for conspiring against the government, particularly targeting the IRS in Scientology’s quest for tax exemptions. In October 1979, Mary Sue received a five-year prison sentence and a $10,000 fine, while L. Ron Hubbard went into hiding and remained secluded for the rest of his life. Mary Sue began her prison term in January 1983 but was released after just one year due to claimed medical issues. She died in 2002.[3]

7 Mother Divine (Sweet Angel)

Father Divine: A Case Study in Charisma

On August 7, 1946, a “spotless virgin bride” was introduced to the International Peace Mission Movement. Edna Rose Ritchings, the 21-year-old bride, known as Sweet Angel to the followers, was to become the wife of Father Divine, a revered figure considered God incarnate by his disciples. Father Divine claimed Sweet Angel carried the spirit of his first wife, Sister Penny, who had died in 1943. This secret remained concealed for months because Sister Penny was Black, and her death had not been publicized.

Mother Divine traveled with Father Divine, participated in essential rituals, and managed the organization as his health declined. In 1971, cult leader Jim Jones attempted to seize control of the dwindling movement, claiming he was the reincarnation of Father Divine. Jones initiated a six-year, ultimately unsuccessful campaign of sabotage against the group.

Mother Divine continued to address her husband in the present tense, maintaining a place for him at every meal. His bedroom remained unchanged after his death, and during interviews, Mother Divine sat beside his chair, seeking his guidance. Mother Divine, who led the Peace Mission for many years, died on March 4, 2017, at the age of 91, at the organization’s estate in Gladwyne, Pennsylvania.[4]

6 Natalia Guerra

Chilean ‘cult leader’ Ramon Castillo found dead in Peru

When Natalia Guerra encountered Ramón Gustavo Castillo—who took the name Antares de la Cruz—he was a musician who transitioned to alternative medicine and folk religion between 2003 and 2006. Together, they founded the “Calypso” cult, and their shared Las Condes apartment became the center for their healing rituals. Castillo, the leader of the cult, maintained sexual relationships with all the women in his group, which he saw as a religious tradition.

Castillo secretly took his and Guerra’s child from the clinic where she was born to prevent her birth registration. In a disturbing belief that his own child was the antichrist, he planned a sacrificial ritual to thwart the impending December 2012 doomsday prophecy. On November 23, they placed the infant on a wooden board, sealed her mouth with tape, and callously threw her onto a burning bonfire, tragically ending the baby’s life at just three days old.

Following this gruesome act, “Antares” rescheduled his doomsday prediction for later and instructed his followers to stay put. When nothing catastrophic occurred on the revised date, he changed the date again, this time to November 21, 2017, and urged his followers to relocate to Ecuador. However, many disillusioned cult members lost faith in Castillo and, realizing the gravity of the situation, reported him to the authorities.

Castillo fled Chile and was on the run before committing suicide shortly after the police started closing in. Guerra and other cult members were arrested for the baby’s killing, and Guerra was sentenced to five years in prison.[5]

5 Kyoko Okawa

Japan’s Strangest Cult? | False Gods

In 2020, a religious group known as Happy Science made a significant appearance in Times Square, delivering a doomsday message. Central to this movement was Kyoko Okawa, who had been a pivotal figure alongside her husband, Ryuho Okawa, since 1987. Happy Science followers believed that their leader, Ryuho Okawa, who was married to Kyoko Okawa, was the earth’s greatest savior, and the world was on the brink of destruction. Ryuho Okawa asserted that he was the current incarnation of a deity named “El Cantare” and various other figures, such as Hermes and Gautama Buddha.

In 1988, Kyoko assumed the position of Presidential Assistant and led the women’s group known as the “Society of Aphrodite.” Kyoko authored books primarily targeting a female audience on behalf of Happy Science. Okawa claimed that he and Kyoko had shared past lives together. The “Society of Aphrodite” and one of its branches, “The Society of Florence,” were named after the Greek goddess Aphrodite and Florence Nightingale, respectively, and were believed to be previous incarnations of Kyoko.

In 2009, Kyoko Okawa, now the leader of the political wing of the cult, announced plans to abandon the pacifist Buddhist teachings in favor of a more aggressive stance, targeting China and North Korea. She asserted that these nations were plotting to invade and colonize Japan, starting with a nuclear warfare strategy.
In a surprising development in 2011, reports emerged of Kyoko’s divorce from Ryuho Okawa, with Happy Science claiming that she had been expelled from the organization. This action was attributed to alleged damage caused to the organization, negative comments in newspapers, and harm to the organization’s reputation.[6]

4 Bonnie Nettles

Bonnie Nettles, a married mother of four until 1972, sought spiritual contact and believed she communicated with Brother Francis, a 19th-century monk. Her visions predicted a meeting with a tall, light-haired man, which she eventually presumed was Marshall Applewhite. They joined together in 1972, convinced they were the “end time” witnesses described in the Bible. By 1975, they attracted followers and anticipated a celestial voyage. When this vision didn’t materialize, they relocated to Texas, adopted communal living, and practiced for a “higher existence.

Together, Bonnie Nettles and Marshall Applewhite founded Heaven’s Gate. Nettles guided the group’s mystical interpretations and signs. Scholars pinpoint Nettles’s 1985 death as a pivotal moment, shifting their theology from physical ascension on a UFO to regarding the body as a mere vessel for the soul. Her passing in 1985 profoundly impacted the group’s theology, ultimately leading to their tragic mass suicide in 1997.[7]

3 Sara Aldrete

4. Sara Aldrete: The Community College Cultist

Sara Aldrete was part of a secret group called the “Narcosatanicos” or “Satanic drug cult” in Matamoros during the 1980s. This group was involved in illegal drug activities, rituals, and murders. Their leader, Adolfo Constanzo, was known as the “Godfather of Matamoros,” and Aldrete was his close companion. Members of the cult were forced to carry out violent acts, including ritualistic killings.

The cult gained notoriety for several ritualistic murders in Matamoros, with Mark Kilroy’s abduction, torture, and murder being the most famous in 1989. Constanzo and the cult ran away when detectives found a place where they kept strange things like human hair, brains, teeth, and skulls from their victims. On May 6, 1989, the police found where they were hiding in Mexico City.

Aldrete was sentenced to 62 years in jail for her involvement in the cult’s killings. Her sentence was later reduced to 30 years, and after serving 13 years in prison, she was released in 2002. Aldrete has written a book called El Angel de la Oscuridad or The Angel of Darkness, which provides her perspective on her involvement with the Narcosatanicos cult, her arrest, imprisonment, and eventual release.[8]

2 Karen Zerby

The Truth About The Children Of God Cult

In 1969, Karen Zerby joined Teens for Christ—later becoming the Children of God and now known as The Family International—and became the personal secretary to David Berg, the group’s founder. After Berg’s separation from his first wife, Zerby married him. Berg’s belief system revolved around manipulation, abuse, and his “Law of Love,” which justified sexual depravity. Zerby played a crucial role in transcribing Berg’s teachings and introducing the concept of being “spirit-led” within the group, enabling their actions.

In the 1980s, Zerby issued her own religious decrees to address sexual abuse allegations. New members were prohibited from engaging in sexual activity for the first six months, and sexual contact between adults and minors was strictly forbidden.

Following Berg’s death in 1994, Zerby took over as the organization’s leader and married another church leader, Steven Douglas Kelly. In 1996, she introduced the practice of prophecy for members. Critics argue that despite operational changes, the group remains a cult, accused of subjecting children to sexual, physical, and psychological abuse. Tragically, some associated with the group have taken their own lives. Nonetheless, under Karen’s leadership, the cult persists.[9]

1 Betty Holloway/Marjorie Huntley/Olive Byrne

Wonder Woman was created by a polyamorous, feminist man

The story of Wonder Woman’s creation is not one you’d expect to see on a list involving cults and other grotesques, intricately woven with the unexpected involvement of a polyamorous sex cult led by her creator, William Marston. Marston, not only a psychologist but also the inventor of an early lie detector prototype, diverted his invention from its intended purpose of detecting deception to measuring women’s erotic arousal while watching romantic films. The American military later adapted this device for espionage and interrogations.

In 1919, Marston married Sadie Elizabeth Holloway, calling her Betty, and eventually introduced a young woman—and former student of his—into the dynamic. Olive Byrne became Marston’s mistress and was responsible for all the children in the house—both hers and Betty’s—fathered by Marston. Their polyamorous relationship sometimes even included another: Marjorie Huntley. As a young widow, Huntley embraced beliefs in “love binding” and the psychic influence of orgasm, occasionally residing with them while assisting in creating Wonder Woman comics in the 1940s.

This unconventional arrangement evolved into a free love cult, with Marston, Betty, and Olive taking on titles like Love Leader, Mistress, and Love Girl. Within this cult, participants embraced principles of nudity, dominance, submission, and love, forming “Love Units” with multiple partners. The cult’s extensive 95-page memo outlined these practices, emphasizing female sexual empowerment and a preference for nudity. Marston believed that within the next century, the U.S. would become a society led by women, like the Amazonian matriarchy. To prepare men for this change, he created Wonder Woman.[10]

fact checked by Darci Heikkinen