Who Killed Roch Thériault Of The Ant Hill Kids Cult?

Cults have been a thing since at least 1000 B.C (via ScienceDaily) and likely predate even that. Though they've been around for millennia, in the U.S. and Canada, the 1970s were a "golden age," of a sort, for cults. As KCRW explains, changing cultural attitudes and societal upheaval during this time led North American young people to question their place in the world and whether or not there was more to life than just getting a job, buying a home, having a family, and otherwise following the path that their parents and grandparents followed. Unfortunately, far too many young people looking for a sense of belonging found themselves wrapped up in cults.

One cult that operated during the 1970s was Canada's Ant Hill Kids cult. While some cults of the day committed murders, robberies, or otherwise hassled outsiders in other ways, the Ant Hill Kids kept to themselves. However, that's not to suggest that the cult wasn't abusive. The list of atrocities committed by cult leader Roch Thériault on his followers is gruesome in the extreme (via Toronto.com). Fortunately, Thériault's victims got some measure of justice when he was sent to prison. However, the former leader did not live to complete his sentence as he was killed by a fellow inmate.

From Devout Seventh-day Adventist To Cult Leader

Roch Thériault was born in 1947 and raised Catholic (via the Daily Mirror). However, by adolescence he'd become fascinated with the Bible — the Hebrew Bible in particular — and spent far more time studying the scriptures than a Canadian teen in the early 1960s could be expected to. At some point, he left Catholicism and instead became a Seventh-day Adventist, a Christian group that, among other things, believes Christians should worship on Saturday (not Sunday) and encourages its followers to adopt a healthy lifestyle, including by practicing a plant-based diet (according to Christianity.com).

With his charismatic preaching and inspirational workshops, Thériault was able to assemble a following, particularly of young people. According to the book "The Cult Phenomenon: How Groups Function," after some time, Thériault hit upon the idea of building a commune. Specifically, in 1977, he and a handful of followers settled in Sainte-Marie, Québec.

From Good Deeds To Isolation And Abuse

The group that would come to be known as the Ant Hill Kids didn't start out as a violent cult. According to "The Cult Phenomenon: How Groups Function," in the beginning, the group actually did good deeds for the locals in their community, such as offering food to the underprivileged and providing medical care — or at least, Roch Thériault's understanding of medical care, informed by his Seventh-day Adventist beliefs — to sickened individuals.

Before long, however, the group was ticking off all of the boxes that marked a cult. The leader began demanding that all of his followers wear the same clothes. They were forbidden from having contact with the outside world, including their families. After a while, Thériault hit upon the idea of moving his followers to a new location and building a compound from scratch. The group members actually did the work while their leader did nothing, leading to the name "Ant Hill Kids," because the cult members scurried like ants while their leader supervised.

From Abuse To Torture And Murder

Things started falling apart for the Ant Hill Kids — and for Roch Thériault, in particular — in 1979, according to "The Cult Phenomenon: How Groups Function." A prediction he'd made that the world was going to end came and went without the world ending, although his followers accepted his explanation that he'd made a miscalculation. Meanwhile, government authorities had taken an interest in Thériault and forced him to undergo multiple psychiatric evaluations.

It was around this time that Thériault's abuse began to escalate. One woman said she was beaten with a belt when she fell asleep during one of his sermons. He sent members outside, naked, in the brutal Québec winter; an infant might have frozen to death in this way, according to Toronto.com. He also made other members torture each other, such as by cutting off fingers and toes. When cult members got sick, or when Thériault got it into his head that they were sick (whether they were or not), he subjected them to gruesome medical "treatments" like wine enemas.

"Basically, he tortured everybody to get control over them," said Bob Galipeau, an official who had visited the site (via Toronto.com).

The Torture and Disfigurement of Gabrielle Lavallée

It's not certain who suffered the worst at the hands of Roch Thériault, but one woman's rather gruesome abuse eventually led to the cult leader's undoing, as well as the end of the cult.

According to "The Cult Phenomenon: How Groups Function," when Gabrielle Lavallée failed to earn enough money for the cult by selling baked goods door-to-door, Roch Thériaultpunished her by forcibly removing her teeth with pliers. When she displeased him in other ways, he punctured her hand with a knife. At some point in 1989, Thériault forcibly amputated the woman's arm, likely without anesthesia or any attention paid to infection control. It was then that she decided to leave the compound for good.

Thériault, though likely responsible for multiple murders (including of children) and multiple acts of violence, torture, and assault (also possibly of children), was only ever criminally charged with his activities associated with Lavallée. He was eventually sentenced to life in prison, effectively bringing an end to the Ant Hill Kids. However, his story didn't end with his sentencing; as the old saying goes, those who live by the sword die by the sword, and Thériault himself would die by violence at the hands of another inmate.

A Prison Shiv

In 1993, Roch Thériault was sent to prison and began serving his time at Dorchester, a medium-security facility (via CBC News). What happened during his first 18 years there is uncertain, but by 2011, he'd somehow run afoul of other inmates, including a man named Matthew Gerrard MacDonald, who was himself doing life in the facility.

On the morning of February 26, 2011, guards found Thériault dead in his cell, having been stabbed in the neck by a "shiv," which is to say, a homemade weapon made in the prison (per the Roodepoort Record). There was no ambiguity about who had killed him: other prisoners later said that they had heard MacDonald make threatening statements against the former cult leader, and the two had an altercation of some kind (although the exact catalyst for their fight remains unknown). Nevertheless, MacDonald himself admitted what he'd done to the guards almost immediately after killing Thériault, who was 63 at the time: "That piece of s*** is down on the range. Here's the knife, I've sliced him up," he said.

MacDonald, who was already doing life, was given an additional 25 years on his sentence (via CTV News).