Dead at 89, Paul Schaefer sounds like a monster out of a horror movie, but he was terrifyingly real. Strangest detail: “He had a glass eye, having accidentally gouged out his right eye while trying to untie a shoelace knot with a fork.” The Washington Post reports:
Paul Schaefer, 89, a German-born evangelical preacher who was convicted of sexually abusing 25 children while leading one of the world’s most notorious anti-Semitic and apocalyptic sects, died April 24 of a heart ailment at a prison hospital in Chile.
His enclave in southern Chile, Colonia Dignidad…doubled during the 1970s and ’80s as a detention and torture center for opponents of right-wing dictator Gen. Augusto Pinochet.
At the time of his death, Mr. Schaefer was still under investigation in the 1985 disappearance of mathematician Boris Weisfeiler, an American citizen who went missing while hiking near Colonia Dignidad.
Mr. Schaefer turned to preaching after serving in the German military during World War II. He traveled the German countryside with an acoustic guitar and a message of salvation through sexual abstinence. Armed with powerful charisma and a gift for public speaking, he collected hundreds of followers before eventually establishing an orphanage near Bonn.
Accused of molesting two boys at the orphanage, he fled to Chile in 1961 and started his commune on a picturesque ranch 225 miles south of Santiago. The enclave boasted its own landing strip, television station and power plant, as well as lumber, honey and brick-making businesses. Mr. Schaefer built a school and a hospital, winning over some local citizens by offering them free education and health care.
However, Colonia Dignidad’s darker side soon emerged. Former members of the sect told reporters and Chilean and German officials of Mr. Schaefer’s unsavory tendencies. He was always accompanied by a handpicked coterie of boys who ran his errands, brushed his hair and tied his shoes. He maintained total control over the lives of his followers, the former members said, forbidding contact with the outside world and using electric shocks and tranquilizers to punish those who broke his rules.
Babies were taken from their mothers at birth and raised in a communal nursery. All adults were known as “uncle” or “aunt”; Mr. Schaefer was called “permanent uncle.”
Mr. Schaefer avoided arrest for decades, largely because of his close relationships with political and military leaders — including Pinochet, who was brought to power by a 1973 coup d’etat. Thousands of political dissidents disappeared or were killed during Pinochet’s rule, and human rights groups say that many were taken to Colonia Dignidad, or Dignity Colony, where they were tortured in underground chambers.