Tip-off from former cult member leads to arrest of woman over alleged 1987 murder of two-year-old girl near Oberon

A woman extradited from New Zealand over the alleged murder of a two-year-old girl more than three decades ago was part of a cult that believed in child beatings, NSW police say.

The 60-year-old woman was escorted to Sydney on Thursday after detectives from the Unsolved Homicide Team began investigating the case in 2019.

It will be alleged the woman used a piece of plastic tubing to beat the girl to death in July or August 1987, at a time when they lived at the Ministry of God cult near Oberon, in the state’s Central Tablelands.

The Homicide Squad Commander, Detective Superintendent Danny Doherty, said the cult leader is accused of helping dispose of the girl’s remains by burning her body and placing it in a 44-gallon drum, which was then dropped into a river.

Police divers searched the property as part of a crime scene warrant.(Supplied: NSW Police)

“Police will allege… there are some other beatings, there were some teachings and beliefs through the cult that it was necessary to beat the children, for whatever reasons,” Superintendent Doherty said.

“There was an influence from the cult leader.”

The girl’s biological father was told she’d been given to another unidentified couple but Superintendent Doherty said a former cult member came forward in 2019, prompting the investigation.

“It would have been a very dark secret to keep for all that time,” he said.

“She’s done the right thing, this person who’s come forward.”

Investigators have been tracking down other former cult members, who are now spread across the country, and interviewing them as potential witnesses.

Superintendent Doherty said the biological father had been told of the development.

“He’s thankful and pleased [that] at least now there’s going to be some justice hopefully and someone is going to at least go to court and face that justice.”

Police said once the matter was looked into, “eerie parallels” emerged between the case and other investigations where a child was believed to have been adopted or given away.

A rural house surrounded by police cars and long grass.
This property at Porters Retreat, near Oberon, was searched in November.(Supplied: NSW Police)

Police have searched the property extensively.

“They did find a portion of the drum, however, after 35 years or so, there were no remains located, unfortunately,” Superintendent Doherty said.

“There were some other items examined, including the vehicle that was used by the 70-year-old cult leader.”

He described the brief of evidence as a “strong circumstantial” case.

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