Roch Thériault

Last updated
Roch Thériault
Born(1947-05-16)May 16, 1947
Saguenay, Quebec, Canada
DiedFebruary 26, 2011(2011-02-26) (aged 63)
Cause of deathStabbed in neck with shiv in prison
Occupation Cult leader

Roch Thériault (May 16, 1947 February 26, 2011) was a Canadian cult leader who led the small religious group the Ant Hill Kids in Burnt River, Ontario, between 1977 and 1989. Thériault, a self-proclaimed prophet under the name Moïse , founded the doomsday cult in Quebec based on Seventh-day Adventist Church beliefs. Thériault maintained multiple wives and concubines, impregnating all female members as a religious requirement, and fathering 26 children. [1] Thériault's followers, including 12 adults and 22 children, lived under his totalitarian rule at the commune and were subject to severe physical and sexual abuse.

Cult A social group defined by its unusual religious, spiritual, or philosophical beliefs,

In modern English, the term cult has come to usually refer to a social group defined by its unusual religious, spiritual, or philosophical beliefs, or its common interest in a particular personality, object or goal. This sense of the term is controversial and it has divergent definitions in both popular culture and academia and it also has been an ongoing source of contention among scholars across several fields of study. It is usually considered pejorative.

Burnt River, Ontario Place in Ontario, Canada

Burnt River is a hamlet located in the middle of the former Township of Somerville, in the City of Kawartha Lakes, Ontario, Canada. The community is on the Burnt River.

Ontario Province of Canada

Ontario is one of the 13 provinces and territories of Canada and is located in east-central Canada. It is Canada's most populous province accounting for 38.3 percent of the country's population, and is the second-largest province in total area. Ontario is fourth-largest jurisdiction in total area when the territories of the Northwest Territories and Nunavut are included. It is home to the nation's capital city, Ottawa, and the nation's most populous city, Toronto, which is also Ontario's provincial capital.


Thériault was arrested for assault in 1989, dissolving the cult, and was convicted for murder in 1993 for the death of follower Solange Boilard. He had previously killed an infant named Samuel Giguère, while two of his disciples, Geraldine Gagné Auclair and Gabrielle Nadeau, died following homeopathic treatments administered to them by Thériault. Thériault received a life sentence, which he was serving when he was murdered at Dorchester Penitentiary in 2011. Thériault, along with Robert Pickton, Clifford Olson and Paul Bernardo, has been considered one of Canada's most notorious criminals since the 1980s. [2]

An assault is the act of inflicting physical harm or unwanted physical contact upon a person or, in some specific legal definitions, a threat or attempt to commit such an action. It is both a crime and a tort and, therefore, may result in either criminal and/or civil liability. Generally, the common law definition is the same in criminal and tort law.

Murder Unlawful killing of a human with malice aforethought

Murder is the unlawful killing of another human without justification or valid excuse, especially the unlawful killing of another human with malice aforethought. This state of mind may, depending upon the jurisdiction, distinguish murder from other forms of unlawful homicide, such as manslaughter. Manslaughter is a killing committed in the absence of malice, brought about by reasonable provocation, or diminished capacity. Involuntary manslaughter, where it is recognized, is a killing that lacks all but the most attenuated guilty intent, recklessness.

Dorchester Penitentiary Canadian federal corrections facility located in the village of Dorchester, New Brunswick

The Dorchester Penitentiary is a Canadian federal corrections facility located in the village of Dorchester, New Brunswick. It shares a property with Westmorland Institution and Shepody Healing Centre.


Early life

Roch Thériault was born on May 16, 1947, in Saguenay, Quebec, Canada, into a French-Canadian family, and raised in Thetford Mines. As a child Thériault was considered to be very intelligent, but dropped out of school in the 7th grade and began to teach himself the Old Testament of the Bible. [3] Thériault believed that the end of the world was near, and would be brought on by the war between good and evil. Thériault converted from Catholicism to the Seventh-day Adventist Church, and began practicing the denomination's regular holistic beliefs which encouraged a healthy lifestyle free of unhealthy foods and tobacco.

Saguenay, Quebec City in Quebec, Canada

Saguenay is a city in the Saguenay–Lac-Saint-Jean region of Quebec, Canada, on the Saguenay River, about 200 kilometres (120 mi) north of Quebec City by overland route. It is about 126 kilometres (78 mi) upriver and northwest of Tadoussac, located at the confluence with the St. Lawrence River. It was formed in 2002 by merging the cities of Chicoutimi and Jonquière and the town of La Baie. Chicoutimi was founded by the French in 1676.

Quebec Province of Canada

Quebec is one of the thirteen provinces and territories of Canada. It is bordered to the west by the province of Ontario and the bodies of water James Bay and Hudson Bay; to the north by Hudson Strait and Ungava Bay; to the east by the Gulf of Saint Lawrence and the province of Newfoundland and Labrador; and to the south by the province of New Brunswick and the U.S. states of Maine, New Hampshire, Vermont, and New York. It also shares maritime borders with Nunavut, Prince Edward Island, and Nova Scotia. Quebec is Canada's largest province by area and its second-largest administrative division; only the territory of Nunavut is larger. It is historically and politically considered to be part of Central Canada.

Thetford Mines City in Quebec, Canada

Thetford Mines is a city in south-central Quebec, Canada. It is the seat of Les Appalaches Regional County Municipality.

Ant Hill Kids

In the mid-1970s, Thériault used his exceptional charismatic skills to begin to convince a group of people to leave their jobs and homes to join him in a religious movement. Thériault formed the cult in 1977 in Sainte-Marie, Quebec, with the goal to form a commune where people could freely listen to his motivational speeches, live in unity and equality, and be free of sin. [3] He prohibited the group from remaining in contact with their families and with the Seventh-day Adventist Church, as this was against his cult's values of freedom. Thériault's fear of the end of the world grew, claiming that God had warned him that it would come in February 1979, and used the commune to prepare for it. In 1978, in preparation, Thériault moved his commune by hiking to a mountainside he called "Eternal Mountain" in Saint-Jogues, in the sparsely populated Gaspé Peninsula, where he claimed they could all be saved. [4] [5] There, Thériault made the commune build their town while he relaxed, comparing them to ants working in an ant hill, naming the group the Ant Hill Kids. In February 1979, when the apocalypse did not occur, people started questioning Thériault's wisdom, but he defended himself saying that time on Earth and in God’s world were not parallel, therefore it was a miscalculation. To expand the community as well as keep the members devoted, Thériault married and impregnated all of the women, fathering over 20 children with 9 female members of the group, and by the 1980s there were nearly 40 members. Followers were made to wear identical tunics to represent equality and their devotion to the commune.

The term charisma has two senses:

  1. compelling attractiveness or charm that can inspire devotion in others
  2. a divinely conferred power or talent
Sainte-Marie, Quebec City in Quebec, Canada

Sainte-Marie is a city in the province of Quebec. It is the seat of the Municipalité régionale de la Nouvelle-Beauce, in Chaudière-Appalaches. The population was 12,889 as of the Canada 2011 Census, and was 99.0% French-speaking as of 2006. It is located 59 kilometres (37 mi) south-east of Quebec City, on the Chaudière River.

Commune Community of people living together, sharing common interests

A commune is an intentional community of people living together, sharing common interests, often having common values and beliefs, as well as shared property, possessions, resources, and, in some communes, work, income or assets.

In 1984, the group relocated from Quebec to a new site near Burnt River, Ontario, a hamlet in Central Ontario now part of the city of Kawartha Lakes.

Central Ontario Secondary region in Ontario, Canada

Central Ontario is a secondary region of Southern Ontario in the Canadian province of Ontario that lies between Georgian Bay and the eastern end of Lake Ontario.

Kawartha Lakes City in Ontario, Canada

The City of Kawartha Lakes is a unitary municipality in Central Ontario, Canada. It is a municipality legally structured as a single-tier city; however, Kawartha Lakes is the size of a typical Ontario county and is mostly rural. It is the second largest single-tier municipality in Ontario by land area.


Following the cult's formation, Thériault began to move away from being a motivational leader as his drinking problem worsened, becoming increasingly totalitarian over the lives of his followers and irrational in his beliefs. Members were not allowed to speak to each other when he was not present, nor were they allowed to have sex with each other without his permission. [3] Thériault used his charismatic talents to cover for his increasingly abusive and erratic behaviour, and none of the other members questioned his judgement or blamed him for any physical, mental or emotional damage. [3] Thériault began to inflict punishments on followers that he considered to be straying, by spying on them and claiming that God told him what they did. If a person wished to leave the commune, Thériault would hit them with either a belt or hammer, suspend them from the ceiling, pluck each of their body hairs individually, or even defecate on them. [6] The Ant Hill Kids raised money for living by selling baked goods, and members who did not bring in enough money were also punished. [7]

Alcoholism Broad term for problems with alcohol

Alcoholism, also known as alcohol use disorder (AUD), is a broad term for any drinking of alcohol that results in mental or physical health problems. The disorder was previously divided into two types: alcohol abuse and alcohol dependence. In a medical context, alcoholism is said to exist when two or more of the following conditions are present: a person drinks large amounts of alcohol over a long time period, has difficulty cutting down, acquiring and drinking alcohol takes up a great deal of time, alcohol is strongly desired, usage results in not fulfilling responsibilities, usage results in social problems, usage results in health problems, usage results in risky situations, withdrawal occurs when stopping, and alcohol tolerance has occurred with use. Risky situations include drinking and driving or having unsafe sex, among other things. Alcohol use can affect all parts of the body, but it particularly affects the brain, heart, liver, pancreas and immune system. This can result in mental illness, Wernicke–Korsakoff syndrome, irregular heartbeat, an impaired immune response, liver cirrhosis and increased cancer risk, among other diseases. Drinking during pregnancy can cause damage to the baby resulting in fetal alcohol spectrum disorders. Women are generally more sensitive than men to the harmful physical and mental effects of alcohol.

Sex either of two main divisions (either male or female) into which many organisms can be placed, according to reproductive function or organs

Organisms of many species are specialized into male and female varieties, each known as a sex. Sexual reproduction involves the combining and mixing of genetic traits: specialized cells known as gametes combine to form offspring that inherit traits from each parent. The gametes produced by an organism define its sex: males produce small gametes while females produce large gametes. Individual organisms which produce both male and female gametes are termed hermaphroditic. Gametes can be identical in form and function, but, in many cases, an asymmetry has evolved such that two different types of gametes (heterogametes) exist.

Belt (clothing) worn band or braid, usually around the waist or hips

A belt is a flexible band or strap, typically made of leather or heavy cloth, and worn around the waist, which is usually of less circumference than the hips underneath, preventing pants from falling. Belts are used to secure or hold up clothing, like trousers or other articles of clothing, in a manner similar to suspenders and garters. Some trousers come with belt loops around the waist, which the belt goes through. Objects to carry objects such as coin purses, holsters, scabbards, inrōs, etc. have been attached to belts in lieu of pockets.

Over time, Thériault's punishments became increasingly extreme and violent, including making members break their own legs with sledgehammers, sit on lit stoves, shoot each other in the shoulders, and eat dead mice and feces. A follower would sometimes be asked to cut off another follower's toes with wire cutters to prove loyalty. The abuse extended to the cult's children, who were sexually abused, held over fires, or nailed to trees while other children threw stones at them. One of Thériault’s wives left a newborn child, Eleazar Lavallée, outside to die in freezing temperatures to keep it away from the abuse. Thériault attempted to backtrack to the original religious mission of the commune, beginning to strongly believe in purifying his followers and ridding them of their sins through abusive purification sessions where the members would be completely nude as he whipped and beat them. Thériault claimed to be a holy being, and started performing unnecessary amateur surgical operations on sick members to demonstrate his healing powers. These "surgeries" included injecting a 94% ethanol solution into stomachs, or performing circumcisions on the children and adults of the group. In 1987, social workers removed 17 of the children from the commune. However, Thériault faced no repercussions for his abusive acts. In 1989, when follower Solange Boilard complained of an upset stomach, Thériault laid her naked on a table with no anaesthesia, punched her in the stomach, jammed a plastic tube up her rectum to perform a crude enema with molasses and olive oil, then cut open her abdomen, and ripped off part of her intestines with his bare hands. Thériault made another member, Gabrielle Lavallée, stitch her up using needle and thread, and had the other women shove a tube down her throat and blow. [8] Boilard died the next day from the damage inflicted by the procedures, but claiming to have the power of resurrection, Thériault bore a hole into Boilard's skull with a drill and then had other male members (along with himself) ejaculate into the cavity. When Boilard inevitably did not return to life, her corpse was buried a short distance from the Ant Hill Kids' commune.

Arrest and conviction

Gabrielle Lavallée herself underwent harsh treatment at the Ontario commune during the late 1980s, suffering welding torch burns to her genitals, a hypodermic needle breaking off in her back, and even eight of her teeth being forcibly removed. [6] Lavallée attempted to escape from the commune after Thériault cut off parts of her breast and smashed her head in with the blunt side of an axe, but upon her return he removed one of her fingers with wire cutters, pinned her hand to a wooden table with a hunting knife, and then used a chainsaw to amputate her entire arm.

In 1989, Thériault was arrested for assault after Gabrielle Lavallée had fled the commune again and contacted authorities, effectively dissolving the Ant Hill Kids. Provincial authorities had long-held suspicions against Thériault's cult due to the particularly primitive living conditions of its membership, but because the commune was officially registered as a church, officials were legally unable to investigate the adults, and could not do much except ensure the welfare of the children. Thériault was found guilty of assault for the amputation of Lavallée's arm and received a sentence of 12 years imprisonment. The vast majority of the cult's followers abandoned Thériault after his arrest, but during his imprisonment he fathered another four children with remaining female members during conjugal visits. Lavallée's report allowed further investigation into Thériault's actions, exposing the wider abuses at the communes and Solange Boilard's murder. In 1993, Thériault pleaded guilty to second-degree murder for the death of Solange Boilard, and was sentenced to life imprisonment. In 2000, Thériault was transferred to Dorchester Penitentiary, a medium-security prison in Dorchester, New Brunswick. In 2002, Thériault was rejected for parole as he was considered too high a risk to re-offend, and he never applied again. In 2009, controversy over Theriault made headlines again when he tried to sell his artwork on a United States-based website, which called itself a "true crime auction house" and was willing to sell some of Theriault's drawings and poetry. The Correctional Service of Canada prevented Theriault's works leaving Dorchester Penitentiary, and Stockwell Day, the Canadian federal Public Safety Minister at the time, wrote to the Correctional Service to express concern that the killer was benefiting from work in prison.


On February 26, 2011, 63-year-old Thériault was found dead near his cell at Dorchester Penitentiary. His death is believed to be the result of an altercation with his cell mate, Matthew Gerrard MacDonald, a 60-year-old convicted murderer from Port au Port, Newfoundland and Labrador, who was charged with the killing. [9] [10] [11] MacDonald pleaded guilty to second-degree murder and was sentenced to life in prison, having already been serving a life sentence for a previous murder charge. MacDonald had stabbed Thériault in the neck with a shiv, walked to the guards' station, handed them the weapon, and proclaimed "That piece of shit is down on the range. Here's the knife, I've sliced him up." [12]

The 2002 film Savage Messiah depicts Thériault's crimes against his followers and the ensuing legal recourse. The film stars Luc Picard as Thériault, and Polly Walker as Paula Jackson, the social worker whose investigation revealed the crimes. [13] [14] Gabrielle Lavallée wrote a memoir of her life in the sect entitled L'alliance de la brebis ("Alliance of the Sheep"), ISBN   2-920176-85-4

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  13. IMDB entry
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