How I Found My Brainwashed Daughter in the Sex Cult NXIVM
In this excerpt from ‘Captive,’ Catherine Oxenberg tells how she found out her daughter India was in the clutches of the predatory cult NXIVM
Bonnie and I reunited at a dimly lit bar in Beverly Hills. It had been four years since I’d seen her, and she looked exactly the same—except for the haunted look in her eyes.
We hugged, but she was so jittery, she could barely stand still for it. Before we sat down, she scanned the room to see if she’d been followed or if anyone was watching her.
For the next two hours, Bonnie unloaded a torrent of information nonstop, sometimes sounding discombobulated, as she zigzagged through the last two years. I took notes, barely saying a word, and tried to keep both of us calm.
Bonnie and India had become the best of friends around India’s first V-week in 2012, she began explaining, but everything came crashing down once Allison Mack began mentoring India around the end of 2015 or early 2016.
“Allison derailed our friendship, as if she wanted to steal India away and wanted her for herself,” she said. “She felt threatened by me. I was worried and tried to warn India about her; I’d seen some very, very bad results from Alli’s mentoring.”
When Allison lived with Bonnie and Mark, including during the time India and I were their houseguests, “she would flip out in the middle of the night, and I’d hear murderous screaming coming from her room. She would get up and walk around Clifton Park all night long.”
Bonnie stopped to take a sip of water. Her hands were shaking.
Soon after Allison began mentoring India, she continued, India began to lose weight and act coldly toward Bonnie.
“Alli is obsessed with penance and weight,” Bonnie said. “I found out that Keith kept all the women on diets of five hundred to eight hundred calories, and if they gained weight, he punished them. It was to build character, he told them, because women don’t have any.”
It was around that time she noticed the relationship between India and Keith ramping up.
“He’d had his eye on her for years,” she said. “Then India told me last spring about a secret project she was working on with Keith and Allison. She called it ‘the Project,’ though I’ve since learned members use other code names for it, like ‘the Vow’ or ‘the Agency’ or ‘DOS’—which is Latin for ‘dominus obsequious sororium’ and means ‘master over the slave women.’
“Someone else tipped me off about what the secret group was about. I can’t say who—it would put us both in danger,” she went on. “In this master-slave club, there’s a lot of pressure for the women to sleep with Keith. Alli must have influenced India to get close to him because that’s how Alli got his approval, by bringing him women.”
Then came India’s life-changing walk with Keith.
“One day, India announced that she’d been for a walk with Keith, and when she returned, her opinion of him had completely changed. The way she talked about him was so different; she was flushed and almost giddy. I’m pretty sure Alli is having sex with Keith, and I think India is, too. He’s having sex with at least twenty of them at the same time.”
“Bonnie,” I interrupted, for the first and only time during her monologue, “are you absolutely sure of this? Are you sure India is having sex with Keith?”
I couldn’t bear to imagine this was true. I couldn’t. “No, I’m not sure. But it’s very likely.”
Bonnie explained that she’d been making plans to leave ESP well before she knew about DOS.
“I wasn’t happy for a while,” she said. “I was broke—we were all broke. The promise that once I reached proctor/orange sash I would finally be making money was a lie. Over time I started to notice major inconsistencies in the organization and blatant abuses.”
When Bonnie started asking questions about what was going on, Allison had her kicked out of a NXIVM program for actors, called “the Source,” and began ostracizing her and telling everyone else to shun her as well. Nancy accused Bonnie of being a narcissist and a “suppressive”—a term Keith had stolen from Scientology, no doubt. “I began having panic attacks,” she said. One day she left one of Keith’s classes early because she wasn’t feeling well. Afterward, he confronted her.
“He was furious. He said, ‘You’ve committed an ethical breach you’ll never be able to repair or heal in this lifetime, but you have to do everything you can to try!’
“Then a friend of mine, another coach, confided in me that she’d been removed from her position as head trainer because she’d committed an ethical breach against Keith by refusing to have his baby. In this secret society, all babies go to Keith—it’s part of their vow of obedience. They have to sign a waiver that if they get pregnant with Keith’s child—or anyone’s, for that matter—they must give their babies to Keith.”
As I took notes, each new piece of information was like a punch in the gut, but I wasn’t about to allow myself to go down the emotional rabbit hole right there in public. This was a coping mechanism of mine in moments of emergencies and trauma: stay calm, carry on, take notes, digest everything. Later, I could scream and cry into my pillow.
During the last few months that Bonnie was still in Albany, Keith got even more psycho, she said.
Two longtime members of his harem—Pam and Mariana—lived with him, and Pam had taken ill with cancer. “She was basically dying in one room, while in the next room, he told everyone later, he was having sex with Mariana to conceive his baby—with Pam’s blessing, as she was literally taking her last breath.”
Keith had told a lot of his women that he’d father a child with them, that they were the chosen one, and that the baby would be an avatar who would change the world. Nine months later, the “Baby Avatar” was born.
But he was not Keith’s first child. A decade earlier, one of Keith’s girlfriends, Kristin Keeffe, gave birth to their son, Gaelen—and for years, Keith and the harem created a web of lies and mystery surrounding the child’s origins. A story was concocted that Keith had adopted the boy, a foundling, after his mother had died in childbirth and no one knew who the father was. At the time, Keith was presenting himself as celibate—which was ironic, considering he had a full-time harem. Keith’s foundling story, I thought, was the ultimate “Immaculate Deception.”
“Pam died last November, and Keith kept the news from all of us for several weeks, until he suddenly announced there’d be a memorial. Soon after that, he started telling people that Pam had been poisoned. Another member of his harem, Barbara Jeske, had died from cancer just two years earlier, and he had also told the group she had been poisoned. (The following year, I would find out that Keith and Nancy had cornered Barb’s sister right after Barb’s death and asked to have her sister’s body so they could freeze it. When the family refused, they requested the head only. The family didn’t give them that, either.) He was convinced people were out to get him, and were poisoning those in his inner circle.”
Multiple sources, including Pam’s hairstylist, had heard Pam say that Keith was monitoring her cancer treatment and had administered a milky fluid for her to drink.
“But that’s not even the worst of it,” Bonnie said, stopping to catch her breath.
She leaned in closer.
“I was told by firsthand witnesses that Keith arranged to have Pam’s body snuck out of the hospital before a death certificate could be issued and kept her body submerged in ice in one of his bathtubs at home. No one knows what happened to her body.”
Bonnie paused for a moment, and we both let the horror of this sink in.
“Why would anyone do that?” I asked, appalled.
“Maybe so he could continue to use her credit cards? I don’t know,” she answered. “I couldn’t stay any longer, Catherine. Mark begged me to, but I couldn’t. A veil had been lifted, and I saw everything for what it really was: all lies.”
Bonnie’s whole body was shaking. She was fighting a decade of programming and indoctrination to talk this way about ESP and would now be considered a heretic because of it. I reached across the table and squeezed her hands, as if to still them.
“Thank you,” I said, “for being brave enough to share this with me.”
“I’m telling you these terrible things about your daughter,” she stuttered, “but why is it you’re the calm one and I’m shaking like a leaf!”
I smiled, somehow. “I’m a mother; I can handle a lot.”
My mind was already working overtime thinking up ways to handle all the news she’d told me over the last twenty-four hours, and how to help India.
“You know, Bonnie, I always assumed India would wake up at some point and leave the group of her own accord.”
“No, Catherine, listen to me. She won’t. She went in too young, she was too impressionable. The only way to get her out now is to do an intervention.”
I drove home along the Pacific Coast Highway, trying to absorb the evil I’d just heard.
In front of Bonnie, I had remained calm. And a big part of me was in shock. But inside, my heart and soul ripped apart at every word she uttered. Of all the many, many worries I harbored about India and ESP over the years, I never, ever, would have guessed anything like this was in the realm of possibility.
Copyright © 2018 from Captive by Catherine Oxenberg. Published by Gallery Books, an imprint of Simon & Schuster, Inc. Used with permission from Simon & Schuster, Inc.