Roch “Moïse” Thériault (May 16, 1947 – February 26, 2011) was the leader of a small religious group based near Burnt River, Ontario, Canada. Between 1977 and 1989 had as many as 12 adults and 22 children followers. He had 26 children when he died, fathering the other 4 during visits in prison from some of his “wives”. He used all of the nine women as concubines, and may have fathered most of the children in the group.
He was arrested for assault in 1989, and convicted of murder in 1993. At the time of his death in 2011 he was continuing to serve out a life sentence, having been denied parole in 2002. Along with Clifford Olson and Paul Bernardo, Thériault was considered one of Canada’s most notorious criminals.
Roch “Moïse” Thériault was a self-proclaimed prophet, born in Saguenay Valley in 1947. As a boy, although very intelligent, he dropped out of school in the 7th grade and began to teach himself the Old Testament. He 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. Thériault indulged in the religion’s regular holistic clinics, which encouraged a healthy lifestyle free of tobacco, and unhealthy foods. It was through this religion that Thériault realized his power of persuasion over others, and he managed to convince a group of people to leave their jobs and homes and move in with him. He formed the Ant Hill Kids in 1977. The goal was to form a community where people could freely listen to his motivational speeches and live in unity, equality and free of sin.
Thériault prohibited the group from remaining in contact with their families and with the Seventh-day Adventist Church, as this was against his sect’s values. He moved away from being a motivational leader and, as his drinking problem increased, so did his controlling style of direction. The norms of the group became more and more controlled. Members were not allowed to speak to each other without Thériault present nor were they allowed to have sex with each other without his permission.
He feared for the end of the world and used the commune to prepare for it. Thériault claimed that God had warned him that the end of the world would come in February 1979. In 1978, in preparation, Thériault moved his commune. They hiked to a mountainside, which Thériault called ‘Eternal Mountain’ in Saint-Jogues, Quebec, where he claimed they could all be saved. There, he made the commune build their town while he relaxed. As he watched the group work, he compared them to ants working in an ant hill, naming the group the Ant Hill Kids. Following February 1979, when people started questioning his wisdom, 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. He fathered over 20 children with 9 female members of the group. During the 1980s, nearly 40 people followed Roch Thériault. The group wore identical tunics to represent their devotion to the commune. In 1984 the group was relocated to Burnt River, Ontario.
Abuse of Power
Thériault was a charismatic leader and none of the other members questioned his judgment or blamed him for any physical, mental or emotional damage. The Ant Hill Kids raised money for living by selling baked goods and members who didn’t bring in enough money were severely punished. Thériault spied on his members, making sure everybody was completely devoted and punishing those who strayed, claiming that God told him what they did.
His punishments were extreme. If a person wanted to leave the commune, Thériault would punish them with either belts, hits from a hammer, suspending them from the ceiling, plucking each of their body hairs individually, or even by defecating on them.
Despite his devastating punishments, the members of the Ant Hill Kids never questioned his authority. His punishments included making members break their own legs with sledgehammers, sitting on lit stoves, shooting each other in the shoulders, and eating dead mice and feces. A follower would sometimes be asked to cut off another follower’s toes with wire cutters to prove loyalty. The children were not spared, and not only were they sexually abused, but they were also at times held over fires or would be nailed to trees while other children threw stones at them. Thériault was also responsible for the death of his own infant, as he left the child outside during a blizzard.
Going back to the original mission of the commune, Thériault strongly believed in purifying his subordinates. He would rid them of their sins through purification sessions where the members would be completely nude as he whipped and beat them. Claiming to be a holy being, Thériault demonstrated his healing powers through surgeries performed on sick members. He would sometimes inject 94% ethanol solution into followers’ stomachs, or perform circumcisions on the children and adults of the group.
When follower Solange Boilard complained of an upset stomach, Thériault laid her naked on a table, 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. Boilard died the next day. Claiming to have power of resurrection, Thériault bore a hole into Boilard’s skull with a drill, and then made other male members—along with himself—ejaculate into the cavity.
Gabrielle Lavallée underwent harsh treatment herself during the years leading up to 1989. She had suffered through welding torches on her genitals, a hypodermic needle breaking off in her back and even eight of her teeth being forcibly removed. Upon her return, after having escaped from the commune, Thériault removed one of her fingers with wire cutters, pinned her hand to a wooden table with a hunting knife and then amputated her entire arm. The abuse that caused Gabrielle Lavallée to leave, however, is when Thériault cut off parts of her breast and smashed her head in with the blunt side of an ax. She fled and contacted authorities. The cult shut down in 1989, when Thériault was arrested and given a life sentence.
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. Gabrielle Lavallée wrote a memoir of her life in the sect entitled L’alliance de la brebis (“Alliance of the Sheep”),
Thériault was found dead near his cell, February 26, 2011, at Dorchester Penitentiary, in New Brunswick. He was 63 years old. His death is believed to be the result of an altercation with his cell mate, Matthew Gerrard MacDonald, 60, of Port au Port, N.L, who killed Thériault and has been charged with the killing. MacDonald pled 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 stabbed Thériault in the neck with a homemade knife. Afterwards, he walked to the guards’ station, handed them the knife and proclaimed, “That piece of shit is down on the range. Here’s the knife, I’ve sliced him up.”