Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

The Family of Winnfred Wright

Wright's Spell

A cult expert who debriefed Susan Weber after she managed to flee The Family said the women who fell under Wright's spell were all young, naļve idealists.  He appealed to their progressive views on race, and then used those same views against them.

"Education and wealth are no vaccine against getting tricked," Margaret Singer, a renowned cult expert, told the Los Angeles Times.

Margaret Singer
Margaret Singer
Singer, a professor emeritus in psychology at UC Berkeley who died in 2003, compared Wright to Charles Manson, whose adherents she also studied and interviewed. 

Both were "cults of charisma," she said.

In classic cult behavior, Wright first convinced the women that they'd be part of something more spiritual and progressive and wonderful than they could find elsewhere, and then slowly eroded their self-confidence and moral perceptions.

He did this first by separating them from their support networks of friends and family. He also kept them exhausted, making them stay up for hours as he lectured them about the racist white establishment or expounded his new religion.  If their heads started to nod as they fought off sleep, he'd squirt them with a water gun.

Fear of physical abuse and of the unknown was another key factor. Once he'd impregnated them, it was harder for the women to leave him.  If they did, Wright told them, no one would want to help a white woman with "nigger kids."

Ultimately, all they had left was him and his toxic influence.

At some point in the mid-90s, The Family moved into a three-bedroom house in an upscale residential neighborhood of Marin County, on the north side of the San Francisco Bay

Sleepy Hollow Preserve
Sleepy Hollow Preserve

The house on Mt. Muir Court in San Rafael was just a few blocks away from the Sleepy Hollow Open Space Preserve, a  large park with rolling hills and a favorite spot of residents to hike and walk their dogs, but it is unlikely that the Wright children ever set foot in the grassy playground.

After the move, Wright kept the children hidden behind closed doors and draped windows, fearful of more complaints of possible neglect. The kids' one regular outing was to play basketball on a local court, but for the most part, they weren't allowed outside, and had no friends.

Laundry in backyard of home
Laundry in backyard of home

After the move, Wright became more and more paranoid. He made his children wear earplugs and sunglasses on the rare occasions they left the house, fearing their souls would become perverted by what they heard and saw. He also came to believe that warring bands of aliens controlled the universe and that his family would someday battle them.

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