Celebrities, True Crime

The Curious Case of Casey Kasem

Casey Kasem was in his 80s when he passed away in 2014. Those not in the know would assume that the legend, famous for his weekly “Top 40 Countdown” in the 1980s and 1990s, had died of old age. But a suit and a countersuit with an ongoing contentious battle indicates otherwise.

As Peter Van Sant reports for CBS’s 48 Hours, when Kasem was diagnosed with a Parkinson’s-like condition in his late 70s, a battle over his medical care, decision making, and ultimately, his estate, ensued.

Kasem’s second wife Jean Thompson Kasem (who doesn’t do herself any favors wearing the zaniest pair of eyeglass frames for half the episode, nor when she later throws meat in an exasperated demonstration) claims his three children were after their father’s money. Furthermore, she says that for that reason, Kasem cut them off.

For their part, the Kasem kids (currently adults) claim that their stepmother is evil, crazy, a pathological liar and that she wanted complete control of their father…and of course, his money. They say that by Jean alienating them from their dad and moving him from facility to facility, his health deteriorated quickly and he died sooner than he would have under proper care.

The problem is, they were also involved in moving their father – away from Jean. Both sides, his wife of 35 years and his 2 daughters and son from his first marriage staunchly contend that they loved Kasem, and wanted the best medical care for him. Both sides allege that the other is responsible for his death.

Listen to the following episode of the 48 Hours podcast for a lot more information on this story. Then feel free to share your thoughts, as well as who you side with, in the comments’ section.

(Photo Source: CBSNews.com)

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Celebrities, Cults, public figures, True Crime

#NXIVM and NYC Actors: “The Source”

The NXIVM cult is all over the news now, but it didn’t start out the way it has all ended…Or rather than “ended”, I should phrase it this way: When it all began, it wasn’t the group you now know about. I’m not sure what – if anything – is left of the disgraced group at present. There are a few known faithful adherents who possess varying takeaways regarding the main messages. However, they are staying very very quiet and out of the public eye.

Remember: NXIVM didn’t start out with a sexual slavery division called DOS! It began as a multilevel marketing company. Keith Raniere (the group’s now-imprisoned, manipulative hypnotist of a leader, worshipfully referred to by members as “The Vanguard”) had learned his tips and tricks about MLMs from being in Amway. Yes, it’s true. Scott Johnson is one of the people to enlighten me to that fact. Before I go any further, I should say that my own dad was in Amway for a blip in time and left when he realized it wasn’t ultimately profitable – certainly not for the immense dedication and time required. He and my mom did meet their very best friends through the group though. So “cults” can have benefits and are not always all bad (if you want to think of Amway as being one).

Johnson maintains informative websites about Amway’s scam-way tactics. He frequently writes about the parallels between NXIVM’s methods (the NXIVM that dealt with business and offered courses under its Executive Success Program, rather than the NXIVM you know of as a “sex trafficking cult.” Again, that whole sex thing came to light later…) and Amway’s.

NXIVM has had many evolutions since it began as Consumers Buyline, as well as many offshoots. The most notorious of the offshoots is DOS because of the attention that sex trafficking garners.

Another more benign-seeming offshoot of NXIVM was “The Source”. If you are an actor based in NYC or Brooklyn, you may have attended a meeting for this group. The idea was to get through to actors about opening themselves up more, kineticising that potential energy (AKA “self actualization”) and identifying the tools and tricks to be one’s best. All the lingo that they used was perfectly designed to appeal to a struggling actor.

One Canadian television personality had been so captivated by “The Source” (which was also big in Vancouver at one point) that she was swept up into the group which ended up feeding her to NXIVM. Like Jonah in the belly of the whale, the insides were dark and deep until she was finally able to pry the mouth open, expelling herself from the mammal. But she did so only after being inducted into DOS and having her pubic region painfully branded with the initials of Keith Raniere and actor-turned-NXIVM slave recruiter Allison Mack.

In NYC just a few short years ago, Allison Mack was out with another actor named Mark Hildreth, scouting for new recruits to “The Source”.

The hope was that the recruits would see the beauty in Keith Raniere’s teachings. Upon attending a meeting with other actors in Brooklyn, the actors would hear about getting the tools to thoroughly introspect, identify what they were doing wrong and figure out how to do it all effectively.

What would sound like a bunch of hocus pocus, BS mumbo jumbo to some were words that would bring a young and impressionable actor like Mack to tears. One young woman met the duo and found Hildreth to be both attractive and captivating, but also thought to herself: This is creepy AF, weird and culty.

Hildreth would never hear back from this young actor who he saw as a potential new recruit. However, there are accounts of other NYC-based actors approached about “The Source” who met Hildreth and Mack at meetings and had different takeaways.

Had the young woman (referenced above) connected well with Mack, she may have ended up depleting her savings on courses and even possibly moving to Rochester to become a DOS sex slave devoted to Keith Raniere. She may also have ultimately followed him to Mexico as Mack did, being under his potent hypnotic spell and believing in the greatness of The Vanguard.

But this young woman – despite finding Hildreth to be somewhat cute, dynamic and intoxicating (Hildreth had reportedly learned his skills from the very best of the best, The Vanguard himself) – realized she was being fed a bunch of gobbledygook.

She went back to her acting and trying to make it in NYC the ole fashioned way, shying away from all sketchy Brooklyn-based meetings.

So where is Mark Hildreth today and what does he have to say about all of this?

Understandably, it seems he is ashamed, and perhaps any brainwashing he himself had been subjected to, has worn off. He’s doing his acting thing and his social media reflects a devotion to those projects.

From all of the reports I’ve combed through, it seems that Hildreth had little to no knowledge of DOS and looked at “The Source” as a way for people to actualize potential and grow professionally. The only “crime” Hildreth should probably be ashamed of having a more direct connection to? Encouraging people to become part of a group that charged ridiculously overpriced fees for self-improvement courses (Richard Branson took some NXIVM courses. However, I wouldn’t worry about his wallet having taken a hit).

Hildreth allegedly split from the whole NXIVM/”The Source” crew in 2016 after discovering that Raniere was hitting on his girlfriend. I don’t get what the allure was of this hairy, overgrown Harry Potter lookalike, but Raniere was known to have quite the harem to satiate his polyamorous desires.

It seems that now, Hildreth wants all of this to be behind him. He wishes the public would stop associating him with NXIVM. I cannot blame the guy for these desires, but I do have a lot of questions:

What exactly did Mark Hildreth know about NXIVM as a group when he severed ties to Raniere?

Did he keep in touch with Allison Mack?

How many DOS slaves were originally recruits of “The Source”?

And here are some questions for you, the readers:

Did you know of anyone who was approached by Mark Hildreth and Allison Mack about “The Source”?

Did you ever attend one of those Brooklyn-based meetings yourself?

Feel free to respond in the comments section, or email me directly by going to the “contact” portion of this website.

There are indeed so many unanswered questions about NXIVM. Fortunately for Mark Hildreth, it appears he got out just in time.

(Pictured: actor Mark Hildreth)

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Cults, Psychology, public figures, True Crime, Uncategorized

#NXIVM: Catherine Oxenberg Says Daughter “Will Be Fine…More Than Fine”

Catherine Oxenberg is many things. She’s enviably beautiful. She’s intelligent and she’s kind. She’s also “royal” – her mother is Princess Elizabeth of Yugoslavia – in addition to having played royalty on televisions as an actress.

But these days Catherine Oxenberg is known for more than her television roles, most notably for starring on Dynasty, and her lineage. These days she’s known as a fierce crusader and a fighter, one who took on a cult and didn’t back down until she knew her daughter was safe. It is a group that has threatened its detractors, terrorized them via bogus litigation, and maligned former members. Yes, it is the cult that is the subject of many conversations and is currently all over the media. The one that fronted as a mainly innocuous, but money-sucking, professional empowerment/self-help group and has changed names many times, but is now known by one represented by Roman numerals. The cult that – it was subsequently discovered – had a unique division devoted to the sexual slavery of women. That division, called DOS, called for fierce loyalty pledges from members, requiring the handing over of “collateral” (incriminating information/pictures that would mortify the individual should they defect from the sorority) and branding in the pubic region.

As Catherine details in her new book Captive: A Mother’s Crusade To Save Her Daughter From a Terrifying Cult, she and her daughter India went to a meeting for what appeared to be a self help group back in 2011. Catherine’s then-husband made a somewhat offhanded and jokey remark, following some creepy observations about the group’s leader Keith Raniere. He suspected aloud to her that Keith was involved sexually with the group’s women. Catherine remembers the comment (which would prove to be a confirmed truth) in hindsight, but it was stated in such an off-the-cuff manner that she didn’t focus deeply on it. She had also only briefly met the cult leader.

Following that fateful meeting, Catherine took some NXIVM courses that promised success in business and taught about the tools and skills to excel. She reflects now: “A lot of what you hear Keith say about NXIVM’s philosophy sounds like gobbledygook when you listen to him on YouTube and see how captivated (former Smallville actress) Allison Mack is by his words. He has this ability to break you down and then reel you in.”

Catherine said that she gets annoyed by how people undermine those who are susceptible to brainwashing: “Anyone is susceptible because the person doing it is clever and has a strategy. It’s about appealing to an individual’s interests and goals. India is a confident and self-assured woman. There were prominent, highly intelligent people who took NXIVM courses. It’s very insulting when people criticize and judge how one can be taken in by this group. Aside from offering community, NXIVM offers the promise of doing something and being a part of something special that will make a difference in the world.”

When they were first introduced to the group, India was committed to improving her own business skills following a failed food-related venture. Catherine describes India as someone who sees the kindness in people and who is committing to bettering humanity.

“That is something that this group looks for in individuals,” says Catherine, explaining that India was a prime recruit for the group because of her uniquely innate desire to help people and contribute to society. “They slowly convince people – there are brilliant people who have become involved! – that they are part of something that is going to make a huge difference.”

Catherine took some overly pricey NXIVM courses and despite initial interest, became more skeptical and more disenchanted over a three year period. She gave up on NXIVM, but India only became more committed. Then she moved to Albany to be with the group and surrounded by its members.

In Catherine’s book, and on a recent episode of Dateline (in which Megyn Kelly is the interviewer), Catherine speaks about the former NXIVM member who reached out furtively and fearfully to alert her that her daughter was in danger. Catherine was then provided with evidence and became invested in amassing more evidence – which she eventually turned over to the New York State General Attorney’s office.

Although the authorities had been repeatedly pointed to the unethical practices of the group (including shady financial transactions and Keith Raniere’s sexual relationships with women under the age of consent), it was Catherine’s diligently collected mountain of evidence that helped spur law enforcement to serious action.

I ask her if she thinks her status as an actress and coming from royalty helped with her being taken seriously. She laughs: “I think they were tired of being hounded by me and knew I was this mother who wasn’t going to give up!”

While all of this was happening, India had essentially estranged herself from a mother pleading for her return. Mother could not get in touch with daughter or be sure of her whereabouts for a lengthy period of time, and while India was now an adult, Catherine knew the dangers of NXIVM and saw no choice other than to speak out publicly.

This was a move that would have repercussions for Catherine, with India further evading her and ensuring more secrecy regarding her whereabouts.

Going to the media was something that pained Catherine to do, but it was a last resort and a desperate measure called for by a desperate time. Having been in the limelight many years before as an actress and as the daughter of a princess, she would much rather have avoided the media than begged them to shine a spotlight on something.

But in this case, there was a singular goal in mind: getting her daughter out of harm’s way as quickly as possible and to safety.

You will have to read Catherine’s book to see how complicated this journey was. Her daughter India has asked for privacy during this time. We do not know if and how she was culpable in NXIVM’s illicit activities, but few question that she was a victim of Raniere’s intense mind control.

I ask Catherine if India now knows she was “brainwashed.”

“She does not like that word, Catherine states adamantly, “That’s definitely not a word that gets a good reaction so I stopped bringing it up. India feels for the ordeal that I’ve been through. She feels for the ordeals of others.”

By “others”, I privately hope that in time, the empathic India Oxenberg will have little to no sympathy for Keith Raniere.

For now, mums the word, but India has told her mom that she’ll tell her story her way and specifically, in her own time.

To hear India’s carefully crafted statement to the media, you’ll have to check out the Dateline episode. Catherine was able to share with me (and with Megyn Kelly) that she recently reconnected with her daughter and India is safe. The media has reported that she’s away from NXIVM (or what’s left of it currently) now.

When questioned by Megyn Kelly about India’s future (with the allusion of possible lingering effects of NXIVM), Catherine smiled at the interviewer. It was an authentic and heartfelt smile that she hadn’t exhibited publicly in a long, long time. “She will be fine,” she replied, then paused as her smile widened a bit: “…more than fine.”

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Cults, True Crime

#NXIVM: Arrest of 4 Women, Including 1 “Broke” Girl?!

Four women who had miraculously avoided arrest until yesterday, were finally handcuffed, and the gravity of their crimes were officially cemented in the headlines following widespread talk and speculation.

The Frank Report and major news outlets reported that Seagram’s liquor heiress Clare Bronfman, 39, the daughter of late billionaire philanthropist Edgar Bronfman, was arrested, along with NXIVM co-founder Nancy Salzman, 64, her daughter, Lauren Salzman, 42, and the group’s 60-year-old bookkeeper, Kathy Russell. This occurred yesterday on Tuesday, July 24th.

BBC.com reports:

Court documents allege Ms Bronfman, a member of Nxivm’s executive board, was involved in the identity theft of at least two women – including a deceased sexual partner of Mr Raniere. She is also accused of encouraging and assisting in an alleged Nxivm victim’s illegal entry into the US.In a note published on her website last December, Ms Bronfman said she still supported Nxivm after seeing “so much good come from both our programmes and from Keith himself”. Her lawyer Susan Necheles said in a statement that Nxivm was “not a criminal enterprise” but “an organization that helped thousands of people,” according to US media. “The charges against Clare are the result of government overreaching and charging an individual with crimes just because the government disagrees with some beliefs taught by Nxivm and held by Clare,” Ms Necheles said.

As for the other 3 women who were arrested? They, along with Keith Raniere and Allison Mack

are accused of racketeering conspiracy, or attempting to illegally obtain or extort money, and could face up to 20 years in jail, plus an additional maximum 15 years for identity theft conspiracy. The US Department of Justice says the group committed “an array of crimes, including identity theft, extortion, forced labor, sex trafficking, money laundering, wire fraud and obstruction of justice”. FBI Assistant Director-in-Charge William Sweeney said on Tuesday that “the details of these alleged crimes become more and more grim as we continue to dig deeper into the conduct of this organization and its intended mission”.

If you examine pictures of Clare Bronfman from yesterday, you’ll notice that she looks even thinner (note the arms) than she had a couple of years ago. This emaciation is less than modelesque-chic and appears to age her beyond her 39 years. This is not only due to stress, no doubt, but mainly attributable to the starvation diet notoriously associated with NXIVM – and in particular, in keeping with the rules of its DOS (sexual slavery) division.

Clare is also reportedly “broke” for a billionaire heiress after pouring her funds into NXIVM. She was also allegedly assisting with NXIVM founder/”Vanguard” Keith Raniere’s legal defense team. She has a sister, Sara Bronfman, 42, who was in NXIVM and who she may be seriously counting on for financial help (according to Frank Parlato of The Frank Report).

I am wondering if the sister is at risk of being arrested as well. From my understanding, her involvement in the cult had minimized over the years as compared to her more active sibling who took the reigns from Raniere following his arrest. Clare was also extremely active in the terrorism by litigation of NXIVM defectors, former members who had seen the light about the group and its founder and were subjected to endless bogus lawsuits.

This story is still developing….

(Pictured: Clare Bronfman, BBC.com)

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Documentary, True Crime

#Netflix: “The Staircase” & the Peterson Name

With a variety of different spellings, a number of Petersons (all unrelated to one another) have been in the news for murder charges. Some people think the sketchiest Peterson (my opinion), Scott, is innocent or not guilty of killing his pregnant wife Laci and have posed alternate theories. There may be some reasonable doubt in that case, but because of all the lies Scott told, I have a problem believing him when he says he’s innocent. My friend Jennifer Lewin Yates was consulted for her psychic prowess on the Reality Life with Kate Casey podcast and she feels strongly that Scott should be absolved of the murder, that Lacy met her fate independently of him.

There’s been little to no question about Drew and the evil attached to his name. He married several much younger women and when his fourth wife Stacy mysteriously disappeared and was never found, it was after his third wife had met a sinister demise. There’s nothing “sketchy” about him – it’s blatant. He went on to be charged with soliciting a hit man in an attempted murder-for-hire of Will County State’s Attorney James Glasgow.

The one Peterson who is not in prison now is featured on the very popular series The Staircase, now available on Netflix. He is American Novelist Michael Peterson who discovered his wife Kathleen at the bottom of their staircase bloody, after a fatal fall. However, there might have been more than simply a fall as her injuries included a “fracture of the thyroid neck cartilage and seven lacerations to the top and back of her head.” (Wikipedia)

As with Scott Peterson, so much was made about Michael Peterson’s double life, specifically the fact that he was bisexual and emails discovered on his computer that were written to a male escort. Michael claimed that Kathleen knew he was bisexual, that they loved each other and had an idyllic marriage despite that, and only discussed his sexual proclivities “obliquely” and infrequently.

Friends who were interviewed described their marriage as appearing to be the perfect one, that they never fought (a claim that would arouse my own suspicions. Arguing – here and there – with one’s spouse has always been the norm to me) and seemed like the couple every other couple wanted to be. The “secret” of Michael’s bisexuality was as much on trial as the man himself. Kathleen’s sisters and daughter from her first marriage turned on the once beloved Michael. I should refrain from spoiling every last detail of the documentary, but let’s just say I began to have my doubts about whether Michael was guilty or not. He’s a very charming, seemingly benign older man (74 today) whose children, save for that one stepdaughter, adore him. There’s something endearing about this intellectual, who I think some viewers will deem cocky, and after serving eight years in prison that severely aged him, I don’t personally see him as a danger to society.

Kathleen’s sisters and daughter are understandably livid that an initial “life in prison” sentence didn’t stick. However, after hearing about evidence tampering and incorrect statements regarding the alleged murder weapon (a blow poke to the head), I am left with reasonable doubt.

There is so much detail to this case and generally, a ton more involved than I described above. It is very likely that the producers of this film manipulated viewers by showing Michael with his children and grandchildren as the doting, elder, grieving family man. And then later: the doting, elder, grieving family man severely broken down by his eight year prison stint. Because of how the prosecution and it’s witnesses botched the presentation of evidence, it’s hard to argue against reasonable doubt and whether Michael is or isn’t where he should be now.

This is the type of post in which I’d love to see readers weigh in. If you’ve seen The Staircase or are all caught up on the Michael Peterson case, please share your thoughts in the comments.

I’m also curious to know if there’s any other surname in history that has sparked as much attention as the Peterson name has within the arena of True Crime.

(Photo credit: Netflix)

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