Paul Schaefer, 89, ex-Nazi preacher jailed for abuse, dies

Santiago, Chile - Paul Schaefer, 89, a German-born evangelical preacher who was convicted of sexually abusing 25 children while leading one of the world's most notorious anti-Semitic and apocalyptic sects, died April 24 of a heart ailment at a prison hospital in Chile.

He was serving a 20-year sentence for the sexual abuse of children at his enclave in southern Chile, Colonia Dignidad, a place that human rights groups say doubled during the 1970s and '80s as a detention and torture center for opponents of right-wing dictator Gen. Augusto Pinochet.

At the time of his death, Mr. Schaefer was still under investigation in the 1985 disappearance of mathematician Boris Weisfeiler, an American citizen who went missing while hiking near Colonia Dignidad.

At the time, the Chilean government concluded that Weisfeiler, an experienced outdoorsman, drowned while attempting to cross a river. Years later, news reports said declassified State Department and CIA documents indicated that Weisfeiler, a Russian-born Jew, was probably kidnapped by government security forces and taken to Mr. Schaefer's commune.

News reports said police found a folder bearing Weisfeiler's name at the compound, and a Chilean military informant told U.S. officials that Weisfeiler was tortured and killed there. Mr. Schaefer was never charged with a crime in the case, which is still pending.

Mr. Schaefer turned to preaching after serving in the German military during World War II. He traveled the German countryside with an acoustic guitar and a message of salvation through sexual abstinence. Armed with powerful charisma and a gift for public speaking, he collected hundreds of followers before eventually establishing an orphanage near Bonn.

Accused of molesting two boys at the orphanage, he fled to Chile in 1961 and started his commune on a picturesque ranch 225 miles south of Santiago. The enclave boasted its own landing strip, television station and power plant, as well as lumber, honey and brick-making businesses. Mr. Schaefer built a school and a hospital, winning over some local citizens by offering them free education and health care.

However, Colonia Dignidad's darker side soon emerged. Former members of the sect told reporters and Chilean and German officials of Mr. Schaefer's unsavory tendencies. He was always accompanied by a handpicked coterie of boys who ran his errands, brushed his hair and tied his shoes. He maintained total control over the lives of his followers, the former members said, forbidding contact with the outside world and using electric shocks and tranquilizers to punish those who broke his rules.

Babies were taken from their mothers at birth and raised in a communal nursery. All adults were known as "uncle" or "aunt"; Mr. Schaefer was called "permanent uncle."

Mr. Schaefer avoided arrest for decades, largely because of his close relationships with political and military leaders -- including Pinochet, who was brought to power by a 1973 coup d'etat. Thousands of political dissidents disappeared or were killed during Pinochet's rule, and human rights groups say that many were taken to Colonia Dignidad, or Dignity Colony, where they were tortured in underground chambers.

Pinochet left the presidency in 1990. Mr. Schaefer escaped a 1997 police raid and continued to evade law enforcement officials until 2005, when he was arrested in Argentina. He was extradited to Chile, where he had been convicted in absentia of sexually abusing minors.

Chilean police found a military arsenal buried at Colonia Dignidad, including 92 machine guns, 104 semiautomatic weapons, more than 1,800 hand grenades and an unknown number of surface-to-air missiles. They also found files detailing how people had been "disappeared," detained and tortured there during the Pinochet era.

In 2006, Mr. Schaefer was sentenced to 20 years for sexually abusing minors and three years for violating weapons laws. In 2008, he received additional sentences for torturing colony residents and for killing an allegedly traitorous security agent who had served under Pinochet.

Paul Schaefer was born near Bonn in 1921. He had a glass eye, having accidentally gouged out his right eye while trying to untie a shoelace knot with a fork. He joined the Nazi youth movement before becoming a Luftwaffe medic stationed in France during World War II.

The members of Mr. Schaefer's unnamed sect publicly apologized for their Pinochet-era abuses in 2006 with a full-page advertisement in a leading Chilean newspaper. Mr. Schaefer was to blame, they said.

"He allowed our villa to be used for the detention and repression of people persecuted" by Pinochet, they wrote. Colony members "became real slaves of Schaefer, like robots dedicated only to obey his orders."

Mr. Schaefer's survivors could not be confirmed. The Chilean government controls his former colony, whose name was officially changed in 1991 to Villa Baviera. An estimated 300 people still live there, according to a 2009 Agence France-Presse report.