Australia's most notorious cult leader is close to death in a suburban Melbourne nursing home as remaining members of the sect she formed in the 1960s scramble for control, sources say.
Anne Hamilton-Byrne, 83, led the infamous Melbourne cult, The Family. She has had dementia since 2007 and lives in a nursing home in Wantirna South. Police and legal sources and also former victims of the cult say Hamilton-Byrne is now incapacitated.
From the 1960s she was the cult's head at properties in the Dandenongs and Lake Eildon where dozens of children, obtained through adoption scams were allegedly kept, treated cruelly and administered LSD.
The children were told she was a living God and were taught extreme Christianity and Eastern mysticism. Their hair was dyed blond and they were made to dress identically.
A child victim from the 1970s - now living in regional Victoria - recently visited Ms Hamilton-Byrne. The man, a Pentecostal Christian, said the visit was in the spirit of forgiveness. ''She is in her final lap,'' he said. ''As I walked in, she was asleep on her bed, and she woke up and started rambling about her dogs being burned in a bushfire. There is a total disconnect with reality.''
Another person who has contact with Ms Hamilton-Byrne said: ''She is in ill-health. But she's holding her ground.'' Ms Hamilton-Byrne's financial and legal affairs are handled by two key supporters, Geoffrey Dawes and Helen McCoy.
Mrs McCoy runs a wildlife rescue service in Gembrook and is also the principal of a school for disabled children. Neither would comment.
Along with other key supporters, including Michael Stevenson-Helmer, Peter Lyall (otherwise known as James Buchanan), David Munroe and Olivier Mackay-Dalkeith, Mr Dawes and Mrs McCoy are directors of a company called Life For All Creatures, registered to Mrs McCoy's Gembrook home and live in the Dandenong Ranges. Ms Hamilton-Byrne was a director until 2005.
Sources said a power struggle had emerged in the sect between Mr Dawes and Mr Stevenson-Helmer over a succession plan once Ms Hamilton-Byrne dies. Mr Stevenson-Helmer, a long-time member who is very close to Ms Hamilton-Byrne, denied she was near death.
''As a true yogi, Anne will go when she is willing and ready,'' he said.
He confirmed the sect still worshipped in the Dandenongs. ''We meditate,'' he said. ''You surmise we are secretive but we have never hidden anything from you people.''
The cult was originally broken up when Australian Federal Police and a state government agency raided the property at Lake Eildon in 1987 and six children were taken into care.
In 1994 Ms Hamilton-Byrne and her then-husband were extradited from the United States to Australia to plead guilty to perjury - the only charges they ever faced.
Since 2010 Ms Hamilton-Byrne's lawyers have used her dementia as a defence in several civil court actions by former victims trying to sue. All have been settled out of court for amounts around $250,000.
The victims have sought damages for ongoing mental health problems from abuse and cruelty suffered, false imprisonment, mind control and use of drugs.
In 2010 her physical health also began deteriorating after she fell and fractured bones.
Ms Hamilton-Byrne still owns at least three properties in the Dandenongs, including the original cult headquarters on the Mount Dandenong Tourist Road, and several overseas. Her estate is estimated to be worth between $10 million and $20 million.