Brother Julius Schacknow, as his followers knew him, was a serial sexual abuser with delusions of grandeur who was hellbent on ending the world.
His religious sect, which he called The Work, operated with impunity for years under his strict control.
An elfin-looking man with a scraggly beard and a penchant for robes, Schacknow declared himself an oracle of God, sent to save mankind by eradicating all evil from the Earth. Soon, Schacknow was telling his followers he was Jesus Christ reincarnate, and that God had commanded him to judge the world’s sinners.
He also told them he had the power to heal people of their addictions and illnesses, and that salvation was only attainable through sexual intercourse with him.
Tonight, the rise and fall of The Work will be examined in the latest episode of People Magazine Investigates: Cults, which airs Monday on Investigation Discovery at 8 p.m. ET.
Featuring interviews with former members, the program looks back on the polygamist cult’s humble beginnings in New Jersey before chronicling the criminal allegations — both proven and unproven — against Schacknow, who, by exploiting his followers, developed a multimillion-dollar real estate empire that crumbled after three decades.
Additionally, ex-members say Schacknow, who christened himself “the Sinful Messiah,” arranged marriages between many of his followers, and forced himself on his female acolytes — even raping and sexually assaulting underage girls.
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His stepdaughter accused him of sexual molestation, alleging the inappropriate contact began when she was 11 and didn’t stop until she was 18.
Schacknow died in 1996, after which The Work operated under the direction of married couple Paul and Joanne Sweetman.
In 2004, Paul vanished. It wouldn’t be until 2014 that police would find one of his leg bones buried at a golf course. After an extensive investigation, police filed charges against defected followers Rudy Hannon, 72, and Sorek Minery, 42, two former members of The Work.
Both have pleaded not guilty and are awaiting trial. Their lawyers were unavailable for comment.
People Magazine Investigates: Cults airs Monday on Investigation Discovery this evening at 8 p.m. ET.