People Magazine Investigates: Cults: The Sinful Messiah airs on Investigation Discovery on Monday, June 24, at 8 p.m. ET.

By Chris Harris
June 21, 2019 11:10 AM
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For three decades, a man who was born to a Jewish family in Brooklyn led an apocalyptic polygamist cult in Connecticut with hundreds of followers who helped him build an ill-fated multimillion-dollar real estate empire.

A convert to Christianity, bearded Brother Julius Schacknow declared himself the second coming of Jesus in 1971, and subsequently used these claims to beguile his female followers into sexual liaisons, calling the carnal acts “God’s work.”

Before his death in 1996 at the age of 71, Schacknow was the father of five, the husband to seven, and had shattered the lives of dozens of his acolytes — many of whom lodged sexual assault allegations against him.

Schacknow’s unlikely rise to power, punctuated by the murder and dismemberment of his faithful “chief apostle,” is the focus of the next episode of People Magazine Investigates: Cults: The Sinful Messiah, which airs on Investigation Discovery on Monday, June 24, at 8 p.m. ET.

Based in the Connecticut suburbs, Schacknow’s group was known as The Work.

According to former members, Schacknow arranged marriages between many of his followers, and systematically brainwashed members into believing they had to sever their relationships with those outside the insular group.

Slave labor was pervasive in The Work.

Credit: The Boston Globe via Getty

Having sex with the “Sinful Messiah,” Schacknow preached, was the only way one could achieve eternal salvation.

He’s said to have preyed on all of the women within his secretive sect, and Schacknow was even accused by a stepdaughter of sexual molestation: She alleged it started when she was 11 and didn’t stop until she was 18.

Brother Julius’ closest confidants were married couple Paul and Joanne Sweetman, who assumed control over the group soon after his death. In 2004, Paul vanished — allegedly murdered and dismembered by two longtime members of The Work.

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It wouldn’t be until 2014 that police would find one of Sweetman’s leg bones buried at a golf course. Four years later, Rudy Hannon, 72, and Sorek Minery, 42, were charged with the killing.

Both have pleaded not guilty and are awaiting trial.

Their lawyers were unavailable for comment.

Court records indicate that Minery told police that, in the months leading up to the killing, Hannon tried convincing him Sweetman “needed to be killed because he was hurting his wife, Joanne Sweetman, and that God would have wanted them to kill Sweetman.”

People Magazine Investigates: Cults: The Sinful Messiah airs on Investigation Discovery on Monday, June 24, at 8 p.m. ET.