How the Cult Featured in Netflix's Wild Wild Country Went from 'Free-Love' to Murder Plots
Bhagwan Shree Rajneesh, a self-styled "sex guru," and his followers plotted a mass poisoning as well as murders in the early 1980s
Like thousands of others spiritual seekers who flocked to a remote 64,000-acre ranch in central Oregon to follow cult leader Bhagwan Shree Rajneesh in the early 1980s, Jane Stork arrived with the dream of building a utopian community that would transform the world.
But over the course of four years, Rajneesh and his followers — including Stork — unleashed a campaign of terror in central Oregon that included a mass salmonella poisoning which sickened over 700 people, murder plots against public officials, a massive wiretapping campaign, voter fraud and arson.
“It was completely criminal,” Stork, an Australian housewife who moved to the commune with her two kids and husband in 1981, tells PEOPLE in this week’s issue. “I came for support, love and laughter, but the whole atmosphere changed.”
Rajneesh died in 1990, but the self-styled “sex guru” — who owned a reported 85 Rolls-Royces and whose teachings included a mishmash of meditation techniques, open sexuality, raunchy jokes and an affinity for luxury items — is back in the news thanks to the popular Netflix documentary Wild Wild County.
The commune’s problems began when it became apparent that they had much bigger plans for their property than just farming, as they’d originally told local land use officials.
By 1983, the Rajneeshees—as Bhagwan’s followers were called— transformed the property into a small city that included an electrical power plant, townhouses, malls, a gun-toting police force, an airstrip and miles of roads on which his ecstatic followers lined up to catch a glimpse of Rajneesh during his afternoon drives in one of his Rolls-Royce sedans.
“The musicians would be playing their drums and flutes and all the adults would be smiling and crying,” recalls Dickon Kent, who moved to the commune with his mother from England in 1981 when he was 12. “I always wanted to feel what they were feeling, but I never did.”
The real trouble began in 1984 when Oregon officials balked at the group’s plans for future expansion and Rajneesh, along with his sharp-tongued deputy/spokeswoman Ma Anand Sheela, hatched a plan to take over local government.
A group of Sheela’s most hardened followers secretly doused salad bars in the area with salmonella from the commune’s lab in an attempt to reduce the number of voters in an upcoming election. They also plotted to crash a plane into the local county courthouse and transported more than 3,000 homeless people into the commune in order to increase the number of pro-Rajneesh voters.
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In July 1985, at the urging of Sheela, Stork unsuccessfully tried to kill Rajneesh’s private physician’s by jabbing a syringe filled with a large dose of adrenaline into his thigh during a commune celebration.
“I was involved in a conspiracy to murder somebody,” admits Stork, who also plotted to assassinate the U.S. Attorney investigating the group. “I tried to physically kill somebody.”
Sheela, along with Stork and 20 others, ended up fleeing the commune weeks later, but were eventually arrested in Germany. Sheela was sentenced to 20 years in prison for numerous crimes, but released after only serving 29 months. Stork spent three years in prison and now lives in Germany.
Rajneesh, who was arrested while trying to flee the country in his private Lear jet, later pleaded guilty to immigration law violations, fined $400,000, before returning to his native India where he died in 1990 at 58 of heart failure.
“I wasn’t brainwashed,” says Stork, now 73. “Once I started being honest with myself and unraveling the whole journey I was on, I realized that I brainwashed myself. But I’m finally free now. I’m cured of all that.”