Child kidnapped by Tony Alamo cult found living in car

Chicago Tribune Co.
August 17, 1989

A young mother whose newborn son was allegedly abducted by his father when she left a religious cult’s camp in Arkansas two years ago returned to the Chicago area with the child Wednesday, one day after they were reunited.

Mary Lou Weinzetl, 25, carried Brendan Broderick in her arms as she walked down the rear steps of an American Airlines jetliner at O’Hare International Airport and into a Chicago police squad car.

She had last seen Brendan when she broke away in the late summer of 1987 from the cult whose founder, Tony Alamo, taught that all churches are corrupt. Cult members spoke in tongues and were taught that the Roman Catholic Church was particularly evil, said Cynthia Kisser, executive director of the Cult Awareness Network, a national group headquartered in Chicago.

After she left the cult, known officially as the Tony and Susan Alamo Foundation Inc. of Alma, Ark., an Arkansas judge awarded Weinzetl custody of Brendan as well as her daughter by an earlier marriage, according to her lawyer, Robert Blatt of Ft. Smith, Ark.

By that time, however, the two children and the man to whom she had been married in a cult cermony had disappeared, Blatt said. Her marriage to Brian Broderick was not recognized as legal by Arkansas.

Weinzetl’s daughter, Jackie, was later returned to her. But there was not even a report of a sighting of her son, said Lynne Stefanowski, coordinator of the Waukegan Police Department’s I SEARCH program for missing children.

As Stefanowski awaited the arrival of Weinzetl’s plane Wednesday, she said that because the cult is “really an underground type of thing” and its followers are so secretive, “We truly didn’t know if this (the search for Brendan) would come to a conclusion.”

Stefanowski also expressed concern that followers may attempt to abduct the child. Weinzetl did not want to talk to reporters and does not want her hometown known.

After their arrival at O’Hare the mother and son were driven to Waukegan police headquarters.

Earlier Wednesday, Weinzetl’s mother, Jeanette, said, “This will be the first time I see my grandson. I just can’t wait.”

Brendan was found in New York City when a passerby saw him hiding in the back seat of a car and reported the incident to police Aug. 3, the Associated Press reported. His father, Broderick, was arrested on charges of endangering the welfare of a child after police determined that the boy, his father and two other men were living in the car, according to the AP report.

When New York police checked the boy’s name against a computerized list of missing children, they alerted Waukegan police, Stefanowski said.

Blood tests indicated that Brendan was Weinzetl’s child. “When you only see a child when he’s 10 days old and the next time you see him is two years later he’s very difficult to identify,” Stefanowski said.

The mother and son were reunited Tuesday in New York.

Meanwhile, a Crawford County, Ark., sheriff’s deputy has been sent to New York to return Broderick, 27, to the county, a sheriff’s dispatcher said. He faces a felony charge of interference with the award of custody of a child, Blatt said.

Stefanowski began working with Weinzetl about two years ago, referring her to support groups that aid parents of missing or runaway children. Weinzetl had returned to Illinois after being in the cult “off and on for about a year,” her mother said. She joined it in the Waukegan area after her divorce when she wanted to re-establish her life, her mother said.

“She didn’t know what she was walking into,” the mother said.

In: 1980-1989

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