How far would the Watchtower Society go to keep a child within the Witness ranks? Would they lie, conspire in kidnapping and obstruct law enforcement agencies?
In 1990, CBCs The Fifth Estate screened a programme entitled Silent Witnesses that told the story of the abduction of Cindy Frulik by her Jehovahs Witness father. In its own way, the programme was just as hard-hitting and damning of the Watchtower as the recent expose on child abuse, since it clearly showed the deceptiveness of Watchtower spokesmen and the hard-hearted callousness of the Witness elders toward anyone not of the faith. The programme contains one of the great gotcha scenes of investigative journalism.
Mouthy was kind enough to lend me her tape of the programme, and what follows are my notes from watching it. While Ive tried to be as accurate as possible, spellings of some names are my best guess because of the accents and the quite poor quality of the recording, and Ive obviously put some descriptions into my own words.
Two of the main characters are called Anna. In the dialogues below, Anna refers to Cindys Mother, and Anna T refers to Anna Tobolkova, the Chilean Jehovahs Witness who became Cindys foster mother during the abduction.
The Fifth Estate: Silent Witnesses
Tonight you are going to see how the Jehovahs Witness community sanctioned the kidnapping of a little girl. Cindy Frulik was caught in the middle of a family breakup, one that got her mother kicked out of the Jehovahs Witnesses. Cindys father abducted her, and many Witnesses were silent when Cindys mother pleaded for help.
One of Child Finds first poster-girls, Cindy went missing at age five. Her mother Anna was frantic.
Anna I tried anything, and nobody could help me. I didnt have any friends!
Cindy was abducted by her father Joseph, now a resident of Santiago, Chile. He used, neglected, and finally abandoned the girl. But there was one person who took pity on Cindy.
Anna T She was a very sad girl; lonely; hungry for love.
There was someone else less sympathetic. (Toronto elder Pedro Rob shown walking) This church elder knew where Cindy was, but he didnt tell the police or Cindys mother. It was a private matter between him and his church, the Jehovahs Witnesses.
Church spokesman, Walter Graham:
Interviewer Did your organization at the national level attempt to assist in finding Cindy Florik?
W Graham - No, we didnt get involved.
Interviewer - Why not?
W Graham - Well, first of all we didnt know where to go, and secondly, Mrs Florik was no longer one of Jehovahs Witnesses.
Anna Gonzalez was raised in Mexico. She met Joseph Florik at a convention when she was seventeen and they married and moved to Toronto. The church was the centre of their lives; three meetings a week, plus door-to-door preaching. Even the odd night out was in the company of Jehovahs Witnesses. Anna began to rebel at the restrictions of life as one of Jehovahs Witnesses.
Anna - I was curious about the outside world. They wanted me to spend more time preaching and going to the church.
Three years after Cindy was born Joseph and Anna separated for the first time. Joseph took Cindy and fled to Saskatchewan. Their church stepped in and brought them back together.
Anna - The first time I wanted to call the police and they said no, it is not necessary for you to call the police.
Interviewer - Who told you that? Anna - The elders. Interviewer - And why do you think they would tell you that? Anna - Because they didnt want nothing to do with the law.The elders convinced Joseph to come home with Cindy, but the marriage didnt last. Within one year the couple separated for good. Anna began to live the life she felt she had missed out on. She got a job, and a boyfriend. Shortly after Anna took steps to get a legal separation, Joseph Florik came looking for his daughter. Five year old Cindy hid under the bed.
Cindy -I didnt want to go with him! Interviewer - Were you afraid of something? Did you think he might be taking you away again? Cindy - I knew something bad was gonna happen, but I didnt know what!When Joseph took Cindy for the second time in 1982, Annas relationship with the Jehovahs Witnesses was on the rocks, she wanted nothing to do with them. Six months after that abduction, elders sent her an official request to answer to charges of sexual misconduct. Anna didnt show up, so Joseph Floriks accusations against her stood, and the church disfellowshipped her for adultery. The community that had been her entire life now shunned her. Her own mother was forbidden to speak to her.
Anna - They dont care about a disfellowshipped person because they think were bad, evil. Thats what they think! Im disfellowshipped, thats it!Dr. Jim Penton is a leading scholar of the Witness movement in Canada. Disfellowshipped in 1981, Penton knows all about shunning.
J Penton - I know literally dozens of children who will not speak to their parents. I know brothers and sisters who will not speak to one another because one has left Jehovahs Witnesses. And the attitude is that these persons are bound for destruction unless they repent.
Interviewer - Is it possible that members of the community could be unmoved by the torment of a mother?
J Penton - If the child goes to the mother and is raised a non-Jehovahs Witness, then the child dies eternally too. And theyll say its better that the mother, who is after all an apostate, should suffer.Joseph and Cindy lived in a Toronto house for two years, just half an hour away from Anna. But old friends in the church wouldnt help her. She was an outsider now, alone. Anna met Peter George six months after the abduction. They married in 1987. He became her moral support. Peter also financed the search that would dominate the next three years of their marriage.
Anna - I never gave up, never! It killed me for a long time. I suffered inside for a long time.
Peter - I think thats something that still angers us now, is that we wasted so many years in anger and highs and lows because of a religion that obviously was doing a great deal of wrong.In 1984 Joseph Florik, still a Witness in good standing, had taken Cindy to Orlando, Florida. They rented rooms from a Jehovahs Witness. Cindy and other Jehovahs Witness children attended a private school. Its records werent registered with the state. Joseph became a member of a congregation and was employed by an elder, who paid him in cash. There were no employment or income tax records. Joseph always covered his tracks, but this had serious consequences for Cindy. When she was eight, she pulled a pot of boiling water onto herself and was badly burned. Joseph kept her away from the hospital for three long days and nights.
Interviewer - Did she cry a lot when she had the burns?
JW landlord - No, no!
JW wife - It would be normal to assume that it hurt.
Interviewer - Did you cry a lot?
Cindy - Yeah. (laughs nervously) I hurt a lot!
Interviewer - Do you often wonder why it was your father didnt take you to the hospital immediately?
Cindy - I wondered, but I didnt know why.The reason was that in 1985 Joseph was wanted in Canada and the United States for child abduction, maximum sentence 10 years. As long as Joseph stayed underground, the police and Cindys mother would have a hard time finding them. It was much easier for his church to get information about Joseph Florik. Congregations always get the new members service record from the last congregation he attended. That record includes any moral violations. The dirt on Joseph Floriks church record seems to have warranted some discipline, but elders stopped short of informing the police, or insisting that Joseph Florik return Cindy to her mother. Interviewer - I asked the elders if they would talk about Joseph Florik and they said they wouldnt do so on camera. But they did admit that they knew him, and that he worshipped here. And interestingly enough, they also admitted that they had checked out his past, and based on what they had found out, they limited his privileges to preaching door-to-door and attending services here. But what they wouldnt allow him to do was preach to the congregation, hold the position of elder, or attend national or international conventions. Anna - The elders, the leaders of the organization, they all have control of situations like this. And I know for a fact they all have control of a lot of people in there. They know all about you. J Penton - The organization is completely hierarchical, and the average Witness wont do anything unless he receives instruction from an elder or a circuit overseer or someone at the branch office or Watchtower Headquarters. The chances are 99% that some of the elders, some of the senior Witness leaders in Toronto, knew the circumstances. The Watchtower Society near Toronto is highly computerized, part of an international organization with two million magazine subscriptions worldwide. And all addresses are kept on file.
Interviewer - When Anna George came to the organization pleading with individuals to help her locate Cindy, did any of those individuals have any idea where Joseph Florik was? W Graham- As far as I know, they had no idea. Its obviously a very well thought-out plan by Mr. Florik! Interviewer - A plan in which he was assisted by many Jehovahs Witnesses! W Graham - But none of them knew the whole story! Certainly if we had knowledge of the whereabouts of Cindy.Cindy?....we would have certainly acted, but we didnt.Theologian Jim Penton says Witnesses are told not to lie, but they can be evasive.
J Penton - The fact of the matter is that the Watchtower Society has said well, anyone who is an enemy is not entitled to information, not entitled to truth. Interviewer- Lying to the enemy. Who is the enemy? J Penton - The enemy is anyone who works contrary to the teachings of Jehovahs Witnesses. The secular state, a disfellowshipped person, anyone such as this is the enemy and therefore one can use theocratic war strategy, and they do.
Interviewer - Could you tell us a little bit about Theocratic War Strategy? W Graham - Theocratic War Strategy. Interviewer - What is Theocratic War Strategy? W Graham - Thats a good question! (Laughs nervously) Theocratic War Strategy.. Interviewer - Have you ever heard the term?
W Graham - Ive heard the term but its a very old one. Interviewer - Do you employ it? Do the Jehovahs Witnesses employ Theocratic War Strategy? W Graham - (Sighs heavily) I dont think I have, no. Interviewer - Maybe not yourself, but do Jehovahs Witnesses employ Theocratic War Strategy? W Graham - I dontagain I cant comment.I dont know of any circumstances where we have.Anna insists that officials at the Watchtower Society knew more than they shared with her, police, or Child Find.
Anna - You know! You know damn well where is my daughter and youve been talking to Joseph! He just said I dont know anything.All the while Cindy had no idea she was the object of an international search.
Interviewer - Did you ever miss her while you were away? Cindy - Yeah I missed her a lot of times, always went to bed and thought of her, and thought if she was thinking of me.Anna and Peter hired Private Investigator Tony Turko. Turko says he approached between three and four hundred people for information, almost all Jehovahs Witnesses.
Tony Turko - Most parental abductions, the people would assist and go the full nine yards in assisting the child. With the Jehovahs Witnesses I talked to, they had no real compassion for the mother, so I guess. in mind .that she was not a practicing Jehovahs Witness any longer.Joseph and Cindy had moved to Santiago, Chile. Once again they were among friends, silent witnesses to Josephs crime. Joseph and Cindys journey ended here in Santiago, ten thousand kilometers away from Anna. With all that distance between them, and no extradition possible, Josephs fear of being caught relaxed. He opened two fast food restaurants with money from his mother. He got a listing in the phone book, and applied under his own name for a permanent visa. Cindy went to a private school for the children of Jehovahs Witnesses. We found the schools owner, and she was kind enough to show us Cindys classroom. [The owner] remembers Cindy as a quiet girl, unhappy because of her home life. She recalled that Josephs mother suffered from Alzheimers disease. Her behaviour was bizarre, often violent. She told us that Joseph worked at his restaurants from early morning till late at night, and said it was nine year old Cindys job to cook and clean for all three of them. The Fruliks lived in an apartment block across the street from the school, but Cindy hardly ever got out to play.
Cindy - I used to be locked in my room because of my grandmother. Becauseumshe didnt know I was living in that house. She thought I was not there, but I was there. I always had to be silent. I couldnt even go out to the bathroom! He left me two little boxes. Interviewer - And you did your toilet in a box? Cindy - Yes.The little girl who wandered the schoolyard was finally noticed by someone else. Anna Tobolkovas children attended Cindys school. A devout Jehovahs Witness, Anna saw a child clearly in need of help.
Anna T - I became her friend during recess. I got to know her lonliness, and I talked about it with my husband, and we invited her during the weekends, and we became very fond of her.Joseph Frulik was content to have his daughter stay with Anna and her family. It got rid of a constant sore spot with his mother, and he could devote more time to his restaurants. He also promised Anna hed help with Cindys keep.
Anna T - In truth, on many occasions he said his business wasnt going well, so the person who kept and educated the child was my husband.
Interviewer - What did Anna do for you emotionally? Cindy - She took very good care of me and gave me a lot of love, that I needed at that time. Interviewer - Before she met you, what were you feeling? Cindy - Sadness. A lot of sadness. Interviewer - Why was that? Cindy - Because my father almost left me abandoned, and.um.I had to do everything for myself.
Interviewer - What was life like at Annas house? Cindy - It was like being with my own family.And being one of the family meant Cindy got daily religious training. When she turned thirteen, she was to be formally baptized as one of Jehovahs Witnesses, along with her foster brothers and sisters. But there were other things she had to learn first.
Anna T - It was very difficult for me, and I think for the kids too, because she didnt have any rules of hygiene, so it was almost like teaching a baby. Interviewer - Did she start to adjust quickly? Anna T - Yes, and I became very fond of her. Interviewer - I get the impression that it became a very caring and loving family, that it became very close for Cindy here. Anna T - In truth, it was a family of five children.All Anna knew about Cindys mother was what Cindy had told her. She was a bad woman and had left the church. That was Annas understanding until she was visited by three people from Toronto. The visitors were members of this mans family, Pedro Rob, an elder of a Toronto congregation. His wife Myrta and their two daughters visited Cindy at Annas house in the spring of 1989.
Anna T - She told me that she knew her beforehand from Canada, that she was a good woman, that she missed her daughter quite a bit, and that she needed her. That she was very sad that the girl was here, and not with her mother. Interviewer - What did you think when Mrs. Rob told you that about Cindys mother? Anna T- I was very saddened, and this was the reason why I wrote to Canada, telling them that Cindy was with me, and how we had met. I really dont know what happened with that letter.That letter was sent to Pedro Rib. He chose not to mention it to Cindys mother, or discuss his reasons with The Fifth Estate. At the same time that Anna Tobolkova was writing to Pedro Rob, the Private Investigators were already closing in. Their big break? A secret bank account in the Cayman Islands with a Santiago address on it. With the help of Interpol, Cindy was located. Eight years after Joseph Florik had kidnapped his five year old daughter, Anna flew to Chile and brought Cindy home. Anna and Cindy have eight years to catch up on. They live outside Toronto where Anna works as a hairdresser. Cindys new father, Peter George, is a chef, her new sisters are called Casey and Amy.
Cindy - Im happy, but Im sad, because I have to leave my foster mother. And Im happy because I have my real mother beside me. So its like I have to split my love in two.Interviewer - Are you angry at Joseph Frulik?
Anna - I was mad at him, I felt very mad at him. Now, I feel pity for him. Interviewer - What would you say to him if you had him in front of you right now? Anna - Poor guy. Youre such a coward. I feel pity for you. Interviewer - What would you say to him? Cindy - Why? Why did he do that? Why didnt he do it the good way? Why did he have to take the rough way?I asked Joseph Florik the same question, but he refused to come across the street and talk on camera. And the man who knew of Cindys whereabouts years before she was located also refused to speak to us.
P Rob - Leave me alone! Interviewer - Could you tell me whether or not you know Joseph Frulik? Were you aware that Joseph Frulik kidnapped his daughter and took her to Santiago? Could you answer why your wife went to Santiago?Pedro Rob walks silently into the Kingdom Hall.
Interviewer - What would your reaction be if you found out that an elder of a congregation in Toronto knew the whereabouts of Mr. Frulik, probably all along? W Graham - Yeah, it would be a surprise to hear that, yes. Interviewer - Would this be serious? W Graham - I would say so, yes. Interviewer - You have an elder in a congregation in Toronto, Pedro Rob, do you know him?
W Graham - No, I dont know him at all. Interviewer - Mr. Robs wife visited Cindy at a foster home in Santiago. Whats your reaction to that? W Graham - Well, thats what? Seven years after the abduction? Interviewer - Yes. W Graham - Er.then..er.when did they know about the abduction? When did they know the location? I really cant comment. Interviewer - Has head office ever been contacted? Ever been faxed, memoed, lettered, regarding the location of Cindy Frulik? W Graham - Over the last..erwhat is it, eight years? There has been no correspondence on Cindy Frulik. Interviewer - So national headquarters has no correspondence from Chile, from Santiago, copied to you from the congregation, anything like that? W Graham - Not that I know of.
Interviewer - Your files wouldnt indicate anything? W Graham - Not the files I have. Interviewer - Could we see the files? W Graham - (Reaches for file.) This is the extent of my files which are very sparse indeed..that was eighty six..thats from..er.wheres that from? Interviewer - It says from Santiago. W Graham - Santiago. Interviewer - In 1986? W Graham - Thats right. Interviewer - What does that say? W Graham - Its in Spanish. Interviewer - Is there a translation? This is from Pedro Rob!
W Graham - That was from Pedro, yeah, saying that he did not inform us where he was moving. Interviewer - So Pedro Rob receives communications in 1986 from Santiago, according to this document. W Graham - Yes, and thats his reply.
Interviewer - From what I gather, in 1986 the congregation in Santiago, Chile, wrote for information regarding Joseph Frulik. W Graham - Yes, to.to Mr. Rob, and Mr. Robs replied, saying that he informed them then in 1986 of the situation that he left the country violating the court ruling of his wifes custody of his daughter.
Interviewer - Why is he not informing the congregation in Chile that Mr. Frulik is wanted for kidnap and that any information would greatly assist in returning Cindy to her mother? W Graham - Youd have to ask him. Interviewer - He must have contacted national headquarters! W Graham - No, there was no copy to national headquarters.
Interviewer - Well then, why do you have a copy? W Graham - ErIm sure we have.. Interviewer - Doesnt that surprise you? Youre holding that file and it says in 1986 she was in Santiago! W Graham - YeserI have it here in my file now, but.er..from my understanding we didnt have access to that bit of information till just very recently. Interviewer - What is your organization going to do? Is it going to call in Pedro Rob? Has it called in Pedro Rob and said explain this!?
W Graham - Well, there has to be some sort of investigation. Certainly, this whole matter is disturbing to any caring person, whether he be a Jehovahs Witness or otherwise. Were concerned, and were very happy that the mother has Cindy back. Interviewer - Even though Anna George is disfellowshipped? W Graham - Yes! Disfellowshipping doesnt really come into the picture! This is a mother-child arrangement!But mother and daughter are still separated by Cindys eight years of religious immersion.
Interviewer - Cindy, how do you feel right now about being, sort of, away from the church? Cindy - Its different. Interviewer - Is it difficult on you? Cindy - Yeah. Interviewer - Do you feel one day you may go back to the church? Cindy - I may.
P George - The Jehovahs have had Cindy for thirteen years of her life, and if shes prepared to give us the next five, when shes eighteen years old, shes a full grown adult, she can make whatever decision is right for her.Anna Tobolkova has found it hard to get used to life without Cindy. She finds comfort in her church, but she wonders why Cindy hasnt written.
Anna T - I received only one letter from her, a month after she left. Ive written to her every week, and I get no response. Interviewer - What would you like to say to her? Anna T - That we love her, and that were very happy that shes with her mother.Anna George read those letters. They were full of religion so she never passed them on to Cindy.
Anna - Im afraid of her. Im really afraid of her.that.I dont want anyone to bother her right now. Interviewer - Why are you afraid of her? Anna - Were gonna be in the same shoes..my mother and I are right now. We dont have any communication, she cannot come and sit with me and talk to me, eat with me, socialize with me. They cant!
Interviewer - Does it worry you, that if you do return, you might have to shun your mother? Cindy - Thats what bothers me! Interviewer - Can you shun your mother? Cindy - I dont know..its gonna be a tough decision.The day before we left Santiago, Anna told us she was dying. She has a brain tumour, and its inoperable. She asked us to speak to Cindys parents, and convey her wish to see Cindy one last time.
Interviewer - Cindys foster mother says she wants to come and visit Cindy. How do you feel about that? Anna - I dont really like the idea, but if thats what Cindy wants, then shes welcome to come; except she cannot talk about religion to my daughter, she cannot push her religion to my Cindy!The meeting took place two weeks ago at a Toronto hotel. (Cindy runs down hotel hallway to Anna T. They hug each other fiercely, weeping. Cindys family watches, smiling nervously. Then, finally, the two Annas smile at each other, and embrace.) This was a time for reunion, and there was no talk of religion. I cannot tell you how much this means to me, Anna Tobolkova said.