Front Cover - 'a WOLF among the SHEEP'
a WOLF among the SHEEP


This unauthorised biography traces the rise and downfall of Australian cult leader William Kamm, alias "The Little Pebble". Regarded by followers throughout the world as a prophet during the past 25 years, Kamm appointed himself chief of a global network of seers and claimed he would be the Roman Catholic Church's last Pope. His life and leadership of the Order of Saint Charbel - a sect based near Nowra on the NSW south coast - is exposed in the book, which is available through this website. More details: Home

RADIO ABC ILLAWARRA


Nick Rhineberger with Graeme Webber
 3 July 2008
(Excerpts taken from a 20-minute live interview)



RHINEBERGER:

We'll talk about a notorious member of a religious group from our local area in just a moment, probably the most notorious - The Little Pebble, otherwise known as William Kamm. He's the subject of a new book, which has taken many years to write, by a local journo called Graeme Webber: "a WOLF among the SHEEP", sub-titled "How God's Prophet Became a Womanising, Millionaire Cult Leader". I know there are still people within that religious organisation - some people call it a cult - still listening in this particular area. I don't know whether they turn the radio on in the compound of Saint Charbel. You can feel free to call us after I have a conversation with Graeme Webber, I'd be fascinated to hear from you.

[SOUND TRACK PLAYED]

RHINEBERGER:

The name William Kamm is notorious in The Illawarra, for his property just near Nowra was the scene of a very interesting religious movement. The facts are, William Kamm was convicted of five counts of sexually assaulting a 15-year-old "queen", as he called them, in 1993. He was jailed for five years. Only last year, he was found guilty of five counts of sexual intercourse and one count of indecency involving another one of his "queens". And the combined sentence was 10 years, and he's going to be eligible for parole after seven-and-a-half years. He was the leader of the Order of Saint Charbel which had not only devotees in the Nowra area but, he claimed, all around the world. He's the subject of a new book - 'a WOLF among the SHEEP - How God's Prophet, The Little Pebble, Became a Womanising, Millionaire Cult Leader'. Its author is Graeme Webber, and Graeme joins us now. G'day mate, howya goin'?

WEBBER


Good morning Nick, how are you?

RHINEBERGER


Not too bad. Three years you've spent on this book, doing nothing else but?

WEBBER

Nothing else but. I really had no idea what I was getting myself into when I had the idea that, I thought there might be a book in this. I actually sat on the idea, I kept it to myself for a good 12 months or so. I was in Wollongong covering a preliminary hearing for my former employer, AAP, back in mid-2004. I'd seen press reports and a little bit about the Committal and it was the first opportunity, I thought: "oh, hang on, this is a little bit different". This isn't just about what he, at that stage, was alleged to have done. It was very much the circumstances, that he did this in God's name; that he did this in an ultra-conservative Catholic group; for people who believed that the mainstream Catholic Church was not conservative enough. In the midst of that, he was having all these mystical wives and engaging them in sex and - we now know - engaging underaged girls in sex.

RHINEBERGER

It was always claimed to be part of the Catholic Church, wasn't it, the Order of Saint Charbel. Would you call it an orthodox Catholic Church, or a conservative Catholic Church?

WEBBER


No, in no part at all the Catholic Church. Three successive Bishops of Wollongong have condemned him - right back until he started out, you know, in 1983; right from his first handful of Messages. See, how William Kamm started out is that he went over to New York to a place called Bayside, it was a shrine, and he has basically copied the organisation. That organisation, by the way - Bayside, run by Veronica Lueken - was discredited by the Catholic Church. William Kamm went over there on a couple of occasions, basically learnt the ropes, as it were, and shortly after that announced that he too was a seer.

The important part in the research and understanding who Kamm is and what really motivates him - and did he change somewhere along the line, did he run off the rails - what you have to do to answer that question is go right back to the beginning. I'm talking about the 1970s and early 1980s. And I can tell you, he didn't run off the rails - he was never on them. The person I found back in those days was basically the person you see now. He was extremely deceptive, manipulative, he told outright lies, his life was at odds with the Catholic beliefs that he was espousing. For example, I came across people who confronted him back in the early 1980s about why he was leading prayer groups - a whole string of prayer groups - and yet living in a de facto relationship with his girlfriend. Not really on, for the Catholic Church, especially in that era. And he said "Oh, well, you see, I have a divine exception". [He said] that he's been freed, there's no temptation and God has made a special allowance for him. It's exactly the same story, and type of story, he went on in [future] years to say that he was entitled to have all these queens and princesses which he announced in 1993.

RHINEBERGER

It seems to me, reading some of this book, that you've gone beyond journalistic objectivity and you seem very upset by William Kamm. I'll just read here: "'Mary says' was the directive of a weak leader who lacked the gumption or ability to argue or persuade others to a particular point of view." What's got you upset about this.

WEBBER

I'm certainly upset and I'm very disturbed by him and I'm disturbed by the situation that he hasn't been held to account in any way, shape or form in an effective manner. People have tried it. Yes, I do go beyond the realms of straight reporting, which I'm used to as a journalist of some 15 years. But I do think it's appropriate to, in this context, I do share my views. And after I lay out the facts of the case, and to try and explain to people that the way he, you can't always lay out the story in a factual way. There is a need for comment, and that'll be up to people to decide whether they like that or not.

RHINEBERGER

Yeah (you also write): "Kamm was a consummate liar, an arrogant ego-maniac, manipulative deceiver and general nutcase right from the start of his bogus mission". Have you had family affected by the Order of Saint Charbel?

WEBBER

No, I haven't. I've come in as a complete outsider. I moved down to the area towards the beginning of 2004, just for a mid-life tree-change, career-change - or end-of-career [change], as I thought at that point, having left the metro media. No, I started out completely cold. I didn't have a single source. I attended the trial, basically casting about for possibly a book - depending on the outcome of that.

RHINEBERGER

How do you go about getting the sort of information you've got in this book because it is not like investigating a government department - you can at least hope for a freedom of information - and by its nature, it's highly secretive. Where do you get the information.

WEBBER

It is very difficult. Firstly from government departments. Because he's been operating with a number of different charitable - or through - different charitable organisations, that means that certain financial reports are available for public scrutiny. And I've gone and got those - I'm talking about through ASIC, through Fair Trade, the Department of Gaming and Racing which issues fundraising permits, that sort of thing. There's a certain amount of financial reports that come from within the community, from sources. The whole book, the style of the book - as I set out to do it - was to have a documentary-style book, if I could put it that way. I didn't want to sit down and interview people and have them rely on memories that might be vague from 10 years in the past and whatever. I wanted to write the story from their letters and their personal exchanges with Kamm and from things like that. I have audio recordings and video recordings and press clippings and that sort of thing to try and lay it out, this whole expanse of Kamm and his group, the cult, over a long period of time. And to weave that together, hopefully, in a sensible and cogent fashion.

RHINEBERGER

Mmmm. Nineteen past 10 on 97.3 ABC Illawarra. My guest is Graeme Webber, author of 'a WOLF among the SHEEP', it's about William Kamm. Another quote here: "The constant refrain from Kamm and other leaders was 'put aside human logic' ... They were expected to leave their rationality at the three-metre front gates when people checked themselves into the Order of Saint Charbel." Have you been able to get some insight into what made him so compelling that people would leave their logic, their rationality and all their money, quite often, at the gates when they checked into the compound?

WEBBER

It's very hard to understand, isn't it. And the first point I want to make is that it is not about intelligence, or lack thereof. It's about preconceptions, and it's the way in which people think. And it's very hard for intelligent people to sort of wake up and realise what they've been engaged in, and it's quite hard. ................ What I think the three essential ingredients in his modus operandi have been: fear, repetition and enormous pressure to conform. And when I say fear, I'm not talking about physical threats; he doesn't man-handle anyone. He doesn't do that, he uses spiritual threats. And for religious folk, the trepidation invoked when they believe that they're gonna suffer eternal consequences for the least of offences-
 
RHINEBERGER

There was the carrot and the stick, wasn't there, there was the carrot for some of these alleged queens and princesses, that "you are going to basically repopulate humanity, the fruit of your womb" and the stick being, "well, we're the only chosen ones in the End Times." Does it get any more dramatic than that?

WEBBER

Well, stroking of egos, that was certainly another part of it. The idea that we're in the End Days, that the end of the world was so, so close. And living on this, see for anyone living in a state of that sort of fear, rationality really goes out the window; you lose perspective, and there was always a drama. See people - anyone - behaves differently when they're in a group, and I think a lot of people could relate to that, and particularly when they're in a state of fear or spiritual fear. I think a lot of people can relate to being in a, say, a bad relationship or a bad workplace and you look back and think, "Man, why didn't I just get out of there earlier; I should have seen it written all over the place". But, we don't.

RHINEBERGER

Reading this, I know a lot of people have been affected by this, and there are still believers. I tell you what, if you are a member of the Order of Saint Charbel, or perhaps an ex-member, love to hear from you. 1300 973 300. We cover the Nowra area. Give us a call, I'd love to have a talk to you about it.

It almost seems like a cult cliche, if you'll pardon me: 'well, I can have sex with everyone but nobody else can, give us all your money, I'm getting Messages from Heaven'. And yet people keep being taken into it. Did you find yourself scratching yourself, that all of this can't really be happening; this is just some sort of cliche of a cult.

WEBBER

Many times. And, you know, some things I can only describe - I can't explain it, I can't say that some things I fully understand. It's just extraordinary that he could do this in this context. I should say also here, for some people, [he has] a very persuasive manner. He's so cocksure, he has not a shadow of a doubt about anything, he's never wrong. He tells people that he's, he has people believing that he's infallible in his mission. They believe he's going to be the next Pope. There's a lot of personal power associated within his psyche and he's able to basically just impose his will on other people. And that's certainly been the case with some of these queens and princesses.

One of the saddest lines, I think, that I wrote in the book was that: "[She] gave in." ........... That's a story of how this girl was led to believe - and she was over the age of consent, just 17, I think by memory - he was saying that, telling everybody, this is early in the piece, that having sexual relations with him or just a mystical relationship was their will. It's up to them. She said, "Well I don't want the sexual, thanks; I'll just have the mystical". And he said "that's okay". Then he came up with a Message from Mary where Mary said: "This is a test of your faith".

RHINEBERGER

Is that another fax from Mary?

WEBBER

Straight down his little hotline, yeah. And he says: "That's a test of your faith". And she gave in. And she had sex with him. 

RHINEBERGER

What do you think will happen to the Order of Saint Charbel, once William Kamm gets out. Will it go on?

WEBBER

Yes. If things don't change. If there's not intervention. When he was jailed, I'd say probably 70 or 80 people left, and there were some pretty significant members who left. People who were significant players, and it was quite a critical blow. Not long before he was charged too, a group of over 20 people left.

RHINEBERGER

But what's the status of the compound now, I know you live in the Nowra area. What's the latest on it.

WEBBER

Oh, look, I understand that there's around about hundred or so people there. Astonishingly, I'm told that there've even been some new people go to the group. There's ample press coverage of both trials, ah, it's um, what can you say.

RHINEBERGER

And finally in the book, again, another strong opinion. "Three years have now passed since William Kamm's conviction of child sex offences and his Order of Saint Charbel has not fallen apart, so it's about time that financial regulators tore it apart."  ..............

WEBBER

Look, I have pointed to a number of financial irregularities and the reason I call for a state and federal Parliamentary inquiry is that I believe our regulators have failed to properly monitor him. Let me give you a few examples, Nick, and I'm sorry if this is a little complex but that's the nature of finances.

A group was formed back in '87 and that was a shelf company to buy the main property there, it was actually an old caravan park. Some Japanese doctors gave over $300,000 to buy that and it went into it. It was a charity [with] tax deductibility, tax-free, fundraising permits, all that sort of thing. In 1999, William Kamm, well all the directors resigned from that charitable group. Now, this is the group that owns the land; and his house was then built on it, the chapel for apparently $450,000 was built on it. It had greatly increased in value. They resigned, he became the sole director, he then changed the status of that charity and it became a private company, and he was the sole shareholder. And from what I can see, he paid $100. A $100 shareholder, and that all became in his name.

Now, I'm scratching my head as to how that could happen; was that scrutinised, was it just a technicality that is legal. I mean, if that's illegal, that's outrageous. But if that is legal, I just think that's even more outrageous, that this group was set up after the style of the St Vincent de Paul. Could you imagine the public outrage if I went and took over that organisation - the Saint Vincent de Paul Society - and privatised it and pocketed the assets?  ............ by the way, everything I've spoken to you [about], comes from records that I myself have obtained from ASIC.

The other matter relates to, when that was privatised, a few years earlier he set up another charitable entity. And it would appear that that's how he convinced people to go from, to let that be privatised and move to the new one. I've found in paperwork there donations, three donations, totalling about $60,000 for example, being paid to a "W Kamm". "W Kamm" is listed in those same papers as "Chairman Kamm". That is totally, it's just not on. You can not run a charity and be paying the Chairman money. Financial returns talk about rates and land taxes within those papers; the Order doesn't own any land that I can find. Certainly, if there was land owned, it should be listed as "assets" in those papers - it's not there. I've been to Land Titles and done all the searches I can, but there's no land (in the Order's name). He says himself, anyway, that he's building the Order in his own name.

I've found paperwork that would indicate that the Order was paying mortgage payments on a property that was owned by Kamm. There's so much. The wages - he ran a string of shops in the local area which were staffed by cult members. I've found documentation where he clearly - he blatantly admits - that he's subsidising wages, paying lower wages, so that people can, well basically maximise their welfare payments. And providing accommodation and food, which isn't paid for by him anyway - it's paid by the Order. So he's taking, it would seem, the cash flow from all these businesses. He's a multi-millionaire, there's no doubt about it.

Constant donation appeals for anything that comes up. ....... He said he was going to sue The Sydney Morning Herald for a very good article they did back in 1993; apparently he collected money, had money channelling into a bank account attached to a private company of his. But the lawsuit never proceeded - don't know what happened to that money.

And, you know, with the Department of Fair Trade, that organisation - the Order of Saint Charbel - has not lodged financial returns since June 2005; two of them are now overdue. And I'd like to know: "Well, where's the enforcement involved here?" I'm told that that's grounds enough for the group to be deregistered. Why is that, and I have actually asked that question and I'll be looking forward to hearing the answer on that.

RHINEBERGER

Alright. Graeme Webber, it's been great to meet you today and congratulations on the book. Thanks for having a chat with us this morning.

WEBBER

Thanks Nick. Appreciate it.

RHINEBERGER

Graeme Webber, author of "a WOLF among the SHEEP", a three-year investigation into the life of William Kamm, that's out through KeyStone PRESS.


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