The True Crime Edition
The Dead Women of NXIVM
Was Keith Raniere a murderer as well as a tax evader and child rapist?
Keith Raniere via the New York Post
Entrepreneur, self-help guru and cult leader Keith Raniere was sentenced to 120 years in prison in October 2020. The charges against him included racketeering, attempted sex trafficking, wire fraud, forced labour and possession of child pornography. He was also fined $1.75million.
The media reports that Raniere held sex slaves in single rooms for years, and the cult he led branded people with cauterising irons, but there’s something more sinister being left out of many of these reports; four women died while being part of or threatening, the NXIVM organisation.
The first suicide
Gina Hutchinson was in eighth grade when she met Raniere while he was still working for Amway (a multi-level marketing company) in 1983. Within weeks, they’d started a relationship, and her sister, Heidi, alleged she caught Raniere climbing out of her sister’s window one night. The 15-year-old soon dropped out of school to be tutored by Raniere, and her parents expected she would eventually marry him.
Gina Hutchinson via dailymail.co.uk
Gina tried to break away from Raniere but was always contacted by his inner circle of trusted women, advising the teenager to return. She eventually escaped the relationship, but in 2002, Gina took an intensive NXIVM course and then accused Raniere of statutory rape in her teenage years.
In the early 2000s, NXIVM was still in its infancy. Raniere was still trying to find investors, and he’d been introduced to Sara and Clare Bronfman. The sisters were heiresses to an enormous family fortune built by their father, Edgar Bronfman Sr, who was reportedly worth $2.6 billion as of 2011.
NXIVM needed money, and Gina’s voice was getting louder. If the Bronfman sisters heard that Raniere was having sex with children, it would have destroyed the new organisation.
In October 2002, Gina’s body was discovered in Woodstock, New York, an hour and a half from the NXIVM’s headquarters in Albany. According to the police report, she’d shot herself with a 20 gauge pump-action shotgun. The 33-year-old was found by a lake surrounded by a monastery, where she’d spent time practising Buddhism.
Because her death was ruled a suicide, the ballistics performed on Gina were minimal and didn’t include a gunshot residue test. According to ballistics expert, Cynthia Bir, using a shotgun to commit suicide was a very violent way for a woman to kill themself and isn’t common.
Gina’s case is unlikely to be reopened, but her sister Heidi doesn’t believe she would have killed herself.
“It’s all very suspicious, she was such a gentle soul. For her choose a method that violent, that concerns me.”
According to Roger Stone (Donald Trump’s former adviser), the Bronfman sisters eventually gave NXIVM $66million from their trust fund.
Stone worked for the cult for just six months. He was brought in as a political consultant because Raniere was looking for politicians to buy, and Stone was the man to help him. He claimed that when he met the Sara and Clare Bronfman, he immediately saw that they were being used for their money and connections.
(l-r) Clare and Sara Bronfman via esquire.com
In September 2020, Clare Bronfman was sentenced to six years and nine months in prison, with racketeering charges, immigration fraud and identity theft against her. The prosecution claimed that her role as a financier in the organisation led to NXIVM’s existence. Sara wasn’t accused of any crimes.
Vanity Fair claimed that the sisters gave NXIVM a total of $150million.
The second suicide
Kristin Snyder was an environmental consultant from Kentucky. She moved to Alaska in 1999 and quickly became a well-respected member of the community. She was ambitious in pursuing her chosen career path, and she believed a course like ESP would work well for her.
The Executive Success Program (ESP) was a series of self-help courses under NXIVM.
Thousands of members signed up for the workshops, paying $7,000 for the 16-day intensive programme. By 2003, ESP training centres had been set up across the United States, including Los Angeles, Vancouver, Tacoma and Alaska. The organisation was snowballing, and there was pressure on potential members to sign up.
Kristin Snyder via filmdaily.co
Kristin had taken her first course in November 2002 and another in January 2003. On the tenth day of the course in January, Kristin was physically removed from the workshop after some erratic behaviour and shouting.
Kristin’s wife, Heidi, was also in the seminar and called the police when Kristin still hadn’t returned home later that day. An investigation for the missing woman began, and Kristin’s truck was found two days later at Resurrection Bay, an hour and a half from Anchorage, Alaska. The vehicle was parked at the edge of the water, and Kristin was nowhere to be seen.
Inside the truck were two handwritten notes. One was a suicide note, claiming that NXIVM had brainwashed her.
Kristin’s suicide note via frankreport.com
The other told the reader not to look for her body.
Despite Kristin’s wishes for her body to not be located, ski patrollers, Anchorage police, Alaska State Troopers, the coast guard, and helicopters went out, searching for Kristin. Hundreds of people joined the manhunt for the 33-year-old, but nothing was ever found. Finally, four days after her disappearance, the search for Kristin was called off.
However, nearby at Miller’s Landing, a camping rentals store, a kayak appeared to be missing. There was a patch of snow where the craft had been, and its accompanying oars were also gone. The kayak and paddlers were never located despite being explicitly built to float.
Early on in NXIVM, Raniere hired an IT company to create an internal network for the organisation. It acted like an internet portal, and to the members using it, the network was a way to stay connected easily with other followers. However, the seemingly harmless portal meant that Raniere had access to every single piece of data on each member’s mobile phone.
Because of the data he’d stolen, Raniere believed Kristin Snyder was still alive and that her death had been faked. So a year after Kristin had vanished, he sent a member of his inner circle to Anchorage to investigate her disappearance.
Kristin Keeffe was given the job of finding the rogue follower, and she spoke to witnesses and other participants of the seminar. She realised that Kristin Snyder’s disappearance wasn’t adding up, and she too believed that she was still alive.
Speculation was rife as to why this successful woman had become erratic and told to leave the seminar. Her wife, Heidi, recently filled in the holes of the story when she spoke for the first time in the documentary, The Lost Women of NXIVM.
Heidi said her wife went to see Raniere in Albany in 2002 before the second intensive class started. Heidi noted that Kristin [Snyder] had returned home a different person, and soon after, she found out she was pregnant with Raniere’s child. This is allegedly what she’d announced at the seminar and why she was removed from the room.
In the past, many women had fallen pregnant with Raniere’s children, including Kristin Keeffe, and had been coerced into getting abortions. Kristin Snyder’s and Raniere’s child would have been proof that he was having sex with members of NXIVM, consensual or not.
Kristin Keeffe fled the cult after being a member for 16 years. During her time in Albany, she began a relationship with Raniere and gave birth to his child. Like many others, she was on such a strict diet and no one, including her, knew she was pregnant until she was eight months gone. She was told to tell other members of NXIVM that she had adopted him and that he wasn’t hers or Raniere’s child.
When Kristin Keeffe’s son was seven, they left the cult and headed for the police station. She had evidence of corruption and was ready to talk, but NXIVM’s lawyers found out where she’d gone, and the mother and son were forced into a safe house for domestic violence. They eventually fled New York state.
“I knew I was being hunted like an animal.” — Kristin Keeffe.
To try and deduce whether Kristin Snyder had written the suicide note, handwriting analyst Beth Chrisman was given the note and a valentine’s day card from Heidi, both of which had supposedly been written by her. She was asked to analyse the writing and compare the two.
Kristin’s suicide note and Valentine’s Day card comparison.
Images via frankreport.com
Chrisman was unable to say whether the writing samples were made by the same person because there weren’t enough examples of the handwriting, but it was clear that certain letters were very different.
“In the card, she has a very distinct way that she writes her upper case ‘I’. It’s very unique to her. When she goes to write, or whoever wrote the alleged suicide note, just wrote an uppercase ‘I’, like we learned in first grade.”
So, what really happened to Kristin Snyder? Did she commit suicide, did someone kill her, or is she potentially still alive?
Raniere believes she didn’t die, but the Resurrection Bay harbourmaster says that all of the bodies they’ve ever been asked to search for have been recovered, except Snyder’s. We may never find out what happened to Kristin Snyder.
While residing in Albany, Raniere lived with several women in one house. During this time, Pamela Cafritz, Barbara Jeske, Kristin Keeffe and an unknown woman were all diagnosed with various cancers. The anonymous woman saved a lock of her hair from that period, and when tested, it had high levels of Barium and Bismuth.
(l-r) Barbara Jeske and Pamela Cafritz via artvoice.com
Barium is a contrast agent used in CT scans to coat a patient’s insides for a clearer view. It can cause breathing issues, high blood pressure and swelling of the brain and liver. It’s also an ingredient in rat poison. Bismuth is a white, crystalline metal best known as being the main ingredient in Pepto-Bismol. Bismuth can cause kidney damage, and in high quantities, both can cause death.
According to Albany Times Union reporter Brendan Lyons, Raniere was in charge of their treatment and medication. He gave them what he called “do-do balls”, which were administered every day.
Cindy, who thought her sister, Barbara, was slowly killed by the cult leader, stated, “I do believe Raniere poisoned my sister and those other women — and I think he should be held accountable.”
Cindy, a nurse, looked after Barbara during her last days and refused to give her the treatment that Raniere was administering. After Barbara’s death, Cindy claimed that members of NXIVM tried to take her sister’s body, and instead of burying her, as she requested, they wanted to freeze her. When confronted by Raniere, he threatened to cut off Barbara’s head.
Barbara Jeske died in September 2014, and Pamela Cafritz died in November 2016. Raniere was cited as the executor of their Wills. Both of their estates combined would have given Raniere another $11- 12million.
After Pamela’s death, her credit card was charged with more than $328,000. In the prosecution’s closing statement at Raniere’s trial, Assistant US Attorney Moira Penza told the jury;
“Why did he use Pam Cafritz’s credit card after she was dead to fund his lifestyle? To avoid paying taxes.”
In an interview with The Sun, Cindy said, “I think Barbara started figuring out what was going on in the group and once he realised she was figuring it all out, I think he just wanted to do away with her.”
It’s unlikely these claims will ever be proven or that Raniere will ever admit to participating in these women’s deaths. However, there is evidence that he’s capable.
Susan Dones was a NXIVM trainer who knew Kristin Snyder. She joined the organisation in 2000 and, with a master’s degree in psychology, she quickly rose through the ranks and opened her own centre in Tacoma, Washington.
In 2009, Dones loaned her video camera to a fellow member to film some footage of Raniere while in Albany, New York. The video showed Raniere telling a member that he’d had people murdered.
“Here’s the thing, I’ve had people killed because of my beliefs — or because of their beliefs.”
So, did Raniere kill these women because they stood in the way of his leadership and his role as Vanguard? Was it their money or silence that he needed?
According to former members of the self-help cult, there are still people out there who were victims of Raniere, who don’t dare come forward because of the repercussions from the organisation, which still has many followers who’ve been seen dancing outside Keith Raniere’s prison window.
We don’t know if these women were killed by the hands or demand of Keith Raniere, but what we do know is that he would have done anything to keep his utopia, followers and most importantly, money.
Vanity Fair — The Heiresses and the Cult