Ex-'Cult Leader' Who Ran Religious Boarding School Charged in Toddler's 1980s Death

GAINESVILLE, Fla. -- A woman who sheriff's officials describe as a former "cult leader" who once ran a religious boarding school in Florida has been charged in the late 1980s death of a toddler.

The Gainesville Sun reports that 75-year-old Anna Elizabeth Young was arrested near Atlanta on a first-degree murder warrant Friday. Young is accused of causing the death of Emon Harper, who authorities say was tortured and denied food. It wasn't clear Saturday if she has a lawyer.

The Alachua County Sheriff's Office reportedly charged Young after receiving new information and reviewing Harper's cold case file. Alachua County Sheriff's spokesman Art Forgey said investigators believe Harper was between 2 and 3 years old when he was killed between 1988 and 1989,  but they're still investigating the exact dates, reports CBS affiliate WGFL. Details about Harper's death were not immediately available.

Young operated the House of Prayer for All People near Gainesville from about 1985 to 1995. In a statement announcing her arrest, the Cobb County, Ga. Sheriff's Office described her as a "former cult leader" known as "Mother Anna." Members of her religious group were known to practice "exorcising demons and other things like that," Forgey told the paper.

People who lived with Young as children have been cooperating with investigators, the paper reports.  

"The detectives working on it have referred to it as the house of horrors and a lot of abuse took place," Forgey told WGFL. "Many of the witnesses were children that were abused that went through this and experienced it and saw not only their abuse, but other children being abused. And I believe the quote was, 'They were going to get the devil out of them.'"

Deputies, along with the Florida Department of Law Enforcement and the FBI searched the site of the shuttered property in Micanopy last year, WGFL reports.

Police say there may be other child victims linked to Young, and the Alachua County sheriff's officials say they believe Young may have abused children in Florida and other states dating back to the 1960s, the paper reports.

"We think there are many, many more," Forgey told the paper. "We can document other states and other missing children that we believe are tied into this."

In 2001, she was convicted of child abuse for bathing a child in a tub full of chemicals, causing severe burns. A complaint alleging the abuse was issued against Young in that case in 1992, the paper reports. Young fled from Florida after the child was burned and wasn't arrested until eight years later in Illinois, where she was found in a relative's attic, according to the Cobb County Sheriff's Office.

Court records say she was sentenced to six months in jail, reports WGFL. It wasn't immediately clear when she moved to Georgia, where she married and was living under the name Anderson, the Cobb County Sheriff's Office says.

Copyright 2017 CBS News


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