Savage Messiah: The Shocking Story of Cult Leader Rock Thériault and the Women Who Loved Him


324 pages
Contains Photos, Index
ISBN 0-385-25440-7
DDC 299





Reviewed by Sarah Robertson

Sarah Robertson is associate editor of the Canadian Book Review Annual.


For more than a decade, ex-Seventh-Day Adventist Rock Thériault
simultaneously terrorized and mesmerized his followers—two men, eight
“wives,” and their 26 children. The group’s commune existence,
first in rural Quebec, then in Ontario, was punctuated by Thériault’s
increasingly horrific acts of barbarism—acts beside which David
Koresh’s crimes pale in comparison. An “operation” (evisceration)
performed by the cult leader on one of his “wives” resulted in her
death. In a twisted enactment of “male pregnancy” (spiritual rebirth
of woman via man), Thériault removed one of the dead woman’s ribs and
sewed it to his chest. By later pleading guilty to a
second-degree-murder charge, he not only escaped prosecution for the
multitude of other crimes committed against his flock but also foiled
the Crown’s attempt to have him declared a dangerous offender (and
thus not automatically entitled to parole).

A disturbing theme to emerge from this book is the ease with which
various authorities were duped by a man who, besides being a
self-proclaimed Moses, was a first-rate con artist. While removing body
parts from members of his adoring clan, Thériault was being depicted in
the local media as a folk hero. The American Jungian psychiatrist Jess
Grosebeck was bewitched by Thériault’s polygamist lifestyle and
unwittingly fueled the cult leader’s belief in his own transcendence
of legal and social constraints. Other outsiders, too, bought into
Thériault’s noble-savage routine; neighbors kept their suspicions to
themselves. Even in the aftermath, the con, it would appear, lives on. A
psychiatrist who examined an imprisoned Thériault in 1992 argued
against a protracted period of incarceration, having seen “no evidence
of an anti-social or pro-criminal mindset to overcome or be fearful
of.” The messiah’s chances for winning full parole in 1999 don’t
look half bad.

Long on sensationalism, short on analysis, Savage Messiah is a
superficial and ultimately mind-numbing catalogue of atrocities. The
authors competently marshal the grisly facts, but make little attempt to
explain the reasons for Thériault’s mind-boggling savagery;
incredibly, given the nature of his crimes, the book does not explore
the issue of insanity and its relationship with religious megalomania.
Nor is the boundless tolerance evinced by Thériault’s victims for
their abuser satisfactorily examined beyond some general references to
the battered-woman syndrome and brainwashing techniques. Readers wishing
to pursue these issues won’t find any assistance here. Savage Messiah
is as bereft of documentation as it is of insights. What is needed is
someone to make sense of the unadulterated gross-out served up by its


Kaihla, Paul, and Ross Laver., “Savage Messiah: The Shocking Story of Cult Leader Rock Thériault and the Women Who Loved Him,” Canadian Book Review Annual Online, accessed July 17, 2024,