Kiwi accused of daughter's murder extradited to Australia

Ellen Craig arrived in Sydney, Australia, today after being extradited from New Zealand. Craig is...
Ellen Craig arrived in Sydney, Australia, today after being extradited from New Zealand. Craig is under arrest and accused of the murder of her daughter Tillie in 1987, inset. Photos: Supplied
A woman who allegedly beat her 2-year-old daughter to death at a cult 30 years ago landed in Australia today, ahead of a court case.

Ellen Craig, a New Zealand citizen, was ordered to be extradited to Australia to face charges of murdering her daughter Tillie Craig while living at the Ministry of God cult near Sydney in 1987.

The cult's leader, Alexander Wilon, who ran the sect under the name Alfio Nicolosi, is also facing charges of accessory to murder and misconduct in regard to corpses.

Judge Ian Carter ordered that Craig be extradited to Australia at a hearing in the Palmerston North District Court in March this year.

Judge Carter gave her 15 days to appeal against that decision, which lapsed without Craig making an appeal.

A court date is yet to be set for Craig, but her co-offender is due to appear in the Bathurst Local Court again in mid-June.

Craig was arrested in late 2021 by New Zealand police at her home in Palmerston North.

She'd been living in the city for the better part of 34 years and had spent some of that time working with survivors of domestic abuse at Women's Refuge.

According to a summary of facts presented to the Palmerston North District Court in late March, police allege that Craig beat  Tillie to death with a piece of PVC piping. Craig and Wilon then allegedly burnt the body, which has to this day never been found.

The cult was known as the Ministry of God and, according to a former member called Margaret*, the abuse of children was encouraged.

"I witnessed extreme abuse of Tillie principally by Alfio. Almost every day Tillie was repeatedly dragged into the bathroom by Alfio who would then proceed to hit her with a wooden-backed brush," Margaret said.

"I'd also seen him smack her across the face so hard she got a black eye."

Tillie was never officially reported as a missing person and authorities were only made aware of her disappearance when a witness came forward in 2019.

After the alleged murder, Craig was expelled from the cult and moved home to New Zealand where she used the name Jowelle Smith for three years, before changing it again and working at the Palmerston North Women's Refuge under the name "Erena Craig".

Her former colleagues and neighbours described Craig as paranoid, elusive and erratic and she was let go from her role at Women's Refuge for those reasons.

Australian Police received a tip-off in 2019 that Tillie was missing and claim it was the first time it had known about her disappearance.

However, Tillie's father Gerard Stanhope had been searching for his daughter for years, including leaving messages for her on an Australian missing persons page long after Tillie was presumed to have died.

"I spent years looking for you. It almost consumed me," he wrote.

Stanhope told Open Justice his former partner changed her name when she moved to New Zealand in what he believes was an effort to elude him.

"Right now, I'm trusting that the New South Wales Police have their ducks in a row and that some kind of justice will be served."

Craig was at her Kāinga Ora home when police came knocking on her door last November as part of a joint operation with NSW Police.

Wilon was arrested at an address in rural Sydney at the same time.

Craig has been in custody since, appearing via video link several times this year as she fought to remain in New Zealand.

Craig argued she's too unwell to travel but the lawyer acting on behalf of the Commonwealth of Australia, Guy Carter, told the court this month there was no reason Australia couldn't manage those health conditions.

"Why should the fact that Ms Craig left Australia, changed her name and never returned, why should that grant her an advantage in avoiding trial for murder?" he said.

- By Jeremy Wilkinson
Open Justice multimedia journalist, Palmerston North

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