Kiwi mum who allegedly killed toddler in cult seriously assaulted

Ellen Craig arrives in Sydney, Australia after being extradited from New Zealand. Craig is...
Ellen Craig arrives in Sydney, Australia after being extradited from New Zealand. Craig is accused of the murder of her daughter Tillie (inset) in 1987. Photos: Gerard Stanhope/NZME
A woman who allegedly beat her 2-year-old daughter to death with a piece of plastic pipe at a cult in Australia 30 years ago has been seriously assaulted while in prison.

Ellen Craig, a New Zealand citizen, was ordered to be extradited to Australia in March 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.

Both Craig and Wilon were due to enter a plea in Bathurst Local Court in New South Wales today but Craig’s lawyer said that she had been assaulted while in custody and was now in hospital.

Because of this, the Crown consented to her case being delayed. Wilon’s case was also delayed on the basis of him being an alleged co-offender.

Craig was arrested in late 2021 by New Zealand police at her home in Palmerston North, where she’d been living for the better part of 34 years. She had spent some of that time working with survivors of domestic abuse at the Women’s Refuge.

According to a summary of facts presented to the Palmerston North District Court, police allege Craig beat her daughter 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.

Wilon’s cult was called the Ministry of God and was established in the late 1980s and run out of a secluded property in Porters Retreat, several hours’ drive west of Sydney.

Nicolosi would hold prayer sessions four times a day in a house dubbed "Papa’s room", where he would interpret the messages from a spiritual being called "Monet".

"At times he’s made me act with compassion to someone and to someone else he has made me rebuke those people," he told the ABC in 1988.

Nicolosi changed his name to Alexander Wilon and became a Justice of the Peace and a security consultant, conducting firearms training and other security training for a range of government organisations.

Alfio Nicolosi in 1988. Photo: Channel 10, ABC
Alfio Nicolosi in 1988. Photo: Channel 10, ABC
Some of the allegations from Craig’s time at the cult were put on record in the late 1980s when one of the cult’s ex-members, Margaret*, testified to the Australian Supreme Court about some of the abuse she’d seen there.

"I witnessed extreme abuse of Tillie [Craig], 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," she told the Supreme Court.

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

Margaret told NZME she tried to contact Craig when she moved to New Zealand.

"I’d call [Craig’s] mother every six months or so and I’d ask about Tillie. Her story would change every time," she said.

"She’d tell me one day that she didn’t know, and the next that she’d gone off to live with family."

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. She was let go from her role at Women’s Refuge for those reasons.

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

Ellen Craig appeared in the Palmerston North District Court in 2022. Photo: Jeremy Wilkinson
Ellen Craig appeared in the Palmerston North District Court in 2022. Photo: Jeremy Wilkinson
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 NZME 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," he said.

Craig was at her Kāinga Ora home when police came knocking on her door in November 2021 as part of a joint operation with the New South Wales Police, while Wilon was arrested at an address in rural Sydney at the same time.

Late last year, the New South Wales Police announced they had laid additional 11 additional charges against him, including aggravated indecent assault with a victim under 16.

It’s alleged Wilon sexually and physically assaulted four people - including a boy and girl aged 14 and 16, and two women aged between 20 and 33 - on numerous occasions between 1987 and 2000.

 - Jeremy Wilkinson, Open Justice reporter