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Secrets, Lies, and Sex Abuse As Former Sect Leader Chooses Life on the Inside

Chris Chandler was a leader of the secretive Bible sect known as Friends and Workers, or the Two by Twos, who have 2,000 members in the state of Victoria, Australia. When he recently drove to the Melbourne Magistrates Court from his property on French Island to turn himself in, Chandler had already admitted his guilt in eight charges in a Gippsland court, including unlawful indecent assaults, indecent assaults, and gross indecency on three young female victims. Chandler had baulked at his sentence of a year’s jail with a nonparole period of 3 months; he told his lawyers that, while he was guilty, he wasn’t guilty to that extent. But then he decided he wanted to go to jail.

The Friends and Workers/Two by Two sect is an offshoot of the Cooneyites, founded by Irish Protestant evangelist Edward Cooney. The sect adheres strongly to Bible sections of Matthew 10 to do with Jesus sending out disciples to cleanse “impure spirits.” The group does not have church buildings or headquarters, and it has no written policies or doctrines. Travelling missionaries live with sect families for extended periods. Television, radio, movies, dancing, and jewelry are banned. The sect holds five Victorian conventions a year at various locations throughout Victoria.

Ex-member “Ruby” said Chandler had sexually assaulted her at the beach in 1989 when she was 10. Her allegations led to one of the eight charges against him. She said the sect had a “culture of secrecy” and distrust of outsiders. Sexual abuse of young people and children was common. She said Victorian and Tasmanian leader of Friends and Workers, David Leitch, visited her before she went to police and told her there wasn’t much the police could do if she went to them. Ruby said Chandler had told her in a Facebook message that he was molested as a child, had a different memory of the beach incident, and was not a pedophile.

The sect was linked to the 1994 suicides of adolescents Narelle and Stephen Henderson. In her suicide note Narelle said they “…committed suicide because all our life we were made to go to meetings. They try to brainwash us … and have ruined our lives.”

A Fairfax Media investigation last year established that sect leaders knew of allegations against Chandler but still promoted him in 1991 to the senior position of “worker,” or minister. Until 2004, he still was staying in private homes in locations throughout Victoria, and he later positioned himself as a counselor and sect contact for child sexual-abuse victims.

A WINGS (online group of former sect members) submission to the Victorian parliamentary inquiry into the handling of child abuse by religious groups said the sect has been ‘‘haphazard’’ in dealing with sexual-abuse allegations. Leader David Leitch, who is known to be close to Chandler, would not comment. A former-sect source claimed Leitch, who sacked a sect leader for reporting sexual abuse in 2013, has a file on alleged sexual offences by Chandler, which he has not given to police. (The Age, 7/28/14) [IT 5.3]

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