Religious sect couple at center of missing baby investigation

Wednesday, February 6, 2002

ATTLEBORO, Mass. -- Two members of a religious sect that rejects modern medicine were jailed Tuesday after refusing to cooperate with authorities investigating their missing baby.

Juvenile Court Judge Kenneth Nasif said he was not convinced that Rebecca Corneau had a miscarriage, as she claimed. He ordered Corneau and husband David Corneau jailed pending a hearing next week. The two were led away in handcuffs.

Nasif told the couple they had to bring a living child to court on Feb. 14 or reveal the burial site.

Until Tuesday, the Corneaus had refused to acknowledge there was a baby. But Rebecca Corneau's attorney told the judge his client was willing to testify about the miscarriage.

"There is no live baby Corneau," he said.

State child welfare officials have said they believe there is a child, and it may be harmed because of the Corneaus' religious practices. The Corneaus belong to a sect called "The Body," which advocates faith healing.

Another child of the couple died at birth in 1999 and was buried in the Maine wilderness along with the body of another sect family child that authorities say was starved to death.

The state already has taken custody of the Corneaus' four other children.

The Corneaus went before Nasif after losing an appeal in the Supreme Judicial Court.

Rebecca Corneau had a miscarriage in November at a friend's house in Massachusetts, according to her lawyer. They said they did not know if the miscarried fetus was male or female.

They refused to say if or where the remains were buried.

Carol Yelverton, a spokeswoman for the Department of Social Services, said before Nasif's decision that authorities were trying to determine if the Corneaus' claims were true.

"At this point we don't know if this was a miscarriage or if the baby was born," she said. "Our concern would be that Rebecca Corneau had a live birth and that because of a lack of medical care the baby died.

"If indeed Mrs. Corneau has had a miscarriage, our sympathy goes out to the family," she said.

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