SAN FRANCISCO — The father accused of starving his 19-month-old son to death and neglecting a dozen other children was also investigated 12 years ago for the mysterious death of an infant daughter.
San Francisco police investigated in 1990, but authorities listed the cause of that child’s death only as “sudden death in infancy” with no outward signs of bodily injuries.
The child was kept in a crib for three days before authorities were notified. The mother told police she waited “since it takes that length of time for the soul to leave the body,” according to the coroner’s report.
Police asked cult expert Margaret Thaler Singer to interview the baby’s mother after she fled Wright’s home. Wright was already keeping at least three other women through a mixture of charm and psychological coercion, Singer said.
The mother said Wright was attractive because of his strong convictions, which included the promise to “help them work off their white karma,” according to Singer.
Wright, who is black, told the white women in his home that white men in America oppressed black men and that the way to cleanse themselves was “by taking care of him physically, financially, sexually,” Singer said the woman told her.
Wright later moved his family to a Marin County suburb, where the group grew to four women and 13 children before one of the children died in November.
Wright, 45, and Carol Bremner, 44, were part of a living arrangement that included Deirdre Wilson, 37, Kali Polk-Matthews, 20, and Mary Campbell, 37. All five were to enter pleas in Marin County Court Wednesday, but a judge rescheduled that hearing for Feb. 21.
Wright, Bremner, Campbell and Wilson were arrested Friday after being indicted on one count of second-degree murder and multiple counts of child endangerment. Polk-Matthews, also arrested Friday, faces similar, lesser charges.
Polk-Matthews is not known to have any children. Campbell was shown by DNA test results to be the mother of the child that died in November.
The surviving 12 children were taken from their secluded Marin County home following the infant’s death. Authorities discovered the children — ranging from 8 months to 16 years — malnourished with several of them suffering from rickets, a softened-bone condition rare in the United States.
Outside court Wednesday, Bremner’s lawyer said the health troubles were minor, and any vitamin deficiency was probably due to a strict vegetarian diet.
Attorney Jack Rauch said Bremner led a normal life but the group was secretive because they knew outsiders would frown on their relationships.
“My client has been together with the gentleman for 20 years,” Rauch said. “She’s raised two happy, healthy teen-age daughters who are very devoted to her.”
The children were apparently home schooled, Rauch added.
San Francisco police were familiar with Wright before recent events. He was the focus of a 1993 child neglect report in San Francisco by a next-door neighbor.
Investigating officers said there were no obvious signs of abuse or malnutrition on any of the children, but after they left, Wright threatened to kill the neighbor, according to police reports.
Charges were eventually dropped against Wright and Wilson, who allegedly tried to stop officers from arresting Wright.
The youngest of the defendants in the most recent case is Polk-Matthews, who graduated from exclusive Lick-Wilmerding High School in San Francisco in 1999 with childhood friend, Heather Pon-Barry.
Pon-Barry said she last spoke to her friend over dinner in the summer of 2000, when Polk-Matthews told her she was “very interested in purifying her body.”