Fukuoka -- Takeyoshi Sengoku, the founder of a controversial religious cult that hit the headlines in 1980, has died, sources close to him said Friday. He was 78.
The date and cause of Sengoku's death are unknown.
Sengoku, a native of Kasai, Hyogo Prefecture, established a group known as the Far Eastern Christian Assembly in Tokyo in 1960 and lived in a compound with group members. In 1975, he renamed the cult Jesus' Ark.
He attracted considerable public attention when his followers -- mostly young women who had family problems -- severed contact with their relatives between 1978 and 1980.
The press nicknamed him "Sengoku Jesus" and reported that his followers had been "spirited away."
Between these dates, Sengoku and more than 20 followers traveled around, shunning contact with the relatives who were trying to trace them.
The situation was treated as a multiple missing person case and was the subject of a police investigation.
An arrest warrant was served on Sengoku, who had been suspected of defaming the father of one female follower. Investigators eventually dropped the case without detaining him.
After 1980, Sengoku settled in Fukuoka Prefecture and managed a bar, where he held Bible study sessions. He also worked as a private counselor for local residents.