Joseph Roland Robidoux, a door-to-door salesman, left the Catholic Church after listening to Herbert W. Armstrong founder of the Worldwide Church of God (WWCOG) on his car radio. And thus began one fanatical Massachusetts man's religious odyssey.
Eventually Roland Robidoux's extreme religious beliefs would isolate both his family and his followers and bring about tragedy. Members of the Robidoux group would burn their photo albums, destroy prescription glasses, cut their hair and pray for everything including gas for their cars. .
Murder charges due to gross neglect concerning two of Robidoux's grandsons would bring the group, often called a "cult," under public scrutiny and to the courthouse. One child in the group was literally starved to death before his first birthday.
But at one time Robidoux seemed normal to his neighbors.
At first he was only a follower attending meetings at Armstrong's controversial church.
Former WWCOG member Brian Weeks described Robidoux as a "loyalist" who swallowed Armstrong's teachings "'hook, line and sinker...''
Robidoux and his wife, Georgette had five children.
The Robidoux kids camped out with their parents for weeks during what WWCOG calls the "Feast of the Tabernacles." Robidoux tithed to the organization and kept its strict diet.
Teachers say the Robidoux children were energetic, popular and smart.
The eldest Michelle wanted to be an actress. Nicole was the self-described rebel. And Rebecca was a local waitress. Jacques was an athlete that helped his dad with a chimney sweep business.
Robidoux left WWCOG in 1978, claiming that God had called him to start his own church.
The church that Roland Robidoux founded was first named "Church of God of Mansfield" and later "Church of God of Norton." Robidoux attracted other disgruntled WWCOG members, but never had more than 70 followers.
''We would sit around the table trying to interpret the Bible, with all the dictionaries in Hebrew and Greek,'' recalled Weeks, a former member of the group. ''We didn't know what we were doing. To have the responsibility of leading people you need training, and we didn't have any.''
In 1986 Robidoux bought a two-story house on a wooded lot in North Attleboro, and moved his group there.
About then he met Roger Daneau, an old friend that also had also left the Roman Catholic Church and more recently a fringe religious group, which lived communally and practiced what Pentecostals call "speaking-in-tongues."
Daneau and his wife decided to join the Robidoux group.
The two men also went into business selling alternative-energy stoves. Eventually, two pairs of their children would marry.
Weeks went back to visit Robidoux during the 1980s. Roland Robidoux lectured him about how all churches are hypocritical and authoritative. ''But he failed to see that he was the authority of his group,'' Weeks said. ''He became the thing he hated. All the things that he was originally disgruntled with, he became. The sole authority, not being questioned. He believed that he had the truth.''
Robidoux's "truth" was hard on his family, which became increasingly isolated. A strict father he didn't like his children to be far from home.
When Michelle found a man she liked Robidoux questioned him, then later baptized him in a tub and married the couple in his backyard. When another daughter Rebecca graduated from high school, despite academic achievements and awards, her father didn't encourage her to attend college. Instead she married David Corneau, another member of the Robidoux group.
When Jacques graduated from high school, in 1991, he began working full time for his father and he married Roger Daneau's daughter, Karen.
''Jacques was a good-looking, clean-cut kid who would jog around the neighborhood and help his dad clean chimneys,'' said a neighbor. ''When I heard that he was washing windows, it broke my heart because he could have gone to college.''
Roland Robidoux had ''absolute power over his family,'' said Michelle's husband, Dennis Mingo, who later left the group. For example, one year he decided the family should eat only meat. The next year, he ordered everyone to become vegetarians and later to eat only organic food. The family always obeyed his edicts.
''There was one year that Roland said, `Why are we singing the same songs that these false churches sing?''' All the songs previously sung by the family were subsequently banned.
Robidoux's daughter Michelle composed a new song. ''We'd just sing that song over and over again,'' Mingo said.
The Robidoux and Daneau families home-schooled their youngest children and asked for cash at their businesses.
But the businesses failed and Roland Robidoux filed bankruptcy in 1995. The bank later foreclosed on his house.
''At first he felt like he'd made a mistake, that he shouldn't have started the business,'' said Mingo, who provided a home for his in-laws at his Attleboro house when theirs was auctioned off in 1996. ''But later he rationalized it to say that God did lead him to start the business and to fail, so that the family could be brought together even closer.''
Robidoux then found a book by Carol Balizet, a former nurse who claimed they are seven impure systems in the world: education, medicine, government, banking, schools, entertainment, and commerce.
Balizet said true believers should never seek medical care and only give birth at home.
According to Balizet's Web site, "No matter what the result, we must do what God says. We mustn't fall into the trap of trying to figure out which choice will work best for us: God or the medical system. Our response to God must be based on obedience, not on outcome.''
Robidoux's children began to have their own "revelations." Jacques heard orders from God telling him to give up this business, so he shut it down, Mingo told the Globe. Jacques was later named an elder of the group.
Now his sister Michelle began to receive her own "visions from God" too.
In February 1998, Michelle said that God had forbidden eyeglasses. Later God supposedly forbid shorts, cosmetics and photo albums.
The Robidoux group then took the name "the body."
In June "the body" followed God's order to travel to Maine in middle of the night. Robidoux promised them a feast, but later said they would fast instead. The group members drove until they were out of gas. Then they prayed for God to fill their tanks up.
Days went by and the group was stranded without food. Finally the police found them and Mingo's mother loaned money so that they could come home.
In November 1998, Jacques said God commanded them to throw away their books. Members then told relatives there would be no further communication. Roland Robidoux stopped contact with his 84-year-old mother, who lived next door, after she dropped out of the group.
In March 1999 - after her marriage to Mingo fell apart Michelle claimed to receive another vision. This time it was that her baby nephew Samuel not be fed solid food, only breast milk. As the boy starved to death his mother Karen was told that God was testing her.
One group diary recounted how Karen pleaded that God had given her a sign to feed her son. But Roland and Jacques Robidoux her husband rejected this, and said Karen must instead prove she was a true believer by not feeding the baby.
A member's diary warns about the ''woe-is-me attitude,'' and says that ''Abraham, David, Ezekiel, and even God himself'' sacrificed their loved ones, and concludes, ''God counts it as a gain to remove a loved one in order to get the results needed for His purposes.''
Mingo eventually gave the diary to police and they began searching for the boy Samuel and another baby, Jeremiah, who died at birth.
Cult members kept silent and authorities ultimately removed their minor children into protective custody.
One member, David Corneau, eventually cooperated with authorities in exchange for immunity. He led searchers to the wilderness grave of the two children in Maine.
Michelle, Karen, and Jacques were jailed.
In the end Michelle was released, but Jacques was found guilty for the death of his son Samuel and sentenced to life in prison.
Karen would be found not guilty due to the group's control and influence over her life.
The Boston Globe was able to largely reconstruct the history of Roland Robidoux's strange life and his group through interviews, diary excerpts and government documents.