A look at Ganas from one who has lived there

New Brighton resident describes commune as 'hippie cult' made up of people looking for 'guidance'

Staten Island Advance/June 3, 2006
By Jeff Harrell

Sex was plentiful. Drugs were mind-altering, but not in the way you'd think. And as for rock 'n' roll, well, it seems Jimi Hendrix wasn't the commune members' cup of herbal tea. They preferred symphonies.

That's the picture painted by Walter Enquist, who says he lived in the Ganas community in New Brighton from 1997 to 2000. Ganas was thrust into the spotlight this week when leader Jeff Gross was shot three times from ambush as he returned to the Corson Avenue compound from Manhattan.

Enquist said he'd had only a nodding acquaintance with Rebekah Johnson, the ousted Ganas member accused of shooting Gross. But know one Ganasian and you know them all, he contended.

"They're all the same people," Enquist, 55, said yesterday sitting on a bed in his small, cluttered room in the Anna Erika Home for Adults in New Brighton, his home for the past nine months. "They're like lost people, looking for some guidance from the [1960s]...without having a practical way to live."

Police continue to search for Ms. Johnson, 43, who twice lived at Ganas, from 1986 to 1989 and from 1994 to 1996. Cops have monitored her last-known address, 131 Jersey St., and her family's residence in her hometown of Great Falls, Va.

Thursday morning, police swarmed the intersection of Victory Boulevard and Van Duzer Street when a woman matching Ms. Johnson's description was spotted, but it turned out to be a false alarm.

Police sources said they believe Ms. Johnson is still on the Island, perhaps behind the wheel of a Ford Escort.

Ganas residents fear that they, too, are in Ms. Johnson's sights. "She's definitely not operating out of normal, rational thought," Melissa Van said outside the compound on Wednesday.

Gross is in intensive care at St. Vincent's Hospital, where doctors expect him to recover from stomach and arm wounds. On Thursday, his wife, Dr. Susan Grossman, shooed away a reporter. "No comment," she said.

Yesterday, a resident who answered the phone at Ganas would neither confirm nor deny that Enquist once lived at 76 Scribner Ave., one of two Ganas-owned homes on Scribner directly behind the co-op's row of houses on Corson.

Enquist recalled Gross as the leader of a group that abides by the "Everything goes" sign hanging in one of the houses. (Every Thing Goes is also the name of Ganas' group of North Shore thrift shops, where some members earn their keep.)

"It's a cult," he charged. "It's a hippie commune that owns $10 million in real estate, and it went mad with power. The power is playing chess with people's lives. They control minds with drugs that are used by psychotherapists.

"Once, some guy came down the staircase with a wicker basket with punch cards of Zoloft," an anti-depressant.

Sex, Enquist said, was available through what's known as "the Safe Sex Club." It didn't happen out in the open, he said, "but when you knock on a door and they say, 'I'll talk to you later,' you know something is going on."

As for his own sex life, Enquist admitted to "two steady girl friends" who weren't Ganas residents but visited every week, something that didn't sit well with other residents, he claimed. When he spurned a member's proposition, "I was harassed into leaving the village," he said.

The way Enquist remembers it, Gross helped engineer his departure.

"Still, I don't think he's as much of a villain here as he is being manipulated," Enquist said. "Because [Ganas] is a matriarchal society," Enquist said. "A dangerous society," he added, given the alleged actions of Ms. Johnson, who had waged a campaign to vilify Gross, whom she accused of rape.

"If anything sexual happened with this women, it happened more than once, and it happened not only a long time ago, it happened continuously," Enquist said. "Maybe she didn't take her meds this week, and she flipped."

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