Demolition crews in Putnam County have started tearing down the Egyptian-style structures and housing in what once was the homeland of the United Nuwaubian Nation of Moors.
The 476-acre parcel was seized last year by the U.S. government after Dwight "Malachi" York, leader of the religious sect and a godlike figure to its members, was convicted of racketeering and on six child molestation-related charges. He was sentenced to 135 years.
The parcel near Eatonton, a little more than an hour southeast of Atlanta, was sold Wednesday for $1.1 million to a developer, said U.S. Marshal's Service spokesman Dave Turner. The new owner, Milledgeville developer Lawson Lawrence, plans to sell the property soon. He said the rolling land made up of pasture, woods and four lakes would be a perfect "retreat" for somebody.
Sheriff Howard Sills, who was York's nemesis during a lengthy investigation and legal battle, operated a front-end loader and tore down the arched gate to the compound. It came down easily. "Typical Nuwaubian style — stucco and Styrofoam," Sills said.
Sills was stationed outside the property Friday morning and speaking with relish as he watched crews tear through the series of obelisks, statues, arches and buildings. Many of the dozens of structures were weathered and in disrepair. He said very few of the Egyptian structures or objects were worth salvaging.
"It feels good to tear down the SOB myself," he said. "By the middle of next week, there will be nothing but a couple of pyramids. This place where so many despicable things happened is gone."
In 1998, Sills and other Putnam officials, who were then battling the Nuwaubians over a building code violation, received letters that York was molesting the children of his followers.
But the first victim did not come forward until 2001, Sills said. York was arrested in 2002.
In January 2004, a stream of witnesses, both female and male, testified during a three-week trial that York had molested them repeatedly over the years. One victim said the abuse started when she was 8.
Prosecutors described a culture in which York was the unquestioned ruler and was variously called Dr. York, Isa Muhammad, Baba, the Master Teacher and the Savior. He founded the organization in a crime-infested area of Brooklyn, N.Y., more than 30 years ago and moved the group to Putnam County in 1993.
The group built a series of pyramids, obelisks and statues and then got in repeated legal and zoning disputes with county officials.
At least 200 followers lived on the land at one time, with children separated from their parents. Witnesses said they lived in dilapidated housing while York lived in relative opulence.
Very few of the Nuwaubians still live in the area, Sills said, although about eight of them who live in a rental house nearby dressed in white this week and stood by the shoulder of the road in protest.