Ma Anand Sheela

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Ma Anand Sheela
Sheela Ambalal Patel

(1949-12-28) 28 December 1949 (age 68)
NationalityIndia, United States, Switzerland
Other namesSheela Silverman, Sheela Birnstiel
Known for1984 Rajneeshee bioterror attack
TitlePersonal Secretary to Bhagwan Shree Rajneesh
MovementRajneesh (Osho)
Criminal statusSentence served
Criminal chargeAttempted Murder
Second-degree assault
Illegal wire-tapping
Immigration fraud
Penalty20 years' prison

Ma Anand Sheela (born 28 December 1949 as Sheela Ambalal Patel in India, also known as Sheela Birnstiel)[1] is an Indian-born American–Swiss former spokeswoman of the Rajneesh movement (aka Osho movement) and multiple convicted attempted murderer.

As the personal secretary of Bhagwan Shree Rajneesh from 1981 through 1985, she managed the Rajneeshpuram ashram in Wasco County, Oregon, United States.[2] In 1985 she pleaded guilty to attempted murder and assault for her role in the 1984 Rajneeshee bioterror attack.[3] She was sentenced to 20 years in federal prison and paroled after 29 months.[citation needed] Sheela later moved to Switzerland, where she married, and purchased two nursing homes. In 1999 she was convicted by a Swiss court of "criminal acts preparatory to the commission of murder" in relation to a plot to kill US federal prosecutor Charles Turner in 1985.

David Berry Knapp, aka Swami Krishna Deva, former mayor of Rajneeshpuram, told the FBI in his testimony that “Sheela told him during a trip to India which they took in 1985, that she had injected her first husband [Marc Harris Silverman] with an injection that caused his death.”[4] After prison, Sheela married Urs Birnstiel, a Swiss citizen, who reportedly died after a short marriage.[5]

Early life and education[edit]

Sheela was born Sheela Ambalal Patel in 1949 at Baroda, in Gujarat State, India, the youngest of six children of the Gujarati couple Ambalal and Maniben Patel.[1] At age 18 she moved to the United States and attended Montclair State College in New Jersey.[6][7]

Adult life[edit]

Sheela married Marc Harris Silverman, an American from Highland Park, Illinois,[8][9] and took the name Sheela P. Silverman.[10] She moved to India in 1972 to pursue spiritual studies with her husband. They became disciples of the Indian guru Rajneesh and Sheela took the name Ma Anand Sheela.[1][11] After her husband died, Sheela married a fellow Rajneesh follower, John Shelfer.[11]


Rajneesh movement[edit]

In 1981 Sheela became Rajneesh's personal assistant and convinced him to leave India and establish an ashram in the United States.[12][13] In July 1981, Sheela purchased the 64,000-acre (260 km2) Big Muddy Ranch in Wasco County, Oregon, which became the site for the development of the Rajneeshpuram commune.[12][14] She became president of Rajneesh Foundation International,[12] managed the commune and met daily with Rajneesh to discuss business matters.[12][15][16] According to Sheela, Rajneesh was complicit in and directed her involvement in criminal acts she later committed.[17]

When asked by a reporter for Australia's 60 Minutes about local objections to Rajneesh's expansion into Western Australia, Sheela replied, "What I can say? Tough titties".[18][19][20] In interviews for US television Sheela referred to local government officials as "bigoted pigs" and "fascists",[14][21][22] causing one reporter to describe her as having an "acid tongue".[21][23]

Later when Sheela was asked by a reporter for Australia's 60 Minutes about Bhagwan's claim that $40 million was lost. she responded "He doesn't know how to count money". She adds "Bhagwan, it is time to let people know who you are..." Sheela goes on "...On the other hand, you really exploit people by using their human frailty and emotions. Bhagwan said in the interview that Sheila attempted to poison his doctor, his caretaker, his dentist and that one of Sheela's assistant attempted to jab his doctor. Sheela responded "that's very nice, did she do a good job?". [24] Sheela mentioned that Bhagwan "did use quite a lot of medicines. For instance, once Bhagwan was taking 60 milligrams" of Valium a day. She added "I also know that he was not afraid or hesitant of trying any drug that relieved him from pain" or "offered him a good sleep". When Sheela was asked whether Bhagwan was a spoiled little boy or a holy man, she responded that he is a spoiled little boy. Bhagwan said that she "did not prove to be a woman, she proved to be a perfect bitch". According to the reporter, Bhagwan told him that Sheela would throw herself at his feet if they were to meet again. Sheela responded " would he wish. That's his dream again. Not true Bhagwan, no. One thing I have is my dignity...". Bhagwan said "She has no dignity. All dignity that she thinks she has was given by me. She was just a hotel waitress, and I made her almost a queen. I have never made love to her, that much is certain...". Bhagwan said that she always wanted to make love to him. She stated "we used to spend 2.5 million a month. Out of it quarter a million for chauffeur of Bhagwan, a month".[25]

Regarding Bhagwan, when the reporter told Sheela "you said also that Bhagwan was not the slightest interested in enlightenment, so its was a con." Sheela said "absolutely". The reported added "You used to be the queen who presided over an empire built on a gigantic con. She said "Yes, I did presided over it". Bhagwan said that Sheela couldn't "get it because she has very third rate mind". Bhagwan added "She is just going more and more insane, before she goes to imprisonment. You just to wait. Either she will kill herself out of the very burden of all the crimes that she has done, or she will have to suffer her whole life in imprisonment."[26]


By 1984 the ashram was coming into increasing conflict with local residents and the county commission (Wasco County Court).[27] Sheela attempted to influence the Wasco County Court's November election and capture the two open seats[28][29] by busing in hundreds of homeless people from within Oregon as well as outside, and registering them as county voters.[12] Later, when that effort failed,[30][31] Sheela conspired, in 1984, to use "bacteria and other methods to make people ill" and prevent them from voting.[32][33] As a result, the salad bars at ten local restaurants were infected with salmonella and about 750 people became ill.[3][28][34][35]

On September 13, 1985, Sheela fled to Europe.[14][36] A few days later Rajneesh "accused her of arson, wiretapping, attempted murder, and mass poisonings."[14] He also asserted that Sheela had written the Book of Rajneeshism and published it under his name.[37] Subsequently Sheela's robes and 5,000 copies of the Book of Rajneeshism were burned in a bonfire at the ashram.[37]

After US authorities searching her home found wire-tapping networks and a laboratory in which the bacteria used in the attack had been grown,[14] Sheela was arrested in West Germany in October 1986. She was extradited to the US in February on charges of immigration fraud[38] and attempted murder.[34][39] The Oregon Attorney General prosecuted for crimes related to the poisoning of Commissioner Matthew and Judge Hulse[40] while the US Attorney prosecuted crimes related to the restaurant poisonings.[40] Sheela pleaded guilty on 22 July 1986 to first-degree assault and conspiracy to commit assault against Hulse[40] and later to second-degree assault and conspiracy to commit assault against Matthew.[40] She pleaded guilty to setting fire to a county office and wire-tapping at the commune. For these crimes Sheela was sentenced to three 20-year terms in federal prison,[41] to be served concurrently. In addition she was fined $470,000.[34][40][42]

Sheela was sent to the Federal Correctional Institution in Dublin, California, for female criminals.[42] While there she announced plans to make a "controversial documentary" about her life.[43] In December 1988, she was released on good behavior after serving 39 months of her 20-year sentence, and moved to Switzerland.[44][45][46]

Sheela (center) at Cabaret Voltaire, 2008

Later life[edit]

Sheela married Swiss citizen Urs Birnstiel, a fellow Rajneesh follower.[47] She moved to Maisprach, Switzerland, where she bought and managed two nursing homes.[44][46]

In 1999 she was convicted by a Swiss court for "criminal acts preparatory to the commission of murder" in relation to a plot to kill US federal prosecutor Charles Turner in 1985. The Swiss government refused to extradite her to the US but agreed to try her in Switzerland. She was found guilty of the equivalent Swiss charge and was sentenced to time served.[48]

In 2008 Sheela collaborated with David Woodard and Christian Kracht on an art exhibition at the Zürich Cabaret Voltaire, the building which was once the birthplace of the Dada movement.[49][50]

In 2018, a documentary, Wild Wild Country, was released that includes interviews with Sheela. On July 20, 2018, 'BBC Stories' YouTube channel published a video called Wild Wild Country: What happened to Sheela?[51]


  1. ^ a b c "Sheela uses words as weapons in bid to serve Rajneesh (part 8 of 20)". The Oregonian. Oregon Live. 7 July 1985. Retrieved 8 July 2011.
  2. ^ FitzGerald, Frances (29 September 1986). "Il-Rajneeshpuram" (September 29, 1986 Issue). The New Yorker. Retrieved 3 April 2018.
  3. ^ a b Kahn 2009, p. 41.
  4. ^ "The Most Shocking Reveals from the Sex Cults FBI Informants".
  5. ^ "Tough Titties The Fall and Rise of a Controversial Woman of the 80s".
  6. ^ Geist, William E. (16 September 1981). "Cult in castle troubling Montclair". The New York Times. The New York Times Company. Retrieved 17 December 2009.
  7. ^ Clark, Taylor (16 December 2007). "The Red Menace". Willamette Week. Portland, Oregon: City of Roses Newspapers. Archived from the original on 29 September 2007. Retrieved 10 July 2011.
  8. ^ Carter 1990, p. 47.
  9. ^ Petacque, Art (20 January 1986). "Local lawyers help reel in cult fugitive". Chicago Sun-Times. Chicago Sun-Times, Inc. p. 16.
  10. ^ McCann 2006, p. 152.
  11. ^ a b Carter 1990, p. 277.
  12. ^ a b c d e Carus 2002, p. 51.
  13. ^ Tucker 2000, p. 116.
  14. ^ a b c d e Oregon Historical Society, 2002
  15. ^ Tucker 2000, p. 119.
  16. ^ McCann 2006, p. 153.
  17. ^ Wellman 2007, p. 171.
  18. ^ Bhutia, Lhendup G. (9 February 2013). "An Affair to Remember". OPEN (Indian magazine). Retrieved 29 April 2015.
  19. ^ "Blinded". The Canberra Times. Fairfax Media. p. 8 (Section A).
  20. ^ Granath, Natasha (20 October 2005). "Orange princess has aged but not mellowed". The West Australian.
  21. ^ a b Coster, P. (10 May 1985). "A Pistol-Packin' Sheela with a Tongue to Match". The Courier-Mail.
  22. ^ "Street People Deny Political Role". The Washington Post. The Washington Post Company. 19 September 1984. p. A28.
  23. ^ Turner, G. (10 May 1985). "Bhagwan Hits out as Commune Chiefs Flee". The Courier-Mail.
  24. ^ "When the reporter mentioned that the doctor is alive, Sheela responded "then obviously, she didn't do a good job". BHAGWAN SHREE RAJNEESH & HIS ASSISTANT SHEILA HAVE A PARTING OF THE WAYS! 1985 90".
  25. ^ "When the reporter mentioned that the doctor is alive, Sheela responded "then obviously, she didn't do a good job". BHAGWAN SHREE RAJNEESH & HIS ASSISTANT SHEILA HAVE A PARTING OF THE WAYS! 1985 90".
  26. ^ "When the reporter mentioned that the doctor is alive, Sheela responded "then obviously, she didn't do a good job". BHAGWAN SHREE RAJNEESH & HIS ASSISTANT SHEILA HAVE A PARTING OF THE WAYS! 1985 90".
  27. ^ Carter 1990, pp. 124, 165, 195, 237.
  28. ^ a b Carus 2002, p. 52.
  29. ^ Tucker 2000, p. 123.
  30. ^ Carter 1990, p. 195.
  31. ^ McCann 2006, p. 154.
  32. ^ Carus 2002, p. 53.
  33. ^ McIsaac 2006, p. 25.
  34. ^ a b c Reed, Christopher (24 July 1986). "Sect women gaoled for attempt to kill doctor: Former aide to Indian guru Rajneesh jailed in US for poisoning". The Guardian.
  35. ^ Goldwag 2009, p. 44.
  36. ^ McPheters, p. 152.
  37. ^ a b Collins 2002, p. 118.
  38. ^ Kushner 2002, p. 307
  39. ^ "Judge Refuses Bail For Guru's Ex-Secretary". The New York Times. The New York Times Company. 15 February 1986. p. 6 (Section 1).
  40. ^ a b c d e Tucker 2000, p. 136.
  41. ^ McIsaac 2006, p. 26.
  42. ^ a b Miller 2002, p. 32.
  43. ^ Dennis, Anthony (20 June 1988). "Colourful Cult Ambitions". Sydney Morning Herald. p. 28.
  44. ^ a b Senior, Jeanie; Dave Hogan (22 January 2000). "Indian guru follower Anand Sheela arrested after German TV show: Bhagwan Shree Rajneesh's former spokeswoman is freed because a Swiss court already convicted her in 1999". The Oregonian.
  45. ^ Carter 1990, p. 237.
  46. ^ a b Miller 2002, p. 337.
  47. ^ "Rajneeshee Prosecutions". The Oregonian. Oregon Live. Retrieved 18 July 2011.
  48. ^ Senior, Jeanie (January 22, 2000). "Indian guru follower Anand Sheela arrested after German TV show". The Oregonian. Retrieved April 1, 2018.
  49. ^ Cabaret Voltaire, Dreamachine: David Woodard, Sheela Birnstiel, Christian Kracht, May 2 - Aug. 24, 2008.
  50. ^ Paunić, N., Cabaret Voltaire Securing its Future, Widewalls, Feb. 2016.
  51. ^ Wild Wild Country: What happened to Sheela? on YouTube



Further reading[edit]

  • Collins, Catherine Ann (1992), "Chapter Nine: Ma Anand Sheela: Media Power through Radical Discourse", in King, Andrew, Postmodern Political Communication: The Fringe Challenges the Center, Praeger Publishers, pp. 115–131, ISBN 0-275-93840-9
  • The Oregonian staff (14 December 1988). "Sheela: A Chronology". The Oregonian. Oregonian Publishing Co. p. E06.
  • O'Brien, Paula (2008) The Rajneesh sannyasin community in Fremantle Master's degree thesis at Murdoch University

External links[edit]