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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 convicted criminal and former spokeswoman of the Rajneesh movement (aka Osho movement).

Ma Anand Sheela
Sheela Ambalal Patel

(1949-12-28) 28 December 1949 (age 69)
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

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 1986, 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 39 months.[4] 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.”[5] After prison, Sheela married Urs Birnstiel, a Swiss citizen, who died of AIDS shortly after their marriage.[6]

Early life and educationEdit

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.[7][8]

Adult lifeEdit

Sheela married Marc Harris Silverman, an American from Highland Park, Illinois,[9][10] and took the name Sheela P. Silverman.[11] 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][12] After her husband died, Sheela married a fellow Rajneesh follower, John Shelfer.[12]


Rajneesh movementEdit

In 1981, Rajneesh appointed her as his personal assistant. In the same year, she convinced Rajneesh to leave India and establish an ashram in the United States.[13][14] In July 1981, Rajneesh Foundation International 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.[13][15] She was appointed the president of Rajneesh Foundation International,[13] managed the commune and met daily with Rajneesh to discuss business matters.[13][16][17] According to Sheela, Rajneesh was complicit in and directed her involvement in criminal acts she and a group of Rajneeshees committed later.[18]


By 1984, the ashram was coming into increasing conflict with local residents and the county commission (Wasco County Court).[19] Sheela attempted to influence the Wasco County Court's November election and capture the two open seats[20][21] by bussing in hundreds of homeless people from within Oregon as well as outside, and registering them as county voters.[13] Later, when that effort failed,[22][23] Sheela conspired, in 1984, to use "bacteria and other methods to make people ill" and prevent them from voting.[24][25] As a result, the salad bars at ten local restaurants were infected with salmonella and about 750 people became ill.[3][20][26][27]

On September 13, 1985, Sheela fled to Europe.[15][28] A few days later Rajneesh "accused her of arson, wiretapping, attempted murder, and mass poisonings."[15] He also asserted that Sheela had written the Book of Rajneeshism and published it under his name.[29] Subsequently, Sheela's robes and 5,000 copies of the Book of Rajneeshism were burned in a bonfire at the ashram.[29]

After US authorities searching her home found wire-tapping networks and a laboratory in which the bacteria used in the attack had been grown,[15] Sheela was arrested in West Germany in October 1986. She was extradited to the US in February on charges of immigration fraud[30] and attempted murder.[26][31] The Oregon Attorney General prosecuted for crimes related to the poisoning of Commissioner Matthew and Judge Hulse[32] while the US Attorney prosecuted crimes related to the restaurant poisonings.[32] Sheela pleaded guilty on 22 July 1986 to first-degree assault and conspiracy to commit assault against Hulse[32] and later to second-degree assault and conspiracy to commit assault against Matthew.[32] 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,[33] to be served concurrently. In addition she was fined $470,000.[26][32][34]

Sheela was sent to the Federal Correctional Institution in Dublin, California, for female criminals.[34] While there, she announced plans to make a "controversial documentary" about her life.[35] In December 1988, she was released on good behavior after serving 39 months of her 20-year sentence, and moved to Switzerland.[36][37][38]

Sheela (center) at Cabaret Voltaire, 2008

Later lifeEdit

Sheela married Swiss citizen Urs Birnstiel, a fellow Rajneesh follower.[39] She moved to Maisprach, Switzerland, where she bought and managed two nursing homes.[36][38]

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.[40]

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.[41][42]

In 2018, a documentary titled 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?[43]

On 29th September 2019, Sheela was interviewed by Karan Johar in Delhi.[44]

In November 2019, Netflix announced that Sheela will star in a new documentary on their platform that follows her first trip to India in over thirty years. It will highlight her visits to her family home and the Rajneesh's cremation site in Pune. The documentary will stream on Netflix India starting on a date that has yet to be announced.[45]


  1. ^ a b c "Sheela uses words as weapons in bid to serve Rajneesh (part 8 of 20)". The Oregonian. Oregon Live. July 7, 1985. Retrieved July 8, 2011.
  2. ^ FitzGerald, Frances (September 29, 1986). "Il-Rajneeshpuram" (September 29, 1986 Issue). The New Yorker. Retrieved April 3, 2018.
  3. ^ a b Kahn 2009, p. 41.
  4. ^ "Wild Wild Country: What happened to Sheela? BBC Stories".
  5. ^ "The Most Shocking Reveals from the Sex Cults FBI Informants".
  6. ^ "Tough Titties The Fall and Rise of a Controversial Woman of the 80s".
  7. ^ Geist, William E. (September 16, 1981). "Cult in castle troubling Montclair". The New York Times. The New York Times Company. Retrieved December 17, 2009.
  8. ^ Clark, Taylor (December 16, 2007). "The Red Menace". Willamette Week. Portland, Oregon: City of Roses Newspapers. Archived from the original on September 29, 2007. Retrieved July 10, 2011.
  9. ^ Carter 1990, p. 47.
  10. ^ Petacque, Art (January 20, 1986). "Local lawyers help reel in cult fugitive". Chicago Sun-Times. Chicago Sun-Times, Inc. p. 16.
  11. ^ McCann 2006, p. 152.
  12. ^ a b Carter 1990, p. 277.
  13. ^ a b c d e Carus 2002, p. 51.
  14. ^ Tucker 2000, p. 116.
  15. ^ a b c d Oregon Historical Society, 2002
  16. ^ Tucker 2000, p. 119.
  17. ^ McCann 2006, p. 153.
  18. ^ Wellman 2007, p. 171.
  19. ^ Carter 1990, pp. 124, 165, 195, 237.
  20. ^ a b Carus 2002, p. 52.
  21. ^ Tucker 2000, p. 123.
  22. ^ Carter 1990, p. 195.
  23. ^ McCann 2006, p. 154.
  24. ^ Carus 2002, p. 53.
  25. ^ McIsaac 2006, p. 25.
  26. ^ a b c Reed, Christopher (July 24, 1986). "Sect women gaoled for attempt to kill doctor: Former aide to Indian guru Rajneesh jailed in US for poisoning". The Guardian.
  27. ^ Goldwag 2009, p. 44.
  28. ^ McPheters, p. 152.
  29. ^ a b Collins 2002, p. 118.
  30. ^ Kushner 2002, p. 307
  31. ^ "Judge Refuses Bail For Guru's Ex-Secretary". The New York Times. The New York Times Company. February 15, 1986. p. 6 (Section 1).
  32. ^ a b c d e Tucker 2000, p. 136.
  33. ^ McIsaac 2006, p. 26.
  34. ^ a b Miller 2002, p. 32.
  35. ^ Dennis, Anthony (June 20, 1988). "Colourful Cult Ambitions". Sydney Morning Herald. p. 28.
  36. ^ a b Senior, Jeanie; Dave Hogan (January 22, 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.
  37. ^ Carter 1990, p. 237.
  38. ^ a b Miller 2002, p. 337.
  39. ^ "Rajneeshee Prosecutions". The Oregonian. Oregon Live. Retrieved July 18, 2011.
  40. ^ Senior, Jeanie (January 22, 2000). "Indian guru follower Anand Sheela arrested after German TV show". The Oregonian. Retrieved April 1, 2018.
  41. ^ Cabaret Voltaire, Dreamachine: David Woodard, Sheela Birnstiel, Christian Kracht, May 2 – Aug. 24, 2008.
  42. ^ Paunić, N., Cabaret Voltaire Securing its Future, Widewalls, Feb. 2016.
  43. ^ Wild Wild Country: What happened to Sheela? on YouTube
  44. ^
  45. ^ Turnquist, Kristi (November 1, 2019). "Ma Anand Sheela, of Oregon's Rajneesh saga and 'Wild Wild Country' fame, will star in new Netflix documentary". The Oregonian. Retrieved November 1, 2019.



Further readingEdit

  • Collins, Catherine Ann (1992), "Chapter Nine: Ma Anand Sheela: Media Power through Radical Discourse", in King, Andrew (ed.), Postmodern Political Communication: The Fringe Challenges the Center, Praeger Publishers, pp. 115–131, ISBN 0-275-93840-9
  • The Oregonian staff (December 14, 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 linksEdit