What Happened to Papa Pilgrim? Where is Elishaba Doerksen Now?

In the episode ‘Terror in the Wilderness’ on ID’s ‘Evil Lives Here,’ Elishaba Doerksen shares her remarkable life story. Raised by her father, Robert Hale, also known as Papa Pilgrim, her upbringing was characterized by abuse and isolation inflicted upon her and her family by her father. She recounts her journey of escaping the perilous and harmful world she had always known, determined to break free from the oppressive environment.

Papa Pilgrim Abused His Family For Many Years

Robert Hale, son of I.B. Hale, a renowned FBI agent and All-America football star, led a divergent life from his Texas origins. While his name was linked to significant crimes in his young years, none were ever substantiated or proven in court. By 1974, he had already been married three times, engaged in international travel as a male midwife on a commune, and even spent time with Charles Manson. In that same year, he encountered 16-year-old Kurina Bresler, and the two established a residence in the Sangre de Cristo Mountains of New Mexico.

By this time he was leading a hippie lifestyle and had started practicing his dictates in life. In the years that followed, the couple had 15 children together and Hale adopted the name “Papa Pilgrim” as a denotation of a religious awakening that he had allegedly experienced. Under this new identity, he crafted a lifestyle that was both eccentric and isolating. Papa Pilgrim espoused a self-sufficient and reclusive existence for himself and his family. They lived off the grid, far from civilization, in a remote cabin without electricity or running water. He emphasized strict adherence to his interpretation of religious and moral principles, creating a cult-like atmosphere within the family.

In the documentary, Elishaba Doerksen, his eldest daughter, recounted the primitive lifestyle they led. She described how each morning, their father would have breakfast and then read and interpret the Bible for them. The children would sit hungry until they finished their chores for the day, which included extensive tasks like washing clothes, tending to the animals, and making a fire for basic sustenance. According to her, they often went the entire day without food, and by dinner time, some of her siblings were so exhausted that they fell asleep.

However, this was not the extent of the discipline that was maintained in the house. It was revealed that Papa Pilgrim exercised immense control over the lives of all family members and subjected them to physical and mental abuse. The kids as well as Papa Pilgrim’s wife were made to stick to these rules or they were met with harsh punishments that were explained to them as preachings of God.

In the documentary, Elishaba shared that things got worse when she was just hitting puberty and her father started getting close to her physically. She said that he would often slip the baths with her and pull her close to him while he was touching himself. The sexual abuse kept getting worse and as the years passed, she was being raped many times in a day. She shared that her father read some quotes from the Bible and explained to her how she belonged to her. He also explained to her how she existed for his pleasure and it was only at his discretion that she would undertake any action.

In 2002, the family left New Mexico, feeling that civilization was encroaching upon their way of life. They spent several years as vagabonds in Alaska, and by 2002 they settled in McCarthy. During this time, Elishaba began speaking out against her father’s actions. She attempted to run away once but was caught and brought back by her brothers. On one occasion, she confronted her father, telling him that his actions were pure evil and no God would allow them. In response, he assaulted her for days, causing her eyes to swell shut. The following day, her brothers confronted their father about his behavior, but instead of acknowledging their concerns, Papa Pilgrim cast them out of the family.

By 2005, Elishaba knew that she had reached her wits end when her father told her that she must bear his children. Her mother and the rest of her sisters were in disbelief and one day in March 2005 while Papa Pilgrim had gone out to pick up a few things, she and her sister ran away on a snowmobile. They were supposed to meet their brothers but due to a mix-up, the two girls ended up spending about 5 days in the wilderness in absolute cold.

She went and approached the police and the rest of the family attested to the sexual and physical abuse that she had endured for years. In October 2005, Hale was arrested on 30 counts of physical and sexual assault, coercion, and incest. Due to court orders, he had minimal contact with his family while incarcerated. In September 2007, he was sentenced to 14 years in prison for the same charges. However, by this time, he was elderly, diabetic, and suffering from advanced cirrhosis and blood clots. Less than a year after his sentencing, he passed away in an Anchorage prison on May 26, 2008. Despite some family members visiting him shortly before his death, he never expressed any remorse and died alone.

Today, Elishaba Doerksen is an Author

Elishaba Doerksen revealed that in the initial years following her escape, she grappled with feelings of guilt and fear, wondering if she would be condemned for leaving. However, with time, she embarked on a journey of healing and acceptance of her past experiences. Determined to share her story with the world, she penned a book titled ‘Out of the Wilderness: Escaping My Father’s Prison and My Journey to Forgiveness,’ published in November 2022. Though recounting her painful experiences and vulnerabilities was challenging, she hoped that her narrative would offer solace and support to others facing abuse within their homes or from those entrusted with their care.

In addition to her writing endeavors, Elishaba has become a motivational and public speaker, sharing her story at various events and conferences in her own heartfelt words. She found love and companionship with her husband, Matt Doerksen, and together they have built a family of their own. Married for over 15 years, they are proud parents to two wonderful children, Esther and Michael. Residing on the outskirts of Palmer, Alaska, the family continues to embrace their faith in God and lead fulfilling lives.

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