Hey, y’all. Thanks for stopping by. Have you heard of cult leader Larry Ray? Maybe, maybe not. But you should learn about him.
I first came across this cult a year or so ago and immediately became obsessed with the case, which led me to the excellent article by Ezra Marcus and James Walsh in New York Magazine that really broke the case open.
Larry Ray physically and sexually assaulted the “Ray family,” inflicted emotional and mental torture, and committed financial crimes over the course of a decade.
The story of Larry Ray and the cult he created at Sarah Lawrence College is the stuff of nightmares. It’s a tale of manipulation, manipulation, and more manipulation. It’s also terrifyingly common. According to The New York Times, somewhere between 300,000 and three million people are in cults in America.
Larry Ray moves in
In the fall of 2010, Larry Ray (real name Lawrence Grecco) asked his 19-year-old daughter Talia Ray if he could crash at Talia’s dorm at Sarah Lawrence College, which is located in upstate New York.
So Talia ran this by her roommates (Isabella, Santos, Daniel, and Claudia) at their dorm Slonim 9 who were happy to let him stay. Larry slept on an air mattress in the living room. I would probably not be okay with this if I lived there.
At the time, Larry was 50 years old and had just been released from prison for investment fraud schemes. The way Talia told it, he was arrested for bringing the truth to light and exposing corruption in government.
I don’t know that much about financial crimes but according to sources, he paid $100,000 as a bribe and was convicted of security fraud.
I should note here that Larry was politically powerful. He rubbed elbows with Rudy Guiliani and former NYC police commissioner Bernard Kerik.
There’s a lot more information about these relationships in this New York Times article if you’re interested, but I’m going to stick to the events that occurred after Larry moved in with Talia and her roommates in 2010.
So Larry moved in and immediately began ingratiating himself with the 19-year-olds who lived there by cooking extravagant meals for them and ordering expensive takeout. If you’ve been to college, you know how enticing this could be. You get tired of ramen, you know?
In addition to the dinners, Larry started holding court in the dorm’s common area. He would lecture the college students about philosophy and the meaning of life.
And for the most part, they seemed to like it. They began viewing Larry as a father figure and someone to look up to.
Pretty quickly, those lectures and dinners were turning into twisted therapy sessions. He used all the high-control group techniques-sleep deprivation, violence, humiliation, threats, and then some.
If you listen to True Crime Obsessed (and you should), you’ll know what I mean when I say tick tock, cult o’clock.
It didn’t take long for Larry to start doing those weird manipulation things that cult leaders like to do. He told the kids that fate had brought him and the group together because they all had an obsession with suicide. And Larry began calling the group “The Ray Family.”
By the first Christmas that Larry spent with the students in 2010, Larry had become particularly fond of Isabella who was struggling in her life. She turned to Larry for advice and he obliged. One way he helped Isabella was by sleeping in her room with her. On the floor. But still…
Isabella’s boyfriend at the time was not cool with this arrangement for obvious reasons.
Isabella didn’t return home for the 2010 Christmas break, instead opting to stay in an apartment that was owned by one of Larry’s friends. In case you were wondering, Larry was still sleeping in the same bedroom as Isabella.
During that school break, Larry told Isabella to stop taking her antipsychotic prescription and she did. Isabella’s boyfriend broke up with her when the break was over. Isabella became Larry’s defacto girlfriend.
At the end of the school year in 2011, Daniel who was a resident at Slonim 9 broke up with his girlfriend and he had nowhere to stay that summer.
By now, the students were no longer living in the dorm on campus but were basically squatting in the same apartment they had been to during Christmas break. So, Larry asked Daniel to move in, and he agreed.
Larry continued to buy the group expensive dinners and also clothing. Always with cash. That’s not fishy.
But when the group was in that apartment on 93rd street, Larry had total control of them. He would interrogate them one by one usually because they had done something that Larry didn’t like. Minor mistakes were deemed manifestations of childhood trauma. And I’m talking about spilling a glass of water.
During these sessions, he continued to gather intel about these kids. But he also offered answers, or at least what the roommates thought were answers.
But when the person being questioned didn’t weave a tale that fit into Larry’s twisted narrative, they would just fabricate stories to make the grilling stop.
They were up all hours of the night having these “therapy” sessions. Sleep deprivation is a great control technique. You’re too tired to fight and your judgment is clouded.
Not only did Larry blame small mistakes on childhood trauma, but he also said that those mistakes were intentional by the students to harm him. And anytime someone committed a mistake, Larry forced them to sign written confessions. These were completely fabricated.
The group would confess to damaging Larry’s property and assaulting him personally. And he gathered hundreds of these confessions. They were all written in almost the exact same language.
During his time at the 93rd Street apartment, Daniel really was put through it. Daniel had questions about his sexuality, but Larry very adamantly said there was no way that Daniel was gay. Not sure how he could know that or why it even matters.
For some reason, Larry was very interested in Daniel’s sexuality. He convinced Isabella to kiss Daniel before moving into the bedroom. Larry told them to have sex and he watched. This happened many times, with Larry participating sometimes. I guess he wanted to prove to Daniel that he wasn’t gay, which is bisexual erasure if I’ve ever heard it.
Claudia and Daniel both left the apartment in the summer of 2011 for a study abroad program in England, but that didn’t stop Larry from controlling them. They would have Skype meetings and he talked them through having sex together.
During the 2012-2013 school term Daniel’s abuse escalated into real physical abuse. Daniel was forced to wrap a string of aluminum foil balls around his genitals while Larry tightened and twisted it.
And yet, Daniel stayed with the group until 2013. That’s the power Larry had.
Daniel wasn’t Larry’s only physical target. He would also choke Santos until he passed out.
Another one of Larry’s favorite things to do was claim that the roommates had damaged or stolen his items. In fact, Santos wrote an itemized list of things that he had supposedly ruined or stolen. That list totaled more than $47,000.00.
How was Santos going to get the money to pay Larry? He turned to his parents and threatened to unalive himself if they didn’t give him the money. His parents went to the apartment to see the damage themselves, but Larry blocked them from entering. They gave Santos as much money as they could.
Yalitza and Felicia
While Daniel was trying to escape Larry’s grasp, Larry had new victims to play with. Santos introduced Larry to his older sisters Yalitza and Felicia in 2011.
The sisters were both bright and well-educated. Yalitza was attending Columbia when she first visited the apartment on 93rd Street. Felicia was a Harvard grad with a medical degree. She was completing her residency in Los Angeles when she was introduced to Larry. They began having regular phone calls.
Larry convinced Felicia that people were after her. I’m not sure how he did that exactly, but I assume the same way he manipulated the roommates. This belief that she was in danger led Felicia to quit her residency. Let that sink in. He convinced someone who had completed medical school to drop out and move in with him across the country in New York.
Yalitza attempted suicide in 2013 by taking a whole bottle of Tylenol. Larry wouldn’t let her parents into her hospital room without him being present while she was in a coma.
Claudia also attempted suicide via Tylenol in 2014. And Larry didn’t let her parents see Claudia alone either. Claudia wouldn’t even talk to her parents.
He recorded Claudia confessing to poisoning himself, Talia, Felicia, and Isabella with mercury and arsenic. Larry would upload these confessions to his website, along with other video journal entries.
Claudia told a family friend about the videos and Larry was furious when he found out she had told. As punishment, Larry ordered Claudia to strip before tying her to a chair. He suffocated her with a plastic bag multiple times until she passed out. He also put her next to a freezing air conditioner and poured cold water over her.
Larry’s favorite/possible girlfriend Isabella helped with this torture. Isabella basically gaslit Claudia during the assault by telling her that the freezing water being poured on her was actually room temperature.
The pair even took a break to go get takeout while Claudia was still tied up.
Pinehurst, North Carolina
During their senior year, Larry took Claudia, Isabella, Yalitza, and Felicia to his father’s home in North Carolina. He brought them there so that they could install a new drainage system on the property. And like, what? Your guess on this is as good as mine.
These women were operating heavy machineries like backhoes with no training or experience. And then he began to claim that they had intentionally damaged the property. Santos, Yalitza, and Felicia’s parents gave Larry over $200,000 over a three-year period for these “damages.” They even had to sell their home.
In order to pay for the damage, Claudia began working as an escort. She offered services for $8,000.00 per night. Isabella tracked the money that Claudia was bringing in.
The total amount of money that Larry took from the students totaled somewhere around $1 million, and half of that came from Claudia though some sources say that Claudia handed over around $2.5 million.
The article that ran in New York Magazine led to an investigation into Larry and his eventual arrest in 2020. Don’t forget that he moved into the dorm in 2010, so this is a decade of abuse.
He faced nine charges including sex trafficking, extortion, and forced labor.
Larry was convicted on all counts but his sentencing hearing is scheduled for December 1, 2022. I will be keeping an eye out for his sentence.
Isabella was both a victim and a victimizer. I think about that conundrum often. At what point does someone who has been manipulated and brainwashed become responsible for his or her actions?
The state of New York believed that Isabella was at least partially responsible for the crimes committed by her father. They called her Larry’s “top lieutenant.”
There’s no denying that Isabella did some bad things for Larry, including overseeing Claudia’s sex work. And in 2022 Isabella was charged with money laundering as well.
She took a plea deal to avoid trial and has also not yet been sentenced.
Whew. I hope this was a somewhat coherent telling of this story, but it really is sprawling. There is so much more to the story and I highly recommend the New York Magazine article.
This cult is another prime example of very smart people falling for charismatic leaders. So be careful when you think that it can’t happen to you because that’s exactly when it does.
Oh, and Daniel wrote a memoir about his experience, Slonim Woods 9: A Memoir.
Let me know your thoughts in the comments below and let me know if there are any other cases you would like me to cover!
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