Guest Post from Andrea: Cecile Frances Moch

It's my absolute privilege and honor to have a guest post for this entry. I'd like to welcome Andrea from the WhereAboutsStillUnknown blog.

Popular Song At The Time

Cecile Frances Moch

Throughout the late 1960’s, many spiritual groups, that we now identify as cults, had begun to spring up across the country. These communal lifestyles were somehow appealing to the youth and young adults of the time, and Sunburst in Santa Barbara was one of many. 

Sunburst began in 1969, originally called The Brotherhood of the Sun, and was led by Norman Paulsen. The foundation of the group, at least initially, was based on celibacy, meditation, and living off the land. The group did not condone violence, drugs, alcohol, or even tobacco in its early days. 

At its heyday in the 1970’s, the group had approximately 300 members. It owned a large organic farm, and operated two restaurants and four stores. A former member of Sunburst, Michael Ableman, described the living situation as follows:

"I was sleeping on a wooden pallet in a sleeping bag while Paulsen and some of the leaders who didn't seem to do any work had houses and fancy cars." 

In the late 1970’s, Sunburst began to change. It’s leader, Norman Paulsen, who had always preached non-violence, became increasingly paranoid and began stockpiling weapons and ammunition. Military style training courses were offered to the group in order to prepare for the destruction of Society.  And It became known that the anti-drug Paulsen himself was addicted to drugs and alcohol. 

These changes caused many members to leave the group. Several sued Paulsen, as he had reportedly used communal funds to purchase drugs.  The suit was dropped before going to court. 

By the end of 1980, Sunburst had lost the majority of its free labor, and could no longer pay the mortgage on the ranch. They eventually lost all the land. Members who had lived on the farm for over a decade were suddenly displaced. They had no income, no skills, and no idea how to survive on their own. 

And in the midst of all the turmoil, a 19 year old woman named Cecile Frances Moch disappeared. Nobody seemed to notice. 

I’m sure her family noticed, but the media certainly didn’t. I was unable to find a single article about her disappearance, even after her AMC Gremlin was found abandoned in the Santa Ynez Mountains. 

What’s known about her is very little. She was from an affluent neighborhood in Santa Barbara, graduating from Rolling Hills High School. She was a college student at the time of her disappearance.  (Accounts differ as to whether she was attending Santa Barbara City College or UC Santa Barbara.). She had a job. 

She worked, it just so happens, as a server at the Sunburst Farms restaurant, which was owned by the cult. It is not known if she was a member of the cult, or just an employee of one of their businesses. 

From reading many articles about Sunburst, it would not seem as though they would have employed outside labor - although it’s possible they did in 1980, as they had lost so many members and were trying to save the farm. 

Sunburst moved to Big Springs Ranch in Northeastern Nevada after being forced to sell their farm in Santa Barbara.  A small number of members followed the group, but their new desert location did not allow for growing food and its members worked “normal jobs”. 

Many have speculated that Cecile could be Arroyo Grande Jane Doe, who was found on a dirt road in Henderson, Nevada in October 1980. She’d been stabbed within 24 hours of being found, likely with an ice pick.  Dental records suggested she was not impoverished and had a recent tattoo of the letter S. (Sunburst immediately came to mind although I’ve not read of members having such a tattoo.)  Jane Doe stood approximately 5’2” and weighed between 103-110 lbs. Cecile is listed at 5’3” and 100 lbs. 

Cecile currently does not have a DNA sample in NamUs to compare, and she is not listed as a rule out for Arroyo County Jane Doe. It would be helpful to locate a family member of Cecile’s so that a DNA sample can be submitted and compared. 

Norman Paulsen died in 2006, but Sunburst still exists as a retreat. It’s membership is small, and mostly consists of senior citizens. It is unknown if Cecile’s connection to Sunburst had anything to do with her disappearance. 

                                                     Arroyo Grande Jane Doe

Cecile’s NamUs page

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