'Papa Pilgrim,' Jailed for Abusing Family, Dies

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A man who called himself "Papa Pilgrim," and led his wife and children on a spiritual quest to Alaska wilderness, has died in an Anchorage jail, where he was serving time for abusing them.

Robert Hale, 67, was sentenced to 14 years in prison in November after pleading no contest to charges of rape, assault and incest.

Hale had been in declining health, and appeared at his sentencing in a wheelchair. His lawyer said at the hearing that Hale had been treated for advanced cirrhosis, diabetes and blood clots.

Hale was in hospice care in the Anchorage jail when he died at about 9 p.m. Saturday. A chaplain and family members were present, a corrections official said.

Hale was originally from Texas and was once married to the daughter of former Gov. John Connally. The young woman died suspiciously and Hale said he began his quest as a "pilgrim" afterward.

He moved to New Mexico and then to Alaska in 1988 with his wife and 15 children.

The family settled on private land within Wrangell-St. Elias National Park, where they had run-ins with the National Park Service over access.

The family might have remained out of the spotlight but Hale and his sons become embroiled in an high-profile dispute with the National Park Service over access to their property.

Family members used a bulldozer without permission to clear an abandoned mining road to get to their land within the 13.2 million-acre Wrangell-St. Elias National Park, the nation's largest.

National land rights advocates including the Pacific Legal Foundation rallied to the family's cause and helped pay its legal bills.

But the family's secrets unraveled after Hale's daughter went to Alaska State Troopers with a horrifying story of being brutalized in January 2005 in a building Hale owned away from the family's homestead.

Hale, who maintained his innocence despite his court plea, claimed that he was administering a "correction" to his daughter and that it consisted only of discussing her offense.

His daughter said he pummeled her into submission, locked her inside the building and repeatedly sexually assaulted her. Her sister later described her face as looking like a black and blue basketball.

Other family members including his wife and sons testified that Hale punished them by beating them with a riding crop, denying them food and making them sleep outside in the cold.

They said Hale refused to teach the children to read and kept them from other people to make sure they wouldn't question his authority.