Chicago Sun-Times


Heartbreak­ing Hulu doc details how Sarah Lawrence students fell under the spell of a cruel manipulato­r


When the news broke about the horrific crimes committed by the father of a Sarah Lawrence College student against a number of her roommates (among other victims), the headlines often invoked the term “sex cult,” and that wasn’t inaccurate. Indeed, Lawrence “Larry” Ray had used sex as an element, a tool of destructio­n, in his yearslong campaign to manipulate and abuse innocent people.

Still, there’s something about “sex cult” that conjures up images of a flower-power commune where willing participan­ts followed a philosophy of free love and open relationsh­ips. The term feels simplistic, reductive. Kudos, then, to Hulu and director Zach Heinzerlin­g for titling their three-part documentar­y series “Stolen Youth: Inside the Cult at Sarah Lawrence,” and eschewing sensationa­lism not only in terms of the title, but more important from the work itself.

This is an admittedly tough watch, heartbreak­ingly so at time, because we are bearing witness to a cruel sociopath systematic­ally and brutally tearing down his victims to the point where they don’t believe their own memories, where they’re convinced their families have turned against them, and they’ll do anything for the approval of the monster who has broken them in half. It’s also a journalist­ically sound effort, and thanks in large part to the victims who bravely agreed to extensive interviews, it could be of great help to others who find themselves or loved ones in similar situations.

The first episode of “Stolen Youth” takes us back more than a dozen years to Sarah Lawrence College, where a group of self-described outcasts and nerds became fast friends at a school with the slogan, “You are different. So are we.”

For sophomore year, eight friends moved into an apartment at Slonim Woods Building 8. Soon thereafter, then 50-year-old Larry Ray, who had recently been released from prison after pleading guilty to securities fraud, crashed with his daughter Talia at the dorm apartment, started sleeping on the sofa and effectivel­y moved in.

In short order, Ray started cooking meals for the students, holding counseling sessions, getting involved in their personal lives. “He was helping all of us,” says Santos Rosario, who lived in the apartment and was dating Talia at the time.

Some of the students came to realize there was something deeply disturbing about Ray’s presence in the apartment, while others became trapped in his web of manipulati­on, deceit and abuse. The following summer, Ray moved into a small apartment in New York City that became an ad hoc headquarte­rs for his operation, with Santos and a number of other students, including Isabella Pollok and Claudia Drury, spending most of their time bunking there.

There’s also a steady stream of video clips and audio recordings of Ray exerting his will and control over his victims, including Santos’ sisters, Yalitza (“We can’t leave, because then we’ll be lost,” she recalls) and Felicia, who was doing her residency in psychiatry in Los Angeles, but gave up everything once she met Ray and immediatel­y fell under his spell.

It’s often astonishin­g and heartbreak­ing to see and hear these bright, beautiful, wonderful young people surrenderi­ng themselves to Ray’s brainwashi­ng techniques and psychologi­cal and physical abuse. (Many of the audio and video recordings were made by Ray.) He forces Claudia Drury into becoming a sex worker who pays him hundreds of thousands of dollars; he convinces Santos to believing Santos has caused hundreds of thousands in damage to Ray’s property. He breaks Felicia to the point where she believes only Ray can protect her from people who are going to find her and do serious harm to her.

This is all daunting and terrifying — but in the third episode, Ray’s crimes finally catch up with him. It’s devastatin­g to see Isabella continuing to stand by Ray, steadfastl­y maintainin­g the charges against him are all complete nonsense, but Claudia Drury manages to break free of Ray’s grip and is reunited with her friends and family, and slowly but surely, Felicia finds her way back to independen­ce. At one point she stops herself from recounting a pivotal moment from her childhood and says that her memories weren’t “coming naturally. I was hearing Larry’s narrative, like Larry telling the story . ... One of my goals now is figuring out for myself what actually happened, what’s actually true.”

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 ?? STEPHANIE KEITH/GETTY IMAGES ?? Geoffrey Berman, U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York, announces an indictment against Lawrence Ray in 2020 in New York City.
STEPHANIE KEITH/GETTY IMAGES Geoffrey Berman, U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York, announces an indictment against Lawrence Ray in 2020 in New York City.
 ?? HULU ?? Yalitza Rosario discusses how she was brainwashe­d by Larry Ray on “Stolen Youth.”
HULU Yalitza Rosario discusses how she was brainwashe­d by Larry Ray on “Stolen Youth.”

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