Schäfer, a former Nazi army officer was 89 years-old and died of chronic heart disease in the prison hospital where he was serving several sentences for various crimes. The head of the German commune "Colonia Dignidad", near the city of Parral, 350 Km south of Santiago, had been sentenced in 2005 to seven years in prison for murder, three years for violation of arms control laws, three years for torture and 20 years for sexual abuse of children living in the colony.
Schäfer and other German nationals founded “Colonia Dignidad
”, which they later called "Villa Baviera", and gradually generated a powerful network of influences becoming a true self-regulating society, beyond the control of Chilean law.
During the dictatorship of Augusto Pinochet (1973-1990), the colony, occupying some 16,000 hectares, was used as a concentration camp and a torture site of political prisoners opposed to Pinochet. The former Chilean president Patricio Aylwin (1990-1994) called the community "a state within a state
" and launched a legal offensive to dismantle it.
Schäfer ruled the commune despotically. Men and women had to live separately and children were taken from their parents at age two to be raised in collective, gender-segregated nurseries. Residents were not allowed
contact with the outside world.
Chilean authorities began investigating accusations of sexual abuse against Schäfer in 1996. To avoid prison, he fled from justice and for several years he was in the “most wanted” list in Chile, until he was arrested in 2005 in a town near Buenos Aires, Argentina, where he was living protected by several of his closest followers. Following extradition to Chile, he was convicted of torture and sexual abuse of 25 children.
Schäfer was born in Troisdorf, Germany in 1921. After serving as an officer and a paramedic under the Nazis in World War II, he continued living in Germany and became an evangelical preacher. He attempted to work as a youth leader in several church institutions, but was fired several times after being accused of molesting young boys
. He then set up his own ministry and a youth home, but he was again accused of sexual abuse. To avoid being charged he fled Germany in 1961 and moved to Chile.