The Story Behind Hulu’s Sarah Lawrence Cult Docuseries

6 minute read

In the fall of 2010, eight college sophomores at Sarah Lawrence College were excited to move in together at Slonim Woods Building 9, where each person had a single room. For Talia, Max, Dan, Gabe, Claudia, Juli Ana, Santos, and Isabella (and their friend Raven, who was dating Dan), it was a first real taste of independence.

Talia’s father, Larry Ray (born Lawrence Grecco), was about 50-years-old around the time he met his daughter’s classmates. He had recently returned from prison and quickly began sleeping over in Slonim Woods—on the couch or in Talia’s room—multiple nights a week. He cooked and cleaned, making steak or buying takeout, and so no one really minded his presence.

Almost immediately, Ray began to captivate and ensnare some of the group—Talia, Dan, Claudia, Isabella, Santos, and eventually Santos’ sisters, Yalitza and Felicia. For years, they lived together (often in a cramped, one bedroom apartment) as Ray demanded attention, forced labor, money, and sometimes sex acts from them.

Twelve years later, Ray was found guilty on 15 federal counts—including extortion, sex trafficking, and racketeering conspiracy. He was sentenced to 60 years in federal prison without parole at the age of 63.

The new Hulu docuseries Stolen Youth: Inside the Cult at Sarah Lawrence tells the story of the survivors of Larry Ray.

Who is Larry Ray?

From the moment he arrived in their lives, Ray held court, both collectively and one-on-one, and the house members were transfixed. Ray talked about his time in the Marines, building up a mythology around himself. He positioned himself as a mature authority figure who could guide these 19 and 20-year-olds through the turbulence of youth.

“Everyone, at the beginning, thought he was weird,” says Raven in the docuseries. “And then one by one, he would get them alone, have these conversations, and suddenly they’re like, ‘Oh, he’s not so bad.’ To, ‘Actually, he’s pretty great.’ ‘Actually, he’s saving my life.’ ‘Actually, he’s the best thing that ever happened to me.’ ‘Actually, I’ll never not listen to him.’ ‘Actually, f— you, I’ll never listen to you if you talk bad about him.’ And it happened steeply. And it shocked me.”

Stolen Youth: Inside the Cult at Sarah Lawrence
A photo of Larry Ray, who was sentenced to 60 years in federal prison.Courtesy of Hulu

Years later, Raven would reach out to another Sarah Lawrence alum, Ezra Marcus, who, along with fellow journalist James Walsh, would discover that Ray was never in the Marines. In 2004, Teresa, Ray’s former wife, filed for divorce. Two years later, Ray lost custody of his two daughters. In 2007, Ray violated his probation after allegedly abducting his daughter, Talia.

In a searing article for New York Magazine, Marcus and Walsh included an excerpt from a psychological evaluation of Ray that he underwent during his custody battle.

“It is literally impossible to evaluate Mr. Ray in the usual clinical manner,” read the report. “He is able to manipulate and control almost any situation in which he finds himself. He is calculating, manipulative, and hostile.”

Who are the survivors?

Dan Levin, one of the survivors of Larry Ray, was also one of the main sources for the New York Magazine article, which catalyzed the investigation into Ray’s activities. At the end of 2019, Levin reached out to the Emmy Award-winning director Zachary Heinzerling about making a documentary from the perspective of the survivors.

“I think in cult situations, there can be judgment of the victim—how could you fall for that?” Heinzerling told Vanity Fair. “There’s no acknowledgement of the complicated nature of that experience. And how, over a slow, methodical progression, it metastasized into something horrible.”

In Slonim Woods, Isabella—a quiet, reclusive girl from Texas—was the first person that Ray started “helping.” She would later be the last person to stand by Ray’s side, even after the FBI raided first the place they had been living with Felicia, and later Isabella’s own house.

Claudia was an artistic type, like many of the students at Sarah Lawrence, a private liberal arts college that at the time had the slogan “You are different. So are we.” Years later, Ray would convince Claudia that she had poisoned him and others, encourage her to become an escort to repay the “damages,” and torture her when he didn’t think she paid him enough. (One year, she gave him more than $700,000.)

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Santos had been dating Talia, Ray’s daughter, when they met. At the time, Ray gave him invaluable advice about his family problems. Santos introduced Ray to his sisters, Yalitza and Felicia, the latter of whom Ray convinced to drop out of her medical residency in Los Angeles to join them in New York. The siblings’ parents sold their house and car to pay for Ray’s extortions.

Where are they now?

While the New York Magazine article drew national attention to the “stolen kids of Sarah Lawrence,” the docuseries follows the survivors in the aftermath of the investigation into and prosecution of Ray. After years of brainwashing, Claudia, Santos, Yalitza, and Felicia all testified against Ray at his trial.

“You don’t often get to see someone heal from this kind of abuse [onscreen],” Heinzerling told Vulture. “It showed a level of strength and courage in someone to rid themselves of that shame and embarrassment that they might have felt in the aftermath of this and begin a process of healing.”

The series follows Santos, Yalitza, and Felicia as the siblings slowly come to terms with what they went through, reconcile, and reunite—both with each other and with their parents. (Ray had convinced most of the group that their parents tried to hurt or kill them.)

Two years ago, Dan published a memoir, Slonim Woods 9, about his experience with Ray.

Claudia chose not to participate in the documentary, but since leaving Ray in 2019, she has reunited with her family and friends.

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