Chaim Walder, the popular ultra-Orthodox children’s author who was accused of sexually abusing women and children, was found dead in a Petah Tikva cemetery on Monday.
Police said a man was found in the cemetery just before 1 p.m. with a gunshot wound. A passerby heard the shot and alerted authorities.
According to initial reports, Walder died by suicide and was found next to the grave of his son, who died several years ago of cancer. He had previously threatened to take his life over the revelation of accusations against him.
The author of 80 books, Walder, 53, had reportedly left his house early Monday after having holed up there for days, and his family had raised the alarm, concerned for his safety.
He was accused last month by three women who said he had sexually abused them when they were 12, 15, and 20, respectively. The accusations were published in the Haaretz newspaper and in their wake, several other women in the ultra-Orthodox community shared similar stories about Walder on social media.
Known as an educator and therapist in the Haredi community, Walder allegedly used his popularity and status to commit the acts.
On Sunday, an ultra-Orthodox rabbinical private court that deals with sexual abuse cases in the community said it had heard 22 testimonies from people — including young boys and girls — alleging abuse at Walder’s hands when they had come to him for treatment over the years, considerably expanding upon the allegations already lodged against him.
Safed Chief Rabbi Shmuel Eliyahu, who heads the court, posted Sunday on Facebook that the court had found Walder guilty of the accusations even though the author had not testified himself.
Eliyahu also wrote that the court had heard from witnesses who testified to Walder’s adultery with “many married women” and said there was “unequivocal evidence” including recordings in which Walder himself was heard “testifying to the heinous acts he committed.”
“We found him guilty without a doubt,” Eliyahu wrote, adding that the court had heard from “women and girls that he harmed and there is no doubt that these cases are just a small fraction of the evil injury he caused.”
Eliyahu was apparently referring to a recording, published by Haaretz, in which Walder could be heard telling a woman who apparently had told her husband that she had an affair with him that she should keep quiet about the matter.
In the recording, Walder was heard saying that some things must be denied and that even “if they bring a picture of me with you I would deny it. I would say, ‘This is photoshopped.’ I will never admit, never.”
Later in the same recording, Walder warned the woman that if their relationship were made public, “I will shoot myself — you should be clear about that. Have no doubts about it, because from my point of view that is the end of my life.”
Though the court summoned him to give his version of events, Walder refused to appear, claiming the verdict would be a foregone conclusion even before he gave testimony, Haaretz reported.
On Sunday, Haaretz reported that police had begun looking into the 22 accusations of assault brought before the court. Walder had yet to be questioned by police about any of the accusations against him.
According to an investigation by Haaretz in November, several women and girls accused Walder of initiating sexual relationships with them when they approached him for counseling.
One girl said that the alleged abuse began when she was 13, eventually progressing to weekly sexual encounters in a rented hotel room. Walder told another woman, who was 20 when he began a sexual relationship with her, that their encounters “gave him the power to write to the children of Israel,” according to the report.
In the wake of the report, Walder announced last month that he was stepping away from public life to clear his name. His announcement came after the ultra-Orthodox Yated Ne’eman newspaper, where Walder was employed as a writer, warned him that if he didn’t take a leave of absence he would be fired.
A number of other ultra-Orthodox entities severed their ties with Walder, a resident of Bnei Brak. Walder was removed from his work at the ultra-Orthodox radio station Radio Kol Chai and the Otiyot children’s magazine said it would stop publishing his stories. Walder’s books were also removed from the shelves of the Osher Ad supermarket chain and the Jewish bookstore Eichler’s Judaica of Borough Park.