Slavery suspect Aravindan Balakrishnan was more of a "toothless old man" than a charismatic figure, according to the cousin of a woman who lived in his commune for more than 20 years.
Eleri Morgan said her cousin, Sian Davies, died in 1997 after falling from a window in the house the group were living in in Brixton, south London.
Ms Morgan said Ms Davies wrote home talking of how she was looking after the "mothers of the world". Her letters always spoke of "comrade Bala", referring to Balakrishnan.
Ms Morgan met Balakrishnan at the inquest into her cousin's death. She told ITV News: "I had such a shock because I imagined somebody charismatic and there was this toothless old man."
A council source said Balakrishnan and his wife Chanda were arrested last week amid allegations that they held three women for more than 30 years.
The alleged victims – a 30-year-old Briton, a 57-year-old Irish woman and a 69-year-old Malaysian – are said to have suffered years of "physical and mental abuse".
The couple, aged 73 and 67, are believed to have been well-known to the police in the 1970s after setting up a communist squat, the Mao Zedong Memorial Centre, in Brixton, in 1976.
Ms Morgan said her cousin had a boyfriend, Martin. She said: "She enjoyed the good life, and next time I saw her was in the morgue."
The youngest of the three alleged victims is said to have written 500 letters to neighbour Marius Feneck (26), describing her life as being "like a fly trapped in a spider's web".
The case came to light after the Irish woman rang the Freedom Charity last month to say she had been held against her will in a house (inset).
The couple, who are of Indian and Tanzanian origin, have been released on bail.