The Scientology Story (Los Angeles Times series) - Next - Previous - Contents
by Joel Sappell and Robert W. Welkos

Part 1: The Making of L. Ron Hubbard

Chapter Four:
The Final Days

Deep in hiding, Hubbard kept tight grip on the church.

(Sunday, 24 June 1990, page A40:3)

Scientology founder L. Ron Hubbard often said that man's most basic drive is that of survival. And when it came to his own, he used whatever was necessary -- false identities, cover stories, deception.

There is no better illustration of this than the way he secretly controlled the Church of Scientology while hiding from a world he viewed as increasingly hostile.

Hubbard was last seen publicly in February 1980, in the desert community of Hemet, a few miles from a high-security compound that houses the church's movie and recording studio. His sudden departure fueled wild and intense speculation.

The church said Hubbard went into seclusion to continue his Scientology research and to resurrect his science fiction-writing career. But former aides have said he dropped from sight to avoid subpoenas and government tax agents probing allegations that he was skimming church funds.

Publications throughout the world ran stories about Hubbard's disappearance. "Mystery of the Vanished Ruler" was the headline in Time magazine.

In 1982, Hubbard's estranged son filed a probate petition trying to wrest control of the Scientology empire. He argued that his father was either dead or mentally incompetent and that his riches were being plundered by Scientology executives.

The suit was dismissed after Hubbard, through an attorney, submitted an affidavit with his fingerprints, saying that he was well and wanted to be left alone.

* - * - *

No doubt, Hubbard would have chuckled with satisfaction over the speculation surrounding his whereabouts. For he had always considered himself a shrewd strategist and a master of the intelligence game, endlessly calculating ways to outwit his foes.

Hubbard took with him only two people, a married couple named Pat and Anne Broeker.

Pat Broeker, Hubbard's personal messenger at the time, had gone into hiding with him once before and knew how to ensure his security. Broeker relished cloak-and-dagger operations. His nickname among Hubbard's other messengers was "007."

Anne had been one of Hubbard's top aides for years. She was cool under pressure and able to defuse Hubbard's volatile temper.

Hubbard and the Broekers spent their first several years together on the move. For months, they traveled the Pacific Northwest in a motor home. They lived in apartments in Newport Beach and the suburbs of Los Angeles.

Then, in the summer of 1983, they decided to settle down in a dusty ranch town called Creston, population 270, where the hot, arid climate would be kind to Hubbard's bursitis.

About 30 miles inland from San Luis Obispo, it was a perfect spot for a man of notoriety to live in obscurity. In those parts, people don't ask a lot of questions about someone else's business.

Hubbard and the Broekers concocted an elaborate set of phony names and backgrounds to conceal their identities from the townsfolk. Pat and Anne Broeker went by the names Mike and Lisa Mitchell. Hubbard became Lisa's father, Jack, who impressed the locals as a chatty old man, charismatic but sometimes gruff.

They purchased a 160-acre ranch known as the Whispering Winds for $700,000, using 30 cashier's checks drawn on various California banks. Pat Broeker told the sellers, Ed and Sherry Shahan, that he had recently inherited millions of dollars and was looking to leave his home in Upstate New York to raise livestock in California.

At the time, the Shahans were suspicious. As Ed Shahan recalled, "They were having trouble deciding whose name to put the property in."

* - * - *

In less than three years, Hubbard poured an estimated $3 million into the local economy as he redesigned the ranch to his exacting and elaborate specifications.

He launched one project after another, some of them seemingly senseless, according to local residents. He ordered the construction of a quarter-mile horse-racing track with an observation tower. The track reportedly was never used.

The 10-room ranch house was gutted and remodeled so many times that it went virtually uninhabited during Hubbard's time there. He lived and worked in a luxurious 40-foot Bluebird motor home parked near the stables.

All this was done without work permits, which meant that Hubbard and his aides would not have to worry about nosy county inspectors.

Like Hubbard's aides in earlier years, the hired help saw extreme sides of the man who was chauffeured around the property in a black Subaru pickup by Anne Broeker.

Fencing contractor Jim Froelicher of Paso Robles remembers asking him for advice on buying a camera. Several days later, Froelicher said, Hubbard presented him with a 35mm camera as a gift.

Longtime Creston resident Ed Lindquist, on the other hand, said painters dropped by the local tavern at lunch to talk about how the "old man" was acting eccentric. They said he had them paint the walls again and again because they "weren't white enough," according to Lindquist.

Scientology officials insist that Hubbard was in fine mental and physical health during his years in seclusion. Most of his days, they say, were spent reading, writing and enjoying the ranch's beauty and livestock, which included llamas and buffalo.

But Hubbard was doing much more, according to former aides. Even in hiding, they say, he kept a close watch and a tight grip on the church he built -- as he had for decades.

* - * - *

As early as 1966, Hubbard claimed to have relinquished managerial control of the church. But ex-Scientologists and several court rulings have held that this was a maneuver to shield Hubbard from potential legal actions and accountability for the group's activities.

Over the years, efforts to conceal Hubbard's ties to the church were extensive and extreme.

In 1980, for example, a massive shredding operation was undertaken at the church's desert compound outside Palm Springs after Scientology officials received an erroneous tip of an imminent FBI raid, according to a former aide.

"Anything that indicated that L. Ron Hubbard controlled the church or was engaged in management was to be shredded," recalled Hubbard's former public relations officer, Laurel Sullivan.

For more than two days, Sullivan said, roughly 200 Scientologists crammed thousands of documents into a huge shredder nicknamed "Jaws." Documents too valuable to destroy, she added, were buried in the ground or under floorboards.

In his self-imposed exile, Hubbard continued to reign over Scientology with almost paranoid secrecy.

He relayed his orders in writing or on tape cassettes to Pat Broeker, who then passed them to a ranking Scientologist named David Miscavige, the man responsible for seeing that church executives complied.

Hubbard's communiques travelled a circuitous route in the darkness of night, changing hands from Broeker to Miscavige at designated sites throughout Southern California. To mask the author's identity, the missives were signed with codes that carried the weight of Hubbard's signature.

Sometimes Broeker himself appeared from parts unknown to personally deliver Hubbard's instructions to church executives.

From his secret seat of power in the oak-studded hills above San Luis Obispo, Hubbard also made sure that he would not be severed from the riches of his Scientology empire, high-level church defectors would later tell government investigators.

They alleged that Hubbard skimmed millions of dollars from church coffers while he was in hiding -- carrying on a tradition that the Internal Revenue Service said he began practically at Scientology's inception about 30 years ago. Hubbard and his aides had always denied the allegations, and accused the IRS of waging a campaign against the church and its founder.

While Hubbard was underground, the IRS launched a criminal probe of his finances. But the investigation would soon be without a target, and ultimately abandoned.

* - * - *

By late 1985, Hubbard's directives to underlings had tapered off. At age 74, he no longer resembled the robust and natty man whose dated photographs fill Scientology's promotional literature. Living in isolation, separated from his devoted followers, he had let himself go.

His thin gray hair, with streaks of the old red, hung without sheen to his shoulders. He had grown a stringy, unkempt beard and mustache. His round face was now sunken and his ruddy complexion had turned pasty. He was an old man and he was nearing death.

On or about Jan. 17, 1986, Hubbard suffered a "cerebral vascular accident," commonly known as a stroke. Caring for him was Gene Denk, a Scientologist doctor and Hubbard's physician for eight years.

There was little Denk could do for Hubbard in those final days -- the stroke was debilitating. He was bedridden and his speech was badly impaired.

One week later, at 8 p.m. on Friday, Jan. 24, Hubbard died.

Throughout the night, according to neighbor Robert Whaley, heavy traffic inexplicably moved in and out of the ranch. Whaley, a retired advertising executive, said that he was kept awake by headlights shining through his windows.

For more than 11 hours, Hubbard's body remained in the motor home where he died. Scientology attorney Earle Cooley had ordered that Hubbard not be touched until he arrived by car from Los Angeles with another Scientology lawyer.

The next morning, Cooley telephoned Reis Chapel, a San Luis Obispo mortuary, and arranged to have the body cremated. With Cooley present, Hubbard was transported to the mortuary.

Once chapel officials learned who Hubbard was, however, they became concerned about the church's rush to cremate him. They contacted the San Luis Obispo County coroner, who halted the cremation until the body could be examined and blood tests performed.

When then-Deputy Coroner Don Hines arrived, Cooley presented him with a certificate that Hubbard had signed just four days before his death. It stated that, for religious reasons, he wanted no autopsy.

Cooley also produced a will that Hubbard had signed the day before he died, directing that his body be promptly cremated and that his vast wealth be distributed according to the provisions of a confidential trust he had established. His once-ornate trademark signature was little more than a scrawl.

After the blood tests and examination revealed no foul play, coroner Hines approved the cremation. With Cooley's consent, he also photographed the body and lifted fingerprints as a way to later confirm that it was the reclusive Hubbard and not a hoax.

Within hours, Hubbard's ashes were scattered at sea by the Broekers and Miscavige.

* - * - *

Two days after Hubbard's death, Pat Broeker stood before a standing-room-only crowd of Scientologists at the Hollywood Palladium. It was his first public appearance in six years, and he had just broken the news of Hubbard's passing.

The cheers were deafening.

Broeker announced that Hubbard had made a conscious decision to "sever all ties" to this world so he could continue his Scientology research in spirit form -- testimony to the power of the man and his teachings.

He "laid down in his bed and he left," Broeker said. "And that was it."

Hubbard left behind an organization that would continue to function as though he were still alive. His millions of words -- the lifeblood of Scientology -- have now been computerized for wisdom and instructions at the touch of a button.

In Scientology, he was -- and always will be -- the "Source."

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PHOTO: Hubbard's Signature: L. Ron Hubbard's ornate signature deteriorated near the time of his death. The church maintains that Hubbard, who died on January 24, 1986, discarded the body that bound him to the physical universe to begin the next phase of his spiritual exploration -- "on a planet a galaxy away." At right, L. Ron Hubbard's signature as it regularly appears in Scientology publications. Above, his signature as it appeared on his will in 1986, one day before his death.
PHOTO: L. Ron Hubbard in La Quinta, Calif., in the late 1970s. The photo is believed to be the last picture of Hubbard in the public domain.

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