'The crime committed by these defendants is of a breadth and scope previously unheard of. No building, office, desk or file was safe from their snooping and prying. No individual or organization was free from their despicable conspiratorial minds. The tools of their trade were miniature transmitters, lock picks, secret codes, forged credentials, and any other device they found necessary to carry out their conspiratorial schemes. It is interesting to note that the founder of their organization, unindicted co-conspirator L. Ron Hubbard, wrote in his dictionary entitled Modern Management Technology Defined that, "Truth is what is true for you." Thus, with the founder's blessings, they could wantonly commit perjury as long as it was in the interests of Scientology.' (Government sentencing memorandum on Mary Sue Hubbard, et al, October 1978)
(Scientology's account of the years 1976-80.)
At Olive Tree Ranch, everything changed after Quentin's death. The Commodore's all-too-brief bonhomie disappeared and he reverted to the familiar bellowing, foul-mouthed tyrant, plagued by phobias, surrounded by fools and besieged by enemies.
When he was in the throes of a tantrum, he often looked deranged, with his long, unkempt hair, glaring eyes and flecks of saliva around his mouth. But no one would risk even thinking such a thing, lest it show up during auditing. There was a particularly feared phenomenon on the E-meter called a 'rock slam', when the needle wavered violently, apparently indicating a discreditable thought. 'Rock slams' almost inevitably led to long periods of incarceration in an RPF, by then a feature of most of the major orgs.
For those Scientologists who had only ever seen the dozen official pictures of L. Ron Hubbard, seeing him for the first time at La Quinta was something of a shock, as Anne Rosenblum discovered when she arrived to start training as a messenger: 'The first night I was there I didn't talk to LRH since he was busy, but I saw him. He had long reddish-gray hair down past his shoulders, rotting teeth and a really fat gut. He didn't look anything like his pictures. The next day I met
him. He was doing exercises in his courtyard and called me over. I was nervous meeting him. I was really surprised that I didn't feel this "electric something or another" that I was told happens when you are around him.'
Anne had been told that both Mary Sue's pet dogs were 'clear' and that they would bark at anyone who had committed 'overts' (crimes) about the Hubbards. She was dismayed when she walked into Rifle for the first time and one of the dogs came tearing out of Mary Sue's room, barking furiously at her. 'I started walking around wondering what deep, dark terrible overts I had committed on LRH or Mary Sue in this life or past lives.'
Because their loyalty was unquestioned, the messengers knew more about what was going on in Scientology than anyone other than Hubbard and Mary Sue. They knew all about Operation Snow White, for example, because the Hubbards often discussed its Machiavellian twists and turns over dinner. They were also privy to the family's intimate secrets. One afternoon, while Hubbard was away from his office, Doreen Smith came across a pile of letters Quentin had written to his father. She was surprised: she knew the Commodore had not replied to any of them because all his mail went out via the messengers.
'Out of curiosity, I pulled the letters out and read a couple,' she confessed. 'It sounded like Quentin had gone crazy. He was talking about people coming from outer space and what we were going to do about it and how he knew the Marcabs were coming every five thousand years to check on our development. It seemed like he had taken his father's space odyssey stories and plumped them in his own reality. It was real loony tune stuff.' She told no one about this except, of course, all the other messengers.
Doreen was close to the younger Hubbard children and was shocked by Quentin's letters. She was even more shocked by what happened when the Commodore fell out with his youngest daughter, Suzette. 'She was dating another Scientologist but for some reason the Commodore didn't approve of him and so he sent a messenger with $5000 in cash to buy him off. The messenger was told to threaten the guy that he would be declared SP if he didn't take the money and sign an agreement to stop seeing Suzette.
'But the agreement also made it look as if the guy was blackmailing Hubbard and threatening to take her away. That's what Hubbard told Suzette was happening. I was in his office when he called her in and showed her the agreement, shouting things like, "I told you so." Suzette might have seen through it, but she was a toughie. She started dating wogs and then, when she was being audited - auditing is like a confessional - she would describe everything she had done on the date in great detail, knowing that her father would read her folder. It was
1. Affidavit of Anne Rosenblum
her way of getting back at him. The only form of communication she could have with her father was through her auditor.
'He went purple with rage when he read her folder with all that stuff in it and her saying things like, "If my father doesn't like what I'm doing, I don't give a damn." When he had finished reading it, he threw it across the room and then threw a yellow legal pad at me and told me to take down a letter. He started dictating a letter disinheriting Suzette and I began to cry. In the end I said, "I can't do this." I put down the pad and let him have it. "Quentin's dead," I said, "and now you're tearing your family apart. You can't do this to your family and to Mary Sue. If you want to send this letter, write it yourself." Then I excused myself from the watch and ran out. Afterwards, I discovered he tore up the letter. He never did disinherit Suzette.' (Doreen was a particular favourite with the Commodore and one of the few people at Olive Tree Ranch who would have dared suggest he might have made a mistake. He called her 'Do', had a little engraved dog-tag made for her and in rare moments of amiability he would give her an affectionate pat her on the head and say, 'That's my Do.')
Arthur, the youngest of the Hubbard children, was in rather better favour with his father, although he made a pest of himself with everyone else at Olive Tree Ranch by riding his motor-cycle around the property at breakneck speed. 'He was a brat,' said Jim Dincalci. 'All the time.' His talent as an artist was being employed to paint a series of watercolours illustrating incidents in his father's early life, which were to be used in a glossy, coffee-table tome published by the church under the title, What Is Scientology?
There were pictures of little Ron riding on his grandfather's cattle ranch, sitting by a campfire with the Pikuni Indians, journeying 'throughout Asia' at the age of fourteen, as a university student attending one of the first nuclear physics courses and supporting himself as an essayist and technical writer (the caption somehow failed to mention his science fiction). Two paintings showed him crippled and blinded in a naval hospital after the war and a third depicted him miraculously restored to health by the power of mind. Arthur's pictures were unremarkable art, but fascinating inasmuch as they illustrated most of the significant lies told by his father about his life before Scientology.
In the early part of 1977, Hubbard became enthused by a project called the 'Purification Rundown' which he believed would rid the world of drug addiction. His debut as an authority on the subject was marked by the issue of a bulletin in which he warned about the effects of LSD and listed its characteristics, as if after months of research. 'All the information came from one person who had taken LSD once,' said Jim Dincalci. 'That was how he did his research.'
2. Interview with Dincalci
At Hubbard's request, Dincalci put together the elements of the Purification Rundown, a regimen of exercise, diet and vitamins designed to rid the body of toxic substances. Dincalci never thought of it as much more than a simple plan for healthier living, but in the grand arena of the Commodore's fantasies it was transformed into a sensational discovery, the instant solution to the international drugs crisis, the salvation of the world's youth, a beacon of hope for drug addicts everywhere.
Strenuous attempts were made to provide scientific evidence to back up the vivifying claims made for the Purification Rundown and Hubbard was so carried away by his own brilliance that he soon began to dream of a suitable award for his contribution to humanity - a Nobel Prize, for example. He issued a written order to Laurel Sullivan, his personal public relations officer, allocating 'unlimited funds' to a project aimed at getting him a Nobel Prize and inquiries were immediately instituted to see if there were any Scientology connections, or strings that could be pulled, with members of the Nobel nominating committee.
Poor Mary Sue, meanwhile, was floundering in the aftermath of Operation Snow White. The real problem was what do with Michael Meisner, who was growing restive as a fugitive and disenchanted with the efforts of his superiors to resolve his quandary. At one point Mary Sue had considered trying to make him the scapegoat, suggesting he had organized the burglaries in a fit of jealous pique because his wife was doing better as a Scientologist than he was. Another Guardian's Officer suggestion was that the authorities should be told that Meisner was trying to blackmail the church.
After eight months on the run, moving from one secret address to another, Meisner threatened to 'blow'. He was immediately placed under guard. The fugitive had become a captive. On 20 June 1977, while being held at an apartment in Glendale, he gave his guards the slip, changed buses twice to avoid pursuit and went into a bowling alley, from where he telephoned the FBI. He said he wanted to give himself up.
Two days later, the Guardian's Office received a letter from Meisner, postmarked San Francisco, saying that he was lying low for a while to think things over. This information was passed to Mary Sue, who responded: 'I frankly would not waste Bur 1 [Bureau One, the GO investigative division] resources looking for him, but would instead utilize resources to figure out a way to defuse him should he turn traitor.' It was too late. Meisner was already in Washington describing to dumbfounded FBI agents the scope and success of Operation Snow White.
At six o'clock on the morning of 8 July 1977, 134 FBI agents armed
3. Religion, Inc., Stewart Lamont, 1986
with search warrants and sledgehammers, simultaneously broke into the offices of the Church of Scientology in Washington and Los Angeles and carted away 48,149 documents. They would reveal an astonishing espionage system which spanned the United States and penetrated some of the highest offices in the land.
Hubbard's reaction to the raid was true to form: he immediately assumed the Guardian's Office had been penetrated by suppressives. It was clear to him he could now trust no one but the messengers. He also realized that the documents seized by the FBI would inevitably implicate Mary Sue in Operation Snow White and he was acutely aware of the need to put some distance between himself and his wife.
On 15 July, in the middle of the night, a Dodge station wagon pulled out through the high gates of Olive Tree Ranch. To ensure it was not followed, the car showed no lights until it reached Highway 111, the main road between Indio and Palm Springs. Hubbard was slouched on the back seat of the car, grasping his midriff and complaining of stomach pains. With him were three messengers, Diane Reisdorf, Claire Rousseau and one of the few male messengers, Pat Broeker. They headed north on Interstate 5, turning east at Sacramento, across the Sierra Nevada and the state line, through Reno to Sparks, a city of low-rent houses, casinos and motels, situated on the Truckee River. The sun was just rising when they checked into a motel under false names. Their story was that Pat and Claire were married, Diane was their cousin and Hubbard their elderly uncle.
While Hubbard stayed in his room at the motel, Pat went out to look for an apartment. He quickly found somewhere suitably anonymous, paid cash and equipped it with everything they would need for an indefinite stay. The four of them moved in a few days later.
For the remainder of 1977, Hubbard stayed in hiding at Sparks. He cut off all direct communications with the Guardian's Office and his family and relied on his three messengers to maintain secret links with the Church hierarchy. It was not long before they began to run out of money and elaborate arrangements were made for the transfer of cash from Clearwater. Pat Broeker met the DCO/CMO/CW (Deputy Commanding Officer, Commodore's Messenger Organization, Clearwater) at Los Angeles airport where they exchanged identical suitcases. Broeker collected a case containing one million dollars in hundred-dollar bills and returned to Sparks, frequently doubling back to ensure he was not being followed. To further launder the money, the bills were broken down into lower denomination notes in local casinos.
For a man whose activities were under intense investigation by the FBI, Hubbard seemed remarkably insouciant. Most mornings he took a long walk, then spent the rest of the day writing film scripts. He had
an idea for a feature film called Revolt in the Stars, a dramatization of high-level Scientology training about events which happened seventy-five million years ago when an evil ruler by the name of Xenu massacred the populations of seventy-six planets, transported their frozen spirits back to earth and exploded them in volcanoes. He also wanted to make films that could be used for recruiting and instruction within the church and the more he thought about the idea of being a film director, the more he liked it. He was sixty-six years old and had only ever shot home movies, but he did not consider his age or lack of experience to be any kind of drawback.
A few days after Christmas 1977, word arrived at Sparks that the Commodore was unlikely to be indicted as a result of the FBI raid and he decided it was safe to move back to La Quinta. There was just one problem. He suspected that Mary Sue was still under FBI surveillance, so if he returned to Olive Tree Ranch, she would have to move out.
Hubbard arrived back at the ranch on the morning of 2 January 1978 to the ritual rapturous welcome from his followers. He spent a number of hours with Mary Sue behind the closed doors of his study. No one knew what passed between them, but Mary Sue left the ranch that evening at the wheel of her BMW. Next day, Doreen Smith was sent to Los Angeles to help her look for a house.
With the Commodore's return, security was stepped up. Guards with walkie-talkies patrolled the property day and night and were drilled on how to deal with process servers. If a visitor asked for Mr Hubbard, they were to deny all knowledge of him; if someone tried to press papers on them, they were to kick them away. In a real emergency, a button on every walkie-talkie would set off alarms all around the property. At the back of Rifle, a tan-coloured Dodge Dart with a souped-up engine and a full tank of petrol was kept ready for a getaway at all times.
Behind the security screen, the Commodore was directing the setting up of a full-scale film unit. More property was purchased around La Quinta - a ten-acre ranch, code-named Munro, became a barracks for the film unit personnel and a studio was built in a huge barn on the Silver Sand Ranch, a 140-acre grapefruit farm. Lights, dollies, cameras and a vast range of technical equipment were all moved into the new studio. Hubbard took to wearing a cowboy hat, suspenders and a bandana, which he imagined gave him an artistic mien appropriate to a film director.
The Cine Org was to cut its teeth making simple promotional films illustrating various situations in which Scientology could be used beneficially. Hubbard wrote all the scripts and knew exactly what he wanted, but found it infuriatingly difficult to transfer his vision on to
celluloid. Surrounded by an army of enthusiastic amateurs running around desperate to please, nothing seemed to go right. If the actors remembered their lines, the lighting was botched; if the lighting was all right, the sound failed; if the sound was satisfactory, the sets fell down . . . The Commodore's temper worsened day by day.
An appeal had gone out to Scientology branches around the world for volunteers with acting and film-making experience to help Ron in a special project. Among the first to arrive was a middle-aged couple from Las Vegas whose show business experience extended to four performances of their own dance and comedy act at the Sahara Showcase. Adelle and Ernie Hartwell were champion ballroom dancers who had taken a few Scientology courses and had been led to believe that joining the Cine Org would give them their big break.
They were disillusioned from the moment of their arrival. 'I was absolutely shocked', said Ernie, 'to see every one running around in shorts, ragged clothes, dirty and unkempt. They put us in a little three-room shack on the edge of the ranch. We go inside and what a mess! The place was over-run with bugs and insects.'
'The main thing I disliked,' said Adelle, 'was that when we first got there we were programmed on the lies we had to tell. If we ran into one of our friends, we had to tell a lie to them and tell them we were just there for a vacation . . . We were schooled on how to get away from process servers, FBI agents, any government officials or any policeman who wanted anything to do with Hubbard.'
Adelle's introduction to the Commodore was unforgettable. She was working in the wardrobe department when she heard a barrage of abuse from behind a screen: 'You dirty goddam sons of bitches, you're so goddam stupid. Fuck you, you cock-suckers . . .' It seemed to go on for several minutes. 'I had something in my hand and it fell to the floor,' she recalled. 'I said, "Who in the world is that?" They said it was the Boss - we weren't allowed to use the name Hubbard for security reasons. "You mean the leader of the church speaks like that?" I asked. "Oh yes," was the reply. "he doesn't believe in keeping anything back."'
Adelle Hartwell was supposed to be a make-up assistant on a movie called The Unfathomable Man, which chronicled Hubbard's view of mankind from the beginning of time to the present day. She soon learned that Hubbard was a director who like plenty of gore, and gallons of fake blood had to be prepared in advance of every day's shooting. 'Did he ever like those films to be bloody,' she said. 'It was enough to make you sick.
'We'd be shooting a scene and all of a sudden he'd yell, "Stop! Make it more gory." We'd go running out on the set with all this Karo Syrup and food colouring and we'd just dump it all over the actors. Then
we'd film some more and he'd stop it again and say, "It's still not gory enough," and we'd throw some more blood on them.'
On one occasion, when filming a bombing raid on an FBI office - a scene Hubbard very much enjoyed - he ordered so much blood to be poured over the unhappy actors that their clothes became glued to their bodies and had to be cut off by wardrobe assistants.
When the Cine Org was shooting in the studio, all the sets had to be cleaned and scrubbed with special soap every morning before Hubbard arrived and the messengers would go round with white gloves to ensure that it had been done properly. Hubbard had a director's chair that no one else was allowed to sit in and as he was walking around the set a messenger would follow close behind him, ready to put the chair underneath him if he chose to sit down. One unfortunate girl got the positioning wrong by a few inches and as the Commodore sat down he missed the chair and sprawled on the floor. No one laughed: it was not wise to laugh at the Commodore. The girl was immediately despatched to the RPF.
Despite the somewhat desperate desire on everyone's part that the Cine Org should succeed, its films were in no danger of winning Oscars. One of the fundamental problems was that the scripts, although no one would admit it, were as amateurish as everything else. Narratives tended to begin, 'From the beginning of history, Man has searched for truth . . .' and many of the roles were wooden stereotypes or ludicrous caricatures reflecting Hubbard's multitude of prejudices. One film, titled The Problems of Life, featured a perplexed young couple searching for a meaning to their lives. They first consulted a psychiatrist, predictably portrayed as a demented sadist, then sought advice from a scientist, who was shown madly scribbling theorems on a blackboard as if completely insane. Finally they approached a beaming Scientologist and concluded they were at last in the right place. Subtlety was not one of Hubbard's more obvious talents as a scriptwriter.
'The trouble was that he wanted to make movies that would take over Hollywood,' said Kima Douglas, 'but they were terrible, really terrible. The crew would have to do scenes over and over again before he was satisfied. Occasionally the day would end up with a "Fine, well done everybody", but more often there were tantrums and he'd storm off the set screaming that it had better be right tomorrow.'
Gerry Armstrong was put in charge of set building. 'It was all hokey, worse than high school,' he said. 'When we were shooting films he was the most abusive I have ever seen him, screaming and yelling all the time. People were running around terrified. He'd cover up his own incompetence by attacking everyone else. The guy had poor eyesight and he was running the cameras, so the shots were often out
4. Affidavits of Adelle & Ernest Hartwell, St Petersburg Times, 9 Jan 1980
5. Interview with Douglas
of focus and he'd scream at the cameraman, "You can't frame a shot!" Or he'd hear a hum on the microphone and start yelling, "Sound! Sound! You fucking idiots! Get off the set!"'
Faithful Jim Dincalci was by this time convinced that Hubbard was unbalanced and he asked to be relieved of his post on the Commodore's staff. He was immediately ostracized. 'For two months Hubbard would not even acknowledge my existence. He would not say hello or even nod at me. On the set in the morning he would say hello to everyone and deliberately skip me.' Dincalci was also less inclined to believe the Commodore's stories of his past life adventures: 'A friend of mine, Brian Livingstone, told me one time that Hubbard had finished [reading] a book and passed it on to him to read. He started reading it that night and next day he heard Hubbard talking about a lifetime where he had done these various things and Brian had just read about the same things in the book!'
Hubbard knew little of what was happening to Mary Sue during this period because the messengers censored her letters in order to avoid upsetting the Commodore. If Mary Sue sent bad news, the messengers cut out the offending passages with a razor blade, believing it to be their duty to keep such problems 'off his lines'. But they naturally read all Mary Sue's communications themselves and were certainly not above gossip. On one occasion she wrote to ask, plaintively, why Ron spent so much time with 'his people' and so little time with her. 'I understand you're trying to save the world,' she wrote, 'but I need some time, too.' The contents of that letter were soon common knowledge all round Olive Tree Ranch.
In truth, Mary Sue had much to complain about, because she had no doubt that she was going to have to take the rap for Operation Snow White. 'Hubbard abandoned her', said Ken Urquhart, 'and made it quite clear within the org that he had abandoned her. It's the one thing I find hard to forgive - that he was prepared to allow his wife to go to jail for crimes he was equally guilty of. After the FBI raid I was put to work making up reports to show that he did not know what was going on. In other words, I was to cover his ass. He was privy to almost all of it and was as guilty as Mary Sue.
On 15 August 1978, a federal grand jury in Washington indicted nine Scientologists on twenty-eight counts of conspiring to steam government documents, theft of government documents, burglarizing government offices, intercepting government communications, harbouring a fugitive, making false declarations before a grand jury and conspiring to obstruct justice. Heading the list of those indicted was Mary Sue Hubbard. She faced a maximum penalty, if convicted, of 175 years in prison and a fine of $40,000. On 29 August, all nine
6. Interview with Armstrong
7. Interview with Urquhart
defendants were arraigned in the federal courthouse at the foot of Capitol Hill and pleaded not guilty.
A few days later, Hubbard collapsed while he was filming on location in the desert. 'The temperature was somewhere between 118 and 122 degrees,' said Kima Douglas. 'I had been watching the old man out there wheezing and struggling for breath, with flecks around his mouth. It was crazy; I knew he wouldn't be able to take it much longer. We always had a motor home at the location - he'd have his lunch in it and sometimes have a lie-down while the set was being prepared. This particular day he came back to the motor home and said he didn't feel well. His pulse was extremely erratic and his blood pressure was way up. I thought he was going to die and said that we ought to get him to hospital. He gripped my arm and said, "This time, no!"'
Hubbard was taken back to Olive Tree Ranch, apparently slipping in and out of a coma. At one point he muttered to Kima, 'If I die, bury me in the date field.' A Scientologist doctor, Gene Denk, was summoned from Los Angeles and driven to the ranch blindfolded but he seemed unsure what was wrong with the Commodore. Hubbard had always said that he only got ill because his enemies were pushing bad energy on him; it was just something saviours had to put up with, he would explain with a shrug. Auditing was the way to exorcize bad energy.
David Mayo, the senior case supervisor in Clearwater, did not know where he was going or what he had to do. All he was told was that an urgent, top-secret telex had arrived at the CMO instructing him to be on the next flight to Los Angeles. He was given twenty minutes to get to the airport and didn't even have time to say goodbye to his wife. No one was to know that he had gone. It was nightfall when he arrived at Los Angeles airport. He was met by a Scientologist he vaguely recognized and hurried out to a waiting car, which swept out of the airport complex and up on to Los Angeles' bewildering network of freeways. Neither of the men in the car would tell Mayo where they were taking him. Somewhere on the outskirts of the city they stopped at a parking lot and switched cars. Half an hour later, in another parking lot, Mayo was bundled into a third car and this time he was blindfolded. He asked what was going on and the driver replied: 'We're taking you to LRH. He's sick. Keep the blindfold on until we arrive.'
Mayo was dismayed when he was at last ushered into the Commodore's room at Rifle. 'He was obviously very ill, lying on his back almost in a coma. He could talk a little, but very slowly and quietly. There was medical equipment all round him, including an electric pulse machine to re-start his heart. Denk told me he thought LRH
was close to death. He would have moved him into a hospital but he thought the ride in the ambulance might finish him off. I was given his PC folders and told to solve the problem. I started looking through the folders that night and began auditing him next day.'
Hubbard slowly recovered, proving the wondrous efficacy of auditing to everyone at Olive Tree Ranch except, perhaps, the Commodore's auditor. Mayo was deeply disturbed by what he learned during his daily auditing sessions with Hubbard: 'He revealed things about himself and his past which absolutely contradicted what we had been told about him. He wasn't taking any great risk because I was a loyal and trusted subject and had a duty to keep such things confidential.
'It wasn't just what I discovered about his past. I didn't care where he was born or what he had done in the war, it didn't mean a thing to me. I wasn't a loyal Scientologist because he had an illustrious war record. What worried me was when I saw things he did and heard statements he made that showed his intentions were different from what they appeared to be. When I was with him messengers often arrived with suitcases full of money, wads of hundred-dollar bills. Yet he had always said and written that he had never received a penny from Scientology. He would ask to see it, the messenger would open the case and he'd gloat over it for a bit before it was put away in a safe in his bedroom. He didn't really spend much, so I guess it was getaway money. I didn't mind the idea of him having money or being rich. I thought he had done tremendous wonders and should be well paid for it. But why did have to lie about it?
'I slowly began to realize that he wasn't acting in the public good or for the benefit of mankind. It might have started out like that, but it was no longer so. One day we were talking about the price of gold, or something like that, and he said to me, very emphatically, that he was obsessed by an insatiable lust for power and money. I'll never forget it. Those were his exact words, "an insatiable lust for power and money".'
By the middle of October, the Commodore was back on his feet, back making movies. Mayo was ordered to be an actor and was appalled by Hubbard's behaviour on the set. 'He walked around with an electric bullhorn yelling orders through it even if the person was only a few feet away. The crew were in a constant state of fear. He'd say he wanted a certain set built and describe it. Everyone would work in a frenzied state to get it done, often through the night, not stopping for meals and praying it would be right and that they would not get into trouble. When he arrived to begin shooting he invariably decided he didn't like it. It had been altered; he wanted it blue, not green. Some of the crew would be sent to the RPF and others would be
8. Interview with Mayo
running around trying to find some blue paint. Then he'd want to know why it was blue and not yellow.
'When I was trying to be an actor I'd have to do the same line over and over again. It was never right. It was too loud, too quiet, too intense, not intense enough. Then he'd scream, "Why aren't you doing it enthusiastically?" He'd end up stamping off, screaming that it was all impossible and that no one would do what he said. One of the main reasons why he got sick, I think, was that he had so many failures and so much frustration and upset over the movies. Everyone was tip-toeing around waiting for explosions.
'One incident was quite dramatic and revelatory. During a period when things had got very, very bad, some of the crew tried to lighten things up by making a little video recording intended as a joke. It was a humorous skit on an incident that had happened a couple of days earlier. They thought it would amuse him and sent him the video tape. I was standing outside his office waiting to see him when he played it. There was a tremendous explosion. He started yelling and screaming and messengers began running in and out. He was literally shouting at the television. He didn't think it was funny at all. He thought he was being held up to ridicule and that the crew were mocking him and he was furious. Messengers were sent to find the names of everyone involved and they were all sent to the RPF. Then he thought that there were people who were not directly involved but might know about it and he wanted their names and they were sent to the RPF as well.'
Cine Org members assigned to the RPF were sent to work on quarter pay - $4.00 a week - at a recently acquired property about forty miles from La Quinta which was to be the Commodore's 'summer headquarters'. Gilman Hot Springs was a faded resort straddling Route 79 between Riverside and Palm Springs. Its 550 acres boasted a yellowing golf course, a decrepit motel, the Massacre Canyon Inn, and a collection of miscellaneous buildings in various states of disrepair, one of them a house satirically named 'Bonnie View'. The entire property had been purchased for $2.7 million cash and local people were told it was going to be used by members of an organization called the 'Scottish Highland Quietude Club'.
Hubbard had not seen the place but declared an ultimate intention to move into Bonnie View and the RPF was toiling to prepare the house for him, ripping out the vents, tiling the floors, painting and decorating and vainly attempting to create a dust-free and odourless habitat. It was honest labour much preferable to the stress and hysteria prevalent in the Cine Org, which by then employed around 150 people.
Like almost every episode in Hubbard's life, the Cine Org ended in
sudden collapse and farce. The Hartwells, the stage-struck ballroom dancers who thought they were breaking into show business, had disentangled themselves by the end of 1978 and returned to Las Vegas, poorer but wiser. Ernie Hartwell did not particularly want to stir up any trouble but he thought that the church was trying to entice Dell back and break up his marriage. He was a straight-talking Navy veteran who worked in a casino and was not the kind of guy to be cowed by 'kids running around in sailor suits', which was his favourite description of Scientologists. He began threatening to go to the FBI and the newspapers and telling everything he knew. Actually he did not know much, other than the best-kept secret in Scientology - the whereabouts of L. Ron Hubbard.
Ed Walters, the agent who had 'handled' Quentin's suicide, was ordered to 'handle' Hartwell. 'I'll never forget sitting in the local Guardian's Office the day I brought Ernie in,' said Walters. 'These two young kids who've never met Hubbard are sitting there and they obviously think that Hartwell's a liar. One of them says, "You don't know what you're talking about. You say you actually met Ron Hubbard . . ." Ernie says, "Yeah, I was with him down in the desert." "Well, if you met him," says the GO guy, "how would you describe him?" I knew that what he meant was how did Hubbard look, but Ernie says, "How would I describe him? I'd describe him as fucking nuts."
'My heart was pumping. No one talks like that about LRH. The GO people were stunned. To them it proved that Ernie was a liar. I said, "Well, Ernie, you don't really mean that he's nuts, do you?" He says, "Yeah!" So I asked him to give me an example, hoping to tone it down a bit. "Are you kidding?" He says. "One day we get there and he's playing director with all these kids following him around. He starts screaming at the wall, he says there's supposed to be shelves there and why aren't there shelves there. So one of his people turns to me and says put some shelves there. So I say OK, I need a hammer, nails and wood. Then this fucking kid just says to me make it go right."
'To tell someone "make it go right" was typical Scientology-speak. I knew then that he was telling the truth.'
Walters liked Ernie Hartwell and tried, over the next couple of days, to dissuade him from carrying out his threats. 'Next thing that happens,' he said, 'was that the GO sent some people to tell me to stay out of it. They were going to handle Hartwell. They were not going to allow Hubbard to be exposed by this man and they insinuated they would destroy him if they had to. Ernie was just a troubled old guy off the street who should never have been in Scientology in the first place. How could they think of destroying someone like that? Something just went off inside me.'
9. Interview with Walters
Walters began telephoning his closest friends in Scientology, among them Art Maren, to tell them he was thinking of getting out. Maren rushed to Las Vegas and begged Ed to re-consider. It dawned on Walters, with a sense of deep shock, that his friend Artie was frightened. Next day Walters went to the FBI.
Alarm bells were already ringing at Olive Tree Ranch, where someone had been seen taking photographs of the property. Hubbard reacted as he always reacted in a crisis: he fled.
The chosen getaway vehicle was a white customized Dodge Ram van with darkened windows, fitted out inside with a bed, CB radio and the latest stereo system. Hubbard had had it made so that he could sleep on long journeys by road, but it served the purpose for which it was now needed - to get him out of Olive Tree Ranch unseen.
Kima and Mike Douglas were again chosen to go with him. They left at nightfall, with the Commodore in his usual state of paranoid hysteria. 'As we drove up into the San Jacinto Mountains,' said Kima, 'he was lying on the bed in the back, alternately urging Mike to drive faster and complaining that he was feeling sick. We were already tearing round these hairpin bends as fast as we could, but he kept repeating, "We've got to get out of here. Go faster, Go faster."'
They checked into an isolated motel up in the mountains and Hubbard stayed in his room while the Douglas's went out every day looking for a place where they could set up yet another secret base for the Commodore. They eventually found several adjoining apartments for rent in new building just off the main street in Hemet, a small town on the west side of the mountains. Hubbard moved in at the end of March 1979, along with a slimmed-down staff of messengers and aides.
In many ways, Hemet was an ideal place to hide. It was a sleepy little farming town, surrounded by orange groves and unremarkable in every way except perhaps for its resemblance to a Rockwell painting. Its main street signs reflected quiet respectability, small-town values and quintessential Americana: Sun-up Milk Drive-In; Dollar Saver; Smile Jesus Loves You; Hemet Retirement Home; Happy Birthday Doug & Laura; Virgin Mortuary; Hemet Hotel Pets Welcome; Gun Shop; Church of the Open Bible . . . The Commodore's new base was behind Lee's Acupuncture Clinic, adjacent to a Pick 'n' Save supermarket and a drive-in McDonald's.
In this amiable suburban setting, an extraordinary security cordon was tightened around the man whose name was not now allowed to be mentioned. Within Scientology, Hubbard's new location was known only as 'X'. The summer headquarters at Gilman Hot Springs was only fourteen miles distant, to the north, but no one was allowed to travel directly between the two places. Mike Douglas, one of the few
people with authority to make regular journeys between Hemet and Gilman, clocked up 120 miles each time.
Inside the apartments behind the acupuncture clinic, a skilful alarm system was devised, with buzzers and red lights everywhere. All the staff were drilled regularly so they knew what to do if strangers arrived at the door - they had to deny all knowledge of L. Ron Hubbard, of course, but they also had to try and act normally while the Commodore was being hustled out through a back escape route to a getaway car that would always be ready in a garage opening on to a different street.
Once all the security precautions were in place, Hubbard relaxed and settled down to enjoy life in Hemet. Although he occasionally threw his food across the room when he believed the cook was trying to poison him, by and large he was better tempered than he had been when he was trying to make movies. He usually got up about midday, audited himself for an hour and then dealt with whatever correspondence the messengers had decided he should see. In the afternoons he devoted several hours to taping lectures and mixing suitable background music, and in the evenings he watched television and reminisced to a small, but always attentive, audience.
'I believed the stories he told were true for him,' said Kima Douglas. 'He was a good story-teller and it was nice to listen to him. He told us once how he was Tamburlaine's wife and how he had wept when Tamburlaine was routed in his last great battle. Another time he vas on a disabled spaceship that landed here before life began and realized the potential and brought seeds back from another planet to fertilize planet earth. I didn't see why that couldn't be true.'
David Mayo recalled sitting on the floor with a couple of messengers while the Commodore played hill-billy songs on his guitar and talked bout the time he had earned his living as a troubadour in the Blue Mountains. 'I think he made up the songs as he went along,' said Mayo. 'Afterwards, everyone clapped.'
After several weeks at Hemet, Hubbard began venturing out into the town in a variety of extraordinary disguises. He had a baseball cap with false hair sewn into it, plastic padding to change the shape of his face and stage make-up to alter the colour of his eyebrows and sideburns. 'He always thought he looked wonderful,' said Kima, 'but he usually looked like a funny old man. I always thought it would have been safer to dress him up like a nonentity, but he would never have it. He always wanted to wear his hat at an angle, kind of jaunty, display a bit of panache. He was fun like that. He'd walk down the main street, always followed by a couple of messengers, little girls in white shorts or tight, tight jeans and he thought he looked like one of he locals, but he never did.'
Hubbard knew so little about contemporary America that he considered shopping malls to be a wondrous innovation and he would spend hours wandering around them, buying plastic trinkets. Although he never spent much when he was out shopping, he was investing huge sums in stocks, precious stones and gold. Michael Douglas had been appointed the Commodore's 'finance officer' and was managing an enormous portfolio of stocks running into millions of dollars. There were bags of gold coins and diamonds stuffed in two safes at the Hemet apartments and more jewels were lodged in the vaults of a local bank.
Through the summer months of 1979, Hubbard followed closely the progress of the battery of lawyers which was fighting to prevent Mary Sue and her co-defendants from being brought to trial. In the intimacy of the Hemet hideaway, he made no secret of his intention to sever all his connections with his wife. He frequently asserted that he had never known anything about what Mary Sue was doing and whined about the fact that she was getting him into trouble. Everyone knew it was a lie.
David Mayo was sent to see Mary Sue at her house off Mulholland Drive in Los Angeles, to suggest that she might consider a divorce. 'She was really offended and very upset,' said Mayo. 'I thought she was going to blow my head off. I went back several times later to make sure that she wasn't going to rat on him. That's what he was really worried about, that she would reveal during the case that she was only relaying his orders. She had covered up for him so much, and there had been so many opportunities for her to betray him, that she couldn't believe he would think that. She kept saying to me, "What is he worried about?" I thought to myself, "My God, I can't tell her."'
Hubbard, still not convinced that he could trust his wife, decided to risk meeting her himself at Gilman Hot Springs. At summer headquarters, no one was supposed to know that the Commodore was visiting, although it was not hard to guess since a working party was assigned to spend two days scrubbing 'Bonnie View' and polishing all surfaces by hand. Mary Sue was told to go to a hotel in Riverside and wait to be picked up by Kima Douglas, who drove her on a roundabout route to Gilman, checking all the time that they were not being followed. Hubbard arrived on the bed in the back of the Dodge Ram, which drove through the gates of the resort at high speed. Waiting guards immediately put a chain across the entrance. No messengers were present during the meeting, so no one knew what was discussed and no one saw either the Commodore or his wife leave the property.
Mary Sue never betrayed her husband, but then she had never intended to. The trial was scheduled for 24 September in Washington,
but the government prosecutors and defence attorneys were still bargaining at that date and a stay was granted. On 8 October, in an unusual legal manoeuvre, an agreement was reached that the nine defendants would plead guilty to one count each if the government presented a written statement of its case, thereby avoiding a lengthy trial.
On 26 October, US District Judge Charles R. Richey accordingly found the nine Scientologists guilty on one count each of the indictment. Mary Sue and two others were fined the maximum of $10,000 and jailed for five years. The remaining defendants received similar fines and prison sentences of between one and four years. Sentencing Mary Sue, the judge told her: 'We have a precious system of government in the United States . . . For anyone to use those laws, or to seek under the guise of those laws, to destroy the very foundation of the government is totally wrong and cannot be condoned by any responsible citizen.' All the defendants indicated an intention to appeal on the grounds that the evidence against them had been obtained illegally.
Scientology lawyers were still hoping to prevent the damning documents seized in the FBI raids, currently under seal, from being released. But on 23 November, the day after Thanksgiving, the appellate court ordered the seal to be lifted and began releasing the documents, much to the delight of newspapers and television stations throughout the United States. At last they were able to report the astonishing details of Operation Snow White and give the public a peek into the strange and secretive world of the Church of Scientology.
Exposed and vilified in headlines across the nation, Hubbard became morose, suspicious and fearful once again for his safety. Kima and Mike Douglas had finally asked themselves what they were doing at Hemet and had 'blown the org'. The departure of two such long-standing and trusted aides made the Commodore nervous about the loyalty of everyone around him, except for Pat Broeker, the messenger who had accompanied him to Sparks, Nevada, and his new wife Annie, also a messenger. The Broekers were flattered and pleased to become the Commodore's closest confidantes.
Hubbard's grip on reality, always tenuous, slipped further. He issued orders for plans to be prepared for a new house somewhere near Hemet. It was to be, an aide reported, in 'a non-black area, dust-free, defensible, with no surrounding higher areas and built on bedrock'. It was also to be surrounded by a high wall with 'openings for gun emplacements'.
At the end of February 1980, a few days before his sixty-ninth birthday, Hubbard disappeared with Annie and Pat Broeker.
He was never seen again.
10. Jon Atack archives