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10 Strange Deaths Connected to the Church of Scientology
Science fiction writer L. Ron Hubbard founded the Church of Scientology in 1952. One of the main beliefs of the church is that a person’s soul is already damaged, and the goal of someone’s life is to shed harmful memories to better themselves through a process called auditing. Souls are damaged because the souls of 3.5 trillion aliens were banished to Earth by a warlord named Xenu. The aliens, called thetans, were put into volcanoes and then destroyed by nuclear bombs.
Needless to say, Scientology is a religion with unorthodox beliefs. It has also had some concerning and unusual deaths connected to it.
10 Shawn Lonsdale
One notable nemesis of the Church of Scientology was Shawn Lonsdale, who lived in Clearwater, Florida, home to the Spiritual Headquarters of Scientology. Lonsdale first got on the church’s bad side in 2006 when he started videotaping Scientology workers outside their offices and then airing the footage on public access television. Lonsdale was also known to stand outside the church’s headquarters with a sign that said “Cult Watch.”
At other times, he got into arguments with church members, including a shoving match. Lonsdale charged the man, but the case was thrown out because it looked like Lonsdale was just as aggressive as the man who attacked him. Lonsdale’s interaction with the church became so notorious that he was even interviewed by the BBC program Panorama about the church.
Looking to silence him, the church hired a private investigator to dig into Lonsdale’s past. The sleuth found that he had two convictions from 1999 and 2000, both misdemeanor convictions related to having sex with men in public. Using the information, the church plastered fliers around town with Lonsdale’s mug shot, warning people of him, and they made mention of his two convictions. Members of the church also called his landlord and his employer and told them that he was a religious bigot who was possibly dangerous.
On February 16, 2008, neighbors called the police to report a terrible odor from Lonsdale’s house. The police entered the house and found Lonsdale, who was 39, dead. A garden hose led from his car into his house, and his death was ruled a suicide.
9 Patrice Vic
Patrice and Nelly Vic of Lyon, France, received a brochure about Scientology that convinced Patrice to give it a try. He was involved with them for a short time, and even though Nelly thought that the group was harassing them, Patrice agreed to meet with Jean-Jacques Mazier, the head of the Lyon chapter, on March 23, 1988. While in the meeting, Mazier pressured Patrice to do a “purification” treatment for 30,000 francs (US$6,000). Mazier insisted that Patrice go through with it, even suggesting that they take out a bank loan if they didn’t have the money. Nelly refused, and the couple returned home and continued to bicker.
Patrice demanded to see Nelly’s pay stubs, and she refused. Throughout the night, Patrice tossed and turned until about 5:00 AM. Then the father of two got out of bed, said, “Don’t stop me; it’s the only way,” and jumped out the window of the family’s 12th-floor apartment. He did not survive the fall.
Eight years later, Mazier and 22 other church members were charged in connection with the death. The church slammed the trial, saying that Scientology, which is considered a cult in France, was on trial and that the trial was a sham. Nevertheless, Mazier was found guilty of involuntary manslaughter and given 18 months in prison. Twelve others involved with the church were charged with theft, complicity, and abuse of confidence. They were given suspended sentences that ranged from 8 to 15 months. The charges against the remaining 10 members were dropped.
8 Quentin Hubbard
Born January 6, 1954, Quentin Hubbard was the eldest son of L. Ron and his third wife, Mary Sue. Ron had seven children altogether, and his oldest son, Ron Jr., was supposed to take over the church’s leadership after Ron passed away. But Ron Jr. left the church in 1959, so Ron chose Quentin to be his successor. Quentin, however, didn’t really take Scientology seriously, even though he had risen to be one of the top-ranking auditors. (Auditors guide people through processes so that they can be considered “clear,” a state in which Scientologists believe they are free of inhibitions that are caused by painful images in their subconscious.)
Saying something like this was one of the worst things that you could do in the church, even if you were the leader’s son, and Quentin was told he would have to hand over his credentials and start all over again. This type of re-training would take years, but Quentin didn’t seem to care. That night, Quentin disappeared from the Scientology compound in Clearwater, Florida. He left behind a rambling note about UFOs and said he was going to Area 51 in Nevada to fly spy planes. Three hundred operatives from the church’s Guardian Office, a Scientology organization comparable to the CIA and KGB, were sent to find him.
On October 28th, the Las Vegas police found a white Pontiac without license plates. A young man was unconscious inside. The engine was still running, and there was a tube running from the exhaust pipe into the car. The young man, who didn’t have any identification on him, appeared to have had sex sometime before he lost consciousness as there was semen in his rectum. He stayed in a coma until November 12th, when he finally passed away.
On November 22nd, the body was identified as that of Quentin Hubbard. Apparently, when Ron was given the report on his son’s death, he said, “That little s–t has done it to me again!” The first autopsy said Quentin had died from asphyxiation from carbon monoxide. Mary Sue was devastated and ordered three more autopsies to be performed. The final one came back as inconclusive. Mary Sue also told people Quentin had died from encephalitis, which is an inflammation of the brain. Hubbard believed that the death was a murder to get at him. Others believe that Quentin may have committed suicide because he was gay, a violation of the teachings of Scientology.
L. Ron Hubbard died 10 years later, and David Miscavige became the leader of the church, a position he holds to this day.
7Theresa Duncan and Jeremy Blake
Forty-year-old Theresa Duncan and her boyfriend of 12 years, 35-year-old Jeremy Blake, were well-respected artists and bloggers who started dating in New York, then moved to Los Angeles in 2002 before returning to New York in 2007. By the time they returned, they were both acting paranoid. For example, they claimed that Scientologists were terrorizing them.
While a joint paranoid psychosis is quite possible, Duncan and Blake did have a real connection with the church. Blake had designed an album cover for a famous Scientologist, the singer-songwriter Beck. It was during this time that the couple started to talk more about Scientology. It was also during this time that the couple got a two-movie picture deal with Fox Searchlight. They planned to make a movie called Alice Underground, which would star Beck. Then Beck said in an interview that he never agreed to act in the film.
That may not have been exactly true. Beck did say in an Italian newspaper that he was excited to make his acting debut in a movie with a very similar plot to Alice Underground and that it would be directed by a first-time director who was a friend of his. According to emails from Duncan to a friend, Beck apparently wanted to use the movie in New York to get away from the Los Angeles–centric Church of Scientology. But since Beck said he never planned on doing the movie, it folded and moved to another studio. After losing the film, Blake wrote a 27-page document for an intended lawsuit against none other than Tom Cruise, whom Blake blamed for the movie failing.
With their lives seemingly out of control, Blake found Duncan’s lifeless body in their apartment on July 10th. She had overdosed on over-the-counter medication. A week to the day after Duncan’s death, Blake went to Rockaway Beach in Queens, undressed, and walked into the Atlantic Ocean. A business card was found saying, “I am going to join the lovely Theresa.” His body was found five days later.
One final oddity about the story surrounds the authorship of the high-profile article of the deaths for Vanity Fair. One writer was taken off the story after writer Nancy Jo Sales was put on it. What’s weird is that Sales had an unusual personal connection to the story. When the couple moved to New York, they rented an apartment (the one Duncan would eventually die in) in an Episcopalian church. The priest of that church was Sales’s ex-husband. People have questioned why someone personally involved in a case like that would write the story. One strange theory is that Scientologists secretly had an editor working at Vanity Fair and that Sales was put on the story to distance the Church of Scientology from the deaths.
“The Golden Suicides,” as they have come to be called, are still unresolved. Was the couple experiencing joint psychosis and paranoia? Or were Scientologists, who have a history of secrecy and harassment, actually terrorizing the couple? After all, people like Duncan and Blake are exactly the type of people the church wants to attract. Just how sinister were their deaths?
In 1982, Heber Jentzsch became the president of the Church of Scientology International. Two years later, his wife, Karen de la Carriere, gave birth to the couple’s only child, Alexander. The couple’s relationship with the leader of the church, David Miscavige, was apparently rocky. According to de la Carriere, Miscavige forced Heber to divorce her in 1989.
Over the years, Heber was the face of the church, but in 2004, he had fallen out of favor with Miscavige, and he was forced to go to “The A to E Room,” now known simply as “The Hole” (pictured above) at the International Base in Los Angeles. The Hole is described as an office prison with bars on the windows and the doors, where 60–100 executives, both male and female, are forced to stay all day and all night. They only leave the room to go to the showers. The rest of the time is spent doing intense training and confessing. In 2010, Karen de la Carriere, a 40-year member of the church who studied directly under Hubbard, spoke out against the church due to her husband’s treatment. For that, she was ex-communicated. Her son, Alexander, cut her out of her life, and de la Carriere never spoke to him again.
On the night of July 1, 2012, 27-year-old Alexander went to bed at his in-laws’ home. The next morning, they noticed him sleeping in the bed but didn’t see him get up. Twelve hours later, at 9:00 PM, they saw that he was still motionless in the bed. He was discovered unresponsive the next morning, which was July 3rd, by his father-in-law. Instead of getting help right away, his father-in-law drove a child to school, returned home, and then finally called 911. Alexander was taken to the hospital and pronounced dead.
Members of the church were told (before the coroner had even finished investigating) that Alexander had died from a reaction to a “prescribed painkiller.” The official cause of death was listed as a combination of methadone and pneumonia.
What is so strange about Alexander’s death is that the church tried to keep it a secret. Shortly after the death, Alexander’s wife had his body cremated before Alexander’s mother could see the body. They weren’t going to do a memorial service but then decided to do a private one after the death garnered media attention. Karen de la Carriere was not allowed to attend. Heber Jentzsch was allowed to attend the funeral of his son, and he gave a eulogy. It was the first time that Heber had been seen at a church function since 2004, but he has yet to be seen in public again. According to one of Heber’s brothers, Heber said he thinks he won’t ever get out of The Hole alive.
5 Edward McBride
Thirty-year-old Edward McBride was training to be a Special Forces commando with the Australian Army when he decided to withdraw in 2005 because he had injured his knees. He lodged two complaints and applied for a medical discharge during that time, but it would take four months for that to happen.
Around the same time that he injured himself, McBride was getting heavily involved in Scientology. In August 2006, McBride took out a $20,000 bank loan to pay for three classes. By the time he finished the classes, he was going to church three nights a week and all day Saturday. He was also going through the auditing process. The last part of the process involved being measured by an electropsychometer, or an “E-meter” (pictured above). This is a low-level electrical reader that, according to Scientologists, detects changes in the human psyche.
On February 7, 2007, two days after finishing the auditing process and the day before the E-meter test, McBride, who was a trained electrician, threw a rope over an electrical tower and caused a 110,000-volt charge to surge through his body. The explosion was so strong that it left burn marks 10 meters (33 ft) away.
When piecing McBride’s final hours together, the state coroner asked the Church of Scientology for the files on McBride, but they refused and shipped the files to the United States. The coroner found out that in the last 48 hours of his life, McBride had been called or texted 19 times by members of the church. The police said many of the calls were “forceful in nature,” demanding that he return for the final test and saying that L. Ron Hubbard would disapprove of McBride’s actions. When the members of the church were interviewed, they claimed that they just encouraged McBride to come in and finish administrative work. However, the police countered that the messages sounded much more urgent and aggressive than the church members made them out to be. The police wanted to know what difference it would make if he postponed it for a day?
The Church of Scientology denied any wrongdoing in McBride’s death, and the church was never charged in connection with his death.
In 1970, Susan Meister joined the Church of Scientology and seemed to be happy. She got more involved, and in 1971, she went to live on their ship Apollo, which was just off the coast of Morocco. In 1967, Hubbard had started the Sea Organization, a group of facilities on boats used to train its most dedicated members. Apollo was one of those ships.
On June 25, 1971, Susan apparently shot herself. Her father, George Meister, flew to Morocco to find out more information. When he went to the church, they refused to show him his 23-year-old daughter’s body. Instead, they only showed him a picture of her body. She had died from a gunshot wound in the middle of her forehead, and on her chest, the gun was clutched in both hands. George said that it would not have been possible for Susan to shoot herself in the middle of the forehead and still hold on to the gun with both hands on her chest.
George Meister returned home after four days without seeing his daughter’s body, and for the next several months, he and the church fought over Susan’s body. Her body was not shipped back to the United States until December 1971. After being shipped home, an official from the church offered George a settlement, and George rejected it. He thought it was odd that the Church of Scientology would make him an offer because if Susan’s death was just a suicide like they claimed, why would they need to make a settlement?
After George rejected the settlement, he said that he and his wife started getting threatening phone calls, saying that they were going to get the same thing their daughter got.
3 Mary Florence ‘Flo’ Barnett
In 1981, Michelle “Shelly” Barnett, a longtime Scientologist, married David Miscavige (pictured above), who worked directly under L. Ron Hubbard. After Hubbard died in 1986, Miscavige became the leader of the church, a position he still holds.
On September 8, 1985, Shelly’s mother and David’s mother-in-law, Mary Florence “Flo” Barnett, was found shot to death. She had been shot three times with a long-range rifle, twice in the chest and once in the head. Despite the number of gun wounds, the death was ruled a suicide. Flo had previously attempted suicide, and her wrists had fresh slashes that were healing. Despite that bit of history, it’s a bit baffling to conclude that the 51-year-old woman, who was 160 centimeters (5’3″) tall and weighed just 51 kilograms (113 lb), fired four shots and hit herself three times with a long-range rifle.
After the death, not much was made of the case. That was until 1991, when Time released an expose on Scientology that led to a court hearing about the church’s policies and practices. According to court documents, a former high-ranking church executive testified that Flo had joined a splinter group that opposed Miscavige. At the same trial, another former member of the church confirmed that Flo was part of the splinter group at the time of her death. Also, according to multiple witnesses, both Miscavige and Shelly were disgusted with Flo. After she was dead, Miscavige supposedly said, “The bitch got what she deserved.”
David Miscavige denied in court that he had anything to do with the suicide. None of the evidence, including the medical and police reports, points to him as a suspect. It’s also interesting to note that Shelly has been off the radar for a while. While the Los Angeles Police Department confirmed that she was alive in 2013, she has not been seen in public since August 2007. AS of this 2021 update, Shelly still has not been seen.
2 Penelope Edwards and Troy Dunn
Kenneth Wayne Thompson is accused of using a hatchet to bludgeon his sister-in-law and her boyfriend to death and setting the house on fire to destroy any evidence. He used a novel defense to keep him from receiving the death penalty—Scientology made him do it. In March 2012, Thompson drove from Missouri to Arizona to rescue his nephew. He felt that the boy’s spiritual well-being was in danger.
His defense attempted to use Scientology to explain Thompson’s actions as rational if viewed through the religion’s tenets. His defense attorney argued that Thompson became a Scientologist as a child, following his mother’s marriage to a devotee. As such, when Thompson learned that his nephew was undergoing mental health treatments—which is anathema to Scientology—he knew he had to save the boy. Thompson, as a Scientologist, would have thought that the medication the child was being given subjected him to irreparable harm, his attorney said.
When he arrived at this sister-in-law’s house, he entered and killed her and her boyfriend, using a hatchet and a knife he had purchased that morning. He poured acid over the bodies and used flares and diesel fuel to set the house on fire. Edwards’s body was found with 22 wounds to the head and neck, police said, some showing evidence of chopping. Her jugular vein was severed, according to court documents. Dunn also suffered multiple head wounds caused by something sharp, police said. Then Thompson got back on the freeway and headed east toward Missouri.
An Arizona trooper stopped Thompson, and after searching the car, he found the bloody hatchet and some long human hair. Thompson was arrested. At trial, he claimed he arrived to find the couple strung out on heroin, and he only acted in self-defense. On Feb. 20, 2019, a jury convicted him on two counts of first-degree murder, and on April 3, 2019, Thompson was given the death penalty. He is on death row at the Arizona State Prison Complex in Florence, Arizona.
A spokesperson for the Scientology church explained that testimony about the church was distorted and incorrect, contributing to “hate, intolerance, and bigotry.” Thompson’s wife explained that her husband was not an active member of Scientology, mainly due to the expense involved. He may have been a “free zone” Scientologist. That schism of the faith adheres to what it says are the original teachings of the church’s founder, L. Ron Hubbard, and does not follow the church’s current leader, David Miscavige.
1 The Fort Harrison Hotel Deaths
The Fort Harrison Hotel is located in Clearwater, Florida, and besides being an exclusive Scientology hotel, it is a high-level training center and the church’s spiritual headquarters. The church bought the 220-room hotel secretly in 1975, and since then, it has witnessed a number of unusual deaths. The most notable one is that of Lisa McPherson. McPherson had been a Scientologist for 18 years when, in 1994, the Scientology publishing company she worked for moved to Clearwater. She moved with it. In September 1995, after five years and $175,000 of Scientology counseling, McPherson was declared “clear.”
On November 18, 1995, McPherson was involved in a minor car accident. After the collision, she got out of the car, took off her clothes, and said she needed help. She was taken to a psychiatric hospital but signed out a short time later against doctors’ orders. She was taken back to the hotel, where Janice Johnson was put in charge of her care. But Johnson didn’t have a license to practice medicine in Florida. The license she had was for Arizona, and even that was restricted after disciplinary problems. Seventeen days later, McPherson’s health was much worse, so the people who were caring for her took her to a hospital where a Scientologist doctor worked.
In the process, they passed four other hospitals. When the doctor saw McPherson, she was bruised, looked unkempt, and wasn’t breathing. The doctor pronounced her dead. There was no obituary or police report; the church just quietly buried the body. Eleven days later, news of McPherson’s death leaked out. Officials at the church said that McPherson had come for rest and relaxation and then suddenly fell ill. The medical examiner said that wasn’t possible and that she would have been showing signs of dehydration five days before her death. In fact, she probably was not responsive 24 hours before she was pronounced dead.
The family sued the church, and the State Attorney’s office opened an 11-month investigation. The church was initially charged with two felonies. In the end, McPherson’s family and the church settled for an undisclosed sum, and the charges against the church were dropped.
But that was not the only death in the hotel. Before McPherson even came to Clearwater, there were problems at the hotel. For example, in 1980, in the span of 11 months, 161 calls were made to 911. There were also at least seven other deaths of physically healthy people who stayed in the hotel. Then there are strange deaths like those of Josephus Havenith (who was found drowned in a bathtub full of scalding hot water) or Roger Nind (who came from Australia to get a $70,000 refund and was killed in an accident the day after his arrival).
What is most baffling about the deaths is how uncooperative the church is with the authorities. Besides trying to keep the deaths quiet, whenever someone calls 911, the police respond to the call, but the church’s private security does not allow them to enter the hotel. The church claims that the calls to 911 are caused by most international guests trying to dial 011 to make an international call after dialing 9 to get an outside line.