David Jentzsch, 80, tells me that the last time he spoke to his brother Heber, 76, was about three years ago. And at that time he urged his younger brother to break out of Scientology's International Base near Hemet, California.
"He said, 'I don't think I can ever get out of here.' But I told him, 'You have to try.' And the last thing he said to me was, 'I'll never get out of here alive'."
Since then, David says, the workers at the base have refused to take his call.
"They won't let me talk to him. Heber just lost his son, Alexander," David explains. "I called and told them I'd like to talk to my brother about this. They told me, 'You can't come, we don't want you here.' I told them I'd come down there and they'd have to let me see him. But they said, 'Heber is not going to be able to talk to you, so it's best that you don't come."
David didn't know that his brother had been let out of the base for a rare visit to Los Angeles and a hastily-arranged memorial for his son last week.
"I wish I'd known that, I would have been there to try to see him."
Since 1982, Heber Jentzsch has been the president of the Church of Scientology International, but since 2004, he has rarely been seen in public or by his fellow Scientologists. By that time, he had fallen out of favor with Scientology's ultimate leader, David Miscavige.
Heber grew up in Utah as the son of an excommunicated member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, Carl Jentzsch, who was a polygamist. As a result of his father's polygamy, Heber has 42 brothers and sisters.
The oldest among them is David Jentzsch, who today lives south of Salt Lake City.
David tells me that he never thought too highly about his younger brother's involvement in Scientology. But it did give Heber notoriety and had him traveling around the world. Through the 1990s, Heber Jentzsch was the face of the church, often tangled with outside attorneys and reporters, and was even arrested in Spain in 1988 along with 69 other Scientologists for tax fraud and other charges, which were eventually dropped.
In 1984, Heber Jentzsch and Karen de la Carriere had their only child, Alexander. By 1989, however, de la Carriere claims that Miscavige ordered Heber to divorce her. And by 2004, Heber himself had fallen so far from favor that Miscavige ordered him to the new office-prison he was developing at the International Base east of Los Angeles, known as "The A to E Room" and then "The SP Hole" or just "The Hole."
Mike Rinder, Scientology's former top spokesman, says Heber was a prisoner in The Hole when he himself was incarcerated in the hellish office in 2006 and 2007. About 60 to 100 executives, men and women, were forced to live in the offices, day and night, and Miscavige had bars put on the windows and doors. The executives were only let out each morning to be marched across the highway to a building with showers, then they were marched back to the Hole to spend the day on mass confessions. Rinder told us about conditions in the Hole in video interviews we made when we visited him in March. Earlier this year, another former executive, Debbie Cook, testified in court about conditions in the Hole during her short stay there in 2007.
In 2010, when John Brousseau became one of the last workers to escape the Int Base, he says Heber Jentzsch was still a prisoner in The Hole.
On occasion, however, the church president -- who has never lost his title -- was allowed out to be paraded at an event. Tiziano Lugli, an Italian musician and former Scientologist, tells me he saw Jentzsch at the funeral for Isaac Hayes in August 2008. "Tom Cruise and David Miscavige were there too," Lugli tells me.
We know that Heber was also allowed out for a few hours to see his son Alexander in 2010. That occurred because Alex's mother, Karen de la Carriere, went public about Heber's incarceration, writing about it at Marty Rathbun's blog. That public criticism not only allowed Alexander to see his father briefly, but it also resulted in de la Carriere being excommunicated -- "declared a suppressive person" in Scientology jargon.
Alexander gained his father for a few hours, and lost his mother for good. After Karen was excommunicated, Alexander was forced to "disconnect" from her. She never saw him again. On the morning of July 3, Alexander was found dead at the home of his in-laws in Sylmar, California, a part of Los Angeles. De la Carriere was kept in the dark about it for a couple of days, and then was prevented from seeing her son's body before he was cremated -- again, because she had dared to speak up about the treatment of her ex-husband, Heber, and had been kicked out of Scientology.
We're waiting for the coroner's report on Alexander's death, and there's also more media interest now in the welfare of Heber Jentzsch, who has presumably been sequestered at the Int Base again following last week's memorial service at the Hollywood Celebrity Center.
David Jentzsch remembers when his brother was still a big shot with Scientology, and tried to convince him that the base was really a thriving place.
"He did a lot with the IRS, telling them Scientology is a church. Which it really isn't," David says. "I went down there at one point. He showed me around. We had lunch at a nice table. The other people had to sit on the floor to eat in a gymnasium, but we had a waiter with a towel wrapped around his arm, and the table all set real nice, you know what I mean."
At the end of the lunch, Heber asked his brother what he thought of the place.
"Heber, It's straight from hell," David remembers telling him.
"He was madder than hell at me."
About ten years ago, David says, he told his brother he should leave. "I said, why don't you get out of the thing, it's terrible," he says. "But he said he was making good money. 'I should be a millionaire pretty quick,' he said. Heber, it ain't worth it, get out of there, I told him. But he said 'I'm afraid I can't get out. They threatened they'd kill me'."
David says he asked his brother if he really couldn't get away, but Heber told him that Scientology simply had too many operatives, and that they would eventually find him.
"Then, six or seven years ago, he said they told him he could never leave there. And now, they won't let me talk to him," David says.
"They're never going to let him go. It's because he knows too much," he adds.
David says he received no notice from the church about the death of his nephew, Alexander. And he didn't know that his brother would make a rare trip from the Int Base for the memorial service. David says he has no doubt Heber is back on the desert compound now.
"I'd like to get in and see Heber, and see what's going on, see him face to face," David says. "It's a hellhole, is what it really is."
A Cry For Help?
Last night, I talked with a woman who was a close friend to Alexander Jentzsch, and who might have been the last person Alex tried to reach out to for help.
On her phone, she found that at 1:30 am on Monday morning, July 2, Alexander tried to call her.
"I was sleeping, so I didn't take the call. But now I really wish I had," says the friend, who asked not to be named.
Just a few hours later, at 9 am, Jentzsch was seen to be in his bed by his in-laws, and 24 hours later, at 9 am on Tuesday the 3rd, he was still there. It was only then that he was found to be unresponsive. Karen de la Carriere, Alexander's mother, was told by the L.A. Coroner's office that Alex's in-laws took a child to school before returning to the house and calling 9-1-1 to report that Alex was not moving.
Alexander's friend knew him for quite a few years. She says what other people have pointed out about his amazing intellect were really true. "He could recite entire poems. He could hear a song once and then recite it back. It was weird," she says.
He was aware of his prowess, she adds. "He had a large ego. And I think he would have had a hard time with being fired."
The friend confirmed what I'd heard before -- that after routing out of the Sea Org in 2010, he had moved to Dallas for a job in a debt consolidation firm. But his marriage had become rocky, he'd lost the job, and then had moved back to LA into the house of his in-laws.
"I could see him not taking it very well," she says.
Hard up for cash, the 27-year-old Alex could turn to neither his father -- who was incarcerated at Scientology's desert compound -- or his mother -- who was labeled a "suppressive person" and whom he was expected to avoid.
"Many times Alex would be very upset with the relationship he had with his father," says his friend. "One year, his dad sent him a check for $1,000 for his birthday. He tore up the check. I remember what he said: 'I don't want my dad's money. I want to see him'."
Over the years, she says, Alex would repeatedly try to reach his father. "He had a very tough time getting hold of Heber. He would call Gold [another name for Int Base] and would get put on hold. He would be told that he'd get a call at a certain time, and he'd wait and it wouldn't come. Once I was in the car with him and Heber called him. It only lasted about three minutes, and Alex said he heard clicking the whole time. He said he knew people were listening. 'Why are they listening?' he asked."
In 2010, when de la Carriere went public about the way the church was treating her ex-husband, it resulted in Heber getting sprung for a few hours to visit Alex.
"Alex told me that he'd seen his dad, and he was promised that he'd see him again, but it never happened. Alex was very upset about it. He would cry. It was very upsetting."
Before he was forced to "disconnect" from her, Alex also made efforts to see his mother, even when Scientology made it difficult to do so.
"He loved his mom. She lives by Celebrity Centre. We'd drive over there. He'd run inside, drop things off for her, give her a kiss and run out," she says. "You know how she has kind of a funny accent? Well, Alex used to do impersonations of it. He really adored her."
When his mother was declared a suppressive person and excommunicated, Alex asked his friend if she'd heard about it.
She remembers him saying: "I knew it was just a matter of time before this happened. Now I don't have either of my parents."
"The whole situation was so sad," she says.