The hidden Hubbard

Toronto Globe and Mail/January 26, 1980
by John Marshall

L. Ron Hubbard's Office
The mysterious Lafayette Ronald Hubbard isn't talking.

The founder of the Church of Scientology remained the supreme authority in the cult even after his departure as leader was announced in 1966, according to documents submitted in the recent U.S. conspiracy trial of nine top Scientologists.

Mr. Hubbard was among 23 people named as unindicted co-conspirators in the case. But court officials say he never appeared at any of the sessions of the U.S. District Court in Washington that convicted the nine accused, including his own wife, of a part in a conspiracy to steal confidential government documents.

He has not accepted an invitation by The Globe and Mail to comment on the case, and church spokesmen will not say or do not know where he lives.

The court saw evidence in the defendants' own words that they aimed to protect Mr. Hubbard personally and Scientology generally when they planted spies in government and private offices to steal income tax data and other information.

In many of the thousands of documents seized in 1977 raids on church offices in Los Angeles and Washington, it was made clear that orders from Mr. Hubbard and his wife Mary Sue, who was sentenced to five years in prison, were to be given priority by all members of the international movement.

So when Hugh Wilhere, a Scientology spokesman in Washington, offered to provide the "other side" of the story presented by the court documents, he was told: "Get me Mr. Hubbard."

He said it wasn't possible.

Mr. Wilhere was told a Globe reporter would fly immediately to any place Mr. Hubbard chose for a meeting at which he could make a statement in defence of his convicted followers and his church.

"I don't think it's going to happen. It's not his job," Mr. Wilhere said.

Only the man who founded and set up the highly centralized organization could make a definitive comment, I suggested, noting that even the Pope has spoken to the press.

"You're being unreasonable," Mr. Wilhere said unhappily. That was Dec. 4. There has been no further word on the offer, which was repeated this week through the Toronto organization.

In every Scientology establishment, the Hubbard picture greets recruits entering for their low-cost introductory mind-improvement courses (advanced ones, according to glossy brochures, can cost as much as $8,500 fro 25 hours). But that benevolent-looking picture-and the words in the many tapes and books the recruits will be induced to buy, with royalties going to Mr. Hubbard-is the closest they are likely to get to the 69-year-old cult founder.

Even many top officials of the movement that he decided to convert into a religion 25 years ago have been no closer, except for little notes of commendation that sometimes come through channels in his name.

For some who have worked beside Mr. Hubbard, that's close enough. Former Scientologist John McLean of Sutton, Ont., served on board a ship on which Mr. Hubbard lived after he was declared persona non grata in England, where Scientology's world headquarters are situated.

The cult leader, who claims to be able to make "wogs" (ordinary people) into "clears" and "operating thetans" (described as happy superhuman individuals in control of their emotions and everything and anyone around them) was noted for foul-mouthed tirades, Mr. McLean has said.

His description is confirmed, according to a Florida newspaper, by Dell and Ernie Hartwell, former Scientologists who spent some time in 1978 trying to help Mr. Hubbard, a sound and film buff, make movies for Scientology.

The Hartwells told the St. Petersburg Times that their daughter was induced to leave high school to become one of Mr. Hubbard's 24-hour-a-day teen-age "special messengers" (record his every word, catch his cigaret ashes).

But the family became disenchanted by the leader's erratic behavior and by the way he shouted curses at his crews.

He was filming a movie for his cult called The Unfathomable Man, with script by Mr. Hubbard, direction by Mr. Hubbard, production by Mr. Hubbard and ultimately, according to the Hartwells, total foulup and shelving by Mr. Hubbard.

The puffy-faced, pouty-lipped movie-maker-for five months always costumed in cowboy hat, neck bandanna and baggy pants hanging under his big stomach from a single suspender-drove his crews from about 8 p.m. to 7 a.m. Mrs. Hartwell told the Times reporter: "We'd take a half-hour break at 1 a.m. but nobody was allowed to eat-except for Ron, of course."

Autocratic and erratic, Mr. Hubbard always was accompanied by a retinue of as many as 30 disciples, who would elbow slow-movers out of the way when he came on the set at a plush California desert resort taken over for the movie project, the Hartwells said.

In spite of his own never-changing costume, he had a fetish about cleanliness. Before he paraded on the set, women checked for dirt with white gloves on their hands, and any cleaning required was done with a special soap.

The same obsession was shown when Mr. Hubbard ran his cult from a sea-going ship. On at least one occasion the crew was compelled to dismantle and clean out the ship's ventilation system with toothbrushes.

He had a different obsession in his filming, said Mrs. Hartwell, who served as a makeup assistant. He screamed for so much fake blood (a mixture of karo syrup and food coloring) that it was prepared in gallon lots.

She recalled: "We'd be shooting a scene and all of a sudden he'd yell, 'Stop! Make it more gory, make it more gory!'"

Once, Mrs. Hartwell said, so much of the sticky concoction was used that costumes became stuck to the bodies of two of the actors and had to be cut off with scissors.

While Mr. Hubbard would pour money into this and other movies that were never completed, he would get capricious about overspending.

Once the man who is said to be a millionaire clamped a ban on all spending at the ranch for 10 days. Unfortunately the supply of toilet paper ran out during the ban and the resort's telephone books took a beating, Mrs. Hartwell recalled.

Times reporter Bill Cornwell says that since publication of his story quoting the Hartwells the Las Vegas couple have been the targets of a smear campaign including criminal allegations against Mr. Hartwell, who acted as an editor on the movie project.

In one document written by Mr. Hubbard and submitted to the Washington court in the conspiracy trial, followers were told always to attack attackers: "Start investigating them promptly for FELONIES (his capitalization)."

That was the kind of extravagant writing that resulted in an Australian inquiry into his cult reporting: "Expert psychiatric evidence was to the effect that Hubbard's writings are the product of a person of unsound mind."

Assessments of that kind have prompted Mr. Hubbard and his organization to mount a long-running battle against the mental health establishment in general. Court documents in the Washington case showed that this included the planting of spies in mental health association offices and the establishing of various front groups to draw others into the fight against psychiatrists and psychologists working in schools and elsewhere.

In October of 1947, Mr. Hubbard was pleading for psychiatric treatment from the U.S. Veterans Administration, according to a letter he wrote that became part of the documentation in the recent Washington proceedings.

He had served as a U.S. Navy lieutenant from 1941 to February, 1946, ending up in the military police in Korea. Published Scientology mythology about him suggests that he was a hero and that he ended the war crippled and blind and that he twice had been declared dead. Through his discoveries, his followers were told, he cured himself.

However, Scientology leaders know better. According to documents from files in their U.S. headquarters that became part of the Washington trial record, government medical records tell a different story:

Mr. Hubbard was hurt in 1942. He fell from a ship's ladder and injured his back, right hip, left knee and right heel. He spent a few days in hospital that year, in part for treatment of an eye infection. In 1943 he received both hospital and outpatient treatment for his eyes and for ulcers and back problems. There were no reports about his being declared dead or even being in any kind of serious condition.

He received a disability pension of $34.50 a month when he was discharged. His condition, according to medical records, involved some arthritis and bursitis, a spine "freely flexible in all directions," and short-sightedness corrected by eye glasses (which he still uses). There were no signs of any chronic illness, a doctor reported.

If Mr. Hubbard did not have serious physical problems, he did have emotional ones.

In the 1947 letter in the court records, he told government medical authorities: "This is a request for treatment ... After trying and failing for two years to regain my equilibrium in civil life, I am utterly unable to approach anything like my own competence.

"My last physician informed me it might be very helpful if I were to be examined and perhaps treated psychiatrically or even by a psychiatric analyst."

He wrote that toward the end of his service life he had "avoided any mental examination, hoping that time would balance a mind which I had every reason to suppose was seriously affected ...

"I can't account for nor rise above long periods of moroseness and suicidal inclinations ... Would you please help me."

This was in the period when, Mr. Hubbard has often said later, he was in the middle of research and writing on his theory of Dianetics and was starting to use it on others.

He parlayed a first pulp magazine article about Dianetics into a best-selling book, which was published in 1950 and still is being pushed by his followers, although publicly they softpedal some of the more lurid passages about people having fetal memories of their mothers' attempts at aborting them.

In the early 1950s, a period when many were lured into following the Hubbard path to mental health, he was writing letters to the FBI (also submitted to the Washington court) that prompted someone in the agency to make a notation in the file: "Appears mental."

Mr. Hubbard wrote of Communist plots against his organization and of weird attacks on himself, including one in which he said he was stunned in the middle of the night by an intruder who gave him electric shocks and injected air into his heart with a needle.

During the period from his navy discharge in 1946 to the emergence of his book in 1950, he was also in emotional turmoil over his married life.

Two of his wives have divorced him-in both cases, according to court records, after he had already gone through a form of re-marriage.

He married Sara Northrup in 1946 when he was discharged from the navy. Margaret Grubb Hubbard, his bride of 1933, filed for divorce the next year, saying he had abandoned her and his two children.

In 1950 he married his present wife, Mary Sue.

The following year, the second Mrs. Hubbard filed for divorce. Her submission to the court claimed that Mr. Hubbard had experimented on her by preventing her from sleeping for days at a time and that he had physically abused her, in one case impairing her hearing by choking her with his hands. She also said he falsely accused her of injecting him with hypnotic solutions and of being in league with Communists and psychiatrists out to destroy him.

The divorce court documents also said Mrs. Hubbard's medical advisers had recommended that her husband be admitted to a private sanitorium for psychiatric observation and treatment for paranoid schizophrenia.

After her divorce was granted, she provided her former husband's cult with a statement saying the things she had said were exaggerated and false.

A St. Petersburg Times reporter found the original divorce document on file in the Los Angeles County Superior Court basement after a lengthy search. The microfilm record of the document was missing from the court files.

There have been emotional problems concerning Mr. Hubbard's children, too. One of them, who originally was named Lafayette Ronald Hubbard Jr. but changed his name to deWolfe (his father claimed descent from a Normandy de Loup family) once started to be publicly critical of Scientology. He has dropped out of the limelight.

Another son, Quentin, was found in a coma in a car on a back road near Las Vegas, a hose running from the exhaust pipe into the car. He died several days later in hospital without regaining consciousness.

There were no licence plates on the car and no identification on the 20-year-old Mr. Hubbard. His identification papers were found under a rock nearby. His death was officially called a suicide and attributed to carbon monoxide poisoning. There has been no explanation of the peculiar circumstances.

Police say that when the victim was finally identified efforts were made to reach his parents, Ron and Mary Sue Hubbard, but without success. The couple would not even talk to investigators on the phone. The police say Scientology spokesmen told them that the Hubbards believed their son had been killed in an attempt to get his father to come out in the open.

Mr. Hubbard has avoided any kind of appearance before persons other than cult followers for a great many years.

In the early 1960s, he refused to appear before an exhaustive Australian inquiry into his teachings, a probe that he at first said was being held at his organization's insistence. Later his request that the Victoria state government pay his fare from England was rejected. That prompted Scientologists to say they didn't get a fair hearing at the probe, which produced a scathing report of their leader and their practices.

Mr. Hubbard also refused to appear before a court in France that convicted him and three other church leaders of obtaining money under false pretences by claiming to be a charity when it was really "a strong well-run commercial enterprise."

He was sentenced in absentia in February, 1978, to four years in prison and fined $7,000.

Mr. Hubbard has had other brushes with the law. A document in the Washington court case, FBI number 16288, is a Philadelphia police report of December, 1958. U.S. marshals were trying to serve a warrant on him to appear as a witness in connection with a Dianetics organization that went bankrupt just after he left it.

Some of his followers at a lecture he was giving at the time were arrested for fighting with the law officers in a futile attempt to prevent their getting to Mr. Hubbard.

Except for rare instances in the early years of his movement, he has been hiding behind his followers ever since.

He did not even grant an interview to Omar V. Garrison, the only person to write an entire book saying Scientology is great and its detractors are all wrong.

Before the book was published, information about Mr. Hubbard's phony degrees and abysmal academic record (he got one degree from a degree mill and one from himself, failed his first year at university and quit part way through a second-year probation) was available for reading in the writings of other investigators.

Four full-length critical books, much of their material reconfirmed by the Washington court documents, were published long before the Garrison apologia.

Each became the object of multiple suits or threats of suits by the Scientologists, resulting in limitation of the book's circulation. Copies also often disappeared from public library shelves.

This is in spite of the Church of Scientology Creed written by Mr.


It says in part: "We of the Church believe: That all men have inalienable rights to think freely, to talk freely, to write freely their own opinions and to counter or utter or write upon the opinions of others."

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