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The Mind Behind the Religion

By Joel Sappell and Robert W. Welkos, Times Staff Writers
Los Angeles Times, February 23, 2006

Tom Cruise and David Miscavige
Tom Cruise and David Miscavige after a brunch at Scientology’s Celebrity Centre in Hollywood about a year ago.

From a life haunted by emotional and financial troubles, L. Ron Hubbard brought forth Scientology. He achieved godlike status among his followers, and his death has not deterred the church's efforts to reach deeper into society.

It was a triumph of galactic proportions: Science fiction writer L. Ron Hubbard had discarded the body that bound him to the physical universe and was off to the next phase of his spiritual exploration -- "on a planet a galaxy away."

"Hip, hip, hurray!" thousands of Scientologists thundered inside the Hollywood Palladium, where they had just been told of this remarkable feat.

"Hip, hip, hurray! Hip, hip, hurray!" they continued to chant, gazing at a large photograph of Hubbard, creator of their religion and author of the best-selling "Dianetics: The Modern Science of Mental Health."

Earlier that day, the Church of Scientology had summoned the faithful throughout Los Angeles to a "big and exciting event" at the Palladium. They were told nothing more, just to be there.

As evening fell, thousands arrived, most decked out in the spit-and-polish mockNavy uniforms that are symbolic of the organization's paramilitary structure.

The excited assemblage was about to learn that their beloved leader, a man who dubbed himself "The Commodore," had died. Yet, death was never mentioned.

Instead, the Scientologists were told that Hubbard had finished his spiritual research on this planet, charting a precise path for man to achieve immortality. And now it was on to bigger challenges somewhere beyond the stars.

His body had "become an impediment to the work he now must do outside of its confines," the awe-struck crowd was informed. "The fact that he ... willingly discarded the body after it was no longer useful to him signifies his ultimate success: the conquest of life that he embarked upon half a century ago."

The death certificate would show that Lafayette Ronald Hubbard, 74, who had not been seen publicly for nearly six years, died on Jan. 24, 1986, of a stroke on his ranch outside San Luis Obispo.

But to Scientologists, the man they affectionately called "Ron" had ascended.

The glorification of L. Ron Hubbard that brisk January night wasnot surprising. Over more than three decades he had skillfully transformed himself from a writer of pulp fiction to a writer of "sacred scriptures." Along the way, he made a fortune and achieved his dream of fame.

"I have high hopes of smashing my name into history so violently that it will take a legendary form, even if all the books are destroyed," Hubbard wrote to the first of his three wives in 1938, more than a decade before he created Scientology.

"That goal," he said, "is the real goal as far as I am concerned."

From the ground up, Hubbard built an international empire that started as a collection of mental therapy centers and became one of the world's most controversial and secretive religions.

The intensity, combativeness and salesmanship that distinguish Scientology from other religions can be traced directly to Hubbard. For, even in death, the man and his creation are inseparable.

He wrote millions of words in scores of books instructing his followers on everything from how to market Scientology to how to fend off critics. His prolific and sometimes rambling discourses constitute the gospel of Scientology, its structure and its soul. Deviations are punishable.

Through his writings, Hubbard fortified his clannish organization with a powerful intolerance of criticism and a fierce will to endure and prosper. He wrote a Code of Honor that urged his followers to "never desert a group to which you owe your support" and "never fear to hurt another in a just cause."

He transmitted to his followers his suspicious view of the world -- one populated, he insisted, by madmen bent on Scientology's destruction.

His flaring temper and searing intensity are deeply branded into the church and reflected in the behavior of his faithful, who shout at adversaries and even at each other. As one former high-ranking member put it: "He made swearing cool."

Hubbard's followers say his teachings have helped thousands kick drugs and allowed countless others to lead fuller lives through courses that improve communication skills, build self-confidence and increase an individual's ability to take control of his or her life.

He was, they say, "the greatest humanitarian in history."

But there was another side to this imaginative and intelligent man. And to understand Scientology, one must begin with L. Ron Hubbard.

In the late 1940s, Hubbard was broke and in debt. A struggling writer of science fiction and fantasy, he was forced to sell his typewriter for $28.50 to get by.

"I can still see Ron three-steps-at-a-time running up the stairs in around 1949 in order to borrow $30 from me to get out of town because he had a wife after him for alimony," recalled his former literary agent, Forrest J. Ackerman.

At one point, Hubbard was reduced to begging the Veterans Administration to let him keep a $51 overpayment of benefits. "I am nearly penniless," wrote Hubbard, a former Navy lieutenant.

Hubbard was mentally troubled, too. In late 1947, he asked the Veterans Administration to help him get psychiatric treatment.

"Toward the end of my (military) service," Hubbard wrote to the VA, "I avoided out of pride any mental examinations, hoping that time would balance a mind which I had every reason to suppose was seriously affected.

"I cannot account for nor rise above long periods of moroseness and suicidal inclinations, and have newly come to realize that I must first triumph above this before I can hope to rehabilitate myself at all."

In his most private moments, Hubbard wrote bizarre statements to himself in notebooks that would surface four decades later in Los Angeles Superior Court.

"All men are your slaves," he wrote in one.

"You can be merciless whenever your will is crossed and you have the right to be merciless," he wrote in another.

Hubbard was troubled, restless and adrift in those little known years of his life. But he never lost confidence in his ability as a writer. He had made a living with words in the past and he could do it again.

Before the financial and emotional problems that consumed him in the 1940s, Hubbard had achieved moderate success writing for a variety of dime-store pulp magazines. He specialized in shoot'em-up adventures, Westerns, mysteries, war stories and science fiction.

His output, if not the writing itself, was spectacular. Using such pseudonyms as Winchester Remington Colt and Rene LaFayette, he sometimes filled up entire issues virtually by himself. Hubbard's life then was like a page from one of his adventure stories. He panned for gold in Puerto Rico and charted waterways in Alaska. He was a master sailor and glider pilot, with a reported penchant for eye-catching maneuvers.

Although Hubbard's health and writing career foundered after the war, he remained a virtual factory of ideas. And his biggest was about to be born.

Hubbard had long been fascinated with mental phenomena and the mysteries of life.

He was an expert in hypnotism. During a 1948 gathering of science fiction buffs in Los Angeles, he hypnotized many of those in attendance, convincing one young man that he was cradling a tiny kangaroo in his hands.

Hubbard sometimes spoke of having visions.

His former literary agent, Ackerman, said Hubbard once told of dying on an operating table. And here, according to Ackerman, is what Hubbard said followed:

"He arose in spirit form and looked at the body he no longer inhabited. ... In the distance he saw a great ornate gate. ... The gate opened of its own accord and he drifted through. There, spread out, was an intellectual smorgasbord, the answers to everything that ever puzzled the mind of man. He was absorbing all this fantabulous information. ... Then he felt like a long umbilical cord pulling him back. And a voice was saying, 'No, not yet.' "

Hubbard, according to Ackerman, said he returned to life and feverishly wrote his recollections. He said Hubbard later tried to sell the manuscript but failed, claiming that "whoever read it (a) went insane, or (b) committed suicide."

Hubbard's intense curiosity about the mind's power led him into a friendship in 1946 with rocket fuel scientist John Whiteside Parsons. Parsons was a protege of British satanist Aleister Crowley and leader of a black magic group modeled after Crowley's infamous occult lodge in England.

Hubbard also admired Crowley, and in a 1952 lecture described him as "my very good friend."

Parsons and Hubbard lived in an aging mansion on South Orange Grove Avenue in Pasadena. The estate was home to an odd mix of Bohemian artists, writers, scientists and occultists. A small domed temple supported by six stone columns stood in the back yard.

Hubbard met his second wife, Sara Northrup, at the mansion. Although she was Parsons' lover at the time, Hubbard was undeterred. He married Northrup before divorcing his first wife.

Long before the 1960s counterculture, some residents of the estate smoked marijuana and embraced a philosophy of promiscuous, ritualistic sex.

"The neighbors began protesting when the rituals called for a naked pregnant woman to jump nine times through fire in the yard," recalled science fiction author L. Sprague de Camp, who knew both Hubbard and Parsons.

Crowley biographers have written that Parsons and Hubbard practiced "sex magic." As the biographers tell it, a robed Hubbard chanted incantations while Parsons and his wife-to-be, Cameron, engaged in sexual intercourse intended to produce a child with superior intellect and powers. The ceremony was said to span 11 consecutive nights.

Hubbard and Parsons finally had a falling out over a sailboat sales venture that ended in a court dispute between the two.

In later years, Hubbard tried to distance himself from his embarrassing association with Parsons, who was a founder of a government rocket project at California Institute of Technology that later evolved into the famed Jet Propulsion Laboratory. Parsons died in 1952 when a chemical explosion ripped through his garage lab.

Hubbard insisted that he had been working undercover for Naval Intelligence to break up black magic in America and to investigate links between the occultists and prominent scientists at the Parsons mansion. Hubbard said the mission was so successful that the house was razed and the black magic group was dispersed.

But Parsons' widow, Cameron, disputed Hubbard's account in a brief interview with The Times. She said the two men "liked each other very much" and "felt they were ushering in a force that was going to change things."

In early 1950, Hubbard published an intriguing article in a 25-cent magazine called Astounding Science Fiction. In it, he said that he had uncovered the source of man's problems.

The article grew into a book, written in one draft in just 30 days and entitled "Dianetics: The Modern Science of Mental Health." It would become the most important book of Hubbard's life.

The book's introduction declared that Hubbard had invented a new "mental science," a feat more important perhaps than "the invention of the wheel, the control of fire, the development of mathematics."

Hubbard himself said he had uncovered the source of, and the cure for, virtually every ailment known to man. Dianetics, he said, could restore withered limbs, mend broken bones, erase the wrinkles of age and dramatically increase intelligence.

Not surprisingly, the nation's mental health professionals were unimpressed.

Famed psychoanalyst Rollo May voiced the sentiments of many when he wrote in the New York Times that "books like this do harm by their grandiose promises to troubled persons and by their oversimplification of human psychological problems."

But "Dianetics" was an instant bestseller when it hit the stands in May, 1950, and made Hubbard an overnight celebrity. Arthur Ceppos, who published the book, said Hubbard spent his first royalties on a luxury Lincoln.

Hubbard had tapped the public's growing fascination with psychotherapy, then largely accessible only to the affluent. "Dianetics," in fact, was popularly dubbed "the poor man's psychotherapy" because it could be practiced among friends for free.

In the book, Hubbard claimed to have discovered the previously unknown "reactive mind," a depository for emotionally or physically painful events in a person's life. These traumatic experiences, called "engrams," cause a variety of psychosomatic illnesses, including migraine headaches, ulcers, allergies, arthritis, poor vision and the common cold, Hubbard said.

The goal of dianetics, Hubbard said, is to purge these painful experiences and create a "clear" individual who is able to realize his or her full potential.

Catapulted from obscurity, Hubbard decided in the summer of 1950 to prove in a big way that his new "science" was for real.

He appeared before a crowd of thousands at the Shrine Auditorium to unveil the "world's first clear," a person he said had achieved a perfect memory. Journalists from numerous newspapers and magazines were there to document the event.

He placed on display one Sonya Bianca, a young Boston physics major. But when Hubbard allowed the audience to question her, she performed dismally.

Someone, for example, told Hubbard to turn his back while the girl was asked to describe the color of his tie. There was silence. The world's first clear drew a blank.

"It was a tremendous embarrassment for Hubbard and his friends at the time," recalled Arthur Jean Cox, a science fiction buff who attended the presentation.

More problems were on the way for the man whose book promised miracles but whose own life would move from one crisis to the next until his death.

He became embroiled, for instance, in a nasty divorce and child custody battle that raised embarrassing questions about his mental stability.

His wife, Sara Northrup Hubbard, accused him of subjecting her to "scientific torture experiments" and of suffering from "paranoid schizophrenia" -- allegations that she would later retract in a signed statement but that would find their way into government files and continue to haunt Hubbard.

She said in her suit that Hubbard had deprived her of sleep, beaten her and suggested that she kill herself, "as divorce would hurt his reputation."

During the legal proceedings, Sara placed in the court record a letter she had received from Hubbard's first wife.

"Ron is not normal," it said. "I had hoped you could straighten him out. Your charges probably sound fantastic to the average person -- but I've been through it -- the beatings, threats on my life, all the sadistic traits which you charge -- 12 years of it."

At one point in the marital dispute with Sara, Hubbard spirited their 1-year-old daughter, Alexis, to Cuba. From there, he wrote to Sara:

"I have been in the Cuban military hospital, and am being transferred to to the United States as a classified scientist immune from interference of all kinds. ... My right side is paralyzed and getting more so.

"I hope my heart lasts. I may live a long time and again I may not. But Dianetics will last ten thousand years -- for the Army and Navy have it now."

Hubbard, who had earlier accused his wife of infidelity and said she suffered brain damage, closed his letter by threatening to cut his infant daughter from his will.

"Alexis will get a fortune unless she goes to you, as she then would get nothing," he wrote.

He also wrote a letter to the FBI at the height of the Red Scare accusing Sara of possibly being a Communist, along with others whom he said had infiltrated his dianetics movement.

The FBI, after interviewing Hubbard, dismissed him as a "mental case."

In one seven-page missive to the Department of Justice in 1951, he linked Sara to alleged physical assaults on him. He said that on two separate occasions he was punched in his sleep by unidentified intruders. And then came the third attack.

"I was in my apartment on February 23rd, about two or three o'clock in the morning when the apartment was entered, I was knocked out, had a needle thrust into my heart to give it a jet of air to produce 'coronary thrombosis' and was given an electric shock with a 110 volt current. This is all very blurred to me. I had no witnesses. But only one person had another key to that apartment and that was Sara."

After months of sniping at each other -- and a counter divorce suit by Hubbard in which he accused his wife of "gross neglect of duty and extreme cruelty" -- the couple ended their stormy marriage, with Sara obtaining custody of the child. In later years, Hubbard would deny fathering the girl and, as threatened, did not leave her a cent.

Not only was Hubbard's domestic life a shambles in 1951, his once-thriving self-help movement was crumbling as public interest in his theories waned.

The foundations Hubbard had established to teach dianetics were in financial ruin and his book had disappeared from The New York Times bestseller list.

But the resilient self-promoter came up with something new. He called it Scientology, and his metamorphosis from pop therapist to religious leader was under way.

Scientology essentially gave a new twist to the Dianetics notion of painful experiences that lodge in the "reactive mind." In Scientology, Hubbard held that memories of such experiences also collect in a person's soul and date back to past lives.

For many of Hubbard's early followers, Scientology was not believable, and they broke with him. But others would soon take their place, conferring upon Hubbard an almost saintly status.

But as Hubbard's renown and prosperity grew in the 1960s, so, too, did the questions surrounding his finances and teachings. He was accused by various governments -- including the U.S. -- of quackery, of brainwashing, of bilking the gullible through high-pressure sales techniques.

In 1967, Hubbard took several hundred of his followers to sea to escape the spreading hostility. But they found only temporary safe harbor from what they believed had become an international conspiracy to persecute them.

Their three ships, led by a converted cattle ferry dubbed the "Apollo," were bounced from port to port in the Mediterranean and Caribbean by governments that wrongly suspected the American skipper and his secretive, clean-cut crew of being CIA operatives.

While anchored at the Portuguese island of Madeira, they were stoned by townsfolk carrying torches and chanting anti-CIA slogans.

"They (were) throwing Molotov cocktails onto the boat but they weren't lit," a crew member recalled. "Fortunately, this was not an experienced mob."

The years at sea were a watershed for Hubbard and Scientology. He instituted a Navy-style command structure that is evident today in the military dress and snap-to behavior of the organization's staff members. Hubbard named himself the "Commodore," and subordinates followed his orders like Annapolis midshipmen.

As former Scientology ship officer Hana Eltringham Whitfield put it: "Scientologists on the whole thought that Hubbard was like a god, that he could command the waves to do what he wanted, that he was totally in control of his life and consequences of his actions."

Chapter Two

Creating the Mystique: Hubbard's image was crafted of truth, distorted by myth.

To his followers, L. Ron Hubbard was bigger than life. But it was an image largely of his own making.

A Los Angeles Superior Court judge put it bluntly while presiding over a Church of Scientology lawsuit in 1984. Scientology's founder, he said, was "virtually a pathological liar" about his past.

Hubbard was an intelligent and well-read man, with diverse interests, experience and expertise. But that apparently was not enough to satisfy him. He transformed his frailties into strengths, his failures into successes. With a kernel of truth, he concocted elaborate stories about a life he seemingly wished was his.

There was his claim, for example, of being a nuclear physicist. This was an important one because he said he had used his knowledge of science to develop Scientology and dianetics.

Hubbard was, in fact, enrolled in one of the nation's early classes in molecular and atomic physics at George Washington University, in Washington, D.C., where he unsuccessfully pursued a civil engineering degree. But he flunked the class.

Church of Scientology officials deny that Hubbard claimed to be a nuclear physicist and point to a taped lecture in which he admits earning "the worst grades" in the class. But they fail to mention contradictory statements Hubbard made when it suited his needs.

Perhaps Hubbard's most fantastic -- and easily disproved -- claims center on his military service.

Hubbard bragged that he was a top-flight naval officer in World War II, who commanded a squadron of fighting ships, was wounded in combat and was highly decorated.

But Navy and Veterans Administration records obtained through the federal Freedom of Information Act reveal that his military performance was, at times, substandard.

The Navy documents variously describe him as a "garrulous" man who "tries to give impressions of his importance," as being "not temperamentally fitted for independent command" and as "lacking in the essential qualities of judgment, leadership and cooperation. He acts without forethought as to probable results."

Hubbard was relieved of command of two ships, including the PC 815, a submarine chaser docked along the Willamette River in Oregon. According to Navy records, here is what happened:

Just hours after motoring the PC 815 into the Pacific for a test cruise, Hubbard said he encountered two Japanese submarines. He dropped 37 depth charges during the 55 consecutive hours he said he monitored the subs, and summoned additional ships and aircraft into the fight.

He claimed to have so severely crippled the submarines that the only trace remaining of either was a thin carpet of oil on the ocean's surface.

"This vessel wishes no credit for itself," Hubbard stated in a report of the incident. "It was built to hunt submarines. Its people were trained to hunt submarines."

And no credit Hubbard got.

"An analysis of all reports convinces me that there was no submarine in the area," wrote the commander of the Northwest Sea Frontier after an investigation.

Hubbard next continued down the coast, where he anchored off the Coronado Islands just south of San Diego. To test his ship's guns, he ordered target practice directed at the uninhabited Mexican islands, prompting the government of that neutral country to complain to U.S. officials.

A Navy board of inquiry determined that Hubbard had "disregarded orders" both by conducting gunnery practice and by anchoring in Mexican waters.

A letter of admonition was placed in Hubbard's military file which stated "that more drastic disciplinary action ... would have been taken under normal and peacetime conditions."

During his purportedly illustrious military career, Hubbard claimed to have been awarded at least 21 medals and decorations. But records state that he actually earned four during his Naval service: the American Defense Service Medal, the American Campaign Medal, the Asiatic-Pacific Campaign Medal and the World War II Victory Medal, which was given to all wartime servicemen.

One of the medals to which Hubbard staked claim was the Purple Heart, bestowed upon wounded servicemen. Hubbard maintained that he was "crippled" and "blinded" in the war.

Early biographies issued by Scientology say that he was "flown home in the late spring of 1942 in the secretary of the Navy's private plane as the first U.S.-returned casualty from the Far East."

Thomas Moulton, second in command on PC 815, said Hubbard once told of being machine-gunned across the back near the Dutch East Indies.

On another occasion, Moulton testified during the 1984 Scientology lawsuit, Hubbard said his eyes had been damaged by the flash of a large-caliber gun. Hubbard himself, in a tape-recorded lecture, said his eyes were injured when he had "a bomb go off in my face."

These injury claims are significant because Hubbard said he cured himself through techniques that would later form the tenets of Scientology and Dianetics.

Military records, however, reveal that he was never wounded or injured in combat, and was never awarded a Purple Heart.

In seeking disability money, Hubbard told military doctors that he had been "lamed" not by a bullet but by a chronic hip infection that set in after his transfer from the warm tropics of the Pacific to the icy winters of the East Coast, where he attended a Navy-sponsored school of military government.

Moreover, his eye problems did not result from an exploding bomb or the blinding flash of a gun. Rather, Hubbard said in military records, he contracted conjunctivitis from exposure to "excessive tropical sunlight."

The truth is that Hubbard spent the last seven months of his active duty in a military hospital in Oakland, for treatment of a duodenal ulcer he developed while in the service.

Hubbard did, however, receive a monthly, 40% disability check from the government through at least 1980.

Government records also contradict Hubbard's claim that he had fully regained his health by 1947 with the power of his mind and the techniques of his future religion.

Late that year, he wrote the government about having "long periods of moroseness" and "suicidal inclinations." That was followed by a letter in 1948 to the chief of naval operations in which he described himself as "an invalid."

And, during a 1951 examination by the Veterans Administration, he was still complaining of eye problems and a "boring-like pain" in his stomach, which he said had given him "continuous trouble" for eight years, especially when "under nervous stress."

Significantly, that examination occurred after the publication of "Dianetics," which promised a cure for the very ailments that plagued the author himself then and throughout his life, including allergies, arthritis, ulcers and heart problems.

In Hubbard's defense, Scientology officials accuse others of distorting and misrepresenting his military glories.

They say the Navy "covered up" Hubbard's sinking of the submarines either to avoid frightening the civilian population or because the commander who investigated the incident had earlier denied the existence of subs along the West Coast.

Moreover, church officials charge that records released by the military are not only grossly incomplete but perhaps were falsified to conceal Hubbard's secret activities as an intelligence officer.

To support their point, a church official gave the Times an authentic-looking Navy document that purports to confirm some of Hubbard's wartime claims. After examining the document, though, a spokesman for the Naval Military Personnel Command Center said its contents are not supported by Hubbard's personnel record.

He declined further comment.

Hubbard's biographical claims were not confined to the events of his adult life.

He claimed, for example, that as a youth he traveled extensively throughout Asia, studying at the feet of holy men who first kindled in him a burning fascination with the spirit of man.

"My basic ordination for religious work," Hubbard once wrote, "was received from Mayo in the Western Hills of China when I was made a lama priest after a year as a neophyte."

Hubbard did, in fact, tour China while his father was stationed in Guam with the Navy. However, a diary of that period makes no mention of his spiritual awakening. Rather, it portrays him as an intolerant young Westerner with little understanding of an unfamiliar culture or race.

He described the lama temples he toured as "very odd and heathenish."

After visiting the Great Wall of China, Hubbard remarked: "If China turned it into a rolly coaster it could make millions of dollars every year."

He described the "yellow races" as "simple and one-tracked." Wrote Hubbard: "The trouble with China is there are too many chinks here."

Hubbard also claimed that he spent many of his childhood years on a large cattle ranch in Montana, where he grew up.

"Long days were spent riding, breaking broncos, hunting coyote and taking his first steps as an explorer," according to a Hubbard-approved biography issued by the church.

But Hubbard's aunt laughed when asked whether he had been a pint-sized cowboy.

"We didn't have a ranch," said Margaret Roberts, 87, of Helena, Mont. "Just several acres (with) a barn on it. ... We had one cow (and) four or five horses."

Hubbard's biographical claims took center stage during the 1984 Superior Court lawsuit in which the church accused a former member of stealing the Scientology founder's private papers. Ex-member Gerald Armstrong said he took the documents as protection against possible church harassment.

Judge Paul G. Breckenridge Jr. found in Armstrong's favor and, in his ruling, issued a harsh assessment of the church's revered leader.

"The evidence portrays a man who has been virtually a pathological liar when it comes to his history, background and achievements. ..."

"At the same time," Breckenridge continued, "it appears that he is charismatic and highly capable of motivating, organizing, controlling, manipulating and inspiring his adherents."

Hubbard, the judge said, was "a very complex person."

The church and Hubbard's widow, Mary Sue, have appealed Breckenridge's decision, saying that it was based on "irrelevant, distorted and, in many instances, invented testimony" of embittered former Scientologists.

"Any controversy about him (Hubbard) is like a speck of dust on his shoes compared to the millions of people who loved and respected him," a Scientology spokesman said. "What he has accomplished in the brief span of one lifetime will have impact on every man, woman and child for 10,000 years."

Chapter Three

Life With L. Ron Hubbard: Aides indulged his eccentricities and egotism

L. Ron Hubbard enjoyed being pampered.

He surrounded himself with teen-age followers, whom he indoctrinated, treated like servants and cherished as though they were his own children.

He called them the "Commodore's messengers."

" 'Messenger!' " he would boom in the morning. "And we'd pull him out of bed," one recalled.

The youngsters, whose parents belonged to Hubbard's Church of Scientology, would lay out his clothes, run his shower and help him dress. He taught them how to sprinkle powder in his socks and gently slip them on so as not to pull the hairs on his legs.

They made sure the temperature in his room never varied from 72 degrees. They boiled water at night to keep the humidity just right. They would hand him a cigarette and follow in his footsteps with an ashtray.

When Hubbard's bursitis acted up, a messenger would wrap his shoulders in a lumberjack shirt that had been warmed on a heater.

Long gone were those days when Hubbard was scratching out a living. Now, in the early 1970s, he fancied silk pants, ascots and nautical caps. It was evident that the red-haired author had enjoyed many a good meal.

It was a high honor for Scientologists to serve beside Hubbard, even if it meant performing such dreary tasks as ironing his clothes or ferrying his messages. But, for some, it was also disconcerting. The privileged few who worked at his side saw personality flaws and quirks not reflected in the staged photographs or in Hubbard's biographies.

They came to know the man behind the mystique.

They said he could display the temperament of a spoiled child and the eccentricities of a reclusive Howard Hughes.

When upset, Hubbard was known to erupt like a volcano, spewing obscenities and insults.

Former Scientologist Adelle Hartwell once testified during a Florida hearing on Scientology that she saw Hubbard "throw fits."

"I actually saw him take his hat off one day and stomp on it and cry like a baby."

Hubbard had been hotheaded since his youth, when his red hair earned him the nickname "Brick."

One of Hubbard's classmates recalled a day in 11th Grade when the husky Hubbard, for no apparent reason, got into a fight with Gus Leger, the lanky assistant principal at Helena High School in Helena, Mont.

"Old Gus was up at the blackboard," recalled Andrew Richardson. "He taught geometry. He was laying out this problem and Brick let loose with a piece of chalk and he missed him. Leger whirled and threw an eraser at Brick, who ducked, and it hit a girl right behind him in the face."

Hubbard wrestled with the teacher, then stuffed him into a trash can, said Richardson.

"We all got to laughing and he (Leger) couldn't get up," Richardson said, chuckling at the memory.

Richardson said that, while the students helped their teacher, Hubbard stormed out and never returned. He left to be with his parents in the Far East, where his father was stationed with the Navy.

In later life, one thing that could throw the irascible Hubbard into a rage was the scent of soap in his clothes. "I was petrified of doing the laundry," one former messenger said.

To protect themselves from a Hubbard tirade, the messengers rinsed his clothes in 13 separate buckets of water.

Doreen Gillham, who had who spent her teen years with Hubbard, never forgot what happened when a longtime aide offered him a freshly laundered shirt after he had taken a shower.

"He immediately grabbed the collar and put it up to his nose, then threw it down," said Gillham, who died recently in a horseriding accident. "He went to the closet and proceeded to sniff all the shirts. He would tear them off the hangers and throw them down. We're talking 30 shirts on the floor."

He let out a "long whine," Gillham said, and then began screaming about the smell.

"I picked up a shirt off the floor, smelled it and said, 'There is no soap on this shirt.' I didn't smell anything in any of them. He grudgingly put it on," said Gillham, who added: "Deep down inside, I'm telling myself, 'This guy is nuts!' "

Gillham said that Hubbard had become obsessed not only with soap smells but with dust, which aggravated his allergies. He demanded white-glove inspections but never seemed satisfied with the results.

No matter how clean the room, Gillham said, "he would insist that it be dusted over and over and over again."

Gillham, formerly one of Hubbard's most loyal and trusted messengers, said his behavior became increasingly erratic after he crashed a motorcycle in the Canary Islands in the early 1970s.

"He realized his own mortality," she said. "He was in agony for months. He insisted, with a broken arm and broken ribs, that he was going to heal himself and it didn't work."

According to those who knew him well, Hubbard was neither affectionate nor much of a family man. He seemed closer to his handpicked messengers than to his own seven children, one of whom he later denied fathering.

"His kids rarely, if ever, got to see him," Gillham said, until his wife Mary Sue "insisted on weekly Sunday night dinners."

Hubbard expected his children to live up to the family name and do nothing that would reflect badly on him or the church. And for that reason, his son Quentin was a problem.

Quentin had once tried suicide with a drug overdose and was confused about his sexual orientation -- a fact that was quietly discussed among his friends and at the highest levels of the church.

"He thought Quentin was an embarrassment," said Laurel Sullivan, Hubbard's former public relations officer, who had a falling out with the organization in 1981. "And he told me that several times."

In 1976, Quentin parked on a deserted road in Las Vegas and piped the exhaust into his car. At the age of 22, he killed himself.

When Hubbard was told of the suicide, "he didn't cry or anything," according to a former aide. His first reaction, she said, was to express concern over the possibility of publicity that could be used to discredit Scientology.

Hubbard also had problems with another son, his namesake, L. Ron Hubbard Jr.

Hubbard feuded with his eldest son for more than 25 years, dating back to 1959 when L. Ron Hubbard Jr. split with Scientology because he said he was not making enough money to support his family. In the years that followed, he changed his name to Ronald DeWolfe and accused his father of everything from cavorting with mobsters to abusing drugs.

For his part, Hubbard accused his son of being crazy.

Although Hubbard cast himself as a humble servant to mankind, former assistants said he was not without ego. He craved adulation and coveted fame.

Sullivan, the former public relations officer, recalled how after an appearance he would ask: "How many minutes of applause did I get? How many times did they say, 'Hip, hip, hurray!'? How many people showed up? How many letters did I get?"

"If you remained in awe of him ... he was great," said Sullivan, who had a falling out with the church in 1981. "If you crossed him, or appeared to cross him, he would lash out at you, scream at you, accuse you of things."

Gillham and other former aides said he would accuse even his most devout aides of trying to poison him if he did not like the taste of a meal that had been laboriously prepared for his table. "Somebody's trying to kill me!" former aides said he would shout. "What have I done? All I've tried to do is help man."

He envisioned global conspiracies designed to smash Scientology, and he ingrained this dark view in the minds of his followers through his many writings.

"Time and again since 1950," Hubbard said in 1982, "the vested interests which pretend to run the world (for their own appetites and profit) have mounted full-scale attacks. With a running dog press and slavish government agencies the forces of evil have launched their lies and sought, by whatever twisted means, to check and destroy Scientology."

"Our enemies on this planet are less than 12 men," he announced in a 1967 tape-recorded message to his adherents. "They are members of the Bank of England and other higher financial circles. They own and control newspaper chains and they are oddly enough directors in all the mental health groups in the world which have sprung up."

Chief among his suspects were psychiatry and government agencies that probed his organization, including Interpol the Paris-based international police agency, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, the Internal Revenue Service and the FBI.

Former Scientologist Hartwell told the Florida hearing that she was present when Hubbard made a film about "bombing the FBI office."

"I was in makeup and we had so much blood on those actors, which was made out of Karo syrup and food coloring," Hartwell said. "And we couldn't get enough on them to suit Hubbard. We had guys' legs off, there were hands off, arms -- I mean, it was a mess from the word go."

Even before Scientology, Hubbard believed that unseen forces were against him.

"I watched him operate," said "Dianetics" publisher Arthur Ceppos, who later split with Hubbard. "If he felt he was under attack, that's when his paranoia showed."

This siege mentality led Hubbard to author a series of church policies on how to combat suspected foes -- writings that, more than any of his others, have worked to reinforce Scientology's cultish image and undermine its quest for legitimacy.

He counseled his followers to discredit the opposition to "a point of total obliteration" and to remember that "the thousands of years of Jewish passivity earned them nothing but slaughter. So things do not run right because one is holy or good. Things run right because one makes them right."

In this spirit, during the mid-1970s, Scientologists launched nasty smear campaigns and turned to criminality, burglarizing private and government offices.

Eventually, 11 top Scientologists were jailed, including Hubbard's wife Mary Sue, who oversaw the sweeping operation. Hubbard was named as an unindicted co-conspirator.

At one point during this period, FBI agents raided church headquarters in Los Angeles and Washington. Hubbard and three trusted aides, fearing that his enemies had at long last gained the upper hand, ran for cover. They fled a Scientology compound near the town of Hemet and drove to Sparks, Nev., where they used false names and lived in a nondescript apartment for six months until things cooled off.

"When the raids happened he never really knew what they (the FBI) had," recalled Dede Reisdorf, one of those who accompanied Hubbard.

To disguise Hubbard's appearance, Reisdorf said, she cut his red hair and dyed it brown. He often wore fake glasses, donned a phony mustache and pulled a hunter's cap down over his ears.

"He got to a point," Reisdorf said, "where he wouldn't even walk in front of a window. ... He was afraid of being seen by somebody. There was always somebody in a bush somewhere. A reporter or an FBI agent or an IRS agent."

It was not the last time Hubbard would go into hiding. In 1980, on St. Valentine's Day, Hubbard pulled another disappearing act. This time, he never returned.

Chapter Four

The Final Days

Deep in hiding, Hubbard kept tight grip on the church

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The cheers were deafening.

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

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

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

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