Our man in Paris, journalist Jonny Jacobsen, has a fascinating piece for us today. We’ll let him explain…
A judge investigating the 2006 suicide of a Scientologist in France may finally close the case because police have not been able to track down key witnesses. Officers have been looking into the death of 47-year-old Gloria Lopez (pictured), who in December 2006 stepped in front of a speeding train at Colombes station just outside Paris.
But they have been unable to find three Scientologists the judge considers key to the affair, all of whom had dealings with Lopez in the months leading up to her death. Scientology executives in France have insisted they have no idea where they are.
Gloria Lopez had been involved with Scientology since the mid-1990s. During that time her family estimates she spent around 250,000 euros on the movement. Her two children say she was depressed in the months leading up to her death and they blame that on her involvement in Scientology. The family’s lawyer, Maître Rodolphe Bosselut, dates her final crisis to a visit to Scientology’s Copenhagen centre that she made in July 2006.
“Strangely, she did not return on the appointed day,” he said. “When she did return, several days later, she said that Scientology had asked her to stay and she had not felt she could leave.”
Her work colleagues said they noticed a dramatic change in her mood after she came back from Copenhagen. “She was much more withdrawn,” said one co-worker, who asked not to be named. “She hardly spoke at all…She seemed sad, withdrawn, preoccupied.”
Documents her family found at her apartment after her death included a billion-year contract for the Sea Organization, Scientology’s corps for its most dedicated, full-time members. She had signed the document during her July visit to Copenhagen. Other papers show she was expected to return to Copenhagen for further training and then travel on to Clearwater, in Florida. Yet she never told her family about her Sea Org membership or her plans to travel to the United States.
Gloria Lopez committed suicide on December 21, 2006: she had been due to start in the Sea Org in January 2007.
Lopez’s family has filed a complaint against persons unknown alleging abuse of weakness, organized fraud, and failure to help a person in danger. Scientology officials have repeatedly insisted that her death had nothing to do with them, and a Paris spokesman refused any further comment for this article.
In 2011, prosecutors abandoned the case after several years of investigation, arguing that there was not enough evidence to build a case. After the family filed a second formal complaint, an investigating judge was appointed to take another look. Like the prosecutor, he has the power to take the matter to court if he thinks there is a case to answer.
But now Maître Bosselut has sounded the alarm. He fears the judge is about to close his investigation, at least in part because police cannot locate the key persons of interest to interview them. The judge’s decision is expected in the next few weeks.
Persons of interest
These are the three Scientologists investigators want to interview:
— Juliette Wagner-Quercia, who introduced Lopez to Scientology and who, according to family and friends, was a strong influence on her during her first years inside the movement. She was working at Scientology’s Copenhagen base in 2006 and was Lopez’s point of contact there;
— Elisabeth Haley, Lopez’s auditor at Copenhagen. Haley wrote twice to Lopez in the months that followed, trying to get her to return for further auditing. The contents of her letters make it clear she knew that Lopez was in difficulty;
— Danielle Ambert: a high-level Scientologist (OT VIII and a former mission holder in France), she acted as Lopez’s financial adviser at a time when she came into a substantial sum of money – most of which she subsequently spent on Scientology.
After Scientology officials in France said they did not know where the three women were, police wrote to Scientology centers in both Copenhagen and the United States in a fruitless bid to trace them.
Gloria Lopez’s behavior changed drastically on her return from Copenhagen in July, said Maître Bosselut. “She stopped taking courses and she became more withdrawn at work,” he explained. During the same period, letters were arriving from Copenhagen urging her to return. But as Gloria Lopez sank into depression, the Scientologists around her failed to give her the help she needed, he added.
Lopez’s son, Gwenn Le Berre said that when police searched Scientology premises in 2009 looking for documents relating to the case, all they found was an empty dossier with Gloria Lopez’s name on it. And when officers interviewed Scientologists about his mother, none of them seemed to know her well, even though she had been a regular at the Celebrity Center for years.
“Nobody knew her, even those who wrote her letters with ‘kisses, lots of love’,” he said. “Even those people continue to say that they didn’t know her. It’s completely bizarre.”
Among the papers that Lopez’s children found at her home after her death were writings in her own hand from the final months of her life. In them, she expressed her distress at the financial difficulties she was experiencing, as well as a sense of failure — the antithesis of what Scientology promises its followers.
The financial advisor
These writings also revealed the role that Danielle Ambert played in advising Lopez on her financial affairs, said Maître Bosselut. Lopez had inherited a property in Spain, which she had told her family she would sell so as to buy an apartment just outside Paris. The handwritten documents found at her apartment make it clear however that instead of buying the French apartment she spent the money on Scientology courses.
“Ambert advised Mme Lopez that no bank would lend to her for Scientology courses but that she would be able to get a loan to buy an apartment,” Me Bosselut explained.
So despite having received a large sum of money from the sale of the property in Spain — more than 200,000 euros — she ended up having to borrow to buy an apartment near Paris. Ambert’s business card, which Lopez’s family found at her apartment after her death, describes her as a “counsellor in independent investment.”
Lopez’s handwritten notes show that she had paid in advance for most of Scientology’s advanced Operating Thetan (OT) levels. “A first part of the money allowed me to get to Clear,” she wrote. The state of Clear is the position halfway up Scientology’s scale of courses. Attaining it opens up the route to the more advanced — and far more expensive — Operating Thetan (OT) levels. Paying for levels I to VII effectively meant she was paying for courses years in advance.
Ten days later she attended a seminar on a push to get 10,000 OT VIIs. “The next day I paid the levels up to OT VII,” she wrote.
In the original 2009 Paris court judgment convicting two Scientology organizations of organized fraud, the court noted that Scientology’s practice of hard sell meant that members were pressured into paying for training years in advance and thus driven into debt. The 2013 Cour de Cassation ruling that rendered those convictions definitive also specifically mentioned Scientology’s hard-sell policies and referred to how Scientology’s victims were:
…quickly led to commit to several years of courses, auditing sessions, purification cures forming part of the Scientology doctrine, for the financing of which they spent all their savings, got themselves into debt and in the end found themselves in a particularly difficult situation, both materially and morally…
One former Scientologist has already explained to investigators how relentless the movement’s salesmen can be in getting people to buy more courses, said Maître Bosselut. And despite the vast sums Lopez had spent on courses, the papers found at her apartment also show that Scientology was telling her she owed them money.
“Oppressive and aggressive”
Lopez’s growing desperation is evident from the writings she left behind, said the lawyer. She wrote:
For the moment I am losing money instead of earning for the Bridge [her courses] (I have to get the money together to pay the expenses for when I will be in Denmark and the United States for the OT levels.) … Despite everything I have understood, I am not getting better, at work I am making mistakes.
The police unit that investigated Gloria Lopez’s death was the Office for the Repression Violence against Persons (ORCVP). Their report, submitted to the prosecutor’s office concluded:
…[I]n 2000 Gloria Lopez broke with her family and friends, lost custody of her children, sold her house and left her job with the sole aim of moving closer to the Paris Celebrity Center. She invested all her money, which was in fact a substantial amount, in Scientology and got into debt to pay for her expenses and an apartment… .
The report also described Scientology’s operating method as “commercial, very organized, oppressive and aggressive,” designed to ensure maximum profits for its directors. Despite this report, the prosecutors office at Nanterre, just outside Paris, decided in June 2011 to drop the case, arguing there was not enough evidence to show that Gloria Lopez had been subjected to undue influence.
For Maître Bosselut, that decision betrays a complete lack of understanding of how Scientology operates; and it ignores crucial evidence in the documents written by Mme Lopez herself in the final months of her life. Now however, it looks as if the investigating magistrate, Jean-Michel Bergès, might follow suit. Maître Bosselut argues that the failure of Scientology officials in France and abroad to provide any leads that would help investigators to find these three women is evidence of their bad faith.
“For an organization as centralized as Scientology — as obsessed with documenting everything about its members — it is simply not credible that it can offer no useful information in this affair,” he said. Scientology officials had failed to turn over Mme Lopez’s files or even to say who her auditors had been, he added.
Gloria Lopez’s son, Gwenn le Berre, says he is determined to keep fighting to find out more about what drove his mother to kill herself.
“I would certainly like to have at least some answers from a few people named in the file, and if we could go after Scientology as an organization then that would be really great.” Because as important as the three missing witnesses are, this is not just about individuals, he insists. “Clearly, it’s the organization, because in this organization there are people who are just bad to the core, who do bad things, who ought to be convicted; and there are others who are the victims and who are in a way used by these people…
“[T]here are people who know. There are people who are paid to organize this fraud. And there are those who profit, clearly.”
— Jonny Jacobsen
Bodhi Elfman strikes back!
Bodhi Elfman, an actor in Scientology married to fellow celebrity Scientologist Jenna Elfman, reacted to Alex Gibney’s HBO documentary Going Clear with a couple of tweets lashing out at the film.
Bodhi’s father, Scientologist Richard Elfman, founded the Mystic Knights of the Oingo Boingo, which at first was used as a recruiting troupe for Scientology, Spanky Taylor told us recently. (Later, Rick handed over the band to his younger brother, Danny Elfman, who was not a Scientologist.)
Bodhi and Jenna are known for defending Scientology in rather strident terms.
Scientologist on Freewinds cruise dies in Bonaire after swimming
Local media in the Caribbean island of Bonaire are reporting that on Sunday, Scientologist William Robert Purvis, 67, who was a passenger on the church’s private cruise ship, the Freewinds, became ill after swimming, and died.
According to online records, Purvis was a longtime and experienced Scientologist, but we don’t know much about him. If you know something about Bill, please let us know.
Scientologists are constantly pressured to buy cruise packages on the Freewinds for seminars and courses. While the ship is the only place where a Scientologist can receive the highest level of spiritual training, Operating Thetan Level 8, the lack of OT 8 business has resulted in the ship holding many other seminars and conferences to keep it filled.
The ship often travels between Bonaire, Aruba, and Curacao, but also makes stops in Venezuala.
David Miscavige and Tom Cruise get the Funny or Die treatment
Ok, this is pretty damn good…
Bonus photos from our tipsters
Marisol Nichols posted a couple of items. Wonder what she’s referring to?
Actual caption, and we’re not judging in any way: “Starlight cabin. #Freewinds Plus size model show”
Looks like Going Clear’s demos skewed young…
Scientologists are using social media more than ever. Drop us a line if you spot them posting images to Instagram or Facebook!
Posted by Tony Ortega on March 31, 2015 at 07:00
E-mail your tips and story ideas to email@example.com or follow us on Twitter. We post behind-the-scenes updates at our Facebook author page. Here at the Bunker we try to have a post up every morning at 7 AM Eastern (Noon GMT), and on some days we post an afternoon story at around 2 PM. After every new story we send out an alert to our e-mail list and our FB page.
Learn about Scientology with our numerous series with experts…
BLOGGING DIANETICS: We read Scientology’s founding text cover to cover with the help of LA attorney and former church member Vance Woodward
UP THE BRIDGE: Claire Headley and Bruce Hines train us as Scientologists
GETTING OUR ETHICS IN: Jefferson Hawkins explains Scientology’s system of justice
SCIENTOLOGY MYTHBUSTING: Historian Jon Atack discusses key Scientology concepts
PZ Myers reads L. Ron Hubbard’s “A History of Man” | Scientology’s Master Spies | Scientology’s Private Dancer
The mystery of the richest Scientologist and his wayward sons | Scientology’s shocking mistreatment of the mentally ill
The Underground Bunker’s Official Theme Song | The Underground Bunker FAQ
Our Guide to Alex Gibney’s film ‘Going Clear,’ and our pages about its principal figures…
Jason Beghe | Tom DeVocht | Sara Goldberg | Paul Haggis | Mark “Marty” Rathbun | Mike Rinder | Spanky Taylor | Hana Whitfield