If you saw the premiere episode of A&E’s Leah Remini: Scientology and the Aftermath, you know that the emotional center of the show is the awful choice the Church of Scientology forced on Bonny Elliott.
In an interview she gave on her deathbed, Bonny explained that because of Scientology’s “disconnection” policy, once her daughter Amy Scobee was labeled an enemy of the church Bonny risked being kicked out of it herself if she continued to associate with Amy. And if that happened, she’d lose all contact with her husband, who was a dedicated Scientologist.
Scientology was forcing her to choose between the two people she loved most in the world, her husband and her daughter.
“I told her at that point that I was going to have to disconnect from her. That wasn’t a good day,” Bonny struggles to say on camera.
Eventually, though, love wins out. Bonny and Amy explain that several months later they defied the church and reunited, and eventually things worked out well because Bonny’s husband Mark Elliott decided to leave the church on his own.
We noticed that quite a few of our readers had the same reaction we did: If that was the case, why wasn’t Mark himself featured in the show?
It turns out that Mark was more than willing to tell his version of what happened, but he wasn’t at all perturbed to have been left out of the episode. (Well, he did make an appearance. That was Mark driving the white van into Bonny’s driveway to dramatize the arrival of Scientology ethics officers who hassled Bonny over maintaining contact with Amy.)
We certainly wanted to hear his side of the tale, so we asked him to start at the beginning. Mark, 60, tells us he was born in Denver and that his father was a hotel manager, which led to the family moving around a lot. When Mark was 11, the family settled in Bellevue, Washington, which is east of Seattle.
Mark did a lot of hiking and camping, so when he entered college, he decided to major in forestry. But he’d also been introduced to Dianetics, and in January 1980, he started to get serious about Scientology and gave up college.
“It was back when the hippie era was rounding out in Scientology, and I was hoping to save the world. I was a philosophy type,” he says with a laugh.
While he got deeper into Dianetics and auditing, he took a job working for a Scientologist and was part of a crew selling items door to door — musical sculptures that made for unique gifts. (He also made money in construction.)
A few months after he started the sales job, a woman named Bonny Kennedy joined the crew.
“Our group had a breakfast meeting at an IHOP restaurant. She was sitting at the table, and when I came in I was laughing. She said that she immediately liked the way I laughed, but when she got a look at me she was disappointed — she figured I was too young for her.”
Mark was 23, Bonny was 36. “But we realized that we had a lot in common. She was divorced and she had a couple of kids — Amy had already gone off to Scientology, so I didn’t meet her at that time.”
That summer, Mark and Bonny started going to music shows together. And because of their mutual interest in Scientology, they started talking about joining staff at the Bellevue Scientology mission so they could train to become auditors. But then the next year, Bonny changed her plans.
“In 1981 she decided she was going to join the Sea Org, so she could be with Amy. So I told her, ‘I better marry you or you’ll get away.’ We got married and then we moved to Florida just two weeks later.”
While Bonny was doing her Sea Org training at Scientology’s “Flag Land Base” in Clearwater, Mark was hired at the base to sell Scientology books to the public. Then, in December 1981, Mark got work helping with financial records as Scientology was undergoing a massive corporate restructuring. After that, he got involved in a computer project which lasted a couple of years.
Meanwhile, Bonny and Amy had been reunited as they both worked in the Sea Org at the base, though each of them went through numerous job changes (which can be pretty common in the Sea Org). By 1984, Mark had joined the staff at the Tampa org about 30 minutes away, eventually becoming its executive director. “I came home one night, and Bonny was in tears. She said she was going to blow, and she figured she was going to lose me.”
Mark explained that things had become miserable for Bonny after she’d been moved to a new position as “PC page.”
“Her job was just to take folders from one office to another. And you had to run. She had to run up and down stairs, in the Florida sun. She was 40 at the time, and she was overweight, and running up and down stairs to deliver folders was miserable,” Mark says. She eventually was moved to a new position, but it was a receptionist role and offered her little chance to help other people.
“She had tried to route out…but they wouldn’t let her. So she decided just to leave. And she figured I wouldn’t want to mess up my standing as the ED in Tampa. ‘The hell you say, I’m going with you,’ I said to her. So we split. And they never did declare us.”
By merely walking away — called “blowing” in Scientology jargon — Bonny and Mark risked being declared “suppressive,” Scientology’s version of excommunication. But both of them remained Scientologists, and they avoided being declared. Back in Washington, Mark returned to cabinetmaking, and took classes in computers while Bonnie became a homemaker.
In 1989, Mark was recruited by a friend to work at the Bellevue Scientology mission, where he was on staff for a couple of years, before moving to the Seattle org in 1991. In 2000, he left staff so he could spend more time training to become an auditor — he still liked the idea of becoming a field auditor, working to bring new people into Scientology.
“[Scientology leader David] Miscavige had added a lot of shit to slow down auditor training. I’m actually a pretty good auditor, but it took a long time to get through the stuff Miscavige added, and I never finished the training.”
Meanwhile, Amy Scobee had become one of the top executives in the Church of Scientology and then had run afoul of Miscavige, spending years in the Sea Org’s prison detail, the Rehabilitation Project Force. It was in the RPF that she met Mat Pesch, and the two of them decided to leave the church once and for all.
“When Amy came out of the church in 2005 with Mat, they came up here to see us. They said, ‘Here’s the story, we’ve blown and we’re declared.’ They said they were going to do the steps to get back in good standing, one of which was to pay their huge debt,” Mark says.
When Sea Org members “blow,” Scientology hits them with what is called a “freeloader’s debt,” a bill for all the coursework they didn’t have to pay for while they were employees. Amy says that because both of them had been in the Sea Org for so many years, their debt was going to be huge.
“Mat got a partial bill for $250,000,” Amy tells us. “And when we had left we had zero money. We were both OT 7 and were trained auditors,” she adds, which meant that their final ‘freeloader’s debt’ was going to be stunningly large. “We didn’t think that after 27 years of nonstop work we should have to pay for it. So we sent them a letter saying we’re not going to pay for it. And we told them not to write to us anymore. At that point we were considered the enemy. That’s when they had lost control of us. And so they had to start trying to control them, my mom and Mark.”
Amy and Bonny described what happened next in Tuesday night’s episode…
Amy: I was worried that they were going to convince her that the right thing to do would be to disconnect from me. I need to get to her first. So I went down to her house and I start telling her my whole story. And during that time when we were speaking at her house, there’s a knock at the door. So, she said, go hide in the back room. So I ran to the back room, which is just this little bedroom.
Bonny: The ethics officer from the church came to visit. That’s like the enforcer in the church.
Amy: I’m just trying to listen. What are they going to tell my mom? An hour passes. I’m sitting there on the bed. That was when I started worrying. Are they actually getting to her?
Bonny: So, what he was telling me was that my daughter was evil and everything she touched was poison, and that she’d done so much damage to the church and that I should have nothing to do with her. And she was now a suppressive person…I at that point didn’t mind being declared. They could have declared me a thousand times, I didn’t care. But I cared for Mark. My husband worked his whole life, thirty-some years in Scientology. I didn’t want him to give up his dreams, or his wife. I mean, we do love each other, you know?….My husband was getting pressure: “Is your wife in contact with her daughter? So, there you have it. I have a husband which I absolutely adore, I’ve been married to 34 years now. And I have a daughter I absolutely adore, and I have a choice. So I told her at that point that I was going to have to disconnect from her. That wasn’t a good day.
So, for a while, Bonny tried to get used to the idea of not having Amy in her life.
“Bonny got incredibly depressed,” Mark says. “Her sister, Colleen Albert, realized that she was in bad shape and she told Amy, you have to get together and work this out. That’s when they reunited.”
Mark wasn’t aware that the two had begun seeing each other, some seven months after they’d first disconnected. But he was getting calls from Scientology’s enforcers, who kept asking him if Bonny was seeing her daughter. “They had private investigators watching Amy and so they knew she was seeing her mom. But they couldn’t admit to me that they were watching her. So they just kept asking me if I knew anything.”
Meanwhile, Mark still wanted to finish the auditor training that he’d never completed. And he began to put in some hours working on staff at the Seattle org on the evenings and weekends, so he could complete the task, and then he could start his own business as a field auditor for the church.
“But Bonny freaked out about me going on staff. So Amy came right over,” Mark says, and he realized it was true — they had been seeing each other. “I didn’t know anything about what Amy had been through. The RPF, the abuse, and all that. They sat me down for a couple of hours and told me everything. That’s the point where I said, OK, I’m quitting. That’s not the organization I want to be a part of,” he says. “I went back to the org and told the supervisor I was going out of town for a job. He said, no you can’t do that. So I just split. I just left the org, and that was the last time I was there. If they’re going to pull that shit they did on Amy and Mat, it’s not an organization that I want to be a part of. Lock people up, beat people, make people clean up a cesspool as punishment? Fuck that. So I just split.”
Mark then started reading what he could about the abuse allegations that was on the Internet. “Bonny had been reading this stuff already. She got me to read it. I got educated about what was going on in the church. And I’ll be honest, I was actually not happy that I wasn’t going to be an auditor. I had wanted to be a field auditor, and do it as a business.”
He learned, however, that there were many people who continued to do Scientology auditing outside of the church itself, and so eventually he did finish his auditing training after all.
Meanwhile, Amy had turned her experiences into a book, Abuse at the Top. In 2009, they invited some close friends for a book release party at Mark and Bonny’s house.
And for several years, they all had each other, and didn’t have to worry about Scientology splitting them apart.
Then, last year, in September, Mark and Bonny planned to celebrate Mark’s birthday with a short trip to Vancouver Island.
“We went to the ferry dock, and the gal looked at my passport and told me my passport was expired. So we went to a local resort instead and then went home. That afternoon, a Monday, Bonny took a nap,” he says. And when he got her up later in the day, she said she wasn’t feeling well.
“Bonny didn’t like doctors. And she’s never really needed them. She had a very active immune system and had always been healthy,” he says. But it turned out for some time, she had felt discomfort, but she had been waiting for Medicare to kick in that October, Mark says. But she knew that day in September that she couldn’t wait. They went to the hospital.
She was diagnosed with stage four colon cancer.
“I’ve done the RPF’s RPF, and it was nothing compared to what I went through with my mom,” Amy says about those final weeks of her mother’s life. “I was trying to help her, and I felt like I couldn’t do anything.”
After she had left the hospital for hospice care, Bonnie did the interview with a local camera crew and Leah Remini asking her questions via Skype.
“Bonny was really happy to be able to do that,” Mark says.
On December 15, 2015, just three months after she was diagnosed, Bonny died.
Mark says she would have loved Leah’s series, and he’s glad that Bonny was featured. And he didn’t mind not being interviewed on camera himself.
“The story was about Amy and Bon,” he says.
But we’re glad to remember Mark’s part of the story, too.
Spaceman is blasting off, and his cat needs a home
Longtime commenter MaxSpaceman, who lives here in New York, has decided to change his orbit and fire his booster rockets for parts west. But there’s not enough room in his capsule for his rakish companion, six-year-old Chico, and so we’re trying to get the word out that this handsome young guy — who obviously has great taste in reading material — needs a new permanent home.
Can you help us out? Please drop a line to the fine folks helping Spacemen find Chico new parents at firstname.lastname@example.org
Go here to start making your plans.
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Our book, The Unbreakable Miss Lovely: How the Church of Scientology tried to destroy Paulette Cooper, is on sale at Amazon in paperback, Kindle, and audiobook versions. We’ve posted photographs of Paulette and scenes from her life at a separate location. Reader Sookie put together a complete index. More information about the book, and our 2015 book tour, can also be found at the book’s dedicated 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 L.A. 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
Other links: Shelly Miscavige, ten years gone | The Lisa McPherson story told in real time | The Cathriona White stories | The Leah Remini ‘Knowledge Reports’ | Hear audio of a Scientology excommunication | Scientology’s little day care of horrors | Whatever happened to Steve Fishman? | Felony charges for Scientology’s drug rehab scam | Why Scientology digs bomb-proof vaults in the desert | 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 | Scientology boasts about assistance from Google | 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