Bernie Headley sounded really good on the phone. And he says for now, he feels good. The lung cancer he was diagnosed with in 2004 went into remission after he had a partial lung removal. It came back in 2014, but radiation treatments seem to have made that dormant as well. But then lesions started showing up on his brain.
In 2014, he was told he had three to six months to live after his lung cancer came back. And when he found out he had brain cancer, he was again told he had three to six months to live. But he still has no symptoms, and the effects of his most recent radiation treatment are receding. Doctors are waiting for his body to recover from that, and then in March they’ll do a new set of scans on his brain to see whether the lesions have grown.
“I joke about being the Energizer Bunny,” he told us by phone this week. “But Marc hates when I do that. He actually takes it more seriously than I do.”
The Marc he’s referring to is his son Marc Headley who, with his wife Claire, made a memorable appearance recently on Leah Remini’s A&E series, Scientology and the Aftermath. Marc and Claire described how they escaped from Scientology’s International Base in California in January 2005, and eventually reunited in Lee’s Summit, Missouri, where Bernie was living at the time.
Bernie was ecstatic to get his son Marc back, after losing him to Scientology some 15 years earlier.
“The night Marc called me, he was very tentative. He wasn’t sure how I was going to react. He couldn’t see me on the other end, pumping my fist, saying yes! And I can’t tell you how heartbreaking it was also. At first, Marc thought he had lost Claire.”
As Claire explained on Leah’s show, after Marc made a run for it, she had to pretend that she was through with him and was staying dedicated to Scientology.
Meanwhile, Bernie was hearing from his daughter Stephanie. “She talked to me every day after Marc blew,” he says, using the Scientology term for escaping. (The Headleys insist that Stephanie was only allowed to call as an attempt to track Marc down and get him brought back to the base.) Like her brother Marc, Stephanie Headley had been brought up in the church by her mother and had gone to Int Base after she joined Scientology’s “Sea Organization,” signing its billion-year contract and dedicating her life utterly to the organization. She eventually became the base’s director of communications.
Claire, meanwhile, was still continuing to pretend that she’d given up on Marc when she was allowed off the base for an optometrist appointment at a WalMart in Hemet. She took that opportunity to make a run for it, heading straight for Bernie’s house to be reunited with Marc.
And then Bernie stopped hearing from his daughter. “I lost contact with Stephanie the day Claire left Int Base,” he tells us. “The day Claire left, and they knew where she was going, to my house, then I stopped hearing from Stephanie.”
Bernie said he called the base and was put on hold for an hour when he tried to reach Stephanie and never got through to her. “I called the next day and they said they didn’t know who she was. She was the director of communications at the base and they expected me to believe that.”
He hasn’t heard from his daughter in the 12 years since Claire’s escape, on January 24, 2005. He’s become the target of Scientology’s disconnection policy, even though he was never a Scientologist himself — his unforgivable sin was helping his son escape to freedom.
Today, Marc and Claire each have thriving businesses in Castle Rock, Colorado, and Bernie lives nearby. While she was in the Sea Org, Claire had been forced to have two abortions, which was Scientology policy to keep Sea Org workers from needing to take off time to raise families. Once they got away from the base, however, they started making up for lost time and they now have three boys.
Bernie is happy to be a grandfather to Marc’s boys. But he’s still desperate for news about his daughter, and he knows he may be running out of time.
Through their contacts still in the church, Marc and Bernie learned that Stephanie had been “offloaded” from Int Base and was sent to a backwater facility in Canada — probably, Marc says, as punishment. Not only did Marc and Claire escape from Int Base, but they also later filed lawsuits against the church over the way they were treated in the Sea Org. (Those lawsuits were later dismissed, and an appellate judge who upheld the decision said that although the Headleys had compelling evidence of abuse, they should have sued under a different law, such as false imprisonment.)
Still relying on information they were getting second hand, Bernie and Marc learned that a year and a half ago, Stephanie left the Sea Org, which still frowns on having children, and gave birth to a baby boy. She then went to work for a Scientologist-owned company.
“Some of the people who worked there weren’t Scientologists, and it was Stephanie and her husband’s job to train them in Scientology. But the workers complained to the government, and Stephanie and her husband were fired,” Bernie says.
Watching Stephanie’s Facebook page, they learned that she then went to Mexico, where she turned her Facebook account private. Today, Bernie says, they suspect that she’s returned to Canada, but they don’t know where she is.
“She’s still a Scientologist, and contacting us would ‘threaten her eternity’,” he says, explaining what she must be thinking in Scientology terms.
“It’s not easy. Stephanie was a daddy’s girl. But we keep hoping. We keep trying,” Bernie says.
We asked him if there’s any chance that Stephanie might know about his health challenges.
He says that in 2004, when he was first diagnosed with lung cancer, he was still in touch with her, and she came to see him when he was getting a portion of his lung removed.
“It was the last time I actually saw her. She came for about a week. And her Nextel phone rang constantly — I think they were keeping track of her.”
Marc and Claire escaped from the base in 2005, and then in 2008 they all received disconnection letters at the same time.
“I got one from Stephanie. Marc got one from his mom, and Claire got one from her mom. Marc’s mom lived in Ohio, Claire’s mom lived in La Crescenta, and Stephanie lived in Canada. But their letters were all dated the same day, and all postmarked from the same place, with the same return address — Scientology’s Hollywood Guaranty Building on Hollywood Boulevard.”
In her letter, Stephanie tried to convince her father that nothing has really changed between them, except that he chose to side with Marc, who was trying to destroy the church…
Nothing has changed in our relationship, except for you chose to befriend someone who is actively attacking what I do and love to get back at some personal vendetta insted of being logical and resolving one’s own problems and being responsible for them…The fact of the matter is that what Marc has done in the past three years has only acted to pull the family more apart than ever instead of bringing it together….Marc should take responsibility for whatever happened and handle that and stop blaming everyone for this.
The letter — sent from a Scientology address — is proof, Bernie says, that Stephanie has cut herself off from him simply because the church has told her so.
In October 2014, when they learned that Bernie’s lung cancer had returned, Marc and Claire reached out to each of Stephanie’s aunts and uncles and asked for their assistance, telling them that Bernie had been told he had three to six months to live. Doctors had told him he wouldn’t live to see that Christmas. Stephanie’s mother, Trudy Hensley, responded by telling her brother that neither she or Stephanie would ever speak to Bernie again.
Despite that, Bernie continues to hold out hope that Stephanie will eventually change her mind, and he maintains a website, asking her to contact him.
He’s not giving up, but he’s not sure that Stephanie really knows what his health situation is. If someone knows her, please get in touch with us to let us know where she is, and so we can let her know that Bernie is trying desperately to see her again before it’s too late.
Why, Scientology, are you keeping this father and daughter apart?
Scientology not happy with LA Times voting story
The LA Times got a lot of mileage out of their story this week showing that the only voting precinct in the deeply blue sea of Los Angeles that went for Trump included Scientology’s headquarters. We’ve long known that Scientologists tend to lean right (although we do know left-leaning former church members), and Mike Rinder has explained how Scientologists tend to vote as a bloc if they’re told the church favors a candidate.
But we’re intrigued by the reaction from Scientology vice president Janet Weiland, who expressed her displeasure with the story at a neighborhood forum. Janet’s response was spotted by Jeffrey Augustine, who sent us a screengrab…
Jeffrey pointed out to us that the Self Realization Fellowship is staffed by people who go home at night, and would be registered to vote where they live, not where they work.
But we love that reaction from Janet, who has a colorful history with the church. She tried to intimidate Tory Christman out of boarding a plane when Tory was leaving Scientology and going to see other former church members. More recently, she tried to shut down a Scientology protester by getting him in trouble with the organization that ran the transitional home where he was living. And even with those unsavory tasks, she managed to get honored at the White House last year. (Thanks, Obama.)
Her reaction here is curious. The Times established pretty conclusively that the Scientologists of Big Blue voted for Donald Trump, who won the election. Why not own it?
Scientology gets political — in Hungary
One of our correspondents in Hungary gave us this interesting update on what’s happening in that country…
The local press is reporting that the former head of Scientology in Hungary is founding a political party.
The person in question is Katalin Weith. The party is called Magunkért Mozgalom, or Movement for Us. She is setting this up with nine other people, several of whom have strong ties to Scientology or Scientology-associated groups here. She mentions the religious law that came into effect in 2010 as being a point where religion and politics crossed paths and that it wasn’t a good thing because many religious groups lost their official status.
The 2010 law said that only those groups that had operated in Hungary for 100 years could receive all the benefits that being a religion confers. It also introduced a social benefit aspect. Either way it shut down any hope Scientology had in Hungary to reap the tax rewards of being a religion. The church was furious. By comparison, the Salvation Army also lost its status – they don’t have a 100 year history here yet – however their reaction was awesome. They said that while it was disappointing it wouldn’t change anything they do here, and true to their word they keep doing charity work.
There are 10 founders of the new party. Weith is one, and in the interview she claims not to have been in an Org since 2010. She also says she has developed her own set of views, but doesn’t elaborate. Other founders include Shelley Duncan, Attila Vegh and his brother Peter Vegh. Peter is the head of the Scientology front group Citizens Commission on Human Rights, or Állampolgári Bizottság az Emberi Jogokért.
Weith says that the party will contest the general elections in 2018, and will be opening offices for the political party in every megye (Hungary’s equivent to US states) by the end of March.
Nerdwriter on ‘The Master’
Nerdwriter Evan Puschak makes some excellent observations about how Scientology auditing “works” in his latest essay, looking at the processing scene in Paul Thomas Anderson’s 2012 movie, The Master. We have a feeling the Scientologists who cry bloody murder when you tell them auditing involves hypnosis are not going to like this one bit.
We’ll say again what we’ve been saying since this film premiered almost five years ago: PTA’s original script was much, much better and was much more about Scientology. We have a theory that it took so many years from Anderson’s initial research into Scientology to actually filming it that his passion for the subject had cooled somewhat and he let the movie become more of a vehicle for Joaquin Phoenix to chew up vast acres of scenery. Art-film lovers loved it, but for us, you knew you were in for a slog from the initial shot of Phoenix’s Freddie Quell staring over a gunwale, a shot that lasted about 12 minutes longer than we could stand. (OK, so it was 30 seconds. But still an eternity in film time.)
Sadly, what got left out of the original script were all the best jabs at L. Ron Hubbard and Scientology. What’s left is still interesting, but the film’s overall weirdness and glacial pace is probably why it isn’t talked about all that much now — well, until Puschak resurrected it. He does an excellent job here and we agree with all of the points he’s making. We just wish The Master had been better.
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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.
The Best of the Underground Bunker, 1995-2016 Just starting out here? We’ve picked out the most important stories we’ve covered here at the Undergound Bunker (2012-2016), The Village Voice (2008-2012), New Times Los Angeles (1999-2002) and the Phoenix New Times (1995-1999)
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