Rod Keller is back with a grim update to one of his previous stories for us…
My friend Wendy Lee Westling died of a heroin overdose in Reno, Nevada on April 7. Wendy was one of three women I interviewed for the first story I wrote on substance abuse-related deaths among former Narconon staff members. Karl Tempest, Kevin Vavrinka, Tabatha Fauteux, Nathan Dwyer, Jacob Heider, and now Wendy Lee Westling have all relapsed and died after serving as staff members at Scientology’s drug rehab network.
She was a Narconon “student” and staff member at the Rainbow Ranch in Caliente, NV and also staff at Narconon South Texas in Harlingen. While every drug treatment program has patients that leave prematurely and relapse, deaths among drug addiction counselors in other programs are more rare. Narconon has lost at least six in the past few years.
Outside of Narconon a recovered addict would be clean for years and nearly all take formal education to become a counselor. In Narconon, a patient one day becomes a counselor the next, and drug use is common at some Narconon centers among both patients and staff. As is true with so many addicts, I found out this week that Wendy lied about her addiction. She told me her only addiction was to alcohol, but in speaking to her friends I learned that before and after Narconon she had been addicted to heroin.
She used heroin after graduating from the Rainbow Ranch in October 2014, and in desperation turned to the Scientology Purification Rundown program to help her get clean. Wendy took this photo inside the Los Angeles org while doing the Purif. She also volunteered to help with renovations at the Scientology Mission of the Foothills in Montrose, CA. She turned to Scientology itself because there is no aftercare program in Narconon. Graduates are told they are now cured, and will not experience a craving for drugs or alcohol. They are told the long hours of saunas at Narconon have removed their cravings. The large number of patient and staff deaths doesn’t support that claim.
I kept in touch with Wendy and cheered her on as she maintained her sobriety, struggled to find a good job and rebuild her life. I gave her the contact for Legal Aid in Reno when she said she was basically homeless and needed help getting public assistance. She married a soldier in the U.S. Army, then accepted a new job at a Motel 6 in Reno as a housekeeping supervisor and things were looking up.
I’m embarrassed to admit I missed the Facebook post above, “Whiskey my only friend” from January. I only found it this week as I looked at her Facebook page more carefully. I feel badly that I didn’t talk to her to about relapsing. Additional details about her death will be available in a few months when the toxicology report and autopsy are complete, and a cause of death is assigned. Reno police will only say that it appears drug related at this time.
Wendy is survived by her husband Jeremiah and children Caylie & Corbin. A service in her memory will be held at Mountain View Mortuary at 425 Stoker Ave., Reno, NV on April 18th at 4:00.
— Rod Keller
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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