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Did Scientology Kill Joel Sappell’s Dog?

Joel Sappell

Joel Sappell

UPDATE: We now have a review of Sappell’s full story, which has gone live at the Los Angeles magazine website.

One of our highlights of 2012 was getting to know Joel Sappell, the former Los Angeles Times journalist who, with his partner Robert Welkos, produced a series of blockbuster Scientology investigations in the late 1980s, culminating in their giant 1990 series about the church.

We lived in Los Angeles at the time, and can still remember the billboards that the church put up in retaliation.

We were reminiscing about that with Joel earlier this year when he told us he had an idea for a new story, and could we put him in touch with former Scientology executive Marty Rathbun? We were happy to help, and boy, does it look like it paid off.

Joel told us that Rathbun’s defection made him wonder, all these years after Rathbun was the church’s chief enforcer, if he could now fill in some details about the kind of harassment that Sappell and Welkos went through when their stories were coming out.


Chief among those incidents was the apparent poisoning of Sappell’s dog.

Los Angeles magazine put up an excerpt of Joel’s story at Buzzfeed today, and we’re looking forward to the full story later this week.

For now, the magazine has posted a press release with some highlights of the story, including these tidbits…

David Miscavige, the Church of Scientology’s ecclesiastical leader, took a intense interest in Sappell and Welkos’ reporting, referring to them as “Fucking weasel Sappell and fat fuck Welkos,” says Rathbun. The series appeared at a time when Miscavige was under pressure to prove he could lead after the death of church founder L. Ron Hubbard. When it came to the Times reporters, Rathbun says, the message was clear: “Crush them.”

The seizures that struck Sappell’s German shepherd mix were so severe that she had to be put down. Then Sappell received a phone call from a Superior Court judge. He was presiding over a civil trial pitting the Church of Scientology against a former church member who claimed he’d been harassed. “I hear your dog was poisoned,” the judge told Sappell. “My dog was drowned.” (The church denies their involvement in either pet’s death.)

Private investigators were indirectly hired by the church to obtain Sappell and Welkos’ financial records, phone records, and other data, Rathbun says. “I remember beaucoup intelligence reports on you guys during that entire era,” Rathbun tells Sappell. After Miscavige read those reports, Rathbun says, “I shredded all that stuff…. There could be no trace of it.”

Looks like great stuff. If you’re in LA, make sure and pick up a copy later this week!

UPDATE: We’ll have much more on this with a new post at 9 am Eastern tomorrow morning. Please check in then for what should be dynamite stuff.


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