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The Vanity Fair story on Shelly Miscavige: ‘Scientology’s Vanished Queen’

Ned Zeman has a great overview of the missing First Lady of Scientology, church leader David Miscavige’s wife Shelly, someone whose disappearance we’ve been writing about for a long time.

Zeman has put together a rich history of the Miscaviges, which is particularly good for the quotes he gets from people like Marc and Claire Headley, John Brousseau, and Tom DeVocht.

We knew that Zeman was working on it, and we wish he’d given us a call — he might have avoided some basic errors in the piece. But it’s a well-written article that should bring Shelly’s plight to the attention of many more people.

The article opens with a quick characterization of L. Ron Hubbard, Scientology, and Hubbard’s 1955 “Project Celebrity,” which ever since has been a focus for the organization. But Scientology and its celebrities have run into difficult days, and Zeman gives a well-deserved nod to Lawrence Wright and his 2011 New Yorker profile of church defector Paul Haggis (and later his book Going Clear) as a skillful exploration of the church’s troubles.

Zeman then begins telling Shelly’s story, and says that in August 2007, she was “suddenly gone. Without a trace.”


Well, not really. In the summer of 2007 Shelly was allowed to attend the funeral of her father, Barney. But by then it had already been two years since she first vanished. There are other timeline problems in the piece later on.

But Zeman does present an excellent history of Shelly as a 12-year-old on the Apollo with Hubbard, working in the Commodore’s Messenger Organization. (Except that he spells her name wrong. It’s ‘Michele,’ not ‘Michelle’ — hey, even we got that one wrong back in our Village Voice days.)

The article goes through Scientology’s 1970s troubles, which had Hubbard in hiding most of the time, and the rise of a young David Miscavige. There’s a great quote from former Scientologist Mark Fisher: “He was kind of an asshole. He would try to buddy up with you and be like ‘Hey, man, how’s it going?’ But he’d be quick to stab you in the back. If you did something wrong, he’d report you.”

There are other good descriptions about Miscavige and his famous temper, but then the article says, “At one point, he’d punched his own auditor.” Actually, as Lawrence Wright explained in Going Clear, Miscavige was the auditor and punched his own preclear — the Scientology word for counseling subject.

But Shelly had a temper as well, as Tom Devocht explained when Shelly became angry about his wife’s alluring way of dressing: “I turn around and it’s Shelly, and she goes, ‘You get your bitch, cunt, fucking whore wife away from my husband! She’s always hanging her tits in his face, and I’m just telling you, they’ve got something going on!'”

But if Shelly was possessive about her husband, several people told Zeman that they never saw the Miscaviges touch each other in public. Said Marc Headley: “I never, ever, ever saw them kiss. I was there for 15 years….So I had plenty of opportunities to witness them together and never, ever saw them affectionate with each other… I’m talking about in a room with four other people. Informal. We’re all just chatting, and he isn’t touching her.”

Miscavige, meanwhile, weathered the Lisa McPherson prosecution and lawsuit, and then created “The Hole” in 2004, imprisoning many of his top officials and also getting violent with them. No one alleges that they saw him get violent with Shelly, but they did see him yelling at her.

Shelly herself could be verbally abusive, but Jenna Miscavige Hill said that Shelly had a warm, maternal side even though she never had children of her own.

Zeman mentions some of the details of the suicide of Shelly’s mother, Flo Barnett, which we’ve covered at length before.

Zeman then explains what led up to Shelly’s disappearance, and he repeats the events — Shelly filling spots on the “org board” and moving DM’s possessions out of the “Villas” — that we wrote about earlier. Zeman suggests that these events happened in 2006, but we are more and more convinced that they happened a year earlier, in 2005. Here’s how we described it in our story…

In 2005, Miscavige did something surprising — he traveled to nearby Los Angeles to work on a publishing project, and Shelly stayed behind at the base. People who worked at the base tell us it was the first time they remembered seeing the couple apart.

Shelly took advantage of her husband’s absence to fill in the org board that had proved such a headache. She also made progress on another project Miscavige had been promising to start by moving his belongings out of a set of buildings called the “Villas.” She moved his things into another set of rooms called “the G’s,” so the Villas could be renovated.

Also at this time, Mike Rinder came to the base after working with Miscavige in Los Angeles. He says he was immediately pulled aside by Shelly and taken to the back porch of the large RTC building on the base, which was more private than other areas. There, she asked him if her husband had been wearing his wedding ring when Rinder saw him. Rinder said he didn’t notice, but he tells us that at the time, he immediately realized that the marriage was in serious trouble.

“I knew that she was in deep shit. She was worried that he was going to abandon her,” he tells us.

When Miscavige returned from Los Angeles and found the org board filled and his belongings moved, he erupted. A week later — which was sometime late in 2005 or early in 2006, our sources tell us, Shelly vanished.

Since we wrote that article, our sources have assured us that this incident happened even earlier, in the summer of 2005. In other words, Shelly was disappeared a full two years before she was allowed to go to her father’s funeral in the summer of 2007. (Our sources on this are eyewitnesses to these events, and did not speak to Vanity Fair.)

Also, we have new information about those last days before Shelly vanished, and we’ll write about that soon.

Zeman also leaves out one of the best details for why we believe Shelly was taken to the CST Headquarters (also known as ‘Rimforest,’ ‘Twin Peaks,’ and ‘Rim of the World’) in the Lake Arrowhead area. John Brousseau told us that after Shelly had been vanished, he saw that mail addressed to her was being forwarded to the CST compound.

Zeman also seems unclear about the CST compounds in other places, like northern California and New Mexico. He says Trementina Base, in New Mexico, is “a repository for [Hubbard’s] writings and films.” But actually all of the CST compounds that have vaults are repositories for the Hubbard archiving materials. Here’s our story with Dylan Gill, the first CST employee to give an interview, which we did in 2012.

We have several reasons to believe that Shelly is still working at the CST headquarters near Lake Arrowhead. As Zeman points out, she may be happy there. And Zeman’s story does an excellent job showing the overall picture of the life that the Miscaviges had, and why her disappearance is so troubling.

As we said, we have some new information about that, and we’ll be making it public soon.


Posted by Tony Ortega on February 5, 2014 at 14:45

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Learn about Scientology with our numerous series with experts…

BLOGGING DIANETICS (We read Scientology’s founding text) 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12, 13, 14, 15, 16, 17, 18, 19, 20, 21, 22, 23, 24, 25

UP THE BRIDGE (Claire Headley and Bruce Hines train us as Scientologists) 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12, 13, 14, 15, 16, 17, 18, 19, 20, 21, 22, 23, 24, 25, 26, 27, 28, 29, 30, 31, 32, 33, 34, 35, 36, 37, 38, 39

GETTING OUR ETHICS IN (Jefferson Hawkins explains Scientology’s system of justice) 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12, 13, 14

SCIENTOLOGY MYTHBUSTING (Historian Jon Atack discusses key Scientology concepts) 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12, 13, 14, 15, 16, 17, 18, 19, 20, 21, 22, 23, 24, 25, 26, 27, 28, 29, 30, 31, 32, 33, 34, 35, 36, 37, 38, 39, 40


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