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Stalked in New Orleans cemetery: Scientology’s secretive defectors getting more open

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With the hundreds of former Scientologist employees and Sea Org members who have come out and told their stories in recent years, you might think there was no one left who has ditched the organization and is still holding onto crucial information. There are, in fact, quite a few, and we keep an eye on them, hoping that they’ll get around to spilling their secrets.

But these days, with social media, it’s getting hard for them to keep quiet, at least about their day to day activities.

We have been watching in a state of surprise — and imagine how David Miscavige must feel as he watches the same thing — as Janis Gillham Grady has been posting to Facebook descriptions of her recent vacation in a group that included Miscavige’s father, Ron Sr., as well as Jefferson Hawkins, Steve Hall, Michael Laws, Marc and Claire Headley, and Dan Koon.

The Headleys, Hall, and Hawkins have been very vocal about their days in Scientology — Hawkins was one of the key participants in the epic 2009 special series by the Tampa Bay Times, “The Truth Rundown,” and he described being assaulted by David Miscavige at Scientology’s International Base in California. Jefferson has been a frequent contributor to this website, and he makes a really excellent appearance in Louis Theroux’s My Scientology Movie, as does Marc Headley. Hall made a huge contribution to knowledge about the inner workings of Scientology with websites he put up even before “The Truth Rundown” appeared. We had a great visit with him in Dallas last summer, and it resulted in a really wonderful anecdote about L. Ron Hubbard’s official biographer, Dan Sherman.

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But the others have kept a lower profile. Michael Laws appeared in a German documentary, but he’s otherwise not been very public despite his interesting role helping to run an Underground Railroad for recent Sea Org escapees at his home near Houston. Dan Koon has largely played his role behind the scenes. A former top technical official in Scientology, Koon has edited some of the books you’ve seen come out by former Scientologists, like Blown for Good by Marc Headley, books by Marty Rathbun, and Koon also co-wrote Ron Miscavige Sr’s book, “If He Dies, He Dies,” which is coming out later this year.

Both Ron Sr. and Janis Grady are major former church members whose stories we’re dying to write about, and so it’s interesting to see them hanging out together and being so public about it on Facebook. (Ron is turning down interview requests until closer to the publication of his book.)

Janis and her sister Terri Gamboa were two of the original Commodore’s Messengers, young girls who served L. Ron Hubbard during part of the time he ran Scientology from the yacht Apollo from 1967 to 1975. Janis was only 11 years old when she became one of Hubbard’s messengers.

In 2009, as part of “The Truth Rundown,” Tampa Bay Times reporters Joe Childs and Tom Tobin wrote a fascinating piece about Janis and Terri coming under intense spying by Scientology private investigator Dave Lubow after they had left the church and moved to Las Vegas. The article relied heavily on interviews with former Sea Org official Mark Fisher, and the Gillham sisters refused to talk for the piece, except for a short written statement that Janis turned over. But even without their participation, the story hinted at what important figures they were and how much information they’re sitting on.

Before they left Scientology, the Gillham sisters transitioned from teenaged messengers to powerful roles. Terri was executive director of Author Services Inc., the corporation Hubbard set up distinct from Scientology to control rights to his books, lectures and other intellectual property. At ASI, she worked closely with [David] Miscavige, who was its chairman of the board. Janis led a team in 1988 that readied the church’s new cruise ship, the Freewinds, for its maiden voyage. From 1987 through 1990, she oversaw the church’s international management team.

The two are also the daughters of Yvonne Gillham, an almost legendary figure in Scientology, and the woman who came up with the idea of “Celebrity Centres” and opened the first one in Hollywood in 1969. Yvonne died of brain cancer in 1978, but her influence was felt for years in the church.

Janis and Terri have long been two of the figures reporters have most wanted to talk to. Their father, Peter Gillham, recently went through a nasty court battle over his assets, and with allegations that Scientologists had been involved in ripping him off. It’s thought that after that case is completely over, the Gillham sisters may finally open up.

And in the meantime, Janis has been getting surprisingly public on her Facebook account.

She’s been posting photos of the recent trip, organized by Dan Koon, which included a cruise to Mexico and a visit to Mayan ruins. They also spent some time in New Orleans, and Janis yesterday posted some fun photos of what appeared to be Scientology PIs stalking them in a New Orleans cemetery.

 
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Janis’s caption: “Does this look like a tourist that has come to check out the graveyard??????? Doesn’t look at any graves – only us then disappears.”

Janis spotted this guy squatting and trying to take photos of them surreptitiously…

 
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She later asked the man to pose with her and Steve Hall for a photo: “I laugh when I see the look this guy is giving me for asking him to be in the photo!”

 
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Koon, meanwhile, posted a video of Ron Sr., a fine trumpet player who led Scientology’s music department for years, sitting in with a Dixieland band at the Cafe Beignet.

 
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Wow, we wish we’d been there. Of course, it must make Ron’s son, David, go ballistic to see his father hanging out with such prominent Scientology defectors as Ron’s memoir comes closer to publication. Ron literally escaped from Scientology’s International Base in 2012 after decades with the church. We can’t wait to hear the details of that flight to freedom, and we’ll be curious to see how much else his book reveals about raising David and watching him become the leader of Scientology.

Here’s a photo of the group during their cruise. How many can you name? We hope, with Janis and Ron being this open about associating with the likes of Hawkins and Hall, that soon they’ll be giving us interviews.

 
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3D-UnbreakablePosted by Tony Ortega on January 18, 2016 at 07:00

E-mail tips and story ideas to tonyo94 AT gmail DOT com or follow us on Twitter. We post behind-the-scenes updates at our Facebook author page. After every new story we send out an alert to our e-mail list and our FB page.

Our book, The Unbreakable Miss Lovely: How the Church of Scientology tried to destroy Paulette Cooper, is on sale at Amazon in paperback and Kindle editions. 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

 

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