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How Scientology split up teen sweethearts who reunited more than 40 years later


On Sunday, The Spokesman-Review, a newspaper in Spokane, Washington, published a touching story about high school sweethearts who were forced apart and then finally, after more than 40 years, reunited and got married.

Rebecca McKee and Tom McCaffrey had met at Fountain Valley High School in Orange County, California in 1968. He was just a freshman. She was a sophomore, but she had skipped grades and was actually a year younger than Tom. They went steady, and they dated even after Tom moved to another school. But then, as the article by Cindy Hval explains, in 1970, Rebecca, a Scientologist, was forced by her father to drop high school and go to Los Angeles for Scientology courses. In order to stay together, Tom bussed up to LA and even enrolled in a class at the Celebrity Centre. But, as Tom explained, that ended the relationship.

“I asked a lot of questions,” he said. “They didn’t like my questions. I was told I wasn’t welcome there and I should not see Rebecca anymore.”

So they went their separate ways. After eventually leaving Scientology, Rebecca had a long career in the corporate and government worlds, while Tom, after serving in the Army, did carpentry work. Each were married to other people, but they were each unattached when they happened to reconnect at, and, in June of 2014, they saw each other for the first time since 1971. They were married this past June 18.


“We’re just so happy that we still have some time together,” Rebecca told Hval. “I wish we had more, but we’ll make the best of these years.” (She’s 61, he’s 62.)

It’s a very sweet story, and we’re glad that Rebecca herself brought it to our attention. And she reminded us that she told us this story more than a year ago, but at that point she and Tom weren’t ready to go public — they both feared retaliation from Scientology.

What changed? The movie Going Clear and so many other things that have happened in the last couple of years to expose the Church of Scientology, Rebecca says.

And it turns out that her journey in and out of Scientology is really pretty fascinating, and she was happy for us to fill in those details which didn’t show up in the piece in The Spokesman-Review.

“My parents knew LRH,” Rebecca tells us, explaining that her family really was very deep into Scientology at one time and knew L. Ron Hubbard and his family personally. “Diana Hubbard was my pen pal when I was a teenager.”

Her father, Brown McKee, was an MIT-educated engineer who became interested in Dianetics in 1953, and then became so passionate about Scientology, in 1959 he moved the entire family — which included 5-year-old Rebecca and her two younger sisters — to Los Angeles, where Scientology was thriving.

Brown McKee specialized in ball bearing manufacture. His father, Rear Admiral Andrew I. McKee, was a decorated architect of submarine design during WWII.

“Grandpa was pretty disgusted that dad went into Scientology,” she says.

Her parents were active in the Los Angeles org from 1959 to 1964, when they moved to Fountain Valley in Orange County and opened their own Scientology mission the following year. They became close, she says, with fellow mission holders Ray and Pamela Kemp, who ran a Scientology center in Irvine.

At this point, in the 1960s and 1970s, much of the work recruiting new members to the Church of Scientology was done by these small missions around the country, run independently as franchises. Mission holders could deliver introductory courses before sending on new members to the “org,” the main church in a larger city. And delivering those classes and bringing in new members could be lucrative, as missions kept a percentage of what they brought in.

Rebecca says that in 1968, her parents’ Fountain Valley mission had a special visitor, which was witnessed by her sister. “Charles Manson visited our mission,” she says. “My sister was there when our dad was lecturing one night. Manson showed up with two or three girls. My sister said they were dirty and smelled. Dad stopped the lecture and escorted them out.”

Scientology vehemently denies that Manson had anything to do with the church. As a recent biography of Manson by Jeff Guinn showed, there’s just no doubt that Manson got heavily involved in Scientology and auditing while he was serving time at McNeil Island penitentiary in the early 1960s, a fact first revealed by the New York Times in 1969. But we hadn’t heard before that Manson had actually visited a mission after his 1967 release from Terminal Island penitentiary. The church will not be happy to hear that.

As for Rebecca herself, she says she started getting Scientology auditing at only four years old. “During summer vacations, I was forced to do courses at the LA Org academy. I did the Comm[unications] Course at eight. It was required of me and my sisters.”

When she was dating Tom in high school, if she arrived home late, her father would put her in the Scientology “condition” of “liability,” which came with strict terms, as laid down by L. Ron Hubbard. “I had to tie a grey rag around my arm, and I had to sleep on the floor of the garage. I never told Tom, but that was the price I paid for dating him.”

And at that time, while she was in high school, her parents split up. Her mother went to St. Louis, and her father tried to raise his daughters. But his idea of raising them, she says, was to dump them on Scientology.


[Rebecca McKee and her mother, Elaine, in 1970.]

“I could have had a scholarship. I could have gone to MIT. Instead, dad said no, you’re going to do the Briefing Course.” In 1970 Rebecca was sent to the American Saint Hill Organization (ASHO) in Scientology’s LA headquarters complex, where the Saint Hill Special Briefing Course was given to serious students who wanted to be trained as auditors.

This was the decision by her father that soon made it impossible for her to date Tom anymore.

She said it was miserable. “Occasionally we didn’t have money to eat. We were living in a slum.”

She was only 15 years old.

After two years slogging through the Briefing Course, she then went through a series of Scientology marriages that didn’t last. She worked at the Albuquerque mission, then returned to ASHO in 1973 to take the Class VIII auditor course. She went to Saint Hill in England to become a Class VIII Case Supervisor.

“I was a C/S and an auditor. Mother was an auditor, too. But we were never Sea Org,” she says.

But by the early 1980s, all of them were becoming disillusioned because of changes that were happening after L. Ron Hubbard had gone into permanent seclusion in 1980. By then Rebecca was in Germany, married to a man who had been the Hamburg mission holder. Her father was by then operating multiple missions in Connecticut. Her mother, meanwhile, was at the mission in Anchorage.

And in 1982, the mission network itself was decimated by the Sea Org executives who were running things in Hubbard’s absence, including a young official named David Miscavige.

“They declared dad an SP (suppressive person), so all of us decided to get out,” she says.

Her father was so disgusted by his treatment, he dumped all of his Scientology materials — books, e-meters, pamphlets — into a river.

Later that year, in May 1982, Brown McKee was one of several former Scientologists who gave testimony at hearings in Clearwater, Florida. Scientology had surreptitiously invaded the gulf town in 1975, and had been taking over its downtown. The FBI raided the church in Los Angeles and Washington DC in 1977, and documents seized in that raid spelled out stunning acts of surveillance, stalking, and sabotage carried out by Scientology operatives against the organization’s perceived enemies. Some of those operations were carried out against targets in Clearwater, including its mayor, Gabe Cazares, who had dared to raise questions about Scientology’s motives. After those documents became public in 1980, unhappiness with Scientology reached a fever pitch in Clearwater, and in 1982 its city council set up the special hearings.

Attorney Mike Flynn, who represented several clients in lawsuits against the church, organized the witnesses to testify over several days. He saved for his last witness Brown McKee.

McKee explained that he’d been in Scientology for 24 years, and that he first got into it because it promised to raise his IQ.

“I probably have a reputation in Scientology as one of the more vocal malcontents. I’ve been pressing for some form of reform for many, many years,” he explained.


[Rebecca, left, with her father Brown McKee and his wife Julie and Rebecca’s sister Inge at a Scientology event]

He then told a story about what had happened to his wife Julie, Rebecca’s stepmother, a story that we’ve heard other versions of again and again in Scientology, which doesn’t prohibit medical treatment but makes Scientologists feel that they should trust auditing and Hubbard’s tech more than they should doctors. Here’s what Brown McKee told the Clearwater city council…

Julie complained of tiredness and this and that. Julie rarely ever complained of anything. But anyway, I saw her beginning to slow down, and by the summer of 1978, she, who was also a very highly trained auditor — and, also, you must is realize both of us were totally persuaded that the source of all illness was mental, except for, say, a broken leg, and the way of curing it is with auditing. This is what — it’s our business.

So, during the summer, Julie lost more and more of her energy and had some swelling and some small chest pains and this and that and began to lose her voice. So, I thought, “Well, Flag has the best auditors in the world and should be able to help her out.” So, I sent her down here to Clearwater in, I guess it was, October of 1978. We never even really thought about going to see a doctor; that’s just not what — the Scientologist doesn’t think about that.

Well, they sent her back a week later sicker and she couldn’t speak for — she couldn’t even whisper anymore. She’d write notes. So, I tapped on her back, because she was complaining about her chest, and on one side I could hear the sound of — the hollow sound that you hear when you tap, and the other side, it wasn’t hollow. And so, I knew that there wasn’t any air on that side.

So, we went to see a doctor, and he had her in the hospital very quickly. She was there two days when we were given the report. And what it was was adenocarcinoma, which was a cancer of the lymph glands of the lungs, and her right lung had totally collapsed, and which this cancer had also infiltrated her throat and paralyzed her vocal cords. And it had progressed to the point where it was totally hopeless. I mean, they didn’t even suggest chemotherapy.

And they sent her home, and I cared for her for ten days. And she died in my arms. And I began to think a little bit about this type of thing at that point.

This type of thing isn’t too easy to say, but I think that it’s important that somebody say it. And this is what is taught the professional Scientologist. And by following the instructions and following what we work very hard to learn, it cost my wife her life. She may have died anyway; we don’t know. If we had taken her to the doctor early, perhaps not. We can only speculate on that.

But what I do know is, because of my faith in this man, Ron Hubbard, she didn’t have a chance.


After his wife’s death, and after the way the missions were decimated, Brown McKee was through with Scientology. Rebecca says she was glad that the family’s disaffection from Scientology happened when it did.

“We were young enough that we could start new careers,” she says. And eventually, she found Tom McCaffrey again.

“He’s wonderful. He’s usually an extremely private invidual,” she says, explaining why they had held off going public about their story for so long. But now they have, and we’re glad she turned to us to fill in the rest of the story.


3D-UnbreakablePosted by Tony Ortega on July 27, 2016 at 07:00

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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 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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