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Arlene Cordova, 1933-2016: In her 80s, she took on Scientology and reunited with her daughter


[Barbara Cordova Oliver, before she became ill]

It’s been a while since we checked in with Arlene Cordova about her daughter Barbara, and so we called her yesterday only to learn some unhappy news. We were unaware that Arlene had died last week, on July 22, at the age of 83. It was Barbara who answered our phone call. We told her how sorry we were to hear about her mother. For a couple of years, we had enjoyed several really meaningful phone calls with Arlene as she struggled to reunite with her daughter. Barbara said she didn’t want to speak for an article, and so we wished her well.

Arlene Reisman Cordova was born on March 8, 1933 in Chicago. Another family member tells us that Arlene came to California in 1952 after she had won a full scholarship to Northwestern University but had dropped out after two years because she needed to work to make ends meet. In Los Angeles, she had met her husband as one of her clients in the work she did.

Arlene had two children, Barbara, 58, and a son, who is 55. A service was held for her on Tuesday at Mount Sinai cemetery in Hollywood Hills.

We got to know Arlene because her daughter Barbara had become involved in Scientology and was a regular fixture at the Hollywood Celebrity Centre, where she helped run a Scientology front group called Artists for a Better World that she had founded in 1997. (Arlene herself was never involved in Scientology.) Barbara had joined Scientology at 17, but in her 50s she made a couple of ill-fated attempts with her husband to live in Clearwater, Florida, near Scientology’s spiritual “mecca,” the Flag Land Base. After her return home from her second trip, she had a nervous breakdown at her mother’s house and was hospitalized.

Arlene told us how distraught she was that a Scientologist attorney helped Barbara get out of the medical facility. Barbara and her husband, also a Scientologist, had then vanished. (Scientology hates psychiatry with a white-hot passion, and it objects to the kind of treatment Barbara was receiving at the facility.) A cousin first reached out to us about the situation, and we then had a long conversation with Arlene for the first time before we wrote a story in January 2014, saying that all Arlene knew was that when she did receive one phone call from her daughter, she had heard the mention of “Tennessee.”


Our sharp readers figured out that Barbara had been taken to a little-known quasi-Scientology facility in Tennessee that calls itself “Life Center for a New Tomorrow.” (It wouldn’t be the only time that we learned very troubling things about the place, where Scientologists with emotional problems were being taken to be kept out of sight.)

Arlene, then 80 years old, took that information and made the best use of it she could. She traveled to the facility and visited her daughter, fighting through several hassles that made it difficult to arrange the visit. In a story that July, Arlene explained what had happened when she finally managed to see Barbara again…

“Barbara was not in good shape. She looked very depressed. She is mentally going downhill. I couldn’t get too much out of them. She was very glad to see me, and that was basically it,” Arlene says.

After spending some time with them, Arlene prepared to go and asked when she could come over the next day — they had agreed that it would be a multiple-day visit.

But on the second day, Arlene was delayed. She was involved in a fender-bender, and it took her considerable time to get to the house. When she got there, the place looked all locked up.

“They were inside. I called to them, and Rob answered. He said he wouldn’t let us in until the security guard got there. He called her, and the guard took almost an hour to get there. Poor Barbara was inside yelling at him to let me in.”

After the guard arrived, they spent more time together. Arlene says she then asked if she could come the next day, and says Bob expressed some doubts that the guard could make it.

As soon as Arlene left that second day, Robert packed Barbara into his car and left.

Arlene returned home to California.

Arlene once again turned to us for help. We had more long conversations, which we treasure. Arlene Cordova was sharp as a tack and kept us on our toes. She brooked no nonsense.

Several months later, Arlene’s perseverance paid off. She got her daughter back, and Barbara moved in with her. We told Arlene how thrilled we were and explained how happy our readers would be to learn the news, but she asked us not to write about it. She wanted time with Barbara to help her recover from what she’d been through. So, for more than a year we kept quiet about Arlene’s reunion with her daughter, checking in with her once or twice to see if there was any news. Then, yesterday, we looked up Arlene’s number again, hoping to have another conversation with her and to find out the latest.

We were stunned and saddened to hear that she is gone. She was a brave and persistent mom, and we’re glad she had what time she did after she fought Scientology and was reunited with her daughter.

Arlene, we will miss you. And Barbara, we wish you the best.


Scientology in Taiwan

Benjamin Carlson is back! In 2011, Carlson, then writing for Rupert Murdoch’s iPad-specific publication The Daily (remember that?), wrote the best piece ever about “Scientology’s Hogwarts,” the Delphian school in Oregon, Scientology’s private prep school for the kids of wealthy church members. Sadly, when the The Daily went under, it became a little tougher to find Carlson’s article.

But now he’s back in a big way with a terrific piece published today at the Atlantic about Scientology in Taiwan, which is one of the few places around the world where the church actually seems to be thriving. In a lengthy and well-researched article, Carlson describes his own visits to missions there, and tells the (very familiar) story of a former member and what led to his disaffection.

We’ve written previously about how Scientology in Australia seems to be largely propped up by Taiwanese workers, just as the Flag Land Base in Florida relies heavily on Russian and other Eastern European recruits. But here’s our best look yet at how Scientology is operating in a country that only received Hubbard materials in the Chinese language in 2012. What a great piece.


3D-UnbreakablePosted by Tony Ortega on July 29, 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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