Daily Notifications
Sign up for free emails to receive the feature story every morning in your inbox at


Turning hurricane chaos into gold? Scientology might learn something from L. Ron Hubbard

We’re super excited and proud to feature a new writer for us here at the Bunker today. It’s Chris Owen, already well known in the Scientology Watching community for his important work, Ron, The “War Hero.” He has a very timely piece for us today about L. Ron Hubbard and of all things, hurricanes.

As Puerto Rico attempts to recover from the devastation of Hurricane Maria, another disastrous hurricane that hit the island 85 years ago this week led to none other than L. Ron Hubbard arriving there to help with the relief effort. At least, that was the intention. In reality, he ended up doing something quite different and motivated by personal gain rather than any desire to help others.

Scientology biographies claim that Hubbard’s trip to Puerto Rico was a key event in his life. His book Mission into Time (1973) puts it this way: “Then in 1932, the true mark of an exceptional explorer was demonstrated. In that year L. Ron Hubbard, aged 21, achieved an ambitious ‘first.’ Conducting the West Indies Minerals Survey, he made the first complete mineralogical survey of Puerto Rico. This was pioneer exploration in the great tradition, opening up a predictable, accurate body of data for the benefit of others.”

Hubbard’s trip to Puerto Rico was not made in pursuit of minerals. In September 1932, he dropped out of George Washington University after receiving very poor grades for his second year of studying civil engineering. His father Harry Ross Hubbard, a US Navy lieutenant, was determined to find something productive for his son to do while he was considering his options for the future.

Ron had only recently returned from a trip to the Caribbean which he had organized for fellow students aboard a chartered schooner. It was a fiasco that ended prematurely amid a welter of unpaid bills. With debts and threats of legal action hanging over him, Ron was probably quite willing to do something that would enable him to lie low for a while until the fuss blew over. If it offered opportunities to cover his debts, so much the better.


An opportunity soon presented itself, and again it was in the Caribbean. On September 26, 1932, Puerto Rico was struck by the San Ciprian hurricane. (At this time hurricanes were not given personal names, but were often named after adjacent saints’ days, in this case St Cyprian’s.) Like Hurricane Maria, it was a Category 4 storm that passed over virtually the entire length of the island. It destroyed a vast amount of property and crops, killing more than 250 people, leaving more than 75,000 homeless and causing damages estimated at more than $3.5 billion in today’s prices.

The federal government had only a limited role in providing emergency relief at the time. Instead, the American Red Cross took a leading role. It issued an appeal for volunteers which reached Harry Ross Hubbard in October 1932. He wrote to the Navy Department asking for Ron to be given transportation to Puerto Rico, “to place his services at the disposal of the American Red Cross in their relief work on that island.” The request was granted and L. Ron Hubbard traveled from Norfolk, Virginia aboard the USS Kittery, going via Haiti and Guantanamo Bay in Cuba and arriving at San Juan in Puerto Rico on November 4.

Hubbard told an audience of Scientologists in 1957 that he had been “a field executive with the American Red Cross in the Puerto Rico hurricane disaster,” but gave no further details. However, he seems to have abandoned his role in the relief effort as soon as he arrived. He wrote letters home describing his activities on the island, probably sending them to Polly Grubb, a Marylander who he had met shortly before his departure. One of his earliest letters from Puerto Rico was sent on Friday, November 11, 1932 – only a week after his arrival – in which he wrote of his plans to go mining for gold with three friends, Paul Wilkerson, Wilkerson’s wife, and Joseph Buhrman Carper of Washington, D.C. Of Carper, Hubbard wrote: “He was impressive enough at sight, for his eyes were a baby blue, and his excessive paunch invited trust.”


[Hubbard and Wilkerson]

Hubbard probably made friends with the trio during the journey to Puerto Rico. It seems unlikely that he did so much as a day’s work assisting the disaster relief effort. Instead, within days of arriving he set off with his friends to tour the “dirty dusty towns” in the hinterland of San Juan, the island’s capital, looking for somewhere to start mining operations. They settled on the inland town of Corozal, which Hubbard described as “a little cluster of shiplap shacks around an ancient, moldy, and unpicturesque cathedral”.

His initial optimism appears to have vanished quickly. Carper and Wilkerson hired two foremen to supervise sluicing operations on the Corozal River, commencing Sunday, November 13. The manual labor was performed by “six natives at fifty cents apiece per day.” When Hubbard got back to his hotel that evening, he wrote: “It rained torrents four times today. It was a cold rain and my clothes are thin and shelter did not exist. My feet were ankle deep in mud. I tried to find shelter, crawled under a rock, got wet, came out and almost drowned in the usual tropical cloudburst. Cigarettes wet, not a dry stitch on me, an hour’s ride to San Juan with a breeze almost freezing my wet clothes.” A photograph captioned “Sluicing with crew on Corozal River ’32 PR” was published 40 years later in Mission into Time, showing a glum-looking Hubbard wearing a pith helmet and standing alongside a group of diggers (see above).

He was still at it a week later, writing on November 20 that it was “the first day of rest I’ve had since I arrived in Puerto Rico.” His friends had left the sluicing site to look elsewhere but the gold petered out after only five dollars’ worth had been recovered. Hubbard wrote: “I could have gone out and tried with a pan but I thought I’d better grab the opportunity [for a rest] while it presented itself as I’m pretty well fagged out.”

The mining venture proved no more profitable by Christmas, and the relationship between the would-be gold miners turned sour. Hubbard wrote on December 21, “God knows which way things are going to turn now. Wilky and I are going to start shipping ore pretty soon, but Carper is still hanging on to the money and it’s a guess when he’ll let loose of the stuff. Until that time we are rooted to hotels with unpaid bills.” He wrote that he had panned a dollar’s worth of gold with another American, “and I sold my half for fifty-two cents to the local druggist. So we have cigarette money at least and we can mail this letter. After we had supper we came back to the hotel and played blackjack for several hours. For matches as everybody is broke.”

Soon afterwards, wrote Hubbard, Carper “suddenly took himself and the remainder of the eight hundred dollars out of the picture without even telling me goodbye.” Left at a loose end and still broke, Hubbard attempted without much success to pan for gold in the hills around Corozal. He soon made friends with a young mining engineer, Thomas Finley McBride, who had recently graduated from the Montana School of Mines as the “most promising graduate of the previous year.” McBride was employed by the San Juan field office of West Indies Minerals, Inc., a Washington, D.C. company incorporated in Delaware, and appears to have secured employment for Hubbard as a “field representative.” Hubbard produced a survey report for manganese, dated January 20, 1933, which was probably undertaken for the company.

McBride joined Hubbard in searching the island for possible gold-bearing sites for exploitation. They came up with a shortlist of four sites. Although all four had already been dug, Hubbard wrote, “the engineers who had made them all seem to have been lacking in mineralogical savvy, and we based our hopes on the supposed incompetence of our predecessors.” The work was hard and Hubbard wrote of his discontent in a letter of February 6, 1933: “Surveying mine tunnels and playing hopscotch over hundred foot shafts whilst swatting big spiders and dodging flying cockroaches literally and figuratively has driven me to drink…. Routine these days is quite without routine. Walk miles, ride kilometers, scramble over rotten logs, forget about lunch, remember at dark that one must sleep someplace. Tired and punch-drunk and goofy. What a life?!”

He appears to have developed some resentment of McBride, who he probably had in mind when he wrote of a “very wearisome muchacho [youth]” who lived in a grand house nearby while Hubbard was “sitting in a lousy, ramshackle hotel.” On February 16, 1933, McBride sent a letter to the Board of Directors of West Indies Minerals, Inc. in which he described the results of a survey of a property undertaken “in company with your field representative, Mr. L. Ron Hubbard” near Luquillo in north-eastern Puerto Rico. It was accompanied by a crude map of a short drift mine, apparently drawn by Hubbard, whose “LRH” monogram appears on the page. The survey revealed that it was unlikely that the property was worth exploiting and recommended no further action on it.


The pair’s lack of success evidently convinced the company that it was wasting time and money in Puerto Rico. Hubbard wrote: “We had slaved and sweated for months and we had nothing more tangible to show than a mediocre vocabulary of crude hillman Spanish. Of alluvial gold we had found nothing in payable amounts. And veins were plentiful in number but startlingly scarce in gold content.” On March 30, 1933, the company instructed him to return to the United States “on the first available transportation for New York and thence to Washington, D.C.” for a conference with the board. He left on April 6 aboard the SS Coamo and returned to his pregnant girlfriend Polly in Maryland, marrying her just over a week later.

Years later, Hubbard engaged in an ambitious rewriting of history when he claimed that his gold-hunting forays with McBride for West Indies Minerals, Inc. constituted the “West Indies Minerals Survey.” The tale seems to have grown in the telling ever since, with the “Survey” mutating by the 1990s into the “West Indies Mineralogical Expedition.” Hubbard’s official Scientology biographer, Dan Sherman, writes in typically tortuous fashion in Images of a Lifetime (1996):

[The] stated aim was the survey and mining of precious deposits – or, as Ron himself described it, “picking fabulous float from rivers which glittered with gold and silver.” In fact, however, that “fabulous float” lay well beyond arms’ reach, and Ron was soon reporting from deep within the Puerto Rican jungle. In the end, however, and quite in addition to the photographs to follow, he not only managed a sizable haul of manganese and silica but actually the island’s first complete mineralogical survey under United States dominion.

If it had been true, that would have been quite an achievement. Unfortunately it was not. Far from providing disaster relief or making a significant contribution to geographical knowledge, Hubbard returned home having wasted five months in which he seems to have completely ignored the plight of the hurricane-stricken Puerto Ricans.

— Chris Owen


Scientology disconnection, a reminder

Bernie Headley has not seen his daughter Stephanie in 4,888 days.
Brian Sheen has not seen his grandson Leo in 34 days.
Clarissa Adams has not seen her parents Walter and Irmin Huber in 1,097 days.
Carol Nyburg has not seen her daughter Nancy in 1,871 days.
Jamie Sorrentini Lugli has not seen her father Irving in 2,645 days.
Quailynn McDaniel has not seen her brother Sean in 1,991 days.
Claudio and Renata Lugli have not seen their son Flavio in 2,485 days.
Sara Goldberg has not seen her daughter Ashley in 1,525 days.
Lori Hodgson has not seen her son Jeremy and daughter Jessica in 1,237 days.
Marie Bilheimer has not seen her mother June in 763 days.
Joe Reaiche has not seen his daughter Alanna Masterson in 4,852 days
Derek Bloch has not seen his father Darren in 1,992 days.
Cindy Plahuta has not seen her daughter Kara in 2,312 days.
Claire Headley has not seen her mother Gen in 2,287 days.
Ramana Dienes-Browning has not seen her mother Jancis in 643 days.
Mike Rinder has not seen his son Benjamin and daughter Taryn in 4,945 days.
Brian Sheen has not seen his daughter Spring in 1,051 days.
Skip Young has not seen his daughters Megan and Alexis for 1,454 days.
Mary Kahn has not seen her son Sammy in 1,327 days.
Lois Reisdorf has not seen her son Craig in 908 days.
Phil and Willie Jones have not seen their son Mike and daughter Emily in 1,413 days.
Mary Jane Sterne has not seen her daughter Samantha in 1,657 days.
Kate Bornstein has not seen her daughter Jessica in 12,766 days.


3D-UnbreakablePosted by Tony Ortega on September 29, 2017 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, Kindle, and audiobook versions. We’ve posted photographs of Paulette and scenes from her life at a separate location. Reader Sookie put together a complete index. More information can also be found at the book’s dedicated page.

The Best of the Underground Bunker, 1995-2016 Just starting out here? We’ve picked out the most important stories we’ve covered here at the Undergound Bunker (2012-2016), The Village Voice (2008-2012), New Times Los Angeles (1999-2002) and the Phoenix New Times (1995-1999)

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


Share Button
Print Friendly, PDF & Email