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Scientology’s original case of ‘disconnection’ — L. Ron Hubbard and his doting mom and dad

We’re so glad to kick off 2018 with a new piece from historian Chris Owen. We think you’re really going to enjoy his look at L. Ron Hubbard’s family dynamics.

Scientology’s practice of disconnection is one of its most controversial and frequently criticized policies. It goes against basic human nature to force people to break the closest ties in their lives – separating husbands from wives, parents from children, brothers from sisters, friends from each other. Unsurprisingly, it does not endear Scientology to people.

Disconnection originated with L. Ron Hubbard, as with most other things in Scientology. Its basic principle is simple: if someone is critical towards Scientology or Scientologists, then contact with them should be severed. Ostensibly this is intended to reduce the “enturbulation” (Hubbard’s term) that they cause, which could supposedly hinder or set back the spiritual growth of a Scientologist connected to them. In practice, it serves as a mechanism for social control. It draws Scientology’s members closer to the church and pulls them further inside a bubble where only its views can be heard.

Thousands of people are likely to have been affected by disconnection since Hubbard introduced the policy in 1965. This was at a time when Scientology was facing serious challenges from the media and governments. Rather than trying to be conciliatory towards his critics, Hubbard decided to deal with them by attacking them and ordering his followers to break off contact with concerned family members. It was a striking demonstration of Hubbard’s authoritarian tendencies, but it may also have reflected his experiences with his own family.


Hubbard’s relationship with his wives and children was famously troubled. Leah Remini’s show has illustrated how Scientology has literally airbrushed them out of his life. But what of his father, Harry Ross Hubbard, and his mother Ledora May? They are conspicuously absent from Hubbard’s accounts of his life and are rarely mentioned by him. Scientology’s profiles of Hubbard do mention his parents, but they disappear from the scene after his childhood.

In 1986, Bare-Faced Messiah author Russell Miller interviewed Margaret Roberts, who Hubbard knew as his Aunt Marnie. She was by then very elderly but still a vivid and revealing source of information on the lives of the Hubbard family. He was also able to use a number of family letters written in the 1920s. Another source of insight comes from a notebook called “Preview of a Messiah”, written by the journalist James S. Free, who participated as a student in Hubbard’s ill-fated 1932 sailing expedition to the Caribbean.

Hubbard’s father Harry Ross was a naval lieutenant whose work took him, and the family, to various stations in the US and for a time to the Pacific island of Guam. His mother Ledora May was a schoolteacher. Born and brought up in late 19th century Iowa and Nebraska, they appear to have both been entirely conventional, conservative midwesterners. They doted on their son; Free met Hubbard’s parents in Washington, D.C. in 1932 and recorded that May and her husband “plainly adored young Ron and considered him a budding genius”.

Their expectations were clearly visible in a letter that May wrote to Hubbard in September 1929: “[Your father] did it for you so when you feel like slacking, I want you to remember dad gave up his hard earned leave to put you where you are. There is only one way you can pay dad and that is by making good. Your success is our biggest goal in life.” Hubbard’s genius turned out not to be academically inclined and his decision to drop out of George Washington University in 1932 was clearly a great disappointment to his parents.

Relations with his family nonetheless remained good, so much so that Hubbard, his wife Polly and their young children Nibs and Catherine (known then as Katie) moved from Maryland to live near his parents in Washington state in 1936. His father was working at the navy yard in Bremerton near Seattle and his mother and two aunts also lived in the area. Although Polly was happy there, her relationship with Hubbard became strained after she discovered that he was carrying on multiple affairs in New York City during his frequent and increasingly long visits there in connection with his work as a pulp fiction author.

He attempted to patch up his relationship by taking his wife on a sailing trip to Alaska but a broken-down engine stranded them there for nearly two months, away from their young children. This likely did not do the relationship any good, though it is unclear what she thought about their unplanned absence. It is perhaps significant that Scientology’s publication of Hubbard’s sailing diary in Ron: Master Mariner has been edited carefully to remove any mention of her.

The same strains were visible in Hubbard’s relationship with his parents. His father Harry was said to be deeply disappointed in his son’s neglect of Polly and the children, and regarded Hubbard’s lifestyle as deplorable. Harry was Hubbard’s opposite temperamentally: cautious, staid, bound by routine and entirely conventional. He was extremely fond of Polly, Nibs and Katie, and felt that he was actually closer to them than their own father. By the start of World War II, Hubbard was spending most of his time in New York City and had little contact with his parents. He visited Polly on a number of occasions, bringing her down to Portland, Oregon to see his new ship USS PC-815 being built at the shipyards in Astoria in early 1943. After he reported sick following his dismissal from command of the PC-815 a few months later, Polly and a family friend travelled down to Los Angeles to visit him while he was recuperating following treatment for an ulcer.

The relationship with Polly broke down completely in 1945. Hubbard wanted her to move to California but Polly refused, as she did not want to uproot the children from their school in Bremerton. She had by this time moved in with Hubbard’s parents, who were happy to help look after the children. Hubbard later wrote in his private papers that she had abandoned him while he was in hospital, again being treated for ulcers; this would put the date at some time between September–November 1945, when he was attending Oak Knoll Naval Hospital in Oakland, California. He described it as “a terrible blow when she left me for I was ill and without prospects.” Hubbard was discharged from the Navy in December 1945, leaving him without any income other than a meager disability pension to support his estranged wife and their children.

In mid-1945, while still a naval officer, Hubbard met Sara “Betty” Northrup. She was an attractive, free-spirited young woman who lived as part of a bohemian commune in a rambling mansion in Pasadena. At the time she was the girlfriend of the commune’s leader, the rocket scientist and black magician Jack Parsons. Hubbard seduced her and persuaded her to “transfer her sexual affection”, as Parsons put it. Hubbard eventually eloped with her and wed her bigamously, as he was still married to his first wife. Polly had had no idea that her husband had remarried and petitioned for divorce on April 14, 1947, on the grounds of desertion and non-support. By this point she had not seen Hubbard for about two years and was receiving no money for her or the children’s maintenance.

Three weeks later, Hubbard drove with Sara from Florida to Bremerton and moved into the empty house that Polly had formerly occupied. Hubbard’s arrival with one of his ‘women’ scandalized the family. His Aunt Marnie described it as “an awful slap in the face for his mother. [Harry] and May deeply disapproved. It was very difficult for them as they had Polly and the children living with them. The family clammed up about it and never mentioned it. When Ron took Sara up to The Hilltop I said to my sister, “Well, we loved him as a child, Midgie, but he’s a perfect stranger to us now.””

It was a difficult experience for Sara as well. She did not understand why everyone seemed to be acting so strangely around her until Hubbard’s son Nibs told her that his parents were still married. She fled for the ferry port, but Hubbard caught up with her. He persuaded her that they were legally married and that a divorce was being finalized. Soon after it was awarded on June 23, Hubbard and Sara left for North Hollywood, where he hoped to make a living as a screenwriter.

The episode seems to have had lasting consequences for Hubbard’s family relationships. It appears likely that Hubbard had a row with his parents, for whom his behavior must have seemed inexplicable and outrageous. It evidently resulted in a breakdown of the relationship with his parents as well as his now-ex-wife. In a document known as the “Affirmations”, which Hubbard most likely wrote a few weeks or months later during his stay in North Hollywood, Hubbard wrote, “I am fortunate in losing Polly and my parents, for they never meant well by me.” There is no record of him ever again contacting his mother or father, though his Aunt Marnie wrote occasionally to pass on family news.

Hubbard’s anger with his parents seems to have curdled into a lasting detestation of his mother. In 1950, one of his girlfriends recorded in her diary that he told her “[g]rotesque tales about his family mostly and his hatred of his mother, who he said was a lesbian and a whore.” He claimed to have once found his mother in bed with another woman and said that he was born as the result of an attempted abortion.

In November 1960, May had a stroke at the age of seventy-four and went into a coma which she was not expected to survive. When Hubbard’s Aunt Toilie called him in England to tell him the news, he replied that he was too busy to visit. She ordered him to come home: “I want you to catch the next flight out. That is orders, Ron. You owe that much to your mother and I pray to God you get here before she’s dead.” He did as he was told and saw his mother for one last time on the day before she died.

His Aunt Marnie later recalled, “Ron didn’t stay for the funeral. He organized the burial, ordered the stone, paid all the expenses and made arrangements for a man from the Church of Scientology to come up and accompany the body with [Harry] and Toilie to the funeral in Helena. Then he flew back to England from Bremerton. I thought he should have stayed for the funeral. I don’t know what could have been so pressing that he had to get back to England.” Most likely, he simply did not want to spend any more time on family obligations that he evidently detested.

Hubbard’s father Harry lived for another fifteen years. Although Hubbard does not appear to have made any effort to seek him out, Harry sought a reconciliation with his estranged son in 1975. He made a surprise visit to Hubbard in the Caribbean island of St Vincent, where the Sea Org ship Apollo was docked at the time. The eighty-eight-year-old Harry was by this time very frail and somewhat confused. Hubbard received him courteously enough, going ashore to meet him and bringing him aboard the Apollo.

The Apollo’s crew had been ordered to hide all evidence of Scientology but Harry did not seem curious about it. Harry and Hubbard sat talking for hours and took a tour of the ship together. He was given a supply of beer and was taken out on a couple of fishing trips before returning home to Bremerton, where he told Hubbard’s Aunt Marnie that he had had “a wonderful trip”. Harry died a few months later. There is no record of Hubbard attending his funeral. Instead, his third wife Mary Sue is said to have ordered a team from the church’s Guardian’s Office to strip Harry’s house bare within 24 hours of his death.

Hubbard’s parents were not the only family members from whom he “disconnected” during his lifetime. He had no further contact with his ex-wives. He evidently had a particular hatred for Sara, even arguing that they had never been legally married (which was true, though she was hardly to blame for his bigamy). His hatred of her extended to his daughter Alexis, who he last saw as a baby in 1951 when he divorced Sara. When Alexis tried to get in touch with her father in 1970, Hubbard ordered a Scientologist posing as an FBI agent to go and read a statement to her. He denied that he was her father, said that her mother was a prostitute and a Nazi spy, and claimed that he had only taken pity on her mother because Sara had turned up on his doorstep “barefoot and destitute”. Hubbard seems to have forgotten part-way through the statement which role he was supposed to be playing as its author, as it was signed, “Your good friend, J. Edgar Hoover”.

Alexis was one of three children who Hubbard disowned. The second was Nibs, who had become involved in Scientology but defected in 1959, renamed himself Ronald DeWolf and eventually became a harsh critic of his father. The last one was Quentin, Hubbard’s first son by his third wife. He had been groomed for a leadership position in Scientology for many years but proved a deep disappointment to his father for his lack of commitment to the organization. He fled Scientology in 1976 after suffering a series of punishments and committed suicide in Las Vegas soon afterwards, at the age of 22. Hubbard’s reaction was one of pure fury; when he learned the news in November 1976, his followers heard him yelling, “That stupid fucking kid! That stupid fucking kid! Look what he’s done to me! Stupid fucking …”

There was no funeral and neither Hubbard nor Mary Sue played any part in the disposal of Quentin’s remains. Instead, his body was cremated and the ashes were thrown out of a light aircraft over the Pacific. His name was thereafter erased from the family history in a kind of damnatio memoriae. A decade later, when Hubbard signed his final will shortly before his death, he took the extraordinary and quite gratuitous step of posthumously disowning and disinheriting Quentin.

The terms of the will stated: “Any of the terms “my children”, “children of mine”, or “my child”, as used in this Will … shall not refer to … RONALD DeWOLF [or] QUENTIN HUBBARD … I have intentionally and with full knowledge omitted to provide herein for any of my heirs who may be living at the time of my death, including but not limited to … RONALD DeWOLF, QUENTIN HUBBARD, and all of the issue of such persons.”

There was no need for Hubbard to do this, as Quentin had been dead for a decade and had no children who could have made claims on the estate. Hubbard’s disavowal of his dead son seems to have been a statement of his continued determination to disavow or separate from anyone – even his closest relatives – who he felt had wronged him or Scientology. And if that was good enough for Hubbard, why should it not have been good enough for anyone else?

— Chris Owen


Scientology disconnection, a reminder

Bernie Headley has not seen his daughter Stephanie in 4,982 days.
Brian Sheen has not seen his grandson Leo in 128 days.
Clarissa Adams has not seen her parents Walter and Irmin Huber in 1,191 days.
Carol Nyburg has not seen her daughter Nancy in 1,965 days.
Jamie Sorrentini Lugli has not seen her father Irving in 2,739 days.
Quailynn McDaniel has not seen her brother Sean in 2,085 days.
Claudio and Renata Lugli have not seen their son Flavio in 2,579 days.
Sara Goldberg has not seen her daughter Ashley in 1,619 days.
Lori Hodgson has not seen her son Jeremy and daughter Jessica in 1,331 days.
Marie Bilheimer has not seen her mother June in 857 days.
Joe Reaiche has not seen his daughter Alanna Masterson in 4,946 days
Derek Bloch has not seen his father Darren in 2,086 days.
Cindy Plahuta has not seen her daughter Kara in 2,406 days.
Claire Headley has not seen her mother Gen in 2,381 days.
Ramana Dienes-Browning has not seen her mother Jancis in 737 days.
Mike Rinder has not seen his son Benjamin and daughter Taryn in 5,039 days.
Brian Sheen has not seen his daughter Spring in 1,145 days.
Skip Young has not seen his daughters Megan and Alexis in 1,548 days.
Mary Kahn has not seen her son Sammy in 1,421 days.
Lois Reisdorf has not seen her son Craig in 1,002 days.
Phil and Willie Jones have not seen their son Mike and daughter Emily in 1,507 days.
Mary Jane Sterne has not seen her daughter Samantha in 1,751 days.
Kate Bornstein has not seen her daughter Jessica in 12,860 days.


3D-UnbreakablePosted by Tony Ortega on January 2, 2018 at 07:00

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The Best of the Underground Bunker, 1995-2017 Just starting out here? We’ve picked out the most important stories we’ve covered here at the Undergound Bunker (2012-2017), 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 | The mystery of the richest Scientologist and his wayward sons | Scientology’s shocking mistreatment of the mentally ill | The Underground Bunker’s Official Theme Song | The Underground Bunker FAQ


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