The Mysterious Death of L. Ron Hubbard

Strange death in a strange land
Eyewitness accounts
The Many Wills of LRH
The coroner's report (under construction - click here for links to raw .gif files)
The FACTnet probate filing

Strange Death in a Strange Land

The Old Man in the Desert

He had achieved success beyond his wildest dreams; wealth, fame and the adulation of thousands of devoted adherents.

Yet for the last five years of his life, L. Ron Hubbard, founder of Scientology, dwelt, a virtual prisoner of his own paranoia,  a recluse in self-imposed exile, on a ranch in the desert of Creston, California. Surrounded by a handful of trusted aides, he handed over the running of his multimillion dollar empire to a chosen few. Even his wife was cut off - after she got out of prison after serving a sentence for her part in the notorious Snow White case, she never saw her husband again.

In fact, few did. Fearing indictment in the Snow White case, Hubbard fled to the desert in the early 80s, leaving behind his role as de facto controller of the Scientology empire and taking with him only a handful of trusted aides, mostly those now-grown messengers from the Commodore's Messenger Org, who had, in some cases literally, grown up under the Machiavellian tutelage of Hubbard, and became his emissaries to the empire he oversaw.

The Vultures Gather

Of these former messengers turned executives, the future head of Scientology, David Miscavige, was amongst those angling to take control of the church upon its founder's death. But despite chronic ill health, the founder lived on, leaving Miscavige - and others, including Terri Gamboa, Vicki Aznaran, Lyman Spurlock and Norman Starkey -- in a state of flux. They controlled the church, for all intents and purposes. But their authority came only through their appointed - some say self-appointed - role as the controllers of LRH's communication with the world. As LRH himself may have written, he who controls the comm controls the game. But events, as we shall see, were spinning out of control for these so-called young rulers of Scientology.

Also omnipresent during Hubbard's final years were Pat and Annie Broeker, a couple who lived with LRH in Creston. While their official duties were to take care of Hubbard's welfare, as those closest to Source, they became important players in the operation of the church itself, given their enormous influence over LRH as his day-to-day caretakers. On a more practical level, Pat Broeker, in particular, oversaw the financial dealings between Hubbard and the church, and eventually became such a trusted friend that LRH named him as successor, the Loyal Officer who would look after his church after his passing.

A body; still warm, much mourned but quickly forgotten

On January 24 1986, under circumstances that can at best be characterised as 'suspicious', L. Ron Hubbard died. Although his condition had been steadily deteriorating for years, even the coronor noted that there were irregularities surrounding his death, including the presence in his body of vast quantities of Vistaril, a powerful ani-psychotic medication. Just days before Hubbard's death, his personal physician, Scientologist Gene Denk, left for a gambling vacation in Las Vegas with some of Hubbard's top aides, including Gamboa, Miscavige and wife, and the Aznarans. By the time he returned, there was nothing he could do. Hubbard died, and the battle for control of his legacy, which had been simmering for years, took centre stage.

LRH left behind a vast corporate empire, including millions of dollars worth of copyrights and trademarks, as well as a personal fortune rumoured to be in the hundreds of millions. Rumour, though, is all that is available - the vast portion of Hubbard's riches were buried far inside the CoS ledgers, safe from the prying eyes of the IRS, which had been threatening an audit of Hubbard for years, right up until his death. But even leaving aside his personal fortune, Hubbard's legacy was rich - and there was no shortage of people eager to take a cut.

Fatal Curiousities

The day before Hubbard died, his will was redrafted. Gone was the reference to Pat Broeker, who had been the executor in the previous will. The new executor, who would oversee the transfer of all Hubbard's intellectual property to a trust known as Author's Family Trust-B, and from there, into the newly created vessel, the Church of Spiritual Technology, was Norman Starkey, a longtime CoS heavyweight who had earned the animosity of many now-disenfranchised Scientologists during the days of the Missionholders Conference in 1982, when David Miscavige and the young rulers first made waves as the new power behind LRH's throne. Gone, too, was Norton S. Karno, Hubbard's former tax lawyer whose presence weaves through the story of the Church of Scientology like an invisible, but unbreakable thread.

Starkey became Hubbard's executor, and David Miscavige took the reins of power as effortlessly as he had disposed of his rivals to the throne in previous internal skirmishes. There was no explanation for this last minute changing of the guard. But it was not long before those most likely to raise questions about the new regime - Pat and Annie Broeker - disappeared from the eye of the storm as though they had never been. With the Broekers out of the picture, there was no one who could pose a significant threat to Miscavige, and, like one born with the divine right of kings, he took his place as titular head of the church, highest ranking officer in the Sea Org and ruler of the Scientology empire without firing a single shot. He remains there to this day.

And the truth shall set them free

The world, however, has moved on - and now, some of those same people who were present during the last days of LRH have come forward to tell what they know. Day by day and thread by thread, the real story of what happened to this present day Lear at the end of his reign is emerging. It is to assist in this exploration of the secret history of Scientology that this web page was created.

We have assembled documents, including - for the first time on the internet - the 1979 Last Will and Testament of L. Ron Hubbard, one of the few pieces of tangible evidence linking the mysterious Norton Karno with the Scientology empire. We have also collected posts from those who were there, and legal filings from those who have gone before us down the path towards solving what could be the greatest murder mystery of the last part of this century. We invite those with a story to tell to contact us, and share any information that could shed light on what really happened in the desert that fateful January day. Confidentiality is, of course, assured.   

Eyewitness Accounts

Robert Vaughn Young, an accomplished writer and former high-ranking official within the CoS, gives his recollection of the death of L. Ron Hubbard.

Jesse Prince, formerly Inspector General Ethics, the second-highest ranking post at RTC, has a very different - but no less intriguing -  perspective.

The Many Wills of L. Ron Hubbard

These documents give the reader a rare peek inside the constantly shifting power structure within the CoS. In the first Will, dated 1979, Hubbard's lawyer Norton S. Karno, immortalized on the Friends of Norton Karno pages, appears as Executor and Personal Representative, a position which would have given him considerable power over the bulk of the church's money.

In 1982, however, mere days after the corporate restructuring had taken place, Hubbard drafted another Will, and Karno was removed from his position as Executor, to be replaced by Patrick Broeker, then amongst those closest to the old man. A codicil, dated 1983, includes a clause forbidding any autopsy, viewing or service, stating instead that Hubbard's body is to cremated as soon as possible after his death.

Broeker's moment in the sun comes to an end with the establishment of the final Will of LRH, drafted the day before his death in January, 1986, which handed control of the estate to Norm Starkey. His duties mainly concerned with transfering the vast number of copyrights left in trust by LRH to the Church of Spiritual Technology, the ultimate keeper of the tech, Starkey is also head of Author Services Inc. His real role within the CoS command structure is as yet unclear.

FACTnet Probate Brief

During the course of his herculean struggle with the CoS corporate hydra, FACTnet board member Larry Wollersheim challenged the probate that had originally disposed of LRH's estate. In this filing, part of an ognoing case that is yet another volley in his legal onslaught against the CoS, he lays out what he sees as the real story behind LRH's death.



For those who read this page seeking an answer, we apologize. Like life itself, this page is a work in progress. We would be happy to receive email from anyone with information, questions, comments, or even an opinion on the question of what really happened to L. Ron Hubbard. Future additions to this page will include a text version of the coroner's report, as well as more information from the probate filing - as well as, we hope, more personal recollections from those who know the answers that we seek.  Send us email at