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Cash flowed from Hubbard's ranch

Title: Cash flowed from Hubbard's ranch
Date: Saturday, 1 February 1986
Publisher: Press-Enterprise (Riverside, California)
Author: Ronnie D. Smith
Main source:
Alternate and/or complementary: link (177 KiB)

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Creston — Actor Robert Mitchum once quartered horses at the Whispering Winds ranch, four miles South of Creston. Until last week, it was the closest this town of 270 people had come to celebrity. Last week Church of Scientology founder Lafayette Ronald Hubbard died here.

Hubbard, a science fiction writer who turned a book he wrote called "Dianetics" into a church making $100 million a year, was both worshipped by Scientologists and condemned by those who fled the church, claiming to be defrauded and abused.

In life, Hubbard was a controversial, elusive recluse who vanished from the church's compound at Gilman Hot Springs in Riverside County in March 1980, the last time he was seen publicly. A Los Angeles judge once described the church and Hubbard thusly: "The organization clearly is schizophrenic and paranoid, and this bizarre combination seems to be a reflection of its founder."

A church spokesman said Hubbard lived on the ranch for the past 2½ years and wrote and researched topics of the spirit and cross-breeding of animals as well as dabbling in photography. Hubbard lived in a motor home while his home was under renovation, a process just finished when he died. The Rev. Ken Hoden said Hubbard lived with long-time friends Pat and Anne Broeker.

A glimpse of the last 2½ years of Hubbard's secret life on the Whispering Winds ranch, secured in rolling hills and dreamy green meadows 25 miles from Morro Bay, has been pieced together from interviews and public records.

In death, Hubbard was no less controversial than in life. A stroke ended Hubbard's secret existence at 8pm Jan, 24, inside his $250,000 Bluebird motor home parked near a pen of llamas. His doctor said he suffered a brain hemorrhage several days before his death.

Little is known about what happened from the time of his death and 12 hours later when church officials asked a funeral director to pick up the body. A neighbor, Robert Whaley, a retired advertising executive, remembered "tremendous traffic" at the ranch that Friday night.

The next morning, Scientologist attorney Earle Cooley telephoned Reis Chapel in San Luis Obispo, 20 miles southwest of the ranch. "He asked if we did cremation," said Irene Reis, an owner of the chapel. She said special arrangements for the cremation were made at a crematory, usually closed on weekends. Her husband, Gene, picked up the body of the 74-year-old Hubbard at the 160-acre ranch.

Cooley accompanied the body to the chapel and stayed near it while other church officials went to lunch. "Mr. Cooley insisted that he never leave the body (alone)," said June Rodrigues, a chapel receptionist.

Church officials said they "wanted everything, private — they wanted nothing released to the press," Reis said. After chapel officials learned who Hubbard was, they called the San Luis Obispo County sheriff-coroner. Rodrigues said the chapel was concerned that church officials made a "request for immediate cremation."

Church officials said they "wanted everything, private — they wanted nothing released to the press," Reis said. After chapel officials learned who Hubbard was, they called the San Luis Obispo County sheriff-coroner. Rodrigues said the chapel was concerned that church officials made a "request for immediate cremation."

San Luis Obispo County Deputy Coroner Don Hines arrived at the chapel and stopped any cremation until an independent pathologist could examine the body and tests could be performed on blood samples.

Cooley presented Hines with a written certificate signed by Hubbard giving religious reasons for to wanting an autopsy at his death. Hines also was given at least one will, dated just before Hubbard's death. Rodrigues said Cooley may have shown Hines two wills, one outdated.

"He (Cooley) said something (that) in the later will, the wife (Mary Sue Hubbard) was provided for more than she was in the former will," Rodrigues said. Hubbard's will left tens of millions of dollars to the church, his wife and four of his five children. Son Ronald DeWolf was disinherited after he denounced the church several years ago.

Rodrigues said Hines and chapel employees discussed the validity of the will, and Reis said the district attorney was consulted. "They wanted to make sure this wasn't a scam," Rodrigues said. "The whole thing was just different. No autopsy or anything."

While Hines checked the documents, pathologist Karl Kirschner examined Hubbard's body for marks, found none, and accompanied Hubbard's personal physician Eugene Denk to a laboratory to test the blood. Although Kirschner declined to discuss his findings, coroner officials said acceptable levels of anti-stroke medication were in the blood. After Hines saw test results, he cleared the body for cremation, about 3:30pm.

Hubbard has suffered a stroke in 1978, but was apparently in fairly good condition in the months before he died. "He looked like a person who was active," Reis said. "His muscles were well developed."

Errol Rohrberg, who built a horse racing track on the estate, said Hubbard "was in real good health..." But he said once in a while "The old man wasn't feeling very good (and) a few days would go by without seeing him."

Neighbors and people who were hired to work on various construction projects at the ranch over the past two years described Hubbard as a "Colonel Sanders" lookalike because he sported a white beard and was overweight. They said the man who they knew only as "Jack" rarely emerged from the motor home and was driven around the ranch by a petite blonde woman who lived on the ranch.

The word of Hubbard's death hit the news wires two days after it happened, and reaction was quick. Scientologists mourned the passing while Scientology critic, Boston attorney Michael Flynn, sought an investigation of his death. By Wednesday, the San Luis Obispo County coroner said the case was closed.

For Hubbard, life opened on the ranch in the summer of 1983, when a man who has identified himself as "Mike Mitchell" walked into a San Luis Obispo real estate office and said he wanted to buy a large but secluded ranch so he could breed Akitas, a rare Japanese breed of dog. It is unclear who "Mike Mitchell" was, but church spokesman Ken Hoden said Hubbard's friends, Pat and Anne Broeker, may have used the name Mitchell.

The real estate agent involved in the sale of the Whispering Winds ranch said Mitchell indicated he had inherited millions of dollars in New York City and wanted to live in the country. "He was looking for seclusion," the real estate agent said, "He said he didn't want many neighbors."

The agent told Mitchell he would need a large down payment for the $700,000 ranch and Mitchell responded "It would probably be a cash deal." Mitchell later supplied $700,000 cash, in 30 cashier's check drawn on several banks in California to buy the Whispering Winds ranch.

He (Mitchell) climbed up on the rood and said, 'I have to get all this insulation out of here,' said the agent of their visit to the property. Mitchell explained his wife, Lisa, was allergic to fiberglass. Hubbard was believed to be sensitive to dust particles.

The entire 10-room, 2700 square-foot house on the ranch, overlooking a hillside, was later gutted and remodeled at a cost of about $300,000. Hubbard's living quarters were in a third-floor apartment, complete with a whirlpool bath and kitchenette. An aviary was built in the living room., But builders said Hubbard was constantly displeased with the way things were done.

Rohrberg said Hubbard and the Mitchells didn't know much about the construction work. "They would do some work, tear it out and do it again." He said a large stone fireplace was ripped out, a tile one put in, and then the tile fireplace was removed.

Neighbor Robert Whaley, who estimated that about $2 million was spent on ranch improvements, said he was told Hubbard was in charge. "I'd ask, who's doing the planning here," said Whaley, who told of many examples of waste of money, including a 12-inch wide line installed for water, a line large enough to quench the thirst of a small city. He said he was told "Mike's wife's father (identified as Hubbard) is doing a lot of the planning."

"They were just throwing money around like crazy," Rohrberg said. Rohrberg said he was handed $50,000 in $50 and $100 bills for building part of a horse racing track that was never used. "The whole thing was kind f strange," he said. "They always paid in cash — no receipts or nothing."

He said local contractors, seeing the ranch as a bottomless reservoir of money, were virtually tripping over one another to work there. Rohrberg said few required county permits be taken out for building,. "They said they didn't want any permits. If they got caught, they'd take responsibility for it," he said. A check of permits showed one in 1983 for a water tank.

Mitchell once offered a neighbor $750,000 cash for her 132 acre ranch — $250,000 above the appraised value. The real estate agent involved in the proposed sale said Mitchell said he wanted the woman out because she complained that one of his dogs had killer her sheep.

The owner of the property said Mitchell told her to take her house with her if she liked, but sell. After the woman said she wanted $1 million, the real estate agent said Mitchell rejected it.

The agent said Mitchell, about 30 years old with brown hair and a New York accent, gave the impression he was spending his money, which he had inherited. "When I was dealing with Mike," the agent said, "I got the impression he was doing his own thing. f a decision had to be made, he made it right then."

Scientology spokesman Hoden said he did not know whether Hubbard spent his money as described by the residents of Creston. "I wasn't there," he said, adding "There is no doubt in anyone's mind that L. Ron Hubbard was a wealthy man." Hubbard's wealth has been estimated to be as much as $200 million.

While contractors grabbed Hubbard's money and worked continually for 2½ years on the ranch, Hubbard practiced an obsession for privacy. None of his neighbors knew who he was. He didn't even receive mail at the ranch, and visitors often arrived in the middle of the night.

When he did come out of his motor home during the day, it was only to putter around the estate, feeding horses, llamas, and buffaloes.

Whaley said he invited Hubbard and the Mitchells to dinner shortly after they moved in, but "They turned us down."

The neighbor recalled a chance eye-to-eye encounter with Hubbard.

One day Whaley went to a stable at the ranch to borrow a tool and surprised Hubbard, who was filing a piece of metal. "The older man gave me a very surprised look and ran into the workshop and closed the door," Whaley said.

"He looked at me very suspiciously. I thought this was odd. Here I am a neighbor, stopping over for a neighborly visit."