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Millions at stake in battle over last-minute will

Title: Millions at stake in battle over last-minute will
Date: Tuesday, 18 February 1986
Author: Earl Golz
Main source: link (1.05 MiB)

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Mystery death of Scientology founder leaves his son fuming


[Picture / Caption: When L. Ron Hubbard, founder of Scientology, visited his staff in Rhodesia in 1966, all was well among his 6 million converts in 35 countries. In 1980, Hubbard disappeared from view.]

TENS of millions of dollars are at stake in a battle over the will of Scientology founder L. Ron Hubbard, whose recent death has proven as big a mystery as the final years of his life.

And news of the circumstances surrounding Hubbard's death has infuriated one of his sons, who claims last-minute changes to the will deny him his rightful fortune.

The reclusive Hubbard, 74, supposedly "departed from his body" in the presence of Scientology founders after suffering a stroke at his California hideaway — one day after he revised and redated his will.

Church aides, withholding announcement of Hubbard's death for almost 12 hours, said they cremated the body one day later, scattering the ashes over the Pacific. The cremation followed Hubbard's wishes that the body not be given an autopsy, according to a "certificate of religious belief" purportedly signed by Hubbard less than a week before his death.

And the cremation makes any investigation into his death all but impossible.

Hubbard's personal physician, Dr. Eugene Denk, one of four Scientologists present when he died, signed the death certificate, which attributed the cause of death to "cerebral vascular accident." Denk said Hubbard had I suffered a brain hemorrhage several days before his death.

But Ronald DeWolf, 51, Hubbard's son from his first marriage, isn't buying any of it — the death and the 12-hour delay in annnouncing it, or the 11th-hour will changes.

But Dewolf's demand for an inquest was denied by a California coroner, who relied basically on the death certificate signed by Dr. Denk.

"Basically it was my belief that the physician of record (Denk) had sufficient knowledge to reasonably state the cause of death," said George Whiting, the sheriff-coroner for San Luis Obispo County.

But DeWolf's lawyer, Michael Tabb, insisted the case is far from closed. "We have serious questions about that (death certificate), and they will probably come up in the probate of the will, if the will is attacked," he said. "My guess is it probably will be."

[Pictures / Caption: Hubbard's third wife, Mary Sue (above), was one of 11 Scientologists tried and convicted of obstruction of justice in 1980. Church president Heber Jentzsch (right) went to court in 1983 with a Hubbard-signed letter to quiet claims the sect leader was dead.]

The Rev. Ken Hoden, president of the Church of Scientology of Los Angeles, counters: "All the things (Hubbard) requested in the will were done years earlier, I think in 1982. The only thing that was added at the end was that he decided to give a more generous amount to four of his five children and his wife."

The fifth child is DeWolf.

The bulk of Hubbard's estate, which Hoden values in the "tens of millions" of dollars, was left to the church that Hubbard founded in 1954.

Tabb and other critics of Hubbard's church, which include disgruntled Scientologists represented by Tabb, said Hubbard's death in a motor home on his remote 160-acre ranch was under "odd circumstances at a very interesting time.

"There was a criminal investigation of Hubbard going on by the IRS," said Tabb. "One of his attorneys said he was worth $600 million. The IRS is investigating whether some was skimmed from the church. Where did Hubbard's millions come from?"

But the church's legal counsel, Boston attorney Earle C. Cooley, said the legal actions "passed from the earth with Mr. Hubbard's body. There is no cause of action left."

The church, which claims 6 million members in 35 countries, has been the target of more than a dozen lawsuits in recent years.

In 1980, 11 Scientologists, including Hubbard's third wife, Mary Sue, were convicted of obstruction of justice in the burglary and bugging of government agencies that had investigated the church.

The church, in turn, has won a number of suits against the FBI, CIA and IRS.

Last year, a $39-million fraud judgment against the church, which drew daily demonstrations in front of the courthouse by such Scientologists as jazz singer Al Jarreau, actor John 'fravolta and jazz musician Chick Corea, was overturned.

DeWolf, who was disinherited by the father he had not seen since 1959, changed his name from L. Ron Hubbard Jr. to avoid harassment by Scientologists. After Hubbard disappeared from public view in 1980, DeWolf charged his father was either dead or "incompetent."

"I was never totally convinced (my father was alive)," DeWolf said after Hubbard's death was reported. "That's why we requested the inquest. I have not been convinced of his being alive or dead over the last three or four years.

"And now we have no body. It certainly does raise questions. I just don't have the answers."