EXCLUSIVE: Lisa Marie Presley on Scientology, its leader David Miscavige, and why she left
How I got to know Lisa Marie Presley was that a bomb went off in the Los Angeles Times on April 8, 2015.
That day, a story by Kim Christensen appeared which revealed that for 18 months, a pair of private investigators hired by Scientology leader David Miscavige had been paid $10,000 a week to spy on Dave’s own father, Ron Miscavige, who had escaped from one of Scientology’s secretive California bases.
The LA Times story was based on a police report from West Allis, Wisconsin after the two private eyes, a father and son team, had been picked up after appearing suspicious. Police found a small arsenal in their vehicle, including an illegal rifle silencer fashioned from PVC pipe. The father was looking at 10 years in federal prison for it, and so the two of them sang like canaries.
I had been talking to Ron privately since his 2012 escape, and I called him up to congratulate him on the huge story. But he said the real reason that the story was coming out now, and in the LA Times, was all thanks to Lisa Marie. The two of them had been very close in Scientology, and now that he was out, that relationship continued.
But what, I asked, was Lisa Marie Presley doing dropping bombs on David Miscavige through the press? Could I get that story?
He put me in touch with her, and a week after the Times piece appeared, she started talking to me about her history in Scientology. And talking.
It turned out that for years she’d been a daily reader of my website the Underground Bunker where I cover Scientology news as a regular beat, and she’d been tempted to talk to me for a long time.
She said that the story of growing up in Scientology, becoming one of its more visible celebrities, and then breaking away after becoming more aware of its abuses was a complex tale.
“It’s a fucking hell of a story. There’s so much to it,” she said. And ultimately, it had become a tale about how she was now pitted against David Miscavige, who had taken over control of Scientology following the 1986 death of its founder, L. Ron Hubbard.
“Dave was a good friend of mine. Now he’s fucking Hitler,” she said.
I asked her to start at the beginning.
“I got in right after my father died,” Lisa Marie told me, explaining how she ended up a Scientology celebrity.
Elvis Presley had famously kept Scientology at bay, saying that it only wanted his money, but when he died of cardiac arrest on August 16, 1977, there were still some Scientology books that had been sent to him among his things.
Priscilla Presley had divorced Elvis in 1973, but she found the books and she was curious about them. She knew that John Travolta was involved in the group and she asked him about the books.
Travolta sent over his assistant, a woman named Sylvia “Spanky” Taylor.
“John sent me over, and that’s how I recruited Priscilla Presley into Scientology,” Spanky told me for a 2015 interview.
For Scientology, it was a huge get: Both the former wife and the daughter of the King were sucked in, after Elvis himself had resisted their recruiting efforts for years.
For Lisa (as her friends called her), who was 9 when her father died, it was a bewildering experience as her mother began dropping her off at Scientology facilities.
She said her mother was treated with deference as a major celebrity, but Lisa herself was treated shabbily, like an afterthought.
“My mom was always trying to figure out what to do with me. I had watches on me. I thought at one point that I wanted to join the Sea Org just to get out of my mom’s house.”
In Scientology’s highly hierarchical structure, the Sea Organization is the elite inner corps of dedicated church workers. Joining the Sea Org requires signing a billion-year contract and the promise of coming back, lifetime after lifetime, while working 365 days a year for $25 a week, when there’s any pay at all.
Lisa must have been feeling pretty desperate to even consider it.
“My mom would dump me off at Scientology. She dumped me at Flag at one point,” she said, referring to Scientology’s “spiritual mecca,” the Flag Land Base in Clearwater, Florida.
But there, at least, she was taken care of by the captain of the base, a woman named Debbie Cook.
“I loved Debbie. And what happened to her really wrecked me.”
(On New Year's Day 2012, Debbie Cook sent an email of protest about David Miscavige’s leadership to thousands of her fellow Scientologists. The church sued her, but then paid her in a settlement to end the lawsuit after she briefly took the witness stand in a San Antonio courtroom and began to describe the horrors of “The Hole,” a prison created by David Miscavige for disfavored Sea Org executives.)
Lisa said she had been touched by Cook’s compassion for her when she was a teenager, being raised by Scientology itself.
“I talked to Debbie Cook yesterday. ‘Your whole life has been a manipulation, Lisa.’ That’s what she said.”
Things really began to change for her in Scientology, Lisa said, once she hit 25, the age when she qualified to get her inheritance from her father’s estate.
“At 25, after I got the inheritance, they started grooming me to be this person who would go out and get everyone else in.”
Scientology wanted Lisa to be irresistible bait for other celebrities.
And they had one particular celebrity in mind.
“I was in love with Michael, believe it or not. I didn’t want to leave him. He was in trouble and I wanted to help him. And they made sure that I left him,” Lisa told me, perhaps sensing that I, like so many others, had assumed her 1994 marriage to pop superstar Michael Jackson was some sort of put-on.
She said that her affection for him was very real, but that Scientology had its own interests in the union: It had long wanted to bring in Jackson, who had a Jehovah’s Witnesses background. “But then they realized he was getting too much bad press,” she said.
She denied ever seeing anything like what Jackson was accused of that would result, ten years later, in a trial for child molestation.
“Fucking around little boys? Dude, do you think I’d be with someone if I witnessed that?” she said.
In a 2003 Rolling Stone interview, Lisa described some of the things that were driving a wedge into the marriage. That, for example, she hadn’t seen Michael in a month as he prepared for the 1995 MTV Video Music Awards, and there was also the time Jackson had said something false to a TV Guide interviewer, claiming that Lisa had told him that Elvis had gotten a nose job.
When Rolling Stone asked her how things had come to a head, she replied “I’d had enough. That’s all.”
To me, however, she said that Scientology was intimately involved in the split.
“I was in love with Michael. I wanted to help him,” she said. But there was always a Scientology presence wherever they went. “There was always someone here. Even when we did that ABC prime time interview, there was always a Scientology handler right there.”
In particular, two figures were involved in driving them apart, she said.
“DM [David Miscavige] facilitated my divorce with MJ,” she said, claiming that Miscavige and a Scientologist attorney, John P. Coale, pressured her to file for divorce.
“I was calling Dave, asking, what do I do? He was a huge MJ fan. He was all over that,” she said. She was told to make sure that Jackson didn’t file for divorce first, because it would give him an advantage in court.
“One morning I got a call from John Coale. He said, ‘Michael’s going to make a move. He’s going to file.’ So I filed.”
She explained that she felt pressured to be the first to file for divorce, but then regretted it.
John P. Coale is not only a well known Scientologist attorney, he made a name for himself suing tobacco companies in the 1980s, and has also made news as a political operator. He’s married to TV journalist Greta Van Susteren, who joined the church as a result of marrying him in 1988.
(Lisa mentioned that she thought it was unusual that a TV journalist would be a Scientologist, when founder L. Ron Hubbard had such disdain for the media. But she said that Miscavige told her that Van Susteren “helped Scientology with Fox News.” Van Susteren left Fox News the year after my conversation with Lisa, and she has historically been very tight-lipped about her Scientology involvement.)
I spoke with Coale this past Friday, after letting him know what Lisa had told me. He had a different version of events.
“First of all, I never told her to love or unlove Mr. Jackson. This is 30 years ago,” he said.
And he added it was “absurd” that he would have told Lisa to file for divorce before Jackson. The reason?
“There was no contest.”
Coale said he vividly remembered a lunch he had with Johnnie Cochran, who represented Jackson.
“What do you want to do? I asked him. They don’t have any children. They each have their own money. There’s no joint property. There was nothing to fight over. So that was it and we ate lunch. There was never any contest,” Coale said. “It was a great lunch. Johnnie Cochran was a really great guy. It’s a shame he died. He was a great lawyer and great guy. And that’s what he would do. There was nothing to fight about.”
Coale suggested that Lisa might have confused him for another lawyer handling the case. “That was what I did with Cochran. She had other lawyers who wrote up the papers. I don’t know what happened there,” he said. “I never advised her about what to do with the relationship with Michael Jackson. I don’t know if anyone else did.”
As for Miscavige, Coale said he never talked to the church leader about the Presley-Jackson matter at the time.
“I’ve known him for years, but I’ve probably talked to him under ten times,” Coale said. “It’s probably been six or seven years since I saw him.”
In 2015, nineteen years after her divorce, Lisa told me she believed that Miscavige was behind the effort to drive her away from Jackson, and she likened it to what she had read that Miscavige had done in Tom Cruise’s marriages.
“I know how in love they were,” she said, referring to Cruise and Nicole Kidman, who split in 2000. “But they were driven apart.”
Scientology’s reputation for indoctrination and control was pretty legendary, and celebrities have come forward to detail it in the past. But I wondered about her family’s involvement in Scientology’s “technology,” the arcane past-life therapy that it sold at considerable prices.
“My mom’s not Clear. She takes courses and reads books, but she’s not involved,” she said, suggesting that Priscilla had not applied herself to making it to the higher steps on what Scientology calls its “Bridge to Total Freedom.”
Lisa herself had gone nearly to the top of the Bridge, reaching OT 7.
“Operating Thetan Level Seven” is the second highest “auditing level,” and the most grueling, requiring years for some to finish it.
“I never finished it. I quit after three months,” she said. “It was bullshit. It was just about control. It was just a way of getting more money.”
And the other celebrities she’d met in Scientology? I was curious what kind of relationship she had with them.
“I fucking hate Tom. I met him 20 years ago. I said I never want to be in a room with him again.”
“John is my last Scientology friend. Kelly [Preston] kind of monitors us. John and I get unruly if we’re together. John is renting my house in Hawaii right now.”
(Preston died of cancer in 2020.) I asked what Lisa meant by “unruly,” and she described late nights with Travolta talking about what the rest of the world thought about Scientology, which the church considers a forbidden exercise.
“I told him about the HBO thing. He had no idea. I told him that Debbie Cook was gone. He had no idea. He has no Internet or email. He’s so sheltered. All he knows is what they tell him. He’s smart but sheltered.”
“She was a force to be reckoned with. I don’t know what exactly went down. I do feel that she really cared about him [Dave]. But I think she stepped on his feet.”
The wife of Scientology leader David Miscavige, Shelly vanished from the international management base near Hemet in 2005, and was seen at the funeral of her father in the summer of 2007, and not since. But Lisa said she agreed with former Scientology spokesman Mike Rinder and other former executives who said Shelly was being held at a small mountain compound in the San Bernardino Mountains.
“She is at that place at Arrowhead. She’s under 24/7 guard.”
Lisa said she was having dinner with Miscavige after Shelly’s disappearance, and noticed he was eating off the same plate as his “communicator,” Laurisse Stuckenbrock. When she asked where Shelly was, he said “Compilations.”
(Miscavige's response was a reference to a specific kind of work done in Scientology, and not a particular location. It was a response intended to convey that Shelly was on a special mission somewhere.)
And Miscavige himself?
“While I was beginning to realize how fucked up everything was, and how many criminals there were, I had dinner with him at Nobu four years ago in London. Listening to him talk about how great Scientology was doing was like hearing Hitler talking about how he has chimneys and smoke coming out of everywhere. All he could talk about was Tom or buildings. A four-hour dinner.”
Several times during our conversation, Lisa said that things had changed after 2013, when Leah Remini’s defection from Scientology had become public.
“My mom is still friends with [a Scientology attorney who] told her that Dave is so paranoid now, nobody sees him. Nobody sees him. He’s going into an underground bunker period,” she said, with a laugh, making a reference to the name of my website.
“He’s going into that bunker phase.”
Last week, I sent a lengthy and detailed message to Scientology spokeswoman Karin Pouw, asking for responses to Lisa’s assertions about the church, about David Miscavige, Shelly Miscavige, and what she had to say about her treatment in the church at the hands of her mother Priscilla Presley.
I am still waiting for a response.
In 2013, I was in New Braunfels, Texas to cover a court hearing in a lawsuit filed against Scientology by Monique Rathbun, the wife of former Scientology official Marty Rathbun.
At the time, Marty and former Scientology spokesman Mike Rinder had pointed out to me that Lisa was in town that night, performing on her “Storm & Grace” tour. Mike joked about going to the concert to see if we could get in.
Now, in 2015, Lisa told me that Scientology was actually very concerned about that.
“OSA called my security guys. ‘These guys are planning on coming,’ they said. They meant Mike, Marty, and you.”
Lisa said her security guys were very worried about it, but she said what was the worst that could happen?
“Let’s say they pay a hundred bucks for the meet-and-greet. I’m not going to be rude. I'll shake their hands and say hi.”
She said she even tried to call Miscavige about it, asking him to calm down the OSA operatives. But she was told that “after the Leah thing,” he wasn't talking to anyone.
I first started noticing that something seemed to be up with Lisa when she released a single in April 2012 that contained lyrics suggesting she might be pushing Scientology away. She followed that up a month later with an album, Storm & Grace, that contained lyrics that seemed unambiguous. And in interviews at that time she talked about getting rid of people she called “nuts” from her life.
Now, in 2015, she told me I had been right.
From 2007 to 2015, Lisa said, she was carefully asking questions, looking into what was being said about Scientology, all of the things that eventually came out in a documentary like Alex Gibney’s HBO documentary Going Clear. (Full disclosure: I appear in the film.)
“For the last eight years, I’ve been putting together everything that was in that special,” she said.
In order to do that, she was questioning her close friend Ron Miscavige, who had escaped from Int Base in 2012. And also Roanne Horwich, another close friend who had escaped from the base that same year. Roanne is the daughter of Diana Hubbard, the last of L. Ron Hubbard’s children who are still involved in the Scientology organization.
But Lisa said she had to proceed very cautiously.
“While I was questioning Ron and Roanne, my mom and daughter were still in. I had to be real careful. I didn’t want to get them in trouble.”
She said that she reached out for information to other people who “were not technically declared.” In other words, people who had quietly left Scientology without raising the ire of the church, which declared enemies “suppressive persons,” and then often targeted them with harassment.
Lisa said she cultivated sources who were still flying “under the radar” and appeared to the church to be members in good standing, but who could tell her about what outsiders said about Scientology.
She says that’s how she first learned about “The Hole,” and it helped her make up her mind to leave Scientology. “No way, that’s not why I joined this,” she said about the bizarre office-prison.
Miscavige had created it in 2004 to punish top executives of Scientology’s Sea Org by locking them into a set of offices in a double-wide trailer at Int Base, the large compound near Hemet.
The existence of the Hole was revealed in a 2009 expose by the Tampa Bay Times, and it highlighted how ruthlessly Miscavige disciplined his underlings. Some of his top lieutenants had literally spent years in confinement, forced to accuse each other of disloyalty to Miscavige in brutal “seances.”
Learning about The Hole was one of the things Lisa said she had been doing for several years, investigating what was really going on in Scientology from the three sources she really trusted.
Besides Ron and Roanne, the third source was Arthur Hubbard, 64, son of L. Ron Hubbard, an artist who lived in Los Angeles.
“Arthur was my best friend since I was 16,” she said.
It’s particularly interesting that two of her sources for information about Scientology’s controversies were members of the Hubbard family itself.
Roanne Horwich is L. Ron Hubbard’s granddaughter. (She declined to be interviewed for this story.) And Arthur Hubbard is L. Ron’s youngest child. (He didn’t return a request for an interview.)
“It’s sad. Roanne was living like a gardener at the base, and she was treated like shit. Her mother, Diana, got totally screamed at. She writes the events for Miscavige, she writes those and gets screamed at. There is a whole family that’s been broken apart,” Lisa said.
She had asked Arthur, why doesn't the family unite and mutiny? She mentioned to me that she’d talked to him about it just the day before. But inertia was preventing anything from happening.
“Arthur’s always like, ‘OK, beatings, The Hole, OK. But you need a smoking gun.’”
But that’s why, she added, the police report from Wisconsin that she had delivered to the Los Angeles Times was so important.
“It is a smoking gun.”
For Lisa, the final showdown with Scientology took place in October 2014.
That month, she heard from Ron Miscavige that he had traveled from Wisconsin to Florida in order to be reunited with his two daughters for the first time since he had escaped from Scientology’s Int Base in 2012.
But when he approached his daughter Denise Gentile’s house (Denise was David Miscavige’s twin), he had been told that he wasn’t going to be allowed to see her or her younger sister, Lori Verneuille, on Dave’s orders.
“Ron was heartbroken. He and I had previous conversations, and he wasn’t going to write a book. But now I knew he was really upset,” Lisa said. (Ron told me the same thing, that he wasn’t planning on writing a book after his escape until he was prevented from seeing his daughters. Then he began work on what would become his 2016 memoir, Ruthless: Scientology, My Son David Miscavige, and Me. Ron died in 2021 at 85 years old.)
Incensed by how Ron was being treated, Lisa decided to go to Florida herself.
“I was just going to go there and see if it’s as bad as everyone said. So I went to the headquarters in Clearwater.”
She wanted to talk to David Miscavige and ask him directly why he wasn’t allowing his father to visit Dave’s two sisters.
And she wanted me to understand that she had previously considered David Miscavige a good friend.
“He and I used to talk for hours and hours,” she said. “But since the Leah thing [referring to Leah’s public defection in 2013], he was real careful who he talked to. I had to be super careful.”
That October 2014, she went to the Flag Land Base.
“I was there looking for closure,” she said.
Then, she got a phone call.
“It just so happens Ron called me. I told him I was on my way. He said, ‘Can I help you? I’m here. What the fuck are you doing there?’”
Ron was still in Florida, and he was confused about what Lisa had in mind, she explained. But she admitted that she wasn’t too sure herself.
“I don’t fucking know, I told him. I’m here with a wand checking for bugs in the hotel room. I don't know.”
Lisa, her husband Michael Lockwood, her son Ben Keough and other members of their entourage had checked into the Fort Harrison Hotel, the centerpiece of Scientology’s “spiritual mecca.” And she was still trying to figure out what she was going to do there.
“I just know that I started to self-destruct because this thing [Scientology] is corrupt. I needed closure.”
Ron asked if there was anything he could do, but she asked him if he had Scientology private investigators tailing him. Yes, he answered. That made Lisa wary.
“They were being followed. He said he wanted to get together, but I told him no, not right now.”
She said that Ron was skeptical she’d even be allowed in to see David Miscavige when she went to his offices.
“He said, ‘The obvious is going to happen. You’re going to get to their door, and they’re going to slam it in your face. Is there anything I can do to help?’”
But Lisa said she wasn’t going to back down.
“Dave is too fucking scared to talk to me. I’m in the belly of the beast. It was his terrain, but I was obviously not afraid. He’s afraid,” she said.
She made her first attempt to see Miscavige, going across the air bridge from the Fort Harrison Hotel to the Flag Building, a city-block sized edifice which had been opened just the year before. She asked to be shown to the offices of the Religious Technology Center, the nominally controlling sub-organization of the Scientology movement which counts David Miscavige as its chairman. (Scientologists often refer to Miscavige as “C.O.B.”, for chairman of the board.)
She was let in to the office by a Sea Org staffer who had a Blackberry and an earpiece, Lisa remembered, and she recalled that the woman’s name was Joanna.
Joanna said that Miscavige wasn’t there. But Lisa saw cameras, and she assumed he was watching. She picked out a camera and spoke to it directly.
“I don’t know what’s wrong with you. Are you throwing everyone in The Hole? You just made the biggest mistake of your life, you just broke up your own family,” she said to the camera, assuming that Dave was watching. “Somebody needs to stop you.”
After her initial visit to the office, she says she was called at the hotel and asked to come back in.
“They called me back in. They said, ‘we have a problem — you can’t be here if you’re in touch with Ron Sr. He’s a declared SP.’ So Ron, who had saved Dave’s life by getting him into Scientology when he was 9 years old, Ron is now a declared SP,” she said, referring to Ron first bringing his family into Scientology in the late 1960s in order to find a cure for young Dave’s asthma.
What about Roanne, she asked? Yes, Roanne was a declared SP as well and Lisa shouldn’t be associating with her.
Lisa said she was told that Denise and Lori, Dave’s sisters, were waiting to talk with her.
“Give me 20 minutes,” she said. She left the offices and called Arthur. He suggested that she at least find out what the sisters had to tell her.
So she went back in, with her husband Michael Lockwood in tow. She remembered passing the camera again, and this time said to it, “OK, buddy, action. This is all for you,” again with the assumption that Dave was watching.
She and Lockwood found a place to sit. Then Denise and Lori were shown in by Joanna, the Sea Org staffer.
“Denise starts screaming at me. I’d met her before. I wouldn’t say we were friends. She’s screaming about how Ron had beat her mother. How he would drink when he was looking over the kids.”
Lisa said that Denise and Lori were also screaming shocking allegations about their older brother, Ronnie Jr.
(Denise and Lori made similar allegations in a 2016 letter to ABC News to protest the publication of Ron’s book, a letter which Scientology has posted online.)
“I couldn’t get a word in edgewise. I remained completely unemotional while Denise was screaming all kinds of crazy shit. It was all a show for Dave. I kind of had a smile on my face the whole time.”
Denise’s rant culminated with her telling Lisa to keep out of their family matters.
“It’s none of your fucking business!” Denise screamed at maximum volume.
“I’m done, Denise. Good job,” Lisa said she replied. “I tried to be as calm as possible.”
She looked at the Sea Org woman, Joanna, who had shown them all in.
“I looked over at his little henchwoman. ‘That was not a two-way conversation,’ I said.”
She said Joanna replied, “They’re public and we don’t have any control over them.” (She meant that Denise and Lori weren’t Sea Org — they were “publics” — and so she couldn’t tell them what to do.)
Lisa said she told the Sea Org officer, “That was supposed to handle me? If that was on YouTube, do you think anyone would ever walk in here again?”
She and Lockwood went back to the Fort Harrison Hotel, and her son Ben was there. (She said that Ben wasn't a Scientologist.)
Lisa went back again to the office the next day. She walked in and told Joanna, “Turn the cameras on. Have him watch what I have to say.”
She then addressed Joanna: “I at least need you to acknowledge the fact that was a tiny iota insane,” Lisa remembers telling her. “This is the SS, Dave is Hitler. I didn’t join this. I want nothing to do with this. My family will have my back.”
When Joanna asked her what she had told her family, Lisa said she responded, “None of your fucking business what I tell them.”
She said Joanna replied, “You need to go into confessional now and get your overts off.”
In other words, the Sea Org official was trying to “handle” Lisa’s “upset” by putting the onus on her to confess to bad acts or negative thoughts (“overts”) in order to convince her that she was at fault for what was happening.
“I told her ‘Fuck you. You're trying to shut me the fuck up and you're not going to do it.’ She told me that I could leave. ‘Fine, I’m leaving. And when I walk out that door, you’re never seeing me again.’ As I stood up and walked out, she said she would let me know if they declared me. ‘I’ll let the whole world know if you do,’ I said.”
Lisa said that Scientologists at the base helped her pack, and that “everyone was civil.”
“But I’ve had PIs on me ever since,” she said, referring to the past six months before our conversation.
She said in that ensuing time she had been told that she had, indeed, been declared a “Suppressive Person” by Scientology.
“Declared an SP for trying to keep DM from breaking up his own family? They’re completely insane,” she said.
After the confrontation, Lisa said she took her family to Disneyworld. Ron Miscavige went to visit Mike Rinder, who lived not far from the Flag base. Ron called her telling her that he was being watched intently by Scientology’s private investigators.
(Also, Ron’s wife Becky Bigelow was with him. I spoke to her recently, and she says that Lisa’s version of what happened matches her own memory of it.)
Lisa told me that she talked to both her mother Priscilla and her daughter Riley about the encounter, and told them that she needed them to side with her against the church.
“Mom, I know you love doing your courses. But you’re going to have to have my fucking back,” she says she told Priscilla.
When I asked specifically about it later in the conversation, Lisa confirmed that when she broke with Scientology for good in 2014, she took Priscilla and Riley out with her. “They walked when I did.”
She said that she had also convinced her mother to watch Going Clear, the HBO documentary that had premiered just a month before our conversation.
Mike Rinder, the former Scientology spokesman who recently put out a book about his experiences, A Billion Years: My Escape From a Life in the Highest Ranks of Scientology, tells me he also spoke to Lisa about her attempted showdown with Miscavige shortly after it happened.
“What you are saying matches precisely with what she was saying to me,” Rinder tells me.
“That meeting with Denise and Lori, she went on and on about, ‘What c***s they were,’ and, ‘If Dave thought sending his ugly sisters to see me is going to take care of this, he’s crazy.’ Lisa was really over-the-top upset about the whole thing,” Rinder says.
She had called Rinder after they had reached a house in the Nashville area that she was renting at the time.
“Riley was there with her and got on the phone. I had never spoken to her in my life. The first thing she said to me was, ‘You’ve got to take these motherfuckers down.’ I was thinking in my head, wow, that’s quite an introduction to Riley,” Rinder says.
Like her mother, Riley was upset about how Scientology had handled the matter, and wanted the organization’s abuses exposed, Rinder explains.
(Later, I saw signs that suggested that both Priscilla and Riley may have gone back into Scientology. I sent requests for comment with detailed descriptions of Lisa’s assertions to attorneys for both Priscilla and Riley.)
Soon after the attempted confrontation with Miscavige at the Flag Building, Lisa said she hired a “bad ass lawyer,” who then obtained the police report about the two private investigators who were arrested while stalking Ron Miscavige in Wisconsin the year before, in 2013.
She sat on it for a few months, and she says it was Arthur Hubbard who convinced her to get the information out to the public.
In his book, Rinder revealed that he suggested to Lisa’s attorney that she should deliver the documents to Kim Christensen at the LA Times, resulting in the April 8, 2015 bombshell.
Lisa’s fingerprints were nowhere to be seen, however. I asked her why she wasn't following Leah Remini’s lead and being more public about leaving Scientology and opposing David Miscavige.
“The actual reason is, I have two nannies. They’re both Scientologists. My children are so in love with them. And I have a security executive guy who works with me, and he’s a Scientologist.”
She worried about her children being “destroyed” if they were to lose the nannies. (The twin girls were 6 at the time of this interview.) “That’s the only thing holding me back. Believe me, when I want to go, I go.” She told me that she did plan to go public about Scientology once that situation had changed.
She also told me that in the meantime, she thought she could do just as much damage from behind the scenes, with the LA Times story as a prime example.
And her goal of going after David Miscavige?
“Getting the tax-exempt status revoked. That’s the only thing you can do,” she said. Scientology had famously bullied the IRS into giving it tax-free status in 1993, and until that was taken away, she said, it would be business as usual for Miscavige.
I asked if she had thought about talking to government officials about it directly. “No,” she answered.
If she was still maintaining a low profile publicly, inside Scientology her departure was already being talked about, she said.
“I’m a suppressive person, and I’m the reason my dad died and MJ died. That’s what’s being said inside Scientology.”
She said she was being followed, but she believed that as long as she didn’t go public, she would be spared the kind of harassment that Scientology was well known for.
“I don’t want them on me. They scare me,” she said.
And it was David Miscavige that she said she was most concerned about.
“He gave me all that information about his family and then let me walk out? You have to be joking,” she said. “I’m being followed. I don't know what he’s going to do. He’s going to lose his shit at some point.”
I told her I thought Miscavige was even more scared of her.
“He should be. I have a hell of a lot of information on him.”
After that lengthy conversation on April 15, 2015, I had one more substantial phone call with Lisa later that year after I published a story on July 10 about a Scientology daycare where the son of the operator was accused of molesting the children. Scientology’s “ethics officers” had convinced the parents not to cooperate with law enforcement in order to bury the problem.
Lisa’s godchild was among the alleged victims, and she thanked me for making the story public. I took the opportunity to point out that Ron Miscavige’s book was going to be coming out at some point, and that it would probably contain references to her attempted showdown with Miscavige.
I told Lisa that I intended to publish a story about that of my own, but hold back that the details had come from her. She said she didn’t mind. It was very clear that she wanted the information about Scientology’s abuses she’d witnessed to come out. (My story about her battles with Miscavige came out the following April.)
That July 2015 conversation was the last I heard from her.
Before too long, Ron Miscavige said he had also stopped hearing from her.
Over the next few years, Lisa’s life appeared to become a mix of litigation, substance abuse, and personal tragedy as she went through years of a nasty divorce and custody battle with Lockwood, and then lost Ben Keough, her son, to suicide in 2020. He was 28.
Increasingly, I saw signs that Priscilla and Riley were involved with the church again. Had Lisa gone back in as well?
This past November, there was a stunning development when the prosecutors in the forcible rape trial of Scientology celebrity and That '70s Show actor Danny Masterson revealed that they were planning to call Lisa as a witness to describe what amounted to obstruction of justice by the Church of Scientology.
One of the three women accusing Masterson of rape, who goes by the name Jane Doe 1, alleged that the actor had attacked her in April 2003, and that she had subsequently informed Scientology about it. She also asked the church for permission to violate Scientology policy and report Masterson to the LAPD. She ended up doing so in June 2004.
Lisa would testify, Deputy DA Reinhold Mueller told Judge Charlaine Olmedo on November 8, that she was instructed by Scientology to dissuade Jane Doe 1, a close personal friend of hers, from going to the police.
Mueller also revealed that Lisa’s attorney had warned that if they asked her about this on the witness stand, he would advise that she take the Fifth Amendment against self-incrimination.
In other words, Lisa’s own attorney realized that she would be testifying not only to a crime committed by Scientology, but one she had taken part in herself.
Mueller said he told the attorney too much time had passed for there to be legal exposure for Lisa, but he was willing to grant her immunity for her cooperation. With that agreement Lisa then came down to the DA’s office and was interviewed and signed a statement.
But Judge Olmedo ruled that the testimony about Scientology’s obstruction was more appropriate for the civil harassment lawsuit filed by the Masterson accusers, and less relevant in a criminal trial about his guilt or innocence. She ruled that Lisa couldn’t testify about it, and prosecutors decided not to call her at all. (The trial ended in a mistrial on November 30 when jurors were unable to come to unanimous verdicts on all three counts of forcible rape.)
However, the fact that Lisa was even contemplating testifying about Scientology using her to commit a crime was powerful evidence that she was still out.
I texted her at that point, hoping that she might finally be ready to talk again after seven years. I got no reply.
On Thursday, January 12, 2023, she went into cardiac arrest and died after being rushed to a hospital. She was 54.
Almost immediately, I began seeing questions about her death and her association with Scientology, and that she was at least theoretically still a potential witness in Masterson’s re-trial, which is scheduled to begin jury selection on March 29.
While I understand the reason people are wondering about that timing, it’s important to remember that Elvis Presley’s mother died of a heart attack at the age 46 in 1958. Elvis was 42 when he died of cardiac arrest in 1977. That heredity, and Lisa’s extensive drug history, didn’t require a conspiracy to explain her untimely demise.
But her sudden death was deeply unsettling. I felt fortunate to have had the interactions with her that I did.
She had wanted Scientology and David Miscavige — whom she’d compared to Hitler — exposed.
And I wanted the world to know, she had been a fighter.
— Tony Ortega
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