Thursday evening we broke the surprising news that Alexander Jentzsch, 27, son of the Church of Scientology International’s president, Heber Jentzsch, had been found dead at the home of his estranged wife’s parents in Los Angeles on Tuesday morning.
Last night, about 24 hours after our story appeared, we spoke again with Alexander’s mother, Karen de la Carriere, by telephone.
She told us she was standing outside the Cedar Hill Mortuary in Los Angeles, but she was not allowed inside to see her son’s body.
“My son is behind this wall. I’m touching the wall and he’s just on the other side. But I can’t see him because the church considers me a suppressive person,” she said.
Alexander will be cremated without his mother having a chance to see him, and she won’t be given his ashes. And even though Alexander is the son of the Church of Scientology International’s president, Karen has been told there will be no memorial for her son.
Alexander’s body sat in a city morgue until Friday afternoon, when it was moved to Cedar Hill. His wife, still a Scientologist, gave instructions that Karen was not to see the body.
Karen de la Carriere was a member of the church for decades. When she was excommunicated from the church in 2010, she was one of only three Class XII auditors personally trained by L. Ron Hubbard in the 1970s on the yacht Apollo still remaining in the organization.
In 1978 she married Heber Jentzsch, who was named president of the Church of Scientology International four years later. They had a son, Alexander, in 1984, who grew up in the church and joined the Sea Org at only 8 years of age. He stayed in it until he was 24.
Throughout the 1980s and 1990s, Heber Jentzsch was a public spokesman for the church and a very popular figure with other Scientologists.
In 1986, Hubbard died, and David Miscavige wrested control of the church. Three years later, he put pressure on Heber to divorce Karen, she says, and they split up in 1989.
Heber himself began to fall out of Miscavige’s favor about a decade later. Former Scientology spokesman Mike Rinder remembers seeing Heber at a big Scientology event for the last time in 2004 or 2005. Although he was still nominally the president of CSI, Heber was becoming a non-person at the International Base east of Los Angeles.
By 2006, Heber Jentzsch was in “The Hole” — an office-prison at the base where executives were confined day and night. Mike Rinder knows that Jentzsch was one of the prisoners in the Hole because, in 2006 and 2007, Rinder was a prisoner there too.
“JB [John Brousseau, one of the last employees to escape the base] says Heber was still in the Hole in 2010, when he left.”
Karen de la Carriere, meanwhile, had quietly been communicating with other ex-Scientologists for some time, but then in 2010 decided to go public. She encouraged Rinder and another former executive, Marty Rathbun, to write about Heber’s imprisonment at Rathbun’s blog, pointing out that Alexander was growing up without a father.
That pressure succeeded — at least for one day, when Heber was allowed to leave the base and see his son.
But Karen paid a price for going public, as she was declared a “suppressive person” by the church (Scientology’s version of excommunication), and her son Alexander was pressured to “disconnect” from her.
Two years later, her son is dead, and the church still won’t let her see him.
She and Rinder both believe Heber, 76, is still being held out of sight at the Int Base, and may not even have been notified that his son has perished.
I sent Scientology attorney Gary Soter an e-mail yesterday asking about that. (My repeated e-mails to the church’s media office go unanswered as a rule, but Soter has been making public statements for Scientology since the Katie Holmes-Tom Cruise divorce media firestorm started a week ago.) I’m still waiting for a reply.
I also asked him to explain why, as Karen has been told, there are no plans for a memorial for the son of the church president.
“There is a memorial service written by Hubbard. It has a lot of significance for Scientologists. It acknowledges the person for the life they have lived, and says goodbye so they can move on to whatever their future is,” Mike Rinder explains.
Rinder and de la Carriere still consider themselves Scientologists even after being declared SPs and leaving the official church. One of Scientology’s core beliefs is reincarnation.
“For the church now to take the position that they are not going to carry out that religious rite for the son of the president of the church is astonishing,” he says.
“I’m sure that this is all being done so that Heber doesn’t have to appear. They are worred that if Heber appeared, there would be media there, and Heber might walk away.”
Rinder thinks that might actually be a strong possibility.
“I know Heber really well. I know one of the reasons he stuck around was for Alexander. He didn’t want to disappoint him by leaving,” Rinder says.
“If they hold a memorial service and Heber doesn’t show up, that’s a flap,” he says, using Scientology jargon for a big upset of bad publicity. “But to not do this, it’s so non-Scientology that it’s hard to believe. It’s so despicable, it’s almost beyond words.”
“This is all because I talk to you, I talk to the blogs, and because I reveal the church’s abuses,” Karen says. “This is their revenge, that they won’t let me have one last look at my son.”
Meanwhile, she is still trying to piece together how her 27-year-old son died. She was told initially that Alexander had a high fever on Monday night and then was found dead Tuesday morning.
But while filming an interview yesterday, she was told by Inside Edition reporters that they had learned from the county coroner that Alexander had a history of “excessive self-medication.”
Karen says she was stunned. Since then, she has learned that Alexander was in a serious car accident in Dallas at some point after he disconnected from her two years ago. The chronic back pain he experienced after the accident led to the self-medicating.
“Two weeks ago, he had difficult breathing,” she says, adding that she learned that from a close friend of her son. The friend told her that rather than see a doctor, Alex was given a “touch assist” — a Scientology faith healing technique of therapeutic touching.
“When you have difficulty breathing, that should be checked out with a doctor, not with a touch assist,” she says.
She says the county coroner is still investigating the death.
“There were no signs of foul play and no indication it was a suicide,” the Daily News was told by Assistant Chief Coroner Ed Winter.
In the meantime, Karen says she’s been hit with a wave of supportive e-mails and calls.
Some are from people inside the church who saw our story Thursday night, she says.
“I just had a phone call from a guy who saw your story,” she says. “He called to wish me well, and then he said he had to quickly hang up because his wife was coming back to the room. He was still a member of the church in good standing — that phone call could cost him $50,000 in security checking if the church found out about it.”
Karen says she has talked to a company that puts on memorial services at sea for spreading ashes on the ocean. She’s trying to book a yacht even though she won’t have her son’s cremains.
“I’m trying to book it for next Sunday, and then I want to open it up to anyone who wants to come,” she says. “I’m going to send an invitation to Heber at the Hemet base. And I wish that as many people could send their own invites to him as well.”
She’s hoping to get it set up for July 15th. “Then we’ll memorialize Alexander.”
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Tony Ortega has been the editor in chief of the Village Voice since March, 2007. He started writing about Scientology in 1995. You can reach him by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org, and if you ask nicely he’ll put you on his mailing list for notifications of new stories. You can also catch his alerts at Twitter (@VoiceTonyO), at his Facebook author page, on Pinterest, a Tumblr, and even this new Google Plus doohickey.
New readers might want to check out our primer, “What is Scientology?” Another good overview is our series from last summer, “Top 25 People Crippling Scientology.” At the top of every story, you’ll see the “Scientology” category which, if you click on it, will bring up all of our most recent stories.
As for hot subjects we’ve covered here, you may have heard about Debbie Cook, the former church official who rebelled and was sued by Scientology. You might have also heard about the Super Power Building, Scientology’s “Mecca,” whose secrets were revealed here. We also reported how Scientology spied on its own most precious object, Tom Cruise. (We wrote Tom an open letter that he has yet to respond to.) Have you seen a Scientology ad on TV lately? We debunked some of the claims in that 2-minute commercial you might have seen while watching Glee or American Idol.
Other stories have looked at Scientology’s policy of “disconnection” that is tearing families apart. You may also have heard something about the Sea Org experiences of the Paris sisters, Valeska and Melissa, and their friend Ramana Dienes-Browning. We’ve also featured Paulette Cooper, who wrote about Scientology back in the day, and Janet Reitman, Hugh Urban, and the team at the Tampa Bay Times, who write about it today. And there’s plenty more coming.