The divorce of Sara Hubbard, April 1951


By 1951, the five-year marriage of L. Ron Hubbard and his second wife Sara (neé Sara Northrup) had irrevocably broken down. It's hard to say at this distance in time who was most to blame, but it is a matter of record that Hubbard kidnapped his wife and child, fled with the child to Cuba, denounced his wife to the FBI for being a "known or suspected Communist", disinherited his infant daughter - "Alexis will get a fortune unless she goes to you as she would then get nothing" - and, 18 years later, told the unfortunate young woman that she had in fact been fathered by his Satanist friend Jack Parsons! All in all, it was a deeply squalid story, and one which attracted a great deal of press attention; Sara's attorney, Caryl Warner, was one of the most prominent in Los Angeles, and Ron himself had promoted his family as "the world's first Dianetics family". Its irrecovable breakup was thus, perhaps, one of the first great failures of Dianetics. It was deeply ironic that, only a few years later, Ron should write a book (still in print) called "How to save your marriage"...

The following document is Sara's dramatic account of her life with Ron. It made for sensational headlines - "Cult Founder Accused Of Tot Kidnap" (Dianetics was being called a cult even in 1951), "Hubbard Accused Of Plot To Kill Wife", "Hiding Of Baby Charged To Dianetics Author". In an apparent attempt to discredit her, Ron wrote a letter to the FBI - one of several which denounced Sara as a Communist. Dated 14 May 1951, the intention behind the letter was clearly to make Sara's divorce petition seem like part of a sinister Communist conspiracy against Ron, led by his "alleged wife" and her lover, Dianetic auditor Miles Hollister:

I believe this woman to be under heavy duress. She was born into a criminal atmosphere, her father having a criminal record. Her half-sister was an inmate of an insane asylum. She was part of a free love colony in Pasadena. She had attached herself to a Jack Parsons, the rocket expert, during the war and when she left him he was a wreck. Further, through Parsons, she was strangely intimate with many scientists of Los Alamo Gordos [Alamogordo in New Mexico was where the first atomic bomb was tested]. I did not know or realize these things until I myself investigated the matter. She may have a record . . . Perhaps in your criminal files or on the police blotter of Pasadena you will find Sara Elizabeth Northrop, age about 26, born April 8, 1925, about 5'9", blond-brown hair, slender . . . I have no revenge motive nor am I trying to angle this broader than it is. I believe she is under duress, that they have something on her and I believe that under a grilling she would talk and turn state's evidence.
The FBI agent assigned to look after Hubbard's letters scrawled "Appears mental" by the side of this one and didn't bother to reply to followups, which perhaps indicates the credibility of Hubbard's allegations.

But how true are Sara's claims? She was supported at the time by Hubbard's first wife, Polly, who wrote an unsolicited letter to Sara to confirm the allegations made against Ron:

Sara, if I can help in any way, I'd like to ... You must get Alexis in your custody. Ron is not normal. I had hoped you could straighten him out. Your charges probably sound fantastic to the average person, but I've been through it - the beatings, threats on my life, all the sadistic traits which you charge - 12 years of it.
Furthermore, those around Hubbard at the time (notably Richard de Mille) confirmed to Russell Miller, the author of Bare-Faced Messiah, that Sara's accounts of kidnapping and abduction were factual. The Church of Scientology naturally rejects this, pointing to Sara's renunciation of her charges in a typed statement of 11 June 1951:
I, Sara Northrup Hubbard, do hereby state that the things I have said about L. Ron Hubbard in courts and the public prints have been grossly exaggerated or entirely false.

I have not at any time believed otherwise than that L. Ron Hubbard is a fine and brilliant man.

I make this statement of my own free will for I have begun to realize that what I have done may have injured the science of Dianetics, which in my studied opinion may be the only hope of sanity in future generations.

I was under enormous stress and my advisers insisted it was necessary for me to carry through an action as I have done. There is no other reason for this statement than my own wish to make atonement for the damage I may have done. In the future I wish to lead a quiet and orderly existence with my little girl far away from the enturbulating influences which have ruined my marriage.

Sara Northrup Hubbard.

In fact, as was clearly evident then and thereafter, Sara's free will was not much used: the statement was patently written by Ron (even down to the use of his favourite neologism, "enturbulating"). In 1972, she broke a long silence to write to anti-Scientology journalist Paulette Cooper to confirm this, describing Ron as a "dangerous lunatic" of whom she was still afraid. Those still with Ron at the time have also confirmed the tactics used against Sara: "She got the baby back", Richard de Mille told Russell Miller, "by agreeing to let him divorce her and by not saying anything bad about him." On 9 June 1951, Sara signed a handwritten statement scrawled on the notepaper of The Hubbard Dianetic Foundation Inc. of Wichita agreeing to cancel her receivership action and divorce suit in California in return for a divorce "guaranteed by L. Ron Hubbard" in mid-June. And since then, the Church of Scientology has maintained in biographical sketches of Ron that Sara was a tragically mentally ill individual who caused him so much trouble that he was eventually forced to divorce her. We'll give the final word to Ron, from an unpublished autobiography which he dictated in May/June 1972:
On the subject of marriage, you should realize that it is I who obtained the divorce and have never really had an upset marital background.
Presumably, bigamy, kidnapping and abduction don't count!

* For a detailed account of this story, read chapters 10 & 11 of Russell Miller's Bare-Faced Messiah.


The original copy of this document has been stolen from the Los Angeles County Courtroom (and I expect the reader will have some idea of the probable culprits). A few surviving copies do exist, however. This is one of them. Click below to retrieve a transcript or scanned images of the actual documents.

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Last updated 7 Dec 1996