Escape from Synanon II

Escape from Synanon II

Narda Zachhino

by Paul Morantz

(c) Oct 17, 2010

After getting Terry Raines out (not her real name) we served her husband Ted Raines (not real name) up for deposition and let Synanon take it for days (See Escape From Synanon 1). It gave me an opportunity to judge their interrogation style and be able to prepare Terry who would be far more sensitive given her ordeal and mental state. I could also observe areas where Synanon would waste time (religious debates) or harass (past personal) and allowed me to bring a motion for protective order to eliminate such questions prior to Terry’s deposition.

But this was all defending attacks on the case. I wanted to do something affirmative, let Synanon know I would not be intimidated as other lawyers had been. More than that, I wanted a forum. Ex-members kept coming in and leaving their tales of violence, brainwashing and child abuse; stories different than public conception of Synanon as an apple pie drug rehab we should all make charity donations to. People needed this information before turning over relatives and/or cash. Each Splitee (negative designation given by Synanon to anyone who would leave) signed declarations under oath highlighting their testimony. Included were the problems of Bob Manchester and Nancy and Thomas Weather (not real names).

Weather’s daughter Jo Anne was 19 years old and entered Synanon on April 24, l977. She was not addicted but smoked marijuana. Her real motivation was that she had broken up with a boy friend and wanted to “get away.” She was under a doctor’s care and taking prescribed valium. She called a “hotline” for a recommendation on where to go for a couple days, specifically saying no cults, and was referred to Synanon. At Synanon she lied and said she had a heroin problem. But she had no needle marks. She donated $29.85 and surrendered her driving license.

Per Synanon her parents were denied contact with her daughter. They had contacted an earlier attorney who had negotiated a phone call through attorney Red Williams but Dan Garrett then canceled it, saying ever since publicity over Terry Raines’s lawsuit everyone thinks they are going to get their relatives back but they will not allow it. Jo Anne’s boyfriend, Jay Grissum, went to Synanon to try to see her but was forced out by several men carrying guns. He was told to come back in a year. The Santa Monica director Jim O’Donnell, who would later leave and give evidence on violence, told the parents her head was shaved so she would think twice of going out on the streets. They then read about Terry’s lawsuit in Times and came to me on July 1, 1977 wanting me to get their daughter out; a difficult task since Jo Anne was an adult and unlike Terry was not suffering a mental disability.

The Manchester problem was more complex but at least involved a minor. Bob’s wife, Beverly had taken their three kids into Synanon after winning custody following divorce in l969. Bob was dissolute then, but now working and remarried. In Synanon Beverly married Skip, a Los Angeles Reporter and Square (non addict) resident, who did public relations for Synanon. Beverly also was a writer. His middle daughter (names not used) Karen got out in l972 by sneaking into Bob’s car during a visitation and hiding under a blanket when he drove off the property. Synanon decided not to use its resources to try to get her back. His oldest daughter, Julia, 17, had been a trouble maker who “talked back.” She was put in the punk squad (for delinquents sent by the courts), physically struck and made to pick up pig feces with a carrot stick. But punishments did not change her rebellious nature, she wanted to go to a real college, something she heard of but not exactly sure of what it was, and Synanon eventually tossed her to her father in l976. The youngest, Linda, age 9, remained in Synanon.

In my office Julie signed a declaration that would eventually trigger state investigations. Synanon education, she stated, was limited to Synanon being the savior and the outside world was evil. No one should ever leave. Synanon keeps parents and kids apart.

I already knew based on Founder’s Chuck Dederich childhood belief he suffered from too much mother’s love that was removed when his Mom remarried; mothers who tried to see their children a lot were headsuckers. Children belonged to the community, not the parents. She last saw her mother on March of l975, and before that l973. Julie declared her Mom would pass her without acknowledgment. Before she got out, she saw her father only Christmas day l974 and l975. She was taught the outside world so evil she would be raped by a drug user the moment she left. They convinced her to hate her father, and at age ten, on that reasoning, she told a court custody investigator Linda did not want to leave and lied about her father to assure it. A year later her father tried again and Julie and others worked on Linda to say she did not want to go. But by l974 things changed. She saw 3 boys beaten for trying to run away. Charles Brown and Mile Glud were slammed against the wall by Rod Mullen (head of Synanon school). The third boy, Jay Kauffman, was punched repeatedly in the stomach. Julie, too, was struck at times when she said she wanted to leave. Anything she did wrong, making sheets, exercise, sing, she was hit and/or punched. She heard Dederich say on the wire it was alright to hit children. On her 13th birthday, not having seen her father in two years, she and two other girls ran away, hiking over a mountain and sleeping at a farm. The police returned her and Synanon punished her by allowing only 3 hours of sleep, dressing her in gas attendant clothing, making her eat standing up and, as stated above, cleaning pig feces with carrot sticks. They held a demonstration in front of other kids where she was punched in the stomach and slammed against the wall, standard conduct for other kids caught running away. Julie tried to run away again in January of l976 but out of fear returned and was put on another punishment contract.

She decided to steal money to escape again but was squealed on. Fred Tent repeatedly, she declared, punched her in the face despite screams to stop. It was then Synanon decided they didn’t want her and arranged to drop her at the town of Novato where Bob came to get her. She warned, under oath, Synanon moves children if parents try to get them out and work on children to say they want to stay. Michelle Silvers ,, age 16, is the daughter of a former Synanon director, also declared:

“In a classroom on one occasion I saw them take a girl . . . and Julie Moncharsh . . . in front of class, take off their glasses and start beating them up by hitting them and kicking them. I have also seen a kid paddled and girls in the ‘girls corps’ hit if they had done anything wrong.”

Now Bob wanted, too, his youngest, Linda, age 9. Julie was just as adamant feeling it was partly her fault Linda was there. Years ago, Bob had snatched Linda away, but Synanon grabbed her back from a nursery. In the summer of l974 Linda visited and said she did not want to go back to Synanon. That was the last time Bob had seen her.

If Weather had been the only case I probably would have not tried anything. There was no law allowing removal of an adult from a group and the only legal decision on whether a conservator could be appointed over claim of brainwashing went the other way. In Katz vs. Superior Court a judge ordered conservators for several adult Moonies who removed them from the Unification Church to free them from brainwashing. But on appeal it was held there was no probate law providing for such relief; convervatorship was only for those who cannot care for themselves or a danger to themselves– and further an inquiry into brainwashing would be an impermissible unconstitutional inquiry of validity of religious beliefs.

Linda was a minor, however, subject to court determination of her best interest. Combining them, I thought, might bootstrap Weather’s case. The fear was in a legal proceeding, each would be programmed by Synanon what to say in advance and would get “hero” treatment for resisting leaving. Manchester didn’t have funds for full legal custody battle if Synanon’s vast legal department represented the mother. The plan was to convince the family law Commissioner in Santa Monica to issues warrants to produce both in court to verify their safety and then hopefully through my talking to them before Synanon could or through cross examination communicate some truth to each they would get them to not want to go back. The best chance was Synanon not having opportunity to work on them before I spoke to them. Julie’s declaration was foremost before the court. She stated a “plea” that the court issue a warrant so Synanon could not work on Linda, saying it was her fault Linda was still there.

Comm. Harris was known not to like Synanon and he might sign warrants and he did, ordering Sheriffs to pick up Linda and Jo Anne and bring them directly to court. My greatest opportunity was to get them with their parents and myself while they were in custody. Then I could explain why we were doing this and give them information about Synanon they didn’t have.

Another value of this tactic was to strike at Synanon’s heart. A lot of attorneys use the media to sway influence. Fact is it is a tactic I don’t approve of and what I did in this case was of questionable legal ethics. To provide evidence for habeas corpus warrants, declarations of former members, including Julie’s, were filed in court explaining brainwashing, child abuse and violence by Synanon. I knew the media was safe from defamation lawsuits when it reports “testimony” in a case as reporting testimony in a legal case is absolutely privileged. So I contacted Narda Zacchino of the Los Angeles Times, who had followed me in the Nursing Home imprisonment cases and told her to come to court for the hearings and to “read” the declarations. Narda trusted me, when I said this was a bigger story than the nursing home scandal. I assumed she would publicize the accusations in print and inject into the community questions concerning the good reputation of Synanon. People, I believed, had to know.

The warrants to turn over the two to the sheriffs in Marin were disobeyed. Synanon stalled the sheriffs, saying they were getting them, and then took them out the back way. They told the sheriffs they would bring them to court themselves. When I got the news I was disappointed. I knew my plan was defeated and had now had little hope. I had planned to speak to both in custody that night. As to Jo Anne I would fill her in on what she didn’t know about Synanon, such as violent encounters. I would also ask her if certain things were being said in games to convince her to leave her past and commit to Synanon. I would ask her if she knew her mother was trying to reach her and did she think it was OK for Synanon not to let her know? I would give her dates and times her parents tried to reach her but Synanon said no. I would ask if they said certain things in games about how her parents being fucked up and that Synanon would care for her now. I would expect her to act surprised that I would know that. I would ask her finally if she wanted to come home?

As to Linda, I would say this is your sisters trying to bring you home; your chance to be reunited. I would ask if anything unusual had been done to her; I would ask if her schooling was about English and math or about Synanon. I would ask if she wanted to go live with her Dad and sisters and go to a real school.

But none of that happened. Synanon disobeying turning them over to the sheriffs made that impossible. Instead they were each prepared by Synanon lawyers, comforted by Synanonites and made to believe their ordeal made them special persons in Synanon; living heroes if they stand up for right to stay in Synanon. Jo Anne was told to resist as the court proceeding was to put her in jail.

The first thing in court, Synanon refused to stipulate to Commissioner Harris (A Commissioner has no authority unless both parties agree) which sent the case to Judge Robert Feinstein (I took “evidence” class from him at USC). In the courtroom I saw all the Synanon members who came for support starring at me with hate. Feinstein made quick work dismissing the cases. Jo Anne, he said, was an adult and appeared in court unharmed wanting to stay in Synanon. I asked to cross-examine to establish a course of brainwashing and lies she was subjected to affecting her choice. I hoped if I could show her one lie she was told she would unravel the others . This was the theory of famed kidnapper/deprogrammer Ted Patrick in his book, Let Our Children Go. To deprogram you just have to prove one lie. But Judge Feinstein said no. I could not cross-examine.

As to Linda, the court ruled she was unharmed and that the warrant was really an attempt at change of custody from mother in Synanon. That issues belonged, the Judge said (correctly), in their downtown Los Angeles family law divorce case.

I was prepared to take the fight to family law but the father was not. He lacked funds. When Synanon did not turn either over to Sheriffs where I might get a chance to enlightened both the plan had failed. Synanon empowered by its victory would soon sue me and my clients claiming I was using litigation to interfere with a religion. The Weathers were told it would be “another 3 months” at least before they would allow contact with Jo Ann because of the warrant proceeding. After the hearing, Jo Anne was awarded by Synanon a position in the Santa Monica President’s office working with Liz Missakian. On the wire she heard attorney David Benjamin say they would get rid of attorneys wanting to harm Synanon. I was to be the first.

But some time victories arrive in mysterious ways–plucked even from the mouth of defeat. Over the next couple of months, Jo Anne became bothered from learning in court she was never told her mother had called her, seeing the pain on her mom’s face and re-evaluated her experience in Synanon in light of claims she heard she me make in court and new things she witnessed. She didn’t buy “no one could make it in the outside world” and reacted to all males over 5 years- in had to have vasectomies as part of new Synanon religion. Eventually she saw the violence. In Santa Monica she saw an individual ask to leave, but delayed, jumped by more men then she thought necessary and they, in her words, “Beat him to a pulp.” Another man was thrown against the wall, stripped and threatened in Tomales. At a general meeting she saw 16 people picked at random roughed up and kicked out because some money was missing. Over the wire she would hear Dederich cries, “to break their legs.”

On October 1, l977 she opened a window in Marin in wee hours of morning, snuck through bushes to a highway and hitch-hiked to Point Reyes and called home. She became my witness confirming what we were alleging was true. “Why, I asked Jo Ann,” did she have to run away through the bushes.” She said, “Because they would had never had let me leave.”

In December of l977 Synanon Founder Chuck Dederich, after his wife Betty died, interviewed for a new wife and picked 31-year old Ginny Schorin, a stranger for the position of wife No. 4. As always, what was best for the Old Man was what was best for everyone else. Having lost 3 wives to “DD’s” (Death or Divorce) he decided one could be saved from such horror if “we just changed partners every 3 years why we are healthy and love each other,” before DDs arrive as he had proven you can love a stranger. So everyone in Synanon had to divorce or breakup with their mate and be given a community selected new mate. A few, not many, couples refused and left.

Beverly Manchester (Bob’s ex; not real name) would not take a new mate, even though her Times reporter husband did. She left with Linda. We knew by then most people once removed from Synanon environment 90 days later self-deprogrammed, as Dr. Robert Jay Lifton had reported Korean prisoners of war did after release (See Characteristics of Cults). Beverly not only came out of it but she went on TV and spoke out against Synanon with her daughter in hand. The entire Manchester family was free. Beverly became my friend.

But best was still to come. Despite the court defeat, Ms. Zacchino wrote in the Los Angeles Times what the affidavits in support of the warrants said about Synanon brainwashing, child abuse and violence. The Associated Press picked up the story and it traveled across the country sounding the news as if carried by Paul Revere. The California Department of Health would start an investigation. In Marin County, the reaction was to install a grand jury investigation. I was invited to testify and I brought in other former members and provided evidence. The grand jury issued a scathing report about Synanon abuse, violence, hoarding of weapons, unlicensed medical clinic and a seemingly dangerous defiant state of mind. It recommended action by local and state agencies.

Despite its citation of facts, the grand jury report was generally not accepted by many in Marin politics, particularly Sherriff Louis Montanous who buddied with Dederich and legal head Dan Garrett. Montanous was voted into office with Synanon help and had provided both Dederich and Garrett with gun permits. Two members of Synanon’s goon squad–Bob Warfield and Buddy Jones– were deputized by Montanous. The sheriff denounced the report and said he would not follow it.

That Montanous would so respond caught the attention of local reporter/editor David Mitchell. It was like in the movie Die Hard when Bruce Willis from far up above dropped the dead body on the police car and said, “Welcome to the fight.” From afar I had dropped the grand jury report into Dave’s lap and said join the party. David had quietly run a small weekly newspaper with his wife Cathy called The Point Reyes Light. They wrote the stories, sold the ads, did the printing, and then by truck delivered the paper to racks by coffee shops. They had one employee. Making a living off of the paper was not easy. But David was a journalist. Why, he thought, was this grand jury report being vilified by civic leaders. Were they afraid? Bought out? He started to investigate aided by a sociologist Richard Ofshe who had been granted by Synanon permission to study it years earlier. Ofshe told Mitchell “if Synanon members are doing violence, it is directed by management. The controls on behavior are too tight for it to be random.” Lt. Art Disterheft, the Marin County under-sherriff, became a Deep Throat secret source of information for Mitchell, explaining Sheriff Montanous was in bed with Synanon. David and I became in constant communication sharing information. Eventually, in l978, Mitchell would write an editorial “Is anyone out there listening?” and would later weeks before the attack on me go to the Marin District Attorney office to try in vain to convince them Synanon was going to murder a local Los Angeles attorney named Paul Morantz.

In l979 the Point Reyes Light became the first weekly newspaper to ever win the Pulitzer Prize.