This three-part series was based on interviews with members of the immediate Deitz family, friends and relatives, law enforcement authorities, parents of children in cults, current and former followers of the Guru Maharaj Ji, and former officials of the Divine Light Mission, as well as extensive reading in the literature of religious cults.
In July 1981, the Divine Light Mission was decentralized into regional groups, and the corporation dissolved. Many of the mission-run businesses have been sold or transferred to holding companies. Efforts to locate an official spokesman for Guru Maharaj Ji were unsuccessful, but in the past the mission has vehemently opposed deprogramming attempts and condemned charges of mind control as "bare-faced lies."
The quarrels that drive parents and children apart are as complex and mysterious as emotion itself, yet it seemed in the end a simple matter of belief that divided Esther and Leonard and Emily Deitz.
Emily had been a devotee of the Guru Maharaj Ji since she was 15 years old. The spiritual leader of the Divine Light Mission had given her happiness, peace and "a sense of purpose," she said. Her parents believed Maharaj Ji was a charlatan and that their daughter had lost control of her life. They were convinced Emily was not a religious convert but a victim of "mind control."
On two separate occasions the Deitzes kidnaped Emily and illegally deprived her of her freedom that they might, through a technique called deprogramming, restore freedom of the mind. The first try ended inconclusively and Emily returned to the Divine Light Mission. Police interrupted the second try outside a California motel in March 1979.
Taking stock in the aftermath, the Deitzes could look back on four sorry years of family conflict, dashed hope and tribulation. Esther Deitz was emotionally drained, ready to call a halt to their effort to help a daughter who did not want help. But nothing had disabused Leonard Deitz, a Silver Spring surgeon, of a stubborn notion that he still owed his daughter a "first class" deprogramming. And so the Deitzes embarked again, for the third time, on an attempt to deprogram Emily.
It was an undertaking that preoccupied them for more than a year and a half. It nurtured new hope that Emily could be "rescued." When it seemed on the brink of success, it came undone.
And it ended months later with guilty pleas in a Denver courtroom.
Their first task was to find Emily. Leonard Deitz knew she had worked for a brokerage house in San Francisco and he went through the phone book and called every listing, hoping for information about his daughter. There was none.
Emily did not want to be found. In the next year she called her parents only three times. She asked that any mail be sent in care of the Divine Light Mission headquarters in Miami. At times she considered living under an assumed name. As she would later say, "I was tired of having to look over my shoulder everywhere I went."
In late June 1980, the Deitzes met with success. They'd contacted a recently deprogrammed woman who had known Emily in Kansas City and said she'd moved to Denver. At Dr. Deitz's request in late summer a Denver policeman named Mark Roggeman, whom the couple had contacted through the anticult network, peered into the window of a town house at 1577 Odgen St. in the Capitol Hill area of the city, and spotted a poster of the Guru Maharaj Ji. That was confirmation enough for the Deitzes and they shifted into high gear.
For almost a year, Esther Deitz had been working as director of cult education with the B'nai B'rith in Washington. Apart from her strictly educational duties, her expertise had served another purpose. Consulting with her husband, she had assembled a team of people whom they felt would be able to give their daughter a "first class" deprogramming.
The Deitzes had selected judiciously, looking for people who were articulate, sensitive and sympathetic--people who could speak to Emily in a way they could not.
There was Carol Marcus, a 29-year-old who had been deprogrammed after seven years in the Divine Light Mission; Tom Gibian, 28, whose name Esther Dietz had first heard when his mother called looking for ways to get her son out of the Divine Light Mission; and Joe Alexander Jr., an ex-helicopter pilot in Vietnam, son of a prominent deprogrammer and protege of Ted Patrick, who came recommended as a sensitve, compassionate man willing to invest as much time as he felt was needed to do the job right.
Other arrangements were made for three people to serve as the "security" force for the deprogramming. The Deitzes reached a couple living in Colorado Springs who provided a house where the deprogrammers could work without interruption. They mailed out pictures of Emily, noting her features--her dimpled chin, the scar she had gotten in a car accident.
"When you plan a deprogramming, it's like a CIA operation," Esther Deitz said. "All the parts have to mesh."
By winter the Deitzes knew sketchy details of their daughter's life. She lived in an ashram with several other "premies," as the guru's followers are known, worked at a warehouse of the mission-connected Rainbow natural foods store, and had been running produce from California over the Rocky Mountains in an 18-wheel tractor-trailer.
Four times in a period of six months from December 1980 to April 1981, the parents were ready to proceed, only to hit a snag. Leonard Deitz, who scheduled surgery weeks in advance, kept finding himself with empty blocks of time when he had expected to be in Colorado. That February he spent eight days in Denver with the deprogrammers and spotted Emily trooping along in a foot of new-fallen snow. But before they could "pick her up" she vanished, and the venture had to be postponed. They learned later Emily had gone to the West Coast on a produce run.
Finally, after repeated false starts, the team gathered again the first week in April.
They were based in Lakewood, west of Denver, in a house owned by Wayne Keifer, a retired Christian minister whose nephew had been deprogrammed. Keifer and his wife agreed to help the Deitzes, after prayer and reflection on the plight of the Jews during the Holocaust. In the Keifers' house the team stayed for five days, planning and talking about Emily.
"Leonard would come back after being out and talk about his daughter and he would cry," Wayne Keifer recalled. "I remember him saying how she wanted to plant a garden plot and he said, 'If I can just take Emily home, we'll build that garden.' "
They set off each day before sunup and returned long after sundown, leaving at 4 a.m., cruising down Colfax Avenue, a strip of cheap motels and topless bars. In a blue van they set up surveillance to establish Emily's patterns.
Thus, in a strange spectator's role, Leonard Deitz looked in on his daughter's life. He learned she left the house sometime after 8 to drive to her job at the warehouse or to bike to the Rainbow grocery store. He grew familiar with her neighborhood streets. Vine ran north and Odgen south, 16th was one way headed toward the city and on 17th you traveled east. He called his wife back in Maryland who waited at prearranged times at a friend's house to hear from her husband.
"I've been in a lot of harrowing situations," Leonard Deitz reflected recently. "When you do surgery you have somebody's life in your hands, it's tenuous sometimes. But there's been no experience like that week in my professional life. I'm not prone to tears but I'd cry each night on the telephone."
The "pickup" was set for April 8, a Wednesday.
The blue van was backed into a space in the alley behind Emily's town house on Ogden Street. According to the indictment handed up four weeks later by a grand jury, the driver was a young woman named Marilyn Crowe. In the van was Joe Alexander Jr., two members of the team's "security," Donny Hurst and Russell Bennett, and Emily's father. Tom Gibian waited nearby in a black Chevette and officer Roggeman observed from the alley.
At 8:40 a.m., Emily stepped out the back door and skipped down the wooden steps into the yard, headed for her car parked off the alley in a garage.
"There she is," Joe Alexander Jr. said.
Crowe started the engine and glided toward Emily as she came through the back gate. Emily was aware of the van, but she brushed her suspicions aside.
According to the indictment, Alexander, Hurst and Bennett jumped out. Emily screamed and ran up the alley and into a parking lot. She managed 40 yards before she was grabbed, struggling and screaming, and wrestled into the van.
"I could hear someone screaming and screaming and screaming," said Leslie Lawson, a lawyer whose town-house office is off the alley. "It sounded like someone who was really terrified."
Leaving Emily's knapsack, down vest, key ring and wallet in the alley, the van sped off, wheeled left with a squeal of tires onto 16th Street and accelerated toward downtown Denver. Leslie Lawson gave chase in her pickup truck, running two red lights, but soon lost the trail in traffic.
As the van slipped past Denver's glittery boomtown blocks en route to the Keifers' house, Emily stopped struggling. Two of her abductors continued to hold her. Leonard Deitz was embracing his daughter and crying, and his nose, all runny, dripped on Emily. "You got a Kleenex," she barked. "Give him a f------ Kleenex."
"I was pissed," she said recalling her reaction.
Her father remembers Emily saying, "But Daddy, you don't know what I've been doing for the last year," as if she were telling him her outlook on the Guru Maharaj Ji had matured. Leonard Deitz was very nervous, but also relieved, because Emily looked in good health. For over a year the doctor had worried about his daughter's condition.
In the Keifers' driveway, Emily was transferred to a white Ford van. It soon merged into the traffic on Interstate 25, and cruised south on a 75-mile journey across the dry undulant plains and hills wooded with evergreens at the foot of the Front Range. In Colorado Springs, the van pulled up at 1323 Shasta Dr. and eased into the garage of a single-story ranch house owned by a cheerful midwestern couple named Jack and Sandra Jones.
For 10 minutes the group tried to figure a way to get Emily inside. They considered putting her in a sleeping bag, but finally backed the van as close as possible to the rear entrance of the house.
As soon they started to carry her in, Emily screamed, "Help, I'm being kidnaped! Help! Help!"
A cloth diaper was clamped over her mouth. She was carried down to a yellow-carpeted walnut-paneled room in the basement. The deprogrammers had wedged boards over the windows, and had taken the pictures off the wall and removed a glass jar of pecans. Deprogrammers take such precautions to prevent cult members from cutting themselves and forcing their abductors to take them to hospitals.
Emily sat stone-silent on the bed.
"Dr. Deitz was scared," said Jack Jones. "At one point he said, 'My God, what have I done?' He questioned himself because if it failed we'd be in trouble. Of course we knew that. We agreed to help. If you could see a kid in a cult and then come out, you'd help too."
There in the basement Emily stayed for the next eight days. She was accompanied to the bathroom, and each night security guards unrolled sleeping bags at the foot of her bedroom door. She had time on her own enough to read a biography of George S. Patton, and she played pool and air hockey in the rec room, but most of her days were spent in conversation with Joe Alexander Jr., Tom Gibian and Carol Marcus.
They spoke to her in shifts. They discussed the guru's satsangs, or spiritual discourses. They would say, "Emily are you a worthless slave, are you worse than dust?" If she said Maharaj Ji didn't say that, they'd show her the quotes in the guru's own magazines. They went over Chapter 22 of Robert J. Lifton's "Chinese Thought Reform and the Psychology of Totalism," the gospel of deprogrammers. They played tapes of a radio interview former mission president Bob Mishler had given in which he said that the peace the guru offered was not peace but the "annihilation of your individuality."
"Joe Alexander was real patient," Emily recalled. "He said, 'Look, if you don't talk we're going to be here a long time.' As human beings we enjoyed each other's company. Joe could listen. He had a real good way of seeing where other people were at."
Emily told them she was just about to move out of the ashram, that she thought a lot of the doctrine was claptrap, and she wasn't really that mad that they'd kidnaped her. "I'm not the cult member you think I am," one of the deprogrammers recalled her saying. Months later Emily explained that she was playing a game she'd had some experience in, feeling that the more quickly she cooperated with the deprogrammers the faster she would be released from her imprisonment.
She did not see much of her father. He would go shopping in Colorado Springs health food stores to get Emily the teas, broccoli, brown rice and other groceries she was particular about.
After three days the deprogrammers grew more optimistic. Jack Jones took the boards off the basement windows. As Dr. Deitz's hopes rose, he asked his wife to join him and, apprehensively, she agreed. She took precautions getting to the airport, fearing that the police would be looking for her. Carrying clothes and Jewish rye bread for Emily, she drove to Holy Cross Hospital, descended to the parking garage, got into the car of a friend, and lay down on the floor. She paid for her flight in cash and traveled under an assumed name. Later the Deitzes learned the Montgomery County police had called after Esther had left.
"I didn't expect Emily to develop a new personality," Esther Deitz recalled, "but that the cult personality would be gone, and that she'd be able to connect with me as a human being, as her mother--that she'd be able to look at me without that glazed stare."
Emily greeted her mother coldly. In the course of the week they cooked side by side, Emily preparing her natural foods, and her mother fixing spaghetti. Emily sometimes put her arm around her mother, but often she would simply fold her head between her legs when her parents came into the room. Esther calmed herself with tranquilizers.
Insofar as reviewing the material on cults, the deprogrammers felt they were making progress with Emily. But it was plain there were tensions in her relationship with her parents that only time could resolve. After eight days they felt they had done all they could do, although Joe Alexander still felt doubts.
One night the Deitzes showed family slides of when the children were toddlers. Enthusiastic at first, Emily lapsed into silence after a while, got up and began to bounce endlessly on a small trampoline as pictures of her early life flashed on the stucco basement wall. This was an instance of floating, the deprogrammers believed, in which a person vacillates between the mindset of the cult and a new perspective.
Having been deprogrammed themselves, it was easy for ex-premies like Carol Marcus or Tom Gibian to understand what Emily was going through. They knew the way the mind shuttles between two realms and what it was like to lose Guru Maharaj Ji, the once-supernal man who was the basis of their deepest faith and nearly all their friendships. In a deprogrammed perspective, the world often loomed as an ambiguous, imperfect, lonely place.
'One of Us'
The last night at the Jones's house, before Emily left for Akron, Ohio, and a month in a rehabilitation center, everyone ate dinner in the upstairs dining room. Emily told stories about driving a tractor-trailer over the Rockies. "When she came in, she was crying 'Help help,' " said Jack Jones. "When she left, she was one of us."
She wore a silk blouse and a smart red skirt to the airport. She looked pretty, with a luster in her straight black hair. She smiled, put her arms around some of the people who'd kidnaped her. In Akron she hugged Joe Alexander Jr. goodbye. At many junctures she made no effort to flee.
"I didn't want to escape until I knew I could make good," Emily explained later.
None of those who spent many hours trying to divine the state of Emily's mind can say for sure whether she wanted to escape out of unshaken loyalty to the guru or because all her life she had been like a horse that will not take a bit. It is a question that still reverberates in her parents' minds and in the minds of the deprogrammers who'd befriended her and for whom her eventual escape and her decision to testify against them was a stinging rebuke.
Emily had sounded sincere when she'd talked about a future without the Divine Light Mission, about wanting to continue in the wholesale health food business. She planned to visit relatives she hadn't seen in years. She went shopping at a mall in Cleveland with her mother, bought clothes and a canvas satchel. She passed up chances to bolt. She had Passover dinner at Carol Marcus's mother's house. During Seder once before with her parents, Emily had retreated in meditation at the table. This time she led the singing and praying.
At the rehabilitation house the doors did not open without keys. The windows were nailed shut. The telephone was locked. But on April 21 just six days into her stay, Emily found an unsecured window in a closet. It was the middle of the night and two stories to freedom. She threw her new satchel out the window and jumped after it.
She hitch-hiked 40 miles to a truck stop. She wanted to head for Florida to visit her grandmother in West Palm Beach and her boyfriend in Miami, a personable, curly-haired premie named Ripp Smith. Ripp was 29 and had dropped out of medical school at Stanford. Yearning to purge himself of a "seething restlessness," he'd tried "est" and transcendental meditation and walking the point on patrol in Vietnam before finding Guru Maharaj Ji.
At the truck stop in the middle of the night, Emily called a friend in Denver to wire some money. When she heard her friend's voice, she wondered how she could relinquish the life that she'd had before her deprogramming.
"It was just hearing his voice," Emily recalled. "He said, 'Hello?' He wasn't being compassionate because he didn't know it was me who was calling, but it made me realize I couldn't believe this whole new point of view I had put myself into. I was really torn. I just wanted to be alone. A lot of people wholly accept the anticult doctrine. I didn't want to be with premies and I didn't want to be with my parents. I just wanted to be alone."
Teetering between two kinds of life, Emily returned to the cult. It happened during the week in Florida. She was in good spirits the first few days. She swam and cooked and shopped and took walks with her grandmother and her sister Leslie, who'd come to visit. When she met Ripp in Miami, Emily told him she did not want to hear anything about the guru. But eventually she began to doubt her resolve. She asked herself "How could I pull Ripp out, if I wasn't really out myself?" Separating herself from Ripp was more than she could do.
Then the district attorney's office in Denver reached her on the telephone, pressuring Emily to testify against the people who had kidnaped her. Her parents called urging her not to yield. She got six and seven calls a day from various parties.
"I could see the rebellion and insecurity coming up in Emily," said her grandmother, Lisa Hand, who had always been a neutral party in the running dispute between Emily and her parents. But when her granddaughter decided to return to Denver to testify, Hand chose sides: "I said, 'How can you do this to your parents! I love you but I hate you at the same time. You should be ashamed of yourself. You're spoiled and selfish. Everything they've done is out of love for you.' She looked at me so bitterly. She was crying, sitting on the bed in the bedroom. She said, 'Nobody has the right to tell others how to live.' "
Emily returned to Denver on April 29, and testified before the grand jury the next day. Ten people, including Esther and Leonard Deitz, were indicted on charges of kidnaping, conspiracy and false imprisonment. The day the indictments were handed up, Emily called home and somewhat apologetically explained that she would have been subpoenaed if she hadn't testified. Her parents were arrested, fingerprinted, photographed and then released on personal bond.
Jack and Sandy Jones were jailed for five hours, released and later received one year's probation on a deferred prosecution. Marilyn Crowe, Donny Hurst, Russell Bennett and Mark Roggeman were arrested and released on bond. They have pleaded innocent and their trial has been continued until May 10. Tom Gibian turned himself in, was released on personal bond and is fighting extradition from Maryland. Joe Alexander Jr., who also turned himself in, was released on $30,000 bond and is fighting extradition from Pennsylvania. The Keifers and Carol Marcus, who did not take part in the actual abduction, were not charged.
District Attorney Dale Tooley, who successfully prosecuted Ted Patrick in a deprogramming case in 1974, said, "It's intellectually bankrupt to rationalize kidnaping on a moral basis. I'm prosecuting this case because I happen to believe that nobody is above the law. That's what Watergate was about."
Believing more than ever that what they had done was proper, the Deitzes reluctantly decided to accept a plea bargain. It was time, Leonard Deitz said, to be pragmatic.
Much to his chagrin, he had heard his five other children complain that they felt shortchanged by their parents' preoccupation with Emily. For two years before the final deprogramming attempt, the table conversation at dinner had revolved around cults and Emily. In the meantime, Emily's brothers and sisters had their own lives to consider.
David at 26 is surgical intern at the University of Oregon. Leslie, a 24-year-old who shared much of Emily's misgivings about middle-class values, was graduated from the University of Maryland and works for an architectural firm in Washington. Ellen, 20, is studying to be a nurse at Maryland. Allison is a sophomore in college who called home her lonely first year and said how easy it would be to join a cult if she didn't know better. Richard is a junior at Springbrook High School and the resident cult expert after his mother gave a presentation at an assembly.
Esther and Leonard Deitz returned to Denver Dec. 4 to present themselves to Judge Edward E. Carelli. They pleaded guilty to one count of false imprisonment, a misdemeanor, and received two years' probation, after which their record would be wiped clean. They were ordered not to "interfere with their daughter's life style." Emily was not in the courtroom.
The next day, and the day after that, the Deitzes saw their daughter again, visiting her at her duplex house where she lives with Ripp and another friend. Bottled water and cookbooks were in the kitchen, blue-flowered lobelia and geraniums in the window. They took a hike in the mountains and went out to dinner. It was a guarded reunion, but things went well as long as no one talked about the one subject that for years had dominated their lives.
After saying goodbye to Emily, the Deitzes spent the rest of several more days in Denver visiting, sightseeing and speaking out against cults on local radio shows. Esther planned to be back in Denver within the next few months to organize a cult education seminar, one of four she has organized around the country. She meets with ex-members of cults such as Steve Keach, a former premie and roommate of Emily's who once helped a group with walkie-talkies and binoculars stake out the Deitzes' house, in an effort to locate Emily after the first deprogramming attempt. Now they are on the same side.
"That's the strange irony," said Esther Deitz. "I know so much but can't make it work for myself. I cheer with each deprogramming success. I feel a vicarious thrill. My work is my therapy. I'm not just sitting around wringing my hands over the terrible fate that's befallen our family. I can work out a lot of anger and frustration. We're closing the book as far as attempts to dissuade Emily. We can accept her situation because we felt we did the best we could. But we continue to hope that somehow, someday, she'll come out of it on her own."
After saying goodbye to her parents that Sunday in December, Emily and Ripp did their laundry and hurriedly packed for a trip to Miami and a festival in honor of Guru Maharaj Ji's 24th birthday. Strapped as she was for airfare Emily didn't want to miss it. She borrowed the price of a ticket.
"I used to be dictatorial and intolerant," she said. "I still am. I couldn't live with myself. I couldn't rest. I knew even if I ever had a farm, I couldn't lay down and rest at the end of a day because my mind is so active. With Maharaj Ji, life ceases to be a race--a small house and then a bigger house. There's an ease. He brings happiness and peace. I feel it's related to him. It's not on a physical level. I'm not saying he knows what food I like, but I feel he knows me. I trust Guru Maharaj Ji. I feel him painting the picture of my life."
She caught the midnight flight.