“She’s probably the one person who could just end it tomorrow. If she just walked away from the whole craziness and said, ‘O.K., this is where all the fu***** bodies are buried—this is what he did with this, this is what he did with that—let’s fu***** burn it down,’ it would be done.”
Sounds like high stakes, doesn’t it? This was a quote from former Scientologist Marc Headley, speaking of Michele “Shelly” Miscavige, wife of David Miscavige, leader of the Church of Scientology. Shelly has not been seen in public since 2007, and thanks to Leah Remini’s new television documentary series , there is renewed interest in just where, exactly, she could possibly be.
Leah Remini has gone as far to state that she does not know if Shelly is still alive. “I do not know that she’s not being held against her will. I do not know these things and so if the church produces her, by bringing her to an event—even if she went on a program and said, ‘Hi, Leah Remini. Go f–k yourself,’ I’d be happy to know that she was alive.”
It was Tom Cruise’s wedding to Katie Holmes in 2006 that first caused Remini concern. When David showed up without his wife—who was previously by his side at every public appearance—Leah started asking questions. “It’s such a simple thing. It’s a big wedding that the leader of the church is here and his wife isn’t. It’s getting weirder because you’re making it weirder,” said Remini. When her questions were answered with “an unbelievable torrent of attack,” she knew something was up. Her failure to find out anything about Shelly’s whereabouts, her former friend, is what finally convinced her she had to get out. She had been in the church since she was a child.
Part of what makes her absence from the wedding so strange is that it was Shelly that got the couple together in the first place. It wasn’t a typical dating scenario—it was actually part of Shelly’s job to find Tom Cruise a new wife after his split with Nicole Kidman. The reason? Tom Cruise had slowly receded away from the church during his marriage to Kidman, and when they split, the church wanted to make sure that Cruise would come back, and this time for good. As strange of a marriage as it was, it was certainly strange for Remini not to see Shelly there.
The next year, there would be a brief sighting of Shelly at her father’s funeral, carefully guided around by what have been called Scientology “handlers.” After that: nothing. Remini would file a missing-persons report in 2013. In response, Detective Gus Villanueva said, “The LAPD has classified the report as unfounded, indicating that Shelly is not missing.” They stated that detectives met with her in person. The statements weren’t good enough for Remini, who had this to say: “The police department should say, ‘Yes, we’ve seen her.’ No, I wasn’t told that. I was told that a representative saw her or spoke to her.”
Shelly’s husband, who she married in 1982 when she was 21 years old, has gained a reputation for his volatile temper and abusive tendencies. Though the church consistently denies this to be true, many defectors have come forward to talk about his explosive personality and his relationship to Shelly. Shelly could be as mean as David, sources say, but it was Shelly who seemed to steer him away from his more brutal behaviors. She would be calm and kind, and would encourage him to step away before things got worse. There are even reports of her physically restraining David from fighting other church workers.
Though no members saw him abuse Shelly physically, there are reports of mental and emotional abuse. “I’ve seen him yell at her for not doing his bidding,” John Brousseau said of David. Brousseau has known the Miscaviges for 30 years. “He’d admonish her: ‘How dare you undermine what I just told them to do! You go back and fix it right now!’ Before Shelly’s disappearance from the public eye, multiple sources have stated that she filled several job openings without the approval of her husband. It has people wondering if, enraged by her insubordination, David might have sent Shelly away.
What makes some fear the worst, other than the church’s alleged use of violence and manipulation, is the bizarre case of Flo Barnett. Flo was Shelly’s mother, and former church executives testified that Flo had involvement with a Scientology splinter group in 1985 that angered David. That same year Flo was found dead of an apparent suicide. Her wrists had slash marks that had started to heal over, but the cause of her death was three bullets to the chest and one to the head, all from a long rifle. Though the police found no signs of foul-play, many people have a hard time believing that a woman as small as Flo could be capable of using a rifle to shoot herself four times. Soon after finding out about her mother’s death, Shelly was heard by multiple members, including former member Karen de la Carriere, expressing her satisfaction over her mother’s death.
So where do people think Shelly might be? The easiest answer, which is fairly unfounded, is that Shelly might be being held at “The Hole,” a facility inside the Int Base near Hemet, California. Defectors have said that The Hole is where insubordinate members of the church are sometimes sent and have detailed abuses and confinement, sometimes being held for months or years. The church has always denied that there is any such place, but many members who have been held there have given details about its reality.
The Tampa Bay Times described the facility in a 2013 article: “a place of confinement and humiliation where Scientology’s management culture—always demanding—grew extreme. Inside, a who’s who of Scientology leadership went at each other with brutal tongue lashings, and even hands and fists. They intimidated each other into crawling on their knees and standing in trash cans and confessing to things they hadn’t done. They lived in degrading conditions, eating and sleeping in cramped spaces designed for office use.”
But no ex-members have ever spoken to the media about seeing Shelly at the facility. Brousseau, who was held in The Hole and escaped in 2010, never saw her there, but he did hear about her whereabouts. Brousseau, speaking with The Village Voice, stated that it was common knowledge around the Int Base that Shelly was being held at Church of Spiritual Technology headquarters, about 60 miles away near Los Angeles. The CST is the most secretive organization in the Church of Scientology. It is in this location where church creator L. Ron Hubbard’s life works are being etched onto titanium plates so that this wisdom can never be destroyed—even by nuclear fallout. The CST is responsible for creating bases with underground storage for the plates. Apparently, Shelly’s mail was being forwarded to this compound.
Journalist Tony Ortega, a vocal critic of Scientology since 1995, claims he has recently been corresponding with a source he named “Rachel,” who lives near to the CST outside of Los Angeles. Rachel told Ortega about spotting Shelly at a hardware store looking disheveled and malnourished, much like the women Rachel helps through her job. In fact, it was the similarity to her drug-addicted clients that made Rachel notice Shelly. This first sighting happened in December 2015, and at this point Rachel didn’t know who Shelly was, but recalled, “She was a thin, smaller woman, escorted by two men. Disheveled. Almost like a drug addict, or like she was homeless.”
A few months later, while dealing with medical issues, Rachel spent a lot of time at home watching television. When she came across Leah Remini speaking about the missing Shelly, she remembered the woman from the hardware store who she now believes was Shelly. Thinking back, it was difficult for her to remember the men who were escorting Shelly, but she did remember them looking younger, possibly in their thirties. She also remembered how the three of them looked together: “They seemed to be leading her, like you would someone who was under the influence of drugs or alcohol. It was awkward.”
The church has always denied that there is anything suspicious surrounding Shelly’s sudden departure from the public eye and subsequent ten years of absence: “Mrs. Miscavige is a private person and her affairs are a private matter. She continues to work in the Church as she always has,” an official from the church has stated.
About Remini, the church had this to say: “Leah Remini has repeatedly disparaged and exploited her former faith for profit and attention through a series of failed publicity stunts, culminating in her reality TV show featuring a cast of admitted liars who to make a buck have been telling differing versions of the same false tales of abuse for years.”
Despite their assurance that nothing is amiss, the Church of Scientology’s nefarious reputation makes it possible to imagine David Miscavige and other high-ranking members keeping Shelly somewhere against her will. Shelly could have angered her husband by disrespecting his authority or Shelly could know things that make her a threat. It’s possible to imagine that a brainwashed Shelly may not know that she needs rescuing, or she may be too terrified to say so. Or perhaps the church is telling the truth—Shelly simply tired of the spotlight and has retreated to a completely private life.
But 10 years without so much as a photograph of the wife of the leader of Scientology, all the events, all the public appearances? Why hasn’t the church produced proof that she is okay? It wouldn’t be difficult. Instead they are lashing out at Remini and the others who are seeking simply to ensure that Shelly is healthy and safe.