Part IV: A Mysterious Death

Trigger warning: The following contains details or mentions of suicide, self-harm, sexual assault, weight, height, gun violence and murder. Reader discretion advised.

While you are reading, it is recommended you listen to the album Echo by Apocryphos, Kammarheit and Atrium Carceri

Michele “Shelly” Diane Miscavige was born on January 18, 1961 in Dallas, Texas to Mary Florence Fike Barnette and Maurice Elliott Barnett. Introduced to the Church by her parents, Michele has been a member of Scientology for most of her life. At 12 years old, she worked in the Sea Org as a Messenger (personal administrative assistants who worked under L. Ron Hubbard). When Shelly was 21, she married 22-year-old and fellow Sea Org member David Miscavige. She has since worked by David’s side, doing everything in the public eye together, especially as David moved his way up in power of Scientology. Friends, family and Church members knew her to be quiet, reserved and hardworking. She is currently Scientology’s First Lady, loved and admired by her members, and has been missing for more than a decade.

I didn’t know much of anything about Scientology until a few months ago when I read Leah Remini’s memoir Troublemaker. In my junior year of high school, my class and I learned about world religions and received a brief summary of the Xenu origin story, but aside from my biased and ignorant beliefs that the religion was a wacky science church, I didn’t know much else. I never took the time to learn more about the religion that celebrities like Tom Cruise and John Travolta are so passionate about until I saw Troublemaker as a recommendation for my Goodreads account, perhaps because it saw that I had read Helter Skelter or Seductive Poison. As a kid, I loved Remini from the episodes she did on Saved by the Bell, and the book has good reviews, so I went for it. Now or never, right?

I checked the book out from my library and finished it in about a week, fascinated by what I had read and ready to find out more. There are two things I still cannot wrap my head around: 1) Scientology’s secret prison, which many call The Hole, and 2) the decade-long missing-person’s case of Shelly Miscavige. I’m not going to paint her absence to be important because she is married to the current leader of Scientology, because that goes against what I believe in. She is her own person, she is a human being, and she is more than who she is married to. Her disappearance is crucial regardless of her status, particularly because her case is not unique. There are numerous missing-persons cases and deaths involving Scientology and I would like to research more of those in the future. All being said, I find it incredibly odd that her husband has not spoken up about her absence nor has he made any public effort to try to find her.

I should admit that Shelly’s absence is really none of my business. Her and her family have a right to their privacy and if Shelly really does not want to be seen in the public eye, that is her freedom. But when even members of the Church are not allowed to ask where she is, and close friends do not know where she is, it raises several concerns. So, here I am, making this my business anyway. Besides, nothing is solved when people stay silent.

Shelly’s relationship with David brought her to a celebrity status in Scientology. She audited the Church’s celebrity members including Tom Cruise and Penelope Cruz; she lead a program to find Tom Cruise a new girlfriend after his relationship with Cruz ended (resulting in the marriage of Cruise and Katie Holmes). She set the couple up, she and David Miscavige were almost never separated, she is recognized as the Church’s mother-in-law; so why wasn’t she in Italy attending Cruise and Holmes’ wedding of the century?

When Leah Remini asked for Shelly’s whereabouts, higher Church members wrote Remini up, threatening and forbidding her from asking such questions.

Right now, there appears to be no legal case looking for Shelly Miscavige. Everyone doing the work are people who are ex-Scientologists, family and friends of Shelly, journalists and anyone else who has sparked an interest in the case. If she really is alive and safe, it would make the most sense for David to shut the world up by letting us know Shelly is okay, but he has not done so. Her current status remains a mystery.

This is a loaded case, so I suggest we begin with the suicide of Shelly Miscavige’s mother.

The Death of Flo Barnett

Mary Florence “Flo” Fike Barnett was born in Missouri on June 7, 1933 to parents Edward E. Like and Frances Myrle Mahan. She had a brother, Merlin Fike, and was married twice: Her first husband was Maurice Elliott Barnett, with whom she had four daughters – Clarisse, Michele, Camille and Metarie (who passed away in infancy). The girls were all born in Dallas County, Texas. Flo’s second husband was James “Jim” P. Miller, and they lived together in California. At some point in their lives, Clarisse, Michelle and Flo were all members of Scientology.

On September 8, 1985 in Carson, Los Angeles, California, 52-year-old Flo Barnett was shot to death in her California home with a Ruger 10/22 rifle. She had three gunshot wounds to her chest and one to her head. Her husband, James P. Miller, found her body. The County of Los Angeles conducted a homicide investigation at the Forensic Science Center, and the Chief Medical Examiner-Coroner later ruled the death as suicide, an open-and-shut case. Would her death have been further investigated if authorities knew she departed from Scientology?

An anatomical summary made at the Department of Chief Medical Examiner-Coroner, courtesy of

Anatomical Summary:

  I.  Gunshot wound of head, through-and-through.
      A.  Entry - right temple, contact wound.
      B.  Course - skin, right retro-orbital, floor of right
          middle fossa, sphenoid bone, left (retro) orbit.
      C.  Exit - left temple.
      D.  Trajectory - right to left.

 II.  Gunshot wounds of chest (3), through-and-through.
      A.  Entry - precordial (inframammary).
      B.  Course - breast (L), chest wall, left hemithorax,
          left lung.
      C.  Exit - left lateral thorax.
      D.  Trajectory - upward 45 degrees, right to left, front to
      E.  Fractures of left 6th,7th and 8th ribs.

III.  Status post resuscitation with resuscitative fractures
      left ribs 1-7.

 IV.  Incised wounds of wrists, 4.

Evidence for Suicide:

  • Suicides by rifle are common and almost always end in death. Every year, at least 21,000 Americans die by gun suicide each year, and 90% of the attempted suicides by gun are fatal. Detective Bob Havercroft was the main investigator on the case and he is persistent in the fact that the death was a suicide, pointing out the wounds on her wrists, indicated that she had attempted suicide prior to the shooting.  She had surgery for an aneurysm that left her debilitated and depressed. One of Flo’s daughter, Camille Barnett, claims that after her mother’s surgery, Flo mentioned to have “no hope of getting better.” Camille also walked in on her writing something on a piece of paper, which Flo immediately claimed to be a letter to her doctor.
  • There were two suicide notes found in the room Flo died in.
  • Havercroft states he was able to prove it was a suicide by the way he could reconstruct the body and position of the gun on the bed, etc.
  • The autopsy report also describes the three shots to the chest as following: “The course of the 3 projectiles is through skin and soft tissue. One projectile does pass through breast implants.” One bullet also passed through a lung, breaking her ribs.
  • Because the coroner had difficulty indicating whether the death was by suicide or murder, they had to rely on the detectives’ conclusion that it was suicide.

Assumptions of Murder:

  • The weapon: A Ruger 10/22 Rifle is not exactly a recommended weapon for self-defense compared to its counterparts, but it is deadly and two gunshots to the chest are enough to kill someone. Flo was 5’3’’ and 114 pounds, and the rifle’s 37in length would be nearly impossible for her to pull the trigger so many times on her own.
  • The shots: One of the bullets passed through Barnett’s left lung and broke her rib, begging to question how she could have possibly continued shooting herself with a rifle in such a condition, especially considering she was already debilitated from surgery for an aneurism.
  • Church Controversy and Domestic Violence: Prior to her death, Florence “Flo” Barnett, once a devout follower of Scientology, joined David Mayo’s Advanced Ability Center, an “enemy” breakaway organization that rejected David Miscavige’s leadership of Scientology. A week before the shooting, Flo had obtained NED for OTs material (“New Era Dianetics for OTs: a series of auditing action delivered as part of the OT levels, developed by Hubbard during his research of New Era Danetics in the 1970’s”) and threatened to sue the Church.
    • The Church views ex-Scientologists and people who denounce Scientology as “suppressive people” and “squirrels” i.e. heretics. Vicki Aznaran, once a high-ranking member of Scientology, testified that David Miscavige was disgusted to be related to Flo and, in response to his mother-in-law’s death, said, “The bitch got what she deserved.”
    • Shelly Miscavige also appeared to lack grief for her mother’s death, stating that she was doing very fine and this was “an excellent opportunity to find out where the NED for OTs material had come from and to use it as leverage against Mayo.”
    • In Aznaran’s original affidavit, she claimed that Flo’s death was a “scandal within the inner circles of Scientology.” In a second affidavit, she denounced her first affidavit, stating it was written without her approval and that the Miscaviges were “very upset” about Flo’s death and Flo died of “natural causes.” Suicides and murders, however, are not naturally caused deaths.
  • The Husband: When you find your wife dead with multiple bullet wounds, you are going to be a possible suspect for murder. Detectives at first suspected James P. Miller, Flo’s husband at the time, for murder, but he was immediately cleared, perhaps doing a good job convincing the detectives he did not kill her. Because DNA-based evidence was not available in the United States until 1987, police could not test to see if Miller’s fingerprints were on the weapon or venture the possibility of Flo’s death being an assisted suicide.
  • LAPD: The cause of death resulted in the Coroner’s Office to declare it as a suicide because of what the detectives’ testimony. Of course, one may be wary when trusting the LAPD detectives for numerous reasons, one being that Ex-Scientologists believe the LAPD protects the Church of Scientology . This protection is not limited to security, though they also guard a variety of Scientology including their events, stages and members. The LAPD also protects the Church’s crimes; they are always willing to lend its support for Scientology, and the Church in return rewards and heavily funds the LAPD with large checks. If David Miscavige wanted to hide something, or someone, he has the money and resources to do it.


There is no public record that Flo Barnett’s case will be reopened for further investigation. Her death was ruled a suicide more than thirty years ago and will remain so indefinitely. It is evident that Flo Barnett most likely did not commit suicide – at least, not on her own – and the Church did their job in protecting themselves from suspicion and prosecution. But Flo’s case is not the only suspicious death connected to Scientology. High ranking members of the Church are responsible for decades-old cases of fraud, abuse, abductions and death, but their money protects them. It seems that billion dollar corporations in the United States have limited boundaries, allowing them to do the unthinkable, allowing them to run a secret prison facility to imprison misbehaving members. 

Click here to read testimonies given by ex-Scientologists, Scientologists, Flo Barnett’s family and friends and David Miscavige.

Cover Photo:

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