The Rathbun Family: Madness, Mayhem and Mysterious Death

One man is key to the media coverage ignited against the Church of Scientology: Mark “Marty” Rathbun. But who is this man, really, who is making these allegations?

Who is the man who has made so many allegations against the Church, and if he’s lying, as so many Church members say he is, then what in his background would make him do so?

Rathbun was born in 1957. His father, 33-year-old Sherrill “Slade” Rathbun, Jr., was a Naval Academy graduate and former Navy officer, and his mother, 30-year-old Patricia Lois Rathbun, was the daughter of the man known for creating a famous advertisement picture of Santa Claus holding a Coke bottle.

From the time he was born, Rathbun’s family life was filled with mental illness, alcoholism and other tragedy, and, ironically, it was his family history of mental illness that brought him to Scientology.

His mother suffered a series of nervous breakdowns before and throughout his early childhood, and his father would later describe her to authorities as “a very disturbed person.”

Slade Rathbun told a family friend that when his wife was pregnant with Marty she received Electroconvulsive Therapy (ECT), also known as electroshock, according to a written statement provided by the family friend. The controversial treatment includes electrically inducing seizures.

The father also told the family friend that his late wife had extramarital affairs, including with one of his co-workers, and that she took his youngest son Marty with her to meet men. On one such occasion, one of his ex-wife’s lovers took her to a cottage, where he slapped both Marty and his mother, Slade Rathbun told the family friend.

During the summer of 1962, when Marty Rathbun was five, Patricia Rathbun was hospitalized, and she was released in late summer that year.

Two to three weeks after her release, on September 13, 1962, his home life grew even more traumatic.

About 7 a.m. that morning, his father kissed his mother goodbye as she still lay in bed at the family home in Mill Valley, California, just north of San Francisco. When his father came home from work that day about 5 p.m., he couldn’t find Marty’s mother and so reported her missing.

Her car was later found on the Golden Gate Bridge. Her body was spotted floating in the water by fishermen. She was wearing her husband’s Naval Academy ring and her wedding band on the same hand. There was no note. Her belongings found with the body included an Alcoholics Anonymous book.

Medical doctors have long observed that mental instability can run in families and have found statistically that the chance of being labeled with specific psychotic disorders increases from around 1 percent to 10 percent in families with a history of such disorders.

According to what Slade Rathbun told the family friend, Marty’s childhood was “rough.” He didn’t get along well with his father or either of his two brothers, who he fought with regularly. Slade Rathbun described Marty as “antagonizing” his older brothers and that the relationship with Bruce Rathbun, the youngest of the two older brothers, was particularly “volatile.” According to Sherrill, “they fought each other and Marty hated Bruce.”

Rathbun’s battle with family mental illness didn’t end with his mother.

Both of his two older brothers also suffered from mental illness, and while Marty Rathbun was in high school, one brother was committed to a veteran’s hospital.

“My brother was in and out of trouble,” Rathbun said during a taped interview posted anonymously on the Internet. “When I was in high school I had to bail him out when he got committed in the VA hospital.”

Rathbun graduated from Laguna Beach High School in 1975, and for the next two years attended college in Santa Barbara and Santa Cruz, but later quit. In 1977, he worked as a waiter in Portland, Oregon, and that same year, he told a Scientologist there a story about his brother’s mental illness and how his illness was being treated.

A short time later, Marty Rathbun joined the Church at the age of 19, partly as a way to get help for his brother, he later told a newspaper.

“I was actually seeking some help and answers on how I might help my brother who was currently locked up at Dammasch State Hospital in Oregon... He was heavily sedated. And I had spoke with the psychiatrists there, and they really weren’t talking about any type of cure,” Rathbun stated during a video interview. “They were talking about keeping him under control, and I was kind of afraid he was going to wind up living the rest of his life in the back ward.

“My brother was very close and dear to me, and he had some schizophrenic problems where he’d rapidly rollercoaster as a person. And he’d have trouble with alcohol and he’d wind up getting in a lot of barroom brawls and not being subdued by the cops.

“He’d wind up in the mental ward. But what I found when I went to go see him was that he was literally on at the time the Stelazine and the Thorazine which are the real heavy duty psychiatric drugs which they even refer internally as the chemical straitjackets. And he was literally in a catatonic state.” (See Brother Can You Spare Some Time?)

As his family life was filled with tragedy and death, so were Rathbun’s early years with the Church.

In 1979, only months after he joined, Rathbun was in a vehicle with a woman. He was escorting her and protecting her from her estranged husband, who had allegedly attacked and threatened her.

The husband somehow intercepted the vehicle Rathbun was driving and broke out a window with a pistol, prompting Rathbun to attack him. During the struggle, the pistol went off. As more shots went off, one or more bullets struck the woman in the chest, and her husband pointed the pistol at Rathbun’s head. He pulled the trigger, but for some reason, the gun didn’t fire. As he struggled with Rathbun, he fired the gun again at his estranged wife. She eventually died of her wounds. The husband drove to a hotel room and killed himself, apparently with an overdose of poison.

Rathbun’s father Slade Rathbun told the family friend that the last time Marty visited him for any length of time was for a couple of weeks in December 1980, but Rathbun spent most of his time out of the house at bars and took a trip to Mexico. His father said that Marty went drinking once with his older brother Bruce but Marty wouldn’t discuss whether they had made up their differences as kids. Slade said he “always wondered what happened back in December of 1980 between Marty and Bruce,” according to the friend.

Six months later, in 1981, while he was still dealing with the effects of his other brother’s mental illness, tragedy struck Rathbun again.

At about 9 p.m. on July 1 of that year, two joggers in Garden Grove, California, became alarmed when their dog sniffed at a pile of concrete near railroad tracks in the 7700 block of Garden Grove Boulevard, some 25 miles from the Rathbun family home. The joggers pulled away a few chunks of concrete and found the decomposing body of an adult male dressed in brown shorts and hiking shoes.

Authorities identified the man as Bruce Grenville Rathbun, Marty Rathbun’s other brother. At the time, police suspected the body had been there up to a year, but they now suspect the length of time the body was there was shorter. Authorities continue to refuse to release further details, calling it a cold case which was recently reopened by a Garden Grove Police Detective.

Meanwhile, Marty Rathbun, who was working as a mail clerk in the Church, was assigned as an administrative assistant to a special unit assigned to take control over litigation matters affecting the Church at the time. From there he gradually took over more and more authority in legal affairs and ultimately rose to an executive position over external matters. Although the position sounded all encompassing, his actual functions in the late 1980s entailed overseeing the handling of legal matters being handled within a branch of the Church assigned to external affairs.

But his career fell just as fast as it rose.

The woman who worked as Rathbun’s secretary from 1987 to 1993 said in a declaration that she witnessed Rathbun become violent and abusive on several occasions.

“He would go into violent outbreaks and rages,” she said. “In one particular instance when he did not like the answer he received, he…went into a rage, ripped the phone out of the wall and threw it across the conference room table so it hit the shelf and only barely missed the staff member.”

By 1993, Church officials said, Rathbun had become obsessed with his work, reveling in the confrontations that came with litigating civil cases against the Church.

That same year Rathbun’s stepmother died of a prescription drug overdose, and his father was battling cancer, when the family house burned down.

After the end of the war with the IRS, Rathbun was ordered to settle rather than litigate all other outstanding legal cases. Rathbun’s supervisor at the time said Rathbun became irate. Instead of using the legal momentum the Church gained to mark a new era for the religion, Rathbun got on his motorcycle and drove away, leaving behind his job and his wife.

Four days later, he telephoned from New Orleans. Subsequently, Rathbun was removed from his staff position, but provided with a two-year sabbatical in the Caribbean during which time keepers saw to his every need. (See Postcards from the Edge or Marty Takes a Holiday.)

Following this sabbatical, Rathbun held various positions at both the Church in Clearwater, Florida, and at Church offices in California, working his way back into dealing with legal affairs.

But complaints about his behavior continued.

Co-workers said Rathbun would yell at subordinates for no apparent reason. “He’d just go crazy,” said one former subordinate. An internal investigation leading to his ultimate removal revealed a series of incidents that included physical attacks on staff members.

More significantly, it was also discovered that he had withheld vital information on legal matters—of such a serious nature that his actions caused the very situations he claimed he was handling—in particular a criminal and civil case in Florida. (See A Liar is a Coward. A Perjurer is a Criminal.)

In January 2004, after Rathbun had been demoted to a lower Church and relieved of any remaining vestiges of authority, he began to display what Church officials called “psychotic behavior.” Witnesses told of how Rathbun tackled co-worker Mike Rinder, and violently beat him. It took five men to pull Rathbun off Rinder, officials said. (See The “Kinky” Relationship: Rathbun & Rinder.)

The following month, Rathbun left Church management headquarters without notice, drove up the California coast in a rented car, a bottle of tequila on the passenger seat. He eventually ran off the road and awoke the next morning in a ditch. Whereupon, he called his wife.

He said, ‘I’m a warrior. I’m a mercenary. I’m a fighter,’ ” she told an interviewer. “I was a bit concerned about his statements of a warrior and mercenary because he’s got a bit of a [history] of insanity, in his family.”

Concerned about his mental state, the Church subsequently provided Rathbun with another sabbatical, including tens of thousands of dollars in medical care, for varicose veins, calcium deposits in his neck and other ailments. He was also given unlimited access to a private exercise facility. He was placed on a medically supervised nutritional regimen and granted his request for part-time vocational training in a Church carpentry mill.

Nine months later, Rathbun’s wife moved out of the apartment she shared with him after he shoved his fist in her face and threatened her. Rathbun then left the Church for good on December 12, 2004.

The incident, Rathbun’s ex-wife said, “really, really scared me.”

“And actually at that moment I moved [out of the] apartment and locked my door. Because the one thing I had seen him do, was once on a phone call I saw him get so mad that he put his fist right through a computer screen, and I was stunned.

“...Marty Rathbun is accusing others of what he himself was doing. It’s Marty Rathbun that is a violent psychopath, OK? He’s a psychopath.”

Medical doctors have long observed that mental instability can run in families and have found statistically that the chance of being labeled with specific psychotic disorders increases from around 1 percent to 10 percent in families with a history of such disorders.

The phenomenon is perhaps better described by Scientology Founder L. Ron Hubbard as “contagion of aberration,” in which the lasting effects of traumatic incidents experienced in early life are passed on to other family members through the dramatization of insanity.