Scientology founder L. Ron Hubbard often said that man's most basic drive is that of survival. And when it came to his own, he used whatever was necessary -- false identities, cover stories, deception.
There is no better illustration of this than the way he secretly controlled the Church of Scientology while hiding from a world he viewed as increasingly hostile.
Hubbard was last seen publicly in February 1980, in the desert community of Hemet, a few miles from a high-security compound that houses the church's movie and recording studio. His sudden departure fueled wild and intense speculation.
The church said Hubbard went into seclusion to continue his Scientology research and to resurrect his science fiction-writing career. But former aides have said he dropped from sight to avoid subpoenas and government tax agents probing allegations that he was skimming church funds.
Publications throughout the world ran stories about Hubbard's disappearance. "Mystery of the Vanished Ruler" was the headline in Time magazine.
In 1982, Hubbard's estranged son filed a probate petition trying to wrest control of the Scientology empire. He argued that his father was either dead or mentally incompetent and that his riches were being plundered by Scientology executives.
The suit was dismissed after Hubbard, through an attorney, submitted an affidavit with his fingerprints, saying that he was well and wanted to be left alone.
No doubt, Hubbard would have chuckled with satisfaction over the speculation surrounding his whereabouts. For he had always considered himself a shrewd strategist and a master of the intelligence game, endlessly calculating ways to outwit his foes.
Hubbard took with him only two people, a married couple named Pat and Anne Broeker.
Pat Broeker, Hubbard's personal messenger at the time, had gone into hiding with him once before and knew how to ensure his security. Broeker relished cloak-and-dagger operations. His nickname among Hubbard's other messengers was "007."
Anne had been one of Hubbard's top aides for years. She was cool under pressure and able to defuse Hubbard's volatile temper.
Hubbard and the Broekers spent their first several years together on the move. For months, they traveled the Pacific Northwest in a motor home. They lived in apartments in Newport Beach and the suburbs of Los Angeles.
Then, in the summer of 1983, they decided to settle down in a dusty ranch town called Creston, population 270, where the hot, arid climate would be kind to Hubbard's bursitis.
About 30 miles inland from San Luis Obispo, it was a perfect spot for a man of notoriety to live in obscurity. In those parts, people don't ask a lot of questions about someone else's business.
Hubbard and the Broekers concocted an elaborate set of phony names and backgrounds to conceal their identities from the townsfolk. Pat and Anne Broeker went by the names Mike and Lisa Mitchell. Hubbard became Lisa's father, Jack, who impressed the locals as a chatty old man, charismatic but sometimes gruff.
They purchased a 160-acre ranch known as the Whispering Winds for $700,000, using 30 cashier's checks drawn on various California banks. Pat Broeker told the sellers, Ed and Sherry Shahan, that he had recently inherited millions of dollars and was looking to leave his home in Upstate New York to raise livestock in California.
At the time, the Shahans were suspicious. As Ed Shahan recalled, "They were having trouble deciding whose name to put the property in."
In less than three years, Hubbard poured an estimated $3 million into the local economy as he redesigned the ranch to his exacting and elaborate specifications.
He launched one project after another, some of them seemingly senseless, according to local residents. He ordered the construction of a quarter-mile horse-racing track with an observation tower. The track reportedly was never used.
The 10-room ranch house was gutted and remodeled so many times that it went virtually uninhabited during Hubbard's time there. He lived and worked in a luxurious 40-foot Bluebird motor home parked near the stables.
All this was done without work permits, which meant that Hubbard and his aides would not have to worry about nosy county inspectors.
Like Hubbard's aides in earlier years, the hired help saw extreme sides of the man who was chauffeured around the property in a black Subaru pickup by Anne Broeker.
Fencing contractor Jim Froelicher of Paso Robles remembers asking him for advice on buying a camera. Several days later, Froelicher said, Hubbard presented him with a 35mm camera as a gift.
Longtime Creston resident Ed Lindquist, on the other hand, said painters dropped by the local tavern at lunch to talk about how the "old man" was acting eccentric. They said he had them paint the walls again and again because they "weren't white enough," according to Lindquist.