Lake County Record Bee
Thursday, April 11, 1985
Crazy Wisdom bent minds, say excultists
Editor's note: This is the first of a twopart series presented as
part of the RecordBee's continuing coverage of the Johannine Daist Communion. The sect
was headquartered inLake County until recently, and some members still live in the
group's Seigler Springs resort on Cobb Mountain.
By Walt Neary, RB Staff Writer
LAKE COUNTY Jaclyn Estes was young and in love. She followed her
boyfriend into the Dawn Horse Communion, where she learned total obedience to guru Da Free
"If you resisted Free John, it meant you were failing to live up to his teaching," said Estes, now 30. For two years, she did not resist.
Estes and many other church members witnessed a guru who they say practiced sexual excess; who presided over beatings and rapes; who enjoyed expensive food and illegal drugs; and who took advantage of a loyal flock, which thought everything the
guru did was for their benefit.
In recent days, she and a number of former church members have told their stories. One former member turned to a Marin County Superior Court, and filed a $5 million lawsuit.
The charges include assault and battery and false imprisonment. The
lawsuit accuses the leader of the church, Franklin Jones, and the directors of the church,
of intentionally snaring and brainwashing followers.
Underneath the facade of religion, exmembers say, the church's hierarchy abused the good will of the followers.
Many of the wellintentioned followers of the church's guru don't even know the full extent of abuses, exmembers say.
The church was based in Lake County from 1973 until the early 1980s, when the organization shifted its main office to San Rafael, and Jones moved to an island in Fiji.
About 100 members of the group continue to live in Lake County. About 20 live on the Seigler Springs grounds. Each weekend, 20 to 50 church members engage in "retreat" on the 600acre property, according to Donovan Train, general manager
of the group's Lake County sanctuary.
This is the story of the Dawn Horse Communion, currently called the
Johannine Daist Communion (JDC), as told by former members and the church's own
A cult is founded
The story begins with Franklin Jones, born 1939 in Queens, New York. In
his autobiography and first book, "The Knee of Listening," Jones described an
early childhood in which he sensed he was special.
In 1957, Jones entered Columbia College. His autobiography describes how
he planned to find meaning in life, and sets the stage for the JDC. "I decided I
would begin an experimental life. . . I would avail myself of every possible human
experience, so that nothing possible to mankind, high or low, would be unknown to
Jones enrolled in graduate English studies at Stanford in 1961.
Jones volunteered for drug experiments at a Veterans Administration
Hospital in 1962. He wrote that he found profound enlightenment under the influence of
psychedelic drugs such as LSD.
After reading the works of philosophers and religious figures, Jones
turned to various teachers and gurus. He made several trips to India to explore eastern religions.
Jones eventually joined the Church of Scientology where he met Sal Lucania, now 42.
"We were fellow truth seekers. We were best friends -I was his only male friend," Lucania told the RecordBee.
"He had a good sense of humor. You would come to him with a
problem, and leave in a good mood, " Lucania said.
"We agreed to experiment with ways of living and carefully
chronicle what happened. We did everything from drink our own urine to fast for 30
The men's paths split for a while. Lucania went on to found drug
rehabilitation programs in New York, while Jones continued his meditations.
In September 1970, the search was over. He became the One to offer
truth. "There was no meditation . . . I am He," Jones wrote in his
He turned to Lucania for I help in publishing the book. Jones had turned
to teaching small groups in Los Angeles, and Lucania had faith in him.
"The church began March 25, 1972, in a bookstore on Melrose Avenue," Lucania said. "I put up the money to
start it. I was his front man, and we were as straight as an arrow. We didn't even drink
coffee in those days," Lucania said. The membership of the church grew from five to
25 or 30, he said.
Exmembers, without exception, said they sought the meaning of life
within a communal setting. Many were attracted by "The Knee of Listening," and
its sympathetic portrayal of the search for understanding.
Jones promised that by obeying him and being stimulated by his
teachings, followers would find understanding and spiritual bliss.
Everything was centered around Jones and his demands - his Crazy
Wisdom. Jones had renamed himself Bubba Free John and later Da Free John.
The small church grew into a new home in Southern California, until a
wealthy individual provided the money to buy the former Seigler Springs resort near Loch
Jones wanted to be isolated from the general public. "He said we
needed to live together as a group," Lucania said.
The church purchased a number of properties in Lake County. The church's
publishing operation was based in an office on Clearlake's Olympic Drive.
Members began to join the group in increasing numbers. The Crazy
Wisdom's complexity, with a promise of spiritual bliss, attracted a well educated crowd of
college students and professionals, like engineers, doctors, and lawyers.
Members learn Crazy Wisdom
Estes had joined the group in 1974. In 1975, Jones directed her and
several other church members to marry. The presents they received would be used to buy
Gradually, she was allowed closer knowledge of the group's inner
practices. "After I was there awhile, I was allowed to see him in the hot springs
with his nine wives making people openly have sex."
It was a time of experimentation, the church now says. Experiments with
sex and alcohol and other drugs. Marijuana and psilocybin (mushrooms) were grown on the
Lake County property.
"If you resisted what he said, it meant you failed to live up to
his teaching," Estes said.
"You didn't have time to sit by yourself. You lived in a household
of several couples, and people were always watching each other.
"He plays upon your want to be good, your want to be better. He has
a parent child relationship with the members."
On New Year's Eve in 1975, the dawning of 1976, Estes and 14 other women
married Jones. "I was made to have sex with him," Estes said.
Thirty couples married that night "and he had people go around to
check to make sure the marriage was consummated," Estes said.
Mark Miller now 28, joined the group with his girlfriend, Julie
Anderson, a September 1976 Playboy magazine centerfold. She was isolated from him, and
Miller was pumped with alcohol and marijuana "which I'm allergic to," he said.
"They told me that it was part of my spiritual development."
As for Julie, "they told me I was making a great gift to the guru
when she became one of his wives."
Besides emphasis on sex, there was violence rapes and wife abuse by
Jones and other highlevel followers, ex-members said. As one example, Estes said she saw
Jones' only legal wife, Nina, enter a house with him. She left later with hair literally
torn from her head.
One woman who admitted she had been molested as a child was told to
publicly have oral sex with three men, and then have sex with Jones. Jones called it
therapy, part of a spiritual theater - the woman called it a "trauma."
The theater, former members say, included the manufacturing of pornographic films.
"When we were going out to look at the women one time, Jones said,
'Let's go out and check the herd,'" said Lucania, who was Jones' right hand man.
"He said women had no spiritual life except from men," Lucania
The experimentation the parties could be wild. One former
member, who stood guard keeping uninvited guests in the church from entering the Seigler
Springs mansion, once saw furniture fly outside during a drunken brawl. "He got
people drunk and seduced them," Lucania said. "He would berate people in front
of others, hold mock trials."
Lucania said he once saw Jones atop a prostrate 16year old. "I
pulled him off her and said, 'Are you out of your mind? He responded by saying he didn't
penetrate, but I'm not sure about that."
"He claimed he did all this to bother you. He serves to show you
how messed up you are," Estes said.
"You are expected to surrender your ego," Miller said.
"You have to say everything he does is OK."
"Supposedly, it was all done for the benefit of those around him,
to show them that those things in and of themselves were not truth," said another
former member, who lives in Lake County.
"You could liken it to a Zorba the Greek philosophy. If a guy is a
drunk, the best way for him to cure his drunkenness is to completely indulge in drinking
until he was absolutely sick of it."
"After a while I couldn't help asking myself why he is putting
everyone through these things if they are unnecessary. Why not ask people to do simply
what he talked about in his initial book, and love one another and serve one
In what Jones called the Crazy Wisdom, nothing was too insane to be used
for spiritual enlightenment. Followers even bowed to the grave of Jones' cat, Miller said.
Jones preached a strict vegetarian diet and occasional fasting, while he
ate steak, champagne, and caviar. " I was sent out to buy meat for the guru,"
Miller said. "They told me it was a temporary thing, because he had a health problem.
But I know other people bought meat as well "
Members were required to give 10 to 15 percent of their income to the
group. Most gave more, through various demands for various needs. For some members, all
money was collected into a general fund administered by Jones.
"Once he had our trust, he exploited us for whatever we were
worth," Miller said, "As sex slaves, or laborers, or whatever it was we
Lucania left the group in 1976, a year which could be called the end of
the first half of the church's history. He looks back with firm determination to make the
story of Jones and the church known. "I was there . . . I got blood on my hands, and
now I know you have to honestly confront all the things you've done."
In the past, church spokesmen have insisted the prolific use of drugs
and sex ended after a twomonth experiment in 1976. There is evidence from exmembers
that this is not true.