Did Scientologists drive blogger Theresa Duncan to suicide?

Frame grab from the music video for Beck’s “Round the Bend”, directed by Jeremy Blake.

On July 10th, filmmaker/blogger Theresa Duncan was found dead by her longtime boyfriend Jeremy Blake in their New York apartment. While autopsy results won’t be known for a few weeks, near her body was “a bottle of pills and alcohol” as well as a suicide note. One week later, a woman reported to police that she saw Blake walk off the coast of Queens, NY, and into the Atlantic Ocean, never to be seen since.

The couple lived in Los Angeles since around 2001 up until this last February, when Blake was hired as an inhouse graphic designer for Rockstar Games, the company best known for the Grand Theft Auto series of video games. A multi-media artist of reasonable note, Blake’s, with his work appearing at major museums in New York, San Francisco, and locally, L.A.’s Museum of Contemporary Art, and was hired to add create animated sequences to the film “Punch Drunk Love” starring Adam Sandler.

In 2002, Blake was hired by musician Beck, a Scientologist, to create artwork for his Seachange album. According to Christine Nichols, a friend of their’s quoted in today’s Los Angeles Times, two years later both Blake and Duncan believed that they were being followed and harrassed by Scientologists, adding, “I did not see any evidence of that.”

“But it got to be something that was huge to them — a ‘You’re either with us or against us’ thing where if you didn’t believe them, you weren’t on their side. The story they had woven in paranoia and conspiracies took over part of their lives. A lot of us couldn’t understand that acting out.”

Two other art world sources corroborated Nichols’ characterization but declined to speak on the record out of concern that Blake may still be alive.

A Church of Scientology spokeswoman told the Times that the Church had, “”never heard of these people. This is completely untrue.”

Theresa Duncan was a former video game designer before focusing her time on filmmaking, and created her blog “Wit of the Staircase” two years and six days prior to her death. Adrienne Crew, in a 2006 interview of Duncan for LAist, wrote, “When one visits ‘Wit of the Staircase,’ one never knows what one will find on Theresa’s mind that day, but readers always return, confident that each new entry will be as interesting as the last one.”

Kevin Roderick of L.A. Observed points out what he calls an “uncharacteristic entry” Duncan wrote on her blog in May, which includes this arguably prophetic section:

Like the Federal “Cointelpro” campaign that deliberately drove Seberg to suicide, the smear campaign against Wit and Mr. Wit uses as its basis pre-existing, completely invented smears started by married art professor Ralph Rugoff and his student girlfriend Hilary Chartrand in order to cover up their 2000 affair while both worked at the California College of Arts And Crafts.

In the comments of the same post, Duncan adds:

I was harassed by the Church of Scientology during and after my boyfriend and I worked with their member Beck Hansen.

I have dozens of pictures of this harassment, including a dead cat, grafitti on and near our property, and four of five police reports with the LAPD to bear this out.

Duncan also writes that a Muslim American Homeland Security agent had previously shown up at her door tipping her off that the F.B.I. had a file on her.

The entry reads a little like the ramblings of a conspiracy theorist, but full of enough details that could be verified if anyone were to look – does Theresa Duncan have an F.B.I. file on her? were reports filed with the LAPD about the alleged harrassment?

On her bio page is a sidebar called “Proverbs for Paranoids.” There is no indication if this relates in any way to her suspicions about being followed by Scientologists.

The most interesting aspect of the above is the claim that it wasn’t just Theresa who believed they were being watched and harrassed by Scientologists, but also Blake. Are paranoid delusions ever shared by couples? Or could there be some truth to any of these allegations?

What’s clearly missing so far is an attempt to explain why Scientologists would be harrassing them – even a lone stalker usually has a goal, let alone a mega-church.

One important note, which may simply turn out to be a formality of the investigation, but blogger Ron Rosenbaum reports that Duncan’s death has not been ruled a suicide as of yesterday.

A verdict “on the cause and manner of her death” is still “pending investigation” is all a spokesman for the Medical Examiner said she was authorized to say.

Rosenbaum, a Pajamas Media member, is also skeptical about Blake’s disappearance based on a personal experience:

I once had a friend who, in a moment of deep despondency, parked his car by a dock, left his clothes and wallet in it, to make it appear like suicide. And then just took off, disappeared. Faked his suicide. Until he showed up at my apartment and I talked him into going back to his family.

Implausible? Or possibly more believable than the Scientology connection?

…big h/t to Kevin Roderick for keeping abreast of this story… additional sourcing from the New York Times

5 thoughts on “Did Scientologists drive blogger Theresa Duncan to suicide?”

  1. I never met Theresa in person, but I did correspond with her over by E-mail, and about one thing only. during the 2006 election cycle, she was convinced that Democratic candidate Marcy Winograd was a Scientologist, or being aggressively supported by them, at least in Venice. We were covering the Harman vs. Winograd issue at Life on the Edge and she contacted me about the issue, but never really provided anything I felt was either juicy enough or well-founded enough to print.

    I thought she was being a little paranoid, or maybe at least jumping to conclusions, but I did really enjoy her blog. Here’s an excerpt from one of her E-mails, this was her frame of mind. The subject line of the E-mail was “Winograd’s Money.”

    I don’t know for certain about the Scientology money going to Winograd. That is the Venice scuttlebut.

    There is a building at the end of my block that was the first to plaster itself with Winograd materials, and the building is also surrounded by these cars from Florida, below. All of these photos were taken within the last week on a single Venice block, my own block.

    After my blog started to receive anti-Freudian and anti-Semitic “anonymous” email, I looked up the area code on line that is painted on this SUV from Florida that is always parked in front of my house. The car is from Clearwater, Florida, a Scientology base.

    I also saw a woman exit the building in question and point at the several ugly construction projects on Abbot Kinney and say to another man “that’s ours and that’s ours and that’s ours and that’s ours” about four or so buildings now underway.

    Also, Winograd proselytyzing is being done by drones that exit and enter the building.

    I suppose a journalist could just call Winograd’s campaign and ask if she took money from them, though the Church of Scientology have many front groups so I cannot personally untangle it. Though I would be very interested if someone else with more investigative experience were to look into it.

    Little Venice does seem to be under some Church onslaught, to that I can personally attest.


    Theresa Duncan

  2. Wow, that’s random. Thanks to reporting laws, however, anyone wanting to dig deep enough could connect or affirmatively disconnect the dots between Wino and the “Church.”

    Looking at Duncan’s site, it’s odd that one of her last posts is of a tarot card that seems to represent a set of traits diametrically opposed to suicide.

  3. Fascinating, tho sad, post. Thanks David! I’d love for metroblogging to keep us updated with stroy developments.

  4. does Theresa Duncan have an F.B.I. file on her?

    Given that’s she’s now deceased, you can file a FOIA request and find out. This site will lead you through it step-by-step if you’re really interested:


    Maybe I didn’t read it thoroughly enough, but I was under the impression that Duncan believed it to be a harassment campaign led by Jim Cownie and the Feds as a result of his Winchester piece, and the Scientology connection was only mentioned in that she thought they were one of the government’s tools of harassment.

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