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Go to A Taste of Persimmon: a weekend with Da and his devotees

"Sex Slave" Sues Guru
: : Pacific Isle Orgies Charged

: : San Francisco Chronicle/April 3, 1985
: : By Katy Butler

: : Mark Miller was a college tennis star obsessed with finding "absolute truth" when he picked up a book called "The Knee of Listening" in 1976.

: : Six months later, Miller was a devoted follower of Franklin Jones, a fat New Yolk­born guru who held court at an old hot springs near Clear Lake. His girlfriend, a former cheerleader and Playboy centerfold, had become one of the guru's nine wives.

: : "We were naive, trusting kids from Southern California," Miller told The Chronicle. "We believed that Playboy was an art form and Franklin Jones was God."

: : Franklin Jones, known as Da Free John, now heads a philosophical empire with 1000 adherents in' Northern California, Europe, Australia and Hawaii.

: : Jones, who claimed to be enlightened, is being sued by a former member of the sect. And he is being accused by Miller and other disillusioned former members of indulging in long drinking binges, public sex and humiliation, assault, and feasts of caviar and fancy food with his inner circle. Women devotees were dressed in naughty lingerie for the guru's pleasure and subjected to nights of psychological and physical abuse, they said.

: : Beverly O'Mahony, a former flutist for the San Francisco Symphony, filed a $5 million lawsuit in Marin County Superior Court March 4, charging that Brian O'Mahony, her estranged husband and a member of the sect, was ordered by Da Free John to sexually abuse her.

: : She also charged she was "compelled, over a prolonged period of time to accept physical and sexual abuses, confinement, degrading acts, inadequate diet and the surrendering of her children" to Free John.

: : Her suit named nine leaders of the group, including her husband.

: : Representatives of Jones' religious group denied all the charges, conceding only that the group went through a brief binge of sexual experimentation and wild parties in 1976. Now, they said, Free John lives a life of solitude and contemplation in a "hermitage" on the remote Fiji an island of Naitauba.

: : Miller and four other former devotees charged yesterday that their dreams of a religious life had been twisted and exploited during their years with Jones.

: : The followers of Jones, a philosophy graduate and former Scientology adherent, accept the old Hindu concept that spiritual "en lightenment" and religious ecstasy can be reached by perfect devotion to a guru. Even Jones' most bizarre actions were explained as religious teachings.

: : In 1976, Jones withdrew into a small inner circle of followers, ostensibly to live a more contemplative life.

: : But a 38 year old Marin County businesswoman who spent six months with the inner circle in Hawaii in 1983 said the group was anything but ascetic.

: : The woman, whose husband was then the group's lawyer, spent six months at Jones' house on Kauai. Each night, she told The Chronicle, the group assembled for what were described as religious talks. "We were forced to drink large quantities of beer, and after the party, when everybody was really swacked he would talk about himself. Afterwards, there would usually be some kind of sexual event usually other people performing and him watching.

: : "I was told I was a lesbian. I was accused of being so unattractive that nobody would ever want to sleep with me. Night after night, he would go on about how ugly one of his wives was, how she looked as though she had been run over by a track shoe, and she was a beautiful woman."

: : "I was too chicken to confront him. I was still under his spell," said the woman, who left with her husband in 1983 after she said she had been sexually assaulted in front of the group by order of Free John.

: : For three months after returning to San Francisco, they were both like zombies, she said. She added she is now in therapy to deal with some of the humiliation and abuse that she suffered.

: : The devotees, who follow a strict vegetarian diet and restrict their sexual activities to marriage, tithe 10 percent to 15 percent of their earnings to support Free John on a remote private island in Fiji where he now lives with 30 close followers.

: : Most of the ordinary members have no contact with Free John. They study his writings, an eclectic blend of eastern religions and original thought. He is described as an 'avatar,' a God in human form.

: : The disillusioned followers conceded yesterday that they were not coerced to join the group, nor were they prevented from leaving. But they came to believe during their time in the group that all of Da Free John's actions ­­ however sadistic -- were religious teachings.

: : They were bright young college students, seeking deep religious experience like many members of their generation, when they ran across Jones' books in the mid 1970s.

: : Mark Miller, for example, the product of a fundamentalist home in Southern California, was "burning himself out" on religious philosophy as he searched for an absolute metaphysical truth he could rely on.

: : A straight­A student at Berkeley and UC San Diego, he decided to devote his life to Free John's teaching without ever having met the man.

: : Miller and Julie Anderson, his 19­year old girlfriend, packed everything into his old Volkswagen fastback and drove to San Francisco from Los Angeles in 1976 to join the group.

: : They were immediately whisked up to the guru's home at an old hot springs near Clear Lake, long known as Siegler's Springs and renamed Persimmon.

: : Everybody there seemed to know a Playboy centerfold was coming, said Miller.

: : Miller said that when he first saw Jones, "the room seemed to be filled with golden light. He stared into my eyes. I was tremendously disoriented. I was expecting truth. I thought it was a confirmation of what I wanted to believe."

: : After two nights of wild drinking and drug­taking, Miller said, he found himself shut out of the party, crying and staring at the moon. Followers were pressuring him to stop being "uptight" about his girlfriend. Then Anderson came to him laughing hysterically and told him that her highest spiritual function in life was to be Da Free John's ninth wife.

: : It was Miller's spiritual obligation to surrender her, she said.

: : Miller, in a state of shock, soon learned to believe that the path to enlightenment was through the destruction of his own "ego." He was taught that his discomfort about losing his girlfriend was what the group called "Narcissus," or unenlightened ego, and he decided the guru would help him break it down.

: : "I was a superachiever, and I have a good self­image," Miller remembered. "I felt, "For once in your life you're going to drop this arrogant thing of yours."'

: : He sold his car to buy tennis racquets and fancy warmup outfits for the guru. He gave the chubby teacher tennis lessons and dreamed that the two of them were going to win national tennis tournaments.

: : He meditated two hours a day, staring at Jones' picture, dropped out of college and adopted a strict vegetarian diet. He even married one of the guru's discarded lovers.

: : "I was in such a state of shock from having this girlfriend ripped off, it was a way of not dealing with what I felt, a way of mythologizing what happened. It wasn't a horrible thing, but a 'divine exchange,"' Miller remembered.

: : Miller became one of Jones' worker bees," contributing 10 percent to 15 percent of his income to the group.

: : Jacky Estes, an actress who now lives in Novato, said that during the same year, she was living at the hot springs as one of Free John's "wives."

: : For about two months, she told The Chronicle, motion­picture cameras were set up in a basement room, and devotees were ordered to make pornographic films. Estes herself did not participate. But, she said, "I heard him telling men and women go downstairs and do it, and I saw the women crying hysterically afterwards."

: : "Everything that was done was interpreted a lesson about your own lack of spirituality," she said.

: : Estes also said she saw Free John's wife, Nina, come out of his house with a huge hunk of hair ripped out of her head, and a black eye.

: : "At the time, I was frightened and confused, and only later did I learn what the brainwashing process entailed," she said. "Twelve to 16 hours of my day were spent surrounded by cult members. You didn't watch TV or read magazines. It closes off your circuits to the rational process. Most members don't know anything about the inner violence of the innermost circle."

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