Scientology Made Me Kill
Story originally published on my Blogger site October 2020. As my team and I have decided to look at some more cult cases, I thought that we should bring it here.
Double Murderer Blames Scientology For Making Him Kill His Family
A devoted Scientologist used a very novel and unusual defence for him murdering two innocent people in cold blood in Arizona.
Peter Wayne Thompson made 24 hours plus drive from his home in Missouri to Arizona to carry out the cold and calculated murders in which he bludgeoned two people to death using a hatchet and a knife, then set the house on fire to try to hide the evidence.
The killer used the novel defence claiming that his actions were quite rational if understood through the lens of Scientology. Thompson believed that he needed to “rescue” a child because his spiritual well=being was at risk.
The child concerned, a boy was Thompson’s wife’s nephew, fortunately, he nor his sister were present at the house in Arizona when the gruesome murders took place.
American prosecutors had tried to persuade the trial judge not to allow the Scientology defence, In a brief filed before the trial began prosecutors said: “followers of any religion believe the theology to varying degrees and it would not be clear to what extent Thompson hewed to Scientology, therefore it was not a satisfactory defence”. The State argued that when the evidence was placed before the jury there would have to be a lengthy explanation as to what ‘exactly’ Scientologists believe.
They also warned that the trial faced the very real risk of “veering down a Scientology Rabbit hole”
However, the Yavapai Superior Court Judge Patricia Trebesch decided to admit the evidence and allow it to be used in defence in the double murder trial that she was presiding over.
Attorneys for Thompson requested a special order to gather records from the Florida based Church of Scientology and made certain that they secured testimonies of experts in the religion including a documentary producer Leah Remini who has produced documentaries that were very critical of the religious sect.
Even potential jurors were asked for their opinion of Scientology in order to ensure a fair and balanced trial.
A brief outline of the religion
The religion that we now know as Scientology was developed in the 1950s by L. Ron Hubbard, who was originally a writer of science fiction. The first meetings of the “church” were held at Hubbard’s home at the base of Camelback Mountain in Phoenix, Arizona.
The religion’s belief is basically that humans are able to achieve spiritual growth by following a particular path and achieving certain milestones along the journey. Those that are critical of Scientology say that those so-called ‘milestones’ come at a high price which includes ‘believers’ having to spend large sums of money on books and sessions of introspection known as ‘auditing’.
For those of you not familiar with this term it simply means a process whereby an “auditor” takes an individual through times in their current and past lives with the purpose of ridding the individual of negative influences from past times and behaviour. In my words, it means a process of indoctrination.
In the opening days of the trial Robert Gundacker, Thompson’s attorney asked the jury to see the events that lead to the killings through the eyes of a devoted Scientologist, in this case, Kenneth Thompson.
Thompson had become a Scientologist as a small child after his mother married a devotee. During his married life, he heard that his wife’s nephew was undergoing treatment for a mental health condition, that of course, was against his Scientology beliefs.
One of the main beliefs (Scientology tenets) is that psychology is the evilest thing on this earth, probably based on the fact that Scientology presents two major divisions of the mind. This belief leads Thompson to consider the medication that the nephew was being prescribed was doing irreparable damage to the child. Kenneth Thompson’s mindset was such that he believed the child’s eternal soul was at risk.
Quite simply according to Thompson’s defence attorney the defendant wanted to bring his sister-in-law’s children home with him for their own safety, away from the dangerous medications and long term harm to their souls.
Mrs Thompson and Kenneth had cared for the two children whilst their mother was imprisoned and they had worried a lot about them once they were returned to their mother. The defence attorney said that “Kenny cared so much” for his niece and nephew that he travelled all the way from Missouri to get them out of danger by persuading their mother to let him take them to safety, not by killing her.
The problem in asking the jury to believe that Thompson meant no harm was somewhat difficult as he had stopped before going to his sister-in-law’s home to purchase a hatchet and a large knife, both of which became murder weapons.
Not only did he buy specific weapons with which to commit the atrocity, but he also had acid which he poured over the bodies to presumably destroy evidence. Thompson then used flares and diesel fuel to set the house on fire before heading back out to the freeway and headed east toward Missouri, bear in mind he had not got the children that he apparently came to “rescue” with him.
So, according to his defence, Thompson’s Scientology beliefs were that Psychology and its related treatments were evil and in fact instead of curing and controlling mental health problems it actually caused mental illness in the first place. Basically, he had been indoctrinated to believe that psychological medicines and treatment are the roots of evil.
Scientologists believe that psychological treatments are part of a ‘scam’ and are particularly bad when given to children.
Thompson had not even told his wife his plans to go to collect the children, in fact, he had told her that he was going to Memphis, Tennessee to deal with some issues with his parents. Why lie if he was going on a mercy mission to rescue children that they were both worried about anyway? I would have thought if anything she would have supported his plan.
The defence attorney told the jury that Thompson had decided ‘on a whim’ to head west instead of east to get the children from their mother only when he reached Interstate 40. He knew the journey was a very long one, some 1400 miles but, he drove it in around 25 hours, he then stayed overnight at a hotel before taking a taxi to his sister-in-law’s home on the morning of March 16th 2012.
Why not take his own car? Presumably to avoid detection more easily. To be fair it would have been so much easier when collecting children to take his own car so that they could head off quickly not have to wait for another taxi back to Thompson’s car. In fact, it transpires that he had parked his own car at his sister-in-law’s house on the previous evening for some reason.
It is not totally clear as to what exactly happened at the house when Thompson arrived but within an hour his two victims, Penelope Edwards and her boyfriend Troy Dunn were both dead.
According to police reports, Penelope Edwards was found with some 22 wounds to her head and neck with some evidence of chopping whilst Troy Dunn had sustained similar head injuries caused by a sharp implement.
After the murder, Thompson returned to his own car and then set off back along Interstate 40, it was then that he was stopped by a safety trooper at around 4pm heading out of Arizona.
The safety trooper, Matt Bratz told the jury that he was monitoring Interstate traffic when he witnessed a driver acting unusually. He said that “Thompson was staring straight ahead with his arms locked out and gripping the steering wheel”.
Matt decided to follow the suspicious driver and travelled behind him on the freeway and although Thompson was keeping to the exact speed limit he decided that he should pull him over for a random stop and search.
The trooper reported that he had spotted a red gas can in the car and could smell solvent, he said that Thompson was acting very nervously, his hands shaking and his chest heaving as he handed over his drivers licence.
Matt Bratz asked Thompson if he could allow his drug detection dog around his vehicle and although it is not clear whether permission was given or not the dog indicated something of interest in the trunk of the vehicle. As a result of this, the trooper told Thompson that he was now permitted to search the car and sent for another officer as back up.
Thompson had asked Bratz if he could retrieve a backpack from the car whilst they waited as it contained a water bottle, but permission was denied, this turned out to be very fortunate for matt Bratz.
While they waited for the backup officer, Thompson had volunteered a story that he had stopped off at a wildlife park where the keepers had been feeding animals with live meat and his trousers had been splashed with blood so he had to change clothes. I presume that he knew the officers would find his blood-stained clothing in the car when they carried out the search and so concocted a story to explain before he was questioned.
Sure enough, when the officers searched the car they found a pair of trousers (pants) with blood staining and a hatchet also covered in blood and what looked like a long human hair. They also retrieved the backpack which Thompson had asked to be allowed to reach for, the bag did not contain a water bottle, but it did contain a gun. I suspect that if Matt Bratz had allowed Thompson to grab the bag he would have been shot and Thompson would have made off before back up arrived, we will never know.
The trooper told the jury that when he called on his radio to his control room to ask if there had been any suspicious activity in the area, he was advised that there had been a house fire in which two bodies were found hacked to death in the Prescott Valley. Eyewitnesses had reported a white car leaving the scene at speed and as Thompson was driving a white ford Taurus, Matt Bratz decided to arrest him and take him for questioning, so he handcuffed Thompson at the side of the road.
During questioning, Thompson said that when he had arrived at the house he had been met with two heroin addicts that were completely strung out and that he had acted in self-defence. He went to admit that he had poured acid over the two bodies in order to destroy any DNA evidence but as he felt this may not be enough he had set the house on fire,
Neither of the children that Thompson claimed to have been going to rescue were at the house and according to prosecutors, he knew that before he went there, He had already been told that one of the children was spending the spring break from school with a friend at Bisbee and the boy was at Phoenix Children’s Hospital undergoing treatment for mental health behavioural problems.
According to his defence attorneys, it had been the boy’s hospitalisation that had made Thompson “afraid for the child’s eternal soul”
The attorney said that whilst he would not argue that Thompson’s mental capacity was diminished, he argued that being brought up as a Scientologist coupled with his diagnosis as suffering from Asperger’s Syndrome made his thinking “linear and concrete”.
Thompson’s reason for driving all those miles to address the issues of the children with his sister-in-law instead of talking to her by telephone was blamed on Scientology beliefs as apparently, they believe that a person will refuse to discuss something over the telephone or even at a pre-arranged meeting but they are much more likely to agree to discuss if you just turn up cold and unannounced at the door”
Not a practising Scientologist at all?
Prosecutors had argued right from the outset of pre-trial that there was no real evidence of Thompson actually being a practising Scientologist.
Thompson grandmother Eva Harvey, who was not asked to testify at trial gave an interview to az central news in which she said that although her grandson had grown up in the church of Scientology as a child he had more or less left religion behind as an adult. “I don’t think he really believed in it,” she said.
Thompson had lived in a house on the same property as his grandmother until his arrest and she told the news that he had occasionally attended church services but that was at a baptist church.
The teachings of Scientology are very unusual in my opinion but whether their doctrines and teachings were in any way connected to Thompson’s reasons for travelling 1400 miles and killing two people that ultimately left two children orphaned I really wouldn’t like to say.
Maybe I will do some more research and bring some more on true crime and examine possible connections to the church of Scientology but that is for another blog on another day. I will leave it there for this time and see you all again very soon.
If you would like to tell me more or discuss any case with me then please do send me an email, I love to hear from you: