Murder of Elli Perkins
|Cause of death||Multiple stab wounds|
|Known for||Circumstances of her death|
Elli Perkins (née Present; 1949 – March 13, 2003) was a professional glass artist, and a Scientologist who lived in Western New York. She was a senior auditor at the Church of Scientology in Buffalo, New York.
When her son, Jeremy, began to show strange and disturbing behavior, she did not seek out psychiatric care for him. She instead tried to correct this with treatment in accordance with Scientology. Jeremy's schizophrenia progressed to the point where he felt Elli was poisoning him (among Jeremy's explanations were "she makes me take these vitamins everyday", referring to the alternative medicine he was forced to take). After a suicide attempt, Jeremy murdered his mother.
The crime received substantial news coverage including The Amherst Bee, The Buffalo News, the New York Post, and an installment of the investigative news program 48 Hours. Issues included an implication that her refusal to allow Jeremy to be treated by a psychiatrist caused his eventual outburst, and her death.
Born Elli Present, she was raised Jewish, and married Don Perkins, who was brought up with a Christian background. Elli had met Don shortly after taking a Scientology course. Before coming to Buffalo, Perkins had lived in Rochester, where she attended the Rochester Institute of Technology. Elli Perkins crafted handmade glass art, and traveled to an annual Renaissance fair in upstate New York to sell her wares. She had been a member of the Sterling Renaissance Festival for twenty-three years, and had helped to run the Niagara Craft Association. She had been unsuccessful selling paintings, and was inspired to start glass painting by a friend. When her friend left town, the market was left open for Elli to set up shop and begin selling her painted glass works.
In 1979, both Don and Elli Perkins reached the Scientology state of "Clear", after taking Scientology courses and receiving "Auditing" processes. The Perkins family then moved to California and lived there during the 1980s, where Elli worked at the Celebrity Centre. In the late 1980s, the family moved back to Buffalo. Elli and Don had a daughter, and a son named Jeremy, who lived at home and worked for Don's contracting company. In addition to contracting work, Don Perkins is a cabinetmaker and carpenter.
Declining mental health of her son
Perkins' son Jeremy, at age 24, began to show changes in behavior. Jeremy told his father that he was hearing voices in his mind. At that time, the Perkins sent Jeremy to join Scientology's Sea Org in California, which they hoped would help resolve his troubling behavior. Jeremy's treatment did not succeed with the Sea Org, so he returned to his parents within a few months, resuming his job at his father's business.
A family friend said "Elli strongly believed that psychiatry was an evil", so she would not consult a psychiatrist about her son's mental illness. Scientologists believe that psychiatry "doesn't work". Court-ordered psychiatric evaluations of Jeremy Perkins showed that he was displaying symptoms of schizophrenia in 2001. Jeremy's defense attorney John Nuchereno said that his condition declined over the summer of 2002, and that his father had to terminate his employment. His deterioration exhausted the Church of Scientology's efforts to cure him. They classified Jeremy Perkins as a level III "Potential Trouble Source", and banned him from further Scientology courses.
Search for alternatives to psychiatry
After being found trespassing outside of the University at Buffalo on August 14, 2001, Jeremy was arrested and remanded to a local hospital after a court-ordered psychiatric exam confirmed that he had a diagnosis of schizophrenia. Elli Perkins later convinced the court to release her son into her custody, and she began to seek out alternative methods of treatment to psychiatry, and refused to allow her son to be treated with anti-psychotic medications. In the fall of 2002, the Perkins family consulted with Dr. Conrad Maulfair, an osteopathic physician and Scientologist. According to Jeremy's defense attorney, Maulfair concluded that "he was suffering from certain digestive problems, that he had certain chemical toxins in his body, and he needed to be purged of it." Maulfair said he needed to be "energized" through vitamin therapy.
Elli Perkins fed Jeremy the recommended vitamins, but Jeremy became highly suspicious of his mother. In a recorded interview, after being asked what concerns he had about taking these vitamins, Jeremy stated: "Well, concerns just that maybe she's trying to poison me or something." In February 2003, Elli Perkins took Jeremy to see Albert Brown, a self-taught "natural healer". Jeremy told Brown in a session: "Sometimes I think I'm Jesus Christ." Elli Perkins' wanted to send Jeremy to live with Brown for treatment, but days beforehand Jeremy began to act more aggressive. After consulting with her son-in-law Jeff Carlson, the executive director of the Buffalo Church of Scientology, Elli was told to give Jeremy "MEST", or busy-work around the house in order to get him tired.
Jeremy was 28 years old when his parents agreed that he should stay with Albert Brown, whose treatment regimen was acceptable to Scientology doctrines. Jeremy had agreed that Brown might be able to help him, and was to leave in the afternoon of March 13, 2003. That morning Don Perkins had to return from work briefly in order to settle an argument between Jeremy and his mother. Later Elli told Jeremy to take a shower, which he did. When he finished his shower, Jeremy found his mother in the kitchen talking on the phone. He retrieved a steak knife and attacked Elli as she spoke to her friend. According to a statement given to the police, Jeremy Perkins stated:
I tried to slit my wrists after the shower ... but I wouldn't die so I decided to do my mom in instead ... She was screaming, 'No, Jeremy, don't.' I stabbed her about four to five times before she fell down. ... I then stabbed her about ten more times in the stomach after she fell to the ground. I knew she was a goner. ... I believe that I have lived different lives for the past thousand years, and wished I was in another life now.
He said he attempted to cut out her right eye because he thought it was evil. The attempt was unsuccessful, along with statements like "She gets mad at me when I play my drums in my room and she makes me take these vitamins everyday. When she made me take the shower this morning this was the last straw." Jeremy's police statement led to a court-ordered psychiatric examination.
Autopsy reports showed that Elli Perkins was stabbed 77 times. In June 2003, Jeremy Perkins pleaded not guilty to charges of criminal weapons and second degree murder in a court in Erie County. The District Attorney in the case stated that death by stabbing is not unusual in homicides, but 77 stab wounds is "really rare." The court ordered another psychiatric examination for Jeremy.
Jeremy Perkins was found not responsible by reason of mental disease or defect on July 29, 2003, and was placed on probation. Six months later, on January 29, 2004, a commitment order was issued which assessed him as "Dangerously Mentally Ill" authorizing him to be committed in a "secure facility of your choosing" by the NY State Office of Mental Health.
According to Rich Dunning, a former deputy director of the Buffalo Church of Scientology, there "was a panic" among the Church of Scientology's international leadership after the killing of Elli Perkins. Dunning said that the goal was "to distance the church as far away as they could from Jeremy Perkins." He also said that the killing was a public relations fiasco as it exposed the dangers of Scientology's ban against consulting psychiatrists, and the belief that members who attain high Operating Thetan levels achieve special powers. Jeremy Perkins was later placed on psychiatric medications, which court psychiatrists state have stabilized his condition. Jeremy Perkins' defense attorney said "Jeremy himself told me that he firmly believes that if he had been taking these medications [earlier] that it would not have happened." After attorney Nuchereno spoke with 48 Hours, Jeremy was visited by a senior Church of Scientology staff member, and Nuchereno was replaced by an attorney whose law firm had worked previously for Scientology.
In March 2006, an advertisement in LA Weekly blamed Tom Cruise and the Church of Scientology for Perkins' violent death. The ad stated: "Thanks, Tom Cruise and the Church of Scientology, for your expert advice on mental health." The ad recounted the story of Elli's death, saying she was killed "by the schizophrenic son she was told to treat with vitamins instead of psychiatric care." The advertisement also cited the Web site "PerkinsTragedy.org", as did Salon.
On October 28, 2006, the CBS program 48 Hours aired a segment on Perkins' death. CBS later reported on the background behind the production of the program, and wrote that they had received complaints from Scientologists: "The Scientology community was not happy with the story, which raised the possibility that Elli Perkins might not have been murdered had her son been given psychiatric treatment." According to CBS, the Church of Scientology did not provide the 48 Hours production staff with an official spokesman, and attempted to influence the broadcast itself. Scientologists said that CBS had a conflict of interest because pharmaceutical companies advertise on the network's television programming. However, CBS News Senior Vice President, Standards and Special Projects Linda Mason stated: "Nothing could be further from the truth ... At CBS the sales department and the news department – there is a Chinese wall between them. And we just don't cross. And we've done numerous stories on the ill effects of drugs of various sponsors that are on CBS." When questioned about the litigious nature of the Church of Scientology, Mason said that this history of litigation did not influence the show's production, saying: "We do stories that we feel stand on their own grounds in the court of law."
- Jeremy's Police Statement People's exhibit used at the trial. Read into the public record, April 17, 2003.
- Staff (March 2003). "Son Held in Stabbing Death of Hopkins Road Woman". The Amherst Bee. Retrieved 2007-03-23.
- Staff (2006-10-28). "Scientology - A Question of Faith: Did A Mother's Faith Contribute To Her Murder?". 48 Hours. CBS News. pp. 1–9. Retrieved 2007-03-23.
- Pignataro, T. J. (March 14, 2003). "Son arrested in woman's fatal stabbing". The Buffalo News. Retrieved 2007-03-23.
- Gramigna, Glenn (1995). "Ex-hippie turns successful businesswoman". Metro Community News, Buffalo, New York. Retrieved 2007-03-23.
- Stasi, Linda (October 27, 2006). "Scientology Schizo: His Mom's Religion Said, No Meds. That Edict May Have Cost Her Life". New York Post.
- "Amherst Man Accused of Stabbing Mother to Death, Pleads Not Guilty". WIVB TV. 2003-06-04. Retrieved 2007-03-23.
- Finding of non-responsibility 07/27/2003
- [[:|Commitment Order 01/27/2004]]
- Walls, Jeannette (March 29, 2006). "Scientology foes blast Cruise in ad". Today.com. NBC. Retrieved 2007-03-23.
- "The Fix: In other Scientology news". Salon. March 21, 2003. Retrieved 2007-03-23.
- "Jeremy Perkins: A Scientology Tragedy".
- Montopoli, Brian (November 2, 2006). "'48 Hours' Questions Role Of Scientology In Murder, Scientologists Question CBS Ethics". PublicEye. CBS. Retrieved 2007-03-23.
Media related to Elli Perkins at Wikimedia Commons
- Scientology - A Question of Faith: Did A Mother's Faith Contribute To Her Murder?, CBS News
- PerkinsTragedy.org - Web site cited in the LA Weekly ad and by Salon