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Mother Sues Branch of Rajneeshee Cult in Death of Son : Body Discovered Behind Oregon Tavern in ’84

Times Staff Writer

William H. Allen was “a borderline schizophrenic,” said his mother, Evelyn Allen of Stanton. Classified by the state as “unable to work,” he spent most nights on the streets or in shelters for the homeless in Orange County.

He tried to commit suicide 13 times--with drugs, by cutting his wrists, and once by slashing his throat, his mother said. Each attempt was made in front of her, and she believes that William didn’t want to die, but was just “asking for help.” Evelyn Allen did try to have her son committed, but the courts and mental health agencies weren’t convinced that he was dangerous.

And although she admits that William Allen did have serious problems, he wouldn’t have died behind a tavern in a small Oregon town in 1984 were it not for the Rajneesh Medical Corp., Evelyn Allen maintains. On Wednesday, she filed a wrongful death suit against the corporation, an arm of the religious organization headed up by Bhagwan Shree Rajneesh, who left the country last November after pleading guilty to violating immigration laws.

Swelling Voter Ranks

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The corporation, according to the lawsuit filed in federal District Court in Portland, lured William Allen away from Santa Ana to the Rajneeshee ranch in Antelope, Ore., on Oct. 12, 1984, part of an effort to swell the ranks of registered voters there. At the ranch, according to the suit, he was given Elavil, an anti-depressant drug, then sent to Portland on a bus three days later. Allen left the bus at Government Camp, Ore., and was last seen in Charlie’s Mountain View Tavern.

The 28-year-old man’s body, partially buried under the snow, was discovered in the tavern’s rear parking lot the next day. An autopsy revealed he died of hypothermia, although a deputy coroner was quoted in wire service reports at the time as saying that a quantity of Elavil in his body “contributed to his death.”

“There were measurable quantities of it in his blood,” said Steve Paygr, a Portland attorney representing Evelyn Allen. The Rajneesh Medical Corp., which still operates in Antelope, Ore., was “responsible for the health care of the individuals who were transported to the ranch,” he said.

A corporation spokesman declined comment on the suit, Allen’s treatment at the ranch or why he was put on the bus to Portland just three days after arriving at the camp. “We’re referring all calls to our lawyer, Janet Hoffman,” she said.

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Hoffman did not return phone calls to her Portland law office.

Evelyn Allen, who manages a Stanton apartment complex, said Thursday she believes that William was recruited by the Rajneeshees as part of a voter-registration drive in Antelope, Ore. About 3,700 “street people” were recruited nationwide during the Bhagwan’s “share-a-home” program and bused to Oregon.

Still a Mystery

Officials in Wasco County, where the 64,000-acre ranch is situated, halted all new voter registrations two days before Allen arrived with a busload of transients, citing suspicions of voter fraud in an upcoming county governing board election. A U.S. District Court upheld the county’s actions after the Rajneeshees filed a lawsuit challenging the ban.

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Why Allen left Antelope is still a mystery to his mother. She said he was a registered voter in Orange County, using the Stanton apartment as his address, and could have simply transferred residency to Oregon.

The last time she heard from her son was on a Sunday when he called to tell her about being recruited by a Rajneeshee at a shelter for the homeless in Santa Ana.

“He told me he wouldn’t have any more worries and would be living the good life in Oregon. I guess they painted a pretty good picture,” she said Thursday. Although she told him she was worried about his safety based on reports she had read that described the organization as a cult, he assured her that he would be all right and left his few possessions, including a radio, baseball mitt and other personal items, with his sister before leaving with “just the shirt on his back.”

He borrowed $2 from an aunt to ride the RTD to Los Angeles, where he boarded a bus for the Rajneesh-financed trip to Antelope, where he arrived Oct. 12, 1984.

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The next time she heard about William, it was in a phone call from an Oregon State Police detective, who asked her if she could identify the body.

Although Evelyn Allen said she believes that her son may have been murdered, noting that William’s shoes were found more than 30 feet from his body and scratches on one side of his face indicated to her that he may have been dragged to the spot where his body was later found, investigators found no evidence of foul play. “The drugs may have contributed to his death but it is not being investigated as a homicide,” State Police Lt. Ron Howland said.

Regardless of whether he was murdered or simply mixed alcohol and depressant drugs and fell unconscious behind the tavern, Evelyn Allen asserted that the Rajneeshees were a contributing factor in his death.

She said she doesn’t feel comfortable being involved in the lawsuit and added that her objective is to put the Rajneeshees out of business. “What we kept talking about the whole time was ‘How in the world can we get these people out of the country?’ ” she said.

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