A seasoned policeman, Ray Emmons looked exactly as I’d imagined him. Dressed in a plaid shirt—one that only accentuated the extra weight around the middle—he sported a ball cap that read “Here’s a Salt of the Earth Guy.” He was an old-fashioned investigator, no-nonsense, straightforward, unflinching.
Born in Ohio, Ray grew up tough and self-reliant—his mother died when he was young, and his father tossed him out when he was just 15. He served a stint in the Navy from 1960 to 1964, then moved to Clearwater, Florida, where he met his wife and settled down.
After joining the Clearwater Police Department in 1968, Ray spent the bulk of his twenty-five-year career as a vice and intelligence sergeant. In 1981 he began an assignment that would become his legacy—a thorough investigation of the Church of Scientology. (Six years earlier, in 1975, they’d arrived just offshore, in the Gulf of Mexico. With a telescope aimed directly at Clearwater’s sandy white beaches, the organization started buying up downtown buildings under a fake name.) In 1983 Emmons released a 10-volume report denouncing the Church as a criminal money-making enterprise. Well-researched and comprehensive, it exposed the intricacies of Scientology’s structure, its spy tactics, and the shady financial dealings of its founder, L. Ron Hubbard. Although the Emmons Report didn’t result in criminal charges, it certainly put Ray Emmons in Scientology’s crosshairs. The Church hired people to tail him. They bugged his home phone. They stole his trash, looking for incriminating information. They found nothing.
When the Clearwater Police Department closed the investigation of my son’s death, we were three months shy of the statute of limitations expiring. My attorney, Luke Lirot, who’d studied criminology, was the first person to look over the official police report. He called me the day it became available, but I didn’t hear from him again for another five days. (When Luke was troubled, he’d often take a day or two to ruminate before getting back to me.) As the days passed with no call from Luke, my worst fears were confirmed. Something was deeply wrong.
When Luke told me that some things just couldn’t be discussed over the telephone, I knew I had to fly to Tampa, Florida. There, I’d meet with him and Ken Dandar—a lawyer who’d also worked on the Lisa McPherson case—and Ray Emmons, the ex-cop who had a lot of experience with Scientology. At Ken’s request, he’d studied the police report.
We met in Ken’s Gray Street office. Unfortunately, Luke couldn’t make it; he was too busy defending another client.
In the newly rented law office, Ray sat across from me at the room’s large conference table. Papers and files were spread across its polished wood surface. Unpacked boxes sat all around. Books were stacked in piles waiting to be shelved; a large painting was leaning against the wall waiting to be hung.
Ray took the lead, opening a large notebook containing a copy of the Clearwater Police Report regarding my son’s death.
“I’m not certain how much you’ve been told,” said Ray matter-of-factly. “I’m going to cut to the chase, and just say it. I’m deeply troubled with what I’ve read.”
“Before I begin….” he continued, wearily shaking his head. “As a former officer of the Clearwater Police Department, I want to apologize to you and your family. There was a time when a police officer was a voice for the deceased. You had a duty to them and their loved ones to uncover the truth.”
“When I was a supervisor of homicide cases, I’d instruct my detectives to take on a case as though they were acting in the best interest of the victim.”
“It’s obvious after reading this report that the Clearwater Police seems to be protecting the best interests of the Church of Scientology.”
It was a blistering condemnation.
“You’re going to have to be strong, kid,” he said. “Today you’re going to hear things that no parent should ever have to. I’m sorry you have to go through this. Can you stay strong for Kyle? Because right now, you’re all he’s got.”
Ray carefully studied my face as a chain of emotions ran through me. Thanks to his years as a policeman, he was a pro at reading faces. My features couldn’t mask my psychological tumble.
“The police report has left me with more questions than answers,” said Ray, suddenly tense. “I’m going to ask you some questions about your conversations with Detective Stephen Bohling. You tell us what you know and I’ll tell you what I found in the report. Hopefully, by the end of the day, we can make sense of this tragedy. I’m not making any promises, but we’re going to try. Because Scientology is involved, of course, the sad truth is some of your questions may never be answered.”
The discussion moved quickly, hitting on the report’s inaccuracies. His frank assessment gave validation to what I’d suspected after my conversations with Detective Bohling—there was something dirty, and criminal, going on at the Clearwater Police Department.
The final assessment, from the lips of the veteran police investigator, was overwhelming: “Without fingerprints on the weapon, without gunshot residue test results from Kyle’s hands, and without the bullet that killed Kyle, we don’t know for certain who pulled the trigger or if the bullet that killed Kyle was from the weapon found at the scene.”
The jarring reality of the moment still haunts me.
It’s not in the best of times that you learn the true character of a person. And sometimes, when tragedy fills your life, a friend appears who somehow helps you bear the unbearable.
I met Ray Emmons under the worst of circumstances. When our meeting concluded, he reached across the table, took my hand, and said “Victoria, you can call me anytime night or day if you need someone to talk to. I’ll be there for you. We are going to become good friends.”
Sergeant Ray Emmons meant every word. It was the beginning of our friendship.
After imparting information that “no parent should ever have to hear,” he didn’t abandon me. We spent untold hours on the phone. Cops, by definition, are consummate storytellers. This held true for Ray: He had lots of stories, and never held back in sharing them. In relating his experiences—many of which featured tragic events—he never made himself out to be the hero. He was humble. Sergeant Emmons was devoted to giving a voice, and achieving justice, for those who’d been victimized.
Ray educated me about Scientology. This alone was invaluable: It helped me to understand the strange, mysterious, and cult-like organization that had played a part in my son’s death.
Ray understood just how brutally and swiftly a life can be ripped apart. Thankfully, this knowledge hadn’t hardened him or diminished his capacity for empathy and compassion. Ray Emmons gave me hope when mine was depleted.
“One day,” he told me, “if I live long enough to see the Church of Scientology fall, I’m going to buy the finest bottle of scotch, Victoria, and we’re going to open that bottle on the steps of their headquarters in downtown Clearwater, and we’ll raise our glasses and toast to Kyle and Lisa.”
Sadly, Ray didn’t live to see that day.
Sometimes, if we’re lucky, we meet special people who touch our lives, if ever so briefly. They teach us about the best of humanity. We are better—the world is better—because of them.
Ray was one of the good guys, a good cop, a reflection of the better angels of our nature. Ray Emmons was my friend.
Copyright © 2021 by Victoria L. Britton