The Church of Scientology has endured decades of scandal based on allegations of abuse, mind control and other cult-like tactics. Perhaps no controversy has stoked more suspicions than the sudden disappearance of the church leader's wife. In Where is Shelly?, 60 Minutes Australia travels to the United States to track down Shelly Miscavige and uncover the possible motives behind her 13-year absence from public or private view.
The church is notoriously aggressive in their response to critics or the prying eyes of the press. This wall of secrecy has crumbled significantly in recent years due to the efforts of actress Leah Remini and other high-profile ex-Scientologists and whistle-blowers. Remini and others provide valuable context in the film, and help to further the investigation into Miscavige's whereabouts.
At the center of the mystery lies the church's enigmatic leader David Miscavige. Prophet to some, ruthless and bloodthirsty dictator to others, Miscavige assumed leadership in the church during the early 1980s. During his tenure, he has successfully courted megastar celebrities to the church, raised its profile in the public consciousness, and opened it up for unprecedented scrutiny among the press and law enforcement.
Throughout the course of the film's investigation, we hear harrowing accounts from ex-members of the church. They testify to rampant beatings, and the banishment of members who unwisely disobey or question the leader's strict edicts. Is this the level of punishment that befell the leader's own wife? Is it something far more sinister? Or did Shelly fall off the social map by choice?
"It could be the greatest con that's ever been practiced on the public," confesses an emotional Ron Miscavige, the estranged father and vocal critic of David.
The documentary crew journeys from Los Angeles to Clearwater, Florida looking for new clues and an ultimate resolution to the perverse mystery. Along the way, they explore the monetary value of Scientology's operations, including the benefits they glean from their tax-free status and the structure they've built to ensure continued financial vitality.
In pulse-pounding fashion, Where is Shelly? follows the turns of a real-life mystery that is equal parts surreal, cryptic and depraved.