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The Monk and His Hypnotist – Podcast #86

Here’s a crazy question for you:  Can you ever be too old to be adopted?  Somewhere in the back of my mind, I had always assumed that once you became an adult, – you know – 18 years of age, that the book was closed on adoption.  Well, today’s story is evidence that one can never be too old to be adopted, although some may choose to do it for all of the wrong reasons.

The main character of this bizarre story that I about to tell you is a New Orleans native named Dr. Raymond Louis La Scola.  A skilled pianist, La Scola received his medical degree from Louisiana State in 1941.  A couple of years later he headed out west to do his residency at Children’s Hospital in Los Angeles.  And for the next twenty-five-plus years, La Scola built up a very successful practice.  Then, during the late 1960s and into the early 1970s, he slowly transitioned his practice from one of dealing with young children to that of clinical hypnosis.  And if he had just stuck to dealing with children, my guess is that none of what you are about to hear would have ever happened.

In 1976, Dr. La Scola went in search of a building to house his practice.  He opted to purchase a home at 5020 West Olympic Boulevard in Los Angeles, which was owned by a monk named Ariya Dhamma Thera and his wife Georgia.  The couple had decided to move to another residence that they owned in Palm Springs.

Thera had been born Benjamin Martin Marshall in Bombay, India in 1901.  His mother was Persian and his dad half-Scottish and half-Indian, which made him an outcast in Indian society.  He turned to Buddhism and ultimately decided that it was in his best interest to leave his homeland.  His chosen destination was the United States, but the federal government kept denying his entrance.

Dr. Raymond La Scola.
Dr. Raymond La Scola. Image originally appeared on page 7 of the September 12, 1980 publication of the Lansing State Journal.

Around the same time, the monk’s future wife Georgia Mahone was married to a prominent Kansas City lawyer.  She had a great interest in Buddhism and was immediately drawn to Thera.  As you can probably guess, Georgia dumped her wealthy husband and married the monk.   We’ll never know if they married for love or just so that Thera could live in the US legally, but there are a few facts that I should mention that will be of some importance as this story continues.

First, Georgia walked out of her marriage with a lot of money.  This enabled the new couple to establish and finance the American Institute of Buddhist Studies in the lower level of their home.  Second, the monk had taken a vow of celibacy, so the marriage was never consummated.

The couple had been together for nearly thirty years when Dr. La Scola purchased their home.  The good doctor began to treat Georgia’s high blood pressure and before long the three developed a strong friendship.

And here’s where everything starts to get weird.  On February 14th of 1979, the couple adopted Dr. La Scola.  At the time, the monk was 78, his wife Georgia was 88, and their newly adopted son was a tender young 63 years of age.

Just what was going on here?

Well, that really depends on who you ask.

According to Dr. La Scola, the monk was starting to lose his memory and needed to be institutionalized.  The monk’s wife knew that she was in declining health and feared that she would die before her husband did.  So, just a mere thirteen days after the adoption, Georgia signed a new will that left everything to Dr. La Scola.  In exchange, he agreed to care for her husband in the best way that he could until he also passed on.

As Georgia’s health declined, La Scola ultimately decided that it would be best if she moved in with him so that he could care for her around the clock.  She did just that and passed away a short five months and four days after the adoption had been finalized.

La Scola indicated on her death certificate that she had died of congestive heart failure and then made a stupid decision that would ultimately come back to haunt him in a very big way.  Since the monk was suffering from Alzheimer’s, the doctor decided to forge Thera’s signature so that the body could be immediately cremated.

And here’s where the last major character in our story enters the picture.  Mary Steele Kaye, a 57-year-old-year-old woman who had been one of the monk’s approximately 100 pupils for many years, heard through the grapevine that Mrs. Thera had died.  She hired two lawyers, the father-and-son team of Martin and Franklin Radoff, to locate the monk.  They found him residing at the Casa Descanso in Santa Monica, just a few miles from Dr. La Scola’s home.

Now that the monk had been located, Ms. Kaye and an unidentified man went to the rest home on May 14th of 1980 and decided to sneak him out and take him for a ride.  This wasn’t so much of a joyride as it was more of a kidnapping.  According to the press, he was dressed in “Two pairs of pants and unmatched shoes covered in feces.”

Clearly, he was not in his right mind to make legal decisions, but six days later the couple was married.  What I haven’t mentioned Mary Steele Kaye had been the supposedly celibate monk’s lover for many years.  The relationship ended in 1973 when the first Mrs. Thera learned of the affair.

A court order was issued on June 9th for the monk to be returned to his care facility, but the police had to do some searching first.  They ultimately located Thera at the home of his new wife’s daughter.  Notice I didn’t say he was found in the home.  He was found at the home.  Make that lying on the floor in the backseat of her car covered with a blanket.

Now it became a battle of words.  The doctor claimed that Ms. Kaye kidnapped and married the monk for the sole purpose of obtaining his fortune.  Her side claimed the doctor used the power of drugs and hypnosis to get Thera to agree to the adoption for the sole purpose of – you guessed it – obtaining his fortune.

Dr. Raymond La Scola.
Dr. Raymond La Scola. Image originally appeared on page 24 of the September 8, 1980 publication of the Los Angeles Times.

If this story wasn’t weird enough yet, it is only going to get weirder.

On August 22nd, La Scola was arrested by the LAPD.  The charges?  Illegally prescribing drugs, grand theft, intimidation of a witness, attempting to coerce a witness into changing his testimony, and murder with special circumstances.

Most of these charges stemmed from the testimony of a convicted drug dealer and forger named William Schenley who, in exchange for $2,000, testified that while the doctor was drunk one evening, “La Scola told me that he gave Georgia a shot of insulin to kill her, using insulin because it couldn’t be detected in an autopsy.”   This led to the charge of “murder with special circumstances” for which La Scola could receive the death penalty.

Schenley also claimed that La Scola had provided prescriptions to addicts in exchange for a little one-on-one action, if you know what I mean.

Investigators searched La Scola’s office, home, and car.  According to one investigator, “The house was unbelievable.  There were ants and big bags filled up with trash everywhere and rat feces were all over.  The rats had been gnawing at food in the cupboards; the place smelled awful.”

Of course, having a filthy home doesn’t make one guilty of murder.  But they noted that a number of the Theras’ valuable possessions had gone missing, which included one gold plated statue of Buddha.  And what may have been the most incriminating piece of evidence – even if it didn’t prove anything – La Scola had been driving around in Mrs. Thera’s Cadillac for more than a year with her ashes in the trunk.

And things were only to get worse for La Scola.  A few months later he was charged with attempting to hire hitmen to kill the law team of Radoff and Radoff.  Again, this was based on testimony by the ex-con William Schenley.

The doctor was also charged with two counts of grand theft.  The first claim was obvious to anyone following the case.  He was accused of stealing money and valuables from the Theras.  The second charge came as a surprise:  La Scola had supposedly coerced a New Orleans doctor named George Ronstrom into signing a will on September 24th of 1979 that left his entire million-dollar estate to him.  The will was nearly identical to the one that the Theras’ had signed.

Then things started to turn around on December 30th.  The two charges of soliciting murder against the Radoffs and a charge of witness tampering were thrown out because it was believed that Schenley had perjured himself while testifying in another case.

Prosecutors were now in a bind.  Their case was largely built on the testimony of a paid informant – one who had been a snitch in more than fifty cases – and now was suspected of lying on the witness stand.  If the case went to trial, could they get a conviction against La Scola?

The answer to that question came on Friday the 13th of March in 1981.  While considered an unlucky day for most, La Scola only had good fortune.  All but one of the charges against him were dropped.  The one remaining charge was for an improperly issued prescription for a heroin substitute that had been found by investigators.  La Scola pleaded no contest to the charge.  He was sentenced to time already served – the 77 days he spent in the county jail – and was placed on three years’ probation.

Ultimately, Dr. La Scola’s adoption was voided and the marriage between the monk and Mary Steele Kaye was annulled by the courts.

Ariya Dhamma Thera died of natural causes on August 20th of 1985.  He was 84 years old.  Dr. La Scola spent his last few years back in New Orleans before passing away on April 4th of 1994 at the age of 78.

So this whole thing got me thinking.  Sadly, both of my parents are no longer with us.  I’m in need of a rich, elderly couple that would be willing to adopt me.  I promise to take really good care of both of you as long as you leave your entire estate to me.  Any takers?

Useless?  Useful?  I’ll leave that for you to decide.

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