Electroshock Conversion: One Man’s Story

This is from my book, Leaving the Fold, Candid Conversations with Inactive Mormons (Signature, 1999) The interviewee graciously allowed me to use his name in the book. You can find the chapter on Signature Books website. Look under “out of print books.”

SCOTT B. interviewed by James W. Ure.

You must have had real guilt and conflict, or some conflict . . .

You know, I have to say I suffer from a lot of guilt.  I went through electroshock therapy from I think age thirteen to fifteen which was at that point a very vogue treatment specifically within the Mormon church.

This was this an attempt to make you heterosexual?

It was.  The way it came about is that my parents through a series of events found out that was my orientation and they must have sought some advice because one day I came home from school and my dad was sitting on the porch and I could tell he was upset.  He said, “Is this something you want to change, do you want to work on it?”  I thought they were very smart in finding out what they were going to approach me with, and they gave me a choice, so I thought, “Sure. I  might as well attempt to change.”  I wasn’t threatened by the change at thirteen.  So, I agreed to do it.  I have to say I never, I never believed that they knew exactly what the procedure was.  I think they would have been tremendously alarmed had they known (laughter) what actually went on and it was never discussed with me present that they knew.

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From a Stutter to a Roar

I doubt you’ve heard of Gertrude “Tommy” Tompkins.

She was a pilot in the Women’s Airforce Service Pilots—the WASPs. And her courage during World War II deserves a long-overdue tribute during Women’s History Month.

Born in 1913 in New Jersey, Tommy was a shy society girl.

Tommy’s timidity grew from a life-long stutter (called dyslalia) and compelled her to lead an introverted life.

In 1940 she fell in love with an American pilot flying for England in the Battle of Britain. Research indicates he was probably Stanley Michael Kolendorski and we know that Kolendorski, flying a British Hurricane, was shot down and killed over the English Channel in April, 1941.

On September 10, 1942—nine months after Pearl Harbor was bombed and brought America into the war against the Axis nations—an article appeared in the New York Herald Tribune with the following headline: Women Pilots to Fly for Army.

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About the Author

James W. Ure is a freelance journalist and an award-winning author of six previous books. He is a former executive director of the Sundance Film Festival and has written about aviation history, fly fishing and Western Americana. A journalism graduate of the University of Utah and a Hearst Foundation Fellow, Ure has written articles for numerous newspapers and magazines. He lives and writes in Salt Lake City.

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Helena is Missing

Heiress Helena van den Berg is bitter, depressed and she’s on the run from a marriage to a man she doesn’t love. She’s running from a betrayal by her father. And she’s trying to outrun the grief of a lost love.

In 1940 she meets Stan Adams in a chance encounter in France. He’s an American pilot fighting for the English. She’ll never see him again—or so she thinks. She returns to New York City to work for her father, and becomes vital in building the family business.

When Stan unexpectedly shows up in New York, Helena is surprised and delighted. They become lovers. They spend six glorious days together and promise to wait for one another.

Weeks later she receives a letter from his commanding officer: Stan has been shot down over Holland.

Now Helena’s father pressures her to marry Robert Goulding. Enfolded in grief for Stan and bullied by her father, she reluctantly and tearfully relents. Within days of her marriage her father announces that Robert will take over Helena’s part of the business so she can be a “housewife.” Emerging from her grief and shock, Helena is outraged. She feels betrayed by her father and feels foolish for being bullied into marrying Robert. She has come to hate the conventions of the day: stay-at-home wife, cocktails and boredom, inane conversation from her punster husband. After a few months of marriage her mental state has slid like ice off a pitched roof.

One day she impulsively boards a train headed west, leaving her former life behind. The train stops in Salt Lake City and she likes the embracing mountains that surround her. She assumes a new identity and reinvents herself as Leni Burke. In her new persona Leni finds freedom and excitement as she talks her way into a job as a newspaper woman where she meets a host of memorable characters and learns the trade. Her editor, Denis Cannon, lashes out at her mistakes—until he falls for her.

The war is ending. Suddenly she has tough choices to make as her past catches up with her.

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STOP THE PRESS: How the Mormon Church Tried to Silence the Salt Lake Tribune

This disturbing expose examines how the powerful Mormon Church tried to destroy the Salt Lake Tribune, a voice that had long been critical of many of its activities and its secrets. The author, a Mormon and a journalist who once worked for the Tribune, tells a story of secret deals, behind-the-scenes backstabbing, and manipulation of the political and legal systems by a church that controls the politics of Utah. Based on many interviews and extensive research, the book describes the history of enmity between the Church and the newspaper, which came to a head in 2000. In that year, the Tribune reopened an investigation into an 1857 murder of a wagon train of 120 men, women, and children passing through Utah. The Mountain Meadow Massacre had been conducted by highly-placed church members and historians have said it was condoned by Brigham Young, the leader of the Mormon Church. The published stories intensified efforts by the Church to kill the newspaper. When a hedge fund took ownership of the Tribune, the Church in 2013 saw an opportunity to take advantage and ensure the paper’s demise. Just as the paper appeared to be going under, a small group of citizens became the David that took down the Mormon Goliath and delivered the Pulitzer Prize-winning paper to a steady local owner who is willing to fight for its long-term survival.This is a cautionary tale about the dangers of mingling church and state and the ways in which big money can threaten the freedom of the press.

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Book Signing at King’s English

Join author Jim Ure for a discussion and signing of his new Young Adult nonfiction book, Seized by the Sun: The Life and Disappearance of World War II Pilot Gertrude Tompkins. Places in the signing line are reserved for those who purchase a copy of Seized by the Sun from The King’s English.

Event date:

Saturday, July 29, 2017 – 2:00pm

Event address:

The King’s English Bookshop 1511 South 1500 East Salt Lake City, UT 84105

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Seized by the Sun

Of the 38 Women Airforce Service Pilots (WASPs) confirmed or presumed dead in World War II, only one—Gertrude “Tommy” Tompkins—is still missing. On October 26, 1944, the 32-year-old fighter plane pilot lifted off from Mines Field in Los Angeles. She was never seen again. Seized by the Sun is the story of a remarkable woman who overcame a troubled childhood and the societal constraints of her time to find her calling flying one of the fastest fighter planes of World War II. It is also a compelling unsolved mystery.

Born in 1912 to a wealthy New Jersey family, Gertrude’s childhood was marked by her mother’s bouts with depression and her father’s relentless search for a cure for the debilitating stutter that afflicted Gertrude throughout her life. Teased and struggling in school, young Gertrude retreated to a solitary existence. As a young woman she dabbled in raising goats and aimlessly crisscrossed the globe in an attempt to discover her purpose.

As war loomed in Europe, Gertrude met the love of her life, a Royal Air Force pilot who was killed flying over Holland. Telling her sister that she “couldn’t stop crying, so she focused on learning to fly,” Gertrude applied to join the newly formed Women’s Airforce Service Pilots. She went on to become such a superior pilot that she was one of only 126 WASPs selected to fly fighter planes. After her first flight in the powerful P-51 Mustang, her stutter left her for good. Gertrude’s sudden disappearance remains a mystery to this day. Award-winning author James W. Ure leads readers through Gertrude’s fascinating life; provides a detailed account of the WASPs’ daily routines, training, and challenges; and describes the ongoing search for Gertrude’s wreck and remains. The result of years of research and interviews with Gertrude’s family, friends, and fellow WASPs, Seized by the Sun is an invaluable addition to any student’s or history buff’s bookshelf.

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