`Space cult' members charged in death plot

Four in Carroll held in murder-for-hire

October 04, 2001|By Dan Fesperman and Sheridan Lyons | Dan Fesperman and Sheridan Lyons,SUN STAFF

A reputed leader of a space alien cult in the suburbs of Carroll County was charged yesterday along with three associates in an alleged murder-for-hire scheme.

State police allege that Scott Caruthers, 56, plotted last month with his wife, Dashielle Lashra, 42, live-in companion Dulsa Naedek, 42, and friend David S. Pearl, 46, to hire a man to kill former business associate David Gable and three other men in exchange for an estimated $110,000 worth of stock.

Police said the plot was foiled by the intended hit man. Court documents identified him as Amir Tabassi, who sometimes served as Caruthers' bodyguard. Tabassi contacted the FBI, prompting an investigation that began late last month. Police arrived on Caruthers' doorstep at 2 a.m. yesterday to arrest him and the two women, seizing two handguns, computers, diaries and other materials during a search of the house in the 500 block of Scott Drive.

Pearl was arrested at his home, in the 100 block of Masters Court in Westminster.

Each suspect was charged with one count of solicitation and conspiracy to commit murder. Charging documents remained sealed last night because the intended victims feared for their safety, police said. Gable's name appeared on a document at the District Court commissioner's office.

The charges filed yesterday are the latest bizarre turn in the life of Caruthers, a self-styled inventor and poet whose business and personal gambits have attracted at least $2.7 million from hundreds of investors and admirers. His plans have left a trail of broken families, bankruptcies and lawsuits, while attracting the attention of state and federal regulators.

Acquaintances describe him as a charismatic man prone to invention, a habit beginning with his name - he was born Arthur Brook Crothers in Anne Arundel County.

He dropped out of high school to enlist in the Army, but was discharged before completing basic training. He held a variety of low-paying jobs, maintaining to others that he also led an exciting secret life as a test pilot, spy, astronaut and government assassin.

Not until 1984, when he came up with an idea for a no-grip exercise weight known as Strongput, did Caruthers begin attracting investors. It was while promoting this venture that he met his co-defendants. His stories of his "secret life" took a further turn toward the bizarre, including revelations that he was a space alien working for the government who would someday save his followers from cataclysmic "Earth changes."

In a 1999 interview with The Sun, Strongput marketing director Bob Bonnell described how Caruthers and Lashra (Irmina Dzambo before she met Caruthers) took him aside to tell him of a "mother ship" that they communicated with through their cats.

Bonnell recalled that Caruthers said his role was "to prepare the world, because everyone allied with him would be rescued before any calamity hit. ... All of that precipitated my saying, `Well, you know, Scott, some people believe Jesus Christ is going to return to the world and save people.' And he said, `Who do you think I am?'"

While Bonnell recoiled from the tale, others were drawn in. Owings Mills attorney David Pearl, who met Caruthers while doing legal work for Stringput, became a company officer. His law partner, Richard Gershberg, befriended Caruthers, as did their wives, Susan Pearl and Elaine Gershberg.

Gershberg's sister, Debra Hackerman, went to work for Strongput and then left her husband. She moved into Caruthers' house and later changed her name to Dulsa Naedek. Pearl and Gershberg moved their families from Owings Mills to Westminster, and all of them began writing journals of their daily thoughts, which they would fax to Caruthers, often expressing their intense devotion to him and a space-based organization called BDX (Beta Dominion Xenophilia). A private detective hired by Naedek's ex-husband, as part of a child custody case, later unearthed many of the faxes in a search of Caruthers' garbage.

Caruthers has always denied that he leads a cult. He said the journal writings were attempts to help him write science fiction.

"To my understanding, cults are usually well-financed," he said in a 1999 interview. "They usually deal with problems, situations or issues - whatever you want to call them - in a different manner than we deal with things. ... We certainly don't have the power to do anything to anyone, nor do I desire to. And the reason for that is, there is no cult. There never was."

Others disagreed.

When Strongput went broke, most investors lost their money. But Caruthers and a handful of others, including Lashra, Pearl and Naedek, ventured onward in other companies that, for a while, made them wealthy on paper as stock rose in value.

It was then that Caruthers met David Gable, one of the alleged targets of the murder plot. Gable worked closely with Caruthers in transactions later scrutinized by financial regulators, but eventually parted ways.

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