Justice For Colleen

January 17, 2010

I am reproducing below the letter I sent to the San Diego Police Department asking them to re-open their investigation of Colleen Conaway‘s death. (Update: also sent to Sen. Amy Klobuchar, see comments.)

If you are reading this you most likely already know the details surrounding this incident, and, like me have no doubt been touched by how cruel and unnecessary her death was. Seeing the way her family responded to this, and comparing it to the way James Ray and his pack of demented hyenas reacted, makes it clear that something has to be done about this. The police closed the investigation prematurely and won’t re-open it unless “new evidence” comes to light.

There is new evidence. How about dropping them a polite reminder that there are a lot of people watching this case unfold, and a lot of people who want to see justice done.

James Ray and his staff should be charged with negligent homicide for the death of Colleen Conaway.

Post address (a letter carries more weight than email)

San Diego Police Department
1401 Broadway, San Diego, CA 92101-5729

or email: citizensreviewboard@sandiego.gov

I’ve reproduced my letter to them below. You don’t need to repeat all the facts like I did. Just make it clear you know the details and are wondering how on earth such a case could be closed.

NOTE: I didn’t include any links in the original letter, but I include the most important ones here. Check them out if you’re unfamiliar.

Senator Amy Klobuchar (who called for a federal investigation into JRI and is also from Colleen’s homes state) has also received this letter, and a cover letter (see comments). Her address is

Senator Amy Klobuchar
302 Hart Senate Office Building
Washington, DC 20510


I live in Germany (and I’m Australian, not US), so I’m not sure if these are the best addresses. Use the comment space to say where you sent your letters, if you have more ideas!

To the Citizens Review Board.

I am writing to urge the San Diego Police Department to seriously consider re-opening the investigation to the death of Colleen Conaway, who committed suicide in the San Diego Plaza shopping mall on July 25 2009.

Ms Conaway’s death occured while participating in a role playing exercise under the supervision of James Arthur Ray and his staff, whom she had paid upwards of $5000 for their services. These are of course the same people under investigation for possible negligent homicide charges for three deaths and numerous injuries in Arizona on October 8 2009.

I emphasise that Ms Conaway’s death, like those in Arizona, occured during the seminar. Participants had agreed to a program aimed at “reprogramming” their psychology through various methods. These are likely to have included public humiliation, sleep deprivation and physically dangerous exercises aimed at inducing fear of death, all of which can induce psychotic episodes in some individuals.

The activity Ms Conaway was participating in at the time of her death was a “homelessness” exercise. Participants were expected to pass their belongings – cash, cell phones, identity papers, to James Ray’s staff, which Colleen did, before travelling to the San Diego Plaza in the same bus (as I understand it) as James Arthur Ray, and other staff members..

Ray has stated specifically that he offers this exercise as a chance for people to face their deepest fears and to “survive and thrive” as he puts it. People react differently – some finish up slipping completely into role and eating from garbage cans. It seems to me highly likely that Ms Conaway slipped into a psychosis faced with this situation, and Ray’s staff, exactly as in the sweat lodge in Arizona, neither recognised the danger, nor were prepared in any way to deal with it.

At 1.43 pm Ms Conaway climbed over a railing three storeys up, hesitated, raised her arms and fell to her death.. She landed on the roof of a kiosk where a group of children were queueing to buy toys. This last detail is especially what makes me believe she was in a psychotic state, and not in possession of her rational senses.

This event was witnessed by at least one of James Ray’s staff, Greg Hartle, who, incredibly, “twittered” about it on the internet using his cell phone. Ray, it seems, was eating lunch (according to his Twitter account, the next four day’s worth seem to have been deleted.) Hartle may not have initially recognised that it was a participant, but given that he was there specifically to supervise a group of people who he knew were being challenged to face their deepest fears and act homeless, such a dramatic event must have aroused at least some curiosity.

I have no way of knowing what he did after that, but it is clear that he, James Ray and staff member Michele Goulet got back on the bus at 4pm without Ms Conaway.

Ms Conaway’s body was taken to the San Diego Medical Center where it was signed in identified as Jane Doe, as her identity papers were in the hands fo James Ray’s staff.

Almost seven hours after staff member Greg Hartle witnessed Ms Conaway’s death, at 8.15 pm, JRI employee Michele Goulet called the cell phone which they themselves had collected from Ms Conaway, and left a message saying they were worried about her and would she urgently call them back. Did she really not know that Colleen didn’t have her cell phone? Staff collected all possessions themselves.

I wonder why she didn’t check Ms Conaway’s possessions? I wonder when the other participants got their possessions returned. I find it hard to imagine participants getting back to the seminar room, coming out of role, having their clothes returned to them but not their cell phones or their ID. Or did they continue to sit around in their homeless clothes, so it was still impossible to notice Ms Conaway’s possessions remained unclaimed?

I find this highly suspicious. This behavior is in my opinion consistent with someone who knows perfectly well that Ms Connaway was dead and wanted to avoid not only possible criminal charges, but also prevent any bad publicity.

At 8.30 pm Michele Goulet called mall security – note that at no time were participants asked if anyone had seen Colleen. Instead after talking to mall security and the medical Center she confirmed Colleen’s death. No announcement was made to participants, who were engaged in an impromtu comedy revue and party celebration.

At 10 pm, Michele Goulet left the party to fax a copy Ms Conaway’s driver’s license to the Medical Center, confirming the identity. Note that none of the staff found it necessary to view the body or answer questions about the circumstances.

Even more suspiciously, at 10.15 pm, another call was sent to Ms Conaway’s cell phone, asking her to “urgently call us” – despite having already confirmed her death and retrieved her ID from her papers. How is this plausible? They had found her ID papers, and other possessions. They must have found her cell phone too, so why call it again before handing it to authorities? They also seem to have destroyed the journal Ms Conaway kept in the group rather than pass it to authorities.

The next day, according to former JRI employee Melinda Martin (interviewed by ABC News about the sweat lodge deaths) on the day after Ms Conaway’s death she was told by James Ray that anyone asking about Colleen was to be told “We have found her, she’s fine, and she decided not to return to the group.” She noted that he had also called his lawyers.

I understand that the San Diego Police recently stated that they would not reopen the case unless “new evidence” comes to light. It seems to me that new evidence has indeed come to light. Firstly, the deaths in Arizona and the investigation arising from it have turned up a long pattern of extreme risk-taking, with inadequate monitoring, lack of safety procedures and absence of adequately trained staff.

I note the case of Rebekah Lawrence in Australia, a woman who jumped to her death during a psychotic episode which the court found was induced by a similar seminar to the one Ms Conaway was attending. Despite the fact that her death occurred after the seminar did not affect the court’s judgment that seminar organisers were to blame, for endangering her and providing inadequate supervision.

I find the details of Colleen Conaway’s death markedly more shocking that the incident in Australia. For one thing, just as in Arizona, the death occurred during the training. There is clear evidence that JRI staff witnessed the death and abondoned the body. Even if they truely did not know the dead person’s identity, and it really did take them nearly seven hours to figure out that it was in fact one of their participants, then that indicates grossly inadequate supervision. To not notice that a person in a seminar you are leading has died in front of your very eyes is grossly negligent.

I note that this is also the defense Ray’s lawyers are preparing for the Arizona deaths – that they didn’t realise people were dead, even thougfh it happened literally before their very eyes.

I assume that the information above was known to police at the time the case was closed. If so, I find the decision to close the case premature and somewhat credulous – if in fact my facts are correct. Furthermore, the Arizona case provides a new context which I believe could be considered new evidence, namely the context of an ongoing pattern of abuse, wrecklessness and negligence.

If some of the facts above were not known, then surely that constitutes new evidence for a number of possible crimes.

I strongly urge the San Diego Police to consider re-opening this case.

I am writing this from Germany, having followed the story through the international media, and online sources. I do not know any of the individuals involved. I assume you have access to all the information I mentioned, but would be happy to clarify any of the sources I used.



  1. Hello Yakaru!

    Your letter is very well written and expressed and I do hope that you are able to initiate some action and justice on behalf of Colleen and her family! However, I also would like to urge you to forward your letter to the congresswoman (sorry, I forget her name) in Colleen’s home state, who had opened some sort of file with the justice system or government or something. I think, with your help and very helpful letter, along with hers, something will indeed be done.


  2. B.R.A.V.O!!!!!!! why is it, a man in germany can see this, but an entire police dept. in california can’t…..I just want to say THANK YOU, from colleens entire family…john

  3. Yakaru,

    The activities at James Ray’s seminars are actually aimed at REMOVING fear of death… but you know, fear of death is often what keeps people ALIVE. If the fear of death can’t be completely removed JR settles for “dying with honor” attitudes, which don’t sound bad, until you realize that his definition of honor means “keeping silent” and “letting others do what they want without interfering even if they die or get hurt”.

    I hope James Ray was stupid enough to video record the seminar Colleen attended, because I JUST BET there’s evidence of intentional harm to participants.

    Also, the suggestion of forwarding the letter to Senator Amy Klobuchar sounds like a good idea.

  4. John,
    Thanks for your comment. I am really touched by the way you, Lynne and Colleen’s parents have coped with bringing this out into the open. I feel the loss and the injustice very deeply.

  5. Bonnie,
    I’ll look into it. But I’m an Australian citizen, not a US voter. Nevertheless, I also encourage other non-US citizens to send in at least an email to the police. Let them know there’s most likely some international media attention heading their way soon.

    Ok, I’ll look into sending it to Klobuchar, but as I say, as a non-voter….

    Re. fear of death, as I understand it a lot of shamanistic techniques are about encountering fear of death, and there are lots of fairly safe ways of doing it. But they tend to bring one in touch with oneself, and what Ray wants is techniques that help him strengthen his authority over his victims. A lot of the techniques he uses are ones I’ve heard of or know, and he (or more likely whoever he stole them from) has tweaked them a bit so that he becomes the focus of attention.

    Keep the great articles coming, Cassandra! And how about posting the complete transcript of the conference call, if that accords with whoever else is involved. I say that, because it would be good to get the whole way Ray constructs his statements to pull people over to his way of thinking.

  6. The part I purposefully omitted from the transcript is the part where participants were talking amongst themselves, and I don’t think it needs to be made public. They were not responsible and to make public what was said seems like a violation of their privacy. I certainly put in every word I had of James-BBQ-Ray’s.

  7. Thanks Cassandra.

    Perfectly fair. And in a way I’m pleased I don’t have to read more of that fellow’s blabber.

    That call seems to have disappeared from the media’s attention, now that it has become a “tragic accident”. I was kind of hoping the complete transcript of ray’s words would remind them what he was saying while he still believed he could talk his way out of it.

    James-BBQ-Ray has a certain ring to it!

  8. Update:
    I have just sent a letter along with a copy of the letter to police, to Senator Amy Klobuchar’s office.
    You can also send a short email refering to the matter here


    or better still, send post to:

    302 Hart Senate Office Building
    Washington, DC 20510
    Dear Senator Klobuchar,

    I am writing in regard to your call for a federal investigation into the activities of James Arthur Ray and his company, following the deaths of three during one of his seminar retreats in Arizona.

    As well as questionable business practises by James Ray International, a pattern of abuse and negligence has emerged, revealing dozens of hospitalizations and, in particular, the apparent suicide of one of his participants during a seminar barely three months before the sweat lodge incident. I refer here to the the death of Minnesota resident Colleen Conaway.

    It appears to me that the police investigation was prematurely closed. I would like to draw your attention to this matter, as it seems to me that there is clear evidence of a blatant cover up of the death by James Ray and his staff, as well as destruction and falsification of evidence. This evidence has emerged since the investigation was closed.

    I have included a copy of a letter I sent to the Citizen’s Review Board of the San Diego Police Department, and I would like to know your position on the matter, and ask for your support in calling for the investigation to be re-opened.

    Please note, I am an Australian citizen, living in Germany. I am writing purely because I think a grave injustice has been done to an innocent woman who trusted a well known person, promising he was both interested and capable of helping her. Ray is of course an internationally known figure, and the way this case is handled has implications beyond the borders of the US.

  9. Yakaru, you are my hero! You’re not even in the US and you’re lobbing the lawmakers and law keepers to do what right against the seminar industry! My letter goes out to the SD PD and SD County Sheriffs Dept tonight!

  10. Thanks, Amy. That makes me happy! I’m impressed with what you are doing as well. And it is great that you are writing.

  11. Yakaru, Wow, what an excellent letter. I am Colleen’s cousin and I applaud you for taking the time to do this. It makes my heart feel good to think that someone who didn’t even know Colleen cares enough to help stop JAR from hurting others and helping our family hopefully get some justice for what he put Colleen through.

    Thank you so much to everyone who has responded to this msg and may God bless you and your families for love you show others!

  12. Thank you for commenting, Critter!

    No one should have to go through what you and your family are going through. They can’t be allowed to get away with it.

    I can almost understand why the police initially let it pass – they wouldn’t have known exactly what Ray was doing to people – “self-help seminar” sounds pretty tame, and they would only have had Michele Goulet’s description. And who knows what she told them. I won’t even speculate.

  13. Hi Yakaru,

    I just received a received a reply from the San Diego Sheriff’s Dept. They have forwarded my letter to the SDPD and to the Medical Examiner’s Office. (That was one I didn’t think of.) Hopefully now that James has been arrested they will re open the case.

    Thanks for all your inspiration!

    Amy Hall

  14. Amy, all I can say is that I’m really impressed with the stand you are taking, and the way you have coped with a massive case of cognitive dissonance – or maybe spiritual dissonance is the word?

    Now that your former colleagues have been granted immunity (which is of course a pretty clear indication of being guilty as hell), I hope that more pressure on the SD authorities might open the possibility of a them facing at least a bit of justice.

    That sounds good that the medical examiner’s office has your letter. I think your voice carries a lot of weight. I noticed (from a comment on the Droidosphere) that another person immediately involved also wrote on behalf of Colleen.

  15. Hi Yakaru,

    Wow, that’s cool that there is actually a name for what I’m feeling! :) Makes it a little easier to take knowing that I’m not the only one that’s felt this way.

    I intend to follow up and follow up and follow up in the Colleen Conaway case until they say it’s been reopened. Someone from JRI has to take some responsibility for this tragedy!

    JRI never told the employees about the suicide. And there was one employee that encouraged people that were obviously mentally ill to register for the seminars. She said that it was just our judgments on the people and we weren’t Dr. so how would we really know! She said that James could handle it. She’s one of the people that I’d like to see get some type of punishment for Colleen’s death, because she knew about it and covered it up. And obviously James couldn’t handle it!

    If I’d known about the suicide in July when it happened I would have quit and spoken up for Colleen then.

  16. I want to say ” THANK YOU” to amy from the conaway family…We too, wish you would have known in july, about colleens death, MAYBE….three very nice people would still be alive, if you had known…..p.s. it helps us to hear you say this….thank you…john

  17. […] was the first of four pointless deaths inside of three months. It was successfully (and I believe criminally) covered up by Death Ray and […]

  18. I was in the room when the group reformed.
    There was no mention of anything going on with any participant at any time.
    However, having said that, there was a gentleman that stood up to share his experience. He’d witnessed her ‘fall to death’. Ray shut him down in a nanosecond. He cut him off period. No discussion.
    Months later, I had a personal conversation regarding Colleen’s death. He told me outright, that at no time did they know anything had happened to her and that someone from the JRI team had been out searching for her but were unable to find her. She was never mentioned within the group at any time EVER during the program or at the evening celebration.

    They had our name badges which we had to give them prior to exiting the bus. When we got back into the bus we had ‘make sure our buddy was there’ otherwise the bus would not leave.
    All buses left together on time.
    I guess my question is, why aren’t the other’s being held responsible for any of this? Are not the staff just as accountable for their actions as Ray himself?
    I was to go to another event in Las Vegas. My credit card had been charged my flight booked (non-refundable fare) and the venue pulled out as a result of the Sedona Tragedy. I’m lucky, I called my credit card company and got my money back immediately as he breached his contract. Many others were not so lucky and still have not been reimbursed todate (2011).

  19. I really appreciate your comment Sue. I hope others who were there will also realize what happened and find the courage to speak out openly.

    I also think many would be interested to know your general impressions of the entire event, if you would be willing to share some more.

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