At 1:30 pm on January 5th, 2006, Carla Jean Shaffer’s body was found dead, floating in a small pond near the Orcas Island airport in Eastsound, Washington. She was 52 years old. Three weeks before, on December 14th, Carla suffered 30–40 stab wounds, a broken rib, a punctured liver, a damaged breastbone and had received a blunt force strike to her face, smashing in several teeth. Thirteen years later there is still no definitive conclusion about how she died. Officially ruled an accidental drowning, and self-inflicted stabbing, many people, including Carla’s family and friends, have never accepted this version of events. For the first time ever, the story of this unsolved mystery is being told.
UPDATE: Three-time Emmy winning CBS reporter Paul LaRosa also reported on this story and hired a “well-regarded” and “prominent” Medical Examiner in the field to independently review Carla’s autopsy and hospital report. He believes she was murdered and is “stunned” that her death was ruled an accidental drowning. SEE STORY: Medical Examiner Calls Carla Shaffer’s Death a Homicide.
By Be Scofield
January 1st, 2019
When I showed up on the doorstep of county prosecutor Randall Gaylord’s home the morning after Thanksgiving he answered the door wearing a red and white striped apron and was holding a spatula in one hand. “Randy? Hi. Um, hello, sorry to bother you,” I said. “I’m writing a story about a woman who died on Orcas Island about ten years ago. I believe you oversaw her case.”
I thought his home would be highly secured given that he was the prosecutor and coroner. Or that he’d be suspicious of a stranger on his doorstep. But this was Orcas Island–a tiny community where crime is almost non-existent–so he invited me in without hesitation.
I wanted to know how and why Carla Jean Shaffer, a beautiful dance instructor, mother and artist, had died 13 years ago under suspicious circumstances. “Drowning is a death of exclusion” he told me as we sat at his dining room table. “When a body is found in water and the death cannot be explained in any other way it’s essentially presumed a drowning.” He said there was no foul play, no other individuals suspected and there were no drugs or poison in her system. But there also wasn’t enough supporting evidence for him to rule it a suicide. Thus, the coroner’s report reads “Accidental Drowning.”
How would Carla, who was known to be an excellent swimmer, accidentally drown in a small pond only a few hundred yards from her home? That’s the question I posed to officer Herb Crowe. He was one of the responding deputies on the scene. “We couldn’t figure out exactly if she fell in the pond and drowned or wanted to commit suicide. I think it was more of an accidental thing.” I asked if he meant that she went swimming. “No. I think she walked close to the shoreline and she fell in. And I don’t know if she was in some type of altered mental state or something when that occurred.”
During an interview with Randall, his deputy prosecutor and a detective several weeks later at the Friday Harbor courthouse, I pressed them about Carla “falling in” to the pond and drowning. Randall said she couldn’t have just fallen in as the pond was even with the shoreline at the time. “If she had been suffocated and then put into the pond would you have been able to tell in an autopsy?” Randall said no, most likely not. He admitted he had no idea what events led to her death. It was a mystery.
“Legend has it that just off the shore from Eastsound, beyond a tiny island in the bay, there is an energy vortex that provides an unseen source of peace and well-being to those who are ready to accept it.” This area is the “place to start for mysterious feelings and vibes” reads a post on a site for a local vacation rental. It’s one of the many things that makes Orcas Island a deeply magical, powerful and even haunting place.
When I arrived at the Outlook Inn on Saturday, October 27th, I had no idea the hotel sat directly in front of this vortex. I couldn’t see it because it was a dark and rainy night. But I could feel it.
Last year, on the exact same day, October 27th, I had arrived in Sedona, Arizona–another town known for it’s powerful vortexes and energy. I had rushed there on short notice because my astrologer looked at my “solar return.” It’s the forecast for the upcoming year. The entire year prediction changes based on where you are physically on your birthday. I had mentioned I wanted to head west, possibly to Sedona in a month or so. He put Sedona into his program and said “Go. Get there by your birthday. It will have a huge impact on your year ahead.”
I did make it to Sedona and within a few days of being there, I was surrounded by information and energy about Bentinho Massaro. I would end up spending a month infiltrating his group and writing about it. The story went viral, getting 200,000 views in a few weeks and 18 days after I published, the cult leader fled Sedona and went into hiding.
This year my astrologer and I did the same thing. “Stay near or to the west of Eugene, Oregon” he said. He sent an image of a map with lines, one of which extended from north to south directly through Seattle on a slight diagonal. After traveling for several months I had managed to make it to Portland around October 25th and thought I may just stay there. But on the morning of the 27th–one day before my birthday–I started feeling this pull north. At first I thought it was just a scenic trip and that I’d return. But as I drove I felt a magnetic pull north. “Maybe the Olympic mountains” I texted him. “They look epic.” He was a huge yes. But as I drove through Olympia I had this pull to keep going. And then almost out of nowhere I felt this urge to go to Orcas Island.
And so the night before my birthday I somehow ended up on Orcas Island. I awoke on October 28th in front of a vortex. It could have been in Portland, in the front seat of my car, where I had awoken the day before. It could have been Olympia or Seattle. But it wasn’t. It was Orcas Island. It was a mystery.
Afew days after I arrived I Google searched “meditation Orcas Island” and discovered a group called Sambodha (formerly “The Children of the Light” and “Ma ‘Pushan”) run by a spiritual teacher named Aaravindha Himadra formerly known as Surya (real name Janis Briedis). He and his wife Ashayrah Himadra (real name Jill Peterson Briedis) have lived on the island and run the group for decades. Aaravindha’s book “Immortal Self,” published by Sounds True, captures his journey through the Himalayas where he lived with “Amartya Masters” whom he claims he has a personal spiritual relationship with. His book claims to reveal a “legendary and secluded spiritual tradition” that is a “beacon of hope for spiritual seekers.” According to a former Sambodha member, Aaravindha blends together a variety of different spiritual teachings and many of his followers believe he is enlightened. Members in his Facebook group refer to him as a “Master.”
I took one look at Aaravindha’s photo and my cult radar immediately went off. I decided to dig around and sure enough there was an article from a former member who had spoken with other former members who had left.
“What I discovered is that all of them said that Aaravindha has two faces. The one he presents to the public is all about love, kindness and humility, and the other one behind the scenes is paranoid, narcissistic and shaming. Many of them said that he lies and manipulates, and this is something I also saw sometimes, like things didn’t quite add up and yet nobody ever called him out on it…Some of the things I heard were shocking and what I would call emotionally abusive.
I finally left because I could see that things were getting weird with the organization and Aaravindha was getting always more paranoid, accusing people of things that were ridiculous, telling people what they should think politically, and also kicking out some members for reasons that I couldn’t understand. In at least one instance I know of, he told other members to unfriend the kicked out person on Facebook and basically shun them.”
Several weeks later I spoke with a former member who lives on the island. She also said Sambodha was cult-like. “He had a way of manipulating people because he could see what your issues were and he would use them against people.” She said he began making the group “the only way” and said she “watched him get corrupted.” She said, “Maybe aspects of his own self” had become corrupted by dark forces.
A cult is a group defined by a charismatic leader who is the source of power and authority for the members. There is a process of indoctrination and often there is some form of abuse from the leader. An in-group jargon is used as well.
By the accounts of her friends, family and a current Sambodha member, Carla Shaffer had joined Sambodha several years before she died. One friend said she had “become enamored” with the group and that she “attended meetings regularly.” Partners Stacy Ramillah and Dave Lutz were Carla’s neighbors in her Opal Commons community and they were part of the group as well. Dave Lutz told me that Carla had been in Sambodha for at least three years before her death and had several personal healing sessions with Aaravindha. Carla had gotten very close to Aaravindha and his wife Ashayrah in the time she was involved with them.
According to her ex-husband, Jim Shaffer-Bauck, Carla had cut off contact with many of her usual friends after joining the group. This is common for people who join high-demand cult type groups. One friend noted how she had changed towards the end of her life. “There is virtually no resemblance to the Carla I spoke with about a month ago and have known for over 20+ years. She mostly warned of dark, evil forces and encouraged prayers and for everyone to stay in the light.” And, like many group members, Carla also adopted a new identity and name. It was Nahmine Attar.
As I investigated Sambodha I asked locals if they had heard of the group. Most people had not. Despite being a small population, the island is expansive and Aaravindha lived near Deer Harbor, deep in the woods, about 20 minutes from town. He also spent a lot of his time in Europe teaching to his large following there.
I learned that there were several active members on the island, probably around 10-15 in total. A few even worked at the local food co-op. They didn’t have a center but would meet at Aaravindha’s home or rent various properties on the island to host Sambodha events. Around 30 people showed up to Aaravindha’s Karunya Marga Seminar in Deer Harbor in April 2018.
Prior to her death Carla may have been trying to leave the group. Jim’s research notes from the time indicate Carla told a friend about another side of Sambodha. His notes read, “Carla had told her she had discovered that there was a dark side to the Sambodha group and that she wanted out.” Jim also described a time when Carla dramatically confronted Aaravindha during lunch at a restaurant called Chimayo. Jim was eating in the back, facing Aaravindha’s table. “Carla walked in very briskly, pulled a chair up to their table, spoke vigorously directly to Janis (Aaravindha), then got up and left. Janis never responded. She saw me as she left; she appeared to be quite angry.” Another long-term resident of Orcas who was present also remembered the confrontation. And Carla’s ex-boyfriend had said that around the time of the stabbing she told him that she was afraid. Another friend of hers I spoke with also told me Carla was afraid at the time.
“Carla had told her she had discovered that there was a dark side to the Sambodha group and that she wanted out.”
So, there I was, one year to the date from my Sedona experience investigating another cult. I figured it’d be similar to Bentinho–grandiose claims, verbal abuse and cult indoctrination. Same story with a different spin. Nothing I hadn’t seen before. But once again the mystery proved much deeper than I ever imagined.
On December 14th, 2005 at around 9:00 am Carla Shaffer was found naked on the front lawn of a home near the Orcas Center. The homeowner told police at the time Carla was disoriented, covered in blood and walking quickly towards him. When she called his name he was surprised, as he could not recognize her at first. He proceeded to take her inside and call 911.
Carla had driven there in the middle of the night completely naked in the freezing cold with an iced windshield. She was “looking for light” she later told the police and went to the Orcas Center to watch the sunrise. One person reported that she almost drove him off the road as she was in the wrong lane, another said he saw her driving with her head out of the window.
A first responder on the scene reported to the police that Carla was afraid and hesitant to speak about what happened. She said Carla told her “They are trying to control my mind” several times and expressed concern “they could get” her if she went to the hospital in Bellingham. The man who discovered her told police that Carla said she was afraid “he” may get her. His wife told police that Carla asked her if she knew anything about mind control and told her “they’re controlling my mind.” She said a “shudder went through” Carla’s body upon saying this. Carla also told her “don’t let anyone in.”
Prior to driving to the Orcas Center Carla experienced a traumatic incident in her home. According to official documents she suffered 30-40 stab wounds, her jaw was smashed in and one or two teeth were forced out of place, a rib was broken, her lung was damaged or collapsed, she had a black eye, her liver was slightly punctured and her breastbone was significantly damaged. There were also two, finely made identical slits on her eyelids. She had also apparently been unconscious for some period of time.
What actually happened to her remained a mystery to those investigating the case because she told them she was attacked by a male spirit that was non-human. She had been sleeping naked in her sleeping cabin behind her home and when she went inside to use the bathroom she said someone grabbed her. The detective who interviewed her in the hospital wrote down what she told him happened in his police report.
“Carla said ‘someone grabbed me as I ran into the house…I didn’t see its face.’ I asked where she had been grabbed and forced to the ground and was told, ‘I didn’t see their face or physically feel his hands…I do not believe it was a physical person.’ Carla told me she believed that it was a ‘struggle between Light and Dark…light being good and dark being evil.’ Carla added ‘I believe it was a male spirit or force as it was not a physical person…I could feel the force only. I could feel the repeated blows but I could not feel his hands.’ The voice sounded male but it was distorted, like something from a science fiction movie, it was a spirit voice.”
Carla told me that after the wounds were made to her eyes she could no longer see (blood) but she was ‘listening to the voices from the Light that was helping me.’ Carla added that the Light kept telling her to look at the light.
Carla said she didn’t know how long the attack went on but was on the floor kneeling when she was stabbed. Carla said she was also hit in the face with a one-gallon jar of red beans.”
He also described the treating surgeon’s perspective on her injuries.
“I had also talked to Dr. Fox, Carla’s surgeon and she said she found no defensive wounds on Carla. Dr. Fox said that usually shows that there was no attacker on an assault like this one, but she had problems with the number of times she was stabbed and the locations (eyes done slow no injury to the eye). Dr. Fox said one of the wounds was made hard enough to break a rib and force an injury to the lung. I was told that an injury like that one would take some strength to do.”
The surgeon was reportedly quoted by a witness as saying “If I had to swear in a court of law that those injuries were self-inflicted I couldn’t do so.”
A doctor who visited Carla in the hospital noticed the fine slits on her eyelids and reportedly remarked that he had seen them before and they were ritual markings. These carefully made cuts are what the detective described above as “eyes done slow no injury to the eye.”
Because Carla wouldn’t name her attacker(s) and because there were no defensive wounds on her, the incident was ruled self-inflicted.
Some have suggested that she refused to name them out of fear of retribution. A close friend who visited Carla in the hospital said that Carla told her the story “just needs to be this way for now.” When a long-term friend asked what really happened Carla replied: “I will call you, we will talk.” The friend told police Carla “said it’s very complicated but huge.” And Carla was very adamant about not stabbing herself. “I did not do this to myself” she said while in the hospital.
Carla would end up spending around two weeks in the hospital in Bellingham, the last few days of which were spent in the psych unit to evaluate her mental health.
She was released at the end of December into the care of Markus Naugle and Laura Wheelock. According to current Sambodha teacher Dave Lutz, they were both involved with Sambodha. Aaravindha describes Markus and Laura as “close friends.” Carla stayed with them until January 3rd, when it appears she became suspicious of them and demanded to immediately go home.
While at home she was being watched over by two friends Deborah Martyn and Clay Philbrick. Deborah was her neighbor in Opal Commons and Clay was Deborah’s partner. They would be the last reported people to see her alive.
The night she arrived home–only days after leaving the hospital and a few weeks since the stabbing incident–she went missing. That evening Deborah and Clay called the police to report that they couldn’t find her. When the officer arrived he found her in her sleeping cabin. The police report reads: “Clay Philbrick claimed that he, Martyn and Deputy Taylor all attempted to waken Shaffer but that she was ‘just absolutely stiff and unresponsive, like stone.’ Philbrick and Martyn asked Deputy Taylor to just leave her alone and let her sleep. Deputy Taylor agreed inasmuch as Shaffer was clearly breathing and did not appear to be in distress.” Carla was known to be a “very light” sleeper I was told. Why didn’t she wake up when three people tried?
The next evening Deborah said she checked on Carla at 11:00 pm and she was home. At 1:15 am she checked again and she said she was gone. Deborah and Clay said they believed it was too late at night to call the police and that they wouldn’t do a search. Yet, they had called the police the night before with no issue.
For some reason that evening, Aaravindha was called for advice on what to do. He said in an interview with me that Laura Wheelock called him, which meant that Deborah and Clay must have called Markus and Laura and told them Carla was gone. Deborah had called the police when she went missing the previous evening. But the night before Carla was found dead Deborah and Clay did not call the police, instead, Aaravindha was called.
At around 9:00 am the next morning Deborah Martyn called the police to report Carla missing. A search crew was formed. At 1:30pm on January 5th, 2006 Carla Jean Shaffer’s body was found face down, floating 12 feet from the shore in a pond a few hundred yards from her home. How she got there is unknown.
“Carla Shaffer was murdered!” A voice rang out from a car parked down a few spots from me. I looked up and I saw a young woman’s eyes focused intently on me. My body began pulsing with chills. She had overheard me asking a man in the parking lot if he knew where a pond was around there. “A woman died in a pond about ten years ago. Her name was Carla Shaffer.” He had no idea.
“How do you know Carla Shaffer?” the woman asked. I replied: “I’m a journalist investigating her death.” As she got out of her car and started walking up to my car my body became overwhelmed with vibrations. Deep, full body chills. I’ve never experienced anything so powerful. I got out of my car to continue the conversation.
“None of her family or friends believe she committed suicide or stabbed herself. I’ve been trying to raise awareness about this for years. There was a woman who was cleaning up the blood the morning of the attack. She was into a bunch of weird occult stuff. A guy did a bunch of research on the case years ago. She was murdered in some type of satanic ritual.”
At that point my body was vibrating so strongly that I could barely compose myself.
“We’ve been waiting for someone to come” she said. “I’m one of the most prominent writers in the world exposing cults” I replied. We both stared at each other in disbelief.
The way I happened to run into this woman is a mystery. After I first googled “meditation Orcas Island” I began asking locals if they knew anything about the group. A guy mentioned that there was a death associated with the cult. He said something like she had mental illness and committed suicide as did several island residents. At a bonfire a few days later a guy told me that there were some people who believed she was killed by the group. I was stunned.
As I gathered more info and spoke to more locals I got a fuller picture of what was happening. One person at a shop in town who knew Carla told me the backstory. And then a guy told me where he thought the pond was where she was found. I figured I’d go check it out.
He told me it was near an area called Bonnie Brae. I found the community and drove through but didn’t see any pond. I turned right out of the development and drove for awhile only to return once again to Bonnie Brae. Still no pond. I saw an old woman and asked her but she had no idea. “Go to the Opal community office right there at the end of the road. They’ll know.”
When I pulled in I saw the guy in the parking lot. I rolled down my window and asked him about the pond and Carla. The woman who overheard me was just about to close her door and drive away. Had I arrived seconds later our encounter never would have occurred. I never would have gotten the next crucial steps of the story.
I thought back to last year in Sedona when I had had a similar experience. After I figured out the cult ambitions of Bentinho Massaro and that I was there to expose him I laid down on my bed and chills pulsed through my body. That experience lasted a few minutes.
This time it was different. The sensations were much stronger and lasted hours after randomly running into this woman. As I returned back to the Golden Tree hostel where I was staying at the time I recounted the uncanny encounter I had just had to my landlord. As I did I became overwhelmed once again with these pulsing, chill-like sensations. It was eerie. It made no logical sense. It was a mystery.
When the two detectives first arrived on the scene at Carla’s home where the stabbing incident had taken place they were “very surprised” to find her neighbor Deborah Martyn cleaning up the blood. They had not immediately been able to secure the crime scene because Carla was found near the Orcas Center, not at her home. The police told Deborah to stop what she was doing and quickly leave the house. She was taken to the police station and ordered to recall everything she had seen, what she had moved and where things were.
Deborah told the police that another neighbor, Molly Roberts, had called her and said the cat had made a mess and asked her to clean it up. Molly also told the police the same story. She saw Carla’s gate and doors open and went in to investigate. The scene in her home was a far cry from a cat’s mess. There were four bloody knives on the floor, broken glass, a 7-inch hole in the window, blood on the floor, blood spatters on the walls and appliances, a blood-soaked rug near the front door, blood smears on the handrails and doorknob and a broken jar of lentils on the floor. Molly insisted during an interview with me that it was not obvious a crime had been committed based on what she witnessed. She said there wasn’t a lot of blood on the floor.
In her written police statement Deborah described what she had done at the scene: “washed floor, walls, picked up tea towels, put knives in bowl to soak, rearranged dishes. Took mostly full garbage bag that I added the broken glass to out to the garbage can and removed top garbage bag and put the white plastic one under it to lower risk of others getting cut.” She said she was using a “wash tub and green cloth and yellow rubber gloves, broom, dust pan, orange cleaner. I dumped water with blood, water, lentils, glass…etc. out back of the porch near fern.”
Thus, by her own account, Deborah walked into what was a messy crime scene and soaked multiple bloody knives, washed the walls and floors, cleaned up the glass and put the trash bag with all of the evidence underneath the other trash bag in the can. Because of her actions, a proper forensic investigation of the scene could not be completed.
There were other strange or suspicious actions of people at the time as well.
One neighbor said in the weeks following Carla’s death people were seen in Carla’s bedroom dressed in black robes performing ceremonies in the middle of the night. Another neighbor also told police: “In the next two weeks her house lights were on most nights between midnight and 2:00 am, sometimes 3:00 am.” Carla’s friend said that Sambodha member Stacy Ramillah admitted to being in Carla’s home performing rituals at the time. After the locks were changed by a neighbor there were no longer any sightings of group members in the home.
A woman who entered Carla’s house after her death said “she felt an energy that made her nauseous.”
Locals who know about Sambodha, and particularly those who lived near them, said they knew of their “strange occult practices.” One person said “For years people on the island would talk about them doing ritual sacrifices in their group and say there was a demonic aspect.” One person I spoke with also mentioned ceremonies in black robes and nude rituals. Other locals I spoke with said they also heard about these things.
Perhaps Carla had gotten deep enough into Sambodha’s “inner circle” to discover these occult practices and rituals. Perhaps this is what she was referring to when she told a friend she had discovered a “dark side” to the group and had wanted out.
Aaravindha Himadra and Clay Philbrick gave peculiar accounts about Carla’s death.
Jim Shaffer-Bauck had a note in his research that said Aaravindha had said “he had contacted Carla outside her body before she was found. He had tried contacting her in her body but it gave him headaches.”
Current Sambodha teacher Dave Lutz said after Carla had died Aaravindha used his psychic abilities to describe to him Carla’s final moments. “Aaravindha said she was determined to take her life, that she failed the first time and she just walked into the water and let the water take her away.” Another person said Aaravindha told them the same thing and described how the cold water took over Carla’s body.
Clay Philbrick, who was one of the last people to see Carla alive, told police that the morning of the search he consulted with two psychics (one of whom is believed to be Aaravindha). Before Carla’s body was found in the pond Clay said that the psychic told him she was in a cold body of water east of her home. And Clay told police that his own vision powers allowed him to see that Carla was near water but that he was afraid of using these powers because he may attract alien beings. Thus, the last reported person to see Carla alive told police he knew the correct location of the body before it was found. And this was all only hours after Aaravindha had been notified that Carla was missing.
He also gave police a rather incredible account of what happened to Carla when she was stabbed. The “Rife” machine he references was an electronic energy device Carla was using to heal herself and others. The detective who interviewed him wrote what Clay had said.
“He claimed that he has visions and learned from an unearthly being that the RIF machine had ‘caused a disturbance in the time/space continuum and five beings slipped through.’ He said that two angels stood between the beings and Carla’s neighbor’s home and prevented the beings from harming the neighbor. He went on to claim that five beings had ‘slipped through’ but had no intention of staying. They were only here to retrieve one of their fellow beings who had come through before and had wanted to stay. That being was allegedly the one who stabbed Shaffer.”
Deborah also told one of Carla’s friends that Carla was not attacked by a human but rather a spirit entity.
Clay was staying in Carla’s home as a caregiver the last two nights before she was found dead. The detective wrote what he told him happened two nights before she was found “He claimed that ‘the vibes’ in the house were so strong and negative that he awoke in a panic and ran out of the house. He said that he went to Martyn’s house, awoke Martyn, and explained about the negative vibes. He said a short while later they went to Shaffer’s sleeping cabin and discovered that she had been missing.” It was then that they called the police.
The next night Clay claimed that he and Deborah “stroked her until she fell asleep.” Once again Clay said he was unable to sleep in Carla’s house due to the “bad vibes.” Deborah stayed up and checked on Carla several times throughout the night. At some point she told Clay that Carla had disappeared again. They searched for her and decided to not call the police because they didn’t believe a search could be conducted at night. They waited until around 9:00 am and called the police to report her missing.
Jim Shaffer-Bauck was in Deborah Martyn’s home on January 5th, just hours before Carla was found. Several Sambodha members had gathered there. He said Clay began speaking about a “disturbance” he heard in the home the night she went missing. Jim said Clay quickly changed the subject as if he recognized he shouldn’t be talking about it. “It was like he started to tell what he had seen and then stopped himself.”
When one of Carla’s friends asked Deborah Martyn if she really believed Carla stabbed herself 30-40 times Deborah replied “Carla just knew it was her time.”
Several friends of Carla’s suspected the involvement of Aaravindha and Sambodha in her death. They gave statements to police describing Sambodha as cult-like and highlighting unusual behavior by members. In mid-March someone actually put posters up in town with a photo of Aaravindha that read “Wanted For the Torture and Murder of Carla Shaffer.”
Several people, including Sambodha members, were on scene at Carla’s home and the surrounding area at the time she was found. One person who was there saw Markus Naugle and Laura Wheelock, Deborah Martyn, Clay Philbrick, Stacy Ramillah and Dave Lutz.
Jim had heard Carla may have been found and started to walk down the road to the pond. He was intercepted by Markus Naugle. Markus walked Jim up to Seaview Street, where Jim got into a Jeep that was stopped there. Soon the car was surrounded by a group of people including Aaravindha and Ashayrah. Jim said, “they were right there keeping control of things.” They all gathered around the Jeep and prevented him from going down to the pond he said.
In Jim’s notes from his research into the case, he writes that on one occasion in the weeks after Carla died Markus came by with a “hard sell” that her death was suicide. He listed things like the fact that she hadn’t paid the full water bill as evidence of her being suicidal. Markus had also contacted people shortly after Carla’s death rationalizing what happened using spiritual lingo.
On another occasion, Jim said Markus made a strange comment. After describing to him that Carla’s liver was punctured Jim said Markus replied “They were so delicate, her internal organs, I’m surprised they weren’t all punctured.”
Jim noted in his research journal that Herlwyn Lutz (father of Sambodha member Dave Lutz) tried to convince him the Rife machine made Carla lose it. “He was convincing me the Rife machine was responsible for Carla attacking herself. He approached me yesterday to clarify that point because people were thinking that Janis [Aaravindha] was involved…Plan to inform him that no one is buying that theory.” Jim’s notes also reflect that Aaravindha was saying the Rife machine made Carla go crazy and attack herself.
Several people wrote in their police statements that Deborah Martyn tried to steal Carla’s $4,500 Rife machine after her death and only returned it upon threat of having the police involved. She was also going through Carla’s things, opening her packages and frequently accessing the home without permission from the family. This only stopped once a neighbor changed the locks.
Sambodha member Stacy Ramillah reportedly contacted a woman who was investigating Carla’s death to try and convince her that Aaravindha was not involved.
Of interest to note is that Markus and Laura moved to Guatemala for ten years soon after Carla died. According to Aaravindha they left “very shortly” after Carla’s death, perhaps within a month or two. They returned in 2016. And the basis of Aaravindha’s book on Sounds True–his trek through the Himalayas–also occurred the summer after Carla’s death. A friend of Carla’s said she was told Aaravindha also left soon after Carla’s death, first going to Germany before the Himalayas.
Several Sambodha members were trying to control the post-death narrative, saying that Carla was crazy and they actively tried to shift attention away from Aaravindha as some of Carla’s friends had begun to suspect him and the group. Even the former member who I spoke with who told me about the cult like ways of the group said “Aaravindha definitely didn’t kill Carla.” I was surprised as I hadn’t even asked her about that. But she said that she knew there were people who thought that he had.
One resident and Orcas business owner spoke of the fear that many people lived in after Carla’s death. “It was a really, really scary time. We were all locking our doors and on edge. Everyone was afraid.” Many Orcas Island residents never lock their doors given the generally peaceful and crime-free environment. On several occasions this person asked me if I was from Sambodha, fearing that I may have been sent from the group. Their fear of talking about this was still very much alive.
Some people who were pushing for more investigation into Carla’s death at the time experienced strange encounters with group members.
An Orcas Island business owner and friend of Carla’s said that after Carla’s death Aaravindha and his wife showed up every day for a month in front of her business. “They would show up everywhere. It was really creepy.” Aaravindha and Ashayrah could also both be seen doing a ritual/symbolic movement with their arms repeatedly after Carla’s death she said. She demonstrated the arm movements. The arms stay at the side and the forearms raise up and down and then the forearms cross over each other. She also said Stacy Ramillah had tried to leave Sambodha but didn’t make it out. During her process of trying to leave she could be seen doing the same arm movements frequently.
One person investigating Carla’s death claims she was followed on four separate days by a dark green SUV. On one occasion she said the car aggressively came at her while visiting Carla’s grave site. On another day the same car followed her the entire 23-mile trip to the ferry and back. On one occasion the car followed closely behind her with no lights. This person claims that after these incidents she awoke to someone shining a flashlight in her window at 3:00 am for 30 seconds. And her son reported that he was followed and surrounded by cult members.
A friend of Carla’s who was investigating her death at the time said there was a guy at the memorial bonfire on January 6th who didn’t even know her but who was sobbing crying. When he returned home, the housemate of this person reportedly had asked him if he went and he said yes. They then said “You didn’t even know Carla” to which this man reportedly said, “At least I didn’t fuck her like the other guys did.” This friend speculated that his housemate was present to a sexual assault or a ritual in which she was sexually violated. One of Carla’s close friends told me that the man who made this concerning statement quit his excellent job at the post office and left Orcas Island very soon after Carla’s death.
If Carla was sexually assaulted and wanting to not expose the perpetrators it would explain why she refused a rape kit test. Her treating doctor reportedly said, “When I got to that area and asked for the rape kit Carla sat straight up and said ‘oh no you don’t!'”
Carla’s mental state at the time of the stabbing incident and her death are important to examine given what was being said about her. Again, Sambodha members were pushing a narrative that she had lost it mentally and that the Rife machine had contributed to her going crazy and stabbing herself. Deborah Martyn claimed, “Carla just knew it was her time.” The predominant narrative amongst locals was that Carla had a mental breakdown and committed suicide.
I spoke with several of Carla’s friends and family members and none of them said she had any history of mental illness. Yes, she was very sensitive to chemicals and scents but there was no mental illness. There were several accounts from friends in the police reports as well saying she had no mental illness, with several saying she was in good spirits around the time of the tragic events.
A statement by one of Carla’s close friends to the police reads “Life was only improving for her. She was physically feeling great and looking forward to earning income healing others with her Rife machine.” Another friend’s notes from the time pointed out Carla was organizing a movement against more cell towers on Orcas Island, she was planning on teaching an arts & crafts class and was writing songs with a Baha’i friend with performances in mind. “She had many good friends and two loving daughters” it reads. Their notes conclude by saying “None of her old friends observed any suicidal tendencies or indications of suicidal behavior. No one I know has come up with any reason for her to take her own life.”
Markus Naugle and Laura Wheelock told police Carla was “clear and lucid as she always had been” and that she was “happy” and appeared to be in “good spirits.” Carla had stayed with them a few days before she was found dead.
Deborah Martyn told the detective that she “did not detect actual depression in Shaffer’s behavior” after the attack. She also said she had “several positive and happy conversations with her about her future plans.” Yet publicly some of these people were saying she knew it was her time or that she had lost it mentally.
Current Sambodha teacher Dave Lutz told me that he never noticed Carla show any signs of mental illness or express interest in killing herself.
There are also at least two accounts of Carla’s state before the stabbing incident. One friend saw her just hours before and said she was in good spirits. Another said there was a gathering or party at her home that night and that she appeared fine.
And the coroner’s report noted that there was not enough evidence to conclude she committed suicide.
Carla was also a long time Baha’i member and they have strong beliefs against suicide. It is strongly condemned and forbidden.
During a nearly 3-hour interview, Aaravindha told me that he and his wife were out of the country at the time of Carla’s stabbing incident on December 14th, 2005. They sent me a photo of a portion of a passport that showed a stamp indicating entering Europe on November 14th and returning to the US on December 27th. I have no idea who’s passport it is however as there is no name visible in the portion they sent. And they only sent an image of one passport, not both. Without seeing both of their passports in person I have no way of verifying the truth of their claims. But a detective (or anyone) on the island could easily inspect them. He said they were both at home the night Carla disappeared and then went to help search for Carla the next morning.
I asked Aaravindha and his wife about numerous critical statements and remarks that cast suspicion on him from Carla’s friends, family, Orcas residents and former Sambodha members. All of the claims were lies and rumors he said. He described them as “disgruntled people” controlled by dark forces. He said you can’t teach meditation or yoga these days without being accused of being a cult leader. He told me that I needed to meet him in person before I could say anything about him.
The interview with Aaravindha was very different in tone than were the other interviews I conducted. Whereas Sambodha teacher Dave Lutz calmly and casually responded to my questions, Aaravindha appeared nervous, would stutter at times, would at times repeat the question before answering, would go off on tangents not related to the questions and became increasingly aggressive and defensive. I also noticed a change in pitch of his and his wife’s voice on certain key questions. This did not occur on “baseline” questions I knew they were answering truthfully.
There were several stark inconsistencies in Aaravindha’s interview. He lied about his relationship with Carla Shaffer, Markus Naugle and Laura Wheelock and their connections to Sambodha in addition to lying about having made certain statements to people.
Aaravindha Lies About Carla’s Involvement in Sambodha
In the interview, Aaravindha repeatedly said Carla was not involved in Sambodha at all, in any form. He did so defensively and aggressively. “I don’t know how many times I’ve said this to you, but I’m about ready to hang up. Carla was not in our group. She didn’t attend any meetings. She didn’t come to do anything with us. She didn’t even learn the meditation techniques.” He said they only knew Carla as a friend who they saw occasionally on the island. He said that they have a lot of friends like Carla who are not connected to Sambodha.
I spoke and texted with long term Sambodha member and current Sambodha teacher Dave Lutz. He said Carla was in fact in the group. “Carla was in Sambodha for at least three years,” he told me. I asked him, “So, you were there with Carla, physically present in Sambodha meetings?” He replied “yes.” He said during the sessions, “Aaravindha would teach us different meditation techniques and he would use his psychic abilities to help people with blockages and personal issues they had in their lives.” He said this took place in Aaravindha’s home. Dave and Carla would meditate together both in their homes and in Sambodha meetings.
Dave also said that Aaravindha had done several private, one-on-one spiritual healing and counseling sessions with Carla. This was common in the group he said. Aaravindha offered free sessions to members. Dave said Carla considered Aaravindha “an excellent, highly evolved teacher.”
Aaravindha likes to say “disgruntled” people have lied about him but he cannot say that about a current senior Sambodha teacher. Dave was calm, respectful and forthcoming. He had nothing to hide and no reason to lie about Aaravindha’s actual relationship with Carla and Markus.
One of Carla’s close friends described a time when Carla was so excited because she was headed out to a birthday celebration for herself that Sambodha members were putting on at Aaravindha’s home.
As stated earlier, a friend had said Carla had become enamored with Sambodha and had been attending meetings regularly. Another friend spoke of not being able to recognize who Carla had become after getting involved in Sambodha. And Carla told a friend she had discovered a “dark side” to Sambodha and had wanted out.
All of this evidence from multiple people, including a current Sambodha teacher pointing to Carla’s involvement in Sambodha and yet Aaravindha says “She didn’t attend any meetings. She didn’t come to do anything with us.”
What is Aaravindha trying to cover up by lying about Carla’s involvement in Sambodha? Why is he lying about his relationship to a woman who died under mysterious circumstances? A woman he had counseled and offered spiritual support to?
Aaravindha Lies About Having Told People He Knew How Carla Died
I asked Aaravindha to explain why someone told me he told them that he had used his psychic powers describe Carla’s last moments of life. He had described to this person how Carla walked down to the water, felt the water take over her body and go into the water. Aaravindha said “I didn’t say that to anyone. I didn’t say that to anyone. I don’t know what Carla was feeling when she went down to the water…That person right there is a bold face liar.”
But I spoke about the same claim with Dave Lutz after I spoke to Aaravindha. Dave said, “He told me the same thing.” He said that Aaravindha’s abilities allowed him to know what happened to Carla in her last moments. He said, “Aaravindha has a unique ability, similar to psychic ability but much clearer. It’s called Saumedhika.” He went on, “Aaravindha said she was determined to take her life, that she failed the first time and she just walked into the water and let the water take her away.”
Aaravindha claimed to know Carla had committed suicide and that she walked into the pond whereas no one else actually knows what happened in her final moments. Even the coroner, Randall Gaylord, said there was not enough evidence to conclude suicide and her death was ruled an “accidental drowning.” Thus, we have Aaravindha pushing a narrative that is convenient for him that she committed suicide. And despite two people claiming he told them what Carla’s last moments were like he is now lying and saying he never said it.
Aaravindha Lies About Markus Being In Sambodha and Their Relationship
Aaravindha said several times that Markus was never part of Sambodha in any way shape or form. Yet when I asked Dave Lutz about the relationship between Aaravindha and Markus and Laura he replied: “They had been occasional members of the Sambodha community, meditating with us, attending gatherings and seminars.”
When I asked Aaravindha if he had a phone number for Markus he said he did not. “I don’t know. I haven’t had any contact with Markus for a long time. I know he’s back on the island but I don’t have his phone number or anything.”
When I called Markus’ workplace I left a first and last name with the person who took the message for him. I had never given a last name to Aaravindha and his wife. Yet, only one hour after I left the message for Markus I received the email from Aaravindha and Asheylah with the image of the passport. But this email used the first and last name I had left for Markus. This is unequivocal proof that Markus and Aaravindha were immediately in contact after Markus received the message from me.
If Markus was Carla’s friend why wouldn’t he speak to me and answer questions to help clarify what happened? Why did he immediately contact Aaravindha but not me after I left a message for him? Why did Aaravindha lie to me and say he’s not been in contact with Markus?
Early in the interview, Aaravindha described Markus and Laura as “close friends” but later he said, “we never got to know them that well.” He was shifting his story to suit his own agenda.
Aaravindha Lies About Carla Committing Suicide and Being in Constant Pain & Nausea
Aaravindha aggressively and defensively pushed the narrative that Carla was in a deep state of constant suffering and pain and couldn’t deal with life anymore.
“She just slipped into that pond because she was tired of fighting with a disease that stole everything from her. She was in constant nausea, constant pain, she was having psychotic episodes with a septic liver. Do you have any idea how horrible that is? She just got fed up, she just couldn’t do it anymore. She wanted out. She started to lose it. It happens to people all the time. All over this country, right now a number of people have committed suicide because they couldn’t take it anymore in this world.”
There is no truth to his claims. Carla was not in a constant state of pain or nausea, nor was she having psychotic episodes. As the segment above about Carla’s mental health indicates she was doing well. She had dealt with symptoms of Hepatitis C like fatigue, but things were much improved. One friend had said “Life was only improving for her. She was physically feeling great…” Carla had been doing activism work, was planning arts and crafts classes and was looking forward to making money by healing others with her Rife machine. Markus and Laura told police she was “clear and lucid as she always had been” and was happy. No friends or family detected any depression, mental illness or interest in suicide.
Why was Aaravindha pushing so confidently and aggressively that Carla committed suicide when it is not known what happened? And when her death was ruled an accident? Why is he so heavily invested in a certain narrative?
The last time I met with coroner and prosecutor Randall Gaylord was the late afternoon of Friday, November 30th. We met at the Friday Harbor Courthouse. That was when he provided me with a copy of the police report for Carla’s case. It was about 8 inches thick. This was my first criminal investigation and so he helped orient me to what I was receiving. Overall, I found him and his staff to be helpful and forthcoming. He always promptly responded to my inquiries and requests.
What is noticeably missing from the police reports, however, is any sign that the authorities–either detectives or Randall–investigated Aaravindha Himadra or Sambodha. He nor his wife were ever interviewed. Had the authorities actually interrogated them and other Sambodha members thoroughly, checked phone records, alibis, and compared the stories to each other they would have discovered inconsistencies as I did. When people being questioned lie, it raises even more suspicion and should lead to even further digging and interrogation.
There were several specific statements given to police and Randall explicitly warning them about Carla’s involvement in the group and these were ignored. Some of them named specific people and concerning behaviors. When one of Carla’s friends asked the detective to investigate her death further she says he told her “I’ve already put 150 hours into this case and I need to wrap it up.”
Carla’s ex-husband wrote an impassioned letter to Randall pleading him to further investigate her death. He wrote: “My observations, and the circumstances of the initial attack have led me to conclude that Carla was murdered…I think we are dealing with sophisticated, experienced psychopaths, which implies that similar incidents have been executed in the past…”
There was a long police statement written by a friend of Carla’s that detailed numerous suspicious activities on the part of Sambodha members and raised many questions for authorities. And there were some other accounts given to authorities by Carla’s friends as well.
In his coroner’s report Randall himself acknowledges that he was made aware of the group and their activities but effectively ignored it. “After her death, other strange events were reported to me, concerning neighbors and others trespassing into Carla’s residence, a description that Carla and her friends are members of a cult referred to as “Children of the Light’ and that she used an energy machine called a ‘Rife’ machine…These events confirm bizarre behaviors but they are not specific for the purposes of determining that anyone else was involved in this death…”
Those raising concerns didn’t have specific proof of foul play but they provided evidence and clues that Randall and the police should have followed up on. It was a huge oversight on their part. Randall learned that a woman who died under mysterious circumstances and her friends were part of a cult called “Children of the Light” and he did not even investigate them at all. How is this possible? Had they understood cult dynamics and dug deeper they could have realized the full extent of how indoctrinated Carla and other members were.
Randall learned that a woman who died under mysterious circumstances and her friends were part of a cult called “Children of the Light” and he did not even investigate them at all. How is this possible?
There were some parts of the police report I was only allowed to view and not permanently keep. These included things like photos of Carla’s body and photos of her post-stabbing injuries.
When viewing the photos I was visibly struck by the socks Carla was wearing at the time she was found. They both had holes in the heels but one of them was quite torn up on the bottom and the side while the other hole was more of a neat circle. The one sock was raggedy and had a large piece missing. I just remember feeling that something was not right when looking at it. It seemed obvious to me that this would raise concern but it had not. There was no way the damage had come from walking in them. The socks were thicker than usual too. It would have taken many days walking on pavement to create that kind of damage and even then it seems unlikely that the sides could have been torn up like that. One friend said Carla never wore socks with holes in them.
The implication of the torn up socks is that she was dragged from her residence to the pond.
It’s also interesting to note that the detective who visited Carla in the hospital noted that he looked at her ankles and saw that they were free from marks. Yet, the autopsy report reveals several cuts and abrasions on her ankles and legs. This means that at least some of them could have happened the night she disappeared. Were these cuts and abrasions on her legs, ankles and feet also evidence of her being dragged?
Carla Jean Shaffer was a member of a cult when she died. Her search for healing and spiritual growth led her into the path of Aaravindha Himadra, who by the accounts of former members, is a controlling, abusive, narcissistic cult leader. Carla reportedly grew close to him and was “enamored” with the group, attending meetings regularly. She was undoubtedly indoctrinated and brainwashed into their teachings. She even cut off contact with her usual friends and adopted a new identity with the name Nahmine Attar. One friend barely recognized the person who Carla had become. And then, when she discovered a dark side to the group, Carla confronted Aaravindha. She was then found dead, floating in a pond near her home.
It’s very common for someone to get deeply involved in a cult or religious group without their friends and family knowing. The person will often hide the full extent of what is transpiring or it will appear like an innocent spiritual exploration. In reality what happens in these groups is a deep process of mind control. It takes someone having gone through it to understand the depth and severity of how much someone’s mind can be changed and influenced. What Carla went through is much more than anyone can probably imagine. And it is most often very difficult to break away from a cult.
When this poor woman was brutally attacked in her home and left bloody and unconscious she was under heavy mind control. She said so herself on the lawn that morning. “They’re trying to control my mind” she said repeatedly. “Do you know anything about mind control?” To the police and others, this was evidence of mental illness. Yet, had they only bothered to dig a little deeper they would have seen that it was real. It reflected the fact that she was under the control of a charismatic and powerful leader–a man whom they never even bothered to interview or investigate.
Too afraid to name her attackers, Carla either created a story that she was attacked by spirits or the story was planted in her mind by Aaravindha or fellow cult members. Both Clay Philbrick and Deborah Martyn also believed Carla was attacked by spirits.
The police then concluded that Carla was deranged and mentally ill and had somehow stabbed and cut herself 30-40 times, broken her own rib, punctured her liver, smashed her own face, gave herself a black eye and shoved in her teeth, damaged her breastbone, sliced two, identical, fine cuts into her eyelids and then knocked herself unconscious. All this by a woman with no history of mental illness. A woman who was reportedly seen just hours before by two different people and was said to be in good spirits. A woman who emphatically said she did not attack herself and did not try to commit suicide. A woman who was calm and lucid while in the hospital.
“It was clear they were trying to kill her” Jim told me. “The only thing that saved her was her fear of sharp knives. Every knife in her home was incredibly dull. That’s why we think four knives were used. They were looking for a sharp one and couldn’t find it.” This would also explain why many of the “stabbing” wounds were more like cuts and not that deep. Had the knives been sharp they could have penetrated her deeper.
And then, according to police, a few weeks later Carla left her home in the middle of the night, fell into a shallow pond and drowned. Perhaps it was intentional, they don’t know. All this by a woman with no history of mental illness. A woman who had given no sign she wanted to kill herself. A woman who was an excellent swimmer.
And of course, walking into a shallow pond is a very strange way to kill yourself. A paramedic on the island said what we all know, the body would instinctively physically reflex and contract to save itself. It’s like trying to kill yourself by holding your breath. It makes no sense that she would either intentionally or accidentally just die in a shallow pond a few hundred yards from her home.
The focus of the investigation was on Carla when it should have been on Aaravindha and his Sambodha cult. As a result, we are left with unanswered questions.
Was Aaravindha actually out of the country as he claims during the initial stabbing incident? Where was he the night she disappeared? When she was found dead? Where were other Sambodha members? Why has Aaravindha lied about his relationship with Carla and Markus? Why did Markus flee the country for ten years soon after Carla’s death? Why did Clay run out of Carla’s home in a panic two nights before she disappeared? What were the “bad vibes” that caused him to leave Carla’s the night she disappeared? How did Clay know the location of Carla’s body before it was found? Why were Sambodha members trying to convince others that Carla lost it mentally and committed suicide? Why were the lights on in Carla’s bedroom from 12:00 am – 2:00 am for several weeks after she died? Why did Aaravindha and his wife stand in front of the business of a woman who was calling for more investigation for thirty days in a row? Why didn’t Markus agree to answer questions about Carla if he had nothing to hide?
“There’s a demonic presence on this island,” a young woman sitting at the Lower Tavern bar said to me. “I can feel it,” she said. “I know. I feel something too” I replied. I was telling her about my work writing about cults and my story investigating Sambodha. I told her the island had a deep, dark and creepy vibe to it. “I have to leave soon,” I said. “I don’t feel safe here anymore.”
By the time I had this conversation I had spent a month on the island interviewing people, researching and investigating the story. I had travelled all over the beautiful landscape in deep awe of where I was.
Given what my research revealed about Sambodha members following people and showing up in unexpected places I became increasingly concerned about my safety. Jim had told me he that he suspected Sambodha knew something was up. He had a few tense interactions with members. And I was stared down hard by a current Sambodha staff member and potentially followed. The last night I stayed there I even had a police officer do a patrol around the hostel premises throughout the night.
Before I left I visited Carla’s grave at the Woodlawn cemetery. I told her I’d get justice for her.
The final mystery was randomly running into one of Carla’s family members on the streets of Seattle soon after I left the Islands. They normally didn’t take lunch at that hour. And my decision to go to Pike Place Market and then randomly walk around the city was last minute. As I was crossing the street they passed right by me. I almost missed them. We ended up walking and talking for a while. It was an unexpected meeting in the midst of a very large and bustling city. Perhaps it was the same mystery that brought us together that brought me to Orcas Island in the first place.
As I was driving south Spotify randomly played a song by Florence and the Machine called “Shake it Out.” I was struck by the lyrics and immediately thought of Carla who was a dancer.
“And it’s hard to dance with a devil on your back
So shake him off, oh whoa”
Whoa to you Carla Jean Shaffer. Whoa to your beauty, your grace and your dance.
Several phone messages were left and an email was sent to Deborah Martyn seeking comment from her and Clay Philbrick and I had not heard back at the time of this publication. Markus Naugle did not respond to the message left for him at his work. Stacy Romillah did not respond to my interview request.