CLEARWATER — Ray Emmons was an experienced vice and intelligence sergeant with the Clearwater Police Department in 1981 when he began the assignment that would become his legacy.
By then, the mysterious group that arrived six years earlier and bought major downtown buildings under a fake name had been revealed as the Church of Scientology. But still much was unknown about this new organization that, government documents showed, spied on local journalists and politicians, framed the mayor in a hit-and-run accident, and wrote a manifesto of plans to take over Clearwater.
Mr. Emmons went to work investigating Scientology for the city and produced a 10-volume report in 1983 declaring it a criminal moneymaking scheme. He later talked about being followed, seeing his trash stolen and having his home phone bugged.
But Mr. Emmons, according to colleagues, never once flinched
"He was a good, hardheaded, old-fashioned investigator," retired Florida Department of Law Enforcement agent Allen Lee Strope said Wednesday.
Mr. Emmons died Oct. 27 of cardiac arrest after a long illness, said his wife, Georgienne. He was 75.
Born in Carey, Ohio, Mr. Emmons grew up scrappy after his mother died when he was barely a teenager and his father "pretty much kicked him out of the house at 15," Georgienne said.
He served in the Navy from 1960 to 1964, working as a boilerman off the coast of Vietnam and the Middle East.
He moved to Clearwater after the service to be near his sister, Sue. Georgienne said she met her future husband at a bar on Clearwater Beach after ditching a date who was being "rude and obnoxious." They married in 1967.
Mr. Emmons joined the Clearwater Police Department in 1968. When he started the Scientology investigation in 1981, it was an all-encompassing mission, said Michael Bruscell, 70, a former Clearwater police officer who started as a detective under Mr. Emmons.
"He put his entire career, every day, into it," Bruscell said.
Mr. Emmons’ 1983 report did not result in criminal charges, but it delved into the intricacies of Scientology’s structure, the financial dealings of its founder, L. Ron Hubbard, its spy tactics and flow of money.
He concluded the purpose was to "unite all agencies together to investigate and bring this large, complex criminal organization to justice."
By 1994, Clearwater police revealed they had been gathering intelligence on Scientology for 13 years and allowed the Tampa Bay Times to inspect the records. The church began threatening legal action to prevent the release to others, and the city filed a pre-emptive lawsuit to get a judge’s opinion, according to Times archives.
Under a settlement reached in 1998, Clearwater police agreed to conduct a "good-faith review" of 40 boxes of intelligence files accumulated over the 13 years and destroy what they deemed unnecessary.
But in 1985, shortly after completing his report, Mr. Emmons moved on to the Pasco County Sheriff’s Office, where he stayed until 1993. He later worked as a private investigator and a substitute teacher before diabetes and arthritis slowed him down in 2004.
But his pivotal role in the early years never let him stray from the world of Scientology.
Members of the Lisa McPherson Trust, a group formed in 1999 to investigate the death of a woman held at Scientology’s Fort Harrison Hotel for 17 days in 1995, called on Mr. Emmons for his expertise.
While the McPherson estate was waging a wrongful-death lawsuit against the church, Jesse Prince, a former Scientologist and key witness in the case, was arrested in 2001 and charged with marijuana possession.
It was Mr. Emmons who tracked down the private investigator Scientology hired to befriend Prince, spy on him, and tip off law enforcement about a single marijuana plant in his Largo home. Prosecutors dropped the charge against Prince after a jury deadlocked.
"Ray tracked that guy down and we got to put him on the stand and found out how elaborate that plot was and how much money they spent to get Jesse arrested," said Mark Bunker, who worked as a videographer for the McPherson trust. "He was a good and decent man."
Attorney Ken Dandar, who represented the McPherson estate in the seven-year court battle settled in 2004, said he often called on Mr. Emmons for his wisdom.
"Ray is my hero," Dandar said. "He had so much knowledge that you just could not gain from public inspection of records."
When Dandar took on the McPherson case in 1997, he said he knew almost nothing about Scientology. He said Mr. Emmons was an invaluable source for educating him on the church’s structure and tactics.
One story Mr. Emmons told while visiting Dandar’s office was how a Scientologist infiltrated former Mayor Gabe Cazares’ inner circle. Cazares had publicly criticized Scientology’s militia-style guarding of their newly purchased Fort Harrison Hotel with billy clubs and mace.
The church sued Cazares in 1976 for libel and slander and the mayor countersued, starting a lengthy legal battle. Local lawyer Merrell Vannier befriended Cazares and offered his service as a volunteer but was later identified as member of the church assigned to collect intelligence and legal information on the mayor.
That year, Scientology also staged Cazares in a hit-and-run accident while he was in Washington, D.C., by having a parishioner chauffeur him around town and strike another Scientologist who was in on the plan. The church leaked the story to reporters and politicians while Cazares was running for Congress, a race he lost.
Outside of work, the Emmonses raised two children, Christine Dzikonski, 46, a Pasco County sheriff’s corporal, and Kim Bissell, 48, a principal in Texas.
Dzikonski said her father did not want a funeral, but a dedication is being planned for the Crest Lake Park’s veterans memorial.
"He was one of a kind," Dzikonski said. "When people talk about heroes and people you want to emulate, he’s the first one that comes to mind."
Times senior news researcher Caryn Baird contributed to this report. Contact Tracey McManus at [email protected] or (727) 445-4151. Follow @TroMcManus.