On the evening of Dec. 5, Rev. William Duby -- founder of the Spiritual Rights Foundation, the controversial Berkeley-based psychic church -- suffered a fatal heart attack while teaching a class at Berkeley's Academy for Psychic Studies. Duby, known to his followers as Rev. Bill, was 55.
A one-time street hustler who boasted about his gambling exploits, Duby founded the church nearly twenty years ago. The church prospered and bought up numerous Berkeley properties, as well as a farm on Bethel Island. It also launched publishing and real estate companies. What is to become of these assets in the wake of Duby's death? Founding board member Harpreet Sandhu recalls that Rev. Bill often told his followers to close the place down if anything ever happened to him. "There's really nobody to take over for him," Sandhu said. But that's not exactly true. Bill left behind the titular heads of his church, reverends Angela and Robin, sometimes described in the press as his "cowives." The two women did not return telephone calls to discuss the foundation's fate.
Nor is it yet clear what impact Duby's death will have upon the handful of church-related custody battles now underway in Bay Area courts (see "Consider the Children," Oct. 10, 2001). Over the past two years, several men left the church, which they call a cult, and accused Duby of turning their children against them. According to ex church members, Duby condemned men as scurrilous sex-mongers and he sometimes exiled husbands to church-owned mobile homes away from their wives. One of those disaffected dads, Steve Sanchez, predicts the cult won't last much longer without its leader. "We're theorizing that they're going to fall apart," said Sanchez. "They have no charismatic figure anymore to keep the money rolling in." (By the by, just before Duby's death, Sanchez was contacted by reps from the CBS news mag, 48 Hours, which was interested in doing a story on the psychic church.)