The death of yoga student Ian Thorson – and the 'wall of meditative silence' that met police

Body of man expelled by Buddhist retreat in Arizona discovered 7,000ft up mountain

Los Angeles

Police in rural Arizona are investigating the mysterious death of a yoga student who spent two months living in a desert cave after being expelled from a nearby Buddhist retreat, where he had agreed to meditate silently for more than three years.

The body of Ian Thorson, 38, was discovered by rescuers in late April, 7,000ft up a mountain outside the remote town of Bowie, roughly 60 miles east of Tucson. His wife, Christie McNally, 39, was lying nearby, dehydrated and in a critical condition.

They'd ventured into the wilderness after being forced to leave the nearby Diamond Mountain University, a New Age facility where residents forego conversation for three years, three months, and three days in pursuit of spiritual enlightenment.

Like most "courses" at the so-called "university", which has no traditional academic accreditation, Mr Thorson and Ms McNally's silent retreat was run by the institution's leader, a charismatic self-styled "Geshe", or monk, called  Michael Roach, who has written several yoga manuals.

It had begun at the start of 2011. But relations between the university-educated couple and fellow students appear to have started to seriously deteriorate this year. Efforts to establish what occurred are being hampered by the refusal of the 36 remaining individuals on the silent retreat to talk. According to written notes and statements posted on the internet, Mr Thorson and Ms McNally were expelled after a domestic confrontation in which he was stabbed with a samurai sword.

The intrigue has been heightened by revelations that Ms McNally was previously married to Mr Roach. Their relationship was kept secret from students at the University and ended by divorce in September 2010, a month before her wedding to Mr Thorson.

Mr Roach, a former diamond dealer who advocates yoga and meditation as a path to financial prosperity, has uploaded a lengthy statement to Diamond Mountain's website alleging that couple were expelled for "serious incidents of mutual spousal abuse".

He said: "Lama Christie [McNally] described what sounded like repeated physical abuse of herself by her husband, and also an incident in which she had stabbed Ian [Thorson] with a knife, under what she described as a spiritual influence."

Mr Roach did not acknowledge his previous marriage to Ms McNally in the statement. Although they had shared a yurt at the 960-acre retreat in previous years, he had insisted to students that their relationship was platonic and she was his "spiritual partner."

The New York Times yesterday detailed "bizarre initiation ceremonies" at the retreat. An alumnus called Sid Johnson alleged that one ritual involved "kissing and genital touching". Another former student, Ekan Thomason, recalled having blood drawn from her finger by a samurai sword.

In a recent open letter, posted online, Ms McNally said that after being told to quit Diamond Mountain, she and Mr Thorson decided to "go camping in the co-herding land". Their condition began to deteriorate after they contracted a mysterious illness and became unable to collect water, she claimed. Authorities do not suspect foul play in Mr Thorson's death. But the case, which remains open pending a coroner's report, has raised questions about the New Age clinics in Arizona.

News
people'It can last and it's terrifying'
Sport
Danny Welbeck's Manchester United future is in doubt
footballGunners confirm signing from Manchester United
Sport
footballStriker has moved on loan for the remainder of the season
Sport
footballFeaturing Bart Simpson
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
New Articles
Olivia Colman topped the list of the 30 most influential females in broadcasting
tv
News
Kelly Brook
peopleA spokesperson said the support group was 'extremely disappointed'
News
The five geckos were launched into space to find out about the effects of weightlessness on the creatures’ sex lives
i100
Life and Style
techIf those brochure kitchens look a little too perfect to be true, well, that’s probably because they are
Sport
Andy Murray celebrates a shot while playing Jo-Wilfried Tsonga
TennisWin sets up blockbuster US Open quarter-final against Djokovic
Arts and Entertainment
Hare’s a riddle: Kit Williams with the treasure linked to Masquerade
booksRiddling trilogy could net you $3m
Arts and Entertainment
Alex Kapranos of Franz Ferdinand performs live
music Pro-independence show to take place four days before vote
News
news Video - hailed as 'most original' since Benedict Cumberbatch's
News
i100
Life and Style
The longer David Sedaris had his Fitbit, the further afield his walks took him through the West Sussex countryside
lifeDavid Sedaris: What I learnt from my fitness tracker about the world
Arts and Entertainment
Word master: Self holds up a copy of his novel ‘Umbrella’
booksUnlike 'talented mediocrity' George Orwell, you must approach this writer dictionary in hand
News
i100
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

SQL Implementation Consultant (VB,C#, SQL, Java, Eclipse, integ

£40000 - £50000 per annum + benefits+bonus+package: Harrington Starr: SQL Impl...

SQL Technical Implementation Consultant (Java, BA, Oracle, VBA)

£45000 - £55000 per annum + Benefits + Bonus: Harrington Starr: SQL Technical ...

Head of IT (Windows, Server, VMware, SAN, Fidessa, Equities)

£85000 per annum: Harrington Starr: Head of IT (Windows, Server, VMware, SAN, ...

Lead C# Developer (.Net, nHibernate, MVC, SQL) Surrey

£55000 - £60000 per annum + Benefits + Bonus: Harrington Starr: Lead C# Develo...

Day In a Page

'I’ll tell you what I would not serve - lamb and potatoes': US ambassador hits out at stodgy British food served at diplomatic dinners

'I’ll tell you what I would not serve - lamb and potatoes'

US ambassador hits out at stodgy British food
Radio Times female powerlist: A 'revolution' in TV gender roles

A 'revolution' in TV gender roles

Inside the Radio Times female powerlist
Endgame: James Frey's literary treasure hunt

James Frey's literary treasure hunt

Riddling trilogy could net you $3m
Fitbit: Because the tingle feels so good

Fitbit: Because the tingle feels so good

What David Sedaris learnt about the world from his fitness tracker
Saudis risk new Muslim division with proposal to move Mohamed’s tomb

Saudis risk new Muslim division with proposal to move Mohamed’s tomb

Second-holiest site in Islam attracts millions of pilgrims each year
Alexander Fury: The designer names to look for at fashion week this season

The big names to look for this fashion week

This week, designers begin to show their spring 2015 collections in New York
Will Self: 'I like Orwell's writing as much as the next talented mediocrity'

'I like Orwell's writing as much as the next talented mediocrity'

Will Self takes aim at Orwell's rules for writing plain English
Meet Afghanistan's middle-class paint-ballers

Meet Afghanistan's middle-class paint-ballers

Toy guns proving a popular diversion in a country flooded with the real thing
Al Pacino wows Venice

Al Pacino wows Venice

Ham among the brilliance as actor premieres two films at festival
Neil Lawson Baker interview: ‘I’ve gained so much from art. It’s only right to give something back’.

Neil Lawson Baker interview

‘I’ve gained so much from art. It’s only right to give something back’.
The other Mugabe who is lining up for the Zimbabwean presidency

The other Mugabe who is lining up for the Zimbabwean presidency

Wife of President Robert Mugabe appears to have her sights set on succeeding her husband
The model of a gadget launch: Cultivate an atmosphere of mystery and excitement to sell stuff people didn't realise they needed

The model for a gadget launch

Cultivate an atmosphere of mystery and excitement to sell stuff people didn't realise they needed
Alice Roberts: She's done pretty well, for a boffin without a beard

She's done pretty well, for a boffin without a beard

Alice Roberts talks about her new book on evolution - and why her early TV work drew flak from (mostly male) colleagues
Get well soon, Joan Rivers - an inspiration, whether she likes it or not

Get well soon, Joan Rivers

She is awful. But she's also wonderful, not in spite of but because of the fact she's forever saying appalling things, argues Ellen E Jones
Doctor Who Into the Dalek review: A classic sci-fi adventure with all the spectacle of a blockbuster

A fresh take on an old foe

Doctor Who Into the Dalek more than compensated for last week's nonsensical offering