On July 25, 2009, Colleen Conaway plummeted to her death in San Diego's Horton Plaza mall; an apparent suicide. She had no history of mental problems. She was by all accounts very happy with her life and her direction.
So how did the Minnesota native meet such a sad and inexplicable fate so far from home? She was participating in a James Arthur Ray Creating Absolute Wealth seminar, for which she had paid thousands of dollars.
The exercise was one in which seminar participants were directed to dress as homeless people and wander around downtown San Diego. They were not allowed to carry money, identification, or cell phones. In what would become a pattern for those who had the misfortune to be severely injured during James Ray seminars, Colleen Conaway spent many hours listed as "Jane Doe."
Connie Joy's daughter Erica participated in that same seminar and both Connie and her husband Richard attended the final dinner. None of them were aware that a participant had died.
Only Ray and his closest staffers knew that Conaway was lying on a slab in the San Diego County morgue. And they weren't telling. People who asked about why she hadn't returned were told that she was fine but wasn't coming back to the seminar.
It was over two months later, in the wake of yet another horrific tragedy on Ray's watch, that his long-time followers learned that the unnamed woman who had died in the mall that day was the seminar participant who had never returned from her homelessness adventure.
Less than two weeks after losing one of his students to a deadly fall, Ray had a select group of the high paying World Wealth Society members hiking a mountain trail overlooking Machu Picchu — blindfolded. When concerned local tour guides tried to steer the hikers away from steep drops and around sharp turns, Ray became irritated at their interference.
He was going to teach his students about the value of living life to the fullest by flirting with death and no one was going to stop him. As his group of students removed their blindfolds to take in the view from the cliff they were standing on, he asked, "Are you just taking up space or are you really living your lives?"
Ray's fascination with the theme of death was not new. But it seemed to increase rather than diminish after Colleen Conaway's inexplicable plunge. In early October, just over two months after her demise, Ray would lead his Spiritual Warrior seminar in Sedona, Arizona, in which he relied heavily on death metaphors. And three people would die from exposure to extreme temperatures in a sweat lodge ceremony.