Scientologist Lisa McPherson's Tragic Death
by Craig Branch
The death of 36 year old Lisa McPherson while in the "care" of fellow
Scientologists at the Clearwater headquarters has led to an ongoing investigation
by Clearwater police and has been the focus of numerous stories in the
Tampa Tribune, St. Petersburg Times, New York Times,
local media, NBC Nightly News, and episodes on Inside Edition.
Lisa's tragic story began when she joined Scientology
upon high school graduation. But two weeks before Thanksgiving, 1995, Lisa
"told friends that she was ready to get out." She wanted "to reunite with
her mom and old friends and start a new life in Dallas."
Lisa confided to a childhood friend that "she couldn't get into it over
the phone but she had a lot to talk about. she would explain when she got
there" (Tampa Tribune, December 15, 1996, p. 1).
But on November 18, 1995, Lisa was being held in Scientology's Clearwater
headquarters, at the Ft. Harrison hotel. By December 5th she was dead.
After the autopsy, Dr. Joan Wood, county medical examiner, determined
that tests revealed that Lisa was severely dehydrated, that her arms and
legs were bruised and had bite marks, possibly by roaches, and that her
left pulmonary artery was blocked by a fatal blood clot caused by the dehydration,
extreme and confined bed rest (St. Petersburg Times, January 23,
1997, p. 1B).
Scientology officials claimed that Lisa died from a severe staph infection
that came on suddenly. The medical examiner said that was "impossible"
(Ibid.). Police have sought three Scientology employees who would have
had some oversight over Lisa but have discovered that all three have left
the country (Tampa Tribune, op. cit.)
According to Lisa's now deceased mother and other family members and
friends, Scientologists descended on Lisa's funeral, "checking us out and
hovering and listening." Lisa's mother "couldn't breathe without them on
top of her.. They also insisted that Lisa wanted to be cremated." The mother
reluctantly complied (Ibid.).
Of particular interest is that some of Lisa's Scientology friends at
Ft. Harrison told her mother that Lisa was put on "baby watch," which is
a Scientology term for extreme isolation (Ibid.). This disclosure would
have significant importance later.
The family of Lisa McPherson has filed a civil suit against the Church
of Scientology for the wrongful death of Miss McPherson. The suit holds
Scientology as responsible, due to the church's "pre-meditated design"
in following their policies and procedures which through "culpable negligence"
violated Lisa's rights and prevented "timely appropriate medical emergency
care" (copy of action filed by McPherson estate). The Clearwater police
and state attorney's office of the Florida Department of Law Enforcement
are conducting ongoing criminal investigations.
How did this tragedy occur? According to the many media stories detailing
the events surrounding Lisa's death, the following is a summary account.
Following being involved in a minor auto accident on November 18, 1995,
Lisa disrobed in public, telling Clearwater paramedics that she had been
doing things she didn't know were wrong and needed help.
She was taken to a nearby hospital but was soon released to Scientology
staff against the advice of the hospital staff psychiatrist (Scientology
detests psychiatry). Scientology staff promised that she would be cared
for 24 hours a day.
Lisa was then taken to nearby Scientology headquarters, the Ft. Harrison
Hotel for 17 days of "rest and relaxation." On December 5, 1995, Lisa was
driven by Scientologists to a more distant hospital, 24 miles away, where
she was pronounced dead on arrival.
She was accompanied there by Janice Johnson-Fitzgerald, an unlicensed
medical doctor working as Scientology's medical liaison officer. Scientology
officials claimed the reason they by-passed the nearby hospital was because
Lisa wanted a Scientology doctor.
Scientology has been scrambling ever since in an attempt to clear itself
of the mounting evidence of foul play. In keeping with its written policy
of "Don't ever defend. Always attack" (HCO Policy Letter, August 15, 1960,
p. 484), Scientology officials have accused the Clearwater police of a
harassment conspiracy, and have even filed a lawsuit against the medical
examiner, Joan Wood, after a Scientology attorney had called her "Liar.
Liar. Liar. Liar. Liar. Hateful liar" (St. Petersburg Times, January
23, 1997, p. 7B).
But as more and more evidence surfaces in the investigation, the Church
of Scientology's denials appear more and more fragile. For example, after
Scientology disputed Dr. Woods' assessment of the autopsy lab reports,
five very prominent pathologists (three of whom were officials of the National
Association of Medical Examiners) were given the lab reports to assess,
without knowing their source. They all agreed with Dr. Wood's findings
that Lisa died of severe dehydration, probably having gone without liquids
for at least five days, and that Scientology's claim of a fatal staph infection
was "nonsense" (St. Petersburg Times, March 9, 1997, pp. 1, 15A).
Scientology's versions and explanations continue to change so much that
a recent story in the St. Petersburg Times began, "The Church of
Scientology's original portrayal of how a 36 year old woman died under
its care bears little resemblance to the sobering tale unfolding this summer
with the release of the church's own internal records.. [which] contrast
starkly with the official version of McPherson's death put out last December
by the church and its Los Angeles lawyer Elliot Abelson" (Sept. 4, 1997).
One important contradiction and issue is Scientology attorney Abelson's
repeated claim that Lisa was not held in isolation, did not receive Scientology's
"Introspection Rundown" (baby watch), and was free to come and go. But
after church logs surfaced, Scientology now admits that Lisa was held in
isolation, and was psychotic, though it still denies she was subjected
to the Introspection Rundown.
The evidence appears to contradict this denial. In the preface of "Introspection
Rundown" (HCO Bulletin, January 23, 1974RA), Hubbard made the claim, "I
have made a technical breakthrough which probably ranks with the major
discoveries of the Twentieth Century" (p. 346). He claimd to have "solved"
the problem of a person with a "psychotic break."
His revolutionary technique involves isolating the person wholly, to
destimulate them, including "complete muzzling" (no speech even from attendants).
The patient is to be given vitamins and minerals (B complex, calcium and
magnesium). Also, part of the Introspection Rundown is a concept called
Records of Lisa's isolation at Ft. Harrison indicate every element of
Introspection Rundown occurred, including a bill sent to Lisa's relatives
which listed a $240 charge for "Expansion of Havingness" tapes, five days
before her death (St. Petersburg Times, February 21, 1997, p. 12A).
This is not some obsolete procedure, nor is it unlikely to have happened
in McPherson's case. A large number of Scientologists reportedly have been
subjected to this forced isolation technique as a matter of policy. One
report revealed that a number of Scientology family members kept a mentally
disturbed woman in confinement. Like Lisa, the woman was incoherent and
had scratches on her legs, wrists and neck (Los Angeles Times, January
In a London newspaper, The Independent, are listed several eye
witness accounts of Introspection Rundown being administered to several
Scientologists between 1991 and 1993 resulting in significant harm to them
(January 31, 1994, p. 17).
Dr. Bob Geary and his wife Dorothy became involved in Scientology through
its front organization, Sterling Management. Five months later they had
paid $200,000 to the church and Mrs. Geary "wound up requiring hospitalization
after being held captive for more than two weeks by Scientologists in California"
(Akron Beacon Journal, January 21, 1990, p. A1).
Geary claims to have been isolated in a cabin, "a victim of sleep and
food deprivation and was pushed against walls and onto a bed" if she tried
to escape. They said that she needed to "give them more money and that
I needed to be alone" (Ibid. p. A4). There are many other reports.
There is no reason to think the Scientologists at Ft. Harrison would
not follow policy or the pattern set in the cases above, with Lisa McPherson.
And her case is becoming even more problematic for Scientology. In a recently
concluded deposition, David Minkoff, the Scientology doctor to whom Lisa
McPherson was delivered dead, admitted that he had never seen Lisa before,
and that Scientology medical liaison Janice Johnson-Fitzgerald had mischaracterized
Lisa's condition to him prior to her arrival at the hospital.
Minkoff has achieved the highest Scientology level, OT8, and is therefore
supposed to have the highest level of ethics on earth. Yet he confessed
to writing a prescription for valium (another Scientology taboo) for fellow
Scientologist David Houghton at Ft. Harrison, knowing all the while it
was for Lisa McPherson (phone interview with attorney Ken Dandar).
For more complete details of this ongoing case visit the Lisa
McPherson Memorial web site.
UPDATE: CRIMINAL CASE DROPPED.