Subscribe to our email list and receive discounts and special offers from Watchman


New--Now Available

The Profile Notebook on CD-ROM
The Profile Notebook on CD-ROM

Also available by download for $9.95!

Donate Online

Quick Links


Members of:

Profile Notebook

Profile NotebookOnly $39.95, this 312 page-plus binder includes over 75 Profiles. Also available as CD-ROM or Download!

YOU ARE HERE:   Home >  Articles >  Scientology >  Scientologist Lisa McPherson's Tragic Death

For more information on the New Age and Postmodernism movements, please visit our web catalog; or click here to order a free information packet.

Scientologist Lisa McPherson's Tragic Death

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 "Objective Havingness."

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 a common procedure that is it likely 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 13, 1990)

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 like these.

There is no reason to think the Scientologists at Ft. Harrison would not follow the 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 McPherso.n (phone interview with attorney Ken Dandar)

For more complete details of this ongoing case visit the Lisa McPherson Memorial web site.


For more information on the New Age and Postmodernism movements, please visit our web catalog; or click here to order a free information packet.