Inside Edition, January 21, 1997

teaser: Authorities have questions about the death of this (picture of Lisa) Scientologist. But the church )picture of a red brick building with the Scientology cross) says its just another example of harassment by government officials.


Hostess (Deborah Norville) (standing next to a picture of lisa w/ caption "mystery death): Scientology: some people call it a cult, while millions around the world, including some top Hollywood stars, call it a life focusing religion. It's even been granted tax exempt religious status. But since its inception, Scietnology been surrounded by controversy. One of the biggest is how it views and treats members with emotional or mental problems.

Matt Mehar reports about a young women who had devoted her life to the Church, and her family is now wondering if that cost her her life.

One note, we apologize for Matt's voice. He's got a little bit of a throat problem [throughout the interview the segment, his voice shifts from normal to a noticeable hoarse burr]

Matt Hall: Growing up in Suburban Dallas, Lisa McPherson was close to her family and had lots of friends. But according to her Aunt that all changed 19 years ago.

[whenever a person speaks, they focus on him / her. Otherwise it tends to be filler shots of Clearwater or pics of Lisa]

Aunt (Dell): After she graduated from High School, she went to work for the phone company, and got into something what they call "Scientology"

Matt Hall: The Church of Scientology became the center of Lisa's life. And when she died unexpectedly 13 months ago her friends and family felt there were a lot of unanswered questions.

Aunt: We were told many different stories from the different members of Scientology - where she was and what had happened to her. We don't know what to believe

Matt: Kelly Davis was Lisa's closest friend growing up in Texas. She says when Lisa called her in November of 1995, she got the impression she may be leaving the church.

Kelly: She said she was coming to stay, she said she had to talk to me about a lot of things, and that she didn't want to discuss it over the phone.

Matt Mehar: Lisa had been living in Clearwater, Florida. Scientologists started buying up propertys there 20 years ago, and although they've improved them greatly, there's been a lot of bad blood between the church and local officials..

Thousands of Scietnologists work and study in Clearwater. Lisa McPherson was one of those. She had a high paying job at a publishing company owned by a fellow scientologist. She even donated nearly half of her $136,000 a year salary to the Church.

Elliot Abelson, General council, and spokesman for Scientology, denies Lisa was thinking of leaving the church.

Elliot: By everything she did and everything she said, was a close to the church at the time of her death as at any other time of her life.

Matt: Were there any reports of anxiety being expressed by Lisa?

Elliot: Yes, I believe she was having problems with her performance on the job. And I think she had expressed to her family, and to others, that she felt that pressure.

Matt: On the night of Nov. 18, 1995, it appears that the pressure may have become too much. Lisa was taken to a Clearwater hospital after a minor traffic accident.

Why was she taken to the hospital:

Elliot: She was taken to the hospital by paramedics who came to the scene, and she was taken because she had taken her clothes off and was walking down the street.

Matt: According to hospital records we obtained from her family, Lisa told EMS workers at the scene "she needed to talk" (expanded quote from image) and that "she took her clothes off to make people think she was crazy" (another image).

But soon after she was taken to the Emergency room, some members of the Church of Scientology arrived. The records indicate they told the doctor they did not want her to see a psychiatrist, and that "they would be able to handle her themselves".

Matt: Would it be too strong to say they don't believe in the benefits of Psychiatric?

Elliot: They see more harm probably than benefits, yes.

Matt: The emergency room doctor insisted on Lisa having a psychological evaluation. After which, Lisa said she wanted to leave. According to hospital records, her scientologist friends said they "would take care of her 24 hours a day." (paraphrase of image)

Wayne Shellor (police spokesman): She signed herself out against doctors orders. Its my understanding from the investigators, that the attending physician in the ER counseled her that she should probably stay for observation.

Matt: After Lisa signed herself out of the hospital, she didn't go back to her apartment. She came here to the old Ft. Harrison hotel, (big white building) the Churches spiritual headquarters in downtown Clearwater. Church officials say Lisa requested to come here for rest and relaxation. But 17 days later, with bruises and abrasions on her arms and legs, and having lost a great deal of weight, Lisa was taken to another hospital - this time she was dead on arrival.

Wayne Shellor, Police Spokeman: A short time thereafter, we found out from the Pinellas Pasco Medical Examiner that her death was not from natural causes. So we've been investigating her death as that of a suspicious death for over a year now.

Abelson: There has been a war of harassment on the part of the Clearwater PD, against the church, and we believe that this story wouldn't be a story if Lisa hadn't been a Scientologist,

Matt: Abelson also challenges the competency of the ME's office, and said it conspired with the police when it issued this autopsy.

Abelson: They have absolutely no basis to say that she that didn't die of natural causes.

Matt Hall: How do you know that?

Abelson: Because I've read the autopsy report

Matt: The autopsy, given to us by Lisa's family, says she died of a blood clot in her heart, but look at the cause of the clot: "bed rest and severe dehydration."

ME, Dr. Joan: This is the most severe case of dehydration I've even seen.

Matt: Dr. Joan Wood , the Pinellas county Medical Examiner, spoke to us after we interviewed Mr. Abelson. Dr. Wood says while dying of a blood clot is a natural cause, what led up to it, Lisa's severe dehydration, was not. (shows the chemical test) She says tests performed during the autopsy indicate Lisa McPherson went at least 5 days without any liquids.

Matt: 5 days you think she went without liquid?

ME: I think 5-10 is reasonable, it may have been 17.

Matt: What could possibly explain that?

ME: Umm, I think there's several possibilities. Umm, the first is that she refused to eat or drink, perhaps she was deprived of food and water, because if you've even been thirsty, you know how powerful that thirst drive is.

Abelson: She rested, she slept a lot, uhh, nothing unusual, uhh, really, until the end of her stay. She did (pause) get food, uhh, water, obviously people talked to her. uhh, But she got rest and relaxation.

Matt Hall: But later in our interview, Mr. Abelson does refer to something unusual:

Abelson: But it was something very unusual to see this charming 36 year old woman hitting the wall.

Matt: With her body?

Abelson: No, with her fist

Matt: While Scietnologists don't believe in psychiatric care, they do have their own methods for dealing with members who are having what they call "Psychotic Breaks" (the red volumes, quote from I rundown) Their teaching call for isolating members who they believe are a danger to themselves or others.

There was no construction to isolate Lisa, was there?

Abelson: No. Absolutely not. That was Lisa's wish.

Matt: And she was free to come and go?

Abelson: She was free to come and go.

Matt: Abelson says Lisa became physically ill very suddenly, and it wasn't until the last 24 hours of her life that the people around her had reason to be alarmed.

Abelson: She lost a lot of fluids at that time. There certainly wasn't enough of a weight loss for anyone to suggest she be taken to the hospital, earlier than the last 24 hours.

Matt: You don't deteriorate the way Lisa McPherson did in a day or two, do you?

ME: No. Absolutely not.

Matt: On the evening of December 5, Lisa was finally driven to a hospital by Scientology staffers in a church van (pic of van w/ "Flag" in gold letters on it). Even though an emergency room was only a quarter of a mile from the hotel, they chose to drive 25 miles on a busy highway, (pic of highway) passing at least 4 other Emergency rooms, (pic of white H on blue hospital street sign) to get to the Columbia Newport Richy hospital, where there was a doctor on staff who was also a Scientologist.

And had they called him, do you know?

Abelson: Yes

Matt: And did they describe symptoms to him?

Abelson: In a very general way.

Matt: And this doctor recommended that she come to that hospital?

Abelson: Yes. He said get her here immediately.

Matt: According to hospital records, the scientologist who drove Lisa said she stopped breathing just as they approached the hospital. Doesn't common sense dictate to you that they would have called an ambulance?

Abelson: I think... I can't apply my common sense to the situation because I wasn't there

Matt: There were adults, were't they?

Abelson: Certainly they were adults

Matt: Educated people?

Abelson: And certainly the fastest way to get her to the doctor was

Matt: (interrupting) Call an ambulance

Abelson: to put her in a van and drive her.

Matt: You have a woman who's dehydrated, she's got severe diarrhea, she's had excessive weight loss, and she's going in and out of consciousness.

Abelson: She's sleepy. You know, rou're making more about this going in and out of consciousness. She's tired.

Matt: Abelson says on the day Lisa died she participated in the discussion about going to the hospital 25 miles away. They she'd even walked, with help, part way to the van.

ME: I've spent some time in court, as you can imagine, and so I am very careful with my wording. And my wording would be this: from the time that Lisa McPherson died, backwards 24-48 hours, she was unconscious.

Matt: Comatose, Unconscious?

ME: Yes

Matt: She didn't sit around that day and decide whether or not she was gonna to go to the doctor.

ME: Absolutely not.

Matt: After she was pronounced dead, Dr. David Mikoff, the emergency room physician who's also a member of the church, drew blood from Lisa and had it tested. The test results show a staph infection, which Church officials say could explain Lisa's rapid deterioration and her death.

ME: Lisa did not die of an overwhelming staff infection.

Matt: Did a staph infecting contribute or cause the blood clot?

ME: No. No.

Matt: Dr. Wood says she can't explain the cuts and bruises on Lisa's body; they may have been from falls before she was comatose. Abelson maintains the Staph infection could have caused the bruises. The autopsy also refers to insect bites on Lisa's body.

Abelson: I can't explain the insect bites, other than there were a lot of people probably coming in and out of the room, and there's a lot of mosquitos in Florida. So that's how that happened.

ME: No, they are not mosquito bites. They appear to me to be cockroach bites.

Matt: How could Lisa McPherson sit there and let cockroaches bite her while she's laying on a bed?

ME: If she's comatose, it can happen and she doesn't know it and doesn't react to it.

Kelley Davis (friend): I would like for them get to the bottom of it, and find out exactly what happened to Lisa.

Deborah Norville (back in the studio): Officials at Scientology say the ongoing investigation is the product of long standing hostility toward the church in Clearwater, and that they'll be able to prove that there is an organized conspiracy against the church.

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