Helped to Death: the Story of
I. The Accident
The front page of the May 15, 1955 Arizona
Republic had this story:
“A $9,000 damage suit was brought
yesterday in superior court here against L. Ron Hubbard, the Church
of Scientology, and others.
Mrs. Estrid Anderson Humphrey,
formerly of Paradise Valley and now of Abilene, Tex. brought the
suit through her attorney, George Botsford of Scottsdale. The suit
contends that Mrs. Humphrey's Paradise Valley house was extensively
damaged by 'persons' the suit charged 'with seriously deranged
minds' who were placed there for care and treatment. It charges
these deranged persons broke windows, tore out entire window
casements, pulled loose electrical fixtures, tore and broke great
holes in the walls and ceilings, tore and broke off doors, screen
doors, and cabinets, and did other serious damage. “
The case was settled out of
Scientology documents known as Board Technical Bulletins cover
experiments in 1970 on Scientologists who had psychological problems. These parishioners were placed in isolation and were
subjected to experimental processing to see if their psychological
problems could be cured. The auditors state that the unknowing
lab rats wanted to leave, but were not allowed. They were
asked questions such as "Have you been implanted to harm us?" These
involuntary experiments, which lasted days, were then used by L. Ron
Hubbard, founder of the Church of Scientology and instigator of the
experiments, to build future church policies toward psychotics.
In 1974 L. Ron Hubbard, in a Scientology policy letter wrote that he
had discovered a procedure to cure psychotic people that would lead
to the eradication of psychiatry. The process, called the
Introspection Rundown, involved placing the psychotic person
PTS Type III in Scientologese) into
complete isolation with as little stimulation as possible. No one
was to speak to the person except the “case supervisor” who would
communicate in writing only. Once the person figured out why they
went crazy, the supervisor would allow the person to be let out of
isolation. If the person requested to be freed prematurely, the
supervisor was to write "Dear Joe. I'm sorry but it is no go on
coming out of isolation yet." Isolation continued until the
supervisor was persuaded that the person had intuited why they had
gone crazy and were back in mental clarity.
In 1977 18 year old Lisa McPherson joined
the Church of Scientology in her home town of Dallas, Texas. Half
her life was already over, but the story of the second half will
forever remain a stain on the cult that killed her through hubris
Lisa, a vibrant friendly person, was
dedicated to her new church. It helped her get out of an abusive
relationship, helped her social life, and her contacts there got her
a good paying job. In 1993 her then employer, a company run by
fellow Scientologists, moved their business to Clearwater, Florida,
where Scientology's spiritual headquarters are. Lisa moved too.
Also in 1993, a September 28th Scientology
HCO Ethics Order reviewed a botched Introspection Rundown at St.
Hill in the UK. The person's husband had brought her from
Germany to be cared for. She was put on isolation watch.
At first the Introspection Rundown
was not given "because of the Dir. Review having been crammed while
at Flag after an earlier similar incident." Alain Kartuzinski
from Clearwater gave this order. Ray Mithoff, Kartuzinski's senior,
countermanded this. The whole thing was botched though.
"There were no trained personnel on the watch" which "resulted in a
VERY extended watch." The watch "was not fully muzzled" which
went against the purpose of the Introspection Rundown for quiet and
no stimulation. Also "many outpoints came up" and "the pc was
ready for the R/D [rundown] many weeks before it was finally
Lisa worked hard on her job in her new
town. She worked hard on "going up the bridge" in Scientology, which
means working toward spiritual perfection in a step-by-step process.
She worked hard at helping church projects. She worked on a
relationship with her boyfriend. But gradually the pressures began
to drag on her. She told friend Michael Pattinson "I'd much rather
go back to Dallas and just pursue my own life and my own career, and
just be myself."
In June, 1995, Lisa sought help from her
church for her emotional trauma and thoughts of suicide. She told
her friend Susan Schnurrenberger "I think I'm going crazy." By late
summer after intense Scientology processes, including the
Introspection Rundown, she felt she was coming
out of her depression. Meanwhile she had still been actively taking
regular course work. According to multiple sources, Scientology's
leader David Miscavige had personally begun managing Lisa's
"auditing" which is the process used by Scientologists to move up
the spiritual bridge. On September 7, 1995 Miscavige declared Lisa a
"clear" which means the main mental blocks in Lisa's life were
permanently gone. She declared this "is more exciting than anything
I've ever experienced."
despite being allegedly untrained for the task, Miscavige
declares Lisa a Clear
By October, however, the glow began to
wear off. She sought more help from the church, which put her
through confessionals that required her to write up her personal
issues and errors. It didn't seem to help, as Lisa called an
old-time friend in Dallas, Kellie Davis, and implied she was leaving
Scientology and would be back in Texas soon. She called her mother
days later and said she was having trouble at work. "Mother, I've
let my group down," she said.
On November 15, she went to a trade show
in Orlando with her fellow employees. Her behavior there was so
strange, however, that she was taken back to Clearwater by co-worker
Brenda Hubert. There, Lisa did some volunteer work at a Christmas
display, but she was still unstable.
On Saturday, November 18, Lisa drove her
Jeep Cherokee toward downtown Clearwater. Traffic ahead of
her was slowing down for a motorcycle accident. Lisa was
distracted and ran into the motor of a boat being towed ahead of
her. The boat owner remembered the hit as feeling like just a bump, but
it did hurt the grill on Lisa's Jeep. The paramedic attending the
motorcycle accident noticed Lisa's accident, and went over to check
on her. “Are you ok?” “I'm fine,” replied Lisa. After some more
probing questions, the paramedic had Lisa sign a release, and she
and her partner walked back to the ambulance.
As they were preparing to leave, the
ambulance driver looked back toward Lisa's car. “Bonnie, she's
taking her clothes off.” Lisa walked down the street past the
ambulance completely naked. The paramedic jumped out and guided Lisa
into the back of the ambulance and gave her a blanket. What was she
doing, the paramedic asked. “I wanted people to think I was crazy
because I need help,” Lisa replied. “I just need someone to talk
Lisa walks down the street naked. "I just need someone to talk
Morton Plant Hospital was nearby, so the
paramedics took Lisa there to get checked out. Orderlies at the
hospital described Lisa as robotic and distant. She was apparently
not hurt physcially, but they decided she
should be admitted for observation. Out of the blue, fellow
Scientologists began showing up in the emergency room. They had been
alerted by Bennetta Slaughter, Lisa's boss. She had seen Lisa's car
at the accident scene after the ambulance had left, and asked a
policeman where the owner was. He directed her to Morton Plant. She
in turn called on other Scientologists to check on Lisa because “I
was covered in paint from head to foot because I'd been working...on
the props for this particular charity drive I was doing. And...you
know...I mean, I looked awful. I had paint all over me and frankly
my thing.” In the end,
Scientologists Alain Kartuzinski, Judy Goldsberry-Weber, Mary
DeMoss, Annie Mora, Humberto Fontana, Dr. Jeanne DuCuypere, Emma
Shamehorn, and David Slaughter
responded to the call to check on Lisa.
At the hospital, the Scientologists stayed
by Lisa, afraid that she would wind up in the hands of psychiatry,
which L. Ron Hubbard taught were essentially demons in human form.
After Lisa's physical
checkup, Joe Price was called to evaluate Lisa's mental state. He
was a clinical nurse specialist with a psychiatric background, on
duty at the time. "When I went
into the cubicle where Lisa was laying in bed, there were at least
three members of the church there... they thought I was a
psychologist or a psychiatrist."
Price managed to have a private chat with
Lisa, but she indicated she was not being coerced by her fellow
Scientologists. In the end, a subdued Lisa stated that she
wanted to leave with her fellow parishioners, and Dr. Lovett, unable
to find enough to keep Lisa under Florida's
Baker Act, reluctantly
allowed her to
sign herself out. As she was leaving, Nurse Price
thought to himself, "My God, this lady's a prisoner."
Lisa's "friends" remove her from the hospital
Kartuzinski drove Lisa to Scientology's Ft. Harrison Hotel, about 5
minutes away. Lisa was booked into Room 174, a cabana on the ground
floor in the back of the hotel. Kartuzinski decided Lisa was a "type
III" in Scientology speak, meaning she had gone crazy. The solution
was the Introspection Rundown.
II. Room 174
Kartuzinski, as Lisa's case supervisor,
began organizing a crew to take care of Lisa, headed by Janis
Johnson. Johnson had a medical degree, but her license had been
revoked in Arizona and she never applied for one in Florida. A few
other assistants had varying degrees of medical training, but most
who took turns with Lisa had no such training. Judy
Goldsberry-Weber, who was a nurse and actually wanted to help as a friend of Lisa's,
was pushed out by Johnson. Kartuzinski ordered the watchers to write
a report at the end of their shifts. Lisa would be watched, but not
spoken to, 24 hours per day. A security person was outside her door.
Now they would wait and watch for Alain to decide that Lisa had
snapped out of her mental instability. But Lisa never would.
Lisa would not make this easy. She hit
people, broke things, yelled, acted crazy, and at times tried to get
away. She soiled herself, took off all her clothes, spit out food
they tried to feed her, and basically refused to cooperate with her
incarceration. But as they waited for Lisa to snap out of her
psychosis, they were her caretakers, responsible for her safety and
health. This would mean concern for her food and drink, her sleep,
and her hygeine. At some point in November, Lisa was taken to her
apartment by 2 other women, perhaps to get clothing and personal
items. Fannie, Lisa's mother, recalled that the manager at Lisa's
apartment "said that two women brought her to the apartment holding
onto her and he didn't know why they was bringing her. ... her hair
was all messed up and she wasn't able to walk too well."
On November 22, one of Lisa's caretakers
“I went on this watch as I had no
senior to consult with at 2 am. I went into the room & she was total
Type III [Scientology's term for psychotic]. Blabbering, incoherent
nonstop. Shaking, no warm clothes on -- a old top & shorts & shoes
-- no socks. She fell asleep for 4 hours & got up. I finally chased
her around the place 50 times & got on slacks, tee shirt, jacket,
socks & shoes -- she was like an ice cube. She talked incoherently
hour after hour. She refused to eat & spit out everything she took.
Her breathe was foul. She looked ill like measles or chicken pox on
her face. Had a fever to my touch. After 1 pm she went violent & hit
me a few times telling me she was to kill me #s of times. I called
in the "guard" outside -- the fellow an HCO staff member -- new one
a Mexican gentleman. He stayed with me during the rage -- but she
still smacked me around. (I did cover & guard myself but she was out
of control). I finally got her to drink a protein shake but she
wouldn't eat or sleep any further. This lasted til 4 pm. There was
no post coverage for my library & it was very busy per Qual 1H In
fact no one was R-factored til later per the Qual 1H. I had no food,
drink or sleep the whole time. Now I'm not in uniform -- can't get
back to my room; starving -- have no $ to get food, no key to my
room & out of sorts from the
On the 5th day (November 23), Johnson came
by to check on Lisa. She noticed a bruise on Lisa's arm; "It kind of
looked like a one- or two-day old bruise is what I remember seeing.
You know how it looks kind of purplish first and then it goes to a
brownish color, and you kind of tell how long it’s been by looking
33] This probably came from one of Lisa's physical outbursts,
where she would hit something, like a wall or furniture.
Early in the morning of the 24th, Lisa
managed to actually talk to a fellow human being. From Janet
Sam Ghiora, a
Flag security staffer, was seated on a small bench outside of Lisa’s
room when he heard a doorknob rattle. Slowly, the door to room 174
opened, and Lisa stood at the threshold, fully dressed.
“Hey, she said calmly, walking a
few steps toward him. “You’re not CMO.”
“You’re right,” Ghiora said. He
was not a member of the Commodore’s Messenger Organization but a new
Flag security trainee.
“You can’t tell me what to do,”
“You’re right,” Ghiora said
again. He knew that he’d broken protocol by speaking to her, but he
was momentarily shocked: How had she just walked out of the room?
Where were her minders? Ghiora gently put his hand on Lisa’s
shoulder and steered her back toward her room. She stopped at the
threshold. “I just don’t know what’s happening,” she said.
Ghiora said nothing.
“Could you help me?”
“I need help," she said, and
slowly entering the room, shut the door.
Later that day, Security head Paul
Kellerhals was called to Room 174. Lisa was acting violent. As he
walked in the room, Lisa was hitting Joan, one of the caretakers.
"And Lisa was standing in the middle
of the floor with the robe on. And, Mmm, see, I'd seen this girl
several times before that and I never saw her do anything violent. I
didn't particularly expect anything violent. But before I could --
before I could even say anything, I was going to ask her to sit on
the bed so we could sweep the glass off the floor, she had no shoes
on, right, and clean the room up, right, she hit me with her fist. I
don't know if it was her fist or her hand, but it hit me like this
(indicating), she stepped forward and whacked me one. I had a tie
on. She wrapped her left hand in my tie and started pulling the tie.
And I had a pen in this pocket (indicating), this happened kind of
suddenly, and the pen came out, and while I was down like this, Joan
was standing to my right, and she said, "She has got your pen." And
I looked up and I saw the pen here (indicating), she was over there,
the pen was like this (indicating) and it was coming. And I -- that
is when my attention went to the pen, right. And at the same time I
was struggling to get the pen away, Joan was trying to unwrap my
tie. And then she wound up on the bed, going backward across the
room in the struggle, she wound up on the bed and flipped over on
her stomach. And I got -- finally got the pen out of her hand,
right. And I said, "Clean the room." She was on the bed. I had my
hands on her shoulders. And, I said, "Clean the room." And I said,
"Get the glass off the floor."
On November 25th, the seventh day of Lisa's
stay, Kartuzinski decided it
was time to try to sedate Lisa as she was not sleeping much and was
physically violent. David Houghton was at the Ft. Harrison studying
Scientology courses when he was asked to help with Lisa. He crushed
up aspirin and Benadryl, mixed it in with orange juice, and used a
baster to inject the concoction into the back of Lisa's throat. Lisa
seemed to like the taste, so it was not much of a fight. About an
hour later, Lisa laid down to sleep.
Lisa force-fed aspirin and Benadryl
Houghton was back
on the 27th to perform his specialty on Lisa, force feeding her
drugs. She had still been talking incessently, not sleeping, hitting
things and people. Around this time Rita Boykin managed to clip
Lisa's deadly fingernails that she used to scratch herself and
"I felt I had wanted to do it for days, because, I mean, it
was a hazard to her and us, but she wouldn't let me. You know, I
couldn't manage it, and I planned it out. Just one day I just washed
her hands really well when she was asleep. I kind of soaked them,
because she would get feces and stuff like that under her nails, and
when they were real soft, I clipped them."
November 28 Houghton
returned with his turkey baster and injected liquid, Benadryl,
and aspirin into Lisa's mouth. The caretakers reported that
Lisa was calming down. The assumption was she was getting weaker.
November 29 Janis Johnson gave Lisa a shot
of magnesium. The caretakers continued with their attempts to
get Lisa to eat protein shakes, valerian root pills, Cal Mag and
water. And to be clear, no actual doctor ever saw
Lisa at the Ft. Harrison Hotel. The caretakers were basically flying
blind as far as her health was concerned.
November 30, the 12th day, the caretakers reported Lisa
was calmer, quieter, had lost weight, and was regressing.
December 1 Rita Boykin reported her
attempt to force feed Lisa; "My idea of closing her nose so she has
to swallow so she can breathe through her mouth is only marginally
successful. She either swallows and breathes or she lets everything
in her mouth
come out.” Lisa's violent outbursts caused caretaker
Sylvia DeLavega to curl up in a corner crying. Janis Johnson visited
and noticed Lisa was much thinner. Heather Petzold was becoming
exasperated and wrote uplines that things needed to change;
she's continuing to scream, you know, just things over and over.
She's defecating on the bed. She's -- she doesn't walk around as
much. She is sleeping less. She -- we tried to give her protein
drinks, we tried to give her like eggs, whatever we could give her,
and I haven't been able to succeed. And that we need to change
something, she's not getting better so we need to change something."
Sylvia is overwhelmed from Lisa's violence
December 2 Lisa was noticably weaker, but
still struck out at her captors. Someone (Johnson?) gave her a
"magnesium shot." Rita Boykin noted "She has scratches and abrasions
all over her body, and on her elbows and knees she has
December 3, the 15th day, Lisa was too weak to stand at
this point. She slept more. She was incontinent. Still, her bumbling
caretakers went blindly forward, following the Ivory Tower advices
from Kartuzinski and the infrequent visits from Johnson.
December 4 Johnson came by but saw Lisa
sleeping so she left. Lisa was visibly weaker and refusing to eat.
Heather Hoff made note of Lisa's bruises all over, and Rita Boykin
wrote that Lisa had a swollen jaw.
By December 5 some 20 people had helped
with Lisa's watch
[p. 11]. That afternoon
Laura Arrunada and Heather Hoff were bathing Lisa when her sphincter
relaxed. Laura's medical training told her this could be a sign that
Lisa needed medical care right now. She contacted Johnson about her
fears. About 2 hours later, Johnson came by to check. Johnson
considered that Lisa was severely dehydrated and might be septic.
She went to call
Dr. Minkoff, a fellow Scientologist who had
previously prescribed drugs for Lisa without seeing her. Minkoff was
on duty at New Port Richey hospital, about 45 minutes away. Morton
Plant hospital was 5 minutes away. Minkoff listened to Johnson's
description of Lisa and told her to bring Lisa to him.
Johnson went to get her car, while Paul
Greenwood, a security staff, came to the room to help. Greenwood
held Lisa under her arms as Laura lifted her by her feet. They put
Lisa in the middle of the back seat and got in themselves. Janis
Johnson drove, passing three other emergency rooms before arriving
at New Port Richey. As they got closer to the hospital, Lisa's
breathing and pulse became weaker and weaker.
Janis returns with the car as Lisa is carried out of Room 174
At the hospital, some nurses came out with
a wheelchair to help. Nurse Rick Pemberton recalled:
help getting this person out of the car. And immediately looking at
her, I suspected that things weren't so good because she was very
pale. Her eyes had this really hazy look to them and she wasn't
breathing. So we immediately rushed her back to Room 2, which is our
CPR room. And we then initiated CPR at that time... There's no
question in my mind now that she was definitely [dead] before she
ever got here."
Dr. Minkoff arrived and put an IV in her leg. Another doctor arrived and intubated her.
Nothing worked, and Dr. Minkoff pronounced Lisa McPherson dead.
A nurse who saw Lisa contacted the police
over the unusual circumstances and the appearance of Lisa's body.
Clearwater police began an investigation the next day.
III. Search for the Truth
Scientologists immediately started work on
a "shore story" to cover what actually happened to Lisa. Her room
was cleaned and the beds replaced with a single king-sized bed. Staff involved were kept in one
location, as a precaution to the initial theory that Lisa might have
had a severe contagious disease.
Marty Rathbun, a high church
official at the time, was tasked with handling the debacle. He
gathered any paperwork about Lisa, including her auditing folders,
and sent most to headquarters in Los Angeles, where David Miscavige
was. The reports from Lisa's last 3 days, however, he handled
differently. "I said, 'Lose 'em,' and walked
out of the room." They
have never been found.
Three Scientologists involved with Lisa's
care quickly left the country; Susanne Schnurrenberger, Laura
Arrunada, and Ildiko Cannovas.
Scientology's shore story was to be that
Lisa came voluntarily to the Ft. Harrison Hotel for "rest and
relaxation" after becoming stressed out. At the hotel, people would
occasionally check in to make sure Lisa was doing ok. On the last
day Lisa suddenly fell ill of fast acting meningitis. Lisa was taken
to see Dr. Minkoff by her request as she knew he was a
Scientologist. And if not for the following police and newspaper
investigations, this is the story we would know today.
On December 6 police came to the Fort
Harrison Hotel to investigate and found a completely cleaned and
re-furbished Room 174. It had one king-size bed instead of the 2
queen beds when Lisa was held captive there. The interviews with
witnesses, including Alain Kartuzinski, followed the shore story to
the letter. But police had a 36-year-old's
body that clearly showed
something very peculiar had been going on. Autopsy photos show
bruises and scars all over Lisa's body. The paramedics in her
November 18 car accident guessed she weighed about 140 pounds, yet
Lisa's body on December 5 was
108 pounds. Lisa's caretakers had not
called an ambulance, but instead drove themselves past 4 other
emergency rooms to get to New Port Richey hospital, by which time Lisa was
already apparently dead. There was too much strangeness to just
accept Scientology's side of the story. So while Scientology worked
feverishly to push their version of Lisa's demise, the police began
to search for what really happened.
Bennetta Slaughter, Lisa's employer,
called Fannie, Lisa's mom. "Benetta called me around 2:00 the next
day to tell me that she had died. And I asked her what in the world
happened. And she said well, she started getting sick about noon and
just kept getting sicker and sicker. And they took her on to the
doctor ... the hospital."
[p. 5] There was no mention of
the accident, or the Introspection Rundown, or the guards at the
hotel door, or the 24/7 caretakers. Further questioning
produced no more information, so on December 16 Fannie and her two
sisters flew to Clearwater to get answers and collect Lisa's things.
When they arrived outside Lisa's apartment, her roommate and others were
hauling things out. Fannie went in to collect what she could, but
Lisa's furniture, clothing, jewelry, and most everything was already
gone. The police and Lisa's friends were not helpful in relieving
Fannie and her sisters arrive at Lisa's apartment
Coincidentally, some anti-Scientology
activists were planning a protest in Clearwater for March 1996. As
they had been talking to the police to make sure their plans would
be compliant with city ordinances and such, a detective mentioned
something on the police department's web site. This was a page named
"homicide.html" that listed information about active death
investigations. Lisa McPherson's case was shown there, with her
"last known address" as 210 S. Fort Harrison in Clearwater, being
the Ft. Harrison Hotel. So while no protester knew who Lisa was, many knew
that address as the very location they planned to protest at. The
protest organizer gave Cheryl Waldrip, a reporter at the Tampa
Tribune, information about their coming protest and included a link
to the police department's web site about Lisa McPherson, indicating
the address's connection to Scientology.
Waldrip at first did not think much of this
death investigation until she noticed there had been no obituary for
Lisa in the local papers. She contacted Lisa's family. On December
15, 1996 the front page of the Tampa Tribune carried the headline
"Mystery Surrounds Scientologist's Death." Scientology's shore story
was quickly unraveling.
In February, 1997 Lisa's family sued the
Church of Scientology for wrongful death. Attorney
Ken Dandar got a
court order in July 1997 ordering the church to turn over all
On November 13, 1998 the State of Florida
charged Scientology's Flag Services Organization with abuse of a
disabled adult and practicing medicine without a license. These weak
charges came after a full-court press by Scientology's lawyers and
propagandists to stifle any criminal charges against any
Scientologist or entity.
After they learned of Lisa's story, protesters switched their annual
Clearwater protest date from around Hubbard's birthday in March to
around December 5, the day Lisa McPherson died. They held candle
vigils for Lisa near the Ft. Harrison Hotel. At
one of these vigils, hundreds of Scientologists came out to harass
the mourners, even blowing out their candles. Critics set up
memorial web sites for Lisa and began archiving any information
Scientologists blew out mourners' candles
In 1999 the Lisa McPherson Trust opened
just blocks away from the Ft. Harrison Hotel. The mission statement
of the Trust was to "expose the abusive and deceptive practices of
the Church of Scientology and to help those who have been victimized
by it. These were the final wishes of Lisa McPherson's mother,
Fannie, who died before the Church of Scientology was held to
account for Lisa's death."
In 2001 Dr. David
I. Minkoff's medical license was
suspended for a year
for prescribing medicine to Lisa without even having seen her.
All of this appeared to be a huge body
blow to the cult, as it should have been. But in the end, Lisa's
family settled out of court, the state
dropped its charges
(after Scientology allegedly spent
$30 million on the case),
annual protests stopped after 2000, and the Trust disbanded in 2001.
But the truth about Lisa's death has been exposed. The heinous
actions of the cult showed the dark side of Scientology that so much
wants only to display power and infallibility.
Unfortunately, Scientology has not
changed. There have been accusations since Lisa's death that
held others against their will. Scientology now makes
prospective members sign what critics call the
Lisa Clause, which absolves the cult of any responsibility
should they decide a parishioner needs the Introspection Rundown. Lynn Farny was interviewed by state attorney investigators.
Lynn is Legal Affairs Director for the Church of Scientology
International. He was asked if any church policies changed after
Q. What's the new Church policy on
handling of violent PTS-IIIs?
A. The policy hasn't changed.
Q. So you're still going to handle
somebody like Lisa, who's violent and breaking things and crashing,
and you're going to still do destimulation?
A. The technology is always been to get
them -- get them to sleep, get them quiet, get an immediate physical
examination. And once they're -- once they're rested and come out of
it, get them audited. That policy hasn't changed.