A death that rates investigation

Tampa Tribune editorial, December 19, 1996

A woman just 36 years old turns up dead on arrival at a hospital. An autopsy shows she was severely dehydrated, her arms and legs were bruised, and her skin was cracked and scaling. The medical examiner finds that her left pulmonary artery has been blocked by a fatal blood clot brought on by dehydration and ``bed rest.''

Just 17 days before her death, she had been in a minor traffic accident, and, although uninjured, she was described by paramedics as ``wild-eyed.'' They said she removed all her clothing while walking down the street, so they took her to a hospital emergency room. A psychiatric nurse was called, and the doctor wanted to keep her in the hospital, but members of a religious organization she was affiliated with arrived, and she left with them.

She goes into the organization's headquarters, and 17 days later she is dead. Police want to talk to three people who worked in the headquarters and may have been in contact with her, but they are out of the country and no longer work for the organization.

Clearwater police describe just such a chain of events in their investigation of the death of Lisa McPherson, a woman who had spent her adult life in the Church of Scientology. The police suspect she did not die of natural causes. The police want to talk to Suzanne Schnuremberger, Ildiko Cannovas and Laura Arrunada, but law officers have been told that all three have left the country. The three former employees ``worked in an office that would have had control over'' McPherson during her stay, according to Clearwater Police Detective Sgt. Wayne Andrews.

Scientologists say the three ex-employees had nothing to do with McPherson's death, and the investigation is nothing more than a harassment campaign. The organization disputes the police account of what happened to McPherson, including the autopsy results and conclusions about the cause of death. They say a Scientologist physician found she had a strep infection.

A Scientology spokesman also denies the assertion made by a childhood friend of McPherson's, who said she was planning to leave the organization and go back to her family in Dallas. A woman has died under mysterious circumstances. That is a matter that routinely warrants police attention, regardless of the deceased person's religious affiliation. Legitimate questions need to be answered, and anyone who knows anything about the matter is morally and legally obliged to cooperate with the police investigation.

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