Police Investigating Death of Scientologist

Source: Florida Times Union
Date: December 16, 1996

Florida authorities are investigating the death of a Church of Scientology member who said she wanted to leave the church and ended up dead weeks later.

Lisa McPherson, a 36-year-old originally from Dallas, spent half of her life as a Scientologist. But last year she called her family in Texas to say she wanted to quit the faith and come back home.

"She said she couldn't get into it over the phone but she said she had a lot to talk about," said Kelly Davis, her childhood friend. "She said she would explain when she got here."

McPherson said she hoped to visit for Thanksgiving, but she was instead taken to the Fort Harrison Hotel, the church's headquarters in Clearwater, on Nov. 18, 1995.

On that night, McPherson was waiting in traffic and mistakenly bumped into the back of a boat trailer being hauled by a truck. After a brief stay in the hospital, she was taken to the hotel by church members. No physical injuries were found, police said.

"She goes to [the church's headquarters] for rest and relaxation and the next time there's any indication of what's happening to her is that on Dec. 5, 1995, she shows up at a hospital in New Port Richey and she's dead on arrival," said Clearwater Police Det. Sgt. Wayne Andrews.

An autopsy by the Pinellas-Pasco Medical Examiner's Office showed McPherson's 5-foot9, 108-pound body was severely dehydrated, her arms and legs were bruised, her skin was cracked and scaling.

Her left pulmonary artery was blocked by a fatal blood clot brought on by dehydration and "bed rest," the autopsy report said.

"The Clearwater Police Department doesn't think she died of natural causes," said police spokesman Wayne Shelor.

Ex-church members say McPherson was taken to the hotel and put under "baby watch," a type of confinement used when a member has a "psychotic break" or is threatening to flee the church.

"They are put in a room with no one and nothing," said Dennis Erlich, a former Scientologist who now is an activist against the church.

Detectives want to question Scientology employees Suzanne Schnuremberger, Ildiko Cannovas and Laura Arrunada, but were told by the church that all three had left the country and no longer worked for the church.

Andrews said he thinks Schnuremberger is in Switzerland or Germany, Cannovas is in Hungary and Arrunada may be working in the medical field in Mexico. He recently asked over the Internet for help in locating them.

The three former employees "worked in an office that would have had control over her" during her stay, Andrews said.

Church of Scientology spokesman Brian Anderson said the three have no connection to McPherson's death and the investigation is nothing more than a harassment campaign against the church by police.

He also disputed that McPherson wanted to leave Scientology. "She wasn't thinking of leaving the church," he said.