Keep Investigation On Track

Source: St. Petersburg Times
Date: December 18, 1996

A woman involved in a minor traffic accident sheds her clothes and walks nude down the street. Police take her to the hospital to see a psychiatric nurse, and against medical advice she leaves with friends. Those friends take her to their church. Seventeen days later, they drive her to a hospital more than 20 miles away in another county. The woman is dead on arrival, and an autopsy finds bruises, abrasions and lesions on her body. Official cause of death: a blood clot caused by "bed rest and severe dehydration."

Clearwater police say those are the circumstances surrounding the suspicious death of Lisa McPherson, who was a member of the Church of Scientology for 18 years before she died in December 1995. Any objective review can only raise more questions about what happened to the 36-year-old woman in the 17 days between the traffic accident and her death.

A year later, the Clearwater Police Department still is looking for answers and avoiding accusations. Instead of cooperating, the Church of Scientology has responded by attacking the police department and complaining of harassment. It is standard procedure for Scientologists to discourage scrutiny with tactics that smack of intimidation. The Clearwater Police Department and the state attorney's office should not allow such a strategy to derail this investigation.

There is considerable anecdotal evidence that should heighten concern about McPherson's death. Shortly before her traffic accident in November 1995, McPherson confided that she was leaving the Church of Scientology, a long-time friend told the Tampa Tribune. McPherson's mother, Fannie McPherson, told the newspaper that her daughter told her she was having trouble meeting her sales goals at a Clearwater business owned by a Scientologist. Fannie McPherson said Scientologists told her that her daughter was placed in solitary confinement at the church's Fort Harrison Hotel in Clearwater after the auto accident. She said Scientologists attended her daughter's funeral in Texas and claimed that Lisa wanted her body to be cremated. Scientologists deny they place anyone in solitary confinement.

Why did Scientologists ignore medical advice and escort Lisa McPherson out of Morton Plant Hospital after her traffic accident? What happened to her in the 17 days between the traffic accident and her death? Why did Scientologists avoid nearby hospitals and take her to a Pasco County hospital, where she was to be examined by a doctor who is a Scientologist and who had never seen McPherson before? Why did McPherson have just $11 in her savings account at the time of her death when Scientology officials say she earned up to $80,000 a year? Why has the Church of Scientology failed to help police locate three Scientologists who apparently helped care for McPherson in Clearwater and have since left the country?

The Clearwater Police Department should press ahead with its investigation into Lisa McPherson's death. It should not hesitate to seek help from other law enforcement agencies, and it should proceed with or without cooperation from the Church of Scientology.