Scientology's Shame: Lisa McPherson, 16 Years After Her Death
On December 5, 1995, a 36-year-old woman perished while several people were taking her to a hospital in Florida.
Within a few years, the mysterious and strange circumstances around the death of Lisa McPherson -- who had been a Scientologist since the age of 18 -- had the Church of Scientology facing a criminal prosecution, generated the worst publicity for the church since it was raided by the FBI in 1977, and inspired a new generation of critics who ever since have kept close watch on the controversial organization.
Lakes of ink have already been spilled writing about Lisa McPherson. Earlier this year, we placed her #10 in our series, "The Top 25 People Crippling Scientology," and in that piece, we printed excerpts from probably the best, most moving journalistic telling of Lisa's story, in Janet Reitman's excellent book, Inside Scientology.
Rather than write yet again about this piece of Scientology history, we wanted to turn things over to our loyal readers. After the jump, we're printing some brief tributes from readers who were asked what Lisa McPherson has meant to them in their own lives. And we hope in the comments section, you'll do us the honor of adding your own tribute.
Jeff Jacobsen is an old friend of ours, and played a key role in the McPherson saga. In Arizona at the time, he spotted an online notice by Clearwater police who were looking for information regarding a suspicious death. Jacobsen recognized the address as Scientology's Fort Harrison Hotel, and brought it to a Tampa reporter's notice. And so began a publicity firestorm. Jeff sent over this remembrance:
Through strange historical and legal twists, we know perhaps more about Lisa McPherson than any other victim of Scientology. Because of this, she stands out as a representation of all that is wrong with this organization. Even when they think they are doing the right thing, the result is pain and even death for the recipient of their "care."
When I first saw Lisa's name, I had never heard of her before. Neither had any other critics and ex-Scientologists that I asked. Cheryl Waldrip of the Tampa Tribune, bless her soul, used her journalistic skills to dig out the major points of Lisa's life and death. The civil lawsuit Lisa's family filed, and Florida's brief criminal case, also exposed the inside information on how Lisa died. As more information came out, what unfolded just made Scientology darker and more egregious than us critics had even known. And for others it presented what they knew all along but couldn't get anyone to listen to.
Lisa's life to me is simply tragedy. It's sadness. And it's the impetus for me and many others to make sure as much as we can that Scientology stops hurting people.
I didn't know Lisa or her story until I started searching the 'net in 2002. It shocked me and confirmed my doubts about church management. Her treatment at the hands of Flag staff was horrific, very different than any Scientology I had studied. I read the felony indictments and many of the police interview transcripts. The interviews screamed to me of cover-up with obvious lies, 'acceptable truths' and misdirection on the part of the interviewees. It chilled me to realize I had been forced to sign a document allowing Scientology to similarly imprison me as a requirement for starting on the 'OT' levels at AOLA.
I hated that I had never been told the truth. I had been told lies to make me donate to the IAS to fund defense of this atrocity. That is fraud. It all made me furious, and I searched more, finding the lies, mistreatment, "acceptable truths" and misdirections involving Hubbard's death, the FBI raid, the 'religious freedom crusades, and nearly every crisis Scientology had been involved in. Finally it took me back to the actions and character of Hubbard himself. In documents, trial transcripts, testimony and Hubbard's own words it became clear he was a lying con man, a fraud who used lies, fabrications, 'acceptable truths and misdirection to keep himself out of jail and defraud thousands of people while hiding his true intention to "make all men my slaves". Scientology, despite some positive content, is his creation and bears his pathology in every fiber.
Lisa's story makes me glad that I am no longer in the Sea Org or involved with Scientology and makes me love my boyfriend even more (a wonderful Anon who opened my eyes and got me out of Scientology).
I saw many things while I was there: people, very sick people going without medical care and I was told that the only reason they were sick was because they were PTS to an SP and that almost always ended up bad for the person.
They were either disappeared or disconnected from family or loved ones.
Lisa and the many who are kept prisoner behind those walls are who I protest for.
I protest against Scientology not only for myself, but for them as well.
So that one day they will all have justice.
So that one day they will be free and so that someday no other is caught in the trap that I was.
As a non-Scientologist, I stumbled across the subject in a religious studies class in college. With a paper due and all mainstream religions already being covered,I decided to Google controversial religions. Scientology was first on the list, I Googled that next. Lisa McPherson's name displayed in bold letters in front of me.
Eager to learn all I could, Lisa's tragic death captivated my interests. I holed up in my room, devouring every source of information available and found myself obsessed with knowing more. How could this happen in our country, the land of the free?
I could never imagine how profoundly Lisa's life and untimely death would affect my life. Years later, I'm far from an expert on Scientology but I have educated myself in its teachings and beliefs.
In this journey, I have met others like me who desperately want to help those that are trapped in Scientology. I've made a friend that I consider family, she is a former Scientologist currently suffering the effects of the dehumanizing policy of disconnection. Without Lisa's gut-wrenching death at the hands of Scientology, so many would remain ignorant of the CoS's abuses. I will never forget you, Lisa, and we will always fight in your memory.
Her death demonstrates the continuing ethical bankruptcy of the organization and its members. It was OK to ignore her growing mental illness, it was OK to cover up how she died, it is OK to obey orders, because being a Scientologist (TM) is more important to them than anything else.
Clearly, Lisa McPherson has been a major inspiration to many Scientology watchers, who tend to believe that the more Scientology tries its best to be secretive, the more it must have to hide.
In our comments section, please tell us what Lisa has meant to you. We look forward to reading your words.
The Top 25 People Crippling Scientology #1: L. Ron Hubbard #2: David Miscavige #3: Marty Rathbun #4: Tom Cruise #5: Joe Childs and Tom Tobin #6: Anonymous #7: Mark Bunker #8: Mike Rinder #9: Jason Beghe #10: Lisa McPherson #11: Nick Xenophon (and other public servants) #12: Tommy Davis (and other hapless church executives) #13: Janet Reitman (and other journalists) #14: Tory Christman (and other noisy ex-Scientologists) #15: Andreas Heldal-Lund (and other old time church critics) #16: Marc and Claire Headley, escapees of the church's HQ #17: Jefferson Hawkins, the man behind the TV volcano #18: Amy Scobee, former Sea Org executive #19: The Squirrel Busters (and the church's other thugs and goons) #20: Trey Parker and Matt Stone (and other media figures) #21: Kendrick Moxon, attorney for the church #22: Jamie DeWolf (and other L. Ron Hubbard family members) #23: Ken Dandar (and other attorneys who litigate against the church) #24: David Touretzky (and other academics) #25: Xenu, galactic overlord
Tony Ortega is the editor-in-chief of The Village Voice. Since 1995, he's been writing about Scientology at several publications.
Keep up on all of our New York news coverage at this blog, Runnin' Scared
SCIENTOLOGY IN THE VILLAGE VOICE
[Scientology spokesman Tommy Davis secretly recorded discussing "disconnection"] [Tom Cruise and Baby Suri embarrassed by news item, so someone must pay] [Benjamin Ring, LA deputy sheriff, wants you to spend your 401K on Scientology] [Scientologists: How many of them are there, anyway?] [Scientology hates clean ice: The "Fair Game" operation that should turn your stomach] [Scientology hates clean ice, part 2: Another target, and the web as weapon]
MARTY RATHBUN AND THE SIEGE OF SOUTH TEXAS
[Scientology has Rathbun arrested] | [Rathbun and Mark Bunker reveal surprising ties] In Germany with Ursula Caberta: [Announcing plans] | [Press conference] | [Making news about Tom Cruise, Bill Clinton, and Tony Blair] | [Post-trip interview] The Squirrel Busters: [Goons with cameras on their heads] | [Rathbun's open letter to neighbors] | [Ingleside on the Bay, Texas rallies to Rathbun's cause] | [Squirrel Buster's claim to be making a "documentary"] | [VIDEO: "On a Boat"] | ["Anna" sent to creep out Monique Rathbun] | [Squirrel Busters go hillbilly] | [A videographer blows the whistle on the goon squad] | [Ed Bryan, OT VIII, shows the power of Scientology's highest levels]
SCIENTOLOGY SPYING AND "FAIR GAME"
[Secret Scientology documents spell out spying operation against Marc Headley] [Scientology's West U.S. spies list revealed] | [Scientology's enemies list: Are you on it?] Spy operation against Washington Post writer Richard Leiby: [Part 1] | [Part 2] [A Scientology spy comes clean: Paulien Lombard's remarkable public confession] [Scientology advertises for writers in Freedom magazine] [Accidental leak shows Scientology spy wing plans to "handle" the Voice] [Lori Hodgson and Disconnection: "No one's going to take my eternity away"]
SCIENTOLOGY AND CELEBRITIES
["Tom Cruise told me to talk to a bottle"] | [Tom Cruise likes coconut cake] | [Tom Cruise has a sense of humor] | ["Tom Cruise not a kook!"] | [Paulette Cooper on Tom Cruise] [Paul Haggis, director of Crash, issues an ultimatum, leaves the church] [Character actor Jason Beghe defects noisily] | [Actor Michael Fairman reveals his "suppressive person" declaration] | [Michael Fairman talks to the Voice] [Giovanni Ribisi as David Koresh: Scientology-Branch Davidian link makes sense] [Russell Brand weds ex-Scientologists in wild ceremony] | [Skip Press on Haggis] [Placido Domingo Jr.: Scientology's retaliation is "scary and pathetic"] Grant Cardone, NatGeo's "Turnaround King": [Doing Scientology's dirty work?] | [Milton Katselas complained about Cardone's smear job] | [Cardone runs to Huffpo] [Philip Boyd, Saving Grace actor, rips "the business that is Scientology"]
JANET REITMAN'S INSIDE SCIENTOLOGY
[Our review of Inside Scientology] | [An interview with Janet Reitman] | [A report from Reitman's first book tour appearance] | [At the Half-King: Reitman not afraid] [Scientology doesn't like Inside Scientology] | [Q&A at Washington Post] [A roundup of Reitman's print reviews, and why isn't she on television more?]
HUGH URBAN'S THE CHURCH OF SCIENTOLOGY
EX-SCIENTOLOGISTS SPEAK OUT
[Marc Headley: "Tom Cruise told me to talk to a bottle"] | [The Nancy Many interview] [Sympathy for the Devil: Tory Christman's Story] | [Jeff Hawkins' Counterfeit Dreams] [86 Million Thin Dimes: The Lawrence Wollersheim Saga] | [Mike Rinder on spying]
[Scientology dodges a bullet in Australia] | [Scientology exec Jan Eastgate arrested] [All hell breaks loose in Israel] | [Scientology sees fundraising gold in the UK riots] [Aussie former rugby pro Chris Guider calls David Miscavige "toxic" and "violent"] [Stephen Cox, UK church newbie, pledges 20K pounds] | [Biggi Reichert: A German Lisa McPherson?] | [The Birmingham trove: 7,000 internal e-mails] [Australian farmer blamed for giving Tom Cruise a bad shrimp, loses her friends, family]
ODD VIDEOS AND ODDER NEWS
[Scientology singalong, "We Stand Tall"] | [Captain Bill Robertson and "Galactic Patrol"] [Scientology wins a major award!] | [Scientology wants your money: Meet Dede!] [Birmingham in the House! The "Ideal" dance mix] | [Scientology and the Nation of Islam] [When Scientology was hip] | [Sad: David Miscavige makes fun of his own fundraisers] [Freedom magazine parodies The New Yorker. Hilarity ensues.] [Scientology surf report: Anonymous parties outside the New York "org"]
THE VIEW INSIDE THE BUBBLE
[A scientologist's letter to the Voice and its readers] | [Scientology silent birth] [Tad Reeves: Scientology might listen to this guy] | [More Tad Reeves and family] [Scientology never forgets: A heartwarming telemarketing holiday miracle]
Get the This Week's Top Stories Newsletter
Every week we collect the latest news, music and arts stories — along with film and food reviews and the best things to do this week — so that you’ll never miss Village Voice's biggest stories.
- 'Convicting Peter Liang Is Not a Conviction of the NYPD,' Prosecutor Concludes
Tue., Feb. 16, 7:00pm
Wed., Feb. 17, 7:00pm
Wed., Feb. 17, 8:00pm
Wed., Feb. 17, 8:00pm
- Group for Homeless LGBT Youth Moves a Step Closer to Buying Terrible Anti-Gay Church...
- Voice Letters: Readers Share Their Energy Service Company Horror Stories