photos by Candice Giove
The Church of Scientology was aglow — three lit-up tree-forms crowned its marquee and three ornamental wreaths hung on its windows. Across the street from their ironically festive West 46th Street headquarters a competing light shone.
It came from the candles solemnly held by members of Anonymous, the anti-Scientology group, who gathered on the sidewalk to mark the 13th anniversary of the Scientology-related death of Lisa McPherson.
They also held posters with McPherson’s picture, showing the pretty 36-year old before she died as a result of a pulmonary embolism on December 5, 1995. The pictures after her death would be too horrible to publicly display. Autopsy photos show her pale arms and legs mottled by bruises and cockroach bites.
McPherson suffered through 17 days of isolation while going through the “introspection rundown,” Scientology founder L. Ron Hubbard’s remedy for psychotic breakdowns. “They have a responsibility for what happened to her and they have a responsibility for the people who they are still putting through this rundown,” said MedicAnon, a fixture at the Anonymous protests, who handed flyers with the names of others who shared a similar fate.
In November 1995, McPherson, a dedicated Scientologist living in Clearwater, Florida, ran her SUV into a disabled vehicle on the road. While she sustained no injuries, she removed her clothing and solicited the help of paramedics at the accident scene. They delivered her to the hospital, where doctors recommended she stay for a psychiatric evaluation.
Scientologists detest psychiatry and war with mental health providers. So a group arrived at the hospital that evening, convinced McPherson to sign herself out, and brought her to the Scientology-owned Fort Harrison Hotel for treatment.
Anon LittleSister shuddered when she thought about McPherson’s days of isolation. “She was screaming and crying and banging on the walls and drawing with her blood,” she said. “Before she died she pretty much lost her mind. She began to hallucinate in the end. It’s the worst kind of torture I could ever imagine.”
Scientologists charged with watching McPherson were barred from interacting with her. They maintained logs with their observations of her behavior, which became public during a wrongful death suit.
Eventually McPherson’s condition became so alarming that an unlicensed physician handling her case decided to bring her to a hospital for help. She and another Scientologist drove the dying McPherson to a hospital 45 minutes away — passing four other hospitals along the way.
“[They did that] because there was a Scientologist doctor there and he could cover their tracks,” explained PokeAnon. “Rather than caring about the life of this woman, they care about the image of their church.”
By the time they arrived McPherson was dead.
The story resulted in a lot of bad press for the church, once the media picked up on the unusual circumstances of her passing. A wrongful death lawsuit and a criminal investigation followed.
In an autopsy report, coroner Joan Wood, who examined the body, listed the cause of death as a blood clot, which resulted from “bed rest and dehydration”. She later wavered on that conclusion and as a result prosecutors dropped a criminal case against the church. A civil suit brought against the Church of Scientology by McPherson’s aunt was settled out of court.
Anon Meto1 said that the Church skirted punishment by threatening people involved with lawsuits, a common form of intimidation reserved for its critics.
“Our legal system is not their personal playground,” he said, as he held a handwritten sign and candle. “People here remember what happened to this lady.”