January 7, 1998
Gumbel hosts this segment about the death
of Lisa McPherson in who was held against
her will in Scientology's Fort Harrison
Hotel in Clearwater, Florida..
show can be viewed at Anti-Cult's
descriptions are in italics. VO=VOICEOVER of Kristin
Once again, live from CBS News, here is Bryant
GUMBEL (in studio): Since first attracting attention
more than 30 years ago the tenets of Scientology
have been reviled by critics and revered by supporters.
Those same supporters have earned a fierce reputation
for relentlessly using the courts to defend Scientology,
ultimately gaining it tax exempt status as a recognized
religion. In recent years, the church's profile
has been enhanced by association with a variety
of Hollywood stars, famous folks who have put
a shining face on a self-styled church that's
often clouded by secrecy and mistrust. All of
which brings us to a lawsuit in Florida, a wrongful
death suit that has pitted proponents of Scientology
against the family of a young woman who died in
the prime of her life. Kristin Jeannette-Meyers,
herself a lawyer, details the sad end of Lisa
candlelight vigil 12/5/97; bagpiper playing "Taps;
picketer (I think its Jeff Jacobsen) holding
sign with Lisas pic and message "Lisa
McPherson 1959-1995"; vigil member blowing
out his own candle
She was not rich, famous, or powerful. but in
death, Lisa McPherson is grabbing headlines normally
reserved for Scientology's celebrity followers.
picket; Picketer (I think its Garry Scarff)
holding sign with picture of Lisa and message
"Honoring Lisas memory--Please dont
let it be lost in the battle--Murdered by Scientology"
That's because after two years, the death of Lisa
McPherson remains to many a mystery.
of Lisa, Ft. Harrison
Lisa, a devout Scientologist, spent the last 17
days of her life confined to a room inside this
hotel owned by Scientology. Church records show
that during that time, Lisa became violent, refusing
to eat or sleep.
The tragedy has left Lisa's aunt and closest living
relative, Dell Liebreich, searching for answers.
LIEBREICH: I'm just very unhappy with Scientology.
JEANNETTE-MYERS: Do you think criminal charges
should be filed?
I definitely do. I definitely do. Because I feel
like they killed her.
of Lisa; Clearwater traffic
Lisa's tragic saga began on November 18, 1995.
She was driving down this road in Clearwater and
got into a minor fender bender. No one was hurt,
but as a precaution, paramedics responded.
Portalano stepping out of ambulance
It was a routine call for Bonnie Portalano and
her partner, until the bizarre happened.
PORTALANO: Lisa and the accident scene was behind
our ambulance. And he says, "You're never
going to guess what she's doing," speaking
of Lisa, and I said, "What?" And he
said, "She's taking off her clothes."
OF BONNIE PORTALANO: And it was like a few seconds
later she came walking down the side of our ambulance
with not a stitch on. As I went to get her, you
know, I said, "Lisa, Lisa," you know,
"Why did you take your clothes off?"
Portalano, back on camera
And she said, "I wanted people to think I
was crazy so then I could get some help."
Plant Hospital, hospital Patient Self-Release
form signed by Lisa
Paramedics took Lisa to a nearby hospital. Doctors
wanted to keep her overnight for observation,
but Lisa said she wanted to leave with a group
of Scientologists who showed up at the hospital.
Rinder, Laura Vaughan
Mike Rinder is the director of the Church of Scientology
International. Laura Vaughan is an attorney representing
VAUGHAN: What she told the people at the hospital
is, she didn't want to stay. I think if the doctor
could have kept her, he would have. But she expressed
her desire to leave, and he had no right to keep
(outside Ft. Harrison): Lisa's friends brought
her here to the Fort Harrison Hotel, the spiritual
headquarters of Scientology. She arrived in good
physical condition. When she left two-and-a-half
weeks later, she was near death. What happened
to Lisa McPherson during those 17 days has been
the focus of an ongoing two-year criminal investigation.
Scientologists say the probe is a witch-hunt,
but church critics see it as an opportunity to
expose what they say is a dangerous cult.
ERLICH: I was in it for 15 years. I know that
it is a cult.
picture of Dennis, picture of L. Ron Hubbard
Dennis Erlich says that during his days in Scientology,
the standard treatment for episodes like Lisa
McPherson's was isolation, a step originally prescribed
by Scientology founder L. Ron Hubbard.
The step consists of locking a person in a room
where they cannot communicate with anyone. No
one is to communicate with them. And they're to
be kept there until they supposedly come out of
their psychotic state.
To an average person, we think isolation, that
means alone. And there's nothing nefarious or
wrong about her being away from work that might
have been upsetting her, away from family that
might have been upsetting her, with people from
the church who were with her 24 hours a day trying
to get her to rest, trying to get her to eat,
trying to help her in a way that was in accordance
with her religious beliefs.
Harrison, copies of handwritten logs, picture
The only glimpse into Lisa McPherson's 17 days
at the Fort Harrison Hotel comes from logs kept
by Scientologists who were assigned to keep watch
portions of the logs repeated in plain text underneath:
"She was out of control", "She
refused to eat", "Blabbering, incoherent",
She was violent"
Despite Scientology's efforts to keep them confidential,
the courts have made them public. The logs show
Lisa's physical and mental state deteriorating
over those 17 days.
Rest and relaxation sounds like a wonderful idea.
But the records say that two days into her stay
she was spitting out food and vomiting, four days
into her stay she was ashen faced and feverish,
and then she became violent, striking the attendants,
hallucinating, thinking that she's L. Ron Hubbard,
being too weak to stand, soiling herself, crying,
babbling, breaking things. At that point, isn't
it clear that it's not working?
Whats not working?
Resting, taking her away?
I don't think that that's clear at all. I don't
think that you can draw inferences or conclusions
from what is said. You can read other reports
and later on there is a different perspective.
But these are the church records.
Of course they are.
All of those things might say to you, as a non-Scientologist,
this person should be committed. But as a Scientologist
they would say that she's not to be treated like
that, psychiatry is abuse, and that is their right
to believe that psychiatry is abuse, it's Lisa
McPherson's right to believe that and to not engage
in it if she doesn't want to.
Cage and Brenda Spencer, two of Lisas friends
Shirley Cage and Brenda Spencer, two of Lisa's
closest friends in the church, agree.
SPENCER: She would not have wanted to be treated
by a psychiatrist. I know that without question.
Even if it would have saved her life?
Even without question. I don't care what the circumstances
were, she would not have wanted to be treated
by a psychiatrist.
pictures of Lisa, picture of Lisa and her parents
When you look through Lisa McPherson's photo album,
there's no hint of the tragedy to come. She was
pretty and popular, a member of her high school
drill team and a good student. But when she was
14, her brother committed suicide. Ten years later
her father, a recovering alcoholic, did the same.
So when a job supervisor introduced Lisa to the
Church of Scientology at the age of 18, she embraced
it as a surrogate family.
She came home one day and told her mom and dad
that she had joined a church. Well, they were
elated. They thought that was great. Until they
found out what it was.
of Lisa, CoS building in CW, Sea Org members walking
Eventually Lisa even moved from her native Texas
to Scientology's spiritual mecca in Clearwater,
Florida. She joined a group of thousands who flock
here every year to attend courses and counseling
designed to overcome what they believe are traumatic
memories from previous lives.
of payments Lisa made to church--total $75,275;
picture of Lisa
In 1994, Lisa spent more than one half of her
income on those courses. She worked for a publishing
company with close ties to the church, and helped
spearhead Scientology community projects. Even
her vacations were taken on the Scientology cruise
of party, Lisa dancing
CAGE: She believed that that church was the most
important thing in the world, and that the good
that it was doing was something she wanted to
be a part of, and she dedicated herself immensely.
of Lisa receiving her Clear Certificate VO: In
the fall of 1995 Scientology declared Lisa to
be Clear, a mental state the church says promotes
inner peace and happiness.
of Lisa VO: But what no one has been able to explain
is how in two short months that inner peace crumbled
into emotional chaos.
paper, part of which says "Dell Liebreich,
as Personal Representative of the Estate of LISA
McPherson, Plaintiff, vs. Church of Scientology
d/b/a Church of Scientology, Flag Service Organization,
That answer may come out through a wrongful death
lawsuit the McPherson family has filed against
The case is being handled by attorney Ken Dandar,
who has his own theory about what happened over
those 17 days.
DANDAR: So could you imagine Lisa McPherson, who
is mentally unstable according to Scientology,
is having these people come in and try to force
feed her, and she's yelling and screaming at them.
She's banging on the wall. She's fighting with
them. She's asking them questions. But they are
not allowed to respond to her. All they can do
is turn around and walk out the room, and then
write a report to the case supervisor and close
the door behind them. And she's not allowed to
Dandar is an idiot. That's my response to that.
He hasn't got a clue. He is the worst of the worst
of what makes the American legal system so out
of control. He is an ambulance chasing gold digger.
My reply to that is simple: If they had called
an ambulance for Lisa McPherson, I wouldn't be
Harrison; map of Clearwater area including nearby
cities, showing about eight cities between Clearwater
and New Port Richey; picture of Lisa
The Scientologists never did call an ambulance.
But on the 17th day, Lisa was at last taken to
a hospital in a church van. It didn't take Lisa
to the closest hospital, which was just a few
blocks away, or the second closest, or the third,
or even the fourth nearest for that matter. Instead,
they drove to New Port Richey Hospital, 45 minutes
away. And it was during those 45 minutes that
Lisa McPherson died.
She certainly would have made it to the hospital--it's
only a few blocks down the road--alive, and where
she would have been provided the appropriate care.
Why was Lisa taken so far away when it was clear
that she was ill?
says nothing, but looks very uncomfortable
I think that the answer to that question comes
in the doctor who was at the New Port Richey Hospital
was a Scientologist. Lisa McPherson had obviously
had some mental problems, and I think that people
thought that the best situation would be for her
to see someone who was a Scientologist. The people
at the hospital had no idea what had killed her.
The people who were taking care of her did not
know that she was going to die. It was an accident,
and it was sudden.
SHELUR: One of the first things that gave investigators
great pause was the inordinate loss of weight
on the part of Lisa McPherson.
Wayne Shelur is with the Clearwater Police Department.
The paramedics who attended her at the scene of
the wreck estimated her weight to be around 150
pounds. But once she was pronounced dead her weight
at the time of death was 108 pounds and her appearance
was rather cadaverous.
She lost more than 40 pounds in 17 days?
That's what it would appear.
report; death certificate; Fort Harrison; highlighted
words from autopsy report "Bed rest and severe
An autopsy indeed showed that Lisa McPherson died
of a pulmonary embolism, a blood clot that traveled
to her lung. But according to the coroners
office, it was caused in part by what happened
during those 17 days. The autopsy report says
Lisa's death was due to bed rest and severe dehydration.
Wood in court room; footage of Lisa; autopsy photos
of Lisas hands VO: In fact, the medical
examiner, Dr. Joan Wood, theorized that Lisa McPherson
had little to no fluids for the last five to ten
days of her life. She also believes that Lisa
had bruises and insect bites all over her body.
picket--signs say "Sid Klein, whats
your crime?", "Give protection, not
prejudice", "Dead beat dads and child
molesters stay home"
The church, which says it will prove the lab findings
are flawed, has taken to the streets to protest
what they say is a smear campaign by the Clearwater
government to discredit the church.
Harrison; Clearwater courtroom
Both sides now await a decision by a Florida prosecutor
on possible criminal charges in the Lisa McPherson
case, a decision that could come any day.
Liebreich and Kristin Jeannette-Meyers walking
Meanwhile, Dell Liebreich's battle with Scientology
is a civil matter that has turned decidedly uncivil.
What her motivation is? Money. Pure and simple.
She is pretending to represent the interests of
Lisa McPherson. She is representing Lisa McPherson's
estate. I can assure you that the last thing that
Lisa McPpherson would be doing would be suing
To them this is bad PR, but I want people to find
out, you know, all over the world, for it not
to ever happen to anybody else. What happened
candlelight vigil, bagpiper playing "Amazing
GUMBEL (in studio): Heber Jentzsch is the president
of the Church of Scientology International. He's
in Los Angeles. Mr. Jentzsch, good evening.
JENTZSCH (on TV studio monitor): Good evening.
Those affiliated with Scientology ran an orchestrated
campaign pressuring us to not run the piece you
just watched. Do you not consider the mysterious
death of a young woman in the care of Scientologists
as a valid reason for outside questions?
I consider the fact that your people were given
information, Bryant, that they did not put on
the show, and there were various specific information
that they could have used. Joan Wood, the medical
examiner, she never did the autopsy on this case.
And that was known to your people. It was done
by a Dr. Davis, and he did the actual autopsy,
OK? And in his autopsy, he said he did not agree
with Joan Wood, the medical examiner. Davis did
about 25 autopsies, 24 were completed. One was
not completed. The reason that one, on Lisa McPherson,
was not completed was because his notes were not
available. They were not available because Joan
Wood, the medical examiner, destroyed those notes.
Then, she goes on national tabloid TV and starts
blabbing about all these kinds of accusations
and so forth. That is sickening to me. It is sickening
that it has to be done that way when your people
had the information. And then she says to Davis,
Let me finish this one point--
Go ahead quickly.
She did not let Davis talk. She said, "Don't
talk to the media, dont talk to anybody
about this. Don't talk to the church, dont
talk to the police." And she ordered him
not to do so. That's obstruction of justice. That's
just one of the things that she did. Your people
had that. OK. Why is it that's not there?
Mr. Jentzsch, your people were well represented
in the piece throughout. Mike Rinder was well
heard. Laura Vaughan was well heard. Let me ask
you, your people had--your people had every right
to intervene with Scientology principles. No one
disputes that. But at what point, sir, does Miss
McPherson have a right to say, "I've had
enough, I want out"?
She didn't say that, and I have with me the psychiatric
Which was given here. She said--she said, I want
to go home with my friends in the congregation.
Thats what she said--
That was before the 17 day stay at the hotel.
(holding up document): This is the document I
have right here. This is the document, right here--
Mr. Jentzsch, Mr. Jentzsch, your own logs show
that she's fighting with your people, yelling
at them, pleading with them, but they are not
responding, not letting her leave. At what point,
sir, does that become a legitimate case of someone
being held against their will?
(raising voice): Our people were helping her in
every possible way. If you look at those notes,
you will see very clearly that those people were
heroes. They were taking abuse, they were attacked
and so forth. They loved her. And the people who
are saying these things hated her guts while she
was a Scientologist. They hated her completely
and they hate her in death. They--our people loved
her, they respected her. And Lisa was a church
member. She was always a church member--
Mr. Jentzsch, even if I accept that those people
loved her and wanted to take care of her, your
own logs clearly depict a woman with a deteriorating
mental condition and failing health. Do your people
have no responsibility to have those maladies
You're saying that a psychiatrist is going to
do something which is gonna be better. You know,
there s a case in Miami, Florida which dealt with
this directly. And there was a fellow who was
also dramatizing like this and carrying on. You
know what they did to him? Eleven attendants jumped
him. They threw a blanket around his head. They
kneed him in the back, they knocked him down--
I never mentioned a psychiatrist, Mr. Jentzsch--
(raising voice): No, no, well I'm telling you
because that's what, thats what you're saying.
Youre calling those people professionals.
Theyre not professionals--
She was in failing physical health. Do they not
have any responsibility to get maladies addressed?
The last--the last time when she was--she started
to deteriorate, it was very rapid. They took her
to a hospital. but those--those--you're saying
it should be a psychiatrist. I'm saying that if
they went to a psychiatrist, she would have been
destroyed by them--
I never mentioned the word "psychiatrist",
(raising voice more): I know, but you and I talked
earlier today and I did mention it and you know
that that's part of this case and you know that
was part of the--the problem with this, okay?
Psychiatrists destroy people's lives. They have
the highest incidents of rape and so forth. She
didnt want to go there. Its very clear--
They have the highest incidents of rape?
(raising voice more): Of any profession. There's
2,500 indictments against psychiatrists in this
country last year alone. Why would you go to a
bunch of people like that who use electric shock?
And that causes brain damage. That destroys people
lives. She didn't want to go there. She had a
right not to go there with a psychiatrist--
This lady was taken care of. You know, Mr. Gumbel--
That situation down there is bigotry. And I told
you about it. We have the information. The 11th
circuit court of appeals said--
That there was--
Thank you, sir--
There was a fervor against it. This is just incredible--
They said it was patently offensive--
Sir, sir, I will have to let that be the last
Im sorry. But, you know--
Thank you. We'll be right back.