LISA McPHERSON 1959 – 1995

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The Horrific Death of Lisa McPherson

Lisa McPherson (February 10, 1959 – December 5, 1995) was an American member of the Church of Scientology who died of a pulmonary embolism while under the care of the Church of Scientology Flag Service Organization (The all-encompassing title for Scientology operations in Clearwater, Florida). Following the report of the state of Florida’s medical examiner that indicated that Lisa was a victim of negligent homicide, the Church of Scientology was indicted on 2 felony charges, “abuse and/or neglect of a disabled adult” and “practicing medicine without a license.” The charges against the Church of Scientology were dropped after the state’s medical examiner changed the cause of death from “undetermined” to an “accident” on June 13, 2000. A civil suit was then brought by her family against the church which was settled on May 28, 2004.

In 1994, Lisa, who became a Scientology adherent at age 18, moved from Dallas, Texas, to Clearwater, Florida, with her employer, AMC Publishing, which was at that time owned by Scientologist Bennetta Slaughter and operated and staffed by Scientologists. In June 1995, the church placed Lisa on the Introspection Rundown, due to perceived mental instability. Lisa completed the rundown. The following September, Lisa attested to ‘the State of Clear’ (an expensive Scientology status gained by undergoing Scientology processes alleged to ‘clear’ a person of all human aberrations – invented by Scientology founder L Ron Hubbard)

On November 18th, 1995, McPherson was involved in a minor car accident. Paramedics initially left her alone because she was ambulatory, but after she began to remove her clothes, the paramedics decided to take her to the hospital. She remarked to the paramedics that she had taken off her clothes in hopes of obtaining counseling. Hospital staff agreed that she was unharmed, but recommended keeping her overnight for observation. Following intervention by fellow Scientologists, Lisa refused psychiatric observation or admission at the hospital and checked herself out after a short evaluation.

Lisa was then taken to the ‘members only’ Scientology compound the Fort Harrison Hotel for ‘rest and relaxation’ according to the Church of Scientology, but sworn statements demonstrate that Lisa was factually incarcerated in a guarded room in order to undergo another Introspection Rundown (a quack Scientoloy isolation technique touted to be a cure for psychosis). Mark McGarry, an attorney with the Florida Office of the State Attorney, characterised McPherson’s stay as an “isolation watch”

The church accommodated Lisa in a cabana at the hotel and kept a “24 hours’ watch” over her. Detailed logs were kept on Lisa’s day-to-day ‘care’. These logs were handwritten on plain white foolscap paper, as per church doctrine in the record keeping of parishioners subjected to any one of it’s various spiritual ‘therapies’.  Most of these logs were retained and later sequestered by the courts as evidence of illegal medical practices, but the logs for the last 3 days were deliberately destroyed in an attempt to dispose of potentially incriminating evidence. Brian J. Anderson, the then Commanding Officer of the Church’s Office of Special Affairs (OSA) in Clearwater later admitted to this fact in a sworn statement.

Lisa’s “care logs” narrate the last 17 days of her life: she was incoherent and sometimes violent, her nails were cut so she would not scratch herself or the staff, she bruised her fists and feet while hitting the wall, she had trouble sleeping and was being given natural supplements and the drug chloral hydrate to help her sleep. A Church staffer noted that McPherson “looked ill like measles or chicken pox on her face.” On repeated occasions she refused food and protein shakes that the staff offered. On November 26 and 30 and December 3 to 4, the staff attempted to force feed Lisa using a turkey baster, noting that she spat the food out. She was very weak and not standing up nor on some days moving at all. Scientologists who questioned this “handling” were told to “butt out”.

On December 5th, 1995, the Church staffers contacted David Minkoff, a Scientologist medical doctor who had already twice previously  prescribed Lisa Valium and chloral hydrate without examining her. They further requested a prescription for an antibiotic as Lisa appeared to have an infection. Minkoff refused and stated that Lisa should be taken to a hospital and he needed to see her before prescribing anything. Staffers objected, expressing fear that McPherson would be put under psychiatric care which is outlawed to Scientologists as a dangerous pseudo-science by their guru Hubbard. Dr. Janice Johnson (whose medical license had expired), senior medical officer at the Flag Land Base (the in-house name for Scientology operations in Clearwater) was assigned to oversee Lisa’s ‘care’. She stated that during Lisa’s final hours of life (while being rushed to the hospital in the back of a Scientology van rather than an ambulance) she had been gasping and had labored breathing while en route. Despite this fact, the Scientologists passed a total of 4 hospitals along the way to their ultimate destination. When they finally arrived at Minkoff’s hospital, 45 minutes north of Clearwater, Lisa no-longer exhibited any vital signs of life. Hospital staff attempted to resuscitate her for 20 minutes before declaring her dead.

Scientologists called Lisa’s family to report that she had died of meningitis or a blood clot on December 5th, 1995 while at staying at the Fort Harrison Hotel for “rest and relaxation”. A suspicious death investigation began the next day and an autopsy was performed. A year later, in response to a Clearwater Police Department website request for information on her death, Clearwater media began speculating about the true causes of Lisa’s death, leading to regular pickets and protests outside Scientology offices each year on or around the 5th of December anniversary of her death.

The Coroner’s Report:

On December 5, 1995, Lisa’s autopsy was conducted by assistant medical examiner Robert Davis. Davis never completed Lisa’s autopsy report because he was asked to resign from his position. The report identified the cause of death of Lisa McPherson as a thromboembolism of the left pulmonary artery caused by “bed rest and severe dehydration” and the manner of death as “undetermined”. The report also identified multiple bruises, an abrasion on the nose, lesions and insect bites that were consistent with that of a cockroach. The autopsy report was completed by his supervisor medical examiner Joan Wood.

On January 21st, 1997, Wood appeared on the television show Inside Edition and stated that the autopsy showed Lisa’s condition had deteriorated slowly and she had gone without fluids for 5 to 10 days. That she was underweight, had cockroach bites and was comatose from 24 to 48 hours before she died.

A forensic entomologist identified over a hundred cockroach feeding sites on Lisa’s body.  Pathologist  Werner Spitz M.D. stated that ”The insect bites appearing in the autopsy photographs of Lisa Mcpherson, and in Particular on her hands and feet are antemortem, perimortem and postmortem” In other words, bugs were feeding on Lisa before she died, while she was dying and after she died.

The Church of Scientology’s legal team proceeded to sue Joan Wood to gain access to Wood’s files; including tissue, organ and blood samples from Lisa’s body. The lawsuit argued that Wood waived any right to keep her records on the case closed when she spoke openly about the case with news reporters. The Church alleged that the records were needed to start their legal defense. These records had been previously denied to the Church because they were part of an ongoing criminal investigation.

The St. Petersburg Times contacted 5 medical experts for their opinions about the report, which all confirmed Wood’s opinion. The Church of Scientology responded that the 5 doctors should have been given the entire autopsy report, not just the vitreous fluid tests, which pathologists use to determine the composition of blood at the time before death.

Scientology hired its own team to oppose Wood’s findings, including two nationally known forensic pathologists: Dr. Michael Baden, a former Chief Medical Examiner for the City of New York, and Dr. Cyril Wecht, a county coroner from Pittsburgh. Doctors Baden and Wecht concluded that McPherson died suddenly and unpredictably of a blood clot in her left lung that had originated from a knee bruise she suffered in a minor automobile accident 17 days earlier. This scientific evidence was then sent to Joan Wood for review. 

The Cover up

Worrried that he would be personally implicated directly as having contributed to Lisa’s death (having been the senior officer overseeing her Scientology auditing program directly) David Miscavige, the Chairman of the Board (COB) and supreme commander of all matters relating to the church called in his two senior church officials, Mike Rinder  CO office of Special Affairs (OSA), and Marty Rathbun Inspector General for the Religious Technology Center (RTC) and had them relocated to Florida to work almost exclusively on the legal case and public relations matters which spanned the duration of 1988 to 2002.

Their duties included destroying incriminating evidence, issuing public relations statements to the media, attacking/discrediting Lisa’s family and their lawyers and infiltrating the Pinellas County legal system and coroners office in order to directly obstruct the course of justice. Rathbun later reported that 20 to 30 million dollars was spent over a 6 year period in this endeavour (which included the use of PIs to harass and intimidate the family’s lawyer, Ken Dander). In Dallas, Texas, Private Investigator ‘Monty Drake’ was hired to gather ‘intelligence’ on Lisa’s aunt, Dell Liebreich, who was the plaintiff in a civil lawsuit filed in Florida on behalf of Lisa. Lee Fugate was handsomely rewarded with premim tickets to football games and expensive gifts in exchange for valuable intel relating to contacts who could be ‘gotten to’ as part of what was to be a highly successful campaign intended to influence judges and undermine the coroner and get her to change her findings. Under intense pressure from the church, Wood finally capitulated changing the cause of death from “undetermined” to an “accident”, citing  Lisa’s pulmonary embolism to her psychosis and a minor auto accident as major factors. She retired soon after. Even John Travolta was brought onto the scene to help schmoooze one of the key players who was star struck by the Scientology celebrity and given personal attention and face time with the Hollywood star as a sweetener in exchange for favours.

The first order of business for Marty Rathbun, after interrogating all care givers concerned with Lisa’s ‘handling’ at the Fort Harrison Hotel where she had been incarcerated for seventeen days in an attempt to ‘cure’ her of a psychotic break, was to destroy the last 3 days of caretaker logs. Rathbun later testified under oath (after defecting from the church) that these documents were culled by Elliot Abelson General Counsel for the church, staff member Lynne Farley and himself as they were adjudicated to be “things that we wouldn’t want people to see”. Upon Rathbun’s instructions to “lose em” they were duly destroyed in Abelson’s personal office at the Church of Scientology’s headquarters.

In a January 1998 CBS Public Eye interview, Mike Rinder, acting as spokesperson for the church dismissed claims that Lisa had been undergoing any form of unlicensed quack therapy claiming that Lisa had merely been partaking in a little rest and relaxation during her stay.

The CBS reporter countered (as per the churches own records): ”2 days into her stay she was spitting out food and vomiting, 4 days into her stay she was ashen faced and feverish, then she became violent, striking the attendants, hallucinating and thinking she was 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?”

”What’s not working?” retorted Rinder with a feigned look of confusion on his face “No.  I don’t think that’s clear at all”

Rinder then attacked the plaintiff’s lawyer, Ken Dander stating ”Dander is an idiot! 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!”

When pressed to explain why an ambulance was not called, and why Lisa was driven past four local hospitals in a 45 minute ride the back of a church van to a hospital in New Port Richey (where a Scientology doctor was situated),  Rinder’s carefully scripted defense of the church fell apart. The only response he could muster up was a slack jawed stare while his left eye twitched a little.

Marty Rathbun escaped from the church in 2004. Mike Rinder later defected in 2007. In 2014, Rathbun submitted a full deposition outlining his role in the cover up of Lisa’s death and naming the key players who became the churches paid stooges. A similar offering from Mike Rinder is yet to materialise.

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KYLE BRENNAN 1986 – 2007

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Kyle died from a gunshot wound to the head on Friday, February 16th, 2007. The time of death was estimated to be 11:00pm. He was staying with his Scientologist father, Torn Brennan when the incident occurred, in Clearwater, Florida.

Despite serious anomalies in the investigation, and what has been alleged the blocking of evidence, the cause of death was ruled as a suicide.

Kyle suffered from depression and was taking ‘Lexapro’ to alleviate the symptoms. The practice of taking psychiatric drugs goes against one of the core belief systems of Scientology. Kyle’s father had moved away from the family home several years previously and headed to West Tampa, where he joined the local Scientology Organisation and began to undergo ‘training’. Within a few months of joining the church, he became acquainted with one of Scientology’s more infamous members, Denise Miscavige Gentile, the twin sister of Scientology leader David Miscavige.

In May 2006, Denise Miscavige Gentile became Tom Brennan’s Scientology ‘auditor’ and ‘chaplain’ and from there, Tom’s commitment to the organisation became devout. Under increasing pressure to cease his psychiatric medication and take up with his father’s passion for Scientology, it soon became clear that Kyle had fallen foul of ‘higher ups’ in the church and he was labelled a ‘suppressive person’ and ‘enemy’ of the organisation. It fell upon Kyle’s father to either ‘handle’ his wayward son so that he would fall in line with the church’s dictates, or disconnect from him entirely, in accordance with strict Scientology doctrines regarding ‘suppressive persons’ and the use of psychiatric drugs. Tom Brennan invited his son to Clearwater under the guise of an innocent family vacation.

Kyle’s body was found on the floor of his father’s bedroom. In Kyle’s bedroom, the bedding was stripped and for some unexplained reason, Kyle’s bags were packed even though, according to his father, he was due to be staying at the apartment for a number of weeks. Tom Brennan’s .357 Magnum was found near Kyle’s body, however Forensic Specialist Jennifer McCabe failed to locate the bullet that killed Kyle and Kyle’s fingerprints were nowhere to be found on over 14 separate pieces of evidence at the scene including the weapon and 10 rounds of ammunition. Initially, Kyle’s laptop could not be located because it had been removed from the apartment before the police arrived. Weeks later Tom Brennan returned Kyle’s laptop to the family; all the documentation contained within it had been deleted. Finally, none of the prescribed drugs that Kyle used to control the symptoms of his depression were found at the apartment; Denise Miscavige Gentile and her husband had persuaded Kyle’s father to take away his Lexapro and it was later discovered locked in the trunk of his car.

Around 3:00pm on the afternoon after Kyle’s death, Clearwater Police Department Detective, Stephen Bohling began his investigation. Three determining pieces of evidence were absent from the investigation. Without fingerprints, without the bullet, and without a confirmed GSR test it should have been impossible to determine whether Kyle’s death was a suicide or a homicide. However, this did not stop Detective Bohling from declaring Kyle’s suspicious death a suicide.

Kyle’s mother, Victoria Britton is still searching for the truth about her son’s death.