Doctor details Scientologist's death By
CHERYL WALDRIP of The Tampa Tribune
Published in The Tampa Tribune Jan. 23, 1997
CLEARWATER - Medical tests indicate Lisa McPherson was without fluids for at least five
to 10 days of her stay at the Church of Scientology's world spiritual headquarters.
Pinellas-Pasco Medical Examiner Joan Wood said it's possible McPherson, who died in
December 1995, had nothing to drink throughout her 17-day stay at the Fort Harrison Hotel.
Wood said Wednesday the insect bites found on McPherson's body after her death were
most likely from cockroaches. In addition, Wood said McPherson was comatose for the last
24 to 48 hours of her life.
Scientology attorney Elliot Abelson Wednesday said none of that is true and called Wood
Church members brought McPherson, 36, to a New Port Richey hospital on Dec. 5, 1995,
where she was dead on arrival. An autopsy by Wood's office showed McPherson died of a
blood clot brought on by ``severe dehydration and bed rest.'' She was 5-foot-9 and weighed
108 pounds. She had a staph infection and her arms and legs were bruised.
``It's horrible,'' McPherson's aunt, Dell Liebriech, said Wednesday. ``Not even an
animal should be treated like that. It's very devastating. It makes me sick to think about
McPherson's family members blame the Church of Scientology for her death.
Clearwater police say McPherson's death is suspicious. As part of their investigation,
they are seeking three former Scientology staff members for questioning. All three have
left the country.
The Florida Department of Law Enforcement and the Pinellas-Pasco State Attorney's
Office are assisting in the investigation.
Abelson has said the Clearwater police investigation is a continuation of a long
campaign of harassment against the church. A church publication also has said news media
reports about the McPherson case have been ``fabricated.''
Abelson said Wood made up all of the medical evidence.
``Dr. Wood is a liar, she's a liar, she's a liar, she's a hateful liar,'' Abelson said.
Abelson said medical experts whom he refused to identify said roaches don't bite
humans. He could not offer an alternative explanation for the bites.
McPherson had been a Scientologist for 18 years. On Nov. 18, 1995, she had a minor car
accident. Paramedics found her walking down the street without her clothes and took her to
Morton Plant Hospital for an evaluation.
With Scientologists at her bedside, she spoke in a monotone through teary eyes. Doctors
said she was not injured, but had a psychological problem. She signed herself out against
medical advice and went with other Scientologists to the Fort Harrison Hotel.
Scientology officials say she was taken there for ``rest and relaxation.''
McPherson was provided with water, food and vitamins every day of her stay, Abelson
Asked why she became so dehydrated, Abelson said, ``I'm not sure she was all that
dehydrated. She probably wasn't drinking as much as she should have.''
He said the staph infection could be responsible for some dehydration and the
appearance of bruising.
Wood said the infection ``absolutely did not'' cause the bruising and was not
responsible for McPherson's death.
At some point during McPherson's stay at the hotel, Abelson said, she was pounding on
the walls of her room with her fists. ``We really don't know what caused her to do that,''
He said McPherson was not unconscious on the day of her death.
``I know she was not comatose on the day of her death because [Scientology] staff
people talked to her,'' he said.
He said McPherson asked to be taken to see David Minkoff, a physician at the New Port
Richey Hospital who is a Scientologist. But Wood said McPherson could not have carried on
a conversation with anyone that day.
Staff writer Cheryl Waldrip covers the city of Clearwater and the Church of
Scientology. She can be reached at (813) 799-7413 or by e-mail at