Lisa McPherson woke up the morning of November 16, 1995 looking like hell. She had hardly got any sleep overnight in her Orlando hotel room, which she was sharing with her friend and fellow AMC Publishing employee, Brenda Hubert.
Brenda was already very concerned about Lisa, someone she had known longer than just about anyone who wasn’t in Lisa’s family. They had met around 1982, when Lisa first got into Scientology in Dallas, and then they became close as they worked together at the Atlantic Financial Mortgage Corporation, a company owned by another couple of Scientologists, David and Bennetta Slaughter. In 1989, after Lisa had come back to Dallas after a short and unhappy stint in Scientology’s Sea Organization in Los Angeles, she moved in with Brenda, and then the two of them went to work for a man named Jeff Schaffner, who had come up with an idea for selling information to insurance brokers. That company eventually became AMC Publishing, and it moved to Florida at the end of 1993.
Lisa was AMC’s top salesperson, earning $136,000 in 1993, but by 1995, Lisa’s sales and income were sharply down, and she’d admitted to Brenda in June that she was having suicidal thoughts. Lisa took a leave of absence from her job to spend several weeks at Scientology’s Fort Harrison Hotel, and then had seemed to be back to something of her old self when she showed up at Brenda’s house for her husband’s birthday party in August.
But now, in November, Lisa was exhibiting strange behaviors and it had Brenda very concerned. The day before, on Wednesday, November 15, Brenda heard from Katie Chamberlain, Lisa’s ethics officer, who told her that Lisa was in the middle of a Scientology process that she was struggling with, and asked Brenda to “8-C” Lisa — to monitor her closely.
That first day at the Orlando conference, for the National Association of Independent Life Brokerage Agencies, Lisa had acted strangely several times. Twice, Lisa had called over waiters during their meals to implore them to read Dianetics, and Brenda had to laugh it off as a joke as the waiters looked concerned. When they got to the hotel, Lisa had turned her luggage upside down and tossed her clothes around the room, saying she was looking for something, but couldn’t say what it was. But when she went down to help out at the conference registration desk, she was leaning over the counter, seemingly oblivious that she hadn’t put on a bra with her scoop-neck blouse, and Brenda realized what was going on when she noticed a line of ogling men waiting at her counter. When Brenda pulled Lisa away, Lisa, who wasn’t the type to be such an exhibitionist, didn’t seem to understand what Brenda was talking about.
Now, on Thursday morning, Brenda braced for what the second day at the conference might bring as the two of them joined the other AMC employees at the show, Craig Burton and Brian Rakestraw. At the end of breakfast, Lisa started asking where her hotel room was and how to find the elevator, and Craig thought to himself that this wasn’t an act. Lisa was losing it. How was she going to be that night, when AMC was hosting a hospitality room for their clients?
That evening, Bennetta Slaughter arrived at the conference to check on her employees. Bennetta had met Lisa at the Dallas org in 1984 or 1985 and had employed her at the Atlantic Financial Mortgage Corporation before she and her husband David moved to California for several years. Then the Slaughters returned to Texas and became partners with Jeff Schaffner some six or seven months after Brenda and Lisa had already started working at the company. It was Bennetta and David, both wealthy and longtime Scientologists, who came up with the idea of moving AMC to Clearwater at the end of 1993.
Here’s how Janet Reitman, in Inside Scientology, described Bennetta Slaughter:
Slaughter, a tall, handsome woman with a cascade of wavy dark brown hair, had an unmistakable air of power — or what Scientologists call “purpose”…[She] wasted no time in Clearwater. Within a few months of her arrival, she’d ingratiated herself with the Clearwater Chamber of Commerce, and begun to network with local politicians. “We called her the Queen of Clearwater,” said Sandra Mercer, who’d moved to Florida from Los Angeles in 1990. “She put herself on all the political communications lines, on all the business communication lines…on every communication line that she needed to get on. Had she not done that,” Mercer added, “I don’t know that the church would have done that well in Clearwater.”
David Miscavige knew Bennetta Slaughter as a prominent donor who attended yearly Scientology events in England and on the church’s exclusive cruise ship, Freewinds. Now the leader of Scientology began to hear that she was making inroads into Clearwater society. Miscavige became concerned. For all its efforts, the official Church of Scientology had very little relationship with the mayor’s office or the city commission, and it had an openly antagonistic relationship with the police. Miscavige ordered Tom DeVocht, a senior official at Flag, to find out what Slaughter was doing. “Make sure that she’s forwarding our purposes,” he said.
Scientology had invaded Clearwater with its “Project Normandy” in 1975, buying properties under the fake name “United Churches of Florida.” In 1978, when the press began reporting the lengths of Scientology’s covert operations not only in Clearwater but also with infiltrations in Washington DC, there was a loud backlash in Clearwater as the town began to wonder about the “church” that had taken over much of its downtown. But now, in the mid-1990s, Bennetta Slaughter was exploring a more civic-minded way that Scientology could co-exist with the rest of Clearwater, and DeVocht tells us that Miscavige increasingly decided that she was right.
Talking to us this week, DeVocht said that Bennetta’s efforts were helping as Scientology continued to expand its footprint in town. “Bennetta Slaughter was big time on the local scene in Scientology. At that time, we were trying to get a new building, and she was meeting with local officials about it,” DeVocht told us.
On Friday, we talked to Marc Headley about what he witnessed, that in 1995, David Miscavige was looking for any way to increase revenue at the Flag Land Base in Clearwater, even to the point of obsessively involving himself in the individual cases of “nobodies” like Marc’s stepfather and Lisa McPherson.
In our story yesterday, we talked to DeVocht about how he personally watched Miscavige “case supervising” McPherson’s auditing, and Tom said that Miscavige acted like Lisa was a special project. DeVocht suggests that, beyond what Headley witnessed about raising Flag’s revenue stream, Miscavige also may have paid special attention to Lisa’s case because of Bennetta Slaughter.
“Lisa worked for Bennetta, and Bennetta was a big donor,” Tom said.
Whatever his reasons, Miscavige pushed McPherson through Clear in September, but soon enough Lisa was again acting oddly and seemed distraught.
And after two long days at the Orlando conference in November, things were going to begin to get really bizarre.
Bonus photos from our tipsters
This is a photo of Scientologist Sarah Ehrlich and her children, and it was taken by actress and Scientologist Denice Duff. Other than that, we don’t know what to tell you.
Hey, girl. That’s right, Sean Dernehl again. Not only am I the new mission holder in Ocala, but I recently went through L10 Rundown, perhaps the single most expensive course in Scientology, which can run to $99,000 just in processing, not including accommodations and donations. Check me out.
Hey, girl. Got a drug problem? Come dry out with me in Sweden.
Let them eat caek! Here’s Scientology whale Tom Cummins at a “Russian Ideal Org fundraiser event for Puerto Rico at the Fort Harrison Hotel.” Got that?
We didn’t get a chance to include photos in our book, so we’ve posted them at a dedicated page. Reader Sookie put together a complete index and we’re hosting it here on the website. Copies of the paperback version of ‘The Unbreakable Miss Lovely’ are on sale at Amazon. The Kindle edition is also available, and shipping instantly.
Our book tour is concluded for now. (But you can re-experience it through this nifty interactive map!) We’ll let you know about future appearances. Previous events: Santa Barbara (5/16), Hollywood (5/17), Orange County (5/17), San Diego (5/20), San Francisco (5/22), New York (6/11), Chicago (6/20), Toronto (6/22), Clearwater (6/28), Washington DC (7/12), Hartford (7/14), Denver (7/17), Dallas (7/20), Houston (7/22), San Antonio (7/24), Austin (7/25), Paris (7/29), London (8/4), Boston (8/24), Phoenix (9/15), Cleveland (9/23), Minneapolis (9/24), Portland (9/27), Seattle (9/28), Vancouver BC (9/29), Sydney (10/23), Melbourne (10/25), Adelaide (10/28), Perth (10/30)
Posted by Tony Ortega on November 16, 2015 at 07:30
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Learn about Scientology with our numerous series with experts…
BLOGGING DIANETICS: We read Scientology’s founding text cover to cover with the help of LA attorney and former church member Vance Woodward
UP THE BRIDGE: Claire Headley and Bruce Hines train us as Scientologists
GETTING OUR ETHICS IN: Jefferson Hawkins explains Scientology’s system of justice
SCIENTOLOGY MYTHBUSTING: Historian Jon Atack discusses key Scientology concepts
PZ Myers reads L. Ron Hubbard’s “A History of Man” | Scientology’s Master Spies | Scientology’s Private Dancer
The mystery of the richest Scientologist and his wayward sons | Scientology’s shocking mistreatment of the mentally ill
The Underground Bunker’s Official Theme Song | The Underground Bunker FAQ
Our Guide to Alex Gibney’s film ‘Going Clear,’ and our pages about its principal figures…
Jason Beghe | Tom DeVocht | Sara Goldberg | Paul Haggis | Mark “Marty” Rathbun | Mike Rinder | Spanky Taylor | Hana Whitfield