After spending several hours at Morton Plant Hospital in Clearwater, Florida, Lisa McPherson arrived at the Fort Harrison Hotel late on a Saturday night, and already some questionable decisions were being made about her care.
At the hospital, following Lisa’s bizarre behavior of taking her clothes off and walking down the middle of the road after a minor car accident, psychiatric nurse Joe Price had questioned Lisa about her state of mind. He found that although she spoke with an odd cadence, her answers were lucid, and she didn’t appear to be a danger to herself or others. He decided that she didn’t meet the criteria for being “Baker Acted” and held, with or without her consent, for a full psychiatric evaluation.
But the attending physician, Dr. Flynn Lovett, was heard to argue with Price, and it became clear that Lovett disagreed and wanted to keep Lisa at the hospital. Eventually, he relented, but only after one of the Scientologists who had come to the hospital, a medical liaison officer named Judy Goldsberry-Weber, promised that she would take care of Lisa and watch her closely.
“He pointed his finger and he just shook it at me and just was vehement in his manner,” Judy later told police about what Lovett told her that night: “I’m holding you personally responsible and if anything happens, I’m gonna nail you.”
Judy planned to take Lisa in her car, and she assumed they would be taking Lisa back to her home to rest. But instead, senior case supervisor Alain Kartuzinski took Lisa in his car, and drove her to the Fort Harrison Hotel, Scientology’s most holy site, the jewel in its “spiritual mecca.” He assigned the facility’s senior medical officer, a woman named Janis Johnson, to oversee Lisa’s care. Judy, meanwhile, had promised Lisa that she just needed to run home for some clothes and things and then she’d join Lisa to keep an eye on her. But when she got back to her place at the Hacienda, an apartment complex owned by the church where many Sea Org workers lived, she was told by Humberto Fontana, an Office of Special Affairs executive who had also been at the hospital, that she had done enough that day and that her roommate, Susanne Schnurrenberger, was going to spend time with Lisa.
Judy was upset. She tried to explain to Fontana that she’d just promised Dr. Lovett that she would be the responsible party. But Fontana wouldn’t budge. (Later, when he gave a sworn statement to police, Fontana said that he didn’t remember seeing Kartuzinski at the hospital — even though Alain had been the one to drive Lisa to the hotel — and he denied that he had anything to do with deciding how Lisa would be cared for.) Judy knew there was no point arguing with an OSA officer, and she heard nothing else about what was happening with Lisa for a couple of days.
Schnurrenberger may have been chosen over Judy because she had previously worked with Lisa in late June, when Lisa had previously experienced a mental breakdown and expressed suicidal thoughts to her friend Brenda Hubert. When Scientologists “go Type III,” or have a psychotic break, they are supposed to be subjected to something called the Introspection Rundown. Scientology founder L. Ron Hubbard announced that he’d discovered the counseling process in 1973, and that it “possibly ranks with the major discoveries of the twentieth century.” With Scientology now able to handle the worst mental cases, he said, there was no longer any reason for psychiatry to exist.
Inside Scientology, however, Hubbard’s great invention got a nickname: It was called the “babywatch.” (At one point, when an investigator in Lisa’s death asked a Scientology official about that term, he was threatened with a defamation lawsuit if he continued to use it.)
The key to helping someone in mental distress, Hubbard theorized, was to put them in isolation and remove outside stimuli — to give them the silent treatment — until they calmed down and then were “sessionable” and could undergo a complex regimen of auditing. In June and July, Susanne Schnurrenberger had led Lisa through that process, making sure she got rest, ate properly, and then got her through the rundown’s auditing processes. By the end of it, Lisa seemed better.
Now, several months later, Lisa was in far worse shape. And over her first two days at the Fort Harrison Hotel, Schnurrenberger was assigned to watch Lisa around the clock to try to calm her down.
Lisa had been installed in Room 174, one of the ground-floor cabanas on the far side of the hotel’s pool area, which line Osceola Avenue. Janet Reitman, in Inside Scientology, explains what Lisa’s caretakers were instructed to do:
The instructions for the watch were simple. The caretakers were to provide Lisa with water and whatever food was available from the cafeteria, plus daily doses of Cal Mag [a calcium and magnesium supplement that Hubbard had sworn by] and various other vitamin and mineral supplements. The caretakers were to keep a log of Lisa’s food and fluid intake and also note her behavior. If she needed to talk, they should let her, but, per Hubbard’s guidelines, they could communicate with her only by writing notes. Every day they were to submit their log to the senior case supervisor, who would determine when Lisa was well enough to be audited.
And that first full day, twenty years ago, on Sunday, November 19, 1995, Lisa wanted to talk. And talk.
According to the (misdated) log kept by Susanne Schnurrenberger, in the afternoon Lisa had eaten a small bite of turkey and spaghetti, three quarters of a banana, and had managed to get down a cup and a half of Cal-Mag.
Susanne indicated that Lisa would talk and talk, and then would stare at a spot in space. She also walked around the room like a robot, Susanne noted.
“I created time 3 billion years ago and now I am dramatizing it since then,” Lisa said at one point.
“I am L. Ron Hubbard and I didn’t confront it because I didn’t confront that power,” she said at another.
At one point, when Lisa awoke from an afternoon nap, she seemed to think Susanne was her mother, Fannie, and said there was a party at the pool that the two of them were invited to.
In the evening, Lisa began simply staring at the light fixtures. She also talked about cleaning the floor of her hotel room with her toothbrush until she had a “cognition,” or epiphany.
She was also challenging Susanne, trying to “push her buttons.”
“She says I am her and she is controlling my body,” Susanne noted in her log. And after saying that, Lisa then kissed her on the mouth.
“Once I let her sit outside for five minutes,” Schnurrenberger noted. “Then she kissed me twice on my face and stared at me. Later she said how wonderful my skin is.”
But Susanne didn’t react, staring emotionlessly in what Scientologists refer to as having their “TRs” in, and Lisa stopped trying to provoke her.
In the evening, Susanne convinced Lisa to eat a tuna sandwich — something Lisa usually liked very much — and also got her to drink two cups of Cal-Mag and take her vitamins.
Then, another provocation: When Susanne was writing her log entries outside the room, Lisa came out to join her. Susanne then led her back into Room 174, and Lisa put her hand on Susanne’s stomach and ran her tongue over Susanne’s face.
She also touched Susanne’s breasts as she talked about what her mother’s were like. And she talked about how she would fool her mom and sneak away when she was younger.
“Out of control,” Susanne noted.
And Lisa’s stay in Room 174 was just beginning.
Chris Shelton on Scientology’s front groups
Former Sea Org worker Chris Shelton helps us understand how Scientology uses stealthy front groups to advance the L. Ron Hubbard agenda…
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 19, 2015 at 07:15
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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
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Jason Beghe | Tom DeVocht | Sara Goldberg | Paul Haggis | Mark “Marty” Rathbun | Mike Rinder | Spanky Taylor | Hana Whitfield