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Tom DeVocht: Watching David Miscavige watch Lisa McPherson and her faulty ‘needle’


Twenty years ago today, on Wednesday, November 15, 1995, Lisa McPherson and her friend Brenda Hubert drove from Clearwater, Florida to Orlando and checked into a hotel. Lisa had not slept much the night before, so she went up to her room for a nap while other employees of AMC Publishing were still arriving.

Lisa and her co-workers were in Orlando for the annual meeting of the National Association of Independent Life Brokerage Agencies. The NAILBA conference was an important one for AMC, which catered to brokers, and while Lisa napped the others helped out at the registration desk, meeting attendees.

Later that afternoon, Lisa came down to join the scene at registration. And that’s when AMC employee Craig Burton noticed that something about her was off. Lisa was known for being outgoing and extroverted, but also polite. So Burton was surprised to see her go up to a man at the conference and get in his face. He couldn’t hear what she was saying, but whatever it was she was just inches from the guy’s face, berating him about something until Brenda came over and pulled her away.

Burton remembered later that it was the first thing he noticed during that trip that suggested Lisa was acting strange.



On Friday, we backed up a little in our countdown to the 20th anniversary of Lisa McPherson’s death to look at the reasons why Scientology leader David Miscavige had been personally involved in her counseling. In the language of Scientology, Miscavige had “case supervised” or “C/Sed” her “auditing” as she went “Clear,” which was declared on September 7, 1995.

Marc Headley, who was in Clearwater at the time and heard Miscavige talk about McPherson, explained to us that Miscavige had been at the “Flag Land Base” for several months, involving himself in individual cases as he looked for ways that the complex, the most profitable in all of Scientology, could speed people through and take in even more money.

Yesterday, we talked to someone else who personally witnessed Miscavige “C/Sing” Lisa’s auditing. Tom DeVocht was a key figure for Scientology in Clearwater before he left the organization in 2005. He was then part of the epic Tampa Bay Times 2009 series, “The Truth Rundown,” that featured numerous former high-ranking Scientology executives revealing what it was like to work with Miscavige. And more recently, he was one of the most effective participants in Alex Gibney’s Emmy-winning documentary, Going Clear. DeVocht’s accounts are so interesting because of how close he worked with Miscavige, who favored DeVocht and socialized with him and their wives, Shelly Miscavige and Tom’s wife of the time, Jenny Linson.

DeVocht was constantly around Miscavige, and that’s why he can describe in detail what it was like when Miscavige was C/Sing Lisa McPherson.

“I stood there with him I can’t tell you how many times watching him watching sessions,” Tom tells us. On the fourth floor of the Fort Harrison Hotel, the central facility at the base, a large, 20 foot by 20 foot room had been cleared out and installed with video equipment. There were multiple monitors showing what was going on in rooms on the third and fifth floors, where hotel rooms had been converted for auditing and were wired for sound and video.

“Each room had two cameras, one on the PC [the “pre-clear,” or subject of the auditing] and one on the meter. And there was a mic on the desk for sound. It was for ‘training purposes of the auditor’,” Tom explains with some sarcasm. The eavesdropping equipment also allowed Miscavige to listen in as wealthy Scientologists revealed deeply personal information during the counseling sessions.

From the monitor that Miscavige was watching, he could flip back and forth to any of the rooms where auditing was going on. He could then see and hear the PC answering questions, and also see how the needle on the e-meter the PC was hooked up to was reacting. McPherson was just one of the many people Miscavige was watching at the time.

“He C/Sed her case all the way through,” Tom says. After a day’s session was over, McPherson’s folder would be brought to Miscavige, who would make notes, in his own handwriting, about what he’d seen and what he wanted done. “He was personally all over it, like it was his personal project. He was completely into it.”

An electrical engineer will tell you that a Scientology E-meter is a very crude device that reveals tiny fluctuations of current in skin galvanism, measured through sensors resembling soup cans that are held by the subject. Because the sensors are held, those fluctuations are affected by grip and palm sweat, essentially making the needle readings scientifically meaningless. But Scientologists insist that an E-meter measures the “mass” of human thought, and that it is actually indicating amazingly detailed and accurate information about what a person is thinking and remembering. In Hubbard’s counseling, subjects are asked about past traumas, some that go back millions or billions of years into past lives, and they seek to lessen the effect of those past traumas through repetitively talking about them. The goal is reached, auditors believe, when the needle makes a particular back and forth motion called a “floating needle” or “FN.” A session can only be declared finished when the auditor sees a floating needle, and it is then confirmed by a separate person, an examiner, and then the session is reviewed by a case supervisor, who is supposed to be trained to be an expert in the meter and its “reads.”

DeVocht and everyone else knew, however, that Miscavige’s training history was suspect. Miscavige had been considered a prodigy in his teens when he went with his New Jersey family to Saint Hill Manor in England to train as one of the youngest auditors in the organization. But he’d run into trouble there — several people claim that Miscavige struck his subject during a session — and he was not known to have continued his training into its advanced states.

But here, he was watching Lisa McPherson being audited, and as the auditor could be heard to say that he was seeing a floating needle, Miscavige was back in the “look-in room,” screaming that the auditor was incorrect, Tom says.

“He was screaming and yelling about how it wasn’t true and how the session wasn’t handled properly,” Tom says. And at one point, Miscavige was so livid, he called for the captain of the entire base to be summoned.

It was Debbie Cook, who had been captain of the Flag Land Base for years, and was known as one of the most hard-charging administrators in all of Scientology — but not, Tom points out, a technical expert.

“She hadn’t been an auditor for a long time. But Miscavige said to her, ‘Bitch, you’re taking her in session, get ready.’ And he stuck her in session with Lisa to audit her. ‘Don’t you come out without an FN,’ he said to Debbie. You could tell the whole thing was a mess.”

It was just one incident in Miscavige’s consuming interest in McPherson’s case, Tom says, as the Scientology leader pushed to get McPherson to “Clear.”

As we discussed on Friday, however, there were plenty of warning signs that Lisa McPherson was not a good subject for the grueling sessions. In June, she’d had a nervous breakdown and had talked about suicide. And not long after Miscavige declared her Clear in September, Lisa was again acting strangely and sounding distraught.

And in Orlando, as the NAILBA conference got under way, Lisa was rapidly approaching another breaking point.


Bonus photos from our tipsters

According to a Facebook posting, on Friday night at the Advanced Org of Los Angeles (AOLA), an announcement was made that OT 9 and 10 will be released by the end of the year (which is just six weeks away) at the Freewinds, and that the first 500 people have already signed up. Oh my.


Hey, girl. Want to see my mission? Actual caption: “Our New Mission Holder has arrived!!! Sean Dernehl, Mission Holder of the successful and busy Church of Scientology South Coast Mission in California, has come to Ocala to be our Mission Holder here! He’s already started hiring more Staff, and we’re looking forward to a huge new game here in Ocala!! If you ever thought about working with us, now is the perfect time to join the fun! Sean is famous for getting his Staff all fully trained to be able to help others in every possible way, and for delivering fast, great service to people who come to the Mission for Courses, Auditing and other services we offer! I’ve only talked with him a few times, but each time I’ve been quite impressed. The guy really knows his stuff, and he is very much into helping others to achieve what he and others in Scientology and Dianetics have achieved—which is a spiritual freedom which exceeds anything that Man has ever known.”


Let’s see. We’ve done superheroes. And gangsters. And pirates. What can we do for our next fundraising party theme? Hey, what about a weird Sinbad/Teletubbies/ISIS mashup! Way to go, Costa Rica!




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 15, 2015 at 07:00

E-mail your tips and story ideas to tonyo94 AT gmail DOT com or follow us on Twitter. We post behind-the-scenes updates at our Facebook author page. Here at the Bunker we try to have a post up every morning at 7 AM Eastern (Noon GMT), and on some days we post an afternoon story at around 2 PM. After every new story we send out an alert to our e-mail list and our FB page.

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


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