By Amy Silverman
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Jacobsen says Waldrip did nothing with his tip until she realized that no obituary or any other information about McPherson's death had appeared in print. That made her suspicious, Jacobsen says, and led her to look into the police investigation.
Articles in the Tribune and other papers, and the church's changing story about what happened in McPherson's death, soon led to national coverage. Newspapers questioned Scientology practices and printed accusations that adherents, like McPherson, are held against their will. The attention turned an obscure death investigation into a highly publicized battle between police and Scientology. Eventually, the church was indicted for abuse of a disabled adult and unauthorized practice of medicine, both felonies. McPherson's family, meanwhile, has filed a civil lawsuit against the church.
The death of Lisa McPherson has become the most publicized controversy in the church's 45-year history. Stories about McPherson have appeared in nearly every major American newspaper as well as foreign publications and on numerous television programs.
Jacobsen, meanwhile, maintains an extensive archive of information about the case on several Web sites and, through the help of other a.r.s members, in four foreign languages.
McPherson was a 36-year-old member of the church who had belonged to the religion for 13 years. In November 1995, McPherson had finally crossed the Bridge to become a clear. But she told friends and family that she was unhappy at her job at a Scientology-owned publisher and that she planned to leave it and return home to Dallas.
On November 18, McPherson was involved in a minor auto accident. When paramedics arrived, they found that McPherson, who appeared unhurt, had disrobed. "I need help. I need to talk to someone," she told them. Paramedics noted McPherson said she had been doing "wrong things she didn't know were wrong."
McPherson was taken to a hospital, where a doctor recommended that she go through a psychiatric evaluation. Scientologist friends of McPherson arrived, however, and objected, saying that psychiatric evaluations are forbidden in their religion.
With Scientologists at her bedside, McPherson told hospital workers that she wanted to go home with her friends. A doctor advised against it, but ultimately released McPherson, noting that the Scientologists promised they would provide 24-hour care for the troubled woman.
McPherson checked into the Fort Harrison Hotel for, the church said, rest and relaxation. Seventeen days later, she was rushed in a Scientology van to a hospital 24 miles away, bypassing four closer hospitals in order to get to a Scientologist doctor. McPherson was dead by the time she got there.
An autopsy performed by the county medical examiner found that McPherson had died from a blood clot brought on by "bed rest and severe dehydration," according to the examiner's report. McPherson hadn't had anything to drink for five to 10 days and was unconscious for one or two days before her death, said the medical examiner, who added that McPherson's arms were covered with what appeared to be cockroach bites. The autopsy also found evidence of a staph infection, and the church argues that it was the infection, which came on suddenly, that caused the clot and killed McPherson. Church officials insisted that McPherson's time at the hotel had been pleasant and that she had exhibited no medical problems until her final day.
But the church's own records, released on a judge's orders, show that McPherson's mental and physical condition plummeted during her stay. Notes kept by the hotel's health-care staff show that she was violent, incoherent, and seemed unable to care for herself. Other notes indicate that McPherson had tried to leave the hotel, and that she had hallucinated that she was L. Ron Hubbard.
As details of the McPherson case gradually emerged, Jacobsen and other Scientology critics began telling reporters that McPherson had been subject to a Hubbard technique called the "introspection rundown."
In a 1974 technical manual, Hubbard wrote that a person "in a psychotic break" should be isolated. "No one speaks to the person or in his hearing," Hubbard instructed. The subject under introspection rundown could not be released until he could provide, in writing, persuasive evidence that he had reformed. If not, he should be told: "Dear Joe. I'm sorry but no go on coming out of isolation yet."
Jacobsen says the introspection rundown is simply a Scientology policy of holding people against their will. Although the church insists that McPherson was cared for in a posh hotel environment, Jacobsen points to the insect bites on her arms and suggests that McPherson was held, forcibly, in a hotel basement. Several former church members have claimed that the same thing happened to them. One former member, Stacy Young, told the St. Petersburg Times she had been ordered to guard a woman who was kept for two months in isolation during introspection rundown in a dirt-floor shack east of Los Angeles. Scientology officials say Young and the others are lying.
Each new development in the case is watched carefully by Jacobsen and other critics. Scientologists, meanwhile, complain that Jacobsen has no real interest in McPherson and instead cruelly exploits her death for his own purposes of criticizing their religion.