When it comes to controversy and the Church of Scientology, you do not have to look far. In fact, the events that have taken place in just one building belonging to the ‘Church’ account for a number of the more high-profile suspicious deaths, to occur within the organisation.
However, true to Scientologist form, the full details of these deaths remain clouded in mystery. A muddle of confused statements, contradictory accounts, and seemingly withheld information leads to an unsatisfactory conclusion where it is difficult to believe that justice has been fully served.
The building in question is the Fort Harrison Hotel situated in the spiritual headquarters of Scientology, in Clearwater, Florida. It is the the flagship building of the Flag Land Base, and is owned and operated by the Church of Scientology Flag Service Organization.
This formidable chunk of real estate has 11 stories, 220 rooms, three restaurants, a swimming pool and a ballroom. It provides accommodations and “course & auditing” rooms, for Scientologists studying at some of the highest levels of Scientology.
However, from a more sinister standpoint, the building is also used for the Church’s Rehabilitation Project Force (RPF); a program used to punish members for “serious deviations.”
In reports from former members of the Church, those that end up in the rehabilitation program are subjected to prison like conditions, forced labor, and many more acts against simple human rights. In some cases, individuals have not made it out alive.
Since the Church of Scientology took ownership of the Fort Harrison Hotel, at least three suspicious deaths have occurred inside its walls. Each incident has led to investigative proceedings with the authorities deciding in favor of the Church every time.
Three Controversial Deaths
One of the most high profile deaths to have occurred at the hotel is that of Lisa McPherson.
McPherson died on December 5, 1995, after spending 17 days in room 174 of the building.
The officially reported cause of death was a blood clot caused by dehydration and bedrest.
This was later challenged in court. In 1997, a church spokesman acknowledged that McPherson died at the Fort Harrison, rather than on the way to the hospital. The church later retracted its spokesman’s statement.
At the time of her death, she had bruises and abrasions on her body, and she had lost over 30 pounds in just over 2 weeks. All charges against the Church of Scientology surrounding her death were eventually dropped.
In February 1980 a Scientologist named Josephus A. Havenith was found dead at the Fort Harrison.
He was discovered in a bathtub filled with water hot enough to have burned his skin off.
The officially reported cause of death was drowning, although the coroner noted that, when he was found, Havenith’s head was not submerged.
In August 1988 Scientologist Heribert Pfaff died of a seizure in the Fort Harrison Hotel. He had recently stopped taking his seizure medication in favor of a vitamin program endorsed by the church.
It is important to remember that these incidents are merely the ones that have come to light.
In 1997 alone, Clearwater police received over 160 emergency calls from the Fort Harrison Hotel. The police responded to each of these calls, however, they were denied entry into the hotel by Scientology security every time.
The fact that people have come to harm within the building seems inevitable in light of the ‘rehabilitation’ which is said to take place inside. An affidavit by Hanna Whitefield (a former church member) describes some of the incidents that she experienced within the Fort Harrison hotel:
Some of us slept on thin mattresses on the bare cement floor. Some had crude bunk beds. We were not allowed to shower longer than 30 seconds. There was no spare time for talk or relaxation. We awoke at 6:30 A.M. or earlier at times, did hard labor and heavy construction work and cleaning until late afternoon… we had to audit each other and ‘rehabilitate’ ourselves until 10:30 P.M. or later each evening. There were no days off, four weeks a month. Our food consisted of leftovers from staff.
Such accounts shed light on why the police would receive so many emergency calls. The fact that they have been prevented from following through on their response to them is more than alarming.
The reported incidents occurring within the walls of the Fort Harrison seem to have subsided in recent years. However, whether this is due to the fact the organisation is better at suppressing such information, or whether they have altered their practices so such incidents no longer occur, is a matter of conjecture.