Built by land developer Ed Haley in 1926, the Fort Harrison Hotel in Clearwater, Florida is now one of the most recognizable buildings of the Church of Scientology. Its stands as one of the core buildings of the Flag Service Organization campus, the “spiritual headquarters” of the Church, where Church leadership hopes to help realize Scientology Founder L. Ron Hubbard’s vision of the future. While it once functioned as a tourist hotel, Fort Harrison now houses visiting adherents to the Church. Additionally, it is allegedly used as a part of a punitive branch of the Church known as the Rehabilitation Project Force. The Rehabilitation Project Force (RPF) is, according to previous members of the Church, a labor and imprisonment program used to punish “deviant” members of the Church’s elite sect, the Church of Scientology Sea Organization. In line with this allegation, there have been a number of suspicious deaths at the location.
Starting with the construction of the Fort Harrison Hotel by
Ed Haley in 1926, Oldsmobile inventor Ransom E. Olds operated the hotel for
decades until his death in 1950. Following
Olds death, Fort Harrison was purchased by Jack Tar Hotels, who expanded the
original construction and operated the hotel until 1975. The hotel had fallen into disrepair during
the early 70s, and had largely fallen in popularity with visitors to the
area. In 1975, the Church of Scientology
purchased the building under the guise of two front organizations known as “Southern
Land Development and Leasing Corp” and “United Churches of Florida Inc.” Following the purchase of the hotel, the
Church undertook a multi-million dollar restoration and upgrade of the hotel,
which brought it back to functional standards.
In 1989, the site came under considerable scrutiny after “the
Affadavit of Hana Eltringham-Whitfield” was published. The affidavit included allegations of forced
labor, mental and emotional torture, and inhuman living conditions being
utilized to control Sea Org members who were accused of poor behavior within
the Church. Whitfield claimed that the
Church housed the RPF within the Fort Harrison, forcing members to undergo
extensive mistreatment including constant running and physical labor,
restriction of hygiene, severely reduced living conditions, and paranoia-inducing
psychological torture by means of behavior auditing. She claimed that the misdeeds of those placed
in the RPF were never clearly explained, and that harsh interrogation was used
to force members to confess their own misdeeds, often leading to confessions of
actions that never occurred. Whitfield
also brought forward claims that, even after escape, the Church threatened her
extensively, promising to make her life outside of the Church as bad as it was
within it. Whitfield left Fort Harrison
in early 1982, having been put through extensive “security checking,” which
involved even harsher interrogation than she had undergone before.
In addition to the Affadavit of Hana Eltringham-Whitfield, a
number of other strange occurances have brought scrutiny on the seemingly beautiful
and peaceful Fort Harrison. In 1980, a
member of the Church by the name of Josephus A. Havenith was found dead in a
room within the Fort Harrison Hotel.
Cause of death was deemed as drowning, however, the bathtub was filled
with water hot enough to have burned his skin and his head was not submerged
beneath the water. In 1988, a member of
the Church by the name of Heribert Pfaff died of a severe seizure within the
Hotel after being placed by the Church on a vitamin regimen in lieu of his
usual seizure medication. In 1995, the
most suspicious of all the deaths at the location occurred. Lisa McPherson, a member of the Church, died
after allegedly being held in room 174 of the Fort Harrison for over half a
month. The cause of death was officially
determined to be from a blood clot caused by dehydration and excessive bed rest. Originally a Church spokesperson acknowledged
the fact that she had died at the Fort Harrison, but this statement was later
retracted by the Church as erroneous, who then claimed she had died on the way
to the hospital.
The Clearwater police report a notably high number of
emergency calls from the Fort Harrison Hotel, however, Church private security
regularly refuse the police entry to the hotel, claiming that the calls were
made in error. Police have been refused
numerous times from investigating the specific source of the calls, being
barred from entry by Church guards.
Despite the controversies, the Church offers regular, guided
tours of the location, which can be scheduled at the nearby welcome office.