The Mystery of David Ferrieby John S. Craig
Of the vast array of characters surrounding the assassination of President Kennedy, few are more mysterious and enigmatic than David William Ferrie of New Orleans. Before and after the assassination, Ferrie's life is full of mystery, strange activity, and puzzling behavior. Cuban exiles christened him the "master of intrigue." Jim Garrison, New Orleans D.A. during the sixties, called him a key figure in the assassination of the president and "one of history's most important individuals."
At the time of the assassination Ferrie was a forty-five year old New Orleans resident who was acquainted with some of the most notorious names linked to the assassination: Lee Oswald, Clay Shaw, Guy Banister, Jack Ruby, and Carlos Marcello. He possessed assorted talents and eccentricities. He was a pilot, and at one time a senior pilot with Eastern Airlines until he was fired for homosexual activity on the job. He was also a hypnotist, a serious researcher of the origins of cancer, amateur psychologist, and a victim of a strange disease, alopecia, which made all of his body void of hair. Anti-Castro, anti-Kennedy, and anti-Communist, Ferrie was also a bishop of the Orthodox Old Catholic Church of North America. His odd lifestyle was embellished with an equally bizarre appearance featuring a red toupee and false eyebrows. Investigator and author Harrison Livingstone met Ferrie and remembered him as "an intense and sinister, cynical, disgusting, disheveled individual who was excited at the prospect of preying upon the vulnerable, the helpless, and the innocent."
Ferrie wasn't always anti-Castro. In the fifties he flew guns to Castro's rebel forces as they fought Batista's army in the Sierra Maestra. In 1961 he flew bombing missions over Cuba and sometimes made daring landings to retrieve anti-Castro resistance fighters. When Castro announced his intentions to become a Communist, and aligned his political philosophy with Kruschev's Soviet Union, Ferrie turned against him.
Communism in Cuba, and Kennedy's seemingly inability to do anything about it, drove Ferrie to become vociferous in his speech against the president. He turned against Kennedy during the Bay of Pigs debacle. At this time Ferrie became a member of the anti-Castro Cuban Revolutionary Front, financed by New Orleans mafia boss, Carlos Marcello. In March 1962 Ferrie began work as a private investigator for G. Wray Gill,Marcello's New Orleans attorney. This arrangement continued through 1963. Eventually Ferrie worked extensively for Marcello and a New Orleans private investigator, Guy Banister, an ex-FBI agent, anti-Communist, who kept an office at 544 Camp Street in New Orleans, a location known as a hot-bed of sinister activities surrounding right-wing and anti-Castro organizations. He worked with Banister the same time he was employed with Gill. It was at 544 Camp Street that Lee Oswald kept company with Banister and Ferrie.
During his public war on organized crime, documented in his book The Enemy Within, Robert Kennedy, as attorney general, deported crime boss Carlos Marcello. Kennedy branded Marcello as an undesirable character who had no positive use for American society. On April 6, 1961, Marcello was whisked away in a plane and dumped on a Guatamalan beach. Two months later Marcello found his way back into the country, possibly with the help of David Ferrie's pilot experience. Marcello privately vowed to get even.
In September of 1962, private investigator Ed Becker met with Ferrie's boss, Carlos "The Little Man" Marcello. He hoped to obtain funds from Marcello for an oil venture. During a whiskey-laced conversation at Marcello's country estate in Louisiana Becker mentioned Marcello's deportation. Marcello angrily announced that Robert Kennedy "would be taken care of." But he hinted that it would be done in a round-about manner. He declared that to kill a dog you don't cut off the tail but the head. The head would be the president, and the plan would include finding a nut to take the blame, "the way they do it in Sicily."
Marcello employed Oswald's uncle Charles Murret as a bookmaker in the New Orleans gambling world. In the 1970's the FBI wiretapped many of Marcello's phone conversations. However, the FBI has refused to release 161 reels of tape containing these conversations. An FBI informant, Joe Hauser, who claimed he made several of these recordings, told author John H. Davis that Marcello spoke of involvement in the assassination and that he personally knew Oswald.
Though Ferrie officially denied knowing Oswald, it is widely believed that Ferrie met Oswald far before their alleged liaison at 544 Camp Street. In 1955 both Ferrie and Oswald were members of the Louisiana Civil Air Patrol. Ferrie was asked to leave the air patrol just before Oswald joined, but apparently still remained close to the members of the organization. Though Ferrie denied any relationship with Oswald, a former schoolmate claimed that he, Oswald, and Ferrie all worked in the Civil Air Patrol. Several other members of the organization said that Oswald and Ferrie were in the Civil Air Patrol at the same time. On the day Oswald handed out pro-Castro leaflets in New Orleans, Ferrie was leading an anti-Castro demonstration a few blocks away. Guy Banister's secretary Delphine Roberts told author Anthony Summers that at least once Oswald and Ferrie went together to a Cuban exile training camp near New Orleans for rifle practice.
In 1954 Oswald joined the Civil Air Patrol. In an interview with Look magazine in 1967, Oswald's brother Robert told a reporter, "According to Lee's own later statement, 1954 was the year when he first became interested in communism . . . I can't help wondering whether it might have been Ferrie who introduced Lee to Communist ideas. I realize that I have nothing solid on which to base such a speculation, except the timing."
House Select Committee on Assassinations records released in 1993 revealed a flight plan (HSCA RG 233) dated April 8, 1963. The flight plan that details a pilot named Ferrie flying three passengers, Hidell, Lambert, and Diaz, from New Orleans to Garland, Texas. It is well known that Oswald used the alias of A.J. Hidell and more recently there is evidence that Clay Shaw, the subject of Jim Garrison's New Orleans investigation into the assassination, used an alias of Clay Bertrand and Lambert. An affidavit accompanying the HSCA RG 233 document claims that Georgian Edward J. Grinus stated in 1967 that one of Clay Shaw's aliases was Lambert. Several witnesses have maintained that Shaw and Ferrie were seen together at the New Orleans airport; speaking to each other in a limousine; together in Clinton, Louisiana; and at private parties and New Orleans bars.
In September 1963 Perry Russo, a New Orleans insurance agent, attended a party at Ferrie's apartment. According to Russo, after the party broke up a group of anti-Castro Cubans began talking of the possibilities of assassinating Fidel Castro. Ferrie introduced Russo to a tall, distinguished-looking, white-haired man named Clem Bertrand, whom Garrison believed was an alias of Clay Shaw. Whether Russo really encountered Shaw has been the subject of an acute controversy. Ferrie also introduced Russo to a man named Leon Oswald. The conversation eventually drifted to the subject of Kennedy's inability to control the communists in Cuba. Ferrie dramatically took the floor and discussed the possibility of killing Castro and illustrated his points by showing his audience a map of Cuba, where the assassination team could land, and the routes to and from Havana.
Russo claimed he and Ferrie became friends and had several meetings. Russo said Ferrie at one time spoke of killing Kennedy and blaming it on Castro. This would give anti-Castro activists an excuse to invade Cuba -- getting rid of two of Ferrie's enemies, Castro and Kennedy, and opening Cuba to free enterprise. He said Kennedy could be killed by a "triangulation" of rifle fire. Ferrie elaborated on his plan of triangulation saying that two shooters would create diversionary shots and the third shooter would make the kill. There would be one shooter who would take the blame.
On the day of the assassination Ferrie was in a courtroom with Carlos Marcello. Marcello was found innocent of all charges brought against him by Robert Kennedy. Only hours after the shooting, Marcello attorney C. Wray Gill, visited Ferrie's home with unwanted news. Gill was telephoned by an unknown source in Dallas saying that Oswald's wallet contained a library card with Ferrie's name on it. Oswald's former landlady in New Orleans was paid a visit by a visibly agitated Ferrie who wondered if she knew anything about the card. Ferrie then rushed to an ex-neighbor of Oswald's and again asked for any information about the card that she might know, but was again frustrated from finding an answer. Immediately after searching for information about his library card and finding none, Ferrie made a phone call to Houston to reserve a room at the Alamotel, a Carlos Marcello owned motel.
When asked why he took the trip to Houston, Ferrie told federal authorities that he and two male companions drove all night on November 22, 1963, 350 miles, through a fierce thunderstorm to Houston to go goose hunting in Texas. He also claimed the trip was designed to gather information on how to run an ice skating rink, a business he wished to open in New Orleans. On the 23rd of November Ferrie visited the Winterland Skating Rink, managed by Chuck Rolland. Rolland told authorities he never spoke to Ferrie about the skating rink business. All Ferrie did, said Rolland, was make and receive phone calls for hours at a pay phone.
On the afternoon of November 23rd Ferrie called his roommate. Layton Martens told Ferrie that he was being accused of involvement in the assassination. Ferrie returned to New Orleans to find that the FBI and Secret Service had just learned about his library card being found in Oswald's wallet. An FBI teletype from the New Orleans office to FBI headquarters notified Director Hoover that Carlos Marcello's attorney G. Wray Gill had notified Ferrie about the library card. Though someone at the Dallas P.D. had tipped off Gill about the card, and information about it was teletyped to Hoover, an inventory of Oswald's personal property by the Dallas P.D. shows no record of a library card. On the evening of November 23, 1963 Ferrie drove to Galveston, stayed the night and returned to New Orleans the next day. There is no record explaining why Ferrie went to Galveston.
Garrison, a friend of C. Wray Gill, checked the records of office calls made from Gill's office during November 1963. He found that the records were missing, and that Ferrie had access to the records. Gill told Garrison that Ferrie had made numerous long distance phone calls from Gill's office in 1962 and '63.
Minutes after the assassination an search of the Dal-Tex Building, situated at Elm and Houston Streets and overlooking Dealey Plaza, yielded a man named Eugene Brading. Brading had recently had his name changed to Jim Braden. An elevator man had noticed a suspicious person using the freight elevator and called the police. The police detained Braden, who said he had taken the elevator to the third floor to find a telephone. The police released him, not knowing his real identity -- Eugene Brading, a convicted felon.
Braden had stayed at the now infamous Cabana Motel in Dallas the night before. The Cabana was owned by the Campisi brothers who had close relationships with Jack Ruby and Carlos Marcello. Ruby had visited the Cabana's Egyptian Lounge the night before the shooting, had met with a man named Lawrence Meyers, and made several phone calls, some as late as 2:30 a.m. on the day of the assassination. Early on the day of the assassination, Braden had checked in with parole officers at a Dallas federal courthouse. He gave his New Orleans address as the same building and floor where David Ferrie kept an office.
Sometime in September 1963 Ferrie made a phone call to an apartment building that housed Jean West. Ms. West was the companion of Lawrence Meyers while they stayed at the Cabana Motel the night of the assassination. Records of Jack Ruby's phone calls in November of 1963 showed that he had also called Jean West's number. Ferrie was known to use an alias of "Farris" on occasions. Though there is no known physical link between Ferrie and Ruby, Jim Garrison claimed that Jack Ruby's address book contained the name of "Farris."
After the assassination, the Secret Service put Marina Oswald under protective custody -- and so she remained, for over three months. According to researcher Harold Weisberg, in his book Oswald in New Orleans, on November 24, 1963, the day that Oswald was shot by Ruby, Secret Service agents asked Oswald's wife Marina whether she knew a Mr. David Ferrie. She said she did not.
On November 26, 1963 a Georgian businessman, Gene Summer, told the FBI that he was sure he saw Oswald accept money from a man he believed was the owner of the Town and Country restaurant in Louisiana. Hoover eventually ordered an investigation of the matter. The Town and Country restaurant was owned by Carlos Marcello. This was a place where Ferrie and Marcello often did business. The FBI questioned a Marcello employee, and Marcello's brother Anthony, concerning Gene Summer's testimony, but nothing came of the investigation.
Other FBI investigations at this time focused on New Orleans. The more agents investigated Ferrie's life the more links they found between Oswald and Ferrie. The relationship surely caused some suspicion in the FBI since they knew Ferrie had a verifiable relationship with Carlos Marcello, the well-known New Orleans underworld figure and hater of Robert Kennedy. Just when the investigation was yielding clearer links between all of these individuals, Director Hoover abruptly closed the investigation of Ferrie December 6, 1963, only two weeks after the assassination. None of the information the FBI collected concerning Ferrie was ever presented to the Warren Commission. David Belin, a former Warren Commission counsel, wrote a book in 1988, Final Disclosure, in which he defended the Warren Commission's findings that Oswald was the sole gunman. In his book, Belin never mentions David Ferrie.
On February 13, 1964, Canadian Richard Giesbrecht unwittingly overheard a conversation between two men in the Winnipeg International Airport. Giesbrecht noticed that one of the men had "the oddest hair and eyebrows I'd ever seen." He later told the FBI he was certain that the man was David Ferrie. Ferrie's companion was approximately the same age as Ferrie, late forties, wore a hearing aid and spoke with a Latin accent. Giesbrecht heard Ferrie tell his companion that he was concerned about how much Oswald had told his wife about the plot to kill Kennedy. They spoke of the Warren Commission investigation and discussed a man called Isaacs, his relationship with Oswald, and wondered why he got involved with someone so "psycho" as Oswald. One of the men lamented the fact that Isaacs had been caught on television film sometime during the Dallas motorcade. Ferrie said that "they" had more money than ever. Then Giesbrecht caught a snippet of a conversation relating to a meeting that was to take place in March in Missouri, since there had been no meeting since November of 1963. Giesbrecht immediately contacted the FBI through his attorney. He gave details of the conversation and after seeing a picture of Ferrie asserted that he was the man he had seen and heard at the Winnipeg airport. After questioning Giesbrecht and telling him that his information was important and "the break we've been waiting for," the FBI contacted him several months later and told him to forget about the matter since it was too serious and since he was a Canadian, there would be nothing the FBI could do for him if he needed protection. In a 1969 interview Giesbrecht told writer Paris Flammonde that he was 100 per cent certain the man he saw at the Winnipeg Airport was David Ferrie.
In February of 1967, New Orleans D.A. Jim Garrison announced that he was reopening the investigation into the president's assassination. Garrison's announcement came the day after John Roselli, a mafia figure with ties to various mafioso bosses throughout the country, told Chief Earl Warren through his attorney that he had been involved in several CIA attempts to assassinate Fidel Castro. To retaliate, Roselli claimed that Castro's agents, in conjunction with mafia figures, planned the murder of the president.
Garrison announced that one of his chief suspects was David Ferrie. He placed Ferrie in protective custody, accompanied by a bodyguard in a New Orleans hotel. Ferrie publicly scoffed at Garrison's allegations telling journalists that " . . . I have been pegged as the getaway pilot in an elaborate plot to kill Kennedy . . . " and that it was "fruitless to look for an accomplice of Oswald." On February 21, Ferrie was inexplicably released from protective custody before he had completely testified.
Ferrie was found dead in his apartment on February 22, 1967. He had left two typed notes that suggested suicide. The first began "To leave this life, to me, is a sweet prospect." For several paragraphs he rambled on about crime in America and the incompetence of the American government. The second note was brief and declared that "when you read this I will be quite dead and no answer will be possible." New Orleans Metro Crime Commission director, Aaron Kohn believed that Ferrie was murdered. The New Orleans coroner officially reported that the cause of death was natural: a cerebral hemorrhage. The day before Ferrie's death, Eladio del Valle was murdered in Miami with hatchet and bullet by unknown assailants. Del Valle was an ex-city councilman from Havana during the Batista regime. He was associated with Florida mafia boss Santos Trafficante. Del Valle and Ferrie were members of the Cuban Democratic Revolutionary Front, an organization devoted to overthrowing Castro. New Orleans D.A. Jim Garrison believed that del Valle paid Ferrie for bombing mission over Cuba. In 1961 del Valle boasted that he had assembled over 8,000 men in Cuba ready to overthrow Castro. In 1963 he was also a leader of the Committee to Free Cuba.
During his investigation, Garrison found that before the assassination Ferrie had deposited over seven thousand dollars in his bank account, and after the assassination someone purchased Ferrie a gasoline-station franchise. Ferrie also secured a job with an air cargo service firm that he kept for several years. It is believed that all of these windfalls were the result of Carlos Marcello repaying Ferrie. Marcello testified that he paid Ferrie seven thousand dollars for Ferrie's paralegal work in November of 1963. Though Ferrie had several interesting connections to the assassination, Garrison never linked any of Ferrie's activities to Marcello. Garrison never publicly recognized any mafia presence in New Orleans. Authors John H. Davis, Philip Melanson, attorney Frank Ragano, and Victor Marchetti and many investigators believe that Garrison's investigation was designed to protect Carlos Marcello from being linked to the assassination. Though Ferrie's relationship with Marcello was obvious and a matter that Marcello publicly acknowledged, there is no mention of Marcello in Garrison's 1970 book on the assassination, A Heritage of Stone, nor is there any mention of Marcello in the Warren Commission Report.
Executive Assistant to the Deputy Director of the CIA Victor Marchetti was told by a CIA colleague that "Ferrie had been a contract agent to the Agency in the early sixties and had been involved in some of the Cuban activities." Marchetti was convinced that Ferrie was a CIA contract officer and involved in various criminal activities. Marchetti told author Anthony Summers that "he observed consternation on the part of then CIA Director Richard Helms and other senior officials when Ferrie's name was first publicly linked with the assassination in 1967."
Raymond Broshears, an ex-roommate of Ferrie, said that Ferrie had told him that he went to Houston the day after the assassination to await a call from a man, allegedly one of the gunmen. This person was to fly from Dallas to Houston in a twin-engine plane that would take them to Central America and eventually to South Africa where the U.S. government had no extradition treaty. South Africa, at the time, was the home of Permindex, an organization with a sinister and cloudy past that had been reportedly ousted from Europe for nefarious activities and had a history of connections with world-wide assassinations. Ferrie was to function as a co-pilot for the gunmen and supposedly another companion who was to be deeply involved in the assassination. The men had code names and the only code name Broshears could remember was Garcia. Ferrie said he never received the phone call. Ferrie told Broshears that the assassins panicked and tried to fly non-stop to Mexico, but they crashed off the coast of Corpus Christi and perished. Broshears believes Ferrie was murdered. Ferrie told him "no matter what happens to me I won't commit suicide." On the other hand, Ferrie had often boasted that he knew of ways of killing people that could be mistaken for suicide.
Broshears told author Dick Russell in 1975 that Ferrie believed Kennedy was a Communist. Ferrie had told him that he knew Oswald and that he felt Oswald did not shoot the president. Ferrie believed that Oswald thought he was working for Castro, but in reality he was a pawn in an anti-Castro conspiracy. The plotters wanted to make the assassination look like it was a communist conspiracy. In 1963 Ferrie told Broshears that four people would shoot from different angles. Later in 1964 he said one fired from a sewer opening, another from the grassy knoll, and one from behind the motorcade. Funding for the plot came from Marcello, Ferrie told Broshears, adding that Clay Shaw knew of many of the plot's details but did not engineer it.
On March 4, 1967, three days after Clay Shaw was arrested for complicity in the assassination of JFK, an Italian newspaper with strong communist ties, Il Paese Ser, reported that Clay Shaw was one of the directors of the Rome World Trade Centre, an organization that was run by the CIA to undermine communism. The CIA had admitted that Shaw was a contact for the agency's Domestic Contact Service during the 1950's. Il Paese Sera had strong links to Italian Fascists and Permindex (Permanent Industrial Exhibitions). The article also claimed that Permindex was expelled from Switzerland because of criminal activities, and that Permindex was a financial benefactor to the OAS of France and eventually was relocated in Johannesburg, South Africa. A few days later the same paper published the names of men involved in anti-communist activities through Permindex. Several other communist newspapers, the Italian L'Unita and Moscow's Pravda, began to add to the fantastic claims of the conspiracy theories of Permindex. Eventually many researchers began seeing the Permindex connection as a disinformaton campaign orchestrated by the CIA or more likely communist organizations in Europe. The history of Permindex is complicated and mysterious. Though it was never ousted from Switzerland by the Swiss government, as Il Paese Sera reported, it did move to Rome and then South Africa. The Rome World Trade Centre and Permindex have a shadowy past, but that darkness maybe nothing more than shadows cast by communist political organizations intentionally clouding the conspiracy issue with disinformation.
CIA contract agent Robert Morrow claimed that while working at Permindex in the early sixties he received a call from David Ferrie from Switzerland. Ferrie had been instructed by CIA contacts to tell Morrow to go to Paris and pick up a packet of papers from an American couple who had recently been traveling in the Soviet Union. They had been given the packet of papers by a CIA agent, a "Harvey of Minsk." Since Oswald was living in Minsk during this time, Morrow firmly believes it was Oswald who was providing information for the CIA. Morrow also recounts a story about Ferrie's associate Eladio del Valle. Del Valle had called Morrow in the early autumn of 1963 and requested four walkie-talkies, low-frequency transceivers that could not be traced. Morrow knew that del Valle had connections with the mafia and various anti-Castro groups. Morrow provided the equipment and believes that one of the radios he furnished can be seen in pictures taken of Dealey Plaza on November 22, 1963, hanging out of a man's back pocket.
In January of 1992 a former attorney for mob boss Santos Trafficante and Teamster leader Jimmy Hoffa, Frank Ragano, spoke of a meeting he had with Hoffa in early 1963. According to Ragano, Hoffa asked the attorney to tell Trafficante and Marcello that he wanted the president killed. Ragano didn't take the threat seriously but passed the word on anyway. He was shocked to see their reactions; it appeared to Ragano that they had already considered the thought. On November 22, 1963 Ragano said Hoffa called him and asked him if he had heard the good news. Hoffa reportedly said that it looked like Bobby would be thrown out of his attorney general position by Johnson. That night, Ragano says, he had dinner with Trafficante. Trafficante made a toast to the actions of the day declaring that their problems were over and that access to Cuba would be a reality. Ragano said that Marcello told him that Hoffa owed him, and Hoffa recognized the fact that Marcello had done him a big favor.
Transcripts of Ferrie's FBI interview have been buried in the National Archives. They were not turned over to the Warren Commission. Author John H. Davis, a Board of Advisors of the Assassination Archives and Research Center in Washington, D.C., has reported that a 30 page FBI report on Ferrie is missing from the National Archives.
Belin, David W. Final Disclosure, Scribner's, 1988.
Davis, John H. The Kennedy Contract, McGraw Hill, 1992.
Davis, John H. Mafia Kingfish: Carlos Marcello and the Assassination of John F. Kennedy, McGraw-Hill, 1988.
Dorril, Steve. "Permindex: The International Trade in Disinformation," The Third Decade, v. 2, n. 1, November 1985, p. 11.
Flammonde, Paris. The Kennedy Conspiracy - An Uncommissioned Report on the Jim Garrison Investigation, Meredith Press, 1969.
Garrison, Jim. On the Trail of the Assassins, Putnam, 1992.
Garrison, Jim. A Heritage of Stone, Putnam, 1970.
Kross, Peter. "The Ferrie Flight Plan Document," Back Channels, v. 1, n. 2, 1994.
Livingstone, Harold. High Treason 2, Caroll and Graf, 1992.
Meagher, Sylvia. Accessories after the Fact: the Warren Commission, the Authorities, and the Report. Vintage, 1976.
Morrow, Robert D. Betrayal: A Reconstruction of Certain Clandestine Events from the Bay of Pigs to the Assassination of John F. Kennedy, Chicago, Henry Regnery Co., 1976.
Scott, Peter Dale. Deep Politics and the Death of JFK, University of California Press, 1993.
Summers, Anthony. Conspiracy, McGraw-Hill, 1989.
Russell, Dick. The Man Who Knew Too Much, Caroll and Graf, 1992.
Weisberg, Harold. Post Mortem - JFK Assassination Cover-Up Smashed, Weisberg Publishing, 1969.
Weisberg, Harold. Oswald in New Orleans - Case for Conspiracy with the CIA, Weisberg Publishing, 1967.
* * *