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David Ferrie And His Connection To Lee Harvey Oswald, The CIA And The Assassination Of JFK

Updated: Apr 15

The assassination of President John F. Kennedy on November 22, 1963, remains one of the most enduring mysteries in American history. Over the years, countless theories and speculations have emerged, each attempting to shed light on the events of that fateful day in Dallas, Texas. Among the intriguing figures connected to the assassination is David Ferrie, a complex character whose ties to Lee Harvey Oswald, the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), and the broader conspiracy landscape continue to captivate researchers and historians.

Born in Cleveland, Ohio, Ferrie was raised in a Roman Catholic household and attended various educational institutions, including St. Ignatius High School, John Carroll University, and St. Mary's Seminary, where he studied for the priesthood. He also spent time at Baldwin Wallace College and the St. Charles Seminary in Carthagena, Ohio, before leaving due to emotional instability.

Ferrie's career path took various turns, including obtaining a pilot's license and teaching aeronautics at Benedictine High School in Cleveland. However, he was dismissed from his teaching position due to misconduct, including taking students to a house of prostitution. He later worked as an insurance inspector before relocating to New Orleans in 1951, where he worked as a pilot for Eastern Air Lines until his dismissal in 1961.

Throughout his life, Ferrie was involved with the Civil Air Patrol (CAP), serving as an instructor and commander in New Orleans. His involvement with the CAP continued even after he left his official squadron due to disagreements. He eventually started his own unofficial squadron, the Metairie Falcon Cadet Squadron, where he engaged in inappropriate relationships with teenage boys.

Politically, Ferrie described himself as a liberal on civil rights issues but was vehemently anti-Communist. He initially supported Fidel Castro's campaign against Fulgencio Batista in Cuba but later became convinced that Castro was a Communist. He actively participated in anti-Castro activities, collaborating with right-wing Cuban exiles and engaging in raids on munitions depots.

Ferrie's associations extended to individuals such as Guy Banister, a former FBI agent and right-wing political activist, with whom he worked on various projects, including assisting Carlos Marcello, a New Orleans Mafia boss, in legal matters. There were also allegations of Ferrie's involvement in flying Marcello back into the United States from Guatemala after he was deported.

Despite his various involvements, Ferrie's life was marred by controversy and legal troubles, including arrests on morals charges and accusations of crimes against nature and extortion. His activities leading up to the assassination of President John F. Kennedy in 1963 raised suspicions and speculation about his potential involvement in conspiracy theories surrounding the event.

The FBI and Secret Service took an interest in Ferrie shortly after the Kennedy assassination, as early as November 25, 1963. On that day, Ferrie and two other individuals were arrested and booked for vagrancy by the New Orleans district attorney's office. They were held for investigation by the Federal Bureau of Investigation and the Secret Service but were released the following day. First Assistant District Attorney Frank Klein, who questioned Ferrie along with investigators, declined to comment on the case.

In the aftermath of Kennedy's assassination on November 22, 1963, tensions were high. On that very day, New Orleans private investigator Guy Banister and one of his associates, Jack Martin, were involved in a violent altercation. Following this incident, Martin made several claims implicating Ferrie in the assassination. He suggested that Ferrie may have been the getaway pilot and alleged that Ferrie had threatened Kennedy's life in the past. Martin also claimed that Ferrie had connections to Lee Harvey Oswald from their time together in the New Orleans Civil Air Patrol.

Jim Garrison, 1967

Martin's allegations sparked further investigation, with the FBI interviewing Ferrie twice about the claims. Ferrie denied any involvement in the assassination and stated that he had no recollection of ever meeting Oswald. He attributed Martin's accusations to personal animosity, stating that Martin had harassed him since their falling out earlier in the year.

Despite the FBI's inability to develop a substantial case against Ferrie based on Martin's claims, the accusations continued to circulate. Jim Garrison, the district attorney of New Orleans, became interested in the case and conducted his own investigation. Garrison believed that Ferrie, along with other individuals, including Guy Banister and Clay Shaw, were part of a conspiracy to assassinate Kennedy. He alleged that Ferrie and his associates had ties to the CIA and were motivated by anger over Kennedy's foreign policy decisions.

As Garrison's investigation unfolded, he became increasingly convinced of a broader conspiracy involving right-wing extremists and elements of the government. He believed that Ferrie, Banister, and Shaw had conspired to frame Oswald as the lone gunman in the assassination. These allegations would continue to be debated and scrutinised in the years to come.

On February 22, 1967, just days after the New Orleans States-Item newspaper broke the story of Garrison's investigation, Ferrie was discovered deceased in his apartment. Among his belongings were two typed letters, both unsigned and undated. One letter, discovered among a pile of papers, contained a despairing reflection on the justice system, expressing a desire to leave life behind. The second letter was addressed to Al Beauboeuf, Ferrie's friend, to whom he left all his possessions.

Garrison initially labeled Ferrie's death as a suicide but did not rule out the possibility of murder.

Lou Ivon, Garrison's aide, recounted a conversation with Ferrie the day after the news of the investigation broke. Ferrie allegedly expressed a sense of impending doom, declaring himself a dead man.

The autopsy on Ferrie was conducted by Orleans Parish coroner Nicholas Chetta and pathologist Ronald A. Welsh. Their findings indicated that Ferrie died of a massive cerebral hemorrhage caused by a congenital intracranial berry aneurysm, which had ruptured at the base of his brain. Despite the coroner's conclusion, Garrison remained skeptical, suggesting that it could be a strange coincidence that Ferrie wrote two suicide notes on the same night he died of natural causes.

"I suppose it could just be a weird coincidence that the night Ferrie penned two suicide notes, he died of natural causes." - Jim Garrison

Following the coroner's report, Garrison proceeded with his investigation and on March 1, 1967, had Shaw arrested and charged with conspiring to assassinate Kennedy.

Journalists Jack Wardlaw and Rosemary James co-authored the book "Plot or Politics" in 1967, which critiqued Garrison's investigation. Wardlaw's reporting on Ferrie's death earned him an Associated Press award.

David Ferrie in 1967

During an initial interview with the House Select Committee on Assassinations (HSCA) in 1978, Delphine Roberts, a close associate of Banister, initially denied ever seeing Oswald.

However, in a subsequent interview, she contradicted herself, claiming she had indeed seen Oswald in Banister's office multiple times. Roberts recalled seeing Oswald first when he applied for a job in the summer of 1963 and later when he visited with his wife, Marina. According to Roberts, Oswald had interviewed for an "undercover agent" position, and she alleged that both Oswald and Ferrie, whom she identified as a "detective agent" for Banister, attended an anti-Castro training camp for rifle practice. The HSCA investigated Roberts's statements but found inconsistencies and lacked independent corroboration, thus casting doubt on their reliability.

In its Final Report in 1979, the HSCA stated that Oswald, who resided in New Orleans in the summer of 1963, had established connections with anti-Castro Cubans and allegedly with Ferrie, an American anti-Castro activist. The Committee considered the testimony of six witnesses who claimed to have seen Oswald and Ferrie together in Clinton, Louisiana, in September 1963 as "credible and significant." Among these witnesses was Corrie Collins, the chairman of the Congress of Racial Equality (CORE), who described Ferrie's distinctive appearance at the trial of Clay Shaw. However, subsequent releases of witness statements taken by Garrison's investigators in 1967 revealed contradictions in their testimonies, undermining their reliability. For instance, Collins initially could not pinpoint Ferrie's whereabouts but later placed him with Shaw and Oswald at the trial.

Additionally, the HSCA noted that available records suggested Oswald and David Ferrie might have been part of the same Civil Air Patrol unit during the same period. Committee investigators identified six witnesses who claimed Oswald attended Civil Air Patrol meetings led by Ferrie.

In 1993, the PBS television program Frontline acquired a group photograph taken eight years prior to the assassination, revealing Oswald and Ferrie among other Civil Air Patrol cadets at a cookout. Frontline's executive producer, Michael Sullivan, advised caution in interpreting its significance.

David Ferrie (second from left) and a teenage Lee Harvey Oswald (far right) in a group photo of the New Orleans Civil Air Patrol in 1955

While the photo lent credence to eyewitness accounts of Ferrie and Oswald's association within the CAP, Sullivan emphasised that it did not conclusively establish their presence together in 1963 or implicate them in a conspiracy to assassinate the president. John Ciravolo, the owner of the photo, remarked to author Patricia Lambert that he himself appeared in the picture and speculated that Ferrie likely wouldn't remember him either. Author John C. McAdams similarly noted that the photo didn't confirm any direct interaction between Ferrie and Oswald, but merely indicated their simultaneous membership in the organisation.

Despite his death, David Ferrie's legacy lives on in the annals of conspiracy theories and historical speculation. His association with Lee Harvey Oswald and involvement in anti-Castro activities continue to fuel debates and conjecture surrounding the Kennedy assassination. While many questions remain unanswered, Ferrie's life serves as a reminder of the complexities and uncertainties surrounding one of the most pivotal events in American history.



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