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  • Matt Crumpton

Ep 51: Oswald in New Orleans (Part 6)

In this episode, as we continue to study Oswald’s time in New Orleans, we turn the spotlight away from Lee Harvey Oswald and focus instead on an enigmatic man who many people believe was at the heart of the Kennedy Assassination who was at the confluence of the CIA, anti-Castro Cubans, and the Mafia – David Ferrie.

 

David Ferrie Bio

 

David Ferrie was born in Cleveland, Ohio. He went to high school at the prestigious private catholic institution - St. Ignatius High School.[1] After he graduated, Ferrie studied to become a priest at Baldwin Wallace College and then St. Charles Seminary in Carthagena, Ohio. After six years of preparing for the preisthood, St. Charles refused to allow Ferrie to continue his studies because Ferrie couldn’t get a long with people and he didn’t like being told what to do.[2]  

 

Ferrie returned to Cleveland to teach English and aeronautics at Benedectine High School.[3] While he was studying to be a priest, he learned how to fly airplanes. He put those skills to use when he got involved with the Civil Air Patrol (or the CAP).

 

This is also the time when Ferrie’s interest in fighting Communists began to emerge. Ferrie even tried to secure an Air Force commission so that he could train pilots by writing to President Truman’s Defense Secretary, Louis Johnson. Ferrie said of his pilots QUOTE “and by God, they will get into action and kill those Russians. They should have been wiped out years ago. When am I going to get the commission? When the Russians are bombing Cleveland?”[4]

 

In 1948, Ferrie flew a grounded plane from Columbus to Cleveland with no lights. When he landed, he said he was an officer in the Air Force. Then, in 1950, two CAP cadets reported that Ferrie, as their instructor, took them to a brothel.[5]But, Ferrie was able to avoid being kicked out of the CAP altogether and negotiated being transferred to the Louisiana branch. When the Louisiana CAP contacted the Ohio CAP for Ferrie’s record, it was missing.[6]

 

Ferrie moved to New Orleans in 1951, where he got job as a pilot with Eastern Airlines. Ferrie also continued working with the CAP. He served as an instructor, and later a commander. In 1954, a CAP cadet from Ferrie’s group had a fatal crash, which led to Ferrie being demoted to the role of guest instructor. It was during this time, in the Summer of 1955, that David Ferrie knew and instructed Lee Harvey Oswald in the Civil Air Patrol.[7]

 

As we discussed in depth in Episode 30, the question of whether or not Oswald and David Ferrie knew one another was once disputed. But, it no longer is. We know with certainty that David Ferrie was Oswald’s instructor when Oswald was in the Civil Air Patrol from June until September of 1955. There are at least six witnesses who support this proposition, and more importantly, a photograph showing Oswald and Ferrie together at a cookout.[8] Yet, when Ferrie was asked by the New Orleans Police, the FBI, and the Secret Service if he knew Oswald, he denied knowing him or even QUOTE “ever seeing him before.”[9]

 

Sometime in the mid 1950s, Ferrie began to suffer from an increasingly advanced form of alopecia, which led to him having complete hair loss. He would sometimes wear crude wigs and exaggerated fake eyebrows, which made him tend to stick out in a crowd.[10]

 

In 1961, apparently in a drunken attempt to try to impress one of his cadets, Ferrie stole an airplane and went for a joyride, buzzing treetops along the way. The FAA was waiting for Ferrie when he landed. As a result, he was expelled from the CAP, and eventually lost his job as a pilot at Eastern Air Lines.[11]

 

But, Ferrie’s drunken joyride wasn’t the only problem he had. According to the HSCA, Around August of 1961, QUOTE: “Ferrie gained entrance to the New Orleans detention center to visit a runaway boy by saying that he was a doctor. The parents of another boy complained that their son was staying with Ferrie, which resulted in Ferrie being charged for contributing to the delinquency of a juvenile, and for crimes against nature on a 15 year old boy and indecent exposure with three others.”[12]

 

On August 26, 1961, Eastern Airlines suspended Ferrie without pay pending their investigation of the charges against him. Ferrie retained G. Wray Gill, an attorney well known for being Carlos Marcello’s lawyer, to help him with the charges against him. Gill allowed Ferrie to do investigative work for his law firm instead of paying the legal fee.[13]Ferrie made the same deal with Guy Banister, who provided investigation services for Ferrie’s case in exchange for Ferrie working for him. Ferrie somehow made ends meet without employment after August of 1961, but Ferrie was still trying to get his job back at Eastern Airlines. He ultimately lost his final grievance with the airline on September 30, 1963.[14] 

 

Ferrie and Anti-Castro Cubans

 

According to the House Select Committee on Assassinations, by early 1961, Ferrie and one of his former CAP cadets, Layton Martens, were working with anti-Castro Cuban exile, Sergio Arcacha Smith in New Orleans.[15] Ferrie then QUOTE:

 

“became Smith’s eager partner in counterrevolutionary activities. He reportedly built two miniature submarines, which he planned to use for an attack on Havana Harbor, obtained several rifles and mortars for the proposed invasion, and was reportedly teaching Cubans how to fly. Further, several of Ferrie’s cadets claim to have taken trips to Cuba in Ferrie’s airplane.”[16]

 

When Ferrie was still employed by Eastern Airlines, the de facto leader of Cuban exiles in New Orleans, Sergio Arcacha Smith, wrote a letter to the president of the Company requesting that Eastern Airlines pay Ferrie for 60 to 90 days of leave on behalf of the CRC.[17] And while Arcacha Smith’s request was denied, David Ferrie’s vacation time in April 1961 coincided with the Bay of Pigs Invasion.[18]  Ferrie reportedly was at Arcacha Smith’s home during the Pigs invasion.[19] [20]

 

As we discussed in Episode 47, Ferrie was also involved in the Schlumberger raid in Houma, Louisiana in 1961 where munitions were stolen and apparently brought to Guy Banister’s office.[21] That raid also involved Sergio Arcacha Smith.

 

Another one of the participants in the Houma raid, Gordon Novel, said in a deposition that Ferrie trained Cubans near New Orleans at Abita Springs and at Belle Chase Naval Station.[22] Ferrie told John Irion from the Civil Air Patrol that the equipment for training these Cubans was coming from both the State Department and the CIA through Sergio Arcacha Smith.[23] [24]

 

Delphine Roberts said that Ferrie took Oswald to one of these training camps.[25] INS Agent Wendell Roache said that there were films of one of the Cuban exile training camps.[26] And Bob Tanenbaum, the deputy counsel of the HSCA who would go on to be mayor of Beverly Hills, recalled watching one of those films. Tanenbaum brought in witnesses to try to identify people on the film. He said that David Phillips, Guy Banister, and Lee Harvey Oswald were all identified by witnesses who knew their faces as being on the film.[27] HSCA investigator LJ Delsa and photo analyst Robert Groden confirmed Tanenbaums observations.[28] This film later disappeared.

 

Cuban exile Ricardo Morales (also known as Monkey) was an anti-Castro CIA contract agent and FBI informant. He served as a sniper instructor at the CIA sponsored Cuban exile training camps.[29] In 2021, Morales’ son, Ricardo Morales, Jr., came forward to share what his father (who passed away in 1982), told him, which was that he trained Lee Harvey Oswald at one of Cuban exile training camps.[30]

                  

Ferrie and the CIA

 

We know that in the Summer of 1963 David Ferrie was in close contact with Guy Banister and Sergio Arcacha Smith. Given Banister’s intelligence ties and Arcacha Smith’s direct sponsorship by the CIA, if Ferrie wasn’t officially recognized CIA personnel, at a minimum, he was surrounded by people who had clear intelligence ties.

 

But, there is some evidence to support Ferrie being linked to the Agency.  In early 1958, CIA officer, Donald Norton, picked up $150,000 in cash in the Atlanta airport that he then brought to Carlo Media, a Cuban television star who was working with CIA against the Batista regime. The person Norton got the cash from in Atlanta, whom his CIA handler told him to meet, was named “Hugh Ferris”. Norton met Ferris again a second time and noticed that he was wearing a very sloppy wig. In 1960, while in New Orleans, Norton stopped at the My O My Club and saw the man who he knew as Hugh Ferris in Atlanta who gave him the package of money for Cuba. It was David Ferrie.[31]

 

Al Landry, a former Civil Air Patrol cadet, said Ferrie told him that he was working for the CIA.[32] Carl McNabb, a former CIA pilot, also said that he met with Ferrie when both men were flying missions for the CIA.[33] In addition to these witness statements that Ferrie worked on behalf of the CIA, there is support that Ferrie was engaged in activity that is far from normal for a pilot. According to a December 12, 1963, FAA report about David Ferrie, he was under investigation by US Customs for possible gunrunning activities in the Fall of 1959.[34] And in September of 1961, the US Border Patrol received information that Ferrie was attempting to purchase a C-47 airplane and reportedly had a cache of arms in the New Orleans area.[35] So, Ferrie wasn’t just a big talker. There are receipts that show that he was a man in the arena. We don’t know exactly what he was doing. But, he wasn’t just a commercial pilot.

 

According to National Security archivist and author Peter Kornbluh, David Ferrie became a contract agent for CIA and flew missions over Cuba, including where he actually bombed targets inside Cuba.[36] Former CAP member, Robert Boylston, told the HSCA that Ferrie said he was wounded in 1961 on a flight over Cuba.[37]  

 

On the other hand, the HSCA determined that there was no evidence that Ferrie was connected with the US Government, and that Ferrie’s assistance and interest in anti-communist matters appeared to be voluntary.[38]

 

Ferrie and Marcello

 

In the Fall of 1963, Ferrie worked as an investigator on a case with G. Wray Gill on behalf of Carlos Marcello. The case, which Marcello ultimately beat, was about a fraudulent birth certificate.[39] The HSCA report says that Ferrie actually started working for Carlos Marcello as early as the Spring of 1961. An unconfirmed Border Patrol report from February 1962 states that Ferrie was the pilot who flew Carlos Marcello back to the United States from Guatemala, after Marcello had been deported by Attorney General Robert Kennedy.[40]

 

An April 1961 FBI report indicated that Marcello offered Sergio Arcacha Smith a deal whereby Marcello would make a substantial donation to the anti-Castro movement in return for concessions with Cuba after Castro’s overthrow. According to Carlos Quiroga, Ferrie always had $100 bills and would frequently give money to Arcacha Smith. This was during a period of time when Ferrie had no known income after being suspended from Eastern Airlines.[41]

 

Ferrie and Oswald

 

It is established that David Ferrie knew Oswald from the Civil Air Patrol for a period of about three months in the Summer of 1955. But, the real question when it comes to Ferrie and Oswald is whether they knew one another in the Summer of 1963.

 

We talked about Delphine Roberts’ claim that Oswald went with Ferrie to Cuban exile training camps near New Orleans. We also mentioned the film seen by Bob Tanenbaum, and confirmed by Robert Groden and L.J. Delsa, where Lee Harvey Oswald is allegedly seen participating at one of these training camps, and that Ricardo Morales told his son that he trained Oswald at one of these camps. We also heard from Banister investigator Jack Martin that he saw Oswald with David Ferrie in Banister’s office in the Summer of 1963.[42] But, there are a few more people who claim to have seen Oswald with David Ferrie.

 

In late June or early July of 1963, Van Burns worked in a booth at Pontchartrain Beach amusement park in New Orleans. One night a friend of Burns introduced him to two men: Lee Oswald and David Ferrie. Burns friend said that he had flown with Ferrie over the Gulf of Mexico and that Ferrie had been involved in several missions to Cuba.[43]

 

In September of 1963, New Orleans resident George Wilcox saw David Ferrie, Lee Harvey Oswald, and numerous Cubans dressed in military fatigues near Bedico Creek, about 50 miles north of New Orleans. Wilcox said it looked like they were doing military training maneuvers.[44]

 

After President Kennedy was assassinated, David Ferrie was apparently concerned about something having to do with a library card and Lee Harvey Oswald. According to Layton Martens, Ferrie’s former CAP cadet, attorney G. Wray Gill had QUOTE “come to relay a message to Ferrie that his library card was found among Oswald’s effects.” It appears that David Ferrie may have had reason to believe that Oswald had his library card. According to the HSCA, QUOTE “Oswald’s former landlady in New Orleans, Mrs. Jesse Garner, told the committee she recalled that Ferrie visited her home on the night of the assassination and asked about Oswald’s library card. Mrs. Garner would not talk to Ferrie.”

 

Garner was called to testify at the Jim Garrison trial. She saw a photo of David Ferrie and identified him as the man who came to visit her. But, she was not asked about any details regarding why David Ferrie visited her.[45]

 

It’s not just Garner who said David Ferrie came around looking for a library card on the night of the assassination. Oswald’s neighbor, Doris Eames, told Jim Garrison’s office in 1968 that QUOTE “Ferrie had come by her house after the assassination inquiring if [her husband] had any information regarding Oswald’s library card. [Her husband] told Ferrie he had seen Oswald in the public library, but … had no information about the library card Oswald used.”[46]

 

In addition to contacting Oswald’s landlord and his neighbor regarding Oswald’s library card, Ferrie also reached out to Roy McCoy, one of his former cadets in the Civil Air Patrol. Ferrie wanted to see if McCoy had any photographs showing Oswald in Ferrie’s squadron.[47] 

 

If these allegations from Garner, Eames, and McCoy are true, it shows that Ferrie must have at least known Oswald in the Summer of 1963. It also makes it look like Ferrie is worried about being associated with Oswald.   

 

In summary, there is plenty of evidence to support the idea that Oswald and Ferrie did know one another in the Summer of 1963. Given all the other evidence we have covered about Oswald being affiliated with Guy Banister’s office, it would make sense for Oswald to interact with Ferrie as well, especially if he already had a pre-existing relationship from when Ferrie was his CAP instructor. To believe that Ferrie had no association with Oswald in the Summer of 1963, you would have to dismiss what was said by ten people: Delphine Roberts, Jack Martin, Bob Tanenbaum, Robert Groden, L.J. Delsa, Ricardo Morales, Jr., Van Burns, George Wilcox, Jesse Garner, and Doris Eames. 

 

We don’t have the details of what Oswald and Ferrie were up to when they were together, but, in my view, Oswald and Ferrie most likely interacted with the some of the same people and saw each other on multiple occasions in the Summer of 1963.

 

NEXT TIME ON SOLVING JFK: We summarize and cover the high points of the Garrison case against Clay Shaw, as we wrap up the final episode of our series on Oswald in New Orleans.

 

[2] James DiEugenio, Destiny Betrayed, at 82-83.

[4] Richard Popkin, Garrison’s Case, at 28.

[5] DiEugenio at 83.

[6] Id.

[8] Solving JFK, Episode 30, Young Oswald (Part 2) - https://www.solvingjfkpodcast.com/post/ep-30-young-oswald-part-2

[11] DiEugenio at 86.

[13] Id.

[14] Id. at 111.

[15] Id. at 109.

[16] Id.

[17] Id.

[18] Id.

[19] Baton Rouge States Times, 2/27/67.

[20] New Orleans District Attorney, Memorandum of 3/23/67.

[22] Deposition of Gordon Novel, Novel v. Garrison.

[23] HSCA Interview with John Irion, 10/18/78.

[25] Anthony Summers, Conspiracy, at 304.

[26] Joan Mellen, A Fairwell to Justice, at 48.

[27] Probe Interview of Bob Tanenbaum, Probe, Vol 3, Number 5, at 24;

[28] DiEugenio at Chapter 6, Note 94 (citing Joe Biles, In History’s Shadow, at 227).

[31] Armstrong at 187-88 (citing interview of Donald P. Norton by Jim Garrison, 7/16/67).

[32] Id. at 245.

[33] Id.

[34] FAA Report on David Ferrie, 12/12/63; National Archives, HSCA 18-10117-10177, Numbered Files 0014904.

[36] Peter Kornbluh, Bay of Pigs Declassified, at 72.

[37] DiEugenio at 84.

[39] Id.

[40] Id. at 112.

[41] Id.

[43] Michael Kurtz, Crime of the Century; Armstrong at 547.

[44] Michael Kurtz interview with George Wilcox, 9/9/79; Kurtz at 203. Also, per Armstrong, Harvey & Lee, at 589, Colonel William Bishop (who trained anti castro Cubans at no-name key in South Florida), claims that he saw a training film while he was in New Orleans that showed Oswald at one of the Lake Ponchartrain camps. However, I was not able to find support for that proposition, which was not cited to a source.)

[45] Jim Marrs, Crossfire, at 100.

[47] Id.  

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