David Ferrie: Interview of February 18, 1967In a memorable scene from Oliver Stone's JFK, one of Jim Garrison's prime suspects, David Ferrie (portrayed by Joe Pesci) confesses to the assassination of President John F. Kennedy.
New Orleans District Attorney's Office
David Ferrie (right) with
Bay of Pigs veteran Julian Buznedo
The basis for this scene is purported to be an interview conducted by Assistant DA Lou Ivon on the night of February 19, 1967, in which, according to Ivon, Ferrie did not confess to any such involvement in, or even guilty knowledge of, the JFK assassination. According to Ivon, Ferrie did admit to working for the CIA, however, and also having been acquainted with accused assassin Lee Harvey Oswald and Garrison suspect Clay Shaw (portrayed in JFK by Tommy Lee Jones).
The research notes to Oliver Stone and Zachary Sklar's JFK screenplay state, "This scene is based on an actual conversation between Ferrie and Lou Ivon shortly before Ferrie's death. [Ferrie died on February 22, 1967.] Garrison's book does not go into detail, mentioning the incident only in passing."(1)
This strikes an odd note. David Ferrie confessed to having worked for the CIA and to having known both Lee Harvey Oswald and Clay Shaw -- both of whom Ferrie otherwise denied knowing -- and Jim Garrison doesn't even mention it in his book on the assassination. in which he seeks to portray Ferrie as a key participant?
Even more odd is the fact that Lou Ivon never wrote up any notes of this interview with Ferrie, never wrote a report of it, and never mentioned any it to anyone -- so far as is known -- until he told Oliver Stone about it in 1991. Garrison never mentioned these alleged statements when he charged Shaw with perjury (for denying he knew Ferrie and Oswald) in 1969. Ivon didn't mention them when he testified on Garrison's behalf at the 1971 hearing over whether it was legal for Garrison to prosecute Shaw for those same charges. (Judge Herbert Christenberry ruled that Garrison's charges were unlawful, and enjoined him from harassing Shaw further.) Garrison himself did not mention it at the hearing, nor did anyone else. Garrison also omitted this information from his previous book on the assassination, A Heritage of Stone.
As author Patricia Lambert has noted, Ivon's newfound claims about this interview are wholly unsupported by evidence, and in fact conflict with every known statement Ferrie ever made about Oswald and Shaw. (It's not clear that Garrison's men ever asked Ferrie anything about the CIA, with which Ferrie was not associated.) Lambert notes that Ferrie denied knowing Oswald to the NOPD, the Secret Service and the FBI in 1963, to Garrison's office in 1966-67, to journalist David Snyder in 1967, and was still denying knowing Oswald to George Lardner, Jr., in an interview that occurred only hours before Ferrie died.(2)
The last recorded interview of David Ferrie by the New Orleans District Attorney's Office, by Lou Ivon and Assistant DA Andrew Sciambra, was conducted some 24 hours previous to Ivon's conversation with Ferrie of February 19th. It paints an altogether different picture of Ferrie than the amusing but fanciful scene in Oliver Stone's film, a scene for which Stone's admits that "we had to put words in Ferrie's mouth."(3)
Here is the complete Sciambra-Ivon memorandum of that February 18 interview with Ferrie. Compare, for example, the final paragraph with Ivon's claim that the following evening, Ferrie admitted to knowing Clay Shaw.
February 28, 1967
TO: JIM GARRISON
FROM: ANDREW SCIAMBRA AND LOUIS IVON
RE: INTERVIEW WITH DAVID FERRIE
On Saturday, February 18, 1967, at approx. 3:30 P.M., Louis Ivon and I interviewed DAVID FERRIE in his apartment on Louisiana Parkway. As we approached the house, FERRIE came out on the porch and looked at us and began to walk down the steps to open the door for us. As he opened the door for us, he told Ivon that he was glad that we finally decided to come and talk with him as he had been trying to get in touch with Garrison or Ivon for several days. He told me hello and asked me what I was doing with Ivon and I explained to him that I was an Assistant DA now and thought that I would come along with Ivon since we knew each other from the airport. He told us to go on upstairs and that he would follow us, but that it would take him some time to climb up the stairs as he was sick and weak, and that he had not been able to keep anything on his stomach for the past couple of days. He moaned and groaned with each step he took up the stairs from the bottom to the top. This behavior by FERRIE impressed me as a phony act and I am sure he was not as sick as he pretended to be. Once inside the apartment, Ivon and I sat down and FERRIE laid down on the sofa in the front room. He was wearing pants and a t-shirt and had two pillows under him. There was a young man inside the apartment in his early twenties who was a friend of FERRIE'S from the Lakefront Airport. His name is Burt Johnson and I remember him from when I was working out there. FERRIE had given him flying instructions and he told me that he had acquired his license. My first conversation with FERRIE centered around airport talk and about people we both knew from the airport. He said that he had often wondered what had happened to me and that he thought I had gone into private practice. He said that he had known a lot of ex-DAs and they were all dumb, with a few exceptions.
He said that the reason he'd called us was that he was concerned over our investigation. He had heard all kinds of rumors that he was going to get arrested and that he wanted to find out if these rumors were true. He said that as a result of these rumors, he had been asked to leave the airport and was concerned over how he was going to make a living, that flying was his only enjoyment in life. FERRIE said he was suffering from encephalitis and that he could not get any rest from the radio, TV and press boys hounding him to death. FERRIE said his phone rings from morning till night and that he had talked to Sam Depino from Ch. 12 until the early hours of the morning. FERRIE said Sam was trying to con him, but that he was too smart to fall for his line, and that all those people were "bastards". Just then the phone rang and it was a reporter from the Times-Picayune, and he said that he would positively not grant interviews and that he was tired of all those bastards calling him up. The reporter must have told him something, because he was not calling him a bastard personally, but was referring to the news media in general. He then hung up the telephone. FERRIE picked up the Picayune paper and said he wanted to show us portions of the story that really disturbed him. He said the newspapers can kill anybody when they want to, and that it was never more evident than in the cases of CARLOS MARCELLO and JIMMY HOFFA. FERRIE said the newspapers tried to frame both of these guys. He then talked about the MARCELLO trial that he was working on in 1963, and how the newspapers tried to crucify MARCELLO. He said MARCELLO made asses out of all of them when he was acquitted. FERRIE said he wanted to know why we brought MIGUEL TORRES back from Angola. He said that he knew what people would do to get out of prison and he thought Garrison was trying to frame-up by using MIGUEL TORRES. FERRIE said that if this would happen, he would sue us and everybody. FERRIE said he had been contacted by some big attorneys in Washington DC, and they wanted to help him.
FERRIE also said he did not like the way Garrison was answering questions put to him by newsmen and that Garrison should make a definite statement and not say "No comment". He said the "No comment" stirs more shit than an hour's speech. FERRIE said Garrison knew this and that he was obviously using this for publicity. I assured him that Garrison was not trying to frame anybody and that he was avoiding the press and he could not say much less than "No comment". Then FERRIE said he wanted to talk to Garrison personally. We told him we would try and arrange a meeting in the near future.
FERRIE then began to curse JACK MARTIN and said MARTIN started all of this stuff. FERRIE said MARTIN was jealous of him because of his relationship with G. WRAY GILL and that MARTIN was trying to ruin him (FERRIE). He said MARTIN is a screwball and should be locked up.
FERRIE then said Garrison had better be careful because he knew that some people were trying to torpedo him; that he knew of three people on a local level and a couple people on a national level who are trying to ruin him politically and are trying to embarrass him politically with this assassination investigation. FERRIE said he did not want to mention the names of the local people, but Garrison should be smart enough to know who they were. He then began to talk about FRANK KLEIN and he inferred that this man was one of the local persons trying to destroy Garrison. However, when Ivon asked him if KLEIN was one of the people he was referring to, FERRIE said that in time we would find out. FERRIE did say that Hoover was one of the people on the national level because Garrison had dared to criticize the Bureau and has the whole country wondering if they are as smart as the Keystone Kops. However, FERRIE said he was glad about this because as far as he's concerned, all cops are bastards and that he has no use for any of them. FERRIE also said he had heard that some people in Washington were talking about the investigation and that two days before the story broke in the newspaper, some people were saying that Garrison would call a press conference Friday and give the story to the press. FERRIE said he didn't want to give out any names as he didn't want J. Edgar on his ass too.
He then asked to speak to Garrison again because he wanted to see if we were serious about this whole thing. I told him that Garrison was more than serious and that we were checking out all our leads and information. I then told FERRIE he could tell me what he wanted to say and I would tell Garrison for him. FERRIE said he wanted to talk to Garrison himself and look him in the face.
I then asked FERRIE to tell me where he was on November 22, 1963, and how he had become so involved in this. FERRIE said it was all on account of a trip he made to Houston, Texas on the afternoon of the 22nd to ice skate. He said that all he wanted to do was relax after the MARCELLO trial and he just had the urge to go ice skating. FERRIE said, that as it turned out, it was the worst trip that he had ever made in his life. I asked FERRIE what he did in Houston. FERRIE said, "ice skate, what else?" I said, "I don't know Dave, you tell me." FERRIE said I was a newcomer around the game and that my office knew more about the trip than he did. FERRIE said, "Ask your boss. He had me arrested when I got back into town. I was booked as a fugitive from Texas and I have never been to Texas." I asked him to tell me about the arrest as I didn't believe we would arrest a man who was perfectly innocent. FERRIE told me I had a lot to learn about life and that I was a starry-eyed kid right out of law school and I was still believing the inscriptions on the courthouse walls. FERRIE said that after a while, when you get a little smarter, you'll see that this is a stinking world and that what I told you at the airport is true. I told FERRIE that what he said may be true, but that still doesn't tell me about the arrest. FERRIE said, "All right, I'll go through the spiel again for your benefit." FERRIE said that after he had taken his trip to Texas, he, [ALVIN] BEAUBOEUF and [MELVIN] COFFEY stopped in Alexandria and he called G. WRAY GILL. GILL told him the police were looking for him and that they wanted to ask him some questions about the assassination. He said that then he drove back to New Orleans and dropped BEAUBOEUF off at his apartment on Louisiana Avenue Parkway so that he could go upstairs and call some girls for them. He said that he and COFFEY then went to the grocery store. He said that when he and COFFEY were returning to the apartment he noticed a bunch of cars around his apartment and a lot of people. FERRIE said he figured it was the police and so he went back to the store and telephoned. FERRIE said some dumb ox answered the phone and tried to suck him into a conversation, but he just hung up. He said he then dropped COFFEY off and went to Hammond, Louisiana. I asked him "where in Hammond?" FERRIE said, "by a friend." I asked him what friend and he burst out laughing and said, "I'll say one thing for you, you sure try hard." He then told me not to try and investigate him because he could show me and my whole office how to investigate. I didn't press the issue any further, but later on he told me he did not stay in a motel, but with a friend who will remain anonymous. "Besides," he said, "I've got friends all over the world." I said that was very interesting, but that I wanted his opinion on one other small matter. He asked, "What?" I said,"Dave, who shot the President?" He said, "Well, that's an interesting question and I've got my own thoughts on it." FERRIE then sent his friend into another room to get an anatomy book and a pathology book and he pulled out a sheet of paper and began to sketch on it. FERRIE drew a sketch of the Texas School Book Depository and of the parade route and of the area in general. FERRIE said that before he would definitely draw a conclusion, he would have to have more information and facts. FERRIE then went into a long spiel about the projectory of bullets in relation to height and distance. He said that different guns and shells have different projectories and that bullets tend to drop (missing). He said the Warren Commission did not have enough pertinent scientific information to come to an objective conclusion. He said he did not read the Warren Report, but what he had read proved to him that the Commission did not know what they were doing. FERRIE went into a long spiel about JFK's neck wound. In the course of his lecture on anatomy and pathology, he named every bone in the human body and every hard and soft muscle are. He talked extensively about the dermis and epidermis. FERRIE said that if the same bullet that struck JFK in the back or neck eventually struck Connally, that Connally or JFK had to be a contortionist. He then rattled off more scientific information in regards to bones and skin and how a bullet decreases in speed when it strikes an object and how the same bullet could not have possibly caused all that damage. FERRIE said that the question would never be answered because the doctor that performed the tracheotomy had 10 thumbs and left unanswered the most important question of all time. FERRIE then laughed and said that doctors are almost as stupid as lawyers, but that lawyers are worse because they are always in your pocket.
I then said, "In other words Dave, you don't buy the 'one-shot theory'?" FERRIE said he wasn't saying anything because he didn't want J. Edgar on his tail, that he had enough with Garrison to contend with. FERRIE said that in time he would work the whole thing out and then laughingly said he would contact our office.
I noticed at this point that he was in very good spirits and was laughing and joking and even commented that he's feeling pretty good now and that he had had 3 cups of coffee and hadn't thrown up yet.
FERRIE then received another phone call from STEVE LITTLETON and his wife and joked with LITTLETON's wife about how he knew that she had dated LEE HARVEY OSWALD and that he was going to tell Garrison on her. She must have told him that she had seen his picture in the paper and he replied that he didn't like it because it made him look unphotogenic. She also must have asked FERRIE if it was him some people identified with somebody or at some place and that he said the people are mistaken or he had a common face. After he hung up the phone, we told him we had to leave. FERRIE said he had more to tell us about the 'one-shot theory'. We told him to save it for another day as it was dark already and we had to meet Garrison. I then asked him if he would like to tell me some more about his trip to Hammond and he smiled and said "Go to hell." I then asked if he stayed with CLAY SHAW. He said, "Who's CLAY SHAW?" I said, "All right, if that doesn't ring a bell, how about CLAY BERTRAND?" He said, "Who's CLAY BERTRAND?" I said CLAY BERTRAND and CLAY SHAW are the same person. He asked, "Who said that?" I said, "Dean Andrews told us." He said, "Dean Andrews might tell you guys anything. You know how Dean Andrews is." FERRIE then started to go into another lecture and we told him we had to go. He followed us down the stairs and walked out on the sidewalk with us. FERRIE asked Ivon to be sure and call him. Ivon assured him he would and we left.
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1. Oliver Stone and Zachary Sklar, JFK: The Book of the Film (New York: Applause Books, 1992), p. 88. Oliver Stone's research notes compiled by Jane Rusconi.
2. Patricia Lambert, False Witness (New York: M. Evans & Co., 1998), p. 327 fn.
3. Oliver Stone and Zachary Sklar, JFK: The Book of the Film (New York: Applause Books, 1992), p. 88. Oliver Stone's research notes compiled by Jane Rusconi.
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