Selected Articles and Newsgroup Posts on the Death of David Ferrie
James Phelan; Dr. Nicholas Chetta, MD; David Blackburst; Dr. Robert Artwohl, MD; Clark Wilkins; Jim Hargrove; and Dave Reitzes




The only conspirator Garrison had named was the dead David Ferrie, and according to the clips [from the New Orleans Times-Picayune and New Orleans States-Item], he was an exotic fellow indeed, even for colorful old New Orleans. He was a former airline pilot, a self-proclaimed psychologist, an ex-seminary student, an amateur hypnotist, an inventor, a private investigator, and an adventurer with a penchant for cloak-and-dagger projects, some of which trailed rumors of CIA involvement. Physically, Garrison could not have picked a more ominous-looking suspect if he had ordered him up from Central Casting. Ferrie was totally hairless from an obscure medical ailment, and remedied this by pasting on false eyebrows that he often got askew, and by donning a homemade red wig that bore little resemblance to human hair. "You had to see Ferrie to disbelieve him," a New Orleans newsman told me, adding that, along with everything else, Ferrie was an active homosexual, a violent anti-Communist, and a friend of Carlos Marcello, the reputed Mafia capo in the New Orleans area.

According to the clips, it was Ferrie and not Garrison who had made the initial disclosure that the bewigged eccentric was a target of Garrison's investigation. On February 19 Ferrie had told reporters that he was a Garrison suspect, and that the DA "apparently had me pegged as get-away pilot for the assassins" in Dallas. He denied any complicity and said he had never known Lee Harvey Oswald.

Three days later, Ferrie was found dead in his cluttered New Orleans apartment. Because of the sequence of events, his death generated wide speculation that he had either killed himself to escape Garrison's closing net, or darker still, had been murdered by forces intent upon silencing him. Conspiracy adherents had pointed to the obvious parallel between the deaths of Ferrie and Oswald. Oswald had been arrested and then swiftly murdered by Jack Ruby before he could talk. Ferrie had been targeted by Garrison as an assassination conspirator and promptly turned up dead. The deaths seemed too exquisitely timed for happenstance.

Garrison had tabbed the death as "apparent suicide," but in the clippings was a sidebar story that hooked my attention. In the autopsy performed on Ferrie by the New Orleans coroner, the cause of death was found to be a "berry aneurysm." I recalled a sensational murder case years earlier that involved a berry aneurysm, which is medicalese for the failure of a blood vessel inside the skull. In this case, the victim had died during a fight and his assailant had been

Garrison had tabbed the death as "apparent suicide," but in the clippings was a sidebar story that hooked my attention. In the autopsy performed on Ferrie by the New Orleans coroner, the cause of death was found to be a "berry aneurysm." I recalled a sensational murder case years earlier that involved a berry aneurysm, which is medicalese for the failure of a blood vessel inside the skull. In this case, the victim had died during a fight and his assailant had been charged with murder. The autopsy had disclosed the cause of death to be a berry aneurysm, and the assailant had been acquitted.

I picked up the hotel phone and called a friend of mine in California, Dr. Eugene Blumberg, who was a sort of walking National Archives on brain damage. I told him I was working on a story where a man had died of a berry aneurysm, and there were rumors that he had either committed suicide or been murdered.

"Not if the autopsy showed berry aneurysm as the cause of death," said Blumberg.

"That's what I remember, Gene," I told him. "Could you locate any medical findings on this?"

A couple of hours later he called back with two citations. "This is from 'The Relationship of Brain Injury to Other Organic Diseases of the Brain,' by Dr. I. W. Wechsler," he said. "It's short and I'll read it."

"'The rupture of these berry aneurysms is not due to external injury, since these aneurysms are almost always too deep-seated and too well-cushioned by surrounding brain to be so affected.'"

The second citation was from the murder case I remembered.

"Two men got into a fight," Dr. Blumberg said. "One knocked the other down and he struck his head on the sidewalk and died. The fellow who hit him was charged with murder. But the autopsy showed that the victim died of a berry aneurysm. The New York forensic medical authority, Dr. Milton Halpern, testified for the defense and the man was acquitted. The key portion of Halpern's testimony reads: "'THE RUPTURE OF AN ANEURYSM OF THIS NATURE DUE TO DIRECT PHYSICAL TRAUMA DOES NOT OCCUR. THE ANEURYSM RUPTURES SPONTANEOUSLY FROM WITHIN.'"

So much for "The Strange Death of David Ferrie," as some of the papers were calling it. According to Blumberg, a berry aneurysm is a congenital defect. David Ferrie had been born with a weak artery wall in his hairless head, and it had picked a dreadful time to give way.

That he had died of natural causes did not, of course, mean that he had nothing to do with the Kennedy assassination. But he hadn't killed himself to escape Garrison and no one had murdered him to shut him up.



1967 NBC interview with Nicholas Chetta, Coroner

Q. Dr. Chetta, I wonder if you could tell us how long you've been a coroner, and incorporate into that statement the fact that it's an elective office.

A. I've been [sic] first elected in May of 1950. The coroner system in the state of Louisiana is a quasi-medical examiner system. By this I mean that the law requires a coroner to be a graduate of an accredited medical school and also the fact that he has to be elected every four years.

Q. And you have been in office since 1950?

A. May of 1950, yes.


A. I have no doubt at all that Ferrie's death was due to nothing but natural causes.

Q. In as much detail as you'd like to [sic], the nature of the autopsy and the result of your findings.

A. Well, not to be brief about this thing, it was a complete forensic autopsy, in which we take particular effort in doing a complete search of every cavity of the body, plus the fact we note any little mark of violence or tattoo or anything else on the surface of the body, and we describe the individual very particularly, plus the fact we actually measure these people and weigh them.

Q. And what were the --

A. Surface, anyway. Besides this we found that he had a very large heart, and the left ventricle, or the one division of the heart, was thicker than it should have been, so this indicated to us that this man had been a hypersensitive, so we came up with the diagnosis of cardiovascular hypertension.

Q. Was there any indication of drugs in his body after he [sic] you performed the autopsy?

A. We did a preliminary study first, and this was released, in which we ran all of the common type of drugs, and then we did a more thorough examination and which we ran for just about every known type of drug, and they were all negative except for one thing. We found a small trace of caffeine in Ferrie's blood, and this indicated, or tied in with the story that he had had an interview late one evening or early morning with one of the newspaper reporters, who stated he sat and had a cup of coffee with Ferrie, that he drank coffee and Ferrie drank coffee. And the amount that we found was just about the amount that you would find if someone had consumed a cup of coffee. This was the only positive chemical we found, or drug, if you want to use that expression.

Q. Well, I used the expression, drugs, because I am not sure of the professional use of it. Let me ask you, is there any kind of drug, to your knowledge, that could be taken by a person in an attempt to take their own life, that would not appear in a medical forensic autopsy that's performed after death?

A. There may be, and it's possible, but when you have run the complete scan [?], or the complete gamut of drugs, organic, inorganic, solids, and so forth, and you come out with nothing, and you have a good anatomical finding for the cause of death, and you have to accept your anatomical finding.

Q. Did you draw any conclusion about the kind of man Ferrie was from the evidence presented to you through the autopsy, and . . .

A. I had to draw my conclusions not only from the autopsy, but we were aware of some of these notes that were available not only to us, but to the District Attorney, and I can understand why the District Attorney felt that there was suicide. One particular letter, "Dear Al," in which he goes on to talk about taking his life, and the other philosophical treatise in which he opens up with, "Life has had nothing good for me, but everything loathsome," etc., I'm not giving an exact quote. I was aware of this and I may say that this is one reason why we went and did tests for so many sophisticated drugs, instead of just the common, ordinary suicidal drugs that people use.



Subject: Ferrie's natural death: More evidence
From: (Dreitzes)
Date: 2/23/99 3:47 PM Eastern Standard Time
Message-id: <>

On Friday, February 17, 1967, few days before David Ferrie's death, he invited reporter David Snyder over to his apartment for an interview. Patricia Lambert writes that when Snyder arrived he found Ferrie "physically ill . . . his voice was barely audible, his breathing 'unsteady.' . . . As they climbed the stairs to his second floor apartment, Ferrie's 'steps were feeble' and he said he had encephalitis [an inflammation of the brain]. He didn't mention it then but he had also been having severe headaches. Without knowing it, he had suffered one, perhaps two, 'small bleeds,' minor ruptures in a blood vessel at the back of his head" (Patricia Lambert, False Witness, p. 58, based on an interview with Snyder, also see below).

Lambert's source on Ferrie's condition is Dr. Ronald A. Welsh, whom she interviewed in 1993. Welsh told her that microscopic slides of Ferrie's brain tissue indicated that in addition to blood vessel perforating, there was "scar tissue indicating that Ferrie had had another bleed, a small one, previously . . . at least one or two of them at least two weeks before he died. This is a common occurence with Berry aneurysms," Welsh told her, "people have one or two before they blow out completely . . . His headaches were from the early bleeds" (Lambert, 302 fn.).

This supports what we have already learned about Ferrie's death:

"Though no evidence supported it, Garrison theorized that Ferrie had deliberately overdosed on his thyroid medication, Proloid, a medical improbability due to the slow-acting nature of the drug. One doctor recently said that Ferrie could have swallowed an entire bottle of it without an immediate effect. Garrison persisted in his contention, however, and pressured the coroner to return a suicide verdict. Dr. Chetta refused. The autopsy pathologist, Dr. Ronald Welsh, in a 1993 interview with me, said he had been outraged by Garrison's campaign to make something out of nothing and corrupt the scientific process" (Lambert, 64).

[Lambert adds in a footnote, "That Proloid could be fatal under any circumstances is unlikely but, if possible, the experts say it would require massive doses over a prolonged period. Garrison questioned Ferrie's taking this medication at all and stated in his memoir that Ferrie had no condition requiring it. But he did" (Lambert, 304 fn.). "As a young man Ferrie had been diagnosed with a thyroid deficiency that was believed to be the cause of his alopecia (hair loss)" (Lambert, 282, item #28). Lambert cites three letters from Ferrie's father, James -- dated 1/29/44, 2/2/44 and 4/4/44 -- written to the administration at St. Charles Seminary, which Ferrie was attending.]

"Garrison immediately announced that he and his aides had made the decision that very morning 'to arrest' Ferrie early next week.' That was not true. But for twenty-seven years, no one in the Garrison camp admitted it publicly. In 1994 [former Assistant DA] James Alcock went on record with the truth. 'To my knowledge,' he told me, speaking each word deliberately, 'there was NO intent to arrest David Ferrie' [emphasis in original]. Alcock should know. He was one of those Garrison said was present when the "decision" was made" (Lambert, 65).

Dave Reitzes



Subject: Re: Ferrie's natural death: More evidence
From: (Blackburst)
Date: 2/26/99 12:52 AM Eastern Standard Time
Message-id: <>

Tommy wrote:
>If [David Ferrie] spontaneously started having brain bleeds at just the >time when he might crack and turn witness, sounds a little suspect.

Ferrie had been having sever headaches for much of his life. In 1965-6, these became markedly worse, and by mid-1966, he was telling people he was a sick man and was dying. He re-wrote his will and began getting his affairs in order. And the autopsy showed that he had experienced at least one prior bleed in his brain sometime before his death.

>Then check his body tissue for poisons with a >gas chromatograph. >Could be >something as simple as strychnine

A standard full toxicology was done after his death. The results were negative.

oo David



Subject: Re: Garrison and Ferrie Death
From: (Dreitzes)
Date: 3/6/99 12:43 AM Eastern Standard Time
Message-id: <>

>Subject: Garrison and Ferrie Death
>From: (John McAdams)
>Date: 3/5/99 11:41 PM Eastern Standard Time
>Message-id: <7bqbmh$5nd$>
>The "Mysterious" Death of David Ferrie?
>The following message, from Compuserve, is reposted here with the
>permission of Bob Artwohl.
>It says quite a lot about Jim Garrison and his methods.
>#: 23564 S2/Books & Articles [JFK]
> 15-May-94 11:43:07
>Sb: #23543-WHAT IS THE CASE????
>Fm: Bob Artwohl 71712,2151
>To: John McAdams [WPUSERS] 71333,2114

[Webmaster's note: Robert Artwohl, MD, is a practicing physician in Baltimore, Maryland.]

>Seen in the BEST light, the Garrison handling of the proloid as cause
>of death evidence is the work of a completely incompetent
>investigator. In the very worse light (and more likely, IMO), the
>death by proloid is a completely bogus bit of fiction dreamed up by
>Garrison to subvert Ferrie's natural death to his own machinations.
>Futhermore, Oliver Stone's handling of this is "JFK" is yet more
>perfect example of the shoddy research and/or continuation of Garrison
>duplicity and deceit that can be found in this unfortunate piece of
>celluloid fantasy.
>One need look no further than Garrison's own book, On the Trail of the
>Assassins to uncover the dubious nature of Garrison's claims.
>According to his own account, Jim Garrison arrived at the scene after
>Chetta had already left with the body. Upon finding some bottles of
>medication in Ferrie's apartment, he POCKETS them and takes them back
>to office. (Fingerprints, anyone?) Once there, Big Jim "discovers"
>that one of bottles happens to be an empty bottle of thyroid
>medication, proloid, that, by one of those eerie JFK coincidences just
>so happens to be the exact same medication Garrison once took. Next,
>Big Jim does NOT call the coroner about his finding the empty Proloid
>and his suspicion of foul play. Instead, he calls an unnamed
>pathologist friend in Baton Rouge and make an inquiry as to how death
>by Proloid could be detected. According to Big Jim, the pathologist
>tells him the only way death by thyroid hormone could be detected
>would be analysis of blood or spinal fluid samples. He then he calls
>the coroner's office and asks if any blood or spinal fluid sample were
>saved. Upon finding that no samples were saved, Garrison throws the
>bottle of Proloid in his drawer, in disgust. "Many years later," Jim
>Garrison throws OUT the bottle of Proloid because he did "not want
>such a souvenir."
>Here's what Garrison did not do:
>1. He did not hand over the bottle of Proloid to a crime lab
>technician so it could be duly noted into evidence. Jim Garrison
>arrives at the crime scene, "discovers a bottle of Proloid," that
>according to Big Jim, had been treated by the coroner's men "with
>disregard." So how does super sleuth Big Jim handle this? Although
>Ferrie left "suicide notes" he takes the medicine bottles down to his
>own office, and sometime AFTER the autopsy, decides to go through
>them. According to Big Jim, Ferrie had never been diagnosed with a
>thyroid problem. Now, every bottle of prescription medication has the
>following information on it: the date of the presciption, the
>pharmacy where the presciprtion was filled, and the doctor who
>prescribed the medication. A little routine police work, involving a
>few phone calls could have cleared up this matter one way or another.


Dave Reitzes responds:

In his memoirs Garrison questions whether Ferrie would have ever been prescribed the drug. Patricia Lambert has confirmed from Ferrie's personal correspondence that he was, in fact, being treated for a thyroid condition no later than the early 1940s.


>2. He did not call Chetta and inform the coroner of his suspicions
>that Ferrie may have died from a Proloid overdose. It is not
>astonishing that the District Attorney Jim Garrison's entire
>investigation of a suspected death of "history's most important
>individual" was two phone calls, neither of which was to the man
>responsible for determining the cause of death?


But Garrison DID try to pressure autopsy pathologist Ronald A. Welsh into changing the cause of death to suicide -- NOT, incidentally, murder, which would become Garrison's pet theory only much later (Lambert, 64).


>And now for the inconvenient facts:
>1. Proloid is a thyroid replacement drug that was commonly used in
>the 1960's. It contains T4 (thyroxine) and T3, triidothyroxine). T4
>is produced in the thyroid gland and is transported to peripheral
>tissues where it is converted to the active form, T3. A simple blood
>test, routinely performed in the late 1960's, or liver assay (even
>AFTER burial) could have detected abnormal levels of T3 and T4.


And Garrison never lifted a finger to have the body of "one of history's most important individuals" exhumed.


>2. What's more, death by Proloid would not come quickly.


If at all.


>Even if
>David Ferrie had been forced to ingest Proloid, it could not have been
>responsible for his death. T4, either taken orally, or injected
>subcutaneously will not begin to exert a metabolic effect for about
>one or two DAYS. T3 acts a little quicker, but will will not exert an
>effect until 6 to 12 HOURS after ingestion. Thus one must assume that
>whatever goons hung forced the proloid down Ferries throat, hung
>around his apartment 6-12 hours waiting for >him to die.


Though, again, the contemporaneous record is perfectly clear that Garrison never spoke of Ferrie having been murdered at that time -- he only spoke of the death as a suicide. He later embraced a theory that Ferrie's berry aneurysm ruptured due to a karate chop, a theory disproven by the utter lack of bruising on Ferrie's body. Later, he reverted to the Proloid story, this time theorizing it was forced down Ferrie's throat, again something which the state of Ferrie's corpse tends to disprove.


>David Ferrie
>was last seen alive by George Lardner, Jr. at four am the day of his
>death. At that time, Ferrie was cool calm and collected, so it is
>safe to assume, no one had forced a bottle of Proloid down his throat
>before this. His body was discovered seven hours later, just about
>the time Proloid would BEGIN to exert an effect. However, Chetta, the
>coroner determined that Ferrie had been dead approximately SEVEN HOURS
>when discovered at 11 am that morning. Thus, Ferrie must have died
>SHORTLY after 4 AM, which was way too soon for any thyroid medication
>to even START to have an effect. Thus, it is simply not
>pharmakinetically possible for David Ferrie to have died by Proloid
>This whole Proloid business is another inaccuracy in the "JFK." In
>the movie, Garrison is depicted as talking to the coroner at the
>murder scene about the the Proloid [not true], the coroner saying
>death would come "pretty quick" [not true], and the coroner responding
>by saying, "If we looked at the spinal fluid, there might be a high
>level of iodine. ." [not true, you could tell by a simple and readily
>available blood level thyroid hormone assay], then Jim/Kostner saying,
>". . he kills himself in a way that leaves no trace." [definitely not
>true]. As mentioned before, even after burial the body could have
>been exhumed, and tissue assays for thyroid hormone could have been
>The entire "JFK" proloid scene has been engineered to "cover-up" the
>obvious disturbing facts: that Big Jim Garrison likes to raises
>suspicions, but does very little to confirm (or negate) them. Death
>by Proloid ingestion would come many hours after ingestion, it is
>easily detectable cause of death, and it sounds like he never
>discussed this possibility with the coroner, or made any serious
>effort to find out Ferrie's thyroid hormone levels. In "JFK", an
>attempt is made to sanitize this incompetence or concoction.
>Here's my scenario: Jim Garrison, familiar with Proloid, a drug he
>once took, decides to serve this up as a mechanism for Ferrie's death.
>He calls a friend, of course, because if he called the coroner, that
>would tip his hand, and the coroner would conduct the proper assasy
>and rule it out as a cause of death. His friend confirms that death
>might occur from a massive overdose of Proloid. (Actually, death by
>thyoid hormone overdose is quite rare, and massive overdoses are
>tolerated fairly well.) He then calls the coroner's office to
>determine whether or not there are any blood samples left and finds
>out there are none. Then after telling us he stashed potential
>evidence in his drawer for a few years, he throws it out, because he
>did not want to be left with such a "souvenir." With Ferrie safely
>buried, blood and spinal fluid samples discarded, with no bottle of
>Proloid left to examine, Garrison is now free to concoct this fiction
>of death by proloid.
>Bob A.


A good guess, but if memory serves, David Blackburst has demonstrated that a small amount of Proloid was indeed on the record as having been found among Ferrie's effects, suggesting that the alleged murder or suicide was committed without even using the whole bottle, and that -- for God only knows what reason -- Garrison is simply lying about the Proloid being his little secret. David, are you lurking?

Dave Reitzes

P.S. I'm still waiting for someone to explain what Ferrie's role in the assassination plot is supposed to have been, seeing as how he was in Louisiana until late in the evening of November 22, 1963, and did not arrive in Houston until 4:00 the following morning. If Ferrie wasn't the "getaway pilot" Garrison called him, what's the consensus among Garrisonites about what the drive to Houston was for? And why did Ferrie bring two of his buddies?



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