Jim Garrison: Interview with Playboy
12: David Ferrie
Playboy: Let’s move on from Jack Ruby to David Ferrie. Wesley Liebeler, the Warren Commission counsel who handled the New Orleans end of the inquiry, said Ferrie “was picked up shortly after the assassination and questioned by local officials of the FBI. I remember specifically doing up a substantial stack of FBI reports on Ferrie that we reviewed in order to make our determination.” He states that the FBI reports on Ferrie were not included in the Commission’s 26 volumes of evidence, “because it was so clear he wasn’t involved.” Why do you refuse to accept this explanation?
Garrison: I think it’s a lovely explanation. Now perhaps Mr. Liebeler will intercede with the Department of Justice to release 25 pages of the FBI report on Ferrie that have been classified top secret in the Archives. Then we’ll all have a chance to see for ourselves how clear it is that Ferrie wasn’t involved.
Every scrap of evidence we’ve uncovered — and it hasn’t been difficult to find — reveals not only the fact of his involvement but the reasons for it. His politics were ultra–right wing, as I indicated earlier, but we’ve been able to determine conclusively that his motivation was closer to that of the Cuban exiles on the “operative” level — a burning hatred of Fidel Castro. When Castro was a guerrilla in the Sierra Maestra, Ferrie is reliably reported to have piloted guns for him. But in 1959, when Castro started to show his Marxist colors, Ferrie appears to have felt betrayed and reacted against Castro with all the bitterness of a suitor jilted by his girl.
From that moment on, he dedicated himself to Castro’s overthrow and began working with exile groups such as the Cuban Democratic Revolutionary Front and planning airborne missions against Castro’s military installations. He was reported to have been paid up to $1500 a mission by an ex–Batista official named Eladio del Valle. But I haven’t been able to check out Del Valle’s involvement with Ferrie, because on February 22, 1967, the same day Ferrie died in New Orleans, Del Valle’s head was split open by a hatchet and he was shot through the heart in Miami. His murder is listed as unsolved by the Miami police.
In any case, Ferrie was recruited by the CIA, which employed hundreds of such people in their network of anti–Castro exile activities. From the Bay of Pigs on, he hated Kennedy as much as he did Castro; he felt that J.F.K. had betrayed the invasion brigade by not sending in air cover. As the events I described earlier led to a détente between Russia and America, and as the FBI — under Kennedy’s orders — started cracking down on the CIA–supported anti–Castro underground, Ferrie’s hatred for Kennedy grew more and more obsessive.
Let me add here that this isn’t just speculation on my part; we have a number of reliable witnesses who were privy to Ferrie’s thoughts at this period and saw his hatred of Kennedy develop into a driving force. After the assassination, as a matter of fact, something psychologically curious happened to Ferrie: He dropped out of anti–Castro exile activities, left the pay of the CIA and drifted aimlessly while his emotional problems increased to the point where he was totally dependent on huge doses of tranquilizers and barbiturates. I don’t know if Ferrie ever experienced any guilt about the assassination itself; but in his last months, he was a tortured man.
The Death of David Ferrie
Playboy: After Ferrie’s death, you called it “an apparent suicide,” but the coroner announced that the autopsy showed death was due to a ruptured blood vessel at the base of the brain, which caused a fatal hemorrhage. Have you subsequently resolved the discrepancy in your points of view?
Garrison: Dr. Nicholas Chetta is an excellent coroner, and inasmuch as he found a total absence of traceable poisons or barbiturates in Ferrie’s system, I would respect his opinion that it was a natural death. On the other hand, I can’t help but lend a certain weight to two suicide notes Ferrie left in his apartment, one of which said how sweet it was to finally leave this wretched life. I suppose it could just be a weird coincidence that the night Ferrie penned two suicide notes, he died of natural causes.
Playboy: Your critics have charged that your relentless investigation of Ferrie and the publicity the press gave to your charges against him induced the state of hypertension that was said to have caused his fatal hemorrhage. Do you feel in any way responsible for Ferrie’s death?
Garrison: I had nothing but pity for Dave Ferrie while he was alive, and I have nothing but pity for him now that he’s dead. Ferrie was a pathetic and tortured creature, a genuinely brilliant man whose twisted drives locked him into his own private hell.
If I had been able to help Ferrie, I would have; but he was in too deep and he was terrified. From the moment he realized we had looked behind the facade and established that Lee Oswald was anything but a Communist, from the moment he knew we had discovered the role of the CIA and anti–Castro adventurers in the assassination, Ferrie began to crumble psychologically.
So, to answer your question directly — yes, I suppose I may have been responsible for Ferrie’s death. If I had left this case alone, if I had allowed Kennedy’s murderers to continue to walk the streets of America unimpeded, Dave Ferrie would probably be alive today. I don’t feel personally guilty about Ferrie’s death, but I do feel terribly sorry for the waste of another human being.
In a deeper sense, though, Dave Ferrie died on November 22, 1963. From that moment on, he couldn’t save himself, and I couldn’t save him. Ferrie could have quoted as his epitaph the last words of the Serb partisan leader Draja Mikhailovitch before Tito shot him for collaboration: “I was swept up in the gales of history.”