Review: Dr. Mary's Monkey

By James DiEugenio


I first encountered Ed Haslam back in 1992. He had written a letter to my publisher, Sheridan Square Press, about his accidental encounter with Guy Banister's files in New Orleans in the 1980's. The publisher sent me his essay. I found it quite interesting and felt he really had discovered who had Banister's legendary files after his death. So I got in contact with him and put him in touch with the PBS team that was researching the area at the time. Haslam discovered the identity of the person who he encountered ten years previous. It was Ed Butler, the man who debated Oswald in the summer of 1963 and "exposed" him as a communist defector. Butler, of course, worked for Dr. Alton Ochsner's rightwing propaganda outfit, INCA. It later turned out that INCA was closely associated with the CIA who rerouted their "Truth Tapes" throughout Latin America.

Early on in our relationship, Ed made it clear to me that he was not all that interested in the JFK case. He was pursuing something related to it, but tangential. When I visited him at his home in Albuquerque, I discovered that he was much more interested in Dr. Mary Sherman and her relationship with David Ferrie. He pointed out to me that Jim Garrison had mentioned her in his Playboy interview as being associated with Ferrie. He had me read the brief passage:

David Ferrie had a rather curious hobby in addition to his study of cartridge trajectories: cancer research. He filled his apartment with white mice --- at one point he had almost 2000, and neighbors complained --- wrote a medical treatise on the subject and worked with a number of New Orleans doctors on means of inducing cancer in mice.

After the assassination, one of these physicians, Dr. Mary Sherman, was found hacked to death with a kitchen knife in her New Orleans apartment. Her murder is listed as unsolved. Ferrie's experiments may have been purely theoretical and Dr. Sherman's death completely unrelated to her association with Ferrie; but I do find it interesting that Jack Ruby died of cancer a few weeks after his conviction for murder had been overruled in appeals court and he was ordered to stand trial outside of Dallas --- thus allowing him to speak freely if he so desired.

Dr. Sherman, Haslam told me, was a world-class medical doctor who was a surgeon, professor, and researcher. I looked at him inquisitively and he delivered the punch line: "What would someone like that be doing mixed up with someone like Ferrie?"

It was a good question. Haslam spent the next three years of his life searching for the answer. That search led him on a fascinating journey into the subterranean underground that made up New Orleans in the late fifties and sixties. (That search resulted in his 1995 book, Mary, Ferrie and the Monkey Virus, of which Dr. Mary's Monkey is a re-titled, revised and expanded version.) It crossed paths with Garrison's investigation of the JFK case and Ed got some valuable leads from it. But, as he told me, that was not the main focus of his quest. He wanted to find out the answer to three major questions:

  1. What was the relationship between Mary Sherman and Ferrie?

  2. What were the true circumstances of her death?

  3. Why were those circumstances covered up?

His search began with the above noted passage from Garrison's Playboy interview. It was filled in, and his interest bolstered, by encounters with local people from New Orleans in his youth. For example, Haslam went to school with the son of local coroner Nicolas Chetta. In class one day after the Shaw verdict, he talked about some of the things Garrison had turned up that were being ignored by the press:

Then Nicky started talking about Ferrie's apartment, which his father had seen the day Ferrie died ... They found a small medical laboratory with a dozen mice in cages which he used for medical experiments. His medical equipment included microscopes, syringes, surgical tools, and a medical library. When they talked to Ferrie's other landlords, they were told of a full-scale laboratory in his apartment with thousands of mice in cages. It seemed clear that he was inducing cancer in the mice! Ferrie claimed that he was looking for a cure for cancer, but Garrison's investigators thought that he was trying to figure out a way to use cancer as an assassination weapon, presumably against Castro and his followers. (Pgs 45-46)

Haslam then describes how a student then asked, "How could they induce cancer?" To which Chetta Jr. replied they had been "injecting mice with monkey viruses." (p. 46)

After a pause, another student mentioned something that probably did not have an apparent connection back then. Something about a "kid down at Tulane Medical School who was dying from the total collapse of his immune system. They couldn't figure out what was causing it. They gave him every antibiotic they had and nothing worked." Haslam describes another student commenting at this time: "That means they were developing a biological weapon. What happens if it escapes into the human population?"

The teacher tried to change the subject at this time, but at the end of class Haslam was so provoked that he told a friend, "Well, the good news is if there's a bizarre global epidemic involving cancer and a monkey virus thirty years from now, at least we'll know where it came from." (p. 48)

This gripping exchange contains the essential thesis of the book in micro. And although one cannot say that Haslam proves it to the courtroom standard, i.e. beyond a reasonable doubt and to a moral certainty, he certainly does present a provocative and disturbing circumstantial case. For instance, several pages of Ferrie's legendary treatise on cancer were found in the National Archives by researcher Peter Vea. Haslam examined them and has dated them to about 1957, and argues that they could not actually have been written by Ferrie. The information is too state of the art, the references too complete and exotic, the concepts and experiments described firsthand too advanced and nuanced. Clearly, it was written by someone at least at the level of Mary Sherman, and probably above that. He then traces the bibliography and ideas in the treatise and concludes that they center on proving the case for a viral theory of cancer. From certain idiosyncrasies displayed in the experimental protocol, Haslam postulates that the writer had to have been either Sarah Stewart or Bernice Eddy. And if he is correct on this then Garrison stumbled onto a real find that he was not aware of.

Sarah Stewart and Bernice Eddy were two of the most respected and advanced cancer researchers in America who worked, among other places, at the National Institute for Health. Second, they were trying to prove that cancer could be transferred by a virus. Third, they were both around during the famous Salk/Sabin "sugar cube" mass inoculation for polio in the fifties. Although this is usually hailed as a triumph over polio, what many people do not know is that several children died right after getting the vaccine. As Haslam puts it: "Within days, children fell sick from polio, some were crippled, some died." (pgs 203-204) One of the children who died was the grandson of Dr. Alton Ochsner who championed the vaccine against some doubts in high places about its safety. This is why Sabin had to refine the vaccine after its initial release.

The doubts were articulated later on by Bernice Eddy. As Haslam notes:

The vaccine's manufacturers had grown their polioviruses on the kidneys of monkeys. And when they removed the poliovirus from the monkey's kidneys. They also removed an unknown number of other monkey viruses. The more they looked, the more they found. (p. 207)

In 1960, Eddy, who had harbored suspicions about these viruses and the vaccine, went public with her fears. At a talk in New York she stated that she had studied the monkey kidney cells used in the formation of the polio vaccine and found they were infected with cancer-causing viruses. As Haslam notes, "This was tantamount to forecasting an epidemic of cancer in America." (Ibid) As documented by Edward Shorter in The Health Century, Eddy suffered professionally from her public warning. Quoting Shorter, "Her treatment became a scandal within the scientific community." (p. 208)

But right after this, Haslam presents several statistical charts and graphs (pgs 210-216), which present fairly convincing evidence that the Salk/Sabin vaccine may have caused more deaths than it cured. He outlines, at the very least, a provocative statistical case that the monkey viruses were behind a high growth in soft tissue cancers: lung, breast, prostate, lymphoma, and melanoma of the skin. I am not in any way a skilled or educated epidemiologist. But this part of the book certainly warrants a survey by one. The other connection Haslam makes here is to the AIDS virus. What he seems to be saying here is that the possibility exists that Mary Sherman may have mutated a monkey virus into HIV-1. The means being a linear particle accelerator she had available to her in New Orleans at the U.S. Public Health Service Hospital. (Haslam does a nice job of laying in the background of the research on monkey viruses done in the New Orleans area in the fifties that makes this theory possible. See Chapter 1, The Pirate.)

Another exceptional aspect of the book is the work Haslam has done on the death of Mary Sherman. He clearly demonstrates that the police were puzzled by the bizarre circumstances of the case. Because someone smelled smoke in her apartment, her body was found early on the morning of July 21, 1964. Her body was horribly burned and hacked with a knife. Her car was found several blocks away with the keys thrown on a neighboring lawn. The first reports in the New Orleans papers state that the motive was burglary. Yet the door had not been forced open and her box of jewelry was left behind. Further, none of her neighbors heard anything that night, which is odd considering the brutal circumstances of the killing. The burglary angle was dropped and a psychosexual angle was then attached. Yet there was no evidence of sexual molestation. Three weeks after the murder the local papers announced a press blackout by the police. And the day after the press announced that the "police say they have no clue on the murder ..." (p. 124) Further, the police and autopsy reports on her death were never published or made available to the public. Haslam found them after a lot of hard work and digging. And he includes the autopsy protocol in his document appendix. The most fascinating part of this document is that one of the causes of death was "Extensive burns of the right side of body with complete destruction of right upper extremity and right side of thorax and abdomen." ( p. 354, italics added) Haslam takes these bizarre circumstances, especially the extreme temperatures needed to eliminate a large part of her right side and thus lays the ground work for what he sees as the real way she died. Again, it's not probative, but it is fascinating.

I should also add here as other distinguished aspects of the book, the two chapters devoted to David Ferrie and Alton Ochsner. Haslam found the valuable and detailed Southern Research report done on Ferrie. (Southern Research later turned into Wackenhut.) And he builds his chapter on Ferrie largely based on this report. It is quite extensive, going all the way back to Ferrie's teenage years in Cleveland, Ohio. The chapter on Ochsner is also quite good; it is probably the best short essay on him that I have seen. No JFK book can come close to it. Finally, in this new edition, Haslam has added many more illustrations, pictures, and maps that let you visualize his story as he tells it.

On the negative side, I believe Haslam puts too much stock in Judyth Baker. And his epilogue about Oswald entitled "The Perfect Patsy", is both superfluous and shallow.

But outside of that, this is quite an interesting, well-organized, and crafted book. Because he was an ordinary citizen working many years after the actual crime, Haslam could not actually solve the mystery of the death of Mary Sherman. But what he has given us is the next best thing: a documented, insightful, and arresting alternative to the unsatisfactory, or missing, official story. Except in this case, that alternative may have huge implications down to the present day. His work deserves attention and accolades.

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