On July 21, 1964, New Orleans police officers responded to a call about a mysterious fire in an apartment complex. When officers arrived and entered the apartment, they found the body of Dr. Mary Sherman (1913-1964), a noted orthopedic surgeon and cancer researcher. The details surrouning her grisly demise are hair raising, chilling and also mystifying. The murderer was never caught. Edward T. Haslem is a New Orleans native whose father was a close acquaintance of Sherman. In fact, his father was asked to identify her remains and the incident left him visibily shaken as Haslam captures the below passage:
“As a Navy doctor during World War II, my father had seen more than his share of burned and broken bodies. Someone (I don’t know who) had asked him to go to the morgue to look at Mary Sherman’s body to get a second opinion on her unusual death. He came home from the morgue that day, fixed himself a drink, sat down in his chair, and cried silently. I wondered what was wrong. My mother told me that a woman he knew from the office had died. It was only later that I learned it was Mary Sherman.”
Little did Haslam know at the time, but Sherman’s death would take him places he could have never imagined. His curiousity soon gets the better of him and his search for the truth about her murder, led him down a path that revealed many dark secrets in the America during the 1950s and 1960s. Some readers might be wondering why Sherman is important and how her death is related to the assassination of John F. Kennedy (1917-1963). It is a complicated connection to be sure and certainly not direct. The key to understanding the two requires an examination of the Cold War, right-wing movements in New Orleans, well-connected doctors and the threat of a deadly disease we have come to know as polio.
The field of virus research is one that stretches back several decades as doctors have sought to understand viral transmission from one species to another. Books and articles had been written about the dangers of animal to human transmission previously and Congress began to take notice. Further, the United States and Soviet Union were both determined to explore the issue of cancers induced by viruses. The United States Government commissioned the Delta Regional Primate Center with Tulane University serving as the host institution. The facilites were located near Covington, Louisiana on the waters of Lake Ponchartrain and few outside of its grounds knew of its existence and as Haslam shows, for every good reason.
If so far this sounds like something from a science fiction film, just wait because there is more to come. Primates were found in many research centers across the United States and served in the testing of vaccines developed by doctors.. As polio raged, the race for a vaccine heated up and primates were fully immersed in studies and trials. Eventually a vaccine was found but at first, things went horribly wrong and the horrors of viral cross-contamination became vividly real. The primate viruses known as SV-40 and SIV take center stage and will cause many readers to stare in shock at Haslam’s revelations. The current day situation regarding Covid-19 might even seem like a dark case of deja vu.
Haslam’s discussion of SV-40 and SIV are just the tip of the iceberg. What really raises eyebrows are the strange facts about Sherman’s real work and the colleagues arround her. Dr. Sherman had become a close family friend and one day while talking to his mother, Haslam learns many unsettling things about the laboratory at Tulane. A dark and disturbing picture soon begins to emerge. And by the end of the book, it includes characters such as David Ferrie (1918-1967), Dr. Alton Oschner (1896-1981) and even Lee Harvey Oswald (1939-1963). The connection between all of them is quite interesting and sheds light on the political climate in New Orleans at the time. And while many things are probably still hidden in classified documents, what is evident in Haslam’s book is that within the City of New Orleans, many strange individuals operated right under the nose of several United States intelligence agencies seemingly with the seal of approval. The story is simply mind-boggling and although Sherman was not right-wing nor a conspirator in any sense, she was closely collaborating with those who were. And we can only wonder as to what exactly she did discuss with David Ferrie and others who were knowledgable about the project they were working on. Ferrie as many know, was not a doctor by any means, so why was he so closely aligned with a distinguished surgeon? The author provides a theory about their working relationship and what he believes was the true purpose of their work. It is highly plausible and considering the fallout from the initial polio vaccine, makes perfect sense. Haslam’s theory regarding Sherman’s death also is highly plausible and the most likely explanation based on the reports and evidence that did survive.
Towards the end of the book as he is in search of the linear particle acclerator, things take a very interesting turn. And yes, the acclerator did in fact exist and is not something out of the Twilight Zone. Haslam’s search for it, results in an interesting discussion about Lee Harvey Oswald about whom he has his own suspicions. There is no “smoking gun” about Kennedy’s murder, but Haslam did ask a good question as to who might have ordered that Oswald be allowed back in the United States after attempting to defect to the Soviet Union during the height of the Cold War. It is a possible scenario that does make one wonder.
As he continues on Oswald, he also discusses the story Judith Vary Baker, who has stated publicly that she was Lee Harvey Oswald’s mistress in the summer of 1963. She wrote about her time with him in the book Me & Lee: How I Came to Know, Love and Lose Lee Harvey Oswald. I have read the book and have no doubt that she knew and worked with Oswald. Proof of their working relationship is documented and Haslam discusses the evidnece he found himself. But because Oswald and the others in the book are deceased, I felt that some parts of her story will be difficult to verify. Nonetheless, the book is good and leaves us with more questions than answers. The information that Baker provides does line up with what Hasam has found and it is further proof of the unorthodox circle people brought together in a city run by the Mafia and right-wing extremists and intelligence operatives.
Admittedly, the book will be a tough sell to those who cannot fathom such a thing taking place in the United States. However, further research of those mentioned in the book, will reveal even more bizarre facts. Ferrie and Clay Shaw (1913-1974) are proof of this. Haslam is no conspiracy nut and simply gives us the facts. He has his own theories which are perfectly justified based on the material he presents. And while he convicts no one of anything, he has shown that there was far more than meets the eye in New Orleans before, during and after the death of John F. Kennedy.