David Ferrie was an oddball anti-communist living in New Orleans at the time of John F. Kennedy’s assassination in 1963. But in the wake of the murder, Ferrie was questioned by the police. Allegedly, he was in Texas that weekend and had connections to Lee Harvey Oswald. Years later, New Orleans District Attorney Jim Garrison opened his own investigation into the assassination… but then Ferrie died mysteriously… just days before Garrison planned to arrest him.
David Ferrie was born and raised in Cleveland, eventually heading off to the St. Charles Seminary to join the priesthood. While there, Ferrie began to suffer from alopecia; he lost all his hair and later wore a wig and fake eyebrows to compensate. The eccentric Ferrie’s personal problems also began to rear their head at St. Charles, and he was dismissed for “emotional instability.”
Ferrie went on to earn his pilot’s license and teach aeronautics at a local high school, but he was fired for taking his boy students to a brothel. He lost his next job for a similar reason; Ferrie was working as a pilot for Eastern Airline when he was arrested twice on morals charges. From there, he joined the Civil Air Patrol: a path which led him to cross paths with a young Lee Harvey Oswald.
Ferrie, living in New Orleans by then, was instructing new pilots at Moisant Airport when the 15-year-old Oswald joined his squadron. Their connection would become the basis for a serious investigation by the House Select Committee on Assassinations and New Orleans District Attorney Jim Garrison.
Jim Garrison’s Investigation
It was private investigator Jack Martin who first contacted the authorities regarding David Ferrie’s possible link to the assassination of John F. Kennedy. He alleged that Ferrie was in Texas, not New Orleans, that fateful weekend. So just five days after the president was shot, Ferrie was brought in for questioning by the FBI. And his answers were suspicious, to say the least.
According to Fox 10 News, Ferrie told the FBI that JFK “ought to be shot.” Later, an investigation by the House Select Committee on Assassinations (HSCA) would reaffirm Ferrie’s candid, angry personality. “He apparently expressed his views to anyone who would listen,” the report read. “During an interview with an IRS auditor in 1960, Ferrie was ‘outspoken’ in his derogatory comments about the United States. He complained bitterly about his alleged tax persecution to such an extent that the agent reported he thought Ferrie was actually deranged, a ‘psycho.’” Ferrie himself identified as “rabidly anti-communist.”
But Ferrie’s personality alone was not enough to charge him; the FBI let him go after he was questioned in 1963. For New Orleans District Attorney Jim Garrison, though, the case was just beginning. He opened his own investigation in 1967, stating that Lee Harvey Oswald had “never fired a shot.”
According to Garrison, there was a “whole mare’s-nest of underground activity involving the CIA, elements of the paramilitary right and militant anti-Castro exile groups” which included Ferrie, plus Lee Harvey Oswald and Jack Ruby, both deceased by that point, and the New Orleans businessman Clay Shaw who went to trial in 1969. Those proceedings were a media circus and Shaw was acquitted. He remains the only person ever brought to trial regarding the killing of JFK.
Garrison wanted to put Ferrie to trial, too, but he died mysteriously on Feb. 22, 1967 — just days before Garrison planned to arrest him. Though reports at the time stated that Ferrie died of a ruptured brain vessel, investigators found apparent suicide notes nearby. Garrison, though, did not rule out the possibility of murder.
Oliver Stone’s 1991 film JFK dramatizes the investigation with Kevin Costner starring as Garrison. Joe Pesci plays Ferrie — crazy wig and all — and Tommy Lee Jones plays Shaw. The real-life Garrison himself even made a cameo as Supreme Court Chief Justice Earl Warren!
Joe Pesci as David Ferrie
The assassination of John F. Kennedy remains the biggest murder mystery of all time. And as for Jack Ferie’s involvement, it’s still an eyebrow-raising case. No pun intended.