The Mysterious Women in Lee Harvey’s Life

Judyth Baker was convinced Lee Harvey Oswald was a patsy, as he claimed himself, a red-herring used to muddy the waters about what really happened.

     As we approach the anniversary of the Kennedy Assassination in Dallas, again, some of us are anxious to view more de-classified documents soon.  Who was The Umbrella Man?  The Babushka Lady?  What can be said about the experiences of The Girl On the Stairs?  Why did a police car pull up in front of Lee Harvey Oswald’s home on the day of the assassination and why did the driver of that police car honk the horn, as witnessed by others?  Was anyone underneath the infamous manhole cover—someone that possibly emerged for a few seconds, performed an action, and went back down into the bowels of downtown Dallas?

Are all of these red herrings manufactured by overactive imaginations?  Surely some of them have some relevance.  Too many people have witnessed them simultaneously, and many of those witnesses have now died, due to the natural process of time, or perhaps for other reasons.

In recent years I have read a book about a cold case in New Orleans that has nagged at me since I read it.  In 1964, a scientist, Dr. Mary Sherman, was found dead in her apartment there.  According to the small headline in the New Orleans States-Item, clues were lacking.  What was known was that an intruder had forced entry, stabbed the prominent orthopedic surgeon, and then set fire to the body.


Dr. Mary Sherman

Who was Dr. Mary Sherman?  Mary Stults was a brilliant young woman who was taught to sing opera by her father, a music teacher.  She began her early academic life studying in France at the age of 16.  When she returned, she taught French while working on a masters at the University of Illinois.  She was a member of Phi Beta Kappa.  Her studies veered off into nuclear, biochemical, and genetic research.  She wrote often-cited papers on botanical viruses.  She was a pioneer in the use of radiation for the treatment of bone cancers.  During the late 1940s she was associate professor of orthopedic surgery at the Billings Hospital, University of Chicago.  Her reputation grew and she was snagged by one Dr. Alton Ochsner to be his clinic associate, with her own cancer lab, and she would also be an Associate Professor at Tulane Medical School.  Here she would benefit from Ochsner’s access to abundant research funds.

She had divorced from her husband, Thomas Sherman, and made her way to New Orleans to start a new career.  She found herself a nice apartment and began juggling surgeries at Charity Hospital, working at children’s hospitals, and being a member of Ochsner’s medical staff in his prestigious clinic.  She always preferred lab work to surgery, and soon she would be back in the lab, albeit in a clandestine mode, with one of her goals being to make great strides in cancer treatment or cures.

In the earliest years of the 1960s, there was a rumor in parts of the scientific community that some of our childhood vaccines had been contaminated with monkey viruses in the labs in which they were created.  Along with secretive cover-ups, there were attempts to be able to find a scientific way to put Band-aids on these problems, by use of radiation and other state-of the-art scientific developments.  There was the concern that people who got the contaminated vaccines would create severe health problems for future generations.

In a strange parallel hypothesis, there was a small movement to see if these deadly monkey viruses could be harnessed into biological weapons against humans.  Some people on the fringes had decided that Fidel Castro would be the best candidate upon which to use this proposed weapon.  Some scientists actually went to work doing experiments to try to develop it, because of the scary climate coming from Cuba at the time.

Enter a strange character name David Ferrie.  If that name sounds familiar to you, it is because he was a sort of question mark figure in Jim Garrison’s investigation of the Kennedy Assassination.  You may remember seeing bizarre pictures of Ferrie with a scraggly orange toupee, not even glued on straight, and heavily black-penciled eyebrows.  He had a skin condition, he said.  He had basically turned himself into a cartoon character.  Ferrie had started out his adult life studying Greek and Latin and going to various seminaries, trying to get into the priesthood.  He was an intelligent man, but he was rejected every time because of his vague personality problems—not priesthood material.  In 1945, he became involved in the Civil Air Patrol.  He was an excellent pilot, but he could not control himself from doing outlandish air stunts—they sometimes got him into trouble.  In the 1950s he got on as a commercial pilot with Eastern Airlines after moving from Ohio to NOLA.  On his long layovers in hotel rooms, Ferrie began teaching himself all kinds of subjects including biochemistry and hypnotism.  In NOLA, he continued with the Civil Air Patrol reaching the rank of captain.  One of the young cadets he met just happened to be Lee Harvey Oswald.

According to some sources, Ferrie did moonlighting as a pilot for the CIA.  He had been developing his own radical views about Communism, trained killers, and he got involved in the anti-Castro Cuban underground.  He supposedly firebombed some targets in Cuba, getting wounded once, and also made runs in to do intelligence work.  After a few years with Eastern, he lost his job there because of the company psychiatrist’s report on him.  In the middle of all this, David Ferrie renewed his acquaintance with Lee Harvey Oswald and tried to help him get some jobs in New Orleans.  Lee had arrived back in NOLA for a spell and the two men socialized with other fringe people.

To get to the point, there is an estimated scenario of what happened on the night of Dr. Mary’s death in 1964.  It is in no way confirmed, but a possible outcome.  She was working in a lab on a top-secret project.  The project involved using a linear particle accelerator to mutate the bad monkey viruses.  It was the only lab in NOLA that actually had a linear particle accelerator—a huge and powerful machine that can deliver a large beam of radiation.

It is supposed that some saboteur—an enemy of the work in the lab—had  messed with the wires to the accelerator, and when Dr. Mary flipped the huge switch, there was an electrical arc, a fireball, and her arm and part of her torso were destroyed.  But—she was still alive.  Her horrified lab-mates, knew this secret could not get out.  They had to figure out a way to cover up their top-secret project.  Though her heart was still beating, Mary was not going to come back from this as a whole person.

They decided to stab her once through the heart to cause death.  They then drove her body back to her apartment in her own car, put her on her bed, covered her with some folded clothing, stabbed her again, and started a small fire on the body.  They faked a burglary.  The identities of all in the lab that night are not known.  It was a group project so no one person would be held responsible.  They knew Dr. Mary would want them to do this, as loyal lab-mates—keep things secret at all costs.  They drove her car away a distance and an unwitting neighbor turned in the smell of smoke to authorities, who then discovered the body.

The autopsy on the doctor was a confusing task to the examiner.  The fire was not great enough to destroy her arm and part of her torso.  Her death had been caused by a stab-wound to the heart, and the other stabbings were post mortem.  The killer(s) had worn gloves, and had destroyed all evidence that would implicate anyone.

Judyth Baker

Earlier, a young girl, Judyth, had arrived in NOLA at the invitation of Dr. Ochsner.  She was also a science whiz-kid looking for a good internship.  In the months before Dr. Mary’s strange death, Judyth had gone to a private dinner at Dr. Mary’s where she was taken into the secret laboratory operations.  David Ferrie was the other guest there.  David and Mary were convinced that biological actions against Castro could prevent WWIII.  That was the rationalization.  David had an apartment he lived in, and a separate apartment that he used solely for a laboratory.  Lee Harvey Oswald and Judyth were part of the larger operation.  Lee was the runner.  He transported Judyth as she took messages, lab samples, and packages back and forth between Dr. Mary and all the side operations and experiments.

David and Judyth did some of their own work with mice and David had over 400 of them in his apartment laboratory.  Even though they were both married, at the time, Lee Harvey Oswald and Judyth were close and had a romantic relationship, according to Judyth.  They had been given cover jobs at a coffee company, arranged by Ferrie, that would allow them some time off to do their tasks for Dr. Mary and the lab.

In the middle of this convoluted tale, Lee went to Dallas for a few days and did not come back.  We know why.  Lee had told Judyth in a final phone call on Wednesday, November 20, 1963 that a David A. Phillips was organizing the plot to kill Kennedy—that he was being used as a pawn.  Shortly after Lee was killed by Ruby, Ferrie contacted Judyth and told her to remain silent for the rest of her life or her own protection.

So, Oswald was killed in 1963, Dr. Mary Sherman died under mysterious circumstances in 1964.  David Ferrie continued strange activities and rumors swirled around him.  He was questioned several times during various investigations.  He was found dead in his disheveled apartment in February of 1967, a few days after one of Garrison’s investigations into JFK mysteries was made public.  Ferrie’s death was listed as natural causes, but there is a question about that, too.  Speculators say probably murder or suicide.

Judyth stayed married to her husband and had eventually had children.  She has written several books, including one about her relationship with Lee Harvey Oswald, Me and Lee.  She was convinced he was a patsy, as he claimed himself, a red-herring used to muddy the waters about what really happened.  She always wanted to see his name cleared.

I will always wonder about the strange New Orleans gumbo, made up of these ingredients:  Brilliant doctors/researchers, Ochsner and Sherman, secret lab projects, a cartoon-ish misfit, David Ferrie, the infamous Lee Harvey Oswald, and a once-young, impressionable but brilliant girl named Judyth.

There are so many elements to the 350+ page book that you will get vertigo reading about all the characters, intrigue, and myriad side stories.  You must read it to get the greater and fascinating details of this story, Dr. Mary’s Monkey by Edward T. Haslam, whose father, Dr. Edward T. Haslam, MD., was an illustrious doctor himself, Professor of Orthopedic Surgery at Tulane, Commander in the U.S Navy,  and knew Dr. Mary personally and mourned her death.  The book has over 500 positive reviews.  It is filled with photographs, charts, and documents.

No one has tried to have it removed, as far as I know, or challenged it, much.  Whether you believe any of it, or not, you will not be able to put it down.  It is food for thought, if nothing else.  Dr. Mary’s death is still a cold case.

Sara Marie Hogg is the author of Quite Curious, a collection of true stories about the bizarre and unexplained. Please click HERE to find the book on Amazon.

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