Used sophisticated mind-control and propaganda techniques to guide the public, and other researchers, away from the real perpetrators of JFK’s assassination
[This article continued CAM’s investigation into political assassinations in the U.S. and their coverup. It is an abridged version of a lengthier, more detailed essay that was published on the blog “LBJ: The Master of Deceit”—which can be found HERE.—Editors].
The conventional meme about Mary Ferrell’s grit and determination goes along these lines:
“On November 22, 1963, Mary was a 41-year-old successful legal secretary in Dallas. Instinctively, she began collecting information and sorting it in whatever form proved convenient at the time. She did not know then that she [would] become the most comprehensive clearinghouse of facts on the Kennedy assassination, a source so valuable that virtually no researcher working on any aspect of the assassination can ignore her work. At the ASK symposium, Mary Ferrell was accorded the role of ‘consultant,’ and was treated as perhaps the quietest celebrity since St. Francis…‘I’ve never given a speech in my life,’ she told me, and agreed to the interview on the grounds that we focus on her database of assassination information which she is only now readying for distribution in a comprehensive, electronic format.”—Jerry McCarthy.
Mary Ferrell (1922-2004) was a former legal secretary and historian from Dallas who began collecting materials on the John F. Kennedy assassination immediately after the event and compiled a database written on over 40,000 cards which included details of over 8,200 people involved in the case. Based in Ipswich Massachusetts, the Mary Ferrell Foundation is a non-profit foundation set up in her honor that seeks to provide accessible and interactive information on the political assassinations of the 1960s.
The public image of Ferrell as an indefatigable researcher dedicated to the truth unfortunately may not be entirely accurate.
As we begin to unpack the fabled legend, let’s start with an excerpt from Ferrell’s obituary in the Dallas Morning News three days after her death on February 20, 2004:
“Born in Memphis, Tennessee on October 26, 1922, she married Hubert Afton ‘Buck’ Ferrell on June 18, 1940. Together, they had four children. Mary and Buck moved to Dallas with their family in 1957 where she worked more than thirty years as a legal secretary for a law firm and also in the Governor’s office in Austin.”
There is much more to that story than most people ever knew. What many did eventually come to know, however, is that Mary Ferrell did not like JFK and never voted for him, that being only one of the inexplicable anomalies related to her strange pursuit of records for three American leaders whom she never supported.
In fact, despite being in downtown Dallas on November 22, 1963, she decided to skip the opportunity of watching the motorcade, choosing instead to have lunch at the Chaparral Club at Southland Center. Despite that, she quickly threw herself into an obsessive search for information about JFK’s assassination in the immediate aftermath.
Against that backdrop, a number of veteran researchers have long suspected her real motives were quite different than the common meme. Author Harrison Livingstone, for one, wrote a lengthy section of his book Killing the Truth: Deceit and Deception in the JFK Case, about his suspicions of Mary’s secrets, describing her as the “Mother Goose, or the Dragon Lady . . . [of] whom many people were greatly afraid. She is supposed to be the grandmother of assassination research, but nobody knew what she really was or believed. Everyone was fooled while she lived a double life, like a spy in a foreign country during a war . . . Officially, she never did not believe the findings of the Warren Report, as anybody who truly knows her understands. But researchers had the impression that she believed there was a conspiracy.”
And those are merely where the enigmas begin to germinate.
Mary Resolves to Turn Her Life Around
Most stories about Mary Ferrell’s early history begin by noting that, in 1963, she was a 41-year-old legal secretary in Dallas, but little was said about her family. It was generally known that she was married and had four teenage children at that time. A number of people who had gotten to know Mary closely and personally realized that her husband, Hubert “Buck” Ferrell, had become an alcoholic and was very abusive to her during their first decade of married life—years that Mary had referred to in one interview as a period she had spent “barefoot and pregnant.”
In this case, we will begin two decades before that, by noting her age (17) when she married Buck (age 20) in 1940, four months before her 18th birthday. Having spent the 1940s in various stages of birthing and nursing babies, by early in the 1950s she had evidently begun thinking about the need to develop other skills; she began by taking a correspondence course in accounting through LaSalle Extension University.
What is not well known is that, in 1952—after nearly 12 years of marriage, at age 29—Mary decided to divorce Buck, a process that was completed in 1953. By that point, still living in Memphis, Mary took custody of her four children ranging in age from 5 to 11, beginning with Carol Anne (1942), Lawrence “Larry” (1943), William “Billy” (1945), and James “Jimmy” (1950).
During this period, some time in 1954, Mary was introduced by one of her sisters to a wealthy Ohio farmer/landowner named James E. Dean.
According to the same source, when Mary and her children arrived at Mr. Dean’s home in Ohio, they were practically broke, and their only clothing was what they had worn on their trip from Memphis. The first thing Mr. Dean did for them was to take all of them shopping for clothes. James and Mary soon married and moved her family into his home with his own son and daughter, in Hollansburg, Ohio (the family no longer lives there, having moved to another home in a nearby state some years later).
The same source stated that, after their “honeymoon” period, they had fought often because Mr. Dean felt Mary lacked interest in ordinary housekeeping chores and was too harsh and demanding of her own mother, who was ill at the time. It was stated that, after a major row, they both agreed that the marriage was over, after about 18 months. Further, that James agreed to give Mary a “substantial sum” to use to re-establish herself and obtain the divorce.
Some time in late 1956 or 1957, Mary and James Dean divorced, and research has revealed that she moved herself and the children to New Orleans, where she worked as an accountant for “Merck, Sharpe & Dohme” (a division of Merck & Company, the pharmaceutical giant), for approximately a year and a half (That is a brand name distinction that is generally used only outside of the U.S. and Canada, although for some reason it was the name used at the New Orleans corporate branch offices and laboratory.)
Her presence there is based in part upon her address published in the New Orleans City Directories for the period 1958-1960 (they were published in January of each year, using data for the previous year, so “1958” means data collected in 1957, and so on).
Mary moved to NOLA after leaving Ohio with her four young children in 1957.
During the months she lived in New Orleans, she continued using the Dean surname, possibly as she awaited the completion of divorce proceedings. It appears she did not revert to using the surname “Ferrell” until she relocated to Dallas, where Buck had moved in 1957, according to an FBI document related to an investigation on him following the murder of Martin Luther King, Jr., in Memphis in 1968 (to be examined below).
Another one of my confidential sources indicated that some people close to Mary stated that, during her New Orleans period, she was rumored to have participated in additional secret training programs, possibly for the purpose of preparing her for future assignments that might arise.
Whether that is true in her case is anyone’s guess, but it might help explain how she suddenly developed a strong interest in monitoring and recording everything that spontaneously occurred in the immediate aftermath of the JFK assassination and continued on that task, uninterrupted, for four decades, in the absence of anything realistically plausible regarding the biggest anomaly of all: her true purpose.
With the financial settlement she had received from Mr. Dean, and possibly other sources, she took her children back to Dallas in 1959, where she would open an ice cream store, Ferrell’s Ice Cream, located at 4108 Lomo Alto in Highland Park, according to the 1960 Polk’s Directory (based upon 1959 data). That was an area noted for its distinction of being the most expensive real estate in Dallas County, then and now. That business name coincided with her re-adoption of the Ferrell surname.
The ice cream store business venture was short-lived, leading her to seek employment first as a secretary working for Magnolia Petroleum, later moving to a similar position at Mobil Oil Company through 1962. In 1963 she began working for Philip Burleson (of the firm Abney, Holwell, Abramson and Burleson) beginning as a secretary who transcribed oral depositions.
From 1959 through 1963 she lived in a small house at 4016 Holland Street, Dallas. From 1964 through 1967 she is not listed in the Dallas Polk’s Directory at all (which might simply mean that her name was subsumed by Buck’s entry) and, in 1968, her name reappeared at a different address a few blocks up the same street, 4406 Holland Street, where she stayed until moving to the assisted-living apartment in 2002.
In the mid-to-late 1970s, Mary moved on to a much larger, international law firm called Locke, Purnell, Boren, Laney & Neely. There she progressed, eventually becoming the executive secretary for the president of the firm. Eugene Locke, the head of Locke, Purnell, was also the chairman of the state Democratic party in those years and had been scheduled to introduce JFK at the Austin dinner party the evening of November 22, 1963. Locke was politically well-connected to high-level politicians in both Austin and Washington, D.C.
That law firm, according to Harry Livingstone’s research, had been involved in planning the Dallas motorcade and the decision to reroute the motorcade past the Texas School Book Depository was made [or, more likely approved, at the request of the plotters] by Locke and people representing the core of the elite Dallas leadership: Judy Amps, Sam Bloom and Elizabeth Forsling Harris.
Harrison “Harry” Livingstone: From Friend of Mary to Her Fiercest Enemy
Harrison Livingstone was at one time considered to be among Mary’s closer “friends,” who had visited her a number of times in the 1980s. One of the catalysts for the break in their relationship came about due to an incident he described, relating to a report he had obtained from a retired police detective which Mary mistakenly believed came from a young lady he referred to as “Melissa.” [See HERE]
He wrote: “Nothing like this ever happened—that is, I would not have sent the girl’s report or anything by her to Ferrell. I sent Ferrell something a police officer had written to see if she would falsify it, and she did. How paranoia got the better of these people on Melissa’s account, I’ll never know, other than that they were trying to terrify and make a target of the poor girl, a college student. [Larry] Howard himself had warned us against the Dragon Lady: ‘She’s very dangerous!’ he told us. I’d be safe in saying that half the city of Dallas told us that for the same reasons.” Harry suspected that Mary had gotten her misinformation from the FBI. According to what he was told by Gordon Novel, “She didn’t have help from the FBI. ‘She is the FBI.’” [Italics in original.]
Mary Ferrell had accumulated much of her collection before the existence of the 1971 Freedom of Information Act (FOIA)—and, evidently, subsequently remained unimpeded by its rigorous and labor-intensive procedural requirements. Interestingly, a researcher named Bud Fensterwald (see HERE) was widely reported to be her primary source; the many allegations of his being a CIA operative (see HERE for example)—likewise her close adviser Robert Chapman (see HERE)—suggest commonalities between them as to the source, not only for the documents, but for the funding she had to rely on to maintain her operation—despite what she had always attempted to portray as being self-financed.
Regarding the point about Mary’s financial enigmas—how she allegedly managed to spend so much time and personal expense acquiring and storing documents in a specially built “library” for the purpose—one must suspend “disbelief,” to square that with how she was concurrently living in style.
From the 1993 investigator’s report to Livingstone we find that: “She was driving a late model luxury car and was dressed in expensive clothing that seemed mildly inappropriate…” In earlier years (mid-1960s to 1980s) considering the fact of her raising four children with a husband whose unstable job history and problems related to his chronic alcoholism, it stretches credulity to think that her financial wherewithal from her position as a secretary could possibly be sufficient to account for her expenses.
Though he never admitted it to anyone, with the probable exception of Mary, many researchers had suspected that Robert Chapman was affiliated with one of the “alphabet agencies” in Washington. It was Chapman who would regularly appear in Dallas every time a new shipment of documents arrived (such as this example). My sources stated that the deliveries were irregular, but perhaps on average once every six to eight weeks during the early 1970s-80s period, and that they would work together all day and into the night for several days at a time. In at least one case he was there for two weeks.
Robert Chapman somehow ingratiated himself into Mary’s world so thoroughly that his presence with her was a common event, and she had often been seen attached to his right arm or, in the later years, in a wheelchair that he pushed, controlling how long she conversed with anyone who he felt had spent too much of her, and/or his, time.
Chapman was also directly involved in the negotiation for the purchase of Mary Ferrell’s collection by businessman Oliver Curme while overseeing the process of rendering over a million pages of JFK assassination documents into becoming an on-line repository now officially known as the Mary Ferrell Foundation. (Curme’s role is explored in detail within the unabridged author’s original essay, to be found HERE).
In still another instance requiring the suspension of disbelief, one must reconcile the likelihood of a small business entrepreneur spending so much time and effort, for more than three decades, on an avocation having nothing to do with managing his restaurant business. It simply does not compute in real-world context. But it does raise profoundly important questions that begin to compound, inexorably into what Ian Fleming called too many coincidences: “Once is happenstance. Twice is coincidence. Three times is enemy action.”
In this baffing case, we have at least four major examples of coincidences, all complicated with a lot of anomalies, paradoxes and incoherent explanations mixed in:
- A middle-aged legal secretary, married and mother of four teenagers holding, in 1963, a relatively low-level secretary position (and eventually, due to her alleged perseverance and brilliance, an executive-level secretarial position with one of the most powerful law firms in Dallas), who somehow immediately decided to become the “Queen of the Research Community” in her spare time: A right-wing conservative, she apparently disliked JFK such that she once said, “I did not vote for him and if he were alive today, I would not vote for him.” (See HERE and https://lbjthemasterofdeceit.com/2022/02/15/mary-ferrells-enigmatic-past-and-how-her-namesake-foundation-added-even-more-enigmata-to-the-mix/2/).
- A businessman (restaurateur) from Memphis who would spend weeks at a time assisting Mary sort, index and file documents from various federal agencies (primarily FBI and CIA), actively monitoring the logistics of those shipments, all of which skirted all ordinary rules and procedures (e.g., FOIA rules and other red tape) applicable to anyone else.
- A high-flying venture capitalist suddenly acting opposite of his normal gig doing multi-million-dollar deals, to dump $2.5 million, figuratively, into a hole in the ground that could never be expected to pay for itself, much less ever produce a nominal profit. No one with reasonable cognitive abilities could realistically believe such an investment would have a “snowball’s chance” of generating any significant income from such a venture.
- And finally, the grand coup de grâce: Said venture capitalist, Oliver Curme, stating unequivocally before a dozen friends and associates of Mary Ferrell, “I don’t know anything about the JFK assassination.” Their reaction was not much different than if he had just announced that he came there directly from outer space in six seconds: Then there was silence—nothing but stunned disbelief.
It was, evidently, Mary’s and Robert Chapman’s role to decide what would be presented vs. what would be done with any culled pieces or off-narrative material. It was critically important to them that researchers would presume the files to be so thorough that little doubt was left that the files were complete. Looking at it in that context evokes methods used to pack the Warren Commission Report with much superfluous information (e.g., Jack Ruby’s mother’s dental records from 1938, for example), numerous witness testimonies subtly revised, and fabricated evidence (e. g. the second brain) as a means to distract attention to the shell game that was being played out in 1964.
Several examples of how original records were filled with lies, witness testimony changed, together with records that are still missing, heavily redacted or, in some cases, simply misfiled in such a way that impedes their discovery, can be found within my June 13, 2021, essay “In Defense of ‘Tosh’ Plumlee: How His Critics (unintentionally) Help to Vindicate Him—And His Story of ‘That Day’” (see HERE; refer to the section titled “Why Would ‘Truth Seeking’ Researchers Reject Plumlee’s First-Hand Vivid Memories As They Accept the CIA’s Long-Discredited Lies?” scrolled to about 1/3 of page).
These examples pertain to both Robert “Tosh” Plumlee and Chauncey Holt, where numerous exculpatory, positive or non-accusatory files of theirs were systematically misplaced, filed instead under John Martino’s name (ergo, possibly others as well?). I noted how certain researchers on the board of directors of MFF had been engaged in specious attacks against Robert “Tosh” Plumlee—how they had used old, fabricated documents that J. Edgar Hoover (among others) had personally and cunningly put into his file—for the purpose of denigrating Plumlee falsely, accusing him of being an airplane thief and check-bouncer, further “gaslighting” him baselessly, forever. This summarized charge has been fully explained in the referenced citation above.
An illustration of how the MFF made revisions to certain documents was shown by how they removed Judyth Baker’s initials and notes from Lee Oswald’s timecards as a way to eliminate that vital evidence of her presence at Reily Coffee Company. Judyth, who had had an affair with Oswald and was involved in anti-Castro operations backed by the CIA and New Orleans mafia, explained it thusly:
On the Mary Ferrel site, one of Lee’s time cards for three consecutive work weeks at Reily Coffee, that I had researcher Nancy Eldreth obtain for me from a special FBI collection at the National Archives [knowing they had my writing on them—they were never published by the Warren Commission], shows my ‘j’ initials (two faintly) and “made 40” [hours worked] as the attached document signed at the National Archives demonstrate, but the same set of time cards on the Mary Ferrell site shows all my handwriting on both those cards missing—they were now blank. That, itself, was tampering with evidence, as all of Lee’s time cards had to be signed by either me or V. P. Wm. I Monaghan or Personnel. But the two cards are blank– my initials J’s and “made 40” were erased. (I don’t know if it’s still that way). The people at the Archives were upset about it and specially initialed a true copy, showing my handwriting. [See attached.]
Searching for Missing Documents—Like Looking for an Apparition
Beyond the files cited throughout about Mary’s personal correspondence with Harold Weisberg, a prominent Kennedy assassination researcher, were the actual “missing” document files which are available at other internet sources. I had to ask myself, “How does one find the answer to a negative?” That is, proof that the MFF collection culls their files of certain subjects that are available elsewhere, thereby censoring what users are able to find. That seemed like a daunting task—having to look for something that was not there, instead of the regular search.
But after a few minutes perusing my files for old FBI documents I had used some time in the past, I quickly found one from my investigation of the Martin Luther King, Jr., assassination. It is an FBI memorandum addressed to William C. Sullivan proposing a program to strengthen the COINTELPRO program dated May 9, 1968. I could not find any trace of it after several attempts to find it on the MFF website even though an initial search of FBI documents with the appropriate key words returned over a million “hits,” mostly having nothing to do with those key words.
Winnowing them further still never produced this document within the MFF database. In fact, as demonstrated in the copy of the last search page, below, the million+ “hits” were reduced to 78 by adding a filter that should have narrowed all of the remaining documents to the date May 9, 1968, yet that was only achieved for the first two results (which never met the other criteria described in the search):
After adding the May 9, 1968, filter, only the first two documents matched that criterion, yet none matched all other criteria.
At Age 79, Mary Throws in the Towel, Sells Everything for $2 Million
At a special invitation-only dinner event in Dallas on April 5, 2002, with approximately 12 people present, Mary Ferrell introduced Oliver Curme to the group, explaining that he was a private investor who had purchased the document files and all other records that she had accumulated into her collection. (Interestingly, the buyer did not want any of her very large collection of books, including a number of rare editions.)
She evidently set the meeting up as a simulacrum of a corporate type of event that she believed was appropriate for what she felt was a momentous occasion for her unique collection.
The meeting was quickly scheduled and invitations sent out as if “time was of the essence.” It was held at a large hotel in the Oaklawn section of Dallas, not far from her home on Holland Street.
The highlight of Saturday evening was when Mary showed the group the two-million-dollar check that Mr. Curme had written, to be deposited in a special MFF account. Mary stated that the check was being put into a financial instrument that would not be paid in full unless she lived to be age 92 (which would not occur until October 2014 and she died on February 20, 2004). She did not explain how much would be received immediately versus the thirteen years over which the remainder would be paid.
Mary Befriends Judyth Vary Baker
Judyth Vary Baker—after absenting herself for more three decades from the fallout of JFK’s assassination—had entered the “research community” in 1998 and become very close to Mary Ferrell in 2000-2002, just as Oliver Curme’s purchase was being conducted.
It was Mary who had begged Judyth to come to Dallas, desiring to find out as much as possible about Judyth’s emerging story, while promising to provide her a room and to help her with expenses if she did so. This was after Judyth had removed herself from anyone or anything related to JFK’s assassination, in fear for her life due to things she had learned about Lee Oswald and activities he, and she, learned about the top-secret plot called “The Big Event.”
Mary wanted to know everything that Judyth knew, yet over more than two years spent together managed to avoid sharing with her anything substantive about her own information or opinions. Judyth declined the offer of a room due to the fact that she had a service dog (still in training) and Mary had her own dog at that point and, due to the small space available, she opted to find her own apartment.
Though she never met Mr. Curme personally, Judyth was there in the background, voluntarily assisting Mary in sorting through the materials to be shipped to Massachusetts and separating all other materials for other disposition, including many that were being sent to Baylor University. Among other things, Judyth provided me with this photograph of those boxes:
Judyth had spent considerable time with Mary by October 14, 2000, when Mary wrote an email to Howard Platzman explaining how she had become convinced that Judyth was telling “the absolute truth as she knows it” (as well as confirming how she had known Robert Chapman—suspected by many as being her designated secret “handler”—since about 1972).
The lower section of the email is the original part, dated October 14, 2000; the upper part is dated November 3, 2002, when Platzman rediscovered it:
When Platzman rediscovered it, he forwarded it to eight others, all with masked names in their email addresses. By that time, Mary Ferrell had reversed herself, knowing that her secrets had been exposed, such that now she had to retract all of the good things she had ever said about Judyth and reverse all of it to portray her as a liar and a thief. Platzman, evidently, must have attempted to seek out all such old emails, and this might have been an example of how he alerted others that certain records must be cleansed by the recipients.
As additional background on Robert Chapman, I have reproduced an internet post by long-time researcher Jack White below.
Final Thoughts on Mary Ferrell’s Conflictions, and Her “True Story”
To an uninterested observer, the many conflictions in Mary Ferrell’s story might have seemed like serendipity at work. For anyone else, with even the slightest awareness of what occurred in her famed wheelhouse, it seemed that Mary Ferrell would have been the last person who might have been expected to run her long journey into assassination lore. Either way, it marked her entry into a new chapter of her life, the one that would bring her fame and a measure of “fortune” in a strange and inexplicably long-term legendary role which she supposedly financed all on her own while being saved at the end by a “White Knight”—a mysterious multi-millionaire ready to plunk down $2.5 million in spare cash.
In the prolonged aftermath of JFK’s assassination, the mystery surrounding Mary Ferrell’s legend was only one of many that were randomly unleashed, all forming an asymmetrical cloud of confusion over nearly every aspect of the assassination and its cover-up.
Nearly six decades later, the whole of it, still in place, has become tattered and fragmented enough to expose many of the secrets that could not be contained. Mary’s personal secrets were the least of them, but their exposure now might help researchers understand how her role was not what it has been purported to be.
It was much more sinister than the contrived “appearances” and false perceptions now laid bare for all to see. The evidence previously assembled regarding the long-term gaslighting of one man, Robert “Tosh” Plumlee, must be considered one of many others. If that be so, then what is left for researchers to examine without fear of contamination, a history embedded with serious questions about the honesty and integrity of those who created it.
Now further compounded with numerous anomalies and unanswered questions regarding the purpose and entities behind the original design and its true original financing—as well as the 2002 refinancing and formation of her namesake foundation.
For now, all of it is open to questions: How many “anomalies” were in the final tally? How many researchers were given bad information or no leads at all in their pursuit of real truths because of missing information or disinformation? How many honest and actual witnesses were subjected to long-term public ridicule and overt gaslighting as part of their character assassination programs?
How much longer is the Mary Ferrell Foundation going to continue its insidious and damnable pursuit—not of “promoting truth and transparency” as its mission statement falsely indicates—but of what now becomes clear, and “transparently” obvious:
The only possible logically derived reason for anyone, or any entity, to oppose the promotion of truth and transparency, while falsely promoting itself as an advocate of said values, must be for a purpose having other, contrary and opposite, objectives.
Harrison Livingstone, Killing the Truth: Deceit and Deception in the JFK Case (New York: Basic Books, 1994), p. 386. ↑
Livingstone, Killing the Truth, p. 393. ↑
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About the Author
Phillip F. Nelson is the author of LBJ: The Mastermind of the JFK Assassination; Remember the Liberty! Almost Sunk by Treason on the High Seas; and Who Really Killed Martin Luther King Jr.?: The Case Against Lyndon B. Johnson and J. Edgar Hoover, among other books.
After college, a stint in the Peace Corps, and a corporate career, he began an intensive study of the JFK assassination, Johnson’s presidency, and his continuing criminal conduct.
Phillip resides Greenville, South Carolina and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.