ON ONE LEVEL THIS BOOK is a cold-case investigation into the 1964 murder of Dr. Mary Sherman in New Orleans — a murder which remains unsolved and is remembered as one of the most mysterious ever committed in a city that has known so much mystery and so many murders. But there is more to this story than murder and mystery.
Understanding the death of this one woman unravels much of our nation’s secret history. It illuminates the darkness. It connects great medical disasters of our time to important political events of the day. It unveils the contamination of hundreds of millions of doses of the polio vaccine with dozens of monkey viruses. It spotlights the epidemic of soft tissue cancers that swept our country. And it exposes dangerous secret experiments which used radiation to mutate cancer-causing monkey viruses. It connects leaders of American medicine to the accused assassin of the President of the United States. This one murder helps us understand why we have been lied to with such conviction for so many years — and why those lies are likely to continue.
But this is not a murder mystery: fascinating perhaps, but hardly entertainment. For me, writing this book was difficult, stressful and dangerous. What began as an investigation into this single murder morphed into consideration of epidemics which killed millions of people and which cost billions of dollars. It became an investigation into an underground medical laboratory that was accidentally discovered during an investigation into the JFK assassination — a laboratory which secretly irradiated cancer-causing monkey viruses to develop a biological weapon. This story seems to have followed me throughout my life, and its recurring pattern is eerie indeed. Had I realized its importance, I would have paid closer attention. What I do remember are fragments that I pieced together later in life: a name here, an incident there, pieces of a puzzle often separated by years of unrelated distractions. I even remember sitting on Mary Sherman’s lap once as a child. She and my father worked together at Tulane Medical School in New Orleans. They had taken a British doctor out to dinner and then to our family’s home for an after-dinner drink.
When she died in the summer of 1964, I saw my father cry for the first time. 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...
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