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A Terrible Mistake
The Murder of Frank Olson and the CIA's Secret Cold War Experiments
By H.P. Albarelli Jr.
Trine Day LLCCopyright © 2009 H.P. Albarelli, Jr
All rights reserved.
November 28, 1953 New York City, 2:30 A.M
The techniques employed will vary according to whether the subject is unaware of his danger, aware but unguarded, or guarded. The most efficient accident, in simple assassination, is a fall of 75 feet or more onto a hard surface. Elevator shafts, stairwells, unscreened windows and bridges will serve.
— CIA Assassination Manual, 1952
We'll name them as they jump out of windows.
— U.S. Rep. Karl E. Mundt, 1948
A doorman rounding the corner of 33rd Street and Seventh Avenue was the first person to spot him. The doorman, who has long since disappeared, had slipped away from his post at the Statler Hotel for a quick drink at the nearby Little Penn tavern. Returning, he was about fifty yards away from the hotel's main entrance when a shape came into his line of vision, something falling from high above the sidewalk. He stopped and looked on in disbelief. It was a man.
Later, the doorman would tell Armond Pastore, the hotel's night manager, "It was like the guy was diving, his hands out in front of him, but then his body twisted and he was coming down feet first, his arms grabbing at the air above him." The falling man struck a temporary wooden partition that shielded work underway on the hotel's facade, the impact producing a sickening thud. He bounced off the plywood wall, landing hard on the sidewalk.
In 1975, and later in 1994, Pastore, whose full name is Armando Diaz Pershing Foch Pastore, was asked by every major television network in the United States to recall Frank Olson's death. In summer 1994, he was flown to New York to assist a team of forensic investigators who were reconstructing Olson's fall. Film crews and producers from Germany, England, Australia, and Japan have interviewed him. Reporters from the New York Times and Washington Post, and countless other newspapers, have knocked on his door. Pastore, an intelligent, good-natured man who would rather talk about his "amazing grandchildren," clearly enjoys the attention but his recollections remain steadfast and he never attempts to embellish his account or comment on anything he can't recall.
Nearly forty-five years after Olson's fall, Pastore told the author, "I can never forget it. Those scenes play over and over in my head. They haunt me like some ghost looking for a proper resolution." Sitting in the living room of his modest Florida home, Pastore recounted what happened:
"It was late, about 2:30 in the morning, and the doorman came running in all excited. I think his first name was Jimmy. For the life of me, I can't remember his last name. I think it was Davis or Doyle, or something like that. He didn't work there all that long. He was what we called a 'druggo' back then. You know, a guy with some bad habits, a junky. Anyway, he comes running in yelling, 'We got a jumper, we got a jumper.' I told him to calm down and asked him where. He pointed toward the front doors and said, 'Out front, on the sidewalk.' I shouted to the desk clerk to call security and the police and then I ran outside."
Pastore found a group of five or six people standing over a middle-aged man. Several other people were hurrying across the street from Pennsylvania Station. The man was lying on his back, one arm outstretched, fingers extended as if he was reaching for something. His legs were close together, twisted to the side. He was wearing only a white, sleeveless undershirt and white undershorts.
"I knelt beside him," Pastore says, "thinking about what best to do. He looked up at me and tried to speak, but only blood came from his mouth. I told him, It's okay, buddy, we've called for help."
The man's pale green eyes searched Pastore's face. "There was blood running from his eyes, nose, and ears," Pastore recalls. "I saw a large section of shattered bone sticking out of his left arm, and there were a few pieces of broken glass around his body."
"Just hold on. You'll be okay," Pastore reassured the man, immediately feeling a twinge of guilt. "I knew he wasn't going to make it." Pastore felt the cold of the concrete sidewalk in his knees. He told the doorman, now standing several feet away, to go and get a blanket for the man.
Pastore wondered what was taking the ambulance so long, and the jumper attempted to speak again. The effort caused grotesque red bubbles to form around his mouth. Pastore remembers, "I took my handkerchief and carefully wiped the froth away from his face. Then I asked him, 'Can you tell me your name?' but he didn't answer."
Pastore saw a priest from nearby St. Thomas' Church hurrying across 7th Avenue toward the scene, holding a folded stole and Bible. "There were two uniformed police officers a few yards behind him," Pastore recalls.
The doorman returned and handed Pastore a folded wool blanket. "When I began to cover his legs and torso," Pastore says, "I noticed a large splinter of tan wood protruding from his chest." The man groaned; his eyes momentarily focused on something above Pastore. The two policemen were standing over them now. One of the officers squatted next to Pastore and said sotto voce, "Jumper?"
"I guess," Pastore answered.
Rising to his feet the officer ordered the small group of gawkers to move further away. The priest knelt next to the man, opposite Pastore, and began to administer the last rites. Several blocks away, Pastore heard the sound of an approaching siren.
Pastore says the man looked at him imploringly, again trying to speak. "His right hand clutched my arm and he raised his head slightly, his lips moving. His eyes were wide with desperation. He wanted to tell me something, I leaned down closer to listen, but he took a deep breath and died."
Pastore recounts that he then went back inside the hotel to talk with the front desk personnel and the hotel's security man on duty that night. "I knew the guy had to have come from somewhere out of the hotel, but I had no idea where. The Statler is a big place. We had about 2,200 rooms and over 1,000 employees. It was like a small city operating twenty-four hours a day. Somebody had to know something."
He asked the front desk employees if anyone had called down from a room to report a jumper or anything unusual. There had been no calls. He asked the hotel's security man if he'd checked to see if the rooftop doors were locked. He had and they were.
"Did you check all the windows?" Pastore asked.
"Best I could. It's pretty dark out there," the man replied.
Pastore says, "I was dissatisfied with the information I was getting, so I went back outside."
The ambulance had left only minutes before and the street was nearly deserted. The two uniformed police officers stood near the spot where the man had lain, talking to a man in a trench coat. Pastore crossed 7th Avenue and stood on the curb in front of Pennsylvania Station. He began systematically scanning the Statler's front façade, looking for an opened window or anything unusual. He started with the rooftop and top level, the nineteenth floor, carefully working his way across and down, window by window, floor by floor, until he reached the street. He saw nothing that appeared unusual.
The guy had to come from somewhere, Pastore told himself. "Every time I focused on a window I thought of the guy's eyes, the look on his face. I'd seen that look before, in Italy and France during the war, on the faces of guys that knew life was over for them. It's a look you don't forget."
Pastore repeated this process and still saw nothing. "I was just about to give up when I saw something move near a window. I concentrated on the spot and then after a few seconds I saw it move again."
"It was the shade," Pastore explains. "It was the window's drawn shade catching in the breeze. Somehow it had been pulled way down and was hanging outside the window."
He stared intently at the shade for a moment and then began to count the number of windows directly above it, and then the adjoining windows towardthe west end of the building. Double-checking, he counted again. "It was room 1018A," Pastore states.
Crossing 7th Avenue again, Pastore told the two police officers he thought he knew which room the man came from. "I gave them the number, and told them I was going to go up and check the room. They said they'd be right up."
Re-entering the hotel, he went to the cashier's desk and asked to see the registration card for room 1018A. There were two names on the card, Robert Lashbrook and Frank R. Olson. Lashbrook had listed his home address only as Washington, D.C. No street name, no telephone number. Olson's home address was written as RFD5, Frederick, Maryland. Again no telephone number. They had registered only about ten hours before, on November 27.
Pastore then summoned the hotel's security man to accompany him to the tenth floor. "Bring your pass keys," he told the man.
They took the elevator in the main lobby. As they ascended, the security man asked, "You don't really think the other guy's still in the room, do you?"
"I told him I didn't know what to think," Pastore says.
The elevator doors slid open and the two moved silently down the thick carpeted hallway. Given the lateness of the hour, the hotel's public areas were deserted; no sound came from any of the rooms they passed. They stopped at Room 1018A. Pastore leaned close to its door and listened for a moment. There was no sound on the other side. He gripped the doorknob and attempted to twist it open. It was locked.
"There's not going to be anyone in there," the security man said, handing him the passkey.
Pastore says, "I slid the key into the lock and then I thought, what the hell am I doing? The other guy could be in there. I thought, anybody could be in there. Who knows what we could be walking into? So I said to my security man, 'Let's wait for the police to come up.'"
"The whole time we waited we didn't hear a sound come from the other side of the door," Pastore says. "Then, after about twenty minutes or so, down the hall, we heard the elevator's bell sound, and when the doors opened the two policemen from out on the street stepped out." As they approached, talking to one another, Pastore raised a finger to his lips to hush the men.
The older of the two officers pointed toward the room's door and asked quietly, "Somebody in there?"
"I'm not sure," Pastore answered.
Pastore stepped further away from the door and explained in a low voice that it was locked and that the registration card showed two men had checked into the room. The older officer asked, "Did one of these guys call down to the desk?"
"No," Pastore answered, "there were no calls to the desk."
"The officer's eyebrows went up with that," Pastore recalls, "He nodded toward the door again and told me, 'Open it. We'll go in first,' and then he and his partner pulled out their revolvers."
Pastore unlocked the door and stepped aside as the officers pushed it open and moved cautiously into the room, revolvers in hand. After a moment, Pastore warily followed them in. The room was dark except for the light spilling in from the hallway and the partial glow that came from the room's nearly closed bathroom door. One of the officers pushed the door open with his foot.
Pastore saw the man at the same moment as the officers. He was seated on the bathroom's commode. "It was the oddest sight," Pastore recalls, "the guy just sitting there. He was holding his head in his hands as if lost in thought. There was a pair of socks and an undershirt hanging over the shower rod." The officers stepped closer and one of them demanded, "What's going on here? What happened?"
"The guy looked up and slowly said, 'I woke up when I heard a sound. I'm not sure what happened,'" Pastore says.
Pastore stood at the center of the room looking about. Because he had to step around them, he noticed that the covers from the bed closest to the room's single window were mostly on the floor as though flung off in a single sweeping motion.
"The window was smashed out completely," Pastore recounts. "I mean it was gone. There were just a few small slivers of glass left sticking out of the frame. I didn't see any glass on the radiator beneath the window, or on the carpeted floor or the windowsill."
"You didn't see the guy go out the window?" one of the officers asked the man.
"No. I just heard a noise and then I woke up."
"Sir, please stand up slowly," ordered the elder officer. "And let's see some identification."
Pastore says the man calmly stood and walked to the nightstand where he picked up a wallet, which he opened and handed over. "The guy was tall and slim," Pastore recalls. "He had sort of light colored hair and was wearing glasses. There was nothing distinctive about him that I can remember. You know, a pretty ordinary guy, except there was this strange calmness about him."
Both officers examined the wallet; the younger one writing something down on a small pad of paper. "I could see what appeared to be an official looking identification card with some sort of government seal on it," Pastore says.
"The man that went out the window, what is his name?" the younger officer asked.
"Olson. Frank Olson," the man replied.
As the one officer questioned the man, Pastore recalls watching the older officer, whose name he later learned was Joseph Guastefeste, begin to search the room. Guastefeste opened dresser and nightstand drawers, looked into the bathroom's medicine cabinet, under the bed. Out of the room's single closet, Guastefeste lifted a small suitcase and set it on one of the beds. Pastore says, "He tried to open its metal latches but it was locked. He asked the man to open it and the guy took a small key from his pocket and unlocked the suitcase."
"And you say you didn't see Mr. Olson go out the window?" the questioning policeman continued.
"No, I didn't," the man said.
Pastore, now standing at the room's door, watched the officer with the suitcase remove a crumpled, folded sheet of paper from one of its side pockets. The officer unfolded it, studied it for a moment and then refolded it, slipping it into the side pocket of his tunic.
"Is there a reason you stayed in the room, Mr. Lashbrook?" the younger officer asked.
The man shrugged and said, "What could I do?"
"You didn't think of going down to check on Mr. Olson?"
"I looked out the window. I saw him lying there. There were people running from the station," Lashbrook replied. "What could I have done? I could see that he had help. I thought it best to wait here."
Pastore shakes his head in disgust. "Can you believe it?" he asks. "The guy's friend, or co-worker, or whatever, is lying down there bleeding on the sidewalk and he doesn't even go down to see how he is. I mean, what kind of animal reacts like that?"
Excerpted from A Terrible Mistake by H.P. Albarelli Jr.. Copyright © 2009 H.P. Albarelli, Jr. Excerpted by permission of Trine Day LLC.
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