Did a government scientist jump to his death from a New York hotel? Or was he pushed?
Their drinks were spiked with LSD
In the early morning hours of November 28, 1953, a crowd gathered outside of New York’s Hotel Statler. A man had apparently jumped to his death from a 13-story window. The victim was later identified as a government scientist named Frank Olson. Olson left behind a wife and three small children. His sons are now grown men and are still trying to find out what really happened to their father.
According to Nils Olsen, Frank Olsen’s son, Frank worked at Fort Detrick, Maryland, headquarters for the military’s biological warfare research and development program, also known as germ warfare.
“My father was a research scientist who was involved with germ warfare, associated with the SO division, which stood for Special Operations. That was the most top secret kind of research that was done out at Fort Detrick, and some of that research was being done in coordination with the CIA.”
Nils said that two weeks before his death, his father went to a three-day conference with some of his colleagues and came home a changed man:
“The weekend after that meeting my father was severely depressed. He felt that he did something terribly wrong. And he told my mother he had done something wrong but he couldn’t tell her what and she asked him whether or not he had broken security. And he indicated that he would never do such a thing, but he felt that he had done something terribly wrong.”
The government investigated CIA abuses
Frank’s boss, Vincent Ruwett, told the Olsons he believed Frank was on the verge of a nervous breakdown. Just before Thanksgiving, Ruwett took Frank to New York for treatment.
In New York, Frank shared a hotel room with Dr. Robert Lashbrook, a CIA scientist. Eric Olson, another of Frank’s sons, said that nearly a week passed before they finally heard from their father:
“My father seemed a little more peaceful than he had. He made a call to my mother to say he was all right. They went to sleep fairly early, about 11. And the next thing we know from Lashbrook is that he was awakened by the sound of crashing glass.”
Frank Olson was dead at the age of 43. Investigators determined that he had either jumped or fallen to his death, something a young Eric Olsen had trouble reconciling:
“I remember as a nine year old, and actually for years after that I was completely stumped and dumbfounded by trying to resolve that alternative. There’s a big difference between a fall or a jump and I couldn’t understand how either of them could’ve occurred.”
The hotel window
The night manager of the hotel, Armond Pastore, found Frank’s death suspicious as well:
“I rushed out to find Frank Olson, eyes wide open, looking straight at me, trying to tell me something. He was definitely trying to speak but there was nothing coming out but grumbles. He was in terrible condition. And I stepped back because now I had to find out where he came from. I looked up the building and finally I saw a little movement of a window shade. And when I concentrated on that, then I see that the window shade was stuck through a broken window.”
Armond said he immediately took the police to Room 1018A:
“And here is Lashbrook sitting on a john in his skivvies and the police thought to question him and I heard him say, ‘Well all I heard was a crash.’ I walked around the room to look around. Nobody ever jumps through a window. They open the window and they go out, not dash through a shade and a sheer drape. You know, there’s no sense to that.”
But the Olsons weren’t told about the doorman’s suspicions. They were told simply that Frank had a nervous breakdown and jumped out a window. And they believed that for the next 22 years.
Frank’s body was exhumed
In 1975, a government commission was formed to investigate past abuses committed by the CIA. Among other incidents, the official report made mention of a scientist who had plunged to his death from a hotel room ten days after being dosed with LSD. That scientist turned out to be Frank Olson.
A year and a half later, the Olson family received a formal apology from President Gerald Ford and a check from the government for $750,000. Nils Olsen recalled how he and his family met with then CIA Chief, William Colby:
“As a result of meeting with William Colby at the CIA, we were given what was supposedly a complete set of documents relating to the events of the last nine days of my father’s life. We learned that he had gone to a retreat in Deep Creek Lake in western Maryland with a group of other scientists. The principle of the meeting was that they were going to be discussing ongoing research, but in fact there were agents in the CIA who were meeting with them who decided that they were gonna give them each a dose of LSD without their knowledge or consent and then see what their reaction was.”
The Olsons learned that the LSD was slipped into an after-dinner liqueur by either Sidney Gottlieb, head of the CIA’s Technical Services Staff, or by his deputy, Dr. Robert Lashbrook. The CIA reportedly feared that the Soviet Union might use LSD on captured CIA agents. Gottlieb believed that his “test” would prepare American spies for that possibility.
The laced drinks were served to eight of the ten scientists present. Some of them, including Frank Olson, were not warned about the test. Within an hour, the LSD began to take effect. According to Nils Olsen, when Gottlieb told the group that their drinks had been spiked with LSD, his father became angry.
“We understood that my father was quite agitated and was having a serious confusion with separating reality from fantasy.”
Less than a week later, Frank made his fatal trip to New York, supposedly suffering from a nervous breakdown. Frank was taken to see Dr. Harold Abramson, an LSD expert, who worked extensively with the CIA. Accompanying Frank were Robert Lashbrook and Frank’s boss, Vincent Ruwett.
Frank remained in New York, and over the next several days, made repeated visits to the doctor’s office. Eric Olsen says his family was dubious about the supposed treatment:
“It’s impossible to deduce what was accomplished in those meetings. And you certainly don’t see any indication that a treatment process was occurring. You can suspect that some kind of assessment process was going on, the process of which was more to protect the CIA’s interests than it was to help my father.”
Nils Olsen said his father was exhibiting strange behavior:
“One of the nights that my father was up in New York, he was having delusions that he was hearing voices and in the middle of the night. He woke up and went and threw all of his identification out and his money.”
Apparently, the pattern continued in the immediate aftermath of Frank’s death. For some unexplained reason, Robert Lashbrook never phoned for help. However, according to Armond Pastore, Lashbrook allegedly did make a disturbing call, which was overheard by the hotel operator:
“In those days all of the calls were manual. You call the operator and you tell her what number you want and she would dial it for you. And then she listened to see that you got connected. When the man in the room called this number he said, ‘Well, he’s gone.’ And the man on the other end said, ‘Well, that’s too bad.’ And they both hung up. I mean, what’s more suspicious than that? You don’t have to be a genius to figure out that there’s something amiss. Or, Hamlet said, ‘There’s something rotten in Denmark.’ I mean, I knew there was something rotten at the hotel that night.”
In 1993, Frank’s widow, Alice, passed away. Eric and Nils had their father’s body moved to rest beside her. But before Frank was re-interred, they asked forensic scientist, James Starrs, to perform an autopsy:
“Quite frankly, we had no idea what the condition of the remains would be after 41 years. We were delighted that the remains were in perfect condition for our analysis.”
As part of his overall investigation, Professor Starrs and his colleagues went to the old Hotel Statler. The first thing that Professor Starrs looked for was evidence that Frank had indeed, smashed through a window. According to Starrs:
“The medical examiner in New York who had done an external examination back in 1953 said there were multiple lacerations on the face and neck. At some point, he had to hit some glass. I cannot believe that he wouldn’t have gotten cuts in the lower extremities of his body, on the front of the legs. We don’t find any cuts.”
Eric Olson said the new finding is further proof of a continued cover up:
“Soon after that finding was made public, Lashbrook changes his story, which he’s held to for 40 years and suddenly now starts saying that he can’t remember whether the window, in fact, was open or closed.”
After years of research and investigation, the Olson family has become convinced that Frank Olson was murdered by agents of the US government. The Olson’s believe Frank was silenced because he had become extremely critical of illegal, top-secret programs and policies of the CIA and US government, with which his own research group was deeply involved. Frank Olson’s family hopes that someday the entire story will be exposed.