The doorman at the Statler Hotel in New York City had taken a break early around 2:30 a.m. on the morning of November 28, 1953, to go for a drink at the nearby Little Penn Tavern. As he turned a corner, he saw something falling through the air.
“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 doorman told Armond Pastore, the hotel’s night manager, according to H. P. Albarelli Jr. in A Terrible Mistake.
The body hit a wooden partition shielding work being done of the hotel and then the sidewalk. Frank Olson was dead.
A week and a half earlier, Olson had been unknowingly dosed with LSD while staying at a cabin at Deep Creek Lake. Once he discovered what had happened to him, it had changed his life, albeit for a short time.
The investigation by the CIA, which Olson worked with as part of Camp Detrick’s Special Operations Unit, found that Olson had died as “the result of circumstances arising out of [the Deep Creek Lake] experiment,” and there was a “direct causal connection between that experiment and his death,” according to the CIA’s general counsel report, according to the Baltimore Sun.
Although these conclusions had been reached within two weeks of Olson’s death, his family was only told that he had died in the course of his work. This allowed the Olson family to collect federal death benefits, while the official results of the death investigation remained classified.
More than 20 years later, a presidential commission investigating CIA activities inside the U.S. found that an Army scientist had fallen to his death from a hotel room in New York after the CIA had given him LSD in 1953. The Olson family confronted Vincent Ruwet, Olson’s division chief and friend, who admitted that the scientist was Frank Olson.
The family then started on a campaign to fully find out what had happened. President Gerald Ford invited the family to the White House and apologized for the death. The family also received a $750,000 settlement from the government.
However, Olson’s sons still weren’t satisfied that they knew the truth. They had their father’s body exhumed in 1994. A modern autopsy found that Olson had suffered a blow to the head before he fell from his hotel window. According to the autopsy report, the wound was suggestive of a homicide.
“The Manhattan district attorney’s office opened a homicide investigation in 1996. While they were unable to bring charges, they changed the official cause of death from ‘suicide’ to ‘unknown’,” The Baltimore Sun reported.
His family filed a lawsuit against the government in 2012, claiming that the CIA is still holding back files about Olson’s death.
“The evidence shows that our father was killed in their custody. They have lied to us ever since, withholding documents and information, and changing their story when convenient,” said Eric Olson told The Business Insider. The lawsuit was dismissed in 2013 when a judge ruled that it had been “filed too late and is barred under an earlier settlement,” according to Bloomberg Business.
Will the full truth about what happened to Frank Olson ever be known? It remains to be seen how the journey that began in a cabin by the lake will end.