Real Name: Frank Rudolph Olson
Nicknames: No known nicknames
Location: New York, New York
Date: November 28, 1953
Details: Forty-three-year-old Frank Olson was a biochemist working for the Special Operations Division at Fort Detrick in Frederick, Maryland in the 1950s. As Deputy Acting Head of Special Operations for the CIA, he was investigating the use of psychoactive drugs. In November 1953, he went to a conference with two of his colleagues. When he returned, his family noticed that he was severely depressed. He told his wife, Alice, that he had done something wrong, but he could not tell her what. His boss believed that he was on the verge of a nervous breakdown. He took him to New York City for treatment. For unknown reasons, he did not contact his family for a week. On November 28, 1953, while sharing a room with Dr. Robert Lashbrook, he apparently fell or jumped to his death from the thirteenth story window of the Hotel Stadler. He left behind Alice and their three children.
From the beginning, Frank's family was suspicious of his death. The night manager of the hotel, Armond Pastore, was also suspicious. He was one of the people who had found Frank on the street. Frank was apparently trying to tell him something, but he could not get out what he wanted to say. When Armond looked up, he saw the window of Frank's room. He noticed that the window shade was stuck through it.
Armond took the police up to their room, where they found Lashbrook sitting on the toilet in his underwear with a shocked look on his face. Lashbrook claimed that he only heard the sound of a crash. Armond thought it was strange that Frank actually jumped out of a closed window to his death. In most suicides, the individual opens the window before jumping out. For years, Frank's family were not told of Armond's account of that night.
In 1975, a government commission was formed to investigate past abuses by the CIA. One of the reports mentioned a scientist who had jumped out of a window ten days after being dosed with LSD. That scientist was determined to be Frank. Over the next year, Frank's family received an apology from then-President Gerald Ford, along with a $750,000 check from the government. They also met with then-CIA chief William Colby. He gave them documents about the last days of Frank's life.
Frank's family learned that he had gone to a retreat in Deep Creek Lake, Maryland, with several other scientists. They were told that they were meeting to discuss ongoing research. However, the real purpose of the meeting was for the CIA to secretly give them doses of LSD without their knowledge or consent. They did this to see what their reactions would be. Frank's family learned that the LSD had been slipped into an after dinner drink by either CIA Technical Services Director Sidney Gottlieb or his deputy, Dr. Lashbrook.
The CIA feared that the Soviet Union was using LSD on captured CIA operatives. Gottlieb believed that his experiment would help prepare American operatives if they are given LSD by the Soviet Union. Eight of the ten scientists were given the LSD. Some of them, including Frank, were not told about the test. When Gottlieb informed the men about the laced drinks. Frank became enraged about the experiment. A week later, he met with a doctor for the CIA. Dr. Lashbrook and Frank's boss accompanied him to the doctor's visit. He told the doctor that he believed that he was being followed.
Frank's family found that more suspicious activities occurred after his death. They learned that Lashbrook never called for help that night. However, he did make a disturbing call, which was overheard by the hotel operator. During the 1950s, a person would call the operator, who would connect them to the person they want to reach. The operator would then listen to make sure the call went through. In this instance, the hotel operator overheard Lashbrook saying, "Well, he's gone," The man on the other end said, "That's too bad." They both then hung up.
Frank's family believe that he was considered a security risk. They believe that he was killed to keep him from revealing information about the experiment. While in New York City, he apparently was suffering from delusions and was hearing voices. One night, he threw out all of his identification and money. His family believes that, even if his death was a suicide, the CIA was still negligent and directly caused his death by keeping him secluded in a thirteen story hotel room.
In 1993, Alice passed away. Their children had his body exhumed so that he could be buried next to her. Before he was re-interred, they asked forensic scientist James Starrs to perform an autopsy. Frank's body appeared to be in perfect condition for analysis. As part of his investigation, Starrs and his colleagues went to the hotel to determine whether or not Frank could have committed suicide by smashing through a window.
In the original autopsy reports, it was stated that Frank had numerous lacerations on his face. However, Starrs found none while conducting the autopsy. After this finding was made public, Lashbrook changed his story; he claimed that he could no longer remember if the window was opened or closed that night. Starrs was surprised that there were no cuts on his legs or the lower parts of his body. He did determine that Frank had suffered extensive injuries to his head, chest, and right leg. The injuries, according to Starrs, were inconsistent with a fall.
Over forty years later after Frank's death, his children still want to find out what really happened to him.
Suspects: Dr. Robert Lashbrook
Extra Notes: This case first aired on the September 25, 1994 episode.
Although not mentioned in the segment, Frank's daughter, Lisa, was killed in a plane crash in 1978, along with her husband and son.
This case was profiled in the 2017 docudrama Wormwood, which included interviews from Frank's son, Eric.
Results: Unsolved. Further analysis by Starrs and his team showed that Frank had suffered blunt force trauma to his head before death in a state suggestive of homicide. Starrs and Frank's family now believe that Frank was struck on the head, knocked unconscious, and then thrown out the window. Based on these findings, the Manhattan District Attorney's office opened a homicide investigation into this case, but there was not enough evidence to bring charges.
In 2012, Frank's family filed suit against the U.S. government, seeking compensatory damages and access to documents about his death. However, this case was later dismissed.
Frank's family remains convinced that he was murdered by agents of the U.S. government due to his criticism of illegal, top-secret programs and policies. They still hope that the full story will some day be revealed.
- Frank Olson on Unsolved.com
- Frank Olson on Wikipedia
- Victim's family to get settlement
- Tests begin on Olson remains
- Family Questions CIA Role in Scientist's Bizarre Death
- Critic of CIA calls for new probe of Frank Olson's death (Page 1) (Page 2)
- Olson: Agent believes father killed
- Olson tests don't prove murder
- Olson sons continue fight to prove murder
- Olson's cause of death reviewed after 44 years
- Olson still seeking justice for father's death
- Who Killed Frank Olson?
- What Did the CIA Do to His Father?
- Coverup of a CIA coverup explored (Page 1) (Page 2)
- Scientist Frank Olson was drugged with LSD and "murdered by CIA"
- Suit Planned Over Death of Man C.I.A. Drugged
- L.S.D., Lies, and the C.I.A.: The Incredible True Story Behind Wormwood
- Frank Olson on Find a Grave