Episode 7: Illegitimi non Carborundum
Goat’s blood is in the water, and sharks are circling. A powerlifter from North Carolina has connected Gary Davis to a wealthy and influential man in London, who appears to have unlimited resources. Dr. Davis desperately needs financial support, but also wants to hold on to his own vision for the serum. Interests collide — and the serum’s formula is spun into a new, murky business venture. A dusty old VHS tape turns out to be a Rosetta Stone in terms of piecing together what happened when the doctor was in England — and who might have encouraged a cowboy from Jet to skip town and disappear.
Serum is a limited run podcast production of WHYY’s The Pulse and Local Trance Media.
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For questions or tips related to Serum, please contact Maiken Scott at email@example.com or Grant Hill at firstname.lastname@example.org
SERUM Episode 7 – Illegitimi non carborundum
Grant Hill: What little faith I had left in fate had been washed away at the top of the Great Salt Plains Lake Dam near Jet America…I was certain I had been coaxed out there by a cowboy with nothing but stories…wild stories…
By then, I thought my search for some long lost time capsule to help me make sense of Gary Davis and his serum was a lost cause.
And then, at home, I pop in this DVD and the first fuzzy image of an Oklahoma sunrise appears.
Narrator: For the last three years, doctors have been treating him with the latest drugs. But these drugs only control, they do not cure. And recently, the side effects have become unbearable.
GH: And I realize…I didn’t need a time capsule hidden away by the doctor…not anymore…because I had just dug up a Rosetta Stone.
Footage from decades ago – incomplete but essential – answers to one slice of this story that might just help decipher the whole.
And at the center of it all…this cowboy from Jet:
Narrator: Far from giving up hope, Tommy now thinks he can be cured.
Tommy Farnsworth: This has given me a second chance. Second chance at my whole life back…
GH: From WHYY’s The Pulse in Philadelphia and Local Trance Media, this is SERUM. I’m Grant Hill.
GH: I had driven out west to Tulsa to meet the doctor’s family…and hopefully find someone who believed the serum cured them…maybe discover who gave Rocky Thomas more serum after the doctor’s death…
Then, on my last day in Oklahoma, I met Tommy Farnsworth…a man with a lot to say.
Stories that increasingly upped the drama. Stories that seemed impossible to prove actually happened – until I got home…started watching that digitized version of the VHS tape I got from photographer Doug Henderson…the one marked “AIDS – The Cure.”
John Migliaccio: Tommy has been very upbeat, very encouraged since the onset of his therapy. Are you okay?
GH: And there he was. Tommy Farnsworth…looking about 20 years younger than he did when I met him…getting treated with the serum in Mexico.
TF: A tiny little bump. Like a little mosquito bite…
JM: Okay. Well, we’re gonna continue to do this on a weekly basis.
GH: And he isn’t the only patient in the video – several others are profiled.
Patient 1: When I was diagnosed, I had thrush… FADE OUT
Patient 2: Now I gotta go out of the country to seek help…
JM: I’m going to do your other arm while you’re holding it- how does that sound? You’re fine.
Patient 1: I hope this is definitely a cure.
GH: The other patients appear to still be alive, but they did not respond to my requests to talk.
The guy who gave me the recording, Doug Henderson, did not produce this video; he didn’t even know what was on the tape. But somehow he had possession of it…
Narrator: The patients, some of whom arrived with their own doctors are monitored throughout the treatment, all have stopped taking their prescribed medications, and over the next seven weeks will receive a course of 14 injections.
GH: But weirdly Gary Davis wasn’t doing the injecting…at least not on camera…other doctors were. Three of them. I tried to reach out to them – they still practice in the US, but none of them got back to me.
JM: It has minimal or no side effects…
GH: And the serum that they were giving to these patients in Mexico looked different than what Dr. Davis later gave to patients in Ghana.
That serum was a thick milky liquid.
In this footage of the Mexico trials, the serum looks clear- like water.
JM: This is a 10 cc vial of the goat serum. As you can see, it’s clear and uh it is a concentration of the goat’s…FADE OUT.
GH: I thought about what Tommy told me in Jet…that Gary Davis himself only gave him one injection in Mexico…his first. Then Tommy never saw Gary Davis again.
Either way, the patients interviewed…all rave about the treatment..
Patient 1: My parents are… they’ve seen the change in me…FADE OUT
Patient 2: It’s been a whole new turn around in my life, mentally and physically.
GH: And so does Tommy…
TF: My CD4 prior to treatment was 359. 30 days later it was 598. My CD8 before treatment was 562. 30 days later it was 923. And that is on zero medications.
GH: Only the serum – that’s what Shawn, the doctor’s son had said to me too, when he first connected me to Tommy. That the serum alone kept Tommy’s HIV under control…maybe even cured him.
But – when I was talking to Tommy in Jet – he said he never stopped taking his antiretrovirals during these injections…I saw the pill bottles on his desk…he still uses medication to this day.
There were some other details in the footage that were incongruent…or seemed odd.
Skoshi Farr: In this country, the role of the FDA- The Food and Drug Administration… FADE OUT
GH: Like an advocate for alternative treatments rants against the FDA and makes easily debunkable false claims…
SF: Through my husband and his work as an MD, PhD, he brought to the forefront the use of intravenous hydrogen peroxide as an immune system stimulator. Because of that work, his name was placed in nomination for the Nobel Prize in Medicine. My work along… FADE OUT
GH: Spoiler alert…that didn’t happen
Really, this video – which I first hoped was some sort of documentary film – felt more like a 20 year old infomercial selling the serum…
GH: When I met Tommy in Jet, he told me two camera crews were going to follow his treatment with the serum back then…the British crew that apparently made this infomercial…and a team from the ABC news show 20/20 led by a producer named Paul Fine, but Tommy said the story never aired.
So I called Paul Fine. He told me he spent hours on the phone with Gary Davis, that he really had been interested in doing a story at first, but ultimately he decided to pass on it. The reporter working with him thought the doctor was “full of shit.”
So this is what I had to work with…the video that was produced – the one that feels like an infomercial.
Peter Barnes: First time we come home, he was floating so high and just so excited and exhilarated, there was no slowing him down at all… FADE OUT
GH: It also features Tommy’s boyfriend at the time, a man named Peter Barnes.
He excitedly describes changes he saw in his partner Tommy.
PB: After he’d come home that first time, he was ready to go 24/7. And he’s been basically that way ever since he has a new energy level that I wish I could keep up with.
GH: I got in touch with Peter. Told him about meeting his ex. This video, his interview resurfacing. And Peter said, yup, they really went to Mexico.
PB: Matamoras, Mexico.
GH: Tommy really got the serum.
PB: We drove my truck. It was quite the long drive, but it was- it was nice.
GH: Peter said he did notice a change in Tommy – and the other patients seemed to be improving too. He didn’t remember the exact effect the serum had on Tommy’s HIV levels though.
He didn’t really talk about those things, Peter said.
PB: But he did say that he felt a lot better.
GH: I asked him about Tommy’s other claims – the contentious call Tommy said he had with the FDA commissioner back then…what she allegedly told him about his request for a compassionate use waiver so he could receive the treatment in Oklahoma City rather than traveling to Mexico every weekend..
GH: …“And it will be a cold day in hell before I approve this application.” Did he ever mention anything like this to you?
PB: Uh. That last part of that sounds familiar.
GH: He didn’t really remember much about it. No recollections of the anonymous call that Tommy says followed either – alerting him that there was a $50,000 price on his head for being the posterboy for this forbidden serum. The call that Tommy says prompted him to hitchhike to Orlando.
PB: No, that must have happened after I left…
GH: Peter said he broke things off with Tommy in the fall of 2000 – just a few months after being interviewed for the documentary. It wasn’t amicable.
PB: This one night we were having dinner- I just went berserk. And I was so angry that I picked up a knife.
GH: A dispute over money got ugly.
PB: And I was debating on whether to stab myself or stab him. I stood there with that knife in my hand for about three or four minutes before I threw it into the sink.
GH: Peter said the last time he spoke with Tommy was around March 2001 – if everything went down exactly the way Tommy remembered it…he should have already skipped town by then…
PB: And after that I never heard from him again, until he tried to friend me on Facebook a few years ago.
GH: This all happened two decades ago. It is certainly possible someone is misremembering something here.
But Peter thought there were other, more likely explanations for why Tommy may have chosen to disappear.
PB: Well, it was about that time he started burning bridges in Oklahoma City….And his reputation went from glorious to trash.
GH: Also, Peter didn’t think that Tommy being treated with the serum would have raised any eyebrows
PB: From what I know of this treatment, it wasn’t that big a deal.
GH: Because it all went down outside of the US, Peter didn’t remember anyone really worrying about the FDA at all.
He chalked Tommy’s disappearance up to those burnt bridges in Oklahoma City.
PB: He probably pissed somebody off and they were probably coming back after him…which I could understand because if I had the means to do that I would have done that.
GH: So – Peter thought Tommy had to leave town because of… Tommy. Not anything related to the serum. At All.
I asked Shawn, the doctor’s son, what he made of Tommy’s claims – after all he was the one who put in touch with Tommy. He said Tommy had relayed his fears to him before deciding to speak with me.
Shawn Davis: He said, some years ago, I was having trouble with people- I didn’t know who they were. They were calling me. I said about the serum? He was like, I don’t know, but I really think so. He’s like, and he said it was people walking around his house and looking at- staring at his house and cars. He didn’t know these cars. And he said people also saw these people, like who are these people? They’re not from this little bitty small Oklahoma town. These are some outside people coming in- what they want? Why they here?
GH: To Shawn, it sounded plausible that Tommy was on the run from some anonymous threat related to the serum…
And… I did see something in that old footage that suggested that around that time, Gary Davis was making safety his number one priority…
Narrator: Forced to leave his home and family behind. He now lives in hiding in England, not knowing when or if he’ll ever return home.
Gary Davis: Because nothing can go forward if I’m dead. And I want things to go on. So I had to be taken out of the field of action.
GH: I knew the doctor traveled around a lot for the serum…to Africa…to Europe…to England, too. My lyft driver Sherman told me so…but what I didn’t know was that he considered himself “in hiding.”
So what happened?
GD: I’ve had death threats, numerous, calls, letters…I’ve had it all.
GH: It seemed like there was this “turn” in the doctor’s quest to get the serum out there – a moment when things went from quirky, maybe risky, at home, to dark and potentially dangerous abroad.
What changed between Tommy’s first dose in Mexico, when Davis administered the serum to him…and Tommy’s next? If Davis was really in hiding, why? Who was he hiding from?
The recording on that VHS tape cut off abruptly… 40 minutes in…before any credits rolled. So I didn’t know who exactly produced this thing…there was nobody I could really contact to ask any questions about it…
But several people from Tulsa told me if I wanted to know what went wrong with Gary Davis and his serum, I should talk with a certified public accountant from Texas named Forres McGraw.
Forres McGraw: But Gary was always concerned that somebody was gonna try to steal it from him.
GH: Forres lives near Dallas, but he had gotten connected with Davis early on through a mutual friend. He essentially became the doctor’s business partner…a project manager who invested his time and money in the serum.
He was there for the doctor’s arguments with federal health officials…
FM: And Gary just screams at the top of his lungs. Just, “How!”- And I won’t use all the expletives, there are plenty mixed in there…FADE OUT
GH: And Forres didn’t mind the sort of “creative work arounds” Davis came up with to test the serum…and treat patients…where the FDA couldn’t stop him.
FM: I had gotten somebody to donate a yacht to take us out. And it just so happened there was a hurricane uh as it was coming around to Florida, into the Gulf. And it was disabled. So that shot that plan.
GH: Things were always a little…sketchy…and the doctor always… a bit paranoid.
But Forres remembers a definitive “turn”….an exact moment when things started to escalate.
One day, after all those incredible news reports about the recovery of Precious Thomas, Gary was approached by someone from North Carolina – a powerlifter who had been on Team USA named Steve Migliaccio. He had a potential business opportunity for the doctor.
FM: He could get it approved, he’s got backers, he’s got money.
GH: This backer was British – that’s all he’d say for now – and he wasn’t satisfied with videos and news reports.
FM: And he said, “You know, I just, there’s just not enough for me to convince everybody that this works.”
GH: Migliaccio said if Davis could prove his serum worked, his British backer would have all the money they’d need.
FM: Like hey, if I were listening to you tell this story, I wouldn’t believe you either. But once you see it, you- you will believe it.
GH: So they set something up.
Forres told them, “get some HIV patients of your own, your own doctors too. And let’s take it all somewhere just outside of the FDA’s jurisdiction.”
The backer agreed. But this time – no yacht. Instead, the doctor would treat patients in Mexico.
FM: I was the one that had to bring him the medicine.
GH: A.k.a smuggle it across the border.
Whoever this backer was…he sent Migliaccio, the powerlifter, and a security team full of quote “ex-special forces” guys to accompany Forres. But ultimately, Forres says it was his job to get the serum through customs.
So he says he stuffed vials of frozen serum deep in his scuba dive kit.
FM: I put it in my buoyancy compensator in my dive kit…so that it wouldn’t- hopefully get searched and confiscated.
GH: He walked through customs and he got through – a green light flashed…there was a collective sigh of relief. Once they got to the hotel in Mexico, Forres says, they swapped hypotheticals…their plans for what they would have done if the light flashed red…
Forres was going to claim the serum was a proprietary protein shake for this crew of built individuals he was traveling with.
He says Miggliaccio chimed in– said they planned to pull the fire alarm, to cause confusion.
Then, according to Forres, the head of this private security team looked at them puzzled, asked in a British accent: “Fire alarm? I thought you said ‘get the firearm!’”
That’s when Forres realized – not only did this security guy have a gun on him- he seemed ready to use it if things didn’t go according to plan…
GH: But, for the moment, trials got underway…
FM: It was, actually it was April 15th, uh I forget what year.
GH: I knew what year.
By then, I had put things together- this had to be the trial that was captured in the video footage…
Narrator: Doctors of the Rio Valley Medical Center have been administering the goat serum to volunteer patients since April 2000…FADE OUT
Forres says he only saw a few patients being treated…
FM: Probably five or six patients. And they saw within 12 to 15 minutes in each case, the patient’s color came back to their face. They immediately had tons more energy than they could possibly…FADE OUT
GH: By now he was used to this sort of immediate positive reaction…the same type of reaction that would shock photographer Doug Henderson in Ghana four years later.
But this was the first time Steve Miggliaccio, the power lifter with a potential investor, had seen someone treated – someone who at least looked like they took a dramatic, near instant, turn for the better just moments after.
FM: He immediately went on to the balcony and called his backer or his partner in London.
GH: The power lifter stayed out there for a little bit…and then returned…energetic.
FM: He says, “Okay. We need to go to London right away.”
FM: So, two weeks later, Gary and I traveled to London, we were picked up at the airport, and a Rolls Royce and a Bentley with a throng of security people around them, mercenaries, the same security people that were- were in Mexico to, quote unquote, “protect us.”
GH: They were finally going to meet the mysterious man on the other end of the power lifter’s phone. An English gentleman they knew nothing about. And he greeted them with jarring news…
FM: He immediately told us, I’ve been- my people have been checking. And the pharmaceutical companies have people searching for you two right now. And they’re gonna kill you.
GH: Forres was confused. This was absurd…the thought that Big Pharma was sending hit teams after them…
They’d been working on this serum for years – desperately trying to get people’s attention. Nobody showed any interest at all. The doctor, Forres, they weren’t hiding.
If these were professional killers for hire, why didn’t they just kill them already?
Forres thought it was all part of some strange ploy – a “ruse,” he called it…to keep Davis close, to make this new investor seem indispensable if the doctor was to survive. But the doctor felt differently.
FM: Gary, always was fearful that somebody was gonna try to steal it from him. So he- he believed that and I had previously scheduled a demonstration at a health conference in Vancouver for the following week.
GH: The British investor was adamantly opposed..
FM: “You can’t go anywhere!” I said, “No, I’m sorry. We have a commitment in Vancouver next week to make a presentation and we’re going.” So that really pissed him off because to carry on the ruse that there were people traveling around trying to find us and kill us, he had to hire more security people to fly with us to Vancouver to quote unquote, “protect us.”
GH: The backer went beyond that. He wanted them to bring the whole operation to London. Forgo whatever plans they had for the serum in the States.
FM: He told me, he said “You guys have to stay in London because I can protect you here.”
GH: Forres was not interested.
FM: I said, “No, no.” “Gotta move your business here.” I said “Nope.” I said, I have a family in Texas. I have a business in Texas. If- if we’re going to do this, we gotta figure out how it’s going to be financed and set up the proper structure. And then we can transfer intellectual property, but we’re going to maintain control over it either way.
GH: The idea of moving operations to London did appeal to the doctor…so after the conference in Vancouver, Gary Davis went back to England…Forres went back home to work on things over in Texas…and this new British investor insisted that Forres should bring some guests home with him.
FM: He hired two of the professionals to come to my house and live with me and my family for like six months, and so you can imagine me calling my wife and saying, “Hey, I’m coming home from Vancouver and I’m bringing a couple friends with me.” LAUGHS
GH: From what Forres told me…they sent Forres home with some people to- I guess stay in his house? Is that- is that correct?
Carl Weinkauf: That is correct. That is correct.
GH: That’s Carl Weinkauf – a Texas lawyer who was one of Forres’ good friends. Forres actually brought him in to do legal work for the project initially. Carl said, “yeah, it’s true…Forres was sent home with these weird ‘bodyguards.’”
Carl agreed with Forres that all of the security seemed like a show – he felt that it was an effort to convince the doctor and his team that they were all in danger…needed protection.
CW: I think it’s very common for people to use paranoia to control other people and I think that was, you know, that was gaslighting before gaslighting became a term.
FM: One of the security guys that was with me the whole time was actually a very good and honest guy.
GH: That’s Forres again. One day, he says one of those ex-special forces guys sent home to “protect” Forres…opened up to him.
FM: And he said, “you need to sit down…here have a drink because I gotta tell you something.”
GH: He said this guy…the person Gary Davis was now working for…the guy who was putting him up in London…he was …well…
FM: …part of the British mob.
GH: Coming up on SERUM…uh…you might wanna take a seat, too.
David Shotton: I wouldn’t believe all the Mickey Mouse stories that you hear…there are millions of them.
GH: We meet this British backer…right after this.
GH: This is SERUM, I’m Grant Hill.
There was an undercurrent of fear and danger in Gary Davis’ story that had come up over and over in my conversations with different people.
For example, when I first spoke with Bishop Carlton Pearson about his second visit to Ghana to see Gary Davis around 2005, when he said the doctor had some kind of breakdown or panic attack…
Carlton Pearson: He just opened up to me as if he thought he was going to die and or be killed, and he wanted to pass this on to me. He said that the John Gotti of…of London or Britain was after him and he said that everybody wanted this.
GH: Carlton Pearson did not know who this “John Gotti of London” was. Neither did I.
But then I learned about this mysterious British investor who seems to surround himself with special forces security teams…
The doctor’s American business partners said the British investor even warned the doctor…
CW: Big Pharma doesn’t want this. They’re gonna try to kill you. We’re the only people that can protect you…FADE OUT
GH: That’s Carl Weinkauf again…one of those business partners- he said at first he didn’t put much stock into this danger narrative – but then he learned a bit more about this British investor…
CW: He admitted to me that he was basically a London gangster….he was very…quite open with me about that…I was kinda surprised. He had kind of grown up on the mean streets of the East End of London and had been involved with the Kray brothers organization growing up.
GH: The Kray brothers were notorious London gangsters – who ran a violent criminal organization.
Narrator: Ronnie and Reggie Kray, the twins who became the undisputed bosses of East End gangland. Were they born villains or did fate shape them for the role?
GH: So who really was this guy? This new investor?
CW: Well, the gentleman’s name was David Shotton.
SD: He got linked up with David Shotton.
FM: The guy’s name is David Shotton.
DS: I met Gary…it was about 2000.
DS: He came over here, he wanted some funding for a project for HIV.
GH: This is David Shotton.
And here’s the thing. I actually talked to David Shotton – long before I had heard any of this backstory, any of this context.
A tipster who had met Gary Davis in England said I should reach out to him. So I did. And, he seemed happy to talk to me, tell me how he got connected with Gary Davis.
DS: Okay…I had a guy called Steve Migliaccio work for me, from North Carolina. And he used to bring me projects. And I used to fund them. I was what they call a small angel.
GH: David Shotton told me he was an angel investor – someone who funded start-ups and entrepreneurs – often in exchange for some ownership in their product or company.
DS: I was in a recovery business as well. I used to employ special forces guys to recover funds from con men around the world.
GH: So – Shotton was dispatching security teams all over the globe to do – I don’t know exactly what – he was a bit vague – but it was related to money. And then an American powerlifter pitched him a hot tip – a doctor from Tulsa with a miraculous serum.
DS: So I sent them down, paid for patients in America to be flown to Matamoras down in Mexico. And they come with their doctors and my guys were there just to watch and listen and report back. They reported back and they said what they saw was incredible. So I said, “Fine. Bring the man over and let’s talk.”
GH: He said the doctor and his team from Mexico flew to London.
DS: He had some ideas but really didn’t have very much- no statistics and what have you. Anyway, we- we formed a partnership. It cost me quite a lot of money.
GH: So – money exchanged hands – a partnership was formed – even though Shotton said the doctor had very little proof that the serum really worked.
Shotton also told me that while he admired Gary Davis
DS: As much as I loved Gary…
GH: He thought he was:
GH: “Crazy, delusional.” Shotton said if anyone was obsessed with the doctor’s safety…it was the doctor himself. Not him.
DS: No one threatened his life. He was just bloody paranoid. You know, when you drink that amount of booze you get paranoid. He lived over here for about 14 months. He used to cost me 500 pounds a week in booze because he was a complete drunkard.
GH: That would be about $700 a week in the year 2000. That’s a lot of money and a lot of alcohol for one man to consume. But Shotton insisted it all helped keep Gary Davis on board.
DS: He used to drink Maker’s Mark bourbon. And there’s a town that we put him up in a lovely house. We got him and put security because he was really paranoid about security and having security around him.
GH: Shotton said when the doctor arrived in that small village… no one had ever heard of Maker’s Mark bourbon before. Three months later Shotton drove into town and noticed a new sign that had just been installed outside a liquor store.
DS: It said “Buy your Maker’s Mark here, the best selling bourbon in Sevenoaks.” And that was all Gary.
GH: One day Shawn Davis got a call from his dad in Sevenoaks – the village he now apparently called home.
SD: He was like what are you doing right now? I said, I’m working for the government. He’s like, do you like your job? I was like, no not really. He was like are you gonna go to medical school? I was like, I don’t still- I really don’t know…
GH: The doctor wanted his son to fly over to England…help out. So someone bought Shawn a one-way ticket.
SD: Somebody bought that ticket for me. I did not buy that ticket. Somebody rented the house for my dad in England. He did not pay for that house, they paid for that house. He had 24 hour security, they paid for that shit, too. He had a jaguar. They paid for that, too.
GH: When he first arrived in London, Shawn was hopeful all this new capital could change the trajectory of the project. Shotton was bringing in researchers from big universities. He had connections.
SD: David, I think he had a more eloquent gift of gab than everybody else.
GH: Shawn said his dad believed Shotton could really take the serum to another level…a more legitimate one.
SD: You know, “I know these people mate and we can do this mate and we do this and do that mate. We got this mate.” He knew how to talk to my dad to make him say “yes.”
GH: Shotton promised to open doors for Davis…and he looked like he could. White, posh with his fancy cars and suits. And, most importantly, Shawn said – those security teams.
SD: That was on his- his- his checklist. I want security. My life has been threatened. People have said they’re gonna kill me. They’re gonna hurt my family. I’ve seen it on my car. I’ve got notes in the mail. I don’t know what’s gonna happen. I don’t want it to happen.
GH: Shawn said at first Shotton’s resources seemed limitless
SD: And David did that big ass documentary too. He funded that shit, too.
GH: Shawn thought David Shotton paid for that infomercial on the serum I had been watching…
The marketing, the money, the connections. David Shotton seemed to have it all…now all they needed was a plan.
SD: We would wake up early in the morning to strategize who we’re going to talk to stateside time because we were hours ahead of them. So if we’re gonna call the FDA, we had a format and a template of a conversation, like bullet pointed out what we wanted to talk to the FDA about, the NIH about, Fauci about, other scientific places we wanna maybe try this stuff out. And we always had a plan of attack for the next day. But every single day, it was like nothing was happening that was helping us.
GH: The investments? The tactics? They weren’t working.
To make matters worse, Shawn said they had yet to build a real lab over there.
They couldn’t make serum to use in tests. The doctor needed a centrifuge….it was critical to the process. But Shotton hadn’t bought one for Davis. So the doctor decided to build one – out of a box fan and a belt.
That’s what they had to do to produce more serum in England, according to Shawn.
SD: So he precipitated out the antibodies from the serum with a fan. Yeah.
GH: To Shawn, it all started to feel like home again – and not in a good way.
Back in the States, the doctor’s business partners, like Carl Weinkauf, began to worry about the doctor’s new associates.
CW: It was very obvious to me that they were basically trying to steal this from Gary.
GH: And, Gary Davis was apparently worried too. In December of 2000, he sent a letter to the FDA, alerting them that a large quantity of a serum derived from goat’s blood “was in the possession of a Raleigh man who…may try to sell it to Third World Nations.”
This man was Steve Migliaccio…the power lifter who told David Shotton about the serum.
All this was documented in news stories from the time – which made it clear…
Goat’s blood was in the water. And sharks were swarming.
GH: I called Steve Migliaccio to ask him about this period of time. He didn’t want to record for the podcast, but he said he didn’t steal the serum – he believed he had rights to it as the head of his own pharmaceutical company. He said the same thing in a local newspaper report from 20 years ago, even referenced the Mexico trials.
In the same story, another British investor claimed Davis signed a contract with him. Which turned into its own saga…
Steve Migliaccio told me his intention was for everybody to be on the same team. He said he knew real mobsters…and he did not think Shotton was one of them…but he did call Shotton a thief…said he took the serum…took Davis and ran with both.
CW: And it was really disgusting.
GH: Here’s Carl Weinkoff again – the attorney who worked with Gary Davis for years.
CW: They really kind of had Gary as almost imprisoned over there, you know, they wouldn’t let him go anywhere. They wouldn’t let him do anything.
GH: Carl and Forres McGraw were convinced Shotton’s security teams were for locking Davis in, not keeping threats out.
On a visit over Fourth of July, Carl said he and Forres took the doctor on a spontaneous road trip throughout the English countryside.
CW: And they were all apoplectic that they didn’t know where we were or what we were doing.
GH: The doctor’s son Shawn told me he heard Shotton brag about his ties to organized crime, too – and Shawn believed this to be true, but he never described himself or his dad as prisoners.
Rather, it quickly became clear to Shawn: David Shotton could open new doors for his dad, but not enough of them and not the right ones.
SD: I mean, he had money. He didn’t have drug to market money. There’s a difference.
GH: Shawn said he tried to explain this to his dad…week after week, month after month, they weren’t making progress. But the doctor wouldn’t listen.
SD: I think the decisions you’re making with these people are bad decisions. I think it’s not gonna work. And you don’t wanna listen to me…I might as well do my life and go home.
GH: So he did. Shawn left London. Went back home to the States. And it broke their relationship…
SD: He’d always say the people that count are the ones that are here. I think that’s some old navy slogan from probably the 70s or some bullshit. And I was like “Dad, if I want to live and pursue my life, and let you live and pursue your life, that does not mean I don’t love you as a son, that I don’t love you as a father. But I don’t wanna keep doing it.” I was like “I’m leaving.” “Well, if you leave we’re not gonna talk no more.” If that’s how you really feel. That’s how you feel, dad. Then don’t talk to me. Cause I’m living my own life, letting you live yours. If that’s what it means then that’s what it’s gonna be. So for that whole time, no talking. No talking. Not even a happy birthday. Not a father’s day. Nothing. Zero. No communication, nothing, not even a fucking email. Nothing.
GH: And in time, Gary Davis left England, too. David Shotton told me his side of the story when we spoke…
DS: Eventually he sold me the idea.
GH: He said after 14 months in London, Gary Davis gave up…sold Shotton the rights to his serum and moved on.
DS: Cost me a lot of money…and I started to develop the science, which I did. It took me 15 years and a fair amount of money. And during that period, Gary sold the idea to half a dozen other people.
GH: I had heard this from others, as well. Not just that the doctor sold Shotton the rights, but that Shotton wasn’t the only one Davis had sold them to…But, Shotton said he secured his claim to the serum…
DS: So fortunately I patented the things and done it properly. And, you know, developed the science behind it, and what have you.
GH: This part…the “doing it properly” part….that’s in the eye of the beholder – newspaper reports from that time saw things very differently…
DS: The press did numbers on me way, way back.
GH: Shotton dismissed them as… lies.
DS: It was complete bullshit. They’re always making up stories and all the rest of that.
GH: So- the next person I called is the reporter who wrote those stories:
Michael Gillard: Okay, so my name’s Michael Gillard. I’m a British journalist and I’ve been investigating public sector and organized crime and police corruption for 30 years.
GH: Michael is a seasoned journalist who covers crime and corruption in the UK. He has written for many national outlets, broken big stories – exposing powerful people, made a few enemies along the way.
Around 2006, about five years after Shotton said Gary Davis sold him the rights to his serum, Michael was working at the Sunday Times in London when he got a tip from an ex-cop…
MG: Who said that I need to look at this company Daval, that it was run by fraudsters, and that it was ripping off people who had suffered from inflammatory diseases, in particular multiple sclerosis.
GH: Before this tip, Michael had never heard of this company Daval…or its founder David Shotton. So he started doing some research…found out Shotton had a checkered past – a few bankruptcies…and was trying to reinvent himself…
MG: There’s two things he claims…the first is that he bought the serum off Gary Davis, Dr. Davis for over a million pounds…
GH: A value of over two million dollars today…this didn’t make much sense considering the things Shotton said about Gary Davis.
MG: The line has always been very aggressive that “Gary Davis was a drunk,” was his words. And someone who was a lunatic, someone you wouldn’t put any trust in…which obviously then raises the question well if you wouldn’t do that then why- why did you buy the serum at allegedly a cost of almost 2 million dollars? So the question is who’s more insane, you or Gary Davis?
GH: What happened next seems like a toxic cocktail of drug development, financial interests, political favors- and crime.
Shotton spun Gary Davis’ serum up into a business called Daval International – sometimes referred to as Daval Industries– he told Michael about those Mexico trials – and said that all in all, more than 200 patients had been treated successfully there – way more patients than anybody else had mentioned to me…
MG: And he told me that the results were spectacular and as a result of that he decided to buy the serum off of Dr. Davis and market it in the UK and hopefully globally.
GH: But despite that, Shotton claimed that it was his own tweaks to the serum that improved the formula – made it superior…Michael had questions about that.
MG: He said that he then ran trials on it himself, and altered the serum. And so logically, I said to him, “Have you got a medical background?” He said, “No.” I said, “Have you got any background in any form of science?” He said, “No.” And I said, “Well, what did you do?” And he said that he had a hunch about what he should do to change the serum, did it and then tried it on himself. And it works. Now given that he doesn’t have any inflammatory diseases, it’s hard to see how him as a guinea pig could have any value.
GH: Shotton raised millions of pounds to support this new venture Daval and their one moonshot product: A goat serum they called Aimspro…
Narrator: This tiny vial contains a medication which holds enormous promise…FADE OUT
GH: There’s a lot of promotional material out there about Aimspro. It’s right there on the internet.
And it’s marketed as a treatment for all kinds of ailments. Like multiple sclerosis…And various inflammatory conditions…
Michael reported that Shotton’s company, Daval, had connections to powerful people in the British government. Including top health officials who endorsed the treatment.
Aimspro appeared to be breezing through two new clinical trials…Daval boasted of “significant” and “successful” results.
Narrator: The biological medication derived from goat’s serum is currently in phase 2 clinical trials..and early observations suggest its well tolerated by patients…FADE OUT
GH: Soon Aimspro was able to get a special license which made it possible for some patients to start taking the drug.
Michael told me that Daval – and Shotton personally – were making lots of money – “obscene profits” off this treatment –
But, then, a closer look revealed something troubling.
A trial with Aimspro conducted at one of the UK’s largest teaching hospitals hit a snag: Michael said Shotton abruptly abandoned it.
MG:…And he claimed that the trial was being sabotaged by unknown forces. And the sabotage took the form of people taking the serum out of the fridge and then leaving it there before administering it…
GH: Shotton claimed someone was out to stop the serum–
DS: Various well known scientists I employed uh tried to steal the idea. There’s a whole book you could write about this.
GH: Michael went looking and found no evidence of actual sabotage…and Daval’s other trial turned up inconclusive.
Soon, the company attracted more skepticism- in 2006, Michael reported that a criminal investigation was launched…
But still, the company survived and kept raising money from investors for another decade……many of them…people suffering from devastating illnesses…people of modest means.
Shotton left Daval in 2016, after a blowout with the board – board members were apparently wondering where all the money was going- that the company had raised… millions of pounds.
Shotton claimed the treatment, Aimspro – this prized serum which was never actually proven to work– was his. And he started a spin-off company that still- to this day- markets a version of this treatment.
Soon after Shotton’s departure…tax inspectors started their own investigation into Daval.
MG: And we await to see the results of their investigations…
GH: I wanted to speak with a representative of Daval, try to learn more about whether Gary Davis had any personal knowledge or involvement in what his serum turned into in England…but the company’s website appears to no longer be operational.
Still, archived screengrabs show as recently as 2020, Daval claimed Aimspro “was and remains an exceptionally efficacious product…”
In the corner of the website…a faux-latin saying…maybe just some placeholder a web designer forgot to delete…or maybe…a parting message from David Shotton himself…
”Illegitimi non-carborundum.” “Don’t let the bastards get you down.”
GH: I tried to reach David Shotton again for another conversation. I wanted to ask directly about all of these allegations. He didn’t respond.
I asked Michael Gillard about Shotton’s alleged intimations of friends in high, shadowy places…connections to the Kray Brothers…that in particular got a good laugh out of Michael…
MG: Yeah, I’ve certainly heard that he’s claimed to have ex-special forces bodyguards and that he has given the impression that he somehow is connected to British organized crime. The problem with both those statements are they’re untrue. What it’s part of is the M.O of the man which is creating a false security threat, both from pharma and from unpleasant people of an undescribed nature, you are therefore able to create a state of insecurity around investors, directors, and patients so they don’t ask too many questions.
GH: I started to think about everything Tommy Farnsworth had told me at the top of that dam near Jet….the anonymous phone calls, the vague warning to get out of town…
I called Tommy back a couple weeks after my visit to Jet…his fears of talking about the serum over the phone had apparently dissipated since our meeting.
And he said something that stuck with me…
He said he had once been contacted by the FBI about Steve Migliaccio, the power lifter who connected Gary Davis with David Shotton.
TF: Steve had a six passenger plane.
GH: Tommy said there were a couple of times he didn’t drive down to the border with his ex-Peter Barnes to get treated with the serum…instead he said Steve Migliaccio offered to fly him down. And he took him up on it.
TF: A couple times I flew down with him to Brownsville, and then we got a car- took a car across, over to the border and walked across. And the FBI called me and said “was he charging you? To- to transport you to Mexico?” And I said, “No.” He said, “I’m going alone. You want to go- ride along with?” and I’m like, “yeah.”
GH: The FBI called you about that?
TF: Yes. Because they. They were trying to- they heard that he was charging people to fly them to Mexico. I said “No, not at all.” Because I didn’t, he didn’t charge me because I didn’t have- I don’t have no money. I didn’t have no money.
GH: I ran all of this through my own personal Rosetta Stone…tried to see it in light of the infomercial for the serum that I had obtained…the footage of those Mexico trails…what I had been told about who may have funded it all…I was thinking about the illusions they may have created to hide their true intentions.
I still had questions about Tommy’s claims of anonymous phone calls and vague warnings…but different ones…
What if Tommy really did receive those phone calls?
Who was most likely behind them?
Providing a direct line to the “head of the FDA” …warning Tommy someone was after him…
And if the feds were starting to poke around…ask questions about the serum and those involved…who would really benefit from Tommy’s disappearance?
GH: But most of all, I wondered about Gary Davis – Tulsa’s brilliant hero. Was he a player in Shotton’s games or was he played?
Gary Davis had stayed in Shotton’s orbit in the UK for over a year, then tried his luck with the serum in other countries across the globe, places like France, Ivory Coast, Ghana – where he told people he worried the “John Gotti of London” was still out to get him…the doctor didn’t return home to the States for good until around 2006.
SD: And then he went back to America, finally. And my mom kept trying to work on me. “You should talk to him. He keeps talking about you.” Nope. I don’t want to talk to him.
GH: That’s Shawn again, Gary Davis’s younger son. He says his dad never forgave him for leaving London. He refused to pay for his college education. So as his dad once did, Shawn joined the military.
And the two refused to speak to one another.
SD: He wrote me off. I wrote him off. It’s over. That’s it. Then he started kinda getting sick. And my mom was like, “You should talk to him. You don’t want something to happen and you ain’t talk to him. He’s here. He’s still talking about you.” I was like, “I don’t want to talk to him.” So I still said no. Finally, I talked to him. It’s just been like six, seven years. Nothing. Nothing.
GH: And do you-do you resent him for that?
SD: Not now. Not now. I did then. I don’t, now. Now I realize, it actually turned me to who I am now. That whole thing made me exactly who I am right now. Had that not happened? I wouldn’t even be where I’m at right now for sure. Because life wouldn’t of pimp slapped me, and then gut checked me and knocked me down and said now get up. I wouldn’t have had to do that. I would have had a helping hand. But no. I just kept getting pummeled, till I was bloody, and I still had to get up. So it taught me to survive.
GH: Gary Davis had come back to Tulsa from his travels…physically…a different man…but how much had he changed? Had the altruistic hometown doctor become corrupted by all of his experiences?
GH: After his bitter failures abroad – after David Shotton started to spin the serum into his own venture- Gary Davis returned to an old connection in the US… to try once more to make his dream of curing Aids a reality.
Somebody who perhaps could reclaim the serum for the doctor…and keep the sharks away… It would be his last attempt.
His American connection – It’s somebody David Shotton was aware of…to say the least… He told me this other guy – was involved in sabotaging his trials for Aimspro …
And- even more shockingly- that he plotted to have him, Shotton, killed.
DS: I employed a ex-marine who’s a sniper…one of the best snipers in the country…
GH: Shotton called this foe “the most amazing con man he’s ever seen”…high praise considering…well, you know.
DS: He just lies all the time.
GH: A successful entrepreneur. A man of god. An immunologist…maybe..
DS: He’s anything you want him to be. He’s the eternal chameleon. And they used to call him Mr. Teflon.
GH: And some think he’s a lot more than that.
Archival Tape of Preacher: The blood of Jesus is against you. The blood of Jesus. The blood of Jesus. The blood of Jesus. The blood of Jesus.
Woman 1: He is evil.
Woman 2: And the only thing I can think of is the CIA government connection.
Man: Yeah, I mean, you know, pretty shocking information isn’t it!
GH: Next time on the penultimate episode of SERUM…
All roads lead me back west…
GH: Alright, so, I am in the airport. Little nervous, little nervous don’t know how he’s going- how he’s going to react.
Man: If in any way this is gonna be a slam on Gary Davis I’m just gonna walk out…collapse
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Brought to you by Serum
A Black doctor, a potential cure for AIDS, and the quest to find out what happened to it. A limited run podcast production of WHYY's The Pulse and Local Trance Media.