Episode 9: Medicine Time
The story of Precious Thomas, the brave little girl fighting HIV, captured people’s attention in the 1990s, and changed hearts and minds about the AIDS epidemic. And when Gary Davis’ serum seemingly brought about a dramatic improvement in the girl’s health, it gave a major boost to his profile and work. For the doctor’s supporters, Precious Thomas was — and still is — the best proof that Gary Davis’ serum could be effective. But for years, she refused to talk about what exactly happened — if her viral load had stayed undetectable, if she was “cured.”
Then one afternoon, she sends a message to Grant. “Hello, I’m ready to speak my part and my truth if you still wanna listen.” She now uses a different name, has reclaimed her life outside of the spotlight, and is ready to tell her side of the story.
SERUM Episode 9 – Medicine Time
Grant Hill: Just a note. This episode contains mention of abuse and thoughts of suicide.
Ever since I’ve started reporting on the serum…there’s been this question I’ve asked nearly every person I’ve spoken to…
Kenneth Bolton: No kidding…
GH: Always hoping for an answer…
KB: No I haven’t.
GH: …and never getting one.
Curtis West: That I’m- That I’m not aware of… that I’m not aware of.
GH: They all said they had no idea what I was talking about…
Shawn Davis: Nope…I had some but I gave it to somebody.
GH: Still I asked. Again and again.
Then one day, over the phone…I posed the question to Forres McGraw, the certified public accountant who worked closely with Gary Davis for years…and followed him around the globe.
GH: I spoke with Rocky and she said that Precious got sick again.
Forrest McGraw: Hm.
GH: She came down with cryptococcal meningitis. And uh she was in really, really, really bad shape and Rocky made a call to someone who- she won’t tell me who. And she was able to get herself some more of the serum.
FM: Hm. Wow, I wonder how that happened.
GH: And…and um I was curious if you might know how that happened.
FM: I might.
FM: Or I do, I should say.
GH: You do know? How did it happen?
FM: Let me check with my attorney.
FM: You understand?
GH: Yeah, yeah I understand.
FM: That make sense?
GH: From WHYY’s The Pulse and Local Trance Media…this is SERUM. I’m Grant Hill.
GH: I meet Forres McGraw on an unusually cold Saturday morning where he works…a nondescript office park just outside of Dallas. He wears a yellow button up shirt and khakis.
FM: We’re talking about uh Jack Migliaccio and Steve Migliaccio…
GH: He doesn’t say it…but I can tell he’s skeptical of my interest in his late business partner and friend Gary Davis. Something about that skepticism is oddly reassuring…
It at least doesn’t seem like Forres wants to use my interest to sell me some version of his story…or some off-brand version of his own serum…
Over the phone, it seemed like Forres was hinting that it was him who provided Rocky with more serum years after Davis’ death…now that he’s had ample time to consult his lawyer…I’m hoping he’s ready to commit to a definitive answer…
But first, we chat about all the serum lore I’ve encountered in the past few years…
FM: So have you met with Linda yet?
GH: Linda Riviera?
FM: If that’s her name, yeah. It changes.
FM: There’s so many nut cases involved in it.
GH: LAUGHS I know
FM: …and con men and you name it.
GH: He sits at his desk, and over his shoulder, I watch as he shows me videos of patients taking the serum…testimonials I had never seen before.
Patient: I feel great- I really feel it… all the way to my toes. I’m wiggling my toeses now.
GH: He transfers them to a thumb drive and shares them with me…
I’m grateful to have the back up, because I’ve been distracted by a large digital calculator on his desk – with a nine-digit sum on its display.
I’m still not exactly sure what Forres does for work these days…he asks me what Doug McClain is up to…since I just saw him yesterday…I tell him about my chat with him.
FM: He’s more full of shit than a Christmas turkey. LAUGHS
GH: Forres thought Doug McClain was a scammer…and that was about it. He certainly didn’t think he was CIA. Seems reasonable, but then again, Forres is convinced David Shotton was really mobbed up. I ask about whether he’s ever been afraid of retaliation for talking about it…
FM: I have guns, I have a lot of guns. And I know how to use them. And I shoot them all the time. If you think you can come from England and do the job, bring it.
GH: That settles that…we change topics.
FM: …It was always the patient, you take care of that and the rest will take care of itself and I believe that…FADE OUT
GH: We talk more about his travels for the serum…to Mexico……to Ivory Coast…
FM: I didn’t reach out to the Ivory Coast…I was contacted by Linda… “Hey, the president of Ivory Coast wants to hear about this…”
GH: Like David Shotton and Doug McClain, Forres also pursued options for the serum after Gary Davis’ death – but his efforts didn’t end in claims of fraud…at least as far as I’m aware.
FM: A friend of mine called me one day and said…this was 2009…and said, “The president of South Africa wants to meet with you.” I was like “yeah right, bullshit.”
GH: Forres claims in 2009, two years after the doctor’s death, he met with Jacob Zuma, then president of South Africa…all to discuss government backing of the goat serum…he says talks fell through.
He gave me a few names of people who would be able to confirm this meeting really happened but they never got back to me.
Forres steps out for a second. I look around his office and notice a couple of plaques leaned up against his wall…they’re copies of the Washington Post story about Gary Davis and Precious Thomas.
FM: They asked if I wanted to have these plaques made and I said “yeah, I’d like a copy of it.”
GH: Memorabilia of his achievements with the doctor – saving seven-year-old Precious Thomas.
We talk for about 2 hours…he shares more stories…crazy tales, the kind that would kill at dinner parties…how the doctor once received a loan from a former drug smuggler with a sick kid…
FM: And that’s money he was using to- to pay for treatment for his son.
GH: But he also talks about more personal stuff, like the toll of trying to help develop this treatment, travel all over the globe, while having a family…
FM: It put a big strain on it because I was gone a lot- I was going for long periods of time.
GH: …and the logistics of getting an unapproved serum to patients who wanted it…
FM: You could put it in dry ice.
GH: And then ship it?
FM: and then ship it.
GH: Yeah, yeah okay. And would he do that? To your knowledge?
GH: It was great, juicy stuff…but…juice wasn’t enough anymore. I wanted flesh..at least…pulp. Something with substance. Real answers. So I get to the point…and ask the question I came all this way to ask.
How did Rocky get more serum after Gary Davis’ death?
GH: You said you did know how that happened, but you needed to check more with your attorney before talking about it.
FM: Did I say I did know or I might know?
GH: You said “I might,” and then after a long pause you said “I do know.”
GH: Um. Did you check with your attorney?
FM: Yeah, I better just leave it at that.
GH: Then Forres holds up his hand and sticks out two fingers parallel to the ground. He looks at me, dead in the eyes.
FM: You see these two lines? Did you read anything between them?
GH: I nod – but I wish he’d put it into words. We keep talking for a bit.
FM: And then, when, my sons, what they do for a living, we had to completely get off of social media because-
GH: You mentioned your sons- I don’t know if you want to talk about it or not, you said that both of them have top secret clearance…what do they do for a living?
FM: Uh, the older one…turn this off.
GH: Our conversation comes to a close. Before heading to Texas…I had asked Forres if he had any more serum…that if possible, I’d like to see this thing I’ve been chasing for years now.
He never answered.
Now, he says he doesn’t have any left, though if he did, it would look just like frozen water in a vial. It’d be hard to tell the difference at a glance.
I think about that as I walk through the icy parking lot back to my rental car – feeling a bit empty…unsure what to make of Forres and the lines he wants me to read between – a seductive substitution for a straight answer.
When I finally return home, I watch more of the footage from the trials he showed me…
Patients…many only identified by their first name…gush over the serum.
Patient: In my head and in everything else I just feel like 100 times better than 12 hours ago… FADE OUT
Man: Do you think this ought to be available to everybody? Anywhere in the world that suffers from this disease?
Patient: Yes, absolutely available. Yes, absolutely. Why not?
Man: Why isn’t it?
Patient: I don’t know.
Man: -that’s the question.
Patient: I don’t know why it would not be because- because pharmaceutical companies are making too much money or because politicians are- why doesn’t- why do and why don’t things happen in this country, you know, it’s- it’s money. Money makes the world go round, I think, that’s my view on it.
GH: I spend a lot of time trying to find these patients…send some messages. Wait. And wait. And wait. Nothing.
I thought meeting Forres would bring some closure…instead I feel like I’m right back where I started – with guess work and theories.
Deep down I know that’s not true.
There’s a lot I’ve learned about Gary Davis…the man and the legend – confirmed what many in Tulsa already knew…that while federal health officials including Anthony Fauci dismissed their hometown hero and his “crazy goat serum”…federal agencies later funded a trial sponsored by a company whose serum seemed inspired by Davis’…and that serum showed modest signs of success…
Then there were the rumors of high profile patients…the Magic Johnson connection.
Magic still hasn’t responded to me about that… and has yet to deny it… but one thing is certain…it wasn’t as ludicrous of an assertion as I once thought it was – given all the doctor’s real ties with basketball stars like John Salley and John Starks.
Then, there were the rumors of threats and violence…Davis’ paranoia. I had begun to suspect the doctor was doing some mythmaking of his own…his talk of the “John Gotti of London” out to get him…then I discovered David Shotton.
And what about the specter of covert government intervention? That the doctor was stifled?
Enter the Eternal Chameleon Doug McClain Sr….a man who denies any and all reported ties to intelligence agencies, the defense department, or the federal government…
And whose SF-1019 scam drove the final nail in the coffin for the goat serum’s legitimacy in the United States.
GH: That’s one way of looking at it – all the information I’ve compiled over the last few years. That there was at least something to many of the wildest things I had heard about the serum…
But another way of looking at all this…has a hold on my brain at the moment.
Maybe my initial skepticism when Clyde Ashley Sherman first told me about the doctor in his Lyft was right.
Sure, it turned out there was real preliminary evidence that the doctor’s idea might actually work…that he was ignored, his serum downplayed…for whatever reason…never given a real chance to be tested.
But maybe I just spent hundreds of hours running in circles – encountering red flags left and right…sketchy investors…half truths…a reckless contempt for rules, but only seeing green lights…making excuses for why Gary Davis couldn’t have gone about all this in a different way.
I had rooted for him…the doctor with a dream he wanted to bring to life…
When it came to the goat serum…so much hinged on the story of the doctor’s most famous patient: Precious Thomas – even for the doctor’s son Shawn. It was her recovery that convinced him.
SD: My proof was Precious. My proof was Precious. And I saw this little girl sick and I saw this little girl after she got that shot…FADE OUT
GH: She was the ultimate character witness…the doctor could have gotten in trouble for providing his serum to the girl – but he provided it anyway- and she seemed to get better…
She became the best evidence that the serum really worked.
I’ve been trying to talk to Precious since the day I heard her story. It’s been years since I last heard from her.
I toy with messaging Precious one last time. But I don’t.
Maybe she didn’t want to be anyone’s character witness…or anyone’s miracle…and maybe I should stop asking her to be…
So that’s what I do. Let go and move on.
Marvella Sheree Henson: Go ahead. LAUGHS
GH: …fate has other plans.
MSH: Like this is crazy, it’s just basically- it’s gone- like it’s never even been brought back up again.
GH: Coming up on SERUM.
MSH: My name is….PAUSE…Precious Thomas.
GH: Did you want to say a different name?
GH: A different name, and very different version of events.
GH: This is SERUM…I’m Grant Hill.
After I returned from Texas…feeling kind of hopeless about this whole reporting project – I got a message I never thought would come, from a Facebook account that I knew belonged to Precious Thomas.
“Hello, I’m ready to speak my truth if you still wanna listen.”
The next day…we spoke for about two hours over the phone. I explained my project, how I got into the cab, met Sherman…
MSH: That was very like destiny bound, I guess.
GH: She thought it was fate I got into his car – and fate is also why she decided to respond to me after all this time. She had recently heard a song by Sounds of Blackness, a group that reminded her of Gary Davis…she said it convinced her to message me back.
MSH: This is why I said the destiny thing, the coincident thing- you resurface right now…I was just like, his song- favorite song was Sounds of Blackness. And I’ve just been really listening to that more recently. And then here we are speaking about the man.
GH: She thought it was a sign. I wasn’t going to argue with that.
A few weeks later…I drive down to Washington, DC so we could talk in person…we decide to meet in a small glass room in the public library.
She arrives with a family friend a few years older than her…a woman named Shanida Edwards…she’s come along for moral support.
GH: I start with the standard question. What’s your name and what do you do?
MSH: My name is…Precious Thomas. LAUGHS. And I am a mom for a living.
GH: Did you want to say a different name?
GH: You can say a different name.
GH: I am Marvella Sheree. And I am a mom for a living. Thank you.
Shanida Edwards: That sounds great… FADE OUT
GH: Today is all about new beginnings for Marvella. Gone are her days as Precious Thomas.
Marvella is 30 years old. Though she looks younger. She’s thin and holds the end of her long sleeves over her palms as she thinks about exactly how she wants to answer a question…
I ask what she remembers about going to Tulsa for the first time…she was seven then.
MSH: The train ride, the McDonald’s because it was blue. I think that’s like the first place we stopped. Um, I remember going to his home. I remember their dog- they had a husky. But anyhow, anyhow- I also remember the clinic and I remember the people. Those are like the things that stand out the most.
GH: Marvella is speaking slowly. Her friend is trying to reassure her… signaling… you can do this.
GH: Can I ask you…what was your first impression of Dr. Davis?
MSH: First impressions were caring. Hard working. Trying. Determined. Kinda like a by-any-means-necessary…kind of old, spiritual Black Panther in a way kinda guy. But on a- for like medicine. I remember like his style. Cowboy hats and boots and jeans. LAUGHS And how he used to like put his hand on his hip. Um, I remember his voice.
GH: So these are fond memories?
GH: What do you remember about, you know, growing up as this kind of…really an icon here… of the face of this epidemic in DC?
MSH: I remember feeling like the face of HIV. I remember feeling like that’s all people saw. That’s all people knew. That was the first thing they recognized me for. They probably didn’t even remember my name…it was like “you was that girl that was on TV.” I kind of felt like a target was on me. People would be nice. But are you being nice because you feel sorry for me? Or are you being nice because you genuinely see a young little girl?
GH: This sounds totally different from the picture Rocky had painted of a fierce little warrior who always wanted to talk about HIV- and raise awareness. I can tell that Marvella has a hard time revisiting her past. Her story had been told for her so many times – I wanted to hear her version- on her terms… so, I put my agenda, my questions about Gary Davis and the serum aside…and just let her take the lead…
MSH: We need- I need to like find footage of like me as a child… FADE OUT
GH: Marvella says her biological mother, Sheree Henson, had had another baby girl 11 months before Marvella was born.
Her hands were full…so family friends started to help out…watch Marvella…
MSH: Rocky started to do things like take initiative, I guess and say like, oh, well, she needs to be taken care of or this and that and took the initiative to- took it upon herself to say “okay, well I’m gonna take her.” However, my mom gave me to Linda…
GH: That’s Marvella’s aunt…
MSH: …on the playground and told her “you can have her if you can help me out because I can’t do it. And she could be your baby.” Because my Aunt Linda had just lost a baby.
GH: So she ended up with her Aunt Linda who, in turn, passed her on to Rocky. Marvella was about two weeks old. She told me her first memory of Rocky.
MSH: I’m laying on the floor drinking the bottle that she just put- I don’t know medicine and stuff in. I laid on that floor and I just looked around and watched her walk away.
GH: I ask her when she first felt different from other children.
MSH: Honestly, I believe that from the time I got with Rocky, she was telling me everyday because by the time I could read and write I was already walking around saying “my name is Precious Thomas I have HI- I have a bug in my body. And I have a bug in my body”…. So I was probably had to be told that everyday for me to be able to just be two years old and step up and say “I’m- I’m HIV positive, and it’s a bad bug in my body. And it’s- I have to take medicine.”
GH: From the beginning were you pushed to be very public about- about your diagnosis?
MSH: From the time I was two, which is when she found out that I was diagnosed with it.
GH: I ask about her health back then…Rocky told me they were constantly going back-and-forth to and from hospitals…doctors. That Marvella was always lethargic…always fighting for her life.
MSH: I don’t remember being very, very, very, very sick, like bedridden sick as a young child. Because if I was, how was I doing all of these speaking engagements, at the same time, however, I was probably sick. And yes, the virus was very real, present in numbers. Because the viral load was high, but, I was definitely always at a school or a church. Small house function…radio station. It was one point where the people at the radio station were my uncle’s. This is Uncle Tigga, this is Uncle Hercules, this is Uncle um Rico…
GH: Marvella says when she was a child, everything revolved around her being HIV positive. She says every year she had a birthday party either at a beach or a community pool…she’d watch her friends swim…something she wasn’t allowed to do because of her weakened immune system.
She didn’t understand why these places were chosen for her birthday if she couldn’t participate.
Marvella says it all felt like a show – especially those speaking engagements.
MSH: Honestly, it just seemed like anything to keep me on the face- in the face- in the forefront.
GH: I wondered about Rocky’s motives…
GH: Did she profit off of- off of you?
MSH: Yes… when I was a little girl and I would speak I would have to say um “Please feel free to send money to PO box 722 Trust Fund… Precious Thomas Trust Fund…To know me is to love me” like it was like trust funds set up in my name for my graduation from college um there was supposedly- basically a whole nonprofit organization set up in my name that was supposed to be given to me I’m supposed to be running that I haven’t seen, haven’t heard, know nothing about.
GH: In 1999, the Washington Post published an article the story of Precious Thomas before the goat serum…it was written by the same journalist who later wrote their profile on Gary Davis…
In it, the reporter says Rocky had to quit her beauty business to take care of the little girl full time…that she struggled to pay bills. The article also mentioned the trust fund. Marvella remembers the reporter, and says the reporter apparently became friendly with Rocky…
I ask Marvella what’s her best guess…how much money ended up in that trust fund over the years.
MSH: From when I was a child- two years old to 15 years old and then we took a break, so from two to 15… that could have been millions.
GH: Marvella says some publicity events were seasonal staples…reliable revenue for the trust fund…other times Rocky scrambled to find new places for the little girl to speak…sometimes just a Sunday at a church would do.
MSH: After I spoke, of course, the church- pastor is gonna say “Let’s do an offering for this child”… And then I’m speaking at anybody’s church or school- any- if they had anything I was there. Aids walks- every year I was at Aids walks at one point. So yeah, stuff was like scheduled. I had shirts for sale that had my picture on the front that honestly now it kind of freaks me out because people do that for people that are dead …So I had merchandise…um shirts that said “To know me is to love me” on one side…Precious. And it had my picture on the back. Um. Soda cap tops. So if you wanted to save your can soda, you can put the cap on. And it said “To know me is to love me…Precious” pins, buttons…
GH: Marvella says this merchandise was always up for sale…not just during events….they were constantly raising money even though Rocky was receiving social security checks for Marvella which covered her expenses, even things like private schooling and dance lessons.
Which also seemed odd…dance lessons? From talking to Rocky…hearing her speak on TV…it seemed like Marvella would hardly have the energy to dance…that they were always in the hospital…traveling between doctor’s appointments…That’s not how Marvella remembers it.
MSH: I honestly don’t ever recall me being in a hospital like weekly.
GH: But she remembers managing her diagnosis…and a song she sung that was supposed to make taking medicine less terrible.
MSH: Precious it’s your medicine time…medicine time…LAUGHS FADE OUT
GH: It was medicine time…most of the time. Marvella feels like she was slugging down pills from morning until night…
MSH: Five in the morning, seven, nine, twelve….. or before bed, like that, it was like constantly. That’s so draining.
GH: Especially as a child.
GH: Still, the only time she remembers being in the hospital as a kid was when her appendix burst..and when she got her tonsils out.
MSH: …but I don’t remember any other time of me being so sickly ill as a child.
GH: Which made me really question where the money from that trust fund was going.
MSH: She made sure I had a Social Security check. So I was definitely getting insurance through the state. I had state medical insurance. So hospital bills were definitely paid.
GH: Marvella tells me the pills she was on did not seem to be working for her very well… I ask her when Rocky started exploring experimental treatments for her.
MSH: I don’t exactly know, like when. But maybe like when I was like, five, six, right around that time, we was going to see like Dr. Muhammad already, which was like a Muslim doctor that was supposed to be like, popular in the neighborhood. However, he was popular but he was under Farrakhan…
GH: Louis Farrakhan of the Nation of Islam. She says Rocky took her to an event where this doctor spoke.
MSH: We went there like on a Friday night. They had everyone there. I spoke. Minister Farrakhan was there, he spoke. We left. People were talking to her. And from then that’s when we had Dr. Muhammad. It was like this herbal medicine. So that was the first experimental medicine we tried. And then after that, it was the Dr. Davis. She found Dr. Davis.
GH: It was around that time, when Marvella was about six or seven, when she says she had secretly begun to stop taking the pills given to her by her doctors- a potentially fatal act of rebellion…
MSH: So I think like I was already starting to not take my medicine anymore so of course the medicine is not working, the medicine is not working, because I’m no longer taking it. Because this is draining taking all these pills. I didn’t feel like I needed to take the medicine if the medicine is saving me. I didn’t want to be saved, I wanted to not be. And if it meant that I needed to not take my medicine and I was going to be- end up sick and diminished then that’s what I wanted to do.
GH: Marvella says it wasn’t just HIV that made her feel this way. It was Rocky, too.
MSH: Yeah, I felt ostracized from like, people in the world, family members. People that she considered family, the family that I feel like she kind of tried to rob me of, which was my biological family. So I already felt some type of way because I’m the girl with HIV. That’s what I meant by like, who wants to live like you’re the girl with HIV. You’re the girl who mom didn’t want her. You’re the girl who now you’re with this person and she’s supposed to be a motherly figure or supposed to be caring, but all we doing is going to public speaking events like I can’t give this woman a hug. I can’t be held by this woman, like it’s no… motherly…when I want to get a hug it’s not there. It’s more discipline than anything. It’s more this is where we’re going, this is what we’re gonna do. There’s not no questions. And if you don’t do this…and if you don’t do this…anything is possible. So it’s like, what choices do I have? And then me being a child…really, what choices do I have? How much leeway do I have? I- She wants me to have this voice to speak. But I’m never allowed to speak. I’m never allowed to speak how I truly feel. I’m never allowed to even make my own decisions as to what I’m, what I want to wear, what I want to eat, what I want to do, and even if I do voice those opinions it is blatantly ignored. So what am I even speaking for?
GH: Tears run down Marvella’s cheeks. I ask if we should stop the interview.
GH: I just want you to know again that we can stop whenever if- if- if you feel uncomfortable.
MSH: I’m very comfortable. It’s just-
GH: It’s hard.
MSH: This crying is not me sad, it’s not me upset, this crying is the only way I can release right now.
GH: I ask Marvella what she meant…when she said if she disobeyed Rocky, anything was possible…
MSH: From literally, me not hanging up my clothes to me being beat with a wire hanger. Because I didn’t hang the clothes up, or iron the clothes, because I don’t know how to count the change, now the whole bag of change has been thrown or I’m getting beat with the bag of change in my head, if I’m not- If I don’t speak at this engagement, why don’t you say what you’re- telling me to say you won’t- grab my hand and stick your nails in my arm. Or pinch me- anything was possible. You never knew what was gonna happen.
GH: Marvella says the signs of abuse were often visible – like the time she had a big knot on her head when she had to go to a check up at the doctor’s. But Rocky made excuses…
MSH: “She run into the wall.” And I was just looking at that doctor and looking at that doctor, like okay.
GH: She also had therapy sessions at the time…
MSH: And it was like, every time I would start a therapy session, and then they would like bring her in, or things would start going- getting too deep or going somewhere. I wouldn’t go back to therapy.
GH: When she mentioned abuse during therapy once, Rocky told everybody Marvella had made it up…saw it in a movie.
MSH: “She has a wild imagination- a broad imagination- that girl was- we watched Mommy Dearest this weekend and they did that in that movie.” FADE OUT
GH: Every time a healthcare provider got suspicious, and tried to intervene, she says Rocky denied everything. Told people things were fine, and it was just hard to raise a kid with HIV.
Marvella says she needed help – but wasn’t getting any. She was in a really bad place– at the time, she was attending a boarding school.
MSH: And I wrote a suicide note and they found it at my school. I wrote a funeral arrangements. I wrote a living will. And I left it on my desk at school and they found it so they called her and then I went home.
GH: Marvella says after this, Child Protective Services visited her home- which enraged Rocky.
MSH: After the home visit, she was like so upset that she like was driving like real crazy like all over the place. And then just drove me like beside these woods that was like right by my school and just was like, “Well since you wrote suicide notes and you already got funeral arrangements, you could just go be dead- go, get out- go be dead like your mother with no cause.” And then I couldn’t do nothing I just was like crying because I was already like- because I think she already beat me on the way there. So then, I just was like, “I just want to go to school” and she took me- drove me to the gates at school.
GH: Marvella says when she was in sixth grade, Rocky started working at the school she attended- it felt like constant surveillance.. and abuse.
MSH: I got in trouble at school for talking in class, normal children’s stuff, right? At that conference, with the teacher, we’re sitting like side by side like this. I’m sitting right here she’s sitting right there, the teachers sitting from across from us. He says what he says and she just lifts up her hand and bow! Knocked my face. All this was leaking blood, like bloody. I had braces.
GH: Marvella says the teacher never said anything.
By the time she was 15, Marvella said she was attending a different school for college prep…she was advanced for her age. A senior in high school by then.
This new school was further away from Rocky…and only allowed students to go home on weekends. Marvella thought it was perfect…then…
MSH: I conceived a baby.
GH: Marvella discovered she was pregnant. She said the person she conceived with was aware of her HIV status before they had sex.
MSH: I didn’t even know I could get pregnant.
GH: Marvella was thrilled – it was something to live for and Rocky didn’t know anything about the pregnancy.
MSH: Thank God. So now, there’s my little miracle baby. I had to have this baby by any means necessary. So we- what am I going to do … what am I going to do…
GH: She had started to fill out college applications…
MSH: Doing my essays, all of that, going on college tours, all of that. I’m doing everything. Everybody like, “Are you pregnant?” “No, no, no” So I just had to try to like keep it under wraps.
GH: Rocky didn’t catch on for a while – she was actually excited to see Marvella put on a few pounds for once…
MSH: So like she’s there she’s like, “Oh, the medicine is doing so well. She’s gaining so much weight she’s so healthy!”
GH: Marvella started wearing big clothes to hide her belly. But later on, on Memorial Day, Rocky confronted her- and Marvella decided to tell her the truth…
MSH: “Yeah.” Because in my mind I’m six months pregnant, what could you do at this point? “Yes, yes, I am. Yup. I’m pregnant.”
GH: Rocky was upset. She called a friend, and they took Marvella to the hospital… Marvella says Rocky started telling people there was something wrong with the baby…
MSH: So like now both of them are coming in and out of the room that I’m in because I had to like get undressed and the exam room.
GH: Marvella says the hospital told them the baby was fine…but Rocky insisted something was wrong- they took Marvella to another hospital where she had an ultrasound…
Again, Marvella says the doctor told them the baby was healthy.
MSH: “The baby is healthy. It’s a baby boy. This looks good. That looks good. Everything’s good.” And the whole time she’s just “Mhm. Mhm. Oh no. Mhm” He like, “Well, Grandma, why are you so upset? Everything looks good. It’s going to be a healthy baby!” And I’m just like, looking around, like trying to look at the baby on the screen, look around.
GH: But soon, something was actually wrong. Marvella’s cervix was opening. She says they medevaced her to a hospital in Baltimore. She stayed overnight.
MSH: They were monitoring me and the baby heartbeat, like in a room so you can hear it on the monitor. So they left me in a room like by myself, but then like she could still come in the room, of course, because I’m still a child. So she was coming like in and out of the room. “Mhm. You hear that. That’s a whole heartbeat in there. That’s a life that you don’t need” and all this like just negative stuff the whole time. “You got a baby inside you.” I’m like, “Yes, I know.” Like I’m standing there like yay. “But you don’t seem happy. Like, where are we going with this?” And at every hospital visit, they’re just saying “Everything is good. She just needs prenatal care.” So leaving there, I’m thinking this is what we’re doing. We’re going to get prenatal care. So she’s like, “Yeah, they said prenatal care”. So she takes me back to my doctor at Children’s and has a private conversation with her. They put me in the hallway.
GH: She says Rocky had a hushed discussion with the doctor.
MSH: She told her that it could still possibly be done. Like if that’s what she wanted to do. She just because I was a minor the decision still was in her hands…
GH: Marvella says she thought she was going to get more prenatal care- but really, Rocky had started making calls to find a place that would do a late-term abortion… and even started raising money for the procedure…
MSH: She told some people my baby was dead. She told some people my baby aint had no eyes. She told some people that if I had that baby, I was going to die.
GH: Marvella didn’t know any of this was happening- and when Rocky took her to some drab-looking medical building- she thought it was another check-up for the baby.
MSH: So in my mind, at the time, I was fifteen years old, knowing that we just came from all these places saying “get her prenatal care, get her prenatal care, get her prenatal care,” and you walking off saying “okay,” now we’re here I’m thinking this is prenatal care.
GH: They gave her some pills, asked her to come back the next day. At that point, Marvella was suspicious – and then realized what was about to happen
MSH: And so when I get in there, and I get in the back and then the lady laying me down on the table and I’m like I’m sorry ma’am I really don’t want to be in here I really don’t want to be in here- is there a way that I cannot do this. And she like “Oh baby I’m sorry. It’s already too late.”
GH: Afterwards, Rocky heaped lavish attention onto Marvella – especially for her senior prom which was shortly after the grueling procedure.
MSH: She took me to Pentagon City Mall. And said I could go in whatever store I wanted to go in and get whatever dress I wanted to get because it was my prom that night, my senior prom.. I think we went in like BCBG. I got this dress. It was like I don’t know how much- $400 probably. She had the Rolls Royce. The red carpet laid out when I got home, the black Rolls Royce was out front, the red carpet out front…a man playing a trumpet was across the way and they were like…had to be about 80- 60 to 80 people outside my apartment building when I got home, outside and in my house… when I got home so now I’m getting dressed for prom with all these people here. I just got an abortion. Getting makeup done, getting my hair done all at the same time, somebody doing my hair, somebody doing my makeup and I’m just sitting there and then she sent me off to prom…
GH: Her classmates who knew about the pregnancy were asking Marvella why she seemed so dejected.
MSH: They like what’s wrong? Let me feel the- let me see the baby….mhm.
GH: Somehow, she made it through the prom, but her relationship with Rocky had reached a new low.
MSH: It was an eye opener for me. For her to be able to do that and me know that Rocky- Rocky is not able to conceive any children on her own…never have been. So to know that, and then, for me to be a child with a virus, and you conceive this baby. Somebody laid with you and had a baby. This lady really want to be in control. She thinks she’s God. You think you can control who can live and who cannot. But the lengths that you went through, the limits that you exceeded to make this happen. And then act like “so what?” I said “Do you still have the CD of the video that they gave us from my sonogram?” “I threw that shit in the trash.” Like you don’t even have any remorse, or like you don’t even care.
GH: About a month after the abortion, Marvella had a speaking engagement. It was in Atlanta. She says she told Rocky she did not want to go…
MSH: I honestly can’t tell these people don’t go have sex. Not this year. I can’t go tell them to not have unprotected sex. I can’t go tell them to do anything. Because for one, Imma feel like a hypocrite, which is something that I’m like ahhh- and then, for two, I’m going through something right now. I’m going through something. I just lost my whole child. My first baby, like ever, the thing to ever even give me a reason to want to fucking live sorry for cussing. But, like, that’s why I believe that that abortion was so much of an eye opener because I didn’t care about no, I didn’t care about the future ahead of me. And that’s probably why I got pregnant at the time, because I didn’t care about the future ahead of me. I was going to school because that’s what I was supposed to do. I’m doing my work because that’s what I got to do.
GH: But, she says Rocky insisted- the speaking gig was already on the books.
MSH: So yeah, we went but when we went and it was like so it’s your turn to speak and I was like literally sitting on a panel looking to the left and the right. And I think the only thing I said is “Hi my name is Precious Thomas. I’m HIV positive.”
GH: It wasn’t long before Marvella started having recurring nightmares.
MSH: I started sleeping with knives under my pillow because I was having dreams that she was going to come in there and beat me in my sleep…I had a dream that like the police had- was going to end up having to come to my home…and she was going to be on one side and I was going to be on the other and we were- they were arguing so like she was yelling at me so much and then I pulled the gun off the officer and I shot her like. And I told somebody that I had this dream and I don’t know how it got back to her but it got back to her and she was at work at the cemetery and she called me. And she was like “Oh so you having dreams about killing me? Then you don’t need to be in my house.”
GH: Marvella packed her stuff up and left. When Rocky got home from work, she found an empty apartment….
MSH: She put out posters saying that I was an endangered runaway. And I needed to be found. I’m not taking my medicine, put up posters in places.
GH: Eventually, Marvella agreed to move in with a family friend- but she says she wanted to make a formal agreement, iron things out at a police station.
MSH: They’re saying “we need papers for legal documents, legal documentation, we need legal documentation. Somebody need to present legal documentation saying that you are her guardian.” No one could present anything saying anything, whatever papers they did have. They said “this is not saying anything. So as far as we’re concerned, she can go wherever she wants to go.” And that’s how I broke away from her. Slowly but surely at that time.
GH: By the next spring, Marvella was enrolled at Virginia State University.
MSH: That’s when I really started taking care of me. I really started- I was going to class, and then just learning life.
GH: But Rocky stayed in touch from a distance. By 2009, Marvella was interviewed about the serum again…by a reporter at Fox 23, a local television station in Tulsa.
MSH: And I was still under the thumb in a sense because I was still doing things just to please her.
GH: When she graduated college, Rocky threw Marvella a party…a ball…it had a theme.
MSH: This is a red and white Aids ball. And people are- gave donations. People gave donations that night. I asked for a laptop and a car. People gave donations that night.
GH: Did you ever see any of that donation money?
MSH: Only donations I received that night were the donations that people gave me directly in my hand….
GH: But after graduation….in 2012, Marvella started feeling sick.
MSH: The worst headaches of my life, couldn’t drive, couldn’t do anything like, but I’m still pressing through, never was out, like, “I need to lay down!”
GH: Eventually, she was hospitalized
MSH: Bedridden, sickly. Because I had meningitis on top of me having HIV and it was meningitis of my brain.
GH: Rocky had told me about this period of time too…though she was off by a few years…this was the moment she said she got more serum to treat Marvella. Which then sent me on this chase to find out who gave it to her… But now Marvella tells me a very different story…
MSH: Rocky didn’t know when I first got to- when I first got in the hospital when I stayed and I got admitted in the hospital. And I made sure that I said like, “Please do not let me be in here alone.” Like, I don’t trust…at this point I don’t trust this hospital because this is the same hospital where the lady told her about the abortion. And I don’t trust her. And so I need people around me that I trust and as even if I fall out of it, if they drug me up and I’m out of it. Y’all know what’s going on.
GH: Two of her cousins took turns staying with her, around the clock.
MSH: To be there with me every day to make sure that Rocky didn’t come in there or nobody, nothing happened while I was out. And then it got to Rocky that I was in there. And then once it got to her, it was through the top. It was pictures of me going around saying that I was dying. I only had a couple of days to live. She had pastors, bishops coming, deacons coming by. People I haven’t seen in like years since my childhood showed up to like, bring me stuff, juice or something, anything I needed that I could have while I was there. Because I ended up having to stay in the hospital for three months.
GH: I tell Marvella what Rocky had told me…that she had gotten more serum – snuck it into the hospital – and injected it into Marvella’s IV bag. She claimed this is what saved Marvella’s life.
MSH: This was a shock to me!
GH: Marvella says, yes, she was in bad shape…but the medicine the doctors were giving her was working – it was just taking time.
She says she did have a private room, but her nurses knew she didn’t want to be alone with Rocky. They often watched movies with her.
MSH: Anytime that Rocky was there it was during visiting hours and a lot of people were there.
GH: Marvella does not believe Rocky got her more serum when she had meningitis. There are a lot of other discrepancies Marvella mentions in terms of the serum. For example, who gave her the injections in Tulsa when she was a little girl.
MSH: Dr. Davis himself did it, a couple of times. And then I think they like asked Rocky to do it like one time like so they could see if she could handle doing it if they were to give me some medicine and we were to go home.
GH: But Marvella doesn’t remember Rocky taking any serum home to DC. That whole story Rocky told me, about sneaking the serum onto the airplane, in dry ice, spreading out injections and making the treatment last for years…even giving it to others in DC…Marvella says that never happened.
It’s difficult for her to remember how she really felt after getting the serum in Tulsa –
But she definitely remembers the story that Rocky told about it.
MSH: “We’re going here because he has the cure for Aids.” And in my mind if he’s got the cure for AIDS and I don’t like taking medicine and if this is a shot, and I’ve been getting my blood drawn 15 tubes at a time for years…I could do this.
GH: It’s very hard for Marvella to access her own memories – because they have been overwritten again and again with the stories Rocky told, about their trip…about Gary Davis.
MSH: It just goes with the storyline in my head. Like, “She was so sick, she was bedridden sick. And I found this doctor who had a cure for Aids. We got on this train and she was so sick that the conductor gave us a car.”
GH: Marvella says even the train story is questionable. Rocky’s husband worked for Amtrak. Marvella thinks that’s how they got the sleeper car….
MSH: We go there and then the rest of the story is that I was so sick beforehand, I was in all these hospitals. We get there and now I’m just bouncing with joy off the walls like I vividly remember this is the story. This is probably exactly how she told it to you. That’s how script and rehearsed, it is. “She was bouncing off the walls, she couldn’t stay still. Jumping up and down, eating ice cream!”
GH: She says all that energy…it could have just been that she was excited to be somewhere new.
MSH: I can’t really tell if it was the serum or not. Or if it was just me being in a different environment, me being around different people, me feeling comfortable.
GH: Marvella says they stayed in Tulsa for about two weeks, and stayed at Dr. Davis’ home for most of the time – which she really liked…
MSH: Like I remember being in his room sitting on his bed, sitting talking to his wife while she’s putting stuff on the dresser. I remember going to the grocery store with them while they cooking meals. It was just different. It’s just a different experience. And I felt different there and then too I guess probably with the idea like “oh, this is something that is about to make me not have to take medicine.” Like that probably- you know that was drilled in my head the whole way there so…
GH: I ask her about what happened when doctors at NIH told her her viral load was zero.
MSH: My viral load going to zero was an eye opener because it showed me that I didn’t have to be stuck with this virus. It showed me that I could be undetectable. I could be…my viral load don’t have to be thousands forever, like I could do something that’s going to be zero. Okay, cool. I could reach zero, I could do that. So it gave me that mindset, it gave me that ambition, to see that zero again..
GH: Marvella says for a while, doctors there were excited to see zero too…before Rocky told them that Marvella was not taking their treatments…
MSH: They were just like, “oh, the medicine is work, the regimen is working, the protocol is working. We’re so happy that the protocol and the regimen is working” and- and she was like, “ya’ll talking about the protocol working, I ain’t give her no protocol. She ain’t on no medicine. I gave her the serum.” But realistically… see, then that’s- that’s what I’m saying. I don’t know it kind of contrasts it- it- because I was still taking my medicine. So if I’m still taking my medicine and then I’m taking the serum. How do we even know?
MSH: I definitely was still taking that. So that brings up another question now like damn, so what was it? Is it? Was it a combination of both? Was it just the serum alone, like, or how much of the serum that needed to be taken with how much of the medicine needed to be in my body like for it to be.
GH: Although Marvella says she doesn’t believe Rocky gave her more serum in the hospital when she got sick after she graduated college, she does tell me about another time she received the serum, just before she got pregnant when she was fifteen.
She says Rocky took her on a road trip to Texas…to meet a man named Forres McGraw and one other person…it was the middle of the night when she says she was injected once again with the serum.
GH: I ask her how she feels knowing that she will always be connected to the legend of Gary Davis and his treatment.
MSH: Um, it’s a little on the line because I’m in the conversation but am I really because I mean, I am but what I’m saying am I really to say? How much could I really say about that, specifically, when I didn’t have no choices, I was a child. I only know what I was told. It’s like okay, it does make sense. It could be true. It could work. I would hate to say like it was a scam. Like, I don’t want to say that. I don’t want to say that. But at the end of the day like, not for him it was a scam, but for my part that I had to play in it, I felt like the whole storyline of where I come in, it just seems a little staged. It seems a little beneficial. If and then especially for everything to not be, for it to blow up like that and then just go ghost.
GH: She says she doesn’t understand why they spent so much time in Tulsa, and why she was often left with the doctor’s family members. Rocky was absent… The doctor was constantly in meetings…
MSH: Which makes me think where was Rocky? Was she in these meetings?
GH: Was this all an elaborate scheme…
MSH: How dark was this shit? Like how deep did it go? How far down the line do this go? Like how much of it was a script? Because that “I stole the serum.” I know for a fact that that was a script. I know for a fact that that was a script. I remember her- them saying “Well, what you going to say when they ask you?” “Well, I’m going to say I stole it. I’m gonna say I stole it.” “Oh, you’re gonna say you stole it.” “Yes.” “Alright.” “They’re not going to- what are they gonna say- I took it without you knowing.”
GH: Marvella now takes two antiretrovirals daily to stay healthy, but sometimes it’s still hard to keep up with- the side effects often make her feel sick. She has two sons now, both were born HIV negative…they’re four and six.
MSH: So, they’re amazing.
SE: They are.
MSH: One is like my protector protector protector. The other one is like my lover lover lover. But they both have both sides. And they both are little magical beings.
GH: And she lets them make lots of decisions.
MSH: I know how you need to be connected, how it feels to be without, how it feels to be without that nurturing at that young age, how it feels to feel unwanted at a young age all of that so I am never going to put my kids or I’m never going to put no job before them or anything. Because they are the reasons that I, children are the reason that I believe that I wanted to live again.
GH: Someone from the library’s staff knocks on our door…
Staff member: Okay, so this room needed to be evacuated by 5:30.
GH: …it’s been three hours since we started talking…
GH: Okay, we’ll clean up now, thank you.
GH: We leave the library. It’s cold and snowy and wet. Marvella’s kids greet us outside. They were brought here by the sitter…and they’re as happy to see their mom as she is to see them.
GH: The way Marvella described her interactions with Gary Davis as appearing staged – like a script – it made me think about something both British investor David Shotton and former powerlifter Steve Migliaccio had told me. They were not exactly the most credible sources, so originally I brushed it off, but now I was mulling it over again….
They told me that Gary Davis admitted to them that he had stolen the whole idea of the goat serum…that his story of his fateful dream was a charade.
David Shotton: Gary told everyone he got it from God, he actually didn’t get it from God.
GH: That’s David Shotton.
DS: He stole the idea off a guy, a New Zealand guy, who actually set up a company in New Zealand to do HIV.
GH: …keep in mind the two men who told me this have allegedly done some thieving of their own. But what if David Shotton…and Steve Migliaccio…were telling the truth here…that Gary Davis lifted the serum from the founder of a New Zealand pharmaceutical company, Virionyx…the company that a Harvard doctor named Bruce Dezube did NIH-funded clinical trials with in 2001.
…that would mean the doctor…one night…decided to wake his whole family up…his kids…his wife…to tell them about this dream. The goats. The cure for Aids. All to make them…and everyone in North Tulsa…believers…believers in a lie.
GH: Okay. To quickly close the loop on what happened with this New Zealand company – Virionyx. By the time Virionynx got to a phase 2 clinical trial with its goat serum, antiretrovirals had become more accessible and effective. Virionyx had to abandon the trial because they couldn’t recruit enough patients, even though they tried in several major American cities….eventually, the company changed names, headquarters, pivoted, and then…
ANCHOR: Former Congressman Chris Collins sentenced to 26 months in federal prison today after pleading guilty to an insider trading scheme.
GH: …a US congressman became embroiled in an insider trading scandal related to the company and its own new blockbuster drug to treat MS…
ANCHOR: And when Chris Collins was on the White House lawn and part of a congressional picnic, as you said, CLEARS THROAT excuse me, he got a phone call saying the trial happened and it went bad and basically…FADE OUT
GH: Was Gary Davis any different from the power players- the big pharma companies he regarded as corrupted by greed?
GH: I want to get Rocky’s response to everything Marvella has told me…so I call her back.
GH: Hey Rocky, it’s Grant.
Rocky Thomas: Hi, how are you?
GH: I’m good, how are you?
RT: I’m good.
GH: I first ask her who provided her with more serum after Gary Davis died.
GH: Was that person Forres McGraw?
GH: It was? Yeah.
GH: Marvella had told me she was injected with more serum once in Texas with the help of Forres McGraw…but I tell Rocky that she did not believe she was ever given the serum when she was hospitalized with meningitis.
GH: She said she had a private room.
GH: I’m sorry?
RT: And she was sick. She was sick.
GH: She was sick so she was unconscious when you gave her the serum?
RT: Uh, yep.
GH: I tell her Marvella thought it would have been impossible for her to give it to her…that she was shocked to hear that.
RT: No, because I had put it in her IV bag. I sure did.
GH: Okay, because when I told her this story, she called it a shock to her so she- she- you never told her about this?
GH: Okay and what’s your reaction to her being shocked by it?
RT: I don’t know, I don’t know like- I don’t know where anger and all this is coming from with Precious, like I’m such a bad person, you know what I’m saying she wouldn’t be here on earth today if it wasn’t for me.
GH: And I tell her about something else Marvella said…
GH: She hadn’t completely stopped the NIH protocol. She had taken both the serum and the protocol, and that there was no way to tell what actually caused her viral load to go down to zero.
RT: It had to be the serum because she stayed sick. She was- no, her viral load never went to zero on the… UNINTELLIGIBLE … so no.
GH: Okay, so but she was taking other- the NIH protocol concurrently with the- with the serum for some time at least.
RT: Exactly, exactly.
GH: This is different than what she originally told me and what she told reporters at the time. The line has always been that Rocky stopped giving Marvella the drugs from the NIH protocol, and that the little girl was only taking the serum.
GH: She felt like you know, being so public about her diagnosis kind of put a target on her back. Did she ever express that to you that she was felt like she was…
RT: No. I’m- I’m starting to hear that now like the name like you- you’re saying the name change and she all she’s- she has a very nasty disposition you know, but if it weren’t for me, she wouldn’t have had no life.
GH: I tell her Marvella never remembers being very sick…constant trips to the hospital…how she wondered how she could do so many speaking engagements if she was so ill…
RT: That’s because Precious doesn’t like…because her story is out here. She wants to be like everybody else, she don’t want nobody to know her story.
GH: Did she express this to you when she was a child? That she didn’t want anybody to know her story?
RT: No, it was when she got a taste of the streets. Cuz I know her- her- her life was either Children’s Hospital or NIH.
GH: I ask her about the merchandise with Marvella’s face on it. The trust fund…Marvella’s belief that Rocky profited from her HIV diagnosis.
GH: She said this happened starting back from when she was you know around two years old when she first got her diagnosis to when she was about 15 and maybe even a little longer. She estimated that you could have made millions of dollars in donations.
RT: That’s…That’s most definitely ain’t true.
GH: I ask her how much money she collected over the years for Marvella. She says any random speaking engagement paid about $500.
GH: Did she get it or did you get it?
RT: That’s how I was taking care of Precious when she did her engagement. I wasn’t working.
GH: Um. Where did that money go? I mean, she mentioned a trust fund, what happened to that?
RT: She went- Precious went to school. Precious got clothes. Precious- I took care of Precious with that- with that money. I never had- I never had a new car. I never- my life was- my life was Precious Thomas.
GH: Rocky says the trust fund money she collected is “laying dormant.”
RT: She wanted nothing to do with it. So therefore it’s sitting- laying dormant. She just resents life. She resents that I’m even a part of her life. Everything I’ve done for her- everything I’ve done for Precious, for her to be where she is and her to have breath in her body today. It was wrong.
GH: I wanted to know: was she aware that Marvella was suicidal as a child?
RT: I did.
GH: She told me, you know that a good part of that feeling came from the way she felt ostracized from being so public. Um. You know that- to the point where she didn’t want to live anymore, and she stopped taking her medicine. And uh her you know, did you know about that?
RT: Yeah, I had her committed- I had her, took her to the hospital.
GH: She also alleged that you physically abused her. Um that if she didn’t hang up her clothes correctly, you would beat her with a wire hanger. She mentioned an instance where if she didn’t count change correctly, she said you would hit her with the sack of coins that she was counting them from. Um She also said that if she didn’t want to speak at engagements when she was there, that you would dig your nails into her arm or pinch her.
RT: I didn’t have fingernails. LAUGHS Go ahead.
GH: Yeah so…so did you- did you ever hit her or beat her? Or pinch her or um dig your nails into her?
RT: She was around too many people, always at the hospital, she was always in the- in the doctor’s office for any of that to be done to her. Period.
GH: So are you saying that you didn’t do these things?
RT: No sir… There’s never been a report- a report at no doctor’s ever appointment that Precious Thomas was abused. Period….
GH: She also told me that when she told therapists allegations that you hit her, you told the therapist that she saw a certain beating scene in a movie.
RT: Yeah, and I’m gonna tell you the same movie. Mommy Dearest. Mommy Dearest. That’s the name of the movie. Mommy Dearest. I ain’t never beat her with no bag on a wire hanger.
GH: When she wrote a suicide note and left it on her desk at school um that after Child Protective Services visited your home following it being found. You drove her to the woods, beat her on the way there and then pointed to the woods and said, “Go be dead.” Did that happen?
RT: I ain’t ever- LAUGHS No. I didn’t even know about that one. No…
GH: I ask about the allegation that she hit Marvella in front of a school administrator…she denied it…said she would have been locked up if that really happened. And I can tell she’s starting to get annoyed…
RT: I guess I fucked her and made her pregnant too, at 15, right? Did she tell you that?
GH: So we get to the circumstances surrounding Marvella’s abortion…that she didn’t want to have one.
GH: And that the abortion provider said it was too late. Afterward, she said you took her prom dress shopping and had a red carpet waiting for her at home the same day. Did that happen?
RT: It sure did. That surely did happen. But not like she’s telling it but yeah… I found out she was pregnant, took her to the doctor to find out how far along she was, she was high- whatever it was- she was high risk. And Imma tell you how high risk she was. The hospital came up with the money for her to have this abortion done. That’s how high risk she was. Yes sir. Whatever amount that Children’s had, I had to come up with the rest. And they uh to the- to the abortion clinic to where she went. And my family and my friends helped me with the money to have the rest of the money that Children’s had so she can have the abortion done.
GH: But was Marvella aware of what was happening? Did she know if she was going through with an abortion.
RT: She knew…she knew.
GH: How did you know? Did she tell you? Did she say she didn’t want the baby?
RT: She never said she didn’t want the baby. She never said she did or didn’t want the baby. She just cried. Or you know, basically just had an attitude.
GH: So why did…if you didn’t know how she felt about it all why did you go through with it?
RT: We went through with it because they said she was high risk.
GH: So she didn’t have a choice in this.
GH: Well, Rocky, I appreciate you answering all my questions. And feel free to reach out to me if you have any questions at all about- about the podcast or anything.
GH: Alright. Thank you so much Rocky.
RT: Okay, thank you. Alright. Bye bye
GH: The day I met with Marvella in Washington, DC, I had scheduled another interview – with a long-time associate of Gary Davis. This is the man who says he originally connected Rocky Thomas with the doctor…
Raymond Burns: Uh, my name is Raymond Burns.
GH: He goes by Ray. He is a Black Navy vet…like Gary Davis. He served for 20 years…then took a job with a military contractor in Virginia.
He doesn’t remember how exactly he met Gary Davis, but he did. And it changed him. He was inspired by this renegade doctor and wanted to get involved with the serum project.
Then he saw something on the news.
RB: There was a story about, on channel five, about Precious Thomas.
GH: A little girl, bravely fighting HIV. After watching it, Ray called into the station…
RB: I wanted to get the two together so that she could be treated.
GH: He asked the reporter for their number…
RB: And he told me, he says, “I’m really not supposed to give you any information. But here’s their contact number” He says “don’t mention that I gave it to you.”
GH: Ray says he was the one …who asked Dr. Davis if he would be willing to treat the little girl.
RB: After I realized how it helped Precious, then other people start calling me.
GH: He kept connecting patients to the doctor, and sometimes went along as they got treated. He says he saw the serum work, with his own eyes…
RB: I wouldn’t have been as involved with him, if I didn’t see the fruits of his labor, you know, I needed to see proof that people were getting better.
GH: Sometimes Ray would even personally deliver serum by car…sometimes he’d meet patients in Tulsa. One patient was told to meet Davis in Saint Kitts, an island in the Caribbean. Ray says the man was so sick he could barely walk.
RB: And Dr. Davis paid it, all of his- his room and board at the hotel. And in a week, the guy swam the length of the pool…
GH: Ray says he never asked to be paid for connecting patients to Davis…or for networking on behalf of the doctor.
RB: I did try to get Dr. Davis an interview with President Clinton’s Aids person. And it just so happened that Dr. Davis went to Guam and couldn’t make the meeting.
GH: Ignoring a meeting with the president’s point person on Aids for a trip to Guam? Seems like that meeting could have potentially changed the course of the project. Why wouldn’t the doctor just delay the trip?
I didn’t think Ray was lying to me, but it all just didn’t make sense. Ray says eventually…
RB: We established a website. It was Dr. Gary Davis Foundation. And it wasn’t to make any money at all. But it was for to make people aware that there was something out there that could help them if they had Aids.
GH: Ray tells me he once sent the doctor some of his own money when he needed it.
RB: He said that he was going to give me some stock. And I said, I don’t want you to give me stock, Dr. Davis. I said, I’ll send you some money. I sent him 2k. And I never saw anything back from it. But it’s still okay with me. Because I’m not ashamed of what I did for him. You know, and if he was still living, and still trying to do what he did, I would still be behind him 100%. That’s- that’s just the way I feel. Because everybody that gets helped. I get a blessing out of it. And that’s all I need.
GH: I ask him if he knows anything about the long-term effectiveness of the serum… .
GH: Almost everyone I’ve spoken with has had to go back on to antivirals at some point you know, their levels go, go, you know, back up eventually.
RB: Even Precious?
GH: Even Precious.
GH: So. You know, somethings happening..there seems- some reaction you know Precious did go down to zero…
GH: … um at one point, but it seems like everybody, everybody at some point either has to maybe go back for more serum or, you know, has eventually evolved to, you know, just taking regular antivirals.
GH: So, you know, I, you know, I’m not a doctor, I’m not making any- I don’t have anything to add to that-
GH: I just find it interesting. You know, I just wonder where this notion that it was a cure came from, you know, maybe it’s effective in its treatment. But I was just curious if there you know, anyone who has, um you know, gone to zero and stayed at zero?
RB: No. Um…I didn’t know Precious was back on the schedule. But now, when I first got with Dr. Davis, we all were calling it you know, calling it a cure. And at some point, Dr. Davis says it was a treatment that it would take their viral load down to undetectable. But even that would keep people from- from dying. You know, even if they had to come back and get more.
GH: I head home with mixed emotions…I got quite a few answers…though…maybe not the ones I hoped for.
The quiet let down in Ray’s voice after I told him I hadn’t met anyone who had actually been cured by Gary Davis’ goat serum – I felt that too.
Like after he told me how the doctor ignored a meeting with the President’s Aids advisor…and that he took Ray’s money– never paid him back.
I think about something Sharonda Dennard, the doctor’s niece, once said…
Sharonda Dennard: Each one of us got a piece of the formula…that’s the only way it’s gonna come together.
GH: How she believed Gary Davis gave all of his family members a piece of his original formula– and that without everyone in the family coming together…that formula would never be known.
SD: All of us don’t have all of it. But we all have a piece of it.
GH: I reflect on this a little: the pieces I’m missing. Still no word from the doctor’s first wife, Sadonna…still no word from his oldest son, Gary Jr. Why?
Or his second-most famous patient…Bobby Cowan…what happened to him? Or the hundreds of others Davis allegedly treated? The patients I saw in Forres’ footage? Where were they?
And..of course– my Freedom of Information Act request with the FDA…remember that?
My Lyft driver Clyde Ashley Sherman had told me he wouldn’t talk to me again until I got the info back.
My request got rejected…I appeal…and I’m told it’ll take another year to process it.
Which meant the person who started this whole thing for me…he would stay missing too…but, come on…this is Sherman we’re talking about.
GH: One day at like 5 am…he gets in touch… totally out of the blue..
GH: Wow, are you- are you? I mean, you don’t have to tell me if you don’t want to… I’ve got so much to tell you after these past couple of years but…
GH: He sends me a slew of random photographs and tries to video call me…my girlfriend Mary is still sleeping, so I rush to a nearby Starbucks…it’s just opening up, I grab a table outside. I tell him what I’ve been up to since we last spoke in 2019.
GH: …I, you know, I became kind of obsessed with Dr. Davis…yeah…yeah… And uhhh. So I just started, you know, looking into it, and I traveled to Tulsa and I uh met with his family… LAUGHS…Yeah, for a podcast!
GH: I tell him about, well, everything. How his raison d’etre had…in a way…become mine. He’s shocked…he doesn’t even seem to remember my name…he keeps calling me Matt.
GH: Well, hold on, sorry there’s a lot of noise, I’m uh, one sec..
GH: But it’s also too loud to hear him. A man is using a leaf blower to clean the sidewalk.
GH: Wait, say that again, sorry there’s a truck going by…
GH: Eventually Sherman calls me back when I’m somewhere quieter…and you’ll never guess where he’s calling from…
Clyde Ashley Sherman: Where I’m staying at right now Grant, Edward has the information about the CIA’s involvement, the agent that got…
GH: Sherman is in Ghana. With an old investor of Dr. Gary Davis…a man named Edward Safa…together they’re trying once more to revive the serum…
CAS: Edward is the key. Edward is very spiritual, and Edward has all these ministers that have been prophesying to me, since I’ve been here. My mother hasn’t spoken to me until yesterday.
CAS: Because she was scared, because everyone’s scared I’m gonna get killed.
GH: Sherman says he’s staying in a building right next to where Davis stayed when he was in Ghana– the place that caught fire…where Davis supposedly barely escaped with his life. He video calls me and shows me the building – rundown with black burn marks on the wall…
CAS: Where they said a satellite beam from satellite next to where I’m sleeping right now. And they never fixed the building. So I’m staying in like, you know, in like an abandoned building.
GH: Sherman’s investor…Edward Safa…he believes that when Gary Davis was in Ghana, the fire that burned down his lab- it was the CIA…that they shot the building with a laser beam from space…that the place was crawling with spies.
I tell Sherman that seems like a pretty expensive…and convoluted and made up way to try to kill someone.
Sherman doesn’t seem all too convinced either. But if that’s what his investor believes…that’s what Sherman believes.
CAS: Yes. And they never fixed it. Because they wanted to make a memorial, which I think is totally morbid and sick.
GH: Sherman tells me he’s committed to seeing this all through in Ghana…with him as the lead researcher…maker of the serum. He sounds…a little in over his head.
CAS: And when I tell people that: that I’m in a hostile environment, I have no budget I’m being funded…the Grace Eureka company that Edward has is totally defunct. They ruined it, it has no funding. So when Dr. Davis was here, they spent 2.8 million dollars on treating Dr. Davis like a king and luxury hotels and security and luxury of the presidents and meeting kings. My visit has been totally opposite. I’ve been totally funding it on my pension. My pension has been absorbed now and I’m like 9000 American in debt.
GH: I ask him why he’s doing all of this…it’s been years. Why go to all this trouble…all this debt…risk his life…as he thinks he might be.
GH: Why are you over there? I mean is it worth getting killed over?
CAS: Listen, listen, of course it’s worth it, it’s that formula…FADE
GH: He repeatedly asks me for money. Sends me links to his cash app. Says he can get me interviews with patients over there…all the documents I need…I tell him I can’t give him any money.
CAS: It’s just like I’m barely surviving, trying to do this crazy thing, the raison d’etre thing, the reason, but the blessings on another side are totally different. Edward has introduced me to humanitarians that are promising trillions… FADE OUT
GH: Little else comes from my conversation with Sherman– what I’ve uncovered about Davis– strangely enough, it doesn’t even seem to interest him all that much. He says he knew most of that stuff already.
He gives me new contacts to chase down…sends me documents from Davis’ old efforts in Ghana…stuff that will really blow the lid off this thing…I’m…skeptical.
Here I am, once again, at a crossroads with Clyde Ashley Sherman. Do I stay along for the ride– try to get to the bottom of what really happened here? Fill in those missing pieces?
Or get out of all this…mind, body, relationships still intact…and make peace with where I’ve arrived… what I’ve discovered.
Everyone who has ever met Gary Davis…gotten involved with his serum…has had to make a similar choice.
His family members who talked to me…and those who did not. The patients who still believe…and the many who will never tell. And, of course, the backers who’d stop at nothing to see a return on their investments…and the ones who let it go.
I knock a few drinks back…return to a similar state I was in when I first met Sherman…but this time I don’t call a cab… I grab my sneakers. Night is falling.
And suddenly, literally walking off into the sunset…letting this all go…it doesn’t seem so bad.
GH: Oh my god…
GH: And then…
GH: Okay. CLEARS THROAT
GH: It all comes flooding in….a new theory of everything when it comes to the serum…who Gary Davis was…why he did what he did…trusted who he trusted…whether his serum was for real… a clear picture begins to emerge in my head… What really happened here…
GH: Mary, I just had a thought here. Um. Yeah, I just had a thought here. LAUGHS
GH: And to prove it, all I need are a couple more pieces.
GH: Okay um I’m walking around the neighborhood, here and um it’s like- it’s like twilight right now, and uh people are coming out, letting their dogs out of their house, and I’m over here recording a voice memo to me about Gary Davis. LAUGHS Okay, um. What if- Oh my god, I mean, is this real? Did this really happen? Um. Because this is too- this makes too much sense…Um. What if Davis was- was a medical researcher for some kind of intelligence operation uh in here in the US like- like what if he never even left what he was doing… FADE OUT
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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.