An insider's view of Jim Garrison's case against Clay Shaw in the assassination of JFK.

Part 1 of 9

Excerpts from a Diary kept while working
in the District Attorney's office during
the investigation of Kennedy's assassination

June 25, 1967

Matt Herron, photographer for the Black Star agency in NY, worked with Jim Phelan on the Saturday Evening Post article about the New Orleans investigation. I knew Matt quite well before working on this case and saw him this afternoon at his home, 315 Pine St. There were quite a few people present. He told me that he was favorably disposed towards the investigation, and wants to see it succeed. He thinks there was a conspiracy and is a friend of and thinks along the same lines as Vincent Salandria.

He volunteered the following information regarding Jim Phelan and Perry Russo. Phelan interviewed Perry Russo in Baton Rouge after the Preliminary Hearing. Also present at this meeting was Russo's room-mate and Matt Herron.

Phelan asked Russo twice during this interview if it was true that he, Russo, had not mentioned a meeting between Shaw, Ferrie and Oswald until he came to New Orleans. According to Matt Herron, Russo agreed that he did not mention such a meeting until his arrival in N.O. Herron seemed to remember Russo saying something like "I guess not" in response to Phelan saying was it not true that the meeting didn't come up until he was questioned in New Orleans. Matt Herron also said to me, "I think you've got the wrong man, Tom." He was referring to Clay Shaw, and the group of people with him seemed to be unanimous in believing that Shaw was innocent.

(March, 1969: Herron later changed his mind. I saw him in the court room on the last day of the Shaw trial with Vincent Salandria. At the end of Dymond's closing argument I saw Matt standing alone and I asked him if he believed that Clay Shaw was guilty. He simply said "Yes".)

Herron added (June 25 ‘67) that Phelan is "still working on the case", and that he, Phelan, would submit affidavits at the trial testifying to the above mentioned meeting. I asked Herron why Phelan was still working on the case in view of the fact that his article had been published and he said that Phelan "is interested in detective stories."

Herron also stated that it was his impression from talking to Phelan that Bill Gurvich was now collaborating with Phelan. Matt said that if called upon to testify to this meeting he will do so as he was there; however, he said he was not prepared to "put anything in writing" at this stage. He was passing this information on to me because he wants the assassination probe to be successful in its outcome.

Aug 14, 1967

Dean Andrews trial. Andrews is being charged with making 2 conflicting statements: 1. that he can't say whether or not Shaw is Bertrand, and 2. that Shaw is not Bertand. This means that he is being charged with making a statement with one that is in conflict with one that would lead one to suppose Shaw is not Bertrand. I.e., it looks as though the state is trying to get Dean to corroborate that Clay Shaw is not Clay Bertrand. The whole thrust of the Andrew trial is very injurious to the Clay Shaw case. I pointed this out to Jim Alcock and he said: "I know, it hurts us."

August 19, 1967

I talked to Alcock today; he seems to be the most intelligent, and the most communicative person in the office. He said several things, some of them astonishing. First, he told me that Gene Davis had called Dean Andrews at the Hotel Dieu. I asked him how he knew that and he said that Davis had called him and admitted it. It now begins to look as though Gene Davis really is Clay Bertrand, inasmuch as anyone is. Alcock suggested that Dean might have just made up the name Bertrand. He said there was a rumor that there had been a nurse at the Hotel Dieu while Andrew was there named Clare Bertrand, and that as far as he knew nobody checked this out.

Alcock went on to say that it was the first name "Clay" that was the initial lead as far as Clay Shaw was concerned. I suspected that this was true but this was the first time anyone in the office had admitted it. He said that Shaw had refused to take a lie detector test, and that he feared Shaw's lawyers were soon going to publicise the results of a test which he believed Shaw had taken in Illinois somewhere. He said he would like to subpoena and question Marina Oswald. Mainly he wanted to know if Oswald was ever away at night. Alcock also said he was worried about the business about the beard.

He added that he thought the arrest of Clay Shaw was possible a case of mistaken identity, and that he had qualms about taking the case. I mentioned that we should make a formal request of the FBI that we be allowed to see the classified FBI reports of David Ferrie. I said that otherwise there was a danger that the defense would produce them at the trial, that they would contain nothing of interest, and moreover that the defense would establish that we hadn't even requested to see them. Alcock agreed that we should do this.

Aug 25, 1967

I arrived in Dallas on Aug 24, and was met by Bill Boxley at the airport. We proceeded directly to Marguerite Oswald's house in Fort Worth. Boxley introduced me to her and told her that I represented the DA's office, adding that he hoped we would be able to go though the material pertaining to the assassination which she had been accumulating, and had suggested we might be interested in. (Earlier, to Boxley.) However, Mrs Oswald did not appear to welcome the suggestion, and made it clear that it wasn't going to be that easy to get her to part with her material.

She soon launched into a lengthy discourse about her personal misfortunes, explaining that she had spent a great deal of money on her own investigation, including phone bills as high as $500 a month, and that although she had made about 200 TV appearance[s] she had only been paid $100 on 3 of them. She added that she had recently been wondering where the next meal was coming from and at this point momentarily broke into tears. However, she soon recovered and said, "I hold all the cards, I am the mother, you've got to bring the family into this."

Nevertheless, it was her contention that it would be unwise for ger to reveal any of her significant data to us, as the best way to do it would be in a book, which she seems to want to write, (and later added would be as big as, and considerably more important than, William Manchester's book.) It soon became clear that Mrs Oswald was unable to distinguish between us and newspaper reporters, and although Boxley carefully explained to her that we represented the DA's office in a case which might exonerate her son from having fired any shots, she plainly still regarded us as reporters trying to get a story.

Mrs Oswald showed no interest whatsoever in the New Orleans investigation, and asked no questions about it, as I should have thought she might. In particular, it was striking that she at no stage inquired if we had obtained any evidence which would exonerate Lee Harvey Oswald and it was clear that her interest was not to "clear his name", as she had maintained. She wanted to be at the trial though. "I should be at Shaw's trial, just for the prestige, have the mother there fighting for her son." She just seemed to imagine herself on the witness stand, "with Shaw", in some vague but important capacity. I told her that she could not be a witness unless she had previously told us something of sufficient importance to merit it, but she made no response.

She then went into a diatribe against reporters who had cheated her. Overall, Mrs Oswald gave us no significant information and the whole trip was a waste of time. We also saw Mrs AC Johnson at 1026 N. Beckley, and she showed us the layout and told us that Oswald was quiet and near, and on most days called someone from the payphone in the house, speaking in a foreign language, which she since surmises was Russian. She said he would call twice and sometimes 3 times a day.

Aug 30, 1967

Critics of the Warren Report are nearly always not aware of the extensiveness of the FBI's investigation. I was in the position till I went to Dallas, and more especially the National Archives and read through their voluminous reports. Sciambra has reported the same experience as a result of his trips to Louisiana towns, and certainly Garrison must be in the same position. E.g., early in the investigation he wrote a notation on a memo to get copies of the hotel register where Oswald stayed in Mexico City, and also Dallas YMCA records. Both were published in the 26 volumes.

The NBC program seems to have misfired from a publicity point of view. Quotations from letter to Garrison:

"My heart goes out to you in your fight for justice. . ."

"I ask that you not be discouraged by this horrible unfortunate abomination . . . may God bless you."

"The poor ignorant public (me) is searching for a champion, so don't let us down. I recall Frank McGee solving the Kennedy affair on TV the first day so how could we expect any change out of him."

(Letter to NBC, copy to Garrison:) "It is evident from your recent broadcast on the Garrison investigation that your true purpose was to create a doubt about any activity which might tend to throw light on the assassination of our beloved President Kennedy."

Alcock said something about Santana the other day. Can't remember his exact words but they were to the effect that Santana was just a Cuban fisherman who happened to be in jail at the time, and knew nothing whatsoever about the assassination.

Cynical thought for the day: Ferrie and Oswald are both dead. It's surprising therefore that we don't have a few witnesses who say that they knew one another as neither is around to rebut it. I think that's what Garrison wanted to get out of Brownlee. (Ferrie's godson)

Sep 7, 1967

John Volz indicated how he became involved in the case. Returning from Shreveport with Garrison when G. asked him if he had seen the Esquire article about the assassination. They picked up a copy at the news stand and Garrison told him to read it. He said they only had 2 or 3 people working on the case and they were told not to say anything about it. Volz told me, which I already knew, that precautions were taken in the office not to let this leak out. They were planning to arrest people before there was any publicity about the investigation. Typists were kept in the dark: Oswald was referred to in memos as "Smith" or "Patsy", and Ferrie was known as "Lindberg."

Life was in on the investigation early, as was CBS. Neither was going to break the story until Garrison wanted them to.

Volz made a trip to Dallas in late January to investigate the 3128 Harlendale story mentioned by deputy Sheriff Buddy Walthers. He came back with a negative on it, which he said didn't please Garrison too much. There was a lot of kidding of Volz about this later, and when people saw him in the office they would say, "There's nothing there, chief," which was what Volz apparently had told Garrison. Volz stopped working on the case about a month after his trip to Dallas. Too many of the legal staff were getting tied up, he said.

Sep 8, 1967

Garrison told me in his office that he was sorry I was underpaid, and to make up for it he told me it was alright for me to go ahead and keep xeroxes of anything I wanted. He said he was sure I would want to write a book about my experiences "when I got back to England." Couldn't quite figure this one out. He said he also had a private file at home which he thought would be of interest to me. (March 1969): No doubt it would have been interesting, but I never did see it.)

Sep 9, 1967

Boxley back from Baton Rouge, where he was investigating "Clinton." All top secret. He was talking to Garrison about it in G's office and I got the feeling I was not welcome when I went in. Advance copy of Playboy arrived and Garrison asked me what I thought of the interview. He said: "To me, it's like the taste of water." I told him it was OK because more specific than the later revised drafts he had sent off. (He had said at one point that the great thing about the Playboy interview was that you could write the questions as well as the answers.)

I asked him how Gordon Novel became involved in the case, He thought for a moment and said Novel came in and offered to help with electronic equipment, on the proviso that they didn't implicate him as a result of what he told them. Garrison agreed to this and Novel told about the Houma burglary episode and his connections with Ferrie. Garrison then found out, he said, that Novel had been taking pictures inside the DA's office and selling them to Walter Sheridan. He then reneged on his agreement with Novel.

I asked Garrison what he thought about David Lewis as a witness; he didn't seem to have much of an opinion. I then pointed out that Lewis was one of the few linking Oswald and Ferrie. He didn't know this, or at least pretended not to realize it, and I then pointed out the trouble with the dates. (When David Lewis was originally interviewed in the DA's office, Dec14, 1966, he had been quite positive that the date he saw "Lee Harvey" at Mancuso's restaurant was in 1961, when Oswald was in Russia. I was in Ivon's office with Lewis on that day, the day I was hired.) Garrison then said something about Lewis later correcting the date.

I stressed to Garrison the importance of a Ferrie-Oswald link- in my opinion, I said, the most important connection in the case. He said maybe he would have to "re-evaluate" Lewis as a witness.

Sep 10, 1967 (Sunday)

Went to the office in the afternoon. Sciambra, Alcock and Garrison were there, Ivon also came later, They were discussing the "Clay Bertrand" signature found in the guest book of the VIP lounge at the airport. Also discussing the motion to quash set for tomorrow. All seemed confident as to the outcome; it would take one day and Garrison seemed to know what questions the judge would permit, (especially of Russo.)

There was a discussion of the Pizzo exhibit. I asked Garrison if he had identified the other man passing out leaflets in the picture and he said: "What do you mean, have we identified him? That's Manuel Garcia Gonzalez." He then qualified this in some way.

The role of Life magazine was discussed. Sciambra was in favor of breaking off diplomatic relations. However Garrison and Ivon are evidently in favor of "keeping channels of communications open." I pointed out it seems they must be holding back some information on Hall, Howard, and Seymour, as they seem so interested in them. Sciambra said he got the impression from Boxley that Life weren't giving us everything. Problem with Life, as Sciambra pointed out, and Ivon later confirmed, is that they have a copy of our files whereas they have given us very little.

Note: What leads was Garrison working on when he began his investigation?

  1. Looking for Ferrie involvement.
  2. Dean Andrews-Clay Bertrand
  3. Harlendale Street, (Dallas).
  4. Mrs Sylvia Odio. (A xerox copy of her Warren Commission testimony was in Ivon's office when I went there mid Dec. 1966.)
  5. Pizzo exhibit. (Ivon showed me this picture in mid Dec, pointed to the man later known as Manuel Garcia Gonzalez, and said: "That's the man we're real interested in, Tom."

Monday, Sep 11, 1967

Mark Lane arrived, and I met him for the first time. I went into Garrison's office for something, and there was Lane quietly sitting in a corner.

Sep 12, 1967

Shaw motion to quash over. The decision by the judge is next Monday. I went out to dinner in the evening with Mark Land and his wife Anne-Lise. Contrary to the publicized impression, I found Lane quiet, tactful and thoughtful. He told me about his new book, "Mark Lane Replies." At one point I told Lane that there was a certain irony in his supporting Garrison, because he had supposedly been retained by Oswald's mother to defend (posthumously) her son. Garrison's case against Shaw, I reminded Lane, is contingent upon Oswald's guilt since Shaw is accused of conspiring with Oswald. Lane's reply was: "I have never maintained that Oswald is innocent. Nowhere in ‘Rush to Judgement," do I say that Oswald is innocent."

At Felix's, Land and I were discussing the Dean Andrews case and Lane had started to say something about Prentiss Davis when we were advised by someone sitting at the next table (very crowded together) that he was one of Shaw's lawyers -- Panzeca. Had never seen him before.

Lane is playing a quiet game and not asking me any embarrassing questions!

Sep 13, 1967

Bill Turner arrived in town, and I met him at the airport. He is doing an "Award Book" on the Garrison probe. Turner stayed a full week and went through the files in the "Archives" -- my office, xeroxing material and taking notes. He displays particular interest in the "paramilitary" connections in the case -- Minutemen, etc.

Wednesday evening I went out to dinner with him, Boxley, and Mrs Mae Brussell. Mrs B., from Carmel, Calif. has done vast research on the Russian community in Dallas , nearly all of it a complete waste of time it seems to me. She has cross-indexed it to the point where her notes on DeMohrenschildt, for instance, are almost valueless as being more voluminous that his original testimony.

Next: Part Two

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