Camp Street Blues

Does a New Orleans address link Lee Harvey Oswald to a conspiracy?

by Dave Reitzes

One of the most provocative and enduring controversies to arise around Lee Harvey Oswald concerns a stamped address on a batch of political leaflets Oswald was handing out one day in New Orleans during the summer of 1963. Does this one item of tangible evidence link Oswald to a possible conspiracy?

The story begins on August 5, 1963, when Lee Harvey Oswald "visited a store managed by Carlos Bringuier, a Cuban refugee and avid opponent of Castro, and the New Orleans delegate of the Cuban student directorate. Oswald indicated an interest in joining the struggle against Castro. He told Bringuier that he had been a marine and was trained in guerrilla warfare, and that he was willing not only to train Cubans to fight Castro but also to join the fight himself. The next day Oswald returned to the store and left his 'Guidebook for Marines' for Bringuier."(1)

A few days later, a friend of Bringuier's saw Oswald passing out his pro-Castro Fair Play for Cuba Committee leaflets on Canal Street, not far from the store Bringuier managed. Bringuier and a couple of like-minded friends proceeded to the site of Oswald's mini-demonstration, and Bringuier was enraged to recognize Oswald as the wannabe anti-Castro activist of a few days before. Though no physical violence resulted, some heated words were uttered, a crowd gathered, and Oswald was arrested along with the three Cubans for disturbing the peace.(2)

Oswald didn't seem too fazed by the ordeal. "When I saw that was Oswald and he recognized me, he was also surprised, but just for a few seconds," Bringuier testified. "Immediately he smiled to me and he offered the hand to shake hands with me."(3)

While Oswald normally stamped either his home address or his post office box number on his handouts, some of the ones confiscated by the NOPD on this occasion had instead been stamped with the address, "544 CAMP ST."(4)

The FBI and the Warren Commission considered the possibility that Oswald might have indeed briefly rented such an office.(5) In a letter dated August 1, 1963, Oswald had written to Vincent T. Lee, head of the Fair Play for Cuba Committee in New York. In this letter, postmarked August 4, 1963, Oswald wrote: "In regards to my efforts to start a branch of the Fair Play for Cuba Committee in New Orleans . . . I rented an office as planned and was promptly closed 3 days later for some obsure [sic] reasons by the renters, they said something about remodeling, ect. [sic] I'm sure you understand after that I worked out of a post office box and by useing [sic] street demonstrations and some circular work have substained [sic] a great deal of interest but no new members. Through the efforts of some cuban-exial [sic] 'gusanos' a street demonstration [of Oswald's] was attacked and we were oficialy [sic] cautioned by the police."(6)

The FBI established that Oswald had not, in fact, rented an office at 544 Camp Street, and left it at that.(7)

In 1966, New Orleans District Attorney Jim Garrison took a second look at the address. He noted that around the corner from 544 Camp Street, located in the same building, was 531 Lafayette Street, which in 1963 had housed the private detective agency of William Guy Banister.(8) In his memoirs, Garrison states flatly that 544 Camp Street was "the entrance to Banister's office."(9) He writes that "both entrances -- 544 Camp and 531 Lafayette -- led to the same place."(10)

Guy Banister, who died of a heart attack in 1964, had spent twenty years of his life with the FBI, sixteen of them as a Special Agent in Charge. After leaving the Bureau he moved to New Orleans, where he became active in local politics and community affairs. A notorious right-winger, anti-Communist, and white supremacist, he would have made an unlikely pal for Lee Harvey Oswald, but to Garrison, the address on Oswald's leaflet could mean nothing else.(11)

As far as Jim Garrison was concerned, this was the key that unlocked the entire mystery of the Kennedy assassination. If Oswald was hanging around with an ultraconservative like Banister, it could only indicate one thing: conspiracy.

In reality, however, 544 Camp Street was not Guy Banister's address, and when Garrison stated that the 544 Camp and 531 Lafayette addresses led to the same location, he was dead wrong.

Both addresses certainly did lead into the same structure of cement and steel, but contrary to what one reads in many books, the 544 Camp Street entrance did not lead to Banister's ground-level office, but only up a stairway to the second floor.(12) As onetime Banister employee Joe Newbrough puts it, "If you entered 544 Camp Street, the only way you could have gotten to Banister's office was to go out a window."(13) "Banister never even considered his office to be part of the Newman Building."(14)

The only relevance of the 544 Camp Street address would seem to be that it had briefly housed the office of the anti-Castro Cuban Revolutionary Council (CRC). That had been for only a few months in late 1961 and early 1962, though -- the CRC was long gone from the building by the time Lee Harvey Oswald showed up in the Big Easy in April 1963.(15)

Why, then, did Oswald stamp that address on his leaflets? It might be of some significance that the one occasion Oswald is known to have used pamphlets with the "544 Camp St." stamp was August 9, 1963, the day Carlos Bringuier and friends discovered him holding a "demonstration" only a few blocks from Bringuier's store.(16)

A year and a half earlier, 544 Camp Street had briefly been the workplace of none other than Carlos Bringuier, when he had served the Cuban Revolutionary Council out of its second-floor office, before resigning from the group to join the DRE.(17) If, as some believe, Oswald set out on August 9, 1963, to provoke Bringuier personally into a publicity-attracting skirmish -- possibly to help inflate his résumé for his expected entrée into Cuba -- the young Marxist might have believed it a wry touch to include Bringuier's onetime work address on his leaflets.

How would Oswald know that Bringuier had worked at 544 Camp? Chances are, he found out from Arnesto Rodriguez, Jr., whom he had approached at that address at the end of July with a familiar pitch -- that he wanted to train exiles in the fight against Castro. Rodriguez explained that the CRC no longer had an office there, and directed Oswald to former CRC member Bringuier.(18)

One person whose testimony is consistent with this theory is Lt. Francis Martello, who questioned Oswald following his arrest that day, and noted to Warren Commission counsel Wesley Liebeler that Oswald "seemed to have set [Bringuier and friends] up, so to speak, to create an incident . . ."(19)

A possible point of corroboration is that the Canal Street confrontation with Carlos Bringuier and friends did not occur until August 9, 1963 -- five days after his August 1 letter to V. T. Lee was postmarked -- and Oswald is not known to have had a previous skirmish with any Cubans.(20) While the Warren Commission dismissed the contents of the August 1 letter, it suggests to some that Oswald had planned the Bringuier provocation well in advance. His calm, strangely upbeat demeanor throughout the incident seems to affirm this.

If indeed Oswald was hoping that the use of the fiercely anti-Castro Bringuier's onetime work address on his pro-Castro leaflets would cause Bringuier to especially -- pardon the expression -- see red, he must have been slightly disappointed, however.

During his Warren Commission deposition, Bringuier brought up the subject of a discrepancy among Oswald's pamphlets, but not the discrepancy one might expect. "The leaflet he was handing out on Canal Street August 9 didn't have his name of Oswald, at least the ones that I saw," Bringuier observed. "They have the name A. J. Hidell, and one post office box here in New Orleans and the address, and the leaflets that he was handing out on August 16 have the name L. H. Oswald, 4907 Magazine Street."(21)

Bringuier didn't get one of the '544 Camp' batch. Couldn't Oswald do anything right?

You may wish to see:


1. Warren Commission Report, 728.

2. Warren Commission Report, 728; Warren Commission Hearings Vol. X, 47.

3.Warren Commission Hearings Vol. X, 37.

4. Warren Commission Report, 292.

5. Virtually no one takes seriously the notion that Oswald actually did make use of an office at this building, but Ray and Mary Fontaine, authors of Oswald Talked, do. In fact, they go so far as to say that if Oswald didn't use an office at 544 Camp Street, the possibility of linking Oswald to an assassination conspiracy evaporates. Be that as it may, one can find an analysis of their argument here.

6. Warren Commission Report, 407-8; Warren Commission Hearings Vol. X, 90-1; Vincent T. Lee Exhibit No. 5, No. 9 (Warren Commission Hearings Vol. XX, 524, 533).

7. Warren Commission Report, 292; Warren Commission Exhibit No. 1414 (Warren Commission Hearings Vol. XXII, 828-30).

8. Jim Garrison, On the Trail of the Assassins, 1991 ed., 26-7. On the Trail of the Assassins purports to tell the story of how Garrison "discovered" this alleged relationship between Oswald and Banister (pp. 26-31); Garrison's account is disputed by William Turner (cf. Turner, "The Garrison Commission . . .", Ramparts, January 1968; see endnote 178). Turner also claimed, however, that the 544 Camp Street entrance led to Guy Banister's office, and that he himself discovered this -- a dubious distinction indeed.

9. Garrison, 48.

10. Garrison, 27.

11. Ibid.; Banister biography: House Select Committee on Assassinations, Hearings Vol. X, 483; FBI 62-103863-13; A. J. Weberman Web site, Nodule 11, 8.

12. House Select Committee Exhibit No. 1, November 6, 1978; House Select Committee Testimony of Sam Newman (owner of the building at 544 Camp/531 Lafayette); Gus Russo, Live by the Sword,197.

13. Gus Russo, Live by the Sword, 197. To get to Banister's office, Newbrough says, one would have to retrace one's steps, "exit the second floor to the sidewalk" (Ibid.) and "walk around the corner" to 531 Lafayette (Ibid.).

14. Russo, 197.

15. In the summer of 1963, 544 Camp Street was briefly the address for two offices: the Hotel, Motel, and Restaurant Workers' Union, and the Amalgamated Association of Street Electric Railway and Motor Coach Employees of America. Also, the building's janitor, James Arthus, lived in a room at 544 Camp (House Select Committee on Assassinations, Hearings Vol. X, 124).

16. Warren Commission Report, 292. It is not known whether or not August 9 was the only occasion Oswald used this address. In 1968, researcher Paul Hoch was informed by the National Archives that ten of twenty copies of Oswald's leaflets seized at the Paine home in Irving following the assassination bore the Camp Street stamp (Anthony Summers, Conspiracy, 1989 Paragon ed., 288, 589 fn.).

17. Bringuier testified to the Warren Commission that he had served as Secretary of Publicity and Propaganda for the New Orleans delegation of the Cuban Revolutionary Council. He recalled joining the organization around the beginning of 1962, and leaving in June or July of that year to serve as the New Orleans delegate of the Cuban Student Directorate (Warren Commission Hearings Vol. X, 34).

He might have joined the group slightly earlier. Orest Pena knew Bringuier fairly well, and he recalled working with Bringuier and Sergio Arcacha Smith out of the Balter Building, where the CRC had been before the move to Camp Street. If Pena was correct, it would mean that Bringuier was working for the CRC by no later than October 1961 (Warren Commission Hearings Vol. XI, 347-8, 357-8).

Either way, however, we know that Bringuier was with the group when Sergio Arcacha Smith was dismissed on January 20, 1962, and Luis Ravel took over as the council's New Orleans delegate. 544 Camp Street would be Secretary of Publicity and Propaganda Bringuier's work address for at the very least a few weeks, before the group vacated the office in mid-February, and began operating out of Ravel's home (Warren Commission Exhibit No. 1414 [Warren Commission Hearings Vol. XXII, 828-30]).

18. Anthony Summers, Conspiracy, 1989 Paragon ed., 289.

19. Warren Commission Hearings Vol. X, 61. Asked years later if he thought Oswald and Bringuier might have staged the incident together, Martello dismissed the possibility: "I didn't believe it back then and I don't believe it now -- no way" (Gerald Posner, Case Closed, 152 fn., citing his personal interview with Francis Martello, March 16, 1992).

20. Warren Commission Report, 408.

21. Warren Commission Hearings Vol. X, 61.

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