Did the Clinton witnesses really link Clay Shaw to Ferrie and Oswald?

Impeaching Clinton

by Dave Reitzes

Part Three

On October 3, 1967, Corrie Collins' story involved only a black Cadillac and two local men, Estus Morgan and Winslow Foster; Collins did not identify Lee Harvey Oswald, David Ferrie or Clay Shaw in connection with the black car or having been in Clinton at all. In a memorandum of October 26, 1967, Andrew Sciambra stated that he had a tape-recorded interview with Collins, in which Collins discussed the approximate date he remembered seeing the black car, and offered the names of other CORE workers that might also remember the Cadillac. If Collins said anything in this interview about Lee Harvey Oswald, David Ferrie, Clay Shaw or anyone else, Sciambra doesn't mention it.(1)

Following the dismissal of Anne Hundley Dischler and Lt. Francis Fruge, things began to look up for the DA's office's Clinton investigation. In an interview of January 31, 1968, Corrie Collins now described seeing only one man "get out of the car and go in the registration line." From a photograph displayed by Andrew Sciambra, Collins promptly identified this man as Lee Harvey Oswald.(2)

Early witness testimony, from Andrew Sciambra's first Clinton and Jackson interviews, gives a picture radically different from the well-articulated story presented in court.

Was this a different black car than the one Morgan and Foster arrived in?

No, Collins remembered the black car because "it was the only black strange car that he had seen during this period."(3)

And unlike his previous statements, he now recalled, "There were two people in the front of the car. . . . He said the driver of the car had on a light hat and had broad shoulders . . . He said the other person who got out of the car was younger and was of medium height and medium build and was casually dressed in a sense that he did not have a coat and tie on."(4)

When shown the second photo, that of David Ferrie, "he said that he remembers seeing this man around Clinton somewhere but can't be sure where or when." Of the third photo, that of Clay Shaw, "he said the face was familiar but [he] can't say for sure where he saw the man. He said he looks big enough to be the man behind the wheel but he would like to see a picture of him with a hat on and from the back."(5)

Other witnesses tended to also find Ferrie and Shaw familiar, even if they could not possibly have seen either one -- for example, Bobbie Dedon at the East Louisiana State Hospital in Jackson.(6)

Estus Morgan still haunts the story, but now Collins only remarks that he saw Morgan in line at some point, and "doesn't know if it was the same day."(7)

A year later, Collins' story had fallen into place. At the Shaw trial on February 6, 1969, Collins was the only witness to positively identify all three men: Oswald as the man who got out of the black car, Ferrie on the passenger side of the front seat, Shaw as the driver. And, like Winslow Foster before him, Estus Morgan had vanished without a trace.

Where once Collins had spoken of Estus Morgan in blue jeans and a companion in white, now he had Oswald exiting the car, and he wasn't wearing blue jeans or dressed in white.

DYMOND. Describe his clothing for me.

COLLINS. Well, he had on slacks.

DYMOND. What color slacks?

COLLINS. I don't remember what color slacks (8).

Collins had once said the car had been parked by the registrar's office for "10 to 15 minutes."(9) Now, with others claiming the car was parked there most of the day, Collins said he had no idea had long the car was there.(10)

John Manchester

In an early statement to Garrison's investigators, Town Marshal John Manchester recalled two men in the front seat of the car: "The one on the driver's side was well dressed with a white shirt and tie. He was neat. The main thing I remember about the man was that he had gray hair. It was a good bit of hair and it wasn't thin. He did not have a hat on. He looked tall and well built from what I could tell from seeing him in the car. Possibly 6 feet or better."(11)

Without making a positive identification, Manchester noted that the driver resembled the photos of Clay Shaw that he had seen in the newspaper.(12)

On February 6, 1969, at the Shaw trial, Manchester didn't recall a thing about the man on the passenger side, but had a firm recollection of the driver.

MANCHESTER. I checked this automobile out. . . . I walked over and talked to the man that was behind the wheel of this car.

SCIAMBRA. How many people did you see in the car?

MANCHESTER. There was two men in it. . . . Both in the front seat.

SCIAMBRA. Can you describe the individual on the passenger side?

MANCHESTER. No, sir, I can't. Mister, I didn't talk to him. . . . I talked to the driver. . . . He was a big man, gray-haired, ruddy complexion, a real easy-talking man.

SCIAMBRA. Do you see the man in the courtroom today that you talked to?


SCIAMBRA. Would you point him out to us.

(The witness complied.)

SCIAMBRA. Would you tell the Court what you said to the Defendant and what the Defendant said to you at that time.

MANCHESTER. I can't remember exactly the words that I used to get this man's identification. I approached him like I do anyone that I am -- I want to find out the identity of them and I ask them where they are from or what their name is.

SCIAMBRA. When you asked this individual where he was from, did he say anything?

MANCHESTER. He said he was a representative of the International Trade Mart in New Orleans.(13)

Garrison defenders who impart sinister motives to all alleged actions of Clay Shaw never seem to ask themselves one simple question: If Clay Shaw, as the allegation goes, was an intelligence operative, "sheep-dipping" Oswald with a Communist image in preparation for the upcoming assassination, why would Shaw allow himself to be seen in public with Oswald, and why on Earth would he volunteer his place of business to someone?

Regardless of what Manchester stated at the trial, his relatively vivid recollections then are a far cry from what he told Garrison's people in 1967.

During the time of the Civil Rights demonstrations, I can remember that my attention was called to a Cadillac that was parked close to the Voter Registrar's Office. I don't remember exactly how my attention was called to the car, and I don't remember exactly where it was parked, but it was in the vicinity of the Registrar's office. I don't remember exactly how, but I remember finding out some way the car was from the International Trade Mart in New Orleans. It is possible that I could have checked it out through our Sheriff's office or I may have gone up and talked to the people in the car and got the information from them. It is hard for me to remember exactly how. . . . I feel that I must have walked up to the car and talked to the man on the driver's side, but I can't be sure and I really can't be certain. . . .

. . . I feel that Henry Earl Palmer must have told me to check it out, and I must have walked up to the car and talked to the man and he told me that he was from the International Trade Mart in New Orleans, but I can't be sure. I don't believe that a 1028 (vehicle registration check) was run on the car so the info must have been given to me by the man in the car. I only would have talked to the man behind the wheel and not to the other man on the passenger's side.(14)

William E. Dunn, Sr.

William E. Dunn, Sr., a CORE worker and friend of Corrie Collins, was the last witness to come aboard. In his first statement to the DA's office on January 17, 1968, Dunn, seemingly without explanation, named an associate of David Ferrie, "Thomas Edward Beckham," as one of the men in the black Cadillac.(15)

On February 7, 1969, at the Shaw trial, Dunn testified that Clay Shaw was the driver of the car and that he had seen Lee Oswald in the registration line. Where he once had unhesitatingly named Thomas Edward Beckham as a passenger in the car, now he testified that he wasn't sure if there was a second man in the car at all.(16)

The Registration Check

In his memoirs, Jim Garrison writes:

The town marshal suspected that the [men in the black Cadillac] might have been sent from the federal government to help black people register. He called in the limousine license plates to the state police and had them checked. The car, it turned out, was registered to the International Trade Mart, which Clay Shaw -- obviously the tall, distinguished-looking man -- happened to manage.(17)

Then, in his discussion of the trial, Garrison reaffirms:

John Manchester, the Clinton town marshal, testified that he "checked out" all strange cars visiting Clinton during the voter registration drive, including the big black car parked near the office entrance of the voting registrar. "I walked over and talked to the man behind the wheel of the car," said Manchester. "He was a big man, gray hair, ruddy complexion. An easy-talking man, he said he was a representative of the International Trade Mart in New Orleans."

Manchester pointed to Clay Shaw as the man he had questioned. Shaw gazed back at him impassively. As Sciambra had learned in Clinton, Manchester contacted the state police and confirmed that the limousine was the property of the International Trade Mart in New Orleans.(18)

John Manchester said nothing whatsoever about a registration check at the Shaw trial. But Henry Earl Palmer did.

PALMER. I don't remember who I met across the street, it was somebody over in front of the barber shop . . . I saw a law officer there -- and I don't remember which law officer it was, but it was one of the local officers -- and I told him to get a 1028 on the car. . . . a registration, license registration check.

SCIAMBRA. Was this a common practice during this time?

PALMER. Yes, it was; when there were strange cars in town we tried to find out who they were.

SCIAMBRA. Did you [later] have any conversations with any law enforcement officer or persons in relationship to the 1028 with the automobile?

PALMER. Yes, I did. . . . I don't remember who it was (19).

Palmer explained that in lieu of the registration check, this unknown law enforcement officer talked to someone in the car and ascertained that he was with the International Trade Mart in New Orleans. The implication, of course, is that this officer was Town Marshal John Manchester, but Palmer is strangely reluctant to name him, just as he was on May 27, 1967:

Mr. Palmer said that when he got across the street someone told him that the Justice Department was watching everything and at that time he told someone around him to get a 1028 (license registration check) on the black Cadillac. Mr. Palmer said he does not remember who he told this to, but that it could have been a Mr. Manchester who is the present Town Marshal, or it could have been a State Trooper, or it could possibly have been Judge John Rarick who may have been with him at the time. However he just does not know who he told. At any rate, about 10 or 15 minutes later the person whom he did tell to get a 1028 on the Cadillac told him as he was coming out of the caffee [sic] shop that the men in the black Cadillac were not federal men from the Justice Department, but were representatives from the International Trade Mart in New Orleans. Mr. Palmer said he asked the man what in the world they were doing there, and the man said laughingly, "Selling bananas."(20)

In his closing arguments at the Shaw trial, Assistant DA James Alcock explicitly named John Manchester as this officer, despite the fact that Palmer did not identify him as such and Manchester did not testify about a registration check.(21)

It's not clear why the State brought up the issue of the registration check at all. Earlier accounts of Palmer and Manchester's have the two men uncertain as to whether a check was ever run on the black car. Where it appears that there once was a possibility that the story would include mention of such a check being run and the car having been traced to the International Trade Mart in New Orleans, the problem seems to have been that Shaw drove a black Thunderbird that did not resemble the Cadillac recalled by all of the witnesses.

At some point, however, the DA's men realized that Shaw's friend, Jeff Biddison, did own such a black Cadillac. Biddison testified that Shaw did not borrow this car at any time in 1963, but it was the closest the State could come to linking Shaw with a black Cadillac.(22)

But Biddison did not work at the International Trade Mart, so the talk about a registration check had to be jettisoned. From the transcript of the trial itself and the contemporaneous press coverage of the proceedings, it is not clear that the "1028" was ever an issue, but one speculates that questions might have been raised, perhaps due to Palmer's remarks, about whether the registration was checked or not. Clearly, something led Assistant DA James Alcock to clarify the matter during his closing arguments of February 28, 1969.

He explained:

I want to make this abundantly clear at this time -- the State is not wedded to the proposition, the State is not bound by the proposition, and the State is not asking you definitely to believe that that black Cadillac on that day belonged to Jeff Biddison, a long-time friend of the Defendant, but it certainly is a curious coincidence that the Defendant knows Jeff Biddison, has used Jeff Biddison's car, and it was a black Cadillac, 1960 or '61, and, as the witnesses said, a brand new or apparently new automobile, shiny automobile. But the State is not saying necessarily that that was Jeff Biddison's automobile, because . . . unfortunately no one on that occasion got the license number of that car so we could check it down and tell you positively and stand behind it as to the owner of that automobile (emphasis added).(23)

It is hardly to Jim Garrison's credit that two decades later, he was claiming in his memoirs that the registration had been checked, and the car was traced to the International Trade Mart. Not only has Garrison invented the registration check, but he also overlooks the fact that it was Jeff Biddison, not Shaw or the Trade Mart, that owned a black Cadillac.(24)

Next: A matter of motive.


1. Sciambra himself would later insist under oath that it was anything but unlike him to leave out such crucial details from his official memoranda, but that's another story.

2. Andrew J. Sciambra, January 31, 1968, Memorandum to Jim Garrison.

3. Ibid.

4. Ibid.

5. Ibid.

6. Andrew J. Sciambra, January 29, 1968, Memorandum to Jim Garrison.

7. Andrew J. Sciambra, January 31, 1968, Memorandum to Jim Garrison.

8. Transcript, State of Louisiana v. Clay L. Shaw, February 6, 1969, hereafter Shaw, 115.

9. Andrew J. Sciambra, January 31, 1968, Memorandum to Jim Garrison.

10. Shaw, February 6, 1969, 110-1.

11. Andrew J. Sciambra, Undated 1967 affidavit.

12. Ibid.

13. Shaw, February 6, 1969, 59-60.

14. Andrew J. Sciambra, Undated 1967 affidavit.

15. Frank Ruiz and Kent Simms, Memorandum of January 31, 1968; Lambert, 197 fn.

16. Shaw, February 7, 1969, 6-11.

17. Garrison, On the Trail of the Assassins, 1991 ed., 124.

18. Garrison, 271. Corrie Collins remembered Manchester walking up to the car and speaking with the driver, but "as far as he knows these people did not identify themselves to anybody" (Andrew J. Sciambra, January 31, 1968, Memorandum to Jim Garrison.).

19. Shaw, February 6, 1969, 82.

20. Shaw, February 6, 1969, 79-80. Henry Earl Palmer "said he also talked to Mrs. Watson who would have run a 1028 on the automobile as it would have been her job in the Sheriff's Office to do so. However, she does not remember the car" (Andrew Sciambra, Memorandum of June 1, 1967.).

21. Shaw, February 28, 1969, 115.

22. Shaw, February 25, 1969, 2-4.

23. Shaw, February 28, 1969, 117.

24. Garrison apologists today have come up with a variation on this theme, combining both Manchester's trial testimony of the driver identifying himself with the Garrison registration check claim. It has been stated that Manchester asked the driver for some identification, and that he produced a driver's license with Shaw's name and a photograph that Manchester compared to Shaw. The problem with this story, as onetime Louisiana resident David Blackburst has pointed out, is that in 1963, a Louisiana driver's license did not contain a photograph as driver's licenses do today. Until the 1970s, a Louisiana license was simply a stiff, unlaminated piece of cardboard.

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