Jim Garrison -- Tried Clay Shaw for the murder of JFK NEW ORLEANS, AND THE GARRISON INVESTIGATION
It was a three-ring circus. A flamboyant district attorney, with visions of conspiracy, proposing a series of theories, most of them bizarre. What he first called a "homosexual thrill killing" evolved, under the influence of the conspiracy buffs who flocked to New Orleans, into a massive CIA and federal government plot. When push came to shove in the courtroom, a jury took less than an hour to acquit Clay Shaw, the man Garrison put on trial.

How Big a Conspiracy?

Just how many people were involved in a conspiracy to kill Kennedy, and then to cover up their deed? Sound logic says that any conspiracy theory, to be credible, must include only a limited number of people. How many people did Garrison believe were involved? Nobody has an exact count, but the list of all the groups and individuals he implicated is pretty long.

Sinister Connections?

Conspiracy books routinely claim that Oswald had an office at 544 Camp Street in New Orleans, and that this was the "same address" occupied by Guy Banister's detective agency. This, supposedly, is evidence tying Oswald to Banister, Ferrie, and the anti-Castro Cubans. When the House Select Committee examined this issue in the late 70s, they found little solid evidence to place Oswald at that location. More recent research by Dave Reitzes shows that an office at 544 Camp Street was never more than a notion in the head of Lee Harvey Oswald.

Lee Harvey Oswald was in the Civil Air Patrol as a youth in New Orleans. This raises the possibility that David Ferrie knew Oswald. Many conspiracy books imply that some sinister relationship between the two started at this time. The House Select Committee on Assassinations examined this issue, and this is their report. Does it suggest the possibility that Ferrie knew Oswald? Is there any evidence of a close relationship between the two?

Conspiracy Witnesses

The most important witness to later (but not during the Garrison investigation) place Oswald with Banister at 544 Camp Street was Delphine Roberts, Banister's secretary. The House Select Committee didn't believe her testimony. Author Gerald Posner interviewed her in 1992, and found her no more believable.

Unlike Roberts, the Clinton witnesses have been believed by otherwise skeptical investigators like the House Select Committee and Norman Mailer. During and since the Clay Shaw trial, they have told a consistent and apparently sincere story of Lee Oswald, Clay Shaw, and David Ferrie visiting Clinton, Louisiana one day in 1963 in a big black car. But what if you look at the Clinton witnesses' early statements, before they were influenced by repeated questioning and repeated exposure to pictures of Oswald, Shaw, and Ferrie?

Was There a "Clay Bertrand?"

Garrison's entire case was based on the belief that Clay Shaw, using the alias "Clay Bertrand" conspired to kill Kennedy. Where did the name "Clay Bertrand" come from? From an eccentric, rather sleazy New Orleans lawyer named Dean Andrews. Here is an account, abstracted from Kirkwood's American Grotesque, of Andrew's ever-changing testimony.

It is often claimed that Clay Shaw admitted to using the "Clay Bertrand" alias when he signed a fingerprint card during his booking in New Orleans. The card, listing the alias, was produced by the Garrison prosecution. Did Shaw admit to the alias by signing the card? Examine an account of the prosecution's attempt to have the card entered into evidence in the Shaw trial (taken from American Grotesque). Did Officer Habighorst tell the truth?

Lou Ivon: No "Clay Bertrand"

Like the FBI in 1963, Garrison's researchers combed the French Quarter for "Clay Bertrand," the man Dean Andrews said had called him on the day after the assassination and suggested that Andrews go to Dallas to legally represent Oswald. What was the result? The following memo was written by Garrison's chief investigator, Lou Ivon.

M E M O R A N D U M

February 25, 1967

TO: JIM GARRISON

FROM: LOUIS IVON

RE: CLAY BERTRAND

To ascertain the location of one CLAY BERTRAND, I put out numerous inquiries and made contact with several sources in the French Quarter area. From the information we have obtained concerning this subject, I'm almost positive from my contacts that they would have known or heard of a CLAY BERTRAND. The information I received was negative results.

On February 22, 1967, I was approached by "BUBBIE" PETTINGILL in the Fountainbleu Motor Hotel, located on Tulane Avenue, whom I had earlier contacted about CLAY BERTRAND. He stated that DEAN ANDREWS admitted to him that CLAY BERTRAND never existed.

Ivon was not the only Garrison staffer to reach this conclusion. Assistant DA Andrew "Moo-Moo" Sciambra was given the task of "squeezing" the French Quarter to get information from homosexual informants. He admitted to author Edward Jay Epstein that he failed to find any "Bertrand." See Epstein's The Assassination Chronicles (New York, 1992), p. 196.

Garrison's shoddy case against Clay Shaw

Justice Assassinated: Garrison's Shoddy Case Against Shaw

Dave Reitzes is an independent-minded researcher who has done a comprehensive survey of the evidence Garrison presented against Shaw. Here is his four-part essay:

Garrison's Witnesses

Garrison had literally dozens of witnesses who would link Clay Shaw to Lee Oswald, or to the CIA, or to David Ferrie, or provide some sort of "sinister" linkage that Garrison thought important. Journalist James Phelan explained the process:
In the two years between the Shaw hearing and the trial, Garrison's staff interviewed hundreds of would-be witnesses. There are certain sensational cases that have a fascination for unstable people and fetch them forth in droves. A classic example was the "Black Dahlia" mutilation murder of playgirl Elizabeth Short in Los Angeles. Over the years, dozens of people came forward and confessed to this crime, which still remains unsolved. Celebrated cases also attract witnesses who are not psychotic, but who falsely identify key figures out of faulty memory or a desire to lift themselves out of dull anonymity into the spotlight. Chief Justice Frankfurter once commented that eyewitness testimony is the greatest single cause of miscarried justice. In a sensational case, a careful prosecutor often spends more time winnowing out false witnesses than he does working with authentic ones.

The Garrison investigation had a disastrously low threshold, across which trooped a bizarre parade of people eager to bolster his conspiracy scenario. (Scandals, Scamps, and Scoundrels, p. 169)

Not surprisingly, only a tiny handful of Garrison's witnesses had enough credibility to take the stand at the Shaw trial, and most of these were discredited by the defense. Phelan goes on to discuss a few typical ones. Other, more important ones included:

Charles Spiesel

Spiesel testified to having seen Clay Shaw and David Ferrie plotting to kill JFK. He was an impressive witness — until the defense started asking him questions.

Jules Ricco Kimble

He wasn't put on the witness stand in the Shaw trial, but that doesn't stop Garrison from repeating his stories in the book On the Trail of the Assassins. But as Dave Reitzes shows, his credibility could hardly be more suspect.

Jack Martin

Another witness who placed Oswald at 544 Camp and told numerous "interesting" stories was Jack Martin. Out-of-town conspiracy writers were happy to accept Martin's statements at face value, as was Oliver Stone. But local people were more careful:
A States-Item reporter, who has spent more time than most listening to Jack Martin talk, describes him "as one of the most interesting men I ever have met."

"He is as full of that well known waste material as a yule hen. On the other hand, he is many times a very competent investigator who has the friendship and confidence of reputable, well-placed individuals. He drinks, often to excess, but bears no real evidence of being an alcoholic. He desperately wants to be loved, and this is his downfall. Often, he wants to please everyone, everywhere so damn much that he ends by hurting the people who have befriended him. He must be taken with a grain of salt leavened by a grain of confidence. If you listen to him for two hours, often you will receive two minutes of useful information. I suppose, to sum him up, he is like a muddy river. You have to use a very fine filter."

Rosemary James & Jack Wardlaw, Plot or Politics?, p. 48.

Jack Martin was well-known in New Orleans, and uniformly regarded as unreliable. Not surprisingly, Garrison never put Martin on the stand.

Richard Case Nagell

Like Martin, Richard Case Nagell was a witness who gave considerable "information" to the Garrison investigation, but never testified. But this doesn't stop Garrison from using Nagell's stories about CIA and KGB foreknowledge of an assassination plot in On the Trail of the Assassins, and saying that "Nagell impressed me as being utterly honest and sincere" and that "I was satisified that a fabricated tale was not in this man's makeup" (On the Trail of the Assassins, pp. 185,186). Read Dave Reitzes' account of Nagell's ever-changing story, and decide whether Nagell was capable of fabrication.

Perry Raymond Russo -- described Clay Shaw at assassination party

Perry Raymond Russo

Jim Garrison's key witness in his case against Clay Shaw was a certain Perry Raymond Russo (pictured at left). During the Shaw trial, Russo told a story of an "assassination party" in which Shaw, David Ferry, and Lee Oswald discussed killing Kennedy. Yet Russo's testimony underwent an interesting "evolution" between the time he first came forward in Baton Rouge and his court testimony. He was repeatedly questioned, repeatedly shown pictures of Clay Shaw, and then given "truth serum" and put under hypnosis at least twice. Russo was, according to Dave Reitzes, the "Way Too Willing Witness," who proved extremely pliable in the hands of Garrison and his staff.

Was Clay Shaw a Spook?

Jim Garrison charged that Clay Shaw was a CIA agent, and Garrison supporters have accepted this view. But secret documents released by the Agency show something entirely different, as does the testimony of former CIA insider Victor Marchetti.
Crackpot Shooting Scenario
And how many shooters and co-conspirators were in Dealey Plaza, according to Garrison? In this excerpt from a Playboy interview, he lists the sinister cast of characters he believes were in Dealey Plaza that day.

Another thing that supposedly linked Clay Shaw to sinister forces was his membership on the Board of Directors of an Italian operation called "Permindex." Conspiracy books all claim that that Permindex was a CIA front. They fail to tell the full story, however, as to where this "information" comes from. The reality was exposed in a classic article in the British journal Lobster. A more recent, and definitive, treatment of this issue by journalist Max Holland appeared in the journal Studies in Intelligence.

Garrison the Man

Jim Garrison had a skill that has been seldom noted. He was a cryptographer! This passage, from Epstein's Counterplot, shows how he applied his cryptographic abilities to the prosecution of Shaw. It's hilarious, if you can forget that Clay Shaw's life was ruined by this sort of "logic." Other examples of Garrison's bizarre behavior include:

Clinical Psychopathology? In 1952, Jim Garrison was relieved of duty in the National Guard. Doctors at the Brooke Army Hospital in Texas diagnosed him as suffering from a "severe and disabling psychoneurosis" which "interfered with his social and professional adjustment to a marked degree." The evaluation further said that Garrison "is considered totally incapacitated from the standpoint of military duty and moderately incapacitated in civilian adaptability," and recommended long-term psychotherapy. See Case Closed, p. 423.

In 1986, Patricia Toole interviewed Garrison, and asked him about various authors who had written books on the Kennedy assassination. See what he says about Tony Summers' Conspiracy and Henry Hurt's Reasonable Doubt. This interview is from the files of the AARC in Washington, DC.

Crackpot Prosecutions

Garrison was always indicting people based on the flimsiest evidence, or the wildest notions of how they might be guilty of something. The most famous of his crackpot prosecutions, of course, was that of Clay Shaw. But there were others.

War Among the Buffs

The ranks of conspiracy believers have long been split by different attitudes toward Garrison. Many important conspiracy authors (Tony Summers, Henry Hurt, David Lifton) believe Garrison to have been reckless and irresponsible. Yet Garrison has a vocal cadre of supporters among conspiracy buffs. An e-mail feud took place in August 1995 between David Lifton, who had seen Garrison's antics first-hand, and Garrison supporters Gary Aguilar and Lisa Pease. Lifton's view of Garrison:

I think its ugly when the power of the state is arrayed against an innocent man — and the witchhunt that took place in New Orleans back in 1967-69 will always remain exactly that: an ugly incident in the annals of jurisprudence . . .
In spite of the current popularity of Garrison in conspiracy circles, most mainstream conspiracist authors have blasted Garrison and his New Orleans "investigation."

"He went from a highly intelligent eccentric to a lunatic in the period of one year. . . . Every time press interest in the case would start to wane, he would propound a new theory. One week it would be 14 Cubans shooting from storm drains. The next week it would be H. L. Hunt and the far right in Dallas. This was no Robin Hood — no Untouchable either."
Rosemary James in Newsweek, 12/23/91.
Garrison's Defenders
To see how pro-Garrison conspiracy buffs treat the investigation, check out:

Did Garrison Spy on Journalistic Critics?

The following is from a typewritten document in the Assassination Archives and Research Center in Washington, DC. It is dated August 26, 1967, and has the handwritten notation (presumably by AARC personnel) "Bud Finsterwald's notes."
Notes on interview with Jim Garrison, District Attorney, New Orleans — 1:00 to 4:00 P.M. at Criminal Courts Building, New Orleans. Also present part time: Louis IVON, Garrison's Chief Investigator.

Garrison was extremely interested in our wiretap investigation. Feels strict legislation is very necessary. Says he only uses it against "guys like Sheridan." Feels his office and home phones are tapped by the Bureau but doesn't care.

Walter Sheridan, of course, was one of the journalists who took a critical stance toward Garrison and his "investigation." The notes also say "Sheridan — No good Bastard — Compared him with Nazis."

Insiders Go Public

When Perry Raymond Russo took the stand during the preliminary hearing at the Shaw trial, he told a story radically different from the one he told Sciambra in Baton Rouge (see above). Journalist James Phelan confronted Garrison with the discrepancy, and a meeting at Garrison's house followed. This passage, from American Grotesque, describes that meeting — which resulted in investigator William Gurvich defecting from the Garrison team. When he wrote On the Trail of the Assassins Garrison denigrated Gurvich, and claimed he had only a marginal role in the investigation. In reality, Gurvich was an important figure at the center of the probe.

The House Select Committee on Assassinations interviewed Gurvich in 1978. Gurvich gives a fascinating insider's account of Garrison the man and the Garrison investigation.

James Phelan himself started out as an "insider" — a friend of Garrison's on the basis of a very favorable article he had written about the DA in the Saturday Evening Post. But when Garrison carelessly gave Phelan documents that blew the case against Shaw entirely out of the water, Phelan concluded that Garrison's case was fraudulent, as he explained in an article in the Saturday Evening Post.

Edward Jay Epstein was trained as a Political Scientist, but early on moved to journalism with a critique of the Warren Commission titled Inquest. When Garrison's investigation became public he, like many buffs, went to work for Garrison as a volunteer. In the wake of Garrison's death in 1992 he described his experiences in "Epitaph For Jim Garrison: Romancing the Assassination" in the New Yorker.

Tom Bethell was an Englishman who was in New Orleans to write a book on Dixieland Jazz. When the Garrison investigation broke, he got caught up in the enterprise. Working as a staffer for Garrison, he gained an unique perspective on Garrison, the evidence, other Garrison staff members, conspiracy buffs, and reporters covering the trial. Here is his diary, obtained from the National Archives.
  1. 6/25/67-9/13/67
  2. 9/14/67-10/2/67
  3. 10/3/67-10/26/67
  4. 11/3/67-1/28/68
  5. 1/31/68-2/12/68
  1. 2/13/68-2/21/68
  2. 2/22/68-3/13/68
  3. 3/14/68-3/15/68
  4. 3/16/68-4/1-7/68
Diary of Tom Bethell — Garrison JFK investigation insider

In the 1970s, Bethell wrote an article for the Washington Monthly that summarized his experiences with the Garrison investigation and offered some cogent comments on the intellectual habits of the conspiracy "researchers."

Can you Trust Garrison on Garrison?

Garrison's book On the Trail of the Assassins was the basis of the movie JFK. The book is a fanciful historical narrative that bears only a tenuous relationship with reality. Here is a list of the discrete, provable lies in the book.

Garrison's key witness implicating Shaw in a conspiracy to murder Kennedy was Perry Raymond Russo, but Russo's testimony was elicited during "truth serum" and hypnosis sessions. When Garrison turned over the transcripts of the hypnosis sessions to the House Select Committee on Assassinations in 1977, he doctored them to conceal the fact that Russo told about Shaw conspiring only in response to a highly leading question.

David Ferrie

Really Mysterious?

Another "mysterious" death was that of David Ferrie (left). Did he commit suicide to avoid being prosecuted for Kennedy's murder by DA Garrison? Was he killed by minions of The Conspiracy? In this article, Dr. Robert Artwohl discusses Jim Garrison's contention that Ferrie died of an overdose of Proloid, a thyroid medication, and Garrison's apparent mishandling of evidence. Ferrie left two supposed "suicide notes," however on close inspection it's not at all clear they are in fact suicide notes.

Did Oswald Have Ferrie's Library Card?

It's supposed to be a "link" between Ferrie and Oswald: the story that Oswald had Ferrie's library card in his possession when he was arrested. Dave Blackburst, in a message posted on the moderated Internet newsgroup, explains where this factoid came from.

Primary Sources on Garrison
Real historical research is done from "primary sources" — the original documents, transcripts, testimony and so on that are the earliest and closest reflection of the historical event. People who want to study the Garrison investigation are immensely lucky that researcher Dave Reitzes has an ongoing interest in — indeed, almost an obsession with — the topic. His "Perpetual Pages" web site has an impressive collection of primary sources on Garrison, as well as the trial transcript of the Clay Shaw trial in New Orleans.

Did the CIA have a campaign to undermine Garrison?

A CIA Campaign Against Garrison?

Garrison supporters have followed the lead of Garrison himself in claiming that there was a CIA campaign to spy on him, attack him in the press, and disrupt his investigation by feeding it disinformation. Such claims are extremely convenient for the Garrisonites. Faced with staffers who left the probe and claimed it was bogus, they simply assert that the defectors were government agents anyway. Faced with hostile press accounts, they explain that those were produced by CIA "assets." Faced with wild investigative antics by Garrison, they explain that those were the result of disinformation fed to Garrison by agents.

If such a campaign existed, the internal CIA documents describing it should make fascinating reading. And indeed, author Max Holland has discovered several key documents outlining the CIA's reaction to the Garrison probe. The Agency's response to Garrison, however, is rather different from the one claimed by the conspiracists.

"Bill Boxley"

One of the supposed infiltrators Garrison singled out in On the Trail of the Assassins was "Bill Boxley," supposedly from the CIA. Internal CIA documents show "Boxley's" actual relationship with the Agency.

Gordon Novel

Conspiracy books will flatly state that Gordon Novel, an "electronics expert" hired by Garrison to provide anti-eavesdropping services, was a "CIA employee." In reality, Novel had no connection with the Agency, as shown by a secret FBI memo. Novel in fact was a hustler and con artist who already had an arrest record when he showed up in New Orleans to work for Garrison. Numerous internal secret CIA documents show he had no connection with the Agency.

How Many Spooks?

Garrison was convinced that New Orleans was crawling with CIA agents, who had not only plotted to murder Kennedy, but also to oppose his investigation. With the release of assassination-related records in the 1990s, the CIA's own internal documents have become public, and they detail who had what connections with the Agency. A key one, with the subject heading "Garrison Investigation: Queries from Justice Department," shows that very few of the people Garrison claimed were spooks actually were.

Do You Really Want the Records Open?

Opening up the historical record has been a long-running crusade of conspiracy people. Sometimes, the record reveals things that some buffs would prefer hidden. When author Gerald Posner got access to the documents in the possession of the New Orleans District Attorney's office, he found some hair-raising things. But not about the CIA or the FBI. Read his article here, and them check out his web page for more information about him and his projects.

Garrison and the Mafia

Garrison and the Mafia


Although Garrison was willing to include the CIA, the FBI, the Federal government, and just about everybody else you can imagine in his assassination conspiracy, one group was conspicuously missing: the Mafia. Garrison's good relations with various Mafia figures might have something to do with this. When the House Select Committee on Assassinations quizzed Garrison on the possibility of a Mafia connection, and particularly about New Orleans Mafia chieftan Carlos Marcello, Garrison replied as follows:
When asked if he believed Marcello was a man capable of having President Kennedy murdered, Garrison did not directly answer the question. Garrison stated that he has "certainly heard" that Marcello may have once been involved in some kind of criminal activity years ago. He stated that he has some reason to believe that some of Marcello's money was obtained through criminal acts many years ago. Garrison further stated that he has heard of allegations linking Marcello to organized crime and the Mafia, but does not know if they are true. He stated that he has heard over the years that Marcello may be a man of significant wealth, and may in fact be one of Louisiana's wealthier citizens. He stated that Marcello is not active in real estate and is a businessman.

When asked again if he believes that Marcello had the motive and means to assassinate President Kennedy, Garrison again did not respond to the question, and began talking about another subject at length.

You may wish to read the entire interview.

In his book On the Trail of the Assassins, Garrison is no more forthcoming.

The periodic allegations that I am on friendly terms with organized crime figures are amusing, in light of my record . . . .

It has been my policy not to respond to each of the many canards which have been part of the campaign to discredit my investigation, nor to waste time trying to prove negatives. For what it is worth, however, I do not even know Carlos Marcello, the man with whom I am frequently linked by my detractors. Nor, for that matter, did I ever in my years as district attorney come upon any evidence that he was the Mafia kingpin the Justice Department says he is. (p. 288)

So it seems the District Attorney who claimed to have solved the crime of the century was unable to discover that top New Orleans mob boss Marcello was part of the Mafia!


Return to Kennedy Assassination Home Page