By Dave Reitzes
But even this much "improved" testimony was not good enough for Garrison when he wrote On the Trail of the Assassins. Consider, for example, the following:
The town marshal suspected that the [men in the big black car] 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.Then, in his discussion of the trial, Garrison claims:
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."Sounds like strong evidence connecting Shaw to Oswald and to the whole "Clinton" affair, doesn't it?
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. (On the Trail of the Assassins, pp. 106-107, 252)
Unfortunately, the testimony at the Clay Shaw trial doesn't support any such thing. First, Manchester.
19 MANCHESTER. I walked over and talked to the man that was
20 behind the wheel of this car.
21 Q How many people did you see in the car?
22 A There was two men in it.
23 Q Were they in the front or the back seat?
24 A Both in the front seat.
25 Q Can you describe the individual on the passen-
1 ger side?
2 A No, sir, I can't. Mister, I didn't talk to him.
3 Q Which one did you talk to?
4 A I talked to the driver.
5 Q The driver of the automobile?
6 A Yes, sir.
7 Q Can you describe the man behind the wheel of
8 the automobile that you talked to?
9 A Yes, sir. He was a big man, gray-haired,
10 ruddy complexion, a real easy-talking
12 Q Do you see the man in the courtroom today that
13 you talked to?
14 A Yes, sir.
15 Q Would you point him out to us.
16 (The witness complied.)
1 . . . Will the record please reflect the wit-
2 ness pointed to the Defendant before
3 the bar, Clay Shaw.
4 BY MR. SCIAMBRA:
5 Q Would you tell the Court what you said to the
6 Defendant and what the Defendant said to
7 you at that time.
8 A I can't remember exactly the words that I used
9 to get this man's identification. I
10 approached him like I do anyone that I
11 am -- I want to find out the identity of
12 them and I ask them where they are from
13 or what their name is.
14 Q When you asked this individual where he was
15 from, did he say anything?
16 A He said he was a representative of the
17 International Trade Mart in New Orleans.
According to his trial testimony and earlier statements, this was the
extent of Manchester's contact with Clay Shaw and the International Trade
Mart. Unlike the other witnesses, however, whose stories evolved greatly
in the years preceding the trial, Manchester's tale grew even
In his book, Garrison is very specific about Manchester telling this story at the Shaw trial (see quote above). But Manchester didn't say that, did he?
Did anyone mention a license plate trace at the Shaw trial? Why, yes --
Henry Earl Palmer did.
17 Q Did you have any conversation as regards this
18 car, with anyone?
19 PALMER. Yes, when I got across the street.
20 Q What did you say and who did you say it to?
7 A . . . I don't remember who I met across the street,
8 it was somebody over in front of the bar-
9 ber shop, and -- Judge, I don't know how
10 I am going to --
11 THE COURT:
12 I know it is going to be difficult. Just
13 tell us what you said, don't tell us
14 what he said. See if you can try to
15 do it.
16 BY MR. SCIAMBRA:
17 Q Just tell us what you told him, if anything.
18 A I didn't tell the man anything, he told me
19 something, and I saw a law officer there
20 -- and I don't remember which law officer
21 it was, but it was one of the local offi-
22 cers -- and I told him to get a 1028 on
23 the car.
24 Q Now, what is a 1028?
25 A It is a registration, license registration
2 Q In other words, checking out the identifica-
3 tion of the automobile?
4 A That is correct.
5 Q Was this a common practice during this time?
6 A Yes, it was; when there were strange cars in
7 town we tried to find out who they were.
8 Q What about strange individuals in town?
9 Weren't you particularly interested with
10 them at the time?
11 A Very much so.
12 Q Would you make it a point to notice any
13 strangers during this time?
14 A We did, everyone that came in.
15 MR. DYMOND:
16 I am going to object to leading the wit-
18 THE COURT:
19 Do not lead the witness, Mr. Sciambra.
23 Q Did you have any conversations with any law
24 enforcement officer or persons in relation-
25 ship to the 1028 with the automobile?
1 A Yes, I did.
2 Q And who did you have the conversation with?
3 A I don't remember who it was. Whoever it was
4 came back and --
5 MR. DYMOND:
6 Object, Your Honor.
7 THE COURT:
8 Don't tell us what you said.
9 THE WITNESS:
10 I am not going to.
11 A I asked him who it was.
12 BY MR. SCIAMBRA:
13 Q Did he tell you who it was?
14 A Yes, he told me who it was.
15 Q Now, in relationship to what he told you, did
16 you have any comments or did you have any
17 conversation with him?
18 A I didn't understand you.
19 Q In relationship to what he told you, did you
20 say anything further to him?
21 A Yes, sir.
22 Q What was it?
23 A I asked him what were they doing here.
24 THE COURT:
25 I can't hear you.
1 THE WITNESS:
2 I asked them what those people were doing
4 BY MR. SCIAMBRA:
5 Q Did you talk to him in reference to where the
6 automobile was from?
7 A I did.
8 Q What did you say to him in that regard?
9 A I asked him what the International Trade Mart
10 representatives were doing in Clinton.
11 Q Did he comment about this?
12 A He did.
13 MR. DYMOND:
15 THE COURT:
16 He is not asking what he said, he said
17 did he comment. He didn't ask the
18 witness what he said. The answer is
19 yes, he did. That is as far as you
20 can go.
The prosecution dropped the subject. In his closing arguments, James Alcock
attempts to summarize:
17 Mr. Palmer told you of going back and
18 forth getting coffee, told you of
19 seeing these two men in that line,
20 one of whom he positively identi-
21 fied as Lee Harvey Oswald. Mr.
22 Palmer also told you that he told
23 some law enforcement officer to
24 get a 1028 or an identification on
25 the black Cadillac.
1 And Manchester told you that when he
2 assured Palmer that the people in
3 the black Cadillac, the two men in
4 the black Cadillac, were not trouble-
5 makers, they were from the Inter-
6 national Trade Mart, he made a
7 little joke up to the effect that,
8 "They are no trouble, Henry Earl,
9 they must be here to sell bananas."
So Henry Earl Palmer says he asked an official whom he does not remember --
not Manchester (it might have been Judge John Rarick, Palmer once said) -- to
see about getting a "1028," a trace run on the car's license plate.
Manchester doesn't mention the "1028," but Alcock, in his closing arguments,
is explicit about the identity of this officer:
"One of the persons present, gentlemen," he said, "was Mr. John Manchester, Town Marshal of Clinton, Louisiana. . . . He by his nature and certainly by his duty during that time . . . was observant of all strange automobiles that came into town. On this morning, gentlemen . . . he went up to this black Cadillac car for a specific reason. He wanted to get a 1028 on it as they call it, he wanted to get some form of identification."
So why didn't Manchester testify about it? Well, Alcock explains that too,
sort of. You see, it was the State's theory that Shaw, who did not own a
black Cadillac, had borrowed the car of his friend, Jeff Biddison, who did
own a black Cadillac. But how would Jeff Biddison's car have been traced
to the Trade Mart? Biddison didn't work for the Trade Mart. Alcock
explains that the State was not wedded to this proposition:
4 I want to make this abundantly
5 clear at this time -- the State is
6 not wedded to the proposition, the
7 State is not bound by the proposi-
8 tion, and the State is not asking
9 you definitely to believe that that
10 black Cadillac on that day belonged
11 to Jeff Biddison, a long-time friend
12 of the Defendant, but it certainly
13 is a curious coincidence that the
14 Defendant knows Jeff Biddison, has
15 used Jeff Biddison's car, and it
16 was a black Cadillac, 1960 or '61,
17 and, as the witnesses said, a
18 brand new or apparently new auto-
19 mobile, shiny automobile. But the
20 State is not saying necessarily
21 that that was Jeff Biddison's
22 automobile, because the State --
23 unfortunately no one on that
24 occasion got the license number
25 of that car so we could check it
1 down and tell you positively and
2 stand behind it as to the owner of
3 that automobile.
So Alcock avoided the problem by admitting that nobody had really connected the car to the Trade Mart. Fine for the prosecution. But then what was Garrison doing saying:
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.So it seems that Garrison has added to the historical record a "confirmation" of Shaw's presence in Clinton that didn't exist in the trial testimony! And Garrison's claim was flatly contradicted by his own Assistant District Attorney.