Jim Garrison first believed the JFK assassination was a homosexual thrill killing

Jim Garrison's Bizarre Behavior - 5

Assassination a Homosexual Thrill Killing

By Dave Reitzes
The "official" version of the Garrison conspiracy theory — the version enshrined in Oliver Stone's movie "JFK" and in Garrison's book On the Trail of the Assassins — has a massive CIA / anti-Castro / Military-Industrial plot killing Kennedy. This is also the version one gets from the latter-day disciples of Garrison like James DiEngenio and Bill Davy.

What has been sanitized out of these accounts is Garrison's early fixation on what he thought was the sexual aspect of the case. Garrison viewed Clay Shaw's homosexuality as a key piece of evidence.

The most widely read version of Garrison's fixation comes from journalist James Phelan. Phelan had written a favorable article about Jim Garrison in the Saturday Evening Post, and thus Garrison was willing to give Phelan an "exclusive" story, outlining the DA's "findings" about the assassination. Garrison arranged to meet Phelan in Las Vegas, and tell him about his case against Clay Shaw. Quoting Phelan:

In an effort to get Garrison's story into focus, I asked him the motive of the Kennedy conspirators. He told me that the murder at Dallas had been a homosexual plot.

"They had the same motive as Loeb and Leopold, when they murdered Bobbie Franks in Chicago back in the twenties," Garrison said. "It was a homosexual thrill-killing, plus the excitement of getting away with a perfect crime. John Kennedy was everything that Dave Ferrie was not — a successful, handsome, popular, wealthy, virile man. You can just picture the charge Ferrie got out of plotting his death."

I asked how he had learned that the murder was a homosexual plot.

"Look at the people involved," Garrison said. "Dave Ferrie, homosexual. Clay Shaw, homosexual. Jack Ruby, homosexual."

"Ruby was a homosexual?"

"Sure, we dug that out," Garrison said. "His homosexual nickname was Pinkie. That's three. Then there was Lee Harvey Oswald."

But Oswald was married and had two children, I pointed out.

"A switch-hitter who couldn't satisfy his wife," Garrison said. "That's all in the Warren Report." He named two more "key figures" whom he labeled homosexual.

"That's six homosexuals in the plot," Garrison said. "One or maybe two, okay. But all six homosexual? How far can you stretch the arm of coincidence?"

I told him that was an intriguing theory, but it wasn't evidence he could present to a court. (James Phelan, Scandals, Scamps, and Scoundrels, pp. 150-151.)

Garrison disciples — fully understanding the silliness of this — have derided Phelan and claimed that this was some sort of disinformation to discredit the DA. But the evidence that Garrison believed it is overwhelming.

Much of it comes from Garrison confident and supporter Richard Billings, a Life magazine reporter who was part of Garrison's inner circle and kept a diary of conversations with him. (Billings' notes are written almost entirely with lower case letters and capitalization is corrected throughout this article).

In the Beginning

As early as December 1966, Garrison described Dave Ferrie to Billings as "a helluva pilot, also a hypnotist, a defrocked priest and a fag . . . figures Ferrie the link between Oswald and Cubans." "Oswald described by Garrison as prick peddler (male whore)" who "always came to see his lawyer, Dean Andrews, with a Latin type with a short haircut and a couple of fagots [sic]" (Richard Billings journal, undated entry, December 1966;

Soon enough, Clay Shaw was part of the gay cabal. At first, Garrison apparently did not take Shaw seriously as a suspect. In January 1967, Billings asked Garrison if he knew who the mysterious "Clay Bertrand" was. Garrison told him that "Bertrand" "may not exist" — but he "may be Clay Shaw." (Billings notes, January 22, 1967 [p. 6].) "His real name is Clay Shaw," Garrison later confided to Billings, "but I don't think he's too important." (Billings, Long Island Press, May 15, 1968.)

How had Garrison deduced "Bertrand's" identity? "One, Bertrand is homosexual," Garrison told Life stringer David Chandler in December 1966. "Two, Bertrand speaks Spanish. Three, his first name is Clay." As far as Garrison was concerned, Shaw fit those criteria, therefore Shaw was "Bertrand." (Lambert, False Witness, p. 47.)

Former Garrison investigator William Gurvich told the Orleans Parish Grand Jury on July 12, 1967 (pp. 75-76), "As I recall, Mr. Shaw was interviewed on Christmas Eve of '66, very briefly, based on the fact that he was a suspected homosexual and his first name was Clay and similar to that of Clay Bertrand, and that he lived in the French Quarter, where this alleged Clay Bertrand was supposed to have lived."

Garrison told Hugh Aynesworth that when homosexuals use aliases, "They always change their last names, but never their first names." (Hugh Aynesworth, "The Garrison Goosechase," Dallas Times Herald, Nov. 21, 1982.)

For the next few months, the Garrison investigation ran down leads related to the "homosexual angle" not necessarily related to Clay Shaw specifically. In February 1967, Billings noted that Garrison was interested in Breck Wall, described as a "queer ex-roommate of Jack Ruby" who was in Galveston the night of November 23, 1963, when Dave Ferrie and two friends were in that city. Ruby was "often connected with perverts and gunrunners," Billings states — possibly quoting Garrison — and had been in New Orleans "several times" (Billings notes, February 11, 1967).

On February 23, 1967, Billings wrote:

Sciambra returns from Houston where he went to check skating rink Ferrie said he visited . . . giant especially interested if chuck Rolland, manager of rink, turns out to be gay . . . Winterland skating rink, 2400 Norfolk . . . first he met skating pro, Larry Rost, who is a swish . . . Rost says Rolland no longer running rink . . . Rost, former Canadian skating champ, slips when he learns Moo [Sciambra] wants to talk with Rolland about what happened in 1963 . . . he asks Rost about Ferrie and two boys . . . Rost says he knows what it's about but remembers nothing . . . moo asks, "haven't i seen you somewhere?" . . . Rost says he used to skate in new Orleans with "holiday on ice" . . . know miss Dixie's, a famous fag joint . . . Moo surmises Rost was guy Ferrie came to see that day in '63 . . . ." (Ibid., February 23, 1967)

[ . . . ]

"Sciambra goes to see Rolland, now in office equipment business . . . Rolland knew immediately why he there . . . says there's a lot more than he gave FBI . . . says Ferrie called him late on Nov. 22, said he wanted to skate next day . . . [Rolland] gave him hours: 10 to 12 and 3:30 to 5:30 . . . Ferrie arrived before Rolland got to rink on afternoon of 23rd . . . Ferrie asking for him . . . when he met, Ferrie almost screamed: "I'm Dave Ferrie. I'm from new Orleans and I'm here." Ferrie didn't seem to care much about skating . . . the two boys did . . . they stayed til 5:30 . . . Rolland thought Ferrie some kind of nut: "he made too much of an effort to tell me he was here . . . " Moo asked Rolland if knew Brett [sic] Wall . . . Rolland said he didn't but he'd ask his wife . . . Mrs. Rolland told of follies club, managed by a Keith Richards . . . it's a gay club, featuring female impersonators . . . she says she knows hairdresser who did her hair and also coiffed for the boy-girls . . . she says Richards once lived in Mexico, was an ex bullfighter, perhaps a pilot . . . he once was connected with rink . . . in may, 1963 Rolland and his step-father (now dead) leased rink from Richards (?) . . . (Ibid.)

"Mrs. Rolland [said] there were three female impersonators whose names she would try to get from hairdresser, Vincent Mazzola, who worked at Joskes . . . she says the impersonators worked all over country, talked a lot about new Orleans . . . in fact, she thinks, two of them came from N.O . . . .she remembered Brett [sic] wall, because 'Bottoms Up' once played at Houston-Continental (check a Mr. Schaefer) . . . (Note: Sciambra relates 'Bottoms Up' playing at Adolphus in Dallas at time of assassination . . . )" (Ibid.)

It was at this point in time, on February 24, 1967, that Jim Garrison confirmed to the press, "My staff and I solved the case weeks ago. I wouldn't say this if I didn't have evidence beyond a shadow of a doubt. We know the key individuals, the cities involved and how it was done." (cf. Milton Brener, The Garrison Case, 84.)

Yet in fact Garrison's "case" had changed radically with the death of David Ferrie on February 22nd. It was to take another radical turn within a day or two when Clay Shaw became the key suspect due to the testimony of one Perry Raymond Russo. But the homosexual element continued to be central.

Garrison told Richard Billings on March 3rd that he had just spoken with Dallas Morning News reporter Hugh Aynesworth, who "knows a lot about Dallas. He knew Ruby for ten years, and he gave me information that [Ruby] was a fagot [sic] and that his name among fagots [sic] was Pinky" (Billings notes, March 3, 1967).

The DA said much the same thing a few days later to Saturday Evening Post reporter Jim Phelan (see above). Phelan, far from being the lone source for Garrison's fixation, was but one of many witnesses.

For example, journalist Art Kevin spent a great deal of time with Garrison and his staff, and was personally invited by Garrison to view the Shaw preliminary hearing from the prosecution's table. This too was in March, and Kevin said ". . . I heard constant reminders from Garrison that Oswald was likely bi-sexual," Kevin writes, "which is what brought him into contact with David Ferrie. Even Jack Ruby who'd killed Oswald on national TV was allegedly gay or at the very least bi-sexual!" (http://www.vegasradio.com/jolly_green_giant.htm)

Perry Russo also confirmed in 1971 that the "homosexual thrill-killing" theory had been prevalent around the DA's office at the time he became a witness. He was told that "Shaw was anti-Kennedy" and "enjoys being beat by whips . . . Kennedy represented youth to him," and since Shaw could never "get whipped by Kennedy," he was driven to "kill him" (Perry Russo, interview of March 1971; Lambert, 73, see also 331 fn. 4). Onetime NODA investigator Bill Gurvich too has confirmed that this was a theory of Garrison's (Lambert, 305 fn. 17).

Also in March 1967, Garrison stated to reporter Nicholas Chriss that homosexuals and masochists were involved in the assassination plot. He added, "If you placed a masochist in a room along with a button that would blow up the White House, he probably would press that button for the thrill of it" (Los Angeles Times, March 26, 1967; Patricia Lambert, 181).

Garrison was also interviewed at this time by Life photographer Lawrence Schiller. Garrison related to Schiller his "Leopold and Loeb" theory, adding that he thought Breck Wall had ordered Ruby to kill Oswald. (Louis Sproesser, The Garrison Investigation: November 1966 to February 1968 [Sturbridge, Mass.: Southern New England Research, 1999], p. 57.)

On March 7, Richard Billings noted that Garrison was "sending [Bill] Gurvich to San Francisco to check hotel records and do general research on gay hangouts . . ." (Billings, March 7, 1967)

On March 16, Garrison told Richard Billings he was "becoming convinced he can link Shaw with Ruby" through "Shaw's queer connections in Dallas" (Billings, March 16, 1967).

On March 22, Garrison theorized that "Oswald had CIA connection, but perhaps even he didn't know it." Perhaps he was employed by Shaw in the New Orleans operation, Garrison said, "then the Leopold-Loeb characters took over." "Maybe Oswald just cracked up, he continued, or maybe that's what the CIA told the White House and the Warren Commission. And Shaw could have been insulated by saying he thought the kid was strange, but that he'd never kill the President." Garrison "doesn't absolve Shaw," Billings notes. Garrison figured Shaw worked for the CIA, "involved in something to do with Cuba," i.e., Castro assassination plots. Then the assassins were turned against President Kennedy, and "Shaw, the galloping sadist, was right behind it with Ferrie" and the others (Ibid., March 22, 1967).

On March 28, Garrison raised the possibility that Clay Shaw could have had something to do with arranging JFK's lunch at the Trade Mart in Dallas. (This had been reported in the Italian Communist paper Paese Sera.) Andrew Sciambra is noted to be "checking out [the] sexual history" of the Dallas Trade Mart's manager (Ibid., March 28, 1967). Edward Epstein describes Garrison's suspects of mid-April as "a band of perverts and anti-Castro Cubans" (Epstein, 217). Lou Ivon was making inquiries about a woman who allegedly "was told by phone in 1964 that Ruby was a homosexual" (Billings, March 28, 1967).

On March 29, Billings noted that Lawrence Schiller was checking out "gay sources" in Dallas for Garrison (Billings, March 29, 1967).

Other Homosexual Murders?

Given Garrison's belief that homosexuality was the key to the case, it's not suprising that he thought that other murders had a sexual basis, and were somehow connected to the JFK case.

In early February, for example, Billings noted that the:

. . . investigation [is] to cover other homosexual murders that may give a lead . . . May 1, 1962 — Jimmy Roop, 15-year-old boy found hung . . . wearing mother's clothes . . . termed suicide, but indications otherwise . . . he belonged to mysterious club, says his mother . . . had voiced fear that kids might kill him . . . when found his ankles were tightly bound . . . two queers about 18 or 19 known to have been hanging around . . . had Ohio license on their car . . . Layton Martens lived four blocks from Roop . . . does this link Roop killing to Ferrie?" (Ibid., entry of February 11, 1967, ellipses as in original)

A March 28, 1967, Billings journal entry notes that Garrison was "looking into murder in July 1964 of Dr. Mary Sherman, a cancer specialist, a lesbian . . . thinks[s] she knew both Ferrie and Shaw . . . her murder an unsolved sex crime . . . ."

Four years later, on the night before he was expected to testify on Jim Garrison's behalf at a hearing concerning the perjury charges leveled against Clay Shaw, Perry Russo contacted Shaw's lawyers and asked if they would like to speak with him. At the first of several interviews, Russo indicated, among many other things, that "the DA's office was making every effort to pin two murder charges on Shaw," these being the murder of a Dr. Sherman and "the killing of a 14 or 15 year old boy [by the name of] Jimmy Rupp" (Memorandum of Edward Wegmann, January 27, 1971, of interview with Perry Russo, January 26, 1971). ("There was also some talk about pinning a third murder on Clay Shaw but he [Russo] doesn't remember the name in that case.")

When Ferrie friend Layton Martens testified before the Grand Jury on March 29, 1967, he was asked whether he knew Dr. Mary Sherman or Jimmy Roop. (He did not.) (Layton Martens, Grand Jury testimony of March 29, 1967, p. 25.)

Bill Gurvich told Clay Shaw's lawyers in August 1967 that Garrison had intended to charge Ferrie and the other plotters with several unsolved murders of homosexuals in New Orleans. (Gerald Posner, Case Closed [New York: Random House, 1993], p. 438 fn., citing William Gurvich conference with Edward Wegmann, August 29, 1967, Tape 2, p. 9.)

In May of 1967, "Garrison subpoenaed for questioning Juan Valdes, a Latin playwright who lives in New Orleans. Garrison did not say why he wanted to question Valdes. However, Valdes was the neighbor who called in police when Dr. Mary Stults Sherman was murdered in her New Orleans apartment during the summer of 1964. Dr. Sherman's knife-mutilated body was set afire in her fashionable uptown apartment. Her murder was never solved." (James & Wardlaw, p. 111.)

From Jim Garrison's Playboy interview, October 1967: "After the assassination . . . Dr. Mary Sherman, was found hacked to death with a kitchen knife in her New Orleans apartment. Her murder is listed as unsolved."

Shaw a Sadist?

Following Clay Shaw's arrest on March 1, Richard Billings wrote that the:
. . . search of Shaw home produces whips, chains, robe, etc. . . . Giant [Garrison] now convinced it was a sadist plot . . . has read Marquis de Sade . . . says sadists escalate from whipping to killing . . . 'Shaw is a Phi Beta Kappa sadist,' Giant surmises . . . Cuban plot now subsidiary . . . but it provided guerrilla team . . . Ferrie was a butch fag who hired Cubans instead of ex cons . . . whips give away . . . Leopold-Loeb key to whole thing . . . Giant convinced . . . 'I am going to talk to a good psychiatrist — Bob Heath — and I will make sadism relevant . . . I'll develop expert testimony that a sadist would have motivation for a Presidential assassination.' 'He's a sadist, not a masochist . . . the robe and hood prove it . . .' . . . 'When he came in yesterday he said nothing, knew no one . . . we asked if he'd take truth serum, and he said he would if he could go home and rest . . . I suspect he wanted to destroy evidence of sadism . . . .' (Ibid., March 3, 1967)

"Garrison plans to use sadism evidence found in Shaw's apartment to rebut defense contention of good character . . . and if defense contends he's a peaceful, law-abiding citizen, Garrison will show human blood on whips (?) . . . " (Ibid.)

No evidence of the latter claim has ever surfaced (if Big Jim ever submitted the items to the NOPD's crime lab for investigation, their report must have come back negative), yet Garrison states in his 1988 memoirs that the whips "had on them what appeared to be dried blood." (Garrison, 1991 ed., p. 171.)

Garrison also mentioned this evidence to Edward Jay Epstein, author of Inquest. He "pointed out that after Shaw was arrested, men from the District Attorney's office searched Shaw's home, in the French Quarter, and found in it a cache of new evidence, which he suggested would give me [Epstein] 'a new perspective on the case'" (Edward Jay Epstein, The Assassination Chronicles, 185-6).

The "evidence" produced from Clay Shaw's home were a black gown, a net hat, a black hood and cape, a chain and five whips. Several of these items had been part of Shaw's Mardi Gras outfits in previous years — he was wearing the robe and carrying a whip when he met Layton Martens during Mardi Gras in 1965, as Martens would later describe (Milton Brener, The Garrison Case, 156). Other friends of Shaw's would also recalled the costume, including Mrs. Lawrence Fischer (James Kirkwood, American Grotesque, 27; see also Epstein, 186; Kirkwood, 49; Lambert, 76, 76 fn.).


Over the years, a few of Shaw's friends have offered off-the-record confirmation of Shaw's homosexuality and penchant for light sadomasochistic activities — a fact that had nothing to do with the JFK assassination. Except in the imagination of Jim Garrison.

As late as October 2, 1967, NODA investigator Tom Bethell noted in his journal that James Alcock:

. . . repeated what Garrison had already said to [Edward] Epstein and myself in June — that Shaw became the suspect because they were looking for Clay Bertrand, and Clay Shaw had the same first name; also Clay Bertrand was presumed to be a homosexual. Thus Shaw came to light. Garrison had said earlier to Epstein and myself that Sciambra had 'squeezed the quarter' looking for Clay Bertrand, but that he could not be found.
With time the "homosexual thrill killing" theme got sanitized out of the Garrison story. Left-leaning conspiracy buffs who swarmed all over the Garrison probe got his ear and pushed him in a more political direction.

But the mind of Garrison — the mind that later blamed a diverse and emotionally satisifying cast of suspects in the military, intelligence, government and the media — had early on viewed the killing as the working out of sexual deviance.

Return to Kennedy Assassination Home Page