From The Fourth Decade: A Journal of Research on the John F. Kennedy Assassination (Jerry D. Rose, ed., November 1994, vol. 2, no.1), © State University College 1994. p. 46-7. All rights reserved. Not to be reproduced without permission.
Amongst the many exhibits included in the Warren Commission volumes is an FBI report prepared by Special Agent Regis Kennedy of the New Orleans office (CE 2207) dated Dec. 24, 1963--a two page summary of an interview with attorney Clem H. Sehrt. (1) There is no clear explanation as to how the interview came about, but presumably Sehrt contacted the FBI, in that he had known Marguerite Oswald since childhood, along with her family, who were regular customers at his father's bakery, where Clem had worked. Brief reference in the report is made to Marguerite's brother and sister, both of whom had died. Sehrt had also known Marguerite's former husband, Eddie Pic, during high school, where they both played basketball.
The following essays are also by Peter Whitmey:
Although Sehrt recalled having been in contact with LHO's mother in connection with a disputed estate involving some property "over twenty years ago", he indicated to SA Kennedy that he had not had any further contact with Mrs. Oswald since then. He went on to state that "it was not until he saw her photograph in a magazine that he recognized her as the person he had known in his youth and as a young, practicing attorney." Finally, Sehrt "advised" that he had never "seen...Lee Harvey Oswald...did not know Jack Ruby", and had no knowledge of any associates of either one.
However, much of what Sehrt had stated was contradicted two months later when Marguerite Oswald testified before the Warren Commission (2), as she described her attempt to help Lee Oswald obtain a false birth certificate in October, 1955, so he could join the Marines before he turned seventeen. Marguerite stated that her son had tried to convince her to "falsify his birth certificate" (3), which she initially refused to do. She did, however, contact "...a very good friend, Mr. Clem Sehrt, who is an attorney in New Orleans, La. I called him and told him I had a personal problem. I had not seen Mr. Sehrt since early childhood. I knew the family. That Lee was not of age and he wanted to join the Marines. And he quit the school and told them we were going out of town." In response, Sehrt indicated to her that it would be "unethical" for him to giver her any advice, although he did suggest that a "...a lot of boys join the service at age 16."
Mrs. Oswald indicated to the Warren Commission having been encouraged to let her son join up, despite being underage, by Dutz Murret, along with an unnamed colonel and a recruiting officer. She described visiting Sehrt's office with five dollars in hand, planning to claim having lost Lee's birth certificate. By this point in the interview, Louisiana Congressman Hale Boggs had joined the panel while Marguerite was developing her story, and mentioned to Mrs. Oswald that he knew "...Mr. Sehrt very well." (4) Even though Sehrt had indicated to the FBI two months earlier that he hadn't seen Marguerite Oswald in over twenty years, the Warren Commission did not seem to feel it was worth interviewing Sehrt itself, in order to resolve the conflicting accounts. The matter was simply left in limbo.
When the HSCA investigated Marguerite Oswald's links to associates of Carlos Marcello, Clem Sehrt's name came to their attention through Aaron Kohn of the New Orleans Crime Commission. (5) First, one of Sehrt's law partners had served as an attorney for Carlos Marcello. Second, Sehrt had been closely associated with a banking official named Louis Rousell for many years, particularly in the 1950's, who, in turn, had been closely linked to Carlos Marcello. Kohn informed the Committee that both Sehrt and Rousell had been "...long involved in a number of highly questionable undertakings, both business and political." (Sehrt was elected president of the National American Bank in 1963, having served on the board of directors since 1958, and previously had been general counsel to the state banking department and the Orleans Levee Board during the 1950's, in addition to practicing law for thirty years.) (6)
The most intriguing information about Sehrt, provided to the HSCA by the New Orleans Crime Commission, was derived from a "former associate of Sehrt's, a source it regarded as highly reliable." Sehrt had told the unidentified associate prior to his death (no date given) that "...some party had contacted him soon after the assassination to request that he go to Dallas to represent the accused assassin, Lee Harvey Oswald. Sehrt did not tell his associate who requested this legal representation, nor did Sehrt agree to represent Oswald. Sehrt's associate could not recall any further information." (7) Unfortunately, given the fact that Sehrt was no longer alive, and the additional fact that the information was not provided until Dec. 7, 1978, shortly before the HSCA ended their investigation, there was no further inquiry. It is possible that Marguerite Oswald contacted Sehrt to represent her son through her brother-in-law, Dutz Murret, given his links to Marcello and possibly even Sehrt (they had both been boxers).
As author Anthony Summers points out in his 1980 book Conspiracy (8), Dean Andrews had also been contacted by someone, whom he identified as "Clay Bertrand", to represent Oswald, while he was in a New Orleans hospital. Although Andrews' description of "Bertrand" does not fit the profile of Clem Sehrt, the similarity of the two names is itself intriguing. Oddly enough, Summers does not mention the additional fact that, when Perry Russo first described the older man at David Ferrie's apartment, he stated that he was introduced to him as "Clem Bertrand," not "Clay."
It is conceivable that Sehrt and Andrews knew each other professionally and/or personally, and that Sehrt attempted to pass on a request for Oswald's representation to him. Given the fact that Sehrt's law office was in the Pere Marquette Building, it is also possible that he could be linked to G. Wray Gill, David Ferrie and even Eugene Hale Brading (a.k.a Jim Braden), although not necessarily to the assassination itself. If there is ever another investigation of the JFK assassination, the curious connections of Clem Sehrt should certainly command more attention than was the case in 1964 and 1978.
1. The report indicates that Sehrt's law office was located in the Pere Marquette Building, the same building where David Ferrie worked for lawyer G. Wray Gill, and where Jim Braden worked as an oil consultant in the fall of 1963.
2. Marguerite Oswald testified on Feb. 10, 1963 in Washington D.C.; see 1H126-263.
6. "Sehrt Elected Bank President", NEW ORLEANS TIMES-PICAYUNE, July 25, 1963, p. 1,2; also see THE STORY OF LOUISIANA, vol. II, Biographical (J.F. Heyer Publ. Co.: New Orleans, La.), 1960, available from the New Orleans Pubic Library.
8. Conspiracy (Fontana Paperbacks: London) by Anthony Summers, 1980, p. 339. Also for brief references to Sehrt see: Mafia Kingfish (Signet: N.Y. by John Davis, 1989, pp. 140, 448; The Kennedy Contract (Harper: N.Y.) By John Davis, 1993, pp. 46, 206; The Fatal Hour (Berkley Books: N.Y.) By Blakey and Billings, 1992 (published originally in 1981), p. 372. Note: In a telephone conversation with John Davis earlier this year , he indicated his strong suspicion that Clem Sehrt was "Clay Bertrand."
Peter R. Whitmey
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