From the moment he began his investigation in 1965, Jim Garrison has been attacked and discredited in the media and elsewhere, even here a year ago when he was accused by the Louisiana Historical Association at their annual meeting of “outing” Clay Shaw, a falsehood. In the eighteen years that I’ve been working on the Garrison case, none of the charges against Garrison have turned out to be valid.
Jim Garrison would never have subverted a witness, and would never have fed Perry Russo the identification of Clay Shaw under sodium pentothal. He would never have accepted that Clay Shaw was the “Clay Bertrand” who summoned Dean Andrews to Dallas to defend Oswald unless he had massive evidence.
I met Jim Garrison in New Orleans two months after Clay Shaw was acquitted for participating in a conspiracy to murder President Kennedy. It was May 1969. Garrison had invited my husband, Ralph Schoenman, and me to New Orleans because Ralph, who had been living in London, sent him the Paese Sera newspaper articles about a CIA front in Rome to whose board of directors Clay Shaw had been named. Shaw had been recruited in New Orleans by a Hungarian named Ferenc Nagy who himself had been recruited for CIA by Frank Wisner, an early chief of the clandestine services. There’s a CIA document describing Wisner’s recruitment of Nagy.
Without the massive documentation that has been available since the passage of the JFK Act in 1992, Garrison figured out that Shaw was a CIA asset involved in the framing of Lee Oswald. He was right. A CIA History Review Group document, for internal distribution only, states that Shaw was a “highly paid contract source of the Agency.” Garrison had concluded that Oswald was with CIA. In his deep, sonorous voice, he said that not only was Oswald not the “lone” assassin, but he was never alone, and everyone he was seen with was connected to CIA.
On the matter of Shaw being “Bertrand,” I found a witness named Barbara Bennett, who said, matter-of-factly, that Shaw’s sexuality was well known in the Quarter. A still beautiful chanteuse who sang at Pat O’Brien’s on St. Peter, Bennett recalled for me how she saw a report on television of Shaw being arrested. She had burst out with “That’s Clay Bertrand!” Barbara Bennett disliked Garrison because of his campaign to shut down B-drinking and various lascivious practices at Quarter establishments. “Jim Garrison was bad for business,” she told me. She was speaking against her own interest in identifying Shaw as Bertrand. She had never before come forward.
Jim Garrison’s favorite topic of conversation was the Kennedy assassination. He focused on how the brother of Allen Dulles’ second in command, Charles Pearce Cabell, had been mayor of Dallas, as their father and grandfather were part of Texas law enforcement. That first weekend, Garrison did not mention his family, although he had five children. He never mentioned his wife. As time passed, and we became friends, I met his long-time girlfriend, Phyllis.
Garrison registered my husband and me at the Monteleone Hotel on Royal Street as “Mr. and Mrs. Lyndon Baines Johnson.” He hated Johnson for masterminding the cover-up and refusing to release Warren Commission exhibits. When the three of us walked to Garrison’s favorite restaurant, “Moran La Louisiane,” black people greeted him. He had not mentioned that he was running for re-election as District Attorney of Orleans Parish. Later I learned that Garrison had been an early civil rights advocate; those African American people greeted him because he had proven himself to be their friend. As district attorney, he did not tolerate Klan bombings or imprecations by the Citizens’ Councils.
In the months and years that followed, he talked about his book manuscripts, one of which was called “A Farewell to Justice,” a title he never used. When I began to work on his biography, I was thrilled that among the papers his son Lyon (aka Snapper) gave to me, papers left behind in the attic after the office case records had been sent to the National Archives, were letters from his literary agents dating back from the early years after World War II. There were many unpublished short stories and plays he had written.
When Garrison’s then literary agent declared in the 1970s that he couldn’t sell his novel, later called The Star Spangled Contract, Garrison asked Ralph to find him a publisher. Ralph isn’t a literary agent, but he found Fred Hills at McGraw Hill who offered an advance of $250,000. It was still a time when CIA had not yet fully succeeded in rendering Garrison a pariah. The normal commission for an agent then was 10%. Ralph refused to take any commission at all only for Garrison to insist that unless he did, he would not sign the contract.
Garrison would chat on the telephone for hours at a time about his manuscripts. He was as obsessed about being a writer as he remained until his death about uncovering the truth about the assassination. He was a shy man, very witty, favoring sardonic irony, and entirely immune to small talk and the trivia of daily life. Phyllis became his wife and she told me that he was incapable even of going out and buying a toothbrush.
In the early 1970s, Garrison described how he had been framed on federal charges of taking bribes from the pinball interests. The principal witness against him was his friend Pershing Gervais, a former cop, who had been Garrison’s first criminal investigator. Gervais recanted during the trial – no one could control him, not the fed, not the Marcellos, and Garrison was acquitted. I decided to write a book about Jim Garrison then: it took me 25 years to get started.
When I began, the first two people I interviewed were Frank Minyard, the coroner of Orleans parish, a jazz musician and a long time Garrison friend, and Louie Ivon, who had succeeded Pershing as Garrison’s chief investigator. Frank told me how when he went into the homes of African American citizens on his customary grisly mission, there were often three photographs on the piano or mantel: Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., John F. Kennedy and – Jim Garrison.
Dr. Minyard refused to provide me with a copy of Garrison’s death certificate. He showed it to me, but I could not have a copy. You can sue me, he said, but then I’ll appeal. He never gave out death certificates to writers, Dr. Minyard added. It was a matter of principle, a reflection of Frank Minyard’s respect for the dead, which was much appreciated by the families of the deceased. Long after white people no longer won elections in Orleans Parish, Frank Minyard was re-elected as Coroner. When I was him last, he was living in a trailer in Baton Rouge, identifying bodies that had been casualties of Hurricane Katrina. Cyril Wecht had traveled from Pittsburgh to Louisiana to help him.
I longed to interview Pershing Gervais, who had known Jim Garrison since they were young men before World War II. His son told me he had died, but I could find no document. I enlisted Frank Minyard, who sought the help of the Baton Rouge coroner. There was no body and no grave. No death certificate could be found. This was, after all, Louisiana.
In our first conversation, Louie Ivon taught me a verb (new for me if not for Mark Twain): “To crawfish” is someone who retreats or backs away from a situation. This was something, Ivon said, that Jim Garrison never did. It took several meetings before Louie recounted for his final meeting with David Ferrie, when Ferrie admitted to his own and Clay Shaw’s connections to the Central Intelligence Agency. It was Jim Garrison who established that CIA’s footprint was everywhere in the Kennedy case, not least but certainly in New Orleans.
I interviewed about 1200 people for “A Farewell to Justice.” I often had to judge who was telling the truth and who wasn’t, member of the Louisiana Historical Association or not. I abided always by another of Jim Garrison’s great passions, the first amendment. Garrison said that the first amendment lives in an oxygen tent and is always in danger of suffocating. Sued by the judges of the New Orleans criminal court for defamation, he took his appeal to the US Supreme Court where the opinion vindicating him was written by Justice William Brennan.
Some witnesses, like Larry Crafard’s brother, provided only one detail. This one was that Larry had lied to the Warren Commission regarding when he had left Jack Ruby’s employ and Dallas. Another was Michael Starr, who was a Judge Advocate at the Offutt Air Force Base in Omaha and was clearly intelligence connected. I traced some of the Thomas Edward Beckham trajectory through him, and, yes, Garrison was right about Beckham’s involvement in the Kennedy assassination conspiracy.
Irv Magri, an officer in the policemen’s union, told me about a deputy sheriff from Kenner named Roger Johnson, whom I interviewed on February 19, 2002. A deputy marshal at the Kenner police department, Johnston knew a man named Herb Wagner, who owned a small finance company and told him something about David Ferrie.
Johnston had been in Wagner’s office one day when Wagner said, “Roger, I have a document that would really be beneficial to Jim Garrison’s probe of the Kennedy association and I don’t know what to do about it.” Wagner led Roger to a filing room and opened the bottom drawer of a filing cabinet. He reached to the back and pulled out a tan manila folder, and then a document. It was a loan contract. He pointed to the borrower’s signature at the bottom. It read: “David Ferrie.” The cosigner was Clay Shaw. The document, as Roger remembered, showed that Ferrie borrowed $400. It was two or three days prior to the Kennedy assassination. Ferrie, a long-time friend, confided to Wagner that he needed the loan to fly to Dallas.
Wagner knew that Jim Garrison was trying to prove that these men knew each other. Here in front of my eyes, Johnston said, was the proof. When Johnson contacted an officer with the Jefferson Parish sheriff’s office, who introduced him to Sheriff Alwynn Cronvitch, he thought he had found a way to reach Jim Garrison. But what Cronvitch wanted was for Johnson to open the rear door to Wagner’s office that night and photograph the loan agreement. Johnston refused, he was a young cop, he remembered for me, and upright, and so this lead never reached Jim Garrison. Cronvitch, it turned out, worked for Carlos Marcello.
I tried to find Herbert Wagner. There were 26 Herbert Wagner’s in the US. The one in Metairie, was deceased. Wagner did give a statement to Garrison on December 6, 1967, testifying that he knew Ferrie for years and made loans to him. He had seen a big fellow with a very slight limp at Dave’s service station, but he could not be sure it was Clay Shaw.
I dug up many of Wagner’s loan papers to David Ferrie. They were dated 1961, 1962, 1964, and 1965. There were none for October or November 1963. I found his daughter, Sheila K. Breaux, who told me that many of her father’s papers had been thrown out by his wife at the time of his death.
Wagner had lied to Jim Garrison, insisting that he had never been in the Civil Air Patrol; his daughter told me he had been a Major in the Civil Air Patrol and kept an airplane in the garage that was used by the Civil Air Patrol. Only at the very end did Sheila tell me her father had been an operative with CIA, and that among his papers was a copy of JFK’s autopsy report.
Roger Johnston told me he shared his information with an assassination researcher named Larry Howard, who said he didn’t believe him. Many of the quasi-historians who dabble in the Kennedy case are less than accurate their approach to scholarship. One who did me an enormous service was a woman named Mary Ferrell, famous for her collection of Warren Commission documents. When I met Mary in Dallas, she arrived carrying a parcel.
Inside was the full manuscript of the diary of Tom Bethell. It has never been published and Bethell told Mary she must never show it to anyone. Bethell had been one of those who infiltrated Jim Garrison’s investigation, and did everything he could to subvert it, including providing the Shaw defense with the prosecution witness list and strategy. Garrison trusted Bethell, Garrison investigator John Volz told me, because he had gone to Oxford University.
Bethell’s 400 page diary was a daily account of what transpired in Garrison’s office, including the attempted bribery of Garrison witnesses, among them John Manchester, the town marshal in Clinton. I believe Mary gave Bethell’s diary to me because she regretted that she had attacked Jim Garrison and had changed her mind.
I would like to mention some people whom I believe to have told the truth to Jim Garrison and later to me. First, Anne Dischler, because she surprised me. When she joined Jim Garrison’s investigation, Mrs. Dischler had been an investigator with the Sovereignty Commission, a specious outfit determined to thwart desegregation in the state of Louisiana in the wake of Brown v. Board of Education. These were not Jim Garrison’s views, but his focus was on uncovering how “Jack” Kennedy died, and nothing else mattered.
I learned about Mrs. Dischler because she had made her handwritten notebooks of interviews she did with witnesses in Clinton and Jackson available to a writer. That writer had altered the meaning of what was in those notes radically. Still, Anne Dischler agreed to see me. I took the ferry over the Mississippi at St. Francisville and made the long drive down the 190. Mrs. Dischler came out into her front yard and watched as I got out of the car. I opened the trunk and was about to remove my briefcase when she said, “Don’t do that!”
She had decided that since this other writer had so distorted her work, she was unwilling to help anyone else. She had received a sign from God. There was no persuading her, either with logic or tears of frustration.
I drove back to Clinton where repeatedly I reached the answering machine of Corrie Collins. During the summer of 1963, Collins had been chairman of the East Feliciana branch of the Congress for Racial Equality. I called John Volz, who said the obvious. Go up and knock on the door. As US attorney, Volz had convicted Carlos Marcello. You can’t be shy.
I knocked on the screen door, Corrie Collins opened it, and I had the most valuable interview of the trip. Corrie Collins described having seen Oswald with David Ferrie and Clay Shaw on that morning when Oswald went up to register to vote in Clinton as part of his effort to get a job at the East Louisiana State Hospital at Jackson. Collins had served in Vietnam, only to return home to face the Klan. He failed to pass the test to register to vote, he told me. The Registrar of Voters, Henry Earl Palmer, had failed him because he got every question on the test correct. Collins waited the requisite time, returned and passed. In “A Farewell to Justice,” I call Corrie Collins an “unsung hero.”
I did not allow himself to be angry at Mrs. Dischler, in whose notebook the name “Corrie Collins” first appeared, with the notation “female.” I wrote her several times, and eventually I was invited back. For Anne Hundley Dischler, as for Jim Garrison, what counted was the truth.
And so I learned that Henry Earl had told Anne and her partner, Francis Fruge, that Oswald had, indeed, signed the registration book. His name had been erased, but the letters remained visible, etched onto the page. Anne had taped their conversation with Henry Earl; her note book reads “tape recorder on the floor running.”
When Dischler and Fruge returned the next morning, the big registration book had disappeared. The subsequent registrar, Lea McGehee, who succeeded Henry Earl Palmer, and is here today, is famous for having cut Lee Oswald’s hair. He searched for the registration book, but it was nowhere to be found.
Another of my favorite Clinton witnesses was John Rarick, the district court judge, whose racial views were on the conservative side. Yet in Louisiana nothing is as it seems. Among the inmates at the East Louisiana State Hospital was a rapist named Leonard Caesar, whom Jim Garrison, one of Rarick’s law school classmates, could not put on trial because the witnesses would not come forward.
Caesar languished in the insane asylum until one day he threw a piece of toilet paper out the window saying “Help me!” This plea reached Judge Rarick, who called Jim Garrison and said, “Try him or let him go, or I’ll file a writ of habeas corpus.” Which he did. According to the rule of law, Leonard Caesar had the right to be tried for his crimes.
Rarick filed that writ, and Caesar was returned to New Orleans. When he was released from Angola, Leonard Caesar went to Judge Rarick’s house in St. Francisville. He had under his arm a plaque he had carved in prison depicting a fish, the symbol of Christian charity. John Rarick was up on his roof putting up shingles. Caesar handed the sculpture up to Rarick. Then he departed. No words were exchanged. None needed to be.
Rarick was among the witnesses who saw Oswald, Ferrie and Shaw together in Clinton. He watched as John Manchester, the town marshal, questioned Shaw on the day Oswald registered. The dialogue is well known. Shaw said he worked at the International Trade Mart, and Manchester, a smart aleck, said something about Shaw coming up there to sell bananas.
Manchester wouldn’t meet with me – the obstacles were of region, gender, my being a stranger and more, although he did come to the telephone. But when I wanted Manchester to confirm that he had seen Shaw, Ferrie and Oswald together, I had to enlist an investigator to ask him the questions. That investigator was John Rarick. He and Manchester attended the same church, and Rarick accosted him after church one Sunday morning armed with my questions.
Rarely does a historian become friends with a witness, but I did become friends with two exceptional people. One was Dr. Frank Silva, a psychiatrist who was medical director at the East Louisiana State Hospital at Jackson during the summer of 1963. Dr. Silva saw Oswald at the hospital holding forth for orderlies and other employees. He wore a T-shirt and was ranting about how he was going to Cuba to kill Fidel Castro. Dr. Silva was Cuban who had come to the US in the mid-fifties, and so a hospital attendant thought he should introduce them. Frank Silva said to himself on that day, there is no way that man is going to get a job at my hospital. So part of CIA’s effort to frame Oswald was thwarted.
I would also like to single out former police intelligence officer Robert Buras, without whose help I could not have written my book. He taught me about police work, about the French Quarter where he had walked the beat in his younger days, and about government investigations. Buras served with the New Orleans police from 1959 to 1981. In the late seventies, L.J. Delsa chose him to be his partner for the Louisiana team of the House Select Committee on Assassinations. Buras is a religious man, not much to Jim Garrison’s taste perhaps, and one of unflinching integrity.
He seemed to know everything about the Garrison investigation. He told me that lawyer Jack Rogers, whom he interviewed, was a CIA asset who packed an automatic in his back pocket. Buras thought: “If you crossed him, you would get shot.” (Jack Rogers was chief counsel for the Louisiana Un-American Activities Committee).
Rogers had assassination files dating from the event, when Ned Touchstone, editor of the Counselor newspaper, began his investigation. HSCA got nowhere near the files of Jack Rogers. I saw them when I tracked down his daughter in Washington, D.C.
Buras talked about how he studied motives. He showed me how Oswald was rendered “impeachable,” in a way similar to Thomas Edward Beckham, a witness whom Jim Garrison was certain knew a great deal about the assassination. Buras compared Beckham to Oswald, both “young uneducated kids grabbed up by intelligence.”
Buras and Delsa apprehended Beckham in the state of Alabama, where Beckham had stood trial for fraud; his crime was reneging on a Hank Williams concert. Some information about Beckham I learned from a judge named Charlie McKnight, from whom Delsa and Jonathan Blackmer took Beckham into custody.
One day McKnight called me to say that when he was a lawyer, he represented Beckham and was impressed by his intelligence. He always turned out to have told the truth. Later McKnight’s files were stolen and everything about Beckham vanished. He asked the local FBI to investigate and they came back and told McKnight, “This man doesn’t exist!”
I talked to Charlie over a period of years. He told me he had been reticent because he had a conflict of interest. After he retired from the bench, he shared with me that Beckham had admitted that he had been in Dallas on November 22nd, and had met with Oswald just before the assassination at the School Book Depository.
Buras and Delsa brought Beckham to New Orleans where they subjected him to a polygraph conducted by Richard Hunter, the most competent polygraph operator on the New Orleans police force. Beckham passed. Buras and Delsa then requested of Robert Blakey and Gary Cornwell, who ran the HSCA, that they look into Beckham’s handler, Fred Lee Crisman. Instead, refusing to investigate Crisman, Blakey suspended both Buras and Delsa for conducting an “unauthorized” polygraph. The polygraph had in fact been authorized although Louis Stokes, chairman of the Select Committee, got around to signing it only later.
Buras found Beckham interesting, he said, because “he walked in some close circles, or parallels with the little that we knew about Oswald.”
HSCA would not permit Buras to interview anyone in Clinton and Jackson who had not already been interviewed by Garrison. That included Frank Silva. He concluded that “there never had been any possibility of their even looking for the truth.” The investigators had to abide by a “promise not to prosecute” which they were ordered to bestow upon all witnesses.
HSCA was equally corrupt in its treatment of William Walter, whom they interviewed in executive session. Walter had been the clerk at the FBI field office, who took that call from Francis Martello on August 9th, 1963 at Oswald’s request. Having been arrested on Canal Street for a staged scuffle with Carlos Bringuier, Oswald told Martello to call the FBI and “tell them you have Lee Oswald in custody.” Oswald requested that his FBI handler, Warren de Brueys, come down to the jail to see him. William Walter was also at the New Orleans FBI field office on November 17th when a teletype from J. Edgar Hoover arrived, warning of coming trouble in Dallas about to befall the President. (Testifying before the HSCA, Walter did not reveal that he had retained an original of that teletype, which is in his possession to this day).
Walter came forward to Jim Garrison, only for the FBI to silence him. He was forbidden to testify at the trial of Clay Shaw.
If Mr. de Brueys were here, he could tell us of the relationship between Oswald and David Smith of US Customs in New Orleans, since they were close. Warren de Brueys himself requested of the HSCA and the Church Committee copies of their interviews with the US Customs officers that we still have not been allowed to see.
Another of my favorite witnesses was Marlene Mancuso, former wife of Gordon Novel who had infiltrated Garrison’s investigation at the request of Walter Sheridan, Bobby Kennedy’s right hand man. Mancuso told Jim Garrison how Sheridan, under cover as a journalist for NBC, had attempted to bribe her with a job in Los Angeles if only she would lie to Garrison. Sheridan had gone to New Orleans to “scuttle” Jim Garrison’s investigation. He was one of many.
“I told Mr. Garrison that I wasn’t going along with any of that,” Marlene told me, as she described the affidavit she signed against Sheridan. Given Sheridan’s connections to Bobby Kennedy and to Herbert J. Miller, Jr., Sheridan wasn’t going to jail, just as he wasn’t going to face charges for bribing witnesses in the Hoffa trial in Chattanooga, Tennessee.
Marlene came forward because it was the right thing to do. When I went up to a nursing home in East Feliciana Parish, tracking down Gladys Palmer, whom several witnesses had observed in Oswald’s company during the summer of 1963, Gladys Palmer and Gloria Wilson, Marlene went with me. Gladys’ Ragland sister felt more comfortable talking with someone who was native to Louisiana.
I tried to interview as many friends of Clay Shaw as I could. One was a Tulane professor named Jefferson Sulzer, whose first wife Nina worked at Parish Prison and tried to subvert several Garrison witnesses into lying. Sulzer told me how CIA had aided Shaw’s defense team, but that wasn’t what surprised me at their elegant country house. “You must meet my wife, Victoria,” Sulzer said.
When Victoria entered the room, she told me that she and her former husband, Owen Hawes, had resided at the Patio Apartments where the cancer researcher Mary Sherman had lived and her body had been discovered. Hawes worked for NASA and at times had disappeared so that his wife did not know how to each him, or for whom he actually worked.
Mrs. Hawes’ next door neighbor called himself “Juan Valdes,” and when I told Angelo Murgado (Kennedy) that, because Angelo discovered Oswald in New Orleans for Bobby Kennedy in the summer of 1963, Angelo laughed: “Juan Valdes!” Yet it was so.
He looked “like a little Jewish accountant,” Victoria said. He spoke English almost without an accent and was Cuban, but had been born in Miami. He grew orchids and worked at the customs house. He knew Clay Shaw.
Juan knocked at Victoria Hawes’ door one day and asked her to accept packages for him should they arrive when he wasn’t home. Mostly they were orchids and plants he imported from Latin American countries. Some, she wondered, might have held drugs. Soon Juan began to knock at her door regularly and asked if he might use her telephone. He had his own telephone, but he wanted to make his long distance calls to Miami and to Cuba on her phone. Juan would pay the bill at the end of every month religiously.
One day a young man knocked at her door by mistake. “Is this Juan’s apartment?” he said. He was very polite, a nondescript young man. Victoria Hawes recognized him at once because they had attended Beauregard Junior High School on Canal Street together. He was a “sidelines” fellow, she said, and had no girlfriends. People tended to ignore him. He was not invited to the King Cakes parties.
Oswald visited Juan frequently and Victoria saw them because they would arrive together and request the use of her telephone. She was at home with small children and so saw Lee Oswald visiting Juan Valdes frequently. She thought their friendship was odd because Juan was so much older, in his mid-thirties. Together they came to her apartment to make the calls to Cuba. The walls were paper thin so that when they were in Juan’s apartment, she could hear them talking in the bathroom, then flushing the toilet over and over, maybe twenty times. She suspected that they were destroying paper.
Sometimes Victoria woke up and heard Juan returning home at four in the morning. It seemed odd that a respectable orthopedist and pathologist like Mary Sherman should associate with a gay Latino orchid grower.
After being interviewed by the Garrison office, Juan Valdes, who was the chief suspect in the Sherman murder, vanished, never to be seen again. I found it mind-boggling that the second wife of a friend of Clay Shaw should have an acquaintance with Oswald, but there it was. Oswald’s connection to Cuba connects to Dr. Frank Silva’s description to me of seeing a chaotic young man talking about how he was going to Cuba to assassinate Castro. Connecting Oswald with Cuba connects as well to HSCA deputy counsel Bob Tanenbaum seeing a film of Oswald at an anti-Castro training camp north of Lake Pontchartrain. And that connects to Oswald being seen by Alpha 66 leader Antonio Veciana in Dallas with CIA officer David Atlee Phillips, which, in turn, connected to Veciana’s revelation that the entire script of Oswald in Mexico City was invented by Phillips. All that Mexico City song and dance was a CIA production, Oswald trying to get to Cuba as part of CIA’s frame up of him.
I don’t know if Mary Sherman knew that Juan had been charged with making sexual advances to a young man when he lived at the Wohl Apartments on St. Charles Avenue. At that time, Juan socialized with Tulane football players and was accompanied by a big red Chow, a nasty animal. When the young man, whose name was Joseph Pitts, and his girlfriend Gretchen Bomboy, moved to Pryntania Street, Juan Valdes followed, and accosted Pitts again. Then Gretchen Bomboy and Pitts went to the police. It was now 1964. A judge granted them a restraining order against Juan Valdes, Pitts told me when I interviewed him.
It was Juan who called the police, not the fire department, when smoke poured out of Mary Sherman’s apartment on the morning her body was discovered. Robert Buras told me that, out of curiosity at this unresolved homicide, he consulted a crematorium to find out at what temperature fire could cause the kind of burns Mary Sherman suffered. The burns could not have been suffered as a result of that small apartment fire that had been set after Sherman was dead.
Interviewed at police headquarters, Valdes insisted on typing out his own statement and apparently had the connections to have his request honored. As soon as Valdes typed up his statement, Lt. James Kruebbe ushered him out the door. The lower ranked detectives who had been assigned to the case, were denied the opportunity to question him.
Forty years later, I asked Buras to go back to the detectives who had handled the Sherman murder. One of them refused to reveal what he had discovered. “I still want to earn my living in law enforcement,” he said. It was a political case. Some said Mary Sherman had a “French Quarter existence,” but Don Lee Keith, the journalist who did a great deal of research into the Mary Sherman murder, told me he could locate no lesbians in the Quarter who knew Mary Sherman or gay bars that she frequented.
“If that woman was a dyke in this town, I would have known or found out,” one lesbian bartender told Keith. Yet one Sherman friend, an amateur playwright named Christopher Blake, persists in the view that her death was connected to a fellow doctor named Caroline Talley. Blake told me that when lesbianism was mentioned, Dr. Sherman broke into tears.
All references to Dr. Alton Ochsner were expunged from the police report of Mary Sherman’s death, although she worked for Ochsner and her memorial service was at Ochsner’s clinic. This was a woman who had four address books.
From Keith’s files, I learned that Hoke May, a reporter on the States-Item who covered the Garrison investigation with Ross Yockney, was a CIA asset. May was very interested in what happened to Mary Sherman. May also vouched for the bona fides of Jack Martin, about whom I’ve written in “Jim Garrison: His Life and Times.” Jack Martin was among Thomas Edward Beckham’s CIA handlers.
Robert Buras knew from the inside that the New Orleans police were ordered to stop investigating the Mary Sherman murder by higher authority. Guards were placed around the US Public Health Hospital to ensure that no one could enter the grounds. In 1999, the hospital was still guarded by armed security.
The final witness about whom I’ll say a word is Angelo Murgado Kennedy, who admitted that he was one of the two Cubans visiting Sylvia Odio in the company of a “Leon Oswald” in late September 1963. I believed him. He wanted no notoriety. I found my way into his house because we had a mutual acquaintance named Gerald Patrick Hemming. After all the years I had put up with Gerry, who could be fair-minded, and yet obscure, this was my reward.
On the day we met, Gerry had told me an “Angelo” had visited Odio.
“Angelo who?” I said.
“Just Angelo,” he said, crawfishing away.
Now in Miami here was THE Angelo, who revealed, matter-of-factly, that he had worked for Bobby Kennedy and had gone to New Orleans in the summer of 1963 where he encountered Oswald! He reported this back to Bobby Kennedy and Bobby said, “since the FBI has him under control, we needn’t be concerned.” Angelo said he vomited when he learned that Oswald had been implicated in the assassination.
At one point after dinner, Angelo stared into the middle distance and said, “but his brother (Carlos) was running for mayor of Miami.” He was speaking of the other Cuban, known in history as Leopoldo, who visited Sylvia Odio. This was Bernardo de Torres, who for a time infiltrated the Garrison investigation and attempted to make trouble. De Torres told a writer who met him recently that he had read my book. He did not deny that he had visited Sylvia Odio as Leopoldo.
Sometimes, as I did this work, I felt that I had a barometer for who was working for CIA or was sympathetic to a hostile government agency by how they felt about Jim Garrison. Some journalists, like Scott Malone, insisted that Garrison was gay and had died of AIDS. Neither was true. Peter Dale Scott persists in accusing Garrison of protecting the Mafia, the evidence notwithstanding.
Some refused to talk even to Bob Buras. Jimmy Alcock, who prosecuted the Shaw case, said “I don’t really like to talk about any of that, Bob.” An honest man, he was red in the face. “I don’t want to get involved in it,” said Lt. Francis Martello. Francis Fruge also refused to cooperate. Delsa and Buras concluded that “there must be a shot the CIA can give people that makes them schizophrenic.”
I’ll close with Jim Garrison’s assessment of Oswald. “This scapegoat,” Garrison said, “was no dazed Sirhan or benighted Ray. This scapegoat was a bright, deeply experienced – if low level – intelligence employee whose elimination had to be as complete as the President’s. Otherwise, he’d still be talking.”