Saturday, 13 June 2020 18:05

Kerry Thornley: A New Look (Part 1)

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Jim DiEugenio takes a new look at Warren Commission witness Kerry Thornley in light of Adam Gorightly’s The Pranskter and the Conspiracy and re-examines his testimony through the lens of his biography and connections in New Orleans.


At the end of Adam Gorightly’s The Prankster and the Conspiracy, there is a revealing bibliographical reference. In referring to the files of the House Select Committee on Assassinations (HSCA), the author writes that he secured those papers through Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests. (Gorightly, p. 274)

As with many places in the book, my eyebrows arched when I read that passage. I thought: Why would anyone do that? The book was published in 2003. By 1998, five years before its publication, those HSCA files had been declassified by the Assassination Records Review Board (ARRB). All one had to do was call the National Archives—or email them—to make one’s request. Further, the Review Board process had begun in 1994, a full ten years before the book’s publication. Third, anyone familiar with FOIA law—or the JFK case—would know that it would be useless to submit a FOIA for HSCA documents anyway. Because the FOIA law does not apply to congress and, as anyone can note, the HSCA was a congressional committee. So who did Gorightly send his FOIA request to? And how long did it take him to find out that he didn’t know what he was doing?

What made this even more odd is that I did not recall any reference to the epochal construction of the ARRB in The Prankster and the Conspiracy. Yet, the book is about the John Kennedy assassination. More specifically it is about Kerry Thornley and New Orleans District Attorney Jim Garrison. Not to tell the reader that, beginning in 1994, there were now available millions of pages of declassified files on the JFK case—and by the time the process was completed, still some being withheld—that is a grievous thematic lacunae that is puzzling. Especially since thousands of those newly declassified pages dealt with the Jim Garrison investigation.

These facts reveal something about the author’s sources. There is a passage at the beginning of the book that reveals the author’s design. On page 19, Gorightly compares Thornley to other “luminaries from the period” like, for example, the trickster/prankster Ken Kesey. That comparison of “luminaries” made me look back at the subtitle on the cover. It reads in part: “How he met Oswald and Inspired the Counterculture”. What? Kerry Thornley inspired the counterculture? Did I miss something in all my decades of reading current American history? Did my graduate professors somehow ignore the powers and influence of a major cultural/literary figure?

Taken aback, I walked over to my personal library to see if—somehow—I had missed a second Ken Kesey. I looked up two popular histories of that era, Milton Viorst’s Fire in the Streets and Tod Gitlin’s The Sixties. Both authors trace the late fifties cultural rebellion—a lead in to the sixties—to the so called “beat authors”. This would mean writers Jack Kerouac, Allen Ginsberg and William Burroughs. (Viorst, pp. 60-64; Gitlin, pp. 47-54. Gitlin predates this revolt with references to C. Wright Mills and David Reisman.) Kerouac, as most know, met with Kesey in New York, along with Neal Cassady and Allen Ginsberg. This was part of the cross-country bus tour memorialized in Tom Wolfe’s The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test. When that book was published in 1968, depicting Kesey and Cassidy’s meetings with famous men and their attempts to turn them on to LSD, it made Wolfe a famous writer and forged the New Journalism field. But Ken Kesey had already established a formidable literary name for himself years before.

In 1962, Kesey wrote One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest. That book was purchased by Kirk Douglas and adapted for the Broadway stage in 1963 by Dale Wasserman. The play has been revived several times in award winning productions, one of them lasting two years. Kirk’s son Michael later made the book into a worldwide, smash hit movie starring Jack Nicholson. That film went on to win all five major Academy Awards: Best Picture, Director, Actor, Actress, and Adapted Screenplay. It ended up being distributor United Artists’ biggest hit.

But even that is not the whole story about Kesey’s literary career. Some would say—from a purely literary view—it’s not even the best part. Because two years after the publication of Cuckoo’s Nest, Kesey wrote a novel entitled Sometimes A Great Notion. Most critics consider his second, longer book an even better work than his first. Unlike Cuckoo’s Nest, it is not allegorical in design. It is an expansive, episodic, large scale epic about Pacific northwest logging. It touches on the dimensions of national tragedy: contrast and competition between East and West Coast, nature savagely despoiled by industry, conflict between rugged individualism versus communitarianism. Sometimes A Great Notion is on lists of the 100 best American novels of the century. It was called by the late essayist Charles Bowden “one of the few essential books written by an American in the last half century”. It too was also made into a film, this time starring Paul Newman.

So right at the start of this book a question arises: How can any self-respecting historian or cultural analyst place Kerry Thornley in the midst of Kesey, Kerouac, or Ginsberg? These literary figures are important enough to have feature films and documentaries made about them. (See the films Heart Beat with Nick Nolte and On the Road with Viggo Mortensen.) In historical terms and cultural impact, the attempt by Gorightly to equate Thornley with Kesey strikes me as so bizarre as to be risible. I mean, how did that idiot Charles Bowden miss Thornley’s The Idle Warriors? How did Gitlin pass over Thornley’s writings about weekend nudie/swinger escapades? (Gorightly, pp. 72-73) Were these careful historians somehow unaware of how Thornley “Inspired the Counterculture?”

This patent absurdity—combined with the earlier observation about Gorightly not even knowing, or ignoring, the ARRB—these factors tip us off as to what this volume is really about. The book will not be any kind of sober, balanced analysis of the subject matter. It will be an exercise in agitprop: a screeching polemic. And it will be a Procrustean polemic. If one recalls the Greek bandit of lore, Procrustes both stretched and amputated his characters beyond recognition in order to fit his immovable bed. Gorightly’s polemic contains three main Procrustean elements:

  1. The simultaneous aggrandizement and concealment of Thornley
  2. The, by now, (yawn) familiar hatchet job on Jim Garrison
  3. Insertions of snark to cheapen the rather serious subject of murder

If one rigidly follows the above architectural design one achieves the desired result: Thornley is somehow an ignored cultural and artistic lion; Garrison is a demented, hateful, vacuous fraud; and who really cares who killed JFK, what does it matter? The problem is this rigid formula renders the book so eccentric as to be solipsistic. Having dealt with the works of writers like Peter Janney, Lamar Waldron, and Tom Hartmann, I use that word gingerly. But this book is clearly in their league.


Thornley was born in East Whittier, California in 1938. He met his lifelong friend Greg Hill—who he shared a writing interest with—in high school. He was an actor in school plays and was a big fan of Mad magazine. (Ibid, p. 27) Thornley joined the Marine Corps Reserves in 1956 and attended boot camp that summer. He returned to high school for his senior year. He went to USC to study journalism but dropped out. (p. 29) He then joined the Marines in the spring of 1959.

It was at El Toro Marine Base, outside of Santa Ana California, where Kerry Thornley met Lee Harvey Oswald. Oswald had already been at Atsugi air base in Japan. Thornley would go there after their meeting. Like Oswald, Thornley was a radar operator. (Ibid, p. 36) It was at Atsugi that Thornley learned of Oswald’s defection to the USSR. Although Gorightly says Oswald renounced his citizenship in Moscow, thanks to the workings of diplomat/CIA agent Richard Snyder, we know that is not accurate. (John Newman, Oswald and the CIA, p. 6) Interestingly, Gary Powers’ ill-fated U2 flight over the USSR occurred while Oswald was in Russia. Gorightly says that Powers’ U2 flight flew out of Atsugi. This is also not true. (Newman, p. 46)

According to Thornley, it was upon learning about Oswald’s defection that he decided to write a novel about his former colleague. This ended up being called The Idle Warriors. According to his landlord in New Orleans at the time of the assassination, Thornley thought he was going to make a lot of money, because Oswald happened to be the subject of his book. (Jim Garrison, On the Trail of the Assassins, p. 76) Such was not the case. The book was not published until 1991, during the prerelease furor over Oliver Stone’s film JFK.

On his way back from Japan, Thornley read Ayn Rand’s dystopian novel Atlas Shrugged. According to Thornley, this was a transformative experience for him. It altered his world view. He fell in love with Rand and her radical free enterprise philosophy. (Gorightly, p. 43) After his discharge from the service, Thornley stayed with his parents in East Whittier. He led a rather odd life. He staged a one man reading of The Idle Warriors and apparently thought this would get him work as a lecturer. By who and for what is not specified in Gorightly’s book. After being hassled by the police one night for loitering, Thornley and Hill decided to move to New Orleans. It is not really explained why. After the cop altercation, Thornley said they should move to a place where they could stay up all night. Hill suggested New Orleans. And that was that. (Gorightly, p. 46)

They arrived in February of 1961, which, of course, was when the preparations in the Crescent City began to shift into high gear over the upcoming Bay of Pigs invasion of Cuba. People like David Ferrie and Guy Banister were involved in these activities out of places like Belle Chase naval air station and Banister’s office at 544 Camp Street. In fact, because of the ARRB, we first found out about the training grounds at Belle Chase from file releases in the nineties about Ferrie. He worked there as a trainer for the CIA, under the auspices of his friend Sergio Arcacha Smith, who worked for the CIA under State Department cover. (Wiliam Davy, Let Justice be Done, pp. 30-31)

As mentioned, at the time of Thornley’s 2000 mile “loitering harassment” move to New Orleans, he had already met Oswald. And he was writing about him. With the move to the Crescent City, Thornley was now going to run into a group of people who apparently also knew about Oswald and they were associated with this Belle Chase, anti-Castro, CIA associated movement. This group was called the Friends of Democratic Cuba (FDC). It was a shell company created by the CIA and FBI, “which involved the shipment and transportation of individuals and supplies in and out of Cuba.” (Davy, p. 17) The man who was supposed to be the recipient of this merchandise was Sergio Arcacha Smith. Members of the committee were Grady Durham and Bill Dalzell, the latter was a CIA operative and friend of Clay Shaw’s. Both Durham and Dalzell operated, at times, out of Banister’s office at 544 Camp Street, which makes sense since Banister was one of the incorporators of the Friends of Democratic Cuba. The man who was listed as head of the FDC, that is president, was Martin McAuliffe. McAuliffe was a PR man who handled publicity for Smith’s Cuban Revolutionary Council in New Orleans. (Davy, pp. 17-18)

As most everyone who studies the JFK case knows, due to its timing, the FDC was involved in a rather startling incident. In late January of 1961, actually the day President Kennedy took the oath of office, two men walked into the Bolton Ford Truck Center in New Orleans. They identified themselves as members of the FDC. They wanted to purchase ten Ford Econoline vans. At first, the man who did the talking was one Joseph Moore. But when the bid form was made out, Moore said he wanted his friend’s name on it as co-signer. The second man said this was fine since he was the man with the money. The man signed the form simply “Oswald” and he said his first name was Lee. (Davy, p. 16) This was when the real Oswald was in Russia.

In other words, Thornley was now in the midst of a group of people who also knew about Oswald and were manipulating his name and impersonating him—in 1961. There can be no doubt about this for the simple reason that McAuliffe knew Thornley and knew about his manuscript. (New Orleans DA memo of 2/20/68) Thornley also showed his manuscript about Oswald to Banister. When the Thornley/Oswald episode was first written about back in the nineties, this Oswald/Banister exchange startled even Mr. Warren Commission Gus Russo. It would be natural for Thornley to do this, since he was among the menagerie at 544 Camp Street. Both Dan and Allen Campbell, who worked for Banister, saw him there. (See Davy, p. 40; James DiEugenio, Destiny Betrayed, second edition, p. 188) In fact, on the day of the assassination, Allen was talking to Thornley. (Gorightly tries to negate Dan’s statement through John McAdams, but the original reference does not say what McAdams says it does. Anthony Summers, Conspiracy, p. 293)

Why Gorightly should try to dispute the Thornley/Banister association at all is hard to fathom, since Thornley himself admitted showing the manuscript to Banister in his introduction to The Idle Warriors back in 1991. In other words, by a strange and powerful coincidence, Thornley is now united with the only other known group of people in America using Oswald’s name in a fictional setting well in advance of Kennedy’s assassination. There will be more of these coincidences to come.


It wasn’t just Guy Banister and his staunch anti-communist comrades which Thornley was part and parcel of; and not just McAuliffe of the FDC he happened to run into. During his stay in New Orleans, Thornley worked briefly for rightwing publisher/activist Kent Courtney. (Probe Magazine, Vol. 6 No. 4, “False Witness: Aptly Titled”) But calling Courtney rightwing does not begin to establish who he was. Courtney was a McCarthyite and a John Bircher. In 1960, he ran for governor on the States Rights party ticket. That same year, Courtney organized a ‘draft Goldwater’ movement because he thought Richard Nixon was too liberal. In fact, at times, Courtney thought that Goldwater was not conservative enough for him. Courtney agreed with Robert Welch that Dwight Eisenhower was really an agent of the worldwide communist conspiracy. This reactionary extremism is why Courtney tried to start a political party to the right of the GOP in 1961. Courtney admired Senator Strom Thurmond and backed Governor George Wallace for president in 1968.

During his two-year New Orleans stay of 1961-63, Thornley also befriended Clint Bolton, an associate of Courtney. (Ibid, Probe Magazine) Bolton wrote publicity copy for the FDC. And Thornley dedicated his 1965 book, entitled simply Oswald, to Bolton. (We will discuss this book later.) According to Garrison’s sources, Bolton was associated with the CIA.

Thornley also knew Ed Butler through Thornley’s employment by Alton Ochsner’s Information Council for the Americas. (ibid) INCA was another rabid rightwing propaganda mill, managed for the wealthy Ochsner by Butler. (For a profile of Butler, click here.)

We all know that Butler, along with Carlos Bringuier of the Student Revolutionary Directorate—the DRE, ended up bushwhacking Oswald during an August 1963 broadcast debate in New Orleans. With help from the FBI, they exposed Oswald’s crusading for the Fair Play for Cuba Committee as being colored by his past defection to Russia. According to his girlfriend Jeanne Hack, Thornley once took her to a meeting behind Bringuier’s store. (Joan Mellen, A Farewell to Justice, p. 275) As Jefferson Morley has shown, the first media accusation that Oswald was in cahoots with Fidel Castro in the assassination was made by a DRE broadsheet—which was paid for by the CIA. (Morley, The Ghost, p. 145) Within 24 hours of Kennedy’s murder, Senator Thomas Dodd—who knew Butler before the assassination—had the propagandist shipped up to Washington to testify before congress about Oswald. (Probe Magazine, p. 12, September-October 1996)

And what was Kerry Thornley doing in the hours immediately following JFK’s murder? He was beside himself with joy. He could not contain himself; he was cheering. He actually referred to Kennedy’s assassination as “good news”. (Mellen, p. 272; Gorightly, p. 53) Within 36 hours, he was being interviewed by the Secret Service, twenty-four hours later, by the FBI. (Gorightly, p. 54)

Within days of the assassination, Thornley had departed from New Orleans. He left so hastily that he did not even talk to his landlord—even though he had over a week left on his rental. After finding a note, the landlord checked Thornley’s apartment. He found papers torn up all over the floor; but “before being torn up, the paper had been watered down so the ink was blurred, making it unreadable.” (Garrison, p. 76)

Thornley had hightailed it to Arlington, Virginia. It was almost like he was preparing to be called by the Warren Commission, which he was. He later joked about it. He said there was just cause for the FBI and Secret Service to suspect he had a role in the assassination. But then, for whatever reason, that line of inquiry was quickly dropped. But being where he was, in proximity to Arlington Cemetery, this gave him the opportunity to urinate on Kennedy’s grave. (Garrison, p. 78)


To any person who knows anything about who Oswald really was and what the Warren Commission was up to, it is impossible not to take sharp notice of Thornley’s testimony. And, in fact, with his three complete editions of the Commission volumes, this is what first caused Jim Garrison to ponder the case of Kerry Thornley. The Commission wanted Thornley to bring all drafts of his book The Idle Warriors with him, which he did. His main liaison with the Commission was Albert Jenner. Through the FBI and Secret Service reports, Jenner knew about Thornley’s incontinent celebration of Kennedy’s demise and agreed to paper it over by saying the witness was buzzed. (Gorightly, p. 64) Yet, Thornley was working his waiter job when he got the news of Kennedy’s murder. (ibid, p. 53) I am familiar enough with the restaurant business to know that waiters are not allowed to drink on the job. Yet, in spite of that, Thornley actually started singing when he learned Kennedy was shot. (ibid. p. 53) With that nod and wink, any objective reader could see that the Commission was laying down the carpet for Thornley to be a key witness for them. In fact, in what has to be considered an act of concealment, Jenner never mentioned this celebratory aspect of Thornley’s story. Within one page, Jenner began to focus on Thornley’s relations with Oswald in the spring of 1959. (WC, Vol. XI, p. 83)

Thornley began by saying Oswald had been demoted to doing janitorial work for pouring a beer over an officer’s head. (ibid, p. 84) He then goes on to say that at his first meeting with Oswald, he learned that the man was both a communist and an atheist. (ibid, p. 87) Therefore, within just four pages, Thornley had hit a three-bagger. And this was just for starters. The witness then depicted Oswald as saying with a little grin, “Well, I think the best religion is communism.” Thornley continued that Oswald had concluded Marxist morality was the most rational morality for mankind and Oswald thought “communism was the best system in the world.” (ibid, p. 87) Thornley also revealed that Oswald was studying Russian and subscribing to Russian newspapers. When asked by Jenner if he himself did these things, Thornley replied no, he considered himself presently as an extreme rightist. (ibid, p. 88) Later on, Thornley said Oswald, in the service, was extremely sloppy in his personal habits, would go out of his way to get into trouble, and would pull his hat down over his eyes, so he did not have to look around at anything, “very Beetle Bailey style”. (ibid, p. 90) He then said that on a personal level, Oswald’s relationships with others were “almost nil.” The alleged assassin got along with almost no one. (ibid, p. 94) This would imply that Thornley was his closest pal at the time, therefore he could give the most complete impression of the man.

Jenner would ask Thornley about aspects of Oswald’s personality and about discussions the two had, since Oswald was an alleged communist and Thornley was not. (Ibid, p. 92) Thornley now described Oswald’s arguments in regards to the Marxian idea of the excess profits corporations derived from labor. (ibid, p. 93) Jenner even pushed Thornley to recall any of Oswald’s comparisons between the USA and the USSR. Thornley stated one could not argue such points, since Oswald said we lived in a state of propaganda and no one had real knowledge of what Russia was like. Again, Jenner pushed Thornley on this point: “Give us some examples and tell us.” (Ibid, p. 94) Thornley used this to say Oswald favored the USSR and it was a part of his personal rebellion against “the present circumstances.”

Based on a two-sentence verbal exchange with Oswald—after which Oswald allegedly walked off and cut off communications—Thornley later concluded that Oswald was a nut, maybe crazy. Oswald had a “definite tendency toward irrationality at times, an emotional instability.” (ibid, p. 96) Thornley later added that, when he read about Oswald in Moscow, he was surprised. He did not think Oswald’s allegiance to communism was so deep as to defect. Again, Jenner pushed him on this issue of his personal reaction to the defection. Thornley said that Oswald had the idea that the Russians would win the Cold War and he wanted to be on the winning side. He also added that this was part of his “persecution complex…insofar as he has tended to be emotionally unstable.” (ibid, p. 97)

Later, in explaining the defection, Thornley said:

He looked upon the eyes of future people as some kind of tribunal, and he wanted to be on the winning side so that 10,000 years from now people would look in the history books and say, ‘Well this man was ahead of his time’…The eyes of the future became what to another man would be the eyes of God, or perhaps to yet another man the eyes of his own conscience. (ibid)

If the reader can believe it, Thornley went even further. He said that Oswald “wanted to die with the knowledge that, or with the idea that, he was somebody.” (Ibid, p. 98) Later on, Thornley said that Oswald’s Marxism was an irrevocable conviction with the man. (ibid, p. 99) When Jenner asked him for more indications about a persecution complex, Thornley went beyond picturing Oswald as an unstable, glory hungry, irrevocable Marxist. Thornley now added that Oswald had a hint of paranoia about him. Oswald thought “he was being watched and being pushed a little harder than anyone else…I think it was kind of necessary for him to believe that he was being picked on.” (ibid, p. 100)

Jenner finally admitted what is clear to anyone with any objectivity: what he is pressing Thornley hard for is Oswald’s motivation. (ibid, p. 102) At times, the Q and A gets mildly humorous. Jenner asks Thornley if Oswald felt superior because he was an avid reader. Thornley responds affirmatively. He later tells Jenner that Oswald felt his commanders were too incompetent to give him orders. (ibid, p. 106) So we have a man who had both a persecution complex and superiority complex.

In going over Thornley’s testimony, I really do not think the Commission could have asked any more of him. There is no arguing this and those who do are in denial. To me, in terms of sheer incrimination and character assassination, Thornley ranks with Ruth and Michael Paine, George DeMohrenschildt, and Carlos Bringuier. He was quite valuable to them in their portrayal of Oswald as a deranged, sociopathic Marxist. And he is duly quoted in the Warren Report in three damaging passages. (See pp. 385-86, 388-89, 686-87)

But in forensic value, the way a DA would look at it, how much of his testimony could be admitted in a court of law? Paranoia, persecution complex, Beetle Bailey shutting out his environment, wanting the world to know he was somebody? Much of it was surmise, personal opinion, and dime store psychology. From a man who not only was not a psychologist, but was a college dropout. And all the way through, Jenner was pushing him to editorialize. The two were so close that Thornley made sure he had Jenner’s correct phone number at the end. (ibid, p. 115) The fact that this kind of dog and pony show was allowed without objection goes to the heart of how bad the Warren Commission really was. And Thornley was, oh so, eager to cooperate. At a real trial, a defense lawyer would be jumping out of his chair with objections. At a pre-evidentiary hearing, a judge likely would not have allowed it on the grounds that its prejudicial character outweighed its forensic value. To put it plainly, upon lengthy review of his testimony, Kerry Thornley has all the appearances of being a hit man.


As several authors have written, the Commission featured a whole series of affidavits of servicemen who knew Oswald. These were mostly a bit over a half page each. Although it is clear that these affidavits were externally guided, none of them came close to doing to Oswald what Thornley did. (WC, Volume 8, pp. 315-23) Thornley was allowed the freedom to answer open ended and leading questions for 33 pages.

But Thornley’s testimony, once we go outside its immediate parameters, deserves even more attention. Minimally, some of the things he said would seem to have merited immediate follow up—if Jenner wanted to get at the underlying facts.

As we have seen above, Thornley knew both Butler and Bringuier. These were Oswald’s opponents in the August broadcast debate that smeared both the alleged assassin and the FPCC. As we have seen, immediately after the assassination, Butler and Bringuier swung into action to use that incident for psy war purposes: Oswald was guilty and he did it for ideological purposes. Thornley was so eager to please Jenner that, during his testimony, he slipped. He said that he heard these tapes after the assassination. (WC, Volume 11, p. 100) This must have been in the time interval before he left for Virginia. He said he was standing in a TV station as the tape was played. And like every Oswald coincidence Thornley was involved in, he said he just happened to be standing there. Was he waiting for a streetcar? Inside the studio? As we shall see, a newsman would fill this in a bit more. In all probability, Thornley did not just happen to be there.

The second point a true interlocutor would have focused on was the enduring mystery about Oswald and his application to attend Albert Schweitzer College. Oswald had been a part of a unit at El Toro naval air base called MACS 9 since July of 1958. Kerry Thornley had been a part of MACS 4 since that fall. (Thornley’s 2/8/68 Grand Jury testimony, p. 2) Thornley told Jim Garrison he was not sure when he was transferred to Oswald’s unit. But he thought it was sometime after January or February of 1959. (ibid, p. 3) Again, this is interesting, because, in early March, Oswald sent in an application to Albert Schweitzer College (hereafter ASC). That college was 6000 miles away in Switzerland. It was so obscure that the FBI agents in Europe could not find it. They had to contact the Swiss police to locate it. But even the Swiss police could not find it, because it was not in the official registry at Bern. The police had to undertake an investigation that lasted two months. (Probe Magazine, Vol. 3 No. 3, p. 7) The natural question would be: how did Oswald find out about it at El Toro?

Make no mistake, the Warren Commission was on to this. And Albert Jenner understood the connection might have been through Thornley. Comprehending how damaging that would be to their star military witness, they had no intention of finding out if such was the case. But George MIchael Evica, not concerned with such matters, thought this might have been what happened. According to Evica, neither the FBI nor the CIA had produced Oswald’s letter for application to the ASC. (A Certain Arrogance, p. 15) This caused Evica to ask: did Oswald’s letter really exist? The ASC episode is of interest, because Oswald’s defection will occur in just six months. When he applied for his passport, he listed ASC as one of his destinations. Three months after his attention in ASC was accented, he applied for a hardship discharge for early release from the service. The reason for this early discharge? At her place of work, his mother had a candy box drop on her head. No kidding. (James DiEugenio, Destiny Betrayed, second edition, p. 135) As many have noted, everything about this hardship discharge was suspect, as was everything about ASC, including the institute’s Director Hans Casparis, who never received any degrees from the colleges he said he attended. (Evica, pp,77-78) Plus the fact that ASC closed down within months after Kennedy’s murder. (DiEugenio, p. 134)

When the FBI interviewed Thornley after the assassination, they apparently understood this possible connection. As Evica notes, the ASC was promoted and partly administered by the liberal Unitarian Church and the Unitarians had been covertly used by Allen and John Foster Dulles for overseas espionage actions. (Evica, p. 21, pp. 85, 98-99, 123-25) One of the most famous of these Unitarian churches was Stephen Frichtman’s First Unitarian Church in Los Angeles, which sometimes had a thousand attendees. Frichtman had organized the Unitarian Service Committee, once run by Percival Brundage, who was later associated with ASC. (Evica, p. 105) As Evica further notes, Thornley was fully aware of this church and he attended at least several times. The witness also testified that Oswald asked him about this church. (WC, Vol. 11, p. 110) Thornley was also aware that Oswald had visited Los Angeles with his Marine colleague Nelson Delgado. (ibid) The FBI asked Thornley what Oswald’s connection may have been with Frichtman’s church. The witness replied there was none. Quite logically, since Thornley never said he visited LA with Oswald, the FBI had its doubts, because there is a 60 page FBI report on Frichtman’s church in the National Archives. (Evica, p. 21)

But perhaps even more interesting, the FBI may have found an acquaintance who Thornley had said something contrary to. Because Thornley goes out of his way to deny that his classmate Sylvia Bortin ever knew Oswald. (WC Vol. 11, pp. 110-11) This does not mean that Thornley could not have told her about this upon his return to California in 1963. Clearly, Jenner had rehearsed all of this with the witness in advance. Either during one of their phone calls or their lunch. Both men knew, through the FBI reports, just how close to the edge it came. Evica correctly poses the questions: Did Thornley pick up an ASC brochure from Frichtman and give it to Oswald during one of their discussions about the church; or did he inform Oswald of this available literature and the college?

Why is that important? Not just because of the upcoming (phony) defection and not just due to the fact of ASC’s obscurity. It is because with all that has come out about the institution, many authors—Evica, John Newman, John Armstrong, and myself—now believe it likely that this alleged higher education institution was a CIA shell or proprietary. Therefore, if Thornley knew about the upcoming defection, it is understandable that he and Jenner would avoid the issue.

A third matter Jenner should have explored: Thornley made the point that he never saw Oswald after he left El Toro. Jenner then specifically asks about seeing the alleged assassin in New Orleans. Thornley denied it. (WC, Vol. 11, p. 109) He only knew about Oswald’s defection through a published report, probably the military journal Stars and Stripes. He also knew of his return to America, but never talked to him about the book. He says he began the book when he learned of the defection and finished it in February of 1962; Oswald returned in June. He reaffirmed to Jenner there was no contact with Oswald at all after El Toro. (WC Vol. 11, p. 110)

His father contradicted Kerry. According to an 11/26/63 confidential LA Sheriff’s report, his father Ken said that Oswald had been in letter contact with Thornley. Some of these were of recent vintage. (Mellen, p. 276) Could these possibly be the letters Thornley had ripped up and then watered down in his apartment? Allen Campbell, who worked out of Banister’s office, told Joan Mellen in 2002 that the two had been in contact. (Ibid) That’s just for starters; we will return to the rather important issue of Thornley’s denials on this point later.

A last area about Thornley’s testimony where Jenner should have challenged the witness, is one which intrigued Jim Garrison. When asked to describe Oswald’s physical stature, Thornley said he wasn’t positive but he thought Oswald stood about 5’ 5” in height. (WC, Vol. 11, p. 89) Now, there is a dispute about how tall Oswald actually was. Some records measure him at 5’ 11”, some at a bit over 5’ 9”, but for Thornley to say Oswald was five inches shorter than he was--when in fact they were around the same height—that was rather notable. The Warren Commission had these records. Jenner had to have been aware of this. As with everything else, he made nothing of it.

The Commission had allowed Thornley the equivalent of a slalom run at Tahoe.


After appearing before the Warren Commission, Thornley published a non-fiction book simply titled Oswald in 1965. As I have written elsewhere, the 1965 book is pretty much a rerun of his planned and patently incriminating Commission testimony. In that book, he says, “Frankly, I agree that the man was sick, but I further think his sickness was…self-induced.” (Thornley, p. 69) How was it self-induced? Because others did not recognize the “mark of destiny clearly visible on his forehead…” (ibid, p. 19) Needless to say, there was no conspiracy to kill JFK. It was all done by his sick acquaintance, Oswald. In addition to the book rights, it was sold for tabloid rights to The National Insider.

Perhaps for that reason, the book caught the attention of Kennedy researcher David Lifton. Since both were in the LA area, Lifton visited Thornley more than once and—there is no other way to say this—they became friends. Somehow, some way, Lifton was willing to overlook all that Thornley had said for the Warren Commission in smearing and incriminating Oswald. He was also willing to—and this got almost ludicrous—downplay Thornley’s nutty neo-fascist beliefs. For example, In 1964 Thornley attended Robert LeFevre’s Freedom School. LeFevre sued the Girl Scouts for mentioning the United Nations too often in their handbook.

Consider how Lifton handled this later. He cannot bring himself to accept that Thornley was celebrating Kennedy’s death, so in an article attacking Jim Garrison for a journal called Open City in 1968, this is what he wrote:

In short, Kerry’s humor, however in bad taste it might be interpreted to have been, had more to do with his own sense of irony and his own ideas about Government, (and the type of man that makes leading other men his life’s work). But this is all really besides the point.

No one considered Thornley's comments in jest, including Thornley. And it’s inexplicable for someone who was not there to say such. And how on earth are his fruity extremist beliefs “besides the point”? As examined above, they provide a nexus point for Thornley’s associations with other extremists in New Orleans. We will explore just how extreme—and therefore how important—these beliefs were in a later section.

Lifton had no subpoena power. He had no detectives to do a field investigation. And there is no evidence that, at the time, he had been to New Orleans. So when Lifton took some signed statements from Thornley and turned them over to Garrison, the combination of Thornley’s previous testimony, and at least one of the signed statements, caused Garrison’s suspicions about Thornley to deepen. For instance, in one of his statements to Lifton, Thornley said he thought he had heard Oswald speaking to another Marine in Russian at Atsugi. He thought his name was John Rene Heindel. In fact, according to a long memorandum Thornley made out on October 24, 1967, that name was given to him by Jenner. According to Thornley, he and Lifton spent hours making out a statement to this effect for Jim Garrison. The information ended up being sent to the DA in a notarized declaration, specifically naming Heindel as the guy who talked to Oswald in Russian. (Grand Jury testimony of Heindel, 10/5/67, pp. 23-24)

For anyone familiar with the record, this is all confusing. According to Heindel, he was at Atsugi with Oswald. (WC, Vol. 8, p. 318) And he talked to him once briefly in English. But that was the only place he ever talked to him. He never even knew him at El Toro, where he spent most of his time at the helicopter base. He never knew Thornley at all in the service. He only heard of him afterwards. (Heindel, op. cit, p. 4, 24)

But yet Thornley says he was not at Atsugi at the time Oswald was there. (WC Vol. 11, p. 86) Therefore, if this ever happened, it almost had to be at El Toro. But yet Heindel said he did not speak Russian. (Heindel, op. cit. p. 26) There is a concept put forth by some that, wrapped up in all this, Garrison was trying to lure Heindel into a perjury trap. Based on this Russian language information—and the fact that Oswald supposedly used the name Hidell in ordering the rifle the Commission says was used to kill Kennedy—Garrison was going to implicate Heindel in a huge plot that would somehow lead up to Clay Shaw. (Gorightly, p. 91) When one reads Garrison’s examination of Heindel before the grand jury, the reader can see this is bunk. (Click here for details). In fact, in reading this exchange, it appears that Heindel likely would not have been called without Thornley’s declaration.

Thornley insisted he never saw Oswald in New Orleans. Yet, there were many witnesses who testified to the contrary:  they either said they saw Oswald with Thornley or Thornley told him he did know Oswald after the service.  Jack Burnside  was  a regular at Ryder Coffee House and said he saw Oswald there. He also knew “Thornley and was with him at Fong’s Restaurant on Decatur Street when Oswald came in and talked with Thornley.” (John Armstrong, Harvey and Lee, p. 591) Peter Deageano told assistant DA Andrew Sciambra of Garrison’s office that while eating a hamburger at the Bourbon House, he saw Thornley with Oswald. He also recalled seeing Oswald leafleting on Canal Street in the summer of 1963. (Interview of October 26, 1967)

Doris Dowell  knew Thornley from the Shirlington House in Arlington. She said that Thornley told her that he and Oswald had been buddies in New Orleans. (NODA memo of April 2, 1968) L. P. Davis had also seen  Thornley with Oswald at the Bourbon House and he recalled that they had been dressed in a similar manner. (NODA memo of January 30, 1968)

With this as background, let us dial back to Thornley, the TV station, and the Butler/Oswald tapes being shown after the assassination. Cliff Hall was a program director of WSHO Radio in New Orleans in 1963. He hung out in the French Quarter and got to know Thornley. Shortly after Kennedy’s assassination, he accompanied Kerry to WDSU TV station. There, Thornley was interviewed about Oswald and he rendered the same information he essentially gave the Warren Commission. But then something odd happened. Thornley and Hall went out for a drink. Thornley now admitted that he had seen Oswald since the service. It was in New Orleans. Hall asked him if he knew Oswald well and he said yes he did. (Interview with Richard Burness, January 10, 1968)

But Thornley did not just visit the TV station to get his message out. He also made the New Orleans States Item, one of the two major papers in the city. On November 27, 1963, they ran an article based on an interview with Thornley. Quoting Thornley, the top headline labeled Oswald a ‘Real Loser’. The article is more qualified than his book. For instance, he says he never saw Oswald doing anything violent. But he calls Oswald schizophrenic and a “little psychotic.” He also adds that the Marines made Oswald a killer. During his testimony with Jenner, Thornley was not asked how the reporter located him or if he located the reporter. (WC Volume 11, p. 112) Whatever the cause, would it not appear to many that Thornley is doing what Butler and Bringuier were doing? Except his twist was character assassination, making Oswald into a pathological case.

Recall, Thornley had told Jenner that he just happened to be at the studio and very briefly saw parts of the Butler/Oswald debate. That was not credible on its face and it should have been thoroughly examined. Like Thornley taking off to Virginia to await being called by the Warren Commission, here he was doing the same act right after the assassination. And apparently doing it in tandem with his colleagues Butler and Bringuier. To add to this contradictory paradigm, he told both Bernard Goldsmith and Dowell that he knew Oswald was not a communist. (Jeff Caufield, General Walker and the Murder of President Kennedy, p. 229) Yet this was what he was so adamant about for Jenner.

As with the Commission, Thornley told Garrison in 1968 that he did not see Oswald after the service. (Thornley, Grand Jury Testimony, p. 40) To call his grand jury positions on whether he knew Clay Shaw, Banister, or David Ferrie equivocating, that is simply not accurate. Exaggerating only slightly, they are almost comical to read. (Ibid, respectively, pp 48-50, p. 62, p. 72) To anyone familiar with the JFK case, it’s clear Thornley is trying to avoid being indicted for perjury on those counts also. He did know these men. But if he admitted to that, along with knowing Oswald, along with Bringuier, Butler, and the rest of the CIA subculture around Oswald, what would happen? His carefully constructed Jenner meme, as the guy practicing the piano downstairs in the bordello—or in his case selling aluminum siding—this all would have been brought into question. How do we know this? Because Thornley later positively admitted to knowing all three of these men. (DiEugenio, p. 189) These men also lied about their associations with Oswald in and around New Orleans in the summer of 1963.

Let us make no mistake, the above is not the accumulation of the evidence Garrison had against Thornley. There were other intriguing witnesses that I have not even mentioned. (See Joan Mellen, A Farewelll to Justice, pp. 271-76;  Joe G. Biles, In History’s Shadow, pp. 56-69)

The problem was that, by late 1968, Garrison had some serious problems. He was not in good health and his office had undergone a huge blow out over the Bill Boxley affair. (DiEugenio, pp. 283-85 292-93) As has been written by many, Boxley had all the earmarks of being a CIA infiltrator. After this turning point, Garrison had all his volunteer assistants hand in their badges, which cut down on the amount of investigations he could do. And he decided to concentrate on prepping for the upcoming Shaw conspiracy trial with mostly his own office workers. After the huge disappointment of that trial, Garrison filed perjury charges against Shaw. When one follows the memoranda trail, or talks to people in the office, Garrison was revving up for that in a way he should have for the original trial. But in a very unusual move, that trial was moved from state court to federal court. (DiEugenio, pp. 313-15) And in a pre-trial hearing that can only be called surrealistic, the charges were then dismissed.

After this, it was decided from up above that was it for Garrison and the JFK case. Further, Garrison was going to be made an example of to anyone else who harbored these investigative designs. The Power Elite in both New Orleans and Washington went to work to remove Garrison from office. He underwent two phony trials during which he demonstrated how the local federal attorney’s office had literally fabricated a case against him. (ibid, pp. 316-19) Garrison was acquitted. But the real aim was to mortally wound him in the press and broadcast media, which did occur. And that brought to the DA’s office Harry Connick, a man who has become infamous in legal journals for his rather unusual criminal practices. (Click here for details)

But, no coincidence, Connick had also been the Justice Department liaison to Shaw’s defense team during his trial. This was discovered by the ARRB. (DiEugenio, pp. 303-05) Therefore, once he took office in 1973, he went to work setting fire to all the JFK files that Garrison had left behind. He literally sent them to the public incinerator. And we only found out about it because of the ARRB. (ibid, p. 320)

So today, one can only estimate what we have left of Garrison’s files. Considering that this author—through attorney Lyon Garrison—had access to the extant files left over in Garrison’s archives, I would say, that it’s probably about 60%. The rest were incinerated by Connick, stolen by infiltrators like Boxley, or, as Garrison wrote his book editor, Zach Sklar, stolen from the garage of a friend of Garrison’s after he left office. Therefore, as with all witnesses and suspects in the Garrison inquiry, we really do not know the scope and depth of the case against Thornley. The fact that, as Joe Biles has written, Garrison had to concentrate on Shaw before, during, and after his trial detracted from the case against Thornley, who Biles believes would have been a better object of prosecution. (Biles, p. 68) For the reasons elucidated above, that is something we will never know.

see Kerry Thornley: A New Look (Part 2)

Last modified on Tuesday, 16 June 2020 01:22
James DiEugenio

One of the most respected researchers and writers on the political assassinations of the 1960s, Jim DiEugenio is the author of two books, Destiny Betrayed (1992/2012) and The JFK Assassination: The Evidence Today (2018), co-author of The Assassinations, and co-edited Probe Magazine (1993-2000).   See "About Us" for a fuller bio.

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