Tuesday, 15 June 1999 18:18

Patricia Lambert, False Witness

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Robert Blakey has said that after his experience with the House Select Committee, it was his opinion that the JFK case was like a Rorschach test, people saw in it what they wished to see. Lambert's book is proof positive of this, write Jim DiEugenio and Bill Davy.

False Witness: Aptly Titled

By Jim DiEugenio and Bill Davy

From the May-June 1999 issue (Vol. 6 No. 4) of Probe

Following on the heels of Gus Russo's Live By the Sword, another propaganda tract has been published. False Witness, by Patricia Lambert, is a hit piece on Jim Garrison and Oliver Stone. Curiously, Lambert formerly went under the name Patricia Billings. We can't help but wonder if she was related in some manner to Dick Billings, the Time-LIFE journalist who actively worked to undermine Garrison's case, and who had strong ties to the CIA.

Patricia Lambert has basically taken a stale track and updated it with extremely selective sections from new documents to perform the same function that authors and journalists like Milton Brener, James Kirkwood, James Phelan, and Hugh Aynesworth have performed in the past. Once again, she attempts to portray Garrison's investigation as a complete fraud from start to finish. Her thesis: every person under suspicion by Garrison was either put upon or persecuted by the deluded DA. This includes David Ferrie and especially Clay Shaw. Therefore, Stone built his film on a foundation of quicksand. Consequently the attacks on the movie were justified as the picture, by necessity, was a false portrait of the JFK case. When one compares the documentation in the book to the bulk of the record, the book's title takes on new meaning, describing its author instead of its subject.

Lambert's caustic attack on Garrison paints him as a child molester and compares him to cult leader David Koresh. This last comparison is key to Lambert's characterization of Garrison. Otherwise how could Garrison control the likes of Bill Alford, Andrew Sciambra, Numa Bertel, Al Oser, Lou Ivon, John Volz, Richard Burnes, D'alton Williams, Frank Meloche, Lynn Loisel, James Alcock, George Eckert, Sal Scalia, Bill Boxley, William Martin, et. al – all of whom assisted Garrison in his investigation and must have come under his spell. According to Lambert, the answer is simple of course. Garrison was also a Svengali. Oliver Stone is not spared Lambert's vitriol either. By quoting an out of context interview, he is likened to Adolf Hitler's documentarian, Leni Riefenstahl. When an author deals in this kind of hyperbole, it only serves to detract from the credibility of the writing. Absent the hyperbolic treatment however, this work is still less than credible. A recent Baltimore Sun review describes it as having "scant historical merit."

Patricia Lambert is a longtime friend and colleague of David Lifton who helped him on his manuscript for Best Evidence. Predictably, Lambert begins the book by saying that she was a believer in Garrison at the start of his probe who gradually grew disenchanted with him as his probe expanded and unraveled and finally ended with the failure of the Clay Shaw trial. This approach always leaves us a bit suspicious since, as with Sylvia Meagher, it always leaves out the overpowering attack on Garrison that took pains to ensure his failure. Lambert, working from a stacked deck, ignores that attack and its origins and motive. Therefore, the picture drawn is already skewed and distorted.

Lambert loads the book with sources who have an agenda. She uses people like Aaron Kohn, David Chandler, Milton Brener, James Phelan, and Shaw's lawyers without hesitation or qualification. And, of course, she sterilizes the sources by not informing the reader why and how they are compromised. For example, today there are literally dozens of FBI cables between Kohn in New Orleans and FBI HQ in Washington. Most of them explicitly discuss ways to sidetrack or smear Garrison. Lambert uses Kohn, but mentions none of this. David Chandler lived in an apartment owned by Shaw in New Orleans, so how neutral would one expect him to be? Chandler also admitted knowing Kerry Thornley, a character to which we will return at length, as well as to having met Oswald on several occasions before the assassination. Milton Brener represented Layton Martens, a Shaw associate and friend of David Ferrie's, as well as Walter Sheridan, a man who went to dishonest lengths to attack Garrison. And of course, Shaw's lawyers can hardly be considered an unbiased source.

The dodging of this new evidence to whitewash Garrison's attackers reaches almost humorous dimensions in the case of Phelan. Lambert knows she has a serious problem here since Phelan, with the new file releases, has been revealed to be a longtime FBI informant who informed to the Bureau about Garrison and dropped off documents in Washington which he had gotten from the DA. Further, this is something that Phelan always denied doing, in the apparent hope that these records would never be declassified. This new record on Phelan is either ignored or cavalierly dismissed.

A perfect example of Lambert's method appears in a footnote on the subject of Phelan. In a reference to Probe, she writes that an article relating Phelan's career to former ONI operative Bob Woodward's, was "so obscure it was incomprehensible." Attesting to Woodward's suspicious background, the article's author, Lisa Pease, quoted a writer who noted that Woodward had attended Yale where the CIA was "encouraged to recruit." To characterize a four-page article as incomprehensible based upon selectively quoting one sentence is fundamentally dishonest. The evidence that Lisa Pease mounted in her article to show that Woodward was in bed with the intelligence community and that he lied in his book, All the President's Men, is simply and utterly forceful. And it parallels Phelan's long career of FBI contacts, his relationship with longtime CIA asset Bob Maheu, and his (and Gerald Posner's) mentor at Random House, the infamous Bob Loomis. Lambert ignores both the evidence and the parallel. Only an author with a clear agenda could do so. (Anyone interested can read both the Phelan and Woodward articles on the Internet at www.webcom.com/ctka/pr196-starrep.html. Decide for yourself whether it is the article's comprehensibility, or Lambert's comprehension, that is the problem.)

Ferrie the Liberal!

Like Gus Russo before her, Lambert goes out of her way to whitewash the true record and roles of David Ferrie and Clay Shaw. Her defense of Ferrie is, again, almost humorous. Like Russo, Lambert makes the impossible claim that Ferrie really didn't hate Kennedy all that much. According to Lambert (no one else is cited), he actually liked JFK's civil rights and fiscal program. She adds that there is no evidence of Ferrie's participation in the Bay of Pigs operation. Oops. Newly declassified documents show that Ferrie helped prepare underwater diving teams for that episode, trained anti-Castro Cubans at CIA training camps and then watched films of the debacle with Cuban exile heavy Sergio Arcacha Smith. She even tries to minimize the importance of the discovery in 1993 of the photograph of Ferrie together with Oswald at a Civil Air Patrol barbecue. To quote Lambert, "it established only an overlap of association with that organization, which from the outset was a possibility David Ferrie never denied but didn't recall." What does "an overlap of association with that organization" mean? Either Ferrie and Oswald were in the CAP together or they were not. The photo and witness testimony prove this. And are we really to believe that Ferrie would not later remember this previous association? Then why was he at Oswald's landlord's the night of the assassination looking for his library card?

God Bless Clay Shaw!

Given the preceding, Lambert's treatment of Clay Shaw is quite predictable. Although it may come as a surprise to the Vatican, any reader of False Witness will find that the Catholic faith has a new addition. In this book, Lambert beatifies Shaw, describing him as "almost saintly." She even prints the long-exposed canard that Ferrie never knew Shaw (p. 4). Even New Orleans-based reporter and Life magazine stringer David Chandler knew this to be false. Recently, his son told us through the Internet that Shaw had told his father that he did know Ferrie through the homosexual underground, but that Shaw could not admit this since it would be tossing Garrison too big a bone. In addition, there are at least eight other affidavits in Garrison's files which attest to this fact. Ferrie himself admitted he knew Shaw to his pal Raymond Broshears. Ferrie also admitted this to Garrison investigator Lou Ivon. So Lambert's attempt to push the clock back on this score is fatuous.

Incredibly, Lambert also expects us to believe the old deception that Shaw was a liberal who actually liked Kennedy. Again, the evidence shows the opposite. Ferrie told Ivon that Shaw hated JFK. Shaw's associations with the aging upper class monarchy of Europe would also belie this claim. His ties to the rightwing in New Orleans e.g. to the conservative Dr. Alton Ochsner, and to anti-Castro Cuban exiles, would also indicate otherwise. As Donald Gibson has noted, Shaw's goal with the International Trade Mart, to open up Latin America to American capitalism, would also seem opposed to Kennedy's idea of building strong and independent economies there.

Davis was Bertrand!

Lambert misses again when she attempts to explain away that ever-so-interesting call Dean Andrews received from a "Clay Bertrand" asking him to represent Oswald after the assassination. As most researchers know, Andrews was in the hospital at the time of the call. Garrison's detractors like to claim Andrews was on medication at the time and made the whole thing up. However, as Bill Davy proves in his book, Let Justice Be Done, the FBI's own reports show that Andrews was not given medication until some four hours after he received the Bertrand call.

Later, after Andrews got himself in hot water with the DA's office for retracting his original statements, he claimed that he made up the name, Clay Bertrand. Later still, however, he named the "real" Clay Bertrand: Eugene Davis. A New Orleans bar owner and manager who was working two jobs just to stay afloat, the hapless Davis was hardly the cultured and refined Bertrand that Andrews had originally described. Under oath, before the New Orleans Grand Jury and in a sworn statement, a shocked Davis denied ever using the Bertrand alias.

Also, if Davis were Bertrand, why would Andrews be fearful of his life? When Mark Lane wanted to interview him, Andrews begged off, saying he had been warned by "Washington, D.C." that he would "have a hole blown in his head if he talked." Many years later when Anthony Summers interviewed Andrews, the normally loquacious lawyer was still reticent on the subject of Bertrand. Summers wrote, "he [Andrews] has since said that to reveal the truth about his caller would endanger his life, and my own brief contact with Andrews confirmed that the fear is still with him today." Again, if the lowly Davis were Bertrand, why would "Washington" be threatening Andrews? As the readers of Probe have seen, "Washington" was providing extensive "help" to Clay Shaw.

Unsurprisingly, Lambert swallows the Davis nonsense hook, line and sinker. Lambert, however, offers one small twist – Andrews was a publicity hound eager to jump on a perceived gravy train by offering to represent Oswald. The Bertrand story would be his entrÈe.

No one (other than Andrews) ever came forward to claim Davis was Bertrand. Yet the FBI, the DA's office, investigative reporter Lawrence Schiller, journalist Bill Turner and the New Orleans Police Department all uncovered witnesses who knew of Shaw's use of the Bertrand alias. In fact, the number of witnesses in the files who are now on record as stating that Shaw used the alias of Clay Bertrand is well into the double digits. To illustrate just how common this knowledge was in New Orleans at the time, consider this anecdote from Ed Tatro.

Tatro was a young college student who decided to go down to New Orleans to watch the Shaw trial in person. One night he visited one of the bistros in the French Quarter. The New Orleans residents noted his Boston accent and asked him what he was there for. When he told them, the residents started giggling. He asked them what was so humorous. The reply was, "Look, everybody down here knows that Shaw uses the name Bertrand. But that poor devil Garrison can't prove it to save his soul."

Shaw's lawyers also get kid gloves treatment from Lambert. Irvin Dymond, Bill and Ed Wegmann, and Sal Panzeca are all portrayed as working class heroes who did what they did for very little money. Yet Lambert does not realize that by saying they made a small amount of money – about $30,000 total for three years work – she knocks out another pillar of Shaw's superficial edifice. For how could Shaw now plead he was bankrupted by Garrison? Shaw made at least this much money on his French Quarter house renovations let alone his salary from the ITM and whatever his funds may have been from the Central Intelligence Agency. If Lambert wants to say the private investigator expenses broke him, what are we to make of that? That finding evidence of his innocence was so difficult that it became a significant financial burden?

But further, Lambert can actually write that Shaw's attorneys got no help from the FBI, let alone the CIA. This is a blatant untruth, exposed by dozens of newly declassified documents. Jim DiEugenio used these documents to write a long two-part article on Shaw's lawyers in Probe (Volume 4 #s 4 and 5) back in the summer of 1997. DiEugenio showed that the Wegmanns were already hooked in with Banister's apparatus previous to the Shaw prosecution through ONI operative and prominent New Orleans lawyer Guy Johnson. Then, during the two year wait for Shaw's trial to begin, Shaw's lawyers got help not only from members of the FBI, who interviewed witnesses for them on the eve of trial, but also from people in the CIA, who actually appear to have talked witnesses out of their stories. This does not even mention the role of former Justice Department heavy Herbert Miller who seems to have worked with both Walter Sheridan and the CIA as a conduit between people like Gordon Novel (infiltrator in the Garrison office) and the Agency. This aspect of the case is expanded upon in Davy's new book.

Klansmen and Klan Targets, Working Together!

As with Andrews, Lambert's swipe at the Clinton/Jackson witnesses is equally as vapid. In Anthony Summers' third and latest reprint of Conspiracy, now titled, Not In Your Lifetime, he has added a disclaimer to his Clinton, Louisiana section. The note advises that new research has come to light that will reportedly cast doubt on the Clinton evidence. (This after Summers makes a strong case for the veracity of the Clinton/Jackson people). Since Summers maintains contact with researcher, Paul Hoch and Hoch is generously acknowledged in False Witness, Summers is obviously referring to Lambert's "evidence." Note to Tony Summers: Should you decide to reprint Conspiracy for yet a fourth time, you can remove the disclaimer. It isn't needed.

In summary, the Clinton incident refers to a sighting of Oswald in the company of David Ferrie and Clay Shaw. Shaw was identified when the town marshall approached him and asked to see his driver's license. The car was registered to the Trade Mart, and the town marshal later testified that the name given by the man matched the one on his driver's license: Clay Shaw. Several of the people who saw Oswald in Clinton testified during Shaw's trial, and were collectively referred to as "the Clinton witnesses."

Lambert leads off her Clinton chapter, titled "The Clinton Scenario and the House Select Committee," with quotes from Shaw's lawyers that sets the tone for what follows. Sal Panzeca states, rather disingenuously, "I was told that we could discredit these witnesses because Garrison's men 'did it wrong.' That the witnesses were told what to say and they said it." Yet under cross-examination at the Shaw trial, the defense didn't even come close to discrediting them. On the contrary, even the usually biased James Kirkwood reported that "the Clinton people had a strong effect on the press and spectators and, one presumed, the jury at the opening of the trial." Another of Shaw's attorneys, William Wegmann, is also quoted: "Clinton, that's Klan country." And in that quote lies the dark tactic of this chapter – smear the Clinton folk as racist Klansmen to destroy their credibility. (Lambert also says the left-wing Italian journals that divulged Shaw's PERMINDEX connections are not credible either. Apparently in Lambert's world only middle-of-the-roaders are to be believed. Or should we say only those who are pro-Shaw?) According to Lambert's theory (and it is just a theory), town marshal John Manchester and fellow Klansman, registrar Henry Earl Palmer, concocted this conspiracy. Additionally, they brought in non-Klan participants, Reeves Morgan, Lea McGehee, Maxine Kemp and Bobbie Dedon from 10 miles away in Jackson. But incredibly, added to this nest of racist conspirators were two African Americans, Corrie Collins and William Dunn!

Even Lambert seems confused by this strange mix, writing "Four of those in warring camps that summer (Manchester and Palmer on one side, Collins and Dunn the other) presented a strangely unified front six years later, testifying for Garrison." Nevertheless, this doesn't stop Lambert from speculating wildly that the black witnesses were coerced by the Klansmen. Later, she switches gears and again speculates that the silver-tongued Garrison caused their cooperation, suggesting "that susceptibility to Garrison's rhetoric among Clinton's black community may have been a factor in their cooperation with him." These last two statements are literally dripping with racism. In the narrow view of False Witness black folk are too feeble-minded to think on their own, allowing themselves to be manipulated by Garrison's eloquence and charisma, and are easily bullied by the KKK. This, despite the fact that these African Americans were taking great risks by participating in the Clinton voting drive, asserting the very independence Lambert would deny them. She goes even further by quoting Clinton District Attorney, Richard Kilbourne, who pooh-poohs the whole notion of the Clinton scenario. However, nowhere in Lambert's "analysis" do we find any mention of Kilbourne's own racist views, which are quite adequately on display in the documentary work-in-progress, Rough Side of the Mountain. Since Lambert sources the film, we have to assume she's seen it.

More wild speculation is thrown into the mix as Lambert quotes a rumor that Garrison was going to run for the Vice-Presidency on the ticket with racist Alabama Governor, George Wallace. Later, Lambert writes that no one heard about Oswald being in Clinton until after Garrison began his investigation. According to witness Lea McGehee, this is false. Not only was he aware of it from his own personal experience, but word of the incident was printed in the Councilor periodical before the Garrison probe started.

But the centerpiece of Lambert's chapter are the "shocking revelations" contained in the notes of an investigator named Anne Dischler. First, we are treated to such illuminating and relevant facts that Dischler "has 27 grandchildren, has her own ministry, owns and operates a retail fabric store, is an expert seamstress, bakes her own bread, and can shoot with the best of them." The "shockers" in Dischler's notes are anything but – with one exception. According to Dischler she had seen a 3x5 black and white photograph of the black Cadillac taken while the car was parked across from the registrar's office. Dischler revealed to Lambert, "'Clay Shaw was in the driver's seat – it looked like him to me ... I remember the white-haired man in the picture and the small face of Oswald. It seems like Oswald was on the passenger side of the front seat but I'm not sure' ... This picture came from the district attorney's office, she said, perhaps from Sciambra." Of course since the picture has long since disappeared, this allows Lambert to further speculate that Garrison had expertly manufactured a doctored, composite photograph. At least Lambert gives Garrison credit for being multi-talented!

Other revelations from Dischler's notes include a possible additional Caucasian male who was registering that day, Winslow Foster. It has long been known that another white male, Estus Morgan, was in town that day. According to Lambert, someone – she doesn't know who, of course – just overlaid Oswald's identity onto the actions of Morgan. There is no credible evidence to back any of this up, as even Lambert concedes: "Who conceived this story is unknown, and precisely how they implemented it is unclear." According to Lambert, once Garrison got wind that the Clinton story was getting out of hand and that Dischler was getting too close to the truth, he pulled her and Francis Fruge off the case and sent up his evil henchman, Andrew Sciambra, to keep the lid on things. Of course this doesn't explain what Garrison investigators Frank Ruiz and Kent Simms were doing up there. Again, in a chapter rife with speculation and theorizing, this is yet another absurd hypothesis.

Lambert's assault on the HSCA is mercifully short, but still long on speculation. Once again, Garrison just poured on the charm and charisma "winning converts among the [HSCA] staff."

Lambert ends her Clinton follies by segueing into her next chapter, an attack on Garrison's book, On The Trail of the Assassins, calling it one of the "strangest" in the history of American letters. Apparently she has never read her friend David Lifton's writings. Garrison's rather quaint notion of a coup d'Ètat pales in comparison to Lifton's theories about papier mache trees on, and underground excavations below, the grassy knoll, casket swapping and body alteration.

Lambert, Lifton and Thornley

We should not be surprised at this point to find that Lambert presents a superficial and deceptive treatment of the Kerry Thornley controversy. She devotes one paragraph to this rather interesting and important aspect of Garrison's investigation.

Allow us to fill in what she left out.

Thornley was a Marine Corps buddy of Oswald's whose testimony to the Warren Commission was used to portray Oswald as a Communist loner. As Garrison noted in his book, Thornley's testimony is at odds with other service friends of the alleged assassin, who do not recall him as a committed Marxist. Another important fact about Thornley is that he wrote two books about Oswald, one before and one after the assassination: The Idle Warriors (unpublished until 1991), and Oswald (published in 1965). Both books accomplish the same end as Thornley's Warren Commission testimony. The 1965 work is a non-fiction tome that reads something like Warren Commission witness Dr. Renatus Hartogs profile of Oswald. Consider this line:

I'm certain that in his own eyes Oswald was the most important man in the [Marine] unit. To him the mark of destiny was clearly visible on his forehead and that some were blind to it was his eternal source of aggravation (p.19).

Later in the book, Thornley writes, "Frankly, I agree that the man was sick, but I further think his sickness was, in the long run, self induced in the manner previously outlined."(p. 69) In the last three chapters of the book, Thornley basically traces the Warren Commission version of the last few days of Oswald's life. In the last chapter he lays all the blame for the murder at Oswald's feet, i.e., there was no conspiracy, large or small. In fact, Thornley's early writings on the case are pretty much indistinguishable from what the Warren Commission pumped out. They are so similar that one wonders if the Commission borrowed its profile of Oswald from Thornley in the first place.

According to both Thornley and Jim Garrison, the Secret Service swept down on Thornley on November 23rd, and in short order he was on a plane to Washington with his manuscript of The Idle Warriors. Thornley reveals in his later, non-fiction book that he talked to Warren Commission counsel Albert Jenner on a number of occasions about his testimony. According to Garrison, Thornley stayed in the Washington D. C. area for almost a year. He then moved out to California where his parents resided. Ironically he worked at an apartment complex which housed, of all people, CIA-Mafia-Castro assassination plots intermediary Johnny Roselli. Around this time, David Lifton was going through the Warren Commission volumes and noted Thornley's testimony. He looked him up in person and they became friends. During the early part of Garrison's investigation, Lifton popped in to help out, and introduced Thornley to the DA. It was this event which marked the beginning of the falling out between Garrison and Lifton. For, from the evidence adduced by the new file releases – all ignored by Lambert – Thornley was a much more suspicious character than the one Lifton has always presented. We think it's time people find out what the files reveal, and what is not to be found in False Witness.

First, as should have been apparent from the beginning, Thornley was an extreme right-winger who had an almost pathological hatred of Kennedy. This could have provided a reason for him to do the number he did on Oswald for the Commission. Thornley worked briefly for rightwing publisher Kent Courtney in New Orleans and was a friend of New Orleans-based CIA journalist Clint Bolton. According to an article in New Orleans Magazine, Thornley was also once employed by Alton Ochsner's INCA outfit, the CIA-related radio and audiotape outfit which sponsored Oswald's famous debate with Cuban exile leader Carlos Bringuier. According to former Guy Banister employee Dan Campbell, Thornley was one of the young fanatics who frequented 544 Camp Street. Additional facts make the above acquaintances even more interesting. Thornley tried to deny that he knew Bringuier, yet his girlfriend Jeanne Hack described an encounter between Thornley and a man who fit Bringuier's description to Bill Turner in January of 1968. And as Thornley notes in his introduction to the 1991 issue of The Idle Warriors, he showed his manuscript to Banister before the assassination back in 1961.

This last point brings up one of the most important issues concerning the whole Thornley episode: his early denials and later reversals. Two memos written by Andrew Sciambra in February of 1968 reveal that Thornley denied knowing Banister, Dave Ferrie , Clay Shaw, and Shaw's friend Time-Life journalist David Chandler. Garrison, however, had evidence that revealed the opposite to be the case. And years later, on the eve of the House Select Committee investigation, Thornley admitted to knowing all of these shady characters. Then, of course, there was the issue of Thornley's association with Oswald himself in the summer of 1963. Thornley denied before the New Orleans grand jury that he associated with Oswald in New Orleans in 1963. This seemed improbable on its face since, as noted above, both men knew each other previously and both men frequented some of the same places in 1963.

But further, consider Thornley's rather equivocal denial on the witness stand:

Q: Did she [Barbara Reid] see you with Oswald?

A: I don't think she did because the next day I started asking people...

Q: You don't think so?

A: I don't know whether it was Oswald, I can't remember who was sitting there with me....

The above statements earned Thornley a perjury indictment from Garrison. But there was much more. Garrison had no less than eight witnesses who said they had seen Oswald and Thornley together in New Orleans in 1963. And some of them went beyond just noting the association between the two. Two of these witnesses, Bernard Goldsmith and Doris Dowell, both said that Thornley told them Oswald was not a communist. This is amazing since, as noted earlier, the Warren Commission featured Thornley as its key witness to Oswald's alleged commie sympathies. This indicates that Thornley himself 1) knew the truth about Oswald's intelligence ties and 2) was probably involved in creating a false cover – a "legend," in intelligence parlance – for the alleged assassin. On top of these devastating admissions, there is the information from Mrs. Myrtle LaSavia, who lived within a block of Oswald in New Orleans. She stated that she, "her husband and a number of people who live in that neighborhood saw Thornley at the Oswald residence a number of times – in fact they saw him there so much they did not know which was the husband, Oswald or Thornley." A few weeks ago at the National Archives, Oswald researcher John Armstrong discovered FBI documents which show that other neighbors of Oswald picked out photos of Thornley as a frequent visitor to the Oswald apartment. According to a radio interview Garrison did in 1968, the DA had witnesses who saw Thornley shopping with Marina Oswald. If this is so, not only did Oswald encounter Thornley in New Orleans in 1963, but the two were quite close.

This apparent closeness may have had a purpose beyond the framing of Oswald as a leftist in the public mind. There are two indications of this. The first is noted by Harold Weisberg in his book Never Again:

When the New Orleans Secret Service investigation led it to the Jones Printing Co., the printer of the Fair Play for Cuba Committee handbills, and the Secret Service was on the verge of learning, as I later learned, that it was not Oswald who picked up those handbills, the New Orleans FBI at once contacted FBI HQ. The FBI immediately leaned on the Secret Service HQ and immediately the Secret Service was ordered to desist. For all practical purposes, that ended the Secret Service probe – the moment it was about to explode the myth of the "loner" who had an associate who picked up a print job for him. (p. 18)

What Weisberg does not reveal in this passage is that the guy who picked up the flyers was identified as Kerry Thornley. In an interview with journalist Earl Golz in 1979, Weisberg stated that two employees at the print shop picked out photos of Thornley, not Oswald, when he questioned them about the "Hands off Cuba" flyers. Weisberg secretly taped one of the interviews with the employees. When Weisberg informed Garrison investigator Lou Ivon of this new development, Bill Boxley – a CIA plant in Garrison's office – tried to distort what had happened. Weisberg pulled out the tape, quieting Boxley. But later, the tape disappeared.

The other 1963 incident that makes Thornley even more fascinating was his trip to Mexico in July/August. As Jeanne Hack noted in an interview, Thornley was usually a quite talkative individual, but when it came to this Mexico trip, he was quite reluctant to speak about it. According to his 11/25/63 FBI statement, Thornley said "that he made this trip by himself and emphatically denied that Oswald had accompanied him from New Orleans to California or from California to Mexico." Doth Thornley protest too much? In another FBI memo written the same day Thornley was interviewed, the following statement appears: "Thornley is presently employed as a waiter in New Orleans and has recently been in Mexico and California with Oswald. Secret Service has been notified." Again, if this is so it is very interesting to say the least. But even if it were so, the Secret Service probably followed up about as vigorously as it did the Jones Print Shop incident.

Thornley's behavior during the ongoing Garrison probe was strange, to say the least. As noted above, he told the DA's representative he never met Shaw, Ferrie, Chandler or Oswald, at least not Oswald in New Orleans. He was a bit hazy on Banister saying that he "may have met Banister somewhere around Camp Street" but he was not sure. His equivocations on Oswald are even more striking. He told Andrew Sciambra the following:

He also admits that there are some coincidences which have taken place which make it appear that he and Oswald were in contact with each other but he declares that these are only coincidences and that he has never seen Oswald since the days in the Marine Corps together.

In a later interview with Sciambra, Thornley also denied knowing Bringuier and Ed Butler of INCA, even though he applied for a job at the latter. Every one of these denials turned out to be false and Thornley admitted to them later. But on top of this, there is the apparent element of the protection of Thornley when he became a hot item in New Orleans in 1968. For instance, according to Mort Sahl, Thornley insisted on meeting Sciambra at a curious location for one of their interviews: NASA. Sciambra recalled thinking as he entered the place that if someone like Thornley could command access to such a place then Garrison really didn't have a snowball's chance in Hades. Several of Oswald's cohorts from Reily Coffee had gone to NASA before the assassination. It seems odd that a coffee company would be a training ground for such a scientifically oriented facility. Garrison camp infiltrator Gordon Novel also went there while on the lam from Garrison.

And then there was the problem of locating Thornley. Garrison investigator and former CIA agent Jim Rose took on that assignment. Through his network of Agency contacts he found Thornley was living in Tampa. The supposedly working class Thornley had two homes in Florida, one in Tampa and one in Miami. He lived at the Tampa residence which, according to Rose's notes, was a large white frame house on a one acre lot. In addition, he owned two cars at the time. All this from a man who had only been a waiter and doorman up to that time.

After the Garrison investigation, Thornley slipped into obscurity. But he resurfaced in the late seventies around the time of the House Select Committee on Assassinations. He reappeared as a kind of stoned hippie who had a rather eccentric interest in aliens, Nazis, and the occult. He assembled a long narrative in which he now stated that, "I did not realize I was involved in the JFK murder conspiracy until 1975, when the Watergate revelations made it rather obvious." The reason it became obvious was that he recognized Howard Hunt as one of the men who recruited him into the plot. In this new mode he even admitted that Oswald had been framed for the crime. Quite an admission from the author of the 1965 book which concluded the opposite.

At around this same time, Thornley sent Garrison a long manuscript outlining the Kennedy plot as he saw it. This document is in the form of a long affidavit executed while Thornley was living in Atlanta. To anyone familiar with the true facts of the case and Thornley's suspicious activities, it is a long and involved and deliberate piece of disinformation. In it, Thornley admits that he had met both Ferrie and Banister by the summer of 1962. But yet, they are not the true conspirators. The real ones are people named Slim, Clint, Brother-in-Law, and one Gary Kirstein i.e. nameless, faceless non-entities. (Later, Thornley named one as Jerry M. Brooks, former rightwing Minuteman turned informant to Bill Turner.) Thornley's communications with the HSCA were frequent as he tried to rivet their attention on his new and improved JFK plot.

When Oliver Stone's JFK came out, Thornley was paid to make an appearance on the tabloid program A Current Affair (broadcast on 2/25/92). Some of what Thornley said on camera is worth quoting:

I wanted to shoot him. I wanted to assassinate him very much. . . . I wanted him dead. I would have shot him myself. I would have stood there with a rifle and pulled the trigger if I would have had the chance.

Clearly, Thornley's hatred of Kennedy is virulent. Thornley also had some interesting comments about Garrison. Concerning the DA's indicting him for perjury, Thornley commented, "Garrison, you should have gone after me for conspiracy to commit murder." Of course, the conspiracy Thornley is hinting at is the later manufactured one with Slim, and Brother-in-Law etc. He also insisted in 1992 that he had not betrayed his friend Oswald, even though he now thought the case was a conspiracy. Thornley was apparently doing his distracting limited hang-out number for bucks this time around. Thornley died in 1997 of a kidney ailment.

What is the sum total of the reliable evidence about Thornley available in the new files and ignored by Lambert? First, Thornley lied about his relationship with the intelligence network surrounding Oswald. He knew all of these players. He also lied about not knowing Oswald in New Orleans in the summer of 1963. The question of course is: Why did he lie? And the answer seems to point to some deeper involvement. This seems to imply that the Weisberg investigation of the flyers at Jones print shop and the FBI telex about Oswald accompanying Thornley to California and Mexico have some validity to them. It also suggests that Thornley's admission about knowing Oswald was not a communist has some weight. That is, Thornley may have known the truth about Oswald all along and may have helped him construct his cover. Garrison went so far as to suspect that it was Oswald's head imposed on Thornley's body in the famous backyard photograph. Whatever the truth about Thornley's possible role in the setting up of a patsy, Lambert's writing about him – cribbed from Lifton – is too brief, too superficial and ultimately dishonest in what it leaves out. In other words, it is propaganda that deliberately avoids the new evidence. It would also appear that Lifton looked at Thornley with a much too gullible and trusting eye.

The worst thing about Lambert's book is that it shows that an old adage by Robert Blakey about the Kennedy assassination seems to be true. Blakey said that after his experience with the House Select Committee, it was his opinion that the JFK case was like a Rorschach test, people saw in it what they wished to see. Lambert's book is proof positive of this. With all the new material now available at the National Archives on the Garrison investigation, Lambert still decided that she had an agenda to fulfill. And she had to have been aware of this, since she uses only bits to mold it. But, in the main, she ignores the record. Thus her book is hopelessly biased. And her book also bodes ill for Lifton's long-awaited biography of Oswald. Will Lifton report on the new evidence truthfully and fully? Will he claim his version of the events is more accurate than more primary evidence, as he did with Palmer McBride (see the exchange of letters, pp. 26-27)? Or will he, too, be a false witness to the record?

Last modified on Wednesday, 02 November 2016 22:47
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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