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  • Writer's pictureFred Litwin

Corrie Collins -- A Very Pliable Witness

Updated: Dec 6, 2023

Once the basic premise of the Clinton scenario was set -- that Oswald had tried to register to vote during a CORE drive -- all they had to do was to find witnesses who had seen Oswald in line.

One witness whose memory got better over time was Corrie Collins who was the leader of CORE in Clinton.

Collins was first interviewed by Anne Dischler on October 3, 1967. Here is an excerpt from her notes:

Dischler's note reads:

Corrie C. Collins 10/3/67

Working @ V. Feliciana 1963

Thurs Fri Sat

C. Collins Reg. [registered] 8/16/63

Black car - windows rolled up

large man well dressed driving

remained in car - hat on - tie -

two casually dressed men got

out of car - went up to Reg.'s

office - believe they got in line

Car there at least 10 min - 15 min.

morning - Wed. or Thurs.

one blue jeans poss. [possibly?]; other in white

Verla Bell - (Scotlandville - works at diner on campus)

may have been w/Collins day he saw car.

Man you→Collins knew (Morgan) got out of car

(Is Zip Morgan related to Estus?)

Collins told Dischler that a large man with hat was driving the car, and that two casually dressed men got out of the car and went to the registrar's office. One of the men wore blue jeans and the other was in white. Verla Bell was with Collins. Collins knew one of the men and it might have been "Morgan."

On the next page of her notes Dischler writes:

Dischler writes that "this man may not be a Morgan" and then says she should "refer to Henry Earl (Palmer).

Dischler then went to Palmer, and he actually identified who was in the car:

The man in white was Winslow Foster. I will discuss Estes Morgan and Winslow Foster in a future post.

There was no mention of Lee Harvey Oswald.

Here is the first report on Corrie Collins submitted to Jim Garrison:

Note that Corrie Collins and Verna Bell took down all the names of people who were in line to register and sent the list to CORE headquarters. That list was never retrieved by Collins or by Garrison investigators. As you can see, there is no mention of Lee Harvey Oswald in this interview.

Here is another report from a few months later:

Collins could not identify the make of the car.

He identifies Lee Harvey Oswald as the man who got out of the car to register. He was shown the photograph of S-2 [David Ferrie] and said that "he remembers seeing this man around Clinton somewhere but can't be sure where or when."

As for S-3 [Clay Shaw], Collins said "the face was familiar but can't say for sure where he saw the man. He said he looks big enough to be the man behind the wheel but he would like to see a picture of him with a hat on and from the back."

Collins said the driver wore a hat, but Clay Shaw did not wear hats.

Here is an affidavit signed by Corrie Collins during jury selection at the Clay Shaw trial:

He now says that "I have previously identified photographs of Clay Shaw as being the person who was sitting behind the wheel of a black Cadillac by the Registrar's Office in Clinton, Louisiana, in late August or early September 1963. After looking at Clay Shaw in the courtroom today I am now more positive than ever that he is the man who was in the car in Clinton that day."

Collins also identifies the car as a black Cadillac.

At the trial of Clay Shaw, Collins identified Lee Harvey Oswald and David Ferrie, as passengers and Clay Shaw as the driver of the black Cadillac:

Mr. Sciambra: Can you describe the man behind the wheel?

Mr. Collins: Yes, heavy built, gray hair. I would say he was between 40 and 50, somewhere in that area, and he had on a light color hat.

Mr. Sciambra: Do you see the man behind the wheel in this courtroom today?

Mr. Collins: Yes.

Mr. Sciambra: Would you point to him, please?

Mr. Collins: (Indicating) Right here.

Mr. Sciambra: Would you have the record reflect that the witness pointed to the Defendant Clay Shaw?

The Court: Let it be so noted in the record.

Mr. Sciambra: Did you get a chance to see the person on the passenger side of the car?

Mr. Collins: Yes.

Mr. Sciambra: Can you describe him?

Mr. Collins: I would say he was medium built, but the most outstanding thing about him was his eyebrows and his hair. They didn't seem real, in other words, they were unnatural, didn't seem as if they were real hair.

Mr. Sciambra: (Exhibiting photograph to witness) I show you a picture that the State has marked for purposes of identification "S-3," and I ask you if you can identify or do you recognize the person in this picture?

Mr. Collins: Yes, this is the other man that was in the car.

Mr. Sciambra: Do you know who this person is?

Mr. Collins: Yes, that is David Ferrie.

Mr. Sciambra: Did you ever see any of the men get out of the car in the front seat?

Mr. Collins: No, I only saw the one man get out.

Collins is now sure about Shaw and Ferrie, and he says he only saw one man get out of the car. In Dischler's notes above, Collins said he saw two men get out of the car. Perhaps the story had to be changed to avoid the issue of Estes Morgan.

Here is an overview of Collins' various stories:

Initial interview: Collins saw a black car in Clinton that was driven by a large man wearing a hat. Two men got out of the car, one wearing blue jeans, the other in white, to go to the Registrar's office. A man that Collins knew, perhaps Estes Morgan, got out of the car.

October 1967 interview: Collins remembered seeing a black Cadillac. Collins and Verla Bell took down the names of everyone who was in line to register. The list was sent to the CORE headquarters in New Orleans.

January 1968 interview: He saw a black car with Verla Bell. She commented that it must be an FBI car. One person got out of the car. There were two people in the front of the car. The driver wore a hat and had broad shoulders. The person who got out of the car was younger and was of medium height and medium build. He picked out a photo of Lee Harvey Oswald and said that was the man who got out of the car. He also said that pictures of Clay Shaw and David Ferrie were familiar, but he couldn't say where he had seen them. Collins knew Estes Morgan and saw him in line but was not sure exactly when.

January 1969 affidavit: Collins stated that he had previously identified photographs of Clay Shaw as the driver of the black Cadillac. Collins was taken to court to have a look at Clay Shaw, and he confirmed that Shaw was the driver. Collins identified photographs of Lee Harvey Oswald and David Ferrie as the two other people in the car. Oswald was the one person who got out of the car to go to the registration line.

So, what exactly happened here? Why did Corrie Collins, a black man who clearly did not hang out with Palmer and his gang, testify that he saw Oswald, Shaw, and Ferrie? Why did his memory improve over time?

John McAdams has this explanation in his book, JFK Assassination Logic: (page 53)

Quite simply, investigators can produce testimony out of virtually nothing. When witnesses are repeatedly questioned, repeatedly shown photos, and led (perhaps not intentionally) in a particular direction, they can end up giving pretty much the testimony investigators want. And they don't need to be lying to do so.

However, before the Clay Shaw trial journalist Hugh Aynesworth went to Clinton to interview some of the witnesses. Here is an excerpt of his letter, written after the trial, to writer James Kirkwood about his visit to Clinton: (transcribed from the actual letter in the James Kirkwood papers)

October 9, 1969

Gurvich and I drove to Clinton in his car following a visit with a top Louisiana State Police official in Baton Rouge. We learned enough from the state police official to let us know that the whole thing was a hoax, but we decided to visit several of the witnesses anyway - in the belief that if we could talk with them, and tape record the conversation we would probably find flaws in their stories. "It's for sure they'll never be able to tell the same wacky story twice," said Gurvich. This turned out to be true.

John Manchester, the town marshal, was the first witness we encountered. He was shocked that we knew what he was to testify. Manchester, a foul-talking, dirty and scruffy man who looked like the only way he could whip a man was to kick him in the groin, wouldn't comment on his testimony at first, but he kept saying', "Ain't no way that son-of-a-bitch (Oswald) could fire all them shots. Ain't no way."

We visited with Manchester - in the Clinton Jail - for a couple of hours, until he was called away by somebody. Then we sat talking with a deputy and some of his gin buddies. From them we got the rundown on practically all the witnesses in town and in nearby Jackson. One was a hard drinker, another "couldn't find the truth, it was writ on the front of his head." Still another, was dead, having committed suicide in the Clinton jail a few months before.

Mrs. Maxine Kemp lived in a nicely arranged trailer with her teenaged son. She seemed pleased to have someone to talk to. Then she told her story - not noticing the tape recorder Gurvich placed on the floor in his case. Has she really seen an application file for LHO at the Jackson State Hospital? No, she related to the tape and to us, all she knew was that she and a co-worker, Mrs. Aline Woodside, had located a folder with the name "Harvey Oswald" on it.

She went on to say that applications were not kept for several years (this would have been 3 1/2 years) and that the folder she described was not in a place where applications would have been or where past records would have been filed.

We never found Corry, but it was simple to see how had to testify to what Manchester and the other scrub-nuts wanted him. His father was simply terrified by three white men [Aynesworth, Gurvich and Kent Biffle] barging into his house after dark. In short, being a Negro in Clinton - a hot bed of rednecks and the Klan, is not much fun.

First, I think John Manchester, and a State policeman Lt. Francis Fruge, put it all together. Fruge, fired by the state police, turned in bills for 75 head lights inside of a year.

I think Aynesworth had it slightly wrong. The whole thing was put together by Henry Earl Palmer and Lt. Francis Fruge.

By the way, Corrie Collins said he was with Verla Bell that day. Here is her statement:

She says that "pictures of FERRIE and BANISTER looked familiar but can't say from where."

She wasn't asked a key question. Did Corrie Collins ever speak to her about seeing Lee Harvey Oswald in line in Clinton? Did anybody else in CORE remember seeing Lee Harvey Oswald in line? Does she remember Oswald being on the list of people in line to register? Did she remember Estes Morgan?

Needless to say, the HSCA did not depose Verla Bell. It's not even clear they made any attempt to find her.

There was a strange black car in Clinton during the voter registration drive. Andrew Sciambra spent a large part of January 1968 interviewing residents of Clinton. He was trying to find people who would remember seeing Oswald. Corrie Collins fit the bill - whether he was coerced, or whether repeated interviews wore him down, is hard to say.

If Clay Shaw's attorneys had access to Garrison's reports, they could have easily damaged the credibility of Corrie Collins. But they had no idea that he initially identified Estes Morgan as the person getting out of the car, and that he didn't even mention Lee Harvey Oswald.

The Series on the Clinton/Jackson Witnesses

Part One: The witnesses testify at the trial of Clay Shaw.

Part Two: A response to the allegations made by the Clinton/Jackson witnesses.

Part Three: A look at racism and the politics of the early 1960s.

Part Four: Many of the witnesses were either members of the KKK or sympathizers.

Part Five: None of the Clinton/Jackson witnesses came forward in 1963-1964.

Part Six: Just where did the Clinton/Jackson witnesses come from?

Part Seven: Dischler was an investigator for Garrison who was teamed up with Lt. Francis Fruge of the Louisiana State Police.

Part Eight: The evidence that David Ferrie was in Clinton is poor.

Part Nine: Lee McGehee, the barber in Jackson, claimed that the racist newspaper The Councilor wrote about the Clinton/Jackson witnesses in 1966. No one has been able to find the article.

Previous Relevant Blog Posts on the Clinton/Jackson Witnesses

Three case studies on how Garrison was less than inquisitive, including the possible check of the Cadillac in Clinton.

Why didn't Garrison check out whether the Trade Mart in New Orleans had leased a Cadillac?

An interview with Weisberg in which he discusses the Clinton witnesses.

Two of the Clinton witnesses claimed they were intimidated. But were they really?

Some background material on Clinton.

William Dunn initially said that Thomas Beckham was with Shaw and Oswald.

Andrew Dunn said Jack Ruby was in Clinton.

None of Garrison's witnesses, including the witnesses from Clinton/Jackson, came forward in 1963 -1964.


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