Did Clay Shaw Sign the VIP Room Guestbook as Clay Bertrand?
Updated: Oct 9, 2021
The story starts with Deuce Parent, a Sergeant on the Kenner, Louisiana police force, who told his friend Ronald Raymond that "an employee of Eastern Airlines had shown him the guest register" of the VIP Room at the New Orleans International Airport. It had been signed by several people on December 14, 1966 and included the signatures of four Latins, and "Clay Bertrand." Raymond reported this to Jim Garrison's office in August of 1967. (see page 390 of Don Carpenter's Man of a Million Fragments.)
In September 1967, Ms. Jesse Parker, a hostess at the VIP Room, swore out this affidavit:
So on December 14, 1966, Clay Shaw was supposedly still using the pseudonym of Clay Bertrand. You would think that after using it to plan the JFK assassination, he might jettison the name and use something else.
Now, what is interesting in Ms. Parker's affidavit is that the person, identified as Clay Shaw, was accompanied by four people from Caracas, Venezuela who also signed the guestbook.
Here is a picture from the New Orleans Times-Picayune of December 15, 1966:
The next day, Andrew Sciambra interviewed Cecilia Fagan, who also worked in the VIP Room. She remembers the Venezuelans, but did not see Clay Shaw. (Carpenter, page 390)
Garrison's office then subpoenaed Capt. Henry Spicer, but he convinced James Alcock, Garrison's second-in-command, that he had nothing to add. Here is a CIA document about Spicer and Alcock:
The next step to corroborate this account was to find and interview the other members of the State Department that accompanied the Venezuelan party. Here is an entry from the diary of Tom Bethell for March 18, 1968:
Andrew Sciambra went to Washington D.C. and interviewed these witnesses along with researcher Harold Weisberg. Here is Sciambra's memo of his interview with Captain John Warren, who was the military escort for the party; his interview with Theodore Herrera who worked for the State Department; and his interview with Ross Pope, another State Department employee.
None of the three witnesses identified Clay Shaw - indeed, one witness identified Gordon Novel as being the man in the VIP Room. Here are the memos written by Harold Weisberg:
Andrew Sciambra then visited with Alfred Moran who had also signed the guestbook:
So, they could not find one witness who could corroborate that Clay Shaw had signed the guestbook. None of this material was disclosed to Shaw's legal team.
On February 19, 1969, Ms. Jessie Parker testified at the Shaw trial.
New Orleans Times-Picayune, February 20, 1969.
Unfortunately, her testimony was not transcribed. So, we have to rely upon the New Orleans newspapers for a record of what was said. Here is the opening of her testimony:
Parker's testimony has changed from her affidavit (shown at the top of this post). Her affidavit stated that Shaw was with four people from Venezuela and "accompanied by someone with London-type clothes." Now, Shaw is there with just one other person, and there is no mention of anybody from Venezuela.
Now, she testifies that the other man did not sign the guestbook. In her affidavit, she said the other four men signed the guestbook.
Remember there was no discovery back then in Louisiana courts, and so Shaw's defense team had not seen the original affidavit. Nor did they see the various statements of people denying they had seen Clay Shaw in the VIP Room. And that is why they could change her affidavit, and her testimony, and nobody had a clue what had happened..
On cross-examination, Ms. Parker admitted that she did not identify Clay Shaw when she was brought in to have a look during jury selection:
And, in fact, they had administered a lie detector test to Ms. Parker, but Judge Haggerty would not allow testimony about the results of the test. Patricia Lambert spoke to James Kruebbe, who had administered the lie detector test:
Excerpt from Patricia Lambert interview of James Kruebbe November 30, 1993.
After her testimony, Mrs. Parker signed a new affidavit that excised the section about the Venezuelans.
Both sides brought in handwriting experts to examine the signature from the VIP room guestbook. The Shaw team brought in Charles Appel who had worked for the FBI from 1924-1948. His claim to fame was breaking the Lindbergh kidnapping case.
Here is the Clay Bertrand signature from the VIP room compared to Clay Shaw signing "Bertrand" (by the way, the signature was on the last line of the register):
Charles Appel testified for Clay Shaw on February 25, 1969. He examined a variety of writings from Clay Shaw made in 1966, as well as the signature from the VIP Room. Here is his analysis of the writing samples:
The headline from the States-Item regarding his testimony:
New Orleans Times-Picayune, February 27, 1969.
The handwriting expert for Garrison was Elizabeth McCarthy, who had limited formal training. She took a course back in the early 1930s. She told the court that the signatures were made by the same person:
Milton Brener, an attorney who wrote the brilliant book The Garrison Case, found this strange - "The "probably" drew raised eyebrows from many attorneys. It was curious testimony from a handwriting expert. In the overwhelming majority of cases, such witnesses will reach a positive conclusion, for handwriting, like a fingerprint, is a means of positive identification." (page 263)
McCarthy gave her reasons:
Mrs. McCarthy only arrived in New Orleans the day before her testimony and started her examination the night before. She only saw the originals the morning of her testimony and she brought no photographic equipment with her. But she did examine the documents with equipment she brought:
Now, what exactly did she use? A microscope, or binoculars? Here is a paragraph from James Kirkwood's book, American Grotesque: (page 425)
"A reporter next to me had been busy writing and when he heard this he looked up, but by this time she was replacing the binoculars in her handbag. "What did she use?" he whispered to me. "Binoculars," I told him. "Binoculars?" he repeated. "That's what I thought she said." He stared to write and then looked back up at me. "You mean regular binoculars that you use . . ." His voice trailed off. "Yes," I replied.
Milton Brener writes that Mrs. McCarthy was a last minute replacement:
"There was still another expert who examined the guest register, though he was not called to testify. Gilbert Fortier, one of the best known examiners of questioned documents in this part of the country, had examined the book and known specimens of Shaw's handwriting at Garrison's request. Fortier is the expert most frequently called by this State to give testimony as to handwriting comparisons in cases involving forged or other questioned documents. In addition, he appears in other courts throughout this area undoubtedly more frequently than any other expert in the field. After examining the questioned guest book, Fortier conferred with Garrison. He was not called as a witness."
Now, how do the conspiracy theorists treat the VIP Room signature?
Both Joan Mellen and James DiEugenio accept Parker's testimony without question. DiEugenio has a claim that doesn't check out at all: (page 306)
"The authority that Irvin Dymond first announced in court to dispute that expert finding was New Orleans handwriting analyst Gilbert Fortier. But this was soon changed to longtime former FBI employee Charles Appel."
His source is page 348-349 in James Kirkwood's American Grotesque. But, the name Fortier doesn't appear in Kirkwood's book at all. DiEugenio claims he asked Irvin Dymond about the so-called switch and that he replied that "Appel called and volunteered his services." I am not sure he has this right.
Neither Joan Mellen nor James DiEugenio mention the Venezuelans and the changing Parker affidavits. Not a word. But they do focus on Alfred Moran, who also signed the guest book (you can see his affidavit further up on this page), and who told the D.A.'s office that Clay Shaw was not there.
The night after Moran's statement, he attended a party at which Hunter Leake, who worked for the CIA, also attended. They were friends and they discussed Garrison and his case. Here is a CIA memo regarding that party:
Unfortunately Leake was not able to ask Moran more questions. Then this memo was discovered and it made conspiracy theorists go insane:
Paragraph 2 above makes some people crazy - wouldn't it be illegal for the CIA to help Clay Shaw? I don't know about the legalities - what I do know is that Clay Shaw's defense team were looking for a lot more support than some private information about Alfred Moran and the VIP Room incident.
James DiEugenio believes the CIA then convinced Moran to change his testimony: (page 278)
"Houston then told Leake that he should "casually" inquire of Moran along the line that he had suggested: That Shaw had no reason to sign the register as Bertrand and they were two different people. In other words, talk the man out of the story by employing false information. The ploy worked with the pliable Moran. In two weeks Moran admitted to everything he had said to Leake at the party with one exception: He had not seen Shaw at the VIP lounge on that occasion. In other words, with some direction from the Agency, and implementation from Leake and Ray, the witness had reversed himself."
What DiEugenio ignores is that Moran's statement to Alcock was one day before the party. He had already told Alcock that he did not see Shaw at the VIP room.
Nothing about Jessie Parker's statement held up. Don Carpenter sums it up nicely in his book, Man of a Million Fragments: (page 392)
"Jessie Parker's testimony remains somewhat of a mystery. However, with the discovery of the conflicting versions of her recollections, the mystery has shifted from why Shaw would sign such a notorious alias in the guest register for no obvious logical reason, to how the prosecution was able to convince, or perhaps pressure, Jessie Parker to say the contradictory things she supposedly said, including her final trial testimony."