Did David Ferrie Fly Clay Shaw to Canada and to Cuba?
Updated: Oct 9, 2021
One of the most bizarre accusations by conspiracy theorists is Clay Shaw's supposed involvement with the Freeport Sulphur Company. The company had operations in Cuba which were endangered by Fidel Castro's revolution. This story starts in 1957 with an article about their upcoming projects:
New Orleans Times-Picayune, April 2, 1957
Unfortunately, Fidel Castro came to power in 1959 and the project was aborted.
The story picks up again in 1968. James DiEugenio writes in Destiny Betrayed: (207-208)
"First, with Castro taking over their operations in Cuba, Freeport was attempting to investigate bringing in nickel ore from Cuba through Canada, which still had trade relations with Cuba. The ore would then be refined in Louisiana, either at a plant already in New Orleans or at another plant in Braithwaite. Shaw, an impresario of international trade, was on this exploratory team for Freeport. And he and two other men had been flown to Canada by Ferrie as part of this effort."
DiEugenio's source is a Garrison memorandum that mentions an interview with Ken Elliott - a local radio personality who had taken a personal interest in the Garrison investigation. Here is that memo:
Now, I have to say that this is not really evidence - it's just somebody saying something. It's interesting that Elliott did not want to come forward unless served - and Garrison did not subpoena him.
By the way, Elliott also spoke to Shaw's investigators a few months earlier in April 1967 and he mentioned the Freeport Sulphur story:
So, in April Elliott had no idea how this fit "into the Shaw investigation." By July, he had some sort of idea - might Russo have been putting words in his mouth?
DiEugenio then claims additional supporting evidence: (page 208)
"More evidence of this connection through Freeport was found during their investigation of Guy Banister. Banister apparently knew about another flight taken by Shaw with an official of Freeport, likely Charles Wight, to Cuba. Again the pilot was David Ferrie."
His source is another Garrison memo from October 1968. Here is that memo:
Sciambra refers to an interview with a Mr. James J. Plaine who told him that Mr. White of Freeport Sulphur was interested in the assassination of Fidel Castro. He also believed that Shaw was familiar and that he may have seen him in Houston. His identification is extremely fuzzy. We'll come back to Mr. Plaine in a minute.
But the Garrison office is sitting on a memo in the Guy Banister file that is even more explosive - it contains information that a Freeport Sulphur manager, Dick White, flew to Cuba with Clay Shaw, with David Ferrie in the pilot's seat. Here is that memo:
Now, Shaw was part of a plan to purchase the plant and get ore through Canada. Once again, there is no evidence here at all. Note that Clay Shaw hated to fly, and so the thought that he would get into a small plane and fly to Cuba is far-fetched. Shaw actually took the train to San Francisco for his speaking engagement in November 1963.
So, who is this Mr. Plaine? Well, on October 1, 1968, Sciambra wrote a memo about his interview with Plaine in Houston. Here is the memo:
The notations at the bottom read: "Plaine also said that he felt sure that Ruby + Oswald knew each other. He said he just knew." "Moo asked me to check this further, esp. with White, but I thought he should. I believes he found the White at the Gretna bank is the wrong White."
This whole memo is insane. It is unclear how they got in touch with Mr. Plaine, but I would guess that he called Garrison's office. It all sounds preposterous - fighting with Castro, taking part in the Bay of Pigs, and then being involved in assassinating Castro.
As for identifying Clay Shaw, he does say that "his face is familiar" but "cannot be sure." And, he was "very vague" about the identities of people who came from New Orleans to attend his meetings. Wow, he even gave the CIA information about missile sites.
Plaine claimed that David Ferrie "attended a couple of dozen meetings at his house and FERRIE gave him the impression that he was interested in only the money." That's a lot of meetings, no?
And, who can believe his claim that he received a Fair Play for Cuba leaflet with an attached note from "Lee"? And then two young men came to see him and asked about the leaflet and the note. "He said the two men asked about rifles and scopes and elevation and other things pertaining to an assassination." And, not surprisingly, "he said he would stake his life that one of the young men was LEE OSWALD and the other man looked a lot like him."
Of course Sciambra, well, he just had to ask about Kerry Thornley - because as we know Thornley was the second Oswald. I would have been nervous if I was Sciambra because Plaine told him "he kept a loaded automatic pistol in his apartment. As I was talking to him, he pointed to the pistol and said he kept it loaded at all times."
Plaine also claimed that after the assassination, the FBI searched his apartment for rifles.
I would have closed the entire file after that interview, but Sciambra called him back on October 23, 1968:
Now, Plaine remembers "either Shaw or Ferrie talking about some nickel mines." That is the first time he brings up David Ferrie (unless he was the source of the undated memo up above). But Sciambra then mentions Jules Ricco Kimble - a KKK member who had been questioned twice by the D.A.'s office.
The entire Kimble story is told in this blog post.
Kimble first told Garrison's office that "he knew about a flight David Ferrie took to Canada. He thought it involved some Minute Men operation." One month later, his story changed, and now Ferrie was flying him and Shaw to Nashville, Tennessee; Louisville, Kentucky; Toranado, Canada; and then Montreal, Canada. (I have never heard of Toranado, Canada). Kimble is simply not believable.
So, did Garrison's investigators ever talk to Mr. Wight of Freeport Sulphur? The answer is YES, and here is lead #86 from a long Garrison memo dated November 14, 1967 regarding outstanding leads:
I love the last two lines - "We have interviewed Dick White, and he denies having any knowledge of or connection with the matter. However, inasmuch as in this case everybody denies everything, this lead should be checked out completely."
So, they actually had the denial from White before Sciambra was sent off to Houston to interview Plaine.
By the way, the first juror selected for the Clay Shaw trial was an employee of Freeport Sulphur. There were no objections from the prosecution:
New Orleans States-Item, January 21, 1969
If they really thought Shaw was an investor in Freeport Sulphur, they would have used one of their challenges to make sure Mason did not sit on the jury.
The lead just languished until after the Shaw trial when it was once again listed in a new Shaw leads memo dated March 20, 1969:
This memo is contradicted by the earlier memo in which they indicated they had spoken to Wight.
Not much was done with this lead at this point. But, the lead resurfaced in a Garrison leads memo to the HSCA dated September 12, 1977:
It appears to me that there is absolutely no evidence to support the allegations made by James DiEugenio. The one person who actually did some research on this was Don Carpenter for his book, Man of a Million Fragments: (page 423)
"The Freeport Sulphur story, which has been freely circulating over the years by conspiracy theorists, has an element of truth in it, as there had been plans for such a manufacturing facility back in the 1950s, as discussed earlier. However, Shaw had no part in it, and the actual facility was never built, probably because of the takeover in Cuba by Fidel Castro's forces. An examination of Shaw's income tax returns and other business records shows no such ownership; Shaw's investments were almost exclusively in local real estate. The anecdote by Plaine, whose credibility has never been established, is usually pyramided into larger stories based upon alleged past foreign shenanigans supposedly engaged in over many decades by Freeport Sulphur, which, whether true or not, have nothing to do with Shaw."
As for James Plaine and his credibility, he apparently served two years for passing a bogus check in the 1940s.
This whole story was based upon rumors and the testimony of Jules Ricco Kimble. But, the story has actually gotten more conspiratorial over time. Here is an excerpt from James DiEugenio's latest book, The JFK Assassination:
"One of the most interesting group of ARRB released files were those on Freeport Sulphur...Based on these files, Lisa Pease did an absolutely scintillating two-part essay in Probe. It revealed the fact that Banister knew about a business venture which involved shipping nickel ore from Cuba to a Canadian front company. Ferrie flew an official of Freeport along with Shaw on an exploratory trip to organize the venture. Garrison had not just a file on this but at least two witnesses. Gaeton Fonzi was also interested in this interesting angle, and he actually connected the enterprise to David Phillips."
DiEugenio's sources are from William Davy's book, Let Justice Be Done. His sources are Plaine and Kimble. Here is how he brings David Phillips into it: (page 87)
"However, after Castro gained power, Cuban nationalization forced the closure of Moa Bay Mining. During its tenure in Cuba, Moa Bay had offices in downtown Havana. Former Alpha 66 leader, Antonio Veciana recalled receiving his CIA training in an office in Havana associated with a mining company. Recall that Veciana worked closely with his CIA officer, "Maurice Bishop," an alias believed to be used by David Atlee Phillips."
Impressive evidence, no?
Ken Elliott died in November 1969. Here is a notice in the New Orleans Times-Picayune: