Exclusive: Jim Garrison tells the HSCA that Fred Crisman was one of the Three Tramps
Updated: Apr 18
Here is yet another tape of Jim Garrison being interviewed by the House Select Committee on Assassinations in either late July or early August 1977. Garrison spends a lot of time talking about Fred Crisman and Kerry Thornley.
Here is a Word document with a transcript:
Here is a .PDF file of the transcript:
Garrison devotes a large part of this meeting to discussing Kerry Thornley. He is desperate to prove that Thornley met Oswald in New Orleans, and he tries to convince the HSCA that perhaps Thornley was in New Orleans more often than he admits.
I believe that the Jonathan Blackmer is the HSCA investigator at this meeting, and, at times, he sounds like a conspiracy theorist. Consider this exchange early in the meeting: (7:29)
HSCA: Do you have a feeling that he may have been responsible for the death of some people. Would you think he'd capable of that?
Jim Garrison: I don't like to speculate. I lean over backwards in this area. But I'll tell you one thing I think, and I think that Crisman is very possibly, the third man on the grassy knoll. There has been such alteration in the photographs that by the time you see a 20th copy, like Gaeton [Fonzi] had the other day, that's an old copy. I had early copies because I was getting Al Chapman. Although I must -- Dallas, it was his idea. And that I was encouraging him to get me those photographs and other photographs from a friend of his who worked for, I think the Dallas Morning News in the morgue or something. And we were giving him something like a dollar, a piece, which is fairly outrageous. But anyway, so what Al was sending me was like second generation or something like that. And I had all five or six or whatever the whole set is.
The question is about Thornley and whether "he may have been responsible for the death of some people." Even Garrison wouldn't bite with a question like that. But where does such a question come from?
Garrison uses the question to morph into a discussion about Fred Crisman. And Garrison believes that Crisman is one of the three tramps. Garrison continues: (7:37)
Jim Garrison: And in most of them, the third man is systematically almost, it's too often, his face is always out of the camera. They don't mind you seeing the one they call Frenchie, or they can see the cameras in front of him apparently. And they don't seem to mind, you're seeing the big, tall one, although you don't know how big he really is because if you look at it closely, he seems to be wearing two-inch elevator shoes. But the early pictures of the third man where he is clear are very good photographs of Lee Crisman. So, I just kept them here. I was looking forward when the time came that you all did come down. So, I could show you a good photograph of Lee Crisman. And I now ransacked my office about 10 times in the last month or two and every picture showing the third man is gone. I'm afraid I got careless, I locked some things up, but I really didn't think they'd be bothering my office anymore and I left them in the drawer. Suffice it to say that I've gone from a full set of the walking men to a handful of pictures of the walking men and none of which the third tramp is clearly visible.
Two-inch elevator shoes?
Garrison tells the HSCA that "every picture showing the third man is gone."
Of course, Fred Crisman testified before the New Orleans Parish grand jury. Did Garrison confront him with the 'better' pictures? (10:25)
Jim Garrison: As a matter of fact, my questions of Crisman, at the grand jury will undoubtedly center around him being in Dallas. And I cannot remember his answers because I was shocked when I saw him. In other words, he so clearly resembled a third man.
The reason that Garrison cannot remember Crisman's answers is that he was not present for his testimony. The only time he had been in Dallas was in 1963.
Blackmer then asks a revealing question of Garrison: (12:14)
HSCA: Is there anything about Banister's death that may, and Crisman’s movements around that period of time that may lead one to want to look into that a little closer? In other words, where was Crisman and what did Banister die of? Is there a problem with an autopsy or?
Guy Banister did not die mysteriously. He had a heart attack. (13:44)
HSCA: Now, Mary Banister made a call to some friends and said, "Guy's been shot." We know who the friends were?
Jim Garrison: I can't think of their names, but I can get it.
HSCA: I think that would be extremely interesting.
Garrison went off and wrote a memo to Blackmer about Banister's death:
Here is a transcription:
Re: Deaths of Guy Banister and Clay Shaw
Excuse the scribble, but this is just a short note and I want to get it off without having to wait for the secretaries to return from lunch.
The name of the couple who made the comment of interest when Mary Banister called upon learning of the death of Guy Banister, her husband, are: MR. + MRS. STEPHEN LICHTBLAU, 1631 PRATT DRIVE, NEW ORLEANS, LA. The Lichtblaus, I am informed, received an excited call to the effect that "Guy has shot himself" and Mrs. Lichtblau then went over to the scene to comfort her. My source is not clear, in her recollection, whether Mrs. Lichtblau admits having seen the wound but my source is clear that both of the Lichtblaus recall this as being what happened to Banister. They stated this verbally after his death and repeated the statement two years ago.
I must emphasize that, as to me, this is hearsay. However, it is from a source which I would have to classify as reliable in her recollection -- namely, my mother-in-law, Mrs. N. P. Weinert of Lacombe, Louisiana (504) 882-7302. Her husband, N. P. Weinert, is a retired Coast Guard Commander, not given lightly to gossip and this is his general recollection of the death of Banister, as later recounted by the Lichtblaus.
Since writing the preceding lines, I called Mrs. Weinert and she confirmed the incident as I have generally described it, except for one alteration: Mrs. Weinert's initial learning of Banister's death came when she received an excited call from Mrs. (Ruth Ann) Lichtblau and the latter's precise words at that time were "I just got a call from Mary Banister and Guy's been shot."
On the other hand, I have to add to the foregoing that, following Guy Banister's death, while I was still D. A., I routinely sent for a copy of the autopsy. Its conclusion, in effect, was that he had died of a heart attack (this was in the summer of 1964 - nine months after the assassination). I am in the process of getting that autopsy report for you and will forward it.
I had no reason to question the veracity of the autopsy at the time and was surprised to learn, a year or so ago from my in-laws, that there existed another explanation for his death. I cite my in-laws as the source of the contravening information with a mild reluctance, not because of any unreliability on their part -- to the contrary, I regard them as highly reliable, as of the highest veracity. I would simply prefer it if somehow the source of such provocative information had come from someone unrelated to me. However, I have no residual prosecutorial interest in the outcome of any possible inquiry into this area one way or the other and am simply passing it on as it comes to me.
As a former D.A. in this Parish, I personally would have to give the deciding weight to the written version of the Coroner's office. On the other hand, even as I write that point, I have to add that this was the same Coroner's office which, after David Ferrie died, leaving two suicide notes, rules that he "died of natural causes." And then, again, I suppose there is the additional possibility that because he was the former SAC of the Chicago F.B.I. office and the former Assistant Superintendent of the New Orleans Police Department that there may have been a desire not to cause embarrassment to him "needlessly."
That's all I know about Banister's demise -- and I'll get the autopsy report on to you as soon as I get it. One final word of caution for you, however, in the event that you decide to make further inquiries -- with regard to the Lichtblaus and Mary Banister. While they might be cooperative witnesses, they also could be hostile -- regardless of the respective realities. It is my impression that, at one time at least, they regarded me on a level with Idi Amin (or slightly below him). After all, I did for some years communicate what I regarded as Banister's connection with the assassination apparatus (publicly and in my book, H. of S.) - so that it's hardly likely that these people are inclined to go out and hold a parade, even a small one, for me.
As to Mary Banister's present location; the best I can come up with is that she literally has (1) moved to Alaska, and (2) changed her name! (Let me know if you need a publicity agent some time). The Lichtblaus may know her location but the last I heard was that she split even with them.
Since writing the above, have finally gotten hold of the Coroner's office to see what memos, etc (date of death, at least) they may have on Clay Shaw (now buried somewhere in Kentwood Parish).
One the left side of the letter, Garrison wrote: Copy of this to: L. J. Delsa, in case you want him to run down any leads.
Here is the police report of Banister's death:
Here is an article from the June 8. 1964 edition of the New Orleans Times-Picayune.
Garrison then goes on to discuss the two anonymous letters he received about Fred Crisman and Thomas Beckham: (14:35)
Jim Garrison: Start a Crisman file with those two anonymous letters in the Beckham file. You know usually I don't like anonymous letters because when a person doesn't sign his name, but on the other hand, you've got to have a little more leeway with regard to anonymous letters in the case of John Kennedy's murder, where so many people have subsequently been killed. A lot of people that would normally sign their name won't. So I went through all letters, anonymous or otherwise, and I came up with two letters, which I eventually put in the Beckham file. You remember seeing it [crosstalk 00:15:11]. And they were full of meat, they were just too much. Nobody could make up all these. For example, perhaps it's not true that Crisman was the first person Shaw called and the first person Beckham called. And perhaps this other thing over here isn't true, but there's just too many things.
The two letters were most probably written by Crisman, who was a con man. He was probably out for publicity, and Garrison took the bait.
The interview of Garrison was conducted after the 1975 Rockefeller Commission investigated the possibility that E, Howard Hunt and Frank Sturgis were two of the three tramps. Garrison showed Martin one of the tramp pictures: (20:03)
Jim Garrison: ... Oh, the fourth thing is that Jack Martin who's never lied to me in all the years I've known him, although he's not the most pre-possessing person, again, he's a person you get leads from and not, but don't use as evidence. I showed him this guy's picture [inaudible 00:20:43]. And if he'd ever seen him around Guy Banister’s office, he said, "I've seen him, but the only place I saw him was always at the Balter Building.
HSCA: So, you're saying that Jack Martin said that he'd seen Howard Hunt in the vicinity of the Balter Building.
Jim Garrison: He said something like, "That's Howard Hunt, I've seen him at the Balter Building several times.”
HSCA: And this was in the Balter Building and around Banister’s office.
Garrison's conversation with Jack Martin was quite recent and reflected what was in the news: (21:19)
Jim Garrison: If it had been, since we've been touching everything, I would've gotten an exact statement, but that was sometime last summer or something when he came by. And I had that picture, so when a casual conversation. Because, you know, things were kind of surfacing about the background of Sturgis and Hunt being a little more substantial than we might have thought. So, he says in the Balter building, in connection with the Cubans or Banister, I don't remember which, but we'll be talking to him at great length.
Garrison tells the HSCA about Kerry Thornley's father, who was a photoengraver. Garrison actually believed that he was responsible for the backyard photographs, which of course are of Thornley with Oswald's face. (25:43)
Jim Garrison: Naturally, it goes without saying, that the father is, as you assume, that average American and his son is in intelligence. So, he can't go back with something that hot to his father. But you've always got to keep in mind that we see a pattern in this case of the intelligence community being made of families. So, if you don't close your door to the possibility of his father having been the original one in intelligence and the result of Kerry Thornley ending up in it, then such a thing isn't as hard to digest. I'll give you an example. I'm going into it, at the moment, I have good reason to believe that George Lyman Paine, the father of Michael Paine is in intelligence. That is very … Intelligence families are very useful for variety of reasons. That's why you can take a couple who compared to most of the people in this case, a relatively clean cut: Ruth Paine and Michael Paine. He's productive and she's relatively sensitive and intelligent. And they're both part of the intelligence community.
There's intelligence everywhere. Thornley's father, Michael Paine's father, and both Michael and Ruth Paine. And then Garrison goes even further: (27:03)
Jim Garrison: She [Ruth Paine] impressed me as being what you would call a Jack Kennedy Democrat yet, somehow, they're manipulated. I guess the reason they were able to manipulate them, the reason they're frozen, is not only her family, which is A.I.D. intelligence family, but also his family. His father, George Lyman Paine. His father as I suggest events may well bear out turns out to be the case agent of Lee Harvey Oswald in Los Angeles, then it's very likely that he will also turn out to be the case agent of Kerry Thornley.
Garrison also went on a rant about a Harold Lloyd Varney, a conservative who gave a speech in New Orleans in November 1963. Garrison believed there was something nefarious about his speech: (33:45)
Jim Garrison: Anyway, Harold Lord Varney is an important enough speaker to draw a notice in the paper. And so that's why we have to get the story about Harold Lloyd Varney's speech from the Item, afternoon edition on the 22nd and from the Picayune on the morning, because it was in both. And even when I didn't question the assassination, just thinking it was another lonely nut, that stuck in my mind. And the reason it stuck in my mind is that General Walker came all the way from Dallas, Texas to hear this man speak. In fact, they said, "General Walker in town for speech," or something like that. I got interested enough that just out of curiosity about that part, I checked where he went after he left town. I found out that shortly after the speech, he went to the airport to go up to Shreveport for some unknown reason.
Jim Garrison: But what I'm getting to is if Varney, I think his speech was either patriotism or the importance of the Anglo-American tradition, blah, it's the kind of thing that, at that time he was important. His star hadn't descended. God knows who else was in attendance there. So, it occurs to me, it might be worth finding out what hotel he was speaking at, because it might have been a nice cover for some of very conservative, but otherwise distinguished Americans to have come to town for a day or so. When you read some of the Minuteman type rhetoric in the Banister collection and was little part of his file, that's almost verbatim the rhetoric that General Cabell spoke when he was a spokesman for the military warfare sector. He was really at the last from intelligence side, I guess because that they had Bay of Pigs he's getting fired. But I got interested in him enough when I dug into his getting fired and the reason, he got fired is his criticism of Kennedy as a traitor and so forth and such a connection to his brother in Dallas, to dig through his speeches in the Index of Current Periodicals, and somewhere I have a collection of Cabell’s speeches. And they're really indistinguishable from, you might say an educated Billy Ray Hargis or a lucid General Walker, is a good way to put it. But it is not far removed from General Walker. Every speech by Cabell is, “The Russians are coming. The Russians are coming." So, he wasn't just a high-class technician like you have in a case of Colby. Colby is almost a perfect technician, in the sense that I'm not sure he has any clear, as a leader of CIA any clear, conscious political commitment. He's just the ultimate technician. He really belongs to the German.
Does any of this make any sense?
Varney did speak in New Orleans on November 20, 1963.
New Orleans Times-Picayune, November 21, 1963
Garrison tells Blackmer that "I think he's an Englishman and if he is a Lord, well, I want to take another look at Shaw’s notebook." (32:48) Because that would lead to an "ultra-conservative clique." (33:43) Varney middle name might have been Lloyd and he was not British, he was American.
Towards the end of the discussion, Garrison talks more about Thornley and the fact that he might be the second Oswald. (47:47) Blackmer and Garrison then discuss the McBeath Hotel, which Garrison believes is an important clue. Supposedly both Oswald and Thornley stayed at the McBeath Hotel. (52:21)
This all came from a memo written on April 22, 1969, by Andrew Sciambra that listed new leads:
Did Oswald really stay there for one night in June 1959? Hard to say, but he was still in the Marines at that time.
I can find no mention of this Rooming House in Kerry Thornley's grand jury testimony. But, the HSCA did talk to Barbara Reid, who was a continual source of information about the French Quarter to Garrison.
Not surprising, the records of the Hotel MacBeath never showed up.