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  • Writer's pictureFred Litwin

Exclusive: Jim Garrison Tells the HSCA that Kerry Thornley Impersonated Lee Harvey Oswald...

Here is another tape from the summer of 1977 of Jim Garrison being interviewed by investigators from the House Select Committee on Assassinations. The focus is on Kerry Thornley and his supposed impersonation of Lee Harvey Oswald.

Here is a Word document with the transcript:

garrison tape 3
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Here is a PDF of the transcript:

garrison tape 3
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Jim Garrison takes a variety of 'sightings' of Oswald and then tries to convince the HSCA that it was really Kerry Thornley.

Garrison starts off the discussion with James Spencer, a car salesman for Dumas and Milnes Chevrolet. Here is an FBI memo about Spencer:

Of course, Lee Harvey Oswald was in Russia at the time. As you can see, Spencer moved away from New Orleans in September 1961, well before Oswald arrived back in the United States. Despite this, he describes pro-Castro leafletting outside the car dealership, but is uncertain if the man he is describing was involved.

She couldn't remember anything about Oswald.

Garrison tells the HSCA that Thornley was in New Orleans in 1961: (1:03)

Jim Garrison: He [Spencer] does not recall the date, but he does recall that he was employed there from February to August '61. He states this Oswald impressed him as a character, spoke favorably of Cuba, appeared to have been enthusiastic about Castro. It's a routine, like it could have been Oswald, except it's in the spring of '61 when Thornley's here and not Oswald.

Of course, people were seeing Oswald all over the country. He was even seen in my hometown of Montreal, Quebec. To Garrison, this is all part of an intelligence operation: (2:17)

Jim Garrison: But anyway, this identifies the memo sufficiently. It's the kind of thing that you have to read to appreciate. One more point, the FBI agent writing it says, "A few days ago, while Spencer was looking through his billfold, he found a business card, which he'd used while employed as a salesman by Dumas Milnes in New Orleans." On the back of the card was a notation in his, Spencer's, handwriting, "Lee Oswald, Magazine Street." Now, of course, this is the kind of thing that we were encountering for a long time at an early stage and in our investigation.

Jim Garrison: But somewhere along the line, I think it became apparent to us that this was too consistent to be a mistake. That this also occurs with regard to Bolton Ford, the name Lee Oswald was used in '62, and it also occurs again with regard to... And the rest out on the lakefront. I guess I'll come across that, which occurs in '62 or '61. Now we know Oswald is in Russia then, but that's not the point any longer. The approach of the Federal Bureau of Investigation was to say, "Oswald is in Russia. Therefore, this is irrelevant." I'm suggesting that a more productive approach, is this is too systematic to be a mistaken memory here or there. Someone in New Orleans in '61 and '62 is using Lee Oswald's name. On to the next point.

Garrison believes that the only two people in New Orleans who knew Oswald back then were Kerry Thornley and David Ferrie. But Clay Shaw is also a possibility: (4:51)

Jim Garrison: I might add that a possible third one could be Clay Shaw, because he used to hang around at a homosexual bar on Exchange Place, which was across the street from where Oswald lived when he went to high school. But we had never been able to establish that they met. In any case, Ferrie and Thornley in '61 are here and no Oswald.

Ah, propinquity. Clay Shaw might be linked because of propinquity.

Oswald was in Dallas at this time. But again, that raises the possibility that this was Kerry Thornley: (7:01)

Jim Garrison: Okay. He’s still in Dallas, Texas. He doesn't come to New Orleans until the following month. So again, this is a possible Kerry Thornley item, and that's a good one to check out early, okay.

Garrison is anxious that the HSCA investigate whether this might have been Thornley: (8:02)

Jim Garrison: And if it actually turned out to be a Kerry Thornley, an awful lot of people would really be disappointed to find out it wasn't Oswald. Besides they would've convinced themselves by rote and repetition. But in a case like this one, the ordinary FBI agent... Well, certainly in the case of '61 would tell him Oswald was not in the country in '61. So, he wouldn't have acquired the fixation. And I'm suggesting it would be freer to look at a picture and see if it might be Thornley. The people you talk to in Dallas, when that time comes, some of them are going to have a fixation that it was Oswald even though it wasn't. But it couldn't have been downtown Lincoln Mercury, it couldn't have been the shooting ranges, but by now, some people will be convinced it was. They rewrite their own history, just like the government does.

Speaking to Mr. Becker should be a priority: (8:52)

Jim Garrison: But I think we have a better shot at getting an identification of the false Oswald in these 1961 and '62 cases. Mr. Becker stated that he had seen photographs of Lee Harvey Oswald. And although he saw the individuals who applied for the permit, he could not say that one of them had been Oswald. Now, that's a good witness. That's the kind you want. That's the kind who's got possibilities. That's the priority item.

Cliff Fenton of the HSCA was seemingly going along: (9:30)

Jim Garrison: Cliff, you see that pattern of their using Oswald's name?

HSCA: Yeah, I see it.

Jim Garrison: It's people connected with the Cubans and the Banister operation, which is another way of saying this intelligence or semi-intelligence substructure that is servicing the anti-Castro effort are using Oswald's name, even though he's in Russia. And we know of only two people, for sure who are in New Orleans in '61 and early '62, who know the name Lee Oswald, and one is Kerry Thornley, and the other is David Ferrie.

Yes, it's the intelligence or semi-intelligence substructure, whatever that is.

Garrison tells the HSCA that the "pattern is too strong to be an accident."

Garrison then goes into an incident that happened on August 13, 1962. Kerry Thornley was arrested in New Orleans on that day for putting up a poster on a telephone pole at 3 AM in the French Quarter. To Garrison, this is all very suspicious: (16:54)

Jim Garrison: The charge that Thornley is arrested for while Oswald's still in Russia is a fascinating charge, but it doesn't tell us all we want to know. It is violating a city ordinance by posting a leaflet or a poster, putting a poster on a telephone post at three in the morning, at the corner of Governor Nicholls and Royal or something like that. That area.

HSCA: You did the follow up check on it, if you recall. I don't have-

Jim Garrison: It's in that area. It's Governor Nicholls or something, but that's in the French Quarter. But the point is you can almost smell the indication that it got to be down here, that involved in the anti-Castro activity. And here he is finally putting... He's got something in his hands with print on it, which certainly be most useful to us. And he's putting it on the poster, and he is arrested. And we locate the two arresting officers, and they can't recall what's on the poster. They vaguely remember the arrest, but they cannot remember what was on the poster.

The arresting officers do not remember what was on the poster. Perhaps it was a Fair Play for Cuba poster. (18:37)

Jim Garrison: I know that was a long time ago and we're talking to them in 1977, asking them to remember what was on the poster in 1962, which is a pretty heavy request. But on the other hand, this had to be an unusual situation because it is in the middle of the French Quarter at three o'clock in the morning. And if he'd been arrested for being drunk, an officer could hardly remember that six months later because that happened so often in the Quarter. But how often do you make an arrest for an ordinance that's so seldom violated as putting a poster on the telephone post? I'm just saying it's very unusual. And you might remember it at the end of your career because maybe it would have only happened once.

A discussion ensues about the incident, and Garrison raises the possibility that a judge involved in this case might certainly remember what was on the poster: (20:56)

Jim Garrison: Because this is unusual enough. A lawyer might remember somebody in the middle of the night, if there was an unusual legend on it. Especially if it related to the Cubans and within a year, a man who is handing a Fair Play for Cuba, supposedly shoots the president. It might have triggered his memory. And if you have a bright lawyer, like if Lou Trent, although he is primarily traffic, if he was sitting, there's an excellent chance that one of the judges would've had that memory triggered by Oswald's activity if it were about Cubans.

HSCA: All right, we can check by back then and see by the time arrest whose court it went to. Because it went by times. In other words, whatever time the arrest was made, that-

Jim Garrison: The arrest was made at three in the morning.

HSCA: Right. That would make the section of Court B, Night Court.

Jim Garrison: But who was there at '62?

HSCA: '62 was the old man.

Jim Garrison: And somebody's undoubtedly dead now.

HSCA: I don't think he's dead. I don't think he died. Glancy took his place. Sat on the bench at night. Yeah. I got his name on the tip of my tongue, can't think of it.

Jim Garrison: Not Harold Moore. He'd been dead for years.

HSCA: Oh jeez, lived across the river.

Jim Garrison: Oh, the crazy judge.

HSCA: Yeah, it was-

Jim Garrison: Oh, are you kidding? Oh, there's never been a judge like [Edwin A.] Babylon.

HSCA: Babylon.

Jim Garrison: Babylon is, Babylon-

HSCA: But you want to know what? He's so crazy. He's so crazy, he may remember that.

Jim Garrison: Babylon is just the kind of a guy who might remember that. There's no question because he's nuts.

The HSCA investigator in this discussion is LJ Delsa, a native of New Orleans. You can see his knowledge of the New Orleans legal system. He also seems a tad enthusiastic about the line of reasoning. Not surprisingly, he would be taken off the New Orleans part of the investigation by Robert Blakey because he gave an unauthorized polygraph to Thomas Beckham.

They then discuss the possibility that the poster might be in the evidence room. Garrison is convinced this is an important incident: (23:13)

Jim Garrison: Well, okay. Why don't you stop and make some notes on it while we remember all this? Because if we leave it up to me to remind you, I'm so overloaded with things now. But take my word for it, the importance of this, the potential importance is hard to describe. If this turns out to be a Cuban legend of some sort, well it ties Thornley in all the more strongly with the intelligence structure, which is servicing the anti-Castro activity.

But Judge Babylon just might remember the poster: (23:46)

Jim Garrison: And furthermore, Babylon is ignorant, when we say for a judge in a sense, but he's brighter than the average witness. And almost any judge out there, now that I talk it out, if there was anything about Cuban about that sign, it's only a year later, that Oswald is handing out Fair Play for Cuba pamphlets. And a few months after that you had the assassination and the judge who handled an unusual case, like a sign about Cubans in the middle of the night, 15 months before would have his memory jarred. I think we have an excellent chance of picking it up with the judge.

Lee Harvey Oswald was in Russia when this occurred. Here is the quote from Bolton Ford:

You can see the name 'Oswald" in the top right corner over the name Jos. Moore.

To Garrison, this ties everything together: (26:38)

Jim Garrison: Oh, okay. Good, good. We have an even more and detailed statement. We got from another employee of Bolton Ford named Fred Sewell. So, this is just one witness. We have it supported by several witnesses, but as I describe it, you'll see how it begins to tie things more and more together. Tie it to Cubans, the Friends of Democratic Cuba who started off in the Balter Building with Banister, and then later evolved into the Cuban Revolutionary Front and end up in the Newman building, again with Guy Banister. Only at the Newman building their address becomes 544 Camp and Banister's around the corner. That's one of my great discoveries for which I'm sure the CIA is eternally grateful. And Oswald with that little one stamp, one time he stamped at 544 Camp really may have done this country a service because that was the foot in the door.

Sewell now remembers the name "Lee Oswald":

Of course, Deslatte only wrote down Oswald. And memories were fraying:

Sewell actually asks Garrison, "Was it Lee?"

Garrison's investigators had talked to Deslatte, and he denied the story:

So, what really happened? I certainly discount Fred Sewell's story. There is no contemporaneous record of the person identifying himself as Lee Oswald. And Mr. Sewell did not come forward in 1963 or 1964.

There were over twenty different Oswalds in the New Orleans phone book in the early 1960s. The possibility also remains that Oswald might well be a first name.

Perhaps, Friends of a Democratic Cuba (FDC) went to Schulingkamp Motor Company (perhaps because he or his brother the judge were supporters), hoping that he could get them a good deal on some trucks. Schulingkamp went next door to Bolton. Someone there wrote “Oswald” because he was well known at Bolton, and/or because his last name was hard to spell.

The assassination happens three years later, and all they remember is the name Oswald.

Of course, to Garrison, all of this links back to Guy Banister because of his connection to Friends of a Democratic Cuba.

Garrison believes he is clearly operating more than a private detective agency: (28:15)

Jim Garrison: The only thing that's missing that you would want to look at, at the same time, would be the index of Banister’s files.

HSCA: You might look at that.

Jim Garrison: You saw that.

HSCA: Fantastic.

Jim Garrison: So, you know it's not a private detective office.

HSCA: It's definitely not.

Jim Garrison: It's important for you to see that because otherwise you're just hearing me say, I don't think it's a private detective office.

If Banister was really operating some sort of intelligence operations, then why couldn't he pay his rent? He owed Sam Newman back rent and he was then evicted, with Newman keeping the furniture. You'd think the FBI, or the CIA could have paid his rent, no?

Except from Garrison memo from January 18, 1967

Garrison brings up another interview with Fred Sewell:

The last paragraph throws me - he "can not remember the identify of the salesman." Just a few months earlier he was talking to Garrison about Deslatte, and now he's forgotten?

Now, the conversation with the HSCA turns slightly crazy: (30:29)

Jim Garrison: In other words, you could almost make her [Mary Banister] feel good about it. And in the final analysis, who's going after him anyway? This is a very important one. Interview of one Fred Sewell. This is another, a guy in the Bolton Ford situation. I don't have to repeat it all. But the only thing is... Oh, listen to this. I haven't seen this for some time. "Mr. Sewell went on to relate that the man who came in with Oswald had a scar over his left eye, that he didn't have a Spanish name, but that he was a Cuban type." Now, that would be a good one to show Frank Sturgis to.

HSCA: Well, my note on that is you can see it's Rabel [Louis Rabel, who was associated with Friends of a Democratic Cuba]

Jim Garrison: Well, I know you're voting for Rabel, I'm voting for Sturgis, but I mean-

HSCA: Sturgis at that time.

Jim Garrison: Huh?

HSCA: Sturgis wasn't using Sturgis


Jim Garrison: Well, I know I'm not talking about the name if he was Fiorini, but I'm saying apparently, he didn't have his plastic surgery at the time that picture was taken. Let me see the picture.

Jim Garrison: In other words, this guy may not be the escort I thought he was earlier, but he could well turn out to be the one buying the trucks is what I'm saying. Listen to this description. "The man who came in with Oswald," who I believe is probably Thornley because this is in '61, "had a scar over his left eye, but he didn't have a Spanish name but that he was a Cuban type." This is a picture, Cliff, of --

HSCA: Yes [inaudible 00:32:09].

Jim Garrison: In 1963, before the assassination, he had a scarred left eye, but he undoubtedly, he's not the only one in the world. So, I don't want to get fixated on that. But I think he just ought to be checked out.

HSCA: He doesn't fit the Cuban type description.

Jim Garrison: But you know, better than me, I think you're right. He looked more Italian.

Sewell said that the man with Oswald "had a scar over his left eye." Garrison believes this

As you can see from the above dialog, Garrison throws out the name of Frank Sturgis (this was right after the Rockefeller Commission). Or perhaps Thornley. But Thornley was not Cuban.

This is all insane.

Jim Garrison: But the point is, nevertheless, they keep flying in the damn window. And without a conscious effort, accumulate a structure. We've developed a structure of repetitive appearances of the name Lee Oswald when he isn't here. So, what I'm getting to, is if that happens without an effort on our part to go out and find him, think how many times they use the name Lee Oswald during '61 and '62 that we don't even know about yet.

Jim Garrison: If we see this many without having gone out in the field to try... In other words, I didn't say, "Go out, Oswald was in Russia in '60, '61, in early '62, go out and see if you can find any instances of somebody using his name." That would be different, but we're not looking for that. But look, how many we get anyway. What I'm saying is God knows how many other times they've done it. They must have been doing it all the time. It must have been kind of like an in joke for it. Maybe started by Ferrie, but it's happening too often.

Towards the end of the interview Garrison brings up Daphne Stapleton:

Garrison notes that it wasn't Howard Cowan she is talking about, but Howard Cohen. He tells the HSCA that Cohen went to Mexico in 1963: (48:22)

Jim Garrison: Now make a note for you to check out when you talk to Jack Frazier. I haven't had a chance to check it out, but I came across just in some diggings on the side that Cowan and Jack Frazier, I think it was right after the assassination, but it was rather odd. I think he spells it C O H E N anyway, but he made a trip to Mexico with Jack Frazier. But Jack Frazier never mentioned it to us. Or it was in '63 sometime. Frazier and Cohen, C O H E N, made a trip to Mexico in '63.

Jim Garrison: And I can't remember the details, but I noticed going back to Frazier's statements that he had never mentioned it. So, it might be worth... It might be productive somewhere. I asked... Too many people going to Mexico in '63. Not only Oswald but even Thornley admits it.

For some reason, Garrison believes Stapleton, and tells the HSCA that she is corroborated by Robert Karno. You can read his interview here. Karno claims he saw Oswald at the Ryder Coffee House and at the public library - but just sitting alone. Of course, he never came forward until the Garrison investigation. Even so, he's still not certain:

The tape ends there.

Garrison impressed the HSCA investigators. This was not a shining hour for the HSCA. Needless to say, the HSCA never found any evidence to back up any of Garrison's allegations about Kerry Thornley.

Tomorrow I'll be publishing a memo from Gaeton Fonzi about Thornley.

Previous Relevant Blog Posts

Yes, Garrison believed that Fred Crisman was one of the tramps.

Garrison only has one witness that places Oswald in Banister's office and even he is not too sure about his credibility.

Garrison tells the HSCA that Kerry Thornley might be the body in the backyard photographs.


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