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  • Writer's pictureFred Litwin

Jim Garrison's Code and Sylvia Meagher

UPI photo of Lee Odom, May 18, 1967

Note: I appreciate that not everybody will read all of the enclosed documents. I wanted to make public all of the relevant documents regarding this ridiculous incident, so that future researchers can easily access them.

In mid-April 1967, Edward Jay Epstein flew down to New Orleans to meet Jim Garrison. He had dinner with Garrison at Broussard's and then went to his office the following morning. Garrison wasn't there but Epstein, along with researcher Jones Harris, was told to start going through the evidence. Six boxes were brought in of Clay Shaw's belongings. Here is an excerpt from Epstein's book Counterplot: (page 37 - 38)

A discovery that Jones Harris made while we were going through the papers provided considerable insight into the nature of Garrison's investigation. What Harris found was a five-digit number that was common to both Shaw's and Oswald's address books. The entry in Shaw's book was "Lee Odom, PO Box 19106, Dallas, Tex."

In Oswald's book, the number 19106 was preceded by the Cyrillic letters дд (which, like other Russian letters on the page, the Warren Commission had assumed were made during Oswald's two-and-a-half-year stary in the Soviet Union).

Though the co-incidence of numbers proved nothing in itself, it was striking, and Garrison decided that further investigation was merited. Shortly thereafter Garrison announced to the press that he had found the entry "PO 19106" in both Oswald's and Shaw's address books, and that the number was a "nonexistent or fictional number," which removed the "possibility of coincidence." Moreover, Garrison said that "PO 19106" was a code that, when deciphered, produced Jack Ruby's unlisted telephone number, WH 1-5601, and "no other number on earth."

Here is how this was reported in the New Orleans Times-Picayune of May 13, 1967:

Here is the document from the D.A.'s office that explains the code:

The Dallas Times-Herald broke the story wide open by actually interviewing Lee Odom:

Dallas Times-Herald, May 17. 1967

So, Clay Shaw met Lee Odom in November 1966, and they had a discussion about a proposed bullfight.

Sylvia Meagher thought Garrison's reasoning was faulty and wrote him a registered letter:

Garrison phoned Meagher the next day and she wrote a letter to Raymond Marcus on Mary 17, 1967 to tell him what happened:

In an August, 1967, memo entitled "Garrison and the Warren Report Critics: Strangeloves and Surprising Coalitions." Meagher mentioned the code issue:

Of course, Jim Garrison believed there was more to Lee Odom than a bullfight:

New Orleans States-Item, May 17, 1967

Now, Jack Ruby was working with the CIA at the same time as Lee Harvey Oswald?

Milton Brener, in his book The Garrison Case, says that Odom actually phoned Jim Garrison: (page 205)

Odom was not at all reluctant to talk to anyone about his meeting with Shaw. He called Garrison collect and told him what he told the reporters. Garrison did ask Odom some questions. According to Odom, Garrison wanted to know his address and next of kin "in case something happened to me, but I wouldn't tell him." Added Odom: "He also told me he didn't want me to leave Irving."

To make this all even sillier, in a memo written in May 1967 about an informant talking about a bullfight in Tampa or Miami, Garrison wrote in longhand: "This is the second time "Bullfight" has been used as a code word for the assassination."

Of course, despite the fact this was all nonsense, Shaw's defense team still had to run down the lead. They wrote a letter to Mr. Odom:

A few days later, Shaw's attorneys had more information about Odom courtesy of Life Magazine reporter Holland McCombs:

Shaw and Odom met in New Orleans in June:

Garrison investigated Odom to see if he could find anything nefarious:

And then another memo about Odom:

Clay Shaw's defense learned more in August:

This was confirmation of the bullfight story.

In the interests of completeness, I have included Odom's documents on the Dallas bullfight below.

Richard Billings' diaries contain several entries related to the code and Lee Odom:

April 25, 1967:

conversation with Jim Garrison. He is still trying to check out the records on the [post office] box through Russell Long's office. He is having no success. Now Garrison is hard on the trail of the CIA; he has taken a great deal of this from the statement by Gordon Novel, as reported in the States-Item, that he, Novel, was working for the CIA when they stole the explosives from the bunker in Houma, La.

We know on our own information, and later, my check with Holland McCombs, that Oswald is known to have had two post office boxes listed under his name, or names recognized as his affiliations while in Dallas. The first of these, Box 2915, was rented from the main Post Office from Oct. 9, 1962, until May 14, 1963. The second, Box 6225 in the Terminal Annex Post Office, was the one rented from Nov. 1, 1963, until Oswald's death. It was in this box that he received correspondence with the Russian Embassy in Washington under the name of Lee Harvey Oswald.

Discussing the boxes again with Garrison, he suggested that if there was no such box as 19106 in 1963, which there was not, then it must have been some kind of code, and he [is] now proceeding to decipher the possibility of a code. He also suggests the possibility that the box could have been a CIA front; it could have been a box used temporarily by the CIA -- but nevertheless, Garrison does suspect that involvement.

Garrison returns to the point that there were three Oswalds working for the Reily Coffee Co. that summer, yet whenever any one of them was interviewed by the FBI, they denied knowing that Lee Harvey Oswald was also employed by the company. The names of the other three Oswalds working for the Reily Coffee Co. are: William S. Oswald, Julian Oswald, and Mary Oswald. Garrison is now proceeding to make a family tree of the Oswald family based on birth certificates that he is trying to obtain. We point out to Garrison that Box 19106 came into existence in 1965, in May; that there very well could be a person named Lee Odom, whose name Shaw would list in his book since May 1965. Garrison scoffs at this, convinced that this is impossible.

May 10, 1967:

The other Garrison hang-up at the moment is his only investigative research that seems to be going out at the present, and it's that damn code that he is convinced Oswald used in that notebook. Now remember, Oswald wrote the number 19106 with two rather cryptic letters preceding the number, and when Garrison found in Shaw book the name Lee Odom, PO Box #19106, Dallas, Texas -- he thought (we think, reasonably) that there was some significance. But, now, instead of trying to locate Post Office Box 19106 or Mr. Lee Odom, Garrison proceeds to decode these numbers, and, by his intricate method described heretofore he determines and convinces himself (and, may we say, no one else) that 19106 with those cryptic preceding letters is Jack Ruby's unlisted telephone number. Now, this isn't bad enough that he convinces himself -- he then proceeds, and as we were departing last Thursday, he had intended to do this, and indeed he did, the following day submit to the Grand Jury his decoded answer to that number. His presentation to the Grand Jury was that 19106, preceded by these cryptic letters, was indeed, or in fact, Jack Ruby's phone number.

To jump ahead a little bit, that story did get to the papers, and indeed it was given some play in New Orleans and, as one might expect, this week, just a couple of days ago -- that would have been probably on Tuesday, May 16th -- Mr. Lee Odom of Irving, Texas, it turns out, a rodeo and bullfight promoter, turns up, and in November of 1966 he met with Mr. Clay Shaw in the Roosevelt Hotel in New Orleans; he'd come to New Orleans with the purpose of trying to promote a bullfight there, and doesn't this make Garrison look silly.

May 17, 1967:

Now, May 17th, [Billings' Life Magazine associate Miguel] Acoca reports that Garrison is quite upset, because the States-Item didn't develop further the decoding of those numbers; he apparently had leaked them to May. He feels that he needs to get this in the papers -- God knows why -- and Acoca says that Alcock has spoken to this man Odom on the telephone; he seems to check out clean, and nothing more than a legitimate rodeo promoter. He told Alcock he used the Post Office Box 19106 for promotional literature for his rodeo work, and he had the box from July 21, 1966, until January 11, 1967.

May 18, 1967:

Garrison does not seem too disturbed, as disturbed as he should be, about the appearance of the real Lee Odom in Dallas -- he says this doesn't bother us _______ over there looking into this Mr. Lee Odom, there are some things about him that do make Garrison suspicious -- first of all the fact that he comes from Irving, Texas, home of the Paines, and where Oswald's family was living at the time of the assassination. Then Garrison points out that this man claims to have been working on a bullfight deal, but the bullfight deal never went through, and he makes the point that the man had no phone, and he finds it very strange that a man in that type of promotional business had no telephone. Even more strange to Garrison -- admittedly, this does seem interesting -- that it took the defense something like four days to discover Mr. Lee Odom, but once that they had found him in another two days, the defense, according to Garrison, was able to come up with the fact that this number 19106 with the cryptic letters before it is a Russian telephone number, or a Russian number. I find this interesting because of a file today from Holland McCombs suggesting the same thing. I quote from McCombs' file: "As you know, we are of the persuasion that Oswald's notation in his notebook was made while Oswald was in Moscow; the letters are not for a PO box, but rather are Russian lettering. You will note in Oswald's notebook that letters OVIR are written above the series of letters including 19106. As we understand it, OVIR are the initials of the Visa and Tourist Information Center in Moscow. We suggest that, to clear this notebook thing up once and for all, that you get Moscow or Washington to check it out." I think this is quite interesting, and I think that Holland probably came upon it himself; what I wonder is, has there been communication between Holland and the defense. Either he has perhaps told them about the possibility of this being a Russian number, or they have suggested it to him. Garrison, of course, suspects that the defense got it right straight from the government. At any rate, there seems to be information that the number 19106 is going to turn out to be some kind of Russian number, which, the way things are going, wouldn't surprise me at all. Now, in the same point, another interesting development since the name, Mr. Odom, has come up -- suddenly Holland McCombs and the defense and the New Orleans newspaper are able to determine all the people who have held this box 19106 since it was first put into use in May of 1965. Quoting again from Holland, he says that "earlier we were unable to get a case history of Box 19106. Yesterday we hit it lucky, and with the help of a friend, we got the case history, and here it is: there was no Box 19106 in Dallas until after May of 1965. This box was first rented on July 12, 1965, to Adobie Associates, 127 Payne St. Adobie Associates held the box until July of 1966. Lee Odom and his brother-in-law, Joe Briggs, rented the box on July 21, 1966. The Jaycees said that he used this box as his address during the promotion of the bloodless bullfight, which started in September of 1966. Odom says the box was also used for the barbecue and grocery business, and Odom gave up the box on January 11, 1967. The box was vacant until March 1st, on which date it was rented to Tel-Tex Electronics, which holds the box today." Now, it does seem that the information, when it's to the benefit of the defense, is a lot more forthcoming than when it seems to be evidence for the side of the state. This is certainly Garrison's charge, and it seems to hold up. However, he does admit that the appearance of Lee Odom is a tentative victory for the defense; it certainly is a victory for the defense, and Garrison makes the point that this has nothing to do with the code that he has broken; well, we'll see about that.

May 23, 1967:

Now a note on Lee Odom of Dallas, the man who emerged as the holder of Post Office Box 19106. Odom will be interviewed this evening by Bill Boxley, the former CIA man who is helping Garrison. A telephone tip was received today from a man, unidentified man in Dallas, who claims that during the period Lee Odom was supposed to be the holder of Box 19106, this man received 10 letters, all from the Junior Chamber of Commerce in Dallas, and each one had a return address of Post Office Box 19106. The tip will be pursued through the source, but if he is not located, Garrison will go to the Junior Chamber of Commerce, to determine if they were using that box in that period. Garrison, of course, wants to pursue this tip, to attempt to expose the fact that Odom may have been a plant by the defense to explain the entry in Shaw's notebook of Lee Odom of Post Office Box 19106, Dallas.

A plant by the defense?

Garrison just could never face the truth about the P. O. Box and Lee Odom.

You would have thought that that would be the end of Garrison's code. Not a chance. He repeated the story in his book, On the Trail of the Assassins: (pages 184 - 185 in the Kindle edition)

Amid the names of the international blueblood set, the address book contained the following listing:

“LEE ODOM, P.O. Box 19106, Dallas, Texas.”

This odd item was revealed publicly when Shaw’s attorneys sought to have the address book returned to him. Our office opposed this move, and in our written opposition we called attention to an interesting fact: The citation of “P.O. 19106” appeared in Lee Oswald’s address book as well as Shaw’s.

After several days of silence, Shaw’s attorneys produced a man named Lee Odom, who at that time rented post office box number 174 in Irving, a suburb of Dallas. He stated that he was from Dallas and that, while P.O. Box 19106 had never been in his name, it had been used for several months by a barbecue company with which he was once associated.

Shaw’s attorneys, who now included Edward Wegmann as well as Panzeca, picked it up from there and explained that Odom had once met Clay Shaw to discuss the possibility of promoting a bullfight in New Orleans.

There were some problems with the bullfight explanation, which had been floated up as justifying the presence of “P.O. Box 19106” in Shaw’s address book. For one thing, anyone who was genuinely involved in the promotion of bullfights would have to know that New Orleans, by its very nature, is a city most unlikely to be enthralled by the prospect of death in the afternoon. Second, as we knew from having compiled a summary of all of Clay Shaw’s activities since graduating from high school, he had never engaged in any kind of promotion.

Finally, the bullfight explanation seemed weak when juxtaposed to the fact that virtually the same phrase, “P.O. 19106,” was memorialized forever on one of the pages of Oswald’s address book. The coincidence became even more suspicious when one considered that Lee Oswald had to have written his notation no later than 1963, the year he was murdered, and that as of 1963 Dallas had not yet acquired a post office box with a number as high as 19106.

To me, the explanation that Clay Shaw had written “P.O. Box 19106” in his address book because he was considering the possibility of treating the citizens of New Orleans to a bullfight and that Lee Oswald had written it in his address book years earlier for no reason at all stretched the limits of common sense by a long ways. Once again the people of this country were being asked to swallow a cannon ball, no matter how well lubricated.

Money quote:

Once again the people of this country were being asked to swallow a cannon ball, no matter how lubricated.

In 1992, Lee Odom put together a booklet with documents about the whole controversy:

Odom refers to an issue regarding the "Oct., Nov." entry in Shaw's diary. You can read about this ridiculous controversy here.

It was Garrison's code that really changed Sylvia Meagher's mind about Jim Garrison. When she first heard about his probe, she was elated. The code business changed her opinion, and she was always willing to tell other Warren Report critics what she thought. Here is an excerpt from a letter Sylvia Meagher sent to Tom Bethell dated May 3, 1969:

So, how is this incident treated in conspiracy books? Joan Mellen's book, A Farewell to Justice, doesn't mention it at all, nor does Bill Davy in his book Let Justice Be Done. James DiEugenio briefly mentions it in his book Destiny Betrayed: (pages 236 -237 in the Kindle edition)

The search of Shaw’s home turned up another interesting tidbit. In his address book, there appeared the following entry:

Lee Odom, P. O. Box 19106, Dallas, Tex.

Garrison was aware that this same post office box number also appeared in Lee Oswald’s address book.75 Shaw’s lawyers later produced a man named Lee Odom who said he was from Dallas. The box number, he said, was that of a company he once worked for, and that he had tried to contact Shaw about “promoting a bullfight” in New Orleans. To Garrison, this was all reminiscent of Ferrie’s story about setting off for Texas to ice skate and hunt geese in a lightning storm.

Talk about sweeping it under the carpet!

Bullfight Documents

I found these documents in a folder in the papers of Richard Billings. He probably got them from Holland McCombs, a reporter for Life Magazine.

Holland McCombs and Miguel Acoca Research into Lee Odom

Here is another document from the papers of Richard Billings written by Life reporter Holland McCombs and Miguel Acoca. Since Billings was working with Garrison, it does seem that Garrison must have seen this report: McCombs was a long-time friend of Clay Shaw's and so Shaw's defense team had this information as well.

Previous Relevant Blog Posts

Jim Garrison, the Cryptologist

Garrison's codes and a nice spoof on Garrison.

Was Oswald's Alias a Code for a Jack Ruby Stripper?

An hilarious look at another Garrison code, one which was ridiculed by Sylvia Meagher.

Jim Garrison wasn't the only master decoder

A spoof of Garrison's silly beliefs on codes.


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