Niles "Lefty" Peterson - Another Forgotten Witness
Updated: Oct 11, 2021
Niles "Lefty" Peterson was a close friend of Perry Russo's. Russo told Andrew Sciambra that Lefty Peterson, and others, would be able to identify Lee Harvey Oswald as David Ferrie's roommate. Here are two excerpts from Andrew Sciambra's infamous memo of February 27, 1967:
The 'Sciambra memorandum' was infamous because it did not mention anything about a party at David Ferrie's apartment where Oswald, Clay Bertrand and Ferrie discussed the assassination.
None of the people mentioned in the memo recognized Oswald as David Ferrie's roommate. A future blog post will examine Perry Russo's other friends.
When Russo was hypnotized in New Orleans, he said that Lefty Peterson was at the party with Clay Bertrand, David Ferrie and Lee Harvey Oswald. Here are a few excerpts from Russo's third hypnosis session from March 12, 1967:
So, Russo and his friend Lefty Peterson picked up Sandra Moffett and went to David Ferrie's house. And everybody is already there, including Clem Bertrand.
While Sandra Moffett and Lefty Peterson were there, the conversation turned to President Kennedy. Russo believed this made an impression on Peterson because he claims Peterson "said that everybody's nuts."
Some people left the party but Lefty Peterson stayed and, according to Russo, was there with Clem Bertrand, Leon Oswald, David Ferrie, and Sandra Moffett.
This made Sandra Moffett and Lefty Peterson people of extreme interest to Garrison. You can learn more about Sandra Moffett here.
A few days later, Russo testified at the preliminary hearing and once again said that Lefty Peterson was at the party:
Peterson didn't just pop in, he stayed a couple of hours:
After the preliminary hearing, one of Perry Russo's friends, Nelson Wayne Thomas, was interviewed by investigators working for Clay Shaw. Here are some excerpts of their report:
There was a party at David Ferrie's but the only person Peterson could identify was David Ferrie. I doubt the coroner was there, he was probably thinking of Dr. Esmond Fatter, who was the person who hypnotized people.
None of Perry Russo's friends had ever heard him talk about Clay Bertrand or Clay Shaw.
Peterson was hypnotized. There are no records in the Garrison papers about him being hypnotized.
Not a bad question.
Lefty Peterson was also interviewed by investigators working for Clay Shaw:
Peterson said that he did go to a party at David Ferrie's apartment, but that he only stayed there for a brief period. He did not see Clay Shaw or Lee Harvey Oswald at the party. Note that he did see Ferrie's roommate who had a beard which was consistent with what Perry Russo had said. The big difference is that Peterson did not believe this person was Oswald.
Peterson was interviewed again in May, 1967:
The timing of the party is interesting. If the party was October 4th, then Oswald definitely could not have been there since he had already left New Orleans for Dallas, with a brief interlude in Mexico City. Perry Russo testified that he went to the party after playing basketball at Tulane.
Peterson says that they tried to hypnotize him but that it didn't work.
Peterson just didn't have what it takes to be a Garrison witness.
On June 19, 1967 NBC aired "The JFK Conspiracy: The Case of Jim Garrison," which included an interview with Lefty Peterson: (Peterson starts on PDF p 19, transcript p. 14)
McGee: Did you ever know a man named David Ferrie?
Peterson: Yes I did.
McGee: And how did you meet Ferrie?
Peterson: I met him at Perry's house.
McGee: Did you ever see David Ferrie at any other time?
Peterson: I seen him twice, since then, since then. I seen him once on the Louisiana Parkway. I went to his house with Perry and some other people. About 4 of us stopped in. We stayed about 20/25 minutes then we left.
McGee: All of you left?
Peterson: No. Perry stayed there I think. He didn't leave.
McGee: When was this?
Peterson: September, 1963.
McGee: Describe that occurrence.
Peterson: We was comin' from some kind of sports event - football game I think.
McGee: Do you remember who played?
Peterson: No sir.
McGee: Was that the Tulane game?
Peterson: Yessir, Tulane, yessir.
McGee: You're pretty sure it was a football game though?
McGee: What makes you think it was in September?
Peterson: Well, it was the first game of the season. The first or second game
of the season. One of the two.
Tulane played two home games that year; one on October 4th and one on September 20th. Both dates are problematic for the Russo story in that Oswald was not in New Orleans on October 4th, and Ruth Paine was in New Orleans assisting with moving Marina Oswald to Dallas on the weekend of September 20th.
Investigators for Shaw interviewed Ken Carter in March, 1967 and he did confirm that he went to a football game with the gang:
This would seem to rule out Oswald.
At the trial, Perry Russo would not testify that Peterson was at the party:
Yes, Perry Russo only said that Peterson was at the party because Irvin Dymond forced him to:
Russo could not be definitive on who went to the party:
Lefty Peterson was on a list of potential witnesses for Clay Shaw. There is a question mark next to his name, perhaps they weren't sure if he would testify.
On March 26, 1971 Perry Russo sat down for an interview with William Gurvich and Clay Shaw's attorneys. He said that before the preliminary hearing he was told not to say who was at the party:
And here is an interesting excerpt from the preliminary hearing:
There were ten people who went to the party, but Russo would not say who they were.
Here is what he had to say about Lefty Peterson:
So Sciambra told Russo they would get Peterson a police job if he would just go along with Russo's story. Fortunately, Lefty Peterson was no Perry Russo, and he wasn't up to the task.
How do conspiracy books deal with Lefty Peterson?
Jim Garrison doesn't mention him at all. James DiEugenio, in his book Destiny Betrayed, writes: (page 217)
"Russo said he had known Ferrie fairly well and had attended a gathering at Ferrie's apartment in mid-September of 1963. He revealed that, late in the evening, after most had left, he, Ferrie, two of Ferrie's friends, and several Cuban exiles remained. Russo had brought two friends to Ferrie's that night, Sandra Moffett and Niles Peterson. Both left early, but Peterson later remembered a man named Leon Oswald."
DiEugenio's footnote regarding Peterson refers to Richard Popkin's article, "Garrison's Case," in the New York Review of Books, page 25. Here is the excerpt in question:
DiEugenio totally misquoted Popkin. Popkin only noted that Peterson saw a roommate of Ferrie's who had a beard, as did Russo. But Peterson never identified Lee Harvey Oswald as being that roommate.
Later on in his book, DiEugenio makes the following claim: (page 248)
"Niles Peterson, who was a friend of Russo's and briefly attended the gathering, told William Davy and Peter Vea that there was a Leon Oswald there. This author believes that it was this man -- not Lee Harvey Oswald -- who was at Ferrie's the night of the gathering described by Russo."
The footnote indicates that the interview of Peterson took place in 1994. Yet William Davy's book, Let Justice Be Done, published in 1999, doesn't mention Lefty Peterson at all, except to list him as a person that was interviewed. I don't know what Peterson actually told Davy and Vea, but in 1967 he consistently said that Oswald was not at the party, and he never said anything about a "Leon Oswald."
DiEugenio actually believes that the fake Oswald was at David Ferrie's apartment.
Joan Mellen only mentions Peterson twice, noting that: (page 114)
"For Richard Billings, who continued his own investigation, Russo's friends Ken Carter, Niles Peterson and Ted and Jerry Kirschenstein corroborated that Oswald had been the bearded "roommate" at Ferrie's."
There is no footnote for this claim.
Lefty Peterson is yet another inconvenient witness for conspiracy theorists. Perry Russo claimed that Peterson was at the party for a couple of hours. Peterson says he wasn't. He also didn't see Clay Shaw or Lee Harvey Oswald at the party. And, if he is correct about the date of the party, it occurred when Oswald was either in Dallas or with Marina and Ruth Paine at home.