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  • Writer's pictureFred Litwin

Perry Russo Talks - in Baton Rouge, Part Five

Baton Rouge State Times Advocate, February 24, 1967

Our blog post yesterday discussed a memo that Garrison staffer Tom Bethell sent to Sylvia Meagher.

Dick Billings confirmed to Bethell that Andrew Sciambra said nothing about an assassination party when he reported to Garrison after coming back from Baton Rouge. After the preliminary hearing in March 1967, writer James Phelan visited Russo in Baton Rouge and asked him about his first interview with Sciambra.

Matt Herron, photographer for the Black Star agency in NY, worked with Jim Phelan on the Saturday Evening Post article about the New Orleans investigation. I knew Matt quite well before working on this case and saw him this afternoon at his home, 315 Pine St. There were quite a few people present. He told me that he was favorably disposed towards the investigation, and wants to see it succeed. He thinks there was a conspiracy and is a friend of and thinks along the same lines as Vincent Salandria.

He volunteered the following information regarding Jim Phelan and Perry Russo. Phelan interviewed Perry Russo in Baton Rouge after the Preliminary Hearing. Also present at this meeting was Russo's room-mate and Matt Herron.

Phelan asked Russo twice during this interview if it was true that he, Russo, had not mentioned a meeting between Shaw, Ferrie and Oswald until he came to New Orleans. According to Matt Herron, Russo agreed that he did not mention such a meeting until his arrival in N.O. Herron seemed to remember Russo saying something like "I guess not" in response to Phelan saying was it not true that the meeting didn't come up until he was questioned in New Orleans. Matt Herron also said to me, "I think you've got the wrong man, Tom." He was referring to Clay Shaw, and the group of people with him seemed to be unanimous in believing that Shaw was innocent.

After the judges ruled that Shaw should stand trial, I called Garrison. "Something bothers me," I said. I told him there wasn't a thing in Sciambra's first report about a party, a plot or a "Bertrand." Garrison seemed surprised; apparently he had never read the report. "I'll get Moo out here and have him explain it," he said.

There were four of us in Garrison's study when I questioned Sciambra -- Garrison, Sciambra, a private investigator named William Gurvich, who is assisting Garrison on his probe, and myself. I asked Sciambra why his report on his first interview with Russo said nothing about an assassination plot. Sciambra said I didn't know what I was talking about. I told him I had read his report carefully and knew exactly what was in it. "Maybe," he said, shifting his story, "I forgot to put it in."

"But you reported specifically that Russo said he had seen Shaw only twice, not three times," I persisted. Sciambra said he had been "awfully busy with a half dozen other things and had to sandwich in the report and might have forgotten" to include everything. I said it seemed incredible that he would uncover testimony that might solve the crime of the century and then forget to report it.

"You made notes when you first talked to Russo," I said. "Your original notes would show whether he mentioned an assassination plot." Sciambra said he had burned his notes.

Andrew Sciambra claimed he burned his notes! How propitious.

Sciambra confirmed this at the Clay Shaw trial. Here is an excerpt from his testimony from February 12, 1969:

By the way, Garrison claim about the secret message about Oswald from the CIA is wrong. Here is a paragraph from a letter that Sylvia Meagher sent to M.S. Arnoni, the publisher of The Minority of One:

Andrew Sciambra had no choice but to claim that he burned his notes. He knew that they would show that Russo had not mentioned an assassination party. That memory would come later - and only after being hypnotized three times and also interviewed while under the influence of sodium pentothal.

Previous Relevant Blog Posts

Russo went to the press before he was interviewed by Sciambra.

James Phelan wrote a memo about the contradictions in Perry Russo's story.

An interview with Perry Russo from 1971.

Tom Bethell sends a memo to Sylvia Meagher about Dick Billings and Andrew Sciambra.


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