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  • Writer's pictureFred Litwin

Richard Case Nagell's Fight for a Disability Pension

Updated: Oct 11, 2021

Hat tip: A big thank you to Mark Zaid who sent me a copy of this court decision. For those of you who don't know, Mark Zaid is one incredible lawyer and a hero in many ways.

In 1982, Richard Case Nagell's fight for a full disability pension was answered by the United States Court of Claims. He won his fight and the court ordered the Army to negotiate a settlement with Nagell.

The Army Board of Correction of Military Records had refused to change Nagell's records to show retirement for disability. Nagell also wanted retirement pay from the date of his discharge. The government claimed that his claim was barred by the statute of limitations. Nagell argued that limitations had not run out "because he had been under a 'legal disability' since 1954.

The court had to answer three questions. First, whether Nagell was under a legal disability, by reason of insanity or mental incompetence, on July 10, 1963 (when the Army Board for the Correction of Military Records first denied his application for a neurological examination), and if so, for how long was he under the disability; whether his disability was service-connected; and the nature and extent of his disability.

The Court answered the three questions:

(1) Plaintiff was in 1963 under a legal disability, traumatic encephalopathy chronic, a mental disorder, within the meaning of Section 2501, and has been under the disability continuously since then, and indeed since 1954;
(2) The disability was the result of three head injuries received by the plaintiff while in the service, and primarily the head injury received in the crash of a military airplane in 1954, and was therefore service-connected; and
(3) The extend of the disability is 100 percent.

The court then discusses Nagell's injuries:

  1. Two of plaintiff's three head injuries were wounds in action in Korea in 1952 and 1953. One was a flesh wound, and one was a brain concussion. The third, and by far the most serious, came in an airplane crash on November 28, 1954. Plaintiff, now transferred from a combat zone in Korea to counterintelligence training in the United States, was a passenger in a B-25 bomber enroute from Los Angeles to Washington. The plane attempted a night landing in bad weather at Friendship Airport in Maryland, and crashed. Plaintiff, the only survivor, was undiscovered in the crash for nearly 12 hours.

  2. Plaintiff suffered a concussion of the brain, compound fractures of the cheekbone and jaw, and severe lacerations of the face and scalp. He was taken to the hospital at Bolling Air Force Base, and lay in a coma and then semi-comatose for a month. In January 1955, he was transferred to Walter Reed Army Hospital because of the severity of his head wounds. Recovery at Walter Reed took 6 months.

  3. While hospitalized, plaintiff's behavior became so erratic and uncooperative that he was transferred to a psychiatric ward. An electroencephalogram taken of the plaintiff at the time registered abnormal. While on the ward, plaintiff was examined by Dr. Edwin A. Weinstein of the Neuropsychiatry Division, Walter Reed Army Institute of Research. Dr. Weinstein did not treat plaintiff, but rather studied his case in the course of his research for a study of the behavioral effects of brain injury. Dr. Weinstein's opinion then was that the plaintiff had a severe brain injury, but his finding were not made part of plaintiff's mental clinical record, and his opinion of plaintiff's mental condition was not sought for some years. Description of Dr. Weinstein's opinion and findings in detail are here reserved until the chronological points at which they were given. (PP52-55 of this opinion, infra).

  4. On May 5, 1955, plaintiff was returned to active service by a medical board as fit for duty. The Board found that in addition to his bodily injuries, he had suffered a concussion of the brain, which was cured. The Board made no mention of brain injury, but rather concluded that plaintiff exhibited a passive-aggressive reaction which was unrelated to the crash ("EPTS" -- exhibited prior to entry on service) and so not incurred in line of duty.

The court noted that before the airplane crash Nagell was "a brilliantly successful, albeit sometimes tactless and brusque young officer." In Korea he performed 175 patrols and was described as "fearless and a tower of strength in combat. He held his company together as an efficient fighting force in the face of heavy losses and aggressive assaults by the enemy."

His performance after the crash deteriorated:

8. After the crash, in the words of Dr. Weinstein as a witness at the trial, plaintiff went steadily downhill.

9. Five months before the crash, in July 1954, plaintiff had been transferred from the infantry to military intelligence, for training in the Counter-Intelligence Corps (CIC). After the medical board found his concussion was "cured," and returned him to duty, he completed his training, performed an assignment in California for almost a year, and then from April 1956 to March 1958, was stationed in Korea and Japan for field intelligence and counterintelligence work. This exact nature of the plaintiff's duties appears to be a military secret, but it appears that he worked in both counterintelligence and intelligence field assignments.

10. His performance evaluation began to record his increasing difficulties. In several OER's his superiors expressed the opinion that the accident had affected his personality. Comments, obviously with sympathy for his history, were these: "lacks self-confidence and is excessively sensitive"; "will often mask his true feelings by calling attention to his rank and status"; "somewhat discontent"; "undecided and spontaneous"; "tendency to resent constructive or critical comment regarding his work and becomes agitated"; "rather erratic handling of his personal affairs." More OER comments were: "apt to lose his temper"; "does not know how to get along with people"; "most obnoxious attitude."

11. He began what became a series of confrontations and charges of persecution. In March 1957, while he was still in Korea, an OER rating officer noted that "he is developing a well-defined 'persecution complex' where he thinks some officers make up and report 'stories' to discredit him and other officers are 'too nosey' about his personal affairs." Plaintiff accused the rating officer of prejudice. The investigating officer found no prejudice or bias; plaintiff, he said, made the charges "in a highly agitated state of mind." Plaintiff was given a new assignment.

12, In January 1958, plaintiff received an official reprimand for having entertained a woman at the Bachelor Officer's Quarters. An OER for the six-month period ending January 31, 1958, spoke of the incident as showing a lack of judgment, and also spoke of a persecution complex. Following the reprimand, plaintiff was removed from counterintelligence duties because of the incident and his impending marriage. Plaintiff accused his commanding officer of bias and wrote a letter to the Inspector General and Judge Advocate which an OER thereafter described as "a vindictive and self-admitted effort to bring embarrassment upon this organization and its commanding officer." The endorsing officer said that plaintiff lacked maturity, judgment and common sense, and suffered a persecution complex. Shortly after this incident, plaintiff's commander ordered him to submit to a psychiatric examination.

13 In February 1958, plaintiff spent five days in the neuropsychiatric ward at the U.S. Army hospital in Tokyo. The examining psychiatrist, Dr. Carl L. McGahee, recorded that the patient "emphasized that he had no problem which merited psychiatric attention." Dr. McGahee found plaintiff to be "quite guarded in his projective responses. However, there was no evidence of a thinking disorder of neurotic or psychotic proportions." Dr. McGahee concluded that plaintiff is "so far free from mental defect, disease and derangement," and that there was no medical reason why plaintiff should not be disciplined or separated from the Army. He recommended plaintiff's return to duty on February 18, 1958.

14. An OER for February 1958 contained a flat recommendation that plaintiff be discharged from the Army because of "certain trends of character and conduct brought sharply into focus during recent months." The criticism focused on plaintiff's charges against his seniors following his reprimand; the endorsing officer wrote: "Captain Nagell lacks maturity, judgment and common sense; apparently he has been unable to adjust himself to the requirements expected of a Captain of the United States Army." These charges were also described by another superior officer as "malicious, unfounded, and further indication of his unsuitability as an officer in the United States Army."

Nagell got married and moved back to the United States in July of 1958 when he took command of an infantry basic training company at Fort Dix in New Jersey. For the first three months, his reviews were glowing but within a year he was again exhibiting a loss of temper and an obnoxious attitude. Nagell resigned in August 1958 and was given an honorable discharge on October 29, 1959.

Nagell returned to civilian life and applied to work as a policeman but a board found him medically disqualified. He worked for the California Department of Employment from December 1959 to March 1961. His was discharged from this job because, he claimed he made an "indiscreet statement to the press."

In 1960, Nagell applied to the Veteran's Administration for a disability rating. He described his 1954 injury as a brain concussion. He was seen by a neuropsychiatrist but only told him he had suffered a mild concussion. No evidence of mental deterioration was found and Nagell was given a 64 percent combined wartime disability rating. "He was also found to be disabled as a result of a service-connected brain concussion, but because this condition was determined to be less than 10 percent disabling, no compensation was payable for it."

In May 1960 Nagell wrote to Senator Thomas Kuchel and he "complained of the Army's failure, despite his history of head injury, to given him a neurological examination before his discharge."

"My Pre-Resignation Physical Examination was hurried and incomplete to say the least. As a prime example, even though I received a neurological injury in combat, and another -- very serious -- neurological injury in the aforementioned plane crash, I did not receive examination by a Neurologist."

This was the first admission by Nagell that he suffered neurological damage. It was suggested that he seek review by the Army Board for Correction of Military Records.

Nagell then attempted suicide in 1962:

27. Twice in 1962, plaintiff was a psychiatric patient at VA hospitals. In May, he was admitted to a Los Angeles facility because of homicidal and suicidal tendencies. A psychiatric resident, Dr. Harvey Weintraub, diagnosed "acute anxiety reaction with depressive features in a markedly passive aggressive character, passive dependent type." Plaintiff did not disclose to Dr. Weintraub his history of head injury. Plaintiff was not considered an active suicide or homicide threat and was allowed to discharge himself after three days. He was referred to an outpatient psychiatric clinic.

28. Shortly after he was released, plaintiff shot himself, and was again admitted to hospital. The evidence of this episode is not direct and no scars of the shooting are mentioned in later physical examination in the record. The shooting is mentioned, however, in subsequent medical histories and in a Fifth Circuit opinion, described below, which goes extensively into plaintiff's medical history. In two such medical histories, plaintiff is reported to have said he shot himself, in another that it was an assailant, and in another that he was vague about the shooting incident. In still another, it is said that Nagell suggested that his wife shot him. The contemporaneous preoccupation with suicide points to plaintiff having shot himself; the variation in plaintiff's accounts is consistent with a symptom of his troubles diagnosed below.

Nagell then tried to reenlist in 1962 but he was not accepted. He then entered the VA hospital at Bay Pines, Florida in December 1962. He was treated by Dr. James Martin, Acting Chief of the Psychology Service. His report stated:

IMPRESSION: This appears to be a very interesting case for diagnosis. There are many psychological test signs of inefficiencies of thinking. Substuporous mental states are suspected, and there is retardation of thought. Level of mental functioning is no better than low-average at the present time, although there are many indications of previously superior mental ability. The psychological testing does not, however, resemble that given by individuals who have impairment of brain tissue. To this examiner, the patient's history, behavior, and test performance strongly resembles that seen in epileptic individuals. The possibility remains that this is a beginning of a paranoid break with reality, possibly paranoid schizophrenia, although the patient certainly shows no clinical signs of psychosis at the present time.

CONCLUSIONS: In addition to the reported history of headaches, amnesia, irritability, and confusion, the patient shows on psychological testing many signs of inefficiencies of through, delayed thinking, inability to integrate, and a waxing and waning of alertness, which resembles that seen in epileptoid individuals. It is recommended that neuro-psychiatric studies by undertaken to rule out this condition.

Nagell was then see by Dr. P. C. Clark, the Chief of Psychiatric Service. His report noted that Nagell "is emotionally unstable and continues to be aggressive, critical and paranoid. This type of behavior has been noted since being in the service in 1954 or earlier." His diagnosis:

"Chronic brain syndrome associated with brain trauma, cerebral concussions in 1953 and 1954, with behavioral reaction-passive-aggressive type with paranoid traits."

He was then examined by staff psychiatrist Dr. M. L. Schwartz. His report notes:

"He states that his main trouble is 'headaches which I have had continuously recently.' He also complains of 'dizziness, and at times an uneasy gait.' These symptoms are sometimes associated with a transient loss of memory. During the interview his retention and recall were good. Sensorium was intact. When I asked him what he thought was wrong he said 'I think my trouble is physiologic.' When I asked him what he meant by physiologic he stated 'My trouble is all due to my head injury.'"

The hospital wanted him to stay in for further observation, but Nagell refused and was discharged on January 25, 1963.

On January 2, 1963, while still in the hospital, Nagell wrote a letter to President Kennedy:

"In 1954 I was the sole survivor of a B-25 bomber crash in which I sustained a serious head injury. Since then I have never been the same -- mentally or physically -- although the Army returned me to a general duty status. I was aware of my condition but pride made me try to 'hang on.' Eventually, many of my superiors and co-workers could see that there was something wrong. I know my subsequent military efficiency reports and other records, some of which are buried under the wraps of security classifications, substantiate this. My condition became worse as the years went by."

Nagell complained the examination he had at the time of his resignation was "incomplete to say the least."

On February 3, 1963 Nagell applied to the Army Board for the Correction of Military Records (ABCMR) for a "complete and adequate physical examination by the Army to include a neurological examination and if applicable to receive a disability retirement from the Army."

Nagell's application was denied on July 10, 1963. The court noted a few troubling aspects of their decision in that they got the dates of Nagell's examinations wrong leading the court to lose confidence in their thoroughness. "From all that appears, the decision of the Board was reached with no more than a hasty review of the record for negative purposes."

The court decision then discusses the shooting affair at the bank in El Paso, Texas, and notes the reason:

"His reason for the entry into the bank and the shooting, plaintiff told a psychiatrist three years later, was that he had tried to get into a VA Hospital and they had refused him and that he had entered the bank and attempted this holdup in order to force the VA to take him."

Shortly after his arrest, Nagell was committed to the Medical Center for Federal Prisoners at Springfield, Missouri. He was examined there by three doctors who agreed with the diagnosis of "mental illness, undetermined, in a man who is utilizing passive aggressive tactics." However, they said he did "possess the capacity for rationality" and supported an adjudication of competence.

Nagell stood trial and was convicted on May 6, 1964. He was sentenced to 10 years. The court noted:

"Throughout the trial, plaintiff vociferously denied that he had any mental disease or incapacity. He repeatedly said he would not accept insanity as a defense, and would not cooperate with his counsel in asserting such a defense. He denied that he had ever been treated by a psychiatrist. During the trial, according to the Fifth Circuit's first opinion, "[plaintiff] would interrupt witnesses on the stand, calling them liars, and would jump up and shout that he was not insane.""

An FBI agent told Nagell's counsel about the involvement of Dr. Edwin Weinstein. He then made a motion for a new trial and Nagell was examined in the El Paso jail by Dr. Weinstein.

The appeals court described Weinstein's testimony:

"He had given the Nagell case intensive study. He had attempted to keep in touch with Nagell, after this release from Walter Reed, but could obtain no reply to his inquiries. He said Nagell had apparently suffered a fracture through the base of his brain, which injured the underside of the brain, and not only damaged the brain but some of the cranial nerves coming off the brain. He described Nagell's 'rather long, stormy, and tragic course' in the hospital. He had a fracture through the orbit and a broken jaw. There was extensive laceration and scarring of the face. He attacked the corpsmen who had charge of him at the hospital. There was behavior interpreted as a suicidal gesture, resulting in his being locked in a psychiatric ward as a precaution against suicide. He was hospitalized from November 1954, until May, 1955. The doctor did not see him from April 28, 1955 until he interviewed him on June 5, 1964. He got a letter from Nagell dated January 10, 1963, while he was at Bay Pines hospital. He received another letter two weeks later. These were fully set forth in the evidence. Dr. Weinstein had examined the records from Bay Pines. He testified that unless a psychiatrist had an accurate history of what had happened to Nagell in the past, including the brain damage history, he would be very much at sea and confused by the manifestations in his case. He said that one aspect of Nagell's illness, particularly complicating it, had been his denial of illness, and his attempt to conceal information. It was Dr. Weinstein's opinion that Nagell could not completely and accurately differentiate between right and wrong. In response to a hypothetical question, detailing what took place at the alleged robbery, and considering the entire history of Nagell's case, he said, 'I would say that this was a symptom or a manifestation of disturbed brain function and during the period his judgment and perception of reality was seriously disturbed so that he could not accurately differentiate right from wrong', that, in his opinion, Nagell was disassociated with reality at the time of the incident. He gave it as his opinion that the act at the bank on September 20, 1963, was directly related to Nagell's mental illness, that the act was an alternative to suicide. He said the brain damage sustained by Nagell did not affect the ordinary components of intelligence and that he did have sufficient intelligence to know the nature of the charges against him, but that he would hesitate to say that he was reasonably able to factually confer with his attorneys or to raise a defense."

Following Dr. Weinstein's testimony, psychiatrists who testified for the government at Nagell's trial now reversed themselves:

"One said that there was no better than Dr. Weinstein in the country and that after consulting with him and further interviews with Nagell, he would now change his testimony and give his opinion that Nagell could not distinguish between right or wrong on the day of the shooting. The government's psychiatric witness at the trial testified that he had known of Nagell's brain injury."

Dr. Joseph Hornisher said that Nagell was suffering from Anton's disease, "which would cause him to deny mental illness and to do anything he could to mislead others with reference to it. He agreed with Dr. Weinstein's diagnosis of organic brain illness."

Despite all of this, Nagell's motion for a new trial was dismissed and he was again sentenced to 10 years in prison. Nagell then attempted suicide by taking an overdose of "prescribed drugs which he had secretly hoarded." Nagell was then discharged from the prison hospital on July 16, 1964, and returned to the penitentiary at Fort Leavenworth in Kansas.

Between November 11 and December 22, 1964, Nagell was a patient at the prison hospital's psychiatric ward. The diagnosis was "character disorder, sociopathic personality, with emotional instability, malingering, refusal to talk or cooperate."

In January 1966, the Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit reversed the trail court's denial of a new trial. On return of the case to the district court, they ordered Nagell recommitted to the Springfield Medical Center for another competency examination.

Nagell was seen by clinical psychologist Dr. Robert Murney. He reported that Nagell "told him that the bank incident had been an attempt to gain help after having been turned away on several occasions by VA hospitals." His diagnosis:

"In my opinion, this patient has both neurotic and characterological problems which I would infer at times to have reached psychotic proportions. Specifically, he shows an hysterical component in his personality which tends toward conversion symptoms and psychosomatic reactions but more basically his personality structure is characterized by emotional detachment and withdrawal, guardedness, suspiciousness, and distrust as well as tendencies towards projection. When we view these findings within the context of the patient's behavior over the last four years and particularly in view of his adamant refusal to cooperate on prior occasions, there is strong reason to believe that the underlying paranoid elements may reach delusional proportions under an intense and prolonged emotional stress."

Nagell was also examined by Dr. Joseph Alderete who was the Chief of Psychiatric Services at the Center. Alderete found Nagell to be "of better than average intelligence, and to be oriented in time, person and place." But also found him "not mentally competent at the time of the alleged crime."

Dr. Alderete could not confirm or deny that Nagell had suffered a brain injury. His diagnosis was "paranoid personality associated with features of a paranoid state, presently in remission." He summarized his conclusions:

"In resume, then, the psychiatric symptomatology began some time in 1959 with symptomatology suggestive of paranoid personality and proceeded under ever increasing stress to a paranoid state at the time of the alleged crime, and persisted until recently with a slow remission to his present paranoid personality. A paranoid personality is not a psychotic state; it falls under the general category of personality pattern disturbance. The depth of the psychopathology of a personality pattern disturbance allows these individuals little room to maneuver under conditions of stress except into actual psychosis. It is the opinion of the psychiatric examiner, in closing, that this is exactly what took place, namely that Nagell, a lifelong paranoid personality under slowly building conditions of stress, went into an actual psychosis (paranoid state) and subsequently went into remission, and is now again a paranoid personality."

Both Weinstein and Alderete testified at Nagell's retrial in September 1966. Weinstein testified that Nagell was suffering from "traumatic encephalopathy," a mental disease caused by an injury or trauma, incurred in the airplane crash. Nagell had a damaged brain:

"here is a man who was a highly successful person as a soldier up to the time of a brain injury. He has gone successively downhill ever since, and I think the brain injury is the major cause of the decline."

Among the consequences of Nagell's illness are "impaired judgment, confabulations -- 'fictitious story' or 'delusional formation' with no awareness of falsity -- and anosognosia, or Anton's disease."

The court elaborated on confabulation:

"Confabulations or "fictitious story" is "a symptom of certain forms of mental disorders consisting in making ready answers and reciting experiences without regard to truth." Dorland's Illustrated Medical Dictionary, 333 (24 ed. 1965). Another definition: "The relation of imaginary experiences to fill in gaps in memory." Taber's Cyclopedic Medical Dictionary, c-79 (11th ed. 1970). See also, R. Campbell, Psychiatric Dictionary, 126 (5th ed. 1981) ("The term implies also lack of insight, in the sense that the subject fully believes his answers to be correct. Confabulation is found in organic brain disease in which intellectual impairment is a prominent feature.")"

Dr. Weinstein gave three illustration of stories that Nagell made up:

"One was that he had received a telegram telling him that his two children had been killed, another that he had been blackjacked and robbed in New York, and a third that he had been born in Montana. Each had a psychological explanation: The first expressed how much he missed his children; the second his worry about his brain and his poor judgment in controlling himself; and his third his unhappy childhood."

Dr. Weinstein noted:

"Due to altered brain function you might say his brain was working in a way comparable to someone who might dream something ... When a person uses this method of trying to compensate for problems and dealing with it means to me that his brain function is pretty impaired."

Despite the expert testimony, Nagell was again convicted of robbery and in September 1966 sentenced to 10 years in prison. He went back to the federal penitentiary at Fort Leavenworth.

On February 2, 1967, Nagell was again transferred to the Medical Center at Springfield for evaluation. Dr. Alderete's diagnosis was "paranoid personality in remission [with] mild schizoid features." Nagell was observed for eight weeks and then returned.

Nagell's second conviction was overturned by the Court of Appeals on April 3, 1968. The court found that "reasonable doubt must have existed in the minds of reasonable jurors on that issue [Nagell's insanity], and that the trial court, in light of the strong evidence of Nagell's insanity, erred in not instructing the jury in terms of the specific intent required for attempted armed robbery."

In early 1968, Nagell made a trip to Europe. He appeared at the U.S. consulate in Zurich and said that he was on a CIA mission. They described Nagell as "quite incoherent. In fact, appears psychotic, possibly dangerous."

The court noted Nagell's stories on the JFK assassination:

"Stories told by plaintiff, both related to this trip and earlier matters, involve work for and persecution by the CIA. For instance, he has told of dealings with Lee Harvey Oswald prior to the Kennedy assassination, as part of what he said was an undercover CIA assignment, and that he staged the bank incident in 1963 to reach the safety of federal custody because he feared a CIA assassination. These are here treated as likely confabulations, i.e., continuing symptoms and manifestations of his brain injury."

On December 12, 1968, Nagell was given a neuropsychiatric examination by Dr. Benjamin Kagwa of the VA, in connection with his disability claim. Nagell had complained of headaches, dizziness and loss of memory. The clinical record notes him to be "irritable, hostile and almost combative." He was both "somewhat raving literally" and capable of coherent and relevant speech.

Nagell disclosed little about prior hospitalizations and diagnoses. The new diagnosis:

"Chronic Brain Syndrome, associated with brain trauma, with behavior reaction characterized by passive-aggressive and paranoid features. Incapacity marked. Competent."

On January 9, 1968 Nagell was rated 100 percent disabled as a result of chronic brain syndrome.

In January 1969, Nagell was admitted to a VA hospital in Brooklyn, NY with a complaint of severe headaches. Dr. Iris Norstrand, a staff neurologist, made this diagnosis:

  1. Psychophysiologic central nervous system Disturbance, manifested by Headaches.

  2. Paranoid Personality.

  3. Encephalopathy due to Remote Trauma.

In May 1969, Nagell again applied to the ABCMR for correction of his record and disability retirement. He was turned down. In May 1970, Nagell tried again without success.

On August 17, 1971 Nagell was granted legal custody of his two children. There was only a written application to a judge. "Plaintiff's testimony is that there was no court proceedings and no written application made by him. He intimates that the CIA can explain why the judge gave him custody under such circumstance." [see below for more information on this]

Nagell was seen at the VA Outpatient Clinic in Long Beach, California on March 22, 1972 by a staff psychiatrist, Dr. R. E. Cohenour. He did not disclose his previous diagnoses. He told the doctor about his imprisonment and release in East Germany "while working for the CIA" and that his case had been mismanaged by the government. The diagnosis:

"Psychosis organic brain syndrome, brain trauma. Veteran is competent."

Nagell files his lawsuit to gain full disability on January 2, 1973. The ABCMR said it would reconsider his case if he made a written request, supported by Dr. Weinstein's opinion. Nagell wrote Weinstein who replied on March 20, 1973:

"In response to your letters of March 7 and March 12, I can state that at the time I saw you at Walter Reed you had sustained a brain injury. As to your condition in October 1959, I have no first hand information and could not state definitively whether or not you were disabled, in the sense of being unfit for military service at the time. However, in light of subsequent events, I would be willing to write a letter to the Justice Department for you."

Dr. Weinstein wrote a letter. dated July 23, 1973, to the Board:

"Mr. Richard C. Nagell has asked me to send you a statement of my opinion of his medical condition in October 1959. As I did not see Mr. Nagell between April 28, 1955 and June 7, 1964, I can only state my general impression of his medical condition in 1959.
My initial encounter with Mr. Nagell was in the course of a research study on the effects of behavior of head injuries. My later examination of him from 1964 was in response to a subpoena from the United States District Court in El Paso. Mr. Nagell is the sole survivor of a plane crash that killed a score or so of people on the night of November 28, 1954. He was brought to the hospital in shock and coma and a tracheotomy was performed. In addition to the putative brain injury, he had fractures of the faciomaxillary bone and numerous lacerations. He went through a delirious stage in which he was restless and violent, evidently imagining he was in battle. He was admitted to Walter Reed on January 3, 1955 and was noted as disoriented for place. He continued to be restless, afraid to sleep and was transferred to a psychiatric ward after threatening to commit suicide. His behavior improved and he was transferred back to an officer's ward in mid April. Following an operation for an anal fissure, he was confused, demanding, and uncooperative for a few days. Though he still had some memory impairment, the patient was insistent on returning to duty. He is said to have destroyed the record of his N.P. examination and he later denied to the CIC [Counter-Intelligence Corps] that he had ever had a neuropsychiatric examination.
After Mr. Nagell's release from hospital, he was assigned to CIC school where he had problems with his memory. He then went to Japan where in contrast to his good efficiency ratings he received lower grades. In Japan he was sent to Tokyo Army Hospital in 1958 for psychiatric study because of antagonistic, disrespectful and impetuous behavior. He has also made several suicidal gestures, shooting himself in the chest in 1962 and trying to cut his wrists after his arrest in El Paso in 1963. There have also been periods of confabulation and amnesia.
As I have testified in several court appearances, personality and behavioral changes are common sequelae of brain injuries such as were sustained by Mr. Nagell. These include lapses in memory, denial of illness, outbursts of temper and violence and anti-social behavior. Any medical evaluation of Mr. Nagell made in 1959 should have considered his severe brain injury as a causal factor in his behavior. After his injury he was in my opinion unfit to be an Army officer."

On April 3, 1974 the Board found that Nagell was again fit for general military service beginning in May 1955 and "that his medical records and efficiency reports between 1955 and 1959 gave no basis for a determination that he was unfit for further service on October 30, 1959, when he resigned. The Board said his mental health declined after he left the Army. They concluded that "neither error nor injustice appeared in the failure to retire plaintiff in 1959 by reason of disability."


The above is a summary of the events up until the trial and decision of the court for Nagell in his fight for a full disability pension. There are a lot more details of his various psychiatric examinations in the full court case.


Nagell and his children

It sounded bizarre that Nagell won custody of his children. Here is what Russell says about that: (page 669 in the first edition)

" was the spring of 1970 in Berlin when he was finally somehow informed of the whereabouts of his two children. If they had previously been in Europe, by this time they had returned to Los Angeles. A June 19, 1970 letter from L.A.'s director of the Department of Public Social Services let Nagell know that the case record had been reviewed and the staff "will proceed without delay to contact Mrs. Nagell and develop a plan to provide you the opportunity to visit [his son] Robert. I specify Robert is under our supervision and his sister is not. We are further prepared to return to Juvenile Court if Mrs. Nagell does not cooperate with us."

Reunited with his children late that month, Nagell would take legal custody of Robert and Teri Nagell on August 17, 1971. I know that his ex-wife, Mitsuko, had since remarried, but I was unable to find her. Trying to find out more about this most bizarre of circumstances surrounding Richard Case Nagell, through a university alumni office I was able to locate Robert Lamont Nagell by phone in February 1992. Now thirty-two and working as a veterinarian in California, he said:

"I saw my father for the first time in 1970. And I lived with him for a number of years, until eventually he decide he was not into parenting. He was a very secretive man. Do you know I don't even know where he was born? Or his mother's maiden name? He was never willing to have a photo of himself taken with his family."

"I haven't spoken to my father in eleven years. The last talk we had was amicable enough, it closed a chapter and I've never really looked back. If I had a relationship with him, it might be worthwhile for you to talk to me. But our family is completely split up. Nobody talks to anybody, except me and my mother. I don't really want to delve into my past. I would be interested in what really went on myself, but my mother will not even talk to me about it. My father always told me that someday the truth would be known."

Richard Case Nagell Blog Posts

The Importance of Richard Case Nagell to Some Conspiracy Theorists

Jim Garrison and a few conspiracy theorists think Nagell is a very important witness. But is he really?

Genesis of the Richard Case Nagell story

David Kroman met Richard Case Nagell at the Springfield Medical Center for Federal Prisoners. Stephen Jaffe, a Garrison volunteer, wrote a memo, relating Nagell's story through the eyes and ears of David Kroman.

Nagell was convicted of armed robbery and was sentenced to ten years, but his conviction was overturned because of startling new evidence.

Richard Case Nagell and the JFK Assassination

There is no credible evidence that Nagell had any foreknowledge of either Lee Harvey Oswald or the JFK assassination.

Nagell claims he met Oswald in Japan, Texas, Mexico City, and New Orleans. There is no credible evidence that he ever met Oswald.

Nagell went to Cuba and met with Fidel Castro and even played ping-pong with the man.

Insane Conspiracy Theories about Richard Case Nagell

Richard Case Nagell said that he knew the two Oswalds - Lee Harvey and Leon. Some conspiracy theorists believe this madness.

Combine one part crazy and one part ridiculous and what do you come up with? An early attempt at a unified conspiracy theory of the JFK assassination.

Two Smoking Guns of the Richard Case Nagell Story

Nagell sent conspiracy theorist Dick Russell one page of a military intelligence file which seemed to indicate that he was monitoring Oswald and his wife on behalf of the CIA. But does the whole document really show that?

Did Richard Case Nagell had an Oswald Military ID in his possession when he was arrested in September 1963?

Richard Case Nagell and Jim Garrison

Richard Case Nagell believes that he wasn't called to testify at Clay Shaw's trial because his testimony would have blown up Jim Garrison's case.

At a conference in September 1968, Garrison and his investigators discuss his face-to-face meeting with Nagell in New York City.

William Martin, an Assistant District Attorney working for Jim Garrison, tried to retrieve a tape that Nagell said contained the voices of three JFK assassination conspirators.

Richard Popkin, author of "The Second Oswald," writes Jim Garrison about Richard Case Nagell. Garrison staffer Tom Bethell thought the Nagell lead was useless.

Richard Case Nagell's Mental Health

Nagell won a full disability pension in 1982 and the 60+ page court case provides complete details on his mental problems.

Richard Case Nagell told a psychiatrist why he shot up the bank in El Paso in 1963.

The FBI spoke to Nagell's ex-wife, his mother, his sister, and one of his friends. They all agreed that Nagell had significant mental health problems.

Nagell visited the American consulates in Zurich and Barcelona in 1969. He was a deeply disturbed man.

Richard Case Nagell's Evidence

None of the so-called evidence that Nagell promised would materialize on his death has shown up. Did this evidence ever exist?


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