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  • Writer's pictureFred Litwin

The Witnesses from Clinton and Jackson, Louisiana

Clinton is 109 miles northwest of New Orleans, and Jackson is 13 miles further west. Google Maps shows that it would take 1 hour and 46 minutes to drive there from New Orleans, but in 1963 it would have taken much longer.

At the beginning of the Clay Shaw trial in February 1969, several witnesses from Clinton and Jackson, Louisiana were called to testify. Their stories of seeing Clay Shaw with David Ferrie and Lee Harvey Oswald in the summer of 1963 shocked the trial -- these were new stories that had not been told before.

Over the next few weeks, I will be publishing several articles on the Clinton witnesses. I will try to put their stories in the context of the times, and I have some new information that will shed light on Garrison's investigation.

Let's start at the beginning. Who were these witnesses and what did they tell the jury in February 1969? Here is a summary of their testimony in the Clay Shaw trial.

Baton Rouge Morning Advocate, February 7, 1969

On February 6, 1969, the prosecution called its first witness, Lee McGehee, a barber from Jackson, Louisiana. He told the court that one evening in the last part of August or the first part of September 1963 a car drove up and Lee Harvey Oswald came into his barbershop. There was a woman in the car along with a bassinet.

McGehee gave a 15-minute haircut to Oswald. He referred Oswald to Reeves Morgan, the State Representative of the area, about getting a job at the East Louisiana State Hospital (ELSH), which was located in Jackson. McGehee gave Oswald directions to go to Morgan's house. He also told Oswald that if he wanted a job at the hospital, it would help if he was a registered voter.

Baton Rouge Morning Advocate, February 7, 1969

Reeves Morgan told the court that he had been a state representative from 1952 - 1956 and from 1960 - 1964. He said that one evening Lee Harvey Oswald came to his house, introduced himself, and they spoke for about 20 - 25 minutes. Morgan told Oswald he could not help him before helping his own constituents, but that it wouldn't hurt if he was a registered voter.

Baton Rouge Morning Advocate, February 7, 1969

John Manchester was the town marshal of Clinton, Louisiana. He told the court that in the summer of 1963, the Congress of Racial Equality (CORE) was sponsoring a voter registration drive. His job was to "maintain law and order and to try to keep out the outside agitation that was attempting to infiltrate."

Manchester said that a lot of outsiders were coming into Clinton, and that the FBI was there to observe. He said he was assigned to the immediate vicinity of the voter registration office on St. Helena Street, which was the main street in Clinton. He noticed a 1961 or 1962 Cadillac fifty feet from the office. Manchester walked over and talked to the man behind the wheel for about two minutes. He identified himself as a representative of the International Trade Mart in New Orleans. There was another man in the front seat. Manchester identified Clay Shaw as the driver of the car.

He then went over to talk to Henry Earl Palmer, the registrar of voters in Clinton. Manchester told him that he didn't have anything to worry about and that the men were from the Trade Mart and had nothing to do with the voting drive.

Baton Rouge Morning Advocate, February 7, 1969

Henry Earl Palmer was the registrar of voters for Feliciana County, Louisiana. At 10:30 AM on the day in question, Palmer took a coffee break and noticed two conspicuous white people in line who were dressed similar to CORE workers. He started to cross the street to get some coffee and he noticed a black Cadillac twenty feet from the door with two men in the front seat.

Palmer noticed Corrie Collins, a CORE worker, standing near the Cadillac. He told a law officer, unidentified, to run a "1028" -- to get an identification of the vehicle registration. He was shown a picture of David Ferrie, and Palmer said the hair and eyebrows were similar to the person in the passenger seat. He identified Clay Shaw as the man behind the wheel. He saw the car about six times during the day parked in the same spot.

After his 3:30 PM coffee break, the two white men in line came in to register. The first man, Estes Morgan, didn't have enough identification to vote. The other man, whom he identified as Lee Harvey Oswald, showed Palmer a U.S. Navy I.D. card. Oswald wanted a job at the hospital but could not give him proof of living in Feliciana County long enough to register. Palmer told him that he did not have to be a registered voter to get a job at the hospital.

Baton Rouge Morning Advocate, February 7, 1969

Corrie Collins was Chairman of the Clinton chapter of CORE in 1963. He told the court he was in the neighborhood of the registrar's office and saw a black Cadillac drive up with three men inside, and park right outside the office. This was between 9:30 AM and 10:00 A.M.

Collins said that one man, whom he identified as Lee Harvey Oswald, got out of the rear seat of the car. Collins saw John Manchester walk up to the car and talk to the occupants. Collins' first thought was that this was an FBI car.

Collins then identified Clay Shaw as the man behind the wheel and David Ferrie as the man in the passenger seat.

Baton Rouge State Times Advocate, February 8, 1969

William Dunn, Sr. testified on February 7, 1969, that he was also involved with CORE in Clinton. He also saw a black Cadillac in Clinton which he believed to be manned by FBI agents. Dunn saw one man behind the steering wheel whom he identified as Clay Shaw. He also noticed one "white boy" in the registration line whom he identified as Lee Harvey Oswald. Dunn was not sure if there was a man in the passenger seat.

Bobbie Dedon on the left, Maxine Kemp on the right.

Bobbie Dedon worked at the East Louisiana State Hospital in 1963. She told the court that in the early part of September, Lee Harvey Oswald asked her for directions so he could submit an application for employment. Dedon talked to Oswald for about two minutes and told him to go around the building to the front.

Maxine Kemp was a secretary in the personnel office of the East Louisiana State Hospital in 1964. She testified that, in September of 1964, she came across an employment application from a "Harvey Oswald." She said she looked at the file and put it back. She has not been able to find the application since.


The scenario described by the witnesses implies that Lee Harvey Oswald was in Clinton/Jackson for three days and two nights:

  • Evening 1: Oswald goes to Jackson for a haircut. Barber sends him to the house of Reeves Morgan. Oswald goes there and visits with Morgan.

  • Next day: Oswald drives to Clinton with Shaw and Ferrie and stands in line most of the day to register to vote.

  • Next day: Oswald goes to the East Louisiana State Hospital in the late morning to apply for a job.

The whole scenario doesn't really make much sense.

Sylvia Meagher was not impressed at all with these witnesses. She wrote a review of the Shaw trial and noted:

But the identification by the Clinton witnesses, some five years after the event, of strangers seen on one occasion under circumstances in no way remarkable, could have no inherent plausibility.

Over the next couple of weeks, I will be posting many articles on the Clinton/Jackson witnesses. I'll be examining the reasons why they didn't come forward in 1963 -1964; the origins of their stories; the background of East Feliciana Parish and the politics of 1963; and the many inconsistencies in their stories.

I want to acknowledge some of the people who provided important research on Clinton/Jackson: Patricia Lambert, David Reitzes, Larry Haapanen, Paul Hoch (who has also provided a lot of links and has edited this series) and Jerry Shinley. I have relied upon a lot of their prior research -- I am standing on the shoulders of giants.

Next post: Clay Shaw and his boss, Lloyd Cobb, respond to these allegations.

Previous Relevant Blog Posts on Clinton

Three case studies on how Garrison was less than inquisitive, including the possible check of the Cadillac in Clinton.

Why didn't Garrison check out whether the Trade Mart in New Orleans had leased a Cadillac?

An interview with Weisberg in which he discusses the Clinton witnesses.

Two of the Clinton witnesses claimed they were intimidated. But were they really?

Some background material on Clinton.

William Dunn initially said that Thomas Beckham was with Shaw and Oswald.

Andrew Dunn said Jack Ruby was in Clinton.

None of Garrison's witnesses, including the witnesses from Clinton/Jackson, came forward in 1963 -1964.


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