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  • Writer's pictureFred Litwin

Was David Ferrie in Clinton?

Mug shot used by Garrison investigators in Clinton, Louisiana

The House Select Committee on Assassinations (HSCA) partially believed the Clinton witnesses. They felt that David Ferrie was in Clinton with Oswald, but they weren't sure about Shaw:

As noted, the committee believed the Clinton witnesses to be telling the truth as they knew it. It was, therefore, inclined to believe that Oswald was in Clinton, La., in late August, early September 1963, and that he was in the company of David Ferrie, if not Clay Shaw.

But was David Ferrie there?

Ferrie was not seen by barber Lee McGehee in Jackson, and Ferrie was not seen at the East Louisiana State Hospital. The only place that Ferrie was seen was at the voter registration drive in Clinton.

Only four witnesses to the voter registration drive testified at the Clay Shaw trial:

Mr. Sciambra: Did you notice any individuals in the car?

Mr. Palmer: Yes, I did. I saw two in the front seat.

Mr. Sciambra: Can you describe the individual on the passenger side?

Mr. Palmer: Well, the man on the passenger side, all I can tell you about him, he appeared -- his eyebrows were heavy and his hair needed combing. He had messed-up hair, I noticed that. That is all I could see of him.

Mr. Sciambra: I would like to have this marked "S-3," for purpose of identification. (Whereupon, the document referred to by Counsel was duly marked for identification as "Exhibit S-3.")

Mr. Sciambra: (Exhibiting photograph to witness) I show you what the State has marked "S-3" for purposes of identification, and I ask you if you recognize the individual in this picture?

Mr. Palmer: I can't recognize the individual, but the hair and eyebrows are similar.

Mr. Sciambra: In other words, you would say the hair and the eyebrows are similar?

Mr. Palmer: Yes, sir.

Mr. Sciambra: Do you know who this person is?

Mr. Palmer: From the picture I know, now.

Mr. Sciambra: What is it?

Mr. Palmer: That is Mr. Ferrie.

This is not exactly a firm identification.

During his first interview with Anne Dischler on May 25, 1967, Palmer was unable to identify David Ferrie:

The note reads:

Mr. Palmer was shown pictures of Clay Shaw and David Ferrie on May 25, 1967. He positively identified Clay Shaw as the driver of this Cadillac before mentioned. He was unable to identify Ferrie as the passenger with Shaw.

Here is a paragraph from a May 29, 1967 interview with Palmer:

Palmer said only that the picture of Ferrie "looked like the type of eyebrows that the man in the car had." Identification by eyebrows? Notice that Palmer couldn't positively identify Shaw as the driver of the car.

John Manchester also had trouble identifying David Ferrie. Here is an excerpt from an Anne Dischler's note from May 25, 1967:

The note reads: "Manchester was unable to positively identify either photograph shown him. He does state that he seems to remember going to this car and questioning the occupants (this was regular routine because of Civil Rts. demonstrations at that time -- however two white people in a line of negroes did attract attention as unusual.) Photographs of Shaw and Ferrie do look highly familiar to Manchester."

Mr. Sciambra: Can you describe the individual on the passenger side?

Mr. Manchester: No, sir, I can't, Mister, I didn't talk to him.

Somehow, Manchester's story changed during his HSCA deposition:

Mr. Blackmer: During the course of the trial, were you able to identify the other occupant of the automobile?

Mr. Manchester: Yes, sir. I recognized David Ferrie, the other man in the car with Clay Shaw. I don't know if I identified him at the trial or not. I don't remember. I don't remember if I identified a picture of him at the trial. Of course, I understand that Ferrie was deceased at the time of the trial.

William Dunn did not identify Ferrie at the Clay Shaw trial. Here is an early interview with Dunn:

Dunn picks out Clay Shaw but says he was seated in the rear. The only other passenger he identifies is Thomas Beckham. He also says that three or four white males were sitting in the car.

At the Clay Shaw trial, Dunn identified Shaw as the driver of the car, and thought there might have been one other person in the car whom he could not identify.

Corrie Collins identified David Ferrie as the man in the passenger seat in the car at the Clay Shaw trial. However, he was far less sure in an earlier statement from January 1968:

A future post will examine Corrie Collins and his ever-changing testimony.

As you can see, the identification of David Ferrie was not very strong at all.

Here is how Jim Garrison described the identification of David Ferrie in his book On the Trail of the Assassins: (page 137 in the Kindle edition)

A number of the Clinton citizens interviewed found the scene unforgettable because most of the time Oswald was the only white man standing in a long line of blacks. Just as memorable were the two older men who were with Oswald. All of the witnesses described one of the two as wearing a crazy-looking wig and painted eyebrows. There was no doubt that this was David Ferrie.

Garrison is just plain wrong. Not one witness mentioned a wig, and just a couple mentioned Ferrie's hair. And painted eyebrows? Palmer said the man had "heavy eyebrows."

Stephen Roy, writing as David Blackburst, was the leading expert on David Ferrie. Here is an excerpt of a post of his on a JFK bulletin board about whether David Ferrie was in Clinton (You can see his whole post below)

6) The Ferrie Identification Factor: Ferrie was the least positive of the IDs. It is said that his appearance was unmistakable. His 1961-2 police photos, showing him at his worst, are striking, but other early 60s photos show him looking very normal.

The witness identification of David Ferrie being in Clinton is extremely weak. And there is no physical evidence he was there - no friend of his mentioned Clinton, and searches of his apartment and his papers yielded no maps of the area, hotel receipts, etc.

In a previous post, I looked at the reasons why the Clinton/Jackson people did not come forward in 1963 - 1964. At Clay Shaw's trial, this question baffled them and none had a good answer. The fact they didn't come forward is even more remarkable because of the continual agitation of The Councilor, a racist newspaper published out of Shreveport. Not only was the JFK assassination a big topic in the newspaper, so was David Ferrie.

Right after the assassination, The Councilor was talking about integrationists and a communist plot:

The Councilor, January 6, 1964

From the same front page:

On July 4 1965, General Edwin Walker, Ned Touchstone (Editor of The Councilor), John Rarick, and others spoke in Baton Rouge and called upon Louisiana Governor John McKeithen to open a probe into the possibility that there were co-conspirators in a plot against JFK in Louisiana. Here is the text of Touchstone's speech:

There is no mention of any witnesses from Clinton or Jackson.

In February, 1967, The Councilor boasted about its early coverage of David Ferrie:

February 20, 1967

The Councilor also ran this:

The Councilor says that "much of the material about leftwing activity was compiled by Louisiana legislators working through a Baton Rouge attorney, Jack Rogers."

The Councilor, July 14, 1975

There is no doubt that many people in Clinton/Jackson read The Councilor. They would have been aware of a supposed communist conspiracy and I have to believe that had any of the racist white 'witnesses' in Clinton/Jackson actually seen Lee Harvey Oswald, they would have contacted The Councilor.

But wait, some conspiracy theorists say that The Councilor did indeed cover the witnesses from Clinton/Jackson.

Stay tuned for the next exciting Clinton/Jackson episode.

Same bat-time.

Same bat-station.

I personally have enough problems with the sighting to raise reasonable doubt in MY mind. In no particular order:

1) The Stranger Factor: All 3 men were strangers to the Clinton/ Jackson witnesses, making a POSITIVE identification much tougher.

2) The Time Factor: It is possible to remember a stranger from 4 years earlier, but to identify them from a photo, beyond a reasonable doubt, is not an easy thing. I think back to incidents 4 years ago, and I would be hard pressed to make a positive ID of the rent-a-car guy at the airport, or the guy who cleaned the gutters on my house.

3) The View Factor: Some of the witnesses concede only seeing the men for a short time, or from an angle where viewing was difficult.

4) The Car Factor: Some of the early accounts describe different cars. In time, they came to agree on a black Cadillac. But none of the three men owned a black Cadillac. Some speculate that Jeff Biddison lent his car to Shaw, but there is NO evidence that he did. Only speculation. Why would Shaw borrow the car on this occasion alone? One of the accounts quoted Shaw as saying the car was registered to the International Trade Mart, but there is no evidence that a black Cadillac was registered to the ITM.

5) The Other People Factor: Some of the accounts included people who disappeared from later accounts.

*Anne Hudley Dischler was told Banister was one of the visitors. *One witness said Oswald was accompanied by a woman. *Several of the accounts include a man named Estus Morgan *One of the accounts includes a man answering the description of Winslow Foster

6) The Ferrie Identification Factor: Ferrie was the least positive of the IDs. It is said that his appearance was unmistakable. His 1961-2 police photos, showing him at his worst, are striking, but other early 60s photos show him looking very normal.

7) The Palmer Factor: Palmer insisted to HSCA that the white-haired man could not have been Banister because he knew Banister from the service in World War II. But Banister was in the FBI, not the service, in WWII. How could Palmer have been so mistaken? What does it say about credibility?

8) The Klan Factor: Speaking of credibility, the FBI said two of these guys were Klansman, which shows striking bad judgement in my opinion.

9) The Change Factor: Several of these accounts did change in significant details over the years: who, how many, what car.

10) The Time Factor 2: It is said that the car arrived in the morning, Oswald got out and got in the voter registration line, and the car left in the mid afternoon - several hours. But an email correspondent who checked the record for August-September 1963 tells me that there was no day in that period when there were enough registrants to account for a line which would cause so long a wait.

11) The Ineligibility Factor: Oswald was not a resident, and was thus ineligible to vote in Clinton. Why waste all that time in line?

12) Purpose 1 - ELSH: It is said that the purpose of the whole event was to get Oswald a job at East Louisiana State Hospital, where he would be switched over to become a patient. But Oswald did not raise the possibility of employment at ELSH; the barber he spoke to was the first to raise the possibility. It would be quite a coincidence if the barber happened upon the very possibility the plotters had intended.

13) Purpose 2 - Civil Rights Disruption: It is said that the purpose was to cause a Cointelpro-style disruption of the civil rights campaign then underway. But a civil rights Cointelpro program did not then exist. Further, all three men - Oswald, Ferrie and Shaw - purported to be supporters of the civil rights movement. Why would they involve themselves in such an operation?

14) The Visibility Factor: No matter how you cut it, Shaw and Ferrie went out of their way to be seen with Oswald. They could have parked around the corner and sent him in. They could have sent him in by bus or taxi. They could have worn disguises. But they did not. Why? Why go out of your way to be seen with someone who, by some accounts, was already slated to be picked up for JFK's assassination? Were Shaw and Ferrie stupid?

15) The Fruge/Sciambra Factor: The Clinton episode was developed by Francis Fruge and Andrew Sciambra. I have seen a lot of material from both men, and I have concerns about their objectivity as investigators.

And there are other factors, too. Taken individually, they do not disprove Clinton/Jackson. But taken as a whole, they raise enough reasonable doubt for me to prevent me from regarding the identifications as definitive. But others may disagree.

Something probably happened in Clinton and Jackson. Was it really Shaw, Ferrie and Oswald? Some ask: What motivation would the witnesses have to lie? I am only speculating here, but could they have simply talked themselves - and each other - into believing that a real event included these then-well-known figures?

The Series on the Clinton/Jackson Witnesses

Part One: The witnesses testify at the trial of Clay Shaw.

Part Two: A response to the allegations made by the Clinton/Jackson witnesses.

Part Three: A look at racism and the politics of the early 1960s.

Part Four: Many of the witnesses were either members of the KKK or sympathizers.

Part Five: None of the Clinton/Jackson witnesses came forward in 1963-1964.

Part Six: Just where did the Clinton/Jackson witnesses come from?

Part Seven: Dischler was an investigator for Garrison who was teamed up with Lt. Francis Fruge of the Louisiana State Police.

Previous Relevant Blog Posts on the Clinton/Jackson Witnesses

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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