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  • Writer's pictureFred Litwin

Was Gary Underhill the Man Who Knew Too Much?

Updated: Oct 7, 2021

Garrett (Gary) Underhill was born in 1915 in Brooklyn, New York. He graduated from Harvard in 1937 and worked for LIFE Magazine from 1938 to 1942 as a researcher on military affairs. He then served in the U.S. Army from July 1943 to July 1946, working with military intelligence on its various publications. In October 1945 Underhill received a citation for his superior work.

I could not find much hard information about Underhill's job after the war. Supposedly he worked in Civil Defense and in 1963 he was research assistant to Charles Murphy, a military specialist for Fortune magazine.

On May 8, 1964, Gary Underhill committed suicide.

Was he murdered? Was his death suspicious?

And even today, conspiracy theorists like James DiEugenio use Gary Underhill as evidence of CIA involvement in the assassination: (page 98 of Destiny Betrayed)

"On the evening of November 22, 1963, Gary Underhill was a deeply troubled man. What he had learned, and the fact that they knew he had learned it, were too much for him. He had to escape. Once he was out of Washington, he could regain his equilibrium. Then he could decide what to do. He had friends in New York he could talk to without fear of the word getting back to Washington."

So, what really happened?

The day after the assassination, Underhill showed up at the house of Robert and Charlene Fitzsimmons, two of his friends. Mrs. Fitzsimmons said that:

"He seemed terrible scared, excited and unstrung and went on and on. He kept repeating that he hadn't been drinking. I thought he was hysterical, paranoid or something. I mentioned that we were catching a freighter to Spain and he said he would probably have to do the same, to get out of the country. It became clear to me that he was really scared." (Edward Cohen phone conversation with Charlene Fitzsimmons).

Robert Fitzsimmons was upstairs sleeping, and Charlene did not wake him. Underhill rambled for an hour and half, and she tried to get him to leave. He mentioned that "Kennedy is going to blow the whistle on the CIA, and said that the Far East section of the CIA had been behind the assassination." Robert Fitzsimmons described what happened:

"He told Charlie [Charlene] that the Kennedy murder wasn't as cut and dried as it might appear. A small clique in the C.I.A. were responsible...According to Underhill, they were conducting a lucrative business in the Far East in narcotics, gun-running, and other contraband, manipulating political intrigue to serve their ends ... He spelled all of this out in great detail to Charlie. As his story went, Kennedy got wind of something going on so he was killed before he could blow the whistle." (Robert Fitzsimmons letter to John Donovan)

Underhill feared for his life and wanted the Fitzsimmons to put him up. Robert Fitzsimmons said that "Charlie thought he had gone completely mad." They wouldn't put him up and Underhill left. They never saw him again.

From that point on, we know little about the actions of Gary Underhill. He did not write anything about the assassination. He did not approach the FBI or the Warren Commission. On May 8, 1964, Underhill was found in his apartment unconscious by Asher Byrnes, a writer for The New Republic, and an unnamed medical student. He had a bullet wound in his head and a pistol was found in his right hand. The coroner conferred with the Homicide squad and ruled it a suicide.

An acquaintance of Underhill's wrote to him after he heard some stories from the Fitzsimmons. He received this reply from Underhill's wife.

Donovan wrote back a letter of condolence and asked how Underhill died. He received this letter from Mrs. Underhill:

Donovan wrote back asking for detail of Underhill's suicide and then received this letter:

Donovan wrote back for more information but did not get a reply. He then wrote a letter to Representative William Ryan:

The questions in the above letter were based on information from Jones Harris. Harris told Donovan he had discussed Underhill's suicide with Byrnes and the student who was also supposedly there when Underhill was discovered.

Representative Ryan replied:

Here is the letter:

Here is the death certificate:

You might think that this would end the Underhill story. Asher Byrnes said that he "accepts the suicide story." Ed Cohen, a stringer for Ramparts who was also in touch with Harris, wrote that "Byrnes was the one who found Underhill's body, and says there were probably good reasons for suicide, since he had some personal difficulties, including the fact that he and his wife had parted a year earlier:

Interesting that Byrnes says that Underhill "had no closer connection to the crime than the newspapers like everyone else"

Cohen's efforts for Ramparts did not pay off, but as you can see above, Bill Turner included Underhill in two of his Garrison articles.

John Donovan then wrote Jim Garrison in 1967:

Some comments on this letter:

  • Interesting that the Fitzsimmons never heard back from Underhill after their trip to Spain. They didn't reach out to talk to him, which seems to indicate they weren't close friends.

  • Donovan had only met Underhill a couple of times. Hardly a close friend.

  • He wrote Ogle a letter with additional questions about Underhill's suicide but did not hear back. I am not surprised.

  • Donovan suspected that Falcon Aeronautics "had all the outward qualifications of a CIA dummy corporation."

  • Underhill had a "letter of marque" from the Israelis which authorized him to sell Israeli machine guns. "Allegedly a gunrunner to Latin American took the model machine gun away from Underhill because of his erratic behavior, but the investigator is convinced that Underhill 'got around and was knowledgeable.'" Huh?

  • Donovan offered the story of Underhill's suicide to LIFE magazine, Ramparts and other organizations. He said that LIFE was interested but backed off because "they felt that Underhill was emotionally disturbed."

  • Donovan noted that "I fully realize that this whole matter may prove to be nothing more than another wild story based on the ravings of a disturbed personality."

Robert Fitzsimmons also wrote to Jim Garrison:

All of a sudden, Fitzsimmons brings Clay Shaw into the affair. Perhaps this was his way of getting Garrison interested in the story. In fact, most of his letter is about the person who might have been Shaw. Garrison has a note at the bottom:

"Note: The special interest of this letter lies in the attached list of statements made by Underhill."

I like Mr. Fitzsimmons description: "isolated, out-of-context statements that my wife remembers Gary making that morning." Here are those statements:

Convincing, no?

You'd expect someone who worked for the CIA to have some more specific information about what might have happened. Well, Garrett Underhill did not work for the CIA:

The reality is that Gary Underhill had no inside information about the CIA. As John McAdams pointed out, "He was, quite simply, a mentally unstable fellow who thought there was a JFK conspiracy, just as many other (stable and unstable) Americans did." (Page 109 in JFK Assassination Logic)

Unfortunately, conspiracy theorist James DiEugenio links the Gary Underhill story to other events and discerns something malignant: (page 98 in Destiny Betrayed)

"The remarkable thing about the above events [the Nagell story] is that they all happened either in advance of the assassination -- Rose Cheramie, Clinton-Jackson, Nagell; the day of the assassination -- Banister beating Martin; or within just a day or two after the assassination -- Bertrand's call to Andrews, Ferrie searching for his library card. They all appeared to originate in and around New Orleans. But there was another episode that occurred in the northeast, which supplied a connection with these local events to Washington. Like the above, this remarkable incident was also suppressed"

It's all just noise, but DiEugenio can see a connection. The problem is that Rose Cherami did not have foreknowledge of the JFK assassination; the Clinton-Jackson sightings of Ferrie, Shaw and Oswald were most certainly manufactured; Nagell was a very sick man who also had no foreknowledge of the JFK assassination; Guy Banister beat Jack Martin because of unauthorized long distance phone calls; the Bertrand call was a figment of Dean Andrews' imagination; and the fact that Ferrie searched for his library card does not indicate consciousness of guilt.

Here are relevant links for the above:

Rose Cherami

Debunking the Rose Cherami story was a lot of fun. Steve Roe was an enormous help and he made an important new find.

An article from 1957 directly relates to her credibility.

Here are articles from the Madison Capital Times about Dr. Owens. The conspiracy theorists don't like to mention the later articles.

There is no evidence that Cherami ever worked for Jack Ruby.

A Garrison document claims that Cherami watched the Dallas motorcade on television.

What did Cherami actually say to Francis Fruge?

There is no evidence that anybody heard Cherami predict the JFK assassination.

Her information was wrong.

Jim Garrison didn't mention Cherami in his books.

There is no credible evidence that Sergio Arcacha Smith was with Cherami in November 1963.

Of course conspiracy theorists now believe Cherami was murdered.

Richard Case Nagell

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 have 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.

More shenanigans in Europe in 1970.

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?

David Ferrie's Library Card

Guy Banister and Jack Martin

The Clinton Witnesses

Here is just part of a Meagher document on the Shaw trial:

I strongly suggest that people who are interested in what really happened in Clinton-Jackson read Patricia Lambert's book, False Witness.


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