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Was Jim Garrison Searching for Clay Bertrand in 1963?

Shortly after Jack Ruby gunned down Lee Harvey Oswald, Dean Andrews told his story of being contacted by Clay Bertrand to represent Oswald. The FBI and the Secret Service tried hard to find the elusive Bertrand to no avail. I have blogged about this here.


James DiEugenio took exception to what I wrote in my book about the search:

"On page 39 he writes that the FBI and Jim Garrison were trying to find Clay Bertrand in late 1963. He then repeats this on page 41. The obvious question is: How could Garrison be looking for Bertrand in 1963 if he did not know about him? As noted above, Garrison had not studied the Commission volumes at that time, for the good reason that they would not be published until a year later. The only way I could explain this Twilight Zone temporal confusion is that Litwin is so hellbent on trying to show that Garrison was bereft of any reason to suspect anything about either Shaw or Ferrie, that he mixed the two elements together. He then minimized what had really happened or just cut it out."

On page 38 of my book, I wrote that "The FBI, the Secret Service, and Garrison spent several days looking for Bertrand with no success." On pay 39, I wrote a caption, "The FBI and the District Attorney's office tried to find 'Clay Bertrand' in late 1963, but to no avail." And on page 41, I wrote that "In the meantime, Garrison's men scoured the French Quarter looking for Bertrand, but to no avail."


So, what really happened?


The FBI and the Secret Service talked to the following organizations and people about Clay Bertrand:

  • The New Orleans Police Department Identification Division.

  • The New Orleans Police Department Records Division.

  • The New Orleans Police Department Intelligence Division.

  • Various informants like Betty Parrot

  • New Orleans Credit Bureau

  • New Orleans Public Library

  • Louisiana State Employment Service

  • Tulane University

  • New Orleans Retailers' Credit Bureau

  • New Orleans Police Department Bureau of Identification

  • New Orleans Police Department Vice Squad

I am sure that that is not an exhaustive list. The FBI also talked to Dean Andrews' secretary and to Prentiss Davis, his chief investigator. They couldn't help in the search, and even Dean Andrews was phoning around.


Here's the kicker:

Dean Andrews contacted Raymond Comstock who was an investigator in Garrison's office. Comstock was no ordinary investigator -- he was part of the inner circle within the D. A.'s office investigating the JFK assassination.

Comstock couldn't help Dean Andrews. Given the fact that Andrews was known to have a very active mouth, it seems clear that he would have provided Comstock with all the pertinent details about "Clay Bertrand" and why it was important to find him.


Comstock then called the FBI to discuss the matter. Surely, more information must have been exchanged. After all, they were all cooperating in the David Ferrie matter.


It seems far-fetched to me that Raymond Comstock would not say anything to his boss about the search for Clay Bertrand. As the inner circle met to discuss the JFK assassination investigation, it beggars belief that they would decide to keep Jim Garrison in the dark. And it wasn't just Raymond Comstock who knew. The FBI and the D.A.'s office shared many of the same informants. New Orleans was a den of rumor, gossip, and innuendo. Given Garrison's interest in David Ferrie, would not someone have mentioned Dean Andrews and the mysterious Clay Bertrand?


And Raymond Comstock was a policeman - it was quite common for officers to be assigned to the District Attorney's office. And so Raymond Comstock probably had a very good idea that the police were assisting in the search for Clay Bertrand.


Here is what I think happened.


It didn't take long for the FBI and the Secret Service to determine that Bertrand was a figment of Dean Andrews' imagination. Here is an excerpt of an FBI report from December 6, 1963:

The search for Clay Bertrand ended. Regardless of whether you believe the story has merit or not, the word, amongst official circles, was that it was made up. No doubt Garrison heard this too.


Fast forward to October 1966. Books on the JFK assassination are talk of the country, and Jim Garrison reads Harold Weisberg's Whitewash. He noticed that his old friend, Dean Andrews, pops up on page 66:

"Entirely by surprise the Commission received and the Report neglects the most reasonable and probative testimony on marksmanship from one of the witnesses heard with least enthusiasm. New Orleans attorney Dean Andrews was called because he reported Oswald's connections with Cuban groups to the Secret Service, by phone, while hospitalized. He caught the Commission entirely by surprise by saying Oswald had not and could not have killed President Kennedy. He emphasized the point that the Commission had never asked all the experts quoted: Marksmanship is a skill that requires a high degree of coordination and practice. (11H330-1)"

However, that section is about marksmanship, and doesn't even mention Clay Bertrand.


There is also a second section in Whitewash about Dean Andrews, on pages 271-274. Clay Bertrand is mentioned in this section, mostly in relation to the alleged visits of Oswald to his office:

"Andrews' link with this element was a semi-mysterious Clay Bertrand, whom he described as "as a lawyer without a briefcase." (11H337). Bertrand frequently phoned him on behalf of his homosexual clients "either to obtain bond or parole for them."

and

"Further testifying about the Mexican, Andrews injected a detective-story note, saying "There's three people I'm going to find, one of them is the real guy that killed the President; the Mexican; and Clay Bertrand."

Weisberg ends his section with this:

"These clear evidences of a "False Oswald," the connections of the real or false one with Cuban refugee groups and the attempts establishment of a "cover" in New Orleans are totally ignored by the Commission in its exhaustive inquiry into Oswald's trip to Mexico City, from September 26 until October 3, 1963 (R299-311, 658-9, 730-6)"

Not surprisingly, when Garrison first met Dean Andrews, he discussed a variety of topics with him, one of which was the Clay Bertrand story. Here is an excerpt from Dean Andrews' lawsuit against Jim Garrison:


Garrison's discussions with Dean Andrews. over the course of three months, were wide-ranging. Clay Bertrand was just one of many topics.


Now have a look at the way Jim Garrison describes that meeting in his book On the Trail of the Assassins: (page 80)

"After some nights of reading Andrews's testimony before the Warren Commission, I had arranged for him to meet me for lunch here at Broussard's Restaurant. That was back in early 1967, when I was still frustrated with our futile search for Kerry Thornley. Based on the Warren Commission testimony, I thought Andrews might lead us to an even more important witness."

Garrison describes the lunch as if the conversation was only about the identity of Clay Bertrand. He goes on to threaten Dean Andrews: (page 82)

"I leaned forward. 'Read my lips,' I said. I spoke with careful deliberation. 'Either you dance in to the Grand Jury with the real moniker of that cat who called you to represent Lee Oswald, or your fat behind is going to the slammer. Do you dig me?'"

And yet Garrison did not call Andrews before the Grand Jury until March 1967, over four months after their initial conversation. I believe that Dean Andrews' version of what happened is closer to the truth.


At his trial for perjury, Dean Andrews asked Jim Garrison about this meeting:

New Orleans Times-Picayune, August 10, 1967


Dean Andrews was also asked about his first meeting with Garrison on the June 1967 NBC documentary, "The JFK Conspiracy: The Case of Jim Garrison." [this section is from the full interview available at NARA]

Andrews says that they "generally discussed the Warren Report and the book [Whitewash]." Garrison did not have a copy of the Warren Commission volumes:


Here is another excerpt from Andrews' lawsuit:


And so Garrison borrowed a copy of Andrews' testimony in November 1966. He borrowed a copy because he had not yet purchased the 26 volumes of testimony and exhibits of the Warren Report. Perhaps that is why he changed the date of their meeting to early 1967 -- by then he did have a copy of the 26 volumes -- and he could claim the entire meeting was called to discuss Clay Bertrand. And Garrison didn't have to share the glory with Harold Weisberg.


David Chandler confirmed to James Kirkwood that Garrison did not have a copy of the Warren Report:

"In this period, after Garrison had already decided on Shaw, and Ferrie, and made some sort of conspiracy theory, he had not -- not only didn't have or own any sort of digest or copy of the Warren Report, he hadn't read any digest. And to my knowledge the first one he got was loaned to him by Billings."

I don't believe Garrison knew, before reading Whitewash, that Dean Andrews had repeated the discredited Clay Bertrand story to the Warren Commission. After all, the FBI and the Secret Service believed that Andrews had just made up the story. Dean Andrews might have been surprised that Garrison was bringing up a story he had hoped had been forgotten.


And it was during one of their meetings in late December 1966 that Garrison brought up the name Clay Shaw:


It was only after the death of David Ferrie and the arrest of Clay Shaw that Garrison really put the pressure on Dean Andrews. Garrison's description of their first meeting is a fiction.


The search for Clay Bertrand in 1963 and Dean Andrews's testimony before the Warren Commission were two separate events. Garrison certainly knew about the first but was surprised by the second.




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