Was Richard Case Nagell the "Most Important Witness There Is"?
Updated: Oct 11, 2021
In 1992, Dick Russell published The Man Who Knew Too Much, which was about Richard Case Nagell, the man "hired to kill Oswald and prevent the assassination of JFK."
"According to Nagell, when he recovered [from a self-inflicted gun shot] he began working for the Central Intelligence Agency as a double agent. This involved becoming an activist in the American Communist Party. This included distributing Marxist propaganda in Mexico.
Nagell also claimed he was involved in monitoring a group of Cuban exiles plotting against Fidel Castro. In 1963 Nagell discovered that this group was planning to assassinate John F. Kennedy while making it appear that it had been ordered by Castro. When he told the KGB they ordered him to warn Lee Harvey Oswald about what was happening. Nagell also claimed he warned the FBI and CIA about the plot.
In September, 1963, Nagell walked into a bank in El Paso, Texas, and fired two shots into the ceiling and then waited to be arrested. Nagell claimed he did this to isolate himself from the assassination plot. This was successful and Nagell was charged with armed robbery and ended up spending the next five years in prison."
I remember buying the book in Brooklyn Heights when it first came out. It was a massive tome - over 800 pages. The book was subsequently put on a diet and was reissued in 2003, coming in at only 588 pages.
I read it on a flight going back to Europe and I just found it hard to believe. Russell made fantastic claims [sometimes putting words in Nagell's mouth] and yet there was no hard evidence to back up any of it. The evidence was seemingly always in a footlocker somewhere.
Not surprisingly many people found the Nagell story a bit much. Here is what Paul Hoch had to say in an Echoes of Conspiracy newsletter:
"The Man Who Knew Too Much"
There is much of value in Dick Russell's book, from his own investigation of
subjects such as Win Scott, Frank Ellsworth, and the right in Dallas. That makes it
important to assess the claims of its central character, Richard Case Nagell. The
book is designed around the story of Nagell - much more than "Reasonable Doubt"
depended on Robert Easterling, who was relegated to a single chapter.
Unfortunately, I found no reason to believe that Nagell - spooky as he may be -
ever had anything to do with Oswald. If Nagell was involved with the Los Angeles
FPCC, for example, that is interesting but quite probably unrelated.
Russell must have gone through a period of intense skepticism about Nagell - his
reputation as a journalist and researcher has been good. But, surprisingly, the book
says little that explains to me why he ultimately found Nagell's story credible.
The book includes a page from a 1969 document provided by Nagell, and Russell
gives much weight to the fact that it flatly asserts that Nagell investigated Marina
Oswald for the CIA. But the remaining pages are not published, and even on that same page it seems obvious to me that the writer sometime simply omitted "subject claims."
Consider the alternative: is it plausible that the interviewer had access,
before he wrote this memo, to actual CIA information? Would the CIA have told some
military intelligence agent that Nagell had been involved with an investigation of the
Oswalds? I doubt it.
Nagell seems to have served as a Ouija board, helping Russell fit the usual wide
range of stories together. Go to him with the right question, and you'll get an
answer. Maybe that is what it takes to get a coherent picture in this case: someone
to say, yes, those pieces all fit - I was there.
I am disturbed that Russelll does not even mention that Nagell told Garrison that
Clay Shaw was one of the men associating with Oswald. (Or so Garrison says, in "Trail
of the Assassins.") At the least, Russell should have pointed out Garrison's claim.
One also has to wonder why the Nagell story never caught on, except with a few
buffs, such as Bud Fensterwald, who - "de mortuis nil nisi bonum" notwithstanding -
didn't meet too many theories he didn't like. Russell says "There was, no doubt, a
method to Nagell's seeming madness" (p. 266), but there certainly seems to have been madness there.
Here is the document cited by Paul Hoch which is on page 735 of the first edition of The Man Who Knew Too Much.
The document appears to be based upon what Nagell is telling the author.
This is the only page I have seen from this four-page document. If anybody has the other pages, please let me know. Russell did not put this page in the second edition of his book.
One conspiracy theorist who buys into the Nagell nonsense is James DiEugenio. When Nagell died in 1995, DiEugenio quotes Jim Garrison as saying that "Richard Nagell is the most important witness there is."
In his book, Destiny Betrayed, DiEugenio adds that "No serious and objective writer in the field can disagree with that to any great extent. If Nagell was not the most important of the cooperating witnesses, he was certainly in the top five." (page 93)
Destiny Betrayed, has a couple of sections on Nagell and page 93 starts off with this paragraph:
Most of what DiEugenio writes about Nagell is taken from Dick Russell. Over the next few months, we will be debunking the Nagell story. We have already debunked the DiEugenio claim that Nagell was physically attacked because of his so-called knowledge.
Richard Case Nagell died on November 1, 1995 in Los Angeles. Here is his obituary from the November 10, 1995 edition of the Los Angeles Times:
Was Richard Case Nagell a "key witness"? Was he the "most important witness there is"?
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?