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Friday, 09 October 2020 05:11

Sylvia Meagher and Clay Shaw vs. Jim Garrison

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Having recently recounted Vincent Salandria's faithful support of Jim Garrison, Jim DiEugenio now examines Sylvia Meagher's own relationship to Jim Garrison and her unflinching defense of Clay Shaw to the point of stubbornly refusing to consider the last year and a half of Garrison’s investigation and files.


In writing my elegy for Vincent Salandria, I reviewed his career in the JFK field, cataloguing his achievements and his characteristics as a critic—the first critic—of the Warren Report.

In reviewing that impressive record, I was again struck by his personal relationship and his lifelong fairness to New Orleans DA Jim Garrison. What made this aspect more salient was something I may have underplayed in my article: Salandria spent decades as a practicing attorney in Philadelphia. In my article, I noted that Vince was a high school teacher in 1964 when he encountered Arlen Specter talking about the Warren Report at a Philadelphia bar association event. That was true, but Salandria taught part time. He practiced law in the afternoons, and after he retired as a teacher, he worked for the Philadelphia school system as an attorney.

Salandria had attended law school at the University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia. That university is a member of the Ivy League and their law school is habitually rated in the top ten of the US News and World Report rankings in the field. (For 2021, they are rated number 7). Therefore, Salandria was one of the few early critics who was also a lawyer. In fact, in the early critical period of 1964–66, aside from Mark Lane, he may have been the only one. This placed him in a position to not only understand more precisely what the Warren Commission had done with the evidence, but also to understand what Jim Garrison was up against when he began his criminal investigation in New Orleans. As I noted in my requiem, Salandria told me that at his first personal meeting with Garrison he told him he probably would not succeed in his attempt to flush out the conspiracy by beginning at the lower level and leveraging them against the upper level. But he would be able to learn something about the plot by the acts of those who would try and interfere with his inquiry.

With what the Assassination Records and Review Board declassified about New Orleans in this regard, Salandria—as he usually was—proved to be prescient in that prediction. For as we now know, very soon after Garrison’s investigation was made public, the CIA was recruiting local attorneys in New Orleans to defend certain suspects and defendants (e.g. lawyers like James Quaid, Edward Baldwin, and Steve Plotkin). In September, at the request of Director Richard Helms, the Agency assembled its first meeting of the Garrison Group. At that meeting, Ray Rocca, James Angleton’s first assistant, declared that if things were to proceed as they were, Clay Shaw would be convicted. (James DiEugenio, Destiny Betrayed, second edition, p. 270) The meeting was convened by Helms in order to consider the implications of Garrison’s actions before during and after the trial of Clay Shaw. From the declassified record, the result was that certain counter measures were now taken to obstruct, cripple, and negate Garrison’s inquiry (e.g. blocking service of subpoenas, flipping witnesses, recruiting infiltrators). (Ibid, pp. 271–85)

I should add here another key action taken by the Agency around this time. In April of 1967, they issued worldwide a memorandum which was titled “Countering Criticism of the Warren Report”. This memo was essentially a call to action to all station chiefs to use their assets in order to attack the critics of the Commission. It even outlined techniques to use in the attacks, for instance:  accuse them of being interested in monetary gain, of having been biased from the start, or of having leftist political orientation. As author Lance deHaven Smith has noted, it was around this time that the New York Times began to use the phrase “conspiracy theorist” in a much more profuse and pernicious manner than before.

Later—in July of 1968—the CIA distributed an attack article on Jim Garrison which had been written by Edward Epstein and published in The New Yorker. The memo advised all station chiefs to use the article in order to brief any political leaders; or assign it to assets in order to counter any attacks. This important memo, and the article’s author, should be kept in mind as we progress.

Since Salandria predicted that things like the above would occur, and since he visited Garrison in New Orleans and served as an advisor for the Shaw trial, he appreciated what Garrison was doing in the face of the forces arrayed against him. Some others who did so were Mark Lane, Penn Jones, Maggie Field, Ray Marcus, and, at the time, Harold Weisberg. (Lane and Weisberg were actually working with the DA.)

But there was a prominent Commission critic who, quite early, did not appreciate the warnings Salandria had issued about what Garrison was doing or the countermeasures taken against him. That critic was Sylvia Meagher of New York. At a rather early date, she staked out a position that separated her from the above writers and researchers. She also fostered a counter-movement in the critical community against Garrison. That movement would eventually include Josiah Thompson, Peter Scott, Paul Hoch, and, later, Anthony Summers.

I am going to say some adverse things about Meagher in this regard, but I want to make it clear at the outset that none of this should detract from her achievements in the field. Her subject indexes to both the Warren Commission and the House Select Committee volumes were and are valuable assets to the research community. Her critique of the Warren Commission, Accessories After the Fact, is still one of the signal achievements in the literature on the case.

It is one thing to expose a patently phony murder investigation, especially one that furnished the critic with 26 volumes of testimony and exhibits in order to dismantle itself—since so much of the 26 volumes contradicted, or at least compromised, the conclusions in the report. It’s quite another to try and find out what actually happened in a complex political assassination and what the smoke and mirrors were all about. As Vincent Salandria once said, the Warren Report was just too easy to tear apart. To the point that he came to think that it was designed to collapse.

II

Sylvia Meagher was born in New York City in 1921. Her maiden name was Sylvia Orenstein. She grew up in a rigidly orthodox Jewish home in Brooklyn. (Praise from a Future Generation, by John Kelin, p. 148) She dropped out of college and took a job as an analyst at the World Health Organization (WHO), which was directly associated with the United Nations. She briefly married her college instructor, James Meagher. He turned out to be an alcoholic, so she divorced him. (Kelin, p. 147)

Although Gerald Posner called her a radical leftist, this was not accurate. What angered Meagher about the fifties was McCarthyism. She greatly resented President Truman’s obeisance to the Red Scare by his creation of Loyalty Boards. She was also resentful that the first Secretary General of the UN, Trgve Lie of Norway, allowed American officials to question employees of the UN and WHO in that regard. (Kelin, p. 114) He allowed the FBI to fingerprint his employees and to set up an office inside the Secretariat. As a result, many employees went before Senator Pat McCarran’s Senate Subcommittee on Internal Security and 47 went before a New York grand jury. There was a case where a woman did not take the fifth and admitted to attending a communist meeting some years prior; she was terminated. Several had to file a lawsuit for a monetary settlement, since not even Secretary General Dag Hammarskjold would rehire them. (Kelin, p. 115)

Meagher insisted that if she was loyal enough to hire in the first place, she should not be called before a board. There was no reason in the record for her to reply to questions about who she was or what party she was loyal to. She was not fired, even though when she did appear before a board she refused to answer any questions. (Kelin, p. 118)

Within an hour of the assassination—and perhaps because of this experience—Sylvia Meagher predicted that either a leftist or pro-Castro suspect would be arrested for the crime. But even she was surprised when it happened within 90 minutes of the assassination. (Kelin, p. 145) Unaware of how Earl Warren was coerced by President Johnson to serve as chairman of the Warren Commission, she wrote to the Chief Justice. She said, “I have no doubt whatever that you personally will do everything humanly possible to determine the truth.” (ibid)

As we all know today, such was not even close to what Warren was about to do. Let us grant the lack of knowledge about Johnson intimidating Warren with the threat of atomic annihilation. (See Mark Lane, Plausible Denial, p. 51) One should have been able to figure out something was wrong with Warren from two early matters. First was his famous utterance that some of the material given to the Commission might not be seen in the lifetime of current reporters. (Lane, p. 53) The second giveaway was Warren’s failure to grant representation for Oswald’s interests before the Commission. The excuse for this was, again, secrecy. (See WC Volume 24, Commission Exhibit 2033) While in session, no outside attorney was going to get to see even a small percentage of the documents that the executive intelligence agencies had given the Commission.

That second reason should have been a very clear “tell,” because of the Gideon vs. Wainwright case which Warren had just presided over in early 1963. In that case, his Supreme Court stated that a guilty verdict against Clarence Gideon had to be overturned, since the defendant had no lawyer. As a result, Gideon was granted a new trial with an attorney and he was acquitted. (James DiEugenio, The JFK Assassination: The Evidence Today, p. 309) But now, with the JFK case, Warren was willing to toss that decision aside. In other words, while in session, the proceedings would be virtually secret and Oswald would have no representation. In other words, Warren was presiding over what was pretty much a star chamber.

After attending a lecture by Mark Lane in New York, Meagher’s interest in the case grew. Within two months of reading the Warren Report, she composed a 15,000 word critique. (Kelin, p. 146) She complained about the lack of “objective criticism” of the report. That critique was not published. In 1965, she composed her own index to the 26 volumes of testimony and exhibits that were issued about two months after the Warren Report. When this was finished, she then expanded her original critique into a book entitled Accessories After the Fact. It was published late in 1967 by Bobbs Merrill of Indianapolis.

During this period, there was a debate in the media about the Warren Report. Surprisingly, some luminaries on the left sided with Earl Warren, for example prominent attorney and author A. L. Wirin, maverick journalist I. F. Stone, and The Nation magazine. (Kelin, p. 196; pp. 179–82; p. 195) The fact that the MSM and some of the left was arrayed against the critics made it difficult for them to get their writings out to the public. It was made all the worse by the newspaper of record in Meagher’s hometown.

III

Meagher lived at 299 West 12th Street, an apartment building in Greenwich Village. She was well acquainted with the New York Times. On November 25th, the headline of the self-proclaimed paper of record read as follows: “President’s Assassin Shot to Death in Jail Corridor by a Dallas Citizen.” In other words, the day after Oswald was killed, he became the assassin of President Kennedy. Not the accused assassin, or the alleged assassin, just plain the “President’s Assassin.” The man who did not even know he had been charged with Kennedy’s death, who never had an attorney, who talked for hours and always maintained his innocence while in detention. In spite of all that, the Grey Lady maintains its November 25th rubric about Oswald until today.

But as the late Jerry Policoff proved in his milestone article about the Times coverage, that is really too mild a characterization, because the Times did not just back the Commission. It worked assiduously to promote the Warren Report. While the Commission was in session, it reported leaks denying there was evidence of a conspiracy in the case. (March 30, 1964) When the report was released in late September, the Times composed an accompanying editorial which stated that the report destroyed any basis for a conspiracy theory. (September 27, 1964) That was on the day the 888 page report was made public. In other words, the praise was already composed and in place the night before. But consider this fact: it was still almost two months prior to the 26 volumes of testimony and exhibits being published. Since the report had over 6,000 footnotes—almost all of them to those 26 volumes—how could anyone make any kind of binding analysis and evaluation of the report before they saw the testimony and exhibits It was based upon?

But in spite of all this, in 1966, criticism of the Commission produced best-selling books by writers like Edward Epstein (Inquest) and Mark Lane (Rush to Judgment). On November 25, 1966, Life magazine ran a cover story based upon frames from the Zapruder film entitled, “Did Oswald Act Alone? A Matter of Reasonable Doubt.” Therefore, in late 1966, Times reporter Tom Wicker wrote a column in which he said that a number of impressive books had opened up questions about the Commission’s “procedures, its objectivity, and its members’ diligence.” (September 25, 1966) In the November 1966 issue of The Progressive, Times editor Harrison Salisbury admitted that some authors had produced “serious, thoughtful examinations” and convinced him that questions of major importance had gone unanswered.

At about that time, November of 1966, the Times quietly undertook a new inquiry into the Kennedy case. It was under Salisbury’s direction. He told Newsweek, “We will go over all the areas of doubt and hope to eliminate them” (Newsweek, December 12, 1966) About a month into the inquiry, Salisbury was sent to Hanoi at the invitations of the North Vietnamese. Reporter Gene Roberts told Policoff that there really was no relation between Salisbury’s journey and the end of the quiet inquiry.

But such was likely not the case. In 2017, the JFK Act declassified an informant’s message to them about the Salisbury investigation. The CIA had passed it on to the FBI and this version was released fifty years after the fact. Peter Kihss, who actually knew Meagher, was one of the reporters assigned to the Kennedy investigation. He told an informant that the Times was working on “a full scale expose of the Warren Report, which will find that the Warren Commission’s original findings were not as reliable as first believed.” (CIA to FBI 1/23/67, based on original report of 12/22/66) This tends to undermine both the removal of Salisbury—why not send another editor?—and what Times reporter Roberts said to Policoff.

With the “full scale expose” squelched, the Times now went back to its “see no evil” posture. On February 28, 1968, the Grey Lady reviewed both Meagher’s Accessories After the Fact and Thompson’s Six Seconds in Dallas. The writer they used for the assignment was the man they usually utilized, Supreme Court correspondent Fred Graham. He found the Meagher book, “a bore” and he thought Thompson’s scientific approach ignored “the larger logic of the Warren Report.”

It is important to go a bit beyond this early time frame. For on April 20, 1969, The New York Times Magazine published an article entitled, “The Final Chapter in the Assassination Controversy?” It was written by Edward Epstein, the author of the article carried in the aforementioned CIA memo from 1968. Written in the wake of Clay Shaw’s acquittal, it was a harsh attack on the critics as being politically motivated. Epstein had no problem using the word “demonologist” in this regard. In regards to Meagher and Thompson, he wrote that they brought up only two major issues: The Single Bullet Theory and the backward recoil of Kennedy’s head in the Zapruder film. Epstein replied that CBS News in their 1967 special had noted, on the observances of scientist Luis Alvarez, that there were only three “jiggles” in the Zapruder film and this confirmed the Commission’s three shot analysis. In other words, Abraham Zapruder was reacting to the sounds of the three shots and his camera shook slightly.

There was a serious problem with Epstein’s reasoning. For as had leaked out by this time, and as CBS employee Roger Feinman later revealed, there were more than three jiggles in the film. And Epstein knew this, since he had written Meagher a letter concerning the issue. In that letter, he condemned CBS and told Meagher that she had shown that it was “extremely unlikely, even inconceivable, that a single assassin was responsible.” Meagher wrote a letter to the Times about Epstein’s deception and asked them to print it, “in the interests of fair play and of undoing a disservice to your readers that was surely unintended.” Needless to say, it was not printed.

But as the reader can see from this analysis, it is clear that by 1968 Edward Epstein had gone from being a critic to being the MSM’s spokesman for the official story. The idea that this conversion happened in the seventies, while he was working on his book Legend, is not accurate. As we will show, there was even more in this regard.

IV

Sylvia Meagher worked on the index for Epstein’s book Inquest. (Kelin, p. 283) When it was published in May of 1966, she praised it in M. S. Arnoni’s journal A Minority Of One. On this, she disagreed with both Harold Weisberg and Salandria. Salandria explained what was wrong with Inquest. Epstein had conjured up his concept of “political truth,” in order to explain why the Commission did what it did. That creation now defined a spectrum on the issue. Anyone who still agreed with the Commission could be labeled as followers from “blind faith.” Anyone who specifically attacked, not the politics of what the Commission did, but the underlying forensic fraud it had assembled, these people could now be labeled “demonologists”. (Which, as we saw, Epstein did for the Times in 1969.) This would include those who understood that the Commission had fabricated a case against Oswald. Because of this jerry-built spectrum, Epstein now represented the “respectable” center of the debate. (Kelin, p. 294)

In fact, the term “demonologist” was actually coined by Epstein. And he used it in the author’s preface to Inquest. (p. xvii) How could one decide at an early date in 1966 as to how fraudulent the Warren Report really was? Or how limited was the cooperation it received from agencies like the FBI, the CIA, the State Department, and the National Security Agency? Especially when one’s main interview subjects were the Commissioners and their working lawyers? (Epstein, p. xviii)

We know today, and can prove, that the Warren Commission, and the agencies who served it, did do what Epstein says they did not. To use just one example, the FBI lied about the chain of possession concerning Commission Exhibit 399, perhaps the key exhibit in the case. And the Commission accepted that lie. (See The Assassinaons, edited by James DiEugenio and Lisa Pease, pp. 272–86)

In December of 1966, Epstein was the main author of a special section of Esquire magazine, which was apparently composed for the third anniversary of Kennedy’s murder. It contained rubrics like “Who’s Afraid of the Warren Report” and “A Primer of Assassination Theories.” It was written and designed to reduce the growing public debate to the level of a satirical board game. Apparently, still enamored by Epstein at that time, Meagher contributed a brief journalistic outline called “Notes for a New Investigation”.

Shortly after, Richard Warren Lewis and FBI informant on the JFK case, Larry Schiller, combined to write the book The Scavengers and Critics of the Warren Report. In its almost manic attempt to smear every consequential critic of the Commission—Field, Lane, Weisberg, etc.—this book might have followed the 1967 CIA memorandum. It was clearly a hatchet job all the way. It was excerpted in The New York World Journal Tribune magazine. But what is interesting is that there was an accompanying LP album to the book called “The Controversy.” (Kelin, p. 355) On that album, one can hear Epstein briefly joining in some digs at the critics. If there was one volume that attempted to “demonize” the critical community, this was it. But even months before that release, Salandria had suspected Epstein was a plant. (Letter from Meagher to Field, June 30, 1966)

In retrospect, there was always something off balance about Epstein. For instance, he did not want to do any publicity tour for his book. (Kelin, p. 319) But when he did do a radio show in New York, it was a debate with Commission junior counsel Wesley Liebeler, who many suspect supplied much of the material for Inquest. As Meagher noted, Epstein was routed in this debate, which supplies an interesting fugue to our next point about Epstein.

Between Thanksgiving and Christmas of 1966, there was a debate arranged in Boston about the Warren Report. Epstein was invited to be a participant, but he declined the invitation. Vince Salandria did participate and his main opponent was a young scholar named Jacob Cohen. Cohen had presented an article defending the Commission in the July 11, 1966 issue of The Nation. To say this was an interesting event does not begin to describe its importance. John Kelin does a nice job summarizing its aspects in his fine book. I will only focus on this odd fact: although Epstein declined to participate, he did show up. During a break, he approached the stage and addressed Salandria. (Kelin, p. 334) The following exchange took place:

Epstein: What are you doing in Boston?

Salandria: I’m telling the truth to the people. What are you up to Ed?

E: I’ve changed Vince.

S: You mean you made a deal? That’s OK Ed. You made a deal, that’s alright. But if you get up before a TV camera again and pretend you’re a critic, I’ll tell all about you, Ed Epstein.

E: You know what happened.

After that, Epstein went over to the other side of the stage and talked to Salandria’s opponents. Less than two months later, a young journalist named Joe McGinnis came to a lecture that Salandria gave in Philadelphia. Afterwards, he interviewed him at his home. He then published a smear job on Salandria in The Philadelphia Inquirer. (Kelin, pp. 336-39)

I leave it up to the reader to decide if the two events were related.

V

As the reader can see, what Salandria said would happen to Jim Garrison, was actually happening to the critics already, before the exposure of Garrison’s inquiry in February of 1967. Forces were being arrayed against them, pressure was being applied to make them turn, the MSM was out to do them in. (See my discussion of the “Rita Rollins” affair in my obituary for Vince Salandria for another example.) Because Jim Garrison was a DA of a medium sized city and therefore had certain powers prosecutors have, these pressures were ratcheted upwards. I have already mentioned Helms’ formation of the Garrison Group at CIA; the Countering the Critics Memo; the Cleared Attorneys panel in New Orleans. I also believe that, when Garrison’s inquiry was made public, the decision was made at NBC to attack him through their 1967 special and certain aspects of the CBS four-night special were modified to include the DA. I will not review those two programs here, since I have dealt with them at length previously. (See Destiny Betrayed, Second Edition, by James DiEugenio, pp. 237–58; click here for the CBS essay)

As Paris Flammonde once noted, the specific attack on Garrison began with an article by James Phelan in the Saturday Evening Post, followed by another smear by Hugh Aynesworth in Newsweek, capped off by the NBC special produced by Walter Sheridan. But I should add one detail about the last, which was sent to me recently by ace researcher Malcolm Blunt. When the Review Board was being formed in 1993, Sheridan requested his personal papers on the Garrison NBC special housed at the JFK Library be returned to him. This was made up of 13 file folders. According to my sources on the ARRB, the Board was not able to secure these papers. After Sheridan passed on in 1995, his family gave them to NBC which refused to surrender them. This would seem to indicate that, as I pointed out in Destiny Betrayed, Sheridan and NBC had a lot to hide about the techniques they used in their special in order to produce what any objective reviewer would have to consider a hatchet job.

One of the odd things about Meagher’s reaction to Garrison’s probe is she never noted any of this. And when I write “never,” I mean never. Until the day she died, she never acknowledged these attacks as an extension, an expansion, and diversification of the techniques that had been used against the critical community already. For a person noted as being careful in her research and objective in her analysis, this makes for a jarring dissonance in any examination of her record in this regard. Because, as has been demonstrated convincingly, what Sheridan and NBC were doing was interfering with and obstructing a state sanctioned murder inquiry. And they were using a variety of illicit methods to do so, up to and including bribery and physical intimidation. (For a brief description, click here)

As authors like Ray Marcus noted, in all of her writings and letters on the JFK case, Meagher wrote not a single sentence on any of these disruptive techniques. (Letter from Marcus to Meagher of January 18, 1968) This included physical attacks on Garrison’s witnesses. And these attacks went all the way up to and took place during the trial of Clay Shaw. (DiEugenio, Destiny Betrayed, p. 294)

As we shall see, what makes Meagher’s reaction even more odd is that she was warned in advance of what was about to happen. Author Philip Labro told her that he thought Garrison would come up with new evidence. But he also predicted there would be an effort made to destroy the DA. (Meagher’s notes to phone call by Labro 2/25/67). Another indication of just how loaded the dice had become was Wesley Liebeler’s announcement about Garrison’s chief suspect David Ferrie. One week after the exposure of Garrison’s probe, in the New York Times of February 23, 1967, Liebeler said, “It was so clear that he was not involved that we didn’t mention it in the report.” (p. 372) Oh really? Liebeler was saying this about David Ferrie, a man who, right after the assassination, was trying to scoop up all evidence that connected him to his friend Oswald. This included a photo of the two in the Civil Air Patrol. (DiEugenio, Destiny Betrayed, p. 81) Also, Ferrie had lied his head off to the FBI during their interview with him in 1963. (ibid, p. 177) The third indication that Salandria was correct in his ominous warnings was a story seen by Ray Marcus in the Boston Herald Traveler of April 19, 1967. Reporter Eleanor Roberts wrote that a television series about the Warren Report was in production at CBS. But her sources revealed it may never be broadcast unless the producers could develop information that weakened the arguments of the Commission’s critics.

But in the face of these formidable forces out to mutilate the facts of the JFK case, Meagher decided that it was really Jim Garrison who was the problem. In fact, as we shall see, she even compared his efforts to the Commission’s. Even though when Garrison went on Mort Sahl’s radio show in Los Angeles, the DA complained that a serious problem he was having is that witnesses did not want to come forward to speak on the record. (Kelin, p. 384)

Meagher sent Garrison an advance section of her book entitled “The Proof of the Plot.” (ibid) It was the part of Accessories After the Fact which would focus on the Sylvia Odio incident. (See pp. 376–87). This was all well and good, but as the reader can see, virtually everything there is sourced to the Warren Report or its accompanying volumes. Garrison had ordered three sets of the Commission volumes. He had one at home, one in his office, and one in his car. And as anyone who worked with Garrison, understood—and as investigator Lou Ivon attested to—he knew the volumes quite well.

VI

The first thing, that Meagher went after Garrison over, was the alleged postal code found in Shaw’s address book. This contained a name and address as follows: Lee Odom, P. O. Box 19106, Dallas, Tex. Garrison noted that same numeral in Oswald’s notebook. But there the numbers were preceded by certain letters of the Cyrillic alphabet. So Garrison decided there had to be some kind of code that connected the two and that this code led one to Jack Ruby’s telephone number of WHitehall 1-5601. Meagher investigated this issue and concluded that Garrison was wrong about the matter—which he was. On May 16, 1967, she sent him a registered letter stating why this was so.

In John Kelin’s book, he spends approximately 100 pages chronicling in detail the disputes between the critics over the New Orleans investigation. It’s pretty clear that Meagher never forgave Garrison for this error. Whereas someone like Maggie Field felt it was excusable as a mistake, Meagher went on a crusade about the issue. Instead of just discarding it and never using it again—which he did—Meagher wanted Garrison to call a press conference and explain the whole mistake. By this time, in late May, both the James Phelan and Hugh Aynesworth smear articles had been published. Millions of people had read them in the Saturday Evening Post and Newsweek. And amid all of this, Meagher wanted Garrison to join in on his own scrum.

In fact, she said this to Harold Weisberg in a letter. And unless Garrison did this, her position was final and non-negotiable about him and his investigation. (Kelin, pp. 403-04) This ended up being the case. Without ever visiting New Orleans, without ever looking at any of Garrison’s files, without ever doing any ground work of her own in the Crescent City, Meagher had closed the book on anything and everything that would ever come out of Garrison’s inquiry. The date of that letter to Weisberg was June 1, 1967. Garrison’s investigation would continue for over a year and a half. His investigatory files would fill several four-drawer filing cabinets. Garrison would discover things that the Warren Commission either lied about, covered up, or never contemplated. But as far as Sylvia Meagher was concerned, as of June 1, 1967, Jim Garrison was now the Anti-Christ.

And she made good on her word. She now joined the scrum. Following the lead of FBI informant James Phelan, she now wrote that Perry Russo’s testimony was “enhanced at Garrison’s suggestion.” James Phelan and Shaw’s lawyers had fouled this issue to the point that only someone who was willing to look at the original record and talk to corroborating witness Matt Herron could penetrate their camouflage. The idea that the name of Bertrand was suggested to Russo is vitiated by looking at the original transcript. If one looks at that document in the original order it was taken, one will see that Russo came up with the name and description on his own. Shaw’s lawyers reversed the order to make it appear to be something it was not. Secondly, unlike what James Phelan contended, Russo told him that he had talked to Garrison’s assistant Andrew Sciambra about that matter at his home in Baton Rouge, before he ever got to New Orleans. Phelan was accompanied to Baton Rouge by photographer Matt Herron. Phelan never wanted anyone to talk to Herron, so he misrepresented his position. This author did talk to Herron. Not only did he back up Russo, Herron said that his testimony was stronger in 1967 than it was at the trial of Clay Shaw in 1969, which would suggest that Russo had at least partly succumbed to the media battering he had gotten in the interim, much of it due to Phelan. (DiEugenio, Destiny Betrayed, pp. 246–47)

Meagher also did not accept Vernon Bundy. (Kelin, p. 413) Bundy was the drug addict who said he saw a man who fit Shaw’s description giving a man he identified as Oswald some money at the seawall on Lake Pontchartrain in the summer of 1963. He also added that as the younger man placed the money in his pocket some leaflets fell out. After they both departed, Bundy went out and looked at the leaflets, which concerned Cuba.

John Volz was the assistant who handled Bundy for Jim Garrison at the start of the legal proceedings against Shaw. Bill Davy and this author interviewed Volz in his law office back in 1994. It was clear that Volz was not enthusiastic about pursing the Kennedy case after the death of David Ferrie. In fact, he left Garrison’s office during the inquiry and went to work elsewhere, before returning later. But with those qualifiers, Volz was struck by two things that Bundy said. When Bundy first saw Shaw at city hall, he said that he knew this was the guy because of his slight limp. One could argue that, since this identification took place in the second week of March, 1967, Bundy could have seen Shaw in a picture after he was charged on March 1. But the picture would not reveal the limp. The experienced criminal prosecutor Volz pressed Bundy further. Since the witness said he saw flyers fall out of Oswald’s pocket and he looked at them afterwards, he asked the witness: What color were they? Bundy replied with an odd answer. He said they were yellow. When Volz checked up on this, he found out that Oswald did distribute flyers of that color that summer. (Memorandum from Volz to Garrison, March 16, 1967) And when this author visited the Historic New Orleans Collection after interviewing Volz, he saw these yellow flyers in a glass case. If one was bluffing, why use that offbeat color? The other alternative would be that Bundy somehow studied the actual exhibits in the case at NARA.

In spite of all the above information, which Meagher did not know about and never bothered to seek out, she compared these two witnesses with the likes of the Commission’s Helen Markham and Howard Brennan. (Kelin, p. 413). To go into all the reasons as to why this is wildly unfounded would take another essay in and of itself. But to say just one thing about each:

  1. Markham was clearly an hysterical witness who actually said she talked to J. D. Tippit after he was dead for about 20 minutes. (See Mark Lane, Last Word, pp. 146–54)
  2. The best case one can make for Brennan is he was perhaps looking at the wrong building when he said he saw someone on an upper floor, but he certainly did not see Oswald.

I believe this shows the bias Meagher had developed at a rather early stage. And it worked in two directions. It would be one thing to question certain witnesses, but Meagher—like the MSM—found any case and any accuser against Garrison to be credible. In an argument with Penn Jones, she actually referred to William Gurvich as Garrison’s chief investigator, which, for a few reasons, is utterly ridiculous. (Kelin, p. 414) It’s clear today that Gurvich was a plant inside Garrison’s office and, when Garrison suspected who he was, he “defected” to Shaw’s defense team and worked for them. But only after he stole many sets of files. He then served as a witness for CBS against Garrison during their special. He also asked to appear before the grand jury to testify against Garrison. But they had a problem with him. After making all kinds of charges against the DA, Gurvich could not produce any evidence to back them up. (DiEugenio, Destiny Betrayed, pp. 229–31) Yet somehow, Meagher found this guy credible enough to invoke in an argument?

VII

To show just how self-righteously far out Sylvia Meagher got in her jihad, it’s not just that she was out to attack Garrison—which she did at almost every opportunity, including radio appearances. She was also intent on defending Clay Shaw. Weisberg’s book, Oswald in New Orleans, featured an introduction by Jim Garrison. Weisberg wrote that Dean Andrews knew Clay Shaw under the alias of Bertrand. (p. 107) Meagher hammered at Weisberg for having found Shaw guilty of using the alias of Clay (or Clem) Bertrand. She concluded her blast with this: “You assertion has no foundation in fact or in law.” (Kelin, p. 424)

Perhaps nothing else shows Meagher’s near mania about Garrison. Weisberg replied to her that, in that same book, he related how Attorney General Ramsey Clark had said that Shaw was previously investigated by the FBI at the time of the assassination and later, a Justice Department source admitted to the New York Times that Shaw and Bertrand were the same person. (Weisberg, p. 212; Davy, pp. 191–92)

But Meagher was even more wrong than that. As Weisberg later admitted in an unpublished manuscript entitled Mailer’s Tales of the JFK Assassination, New Orleans attorney Dean Andrews had admitted to him that Shaw was Bertrand. (See Chapter 5, p. 13) But Andrews swore him to secrecy on this point, since, as he told both Garrison and Mark Lane, he feared for his life. But consider the following in relation to both The Times and Meagher’s position. Three months later, on June 2nd, the Justice Department now backtracked on their original New York Times attribution about Shaw being Bertrand. They now said that Clark had been in error and Shaw was not investigated back at the time of the assassination. (New York Times, June 3, 1967)

Living in Greenwich Village, and with her interest in the Kennedy case, Meagher had to have been aware of both stories. How could one reconcile the differing information? Anyone with any sense would have to interpret it as Clark, not being a part of the FBI brotherhood, had blurted out something the Bureau thought he should not have said. And now, the FBI was attempting to fix that hole in their story, especially since J. Edgar Hoover did not like what Garrison was turning up on the Kennedy case. That is what a logical, objective person would conclude.

As I have noted, in relation to Jim Garrison and Clay Shaw, Sylvia Meagher was neither logical nor objective. And she was dead wrong on this point, because the FBI did investigate Shaw back in December of 1963 in their original Kennedy assassination investigation. They did this because “several parties” had furnished them “information concerning Shaw.” (FBI memo from Cartha Deloach to Clyde Tolson of March 2, 1967) And the FBI had several sources who told them that Shaw used the alias of Bertrand. (See FBI memos of February 24, 1967 and March 22, 1967) Besides these sources, Jim Garrison had several other sources he uncovered who said that Shaw was Bertrand. (DiEugenio, Destiny Betrayed, pp. 387–88) For Meagher to tell Weisberg that this claim had no foundation is, and was, ludicrous. Its ultimate benefactor was Clay Shaw. Since he did not have to answer the rather intriguing question: Why did you call Andrews and ask him to go to Dallas and defend Oswald after he had been apprehended?

But even beyond that, the FBI inquiry verified many of the discoveries that Garrison had made concerning both Shaw and Ferrie and the many lies they told to keep themselves out of jail. (Click this PowerPoint presentation for that evidence) I am not going to go through all the material we now know Garrison had. William Davy, Joan Mellen, and myself have all written entire books based on these newly recovered files. But just to mention a few of these subject areas: Rose Cheramie, Sergio Arcacha Smith, Freeport Sulphur, Richard Case Nagell, the Clinton/Jackson incident, and Kerry Thornley—who author Joe Biles thinks Garrison had a better case against than he did Shaw. And in all these areas, unlike what Meagher wrote to Weisberg, the evidence Garrison developed had strong foundations in both fact and law. As I noted previously, the information about these subjects were either concealed, camouflaged, or not noted by the Commission.

The late Jerry Policoff was a friend and follower of Sylvia Meagher. He attended her funeral in New York in 1989, but even he had to admit that Meagher was simply “irrational” about Jim Garrison. He told me that she actually donated money to Shaw’s defense. On top of that, she even offered him unsolicited legal advice. In an exchange of letters they had in July of 1968, she advised Shaw that his lawyers should not introduce the Warren Report into evidence. He replied on July 8th defending the report. She promptly replied to this two days later. I think it’s necessary to cite the closing of her letter:

You, more than any man in this country, know that it is possible for a wholly innocent man to be accused by high officials of conspiracy to murder the President. Perhaps in time and with tranquility, you will come to agree that Oswald too, was falsely accused. In closing, I should like to reiterate my confidence in your complete exoneration and my good wishes.

Shaw must have had a good chuckle over this. Because as he knew, ten months earlier, his attorneys had arranged a deal in Washington. In meetings with the Justice Department, they had made a loose agreement to support the Commission. In return, they eventually got voluminous aid and support from Justice, the FBI, and the CIA. What makes this even worse is that, as noted above in the PowerPoint presentation, the FBI knew Shaw was lying his head off. (DiEugenio, Destiny Betrayed, p. 269ff)

Let me close with some new information as to why Shaw was probably grinning while reading Meagher’s letters. Doug Caddy is an attorney in Houston. He has a strong interest in the JFK case. He noted online that he had a friend who lives in Houston who had told him for years about a meeting he had with Shaw. His name is Phil Dyer, and at that time—late 1972—he would regularly visit an acquaintance of his in New Orleans who was an interior designer. It was usually on weekends. The reader must comprehend that, at this time, Garrison’s case had been thrown out of court. Shaw had now gone on the offensive and filed a civil suit against Garrison. Therefore, Shaw was in the clear as far as any legal liability went. Because of the two (phony) tax cases the Justice Department had filed against him, Garrison was not going to be DA much longer. In fact, in several months, he would be voted out of office.

Phil and his friend had a mutual female companion, who was a gynecologist. On the weekend under discussion, they were staying with her. Phil planned on leaving on Sunday after they had brunch. His friend had arranged for them to meet an acquaintance of his named Clay Shaw for that brunch. Since at this stage of his life Shaw was restoring homes and turning them over for nice profits, that relationship would make sense.

Shaw was impeccably dressed and had sharp blue eyes. He was accompanied by an older woman. Phil recalled the Shaw trial and he came from a family who practiced hunting. So, during the conversation, and over some drinks, he asked Shaw if he knew Lee Harvey Oswald. Shaw replied that yes he did, he knew him fairly well. Phil asked him what kind of a person he was. Shaw said that he knew him to be pretty active in the French Quarter, but he was always kind of quiet around him. Phil now asked his last question about Oswald. He told Shaw that he did not think that Oswald could have done what the Warren Commission said he did, getting off those precise shots in that time sequence. Shaw said quite coolly that Phil had to understand. Oswald was just a patsy. He was also a double agent. When I told Phil that Shaw had denied knowing Oswald on the witness stand, he replied with words to the effect: if you were in his position would you have admitted knowing him? In other words, everything Shaw’s defense presented in court was false. And Shaw knew it was false. (Interview with the author on August 8, 2020)

In retrospect, how Sylvia Meagher could equate Oswald with Clay Shaw is both baffling and shocking.

(The notes for this essay from John Kelin’s book were from the E-book version of Praise from a Future Generation)

(Sylvia Meagher was much better at breaking down the Warren Report and she should be remembered for that contribution. Please click here for a radio interview with her from April of 1967.)

Last modified on Friday, 09 October 2020 16:29
James DiEugenio

One of the most respected researchers and writers on the political assassinations of the 1960s, Jim DiEugenio is the author of two books, Destiny Betrayed (1992/2012) and The JFK Assassination: The Evidence Today (2018), co-author of The Assassinations, and co-edited Probe Magazine (1993-2000).   See "About Us" for a fuller bio.

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