Tuesday, 16 June 2009 17:55

Dick Russell, On the Trail of the JFK Assassins – Richard Case Nagell: The Most Important Witness, Part 2

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Russell, with the help of Hulme, did a much better job of telling the story of Nagell in 2003 than he did in 1992, writes Jim DiEugenio.


In reviewing Dick Russell's new anthology book, On the Trail of the JFK Assassins, I noted how it revealed just how long the author had been writing about the JFK assassination. It goes back to at least 1975. And in my review I noted the multiplicity of subjects Russell had covered in that regard. These two factors, hitherto not fully revealed, shed backward light on his earlier JFK book, The Man Who Knew Too Much, in both its incarnations (1992 and 2003).

Nagell1
Richard Case Nagell
Nagell2
Richard Case Nagell

When I first read Russell's 1992 version of the book I was disappointed in the work. That book got a lot of exposure and was strongly pushed by its publisher. Russell got TV exposure and also an article in the LA Times. I thought the book was bloated, confusing, maddeningly meandering, and – most of all – wasteful.

Why the last? Because, like others e.g. Jim Garrison, I have always believed that Richard Case Nagell was one of the most important witnesses there was in the JFK case. The only two rivals he has in regard to a conspiracy before the fact are Sylvia Odio and Rose Cheramie. Yet in the 1992 version of the book, Nagell's story got lost. Actually, the better phrase would be it got buried. And today, in the aftermath of the current anthology, I think we can see why. In 1992 Russell was so eager to put so much of what he had been working on in the last 17 years into that book that he lost sight of the forest for the trees. This was unfortunate since, as anyone can see from reading On the Trail of the JFK Assassins, nothing else Russell wrote about in the JFK case ever approached the importance of Nagell. I could have easily foregone every sentence about Mark Gayn, and the Japanese International House etc. in the 1992 book for just one more section about Nagell. Russell did not understand this. And neither did his original publisher. This is what editors are for. To give a book wholeness and perspective. To tell a writer when he is wrong.

Lachy Hulme finally did that. Hulme is an Australian actor who Russell is lucky enough to have as a friend. Hulme has a strong interest in the JFK case. And he understood the mistake Russell made in his first book. He convinced Russell to reissue the book in 2003 and he helped him edit out a lot of the pork. As we shall see, not quite all of it. But a very large portion of it. The text now comes in at a much more manageable 466 pages. The appendices and footnotes are about another hundred. The important thing is that now the Nagell story stays on center stage. It is not frequently consigned to sideshow status. Or, at times, completely absent. And that is the way it should be. Nagell should be the star – the name above the title. Sharing it with no one.

Russell explains why right at the start. A most compelling piece of evidence that Nagell had at the time of his arrest in September of 1963 was a near duplicate of Oswald's Uniformed Services Identification and Privileges Card. (See p. xvii) As Russell notes, it had the picture and the apparent signature of Oswald on it. Russell did not recall this card in the Warren Commission volumes. Neither did two other researchers he consulted with at the time. (ibid) The only other place the card had appeared was in an obscure book by Judy Bonner called Investigation of a Homicide. Bonner had gotten the card from the Dallas Police. But there is something even more interesting about the mystery. In the card seized by the Dallas Police, there is an overstamp that appears which says "October 1963". In the version that Nagell had, the imprint does not appear. Why? Because Nagell was in jail after September 20, 1963. Also, the photo of Oswald in the Nagell version is different. That photo is from a different ID card. And on that card, Oswald used his Alex J. Hidell alias. As Russell notes, this second card is believed to have been fabricated by Oswald himself, including the added picture. In other words, Nagell had to have been very close to Oswald prior to his September 1963 arrest. For he actually had access to Oswald's identification cards. Some versed in espionage would say that this indicates Nagell might have been either a "control agent" or a "surveillance operative" for Oswald. (The cards are pictured in the photo section of this book.)

From this information in the Preface, Russell cuts to chapter one of the text. It is aptly titled, "The Man Who Got Himself Arrested". At this time, Nagell had other things in his possession similar to what Oswald had in November: names in their notebooks, Cuba-related leaflets, and miniature spy cameras. (p. xviii)

Russell details Nagell's actions in El Paso on the morning of 9/20 better than anyone ever has. Nagell first went to a nearby post office before entering the bank. He mailed five hundred dollar bills to an address in Mexico. He then mailed two letters to the CIA. (p. 1. Later on, the author reveals that one was addressed to Desmond Fitzgerald. Fitzgerald was heavily involved in both Clandestine Services and Cuban operations at the time.)

From the post office, Nagell walked over to the State National Bank. There was a young police officer in plain sight. Nagell walked over to a teller and asked for a hundred dollars in American Express traveler's checks. (ibid) But before Nagell could retrieve the checks, he turned and fired two shots into a wall right under the ceiling. He calmly returned the revolver to his belt and walked out the front door into the street. He stepped into his car and waited. When no one came out, he pulled his car halfway into the street. He saw the policeman from inside and stopped his car. When the policeman came over to his car with his gun pulled, Nagell put his hands up and surrendered.

The arresting officer was one Jim Bundren. When Bundren searched Nagell one of the odd things he found on him was a mimeographed newsletter from the Fair Play for Cuba Committee (FPCC). (p. 2) When Bundren notified the FBI, lest the arresting officers forget, Nagell asked them to get the machine gun out of the trunk of his car. Of course, there was no machine gun. But there was a suitcase, two briefcases filled with documents, a 45-rpm record box, two tourist cards for entry into Mexico (one in the name of Aleksei Hidel), a tiny Minolta camera, and a miniature film development lab. As previously noted, the personal effects Nagell had uncannily resemble Oswald's.

On the way to the El Paso Federal Building, Nagell issued a statement to the FBI: "I would rather be arrested than commit murder and treason." (ibid)

Now, to anyone familiar with the JFK case, just the above would be enough to certify that Richard Case Nagell was in the know about who Oswald was and what was going to happen. But Bundren related to Russell an incident that makes it all even clearer. At a preliminary hearing for Nagell, the defendant related to the officer the obvious: that he wanted to be caught. To which Bundren replied that he knew Nagell was not out to rob the bank. The following colloquy then occurred:

Nagell: Well, I'm glad you caught me. I really don't want to be in Dallas.

Bundren: What do you mean by that?

Nagell: You'll see soon enough. (p. 3)

When Kennedy was assassinated, the full impact of Nagell's prediction did not hit Bundren. But when Jack Ruby shot Oswald, it did. Bundren exclaimed to himself, "How the hell would he have previous knowledge of it? How would he know what was coming down in Dallas?" (ibid) When Bundren went to the FBI to try and talk about Nagell's stunning prognostication, the agent he knew there told him he was not at liberty to discuss it. Bundren concluded from the experience that "Nagell know a lot more about the assassination then he let on, or that the government let on. Its bothered me ever since." (ibid) Indicating Bundren was right about what the government knew, Russell notes at this point that one of the notebooks seized from Nagell that day was not returned to him for eleven years. The other notebook was not returned at all.

As Nagell told Russell, the CIA was not the only government agency he tried to notify in advance of the murder. He also was in contact with the FBI. In fact, an FBI agent's phone number was in his notebook. But that wasn't all. He also had written down the names of two Soviet officials, six names under the rubric of CIA, a LA post office box for the FPCC, and an address and phone number for one Sylvia Duran of the Cuban Consulate in Mexico. This last was in Oswald's notebook also. (p. 6) And not revealed until many years later, Nagell had a Minox miniature spy camera in the trunk of his car upon his arrest. The same kind of spy camera that the FBI tried to deny Oswald had for many, many years. (p. 6)

I think it's important to note: If the above was part of the contents of the notebook that the FBI finally returned to Nagell, imagine what was in the notebook they never returned to him.

On March 20, 1964 Nagell wrote a note to Warren Commission Chief Counsel J. Lee Rankin. In that correspondence Nagell revealed his warning to the FBI. But he also revealed that he had made a request through the prison authorities for the Bureau to get into contact with the Secret Service about an upcoming assassination attempt. The date: November 21, 1963. Incredibly, Nagell's name does not appear either in the Warren Report or in the accompanying 26 volumes.

But probably the most interesting correspondence to survive is a letter that Nagell wrote to Senator Richard Russell. Russell was the former Warren Commissioner who had expressed doubts about what the Commission was doing. So much so, that he had conducted his own mini-investigation using his own investigators. Apparently, Nagell had heard of this. And in this letter Nagell, for the first time, revealed some of the specifics of what he knew about Oswald. He began by saying that he had been monitoring Oswald in both 1962 and 1963. This surveillance, plus information gathered from others, led him to conclude that: 1.) Oswald had no real relations with the FPCC 2.) He also had no real relations with pro-Castro elements, but he was gulled into believing he did 3.) He had no real relations with any Leftist or Marxist group 4.) He was not an agent or informant, in the generally accepted sense of the word. 5.) He was involved in a conspiracy to murder President Kennedy which was not communist inspired or instigated by a foreign government. (p.7, Russell's italics.)

The date of this letter is January 3, 1967. Before any of the discoveries of the Garrison investigation were made public. Before the domestic publication of the works of Mark Lane or Sylvia Meagher. In fact, Nagell was still in prison when he wrote it. And he had yet to be visited by any investigator for Jim Garrison.

Later on, in a letter to Representative Don Edwards, Nagell revealed that his letter of warning to the FBI was specifically addressed to J. Edgar Hoover. He wrote it using one of his aliases, Joseph Kramer. In it he said that Oswald was part of a conspiracy to murder President Kennedy which he thought would take place in late September of 1963. (The mistaken date is why Nagell did what he did in El Paso on September 20th.) He gave the Bureau a complete description of Oswald including his true name, physical description, two aliases and his residential address. He conveyed certain data about the plot including one overt act which was a violation of federal law. And he used the name Kramer because two FBI agents in Miami knew him by that alias at the time.

No wonder Garrison called Nagell the most important witness there is.

II

Russell reveals in his anthology that he first discovered Nagell through his meeting with Richard Popkin. He had gone to California to meet Popkin while on assignment for the Village Voice. But before actually meeting the most important witness, the author decided to stop in El Paso to do some research through the local papers.

He discovered some interesting facts. When he appeared before the court on November 4, 1963 Nagell told the judge, "I had a motive for doing what I did. But my motive was not to hold up the bank. I do not intend to disclose my motive at this time." (p. 13) Russell also discovered something that is interesting because it did not happen. Even though two FBI agents were in on his arrest, and the Bureau confiscated his belongings, no FBI representative testified at his trial. (p. 14) This is especially intriguing since, in a newspaper story of 1/24/64, Nagell revealed that the FBI had asked him about Oswald and Oswald's activities. (p. 14) After he was convicted, Nagell leaped to his feet and shouted, "Why weren't the real issues brought out in court!" Later adding, "They will be some time." (p. 16)

After his trip to El Paso in October of 1975, Russell then traveled to Los Angeles to meet Nagell for the first time. At this meeting Nagell was not really forthcoming but he did reveal that he had a photo of Oswald in his trunk at the time of his arrest, which the FBI never returned to him. (p. 26) That his mother and sister were both interviewed by the FBI after the assassination. (Which, of course, is strange since Nagell is not in the 26 volumes of the Commission.) Researching Nagell's appeals case, Russell discovered a filing made in 1974 which was quite revealing about Nagell's monitoring of Oswald. He wrote that although he was under contract to the CIA in 1962-63, he came to the conclusion that his inquiries in the time period which concerned not just Oswald but people like Manuel Artime and Vaughn Marlowe, were also being done for a "foreign nation", that is the Soviets. (p. 29) This holds out the possibility that someone in the CIA was working with the original KGB agents who hired Nagell to prevent the assassination of JFK.

As mentioned above, the FBI interviewed Nagell's sister after the assassination. It is clear from reading this book that Nagell was quite close to her. Right after he was arrested, but before the assassination, he wrote to her that "I have refused to offer an explanation as to certain overt acts ... Someday I shall explain everything in detail to you pertinent to this apparent disgrace." (p. 37) His sister's widower said that Nagell's mission was to eliminate Oswald before the assassination. (p. 39) He also told Russell that the FBI visited them in 1965 to see some of the papers Nagell had sent to them. While they were on vacation, the FBI broke into their home and stole some of the documents. (p. 40)

Nagell's career in the armed forces was distinguished. In 1953, during the Korean War, Nagell attended the Monterey School of Languages. In 1954, he suffered through a plane crash. And although many have said that somehow this impacted him psychologically forever, the army cleared him of any kind of personality change afterwards. (p. 46) In fact, less than a month after the crash he was approved for a new intelligence assignment. (ibid) Working for Army Intelligence, Nagell opened the mail of suspected communists with postal inspectors right next to him. They broke into the offices of suspected communist organizations and stole whole file cabinets. (p. 47) It was in the winter of 1955-56 that the CIA first recruited Nagell. (p. 48) And in fact, the names of his two recruiters were found in his notebook. Russell called one of them and he confirmed that he had worked in the LA office of the CIA. (ibid) Later in 1956, Nagell was transferred to another intelligence agency called in the Far East called Field Operations Intelligence (FOI). FOI was involved in black ops: assassinations, kidnappings, blackmail etc. (p. 54)

While in the Far East, Nagell worked in Japan. He used the aliases of Joe Kramer and Robert Nolan, and the CIA has certified this. (p. 61) It was at this time and place, Japan in 1957-58, that Nagell first met Oswald. This was after Oswald was observed outside the Soviet Embassy in Tokyo. (p. 72) Curious about what he was doing there, Nagell arranged to be introduced to the young Marine under an assumed name. (ibid) Also, Nagell told the author that both he and Oswald had girlfriends at the Queen Bee, a famous nightclub in Tokyo. (p. 76) Further, Nagell raised the possibility that Oswald was involved with him and a Japanese local in an attempt to get a Soviet intelligence officer named Eroshkin to defect. (p. 73)

When Nagell left his Far East assignment in late 1959, he moved to Los Angeles, and a he got a job working for the state of California. But, he told the author, that he was still working for the CIA. Specifically, in the Domestic Intelligence unit, which would later be formalized under Tracy Barnes as the Domestic Operations Division. (p. 263) This is quite interesting of course since this part of the CIA was an illegal unit that was doing all kinds of weird things and it employed people like Howard Hunt, and according to Victor Marchetti, probably Clay Shaw. (William Davy, Let Justice be Done, p. 196) What makes it even more interesting is that former CIA agent Robert Morrow later revealed that in 1963, Barnes told him that he was aware of a plot to kill President Kennedy which included Shaw. We will refer to this fascinating aspect of the Nagell story later.

After a shooting incident on the job, Nagell left his state employment. He secured a Mexican tourist card from the consulate in LA. From there, he went to visit a friend of his at the Hotel Luma in Mexico City. And this is where Nagell's tale takes on a large and sinister dimension.

III

In 1966, Nagell hinted at what had happened to him in Mexico in 1962. He wrote his dear sister, "If it does eventually become mandatory for me to touch upon the events leading to my sojourn in Mexico in 1962 ... (where and when it began), I shall do so, but only subsequent to being granted immunity from prosecution ..."( p. 145) Nagell was now purely under the employment of the CIA. And a friend of his in Mexico, Art Greenstein, went to a party with him once where he later referred to someone he had talked to, his contact there, as a typical CIA agent. (p. 147) His mission was to serve as a double agent for the Agency in an operation against the Soviet Embassy in Mexico City. The timing of this "disinformation project" was near the outset of the Cuban Missile Crisis. And since these kinds of operations were the domain of David Phillips--who had a Cuban desk in Mexico City--Nagell hinted to Greenstein that Phillips had been an accomplice in this project. It was after the completion of this mission, when the Missile Crisis was over, that Nagell first learned of a plot to kill JFK. And he learned of it in his double agent status through the KGB. (p. 152)

In October of 1962, a Soviet contact of his told him that he had heard that a Cuban group named Alpha 66 had been talking about a plot to kill JFK. The reason being that they had gotten wind of Kennedy's no invasion of Cuba pledge made to close the crisis. The contact asked him to investigate the rumor to see if it was true. If it was to try and ascertain those involved, the method to be used etc. (p. 154) Nagell had barely begun his inquiry when he was called to the Soviet Embassy. Something that had never happened to him before. He was told there that it was not just a rumor. He was briefed further, furnished a number of pictures, and told to return to the USA and continue his investigation in earnest. (ibid) Alpha 66, of course, was a violent Cuban group backed by the CIA. In fact, Antonio Veciana was probably its most famous member. And Veciana famously told investigator and author Gaeton Fonzi that David Phillips was his CIA handler, and he had seen Phillips meeting with Oswald in Dallas in the late summer of 1963. And before he left Mexico, Oswald's Soviet contact showed him a photo of Oswald since they were suspicious of him from his Soviet sojourn. (p. 155) Though, at this time, not in relation to the plot to kill Kennedy. On October 21st, 1962 Greenstein saw Nagell off from the Hotel Luma. He asked Nagell if he would be hearing from him in the future, or if he would read about him in the papers. Nagell said that he would. Greenstein then said, "Something big?" To which Nagell replied, "Yes ... something big." (p. 160)

He first journeyed to Dallas to inquire about the status of Oswald. At this time, Oswald had been back in Texas for about five months and was carefully ensconced in the White Russian community. This had been done with the help of George DeMohrenschildt. But only after the approach to Oswald had been approved by local CIA Station Chief J. Walton Moore. After doing this, Nagell then went to both Washington DC and New York City. While in Washington he was approached by what he thought was a Soviet agent and he reported this to his CIA handlers. He was then told to go to Miami and wait in a bar to be approached by a Soviet agent. (p. 163) At this time, not sure whom he was working for, caught up in a web of intrigue, Nagell journeyed both west to Tallahassee, and south to St. Petersburg. There he checked into a Bay Pines VA Hospital complaining of headaches, blackouts, and amnesia. This was on December 20, 1962. Some commentators have used this incident, and another to be described to discredit Nagell as being neurotic or worse. But what they always leave out is what Nagell told Russell about what he learned in Florida. He had penetrated a Cuban exile group who had planned on blowing up the Miami stadium where Kennedy was to speak to the prisoners released from Cuba in the Bay of Pigs exchange. (p. 164) Nagell was trying to keep a safe distance from the plot. So far from discrediting his story, this is consistent with what he did in El Paso in September of 1963. And Russell furnishes evidence of the plot. There is an intelligence report from the Miami Police Department that says that a local Cuban was overheard saying on the night JFK spoke in the Orange Bowl that "Something is going to happen in the Orange Bowl." (ibid) Nagell was right. But the FBI and the VA tried to smear him anyway. The FBI file on Nagell excerpted the first line of the Bay Pines report which said, "Chronic brain syndrome associated with brain trauma..." (p. 179) The FBI left out the final line of the report which declared Nagell competent upon his departure. Further, the VA exaggerated his so-called "brain trauma". It was actually diagnosed from his previous injury as "brain concussion, cured." (p. 180) With a witness as good as Nagell, the Bureau pulled out all the stops. Especially when he blamed Hoover for not heeding his letter of warning previous to the assassination.

Nagell then did some work in Miami. He was checking on an alleged relationship between Eladio Del Valle and New Orleans Cuban Revolutionary Council representative and former Batista official Sergio Arcacha Smith. (p. 182) He also was checking on an associate of Dave Ferrie. This is all extraordinary of course since Smith and Ferrie will soon figure prominently in Oswald's life, in a most intriguing manner. Nagell was one heck of an investigator.

In April of 1963, Alpha 66 announced the opening of a Los Angles chapter. (p. 208) Consequently, Nagell decided to move to LA temporarily in order to monitor this new branch opened up with much fanfare. Nagell picked up the scent of another plot to kill JFK when he arrived in LA in June of 1963. The man the plot focused around was Vaughn Marlowe, an executive officer with the LA FPCC. (p. 210) Marlowe had written a letter to Jim Garrison in 1967 telling him about Nagell and how, for reasons unknown, he had been tailing him back in 1963. Nagell revealed in 1964 that he was watching Marlowe since he was being scoped out by an Alpha 66 Cuban who would later visit Sylvia Odio in September of 1963. (p. 211) According to Nagell, the plot was to take place during JFK's visit to the Beverly Hilton hotel for the premiere of the film PT 109.

When Russell found Marlowe he told the author that Nagell approached him like some kind of double agent would. He told him he was a former Army Intelligence officer who actually wanted to help Marlowe in his social causes. (p. 213) Nagell later filed a report on Marlowe that was 23 pages long. Which he kept on microfilm. (ibid) The reason Marlowe was such an attractive candidate was that he was a stern critic of JFK from the left. He had a critical poster of JFK in his bookstore front window and he organized a demonstration against him around the time of the Missile Crisis. Finally, and this made him a better candidate than Oswald--Marlowe was an ace rifleman from his days in the service. After the assassination, Nagell wrote Marlowe a letter from prison telling him not to tell anyone that he mentioned the name of Oswald in his talks with him. Marlowe then got in contact with Nagell's mother and told him he thought Nagell was somehow involved with the JFK murder. When she dodged the point he asked her if someone had told her not to talk about the JFK assassination with anyone and she replied they had. Many years later, in 1975, Marlowe finally located Nagell and wrote him a letter. He apologized for not doing more to help inform the public of why Nagell was in jail back in 1964. (p. 218)

On June 4, 1963, three days before JFK was to arrive in LA, Nagell did what he had done in Miami. He attempted to check himself into a VA Hospital. This time, the resident psychiatrist apparently saw through the sham and he was not admitted. (p. 219) Meanwhile, one of the groups demonstrating around the Hilton was the civil rights group named the Congress of Racial Equality. A group that Marlowe had once worked with.

Repeat: Nagell was a good investigator.

IV

From here, that is around July of 1963, Nagell began to monitor the plot that finally was enacted in Dallas. But when Oswald stepped onto center stage that summer, Nagell felt that something about the motivation behind the plot had changed. Why? Nagell wrote his friend Mr. Greenstein that the Cubans had gotten wind by now of the back channel Kennedy had been working on to effect a rapprochement with Castro. (p. 239) Two of the Cubans, Angel and Leopoldo, had convinced Oswald they were actually pro-Castro. And that they wanted to involve him in a plot to kill JFK. This was in reaction to plots enacted by the USA against Fidel. If he did so, Oswald would be furnished a "safe conduct" pass into Havana by the Cuban Embassy in Mexico City. Nagell told Russell he had been in Mexico City with Oswald, but not at the time of the notorious trip discussed in the Lopez Report. Nagell had told a friend of his, John Margain, about this trip. Russell later interviewed Margain and he confirmed certain details about it. (pgs. 240-241) Including the fact that Nagell told Margain that Oswald was being set up by the CIA and the Cuban exiles.

From here, Russell describes some of the characters and events from Oswald's last summer on earth. Which he spent in New Orleans with a now famous cast of characters. He quotes William Gaudet saying he saw Oswald leafleting and Oswald did not know what he was doing. Guy Banister had put him up to it. (p. 253) Russell also tells us that Nagell too had the famous Corliss Lamont flyer, "The Crime Against Cuba", but he does not tell us which edition it was. Russell produces witnesses who say they saw Oswald and Ferrie at a Cuban exile training camp that summer. (p. 256) Interestingly, Russell discusses one Carlos Quiroga, a colleague of both Carlos Bringuier and Sergio Arcacha Smith. Quiroga has often been accused of acting as a double agent. That is of posing as a pro-Castro sympathizer. Which of course, is what Nagell described as what the plotters were doing around Oswald. When Garrison aide Frank Klein interviewed Quiroga in 1967, he tried to pin the assassination of JFK on Castro. At the end of his memo, Klein wrote "This man knows a lot more than is telling us." (p. 261) Apparently, Klein was correct. Quiroga later took a polygraph test. He indicated deception on, among others, two key questions: did he know in advance JFK was going to be killed, and had he seen the weapons to be used in the assassination beforehand. (ibid)

The above dovetails perfectly with a memo that another Garrison investigator wrote. This was one William Martin who was the first person Garrison sent to interview Nagell in prison. Nagell told Martin that in his work infiltrating the conspiracy, he was able to "make a tape recording of four voices in conversation concerning the plot, which ended in the assassination of President Kennedy." (Garrison Memorandum of 4/18/67) When Martin questioned Nagell about who was on the tape, Nagell replied that one of them was named "Arcacha", and another he only identified as "Q". (ibid) (Although later, Nagell told Russell that Arcacha was discussed on the tape, not one of the actual speakers he had recorded. P. 275)) The first person referred to must be Sergio Arcacha Smith, and the second is very likely Quiroga. Further, when Garrison tested Quiroga with the question, "According to your own knowledge, did Sergio Arcacha know Lee Oswald?", the criteria indicated a deception. (Davy, pp287-88) It very much seems that Quiroga was hiding his advance guilty knowledge. Of course, Martin turned out to be one of the several CIA agents who helped capsize Garrison. He may be the reason the tape never surfaced. (Or that may be due to new information to be discussed later.)

As Russell notes, most of Nagell's time from July to his arrest in September was spent on Oswald. And although Nagell was deliberately vague about exactly what he was doing, another source, besides Garrison, shed some backward light on those activities. In 1976, former CIA agent Robert Morrow wrote Betrayal, a fictionalized account of his days in the Agency leading up to the murder of Kennedy. In that account, he named a man who was almost eerily resembled Nagell. Except in that book, he was called Richard Carson Fillmore. It was not until many years later, in the nineties, that Morrow discussed openly who the actual people in the 1976 book represented. As we have noted, Nagell revealed he worked in the forerunner of the DOD from 1959 onward. In 1962, Tracy Barnes exercised control over this newly named and organized unit. With both Nagell and very likely Clay Shaw under him. Interestingly, Morrow knew that "Joe Kramer" was one of Nagell's pseudonyms. (p. 264) Barnes told Morrow that he had sent Nagell to New Orleans to investigate certain goings-on with the Banister-Ferrie group in the summer of 1963. As Russell notes, Nagell corroborates this part of Morrow's story in a letter to Greenstein he wrote in 1967. There he mentioned that he had received instructions from someone at CIA HQ to join a Cuban exile affiliate of Alpha 66 in New Orleans to "find out if things were real." (ibid) Further, Nagell later told Garrison that "Angel" and "Leopoldo" both had worked with the group Movement to Free Cuba which was supervised by Barnes. Nagell also said at the time that Ferrie knew both of these men who, of course, ended up at Sylvia Odio's home in late September of 1963. (p. 265)

Let me mention another fascinating linkage between Nagell, Odio, and the Garrison inquiry. Sylvia Odio always maintained that the Caucasian who accompanied the two Cubans was referred to as one "Leon Oswald". This, of course, corresponds with the name given to the man at Ferrie's apartment discussing some kind of assassination plot as testified to by Perry Russo. Nagell told Russell that he knew both Oswalds, Lee and Leon. (p. 287) And he said the latter showed up on the fringes of the nascent conspiracy. Nagell added that Leon Oswald worked only with the anti-Castro Cubans and made no attempt to appear pro-Castro. He also said that this second Oswald was in Mexico City somewhere between July and September of 1963. Nagell wrote to Russell that Leon Oswald was eliminated in the latter part of September by mistake. (Russell surmises that it was probably by the KGB.) This new Nagell aspect now makes three witnesses who met someone referred to as "Leon Oswald". All of the meetings taking place in a clearly conspiratorial aspect and pre-assassination. (I should add, there is a fourth witness to this Leon Oswald. It is Ferrie's friend Ray Broshears who said Leon resembled the real Oswald. p. 367) It sounds very much like someone was trying to confuse things about multiple Oswalds before the fact. For instance, Nagell says that the Leon Oswald he knew was killed around the third week of September. If so, Angel and Leopoldo were still using that name with what was probably the real Oswald. Further, both the KGB and Barnes strongly suspected a conspiracy to kill Kennedy forming in New Orleans with Cuban exiles like Smith, and with CIA agents like Ferrie.

Russell implies that by the end of August and in early September, Nagell realized he was in the middle of something very big and very evil. In late August Nagell communicated to Desmond Fitzgerald of the Clandestine Services that something was clearly transpiring. (p. 275) Except at this point Nagell apparently thought the actual assassination attempt would take place in the East, in the Washington-Baltimore area. In fact, he actually tried to join Communist Party cells at the time in those areas. (p. 276) Journeying to Mexico for further instructions, Nagell could not meet with his CIA contact there. But his KGB contact told him to try and separate Oswald from the conspirators by telling him he was being duped. And if this did not work, and the plot appeared to be heading forward, to eliminate him. (p. 278) Later, Nagell told the author "If anybody wanted to stop the assassination, it would be the KGB. But they didn't do enough." (ibid)

From Russell's narrative it seems that Nagell failed in his KGB mission. He could not convince Oswald to admit he was being used. Therefore the plot proceeded. Nagell describes a meeting with Oswald in Jackson Square where this confrontation occurred.( p. 282) What seems to be happening in this incident is that you have two agents from different parts of the CIA taking orders from different chiefs. Oswald connects through officers like David Phillips and Howard Hunt through to James Angleton. Nagell works through his Mexico City contact named Bob up to Tracy Barnes. I have never seen any evidence that connects Barnes to the conspiracy. I have seen a lot of evidence that connects Hunt, Phillips, and Angleton. Because of that unseen gulf, Nagell could not fulfill his mission. What made his dilemma worse is that he also could not bring himself to kill Oswald. Feeling lost and helpless, Nagell used his old stand by trick. He tried to check into a VA Hospital. This time in Los Angeles. Again, he couldn't pass muster. (p. 278) Because of his failure, it appears that Nagell expected to be killed. For when he visited a friend in LA, he informed him of what to do with some of his possessions in case of his demise.

I must note here that Russell insinuates an absolutely diabolical possibility in a chapter called "The Setup". One of the reasons Nagell may have panicked is because the CIA was freezing him out. (p. 283) He got no reply from his communication with Fitzgerald. While in Mexico, his contact failed to meet him. His only communication about the plot was now with the KGB. Russell holds out the possibility that Nagell had been duped into thinking that he was working on this mission for both sides. When in fact the CIA was using him to both monitor and confuse the KGB effort to thwart the plot. This may be why Leon Oswald was mistakenly eliminated and why Nagell was confused about the conspiracy's ultimate location. (Although, as seen by his conversation with Bundren, he ultimately found out its actual destination.) Another possibility is that someone in the know learned about Barnes' efforts and told him to back off.

Nagell became so confused that he actually thought of leaving the USA and going to Eastern Europe. And his KGB contacts agreed he should. Around September 17th, he mailed a letter to the FBI alerting them to the conspiracy. He then drove to El Paso. He was supposed to meet a contact across the border, in Juarez. (p. 290) Nagell was thinking of going from Mexico to Cuba. He cruised the streets for awhile and decided against crossing over and meeting his contact. He went to the post office, and as related above, mailed the money to Mexico and wrote the letters to the CIA. (Later on in the book, Nagell reveals to Russell that the five hundred dollars was for Oswald's expense money on his Mexico trip. p. 290) He then walked over to the bank to purchase the American Express checks. Nagell told Russell there was a reason for this. As revealed in On the Trail of the JFK Assassins, Nagell was being paid by the CIA through this company. And there is strong evidence that Oswald was also. Since there was no robbery, Nagell believed he would be tried on a misdemeanor. And that all the things in his car, plus the purchase of the American Express checks would allow him to reveal the machinations of the plot in court. But as also revealed in the previous book, the prosecution vehemently objected to any mention of American Express. And many of the things in his car were disposed of. In his first interview with the FBI Nagell actually said, "all of my problems have been solved for a long time, and now I won't have to go to Cuba." (p. 292)

Oh ye of too much faith.

V

While Nagell was in jail, the plot he monitored proceeded forward. Russell does an OK job of outlining it. For instance, he describes the incredibly important Hunt memorandum. This was an internal 1966 CIA memorandum describing the need for an alibi for Howard Hunt for November 22nd since he was in Dallas at the time. It came from James Angleton's office. And as anyone knows who has read Mark Lane's Plausible Denial, Howard Hunt never did have an alibi for where he was on 11/22/63. Yet people who worked with Angleton tried to give him one at the legal proceedings depicted in Lane's book. (Lisa Pease probably did the best short treatment of this issue. See The Assassinations, pgs. 195-198) Russell also relates the information about David Phillips' deathbed confession admitting he was in Dallas on the day of Kennedy's murder. (p. 272) This comes through Shawn Phillips, David Phillips' nephew. Shawn's father was the writer James Phillips, David's brother. The brothers had been estranged for a number of years. James had told his son that from conversations with his brother, he understood that David did not care for JFK at all. James also suspected that his brother had a serious role in his demise. After a period of estrangement, David called up James when he knew he was dying. At the end of the call, James asked his brother if he was in Dallas the day of JFK's murder. The CIA officer started to weep and said that yes, he had been. Since this confirmed what he had long suspected, James hung up on him. (ibid)

While in custody, Nagell wrote a letter to the FBI again. He stated that what he did on September 20th in El Paso came from a love for his country no matter how inappropriate or incomprehensible it appeared. This note was sent by air-tel to Washington the next day. Two days after, President Kennedy was killed. (p. 347)

To complete the cover up, Nagell was sent to Springfield prison as part of his incarceration. He was part of their behavior modification program. (p. 385) As was also-and I suppose this was just a coincidence-- Secret Service agent Abraham Bolden. (See James W. Douglass' JFK and the Unspeakable, p. 216) It just happened that both men were intelligence officers who, based on their privileged knowledge, tried to blow the whistle on the Kennedy plot. The FBI fully took advantage of Nagell's Springfield predicament by telling the Warren Commission that Nagell was psychologically disturbed and could not be trusted. (p. 386)

The first judge at Nagell's trial retired before the trial actually began. He was replaced by Homer Thornberry, a close friend of President Johnson's. Further, the CIA friendly Texas attorney Leon Jaworski recommended Thornberry. (p. 391) After his conviction and sentencing, Nagell was dragged from the courtroom screaming that the FBI had allowed Kennedy to be shot. And further that they had questioned him about Oswald before the murder. (p. 393) The FBI agents on the scene made sure that Hoover was alerted to this fact. When he was sent to Springfield, Nagell wrote a letter to his sister saying he understood why he had been sent there: "If the American people think that only the Chinese are experts at brainwashing ... I am afraid someday they will be in for a big surprise when it is discovered that the FBI is not too far divorced from Hitler's Gestapo ..." (ibid) While in jail, Nagell was visited by the CIA who told him to stop talking about Oswald. (p. 401) Nagell was then transferred to Leavenworth where he was tortured. (p. 404) On trips back to El Paso for hearings on his appeal, he was beaten up.

Nagell's attorney, Joe Calamia, was so intent on getting Nagell freed that he got his client to cooperate with the government in a psychological ruse. An army doctor named Edward Weinstein had once treated Nagell after an airplane crash in the service. Nagell actually told the FBI about Weinstein himself. But the court made it clear that Nagell now had to lie about this in order to have any chance upon appeal. In other words, Thornberry and the FBI were striking a deal with the defendant: We will give you a chance to go free if you go along with our deceitful discreditation of you as a witness. Urged on by Calamia, Nagell went along with this ploy, but he did so kicking and screaming. (p. 408) Eventually this is how Nagell was finally released. Weinstein said Nagell had suffered brain damage from his plane accident and therefore had "confabulated" his story about Oswald and what he did in the bank. Here is the problem with Weinstein's thesis: Nagell underwent an EEG and psychological testing at Springfield. The examining doctor wrote: "I did not find any evidence or finding suggestible of brain damage." (p. 407) This report was deliberately kept out of Nagell's second trial. By both the defense and prosecution. Calamia made a deal with the devil to get his client out of jail. Nagell got out in April of 1968.

When Nagell was released the CIA gave him $15,000. He then left for East Germany on a mysterious mission. Russell believes this may have been to be debriefed by the KGB. And Nagell has also written to Greenstein hinting at this possibility. (p. 427) The context of this debriefing would have been his meetings with Jim Garrison and his volunteering to appear as his witness at the trial of Clay Shaw. And if anyone doubts how important Nagell's testimony would have been, consider this: On February 12, 1969 while in New York, a hand grenade was thrown at Nagell from a speeding automobile. After this, Nagell went to New Orleans. He told the DA he did not think it would be a good idea for him to testify at the Shaw trial. He then turned over the remnants of the grenade to Garrison and his staff. (p. 436)

But this game worked both ways. Nagell's ex-wife had split and taken his two children with her. As part of his dealings with the CIA upon his release, they told him the State Department would help locate his children who he thought were in Europe. While searching for them in Spain he told a consulate officer that if they did not keep their part of the bargain, he would reveal the whole story about President Kennedy's murder to the media. (p. 437) The CIA took this very seriously and now had the press monitored to see if Nagell was talking. (p. 438) They also began tracking Nagell throughout Europe. Further, Russell checked every CIA name in Nagell's notebook and they all were really with the Agency. A number of them were from Angleton's staff. (p. 439)

In the spring of 1970, Nagell was finally alerted to the whereabouts of his children. In a rather incredible revelation to Russell in 1993, Nagell's son told him that he recalled being in East Germany as a small child with his sister. When he revisited Germany as an adult, he recalled some of the places he had been. But he added about the earlier sojourn, "It was not with our mother. We went by plane, with some blonde woman ... A very strange situation." (p. 445) Was the CIA using Nagell's children as bartering chips for his silence?

The other chip the CIA used was Nagell's retirement benefits. Which he finally received after a protracted struggle. (p. 446) But the rest of his life was very much controlled. The government was not satisfied with smearing him as being "disturbed". His files had him pegged as a racketeer "and associated with people I never even heard of." (ibid) His mail was monitored and stolen. Many letters Russell wrote to Nagell during the writing of The Man Who Knew Too Much never got to him. (p. 449) His handlers ordered him to stay completely clear of Russell. When he would not they ordered him to clear any talks with the author beforehand. (p. 448)

The day after the Assassination Records Review Board sent Nagell a letter requesting a deposition, he died. When the authorities broke into Nagell's home they found a key ring with 19 keys on it. Six of them were for footlockers in which Nagell had stored his valuables concerning his CIA service and monitoring of Oswald. While living with a niece, Nagell had told her of the contents of one of these foot lockers. Pointing at a purple one, he said "This one contains what everybody is trying to get hold of." (p. 451)

Nagell's son Robert found out the location of the foot lockers was Tucson. He went there and found five of them. The one that was missing was-no surprise-- the purple one. And the day Robert went to Tucson, his house was ransacked while he was gone. Someone was definitely worried about what Nagell would leave behind. When the niece was shown the inventory of what was in the other lockers she said Nagell told her about a couple of audio tapes and a couple of photos. None of these articles survived.

The new edition of The Man Who knew Too Much closes with some compelling information not available to Russell in 1992. First, the author talked to a former military intelligence officer named Jim Southwood. Southwood actually saw the 112th Military Intelligence file on Oswald. The one that was famously destroyed after the assassination. (p. 456) While stationed in the Far East, he received a request from the 112th to do some research on Oswald and the DeMohrenschildts. Southwood told Russell that he discovered Oswald was under surveillance by both ONI and Army Intelligence while in Japan. One of the reports had Oswald frequenting gay bars. And one of them had him intimately involved with a Soviet Colonel named Eroshkin. Which, of course, would confirm Nagell's story about his first encounter with Oswald. From perusing the file Southwood was convinced Oswald was some kind of intelligence operative. And although he could find no new info on the DeMohrenschildts, he did find out something quite interesting. All the info the 112th already had on Oswald came from that couple. And it was all of a prejudicial nature: he was a strange personality, he had weird sexual habits, and he needed to be watched at all times. As I noted in the review of On the Trail of the JFK Assassins, this contrasts dramatically with what the DeMohrenschildts toward Russell in 1975. And it is further evidence that they had been used earlier and felt badly about it later.

Russell, with the help of Hulme, did a much better job of telling the above story in 2003 than he did in 1992. If anything, Hulme did not go far enough with the editing scissors. I would have cut out about sixty or so more pages. For example, the chapters on General Walker and the material on Charles Willoughby seem to me to have almost no relation to the Nagell story. Further, it seems that Russell never read the declassified Lopez Report, one of the crown jewels of the ARRB. Because in his discussion of Mexico City in late September, he makes some statements that are contradicted by that adduced record.

But finally the Nagell story is in a manageable and understandable narrative form. To me it is one of the crucial and most powerful stories in the Kennedy literature. And for anyone to deny it, one must believe in something of a wild conspiracy theory. Witnesses like Art Greenstein, Nagell's sister, his niece, his son-in-law, and his son must all be lying. And they all must be lying to the same effect. Jim Bundren and John Margain are lying and the lies just happen to coincide with what Nagell screamed out to the crowd after his conviction. When he was arrested, Nagell just happened to have all that paraphernalia in his car that was so similar to Oswald's. And he then just happened to guess right at the mutual American Express payment method for the two spies. And Nagell just happened to have the phone number for Sylvia Duran before anyone knew how she figured in the plot. And he had a version of Oswald's Uniformed Services Privilege Card before Oswald altered it. And somehow, what Nagell knew about the conspiracy just happened to partly coincide with what both Sylvia Odio and Rose Cheramie knew, down to the actual Cubans involved.

Oh, really? Who is wearing the tin foil hats now? But that's how good a witness Richard Case Nagell was.

Last modified on Wednesday, 02 November 2016 22:36
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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