Did the Clinton witnesses really link Clay Shaw to Ferrie and Oswald?

The LaFontaines and the Clinton Witnesses

by Dave Reitzes

Given the number of other cases in which the LaFontaines mangled the historical record in their book Oswald Talked, I didn't have high hopes for their handling of the "Clinton Witnesses," who supposedly link David Ferrie, Lee Oswald, and Clay Shaw in a little town in rural Louisiana.

As it turned out, their treatment of the issue was about as bad as I expected.

They write:

The parked late-model Cadillac wasn't the kind of car you often saw in Clinton. Neither were its two occupants, who continued sitting in the plush comfort and staring impassively at the milling locals. The man at the driver's wheel was a distinguished-looking silver-haired gent with a ruddy complexion and fine manners, howdying pleasantly to everyone who passed his window. The other occupant, though quiet, was an unforgettable sight. He appeared to be wearing a rumpled wig and had eyebrows that were painted on like two black scrawls above his mouselike eyes (Ray and Mary La Fontaine, Oswald Talked, 184).
Okay, from the top . . . Not a single witness described the passengers staring ahead impassively. Not a single witness described the driver as distinguished-looking, and not a single one said he had silver hair. Not a single witness noticed the driver "howdying," pleasantly or otherwise, to anyone. Not a single witness described a rumpled wig or even a toupee on the man in the passenger's seat; only Corrie Collins said that the man's hair looked "unnatural," not like "real hair." Not a single witness described the man as having painted-on or black eyebrows; Henry Earl Palmer remembered the man having "bushy" eyebrows. Not a single witness described the passenger as having mouselike eyes; none of them mentioned the man's eyes at all.

Most importantly, the man in the passenger's seat was anything but "an unforgettable sight" -- Corrie Collins was the one and only witness who testified that David Ferrie had been in Clinton, and when shown Ferrie's photo on January 31, 1968, a year before the trial, Collins only vaguely recalled "seeing this man around Clinton somewhere but can't be sure where or when."

Of course, we also know now that Collins' earliest statements of all -- in October 1967 -- didn't mention anyone like Ferrie at all. Of course, we only know that because Patricia Lambert did what these self-proclaimed "serious journalists" did not do -- investigated the Clinton incident, and turned up previously unknown information from one of the original Clinton investigators.

At any rate, so far we've got, at best, a fictionalized account of what the Clinton witnesses said. ("Clinton Ripples"?)

Let's see how the La Fontaines handle the specific issue of the Clinton folks and their designated suspect, Dave Ferrie.

It wasn't long after the car's arrival that town marshal John Manchester noted the odd pair. . . . Five and a half years later, Manchester would testify in a packed courtroom that the "easy talking" man he saw behind the wheel . . . [was] Clay Shaw. A succession of other Clinton witnesses similarly picked out Shaw as the man sitting at the wheel of the limousine that day, and identified his shotgun-seat companion, from photos, as David Ferrie (Ibid., 184-5).
Did John Manchester remember "the odd pair" in the Cadillac? Well, yes and no. He certainly remembered two men in the car, but did he remember Ferrie specifically? When he was asked, "Can you describe the individual on the passenger side?" he said simply, "No, sir, I can't. Mister, I didn't talk to him."

Check out the definitive account of the Clinton witnesses, using recently released documents and trial testimony, written by Dave Reitzes.

Notice the La Fontaines don't explicitly claim that Manchester identified Ferrie; he merely "noted the odd pair." He ID'ed Shaw, and then "a succession of other Clinton witnesses" ID'ed Ferrie. So we're left with the implication that Manchester identified Ferrie, but the La Fontaines manage not to actually say so.

But they goof nonetheless, because no "succession of Clinton witnesses" identified David Ferrie -- only Corrie Collins did.

Manchester didn't remember Ferrie at all. Henry Earl Palmer was shown a photograph of Ferrie and said, "I can't recognize the individual," only that "the hair and the eyebrows are similar." William E. Dunn, Sr., didn't even know if there was a man in the passenger seat at all: "I knows one man was setting behind the wheel, and maybe another one but I am not sure."

Nevertheless, a "succession of Clinton witnesses" identified Ferrie.

Gerald Posner, eat your heart out!

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