Truth or Dare: the Lives and Lies of Richard Case Nagell Richard Case Nagell -- had inside knowledge of the JFK assassination?

Part 1 — Introduction

Of the numerous individuals to come forward and claim inside knowledge of a John F. Kennedy assassination conspiracy, Richard Case Nagell may well be the most intriguing of all.

Did Nagell possess foreknowledge of the JFK assassination? Had he in fact been recruited by an agency of a foreign government to assassinate Lee Harvey Oswald in September 1963, and "stop the clock" on the assassination? Did he have personal knowledge of alleged conspirators such as David Ferrie, Guy Banister, Clay Shaw, Sergio Arcacha Smith, and "Angel" and "Leopoldo," the two Cubans reportedly seen in the company of Lee Harvey Oswald by Silvia Odio?

Dick Russell's The Man Who Knew Too Much reveals one side of the enigmatic Nagell. This article reveals another.

Part 1: Dog Day Afternoon

It was September 20, 1963, and Richard Case Nagell had had enough.

A decorated war hero in Korea, Nagell had resigned from the US Army in 1959 with a 64 percent disability retirement, which was at least 36 percent short of what he thought he deserved for his experience, which had earned him severe disfigurement and permanent brain damage.(1) According to one Army psychiatrist, Nagell's "judgment and perception of reality was seriously disturbed so that he could not accurately distinguish right from wrong,"(2) the result not only of battle, but of a 1954 plane crash in which Nagell had been the only survivor.(3)

The military had been practically the only family Nagell had ever known.(4) Following his 1959 resignation, Nagell found it difficult to adjust to civilian life.(5) He had briefly worked for the government in another capacity, as an investigator by the state of California, but had been fired for the same reason he had been removed from Military Intelligence — for shooting off his mouth about confidential government matters.(6)

Worst of all, Mitsuko wouldn't let him see his kids.

Nagell had married Mitsuko Takahashi, a Japanese national, in 1958.(7) She soon gave birth to a daughter, Teresa, and a son, Robert. The two were barely old enough to walk before Mitsuko had taken them and left.(8) At that time, Nagell checked himself into a Veterans Administration hospital, lamenting his inability to keep his marriage together, expressing his fear he could not hold a job, and describing fantasies of killing his wife.(9)

On one occasion Nagell followed Mitsuko to her apartment and broke down the door, earning himself an arrest on a "drunk and disorderly" charge. Mitsuko filed for divorce.(10) A month later he checked himself into a VA hospital for a bullet wound in the chest. He hinted that Mitsuko was responsible. The doctor believed the wound to be self-inflicted.(11)

Since then, Nagell had become increasingly aware of how much he was slipping. His nerves were shredded, he was growing increasingly unstable, and he had quit two jobs because he couldn't concentrate.(12) He tried several times to obtain psychiatric treatment, but invariably refused to cooperate when his requests were granted. He complained to the FBI that his wife refused to comply with a court order granting him access to his children,(13) and later admitted he had no such court order.(14) He appeared at the Outpatient Clinic of a VA hospital in Brentwood and was referred to the Neurological Clinic, where he appeared "tearful, nervous, rigid. Would only utter words 'Got to see my kids.'"(15) Desperation was taking hold.(16)

On September 20, 1963, Richard Case Nagell appeared at the State National Bank in El Paso, Texas, with a Colt .45 revolver in his pocket. "My whole purpose of entering the bank in El Paso," he would state three years later, "was for the purpose of obtaining psychiatric help and treatment, and not for the purpose of actually robbing the bank."(17)As one observer would put it, "Nagell undoubtedly feels that his country owes him something."(18)

Although, by his own account, Nagell had betrayed the US many times,(19) he ultimately could not survive without the government's help. Whatever his precise intentions upon entering the bank that day in El Paso, one thing is certain: the government was not giving Richard Case Nagell the help he needed, and one way or another someone was going to pay.

Nagell reportedly fired two shots into the plaster wall just below the ceiling. He then walked outside and surrendered to police.(20) As the State National Bank was federally insured, the FBI sent two agents to interview Nagell. Their report reads, "When asked for his motive in attempting to hold up the bank. Nagell stated that he was unhappy with the American judicial system, because he had attempted, through judicial procedures, to get to see his two children, a girl 3½ and a boy 2½, in custody of his divorced wife, and the California court had not executed an order in keeping with his request."(21)

On November 22, 1963, Richard Case Nagell thought of a better story.

Next: The story that Richard Case Nagell told JFK assassination researchers

You may wish to see:

1. Dick Russell, The Man Who Knew Too Much. New York; Carroll & Graf, 1992, p. 63.

2. Russell, 63.

3. Russell, 95-6.

4. Russell, 91-2.

5. US Department of Justice, Bureau of Prisons, Classification Study, June 29, 1966; Secret Service Richard Case Nagell Potential Threat File, RIF #154-10002-10330, p. 199. Documents contained in this file will hereafter be designated by the notation "SS" and the page number(s).

6. Russell, 184, 735; US Department of Justice, Bureau of Prisons, Classification Study, June 29, 1966; SS 202.

7. Russell, 715.

8. US Department of Justice, Bureau of Prisons, Classification Study, June 29, 1966; SS 199.

9. Russell, 184.

10. Russell, 179-84. There is some confusion about when the couple was actually divorced. A 1966 Justice Department report flatly states that the couple divorced in November 1962, and names Nagell as the source of this information. This would seem to be confirmed by Nagell's characterization of himself to the authorities as divorced following his arrest of September 20, 1963, and to the FBI on January 3, 1964. Later, however, he would profess complete ignorance of any divorce. For example, in an interview with the Secret Service on July 9, 1969, Nagell stated that he "does not know if he is divorced from his wife or not" (Secret Service report of July 10, 1969; SS 86). A later statement of Nagell's dates the divorce to January 4, 1964, during his incarceration, and states that he himself was unaware of the divorce until later (Russell, 652). Nagell claimed that in late May 1968, he had several meetings "with a CIA official he knew only as Buehel [who] . . . told Nagell he had heard that his wife had divorced him while he was in Leavenworth." (Russell, 652) On March 10, 1969, he told a consulate official in Barcelona that he "speculated that he might not even be married by now, since his wife may have obtained a divorce during his imprisonment" (Richard C. Brown, American Consul, Memorandum of Conversation, March 10, 1969; SS 115)

11. US Department of Justice, Bureau of Prisons, Classification Study, June 29, 1966; SS 201.

12. US Department of Justice, Bureau of Prisons, Classification Study, June 29, 1966; SS 199-201.

13. Russell, 307, 719.

14. Russell, 774 fn. 63.

15. Russell, 343.

16. US Department of Justice, Bureau of Prisons, Classification Study, June 29, 1966; SS 199.

17. Dialogue reconstructed from US Department of Justice, Bureau of Prisons, Classification Study, Report of Psychiatric Staff Examination, June 29, 1966; SS 205: ". . . Nagell emphasized to Dr. Parlato very carefully that his whole purpose of entering the bank in El Paso was for the purpose of obtaining psychiatric help and treatment, and not for the purpose of actually robbing the bank. He kept emphasizing this throughout the interview."

Lest anyone suggest that the report has been fabricated, it should be noted that Nagell possessed a copy and refers to it in his June 6, 1967, signed and notarized draft of a Memorandum in Support of a Petition for Habeas Corpus. Not only does Nagell not contest its contents, but he quotes and endorses nine separate statements from the report (Twenty-Fifth Specific Allegation, pp. 29-30 of Dave Manning transcription, "Files and Records Pertaining to 'The Man Who Knew Too Much,' Richard Case Nagell, CTKA).

18. Department of State telegram from US Embassy, Madrid, Spain, April 9, 1969; SS 138.

19. Richard Case Nagell once noted, "During the period of my military service I had occasion to sign numerous US Government loyalty oaths, and to perform in capacities for which I could now be prosecuted if it were disclosed that I was a Communist at the time" (Russell, 160). Nagell stated on several occasions that he had been performing services for at least one foreign government at this time (Russell, 159-60). He specified to Bernard Fensterwald in 1978 that he had worked for the Soviets while a member of the CIC (Russell, 160), reportedly told Leavenworth cellmate David R. Kroman that "during his entire service for the US Government . . . he was an agent for the Russian government" (Stephen Jaffe, Investigator, Memorandum to Jim Garrison, District Attorney, February 14, 1968, re: interview on January 27, 1968, of David R. Kroman) and informed Jim Garrison that he had functioned as a double agent (Russell, 159). "Hypothetically," he told Dick Russell, "I was doing something for another country and it backfired. I got ID'ed, got called in, and I strapped some story on my superiors." "This had to do with a Korean who was a suspected Soviet agent, though he was working with a very right-wing group. He was one of our informants, and also an informant for the Japanese police. They wanted to know, why did I contact this guy? They caught me cold. I came out with some preposterous thing that they bought." "If they'd have checked, I'd have been court-martialed . . . The Korean was really a contact and I screwed up" (Russell, 160).

It must be emphasized that, as with Nagell's claims of service with US intelligence, there is no evidence supporting his claims of having served a foreign government or governments. The self-incriminating nature of these claims does not necessarily lend them credence.

20. Russell, 44.

21. Russell, 774 fn. 36. Russell inserts a bracketed notation that "divorced" is inaccurate. As noted above, it may be accurate after all. In June 1966, in the presence of several witnesses, Nagell told psychiatrist George Parlato that "his whole purpose of entering the bank in El Paso was for the purpose of obtaining psychiatric help and treatment, and not for the purpose of actually robbing the bank. He kept emphasizing this throughout the interview" (US Department of Justice, Bureau of Prisons, Special Progress Report, June 13, 1966; SS 205).

22. Russell, 47.

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