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Compiled by Claude B. Slaton

24 June 1997

It has been reported that David W. Ferrie, the eccentric character central to the Jim Garrison investigation in New Orleans (1967-69), was present in a New Orleans Federal courtroom on the morning of November 22, 1963.[1] The court case involved Robert Kennedy (then U.S. Attorney General) and his Justice Department's staff's repeated efforts to deport Carlos Marcello (described by the Justice Department as a powerful organized crime boss) as an undesirable alien. Marcello's attorney, G. Wray Gill, had hired Ferrie (mainly to fly to Central American countries to run errands) as an investigator and pilot in an effort to gather evidence favorable to Marcello's defense.

So far there is nothing new in this, but a sideline to this court case extends back into the area of Louisiana where Clay Shaw, David Ferrie, and Lee Oswald were said by witnesses to have visited late in August, 1963, namely the Clinton-Jackson-St. Francisville region of Louisiana, highlighting previously unknown connections and raising new areas deserving of further research.

The sideline to the deportation proceedings points to one of the jurors at that trial, Randolph Heitler. Mr. Heitler was approached during the proceedings by Joseph Matassa, a New Orleans produce dealer, with an offer of $1,000 to vote to acquit Marcello. This was apparently considered jury tampering and the authorities later charged Marcello and Matassa with that offense, according to the Clinton newspaper, The Watchman.[2]

Mr. Edward T. Dwyer of near St. Francisville, La., was the man who introduced Matassa to Heitler, but was apparently not charged. Mr. Dwyer was, at that time, residing on a small farm about 5-6 miles west of Jackson, La., on Highway 10 in an area known as "Elm Park". Almost within sight of Dwyer's home, to the east up the highway, was the main entrance to a large farm called Marydale.

In the summer of 1963, Marydale was owned by Lloyd J. Cobb [3] of New Orleans (Clay Shaw's superior at the Trade Mart and a close business associate), and was originally an investment by Mr. Cobb to start a starch production operation at the farm, producing the starch by large amounts of potatoes grown on the place. Marydale consisted of about 1,000 acres of good Feliciana rolling farmland, and there were (and are) plenty of trees and other cover providing good hunting for deer, rabbit, turkey, or whatever was in season. It boasted a cabin or hunting lodge, where, it was said in the community, "big shots" from New Orleans would occasionally gather, such as Mr. Louis J. Roussell and Clay Shaw. Roussell, in fact, had at one time raised race horses for Jefferson Downs racetrack on Marydale (or the adjoining farm) about 1961 or 2.[4]

Ed Dwyer surfaced again when he met with two of Jim Garrison's investigators in New Orleans on April 3, 1969. During that interview Andrew Sciambra informs Garrison that "DWYER said that there is a person by the name of SYLVESTER in Clinton who is known as ED PARTIN's 'strong-arm' man and who would be able to give us some very valuable information about SHAW if he wanted to cooperate. He said he believes that SYLVESTER can tell us who SHAW knew in Clinton and when he was there."[5]

On April 30, 1997, Sciambra and Bill Alford went to Clinton and interviewed a man named Jerry Sylvester. Sylvester, who worked as a teamster for Edward Grady Partin's Local No. 5 in Baton Rouge, "seemed very cooperative" and informed the investigators that he was a "good friend" of John Manchester, the Clinton Town Constable that had testified at the Shaw trial that he had seen and talked to Clay Shaw in Clinton, La., and identified David Ferrie as the man with Shaw, while Lee Oswald was in line to register to vote in late August, 1963. He said, "If MANCHESTER said that SHAW was in Clinton, he [Sylvester] believed it." Sylvester had no "personal knowledge" of Shaw being in Clinton or St. Francisville, but that he would "talk to some people" who might be able to help, and call them back in a few days. If Sylvester ever did call them back, no record to that effect has yet come to the attention of the author.

He also told the investigators that he had "checked with" Ed Partin before he spoke to them and that he would "tell PARTIN what we discussed. He said that he doesn't want to do anything to hurt PARTIN, and I [Sciambra] assured him that all we were concerned with was SHAW."[6]

Not long after talking to Garrison's men, on Saturday, June 28, 1969, Jerry Sylvester and his brother-in-law, James D. "Sonny" Brunt of Clinton, were killed when their small private plane (serial# N3665K) crashed just after takeoff from a small, privately-owned airstrip next to the home of Mr. Carl Burlingame, who was also the plane's owner. Mr. Burlingame lived in the beautiful ante-bellum plantation home, Oaklawn, at Gurley, La., northwest of Clinton and about halfway between Clinton and Jackson.

Sylvester, who was originally from Ville Platte, La., could fly a plane and had borrowed the plane that weekend from Mr. Burlingame to go hunting with Brunt around Ville Platte. The newspaper reported that, "Parish Sheriff Arch Doughty said both men were killed instantly when the plane nosed down from about 100 feet. The plane made a poor takeoff, narrowly missing a tree before gaining altitude, according to observers. After making a circle the plane suddenly went into a nosedive." The FAA determined the crash to have been the result of the lack of lift on the extremely hot, humid day, combined with an overloaded plane. One of the pallbearers for Jerry Sylvester was Edward G. Partin of Baton Rouge.[7]

James "Sonny" Brunt, the other crash victim, worked for his father, James B. Brunt, at the J. B. Brunt Lumber Co. in Clinton, and was married to Vicki Van Buskirk, the daughter of attorney Richard G. Van Buskirk, also of Clinton.[8]

Naturally, the untimely and tragic deaths of these two people, one of whom had just been interviewed about Clay Shaw's visits to Jackson and Clinton several weeks before his death, may be just one of those "coincidences" that seem to occur from time to time during the investigation of the assassination of JFK. Still, one has to wonder, though...


[1] Davis, John H. The Kennedys: Dynasty and Disaster. New York: S.P.I. Books, 1992. Expanded rpt. of McGraw-Hill ed., 1984, p. 204. Davis' account of the bribing of juror Heitler doesn't mention Ed T. Dwyer.

[2] Full text of the article:

Feliciana Jury Chief Once Appeared in Marcello Trial

Edward T. Dwyer of St. Francisville was named foreman by 20th Judicial Dist. Judge William T. Bennett in the jury's initial selection. In August, 1965, Dwyer was a foreman of the West Feliciana Parish Grand Jury impaneled Tuesday is a man who once testified in New Orleans racketeer Carlos Marcello's jury tampering trial. Marcello and Orleans produce dealer Joseph Matassa were charged with offering Randolph Heitler $1,000. Heitler was a juror in Marcello's 1963 federal court trial for conspiracy and fraud involving a Guatemalan birth certificate, was allegedly paid to vote for acquittal. Dwyer testified two years ago last month he introduced Heitler to Matassa and was present when Heitler was asked to vote for Marcello's acquittal in the 1963 trial. Heitler and the U.S. government claimed Matassa paid Heitler two $500 payments for his vote. A witness called by Marcello's attorneys in the 1965 trial, L. L. Taylor of San Antonio, Tex., later testified he had known Dwyer since 1957. From: The Watchman, Clinton, La., 8 Sep 1967, p. 2, col. 4-5.

[3] St. Francisville, West Feliciana Parish Courthouse documents re: purchase and sale of farm "Marydale", copies in possession of the author. For many years, Mr. Cobb's brother, Alvin Cobb, was a member of several New Orleans right-wing extremist groups and was an extremely vocal critic of the Kennedy administration.

[4] Interview with the widow of "Boss" Daniels of St. Francisville, author and Jeff Caufield; geophysical map of a portion of West Feliciana Parish, "Elm Park Quadrangle"; St. Francisville, West Feliciana Parish Courthouse documents re: purchase and sale of farm "Marydale", copies in possession of the author; interview with employee (name withheld by requst) of the Department of Agriculture, St. Francisville, La.

[5] Confidential Memorandum, April 3, 1969, from Andrew Sciambra, Assistant District Attorney, to Jim Garrison, District Attorney, re: Shaw in St. Francisville and Clinton; copy from Jeff Caufield in possession of the author.

[6] Memorandum, April 30, 1969, from Andrew Sciambra, Assistant District Attorney, to Jim Garrison, District Attorney, re: Shaw Leads II (Shaw in St. Francisville); copy from Jeff Caufield in possession of the author.

[7] Author's telephone conversation with David Brunt, brother of James "Sonny" Brunt; "Funeral Rites Held Jointly For Victims Of Crash", The Watchman, Clinton, La., Friday, July 4, 1969, p. 1. Photo of crashed plane with serial number visible published with the article.

[8] Richard Van Buskirk was well-known for his activities to stop the CORE organization from assisting the local black residents to assert their legal rights (such as voting and equal educational opportunities) in the long, hot summer of 1963. He received repeated injunctions from District Court Judge (later Senator) John R. Rarick of St. Francisville to prevent CORE from doing anything in East or West Feliciana Parishes throughout that fall and into the winter because CORE, according to Van Buskirk and Rarick, was a Communist controlled organization bent on subverting America from within by creating tensions between the races. Van Buskirk was seriously injured in a one-car accident south of Clinton on November 8, 1963, and required months of recuperation.

E-mail any questions of comments to the author

Copyright Claude B. Slaton, 1997

Reprinted with permission of the author.

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