Rumors of "Clay Bertrand"
"You think your investigation's been all that secret? You know, when you talk to people, they talk to other people."
-- David Ferrie (Joe Pesci)
to Lou Ivon (Jay O. Sanders)
in Oliver Stone's JFK(1)
A few days before Christmas 1966, Jim Garrison announced to several members of his staff that he had "deduced" the identity of the mysterious "Clay Bertrand" described to the Warren Commission by Dean Andrews. "One, Bertrand is homosexual," he said. "Two, Bertrand speaks Spanish. Three, his first name is Clay." Then he picked up a photograph that had been lying face down on his desk, and displayed it to his associates. It was a photograph of Clay Shaw.(2)
Garrison treated Dean Andrews to the latest of several dinners at Broussard's, and shared with him his conviction that Clay Shaw was Andrews' "Clay Bertrand." Andrews told Garrison that he was wrong. But the DA's mind was made up.(3)
Clay Shaw was questioned by the New Orleans District Attorney's Office on December 23, 1966. "I was questioned by an assistant DA named [Andrew] Sciambra," Shaw would later recall, "who told me they'd come across the fact that Lee Harvey Oswald had known someone named Clay Bertrand when he was in New Orleans. They'd gone over a list of Clays, thought about me, and wanted to know if I'd known Oswald. I said no, that I'd almost met him when he'd come to distribute Fair Play for Cuba leaflets in front of the Trade Mart, but that my assistant had dealt with him. I added, with what in retrospect seems irony, that I guess I missed my tiny footnote in history by not meeting the bird."(4)
The DA himself then appeared, and Shaw repeated for him what he had told Andrew Sciambra. Garrison "thanked me profusely for being a good citizen, for being cooperative and coming in," Shaw would later recall. Later, Garrison told his staff to "forget Shaw." He had already told several newsmen that Shaw was "Clay Bertrand"; now he told them that Shaw had "absolutely nothing to do with it."(5)
Dean Andrews now began trying to undo several years of lying, explaining to Garrison that there was no "Clay Bertrand." In January 1967, Garrison told Life's Richard Billings that "Bertrand" "may not exist" -- but he "may be Clay Shaw."(6)
By no later than February 1967, however, at least one member of Garrison's staff was freely telling people that not only was Clay Shaw "Clay Bertrand," but that Dean Andrews had said so. This was not true.
Investigators Andrew Sciambra and Lou Ivon paid David Ferrie a visit on February 18, 1967. Towards the end of their interview, Sciambra asked Ferrie "if he would like to tell me some more about his trip to Hammond and [Ferrie] smiled and said 'Go to hell.'" Sciambra writes, "I then asked if he stayed with Clay Shaw. [Ferrie] said, 'Who's Clay Shaw?' I said, 'All right, if that doesn't ring a bell, how about Clay Bertrand?' He said, "Who's Clay Bertrand?' I said Clay Bertrand and Clay Shaw are the same person."(7)
A week later, Sciambra also informed Perry Russo that Clay Shaw used the alias "Clay Bertrand," something of which Russo would admit to having been previously unaware.(8)
Up until this point, no one at the New Orleans Police Department, the New Orleans District Attorney's Office, the FBI or the US Secret Service could confirm that a "Clay Bertrand" had ever even existed in the Big Easy. But now rumors began to swirl around the French Quarter that there was such a figure, and that he was Clay Shaw.
An FBI confidential informant, identified only as New Orleans 1309-C, contacted the Bureau on February 24 to report "that he [had] received information that the individual using the name Clay Bertrand is actually Clay Shaw." He did not reveal his source for this information, but mentioned that he had already "called Louis Ivon, investigator for Garrison, and told Ivon that he had heard that Clay Shaw and Clay Bertrand were one and the same, and although Ivon would not confirm this information, appeared very upset and wanted to know where informant developed this information."(9)
On this same date, Aaron Kohn, managing director of the Metropolitan Crime Commission, advised the FBI that "he had received information that Clay Bertrand and Clay Shaw were one and the same. Kohn advised he picked this information up from one of 89 news sources that contacted him on February 24, 1967." "Kohn advised that he also received information that there is a man named Clay Bertrand living in Lafayette, Louisiana, a real estate broker that lived in New Orleans about the time of the assassination of President Kennedy. Kohn unable to supply additional information re Clay Bertrand of Lafayette, Louisiana."(10)
Clay Shaw himself heard this rumor two days later. "[O]n Sunday evening, February 26," Shaw told James Kirkwood, "a Walter Sheridan from the NBC Washington Bureau got in touch with me, wanted to know if he could come over and talk with me. I said yes, and he arrived some after.(11)"
At this point, Kirkwood notes, "Shaw hesitated and lifted a hand in the air, one finger pointed up." "You know, it's funny," he continued, "but a faint alarm sounded when I asked him if he'd like a drink and he hesitated perceptibly. I thought this was strange, but he recovered and said he'd have one. I wondered why this man wouldn't want to take a drink with me, but then I thought, Oh, well, I'm imagining things. I fixed our drinks and he said there were rumors in town I was the mysterious Clay Bertrand that a man named Dean A. Andrews, Jr., had talked about in connection with Oswald. I pointed out to him that it would be ridiculous for me to try to use an alias of any kind, that I was well known in the city, I'd been on television, given speeches, my picture had been in the papers over a period of years and, because of my size alone, I couldn't very well get away with running around using a fictitious name. I told him I had no idea what was going on, but I did know that I was not now nor have I ever been Clay Bertrand."(12)
On March 1, 1967, Jim Garrison arrested Clay Shaw and announced to the world that Shaw was "Clay Bertrand." Two weeks later, Garrison called Dean Andrews before the New Orleans Grand Jury, and Andrews was questioned about "Clay Bertrand." Andrews was also questioned about a parole he had arranged for a Thomas Clark, a parole that, as Assistant District Attorney of Jefferson Parish, had not been a precisely legal maneuver. Andrews had mentioned this to Garrison, never dreaming that his pal, Big Jim, would use it against him.(13)
A quick look at the Grand Jury roster of March 16, 1967 shows that Garrison had lined up two witnesses -- Thomas Clark himself and Fenner Sedgebeer of the NOPD -- to testify against Andrews on the Clark matter, should Andrews decline to give the Grand Jury the testimony Big Jim wanted.
According to Andrews, he and Garrison had made a deal -- that if Andrews would not identify "Clay Bertrand" as Clay Shaw, he would at least not deny that Shaw was "Bertrand." Andrews stuck to the deal. And Jim Garrison charged him with perjury.
After several more months of shadow-boxing, Andrews went public with the admission that there was no "Clay Bertrand" -- that he had plucked the name out of thin air to cover for his friend, Gene Davis. Davis did not know Oswald, but it was a phone call from him that had inspired Andrews to announce that he would be representing the accused assassin in Dallas.(14) Davis had been in a great deal of trouble with the DA's office, and Andrews didn't want to see his name brought out in the JFK probe. (Andrews further explained that Davis had never used the name "Clay Bertrand" -- that it was simply a name Andrews had come up with as a cover for Davis.)
No sooner had Davis' name been made public than a whole new batch of rumors appeared, linking the bar owner to the "Bertrand" alias.
A June 20, 1967, FBI teletype from New Orleans to Washington states that NBC had reported that an NBC reporter had "located a homosexual in New Orleans who uses the pseudonym 'Clem Bertrand.' Department of Justice informed Bureau [on] June 19, 1967, that a source not connected with NBC advised that the homosexual located by NBC is Gene Davis, also known as Eugene Davis."(15)
In the summer of 1962, Leander D'Avy had been working as a doorman at the Court of Two Sisters restaurant, where Gene Davis was Night Manager and tended bar. Following Dean Andrews' revelation, D'Avy told claimed that Lee Harvey Oswald approached him and asked to speak to "Clay Bertrand," a name with which D'Avy was unfamiliar. Gene Davis told D'Avy he would speak with the man. Davis and Oswald spoke at the bar, and Davis later told D'Avy that Oswald had been behind the Iron Curtain.(16) In the summer of 1962, of course, Oswald was not in New Orleans, and could not have made this visit. (D'Avy later greatly embellished his story, adding David Ferrie and two of the "three tramps" to his cast of characters.(17)
Another Court of the Two Sisters employee, Michael Hadley, came forward to claim that Lee Harvey Oswald had lived in a small apartment above the restaurant in early 1962. Hadley said that he had overheard Oswald talking with Gene Davis about a "Clem Bertrand."(18)
In July, a William Morris informed the NODA that in 1958, he had been introduced by Gene Davis to a "Clay Bertrand, and that Clay Shaw "resembled" this person. (Clay Shaw was a barrel-chested 6'4", weighed over 200 pounds, had very distinctive facial features and a shock of prematurely white hair. Few would be uncertain if he was someone to whom they had been introduced.) The NODA discarded Morris, for obvious reasons, but Jim Garrison exhumed Morris' statement for his 1988 memoirs, without informing the reader what Gene Davis' relationship to the case had been, nor that Gene Davis had stated under oath that he had never socialized with Clay Shaw, nor even spoken a word to him in his life.
By the time the House Select Committee on Assassinations convened in the late 1970s, some had come to wonder if "Clay" or "Clem Bertrand" could possibly have been a Carlos Marcello-connected lawyer named Clem Sehrt, who was also acquainted with Marguerite Oswald.
On December 26, 2000, William R. Livesay, a real estate agent with amply documented ties to the New Orleans District Attorney's Office and Gene Davis, came forward with a startling claim.
In a post to the Usenet group alt.assassination.jfk, Livesay writes:
I worked as a Maitre D at the Court of Two Sisters and my girlfriend was a stripper at one of the local clubs. While waiting for her to get off work one night, I got into a fight with a fellow in a bar and cut him with a knife. I was charged with attempted murder and released on bond. . . . I asked Eugene C. Davis, who was night manager at the Court of Two Sisters if he could set me up with any of his lawyer friends. He sent me to Dean Andrews. Before I left for the appointment I asked Gene (now deceased) if I could drop his name to the lawyer and he told me to tell Andrews that Mr. Bertrand sent me. I remember this as though it were yesterday and it meant absolutely nothing to me at the time.
During the time of Jim Garrison's JFK investigation and the trial of Clay Shaw, Livesay was serving time at the Louisiana State Penitentiary at Angola, where he did not have access to the news media. "Only after seeing, nearly 40 years later, how crucial the Clem Bertrand thing was to the Garrison case, does it have any meaning to me," Livesay writes. "It tells me that Bertrand was Gene Davis because he did use that pseudonym for some reason when sending clients to Dean Andrews."
I concluded a previously posted version of this article by saying:
"The truth of the matter is that no credible evidence has ever been advanced to show that "Bertrand" was ever anything more than what Dean Andrews admitted he was -- a figment of his imagination; a fictitious name used to cover for Gene Davis.
While it would be a mistake to change this conclusion because of the testimony of a single witness, Livesay's account cannot be easily dismissed.
In the end, of course, what's important is not so much who "Bertrand" was, if he in fact existed, but who he was not.
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1. Oliver Stone and Zachary Sklar, JFK: The Book of the Film (New York: Applause, 1992), p. 87.
2. Patricia Lambert, False Witness (New York: M. Evans & Co., 1998), p. 47. See also Epstein, 196-7; Milton E. Brener, The Garrison Case (New York: Potter, 1970), p. 62; James Kirkwood, American Grotesque (New York: Harper, 1992), pp. 139-40.
3. Lambert, p. 50.
4. James Kirkwood, "Surviving," Esquire, December 1968.
5. Lambert, pp. 51-52. Garrison had told Life's Richard Billings and David Chandler of his Shaw/"Bertrand" theory. According to onetime NODA investigator William Gurvich, Garrison had also told two other newsmen, a "Bill" at New Orleans' WWL and Joe Wershba in New York. Lambert, p. 301 fn. 28.
6. Richard Billings, Personal Notes, January 22, 1967 (p. 6).
7. Memorandum from Andrew Sciambra to Jim Garrison, February 28, 1967, re: Interview of David Ferrie by Andrew Sciambra and Louis Ivon, February 18, 1967.
8. Patricia Lambert, False Witness (New York: M. Evans & Co., 1998), pp. 72, 305 fn., citing Perry Russo, interview with William Gurvich, F. Irvin Dymond, Edward F. Wegmann and Salvatore Panzeca, partial transcript, March 1971, from the files of James Phelan, p. 10. Russo identified a photograph of Shaw as someone he had seen previously, but could not come up with a name. According to Russo, Sciambra asked him, "Is his name Bertrand?" "I'm not sure," Russo said, "is that his name?" "That's the name he went as," Sciambra replied. This occurred either during the initial Sciambra-Russo interview of February 25, 1967, or the following Monday, February 27.
9. FBI Teletype from New Orleans to Director, February 25, 1967; RIF 124-10047-10284, FBI Doc. No. 62-109060-4584.
10. FBI Teletype from New Orleans to Director, February 25, 1967; RIF 124-10047-10284, FBI Doc. No. 62-109060-4584.
11. James Kirkwood, "Surviving," Esquire, December 1968.
12. James Kirkwood, "Surviving," Esquire, December 1968.
13. Lambert, p. 43.
14. Dean Andrews, Shaw trial testimony.
15. FBI Doc. No. 124-10054-10205.
16. FBI NO 89-69 1A-139; John Armstrong, "Harvey and Lee," Probe, Vol. 5, No. 1, Nov.-Dec. 1997, p. 21.
17. FBI NO 89-69 1A-139; John Armstrong, "Harvey and Lee," Probe, Vol. 5, No. 1, Nov.-Dec. 1997, p. 21.; Leander D'Avy, House Select Committee on Assassinations Interview by L. J. Delsa, 1977.
18. John Armstrong, November in Dallas presentation, 1998.
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