An Analysis of Perry Raymond Russo's Testimony
at the Preliminary Hearing of Clay Shaw

Copyright © 2000, 2001 by David Reitzes

 

I recently had an opportunity to view the NBC White Paper, "The JFK Conspiracy: The Case of Jim Garrison," broadcast on June 19, 1967. [Click here for a complete transcript of the broadcast.] In this post, I quote from that broadcast, amplifying some of the material with relevant quotes from other sources.

While the broadcast dealt with a variety of evidence that Jim Garrison had voluntarily made public, this post will deal only with key witness Perry Raymond Russo, who had testified that he attended a party at the home of David Ferrie in September 1963, where he had heard the assassination of John F. Kennedy discussed by Ferrie; Ferrie's roommate, introduced to Russo as "Leon Oswald"; and a man introduced to Russo as "Clem Bertrand," identified by Russo as Clay Shaw. It was for his alleged presence at this alleged conversation that Clay Shaw was arrested and charged with conspiracy to assassinate John F. Kennedy.

Putting aside the question of when Russo first advanced this story, under what conditions it was advanced, and numerous other issues I have detailed elsewhere, let's examine another approach NBC took to gauge the reliability of Perry Russo's testimony.

First, from the document universally acknowledged as the first written account of Perry Russo's "assassination party" story, let's see (1) when Mr. Russo said this party took place, and (2) how he described Perry Russo's roommate.

Interview with PERRY RAYMOND RUSSO at the Mercy Hospital on February 27, 1967.

On February 27, 1967 Al Oser and I, after talking with Dr. Nicholas Chetta of the Orleans Parish Coroner's Office, took PERRY RAYMOND RUSSO over to the Mercy Hospital located on Bienville and Jefferson Davis Parkway. Present in the Emergency Ward Operating Room were Al Oser, Dr. Nicholas Chetta, Dr. James Wall, Dr. Richard Zepernick, PERRY RUSSO and myself, At this point, Dr. Chetta began getting PERRY RUSSO ready to undergo sodium pentothal. After the preparations were over Dr. Chetta and Dr. Wall began administering glucose into his arm and at 3:28 p.m. the actual injection of sodium pentothal into RUSSO began.

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I then asked him if he remembered telling me in our previous interview in Baton Rouge that he went up to FERRIE'S apartment on Louisiana Avenue Parkway and met FERRIE'S roommate. He said that he did remember and then I asked him to describe him and tell me all that he could remember about this roommate. He said that he had seen the roommate on about three different occasions in FERRIE'S apartment and that FERRIE at first told him that it was his roommate and called him LEON. He said LEON seemed to be around 25 years old and that what he noticed most about him was that he was very dirty and a beatnik-type guy. He said that the guy appeared to be a little nuts to him and that he would never talk to anyone. FERRIE had told him that he did not like to talk to anyone and that he was a bug on history and all he did was sit down on the porch in a rocking chair and also he read a lot. He said that he remembered FERRIE telling him that LEON was a real nut about guns and RUSSO remembered one time as he went into the apartment, LEON was sitting on a chair with his leg up cleaning a rifle. He said the rifle had a telescopic sight mounted right on top of the rifle and it was a bolt-action rifle. He also said that LEON had a pistol.

I asked him could he pinpoint the times that he saw the roommate with FERRIE and he said it was September 20 until around September 25, 1963. I asked him could he be sure of this and he said he is pretty sure -- that he knows it had to be in September.

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I then asked him if the picture that we had drawn up this morning in my office resembled FERRIE'S roommate whom he referred to as LEON, and he said yes, the picture did. He said the roommate had a bushy beard and his hair was all messed up and he was extremely dirty. He said the picture we had drawn up this morning was very, very close to FERRIE'S roommate except maybe the guy was a little dirtier.

 

On February 27, 1967, Perry Russo describes the party as having occurred between September 20 and September 25, 1963. (Two days later, under hypnosis, he would give the date as September 16. At Clay Shaw's preliminary hearing and at trial two years later, Russo would only state that the party took place towards the middle of September.)

We've also seen how Russo described Ferrie's roommate. In a prior interview, Russo had named a number of friends he said could verify his statements about David Ferrie's roommate. Two of the people he mentioned were Niles "Lefty" Peterson and Kenny Carter.

 

NILES "LEFTY" PETERSON, NBC interview

Q. Did you see David Ferrie at any other time [after Peterson's initial introduction to Ferrie]?

A. I seen [sic] him twice since then. I seen [sic] him once on Louisiana Parkway. I went to his house with Perry [Russo] and some other people. About four of us stopped in. We stayed for about 20 or 25 minutes and left.

Q. All of you left?

A. No, Perry stayed there, I think. He didn't leave.

Q. When was this?

A. September 1963.

Q. Describe that occurrence.

A. We were coming from some kind of sports event, football game, I think.

Q. Do you remember who played?

A. No, sir.

Q. Was it a Tulane game?

A. Yes, sir, a Tulane game, yes, sir.

Q. You're pretty sure it was a football game?

A. Positive.

Q. What makes you think it was September?

A. It was the first game of the season, either the first or second game of the season, one of the two.

 

FRANK McGEE, NARRATOR, NBC WHITE PAPER
"THE JFK CONSPIRACY: THE CASE OF JIM GARRISON"

Tulane played two games that year, one October 4, the other September 20. Under hypnosis [on March 1, 1967], Russo said the party took place September 16. Under oath, he said the party took place sometime, he wasn't sure when, in mid-September. Kenny Carter remembers going to a game with Russo, he thinks it was the Miami game on October 4th.

The date is crucial. Is it possible that Lee Harvey Oswald could have been present, wearing a beard and looking like a beatnik, on those dates? If not, Garrison's hearing case collapses.

 

McGee points out that Lee Harvey Oswald is documented to have been in Dallas on October 4, 1963, where he had registered at the YMCA the previous night. He applied for a job at the Padgett Printing Co. around 2:00 PM on October 4th, and visited Marina at the Paine residence in Irving that evening. (See Warren Commission Report, p. 737.)

McGee asks, "Where was Lee Harvey Oswald on September 20th?"

 

RUTH PAINE, NBC interview

Q. [When you] arrived in New Orleans, do you remember the date?

A. Yes, I think I do. I think it was the 20th of September. That would be, was a Friday.

Q. How long were you there?

A. Over the weekend, left Monday.

Q. Where did you stay when you were in New Orleans?

A. At their apartment [Lee and Marina's].

Q. And can you tell me whether or not Lee was living at home all of the time he was staying there, evenings?

A. Oh, yes, he was. He was there the entire time.

 

From the Warren Commission testimony of Ruth Paine:

Mr. JENNER. You arrived in New Orleans?

Mrs. PAINE. That is right.

Mr. JENNER. The 20th of September. (3 H 3)

[]

Mr. JENNER. . . . Now, starting with your arrival in New Orleans, you got there in the morning or afternoon?

Mrs. PAINE. I arrived midafternoon, as I remember.

Mr. JENNER. And you went directly to their home, did you?

Mrs. PAINE. Yes.

Mr. JENNER. What did you find when you reached the home?

Mrs. PAINE. I was expected. They had groceries bought.

Mr. JENNER. Who was home?

Mrs. PAINE. Marina and Lee, and the baby June.

Mr. JENNER. I don't have a calendar before me. The 20th of September is what day of the week?

Mrs. PAINE. Is a Friday.

Mr. JENNER. 1963?

Mrs. PAINE. I spent the night there that night and the succeeding 2 nights. Lee who bought the groceries while I was there, was host. (3 H 5)

 

"Ruth Paine arrived in New Orleans on September 20, and spent three nights with the Oswalds. . . . Marina and Mrs. Paine toured Bourbon Street while Oswald stayed home and did some packing for Marina's return to Texas. On Sunday, September 22, Oswald and Mrs. Paine finished loading the station wagon with the Oswalds' household belongings." (Warren Commission Report, pp. 729-30.)

 

Mrs. PAINE. . . . I was impressed during these 2 days with his willingness to help with the packing. He did virtually all the packing and all the loading of the things into the car. I simply thought that gentlemanly of him at the time. I have wondered since whether he wasn't doing it by preference to having me handle it. (3 H 7)

 

MRS. PAINE. . . . At one point Mrs. Ruth Kloepfer, who has been previously mentioned, came and visited with her sister excuse me, with her two daughters. This was after I had made a telephone call to her. (3 H 5)

 

Ruth Kloepfer was interviewed by the FBI on November 27, 1963. (Mrs. Kloepfer, the clerk of the New Orleans Quaker Meeting, had been contacted in the summer of 1963 by Mrs. Ruth Paine, who had gotten Kloepfer's name and number from Mrs. Eleanor Hammond in Garland, Texas. Mrs. Paine was looking for someone in New Orleans who spoke Russian to pay a visit on Marina Oswald and make sure was all right.)

Kloepfer said she received a phone call from Ruth Paine on Friday, September 20, 1963. Mrs. Paine said that she was in town visiting the Oswalds and invited her to stop by. Mrs. Kloepfer said she would pay them a visit the following Sunday. On Sunday, September 22, at around 2:00 PM, Mrs. Kloepfer and her two daughters, Karol and Ruth Ann, both of whom speak Russian, paid the Oswalds and Mrs. Paine a visit at 4907 Magazine Street for about one hour. Mrs. Paine's station wagon was already packed with the Oswalds' belongings, and Lee Oswald explained to Mrs. Kloepfer that Marina and June were going to Texas with Mrs. Paine, while he was staying in New Orleans for a couple more days and then would be taking a trip "north" or to Philadelphia, or perhaps "somewhere in the East." He was "very evasive and indefinite about where he was going or why, but said something to the effect that his trip pertained to business." (Warren Commission Exhibit No. 1929, Warren Commission Hearings Vol. XXIII, pp. 723-25.)

 

Mr. JENNER. These daughters [of Mrs. Kloepfer's] were adults or were they children?

Mrs. PAINE. The daughters were grown daughters.

Mr. JENNER. Grown?

Mrs. PAINE. In college, college-age daughters, and one had been studying Russian, didn't know very much. I was impressed with the role that Lee took of the general host, talking with them, looking over some slides that one of the daughters had brought of her trip, recent trip to Russia, showing sights that they recognized, I guess, in Moscow.

Mr. JENNER. That the girls recognized?

Mrs. PAINE. No; that Lee and Marina recognized of Moscow, or Lee did, at least. And he was very outgoing and warm and friendly. He seemed in good spirits that weekend. I found him--he made a much better impression on me, I will say, that weekend than the last weekend I had seen him, which was in May.

I could see, and it was the first time that I felt that he was concerned about his wife's physical welfare and about where she could go to have the baby, and he seemed distinctly relieved to consider the possibility of her going to Dallas County and getting care through Parkland Hospital, and clearly pleased that I wanted to offer this, and pleased to have her go, which relieved my mind a good deal.

I hadn't wanted to have such an arrangement come about without his being interested in having it that way.

Mr. JENNER. During the course of this, did you say you were there 3 days?

Mrs. PAINE. Three nights, two days.

Mr. JENNER. Two days and three nights . . . (3 H 4-5)

 

"Marina and June departed with Mrs. Ruth Paine for Irving on the morning of September 23." (Warren Commission Report, p. 730.)

 

From the Clay Shaw trial testimony of Ruth Paine:

BY MR. DYMOND:
Q: Can you tell us now, Mrs. Paine, when you arrived in New Orleans in September?

A: My recollection is that I arrived on Friday, the 20th of September.

Q: The 20th?

A: And left the following Monday, the 23rd.

Q: I see.

A: I didn't arrive home until sometime the next day, on the 24th.

Q: Now, when you arrived here in New Orleans on September 20, 1963, where did you go?

A: I went directly to the apartment on Magazine Street.

Q: And where did you stay during the interim between September 20 and September 23rd when you say that you left?

A: I stayed at the Oswald's apartment.

Q: I see. Now, at that time was Lee Harvey Oswald living there?

A: Pardon? Was he living there?

Q: Yes.

A: Yes, he was. He was in evidence most of the time.

Q: You say he was in evidence most of the time?

A: Yes. He was there.

Q: Do you know of any night during that period that he did not spend at home?

A: No. He was there.

Q: How about during the daytime?

A: He was there most of the day.

Q: Now, I take it then that you have known Lee Harvey Oswald since May of '63, is that correct?

A: Well, I met him first in February and saw him just briefly on occasions in the spring.

Q: Now, during the time that you knew Lee Harvey Oswald, did you have occasion to observe his general appearance, Mrs. Paine?

A: Yes.

Q: Would you term his appearance sloppy or dirty, or neat and clean?

A: he usually dressed informally, he was very neat and -- I think he liked showers -- he was clean. He usually wore a T-shirt and slacks around my home when he came on weekends in the fall of '63.

Q: Now, how about when he was here in New Orleans 9 in 1963?

A: To the best of my recollection, he wore slacks and T-shirt. He was very neat.

Q: Do you know who did his laundry?

A: Yes. Marina did. I recall going out to a washateria with Lee while we were here in New Orleans, and I --

Q: Did you ever know Lee Harvey Oswald to wear a beard when you knew him, Mrs. Paine?

A: No, no.

Q: Did you ever --

A: I never saw him with a beard.

Q: Did you ever see him obviously in need of a shave?

A: No, I didn't.

MR. DYMOND: May I have the photograph of Lee Harvey Oswald?

(Photographs handed to Counsel.)

BY MR. DYMOND:
Q: (Exhibiting photograph to witness) Mrs. Paine, I show you a photograph which has been marked for identification "State 1," purporting to be a photograph of Lee Harvey Oswald, and I ask you whether you recognize it as such?

A: Yes, I do.

Q: (Exhibiting photograph to witness) I now show you another photograph marked for identification "State 19," which purports to be a photograph of Lee Harvey Oswald with a beard drawn in, appearing to be drawn in pencil, and I ask you whether you ever remember or recollect having seen him in any condition similar to this with respect to a beard?

A: No, I never saw him with a beard. (Shaw trial, February 22, 1969, pp. 7-10)

 

RUTH PAINE, NBC interview

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A. When I came to New Orleans, about September 20th, he was clean-shaven then, and I never saw him with a beard. I don't believe he had one, to my knowledge. I think Marina would have mentioned it. And he was also neat when he dressed, and clean, it seemed to me. I just feel that Mr. Russo must have seen someone else that he thinks was Lee Oswald.

MRS. JESSE JAMES GARNER, NBC interview

Q. In September of 1963, did you see Lee Harvey Oswald often or did you hear him in the house?

A. Well, I used to hear him in the house all the time. I mean, him and his wife used to do a lot of arguing, and the baby would start crying. That's how I knew he was home.

[]

[In response to whether she had ever seen Oswald with a beard or looking unkempt or dirty, as described by Perry Russo.] I don't see how that would fit him, because I've never seen him like that.

 

NILES "LEFTY" PETERSON, NBC interview

Q. You arrived at the party at David Ferrie's house. Who answered the door?

A. His roommate.

Q. Describe his height, his general build, and . . .

A. He's about 6 or 6'1", about 170 pounds, I'd say. 165, 170 pounds.

Q. Was he quite a bit taller than you?

A. Oh, yeah, he was taller than me, yeah.

Q. How tall are you?

A. 5'9".

Q. So how much taller than you would he have been?

A. About two or three inches.

 

LAYTON MARTENS, NBC interview

Q. You were, in 1963, from the period of at least September through November, closely associated with David Ferrie?

A. That's correct.

Q. You knew practically everyone associated with him at that time, is that correct?

A. That's correct.

Q. If someone lived in his house for more than two or three days during that period of time, in other words, might have been there long enough to be considered a roommate, would you have known about it?

A. Yes, certainly.

Q. There has been testimony recently about a roommate of Ferrie's who was unkempt or wore a beard. Do any of the people you knew and who knew Ferrie fit this description?

A. James Lewallen could possibly fit that description very well. I remember at that time Lewallen did have some sort of beard, and I wouldn't necessarily call him unkempt, but to some people this might represent being unkempt. But one of the things I've noticed, remembering Lewallen, he bears a striking resemblance to this mock picture of Oswald [sketched by the NODA at Perry Russo's direction].

Q. Could he have been considered a roommate of Ferrie's?

A. Yes, he could have, possibly, I think he and Ferrie did room together sometime maybe prior to that, maybe around that time.

Q. Did you know anyone at the time associated with Ferrie by the name of Leon?

A. Well, Jim Lewallen's last name, sometimes people would address him as, "Hey, Lou," "Lee," something like that.

 

NILES "LEFTY" PETERSON, NBC interview

Q. Did you notice a big man of any description, an older man there?

A. No, sir.

Q. There was no one over forty, say in his forties or fifties, something like that?

A. Just Ferrie.

Q. Did you ever hear the name Clay? First name, Clay?

A. No, sir. Never.

Q. Did you ever hear the name Bertrand dropped?

A. No, sir. Never.

Q. Have you seen Clay Shaw's picture?

A. Yes, sir.

Q. Was the man you saw in that picture, was he at that party that night?

A. What, Clay Shaw?

Q. Yes.

A. I didn't see him.

 

CLAY SHAW, NBC interview

Q. Were you at the time or have you ever been in David Ferrie's apartment?

A. Never.

Q. You've heard of the name Clay Bertrand?

A. I have.

Q. Do you know any such person?

A. I do not.

Q. Can you state whether or not you are Clay Bertrand?

A. I am not Clay Bertrand.

Q. In 1963, did you ever have occasion to meet or know Lee Harvey Oswald?

A. Never.

Q. Did you ever have occasion to meet or know David W. Ferrie?

A. I did not.

Q. Do you have any knowledge of a plot to assassinate President Kennedy?

A. None whatsoever.

 

SUMMARY

Perry Russo is alleged to have attended a party at David Ferrie's apartment. According to Russo's friends, Niles "Lefty" Peterson and Kenny Carter, the party took place after a home football game at Tulane, making it either September 20 or October 4, 1963. (At trial, Perry Russo said that he and his friends attended the party after a sports event at Tulane. He said he did not think it had been a football game.) Perry Russo's earliest account places the date between September 20 and September 25.

Lee Harvey Oswald is known to have been in Dallas on October 4. On Friday, September 20, he was with his wife, daughter, and Mrs. Ruth Paine at 4907 Magazine Street. He was clean-shaven. Ruth Kloepfer and her two daughters visited that Sunday, September 22.

Niles "Lefty" Peterson recalled Ferrie's roommate at the time of the party being James Lewallen, who, according to Layton Martens, resembled the artist's rendering of Lee Harvey Oswald with a growth of beard. Martens recalled that Lewallen was sometimes called "Lou" or "Lee." Martens never met Lee Harvey Oswald. Martens did not know Clay Shaw. (He would meet Shaw during Mardi Gras 1965, however.) Niles "Lefty" Peterson did not see anyone resembling Clay Shaw at the party. Niles "Lefty" Peterson never met Lee Harvey Oswald.

Was Lee Harvey Oswald the person Perry Russo identified as David Ferrie's roommate? Could Lee Harvey Oswald have attended a party at David Ferrie's apartment the night Perry Russo was there? Is it likely that Clay Shaw was at such a party?

 

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