Upstanding citizens, thugs, killers, con artists, and vagrants populated the seediest areas of the Big Easy. Amid this patchwork of aspiration and desperation, a rumbling in New Orleans began surrounding Jim Garrison's investigation of President Kennedy's death. The New Orleans District Attorney faced several challenges because amid the corridors of power in United States several officials insisted the Kennedy case was closed. Yet Garrison was committed to revealing a plot he believed might include several officials, Cuban exiles, and local figures. Unfortunately, some in the public attempted to malign and obstruct him but this remains overlooked to embrace their other assertions. Yet the legal value of a witness is equal to the consistency of their statements.
One attempt of officials to marginalize Garrison was gathering older press information to learn useful negative information using the Central Intelligence Agency's Domestic Contacts Service. A letter regarding the effort by Agency Legislative Counsel John S. Warner requested background information on Garrison and suggested, "it would be a good idea for the New Orleans officer to get in touch with Congressman F. Edward Herbert when the latter was in New Orleans. Warner said Herbert was friendly and well disposed toward the Agency and could be useful. Herbert and Garrison were friends. They went to the same school and Herbert would have considerable information on Garrison."i Officials were leery of alerting Herbert about their interest in Garrison and sought make it a "casual and spontaneous gab session." Clearly, officials were ready to curb Garrison's efforts by any means possible including clandestinely using his friends against him.
Yet Garrison did not just have to contend with a series of official interference and plots to prevent his inquiry, he faced those seeking to destroy his case from within. One such instance was private investigator Gordon Novel who claimed to be a former CIA agent that Garrison reportedly called "a major witness in the Kennedy assassination plot investigation." Unfortunately, Novel could prove none of the grand claims of insider knowledge or employment with the Central Intelligence Agency. However, Garrison subsequently tied Novel to a Louisiana armed forces bunker robbery with other later suspects in his investigation and eventually a warrant for Novel's arrest was issued during the spring of nineteen sixty-seven.
Novel responded to Garrison's allegations with several of his own, he first called the Federal Bureau of Investigation to slander Garrison using the deceased former witness and suspect David Ferrie. Novel asserted he "believes District Attorney James Garrison is directly responsible for the death of David Ferrie." He told the FBI he and Garrison had previously discussed methods to "abduct Ferrie and that Garrison was very interested when Novel suggested the possibility of hitting Ferrie at the base of his skull with a rubber hammer for the purpose of abducting Ferrie". He added personally observing Garrison leave David Ferrie's apartment the morning Ferrie's corpse would be discovered and thus suggested the District Attorney was a murderer. Subsequently, Novel phoned the Times-Picayune newspaper to inform them "Mr. Garrison has finally fallen in the last trap" and then filed a fifty million dollar lawsuit targeting Garrison and his financial supporters.ii A CIA report additionally states Novel claimed on major radio stations that Garrison engaged in "occasional homosexuality", another seeming attempt to link the married Garrison to David Ferrie and damage his reputation.iii These claims similar to his prior statements have no evidence to support them, Ferrie's death would not aid Garrison's case, and Novel's motivation was likely not offering reliable information but seeking money, attention, and revenge.iv
Another figure later associated with the Garrison case in the role of possible suspect was Eugene Hale Brading aka Jim Braden.
He was a man with an extensive criminal record, alleged Mafia ties, sought to associate with the family of Nelson Bunker Hunt for alleged financial dealings, and was present in Dallas near the site of the assassination around the period it occurred. These facts inspired Garrison to suspect Brading and author Peter Noyes subsequently alleged Brading's connection with an unfolding conspiracy, yet additional evidence challenges such prior ideas because of a more extensive review conducted by the House Select Committee on Assassinations and other corroborating facts.
Brading informed officials of having no contact with Lee Harvey Oswald or Jack Ruby and despite his intention to meet with a member of the Hunt family; he was reportedly unable to locate them in a local office. Brading stated never observing Bunker Hunt and Oswald together, never discussing a plot to kill the President, and Brading had a legitimate reason to meet with Hunt to discuss the oil producing gas well property he owned in Louisiana that was developed with Roger Bauman and Morgan Brown of Dallas. Following a polygraph and interrogation, officials interviewed Brading concerning his specific actions during November 22, 1963. He was reported to probation officer Roger Carroll at the Federal Building roughly twelve blocks from Dealey Plaza "at about noon time on both November 21 and 22, 1963" and this "business with Carroll took approximately 15 minutes."v vi Probation officer Roger Carroll believed that his meeting with Brading occurred "shortly before the assassination." This meeting and the later required travel to the Dal-Tex Building precludes significant time from the period some claim Brading undertook nefarious actions. Additionally, with just minutes left he would need to rush to the roof of the building, ready the weapon, prepare a firing position, and escape to the lower floors all while remaining unobserved.
Brading asserted he came into the Dal-Tex building to report the President's death in a phone call to his family but due to an elevator attendant's suspicions was reported to Dallas police and taken into custody. While some reasonably doubt his explanation for being present due to his criminal past, the running unseen assassin scenario is quite unlikely. Brading's location and publicly known activities in the aftermath of President Kennedy's death appear sinister but he was released a few hours later because no substantial evidence connected him to the crime. He does not have much time for any role in a plot and unless facts verify direct links to Brading complicity, no reason exists to assume his involvement.
A final strange figure related to the Garrison investigation is Richard Case Nagell, a former military intelligence officer that suffered mental and emotional damage from a plane crash. His life worsened as domestic and financial problems coupled with greater mental instability led him acts of outrageous and threatening behavior. Varying claims associated with him are reliant upon a single bank robbery in which some have asserted that Nagell had possible insider knowledge of the Kennedy plot and staged the robbery to protect himself from danger. Later accounts offered a dramatic story of firing two shots in the bank then calmly walking outside to his car to await his eventual arrest. Conversely, Nagell did not mention any connection to the assassination until long after being jailed and previously refused to offer an explanation in court. Additionally, based upon evidence from the El Paso police he did not fire shots, walk to his car, and calmly await the police but tried to escape and surrendered a distance from the bank.
Unknown to many was the presence of police officer J. Bundren assigned to guard the Treasury Department currency display in the west lobby and this might have been the among the targets attracting Nagell. Following the sound of shots in the east lobby, the officer rushed to the area where he learned Nagell had fled running out the side door. Eyewitnesses Hamilton Collins and Patsy Gordon observed Nagell flee the bank and John Grisom located outside watched Nagell run down the street toward his escape vehicle. The police officer "ran out the door of the bank chasing the subject to the corner of Oregon and Overland and then west on Overland" and Nagell's trail led to a local alleyway where he emerged in a vehicle but now faced the pursuing officer pointing a gun at him and stated "All-right, I give up."vii
After some questioning Nagell was taken into custody, his vehicle was impounded, and he seemingly later created mythical associations to the Kennedy assassination. Unfortunately, some would embrace his claims due to his military intelligence background, unstable mindset, and other schemes but this has proved to be a misleading distraction. During an altercation with the police, Nagell stated "You punk cop...If I ever get to the chance to 'hit' you I will" he made the threat shortly before the FBI interviewed him for violating federal laws.viii
Officials and unreliable claims that have consumed decades of attention still fuel aspersions upon Jim Garrison by his critics. Yet the actual circumstances of the matter challenge the nature of these claims and render some merely peripheral figures of interest that have delayed greater insights with pleasing illusions and lead us no closer to imperative knowledge. Allegations without substantial evidence do not allow us to perceive the true face of our veiled history and progress requires a path constructed with unyielding facts. Sincerely,
C. A. A. Savastano
i. House Select Committee on Assassination, Segregated Central Intelligence Agency file, Microfilm Reel 24, Folder H, Photo surveillance, Garrison, May 10, 1967, National Archives and Records Administration Identification Number: 1994.04.12.12.14.44.280005
ii. HSCA, Seg. CIA file, Microfilm Reel 24, Folder I, Garrison Investigation, Garrison and the Kennedy Assassination, June 20, 1967, NARA ID: 1994.04.12.12.14.43.220005
iii. Miscellaneous CIA Series, File on Garrison, James, Garrison and the Kennedy Assassination: Gordon Dwane (sic) Novel, October 28, 1968, p. 7, NARA ID: 104-10304-10002
iv. HSCA, Seg. CIA file, Microfilm Reel 24, Folder H, Garrison Investigation, "Novel Asks Damages Which may total $50 Million", May 25, 1967, NARA: 1994.04.12.12.14.44.280005
v. HSCA, Administration Folder N-2, R#6330, AAG Michael M. Uhlmann's Correspondence to the SSC-I, Interview of Eugene Hale Brading, January 19, 1977, p. 5
vi. HSCA, Admin. Folder M6, Assassination Matters Volume XII, Letter to Roger Carroll from the Tattler, March 5, 1976, NARA ID: 124-10370-10012
vii. El Paso Police Department Supplementary Offense Report, Attempted Robbery of State National Bank, Ref: Richard Case Nagell, September 21, 1963
viii. El Paso Police Department Supplementary Offense Report, Vagrancy-Armed Robbery, Ref: Richard Case Nagell, September 20, 1963