Clay Shaw

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This article is about the New Orleans businessman. For the Florida politician, see E. Clay Shaw, Jr..
Clay Shaw
Clay Shaw.jpg
Born Clay LaVerne Shaw
March 17, 1913
Kentwood, Louisiana, United States
Died August 15, 1974(1974-08-15) (aged 61)
New Orleans, Louisiana, United States
Cause of death
Lung cancer with metastasis to brain and liver
Nationality American
Occupation Businessman and director of the International Trade Mart in New Orleans
Known for Head of the International Trade Mart; charged for being part of a conspiracy to assassinate President John F. Kennedy.

Clay LaVerne Shaw (March 17, 1913 – August 15, 1974)[1] was a businessman in New Orleans, Louisiana. He was the only person prosecuted in connection with the assassination of President John F. Kennedy and was acquitted.


Shaw was honorably discharged from the United States Army as a major in 1946. He served as secretary to the General Staff and was decorated by three nations: the United States with the Legion of Merit and Bronze Star, by France with the Croix de Guerre and named Chevalier de l'Ordre du Merite, and by Belgium named Chevalier of the Order of the Crown of Belgium.[2]

After World War II Shaw helped start the International Trade Mart in New Orleans which facilitated the sales of both domestic and imported goods. He was known locally for his efforts to preserve buildings in New Orleans' historic French Quarter.[3]


New Orleans District Attorney Jim Garrison prosecuted Clay Shaw on the charge that Shaw and a group of right-wing activists, including David Ferrie and Guy Banister, were involved in a conspiracy with elements of the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) in the John F. Kennedy assassination. Garrison arrested Shaw on March 1, 1967.[4] Garrison believed that Clay Shaw was the man named as "Clay Bertrand" in the Warren Commission Report. Garrison said that Shaw used the alias "Clay Bertrand" among New Orleans' gay society.[5][6]

The trial[edit]

Main article: Trial of Clay Shaw

During the trial, which took place in January–February 1969, Garrison called insurance salesman Perry Russo[citation needed] as his main witness. Russo testified that he had attended a party at the apartment of anti-Castro activist David Ferrie. At the party, Russo said that Lee Harvey Oswald (who Russo said was introduced to him as "Leon Oswald"), David Ferrie, and "Clem Bertrand" (who Russo identified in the courtroom as Clay Shaw) had discussed killing Kennedy.[7] The conversation included plans for the "triangulation of crossfire" and alibis for the participants.[7]

Critics of Garrison argue that his own records indicate that Russo's story had evolved over time.[8] A key source was the "Sciambra Memo," which recorded Assistant D.A. Andrew Sciambra's[9] first interview with Russo. The memo does not mention an "assassination party," and it says that Russo met with Shaw on two occasions, neither of which occurred at the party.[10]

Another Garrison witness, Charles Spiesel, said, under cross examination, that he had filed a lawsuit in 1964 against a psychiatrist and the City of New York. He testified that, over a period of several years, the police and others had hypnotized him and harassed him out of business. He also said that he regularly fingerprinted his children, lest they had been replaced with cloned lookalikes by the US Government.[11] Spiesel had been called as a witness for his claim that he had attended a gathering where Clay Shaw was present and identified himself as "Clay Bertrand". According to one of Garrison's staff Tom Bethell, Garrison had gambled when calling Charles Spiesel to testify for the prosecution. Bethell said, "On his return to New Orleans, the assistant D.A. who had interviewed him in New York said, standing next to me, "Well, he'd make a hell of a witness, but he's crazy." Garrison would later blame Spiesel for derailing his prosecution, but it's worth noting Garrison wanted Spiesel as a witness to testify against Clay Shaw despite his delusions, as long as the defense team was not aware of those previous delusions.

On March 1, 1969 Shaw was acquitted less than one hour after the case went to the jury.[12][13][14]


Jack Wardlaw, then of the since defunct New Orleans States-Item, an afternoon newspaper, and his fellow journalist Rosemary James, a native of South Carolina, co-authored Plot or Politics, a 1967 book which takes issue with the Garrison investigation as one of political style, rather than substantive evidence. Wardlaw also won an Associated Press award for his story on the death of David Ferrie.[15][16]

Garrison later authored a book about his investigation of Clay Shaw and the subsequent trial called On the Trail of the Assassins. In the book, Garrison states that Shaw had an "extensive international role as an employee of the CIA".[17] Shaw denied any such connections.[18]

In 1979, Richard Helms, former director of the CIA, testified under oath that Clay Shaw had been a part-time contact of the Domestic Contact Service of the CIA, where Shaw volunteered information from his travels abroad, mostly to Latin America.[19] By the mid-1970s, 150,000 Americans (businessmen, journalists, etc.) had provided such information to the DCS.

In 1979, the House Select Committee on Assassinations stated in its Final Report that the Committee was "inclined to believe that Oswald was in Clinton [Louisiana] in late August, early September 1963, and that he was in the company of David Ferrie, if not Clay Shaw,"[20] and that witnesses in Clinton, Louisiana "established an association of an undetermined nature between Ferrie, Shaw and Oswald less than three months before the assassination".[21]


Shaw died on August 15, 1974(1974-08-15) (aged 61) about 12:40 AM at his residence, 1022 St. Peter Street.[22] The death certificate was signed by Dr. Hugh M. Batson, with the cause of death listed as metastatic lung cancer.[23]


Shaw was portrayed by Tommy Lee Jones in Oliver Stone's 1991 film JFK. Jones received a nomination for the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor for the role.


  1. ^ "Person Details for Clay L Shaw, "United States Social Security Death Index" —". FamilySearch. Retrieved 2014-01-15. 
  2. ^ "Clay L. Shaw", Dictionary of American Biography, Supplement 9: 1971-75. Charles Scribner's Sons, 1994.
  3. ^ Milton E. Brener, The Garrison Case (New York: Clarkson N. Potter, 1969), pp. 62-64; Patricia Lambert, False Witness (New York: M. Evans and Co., 1998), pp. 48-49; Paris Flammonde, The Kennedy Conspiracy (New York: Meredith Press, 1969), pp. 71-74; Clay Shaw testimony, State of Louisiana v. Clay L. Shaw, February 27, 1969 "The JFK 100: Who Was Clay Shaw?"
  4. ^ Chriss, Nicholas C (March 2, 1967). "New Orleans Civic Leader Accused. Quizzed for Five Hour's About Conspiracy in Assassination". New York Times. Retrieved April 12, 2010. 
  5. ^ James Phelan, Scandals, Scamps, and Scoundrels, pp. 150-51. (ISBN 0-394-48196-8)
  6. ^ Garrison, Jim. On The Trail of the Assassins, (New York: Sheridan Square Press, 1988), pp. 85-86. ISBN 0-941781-02-X
  7. ^ a b Testimony of Perry Raymond Russo, State of Louisiana vs. Clay L. Shaw, February 10, 1969.
  8. ^ "Way Too Willing Witness". Retrieved September 17, 2010. 
  9. ^ Direct Examination of Assistant District Attorney Andrew Sciambra by Defense Attorney Alcock, State of Louisiana vs. Clay L. Shaw, February 12, 1969.
  10. ^ "The Sciambra Memo". Retrieved September 17, 2010. 
  11. ^ "Attempt to Use Insane Witness Blows Up In Garrison's Face". February 8, 1969. Retrieved September 17, 2010. 
  12. ^ Clay Shaw Interview, Penthouse, November 1969, pp. 34-35.
  13. ^ "Clay Shaw Trial Transcripts, February 28, 1969, page 47". Retrieved November 1, 2013. 
  14. ^ The Times-Picayune archive. "John Pope, "Andrew 'Moo Moo' Sciambra, who worked on Jim Garrison investigation of JFK assassination, dies at age 75." ''The Times-Picayune,'' (July 28, 2010)". Retrieved 2013-11-26. 
  15. ^ Jack Wardlaw and Rosemary James, Plot or Politics: The Garrison Case & Its Cast, p. 84. Pelican Publishing Company, 1967. Retrieved December 3, 2013. 
  16. ^ "Ed Anderson, "Former Times-Picayune political reporter, capital bureau chief Jack Wardlaw dies," January 6, 2012". New Orleans Times-Picayune. Retrieved December 3, 2013. 
  17. ^ Garrison, Jim. On The Trail of the Assassins, (New York: Sheridan Square Press, 1988), p. 87 ISBN 0-941781-02-X
  18. ^ James Phelan (2007). "The Penthouse Interview with Clay Shaw". Penthouse magazine. Retrieved December 18, 2007. 
  19. ^ "The Lie that Linked CIA to the Kennedy Assassination". Retrieved November 1, 2013. [dead link]
  20. ^ HSCA Final Assassinations Report, House Select Committee on Assassinations, p. 145
  21. ^ HSCA Final Assassinations Report, House Select Committee on Assassinations, p. 143
  22. ^ Bird, David (August 16, 1974). "Clay Shaw Is Dead at 60. Freed in Kennedy 'Plot'. New Orleans Businessman Accused of Planning President's Murder. Doubts Are Cited. Both 'Plotters' Dead". New York Times. Retrieved April 12, 2010. 
  23. ^ "Clay Shaw: Mysterious Death?". mcadams. Date of Report 8-28-74. Retrieved December 19, 2007.  Check date values in: |date= (help)

Further reading[edit]

  • Brener, Milton (1969). The Garrison Case: A Study in the Abuse of Power. New York: C. N. Potter. 
  • Garrison, Jim (1970). A Heritage of Stone. Putnam Publishing Group. ISBN 0-399-10398-8. 
  • Garrison, Jim (1988). On the Trail of the Assassins. New York: Sheridan Square Press. ISBN 0-446-36277-8. 
  • Holland, Max (2001). "The Power of Disinformation: The Lie that Linked CIA to the Kennedy Assassination". Studies in Intelligence 11 (Fall-Winter). 
  • Kirkwood, James (1992). American Grotesque: An Account of the Clay Shaw-Jim Garrison-Kennedy Assassination Trial in New Orleans. New York: HarperPerennial. ISBN 0-06-097523-7. 
  • Lambert, Patricia (2000). False Witness: The Real Story of Jim Garrison's Investigation and Oliver Stone's Film 'JFK'. New York: M. Evans. ISBN 0-87131-920-9. 
  • Summers, Anthony (1998). Not in Your Lifetime. New York: Marlowe & Company. ISBN 1-56924-739-0. 
  • Weisberg, Harold (1967). Oswald in New Orleans: Case for Conspiracy with the C.I.A. New York: Canyon Books. 

External links[edit]