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Clay Shaw

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Clay Shaw
Clay LaVergne Shaw

(1913-03-17)March 17, 1913
DiedAugust 15, 1974(1974-08-15) (aged 61)
EducationWarren Easton High School
Occupation(s)Businessman and director of the International Trade Mart in New Orleans
Military career
Service/branchUnited States Army
Years of service1941–1946
Battles/warsWorld War II

Clay LaVergne Shaw (March 17, 1913 – August 15, 1974)[1] was an American businessman, military officer, and part-time contact of the Domestic Contact Service (DCS) of the CIA. Shaw is best known for being the only person brought to trial for involvement in the assassination of John F. Kennedy. Shaw was acquitted in 1969 after less than one hour of jury deliberation, but some conspiracy theorists continue to speculate on his possible involvement.


Shaw in 1951, on his Brazilian immigration card

Mr. Shaw, a native of Kentwood, Louisiana, was the son of Glaris Lenora Shaw,[2] a United States Marshal, and Alice Shaw.[3] His grandfather had been the sheriff of Tangipahoa Parish.[3] When Shaw was five, his family moved to New Orleans, where he eventually attended Warren Easton High School.[3]

After graduating high school in 1928, Shaw was hired by Western Union as manager of a local office in New Orleans. In 1935, Western Union transferred him to New York City where he became a district manager. While in New York, Shaw, who wanted to pursue a career as a writer, attended Columbia University. He later left Western Union to pursue a career in public relations, eventually accepting a position with the Keedick Lecture Bureau.[4]

Shaw enlisted in the United States Army at the start of World War II and was assigned to the Medical Corps as a private. He later received an officer's commission and was posted to England where he served briefly in a hospital unit. He was transferred to the Quartermaster Corps and served as secretary to the General Staff in England and after the Normandy invasion served in France and Belgium.[4] He 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 Knight of the Order of the Crown of Belgium. Shaw was honorably discharged from the United States Army as a major in 1946.[5]

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.[6][7][8][9]

Shaw was also a published playwright. The best-known of his works, Submerged (1929),[10] was co-written with H. Stuart Cottman[11][12][13] when both were still high-school students.[14][15]

Arrest and trial[edit]

New Orleans District Attorney Jim Garrison prosecuted Shaw on the charge that he and a group of activists, including David Ferrie and Guy Banister, were involved in a conspiracy with elements of the CIA in the John F. Kennedy assassination. Garrison had Shaw arrested on March 1, 1967.[16] By then Banister and Ferrie were both deceased, but Garrison believed that Shaw was the man named as "Clay Bertrand" in the Warren Commission Report. Garrison said that Shaw used the alias of Clay Bertrand in New Orleans's gay society.[17][18]

During the trial, which took place in January and February 1969, Garrison called insurance salesman Perry Russo as his main witness.[19] 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"), Ferrie, and "Clem Bertrand" (who Russo identified in the courtroom as Shaw) had discussed assassinating Kennedy.[20] The conversation included plans for the "triangulation of crossfire" and alibis for the participants.[20]

Critics of Garrison argue that his own records indicate that Russo's story had evolved over time.[21] A key source was the "Sciambra Memo", which recorded Assistant D.A. Andrew Sciambra's[22] first interview with Russo. The memo does not mention an "assassination party" and states that Russo met with Shaw on two occasions, neither of which occurred at the party.[23]

On March 1, 1969, Shaw was acquitted less than an hour after the case went to the jury.[24][25][26]

Shaw denied any part of a conspiracy and said of the slain President: "I was a great admirer of Kennedy. I thought he had given the nation a new turn after the rather drab Eisenhower years ... I felt he was vitally concerned about social issues, which concerned me also. I thought he had youth, imagination, style, and élan. All in all, I considered him a splendid president."[27]


A heavy cigarette smoker for most of his life, Shaw died at the age of 61 at his home on August 15, 1974.[28] The cause of death was listed as metastatic lung cancer.[29] He was buried in Woodland Cemetery in Kentwood, Louisiana.[30]

At the time of his death, Shaw was engaged in a $5 million lawsuit against Garrison and members of an organization, Truth and Consequences Inc., that had financed Garrison's investigation.[31] As Shaw, a lifelong bachelor, had no heirs or surviving relatives, the United States Supreme Court dismissed the suit in 1978.[32]

Later disclosures[edit]

In 1979, Richard Helms, former Director of the CIA, testified under oath that Shaw had been a part-time contact of the Domestic Contact Service (DCS) of the CIA, where Shaw volunteered information from his travels abroad, mostly to Latin America.[33] Like Shaw, 150,000 Americans (businessmen, and journalists, etc.) had provided such information to the DCS by the mid-1970s "on a nonclandestine basis", and that "such acts of cooperation should not be confused with an actual Agency relationship".[33][34]

In popular culture[edit]

Tommy Lee Jones portrayed Shaw in Oliver Stone's 1991 film JFK.[35] He was nominated for the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor for the role.[36]


  1. ^ "Person Details for Clay Lavergne Shaw, "U.S., Social Security Applications and Claims Index, 1936-2007" —". Ancestry. Retrieved August 5, 2021.
  2. ^ "United States World War II Draft Registration Cards, 1942". FamilySearch. shows Clay's father's full name "Glaris Lenora Shaw", born in Kentwood Louisiana on 25 November 1887.
  3. ^ a b c James, Rosemary; Wardlaw, Jack (1967). Plot Or Politics?: The Garrison Case and Its Cast. New Orleans: Pelican Publishing Company. p. 62. ISBN 9781589809185. Archived from the original on June 9, 2016. Retrieved August 6, 2015.
  4. ^ a b "Who Was Clay Shaw? Oliver Stone's JFK: The JFK 100: JFK assassination investigation: Jim Garrison New Orleans investigation of the John F. Kennedy assassination". www.jfk-online.com. Retrieved March 9, 2023.
  5. ^ "Clay L. Shaw", Dictionary of American Biography, Supplement 9: 1971-75. Charles Scribner's Sons, 1994.
  6. ^ Brener, Milton E. (1969). The Garrison Case. New York City: Clarkson N. Potter. pp. 62–64. ASIN B0006C04I0.
  7. ^ Lambert, Patricia (1998). False Witness: The Real Story of Jim Garrison's Investigation and Oliver Stone's Film JFK. New York City: M. Evans and Co. pp. 48–49. ISBN 978-0871319203.
  8. ^ Flammonde, Paris (1969). The Kennedy Conspiracy. New York City: Meredith Press. pp. 71–74. ASIN B0006BTUQ8.
  9. ^ Clay Shaw testimony, State of Louisiana v. Clay L. Shaw, February 27, 1969 "The JFK 100: Who Was Clay Shaw?" Archived October 15, 2004, at the Wayback Machine
  10. ^ Cottman, H. Stuart; Shaw, Le Vergne (October 23, 1929). Wise, Claude Merton (ed.). Submerged: a tragedy in one act. Gateway series of tested plays. Evanston, Illinois: Row, Peterson & Company. OCLC 949841804.
  11. ^ "Louisiana, Orleans Parish Vital Records, 1905-1913, 1955-1963". FamilySearch. shows Herman Stuart Cottman birthdate as 23 March 1911.
  12. ^ "United States Census, 1930". FamilySearch. shows Herman S. Cottman residing in household of Alfred J. Lewis in New Orleans, Louisiana, being 19 years old as of April 4, 1930.
  13. ^ "Louisiana First Registration Draft Cards, compiled 1940-1945". FamilySearch. shows Herman Stuart Cottman birthdate as 23 March 1911.
  14. ^ Snyder, Michael (2010). ""I Feel Like a Spring Lamb" - What Clay Shaw's Literary Life Reveals". In Williams, John Delane; Waite, Robert G.; Gordon, Gregory S. (eds.). John F. Kennedy History, Memory, Legacy: An Interdisciplinary Inquiry. Archived from the original on May 23, 2013. Retrieved December 27, 2016.
  15. ^ Kubiatowicz, David (March 13, 2010). "A Short Acting Career". White Bear Lake, Minnesota. Archived from the original on December 1, 2017. Retrieved November 24, 2017.
  16. ^ Chriss, Nicholas C (March 2, 1967). "New Orleans Civic Leader Accused. Quizzed for Five Hour's About Conspiracy in Assassination". The New York Times. Archived from the original on October 26, 2012. Retrieved April 12, 2010.
  17. ^ Phelan, James (1982). Scandals, Scamps, and Scoundrels. New York City: Random House. pp. 150–51. ISBN 0-394-48196-8.)
  18. ^ Garrison, Jim (1988). On the Trail of the Assassins. New York City: Sheridan Square Press. pp. 85–86. ISBN 0-941781-02-X.
  19. ^ "Clay Shaw Trial Transcripts – JFK Collection, HSCA, February 10, p. 12" – via History Matters Archive.
  20. ^ a b Testimony of Perry Raymond Russo Archived May 25, 2006, at the Wayback Machine, State of Louisiana vs. Clay L. Shaw, February 10, 1969.
  21. ^ "Way Too Willing Witness". Jfkassassination.net. Archived from the original on November 24, 2010. Retrieved September 17, 2010.
  22. ^ Direct Examination of Assistant District Attorney Andrew Sciambra by Defense Attorney Alcock Archived May 25, 2006, at the Wayback Machine, State of Louisiana vs. Clay L. Shaw, February 12, 1969.
  23. ^ "The Sciambra Memo". Archived from the original on November 28, 2010. Retrieved September 17, 2010.
  24. ^ Clay Shaw Interview, Penthouse, November 1969, pp. 34-35.
  25. ^ "Clay Shaw Trial Transcripts, February 28, 1969, page 47". Aarclibrary.org. Archived from the original on May 9, 2007. Retrieved November 1, 2013.
  26. ^ 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)". Nola.com. Archived from the original on July 29, 2010. Retrieved November 26, 2013.
  27. ^ Bugliosi, Vincent (2007). Reclaiming History: The Assassination of President John F. Kennedy. New York City: W. W. Norton & Company. p. 1376n. ISBN 978-0-393-04525-3.
  28. ^ 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". The New York Times. Archived from the original on June 5, 2011. Retrieved April 12, 2010.
  29. ^ "Clay Shaw: Mysterious Death?". John C. McAdams. Archived from the original on February 7, 2007. Retrieved November 29, 2017. Date of Hospitalization Case Report: 1974-08-28
  30. ^ Wilson, Scott (August 17, 2016). Resting Places: The Burial Sites of More Than 14,000 Famous Persons, 3d ed. McFarland. ISBN 9780786479924. Archived from the original on November 25, 2018. Retrieved November 24, 2018 – via Google Books.
  31. ^ "Pittsburgh Post-Gazette - Google News Archive Search". news.google.com. Archived from the original on May 1, 2016. Retrieved September 10, 2015.
  32. ^ Times-Picayune, The. "1968: The Clay Shaw trial on JFK conspiracy charges". NOLA.com. Archived from the original on September 20, 2015. Retrieved September 10, 2015.
  33. ^ a b Holland, Max (2001). "The Lie That Linked CIA to the Kennedy Assassination" (PDF). Studies in Intelligence (Fall-Winter 2001, 11). Washington, D.C.: Central Intelligence Agency: Center for the Study of Intelligence. Archived from the original on December 10, 2014. Retrieved August 15, 2014.
  34. ^ Report of the Select Committee on Assassinations of the U.S. House of Representatives. Washington, D.C.: United States Government Printing Office. 1979. p. 218. ...25,000 Americans annually provided information to the CIA's Domestic Contacts Division on a nonclandestine basis" and "such acts of cooperation should not be confused with an actual Agency relationship.
  35. ^ Weinraub, Bernard (August 1, 1993). "FILM; Tommy Lee Jones Snarls His Way to the Pinnacle". The New York Times. p. 2011. Archived from the original on November 21, 2018. Retrieved January 26, 2019.
  36. ^ "Tommy Lee Jones' First Oscar Win Brought With It Some Awesome Eyewear". Huffington Post. February 24, 2013. Archived from the original on February 27, 2013. Retrieved December 6, 2017.

Further reading[edit]

  • Brener, Milton (1969). The Garrison Case: A Study in the Abuse of Power. New York: C. N. Potter.[ISBN missing][page needed]
  • 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.
  • Long, Alecia (2021). Cruising for Conspirators: How a New Orleans DA Prosecuted the Kennedy Assassination as a Sex Crime. Chapel Hill: The University of North Carolina Press. ISBN 978-1-4696-6273-2.
  • 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.[ISBN missing]

External links[edit]