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NOLA Lore: New Orleans in the JFK Web

Part Two - The Path to Garrison's Case

Each week, J.A. Lloyd will take readers through the secret and unexamined legends, myths, and folklore of New Orleans past. This week, learn about the strange role that New Orleans played in the conspiracy surrounding President John F. Kennedy's assassination as the case championed by District Attorney Jim Garrison begins to take shape. Read the first installment on Lee Harvey Oswald's New Orleans upbringing here, and stay tuned for further installments in this series, which include the 1967 trial of Clay Shaw by New Orleans District Attorney Jim Garrison and further connections between the Crescent City and what occurred in Dealey Plaza. 


Since New Orleans son Lee Harvey Oswald’s death occurred before a proper case and trial against him could even take form, it was the 889-page Warren Commission Report that ultimately served as the definitive answer to the onslaught of questions surrounding JFK’s assassination.


The report was delivered to President Lyndon B. Johnson on September 24th, 1964 —two months short of a full year after the events in Dallas. Though investigators recorded the testimonies of 552 witnesses, and two months later would publish 26 full volumes of supporting evidence, the federal inquiry seemed fit to accept the simplest conclusion: it was an act committed by lone gunman Lee Harvey Oswald. He alone fired three shots at the President in just 19 seconds. The first bullet missed, while the following shots struck JFK, with the final bullet being the cause of fatality.


No other parties were involved in the planning or execution of the assassination of President John F. Kennedy — at least, according to the Warren Commission Report. 


At the time of its release, the Warren Commission's conclusion did not sit well with the general population, with skepticism surrounding the authenticity of the report’s findings running rampant. There was even a chapter in the Warren Report named "Speculations and Rumors," that addressed that the committee "found no credible evidence that [Oswald] was a member of a foreign or domestic conspiracy of any kind. Nor was there any evidence that he was involved with any criminal or underworld elements." Certainly the events in Dallas were nothing short of traumatic, but the Commission team was quick to deny any credence to any of the 552 witnesses, stating that everyone from spectators on the grassy knoll to even members of the presidential motorcade were likely "subjected to a physical and emotional strain that tended to affect their recollections of what they thought they saw or heard." For those who found the report unsatisfactory in its conclusion, a consensus quickly formed that Warren Commission’s verdict begged more questions than it could attempt to answer. One of the individuals who found the conclusion particularly suspicious was New Orleans District Attorney Jim Garrison.


Garrison, referred to as a "flamboyant" man in politics, set down roots in New Orleans during his childhood. Growing into early adulthood, Garrison served in the U.S. National Guard, compelled by his patriotic duty to enlist after the bombing of Pearl Harbor. After his few years of service in the National Guard, he attended Tulane University where he later graduated with a degree in Law in 1949. Shortly after the completion of his law degree, Garrison became a member of the FBI and worked as a special agent for several years before eventually returning to the National Guard. By 1954, Garrison’s second run with the U.S. National Guard had come to a close with his relief of duty and he returned to New Orleans to work for a local law firm until 1958. Garrison would then serve as Assistant District Attorney for the city until 1961, when he was officially elected District Attorney of New Orleans.


Three years after the assassination, Garrison brought his suspicions about the Warren Report to light by launching an official investigation into the circumstances surrounding Kennedy's death. The case explored Oswald’s connections to what Garrison believed to be a grand conspiracy involving other New Orleans-based key players that ended in the death of a U.S. President. The supposed motivations, which ranged from anti-Cuban leanings to CIA involvement in a political coup, were beginning to take form. 


The bulk of Garrison’s investigation aimed its focus on the time Oswald spent in New Orleans prior to the President’s assassination in 1963. Not surprisingly, the D.A. had doubts that Oswald acted alone in the assassination, as the single bullet theory (more commonly dubbed the "magic bullet theory" by Kennedy conspiracy theorists) shared in the Warren Report had drawn much criticism. Garrison’s theory suggested that the man had ties to some rather important people within the city of New Orleans and it was these individuals who were the true culprits behind John F. Kennedy’s assassination. Or, at the very least, they aided Oswald to ensure that the plan to kill the president did not fail.


It is reported that the beginnings of Garrison’s investigation can be traced to an argument that occurred on the night of November 23, 1963, just hours after JFK's assassination inside the Katz 'n Jammer Bar. The bar once stood at 540 Camp Street — next door to the 544 Camp Street offices of the pro-Castro Fair Play for Cuba Committee, an activist group where Oswald worked in the summer of 1963. 


The argument allegedly took place between two men by the names of Jack Martin and Guy Banister, a former FBI employee, Assistant Superintendent of the NOPD, and private investigator with ties to the Mafia who coincidentally also had an office in the building where Fair Play for Cuba was located. (One caveat: the official known address of Banister's office was 531 Lafayette Street, which was the side entrance address to the building otherwise listed at 544 Camp Street).


That night at the Katz 'n Jammer, Banister had accused his employee Martin of theft and allegedly pistol-whipped his employee. The stolen items at the center of the dispute were said to be important files that Martin seized from Banister’s office. It was during this altercation that Martin voiced his belief that Banister was involved in the Kennedy assassination by screaming, “What are you going to do — kill me like you all did Kennedy?”


In the following days, Martin went to both the authorities and press outlets to expose the truth behind the assassination. He alleged that at the center of the assassination was a circle of prominent New Orleanians which included Guy Banister and Banister's associate David Ferrie. Though the proximity of Oswald and Banister's workplaces could easily be summed up as mere coincidence, it was Martin who pointed to their collusion, stating that he had see Oswald with Ferrie in Banister's office earlier that year. 


Another man would soon come to be at the center of the growing conspiracy case in New Orleans: Clay Shaw, a businessman credited with the restoration of the French Quarter. Shaw, who resided at 1313 Dauphine Street in the Marigny Triangle, had a reputation around town at a JFK supporter and champion for local and national politics. He would not be arrested until 1967, when Garrison put him on trial as the sole defendant for conspiration to assassinate the president. So, what occurred in the intervening years between Martin's alleged assault on November 23, 1963 and when Shaw was arrested 50 years ago on March 1, 1967? 


Martin's accusations against Banister and his colleagues were largely and quickly dismissed, and given little attention in the press. Making little to no headway in his attempts to share his version of the truth, Martin went to Garrison, who at the time was making a big impact as D.A. of New Orleans. Most importantly, after interviewing Martin, Garrison’s doubt in the genuity of the Warren Commission Report was solidified, leading him to open up a full on investigation into the colorful and criminal role he believed New Orleans played in the JFK assassination.


As the 50th anniversary of the trial rolls on, stay with NoDef for a further look in to New Orleans' connection to the death of JFK. 

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Renard Boissiere, Evan Z.E. Hammond, Naimonu James, Wilson Koewing, J.A. Lloyd, Nina Luckman, Dead Huey Long, Alexis Manrodt, Joseph Santiago, Andrew Smith, Cynthia Via, Austin Yde


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