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Brian Schmidt

What do members make of Kerry Thornley?

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I have not seen much discussion of Kerry Thornley on here and was curious to get members’ take on him.  Was he entangled with elements of the conspiracy to be used perhaps as a backup patsy or was he simply one of the many coincidences surrounding Oswald’s activities prior to the assassination?

As many of you know, Thornley knew Oswald from back in 1959 when they were stationed in MCAS El Toro in Santa Ana, CA.  They became close associates by talking about philosophy and politics.  Thornley famously published a book about Oswald – The Idle Warriors – before Kennedy’s assassination. 

Like Oswald, Thornley spent the summer of 1963 in New Orleans and consequently spent time in Dallas around the assassination, leaving Dallas a week after the assassination. 

He testified in front of the Warren Commission in May 1964.  He became of interest to Jim Garrison upon Garrison’s reading of the Warren Commission report because Thornley was one of the few people who knew Oswald that vouched for his supposed communist sympathies.  Garrsion would uncover supposed evidence that Thornley was associated with the same group in New Orleans – Bannister, Shaw, Ferrie, and Cubans – and that he frequently used a PO Box associated with these same individuals.  Garrison also claimed that although Thornley usually wore his hair long, shortly before the assassination, he cut it short to match Oswald’s hair and bore a striking resemblance to Oswald.  Garrison went as far as initially accusing Thornley of being complicit in the assassination, but soften his stance in later years. 

In 1965, Thornley published a book entitled Oswald that generally supported the view that Oswald was the lone assassin.  However, later in life Thornley himself would claim there had been a conspiracy and that Oswald was a CIA asset.  He also acknowledged there were many coincidences he was personally involved with and he may have been used unwittingly by the conspirators. 

Some of the claims he made included numerous meetings in New Orleans with Gary Kirstein and Slim Brooks, who both – like Thornley – disliked Kennedy.  The subject of how one might assassinate Kennedy came up repeatedly.  Thornley claimed Gary Kirstein was in fact E. Howard Hunt and that he knew a lot about secret CIA activities and predicted Richard Nixon’s eventual election to the presidency, the Vietnam War, 60’s counterculture, and a Manson-like figure, which made him think the CIA was somehow involved in these activities.  He also said there were mob and Nazi connections to the assassination.

Another remarkable coincidence is that in the mid-60’s he became friends with Johnny Roselli, but I am unsure of the context or extent of their relationship.

Edited by Brian Schmidt
Too many spaces between paragraphs

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Hey there Brian...

 

John Armstrong did quite a bit of research into Thornley when writing his book.  

http://digitalcollections.baylor.edu/cdm/ref/collection/po-arm/id/29578 is a link to a dozen pages about leads from the Ryder Coffee House in New Orleans

http://digitalcollections.baylor.edu/cdm/ref/collection/po-arm/id/29498 is a link to his notebook on Thornley.  This includes his affidavit given to Garrison

It's a start at least....  key thing:  keep aware of the dates.

 

Edited by David Josephs

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There has actually been  a couple of books written about Kerry Thornley.

The one I have and refer to is by a young man named Joe Biles, called In History' Shadow.  Because that actually refers to some of the evidence that Garrison had in his files about Thornley.

Thornley is a very interesting character who has often been ignored or discounted largely because of the rather bizarre and strange personality he became later on in the seventies and eighties.   Sort of like a New Age cannabis aficionado who was into strange philosophies and life styles.  

But at that time, the ARRB had not declassified any files on him.  Once they did, a lot of people, like Biles, started to pay some attention to him.  In the second edition of Destiny Betrayed, I wrote about six pages on him. Two of the most important things to remember about Thornley that are revealed in these files are: 

1.) Thornley clearly lied about not seeing Oswald in the summer of 1963 in New Orleans.  And Garrison rightly indicted him for perjury before the grand jury.  There is simply no way around this with the declassified evidence. Garrison had eight sworn affidavits to attest that Thornley was seen in various places with Oswald that summer.  (DiEugenio, p. 189)  Beyond that, two of the witnesses, Doris Dowell and Bernard Goldsmith, testified that Thornley had told them Oswald was not a communist.  This is notable for the reason Brian notes above:  Thornley was used by the Commission, perhaps more than any other witness, to paint Oswald as a communist.  The new evidence states Thornley was so close to LHO that he actually visited him at his home. (Affidavit of Myrtle La Savia, who lived a block away., ibid)

2.) Once Thornley became a person of interest to Garrison, as with others, he became protected by higher  authorities.  He left for Florida, and according to records unearthed by Garrison's investigators,  he had two homes, one in Tampa and one in Miami.  He lived at the Tampa residence which was a large place on a one acre lot.  And he had two cars. (ibid, p. 191)  Not bad for a guy who was previously a waiter and a doorman prior to Garrison's inquiry.  Secondly, he would only agree to be interviewed at NASA--temporary home to many prospective witnesses. Mort Sahl told me, as Andrew Sciambra was driving down to interview Thornley at NASA he thought, If a guy like Thornley could demand and get access to a place like this to do an interview, then Garrison really didn't stand a snowball's chance in Hades.

I think that was a correct prognostication.

Edited by James DiEugenio

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I should add just how bad the HSCA was in this regard.

They knew that Thornley was at Banister's office that summer. But they devised a way for him to stay out by saying he was there because of another office in the building.  And then they bought his excuse that he had left New Orleans and did not return until August of 1963.  Even on its own terms--which I do not accept-- that means little since Oswald was still in New Orleans for another two months after that date..

But all you had to do was look at Garrison's files, which the DA had offered the HSCA, at least while Sprague and Tanenbaum were running things.  Or talk to some witnesses like the Campbell brothers.  Which I did.

BTW, the HSCA ignored slam dunk evidence of Oswald, Ferrie, and 544 Camp Street.  Two INS officers had been discovered by the Church Committee.  They were investigating David Ferrie for associating with Cuban exiles illegally in the country. They decided to put a tail on him, and they traced him to 544 Camp Street.  And Oswald was there.  That is not in Volume 10 of the final volumes, which tries to make this point somewhat equivocal.  Which it is not.

Edited by James DiEugenio

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I am just the messenger, I glance at this stuff while duping and upping and that is about it.

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