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Gordon Novel and Me


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We are fortunate, in a sense, that the matter with which we are concerned, the assassination, took place within recent memory, and that people associated with it in one way or another are (or were) still alive to be questioned. I think it is good historical practice to try to obtain as much primary evidence as possible, and new interviews (despite the fading of memories and the passage of time since the events) can turn up useful new paths for research.

I would not have contemplated interviewing Gordon Novel, but for the fact that he surfaced himself about 10 years ago when he threatened to sue another researcher. I obtained his email address and decided to give it a try. I didn't expect him to agree, but it was worth a shot. I wasn't disappointed. "Very cute," Novel responded. "Perhaps you'd enjoy dealing with the Ramsey Clark law firm," he added in a threatening manner. I responded that I was simply looking to set the record straight about Dave Ferrie. This seemed to loosen him up and he suggested that I phone him. Thus began a series of contacts which would span many weeks and cover a lot of ground. In the back of my head I'm thinking, Gee I might be chatting with one of JFK's assassins!

Novel was an inveterate name-dropper and braggart. At the time we spoke, he seemed obsessed with Area 51 and all that, as well as various dental problems, and he seemed to split his time between Houston and New Orleans. Another of his obsessions, and this is perhaps why he agreed to be interviewed for my book, was his desire to posthumously "screw Jim Garrison." Our talks also proved the old adage that the more the interviewer knows, the more the interviewee will talk. Perhaps to impress me, he insisted on sending me his CV (curriculum vitae or resume). He said he had two, a white CV (for open consumption) and a black CV (presumably for reading by intelligence pros). He only sent me a copy of the former, which I still have.

One of the first things that struck me was his claim that he didn't know Ferrie that well. I had read that the relationship was a bit stronger than that. He wanted me to contact his best friend, Jim Schaeffer (name altered) who knew Ferrie much better and had been in the Civil Air Patrol with him. I thought this was odd, as I knew the names of most of the leaders and cadets of Ferrie's CAP squadrons, and Schaeffer was not among them. The first thing I did was to contact the people I knew from the Lakefront and Moisant CAP squadrons, including some who kept the rosters, to ask if they had ever heard of Schaeffer, and the answers were negative. After much phone-tag, I finally spoke with the highly nocturnal Schaeffer and the alarm bells went off again. He was VERY cagey about details of his alleged relationship with Ferrie. He couldn't specify which unit he was in or the time period. He didn't seem to know any of the major CAP personalities. When I fed him a false name of a CAP commander, he acted as if he knew him. I came to feel that he never met Ferrie, and I could pretty much name the book from which he got each little nugget of Ferrie lore. I surmised that Schaeffer had even bamboozled Novel into believing him. Schaeffer did indicate that he was a skilled musician, and he wanted to jam with me when I came to New Orleans.

I guess I passed the Schaeffer test, because Novel started opening up and telling me all sorts of details (his current version) of the Houma pickup/heist and other matters, detailed in my book. I eventually broached the possibility that Novel might sit for a videotaped interview with my research partner, New Orleans filmmaker Steve Tyler. To my surprise, he agreed (presumably still to "screw Garrison") and I excitedly called Tyler to tell him. It would quite a coup to get Novel on tape for Steve's film about Ferrie. The next few weeks were a whirl of travel arrangements made, cancelled, rescheduled as we tried to nail the elusive Novel down to a date.

At last I made the trip to New Orleans and started working with Steve on other interviews, but Novel still threw multiple curves. He was going to be in Houston for a few days getting a bad tooth fixed. Jeez, Gordon, I paid a lot of money to be there for the video interview, and he damn well better show up. Yeah, yeah, he said, we'll make it happen. We played cat and mouse with my then-new cell phone, but we finally set up a meet at the Que Sera restaurant on the 3300 block of St. Charles (not far from Dr. Mary Sherman's former place!). Steve and I were seated, and I still didn't think Gordon would show up. Suddenly my phone rang and he said he was at the front door. I moseyed over and there he was. Older, grayer, smaller than I expected, the real Gordon Dwane Novel.

As he was still sore from dental work, I bought Novel a bowl of Tortilla Soup and an Iced Tea. The atmosphere didn't allow for in-depth conversation. Novel was adamant that we accompany him to Schaeffer's home. We followed Novel in Steve's car, which was loaded with the video equipment, and shared for the first time that the whole scenario was a little creepy and surreal. Were we being set-up for some sort of gay thing?

We ended up at Schaeffer's place on Exposition Boulevard, near Audubon Park. The first thing I noticed was a bunch of Area 51 bumper stickers all over the porch windows. As we entered, I noticed that every table top and surface area was covered with nicknacks and other brickabrack, grouped by theme, and I kept thinking of the Addams Family song: "Their house is a museum, where people come to see 'em." Now Jim Schaeffer appeared and invited us to the "seating area."

This was weird. It was an old car seat covered with pillows and cushions, plopped down in a living room facing an open set of double doors into a darkened dining room. Steve and I kept exchanging glances, increasingly concerned about what we had discussed in the car on the way over. Schaeffer insisted on playing his music. It was competent playing on traditional 3-chord New Orleans classics, but nothing with any "reach," and I was unable to jam, as there were no instruments available.

Suddenly an old projection TV came on in the darkened dining room, at first showing NASCAR racing but quickly turning to some kind of porn. Uh-oh, I thought, but before I had time to shoot a glance at Steve, Novel said "Hey Jim, show them the girls!" On either side of the big TV, flashing colored lights came on and illuminated two department store mannequins, dressed in lingerie. Attached to motors, "the girls" actually gyrated along with the porn on the TV. Steve eyes and mine met, but we didn't need to verbalize anything. This is too weird. We've got to get out of here. Screw the interview.

Both Steve and I began making excuses about having commitments early in the morning, saying we'd call Novel the next day. But they weren't done yet. One of them broke out a leafy green substance in a baggie and insisted that we have a "night cap." Now, to some, the idea of sparking a bone with Gordon Novel might sound intriguing, but given the gyrating dummies, the flashing lights, the big-screen porn, we were more than eager to leave with our dignity. As we drove away, we were relieved and immediately agreed that no interview was worth such craziness. I had a hard time explaining it to Novel the next day, saying that I had been called back home for an emergency. Despite the craziness of the trip, Novel and I were able to keep the conversation going for some time afterward.

The purpose of this account was simply to share the craziness of that scene, now that Novel is safely past suing me. The more substantive evidence-related results of our conversations will be related in my Ferrie biography.

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We are fortunate, in a sense, that the matter with which we are concerned, the assassination, took place within recent memory, and that people associated with it in one way or another are (or were) still alive to be questioned. I think it is good historical practice to try to obtain as much primary evidence as possible, and new interviews (despite the fading of memories and the passage of time since the events) can turn up useful new paths for research.

[snip - -to save space]

The purpose of this account was simply to share the craziness of that scene, now that Novel is safely past suing me. The more substantive evidence-related results of our conversations will be related in my Ferrie biography.

Steve: this is all very interesting. But the one thing I'd like to know is this: is there any reason to believe that Gordon Novel was really involved in any CIA sanctioned covert operation against Garrison? In other words, I'm trying to bridge the gap between your (relatively recent) weird experience with him, and what the pro-Garrison folks believe to be some sort of officially sanctioned covert operation. I also do not understand why, if he's as nutty as you appear to say he is, that his influence was such that the governor of Ohio would refuse to extradite him.

Can you shed any light on any of this, without encroaching on what you'd like to save for your published work?

DSL

6/18/13; 8:10 PM PDT

Los Angeles, California

Edited by David Lifton
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