Jump to content
The Education Forum

Tom Bethell: A Study in Duplicity

Recommended Posts

Bethell passed on last month.  I got a little sick as I was reading the obits for him in the conservative press, e.g. American Spectator.

So I decided to do my own sketch about this guy. But there are still vagaries about him.

I mean what was he doing at Penn Jones' house for two months?  And why did Penn let him stay there that long? And why would he flee to Mary Ferrell's home to escape being charged by Garrison? Even today, these are kind of inexplicable, we can only speculate.

Whatever the reasoning, the guy was a rat.  Maybe worse.


Link to comment
Share on other sites

The story of what happened to Jim Garrison is one of the darkest chapters in US history and journalism. 

Sure, Garrison made some mistakes, undermined, as he was, by several on-staff landmines like Bethell and the weight of the US government and even state governments, which would not even grant Garrison extradition on many key participants/witnesses. 

To say Garrison operated on a shoestring would exaggerate his resources. 

Yet, Garrison on to something and in the larger picture he was right. My guess is somehow someone in the CIA fed Garrison the real dope (as much as was known), and Garrison never even betrayed a whisper of that inside information. But of course, documentation was impossible. 

The Garrison plan was to open up the JFKA through the aperture of Clay, Ferrie and Oswald, and some other participants/witnesses who were not called to testify as they could not be extradited. 

Garrison nearly won in New Orleans anyway, with several jurors afterwards saying that they had "reasonable doubt" and could not vote to convict. 

It is interesting that George Joannides also maintained a residence in New Orleans in 1963, when he worked out of Miami and had house and family there. 

It is now known the CIA maintained hundreds of contacts in US media in the 1960s, some paid off. 

James D's book, "Destiny Betrayed" is must reading, not just for students of the JFKA, but for anyone who is interested in US post-war US history. To understand what passes for "history" you must also understand what forces are present who are shaping academic and popular history. 






Link to comment
Share on other sites

I remember your part in DBII about Boxley being a file thief.  Sounds like there were two rats in the files.  Seems like Bethell was also a chameleon, changing colors to become a full fledged mockingbird.

I don't remember reading about Clyde Johnson.  Any more info or where I might read further about him?  What university was he hiding out at?

Your right about the image of the last helicopter leaving the U S Embassy in Saigon being powerful.  Something many in the last couple of generations are not familiar with.  This article on the evacuation is well worth reading with a couple of good pictures.

The Last Helicopter: Evacuating Saigon (newsweek.com)

saigon_helicopter200-b11d6fe79bac6b98a8aad6f88ce72c9aa1f0db90-s6-c30.jpg (948×711) (npr.org)

saigon_helicopter500-f41a3fea1100f12b3817302aaa5281f5c82d6af4.jpg (500×325) (npr.org)saigon_helicopter500-f41a3fea1100f12b3817302aaa5281f5c82d6af4.jpg (500×325) (npr.org)

Couldn't find the picture I remember of people grasping at the runners, letting go. 

Link to comment
Share on other sites

This is the best film treatment I saw of that so sad exit from Vietnam.


And we did not get everyone out, because it was so disorganized.  

The stuff about Clyde Johnson is in my book on page 217.

I don't know the name offhand of the college Garrison had smuggled him into.

The more I think of it, it was probably Bethell giving Boxley the files.


Link to comment
Share on other sites


i agree that what happened to JG was a very dark chapter in contemporary US history.  And that is really saying something.

Garrison had a lot of informants.  And some of them would only talk to him if they were not called to the stand. 

He did convince the jury that it was a conspiracy.  Due to the Zapruder film, the devastating cross examination of Pierre Finck, and the direct testimony of Dr. John Nichols.  And there is no question he was a victim of Mockingbird.  I mean Jim Phelan rehearsed the reporters each night of the Shaw trial as to what to write the next day.

Thanks to you both for the praise about my book.


Link to comment
Share on other sites

This is turning out even worse than I depicted it.

With information from Dawn Meredith and Bill Davy. 

According to Dawn, Mary Ferrell's son said Mary sent Bethell to Garrison in order to spy on him.  If you recall, Bethell migrated to Texas in late 1966, and Mary was very conservative at the time.  She told Peter Whitmey, or he found out, that she was part of the DePugh network in the early sixties. 

Secondly, when Bethell first got to New Orleans, he got to know, get this, Kerry Thornley. (Bill Davy, Let Justice be Done, p. 61)

How did I forget that one?  

Link to comment
Share on other sites

William R Martin was another one that I think was really bad. Garrison had to deal with a ton of those types. Horrible stuff.

Benjamin, I have also always thought someone initially gave Garrison a nudge in the right direction in the beginning, as his immediate focus on the CIA and Cuban angle was so incredibly spot on. A number of people could have filled that role, either someone we don't know, or someone way up like Hale Boggs. Interesting to speculate on for sure.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

The thing about Martin was this:

Garrison sent him to do the first interview with the man JG ended up thinking was the most important witness in the case, Richard Case Nagell.

And then Martin ended up being CIA.

Link to comment
Share on other sites


Tom Bethell is an interesting character.  I've been reading everything I can about him (since your article) and his CV smell to high heaven.  He strikes me as a snake and an imposter ...  an interloper, and a source of blatant disinformation.  He was obviously out to sabotage Garrison, and counter his investigation.  Even his Catholicism (which I would otherwise relate to) seems 'off'.  I don't know where to start, but I'm collecting my thoughts in a paper, to gather some common threads: 

  • First off, as a degreed physicist, I find his his challenge/writing on Relativity theory to be absurd.  For someone with no expertise or credentials to make such statements is simply not credible.  His critics had this to say (and they were conservatives):

Virtually everything that Tom Bethell has ever written about relativity is misleading, when it hasn't been flat out false. He should be ashamed of himself. Conservatives have deserved-- and do deserve-- better science reporting than this.  Bethell radically distorts and undermines their conclusions and findings, while whipping up resentment of the scientific community among rank-and-file political conservatives.  I find it difficult to grant the benefit of incompetence to someone who's been writing on a topic for thirty years and yet fails so completely to understand a topic; I suspect he is simply dishonest.

  • His affiliation with the National Review (and his former employer, William F. Buckley Jr.) is enough for anyone to question his integrity/motives. His books were published by the ultra-right-wing Regnery Publishing. The fact that he waxed so eloquently (he was well-spoken and reminds me of Buckley) does nothing to lend credibility to his journalism.  As you point out, he spent the latter part of his life ridiculing liberals.   
  • He graduated from Britannia Royal Naval College, Dartmouth, in 1954, after which he served in the Royal Navy.   Then he attended Trinity College at Oxford. 
  • I cannot tell what his college degrees really were.  He is reported to have studied science and mathematics (or conversely obtained degrees in philosophy, physiology, and/or psychology) while at T Oxford.
  • Then in 1962 (at age 26), he came to the United States where he taught math at Woodberry Forest School in Virginia from 1962-65 (HS math for 3 years ... is that what an Oxford education leads to?  Or is it being closer to Langley?  
  • His friends are quoted as saying that “journalism was his great love (after his wife Donna).   He  stays for the better part of a year with Penn Jones (1966-67) but we are led to believe that he had this passion for jazz, which led him (conveniently) to New Orleans.  Did Penn have a jazz collection or band?  Sounds like a cover story or "legend" being constructed.  Here is what his biographers assert:

The steady paycheck from the Garrison inquiry enabled Bethell to stay in New Orleans and soak up as much as he could about jazz, to which he had first been exposed through vintage records while he was a student at the University of Oxford. His wife said he was so eager to get to the birthplace of jazz that he applied for a teaching job at Woodberry Forest School in Virginia, thinking from across the Atlantic Ocean that New Orleans must be nearby because both are in the southern United States.

  • In his 1991 article in the LA Times ("Reality Check for Another Movie Myth") where he attacks Oliver Stone's movie, he rationalizes his involvement by stating he was trying to describe the questionable Charles Spiesel (how noble of him):

I took it upon myself to give one of Shaw’s lawyers a memo listing the names and addresses of the witnesses who were to testify against Shaw. This enabled the defense to discover (just in time) the accountant’s odd background and to bring it out at the trial.   


Link to comment
Share on other sites

Nice work . Its odd that his degrees are not listed somewhere. 

He did not know where he was going when he departed England to the USA?  He did not even look at a map?

I suspected, like you, that he was in Virginia for the purpose you suggest. He may have been transferred from British intel to CIA.

He stayed that long with Penn Jones?  Are you sure?  Why would Penn let him stay that long? How do you study jazz in Midlothian Texas?

And he did not just give Speisel to the other side.  He gave them a copy of the whole trial brief. First orally, then in written form.

This whole thing about Speisel had been covered in disinfo for so long that people think they know about it, through some POS book like James Kirkwood's.  That whole story about Dymond and Panzeca being tipped off by this spectator during the cross is false. The FBI had agreed to help Shaw's defense before the trial. And the defense had clippings about him, probably delivered by Aynseworth. Speisel's father had worked for the FBI.  When the Wegmann family let their files go to the ARRB, the Speisel file was sanitized of the separate detective company they hired to go after Speisel. I mean Wackenhut was not enough for this one? What does that tell you? (Destiny Betrayed, Second Edition, p. 296)

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Bethell has a chapter on his experiences with the Garrison investigation in his book THE ELECTRIC WINDMILL, titled 'Was Sirhan Sirhan on the Grassy Knoll?'. His description of what he was doing in the area at the time, and how he was hired by Garrison, is very unconvincing. Bethell notes that he has a 'mental block' about the work he was doing in Baton Rouge so he won't say much about it, then describes a surprise meeting with Garrison where Bethell gets hired on the spot without Garrison asking him a single question.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

How many stories must we hear about how he got hired by Garrison.

1. Referred by Sylvia Meagher

2. Referred by ADA John Volz' girlfriend

3. Sent by Mary Ferrell


Can they all be true? I doubt it.  The more info we get on this guy, the worse he gets.  That association with Thornley is really bothersome to me.


Edited by James DiEugenio
Link to comment
Share on other sites

Here is how his wife and colleagues described Bethell's stay in New Orleans:

“He made it to New Orleans on holidays and eventually moved there ... in New Orleans, Bethell had friends but he was kind of a lone wolf who stayed to himself when he was working ... I think he was something of a real night owl.” (Feb. 19, 2021 article by John Pope in New Orleans Times-Picayune)

The Times-Picayune article states that Bethell came to New Orleans in the mid-1960s to (ostensibly) write about jazz, stayed for almost a decade, then moved to Washington, where he worked for a series of magazines. After working at a New Orleans magazine, Bethell then moved (back) to Washington in 1975, where he was an editor at The Washington Monthly,  Harper’s magazine, and The American Spectator. He attacked Garrison and discredited his investigation.  The jazz hobby seems like a convenient cover although he did finally publish a book ("George Lewis: A Jazzman from New Orleans") in 1977 ... but that was two years after he had left New Orleans:

The steady paycheck from the Garrison inquiry enabled Bethell to stay in New Orleans and soak up as much as he could about jazz, to which he had first been exposed through vintage records while he was a student at the University of Oxford.

His alleged love and passion for jazz seem to have disappeared after 1977 ... his writing became focused on economic and scientific issues, and attacking liberals.  He turned to challenging AIDS-HIV theories, Evolution and Darwin, Einstein and Relativity, global warming ... even Shakespeare.   What happened to that passion for jazz?



Link to comment
Share on other sites

Here is my question. How did he become so interested in the JFK case that he:

1.) Moved in with Penn Jones for months on end,

2.) Signed on with Garrison's office 

3.) Ignored his jazz mission.

But yet, as Salandria told me, he would argue with Bethell in 1967 about both the efficacy of the WC and the value of Garrison's case.

Then, after he betrays Garrison, he loses all interest in jazz after he publishes one book, and becomes part of the rightwing gravy train. And stays there for the rest of his life. Taking every opportunity to attack Garrison, support the WR--"Was Sirhan, SIrhan on the Grassy Knoll"--and then spread out to attack those who were against the Vietnam War, and things like global warming, evolution and HIV as the cause of AIDS. 

And why did he flee to Mary Ferrell's home after he betrayed Garrison?

I am almost sorry that I waited too long on this article.  Because Bethell was a really intriguing case.  And like so many things involving New Orleans, his case stinks to high heaven.



Link to comment
Share on other sites

Please sign in to comment

You will be able to leave a comment after signing in

Sign In Now
  • Create New...