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Perry Raymond Russo: Garrison's Star Witness (Peter Whitmey presentation at SUNY-Fredonia July, 1996 JFK assassination conference)

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Because the below notes from interviews of Perry Russo in 1992 seem information worth preserving but are not published in any print form; nor do they seem to be on the Mary Ferrell site; nor does it seem there is much awareness of their existence, I post this here as a backup in case the single known link where this appears were to go dark. (The link: https://www.jfk-assassination.net/prusso.htm). It is a conference presentation by Peter Whitmey in 1996. There is a description of Peter Whitmey's conference presentation in Fair Play #12 (Sept-Oct. 1996 [https://www.maryferrell.org/showDoc.html?docId=217847#relPageId=48]) but without the notes below summarizing the content of Whitmey's Perry Russo interviews in 1992.--gd


I first wrote to Perry on Feb. 20, 1990 after having read about the Shaw trial extensively, and received a brief reply dated March 5, 1990, in which he supplied me with the business address of Judge Garrison (which I already had, having written to him several times beginning in 1987 in regard to my Giesbrecht research. Although his secretary assured me he received my letters as well as my initial article on Giesbrecht, which was returned at my request, I never did receive a reply from Garrison over a five-year period.) Perry expressed interest in several comments I had made in my letter and wondered about the "direction" of my research, possibly fearing that I was out to discredit him.

In his second reply to a follow-up letter, he stated that he was in regular contact once again with Garrison, and appeared to be anxious to talk about the assassination, wondering if I had access to a WATS line (which I didn't). He recalled having learned about the assassination while leaving a class at Loyola University, in response to my comment about having just left a class at the University of Washington when I heard the news (initially I was told that the shots missed.) Perry's next statement was quite startling: "I was shocked but satisfied. Kennedy destroyed this country." At this point, I realized that I was dealing with someone who had no love for JFK, who sounded quite bitter, but who at least was honest about his feelings.

I also learned from Russo's second letter that a movie was in the works, based on Garrison's book, to be directed by Oliver Stone. Despite their political differences, Russo seemed to be pleased to be in regular contact with Garrison, who was probably like a father-figure to him (his own father, who went to jail in 1963 for tax evasion, had died some years ago; his mother died of cancer in early 1963.) Russo didn't hide his political leanings by describing Reagan as "one hell-of-a-president".

In the course of our written correspondence, Russo also sent me a Times-Picayune article about Roscoe White, which seemed to capture Perry's imagination, given the ongoing attempt to discredit Ricky White (the late Roscoe White's son), which wasn't very hard to do. Perry also stated in writing that in linking Ferrie, Shaw and Oswald together, his testimony stood "…uncontradicted and also uncorroborated." I learned from him that he had reached an out-of-court settlement back in 1968 with Time magazine for $1500 as a result of an article in which he was mistakenly referred to as a "drug addict" (although apparently Time didn't have to apologize in print for the "error".)

Perry never married or had any children (although he had a big dog), and eventually inherited his parents' home at 4607 Elysian Fields, where he was still living when I first contacted him (he later moved). He continued to work as a cabdriver for United Cabs, and was even interviewed next to his cab for an "Entertainment Tonight" segment when the movie "JFK" was released. Perry had been hired as one of many consultants for the film, and also played the anti-Kennedy loudmouth in the bar scene, who tells everyone there that Oswald deserves a medal. In addition, he helped with the bizarre sadomasochistic scene involving Ferrie, Shaw and "Willie O'Keefe" (a character whom Oliver Stone later regretted creating, in correspondence with researcher Jan Stevens), and was the voice on the phone in the call to Garrison's daughter. Perry indicated to me that he was agreeable to the creation of the composite character, O'Keefe, played by Kevin Bacon, undoubtedly relieved that he would not be depicted as the "star witness" (which I personally feel is a major shortcoming of the film, especially in using an uneducated, sexually depraved male prostitute as the principal witness, as opposed to a college-educated, clean-cut "Young Republican", who admired Richard Nixon and hated John Kennedy.)

In the course of my contact with Perry, I asked him if it would be alright if I wrote to his brother, who is a professor of mechanical engineering at the University of New Orleans, and who had been briefly mentioned in American Grotesque. It was fine with Perry, and in response to my letter of Dec. 27, 1991, Professor Russo simply returned it with a few comments in the margins, indicating that he believed his brother's testimony was genuine. He also pointed out that it was common practice for witnesses to be rehearsed before they went on the stand. Although he personally liked the Kennedys, he did not feel his brother's animosity was that uncommon at the time. He didn't know why Perry failed to come forward immediately after the assassination (especially given that Ferrie was interviewed by Garrison's office, the Secret Service and the FBI, with local media coverage in that regard.) He did believe that it was true that Perry had been under psychiatric care as a college student for 18 months as alleged during the trial (which I now suspect was related to an earlier suicide attempt in 1960, and possibly an early sign of a mood disorder.)

When I first proposed "interviewing" Perry via audiotape, he was quite agreeable, but the initial recording, in which he simply described his experiences, was somehow partially obliterated. However, a second tape I received back based on 20 questions (dated August 9, 1990) was very clear, with a friend named Paula reading the questions, followed by Perry's answers. On Sept. 9 Perry returned a second tape in response to 20 more questions, with another friend, Deborah, reading the questions this time (I later tried phoning her but she wasn't available). Later that year, I sent Perry 20 more questions, which he returned on Dec. 23. 

I continued to correspond with him and learned in March, 1992 that Perry was suing GQ magazine for referring to him as a "grifter" (which was the title of an excellent movie available on video at that time.) He also indicated that he had become "burned out" as a result of doing over 20 interviews about the Garrison case since "JFK" was released. In Sept. 1992 he let me know he had moved to Navarre Avenue and gave me his unlisted phone number. (Prior to the release of the movie, his number had been listed for many years.) He continued to feel "burned out" and also was recovering from injuries sustained in a car accident, but kindly stated that, despite a lot of "negatives", there were some "positives" pertaining to ongoing coverage of "JFK" and that "you are one", which I considered a great compliment.

In response to having let Perry know about my correspondence with retired (and now deceased) journalist Jim Phelan (who appears to have been an FBI informant back in 1967, based on several documents provided to me by Jim DeEugenio, which a researcher located in the National Archives, although Phelan adamantly denied the accusation), he asked me to tell Phelan "…hello & go xxxx yourself. He knows what we talked about. We have the conversation recorded." This was in regard to Phelan's interview with Perry in the late 1970s for his 1982 book Scandals, Scamps and Scoundrels. Perry had earlier indicated that Phelan "…had come back from the dead trying to (stop) the movie. That guy is a real asshole. He called me with threats, etc., 8-10 times, Jan. - July, 1991."

In the fall of 1993, I phoned Perry and asked him if he could send me a copy of any local articles pertaining to the death of Judge Garrison (which occurred as the 1993 ASK conference was getting underway in Dallas), and he kindly sent me several. Although he decided not to attend the funeral, he did visit Garrison's family, and had become friends with one of Garrison's sons.

After writing to Perry in July 1993 as well as a year later, I received what turned out to be his last reply in a letter dated August 17, 1994 (in an unidentified friend's handwriting), in which Perry made reference to my previous questions and comments. He continued to feel "burned out", and was again recovering from an injury sustained after accidentally shooting himself in his cab back on May 28, 1994. I had asked him if he had known Clem Sehrt (who might have been "Clem/Clay Bertrand"), but he didn't recall ever meeting him, although he believed the name had been mentioned in Garrison's office during the investigation. He also wasn't sure if Dean Andrews and Clem Sehrt knew each other (they both had close links to Marcello as lawyers).

I had also sent Perry a copy of my article on Pershing Gervais and the attempt to frame Garrison, based on extensive coverage by the Vancouver Sun in 1972. He indicated that it was "…at the very least…remarkable." He encouraged me to write again if I wanted to, and hoped that his "black mood will have lifted by that time", strongly suggesting that Perry was suffering from depression.

Perry died as a result of an apparent heart attack in the fall of 1995, which was reported in Probe based on an Internet report (and which was finally an accurate report.) He will be greatly missed by those members of the JFK research community who still believe in the validity of the Garrison investigation. It is unfortunate he never attended any of the numerous JFK conferences that have been taking place since the trend-setting Fredonia conference of July, 1991, but hopefully this interview will be of some value to researchers in the future for both believers and skeptics. With Perry's permission, I sent a copy to Ulric Shannon in Montreal (now in Hull, Quebec) to add to his audio/video collection, and it can be purchased from Ulric for $3.00 [I'm not certain that Ulric has time now to continue this service, as he works for the Canadian External Affairs Dep't. I later sent a copy to Perry's brother, at his request, which he greatly appreciated obtaining.]

Peter R. Whitmey
Abbotsford, BC
July 4, 1996/Aug. 14, 2003


Part 1 - Aug. 6, 1990

-wrote to Garrison before Ferrie's death

-spoke to Baton Rouge newspaper initially

-wasn't hesitant about talking to Garrison about Ferrie when he was still alive

-didn't know that Ferrie had been interviewed by the FBI after assassination

-recognized Oswald and told some school friends that he knew him, but didn't place him at party

-didn't suspect Ferrie and Shaw were involved

-didn't think he had any useful information to provide

-decided not to speak to authorities after assassination

-had very little contact with Ferrie after assassination

-he found Ferrie to be "harried and hazzled"; seemed bothered by something

-didn't know Ferrie worked for Marcello's lawyer; heard Gill's name through Garrison

-didn't read Sat. Eve. Post article on Marcello in Feb. 1964

-never met Banister; had friends who knew him

-Banister seemed paranoid; never turned lights on and stayed inside most of the time up to his death in June, 1964

-never warned to keep quiet; was discouraged from getting involved; would be a "political football"

-saw Shaw once after assassination at Ferrie's gas station

-didn't think Ferrie was suicidal, but thinks he might have been murdered, possibly with chemical Ferrie had devised that would make a person appear to have died from an aneurysm

-didn't know Gordon Novel, but familiar with his nightclub

-doesn't know if he has ever moved back to New Orleans

-thinks someone might have been posing as Oswald at party, possibly James Lewallen, even though he was gaunt-looking and 38

-however, overall feels it was Oswald that he met

-didn't feel Garrison put pressure on him to say it was Oswald when it wasn't or vice-versa

-Ferrie was his "sounding board" for expressing his feelings about JFK, and may have "reinforced" his strong feelings

-feels JFK "stole" the election from Nixon

-believes Nixon was one of the "great" presidents of all time

-feels Kennedy caused the U.S. to "suffer" for thirty years because of his domestic policies

-refers to "promises never kept", "Camelot", "grandiose schemes"

-down on his civil rights policies, welfare policies

-too many people think "something is owed to them" which he feels started during Kennedy's administration

-too much lawlessness, directly due to Kennedy

-feels Kennedy and Johnson were "real losers"

-blames Kennedy for decline of U.S. as a society

-comes across as a racist, although he never refers specifically to minorities

-blames Kennedy for Malcolm X and Martin Luther King, whom he refers to in a negative manner

-felt he should contact Garrison's office before they approached him, fearing the possibility of being arrested along with Shaw

-indicated in his letter to Garrison that he would be "more than happy to give them as many answers as they wanted"

-sounds like he wanted to shift suspicion away from himself

-although he was bitter towards Kennedy, the people he "hung around may have been more bitter, may have been much more serious.."

-felt Cubans wanted to get rid of Castro and if they couldn't then they would get rid of Kennedy and blame it on Castro

-refers to Kennedy as a "dirty son of a bitch", which is how the Cubans felt about him

-went and saw Kennedy in 1962 because he was the president, even though he hated him

-the wharf where he saw Kennedy was also nearby

-saw Shaw there but thought he was a Secret Service agent, as he was standing at the back of the building and looking around, not at JFK

-admires Garrison even though they differ politically because he went against all odds and didn't give up, and didn't feel that he had done his job by interviewing Ferrie in 1963

-felt he, unlike Garrison, had "no duty to perform because the assassin had been caught"

-believes Garrison was quite close in his suspicions as supported by the HSCA

-describes Garrison as a "leader for what the truth is", but "stumbled" because he "went up against the federal gov't"

-felt it was up to the "academics" to determine what really happened

-indicates that he sees Garrison quite often, and speaks to him even more on the phone

-refers to movie by Oliver Stone to be based on Garrison's book

-expects to be involved and have a small cameo role

-asked Garrison about Giesbrecht for me but Garrison indicated he was "burned out on it" and didn't want any further "leads"

-knew Garrison's former assistant Mike Karmazin, whom I had contacted, but didn't have a very high impression of him

-feels Garrison is primarily interested in the movie, and is not in the position to do any further investigating, such as the Ricky White allegation which he mentions

-doesn't know why Giesbrecht wasn't called to testify

-doesn't know if Garrison has heard of Mario Garcia Kohly [extreme anti-Castro Cuban]

-willing to answer further questions and encourages me to phone sometime

Part 2 - Sept. 9, 1990

-didn't know who Oliver Stone was until he met him through Garrison

-impressed with his movie "Talk Radio," despite Stone's liberal bias; has also seen "Salvador" and "Platoon," but not "Born on the Fourth of July"

-thought Ferrie's plan to fly to Cuba made sense, "a natural exit", since he would be welcomed with open arms

-described Ferrie as a "pragmatic man"

-going to Mexico would also be okay because of a "lack of police power…and decent military"; police reaction would be slow

-even though Perry testified that Ferrie, Shaw and Oswald all agreed it would be best if they were in the public eye at time of assassination, he didn't suggest that Oswald was someone else posing as him

-whether it was really Oswald didn't matter, not significant in his view for some incomprehensible reason

-Ferrie felt it was okay for him to be part of discussions at the party because he had done "certain things with Ferrie" and had been "helpful to him in certain ways"

-felt he was considered a "good recruit"

-didn't know about Oswald's Fair Play For Cuba activities and didn't recall seeing him handing out posters or hearing him on the radio debating

-not sure if Ferrie was involved in assassination

-felt Ferrie was "broken man" in 1964 because he now had to take a day job at service station, and didn't seem to have access to large amounts of money anymore

-doesn't know why he had described Ferrie as an anarchist to Flammonde; some aspect of his character perhaps

-describes Ferrie as "a man driven by hidden motives of which he didn't share with other people"

-never recalled seeing Ferrie wearing heavy framed glasses, perhaps for reading, as Giesbrecht described the man at the Winnipeg Airport whom he later identified as Ferrie

-feels that Flammonde's reference to Ferrie working for an air cargo company after assassination was an exaggeration; he merely transported "a few things here and around because he knew how to fly a plane" (possibly including to Winnipeg?)

-there was a lot of pressure on Perry to change his position and say that Oswald was not the man at the party, between the hearing and the trial

-recalled being shown a picture of Lewallen at the trial by Diamond, whom he thought looked a lot like Oswald

-also agrees that it could have been Novel after studying a photo I sent him

-led a "sheltered and vigorously self-disciplined life" up to 1963

-mother given no more than six months to live in fall of 1962, which caused him to feel "confused"; she died on Jan. 31, 1963

-did not know that his father had been sentenced to six months in jail for tax evasion, delayed until his mother's death

-while his father was away, he had "a wild sex life"

-living in the house by himself; cleaning lady came in several times a week; had lots of "outlaw" friends over, including Ferrie

-lots of parties; drank a lot of wine; didn't care about school

-states that he was "willing to get involved in anything; it didn't make any difference"

-got involved in several "sit-ins" presumably with black friends looking for thrills

-felt that his state of mind at that time did not suggest he was "crazy", "border-line psycho" or "out on the moon"

-didn't have anything or anyone to stop him from partying non-stop but doesn't feel he was disturbed due to family difficulties

-agreed that Oswald might have had some hidden reason for being at Ferrie's such as being an FBI informer

-not familiar with Brener or Flammonde's book, both of which discuss him

-describes his contact with Walter Sheridan, and Sheridan's attempt to get Perry to meet with Shaw in Biloxi and then retract his allegation of seeing Shaw at Ferrie's on the NBC White Paper report; ends up referring to Sheridan as a "bullshitter asshole"

-didn't know why Garrison was not supposedly aware of Shaw's connections to Centro Mondiale Commerciale and Permindex (CIA fronts) until after the trial according to his 1988 book, even though they were referred to by Turner in his 1968 Ramparts article well before the trial (Garrison also cites Flammonde's reference in his pre-trial book) 

-Perry thought this connection would have been important to their case; felt it might have been due to lack of staff and finances

-didn't know that Garrison's children had been threatened before trial

-knew about protection for Garrison himself; he had protection too

-agreed that Marcello was a "logical choice for any involvement in assassination"

-didn't know if Marcello's power might have influenced the way Garrison conducted the trial

-describes in great detail his arrest for theft, which he indicated was actually the work of several young friends, who left a stolen key in his living room; eventually found not guilty 

-won a $3500 settlement against the local newspaper in 1983, after they called him a convicted burgler

-also refers to TIME accusation; he had never even smoked marijuana; considered himself a wino if anything

-believed the judge was trying to discredit him in regard to theft charge

-felt he was a novice when it came to whether he should allow himself to be hypnotized and given truth serum; didn't know how the police and prosecutors worked

-since Garrison did not acknowledge in his second book that Ferrie was with Marcello's lawyer on Nov. 22, and not in a dormitory in Hammond, Perry felt he might have been "soft-pedalling the Marcello connection"

-believes that Garrison and his staff learned he was at the meeting with Ferrie and Shaw from him and not from some other source [such as the Baton Rouge interviews]

-wasn't sure if Oswald introduced himself as "Leon" or "Lee"

-avoided answering my question as to whether he was certain it was Shaw at the party and not Banister for instance (suggested by Shaw in 1969 PENTHOUSE interview conducted by Phelan, which he sent me)

-stated that by 1969 he had been "threatened, bugged, ridiculed, slandered, libeled, etc. My life, because of the publicity, was a shambles."

-admitted (for the first time) that he made a "tactical decision to ease through the case (with) as low a profile as possible (in contrast to the hearing). Hopefully I would not take the brunt of the attack. James Alcock even asked me to 'get more forceful' in my replies on the stand. I said 'okay' but never did. I regret I ever got involved."

-in response to my suggestion that the discussion at the party might have been in regard to killing Castro, not Kennedy, especially in trying to get him "out in the open", which was very easy in the case of Kennedy, Perry stated that "the talk centered around assassinating Castro" but "if that couldn't be achieved, then shoot Kennedy and blame it on someone who could be linked to Castro (send U.S. to war with Cuba). Kennedy had to be shot out in the open; involve people to draw up an itinerary for him to be in the open."

Part 3 - Dec. 23, 1990

-Perry was told by Oliver Stone that he would appear in the film as "one of the grey, wall flower type characters" in the room "where the conspiracy was hatched"

-refers to various real people in cameo roles such as Ron Kovic and Abbie Hoffman in "Born on the Fourth of July" which he appeared to have finally seen

-mentions interview on 60 Minutes with Stone in which he stated that he doesn't "stick exactly to the truth, but holds with enhancing it for whatever reasons" and thought it was a good interview

-in response to my question as to whether he supported David Duke's attempt to become governor, he stated that he "didn't have any problem with David Duke."

-in response to my question as to why he had referred to Ferrie as a Marxist in an interview conducted by The Councilor in 1967 [a Shreveport, La. right-wing journal], Perry suggested that he "probably had said that because David Ferrie was a strange, complex person , and…because I was confused, I think, as to what he actually thought, but looking back, he was not a Marxist, he was a right-winger."

-Perry indicated it was alright for me to contact his brother and provided his address

-he hadn't seen Garrison for awhile, but dropped off my article on Giesbrecht at his office ["The Winnipeg Airport Incident Revisited" available at this site]

-I mentioned a series of examples when Oswald was referred to as "Harvey Lee Oswald" or simply "Harvey Lee" including when Shaw first spoke to the press, as well as by assistant d.a. Kohlman in a report to the Secret Service; by Donald Norton, an alleged CIA courier [whom I located earlier this year]; by Naval and Army Intelligence; by Morrow in his book BETRAYAL; and in a Feb. 1964 Secret Service report-six times; Perry did not recall Oswald being referred to that way by Ferrie, however

-contrary to Morrow's suggestion, Perry didn't believe there was any attempt at the party to get him drunk

-in regard to his previous comment of being "all right" in the eyes of Ferrie because he had done "certain things" for Ferrie, he suggested he was simply a "philosophical brother" over a two-year period (it seemed like an evasive answer to me)

-I suggested that possibly the plan being discussed involved trying to kill Robert Kennedy (which Hoffa had attempted to do with the help of Baton Rouge Teamster Edward Partin), but Perry insisted it involved "Jack Kennedy because of the Cubans and what he had done in the Bay of Pigs and what he had done (during) the Cuban Missile Crisis"

-I asked him if he ever knew Partin, but after hesitating, indicated that he didn't

-although he didn't think The Councilor had misquoted him, he felt Castro wasn't behind the plot to kill Kennedy, since he now feels Ferrie was a right-winger; again, he insisted the plan was to link the assassination to Castro and hopefully use it as an excuse to go to war against Cuba

-described Ferrie as having lost "his gusto" after the assassination

-didn't seem to be aware that Ferrie had been fired by Eastern Airlines for being a pedophile

-feels Ferrie was "in control of his life" earlier on now he was "just driftin'"

-felt that Layten Martens was "just a young kid" and didn't place any significance in a 1961 police report published in Coincidence or Conspiracy which described him as "second in command to one Arcacha Smith...who is conducting a counter-revolution movement against Fidel Castro. Also connected is one Captain David Ferrie"

-denied that he had been suicidal or schizophrenic as was suggested during the trial; indicated he went to a psychiatrist to get a medical exception related to a philosophy course he was doing poorly in at Tulane, when he was on the verge of flunking out. (He later switched to Loyola under pressure from his Catholic parents)

-didn't read much about himself and the Garrison case because at that time he was fed up with the case, especially when he had to testify again in regard to whether Shaw lied about not knowing Ferrie

-admitted that his stereo was bugged by Garrison's office along with other bugs at Garrison's request to record Sheridan and Phelan whom Garrison felt had ulterior motives

-Perry indicated that he took "the 5th" during the second Shaw case because of all the publicity that was developing once again and from feeling trapped

-Perry agreed that statements made in Phelan's book that he suggested he didn't care what had happened to Shaw and talked about the case like it had happened to some strangers that he had read about, were accurate

-Perry recognized that by being hypnotized prior to the hearing, it was possible that he might have been induced into fantasizing and seemed to almost admit that this occurred; he certainly didn't adamantly deny that this happened

-Perry didn't know why Sciambra' memo, included in Kirkwood's book, made no mention of a specific plot to kill Kennedy being discussed at a party involving Ferrie, Shaw and Oswald as he alleged in court, and felt that this was Sciambra' problem, which he recalled Sciambra dealing with in court

-I wondered if he knew where in Canada Ferrie had taken Perry's friend, Al Landry, but he didn't know

-Perry seemed to feel that Ferrie was training Landry and others in jungle warfare in order to invade Cuba, not to "help liberate the South American countries" as stated in the Sciambra memo

-he didn't know whether Ferrie was able to travel back and forth to Cuba as stated in the memo

-he downplayed the threat made by Ferrie towards him, and felt he had simply forgotten what was behind it six months later when he invited Ferrie over

-in response to my suggestion that Ferrie might have been trafficking in drugs including heroin and LSD, Perry insisted that the only drug he referred to was the one that simulated death [by natural causes]

-in regard to four friends (one was a cousin) who had also seen Ferrie's beatnik-looking roommate as discussed in the memo, he avoided answering my question as to whether they were ever questioned as to whether he was Oswald or not; he did indicate that he still saw three of them (but not Landry)

-he wished me a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year, and hoped that whoever played him won an Academy Award


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