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Fred Newcomb, Harold Weisberg, and Photographic Tomfoolery in the Garrison Investigation (Part 00001)

Caught in the Crossfire:
Kerry Thornley,
Lee Oswald and
the Garrison Investigation

Order The Chaos Now!
In the chapter from my book Caught in the Crossfire: Kerry Thornley, Lee Oswald and the Garrison Investigation (Amazon) called “Photographic Tomfoolery,” I recount some rather sketchy activities undertaken by Harold Weisberg (on behalf of Jim Garrison’s investigation) which involved the recruitment of California artist and JFK assassination investigator Fred T. Newcomb to retouch a photo of Kerry Thornley, the intent of which was to use these altered photos to build a case against Thornley suggesting he was one of the notorious Oswald doubles.

Recently, ace investigator of the odd and arcane, Tim Cridland, shared with me the following letter he uncovered in The Harold Weisberg Archive at that an embittered Fred Newcomb sent to Weisberg in the aftermath of this debacle, the second paragraph of which is the most telling:

“Ever since you asked me (on New Orleans stationary) in an unsigned letter, to retouch a photo of Kerry Thornley, I have had a bad taste in my mouth. Not only did you send me on this foolish assignment, but when the flack started, you ducked for cover…”

Letter from Fred Newcomb to Harold Weisberg, dated January 15, 1969.

Fred Newcomb’s January 15th, 1969 letter also includes snipes at “investigators” Steve Jaffe and Jim Rose, who were both on the Garrison dole, and who both spent a considerable amount of time attempting to dig up dirt on Kerry Thornley. (More about the enigmatic “Jim Rose” in future installments!)

As for the abovementioned touch-up caper, this was first exposed by Kerry Thornley’s lawyer, Arnold Levine, in an article that appeared in the November 27, 1968 edition of the Tampa Times:

Photo touch-up charged

Times Staff Writer

Did New Orleans Dist. Atty. Jim Garrison commission a set of deliberately “touched-up” photographs of Tampan Kerry Thornley to show an allowed likeness to accused presidential assassin Lee Harvey Oswald?

The possibility was confirmed to The Times today by Thornley’s attorney, Arnold Levine. An aide to Garrison has disclaimed any such order.

The Times learned of the existence of a letter which was reportedly mailed to a freelance artist in California bearing the letterhead of Garrison’s office. The letter contained a purported request to “touch-up” photographs “to make Thornley look as much as possible like Oswald.”

THORNLEY, onetime buddy of Oswald, is being prosecuted by Garrison about his connection with the alleged assassin in New Orleans during the months prior to the John F. Kennedy assassination in 1963.

Attorney Levine said he has reason to believe Garrison wanted to use the touched-up photographs to support a theory that Thornley posed as Oswald on several occasions when Oswald was away from New Orleans—apparently on clandestine missions.

The Times has also come into the possession of copies of photos which Levine said were re-touched by the California artist, as well as another letter apparently from one of Garrison’s assistants denying that the district attorney had any intention of using a “‘touched-up’ photograph of Kerry Thornley in his trial.”

The 29-year old Tampa free lance writer, who served in the same Marine Corps outfit with Lee Harvey Oswald, is presently awaiting trial on the perjury charge. Specifically, he is charged with lying before a New Orleans grand jury last winter.

LEVINE TERMED the request to touch-up Thornley’s photograph “just another example of the sham” of Garrison’s investigation, and the charges which have been lodged against the Tampan.

The letter asking for the “re-touch” job bears the date of March 12, and the name of Harold Weisberg, a New Orleans writer whom Levine said has a “well-known” connection with Garrison.

Written on what appears to be official stationery, the letter, addressed to Fred Newcomb of Sherman Oaks, Calif., says:

“Enclosed are four sets of pictures of Kerry Thornley printed backwards but otherwise entirely untouched. My purpose was to emphasize the resemblance to Oswald and his receding hairline, which when his hair is combed the opposite of his normal fashion is quite emphatic.

“WHAT I WOULD like you to do with one of each pair is pretend you were a make-up man doing the minimum necessary to make Thornley look as much as possible like Oswald as for example by pruning off or brushing back the forelock, trimming the eye¬brows, shadowing the chin, etc.

“I would like you to keep one pair for your use out there, send one pair to me and the other two to Jim Garrison …”

The letter indicates that it was typed by a secretary with the initials “bb.”

A second letter, dated May 21, and also bearing the “bb” initials purports to be from executive assistant Dist. Atty. James Alcock to artist Newcomb, and reads:

“I HAVE just received the documents you sent concerning Harold Weisberg’s request for you to do some photograph touching-up on pictures of Kerry Thornley. So that the record may be set straight, Mr. Weisberg, who is not a member of our staff, made the request without our authority or consent.

“Further, this office has absolutely no intention of using any ‘touch-up’ of Kerry Thornley in his trial…”

Neither Garrison nor Alcock could he reached by The Times today for comment, but a receptionist in the district attorney’s office confirmed that there is a typist in the office typing pool with the initials “bb.” She declined to give her name.

THE RECEPTIONIST said that while Weisberg “isn’t a member of the staff he was well known in the office.”

Weisberg, author of “Whitewash,” is presently in Frederick, Md., the DA’s office said.

Garrison alleges that Oswald, David Ferrie, Clay Shaw and Jack Ruby, working on the fringe of the CIA hatched the assassination plot while they were in New Orleans in 1963.

Thornley, who has published a book on his acquaintance with Oswald, denies he met with Oswald in New Orleans.

No trial date has been set for Thornley’s case.

November 27, 1968 Tampa Times article on Kerry Thornley touched-up photos, page one.
November 27, 1968 Tampa Times article on Kerry Thornley touched-up photos, page two.

According to Kerry Thornley, this wasn’t the last of such photographic chicanery:

“Visitors to (Garrison’s) office from the Los Angeles Free Press were shown half a photograph with me in it.

“In the other half of this picture is Marina Oswald,” they would be told, and it was obvious that I had my arm around someone. Soon enough a Free Press staffer identified this photo as the same one which had appeared in a January 1968 Tampa newspaper. It showed me standing outside the courtroom just after my extradition hearing with my arm around my wife, Cara. The negative was flopped in Garrison’s print, but even Garrison’s most fanatical partisans had to admit it was the same picture….”
—Kerry Thornley, Star Witness Story (Unpublished essay, 1975)

Kerry Thornley and his wife Cara from the Tampa Tribune, January 23, 1968.

Fred Newcomb—working from a flopped negative of the above photo of Thornley and his wife—modified it per instructions from Harold Weisberg.

The evolution of Newcomb’s touch-up job.

In the November 28th edition of the Tampa Times, Harold Weisberg responded to the touch-up allegations.

November 28, 1968 Tampa Times article on 'Weisburg.'

To be continued…

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