As anyone who frequents this site is well aware (or has bought my books—yes, please buy my books!), Garrison targeted Kerry Thornley as part of a supposed sinister assassination cabal centered in the New Orleans’s French Quarter. The key witness against Thornley—in this regard—was Early (and squirrelly) Discordian Barbara Reid, who most likely imagined or confabulated or conflated her claims against Thornley as a means to launch herself into Garrison’s orbit.
In his March 1969 column in The Ungarbled Word (the underground French Quarter newspaper Lovin published), he wrote this about Reid:
“Prominent among Garrison’s self proclaimed informers is one Barbara Reid… a self-proclaimed witch who maintains a “Voodoo” altar in her French Quarter home. She has a long history of two-faced dealings, and has been known to sell information in return for “favors.” She is, she claims, Jim’s ear in the quarter…”
Weisberg for awhile was hooked at the hip with Barbara Reid, and it was Reid who no doubt steered Weisberg in Lovin’s direction. Part of their suspicions concerned Lovin’s association with an outfit called the Modern Language Institute that apparently held occasional meetings at the Ryder Coffee House, a beatnik hangout promoting integration and free speech which we talked about in our first installment of this series.
The Ryder Coffee House was a meeting place for all manner of groups, primarily left leaning bohemian types, however its doors we’re open to all, which explains the presence there of the Modern Language Institute (MLI), an organization affiliated with anti-Castro Cubans and other right wingers—or perhaps these right wing elements had infiltrated the MLI, possibly using it as a front organization, or as a means of recruitment into clandestine anti-Castro (possibly CIA funded) activities… I know, it gets deep. And a lot of the information surrounding all of this is ancient and murky. But hang with me.
It was Garrison’s contention (ala Weisberg and Reid) that Lovin and Thornley had attended meetings of the MLI at Ryder Coffee House along with the MLI’s manager, an anti-Castro Cuban named Arnesto Rodriquez. (In some of Weisberg’s memos, he even suggests that Lovin managed the Ryder Coffee House at one point during this period.)
In regards to the MLI, Garrison was all over the notion that anti-Castro elements had been part of a JFK assassination hit team in cahoots with rogue CIA agents and that the likes of Arnesto Rodriguez and Kerry Thornley and Roger Lovin were all wrapped up in these alleged clandestine activities and that MLI served as some sort of cover for covert operations. I tend to doubt there’s much to these theories—at least in relation to Thornley and Lovin—but as anyone knows who has looked into this arcane history, nothing is cut-and-dried, and both Thornley and Lovin indeed had some curious connections with many of the shadowy figures who inhabited the French Quarter during those wild and wooly days. Whether, ultimately, these connections had any direct bearing on JFK assassination conspirators is still a matter of vast conjecture and conspiratorial fodder.
Harold Weisberg described Lovin as a “beatnik-type painter from Slidell, LA… who had run guns to Cuba for profit.” Weisberg was informed by Arnesto Rodriguez that he “was moving his school [Modern Language Institute] from across 6th street at the end of July 1963 and early August, that [Rodriguez] did not immediately finish up the back room, and that he agreed to a Lovin proposition that, in return for fixing it up, Lovin be given the use of the space for a studio. Arnesto says that on an unexpected return to the suite on a Sunday he found a naked Lovin convorting [sic] with a naked girl and thereupon terminated the arrangement for the space…”
As we learn more about Lovin, this anecdote is perhaps the first instance (in this series) of pulling back a curtain that will reveal much more about his veracious sexual appetite.
According to another memo by Harold Weisberg:
“LOVIN was connected with an organization known as Services Unlimited, care of the Bourbon House Bar in New Orleans, La. The Organization will allegedly do anything for money: i.e., fly a plane, steal property, paint a house, surveil individuals…Lovin claims to have been in jail in the state of Georgia for smuggling arms to Fidel Castro in the Sierra Mountains of Cuba prior to 1959. Source advised LOVIN claims to have done smuggling for FIDEL CASTRO in 1958 for a few weeks, but is not known to have returned since that time. He is allegedly now anti-Castro.”
In regards to the charge that Lovin was running guns, this claim apparently came from Lovin himself, and scant evidence exists to support this allegation, other than the real possibility that Lovin made it all up to create an aura around himself as that of a secret agent renaissance man who dabbled in the arts and literature on one hand while at the same time working as a soldier of fortune engaged in covert activities. On the other hand, it’s certainly not out of the realm of possibility that Lovin might have been involved in clandestine capers, as he was indeed a man of many talents, some of which pushed the envelope toward criminality. Just the same, the so-called “Services Unlimited” yarn seems somewhat far-fetched, and sounds like something Lovin might have cooked up over beers at the Bourbon House one night with his friends.
There was also the allegation (once again courtesy of the Harold Weisberg-Barbara Reid tag team) that Lovin and Lee Harvey Oswald had been roommates, this allegation coming (allegedly) from an informant named Bernard Goldsmith. But once again, this sounds like Lovin possibly yanking someone’s chain, or Barbara Reid conflating one thing she heard with another.
The Lovin-related info passed along to the FBI was sourced from a couple interviews Harold Weisberg conducted in 1967 and 1968. According to a Weisberg memo from April 12th, 1968, Lovin admitted that he’d been “kicked out of the Navy for a homosexual offence that he said was isolated but mixed up in another and major case…” This episode might be related to another FBI memo that states: “LOVIN was alleged to have stolen a television set from a Naval Ammunition Depot in North Charleston, S.C. sometime in February 1962.”
In his column from Feb 20th, 1969 edition of The Ungarbled Word, Lovin had this to say about his interactions with Garrison’s investigators:
“I am, and have been, a close friend of Kerry Thornley. Kerry served in the Marine Corps with Lee Oswald, and Garrison contends that he (Thornley) met and had dealings with Oswald here in New Orleans. In the early days of the investigation, during the initial questioning of everybody even vaguely connected with anybody else, I was asked to come answer questions at Garrison’s office. Louis Ivon, one of Garrison’s investigators, informed me that he had information to the effect that I had, 1. Roomed with Oswald, 2. Sold him a rifle, and 3. Was part of the alleged conspiracy.
“I pointed out that, during the time in question, I wasn’t even in the city and could prove it. Ivon didn’t seem to want to hear that. When I offered to submit to a lie detector test, he was also less than anxious to listen.
“Later, I was twice visited by Harold Weisberg, a writer who represented himself as being from Garrison’s office. He made tapes of the two conversations, took my photo scrapbook, and vanished. He was since written two books on the assassination, both of which have been panned by critics as being far from factual. A year ago, Weisberg sent a letter on Garrison’s stationary to Fred Newcomb, an artist requesting that he retouch a picture of Kerry Thornley to make him look more like Oswald. Newcomb sent Weisberg’s request to the D.A., and got an answer declaiming any connection with Weisberg. Bother letters, Weisberg and the D.A.’s were on official stationary, and appeared to have been typed by the same secretary.
“Also last year, a young girl who was a part-time beer salesman on Bourbon St. and who said she was working for Garrison, tried to pump me for information on Oswald. I laughed at her, and she said “You had better talk. We’ve got a case on you and have ways of making you talk.”
As for the scrapbook (taken by Harold Weisberg) that Lovin mentions in his article, this contained, among other stuff, a sheaf of Discordian material that was enough of a head scratcher to get Weisberg imagining that the Discordian Society was somehow part of his JFK assassination conspiracy wet dream, a nutty notion I covered in some depth in a previous article entitled “Was The Discordian Society A CIA Front?”
But, weirdly enough, the JFK assassination wasn’t the only political assassination that Lovin became associated with—however obscurely. According to another odd FBI memo, in 1964 Lovin had taken dance lessons at the Continental Dance Studio in New Orleans—with the intent of becoming a dance instructor himself—and Lovin’s then wife, Sandra Lovin (né Sandra Bankson), was also involved with the studio as an instructor.
The gist of this FBI memo concerned visits to the Continental Dance Studio (also in 1964) by an individual going by the name of Eric Stavros Galt, which—it turns out—was an alias for James Earl Ray, the (alleged and convicted) assassin of Martin Luther King Jr.
Apparently, Ray had used the Galt alias during the period he received his series of dance lessons, and a couple weeks after MLK’s assassination—on April 19, 1968—the Feds tracked down different people associated with the dance studio to learn what they knew about Ray’s activities. To this end, Lovin and others associated with the dance studio (including his wife, Sandra) were questioned, and it doesn’t appear anything too monumental came out of this, other than the fact that the owner of Continental Dance Studios, Marlin C. Myers, did indeed confirm that Ray (under the alias of Galt) had attended some dance lessons there.
This inquiry seemed to be triggered by an earlier interview that Lovin had with Garrison’s investigators, and as they were showing him different photographs, apparently one of the James Earl Ray/Eric Stavros Galt mug shots was passed to him, and though Lovin didn’t recognize the photo, he said the Stavros part of the name sounded familiar, but that he might have been conflating it with a novel he had read. It all gets a bit convoluted, to say the least, but here’s the memo below, if you wish to get even more confused.
Thanks to Tim Cridland (aka Zamora the Torture King) for unearthing a lot of this information and making my head spin trying to explain it all.
COMING SOON: the Final Installment of this Series (at least I think it will be the Final Installment) which will be a bit of shocker to some, [whisper]containing some rather delicate revelations, as well as an audio interview I conducted a while back with Jean Marie Stine who found herself in the thick of a lot of Lovin’s adventures in New Orleans and later in Los Angeles in the early 1970s.[/whisper]