Clay Shaw, also known as Clay LaVerne Shaw, was an American businessman and the only person who was prosecuted in the murder of the President J.F. Kennedy. He was later acquitted of all the charges due to lack of any convincing evidences. Born in Kentwood, Louisiana, Clay later moved to New Orleans with his family when he was 5 years old. He graduated from Warren Easton High School and enrolled into the US Army during the Second World War. He was honoured by the French, Belgium and American governments for his services during the war. Shaw was discharged by the army honourably following the culmination of the war and afterwards, he played a key role in the foundation of the International Trade Mart. President Kennedy was assassinated on November 22, 1963, and for many years, the intelligence agencies failed to locate the perpetrators. In March 1967, Clay was arrested by the District Attorney Jim Garrison who alleged that Clay, along with a group of activists had planned the assassination of the President. But the key witness’ story did not add-up and Clay was acquitted by the court in March 1969. A few years later, Clay passed away after a battle with Lung Cancer.
Childhood & Early Life
Clay Shaw was born Laverne C. Shaw, on March 17, 1913, in Kentwood, Louisiana, USA, to Alice and Glaris Lenora Shaw. He was raised as the only child in the family and was born near Mississippi border. His father served as a United States Marshal.
When he was 5 years old, the family moved to New Orleans and Clay spent rest of his growing up years there. He had developed an affinity for writing when he was a teenager and was attending public school in New Orleans. He was deeply interested in playwriting, but somehow he aspired to get a well settled job first.
He graduated from Warren Easton High School in 1928 and rather than pursuing a career as a full time theatre writer, he began working for Western Union, in one of their local offices.
In 1935 however, he got a transfer and moved to the New York branch of Western Union. He also enrolled into Columbia University and was eventually promoted to the position of District Manager in Western Union’s mid-city area. With that job, he overlooked 40 branches of his company.
Soon after that, he got bored of his job and took a new job as a freelance PR manager and a writer in advertising agency. He later began working at the Lee-Keedick Lecture Bureau.
He soon resigned as USA was beginning to get involved in the Second World War in the late 1930s. He was enlisted as a private in the Medical Corps. He was shifted to England after receiving commission as a second lieutenant. He was later transferred to the supply corps and was stationed in Southern England. He was also responsible for stockpiling supplies to the stationed men during the infamous Normandy invasion.
The war ended in 1945 and Clay was given the honour as a major in the army and was honoured with prestigious decorations from countries such as USA, Belgium and France.
He discharged from the army in 1946 and returned to New Orleans, as a national hero. He was invited by a few businessmen to begin the International Trade Mart. It was established to develop strong business ties of the local port with Latin countries. Clay later admitted that he was not actually qualified for the job.
Clay also wrote a few theatrical plays, such as ‘Submerged’. He was mostly active in theatres during his high school years.
He had also been credited for his efforts towards preserving historic buildings in the French Quarter of New Orleans.
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Trial for the JFK Assassination
In 1962, Clay Shaw had the opportunity to meet the then President of the USA, John F. Kennedy. They were introduced to each other by a common friend. On November 22, 1963, the President was assassinated during a road-show in Dallas, Texas.
The Warren Commission, which was formed to uncover the mystery around his death, took one year to determine that Lee Harvey Oswald acted alone in the assassination of the President. Many conspiracy theories and the role of CIA was also discussed openly. But before Lee’s official trial, he was shot dead.
Jim Garrison, a district attorney from New Orleans, denied Warren Commission’s report and embarked on an individual investigation. In 1967, Jim’s suspicions on several elite from New Orleans began deepening and Clay was the first person he tailed.
It was due to Clay’s connections to the CIA and some foreign bodies that Garrison suspected Clay and was almost sure of CIA’s connection with the assassination. Clay also made several foreign business trips which further paved way for suspicions and Garrison thought it was all a CIA cover-up and he readied several witnesses to put Clay on trial.
In 1969, Clay’s trial began and Garrison accused him of planning the assassination due to Kennedy’s anti-Fidel stance in Cuba. And it would mean that Cuban market would not be able to trade as freely with New Orleans that would be a huge loss for Clay.
Clay, of course, pled not guilty and gave proofs in the court that he admired Kennedy as he was a liberal himself. And regarding his association with the CIA, he claimed that he stopped being in touch with the agency in 1956.
Garrison’s key witness was a salesman named Perry Russo, who claimed that he attended a party in which Clay was present as well. He claimed that there were talks of ‘triangulation of crossfire’. But the problem was, Perry’s statements kept changing overtime.
There was also the fact that a few witnesses died in mysterious circumstances and a few others backtracked on their statements. The trial made waves nationwide and many more conspiracy theories erupted. Many people, who believed Garrison, began questioning the reliability of the Warren Commission.
On March 1, 1969, Clay was acquitted of all charges. The Jury had taken less than an hour to come to the verdict. However, a strong nationwide coverage of the event had Clay’s reputation tarnished.
Later Life & Death
Clay Shaw had been a heavy smoker. He passed away from Lung Cancer on August 15, 1974. He was 61 years old at the time of his death.
Oliver Stone made the film titled ‘JFK’ in 1991 and Tommy Lee Jones was hired to portray Clay.