Introduction to Dick Russell’s “The Man Who Knew Too Much”

There is something intrinsically dark and terrifying about the murder of John F. Kennedy, something murky that gnaws away at our gut and implores us to look closer. To look at something just underneath the surface. To look at something evil.

When you move past the grainy black and white imagery of young Lee Harvey Oswald being roughhoused down the hallways of Dallas Police Headquarters, and when you sagely reject the accompanying “lone nut assassin” rationale, you will part the curtains and find yourself in a parallel cosmos, a clandestine netherworld filled with CIA rogues, Mafia wiseguys, Cuban-Exile fanatics, cash-soaked Oil Men and seditious Cold Warriors. This is a Cimmerian place, a grotesque place populated with its own cast of characters and its own set of rules. This place is the shameful arena where the plot to kill Kennedy was born, and if previous examinations of this tragedy have been told from the outside looking in, then prepare yourself: This book is the JFK conspiracy from the inside looking out.

This is the true story of Richard Case Nagell.

A tough-as-nails war hero turned deep-cover spy, Nagell’s mysterious legend and oft-whispered name has floated ghost-like through the various Kennedy assassination investigations for decades. There was the Warren Commission, which predictably ignored him; the Garrison investigation, which wanted him, but couldn’t get him; and the House Select Committee on Assassinations, which ran screaming in the opposite direction. But they all knew, like many of us who have waded through this swamp for years, that Richard Case Nagell was the nasty little hand grenade of the JFK conspiracy – the man who could blow the lid off its deepest, darkest secrets. And despite his lack of official “recognition” from those various investigative bodies (Garrison’s attempts aside), the fact is that Nagell had never once – not once in the thirty-three years since Kennedy’s death until his own in 1995 – tried to cash in on his infamy with a detailed “confession” or “tell all” book. But somebody, somehow, had to track Nagell down and convince him to go on the record. Somebody had to grab the hand grenade – and pull the pin.

Enter Dick Russell, who – in 1975 – as a young, dogged, and irresistibly incorrigible� journalist, ventured west to Los Angeles and found himself face-to-face with the man who would intermittently consume his professional career for the next three decades.

To say that Nagell and Russell’s relationship was a complex one would be an understatement; to say that it was by turns frustrating, electrifying, terrifying and ultimately heartbreaking would be closer to the mark. Theirs was a non-stop game of high stakes poker, and in a tremendous test of Russell’s mettle, Nagell was definitely, and deliberately, holding all the cards. He was, in short, a journalist’s worst nightmare. Nevertheless, the intrepid Russell somehow constructed an unprecedented level of trust and respect with a man too battered and bruised to trust and respect anyone. He learned how to speak Nagell’s language, and more importantly, he taught himself how to decipher Nagell’s code – that remarkably calculating idiom utilized by the veteran spy to impart his inside information on the Kennedy case under the guise of innocuous conversation or verbal jousting. With Nagell, every locution was another cryptic clue along the darkened path to the final truth about who killed John F. Kennedy and why, and fortunately for that elusive truth, Russell had the smarts to unravel Nagell’s shrouded leads, and the daring to wade gamely back into that swamp from which Nagell had barely survived.

Russell has set forth and dredged up the secret histories of men like Desmond FitzGerald, H. L. Hunt, John Paisley, Winston Scott, Rolando Masferrer Rojas, Major General Charles Willoughby and, of course, Nagell’s maligned former protégé, Lee Harvey Oswald, to name but a few. Further, he has located, confronted and cornered a veritable barrage of participants in, and witnesses to, this sad saga, including Antonio Veciana, James Jesus Angleton, Colonel William C. Bishop, Major General Edwin A. Walker, John Curington, George de Mohrenschildt, and John Thomas Masen, convincing these, and many more, to go on the record – some for the first and only time.

And, in perhaps his most outstanding journalistic contribution, Russell has brought to light the hitherto unknown roles of two disparate men and their involvement in this historical tragedy: The first being Canadian correspondent Mark Julius Gayn, the second being the venerable Judge Homer Thornberry. You will learn of their caliginous actions within.

So, too, will you learn about the enigmatic anti-hero of this remarkable tale, and the first thing you will learn is this: Richard Case Nagell was no Mr. Nice Guy. He was, at judicious points in his career, a meticulous, cunning, cold-blooded operator. Trained to within an inch of his life in everything from lock-picking to neck-breaking, Nagell was the type of guy who could rip out your heart and show it to you while it was still beating, such was the extent of his expertise. Yet Nagell also had one overriding personality trait that would bless him with both his ascension and his downfall: The man had a conscience. In another fine example of Russell’s documentation, Nagell’s conscience becomes a major character in this narrative, populated as it is with individuals possessed of no conscience at all. It was conscience that fueled Nagell’s assiduous patriotism, seeing him emerge as the youngest American soldier promoted to captain during the course of the Korean War. Ten years later, it was conscience again that dictated Nagell’s decision to dispatch a registered letter to the FBI, warning J. Edgar Hoover of the burgeoning conspiracy to assassinate President Kennedy (an audacious gamble on Nagell’s behalf which, among other things, provided the impetus for this book).

Further, Nagell’s conscience translated directly into heroism, and it was this rare and heady combination of killer instinct, moral probity and unwavering courage that made Richard Case Nagell the most fascinating and human character in the Kennedy assassination lexicon.

From 1963 to 1995, however, it also made him the most dangerous.

Over the past forty years since John F. Kennedy was killed, the most common question regarding Nagell has become: “If he knew so damned much about who killed Kennedy, then why wasn’t he silenced long ago?” Indeed, as anyone who knows anything about the JFK conspiracy jigsaw will tell you, the roster of so-called “Mysterious Deaths” in this case is a daunting pile of bloody corpses that cannot be squared away. The amount of recorded “suicides” alone confirms that the participants and witnesses to this conspiracy were either the most depressed group of individuals to ever walk the face of the earth, or something sinister was afoot. Moreover, this monumental body count – which reads like the casualty list from a small war – is our best indication that the confederates responsible for Kennedy’s murder were a very powerful assembly indeed. They had the resources and personnel not only to eliminate a president, but to track down, monitor and execute any dissenting link in the chain who reared his or her talkative head.

Yet Nagell somehow endured, in itself an astonishing display of adroitness when one considers the sheer arrogance and audacity of these witness killings.

Immediately following publication of the laughable Warren Report and its intriguing appendices – and at precisely the same time that independent researchers began questioning the Report’s preposterous conclusions – this first wave of witnesses were forever wiped from the face of the Earth. They had names that you may or may not know – lives that have been reduced to historical footnotes – but they were men and women yanked down into this quagmire all the same: Gary Underhill, Rose Cheramie, Betty McDonald, and Lieutenant Commander William Bruce Pitzer were just some of those eliminated. During Jim Garrison’s rollercoaster investigation a mere two years later, the swaggering D.A. wrapped his paws around a clutch of middle-management conspiracy bit-players like Jack Ruby, Eladio “Yito” del Valle, General Charles Cabell, and everybody’s favorite human Halloween costume, David W. Ferrie. None of these suspects – or roughly twenty other individuals relevant to Garrison’s case – would have their day in court either. Six years after Garrison’s prosecution of CIA cut-out Clay Shaw disintegrated, Senator Frank Church’s unprecedented inquiries into the U.S. intelligence community and its resultant House Select Committee on Assassinations would unleash an authentic bloodbath that spanned the better part of a decade. And this time the targets were hardly the peripheral grunts of the JFK conspiracy; rather, it was the seemingly omnipotent command level that started turning up deceased – if, of course, their bodies turned up at all.

This conspiracy-connected death toll from the 1970s is far too diverse and extensive to list in full here, but consider just some of the power brokers lugged away in body bags: The Mob triumvirate of Jimmy Hoffa, John Rosselli, and Sam “Momo” Giancana; the CIA’s assassination overlord William Harvey (a sweltering mound of alcoholic blubber that many consider to be the vindictive mastermind behind the ambush in Dallas); and perhaps more intriguingly, the aforementioned John Paisley, a high-ranking CIA analyst, and Rolando Masferrer Rojas, a drug-dealing waste of oxygen who was intimately involved with the Cuban-Exile underground. Nagell would place great significance on the murders of these last two men, sending the dauntless Russell down yet more precarious paths. The results of those inquiries are recorded fastidiously herein.

But how do you kill a man like Richard Case Nagell? From the moment he was baptized into the surreptitious underbelly of intelligence work, Nagell would possess an unparalleled edge over his pursuers, proving himself a far more difficult quarry than the handful of names listed above. As you will soon discover, the attempts on his life were extensive and well-documented, and further, they demonstrated an increasing level of outright desperation to kill him as the years went by. As Russell amply demonstrates, however, these murderous efforts ran parallel to the U.S. government’s far more damaging stratagem: Namely, to assault Nagell’s credibility, to incarcerate him and demand his submission, and to reduce his reputation to that of a caricatured mental patient. This unceasing effort to defame and disgrace a one-time favorite son almost succeeded in tainting virtually anything and everything that Nagell knew about the inner-workings of the Kennedy conspiracy – which, of course, was precisely the point.

But there were two almost intangible factors that his attackers didn’t count on: The first being Nagell’s almost Lazarus-like powers of resurrection; the second being Dick Russell, who has hammered through the cracks of official cement to bring you this remarkable story in a revised and expanded edition. And in a testament to the integrity of this book’s original publication, not one iota of the new testimony or recently declassified material presented inside contradicts Russell’s original findings; in fact, they only serve to strengthen them.

And if you somehow remain unconvinced that the journey you are about to embark upon won’t prove to be the most galvanizing study of the Kennedy assassination you’ve ever encountered, then ask yourself one simple question:

What would you do if you could stop the assassination of JFK?

Would you forego your family? Your honor? Would you sacrifice your respect and reputation? Would you relinquish your freedom, your safety, and further, your very sanity, to save the life of a man you’ve never met?

In 1963, one man did.

His story awaits you within . . .


Melbourne, Australia, March 2003

Lachy Hulme is an actor and screenwriter. His credits include Men With Guns, Four Jacks, Let’s Get Skase, The Matrix Reloaded, The Matrix Revolutions, and the forthcoming When We Were Modern, as Australian artist Albert Tucker.

Foreword ©2003 by Lachy Hulme. All Rights (by all media) Reserved.