Kerry Thornley


Kerry Wendell Thornley met Lee Harvey Oswald while in the United States Marines in 1959. Later that year Thornley was transferred to Atsugi in Japan.

In 1962 Thornley wrote a novel called The Idle Warriors about a disgruntled marine who defects to the Soviet Union. The book was based on Thornley's knowledge of Oswald. The following year Thornley moved to New Orleans where it was claimed he associated with Guy Banister, David Ferrie and Clay Shaw. Oswald was also living in the city at that time but Thornley insisted that the two men never met during this period. The two men were also both in Mexico City in September 1963.

The FBI were aware of Thornley's novel and so after the assassination of President John F. Kennedy he was asked to testify before the Warren Commission.

Jim Garrison later claimed that Thornley and Lee Harvey Oswald were involved together in covert CIA operations. He also argued that Thornley had impersonated Oswald between the years 1961 and 1963. In his book On the Trail of the Assassins (1988) Garrison insists that Thornley was friends with another possible conspirator, Johnny Roselli.

In 1992 Thornley appeared on a television programme, A Current Affair. He confessed that he had been part of a conspiracy to assassinate John F. Kennedy. However, he did not give the names of his fellow conspirators.

Kerry Wendell Thornley died in 1998. He had been working on a book with the journalist Sondra London. The book, Confession to Conspiracy to Assassinate JFK was published in 2000.

Primary Sources

(1) Kerry Wendell Thornley, Warren Commission (1964)

Oswald asked, "What do you think about Communism?" "I replied I didn't think too much of Communism" and he said, "Well, I think the best religion is Communism." And I got the impression at the time... he was playing the galleries... he said it very gently. He didn't seem to be a glassy-eyed fanatic by any means... I did know at the time he was learning the Russian language. I knew he was subscribing to Pravda... All of this I took to be a sign of his interest in the subject, and not as a sign of any active commitment to the Communist ends... I didn't feel there was any rabid devotion... His shoes were always unshined... He walked around with the bill of his cap down over his eyes... so he wouldn't have to look at anything around him... to blot out the military... It was well-known in the outfit that... Oswald had Communist sympathies ... Master Sergeant Spar, our section chief, jumped up on a fender one day and said, "All right, everybody gather around," and Oswald said in a very thick Russian accent, "Ah ha, collective farm lecture," in a very delighted tone. This brought him laughs at the time...

Every now and then we had to give up our Saturday morning liberty to go march in one of those parades ... (and) to look forward to a morning of standing out in the hot sun and marching around, was irritable. So, we were involved at the moment in a "hurry up and wait" routine... waiting at the moment... sitting. Oswald and I happened to be sitting next to each other on a log... he turned to me and said something about the stupidity of the parade... and I said, I believe my words were, "Well, come the revolution you will change all that." At which time he looked at me like a betrayed Caesar and screamed, screamed definitely, "Not you too, Thornley." And I remember his voice cracked as he put his hands in his pockets, pulled his hat down over his eyes and walked away... and sat down someplace else alone... and I never said anything to him again and he never said anything to me again. This happened with many people, this reaction of Oswald's and therefore he had few friends... He seemed to guard against developing real close friendships.

(2) Kerry Wendell Thornley, Oswald (1965)

When news of Oswald first began to appear, I wondered how any man could have changed so thoroughly in a few short years. A national news magazine called him a psychopath, a schizoid, a paranoid, and probable homosexual - all in the same single column of print. Suddenly I was reading that he was constantly fighting with his fellow Marines and that in the service he displayed a conspicuous yen for physical violence. I observed no such traits. That an appendix of the Warren Report had to be devoted to speculation and rumors is in my mind argument enough that a good deal of fabrication and exaggeration was involved somewhere along the line. While Oswald had his psychological problems, I doubt that he would have been found legally insane had he lived to face a jury.

(3) Jim Garrison, On the Trail of the Assassins (1988)

Thornley had told me that he returned from his summer in California by way of Mexico City. This happened to be very close to the time that the Warren Commission said Oswald was in Mexico. By November 1963, according to his own account, Thornley was living in a New Orleans apartment he rented from John Spencer.

We located Spencer, who turned out to be a friend of Clay Shaw's. As he described it, sometimes Spencer visited Shaw, the director of the International Trade Mart, and sometimes it was vice versa. Spencer told us, however, that Shaw never came by while Thornley was living at his place.

Several days after the assassination. Spencer told us, he came to his house and found Thornley gone. In Spencer's mailbox was a note from Thornley saying, "I must leave. I am going to the Washington, D.C. area, probably Alexandria, Virginia. I will send you my address so that you can forward my mail." Spencer said it was quite unexpected because Thornley had at least a week left in the month before his rent was due. He went to Thornley's apartment, number "C", and found that paper had been left over the entire floor, torn up into small pieces like confetti. Before being torn up, the paper had been watered down so that the ink was blurred, making it unreadable. Spencer said he had some conversations with Thornley about his book The Idle Warriors and that Thornley had asked him to read a copy of the manuscript, which had been turned down by several publishers before the assassination. Spencer never did get around to reading it. After the assassination Thornley told Spencer that he was going to be a rich man because of the coincidence of Oswald having been the subject of his book.

I later sent Andrew Sciambra to the Washington area, where he traced Thornley's path. Thornley had wound up at Arlington, a Washington suburb, and had moved into Shirlington House, a first-class apartment building where he worked as doorman. Thornley stayed at Shirlington House for six months, until he testified before the Warren Commission. Oddly enough, his salary was less than the rent of his Shirlington House apartment.

In the mid-1970s when I was in the private practice of law, Thornley sent a lengthy, almost biographical, 50-page affidavit to me describing, among other things, evidence he had encountered in New Orleans of "Nazi activity" in connection with President Kennedy's murder. It was apparent that even though I no longer was D.A. Thornley wanted

to assure me that he had not been involved in Kennedy's assassination in any way.

Although it did not accord with reality, as I recalled it, the affidavit had, in retrospect, one interesting feature. Purely gratuitously, it mentioned how Thornley had left Washington following his Warren Commission testimony and ultimately returned to California, where he and John Rosselli happened to become friends. The affidavit was mailed to me before Rosselli's name surfaced during the Senate's 1975 investigation of the C.I.A.'s assassination practices. Rosselli, it turned out, had been one of a number of mobsters with whom the Agency had developed a relationship during its pre-Castro activities in Cuba.

(4) Kerry Wendell Thornley, Confession to Conspiracy to Assassinate JFK (2000)

During most of my life I have been inclined to reject conspiracy theories of history. Notwithstanding my willingness to admit that conspiracies exist, I felt that a grasp of political events depended upon an understanding of the power of ideas. In my view, conspiracies were insignificant. My tendency was to challenge the motives of conspiracy buffs when I did not, as was more often the case, question their mental health.

Balancing my occasional doubts was a fear of becoming paranoid. When Oswald was accused of assassinating Kennedy, my first hunch was that he was innocent and had been blamed in a misunderstanding that would soon be cleared up. When the media continued to insist there was ample evidence that Oswald, and Oswald alone, shot the President, I quickly changed my mind.

Two years later, when a Warren Report critic confronted me with the many discrepancies between the conclusions of the Warren Commission and the testimony and exhibits contained in the Twenty-six Volumes, I could no longer hide from myself the probability that either Oswald was innocent or he had not acted alone.

Yet even then I did not want to think an elaborate conspiracy was involved. Maybe Lyndon Johnson or some of his Texas friends had arranged to kill Kennedy and perhaps it had not occurred to the Warren Commission to probe that possibility. A more complicated theory would seem paranoid.

Above all else, I did not want to seem paranoid.

One year elapsed between the time I began doubting the lone-assassin theory and the beginning of tribulations in my own life suffered at the hands of a man most journalists insinuated was a paranoid. First, District Attorney Jim Garrison made a bizarre attempt to recruit me as a witness for the prosecution in his probe of a New Orleans-based conspiracy to assassinate John Kennedy. When I expressed my unwillingness to cooperate, he accused me of working for the C.I.A. and summoned me to appear before the grand jury.

After asking me what seemed like a lot of irrelevant questions, he charged me with perjury for denying, truthfully, that I had met with Lee Harvey Oswald in New Orleans during the months previous to the assassination. I had not seen Oswald in person, nor had I communicated with him in any other way, since June of 1959 - at the latest.

(5) Kerry Wendell Thornley, Confession to Conspiracy to Assassinate JFK (2000)

Needless to say, I was jubilant at the news of Kennedy's death -- something I made no attempt to conceal from anyone, much to the annoyance of most of the Bourbon House regulars. Besides that, I was extremely proud of Oswald for getting himself accused -- although I suspected he was innocent, since in the service he had displayed a talent for getting blamed of things.

As for me, I felt betrayed by most of my French Quarter friends, who were obviously grief-stricken. Hadn't they laughed in the past at my anti-Kennedy jokes? Where was their integrity? Here I had been thinking they were potential converts to the Objectivism of Ayn Rand and, instead, they were all turning out to be a bunch of whim-worshipers.

Then, Sunday morning, I learned that Oswald had been murdered. I was horrified. Irrational violence had won out over good sense once again. Why would anyone want to kill a pathetic little guy like Lee? Now everyone else was smug and I was in mourning.

Both the Secret Service and the Federal Bureau of Investigation had been to the restaurant by then to question me. A poll appeared in the evening paper indicating that most Americans now thought the assassination was the result of a conspiracy. As I moved about the French Quarter, it seemed to me I was being tailed by middle-aged men in suits.

I decided to go to the F.B.I. office and volunteer my services in luring out the real assassins of John F. Kennedy. They could say Oswald had confided in me and use me as a decoy to trap the people who had silenced him. I spoke to an FBI agent in the Federal Building who kept pretending he didn't understand what I was talking about. Among his questions, and typical of most of them, was, "This Oswald - was he a homo of any kind?"

In the days that followed I quarreled with virtually every one of my friends to a greater or lesser extent. Mildest among these disputes were disagreements about questions of taste. Couldn't I have at least been silent, instead of offering to buy drinks for everyone in the Bourbon House? In the worst disagreements, tempers flared and fist fights almost resulted.

(6) Robert Howard, Forum Debate on Kerry Thornley (18th September, 2005)

At the risk of being redundant, I would like to mention that I know that many of us are waiting for our copies of Joan Mellen's book to come out, I have pre-ordered my copy as well. In the meantime I have been going over some of the teasers for the book and exploring some of them. One of the things that I have discovered is an angle on Kerry Thornley that is attributed to the late Harold Weisberg's research, this may or may not be in Mellen's book; The story is during the Garrison investigation after Weisberg decided that Garrison was going in a direction that he didn't feel was the way to go, Weisberg followed a lead concerning Oswald and the picking up of the Fair Play for Cuba Committee leaflets in New Orleans from Jones Printing Co. According to the story, Weisberg showed the owner over 100 photos of individuals other than Lee Harvey Oswald (apparently he had discovered that Oswald wasn't the person who picked them up.) When the owner picked the individual out of the photos, Weisberg contacted him and told him he needed to get an attorney as he was about to be indicted for perjury; at this point in a taped interview Kerry Thornley admitted committing perjury and admitted that he had been the one to pick up the FPCC leaflets. When Weisberg informed Garrison about this he declined to pursue it because it didn't have anything to do with his chief suspect Clay Shaw. I cannot vouch for the authenticity of the story but it has appeared on one of the JFK Forum's other than this one. It should also be mentioned that the FBI was aware of this and declined to investigate it, ostensibly per Hoover himself.