Book on JFK investigator leads to answers on assassination
Joan Mellen has spent eight years researching Jim Garrison and John F. Kennedy’s death
Eight years ago, Joan Mellen set out to write a biography of Jim Garrison, the onetime embattled New Orleans district attorney who remains the only public official to have brought someone to trial in connection with the assassination of John F. Kennedy.
She quickly realized that the tale of Garrison must focus on his unflagging investigation of the JFK murder, an inquest that dominated his political and personal life after 1963. So Mellen launched her own inquiry into Kennedy’s death, drawing on thousands of newly declassified documents and speaking to more than 1,200 witnesses and political and intelligence figures.
In her resulting book, A Farewell to Justice, published Nov. 16, nearly 42 years after JFK’s death, Mellen is confident that she has unraveled the mystery of his murder.
“This book cracks the case and puts the issue to rest,” said Mellen, an English and creative writing professor at Temple. “No more can people wonder, did the Mafia do it, did Castro do it, did the KGB do it, did the intelligence agencies do it? This book proves that the CIA was behind the assassination and the resulting cover-up.”
Mellen’s book reveals a number of startling details about the assassination plot, such as Lee Harvey Oswald’s ties to the FBI, the CIA and U.S. Customs. She also uncovers Robert Kennedy’s directive to have his Cuban associates monitor Oswald’s movements during the summer of 1963, even as RFK and these Cubans were devising plots of their own, independent of those being carried out by the CIA, to assassinate Fidel Castro. Even “Deep Throat,” unmasked this summer as W. Mark Felt, aided the FBI smear campaign against Garrison, Mellen discovered.
Photo courtesy Joan Mellen
|When English and creative writing professor Joan Mellen first met Jim Garrison in 1969, the then-embattled New Orleans district attorney spoke only of his investigation of JFK’s assassination. Mellen remained friends with Garrison until his death in 1992.
Yet the publication of A Farewell to Justice, a book Mellen calls her “life’s work,” also reveals much about her prolific career as a biographer, novelist and critic.
“As a writer, I think you have a certain number of stories to tell in your life, and this is one of mine,” Mellen said. “I always wanted to write the story of Jim Garrison, and I was finally able to return to it.”
She never dreamed it would take so long.
In 1997, five years after Garrison’s death, Mellen began her research at the New Orleans district attorney’s office, but her odyssey really began 30 years earlier when she first met Garrison there in 1969.
Even then, shortly after his unsuccessful attempt to convict Clay Shaw for conspiracy in JFK’s assassination, Garrison spoke only of the investigation. He never referred to his position as district attorney, or that he was up for re-election in six months.
“What I remember most from that first meeting with Garrison is that he talked constantly about the Kennedy case,” Mellen said.
Mellen and Garrison would remain friends until just before his death. They talked frequently about his manuscripts — Garrison’s ambition was to be an author and he wrote short stories as a young man before he began to practice law — and about the JFK case. Mellen said his passion for the Kennedy case never diminished. (He even played the part of Justice Earl Warren in Oliver Stone’s 1991 biopic JFK.)
On one occasion, Mellen was in New Orleans to interview poet Stan Rice, the husband of novelist Anne Rice. She had suffered a scratched cornea and was forced to wear a large bandage over her eye. Garrison met her for dinner, and then they talked in a hotel lobby about the assassination plot until 2 a.m. So involved was he in discussing the Kennedy case that he forgot to ask what happened to her eye. It was the last time she met with Garrison; he died three years later.
“My intention was to write about Jim Garrison as a district attorney, with one chapter on his Kennedy investigation,” Mellen said. “As I continued my research, I realized that his investigation of the Kennedy assassination was Garrison’s monumental contribution to history.
The book had to be about this. It’s who he was. It consumed him.”
Mellen was soon similarly absorbed in her investigation. Her Pennington, N.J., home contains 60 filing cabinets stuffed with case documents, mostly releases by the FBI and the CIA to the National Archives. She has logged thousands of miles traveling to New Orleans, Miami, Dallas and the National Archives in Washington, D.C., site of the JFK Assassination Records Collection.
For eight years, Suite 817 of New Orleans’ Windsor Court Hotel was her second home.
“Summers, Christmas, spring break — any time I was off from school, I was somewhere else doing interviews or research for the book,” Mellen said.
Mellen quickly exhausted her small advance for the book and, like Garrison, poured her own money into her research. Given a Great Teacher Award in 2004, Temple’s top prize for teaching, only once did she take a leave from classes for research.
“This book was my life, and it’s the best work I’ve ever done,” said Mellen, who has written about Bobby Knight, Kay Boyle, Marilyn Monroe and the relationship between Lillian Hellman and Dashiell Hammett. “It became my cause. It is really amazing to finally see this work in the shape of a book.”
A Farewell to Justice should find an eager audience. In 2003, on the 40th anniversary of JFK’s death, three-quarters of respondents to a Gallup poll said they believed Oswald did not act alone and there was a conspiracy to murder Kennedy.
Mellen, who was a graduate student in New York on Nov. 22, 1963, hopes her book finally sets the record straight.
“Garrison took the long view of history,” she said. “He knew, in the end, that he would be vindicated. I never dreamed that I would be the one to do it. I’m sad that he has not lived to know it.
“I think I’ve made a contribution to the history and the body of knowledge about this terrible deed. To those detractors who persist in protecting the CIA, in asserting that it must have been the Mafia, I counter: Prove me wrong. So far no one has.”
- By Ted Boscia
Mellen touring extensively to support Garrison book
|Beginning with a lecture at the National Archives in Washington, D.C., on Nov. 16 and ending with an appearance at the 20th annual Tennessee Williams New Orleans Literary Festival next spring, author Joan Mellen has embarked on a national speaking tour for A Farewell to Justice.
Mellen also will make numerous stops in Texas, the site of the Kennedy assassination, and will participate in the yearly JFK Lancer Conference in Dallas on Nov. 19.
She is scheduled to speak on two occasions in Philadelphia during the remainder of 2005:
• Monday, Nov. 28, the Philadelphia Free Library, 1901 Vine St., at 7 p.m.
• Thursday, Dec. 1, Anderson Hall, room 1123, at 3:30 p.m. Mellen will read from
A Farewell to Justice, which will be followed by a reception.
For a complete list of Mellen’s speaking engagements, visit www.joanmellen.net/contact.html.