In a little town called St Francisville, located in West Feliciana county, Lousiana and 45 miles north of Baton Rouge is a girl scout camp. The camp is described as being 400 acres large, and “near the rolling hills of St. Francisville.” So what has this got to do with the JFK assassination? Well, 50 years ago Camp Marydale was known as Marydale Farm and was owned by a Mr Lloyd Cobb, a friend and associate of Clay Shaw. Quite a significant friend and associate as it happens, because Lloyd Cobb just happened to be Shaw’s boss at the New Orleans Trade Mart.
In this 1997 article Claude B. Slaton describes Marydale thus:
“In the summer of 1963, Marydale was owned by Lloyd J. Cobb………… and was originally an investment by Mr. Cobb to start a starch production operation at the farm, producing the starch by large amounts of potatoes grown on the place…..and there were (and are) plenty of trees and other cover providing good hunting for deer, rabbit, turkey, or whatever was in season. It boasted a cabin or hunting lodge, where, it was said in the community, “big shots” from New Orleans would occasionally gather, such as Mr. Louis J. Roussell and Clay Shaw. Roussell, in fact, had at one time raised race horses for Jefferson Downs racetrack on Marydale (or the adjoining farm) about 1961 or 2.”
It was Jim Garrison’s investigation into the Louisiana connections to the case that first discovered the possible significance of Marydale Farm to the assassination. At the Clay Shaw trial in 1969, assistant DA James Alcock questioned Shaw about Marydale Farm and Lloyd Cobb:
Q: Do you know of your own knowledge whether or not Mr. Cobb, Mr. Lloyd Cobb, owns any property in the Clinton area?
A: I know that Mr. Cobb owns a very large farm in St. Francisville, which I believe is quite near Clinton.
Q: Quite what?
A: Quite near Clinton, I believe.
Q: Have you ever been to that farm?
A: Yes, I have.
Q: When did you go to the farm?
A: Oh, during the past ten years I may have been there three times. I might explain that a little further, that Mr. Cobb is a breeder of Black Angus cattle, and once a year he had rather a big party to celebrate a stock sale, and I was generally invited to this party and sometimes went and sometimes did not. I would say maybe three times.
Q:Do you recall whether or not it was necessary for you to go through the Town of Clinton to get to the Cobb’s home?
A: My recollection is not, one goes to Baton Rouge, directly up to St. Francisville and turn right, and Mr. Cobb’s farm lies just - east I suppose of St. Francisville.
Q: When is the last time that you were at this location?
A: Let’s see. It was the year that Mr. Kennedy ran for the Presidency do you remember that? 1960 I believe it was, 1960.
Q: That would have been the last time that you were there?
A: That would be, that would be, to the best of my recollection.
Q: On the occasions that you were at Mr. Cobb’s farm, did you see your cousin Yarborough?
A: No, I did not.
Q: To your knowledge, do you know whether your cousin knows Mr. Cobb or not?
A: To my certain knowledge I do not know, but I would certainly presume since neither ever mentioned to me knowing the other, they do not.
So, Shaw admitted he had been at the farm several times, though not in 1963. But we do know Shaw lied on the stand about knowing David Ferrie, being Clay Bertrand and working for the Agency, so I would take his answers with not so much a pinch of salt as a huge shovel. I also note how Shaw seems keen to point out that Marydale is nearer to Baton Rouge, perhaps not wanting to draw attention to the fact that one might have to drive through CLINTON to get there, seeing as he had just denied in the same testimony that he had ever been to Clinton. A quick search on google maps shows that Marydale is only a short 37-38 minute drive up the highway from Clinton.
Prior to cross examination by Alcock, Shaw’s lawyer Irving Dymond had asked him whether he had any relatives who lived in Clinton, to which Shaw answered: “Yes, I have a first cousin, who is married to a Mr Yarborough, and they live in Clinton.” Shaw denied however ever having visited them there.
What is highly significant is that a few years later during the HSCA investigations several of the witnesses in Clinton who had recalled seeing Shaw, David Ferrie and Lee Harvey Oswald in the town during the summer also said they had come into contact with some of the Cubans working at Marydale Farm. As author William Davy notes in Let Justice Be Done, barber Ed McGehee said that he used to cut the hair of someone he believed to be a Cuban and that this person was quite ‘imposing,’ and state representative Reeves Morgan identified the same person as someone he used to see around the town of Jackson. Yet a third person, Clinton town registrar Henry Earl Palmer said he recognised the man as being associated with Marydale. Now this is where it gets REALLY interesting folks, because who do you think all three picked out of a mug book shown to them? None other than anti- Castro Interpen member Lawrence Howard!
Davy relates a further incident that Morgan witnessed on the very day of the assassination; he saw the farm caretakers “rounding up all of the cattle as if they were closing the farm down. When Morgan asked the caretakers what they were doing, he was warned to forget everything he had seen at the farm if he valued his health.” (page 114) What is also striking is that Davy states is that Morgan was still fearful of talking about this to him when he interviewed him in 1994. (page 114).
A few years ago, I contacted the West Feliciana historical society to find out whether anyone there knew more about the place or Lloyd Cobb. They put me in touch with an elderly lady who said her father had worked for Mr Cobb at the farm in the 1940’s. It was slightly earlier than the period I was interested in, but unfortunately, when I told her I was looking for someone who might have known about Mr Cobb’s connection to Clay Shaw it was as if an invisible wall descended and I never heard from the lady again. I had not even mentioned the assassination, only Shaw’s name, but tellingly, it seems that by itself was enough to repel any further contact…
Documents I was able to obtain from West Feliciana parish are somewhat confusing to make out being in rather faint print and also in heavy legal language. One of them states that Lloyd Cobb bought a 442 tract of land known as Marydale Farms from a Miss Augusta C. Wedyert in 1941, (see Fig.1) but then also acquired an 800 acre plot of land previously known as the Clover Hill plantation in September 1945 for $4200 cash (see Fig. 2 & 3) It seems that these are perhaps the pieces of land referred to in the 1977 sale act as ‘other portions of the Marydale Plantation.’
Significantly, just like his friend Shaw, Lloyd Cobb also worked for the CIA and the available documentation shows he had security clearance for a project named ‘QK/ENCHANT’. Just like Shaw…Researchers have been trying to fathom for some time now what this project was, particularly William Davy, who writes that E. Howard Hunt also had clearances for this project.
History of Marydale Farm
There are some odd discrepancies in the history of Marydale Farm that are slightly confusing. The girl scout camp seems to have been founded some 14 years before the assassination. This makes me wonder how Cuban exiles could have been seen there in the summer of 1963 if this was the case? According to this timeline history,on the Girls Scouts Louisiana East website, in April 1949, Lloyd Cobb donated 100 acres of land to be used for the establishment of a “permanent campsite for Baton Rouge Girl Scouts.” Cobb is described only as being a “St Francisville cattleman.” As we know however, he was so much more….Camp Marydale was then inaugurated on its opening day on June 19th, 1949. It seems then that of the farm’s 800 acres, Cobb donated 100 for the girl scout camp in 1949, and the other 300 acres the camp has today was acquired at some point between then and now.
Perhaps the girl scout camp was far enough away from the other areas of the farm that cuban exiles indulging in any kind of paramillitary training would not have been noticed, and they just went under cover of being farm employees employed as summer labourers. Although I did notice the camp website states that: “Camp Marydale is available for use by Girl Scout troops/groups from September – May each year. Resident camp sessions run for six weeks during June and July.” If this was also the case back in 1963, then it means there would have been no one around there in August, so perhaps this could explain when the Cubans moved in and any training took place?
According to the documents I have, the Cobb family sold the remaining parcels of land in 1977. It appears that, sometime after his death (the date of which I do not know), his wife, Mireille LeBreton Cobb sold a tract of 442 acres of land to a Mr Ewell D. Bickham Jr., of Jackson, Lousiana. (see Fig. 4 & 5)
However, if anyone with a better grasp of legalese can understand these documents better than me, I would love to hear from them as they are not easy for a layman to understand!
Interestingly though as Claude B. Slaton observed in this article in 1997, Cobb wasn’t the only one to have links to shady characters and potential assassination conspirators such as Shaw. It seems the Clinton-Jackson-St Francisville area had strong ties to the mob. Slaton notes that a man named Ed Dwyer – an associate of Carlos Marcello, who once testified in Marcello’s jury tampering trial lived near Marydale. He says that Dwyer resided “…on a small farm about 5-6 miles west of Jackson, La., on Highway 10 in an area known as “Elm Park”. Almost within sight of Dwyer’s home, to the east up the highway, was the main entrance to a large farm called Marydale.”
Dwyer also later became involved in the Garrison investigation, giving Garrison information that a man called Jerry Sylvester, a close friend of teamster Ed Partin from Baton Rouge might be able to tell them who Shaw’s associates were in Clinton. Jerry Sylvester later told Garrison investigators Andrew Sciambra and Bill Alford that he was good friends with the Clinton constable John Manchester. Manchester of course was the marshal of Clinton, who testified that he had seen Shaw in the company of Lee Harvey Oswald in the summer of 1963 in a voter registration drive in the town.
To put it into context, we have the sightings of Shaw, Oswald and Ferrie in Clinton, and we have Oswald applying for a job at the East Louisiana State hospital in Jackson. Practically up the road from Jackson, we have Marydale Farm, owned by Shaw’s friend and fellow CIA-asset Lloyd Cobb AND the place where Lawrence Howard and other Cuban exiles were spotted – all the above activity concurrently going on in the summer of 1963 in what could be called a Clinton-Jackson-St Francisville ‘triangle’.
I think Shaw’s connections in the St Francisville area to Lloyd Cobb and possibly, Marcello-associated mob figures such as Ed Dwyer and Jerry Sylvester deserve more scrutiny. Marydale Farm’s significance as a possible training site for the assassination should not be overlooked and whilst other Louisana sites like Lake Ponchartrain have been well documented, Marydale has not been examined as much, and could be an important piece of the puzzle. It would be interesting to know for example whether David Ferrie was ever at Marydale, as we know he was heavily involved in training of the Cuban exiles at Lake Ponchartrain.
It strikes me that the JFK assassination is often thought of as a ‘Texas crime’ with the ‘city of hate’ Dallas forefront in culpability. However, Lousiana’s role as the backdrop to the assassination musn’t be overlooked, because, as Jim Garrison discovered, there was a bubbling cauldron of plots and conspirators simmering away that summer of 63, that was to ultimately come to the boil on November 22nd, 1963 in Dealey Plaza…
Clay Shaw Trial: Testimony of Clay Shaw. February 27th, 1969: http://aarclibrary.org/publib/jfk/garr/trial/Feb_27b/html/Feb_27b_0008a.htm
William Davy, 1999, ‘Let Justice Be Done.’ Jordan Publishing.
Claude B. Slaton, 1997, “Further Feliciana Research.” From: http://mcadams.posc.mu.edu/weberman/felic.htm (yes, I wouldn’t normally link to John McAdams site but please don’t let that put you off… This seems to be the only place this article exists. )
Act of Sale and related documents relating to the sale and purchase of Marydale Farms, 1941, 1945 and 1977, obtained by this author from the West Feliciana Parish courthouse.