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Jaffe/My Turn: Fact, fiction and JFK

Carl Doerner’s recent essay and The Recorder’s story of Nov. 22 discussed the Kennedy assassination. This piece seeks to complement those articles.

It’s no surprise that the 50th anniversary of an event that demarcated the dawn of contemporary cynicism and mistrust of all things governmental brought a trove of new books on the subject, some recycling the two most simplistic mythologies (The Warren Report itself and Oliver Stone’s Vietnam theory), others summarizing recently released material.

Congress passed the “1992 JFK Act” in response to the public outcry generated by Stone’s movie, mandating release of many heretofore unavailable documents. Notwithstanding pervasive foot dragging and redaction on the part of government agencies, new information continues to emerge. Many of the following highlights are reported in “The Hidden History of the Kennedy Assassination,” the most recent book on the subject by researcher Lamar Waldron. Of necessity some previously known but often ignored details are also included.

From public FBI files: “Yeah I had the SOB killed … I’m sorry I couldn’t have done it myself!” boasted Carlos Marcello, Tunisian-born illegal immigrant who ran the New Orleans Mafia territory, while wearing an FBI wire in prison in 1986 (Stone accurately portrayed Bobby Kennedy’s kidnapping and deportation of Marcello to the jungles of Central America). Unlike J. Edgar Hoover, who denied the Mafia’s existence out of fear that they would out him in a supremely homophobic era, RFK pursued them relentlessly, leaving him hated by both Marcello and Hoover.

On Nov. 22, 1963, Marcello was on trial in Federal Court. RFK planned a party with his staff that afternoon to celebrate the expected conviction. It would be Marcello who celebrated, however, knowing he would walk free owing to compromised jurors, and for other obvious reasons. The House Select Committee on Assassinations (1979) concluded that Marcello et al had the “motive, means and opportunity” to do the crime.

Waldron’s reportage describes three plots in November ’63, the first on Nov. 4. Crowds lined the streets in Chicago to greet the president’s motorcade that morning, when he abruptly cancelled the visit, citing the need to be in Washington to respond to Ngo Dinh Diem’s assassination of that same day (which he had ironically approved). One hundred-plus American advisers had already died in Vietnam that year. Diem’s fall led to weak successor governments, tempting the Viet Cong to invade the South and eliciting LBJ’s escalatory response. Arrested in Chicago that day were two of four plotters (the “shooters,” stationed on an overpass, got away), including as Doerner noted, Mr. Thomas Vallée, whose pedigree included being a Russophile ex-Marine and former USSR resident who had worked at a U-2 radar tracking station. Sound familiar?

Mafia bagman Jack Ruby ran a number of strip clubs frequented by Dallas police, and on Nov. 21, 1963, also by some of Kennedy’s Secret Service detail. Ruby’s resumé included having worked for Al Capone as a high school dropout. Marcello personally made him an offer he couldn’t refuse when he caught him with his fingers in the till trying to pay off a tax debt. Ruby’s entrée with the Dallas Police Department was obvious as he stalked Oswald for 48 hours before killing him. Ruby was sighted at Parkland Hospital on Nov. 22, leading to speculation that he placed the famously pristine “magic bullet” on an unattended stretcher outside the Emergency Room where it was “found.” Interviewed in his Dallas jail cell by Commissioners Gerald Ford and Earl Warren, Ruby pleaded to be taken to Washington where he would reveal everything. They refused. Ruby soon contracted “cancer” and died.

It defies logic to conclude that a bullet descending at a 45-degree angle from above and behind the victim can enter his back 6 inches below his collar (evidenced by his clothes and body), then exit from his Adam’s apple, never mind wreaking the ensuing implausible havoc it allegedly did. Sylvia Meagher’s “Accessories After the Fact” provides detailed analysis of the Warren Commission’s evidential flaws.

Much more resides in public records: JFK’s simultaneous assassination planning and back-channel negotiation with Castro; his and RFK’s unawareness of the parallel Mafia / ex-CIA attempt to kill Castro (do the names Richard Helms, Bernard Barker, or E. Howard Hunt ring a bell?); and the “suicide” of oilman George de Mohrenschildt, who facilitated Oswald’s employment and housing in Dallas, the day he was invited to testify before the HSCA. Mafia conspirator Johnny Roselli lived to testify once, but was found dismembered, floating in an oil drum before he could return. A sign greeting visitors to Marcello’s office said simply: “Three can keep a secret if two are dead.”

We may never know who done it or exactly how, but what we do know makes clear that our government has serially misled us about such events, often enabled by a subservient and uncritical mass media.

Andy Jaffe, a Conway resident, is director of the Williams College Jazz Program.

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