On the Trail of a President’s Killers
New Times No. 2, 1977, pages 26–30
(Continued from New Times No. 1, 1977)
On the morning of August 7 last year two residents of
Miami, Florida, took advantage of the sunny weather to set out on a fishing trip
in a motor launch. But they soon returned to their moorings with a strange
catch—an oil drum they had found floating not far from the shore. It had drawn
their attention because of the heavy steel chain wrapped around it. They had
hauled it aboard out of curiosity, but had at once seen that something was
wrong: instead of smelling like oil, the drum gave off the nauseating stench of
a decomposing corpse. The men transferred their find to the pier and called the
Opening the drum, the police found inside a dead body with hands tied behind the back. It was the body of an elderly man who had been killed in so brutal a way that even the seasoned medical examiners were shocked. They found that the victim had first been savagely beaten, then his legs had been broken and he had been shot in the stomach, after which the bullet had been removed with a knife. But he had still been alive when he was packed in the oil drum and thrown into the bay.
Investigations revealed that the dead man’s fingerprints were on record with the FBI. Besides, the CIA had a detailed file on him. His name was John Roselli. He had long been known to be an American mafia boss, and in 1975, during the investigation of CIA conspiracies abroad, had been exposed as a hireling of the Washington Intelligence Service, which in the early sixties had given him a secret assignment to assassinate Cuban government leaders.
In June 1975 Roselli had been brought before the Senate committee investigating CIA secret operations involving the assassination of foreign political leaders. He appeared on Capitol Hill guarded by a whole squad of detectives, for only a week earlier Roselli’s associate in the CIA anti-Cuba plots, former Chicago mafia boss Sam Giancana who had also been subpoenaed to appear before the Senate committee, had been killed.
Taking Giancana’s unexplained death in its stride and making no effort to track down his killers, the Senate committee, in order to protect Roselli and to induce him to talk, made a deal with him: he was not only guaranteed personal safely, but given assurances that he would not be prosecuted, provided he fully revealed his connections with the CIA. More, the venerable Senators gave their word to the mafia boss that they would not ask him to name his accomplices so as to protect him against revenge.
Roselli, heartened by all this, brazenly told the Senators that he was just as much of an “American patriot” and “anti-communist” as they were, and because of this had, on instructions from the CIA, sent killers to Havana to assassinate leaders of the Cuban revolution on six different occasion in the period from 1960 to 1963. Without finding out the names of either the killers or Roselli’s CIA recruiters, the Senators thanked him for his “assistance” and let him go.
Roselli went off for a holiday in sunny Miami, from where he continued to run his mafia business in Chicago, Las Vegas, and Florida. He obviously believed that all the recent unpleasantness caused by the investigation of CIA operations was over for, in conformity with the rules of the democratic act staged for the benefit of the public, the lid had been put on the whole affair. None of the CIA people suffered, none of the gangsters found themselves behind the bars, in a word, nothing changed.
But one thing Roselli did not take into account—that 1976 would bring with it the election campaign and the accompanying hullabaloo of self-advertising and image-building by seekers of top Washington posts. Apart from the contenders for the White House, Congressmen, Senators, and Governors embarked on a drive for voter support, to earn the reputation of champions of justice and the people’s aspirations. In the spring of the election year a member of the previously sterile Intelligence committee, Senator Richard Schweiker, with an eye to the vice-presidency, announced a new investigation into the role of the CIA at the time of the assassination of President Kennedy and insisted on the resumption of Roselli’s interrogation. The Senator personally told the gangster that there was weighty evidence against him and threatened him with prosecution if he refused to divulge the information concerning the Dallas tragedy which he had allegedly concealed.
As soon as Schweiker’s threat got into the press, Roselli was a changed man. From the playboy and mafia chief he turned into a lonely, defenceless old man shaking in his boots. But it was not the Senator or the law courts that he feared. He trembled in expectation of a visit from the same uninvited guests who the year before broke into Sam Giancana’s house in Chicago one night and riddled this associate of Roselli’s in CIA plots with bullets. At that time Roselli had been spared because of his deal with the Senate committee, which closed its eyes to what Schweiker was now out to dig up.
Roselli remembered how Giancana before his death shut himself up in solitude in his Chicago house and how this made it easy for his killers to put him away without witnesses. Roselli acted differently, moving in with his sister’s family living in the suburbs of Miami. The killers, Roselli thought, would probably not like to have the relatives around as witnesses. He no longer counted on mafia protection. He made a point of taking only an occasional short walk in broad daylight. It was from one of these walks, on July 23, that he did not return.
Exactly a month after the murder of Roselli (the killers, of course, were not found), the New York Daily News, citing the dead man’s relatives and friends, slightly raised the curtain of secrecy on the killing of this likely participant in the Dallas drama. On September 7 the newspaper carried the following:
“Before he died, Roselli hinted to associates that he knew who had arranged President Kennedy’s murder. It was the same conspirators, he suggested, whom he had recruited earlier to kill Cuban Premier Fidel Castro. To save their skins, the plotters lined up Lee Harvey Oswald to pull the trigger. According to Roselli’s version, Oswald may have shot Kennedy or may have acted as a decoy while others ambushed him from closer range. When Oswald was picked up, Roselli suggested, the underworld conspirators feared he would crack and disclose information that might lead to them. This almost certainly would have brought a massive U.S. crackdown on the mafia. So Jack Ruby was ordered to eliminate Oswald, making it appear as an act of reprisal against the President’s killer. At least this is how Roselli explained the tragedy in Dallas.”
All this evidently was known to Senator Schweiker and
prompted him to make his unsuccessful attempt to get Roselli to reveal all he
knew about the mafia thugs recruited by the CIA. Roselli’s complicity in the
Dallas events was examined in the Senate Intelligence committee already in June
1975 when committee chairman Frank Church asked him:
“Did you know a Jack Rubenstein?”
“No,” Roselli answered.
“Did you know a Jack Ruby?”
It was later revealed that Roselli was lying, seeing in this his own salvation. Roselli knew very well Jack Rubenstein, alias Jack Ruby. And just because of this the once omnipotent underworld magnate ended his eventful life in an oil drum.
In a northwestern suburb of Chicago, far from the skyscrapers, jostling throngs and traffic jams of the downtown avenues, there is a small quiet burial ground known as the Westlawn cemetery. For quite some time I wandered among the lawns and rows of graves reading the inscriptions on the tombstones before I found at the very edge of the cemetery three small flat granite slabs laid down even with the ground. Two bore the names of Joseph and Fannie Rubenstein, now “At Rest” here. The traditional epitaph was missing on the third slab, the grave of the Rubensteins’ prodigal son whose life, spent in crime, was cut short in confinement on January 3, 1967, as was recorded on the stone. The name inscribed on it was Jack Ruby. His real name was Jacob Rubenstein.
Old-timers in a slum district in southwest Chicago once occupied by Italian and Jewish immigrant poor still remember the rug weaver Joseph Rubenstein and his family. Joseph and his wife were born in a Jewish ghetto near Warsaw, from where poverty drove them early in the century to seek their fortune in the New World. But Chicago ruthlessly shattered their dreams. The Warsaw rug weaver remained poor here too, and with his wife and eight Chicago-born children eked out a semi-starvation existence. Despair drove the father of the family to drink, and under the influence of liquor he would beat up his wife and children, who in turn fought back and among themselves. It all ended with the Rubensteins separating and their children becoming homeless waifs. By this time Jacob, still in his teens, got mixed up with criminals and soon joined one of Al Capone’s gangs.
At first Jacob went in for petty confidence tricks and was an understudy to the Al Capone thugs Giancana and Roselli. Later they introduced Jacob to underworld rackets, drug trafficking and the running of gambling dens. By the forties the Chicago mafia had grown strong enough to set up branches in Los Angeles, Dallas, Las Vegas and Havana. Al Capone had by this time left the stage and his Chicago business was inherited by Giancana, in Las Vegas he was succeeded by Roselli, and Rubenstein set himself up in Dallas under a new name—Jack Ruby. He opened the Carousel night club, where the unsuspecting were cleaned out at the gaming tables, and a brisk trade went on in drugs and prostitution. The police did not interfere, and the Carousel was closed only after the assassination of John Kennedy when Jack Ruby shot Lee Harvey Oswald dead two days after the killing of the President.
The double murder set off like a chain reaction an epidemic of deaths of Carousel habitués. Night club dancer Marilyn Walle was found with her throat cut. Her partner Teresa Norton was shot. A third dancer, Nancy Mooney, was strangled. The regular Carousel client Hank Killiam was knifed to death. None of the killers were caught.
While in Washington recently, I received a written reply to a question I had put to Congressman Henry Gonzales, Vice-Chairman of the newly-established House Select Committee for the investigation of the assassination of President Kennedy. Pointing to the link between this crime and the subsequent deaths of individuals who used to frequent Jack Ruby’s Dallas night spot, Congressman Gonzales is now pressing for the investigation of another two unsolved deaths—those of Dallas Times Herald reporter Jim Koethe and Long Beach Press-Telegram reporter Bill Hunter. On the day Ruby shot Oswald, the two men went to the Carousel and managed to get into Ruby’s living quarters before the police raided the place. No one knows that the two reporters discovered there. But the fact remains that both of them were killed.
When interrogated in a Dallas jail, Ruby insisted that killing Oswald was his own idea. But when he was officially visited in his cell by Supreme Court Justice Warren, the head of the investigation commission, Ruby struck a different note:
“My life is in danger here,” he whispered, his voice trembling. “Unless you get me to Washington, you can’t get a fair shake out of me. If you don’t take me to Washington, you will never see me again.”
The judge did not listen to Ruby’s pleas. The prisoner
was prescribed injections of a tranquilizer. After this treatment was over, it
was discovered that Ruby had cancer. Thus, exactly ten years ago, he too was put
out of the way.
It might have seemed that Ruby’s death, the mysterious demise of his Carousel associates, and the recent murders of his former patrons Ginacana and Roselli would at last bring the merry-go-round of inter-connected deaths started in Dallas to a stop. Yet last summer, when the present Congressional investigation of the Dallas events was in preparation, one more character in this bloody tragedy—CIA officer Bill Harvey, the man who had hired Giancana and Roselli—suddenly died.
Harvey’s widow says that before his death he never parted with his gun and that he had received telephone calls at home threatening him with the same fate that overtook his mafia hirelings. On two occasions unknown thugs had tried to break into the Harvey flat. Eventually the frightened CIA veteran’s iron nerves gave way and he died of heart failure.
Long years of waiting for the inevitable caused a contrary reaction in the case of another accomplice of Roselli and Giancana—Myron Billet. This old gangster is now serving a prison sentence in Ohio. Fearing for his life even in prison, he concluded that his former associates had actually invited those interested in silence to strike by concealing the truth about what happened in Dallas. Hoping that by making a clean breast of it he would make it pointless to kill him, Billet six weeks ago arranged for the New York reporter Malcolm Abrams to see him in prison. He told Abrams this:
“I was in Philadelphia back in the late part of 1963 when I was contacted by the mob for a meeting in Dallas at Jack Ruby’s Carousel Club. As I remember it, there was myself, Jack Ruby, Lee Oswald, Sam Giancana, John Roselli and an FBI man. The meeting was to set up a ‘hit’ on John F. Kennedy. I can’t say what the arrangement was, because Giancana and I left. Sam told me he wanted nothing to do with it. But three weeks later, Kennedy was hit. Sam told me then that he figured this would get us all killed before it was over. I can’t help but feel this was the main reason behind the Roselli killing in Miami and Sam’s killing last year in Chicago. With everyone wanting to reopen the Kennedy deal, the only safe way was to get rid of all the people tied up in the mess.”
But can a convicted gangster be believed when he says that he was a witness of a meeting between Ruby and Oswald in Dallas, moreover in the presence of an FBI agent? His story, especially as regards the FBI, might have seemed sheer invention only eight months ago, but on April 23, 1976, the situation changed. On that day, the Senate committee on Intelligence published a previously confidential FBI document that shatters the official lone-killer versions concerning Oswald and Ruby. It appears that on November 27, 1963, FBI Director Hoover received from his aide Alan Belmont, who was engaged on the Dallas investigation, the following confidential report: “We are receiving literally hundreds of allegations regarding the activities of Oswald and Ruby. We have to continue to prove the possibility that Jack Ruby was associated with someone else in connection with his killing of Oswald.”
The FBI chief, however, ordered this important phase of the investigation dropped at once. Why? Mark Lane, the well-known American lawyer who for years has been investigating the Dallas crime, recently discovered the reason. He obtained from official files in Washington a document signed by Hoover which has now been declassified—a memo written by the FBI head recording that the resident FBI agent in Dallas had in March 1959 invited Jack Ruby to become an informer for counter-intelligence and that Ruby had “expressed a willingness to furnish information.” The memo further shows that FBI agents met with Ruby regularly. For security reasons he was referred to as agent No. 302.
“As regards Oswald,” Lane told me, “it has been established that he was in contact with both the CIA and the FBI. This is now an incontrovertible fact.”
I learned in Washington from officials of the House Select Committee on Assassinations that the committee had asked the CIA to produce from its vaults sixty volumes of documents relating to the Oswald case. The committee had also accused the CIA of having deliberately destroyed taped statements made by Oswald before the assassination of the President. The CIA agents responsible for this have already admitted when questioned by the committee that they had done a cover-up job on orders from the top, since they assumed that “the CIA may have had a relationship with Oswald that it sought to conceal.”
Similar evidence was also destroyed by the FBI. This became know a few months ago. The congressional investigation established that a letter from Oswald dated November 19, 1963, and addressed to FBI special agent in Dallas James Hosty had disappeared without trace. Hosty and his associates had repeated meetings with Oswald beginning with the summer of 1962. And when Oswald was arrested the day the President was assassinated, Hosty’s address, his telephone number and also the registration number of his car were found on him. In a panic, Hosty at the time wrote a report to his chiefs to explain this circumstance and also turned for assistance to the city police who had arrested Oswald. One of the latter, Lieutenant Jack Revill, later recalled that Hosty, pale with fear, had told him, “We know this guy Oswald.”
Lieutenant Revill’s report has only now come to light. It reads: “Special agent Hosty related to this officer…that the Federal Bureau of Investigation was aware of the subject (Oswald) and that they had information that this subject was capable of committing the assassination of President Kennedy.”
When by evening of that day all the police reports were rushed from Dallas to FBI headquarters in Washington, Hoover, according to his aides, “was madder than hell.” But less than two days later his worries were dispelled by the shot fired by Ruby that silenced Oswald for good. Two hours after that Hoover ordered the Oswald letter and Hosty report burned, and Lieutenant Revill’s report classified as strictly confidential. The fate of gangster and FBI stooge Ruby was now sealed.
The partial disclosure of the Dallas secrets throws light on the mystery of the succession of deaths hinging on Jack Ruby’s Carousel Club. Its habitués had to pay with their lives for having seen or heard something in the order of what Myron Billlet, who witnessed the gathering of conspirators at Ruby’s, has now made public.
Billet is not the only one to have ventured to make public admissions. A former Carousel master of ceremonies, the actor Walter Weston, who now lives in Florida, came last autumn to the Congressional committee and said he was being shadowed by individuals whom he had met thirteen years ago in the Carousel in the company of Ruby and Oswald. That was three weeks before the assassination of the President. When on November 22 Oswald’s face was flashed on the TV screen, Weston recognized him, as did waitresses, members of the band, and hostesses at the Carousel. At the time, however, Weston had denied he had recognized Oswald.
Shortly before Ruby died, Weston received a message from the prison that the doomed man wanted to say good-bye to him.
“The first thing he said to me was: ‘Wally, you know what’s going to happen now?’” Weston says. “Wally, they’re going to find out about my trips to Cuba and my trips to New Orleans and the guns. They’re going to find out everything.”
Summing-Up by a D.A.
In the spring of 1967 the Rev. Clyde Johnson came to see New Orleans District Attorney Jim Garrison and told him that for some time he had been conscious of being followed and that he had been fired upon from a passing car in which two men had been riding. The clergyman believed that the attempt on his life could be traced back to the $2,000 inducement he had been given four years earlier to castigate President Kennedy from the pulpit, and now the man who had slipped him the money wanted to get rid of him at all costs.
“But why didn’t he fear you before this?” asked the District Attorney.
“Because it is only recently that you started legal proceedings against him on charges of complicity in the conspiracy against the dead President,” replied Johnson. “This makes me a dangerous witness.”
“What is the name of the man who bribed you?”
“How many times did you meet with him?”
“Just the two of you?”
“The second time two of Shaw’s friends were present.”
“Who were they?”
“Is that important?”
“Of course it’s important,” the District Attorney insisted.
“At that time,” Johnson said, “I knew the two men only by their first names—Jack and Lee. Later I saw their full names and pictures in the papers. They were Jack Ruby and Lee Harvey Oswald. But, believe, me, I had nothing to do with the conspiracy.”
Investigation confirmed that Johnson really was not an accomplice of Oswald, Ruby and Shaw. But the trio was in New Orleans in the summer of 1963. Shaw was a local resident and worked with CIA agents. Oswald came to New Orleans for a secret meeting with a local group of Cuban counter-revolutionary émigrés, who were under police surveillance.
Recalling the still not wholly uncovered circumstances of the crime, ex-District Attorney Garrison told me when I saw him in New Orleans:
“We established that in the summer of 1963, with the knowledge of the Intelligence services, there was a group of Cuban terrorists opposed to the Castro government at the military training camp on Lake Pontchartrain near New Orleans. There was a gunnery range there where former marine Lee Harvey Oswald instructed saboteurs and practiced marksmanship himself. Subsequently the police confiscated from one of the Cuban CIA hirelings an army of rifle manual which had belonged to Oswald. Intensive training in the use of firearms was part of the preparations for armed raids against Cuba.”
A former CIA officer named Robert Morrow, now a resident of
Baltimore, publicly admitted six months ago that together with Ruby and other
CIA hirelings he had supplied arms to a killer squad stationed near New Orleans
in 1963. Another CIA man, Frank Sturgis, also describes in the U.S. press how in
the early sixties Ruby had gone to Havana illegally and had meetings there with
undercover mafia stooges. At the same time gang bosses Giancana and Roselli
contracted in the U.S. with the CIA to assassinate Cuban leaders with a view to
restoring the prerevolutionary order on the island and with it the lucrative
gambling and vice dens of the mafia.
“In the autumn of 1963 President Kennedy ordered an end to the sabotage raids against Cuba,” Garrison said. “This was met with strong resistance by the Intelligence agencies. Besides, the President was considering putting an end to American military intervention in Indo-China, which angered the Pentagon and prompted it to join forces with Intelligence against the White House. In those years the military and the Intelligence services capitalized on the Administration’s aggressive policy not only to extract thousands of millions of dollars for their schemes, but also to establish control over the entire Federal civilian administration. The President became an obstacle to this. Indeed, he was doubly dangerous for them inasmuch as, besides holding the highest administrative post, he enjoyed enormous popularity. It was practically impossible to remove Kennedy by legal means. The only alternative left for his opponents was to kill him. This is not to say of course, that the military and the secret services in their entirely were involved in the conspiracy. It was only a handful of extremists who took action. But they had indirect backing from the top.”
In August 1963 the New Orleans police unexpectedly picked up Oswald and put him in jail, where he was questioned for two hours by an FBI officer. Former code clerk at the FBI station in New Orleans William Walter recently testified under oath at the Congressional Committee on Intelligence that on November 17, 1963, he had sent out to FBI stations a coded report that there was a plot to assassinate the President during his announced visit to Dallas. The warning, however, fell on deaf ears and the text of the telegram disappeared as completely as all the other warnings about the danger awaiting Kennedy.
Oswald was released from jail and allowed to go to Dallas.
(To be concluded)
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