"It is as if we all stood in a bad dream, watching the hand of fate write out one of the blackest chapters in our history."
The only incontrovertible fact is that at 12.29 p.m. on Friday, November 22nd, 1963, on Elm Street in downtown Dallas, Texas, President John F. Kennedy was shot and killed. Beyond that are myth and mystery. Lee Harvey Oswald is presented to history as the lone gunman. And yet?
His supposed weapon and all the bullets do not match. The rifle, allegedly the murder weapon, is a cheap, mail order, antiquated bolt-action Italian firearm of dubious quality. It is fired consequentially at impossible speeds, with unbelievable accuracy by a man known to be a mediocre marksman. Bullets perform impossible, almost magical rites of passage across an air space at times blocked and obscured by trees. The wounds of the president present a confusing pathological mystery.
The killing of the president signals the beginning of one of the greatest mysteries of the twentieth century, perhaps of all times. Everyone knows exactly where they were and what they were doing at that exact moment. It was the end of innocence for most of us. In the years to come, of course, we all would learn that we were mourning a myth. The "Court of Camelot" was more of tarnished brass than burnished gold.
There have been over 1000 books written about the assassination of the president. Thousands of documents, reports, newspaper and magazine articles have agonized over the death of this one man. There have been three major government investigations: The Warren Commission, the Church Committee and the CIA and the House Select Committee on Assassinations. Government papers on the assassination of President John F. Kennedy comprise over sixty volumes of documents. Hundreds of millions of words, trying to make sense out of an event that seems at times, without sense.
The evidence appears overwhelming: Lee Harvey Oswald was not, and could not have been the lone killer. Whether the act of violence originated with the Mafia or the CIA, or right-wing extremists, the disturbing legacy of Elm Street is not just who pulled the trigger, or triggers. No matter how important this is, a greater mystery is the likelihood that for almost fifty-six years, there has been a curtain drawn to conceal the true nature of the murder of John F. Kennedy. There has been an immense dissimulation of evidence, and distortion and concealment of facts that hint at some deep and malicious conspiracy to deprive the people of America of the truth.
The last time a president of the United States was assassinated, it occurred in Buffalo City on September 6th, 1901. On that day, a deranged anarchist called Leon Czolosz shot President James A. Garfield twice in the body. The president lingered and finally died eight days later. Nevertheless, there was never any doubt who the killer was or why in fact he carried out his deadly mission. The case was closed and the killer duly executed for murder. There were no loose ends.
The murder of John Fitzgerald Kennedy is nothing but loose ends. It’s an endless stream of Matryoshka Russian Nesting Dolls. Every one you open reveals another, more mysterious one beneath.
In 2017, an article in The New Yorker Magazine claimed the best books written about that day in Dallas were novels. It’s easy to agree with this opinion because as a historical study, following traditional empirical evidence paths, Kennedy’s assassination becomes at times, almost like taking a trip through Alice in Wonderland. A rabbit hole too deep to contemplate. Black and deep and full of madmen.
However, what was not obvious to Americans was apparent to Europeans. Paris Match, the famous French daily newspaper, was reporting in December 1963 "...most likely Kennedy was murdered by the Mafia." The magazine, I'Aurore reported: ".... they must have decided for many months to strike out at the very top — to kill the head of the Kennedy family."
It was not until the summer of 1979, almost sixteen years after the event that the American public was told by the House Assassination Committee that President Kennedy "was probably killed as a result of a conspiracy." It stated that although Oswald may have shot at the president, he was part of a bigger picture; one that could have included Carlos Marcello and Santo Trafficante Jr. They had, the committee found, "the motive, means and opportunity to assassinate President Kennedy." The chief counsel of the committee, Professor Robert Blakey (the man who conceived the RICO section of the 1970 Organized Crime Control Act.) believed that there might have been three gunmen.
The full story about the murder of President Kennedy may never be disclosed. But the links between Oswald, whose uncle and surrogate father, Charles Dutz Murret, a steamship clerk, worked as a bookie for the Marcello organization, under Sam Saia, a crew chief in the family, ("the most powerful operator of illegal handbooks" in New Orleans, according to the Metropolitan Crime Commission,) and whose mother, Marguerite, dated members of the Marcello organization indicate an alleyway leading somewhere.
Jack Ruby, his killer, had a definite relationship to the Dallas mob and Carlos Marcello and Santo Trafficante Jr.
From his beginnings as Jacob Rubinstein in Chicago, in 1911, to his Dallas mob ties from 1947 on, to his shooting of Oswald, on November 24th as he was escorted by police through the basement of the Dallas Police Headquarters, and then his own death in January 1967 one month after being diagnosed with cancer.
The night before the Kennedy assassination, Ruby had dinner with Joseph Campisi, the number two man in the Dallas Mafia under Civello. Jack Ruby was the missing link that bridged the blurred and disturbing relationship between the murder of John F. Kennedy and the myriad suspects that have filled the pages of history since that seminal afternoon in Dallas.
These vinculum are plain for anyone looking to search beyond the mists of obfuscation that lie like swamp gas across the plains of history. Peter Noyes, and Ed Reid the authors did. Reid was the first to connect Marcello to JFK’s assassination in his book The Grim Reapers in 1969, followed by Noyes’ Legacy of Doubt published in 1973.
Just as the president was shot down in the prime of his life, 500 miles to the south-east, in another city, Carlos was sitting yet again in a courthouse, wondering what the jury was going to decide. Was he going, or was he staying?
The Unholy Trinity
By 9 am that morning, the federal courthouse in New Orleans was full. The case of The United States v Carlos Marcello had attracted spectators and members from both of the families that made up the universe of Marcello. Judge Herbert W. Christenberry presided over a case that charged Carlos and his brother Joe with "conspiracy to defraud the United States government by obtaining a false Guatemalan birth certificate" and "conspiracy to obstruct the United States government in the exercise of its right to deport Carlos Marcello." The case had opened twenty-one days earlier and by November 22nd, defense attorney Jack Wasserman and U.S. Attorney Louis La Cour were delivering closing arguments.
At 1.30pm, just as the judge was handing the case over to the jury, he was passed a note by the court bailiff. With a shocked expression on his face, he announced that President Kennedy had just been shot in Dallas and was dead. As the courtroom erupted, Carlos walked slowly out of the room, his face an impassive mask. At 3.15pm, the jury returned a verdict of "not guilty" on both charges, against both defendants. Carlos and Joe hugged each other, shook hands with their lawyer and walked out of the courtroom. Just thirty-eight minutes before, Air Force One had taken off from Dallas Love Airport to carry the dead and terribly mutilated body of President Kennedy back to Washington, D.C.
The courts, however, were not yet finished with Carlos. On October 16th, 1964, he was indicted in connection with jury tampering at his trial for the forged birth certificate. He eventually came to trial on this charge on August 17th, 1965, but once again the jury found in his favor. It was his third consecutive victory against the Justice Department. There now would seem little chance that he would ever be deported.
Free of the impending charges that had hung over him like some Damocles sword, Carlos devoted all his energies into consolidating and maintaining his Mafia family, and the innumerable business interests that its power had allowed him to develop over the past eighteen years. Dun and Bradstreet, for example, estimated that 50% of New Orleans hotels were financially backed by the Marcello organization.
His political connections linked him into the powerful Long family. Carlos owed a lot to these people. It was, after all, Huey Long who had introduced him to Frank Costello and the booming slot machine business that had helped spearhead his rise to power. Carlos maintained close ties with Earl, Huey's brother, and also son Russell, who became one of Carlos' principal contacts in the U.S. Senate. Louisiana politician, Congressman Hale Boggs, House Majority Leader, who became a member of the Warren Commission investigating the killing of Kennedy, was also financed into Capital Hill via Marcello. Jim Garrison, the flamboyant New Orleans District Attorney, famous for his involvement in the Kennedy investigation, was on exceptionally good terms with Marcello. Although he had a reputation as a tough prosecutor, he would go out of his way not to bring charges against any of the Marcello organization. During the mid to late 1960s, he dismissed eighty-four cases brought against Carlos' men, including one for attempted murder, three for kidnapping and one for manslaughter.
Carlos Marcello was a man with many friends in high places: state and federal judges, governors, senators, labor leaders, the list went on. 98% of the Louisiana legislature would accept bribes, according to Peter Hand, a close friend of Governor Earl Long. Carlos also controlled the head of the Louisiana State Police, Roland Coppola. He had a lock on the State Department of Revenue, the agency that collected all state taxes. They once assessed his $159,000 home in Marrero at only $8,000 for revenue purposes. He also had friends in other places.
Although he always denied any association with the Mafia, he was close to many top bosses. His compadre or closest friend was Santo Trafficante Jr., who ruled Tampa and West Florida with an iron fist. Carlos was also on close terms with Joseph "Joey Doves” Aiuppa, boss of Chicago, and Kansas City mob leader, Joe Civella. He did business with Dominick Brooklier, who headed up the Mafia in Los Angeles. Carlos was tight with Angelo Bruno, powerful head of the Philadelphia family, and of course, for many years he was a good friend and business partner of Frank Costello, who had run what is now known as the Genovese Mafia family in New York until 1957.
Carlos also had strong ties to the Dixie-Mafia, an inchoate bunch of loosely connected criminals, some of who traced their history back into the days of Prohibition. A network which did not have an organized hierarchy like the American Mafia, specialized in armed robbery, scams, burglaries, safe-cracking, murder-for-hire and drug trafficking. He used them to collect debts and maybe, arrange hits on people the wrong side of history. Unstable and deadly in the first degree, these hoodlums would kill anyone who got in their way. As someone described them: "...what makes them dangerous is they don't think, they just act." Carlos was long connected to one of this group, Le Roy Hobbs, Sheriff of Harrison County in Mississippi, a man so crooked and corrupt, it was said of him, "he is easily influenced by anyone with money and a good-looking woman."
When it came to women, Carlos was somewhat of an enigma. Although he seemed a faithful husband and father, and in fact remained married to Jacqueline until the day he died, like many of his peers, he would stray from time to time. A report from the New Orleans Crime Commission indicated that Lillian Ruppolo, the wife of one of his closest friends who was also a capo in his family, might well have been Marcello's mistress. If so, it was peculiarly complex, as her husband was the nephew of Marcello, who was also undoubtedly well known to Virginia Hill, the leggy, voluptuous glamour girl of the mob. Longy Zwillman, the Jewish hood who ran much of New Jersey criminal action, once described Virginia, "She didn't look as if she would be hard to know."
In her address book, among a host of well-known mobsters, investigators found the name of Carlos Marcello and a contact telephone number. Apart from her obvious assets, it is thought that she also worked as a courier for the mob, helping to move money around the country. So it is conceivable that her relationship with Carlos was purely a business one.
In addition to these women, Marcello was linked to Lucia Miceli who the FBI claimed was his “long-term girlfriend,”Arlene Soring and Gloria De Santos. In 1967, Patrick Collins the New Orleans agent for the F.B.I. had reported to J. Edgar Hoover, confirming he was attempting to develop Lucia Miceli as a source on Marcello.
The Marcello control of people at all levels was significant to his domination of the Louisiana Mafia. He ruled this as a despot, with independence and insularity that was unique across the twenty-four or so other criminal groups that made up the national syndicate of American-Italian mob families. Joseph Valachi, a former soldier in the Genovese family of New York, was the first "made" 'member of any Mafia family to turn informant and publicly testify as to the inner working of the Mafia in America. When he was asked at the McClellan Hearing what he knew about Marcello, he replied, "Louisiana? I don't know a thing except they don't want visitors. Once I was going to see the Mardi Gras and I checked it out with Vito (Genovese), which I was supposed to do if I took a trip. He said, 'Don't go.' No explanation, just 'Don't go.' They didn't want anybody there. And I was told if I ever had to go to Louisiana, Vito would have to call ahead and get permission. Genovese himself had to get permission. It was an absolute rule."
Although he was in federal prison, serving time on drug trafficking charges, Vito Genovese was at this time, allegedly, the most powerful mob boss in America. Yet even he would tip his forelock in deference to "The Little Man' in New Orleans."
He was in fact, bigger than Ben Hur.
By 1966, Carlos Marcello had been the chief executive of his criminal dynasty for almost twenty years. Through bribery, corruption, intimidation and an inherent ability to control situations, he was probably the wealthiest and most influential Mafia leader in the United States. He had succeeded in getting his way, and getting away with everything, all his life. His political acumen was only matched by his judicious public relations.
He once gave a check for $10,000 to a prominent society woman who was raising money for the Girl Scouts of America. He told her: "Don't mention my name. I don't want any publicity about this." The gift was news all over New Orleans in two days.
He had manipulated the unholy trinity of politics, crime and business like no gangster ever had.
In the fall, he went to New York for lunch, and then on his way home, he socked the wrong man in the face.
On Thursday afternoon, September 22nd, 1966, a group of men met for lunch at an Italian restaurant called La Stella, which was located at 102-111 Queens Boulevard in Forrest Hills, in the borough of Queens, New York. They were gathered around a table in a private dining area in the basement, and while awaiting their first course, New York police raided the building and arrested everyone. There were thirteen of them and all were members of the Mafia.
Who had summoned the meeting, and how it was organized and its purpose, has never been disclosed. The group was all taken to a nearby police station, questioned, searched and then released on personal bail of $100,000 each. Among the thirteen, were five of the top bosses, three from New York, and Carlos, along with his good friend Santo from Tampa.
Although there has been speculation about why the meeting was called, it seems reasonable to assume that in part at least, it was to resolve matters relating to New Orleans. Carlos sat at the table with his brother Joe, his under boss, along with Anthony Carolla and Frank Gagliano, two of his senior family members. Carolla had apparently been seeking a greater share of the New Orleans mob's action, citing seniority within the family and his family birthright. His father had been Sam Carolla, who had run the family until deportation in 1947. Anthony was also apparently seeking approval for consideration to take over the New Orleans Mafia when Marcello eventually retired. These, and no doubt other matters had been resolved at another venue, and the group had then moved to La Stella for a late lunch.
Action was taken to indict all the men and the District Attorney of Queens, Nat Hentel made much about what became known as "Little Apalachin," however, the whole thing fizzled out eventually. The greatest disservice that the incident caused Carlos was drawing attention to his links to known mobsters. He had always insisted to law enforcement agencies that he had never associated with organized crime figures and was not himself in any way connected to the Mafia. For years, Louisiana police, politicians and even the FBI office in New Orleans had accepted his story. Now it was all in the open. His lame-duck excuse "What's da matter with some old friends getting together for lunch? This was strictly a social gathering; that's all there was to it..." did not fool anybody. The meeting at La Stella made headline news in the New York papers and was soon circulating across the country via the news services.
On September 30th, Carlos and his brother Joe flew from New York to New Orleans International Airport. There was a large crowd of reporters, photographers and spectators waiting to meet them. As they moved through the throng in the terminal building, there was suddenly a scuffle and Carlos threw a punch at someone. He later claimed that he did not know who it was, just someone blocking his way, and he impatiently let fly with a straight left. However, the recipient of the punch was someone he knew well. It was FBI agent Patrick Collins, who kept tabs on Carlos for the New Orleans office.
According to Collins, six-one and 185 pounds, as he approached Carlos, the little man shouted at him, "I'm the boss around here," and then let fly. A press photographer captured the scene and the next day Carlos was arrested and charged with assaulting an FBI agent. Eventually, the case came to court and on May 20th, 1968, Carlos went on trial in Laredo, Texas. This venue, over 600 miles west of New Orleans, was chosen to isolate him from any potential prejudice that might have been present in New Orleans. Yet again, he was acquitted, this time by a hung jury.
Convinced that the jury had been tampered with, the authorities re-indicted Carlos and he was tried a second time, in Houston. On August 9th, he was found guilty, and a month later, sentenced to two years in federal prison. In true tradition, he only served six months in a medical facility in Springfield, Missouri. It was his first prison sentence in thirty years.
In fact, had the whole truth emerged at his trial, it is conceivable that he would have been acquitted. It appeared that FBI agent Collins had been having an affair with "Bootsie," the wife of brother Joe, and using her to get information on the family's activities. An impetuous and brash man, the FBI agent had apparently taunted Carlos with this information, causing the response he must have known would occur. A man of honor, Carlos would not have allowed this dishonor to become public knowledge, and so had taken his punishment.
On June 15th, 1968, the day Carlos was in court in Laredo to hear that his indictment was overthrown because of a hung jury, Robert Kennedy was gunned down in Los Angeles. In a space of fewer than five years, both Kennedy brothers were dead, assassinated in public; in a strange example of deja vu, each time, Carlos Marcello was in a criminal court being acquitted of a criminal offense. Two months earlier, on April 4th, another famous American figure, Martin Luther King, was shot dead in Memphis, Tennessee.
Was there a connection between these two latest murders, and if so, what was the common link?
Degrees of Separation
Carlos Marcello was a fervent racist. He despised blacks and vehemently opposed the civil rights movement during the 1960s. He openly expressed his hatred of Dr. Martin Luther King and his white knight, Attorney General Robert F. Kennedy. Known to be a supporter of the Ku Klux Klan, Carlos was a generous financial supporter of anti-civil rights movements.
FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover also shared his views. At one time he had been passed a news release that showed Time magazine had nominated Dr. King "Man of the Year" in 1962. Hoover scribbled in the margin, "They had to dig deep in the garbage to come up with this one." On one occasion, Hoover was heard to say at a press conference: "King is one of the lowest characters in the country."
There is an apocryphal story to the effect that J. Edgar Hoover's distaste for "the Left" was so great, that he once ordered his chauffeur to drive from Dallas to Austin without taking any left turns.
Sometime late in the afternoon of that April day, Dr. King was visited by his good friend Dr. Ralph Abernathy. Just before they left to go out for dinner, King stepped out on the balcony of room 306 of the Lorraine Motel in Memphis, Tennessee, and as he lent over the veranda rail to talk to his driver, he was shot through the right cheek by a 30.06 rifle bullet, which severed his spine and exited through his chest in a hole big enough for a man to put both fists through
Four days after King was killed, John McFerren, a black man, reported to the FBI in Memphis, that he had overheard a telephone conversation prior to the day of the murder, in which the speaker had said: "....kill the SOB on the balcony. You will get your $5000... don't come here, go to New Orleans and get your money." The man on the telephone was identified as one of the owners of Liberto, Liberto and Latch Produce Store. He was Frank Liberto, brother of Salvatore "Jack" Liberto, the man who attended the Churchill Farms conference on September 11th, 1962 with Carlos, Becker, and Ruppolo.
According to a New Orleans-based journalist William Sartor, James Earl Ray, the alleged killer of Dr. King, had attended a meeting at either The Town and Country Motel or the Provincial Motel, another New Orleans mob hangout, on December 17th, 1967. At this meeting were Charley Stein, Salvatore "Sam" DiPiazza, Lucas Dileo and Salvatore La Charda. These men were either associates in the Louisiana Mafia or in some way connected to Carlos Marcello. Later, Ray claimed he left New Orleans on December 19th with $2500 in cash and the promise of a further $12,000 to "do a big job, early in the new year."
In 1979, the House Select Committee on Assassinations confirmed the mob ties of the men and their links to Marcello. In 1961, an FBI intelligence report disclosed that William Hugh Mavis, a prominent Klan member, and imperial wizard, had told a Klan gathering in October that racial problems in the South would only be eliminated by the murder of Dr. King, and that he had "underworld associates who would kill anyone for a price."
Salvatore Liberto was heavily involved in the New Orleans Mafia-dominated produce markets and Sam Di Piazza was a king hitter in the gambling outlets of Marcello's empire. It was not beyond the realm of possibility that Marcello funded Ray as he stalked Dr. King through the South in the months leading up to April 4th.
The House Select Committee on Assassinations concluded that there was a 95% probability King was killed by a conspiracy. In 1993, a man called Lloyd Jowers went on the Prime Time Live television show and stated that he hired the killer of Dr. King as a favor to New Orleans mob boss Carlo Marcello, who in turn was doing it as a favor for J. Edgar Hoover. He was adamant that the killer was not James Earl Ray.
Hoover, who was no doubt delighted at the murder of King, was happy to let the case rest with Ray, who like Oswald five years earlier, may well have been a killer on the day, but not the only one involved in the killing of an American icon.
Hoover's direction of the investigation of the assassination of Dr. King was so inept that the House Select Committee on Assassinations delivered in its final report the harshest critique ever leveled at him and his agency. In part, it said: "in regards to the conduct of the FBI towards the civil rights leader prior to his murder, it was morally reprehensible, illegal, felonious and unconstitutional."
The FBI file on Dr. King consists of some 93 volumes that contain over 6000 articles and exhibits. It's hard to believe they could get it so wrong. In 1999, lawyer William Pepper won a civil court verdict for the King family which found a conspiracy, including Carlos Marcello, lay behind the murder of Dr. King.
In May 1968, as Robert Kennedy was getting into first gear in his run as Democratic candidate for the presidency, Jimmy Hoffa ex-teamster boss was in prison in the federal penitentiary in Lewisburg. He was overheard discussing a plot to kill Robert Kennedy with Carmine Galante, the feared under boss of the Bonanno crime family of New York. There were rumors of a $750,000 Mafia contract out on Kennedy should he receive the Democratic nomination.
There was no doubt that if Robert Kennedy became president, he a) would re-open the investigation on his brother's death, and b) rejuvenate his efforts to destroy organized crime.
Carlos Marcello had remained good friends with Los Angeles mobster Mickey Cohen since they both had appeared before the McClellan hearings. By 1968, Cohen was in prison, having waged a full-scale war with the Dragna family for control of the rackets in Los Angeles, including the major racetracks that were all hooked into the Marcello' s wire service and bookie network.
Sirhan Sirhan, the alleged killer of Robert Kennedy, worked as a groom at the Santa Anita race track controlled by Cohen, who had also been a close friend of Jack Ruby, the gangster who shot Oswald dead. Ruby was part of the Civello set-up in Dallas that was controlled by Marcello. That Robert Kennedy's brother was himself shot dead in a city that was controlled by a close friend of Carlos Marcello, who was more than likely the immediate boss of the man who shot the man who shot the president, has to be surely more than just a coincidence.
Robert Kennedy was fatally wounded as he was walking through the kitchen of the Ambassador Hotel, in Los Angeles. Opened in 1921, it was referred to by The Los Angeles Times as “the most stupendous hotel project in the United States.” His alleged killer fired all eight rounds from his .22 caliber revolver, wounding at least five other people. The fatal wound to Kennedy occurred behind his right ear from a bullet that was fired from a gun less than three inches inches from the victim's head. Sirhan Sirhan was at least three feet in front of Kennedy when he began to shoot. In all, at least ten, possibly fourteen shots were fired that night; the alleged killer's gun contained only eight bullets and he never got the chance to reload the weapon.
Added to all of this mystification there were the dubious records of Sirhan's defense counsel, the deliberate obfuscation of the Los Angles police department who destroyed key evidence taken from the Ambassador Hotel pantry where Kennedy was shot, as well as misplacing over 2000 key documents relating to the shooting, and the predictable response of J. Edgar Hoover. Days after the shooting, Hoover confirmed that the FBI's investigation indicated that Sirhan Sirhan was the only person involved.
The elimination of Robert Kennedy from the 1968 presidential race paved the way for victory for Richard Nixon, the man Marcello had always supported. In fact, in the 1960 race between Kennedy and Nixon, Carlos had donated $500,000 towards Nixon's campaign. With Robert Kennedy dead and Nixon's accession to the presidency on Jan 20th, 1969, Carlos Marcello had now a channel even to the White House.
Norfio Pecora and Joe Poretto, two of Carlos' top men, were each married to a sister of D'Alton Smith, an intimate associate of Marcello and major political fixer. He was a good friend and confidant of Murray Chotiner, who was one of Nixon's nearest advisers and confidants. Chotiner was also connected to the Los Angeles mobster, Mickey Cohen. He became Nixon's special counsel in 1971 and used his influence to help secure a presidential pardon for imprisoned labor leader Jimmy Hoffa, who was a very good friend of Carlos Marcello.
And so, the boss of the Louisiana Mafia was able to extend his reach even into the White House.
It was no miracle that the two-year sentence imposed on Carlos for assaulting an FBI agent was reduced to six months, to be served in a comfortable medical center.
There were indeed many threads linking Carlos Marcello to some of the most tumultuous events of the 1960s.
Continue reading Out of Africa: The Story of New Orleans Mafia boss Carlos Marcello
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