President John F. Kennedy and First Lady Jacqueline Kennedy rode in a motorcade in Washington May 3, 1961. Friday marks the 50th anniversary of the day President Kennedy was assassinated in Dallas. (UPI Photo/Abbie Rowe/John F. Kennedy Presidential Library & Museum) | License Photo
It's been nearly 50 years since bullets were fired at the presidential motorcade as it wended its way through Dealey Plaza in Dallas, killing U.S. President John F. Kennedy and spawning decades of speculation on whether Lee Harvey Oswald acted alone or was part of -- or victim of -- a conspiracy with tentacles in Havana, Washington and perhaps Moscow.
Did the CIA do it? Was it the mob? The Kremlin? How about a consortium of businessmen?
What if Oswald thought he was a double agent working for the CIA who planned to infiltrate Cuba and work for the overthrow of Fidel Castro?
Lamar Waldron makes the case Oswald was tangled up in CIA-Mafia machinations against the Castro regime in "The Hidden History of the JFK Assassination."
Waldron said it actually was New Orleans mob godfather Carlos Marcello who masterminded the Kennedy assassination -- something Robert Kennedy believed -- but much of the evidence was either destroyed or is still classified because of the CIA's anti-Castro activities.
The first investigation into the Nov. 22, 1963, assassination by the Warren Commission, headed by Chief Justice Earl Warren, concluded 10 months later in its 889-page report Oswald acted alone, firing three shots at Kennedy from the sixth floor of the Texas School Book Depository. The House Select Committee on Assassinations in 1978 concluded Kennedy was killed as the result of a conspiracy but ruled out the Soviet Union, Cuba, anti-Castro Cubans and organized crime -- but not individual mobsters -- as complicit.
Waldron said Marcello, in a fit of rage during a rant about Kennedy and his brother, Robert, blurted out in the prison yard at the Federal Correctional Institution in Texarkana, Texas, that he had Kennedy killed and wished he could have done it himself. The remark was made in front of two other inmates, one of them Jack Van Laningham, who became his cellmate and eventually wore a wire for the FBI, getting Marcello's alleged confession on tape.
Waldron said Marcello, who was incarcerated at Texarkana for his role in the BriLab insurance bribery scheme, hated the Kennedy brothers because of their war on organized crime and their efforts to have him expelled from the United States for good. He was particularly incensed about his deportation to Guatemala -- based on fake documents saying that's where he was born -- and his struggle to slip back into the United States, which took him on a trek through the jungle.
Waldron, who reviewed declassified FBI and CIA files and interviewed many of the parties involved, said Marcello's alleged confession is backed by corroborating evidence not available to Laningham or his FBI handlers at the time.
Similar confessions came late in life from Marcello's alleged co-conspirators Johnny Rosselli, an underboss for Chicago mobster Sam Giancana, and Santo Trafficante, who controlled the Tampa, Fla., mob and had run casinos in Havana during the heyday of the Batista regime.
What makes Waldron so sure Marcello's statements weren't just boasting?
"Most mobsters ... haven't ruled unchallenged an empire the size of General Motors for three decades. ... Carlos Marcello ruled Louisiana, Texas and parts of Mississippi. One way Marcello kept that empire so long was by avoiding the limelight, publicity. ... It's a totally different kind of godfather than John Gotti [the New York mobster who headed the Gambino crime family and was known as the 'Dapper Don']," Waldron said, adding because the New Orleans mob was the oldest Mafia organization in the United States, Marcello did not have to go to the national commission to clear hits on government officials.
Marcello, he said, actually planned two other attempts on Kennedy in the days preceding Dallas -- one in Chicago and one in Tampa. Like Dallas, two men -- one an ex-Marine and the other a Fair Play for Cuba member -- were positioned to be blamed for the shootings once Kennedy was dead.
Waldron said both the Warren Commission and the House select committee investigations were hampered by CIA reluctance to turn over files concerning U.S. efforts to overthrow Castro. Hundreds of thousands of pages related to those plots remain secret despite legislation requiring all files related to the Kennedy assassination be released and Waldron has started a petition on whitehouse.gov (http://wh.gov/lZurV) seeking their declassification.
Waldron said it is unlikely Marcello would have left the assassination to Oswald because the former Marine was not an experienced killer. Waldron said Marcello imported two hit men from Europe to handle the shooting.
"He [Marcello] liked to use war orphans for hits," Waldron said, "because if you killed them afterward, there was no one to ask questions."
As for evidence the fatal bullets came from the Texas School Book Depository, "the angle is in huge dispute. It varies by 20 degrees," Waldron said.
The Warren Commission said the bullet that injured Connolly, the so-called magic bullet, went in the back of Kennedy's neck and exited just below his Adam's apple. But Waldron said that's false. The bullet actually went in 6 inches below the top of Kennedy's collar -- something Waldron said the late Sen. Arlen Specter, then an investigator for the Warren Commission, changed to make the trajectory line up. Additionally, an exit wound generally is larger than an entrance wound and the hole beneath Kennedy's Adam's apple was smaller than the back wound.
Waldron said Kennedy aides riding in the chase car were convinced at least one shot came from the grassy knoll but were pressured to change their stories for national security reasons.
History Professor Randy Roberts of Purdue University, who has written about the assassination's effect on American culture, argues conspiracy theories "always sound good" but they don't hold up.
"It sounds really persuasive but then when you read the documents, they don't really say what you think they say," Roberts said.
Roberts, who will appear on the History channel's "Lee Harvey Oswald: 48 Hours to Live" Friday, said the ballistics evidence "is pretty convincing" and he doesn't think Oswald's calling himself "a patsy" means much, considering he was seen carrying a package that investigators said was likely the Mannlicher Carcano rifle (Waldron said the package was too small to be the rifle and never made it to the book depository in any event) used to shoot the president and injure Connolly.
"If Oswald was a patsy, why did he shoot a policeman and try to shoot more policemen [as he was cornered at a movie theater]?" Roberts asked. "Why did he leave his ring with his wife ... on his way out? ... There's so much logical evidence."
Waldron said the evidence implicating Oswald in officer J.D. Tippit's killing is questionable and there are indications Oswald already was inside the movie theater at the time. As for resisting arrest, Waldron said at that point Oswald probably had figured out things weren't going down the way he had been led to believe they would.
Best-selling author Robert Tanenbaum, a former New York City prosecutor who served as chief assistant counsel to the House select committee, said he doesn't think the assassination has yet been adequately investigated. He quit the panel when he became convinced members weren't that interested in what really happened.
"I don't believe Oswald could have been convicted based on the shoddy evidence they had, particularly with all the other evidence," he said, citing, for example, the statements of Dr. Charles Crenshaw, a young doctor who treated Kennedy when he was brought to Parkland Hospital.
Crenshaw said one of the bullets entered Kennedy's throat from the front right while a second bullet entered his head from the side "consistent with [a shot fired from the] grassy knoll," Tanenbaum said. But Crenshaw was never even questioned by the Warren Commission and his testimony was ignored by the House committee.
"I believe without question there were shots that came from the side, the grassy knoll," he said.
Roberts doesn't buy it though, especially since there are so many conspiracy theories.
"If there was a conspiracy, only one of [the theories] can be right. They can't all be," he said.
Misconceptions about the assassination still affect U.S. foreign policy. Waldron said the reason the United States never normalized relations with Cuba is because high-ranking officials still are convinced Castro was behind the assassination based on trumped up evidence periodically trotted out by the CIA.
"[Secretary of State] John Kerry is only the latest government official to say there was a conspiracy, but he pointed a finger at Fidel Castro," he said. "The mob planted a lot of phony evidence pointing to Castro. [Former President Lyndon] Johnson believed Castro killed Kennedy. [Former CIA Director John] McCone believed Castro killed Kennedy. People like [former Secretary of State Alexander] Haig -- they didn't know all of the evidence implicating Fidel was debunked in 1963 and 1964. ... It can all be traced back to the mob."