Dallas RevisitedNew Evidence Points to Anti-Castro Cubans

Oswald Talked: The New Evidence in the JFK Assassination. By Ray and Mary La Fontaine. (Pelican Books, Gretna, La.; 454 pages; $25/hardcover). Assignment: Oswald. By James P. Hosty Jr. (Arcade Publishing, New York; 328 pages, $13.95/paper). After two federal probes and countless conspiracy theories propounded in hundreds of books over the past 34 years, we all know way too much about Jack Kennedy's bloody murder on the streets of Dallas. So may facts and fantasies spin in our collective imagination that it's difficult to keep an open mind about what really happened. "Robert Blakey {counsel to the 1979 U.S. House Select Committee on Assassinations} has been dishonest about many aspects of the case," says assassination researcher Mary La Fontaine. "But I agree with two things he has said: one is that we know too much about this case, so much that there's a lot of trivia with nothing but dead ends like the three tramps story. And the other thing he said is that if there was a conspiracy to kill Kennedy, it had to revolve around Lee Harvey Oswald." La Fontaine and her writer husband Ray La Fontaine have zeroed in on a new theory of the JFK hit, and they do it by dismissing trivial pursuits in favor of hard evidence, including proof that Oswald knew Jack Ruby. [SPACE]After he was arrested at the Texas Theater, suspected of shooting Dallas Police Officer J.D. Tippit and President John F. Kennedy on Nov. 22, 1963, Lee Harvey Oswald was interrogated for nearly 12 hours by a variety of law enforcement personnel. Amazingly, the police failed to tape record or otherwise preserve these important interviews. No stenographers sat in, and the cops took few notes. Nevertheless, before he was silenced two days later by a pistol-packing Dallas nightclub operator named Jack Ruby, Oswald did talk. Some of what he said--although it wasn't officially recorded--has recently been documented, and it opens up a whole new avenue for understanding the crime of the century. Painstakingly researched and clearly written, Oswald Talked, by Dallas-based journalists Ray and Mary La Fontaine, describes what happened. On that awful Friday 34 years ago, Oswald was incarcerated in a high-security cellblock with two other young men who had been arrested in downtown Dallas. One of those cellmates, John Franklin Elrod, watched as lawmen paraded another inmate--one with a "smashed-up face"--before Oswald, who identified him as someone he'd previously met among several other men in a motel room in which money was exchanged. Oswald said the injured inmate, whose face was normal at their first meeting, had been driving a Ford Thunderbird filled with firearms. "That was what Elrod could remember his cellmate saying," the La Fontaines write, "except for the most important thing: that one of the men in the motel room had been Jack Ruby." With help from northern California cyber-researchers Bill Adams and Paul Hoch, the La Fontaines located long-lost FBI accounts of Elrod's story, and corroborated those with arrest records and telephone logs from the Dallas City Jail. In 1993, the husband-and-wife team interviewed Elrod himself, now a 65-year-old recluse living on a Mississippi River island north of Memphis. Much previously restricted evidence came to light after Oliver Stone's 1991 film JFK caused enough public outcry to force the declassification of thousands of documents. In their acknowledgements, the La Fontaines note an indebtedness to Stone, and the filmmaker returned the good vibes by writing a blurb for their book's jacket as well as purchasing its movie rights. The book project started almost by accident. Acting on a hunch in February 1992, Mary La Fontaine went foraging among boxfuls of newly opened Dallas Police assassination archives hoping to find arrest sheets for the long-suspected "tramps" taken into custody in the railroad yard adjacent to Dealey Plaza. Never presented to the 1964 Warren Commission nor the 1979 U.S. House Select Committee on Assassinations, the records she pinpointed proved that the "tramps" really were rail riders, after all, and not well-disguised hitmen as many conspiracy buffs believed. (See Coup D'Etat in America by Alan Weberman and Michael Canfield; Quick American Archives, San Francisco.) In the same DPD file folder that held the "tramps" material, however, Ms. La Fontaine turned up an even more important piece of paper: the DPD's Nov. 22, 1963 arrest report on John Elrod. Intentionally suppressed by the FBI, Elrod's recollection of what he saw and heard in the Dallas City Jail that day verifies what hundreds of Warren Commission critics have long theorized: Lee Oswald and Jack Ruby knew each other before the assassination. "If Oswald knew Ruby," the La Fontaines write, "a conspiracy to assassinate President Kennedy and to eliminate traces of this conspiracy by silencing Oswald is a virtual certainty." BREAKHEAD Follow the GunsBut that's not all the La Fontaines unearthed. They figured out the identity of the man with the facial scars: Lawrence Reginald Miller, who had been busted along with Jack Ruby's mechanic, Donnell Darius Whitter, after a high-speed chase through Dallas on the night of Nov. 18. The crooks' blue Thunderbird, which crashed head-on into a utility pole injuring both men, was laden with weapons stolen--in an inside job--from nearby Fort Hood. The La Fontaines traced the gunrunning plot not only to Ruby and Oswald, but also to a young Dallas gun shop owner named John Thomas Masen, a reputed member of the militant right-wing Minutemen. The Warren Commission had known about Masen, also said to be an Oswald look-alike and a likely source of ammunition for the relatively rare Mannlicher-Carcano rifle allegedly used in the assassination. But the commission's records on Masen remained sealed until 1975 when the government declassified Secret Service materials about his alleged weapon dealings with anti-Castro Cubans. The pre-assassination gunrunning scheme led the La Fontaines into the clandestine world of mobsters, rogue cops, crooked lawyers and Caribbean revolutionaries who converged on Texas in the early Sixties. The writers delve deeply into Dallas' right-wing underground, where characters such as the racist General Edwin Walker rubbed elbows with Cuban exiles chomping at the bit for a chance to liberate their island homeland from Fidel's iron grip. In cleverly titled chapters such as "Follow the Guns," "Land of Oz" and "I Was a Junior Crimestopper for the FBI," the La Fontaines pursue a paper trail--supported by many personal interviews--that suggest Oswald worked as a government informant, reporting on the gunrunning activities of right-wing groups in Texas and Louisiana. One of Oswald's specific targets was the Cuban Student Revolutionary Directorate, also known as the DRE, an anti-Castro organization heavily funded by the higher echelons of the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency. Gun dealer Masen sold these exiles modern weaponry with which they hoped to overthrow Castro. When the president halted their November 1963 invasion plan just as he had waffled during the 1961 Bay of Pigs fiasco, the DRE--perhaps with the CIA's tacit approval--decided instead to kill Kennedy. And the La Fontaines actually name three DRE operatives who may well have fired the fatal bullets in Dealey Plaza, before disappearing later that month in Central America. Earlier in their book, the authors established a link between the Soviet defector Oswald and the CIA: a Department of Defense card nearly identical to the one carried by U2 spy pilot Francis Gary Powers showing that Oswald remained in government employ following his 1959 military discharge. It's unclear whether the young defector actually did any CIA contract work during his three years in Russia or upon his return to Texas in 1962. It is apparent, however, that he acted as a double agent in New Orleans during the summer of 1963. Oswald posed as a left-wing Castro sympathizer while attempting to infiltrate the right-wing DRE. The La Fontaines outline evidence that Oswald personally tipped off the FBI about an anti-Castro arms camp on Lake Pontchartrain, which the G-men raided in July. So that fall, "the [anti-Castro] Cubans in Dallas knew all about him," the La Fontaines write. "In short, the DRE re-created Oswald, altering his role from informant to patsy." BREAKHEAD Oswald as InformantThe La Fontaines flesh out their portrait of Oswald as a federal snitch with a revealing analysis of his use of Post Office boxes. Registering those boxes under an assumed name soon after his case file was assigned to Dallas FBI agent James Hosty, Oswald allegedly received left-wing literature and mail-order firearms, which the Warren Commission eventually linked to the Nov. 22 crimes. But what rational assassin would lay a paper trail tying himself to the murder weapons? On the other hand--as La Fontaine colleague and Deep Politics author Peter Dale Scott points out--a paper trail would perfectly serve the purposes of investigators probing mail-order irregularities. In fact, Klein's Sporting Goods store in Chicago, from which Oswald allegedly purchased the Mannlicher-Carcano carbine, and Seaport Traders in Los Angeles, which sent the Smith & Wesson .38 revolver tied to the Tippit murder, were both under investigation in early 1963 by the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms and by a U.S. Senate subcommittee chaired by Sen. Thomas Dodd. Oswald, as a tool of the FBI, may well have been gathering evidence for Dodd's subcommittee and/or the ATF. Oswald Talked points to FBI agent James Hosty as the man most likely "running" Oswald's subterfuges in 1963. By his own account in his long-awaited memoir, Assignment Oswald, Hosty's primary responsibility in Texas was to monitor radical right-wing subversives, which included General Walker, the Minutemen, the John Birch Society and the anti-Castro DRE. Each of those groups also held a special fascination for Oswald. Hosty has steadfastly maintained, however, that he never met the ex-Marine until the very day of the assassination, when he became one of the only lawmen who did jot down Oswald's answers at the DPD. Having worked the Oswald case for nine months prior to the assassination, Hosty had a substantial personal and professional stake in the outcome of the investigation. And he probably knew that, no matter how it turned out, he'd be in hot water. Either he failed to actually meet and interview Oswald himself (as he claims), thus failing to assess the ex-Marine's potential for violence and possibly prevent the assassination, or Hosty actually utilized Oswald as an informant, suggesting government complicity in the crime and allowing the FBI's methods to unravel before the entire world. Hosty may have suspected the truth--as the La Fontaines see it--that one of the right-wing groups Oswald was infiltrating killed the president and framed the infiltrator. In any case, at least one of them was on edge when the "Feebee" started advising Oswald of his rights in Captain Will Fritz's cramped DPD office on Nov. 22. As soon as Hosty introduced himself, the suspect blew up at him: "So you're Hosty, the agent who's been harassing my wife!" Was Oswald simply maintaining his cover, feigning that he'd never before met the FBI man? Both Hosty and the La Fontaines agree that the suspect had noted the agent's name, license plate number and phone number in Oswald's own personal datebook, and later appeared at the FBI's Dallas office on Nov. 16 to leave a letter for Hosty. The agent claims the note contained "just your typical guff," Oswald's complaints of government harassment. But the La Fontaines and others believe Oswald delivered a warning that JFK was marked for death by the DRE. Even if it didn't point to an assassination plot, the note's content may simply have proven that Oswald worked as an FBI informant, perhaps spilling the beans on the Masen/Ruby, Miller/Whitter gunrunning scheme--which in itself could tarnish both Hosty and the Bureau now that Oswald was being portrayed as an assassin. In fact, FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover personally censured Hosty in December 1963, criticizing him for his "slipshod" and "grossly inadequate" investigation of Oswald. BREAKHEAD Down the ToiletLike so many other vital pieces of evidence in the JFK case, however, Oswald's infamous scribble was intentionally destroyed. Following angry orders from his FBI superiors after Oswald's murder on Nov. 24, Hosty flushed it down a toilet, leaving its content ever open to interpretation. Similarly, Hosty's interrogation notes, scratched onto a pad of police affidavit forms, were also lost--or so he testified to the Warren Commission in 1964--but he claims that he found them tucked away in his desk several months after his Commission testimony. So now, Hosty's book features four pages of cop/Oswald dialogue. The ex-G-man has since donated the historic notes to the Assassination Records Review Board, the agency currently overseeing the collection and release of JFK evidence. Hosty's simplistic view of the assassination--he blames Castro and the Soviet KGB for motivating a lone Oswald--mirrors initial "communist plot" scenarios depicted by many, including the DRE, which hoped the news would lead to an all-out U.S. strike against Castro's Cuba. New President Lyndon Johnson and the Warren Commission quickly deflected the international communist conspiracy theory, however, believing it would lead to World War III, and put forth the "lone nut" theory instead. Now that the Cold War is over, however, Hosty can safely proclaim that "the communists did it." For their part, the La Fontaines' complex yet consistent theory of a conspiracy of DRE and Dallas gunrunners rings truer than Hosty's self-serving sob story. Mary La Fontaine claims that Hosty--who's now 72 years old--lied to her in a taped interview, and has lied repeatedly about his relationship with Oswald over the years. Although at loggerheads, the two opposing authors agree on one thing: In Hosty's words, "The U.S. government has yet to uncork the rest of its evidence. It's high time it did." (For more information on the La Fontaines' work on the JFK assassination see researcher Bill Adams' "Truth is Redacted" Web site at www.redacted.com.) Russ Tarby is a Senior Editor, covering books and music, for the Syracuse New Times. He won first place in the Arts Criticism category in the 1997 Association of Alternative Newsweeklies Editorial Awards. For a review copy of Oswald Talked by Ray & Mary La Fontaine contact:Lynda MoreauPelican Publishing Co.1101 Monroe St.Gretna, LA 70053504-368-1175 extension 30For a review copy of Assignment: Oswald by James Hosty Jr., contact:Arcade Books141 Fifth Ave.NYC 10010212-475-2633 P


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