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  • Writer's pictureFr. Paul A. F. Castellano

60 Years and Counting: The Greatest "Who Dun It' in American History - Who Killed JFK?

If you have read my blogs in the past, you know I'm not one to delve into conspiracy theories or to make "social comment" frequently. However, I'm going to share something personal that is not related to the general drift of past blogs. I most likely will not post something along these lines again, but the time in history makes this pertinent.


If you’re like me, growing up you were regaled with family lore of family members who did this or said that, or accomplished the other. I have a “family” story that I “overheard,” in the broadest terms, while I was growing up. It was one of those stories that was told in hushed tones, over dinner and Chianti, when all the kids were “supposed” to be in bed.

What I’m about to share is what I was raised “overhearing” as a boy growing up in NY in the 60s (that’s the 1960s for you smart aleck’s). As I grew older and heard competing stories, I decided to try and confirm what I was “told” as I was growing up. The core story is here, the details – specific names, places, dates, times, events – are actually all a part of the public record. Nothing here is made up. I did my best to arrange the chronology in order to present it in narrative form. But what you’re about to read is what I was raised hearing all my life.


We begin in the deep South….


Carlos Marcello - Huey Long and Phil Kastel.

In the late 20’s Phil Kastel, went to work with former Arnold Rothstein associate and (eventual) acting boss of the Luciano crime family, Frank Costello. In the 30’s Kastel moved to New Orleans, Louisiana to establish NO’s connection with the Mafia in NY His primary venture at this time was slot machines.


In 1939, both Kastel and Costello were charged and tried for tax evasion in LA but were acquitted. Why? Because the Governor of LA, Earl Long (Huey Long’s younger brother) was on the payroll receiving a 10% kickback for allowing Kastel and Costello to operate.

By the early 1940s, Kastel (with the influence and support of NY through Costello) had complete control of all, legal and illegal gambling in NO and with acting N.O. boss, Silvestro Carollo, started to expand the operation moving into High-Class casinos. This expansion involved the infamous Havana Conference in Cuba in 1946.


Kastel continued in this role, working with Costello and Frankie Carbo (a member of the Lucchese Crime Family and Murder Inc., under “Louie Lepke”). He was identified by Philly crime boss, Ralphie Natale as the button on the Benny Siegel hit. Side note, Frankie Carbo owned the contract of Sonny Liston until the mid-50’s when Vinny Gigante who attempted to assassinate Costello on the order of Vito Genovese, took the Liston contract. With the change of leadership, Genovese taking over in LA, Kastel was forced to turn over his entire operation to Genovese and to the new N.O. acting boss, Carlos Marcello.


As the new head of the New Orleans Mafia, Marcello becomes heavily involved in the Cuba crime situation. This is short-lived, however, as 4 years later Castro seizes control of Cuba and “expunges” all criminal activity.


So, now the mob is angry because they have lost a cash cow of enormous proportions (Cuba). Marcello begins to recruit men to figure out a way to get back into Cuba. One of the men he has on his payroll is bookie Charles “Dutz” Murrett, who just happens to be Lee Harvey Oswald’s uncle. Murrett mentions his nephew to Marcello who believes the young man can be of some use in some capacity given his ties to Cuba.

This begins the endeavor and plot to assassinate Castro. There are two lines of influence in this plot – the government and the criminal.


Government and Castro

Former F.B.I. special agent and C.I.A. officer, Robert Maheu was instructed, by his boss of the Covert Operational Support Division, James O’Connell, to set up a meeting with Chicago mobster Johnny Roselli in Vegas who was now organizing the Los Angeles Mafia with Los Angeles Boss, Frank DeSimone. DeSimone took over on the death of boss Jack Dragna, which provided Roselli a place from which to establish control of Vegas gambling for the Mafia.


Remember, the Government and the Mafia have already been involved in “arrangements” dating back to WWII when the Government asked Charley “Lucky” Luciano, for assistance in protecting the NY and Brooklyn docks from sabotage after the sinking of the Normandie in the NY harbor. The quid pro quo was, if protection was provided, Luciano would have his prison sentence for tax evasion and prostitution vacated, he would be pardoned and released. As history shows, the harbor never suffered from another act of sabotage during the war (because it was the Mafia that actually sank the Normandie to leverage for Lucky’s release) and Lucky was released from prison and immediately deported to Italy. So much for working with the Government. However, since the Mafia sank the Normandie, all’s far I guess.


With Johnny Roselli on board, Maheu and Roselli fly to the Fontaine Blue Hotel in FL to meet with “Sam Gold” (Sam Giancana) and “Mr. ST” (Santos Traficanti) the boss of the FL Mafia–respectively, to discuss the assassination of Castro. The meeting was held in singer Phyllis McGuire’s room who, though allegedly dating Dan Rowan, was actually involved with Momo (Sam Giancana’s nickname). This meeting was recorded by the F.B.I.

Maheu contacts longtime friend and lawyer, Edward Bennett Williams and asks for assistance in establishing a base in FL essentially to launch the attempted assassination (of Castro). Edward Bennett Williams contacts his client, Jimmy Hoffa, and Hoffa sends his right-hand man, Roland McMasters to “ostensibly” establish a Teamsters office in FL. McMasters sets up his office for the Teamsters Union in the same office Santos Traficanti has his office.


Criminal (Mafia) and Castro

With the government now involving themselves with the Mafia in an attempt to assassinate Castro, the Mob begins to move. With 6 poison pills provided by the C.I.A. to Santos Traficanti, he attempts to get someone into Cuba to place the pills. It is never accomplished, however, because most of those who attempted couldn’t get to Castro’s inner circle, and the one time one person did, Castro entered the room before the pill could be inserted into his food. Ultimately the plan is scrapped.


This however didn’t deter the attempts to kill Castro. Though the initial effort failed, the Mob stayed involved by delivering guns and supplies to Cuba through Jack Ruby (who used David Ferrie to fly them down). While not directly involved, the CIA has no interest in stepping in and deterring the Mob from their intended goal of assassinating Castro. One hand washes the other in this case.


At this time, Jack Ruby becomes acquainted with Lee Oswald both through Oswald’s involvement in the Anti-Cuban Defamation Organization and through Marcello. It is here that Marcello, through his “bookie” Charles “Dutz” Murrett, has Murrett get his nephew Oswald involved in their machinations in Cuba and otherwise.


This is part of the background that leads to what eventually would be the plan to assassinate JFK.


Why?

Okay, with the Mafia, the U.S. Government (in the guise of the C.I.A.), and Cuba all providing the tapestry as a backdrop, one has to now ask the real question, WHY was Kennedy assassinated?


The first thing to remember is that this goes back a long way into American Crime history. The history of the “Kennedy” family and their connections to organized crime, primarily bootlegging, is well established. Joe Kennedy was involved with Arnold Rothstein, Maranzano, Masseria, Luciano, Profaci, Vicent Mangano, Tommy Gagliano, etc., in NY, in one way or another. Frank Costello made it known constantly that he worked with Joe Kennedy. This was a significant factor in contributing to how Joe Kennedy amassed his fortune. It was Masseria bye-the-bye, that organized the famous NY Mafia Five Families.

Early on Kennedy knew he never wanted this for his family, so he got out after prohibition was lifted and began the work of rehabilitating his reputation.


As we all know he had 9 children including his 4 famous sons, Joseph Jr., John, Robert, and Edward. As a boost to his rehabilitation efforts, Joe Kennedy is made Ambassador to the Court of St. James, U.K.


It is most likely during his appointed time as the ambassador that his aspirations for his children took a political bent. Joseph Jr. was to be the first, however, as history has recorded, he was killed in WWII on an ill-fated mission. The mantle then fell to John.

John’s early political career was uneventful. It wasn’t until he decided to run for the presidency that things got interesting. As everyone knows by now, Jack was a philanderer. He had affairs before and during his marriage to Jacqueline Bouvier Kennedy. The most significant of these were with Marilyn Monroe and Judith Exner and of these two, Exner was the most provocative. For, not only was Exner Kennedy’s mistress, but she was also the mistress and courier of one Momo, Sam Giancana, the head of the Chicago Mob, generally referred to as “The Outfit.”


Also thrown into this cauldron of intrigue was Peter Lawford, Jack’s brother-in-law and close friend of Marilyn Monroe. It was Lawford who introduced Monroe to the Kennedy brothers. What is important about Lawford’s involvement at this time is his relationship not only with Monroe but with the Rat Pack – most notably Frank Sinatra.


Sinatra had long wanted to stay as far away from his Mafia ties as possible, yet he also wanted it to be known that he was someone with whom you should not trifle due to “who he knows.” His Godfather, after all, was Genovese Underboss Willie Moretti cousin of the Boss of the Luciano family, Frank Costello. Sinatra wanted it both ways – social respectability and Mob ties.


So, as it plays out, Joseph Sr. wants to assist his son in getting elected to the Presidency and begin the Kennedy political “dynasty” – Camelot as it was dubbed. Per Peter Lawford’s testimony, Joe Sr. asks Jack, how his race is going and what it would take to win. Jack tells him the obvious, it’s a close race with the mid-west being the main concern. The predominately Protestant and conservative area will be difficult for an East Coast, Harvard Roman Catholic “liberal” to sway.


These conversations continued to take place over the various stages of the campaign with Jack, continually expressing concern over the Midwest. Joe thinks he has a solution. At one particular meeting between father and son, Peter Lawford was present and confirmed, once again in testimony that Joe asked Jack what it would take to win? What did he need? Jack replied around 100,000 votes; to which Joe replied, “AROUND 100,000 or 100,00? I need to know because I’m not paying for one vote more than I need.” Jack allegedly stuck with 100,000.


Being a "respectable man" however, he can’t directly approach Costello, his former “colleague” for assistance so, he asks Peter Lawford to speak to Frank Sinatra to ask if Frank could get some of his “friends” to do something. Lawford and Sinatra meet in Hainesport with Sam Giancana. Giancana listens and says yes, but there is one thing to which Kennedy must consent and that is to get Bobby off Hoffa's back. Hoffa, as then president of the Teamsters, had control of the Union pension fund and was “siphoning” the fund giving kickbacks to the Mafia, and was under federal investigation led by Bobby Kennedy. They take this information back to Joe and he consents.


As history has recorded, Kennedy won, at that time, the closest undisputed election in American history. On camera, thought it looked as if Kennedy won the debate with Nixon, but on the radio, most observers thought Nixon won – it was that close. The mid-West was as Kennedy stated, very, very tight. IL, MI, and MO, with NV as an outlier, were almost a dead heat; save for one crucial factor, Momo controlled the unions in all of those states. A total of 63 electoral college votes.


In Chicago’s Cook County (the so-called Springfield Westside Block) which just so happened to be Giancana’s home turf, the votes for Kennedy were 4x greater than for Nixon! Momo had his men standing out front with Kennedy signs (can you say voter intimidation? I knew you could). This combination, plus the F.B.I. confirmed political campaign donations from Johnny Roselli and Giancana himself, put Kennedy over the top with 303 Electoral Votes. Subtract the 63 electoral college votes awarded to Kennedy from Giancana’s controlled unions and Kennedy loses. OH, and as a side note, Kennedy won by 113, 554 popular votes – just slightly more than the 100,000 he told Joe he needed.


So, now that he’s President it’s time to pay up. Not so fast. Joe immediately orders Jack to stop associating with Sinatra (recall the whole “West Coast Camp David” fiasco); Lawford is hung out to dry; and Bobby, NOW Attorney General, really puts the screws to Hoffa. Hoffa loses his mind in rage, and the Mob is furious. Hoffa contacts Jose Aleman, Cuban exile leader to contact Santos Traficanti and request a “favor.” Hoffa, with Marcello, Traficanti, and Giancana all had the same attorney at the time – Frank Ragano – who under oath stated that they met to discuss the “favor” Hoffa wanted which was to kill Kennedy. They then concocted the plan to assassinate the president. Author Dan Moldea, in his research, confirms the above account.


Reenter Jack Ruby. With his ties to Traficanti, Hoffa, and Oswald, as well as the Cuba connection, long-time police association with the Dallas PD, Ruby became the focal point of the liaison between all parties. What wasn’t known at the time was, that not only was Ruby a Strip Club owner that most of the Dallas PD would attend, but he was also an informant for Nixon, as the F.B.I. revealed in the middle of 2007.


So, here the wheels are in motion. Oswald is dispatched to Dallas by Marcello with support from Murrett, his uncle/surrogate father. Told what to do. However, he’s not alone. Richard Cane, Chucky Nicoletti, Phil Aldarasio, and Johnny Roselli are all in place along the route in Dealy Plaza. Roselli was in a storm drain, Cane on an overpass, Nicoletti and Aldarasio on the grassy knoll. To ensure Oswald accomplishes his part of the operation, Marcello tells Ruby to have 2 of the cops on his payroll, watch, then kill Oswald because he knew too much of the operation and as a non-made man” but merely a Mob “associate,” Oswald would be a liability after the fact. So, he's gotta go. J.D. Tippett and Ross White, the 2 cops, were supposed to accomplish the job but Oswald saw Tippett first and killed him before Tippett could kill Oswald.


We all know the rest; Oswald begins to talk but won’t say too much in Dallas. Ruby, with all of his inside information from his cops on the take – Ross White being one – finds out when Oswald is being transferred and, unmolested rushes Oswald and shoots and kills him before he can divulge the conspiracy and pays off his debt to Marcello.


But Ruby then gets the word that he is going to be hung out to dry by the Mob and HE starts to talk. He dies of cancer, however, before he could appear before Chief Justice Warren.


Postscript

Bill Bonanno, the son and eventual boss of the Bonanno Crime family, one of the original 5 Families, testified that Marcello, Traficanti, and Giancana had implemented what he and the other heads of the families had discussed, kill Kennedy and stated it was Roselli that fired the kill shot from the storm drain.


F.B.I. ASAiC, Bill Roemer testified in 1963 that there was no way Giancana could’ve, in any way, been involved in the Kennedy assassination because F.B.I. surveillance would’ve picked up his actions. There’s only one problem, the F.B.I. agent overseeing the surveillance was none other than Richard Cane who was on Giancana’s payroll and working for Momo. This is also how the Presidential Route would’ve been known. Cane an F.B.I. agent had contacts in the F.B.I. and Secret Service.


At the end of his life, while in a Texarkana Federal Prison, investigative underworld reporter, Charles Brandt stated, “During a two-day period in which Marcello was having blood pressure problems and was sent to the prison hospital, Marcello spoke to the medical attendants as if they were members of his crime family. On 3 separate occasions, he told them he had “just met in NY with Tony Provenzano, “Tony Pro” (acting boss of the Genovese Crime Family), and that they would soon be celebrating because they were going to get that smiling M.F. Kennedy in Dallas.”


On March 13, 1987, 4 days prior to his death, Marcello told his attorney, Frank Ragano, that he organized the J.F.K. assassination. Ragano swore under oath to this and never recanted his account.


Additionally, F.B.I. informant Jack Van Laningham, testified that Marcello told him he had Kennedy killed; that Jack Ruby was heavily in debt to him, and that Oswald was “his boy” and would do anything he told him to do. To erase his debt to Marcello, Ruby was ordered to “take out Oswald.” The F.B.I. Special Agent, Thomas Kimmel, who supervised a polygraph (which Laningham passed), said he had no reason to disbelieve Laningham’s account. Additionally, Laningham had been used on numerous occasions (the estimate is a dozen) and in each case, the information he provided led to F.B.I. convictions.


One factor that continually arises in these discussions is, where was the F.B.I. in trying to uproot the mob? Why did J. Edgar Hoover continually insist that “there was no such thing as the Mafia, as a National Organized Crime Syndicate!” The reason was 2 fold:


1. Hoover attended a costume party one New Year’s in drag and pictures were taken of him in a woman’s dress. Those pictures were then sold to Costello and Myer Lansky and they used them as blackmail to ensure Hoover stayed out of their “business.” Costello is reported to have said on numerous occasions, “We’ve got that f-g by the bal-s and he ain’t gonna do nothin’.” (Pardon the language, but I include it for the sake of authenticity). It has never been proved that Hoover was a transvestite, it was only rumor and innuendo, but the mere scandal at that time would’ve been career-ending.


2. Hoover was a degenerate gambler. Everyone knew he loved “the horses.” So, Frank Costello used this as an additional tool to keep Hoover at bay. Costello and Hoover were both friends with provocative radio star, Walter Winchell. Winchell, with known ties to organized crime, was friends with Frank Ericson, Costello’s “fixer.” So, Hoover would ask Winchell who “to bet on,” Winchell would go to Ericson, Ericson would go to Costello and Costello would tell Ericson to give Hoover a place or show horse. Hoover would win and stay happy and the Mafia would remain a secret.


This is confirmed by G. Robert Blakley who authored the R.I.C.O. statute in the 80’s as well as being a former attorney under Bobby Kennedy in his Justice Department. John H. Davis, Naval Intelligence officer and author of one of the best books on the Mob, “Rise and Fall of a Mafia Dynasty,” and personal acquaintance of Lucky Luciano with whom he regularly associated when Davis was a Naval officer stationed in Naples, also confirms this. And finally, Lamar Waldron, another leading criminal investigative reporter, confirms this.


Well, there you have it. That’s my family story. Granted I had to do research to unearth some of the particulars, but the core of the story is what I was raised hearing most of my life. When I asked various members of my immediate family who killed Kennedy, I got virtually the same response every single time (again, pardon the language) – “stop asking ‘eff-ng’ questions and mind your ‘eff-ng’ business.” That was the standard response when I asked about something that had happened and wasn’t supposed to know the details.


Believe what you like. I’m really not trying to convince anyone of anything; I’m simply sharing a “family” (you can take that both ways) story with which I was raised. After 60 years it should at least be of interest to a few.


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