Nov. 22, 1963: An indelible memory for anyone alive then: President John F. Kennedy was assassinated in Dallas. One theory that was not explored by the Warren Commission was the idea that organized crime figures — some with ties to Las Vegas — might have been responsible. A subsequent federal investigation found that Lee Harvey Oswald may not have acted alone after all. Investigative reporter George Knapp reports on why suspicions focused on Las Vegas. Originally aired on Nov. 21, 2013, on KLAS TV in Las Vegas. Second of 3 Parts.
The idea that the CIA might enter a pact with the Mafia to murder a political leader might sound absurd, but it happened, and it began right here in Las Vegas, less than a mile from where we are standing. The target was Fidel Castro.
Before he died some years ago, Las Vegas private eye Robert Maheu confirmed that he was the point man in an audacious plot cooked up by the CIA. Maheu recruited Las Vegas mob ambassador Johnny Rosselli, who in turn brought in Mafia kingpins Sam Giancana of Chicago and Santo Trafficante of Florida. At least 5 attempts on Castro’s life were made. And the Cuban dictator warned there might be retaliation on American leaders.
The Warren Commission didn’t even mention Operation Mongoose — a glaring omission given that a later probe by the House found that JFK probably was the victim of a conspiracy, and that the same mob figures might have been in on it.
For investigators, the tip off came when mob crony Jack Ruby gunned down Lee Harvey Oswald.
Law professor Robert Blakey was the lead counsel for the House investigation.
“It’s a standard mob hit to shut the guy up,” Blakey said.
Blakey appeared last month at the Mob Museum and thinks there is no question the mob was involved in the events of Dallas.
“It is my speculation that Oswald was to be shot as he came out of the building. He thwarted it. he got out,” Blakey said.
Part of Blakey’s investigation focused on Las Vegas connections. Jack Ruby’s close friend Lewis McWillie was among the dozens of Las Vegans interviewed. Ruby had been in frequent contact with McWillie leading up to Dallas. Some investigators think the Las Vegas plotters were joined by ousted teamster boss Jimmy Hoffa, and by New Orleans Mafia chief Carlos Marcello, both of whom had their own reasons for wanting the Kennedys dead. One longtime Las Vegas man claimed to have firsthand knowledge.
Investigator Ed Becker spoke to KLAS-TV before he died.
“Oh, I was in the mob. I really got to know them,” Becker said.
Becker said he was a close friend and biographer of Johnny Rosselli, and worked as a private eye for Louisiana crime lord Carlos Marcello.
“He’d call me all the time. I’d visit him, have drinks at his house,” Becker said. “Got to know him very well.”
“I was feeling pretty strong with him so I said to him, ‘You’ve had a tough time with the Kennedys, haven’t you?’ Oh my god, he started yelling and screaming what rotten people they were. He starts yelling at me that he is going to kill him one of these days. I said, ‘Who, Bobby Kennedy?’ Then he started telling me in vernacular Italian. ‘No, no, no. You gotta kill the president. Chop offa de head,’ is what he said, ‘And the tail dies. Chop offa de head, no more wagga the tail.’ “
Marcello later told Becker where it would be done — in Dallas — and how, with multiple shooters, and a patsy.
“Carlos said, you get a nut, and you put him in front, and he does all the dirty work, and you are clean from behind.”
Becker says he was questioned by the FBI not long after meeting with Marcello, because the feds had Marcello bugged.
Months later, when the news broke about Dallas, Becker got chills. A week after Dallas, he was questioned by the FBI again. And he was grilled again years later by Blakey’s committee, but no one believed him.
But Blakey came to the same conclusion on his own. Blakey learned that Oswald had worked for Marcello in 1963, and that Marcello was a hidden owner in Jack Ruby’s Dallas nightclub:
“It is not widely known but Marcello had a 50% ownership in the Carousel,” Blakey said.
“A guy who grew up with Ruby, Lenny Patrick, who was a mob shooter, went to Jack and says, ‘Shoot him (Oswald).’ “
“If the mob wants him out, then the mob had a hand in the assassination,” Blakey said.
Johnny Rosselli, Sam Giancana, Carlos Marcello and Jimmy Hoffa each confided in close friends that they were, in fact, part of the plot to kill Kennedy. They bragged about it. Three of the four were murdered. Rosselli, whose body was found floating in an oil drum, told the late Ed Becker that the mob brought in a pair of Cuban sharpshooters to carry out the assassination.
COMING TUESDAY: TV host’s career derailed over interest in truth on JFK — Part 3