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Billie Sol Estes Checks Out; Rest in Peace, Gaeton Fonzi

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COMMENT: We note the inevitable onrush of mortality for a couple of men who are linked to the milieu surrounding the investigation of President Kennedy’s assassination–one of them very good and one of them “not so much,” in the parlance of the times.

One of President Lyndon Johnson’s old cronies–a crook like so many of them–has relieved the earth of his presence. Billie Sol Estes is no longer among the living. We reprint part of his New York Times obituary, noteworthy for the extent to which it illustrates what a joke forensic investigation can be when the wheels of power are turning.

We note in passing that Estes’ analysis of the JFK assassination is demonstrably false. LBJ was definitely involved, as were all U.S. President’s after JFK through the elder George Bush, with the exception of the hapless Jimmy Carter. LBJ did not give the orders and most assuredly did not “recruit” Oswald and Ruby. Oswald didn’t kill anybody.

Noteworthy in the Estes’ obit is the discussion of the “suicide” of  investigator Henry Marshall who was “bludgeoned on the head, with nearly fatal amounts of carbon monoxide in his bloodstream, and five chest wounds from a single-shot, bolt-action rifle.”

Gaeton Fonzi

Sure sounds like suicide, no? Upon exhumation, the death was ruled a homicide. Our point is that there is no justice in the corridors or power.

There were a number of other, highly questionable deaths in connection with the case.

One who attempted to right that wrong was the late, heroic Gaeton Fonzi. An investigator for the badly compromised House Select Committee of Assassinations, Fonzi was dogged in pursuit of the truth. 

Among the many reasons for the compromising of the committee’s investigation was the fact that George Joannides was the liaison between the committee and the CIA

In FTR #288, among other programs, we examined the extent to which the House Select Committee on Assassinations’ investigation reinforced New Orleans District Attorney Jim Garrison’s investigation.

“Billie Sol Estes, Texas Con Man and Conspiracy Theorist, Dies at 88” by Robert D. McFadden; The New York Times;  5/14/2013.

EXCERPT: Billie Sol Estes, a fast-talking Texas swindler who made millions, went to prison and captivated America for years with mind-boggling agricultural scams, payoffs to politicians and bizarre tales of covered-up killings and White House conspiracies, was found dead on Tuesday at his home in Granbury, Tex. He was 88.

Kathy Davis, assistant to Mr. Estes’s daughter, Pamela Padget, said that Mr. Estes had died in sleep and that a caretaker discovered his body. Granbury is about 35 miles southwest of Fort Worth.

Nonexistent fertilizer tanks. Faked mortgages. Bogus cotton-acreage allotments. Farmers in four states bamboozled. Strange “suicides,” including a bludgeoned investigator shot five times with a bolt-action rifle. Assassination plots. Jimmy Hoffa and Fidel Castro. Jack Ruby and Lee Harvey Oswald.

The rise and fall of Billie Sol Estes was one of the sensations of the postwar era: the saga of a good-ol’-boy con man who created a $150 million empire of real and illusory farming enterprises that capitalized on his contacts in Washington and the gullibility and greed of farmers, banks and agriculture businesses. . . .

. . . . As his empire crumbled in 1962, the notoriety of Billie Sol, as nearly everyone in America called him, might have been passing had it not been for the bodies that kept cropping up, for the bribery scandals and fraud in federal farm programs, and for Mr. Estes’s own lurid accounts of how it all happened and who was involved.

Many of his statements were self-serving and never proved — particularly allegations about Johnson. Mr. Estes said he had given millions to Johnson, and that Johnson, while he was vice president, had ordered seven killings disguised as suicides or accidents to cover up his connections to the frauds and had then set up the assassination of Kennedy in 1963 to become president. . . .

. . . . “This government is staying right on Mr. Estes’s tail,” a harried Kennedy said at an overflowing news conference as he, Attorney General Robert F. Kennedy and Agriculture Secretary Orville L. Freeman were thrown on the defensive by almost daily revelations in the serpentine scandal.

Administration officials were fired. Congressmen who had taken favors were mortified. Scores of F.B.I. agents were dispatched to Texas to investigate suspicious deaths. Richard M. Nixon, then running for governor in California, called it “the biggest national scandal since Teapot Dome.” Political cartoonists had a field day, caricaturing Mr. Estes and Washington as mired in the same farm muck. . . .

. . . . Mr. Estes was arrested in frauds that reached from farms in Texas, Oklahoma, Georgia and Alabama to the halls of power in Washington. Three agriculture officials were fired for taking bribes. An assistant secretary of labor who took $1,000 resigned. Senator Ralph Yarborough, a Texas Democrat, and Representative H. Carl Anderson, a Minnesota Republican, acknowledged accepting political contributions. Congressional investigators found disarray at the Department of Agriculture but no systemic corruption.

Soon after the Estes indictments, however, Secretary Freeman disclosed that a key investigator on the case, Henry Marshall, had been found dead in Texas — bludgeoned on the head, with nearly fatal amounts of carbon monoxide in his bloodstream, and five chest wounds from a single-shot, bolt-action rifle. Local officials ruled it suicide, but the body was exhumed and the cause changed to homicide.

Six other men tied to the case also died. Three perished in accidents, including a plane crash. Two were found in cars filled with carbon monoxide and were declared suicides. Mr. Estes’s accountant was also found dead in a car, with a rubber tube connecting its exhaust to the interior, suggesting suicide, but no poisonous gases were found in the body, and his death was attributed to a heart attack.

In 1963, Mr. Estes was convicted on federal charges and sentenced to 15 years. A state conviction was overturned on grounds of prejudicial news coverage. After exhausting appeals and serving six years, he was paroled in 1971. In 1979, he was convicted of tax fraud and served four more years. Released in 1983, he settled in Brady, Tex.

A year later, in what he called a voluntary statement to clear the record, Mr. Estes told a Texas grand jury that Johnson, as vice president in 1961, had ordered that Mr. Marshall be killed to prevent him from disclosing Johnson’s ties to the Estes conspiracies. He said a Johnson aide, Malcolm Wallace, had shot him.

The Justice Department asked Mr. Estes for more information, and the response was explosive. For a pardon and immunity from prosecution, he promised to detail eight killings arranged by Johnson, including the Kennedy assassination. He said that Mr. Wallace had not only persuaded Jack Ruby to recruit Lee Harvey Oswald, but that Mr. Wallace had also fired a shot in Dallas that hit the president.

Mr. Estes also claimed knowledge of a White House plan to kill Fidel Castro and a plot by the former Teamster boss Jimmy Hoffa to kill Robert Kennedy. Mr. Estes reiterated his allegations in a book, “JFK, the Last Standing Man” (2003), written with with William Reymond, and a memoir, “Billie Sol Estes: a Texas Legend” (2004). . . .

“Gaeton Fonzi, Investigator of Kennedy Assassination, Dies at 76” by Paul Vitello; The New York Times; 9/11/2012.

EXCERPT: Gaeton Fonzi was one of the most relentless investigators on the House Select Committee on Assassinations in the late 1970s, remembered by former colleagues with both awe and echoes of the impatience he inspired with his pursuit of the full story behind the assassination of President John F. Kennedy.

They called him Ahab.

Mr. Fonzi was also the staff member most publicly dismayed by the committee’s final report, which concluded in 1979 that the president “was probably assassinated as a result of a conspiracy.”

Of course it was a conspiracy, said Mr. Fonzi, a journalist recruited mainly on the strength of scathing magazine critiques he had written about the Warren Commission and its conclusion that Lee Harvey Oswald had acted alone in killing the president in Dallas on Nov. 22, 1963. But who were the conspirators? What was their motive? How could the committee close its doors without the answers?

Mr. Fonzi, who died in Florida on Aug. 30 at 76, nailed those questions to the committee’s locked doors, figuratively, in a long article he wrote the next year for Washingtonian magazine and in a 1993 book, “The Last Investigation.” In both, he chronicled the near-blanket refusal of government intelligence agencies, especially the C.I.A., to provide the committee with documents it requested. And he accused committee leaders of folding under pressure — from Congressional budget hawks, political advisers and the intelligence agencies themselves — just as promising new leads were emerging.

“Is it unrealistic to desire, for something as important as the assassination of a president, an investigation unbound by political, financial or time restrictions?” he asked in Washingtonian.

He never got the answer he had hoped for. Congress never authorized a follow-up to the work of the committee, which, from 1977 to 1979, also re-examined the assassination of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., concluding that it, too, “likely” resulted from an unspecified conspiracy.

But historians and researchers consider Mr. Fonzi’s book among the best of the roughly 600 published on the Kennedy assassination, and credit him with raising doubts about the government’s willingness to share everything it knew. The author Jefferson Morley, a former reporter for The Washington Post, said “The Last Investigation” had refocused attention on a handful of reported contacts between C.I.A. operatives and Oswald — tantalizing leads that had long been fascinating to conspiracy buffs but that had never been fully scrutinized by a veteran investigative reporter.

The Central Intelligence Agency has denied that any such contacts occurred, and Mr. Fonzi spent most of his two years with the committee crisscrossing the world trying to prove otherwise. He considered it impossible that the C.I.A. had never made contact with Oswald, a former Marine who defected to the Soviet Union in 1959, repatriated with his Russian wife and baby in 1962, and settled in Dallas, where he openly espoused Communist views. . . .



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