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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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