Chauncey Holt, who said he brought Nicoletti to Dallas, had a background even more problematic than Plumlee’s. He admitted to having worked as an accountant for businesses owned by gangster Meyer Lansky. Holt also worked for Peter Licavoli, a leader of Detroit’s Mafia and a supporter of Jimmy Hoffa. Holt said he met Nicoletti and Ohio hit man Leo Moceri (who disappeared in 1976, shortly after Hoffa) at Licavoli’s ranch in Tucson and drove the two to Dallas. They intended to arrive on November 21 but did not get into town until the morning of the assassination because of car trouble. Holt claimed he was the oldest-looking member of the three “tramps”—the apparent vagrants found in a boxcar after the assassination and photographed as they were marched into Dallas police headquarters. They were held briefly, and their true identities have been a source of speculation among conspiracy theorists ever since.
Holt also claimed to have been in another iconic shot—of Lee Harvey Oswald in New Orleans, a few months before the assassination, during an anti-Castro demonstration. Holt was photographed standing to the side ready to lend moral support as Oswald faced down demonstrators.
Holt said that in addition to working for mobsters he provided contract services for the CIA. A trained artist, he forged documents, including the alias ID card Oswald used to purchase the Mannlicher-Carcano rifle, the supposed assassination weapon. He said he had also created counterfeit Secret Service credentials for others to use in Dallas. Holt first “came out” as a conspirator in a 1991 Newsweek article and sat for several interviews, some videotaped, before his death from cancer, in 1997. Although he never admitted knowing who had orchestrated the assassination, he did speculate that the presence in Dallas of people like him, with such murky backgrounds in both crime and espionage, may have been part of the plan to “muddy the waters.”
In 2002 Shelton traveled to San Diego to meet with Holt’s daughter, who had her father’s videotapes. Later, Shelton had dinner with a retired FBI agent, who asked why he was in town. When Shelton told him about Files, the agent replied with his own story from when he worked on the Teamsters pension fund case. He had monitored a wiretapped conversation between a pension executive and a Hoffa bodyguard. “He heard [the bodyguard] say that Ruby made all these calls to Chicago before the assassination. That always bothered him because the Warren Commission concluded that Ruby had no significant tie to the underworld. All these years he knew that was bullshit, but there was no one he could talk to about it.”
The dinner was an epiphany for Shelton. “I realized there had to be other agents who think they know something about the assassination. I just had to reach out to them.”
When Shelton returned to Chicago later that year to excavate the memories of his bureau colleagues, he was most interested in the response of Jim Wagner, who had led the organized crime unit. Wagner became the FBI’s foremost Outfit expert and was a tower of integrity. “Jim listened to me talk a little about the Outfit and the assassination, and then he said, ‘Zack, I think you’re right on.’”
Like Shelton, Wagner had his own unexpected brush with JFK history. In his case, it happened in 1989 when the feds revealed that a mob attorney had put a wire on one of the Outfit’s most important political operatives in the First Ward. A few Outfit soldiers came forward to wear wires so they wouldn’t go to prison. One of them was Lenny Patrick. In his prime, Patrick controlled the Outfit’s bookmaking and juice operations on Chicago’s West Side. By the time Wagner worked with him, he was 76, “a crotchety old man,” Wagner remembers, “sickly but still dangerous.”
Before Patrick would meet his mob boss, he would first go to a safe house, where Wagner would fit him with a concealed recorder. The agent also gave him cash to feed his loan sharks so the FBI could build extortion cases against them, too. It wasn’t long before Wagner suspected Patrick of stealing some of that money.
One day when Patrick showed up at the safe house Wagner was waiting for him with a lie detector. “I told Lenny an examiner was on his way to strap him into the polygraph so I could find out what he was doing with the cash.” Patrick confessed to stealing it. In the spirit of the moment, the agent decided to ask about a few other subjects as well. Wagner had once been a history teacher and was always fascinated by the assassination. He remembered Patrick was supposedly a friend of Jack Ruby’s.
Patrick had always downplayed their relationship, but he admitted to Wagner that he had been “Rubenstein’s” mentor in the Outfit, having plucked him out of a boxing club. Patrick said he taught him how to be a bookie, and when Ruby’s best friend was killed for taking bets without paying his street tax, Patrick was the one who banished Ruby to Dallas. Patrick admitted he was one of the last to speak with Ruby before he killed Oswald.
After hearing that, Wagner said, “I backed up, and I asked, ‘Then who hit Kennedy?’”
“He said, ‘We did it.’”
“‘But who did it?’”
“‘You know. Momo [Giancana] had the main guys there.’”
“When I pressed him to tell me exactly who, he clammed up. He said he had told me enough and didn’t want to talk about it anymore. But then he said, ‘It was us, and we’ll have to pay for it.’”
If the Outfit had supplied the firepower for the assassination and the cleanup with Ruby, as Lenny Patrick told Wagner, then who groomed Lee Harvey Oswald as the patsy? For Shelton there is one indisputable candidate—a longtime Accardo ally from Oswald’s hometown with both the motivation and the energy to choreograph JFK’s assassination.
His name was Carlos Marcello. Short in stature and bullnecked, he was known as the Little Man or the Godfather of the Gulf Coast. When Shelton asked Chicago agents about the assassination, one referred him to his brother, Michael Wacks, also an agent, who had spent a year working undercover on a sting involving Marcello.
Like Accardo, Marcello came to power in the 1940s. Like Accardo, he enjoyed unusual longevity for a mob boss, with domination of his home turf and an expansive reach that extended throughout the Gulf Coast. Unlike Accardo, however, he maintained a high profile as a civic leader, real estate tycoon and owner of a popular restaurant and hotel in New Orleans. But if an associate had his confidence, he’d identify certain out-of-town partners by saying, in his gangster patois, “Dey Maf, like me.”
Marcello was a partner with Tampa boss Trafficante and the Outfit in several different rackets. Most often the Southern bosses were junior partners to Chicago because the Outfit controlled the union leaders who gave access to pension funds. But in 1963 Marcello and Trafficante wanted their own piece of the Las Vegas bonanza, and like prospectors at a gold rush they were eager to stake their claim on the Strip before it was too late.
Their plans hinged on a loan from the Teamsters pension fund. They courted Hoffa to do the deal, but Hoffa was distracted by indictments from RFK’s Justice Department. Marcello was no more a fan of Bobby than the union leader was. As attorney general, Kennedy deported Marcello to Guatemala, where he was stranded for a few days in a jungle before he could return to the U.S. It was a story the affable Marcello could not retell without sputtering in rage.
The mob bosses’ go-between with the Teamsters was Trafficante’s trusted trial lawyer Frank Ragano, who was also defending Hoffa against the government’s charges. According to Ragano, in August 1963, when the mob bosses had the lawyer approach Hoffa yet again about the loan, the union leader responded, “The time has come for your friend [Trafficante] and Carlos to get rid of him. Kill that son of a bitch John Kennedy.”
At breakfast the next morning in a corner of Marcello’s restaurant, Ragano passed along Hoffa’s request. He expected the mob bosses to laugh it off, but they responded instead with stony silence. Looking back on the incident in his 1994 memoir, Ragano wondered whether the assassination conspiracy was already under way.
Marcello discussed the Kennedys with a former Las Vegas promoter. Explaining that he needed to chop off the head of the dog (JFK) so the tail (RFK) would die, he told the promoter that he would find a “nut” his people could manipulate into taking the blame.
Marcello’s “nut” could have been Oswald, who grew up in Marcello’s fiefdom. According to Blakey’s investigators, Oswald’s uncle, a bookie, and his mother had connections to Marcello. Another mutual acquaintance was David Ferrie, who was Oswald’s childhood friend and an anti-Castro activist. Ferrie worked as a private investigator for Marcello’s lawyer and was in court with him on the day of the assassination. Ferrie died of a cerebral aneurysm soon after New Orleans district attorney Jim Garrison fingered him as a co-conspirator in JFK’s assassination.