Conspiracy theorists who believe Oswald was manipulated by others typically blame agents associated with the CIA or Cuba—not the mob. Of all Oswald’s activities before the assassination, none have led to more speculation about espionage than his trip to Mexico City from September 27 to October 2, 1963. As he did in New Orleans, Oswald made another public display of his affections for Cuba by visiting the nation’s embassy and requesting a visa to travel there. CIA headquarters later destroyed photos of Oswald entering the embassy and tapes of him calling there.
But according to Jim Wagner, there could have been a mercenary purpose for Oswald’s trip. Looking through FBI archives, Wagner discovered that Accardo sent a courier with $100,000 in cash to Mexico City the same weekend Oswald was there. It may have been a coincidence, since the Outfit did have extensive interests in Mexico City. Or the Outfit may have been in a better position than Marcello to pay off Oswald.
In the days after the assassination Oswald’s various pro-Castro activities seemed “too pat—too obvious” to Deputy Attorney General Nicholas Katzenbach, who had taken control of the Justice Department when RFK could no longer function. If the CIA or anti-Castro interests had planned to use the assassination as an excuse to invade Cuba, they quickly backed off.
And if the mob had used the assassination to muzzle the Justice Department, it could not have been more successful. Over the next three years the workload of federal organized crime prosecutors would be cut in half; their time in front of grand juries was reduced by 72 percent. President Johnson was not the threat to organized crime JFK had been—which was probably no surprise for Marcello, whose domain extended to Texas. Shelton uncovered reports that the Little Man regularly paid off LBJ. According to one of his sources, a wealthy San Antonio investor named Morris Jaffe “used to take bags of cash” from Marcello to LBJ—even when Johnson was in the White House. By the time Shelton heard this story, Jaffe had died, so he called Jaffe’s son. “When I asked him if that was true,” Shelton says, “he answered, ‘My dad knew a lot of people. He was close to J. Edgar Hoover, too.’”
In 1981 Trafficante and Accardo were both indicted for a kickback scheme involving a Tampa union. Although they beat that rap, Trafficante was indicted on another charge in 1986. The next year, shortly before his death, he told lawyer Ragano, “Carlos fucked up. We shouldn’t have killed Giovanni. We should have killed Bobby.”
Carlos Marcello had his own troubles with the feds. In the early 1980s he was convicted in a sting known as Operation Brilab. Agent Mike Wacks pretended to be a crooked insurance executive. In return for kickbacks, the Little Man opened doors to politicians and union executives across the country.
After a long career in the FBI, Wacks thought he had seen it all, but this sting opened his eyes even wider. “Mob guys like Accardo and Marcello felt like they ran a separate government,” he says. “Marcello knew right off the top of his head who was amenable to kickbacks, whether it was a politician or a union figure, across his whole region. Not just in Texas and Louisiana, but Mississippi, Arkansas and Oklahoma.” Wacks was ready to rope in the Outfit when a leak to the press brought the sting to an abrupt end.
During his year undercover, Wacks became close with Marcello. “He was pushing 70, but I only wished I worked so hard. He could have hundreds of deals going at the same time and bounce around until 3:30 a.m. with a girlfriend half his age. Then at seven the next morning he’d call to see why you weren’t at work already.”
Even decades later, Wacks says, Marcello could not hide his hatred for the Kennedys. “Historians don’t understand the loyalty mob bosses felt politicians owed them. They thought they were on the same level. If they put someone into power and he didn’t do their bidding, their solution was to take him out.”
Even though Wacks was exposed as an agent, Marcello remained cordial to him. “We had spent so much time together,” Wacks explains, “that the old man treated me almost like a son.”
After Marcello went to prison for Brilab in 1983, he suffered a stroke. Doctors believed he was in the early stages of Alzheimer’s, and he started muttering in his sleep about the Kennedy assassination. A plan was devised to transfer him to a federal prison hospital in Minnesota and embed an agent as his cell mate to record the nocturnal admissions. Again, word leaked out and the operation was aborted.
Wacks did not believe such subterfuge was necessary. When he went to visit him in prison, he found Marcello as lucid as ever. The old man refused to talk about the assassination with the case agent Wacks brought from Dallas, but he told Wacks, “If I ever get out of here, you come to see me with my lawyer, and I’ll explain my involvement with dat thing.”
Only 18 months later, in 1990, Marcello’s convictions were overturned and he was released. But Wacks’s superiors would not permit him to take Marcello up on his offer. “That really pissed me off,” says Wacks. “I said to my boss, ‘What’s it going to harm us?’ But he said, ‘We don’t want to go there.’ For some reason, the bureau wanted to close the book on the assassination. That bugs me to this day.”
For G. Robert Blakey, now a professor at the Notre Dame Law School, what Zack Shelton and the other agents have found adds weight to his thesis about organized crime’s role in the assassination. “Little by little, more pieces about organized crime’s involvement keep coming out. Nothing of substance has come out on the CIA other than that it wanted to cover things up. The stories of most substance are related to organized crime. Trafficante’s confession to his lawyer is very significant. Ragano was in a position to know, and he made notes about the conversation soon after it took place.”
For similar reasons, Blakey says, “I would believe what Lenny Patrick told Jim Wagner. The phone records showed he was in the middle of everything with Ruby, and I’m sorry he never felt he could talk to the House Select Committee.”
Blakey is more skeptical about Files. “The acoustical evidence does show a bullet was fired from the grassy knoll, and it was fired at a supersonic rate nearly simultaneous with the third shot. But I believe that bullet missed. If you look at the X-ray evidence of the skull, it’s pretty conclusive the fatal shot came from behind.” (The committee also concluded that bullet fragments taken from Texas governor John Connally and JFK came from Oswald’s Mannlicher-Carcano. In 2004, however, the science behind the FBI’s analysis was discredited, and the gun that fired the bullets remains unknown.)
Shelton does not dispute Blakey about the shot or that Files may have embellished his story with information he got from Joe West. Despite Files’s claims about CIA contacts, nothing has ever been found to corroborate them. Shelton did meet Files in 1998. Files will remain in prison until 2016, when he will be 74. Shelton says, “I am 100 percent convinced that Files was there. I’m not sure he made the fatal shot, but you had the best hired killers in the world there to do it.”
Even if Files was no more than a fly on the wall, for Shelton he still had a unique vantage point. “You talk to some people in this field, and they think people don’t care to know what really happened in Dallas. But I don’t find that to be the case when I talk to other FBI agents. They are absolutely in awe of this information. It’s almost 50 years after the assassination. Don’t you think it’s time we finally found out who did it?