Billy Sol Estes, the infamous Texan con man who made multiple visits to prison after his complex web of mortgage fraud and agriculture swindles came to light in the early 1960s, died May 14, in Granbury, Texas, at age 88. (As if on cue, Mother Nature unleashed a tornado on Granbury the very next day, killing six people.)
Among Estes’ legacies: the allegation that Lyndon Johnson orchestrated the assassination of President John F. Kennedy.
While the charge is unproven, oft-repeated (most recently by Republican political consultant Roger Stone), and oft-rejected, there is no doubt that Estes was friends with LBJ and knew his way around a criminal conspiracy. Even the obituary writers at the New York Times saw fit to report his claims about LBJ and JFK.
As his multi-million dollar empire began to fall apart in 1962, the well-connected Estes became a political liability to the Kennedy administration. President Kennedy himself had to publicly say that the Justice Dept. would get to the bottom of the Estes shenanigans.
Yet, as investigators dug into his labyrinthine schemes, they ended up dead — seven of them in fact; the majority dubiously ruled to be suicide. One victim’s “suicide” included five shots from a bolt action rifle.
In the early 1980s, after serving four years for tax fraud, Estes told Justice Dept. officials that not only did some his ill-gotten proceeds go to LBJ, but that LBJ ordered the investigator murders to avoid being connected to the kickbacks. Estes also said that he knew that LBJ orchestrated the JFK assassination, pointing to LBJ henchman Malcolm Wallace as a triggerman in both the investigator and the JFK killings.
(In 1951, Wallace narrowly avoided execution — getting instead a suspended sentence — for a murder he committed in Texas. In 1998 assassination investigator Walt Brown claimed that a mystery fingerprint taken from a box in the 6th Floor “sniper’s den” matched Wallace’s.)
The Times didn’t shrink from the LBJ accusations in reporting Estes’s departure.
“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,” wrote the NYT, adding that “none of the Estes claims could be proved.”
On a personal note, I knew a man back in the early 90s who was himself a Texan wheeler and dealer. Smelling money in the wake of Oliver Stone’s “JFK” success, this fellow approached Estes to sit for a documentary. It never went beyond the initial videotaped interview, but I remember well one of Billy Sol’s lines: “Those Harvard boys just couldn’t handle Texan men.”
The wheeler and dealer died a decade ago in Mexico. I don’t know where the videotape ended up.