Robert F. Kennedy Jr.’s comments that his father did not believe that a “lone-gunman” killed his uncle, President John F. Kennedy, have now been covered by all four television networks (CBS, NBC, Fox, and ABC), and gone viral on the internet. The remarks marked the first time a Kennedy family member has publicly questioned the official theory that JFK was killed by a lone gunman.
Were RFK Jr.’s remarks factually accurate?
Interviewed before an audience at the Winspear Opera House in Dallas, RFK Jr. told moderator Charlie Rose, “…when they examined Jack Ruby and Lee Harvey Oswald’s phone records…they saw…an inventory of the Mafia leaders that they had been investigating….”
Ideally, we would fact check from a recording, but no video or audio of the Winspear event is yet available. JFK Facts is seeking to obtain a tape, but with two fairly consistent published accounts of RFK Jr.’s remarks in the Dallas Morning News (one by staff writer David Flick, one by editorial writer Rodger Jones), RFK Jr.’s comments can be checked.
JFK Facts started by checking in with Jean Davison. As author of the book Oswald’s Game, which portrays Oswald as the lone assassin, Davis is known as a meticulous researcher. She comes to an unpopular (and, I would say mistaken) conclusion concerning Oswald’s singular guilt, but her intellectual independence is not in question.
“This stood out to me,” Davison wrote in an email. “‘Phone records of Oswald … ‘were like an inventory’ of Mafia leaders…’ Of course, Oswald had no phone records since he never had a phone. Anyone can believe in a conspiracy, but where is the evidence? If Robert Kennedy ‘had investigators do research into the assassination,’ are Ruby’s phone records (or Oswald’s non-existent ones) really the best they could come up with? Belief isn’t evidence, is it?”
Davison is correct. Oswald did not have his own telephone so there are no “Oswald phone records,” in the sense of a phone bill or a telephone company log. But, it is worth noting that Oswald is known to have made two phone calls in 1963 to his uncle, Charles “Dutz” Murret. In 1979, the final report of the House Select Committee on Assassinations (HSCA), established that Murret associated “with organized crime figures in New Orleans, having worked for years in an underworld gambling syndicate affiliated with the Carlos Marcello crime family.”
Oswald called Murret for help twice in 1963. He called him when he first moved from Texas to New Orleans in April, and he called Murret when he was jailed for fighting with anti-Castro Cubans in August. On that occasion Murret sent a friend named Emile Bruneau to bail him out.
The HSCA’s information was credible. It came from a former prosecution witness against Teamster leader James R. Hoffa. At the time both Carlos Marcello and Jimmy Hoffa were subjects of RFK’s Justice Department investigations and both were prosecuted in Federal courts. So while Murret himself was not under investigation, he moved in a milieu that was threatened by RFK’s investigations and he provided assistance to Oswald.
As for Ruby’s phone calls, records do exist and have been studied, most extensively by the HSCA in 1979. They show that Ruby called or received phone calls in 1963 from at least seven known mobsters and union racketeers who had been investigated by RFK’s Justice Department.
John McAdams, professor at Marquette University and moderator of a popular JFK Web site, disputed RFK Jr.’s assertion that Ruby spoke with “Mafia leaders.”
“The people Ruby was calling were rather marginal figures with some Mafia association,” McAdams wrote in an email. “He was trying to get help with his problems with the AGVA [Associated Guild of Variety Artists, a union that represented burlesque dancers in Ruby's nightclub], and none of the people would help him.”
RFK Jr.’s assertion is more accurate than McAdams’. The men Ruby spoke with are more accurately described as “leaders” than as “marginal figures.”
Barney Baker was a boxer, ex-convict and “one of Hoffa’s best known associates during the McClellan Committee investigation.” RFK was the chief counsel to that committee, which “detailed Baker’s role as Hoffa’s personal liaison to various Mafia figures, as well as to a number of well-known syndicate executioners.” As counsel to the committee, RFK noted that, “sometimes the mere threat of [Baker’s] presence in a room was enough to silence the men who would otherwise have opposed Hoffa’s reign.”
Dusty Miller was another Hoffa assistant and head of the Teamster’s southern conference.
Lenny Patrick was a capo under Chicago mob boss Sam Giancana. He was, according to the HSCA, “one of the Chicago Mafia’s leading assassins and was responsible, according to Federal and State law enforcement files, for the murders of over a dozen victims of the mob,” according to Patrick.
Dave Yaras, like Patrick, was a childhood friend of Ruby from his old Chicago neighborhood, and “was overheard in a 1962 electronic surveillance discussing various underworld murder contracts he had carried out and one he had only recently been assigned.”
Lewis McWillie moved from Dallas to Cuba in 1958 to work in the Havana gambling casinos owned by Meyer Lansky and Santos Trafficante. Ruby visited him in Cuba twice and returned with cash that he deposited in a Miami bank for McWillie’s boss.
Irwin Weiner was a Chicago bail bondsman and close associate of Hoffa and Giancana and was described by investigative journalist Jack Anderson as “the underworld’s major financial figure in the Midwest.”
Nofio Pecora was an associate of an associate of Carlos Marcello. He was friends with Emile Bruneau, the man who bailed Oswald out of jail when he was arrested in August 1963.
So Robert F. Kennedy Jr. was correct in stating that Ruby made telephone calls of investigative significance to mobsters that Robert F. Kennedy, as Attorney General, would have recognized as suspects under investigation. However, he misspoke in referring to “Oswald phone records.”