A NEWS MEDIA GREAT
A dominate figure in any news scene with quick wit, superior intelligence and brilliant writing. Reporter-Commentator Bill Stout and I worked for competing news agencies and were often assigned to the same story. Over the years we became good friends. No matter how solemn the event on occasion he’d lend comical emphasis with a simple, timely gesture: a dirty leer of cocked eyebrow to the uttering of some hypocritical politician, knowing he’d crack me up.
There was a time, however, when I didn’t appreciate his humor. We were in the Federal Building covering the trial of Marshall Caifano–aka Johnny Marshall–a notorious Mafia executioner being tried for extortion of wealthy oilman Ray Ryan. Bill and I were the only press covering. During recess we went to the hall outside the courtroom to have a cigarette. We’d rest against the marble wall and light up until court was called back into session.
Caifano came out with another 5 foot Italian gangster-type and walked about fifty feet down the corridor. With expensive cashmere cardigans draped over their shoulders, they displayed the supreme arrogance of proven predators. Stout said in his lowest tone, “Look at the snotty little WOPs,” and quickly turned away, making it appear that I had made the comment. Even though it was said in a whisper, his golden tones sent the troublesome comment down the hall.
The two Italians casually glanced over at me. I was struck by the murderous power Caifano exuded. Suddenly I felt all alone. As author Ovid Demaris noted in his Green Felt Jungle, no one knew how many corpses Caifano had dropped in the vast desert between Las Vegas and Palm springs. “Thanks, Stout,” I uttered. He grinned in amusement at his impish but sadistic joke.
A serious drinker like many in the press, we often had to deliver Bill to the station for the broadcast. On one such occasion Bill and I went to the bar following an afternoon press conference at the Hollywood Plaza Hotel. I sent my film by messenger to NBC, just two blocks away,, and we had a few as they say. Much later I dropped Bill off at CBS for his newscast and somehow managed to get home. About eleven-thirty that night he called me, growling, “Barnes. Where the hell did I leave my car?”
On November 22, 1963 the network sent me to cover JFK’s assassination. Totally unprepared, I was on a plane enroute to Dallas before noon with the clothes I had on and my camera gear. Devastated as we were, it was the story of a century for any newsman to be selected to cover. When I returned seven days later, he couldn’t wait to quiz me. He had to know everything, including theories a few of us had formulated, mainly about the Mob being involved. Based on my information and suppositions, Bill courageously wrote this controversial piece for a now defunct Beverly Hills newspaper just one dangerous month after Kennedy had been killed. He got more heat on this piece than on any other he had ever written.
KENNEDY—MARTYRED BY THE MOBS?
Beverly Hills Times Article
Friday, December 27, 1963
In Dallas, New York and Washington, a chilling theory is taking shape.
It can be heard in the conversations among certain lawmen, newsmen and government officials, but even now, five weeks after the President’s assassination, it is an argument that bubbles just beneath the surface and is rarely expressed in direct terms.
It is the theory that Mr. Kennedy’s slaying was the work of organized crime. That the big men of the most powerful mobs decided they had had enough and could strike only by going to the very top.
Before dismissing this explanation as outlandish, as it certainly seems at first reading, consider the background.
NEVER IN the history of modern crime has there been the kind of consistent, high-level pressure that the Kennedy administration exerted from its first days.
Robert Kennedy’s work as counsel with Sen. McClellan’s rackets committee gave him a rare insight into the workings of big money crime. To his credit, he responded with rare courage and persistence. He pressed his fight when he took over as the Attorney General. It was a situation double uncomfortable for the syndicate men because Kennedy was not only the most determined enemy they ever had faced but also the most powerful.
Sen. Kefauver, in his celebrated expose of organized crime, could sting his targets with little more than publicity.
ROBERT KENNEDY, however, had the machinery of the entire Justice Department plus the confidence and full support of his brother.
He badgered congress for new laws to make life more difficult for the hoodlums and prosecutions easier for the government. He stung the top men of the syndicate, almost all of them Italians, with the confessions of Joseph Valachi.
Some time in the last few months, according to the theory still discussed in whispers, the mob decided to hit back.
Jack Ruby was the arranger. Lee Oswald, with his curious combinations of instability, anger and marksmanship was the man on the spot. Oswald’s unsavory flirtation with Communist causes was a plus, pointing away from the mob.
THE SLAYING went more or less as planned, although there is some argument as to whether Gov. Connally was hit accidentally or was supposed to be shot as a further distraction for law enforcement men.
The big hitch developed when Oswald, after slipping out the book depository, doubled back to his home and picked up a revolver.
Maps printed in Texas newspapers after the assassination show that Oswald, when he encountered Officer J.D. Tippitt, was moving in a straight line that led from his rented room to Jack Ruby’s apartment.
Perhaps he was supposed to be killed by the first policemen he ran into. Some who hold the mob theory contend that was meant to be the end of the story: the man who killed the President himself cut down an hour later. But Oswald had his second gun and it was the policeman who died. The assassin then broke from the straight line between his place and Ruby’s and was arrested in a theater.
Oswald did not admit a thing during the remaining two days of his life but there may have been some big men who feared he might. If they did have that fear, if Ruby had been the arranger, and if thte code of the syndicate were invoked, then Ruby had to get rid of Oswald even though it would mean going on trial himself for murder.
A FEW ITEMS of fact tend to support this theory. It was Ruby’s habit to drop by the newspaper office each Thursday night to make up the advertising copy for his nightclubs.
But that week he broke the pattern. Friday morning, Nov. 22, he was at the newspaper, working on ad copy, to be sure, but also in the best place of all to follow the news minute by minute.
Then too, Ruby had a large amount of cash on his person and in his car when he went to the jail basement to kill. Some reports put the total at more than $10,000.
Ruby will have excellent and expensive counsel, led by Melvin Belli, who has talked of money as one consideration every lawyer ponders in every case.
All of which, at this point, is broad theory based on admittedly slender information. We will learn more when Chief Justice Warren’s commission lays out the whole story.
THIS SHOULD NOT be taken as an attempt to cloud the fact of Oswald’s leftist background. He was a wretch with a gun and a keen eye. But if it develops that he was merely a wretch in the way of criminals so big they dare to strike down a President, then it will be time for a closer look at the fabric of our society.