Denis Foley, a forensic anthropologist and historical archeologist, is author of the true crime thriller Lemuel Smith and the Compulsion to Kill (NK Burns Pub., 2006). He has a passion for researching the Irish in America whether they be gangsters, martyrs or rebels; most recently “On Tour and Exiled; James Connolly in America 1902-1905” in the 2013 issue of Saothar, the Journal of the Irish Labor History Society. He is working on his debut novel, Murder Most Irish, set in the Bronx and the Inwood Section of Manhattan. This is part two of his Tale of Two Jacks.
Part 2: A President Killed by Gangsters?
Although Joe Kennedy Sr. himself had been mentioned as a presidential contender, the business practices on Wall Street of Roosevelt’s former Ambassador to Great Britain and his isolationist leanings prior to WW II tarred his candidacy as not to be taken seriously. Yet, the senior Kennedy’s illicit contacts with alcohol distributors such as Dan O’Connell and the underworld lords in the Midwest and Middle Atlantic States served his son’s Presidential ambitions.
In his 2007 memoir Point to Point Navigation, published by Random house, Gore Vidal, Jacqueline Kennedy’s distant relative and Kennedy White House insider, repeats the idea of a Mafia conspiracy surrounding the death of JFK. Among the first to embrace this tale was Thomas Hartmann and Lamar Waldron in Ultimate Sacrifice: John and Robert Kennedy, The Plan For a Coup in Cuba and the Murder of JFK. Hartmann and Waldron tell how three Mafia godfathers, Carlos Marcello (New Orleans), Santo Trafficante (Tampa, Fla. and Havana, Cuba) and Johnny Roselli (Chicago), while in the employ of the Central Intelligence Agency, organized a plot to kill Fidel Castro, called Plan for a Coup in Cuba, code-named the C Day Plan. The three gangsters thought themselves immune from federal prosecution because they were working for the CIA.
During the 1960 elections, Joseph Kennedy reputedly paid off mobsters in Chicago and Philadelphia to deliver inner city wards to his son. Afterward, the gang leaders anticipated an unofficial truce between the new Democratic Administration and themselves. Attorney General Robert Kennedy broke that truce, as Gore Vidal saw it, to seek glory and self-aggrandizement; others believe Robert Kennedy had become genuinely outraged by the extent of mob corruption in American life when he was Chief Counsel to the McClellan Committee’s Investigation of Organized Crime. Naively, perhaps, Robert Kennedy decided to expose and prosecute the underworld as well as labor leaders like Jimmy Hoffa who had Mafia links. When he did this, he put himself and his elder brother in harm’s way. In retaliation, the mobsters initially decided to kill Robert Kennedy, but Carlos Marcello reportedly told Santo Trafficante: “When a dog bothers you, you don’t cut off its tail.” Thus, the murder plot against the Thirty-Fifth President of the United States was hatched. As early as 1962, Trafficante predicted the assassination during a meeting about a Teamster’s loan. Trafficante also told wealthy Cuban exile, Jose Aleman: “Mark my words, this man Kennedy is in trouble, and he will get what is coming to him.” When Aleman suggested Kennedy would be re-elected, Trafficante allegedly said, “No, Jose, he is going to be hit.”
The trio reputedly targeted the President twice before Dallas. Once on November 2,1963, in Chicago but the motorcade was called off, and again aborted in Tampa on November 18,1963, just four days before Dallas. The gangsters’ plot to murder Kennedy was incompletely investigated and subsequently discounted by the Warren Commission, the conspiracy theorists believe. They point to Commission member Allen Welsh Dulles, longest-serving director of the CIA (1953–1961), who had to be aware of the unsavory Mafia-CIA link, having orchestrated earlier assassination plots against Castro. According to biographer Evan Thomas, in Robert Kennedy: His Life (Simon and Schuster, 2002), Robert Kennedy reportedly told his closest aide that Carlos Marcello had ordered his brother’s death. The future Senator from New York and Presidential candidate himself could not reveal publicly the nature of The C Day Plan and Mafia involvement for fear that the Soviet Union would retaliate in kind. This is the substance of the claims of the conspiracy theorists.
America loves its presidents and gangsters. The Irish American community worshiped John F. Kennedy, the first Catholic president, and vicariously enjoyed Legs Diamond’s exploits. Legs’ parents were born in Ireland. Gentleman Jack dated gorgeous showgirls and defied authority. He appeared immortal. The poor Irish exiles, experiencing the endless toil and low status of immigrants, arguably yearned for the independence, glamour and recklessness of the gangster and the legitimacy conferred upon themselves by having one of their own as President.
The deaths of the two Jacks, one shot at close range and the other from a distance of 531 feet, illustrate how America’s illusions can suppress the truth. Legs Diamond died in Albany, shot by the Albany police. Evidence that Dan O’Connell ordered the hit wasn’t revealed, although many in Albany knew, until Pulitzer Prize-winner William Kennedy published O Albany in 1983, and confirmed at length in a filmed interview in the WMHT documentary Prohibition Story: All Over Albany, in 2011. A dying Detective McElveney reportedly told his daughter Betty, when she questioned him as to the circumstances of the Legs Diamond murder: “Fitz knows and he ain’t talkin’, God knows and he ain’t talkin’, and I ain’t talkin’.” But he did talk, they say, when drunk and in the company of his friends at Albany’s Fire Engine Company Four.
Legs’ Watervliet policeman-bodyguard was tactful enough to be absent the night Dets. McElveney and Fitzpatrick executed Legs in his bed. Those who swear by the truism What Goes Around Comes Around wouldn’t blink an eye on hearing that, in 1945, McElveney shot to death his former partner Fitzpatrick, then the Albany Chief of Police, in his office on Eagle Street, over a long-simmering grievance. He pled guilty to Murder 2nd Degree and was sentenced to twenty years in prison, but only served eleven, pardoned by Gov. Averill Harriman in 1957. John McElveney died of cancer in 1968.
In 1977, the Congress set up the Select Committee on Assassinations to reexamine JFK’s murder in Dallas. The New York City Medical Examiner, Michael Baden, was picked to head a team of eight other vastly experienced pathologists. After months of reviewing the forensic evidence, the Committee issued a “hybrid report” (from which Baden dissented): three shots were fired by Oswald from the Texas School Book Depository and a single shot by an unidentified shooter from the grassy knoll above Dealy Plaza. Dr. Baden’s verdict: “People will go on believing what they want to believe.”
© 2015 Denis Foley, PhD, Curator, Lewis Henry Morgan Institute, SUNY-IT, Utica-Rome
Baden, Michael, M.D., Unnatural Death: Confessions of a Medical Examiner (Random House, 1989).
Hartman, Thomas and Waldron, Lamar, Ultimate Sacrifice: John and Robert Kennedy, The Plan For a Coup in Cuba and the Murder of JFK (Counterpoint Press, 2008).
Kennedy, William: Legs (Penguin Books, 1975); O Albany (Viking Press, 1983).
Leamer, Laurence, The Kennedy Men: 1901-1963 (Harper Collins, 2001).
Levine, Gary, Jack ‘Legs’ Diamond: Anatomy of a Gangster (Purple Mountain Press, 1995).
Robinson, Frank S., Machine Politics: A Study of Albany’s O’Connells (Transaction Press, 1977);
Robinson, Frank S., Albany’s O’Connell Machine (The Washington Park Spirit, Inc., 1973).
Thomas, Evan, Robert Kennedy: His Life (Simon and Schuster, 2002).
Vidal, Gore, Point-to-Point Navigation (Doubleday, 2006).
Foley, Denis: Field Notes (1981-2015).