When Lyndon B. Johnson became Vice President in 1960 he decided he would record some of the telephone calls he made or received. He then arranged for his personal assistant Mildred Stegall to make transcripts of these conversations. He told her that he wanted to use them to help him write his memoirs. From what we know of LBJ it is highly probable that he wanted to use this material to blackmail the people who he was talking to. He also exchanged this information with J. Edgar Hoover, the Director of the FBI.
LBJ later destroyed some of these tapes and transcripts. The rest were handed over to Mildred Stegall with instructions that when he died this material had to be destroyed. Fortunately for us, she did not obey him. Instead, she packaged them up into eight Federal Records Center (FRC) boxes and after marking them “Top Secret”, they were sent to the LBJ Library.
After the passing of John F. Kennedy Assassinations Records Collection Act of 1992, requests were made for these transcripts to be released. Around ten per cent were held back on grounds of national security but the rest were released to the public on 30th November, 1993.
These transcripts give an insight into the thoughts of LBJ in the days following the assassination. They show that one subject dominated his thinking during that period. The subject that was of primary importance to LBJ was the Senate investigation into the activities of Bobby Baker. LBJ was not the only one interested in the Bobby Baker case.
In the weeks leading up to the assassination, the Bobby Baker investigation, was the most important political story of the time. The death of JFK changed all that. It also enabled LBJ to use his position as president to prevent the publication of details of his corrupt relationship with Baker.
J. Evetts Haley, a Texas businessman, was the first person to publish a book linking the Bobby Baker scandal with the assassination of John Kennedy (1). ”A Texan Looks at Lyndon” was published in 1964. It was a best seller and it is claimed that in Texas only the Bible outsold Haley’s book that year. In the book Haley attempted to expose Johnson’s corrupt political activities. This included a detailed look at the relationship between Johnson, Bobby Baker and Billy Sol Estes. Haley pointed out that three men who could have provided evidence in court against Johnson, George Krutilek, Harold Orr and Howard Pratt, all died of carbon monoxide poisoning from car engines. He also argued that Johnson was responsible for the deaths of Henry Marshall and John Douglas Kinser, a man that Mac Wallace was convicted of killing in 1951. Wallace had been working for Johnson since 1950. In May 1998 Walt Brown called a press conference in Dallas to discuss a previously unidentified fingerprint at the “sniper’s nest” in the Texas School Book Depository. According to Brown this fingerprint had now been identified as belonging to Wallace.
Haley also suggested that Johnson might have been responsible for the death of John F. Kennedy: “Johnson wanted power and with all his knowledge of political strategy and his proven control of Congress, he could see wider horizons of power as Vice-President than as Senate Majority Leader. In effect, by presiding over the Senate, he could now conceive himself as virtually filling both high and important positions – and he was not far from wrong.” (2)
The journalist Joachim Joesten, was one of the first journalists to write a book on the Kennedy Assassination. (3) He could not get a publisher in the USA and so had to come to Britain to get “Oswald, Assassin or Fall Guy” published in 1964. In the book Joesten claimed that the Central Intelligence Agency, Federal Bureau of Investigation, the Dallas Police Department and a group of right-wing Texas oil millionaires conspired to kill Kennedy. (4)
In 1968 Joesten published “The Dark Side of Lyndon Baines Johnson”. In the book Joseten claimed: “The Baker scandal then is truly the hidden key to the assassination, or more exact, the timing of the Baker affair crystallized the more or less vague plans to eliminate Kennedy which had already been in existence the threat of complete exposure which faced Johnson in the Baker scandal provided that final impulse he was forced to give the go-ahead signal to the plotters who had long been waiting for the right opportunity.” (5)
We now know that during this period the FBI and the CIA were putting out rumours that Joseten was a KGB agent who was attempting to undermine the US government. It is true that in 1930s he had been a member of the German Communist Party and had fled to the USA after Adolf Hitler had gained power. It is indeed possible that he had received information from the Soviet Union about the assassination of JFK. We know from recently released documents that following the JFK assassination Soviet leaders were convinced that LBJ was behind the assassination. However, it has only been in recent years that we have become fully aware of just how important the Bobby Baker case was to these events.
Bobby Baker was born in Pickens, South Carolina in 1929. (6) At the age of 14 Baker became a page at the Senate. He was befriended by Lyndon B. Johnson and eventually became secretary to the Senate Majority Leader. At this time he obtained the nickname Little Lyndon. Harry McPherson, another Johnson aide, described Baker as: “He was very smart, very quick, and indefatigable. Just worked all the time. He was always running someplace to make some kind of a deal.”
Johnson also used Baker to obtain political information. He told Jenkins that it was very important to “read” politicians. He constantly told him: “Watch their hands, watch their eyes. Read eyes. No matter what a man is saying to you, it’s not important as what you can read in his eyes. The most important thing a man has to tell you is what he’s not telling you. The most important thing he has to say is what he’s trying not to say.” Robert A. Caro quotes Baker as saying: “He (Johnson) seemed to sense each man’s individual price and the commodity he preferred as coin.” (7)
In the early 1950s Baker had also been involved in helping Intercontinental Hotels Corporation to establish casinos in the Dominican Republic. Baker arranged for Ed Levison, an associate of Meyer Lansky and Sam Giancana, to become involved in this deal. When the first of these casinos were opened in 1955, Baker and Johnson were invited as official guests.
On the surface it seems surprising that Johnson should allow himself to be linked with leading Mafia figures. However, it has to be remembered just how much power Johnson had at this time. In 1955 Johnson became majority leader of the Senate. This made him the second most powerful man in the US. Only the president had more power than the majority leader of the Senate. His main power came from the control he had over the various Senate committees. It was these committees that made the important decisions. Johnson’s major concern was that these committees made the right decisions about granting federal contracts to commercial companies.
At this time J. Edgar Hoover, the Director of the FBI, also had close links to people like Meyer Lansky and Sam Giancana. Hoover, like LBJ, thought he was untouchable. The events that followed showed that they were indeed right about this.
By the 1950s Bobby Baker was Johnson’s key political adviser. We now know that Bobby Baker played an important role in persuading Johnson to become Kennedy’s running-mate in 1960. The journalist, Milton Viorst, later explained that: “What distinguished Baker from the rest of Lyndon’s entourage, however, was that he, almost alone, argued that Johnson, failing to get the top spot, should agree to run with Kennedy as the Vice-Presidential nominee. Johnson’s other friends, aware of the power of which the Majority Leader disposed, felt this was nonsense. Why Bobby persisted in this argument is by no means clear. After all, his whole orientation was toward the Senate. He knew the Vice-Presidency was an impotent office.” (8)
In his autobiography, Wheeling and Dealing: Confessions of a Capitol Hill Operator (1978), Bobby Baker gives an account of how LBJ became JFK’s running-mate. Baker describes how Johnson told him that Kennedy was coming to see him at his hotel. John Connally was of the opinion that Kennedy would offer him the job. Johnson asked Baker what he should do. Baker replied: “It’s no disgrace to hold the second highest office in the land and be one heartbeat away from the presidency.” Connally added that Johnson would be able to deliver Texas for Kennedy. (9)
At this stage Johnson appeared to be against the idea. He told Baker that he would have “trouble with some of my Texas friends if I decide to run.” Sam Rayburn was one of these “Texas friends” who was strongly opposed to the suggestion that Johnson should become Kennedy’s running-mate. He quoted another Texan, John Nance Garner, who held the post under Franklin D. Roosevelt, as saying: “The office ain’t worth a pitcher of warm spit.” However, according to Baker, John Connally and Phil Graham “worked on” Rayburn until he “came round” to the idea that Johnson should become Kennedy’s running-mate. Connally was part of the eventual deal, and became Secretary of the Navy, a key post in getting federal contracts to Texas companies.
There still remained a significant number of opponents to Johnson’s strategy. Baker adds in his autobiography that “several Texas congressmen, spoiled by Johnson’s special attentions to their pet legislative schemes, begged him not to leave his powerful Senate post.” According to Baker, one of Johnson’s political friends resorted to threats of violence against Johnson if he became the vice-presidential candidate. This was oil millionaire, Robert S. Kerr. (10) In their book, The Case Against Congress, Drew Pearson and Jack Anderson claim that “Robert S. Kerr, oil millionaire, uranium king, cattle baron and Senator from Oklahoma… dominated the Senate’s back rooms in the late 1950s and early 1960s.” Pearson and Anderson point out that Kerr main concern in Congress was to preserve the oil depletion allowance. (11)
In “Wheeling and Dealing” Baker described what happened when Kerr arrived at the meeting in Johnson’s hotel room: “Kerr literally was livid. There were angry red splotches on his face. He glared at me, at LBJ, and at Lady Bird. ‘Get me my .38,’ he yelled. ‘I’m gonna kill every damn one of you. I can’t believe that my three best friends would betray me.’ Senator Kerr did not seem to be joking. As I attempted to calm him he kept shouting that we’d combined to ruin the Senate, ruin ourselves, and ruin him personally.”
Johnson responded to this outburst by telling Baker to take Kerr in the bathroom and “explain things to him”. Baker did this and after hearing about the reasons for Johnson’s decision to accept the post, “Senator Kerr put a burly arm around me and said, “Son, you are right and I was wrong. I’m sorry I mistreated you.”
What did Baker tell Kerr that dramatically changed his mind on this issue? According to Baker, he told Kerr: “If he’s elected vice-president, he’ll be an excellent conduit between the White House and the Hill.” What is more, if Kennedy is defeated, Johnson can blame it on Kennedy’s religion and be the likely victor in the attempt to be the Democratic Party candidate in the 1964 election.
Kerr would have been well aware of this argument before he entered the bathroom with Baker. If Kerr did change his mind about Johnson’s becoming Kennedy’s running-mate, then Baker told him something else in the bathroom. It could be that Johnson would insist that Kennedy did not do anything about the oil depletion allowance. We do know that during the campaign, Kennedy did write to senior figures in Texas promising not to interfere with the oil depletion allowance. Maybe there was something else. Maybe he suggested that Johnson would become president before 1964.
In 1960 Johnson’s was elected as vice president under John F. Kennedy. Baker remained as Johnson’s secretary and political adviser. He continued to do business with Levison, Giancana and Ben Siegelbaum (an associate of Jimmy Hoffa) in the Dominican Republic. Baker argued that Dominican Republic could be a Mafia replacement for Cuba. However, these plans came to an end when the military dictator, Rafael Trujillo, was murdered on the orders of the CIA. President Kennedy now gave his support to Juan Bosch when he was elected to office in December, 1962.
Baker had already arranged another source of income. In 1962 he had established the Serve-U-Corporation with his friend, Fred Black, and mobsters Ed Levenson and Benny Sigelbaum. The company was to provide vending machines for companies working on federally granted programs. The machines were manufactured by a company secretly owned by Sam Giancana and other mobsters based in Chicago.
The president of Serve-U-Corporation was Eugene A. Hancock, who was a business partner of Grant Stockdale and George Smathers at Automatic Vending Services. Questions were asked about Stockdale’s business involvement with Baker. In an interview he insisted he was “absolutely not” a stockholder in Serve-U-Corporation. He also pointed out that he had disposed of his holdings in Automatic Vending Services, more than a year earlier.
Rumours began circulating that Baker was involved in corrupt activities. Although officially his only income was that of Secretary to the Majority in the Senate, he was clearly a very rich man. Baker was investigated by Attorney General Robert Kennedy. He discovered Baker had links to Clint Murchison and several Mafia bosses. Evidence also emerged that Lyndon Johnson was also involved in political corruption. This included the award of a $7 billion contract for a fighter plane, the F-111 (TFX), to General Dynamics, a company based in Texas.
In 1962 John Williams, the senator from Delaware, began to investigate the activities of Bobby Baker. (12) One of his first discoveries was that Bobby Baker had bought a house for his attractive secretary, Nancy Carole Tyler. (13)
Baker later commented in his autobiography, Wheeling and Dealing: Confessions of a Capitol Hill Operator: “Senator Williams was happy to announce such stories to the press. He also presumably enjoyed breaking the story of how I’d bought the $28,000 town house Carole Tyler lived in… It was a nice enough house, but the furnishings were vastly inflated as to worth and style, as were the reports which sounded as if orgies occurred there with the setting of the sun. There was an embarrassment involved, however. I had incorrectly and improperly listed Carole Tyler as my cousin when I applied for the loan, in order to satisfy the Federal Housing Authority’s regulation that anyone buying an FHA-underwritten home must either live in it or have a relative living in it.”
According to W. Penn Jones Jr.: “Bobby Baker was about the first person in Washington to know that Lyndon Johnson was to be dumped as the Vice-Presidential candidate in 1964. Baker knew that President Kennedy had offered the spot on the ticket to Senator George Smathers of Florida… Baker knew because his secretary. Miss Nancy Carole Tyler, roomed with one of George Smathers’ secretaries. Miss Mary Jo Kopechne had been another of Smathers’ secretaries.” (14)
Baker was having an affair with Tyler. What Williams did not find out was that Baker was organizing sex parties in the house he had purchased for Tyler. Both Johnson and Hoover knew about these parties. In fact, it was a “honey pot” blackmail operation. Johnson found it fairly easy to get politicians to do what he wanted if they had been to any of his parties. It was also the place where political bribes were handed over. This was all recorded and added to the files kept by Johnson and Hoover. Baker also owned the Quorum Club, another place that was used to acquire information about politicians that could later be used for blackmail.
Johnson used people like Baker, Walter Jenkins and Fred Black to pay money to these politicians. Once they had received money from the sources they became under Johnson’s control. In return, they got positions on important Senate committees. However, they always had to vote the way Johnson told them.
According to Anthony Summers (Official and Confidential: The Secret Life of J. Edgar Hoover) Bill Thompson asked Bobby Baker if he would arrange a meeting between Ellen Rometsch and John F. Kennedy. Baker later said that: “He (Kennedy) sent back word it was the best time he ever had in his life. That was not the only time. She saw him on other occasions. It went on for a while.” (15)
Baker then told LBJ and Hoover about Kennedy’s relationship with Ellen Rometsch. (16) In July 1963 Federal Bureau of Investigation agents questioned Romesch about her past. They came to the conclusion that she was probably a Soviet spy. Hoover actually leaked information to the journalist, Courtney Evans, that Romesch worked for Walter Ulbricht, the communist leader of East Germany. When Robert Kennedy was told about this information, he ordered her to be deported.
The FBI had discovered that there were several women at the Quorum Club, run by Baker, who had been involved in relationships with leading politicians. This included both John and Robert Kennedy. It was particularly worrying that this included Mariella Novotny (17) and Suzy Chang (18). This was a problem because they had both initially came from communist countries and had been named as part of the spy ring that had trapped John Profumo, the British war minister, a few months earlier. President Kennedy told J. Edgar Hoover that he “personally interested in having this story killed”. It also explains why he asked his ambassador to London, David Bruce, to give him daily reports on the Profumo case.
When I was checking out this story I made contact with Mandy Rice Davies (19). In July, 1962, Mandy Rice-Davies and Christine Keeler (20) were taken to the USA, by Earl Fenton, a screenwriter (21). In 1962 a FBI memo written by J. Edgar Hoover stated that Felton had taken part in sex orgies that involved Christine Keeler, Mandy Rice-Davies, Mariella Novotny, Douglas Fairbanks, Lord Astor, Eugene Ivanov, John Profumo and Stephen Ward. (22)
I suspect that the plan was to use them in the Bobby Baker operation. However, Rice-Davies denies this and says they were to film a television commercial. In fact, she denies ever being a prostitute. According to Christine Keeler’s autobiography, Felton was a CIA agent. (23) The evidence indicates that Felton was also a FBI informant.
John Williams, the Republican senator from Delaware, was the main source of information on the corrupt activities of Baker. Williams became known as the “Sherlock Holmes of Capitol Hill” and the “Conscience of the Senate”. In 1958 he contributed to the downfall of Sherman Adams, Eisenhower’s chief of staff. During a 15 year period his investigations resulted in over 200 indictments and 125 convictions. What makes Williams noteworthy was that he was willing to expose the corruption of both Republicans and Democrats. Because of his integrity Williams received a great deal of information from people who wished to expose corruption.
On 3rd October, 1963, Williams went to Senator Mike Mansfield, the majority leader, and to Senator Everett Dirksen, the minority leader, and arranged for them to call Bobby Baker before the leadership at a closed meeting on 8th October. Baker never appeared before the Senate’s leadership: the day before his scheduled appearance he resigned his post. Soon afterwards, Fred Korth, the Navy Secretary, also from Texas, and the replacement for John Connaly, when he became Governor of Texas, and a close friend of LBJ, was also forced to resign because of the F-111 contract. (24)
Williams now introduced a resolution calling upon the Committee on Rules and Administration to conduct an investigation of the financial and business interests and possible improprieties of any Senate employee or former employee. On 10th October, the Senate adopted this resolution. The committee was made up of three Republican members, Carl Curtis, John Sherman Cooper and Hugh Scott and six Democrats, B. Everett Jordan, Carl Hayden, Claiborne Pell, Joseph S. Clark, Howard W. Cannon and Robert C. Byrd.
Johnson had considerable control over the six Democrats and one of the three Republicans, John Sherman Cooper. (25) It is no coincidence that Cooper is also selected by LBJ and Hoover to serve on the Warren Commission. The telephone transcripts between LBJ and Hoover, shows that both men considered Cooper to be a good choice, especially as he had a reputation as a “liberal”. It is not clear what they had on Cooper, but it was clearly enough for him not to cause problems for LBJ. Going by the telephone transcripts, the only people Johnson did not have anything on was Curtis and Scott. However, in a telephone conversation with George Smathers on 10th January, 1964, Johnson claims that Scott was involved with the same women that had entrapped John Kennedy. He tells Smathers to tell Richard Russell to get “Curtis and Scott” to behave. Russell, who was also on the Warren Commission, was Johnson’s main fixer in Congress. Johnson also told Smathers to warn Scott that he would take away some important federal contracts from Philadelphia.
The next stage in this story is very interesting. Hoover leaked the information about Ellen Rometsch to the journalist Clark Mollenhoff. On 26th October, 1963 he wrote an article in the Des Moines Register claiming that the FBI had “established that the beautiful brunette had been attending parties with congressional leaders and some prominent New Frontiersmen from the executive branch of Government… The possibility that her activity might be connected with espionage was of some concern, because of the high rank of her male companions”. Mollenhoff claimed that John Williams “had obtained an account” of Rometsch’s activity and planned to pass this information to the Senate Rules Committee, the body investigating Baker. (26)
The following day Robert Kennedy sent La Verne Duffy to West Germany to meet Ellen Rometsch. In exchange for a great deal of money she agreed to sign a statement formally “denying intimacies with important people.” Kennedy now contacted Hoover and asked him to persuade the Senate leadership that the Senate Rules Committee investigation of this story was “contrary to the national interest”. He also warned on 28th October that other leading members of Congress would be drawn into this scandal and so was “contrary to the interests of Congress, too”.
Hoover had a meeting with Mike Mansfield, the Democratic leader of the Senate and Everett Dirksen, the Republican counterpart. What was said at this meeting has never been released. However, as a result of the meeting that took place in Mansfield’s home the Senate Rules Committee decided not to look into the Rometsch scandal.
I believe that Hoover and Johnson leaked this information on John Kennedy as a warning concerning the Bobby Baker case. Had Johnson heard about what Kennedy had said to his personal secretary, Evelyn Lincoln? According to Lincoln, Kennedy had decided that because of this emerging scandal he was going to drop Johnson as his running mate in the 1964 election. He told Lincoln that he was going to replace Johnson with Terry Sanford. (27)
Maybe, Johnson had also discovered where John Williams had been receiving his information from. Burkett Van Kirk, chief counsel for the Republican minority on the Senate Rules Committee later told Seymour Hersh that Senator John Williams was being fed information by Robert Kennedy about the involvement of Lyndon Johnson and Bobby Baker in a series of scandals. Van Kirk claimed that Robert Kennedy supplied this information because he wanted “to get rid of Johnson.” (28)
There is now enough evidence to suggest that in 1963 there was an attempt by the Kennedy brothers to get rid of Johnson as vice-president. Their main weapon was John Williams, a man considered to be the most honest in the Senate. At the same time Kennedy had announced in January, 1963, that he wanted to do away with the oil depletion allowance. It is estimated that the proposed removal of the oil depletion allowance would result in a loss of around $300 million a year to Texas oilmen. A Senate committee was already looking into the General Dynamics F-111 contract and Johnson’s friend, Fred Korth, had just been forced to resign. (Johnson and already trapped Robert McNamara, the Secretary of Defense, into this scandal and was already under his tight control.)
However, Johnson was fighting back and was behind the leaks concerning Kennedy’s relationship with prostitutes linked to the Soviet Union. Despite Johnson’s best efforts, the Kennedy brothers believed that something that was going to happen on 22nd November, 1963, that was finally going to get rid of Johnson.
A man named Don B. Reynolds had gone to see John Williams about evidence he had against Johnson and Baker. Williams arranged for Reynolds to appear before a closed session of the Senate Rules Committee on 22nd November. Reynolds, who was a friend of Baker, claimed that LBJ had demanded that he provided kickbacks in return for this business. This included a $585 Magnavox stereo. Reynolds also had to pay for $1,200 worth of advertising on KTBC, Johnson’s television station in Austin. Reynolds had paperwork for this transaction including a delivery note that indicated the stereo had been sent to the home of Johnson. (29)
Reynolds also told of seeing a suitcase full of money which Baker described as a “$100,000 payoff to Johnson for his role in securing the Fort Worth TFX contract”. His testimony came to an end when news arrived that President Kennedy had been assassinated.
The telephone transcripts show that as soon as LBJ became president he contacted B. Everett Jordan, the chairman of the Senate Rules Committee, to see if there was any chance of stopping Reynolds’ testimony from being published. Jordan replied that he would do what he could but warned Johnson that some members of the committee wanted Reynold’s testimony to be released to the public. On 6th December, 1963, Jordan spoke to Johnson on the telephone and said he was doing what he could to suppress the story because “it might spread (to) a place where we don’t want it spread.”
There was also another man who was threatening to tell what he knew about the Bobby Baker case and the assassination of John Kennedy. His name was
Edward Grant Stockdale (30). In 1949 Stockdale met Kennedy through George Smathers. The three man became close friends.
In 1959 Grant Stockdale was named director of the Florida State committee to elect John F. Kennedy. After Kennedy won the nomination, Stockdale actively campaigned for him in West Virginia, Oregon, and New York. He was also a member of the Democratic Party’s National Finance Committee.
Grant Stockdale also formed a business partnership with George Smathers and Eugene A. Hancock. Their company, Automatic Vending Services Incorporated, was involved in providing vending machines to government institutions.
In March, 1961, President Kennedy appointed Stockdale as Ambassador to Ireland. This decision was criticised by some political commentators. Time Magazine pointed out: “On the campaign trail last fall, Jack Kennedy pledged that U.S. embassies would no longer be political plums for heavy campaign contributors, would be staffed solely “on the basis of ability.” But last week, as reports of the Administration’s favorites for diplomatic posts filtered through Washington, many of Kennedy’s staunchest admirers wondered aloud where reward stopped and ability began…. Among the front runners for top ambassadorial assignments… Grant Stockdale, 45, a Miami real estate dealer and former administrative assistant to Jack Kennedy’s old Senate pal, Florida Democrat George Smathers, will be Ambassador to Ireland.” (31)
Several newspaper began asking questions about Grant Stockdale’s relationship with prosperous businessman, Sidney Kessler. It emerged that Kessler gave Stockdale a $5,000 interest-free loan at a time when he had applied for permission to construct a $8 million apartment building in Miami. When this came to the attention of Kennedy he told Stockdale to pay the money back. According to the Chicago Daily News Stockdale claimed in an interview that “the President was afraid the loan could make look like I was finagling around with the FHA.”
In April 1961 Stockdale was served with papers in a $131,000 damages suit by Pan-Am Tobacco Corporation. The New York Times reported: “The suit alleged that he had used undue influence to gain contracts for Automatic Vending Services, Inc., a Miami company in which he owned stock.” Pan-Am claimed it its suit that Stockdale had been instrumental in gaining for his company the vending service contract at Aerodex Incorporated, an aircraft engine maintenance company in Miami.
There were also concerns about contracts totalling $500,000 a year at Patrick Air Force Base and the Air Force missile test centre at Cape Kennedy. Stockdale argued that Pan-Am was attempting “to get some publicity because I am a United States Ambassador”. The Pan-Am suit was eventually dismissed as “frivolous” in Dade County Circuit Court, and the Florida Circuit Court of Appeals subsequently upheld the lower court.
Questions were also being asked about Stockdale’s business involvement with Bobby Baker. In an interview he insisted he was “absolutely not” a stockholder in Serve-U-Corporation, the vending company which had figured largely in the Baker investigation. On paper this was true, his investment was controlled by his business partner, Eugene A. Hancock, who was President of Serve-U-Corporation.
Stockdale also pointed out that he had disposed of his holdings in Automatic Vending Services, more than a year earlier. However, under pressure from President John F. Kennedy, he resigned as ambassador in July, 1962 and was replaced by Matthew H. McCloskey. Another member of JFK’s Irish Mafia, McCloskey was forced to resign in 1964 over his business relationship with Bobby Baker. (32)
According to Seymour Hersh (The Dark Side of Camelot), at the beginning of November, 1963, John Kennedy asked Stockdale to raise $50,000 for his personal use. Stockdale told friends that the money had something to do with the Bobby Baker case. This information came from Stockdale’s son. He said a family friend had gone with his father, Grant said, to the Kennedy compound to deliver the money. “Kennedy said, Thank you, opened a nearby closet door, and threw the briefcase in there,” Grant was told. “The closet was full of briefcases.”
The suggestion is that in November 1963, JFK was being blackmailed by Baker. Stockdale was involved in raising this money. However, at the same time he was a business associate of Baker’s.
On 26th November, Grant Stockdale flew to Washington and talked with Robert Kennedy and Edward Kennedy. It is my view that he gave the brothers information about the assassination. I suspect that what he knew came from Baker. However, he told his wife that the brothers were not interested in acting on this information. He found this very disturbing and understandably began to fear for his safety.
On his return Stockdale told several of his friends that “the world was closing in.” On 1st December, he spoke to his attorney, William Frates who later recalled: “He started talking. It didn’t make much sense. He said something about ‘those guys’ trying to get him. Then about the assassination.”
Edward Grant Stockdale died on 2nd December, 1963 when he fell (or was pushed) from his office on the thirteenth story of the Dupont Building in Miami. Stockdale did not leave a suicide note but his friend, George Smathers, claimed that he had become depressed as a result of the death of Kennedy.
In June 2004 I was put into contact with Grant Stockdale’s daughter, Anne. She claimed that her father had been involved in some undercover activities for JFK: “One thing I do know is that Kennedy asked Daddy to go to the Air Force Base South of Miami to see if (against Kennedy’s orders) bombs were being loaded on the planes. Bombs were being loaded on the planes!! I believe one of the reasons Daddy was killed was because he knew that the Government was being run by the Military Complex. The Military Complex didn’t want the American People to realize (and still don’t ) that they were calling the shots. Daddy knew he was being followed… & he told Mom that they were going to get him… and they did. There was an attempt on my life also several days after Daddy’s funeral . I realize now that this was a scare tactic to silence my Mother… i.e. if you speak about anything, Your kids are dead. It worked!!” (33)
Lyndon Johnson was obsessed with the Bobby Baker case in the days following the assassination. One of the most fascinating aspect of the Johnson telephone transcripts concerns the cover-up of the case. Abe Fortas, a lawyer who represented both Johnson and Bobby Baker, worked behind the scenes in an effort to keep this information from the public. Johnson also arranged for a smear campaign to be organized against Don Reynolds. To help him do this J. Edgar Hoover passed to Johnson the FBI file on Reynolds.
In 1965 Johnson nominated Fortas as a member of the Supreme Court. Fortas was forced to resign from the Supreme Court in May 1969, when he was found guilty of taking a bribe. (34)
On 17th January, 1964, the Senate Rules Committee voted to release to the public Reynold’s secret testimony. Johnson responded by leaking information from Reynolds’ FBI file to Drew Pearson and Jack Anderson. On 5th February, 1964, the Washington Post reported that Reynolds had lied about his academic success at West Point. The article also claimed that Reynolds had been a supporter of Joseph McCarthy and had accused business rivals of being secret members of the American Communist Party. It was also revealed that Reynolds had made anti-Semitic remarks while in Berlin in 1953. (35)
Jack Anderson worked with the OSS in China during the war with Paul Helliwell and Ray S. Cline, who later became senior figures in the CIA. Soon after the CIA was established in 1947, Anderson got a job as Drew Pearson’s assistant. (36)
In 1966 it was Jack Anderson that published the story about the possible Mafia links with the assassination of JFK. This took place during the Jim Garrison investigation that was showing links between the CIA and anti-Castro Cubans and the assassination.
A few weeks later the New York Times reported that Johnson had used information from secret government documents to smear Reynolds. It also reported that Johnson’s officials had been applying pressure on the editors of newspapers not to print information that had been disclosed by Reynolds in front of the Senate Rules Committee.
Even so, the story failed to make the front-pages of the national newspapers. This is understandable. Two months earlier, the president had been assassinated. The public was in no mood to drive another from office on the grounds of corruption.
Don Reynolds also lost his desire to testify against Johnson. Reynolds told John Williams after the assassination: “My God! There’s a difference between testifying against a President of the United States and a Vice President. If I had known he was President, I might not have gone through with it.” Maybe there were other reasons for this change of approach.
Reynolds also appeared before the Committee on Rules and Administration on 1st December, 1964. Before the hearing Reynolds supplied a statement implicating Bobby Baker and Matthew H. McCloskey in financial corruption. However, the Democrats had a 6-3 majority on the Committee and Reynolds was not allowed to fully express the role that Johnson had played in this deal.
Eugene Hancock also appeared before the committee. Hancock testified he was president of Serve-U-Corporation “only in name” and knew little about its affairs. He went onto insist he had no personal knowledge that Bobby Baker was a big stockholder in the firm. Hancock swore he never gave Baker any money, and denied that Baker was to share in commissions he expected from a contract with a Washington area defense plant.
The Baker investigation continued. In 1964 Nancy Carole Tyler was called before the Senate Rules Committee. Tyler took the fifth amendment and refused to provide any information that would implicate Bobby Baker in any corrupt activities.
Tyler moved back to Tennessee but returned in 1965 to work with Baker as his bookkeeper at the Carousel Motel. Tyler believed that Baker would leave his wife. When he refused, she became very angry and according to Baker, made scenes. This included threats to commit suicide. On 10th May, 1965, Tyler, died in a plane crash, near Ocean City, Maryland.
Here is Bobby Baker’s account of her death in his autobiography: “On Sunday morning she and her roommate, a young woman named Dee McCartney, began having drinks with a West Virginia man, Robert O. Davis, who had been vacationing at the Carousel for about a week. She originally had intended to take a sightseeing tour over the eleven-mile-long island on which the Carousel was built, in Davis’s private plane, but the morning weather was judged too soupy for flying. They continued to drink; observers later told me the pilot appeared to be pretty tipsy. About 2 p.m., Robert Davis and Carole Tyler drove to the Ocean City airport, the weather having turned bright and sunny, and went up in his airplane. Witnesses later said that the single-engine aircraft approached the Carousel, buzzed it a few times at low altitudes, and then began to pull up sharply as it banked into a turn taking it out over the Atlantic. The aircraft failed to come out of the turn. It hit the water nose-first at high speed and sank like a stone, only a couple of hundred yards from the Carousel.” (37)
On 26th November, 1963, President Johnson told the Joint Chief of Staffs:
“Gentlemen, I want you to know I’m not going to let Vietnam go the way China did. I’m personally committed. I’m not going to take one soldier out of there ’til they know we mean business in Asia… You just get me elected, and I’ll give you your damned war.”
As president, Johnson used his power to close down the committee looking into the TFX deal. This was very convenient as General Dynamics, the Texas based company that got the contract, had been major Johnson’s donors during his political career. So had two other Texas based companies, Bell Helicopters and Brown & Root (Halliburton). All three were the major beneficiaries of the Vietnam War.
Bobby Baker’s lawyer, Edward Bennett Williams, was considered to be a mobster lawyer who had defended amongst others, Jimmy Hoffa. However, he also represented John Connally and Richard Helms, the Director of the CIA.
In 1967 Baker was found guilty of seven counts of theft, fraud and income tax evasions. However, he was never charged with the serious corruption offences that would have brought people like Johnson into court. This included accepting large sums in “campaign donations” intended to buy influence with various senators, but had kept the money for himself. He was sentenced to three years in federal prison but served only sixteen months.
Nancy Carole Tyler, flatmate, Mary Jo Kopechne, died in Ted Kennedy’s car on 17th July, 1969.
Bobby Baker is still alive but except for publishing his self-serving memoirs, Wheeling and Dealing: Confessions of a Capitol Hill Operator (1978) he has kept a low profile and has refused to discuss his relationship with Lyndon Johnson in public.
It is highly unlikely that we will ever discover if Joachim Joesten, was right when he said the Baker scandal is the hidden key to the assassination of John Kennedy. Those involved are either dead or unwilling to incriminate themselves. Any important documentary evidence was destroyed long ago. However, the case does highlight the level of corruption that existed in Washington in 1963 and it does raise the possibility that Kennedy died because of his plans to clean the system up. Instead, we got Lyndon Johnson, the most corrupt president in American history.
(1) J. Evetts Haley, A Texan Looks at Lyndon (1964)
(3) Joachim Joesten, Oswald, Assassin or Fall Guy? (1964)
(5) Joachim Joesten, The Dark Side of Lyndon Baines Johnson (1968)
(7) Robert A. Caro, Lyndon Johnson: Master of the Senate (2002)
(8) Milton Viorst, Hustlers and Heroes (1971)
(9) Bobby Baker, Wheeling and Dealing: Confessions of a Capitol Hill Operator (1978)
(11) Drew Pearson and Jack Anderson, The Case Against Congress (1968)
(14) W. Penn Jones Jr, Texas Midlothian Mirror (31st July, 1969)
(15) Anthony Summers, Official and Confidential: The Secret Life of J. Edgar Hoover (1993)
(22) J. Edgar Hoover, memo, June, 1963
(23) Christine Keeler, The Truth at Last (2001)
(26) Clark Mollenhoff, Des Moines Register (26th October, 1963)
(27) Evelyn Lincoln, Kennedy and Johnson (1968)
(28) Seymour Hersh, The Dark Side of Camelot (1997)
(31) Time Magazine (17th February, 1961)
(33) Anne Stockdale, email (June, 2004)
(35) Jack Anderson, Washington Post (5th February, 1964)
(37) Bobby Baker, Wheeling and Dealing: Confessions of a Capitol Hill Operator (1978)
Reference: Education Forum