Over the last couple of months I have been investigating the possible role that Lyndon Johnson played in the assassination of John F. Kennedy. Several writers have pointed out that LBJ was the main beneficiary of Kennedys death. He was also involved in persuading Kennedy to visit Texas. At the time there was a bitter dispute going on in the Democratic Party in Texas. Johnson and John Connally were seen as the leaders of the right-wing faction, whereas Ralph Yarborough led the liberal wing committed to civil rights (so much so that Connally and Johnson accused him of being a communist). Conservatives were also concerned that Yarborough was having a growing influence on Kennedys views on civil rights. (Yarborough was the only member of the Senate representing a former Confederate state to vote for every significant piece of civil rights legislation during the 1950s and 1960s).
Johnson and Connally went back a long way. Connally had ran all of Johnsons election campaigns. In 1948 Connally was accused of fraud when he discovered at the last moment the existence of 200 votes for Johnson from Jim Wells County. It was these votes that gave Johnson an eighty-seven-vote victory.
On the morning of the assassination Johnson attempted to get the seating arrangements changed. For some strange reason he wanted Connally to be in his car and for Yarborough to go with Kennedy. This was a surprising idea as this would have given extra status to his political opponent. Connally clearly was not part of the conspiracy as he insisted in going in Kennedys car.
The first person to accuse Johnson of being involved in the conspiracy was a historian and failed politician called James Evetts Haley. His book A Texan Looks at Lyndon was a best seller and it is claimed that in Texas only the Bible outsold Haley's book in 1964. In the book Haley attempted to expose Johnson's corrupt political activities. This included a detailed look at the relationship between Johnson and Billie Sol Estes. Haley pointed out that three men who could have provided evidence in court against the corrupt activities of Estes, George Krutilek, Harold Orr and Howard Pratt, all died of carbon monoxide poisoning from car engines.
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. Finally, as Victor Lasky pointed out, Johnson had nursed a lifetime dream to be President. As Majority leader he never could have made it. But as Vice-president fate could always intervene."
The book received little publicity outside Texas (Haley had published it himself rather than use a national company). The journalist, Joachim Joesten, read the book and quoted extensively from it in his book The Dark Side of Lyndon Baines Johnson (1968). Joesten argued that Johnson was embroiled in two major scandals in 1963 (the cases of Billie Sol Estes and Bobby Baker). Johnson was now a political liability and was seriously considering replacing him as his running mate in 1964. This appeared to be the case as Robert Kennedy had already started briefing against Johnson concerning the cases of Billie Sol Estes and Bobby Baker.
Joesten also took the view that Texas oil barons led by Haroldson L. Hunt and Clint Murchison had helped to fund the assassination. In 1963 Kennedy was talking about bringing an end to the oil depletion allowance (27.5 per cent). It remained unchanged during the Johnson presidency. This resulted in a saving of over 100 million dollars to the American oil industry. Soon after Johnson left office it dropped to 15 per cent.
Joestens book could not find a publisher in America but it eventually found a small company in England to take a chance with the book. In America Joesten was accused of working for the KGB (Joesten had been a member of the Communist Party in Germany before leaving the country when Hitler gained power). It was claimed by the extreme-right that Joestens book was an attempt to cover-up KGBs role in the assassination.
Although James Evetts Haley and Joachim Joesten are able to explain why Johnson and his backers wanted Kennedy dead, they were unable to provide any actual evidence that he was involved in the assassination.
The campaign against Johnson as the man behind the assassination of Kennedy appeared to come to an end by the end of the 1960s. However, there was one man who was still working on the case. His name was Clint Peoples. As a Texas Ranger he was involved in the original investigation of Billy Sol Estes. He retired from the force in March, 1974 but continued to work on the case. He was especially interested in the death of a Department of Agriculture official called Henry Marshall. He was the official who originally approved Billie Sol Estes' cotton allotments. Officially he had committed suicide but rumours began to circulate that Marshall had been killed because he had become aware of Estes' scam. Officially he had committed suicide but Peoples suspected he had been murdered.
In 1984 Peoples convinced Estes to give evidence before the Robertson County Grand Jury. Estes testified that Lyndon B. Johnson, Mac Wallace, Cliff Carter and himself met several time to discuss the investigation being carried out by Henry Marshall. According to Estes, Johnson eventually said: "Get rid of him," and Wallace was given the assignment. In 1984 the Grand Jury changed the verdict on the death of Henry Marshall from suicide to death by gunshot.
On 9th August, 1984, Estes' lawyer, Douglas Caddy, wrote to Stephen S. Trott at the US Department of Justice. In the letter Caddy claimed that Billie Sol Estes, Lyndon B. Johnson, Mac Wallace and Cliff Carter had been involved in the murders of Henry Marshall, George Krutilek, Harold Orr, Ike Rogers, Coleman Wade, Josefa Johnson, John Kinser and John F. Kennedy. Caddy added: "Mr. Estes is willing to testify that LBJ ordered these killings, and that he transmitted his orders through Cliff Carter to Mac Wallace, who executed the murders."
The problem with this evidence is that Billie Sol Estes is a convicted conman and very few people took his claims seriously. Once again the attempts to link Johnson to the assassination appeared to have come to a halt. Although the publication of the transcripts of Johnsons telephone conversations revealed that he was heavily involved in the cover-up. The conversations between Johnson and Hoover are particularly illuminating. (For more details see Michael R. Beschlosss book, Taking Charge: The Johnson White House Tapes: 1963-64, Simon & Schuster, 1997). An interesting aside, the Johnson and Hoover friendship dated back to the FBI investigation of the 1948 ballot-rigging case.
On 24th February, 1992, Madeleine Brown gave an interview on the television show, A Current Affair. Brown claimed that on the 21st November, 1963, she was at the home of Clint Murchison. Others at the meeting included J. Edgar Hoover, Clyde Tolson, John J. McCloy, Richard Nixon and Haroldson L. Hunt. At the end of the evening Lyndon B. Johnson arrived: "Tension filled the room upon his arrival. The group immediately went behind closed doors. A short time later Lyndon, anxious and red-faced, re-appeared. I knew how secretly Lyndon operated. Therefore I said nothing... not even that I was happy to see him. Squeezing my hand so hard, it felt crushed from the pressure, he spoke with a grating whisper, a quiet growl, into my ear, not a love message, but one I'll always remember: "After tomorrow those goddamn Kennedys will never embarrass me again - that's no threat - that's a promise."
Browns story was investigated and Gary Macks research was particularly damaging: "Could LBJ have been at a Murchison party? No. LBJ was seen and photographed in the Houston Coliseum with JFK at a dinner and speech. They flew out around 10pm and arrived at Carswell (Air Force Base in northwest Fort Worth) at 11:07 Thursday night. Their motorcade to the Hotel Texas arrived about 11:50 and LBJ was again photographed. He stayed in the Will Rogers suite on the 13th floor and Manchester (William Manchester - author of The Death of a President) says he was up late. Could Nixon have been at Murchisons party? No. Tony Zoppi (Entertainment Editor of The Dallas Morning News) and Don Safran (Entertainment Editor of the Dallas Times Herald) saw Nixon at the Empire Room at the Statler-Hilton. He walked in with Joan Crawford (Movie actress). Robert Clary (of Hogans Heroes fame) stopped his show to point them out, saying . . . either you like him or you dont. Zoppi thought that was in poor taste, but Safran said Nixon laughed. Zoppis deadline was 11pm, so he stayed until 10:30 or 10:45 and Nixon was still there."
The next breakthrough in the case came when Mark Collum met a Native American named Loy Factor. At the time Factor was serving a 44 year sentence for murder. Foy confessed to Collum that he had been involved in the assassination of Kennedy. He claimed that he carried out the killing with Mac Wallace. Mark Collum and the writer Glen Sample in the self-published book, The Men on the Sixth Floor (1995).
Once again Mac Wallace had been named as one of the gunmen who killed Kennedy. Wallace had been left-wing student activist in Texas during the 1940s. This changed after he met Lyndon B. Johnson and in October, 1950, he found him a job working with the United States Department of Agriculture in Texas.
On 22nd October, 1951, Wallace murdered John Kinser. It is believed that Kinser had been killed to stop him talking about a scandal that involved Lyndon Johnson's sister, Josefa. At his trial in February, 1952, Wallace was found guilty of murder. Eleven of the jurors were for the death penalty. The twelfth argued for life imprisonment. The judge overruled the jury and announced a sentence of five years imprisonment. He suspended the sentence and Wallace was freed.
Wallace was defended by a man called John Cofer. This is the same man who represented Lyndon B. Johnson when he was accused of ballot-rigging when elected to the Senate in 1948. He also represented Billie Sol Estes when he was charged with fraud. According to a member of Cofers legal firm:
Estes tried to get rid of Cofer as his attorney. Cofer refused to be fired, saying he had already been paid. The next unpublicized issue between lawyer and client was whether Estes should testify or not. Estes was ready to talk, believing he could still charm anyone. Cofer was just as determined to keep Estes quiet, for the sole purpose of protecting Johnson. Estes might say too much and make things worse. On the other hand, Estes might convince the jury and get off. Like it was with Wallace in the Kinser case, there was no alternative, Estes had to be found guilty. Then anything he said later could be discredited. Estes grudgingly agreed. Cofer stayed with Estes.
On 7th January, 1971, Malcolm Wallace was killed while driving into Pittsburg, Texas. He appeared to have fallen asleep and after leaving the road crashed his car. Wallace, like so many people involved in this case, died while in a car. (This includes Clint Peoples who was killed in a car accident in Texas in 1992.)
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 Book Depository. According to Brown this fingerprint had now been identified as belonging to Mac Wallace.
Billie Sol Estes is still claiming he is the one who really knows who killed Kennedy. Last year he published in France his book, JFK, the Last Standing Man. In an interview with Pete Kendall, Estes said: He (Johnson) told me if I wouldnt talk, I would not go to jail. Estes has had no contact with LBJs other long-ago associates, he said, since the books publication. About all of them are dead, really. I think Im about the last one standing. Thats partly why, he said, he wasnt interested in doing a book sooner. Ive been accused of being dumb, he said, but Im not stupid.
Last year saw the publication of Barr McClellans book Blood, Money & Power: How LBJ Killed JFK. I have only just hold of a copy (it is currently not available in England). McClellan has an interesting story to tell.
As a student McClellan was a strong supporter of John F. Kennedy. After qualifying as a lawyer he went to work for the administration of President Lyndon B. Johnson. Initially he worked for the National Labor Relations Board but in 1964 he became an attorney for the Federal Power Commission.
It was while working for Johnson that he met Edward A. Clark. In 1966 McClellan joined the legal firm of Clark, Thomas and Winters, based in Austin, Texas. At that time the firm was run by the partners Edward Clark, Sam Winters, Don Thomas and Frank Denius. Clark had been working with Lyndon Johnson since the 1930s. Clark also represented prominent figures in the Texas oil industry. Soon after joining the company McClellan was told by colleagues that it was believed that Clark had organized the assassination of Kennedy.
In 1972 McClellan became a full partner in the legal firm. It was only at this stage that he was told about the illegal activities of the firm. John Cofer (yes the same man who had defended Lyndon Johnson, Mac Wallace and Billie Sol Estes) explained how the partners dealt with criminal activity: "In short, we helped plan crimes and keep the clients out of trouble."
McClellan eventually resigned from the firm after a dispute with Edward Clark. In 1977 he established his own law firm. Over the years he clashed several times with Clark. This is partly the motivation for publishing the book. There is also another reason. He still seems fairly committed to the political idealism that had encouraged him to support JFK in 1960.
McClellan attempts to provide the evidence that Edward A. Clark planned the Kennedy assassination on behalf of Lyndon Johnson. This includes a documents section at the back of the book. However, there is nothing in these documents that really proves that Clark and Johnson were behind the assassination. What Barr McClellan and Billie Sol Estes have done is to provide a story that makes sense. This is probably the best we can hope for. I suspect that we will never find enough evidence to be certain who planned and carried out Americas first Coup dEtat.