I walked over to 531 Lafayette Place. There was no inscription on the door denoting it as Banister's business, only a realtor's shingle and a sticker of the then-nascent Republican Party of Louisiana. The door opened to stairs leading to a second-floor space that was unoccupied. Diagonally across the space was a second set of stairs, which led down to a door on Camp Street. The number over the door read "594." 594 Camp Street was the return address Lee Harvey Oswald had stamped on the first batch of pro-Castro literature he handed out on the streets of the Crescent City in August 1963- Subsequent batches bore a post office box number, suggesting that the use of the street address had been a lapse. What was Oswald's connection to Banister?
When I reported the Camp Street discovery to Garrison, I recommended that we assign priority to interviewing Banister. Too late, he said, Banister had been found dead in bed in June 1964, his pearlhandled, monogrammed .357 Magnum revolver at his side. Although there was no autopsy, his demise was attributed to a heart attack. But Brooks, who had done some clipping and filing for Banister in 1962, had identified his deputy, Hugh F. Ward, as also belonging to the Minutemen as well as an outfit called the Anti-Communism League of the Caribbean, which was headed by Banister after he came to New Orleans in 1955. Brooks credited the ACLC with helping the CIA overthrow the leftist Arbenz government in Guatemala, opening the way for a succession of rightist strongmen. The ACLC continued to act as an intermediary between the CIA and right-wing insurgency movements in the Caribbean, including Cuba after Castro gained power. There was a chance that Ward would be willing to talk, but it turned out he was gone as well. On May 23, 1965, he was at the controls of a Piper Aztec chartered by former New Orleans mayor DeLessups Morrison when the craft, engines sputtering, crashed on a fog-shrouded hill near Ciudad Victoria, Mexico, killing all on board. That left Maurice Brooks Gatlin, Sr., an attorney associated with Banister, on Brooks's list of key Minutemen in Louisiana. According to Brooks, Gatlin served as legal counsel to the ACLC. In fact, Brooks had been a kind of protege of Gatlin. The attorney's passport was stamped with visas of countries around the world. In Brooks's estimation, he was a "transporter" for the CIA. On one occasion Gatlin bodaciously told Brooks, "I have pretty good connections. Stick with me-I'll give you a license to kill." Brooks became a firm believer in 1962 when Gatlin displayed a thick wad of bills, saying he had $ioo,ooo of CIA money earmarked for a French reactionary clique planning to assassinate General de Gaulle. Shortly thereafter Gatlin flew to Paris, and shortly after that came the Secret Army Organization's abortive ambush of the French president. But Gatlin as well was beyond Garrison's reach. In 1964 he fell or was pushed from the sixth floor of the Panama Hotel in Panama, dying instantly.
As I sat in Garrison's office discussing the fates of Banister, Ward and Gatlin, my mind flashed back to the previous November when Ramparts had run a story on the "mysterious deaths" theory of doughty Texas editor Penn Jones, Jr. With David Welsh, I had gone down to Midlothian, a dusty cotton market town south of Dallas, to meet with Jones on his front porch. He had compiled a list of an unlucky thirteen people who were witnesses to the assassination or somehow touched by it and had died violently or questionably inside of three years, which he saw as a highly excessive actuarial rate. One on the list was Tom Howard, Jack Ruby's initial attorney, who concocted the story that the mobster killed Oswald to spare Jacqueline Kennedy the ordeal of a trial (he died of a supposed heart attack). Another was Lee Bowers, who was sitting in a railroad tower behind the grassy knoll and spotted two strange men behind the picket fence on the knoll just as the presidential limousine passed and a flash and commotion ensued (he was involved in a one-car accident). A third was Earlene Roberts, the boarding house manager who stated that Oswald rushed into his room for a few minutes shortly after the shooting in Dealey Plaza, during which a Dallas police car stopped in front and honked twice as if to signal (she was struck by a presumed heart attack). The mysterious-deaths article so fascinated Walter Cronkite that he sent a film crew to Midlothian for a CBS News series on Jones. Although the theory caught on as "evidence" of a conspiracy, I was bemusedly skeptical.
But the untimely deaths of Banister, Ward and Gatlin gave me pause that there might in fact have been systematic elimination of people who knew too much. Two months earlier there had been a fourth curious mortality in this set: David William Ferric, an investigator for the ex-FBI official's private detective agency, Guy Banister & Associates. Garrison's interest in Ferric dated back to the morning after the assassination, when he summoned his staff to the office for a "brainstorming" session to explore the possibility that Oswald had accomplices in New Orleans.
Although it would not be known until after the Warren Report was published, on that same Saturday morning the Secret Service was checking out the return address of 544 Camp Street that the accused assassin had rubber-stamped on some of his handouts promoting a rump chapter of the Fair Play for Cuba Committee. The agents asked the building manager if Oswald "had occupied office space" but learned instead that "Cuban revolutionaries had been tenants until recently." They talked to an exile accountant who revealed that "those Cubans were members of organizations known as `Crusade to Free Cuba Committee' and `Cuban Revolutionary Council,"' which had been headed by Sergio Arcacha Smith, a former Batista diplomat. The agents reported that they had been unable to find any trace of the Fair Play for Cuba Committee, evincing no curiosity over why pro-Castro literature would bear the address of anti-Castro groups.
On Monday, the Warren Report later disclosed, the FBI's Ernest C. Wall, Jr., a Spanish-speaking agent who liaisoned with the exile groups, called Guy Banister to inquire about Arcacha Smith. According to Wall's single-paragraph report, Banister responded that Arcacha Smith had been the head of the Cuban Revolutionary Council and "some time ago had told him on one occasion that he, Smith, had an office in the building located at 594 Camp Street." Nothing about Banister and the Cuban Revolutionary Council, created by the CIA as an umbrella group for the Bay of Pigs invasion, being under the same roof. As a limited hangout, it was a classic. The Warren Report dutifully stated that "investigation has indicated that neither the Fair Play for Cuba Committee nor Lee Oswald ever maintained an office at that address."