Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Ruby and the Rangers

            In September five years ago a box arrived in the mail in response to my request for Texas' file on the Kennedy assassination.
           The last of the four principals who rode in the President’s car that day, Nellie Connally, widow of Governor “Big” John Connally had died a few months earlier in a nursing home and there were all those official promises, through the years, that all the facts had been revealed so—after the payment of $238 for copying costs and “staff overtime”—a little over 1,000 pages, the whole file according to the Texas Department of Public Safety arrived in the mail just like memorabilia from a long-lost aunt.
            There was a copy of Lee Harvey Oswald’s application for work at the Schoolbook Depository, his academic records in Ft. Worth (good at sports, bad at spelling) and a list of everything seized in a search of his home. There were the FBI notes of the interrogation of Jack Ruby as well as transcripts of police radio traffic the day the president was shot and witness statements taken on the street by the sheriff in and around Dealey Plaza. There were even statements by those present when Ruby murdered Oswald (one detective who knew Jack Ruby personally said he shouted out when he first saw the gun, “Jack, you son of a bitch, don’t do it!”) The scope of the documentation was wide—including the duty stations of every one of almost 500 cops working security that day—as well as detailed, with even a statement from the medical student summoned to the jail to put his finger in the suspect’s ass, in a belated search for hidden weapons. There was a letter a month afterwards from a representative for Oswald’s widow asking that her late husband’s things be returned to her, “the property I speak of includes . . . his rifle, pistol and other personal items.” But what wasn’t in the file was more interesting than what was: not a single page written by a Ranger.
            It was as if the files had been meticulously scrubbed to remove any trace of the Rangers or state troopers who worked security in Dallas that day, waiting at the Trade Mart for the president who would never show—any intelligence reports about what took place after the killing, the search for “subversives,” maybe Oswald but more likely Jack Ruby who lived and prospered as a law enforcement groupie, giving free cover and drinks in his club to anyone carrying a badge. There weren’t any Ranger reports on a case that involved not just the murder of the President of the United States but the serious wounding of the Governor of Texas followed by an investigation—statewide, national and international—that lasted a year and really has never ended.
            Wasn’t that peculiar?

            When the police searched Oswald’s home they found Russian literature from his time in the Soviet Union and his Marine dog tags with sharpshooter medal—and his library, all the books he owned, which tells us something about the man.
            Each page of the inventory was stamped by a Dallas police officer before being turned over to the FBI: something gloomy by Sartre, the anti-government bible 1984 and Revolution Must be a School of Unfettered Thought by Fidel Castro, along with enough pro-Cuba pamphlets to paper a protest march. Oswald also owned The Spy Who Loved Me and You Only Live Twice by Ian Fleming. Like President Kennedy he was a fan of James Bond. The only title missing was From Russia With Love.
            A clerk at the Department of Public Safety noted in a nice letter, in response to my puzzled inquiries, that he was also curious how there could be no documents by the Rangers and he had on his own initiative contacted Company B, stationed in Garland, that covers Dallas. He was told there were no files, he said. No one documented anything. That was the Rangers’ story and they were sticking to it. Confronted with this apparent discrepancy, this Texas-sized hole in the Lone Star narrative, a later letter from the same guy in the Department of Public Safety’s legal affairs office explained, in a slightly-less helpful manner, that the Rangers file may have once existed but may have once been given to Texas Christian University—perhaps in 1968, nobody in Austin was making any promises however.
            “The Department does not know,” the gentleman in legal affairs reported the Rangers’ new position, “if these documents did or did not pertain to any investigation into the assassination of President Kennedy. There is no record to indicate that these documents were or were not returned to the Department.”
            A spokeswoman for the State Library said they had files on the assassination. The files had recently arrived from, you guessed it, the Texas Department of Public Safety, but only like those sent to me—none of the documents appeared to actually have been produced by the Rangers themselves. Colonel Thomas A. Davis, Director of the Department of Public Safety, and ultimate boss of the Rangers, suggested in a letter to me that the files might have been destroyed as part of a “records retention schedule,” but the State Archivist said his office had never approved the destruction of any records of historical value, much less on the Kennedy assassination. Certainly nothing on the crime of the century, the Archivist said.
            So the question came to mind: Who was more likely to know what happened in Dallas? Who was more familiar with the historic figures present, Texas’s top political leadership including Vice President Lyndon Johnson and Governor Connally?
           Who would have known the “atmosphere” in North Texas better than the Rangers stationed in the Big D? If there had been a conspiracy who was more likely to have learned about it?

            After the assassination the Attorney General of Texas decided to look at the bigger picture the question of conspiracy, just as the Warren Commission was doing in Washington. At the time the A.G. was a man named Waggoner Carr.
            If Waggoner Carr was no legal scholar that’s not what the attorney general does but he wasn’t a bad lawyer either—a former speaker of the Texas House, a self-described “Connally Democrat,” Carr himself would later be charged by the FBI during the Sharpstown scandal and defend himself and be acquitted. For whatever reason—not the least of which may have been publicity—Waggoner Carr was not ready to hand over the case to federal prosecutors. Instead he hired two “special counsels” to help him find out what happened in Dallas. He called his investigation a “Texas Court of Inquiry.”
            Half a century later, it was a lucky break for me.
            The files from the Court of Inquiry were released to the State Archives just after my request to the Rangers and Carr’s notes offer a different take on the crime of the century, one that makes the Rangers’ silence through the decades so deafening today.
            In an entry dated November 26, four days after the shooting of the president, Attorney General Carr wrote in his journal, “I talked with Colonel Garrison on the phone”—Colonel Homer Garrison, founding Director of the Texas Department of Pubic Safety, the man who sat in the top cop’s chair in Austin for 30 years and was big daddy of the Rangers—“and asked him to determine who went to Mexico with Oswald at the time he was there from September 26 thru October 3, 1963. He was advised to check all points of entry on the border. Several hours later Colonel Garrison made a preliminary report stating that two blonde women and another man either went from Texas into Mexico with Oswald or came back with him and they would make a more complete report later.” In other words they didn't know shit. But within a week after the assassination the Rangers had checked all passengers on flights in and out of Dallas, determined that the same Jack Rubinstein who had previously been investigated by the Un-American Activities Committee was not the Jack Ruby who owned strip clubs in Dallas-Ft. Worth, and reported, according to Attorney General Carr’s notes, “Oswald did not have a telephone during this period of time and they cannot check his calls. They are still checking Ruby’s calls.” The follow up led to a correction from Colonel Garrison: “Oswald entered Mexico at Laredo crossing on September 26. His transportation is not known and he entered Mexico alone. He returned from Mexico on October 3. He returned by private auto, apparently alone. His visa shows that he just went to the interior—no destination stated.”
            The first special counsel the Texas Attorney General hired was Bob Storey, former dean
of the law school in Dallas. Storey’s job was administrative, to keep the notes and do all the bureaucratic tasks that keep an investigation going.
            The second special counsel who Gen. Carr hired was tasked with solving the crime: To look at the witness statements and find the discrepancies to run the traps that would ultimately answer the question whether Oswald and Ruby each acted alone and, just as important, independently.
            That man’s name—the second “Texas special counsel”—was Leon Jaworski.
            Yes, that Leon Jaworski—the future Watergate prosecutor who would, ten years later, take Woodward and Bernstein’s reporting and dismantle a presidency. In 1963, two months after the assassination, Jaworski was a lawyer in Houston, a former Army colonel who like Dean Bob Storey made his name prosecuting Nazis. Leon Jaworski was the man picked by Attorney General Carr to break the case—to find out if there was a conspiracy and if yes, what kind. He apparently had his own ideas about the Kennedy assassination. You have to read between the lines but Jaworski's preliminary take on the case echoes the suspicions that were already rampant among the public. From his office in Houston, on January 27, 1964, two months after John Kennedy's murder Jaworski wrote a letter marked “CONFIDENTIAL” to Attorney General Carr about how to get to the bottom of certain “rumors” they heard about the assassination—rumors which also help explain what may make the Rangers so nervous today. “In order to keep aftermaths from placing you in a position of possible criticism,” Special Counsel Jaworski wrote to the attorney general of Texas, “[and] to the end of being of the maximum assistance to the Warren Commission,” he suggested that Gen. Carr send a letter to Washington. “Of course, it is to be assumed that the ferreting out of this matter,” Jaworski told his boss, “will be resourcefully and completely done. On the other hand if this is not done and something should show up at a later date, even a year or five years from now, there would be a clamor.”
            The letter that Colonel Jaworski was suggesting be sent to Washington referred to a meeting that had just taken place between Washington and Texas prosecutors about the course of the investigation, regarding “the subject of the discussion of last Friday at which Chief Justice Warren, you, my special counsel and I, [Dallas D.A.] Henry Wade and his assistant, Mr. Alexander, were present, I respectfully suggest that the Commission consider taking the following steps.” Jaworski’s plan was to find any connections the killers might have with others, yes—but the targets of the search Jaworski was suggesting were not the usual suspects in the deaths of President Kennedy and Lee Harvey Oswald. Not the mob, or right-wing extremists, not Cubans or Communists.
            The suspect was a member or members of law enforcement itself.
            “The ferreting out of this matter,” Jaworski described to the attorney general, required three steps, each in sequence after the other. He already had two suspects in mind.
            First he wrote: “From the director of both agencies involved, there should be obtained the names of every agent and representative in service in the Dallas area between the months of August and December. This information must be complete so that every single representative who acted for these agencies in that area, whether only a few days or for several months, is to be included.” Second: “Each of the men on these two lists should be examined under oath to determine whether he has any knowledge of the subject matter under discussion.” Third: “The director—the number one man of each agency—as well as the district director of each agency, being the district in which Dallas lies, each should similarly be examined to ascertain whether any of them has any knowledge of the matter under inquiry.” The attorney general’s file doesn’t specify the nature of “the matter under inquiry” or who the suspects were by name. But in another letter, on May 12, 1964, from Gen. Carr to Colonel Garrison, the general makes an odd plea.
            Carr tells Colonel Garrison that Texas law enforcement has been “most helpful” up to that point but that the Warren Commission needs to know if there’s anything Washington hasn’t seen.
            “’The Commission,’” Carr quotes a communication from Chief Justice Warren, “’would like to know whether any law enforcement agency in the State of Texas possesses any information not hitherto disclosed to this Commission concerning the association of Lee Harvey Oswald or Jack Ruby with any Communist or subversive organizations in the United States or abroad, or with any criminals or criminal groups either in the United States or abroad.” The second part of the letter probes further. “The Commission would also like to know whether any law enforcement agency in the State of Texas possesses any investigatory reports, police records, or other official data not hitherto disclosed to the Commission concerning the assassination of President Kennedy and the death of Lee Harvey Oswald.”
            Colonel Garrison’s response is not included in the attorney general’s files. And after the request for disclosure from Washington was transmitted—something happened to change the course of the investigation in Texas. The file got closed in Austin. The Court of Inquiry, under sudden pressure from D.C., went out of business. It seems someone didn’t dig what was happening in River City. It’s important to note that Attorney General Carr signed off on the findings of the Warren Commission—that both Ruby and Oswald acted alone. But that wasn’t the finding he came to independently, and he complained officially to Washington that, after he agreed to limit his investigation he was denied promised information from federal investigators.
            In his letter to Waggoner Carr, and the proposed letter to Chief Justice Warren, Colonel Jaworski mentioned two government agencies “rumored” to have been somehow involved in Dallas, possibly running Oswald, or Ruby, as informants or agents, assassins or thugs. The FBI is presumably one. The other, well—conspiracy theorists have always liked the CIA as “accomplice” in the crime of the century. But there’s a better suspect. The agencies that Jaworski describes in his letter have district offices that cover Dallas. Of course the CIA would be a possibility—if the CIA had a North Texas office. Perhaps they do.
            As it turns out there was a hint at the mystery agency’s identity in the records that came from the Texas Department of Public Safety. In the box was another list of seized evidence—just like the one detailing what was taken from Oswald’s home. Jack Ruby’s car was his office. After his arrest the Dallas cops found the vehicle parked not far from police headquarters. In it was everything Ruby had used to run his business and do what he did, whatever that was—the hustling, small-time thuggery, the booze and the girls. The inventory from the car lists more than $1,000 in cash, his clubs’ receipts. There was a pair of brass knuckles, tool of his trade. The only reason Ruby’s gun wasn’t in the glove compartment where he normally kept it was that he had taken it with him to shoot Lee Harvey Oswald.
            In the car there was also a stack of free passes to his shows that Ruby gave out as promotions, and a collection of business cards collected as connections. One card was from a local justice of the piece, asking any police officer to please render assistance to Ruby—a get-out-of-jail-free card, the kind of thing you show to a cop when you’re pulling out your license after you get stopped. One of the business cards was for a man named “W.M. Naylor,” showing the address P.O. Box 4087 in Austin. That was interesting. If you’ve ever made an open records request of the Texas Rangers, Box 4087 would be familiar. It’s the address of the Texas Department of Public Safety headquarters.
            “W.M. Naylor,” according to the Department of Public Safety’s personnel records was in November 1963 the chief of the DPS narcotics squad—in other words, Texas’s top narc. But Naylor actually transferred to narcotics from the Rangers where—also according to Department of Public Safety records—he was in the “Bureau of Intelligence.” Historically, investigators have always tried to make a connection between Ruby and Oswald, or failing that, Oswald and the FBI. A better connection is Ruby and the Rangers.
            Unfortunately the exact nature of the relationship is unclear because the Rangers report they have "no records" on the Kennedy assassination.

            The month after my request for the Kennedy material, an intelligence analyst for
the Texas Department of Public Safety contacted the State Archives about delivering some old files for safekeeping.
            According to an internal email sent soon after by the archivist’s office, “DPS Criminal Intelligence Service has called about records that fall under their series, Criminal Investigation Report . . . . Over the years they've kept reports of cases with historical significance, like JFK's assassination, and Clyde Barrow and Bonnie Parker. They recently had an open records request for the JFK material and found out how much work goes into reviewing records and making them available . . . . Before they start shredding, they wonder if we have any interest in selecting any cases with perceived historical value for the State Archives. The records include police reports, evidence submitted (objects like money plates in counterfeiting cases), polygraph tests, affidavits, audiotapes of interviews. . . . [Texas Public Information Act] and privacy issues likely abound. The most voluminous case is the JFK assassination files . . .”
            The list provided by DPS included the most famous Ranger cases: Sam Bass, the 1969 University of Texas Tower massacre in Austin and a file called “Corruption in Texas,” a likely page-turner. A month later, the promised material still had not been delivered to the Archives, and a Department of Public Safety intelligence analyst named Victoria Sungino, assigned to facilitate the transfer, wrote an email to the State Archives staff that there was a delay in deciding what to send over because, “I am waiting on my commander to view the list first. He said there are some cases that I will just have to shred because of the sensitivity of the case.”
            Eventually, all the files listed were sent over by the Department—according to Archives staff—but there is no way of knowing what pages did not survive the trip from the Rangers headquarters to the State Library. The Kennedy file had obviously been thinned. Originally described by the Department of Public Safety as the largest part of the papers, measured in cubic feet, when the papers arrived at the State Library the file on a murderer named Henry Lee Lucas was the biggest, followed by the University of Texas Tower shootings. The Kennedy file was a distant third which may help answer the question about the second agency under suspicion by Colonel Jaworski.

            After his arrest Lee Oswald was given permission to use the telephone.
            Kept under surveillance by a Lieutenant Lord, who was in charge of the Dallas city jail the night after the president died, Oswald was actually escorted to the phone by a guard by the improbable name, “J.L Popplewell.”
            The prisoner’s first try at reaching his party in New York was unsuccessful. Most assassination buffs believe that Oswald called John Abt, the general counsel of the Communist Party USA to ask for legal help. Abt testified later to the Warren Commission that he never spoke to Oswald, that in fact he was out of town the night the accused might have tried to reach him. In any case, whomever Oswald wanted to talk to wasn’t home.
            Later that evening Lee Harvey Oswald was taken back to the jail phone to try again. “Popplewell put Oswald in the telephone booth and was standing nearby,” Lt. Lord said in a statement that he gave to the FBI and is included in the box of Rangers’s papers that the Department of Public Safety says doesn’t exist. “I called to Popplewell and told him that Oswald was allowed to make his call privately. Popplewell was advised to keep Oswald in view but to stay back a reasonable distance. Oswald was in the telephone booth about thirty minutes, making his call and then talking to his party. After Oswald completed his call he was returned to his cell by J.L. Popplewell.”
            If that were any time since 9/11, imagine how different the scene would be.
           Concerns for Oswald’s privacy would be of minimal interest. Certainly we would know who he telephoned because the call would be recorded in Dolby. There'd be video too. The telephone operator who connected Mr. Oswald with his party in New York would be followed home, and John Abt or whoever Oswald spoke with would be investigated down to the fillings in his teeth. The transfer Oswald was awaiting would be to Guantanamo.
            Fast forward half a century.
            Lt. Lord and Officer J.L. Popplewell probably couldn’t find work at the Department of Homeland Security today. By the time of the 9-11 their kind of innocence was no longer in demand due in part to what happened in Dallas.
            So why is what the Texas Rangers knew still important? Because that's the way we were, and it’s a way we’ll never be again.

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