Joan Mellen’s Faustian Bargains (Bloomsbury, NY 2016)
It’s quite refreshing to read Joan Mellen’s Faustian Bargains – Lyndon Johnson and Mac Wallace in the Robber Baron Culture of Texas, because it fills in the blanks that LBJ’s official biographers leave out while at the same time debunking some of the conspiracy theories that have swirled around LBJ’s alleged role in the assassination of President Kennedy.
Such debunking has usually been left to those who attempt to blame the assassination on a deranged lone nut, so having Mellen, a certified conspiracy theorists do it shows that it’s possible to take the high road and not fall for every silly conspiracy theory that comes down the pike without a real basis in fact.
From Craig Zerbel, Robert Morrow and Barr MacClellen to Roger Stone, we have heard the LBJ did it stories for years, but not until now have we really had a reasonable published response.
LBJ certainly answers the Que Bono? question, he was in the motorcade a few cars back and ducked as shots were fired that killed Kennedy, immediately assumed the presidency and took over the reins of power. But he certainly wasn’t the mastermind behind the Dealy Plaza operation, the covert military style ambush that took Kennedy’s life and subverted the democratic process that American has yet to fully recover from.
I knew this even before reading Mellen’s convincing book, since it is now quite clear that what happened at Dealey Plaza was not so much a plot but a plan, a covert action contingency plan that was originally developed to be used against Fidel Castro but redirected to JFK in Dallas. It was very sophisticated plan that not only included a sniper attack on Kennedy riding in an open car at a key point in a motorcade, but included a psychological warfare twist to blame the murder on pro-Castro Cuban Communists.
That aspect of the plan didn’t work, which gives us a window into the operation that otherwise succeeded – JFK did die and Castro was blamed, but it didn’t stick, not only because it was transparently false, but because LBJ rejected it early on the evening of the assassination.
Holed up with his closest cronies in his office in the Executive Office Building (EOB) next door to the White House LBJ realized that to blame the assassination on Castro and to charge the accused assassin Lee Harvey Oswald with furthering a communist conspiracy would lead to not only an invasion of Cuba, as that part of the plan called for, but possibly a full scale nuclear war with the Soviets and the loss of millions of lives. From the EOB LBJ called Texas officials to call off their plan to charge Oswald with conspiracy, but he also used the nuke war excuse to convince Earl Warren and others to be part of the Warren Commission cover-up, and accept Oswald not as a conspiratorial commie but as a deranged lone nut whose motives we will never know once he was killed in police custody.
So while LBJ was incapable of concocting the Dealey Plaza operational plan, especially the psych-war sidebar to blame the assassination on Castro, a disinformation ploy that continues today, he exonerated himself by rejecting that part of the deal, and settling on the lone nut scenario.
Those who continue to blame LBJ often refer to Billie Sol Estes and Mac Wallace, both notably absent from traditional LBJ biographies (ie. Caro), and Mellen fills in the blanks admirably.
Even a cursory review of LBJ’s character reveals the nasty, greedy power hungry maniac he was, Mellen spells it out loud and clear, though in the end, still exonerating him from being responsible for the JFK hit.
While Billie Sol compiled a list of a dozen or so murders he blamed on LBJ, usually naming Mac Wallace as the hit man, Mellen finds that Wallace was actually a scholar with a masters degree from Columbia, and an ex-Marine, whose Woodrow Wilson Texas high school mates included Jack Ruby’s pal R. D. Matthews and one Ralph Gleb, who was on the football team Wallace quarterbacked, and is suspected by former classmates as being the muscular round faced fellow photographed in Mexico City that was misidentified by the CIA as Oswald. That is one fact that can and should be confirmed or refuted.
Wallace is also the convicted murderer of a professional golfer whose sexcapades with Wallace’ wife and LBJ’s sister sparked Wallace to murder him in his pro shop with a Nazi officer’s pistol, a crime for which Wallace, with the help of LBJ’s attorney, got off with a suspended sentence.
Wallace then got a job with California defense contractor LTV, getting a security clearance with the help of LBJ and D. H. Byrd, the owner of the Texas School Book Depository, a security clearance that the Office of Naval Intelligence (ONI) unsuccessfully tried to get revoked for over a decade.
Mellen’s research, as she acknowledges, were greatly advanced by FBI and ONI records collected by former Dallas policeman, the late J. Harrison, who submitted Wallace’s fingerprints and that of a fingerprint taken from one of four boxes that were stacked by the Sixth Floor TSBD window used by the sniper who shot at JFK. The Texas fingerprint examiner concluded that the pinky print found on the box matched that of Wallace, and that supplied the single piece of hard evidence linking Wallace and LBJ to the assassination.
But Mellen discovered that the original fingerprint expert who made that match was not actually certified as a court expert and used a smudged print, so she took a more clear copy of Wallace’s prints and the pinky print found on the TSBD box to another, certified New Jersey fingerprint expert who determined that the prints in fact did not match.
So Mac Wallace was not the mystery man in the Sixth Floor TSBD window with a rifle, and neither was Oswald, so the pinky print belonged to someone else, possibly the real assassin.
Besides that one print, there are 20 other fingerprints that were lifted from those four boxes that have not been connected to anyone, though some did belong to TSBD employees including Oswald and Dallas police officers who handled the boxes. But of the 20 unidentified prints, some of them could belong to the real assassin, and an attempt should be made to identify them, something that is much easier to do today than it was in 1963.