BOOK REVIEW: Pieces of the Puzzle by Gayle Nix Jackson (2017)
Some people try to understand the assassination of President Kennedy by using metaphors or matrix models, comparing it to a game of chess or a puzzle, and Gayle Nix Jackson adds some previously missing pieces of the Dealey Plaza picture in her book Pieces of the Puzzle, an important new book on the assassination.
As the late Jim Marrs says, “Some people believe that there’s nothing left to say about JFK’s assassination. They couldn’t be more wrong. There are still people alive who were there and who were witnesses to the goings on in Dallas and beyond. Gayle has found these people and talked to them and that’s what good investigative reporters do: they go to the source. In a time where so many JFK books are nothing more than recycled stories everyone has heard, Gayle brings us new information about people we’ve heard about but never knew. Now we do.”
As Gayle Nix Jackson’s second book on the assassination, after one on her grandfather’s film, this is an anthology with chapters written by James Wagenvoord, Doug Campbell, Steve Roe and Chris Scally, so there is more than one dimension to this book.
With a Foreward and a chapter written by Wagenvood, a former Life Magazine employee who gives good insight into the inner workings of the publishing giant that purchased and suppressed the Zapruder film. It’s a subject he will discuss further at the CAPA symposium at the Old Red Court House at Dealey Plaza on Thursday, November 15.
Steve Roe writes the chapter on “Welcome Mr. Kennedy to Dallas,” while Doug Campbell writes Chapter 8 on The Gunrunner (Loran Hall) and Chris Scally writes the final chapter on Closing In On the Nix Film?, about the frustrating search for the missing film that is now the subject of a legal civil court case.
Most people recognize Gayle Nix Jackson as the granddaughter of Orville Nix, the guy who made the other film of the assassination, the original of which has gone missing. There’s certainly more substance to this book than the one written by Zapruder’s granddaughter, who pooh poohs conspiracy theorists and those who question the provenance of that film. Establishing a clear provenance of the Z film is something that Zapruder could have but failed to do and something that must still be done. Where was the Z film and when was it there? That would seem to be a simple question that she could have answered, but doesn’t.
Gayle Nix Jackson gives us some answers we didn’t have before, and her writing cohorts Wagenvoord and Chris Scally go into the details of the Nix film. But this book goes beyond the film as she also goes into detail with the Walker shooting, the Cuban refugees in Dallas, the Odio incident, and Loran Hall, who the Warren Report falsely says was one of Odio’s visitors. Most significantly and miraculously, she tracked down and interviewed the obscure and elusive but important witness Walter J. Machann, a former Catholic priest who catered to the Cuban community in Dallas, including the Odios.
Years ago, when I finally tracked down Machann’s sister in Dallas, she said he was in Thailand, where I imagined him becoming a monk after leaving the priesthood, but the real story is even more interesting. Then known as Father Machann, in 1963 he was a young Catholic priest assigned by his bishop to cater to the welfare of the Cuban refugees in Dallas, mainly because he had attended the University of Mexico and spoke Spanish.
Among those he worked closely with were a number of Cuban exiles including Silvia Odio, who told Machann of her encounter with “Leon” Oswald and two Cubans a month before the assassination, seeking assistance for their anti-Castro activities. The next day one of the Cubans called Odio on the phone and told her the Gringo “Leon” was an “ex-Marine marksman who said that the Cubans had no guts or President Kennedy would have been killed after the Bay of Pigs.”
Machann first came into the picture when one of the rich society ladies he worked with in helping the Cubans refuges informed the authorities of the story of “Leon” Oswald visiting Odio with two Cubans.
Machann is one of the most mysterious and elusive characters that populate the JFK assassination story, yet she found him and convinced him to talk to her openly and candidly.
The ability to obtain the trust and belief of suspicious, mistrusting and previously abused witnesses is a difficult task, and Gaeton Fonzi, Dick Russell and Tony Summers are among the few who have attained the trust of Marina Oswald, who Priscilla Johnson McMillan betrayed, Sylvia Duran of Mexico City fame, and Silvia Odio.
Machann puts an exact time to the visit when he says that Odio told him the incident occurred on the night of a big Gala ball that featured actress Janet Leigh, which sets the once disputed date as Friday, September 27, when Oswald was, according to the Warren Report, on his way or in Mexico City seeking a visa to Cuba.
It doesn’t matter whether it was Oswald or an imposter posing as him, as the incident, as Gayle suggests, was clearly a ruse to associate Oswald with the liberal JURE faction of the anti-Castro Cuban groups as well as a preliminary chess move before the assassination actually took place. JURE was a group that Silvia’s father helped establish before he was arrested for his role in a plot to kill Castro, a plot that also included Antonio Veciana, who figures prominently in other aspects of the assassination drama.
Former Congressional investigator Gaeton Fonzi, who convinced both Veciana and Silvia Odio to testify before the House Select Committee on Assassinations (HSCA) but to their dismay, they were never called. Fonzi wrote; “With liberal leader Manolo Ray (the Odios) had formed one of the early, most aggressive anti-Castro groups, the mOvimiento Revolucionairo, del Pueblo (MRP). Manolo Ray would later be the leader of JURE (Junta Revolucianario).”
While a leader of the anti-Batista underground in Havana, Manolo Ray worked as the chief engineer at the Havana Hilton, which was managed by Colonel Frank M. Brandstetter. Colonel “Brandy” as he was known, was affiliated with the Dallas military intelligence unit headed by Col. Jack Crichton, but he reported directly to Colonel William B. Rose of the Pentagon office of ACSI – Assistant Chief of Staff for Intelligence, whose officers were all over the Dealey Plaza operation. When Castro arrived in Dallas he took over the penthouse of the Havana Hilton, at the invitation of Brandstetter, so they kept close tabs on him.
The Warren Report dismissed Odio’s story by falsely claiming her three visitors were Loran Hall, William Seymour and Lawrence Howard, another wrong conclusion that has since been debunked, and this book has an interesting chapter devoted to Loran Hall and his connections to the assassination.
The FBI and Secret Service also went looking for Machann and found him in New Orleans, staying at the home of Odio’s uncle Auhudin Guitart – who just happened to be one of the few people who attended the New Orleans court hearing the previous summer, where Oswald was fined $10 for fighting with Carlos Bruinguier and two other anti-Castro Cuban DRE members.
While the official government records say that it was Secret Service Inspector Thomas Kelley who met Machann in New Orleans, and had him call Siliva Odio to ask her about the encounter with Oswald and the Cubans, Machann says it was FBI Agent James Hosty. Machann knew Hosty as a parishioner at his Sacred Heart Parish, and Machann’s secretary taught Hosty’s son in school.
Machann was also the subject of a Life Magazine investigation that was never published, and was interviewed on camera by the Frontline documentary producers. Machann does get a mention in the book “Oswald Talked” and is the main character of Marianne Sullivan’s “Kennedy Ripples,” which has been described as the Harlequin Romance version of the assassination. She was one of a number of the female parishioners who had a crush on the young, handsome priest and wrote the book full of falsehoods, increasing Machann’s desire for anonymity.
But other than that, Gayle Nix Jackson is the only person he has told his story to, and what an interesting story it is.
According to a Dallas Morning News report Father Machann shared a Highland Park, Dallas stage with John Martino, a book signing promotion shortly after the publication of Martino’s book “I Was Castro’s Prisoner” (with Nate Weyl, NY Devin-Adair, 1963). Father Machann reportedly introduced Martino to a crowd of mostly John Birch Society members and Cubans, including Silvia’s sister Sarita. Sarita cried when Martino mentioned meeting her father in prison on the Isle of Pines.
Gayle refers to him as “Johnny Martino,” and showed Machann a photo of the man, but Machann has no memory of him, though Martino also features prominently in other aspects of the assassination story. Martino shared a Florida apartment with John Rosselli, the mobster who worked with the CIA on various plots to kill Castro and backed one of the JMWAVE commando teams that were paid by the CIA and trained to kill Castro. Martino’s wife told Anthony Summers that he expressed foreknowledge of the assassination before it occurred.
I had previously interviewed Martino’s Atlantic City sister and brother, and recorded a telephone interview with Nate Weyl, the co-author of Martino’s book.
Trudi Castorr, wife of Colonel William Castorr, also knew the Odios and Machann, and it was Colonel Castorr who Nancy Perrin Rich says met with her husband and Jack Ruby to discuss running guns to Cuba and exfiltrating refugees. But Machann doesn’t recall Martino or the Castorrs, or perhaps he doesn’t want to and knows they are hot suspects in this case.
Machann now tells us that he met the Odio sisters in the course of his parish work for the Catholic Cuban Refugee Relief. He says another Cuban – Joaquin Insua was also assigned to work with him, taking care of all the money that was raised to help the Cubans. As Machann put it: “I didn’t hire him. I don’t know who did, but I would think it was someone from the Diocese. We worked together. Mr. Insua kept our books so he knew all about the money we took in and gave out.”
Gayle writes; “In 1962, after Father Machann was appointed head of the Dallas Cuban Catholic Relief Program, his manager was put in place. Machann says he didn’t hire the man: Joaquin “Papa’ Insua. Insua’s daughter Marcella also helped as well as (a secretary), teaching Parish school classes and working part-time at Neiman-Marcus. One of her students was (FBI Agent) James Hosty’s son. The Insuas were related by marriage to the Odios. Joaquin Insua not only kept the books for the Cuban Catholic Committee, but was an FBI informant as well.”
Unknown to Machann or Gayle Nix Jackson, the Catholic Cuban Refugee Relief program was bankrolled primarily by the CIA through the Catherwood Foundation, an ostensibly philanthropic fund based in Philadelphia that I had wrote about years earlier.
From Machann, and Odio’s book of poetry, we learn that while Sylvia Odio was born to a wealthy family in Cuba, she attended a Catholic high school in Philadelphia and the Catholic Villanova University, not far from the Catherwood Fund office.
I first learned about the CIA’s ties to the Philadelphia based Catherwood Fund from the David Wise and Thomas Ross book “The Invisible Government,” where it is mentioned in a footnote of such foundations that served as financial fronts and conduits for CIA covert operations, including the Catherwood Foundation. An article in Philadelphia Magazine also intimated that the Catherwood Fund had some connection to Ruth Paine, who lived in Philadelphia at the time, and the assassination of President Kennedy. In the summer of 1976 I investigated the Catherwood Fund and read all of the newspaper clips that showed how it covertly served the CIA. From the news reports, that didn’t know of the CIA’s backing, I learned that the Catherwood Foundation financed the Cuban Aide Relief (CAR) to aide anti-Castro Cuban professionals who fled Cuba.
It also provided covert cover for CIA agent Joseph Smith when he was sent to the Philippines.
(See: Joseph Smith – “Portrait of a Cold Warrior” Ballantine Books, 1976, p. 251)
The Catherwood Fund also financed the Catholic Cuban Refugee Relief program, established medical clinics for the Cuban refugees in Miami, and financed other Catholic Church related facilities set up in Philadelphia, New Orleans, New York, Newark, Dallas and other places the Cuban refugees settled in large numbers.
Shortly after the assassination, Dr. Jose Ignorzio, the chief of clinical psychology for the Catholic Welfare Service in Miami, contacted the White House to inform the new administration that Oswald had met directly with Cuban ambassador Armas in Mexico, a story that was also falsely attributed to Silvia Duran, the Mexican national who worked at the Cuban Embassy in Mexico City and dealt with Oswald.
As House Select Committee on Assassinations (HSCA) investigator Dan Hardway and others have pointed out, most of the false stories implicating Castro in the assassination stemmed from assets and associates of CIA officer David Atlee Phillips. And this one originates from the CIA Catherwood funded Catholic Welfare Service, the same organization that Father Machann was affiliated with, even though he wasn’t aware of the CIA connection.
When the FBI found out about the Odio incident they listed a dozen people who should have been questioned about it, including Insua, Machann’s Catholic Cuban Welfare associate and his daughter, the secretary for the Dallas Catholic Cuban Refugee program. The Life Magazine investigation did the same thing, but never published what they found out.
While Machann was unaware of it, Joaquin Insua, the FBI informant who was inserted into the Dallas Cuban Refugee Relief to manage the funds and files, must have known that much of the money came from the CIA, and managed it.
Insua died suspiciously in December 1964, and his office was torched, with the fire destroying all of the Dallas Catholic Cuban Welfare records, emphasizing their importance.
Gayle asked Machann if he was around when the office caught fire and he responded: “No, I was gone by then. I know all the records that Mr. Insua kept were burned. He died not long afterwards, or maybe it was before.”
The Dealey Plaza Cleanup Crew at work.
Walter Machann is just one of dozens of still living witnesses who should have been questioned further about the assassination. These witnesses should be questioned again to verify their official statements and testimony or correct the record, as their numbers are dwindling.
Posterity would have missed Walter Machann’s fascinating story if it wasn’t for Gayle Nix Jackson, whose perserverance, tenacity and persuasiveness convinced the reluctant Machann to talk.
Machann has been invited, with other similar witnesses to tell their JFK assassination stories at the CAPA event at the Old Red Courthouse in Dealey Plaza in Dallas on Thursday, November 15.
For Gail Nix Jackson’s Interview Excerpts see:
To purchase the book:
Pieces of the Puzzle: An Anthology: Gayle Nix Jackson, Doug Campbell, Steve Roe, Chris Scally, James Wagenvoord: Amazon.com: Books
For more information on this event see: CAPA-US.org.''
Walter Machann and Gail Nix Jackson