Acquaintance with an assassin

The retelling of the story of Fred O'Sullivan and his connection to the events surrounding the assassination of President John F. Kennedy.

John F. Kenndy's Limousine (photo credit: REUTERS)
John F. Kenndy's Limousine
(photo credit: REUTERS)
Not many Israelis have a personal connection to the assassination of president John F. Kennedy. My father did. He knew the man who killed the American president.
“Lee shot the president,” my father would say. “Lee Harvey Oswald.”
The 50th anniversary of JFK’s assassination has sparked a slew of articles, books, documentaries and reports raising conspiracy theories that Oswald was preposterously incapable of carrying out this shooting by himself. There must have been more to it than the act of an angry young man. Maybe it was the Mafia, the Soviets, vice president Lyndon B. Johnson or the Cubans, but Oswald couldn’t have truly acted on his own.
I’d always known my father was acquainted with the assassin Oswald. They had not only grown up half a block away from each other in New Orleans, but had shared homerooms at school. My father Fred, a.k.a. Efraim, sat in front of Oswald for years. O’Sullivan next to Oswald.
Somewhere back in my mother’s house today there is a letter from Jacqueline Kennedy, thanking my father for appearing before the Warren Commission that investigated the assassination. It wasn’t something he spoke of often – just a tidbit of information in a life that went on to greater adventures.
Sure enough, his testimony is there. On April 7, 1964, Fred, then a 26-year-old detective in the New Orleans Police Department’s vice squad, skipped up the steps into the Old Civil Courts building and presented himself to the President’s Commission on the Assassination of President John F. Kennedy, later to be known as the Warren Commission.
Since the day after the assassination he had been in touch with the FBI, trying to help them put together a profile of Oswald and possible links to others.
JFK’s assassination has always been clouded by conspiracy. My father would often wonder, how could a lone gunman kill the president of the United States traveling in a moving motorcade? He’d always intimate later that he believed there was more to the story, and that plots to kill JFK and assassinate black rights activist Martin Luther King Jr. crossed paths in New Orleans. There were a lot of mysteries in New Orleans in the 1960s and my father, as commander of the NOPD intelligence division, had a ringside seat.
My father’s ties to Oswald went beyond the classroom. In high school, my dad was involved with the Civil Air Patrol and tried to get “Lee,” as he always referred to him, to join the drill marching team.
“Oswald carried himself always erect, always gave the impression that he could be marching, that he may be marching, eyes straight ahead, head straight, shoulders back, so he impressed me as the sort of fellow that would really fit well on the drill team,” Fred told the Warren Commission. “He seemed like he could – well, he even gave the impression that he would make a pretty good leader if he ever got into the squadron.”
The commission questioned him over a possible “relationship” between Oswald and a man called David Ferrie, a known homosexual with dubious links to the mob, who mentored the Civil Air Patrol cadets.
“I am trying to get things straight in my mind,” the young detective said.
“Of course, I have been trying to get it straight in my mind, just what I know and what I have heard. It gets kind of confusing when you read so much. Sometimes you remember things that you don’t really remember, you know.”
He told the commission that Ferrie (who earlier had been charged with a “crime against nature with a juvenile”) had been arrested after the assassination in connection with “this Oswald situation.”
“Now, you go ahead,” encouraged Wesley Liebeler, a member of the commission.
Fred told them how shortly after the assassination, he and another detective had gone to the New Orleans airport to examine the private airplane of Ferrie, who was linked with local mafia godfather Carlos Marcello.
“We wanted to check it to see if it was flyable, to see possibly whether he had been flying it lately, with the thought that he may have transported Oswald to Dallas… We found the plane, but his plane was not in flyable condition. It had flat tires, instruments missing, needed a paint job. We also checked to see if he had rented an aircraft from any of the companies out there, and one company in particular said they wouldn’t rent him an airplane.”
An apparent dead end – even though New Orleans district attorney Jim Garrison would later finger Ferrie, memorably portrayed by Joe Pesci in Oliver Stone’s JFK, as a prime suspect in the assassination and would haul him in for more questioning more than three years after the killing.
Garrison would talk of the JFK murder as a “homosexual thrill killing,” and later as a wider CIA/anti-Castro/ military-industrial plot, asserting a major role for Ferrie in both; Ferrie was still denying all involvement when he died mysteriously in February 1967. Kennedy conspiracists kept returning to my father over the years, even into the 1980s.
When I close my eyes, I can just make out my old man as a young cop. His hair cut in the traditional flat top, his soul still Irish Catholic before he saw the light and we threw away our Christmas tree and took off for Zion land, where he would serve as an Israeli cop.
My father voted for the Catholic Kennedy.
JFK’s death wounded the hearts of so many men, catching them offguard and suddenly making them think of what they had done and what they could be. You can almost hear in his testimony how shattered he was.
“Well I have put quite a bit of thought on this ever since it all happened,” he told the commission, before concluding regretfully: “As much as I would like to help, I just can’t think of anything else [to add]...There is nothing else I can think of.”
Standing before the Warren Commission then, I am sure that young man never fathomed his life would soon become one with a people settling accounts with Nebuchadnezzar, Titus and Hitler.
A few weeks before he passed away in 2006, I asked him “Who killed JFK?” as if he held the secret to the Holy Grail of America’s most puzzling enigma.
“Just Lee,” said the old policeman. “By himself.”