Sylvia Odio vs. Liebeler & the La Fontaines
By Jim DiEugenio
Just declassified at the National Archives is the record of Gaeton Fonzi’s interview with Silvia Odio for the Church Committee. We choose to reprint it here in full for two reasons. First, because it is interesting to note the actions of one Wesley Liebeler, UCLA law professor, in his apparent attempt to discredit her. There are still some who believe today that the Warren Commission was actually a fairly neutral body that was just tricked and lied to by the FBI and CIA. We find this an untenable position. We think the Commission, from top to bottom, was prejudiced against Oswald from its inception.
Wesley Liebeler is a good example of this. Liebeler was one of the strongest voices against the critics in their early days. As noted elsewhere (see page19), he spoke out against Jim Garrison early and often. The day after David Ferrie’s untimely and mysterious death, the New York Times and Associated Press quoted him to the effect that there was nothing of consequence to Ferrie’s role, the man was uninvolved and that was the reason for his name not appearing in the Warren Report. After that, it is apparent from one of his talks at UCLA, that he had been in contact with James Phelan and was preaching that FBI informant’s line on the “circus atmosphere” of the Garrison investigation. According to a memo from Sylvia Meagher’s 1965 files, when David Lifton was speaking to Liebeler about an upcoming private critics’ conference in New York, Liebeler corrected Lifton on the date of the meeting. Perhaps most revealing of all, before the HSCA, Liebeler had the following colloquy:
Q: Had you prior to going to work for the Warren Commission had any prior experience with any of the federal agencies, investigative agencies, FBI, CIA?
A: I was interviewed by a CIA agent once when I was younger.
Q: Did you form any impressions about them?
A: I was favorably impressed.
The second reason we have decided to print the document is because of the treatment of the Odio incident in the recent La Fontaine book, Oswald Talked. In our last issue, Carol Hewett pointed out some serious errors that the La Fontaines made in their assessment and treatment of the John Elrod story. There are some other questionable aspects to this rather curious book. In some ways it attempts to take us back to 1964. Relying on Gerald Posner’s new variation, the book contains support for the single-bullet theory (p. 376). Ignoring the work of John Newman, John Armstrong, and the now indisputable evidence of Oswald’s Minox camera, they conclude that Oswald was a true Marxist (p. 161). Concerning David Ferrie, they take the rather breathless stance that he was an unwitting dupe hired to create a phoney trail that would unwittingly link him to the assassination (p. 189). Consider this logic: we are to believe that cagey Guy Banister decked Jack Martin because he knew that Martin would spill the beans about Ferrie and lead Garrison back to Banister himself.
All of the above are reminiscient of those two veteran researchers Paul Hoch and Peter Dale Scott. The pair figure prominently in the book’s acknowledgements. Scott wrote a rave review about this book for the current issue of Prevailing Winds. Since Scott and Hoch have seen many of the new file releases, we find it odd that they would back a book that claims, in its very subtitle, to be based on the “New Evidence in the JFK Assassination.” For the truly new evidence completely contradicts the above deductions. For instance, it now appears that the cover-up about Ferrie and Clay Shaw goes all the way up to Allen Dulles’ old friend and protègè McGeorge Bundy. In a recently declassified FBI memorandum of 5/10/67, the following paragraph is included:
Branigan advised all information concerning investigation by SA Kennedy had been forwarded to the Department and to the Warren Commission, that certain of this information was sealed and this decision had been made by GEORGE McBUNDY [sic], Presidential Advisor, and members of the Warren Commission, and principally pertained to information showing certain people were homosexuals, etc., was not germane to the investigation, and McBUNDY [sic] and the Commission decided this should be sealed...
(“SA Kennedy” refers to New Orleans FBI agent Regis Kennedy. )
Since Bundy and Dulles had worked together since the Dewey campaign of 1948, and Bundy, according to “the new evidence,” was the point man in the White House delivering propaganda briefings on the Warren Report two months before it was issued, we find it hard to believe that the above is all completely innocent. Especially since both Shaw and Ferrie worked for the CIA when Dulles was chief.
The above also belies another underlying tenet of the La Fontaines, namely that only the FBI was employing the Marxist Oswald while this brilliant Marxist manipulator was infiltrating all those unsuspecting, naive CIA agents and assets in New Orleans and finally Dallas. To do this, they ignore the fact of Oswald’s CIA files being shepherded by Counterintelligence Chief James Angleton through the darkest sections of the Agency; the highly suspicious roles of Ruth and Michael Paine; the fact that the FPCC was the subject of a CIA operation launched by David Phillips and James McCord; that Phillips then followed Oswald to Mexico City in October to prepare the false and incriminating transcripts in the Cuban embassy that Hoover was in the dark about on November 23rd!
But the most disturbing aspect of the book is the chapter on the Odio episode. It is quite simply—in tone, method, and intent—a hatchet job that would bring smiles to the faces of Walter Sheridan and, of course, Liebeler. The method of personal ridicule extends down to comparing Odio to a delusionary victim of a UFO sighting and portraying her sister Annie as a dim-witted, weak-willed accomplice. In a case like this, no witness is above question, as long as the questioner plays fair and square. We won’t go into the La Fontaines’ specious methodology of carefully selecting certain aspects of the Odio record. Like Carol Hewett, Steve Bochan does a good expose of their incomplete presentation in the current Summer issue of Assassination Chronicles. Suffice it to say that we have problems with any researcher who chooses to trust and use the likes of Burt Griffin and Liebeler over Gaeton Fonzi and Sylvia Meagher.
We would like to make one additional comment on the document below. This may further elucidate Odio quoting Liebeler about Earl Warren in regard to covering “this thing up” (see the callout on this page). When Probe interviewed an HSCA staffer about Odio, he told us that the reason Warren did not believe the “Odio incident” was because Liebeler told him that Odio was a “loose woman.” The reader will understand the import of that remark by reading the report below.
REPRODUCED AT THE NATIONAL ARCHIVES
RELEASED PER P. L. 102-526 (JFK ACT) 5-2-96
Notes—Silvia Odio interviewed 1/16/76
She first heard of the Kennedy assassination on the radio while on the way back from lunch and she immediately thought of the visit of the three men to her apartment and the conversation she had with them. It produced a tremendous amount of fear in her and she later passed out. (She had been under mental strain of marital problems and the responsibility of caring for her four children after her husband deserted her.) The next thing she remembered was watching television with her sister and seeing Oswald and both recognizing him as one of the men who came to the apartment. "We were just so scared because we both recognized him immediately." They both were extremely frightened and very anxious about the welfare of their eight brothers and sister (10 children in the family) and their mother and father in prison in Cuba and, since they didn't know what was going on or whether or not there had been a conspiracy of many involved in the assassination, they both decided not to bring their experience to the attention of the authorities. ("I never wanted to go to them, I was afraid. I was young at the time, I was recently divorced, I had young children, I was going through hell. Besides, it was such a responsibility to get involved because who is going to believe you, who is going to believe that I had Oswald in my house? I was scared and my sister Annie was very scared at the time, she was only 14.)
She recalls when she was interviewed by Hosty that he kept pressing her to remember the specific day that the three men came to her apartment and she couldn't specifically remember. Still they kept pushing her for the exact date. (I kept telling them that I don't remember the date but I know that it was in the last days of September because we were moving at the time and that we had boxes all over the living room and that in order to open the door we had to jump all over the boxes. But I could swear I don't remember the day, but when I read the Report I found they had set a day and that they had done it for me.") ("I only remember it must have been the last days of September because we had already a lease for another apartment and that it was the middle of the week, not a Saturday or Sunday.")
She says she doesn't specifically remember being asked about Loran Hall, Lawrence Howard or William Seymour but she was shown numerous photographs, many even after she had moved to Miami in September of 1964, but was never told the names of anyone whose photograph she was shown. She recognized no one but Oswald. (I showed her photographs of Hall, Howard and Seymour which were in Tattler, Sept. ‘75, and she recognized none of them.) I asked her about the possibility that it might have been someone who looked identical to Oswald. She said, "When you see someone as close as I'm seeing you now, even closer because we were standing by my door for about 15 minutes and the light was just coming down upon their faces, when I saw him on television I recognized him immediately. And this guy had a special grin, a kind of funny smile. He kept smiling most of the time, he kept trying to be pleasant, but the other guys did all the talking."
She remembers specifically that he was introduced to her as "Leon Oswald," and he himself said, "My name is Leon Oswald."
She says the thing she remembers most about one of the guys is that he had a "funny kind of forehead. It just sort of went back, with no hair on the side. It was peculiar and it's hard to explain."
She has the feeling, also, that the three men wanted her to know that they were going on a trip, that they specifically mentioned that they were going on a trip.
She wrote her father and told him of the men but he said he didn't know them and not to trust anyone.
She also told her psychiatrist, a Dr. Einspruch, then at Southwestern Medical School, of the incident.
She wonders why, after she was questioned by the FBI, they waited so long to call her back. It wasn't until the middle of the summer that Liebeler came to Dallas to question her.
She asked how candid she could be with me and I said I wished she would be totally candid. She said she could say something but she's afraid she could get in trouble because it would be only her word, although she would swear to it. She said she hasn't told this to anyone except a Mr. Martin Phillips who came to talk to her about putting her on Dan Rather's CBS assassination special television show. She refused to [go] on the show but she did talk to Phillips. She said she told part of this story to Phillips but has never mentioned it to anyone else.
She said that after Liebeler questioned her for the second time that day (the first interrogation started at 9 a.m.; the second at 6:30 p.m.) he asked her out to dinner. "That surprised me, but I was afraid and I went. We didn't go out alone. We went out with someone who was supposed to be Marina Oswald's lawyer. I don't remember his name, but Mr. Phillips from CBS knew. We went to the Sheraton to eat dinner. I thought perhaps there was something behind it and there was a kind of double talk at the table between the lawyer and him. I wasn't sure they wanted me to hear the conversation or they wanted to convince me of something or wanted me to volunteer something. He (Liebeler) kept threatening me with a lie detector test also, even though he knew I was under tremendous stress at the time. But one thing he said, and this has always bothered me, he said to this other gentleman, I don't remember his name, he said, "Well, you know if we do find out that this is a conspiracy you know that we have orders from Chief Justice Warren to cover this thing up." (I asked: Liebeler said that?) "Yes, sir, I could swear on that." At the time, she said she thought that maybe it was a bait for her because she had the feeling that they thought she was hiding something more, that she was involved with other Cuban groups perhaps or that she knew more than she was saying. "That was the feeling that I got by the time that they took me to dinner, that maybe if I had a few drinks and the conversation became very casual, I would go ahead and volunteer information he thought I was hiding. I wasn't hiding anything. But what he said struck me. I remember I had a Bloody Mary and thinking to myself, "My God, I'm not that drunk." I had one Bloody Mary and that's all I was having. If it was for my sake that he was saying that, it if it was a little game they were playing with me, I don't know. That's when I said to myself, "Silvia, the time has come for you to keep quiet. They don't want to know the truth."
"But that made me angry. Not only that, he invited me to his room upstairs to see some pictures. I did go, I went to his room. I wanted to see how far a government investigator would go and what they were trying to do to a witness. Of course nothing happened because I was right in my right senses. He showed me pictures, he made advances, yes, but I told him he was crazy. He even mentioned that they had seen my picture and that they had even joked about it at the Warren Commission, saying like what a pretty girl you are going to see, Jim, and things like that. To me that was all so, I don't know, anti-professional. I wasn't used to this sort of thing and I was expecting the highest respect, you know, and I wasn't expecting any jokes in the investigation of the assassination of a president. So that's why I'm telling you why my feelings changed because I saw something I wasn't expecting to see. I wanted to see someone who was carrying on an investigation who was serious about it but somehow I had the feeling it was a game to them and that I was being used in this game."
The fellow who Liebeler identified as Marina Oswald's attorney had not been at her questioning but they picked him up on the way to dinner. He left after dinner and did not go up to Liebeler's room with them.
(Showed her all the photographs I had with me and she could identify only Oswald in any of them. Except for one photo which I believe was taken of individuals coming out of courtroom following hearing in New Orleans concerning the Bringuier-Oswald fracas.) She identified the man in the background (center left) as her uncle and said she didn't know her uncle was involved with Bringuier. I told her that according to an FBI report, her uncle, Dr. Augustin Guitart, admitted to being at that court hearing. She said her uncle never mentioned his involvement with Bringuier but that she knew he was a "fierce" anticommunist. (She herself, she earlier said, was associated with the more liberal element of Manolo Ray's party and had always been a Kennedy fan.)
She said she has always wondered who the other two men who came with Oswald were and has always looked for photographs of them. She says she is pretty sure that one of them was a Mexican. Again she mentioned the "weird forehead."
I asked her why she thought she was selected for the visit. She said probably because her father was well known. He was a millionaire who helped Fidel in the mountains. He transported all the arms that went into the Sierra Maestras. He supplied arms and medical supplies. There was hardly anyone in the underground, she said, who didn't know who her father was. The family was exiled for three years when Batista was in power because her father refused to sell his transportation business. He was described in Time magazine as the "transport tycoon" of Latin America. She says he had a tremendous number of enemies, both business and political. He supplied the truck for the assault on the palace on the 13th of March. He went into exile after that in Miami. (I asked if she knew Pawley. She said she didn't but that her father knew almost everyone.) "We were very strong supporters of Castro until we felt betrayed by him."
She said she was surprised at the details of her father's life that was known by the three men who came to her apartment, the fact that they knew where her father was in prison. They mentioned the movements that her father had been in politically and called him Amador-Odio. They said they belonged to the JURE movement and knew she belonged to the JURE Movement, as did her father. (That was Manolo Ray's movement.)
But she also says that when she thought about it later it wasn't that difficult for anyone to know of her and her involvement with JURE because the Cuban community in Dallas wasn't that large and they all lived in about the same section of town. Also, there had been a big rally in a park on a liberation day (she didn't remember which day) and she delivered the invocation. That was covered by the newspapers and the television stations and she said the FBI later told her that it thought that Oswald could have been there mingling with the Cubans.
Also it was possible, she later thought, that the three men knew of her because when her father had been sentenced to prison it was a big story in the Dallas newspapers. It had all the information about a millionaire and his family and it also carried her sister Serita's picture. (Serita had come to Dallas before Silvia and was attending the Univ. of Dallas.) At first her father was sentenced to die and that's why it was such a big story. Silvia was still in Puerto Rico at the time. (Serita is now in Mexico.)
She says that when the three men came to the door they first asked for Serita and that they seemed confused, but when she told them she was Silvia and that she was the oldest they said it was she they wanted to talk with.
That reminded her of Johnny Martin. "Johnny Martin came out of the blue," she said. "That was a very strange thing. I don't know how he got involved with my sister Serita, how he was introduced to her. The strange thing about him was that his family lived somewhere in a Latin American country and he had this laundry, this coin laundry he operated. He would tell Serita to being (sic) her clothes there and he wouldn't charge her. And then Serita brought him to our house and we started talking about a lot of things. He was very clever and we were very young and soon he was telling us he could get arms for our movement. I got in contact with Eugenio (Rogelio Cisneros) and he told Ray he was coming to Dallas to meet Martin." Martin she says always seemed to be broke yet he said he had a lot fo (sic) contacts in Latin American governments. Nothing came of the meeting between Martin and Cisneros because Cisneros didn't trust him.
Re: Lucille Connell. She was a Protestant who got involved in the Catholic Welfare Bureau. She came on very strong with Silvia as soon as she arrived in Dallas and, in fact, had sponsored her trip from Puerto Rico. Connell had known her sister Serita first. "She struck me as the most fantastic, the most kind and considerate person I ever met," says Silvia. "She was just so generous, and I had tremendous admiration for her."
"She was very involved with a lot of different groups and talked to me about them. She was very intense about the John Birch Society. She was also involved with the Rosicrusians. And also with the Mental Health Association in Dallas."
She was a very wealthy women (sic), married to a wealthy man but she divorced him and is now living in Long Island, remarried. (Name now Lucille Light
50 Wynn Court-Muttontown
Syoset, Long Island 516-921-3519
Her husband (Connell) had a large CPA firm in Dallas. J. B. Connell?)
Connell had even gotten her psychiatrist, Dr. Einspruch (who later went to Philadelphia Naval Hospital.) (She later visited him there; he was wearing a uniform.)
She described Mrs. Connell as a person who knew all the key people in Dallas.
"She was a very strong person. She tried to use the fact that I was ill in order to control me, my thoughts, my friends, my goings and comings, the way I raised my children. It came to a point when she called me every night to get a report on what I had done for the day, who I had seen, where I had been. She had a tremendous memory, a very tremendous memory. She could recall something, something she had seen or heard right away. I remember I mentioned the fact of the men's visit just once to her and she never forgot.
"You have to remember that I arrived in Dallas under tremendous pressure, I had just suffered the trauma of divorce, I had four children, I had all this responsibility of my brothers and sisters, it was a tremendous burden. And Lucille took me under her wing, took me to the country club, wanted to buy me dresses, wanted to introduce me in certain circles. I always had the feeling she was getting me ready for something."
"Then came this Father McChann. Father McChann and I became very close friends and he was going through his own crisis in his life. Lucille used him, managed him, handled him. I don't know how to say it. Lucille tried to get us together and then tried to get us apart and got jealous of our relationship in the meantime. People are very complex. She was very moody and enjoyed playing with our lives. There was a time when I couldn't say no to her for anything, She would call me at two o'clock in the morning and say, "I don't want to sleep now, would you talk to me? and I felt I had to even though I didn't want to and had to go to work the next morning." Only with Dr. Einspruch's help that she got strong enough to pull herself away from Mrs. Connell.
"This is why she was angry with me and maybe why she called the FBI. She was very angry with me because I was pulling away from her and getting stronger." She had also developed a relationship with a wealthy couple named Rodgers and Mrs. Connell was very jealous of that, also. (John Rodgers was the president of Texas Cement.)
(I asked her about her knowledge of Reinaldo Gonzales and Alpha 66 founder Antonio Veciana.) She knew of them and of her father's role in hiding Gonzales. She had never met Veciana and did not know what he looked like.
She said she also knew Jorge Salazar (mentioned in O'Toole-Hoch piece as Dallas Alpha 66 leader whose home at 3126 Hollandale was meeting place where Oswald was seen), but was never at that address and was never involved with Alpha 66. Actually, she only knew of Salazar and doesn't actually know what he looks like.
(I had her review her testimony and she recalled certain details:)
-That Leon Oswald's name had been repeated. One guy said, "I'd like you to meet Leon Oswald." Then he said, "My name is Leon Oswald."
-That Oswald had a slight beard and more of an indication of a moustache, as if he hadn't shaved in a day or so or (as they said) had just come from a trip.
-That he (Oswald) had on a green shirt.
-That one of the men was very hairy and showed a lot of hair on his chest above his shirt.
-Leopoldo, the tall one, was driving.
-One of them called the day after and, more likely she thinks, the day after that.
-That one of them had pockmarks on his face and a very bad complexion. He also had a "funny kind of head," a lot of hair but "big entrance on the side.
(re Mrs. Connell again: I asked her about Connell's report to FBI re Gen. Walker and Col. Castorr) "Mrs. Connell was apparently involved in more than she pretended. Whenever she wanted to find out some information she would take me out to lunch. I wasn't aware at the time she was using me. I knew she was involved with key people in Dallas and she was continually getting phone calls where she would lock herself in her library when she answered them. She was always mysterious, and always very careful not to mention information, she always asked. She did mention Gen. Walker, we talked about Walker. I knew she was involved with his movement and with the John Birch Society. I think that's why she was involved with the Cubans, because we were very usable people, and expendable. (Did she ever mention Conservatives of the USA?) "Yes, she did. We discussed that, I remember the name." (Re Connell-cont.) "And then all of a sudden one summer she decided to become a Rosicrusian, and she started traveling, was it Oklahoma or someplace where the Rosicrusians have a headquarters? She traveled quite a bit on that, I remember because she showed me a card, they issued her a card.
She married a guy who takes tours to Europe and has a lot of money...
Another association she recalled was the name of Russo, which she heard mentioned as part of Garrison's investigation. She says the name rang a bell and she finds it interesting that he knew Oswald by the name of Leon Oswald also.
Connell was not only involved with the Mental Health Association but very interested in psychology, mind control and brainwashing. She had a lot of books on the subject.
Silvia specifically remembers that when Leopoldo called her back on the telephone and told her about Oswald talking about killing Kennedy, it was not a weekend day (Sat. the 28th or Sunday the 29th) because she remembers working that day and getting the call after she came home from work, about 7:30 p.m. She is pretty sure it was not the day after their visit, but the following day (which would make it Friday the 27th at the latest; because Monday was the 30th and she was moving by then.)