The Men At Sylvia’s Door is only the partial title of the book I am going to talk about here; but enough to find it at AbsolutelyAmazingeBooks.com or on Amazon. You’ll know you’ve found it when you see the moody shot of tropic palm trees, with an insert profile of President John F. Kennedy. The books uses an account of peculiar connections between the Florida Keys and JFK’s assassination in Dallas to dip into old theories about whether the murderer was a lone crazy—or a dupe for someone else entirely as part of a sinister conspiracy.
At my advanced age I imagine the murder of Kennedy is, for most people, history as ancient as the murder of Lincoln at Ford Theater. Or the day of the knives at the Roman Senate, when Julius Caesar was cut down. History is littered with the murders of powerful men. But for those of us alive when the news bulletins flashed in from Dallas, it still has the immediacy of the television footage the day the Twin Towers fell in New York City.
Most remember where they were the moment they heard the shocking news. Before we could get our minds around the assassination and word a suspect was in custody, we witnessed that suspect’s execution on live television, though surrounded by scores of armed Texas cops. I for one will never forget the shocked expression of the cop wearing a Stetson Rancher, standing beside Oswald, frozen in eternal ineffectiveness. In its way his expression was as compelling as Oswald’s excruciating reaction to the slugs in his gut. Those were startling times. In the aftermath, many of us participated in what became a national pastime: trying to figure out whodunit. Presentation and summary elimination of the ostensible killer in such facile fashion roused paranoia all over the place.
If anyone was ever satisfied by Warren Commission findings and conclusions, I never spoke to that person. Conspiracy theory became a cottage industry. Nagging questions just were unwilling to go away. For some, digging into every aspect of the case became a life-long quest. The authors of this book, half a century after the gun smoke faded, are focusing their attention on anomalies and unexplained episodes that surrounded the assassination.
Every investigation ever conducted about just about anything always turns up pieces that don’t fit, that may be irrelevant, that lay false trails and lead to mistaken conclusions. Back in the day, the Dallas investigation was no different. Except for one thing: the enormous pressure to cross all the T’s, dot all the I’s and put the damn thing to rest. “Rush to Judgment” was famous shorthand for this pressure. Things got overlooked, not completely resolved, or ignored. Gratz and Howell all these years later appear to be picking apart these details to see what they might reveal. It’s an intriguing approach.
“The Men at Silvia’s Door” showed up a couple months before the assassination, according to Sylvia, who lived in Dallas at the time. One of them was a man described as “Leon Oswald.” When Lee Harvey Oswald’s image flashed on the TV screen as the alleged sniper, she said she recognized him instantly. But the investigation seemed to establish Oswald had been in New Orleans when she said he was at her door. His companions, she said, were anti-Castro Cubans. (Sylvia was a Cuban exile whose parents were in Cuban jail.)
Well in the Big Easy, Oswald supposedly was active with pro-Castro leaflet distributors (though allegedly with an FBI handler in the background). There were suspicions flying that Oswald had been recruited by Moscow Centre during his time in Russia and played back to help the USSR’s new client-country, Cuba. If that were true and he were in fact the shooter, was Kennedy a KGB wet job? The authors of this volume say President Johnson counselled Earl Warren against such a finding, predicting a war (probably a nuclear exchange) would be the outcome, with forty million American casualties.
Is any of this even close to true? Who knows?
If Sylvia’s visitor was Oswald, accompanied by anti-Castro men who resented Kennedy’s betrayal at the Bay of Pigs, were Cuban patriots the ones contemplating Kennedy’s assassination? (With U.S. aircraft carriers standing offshore, Kennedy refused air support for Bay of Pigs invaders, leaving them exposed to Castro’s armor and superior forces. Without Navy jets, their invasion was a sacrifice; had that been Kennedy’s cynical plan, to rid himself of noisy anti-Castro forces?) Sylvia said one of her visitors later said Oswald expressed the view Kennedy should die for betraying the counter-Castro forces.
The authors in this first of their series don’t offer new insight into whether or not such Realpolitik led to the fatal day in Dealy Plaza. But they offer a new titillating tidbit: one of those men who actually visited Sylvia that day refuted her statement that Oswald was with them; no, he said, Oswald was already there when they got there! Which would indicate Sylvia’s whole testimony to the Warren Commission was at base a lie. To what purpose? Who knows? Perhaps the significant feature of Sylvia’s involvement was floating the hearsay that Oswald had it in for Kennedy, which helped establish an ostensible motive for a lone gunman.
This book offers an intriguing walk down memory lane for those who were alive when it all happened, when conspiracy theories were the bread and butter of social gatherings. Here and there among better-known aspects of the case the authors place delightfully exotic bits, like plums in a Christmas pudding. One such is an airport manager in the Keys, a plausible man with no dog in the fight, who observed Oswald AND his own killer, Ruby, waiting together for a flight to Cuba. WTF???
An intriguing book for what it doesn’t say as much as what it does. JFK buffs should enjoy it. Conspiracy fans too. Interest in follow-on volumes in this series should be high. Will they disclose whether Oswald was in fact a KGB asset? Was he assigned to leaflet for Castro in New Orleans and then attempt to penetrate anti-Castro forces to establish his presence there as a loose-cannon with a Kennedy grudge? His alleged attempts to penetrate were amateurish—but he didn’t need to actually get inside information, he just needed to lay a false trail for the coming attack that would lead investigators back to anti-Castro elements rather than to D Square. Stripped of all rhetoric and speculation, there is a kind of elegance to the legend (used in the intelligence sense) of a disgruntled ex-Marine who comes home from Russia and joins anti-Castro forces and kills a President.
It begs belief that such an agent would know the upshot of his deception would be his own murder, to cover the tracks of his handlers. He must have been assured he would slip away, and believed it. But unless Dallas PD was infiltrated by KGB, who could have made the call to get him away? Are American intelligence agencies capable of such legend-building?
This is Book One of “JFK Assassination Unraveled.” It whets the appetite for more plums in the pudding. Worth reading, and looking forward for more.