"THE COSA Nostra agreed to 'broker' the assassination (of Martin Luther King) for an amount somewhat in excess of $300,000 ... (James Earl) Ray's contact in New Orleans was with a lieutenant of Carlos Marcello, the Southern Mafia chieftain in New Orleans."
So says a 1968 Justice Department memo that the FBI withheld from the Louis Stokes 1979 Congressional investigation into the killings of Dr. King and President John F. Kennedy. This memo appears as just a small part of a trove of new information about King's assassination in the massive new book "Legacy of Secrecy" by Lamar Waldron.
In a recent column dealing mostly with JFK, we noted the book's revelation of how the FBI obtained godfather Marcello's confession to Jack Kennedy's assassination. This dealt with why the JFK/RFK plan to overthrow Fidel Castro 10 days after Dallas was the root of much government secrecy surrounding these murders.
I BELIEVE Waldron's heavy-to-lift book is actually all but the last word on these troubling assassinations, which have been so wildly speculated about since 1963. He writes that secrecy allowed Marcello and his helpers to kill JFK and later, they become part of MLK's assassination.
It is 45 years since Dallas and 40 years since Memphis. Today, Caroline Kennedy's pursuit of the Hillary Clinton Senate seat just reminds us again of the allure her famous father held. Likewise, Barack Obama evokes the optimism many felt for Dr. King in 1968. Remember? At the time, Bobby Kennedy predicted that in four decades, a black man would be president.
"Legacy of Secrets" seems like a cautionary tale for those "who cannot remember the past and are condemned to repeat it." Carlos Marcello was evidently the driving force behind the Dallas assassination. He was later associated with Georgia white supremacist Joseph Milteer who, with a small racist clique in Atlanta, became the brains and action behind Dr. King's death. The Mafia kingpin merely "brokered" the hit out to one of his gang, taking a huge fee for helping the racists get rid of MLK.
JOSEPH MILTEER was recorded on a Miami police tape 13 days before Dallas saying that JFK would be shot "with a high-powered rifle from a tall building."
The same tape has Milteer talking of his associate stalking Dr. King, but he was never investigated for either murder.
"Legacy" reveals for the first time that the day after King's shooting, James Earl Ray called an associate of Milteer's for help. Investigators have long asked these questions -- why would James Earl Ray, after killing Dr. King, before fleeing to Canada, make a 450-mile detour to Atlanta? Why did he abandon his getaway car three miles from his rooming house and mere blocks from Dr. King's Atlanta church? How did Ray get to his rooming house and then leave Atlanta on an international flight to Canada, England, Portugal and back to England?
The book answers these questions using info from Congressional investigators and files the FBI withheld from Congress. Waldron documents that Dr. King's murderer was a low-level drug runner for the Marcello crime family. It explains why Milteer's associate, J. B. Stoner, became James Earl Ray's attorney.
JOHNNY ROSSELLI of the Chicago mob, their man in Las Vegas and Hollywood and a known associate of mob boss Sam Giancana (deeply involved with JFK before and after his murder) is, in this book, tied to Dr. King's assassination for the first time. Rosselli confessed his role in JFK's murder to his attorney shortly before he was murdered himself and found in an oil drum in the ocean. (You may remember Rosselli from many columns done here in the past on the Judith Campbell Exner connection to JFK.)
It seems James Earl Ray spent some months in L.A. prior to Dr. King's murder. The FBI found an LA map belonging to him with Rosselli's posh apartment building clearly marked on it. The FBI had been monitoring Rosselli's Beverly Hills pad for four years, but they never noted his connection to James Earl Ray in their reports to Congress.
Waldron says the important files that the FBI and CIA withheld from Congress and the Warren Commission were because of legitimate national security concerns related to Cuba. And, J. Edgar Hoover and Richard Helms evidently wanted to hide their organizations' intelligence failures and unauthorized operations.
This dedicated author and investigator notes that neither the CIA nor the FBI was behind the assassinations of JFK and MLK. This confirms Representative Stokes' 1979 Congressional committee conclusion. But many clouds of suspicion would be lifted if all the remaining files were released. More than a million CIA records are secret until 2017 and Dr. King's files are secret until 2029.
A law requiring their release was put into effect in 1992, but it has been largely ignored.
Lamar Waldron, indefatigable public servant and author, deserves his own Pulitzer Prize for his great work. And he believes that if Americans were given access to all these files, it would be key to ending U.S. sanctions against Cuba that date back to the Kennedy era. He hopes a new president in a new year, will finally see all these issues, suspicions and whispers put to rest.
(E-mail Liz Smith at MES3838@aol.com, or write to her c/o Tribune Media Services, 2225 Kenmore Ave., Suite 114, Buffalo, NY 14207.)