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  • Matt Crumpton

Ep 46: Oswald in New Orleans (Part 1)

So far on this second season of Solving JFK, we’ve covered the life of Lee Harvey Oswald as a kid growing up, when he was in the Marines, when he defected to Russia, and when he returned to Dallas in 1962.

 

Most recently, we did a deep dive on the backyard photographs and the General Walker shooting. One of the backyard photos was put on the cover of Life Magazine in February of 1964 while the American public was waiting on the Warren Commission to issue its report. The General Walker shooting and the backyard photos made Oswald look like a communist-sympathizing, Russian defector who had guns and, based on the Walker shooting allegation, wasn’t afraid to use them.

 

In late April of 1963, Oswald moves from Dallas to New Orleans.[1] Over the next several weeks, we’ll examine the evidence to try to find out what Oswald was up to in The Big Easy.  In this episode, we look at Oswald’s arrival in New Orleans, his employment at Reily Coffee Company, and the claims made by Judyth Vary Baker about her relationship with Lee Harvey Oswald?

 

On April 25, 1963, Lee Harvey Oswald arrived in New Orleans by bus. He stayed with his Aunt Lillian and Uncle Dutz Murrett at 757 French Street for a week or two.[2] Lillian Murrett’s Warren Commission timeline on when exactly Oswald arrived isn’t very clear. So, he may have stayed somewhere else for a few days before he stayed with the Muretts. On April 26, Oswald visited the New Orleans Unemployment Claims Office so that he could receive benefits.

 

On May 9, Oswald secured a job at William B. Reily Coffee Company.[3] Around the same time that he started working at Reily Coffee, Oswald signed a lease for an apartment at 4905 Magazine Street.[4] The next day, Ruth Paine (joined by her two small children) drove Marina and June from Irving, Texas to New Orleans. Ruth and her children stayed with the Oswalds at their tiny apartment until she returned to Dallas on Tuesday, May 14.[5]

 

Cuba Background

 

It’s important to remember that in the Summer of 1963, Cuba was a volatile political issue. We’re not going to go too in-depth on Cuba right now. It deserves its own deep dive, which I’ll plan to get to next season. But, you’ll need a basic understanding of the relationship between the United States and Cuba in 1963 to be able to put all of the New Orleans characters whom we’ll soon be discussing in the proper context.

 

In early 1959, Fidel Castro led a coup that ousted former pro-American Cuban dictator Fulgencio Batista.[6] When Castro took over, he began to redistribute land and say things made it sound like he had communist sympathies. These actions put the world on alert that Cuba would likely side with the Soviet Union. And, this was concerning to Americans because, as we all know, Cuba is only about 100 miles from Florida.

 

In 1961, just a few months after being inaugurated, President Kennedy approved what would become a major foreign policy blunder - the Bay of Pigs invasion. The invasion was planned and financed by the Central Intelligence Agency and carried out largely by Cuban exiles.  The result was about 500 men being killed or wounded and over 1200 being taken prisoner.[7]

 

The next year, in 1962, in response to the United States putting nuclear missiles in Italy and Turkey, the Soviets placed nuclear missiles in Cuba. When President Kennedy found out about the missiles, he ordered a blockade of the island (which he called a quarantine to make it sound less aggressive). This led to the Cuban Missile Crisis, a 13 day period from October 16-October 28,1962 when the likelihood of nuclear war seemed to be at an all time high.[8]

 

So, after the Bay of Pigs and the Cuban Missile Crisis, if you are a mainstream American in the Summer of 1963, you are no fan of the Cubans because they are allies of America’s enemy – the Soviet Union. But, there were some groups who had more intense disdain for Castro, in particular, anti-communists, certain representatives of the American government, and Cuban exiles, many of whom lost loved ones and property in Cuba because of the Castro regime. Many of these people who really hated Fidel Castro, found themselves in New Orleans in the Summer of 1963.

 

Reily Coffee Company

 

One New Orleans business leader who had very strong anti-Castro views happened to be the owner of the coffee company that employed Oswald – William B. Reily. Reily was a right-winger, who showed his desire to oust Castro through financial support to Cuban exile groups, including Crusade to Free Cuba Committee, which was led by Sergio Arcacha Smith and served as a vehicle to raise money for the CIA backed, Cuban Revolutionary Council. Reily also donated to the Information Council of the America’s, known as INCA, which was led by Ed Butler.[9] INCA was a pro-American, anti-communist propaganda organization. There are a lot of new names that will be thrown around here. But, you’ll want to remember Sergio Arcacha Smith and Ed Butler. We’ll be coming back to both of them again later.

 

In addition to William Reily’s financial support of anti-Castro groups, there are potentially intelligence ties to the Reily Coffee Company. The company’s vice president, William Monaghan, was a former FBI agent, in addition to being a charter member of Ed Butler’s INCA.[10] CIA contract employee Gerry Patrick Hemming told New Orleans District Attorney, Jim Garrison’s office that William Reily worked for the CIA.[11] That idea is supported by a January 31, 1964 CIA memo that says QUOTE “Reily Coffee was of interest as of April 1949 and was assigned Agency number EE-334.”[12]

 

On May 13, Oswald began working as an equipment maintenance man at Reilly Coffee Company, which grinded, bagged, and sold, coffee.[13] Oswald’s specific job was to keep the machines well-oiled.[14] But, Oswald wasn’t there for long. He would only work at Reily Coffee for about two months, with his last day being July 22. According to the Warren Report, Oswald was fired for inefficiency and inattention to his work – basically, for being a bad worker. Given the amount of time Oswald spent reading magazines at the next door garage, it’s not surprising that he would have been let go.[15]

 

The Crescent City Garage, next door to Reily Coffee, had a waiting room with a coca cola vending machine. Reily Coffee employees would often sit in the waiting room on breaks and read magazines.

 

Adrian Alba was the owner of the garage. He told the Warren Commission that Oswald would come to the garage, buy a coke, and lose track of time reading the 80 to 120 magazines that were in the garage’s waiting room. Oswald would also often discuss guns with Alba while looking at firearms magazines. Alba remembered two to four occasions when someone from Reily Coffee came to the garage looking for Oswald. He recalled once that someone said QUOTE “If you keep this up you are going to get canned.” And Oswald would say “I’m coming. I’m coming.”[16]

 

Years later, Alba made additional statements to the HSCA that he did not tell the Warren Commission. Most notably, Alba said that he had a contract with the Secret Service to store three cars. One day a man came to Alba and displayed FBI identification and also had a Secret Service pass that allowed him to check out one of the Secret Service vehicles. A day or two later, Alba saw Oswald approach this same vehicle at the curb outside of Reily Coffee. He was sure it was the same because the license plate was the same.[17]

 

Alba said that he QUOTE “saw Oswald come out of the building, go over to the car, not hold a conversation of any duration, but take a legal sized envelope, hold it to his stomach under his t-shirt, turn around in a crouched position, and go back into the building, straightening up as he went.”[18]

 

Alba did not mention seeing this to the Warren Commission. He claims that he saw a tv commercial that jogged his memory after he testified to the Commission. FBI agent Warren DeBrueys said the scenario Alba described to the HSCA was very unlikely. He said QUOTE: “I don’t know if that’s ever happened before where an FBI agent would be driving a Secret Service car. I am not saying it couldn’t happen, but the odds were a million to one against those sort of facts existing.”[19]  

 

Reily Coffee Company and NASA

 

There’s another potential anomaly with Reily Coffee: during the brief period when Oswald worked at Reily Coffee, four of his co-workers were hired by NASA, yes, that NASA, National Aeronautics and Space Administration. Those 4 employees were Alfred Claude (who went to the Chrysler Aerospace Division of the Michoud NASA facility in New Orleans), Dante Marachini (who was hired on the same day as Oswald, and also took a job at Chrysler Aerospace), Emmett Barbee, (Oswald’s immediate supervisor, accepted a position at NASA in New Orleans), and John Branyon, another co-worker of Oswald’s, also went to NASA.[20]

 

Apparently, even Lee Harvey Oswald believed he was going to get a job at NASA. Adrian Alba told the Warren Commission that about 3 weeks before Oswald left the job at Reilly Coffee, he told Alba he had a new job at the NASA Michoud facility. Here’s what Alba told the Commission QUOTE:

           

[Oswald said] “Well, I will be seeing you. I said, ‘Where are you headed?’ He said, ‘Out there where the gold is.’ I said, ‘Where is that?’ He said, ‘I told you I was going out to Michoud and that I had an application out there. Well, I have heard from them and I have just wound up things next door at the coffee company, and I am on my way out there now.[21]

 

The Commission then followed up and confirmed with Alba that when Oswald said Michoud, what he meant was the NASA Michoud facility.[22] After the assassination, NASA and its contractors searched for applications from Oswald, but could not find one.[23]

 

So, 4 people who were working at Reily Coffee get jobs at NASA in the brief 3 month window of Oswald working there. And, Adrian Alba, a man Oswald spent a lot of time with, said under oath that Oswald told him the reason he was leaving Reily Coffee wasn’t because he was fired, but was because he was taking a job at the NASA Michoud facility. To my knowledge the coffee processing machines were not related to aerospace. To see four people leave one company and all obtain new jobs at related companies in a 2 month period is potentially notable, especially when that company was NASA.

 

On the other hand, it’s true that there were many Aerospace manufacturing plants that were opening near New Orleans and doing a lot of hiring in 1963. So, the mere fact that someone would go from Reily Coffee to a NASA contractor is not impossible by any means.[24] For me, whether or not this is suspicious depends on how many employees were at Reily Coffee at the time. I tried to find a document that said how many employees were at Reily in the Summer of 1963, but I wasn’t successful. If there were only 40 employees or so, then 4 people would be 10% of your workforce. And that would seem strange. But, if there were more like 100 employees, 4% is less material.

 

As far as Oswald and the NASA Michoud facility, it’s hard to pin down exactly what’s going on here. Was Oswald fired for simply being at Alba’s garage too much as the official story says, or did Oswald leave Reily Coffee to take a new job, which he thought was going to be working for NASA? The combined testimony of Adrian Alba seems to support both conclusions. In my view, there is enough evidence to show that there would be a reasonable basis to fire Oswald since he would often skip out on work at Alba’s Garage.

 

It is also possible that Oswald may have believed that he had the NASA job lined up. If Oswald had the job, it doesn’t look like he ever worked there due to the lack of records at Michoud. After Reilly, Oswald didn’t have any other jobs in New Orleans – at least, not ones that generated W2 statements. According to the Warren Report, for the rest of that Summer, Oswald and his family survived on only very meager unemployment benefit checks.

 

Judyth Vary Baker

 

Judyth Vary Baker claims that she also worked at Reily Coffee Company with Lee Harvey Oswald in the Summer of 1963 – and that they had an affair. Baker’s story was made famous in an episode of The Men Who Killed Kennedy. It is intensely disputed and has a lot of details. So, let’s start at the beginning.

 

When she was a sophomore in high school, Baker won the science fair for creating a process to remove metal from sea water. She then was invited to a summer program for elite high school graduates to work in cancer research at Roswell Park Memorial Institute in Buffalo, NY.[25] Everything I’ve said so far is documented with newspaper clippings.[26] So, Judyth Vary Baker was truly a legitimate science scholar coming out of high school.

 

She said that, while in Buffalo, her research caught the attention of Dr. Alton Ochsner, a renowned doctor from New Orleans whose Ochsner Clinic was the first ever to link smoking to cancer.[27] Baker claims that she was invited by Dr. Ochsner to work on a top secret cancer related project with Dr. Mary Sherman, who was an orthopedic surgeon and professor at Tulane School of Medicine.[28] Dr. Sherman worked for the Ochsner Clinic. So, that part of Baker’s story is supported by evidence. The part about Baker working with Dr. Sherman on a top secret cancer project is, however, not supported by any documents that I could find.

 

Baker says that she was picking up her mail at the New Orleans post office when she happened to meet Lee Harvey Oswald:

 

… I dropped a newspaper and this very clean cut young gentleman standing behind me picked it up and handed it back. I looked at him and he smiled. And he’s young like I am. And he was so clean cut and so polite, that when he asked me if he could walk me home, I said yes. That’s how I met Lee Harvey Oswald for the first time. I have to call it instant chemistry. I’ve never felt such an attraction for anyone either then or ever in my life since. It was love at first sight and I know he felt the same way about me too.”[29]

 

In addition to claiming to be Oswald’s mistress, Baker also says that Oswald introduced her to David Ferrie, who Baker says was friends with Dr. Mary Sherman, and was working with her on a secret government project against Castro that was led by Dr. Ochsner.[30] Oswald also took her to visit Guy Banister, who she says confirmed to her that Lee Oswald was working on a military project. She says that she and Oswald then went to talk to Dr. Ochsner, who explained that the purpose of the project was to create a fast-developing cancer.[31]

 

Baker says that her time at Reily Coffee Company was strictly as a cover job that was provided to her and Lee for their anti-castro weaponized cancer research. She says that she did lab work with mice at David Ferrie’s apartment, and then brought the research results to Dr. Mary Sherman at her apartment.[32] She also said that Jack Ruby once stopped by Ferrie’s apartment, and claimed that he had known Oswald since he was a kid.[33] According to Baker, Clay Shaw felt bad for Baker and Oswald since the two love birds had nowhere to go. So, Shaw paid for Baker and Oswald’s hotel accommodations so they could rendezvous during the afternoons.[34]

 

Baker says that all of her interactions with Lee were in the afternoons because Lee always had to be home with Marina at night. Her ultimate claim is that Oswald was a secret agent who found out about the plan to assassinate President Kennedy and tried to stop it. She says he was supposed to fire a shot, but he told her on the phone that he wasn’t going to do it.[35]  Baker says last time that she spoke to Oswald was on the Wednesday before the assassination.

 

Judyth Vary Baker claimed to have interacted with basically the main characters in the film, JFK, plus Dr. Mary Sherman and Dr. Alton Ochsner. It’s easy to immediately write off what she says as too fantastical. But, it’s the fact that she is fantastical in precisely the right ways that draws a lot of people in. For example, Dr. Mary Sherman, who Baker claimed to work with, was gruesomely stabbed to death and then burned in 1964. Her murder remains unsolved to this day.[36]

 

If you are looking for a puzzle piece to support a conspiracy that fits a lot of the existing records, it’s tempting to believe her extremely detailed story because it largely matches up with other famous subplots of the Kennedy Assassination.

 

Big claims require extra evidentiary support. So, other than her own testimony, what evidence does Judyth Vary Baker have? In the back of her book, she provided W2 statements for work at Reily Coffee Company from May 1963 through August 1963. Her friend, Anna Lewis, said that she and her husband went on a double date with Oswald and Judyth Baker in the Summer of 1963 through a signed a statement.[37] It’s also true that Baker really was a standout science student who was chosen to work on cancer research at Roswell Park.

 

But, besides the fact that the story is incredibly sensational, Baker didn’t come forward with any information until 2001, when all of the information that overlaps with the evidentiary record was already established. Another challenge with Judyth Baker’s story is that it seems to change over time. And the more Baker is on the record, the more inconsistent statements she makes.[38] Some of the most respected critics of the Warren Report, who have dedicated their lives to studying the JFK Assassination, do not believe that Baker is telling the truth. For example, the late David Lifton, Bill Davy, Jim DiEugenio, Carol Hewett, and John Armstrong are on the record saying that they do not believe Judyth Vary Baker.[39] Here’s John Armstrong on Baker:

 

The only problem I ever had with Judyth Baker is very simple. I talked to her for a few times on the phone. I didn’t know anything about her. I mentioned to her how “you looked a lot like Marina”. And she said, yes, everyone mistook me for Marina.  And so I asked her, when is the last time you saw Lee Oswald. She said “September 63 before he left.” I said, ok, at that time, people mistook you for Marina? She said, “of course, they were always calling me Marina.” I said, I’d like to ask you this one question. Marina was 8 months pregnant. Were you pregnant at that time? And she said, “I’ve gotta go.” And she hung up the phone.[40] 

 

Even though DiEugenio, Armstrong, Lifton and company do not believe Judyth Baker, there are still many people and studied researchers who do. The strongest evidence that she has is the W2 and the paystub for Reily Coffee Company. I have not seen those documents discredited, but they have also not been authenticated. Not a single person at Reily Coffee has come forward saying that they knew Baker or that she worked there. You would think there would be at least one.

 

To me, Judyth Vary Baker’s story comes across as someone who became aware of all of the key players and stories in the Kennedy Assassination, especially the parts that pertain to New Orleans, and then inserted herself into history with all of these figures after the fact. I leave open the possibility that she did know Oswald and the W2s are real. I think it may even be possible that she was romantic with Oswald. But, given the information that I just laid out, I don’t believe that we can rely on any of Judyth Vary Baker’s claims as they relate to the assassination of President Kennedy.

 

NEXT TIME ON SOLVING JFK: We continue analyzing Oswald’s time in New Orleans, including his passport renewal, and his alleged relationship with Guy Banister.


[1] James B. Wilcott said the Oswald Project began in April 1963 and was code name RX-ZIM. John Armstrong, Harvey & Lee, at 532.

[2] Gerald Posner, Case Closed at 122.

[3] Id. at 124.

[4] Id.

[5] Id. at 126.

[7] Id.

[9] John Armstrong, Harvey & Lee, at 535.

[10] Id.  

[11] Interview of Gerald Patrick Hemming by the New Orleans District Attorney’s Office.

[12] CIA memo from M.D. Stevens, 1/31/64, doc # 1307-475

[13] Armstrong at 540

[15] Warren Report at 726.

[19] Armstrong at 549.

[22] Id.

[25] Judyth Vary Baker, Me & Lee, at 35.

[26] Id. at Appendix.

[29] The Men Who Killed Kennedy, Part 8 at 4:52.

[30] Id. at 8:00.

[31] Id. at 12:00.

[32] Id. at 15:30.

[33] Id. at 17:30.

[34] Id. at 19:00.

[35] Id. at 34:00.

[37] Baker at 597.

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2 Comments


izraul hidashi
izraul hidashi
Jun 06

The owner of the TSBD & Dal-Tex, Time Life, Kodak and Zapruder all had CIA connections and roles in the assassination. As did Oswald's friend George and his wife Jeanne, who was Zapruders business partner. His TSBD supervisor, Bill Shelly, which according to the official story, he didn't know until October, Yet he was with Bill Shelly in New Orleans in August, months before. Meaning, he was already connected to the TSBD in some way. Likely because Ruth knew the people there. Linnie Mae Randall was just her excuse needed to explain away connecting Oswald to that building.

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izraul hidashi
izraul hidashi
Jun 06

The problem with delving into specifics of his life is that we don't really know what's true or isn't. Especially when so many things were made up. For example, the story Ruth Paine was told about the TSBD job by Linnie Mae Randall. But she denied telling Ruth about the TSBD. The fact the building itself was connected to the CIA is revealing when you learn Ruth & Michael Paine, their parents, and siblings too. Michael was still technically connected thru Bell, which made Helicopters for the CIA, mostly used in drug smuggling. The defacto head of the WC, ex CIA head fired by Kennedy, Allen Dulles, was an occasional dinner guest at the Paine residence.


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