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  • Matt Crumpton

Ep 47: Oswald in New Orleans (Part 2)

We left off with Lee Harvey Oswald moving to New Orleans and working at the Reily Coffee Company. Like many other subjects in this case, there is evidence that Reily Coffee was connected to the CIA. But, there is nothing tying Oswald to the CIA through Reily Coffee. So, like other disputed areas, there’s something for everyone. Lots of connections if you want to say there is a conspiracy, but, so far, no actual proof that those connections are tied to the assassination if you want to say that Oswald was a lone nut.

 

Today, we look at Oswald’s passport renewal in New Orleans – one that arguably should have been much more complicated for Oswald than it ended up being. We also begin to study the background of former high level FBI agent turned private detective, Guy Banister, a man who Warren Report critics say knew and worked with Lee Harvey Oswald and was involved in the plot to kill President Kennedy.

 

Passport Renewal

 

On June 24th, 1963, Lee Harvey Oswald traveled about three quarters of a mile from his job at Reilly Coffee to the US Passport office on Loyola Avenue in New Orleans. He must have gone to the passport office some time during business hours that day. Oswald’s time card shows that he worked from 8:57 until 5:30pm, but Reilly Coffee employees didn’t clock out for lunch. So, it is most likely that Oswald went there during his lunch break.[1]

 

Oswald needed a new passport because the one that he got back from the US Embassy when he left the Soviet Union was for travel to the United States only. Oswald didn’t need a passport to go to Mexico.[2] But, once he made it to Mexico, he would need a passport to travel to any other country. So, theoretically, if Oswald did want to go to Cuba or the Soviet Union, or make it look like he wanted to, then he would need a new passport without travel restrictions to do that.   

 

Oswald’s new, restriction-free, passport was issued on June 25th, the day after he applied for it. But, given all of the actions taken by Oswald in the Soviet Union, it shouldn’t have been so easy for Oswald to get a new passport in just one day. Given Oswald’s background, the process should have at least been slowed down and possibly resulted in Oswald being denied a passport if the appropriate state Department lookout cards were in place. But, that’s not what happened because the lookout cards were not in Oswald’s file.

 

According to the Warren Report, QUOTE “under the procedures in effect in 1960, a ‘refusal sheet’ was prepared in the Department of State Passport Office whenever circumstances created the possibility that a prospective applicant would not be entitled to receive an American passport. The records section of the Passport Office, on the basis of the refusal sheets would prepare what was known as a lookout card and file it in the lookout file in the Passport Office. Whenever anyone applied for a passport from any city in the world, his application was immediately forwarded to this office, and his name and date of birth checked against the lookout file. If a lookout card was found, appropriate action, including the possible refusal of a passport, was taken.”[3] In other words, the lookout card was a warning for the State Department to not provide routine approvals for special cases.

 

The record is mixed on whether a lookout card was ever completed for Oswald,[4] but we know that when he went to get a new passport in June 1963, there was no lookout card in his file because he was granted the passport within 24 hours.

 

In October 1959, when Oswald attempted to defect, there was no refusal sheet filled out by the US Embassy consuls due to an exercise of discretion on their part.[5] As you may remember from the Oswald in Russia series of this podcast, the Moscow US Embassy took the position that Oswald never actually defected because he didn’t turn his passport in on a day the Embassy was open and because he didn’t fill out the proper form. So, there is a plausible reason why Oswald’s attempted defection didn’t result in a lookout card from the US Embassy in Moscow.

 

But, on the other hand, on March 25, 1960, after the US Embassy had lost contact with Oswald and his mom told the State Department that she couldn’t find him, a woman named Bernice Waterman in the Passport Office prepared a red refusal sheet for Lee Harvey Oswald.[6] This should have led to a lookout card being created. But the State Department says that no lookout card was ever QUOTE “prepared, modified, or removed from the file.”[7]

 

This is confusing because, as the Warren Report acknowledges, a March 28, 1960 memo from the State Department to the US Embassy in Moscow says QUOTE “An appropriate notice has been placed in the look-out section of the passport office in the event that Mr. Oswald should apply for documentation at a post outside the Soviet Union.”[8] This memo is describing something that already happened. So, where was the lookout card?

 

Bernice Waterman from the Passport Office told the Warren Commission QUOTE “It looks to me as if someone started to handle this case for the refusal card, or lookout card as you call it… A new report had been received and our control clerk…made that call slip for the file.”[9] Waterman explained that there were different protocols for classified files and regular files. She said QUOTE “We had been requested not to forward any kind of classified files to the usual place for having these cards made – we should forward them to the Classified Files Section, which would take it up from there and give them to the proper person to have a card made.”[10] When asked about Oswald’s lack of a lookout card after she had prepared the refusal sheet, Waterman said QUOTE “All I could say is it is very surprising.”[11]

 

An internal state department document, CE 983, shows that the classified box was checked for Lee Harvey Oswald’s file.[12] This means, that according to Waterman, the file was sent to the Classified Files Section. After it was sent to the Classified Files Section, for whatever reason, no action was taken to make a lookout card. Waterman provided a theory for why no lookout card was ever created: QUOTE “I can only guess that this file was caught up in some large number of files that were on hand to have refusal cards or lookout cards made, or something of that nature, or that the process of having the card made was interrupted by the receipt of the new material from our Embassy in Moscow.”[13]

 

In addition to Waterman’s March 1960 attempt to trigger a lookout card being created, a look out card should have also been made when Oswald obtained a travel loan from the State Department in June of 1962. Lookout cards were routinely prepared when these loans were given because the borrower is not allowed to travel abroad until the loan is fully repaid.[14] The State Department told the Warren Commission that it should have prepared a lookout card when the loan was issued, but that the card was never prepared, probably due to a clerical error.[15]

 

Ultimately, there were three instances that should have triggered Oswald having a lookout card in his Passport file – and all of them failed. The first one, as we’ve discussed, can be explained by the US Embassy in Moscow not deeming Oswald’s defection as a legal defection. The second one, triggered by Oswald’s mom contacting the State Department looking for him, should have resulted in a lookout card because Bernice Waterman did create a refusal sheet. And, the third lookout card should have been created routinely when the State Department travel loan was issued. But, it wasn’t created due to a clerical error.

 

On top of all of that, the Warren Report says that, even if a lookout card had been prepared, it would have been removed and destroyed after it was determined that Oswald had not legally defected. And, therefore, the failure to create a lookout card didn’t matter, because it would have been removed from the file anyway.[16]

 

But, that’s not consistent with what Bernice Waterman, who wrote up the refusal sheet, said. According to a July 27, 1964 State Department memo, Waterman was QUOTE “only attempting to avoid the issuance of a passport routinely in the event Oswald should apply in the future. She added that she had not marked the refusal sheet ‘disregard’ when it was decided Oswald had not in fact repatriated himself, because… she considered the card a flag” which would avoid Oswald getting a routinely issued Passport.”[17] Waterman’s statement that she would not have removed the refusal sheet when Oswald was determined to have not legally defected is in direct conflict with the Warren Report’s conclusion that the lookout card would have been removed anyway.

 

Guy Banister 

 

Guy Banister is one of the keys to solving the mystery of Lee Harvey Oswald’s time in New Orleans. Depending on who you ask, he’s either the most obvious connection point between Oswald and the intelligence community, or he’s a misunderstood person who was accused of being linked to Oswald, but never had any kind of relationship with Oswald.

 

Banister began his career in Naval Intelligence during World War II, then, after the war, he became a police officer for before joining the FBI.[18] After working in FBI offices in Montana, Oklahoma City, and Minneapolis, he eventually became the special agent in charge of the Chicago FBI office.[19]

 

The focus of Banister’s work with the FBI was spying on the activities of leftists.[20] Here’s how he described it QUOTE “It was my duty to supervise the work of Special Agents. It was also my duty to develop and supervise those people commonly called “informers.” To be more specific, we might say that they were counterspies sent in to report on the activities of Communist Party members. That was part of my duty throughout the 17 years that I served as Special Agent in Charge.”[21]

 

In 1954, Banister retired from the FBI and moved to New Orleans, where he began working in internal affairs for the New Orleans police. In March of 1957, he was fired from the New Orleans police for pulling a gun on a bartender.[22] That same year, Banister opened his private detective agency: Guy Banister & Associates. But Banister didn’t really do any investigative work for the agency. Joe Oster, who was a friend of Banister’s from the New Orleans police, was one of the first employees of Banister’s detective agency. Oster eventually quit that job when he found himself doing most of the work and Banister turning down lucrative investigations.[23] 

 

Banister’s Office

 

Banister was extremely anti-communist, which is not surprising given his background of spying on communist sympathizers. In addition to the Friends of Democratic Cuba, which we’ll discuss shortly, Banister was a member of the Anti-Communist League of the Caribbean, and was the president of the Anti-Communist Committee on the America’s, Caribbean Division.[24] Banister also performed background checks on students at the Louisiana State University who wanted to become members of Sergio Arcacha Smith’s anti-Castro group, the Cuban Revolutionary Council.[25]

 

Banister published the Louisiana Intelligence Digest,[26] which said that the civil rights movement was a communist front and President Kennedy was a communist for supporting it.[27] But Banister spent most of his time building his file system of perceived communist sympathizers in the area. New Orleans district attorney, Jim Garrison, discovered an index to Banister’s filing system, which showed that Banister was gathering intelligence on leftists, just as he had done throughout his career.[28] This revelation makes one wonder why Banister was doing this work. Was it just a hobby or was there someone who was paying him to do it.

 

According to Joe Oster, Banister had the ability to easily get J. Edgar Hoover on the phone. The director of the FBI and Banister’s former boss would sometimes speak to Banister.[29] The FBI wasn’t the only connection Banister had. His former employee, Joe Newborough said that Banister was a conduit of funds for the CIA. Oster also said that he heard phone calls come in from the CIA when he was working at Banister’ office.[30]And there is a CIA memo that says that the Agency considered using Guy Banister for foreign intelligence in September of 1960, but decided not to.[31]

 

Bolton Ford

 

Before we look at the potential connections between Lee Harvey Oswald and Guy Banister, there are two incidents that happened when Oswald was in the Soviet Union that shed light on what Guy Banister was up to. These events are known in the JFK assassination lore as Bolton Ford and the Schlumberger Raid (also known as the Houma Raid).

 

On January 20, 1961, the same day John F. Kennedy was inaugurated as president, two men visited the Bolton Ford dealership in New Orleans. They spoke with assistant manager, Oscar Deslatte, about buying 10 Ford Econoline Trucks. The men said they represented the “Friends of Democratic Cuba.” Their names were Joseph Moore and Lee Oswald. There was an information form filled out by these men, leaving a paper trail. At first Moore, wrote his name, and then Oswald said that they should add his name since he was handling payment for the trucks.[32]

 

Fred Sewell, DeSlatte’s boss, saw these men as well. The man who went by Oswald filled out a bid form that says “Oswald” and does not have a first name. But, Fred Sewell testified in the Clay Shaw trial that Oswald did identify himself as “Lee Oswald.”[33] And they still had the form that said “Oswald” after the president was assassinated. Remember, in January of 1961, Oswald was in Minsk. So, we know that this cannot actually be Lee Harvey Oswald.

 

According to a November 25, 1963 FBI report, Oscar DeSlatte said he could not identify Lee Harvey Oswald as the man he saw. But, that goes directly against what Fred Sewell, the truck manager at Bolton Ford, told DA Jim Garrison. Sewell, who positively identified Lee Harvey Oswald as one of the men who rented the vehicle, said DeSlatte was the one who told him about Oswald and the assassination. Sewell said QUOTE

 

“when the President was assassinated and the name came out, Oscar came in the next morning or the morning after and said “Say Fred, do you remember those two guys who was in here from Cuba trying to get some buses cheap? And I said “Yes.” He said “I think that one of those men is the one who killed the president.”

 

So, what do we know about the Friends of Democratic Cuba? Why would they need to buy 10 trucks in the first place? An October 26, 1967 CIA memo says QUOTE “This organization was created by several New Orleans business and political figures… to collect money to aid Cubans in their fight against Communism.”[34] So, it’s a anti-communist and anti-castro group.

 

What is perhaps more interesting about the Friends of Democratic Cuba is that one of their incorporators, and a member of the board of directors, was Guy Banister.[35] Another incorporator was Gerard Tujague, who – get this - briefly employed Oswald in 1955 and 1956 for his export company in New Orleans.[36] A January 24, 1961 FBI memo says that Friends of Democratic Cuba QUOTE “reportedly is controlled by the Frente Revolucianaro Democratico [also known as FRD], an anti-Castro organization which is receiving the covert support of CIA.”[37]

 

So, here we have Lee Oswald, or someone who looks like him and is using his name, trying to buy trucks for an anti-Castro group in January 1961. This is the opposite of Oswald’s Marxist, pro-Castro persona in the Summer of 1963. But, that doesn’t really matter because we know this cannot be the real Oswald since he was in Minsk. The question is why was someone using the name Lee Oswald to buy trucks for an organization whose incorporators included Guy Banister and Oswald’s old boss.

 

The Schlumberger/Houma Raid

 

According to the HSCA, Banister was QUOTE “implicated in a raid in late 1961 against a munitions depot in Houma, Louisiana, in which various weapons, grenades, and ammunition were stolen. Banister’s role may have been limited to storing the material, which was reportedly seen stacked in Banister’s back room by several witnesses.”[38]

 

Banister found out some of the explosives that were intended to be used for the Bay of Pigs were still in storage at a French owned business, the Schlumberger Wells Company – which was located in Houma, about an hour southwest of New Orleans. Banister wanted to be sure that those weapons were used to fight Castro. So, according to Jack Martin and David Lewis, two investigators who worked with Banister, he traveled to Washington, DC and obtained written authority to seize the munitions at Schlumberger.[39]

 

Whether or not Banister really had governmental permission, we do know that the raid on the Schlumberger munitions bunker did happen. The date of the raid is not exactly certain. Jim Garrison believed it was in August of 1961. Others have reported that the raid took place before the Bay of Pigs Invasion, which was in April 1961.[40]

 

The burglars were David Ferrie, Gordon Novel, Sergio Arcacha Smith, and a few others. They broke into the Schlumberger munitions bunker and appropriated explosives and ammo. Those stolen munitions made their way to several locations, including, Guy Banister’s office. According to a 1967 article in the New Orleans States Item, there were 50-100 crates of ammunition in Banister’s office labeled Schlumberger. An unnamed source told the paper that there were 5 or 6 open boxes, which had rifle grenades, land mines, and little missiles he had never seen before.[41]

 

Gordon Novel, one of the men who was involved in the Houma Raid, was a very interesting guy, who was either a conman or some sort of intelligence operative, depending on who you ask. Novel told the FBI in 1961 that he, his wife, 2 cubans he didn’t know, 2 ex-marines he didn’t know, Sergio Arcacha Smith, and David Ferrie carried out the bunker theft at Houma using a laundry truck. He says he got involved after Arcacha Smith asked him to help. Novel claimed that the burglary was directed by the CIA.[42] He told the same thing to Jim Garrison. He actually sued Garrison for libel, and lost in court, after Garrison said that Novel was involved in the Houma raid. Of course, Novel lost his lawsuit, since he’s the one who told Garrison that he was involved in the Houma raid.[43]

 

But Novel wasn’t the only one who said the Houma raid was CIA sponsored. Sergio Arcacha Smith’s former lawyer, Frank Hernandez also said that the CIA backed the raid.[44] To be clear, the CIA expressly denied any role in the Houma raid.[45] However, the CIA didn’t completely deny any ties to the Schlumberger company. (I’ve heard it pronounced Slumberzjhay. But, since I’m not sure, I’m going with Schlumberger.)

 

An internal CIA memo said the New Orleans office had one contact with Schlumberger in 1955 and after that, QUOTE “There has been occasional but circumspect contact with the main Schlumberger office, in Houston for an extended, but unspecified period. Such contact continues.”[46] In other words, the CIA was saying, we occasionally talked to them over a long period of time (we don’t want to tell you exactly when that was) and we still talk to them today.

 

There is also a potential tie between Schlumberger and the French anti-Algerian independence terrorist group, OAS. OAS tried to assassinate French President Charles De Gaulle because he was going to give the Algerian people self-rule and end French Colonialism there.[47] According to French Admiral Pierre LaCoste, the CIA supported the OAS in its mission to assassinate President De Gaulle.[48] Jim Garrison says that the CIA provided Schlumberger with arms to assist the OAS, and when the OAS was no longer operational, Banister made sure that the CIA’s weapons were returned to be used against Cuba.[49]

 

No one was really ever held accountable for all of these stolen explosives and weapons.  New Orleans District Attorney Jim Garrison tried to question Sergio Arcacha Smith in connection with the Houma Raid. But, he wasn’t able to find him in Dallas. Eventually, Garrison telegraphed an arrest warrant to Dallas for Arcacha Smith due to his role in the Houma Raid. The Dallas police arrested Smith and then released him on a $1,500 bond. But because Governor John Connally, refused to sign the extradition papers within 90 days, Arcacha Smith was released from the bond and allowed to go free.[50]

 

Of course, Guy Banister never faced any repercussions for receiving the stolen property. But, the fact that numerous witnesses, the HSCA, and a New Orleans newspaper all say that there were stolen weapons stored at Banister’s office makes it very likely that Guy Banister was more than just a private eye.

 

NEXT TIME ON SOLVING JFK: We continue looking at what witnesses said about Guy Banister, with a focus on whether Lee Harvey Oswald was working for Banister, including Oswald’s use of the 544 Camp Street address.  

 


[1] John Armstrong, Harvey & Lee, at 548.

[3] Warren Report at 750-51.

[4] John Newman, Oswald and the CIA, p 138

[5] Sylvia Meagher, Accessories After the Fact, at 332.

[7] Warren Report at 751.

[10] Id.

[11] Id.

[14] Meagher at 332.

[15] Warren Report at 772.

[16] Id. at 751.

[18] Armstrong at 296 

[19] James DiEugenio, Destiny Betrayed, 2nd Edition, at 103.

[20] Id.

[21] Armstrong at 296.

[22] DiEugenio at 103.

[23] HSCA Interview of Joseph Oster, 1/27/78.

[27] DiEugenio at 104.

[28] Armstrong 320.

[29] Id. at 296; DiEugenio at 104.

[30] Interview with Oster by A.J. Weberman, 11/22/93

[32] FBI Report of 11/25/63, William McDonald and WJ Danielson, Jr.

[35] [35] Articles of Incorporation, Friends of Democratic Cuba, January 9, 1961.- https://harveyandlee.net/Misc/Bolton.html

[39] National Archives, HSCA 180-10023-10376; FBI Investigative File on Assassination of John Kennedy 62-109060-6340; Affidavit of Jack Martin and David Lewis to New Orleans District Attorney Jim Garrison, 2/20/68.

[40] DiEugenio at 107.

[41] Armstrong 364. 

[44] https://www.jfk-online.com/novelpost.html; Gus Russo, Live By The Sword, at 150-151.

[49] Jim Garrison, On The Trail of Assassins, at 40.

[50] DiEugenio at 182.

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