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  • Matt Crumpton

Ep 48: Oswald in New Orleans (Part 3)

 Last time on Solving JFK, we got to know the basics about Guy Banister, a former FBI Agent and extreme anti-communist, who had a detective agency in New Orleans, but didn’t take standard detective agency work. Instead, Banister appeared to be wrapped up in anti-Castro activities. Witnesses who worked with Banister said that he had high connections at both the FBI and CIA.


In this episode, we look at Guy Banister and Lee Harvey Oswald.  Did Oswald ever do any work for Banister? And is it true that Oswald had an office at 544 Camp Street, which was in the same building as Banister’s detective agency? What are we to make of the Fair Play for Cuba Committee materials that Oswald stamped 544 Camp Street?


HSCA Says Banister Didn’t Really Know Oswald


The first big question we have to answer is whether Guy Banister knew Lee Harvey Oswald at all, and if so, what was the nature of their relationship?


In the next episode we’ll be covering the Fair Play for Cuba Committee (or FPCC) and Oswald’s relationship with it more in the next episode. For now, what you need to know is that Oswald was handing out FPCC materials on the street in New Orleans on multiple occasions during the Summer of 1963.


Given Guy Banister’s obsession with overthrowing Castro, the security work that Banister did on behalf of the Cuban Revolutionary Council, and the fact that he kept files on communist sympathizers, it’s not surprising that Guy Banister would be aware of Oswald. The real question is whether Banister and Oswald actually had a relationship. Of course, if they did, such a relationship would severely undercut the argument that Oswald was a communist, and would support the idea that Oswald was some sort of agent since he was actively portraying himself as a Castro supporter and hanging out with or working on behalf of someone with intensely anti-Castro ideology.   


The House Select Committee on Assassinations looked at this question. Relying on the testimony of Ross Banister (Guy’s brother) and former Banister investigator, Ivan Nitschke, the HSCA determined QUOTE “Witnesses interviewed by the Committee indicate Banister was aware of Oswald and his Fair Play for Cuba Committee before the assassination.”[1] Nitchske said that Banister was QUOTE “interested in Oswald in the Summer of 1963” and that Banister had some of these FPCC handbills in his office that Oswald had passed out.[2]


This idea of Banister at least knowing who Oswald was and what he was up to is confirmed by Lee Harvey Oswald’s name being found among Guy Banister’s FPCC files as one of the main subjects.[3] Louisiana State Police officer Joseph Cambre witnessed this file and told the HSCA about it. For some reason, the HSCA did not give Cambre’s testimony any credence, concluding QUOTE “the committee could find no documentary proof that Banister had a file on Lee Harvey Oswald, nor could the committee find credible witnesses who ever saw Lee Harvey Oswald and Guy Banister together.”[4]


No one ever got around to asking Guy Banister, himself, about his relationship with Oswald because he died, apparently from a heart attack, in June of 1964, before the Warren Report was released to the public.[5]


Banister Knew Oswald Witnesses


Despite the HSCA’s finding that there was no relationship between Oswald and Banister, there are numerous witnesses who disagree with that assessment, and, instead, say that Guy Banister did know Lee Harvey Oswald. Let’s start with Delphine Roberts and Jack Martin, the two witnesses who put Oswald in Banister’s office together, but whose testimony the HSCA then dismissed as not being credible.


Delphine Roberts was Guy Banister’s secretary at the Detective Agency during the Summer of 1963. Her right wing politics were very much aligned with Banister. For example, she picketed the Catholic Church over desegregation in April 1962.[6] She met Banister later that year when she was protesting that the American flag was not getting enough respect. From that interaction, Banister hired her as his secretary.[7]


Delphine Roberts, who was also Banister’s mistress, in addition to being his secretary, told HSCA investigators that Lee Harvey Oswald walked into Banister’s office sometime in May of 1963 and was given an employment application.[8] She said that Oswald visited Banister’s office many times in the Summer of 1963 and that he and Banister were on familiar terms.[9]


But, when Delphine Roberts spoke to the HSCA, she didn’t mention anything about seeing Oswald in her first HSCA interview. She also failed to mention Oswald in her interview with Jim Garrison’s investigators in 1967.[10]  She did bring up seeing Oswald in Banister’s office on several occasions in her second HSCA interview. Because of these inconsistencies, the HSCA said that QUOTE “the reliability of Roberts statements could not be determined.”[11]


Jack Martin, one of Guy Banister’s investigators, also told the HSCA that he saw Lee Harvey Oswald in Banister’s office in 1963. Martin told the HSCA that he saw Oswald and Banister in the office with David Ferrie.[12] This is the same story that Martin told New Orleans district attorney, Jim Garrison. In a December 26,1966 affidavit to Garrison’s office, Martin said QUOTE:


“In the late Summer of 1963, I was sitting in the office of Guy Banister … David Ferrie walked in wearing an army type fatigue suit and sunglasses. Also with him were 3 or 4 young men in their twenties, dressed in sport shirts. One of them was Morris Brownlee. Another was a man they referred to as ‘Lee’. After the assassination, I recognized Lee Harvey Oswald as one of the men who had walked in with Ferrie and Brownlee. All of them went in to see Banister and the door was then shut so I wouldn’t know what they talked about… These people before seeing Banister sat around in the waiting room for 15 or 20 minutes, occasionally picking up magzines to look at. I looked at them frequently because I thought this was a rather odd assortment of people.”[13]


So, Martin is referring to a specific instance when Oswald came in, and according to him, he got a good look at Oswald and the other guys. He tells the same story to Jim Garrison and to the HSCA, but ultimately, the HSCA dismissed Martin seeing Oswald in Banister’s office because Martin never mentioned seeing Oswald in Banister’s when he spoke to the FBI shortly after the assassination in 1963. The HSCA said QUOTE “in light of Martin’s previous contradictory statements to authorities shortly after the assassination in which Martin made no such allegation about having seen Oswald, it may be argued that credence should not be placed in Martin’s statements to the committee.”[14] Jack Martin was also notorious for having a serious drinking problem.


I understand the reasons to not believe Jack Martin about seeing Oswald in Banister’s office. But, the question is, if Martin did see Oswald in Banister’s office would he have any reasons to not tell the FBI that information? I could see Martin being afraid to talk about Banister’s ties to Oswald (if they existed) because he may have thought it wasn’t safe to share and that it would implicate Banister.


Martin’s initial allegations to the FBI were all about David Ferrie, who Martin did not like after they had a falling out related to Carlos Marcello’s attorney – G Wray Gill not wanting Martin hanging around the office. Ferrie worked as a private investigator for Gill, in addition to regularly meeting with Guy Banister.[15]  So, while I am not sure where I land on the credibility of Jack Martin, I think it’s possible that the reason that Martin waited until Guy Banister was dead to come forward with the information about Oswald could very well have been because Martin wanted to protect Banister from the exposure of explosive info about Oswald.


Banister Pistol Whips Martin


We’ll come back to the question of whether Oswald was seen in Banister’s office momentarily. But, we need to take a quick detour now as it relates to Jack Martin. I can’t just mention Jack Martin as a witness to whether Oswald was in Banister’s office without covering the main reason why Jack Martin is well known.


Jack Martin is the one who was hanging out with Guy Banister in a bar on the night president Kennedy was assassinated. According to what Martin told the HSCA, he and Banister got into a fight at the bar and returned to Banister’s office. At that point, in response to something Banister said to Martin, Martin said to Banister “What are you going to do? Kill me like you all did Kennedy?”[16] That led to Banister pistol-whipping Martin with his .357 magnum. Martin said that Banister might have killed him, if it wasn’t for Delphine Roberts pleading Banister to stop.[17] This scene was captured in Oliver Stone’s film, JFK, with Ed Asner playing Banister and Jack Lemmon playing Jack Martin.


There is no dispute that this incident of Guy Banister pistol whipping Jack Martin really did happen. The question is whether this fight was really about the Kennedy Assassination, as Martin alleged, or whether it was about something else. Martin filed a police report after Banister assaulted him with the revolver. And in that police report, which was on the night of the assassination, it doesn’t say anything about Martin seeing Oswald in the office. The report says that the fight was over personal and political subjects and Jack Martin making unauthorized long distance phone calls. Martin’s initial police report on the night of the assassination does not mention anything at all about President Kennedy’s death.[18]


While it sounds ridiculous on its face that Banister would pistol whip Martin over long distance phone calls, there is some support for the idea that Martin told people that. First, it’s possible that Banister could go off for a small reason because Banister was very quick to anger. Remember, he was fired from the New Orleans police for getting into a fight with a bartender. But, we don’t know that Banister’s general anger is the reason for the fight in this case.


There’s also a statement that David Ferrie gave to the FBI in December of 1963 where he told them that Martin was making long distance phone calls and charging them to Banister’s office and to G Wray Gill’s office – where David Ferrie worked for Gill serving clients like mafia boss Carlos Marcello.[19] Banister investigator, Joseph Newbrough, told the HSCA that Martin told him the reason for the fight with Banister was over long distance phone calls.[20] However, Newbrough didn’t believe Martin. According to the HSCA report, Newbrough quote “believe[d] that [Banister pistol whipping Martin] was over something more serious than that.”[21]


According to Delphine Roberts, another possible reason why Banister may have pistol whipped Martin is because he thought Martin was stealing files from his office. She told the HSCA that Martin came into the office and approached the area where the files are kept, when Banister then walked in. Banister accused Martin of stealing several files and hiding them in his coat. And then Banister hit Martin in the head with the gun after Martin said he did not steal any files.[22]


We’ll never definitively know what the Banister/Martin pistol whipping incident was really about. But, the possibilities are unauthorized long distance phone usage, stealing files, and the assassination of President Kennedy. 


Banister Did Know Oswald Witnesses Redux


We’ve covered Delphine Roberts and Jack Martin, the two witnesses who told the HSCA that they remember seeing Oswald in Banister’s office, but whom the HSCA did not find reliable. Is there anyone else who claims that Oswald personally knew Banister?


Some time in May of 1963, Michael Kurtz attended an informal meeting at Louisiana State University where he says Guy Banister debated students about integration. Kurtz recalled that Banister was accompanied by a young man he introduced as Lee Oswald. Oswald said nothing during the meeting.[23]


Kurtz, who is now a history professor emeritus at Southeastern Louisiana State University, says that he later saw Oswald eating with Guy Banister at Mancuso’s restaurant, which was next door to Banister’s office.[24]That’s consistent with what Adrian Alba said. Alba, who owned the garage where Oswald would always hang out when he worked at Reilly Coffee Company, said that he often saw Oswald eating lunch alone at Mancuso’s. [25]  On the other hand, the owner of Mancuso’s restaurant told the HSCA that he always saw Banister, David Ferrie, and Jack Martin together at his restaurant, but he could not remember personally seeing Oswald there.[26]


It's not just Delphine Roberts, Jack Martin and Michael Kurtz who say they saw Oswald with Banister. We would expect there to be more witnesses who saw Oswald in Banister’s office if he really did work for or have a relationship with Banister. And it turns out, there are several more witnesses who had something to say on the topic.


Vernon Gerdes, who worked for Banister, later worked for attorney Stephen Plotkin and told Plotkin that he saw Oswald together with David Ferrie and Guy Banister.[27] Tommy Baumler, was a student who worked with Banister to infiltrate left wing college groups. Baumler told researcher Bud Fensterwald that there was no doubt that Oswald worked for Banister.[28] David Lewis, another former Banister investigator, says that he didn’t see Oswald with Banister, but he did see Oswald eating lunch at Mancuso’s restaurant with Banister’s close associate, and local Cuban exile leader, Sergio Arcacha Smith.[29]


There’s also the testimony of William Gaudet, who worked for the CIA for many years. Gaudet once saw Oswald speaking to Guy Banister in front of the International Trade Mart, where Gaudet had an office.[30]Gaudet said QUOTE “I saw [Banister] in deep conversation with Lee Harvey Oswald on Camp Street right by the post office box. They were leaning over and talking and it was an earnest conversation. What it was, I don’t know.” When Gaudet was asked if it looked like they knew one another, he said QUOTE “Obviously.” They didn’t seem to be strangers talking on the street. It seemed to Gaudet that Banister QUOTE “wanted Oswald to do something.”[31]


What is interesting, or perhaps revealing, depending on how you view the case, is that the HSCA did find William Gaudet to be credible. They used him as a witness for the subject of Oswald’s time in Mexico City. But, the HSCA didn’t mention Gaudet’s testimony about seeing Oswald talking to Banister at all, even though they covered the topic when they interviewed him.[32] Was this an honest omission or was Gaudet’s story intentional swept under the rug?


Oswald and the 544 Camp Street Address


We just covered seven witnesses who claim to have seen Oswald speaking to Banister directly. But, the most famous connection that Oswald has to Guy Banister is the 544 Camp Street stamp that was placed on some of his Fair Play for Cuba Committee handouts. Banister’s office was located at 531 Lafayette Street on the first floor of the building. 544 Camp Street was the address for the second floor offices of that very same building, which had a different entrance.


We’ll cover the details of Fair Play for Cuba in another episode. The key right now is that it is not disputed that Oswald handed out some printed materials that were stamped with 544 Camp Street. However, there is intense disagreement about the meaning of Oswald’s 544 Camp Street stamp. To Warren Report defenders, it’s a red herring coincidence that can be explained away. To Warren Report critics, the 544 Camp Street stamp is a direct link that connects Oswald with Guy Banister.


So, did Lee Harvey Oswald have an office at 544 Camp Street? Let’s hear what the witnesses had to say.


We heard from Delphine Roberts regarding Oswald’s relationship with Banister. But, she also told author Anthony Summers that Oswald had the use of an office upstairs on the 2nd floor, which is consistent with the 544 Camp Street address.[33] Mary Brengel, who did part time work for Banister, said that Roberts, told hertwo weeks after the assassination that Oswald had been in Banister’s office.[34]


Delphine Roberts’ daughter, whose name was also Delphine, said that one time Banister showed her the upstairs offices and she saw leaflets and placards related to Fair Play for Cuba.[35] This claim is supported by another one of Banister’s investigators, Bill Nitschke, who saw the same materials in a second floor office that had something to do with Castro.[36]


Consuela Martin worked part-time for Guy Banister as a Spanish translator at his office. She told professor Michael Kurtz that Oswald came to see her more than once to drop off things to be translated. Consuela Martin thought Oswald was trying to locate pro-Castro sympathizers for Banister because Oswald’s documents were pro-Castro, and she knew that Banister hated Fidel.[37]


Dan Campbell, like Tommy Baumler, was another young man who Banister used to infiltrate leftist student groups.  Campbell told author James DiEugenio that he recalled seeing Oswald come in to use the phone at Banister’s office on one occasion.[38]


So, far, that is 10 people we’ve covered who said that they saw Oswald at Banister’s office.


Banister Reacts to Oswald’s 544 Camp Stamp


According to Delphine Roberts, Banister was very angry when he heard that Oswald was using a stamp with 544 Camp Street on his Fair Play for Cuba Committee handouts. She told the HSCA that Banister yelled at Sam Newman, the building owner, and James Arthis, the building custodian, for letting Oswald use the second floor room.[39] She said Banister said QUOTE “How is it going to look for him to have the same address as me?”[40]


Allen Campbell, who worked for Banister along with his brother Dan, said that on one occasion he overheard Delphine Roberts tell Banister that she saw Oswald on a street corner handing out pro-Castro material. Banister responded to her QUOTE “Don’t worry about him. He’s a nervous fellow, he’s confused. He’s with us, he’s associated with this office.”[41]


Similarly, George Higginbotham, another one of Banister’s investigators, saw Oswald and another guy handing out leaflets in front of the International Trade Mart. (We’ll cover the details of that exact scenario next episode.) When he got back to the office, Higginbotham told Banister about Oswald and this other guy handing out pro-Castro material, and Banister told Higginbotham QUOTE “Cool it. One of them is mine.”[42]


Jack Martin also said that Oswald had his own room to work out of at 544 Camp Street.[43] This is consistent with what Delphine Roberts’ daughter and Bill Nietschke said about seeing a lot of pro-Castro material in one office up stairs. Oswald wrote a letter to V.T. Lee, the head of the Fair Play for Cuba Committee in New York, saying that he rented an office, even though he had been expressly told not to do that.[44] If so, based on these witness statements, a great candidate for the office would be a room on the second floor of 544 Camp Street.


Arguments Against 544 Camp


If there is any credibility to what these witnesses are saying, then it raises a huge red flag for anyone who is aware of Oswald’s obsession with Marxism and the Soviet Union to hear that Oswald may have been working for an anti-Communist like Guy Banister. So what do Warren Report defenders say about all of this?


First, not all of the materials were stamped 544 Camp Street. Most were marked 4907 Magazine Street or with Oswald’s PO Box.


More importantly, as Gerald Posner points out, there was no lease in place with Lee Harvey Oswald or Fair Play for Cuba at 544 Camp Street. Sam Newman, the building’s owner, said that he never saw Oswald and did not rent offices to Fair Play for Cuba.[45] And the five tenants of the building were asked if they recognized Oswald and none did. Nor did the janitor.[46] 


But no one is arguing that Oswald had a written lease at 544 Camp Street. If you listen to the situation described by the witnesses, the claim is that there was an open office that was being used by Oswald on the second floor. So, the lack of a lease or relationship with the landlord does not undercut the witness testimony about Oswald having an office at 544 Camp Street.


Another potential argument for why Oswald’s use of 544 Camp Street is innocent is that the anti-Castro group - Cuban Revolutionary Council - once rented office space at the same address, but moved out a year before Oswald began distributing flyers. And that Oswald used that same address, falsely, because he was trolling the Cuban Revolutionary Council.  The way that he knew their address was 544 Camp Street, even though they had moved out a year earlier, is that some of the Cuban Revolutionary Council’s propaganda material had the old 544 Camp Street address on it.[47] 


As far as the 10 witnesses we covered who said that Oswald was in Banister’s office, for Warren Report defenders, all of them are unreliable. Similarly, the 6 people who said Oswald had an office at 544 Camp Street or heard Banister say Oswald worked for him are all mistaken or lying.[48]


It’s true that Delphine Roberts and Jack Martin are both unsavory characters. Delphine Roberts was super racist and gave inconsistent statements. And Jack Martin was definitely an alcoholic. If Roberts and Martin were the only ones who were connecting Oswald and Banister, I could write it off as simple exaggeration or lying. But, there were many other witnesses, like Michael Kurtz, Vernon Gerdes, Tommy Baumler, David Lewis, William Gaudet, Mary Brengel, Bill Nietschke, Conseula Martin, Dan Campbell, Allen Campbell, and George Higginbotham – who I can’t just discount as not being credible. And all of them have suggested in one way or another that Oswald had a working relationship with Banister.


If Warren Report critics were alleging that some random guy was having Oswald hand out these pro-Castro flyers, it would be harder to believe. But, we’re talking about Guy Banister here – not some random guy. It fits with Banister’s practice of hiring college aged students to infiltrate college leftists groups. And monitoring and infiltrating leftist groups is what Banister did during his career with the FBI and with his agency in New Orleans.


NEXT TIME ON SOLVING JFK: We turn our attention to the Fair Play for Cuba Committee and continue trying to get clarity about exactly what Oswald was doing handing out literature for Fair Play for Cuba. Was he a genuine Marxist fanatic who wanted to preach that worldview? Or was he being paid by Guy Banister or someone else to make it look like he was intensely pro-Castro?

[2] Id.

[6] New Orleans Times Picayune, April 19, 1962.

[7] James DiEugenio, Destiny Betrayed, at 110.

[8] HSCA Interview of Delphine Roberts, 8/27/78, HSCA 180-10078-10089; John Armstrong, Harvey & Lee at 535.

[9] HSCA Interview of Delphine Roberts, 7/6/78, HSCA 180-10097-10214.

[23] Armstrong at 535.

[24] Id.

[27] DiEugenio at 112.

[28] Id.

[29] Henry Hurt, Reasonable Doubt, at 337.

[32] John Newman, Oswald and the CIA, at 309.

[33] Anthony Summers, Conspiracy, at 324.

[34] DiEugenio at 111.

[35] Id.

[36] Hoke May interview of Bill Nietschke, 5/11/67.

[37] Michael Kurtz, The JFK Assassination Debates, at 159-161.

[38] DiEugenio at 111-112.

[40] HSCA Interview of Delphine Roberts by Buras, 7/6/78.

[41] James DiEugenio’s 1994 Interview with Allen Campbell in New Orleans; DiEugenio at 112.

[42] National Archives, HSCA 180-10076-10178, Pt 13, Interview with George Higginbotham by New Orleans District Attorney, April 12, April 16-17, 1968.

[43] New Orleans District Attorney Interviews of Jack Martin, 12/13 and 12/14, 1966.

[44] Newman at 306-307.

[46] Gerald Posner, Case Closed at 138.

[47] Id. at 142.

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