I-Team: Questions Linger 50 Years After JFK's Assassination - 8 News NOW

I-Team: Questions Still Linger 50 Years After JFK's Assassination

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President John F. Kennedy and First Lady Jackie Kennedy on Nov. 22, 1963. President John F. Kennedy and First Lady Jackie Kennedy on Nov. 22, 1963.
Lee Harvey Oswald was arrested two days after JFK's shooting. Lee Harvey Oswald was arrested two days after JFK's shooting.
Nightclub owner Jack Ruby has Las Vegas ties. Nightclub owner Jack Ruby has Las Vegas ties.
Casino manager Lewis McWillie was friends with Jack Ruby. Casino manager Lewis McWillie was friends with Jack Ruby.
The Warren Commission delivers its report to President Lyndon Johnson on Sept. 24, 1964. The Warren Commission delivers its report to President Lyndon Johnson on Sept. 24, 1964.

LAS VEGAS -- Friday, Nov. 22 marks the 50th anniversary of a dark day in American history. New polls show that 60 percent of Americans still do not believe the official explanation about who killed President John F. Kennedy.

Problems with the Warren Commission report have given rise to all sorts of conspiracy theories over the decades, but no matter which theory you might prefer, there is a Las Vegas link.

Sheriff Ralph Lamb had just sat down for a meal when he heard the news. Channel 8 newsman Hank Thornley saw the story flash across the wires. Everyone who was alive at the time remembers where they were when they first heard the terrible word out of Dallas that the president had been shot.

Amazingly enough, within two days of the murder, Dallas police announced that Lee Harvey Oswald had done it, and that he acted alone. That was also the conclusion of the Warren Commission nearly a year later. But it's a story the public has never been able to swallow.

Special Section: JFK Assassination Coverage 

"I've done books on Chinese triads and Nazi war criminals and terrorists, and the King assassination. But the only time I got threats on my life, literally threats on my life, was to say Oswald did it alone," said Gerald Posner, an author.

Posner's book about the JFK murder still ignites a passionate response from those who simply can't believe the Warren Commission. Posner, who was in Las Vegas last month for a panel at the Mob Museum, agrees with the ends but not the means.

"They should have pursued every lead. The FBI, the CIA lied to the Warren Commission. The Warren Commission got the shooting sequence wrong. There are so many mistakes in this. The autopsy of the president was terrible, so the official explanation came, I believe, to the right conclusion, but did it for all the wrong reasons and laid the groundwork for a ton of conspiracy speculation," Posner said.

Tell us what you think about President Kennedy's assassination

Even defenders of the Warren Commission agree with critics who say the panel was not created to solve the crime.

"The Warren Commission had a common goal to make sure this didn't lead to accusations that the Soviet Union or Cuba were carrying out the assassination because they didn't want a war. So okay, to prevent a war was simple. Just have a lone gunman," said Patrick Nolan, an author.

But when nightclub owner Jack Ruby murdered the lone suspect on national television, conspiracy theories kicked into high gear, and the first official doubter was likely the Attorney General Robert Kennedy, brother of the slain president.

The U.S. Justice Department was well aware of the president's Las Vegas connections; the potentially embarrassing ties between his Rat Pack buddies and the heads of organized crime. On the day after, Ruby killed Oswald, Las Vegas was flooded with FBI agents asking questions about Ruby and his connections to organized crime, and there were many.

Why the FBI Swarmed Las Vegas Following Oswald's Death

"We have Ruby totally connected to the mob. He worked for a man named Red Dorfman in Chicago. Red Dorfman was a brutal union mobster. He was part of the mob, and Ruby worked for him in Chicago. Who was Red Dorfman? Father of Alan Dorfman, Hoffa's best friend. Whoops, here we go again," Ed Becker said.

Becker, a mob-connected Las Vegas hotel insider turned private eye, was interviewed by the FBI a week after the assassination. Records from the Warren Commission show at least 27 other Las Vegans were quizzed by FBI agents including Jackie Gaughan, the owner of the Flamingo and El Cortez hotels at the time, who said he had spoken with gambler Benny Binion about Jack Ruby.

They speculated that Ruby had been in Las Vegas a week before the assassination. That story had also been told by a television newsman Gordon Kent, who refused to give up his sources to the FBI. A caddy master at the Tropicana golf club named Joseph Stefan thought Ruby had played the course weeks earlier but couldn't be sure. A Tropicana bell captain A.J. Ricci thought he had seen Ruby in town a year earlier but under an assumed name.

Feds Probe Jack Ruby's Friendship with Former Las Vegan

The FBI's primary focus though was on a longtime casino manager named Lewis McWillie. He had known Ruby since the early 50s, spent time with him in mob-owned casinos in Havana and spoke often by phone. In Cuba, McWillie had worked for mob boss Santos Trafficante but told the FBI he doubted that Ruby knew any of the big name mob bosses.

"Ruby was here in Las Vegas? Sure. McWillie was the pit boss at the Thunderbird and (Meyer) Lansky's right hand here. A week before the assassination, Ruby sent McWillie a .38 revolver. That's how close they were," Becker said.

In his FBI interviews, McWillie downplayed his relationship with Ruby, portraying Ruby as a bit of a pest. But when Ruby was questioned by the Warren Commission after killing Oswald, he mentioned McWillie 22 times, saying he "idolized the man."

Years later, the lawyer who headed up a House probe of the assassination also interviewed McWillie and came to believe that his pal Jack Ruby had, in fact, worked directly for Mafia bosses.

"People like Trafficante didn't have their money in banks. They had it in the ground. And they had to send people into Cuba who were not connected with them to bring the money out. I think that's one of the things Jack Ruby was doing," said Robert Blakey.

Contrary to the Warren Commission report saying Oswald acted alone, Blakey and his House Select Committee on Assassinations concluded years later that JFK was probably the victim of a conspiracy involving the mob.

That story also has its roots in Las Vegas. One man who says he sat in on mobsters discussing the plot was the late Ed Becker. The I-Team will have that story tonight at 11 p.m.

 

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