JFK Assassination, Mississippi

Infamous location in New Orleans JFK assassination connection

The Plan is historical (and paranormal) fiction. Some of it is absolutely true, and parts were fabricated to make the story flow. When I was doing research in the Mississippi Delta, I ran into the story of John D. Sullivan (a very real person) who died in a strange way.

Everyone (and this includes the medical examiner) said he'd shot himself in a post-hunting gun accident. But after I started digging, I knew there had to be far more to this story. Nothing sounded right, and then I learned this former FBI agent had been working in New Orleans with the same group of characters that had been investigated for the assassination of President John F. Kennedy. One of those men was Guy Banister, and another was David Ferrie. Throw in organized crime boss Carlos Marcello -- and you have a fascinating account.

 

Photo: Actor Ed Asner in his role as Guy Banister, Oliver's Stone's JFK. A former FBI agent and member of the Minutemen, Banister had worked for the CIA since 1958. His office was located at 544 Camp Street. His deputy, Hugh Ward, also belonged to the Minutemen and to an organization called the "Caribbean Anticommunism League," which had been used as a CIA cover group since the Guatemalan operation in 1954. One of the people who frequented 544 Camp Street was a young man named Lee Harvey Oswald. 

 

Real quick, here is what The Plan is about: 

The tight bond between Clinton and Joe, two gay, black lawyers (one of them, married) is broken when Joe is reportedly found hanged. A suicide seems impossible to Clint, and Joe’s widow is acting cagey. Clinton Moore believes Joe Means was tortured and murdered, and that his and Joe’s shared obsession—investigating and fact gathering about the cover-up of various murders and assassinations of civil rights activists, including Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., and President John F. Kennedy—is the reason for Joe’s death. 

Clinton, in the following chapters, is going through old files, trying to recall previous cold case investigations, hoping he can learn why Joe was killed and prevent his own murder. 

Here's the way I presented John D, Sullivan's story in The Plan:

 

Chapter 21

Each time I opened and sorted through another packed box of documents, my emotions ranged from anger to worry. But then I started looking into the papers I’d collected on a dead Vicksburg private detective, and I confess feeling a smidgen of amusement. John D. Sullivan, a racist, white member of the Citizens’ Councils, had worked occasional spy jobs for the Sovereignty Commission. For a few bucks and a small per diem covering his gasoline and lunch, Sullivan would set up civil rights leaders and perform other despicable chores.

One day in 1967, Sullivan reportedly shot himself in the nuts while sitting on the corner of his bed cleaning his rifle. It happened soon after Sullivan came home from a dove hunt with friends. According to the report that I later received from my good friend, Ann, he bled to death,

After I came to believe there might be ties to JFK’s assassination. I’d spent time looking at Sullivan’s death as a cold case, Sullivan had worked for a former FBI boss on a special job in New Orleans during late spring and early summer 1963. But I didn’t arrive at my insight until a number of years after Sullivan’s death. Eventually, Joe became intrigued by Sullivan’s “accident,” after I’d taken a second look.

Going through these papers spread out on my dining room table, I wondered if Joe had learned something more about Sullivan and didn’t let me in on it, or simply forgot to tell me. I picked up a yellow, tattered copy of the detective’s obituary, which had been scissored out of the Vicksburg daily newspaper, years ago. As I started reading the article, it brought me back to the late 1960s when Ann, my dedicated Sovereignty Commission snitch, sent it to me for the first time—soon after I’d opened my Jackson law practice. I’d glanced at the story before tossing it into a file, not thinking about it, until years later, when she again reminded me of his death.

“Sullivan’s accident—if you want to call it that—was never given its due diligence,” Ann said. “I’ve always wondered why no one took a second look at this, Clinton.” 

This resurrected my interest. Ann wasn’t one to give up!

I didn’t ignore the clipping, but this time shared it with Joe, along with some other papers Ann had sent. I became more interested in Sullivan, as it overlapped an important trial in New Orleans, when in 1966 a brave prosecutor tried to convict a local businessman of conspiring to kill President Kennedy. Sullivan worked in that city until a few months before the assassination, and he had connections with some of the people mentioned by the prosecutor.

I remember Joe’s first observation that the mere idea of a trained marksman shooting himself in the balls by accident was hard to accept “unless he’d been drinking.” l looked through the official toxicology report, and there was nothing indicating Sullivan was impaired by drugs or alcohol when he died. Later, from his daughter, I learned that Sullivan’s children didn’t believe the story about their father’s accidental gun death, either.

Ann’s packet had included notes she’d taken while speaking to Sullivan’s widow on the telephone not long after the “gun accident.” She had been directed by her boss at the Sovereignty Commission to contact Sullivan’s widow because he wanted to “get his hands on” Sullivan’s entire set of detective files and his personal library. Mrs. Sullivan apparently agreed to make this donation to the state, but when Ann called to make arrangements for someone to come pick it all up, the widow said that some men dressed in dark suits had come to Vicksburg and swooped up all of her late husband’s materials. She’d thought the men were from the Sovereignty Commission, but it turned out they were not.

Who were these secretive men? No one from the Commission had a clue.

“My boss was furious, and I thought it was pretty strange,” Ann told me.

Ann’s notes on Sullivan also mentioned that his widow reported her late husband had been quite upset after returning home from working in New Orleans with Guy Banister, his old FBI boss from Chicago. The Big Easy is about 220 miles due south of Vicksburg, so Sullivan came home to visit three or four times before returning for good.

“Mrs. Sullivan said that her husband was nervous,” Ann said. “He spent a lot of time talking with a family friend, a retired judge, Ben Guider, about the experience he’d had working with Banister, but she never knew why he was so agitated.”

Ann also learned that Sullivan made a chilling statement to his son.

"The information was so big, I did not know where to go with it.”

What information—picked up in New Orleans—could Sullivan have been talking about? What was “so big” to this small-town detective that it scared him, causing him to confide in a retired judge and not his wife? I wanted answers, and by now Joe seemed interested, too, even though he saved his hardest efforts researching the assassination of Dr. King. Had Joe found something more about Sullivan and kept it from me?

Just last year, I read a book by a woman named Judyth Vary Baker. She described the New Orleans assassination staging area, and I thought she might be of help in learning more about Sullivan. With a friend’s help, I contacted her outside of the United States, where she was living. She told me she had moved around because she had received death threats. Her story was that she had been Oswald’s girlfriend while he lived in New Orleans before the assassination. I never found any notes on Baker in my Sovereignty Commission, DOJ, or FBI materials, but she insisted that Oswald was set up to be the lone assassin. He actually had admired JFK, she told me, and wanted to try and abort the assassination plan; he may have successfully foiled an earlier attempt to kill Kennedy in Chicago, shortly before the president’s trip to Dallas, she also said.

But I wanted more proof. Had Baker had met Sullivan? She told me that David Ferrie, a strange-looking pilot with bushy eyebrows, who was alleged to have been involved in the conspiracy, knew Sullivan and had spoken of him in a derisive manner. Ferrie once told Baker that Sullivan was a member of the militia and not too bright. When Banister applied to be director of the Sovereignty Commission following the assassination, Sullivan misspelled Banister’s name with two n’s in a letter of recommendation, and Ferrie said Banister was furious about this mistake. I later found this letter in my Commission files, complete with the spelling error. Baker did a good job of describing Sullivan’s personality and politics, so I believed her.

I was impressed with Baker. She was a brilliant woman, who’d been a scientist, a rising star in her early years before she was pulled into this mess, initially by the National Science Foundation. Her professional career and a later marriage were both destroyed because of it. It was an intriguing story.

Sullivan may have crossed paths with Carlos Marcello, boss of the New Orleans crime family. Marcello was no stranger to anyone working in or around law enforcement, including me. The detective’s death certainly had suspicious overtones—shooting himself in the nuts and then bleeding to death! But it was messy. Amateurish. Too substandard for the mob!

I took a third look at Sullivan and New Orleans when the film JFK was released in 1991. This movie, directed by Oliver Stone, made the point that the planning of Kennedy’s assassination took place in New Orleans, a place known for its jambalaya, jazz, and organized crime.

Sullivan was never mentioned in Stone’s movie. I found this peculiar, and even disappointing. Regardless, the movie turned up new evidence supporting what the New Orleans prosecutor, Jim Garrison, had said all along—that the JFK assassination planning definitely occurred in his city. If Garrison was correct, then it looked to Joe and me that Sullivan’s death was no accident. New Orleans, in fact, was a dangerous place for several of the potential witnesses for the prosecution.

Two typed suicide notes were found at the scene of David Ferrie’s death; neither note was signed. Baker confirmed that the last time she saw Ferrie, he said he was afraid for his life. He had warned her to leave New Orleans.

Joe drove over to Clarksdale on the weekend of JFK’s release to work through some of his cases while I worked on mine. I was curious if he’d caught any mention of Sullivan, since I hadn’t. I don’t know why I would ask Joe if he remembered anything. He was an excellent research guy who always had data at his fingertips and easily could answer most any questions about a cold case. Especially if I plied him with a barbecued turkey sandwich.

Joe had noticed this omission, too. Regardless of whether or not Garrison knew of Baker or Sullivan, this famous prosecutor initiated what many conspiracy writers, researchers, and serious historians would see later as the most critical investigation into the JFK assassination.  And to think, a despicable little man from the Mississippi Delta might have played a secondary role.

Another suspicious set of occurrences surrounded the 1969 trial of New Orleans businessman, Clay Shaw. Fascinating to me, was that Banister, Sullivan, and Ferrie—all three potential witnesses for the prosecution— were dead before the Shaw trial opened. Banister died of coronary thrombosis at the age of 64, six months after the president’s assassination. Sullivan died in October 1966 from his strange gunshot wound, five months before Garrison arrested Shaw. David Ferrie’s suspicious death came four months after Sullivan’s in February of 1967, only one month before Shaw’s arrest. Shaw was acquitted less than one hour after the case went to the jury.

“Spooky!” Joe was finishing his sandwich, as I walked him through these critical dates. “Damn, that’s good barbecue. Abe’s?”

Of course it was Abe’s. The dumpy little shack of a restaurant was located south of the Crossroads sign of U.S. 61 and U.S. 49, on the Blues Highway, the spot where bluesman Robert Johnson allegedly sold his soul to the devil to achieve musical fame. The bluesman along with the region’s extra-long staple cotton had made Clarksdale famous. But so had Abes’s Bar-B-Que.

Joe only stayed for the weekend when we had these twice-monthly get-togethers. He returned to Montgomery on Sunday afternoon, and not every hour was spent working. So we had to use our time well.

Taking his final bite from the fat turkey-filled bun, Joe scanned the dining room table to see if there was any more food. I realized I would have to make another run over to the  Crossroads to keep him fueled for the rest of the weekend.

 

Chapter 22

Sullivan’s fearful remark to his son—“something so big I don’t know where to go with it”—kept rolling around my head. I looked back through his documents and papers and tried recalling conversations I’d had with Joe about Sullivan’s death, and what this detective might have been doing in New Orleans that was cause for his murder.

I needed Joe’s full attention so that I could get the Sullivan story straight in my mind. Joe’s elephant memory was a great benefit, and I was happy he’d become involved with my Sullivan interests, since his heart was in solving who killed Dr. King.

We’d finally decided that Sullivan must have found himself in the thick of assassination plotting while working in New Orleans, but I never believed that he was on the planning team. “He probably saw secret papers lying around on Banister’s desk and got scared.”

I told Joe: “Even if he was an embittered racist, perhaps Sullivan still had enough integrity that the prospect of a presidential assassination might have shaken him up. I’d sure love to dig through his friend Judge Guider’s notes! I wonder who has them?”

Banister’s coronary thrombosis was another death we had questioned. Perhaps it was a natural passing—he had some history of heart problems—but likely not. I had learned from reading some especially captivating reports, that the CIA long ago developed special weaponry to make a death look like heart failure, using a cyanide gun glove or shooter that leaves no traces. Was this how the former FBI bureau chief’s life ended?

“So when did Sullivan actually work for Banister?” Joe asked me out of the blue one weekend. I was standing in the kitchen, looking through cupboards trying to decide on what to cook that night for dinner.

“Late spring and early summer of 1963,” I called out, while thumbing through Southern recipes ripped off from black grandmas who’d taught white Southern women how to cook. The cookbook was published by a famous female chef who gave no credit to these old black ladies, and this hacked me off—especially when I thought of how hard my mom and grandma worked in the kitchen to make their meals taste so good. But I did like her recipes. I wiped my hands on a dish towel and went out to the living room to hear what Joe had to say.

“Wasn’t that about the time Lee Oswald was supposed to be in New Orleans, before leaving for Dallas? Have you tried the beef brisket recipe?”

I didn’t have to wonder where Joe was going with this, and his mention of brisket sounded good. Banister, Ferrie, Shaw, and Oswald—if Sullivan had seen them all together, in the same place, at the same time—it would not have been good for this small-town detective. Especially if he were called by Garrison to testify against Clay Shaw. The Warren Commission wanted the lone gunman theory to stick, and so did the assassination architects. Both Sullivan and Baker, vis-à-vis Garrison, would have put a kink in their plans.

“I have everything in my cupboards but the rosemary. The brisket takes three and a half hours to cook, so I’ve got to get started. While I go to the store, why don’t you call and see if Tom and Karen can come over for dinner?”

These two long-time friends were always good company, and it would help to run by them some of the theories we’d been tossing around all day.

I later tried to learn if Garrison’s papers included any mention of Sullivan and was told by the archivist that there were no such files. He was not familiar with Sullivan’s name and didn’t sound interested. Once I thought I’d found a file on the Internet that connected Sullivan with some Banister files. But I wasn’t careful and could not retrieve it on a later search.

At a JFK Conspiracy convention I attended in Dallas, a moderately known author confronted me and asked about Sullivan, saying that he knew I was from the Delta. I’d decided to attend the weekend event, which attracted both serious researchers and fan geek types, and was surprised to be baited by him.

“No one takes John D. Sullivan seriously,” he asserted.

I found him strangely irritating and later learned from another researcher that he was “probably CIA,” and was trying to learn any gossip floating around on Sullivan, as well as any other stories heard around the convention.

“We always have spooks hanging around, whenever we meet,” the researcher laughed and then looked around to see if anyone was watching him!

I did learn from this man that some of Garrison’s staffers were compromised and knew all along about Sullivan. They also feared that the Vicksburg detective, as well as David Ferrie, might wreck Shaw’s defense. Garrison later admitted in his book that he didn’t know what he was up against, including CIA plants, at the start of his own investigation.

After struggling through all of these cold case murders—Till, Evers, Schwerner, Chaney, and Goodman, along with those of the Keglars, Hamlett, Kennedy, Sullivan, and King—I took off a full week to think about what I had learned, all the papers I’d read, and the conversations I had recalled.

When I went back to work, I narrowed my search to three assassination victims: Evers, John Kennedy, and King. These three civil rights leaders were known internationally, and the stories of their murders would not fade into history. There was strong reason to keep quiet—for good—anyone who didn’t swallow the official stories offered by the government and the compromised media. These leaders had become martyrs and had the power of influence beyond their graves.

In the case of President Kennedy, the growing list of dead witnesses, including Sullivan, gave me more reason to head in this direction. These records of names, by now on the Internet, continued to increase in number each year, while the stained Warren Commission report had all but faded. Historians and assassination researchers kept writing volumes about the president’s murder—and about the possibility of the involvement of an array of individuals and groups, from public to private.

Eventually, even the U.S. government came up with a new explanation for President Kennedy’s assassination, at least something more believable than Oswald and their lone gunman theory. The House Select Committee on Assassinations reported in 1978 that Kennedy’s death was probably a conspiracy, and that the Secret Service could take some of the blame, along with the organized crime. This was one giant step forward.

One fall day, while rooting through my files and preparing to refocus on my three final choices, my eyes caught a wrinkled handwritten note in one of Joe’s legal notepads. When I pulled this sheet from the thick manila folder, I was puzzled. Joe carefully had printed out the name Kimble in red ink. I recalled this name from earlier research, but I didn’t have time at the moment to look further, and put this aside. I’d decided the night before it was time to look into my King files. I only had scratched the surface of this collection and couldn’t put it off any longer.

But there was something else I could not put off, as well. Telling Mollie the truth about Joe, and that I was trying to find his killer. The opportunity came about one day when she called me from the office—angry.

“I needed to buy supplies yesterday. I couldn’t track you down to get money! Now I’m out of staples for the stapler,” she fussed as I walked in the door of my law office. Mollie was on a roll.

“Do you think Della had to go to Perry every time she needed paperclips?”

Mollie might have been joking when she brought up Perry Mason and his brilliant legal secretary, but she wasn’t kidding about the inconvenience of being financially dependent on me when it came to managing the office. When we’d worked together, this hadn’t been a problem. She would give me a list of supplies to pick up, or I would hand her a blank check, and she’d do the shopping.

“I can’t even buy toilet tissue without consulting you first, “ she complained, “and then I have to wait for the money.”

This was easy to solve. I walked over to my friendly banker and made arrangements for Mollie to have a debit card and a business credit card.  “Just sign these papers, and they’ll mail them to you this week,” I told her when I returned to the office.

She smiled as I handed over the signature card and application. But she looked tired, and I was concerned.

“You okay?”

“Sure,” she answered, turning her eyes away.

Mollie’s behavior bothered me that evening. It made me start to think about keeping her in the dark on Joe’s murder, and I felt guilty. We were friends—better than friends. She was the best and only legal assistant I’d ever worked with; she was my old high school chum, and my twice-attempt lover!

My drift to the past took me to a pleasant place for the moment. But here I was, trusting this wonderful friend to manage my law practice, without lettering her know what I’d really been doing and why.

Now that I had narrowed my focus on where I would be spending the next months of my investigative time, I couldn’t keep Mollie sheltered any longer from all of this; she deserved the truth.

The next morning, after I arrived at Trinity, I called her on the phone.

“Say, we haven’t been spending much time together,” I said.

 “I just called Walker and asked him to sack up some sandwiches and a couple of pieces of his apple pie. I’ll drive by and pick it up at noon. Let’s have lunch at the office.”

Mollie’s voice picked up, as she agreed to the idea.

When I arrived for lunch, I grabbed some paper and a marker and printed up a “Closed for Lunch” sign for the front window. We went back to my old office where we enjoyed the food that Walker had prepared.

“I’ve got something serious to tell you, Mollie,” I said, while finishing my last bite of pie. She quietly listened as I told her the whole story of my trip to Montgomery—Tara’s behavior, my trip to the funeral parlor, and how I discovered Joe was murdered. She didn’t act terribly surprised.

“Well, I always knew there had to be more to the story. Now that you explain it, Joe’s murder fits, I am afraid to say.”

I told her that I was trying my best to learn who killed Joe. I said I’d been afraid for my own life, as well.

“I don’t think that anything is going to happen to me, now. I have stayed low, and it has been too long since Joe was killed. See! I am still alive and kicking.” I smiled, wanting to put Mollie at ease.

“Why won’t you let me help you?” Mollie asked. It was the first thing she said, when I finished my story.

”We could work together like we’ve been doing with Eastland and Emmett.”

I quietly said no.

Of course she was worried and told me so. Mollie also knew, by now, that the contents of my boxes spelled potential danger. It was one thing to solve cold cases, but quite another to prevent a future murder.

Then Mollie admitted she had an idea that there was more to what I’d been up to when going through the boxes. She’d been looking at more than the Eastland and Till collections.

 “Okay, I admit it,” she said. “I didn’t keep my activities limited to those boxes. You know me, Clinton. I had to look! There were so many cases. And I saw Joe’s notes, so I naturally began to wonder if Joe had discovered something that got him killed. I was worried about you, too, but I was afraid to ask you what was going on. I think I was afraid to know the answer, quite honestly.”

Mollie started to cry, and I realized how awful these couple of years had been for her. I’d treated her badly and hadn’t trusted her. She was a sharp, caring woman whose help I could use. I walked over to her chair and looked down at my friend, then gave her a hug.

“Please forgive me. I should have told you this, but I was afraid, too.”

Mollie promised she would stay focused on managing the practice.and would not try to solve Joe’s murder. I told her that I would let her know more about what I was doing.

“But some things must remain secret,” I said.

I finally got Mollie to laugh when I forced her to take an ad hoc loyalty oath that started: “I Mollie, swear not to sleuth.”

 By now, most of the boxes were in my possession, anyway. I’d carted nearly all of them home and put other critical papers in my office safe. And I wasn’t going to give her a key! Once again, I agreed that if something came up that she should know, I would share it.

 “But you’re just going to have to trust me,” I told her.

“Will you tell me if you find Joe’s murderer?” she asked.

“Sure. Once he’s locked away for life.”

Mollie wadded up her paper napkin and tossed it at my face. I went back to the church, removing the “Closed” sign on my way out the door.