Friday, 17 May 2013


My obituary of Billie Sol Estes, the flamboyant Texas fraudster whose accusations against Lyndon Johnson are one of the more fascinating sidelines of the JFK assassination, in online at the Guardian, and ought to be in the paper paper tomorrow (link to it here).

Estes accused Johnson of, in effect, ordering the hit on Kennedy, ostensibly to prevent his being dumped from the Vice Presidency in the wake of the Bobby Baker and Estes scandals. The theory gains traction because many of the deaths Estes attributed to Mac Wallace, who in this scenario was LBJ's private hit-man, can be verified--there is little doubt, for example, that it was Wallace who murdered Henry Marshall. But the print found in the Texas School Book Depository may be 'close' to Wallace's, but that doesn't mean it matches, and in the blow-ups of both prints I've seen I'd have to agree with those who say it doesn't.

Furthermore, the likelihood of Johnson's being dropped from the ticket was far from a given. Kennedy was in Dallas in November 1963 to try and unify the Texas Democratic party, and he would have thought twice before dropping a southerner to run against Arizona's Barry Goldwater. And I'm not sure the scandal mud stuck to Lyndon. It's not like the Baker and Estes cases weren't publicized; I'm old enough to recall Time and Life magazines' takes on them--Life was wonderful in those days (allowing for its right-wing slanting) in its ability to dramatise crime and scandal, and Estes' self-aggrandizing style played right into that. I sort of associate Estes and his ammonia tanks with Nike missiles and Mercury space capsules in my recall of that America: the picture on the front of Estes' own book is the one from the cover of Time, except instead of a Texas flag, Estes was shown in front of an ammonia tank. Apparently, it was the biggest selling issue of Time to that point. So it's hard to see Johnson dying in the face of more coverage. In fact Goldwater ran against what he called 'a sordid picture of favoritism and fraud' by LBJ and look where that got him.

I've always been reluctant to see Johnson as an active participant in any plot against JFK--though I can see many who were plotting counting on his being a president more friendly to their point of view. It's hard to find him guilty based on Estes testimony--though there are others who've argued his involvement, and even claimed to have witnessed aspects of it--but there is a massive can of Texas worm still less than fully open.

I would have loved to have more space to delineate the details of Estes' career and fraud, and also to tell more about Oscar Griffin Jr., whose reporting basically sent Estes to jail. It was old fashioned journalism. I thought about because I've been reading the second volume of Forgive My Grief, by Penn Jones Jr., another Texas local journalist, who did yeoman work chronicling the unlikely death of so many witnesses and others involved around in the JFK killing. In the context of the deaths that followed Estes around, it seems prescient.

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