Gaeton Fonzi, 1935 - 2012
Recent years have seen the passing of a number of persons associated with the JFK assassination story, but special remembrance is due Gaeton Fonzi, who died on August 30. Fonzi was an investigator for both the Church Committee and the House Select Committee on Assassinations, and authored a compelling and passionate memoir of his work entitled The Last Investigation.
The Miami Herald's obituary notes that Fonzi "wrote more than 100 feature articles as senior editor of Philadelphia Magazine, wrote countless stories for publications nationwide, was the editor of Miami Magazine and the senior editor at Gold Coast Magazine." Unspoken is how unusual it is for a journalist of his stature to engage the Kennedy assassination as a subject with the vigor and doggedness that Gaeton Fonzi applied.
Fonzi's first inkling that something was wrong with the Warren Report came in 1966 when he was a writer for Philadelphia Magazine, and a law graduate student named Vincent Salandria convinced Fonzi ro read Salandria's landmark essays on the JFK medical evidence (see here and here). Intrigued but unconvinced, Fonzi decided to interview Arlen Specter, the Warren Commission staff lawyer who had conducted most of the interviews related to the medical evidence and was credited with the creation of the so-called Single Bullet Theory.
In The Last Investigation, Fonzi describes his interviews with Specter in detail, and how his expectations that Specter would easily explain the discrepancies raised by Salandria dissolved into literal hand-waving by this otherwise brilliant former Warren Commission attorney. Fonzi sums up the interview thusly:
After those interviews with Arlen Specter, my belief in that Government would never be the same.
But Gaeton Fonzi's major contributions to the body of knowledge related to Kennedy's murder do not lie in the medical evidence. His work for the Church Committee and HSCA thrust him into the milieu of Kennedy haters among anti-Castro Cuban exiles and CIA officers. Among Fonzi's contacts was Alpha 66 leader Antonio Veciana, who told Fonzi that he had seen his mysterious handler, code-named "Maurice Bishop", in the company of one Lee Harvey Oswald in the late summer of 1963. The search for Bishop led to David Phillips, whose name is no longer unfamiliar to Kennedy assassination researchers and whose career within the Agency is now much better understood.
Despite Veciana's failure to, or refusal to, identify Phillips as Bishop, Fonzi became convinced that indeed this CIA propaganda expert who rose to become Chief of the Western Hemisphere Division had had a relationship with Oswald and played a sinister role in creating the "legend" of Oswald as a Communist sympathizer. His HSCA colleague Dan Hardway, co-author of the Lopez Report, had found connections to Phillips among several of the people who had been instrumental in the stories that cemented that image of Oswald. Fonzi reports in his book that at one point Hardway told him: "I'm firmly convinced now that he [Phillips] ran the red-herring, disinformation aspects of the plot. The thing that got him so nervous was when I started mentioning all the anti-Castro Cubans who were in reports filed with the FBI for the Warren Commission and every one of them had a tie I could trace back to him. That's what got him very upset. He knew the whole thing could unravel."
Fonzi also wrote in his book about the heretofore-unknown David Morales, who was part of the 1954 Guatemala coup (operation PBSUCCESS) with Phillips, was chief of operations for the Bay of Pigs invasion under Ted Shackley at JMWAVE, and was reportedly involved in various assassination projects including the capture and killing of Che Guevera, and later aided repressive governments in South America. Fonzi and Bob Dorff interviewed two close friends of Morales who told of an episode that they interpreted to be a (drunken) confession of involvement in Kennedy's assassination.
Fonzi's investigations included digging deeper into the stories of Silvia Odio, Frank Sturgis, Maritz Lorenz, and others. He might have found out more from George deMohrenschildt, the strange aristocratic man who had met Jackie Kennedy and who was Lee Harvey Oswald's "best friend" in Dallas, except that hours after Fonzi had left his card with his daughter, de Mohrenschildt was dead from an apparently self-inflicted gunshot wound to the head.
Fonzi's memoir The Last Investigation is much more than a recounting of what he learned about these people, their actions, and possible connections to Kennedy's assassination. The book is unique in its insider's view of the workings, and failings, of the House Select Committee on Assassinations. Fonzi tells the tale of the downfall of Richard Sprague, the famed Philadelphia DA who was the Committee's original Chief Counsel; Fonzi details with both bitterness and irony the politics of investigations, Washington style. The book is imbued with his honesty, intelligence, and sheer gutsiness, and will forever be an important and illuminating guidepost in the literature of the case.
Following the HSCA's investigation, Fonzi wrote a lengthy article entitled Who Killed JFK?, published in November 1980 in The Washingtonian. Fonzi spoke at the Dallas conferences of the 1990s which came in the wake of renewed interest due to Oliver Stone's film JFK and the JFK Records Act declassifications which followed. He developed Parkinson's disease and died at the age of 76. He will be missed.
For more information about Gaeton Fonzi and his work, please see these resources:
The Last Investigation - Information about the book and several of the persons discussed in it, reviews, links to sections of government reports written by Fonzi, and other writings.
Biography of Gaeton Fonzi at Spartacus Educational.
New York Times Obituary by Paul Vitello.
Celebration of Life: Gaeton J. Fonzi, by Marie Fonzi, with links to several online newspaper obituaries.
Listen to Gaeton Fonzi's Keynote Address to the 1993 Third Decade Conference: (33 min)