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The Poison Patriarch: How the Betrayals of Joseph P. Kennedy Caused the Assassination of JFK

The Poison Patriarch: How the Betrayals of Joseph P. Kennedy Caused the Assassination of JFK

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by Mark Shaw

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An “ominous” investigation into how the corruption of the Kennedy clan inadvertently led to the events of November 22, 1963 (The New Yorker).
Investigative journalist Mark Shaw maintains that researchers who have studied the murder of President John F. Kennedy have been deciphering the wrong motives and clues, and ignoring the


An “ominous” investigation into how the corruption of the Kennedy clan inadvertently led to the events of November 22, 1963 (The New Yorker).
Investigative journalist Mark Shaw maintains that researchers who have studied the murder of President John F. Kennedy have been deciphering the wrong motives and clues, and ignoring the real players. In The Poison Patriarch, he focuses not on why the president was assassinated, but why his brother, Robert, wasn’t.
His persuasive theory leads directly to family patriarch, Joseph P. Kennedy. Mining fresh information and more than forty new interviews, Shaw weaves a spellbinding narrative involving Mafia don Carlos Marcello; Lee Harvey Oswald’s killer, Jack Ruby; Ruby’s attorney, Melvin Belli; and, ultimately, the Kennedy brothers and their father.
In what Wiseguy author Nicholas Pileggi calls a "fascinating and unique account of what happened in Dallas in 1963," Shaw addresses these confounding mysteries: Why was Belli, an inexperienced attorney chosen to defend Jack Ruby? How did Belli’s Mafia ties influence his legal strategy, which led to Ruby’s conviction and death sentence? What was Joseph Kennedy’s relationship to organized crime? How was his insistence that RFK be appointed attorney general tantamount to signing the president’s death warrant? And why, after his brother’s death, did RFK tell a colleague, “I thought it would be me”?

“Shed[ding] light on one of the darker questions about the assassinations,” (G. Robert Blakey, coauthor of The Plot to Kill the President), The Poison Patriarch is destined to alter the debates over one of the most controversial, shocking, and defining moments of the twentieth century.

Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher

"A clearly written...polemic on the corruption of power, built around an intriguing theory."
Kirkus Reviews

"A fascinating and unique account of what happened in Dallas in 1963."
—Nicholas Pileggi, author of Wiseguy and Casino

"Daring: Shaw points the bony finger of recrimination at JFK's father."
—James Wolcott, Vanity Fair

The New Yorker

"This book...sheds light on one of the darker questions about the assassinations."
—G. Robert Blakey, counsel of the House Select Committee on Assassinations and coauthor of The Plot to Kill the President

Library Journal
Using as his fulcrum Melvin Belli's role as Jack Ruby's defense attorney at Ruby's 1964 trial for the murder of Lee Harvey Oswald, Shaw (Melvin Belli, King of the Courtroom) notes the degrees of separation among Ruby, Belli, and JFK's father, Joseph P. Kennedy. Where does responsibility for JFK's murder lie? You can either be satisfied with the title's answer or dig in! Shaw zealously explains his reasoning: Belli was a personal-injury lawyer, not a criminal defense attorney. So why was he selected to defend Ruby? Because he had ties to mobster Mickey Cohen, who had ties to mobster Carlos Marcello, who had ties to mobster Sam Giancana. These mobsters had underworld ties to Jack Ruby and his lowbrow Dallas nightclub. For them, Belli could defend Ruby as deluded and insane. You see, JFK was elected with the alleged help of Giancana's labor bosses bringing out votes. But then JFK's father made "an ill-fated decision–, one that changed the course of history…." It would be "hearsay" in a court of law, but Shaw quotes someone who quotes someone who quotes JFK that it was his father who told him to appoint brother Robert as attorney general. RFK's expanded mob prosecutions then made the mob feel betrayed. RFK thought he might be putting himself at risk in pursuing racketeers, but the mob decided to shoot the "dog" instead of its "tail." So it was all Joe's fault. VERDICT Shaw says that his information is "fresh," but it sounds familiar. Voracious conspiracy theorists can read it and decide.—MH
Kirkus Reviews
Did a well-known society lawyer keep the secrets of the assassination of President John F. Kennedy? Title aside, only the final chapters of the book examine the toxic biography of Joseph P. Kennedy. Instead, Shaw takes an unusual route into the thicket of JFK conspiracy literature, focusing on the perturbing question of why the flamboyant civil attorney Melvin Belli, an associate of mobsters, would have been recruited to provide Jack Ruby's defense following his televised shooting of Lee Harvey Oswald. Belli pursued a strange "psychomotor epilepsy insanity defense," here termed "absurd," which failed at trial; Ruby died in 1967 awaiting a new trial after his subsequent death sentence was overturned on appeal. Later, Belli avoided the topic, telling conflicting stories about how he came to represent Ruby. Gangster Santo Trafficante supposedly warned notorious mob attorney Frank Ragano--whose memoir, closely examined by Shaw, implicates Jimmy Hoffa and others in the conspiracy--to never ask Belli about Ruby. Thus, Shaw argues that "probing Belli's behavior before, during and after the Ruby case is essential to any search for the truth" about the killings. Certainly, Belli seems capable of obfuscation; the author portrays him as "a braggart of the first degree [and] a Mafia groupie." Shaw finds it suspect that Belli's trial gambit was to make Ruby look "crazy when no one else in the real world thought he was" and ultimately argues that Belli was a plant meant to subtly control Ruby. The problem, as with most JFK assassination conspiracy theories, is the difficulty of directly connecting Belli's curious behavior to the purported Mafia assassination conspiracy. A clearly written but fevered polemic on the corruption of power, built around an intriguing theory, but it lacks a smoking gun.

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Read an Excerpt

The Poison Patriarch

How the Betrayals of Joseph P. Kennedy Caused the Assassination of JFK

By Mark Shaw

Skyhorse Publishing

Copyright © 2013 Mark Shaw
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-1-62873-524-6


The Dallas Assassinations

This book offers a completely new perspective regarding the twin assassinations in Dallas in 1963: the murders of John F. Kennedy and Lee Harvey Oswald. The underlying theory is based on close examination of fresh facts never revealed before and provides the most plausible explanation to date as to who killed President Kennedy, and why. For fifty years and counting, the truth about the Kennedy assassination has been hiding in plain sight. Even those with good intentions simply missed facts that would have led them to a simple, logical, common sense scenario regarding the events surrounding President Kennedy's death.

At times in this narrative, it may seem as if we are straying far afield from the core argument: that Joseph Kennedy bears ultimate responsibility for JFK's death. Patience is thus required in the same way that jurors must attend to details as a prosecutor progressively attempts to prove a circumstantial case. To this end, information will be presented beginning with what was known about the assassinations at the time, what was learned over the years through investigative commissions and publications, what new facts this author uncovered through substantive research, and finally what conclusions may be reached based on the body of work.

Missing links must be accounted for and explained. And in the case of the Kennedy assassination, an essential link — one connecting the man who masterminded the assassinations with those who caused them to occur through their actions — was always missing. Until now.

This said, and as unlikely as it may seem at first glance, the circuitous trail to exposing the truth about the assassinations of JFK and Oswald begins at the trial of Jack Ruby, Oswald's killer. This trial commenced at the Dallas County Courthouse in March 1964, less than four months after the twin murders. An eight-story building, constructed in 1913 by architect H. A. Overbeck in the classic neocolonial style, the courthouse stood at the corner of Houston and Main Streets in downtown Dallas. Here, a jury of Ruby's peers would decide if he was guilty of the first-degree murder of Oswald, JFK's alleged assassin, or not guilty by reason of insanity. If the former was decided based on the only live television broadcast of a murder in history, death by electrocution was the penalty.

As fifty-seven-year-old Melvin Belli stood beside Ruby in the packed courtroom, observers noted the stark differences between the two men. Though short in stature and noticeably bulky, Belli was a commanding figure with distinctive black horn-rimmed glasses and a pronounced square chin. His swept-back, wavy, silver hair exposed bushy eyebrows and a furrowed brow, belying a man oozing with confidence. When he made a point, the bombastic barrister cradled his glasses in his right hand and thrust them forward as if to say, "Now, listen closely or you'll miss something important." An Associated Press headline described Ruby's attorney as "Candid, Controversial, and Clever. ..." He was a headline-maker who had been the subject of a Los Angeles Times article by Jack Smith bearing the banner, "L.A. Watching New Court Idol Emerge."

Time magazine published an article on Belli's representation of Ruby in its December 20, 1963, issue. The byline read, "Belli For The Defense." In part, the article read, "The visitor flew in with a flourish. His pink face and silver hair gleamed above polished cowboy boots and a grand, fur-collared overcoat. San Francisco lawyer Melvin Mouron Belli had come to Dallas to defend Jack Ruby, the only man ever to ever commit a murder while the whole nation watched."

In contrast to his attorney, the fifty-one-year-old Ruby (conflicting records noted his age as fifty-two) had a receding hairline and bore a smaller frame: five-foot nine and one hundred and seventy-five pounds. To viewers in the courtroom, he seemed to have shrunk in size since his arrest four months earlier. His face was nondescript, his expression vacant, like that of a retired uncle whose life had passed him by. He spoke in a high-pitched tone with a slight lisp, a trait that had led some to call him a "sissy." His jailer, Al Maddox, told this author that Ruby was "a used to be."

If Lee Harvey Oswald's otherwise nondescript killer possessed any distinguishing characteristic, it was his eyes. They appeared hollow, like killer's eyes. Belli, whose green eyes sparkled when he became excited, observed, "There was something about [Ruby's] eyes. They shone like a beagle's."

Time profiled the Ruby case in its January 31, 1964, issue. It featured articles previewing Teamsters union boss James Hoffa's jury-tampering trial and the designation of JFK's Profiles in Courage as the country's best-selling book. Included in the magazine was a description of the evidence presented during Ruby's bail hearing. It pointed out that Ruby's IQ score of 109 meant that "he tests higher in intelligence than 73% of the population."

Belli and Ruby were also profiled in the February 21, 1964, issue of Life magazine. Featuring the infamous and controversial photograph of Oswald brandishing his rifle on the cover, the magazine touted headlines reading, "Exclusive — Oswald Armed for Murder, In Full and Extra Ordinary Detail, The Life Of The Assassin." Below the caption, the blurb read, "As Jack Ruby Goes to Trial, Cast of Characters: How the Law Applies."

Belli, having already decided on an insanity defense, must have been pleased by the two-page vertical photograph of his client. Ruby stood, with his hands clasped in handcuffs, wearing a dark suit, white shirt, and tie. His eyes stared blankly at the reader in an eerie fashion. The photograph caption read, "As Ruby goes to trial, the question before the court: Was This Man Sane?" Readers were informed that "this extraordinary picture of Jack Ruby was taken as he was leaving jail for pretrial tests by doctors to examine the physical and mental condition of the man who shot Lee Harvey Oswald."

Belli was described as "a Californian with a fantastic record of courtroom victories." His counterpart, District Attorney Henry Wade, when asked about the insanity defense was quoted as saying, "We think it is a case of cold-blooded, calculated murder."

Photographs of Ruby included one with his sister Eva, another when he approached Oswald with murder on his mind, and a final one with two of his Carousel nightclub strippers. Scantily clad, they were positioned on both sides facing Ruby, legs and bikini bottoms in full view. A portion of the caption read: "Ruby basking in the attention of two of his strippers."

A few pages later, the "Cast of the Courtroom Drama" was presented. Belli, captured standing in his San Francisco office, was flanked by photos of the Ruby trial mainstays: D. A. Henry Wade, Assistant D. A. Bill Alexander, and presiding Judge Joe Brown. Appearing puffy-faced and wearing black horn-rimmed glasses, Wade tugged at a cigar stuffed into the right corner of his mouth. The caption mentioned that Wade's office staff had won 189 felony trials and lost only thirteen in 1963.

The photograph of Judge Brown indicated an appearance similar to that of Henry Wade except for a more bulbous nose. Jailer Al Maddox told this author the judge was "a good old country boy. Sheriff Decker liked him and if the one-eyed sheriff liked someone, then he had to be alright."

The article read in part:

... Melvin Belli, chief defense counsel, dominates the cast of attorneys in the Ruby trial. Belli is known as the 'King of Torts' for his success in personal injury suits ... Chief prosecutor Henry Wade ... conceals a steel trap mind behind a cornball manner. Bill Alexander is a soft-spoken, but relentless prosecutor and cross-examiner in the courtroom-style of Texas-born Gregory Peck. The judge, Joe Brown, has 29 years' experience, runs a court with an easy Texas-style loosed rein. But he can be tough.

As jury selection approached, Belli and co-counsel Joe Tonahill, a Texan described by Bill Alexander to this author as "a big, bullfrog of a guy, a bullshit artist who liked to overpower people with his size and his voice," knew they faced a tall order. Their client had committed murder not in front of one, two, ten or even a thousand witnesses, but millions who had tuned in hoping to catch a glimpse of the alleged killer of their beloved president on national television as he was being transferred from one Dallas jail to another. Instead, they had recoiled in horror as Ruby shot and killed Lee Harvey Oswald at point-blank range.

Oswald's death had shocked those who witnessed it, but the killing of John Fitzgerald Kennedy had shaken the world, shaken the very core of those who worshipped the handsome, charismatic president.

* * *

The basic facts regarding the shooting of John F. Kennedy are well-known and undisputed as is the road he took to the presidency. In 1960, by the slimmest of margins (112,827 votes out of 68 million-plus — 0.16% — 303 electoral votes to 219), JFK had defeated Vice President Richard Nixon to become president. Masterminding the election of his son from the shadows had been the Kennedy patriarch, Joseph P. Kennedy. Critics alleged that he had manipulated the result, some used stronger language such as "fixed," and "stolen," but, despite cries of protest from the Republicans, no investigation of the election occurred. On inauguration day, January 20, 1961, Joe Kennedy beamed with pride, his dream of seeing a son become president fulfilled.

Two years, ten months, and six days later, during a trip to Texas on November 22, 1963, the president was assassinated as his limousine passed by the Texas School Book Depository in downtown Dallas. Arrested shortly thereafter was twenty-four-year-old Lee Harvey Oswald. Prosecutors alleged that he had crouched in a sniper's nest he made from book cartons on the sixth floor of the depository and aimed a Mannlicher-Carcano 6.5-millimeter rifle out the top-floor window. When Kennedy's limousine drove past at precisely twelve thirty in the afternoon police said, Oswald squeezed the trigger three times in six-and-a-half seconds, hitting the president twice and inflicting a fatal head wound. Oswald supposedly fled the building and was captured hours later in a movie theater after allegedly shooting and killing a Dallas police officer, J. D. Tippit. Less than 48 hours later, Oswald himself was fatally shot by Jack Ruby as he was being transferred from police headquarters to the county jail.

* * *

While Lee Harvey Oswald's motives for shooting John Kennedy and Jack Ruby's for shooting Oswald have been discussed and debated for years, there is little debate regarding Oswald's denial of guilt.

At police headquarters after his arrest, the handcuffed Oswald was told he could cover his face with his hands if he wished. To that suggestion, he told reporters, "Why should I hide my face? I haven't done anything to be ashamed of." Later, Oswald stated, "I didn't kill the President, I didn't kill nobody," at a midnight news conference at police headquarters.

District Attorney Henry Wade believed otherwise, telling reporters Oswald's fingerprints had been found on boxes in the depository where the shots were fired and on the murder weapon. Presumably to sew up the case, Wade provided details about a witness who told the authorities that after Oswald boarded a bus following the shooting, he "laughed" when told that the president had been shot. "There is no question that Oswald was JFK's murderer," Wade boasted.

When Jack Ruby had first learned the news of JFK's shooting, police said he was sitting by the desk of John Newnan, a likable advertising salesman for the Dallas Morning News. Ruby, a regular visitor to the newspaper who sought to impress editors and columnists with his "inside ideas for stories," discussed the appropriate copy to be included in advertisements for the Carousel and a second nightclub he owned, the Vegas Club. Satisfied with the advertisement, he wrote a check for $1.87 on his Merchants State Bank account to pay for the ads.

Moments later, at half past noon or so, a CBS News bulletin blared from a nearby television set: "Three shots were fired at President Kennedy's motorcade today in downtown Dallas." A short time later, Ruby heard Walter Cronkite, his voice quivering, announce, "President Kennedy died at 1:00 P.M. Central Standard time, two o'clock Eastern Standard time, some thirty-eight minutes ago." According to authorities, Jack Ruby then drove to his nightclub, the Carousel. Several hours later, at around midnight, Ruby headed for police headquarters where a news conference was anticipated. Ruby, packing his nickel-plated .38 pistol, was within ten feet or so of Oswald when Wade presented him to the world. An Associated Press photograph captured Ruby scribbling notes in the back of the room.

Questions surfaced later regarding how Ruby ended up in the Dallas Police Department basement where Oswald appeared the next morning, Sunday, November 24. Ruby told police he drove downtown to send money to one of the strippers who worked for him via the Western Union office and then walked to police headquarters a block away. Left behind in the back seat of his white 1960 Oldsmobile was a red Dachshund named Sheba as well as a set of brass knuckles, a transistor radio, and, most interesting in view of later developments, a copy of a two-month-old New York Sunday Mirror article chronicling mobster Joseph Valachi's appearance before Senator John L. McClellan's Subcommittee on Investigations in early October. Also discovered were copies of Dallas and Fort Worth newspapers depicting the intended route of President Kennedy's motorcade.

Wearing a dark suit, white shirt, and a silk necktie with a gold-plated tie clasp — rather formal attire for a Sunday morning trip to Western Union — Ruby had stuffed a roll of bills into one pocket totaling $2015.33. He had sixty dollars in traveler's thecks as well. In his right front trousers' pocket, he carried the loaded pistol.

At 11:15 am, Dallas homicide detectives escorted a dour-faced Oswald out of Captain Will Fritz's office door. As bright lights showered him, Oswald, arguably the most hated man in the world, smirked at three journalists who shouted questions. He was snarly and silent; beads of perspiration pockmarked his shiny forehead in the stuffy hallway. The plan, according to police, was to transport Oswald in an armored car tothe more secure county jail a few blocks away. That car was stationed in front of a ramp where policeman E. R. Vaughn stood guard.

Five minutes later, a black car driven by Lt. Rio Pierce drove up the narrow ramp as Vaughn stepped aside. Ruby later told police that this allowed him to inch his way undetected down the narrow ramp that was eight to nine feet wide. This was barely enough to permit a car to enter.

As Oswald emerged from an elevator flanked by two detectives, one journalist shouted, "Here he comes." As this point, WBAP television director Jimmy Turner swore he saw Ruby at the end of the ramp.

Oswald was handcuffed to the left wrist of detective J. R. "James" Leavelle, who wore a white suit and a gleaming white Stetson hat. Detective L.C. Graves held Oswald's left arm, but there were no officers directly in front of him. Behind Oswald's entourage, several police looked on. Eager to display the alleged killer of JFK and Dallas policeman Tippit to the world, police welcomed the swarm of reporters and photographers gathered for the photo-op.

A pivotal character in the ensuing scenario was Icarus "Ike" Pappas, one of many journalists who became well-known for their reporting of the JFK assassination. (Another was Dan Rather, whose first-rate, fast-breaking accounts of the shooting electrified the world. His sterling performance would culminate in a reporter position with CBS where he would become the network's longtime prime time news anchor.)

Pappas, later a noted reporter for CBS, but then working for WNEW in New York, pushed his way to a spot nearly kiss-close to the most infamous man in the world. Intent on gaining a noteworthy quote from Oswald despite the presence of more than seventy reporters and one hundred police, Pappas shoved his microphone near the accused killer. Oswald sneered as flashbulbs popped and floodlights glared in the background.

At exactly 11:21 AM, Pappas asked a question just as Jack Ruby angled in beside Pappas, just to the right of Oswald. The prisoner's bruised, unshaven face reflected his struggle with police when he was arrested. Television cameramen focused on the scene as millions of viewers glimpsed the face of the accused. They heard Pappas ask, "Lee, do you have anything to say in your defense?" It was a question Oswald never answered.

A second later, Ruby, wearing a nap-brimmed gray fedora, edged closer to Oswald. As Ruby approached, Oswald's face seemed to register a glimmer of recognition. Conspiracy buffs later alleged that Oswald, a white colored shirt peeking from under his dark crew neck sweater, recognized Ruby. Others maintained that Oswald's expression was an acknowledgment of Ruby's pistol.


Excerpted from The Poison Patriarch by Mark Shaw. Copyright © 2013 Mark Shaw. Excerpted by permission of Skyhorse Publishing.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Meet the Author

Mark Shaw, the author of more than twenty books, was a criminal defense attorney before becoming a television legal analyst for Good Morning America. He went on to correctly predict the outcomes of both the Mike Tyson and O. J. Simpson trials for, among others, CNNABC, and ESPN. He wrote several columns analyzing the Tyson case for USA Today. In 2004, he analyzed the Kobe Bryant case for ESPN and USAToday.com. He lives in Superior, Colorado.

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The Poison Patriarch: How the Betrayals of Joseph P. Kennedy Caused the Assassination of JFK 5 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 1 reviews.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
This book is filled with AMERICANA. It clarifies a horrible time in our history. Filled with previously unexplored info. It really opens your eyes to happenings within our goverment and the extents that they went to , to obtain power. I love this book and can't seem to put it down. I want more.....