Was there a sinister connection between Lee Oswald's employer and NASA?


Lee Oswald: Space Cadet?

Dave Reitzes
Since conspiracy theorists suspect every other U.S. government agency of some sinister role in Kennedy's assassination, it's no surprise to find that they suspect NASA too.

Anthony Summers writes:

"Before he left the William Reily Coffee Company, Oswald visited [garage owner Adrian Alba] to say goodbye. According to the record, he had been fired for malingering. Yet Oswald seemed pleased, telling Alba he expected to work next at the New Orleans plant of NASA -- the National Aeronautics and Space Administration. He never did work there, although four of his colleagues at Reily did move to NASA within weeks of Oswald's departure. At all events Oswald departed, telling Alba, 'I have found my pot of gold at the end of the rainbow'" (Anthony Summers, Conspiracy, 1989, Paragon House, 284).
This struck me as an extremely intriguing claim, and I wondered if I could verify it.

The sources listed in Summers' endnotes (p. 589) refer to Adrian Alba's recollections of Oswald, but not the particular claim that four of Oswald's Reily co-workers moved "to NASA within weeks of Oswald's departure."

So let's try another source. In Deadly Secrets (1992, Thunder's Mouth Press), Warren Hinckle and William Turner write, "Oswald told Adrian Alba, the owner of the garage next door to where he was working, that his application was about to be accepted 'out there where the gold is' -- the NASA Saturn missile plant in suburban Gentilly. NASA of course didn't employ security risks. But tucked into its Gentilly facility was an active CIA station that provided a Kelly Girl service for operatives in between assignments" (p. 239).

The endnote reads, "The CIA's practice of providing interim employment for its agents and assets is well known," and refers the reader to an earlier article of William Turner's, anthologized in The Assassinations: Dallas and Beyond (Peter Dale Scott, Paul L. Hoch and Russell Stetler, eds., 1976, Vintage Books), page 287.

The passage in Turner repeats the familiar statement from Adrian Alba, then adds, "On the face of it, the idea that [the Marxist] Oswald could get a job at a space agency installation requiring security clearance seems preposterous. . . . But [Jim] Garrison points out that it is an open secret that the CIA uses the NASA facility as a cover for clandestine operations."

So the assertion that the NASA installation housed a CIA station would appear to actually be the unsourced claim of Jim Garrison.

Let's see what Garrison has to say about all this. In his memoirs, Garrison begins with an item relating to a suspect of his, David Ferrie. Garrison writes, "Ferrie, once a pilot for Eastern Airlines, had been investigated by a private detective agency. I obtained a copy of its report. The investigators had maintained a stakeout near his residence and found that Ferrie was visited frequently by a man named Dante Marachini" (sic -- Marochini; Garrison, On the Trail of the Assassins, 1991, Warner Books, 133-4).

Garrison notes that Marochini resided at 1309 Dauphine Street, which Garrison describes as being next door to the home of Garrison suspect Clay Shaw. He then observes that another resident of the building at 1309 Dauphine was James Lewallen, who had once shared an apartment with David Ferrie (Ibid., 134).

Some time later, I came across the name of Dante Marachini (sic) again. I had wanted to talk to individuals at the Reily Coffee Company who had worked with Lee Oswald or at a level immediately above him, so I sent Frank Klein over to the company to get their names and respective positions.

He returned rather quickly. "They're all gone," he said. "Anyone who ever had any connection with Lee Oswald left the Reily Company within a few weeks after Oswald did." He laid a sheet of paper in front of me. "Here are the names and the new jobs."

I glanced down at the list. One name jumped out at me immediately: Dante Marachini (sic). He had begun work at the Reily Coffee Company on exactly the same day as Oswald. Several weeks after Oswald's departure, Marachini (sic) also left the company and began life anew at the Chrysler Aerospace Division at the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA), on the eastern side of New Orleans.

I then noticed that Alfred Claude, who hired Oswald for Reily, had also gone to work for the Chrysler Aerospace Division.

Then I saw that John Branyon, who had worked with Oswald at the coffee company, had left for a job at NASA.

At just about the same time, Emmett Barbee (sic -- Barbe), Oswald's immediate boss at Reily, left the coffee company and also inaugurated a new career with NASA (Garrison, 134-5).

He also found that James Lewallen, Ferrie's onetime apartment mate, was working "for Boeing at NASA" (Ibid.).

Strangely, Garrison doesn't mention anything about the facility housing a CIA station -- something I'd expect him to emphasize, if true -- but the information is intriguing nevertheless. So I went to see if I could verify the report.

The Warren Commission published a sworn affidavit from Emmett Charles Barbe, Jr., in their Hearings volumes (11 H 473). The affidavit was dictated by Mr. Barbe on June 15, 1964. Oddly, despite the claim that "Anyone who ever had any connection with Lee Oswald left the Reily Company within a few weeks after Oswald," Emmett Barbe, Oswald's supervisor at Reily, was still employed by the Reily company in 1964:

Emmett Charles Barbe, Jr. of New Orleans, La., being duly sworn, says:

1. I am employed by William B. Reily Company, Inc., as Maintenance Foreman. The William B. Reily Company plant is located at 640 Magazine Street, New Orleans, Louisiana. I have been employed by that Company for five years. During the year 1963 I was serving as Maintenance Foreman.

Emmett Barbe's name also comes up in the Warren Commission testimony of one Charles Le Blanc, who trained Oswald at Reily, and described himself as probably Oswald's closest associate there (10 H 217). Le Blanc was also still employed by Reily at the time of his April 1964 Warren Commission deposition (10 H 214).

His testimony seems fairly innocuous. Here's a representative sample:

Mr. LE BLANC. . . . The way I broke him in, I told him, "Make sure that you have got everything on that one floor," and I said, "If it takes you a day to do it, let it take you a day," I said, "but make sure that you have got everything greased and oiled and cleaned." And that is what he was supposed to do, and I told him, I said, "Then if you get finished the fifth floor, or whatever floor you are on, you can always work to the next floor." And then in the evening at 3:15 when the lines were shut down, we had these three machines that had to be cleaned, oiled and greased every day and sometimes twice a day it all depends on how they ran and he had to see to it that each evening at 3:15 they was cleaned and greased.

Mr. LIEBELER. Now did he have anybody keeping track of him as a general proposition? He really didn't, did he? I mean, he was just----

Mr. LE BLANC. Well, the majority of the time he had somebody over him, but as a practice, I mean after you got broke in on your job, well, they wouldn't look after you, keep looking after you. They figured, well, you knew your job and you would go ahead and do your job. But after awhile, well, they seen he was drifting off. Right to the last day before they let him go, why, we kept an eye on him, because we seen then that he wasn't doing, the work that he was supposed to be doing.

Mr. LIEBELER. He really wasn't doing the work?


Mr. LIEBELER . He wasn't greasing the machines?

Mr. LE BLANC. No. And you see, we have a greasing log that when you grease the machine you log it the day that you grease it, and actually a lot of times I think he might have put stuff down in the log that he didn't even get to sometimes.

Mr. LIEBELER. Just so I can get an idea of what kind of work he was doing, how were the machines greased? Did he have a grease gun or cups and----

Mr. LE BLANC. Yes; well, we have an air grease gun and we also have these hand-type grease guns.

Mr. LIEBELER. And you used just regular Alemite fittings and grease guns?

Mr. LE BLANC. Yes.

Mr. LIEBELER So I would imagine from time to time he ended up with the grease on his hands and it was a greasy job?

Mr. LE BLANC. Yes; it was a dirty job.

Mr. LIEBELER. Did he ever complain about that?

Mr. LE BLANC. Well, he would complain now and then. I would tell him, well, that goes in with the job of oiling and greasing.

Mr. LIEBELER. Now was he just basically an oiler and greaser, or was he classified as a maintenance man?


Mr. LIEBELER. That is a different thing?

Mr. LE BLANC. He was hired as an oiler and greaser and helper (10 H 215-6).

Alfred Claude is next on Garrison's list. Here we strike pay dirt. Alfred A. Claude, Jr., was interviewed by the FBI on November 26, 1963. He indeed was employed at the "Chrysler Aerospace Division, National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA), Michoud, Louisiana," which was where the FBI interviewed him. He had been with Chrysler since he resigned from Reily's personnel office on July 1, 1963, which he estimated to be about four weeks after Oswald's departure, loosely fitting the "few weeks" Garrison attributes to Frank Klein. Claude's interview also seems fairly innocuous, devoted largely to Oswald's poor work habits and quiet personality (CE 1940, 23 H 734).

Unlike Claude, however, Claude's former associate in Reily's personnel office, Robert Hedrick, had not moved to NASA, and was still at Reily when the FBI interviewed him on November 25, 1963 (CE 1903, 23 H 706).

Another co-worker, Arturo Mendez Rodriguez, was interviewed by the FBI on November 25, 1963. The report doesn't state that he was still at Reily, but his occupation is listed as "Oiler -- mechanic," and "oiler" was the position he held at Reily, as did Oswald. If Rodriguez had changed employers, the report does not say so (CE 1898, 23 H 703). Rodriguez is also mentioned in passing in the Warren Commission deposition of Charles Le Blanc (10 H 217). Again, if Rodriguez left his job at Reily, there is no indication of it.

John Branyon was another name mentioned by Garrison. Like Claude, he too was indeed employed by NASA. However, Branyon did not work at the Chrysler plant -- he worked at the Boeing Aircraft Division. He said that Oswald was still employed at Reily when he himself resigned on July 3, 1963. His statement describes Oswald's duties as a machine oiler and his "lone wolf" personality (CE 1941, 23 H 735).

Another Reily employee's name comes up in the Warren Commission volumes. John C. Clark was interviewed on November 25, 1963 (CE 1899, 23 H 704). He was still Reily's Assistant Vice-President in Charge of Production.

Dante Marochini is not mentioned in the Warren Commission volumes, possibly because he had not been a co-worker of Oswald's at all. Paris Flammonde describes "Marachini" as "a forty-two-year-old parts-scheduler for the Chrysler Company's Michoud Assembly Facility" (Flammonde, The Kennedy Conspiracy, 1969, Meredith Press). Information in Flammonde suggests that Marochini probably had not known Oswald: "In April 1963, Marochini found employment with the Standard Coffee Company, owned by the William B. Reily Company, with locations at 725 and 640 Magazine. During the same period, Lee Harvey Oswald was employed at the same 640 Magazine address as an employee of the William B. Reily Coffee Company" (Ibid.). But according to researcher David Blackburst, Marochini did not work at the same location as Oswald after all.

Furthermore, if Marochini started at Reily in April 1963, he could not have "begun work at the Reily Coffee Company on exactly the same day as Oswald," as Garrison claimed: Oswald began at Reily on May 10, 1963 (11 H 474).

Dante Marochini was subpoenaed by Garrison to appear before the grand jury in 1967. If the DA learned anything of value from Marochini's secret grand jury testimony, he doesn't say so in his book. In fact, he doesn't mention that he ever questioned Marochini at all.

At one point, Garrison was certain that major aerospace contractors were culprits in an assassination conspiracy, as shown in an hilarious account from Warren Hinckle, the editor of Ramparts Magazine.

Paris Flammonde also reports that when Marochini was subpoenaed by Garrison on March 3, 1967, Marochini's address was not 1309 Dauphine, but 4951 Music (Flammonde, 78). It is possible, of course, that Marochini had moved by that time.

I asked Ferrie expert David Blackburst whether Marochini was a friend of Ferrie's. Blackburst informed me that the December 19, 1962, installment of the 1962-3 Southern Research report on Ferrie, commissioned by Eastern Air Lines in preparation for Ferrie's dismissal/grievance hearings, details a surveillance of Ferrie's apartment by Jack Oliphant on November 16, 1962. Oliphant observed Ferrie and two men leave the apartment and get into a car, and the registration was traced to Dante Marochini. Marochini, Blackburst reports, was a friend of Ferrie's then-roommate, James Lewallen (E-mail to author, June 9, 1999).

Flammonde also mentions James Lewallen: "The thirty-eight-year-old, Cleveland-born James Ronald Lewallen, a quality inspector for the Boeing Company, worked at the Michoud Saturn rocket plant . . . Lewallen, a licensed (former Air Force) pilot, has been with Boeing in the Michoud plant since 1964, except for a brief period when he was farmed out to the Mississippi Test Facility in Hancock County, Mississippi. Reportedly possessed of security clearance, his sixty-day assignment in Mississippi was to check out ground support equipment for the test firing of the Saturn V booster. Lewallen was rated by a supervisor as having 'a relatively good background in aircraft repair,' and regarded him as a mild-mannered individual" (Flammonde, 180-1).

Flammonde also reports that Clay Shaw lived at 1313 Dauphine, suggesting that Garrison erred just slightly in placing James Lewallen's 1309 Dauphine home "right next door" to Clay Shaw's home -- not that it makes much of a difference (Garrison, 134).

So while, in the end, Garrison was correct in stating that some of Oswald's former co-workers had resigned from Reily and gained employment at the NASA installation in Michoud, the number turned out to be not four, but two -- Alfred Claude and John Branyon -- and one was hired at the Chrysler plant, while the other found a job at Boeing.

If Frank Klein did report to Jim Garrison that "Anyone who ever had any connection with Lee Oswald left the Reily Company within a few weeks after Oswald," that report would have been false. In fact, the three Reily employees who had the most contact with Oswald -- Emmett Barbe, Arturo Rodriguez and Charles Le Blanc -- all seem to have still been with Reily well after Oswald's departure.

In summation, Anthony Summers' assertion that "four of [Oswald's] colleagues at Reily did move to NASA within weeks of Oswald's departure" seems to have originated with Jim Garrison's erroneous claim, first published by William Turner in 1968. From what we now know, a reasonable inference about the relationship between NASA and the Reily employees might be that the newly opened Michoud plant was hiring for better wages than those paid by the Reily Coffee Company, and, if Adrian Alba's recollections are correct, it's possible that Oswald was planning to apply for a job at NASA.

If, on the other hand, the remarks Alba attributes to Oswald were actually spoken by another Reily employee of Alba's acquaintance, it would explain why this individual was so optimistic about his future at NASA, somewhere Oswald never even applied for a position. It would also explain why he said, "I have found my pot of gold at the end of the rainbow," a statement which does not sound much like the Oswald we know, who denounced capitalism and complained to his friend George De Mohrenschildt that his wife was too materialistic.

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