The Winnipeg Airport Incident Revisited

Peter R. Whitmey
From The Fourth Decade, March, 1999. Posted with the permission of Peter Whitmey.
Ever since I first became aware of the "Winnipeg Airport Incident" while reading Coup D'Etat in America twelve years ago, (providing a brief and somewhat misleading reference, but which led me to other sources), I have attempted to collect as many of the primary and secondary documents as possible. After writing my first article on the subject ("The Man Who Heard Too Much," Nov. 1990, TTD), based on secondary material as well as numerous interviews, I was pleased to learn from researcher Bill Adams that he had been able to obtain some relevant material from the "Boxley file" through AARC. Included was "Commission No. 645" -- the six-page detailed report provided to the Warren Commission by the FBI (dated March 6, 1964), which had been prepared by the Minneapolis office, based on an interview with Winnipeg resident Richard Giesbrecht, conducted by SA Merle Nelson from the FBI's Grand Forks, ND office.

I also received some documents (but not all) through a FOIPA application, in several stages, which began arriving a year after writing to the FBI. Included amongst them were teletypes sent to FBI offices in Kansas City, Las Vegas and Dallas, dated March 2 and 3, 1964, giving specific instructions to check out certain "leads," along with a detailed summary of the Winnipeg Airport Incident. However, when the official six-page report was distributed on March 6, the cover pages attached to it list one new lead for the New York City office to check out in place of the previous Dallas lead. (I discussed partial results of these leads in my second article "The Winnipeg Airport Incidents" -- TFD, Nov. 1995.)

With the formation of the Assassination Record Review Board in 1992 and the subsequent creation of the NARA website ("Kennedy Assassination Records Collection"), I was finally able to do my own search for other possible documents related to the Winnipeg Airport Incident. When I first used the database, I entered the name "Richard Giesbrecht," which resulted in a listing of thirteen documents, all of which I had received through my earlier FOIPA application. However, I soon discovered other relevant summary pages that did not include the name "Giesbrecht".

One of the most important, given its proximity to the events of Feb. 13, 1964, is a seven-page, hand-written letter from Mr. Giesbrecht's lawyer, Harry Backlin (who had represented him and his brother in business dealings for several years) to Mr. John H. Morris, the U.S. Consulate General in Winnipeg, dated Feb. 18, 1964. The letter was headed "Absolutely Personal" and began:

"Further to our recent telephone conversation in which I set forth certain personal and confidential information concerning the Oswald case. I am writing this memorandum because I do not wish the information herein contained to get into too many hands. I have your undertaking that this information shall be dealt with in the strictest confidence."
Backlin pointed out "..Before passing the information on to you, I checked out the man and firmly believe that what he has divulged to me is fact." (As it turned out, the FBI ended up concluding that Giesbrecht had an overactive imagination.) The remainder of the letter outlines the comments which Mr. Giesbrecht had overheard and noted in writing (he tore up his notes while driving home, but his brother assisted him in rewriting them that evening.) Here are some excerpts:
"On the afternoon of Feb. 13th my client, a salesman, had an appointment to meet a customer at the new International Airport. My client arrived early and sat in the cocktail lounge to have a drink. After finishing his drink he walked around the new building...then returned to the same table...Immediately behind him were seated two men who were not there previously...he could overhear them talking about the Oswald case. One of the men was wondering 'how much Oswald really knew' and 'how much does she know.' [This was undoubtedly a reference to Marina, who had testified before the Warren Commission on Feb. 4; her photo was on the cover of the most recent issue of Time.] A name was mentioned -- sounding like 'Isaacs' -- who was apparently seen on film after the landing.' [The FBI later wrote 'Love Field' next to this comment in the six-page report.] Further conversation could be heard in bits and pieces, such as...'if Oswald is found guilty the bureau will not stop investigation.' They talked about 'merchandise coming from Nevada...too risky in the past months. We'll have to close shop temporarily.' My client couldn't hear everything too clearly about the next matter but it related (to) the subject of 'mercury'."
Reference was made in Backlin's detailed letter to a planned "sales meeting," the first "since November," to be held "in a place sounding like Townhouse in Kansas City". Mention was made of the names "Kellogg" and "Broadway," which turned out to be the main streets in downtown Wichita, KA, where the Townhouse Motor Hotel was located. It would appear that the proposed meeting was slated for March 18, and a "banquet room" had been reserved for the unidentified group in the name of a "textile firm".

Backlin's client (not identified by name in the letter) recalled reference being made to "...the name of a person soundling like 'Hoffman" or "Hauckman" [Troy Houghton of the Minutemen perhaps?] in conjunction again with this man 'Isaacs'." Isaacs was to be relieved and the car destroyed [the FBI report identified it as a 1958 Dodge]. One of the men could clearly be overheard saying ' Isaacs, a man with such a good record would get involved with a psyco (sic) Oswald.'" This comment would suggest that "Isaacs" had become a liability to the group because of his connection to Oswald, and implies that the two men were primarily concerned with "guilt by association" in the assassination of JFK.

Backlin goes on to describe a third man who was sitting in front of Giesbrecht, "staring at him" while he was taking notes. Giesbrecht got the impression the man was "trying to get the attention of the other two because the conversation switched to an aeroplane standing outside the building". As Giesbrecht got up and left the cocktail lounge (which also included a restaurant), the "third man got up and followed him." When Giesbrecht headed for the stairs that led to an RCMP office on the main floor, the "third man" was standing there, so instead he headed for a phone and spoke to a "Mr. Pollack of the RCMP, but hung up when he saw the man start walking towards him." However, he was able to leave the building "without the man bothering him."

After leaving the airport, Giesbrecht noticed a friend at a bus stop and picked him up on his way downtown (he was later identified as "David Rock" in the cover pages of the FBI's report, who is apparently deceased.) Backlin had been "unable to contact this man to confirm that my client spoke to him about 'something very important' and what he would do if he had something like that to contend with." However, Backlin had been able to "confirm that Mr. Pollack spoke to my client and he confirmed the conversation." He also learned from Giesbrecht that after speaking to his wife, she had suggested that he contact Backlin (Mrs. Giesbrecht is still alive, but has always refused to speak to me about the incident. I had spoken to Mr. Giesbrecht three times in 1987, although he pretended to be a relative, but a year later he asked me not to contact him again. This was likely because of pressure from his wife, who had not wanted her husband to "go public" in the first place.)

Backlin indicated that his client "seems to be able to describe these men with some degree of accuracy. He has never seen them before or since," although no descriptions are provided in the letter (however, the FBI's report did include a description of each of the three men, one of whom Giesbrecht identified three years later as being David Ferrie, after his picture appeared on the front page of the Winnipeg Tribune, a day after his death in New Orleans. Giesbrecht also told the FBI that the man speaking to "Ferrie" might have been named "Romaniuk").

It would appear that Backlin met with his client on Feb. 14, only a day after the incident at the airport, in that he states that he had spoken to Giesbrecht "...a number of times since Friday," although he had "not had the opportunity of re-examining my client." However, he emphasized again that he was "...sure that the facts related are not of his imagination." He also pointed out that his client did not "...wish his name disclosed but will give his story to the proper authorities only if it is made a condition that his name be kept absolutely confidential. He is quite fearful of what may happen and his wife does not want him to become involved too deeply."

As it turned out, Giesbrecht became frustrated at not being contacted by the Warren Commission after his FBI interview (on Feb. 27 at the Marlborough Hotel in downtown Winnipeg), and contacted the station manager at the Pembina, ND television station in early April (whom the FBI subsequently interviewed.) When a proposed interview fell through, Giesbrecht spoke to a radio station announcer in Winnipeg, who encouraged Giesbrecht to speak to a reporter at the Winnipeg Free Press (Don Newman, now a distinquished television reporter for CBC-Newsworld). His account was a front-page story in the May 2, 1964 issue, although his name was not revealed. A copy was later sent to SA Merle Nelson at the Grand Forks, ND office by RCMP Constable D. P. Wershler, who still lives in Winnipeg.

In the meanwhile, the Minneapolis office of the FBI, who were in charge of the investigation, had sent out teletypes summarizing Nelson's interview to the Dallas, Kansas City, and Las Vegas offices (as well as Headquarters) on March 2 and 3, 1964, along with three "leads:" 1) Dallas was to check "indices to determine whether the name 'Isaacs' has ever appeared in the Oswald or Kennedy investigation; 2) K. C. was to check out the reference to the "Townhouse" and a possible meeting to be held on March 18; 3) Las Vegas was to check the reference to a shop or building in "Mercury, Nevada" that might have closed recently.

As I have previously reported, SA Carl Freeman of the Las Vegas reported back on March 4 that Mercury, Nevada was actually an "atomic testing site" and that there was no evidence of any business or shop closing or planning to close, nor was there any "identifiable information with the last name of ROMANIUK..." in either the AEC's files or those of the FBI and Sheriff's offices in Las Vegas.

In my second article "The Winnipeg Airport Incidents," I had stated that I had no idea whether or not the Kansas City or Wichita offices followed up on the "Townhouse" lead, since I had not received any document in this regard as a result of my FOIPA request. However, by inputting "Townhouse Motor Hotel" during a search of the NARA website, I discovered that there was, indeed, a four-page report, dated April 9, 1964. Initially, the FBI in Kansas City made inquiries with the Townhouse Motor Hotel on Seventh and State Streets in Kansas City, Kansas, as well as the Coates House Hotel on Tenth and Broadway in Kansas City, Missouri to no avail. In addition, the report included the results of a further investigation conducted by the Wichita, Kansas office, after discovering that there was a Townhouse Motel on the corners of Kellogg and Broadway. As in the case of K.C., there was no reservation for a textile group scheduled on or about March 18, nor for anyone by the name "Romaniuk," according to both the hotel and the Wichita Chamber of Commerce. There was no indication, however, as to whether such a meeting might have been cancelled, prior to March 18, at which time the FBI believed the Townhouse was in Kansas City.

The initial lead related to the name "Isaacs," directed to the Dallas FBI office, had intriguing results. Back on Dec. 21, 1963, almost two months before Giesbrecht's allegations surfaced, the Dallas office had sent a teletype to the San Francisco office (44-1639-3139) with the following directions:

"Note pad obtained from Ruby when arrested contained name Chuck Isaacs. Investigation reveals wife of Charles R. Isaacs, ticket agent, American Airlines, formerly assigned Dallas, now assigned San Francisco, made costumes for Ruby's dancers. San Francisco locate Isaacs and obtain all info. re: associates and activities of Ruby & relationship if any between Ruby & Oswald."
On Dec. 23, 1963 the San Francisco office sent a teletype to Dallas with the following instructions:
"American Airlines advises Isaacs presently on vacation in the Dallas, Tex., area and will not return until after the first of the year. Dallas interview Isaacs as set out in retel."
At the bottom of the teletype is a handwritten notation indicating that the instructions had been "covered" and that a teletype had been sent to "...SF, 1/2/64 for interviewing Isaacs & wife." On a faded copy of the teletype, the two agents involved are listed in the handwriting of one of them, namely Clements and Sayers, with the notation "Cc pulled for DL lead."

As stated above, the Dallas office contacted the San Francisco office again by teletype on Jan. 2, 1964, advising them of the following results:

"Remytel December twenty-one, sixty-three and urtel December twenty-three, sixty-three concerning interview of Chuck Isaacs and wife. Dallas unable to locate Isaacs. Since Isaacs returning to San Francisco after first of year, San Francisco handle interview of Isaacs and wife re: Ruby and Oswald...JWS."
On Jan. 6, 1964 the San Francisco office sent "25 copies each of an FD-302 reflecting interviews with Charles R. Isaacs and Mrs. Charles R. Isaacs" to the Dallas office, along with an Airtel, advising Dallas, if not already done so, to "...locate and interview BRECK WALL and JOE PETERSON, producers of shows in the Dallas area, who are acquainted with Ruby. They may possibly be located through JOE REICHMAN, an orchestra leader at the Century Room, Adolphus Hotel, Dallas, Texas." These names had been derived from the interviews with the Isaacs.

As for the interviews with Mr. and Mrs. Isaacs, it was revealed by both that Ruby had given Mrs. Isaacs a "bogus check" about three years ago for some costume work she had done, and when confronted with the check, Ruby had subsequently paid her in cash. There was no comment as to why Chuck Isaacs' name, place of employment, and home phone number (as of 1961) were in Ruby's notebook, which was the initial reason for locating him. When I spoke to Isaacs' former wife (who lives in San Antonio under a different last name) in 1991, she was sure that it was her name that appeared in Ruby's notebook (it wasn't, as displayed in the Warren volumes -- Armstrong Exhibit, No. 5309-A.)

It could be that Isaacs was more involved with Ruby than he was willing to admit to either his wife or the FBI. I find it puzzling why the FBI did not find out the reason for Ruby having listed Isaacs in his notebook -- a notebook which was referred to by Burt Griffin during his interview with Curtis Laverne Crafard on April 9, 1964 (Crafard has since reverted back to the correct spelling of his name which is "C-R-A-F-O-R-D"). What is even more puzzling is the fact that the Dallas FBI did not reinterview Charles Isaacs (or have the San Francisco office do so.) Instead, a teletype was sent to the New York office on March 3, 1964, most of which is a summary of Giesbrecht's allegations, along with instructions for the New York office to reinterview social worker Martin Isaacs, whose name and business address were listed in Oswald's notebook. He had been interviewed by the FBI on Dec. 17. The Dallas office asked New York to obtain from Isaacs "...his whereabouts on November twenty-two last, and...any information to help resolve identities and conversations in retel." Copies were sent to the K.C., Las Vegas and Minneapolis offices.

The New York FBI office sent an airtel to Headquarters on Mar. 4, 1964 with copies sent to Dallas, K.C., Las Vegas and Minneapolis re: Richard Giesbrecht, indicating Mr. Isaacs, age 59 and an employee of the Dept. of Welfare for 30 years, had never been to Texas, and was working in his office on Nov. 22, 1963. He was not familiar with the names "Hoffman," "Hauchtman" or "Romaniuk," and didn't recognize the descriptions of the men overheard and/or seen by Giesbrecht. He did not own a car, and knew nothing about a '58 Dodge or possibly Mercury car. He had never been to either Kansas City or Winnipeg. In regard to his connection to the Oswalds, Isaacs indicated he had been contacted by the U.S. State Dep't and asked to assist in the relocation of the Oswalds to Texas when they arrived in New York from Russia.

Obviously, the very questions that were put to Martin Isaacs should also have been put to Charles R. Isaacs, especially since he had been an employee of American Airlines at Love Field, and possibly was the person seen on film footage "after the landing". Even if this was not on Nov. 22, 1963, it might have been earlier when JFK came to Dallas during his campaign for the presidency in 1960 (unless "the landing" refers to something else.)

Bill Turner, a former FBI agent and Ramparts reporter, certainly recognized the possible connection between the "Isaacs" reference in Winnipeg and the "Chuck Isaacs" in Ruby's notebook, as reflected in a memo he sent to Garrison on August 18, 1967. Turner suggested that "...ISAACS had some assignment in the assassination at the Dallas Love Field, but that he got too close to Kennedy, was in the news TV footage of the arrival, and therefore was considered hot by the conspirators and marked for elimination." Turner thought it would be "...extremely interesting to find out if ISAACS could be the man named in the news article and whether he is still alive and well in Dallas..." Ironically, he was now living in the Bay Area, as was Turner.

In Jan. 1968 Giesbrecht's story was referred to in the U.S. press for the first time, initially by Turner in his lengthy report for Ramparts about the Garrison case. However, instead of repeating the content of his earlier memo, Turner switched to the possible identity of "Harold R. Isaacs," listed in the title of CD 1080, one of numerous classified documents at the National Archives (listed in the appendix of Farewell America, which Turner was distributing to libraries and researchers.)

Prior to Turner's article, Mary Ferrell had written her own memo to Garrison at the request of Tom Bethell, who had provided her the same classified CD titles (see his book The Electric Windmill). Having become aware of the Winnipeg Airport Incident, Mary discovered a 1961-63 listing in the Dallas directory under the name "Harold R. Isaacs" (and presumably also noticed a listing for "Charles R. Isaacs") and made the following comment:

"Tom requested that I write what I remembered of the Harold R. Isaacs investigation. When I observed that Gen. Walker was 'investigated' in Boston by the F.B.I. on May 21, 1964, the thought occurred to me that Harold R. Isaacs, who was investigated by the F.B.I. in Boston on May 22, 1964, might also be from Dallas..."
At the end of her memo, after making reference to telephone listings under Harold Isaacs' ex-wife and parents, with partial credit given to "Boxley" (actually William Wood) for locating Isaacs in the Houston area (which Wood later wrote about in a 1975 issue of the National Tattler, Mary made the following oblique statement:
"Please read the clipping from the Winnipeg paper re: the conversation overheard in the airport concerning Oswald and Isaacs and the meeting in Kansas City. There is no connection between Chuck Isaacs (in Ruby's notebook) and our Harold R. Isaacs. I determined this in June. I can send you my reasoning on that point if you would like, but it is very conclusive."
It would appear that Turner was persuaded to forget about Charles R. Isaacs, as a result of the efforts of Bethell, Boxley and Ferrell, even though it was a far more solid lead than the one associated with CD 1080 (which turned out to be a reference to Prof. Harold R. Isaacs of M.I.T., who was the target of right-wing journalist Paul Scott, and who had attempted to link the professor to several "Communists," including Marilyn Murret, Oswald's globe-trotting cousin from New Orleans, although unaware they were related.)

Shortly after the reference in Ramparts, Giesbrecht was profiled in the Jan. 28, 1968 issue of the National Enquirer, which included an interview with Garrison's chief investigator, Louis Ivon. He revealed that the D.A.'s office "...was looking in Dallas for Chuck Isaacs and a Paul Hoffman..." After reading the article, a pilot for American Airlines, who had known Chuck Isaacs for several years both in Dallas and Tulsa (where Isaacs grew up), wrote to Garrison to let him know that Isaacs was now living in San Francisco. He described Isaacs as "...personable, alert, intelligent and somewhat of an operator." (In my conversation with the former pilot, he used the term "wheeler-dealer," and was surprised to learn that Isaacs was married while in Dallas; he was also certain that Chuck had moved after the assassination.)

I also learned from my conversation with Isaacs' second wife (whom I located with the help of a former Dallas neighbour) that her daughter (now deceased) showed the National Enquirer article to her father, but he had not contacted Garrison himself (nor had he contacted the FBI about his wife's contact with Ruby and his own possible connection, as suggested by the entry in Ruby's notebook.)

Given how thoroughly the FBI had checked out various leads related to Giesbrecht's allegations, it is hard to believe that the Dallas office overlooked Charles R. Isaacs, since his name would have been in their files once Ruby's notebook was examined. The reference to a 1958 Dodge, which was to be destroyed, could also have connected events in Winnipeg with gunrunning activities in Dallas, involving the transfer of stolen weapons from a Dodge to a Thunderbird, only days before the assassination (as described in Oswald Talked, with links to both Ruby and Oswald.) Although the Thunderbird had been seized and the occupants arrested, the Dodge and its driver (possibly Isaacs himself) managed to flee the scene.

Even though I was able to locate Charles R. Isaacs in 1992 (as well as his son), I did not receive a reply to my letter, and later learned that Mr. Isaacs was diagnosed with Alzheimer's, shortly after his third wife died, and that he was now in a rest home in Shreveport, La. The FBI might very well be relieved.


Recently, on the way to Minneapolis for a JFK assassination conference, I spent two days in Winnipeg researching this aspect of the case. While there, I was able to watch a ten-minute interview conducted with the late Richard Giesbrecht for a CBC-TV program called "Open Seasons;" the interview took place at the very table where Mr. Giesbrecht allegedly overheard the suspicious conversation, in the Horizon Room at the Winnipeg International Airport.

The interview was broadcast on Dec. 12, 1968, only a month or so before the Shaw trial got underway. This is almost a year since Giesbrecht had been interviewed by the National Enquirer and referred to briefly in William Turner's Ramparts report. It also took place on the heels of the assassinations of both Martin Luther King and Robert F. Kennedy, and the turbulence at the Chicago Democratic convention. Under the circumstances, Mr. Giesbrecht would have been fully justified to cancel his agreement made with the New Orleans District Attorney, Jim Garrison, to testify at Shaw's trial (which he had expected to begin in June, 1968.) I was led to believe that Giesbrecht had, in fact, already notified Garrison that he would not be coming to New Orleans, as a result of threats to his family's welfare. However, when asked about his concern for his own safety during the interview, Giesbrecht indicated that since he had told the RCMP, the FBI and Garrison's staff everything he knew, he didn't feel there was any reason why he would be harmed, although he did state at a later point that his days were probably "numbered," and had "mixed feelings" about having come forward in the first place. He also was familiar with Penn Jones' study suggesting that there were as many as "32 mysterious deaths" associated with the JFK assassination (which had been discussed in a Canadian magazine the previous fall.) There was no indication that any threat had been made towards his wife or four children, however (one of whom drowned in 1969 in a motel pool in Detroit Lakes, Minn. at the age of nine.)

In addition to reviewing the highlights of his experience at the Winnipeg Airport on Feb. 13, 1964 (with no mention of David Ferrie, oddly enough, by either Giesbrecht or the interviewer), Giesbrecht also provided information suggesting a possible link between JFK's assassination and that of Martin Luther King eight months earlier. He mentioned that he had been in contact with Arthur Haynes, one of James Earl Ray's original lawyers, and William Huie, a reporter who was writing a book on MLK's assassination in conjunction with the defense (who subsequently became convinced that Ray was a lone assassin.) While displaying a large police sketch, Giesbrecht referred to the "third man" who had followed him, when he left the airport lounge, as fitting Ray's description of a man seen with him in Montreal (presumably Raoul,, although no name is mentioned). Apparently, Ray's new lawyer (Percy Foreman, not referred to by name) was also aware of this possible connection. It should be pointed out, however, that the description of the "third man" given by Giesbrecht to the FBI was not consistent in terms of height and weight with the description of "Raoul" given by James Earl Ray, although it is possible that someone else who was seen with Ray was the subject of the discussion. Giesbrecht also pointed out that the incident at the airport and James Earl Ray's post-assassination movements both involved Canada, and believed there was a connec- tion between the two.

In the course of the interview, Giesbrecht also mentioned that there were at least a dozen classified documents in the archives referring to his allegations, implying that the U.S. government was covering up what they had learned during their investigation of Giesbrecht's allegations (that number is correct, which he must have obtained from Garrison). One of the classified documents that he referred to specifically was the "Harold Isaacs" report, which I discussed in this report, which had nothing to do with the Winnipeg investigation (and turned out to be a very large red herring). He emphasized again having been warned to keep quiet by the FBI agent who had interviewed him, in the course of contacting the "U.S. media" (specifically being interviewed by the station manager of a KCND-TV in Pembina, North Dakota in early April, 1964; I spoke to the former manager recently, who now lives in Winnipeg. I also learned that the station had been purchased by Izzy Asper, who is now "C.E.O." of Canwest Global Communicatons, headquartered in Winnipeg, and one of Canada's private television networks.) Giesbrecht described having become frustrated at the apparent lack of any follow-up on the part of the FBI after such an immediate initial response, causing him to go public with his story (although he didn't reveal his name until he was interviewed by Maclean's magazine for their Nov. 1967 issue.)

Since the Shaw trial did finally get underway in late Jan. 1969 after a long delay (with Shaw's lawyers trying unsuccessfully to get the U.S. Supreme Court to throw out the charges), obviously Giesbrecht must have had a change of heart following his television interview (he indicated to the interviewer that the case had been "frozen" for some time and wasn't sure when it would start, if at all). It is possible that the comments made by Giesbrecht in reference to the MLK case had some bearing on his subsequent decision to stay well away from New Orleans (a city which played a significant role in James Earl Ray's claim of being set up.) It would be interesting to learn whether Garrison was aware of the CBC-TV interview, and the possible links to the MLK case. In addition, it might be significant to learn who was responsible for the police drawing displayed by Giesbrecht.

- Peter R. Whitmey
Abbotsford, B.C.
June 7, 1999

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