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Part IX: An American boy remembers the years after the Kennedy assassinations

John Roselli, James P. Cantillon
Associated Press

I had been going to schools on the east coast for a couple of years. JFK even attended two of them. I got an education for sure. But I didn't feel like I belonged there, in part, because many of my schoolmates came from well established families that were extremely wealthy, and Pop never saved a dime in his life.

He was W. R. Hearst's highest paid syndicated columnist from 1946 to 1962, and well paid after that for a while. But he had seen the people of America lose their farms and homes to the banks during the Great Depression. He knew it could happen again. So he never even bought a home. Instead, he rented fine houses, always had new cars, picked up the check wherever he went, and he sent me to some good schools.

And as much as Pop wanted to give me the opportunity to be an Ivy League attorney, I was fast becoming disillusioned by what I saw happening to Michael and James Cantillon. They were good men, but a string of Civil Law decisions in which judges ruled against Michael's clients, and according to him against the law and the Constitution as well, had Michael on the verge of giving up. For James, on the other hand, who could be an eloquent crusader for the sanctity of the letter of the law no matter how guilty his Criminal Law clients might have been, the experiences were even less gratifying.

People began to call him a mob attorney behind his back, and the strain of association took a toll. I didn't begin to see how much of a toll, until I sought some advice regarding my situation in the aftermath of what happened to me in Rome, and I dropped by his house on the southeast corner of Sunset and Roxbury one Sunday, unannounced. He was in the living room, in the midst of getting his five and six year old daughters ready to leave for church, when the phone rang. Mrs. Cantillon came into the room and told him a certain person, whose name I shall not mention because it would add an unwanted element to the point I'm trying to convey, was on the line. And with that he lost his temper, unleashing a stream of off-color invectives for which I know he must have been later ashamed.

I didn't start to understand what kind of pressure he was under, until I saw him at a private club called Les Caves du Roi with one of his clients, Johnny Roselli. Roselli had been a man about town in Hollywood since the 1940's. He dated some of the most beautiful actresses, among them June Lang whom he married, which ruined her career.

The Eisenhower era CIA used Roselli, among others, under threat of prosecution by the justice department, as a liaison with the so-called Chicago Syndicate. He was one of the key players in CIA plans to eliminate Fidel Castro. Contrary to self serving misinformation between various bureaucracies, Roselli had been pressured by notorious senior CIA leader, William Harvey, to assist teams orchestrating the murder of President Kennedy. But while he was only one of many such liaisons between the CIA and several similarly structured organizations, he was one of the few who threatened them in return with telling all unless he was pardoned.

Throughout his life he had managed to avoid prison because of his connections. After poisoning the first owner of the Stardust, Tony Cornero, and watching him dying on the carpet, he walked calmly out the front door, drove back to Los Angeles, and nobody said a word. He manipulated the Teamsters into shaking down the movie studios. He allegedly orchestrated pay outs to a federal judge and politicians in Los Angeles and Las Vegas. And he attended the meetings between Sam Giancana, Richard Cain, William Harvey and other agents, at the new Bermuda Dunes airport that Ray Ryan built for the CIA.

Roselli had been drinking that evening. Pressure from people concerned about his upcoming testimony at the House Select Committee to Study Governmental Operations, a forerunner of the Select Committee on Assassinations, must have been mounting upon him, and hence his attorney, Jim Cantillon. Jim had a few drinks too, but he was no match for the surly and belligerent Johnny Roselli whose manners that night matched his reputation.

Roselli was bitter about self serving politicians holding open hearings about things that much more powerful groups had determined to stay covered up, and he rhetorically questioned whether anyone could expect a satisfactory result from a person who was being forced to do something. He didn't outright say that the pressure to assist in the conspiracy to assassinate Fidel Castro, and the threats of imprisonment and deportation by the Eisenhower era CIA and the FBI and those walking the line between them where wearing him thin. But now I'm certain it was.

Jim had helped him cut an impossible deal in return for avoiding deportation, and staying out of prison on federal charges for interstate transportation of gambling money in the Friars Club case. But after the House Select Committee on Assassinations decided to call him back to the stand a second time, he was soon residing in a fifty gallon drum of cement, with his legs sawed off, as kind of a message to insinuate the so-called Mafia was concerned about the arrangement he made to receive liberty in return for his testimony and that he wasn't going to "walk" after all. But despite the apparent signature of a mob killing, I don't particularly think it was, because from the way Roselli was talking, it was never the underworld he was actually worried about.

For related information see Part IV: An American boy remembers the years after the Kennedy assasinations