Gayle Nix Jackson’s Interview Excerpts with Walter Machann.
For the complete interview – see Gayle Nix Jackson, Pieces of the Puzzle (2017)
We know Gayle Nix Jackson as the granddaughter of Orville Nix, who, like Abraham Zapruder, filmed the assassination of President Kennedy, the subject of her first book—Orville Nix: The Missing Assassination Film (2014).
Then, after interviewing a number of important witnesses, including Walter Machann, Gayle put together a second book, Pieces of the Puzzle, an anthology that includes contributions from a number of other JFK researchers and touches on other important subjects. The interview with Machann stands out however, as a key piece to the Dealey Plaza puzzle.
Not only did Gayle Nix Jackson find Walter Machann; it can’t be overemphasized how important it was that she gained his trust and he talked to her on the record, answering key questions.
One of the more significant and elusive characters in the JFK assassination story, Walter Machann was a Catholic priest who catered to the needs of the Cuban exile community of Dallas, including Silvia Odio and her family.
Before the assassination, Silvia Odio told Father Machann about three visitors to her Dallas apartment, including “Leon” Oswald, a former Marine who said President Kennedy should have been assassinated after the Bay of Pigs. Machann not only confirms Odio’s story but provides and exact date, a fact that had eluded official investigators.
To put things in chronological order, Machann explained to Gayle Nix Jackson: “I’m Polish on my father’s side. Irish on my Mother’s side … My dad worked as a shipping clerk for over 50 years at an oil company. My mother had only a high school education. My dad finished high school at night school … I never had money. I wasn’t tied to luxuries in life … My mother sent me to school at age 5 … Sister Winifred took me like her little boy. I graduated high school before my 16th birthday … and I was shipped off to the Seminary. I had been an altar boy and one of my friends was a secular priest. I got interested in philosophy because the Jesuits are famous for that, for their arguments, like Socrates and St. Thomas Aquinas. I was really just being carried along in the wave … I was ordained before I was 23. The cut-off age was 24. I have a little frame of the Pope in Rome that gave me dispensation to be ordained before age 24. I wasn’t really prepared emotionally, but I was very pious, very religious.”
“I spent a summer in Mexico while still in Seminary,” Machann continued; “I saw a lot of Mexico and can speak Spanish well. It’s almost a second language.” Which is why he became head of the Catholic Cuban Relief Program in Dallas.
“Bishop Tschoeper appointed me (to the Catholic Cuban Relief Program),” Machann said. “He knew I spoke Spanish and had done well at the University of Mexico. I was young and energetic. I think he felt I would be the right person for that job. The Cuban Catholic Committee of Dallas was not very representative of all the Cubans. There were different segments … a pretty small group … It’s always difficult when you have such people who have been thrust into a new country knowing no one and longing for their families. So many of these Cubans were young or newly married. Many of them were from quite wealthy families in Cuba and they got here and could barely scrape up enough money to buy food. It was very sad for them.”
“As for the Odios,” Machann said, “I knew her sisters. Sarita. I knew Annie. She was a teenager. They were accustomed to living in a higher part of society. Castro made their country estate into a prison. That’s what revolutions are about I guess. Castro was at their house a lot. They had a wedding there for (Castro’s) sister.”
Gayle gave Machann Silvia Odio’s book of poetry, written in Spanish, from which Machann translated to English and from which we learn that Silvia was born in Cuba in 1937, but was sent to the United States to go to school. She graduated from Sacred Heart High School in Philadelphia, studied law at Villanova University, returned home and then left Cuba in December, 1960.
According to Machann, “She was artistic, semi-intellectual. The Spanish philosopher Ortega de Garcet [sic; probably refers to José Ortega y Gasset] was her favorite … She was romantic about the fate of Cubans coming to Dallas. Some of her ideas I even put in my sermons. Because of the trauma of the revolution, going from wealth to poverty, you have to remake yourself. Forge a new self.”
Catholic Cuban Relief
As for the Catholic Cuban Relief Program, Machann said, “ … I would talk to businesses asking them to help and then there were many socialites who helped bring clothing and food and such for us to distribute to the refugees.”
Among the Dallas socialites who assisted Machann in taking care of the Cuban refugees was Lucille Connell. “Lucille Connell! Yes! She was one to remember … ,” said Machann. “There were a group of women who … helped with the Cubans. Most of them weren’t even Catholic, but a few were. They were more social than they were anything. I suppose because of the times it was their way of being in a kind of club to help others. They were always in the paper, Lucille Connell especially.”
And it was Connell, not Silvia Odio, who first alerted authorities to Odio’s three visitors, including Lee Harvey Oswald, the accused assassin.
In Lucille Connell’s testimony, she mentions Silvia and Annie going to the movies. Gayle says that “Faith Leicht … said that while they were at the movies, Silvia said she would be right back. They figured she was going to the restroom. She didn’t show up after the movie was over. Faith said that they later found Silvia wandering around Turtle Creek near General Walker’s home. This was April 10th of 1963. Faith said that Annie called you to see if you knew where Silvia was and then called Lucille Connell. They then called the police. The police picked her up on Turtle Creek and took her to Lucille Connell’s home.”
April 10th was the date someone took a shot at General Walker while he was in his home office on Turtle Creek. To that story, Machann said, “I don’t think that happened. I think that must be made up. I don’t remember anyone calling me about Silvia … It seems like another distraction. I don’t know what proof there is that he ever shot at General Walker and just missed him.”
Besides Lucille Connell and Faith Leicht, another Dallas socialite who assisted Machann in helping the Cuban refugees was Trudi Castorr, wife of Colonel Castorr, who was involved in running guns to Cuba with the husband of one of the bartenders at the Carousel Club, and Jack Ruby was the bagman in the operation. But Machann doesn’t recall Trudi Castorr.
“Trudi Castorr? That doesn’t ring a bell, but I didn’t know all of them,” Machann said. But he did know Sylvia Odio, intimately. “Silvia was one of the Cubans from a wealthy family; in fact, I heard that her dad was one of the wealthiest men in Cuba. Silvia immediately took up with Lucille … She also liked attention and nice things. Her state of mind, I don’t know how you would describe it, but she was prone to nervous breakdowns. She was highly excitable, but also very strong. She told me she was her father’s favorite child and I think she must have been very much like him. Though she would faint and feign nervousness, she was strong and outgoing, unlike her sister Sarita … Sarita went to the University of Dallas and was here with their younger sister (Anne) who was in high school. She was engaged to a Swedish man. I think they may have gotten married. Sarita was very quiet. She never rocked the boat. She was the opposite of Silvia.”
Before the assassination Silvia wrote to her father in a Cuban prison to tell him about the three visitors, told a Navy psychiatrist—a friend of Connell—and told Father Machann. She told those three close confidants, and Connell, about three strangers who visited her apartment seeking assistance for their Cuban cause, including “Leon” Oswald, the accused assassin of the president, who said that JFK should have been killed after the Bay of Pigs.
When the strangers came, Silvia’s younger sister Annie answered the door and the visitors at first asked for her other sister Sarita. Silvia’s father was affiliated with JURE, a liberal anti-Castro group led by Manolo Ray, while Silvia’s sister Sarita was a Dallas college student involved in the DRE, the Directorio Revolucionario Estudiantil.
The visitors said they were “working in the underground,” and they introduced themselves as “Leopoldo,” “Angelo,” and “Leon” Oswald, an American. The next day, Leopoldo called Silvia and told her Oswald was a former Marine and expert marksman who said the Cubans should have assassinated President Kennedy after the Bay of Pigs.
Machann said, “The one thing I did tell them was that I remember that date because Silvia and Lucille were going to a celebrity party with that actress (Janet Leigh) … and I felt slighted. I wondered why they didn’t ask me to go. I would have liked to have gone. I just remembered when she called and told me … I connected it to that party I didn’t go to … I do know she told me the day she said they came was the day they were going to the party.”
Gayle found a Tuesday, September 24, 1963, newspaper report on the Galaxy Gala Ball that was scheduled for the following Friday, September 27, setting the date of the visitors exactly.
Besides having knowledge about Odio’s visitors before the assassination, and providing the date, Father Machann, the Dallas newspapers also reported, introduced John Martino to a John Birch Society audience in Dallas when he was promoting his book, I Was Castro’s Prisoner. In that talk, with Sylvia Odio’s sister Sarita in the audience, Martino said he knew her father Amador Odio in the Isle of Pines prison in Cuba. Odio was incarcerated for participating in a plot to kill Fidel Castro that also included Antonio Veciana, who also becomes entwined in the JFK assassination story. Martino’s mention of her father caused Sarita to cry.
John Martino is well known to JFK researchers from his role in the Bayo-Pawley raid to Cuba with William Pawley and other suspects in the assassination. In the 1990s, while I interviewed Martino’s sister and brother in Atlantic City, Anthony Summers was in Florida interviewing Martino’s son and wife. Martino’s widow told Summers that her husband had expressed foreknowledge of the assassination of the president on the morning of the murder.
Machann however, says today that he didn’t know John Martino and doesn’t recall introducing him to the Birch Society audience.
Machann said that with the Cubans, “Politics and religion were separate. Whereas in Texas, politics is religion … I just remember I think it was at a Mass we had for him, I gave a sermon, that was later published in the Catholic Weekly, and it was, kind of my interpretation of some of the things that Silvia had said about this philosopher Ortega y Garcet [Gasset], talking about consciousness, the change of consciousness, I kinda played a little on that now they needed to think of something positive for the future.”
Machann said that “I would go to different businesses asking for help with the organization. I met the oil baron H. L. Hunt that way … When I went to Mr. Hunt’s office he just talked about the Communism problem and his Lifeline show. He never donated any money to us.”
The CIA Connection
While Machann assisted the Cubans and helped raise donations for them, he worked closely with a Cuban, Mr. Joaquin “Papa” Insua. “We worked together. Mr. Insua kept our books so he knew about all the money we took in and gave out … I didn’t [hire him], I don’t know who did, but I would think it was someone from the Diocese.”
Strange enough, after the assassination, the Dallas Cuban Refugee Office, where Machann worked, caught fire. Of that Machann says, “I know all the records that Mr. Insua kept were burned. He died not long afterwards, or maybe it was before. The memory of an old man isn’t reliable is it?”
It was Joaquin Insua who kept the records and accounted for the money, the origins of which we now know was the CIA.
The Catholic Church’s support for the Cuban refugee relief was sponsored, as least in part, by the Philadelphia-based CIA conduit Catherwood Foundation.
[See: Catherwood Fund—http://jfkcountercoup.blogspot.com/2008/01/catherwood-fund.html and Cuban Aid Relief—http://jfkcountercoup.blogspot.com/2008/01/cuban-aid-relief.html].
The CIA’s interest in refugees from communist countries began with Nazi German general Reinhard Gehlen, Hitler’s intelligence chief for the Eastern front, who recognized the value of the information provided by the refugees fleeing the Soviets with Operation Wringer. The CIA continued this operation with the International Rescue Committee, headed by Leo Cherne, who Lee Harvey Oswald wrote to three times from the Soviet Union seeking assistance in returning home.
As most Cubans are Catholic, it wasn’t surprising for the Catholic Church to support the Cuban refugees, and the Church’s effort was in turn supported by the CIA Catherwood Foundation, that provided money and set up medical clinics in Miami, New Orleans, and Dallas, where large numbers of Cubans settled.
Sometime shortly after the assassination, Machann suddenly left the priesthood, disappeared from Dallas, and resurfaced in New Orleans.
“I didn’t see them after the assassination. I moved to New Orleans and never saw any of those people again,” Machann said.
As for leaving the priesthood, Machann says: “There’s a saying, ‘El camino que no coriste.’ It means, ‘The road you didn’t take.’ People do tend to think what would have happened had I stayed? I mean, I see many of my classmates … what happened to them in their careers. You know. I had a very good friend who was a counselor at the University of Dallas, another was a chancellor to the Arch Diocese, at that time every place I had been assigned, they couldn’t find anything to keep me challenged. I couldn’t find anything to keep me adequately engaged. They kept me busy. I would do all the things and turn the money over to them, but basically it was not something I had really chosen. It didn’t seem to be what my potential was. You know? It wasn’t my real vocation, whatever that is, my calling. It was my mother’s dream … My mother didn’t like me leaving the priesthood. I didn’t really tell her I was going. I just left. She didn’t even know where I was … I ended up negotiating with the Diocese, very privately, that I could be admitted to Loyola in New Orleans. They didn’t know what to do with me, and they … It’s not that they didn’t want me, I just found the priesthood unfulfilling. Of course, I was a bit scandalized by some of the things I saw, which of course you would be when you get too close to people who are very sanctimonious, or at least have all the trappings of religion … I held myself to a certain standard but I didn’t see anyone else doing it. I think shock is what allowed me to make the break. Otherwise, I may have not ever broken away. It was a critical time. My personal crisis just happened to occur simultaneously as the Kennedy Crisis.”
When he left the priesthood, Machann had talked the church leadership into allowing him to attend Tulane University, where he got a degree in Sociology and Philosophy.
In New Orleans, unknown to Silvia, he visited her uncle, Dr. Augustin Guitart, a college professor who attended Oswald’s court hearing after the altercation with Carlos Bringuier and the DRE Cubans who accosted him. Guitart was a friend of Bringuier.
Of his time there Machann said, “I knew the Odio family well enough that when I went to New Orleans I would visit her uncle (Augustin Guitart). He was a professor … He taught physics … It was nice knowing him though because I was in a city where I knew no one and I would go to his home and it felt like family.I spent a lot of time at the Guitart home … He was a quiet man. He didn’t seem like an activist. He was a physics professor, short in stature. He was a mature, serious pleasant man.”
After the Warren Commission learned about what became known as “The Odio Incident,” an investigator visited Machann in New Orleans. Besides Gayle Nix Jackson, Machann says there have only been two other interviews with him. “One was an FBI agent that found me in New Orleans, the other was a Frontline team that put me on camera and asked me questions. There were only two official interviews. The FBI guy in New Orleans and Frontline.”
Machann’s associate in the Dallas Catholic Cuban Relief program, Mr. Insua, had a daughter who served as their secretary and taught school at the church, including the son of FBI agent Hosty, a parishioner. And it was Hosty, Machann says, who tracked him down in New Orleans and interviewed him there.
“That FBI guy’s name was James Hosty,” Machann now says. “He was a former parishioner at Blessed Sacrament Church where my family had attended church for a long time and he was the one who found me in New Orleans and came to my boarding house where I was renting a room. He called me downstairs and had a talk and I followed his direction, he asked me to make a phone call which I did. But the only thing I could tell him is what I said. He couldn’t get any more information, I wasn’t really involved. If they did send him, or why they did send him, he didn’t ask me a lot of questions, like did they ever confess to you. Even if I had heard confessions, it’s nobody’s business, it’s sealed and locked away. Maybe they were just trying to find out anything they could find. They like trying to catch someone. Like fishing. They’ll try anything. I didn’t know anything. How soon the investigation got to be a cover-up rather than an investigation, I don’t know. It became more a distraction than an in-depth investigation … They talked to me … just because it was a way to throw sand up in everybody’s face … they had to pretend they were doing a completely thorough investigation.”
The problem here is that the official Warren Commission records indicate that it was not Hosty, but Secret Service Inspector Thomas Kelley, who questioned Machann in New Orleans about the Odio incident. According to these documents, the investigator had Machann call Sylvia Odio on the phone and ask her once again about her visitors. And according to the official report, Odio then said one of the visitors was Rogelio Cisneros, but she later denied saying that.
And then we don’t hear from Machann for many years. When I tracked Machann’s family to Texas and talked to his sister on the phone, she said her brother was in Thailand, where he moved to after leaving the priesthood. I imagined he had continued his theological musings and became a monk, but boy was I wrong.
Machann says that, “My first real job other than being a priest or throwing a newspaper route was working at the Mental Health Halfway house (in New Orleans).”
After leaving New Orleans, Machann says, “I worked in Florida for a few years in the mental health field. I didn’t like the commercialization of Florida. I lived in West Palm Beach where the rich people were … I traveled throughout Russia with a travel group. It was a break in the Cold War. They wouldn’t let you read just any book, so you had to be careful which books you carried. I bought a Volkswagen in Hamburg in 1968 and drove all the way through the Baltic States, the Czech Republic and the Coast of Spain. I was sleeping in the car and eating just to stay alive. I ran out of money and had to come back home.”
“When I was in New York, I was having a hard time finding a job. I had put in applications to many overseas jobs and WHO just happened to hire me. I moved to Thailand and lived there many years. In fact, I had my son there. Yes, I have a son … Unfortunately, his mother died when he was seven of dengue fever. He basically grew up as an orphan. He had no mother. But he always was interested in philosophy as well. I don’t know how much of who we are is genetic, environment or education, but he was mesmerized by Greek books at a very young age … He did a few tours in Iraq and came back a different man. He tried to find peace here, but eventually moved back to Thailand. I’m going to see him soon.”
“I haven’t talked much about my low points in life, because you don’t go through traumatic changes in your life without discussing your philosophy, emotions, mental state and the like. My wife dying forced me to come back to Texas. That’s when I also found that in life after 40, you become unemployable in the states. My friends tried to get me jobs. Incidentally, one was a medical director at UT Southwestern. He hated the Kennedys. What came out was, he had a tremendous hatred for the Kennedys even though he was from the north. I was kind of shocked. He was one of these New England Harvard graduates, I don’t know. But I knew I didn’t want to work there.”
“Truth is a difficult thing. I don’t know how to explain it. Have you read a book called Killing Time? [Paul Feyerabend’s autobiography; see https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Killing_Time_(book)] The man who wrote it is one of my favorite modern philosophers … The world is changing politically and environmentally. It’s harder to travel these days. When I came back to the states, I noticed how different everything was. I knew I needed to be here to help my sister, but the Thai government was making me jump through hoops, so it was necessary to come back. They were making my life inconvenient. My son and his Thai wife were living here with me for a while … While I’m thinking about it and it amazed me that it happened. I used to come on home leave every 2 years from Thailand and other places. I was back at the house on Oak Cliff Blvd. and the phone rang, no one was there but me, I don’t know where everyone else was and it was Silvia Odio. She called me from Miami. She was telling me about her new husband making all these trips to Cuba and had other girlfriends and she was kinda complaining … She said she was very, very crushed and upset. She said people were twisting the truth, they don’t believe me. Of course, she was a very unusual person and personality so she inspired a lot of interest … It was a short conversation. We kind of cooled off then. We never spoke again.”
As for the assassination itself, Machann says: “I thought there was a conspiracy. Though Oswald was very left-wing and pro-Castro, none of it seemed to make sense. I still think there is something more to the assassination but I have no idea what … After the Bay of Pigs, there were many upset Cubans, they were patriots. They missed their homes. But I don’t believe they were upset enough to kill the President.”
“I think it was something far out of my realm and my hands. I think it was power at the very highest levels. That’s one thing I learned about Greek history and civilization—trouble always began when the power and wealth is concentrated in the hands of the few. That’s what’s happened in the US now. Very few have wealth and power, elected or not. So, I’m just afraid this was a power elite type of conspiracy. They have the confidence of power. They can do all kinds of things.”
“At that time (Oswald) was doing crazy things … I heard a radio interview he had once in New Orleans … The guy talked very honestly like he was involved in these causes for a reason. He was convincing. He didn’t sound stupid, he just sounded confused or misguided or mixed up.”
“The thing that really blows my mind is they really put the story across that using that weapon, he fired those shots you have to really twist everything around upside down and inside out to make that stand up. Only power can do that … We still don’t know some of the secrets of the Roman Emperors. You know, this is almost like a thorough kind of reduxia ad absortum [sic; = reductio ad absurdum] as if there are other possible explanations, other than a top down kind of conspiracy, deliberate type plan. These things don’t just happen like this.”
“Let’s face it, there is room somewhere in the real world that somethings are not what they seem to be and the story we get told and we are led to believe aren’t always true. The American Dream is not all real … But you can see how I was pulled into maybe as a distraction or confusion to muddle the picture. Something like that, I really feel like I was a spectator like everyone else … But you see, that’s like all the bloodhounds following the false scent somewhere. And I think that was deliberate on someone’s part, to put up all these distractions. Whereas the real culprits escaped.”
“I didn’t see that (JFK) movie for a long time. When I did see it, I thought it was pretty well made … but then … it finally made up my mind, you know, I could never believe their story. I was convinced there was a conspiracy.”
“Well, that’s all. I hope that you can tie it up and be satisfied that you’ve done what your conscience compelled you to do and call it a new day and become a writer in your own right.”
Gayle noticed that when Machann talked about his past he did so in the third person, as if he was another person, as he says in his parting shot letter to Gayle:
“The way or path to come through a better and stronger person while showing compassion for those you have spent so much of your life trying to support is one you must find for yourself. There are different paths. I have found my own, and my son has tried his own, but now we share the same. The work it entails determines the degree it rewards … I expect you may try and will find the path for yourself. In response to your questions re my past … Fr. Machann is an earlier person, self-evolved into a changed identity beginning 50 or more years ago. As I recall, he was an innocent bystander with respect to that tragic event of the murder of an American president. My own present memory, i.e., of Walter J. Machann Jr., can add little to your specific requests for evidence in your work to expose facts and a more truthful history of that crime. I can feel how personal this quest has become. I don’t believe that a chapter on “Father Machann” would be meaningful, or really pertinent to the core of your work. Whatever you decide I will remain a friend and confidant in need as you wish.” Sincerely, Walter J. Machann Jr.
What Walter Machann remembers of Father Machann is meaningful and pertinent to the core of our work, as he was innocently entwined in the murder like a fly in a web, the intelligence network that was responsible for the covert action that resulted in the murder of the President—the Dealey Plaza Operation.
From what we now know, it is disturbing that Machann doesn’t recall introducing John Martino at his Birch Society book promotion, or Trudi Castorr, society wife of Colonel Castorr, involved in a Cuban gun-running operation with Jack Ruby.
The discrepancies are disturbing. Was it FBI Agent Hosty or Secret Service Inspector Kelley who questioned Machann in New Orleans? And who were Leopoldo, Angelo and “Leon” Oswald, and was it the historic Oswald or an imposter? Either way the whole scene stinks of conspiracy.
What Machann does tell us is significant. He was apparently unaware of the CIA-backing of the exiled Cuban Aid Relief; and the sudden, suspicious death of Joaquin Insua and the arson fire that destroyed their records leaves open areas of new investigation.
Machann gives us dates, names and places that provide additional leads that will allow us to find other missing pieces to the Dealey Plaza puzzle.