Thursday, June 9, 2022

The Assassination and Mrs. Paine-George de Mohrenschildt

Filmmaker Max Good asks Ruth Paine, "Why would a white Russian [de Mohrenschildt] who was vehemently anti-communist asociate with Oswald?" "I don't know, good question," Mrs. Paine responds, "not one I asked." Good uses this exchange as a lead-in to a section on de Mohrenschildt and the unproven accusation that he too was a CIA asset involved in the assassination.

But a little research by Good could have satisfied his bewilderment regarding the Oswald-de Mohrenschildt friendship. George de Mohrenschildt was a world-class eccentric who specialized in doing things for no reason but to shock others. For instance, although he was an atheist, he liked to show up at two Russian Orthodox churchs just because he enjoyed singing in the choir. He was just as likely to attend a dinner party bare-chested or barefoot and another time in proper attire. Once, he gave a speech before Jewish friends claiming that Heinrich Himmler had "not been so bad." So, it seems a personality like de Mohrenschildt did not need a reason to befriend Oswald.

However, there are other explanations beyond de Mohrenschildt's eccentricity for his relationship with JFK'a future assassin. Friends of de Mohrenschildt asserted that he was not really a friend of Oswald but merely his benefactor as he was with several other down-on-their-luck individuals. Others who knew de Mohrenschildt said his relationship with Oswald was one of neccessity since the former had alienated many of his other friends in Dallas. Still others speculated that de Mohrenschildt understood Oswald's capicity for violence and used him to act out his own violent fantasies.

But perhaps de Mohrenschildt's own words offer the best explanation for their unlikely relationship. The following is from de Mohrenschildt's manuscript "I am a Patsy! I am a Patsy!" and describes his impressions upon meeting Oswald in Fort Worth:

He wore overalls and [had] clean workingman’s shoes on. Only someone who had never met Lee could have called him insignificant. ‘There is something outstanding about this man,’ I told myself. One could detect immediately a very sincere and forward man. Although he was average-looking, with no outstanding features and of medium size, he showed in his conversation all the elements of concentration, thought, and toughness. This man had the courage of his convictions and did not hesitate to discuss them. I was glad to meet such a person.

Despite such evidence, it is evident that Good buys into at least some of the arguments of people like James DiEugenio who is featured prominently in the film. But perhaps Good didn't know that DiEugenio is one of the least accurate scholars working in the JFK realm.

Predictably DiEugenio, accompanied by like-minded author Peter Dale Scott, appears on screen to accuse de Mohrenschildt of nefarious activity related to a CIA plot. DiEugenio maintains:

Shortly after this [presumably Oswald and de Mohrenschildt becoming aquainted] in about April of 1963, George de Mohrenschildt leaves the Dallas-Fort Worth area ... then he goes on to Haiti. And reportedly there is $300,000 deposited into his account.

For his part, Scott claims:

Before he went to Haiti he went to Washington and sat down in a secret meeting with Army Intelligence and the CIA, so you can see that de Mohrenschildt is somebody with a kind of spook background.

Back to DiEugenio:

So the question then becomes was de Mohrenschildt being paid off for doing his escort services with Oswald and then leaving them with Ruth and Michael Paine? That's a question we can't answer because, unfortunately, when the House Select Committee was trying to serve a subpenoa he was either murdered or took his own life with a shotgun blast.

DiEugenio's implication that de Mohrenschildt was murdered is the easiest to deal with. The Palm Beach County sheriff’s office, which investigated de Mohrenschildt’s death, concluded he died “by his own hand.” de Mohrenschildt had been suffering from mental illness for some time and his wife Jeanne had him committed to Parkland Hospital for psychiatric treatment in November of 1976—just months before his death. Jeanne stated that George "suffered from depression, heard voices, saw visions, and believed that the FBI and ‘The Jewish Mafia’ were persecuting him.” Even conspiracy theorist turned HSCA investigator Gaeton Fonzi believed that de Mohrenschildt committed suicide according to an interview he did with the South Florida Researcher's Group.

To deconstruct DiEugenio's allegation that de Mohrenschildt received $300,000 requires more effort and a review of original sources. But it is clear that there is no support for DiEugenio's statement in the film regarding a $300,000 deposit.

The first source is de Mohrenschildt's Warren Commission testimony when he stated that he pocketed $285,000 for the Haiti deal which included his performance of a geological survey on the island to plot oil and gas resources. But only $20,000 of the $285,000 was to be in cash. The remainder was to be paid in a ten-year concession on a sisal plantation. The Haitian Holding Company was formed by de Mohrenschildt specifically for the venture and included as partners B. Juindine Tardieu, a Haitian financier who was advisor to the Comercial Bank of Haiti, and Clemard Joseph Charles, who was president of the same financial institution.

The second source of information regarding the financial matters of de Mohrenschildt in Haiti came about as a result of the HSCA investigation in the late seventies. A stockbroker named Joseph Dryer told the committee that he knew both de Mohrenschildt and Charles when they were in Haiti in the early sixties. According to the HSCA, Dryer claimed that a woman named Jacqueline Lancelot, who was known to all three men, told him that a "person who handed out funds at the bank" had told her shortly after the JFK killing that $200,000 or $250,000 had been deposited in de Mohrenschildt's account in a bank in Port-au-Prince. The money in the account was thereafter paid out, although Lancelot did not know to whom, and de Mohrenschildt left Haiti shortly after.

Another source of information on de Mohrenschildt's Haitian finances is Edward Epstein's The Assassination Chronicles—specifically the 1992 edition. Epstein states that in 1981, he traveled to Port-au-Prince to try and nail down information about de Mohrenschildt's Haitian adventure. Epstein says that "one of de Mohrenschildt's close associates" at Charles' bank told him that while some of the deposits de Mohrenschildt received were for small amounts, there were "several large deposits" from a Bahamian bank with one exceding $200,000 (which is reminiscent of the HSCA report originating with Dryer). Epstein also refers to the planation that de Mohrenschildt had an interest in as a "derelict" operation and maintains that sources told him that he was in a "holding pattern" and did no real work. The implication is that de Mohrenschildt, who was said to be living in the same compound as President Duvalier, was recieving funds from somewhere and that "somewhere" was likely the CIA.

Finally, there is the 2012 book Our Man in Haiti by Garrisonite Joan Mellen which is a decidedly mixed bag when it comes to accuracy. On one hand, Mellen writes about a CIA document that refers to a Haitian government publication. This publication, which could be expected to be accurate in this instance, notes that the deal with de Mohrenschildt was for "$280,000" plus a ten-year concession on a sisal plantation. This is within $5,000 of what de Mohrenschildt told the Warren Commission. One the other hand, Mellen maintains that de Mohrenschildt "was known to have been involved in the Kennedy assassination, and connected with Lee Harvey Oswald ...." While the eccentric de Mohrenschildt certainly was "connected" to Oswald in the strictest sense of the word, his involvement in the JFK killing is unlikely in the extreme. Indeed, the Warren Commission stated there was "no evidence" linking either de Mohrenschildt or his wife to the assassination.

But even Mellen casts doubt on the large deposit promoted by the HSCA account and Epstein's anonymous source. Mellen writes that Dryer told her he "was certain that the figure was misinterpreted" by the HSCA and the "probable" amount deposited into de Mohrenschildt's account was only $50,000. Since $50,000 would be nearly half a million dollars in today's funds, an amount that Mellen sensibly says would "attract notice," it seems reasonable to conclude it is more likely the real sum was somewhere between $50,000 and the $20,000 that de Mohrenschildt maintained in his WC testimony.

Note too that Dryer provided Mellen with additional information about Jacqueline Lancelot who was the second-hand source for the allegation of a large payout to de Mohrenschildt. Mellen writes that while Lancelot "liked men," she "hated and distrusted de Mohrenschildt." "I’m scared of him," she reportedly told Dryer. "There’s something bad about him. He follows me around.” Lancelot also believed that de Mohrenschildt "had something to do with the Kennedy assassination.” Therefore, Lancelot's post-assassination claims to Dryer of large deposits in de Mohrenschildt's account could have been motivated by her animus toward him.

The bottom line is there is no source for DiEugenio's claim of $300,000. And both reports of a large cash deposit (Dryer's third-hand source and Epstein's anonoymous bank "associates") are anecdotal. Additionally, Dryer insisted that the HSCA had "misinterpreted" his report.

As for the Scott allegation, while he is telling Good the story of the "secret meeting," a newspaper article is displayed onscreen implying that this is the source supporting his allegation:

However, this article says nothing about a "secret meeting" between de Mohrenschildt and Army Intelligence or the CIA. It does state that de Mohrenschildt was a "CIA informant." But that is likely a reference to innocuous reports he gave to the agency's Domestic Contact Division (along with 25,000 other Americans) regarding his overseas activity. The HSCA checked out de Mohrenschildt and found that there was "no evidence" that he had "ever been an American intelligence agent."

de Mohrenschildt did meet with representives of both the CIA and Army Intelligence, but the meeting was more innocuous than theorists make out. The Army Intelligence official, Dorothe Matlack, arranged the meeting at the suggestion of fellow intelligence officer Sam Kail (of Maurice Bishop and Veciana fame). The purpose of the May 1963 meeting was to talk to, not de Mohrenschildt, but his partner Clemard Joseph Charles because of the latter's relationship to Haitian President Duvalier and that country's stratgeic position relative to Cuba.

At the meeting, Matlack was "surprised" by the presence of the uninvited de Mohrenschildt and his wife Jeanne. Matlack felt that de Mohrenschildt "dominated" Charles which is in keeping with other descriptions of the former's personality. For his part, Charles was a disapointment from an intelligence point of view and provided "no military information of value." Charles was "frantic and frightened" and wanted the US marines to invade Haiti and overthrow Duvalier likely because he was concerned about the expropriation of his business.

To sum up, the segment on de Mohrenschildt in Max Good's The Assassination and Mrs. Paine is one of the most misleading and least accurate in the entire film. And that is saying something.


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