The House Assassinations Committee has secretly subpoenaed crime figure Santo Trafficante Jr. for its first hearing today into the murder of President John F. Kennedy, according to informed sources.
Once the overlord of syndicate gambling in Cuba, Trafficante is the only surviving member of a gangland trio that was secretly enlisted by the Central Intelligence Agency in 1960 in efforts to kill Cuban Premier Fidel Castro.
The other two men, described as Mafia members were Sam (Momo) Giancana, who was shot to death in his suburban Chicago home two years ago, and his longtime lieutenant, Johnny Rosselli, whose decomposed body was found last summer in an oil drum floating in the backwaters of Miami's Biscayne Bay.
Trafficante is expected to protest the compulsory appearance, and has reportedly hired Boston lawyer F. Lee Bailey to represent him.
"You can't blame him when you remember what happened to the other two," one source said.
Giancana, 65, was murdered as he prepared a midnight snack of sausages and spinach on June 19, 1975, shortly after his release from a hospital and on the heels of preliminary efforts by the Senate Intelligence Committee to contact him in its investigation of CIA assassination plots.
Rosselli, who had been involved in several abortive plots against Castro, testified before the Senate committee five days after Giancana was killed. Thirteen months later, on July 28, 1975, he disappeared from his Plantation, Fla., home. His hacked-up body was found 10 days later in a 55-gallon oil drum weighted with heavy chains.
Both slayings remain unsolved. But long before his murder, Rosselli had been privately claiming to his attorney that Castro had become aware of the CIA-sponsored plots against him and "thereafter employed teams of individuals who were dispatched to the United States for the purpose of assassinating Mr. Kennedy."
Initially introduced to his CIA contacts in late 1960 as "Joe," Trafficante was described as someone who would serve as a courier to Cuba and make arrangements there in the plot to kill Castro. Trafficante had lived in Cuba, and he still had a number of associates there even after Castro seized their gambling enterprises in Havana.
Although he did not testify during the Senate Intelligence Committee's 13[WORDS ILLEGIBLE] of CIA mis[WORDS ILLEGIBLE] questioned se[WORDS ILLEGIBLE] committee investigators in connection with Rosselli's death.
Trafficante reportedly said he dined with Rosselli at a Fort Lauderdale restaurant less than two weeks before Rosselli's disappearance. He was said to have described this and other gettogethers as "friendly social events with no business."
As long ago as March, 1967, Rosselli had expressed his belief in a Cuban connection to the Kennedy assassination to the FBI through his Washington lawyer, Edward P. Morgan. Morgan, in turn, told the FBI that several of his clients who "were on the fringe of the underworld" informed him that Castro had learned of the plotting against him.
The House Assassinations Committee had been talking of staging a hearing on the assassination of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. in hopes of keeping that investigation alive at least past March 31, when its current charter expires. The decision to hold a hearing on the JFK assassination apparently reflects new hope within the committee for continuing that inquiry as well.
Committee lawyers have been in contact with an attorney for James Earl Ray, serving a 99-year prison term for King's 1968 murder, but Ray is not expected to make any public appearances soon beyond a nationally televised interview last night on the Columbia Broadcasting System's "Who's Who" (WTOP-TV).
Interviewed by correspondent Dan Rather, Ray denied, as he has before, firing the shot that killed King, and insisted that he was not even in the rooming house across the street from King's motel at the time of the murder.
Asked why he was remaining silent if someone else did it, rather than telling all, Ray said he feared that whatever he said might be turned against him. "I think a lot of people have a sort of a Pollyanna view of the legal system," he said.