[Photo: Silvia Odio ca. 1959 before Fidel Castro took over Cuba. In 1963 she saw Lee Harvey Oswald with two accomplices – despite J. Edgar Hoover’s arm-twisting that Oswald never had accomplices.]
Disclaimer: The following analysis of Warren Commission testimony consists of my independent research and observations regarding the hundreds of testimonies contained in the WC Hearings and Exhibits. My observations inform my opinion.
The FBI DIRECTOR, the DEPUTY ATTORNEY GENERAL, and LHO
Soon after Lee Harvey Oswald (LHO) was murdered in police custody, J. Edgar Hoover issued a memo saying: “The thing I am concerned about, and so is Mr. Katzenbach, is having something issued so we can convince the public that Oswald is the real assassin” (J. Edgar Hoover, Memo, Nov. 24, 1963).
Others may disagree, but to me that sounds like Hoover knew somebody else was the “real assassin.”
The next day, Deputy Attorney General Nicholas Katzenbach issued a memo conveying a Washington D.C. fear that just the notion of a conspiracy in the JFK assassination could start violence – perhaps worldwide, as left attacks right or right attacks left.
Katzenbach wrote: “The public must be satisfied that Oswald was the assassin; that he did not have confederates who are still at large; and that evidence was such that he would have been convicted at trial.” (Nicholas Katzenbach, Memo, Nov. 25, 1963)
Others may disagree, but to me that sounds like Katzenbach knew that LHO actually had “confederates who are still at large;” and that the evidence had to be bent and revised to suggest that LHO, and LHO alone,“ would have been convicted at trial.”
Hoover and Katzenbach admitted their main worry – the possibility of Cold War violence – even internationally – if the public came to believe that Oswald was part of a larger conspiracy (left or right).
Washington D.C. was deadly serious about this strategy. Any witness brought before the Warren Commission (WC) or any affidavit which claimed or implied that LHO had accomplices (trashing the Lone Nut doctrine set in stone by Hoover, Katzenbach, Warren, Dulles, and LBJ) was shut down quickly; often questioning the mental or emotional stability of the witness. Eventually this would include names like Earline Roberts, Harry Dean, and Silvia Odio.
SILVIA ODIO – A WELL-TO-DO CUBAN EXILE MEETS LHO – ONCE
The Warren Commission (WC) attorneys ultimately doubted Silvia Odio’s state of mind when she claimed that she saw LHO with two accomplices at her door during the final week in September 1963.
It is true that Silvia was emotionally stressed. As a Cuban exile after Fidel Castro’s takeover of Cuba, her emotions were shredded as most of her family and friends became exiles in Miami. Her nation had fallen to the Reds, and both her father and mother were in Cuban prison cells awaiting trial for plotting to kill Fidel Castro. On top of all that, Silvia’s husband successfully divorced her, then let Silvia have their four children to raise (ages 1-4). Wouldn’t this emotionally stress any normal woman?
Besides all that, these Cuban exiles were so divided that they maintained over a dozen political parties in a bitter contest to rule Cuba after Fidel. Their competition was relentless as they’d spy on each other and attempt to humiliate each other.’
To top it all off, during the final week of September 1963, three “greasy” strangers came to Silvia’s door at the Crestwood Apartments in Dallas, claiming to know her father and speaking boldly about assassinating JFK, causing her to worry endlessly. Then, 58 days later, somebody actually assassinated JFK, which caused Silvia to collapse as the three strangers returned to her mind.
Naturally, Silvia Odio needed emotional therapy. None of that affected her testimony – unshakeable over the decades. Still, the WC conclusion was that Silvia was simply mistaken that “Leon” was LHO – a mistake arising from her alleged 'mental condition.' On September 23, 1964, J. Edgar Hoover presented to WC General Counselor J. Lee Rankin anectotal evidence from the Puerto Rico FBI, from citizens claiming that Silvia Odio liked to invent stories to make herself seem more important.
More likely, her WC testimony was quickly dismissed because it contradicted J. Edgar Hoover’s “Lone Shooter” explanation of the JFK murder. If Silvia was right, then she had personally seen LHO with two accomplices (who were still at large). If that was a fact, then it toppled the entire theme of the Warren Commission Hearings and Exhibits, that LHO was a "Lone Shooter." So, let’s look deeper into Silvia Odio’s WC testimony.
SILVIA ODIO FROM THE BEGINNING – BRIEFLY
Silvia Odio was born in Havana, Cuba in 1937 to upper-middle class parents. She went to college in the US, was married in 1957, and had four children. Yet, Fidel Castro’s revolution in Cuba tore apart her happy, well-to-do lifestyle.
When her father and mother joined a political group named JURE (Junta Revolutionaria) to oppose Fidel Castro, both were imprisoned in Cuba for plotting against the life of Fidel.
This was heart-breaking all by itself, and her divorce shortly afterwards made matters worse. Silvia’s intellect was admittedly sharp, yet her emotional life was now in a constant state of stress, so she found a psychiatrist, Dr. Einspruch to help her cope.
THE NOTORIOUS VISIT
Then, very likely on Wednesday, September 25, 1963, around 8 p.m., three “greasy” strangers came to her door. Her younger sister, Annie, peeked out the window, and then ran to tell Silvia that three Cubans were at the door. Was she expecting anyone? (Cuban strangers occasionally came around, claiming to know her family and asking for money to help free her parents from their Cuban jail. Silvia never let them in, and never gave them money).
Silvia kept the door chained as she turned on the porch light, so that her neighbors could also see these three strangers. She cracked the door and looked at their faces, confirming that she had never seen any of these men before.
The tallest of the three asked, “Are you Sarita Odio?” Silvia replied, “No, that’s my sister; I’m Silvia.” He then asked, “Is she the oldest?” Silvia replied, “No; I’m the oldest.” He said, “Then we’re looking for you. We’re members of JURE. Can we come in?” “No,” replied Silvia.
She knew almost everybody in JURE; the leader of JURE was her father’s friend; and Silvia occasionally hosted JURE meetings in her apartment. But she didn’t recognize these three.
Silvia kept the chain on her door as she asked for their names. They replied that they could only tell her their war names. This was common in the Cuban underground. The tallest one said his war name was ‘Leopoldo.’ The stocky one’s war name started with “A,” but she couldn’t remember it. Perhaps it was ‘Angelo.’ The third one was American, and Leopoldo introduced him as “Leon Oswald.”
(By the way, the name “Lee” wasn’t considered a first name in conversational Spanish; it was considered a Chinese gentleman’s last name. Any American man named “Lee” was typically addressed as “Leon” in Spanish).
Leopoldo wore glasses and talked the most. ‘Angelo’ was shorter, heavier, with thick black hair, even on his arms. Silvia thought he might be a Mexican. They looked like “greasy, high-school dropouts” to her. Leopoldo said, “We’re very good friends with your father.” That seemed suspicious to Silvia because her father was a successful businessman with no greasy friends.
Nevertheless, ‘Leopoldo’ gave Silvia so many accurate details about where they saw her father, his activities, even his prison environment – facts that only somebody well-connected could know. So, Silvia gave them the benefit of the doubt. Perhaps they fought side by side with her father against Fidel Castro. So, she unchained her door – but she still didn’t let them in.
Her sister Annie continually listened behind the door, peeking occasionally through the window. Annie saw and heard plenty.
Leopoldo told Silvia that the three men were on a trip. She didn’t ask where they were going and he didn’t tell her. He asked her, “You’re working in the underground?” She replied, “No, sorry, not anymore.” Leopoldo said, “We wanted you to meet this American, Leon, a Marine, a sharpshooter interested in helping Cuba. He’s terrific; a great asset for the cause.”
Silvia looked at Leon. He hadn’t shaved, and while the two Latinos wore dirty, white T-shirts. Leon wore a clean, long-sleeved blue shirt with sleeves slightly rolled up, no tie, and two buttons open. Also, Leon was quite skinny, and the shirt was clearly too big for him. Was he “terrific?”
Silvia allowed this conversation to continue for about a half-hour, because JURE was important to Silvia, and because her parents’ predicament in Cuba was dear to her heart.
Silvia looked at ‘Angelo.’ He was the hairy, darker, shorter one. ‘Angelo’ handed her a letter which said in Spanish something like: “We represent the revolutionary council and we’re making a big movement to buy arms for Cuba to help overthrow the dictator, Fidel Castro.” They asked Silvia to translate this letter into English and send a copy to as many American companies as possible, asking for donations.
By coincidence, the local JURE leader in Dallas (Antonio Alentado) had recently asked Silvia to write fund-raising letters for JURE to distribute to American companies to ask for donations. “Oh!” Silvia asked, “Did Alentado send you with this petition?” Leopoldo replied, “No.” Silvia asked, “Then, were you sent by Eugenio?” (This was the war name for George Alvaredal, whom absolutely everybody in JURE knew as Eugenio). Leopoldo replied, “No.” Silvia asked, “Do you even know Eugenio?” Leopoldo replied, “No.”
That was odd. Silvia gave them one last try. “Were you sent by Ray Manolo” the highest ranking leader of JURE? Leopoldo replied, “No.”
Frustrated, Silvia asked, “Well, is this on your own?” Leopoldo said, “Yes, this is on our own, but we think it could work. We just came from New Orleans and have been trying to organize this movement down there.”
Silvia decided that their disconnect from JURE leaders was suspicious. She would have to write to her father for his opinion. Just to be polite she asked Leon, “Have you ever been to Cuba?” Leon replied, “No, never.” So, Silvia ended the conversation, saying, “Excuse me, I have to leave. I’ll write to my father and tell him you came to visit me.”
As they said goodbye, Leopoldo asked, “Is your father still on the Isle of Pines?” Silvia didn’t answer but this made her wonder, ‘How in the world did he know my father was there?’ They left, and Silvia watched them through the window as the three boarded their car. Leopoldo drove them away. Silvia was glad to see them go.
THE EXACT DATE OF THE VISIT?
Silvia tried to recall the exact date that the three strangers first rang her doorbell. She figured as follows. Annie was living with the Madlock family at the time, and when Silvia needed her to babysit, Annie would come over on Thursdays or Fridays. Silvia was going out that evening, so she asked Annie to babysit, and also to help her pack, because Silvia was moving to Oak Cliff that coming weekend.
Silvia needed to move out of her Dallas apartment before October 1st or pay rent. She did, so she was absolutely sure that these men had come to her Crestwood apartment before October 1st. She and Annie agreed that it was the final week of September because they already had packed boxes in her living room. Annie would ordinarily come on Thursday or Friday, whenever asked, yet this time was different, evidently. Mexican Immigration had recorded LHO and his companions crossing the Mexican border in a car at 6 a.m. on Thursday, September 26th. So, the three strangers most likely visited Silvia on Wednesday, September 25th 1963.
LEOPOLDO CALLS SILVIA ON THE TELEPHONE
The next day, in the late afternoon, Leopoldo called Silvia on the telephone. He flattered her, saying she was pretty. Silvia said nothing, but felt annoyed. Then Leopoldo got around to business, “What did you think of the American?” She impatiently replied, “I didn’t think anything.”
Leopoldo said, “We want to introduce Leon to the Cuban underground, because he’s a great asset.” Leopoldo pushed Silvia to introduce Leon to JURE leaders, but she didn’t respond, because she really had no altitude to propose anything so unusual to JURE leaders. Leopoldo pushed harder, challenging her: “Leon says that Cubans don’t have any guts, because JFK should have been assassinated after the Bay of Pigs – and JFK is holding back the freedom of Cuba!”
Assassinate JFK? This was crazy talk to Silvia Odio. She remained silent. Leopoldo repeated several times that Leon was an expert marksman. Since Silvia didn’t respond, Leopoldo tried a sort of reverse psychology, adding, “But Leon is kind of loco, kind of nuts. You never know how to take him!” Was Leopoldo trying to promote Leon or to frighten her? Silvia still didn’t respond.
Leopoldo added, “Leon said it is so easy to kill that son-of-a-bitch.” Did Leopoldo mean Fidel or JFK? Silvia took it in the context of the challenge that Cubans were too cowardly to assassinate JFK as they should have. The whole conversation was extremely disturbing to Silvia. Leopoldo said again that they were leaving for a trip, and he would like very much to see her on their return to Dallas. Weary of this weirdo, Silvia simply hung up.
(Silvia couldn’t remember if she had just come home from work when Leopoldo called. If so, then the date of the call was Friday the 27th – a work day – and so the visit of the three “greasy” strangers at her door was therefore Thursday the 26th. Silvia couldn’t be certain, though, because she had been juggling work, childcare, moving, supporting JURE, despair for her nation, self-defense, and worry about her parents during that stressful week.
Silvia wondered why Leopoldo had needled her by telephone. She dismissed the idea that he was merely trying to get fresh with her. She decided that these three men were from some competing political party, trying to infiltrate JURE through her, and trying to use Leon as their spy. Or one of many possible scams.
SILVIA WRITES TO HER FATHER