A plot against JFK in Tampa?

Published Nov. 23, 2005|Updated Nov. 23, 2005

Amid the grief and speculation that followed the assassination of John F. Kennedy on Nov. 22, 1963, a story emerged of an aborted plot to kill the president four days earlier as he rode through the streets of Tampa.

Now, a new book about the assassination attempts to detail the Tampa plot, joining the litany of literature about that fall day in Dallas.

In 900 pages, Ultimate Sacrifice, released Friday, offers a new twist on an old conspiracy theory, with Tampa figuring prominently.

At its core is the notion that the killing was an organized crime hit instigated, in part, by a local Tampa mobster, the late Santo Trafficante Jr.

Authors Lamar Waldron and Thom Hartmann argue that a trifecta of Mafia dons - Trafficante in Tampa, Carlos Marcello in New Orleans and Johnny Roselli in Chicago - was responsible for killing Kennedy to halt Robert Kennedy, then attorney general, from further Mafia prosecutions. The theory isn't new.

Yet this book also alleges that the government was forced to cover up Mafia involvement in the assassination to protect a top secret plan to stage a coup in Cuba called C-Day.

Mob associates had infiltrated the secret project, according to the authors' interviews with Harry Williams, a Cuban exile who said he organized C-Day for Robert Kennedy.

The book's central premise is that federal investigators couldn't implicate the Mafia dons in the assassination without casting light on the planned coup and threatening national security.

More interesting for local readers, the book also claims that Trafficante was behind an attempt to kill Kennedy during his visit to Tampa on Nov. 18, 1963.

Trafficante allegedly called off the attack after an informant alerted law enforcement a few days before the visit, according to the book.

"Of course, Trafficante would have also known that there was still one more chance to kill JFK, in Marcello's territory of Dallas," according to Ultimate Sacrifice.

Plans for the would-be Tampa assassination resembled the Dallas assassination, according to the book.

The Tampa gunman would have fired from a window of the Floridan Hotel, then the tallest building in the city. (In Dallas, Lee Harvey Oswald was accused of shooting from a window on the sixth floor of a book depository.)

Kennedy and his entourage of limousines and squad cars wound their way along 20 miles of Tampa streets that day. Thousands of waving spectators flanked the route.

The motorcade was expected to slow for a left turn at the Floridan Hotel. (In Dallas, Kennedy was shot while the motorcade slowed to make a left turn.)

The book even names a patsy, a Cuban named Gilberto Policarpo Lopez who was allegedly poised to take the fall in Tampa, unbeknownst to him, according to the authors' interviews with Lopez's wife.

Waldron said he based his reporting of the Tampa plot on interviews with former Tampa police Chief J.P. Mullins, a confidential law enforcement source and a Chicago Secret Service agent, Abraham Bolden. Mullins has since died.

Waldron also combed records at the Miami Police Department, the agency that got the tip about the assassination plan.

"It's groundbreaking because it reveals the Tampa attempt for the first time in any book, and it tells the complete story of the Tampa attempt," said Waldron, who researched the book for 17 years with the help of Hartmann.

Ultimate Sacrifice is Waldron's first book, although he has written extensively about the Kennedy assassination and Robert Kennedy over the past decade.

The Tampa assassination threat was reported in a story in the Tampa Tribune that ran Nov. 23, the day after Kennedy was shot in Dallas. But details were vague, and there was no follow-up.

An entire 300 pages of Ultimate Sacrifice is dedicated to explaining what could have motivated Trafficante and the other Mafia bosses to kill the president, as well as their efforts to get involved in Robert Kennedy's alleged scheme to overthrow Fidel Castro.

Trafficante's interest in getting rid of President Kennedy and invading Cuba was tied to getting back casinos he had lost in Havana when Castro took over and his role in the narcotics trade, according to the book.

The authors pulled much of their Trafficante information from unclassified documents, other books and Williams.

A Tampa native, Trafficante was reputed to be a top mob boss, taking over in Tampa from his father in 1954.

His name was mentioned in connection with at least four mob hits, he was linked to gambling and drugs, and he faced bribery, racketeering and tax evasion charges over the years. But Trafficante never spent a night in a U.S. jail.

He kept modest homes in Tampa and North Miami Beach, and died in 1987 in a Houston hospital where he had gone for heart surgery.

In 1989, his former attorney, Tampa lawyer Frank Ragano, published a book in which he said Trafficante had confessed to him in 1987 that he had had something to do with the Kennedy assassination.

Ragano repeated the claim during sworn testimony he gave to the Assassination Records Review Board in 1997. He has since died.

Local Trafficante experts said they were skeptical of this latest book reporting Trafficante's involvement in the assassination, having never seen evidence supporting such a theory.

"In all the research I've done on the matter, I've never heard of such things," said Florida Department of Law Enforcement special agent Ken Sanz, who is working as a consultant for a book in progress on Trafficante. "Never. And quite frankly, it's fresh on my brain."

Waldron and publisher Carroll & Graf of Avalon stand by the reporting in the book, citing thousands of pages of documents, many of which were recently declassified.

"It was critical to our credibility that we had to prove C-Day and provide context for how the mob did it," said Charlie Winton of Avalon. "You have to pursue what you think is a real story, while making sure you have all the documentation and that the editorial content of the book has integrity."

The book went on sale at bookstores nationwide on Nov. 18, the anniversary of the planned Tampa assassination attempt.

Jennifer Liberto can be reached at (813) 226-3403 or