In 1934, Banister joined the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI). Originally based in Indianapolis, he later moved to New York City where he was involved in the investigation of the American Communist Party. J. Edgar Hoover was impressed by Banister's work and in 1938 he was promoted to run the FBI unit in Butte, Montana. He also served in Oklahoma City, Minneapolis and Chicago before he retired from the FBI in 1954.
Banister moved back to Louisiana and in January 1955 became Assistant Superintendent of the New Orleans Police Department where he was given the task of investigating organized crime and corruption within the police force. It later emerged that he was also involved in looking at the role that left-wing political activists were playing in the struggle for black civil rights in New Orleans.
Banister developed extreme right-wing views and worked as an investigator for the Louisiana Un-American Activities Committee. He also published the racist Louisiana Intelligence Digest. Banister had a deep hatred of the civil rights movement and believed that the policy of racial integration was part of a a plan formulated by Joseph Stalin to create racial conflict in America.
Bannister claimed that members of the American Communist Party were involved in a plot to contaminate crops in the United States. He also told the Special Committee of the Arkansas State Legislature that left-wing activists were behind the race riots in Little Rock.
Banister was suspended by the New Orleans Police Department (NOPD) for an incident with a gun in a bar. His suspension ended in June 1954, but when he refused to be transferred to the NOPD's Planning Department, he was dismissed from the force. After leaving the police he established his own private detective agency, Guy Banister Associates.
Later Banister was linked to the plot to assassinate John F. Kennedy. On 9th August, 1963, Lee Harvey Oswald distributed leaflets that supported Fidel Castro and his government in Cuba. On these leaflets was the address 544 Camp Street, New Orleans. This was also the office of Carlos Bringuier, an anti-Castro exile. Around the corner from 544 Camp Street, located in the same building, was 531 Lafayette Street, which housed the detective agency run by Banister. This raised suspicions that Oswald had been involved in a right-wing conspiracy to kill Kennedy.
On the afternoon of 22nd November, 1963, Banister and Jack Martin went drinking together. On their return to Banister's office the two men got involved in a dispute about a missing file. Banister became so angry that he he drew his Magnum revolver and hit Martin with it several times. Martin was so badly injured that he had to be detained in the local Charity Hospital.
Over the next few days Martin told friends that Banister and David Ferrie had been involved in the assassination of John F. Kennedy. According to Martin, Ferrie was the getaway man whose job it was to fly the assassin out of Texas. He also claimed that Ferrie knew Lee Harvey Oswald from their days in the New Orleans Civil Air Patrol and had given him lessons on how to use a rifle with a telescopic sight.
On 25th November, Martin was contacted by the Federal Bureau of Investigation. He told them that he thought Ferrie had hypnotized Oswald into assassinating Kennedy. The FBI considered Martin's evidence unreliable and decided not to investigate Banister and Ferrie.
This information eventually reached Jim Garrison, the district attorney of New Orleans. He interviewed Martin about these accusations. Martin claimed that during the summer of 1963 Banister and David Ferrie were involved in something very sinister with a group of Cuban exiles.
Jim Garrison now became convinced that a group of right-wing activists, including Banister, David Ferrie, Carlos Bringuier and Clay Shaw, were involved in a conspiracy with the CIA to kill John F. Kennedy. Garrison claimed this was in retaliation for his attempts to obtain a peace settlement in both Cuba and Vietnam.
Delphine Roberts worked for Banister and later became his mistress. Roberts told Anthony Summers that during the summer of 1963 Lee Harvey Oswald worked for Banister. She said she was in the office when Banister suggested that Oswald should establish a local Fair Play for Cuba Committee. This story was supported by her daughter who met Oswald during this period.
Guy Banister died of coronary thrombosis on June 6, 1964.
Martin was seated across my desk, his anxious gaze fixed on my every move. An on-again, off-again alcoholic, he was a thin man with deeply circled, worried eyes. Although he had been written off as a nonentity by many, I had long regarded him as a quick-witted and highly observant, if slightly disorganized, private detective. I had known him casually as far back as my days as an assistant D.A. and always had gotten along well with him.
"Jack," I said, "why don't you relax a little? You should know by now that you're among friends here."
He nodded nervously. He was seated in the roomy, upholstered chair across from my desk, but he looked most uncomfortable. I offered him some coffee. "You're not under cross-examination. Jack," I said "I just want a little help. Understand?"
"The police report says the reason Banister beat you was you had an argument over telephone bills." I pulled a copy of the police report from my desk drawer and shoved it across to him. "Here, take a look at it." He bent his head over and examined it as if he had never seen it before. I was sure that he had seen it many times, probably even had a copy at home.
After a moment he looked up without saying a word. His eyes told me he was deeply concerned about something.
"Now, does a simple argument over phone bills sound like a believable explanation to you?" I asked.
I waited. Then, dreamily, he shook his head slowly. "No," he admitted. "It involved more than that."
"How much more?"
Again I waited. He breathed deeply, sucking in the air.
"It started like it was going to be nothing at all," he began. "We'd both been drinking at Katzenjammer's - maybe more than usual, because of the assassination and all. Banister especially."
Pausing to chug down another cup of coffee, he made a real effort to collect his thoughts.
"Well, when we came back to the office. Banister started hitching about one thing and then another. He was in a mean mood. Then all of a sudden, he accused me of going through his private files. Now I never went through his private stuff ever - absolutely never. And that really ticked me off."
He hesitated for a long moment.
"Go on. Jack," I said gently.
"I guess I blew up," he continued, his face flushed with memories of injustice. "That's when I told him he'd better not talk to me like that. I told him I remembered the people I had seen around the office that summer. And that's when he hit me. Fast as a flash - pulled out that big Magnum and slammed me on the side of the head with it."
"Just because you remembered the people you'd seen at his office the past summer?" I asked.
"Yeah, that's all it took. He went bananas on that one."
"And just who were the people you'd seen in the office that summer?" I prodded softly.
"There was a bunch of them. It was like a circus. There were all those Cubans - coming in and going out, coming in and going out. They all looked alike to me."
Someone once commenced that whenever you really want to do something unseen, whenever you go to great pains to make sure that you are unobserved, there always turns out to be someone who was sitting under the oak tree. At the strange place that was Banister's office. Jack Martin, unnoticed in the middle of it all, was the one sitting under the oak tree.
He drew a long breath and then went on. "Then there were all these other characters. There was Dave Ferrie - you know about him by now."
"Was he there very often?" I asked.
"Often? He practically lived there."
Then Martin fell silent. I saw by the look in his eyes that he had come to a full stop.
I was not about to let my weekend visit to 544 Camp Street go down the drain that easily, so I gave him a hand. 'And Lee Harvey Oswald'" I added.
Jack swallowed, then nodded. It was almost as if he felt relief in finally having a burden lifted from him. "Yeah, he was there too. Sometimes he'd be meeting with Guy Banister with the door shut. Other times he'd be shooting the bull with Dave Ferrie. But he was there all right."
"What was Guy Banister doing while all this was going on?"
"Hell, he was the one running the circus."
"What about his private detective work?"
"Not much of that came in, but when it did, I handled it. That's why I was there."
"So, Jack," I said. "Just what was going on at Banister's office?"
He held up his hand. "I can't answer that," he said firmly. "I can't go into that stuff at all." Unexpectedly, he stood up. "I think I'd better go," he said.
"Hold on. Jack. What's the problem with our going into what was happening at Banister's office?"
"What's the problem?" he said. "What's the problem?" he repeated, as if in disbelief. "The problem is that we're going to bring the goddamned federal government down on our backs. Do I need to spell it out? I could get killed - and so could you."
He turned around. "I'd better go," he mumbled. He wobbled as he headed for the door.
According to Delphine Roberts, Lee Oswald walked into her office sometime in 1963 and asked to fill in the forms for accreditation as one of Banister's "agents." Mrs. Roberts told me, "Oswald introduced himself by name and said he was seeking an application form. I did not think that was really why he was there. During the course of the conversation I gained the impression that he and Guy Banister already knew each other. After Oswald filled out the application form Guy Banister called him into the office. The door was closed, and a lengthy conversation took place. Then the young man left. I presumed then, and now am certain, that the reason for Oswald being there was that he was required to act undercover."
Mrs. Roberts said she was sure that whatever the nature of Banister's "interest" in Oswald, it concerned anti-Castro schemes, plans which she feels certain had the support and encouragement of government intelligence agencies. As she put it, "Mr. Banister had been a special agent for the FBI and was still working for them. There were quite a number of connections which he kept with the FBI and the CIA, too. I know he and the FBI traded information due to his former association...."
Guy Banister, a former FBI official and onetime assistant superintendent of the New Orleans police department, had had a 'stormy' career, according to the New Orleans States-Item of May 5, 1967. After he had left police work officially, if not earlier, Banister was active for years as a top U.S. intelligence agent in the South and in Latin America. His spacious office, at 531 Lafayette Street, in New Orleans, served both as a rallying point for Minutemen, Cuban exiles and assorted right-wing and intelligence operatives and as an arms distribution centre for these elements. This has been brought out with dazzling clarity both by the Garrison investigation and through independent research by the local press.
A close friend and adviser of Banister's told the States-Item the veteran FBI agent was a key liaison man for U.S. government-sponsored anti-Communist activities in Latin America, the New Orleans paper reported and added: "Guy participated in every important anti-Communist South and Central American revolution which came along while he had the office on Lafayette Street," the source reported. The paper also stated that Banister is believed to have worked in cooperation with a U.S. military intelligence office here.
I walked over to 531 Lafayette Place. There was no inscription on the door denoting it as Banister's business, only a realtor's shingle and a sticker of the then-nascent Republican Party of Louisiana. The door opened to stairs leading to a second-floor space that was unoccupied. Diagonally across the space was a second set of stairs, which led down to a door on Camp Street. The number over the door read "594." 594 Camp Street was the return address Lee Harvey Oswald had stamped on the first batch of pro-Castro literature he handed out on the streets of the Crescent City in August 1963- Subsequent batches bore a post office box number, suggesting that the use of the street address had been a lapse. What was Oswald's connection to Banister?
When I reported the Camp Street discovery to Garrison, I recommended that we assign priority to interviewing Banister. Too late, he said, Banister had been found dead in bed in June 1964, his pearlhandled, monogrammed .357 Magnum revolver at his side. Although there was no autopsy, his demise was attributed to a heart attack. But Brooks, who had done some clipping and filing for Banister in 1962, had identified his deputy, Hugh F. Ward, as also belonging to the Minutemen as well as an outfit called the Anti-Communism League of the Caribbean, which was headed by Banister after he came to New Orleans in 1955. Brooks credited the ACLC with helping the CIA overthrow the leftist Arbenz government in Guatemala, opening the way for a succession of rightist strongmen. The ACLC continued to act as an intermediary between the CIA and right-wing insurgency movements in the Caribbean, including Cuba after Castro gained power. There was a chance that Ward would be willing to talk, but it turned out he was gone as well. On May 23, 1965, he was at the controls of a Piper Aztec chartered by former New Orleans mayor DeLessups Morrison when the craft, engines sputtering, crashed on a fog-shrouded hill near Ciudad Victoria, Mexico, killing all on board. That left Maurice Brooks Gatlin, Sr., an attorney associated with Banister, on Brooks's list of key Minutemen in Louisiana. According to Brooks, Gatlin served as legal counsel to the ACLC. In fact, Brooks had been a kind of protege of Gatlin. The attorney's passport was stamped with visas of countries around the world. In Brooks's estimation, he was a "transporter" for the CIA. On one occasion Gatlin bodaciously told Brooks, "I have pretty good connections. Stick with me-I'll give you a license to kill." Brooks became a firm believer in 1962 when Gatlin displayed a thick wad of bills, saying he had $ioo,ooo of CIA money earmarked for a French reactionary clique planning to assassinate General de Gaulle. Shortly thereafter Gatlin flew to Paris, and shortly after that came the Secret Army Organization's abortive ambush of the French president. But Gatlin as well was beyond Garrison's reach. In 1964 he fell or was pushed from the sixth floor of the Panama Hotel in Panama, dying instantly.
As I sat in Garrison's office discussing the fates of Banister, Ward and Gatlin, my mind flashed back to the previous November when Ramparts had run a story on the "mysterious deaths" theory of doughty Texas editor Penn Jones, Jr. With David Welsh, I had gone down to Midlothian, a dusty cotton market town south of Dallas, to meet with Jones on his front porch. He had compiled a list of an unlucky thirteen people who were witnesses to the assassination or somehow touched by it and had died violently or questionably inside of three years, which he saw as a highly excessive actuarial rate. One on the list was Tom Howard, Jack Ruby's initial attorney, who concocted the story that the mobster killed Oswald to spare Jacqueline Kennedy the ordeal of a trial (he died of a supposed heart attack). Another was Lee Bowers, who was sitting in a railroad tower behind the grassy knoll and spotted two strange men behind the picket fence on the knoll just as the presidential limousine passed and a flash and commotion ensued (he was involved in a one-car accident). A third was Earlene Roberts, the boarding house manager who stated that Oswald rushed into his room for a few minutes shortly after the shooting in Dealey Plaza, during which a Dallas police car stopped in front and honked twice as if to signal (she was struck by a presumed heart attack). The mysterious-deaths article so fascinated Walter Cronkite that he sent a film crew to Midlothian for a CBS News series on Jones. Although the theory caught on as "evidence" of a conspiracy, I was bemusedly skeptical.
But the untimely deaths of Banister, Ward and Gatlin gave me pause that there might in fact have been systematic elimination of people who knew too much. Two months earlier there had been a fourth curious mortality in this set: David William Ferric, an investigator for the ex-FBI official's private detective agency, Guy Banister & Associates. Garrison's interest in Ferric dated back to the morning after the assassination, when he summoned his staff to the office for a "brainstorming" session to explore the possibility that Oswald had accomplices in New Orleans.
Although it would not be known until after the Warren Report was published, on that same Saturday morning the Secret Service was checking out the return address of 544 Camp Street that the accused assassin had rubber-stamped on some of his handouts promoting a rump chapter of the Fair Play for Cuba Committee. The agents asked the building manager if Oswald "had occupied office space" but learned instead that "Cuban revolutionaries had been tenants until recently." They talked to an exile accountant who revealed that "those Cubans were members of organizations known as `Crusade to Free Cuba Committee' and `Cuban Revolutionary Council,"' which had been headed by Sergio Arcacha Smith, a former Batista diplomat. The agents reported that they had been unable to find any trace of the Fair Play for Cuba Committee, evincing no curiosity over why pro-Castro literature would bear the address of anti-Castro groups.
On Monday, the Warren Report later disclosed, the FBI's Ernest C. Wall, Jr., a Spanish-speaking agent who liaisoned with the exile groups, called Guy Banister to inquire about Arcacha Smith. According to Wall's single-paragraph report, Banister responded that Arcacha Smith had been the head of the Cuban Revolutionary Council and "some time ago had told him on one occasion that he, Smith, had an office in the building located at 594 Camp Street." Nothing about Banister and the Cuban Revolutionary Council, created by the CIA as an umbrella group for the Bay of Pigs invasion, being under the same roof. As a limited hangout, it was a classic. The Warren Report dutifully stated that "investigation has indicated that neither the Fair Play for Cuba Committee nor Lee Oswald ever maintained an office at that address."