Chauncey Holt

Chauncey Holt

Chauncey Holt was born in Kentucky on 23rd October, 1921. When he was 19 he joined the United States Army Airforce (USAAF). The following year he was court-martialed and sent to the U.S. penitentiary barracks at Fort Leavenworth, Kansas, for attacking another soldier with a Springfield rifle.

Holt was released in June 1940 but deserted from the USAF after the attack on Pearl Harbor. He eventually returned to duty but in 1942 he travelled in a car from Fort Knox to Louisville. He was arrested and charged with taking the car without permission and was sentenced to 18 months in the Industrial Reformatory at Chillicott, Ohio. On his release he found work with the Bethelem-Fairfield Shipyard Company.

After the war Holt met Peter Licavoli, a leading figure in the Mafia in Detroit. Holt was sent to Florida where he worked for Meyer Lansky as an accountant and pilot. This included several trips to Cuba where Lansky had extensive business interests. Lansky also sent Holt to worked for the International Rescue Committee (IRC). This was a Central Intelligence Agency controlled organization that had been set up to distribute funds to organizations attempting to overthrow left-wing governments. During the time Holt was also involved in producing forged documents for the CIA and the Mafia.

Holt also became involved in what later become known as Executive Action (a plan to remove unfriendly foreign leaders from power). This including a coup d'état that overthrew the Guatemalan government of Jacobo Arbenz in 1954 after he introduced land reforms and nationalized the United Fruit Company. However, the main target of this operation was Fidel Castro who had established a socialist government in Cuba.

In March I960, President Dwight Eisenhower of the United States approved a CIA plan to overthrow Castro. The plan involved a budget of $13 million to train "a paramilitary force outside Cuba for guerrilla action." The strategy was organized by Richard Bissell and Richard Helms. An estimated 400 CIA officers were employed full-time to carry out what became known as Operation Mongoose. Holt later claimed that he worked on this project with figures such as Sam Giancana, Johnny Roselli, Edward Lansdale and William Harvey.

After the failed Bay of Pigs invasion Holt worked for Meyer Lansky in California. Meyer took over the Los Angeles Stamp and Stationary Company where Holt continued to produce illegal documents and false police badges. He also worked closely with Phillip A. Twombly, a former Executive Vice President of Coca Cola for their Caribbean operations. Twombly now owned a bank in Fullerton, California, which was used to distribute CIA funds for covert operations.

Lee Harvey Oswald handing out pamphlets in New Orleans. Holt is the man on the far right. Holt has written in the names of some of the people involved in this operation.
Lee Harvey Oswald handing out pamphlets in New Orleans. Holt is the man on the
far right. Holt has written in the names of some of the people involved in this operation.

In 1963 Holt received instructions from Twombly to provide false ID documents for Lee Harvey Oswald. These documents (in the names of Lee Harvey Oswald and Alek Hiddell) were delivered by a man called George Reynolds. In August, 1963, Twombly asked Holt to travel to New Orleans, where he met Oswald and Carlos Bringuier.

Holt later claimed he was went to Dallas in November, 1963, with Charlie Nicoletti, James Canty and Leo Moceri. In Dallas he passed on forged documents and guns (with silencers) to Charles Harrelson and Charles Rogers (Richard Montoya). Holt was told that "an incident was going to be created which could be laid at the door of pro-Castro Cubans. The word attempted assassination was never used. We assumed that from all this light loaded ammunition that maybe somebody was going to try to take a shot from somewhere, probably the Dal-Tex building, or one of the buildings around there. But at no time was it ever intimidated to us that an assassination or attempted assassination on Kennedy."

When the Kennedy motorcade reached the Dealey Plaza Holt was in the parking lot behind the Grassy Knoll. After the shooting took place Holt went to hide in a railroad car. He was joined by Charles Harrelson and Charles Rogers. However, soon afterwards, Dallas police officers entered the railroad car and arrested all three men. The three men along with Jim Brading were interviewed by Gordon Shanklin of the FBI and then released.

Photograph of the tramps arrested at the Dealey Plaza. It has been argued that Charles Rogers is on the left followed by Charles Harrelson and Chauncey Holt.
Photograph of the tramps arrested at the Dealey Plaza. It has been argued that Charles Rogers is on the left followed by Charles Harrelson and Chauncey Holt.

In October, 1991, Holt confessed to John Craig, Phillip Rogers and Gary Shaw about his role in the assassination of John F. Kennedy. Holt's story was undermined in 1992 when the Dallas Police Department revealed that the three tramps were Gus Abrams, John F. Gedney and Harold Doyle. Ray and Mary LaFontaine carried out their own research into this claim. They traced Doyle and Gedley who confirmed they were two of the tramps in the photograph. Gus Abrams was dead but his sister identified him as the third tramp in the photograph.

Chauncey Holt died on 28th June, 1997.

Primary Sources

(1) Chauncey Holt was interviewed by John Craig, Phillip Rogers and Gary Shaw for Newsweek magazine (19th October, 1991)

We knew before we left, sometime probably after November 18th. We were advised that he was going to be in San Antonio, Houston and Dallas, although we were not privy to the route. We did not known what the route was going to be. We had been told an incident was going to be created which could be laid at the door of pro-Castro Cubans. The word attempted assassination was never used. We assumed that from all this light loaded ammunition that maybe somebody was going to try to take a shot from somewhere, probably the Dal-Tex building, or one of the buildings around there. But at no time was it ever intimidated to us that an assassination or attempted assassination on Kennedy, Connally... there were other targets there as well. Somebody might have wanted to knock off Gonzalez. We had (been operating on) a need to know basis. It may sound stupid but, if they had (told us), I'd have been back at Grace Ranch, relaxing. It was such an elaborate set up. When you think back, I couldn't possibly have been so duped. When we saw him on TV and he said, "I'm just a patsy!" I tell you the word really rang home....

A need to know operation are central, not only to the CIA, but for organized crime or anything else. The information is imparted to individuals on a need to know basis. If you try to inquire, just one time, if you show a some curiosity, just one time, as to what is going on, then you won't be around. You'll either be dead, or you'll be ostracized. Not only is it isolation from top to bottom, but latterly as well. It operates not only at the higher ups, naturally they are interested in protecting themselves more than anyone else. These guys down here are protecting themselves, too. It's just another example of plausible deniability. I say, "Hey, give me a lie detector test!" If they ask, "Did you, were you there for the purpose of assassinating Kennedy or engaging in an attempted assassination of Kennedy," and in all honesty, we could say, "No, I wasn't."

(2) Chauncey Holt was interviewed by John Craig, Phillip Rogers and Gary Shaw for Newsweek magazine (19th October, 1991)

At the time of the shooting, the moment the shots were fired, we knew something went awry. We didn't know why, but from the screaming and carrying on we knew that there had been one hell of a bad incident. At the time, what went through our minds was, "Hey, we had gotten ourselves into something that is way over our heads." So I scooted under the train, went under to the other side, encountered Harrelson and Montoya, we searched out the car, which was not too far from the engine, climbed in it, closed the door and sat there in silence, while I monitored the radio and listened to what was going on.

We were in the railroad car by 12:31-12:32, almost immediately... as soon as the shooting started, and there was pandemonium and people were running all over the place. When actually, we look back on it, we could of easily of lost ourselves in all of this stuff. We could have gotten right up to the grassy knoll and thrown ourselves on the ground, like everybody else was, and started screaming, and that would have been the end of it.

We were in the box car a long time. Actually we heard a lot of transmissions. I estimated that it was almost 2 o'clock, although my watch was still on Arizona time. I had a bad habit of not changing my watch. So I think we stayed in there till practically 2 o'clock. We were still in there during the time when we heard the transmissions involving Tippit and back and forth. We heard a lot of other communications. We heard the call than an officer had been dying. I am told and I believe it was somewhere around 1:15 when we heard about the incident at the Texas theater, although we didn't know what happened.

So I thought it was possibly 2 o'clock before the train actually started to move. We started to move, backing down the tracks a little ways. We thought it was going to move, then we starts to backup. I thought they were going to switch us onto another track.

Then suddenly the thing stopped. They opened the door and there was a whole bunch of police officers with shotguns and everything else. We saw, the box car was not a fully loaded box car, but in this box car was ammunition, unusual ammunition. Defcord?, crates that looked like they were possibly claymore mines, drums marked : MUD, which seemed like drilling mud, which was unusual to be with the rest of this material. Which I assumed to be C-4 or some plastic explosives.

The officer too us out, we tried to identify ourselves. We said, "Hey, we're federal agents working on this thing," and they said, "Come with us." So we strolled along and actually we went back, we came out of the yard, we went by the Texas Depository building, across the street. I would say Harrelson and I were sort of dragging along, but Montoya, he was really digging out. He was actually right up behind the lead officer. He turned us over to two officers, the officer in charge, we later learned was Harkness.

In the photos, the individual in front is the individual I knew as Richard Montoya (Charles Rogers). The individual behind him I knew as Charles Harrelson. I had reason to believe that who he actually was, even though I didn't know him that well. I 'm confident that's who it was. And I'm the gentleman in the back, carrying the bag with the radio in it.

We were not placed under arrest. We were taken across, and someone interviewed us momentarily, and turned us over to someone else. A person I later learned was Captain Fritz, he said not two or three words to us. He said he was turning us over to the FBI. His name was Gordon Shanklin.

He asked us who were were, what we were doing there. Just about this time, while were were doing this, there was a lot of confusion, a lot of pandemonium, and actually a lot of, I would term jubilation on the part of all of the police officers in there, especially Gordon Shanklin, which led us to believe that our release was because of something that happened. Although they had said it on a number of occasions, someone else was arrested. They had caught someone in the Dal Tex building. I heard someone say, "We got one of them." But then when the matter came in that they had indicated they had got the individual that had killed the cop in Oakcliff, all at once it seemed to me, even what I considered prematurely, they indicated they had the guy that shot the president too. And at that time the level of attention on us... they had some other people they had detained and looked like they were going to arrest, including Braden.

Jim Braden was there. I didn't recognize him at first, because he had a hat on with some kind of Texas style hat band on it, and I didn't know him all that well, if you know what I mean. But I knew that I recognized him like I recognize you.

But once we got in there, and these events come off because they happened almost at the time we arrived there. Then the attention shifted a lot at once, from us to Oswald, who turned out to be Oswald. I assumed that it was their normal enthusiasm about having captured a cop killer, is what I thought. Because they treat cop killers a hell of a lot different than they treat killers of anyone else. Not the president of course. But at that point, Gorden Shanklin... we hadn't been in there too long. We were there a little while. And all this time... then who we are came up, then they were very careless. We were strolling around, people were coming around. They didn't treat us like dangerous suspects. They didn't handcuff us. Plus they didn't search us, and we were heavily armed.

We were taken to the Sheriff's Department, right there on Dealey Plaza. Didn't walk far. We didn't make a statement. Weren't fingerprinted. Weren't taken to the jail (where) I assume we would have been taken. Then Gordon Shanklin said, "You're free to go."

(3) House Select Committee on Assassinations (1979)

All three men are shabbily dressed, befitting their apparent status as vagrants. Tramp A, however, is the better attired, wearing well-fitting jeans and a tweed-like sports jacket, although this, judged by 1963 styles, was several years out of date. Tramp B is wearing ill-fitting slacks and a double-breasted suit coat. Tramp C, from his battered fedora to his won-out shoes, has managed to achieve a sartorial effect similar to what one would expect had he been fired from a cannon through a Salvation Army thrift shop. While such clothing might be a disguise, their footwear seems consistent with their classification as vagrants. All three men are shod in worn, low-cut oxfords that appear to be leather-soled. Tramp C's shoes seem to be several sizes too large for him.

(4) James H. Fetzer, Assassination Science and the Language of Proof, included in Assassination Science (1998)

Chauncey M. Holt, for example, has reported that he was a counterfeiter who, while working as a contract agent for the CIA, brought fifteen sets of forged Secret Service credentials to Dealey Plaza for use by persons in the immediate vicinity (KOGO AM-Radio, San Diego, 22 November 1995). He has told me that he arrived there in the company of Charles Harrelson, father of Woody, who was a notorious hit man for the Mob. Harrelson once said that he killed Kennedy, later retracting it and claiming that he was out of his mind when he said it and the very fact that he said it showed as much. He is serving a life-sentence for the assassination of a federal judge with a high-powered rifle, a very similar crime.

(5) John McAdams, The Three Tramps (2002)

The next big break in the case came when the Dallas City Council voted to release all city records having to do with the assassination. Journalist Mary La Fontaine, who was looking through the recently released records, happened to look at a list of records released earlier in 1989. There she found the arrest records that showed the tramps to be: Harold Doyle, John Forester Gedney, Gus W. Abrams

Were these fellows in fact the three tramps? Ray and Mary LaFontaine, working for the tabloid TV program "A Current Affair," set out to find Harold Doyle, whose address was listed on the arrest record as Red Jacket, West Virginia. The trail led from West Virginia to Amarillo, Texas, where the LaFontaines found one of Doyle's former neighbors who remembered him talking about his arrest in Dallas. Doyle was finally located in Klamath Falls, Oregon. He told his story on camera, and was also questioned by the FBI.

The FBI and private researchers sought the other two tramps. Gedney was located in Melbourne, Florida, serving as a municipal officer, a respected member of the community who had not spoken about former life as a vagabond until interviewed by researcher Billy Cox, and by the FBI. Both Doyle and Gedney told the same story of spending the night before the assassination at a rescue mission. According to Oliver Revell of the Dallas FBI office:

Both commented that they had gotten fresh clothes, showered, shaved and had a meal. They headed back to the railroad yard when they heard all the commotion and sirens and everything, and they asked what happened. They were told the president had been shot.

Abrams, the oldest of the tramps, was deceased. But researcher Kenneth Formet interviewed his sister, with whom he had lived the last 15 years of his life. She remembered his vagabond days, saying "he was always on the go hopping trains and drinking wine." When shown a picture of the Dealey Plaza tramps she responded "Yep, that's my Bill!"