Spartacus Blog

Don Reynolds and the Assassination of John F. Kennedy

John Simkin

By 1963 John F. Kennedy realised that Lyndon B. Johnson had become a problem as vice-president as he had been drawn into political scandals involving Fred Korth, Billie Sol Estes and Bobby Baker. According to James Wagenvoord, the editorial business manager of Life, the magazine was working on an article that would have revealed Johnson's corrupt activities. "Beginning in later summer 1963 the magazine, based upon information fed from Bobby Kennedy and the Justice Department, had been developing a major newsbreak piece concerning Johnson and Bobby Baker. On publication Johnson would have been finished and off the 1964 ticket (reason the material was fed to us) and would probably have been facing prison time. At the time LIFE magazine was arguably the most important general news source in the US. The top management of Time Inc. was closely allied with the USA's various intelligence agencies and we were used after by the Kennedy Justice Department as a conduit to the public." (1)

The fact that it was his brother Robert Kennedy who was giving this information to Life Magazine suggests that Kennedy intended to drop Johnson as his vice-president. This is supported by Evelyn Lincoln, Kennedy's secretary. In her book, Kennedy and Johnson (1968) she claimed that in November, 1963, Kennedy decided that because of the emerging Bobby Baker scandal he was going to drop Johnson as his running mate in the 1964 election. Kennedy told Lincoln that he was going to replace Johnson with Terry Sanford, the Governor of North Carolina. (2)

Phil Brennan, a journalist working for The National Review, argued that the Washington press corps had buried the stories about the Bobby Baker scandal and the connections with Johnson. However, John J. Williams, the Republican Party senator for Delaware, called upon the Committee on Rules and Administration to conduct an investigation of the financial and business interests and possible improprieties of Baker. Brennan points out: "A few days later, the attorney general, Bobby Kennedy, called five of Washington's top reporters into his office and told them it was now open season on Lyndon Johnson. It's OK, he told them, to go after the story they were ignoring out of deference to the administration." (3)

John Williams was known as "Honest John" and "the conscience of the Senate" because of his investigations into the corrupt activities of officials in the Harry S. Truman and the Dwight D. Eisenhower administrations. This included the downfall of General Harry H. Vaughan (1951) and Sherman Adams (1958). In September 1963 Williams began to look into the business activities of Bobby Baker. On 7th October, Baker resigned from his post as Johnson's Senate's Secretary. Three days later, Williams introduced a resolution calling for an investigation by the Senate Rules Committee. (4)

"The Senate, which has never been reluctant to call to task officials of the Executive Branch when questions were raised concerning the propriety of their conduct, but an even greater responsibility to examine these charges that are being made against one of its own employees... The Senate employee against whom the charges were made was given ample opportunity to appear in person and answer these charges but he rejected this invitation and instead submitted his resignation." (5)

According to Senator Carl Curtis of Nebraska, a member of he Committee on Rules and Administration, Williams suggested that Reynolds should be interviewed about his relationship with Baker and Johnson. Curtis later recalled that when he testified in closed session Williams recommended the Committee investigate the FBI files of a deported East German woman, Ellen Rometsch, who had been identified as associating with lobbyists and members of Congress. Williams also urged the Committee to investigate the Serv-U Corporation, a company set up by Bobby Baker in partnership with Fred Black, Eugene Hancock, Grant Stockdale and George Smathers. He also raised questions about Johnson's close friends such as Cliff Carter and Walter Jenkins. (6)

Bobby Baker refused to testify before the Committee: "I knew, however, that if I testified to the total truth then Lyndon B. Johnson, among others, might suffer severely. Suppose they asked me whether Lyndon Johnson had, indeed, insisted on a kickback from Don Reynolds in the writing of his life insurance policy? A truthful answer would torpedo the vice-president. Suppose they asked me what I knew of campaign funds for Johnson, or for the matter President Kennedy? Although I sensed that a 'gentleman's agreement' had been reached with respect to avoiding the embarrassment of senators, I certainly suspected that John J. Williams would not honor it where the vice-president was concerned. I had been too recently a member of the club, and too keenly felt a kinship with LBJ and others, to turn rat. You may say that I was honoring the code of the underworld if you will, but I didn't want to hurt my friends." (7)

Nancy Carole Tyler
Nancy Carole Tyler

Seth Kantor of the Fort Worth Press, Clark R. Mollenhoff of the Des Moines Register and Erwin Knoll of the Washington Post began to examine Baker's business activities. They became especially interested in a house purchased by Baker in Washington. It was occupied by Nancy Carole Tyler, a former Tennessee beauty-contest winner, who was Baker's $8,300-a-year private secretary at the Senate. The house was purchased in Baker's name, and Tyler was listed as his "cousin" in the application. Tyler was Baker's mistress rather than his cousin. (8)

In his autobiography Baker admitted that he was guilty of this offence: "I had incorrectly and improperly listed Carole Tyler as my cousin when I applied for the loan, in order to satisfy the Federal Housing Authority's regulation that anyone buying an FHA-underwritten home must either live in it or have a relative living in it. At the time I gave the matter little more serious thought than would a groundhog; indeed, Carole and I had shared a laugh about it. Well, I said to my lover, at least you're my kissin' cousin. So it's only a little white lie." (9)

Don Reynolds and Bobby Baker

Don B. Reynolds was a friend of Bobby Baker. In 1957 Reynolds was asked to arrange Lyndon B. Johnson's life insurance policy. "That was in 1957, only two years after Senate Majority Leader Johnson had suffered a heart attack. The Senator was having trouble finding an insurance company that would give him life insurance. Reynolds went looking on Johnson's behalf, talked to three companies, and finally found that the Manhattan Life Insurance Co. would write the policy. Manhattan issued a first policy of $50,000, and shortly afterward, when it had covered part of its risk through a reinsurance company, issued another policy of $50,000 for Johnson." (10)

Baker also introduced Reynolds to a large number of people that resulted in him signing insurance deals. This included Harry S. Truman, Jimmy Hoffa, Fred Black, Matthew H. McCloskey and Nancy Carole Tyler. "I had entered into an agreement with Reynolds, a fellow South Carolinian, to steer insurance customers to him in exchange for a small piece of the business and a commission on any policies he wrote as a result of my efforts." (11) Reynolds later claimed that over ten years he had "paid Baker some $15,000 for putting him in touch with the right people." (12)

At a closed session on 22nd November, 1963, Reynolds told B. Everett Jordan and his Committee on Rules and Administration that Johnson had demanded that he provided kickbacks in return for him agreeing to this life insurance policy. This included a $585 Magnavox stereo. Reynolds was also told by Walter Jenkins that he had to pay for $1,200 worth of advertising on KTBC, Johnson's television station in Austin. Senator Robert Byrd asked Reynolds if he had evidence that the stereo was a gift from him. Reynolds replied "The invoice delivered to Johnson's home showed that the charges were to be Reynolds." (13)

In his autobiography, Wheeling and Dealing (1978), written many years later, Baker admitted that Reynolds was telling the truth about being forced to advertise on KTBC: "Johnson was supersensitive to criticism that he used his public offices to add to his personal wealth, which was founded on radio and television properties. He avidly promoted the fiction that Lady Bird Johnson was the business genius... It was no accident that Austin, Texas, was for years the only city of its size with only one television station. Johnson had friends in high places among those who controlled the broadcast industry. George Smathers was his man in the Senate. Bob Bartley, a member of the Federal Communications Commission, just happened to be a nephew to LBJ's patron, Speaker Sam Rayburn." (14)

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Reynolds also told of seeing a suitcase full of money which Bobby Baker described as a "$100,000 payoff to Johnson for his role in securing the Fort Worth TFX contract". Reynolds also provided evidence against Matthew H. McCloskey. He suggested that he given $25,000 to Baker in order to get the contract to build the District of Columbia Stadium. According to the New York Times: "He (Reynolds) charged that Mr. Baker had received a $25,000 contribution for the 1960 Democratic Presidential campaign from Matthew H. McCloskey, builder of the $20 million D. C. Stadium in Washington, a prominent Democratic fund-raiser. The contribution, he said, was in the form of an overpayment by the McCloskey concern for a premium on a performance bond for the stadium that Mr. Reynolds's company had written. Mr. Reynolds said he had turned the money over to Mr. Baker on Mr. McCloskey's instructions." (15)

President Lyndon Johnson

Reynolds' testimony came to an end when news arrived that President John F. Kennedy had been assassinated. Abe Fortas, a lawyer who represented both Lyndon B. Johnson and Bobby Baker, worked behind the scenes in an effort to keep this information from the public. Johnson also arranged for a smear campaign to be organized against Reynolds. To help him do this J. Edgar Hoover passed to Johnson the FBI file on Reynolds. (16)

Reynolds began telling friends and associates that Johnson was involved in the assassination of Kennedy. According to a FBI memorandum Reynolds had told an insurance executive that, "J. Edgar Hoover of the FBI had collected sufficient data to prove that President Johnson was involved in the assassination of the late President Kennedy. Reynolds stated that Governor Connally of Texas had been an accomplice of President Johnson's in the assassination of the late President Kennedy. Reynolds also told Megill that Clint Murchison had kept Oswald in a hotel in Dallas for several days prior to the assassination." (17)

According to an interview that Reynolds gave to the Federal Bureau of Investigations: "Reynolds prefaced his comments with the statement that he had been a long-time friend and associate of Robert G. Baker, a former Secretary for the Majority, United States Senate. He said on January 20, 1961, on the occasion of the inauguration of President Kennedy, he, Reynolds, spent the majority of the day in Baker's offices or in the Capitol Rotunda. He stated there were many people present in Baker's office during the day, including his wife. Reynolds said that during a discussion with Baker on that date, Baker stated while referring to the swearing in of Kennedy, words to the effect that the s.o.b is being sworn in, but he will never live his term out. He will die a violent death." (18)

On 10th January, 1964, Johnson telephoned his friend George Smathers and asked him to do what he could to stop the Committee on Rules and Administration from releasing Reynolds' testimony: "They had this damned fool insurance man, in and they had him in a secret session and Bobby (Baker) gave me a record player and Bobby got the record player from the insurance man (Don Reynolds). I didn't know a damned thing about it. Never heard of it till this happened. But I paid $88,000 worth of premiums and, by God, they could afford to give me a Cadillac if they'd wanted to and there'd have been not a goddamned thing wrong with it.... There's nothing wrong with it. There's not a damned thing wrong. So Walter Jenkins explained it all in his statement." Smathers' replied that he would try to persuade B. Everett Jordan to suppress the testimony. (19)

Smear Campaign

However, on 17th January, 1964, the Committee on Rules and Administration voted to release to the public Reynolds' secret testimony. Johnson responded by leaking information from Reynolds' FBI file to Drew Pearson and Jack Anderson. On 5th February, 1964, the Washington Post reported that Reynolds had lied about his academic success at West Point. The article also claimed that Reynolds had been a supporter of Joseph McCarthy and had accused business rivals of being secret members of the American Communist Party. It was also revealed that Reynolds had made anti-Semitic remarks while in Berlin in 1953. (20)

The New York Times reported that Lyndon B. Johnson had used information from secret government documents to smear Reynolds. It also reported that Johnson's officials had been applying pressure on the editors of newspapers not to print information that had been disclosed by Reynolds in front of the Senate Rules Committee. "Revelations that persons in or close to the White House had had a hand in making available such information to impugn Mr. Reynolds's testimony has caused sharp criticism from Republican members of Congress and from some segmments of the press." (21)

This leak created a great deal of concern in Congress. Senator Hugh Scott of Pennsylvania wrote to Defense Secretary Robert McNamara about the release of Air Force secret files. "It is a matter of serious concern to me that such a leak could happen. I am doubly concerned that leaks of internal memoranda can apparently be used to destroy witnesses whose testimony becomes embarrassing. The situation is particularly serious when it's realized that this information was denied to proper officials of the United States Senate." (22)

Harold Gross of Iowa charged that the Johnson administration had engaged in an "outrageous" attempt to "intimidate" Reynolds and other witnesses who might give testimony that embarrassed the White House: "If this leak of information - if this attempt to intimidate a witness goes unpunished, then all those who took part in it and all who condone it are equally guilty of outrageous conduct... If the President disapproves of what has taken place in the peddling of this information, obtained from allegedly secret files, he should have taken immediate action to publicly denounce this despicable act." (23)

Government Corruption

John McClellan, the chairman of the Senate subcommittee investigating the F-111 contract given to General Dynamics, said that he wanted to interview Don Reynolds. However, McClellan changed his mind and the report on the contract was never published. Phillip F. Nelson has argued the reason for this was that several figures close to Lyndon B. Johnson were involved in corruptly obtaining the contract. This included Fred Korth, Secretary of the Navy at the time the contract was signed and the Deputy Secretary of Defense, Roswell Gilpatric, who before he took up the post, was chief counsel for General Dynamics. (24)

Reynolds appeared before the Committee on Rules and Administration on 1st December, 1964. Before the hearing Reynolds supplied a statement implicating Bobby Baker and Matthew H. McCloskey (Treasurer of the National Democratic Party at the time) in financial corruption. However, the Democrats had a 6-3 majority on the Committee and Reynolds was not allowed to fully express the role that Johnson had played in this deal. Reynolds appeared to be relieved as he told John Williams: "My God! There's a difference between testifying against a President of the United States and a Vice President. If I had known he was President, I might not have gone through with it." (25)

John Williams tossing his Baker Case files on the committee table.After declaring it was a whitewash he stormed out of the room.
John Williams tossing his Baker Case files on the Committee on Rules and Administration
table. After declaring the report was a whitewash he stormed out of the room.

Reynolds later told the journalist Clark R. Mollenhoff that he regretted giving information against Lyndon B. Johnson. "I might as well be in Nazi Germany. They are out to get me, and they are using every government agency and every dirty trick in the book to wreck my business... I was no angel, and I expected to be investigated, but I didn't think I would be harassed to the point that my business would be wrecked and my wife would become ill." (26)

In December, 1966, Edward Jay Epstein wrote an article for the Esquire Magazine where he claimed that Reynolds had given the Warren Commission information on the death of John F. Kennedy. Reynolds said that Bobby Baker had told him that Kennedy "would never live out his term and that he would die a violent death." Baker had also said that "the FBI knew that Johnson was behind the assassination". (27) This was later confirmed by the release of a declassified FBI file. (28)

John Simkin (15th June, 2021)


(1) James Wagenvoord, email to John Simkin (3rd November, 2009)

(2) Evelyn Lincoln, Kennedy and Johnson (1968) page 129

(3) Phil Brennan, Newsmax (18th November, 2002)

(4) Clark R. Mollenhoff, Despoilers of Democracy (1965) page 284

(5) John Williams, speech in the Senate (10th October, 1963)

(6) Time Magazine (31st January, 1964)

(7) Bobby Baker, Wheeling and Dealing (1978) page 83

(8) Time Magazine (31st January, 1964)

(9) Bobby Baker, Wheeling and Dealing (1978) page 177

(10) Time Magazine (31st January, 1964)

(11) Bobby Baker, Wheeling and Dealing (1978) page 83

(12) Time Magazine (31st January, 1964)

(13) Time Magazine (31st January, 1964)

(14) Bobby Baker, Wheeling and Dealing (1978) pages 82-83

(15) New York Times (1st December, 1964)

(16) Clarence M. Kelly, Director of the FBI, memorandum to Laurence Silberman, the Deputy Attorney General (30th January, 1975)

(17) Cartha D. DeLoach, memorandum (22nd January, 1964)

(18) Federal Bureau of Investigations (24th January, 1964)

(19) Telephone conversation between Lyndon B. Johnson and George Smathers. (10th January, 1964)

(20) The Washington Post (5th February, 1964)

(21) New York Times (12th February, 1964)

(22) Bobby Baker, Wheeling and Dealing (1978) page 312

(23) Harold Gross, speech in Congress (13th February, 1964)

(24) Phillip F. Nelson, LBJ: The Mastermind of the JFK Assassination (2011) pages 192-193

(25) Carl Curtis, Forty Years Against the Tide (1986) page 253

(26) Clark R. Mollenhoff, Despoilers of Democracy (1965) page 284

(27) Edward Jay Epstein, Esquire Magazine (1st December, 1966)

(28) Federal Bureau of Investigations (24th January, 1964)

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