Kennedy Assassination was Never Case Closed (Gaeton Fonzi Obit.)

Kennedy Assassination was Never Case Closed (Gaeton Fonzi Obit.)

GAETON FONZI 1935 - 2012

Gaeton Fonzi was one of the most relentless investigators on the House Select  Committee on Assassinations in the late 1970s, remembered by former colleagues  with both awe and echoes of the impatience he inspired with his pursuit of the  full story behind the assassination of President John F. Kennedy. They called  him Ahab.

Fonzi was also the staff member most publicly dismayed by the committee's  final report, which concluded in 1979 that the president “was probably  assassinated as a result of a conspiracy.”

Of course it was a conspiracy, said Fonzi, a journalist recruited mainly on  the strength of scathing magazine critiques he had written about the Warren  Commission and its conclusion that Lee Harvey Oswald had acted alone in killing  the president in Dallas on November 22, 1963. But who were the conspirators?  What was their motive? How could the committee close its doors without the  answers?

Fonzi nailed those questions to the committee's locked doors, figuratively,  in a long article he wrote the next year for Washingtonian magazine and  in a 1993 book, The Last Investigation. In both, he chronicled the  near-blanket refusal of government intelligence agencies, especially the CIA, to  provide the committee with documents it requested. And he accused committee  leaders of folding under pressure – from congressional budget hawks, political  advisers and the intelligence agencies themselves – just as promising new leads  were emerging.

“Is it unrealistic to desire, for something as important as the assassination  of a president, an investigation unbound by political, financial or time  restrictions?” he asked in Washingtonian.

He never got the answer he had hoped for. Congress never authorised a  follow-up to the work of the committee, which, from 1977 to 1979, also  re-examined the assassination of  Martin Luther King,  concluding that it, too, “likely” resulted from an unspecified conspiracy.

But historians and researchers consider Fonzi's book among the best of the  roughly 600 published on the Kennedy assassination, and credit him with raising  doubts about the government's willingness to share everything it knew. The  author Jefferson Morley, a former reporter for The Washington Post,  said The Last Investigation had refocused attention on a handful of  reported contacts between CIA operatives and Oswald – tantalising leads that had  long been fascinating to conspiracy buffs but that had never been fully  scrutinised by a veteran investigative reporter.

The CIA  has denied that any such contacts occurred, and Fonzi spent most of  his two years with the committee criss-crossing the world trying to prove  otherwise. He considered it impossible that the CIA had never made contact with  Oswald, a former Marine who defected to the Soviet Union in 1959, repatriated  with his Russian wife and baby in 1962, and settled in Dallas, where he openly  espoused Communist views.

“We called him Ahab, because he was so single-minded about that white whale,” said G. Robert Blakey, the chief counsel and staff director of the House  committee, now a professor at the University of Notre Dame Law School. The white  whale for Fonzi was the meaning of those supposed contacts.

Blakey was criticised by Fonzi as overly deferential to the CIA, and he now  concedes that Fonzi was probably right on that score. Blakey said he was shocked  in 2003 when declassified CIA documents revealed the full identity of the  retired agent who had acted as the committee's liaison to the CIA.

The agency never told Blakey that the agent, George Joannides, had overseen a  group of anti-Castro Cuban exiles in Dallas in the months before the  assassination, when Oswald had two well-publicised clashes with them.

At the time of the revelation, the CIA said Joannides had withheld nothing  relevant from the committee. Joannides died in 1990.

“Mr Joannides obstructed our investigation,” Blakey said. Asked how that had  affected the committee's work, he said:  “We'll never know. But I can say that  for a guy like Gaeton, a guy who really wanted to know what happened to Kennedy,  it kind of tortured him.”

Gaetano Fonzi was born in Philadelphia on October 10, 1935, to Leonora and  Gaetano Fonzi, a barber. (He later shortened his first name.) After graduating  from the University of Pennsylvania, he was a reporter and editor at Philadelphia Magazine. In one article, he and a co-author revealed that  a former star reporter for The Philadelphia Inquirer, Harry Karafin,  had extorted money from  businessmen with threats of unflattering coverage.

In Florida, Fonzi worked for Miami and Gold Coast  magazines, writing investigative articles. He also wrote several other books,  including a biography of the media mogul and philanthropist Walter Annenberg.  But the Kennedy assassination remained the story that consumed him.

“He thought the murder of President Kennedy was a turning point in history,” his wife, Marie, said. “He said it was the point when the American people  stopped trusting their government.”

Gaeton Fonzi is survived by Marie, children Irene, Maria, Guy and  Christopher, eight grandchildren and two great-grandchildren.

The New York Times


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