The Winnipeg Airport Incidents

Peter R. Whitmey
A-149 1909 Salton Road
Abbotsford BC Canada V2S 5B6

The Fourth Decade, November 1995, pages 22–25

      As some readers might recall, I wrote a lengthy article entitled “The Man Who Heard Too Much” (The Third Decade, Nov. 1990) about the allegations of the late Richard Giesbrecht, who overheard two men talking in the Horizon Room at the Winnipeg International Airport, which led him to believe they might have been involved somehow in the assassination of President Kennedy. The incident was discussed in some detail in the obscure 1969 book The Kennedy Conspiracy (Meredith Press: NY) by Paris Flammonde, and more recently a summary was provided in the 1993 book Who’s Who In The JFK Assassination (Citadel Press: NY) by Michael Benson.
My 1990 article was based primarily on secondary sources such as the Winnipeg Free Press coverage both in 1964 and 1967 (when Mr. Giesbrecht identified one of the men as being David Ferrie); a lengthy article in the Nov. 1967 issue of Maclean’s magazine; a 1968 Winnipeg Tribune report; a surprisingly thorough National Enquirer article; a brief reference in two 1968 Ramparts articles by William Turner; and the above mentioned reference in Flammonde’s book as well as Coup D’État In America. I was also able to speak to Giesbrecht himself and other family members, along with his former lawyer (who now lives in B.C.), the reporters who wrote the articles in the WFP, the WT, and Maclean’s, and even former FBI agent James Hosty.
Shortly after publication of my article, I finally received FBI documents dealing with the allegations, including a six-page summary of SA Merle Nelson’s interview (conducted in Winnipeg), as well as an interview with a TV station manager whom Giesbrecht had contacted. I was able to locate the former manager, who was much more supportive of Giesbrecht’s sincerity than the FBI report suggested.
In addition, researcher Bill Adams kindly sent me several helpful documents that he had obtained from AARC, which were part of Bill Boxley’s file (aka Wood), an investigator who worked for Garrison. It should be noted that a reporter for the Winnipeg Free Press (who later became a senior partner of UPI in Washington, D.C.) had contracted Garrison’s office in March, 1967, and later that year Garrison spoke by phone with Giesbrecht in regard to testifying at the Shaw trial. Although Giesbrecht agreed to cooperate, as reflected in a Feb. 1966 Winnipeg Tribune report, by the time the trial got underway in Jan. 1969, Giesbrecht had allegedly been threatened with harm to his family, and therefore notified Garrison that he would not be coming to New Orleans after all.
One of the most intriguing documents I received was the FBI’s “cover pages” to the original report on March 6, 1964, which listed several leads that specific FBI offices were directed to look into. One of these leads involved re-interviewing Martin Isaacs, a social worker in New York City, who had dealt with the Oswalds when they first arrived in the U.S. As I pointed out in my article, Mr. Giesbrecht had noted references to the name “Isaacs” during the airport lounge conversation he had overheard.
A second lead was to be checked out by the FBI’s Las Vegas office, related to a shop in Mercury, Nevada (the location of the Atomic Energy Commission’s testing site), that one of the airport men suggested had become “too risky,” with the suggestion that it might be closed. Giesbrecht wasn’t certain the men were discussing a shop, however, suggesting it could also have been a car or a house. It later occurred to me that the reference to “Mercury” could also have been in connection with the right-wing periodical, American Mercury, whose “military editor” in 1963 was General Edwin Walker, replacing General Willoughby. Prior to the assassination, the magazine went from being a monthly to a quarterly publication following a change in ownership and a shift in headquarters from Wichita, KS to McAllen, TX. After the assassination, “Mercury” almost went out of business, with several issues virtually devoid of articles, as though it had been put on hold.
A third lead involved the Dallas FBI office, which was directed to determine if the name “Isaacs” had appeared in their investigation. In fact it had, in that a customer service manager for American Airlines (who was transferred to San Francisco either shortly before or possibly shortly after the assassination) named Charles R. Isaacs had been interviewed on Jan. 6, 1964, as had his second wife. Isaacs’ name, phone number (which I determined was as of 1961, and later changed in 1963), and place of employment had been listed in Jack Ruby’s notebook, although no explanation for this detailed listing was apparently provided to the FBI, according to their brief report. The FBI did indicate that Mrs. Isaacs had worked for Ruby as a wardrobe designer, and that she and her husband had confronted Ruby, as a result of a check “bouncing.” (I was able to locate the former Mrs. Isaacs, and she was sure that her name was in Ruby’s notebook, which was not the case.)
The fourth and final lead involved the Kansas City FBI office, in that Giesbrecht had overheard plans for an upcoming meeting of some unidentified group, to be held at the Town House Motor Hotel, supposedly in Kansas City, where the attendees were to register under the name of a textile firm. The hotel was apparently situated on the corner of “Kellogg and Broadway” (as stated in the FBI report), which, it turns out, is the main intersection of downtown Wichita, KS. It’s possible that FBI agent Nelson was not familiar with either Wichita or K.C. as he lived, in Grand Forks, ND. He might also have confused the hotel with the similar-sounding Town House Motor Inn located in K.C. where the “Minutemen” held their first national conference.
Intriguingly, David Ferrie had made six phone calls to an oil producer living in Wichita in the fall of 1962 along with a call to a men’s clothing store as well as another number. In addition, Ferrie made several calls from Wichita itself back to New Orleans in early 1963, and in the spring of 1963 Jack Ruby visited a nightclub there. There is no evidence from his phone records that Chicago businessman Lawrence Meyers visited Wichita on behalf of Ero Manufacturing, his employer, but he did make a call from New Orleans to Chicago on Nov. 13, 1963 as well as phoning Jean Aase from Kansas City on Nov. 20, 1963 (who earlier received a phone call at the same number from David Ferrie on Sept. 24, 1963, the day Oswald left New Orleans; on the same day, Ferrie also phoned a number in Washington, D.C.). Although Meyers admitted to being a friend of Ruby’s, he denied knowing Ferrie when interviewed by the HSCA. Miss Aase, whom the HSCA was unable to locate, indicated in 1993 that the Sept. 24 call from Ferrie (fifteen minutes in length) was probably for Meyers, and was relieved to know, when I spoke to her, that he is now dead.
For some time I was uncertain as to whether any follow-up investigation was, in fact, carried out by the above-mentioned FBI offices, until I received several documents earlier this year from researcher Jeff Caulfield M.D., who had located them at Archives II, verifying that at least two of the four leads had been checked out. The Las Vegas FBI office reported on Mar. 4, 1964 that there was “… no information concerning any businesses or shops having closed or who contemplate closing at the test site.” On the same day, the New York City FBI office stated that Martin Isaacs had been interviewed. Mr. Isaacs stated that he had “never been in the state of Texas and he was working at the Department of Welfare on 11/22/63…” He also indicated that he wasn’t “…acquainted with any individuals named Hoffman or Haughtman or Romaniuk” (names which Giesbrecht had overheard being mentioned), did not own an automobile and “ … could not furnish … information regarding discussion of a ’58 Dodge or possibly Mercury car.” Isaacs had never “… heard of the Townhouse at Kellogg and Broadway in Kansas City, Missouri,” and had never been to either Kansas City or Winnipeg. At this point in my investigation, I have not been able to ascertain whether any report was provided by the Dallas FBI office in regard to having previously interviewed Charles R. Isaacs. Likewise, I do not know whether the Kansas City FBI office made a report in connection with a possible “textile” meeting to be held at the Town House Motor Hotel (with a correction as to its location).
Another possible lead was provided to SA Merle Nelson by Constable Wershler of the RCMP (Winnipeg detachment) in a letter dated May 5, 1964 (provided to me by a Hamilton, Ontario researcher). Wershler had been contacted by an unidentified social worker, who had recalled an intriguing classified ad after reading about Mr. Giesbrecht’s allegations n the front page of the May 2 Winnipeg Free Press. The ad appeared in the “personal” section on April 7th, 8th, and 9th and read as follows:
“Int. Airport Lounge, Feb. 13, 1964. Gentlemen interested in textiles Kan. Cy. Apply to Box 400, Free Press.”
Although the informant could not recall the specific date of the ad he had read, the RCMP was able to locate it. In his letter, Wershler indicated that in order to minimize publicity, “…no enquiries were made of the Free Press concerning the source of this ad. It was felt here that this information should be directed to you for whatever action you deem necessary. This office would be glad to lend any assistance to you in furthering this aspect of your investigation.”
Unfortunately, regardless of the obvious need to ascertain who placed the ad (possibly Giesbrecht himself did), no reference was made to it in any of the numerous FBI memos I received through my FOIPA request. Instead, I learned that Mr. Giesbrecht was not held in high esteem at FBI headquarters, who believed he was merely seeking publicity and money. His allegations were described in a May 5, 1964 memo from Branigan to Sullivan as “…another wild unsupported imaginative allegation,” even though a “…reputable businessman in Winnipeg….” who had known Mr. Giesbrecht for several years considered him to be “…a reliable individual,” as stated in the original March 27, 1964 FBI report.
I have no doubt that Richard Giesbrecht overheard a conversation that seemed to suggest possible collusion in the assassination of President Kennedy. However, it is hard to believe that direct participants in a plot to kill JFK would be foolish enough to talk about their involvement so openly (although they might have assumed they couldn’t be heard given the music being piped in and the conversation around them). It is possible, however, that the two men (one of whom might have been named “Romaniuk,” a common Winnipeg name), as well as the group they appeared to be associated with, were more concerned with some kind of association with Lee Harvey Oswald, not related to the assassination itself. Given the reference to Oswald as being a “psycho,” whom “Isaacs” had somehow become foolishly associated with, I believe that it is possible that the two men and others might have been involved in some kind of illegal activity, such as gunrunning. Giesbrecht had heard reference to a “good shipment” arriving in the city of “Caracas,” originating in “Newport” (Rhode Island, Kentucky, Oregon, or Nova Scotia are all possibilities), which the two men were pleased about (this comment was quoted originally in the Maclean’s article but did not appear in either the FBI report or the two Winnipeg Free Press articles). Intriguingly, as pointed out to me by researcher Larry Haapanen (who also made me aware of Ferrie’s phone calls to Wichita), the name “Caracas” appears in Oswald’s notebook, amongst a list of seemingly unrelated items, suggesting the possibility that Oswald had tried to infiltrate the group in question through his association with “Isaacs” (on behalf of the FBI? KGB? himself?).
It should be noted that “Romaniuk” was quite concerned as to how much Oswald knew and how much he had told his wife, who just happened to have testified before the Warren Commission earlier in the month. In fact, her picture was on the cover of Time magazine, which was on the newsstands before Feb. 13, 1964 (although dated Feb. 14). Attempts were apparently being made by a man named either “Hoffman” of “Haughtman” to track down “Isaacs,” who seemed to have disappeared, possibly driving a 1958 Dodge. If Charles R. Isaacs, the American Airlines employee, was the man being referred to, this might explain why he was transferred to San Francisco (even the FBI had some difficulty locating him). I was able to obtain his address in 1992 from his son and wrote to him, but later learned that he had been hospitalized, suffering from Alzheimer’s, shortly after his third wife died (who was from Kansas).
Shortly after the release of “JFK,” I was contacted by a CBC-TV assistant producer named George Jacobs in Winnipeg in regard to my Giesbrecht research (who had initially contacted Sheldon Inkol in Toronto after seeing a profile of him on a CBC-TV report about “JFK,” and the growing skepticism towards the Warren Commission’s conclusions). There was some interest in interviewing me for a local Winnipeg news program, which finally came to fruition on Nov. 22, 1993 via satellite. Although the three-minute interview (along with a short excerpt from “JFK” featuring Joe Pesci as David Ferrie) received little response, one caller, whose name and phone number were given to me, certainly provided strong support for Richard Giesbrecht’s account, although the FBI unfortunately were never made aware of her experience.
The caller, named Lorraine, was 22 years old in 1963, and recalled having gone to the Winnipeg Airport on either Nov. 18 or November 19, 1963 to pick up a package for her brother, which was being flown in from Calgary. While waiting for the flight to arrive, Lorraine went to the Horizon Room around 11:00 am and sat at a booth not far behind three well-dressed men. It was fairly quiet in the restaurant/bar at that time, and therefore Lorraine was able to overhear the men talking, even though they were not speaking loudly. In the course of the conversation, one of the men said that someone was going to killed in Dallas that coming Friday (which conceivably referred to Connally as much as Kennedy). Lorraine felt very uneasy at this point and decided to leave, later telling her brother about the comment. He suggested that it was probably in connection with some kind of Mafia “hit,” although neither one, of course, knew that President Kennedy would be in Dallas on that fateful day.
On Friday, Nov. 22, while babysitting for her brother, he phoned to tell her that President Kennedy had been assassinated in Dallas and that what she heard must have been connected. He also warned her not to tell anyone about the incident. Although she later told other members of her family (including a niece named Anna Marie), Lorraine never notified the RCMP or the media, until she phoned CBC-TV after viewing my interview (which her niece notified her about). When I spoke to Lorraine, I asked her if she had read the WFP report about Giesbrecht’s alleged experience in the Horizon Room on Feb. 13, 1964, but she replied that she was unaware of the incident, possibly due to having moved to northern Manitoba some time in 1964. Even today, both Lorraine and her niece are apprehensive about their full names being divulged, and for personal reasons did not feel it would be worthwhile to put me in contact with Lorraine’s brother.
It seems that there is a good possibility that individuals located in Winnipeg, Canada were linked through gunrunning operations with David Ferrie, Lee Harvey Oswald, as well as Jack Ruby (and maybe others), and that a decision was made to eliminate the source of interference in this lucrative endeavor—President John F. Kennedy and possibly, at the same time, Governor Connally. Unfortunately, at this late date, it is very difficult to prove.