“NERO IS MAD,” said Claudius. “He will destroy the empire. His excesses will demand the return of the republic and you, my son, will return to restore it. The republic will live again!”
“I don’t believe in the republic,” said Britannicus, son of Claudius. “No one believes in the republic anymore! No one does, except you. You’re old, father, and out of touch. I want my chance to rule. And rule Rome as it should be ruled. If you love me, give me that chance.”
“Let all the poisons that lurk in the mud hatch out,” mumbled Claudius alone to himself. “Write no more Claudius, write no more. I have told it all, as I said I would. And as the Sybil prophesized, I have told the truth. I have set the record straight. It is all here for remote posterity. Come death, and draw the final curtain. I am tired, oh so tired.”1
1 From the 1976 BBC Masterpiece Theatre production of I, Claudius. (Based on: I, Claudius: from the autobiography of Tiberius Claudius born 10 B.C. murdered and deified A.D. 54. and Claudius The God, both authored by Robert Graves. New York: Vintage International Edition, 1989, originally published by Random House, 1935.
There are only two mistakes one can make along the road to truth: Not going all the way, and not starting.
The American people live in a country where they can have almost anything they want.
And my regret is that it seems that they don’t want much of anything at all.
DURING THE JOURNEY of writing this book, many people asked me whether Leo Damore really committed suicide. Of course he did, I told them. He shot himself in the presence of a nurse and a police officer in October 1995. There was no conspiracy here, I maintained; the facts spoke for themselves. But I soon reckoned those weren’t the only “facts” that surrounded Leo’s demise.
For two years, Leo’s former wife, June Davison, graciously allowed me to read all of Leo’s private diaries. I wanted to know anything that might further offer clues, particularly about the last few years of his life. While Leo purposely never mentioned any of his most secretive research in his journals, he did recount some of his battles with panic attacks, anxiety, and depression—all of which started to emerge several months after his telephone conversation with William L. Mitchell at the end of March 1993. Yet in my own dealings with Leo during 1993, he appeared to be generally optimistic after our visit in April of that year and the subsequent phone contact we shared during that summer. Leo made no secret of the fact that he had met with the person who, he believed, was Mary’s assassin, the same man who had testified at the trial, but I didn’t press him for further details, as I was preoccupied with grief over a broken marital engagement. That fall, however, he was still working on the manuscript for “Burden of Guilt,” though he was increasingly agitated and upset.
Another of Leo’s closest friends, who asked to remain anonymous, agreed to be interviewed for this book. She and Leo had talked many times after his 1993 telephone interview with Mitchell, as well as after Leo’s subsequent in-person interview with Mitchell. That meeting, the friend said, was even more definitive because Leo had learned, she said, about some of the other people who had assisted in the operation. Some weeks later, however, Leo told his friend he was sure he was being followed, “watched,” and he was growing increasingly alarmed. In early 1994, he believed he’d been “poisoned,” she said. He wasn’t sure how, or when it happened, but he knew something was wrong. He had also taken a number of precautions with his tapes and transcriptions, his manuscript, and what she remembered as “some other material.” It was all well-hidden, the friend said, and couldn’t be found. Leo was becoming more frantic, more anxious, agitated, and unable to focus. Increasingly paranoid, under financial pressure, he apparently consulted not one but two different psychiatrists, both of whom were giving him different psychotropic medications.
About a month before he shot himself in October 1995, Leo called me, desperately pleading for a place to live, and threatening suicide. Not having heard from him for months, I realized at that point how serious his deterioration had become. I pleaded with him to immediately check into a hospital, even offered to accompany him, should he need assistance. Later on, I would discover his friend Jimmy Smith had received a similar plea, again shortly before Leo took his life. Following his death, Leo’s former wife told me his autopsy had revealed an undiagnosed brain tumor. Had Leo Damore, I wondered, been poisoned in such a way that he was driven to suicide?
Starting in the 1950s, under the direction of the CIA’s Dr. Sidney Gottlieb, the Agency’s MKULTRA program had developed an arsenal of undetectable elixirs for getting rid of people when it became necessary. For the CIA, murder became ‘standard operating procedure,’ as demonstrated by CIA Director William Colby in his testimony before the Church Committee in 1975.1 In April 1953, James Speyer Kronthal, a brilliant, young Allen Dulles protégé and deputy, who was in line for a high-level job at the Agency, was found dead in his Georgetown home in what police said was a suicide. The night before, Kronthal had been confronted by his boss Dulles for his sexual orientation. His “crime” was that he was gay. Years later, it was revealed that Soviet intelligence had identified Kronthal as a homosexual through its review of captured Nazi files from World War II. Then, while working for the CIA in Switzerland, Kronthal had been secretly filmed with young boys by the Soviets before blackmailing him into becoming a spy.
“Allen [Dulles] probably had a special potion prepared that he gave Kronthal should the pressure become too much,” the CIA’s Robert Crowley told author Joseph Trento. “Dr. Sidney Gottlieb and the medical people produced all kinds of poisons that a normal postmortem could not detect. Kronthal, from a powerful family in New York, could not bear having his secret homosexuality become a new case for Senator Joseph McCarthy.”2 Nor could Allen Dulles allow anyone, or anything, to threaten his intelligence empire.
Leo Damore’s “suicide” had become all the more disturbing, not only to me, but to his dear friend Jimmy Smith as well. Smith became convinced that Leo had been driven to take his own life. “Leo didn’t know anything about guns,” said Smith. “Where in hell did he get a gun?” For years, Smith had warned his friend to “take precautions.” He was sure Leo was becoming involved in dangerous matters. “For Christ’s sake, Leo, be careful,” said Jimmy at the end of almost every phone call. And so, in the wake of Leo’s death, trailing my own journey’s conclusion, Bill Corson’s echo kept dogging me at every turn: “Anybody can commit a murder, but it takes an expert to commit a suicide.”
There comes a time when every journey approaches a conclusion. It took me by surprise, when I met a kindred soul whose father, too, had been a CIA officer. There’s a kind of unwritten, sometimes unacknowledged, bond among those of us whose fathers were involved with the fledgling CIA during the Cold War era. Author Nina Burleigh’s interview with Jane Barnes, daughter of the elite CIA covert operative Tracy Barnes—who Robert Morrow believed was part of Jim Angleton’s inner circle that decided Mary’s fate—underscored not only the experience of living within the “shadowy” world of never really knowing what our fathers were doing, but the fantasy life we as children invented to compensate for this emptiness.
“We thought of Daddy as James Bond,” Jane Barnes recalled to Burleigh. Apparently a Barnes family neighbor, acquainted with all the gadgetry, murder, and intrigue described in Ian Fleming’s and John le Carré’s books, had once said to Tracy, “These books must be nonsense.”
“On the contrary,” Tracy Barnes had replied. “They’re understated.”3 Like Jane’s father, my own had also revered Ian Fleming’s mythic character. He took great delight in family outings to the latest James Bond films that so glamorously dramatized and glorified the swashbuckling world of “secret agents.” But we as children, the Cold War’s “CIA brats,” were not allowed to know the real life our fathers had chosen. “Most people,” said the character of Noah Cross (played by John Huston) in the film Chinatown, “never have to face the fact that at the right time, at the right place, they’re capable of anything.” Such was the double life our fathers led; and eventually, one way or another, it exacted a karmic retribution on us children.
Quentin Meyer, Mary and Cord Meyer’s oldest son, would no longer talk to me after he became aware of this book project, nor would his brother, Mark. Intermittently, and over time since the early 1970s, Quentin’s mental illness had overtaken him with one debilitating episode after another. It was painful to accept, even more so to watch. In the fall of 2009, author Katie McCabe shared with me her experience after a book-signing event for her Dovey Roundtree biography, Justice Older Than the Law, at a Georgetown senior center. There, in the circle of attendees, sat a slumped-over, seemingly elderly man who listened quietly, his head down on his chest. When the talk was over, he approached McCabe and asked her to sign the book, “To Quentin.” The sponsor of the event later told McCabe that the man was Quentin Meyer, son of Cord and Mary Meyer. His mere presence at the event spoke volumes; somewhere within, a part of Quenty still yearned to know the elusive, essential truth that had robbed him of his selfhood, the demons too horrifying to confront. Would it be Dovey Roundtree’s heroic defense of Ray Crump that might ignite a smoldering spark to light? No words were exchanged that day, no more of Quenty pleading, “What happened to my mother?” as he had on the telephone late one night with Timothy Leary so many years before.
And so, it was by serendipity again, that someone I had contacted asked Toni Shimon, the daughter of the late Joseph W. Shimon, whether she would be willing to talk with me. When I met Toni in 2005, our chemistry was almost instantaneous, only because we shared a certain bond of somewhat similar circumstances growing up in Washington. Indeed, Toni Shimon and I had much in common. Like most of us, Toni, during her formative years, hadn’t known the true nature of her father’s work. As a young adult, however, she persuaded her father, little by little, to confide pieces of information he probably shouldn’t have. Joe Shimon deeply loved his only daughter, and he didn’t want to lose her—or himself.4
Shimon was a unique individual. He was determined to remain a faithful, honest father to his only daughter while being called to duty to “take care of” some of the most “sensitive” problems in the hidden cesspools of Washington. Born in 1907, Shimon first worked as a uniformed policeman in the D.C. Metropolitan Police Department, starting in the early 1930s. He quickly distinguished himself, rising through the ranks to become a detective. By the time of President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s inauguration in 1933, Shimon had already established a reputation for being able “to get the job done” with the utmost discretion. He would gain the confidence not only of President Roosevelt, but each of his successors—Truman, Eisenhower, Kennedy, Johnson, and Nixon—all of whom revered his many talents.
While officially assigned to the White House as a “Washington Police Inspector,” Shimon was also secretly working for the Justice Department through the U.S. Attorney’s Office. In the late 1940s, though still stationed at the White House, he was part of a secret, organized crime task force. The work was dangerous—so dangerous, in fact, that his wife, Elizabeth, feared for her safety and that of their only child, Toni. The couple finally divorced in the late 1940s, when Toni was just two years old. Elizabeth had pleaded for years for Joe to find a different line of work. She was terrified her husband would be killed, their only child orphaned. Moreover, she abhorred the work hours he kept, the secrecy, people showing up at all hours of the day and night, and the impromptu meetings that took place in her kitchen, when she would have to leave.
It became no secret to Toni that her father carried a gun wherever he went. She had thought her dad was part of the Metropolitan Police Department in Washington, D.C., though not a uniformed officer. Told her father was stationed at the White House during the Roosevelt administration, then a chief inspector for the U.S. Attorney’s Office, all the while maintaining police department status, she began to wonder. Who is he? What does my father do?
Toni Shimon was the apple of her father’s eye. He adored her; she adored him, and the way he always looked after her, even after the divorce. The two missed each other terribly when Toni went back to her mother’s home on Long Island after periodic visits. The divorce had been a huge adjustment for everyone, but Joe Shimon, a true patriot who believed he was working for the betterment of his country, had made his choice.
During one of her visits to Washington in the late 1950s, Toni found herself sitting in the kitchen with her father before he left for work. Her father’s work habits and dress code didn’t escape his growing daughter’s inquisitiveness.
“Dad, you say you’re a policeman, but you’re always at the White House,” inquired the curious young girl. “Why do you need a gun inside the White House?”
Her father looked at her quizzically, she remembered, as though he was wondering if now might be the time he might dare to answer. Isolation, secrecy, deception—all of the required masks—had exacted a toll. Unbearable loneliness and disconnection were often the initial symptoms. With the dissolution of his marriage and family, Joe Shimon had lost the opportunity to share each day of his daughter’s life and childhood.
“My father always believed that he was working for the betterment of the country,” recalled Toni. “It cost him dearly, but his work was everything to him. In spite of the divorce and my living on Long Island with my mother, I would visit him often. We were very close.” Though Shimon did eventually remarry, he never told his new wife the truth about what he really did in the world, fearing it might endanger her life as well.
Perhaps the prospect of a deepening father-daughter relationship with his thirteen-year-old daughter that morning overpowered his usual, sometimes necessary reticence. At that moment, without any further deliberation, father Joe took a calculated risk. Reaching into his coat pocket, Joe Shimon pulled out five or six different identification badges, said Toni, and dropped them all on the kitchen table for inspection. Eager, Toni looked closely at each badge: D.C. Police Department, U.S. Secret Service, U.S. Department of Justice, White House identification badge, and finally, Central Intelligence Agency. After examining each one, she glanced at her father with confusion.
“Dad, you’re in everything,” she said, now more confused than ever. “Is that why every president gives you gifts?”
“Does that bother you?” said Joe, hoping he hadn’t made a mistake by revealing what he had.5
Shimon’s gamble paid off. The father and daughter would continue to deepen their newfound relationship, despite the divorce and the dissolution of the family. Joe began to share even more. As Toni grew and matured, she considered a career in law enforcement. Joe Shimon made no bones about the fact that he hated J. Edgar Hoover. He had already confided to Toni how corrupt and evil he thought Hoover was; he then told her the truth about Hoover’s sexual orientation, his secret affair with his colleague Clyde Tolson, and how he, Shimon, was always inevitably called in to clean up any number of messes that easily could have embarrassed all of Washington, especially J. Edgar himself.6
Recall in chapter 10 the mention of the Easter weekend in April 1963, when during their final stroll along North Stafford Street in Arlington before Toni went back to New York, Joe Shimon engaged his daughter, alerting her to how Vice President Lyndon Johnson had been intent on getting more security than President Kennedy, just six months before Dallas. Shimon had tested his daughter as to what she thought it meant.
“What’s he [Johnson] afraid of?” Toni wondered out loud, only to then conclude moments later: “Something’s going to happen and Johnson knows about it,” she blurted out.
The uneasy memory of “the Easter good-bye walk” would be eclipsed soon enough by her telephone call to her father’s White House office on November 22, 1963.
“Dad!” she cried out, having heard the news of the president’s assassination.
“These things happen, honey,” Shimon said calmly while his daughter wept. A moment later he told her, “I don’t want to talk about it now.”
Toni was in college in North Carolina in the fall of 1964 when Mary Meyer was murdered. The news of her death came to Toni’s attention the following spring, as the trial of Ray Crump began to take center stage in the Washington media. After the Kennedy assassination, Toni was already witnessing a seismic shift in her father’s disposition. Their relationship had grown exceptionally close, but by 1964 Joe Shimon had become withdrawn, more cautious.
“The only time in my entire life I ever saw fear in my father was when I would ask him about who really killed Kennedy,” recalled Toni. “He would look at me. I could see his fear. ‘Don’t push me’ he would say, adding, ‘It would be dangerous for you to know the truth.’ And then he would just change the subject.”
During her spring vacation in 1965, Toni and her father began talking one day. She was eager to ask her father’s opinion about what had actually happened to Mary Meyer.
“Dad, who was she?” asked the inquisitive Toni. “All these people keep dropping dead.” She was already aware of several suspicious deaths that appeared to have some link to the Kennedy assassination.
“I know,” Shimon responded quietly. Toni remained silent, knowing at some point he would continue.
“She was one of Kennedy’s paramours,” Shimon revealed. “He was very close to her.”
“But what did she know?” asked Toni.
“She knew a lot because Kennedy was fond of her, very fond of her. She was part of his inner circle.”
“But who would kill her, Dad?”
“Who killed the president?” Shimon shot back immediately, almost angrily. It was a rhetorical question, followed by more silence. Toni had learned how to probe her father as much as she could, but there were limits. This time he was more blunt about it. Turning to face his daughter, he looked her in the eyes.
“There are certain things I will never tell you because if anyone finds out you know, or they think you know, your life could be in danger,” he said solemnly. “Honey, I don’t ever want you to be in that position.”
Lost in thought, continuing to comprehend the sea of change she had witnessed in her father since Dallas, Toni started retreating, emotionally withdrawing. Her withdrawal wasn’t lost on the father. Just as he had in the late 1950s morning breakfast encounter, the father again risked something further.
“She [Mary Meyer] was eliminated because she knew too much,” her father blurted out, unwilling this time to look at her when he spoke, though then calmly adding: “People are eliminated. Honey, you don’t know how many people are just eliminated, just on the operating table alone. They just need to be disposed of. And don’t ever believe what you read in the papers. It’s all made up.”7
That day and its memory wasn’t lost on Toni Shimon, nor on me when she revealed it. Author Jim Marrs, in his 1989 book Crossfire, had established a chronological list, based on the dates of their death, of more than a hundred individuals—all of whom were shown to have possessed some important detail of the conspiracy to assassinate President Kennedy. Their deaths during the twenty years following the events in Dallas were suspicious. More than thirty people on this list had been killed in violent gun-related circumstances. Mary Meyer’s murder was number fifteen on this list.8 It wasn’t just Mary’s murder anymore, but all the suspicious “suicides,” “heart attacks,” “cancers,” or “accidents”—Phil Graham, Frank Wisner, Jim Truitt, Leo Damore. Even author John H. Davis, who refused to complete Leo Damore’s research about what had really happened to Mary (“I decided I wanted to live”), could be included.
During the 1970s, America’s Bicentennial came and went, its underbelly not lost on Toni Shimon or her father. Chipping away little by little, Toni continued her attempts to bore into her father’s mysterious treasure trove of knowledge. “I wanted to know everything about who my father was, and what he did,” mused Toni. “The problem was, the more I knew, the more complicated—and scarier—it got.”
In 1973, the film Executive Action was released into movie theaters across the country. Directed by David Miller, the screenplay was co-written by Dalton Trumbo, Donald Freed, and attorney Mark Lane. Starring Burt Lancaster, the film depicts the assassination of President Kennedy as engendered by a cabal of wealthy industrialists and powerful rulers who had been angered by Kennedy’s policies—everything from his reduction of the oil depletion allowance, to his approach to the Russians with overtures of world peace and, of course, the possibility of a pullout from Vietnam. For these power brokers, the most frightening prospect of all, however, was the specter of an unbeatable “Kennedy dynasty” lasting decades. The cabal therefore enlisted a group of CIA-backed Cubans embittered over the Bay of Pigs fiasco, along with several high-level, disgruntled American intelligence agents whose best efforts to destroy Castro’s Cuba had been needlessly sacrificed and betrayed. While the film itself was only marginally successful at the box office, it was the first attempt to present a clear alternative to the Warren Report, nearly twenty years before Oliver Stone’s film JFK. Some would later credit the film with reopening the entire debate about Kennedy’s assassination.
“Watch this film very carefully,” Joe Shimon implored his daughter after its release. “That was how it [the JFK assassination] was exactly planned. Think about the state of Texas. What would happen if Kennedy ended the war [in Vietnam]?”
“The economy would suffer,” Toni remembered replying.
“Right!” exclaimed Shimon. “Our country runs on a war economy.” Time and time again, the film kept coming up in their discussions, and the inquisitive daughter would want to delve more deeply into the assassination. Eventually, when things were getting too close for comfort, Shimon would fall back on what would become a familiar refrain: “Honey, I have loyalties. People are eliminated. I will go to my grave with what I know.”9
But that didn’t stop Toni from continuing to pry. Like many of his generation, Joe Shimon was a drinker, but a careful drinker, not given to excess. As the years wore on, he would talk a little more openly while having drinks with his daughter. In early 1975, in the wake of Watergate, alarmed by allegations of CIA misdeeds, the U.S. Senate—through its investigative body known as the Church Committee—attempted to tread on the CIA’s sacred ground. Joe Shimon would be called to testify, but he told his daughter he considered the committee’s inquest a joke and treated it as such; they weren’t really serious enough to get to the bottom of anything, he told her. What Joe Shimon didn’t tell the Church Committee, he would tell his daughter in 1976, and also disclose to Washington Post columnist Jack Anderson in 1988.10
Those disclosures started, recalled Toni, when she brought up the fact that there had seemed to be a lot of strange people coming to her father’s house when she would be visiting during the early 1960s. They would meet in the kitchen in the evening. They would talk; they would drink; eventually, they would leave. Shimon confided he was the principal liaison to the Mafia, a connection that was part of his CIA credentials. When they had started working on Castro’s assassination, the meetings were held at Shimon’s house. People like Johnny Roselli, Sam Giancana, Santo Trafficante, and the CIA’s William (“Bill”) K. Harvey were regulars at these meetings, along with some sporadic attendance by Jim Angleton. “My father loved Bill Harvey,” said Toni, recalling this time period in her life. “He was also close friends with Jim Angleton, and of course Sam [Giancana] and Johnny [Roselli].”11
William (“Bill) K. Harvey, a pear-shaped, bulging-eyed alcoholic endomorph who had once been paraded before President Kennedy as the CIA’s exemplar of Ian Fleming’s James Bond, had the career track of a bona fide sociopath. He had originally joined the FBI in 1940, only to then challenge one of Hoover’s protocols. The squabble that ensued led Harvey to resign; he joined the CIA instead. Harvey was eventually assigned by Richard Helms to head the Agency’s “Executive Action” program created to develop assassination operations on foreign leaders. The reader may recall that during the Cuban Missile Crisis, contravening all orders from the White House, Bill Harvey had organized and dispatched three commando teams consisting of more than sixty individuals to Cuba to wage any destabilization possible as preparation for what he believed would be an inevitable invasion of the island. When Bobby Kennedy finally found out about what Harvey had done, he was furious. After the Cuban Missile Crisis had ended, Harvey found himself “moved” to the CIA station in Rome, but he quickly returned.
The plot to kill Fidel Castro, code-named Operation Mongoose, began to take shape in November 1961. Shimon’s revelations to Washington Post columnist Jack Anderson included the fact that the covert operation had the blessings of America’s most notorious underworld figures. Santo Trafficante, who had controlled much of Cuba’s underworld before Castro took power in 1959—particularly the lucrative Cuban casinos—had told Shimon explicitly, “I’ll get you the contacts [assassins], give you lots of names. But keep me out of it.” Harvey and Johnny Roselli then recruited the hit men recommended by Trafficante. In all, a total of six teams were sent to Havana, but none succeeded; they never returned nor were they heard from again.12
Joe Shimon realized, as did Bill Harvey and Johnny Roselli, that Castro must have found out he was being targeted. The hired assassins were true professionals—experienced and tested. They would not have all have failed repeatedly unless Castro had been waiting for them. “You don’t have that many misses, with these fellows not coming back,” Shimon told Anderson. Furthermore, during this time, there were only six individuals who were involved in the CIA’s plot to use organized crime to eliminate Castro. According to Shimon, there had been no paper trail of the effort; nothing had been written down.
Shimon’s suspicion pointed toward Trafficante. He suspected that Trafficante had tipped off Castro about the CIA’s plans to assassinate him. Post columnist Jack Anderson noted correctly that although Trafficante had been initially jailed by Castro when he first took power, losing all his assets including the casinos, he somehow, “for some inexplicable reason,” escaped from jail and Cuba unscathed, then returned to the U.S. with all his treasure intact. “Suddenly Trafficante is released…. He comes back here with all his assets, with the yacht…. Others eventually got out, but they left Cuba broke.” Trafficante quickly expanded his hegemony in the crime underworld in the South, almost overnight. Shimon eventually asked his friend Sam Giancana about Trafficante’s reliability, and Giancana confirmed for Shimon that he didn’t regard him as reliable, because “he was a rat.” The CIA had come to the same conclusion, eventually calling off their friends in organized crime, and looked for other ways to dispose of Cuba’s leader.
Playing to Jack Anderson’s well-known appetite for a more conspiratorial spin on the role of Castro and Cuba in the Kennedy assassination, Shimon tried to paint a picture for Anderson in which Castro had conspired with Trafficante to assassinate President Kennedy as payback for the attempts on Castro’s life, telling Anderson that his conclusion was “confirmed by Harvey who had other information from the CIA.” Anderson naively took the bait. Shimon would continue to tell him that “they [the CIA] had other sources, too. They were satisfied that this had to be retaliation by Castro.”13
What Joe Shimon hadn’t told Anderson, he did eventually share with his daughter: Trafficante was furious with Shimon for having questioned his allegiances. So furious, in fact, that in 1964, he took out a contract on Shimon’s life as well on his daughter and on his wife.
“I was so upset when he sat me down to talk about this in 1976,” recalled Toni. “I was visiting Dad in Washington when he told me about this. He was still very afraid to talk about the Kennedy assassination. I vividly remember him telling me, ‘Look, honey, if anything happens to me, watch the movie Executive Action. You’ll understand then why I couldn’t talk.’”
For Toni, additional pieces of the puzzle about her father began to take shape. During her college years, as she considered a career in law enforcement, her father asked her to seriously think of joining the FBI. She told him she would consider it, only later telling her mother about her father’s request. Her mother became furious at her former husband, knowing full well the danger her daughter might fall into. Years later, Shimon confided to Toni, “We wanted you to work for the FBI so you could spy on Hoover for us.”
“Dad, who is ‘we’?” she asked him. She would finally learn that even as late as 1989, after the Reagan administration, her father was maintaining regular contact with a group of people who had inside knowledge at all times.
“He always knew what was going on in the White House,” Toni recalled, “long after he left there. I finally learned that he was a part of what might be called ‘the shadow government.’ My father did a lot for President George H. W. Bush. He was a die-hard Republican, yet so conflicted about Bush, he voted for Bill Clinton in 1992, only to regret it later.”
In the early 1990s, Toni had the kind of conversation with her father that she never would have anticipated. It was a bad dream come true. The former “Washington Police Inspector” would finally spill to his daughter what he had never revealed to anyone else, other than the people he was working for. It happened unexpectedly.
“I remember him telling me how much he disliked the Kennedys, that after their assassinations, he knew it was the best thing ever to happen in our country,” said Toni, thinking back. Probed even further, father Joe continued talking, perhaps knowing that the end of his life was approaching.
“Bobby Kennedy was a mean son of bitch,” said Shimon, obviously remembering how the former attorney general had tried to implicate him in a wiretapping scandal. “No one I knew liked him. He was mean and nasty and thought it was him who should be president. We all told him and the president that Texas wasn’t a friendly place.”
“The Kennedys had mob ties,” he continued, “but the biggest crooks in this country are the Bushes. The Bush family is big on control, they control a lot of the government.” The conversation progressed, Toni recalled, with her father stating that his former Washington-based company, Allied Investigators, whose offices were located on Dupont Circle in Washington, was just a CIA front that had been used for most of his undercover work.
She wasn’t prepared for the next round of her father’s fireworks, however. It was the kind of dreaded moment that one hopes is only a nightmare, a bad dream from which to finally awaken unscathed.
“Our government has murdered a lot of people when they get in the way,” he told his daughter.
“How do you know this, Dad?” She wasn’t expecting a definitive response, but just curious as to what she might come to know or understand. After a few moments of silence, Joe Shimon continued.
“Among my many jobs, I used to kill people,” he told his daughter matter-of-factly. “Our government hired me and others to do this sort of work.” It wasn’t a bad dream, or a nightmare. It was real. Truth is an equal opportunity employer that never discriminates. When it arrives, the MasterCard statement from the Bank of Truth doesn’t offer an option of “partial payment.” Instead, it dictates its own terms of “pay me now, or pay me later.” But, invariably, all of us eventually have to reckon. I had confronted this dilemma myself, just as Toni Shimon had. She had wanted to know her father, never imagining what this might actually reveal.
“You did?” Toni exclaimed softly, as the echo of her father’s last words penetrated like nails, one after another, into her heart.
“The government hired me to kill people,” continued Shimon. “It’s a job, and usually the people who get killed deserve it. You have to [kill people], if that’s what you’re told to do.”14
The story had now come full circle. Perhaps Toni hoped, like any number of us during the Cold War, that the truth about what our fathers were actually doing in the world might finally offer some consolation. If it did, it came with a huge price tag. As to her father’s admission, “it really turned me off,” Toni said during our final interview. “I loved my father very much.”
“I wish you could have spent some time with Dad,” she said, as our talk that day was coming to an end. “I think he knew about the whole plan to take out Mary Meyer, probably through Bill Harvey. They were very close.”
“What makes you say that?” I asked.
“Just the way he spoke about it,” she replied. “I just knew he knew. Whatever Bill Harvey was up to, it always came out of Jim Angleton’s office. Dad once remarked Angleton ran everything, controlled everything in the CIA.”15
I thanked Toni once again and gathered my materials, making my way to the car. The trip back to Massachusetts, across Long Island Sound on the New London ferry, would be a relief, I kept telling myself. But it wasn’t. Toni had further confirmed all my suspicions, authenticating an even darker shadow.
Istood on the bow of the New London ferry as it made its way across Long Island Sound. It was the middle of February 2007, still bitterly cold and dark. The boat rocked through the oncoming swells, inching toward the Connecticut shoreline. My thoughts inevitably returned to Mary and all that she must have endured during the year after Jack’s death: the anguish, the loneliness, the fear of what she faced that final year, before deciding to finally go public with what she had discovered. If Paul Revere had been the “midnight messenger” to warn his fellow countrymen in Lexington and Concord of the British military approach, Mary Pinchot Meyer had planned to make her own “midnight bareback ride” to warn the citizens of a country that its government had been demonically stolen from each and every one of them.
They had killed Jack because he and his ally-in-peace Nikita Khrushchev were steering the world away from the Cold War toward peace, thereby eliminating the military-industrial-intelligence complex’s most treasured weapons—the fear of war, the fear of “Communist takeover,” and the manipulative use of Fear itself. The Cold War was about to end, and with it the covert action arm of the Central Intelligence Agency. The Agency would have been all but neutered, its funding and resources cut, its menacing grip on public opinion exposed and eliminated. It also meant the eventual curtailment of many of the defense industries, including the proliferation of nuclear arms. There would have been no war in Southeast Asia or Vietnam; that, too, was about to end. A rapprochement with Fidel Castro and Cuba was on the horizon. Both Jack and Fidel wanted “a lasting peace.”
Little attention had been paid to the parting words of a previous president. President Eisenhower had warned the American public in early 1961 of the evil that had spawned since World War II: “In the councils of government, we must guard against the acquisition of unwarranted influence, whether sought or unsought, by the military-industrial complex. The potential for the disastrous rise of misplaced power exists and will persist.” Indeed, it had; so much so that in less than three years, anyone who tried to stop it—including the elected president of the United States—would be eliminated.
Simply put, peace—particularly world peace—wasn’t good for business, nor for American military and economic hegemony. Whatever enlightenment Mary and Jack may have finally engendered together, it had evolved into a part of Jack’s newfound trajectory of where he wanted to take not only his presidency in 1963, but the entire world. It was the pursuit of peace that was about to take center stage; and that voyage would no longer include any obsequious bow to the insanity of America’s war machine driven by the legacy of Allen Dulles and his ass-kissing cronies.
After Dallas, amid utter horror and shock, Mary had taken it upon herself to discover and make sense of the truth of the conspiracy that had taken place—only to realize the magnitude of the second conspiracy, a cover-up taking place right before her eyes. There, in her diary, she had reached an understanding. It was her own mosaic of people, events, circumstances, and exploration that informed her understanding—not only of the evil that had taken place in Dallas, but of the villainous darkness that was now enveloping all of America. She had furiously confronted her ex-husband, Cord Meyer, possibly Jim Angleton as well, with what she had discovered, not fully realizing the extent of their own diabolical ruthlessness. The Warren Report was ultimately nothing more than a house of cards; once ignited with the right matchstick, it would be engulfed in flames. If Mary courageously went public with who she was, and what she knew, making clear her position in the final years of Jack’s life, people with influence would take notice; the fire of suspicion around Dallas would erupt into a conflagration.
She had to be eliminated.
“Forget her, Jake. It’s Chinatown.” The concluding line of Roman Polanski’s film wafted through my mind, tempting me away from the task that now clearly lay ahead. Nausea was overtaking me, but it wasn’t the ferry pitching through the oncoming swells, veteran ocean sailor that I was. It was Mary’s revulsion for the CIA, now mine as well, that gripped me in its vise. Alone on the deck, hands outstretched toward the last bit of light on a short winter’s day, I unleashed my screams toward the sky, only to then collapse at the rail, sobbing one more time. In a certain way, my torment had come to an end, yet behind it there was an unbearable sadness, and not just my own. The shining beacon of America—a promise unlike any other for humanity—was being extinguished, as it had been in Rome. But unlike Rome, America would not be engulfed by flames. It would instead succumb to something far more sinister, invisible, and corrosive: ignorance. Ignorance dipped in fear-mongering and dazzled by fabricated myths had become the breeding ground for official stupidity, darkness, and senseless wars. Ignorance had once again become evil’s greatest handyman. As Benjamin Franklin wisely noted, “It is in the region of ignorance that tyranny begins.”
Mary Pinchot Meyer had been struck down before she could speak publicly. Leo Damore had fallen, very likely poisoned into uncontrollable despair. John Davis, having picked up Leo’s mantle, finally opted out, his life threatened. He “wanted to live,” he said, shortly before a crippling stroke.
The familiar taste of salt water on my lips called me back inside my body. The wind and ocean spray danced all around, the cold of winter now an accustomed companion. I headed back inside the ferry’s cabin for warmth. Somber, yet still resolute, I knew right then and there I would do whatever it took, pay whatever price was required, to allow this story—this small but essential piece of history—to see the light of day.