Back Channel The Kennedy Years
Inside the John F. Kennedy White House


This is a preview to the chapter Assassins from the book Back Channel The Kennedy Years by William Bertram MacFarland.
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Death as a Calling Card

I took a cab back to the apartment and was puzzled – and a bit annoyed – at the cab driver who kept looking in his rear view mirror at me. I suppose my face must have been pretty contorted by grief and trauma but I wasn’t real interested in how I looked – all I wanted to do was to get back to my apartment and try to think about what had happened today. When the cab dropped me at my apartment building, I was surprised to see an official looking limo parked out front with the driver snoozing. Those limo drivers are extremely professional and I figured that driver was likely to get a pretty sharp reprimand when his passenger showed up. On arrival at the third floor I was surprised to see two heavily armed Marines outside my door and even more surprised when one of them drew his weapon and said, “Advance slowly, sir - and keep both your hands where I can see them.” The other Marine kept rapidly looking back and forth between me and a picture he was holding in his hand and when I was approximately five feet away, he said to the first Marine, “That’s him.” The first Marine holstered his pistol, snapped a salute, opened my door and said, “Quickly, sir. Get out of the hall quickly,” and nearly shoved me through the door where I found four other heavily armed Marines and the same officer that had been there when I left. He saluted, approached me quickly and said, “Didn’t you see your car downstairs?” to which I responded, “I saw a limo but didn’t know it was mine. The driver was sleeping.” The officer’s eyes opened wide and he said, “Oh, God!” He whirled around to a Corporal, told him to get down there as quickly as possible to check out the situation and to unholster his weapon and not to use the elevator but to use the stairs instead. He then yelled to one of the guards standing outside and asked if he had notified White House security of my arrival, and got a reply stating that such had been done immediately upon formal vetting of my identity. As he was saying this, my security phone started to ring and the officer said, “That’s probably the President. He wanted to be notified immediately upon your return.” He closed my bedroom door as I picked up the phone.

It was indeed the President calling from his Palm Beach house and he seemed quite agitated. He said, “Bertie, are you OK? And what the hell are you doing in that apartment? You shouldn’t be anywhere near that building. I ordered a car and driver to take you over to Blair House1. Didn’t it show up?” I answered that I was OK but greatly saddened and shocked by the events of the evening and I didn’t really have anyplace else to go except to my apartment and that yes, I had seen a limo downstairs but the driver appeared to be sleeping. Just at that moment the Corporal that had gone downstairs to “check out the situation” came tearing back into the apartment yelling, “Captain! Captain! The driver’s dead!” I said, “Just a moment, Jack. I think you’re going to want to hear this.” I opened the bedroom door and stretched the phone out as far as possible and said, “I think the President wants to hear this, too.” The Corporal blanched but the Captain took total control of the situation and said to the Corporal, “It’s OK, Corporal. Now let’s both of us move a little closer to the phone and you give me your report from the start.” Considerably more comfortable that he was going to be giving his report to his Captain and not to the President of the United States, the Corporal reported, “Sir! As you instructed, I unholstered my weapon and ran down the hall past the elevator and took the stairs down to the first floor. I found the driver did indeed appear to be sleeping and that the car’s motor was running. I knocked on the driver’s window but couldn’t wake him up. His door was locked. However, I did notice a small hole in the window, which appeared to be a bullet hole. I tried the rear door but it was locked. I went around to the passenger side of the car and discovered a fairly large hole in the passenger side rear window and that the door was slightly ajar. I didn’t want to touch the door handle so I just pulled at the edges of the broken glass to get the door open. The passenger compartment was empty except for a cloth bag containing a very large rock that was lying on the floor. The partition between the passenger compartment and the driver’s compartment was down so that I could see into it. The whole right side of the driver’s face was missing sir and there was blood and brains everywhere. I ran back up the stairs to make my report sir.”

I went back into the bedroom and closed the door.

The President tried to be reassuring. He said, “Now Bertie, we’ll get you out of there safely. When White House security played back the tape of your phone call to them for emergency medical service, I immediately called John McCone (Director of the CIA) and asked him what he thought was going on. He asked for five minutes to consult with some of his senior advisors and when he called me back, he told me the unanimous opinion of his advisors was that you had just stirred up a real hornet’s nest and are in mortal danger. When the KGB agent didn’t show up for her flight to Moscow it set off multiple alarm bells. John said the KGB does not take kindly to their assassins being assassinated and they will seek immediate retaliation. His strong recommendation was that steps be taken to get you to a very secure location as quickly as possible. I immediately called the hospital but you had just left so I ordered a car to pick you up as soon as you arrived and take you to Blair House. But don’t fret, Bertie, we’ll take care of this.”

I exploded. I said, “Jack, what in the world are you talking about? ‘Fret?’ I’m outraged! I absolutely know that this S.O.B. is still here in this building. He just killed one of our people! I’m going to go find him and kill him. I’m damned well trained for this, Jack!” It was his turn to explode. He said, “You listen to me Captain MacFarland! This is your Commander in Chief speaking and I am giving you a direct order! You will stay in your apartment until a replacement car comes. You will not, repeat not, try to track down anyone!” His voice softened as he said, “I need you Bertie. The country needs you. You are a real national asset.” I took a deep breath and said, “Thank you sir. I’m sorry to be the cause of so much trouble. My sincerest apologies to you and your family for causing such trouble on your Christmas vacation.” He said, “Nonsense. The entire family sends you our best wishes. Keep safe. We’ll talk.” I said, “Thank you, Jack,” put the phone down and tried unsuccessfully to keep from crying.
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