The Last Confession of E. Howard Hunt
Years later, when saint started trying to get his father to tell what he knew about JFK, he came to believe the information would be valuable. He both needed money and thought he was owed money, for what he’d been through. Also, like many a conspiracy nut before him, he was more than a little obsessed.
“After seeing that poster of the three tramps,” he says, “I read two dozen books on the JFK assassination, and the more I read, the more I was unsure about what happened. I had all these questions and uncertainties. I mean, I was trying to sort out things that had touched me in a big way.”
Touched him and turned him upside down, especially the death of his mother. He had been particularly close to her. She was part Native American and had sewed him a buckskin shirt that he used to wear like a badge of honor, along with a pair of moccasins. At the same time, Saint feels that he never got to know her. She told him that during World War II, she’d tracked Nazi money for the U.S. Treasury Department, and Saint believes that early in her marriage to his father, she may have been in the CIA herself, “a contract agent, not officially listed.” But he isn’t sure about any of it, really.
“In our family, everything was sort of like a mini-CIA,” he says. “Nothing was ever talked about, so we grew up with all of these walls, walls around my father, walls around my mother, walls around us kids, to protect and insulate us. You grow up not knowing what really happened. Like, who was my mom, for Christ’s sake? Was she a CIA agent? What was her life really like?” The one thing he does know is that when she died, so in large part did the Hunt family.
Once his father went to prison, Saint moved to Wisconsin, where he worked in a potato-processing plant and spent the rest of his time dropping acid. In 1975, he moved to the Oakland, California, area, started snorting coke and for five years drove a bakery truck. He was in a band and hoped to become a rock star, though touring alongside Buddy Guy was about the biggest thing that ever happened. Then he gave up coke and took up meth and a while later started dealing meth. Twenty years flew by. He had wild sexual escapades; he shacked up with two sisters – “nymphs,” he calls them. But mainly his life, like his father’s, was a rolling series of misfortunes. He received insurance money after his mom died, and bought a house; a week later, it burned down in some drug-related fiasco. His brother David followed a similar path; leaving boarding school, he hooked up with Saint, and together they set about snorting and dealing away the years.
Finally, in 2001, on the heels of two drug busts, Saint decided to go straight. With his ex-girlfriend, their daughter and her son, he stayed in a series of shelters, then took them to live in Eureka, several hours north of Oakland. He’s since earned a certificate in hotel management, but jobs don’t last. And the questions and uncertainties about his father continue to circulate in his head.
“In some ways we turned out similarly,” he says. “He was a spy, into secrets and covert activity. I became a drug dealer. What has to be more covert and secret than that? It’s the same mind-set. We were just on opposite sides of the – well, actually, in our case, I guess we weren’t even on opposite sides of the law, were we?”
That time in miami, with saint by his bed and disease eating away at him and him thinking he’s six months away from death, E. Howard finally put pen to paper and started writing. Saint had been working toward this moment for a long while, and now it was going to happen. He got his father an A&W diet root beer, then sat down in the old man’s wheelchair and waited.
E. Howard scribbled the initials “LBJ,” standing for Kennedy’s ambitious vice president, Lyndon Johnson. Under “LBJ,” connected by a line, he wrote the name Cord Meyer. Meyer was a CIA agent whose wife had an affair with JFK; later she was murdered, a case that’s never been solved. Next his father connected to Meyer’s name the name Bill Harvey, another CIA agent; also connected to Meyer’s name was the name David Morales, yet another CIA man and a well-known, particularly vicious black-op specialist. And then his father connected to Morales’ name, with a line, the framed words “French Gunman Grassy Knoll.”
So there it was, according to E. Howard Hunt. LBJ had Kennedy killed. It had long been speculated upon. But now E. Howard was saying that’s the way it was. And that Lee Harvey Oswald wasn’t the only shooter in Dallas. There was also, on the grassy knoll, a French gunman, presumably the Corsican Mafia assassin Lucien Sarti, who has figured prominently in other assassination theories.
“By the time he handed me the paper, I was in a state of shock,” Saint says. “His whole life, to me and everybody else, he’d always professed to not know anything about any of it. But I knew this had to be the truth. If my dad was going to make anything up, he would have made something up about the Mafia, or Castro, or Khrushchev. He didn’t like Johnson. But you don’t falsely implicate your own country, for Christ’s sake. My father is old-school, a dyed-in-the-wool patriot, and that’s the last thing he would do.”
Later that week, E. Howard also gave Saint two sheets of paper that contained a fuller narrative. It starts out with LBJ again, connecting him to Cord Meyer, then goes on: “Cord Meyer discusses a plot with [David Atlee] Phillips who brings in Wm. Harvey and Antonio Veciana. He meets with Oswald in Mexico City…. Then Veciana meets w/ Frank Sturgis in Miami and enlists David Morales in anticipation of killing JFK there. But LBJ changes itinerary to Dallas, citing personal reasons.”
David Atlee Phillips, the CIA’s Cuban operations chief in Miami at the time of JFK’s death, knew E. Howard from the Guatemala’ coup days. Veciana is a member of the Cuban exile community. Sturgis, like Saint’s father, is supposed to have been one of the three tramps photographed in Dealey Plaza. Sturgis was also one of the Watergate plotters, and he is a man whom E. Howard, under oath, has repeatedly sworn to have not met until Watergate, so to Saint the mention of his name was big news.
In the next few paragraphs, E. Howard goes on to describe the extent of his own involvement. It revolves around a meeting he claims he attended, in 1963, with Morales and Sturgis. It takes place in a Miami hotel room. Here’s what happens:
Morales leaves the room, at which point Sturgis makes reference to a “Big Event” and asks E. Howard, “Are you with us?”
E. Howard asks Sturgis what he’s talking about. Sturgis says, “Killing JFK.” E. Howard, “incredulous,” says to Sturgis, “You seem to have everything you need. Why do you need me?” In the handwritten narrative, Sturgis’ response is unclear, though what E. Howard says to Sturgis next isn’t: He says he won’t “get involved in anything involving Bill Harvey, who is an alcoholic psycho.”
After that, the meeting ends. E. Howard goes back to his “normal” life and “like the rest of the country… is stunned by JFK’s death and realizes how lucky he is not to have had a direct role.”
After reading what his father had written, St. John was stunned too. His father had not only implicated LBJ, he’d also, with a few swift marks of a pen, put the lie to almost everything he’d sworn to, under oath, about his knowledge of the assassination. Saint had a million more questions. But his father was exhausted and needed to sleep, and then Saint had to leave town without finishing their talk, though a few weeks later he did receive in the mail a tape recording from his dad. E. Howard’s voice on the cassette is weak and grasping, and he sometimes wanders down unrelated pathways. But he essentially remakes the same points he made in his handwritten narrative.
Shortly thereafter, Laura found out what had been going on, and with the help of E. Howard’s attorney put an end to it. St. John and his father were kept apart. When they did see each other, they were never left alone. And they never got a chance to finish what they’d started. Instead, the old man set about writing his autobiography and turned his back on his son. He wrote him a letter in which he said that Saint’s life had been nothing but “meaningless, self-serving instant gratification,” that he had never amounted to anything and never would. He asked for his JFK memos back, and Saint returned them, though not before making copies.
There is no way to confirm Hunt’s allegations – all but one of the co-conspirators he named are long gone. St. John, for his part, believes his father. E. Howard was lucid when he made his confession. He was taking no serious medications, and he and his son were finally on good terms. If anything, St. John believes, his father was holding out on him, the old spy keeping a few secrets in reserve, just in case.
“Actually, there were probably dozens of plots to kill Kennedy, because everybody hated Kennedy but the public,” Saint says. “The question is, which one of them worked? My dad has always said, Thank God one of them worked.’ I think he knows a lot more than he told me. He claimed he backed out of the plot only so he could disclaim actual involvement. In a way, I feel like he only opened another can of worms.” He takes a deep breath. “At a certain point, I’m just going to have to let it go.”
Out in Eureka, Saint has been reading an advance copy of E. Howard’s autobiography, American Spy. In it, his father looks at LBJ as only one possible person behind the JFK killing, and then only in the most halfhearted, couched-and-cloaked way. He brings up various other possibilities, too, then debunks each of them.
But of all the shadings and omissions in the book, the only one that truly upsets St. John has to do with the happiest moment in his life, that time in 1972, on the night of the Watergate burglary, when he helped his father dispose of the spy gear, then ran money for him and ditched the typewriter. The way it unfolds in the book, St. John doesn’t do anything for his dad. And it’s E. Howard himself who dumps the typewriter.
“That’s a complete lie,” Saint says, almost shouting. “A total fabrication. I did that. I mean, he never took me aside and thanked me in any kind of deep emotional way. But I’m the one who helped him that night. Me! And he’s robbing me of it. Why?”
Like so many other things, he will never know why, because the next day, on January 23rd, in the morning, in Miami, the old spymaster dies.
Later in the day, Saint started reading a few of the obituaries. One starts off, “Sleazebag E. Howard Hunt is finally dead.” “Oh, God,” Saint says and goes looking for how The New York Times handled his father’s death. The obit reads, “Mr. Hunt was intelligent, erudite, suave and loyal to his friends. But the record shows that he mishandled many of the tasks he received from the CIA and the White House. He was ‘totally self-absorbed, totally amoral and a danger to himself and anybody around him…. “‘
“Wow,” Saint says. “I don’t know if I can read these things. I mean, that is one brutal obituary.”
But the Times is right, of course. E. Howard was a danger to anybody around him, and any list of those in danger would always have to include, right at the top, his firstborn son, St. John.