Was there a plot to kill JFK in Chicago, just weeks before his assassination?

Was there a plot to kill JFK in Chicago, just weeks before his assassination on November 22, 1963? And did the unraveling of that scheme force the plotters to move on to a secondary plan, in Dallas?

There is so much fascinating — and often mind-boggling — information in James W. Douglass’ meticulously researched, extensively footnoted book “JFK and the Unspeakable: Why He Died and Why It Matters.” (“The 2013 edition of the book was endorsed by Kennedy’s nephew Robert F. Kennedy, Jr., who said it had moved him to visit Dealey Plaza for the first time.”)

Douglass relates that several days before Kennedy’s planned visit to the city on November 2, “an informant” alerted Secret Service agents in Chicago of a plot to kill Kennedy by a four-man sniper team, probably from one of the overpasses of the Northwest Expressway (now called the Kennedy Expressway). Two men were seized on October 31, soon after a landlady had independently called the FBI about men with rifles and telescopic sights in their rooms, along with a sketch of Kennedy’s route into the city from the airport. They were said to be “right-wing fanatics.”

jfk-bookAlso in Chicago, and of interest to the Secret Service, was Thomas Arthur Vallee, an ex-Marine described as a John Birch Society member and paranoid schizophrenic.

As Douglass relates it, Vallee’s story twins oddly with Oswald’s; Vallee, like Oswald, had worked with the CIA while in the Marines. A few months before Kennedy’s planned visit, Vallee had taken a job at a warehouse with a direct view of the president’s route along the expressway.

A few days before the president’s planned arrival, a police lieutenant named Berkeley Moyland met Vallee at a cafeteria, where he had been heard to make loud and violent statements against Kennedy. Moyland saw Vallee, who had suffered a serious concussion in the Korean War, as unstable and suggested he keep his thoughts to himself.

After meeting Vallee, Moyland alerted the Secret Service office in Chicago, and Vallee was picked up by Chicago police officers on the day Kennedy was set to arrive. (One of the police officers who picked up Vallee was Sargent Daniel Groth, who in 1969 led the attack on the apartment where Black Panthers Fred Hampton and Mark Clark were assassinated.) Vallee, it turns out, was driving a car with a license plate whose registration information was classified; that is, “restricted to U.S. intelligence agencies.”

The events in Chicago took place just as a U.S.-supported military coup was unrolling in South Vietnam, which ended with the murder of President Diem. As a result, Kennedy’s Chicago trip was cancelled at the last moment.

Lieutenant Berkeley Moyland was soon contacted by federal officials about his encounter with Vallee and ordered, “Don’t tell anyone about it. Just forget about it.” Which he did, until near the end of his life.

And the two alleged snipers seized by Secret Service? They disappeared, never to be seen or heard from again.

Douglass sees Vallee as a character who could have perfectly filled the role of the “lone wolf” assassin that Lee Harvey Oswald performed in Dallas a few weeks later.

Who tipped off the FBI in Chicago of the plot to kill the president?

An informant named “Lee.”

JFK addresses the nation on civil rights, June 11, 1963. (Photo by federal employee Abbie Rowe.)

JFK addresses the nation on civil rights, June 11, 1963. (Photo by federal employee Abbie Rowe.)

Much of the information of the Chicago plot related by Douglass comes from Anthony Bolden, a Chicago-based agent who in 1961 had been tapped by Kennedy himself to become the first black Secret Service agent to serve at the White House. While there, he questioned the actions and allegiances of agents charged to protect the president, most of whom seemed to loathe Kennedy. He also heard gross racial epithets.

Disgusted, Bolden decided to leave Washington and return to Chicago. There, he witnessed much that disturbed him before and after Kennedy’s assassination, including odd actions by superiors.

Soon thereafter, Bolden was found guilty of seemingly trumped-up charges that sent him to a federal prison, where he was eventually placed in a psychiatric unit and heavily medicated. His home on the South Side was repeatedly vandalized. After New Orleans District Attorney Jim Garrison (played by Kevin Costner in Oliver Stone’s JFK) visited Bolden in prison, Bolden was placed in solitary confinement.

He was released in 1969.

Arlene Lee is a freelance writer whose work has appeared in numerous national publications, including the Economist, the Christian Science Monitor, and the Chicago Tribune. She has covered national and international topics for over 20 years.

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