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In 1966, JFK-assassination researcher Richard E. Sprague came across seven unpublished photographs taken by newspaper photographers in Dealey Plaza between 2:20 p.m. and 2:30 p.m. local time – approximately two hours after the shooting – showing three unidentified “tramps” being escorted by two armed Dallas policemen past the Texas School Book Depository and across Houston Street to the sheriff’s office.
Further research indicated the three unidentified men had been found in a railroad freight car in the railroad yard behind the picket fence on the grassy knoll, above the triple underpass.
Dallas Police Sgt. David V. Harkness told the Warren Commission (Vol. VI, page 312) that he pulled “some people” he identified as “tramps and hoboes” off a long freight train in the railroad yard. Harkness testified the men were arrested and “taken to the station and questioned.”
Deputy Sheriff Harold E. Elkins, in an affidavit given Nov. 22, 1963, (Warren Commission, Vol. XIX, page 540) stated, “A little while later a Dallas policeman came to our office with three prisoners who he had arrested on the railroad yards. I took these three to the city jail and turned them over to Capt. Fritz.”
In 1966, law enforcement authorities in Dallas were unable to produce any records of the arrests, and the identity of the “three tramps” seen in the unpublished Dallas newspaper photographs could not be determined.
In the 50 years since the JFK assassination, researchers have produced evidence suggesting the men were key assassination operatives attempting to escape Dealey Plaza, hoping they would be dismissed as vagrants.
Problems identifying the ‘tramps’
In a 1992 release of thousand of pages of Dallas police arrest and investigation reports regarding the JFK assassination, an arrest report filed by Dallas police officer W. E. Chambers documented the three “tramps” were Howard Doyle, John F. Gedney and Gus W. Abrams. The three were arrested as “investigative prisoners” charged with vagrancy and robbery.
Chambers’ report vaguely recorded the three men were “taken off a boxcar in the railroad yards right after President Kennedy was shot.” He noted they were “passing through town” and had “no means of support.” The three were kept in Dallas Police custody until 9:25 on the morning of Nov. 26, 1963, and then released.
An FBI interview with Harkness June 29, 1992, reported: “Harkness had an opportunity to view four photographs of the three individuals identified as Doyle, Gedney, and Abrams. Harkness identified them as three of the individuals who were removed from the train on Nov. 22, 1963.”
Viewed critically, the language appears to sidestep a direct statement that Harkness had positively identified the three men in the photographs as Doyle, Gedney and Abrams
The FBI report added, “On the day of the assassination there were several individuals from the train other than the three individuals previously identified.”
Chambers, in a signed statement given to the FBI on March 3, 1992, indicated he did not recognize the three names on the arrest records.
The FBI further indicated Chambers did not remember filling out arrest reports for Doyle, Gedney and Abrams, although he did acknowledge the handwriting on the forms was his.
“Chambers indicated that on the day of the assassination, a number of people were brought into the Police Department as a result of a police dragnet,” the FBI report said. “Chambers speculated that the three were brought to the station by uniformed officers, and that those officers had not filled out any type of paperwork regarding their detention.”
Chambers also noted that no arrest number or identification number appeared on any of the reports filed for Doyle, Gedney and Abrams, indicating the Dallas Police jail would most likely not have any booking information on any of the three individual.
Other contradictions in the record involve three different FBI reports dated 1992 indicating Doyle had been arrested on a gondola known as a coal car, while Dallas Police records indicate the “three tramps” seen in the seven unpublished Dallas newspaper photographs had been arrested in a railroad freight box car. Gedney claimed he was arrested on a flatbed railroad car that was transporting large sheets of steel. Yet a third FBI report says Doyle, Gedney and Abrams were arrested in a grain car on the freight train.
An additional continuing problem is that the physical resemblance between Doyle, Gedney and Abrams appears tenuous, at best, with no credentialed face-recognition experts affirming a match with the men seen in the seven “tramp” photographs in question.
The controversy over the “three tramps” intensified in 1975 when investigative reporters Alan Weberman and Michael Canfield in their 1975 book “Coup d’Etat in America: The CIA and the Assassination of John F. Kennedy” argued the men in the photographs do not look like tramps. All three were clean-shaven and two had recent haircuts.
“All of them looked well-fed and their shoes were not worn,” Weberman and Canfield wrote.
Weberman and Canfield speculated the two of the tramps resembled Watergate burglars E. Howard Hunt and Frank Sturgis, while the third resembled an Oswald-double identified under the alias Daniel L. Carswell.
Chauncey Holt comes forward
In 1991, Chauncey Holt, a criminal with ties to organized crime figures Meyer Lansky in Miami and Havana, as well as with Peter Licavoli in Detroit, who additionally claimed to have worked for the CIA as a contract agent, came forward to identify himself as one of the three men in the photographs.
In an autobiography Holt published this year titled “Self-Portrait of a Scoundrel,” Holt claimed he played a role in the JFK assassination by forging Secret Service credentials that he transferred on Nov. 22, 1963, to a contact who distributed the them to mobsters and CIA agents participating in the assassination.
Holt identified the other two men as known mob-related murderers Charles Harrelson and Charles Rogers (aka Richard Montoya).
Holt’s claim gained attention when Lois Gibson, a widely recognized forensic artist and facial expert who works for the Houston Police Department, conducted an analysis in which she affirmed her certainty the three men were Holt, Harrelson and Rogers.
According to Holt’s account, on Nov. 22, 1963, he was instructed to wear work clothes and was provided with the location of a boxcar in which he was supposed to hide, containing weapons and firearms. Holt was carrying credentials identifying him as an undercover agent for the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms, U.S. Treasury Department.
Holt described how he had driven Charles Nicoletti and Leo Moceri, two well-known gunmen with the Licavoli crime family in Detroit, from Tucson, Ariz., to Dallas in an Oldsmobile station wagon.
Leaving Tucson on Nov. 20, 1963, Holt explained a windstorm in El Paso, Texas, forced them to stop, delaying their arrival in Dallas to the early hours of Nov. 22, 1963.
Arriving late in Dallas, Holt’s instructions were to drop Nicoletti and Moceri at a downtown Dallas hotel and then drive to the parking area behind Dealey Plaza. He was to find a pickup truck with Texas license plates into which he was to place a briefcase containing the false Secret Service identification papers and lapel pins he had forged and falsified.
“One out of area car, a Chevrolet, with Arizona plates drove into the lot, circled the entire area and parked very near the railroad tower,” Holt wrote on page 171 of his autobiography. “Almost immediately, Richard Montoya and Charles Harrelson approached me. I had identification and hand guns, which I was instructed to deliver to them.”
Holt also wrote that he observed a vintage Ford in the parking lot behind Dealey Plaza, driven by a man he recognized as Aldo Vera, an anti-Castro Cuban activist.
“Vera appeared to be listening to a handheld transceiver,” Holt noted.
After the shooting, Holt climbed into the freight train boxcar, as instructed, finding that Montoya and Harrelson were already there.
“At about 1:30 the train moved out, and I gave a deep sigh of relief, although I was still in shock over what had apparently taken place,” Holt wrote on page 177.
Suddenly, the train came to a halt; Dallas Police searching the boxcar apprehended the three men.
“We were ordered out of the boxcar, without any opportunity to present our credentials, or explain that we were engaged in an official investigation for the ATF, at the time all of the excitement continued,” Holt continued. “Shortly thereafter, I arrogated myself to the position of spokesman and explained our cover story to Sgt. D. V. Harkness and he ordered the army of police officers to search the rest of the train. He then turned us over to a pair of portly officers, who escorted us to the Dealey Plaza command post.”
Holt continued his narration: “We were marched south along the railroad tracks, to west of the Texas School Book Depository; then across Elm street and up to the corner of Houston Street to the command post, that had been set up at the Criminal Courts Building. We were turned over to a deputy sheriff, who called [Dallas Police Department Captain] Will Fritz, a man I knew we could trust. Fritz came over from the police station, said a few words to the deputy sheriff and ordered that we be turned over to the resident agent of the FBI, who was Gordon Shanklin.”
Holt explained: “Shanklin turned us loose, at once, and there was no record kept of our ‘detainment.’ The only record of this incident is the photographic record of us crossing the plaza [Dealey Plaza].”
Holt further explained that of the eight or 10 persons arrested in the railroad yard, arrest records were kept for everyone but Holt, Montoya and Harrelson.
How credible is Chauncey Holt?
Holt’s account is remarkable in that he identified in Dallas four individuals suspected of being gunmen in the JFK assassination: Charles Nicoletti and Leo Moceri, as well as Richard Montoya and Charles Harrelson.
Zack Shelton, a retired FBI agent who has spent years since his retirement investigating leads in the JFK assassination, explained to WND that he considered Holt’s testimony credible, not only because of the Lois Gibson’s facial recognition analysis, but also because various details of Holt’s accounts are corroborated by other testimony independently given by known eyewitnesses to the JFK assassination.
Lee Bowers, a “tower man” for the Union Terminal Company who was in the railroad yard tower, elevated some 14 feet above the railroad yard with windows permitting a clear view on all four sides, testified to the Warren Commission in Dallas on April 2, 1964 (Warren Commission Volume VI, page 284).
Bowers testified that among the three vehicles he observed in the parking lot on the morning of Nov. 22, 1963, was a 1959 blue-and-white Oldsmobile with out-of-state license plates and a Goldwater bumper sticker.
Bowers also testified he observed a 1957 black Ford with a Texas license plate “with one male in it that seemed to have a mike or telephone or something that gave the appearance of that at least.”
Pressed by Joseph Ball, the Warren Commission assistant counsel questioning him, Bowers further explained: “He was holding something up to his mouth with one hand and he was driving with the other, and he gave that appearance. He was very close to the tower. I could see him as he proceeded around the area.”
Dallas Police Sgt. D. V. Harkness, in his testimony to the Warren Commission in Dallas on April 9, 1964, (Warren Commission Vol. VI, p. 308) described his activity searching the freight trains in the railroad yard above the triple overpass as follows: “Well we got a long freight that was in there, and we pulled some of the people off there and took them to the station.”
Explaining that Dallas Police searched the freight cars in two large freight trains in the railroad yard following the JFK assassination, Harkness described those apprehended as transients, “tramps and hoboes,” but he neglected to say how many were apprehended.