A Back Story to the Kennedy Killing
Two lives change forever after a brush with Lee Harvey Oswald.

Lee Harvey Oswald in custody after the Kennedy assassination.


Butler finally moved on from my old house — and, a decade later, in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, bereft, he died.

If Ed Butler was eager to let his encounter with Oswald help define his career, Jesse Core was just the opposite. In trying to shoo Oswald away on that August day 14 weeks before the assassination, Core was just doing his job. Little did he know what a nightmare was in store for him.

By the mid-1960s, Core had his own PR firm. His two biggest clients were, first, the Trade Mart, and second, District Attorney Jim Garrison. Garrison, of course, infamously decided to make his fame by accusing Trade Mart director Clay Shaw of conspiring with Oswald to kill Kennedy. Never mind that Shaw was so fiercely anti-Communist that he was a big donor to Butler’s INCA organization: Garrison smelled blood and headlines, and he went hard after Shaw.

Well, the Trade Mart knew that Core was “Garrison’s guy.” There went Core’s longstanding relationship with that organization. Alas, Garrison knew that Core had been “Shaw’s guy” long before Garrison even entered the scene. Garrison also cut ties with Core.

And Core, who was entirely guiltless (and who knew darn well that Shaw was guiltless, too) — and who was, indeed, just an independent contractor — suddenly had lost his two biggest clients and, in the assassination-related maelstrom that engulfed the New Orleans political community for the next few years, he was buffeted so badly that a great reputation built over several decades was blown to smithereens. (Ed Butler, who had known Core back in the 1960s, was grieved to hear of this misfortune, calling Core a class act all the way.) The kindest, gentlest soul imaginable, Core by 1990 was living in a tiny apartment — with Social Security checks and payments for infrequent freelance writing apparently his primary, if not sole, sources of sustenance.

Core wrote a few terrific, shaggy-dog stories for me at Gambit: one about how gracious Louis Armstrong was during an appearance at a state fair in Texas; another recounting, for a Halloween issue, an unsolved series of New Orleans axe murders 70 years earlier. He was a delightful man and told me of his Oswald-related misfortunes without anger or malice, but rather wistfully. Right up until the end, he was writing: His last story, also a Halloween-themed tale, was run special to the Times-Picayune in 1997 — obviously turned in a few days in advance, because it ran the day after his death.

What if Oswald had not passed out those leaflets outside the Trade Mart? What if Jesse Core hadn’t shooed him away? What if Core hadn’t reported the incident to the FBI? Would Jim Garrison have seized on the Trade Mart’s Clay Shaw as a culprit in the Kennedy assassination? Would Core have found himself caught between two clients, and then out of a job? And would Ed Butler, to whose organization Shaw was a donor, have been moved to confront Oswald at the radio station?

And if people like Butler and Core hadn’t given Oswald such a (deservedly) rough reception in New Orleans, would Oswald and his wife have fled the Crescent City to settle back in Dallas, where he just happened to take a job in the Book Depository?

Fifty years after Oswald assassinated Kennedy, the conspiracy theories still vie for attention. I think Core and Butler, were they still here, would insist that a crazy Commie almost randomly found himself with an unexpected opportunity to be in the wrong place at the wrong time for Western civilization, and that he took full advantage of it. That’s what Communists do when given the chance: They wreak destruction. Our body politic has never been the same since — and certainly the lives of Ed Butler and Jesse Core, too, weren’t the same ever again. Those lives are just part of the detritus of an act of despicable evil 50 years ago this week. But as history is writ large, it also is writ small in the lives of individual men.

— Quin Hillyer is a contributing editor of National Review and a senior fellow at the Center for Individual Freedom.


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