Welcome to the third installment in my examination of the curious cast of characters who appeared in and around Florida's St. Petersburg in the years following World War II. With the first installment I gave a brief biography of one such figure, "Count" Anastase "Annie" Vonsiatsky, a White Russian who married a wealthy American woman and become deeply immersed in the pre-WWII fascist underground. Vonsiatsky supposedly abandoned such intrigues after being convicted of sedition and spending several years in prison during WWII, but compelling evidence has emerged that he was still conspiring in the postwar years after relocating to St. Petersburg.
With part two I gave an overview of another notorious figure who had dealings with St. Petersburg, Mafioso Santo Trafficante Jr. Trafficante, a close associate of Meyer Lansky, was one of the most powerful figures in the international drug trade for decades and indeed something of an architect of the market. This Mafioso would also forge close ties with powerful figures within the US intelligence community and was in turn well protected by said patrons for Trafficante never spent a day in prison. While based out of nearby Tampa, Trafficante made heavy use of St. Petersburg as well.
"[George Hunter] White was soon back in the thick of things, meeting with Santo Trafficante, Sr. in Miami on September 3, 1945. Head of a lucrative Havana-based gambling, narcotics, and prostitution empire, Trafficante, Sr., was a close associate of Meyer Lansky. The elder Trafficante, from his Tampa, Florida base, oversaw Lansky's expansive criminal and narcotics operations, as well as operating, with help from his son, Santo Jr., a number of his own lucrative gambling casinos, hotels, and brothels in Cuba... White's meeting would be the first of many unexplained encounters with the Trafficante's over the next ten years.
(A Terrible Mistake, H.P. Albarelli, pg. 403)
"... George White, destined years later to become infamous as an operative at the juncture of government and organized crime that one historian has aptly called America's 'deep politics.' A San Francisco reporter known for underworld contacts, White went to work for Aslinger 1935 to help him compete for publicity with his despised rival, Hoover. He had risen rapidly, serving Aslinger's abuse of the still small drug agency as a fiefdom of personal power. Like other FBN agents, he joined the OSS during World War II, became a lieutenant colonel and close associate of future CIA counterespionage chief James Jesus Angleton. White would be a ranking officer in Operation Underworld, the founding collusion between U.S. intelligence and Meyer Lansky to control the New York docks. By war's end, he was known not only as a principal liaison between the bureaucracy and organized crime figures the government was widely enlisting as sources and operatives, but also as a brutal bully, 'a stone cold alcoholic,' as one account depicted him, who washed down lunch with a fifth of vodka.
"Taking over the FBN Chicago office in 1946, White promptly recruited and thus proceeded to protect as double agent several men – including Jack Ruby – in a circle implicated in the decisive murder that year of race wire boss James Ragen. By 1948, White was in Rome, working with the new CIA to arrange covert bribes in Italian politics. He was now a rabid Cold Warrior, crossing blurred bureaucratic lines in the convoluted world of covert action, 'part of the "inner circle," ' as Peter Dale Scott wrote, 'who planned and carried out various lethal secret operations.' With a reputation as a swashbuckling, cut-any-corner agent for whom the ends of national security justified the means, he would be a prototype himself for future perversions of federal drug policy, 'a law enforcement official who regularly violated the law,' as a historian put it. In the mounting Red Scare of the time, he would also be a discrete source and confidant to kindred spirits on Capitol Hill, like McCarran and his fanatical aide Julian Sourwine. White blamed Communist China for the growing heroin traffic into the United States, covering up the actual smuggling by Chang Kai-shek's corrupt but U.S.-allied government – an eerie prototype for later justifications for the support of right-wing dictatorships and military regimes in other drug-producing countries. When the CIA later experimented with drugs on unwitting victims, it would be zealous, sadistic White who provided the narcotics, hired prostitutes for subjects, then watched through a two-way mirror. 'Where else could a red-blooded American boy lie, kill, cheat, steal, rape and pillage,' White later wrote in reply to a writer's question, 'with the sanction and blessing of the All-Highest?' "
(The Money and the Power, Sally Denton & Roger Morris, pgs. 119-120)
A close associate of George Hunter White was an equally enigmatic figure known as Pierre Lafitte. Lafitte is generally described as a Frenchman, but whether he originated from France or Louisiana is still a mystery. Laffite was recruited into the US intelligence community at a very young age during World War I when he became an operative for General Ralph Van Deman, the so-called "Father of Military Intelligence." More information on Van Deman can be found here.
By the end of the Second World War Lafitte had become a major player in organized crime, with extensive ties amongst the Corsican Mafia. He would later play a key role in bringing down this organization, clearing the way for CIA- approved drug traffickers. During this time he also began his long time relationship with the FBN as a "special operative." It was in this capacity that he assisted White, especially in his work involving MK-Ultra. Lafitte assisted White in establishing the safehouses as well as more "wet" operations.
In A Terrible Mistake the great H.P. Alberelli fingered Lafitte as one of two individuals responsible for the murder of Frank Olson, the biological warfare expert based out of Fort Detrick who died under highly dubious circumstances shortly after he was unwittingly dosed with LSD by the CIA.
"... Prosecutors would also learn that after Olson's death, Lafitte traveled to St. Petersburg, Florida, only about 13 miles from Indian Rocks Beach, where he stayed in a small beachside house owned by Mafia kingpin Santo Trafficante, Jr. While it was never confirmed, it is believed that George White had arranged for Lafitte's hideaway in the Sunshine State."
(A Terrible Mistake, H.P. Alberelli, pg. 694)Earlier Alberelli had noted that Lafitte had previously had contact with Trafficante "from his days in Tampa and St. Petersburg..." (pg. 434). Its also interesting to note that Olson's family would retire to the above-mentioned Indian Rocks Beach shortly after Frank's death. But moving along.
Besides the assassination of Frank Olson, St. Petersburg also turns up in another prominent assassination: that of JFK. As noted above, George White had ties to Jack Ruby, and various other connections that are best outlined in Alberelli's A Secret Order. Santo Trafficante himself has also been long linked to the assassination:
"I will not wonder deeply into the quagmire of circumstances surrounding the murder President John F. Kennedy. However, it is worth repeating a few lines in the final report of the House Select Committee on Assassinations: 'The Committee's extensive investigation led to the conclusion that the most likely family bosses of organized crime to participate in such a unilateral assassination plan were Carlos Marcello and Santo Trafficante.'
"Of the many connections between Trafficante and Dallas the most important are his association with Jack Ruby, who visited him in a Havana prison in 1959; his statement to Cuban exile financier Jose Aleman that Kennedy 'is going to be hit'; and his close association with fellow Mafia capo Carlos Marcello. The Cuban exiles, drug racketeers, and the CIA had no shortage of anti-Kennedy motives, which all the more intensified as the three forces gradually welded together."
(The Great Heroin Coup, Henrik Kruger, pgs. 146-147)
|Mafioso Carlos Marcello, whose potential links to the JFK assassination were briefly discussed here|
Pierre Lafitte has also been linked to the assassination.
"It is worth noting that Lafitte turned up in yet another tangle of major, historic proportions during the 1960s. Around the time of the JFK assassination, Lafitte worked for the Reiley Coffee Company and then as a chef for the World Trade Mart, both in New Orleans. William B. Reiley, an avid anti-Communist, owned the Reiley Coffee Company and was closely connected to the McCarthyite and rabid anti-Communist Edward Scannell Butler, who were both close to CIA assistant director Charles Cabell, CIA SRS chief Paul Gaynor, and Agency ARTICHOKE official Morse Allen. Readers may recall that alleged JFK assassin Lee Harvey Oswald also worked as a maintenance man for the Reiley Coffee Company in the summer of 1963."
(A Terrible Mistake, H.P. Alberelli, pg. 428)
|William B. Reiley|
Another longtime resident of nearby Tampa with links to the Kennedy assassination was Kerry Thornley. Yes dear reader, the same Kerry Thornley who was a counterculture trailblazer, a co-founder of Discordianism and one of the architect of the "zine revolution" of the early 1980s. But before all of this Thornley had been a Marine and briefly served with Lee Harvey Oswald in the late 1950s. Thornley would go on to write two books based upon his experiences with Oswald and at various points would allege that both he and Oswald had been subjected to behavioral modification experiments by Nazi programmers. Much more information of Thornley's claims and his ties (or lack therefore of) to the Kennedy assassination can be found here.
Before moving along to our last section, there is one final figure who warrants consideration: Count Anastase Vonsiatsky. The great John Bevilaqua has alleged that Vonsiatsky played a key role in the Kennedy assassination in his groundbreaking J.F.K. -The Final Solution. In said work he noted that the city of St. Petersburg had witnessed a fair amount of curious activity both before and after the assassination:
"... He chose that city for his Southern headquarters because of the nostalgia it invoked in him for his Fatherland, Russia. Both Reverend Oren F. Potito and Joseph A. Milteer were sighted at the St. Petersburg train station within 10-12 hours of the JFK assassination. The Eastern Headquarters of Thurmond's National States' Rights Party, run by Potito of the Church of Jesus Christ Christian, who was known to train crack rifle teams was in that city as well for years..."
(J.F.K. -The Final Solution, John Bevilaqua, pg. xxii)
|Joseph A. Milteer|
"... the church of Jesus Christ-Christian, whose reigning dignitary is the Reverend Wesley A. Swift of Lancaster. Three decades ago Swift was part of Gerald L. K. Smith's Christian Nationalist Crusade and a rifle team instructor for a KKK group. He founded his church on the premise that members of the white race are the lost children of Israel. A spellbinding Bible-thumper, Swift has put together a string of 'parishes' in California and a small-station radio network reaching an estimated million listeners. The Reverend Oren Potito of St. Petersburg, Florida, is head of the church's 'Eastern Conference.' Potito, a one-time organizer for the National States Right, was the 1962 campaign manager for retired Admiral John G. Crommelin, running for governor of Alabama, whose stock-in-trade speech is 'The Hidden Force,' exposing the 'Jewish-Communist-Integration Conspiracy.' Potito has openly stated that his church has formed 'guerrilla warfare units' designed to defend the country in the event of a communist take over."
(Power on the Right, William Turner, pgs. 100-101)
St. Petersburg certainly seems to have attracted a curious mix of far right zealots and underworld figures in the postwar years, a group that includes Anastase Vonsiatsky, Santo Trafficante, Pierre Lafitte, Oren Potito and likely George Hunter White and even Kerry Thornley. But there was one other highly curious figure lurking in St. Petersburg around this time as well, a figure possessing legendary status within conspiracy circles:
James Shelby Downard.
For the uninitiated, Downard is the author (along with the highly controversial Michael A. Hoffman II) of the notorious "King Kill 33" essay that has so infested popular culture. Downard's life and legacy is highly controversial, with much debate circulating around his very existence. He is generally credited with discovering the modern conception of "twilight language" and the closely related "synchro-mysticism."
In point of fact, the first national exposure Downard received came via a tape recording known as Sirius Rising that Fortean researcher William Grimstad dispatched to Kerry Thornley's friend Robert Anton Wilson from St. Petersburg in the mid-1970s. Wilson went on to recount this incident in his classic The Cosmic Trigger Volume I: Final Secrets of the Illuminati:
"As soon as Illuminatus was published in September 1975, people started sending me letters about weird 23's in their own lives... The most interesting of these communications came from an English flying saucer journal, Fortean News, and was forwarded by a Mr. W.N. Grimstad of St. Petersburg, Florida. The context concerns some mediumistic Contactees...
"Mr. W.N. Grimstad, who sent me that clipping about Lear-23-666-333, mentioned in an accompanying letter that Florida anti-Illuminati groups (I assume he means Birchers) are spreading the theory that Illuminatus is a diabolical attempt to confuse the anti-Illuminati forces and that Shea and I are actually high-ranking Illuminati ourselves...
"Later, Mr. Grimstad send me a tape, entitled 'Sirius Rising,' in which he and another conspiracy buff named Downard set forth the most absurd, the most incredible, the most ridiculous Illuminati theory of them all. The only trouble is that, after the weird data that we have already survey, the Grimstad-Downard theory may not sound totally unbelievable to us.
"According to 'Sirius Rising,' the Illuminati are preparing Earth, in an occult manner, for extraterrestrial contact...
"If you want to hear more of the Downard-Grimstad numerological evidence, write to W.N. Grimstad at P.O. Box 14150, St. Petersburg, Florida, and asked how much he wants for the tapes. (He sent me mine free, evidently hope and I would publicize them. See how obliging I am, Mr. Grimstad?) "
(The Cosmic Trigger Volume I, Robert Anton Wilson, pgs. 167-169)
|William Grimstad (left) and Michael A. Hoffman II (right)|
"To escape his perceived Masonic harassment, Downard, in later years, set out across the country in a 1950's Airstream trailer – with a trusty Colt .45 always at his side – armed against those who target him as the 'Pharmakos'; the Freemasonic scapegoat... And although constantly on guard against those who might cause him harm, Downard always seemed to form a circle of friends around himself and the various places he set up shop during the course of his extensive Fortean field research.
"As William Grimstad recalled:
" ' I was working for news publications in the Washington, D.C. area (circa 1974) and had printed a famous photo of Martin Luther King at a civil rights march, arm in arm with Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel, at that time professor of Jewish mysticism at the Jewish Theological Seminary in New York City.
" 'For a subheading on the picture caption, I wrote KABBALAH KONNECTION?, playfully hinting the King might now be branching into the occult... Well, a friend living in the Tampa Bay area of Florida left a copy of that issue in some public place or other, were Shelby Downard apparently walked in soon after. He found the item, was intrigued with my Kabbalah jest and wrote to me in Washington.
" 'Downard's take on the symbolo-esoteric aspects behind that and other apparently mundane current topics was so amazingly original and 'offbeat' that I decided this was someone I needed to talk to and perhaps interview for a write-up of some kind. So I got in touch with the bud who had left the article and had him contact Shelby to lay groundwork for a meeting... completing the amusing round-robin of synchronicity.
" 'Needless to say, as soon as I could arrange it, I traveled to Florida where Downard was vacationing in his Airstream trailer at New Port Richey, northwest of Tampa. It was there that I taped the extensive interviews out of which I later prepared a multi-hour audio documentary that I titled "Sirius Rising." ' "
"Michael Hoffman: 'I remember sitting in Shelby's Airstream trailer in St. Petersburg, Florida in 1977, along with the great Fortean philosopher William N. Grimstad and Charles Saunders...
" 'Shelby's conversation that day ranged from the occult significance of the Theremin musical instrument to the sorcerous implications of elevators, the relationship he had with an evanescent rabbit named Petey; the sinister connotations of the circus and the mystical topography of the American Southwest, which Mr. Downard knew the way you and I know our backyard.' "
(James Shelby Downard's Mystical War, Adam Gorightly, pgs. 54-55)
"Downard’s memoir ends in 1935, but public records yield a few more clues about where he was and what he was doing through and immediately following WWII. The 1942 Chattanooga, TN, City Directory shows J. Shelby Downard as a U.S. Army x-ray technician living at 1005 S. Crest Rd. The only major military installation in the vicinity was nearby Ft. Oglethrope, Georgia, and in 1942 it was home to the 63rd Surgical Hospital. However, just two years later he appears in the St. Petersburg, Florida Directory as a “bacteriologist” and, apparently, a civilian. How did he go from x-ray tech to bacteriologist in such a short time? Moreover, could any of this somehow relate to an earlier connection to Dr. Kramer and the Army hospital in Ft. Thomas?
"But the ‘44 directory includes another, intriguing, detail, the name of a spouse—Ann. This must be a reference to Anne Witwer, a woman Downard claimed to have married in the late 30s and whom he later lamented as “The Great Whore” for her supposed Sex Magic seduction by malevolent Masonic forces. The only other apparent record pertaining to this union is the Florida Divorce Index, which records a 1945 decree issued in 1945 in Pinellas County to James Shelby Downard and unnamed spouse."It would seem that Downard frequented St. Petersburg as early as the mid-1940s then and was drawn back up until at least the late 1970s. This was shortly before Anastase Vonsiatsky relocated to the city in 1948, but certainly leaves ample opportunities for the paths of either men to have crossed before Vonsiatsky's death in 1965. And herein lies some intriguing possibilities that we shall address in a moment.
But first, the above-quoted Mr. Richard Spence also turned up another intriguing detail concerning one of the claims made by Downard in The Carnivals of Life and Death, his highly controversial biography, this is most pertinent to our present examination:
"... a “friend” of his mother, Col. George H. Bunker. Downard correctly connects Col. Bunker with the Interstate Amiesite Co. a firm that controlled his father’s paving patent. Downard also describes the Colonel as someone “who knew a lot of rich, influential and famous people." This much is certainly true: Bunker was a one-time commander of the American Legion and a collaborator of the FBI which argues that he did indeed have connections in high—and secretive—places."
|Downard's alleged "biography"|
"... All defense contractors were eventually required by law to conduct industrial-security investigations, under legislation for which both the FBI and the American Legion had helped to lobby. This legislation created work both for veterans and for the Legion itself. During World War II the Legion had built up a network of confidential information contacts, on the model of the so-called vigilantes of the American Protective League during World War I. The key man in this effort, an FBI agent named Lee Pennington Jr., left the Bureau for the Legion in 1953, where he began to develop a massive library of information on alleged subversives. Future Watergate burglar James McCord, in search for subversives in the CIA, made his first contact in the 1950s with Pennington, his library, and Lou Russell of HUAC."
(Deep Politics and the Death of JFK, Peter Dale Scott, pg. 244)American Protective League to guard against "subversion" in the nation's factories. After the First Red Scare the network was disbanded in the early 1920s, but was quietly reactivated by the FBI and Army in 1928. The chief architect of this network was the above-mentioned General Ralph Van Deman, who recruited some-time St Petersburg operator Pierre Lafitte into the US intelligence community during WWI. Much more on industrial security can be found here.
|General Ralph Van Deman|
While I have not been able to conclusively link Vonsiatsky to such circles, as one of the chief White proponents of fascism in America for nearly half a century, it doesn't seem much of a stretch that the Count was aware of such circles. And indeed, the great John Bevilaqua has insisted that Vonsiatsky was associated with the SOSJ in J.F.K. --The Final Solution.
What's more, some of these White émigrés may even have been exposed to Ariosophy, a strand of nationalistic Theosophy that was en vogue amongst far right occultists in Germany leading up to and after the First World War. The foundation of Ariosophy is generally credited to the would-be noble Guido von List, who first began to conceive of his Wagnerian vision in the late nineteenth century. Fusing together ancient German paganism and myth, Wagner, Theosophy and a sprinkling of Gnosticism, List devised a vision that deeply appealed to romantic German nationalists in the early twentieth century. How List arrived at this ideology is most interesting:
"List believed he had discovered the remnants of this universal armanist-wotanist dispensation all around his native country. Despite the ravages of many centuries, compounded by Christian obliteration, he claimed to discern the vague outlines and scanty relics of a vast forgotten culture both throughout and beyond the German-settled areas of Austria. He found these relics in material archaeological monuments (tumuli, megaliths, hill-forts and castles on earlier pagan sites); and the local names of woods, rivers, hills and fields, many of which dated from pre-Carolingian times and allegedly recalled the names of gods and goddesses in the Germanic pantheon; and in the many legends, folk-tales and customs through which the common country folk were supposed, albeit unconsciously, to inherit and pass on the pale and distorted reflection of ancient Ario-Germanic religious parables and doctrines. By means of his discoveries in these three areas of local historical and folkloristic research, List sought to convince his readers that the western or 'Austrian' half of the Habsburg empire could look back upon a German pagan and national past of immemorial antiquity."
(The Occult Roots of Nazism, Nicholas Goodrick-Clarke, pgs. 66-67)
The same White émigré community to whom Count Anastase Vonsiatsky was a prominent figure within. And the same Count Anastase Vonsiatsky whom relocated to St. Petersburg, Florida, shortly after Downard appeared there.
Is it possible then that Vonsiatsky's path crossed with Downard? Certainly Vonsiatsky possessed the same right-leaning conspiratorial world view that defined Downard and his history and persona likely would have fascinated JSD. What's more, this researcher has been informed by John Bevilaqua, the above-mentioned author of J.F.K --The Final Solution, that when going through Vonsiatsky's papers he found a copy of a Dietrich Eckart book. Eckart was a journalist and philosopher who had an early influence of Adolf Hitler. He also had a keen interest in Ariosophy.
And of course there are the reoccurring hints of mind control. Kerry Thornley, located in nearby Tampa, alleged at various points to be the victim of Nazi mind control. Thornley was a friend of Robert Anton Wilson, who introduced the world to James Shelby Downard. Downard himself alleged to have escaped the brainwashing efforts of a Judeo-Masonic cult while some time St. Petersburg operator Pierre Lafitte was actually involved with MK-Ultra as a special assistant to the notorious George Hunter White.
And then here's Vonsiatsky. John Bevilaqua has made some incredible allegations concerning Vonsiatsky's potential role, along with that of fellow White Russian George de Mohrenschildt a mysterious figure from Kennedy assassination lore whom I briefly addressed before here), in such endeavors:
"As a recently discovered side note of perhaps major importance, the following tidbit is offered as likely corroborating evidence of the theisis that is developed herein. George deMohrenschildt apparently used the pseudonym: 'Philip Harbin' during some of his covert operations, including the one in Haiti regarding 'Papa Doc' Duvalier. Innocent enough on the surface, but it was pointed out to me by Joe Knapp that George's wife was born in Harbin, probably when it was still called Manchuoko instead of Manchuria. That would make the deMohrenschildt's identification as probable White Russian Nazi collaborators even more significant. Recall that his cousin, the Baron ConstantineMaydell was arrested and convicted, I believe, during World War II as a Nazi spy. What this implies is absolutely immense. Jeanne deMohrenschildt was born to parents who had been exiled from Czarist Russia and chose to live out their diasporia among like-minded anti-Bolsheviks with strong Czarist backgrounds among the staunchest of the white Russian expatriates where Vonsiatsky set up his headquarters as vojhd or leader the entire White Russian Fascist Organization.
"George de Mohrenschildt would have had to be not only intimately familiar with the Vonsiatsky organization and his operations, but the person himself. In fact, both Baron Constantine de Maydell, George's cousin and the deMohrenschildts would have been direct employees of that sinister organization from the very early days of its existence since it was Vonsiatsky that ran every White Russian expatriate spy in North America, including Canada and Alaska according to Charles Higham in American Swastika.
"Vonsiatsky's connections to both the 'training' and 'launching' of multiple assassins into Bolshevik territory to commit murders or acts of retaliation, retribution and revenge against the administration that was keeping him from returning to his Russian homeland becomes even more significant. In implies that Richard Condon knew whereof he spoke regarding the 'Manchurian' connections described in The Manchurian Candidate, that Condon deliberately inserted Vonsiatsky's persona into the 'Lou Amjac' character in the novel, and that the 'Russian Roulette' and 'Manchurian Candidate' references made by Dick Russell's informant were quite likely to Anastase Vonsiatsky's favorite gambling reference, (cited many times in the guestbook at his Thompson, Connecticut estate) and to the probable site of the 'show and tell' assassination demonstrations described by Condon..."
(J.F.K. --The Final Solution, John Bevilaqua, pg. V)
Is it possible then that Downard's assertions of an occult organization manipulating his actions are not without merit when stripped of the Jewish-Masonic propaganda? Or was Downard carrying out the objectives that he was programmed for, namely the sowing of disinformation? Or, as some have alleged, was there really no James Shelby Downard at all, but a hoax of some very curious individuals from the St. Petersburg area with a sinister agenda?
It is of course impossible to say with the little information available concerning the strange doings in St. Petersburg during the postwar years. But it is my hope that this series will spur the asking of such questions by a wider audience, for the implications of such possibilities are quite troubling for what quite frequently describes itself as an "alternative media." And with those thoughts I shall wrap up for now. Until next time dear reader.