The Houma Bunker Raid Revisited – By William Kelly
The Houma, La. bunker raid of the Schlumbuger Wells Company munitions and arms cache, which took place in the late summer of 1961, included participants who later became entwined in the New Orleans aspects of the assassination of President Kennedy.
The owner of the Schlumberger company, Jean DeMenil, was also a close associate of those in the Texas White Russian community who assisted the accused assassin Lee Harvey Oswald, when he returned from the Soviet Union with his Russian wife and child.
There are a number of covert operations that are related to what happened at Dealey Plaza, but the Houma Bunker Raid is one of the best documented and worthy of further study on a number of levels.
The exact date of the raid has never been established, and it has been published as being in July, August and September, 1961, with Garrison’s Grand Jury investigation saying it occurred “on or around August 22, 1961,” some four months after the Bay of Pigs.
The munitions and arms taken in the raid were originally said to be destined for the Bay of Pigs, or to be used in the OAS revolt of the French Generals against DeGaul. When they weren’t used in either event, they were taken to the New Orleans offices of Guy Bannister at 544 Camp Street, which was used by Lee Harvey Oswald in his Fair Play for Cuba Committee activities in the summer of 1963, and to the Lake Pontchartrain anti-Castro Cuban training camp owned by William McClaney, which was raided by the FBI in July, 1963.
There has been the question as to whether some of these arms and ammunition were part of the Venezuelan Arms Cache, a Northwoods operation, or used in the attack on Gen. Walker, the assassination of the President or the murder of Dallas policeman J.D. Tippit, since the source of the ammunition in those incidents were never determined.
The Houma bunker raid has been the subject of a New Orleans Grand Jury and a libel case brought on by Gordon Novel, and is frequently mentioned in JFK assassination books and articles, including Jim Garrison’s Playboy interview, and is featured in Oliver Stone’s film JFK.
The participants in the raid included David Ferrie, Sergio Aracha Smith, Rancier Blaise Ehlinger, Carlos Quiroga, Layton Martins, Luis Rabel Nunez, Gordon Novel, Novel’s wife Marlene Mancuso and Andrew Blackmon, an ex-Marine who carried around a bolt action rifle that he frequently cocked and dry fired for fun.
Leaving from and returning to David Ferrie’s apartment at night, they traveled in two vehicles, Gordon Novel’s 1959 Lincoln, which he drove, and a laundry truck, which Layton Martins reportedly drove.
Luis Rabel Nunes owned the laundry truck used in the raid that was also used by the Catholic Church to assist Cuban refugees, and resembles a truck said to be seen at Dealey Plaza at the time of the assassination.
Luis Rabel Nunez and his brother Capt. Jose Ricardo Rabel Nunez, of the Cuban military, were childhood friends and neighbors of Fidel Castro. Capt. Jose Rabel was well positioned in the Cuban military before he defected and was used by the CIA to identify other disenchanted military officers who could be used in a coup in Cuba, if such a contingency plan developed.
It’s not clear how Luis’ laundry truck was used by the Church for the Cuban Refugees, but Luis was succeeded as head of the New Orleans Cuban Revolutionary Council by Frank Bartes, who owned a Cuban railroad before it was confiscated by Castro, and he ran a Washateria in New Orleans.
A. J. Weberman wrote, “…in a telephone interview Luis Rabel denied he met David Ferrie or Guy Banister, but said he knew Sergio Arcacha Smith. Regarding the burglary, “Well, I used to run a dry cleaners, and I had a truck that I used to loan to about 40 or 50 exiles here. Arcacha asked me to loan him the truck to move some furniture. Whether the truck was used to move anything other than furniture is beyond me.”
Well, one thing they used the truck for was to move the munitions from the Houma bunker to Ferrie’s apartment, Bannister’s offices in New Orleans and the Lake Pontchartrain training camp.
According to a CIA memo, the Houma bunker was NOT used to store CIA supplies at all, though they do acknowledge using the Schulmberger Company, whose board of directors today include former CIA head John Deutch and former 9/11 Commissioner Jamie Gorlick.
The same CIA memo that denies the Houma bunker was used to store CIA supplies also acknowledges that the CIA did operate an anti-Castro Cuban training camp in Louisiana that included a munitions supply cache, which was connected to CIA spymaster David Atlee Phillips.
There was some confusion as to whether it was a burglary at all, as Garrison contended in persuading the grand jury to subpoena and indict Sergio Aracha Smith and Gordon Novel, both of whom fled the state rather than testify. Some of the participants claimed they were given a key to the bunker by a CIA contact, while others testified that burglary tools were used to break into the bunker, which was suppose to be used for securing munitions and blasting caps used in drilling oil wells.
The cases the arms were stored in were said to be labeled either “SCHULMBERGER” or “INTERARMCO,” the company owned by Sam Cummings, the Philadelphia arms merchant who supplied the guns for many a revolution in South and Central America.
On the return trip back to Ferrie’s apartment, some of the participants fell asleep, but were awaken by the explosion of some dynamite that was apparently thrown from the truck by Jerome Andrew Blackmon, the ex-Marine who liked to play with guns.
The most serious connection to the assassination of President Kennedy is Jean DeMenil, the owner of Schlumberger, who lived in Houston and was known for his art collection, and was part of the network of White Russians who befriended Oswald when he returned from the Soviet Union.
While the Catholic Relief Services in Dallas also assisted the Cuban refugees, it was the Russian Orthodox Church Outside Russia that was the center of the social and religious life of the White Russian community. Both the Catholic Cuban Refuge society and the White Russian Church were financially supported by the CIA through the Catherwood Fund of Philadelphia.
Gus Russo, of course, puts his false spin on the whole episode, trying to pin the blame on RFK, as he does for Dealey Plaza as well, but his version is included here too for you to judge.
The Garrison Commission on the Assassination of President Kennedy
By William W. Turner Ramparts Magazine, January, 1968
….A man who knew Banister well has told Garrison that Bannister became associated with the Office of Naval Intelligence through the recommendation of Guy Johnson, an ONI reserve officer and the first attorney for Clay Shaw when he was arrested by Garrison.
A copyrighted story in the New Orleans States-Item, April 25, 1967, further illuminates the Camp Street scene. The newspaper, which at the time had an investigative team working parallel to the Garrison probe, reported that a reliable source close to Banister said he had seen 50 to 100 boxes marked “Schlumberger” in Banister’s office-storeroom early in 1961 before the Bay of Pigs. The boxes contained rifle grenades, land mines and unique “little missiles.” Banister explained that “the stuff would just be there overnight … a bunch of fellows connected with the Cuban deal asked to leave it there overnight.” It was all right, assured Banister, “I have approval from somebody.”
The “somebody,” one can surmise from the Gordon Novel episode which follows, was the CIA. Novel is wanted by the DA as a material witness in the 1961 burglary of the Schlumberger Well Co. munitions dump near New Orleans. Subpoenaed by the grand jury last March, Novel fled to McLean, Virginia, next door to the CIA complex at Langley, and took a lie detector test administered by a former Army intelligence officer which, he boasted to the press, proved Garrison’s probe was a fraud. He then skipped first to Montreal and then to Columbus, Ohio, from where Governor James Rhodes, in one of the most absurd stipulations ever attached to a normally routine procedure, refuses to extradite him unless Garrison agrees not to question him on the assassination.
From his Ohio sanctuary the fugitive cryptically asserted that the munitions caper was one of “the most patriotic burglaries in history.” When an enterprising reporter took him to a marathon party, Novel’s indiscreet tongue loosened further. According to the States-Item article, Novel’s oft-repeated account was that the munitions bunker was a CIA staging point for war materiel destined for use in the impending Bay of Pigs invasion. He is quoted as saying that on the day the munitions were picked up, he “was called by his CIA contact and told to join a group which was ordered to transport munitions from the bunker to New Orleans.” The key to the bunker was provided by his CIA contact. Novel reportedly said the others in the CIA group at the bunker were David Ferrie, Sergio Arcacha Smith — New Orleans delegate to the Cuban Democratic Revolutionary Front — and several Cubans. The munitions, according to his account, were dropped in Novel’s office, Ferrie’s home and Banister’s office-storeroom………
From JFK The Book of the Film by Oliver Stone, Zachary Sklar :
Ferrie, banister and several anti-Castro activists were implicated in a late 1961 Raid on a munitions bunker leased by Schlumberger Wells services in Houma, Louisiana. [HSCA X. p. 127; Flammonde, The Kennedy Conspiracy, p. 118-9; New Orleans States-Item, Apr. 25, 1967; Brener, the Garrison Case; A Study in Abuse of Power, p. 48-9] Some of the material taken in the Houma raid resurfaced on August 1, 1963 when the FBI raided the arms cache at the Cuban exile training camp on Lake Pontchartrain.
Garrison alleged that the Houma raid was organized by the CIA to procure weapons for the local anti-Castro forces – making the Houma outing more of a simple “pick-up” than a “raid” (the HSCA maintained that the arms were “stolen,” avoiding the issue of CIA involvement). There are strong indications that Garrison was right. New Orleans attorney Milton E. Brener represented some of the individuals implicated in the raid and writes: “it appears clear that the Schlumberger Wells bunker was serving that night as a transfer point for explosives with the acquiescence of its management and with officials of the United States Government, including, presumably , the Central Intelligence Agency.” [Brener, The Garrison Case: A Study in the Abuse of Power, p. 48-49]. When reached by telephone, Brener said his information on the raid was subject to attorney-client privilege and would not discuss his sources.”
Gus Russo, Live by the Sword, p. 150-151
The Houma Weapons Transfer
According to the CIA’s own documents and its own admissions, one of the firms that co-operated with the CIA in its preparations to wage secret war against Castro’s recently-declared Marxist government was Schlumberger Wells Services Company. In fact, a 1967 CIA memo released in 1992 confirms that its Domestic Contact Service (DCS) “has discreet and continuing contact with the main Schlumberger office in Houston and branch offices in Minneapolis and elsewhere.” 82
Located in the little town of Houma, deep in the Mississippi River delta, and 50 miles southwest of New Orleans, Schlumberger served as a small arms depot for the CIA. It permitted a bunker leased for storing blasting supplies to be used as a cache for ammunition, bomb casings and other military items, some of which were shipped abroad – presumably to CIA staging areas in Guatemala or areas elsewhere within striking distance of Cuba. The arms were shipped in crates bearing the markings “Schlumberger” and “machinery.” Other weapons were earmarked for rebels in the French West Indies, but were never shipped. Some of the weaponry was to have been used in the Bay of Pigs invasion. The government’s fumbling of the invasion upset the firm, which subsequently decided to terminate its contract with the CIA. 83.
According to Guy Banister’s attorney, Guy Johnson, Banister learned that some of the munitions remained at the Houma depot after the invasion. He thought that they should be put to use in the post Bay of Pigs anti-Castro effort. Even the straight-laced FBI man, Banister wanted to finesse the issue legally.
“Banister went to Washington, and saw a high official in the Justice Department,” says Johnson. “Presumably it was RFK.” 84. At this time, FBI agent Regis Kennedy – who had no blood relationship to the Kennedys in Washington – made one of his regular appearances in Banister’s office. 85 According to Banister associate Jack Martin, “It was about this time that he ‘letters of marque’ and keys showed up.”
A “Letter-Marque” is a legal device, generated by a high federal authority, that hasn’t been employed since the time of Thomas Jefferson. Its purpose is to give legal license to someone who is about to commit a quasi-legal action. More importantly, it prevents prosecution should the person be apprehended by local authorities. Jack Martin recalled some of the wording of the alleged letter: “You are hereby directed to seize munitions or arms, the property of a foreign government, that are illegally located within the United States, using any and all means to do so.” 86
The Letter-Marque was on Justice Department stationary, signed by Robert Kennedy. It was allegedly observed by Jack Martin, Gordon Novel (who says he was involved in the Houma transfer), Guy Johnson, and Banister friend Kent Courtney. Banister and the local anti-Castro activists were thus given the go-ahead to “liberate” the weaponry.
When the weapons transfer was carried out that summer, it became clear that the CIA and the FBI were heavily involved. The transfer didn’t happen overnight; in fact, military supplies were confiscated over a period of three months. In preparation for the transfer, says Jack Martin, Guy Banister (his boss) telephoned M. E. Loy, manager of Schlumberger Well Services Company. The point of the call was to make sure that the FBI or CIA would supply keys to the bunker where the weapons were stored. On another, earlier trip, the work party came armed with a pair of wire cutters in place of the promised keys, which had not been delivered.
“It was a CIA operation,” says Aracha’s attorney, Frank Hernandez. “It was set up so that Schlumberger could report it (the weapons transfer) as a robbery, and be reimbursed by their insurance company. They went in at midnight and the material was waiting for them on a loading dock. We later verified that the CIA indeed reimbursed the insurance company.” 87
Layton Martins, participating in the transfer, remembers one of the trips to the bunker. For this excursion, keys to the depot were in hand and the munitions were delivered to the office of Guy Banister and Associates. “It seemed like there was a whole caravan there, led by David Ferrie,” says Martens. The young participant “didn’t know what the hell was going on,” except for having heard that the transfers were conducted by order of David Ferrie, who participated, and, by inference, under orders of Sergio Arcacha Smith. 88
Arcacha’s attorney, Frank Hernandez, has long believed that Arcacha participated personally in the weapons transfer, but Arcacha denies this. Martens supports Arcacha’s denial, saying, “I don’t remember Sergio there.” However, Arcacha did tell Ronnie Caire that on one occasion, Arcacha drove a truck-load of “plastic explosives” from Houma, Louisiana to New Orleans because no one else wanted to drive the truck.89 Arcacha’s good friend Carlos Quiroga also stated that he participated in the transfer with Banister, Ferrie, Arcacha, and a U.S. Marine named Andrew Blackmon. 90 He put the explosives in a U-Haul trailer to be sent to Miami, Quiroga says, but it stayed in New Orleans for a long time. 91
One of the accomplices in the transfer – unwitting, he insists – was Luis Rabel Nunes, who replaced Sergio Arcacha Smith as New Orleans head of the CRC in 1962. Rabel supplied a laundry truck with which the weapons were transported – but he, like DeLaBarre, didn’t quite know what was up. “I had a laundry truck I used to loan out to help re-settler Cuban refugees – just for humanitarian reasons,” Rabel recalled recently. “The Catholic Church asked us to help out. We also helped the refugees find jobs. In that effort, we had the backing of both Mayors – Mayor Morrison and Mayor Schiro – Dr. Ochsner, and FBI agent Warren De Brueys. It wasn’t until years later that I learned they had sometimes used the truck to transfer weapons.” 92 Rabel gave a bit more information in Congressional testimony: “As far as I knew, they took them (the crates of munitions) to Lake Ponchartrain.” 93 It will be seen that Lake Ponchartrain played host to exile training camps which operated in concert with a White House-backed anti-Castro invasion force training in Central America.
MEM: THE SCHLUMBERGER WELLS
Rancier Blaise Ehlinger Grand Jury Testimony:
HSCA Mug Book 48. Marlene Mancuso photo
A.J. WEBERMAN :
LUIS RABEL LUIS
Luis Rabel Nunez, aka Luis Ravel, was the delegate of the Cuban Revolutionary Council in New Orleans from 1960 to 1961. Luis Rabel was the son of a native born American citizen and had been raised in comfortable circumstances, on a farm next to that of the father of Fidel Castro. He had known Fidel when both were children. When interviewed in 1977, Luis Rabel said that he had resigned and moved to Venezuela in October 1962, since the Cuban Revolutionary Council had turned out to be a “complete fiasco.”Luis Rabel said the names HEMMING or Lawrence LaBorde did not ring any bells. When questioned in HUNT v. ajweberman, HUNT denied having known Luis Rabel.
FRANK BARTES 1960 TO 1962
Francisco Antonio Bates Clarens [CIA 201-289,005 also CIA 201-289,685], was the delegate of the Cuban Revolutionary Council in New Orleans from November 1962 to 1964. Frank Bartes succeeded Luis Rabel. Frank Bartes had been the president of a private railroad in pre-Castro Cuba. His firm, which employed thousands of workers and had assets of $100 million, was nationalized by Castro in 1960. When he came to the United States, he operated a New Orleans Washeteria from 1961 to 1963.
The CIA: “(Deleted) on Frank Bartes shows that he was an FBI informant (dates not given) and that his contact was with S.A. DeBRUEYS.”
In September 1961 Gordon Novel took part in the burglary of a Schlumberger Well munitions bunker. He informed the FBI: ” Schlumberger Well Service had an arrangement with the CIA wherein it leased a bunker in which ammunition, bomb casings and other materiel would be stored for the CIA. Eventually the materiel would be shipped out of the United States in Sclumberger boxes marked ‘Machinery.’ The explosives would then be shipped by boat to Cuba where they were going to be used in a diversionary operation during the Bay of Pigs invasion.” The CIA verified Gordon Novel’s statement: “Novel has claimed to the press that the munitions from the bunker were to be used for a diversionary operation during the Bay of Pigs invasion. Agency officers familiar with the operation at the (deleted), have indicated that such a diversionary operation was based at (deleted), but that operation was canceled before a landing was made.” Gordon Novel continued: “After the Bay of Pigs, Schlumber became upset and wanted out of its CIA contract; three months after the invasion, arrangements were made for the materiel stored in the bunker to be removed by Novel and his group. At the time the material was removed, an individual involved took some of Schlumberger’s low grade powder and fuses and other material, and the incident was reported as a burglary.” (Gordon Novel had a previous history of assembling bombs). Gordon Novel said the crates of arms were stamped with the word INTERARMCO. [Police Record Jefferson Parish 1953; Memo Ivan/Garrison re: Novel rec. check; Flammonde Kennedy Conspiracy p76; Wardlaw Plot or Politics p113; New Orleans States-Item4.25.67; HUNT Day p182 CIA 1332-502, 1045] Gordon Novel reported that Andrew Jerome Blackman, David Ferrie, Sergio Arcacha Smith, and Luis Rabel were involved in the burglary…..
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