Gayle Nix Jackson's Interview Excerpts with Walter Machann.
For the complete interview - see "Pieces of the Puzzle" (by Gail Nix Jackson 2017)
GAYLE: How did you become the head of the Dallas Catholic Cuban Relief Program?
MACHANN: Bishop Tschoeper appointed me. He knew I spoke Spanish and had done well at the University of Mexico. I was young and energetic. I think he felt I would be the right person for that job.
GAYLE: Was it difficult?
MACHANN: Well, it’s always difficult when you have such people who have been thrust into a new country knowing no one and longing for their families. So many of these Cubans were young or newly married. Many of them were from quite wealthy families in Cuba and they got here and could barely scrape up enough money to buy food. It was very sad for them.
GAYLE: Did the money come from the Diocese?
MACHANN: Yes and No. I would talk to businesses asking them to help and then there were many socialites who helped bring clothing and food and such for us to distribute to the refugees.
GAYLE: Oh, is that how Lucille Connell got involved? Do you remember her?
MACHANN: Lucille Connell! Yes! She was one to remember. I don’t know if she came from a wealthy family background, but she was married to a wealthy CPA. She was also very interested in Mental Health. There were a group of women who… helped with the Cubans. Most of them weren’t even Catholic, but a few were. They were more social than they were anything. I suppose because of the times it was their way of being in a kind of club to help others. They were always in the paper, Lucille Connell especially.
GAYLE: I spoke with Faith Leicht, I know she was one of your parishioners. She spoke so highly of you and told me over and over how kind you were and how hard you worked.
MACHANN: Oh Faith! What a kind woman she was. She had many children. Yes, she was very helpful to our cause.
GAYLE: Mrs. Leicht said she also knew Lucille as well as Joanna Rogers, Patti Link and Marcella Insua. She also mentioned Trudi Castorr. Did you know her?
MACHANN: Trudi Castorr? That doesn’t ring a bell, but I didn’t know all of them. I knew Mrs. Rogers as I had been to her home before as well as Mrs. Connell’s. They were always having luncheons and dinner parties.
GAYLE: So how did these women come to know Silvia Odio? Was it by chance?
MACHANN: I don’t know. But Silvia was one of the Cubans from a wealthy family, in fact, I heard that her Dad was one of the wealthiest men in Cuba. Silvia immediately took up with Lucille and Marcella and Mrs. Rogers. She also liked attention and nice things. Her state of mind, I don’t know how you would describe it, but she was prone to nervous breakdowns. She was highly excitable, but also very strong. She told me she was her father’s favorite child and I think she must have been very much like him. Though she would faint and feign nervousness, she was strong and outgoing, unlike her sister Sarita.
GAYLE: Oh, so you knew Sarita too?
MACHANN: Yes, Sarita went to the University of Dallas and was here with their younger sister (Anne) who was in high school. She was engaged to a Swedish man. I think they may have gotten married. Sarita was very quiet. She never rocked the boat. She was the opposite of Silvia.
GAYLE: How well did you know the Odio family?
MACHANN: Well, I knew them well enough that when I went to New Orleans I would visit her uncle (Augustin Guitart). He was a professor….. He taught physics.
GAYLE: Was he political? So, you lived with him?
MACHANN: No, I never lived with him and political? Not that I’m aware of. It was nice knowing him though because I was in a city where I knew no one and I would go to his home and it felt like family.
GAYLE: Did Silvia ever discuss her Uncle Agustin. And were Marcella and Silva cousins?
MACHANN: I spent a lot of time at the Guitart home, I was very lonely, but I don’t remember if they were all related. I love New Orleans. My first real job other than being a priest or throwing a newspaper route was working at the Mental Health Halfway house.
(Gayle: Augustin Guitart was friends with Carlos Bringuier, the man Lee Harvey Oswald had a confrontation with in New Orleans for handing out “Fair Play for Cuba” Pamphlets. Both were arrested and Silvia’s uncle Guitart attended the court session in support of Bringuier.)
GAYLE: I know Silvia was political, she said so in her testimony to the Warren Commission and the HSCA. I also know that Sarita was involved in the DRE. Do you know anything about these political meetings?
MACHANN: I stayed away from all things politics and the Cubans from the office knew so too.
GAYLE: Speaking of the Cuban office, did you hire Mr. Insua?
MACHANN: No, I didn’t. I don’t know who did, but I would think it was someone from the Diocese.
GAYLE: Were you close to the Insuas?
MACHANN: Well, we worked together. Mr. Insua kept our books so he knew about all the money we took in and gave out. I would go to different businesses asking for help with the organization. I met the oil baron H.L. Hunt that way.
GAYLE: So your job was to solicit funding?
MACHANN: Yes, that was one of my jobs. When I went to Mr. Hunt’s office he just talked about the Communism problem and his Lifeline show. He never donated any money to us.
GAYLE: Did you know General Walker?
MACHANN: I knew of him but I never met him.
GAYLE: Wasn’t he at the meeting that was held after the gathering at White Rock Lake?
MACHANN: Lucille Connell lived near White Rock Lake. If General Walker was there I don’t remember.
GAYLE: No, he wasn’t there at White Rock, but he held a meeting in Lakewood I believe, that Trudi Castorr and many Cubans including Johnny Martino attended. It was a John Birch Society meeting. The newspaper said you introduced Johnny Martino at the park.
MACHANN: That must be a made-up story. I never knew a Johnny Martino.
GAYLE: Did you know the Juan Martin that owned the Dixie Washateria near the office?
MACHANN: I remember a Washateria, but I don’t remember a Juan or Johnny Martin. You have to excuse me. I’ll be 82 in July and my memory isn’t what it used to be.
GAYLE: Well, I know most of the Cubans from your program lived near your office on Pratt. Many lived on Hudnall. Did you ever go to Oak Cliff to a home on Harlandale?
MACHANN: Oh, I remember that Harlandale name though I can’t say I was ever there.
GAYLE: Did you know a Jorge Salazar?
MACHANN: The name sounds familiar but it is not ringing a bell.
GAYLE: Did you know Rogelio Cisneros?
MACHANN: So many of the Cuban names run into one another. I’m sorry, I just don’t remember.
GAYLE: I know that you mentioned in your Warren Commission testimony about a Cuban at Parkland Hospital that was troublesome, do you remember the name?
MACHANN: A Cuban at Parkland? I don’t remember testifying to that. I don’t know of any Cubans that worked at Parkland.
GAYLE: Well do you think the government added that to your testimony?
MACHANN: I definitely don’t remember any Cubans at Parkland and I cannot see why I would have said that.
GAYLE: Nietzsche said “There is no truth. My truth is not always your truth, so they negate one another.” Who is your favorite philosopher? Mine is Kant and some of the psychological philosophers like Jung.
MACHANN: I find Kantian philosophy too idealistic. I prefer Hegel. But there were so many great philosophers from Germany weren’t there?
GAYLE: Hegel? I would have never thought that of you! Your background in sociology, the seminary, mental health…they all point to idealism. I would have thought you would like Kant. Hegel? Really?
MACHANN: I also worked for WHO (the World Health Organization) overseas. When I was in New York, I was having a hard time finding a job. I had put in applications to many overseas jobs and WHO just happened to hire me. I moved to Thailand and lived there many years. In fact, I had my son there. Yes, I have a son… Unfortunately, his mother died when he was seven of dengue fever. He basically grew up as an orphan. He had no Mother. But he always was interested in philosophy as well. I don’t know how much of who we are is genetic, environment or education, but he was mesmerized by Greek books at a very young age….He did a few tours in Iraq and came back a different man. He tried to find peace here, but eventually moved back to Thailand. I’m going to see him soon!
GAYLE: But WHO is a giant and important organization. Did the government ever try to recruit you to work for them?
MACHANN: No, but I did have to get some sort of clearance before I went to Thailand. And no, they never offered me a job.
GAYLE: Did the government visit you or threaten you?
MACHANN: Well, after the event, yes they came to interview me. I never understood why.
GAYLE: I think it was probably because you knew the Odios and the Warren Commission didn’t know what to do about her testimony that Oswald came to her home. Do you believe he did?
MACHANN: Yes, I do. But I also know that Silvia liked being the center of attention. I always wondered if she had said these things for attention, but I don’t believe she did. It still doesn’t explain why they were questioning me.
GAYLE: I think it was because they were concerned about the timeline. You see, they thought Oswald was in Mexico City at the time Silvia said he was at her house.
MACHANN: Oh, I see. That is why the Frontline people kept trying to pin me down on dates. The one thing I did tell them was that I remember that date because Silvia and Lucille were going to a celebrity party with that actress…I can’t think of her name. (Janet Leigh)
MACHANN: Well it may have been,… And I remember that Lucille and Silvia were going to this event and I felt slighted. I wondered why they didn’t ask me to go (Sits forward in his chair and laughs) I would have liked to have gone. So, I told the Frontline people that’s how I remember the date.
GAYLE: I can’t blame you! It would be fun to go to a celebrity party when you had all that stressful work to do.
MACHANN: Laughs, I still remember that feeling of being left out.
GAYLE: So did you go to their homes often? Lucille and Silvia?
MACHANN: Yes, we were all friends.
GAYLE: Did you see them after the assassination?
MACHANN: No, I moved to New Orleans and never saw any of those people again.
GAYLE: Were you still around when the office caught on fire?
MACHANN: No, I was gone by then. I know all the records that Mr. Insua kept were burned. He died not long afterwards, or maybe it was before. The memory of an old man isn’t reliable is it?
GAYLE: So, you weren’t aware of the many anti-Castro groups that flourished in Dallas during that time?
MACHANN: After the Bay of Pigs, there were many upset Cubans, they were patriots. They missed their homes. But I don’t believe they were upset enough to kill the President.
GAYLE: Do you think Oswald did it or that there was a conspiracy?
MACHANN: I thought there was a conspiracy. Though Oswald was very left wing and pro-Castro. None of it seemed to make sense though. I still think there is something more to the assassination but I have no idea what.
GAYLE: It’s hard to walk through the minefields of lies. The government lied. Witnesses lied. People to this day are still lying while others refuse to share what they know for whatever reason. Maybe they don’t want to get involved. Maybe they’re scared. I know that those feelings were in my grandfather’s head at one time or another.
MACHANN: Truth is a difficult thing. I don’t know how to explain it. Have you read a book called Killing Time? The man who wrote it is one of my favorite modern philosophers. If you haven’t read it, I think you would enjoy it.
GAYLE: Thank you! Due to your recommendation, I will read it. I don’t want to take up anymore of your time. I can’t tell you how much it means to me that you shared your memories with me as well as your time and home.
MACHANN. It was my pleasure, and it wasn’t too terrible.
GAYLE: Thank you for agreeing to speak with me again. I’m glad we’ve become friends. I’ve made a list of questions to ask you this time and like before, if you find any of them too personal, just let me know and we’ll move on.
MACHANN: Thank you Gayle. I am glad we’re friends as well. It’s nice to have a confidant. GAYLE: What did you do after you left Dallas?
MACHANN: I went to New Orleans got a degree (at Tulane) in Sociology and Philosophy and later to New York City. Someone recommended me to work as a resident manager to a mental health halfway house in New Orleans.,,,, I also took some graduate work at Tulane in Anthropology and Political Science…. I worked in Florida for a few years in the mental health field. I didn’t like the commercialization of Florida. I lived in West Palm Beach where the rich people were.,,,, I traveled throughout Russia with a travel group. It was a break in the Cold War. They wouldn’t let you read just any book, so you had to be careful which books you carried. I bought a Volkswagen in Hamburg in 1968 and drove all the way through the Baltic States, the Czech Republic and the Coast of Spain. I was sleeping in the car and eating just to stay alive. I ran out of money and had to come back home.
GAYLE: You traveled a lot, you were a Bohemian, weren’t you?
MACHANN: Bohemian yes, I’m Polish on my father’s side. Irish on my Mother’s side…. I spent a summer in Mexico while still in Seminary, I saw a lot of Mexico and can speak Spanish well. It’s almost a second language.
GAYLE: Or third or fourth since you can speak Thai and obviously Finnish. No wonder you can’t remember much, all these places you’ve been, all these experiences you’ve had!
MACHANN: The world is changing politically and environmentally. It’s harder to travel these days. When I came back to the states, I noticed how different everything was. I knew I needed to be here to help my sister, but the Thai government was making me jump through hoops, so it was necessary to come back. They were making my life inconvenient. My son and his Thai wife were living here with me for a while. We had a fire and had to renovate.
GAYLE: Feel free to talk about whatever you want to talk about. That’s what I came here for!
MACHANN: But I wanted to talk about your agenda. I haven’t talked much about my low points in life, because you don’t go through traumatic changes in your life without discussing your philosophy, emotions, mental state and the like. My wife dying forced me to come back to Texas. That’s when I also found that in life after 40, you become unemployable in the states. My friends tried to get me jobs. Incidentally, one was a medical director at UT Southwestern. He HATED the Kennedys. What came out was, he had a tremendous hatred for the Kennedys even though he was from the north. I was kind of shocked. He was one of these New England Harvard graduates, I don’t know. But I knew I didn’t want to work there.
MACHANN: Okay, well that was something I was totally unaware of because the Cuban Catholic Committee of Dallas was not very representative of all the Cubans. There were different segments was probably a pretty small group. Insua and his family attracted family of their ilk and class in Cuba than in other places.
GAYLE: How much did you think was political. Were the Insuas political? Did they have influence?
MACHANN: It was like church. You don’t take all of your disputes with neighbors there, do you? I think the Insuas were of higher status than the general Cubans within the committee. But they didn’t bring all their outside political issues anyway. The church was not part of Castro’s movement. I think for years you could study this JFK stuff and you would never come to a conclusion.
GAYLE: You mean he would be upset with me? Because of those times?
MACHANN: I think so, because he had top security clearance. He would say “Dad don’t talk to anybody” He wouldn’t like it. I don’t want to make anyone upset. But what goes into your mind is kind of a big wild story, you may find some snippets of information you want to add to your fiction, because fiction is just things you know disguised as creativity.
GAYLE: This book isn’t fiction but we get it! Did you know Maurice Ferre, a friend of the Odio family? (I pronounce it “foray” then “fairy” I shouldn’t have, it confused him)
MACHANN: I know about the guy who was a gunrunner from the New Orleans papers and the Garrison investigation. He had the weird hair and eyebrows.
GAYLE: No, not David Ferrie.
MACHANN: Oh, Maurice. That was the name of Silvia’s first husband, I’m not sure
GAYLE: Here’s why I’m asking. Trudi and Colonel Castorr were friends with General Walker. Junior League type people who were wealthy. And Trudi says she helped you out with Cuban Catholic Relief. She said Joanna Rogers, who has since passed away, knew him too. Maurice Ferre, was on a cruise ship with the Rogers and Ferre asked them to look after Silvia Odio. They said they would help her. Ferre was in cement and the Rogers owned Texas Industries so they were too. Maurice Ferre later became the mayor of Miami.
MACHANN: I’ll mention this, while I’m thinking about it and it amazed me that it happened. I used to come on home leave every 2 years from Thailand and other places. I was back at the house on Oak Cliff Blvd. and the phone rang, no one was there but me, I don’t know where everyone else was and it was Silvia Odio. She called me from Miami. She was telling me about her new husband making all these trips to Cuba and had other girlfriends and she was kinda complaining. (laughs) I said to her, well now you’re telling me this, when I knew you told me something different or something else. It was a short conversation. We kind of cooled off then. We never spoke again. It was by total accident.
GAYLE: What year was this?
MACHANN: IT would have had to been in the 80’s. in the 80’s sometime.
GAYLE: I tried to find her, but I can’t seem to.
MACHANN: Me too! When we first got to Bangkok, I sent her a few letters and sent her a description of what Bangkok was like. We exchanged letters.
GAYLE: So you two were good friends?
MACHANN: Yeah, kind of. Mentally, intellectually. You know. But then her email address, “semper policia” something like that disconnected and there was no response.
GAYLE: Did you know her family? Did you know Sarita?
MACHANN: I knew Sarita. I knew Annie. She was a teenager.
GAYLE: I have a big question to ask you and I’m going to try not to put you on the spot. I’m reading Lucille Connell’s testimony about Silvia. That’s why I asked about her earlier. She mentions a time with Silvia at the movies. Silvia, Marcella and Annie went to the movies near your office in Lakewood. Faith Leicht told me this story. She said that while the three were at the movies, Silvia said she would be right back. They figured she was going to the restroom. She didn’t show up after the movie was over. Do you know what I’m talking about yet?
MACHANN: No, No.
GAYLE: Well, Faith said that they later found Silvia wandering around Turtle Creek near General Walker’s home. This was April 10th of 1963. Faith said that Annie called you to see if you knew where Silvia was and then called Lucille Connell. They then called the police. The police picked her up on Turtle Creek and took her to Lucille Connell’s home. Do you know anything about that? April 10th was the date someone took a shot at General Walker while he was in his home office on Turtle Creek.
MACHANN: I don’t think that happened. I think that must be made up. I don’t remember anyone ever calling me about Silvia
GAYLE: Well I brought you a present. (I give him the Silvia book) Look what I brought you!
MACHANN: Really? Are these poems of hers? How about that? How about that? How about that?
GAYLE: I thought you might like that! There’s her picture on the back.
MACHANN: That’s her in mature years. I would never call her a beautiful woman. She was just charming, poetic, intelligent. Such a magnetic personality
GAYLE: I tried to translate this book, but it’s all in Spanish.
(He begins to translate the introduction which talks about Silvia’s ballet, piano and song classes. Born in 1937. He speaks in snippets of English translation. How she graduated from Sacred Heart High School in Philadelphia. Law at the University of Villanova. Following Latin American and European authors. Left Cuba in December, 1960. Wrote many reviews. Participated in the meeting of some kind regarding republic of Cuba stories. Editor of poetry in the Havana Review. Lives in Miami. )
GAYLE: The artwork is hers too. Thank you for translating.
MACHANN: I wouldn’t be surprised. She was artistic, semi intellectual. I don’t know how deep her philosophy was. The Spanish philosopher Ortega de Garcet was her favorite. What does this say? If I was to imagine a game of beauty contests (Laughs, so much poetic language, I can’t translate) Well you know, she kind of, she kind of, what’s the word I’m looking for? She fantasized, no, not fantasized. She was romantic about the fate of Cubans coming to Dallas. Some of her ideas I even put in my sermons. Because of the trauma of the revolution, going from wealth to poverty, you have to remake yourself. Forge a new self.
GAYLE: I thought you might like that. I wonder if she mentioned anything about Dallas in her poetry?
MACHANN: I don’t see anything yet. So far, all I see is very poetic language. She speaks of the prior existence of things. Denouncing…I’m not sure what that is. There’s a lot of, I’m no expert, but it doesn’t seem controversial. I’m sure you could read things into it if you wanted.
GAYLE: I knew she was involved in JURE.
MACHANN: “Jure” An acronym for her organization.
GAYLE: I knew she knew Manola Ray.
MACHANN: Junta Revolucionaria, something
GAYLE: I know the Anti-Castro groups were maneuvering for their places in the new Cuban Govt. But I also know Sarita was in a different group than her sister.
MACHANN: Sarita married Jakob Meier, they had children.
GAYLE: I know Sarita was involved in the DRE.
MACHANN: The Estudiante Directorio Revolucionaria
GAYLE: Yes, that’s right! I know their Uncle was involved in politics in New Orleans.
MACHANN: I wouldn’t be surprised. He was a quiet man. He didn’t seem like an activist. He was a physics professor. He was a mature, serious pleasant man. He was short of stature. They were accustomed to living in a higher part of society.
GAYLE: Yes, and Castro made their country estate into a prison.
MACHANN: That’s what revolutions are about I guess.
GAYLE: Castro was at their house a lot. They had a wedding there for his sister.
MACHANN: Fidel’s sister? Yeah! Revolutions turn people brutal. Look at the French Revolution, the Russian Revolution.
GAYLE: The reason I’m asking about their politics, I always thought that Silvia talking about the men coming to her door. I wondered and always thought she was protecting her family. Maybe it’s the nurturing part of me. I get that impression.
MACHANN: You mean to throw the authorities off track or something like that? GAYLE: I mean her parents are in prison, her sister in a different political group than Silvia was in. Silvia was intelligent. Could that be or no?
MACHANN: I don’t know how you feel about putting your place in another’s shoes. My dad worked as a shipping clerk for over 50 years at an oil company. My mother had only a high school education. My dad finished high school at night school. His father abandoned him. My Dad took care of his mother. My mother kind of mistreated my Dad’s mother because my dad took his mother with him everywhere. I can’t imagine about people like them. I never had money. I wasn’t tied to luxuries in life. Neither were you I guess. We weren’t tied to material luxuries. Violence begets violence. They had to take sides. It depends on where you stand. On where you sit. Where your bread is buttered. That’s the way I look at these revolutions. Social justice is another thing all together. Social Justice, I was trained by an activist archbishop presiding over a mixed population so social justice was an issue there in San Antonio. That has affected me more than the wealthy people I’ve dealt with. I’ve never been impressed by wealth. Except the ones who were successful and gave me a little boost along the way.
GAYLE: So how did the Odio family deal with it?
MACHANN: Chaos, emotional and mental. I know they took a lot with them. They were just surviving. I know they took a lot with them. They had troves of diamonds and things they could hock if they needed it. Their valuables. They couldn’t take much else.
GAYLE: Why do you think the FBI and all those government groups came asking you questions?
MACHANN: One was an FBI agent that found me in New Orleans, the other was a Frontline team that put me on camera and asked me questions. There were only two official interviews. The guy in New Orleans and Frontline. Now I’ve been interviewed by you. The one thing I could ever say that could be of some kind of factual help was identifying the day that Silvia went to the occasion, party, Connell and her rich friends. I can’t remember the names. Rogers maybe.
GAYLE: So the day Oswald went to Silvia’s home, that was the same day of the Galaxy ball?
MACHANN: Yes, that was the date. She went there the day the movie star came to Dallas. I can’t remember if Silvia was in the paper or not.
GAYLE: Did the people who investigated you think you knew things because you heard confessions? As if you could talk about them?
MACHANN: I think they thought that perhaps he was a counselor to these Cubans. Maybe they told him things. Maybe he was idealistic. He may have been sympathetic to them, that I might spill some beans, but I was totally out of the picture. I just rule that out altogether.
GAYLE: Did the Cubans you worked with try to lure you into anything?
MACHANN: Noooo…absolutely not. Politics and religion were separate. Whereas in Texas, politics is religion.
GAYLE: Well I ask because of the Walker meetings with the Anti-Castro Cubans, the JBS meetings. Telling them they would give them money and guns.
MACHANN: Don’t you think that’s very much exactly what you would have expected them to do in this scenario? Sure they’re going to find whatever supporters they could. The Cubans were a natural audience for the political axe they were grinding. Against Communism. Leftist politics. I guess Kennedy was thought of as a leftist politician
GAYLE: Larrie Schmidt, the man responsible for the “Welcome to Dallas Mr. Kennedy” ad said right after that everyone in Dallas was saying it was a right-wing conspiracy. I don’t know, I was just a little girl. Where were you when JFK was shot?
MACHANN: Let’s see. What day of the week was that?
GAYLE: A Friday.
MACHANN: I would have been. This was in the mid-morning right? He was going somewhere, to a luncheon or something.
GAYLE: To the Trade Mart
MACHANN: I would have been at Blessed Sacrament Church doing something, I don’t know what. I don’t remember.
GAYLE: Did you have a radio there? How did you find out he had been shot?
MACHANN: I don’t remember, maybe I had gone home to the house to watch it. I don’t remember that day very well. It’s not burned into my memory. Not really, not really.
GAYLE: I wonder if because you were a Catholic priest, and this was the first Catholic president, if you had to calm everyone down?
MACHANN: I just remember I think it was at a Mass we had for him, I gave a sermon, that was later published in the Catholic Weekly, and it was, kind of my interpretation of some of the things that Silvia had said about this philosopher Ortega y Garcet, talking about consciousness, the change of consciousness, I kinda played a little on that now they needed to think of something positive for the future. But no, I don’t remember consoling anyone. People didn’t come to me that way. Maybe I wasn’t that kind of confessor to them. We were more concerned with their settling. So many families were being settled, like in the Wynnewood Apartments.
GAYLE: Are you glad you did (leave the priesthood)?
MACHANN: Oh sure! There’s a saying, “El camino que no coriste” it means “The road you didn’t take.” People do tend to think what would have happened had I stayed? I mean, I see many of my classmates...what happened to them in their careers. You know. I had a very good friend who was a counselor at the University of Dallas, another was a chancellor to the Arch Diocese, at that time every place I had been assigned, they couldn’t find anything to keep me challenged. I couldn’t find anything to keep me adequately engaged. They kept me busy! (laughs) I would do all the things and turn the money over to them, but basically it was not something I had really chosen. It didn’t seem to be what my potential was. You know? It wasn’t my real vocation, whatever that is, my calling. It was my Mother’s dream.
GAYLE: Was it hard after that?
MACHANN: She sent me to school at age 5, I was 5 in July. She said to the nuns at St. Mary’s, see if he can start school early. And Sister Winifred took me like her little boy and would tell my Mother, “Oh he’s doing fine”. It was during the War, elementary school had one grade cut out, I think it was the 4th grade. There was a shortage of teachers. I graduated High School before my 16th birthday, and the summer before my 16th birthday I was shipped off to the Seminary. I don’t remember counseling, Jesuit (high school) had pretty good counseling, but they all asked me, don’t you want to be a Jesuit? (laughs) Oh you want to be a secular priest. I had been an altar boy and one of my friends was a secular priest. I got interested in philosophy because the Jesuits are famous for that kind of soldierly, famous for their arguments, like Socrates and St. Thomas Aquinas. I was really just being carried along in the wave. They wanted to hold me back one time in the Seminary, there are various steps to be ordained, and the rector called me in, maybe it was my age, maybe not, I said, why are you holding me back. He said, I think you need to still better a develop attitude. I didn’t know what he was talking about. I just waited. It didn’t really hold me back at all. I was ordained before I was 23. The cut off age was 24. I have a little frame of the Pope in Rome that gave me dispensation to be ordained before age 24. I wasn’t really prepared emotionally, but I was very pious, very religious.
GAYLE: Well, that was what I was leading to. Trudi Castorr went on and on about what a wonderful priest you were and how she couldn’t imagine you being involved in anything nefarious. I should have brought you the transcript of the taped interview she had with Harold Weisberg. She thought you were wonderful, giving and kind.
MACHANN: I think that’s part of my genes, or early childhood experiences. My mother nursed me until I was 9 months old. I got enough maternal milk. She didn’t like men. My mother hated men. (Laughs)
GAYLE: How did your Mother deal with your leaving?
MACHANN: She didn’t like it. I didn’t really tell her I was going. I just left. She didn’t even know where I was. I had a cold awakening and I had to come back and start over somewhere though. And, well, then I guess it was as much as my Dad as anything else that let me stay with them for a while. Nothing permanent was settled. I ended up negotiating with the Diocese, very privately, that I could be admitted to Loyola in New Orleans. They didn’t know what to do with me, and they …. It’s not that they didn’t want me, I just found the priesthood unfulfilling. Of course, I was a bit scandalized by some of the things I saw, which of course you would be when you get too close to people who are very sanctimonious, or at least have all the trappings of religion.
GAYLE: We were talking about religion on the way up here, the Baptists and Church of Christ saying you shouldn’t drink you shouldn’t gamble, yet you see those same people at the Casinos or at dinner doing the same thing they scold you not to do!
MACHANN: That’s exactly what I’m talking about. You hit the point! Exactly! I held myself to a certain standard but I didn’t see anyone else doing it. I think shock is what allowed me to make the break. Otherwise, I may have not ever broken away. It was a critical time. My personal crisis just happened to occur simultaneously as the Kennedy Crisis.
GAYLE: I have just always wondered why the FBI always thought you were so important.
MACHANN: That FBI guy’s name was James Hosty. He was a former parishioner at Blessed Sacrament Church where my family had attended church for a long time and he was the one who found me in New Orleans and came to my boarding house where I was renting a room. He called me downstairs and had a talk and I followed his direction, he asked me to make a phone call which I did. But the only thing I could tell him is what I said. He couldn’t get any more information, I wasn’t really involved.
GAYLE: That’s why I’m trying to figure out why they thought you were involved.
MACHANN: If they did send him, or why they did send him, he didn’t ask me a lot of questions, like did they ever confess to you. Even if I had heard confessions, it’s nobody’s business, it’s sealed and locked away.
GAYLE: Well it seems most of the questions were about Silvia.
MACHANN: Maybe they were just trying to find out anything they could find. They like trying to catch someone. Like fishing. They’ll try anything. I didn’t know anything. How soon the investigation got to be a cover up rather than an investigation, I don’t know. It became more a distraction than an in-depth investigation.
GAYLE: It was a distraction, that’s what I’m trying to get to here. Do you think that’s what it was?
MACHANN: I think it was something far out of my realm and my hands. I think it was power at the very highest levels. That’s one thing I learned about Greek History and civilization. Trouble always began when the power and wealth is concentrated in the hands of the few. That’s what’s happened in the US now. Very few have wealth and power, elected or not. So, I’m just afraid this was a power elite type of conspiracy. They have the confidence of power. They can do all kinds of things.
GAYLE: They can play people like chess pieces. I always wondered if that’s what they did with you. Or with Silvia. And I know that’s what they did with Lee Harvey Oswald. I’m not saying he’s the sharpest knife in the drawer. He going to her house, thinking she would say nothing, he was involved someway, but how, I don’t know. Whoever told him to do that, I don’t know. And in fact, Silvia didn’t say anything for a long time.
MACHANN: At that time, he was doing crazy things like that. I heard a radio interview he had once in New Orleans when I was in Thailand on YouTube or something. The guy talked very honestly like he was involved in these causes for a reason. He was convincing. He didn’t sound stupid, he just sounded confused or misguided or mixed up.
GAYLE: But when you look at it, his wife said, he shot at General Walker, then he kills JFK? They were at both ends of the spectrum. It doesn’t make sense.
MACHANN: It doesn’t. It seems like another distraction. I don’t know what proof there is that he ever shot at General Walker and just missed him.
GAYLE: I’ve never seen proof either. And what real proof is there that he shot at the president?
MACHANN: The thing that really blows my mind is they really put the story across that using that weapon, he fired those shots, you have to really twist everything around upside down and inside out to make that stand up. Only power can do that (laughs) Only power.
GAYLE: I wonder who the power was, I guess we won’t find out unless we get to ask God someday.
MACHANN: Yeah, let’s see, some of the secrets of the Roman Emperors we still don’t know.
GAYLE: Oh, oh. Did you ever see this guy ever before? (Shows him a picture of JohnMartino)
MACHANN: No. There’s notoriety seekers.
GAYLE: You never met General Walker did you?
MACHANN: No, I had one interview with H L Hunt and he never gave me money. I wasn’t good at fundraising.
GAYLE: So it was your job to find the Odios homes?
MACHANN: Not Sarita, no. No, she was taken care of by somebody else.
GAYLE: So she was here before you came a part of the Cuban Catholic Relief?
MACHANN: I think she was, maybe she was in school. I don’t know how she got to be here, or how she got out.
GAYLE: So did Silvia live like the rest of the Cubans?
MACHANN: Oh yeah, she had just a, just a bare apartment you know.
GAYLE: Annie came to Dallas in October of 63, and I already asked you about John Martino.
MACHANN: You know, this is almost like a thorough kind of reduxia ad absortum, as if there are other possible explanations, other than a top down kind of conspiracy, deliberate type plan. These things don’t just happen like this.
GAYLE: No they don’t, and I hope you understand, this is why I wanted to ask you, someone who was there, the hard questions. The FBI though, thought you were important enough to talk to, why?
MACHANN: They did it just because it was a way to throw sand up in everybody’s face, make all kinds of, they had to pretend they were doing a completely thorough investigation.
GAYLE: Don’t you think it’s strange that they didn’t talk to the people we’re talking about here, the wealthier people. Like the Castorrs, the Rogers, Lester Logue, the Links…but they talked to you, why?
MACHANN: I think it probably all links back to Silvia, how Oswald came to her house, the day before.
GAYLE: She never gave them a date.
MACHANN: That’s the date I could specify even if she couldn’t.
GAYLE: Because Janet Leigh was in town.
MACHANN: That’s the one, Janet Leigh. That’s the only contribution, if anything, I think it would have probably said, okay, this is a false trail. You know?
GAYLE: What did you think about Hosty?
MACHANN: His name was pretty well known in this parish and we had a parochial school. He was an old Dallas Catholic family. I didn’t know him personally.
GAYLE: He’s the one who came to see you in NO?
MACHANN: I think he was the one.
GAYLE: And who is the other, Kelley? Did you know a Kelley?
MACHANN: No, but I did exactly as they asked. I just did what I knew I could do, that’s all. I didn’t think they needed anything from me. And I was really upset when I got this call from Frontline,.
GAYLE: During the Oliver Stone JFK movie is probably why.
MACHANN: Yes, I knew it was an anniversary or something. I didn’t see that movie for a long time. When I did see it, I thought it was pretty well made, I didn’t like Costner personally, but then when I saw this other documentary film I emailed you about, it finally made up my mind, you know, I could never believe that story. I was convinced there was a conspiracy.
GAYLE: I know there were many on the periphery, like my grandfather, like you, like my friend Buell Frazier, you know that didn’t have anything to do with it but were there.
MACHANN: It’s crazy! It’s really crazy, these wild theories saying I was in a prison somewhere or mental hospital where they shaved my head, torturing me and stuff. (laughs) You’ll have to read it to make sense of it.
GAYLE: It’s hard enough for me to find out what the FBI is doing…. ‘
MACHANN: I don’t even remember how I came across it. Then when I found she had found a picture of mine and put it on the front pages. I thought, “These lawyers had to approve this and go through everything very carefully or they’d be sued for every book every novelist writes”.
GAYLE: That’s why I try to be honest and truthful with all the historical non-fiction I write. Okay, one more question, it’s about Lucille Connell.
MACHANN: I would never have met her or had anything to do with her except she associated with Silvia.
GAYLE: And why did she latch on to Silvia?
MACHANN: That’s another good question, I don’t know why. Birds of a feather or something? I don’t know
GAYLE: Lucille wasn’t even a Catholic
MACHANN: No she wasn’t. She left Texas and remarried in New Jersey or somewhere. Up East or somewhere.
GAYLE: Gaeton Fonzi, a wonderful author and man became friends with Silvia. He interviewed Silvia and she trusted him. He wrote the book The Last Investigation.
MACHANN: I think that’s what I heard much later in the telephone conversation with her. She was very, very crushed and upset. She said people were twisting the truth, they don’t believe me. Of course, she was a very unusual person and personality so she inspired a lot of interest.
GAYLE: And if you look how her family has gone since then. Lots of them politicians in Miami, married into the Prio family and much more.
MACHANN: Look, before Castro, Cuba was the playground for the Mafia. The rich US companies made lots of money there. They were sucking the country dry. Prio was one of their consorts.
GAYLE: Now the next generation works for the Obama Administration and Mental Health.
MACHANN: There’s a whole other perspective we don’t have as the hoi polloi, that situation looked altogether different from the point of view from the people that were aristocrats than from us. They were invested in the system. Castro broke away from the establishment. He was from the educated class. He has a law degree. The Director General of the WHO visited him often. You might say, indirectly, in terms the role of WHO, under this particular Director General, he was trying to bring the kind of health benefits that Castro brought to Cuba. The Director General appreciated many of his ideas. WHO for awhile, were expanding the capitalistic system around the world, colonialism. The regular worker was distracted from the real jobs to help with organizations like WHO rather than help their own country, so again their resources were being used.
GAYLE: The Odio family seems to have always been at the right place at the right time.
MACHANN: Well, you and I, your grandfather and my Dad weren’t from money. Our perspective, is more a common sense point of view---not the point of view of the people who really hold the money, power, political influence, whatever and all in their hands…I’m not a fanatic.
Let’s face it, there is room somewhere in the real world that somethings are not what they seem to be and the story we get told and we are led to believe aren’t always true. The American Dream is not all real.
GAYLE: But you are real. You were there. Your name is in the evidence. And what you have to say has merit.
MACHANN: But you can see how I was pulled into maybe as a distraction or confusion to muddle the picture. Something like that, I really feel like I was a spectator like everyone else. GAYLE: But Silvia was key. She could have derailed the WC
MACHANN: You know there are some people who have the knack to just draw people in. Kind of a personality hypnosis.
GAYLE: But Silvia didn’t tell anyone but Lucille much later. That’s why I believe her.
MACHANN: I didn’t know how the story got out. I really didn’t.
GAYLE: Yes, that’s how it got out. She didn’t go talking about it.
MACHANN: But if they they interviewed her, I guess I shouldn’t be surprised they would interview me. But you see, that’s like all the bloodhounds going down the false scent somewhere you know. And I think that was deliberate on someone’s part, to put up all these distractions. Whereas the real culprits escaped.
GAYLE: Do you believe LHO came to her house?
MACHANN: Anything she told me or mentioned to me about it was the same thing she told the officials.
GAYLE: But did you believe her?
MACHANN: I just remembered when she called and told me that that was the day, either she telephoned me or I her. I connected it to that party I didn’t go to.
GAYLE: The one you told me about that you wanted to go to.
MACHANN: Well (laughs) yeah, anything to take some time off my hands. But no, I never connected her in any way with anything political activity but she may have been. She was that kind of a person. She attracted attention, she had a tremendous charm about her. She was imaginative, creative you know. A lot of the philosophers say the border between genius and insanity is a very thin line.
GAYLE: I just wondered if you believed her especially after she fainted when she saw him on TV.
MACHANN: There was just so much I didn’t know about her that she never told me. Why would she tell me that? I do know she told me the day she said they came was the day they were going to the party. I don’t know any other details or descriptions. Were they getting ready to go out or what? Wasn’t it Annie that answered the door? Sounds to me like she needed a baby sitter. Well, that’s all. I hope that you can tie it up and be satisfied that you’ve done what your conscience compelled you to do and call it a new day and become a writer in your own right, though I know how important this is to your family. This is just a stepping stone to something else. I’m very sure you’re capable of writing fiction.
Gayle later wrote to Machann and this was his reply:
The way or path to come through a better and stronger person while showing compassion for those you have spent so much of your life trying to support is one you must find for yourself. There are different paths. I have found my own, and my son has tried his own, but now we share the same. The work it entails determines the degree it rewards. We have such different backgrounds that I hesitate to say more. I expect you may try and will find the path for yourself. In response to your questions re my past... Fr. Machann is an earlier self-evolved into a changed identity beginning 50 or more years ago. As I recall, he was an innocent bystander with respect to that tragic event of the murder of an American President. My own present memory i.e. of Walter J. Machann Jr can add little to your specific requests for evidence in your work to expose facts and a more truthful history of that crime. I can feel how personal for you this quest has become. I don't believe that a chapter on "Father Machann" would be meaningful, or really pertinent to the core of your work. Whatever you decide I will remain a friend and confidant in need as you wish. Sincerely, Walter J. Machann Jr