Was There a Plot to Kill JFK in Chicago?
President Kennedy had been due to appear at Soldier Field, the American football stadium just south of Grant Park in Chicago, on Saturday 2 November 1963. Three days before Kennedy’s arrival, the FBI in Washington, DC, contacted the Secret Service office in Chicago and informed them of a plot to assassinate JFK on his journey to the stadium.
The Nature of the Chicago Plot
According to the FBI, a group of four right–wing extremists, armed with rifles, would probably attempt the assassination while the president’s car was on the Northwest Expressway between O’Hare Airport and downtown Chicago.
Secret Service investigators followed two leads:
- On Thursday 31 October, a landlady telephoned the Chicago police, telling them that she had discovered four rifles in one of her rooms which was rented to a group of four men. The police informed the Secret Service, who took two of the four men into custody the next day. There are no records of any weapons having been discovered. The two men were interrogated, but refused to admit to being part of a conspiracy to murder the president.
- An unknown source accused a man named Thomas Arthur Vallee of threatening to assassinate JFK. Although Vallee was not associated with the two men in custody, he appeared to be a right–wing extremist and he certainly owned several guns and a large quantity of ammunition. At about 9 o’clock on Saturday morning, two hours before Kennedy was due to land at O’Hare, Vallee was stopped by the police on the pretext of having committed a minor driving offence, and was arrested.
Kennedy’s trip to Chicago was called off at the last moment, ostensibly because of the need for the president to monitor the progress of the military coup d’état in South Vietnam, which had taken place the previous day. The two men in custody were released without charge, and have never been identified.
The Chicago Plot and the Dallas Plot
Threats of violence against political figures happen all the time. The significance of the Chicago plot, if there was one, rested on its apparent similarities to the events in Dallas three weeks later. In particular, there were several similarities between the career of Lee Harvey Oswald and Thomas Arthur Vallee’s account of his own career:
- Both were former Marines.
- Both had served at Marine bases in Japan that hosted the U–2 spy plane: Oswald at Atsugi, Vallee at Camp Otsu.
- Both had been involved with anti–Castro Cubans: Oswald in New Orleans, Vallee at a training camp at Levittown on Long Island, New York.
- Both had recently started working at premises that overlooked the routes of presidential parades: Oswald at the Texas School Book Depository on Elm Street in Dallas, Vallee at IPP Litho–Plate at 625 West Jackson Boulevard in Chicago.
There were two other curious coincidences:
- The tip–off to the FBI about the assassination plot in Chicago came from an informant identified only as ‘Lee’. In the first few weeks after the assassination, there were rumours that Lee Oswald had been a paid informant of the FBI.
- Thomas Vallee was arrested at 9:10am Chicago time, having been under constant surveillance since the previous day. Five minutes later, at 10:15 Washington time, President Kennedy’s press spokesman, Pierre Salinger, announced that the visit to Chicago had been cancelled. The decision to cancel the trip had presumably been made several minutes earlier. The timing has led some commentators to conclude that Vallee was allowed to remain on the streets until he was no longer required to perform his unwitting role as designated patsy.
Edwin Black and Abraham Bolden
Edwin Black: ‘The Plot to Kill JFK in Chicago’
The main source of information about the Chicago plot is an article by the investigative journalist, Edwin Black, ‘The Plot to Kill JFK in Chicago’, Chicago Independent, November 1975, which is available in various formats at:
Black’s main source was a former Secret Service agent, Abraham Bolden, who was also interviewed by James Douglass for his book, JFK and the Unspeakable: Why He Died and Why It Matters, Orbis Books, 2008; see pp.200–207, 213–217.
Abraham Bolden and the Secret Service
Abraham Bolden claimed that the Secret Service had not informed the Warren Commision of the events in Chicago. When he attempted to contact J. Lee Rankin, the General Counsel of the Warren Commission, Bolden was arrested and charged with accepting a bribe. He was convicted after a retrial, and was sentenced to six years in prison.
Bolden claimed that he had been framed. He had been convicted on the word of two known counterfeiters, one of whom later admitted in court that he had committed perjury when testifying against Bolden.
Abraham Bolden published an autobiography, The Echo From Dealey Plaza: The True Story of the First African American on the White House Secret Service Detail and his Quest for Justice after the Assassination of JFK, Crown Publishing/Random House, 2008. For more about the book and the Thomas Vallee affair, see:
- John Delane Williams, ‘Review of The Echo From Dealey Plaza,’ Dealey Plaza Echo, vol.12 no.2, July 2008, pp.51–54.
- Frederick Lowe, ‘New Book Explores Racism and the US Secret Service,’ North Star News, 25 May 2014.
The House Select Committee on Assassinations investigated Bolden’s account of events in Chicago. It pointed out that “no agent who had been assigned to Chicago confirmed any aspect of Bolden’s version”, which it found to be of “questionable authenticity” (HSCA Report, pp.231f).