Monday, 10 May 2021 00:14

The Woman who Predicted JFK’s Assassination

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Jim DiEugenio reviews Michael Marcades’ second edition of his book about his mother Rose Cherami, who predicted Kennedy’s assassination before it happened.

As Joan Didion once said, the things that Jim Garrison dug up were, at times, miraculous. As the famous authoress noted to James Atlas, “The stones that were turned over. Fantastic characters kept emerging—this whole revealed world…” As Malcolm Blunt later added, considering what Washington threw at him, someone must have known that the DA was getting too close for comfort. (Click here for my review of Blunt’s interview book)

To take some kind of measure of those two judgments, consider the following facts.

The Warren Report, and its accompanying 26 volumes of testimony and exhibits, clocks in at over 17,000 pages. Yet in that endless forest of material, the assassination of President Kennedy is an event that appears like a bolt of lightning across a clear summer sky: completely unexpected and, therefore, shocking. There was no premonition or warning about it. Kennedy’s murder happened out of nowhere.

That imputation was false. As the New Orleans DA found out, it was not even close to the truth. The fact that the Commission portrayed it that way says more about its investigatory failings than about the circumstances surrounding Kennedy’s assassination. As revealed in Secret Service agent Abraham Bolden’s book, the New Orleans DA learned about the prior (unsuccessful) plot to kill Kennedy in Chicago. Which occurred just three weeks before the successful one in Dallas. (Click here for details)

Garrison also sent an investigator to interview Richard Case Nagell in prison. Nagell had been hired by the KGB to track down and prevent the assassination of JFK. The Russians had information that such a conspiracy was brewing. They did not want it to succeed, since they thought Kennedy’s murder would be blamed on them. Handed the assignment, Nagell was tracking the plot to kill Kennedy in advance of the assassination. He had determined such a plot was real and was going to happen. (James DiEugenio, Destiny Betrayed, second edition, pp. 93–98)

Then there was the 1963 version of Shakespeare’s soothsayer in his play Julius Caesar, warning of impending doom.

Garrison had been alerted to the case of a woman who—on the eve of the assassination—had been discarded by her cohorts on a drug run from Miami to Dallas. While hitchhiking on US Route 190 outside of Eunice Louisiana, she was struck by a car driven by one Frank Odom.

Odom took her to Moosa Memorial Hospital in Eunice. The hospital administrator, Louise Guillory, recognized she was in some kind of drug withdrawal. Since he was experienced in these kinds of cases, she called State Trooper Francis Fruge. Because of the manifest withdrawal symptoms, Fruge called for a doctor to give her a sedative and then for an ambulance to transport her to Jackson State Hospital.

It was on this drive, under routine questioning, that something stunning occurred. She gave her name as Rose Cherami, which was not her real name—it was one of the aliases she worked under in the drug and call girl trade. When asked what she was doing, she related the story of a heroin shipment she was working on. She also said she had been abandoned by the two Cubans whom she was working with on that assignment. But further, and most importantly, those two men had talked about how they were going to kill Kennedy when they got to Dallas. Even though Fruge told the House Select Committee on Assassinations that, under the influence of the sedative, Rose looked and sounded lucid to him, he did not take that statement seriously. (4/18/78 HSCA deposition of Fruge; parts of this are excerpted in Michael Marcades’ book Rose Cherami: Gathering Fallen Petals)

When he dropped her off at the hospital, she said the same thing to the two doctors who first checked her in and then talked to her. These were Dr. Victor Weiss and intern Wayne Owen. (Marcades, p. 327; DiEugenio interview with Edwin McGehee, July of 2019 in Jackson, Louisiana) Even more startling is that Cherami mentioned the name of Jack Ruby before the assassination. She told Weiss that she had worked for Ruby. (Ibid, Marcades; DiEugenio, p. 78)

Fruge was shocked when, as Rose predicted, Kennedy was assassinated in Dallas. He called up the hospital and told them not to release her to anyone until he picked her up. As a State Trooper, he understood just how important a witness she was. It turned out that Cherami predicted what was going to happen a fourth time. This was in the TV room after a news announcement that Kennedy was arriving in Dallas. (Memo from Frank Meloche to Lou Ivon, 5/22/67)

On November 26th, Fruge flew Cherami into Houston. On the flight, she picked up a newspaper. She glanced at a story which denied any connection between Oswald and Ruby. She giggled when she read it. She said that was utter baloney; they knew each other for a long time. (Marcades, p. 256)

Quite naturally, Fruge thought that Cherami was an important witness. But to show just how shabby the inquiry into Kennedy’s assassination was, the Dallas Police—in the person of Captain Will Fritz—did not, even though, in cooperation with Customs agents, Fruge discovered that what she had said about the heroin deal she was involved in checked out. (Marcades, p. 256) When Fruge tried to get her to call the FBI instead, she declined. Thus ended, to say the least, a potentially explosive lead in the JFK case.

But what no one knew, including Fruge, was that this may have marked the end of Rose Cherami.

Her real name was Melba Christine Youngblood. She was born in Texas and raised on a farm outside of the small village of Fairfield, about 90 miles from Dallas. (Marcades, p. 20) She had a brother who died quite young and two surviving sisters, Mozelle and Grace. At the age of 12, she was diagnosed with encephalitis. (Marcades, p. 23) Her son, Michael, believes this was responsible for many of her problems later in life. Encephalitis can cause personality changes, seizures, overall weakness, and other personality defects. She was in the hospital for one month at this time.

The Youngbloods then moved to Aldine, near Houston, so her father Tom could work two jobs. (Marcades, p. 37) Melba ran away from home twice; the second time it was permanent. At age 18, she ended up with a waitress job in San Antonio. As Michael entitles one of his chapters, this started her down the road to Hades. In 1941, she began working for a man who dealt in alcohol, drugs, and liquor, since there were soldiers nearby on post in Texas and Louisiana. (Marcades, p. 69) Trying to escape an impending downward spiral, she stole her boss’s car. She was captured, arrested, and jailed. Since her boss had an official residence in Shreveport, she was extradited to Louisiana.

Convicted for auto theft and drug dealing, she was sent to the infamous prison at Angola. She found a way off the onerous work detail by volunteering for the “party list.” That is she became one of the women who would entertain the guests who attended the catered gatherings at the main administration building. (Marcades, pp. 100–05) She was released in November of 1942.

Upon her release, she went back to Aldine to become a switchboard operator. She married a man named Robert Rodman. For two years she managed to lead a straight life with no drugs or alcohol. But she left her husband and ended up in New Orleans working at a club called The Blue Angel. There she met the man who would become her second husband, Edward Joseph Marcades. (Marcades, p. 126) They were married in Metaire in 1952 and he was the father of her son, Michael, who was born the following year. But again, this marriage did not last very long, as Melba left Eddie. (Marcades, p. 167) Michael ended up being raised by his grandparents. The divorce officially took place in 1955, but they had been separated long before.

At this phase in her life, the author brings up a rather interesting aspect. Off and on, until her death in 1965, Melba became a secret law enforcement informant. At first, this was for the Houston police, specifically for Detective Martin Billnitzer. (Marcades, pp. 172–76; email communication with the author 5/4/21) After Billnitzer’s death, which was termed a suicide—a judgment Marcades seriously questions—a journal of his was discovered and her name was listed as a part of his informant organization. Later on in the mid-sixties, before her death, she was an FBI informant in Montgomery, Alabama. (Marcades, pp. 384–85) Oddly, the HSCA knew about this and did not place it in their report about her. But the author does place this in his substantial document annex. (Marcades, pp. 384–85)

When Jim Garrison reopened the Kennedy case, he managed to get Fruge assigned to his office so he could pursue what had happened to the woman he met as Rose Cherami. He found out she had passed on in September of 1965. As Joan Mellen notes in her book, A Farewell to Justice, Garrison had some suspicions about her death, to the point that he wanted her body exhumed, but the Texas authorities resisted. (Mellen, p. 208)

It turned out that Garrison was most likely correct on this and the HSCA did not pursue this angle properly. The HSCA concluded there was no evidence of foul play in her death. Rose died as a result of being hit by a car while hitchhiking. (Vol. X, pp. 199) Marcades makes a good case that this was the wrong conclusion.

It is unlikely that the driver who delivered Rose to Gladewater Hospital was the man responsible for her death. It is more likely that the woman was seriously injured prior to Jerry Don Moore encountering her. It was Moore who delivered her to a doctor in Hawkins and then the doctor called for an ambulance to take her to Gladewater Hospital. At both places, the physicians noted what is called a punctate stellate wound to the right temple. (Marcades, p. 376 using hospital records; see also Chris Mills’ online essay “Rambling Rose”) Although her death certificate says she was DOA at the hospital, this was not the case. She survived for about eight hours after her arrival. As Marcades notes, it is hard to comprehend why she would be hitchhiking in the middle of the night on a Farm to Market back road—specifically number 155—with her suitcases sprawled out in three directions and with some of their contents on the ground. The author makes a credible case that Cherami/Youngblood was killed by the punctate stellate wound. Whoever killed her then placed her body near the edge of the pavement and arrayed the suitcases so a driver would have to swerve and then run over, or just miss, her body, thus thinking that he had caused her death. (Marcades, pp. 293–94)

When Garrison got hold of the Cherami case, he had Fruge track down the saloon where she was last seen with her two Cuban companions prior to being discarded by them near Eunice. Fruge walked into the Silver Slipper and talked to Mac Manual, the bartender who was on duty the November night that Rose was there. Fruge brought with him several photographs for Manual to look at and, perhaps, identify. Manual remembered the incident, because the men she was with had been there before. He identified photos of Sergio Arcacha Smith and Emilio Santana. (DiEugenio, p. 182) In other words, the Cherami lead traced back to New Orleans and two men Garrison had already been investigating. According to Garrison’s chief investigator Lou Ivon, Santana disappeared from New Orleans into the Miami underground. Garrison tried to extradite Arcacha Smith back to New Orleans from Dallas, where he had been living since about 1963. But Governor John Connally was reluctant to cooperate. (ibid)

What makes the above information even more relevant is the following. As noted, Fruge was interviewed by the HSCA in 1978. Toward the end of his deposition, he said something rather startling. He asked attorney Jonathan Blackmer if they had found the diagrams of the sewer system under Dealey Plaza that Arcacha Smith had in his Dallas apartment. He was not sure, but he thought it was Captain Will Fritz who had told him about this. (The Assassinations, edited by James DiEugenio and Lisa Pease, p. 237) It is hard to comprehend, but this bombshell revelation is not in the HSCA report on Cherami.

Garrison had corresponding evidence that made the Arcacha Smith information even more compelling. As mentioned previously, Richard Case Nagell was actually investigating an assassination plot before it occurred. One of the locales he was inquiring into was New Orleans. During his first interview with a representative from Garrison’s office, he told William Martin about a tape he had safely hidden and locked. Nagell told Martin that this tape would be the icing on the cake of Garrison’s investigation. Nagell said he had infiltrated the plot in New Orleans and had a recording of four men talking about it. The conversation was mostly in Spanish, but parts of it were in English. When Martin asked Nagell who the people were, he said one of them was Arcacha and the other he would only identify as “Q.” Sergio Arcacha Smith has to be one of the men, and the other is, in all likelihood, his sidekick Carlo Quiroga. (ibid, pp. 236–37) Nagell had placed his valuable belongings in foot lockers in Tucson. After his death, his son found them. The one with the JFK evidence in it was stolen. (Dick Russell, The Man Who Knew Too Much, pp. 451–52). Martin, an attorney who had volunteered for Garrison’s inquiry, quickly resigned and returned to private practice. His office was in Clay Shaw’s International Trade Mart. (DiEugenio, p. 184)

Michael Marcades spent years researching his mother’s life. He then constructed a narrative out of the facts he unearthed. Occasionally, he will use a fictional device, like a false name, to help move the narrative along, but the research he did to find out who his mother was and what she was doing is salutary. The information just from 1963 to 1965 is extraordinary. The document annex, the list of sources, and the photos the author recovered are, to my knowledge, unprecedented in the literature. Michael’s mother was one of the most important witnesses in the Kennedy case. Her son makes the case that this might be the reason she was killed.

Last modified on Monday, 10 May 2021 00:59
James DiEugenio

One of the most respected researchers and writers on the political assassinations of the 1960s, Jim DiEugenio is the author of two books, Destiny Betrayed (1992/2012) and The JFK Assassination: The Evidence Today (2018), co-author of The Assassinations, and co-edited Probe Magazine (1993-2000).   See "About Us" for a fuller bio.

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