Monday, September 12, 2016



DAN ISHTABI (NOT HIS REAL NAME),  was hunting in a patch of woods in Mississippi, when two official-looking men approached him. The year was 1963, and it was now late Spring, the beginning of May.  To Ishtabi, he’d been found by “The Feds.”   

A lanky man, dressed all wrong for the woods, approached the weathered, native Indian.  Another stood by, not speaking. The taller of the two asked, “You Dan Ishtabi?” 

“Reckon so,” said Ishtabi.  “What you want?”

“Hear you’re pretty good with that rifle,” said the stranger.  “Got a big reputation.”

“Maybe.  When it’s important.”   He touched the rabbit slung over his shoulder. “Sometimes it is, sometimes it ain’t.  Why?”

“We may have a job for you.  In about six months.  A big job.  You interested?”

The Indian eyed him, then cast a suspicious eye on the partner. “What kinda job?”

“We can’t tell you right now.  But the money’s good.  Lotsa money.  Can you use some big money?  Three or four thousand?” 

Ishtabi, with his laconic Indian ways, let them wait, wondered what they were thinking.  Finally.  “What I gotta do?”

“Can’t tell you now.  But if you’re interested, we’ll be in touch.  In a couple of months.  And oh . . . don’t mention this to anybody. Wouldn’t go well for you.  If you’re interested, just nod.  We’ll find you later.”

Curious, Ishtabi nodded, knowing he hadn’t committed to anything.  He soon forgot about the encounter . . .  that is, until the two men found him again in late October. A different woods, but it seemed they knew where he hunted.         

THIS TIME THE TWO Feds weren’t exactly polite.  They brought with them a thousand dollars in large bills,  which they handed over before they got on with their task.  Baffled, Ishtabi fingered the money and waited.  The two neatly-dressed men eyed him strangely. “You still good with that rifle?  Been hunting a lot?” 


“We’ll be back, second week in November. You’ll have to come with us.” 

“And do what?”

“You’ll find out soon enough.  Just one job. Then you’re finished.”  The tall man grinned.  “A lot of money for one job.  You’ll be happy you got it.”  More mysterious then ever, the two men disappeared. 

Ishtabi didn’t know what to think.  But to him, unschooled in the sophisticated ways of strangers, the promise of big money smelled fishy.  Meanwhile, his house needed a new ice box.  And he could use more hooch.  He spent the money and tried to ignore his misgivings. 

As promised, in mid-November, the two reappeared, this time outside his crude shanty. “You spent the money we gave you before?”  they asked, and without waiting for a reply, the two ordered him to get ready and go with them. 

Reluctantly, Ishtabi stared them down. “For how long?”

“Couple of weeks.  You’ll be back soon. Now get your gear.” 

Ishtabi didn’t have much to take. Within an hour, the three headed away from Mississippi in a modern, fast-moving  Jeep.  They spent one night in a motel, and soon arrived in Dallas, Texas, where Ishtabi was installed in a cheap motel.  But he wasn’t the only one.  There were several others, and they spent enough days together so he remembered them well. Especially Lee Harvey Oswald and Jack Ruby. 

THE STORY CAME TO me by a circuitous route.  One day two young men, investigators I’d never met, contacted me by phone, asking if I could help them re-write and polish a manuscript. They promised to pay me—the amount now forgotten, but enough so I said yes.    

The pages were fascinating, and their retrieval of the story even more so.  It seems an  old Choctaw Indian who was dying in prison, with nothing to gain by telling it, wanted his story to live beyond his death.   Still laconic, he told the entire tale to his prison roommate, who contacted one of the investigators, telling the man that he had a story they might care a lot about. 

The Indian had meanwhile died, but his roommate had listened carefully, memorizing everything he heard. The two investigators found the tale so gripping that they took careful notes, checked back for accuracy, and decided that here was a tale history would one day care about. 

After much work and double-checking, they brought their rough-draft manuscript to me, and I did a lengthy polish.  After the two disappeared, they called me back once to report that the investigative assassination committee, still in Dallas at the time, found their tale the most believable of all the conspiracy stories they’d encountered since President Kennedy’s death.  Furthermore, the manuscript contained details from the Indian’s account about The Texas Schoolbook Depository that nobody would know unless he’d been there that day.

As well as I now remember, here is the remainder of the story: 

AFTER SEVERAL DAYS SHARING a motel with Jack Ruby and Lee Harvey Oswald, among others, the two known sharpshooters--Ishtabi and Oswald--were taken to The Schoolbook Depository and given their assignments. As he passed nearby in a motorcade, Kennedy would be sitting in an open car. The two men were directed to aim carefully and kill the president.    

Ishtabi, for one, had not guessed what was coming. When he at last learned his assignment, he was horrified and vowed to himself that he wouldn’t do it.  And, in fact, when the president’s car appeared, Ishtabi aimed high and made sure his bullet—or bullets—did no harm.

Oswald, on the other hand, did what he’d been told to do. As we all know, he killed President Kennedy, but days later, at the hands of Jack Ruby, he paid with his life. According to Ishtabi, the assassination, including the subsequent roles of Oswald and Ruby, were all planned months in advance.

The manuscript included details that the two investigators “knew” but I didn’t. (And I’ve been unable to find verification on the Internet).  Supposedly during Lyndon Johnson’s reign as Texas governor, one of his daughters was courted by a man she loved, but of whom her father disapproved. When the daughter seemed disinclined to give up her beloved, some higher-up found a way to have the man killed . . . for which the father escaped blame.

Is this a true story, or an Urban Myth?  In any event, it’s well-documented that Johnson scorned the youthful Kennedy—until he was unexpectedly chosen as vice president.

As well as I remember from years ago, this initial story is accurate in overall scope, though I’m certain many of the smaller details I’ve provided are not. From the day I first read the tale, I’ve been intrigued by subsequent investigations into Kennedy’s death—which now find the original investigation misleading in some respects. 

A recent, thorough assassination story in Nova reminded me that I’ve long been harboring aspects of that awful day that might not be known to a larger audience.  For me, those two investigators and their manuscript from long ago made sense. Whether history will ever validate this incredible tale remains to be seen. 

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