Did a well-known society lawyer keep the secrets of the assassination of President John F. Kennedy?
Title aside, only the final chapters of the book examine the toxic biography of Joseph P. Kennedy. Instead, Shaw takes an unusual route into the thicket of JFK conspiracy literature, focusing on the perturbing question of why the flamboyant civil attorney Melvin Belli, an associate of mobsters, would have been recruited to provide Jack Ruby’s defense following his televised shooting of Lee Harvey Oswald. Belli pursued a strange “psychomotor epilepsy insanity defense,” here termed “absurd,” which failed at trial; Ruby died in 1967 awaiting a new trial after his subsequent death sentence was overturned on appeal. Later, Belli avoided the topic, telling conflicting stories about how he came to represent Ruby. Gangster Santo Trafficante supposedly warned notorious mob attorney Frank Ragano—whose memoir, closely examined by Shaw, implicates Jimmy Hoffa and others in the conspiracy—to never ask Belli about Ruby. Thus, Shaw argues that “probing Belli’s behavior before, during and after the Ruby case is essential to any search for the truth” about the killings. Certainly, Belli seems capable of obfuscation; the author portrays him as “a braggart of the first degree [and] a Mafia groupie.” Shaw finds it suspect that Belli’s trial gambit was to make Ruby look “crazy when no one else in the real world thought he was” and ultimately argues that Belli was a plant meant to subtly control Ruby. The problem, as with most JFK assassination conspiracy theories, is the difficulty of directly connecting Belli’s curious behavior to the purported Mafia assassination conspiracy.
A clearly written but fevered polemic on the corruption of power, built around an intriguing theory, but it lacks a smoking gun.