I Was Mandarin…

Did Dallas policeman Roscoe White pull the trigger on President Kennedy, or is he pulling our leg?

I had been in some strange places and listened to some strange stories, but none of them had been as bizarre as this.

“Neither of us slept very well the night before the assassination,” she said, snubbing out one cigarette and lighting another. “He kept tossing and turning, and finally I asked him how he could go through with it. He said, ‘Honey, it’s like war. The president is a national security threat. If I don’t do it, we’ll be in a nuclear war very soon.’ ‘But he’s got two children,’ I told him, ‘just like you.’ But he said, ‘Honey, matters were taken out of our hands a long time ago.’ Then he turned over and pretended to be sleeping, and I started to cry’.”

We were seated in the living room of Geneva White Galle’s modest home in Odessa, and she was telling me how her late husband, Roscoe Anthony White, killed President John F. Kennedy. The story was shot full of contradictions and wildly implausible coincidences—if this had been a book I would have thrown it away after page one—and yet there was something interesting in the way she told the story. Like the heroine of a soap opera, she was able to weave the most intimate details of history into the fabric of everyday life and make it sound, well, not exactly believable, but compelling.

I already knew that at least two parts of the story were true. First, Roscoe White was in the same military division as Lee Harvey Oswald—the 1st Marine Air Wing. So were about seven thousand other Marines. Geneva swears that her husband and Oswald were friends, but except for her word, there is no proof they even knew each other. Second, in the fall of 1963, Roscoe White was a Dallas policeman, and Geneva worked for a few weeks as a hostess in Jack Ruby’s Carousel Club. Geneva’s story is that she overheard her husband and Ruby plotting to kill the president and that when Ruby caught her listening outside his office door, he threatened to torture and kill her two children, Tony and Ricky. Rock White, as Roscoe was called, suggested an alternative: that she agree to undergo a series of shock treatments, calculated to obliterate her memory. Starting in 1964 Geneva submitted to four separate sets of shock therapy. The final treatment was in 1975, four years after Rock White was killed in a mysterious explosion.

“Rock looked like a whipped dog when he went to work that morning,” she continued. “He didn’t touch his breakfast. I was bathing the kids when I heard on the TV that Kennedy had been shot. Then they said that a policeman had been shot, and I thought, ‘Oh God, it’s Rock!’ But then he came home around seven, just like always. I put the kids to bed about nine and made a pot of coffee, and we sat in the kitchen, talking for a long time. He said, ‘Honey, I never dreamed it would come to this.’”

She stopped, as though that were the end of the episode and began shuffling around the room, pointing to paintings, woven baskets, and ceramic figures that she had created. They overwhelmed the tiny room. “I play the piano too,” Geneva told me. “Or used to when I felt better.” The cord of her oxygen breathing tube trailed behind, and from time to time she pressed the nostril piece tight, making little rattling noises as she inhaled. She told me that she was dying, and ticked off a list of diseases faster than I could take notes—diabetes, lupus, emphysema, cancer of the intestine, several others. “I shouldn’t smoke like I do,” she said, reaching for another one. Geneva had shown me photographs of herself when she was in her early twenties, including one in which Jack Ruby is leering as she lifts her mini-skirt. She was a real looker 27 years ago. Apparently her life had been a chapter from hell.

“The assassination,” I reminded Geneva. “You were about to tell me what happened on Saturday.”

“Sunday was Ricky’s third birthday,” she Said, picking up the story line, “so on Saturday I baked a coconut cake and got the party favors ready. That night Ruby came over for supper. We sent the kids outside to play with Ruby’s dog—what was her name?—Sheba or something like that. Rock cooked steaks on the grill, and I made baked potatoes and a salad and strawberry shortcake—that was Rock’s favorite. After dinner I was washing the dishes, and I heard them talking in the living room. Ruby was bragging about killing Kennedy, flying high like he was drunk, only he wasn’t drinking. He talked about killing Oswald the next day and said it wasn’t going to be any problem because he’d get a signal when they were ready to move him. He said something about the magic bullet, how one of them had left the magic bullet at Parkland—”

“He used that term—’magic bullet’?” I interrupted. The phrase wasn’t even coined until after the Warren Commission report declared that the bullet found on a stretcher at Parkland Hospital was the same bullet that passed through the bodies of both Kennedy and John Connally—a truly remarkable conclusion because the bullet would have had to travel through seven layers of skin, shatter one of John Connally’s ribs, shatter a bone in Connally’s wrist, and emerge in nearly pristine condition. Magic was the only word to describe such a bullet. “Are you sure they said magic bullet?” I asked Geneva again.

“I’m positive.”

“Mama, that can’t be right,” her son Ricky interrupted. In the four and a half years since he had read his father’s amazing confession in an old journal he had found in a footlocker, Ricky White had become familiar with the details of the assassination.

“I get confused,” Geneva admitted. “It’s been a long time.”

Roscoe White’s journal is no longer available for our inspection—Ricky says the FBI took it—but

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