Milwaukee has many connections to attempted political assassinations. Teddy Roosevelt famously carried on with his scheduled speech at the Milwaukee Theatre after being shot in the chest. Milwaukee-born Arthur Bremer, who attended MATC, travelled from Milwaukee to Maryland and shot Alabama Governor George Wallace. The latter incident famously inspired the film Taxi Driver, which then inspired John Hinckley Jr. to shoot Ronald Reagan. Speaking of film, In The Line Of Fire features John Malkovich as a would-be presidential assassin wearing a cool Milwaukee hat.
Beyond these well-trod connections, a new revelation may be emerging about a Milwaukee link to one of the most famous political assassinations: Some message board conspiracy theorists believe that there could be a connection between the Kennedy assassination and a famous Milwaukee resident, Fred Basset Blair.
Fred Blair was the longtime head of the Communist Party of Wisconsin and, along with wife Mary Keith, perennial gubernatorial candidates. The Blairs ran multiple bookstores in Milwaukee over 13 years. One of these, Mary’s Bookstore, was named by the FBI as one of eight “major communist bookstores operating in the United States at this time.”
How exactly was Blair connected to the JFK assassination? Believe it or not, it’s sort of convoluted. So let’s begin with some background information on some particular conspiracy theories.
Harvey and Lee, the “Two Oswalds” theory
The “Two Oswalds” theory, promoted by John Armstrong’s Harvey And Lee, begins three years before Kennedy’s assassination with a 1960 memo from FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover. Hoover warned an imposter may be using the birth certificate of a famous defector named Lee Harvey Oswald. Oswald, a former Marine, had learned Russian and clandestinely traveled to the Soviet Union in October 1959, declaring that he wanted to renounce his U.S. citizenship. Oswald was put to work as a lathe operator by a suspicious Soviet government, and eventually returned to the United States in June 1962.
The theory claims that this “defection” was part of an intricate CIA plot to plant a secret agent in the Soviet Union. For unexplained reasons, the CIA decided that it needed an Eastern European person to pose as an American defector, so it spent a decade merging the identities of two 13-year-old boys who would eventually become Lee Harvey Oswald. For those interested, the theory gets into lots of “proofs” on this merged childhood—including a fake mother—but the gist of it is that they combined the identities of U.S.-born “Lee Oswald” and Hungarian-born “Harvey Oswald.”
The “Two Oswalds” theory states that Oswald’s “defection” was done by the Hungarian-born Harvey Oswald, who was short with a slight build; while U.S.-born Lee Oswald, tall and husky, may have been working with the CIA to train anti-Castro guerilla fighters in Florida. The decision to kill JFK came after the embarrassment of the failed Bay of Pigs invasion, and Kennedy’s refusal for further overt invasions of Cuba. The idea was to blame the assassination on Cuba and to use it as an excuse for drastic military measures. Harvey Oswald, who had already defected to the Soviet Union, and was then possibly connected to Castro, was being set up as the patsy.
The Tippit call
Moving on to the next piece of this conspiracy puzzle: Dallas Police Officer J.D. Tippit. The Warren Commission states that Tippit slowed his car to approach Lee Harvey Oswald minutes after the assassination. Oswald shot and killed Tippit before hiding in the Texas Theater, where he was eventually arrested. Of course, there are many conspiracy theories about Tippit’s death. Tippit enters the “Two Oswalds” theory because witness Acquilla Clemons reported that she saw two men near Tippit’s car before the shooting. She said one man who was “kind of heavy” had a gun and urged the other man to “go on.”
FBI reports show a brief investigation of a mysterious phone call received by Mrs. Jack Tippit (the wife of a distant relative of J.D. Tippit) on November 30, 1963, eight days after the assassination. Mrs. Tippit reported that the call was from a woman “with a foreign accent” who stated that she could not give her name as she was afraid of being killed:
“The woman said she knew OSWALD’S father and uncle who were Hungarians and Communists. The woman continued that OSWALD’s father and uncle had lived at 77th and 2nd Avenue in Yorkville, New York City…She stated that she had two names to give to Mrs. TIPPIT and said something about WEINSTOCK, the editor of “Woman’s World” but did not give further details. She mentioned the name EMILE KARDOS and said something about a brother-in-law. When Mrs. TIPPIT tried to find out whose brother-in-law the woman kept repeating the words brother-in-law without any further detail.”
From John Gardos to Harvey Oswald
The Oswald in question would obviously be Harvey—Lee’s father died before he was born—but who were these mysterious Hungarian communists? There is consensus that “Weinstock,” the editor of “Woman’s World,” is Louis Weinstock, the editor of The Worker. Weinstock was a Hungarian-born Communist organizer who had corresponded with Oswald in 1962.
“Emile Kardos” is said to be Emile Gardos, another Hungarian-born Communist leader who ran for Congress in 1932, claiming Milwaukee as his residence. Gardos received national news coverage in 1934 when he was denied U.S. citizenship and eventually deported due to his Communist activities. He then settled in Budapest with his U.S.-citizen wife, Grace Blair Gardos. At some point, in Budapest, Emile and Grace had a son named John Gardos. John, then, in the early ’50s, was taken by the CIA to become “Harvey Oswald,” Lee Oswald’s double and patsy.
Now, remember the “uncle” and “brother-in-law” mentioned by the mysterious woman in the Tippit call? Turns out, Grace Blair Gardos had a brother named Fred Basset Blair!
To sum up: Message board conspiracy theorists think that Milwaukee poet-bookseller-Communist-leader-and-aspiring-governor Fred Blair is the uncle of the Hungarian-born child whose identity was merged with Lee Harvey Oswald to become a secret agent posing as a U.S. citizen defector in the Soviet Union, who then went on to assassinate the President in an attempt to create cause for an overt military invasion of Cuba.
Of course, this all raises some questions: Why would Emile and Grace, described as true Communists, be part of this CIA/FBI conspiracy? Why would a Hungarian-born child be better at learning Russian than a U.S.-born child? Why would Lee Oswald set up Harvey Oswald to be killed by Jack Ruby but leave all the Communist conspirators to live out their lives—could it possibly be due to some secret nod that Milwaukee is one of the most underrated cities in the Midwest? Well, the conspiracy theorists don’t seem to care too much about that and would rather argue about whose Ancestry census records are more accurate. It all kind of fizzles out.
Blair is mostly used as another Scary Communist Figure to help create a larger international conspiracy, but is given no real role beyond that. Interestingly, none of the conspiracy-theorists seem to have bothered to note that Fred and Mary Blair disappeared and “went underground” from 1951-1956 during the height of the Red Scare paranoia, which seems ripe for further comment. This could be seen as a slight to Milwaukee, maybe calling into question the city’s ability to play a more-specified role in global intrigue, but at least they’ve gotten a lot of the Fred and Mary Blair archives uploaded (even if they’re labeled under “Harvey and Lee”).
Is there any truth in the theory of Fred Blair’s role in the Kennedy assassination? The fact that he and Mary lived on for decades as public figures in the history of United States Communism, even successfully suing the FBI for $48,000 in 1977, seems to disprove any involvement. A Brookfield teenager did pull a gun on Blair in 1966, saying he wanted to “kill a communist,” but Blair was able to disarm him with a toy baseball bat.
Odds are that the kid was not a trained assassin sent to tie up the loose ends.
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