Note: This item first appeared on the now-defunct jfkshare email discussion group and is reprinted with the permission of the author.

"Confessions of an Assassin" --- A Review

by Martin Shackelford

"Confession of an Assassin"
James E. Files, Joliet State Penitentiary
March 22, 1994: Notes on the Videotape
(1996, Bob Vernon, UTL Productions/MPI Video)

INTRODUCTION: James Files was interviewed by Joe West, who had been tipped off by an FBI agent. West tracked Files to Joliet State Penitentiary in Illinois, where he was serving a sentence for shooting a policeman. West died, and the investigation was delayed, but finally an interview with Files was arranged on March 22, 1994. After further delays, the interview was offered to MPI Video. James Files worked for Chicago organized crime figure Charles Nicoletti.

THE INTERVIEW: Files states that his name was James Sutton until late 1963, when it was changed to James E. Files with the aid of the government, so that he could marry and live a normal life free of harassment and other risks which might have arisen from his activities with a radical Cuban group.

Files served in the 82nd Airborne in Laos from 1959 for about 14 months. He was involved in training people to do ambushes. After that, he did some race driving, and his abilities attracted the attention of Charles Nicoletti, who recruited him as his personal driver. At that time, Tony Accardo ran the Chicago Mob.

On November 22, 1963, Files went to Dealey Plaza in Dallas about 10 a.m. He checked the area, discussed the assassination plan with Nicoletti. It began with Nicoletti around five months earlier.

Files had a connection with the Bay of Pigs operation. He was at No Name Key (gives two other names for it also). His CIA controller was David Atlee Phillips.

Nicoletti asked Files if he wanted to help him kill "a friend of yours," knowing that Files hated Kennedy. At first, files thought it was a local hit, but Nicoletti told him the target was JFK. John Rosselli, out of Miami, was involved. Files met Rosselli through Phillips. The original plan was to hit JFK in Chicago, but no one was comfortable with doing it there, so the idea was dropped.

About a week before the assassination, Files drove to Mesquite, Texas, with the weapons for the operation, A day or so after he arrived, Lee Harvey Oswald came to him to show him around the area. Oswald also took him to locations where he could test and calibrate the weapons. As far as he knows, Oswald didn't know what the plan was. Files explored Dallas routes, with the idea of getaway options.

On November 22, Files drove to the Cabana Motel, where he met Rosselli around 7 a.m.. They went to a pancake house in Fort Worth, where Rosselli met with Jack Ruby, while Files served as lookout. Ruby handed Rosselli an envelope, and left. They opened the envelope in the car: it contained Secret Service identifications and an updated motorcade route map; Rosselli commented that he saw only one change, the double turn in Dealey Plaza.

They returned to the Cabana. With Nicoletti, Files went to Dealey Plaza around 10 a.m. They looked over the area further. Nicoletti asked if Files would back him up as an extra shooter, if needed, and Files agreed. As his location, he chose the area behind the fence on the grassy knoll. He suggested Nicoletti fire from the Dal-Tex Building (Nicoletti had a rifle).

They separated, Files going to the railroad yard area and making preparations. He had a briefcase with a Remington Fireball inside. As the limousine began coming down Elm Street, Files heard shots from behind it, and assumed that was Nicoletti. He noticed JFK was hit, but only in the body; and that Connally seemed to be hit. If he was going to fire, he had to do it before he risked hitting Jackie, as they had been told not to hit anyone but JFK, and especially not to shoot Jackie. He fired-just after Nicoletti, it turned out, both hitting JFK in the head. Files' bullet hit JFK in the left (actually, right, as he later explained) temple. He put the gun into the briefcase, turned his coat from plaid to gray business suit (reversible), and walked away via the Elm Street extension to Houston Street. He had bit the shell casing, and left it sitting on the fence, as a calling card, but no one realized it had been bitten until 1994, he said.

At Houston, he got into a 1963 Burgundy Chevrolet; Rosselli was in the back seat, and Nicoletti in the front passenger seat. They were in a parking lot, and exited turning right onto Houston, went 5 or 6 blocks, then turned left, and near the freeway dropped the two off at another car. Files returned to his room in Mesquite, cleansed himself with hot was to remove any traces of powder, showered, changed, then took care of the guns. Nicoletti's rifle was in the trunk, the briefcase was under the steering wheel; both were taken care of, then placed in a special gun compartment inside the car.

The next day, he drove to Southern Illinois, and on Sunday, he drove on into Chicago. He had been instructed to drive only during the day and not to attract any attention. Sometime later, Nicoletti gave him $30,000 for the job, although they hadn't ever discussed money.

Files said he first met Lee Harvey Oswald in early 1963, in connection with gun-running, in C.linton, Louisiana, via David Atlee Phillips. Both were doing CIA work at the time. There was obviously some government involvement in the assassination, as otherwise they wouldn't have gotten the Secret Service identifications Ruby gave them. Phillips had given him the Remington Fireball for an earlier job.

Files said he saw Frank Sturgis among the crowd of people on Elm Street. He also saw Eugene Brading, whom he had seen at the Cabana with Nicoletti and Rosselli. Files knew Sturgis from anti-Castro activities, as did Rosselli. Files didn't see Oswald at all that day. He and Oswald never discussed the assassination plan.

He would not comment on the murder of J.D. Tippit, except to say that Oswald didn't kill Tippit, and the man who did was still alive at the time of the interview (a later reference possibly referring to the same man indicated he is now in his '80s), and had originally been assigned to kill Oswald. The man came to see Files in Mesquite after the assassination, saying there was a screwup and he had killed a cop.

Files said he saw Ruby in the Plaza, below the knoll near the sidewalk. He said everyone reacted slowly to the shots. As he walked away from the knoll, he noticed two men in suits behind him, turning people back. He said he didn't see Zapruder, and wasn't sure what he would have done if he thought he had been filmed, but he carried a Colt pistol, and might have shot him. He also didn't realize Mary Moorman's camera had photographed him, and declined the interviewer's request that he autograph a copy of the photo.

The Remington Fireball was designed in 1961, but had a tendency to blow up, so was re-designed. It fired a .221 cal. long round. It was a bolt-action pistol with a telescopic sight, effective at 100 yards; not unlike a cut-down rifle. The shells were custom-made, with a mercury load, and fragmented on impact. They were fired at 3100 feet per second.

Files believed Giancana gave Nicoletti his orders, and that Accardo had to know about it.

In response to a question, Files said he was receiving no money for this interview. He talked about West's first contact, telling West he must have him confused with someone else. Then West calling, and getting into some things Files didn't want discussed in a prison-recorded phone call, so he told West to come and see him if he wanted to talk with him. First they talked only about sports and so on. The second time, Files felt more comfortable with West. As time went on, he began to open up to him more. West had a plan to reopen the case by getting Files to testify in court, first seeking immunity for Files.

Files said he had been threatened by both government and organized crime people for discussing the case, but wouldn't specify individuals, as he refuses to give up the name of a living person for any offense. He said the FBI visited him.

He had knowledge of the death of David Ferrie, but wasn't willing to discuss it, except to say the brain hemmorhage was caused intentionally, and he had identified the area in Ferrie's brain to look at.

He had talked to Joe West because he came to like and respect West. He felt no remorse for his actions in Dallas. He was bitter about the Bay of Pigs. He knew Richard Helms. Antonio Veciana was a good friend, and not involved in the assassination.

Nicoletti flew to Dallas via commercial airline. Rosselli said he had been in D.C. and caught a MATS (Military Air Transport Service) flight to Dallas, thanks to the CIA. Files didn't know any details because he doesn't ask questions; he only knows what he was told.

In the 1970s, with Senate investigations, things began to get uncomfortable. Giancana didn't know Files had fired a shot, only that Nicoletti had. Files thinks Rosselli, who was in Chicago at the time, may have killed Giancana, as he was one of the few who would have had the access, and he left town right afterward. Rosselli was later killed.

Files was involved in guarding Nicoletti, as there had been indications he was a target. In mid-March 1977, Nicoletti gave Files a package, which Files buried. Nicoletti was killed March 29. In April, Files was snatched and brutally interrogated, but didn't give up the package's location. After he was dumped, severely injured, and recovered, he carefully returned to the location where he had buried the package, dug it up, and found inside the Secret Service identifications, the motorcade route map, and Nicoletti's diary. He destroyed all but the diary, which he still has somewhere.

He freely admits having worked for organized crime, though he says he was never a member of the Mob. He felt he had lived a good life, doing as much as "a hundred other guys." He was born January 1942 in Alabama, but his family soon moved to Chicago, where he grew up the only English-speaking kid in an Italian neighborhood, and soon became accepted by the community. He did little jobs for mobsters from the age of 11, as they tipped well. He became known as a kid who wouldn't give up anybody, who could be relied upon.. He had his first car at age 14.

After his service in Laos, the CIA recruited him to train Cubans. He also raced stock cars. He loved Nicoletti, who was quiet and deadly. Rosselli was flashy, talked too much, loud, boisterous. Giancana was a lovable old man, but like a bulldog if you crossed him. Aside from Nicoletti, the other person he has been closest to is still alive, in his 80s. David Atlee Phillips was cool, good-natured, and once told him he could "kill more people with a typewriter than you can" with a machine gun.

Lee Oswald was very intelligent, very quiet, and led a secluded life. Files believes Oswald planted evidence on November 22, but fired no shots. From what he knew of Oswald, he didn't believe Oswald would be a shooter. He never saw Oswald fire a weapon. Although Oswald didn't have a driver's license, he knew how to drive. Files didn't know why he went to Russia, but assumed the government was involved.

Files stated that he didn't want to be a part of history. He hadn't picked the target. He just followed orders. He would rather no one had ever found him, and hoped they would forget about him. He didn't think people watching this interview on TV would believe him.

Nicoletti hit JFK in the back of the head, Files hit JFK in the right temple. Files was "known for head shots." He declined to say how many people he had killed. He said the two great lies were religion and history. He said history was a self-serving account by a country to conceal its selfish motives. Religion killed more people than wars.

"I never disobeyed an order." Besides, he said, nobody he knew really liked Kennedy, including military, Secret Service and FBI people; history later called him great because that's what they say about Presidents.

Files worshipped Nicoletti. Nicoletti was strictly Mob. Rosselli worked with both CIA and Mob. Files was told that Nicoletti was dirty, that he had talked, but he never believed it, especially as Nicoletti had given him his diary to hide. He said the government kills people, without question. He doesn't know who killed Nicoletti: if he had, he would have gone after them. He wasn't afraid of death, only of failure to complete whatever he set out to do.

EPILOGUE: Deaths of Giancana, Rosselli, Nicoletti. The FBI dismisses the credibility of Files' confession.

PROBLEMS with the James Files "Confession":

  1. David Atlee Phillips, CIA propaganda expert, would seem an unlikely case officer for a Mob driver and hit man on No Name Key. This seems to be an attempt to tie Files credibly in with Oswald (the Veciana sighting in Dallas of Oswald and Phillips, as Bishop, together), but is doubtful. Also, although John Rosselli was active in Florida preparations for the Bay of Pigs, it is likely that someone other than Phillips introduced him to Files, if Files was at No Name Key. The only thing that sounds much like the real Phillips is the quote near the end about the power of the typewriter.

  2. Lee Harvey Oswald as tour guide.

  3. The plaid reversible coat and the bitten shell casing seem, on the surface, to provide confirmation, but both were details known prior to Files telling his story to anyone. I had heard about the shell well before Files says the fact that it was bitten was discovered (he says 1994). Some people seem to have confused the bitten casing found in the Plaza with the dented casing found in the Depository --- these are two separate shell casings.

  4. In connection with Oswald, Clinton and gun-running, David Atlee Phillips again seems inserted artificially into the story here. Oswald and Ruby were both connected to New Orleans people involved in gun-running, but inserting Phillips into the Clinton story is, again, highly doubtful. This is not to say Phillips' role was an innocent one, just that Files seems to be inventing things, or perhaps he was fed inventions.

  5. Files overlooks the fact that the Elm Street crowd was well-photographed. Frank Sturgis was not among the crowd; nor at that point was Eugene Brading in that area; nor was Jack Ruby on the sidewalk below the knoll. None of this is difficult to check. All the relevant photos are in Groden and Trask.

  6. The Secret Service man on the knoll now becomes two men in suits turning people away. There were men turning people away in the area BEFORE the assassination, but not after. It sounds as though Files flubbed some of his borrowed details.

  7. He HAD documentary evidence, but he destroyed most of it. How convenient.

My guess is that Files was, indeed, Charles Nicoletti's driver, and was involved in the preparations for the Bay of Pigs, but that he is also a good con artist, skillled at blending fact and fiction, which is what I believe he has done here.

Return to Main Page

* * *