But then came the killing shot that was to nail me to the cross.
Edward Grady Partin.
And Life magazine once again was Robert Kenedy’s tool. He figured that, at long last, he was going to dust my ass and he wanted to set the public up to see what a great man he was in getting Hoffa.
Life quoted Walter Sheridan, head of the Get-Hoffa Squad, that Partin was virtually the all-American boy even though he had been in jail “because of a minor domestic problem.”Jimmy Hoffa in Hoffa: The Real Story
I began a three month sabatical in April of 2019 and had just arrived in Cuba on an entrepreneurship visa when I suspected that Wendy was dying. I can’t describe exactly how I suspected, it was more of a feeling than what she said in her voice mail. I listened to her message several times in the small Plaza San Francisco de Asis, one of only two places for a gringo to get wifi service in Havana, even in 2019. I was curious where my feeling was coming from, the intuitive, gut feeling that often can’t be described intellectually. The best I can imagine is that I noticed a small pauses where it seemed as if she was choosing her words carefully, which was rare, or that she wanted to tell me more.
“Hey Jason, it’s Wendy,” she began, followed by a pause. “I know you’re going to Cuba, but I was hoping to speak with you about my will.” Another pause. “It’s not a big deal,” she said quickly, and then and continued at a similar pace: “I’d just like to add Cindi as executor because you travel so much.” There was a pause, as if she realized she rushed through that last sentence and was collecting her thoughts before she spoke again. Or, she had been drinking, and was slightly drunk and called me as she sometimes does when alcohol brings up old memories and lowers her inhibitions.
Wendy was my mother, Wendy Anne Rothdram Partin, but she had taught me to call her Wendy when I was a small child in the foster system. She became pregnant with me at age 16, the night she lost her virginity to Edward Grady Partin Junior, and she dropped out of school to marry him at a courthouse in Mississippi, where parental consent wasn’t necessary to marry. She had me in 1972, and soon had a nervous breakdown and impulsively fled Louisiana for California, abandoning me at a day care center near her former high school. My dad was in and out of jail and often gone for weeks at a time and the daycare center had no where to put me, so a judge placed me in foster care with, inexplicably, the first person who said they knew me, Mr. Ed White, the custodian at Wendy and my dad’s former high school and the south’s most respected tree arborist. Wendy calmed down and returned on her own and divorced my dad, but by then I was under legal guardianship of the Whites, and for seven years Wendy fought my dad and the Partin family and then the Whites to regain custody of me. She visited me about once a month and took me on trips around Baton Rouge, but she was ashamed of having abandoned me and embarrassed to be a single, uneducated, teenage mother, and she felt if I called her by her first name people would assume I was her little brother. Old habits are hard to break, and forty years later I still called my mother Wendy.
She had never quite recovered from the ordeal and was still prone to bouts of depression that I called small nervous breakdowns. I don’t think she was bipolar; she was always a bit depressed and major events or prolonged periods of stress triggered her to drink more than usual and led to a downward spiral that lasted months or longer. When she was feeling better and we finally spoke, we could joke about her drinking in a way that had just enough truth, that all of her family had died young because of alcohol and tobacco abuse. She’d laugh, which was always good to hear, even though her humor was somewhat dark and centered around ironies and coincidences and puns. One of her most common jokes was that she had been born WAR, but marying Ed Partin WARPed her, and that’s why she still gets depressed and drinks.
“And I thought…,” Her voice mail said, followed by a pause long enough for me to take two breaths. “It’s not important. Call me back when you can.” There was another pause and a slight, barely noticeable sigh. It would have been missed by most people who hadn’t known Wendy as long as I had.
“Tell Cristi I said hello, and I hope y’all are enjoying San Diego,” she said quickly, habitually, as if trying to leave her voice mail on an upbeat tone.
She spoke with her subtle Canadian accent, almost unoticable, especially because it blended in with the French culture of southern Louisianal. But, if you paid attention, you’d notice she pronounced “y’all” like someone who learned it and used it to fit in, without the drawl and ease of use that people who were born in the south do, like I used to before moving to California and adapting to the relatively neutral accent there. Her mother, my Granny, had fled an abusive husband in Toronto and moved in with her sister and brother in law in Baton Rouge when Wendy was a child. I came from a long line of single mothers with Canadian accents, and, as Wendy joked, our family tree was more like a straight stick, eh! Sometimes I struggled to understand what she was saying, not the words, but the intention behind them. She often circumvented her point and reverted back to habitual, phatic comments rather than discuss what was really on her mind.
“If I miss you,” she finished, “Have fun in Cuba and we’ll talk when you get back.” She hung up without saying words of love, not even out of habit, but I was used to that, especially if she called after a few glasses of wine, and that had begun earlier and earlier each day the past few years and we had spoken less and less frequently, partially because St. Francisville’s time zone was two hours ahead of San Diego’s, and Wendy was already in bed by the end of my days. It hadn’t helped that for almost thirty years I had spent a couple of months overseas without cell coverage.
I was unsure what to do. I listened to the voice mail again using ear buds that blocked the sounds of downtown Havana traffic and music eminating from bars and restaurants in the plaza. I wanted to lean into her voice mail, to try to hear sublties that would tell me more than her words. The ear buds were expensive and had sound canceling software to reduce background noise and amplify all frequencies of sound. Wendy’s voice came to my ears in simultaneous stereo; but, perhaps because I could see her in my mind’s eye, I rotated my head this way and that, as if I were listening to Wendy in person. I have a 15% hearing loss in each ear but at different frequencies, and in person I rotate my to point one ear or the other towards whomever’s speaking, and Wendy’s voice was in the mid to high ranges that are difficult for me to understand, but I had been speaking with her for so long that my head automatically roated back and forth for different words. If someone were watching, they may have assumed I was bobbing my head to music playing in my ear buds. I noticed I was doing it and stopped, knowing that if I were doing that I wasn’t really listening, and I replayed the message again. I hear volumes very well and above average, and with the ear buds I didn’t have to rotate my head and I could focus on listening to nuances. I didn’t learn anything that would help me understand where my feeling of worry originated, other than the pauses. I took out my ear buds and sighed in the same way Wendy did, barely noticeable and belying my smile for those who knew me. I was her son, after all, and some mannerisms stick with you no matter where you move.
I stood up and stretched and hoped I wasn’t so focused on myself that I stood out and attracted attention. No one seemed to notice me, despite my being the only gringo checking WiFi in public space, or perhaps becasue I looked like I was simply listening to music and must be enjoying it because I was bobbing my head to the presumed beat and smiling softly. I sighed. The connection was painfully slow and my hour on that card was almost over. I had to decide what to do.
I tried calling back, but as usual her cell phone wasn’t getting reception in her remote location in Saint Francisville, an hour north of Baton Rouge, and she didn’t answer her land line. I sent a text message and an email letting her know I had already arrived in Cuba. In the voice mail, I chuckled so that she’d hear humor in my voice and said that that the cell reception in Havana was worse than Saint Francisville, and that I’d only be able to check messages when I came back to Havana every week or two but to text me if it were important and I’d stay in Havana longer. Coincidentally, I added with a tone she’d recognize as our shared humor centered around coincidences and ironies, I was calling from a small square named after Saint Francis, the patron saint of kindness to animals, like her town of St. Francisville, where she volunteered at the humane society. I hoped that would make her smile, and I ended the message with a perfunctory “I love you, and I’ll check messages when I can and call you when I’m back in San Diego.”
I sighed again and stared at my phone, pondering what mor to do. I sent a message to Cristi, the only person I knew who knew my and Wendy’s history and her nuances, and I told her I had arrived safely and that the WiFi was less than I had expected and I would be mostly offline until I returned to San Diego in a month, and that I had a cryptic message from Wendy and was concerned. Cristi would know what to do, and could sometimes see through Wendy’s words more than most people who didn’t know Wendy’s history of having nervous breakdowns in times of stress. I dind’t tell her about the coincidence of Saint Francisville, because it was just a simple coincidence that Cristi may have called syncronicity, and I didn’t want to steer her thoughts or detract from focusing on Wendy.
I sent a message telling two young American reporters that I had arrived and the address of the casa particular where I would be staying, but I doubted they’d have a reason to contact me before we met in farming valley of Vinales, which was surrounded by tall limestone cliffs and was becoming a respectable international climbing destination. Like Mr. White, whom I called PawPaw, I had several side gigs centered around things I love. PawPaw had been a tree surgeon, an arborist who scaled the trees and treated terminte infestations or repaired big limbs broken by hurricanes. He had taken me to work as a kid, both for his side gig as a tree surgeon and as custodian and gardener for Glen Oaks High School, and I learned to climb from him. Louisiana’s flat – the highest point is 405 feet along a slope so gradual most people miss it – but as soon as I moved to California I began climbing the cliffs of Yosemite and the monoliths of Joshua Tree and the snow capped alpine peaks of the Sierras, and about once a year a big trip overseas. The year before had been the Himalayas, a few years before that the Andes, and in 2019 it would be the limestone cliffs surrounding Cuba’s premier tobacoo farming region near Vinales.
The fundamentals of vertical climbing and rope work aren’t drastically different from climbing the stately oak trees surrounding Glen Oaks High, and sometimes on sabatical I led small teams across mountains or coordianted climbing trips to new areas without established guides, like Vinales. The journalists were traveling on a two week journalism visa and writing for a travel magazine about up and coming adventure and eco sports in Cuba, like rock climbing, diving, and sea kayaking near the Bay of Pigs; but, I knew that they also hoped to dig deeper and write articles with subtleties that would educate people about the differences between Castro’s cuba – he was rumored to still be alive – and America’s efforts to create sustainable recreation. But, like me, they were there mostly for fun and a love of outdoor recreation, and simply because they could at a time when most American’s couldn’t. Selfishly, though I was much more experienced with group climbing and better at Spanish, they were stronger climbers than I was and therefore I’d get to follow them up some cliffs that my aging body wouldn’t lead any more. In other words, I’d get to live vicariously through their youth for a few weeks in exchange for fascilitating the trip and setting up workshops for rope handling and safety techiques that were not much different than PawPaw had taught me decades before or than what I had done in the military, when I trained small teams in air assault and water rescue.
My Wifi ended and I was tired and worried and sore from the flight, so I picked up my carry on backpack and limped across the Plaza San Francisco de Asis to a small bar and grill with double doors open so that live music flowed out of the bar and across the plaza. If anything would help me calm my mind, it would be live music in Havana and a Hemmingway dacquri.
The six man band was standing between the bar and the open doors and were loud but good. They were young, dark skinned Cubans with talent and a stand up bass, congo drum set, guitar, and three brass horns. There wasn’t a slide trombone, but sometimes that can be a good thing, especially in a small bar. Their instruments were old and scuffed and tarnished, maybe left over from New Orleans jazz bands in the1950’s, maybe they were from American mafia parties held in Havana during the late 1950’s. Like a lot of things in Cuba, not much had changed since the failed Bay of Pigs invasion and the 1958 embargo and the failed Bay of Pigs invasion, from cars to music instruments to rumors about Fidel’s health, and people still came to Havana to have a good time and experience nostalgia in a walking city that was not unlike the New Orleans I grew up knowing, where the sounds of a bar brought you inside, not the number of reviews on an app, and where people inside listened to the music more than looked at their phone apps. This band knew how to play a small venue, and they directed their horns towards to open plaza to bring people inside and kept their sides and backs to the inside patrons so that they could still hear each other talk, if they spoke loudly.
There were only a handful of people scattered about the bar, and only about half were focused on the band. Happy hour was just beginning, and many Cubans were still working. All around the Plaza small bands were starting to play to entice people to enter. I wanted to relax and it should have been the perfect time to start happy hour, but I sighed again and caught myself and tried to stop thinking about Wendy and Kennedy and the mafia. Drastic measures would be necessary. When the bartender walked over and leaned forward, I shouted over the band that I’d like a Hemingway daquiri and whatever local seafood tapas they had on special. He brought out the daquairi quickly, but the food took a bit longer. It was squid a la parilla, cooked too long on the grill but served with a decent mango salsa. The Hemingway daquiri was strong and good and I had another. I began to relax.
The daquiris loosed my mind and then my body, and I stretched while obstensibly moving to the music. It wasn’t hard; Cuban Funk seems to be made to move to, and even the private driver I had hired to take me from the airport to downtown had tapped his fingers on the steering wheel of his classic 1955 convertible as we cruised into town with the top down and the Buena Vista Social Club blaring on his upgraded speakers. Of course I had heard of the Buena Vista Social Club – who hasn’t? – but there was more music worth discovering and I was looking forward to hearing something few people had yet. I had seen Cuba’s Cima Funk play with New Orleans’s Dumpstafunk at Tipatinas, a bar and small music venue owned by the renowned Galactic, when he traveled up there for a festival hosted by Trombone Shorty. The dacquiris were cheap compared to New Orleans and the band was just as good or better. I smiled: I could get used to an entrepreneurship lifestyle.
I glanced around without being obvious about it. I was the only gringo in the bar and didn’t want to attract attention by standing still or stretching, but my body was screaming in pain form the long flight and even with the two dacquiris loosening me I needed to move my old and scarred muscles. Over the years, I’ve learned which poses stretch the complex muscle connections between my scalp, back, and hips. It’s not typical to see. Fortunately, I’m such a poor dancer that the odd moves I used to stretch my neck and lower back weren’t noticeable compared to the odd moves I used to dance, similar to how Wendy’s sigh wouldn’t have been noticeable with her typical choppy message, and similar to how someone watching me listen to her may have assumed I was moving my head to music. While I stretched and bobbed to the music, I turned my thoughts to what I wanted to do in Cuba.
I was in Cuba to mostly have fun. But, like the journalists, I also had ulterior motives that I didn’t talk about openly. When I learned about Obama’s new visa as a loophole around the embargo, I instantly thought of Guantamano and I wanted to visit Guantamano Bay, to see it and ponder what would have made Obama break his campaign promise of closing it. I wanted to understand Guantamano, if possible, by reading all the things I could read from anywhere in the world, but while there and perhaps bumping into a few American guards or Cuban residents and listening with the most open mind I could muster; but, obiously I had biases, or I wouldn’t have been concerned about Guantamano to begin with. My visa application encouraged me to talk about entrepreneurship and tourism exchanges, but discouraged discussing politics, and Guantamano definitely fell into a category where I’d watch my words carefully. I had no plans other than to keep a relatively open mind and an an ear tuned to nuanances in what people said or omitted.
I was also planning to research my grandfather’s trips to Cuba in the 50’s, and his probably role in President Kennedy’s assassination, and that part of my trip was a relatively idea that I hadn’t put much thought into yet. To distract myself, I began thinking about my grandfather for the first time in years. The idea to look into his alleged deals with Castro started after I had heard of Martin Scorcese’s upcoming epic film, The Irishman, a quarter of a billion dollar production about Jimmy Hoffa, the Teamsters, and the mafia. Frank “The Irishman” Sheenan professed to killing Hoffa, and my grandfather was mentioned throughout his book, just like every other book about Hoffa. Scorcese included him in The Irishman as the Baton Rouge Teamster leader who was released from jail in 1962 by Bobby Kennedy in exchange for infiltrating Hoffa’s inner circle, and whose testimony a year later sent Hoffa to prison. Craig Vincent, the actor portraying my grandfather, had reached out to my family to discuss the role and any manerisms he could adapt for the film. It was a small role, maybe 20 minutes or so that would be edited down to about 5, but Craig wanted to do a good job because had worked with Scorcese and the big name actors before – Al Pacino, Robert DeNero, Joe Pesci, etc. – and they gave him the opportunity and, unfortunately, Craig had developed Hairy Cell Leukimia, which is as horrible as it sounds, and portraying my grandfather could be his final role. He wanted to do his best, and called and tried to understand my grandfather’s motivations for betraying Hoffa and how he could have kept calm as an informer, surrounded by mafia and Teamster hitmen. He wanted to ask us, to not just rely on old news footage or Brian Dennehy’s portrayal in 1983’s Blood Feud, when Brian’s role was central to the film and Robert Blake portrayed the furious but relatively diminutive Jimmy Hoffa. Craig was a big man and had portrayed other big, brutal men in gangser movies, like in Scorcese’s Casino, so he was physically a good choice for my grandfather, whom everyone in Baton Rouge had called Big Daddy, and men like Frank Sheenan said was a big, brutal guy.
We were easy to find: Uncle Keith, Big Daddy’s son, was still president of Teamster’s Local #5 in Baton Rouge; my dad, Ed Partin Jr., was a public defense attorney in Slaughter; and Aunt Janice was online as a Partin family biographer. The Irishman was slated for release later in 2019 and had been in the works for almost ten years, which means we wouldn’t influence the film, especially because Scorcese said he was taking a memoir and making an entertaining film, not a documentary. Craig was researching the role on his own. He, like most people who read the history of Hoffa and Big Daddy, become interested in how Hoffa was fooled and wonder what kind of man Big Daddy was, and that had gotten me thinking: after 60 years of books and films and yet another quarter of a billion in planning, and no one had solved Hoffa’s disappearance or Kennedy’s assassination, and, to me, that seemed like a fun challenge to tackle while on vacation.
I stopped stretching when the band stopped playing and took a break. I leaned against the bar nonchalantly and ordered ceviche and asked for a side of the mango salsa and opened file on my phone labeled JiPBook and opened an old letter about my grandfather from Mamma Jean, my dad’s mother, Norma Jean Partin, like the Norma Jean who probably dated president Kennedy and is better known by her stage name, Marylin Monroe. Like Marylin, Mamma Jean was gorgeous. Like Hoffa, she had been fooled by Big Daddy, but rarely discussed it. She was a devout Christian who attended church every Sunday and never lied, which is probably why she never talked about the past, but when Bobby Kennedy pulled Big Daddy from jail, she had recently fled him and was hiding her five children in hunting and fishing camps around the south. Like Wendy and Granny, Mamma Jean had fled an abusive relationship to raise her children, my aunts, uncle, and dad.
504 9th N.E.
Springhill, LA 71075
Aug. 17, 1996
My dear children, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren,
I don’t know how to begin this. I should have written this when you were small, while it was fresh on my mind, also while your daddy was living. After someone dies, you seem to forget all the bad things and remember only the good in them. That is the way it is with my memories of Ed.
He was so charming when I met him. As Jimmy Hoffa wrote in his book, “Ed Partin could charm a snake off a rock.” It was Aug. 1949 and I was living with my sister, Mildred and her husband, Percy Cobb in Natchez, Mississippi. International Paper Company was building a mill and Percy was superintendent of construction. Ed was steward over the Teamsters, Union (I.B.T.C. and W.). He came to the house one afternoon to talk to Percy concerning the Teamsters, and that is how I met him. I was 18 years old and he was 26. I thought he was the most handsome man I had ever seen. He had blond hair, blue eyes and teeth like pearls. Keith, he looked just like you, except he was 6’2”. He didn’t smoke or drink, not even beer, and I believed every word he said. He loved to come over to Mildred’s when I babysat James Paul. I thought he would make a good father. After six weeks we were married in Fayette, Mississippi, Sept. 27, 1949.
Cynthia, I guess it was good thing I waited three years for you. Ed had not told me about his debts. He owed for three cars and we didn’t even have one. He had sold them before we married, spent the money but had not paid for the cars. He also had to spend three months in jail in Woodville, Mississippi, from October 10, 1949 until January 1, 1950. He wouldn’t tell me why; just that he was innocent. I wrote the judge a letter and he let him out. It was not until March 1964 that I found out why he was in jail.
He made about $75.00 every two weeks, which was pretty good in 1950. We moved to Pascagoula, Mississippi in the spring of 1950. The Electricians went on a strike the first week we were there. Ed drew his unemployment, $20.00 a week. We paid $8.00 per week for our rented room and shared a kitchen. It was nice, we had no responsibilities so we would go to the beach everyday and cook hotdogs or hamburgers. We started going to church and were baptized June 17, 1950. The strike lasted three months. By that time, International Paper Company, had started an addition to the mill in Natchez and we moved back there, to the Pharsalia Apartments, which were brand new and real nice, two bedrooms, kitchen, living room and bath, no air conditioning in those days. That is when we bought furniture, the old mahogany bedroom suite, sofa, chairs and tables for the living room and a red Formica top, chrome kitchen table and chairs. By this time Ed had let me start handling the money and I had him out of debt by the time you cam, Cynthia. You were the answer to my prayers. Ed was real disappointed that you were a girl. Your grandmas Foster always said she was so glad you were a girl because “Son,” (that’s what all his family called him) didn’t get his way for the first time in his life. You were so pretty and you soon won his heart because you cried after him every time he went to work.
Janice came a year later. I didn’t mind because Maurice was pregnant with Susan and we had the best time together. You and Susan were a week apart. I was going to help Maurice when she came from the hospital and then she was going to help me with Janice. I was not due until the first of August, but you came early so we had to call Mildred to come to our rescue. She was always so good to come stay with me when the first three of you were born. She stayed two weeks the next year when I had Edward. Ed was real good to go to church, he even went to Men’s training class when we lived in Natchez.
The construction ended with I.P. Company so we moved to Baton Rouge, Louisiana, September 1, 1953. He got a job with a construction company driving a truck, and then in March 1954, he was elected business agent and Secretary and Treasurer for the Teamsters of Local #5. He made $75.00 a week.
Baton Rouge was booming. Houses to rent were scarce. We rented a small two bedroom, kitchen, bath and living room on Ellerslie Drive, behind Memorial Stadium. By this time I was pregnant with Edward.
We were doing better financially. We bought a brand new 1954 Ford. Edward was born July 1, 1954, finally a boy. You were so precious. You had the most beautiful brown eyes and dark brown hair.
Ed began to find excuses not to go to church with us. He had union meetings on Sunday morning, so sometimes he would have them at the house and he would keep Edward while we went.
He organized Louisiana Creamery, Holsum and Sunbean Bakeries, and the Refineries that were being built between Baton Rouge and New Orleans. I really think he was honest during this time.
We bought a lot on Prescott Road and in 1956 we built a house. I drew the plans and selected everything in it. Ed was very cooperative. It was just what I wanted, 2,586 square feet and a double carport. We moved in December 15, 1956. By this time we had two cars. The Teamsters had bought our 1954 Ford for Ed and we bought me a 1955 red and white Oldsmobile. I suppose that was the happiest time of my life. I really wanted another baby, now that I had this big, pretty house with two bathrooms. I was thrilled when I had you, Teresa. Especially to have one with blue eyes.
Ed bought a truck stop and restaurant on Airline Highway, in April 1959, called the J and L Truck Stop. He also bought and old house with fifty acres out in the country close to Greensburg, Louisiana. He made a garden and mad repairs on the old house. He wanted us to move in it an sell the one on Prescott. I wouldn’t agree to it. I’m sure glad I didn’t. This is when our problems started. He was gone most of the time. Always Union Business or at the Truck Stop Restaurant. Mildred Kelly was a waitress there. I began to have suspicions of her and Ed having an affair. It would make him mad and deny it when I confronted him about it.
I am so thankful you all don’t remember how abusive he was to me. Cynthia, you probably remember some. I might could have tolerated his “other women,” if he had been good to me, but the only good thing about him was his generosity with is money. He thought money could buy anything. He never cared how much money I spent and he never objected of us going to church. He wouldn’t go with us but he was good to help me get you all dress. I am thankful for that. He was continuously buying me things what I called “a peace offering.” He bought me a 1959 Impala Chevrolet and the transmission went out on it with only 80 miles on it. He wanted to have it fixed but I told him I didn’t want it, that I would keep my Oldsmobile. I later found out he had given it to Mildred Kelly. He also started my silver with a place setting and all the serving pieces. He could never save money. He thought it was made to spend. He lavished you all with toys. Edward you had a gun and that lovely knife by the time you were five years old. I guess it’s a good thing I was conservative and learned how to handle money, because by the time we separated I knew how far a dollar would go.
He seemed to blame me for everything, even the fusses you all would have. He insisted I get a maid so I hired Olivia, remember her? She worked for me until we separated.
It was in January 1960 that I knew he was having the affair with Mildred Kelly. He had to go to Washington, DC on union business. He had driven and called me on his way back to tell me he was snow bound right outside of Atlanta, Georgia and would be home when he could. I knew she was with him but when he came home he denied it. I guess he thought if I had another baby that I wouldn’t leave him, so Keith, you were on the way soon after this.
By the summer of 1960, I knew Ed was doing things that were dishonest. He had to go to Atlanta and while he was gone, C.J. Brown, a Baton Rouge realtor, called and told me that the grass needed cutting at the house we had rented on Sevenoaks Drive. I quickly asked what was the house number and he told me. This was a shock to me, so that night I went over there. Ed came to the door but he turned out all the lights and wouldn’t let me in. The next day he told me that he was hiding dynamite for Jimmy Hoffa in that house. He also told me he was on some kind of drugs. I had called your Aunt Mil to come help me decide what to do. She came and I went home with her to Pine Bluff. Ed called everyday, begging me to come home. I was gone about two weeks, but we did go back. When I got home, I realized there was something wrong with him. He tried to keep it from me, but he finally showed me where he had been stabbed, the lowest part of his stomach, a horizontal cut about six inches long. It was always a mystery as to who did it. It needed stitches but he wouldn’t go to the doctor. He had been stabbed on his shoulder about four or five months before this. He wouldn’t tell me who did it either, but wouldn’t go to the doctor. When he left in January, the cut on his stomach had still not healed. In later years, Mrs. Rankin, one of my lawyers, said he probably was bringing in some kind of drugs in the wound. It sounded horrible to me, but I never knew.
Keith, I didn’t think you would ever get here. All the rest of you had been three or four weeks early, so by November 1, I was ready, but you didn’t get here until November the 17th. I worried about you while I was in the hospital, not knowing if Ed would be home, but I had Olivia and she took real good care of you.
Keith was nine days old when Ed told me he had to go to Havana, Cuba to see Fidel Castro. I didn’t believe him, but he gave me a number at the Havana Cabana Hotel for me to call. I called and talked to him, so he was there. This was another mystery. I never knew why he went. When President Kennedy was assassinated, and Lee Harvey Oswald arrested, I really thought Ed was going to be involved, but I don’t suppose there was any connection. When he got back from Cuba, there was some argument we had every day. Marge and Orlan were so good to me, helping me decide what to do. He advised me for one and a half years to stay with him. He would talk with Ed and Ed making promises not to see Mildred Kelly anymore, but finally said that she was blackmailing him. I tried to believe him, but there was always something disturbing and a mystery.
One nite I was giving Keith a bottle. Ed was asleep. I looked down, there under the bed were his shoes with a lot of money in them. I counted it quickly, I would guess about $20,000. I put it in the drawer and the next a.m. he asked where it was. I asked him where he got it. He said it wasn’t his, that he was to pass it on to someone that was to meet him at the Palms Motel. I never knew.
He had made several trips to Chicago, he said, and then
<That’s where Mamma Jean ended her letter. She never finished her story. She passed away from breast cancer a few years later. – Love, Janice>
I was her second oldest grandchild, second to Tiffany by ten months, and we were many years older than our cousins because Aunt Janice became pregnant at 18 and my dad had me at 17, when their siblings were still kids. Mamma Jean had began telling Tiffany and me about her history with Big Daddy in 1996, six years after he died and four years after the first part of the 1979 congressional JFK Assassination Report was released publicly. We were the only grandkids who remembered Big Daddy before he had gone to prison in 1980, and after his 1990 funeral we began asking questions about why things in the media were different than we recalled. As a part of her deal with Bobby, Mamma Jean had remained silent all those years, but she began opening up to us just before Tiffany’s suicide and Mamma Jean’s death from breast cancer; perhaps Tiffany was on my mind, which may be why I was reading so much into Wendy’s voice mail.
Like I listened to Wendy’s voice mail a few times, listening for nuances, I reread Mamma Jean’s letter, looking for details I may have overlooked or not understood when I was younger and less familiar with history.I hadn’t thought about Mamma Jean’s letter in years and I was unsure what I was seeking in Havana. The Warren Report had long since been corrected, and early CIA reorts of Lee Harvey Oswald meeting with Fidel were false; he had handed out pro-Castro fliers in New Orleans, but had never made it beyond Cuba’s embassy in Mexico City, and even if the correction of the early CIA reports was, in turn, false, many people before me had scoured Havana looking for clues and hadn’t uncovered anything more than the thousands of books about Kennedy available on Amazon had reported. I dind’t assume I’d uncover anything about Oswald. Perhaps I was looking for 60 year old Cubans with sky blue eyes and charming smiles who didn’t know who their father was and I’d see hints of my grandfather in them and go from there. Maybe I was seeking someone who would remember him – Big Daddy was remarkable – or had worked with some of his associates or boxing buddies back then and would have heard his name. As I mentioned, I trust in-person experiences much more than anythign I could read in almost any media, and after hearing about The Irishman I wanted to use at least a small part of my time in Cuba to be open minded to learning more about my Partin history.
The ceviche and salsa arrived and I sighed behind my smile and put away my phone and thought about Wendy while I ate. Focusing on the moment is not as easy as saying it. My thoughts swirled and I resisted the temptation to order another dacquiri and was distracted as I stretched to the band, wondering about Wendy and relating her situation today with my Partin history.
I grew up knowing our history, so it was never a big deal for me and it was so long ago that few people remember Big Daddy in the media or in 1983 films. His role was combined with Teamster president Fitzgerald in Oliver Stone’s 1992 film, Hoffa, and over time films simplified all of the characters until they’re replicas of replicas and no longer what we knew to be true. If you’re still surprised you haven’t heard more about Big Daddy, there’s a supreme court record that explains why his records have mostly vanished in 1966’s Hoffa vs. The United States, Chief Justice Earl Warren was the only judge to vote against using Big Daddy’s testimony to send Hoffa to prison. He explained his logic, and was discrete enough to not suggest that Bobby Kennedy or J. Edgar Hoover had influenced the other judges, or that national media had anything to do with it, like Hoffa strongly suggested almost every day as he fought Big Daddy’s testimony for two years.
Here’s a part of Warren had to say:
Here, Edward Partin, a jailbird languishing in a Louisiana jail under indictments for such state and federal crimes as embezzlement, kidnapping, and manslaughter (and soon to be charged with perjury and assault), contacted federal authorities and told them he was willing to become, and would be useful as, an informer against Hoffa, who was then about to be tried in the Test Fleet case. A motive for his doing this is immediately apparent — namely, his strong desire to work his way out of jail and out of his various legal entanglements with the State and Federal Governments. And it is interesting to note that, if this was his motive, he has been uniquely successful in satisfying it. In the four years since he first volunteered to be an informer against Hoffa he has not been prosecuted on any of the serious federal charges for which he was at that time jailed, and the state charges have apparently vanished into thin air.
This type of informer and the uses to which he was put in this case evidence a serious potential for undermining the integrity of the truthfinding process in the federal courts. Given the incentives and background of Partin, no conviction should be allowed to stand when based heavily on his testimony. And that is exactly the quicksand upon which these convictions rest, because, without Partin, who was the principal government witness, there would probably have been no convictions here.
Here, the Government reaches into the jailhouse to employ a man who was himself facing indictments far more serious (and later including one for perjury) than the one confronting the man against whom he offered to inform. It employed him not for the purpose of testifying to something that had already happened, but rather for the purpose of infiltration to see if crimes would in the future be committed. The Government, in its zeal, even assisted him in gaining a position from which he could be a witness to the confidential relationship of attorney and client engaged in the preparation of a criminal defense. And, for the dubious evidence thus obtained, the Government paid an enormous price.
Warren would even mention Mamma Jean, without mentioning her name.
Upon his arrival in Nashville, Partin manifested his “friendship” and made himself useful to Hoffa, thereby worming his way into Hoffa’s hotel suite and becoming part and parcel of Hoffa’s entourage. As the “faithful” servant and factotum of the defense camp which he became, he was in a position to overhear conversations not directed to him, many of which were between attorneys and either their client or prospective defense witnesses. Pursuant to the general instructions he received from federal authorities to report “any attempts at witness intimidation or tampering with the jury,” “anything illegal,” or even “anything of interest,” Partin became the equivalent of a bugging device which moved with Hoffa wherever he went. Everything Partin saw or heard was reported to federal authorities, and much of it was ultimately the subject matter of his testimony in this case. For his services, he was well paid by the Government, both through devious and secret support payments to his wife and, it may be inferred, by executed promises not to pursue the indictments under which he was charged at the time he became an informer.
I had Warren’s missive and a few other court records in my phone files, but Mamma Jean’s letter was the only reference I had linking Big Daddy to Fidel; all others had vanished over the years, beginning with Bobby Kennedy around the time of the Bay of Pigs invasion. Now that you know that, maybe it makes more sense why Guantamano was also on my mind in Cuba, and why those thoughts swirled and mixed with Wendy and Mamma Jean and family secrets. But they’re inseperable to me. Now that you know a bit more about my Partin family in 1972, you can imagine the shock a 16 year old girl could have experienced stepping into their world, one where people kidnap kids and kill people and are surprisingly immune to the police or being prosecuted. It’s not surprising that she had a nervous breakdown and fled. What’s remarkable is that she returned and spent seven years fighting the courts and the Partin family, with all of their mafia connections and legal immunity, and won. She hadn’t known anything about the Partins until she hastily married my dad, which isn’t surpising if you consider that back then the media portrayed my family as All Americans and most of Big Daddy’s criminal history was hidden from the public while Hoffa was in prison. Wendy was in for a shock when Hoffa was pardoned by President Nixon in 1972, just before I was born, and my family was targetted by mafia hitmen. She never discussed that time much, other than to say that the Partin family WARPed her, and I had learned to not ask too many questions.
The band was taking a break, probably before people began filtering in after work, and I felt I should leave soon before the bar became too noisy. I definitely didn’t want the temptation of standing next to a bar after I had already had two dacquiris. I scratched my cheek through my beard as I pondred what to do, feeling the curly hairs tickle my knuckles and hearing the scratch of my fingernails muffled by the brustling of stiff grey hair in my beard, audible to me now that the band wasn’t playing. My cheek didn’t itch, it was just a mindless motion to appear to be doing something, anything, other than staring into space; that’s the type of mindlesslessnes that leads to ordering another drink when I had already had two. It was time to go. I never judged Wendy, I just didn’t know how to help her quit after one or two drinks, probably becasue I could barely do it myself. I put down my phone and sighed again.
“La cuenta, por favor,” I said when the bartender walked over. He brought it and we I chatted a bit and he asked how I spoke Spanish so well. I chuckled to imply it wasn’t a big deal and said I lived in San Diego, on the border of Tijuana, and couldn’t help but learn Spanish, “como la o’smosis.”
The truth is a bit more complex. I rarely practiced Spanish, but I grew up in Southern Louisiana with the Cajun French influence and French and Spanish are similar Latin based languages, unlike English’s Germanic roots, and I had served as a “communications laison” in the Middle East under President Clinton. I had an advantage in learning Spanish, so I wasn’t bad, but I knew that he thought I was more proficient than I was. If you pay attention to how most people speak, the first five minutes are so similar that you practice the same phatic comments again and again and sound better than you are. And I used a few fancy words, like ‘la o’smosis,” that are atypically spoken unless someone is more proficient than I was. I was decent at ordering food and drinks in about a dozen languages and could fake about a dozen more if the bartenders were used to tourists mispronouncing things, and I could seem more or less fluent by adding or omitting a few fancy words, but I’d be lost in a real conversation in almost any language. I was looking forward to practicing my Spanish so I could chat with people and listen for nuances in what they said, which is why I was already using the fancy words rather than doing the opposite, not displaying any knowledge so that people spoke freely; but, in those situations you only get the words and not the context, so I was practicing Spanish one “plata del dia” at a time, eating my way to Spanish fluency and listening to people speak colloquially, like they tend to do in bars after a few drinks.
The band began plaing again and I paid in U.S. Dollars and said, “No necicitto cambio,” and the bartender picked up the cash and smiled genuinely and said “Gracias! Buen viaje!” and I put on my carry-on backpack and turned to leave. As I walked out and back into the plaza, I dropped a $5 bill in the band’s tip jar and smiled and bowed a thank you to them without interrupting. One of the trumpet players nodded back with his horn without missing a note and I limped to my casa particular, though only people who knew me well would have noticed the limp, because it was sublte and slowed my gait more than altered it, thankfully, and anyone noticing would have assumed I walked slowly because the tightly stuffed backpack was heavy, or because I was distracted and peering into all of the bars playing music, or because I had a lot on my mind. They’d all be right, and I took my time walking to the casa particular, my head bobbing to the sounds of music eminating from more bars than I could experience in a month, and that was a fun prospect.
I arrived at the casa and spoke with the hosts politely yet briefly, then did a bit of yoga and slept surprisingly well, without a trace of the worry I had felt all day. I woke to a homemade breakfast, stretched a bit, and walked back to the Plaza de San Francisco de Assi and bought another WiFi card and a small knife. I’ve carried a knife since I was four or five years old, like my dad and his father before him, but hadn’t been able to carry one on an airplane since 9/11 and I felt naked without one. I joked to myself that that had been why I was worried about Wendy the day before, and everything would be fine now that I had a “navaja,” a “cochillo pequeno de bosillo.” Since 9/11, I’ve learned to buy a knife in about twenty languages to eliminate the slight bit of unease I experience by feeling naked without one, and perhaps that tiny bit of routine was helping calm my uncharacteristic worries.
Cristi had been unable to reach Wendy, but that was typical both because of Wendy’s remote home and her tendency to be emotionally unavailable for weeks or months at a time. The reporters were already in Vinales and had met the alleged climbing guide – many adventure sports are illegal in Cuba’s free healthcare system, which is reasonable, so he wouldn’t say he was a guide and they wouldn’t call him one – and they were ready for when I’d arrive. I considered waiting a few days longer to see if Wendy replied, but after a night’s sleep I felt more relaxed and decided that I was imagining things, exaggerating Wendy’s emotional state in my mind, because of recent conversations about Big Daddy and reflections on my childhood with the Partins, and now I had a night’s sleep and a cochillo and everything would be fine. Wendy had probably been drunk and beginning another bout of depression, and would be easier to speak with when I returned. I decided to continue my trip and check back on Wendy whenever I was in Havana, probably every week or two, maybe more, depending on who I met and how the trip unfolded. I returned to the casa particular, said goodbye, put on my backpack, and walked around to find a nice, privately owned 1950’s convertible with updated speakers and a driver willing to take me to Vinales, where I couldn’t imagine anything else being on my mind for the next few weeks.
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