A year before President Kennedy was assassinated, my grandfather and Jimmy Hoffa plotted to kill the president’s little brother, U.S. Attorney General Bobby Kennedy, by recruiting someone to shoot him with a sniper rifle as he rode through a southern town in his convertible. The FBI told the president about this, but he chose to ride through downtown Dallas in his convertible anyway, and was shot and killed by a sniper rifle on November 22nd, 1963. A year later, Bobby Kennedy had my grandfather, Edward Grady Partin, released from a jail cell, and purged his criminal record in exchange for him infiltrating the Teamsters to find a way to send Hoffa to prison. Soon after, Hoffa was sentenced to 11 years in prison for jury tampering, based solely on my grandfather’s testimony and a lie detector test overseen by the director of the FBI, J. Edgar Hoover. For the next decade, my family was one of America’s first “paid informants,” and we would receive homes and money and federal protection for as long as Hoffa was in prison. Soon after Hoffa was released and disappeared, my grandfather was sent to prison for eight years, but was released early due to poor health. He returned to Baton Rouge to live out his final days.
That was the situation I found myself in in 1990, the year my grandfather died, two weeks after Hillary Clinton broke my finger. I didn’t know what to think about it, because I was only 17 years old and still in high school. At the time, I had just been emancipated from my Partin family by a judge in Baton Rouge, and coincidentally in the same courthouse that had removed me from the Partin family when I was a baby, two years before Jimmy Hoffa disappeared in 1975. I doubt the FBI considered me a suspect in Hoffa’s disappearance or Kennedy’s death, but of course my grandfather was. Since then, I payed attention to my family name in the news, and here’s how I recall history:
After president John F. Kennedy’s death, some conspiracy theorists locked on to the fact that the alleged shooter, Lee Harvey Oswald, lived in New Orleans and served in the civil air guard near our home in Baton Rouge, and that he knew Jack Ruby, the man who shot and killed Oswald in the Dallas police station, and that he had been affiliated with another suspect, New Orleans mafia leader Carlos Marcello. But, conspiracy theorists didn’t know about the FBI report, because Hoover kept the files classified from even the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court, Earl Warren, who oversaw Hoffa’s appeal against my grandfather’s testimony. What America knew was what the media told them: Edward Grady Partin was a charming family man and a dedicated Teamster leader, and that Hoffa had asked him to obtain plastic explosives to kill Bobby Kennedy, but that he refused. My family was somewhat famous shortly before the Hoffa trial.
In the 1960’s, Jimmy Hoffa was considered the most well known person in America, and his feud with the Kennedy’s was so fierce and personalized that was dubbed “The Blood Feud” in mainstream media. The timing of my grandfather’s short-lived fame allowed him to be a trusted witness to jurors trying Hoffa’s jury tampering case. Only Chief Justice Warren doubted my grandfather; in his statements, Warren said that using my grandfather’s testimony was a threat to America’s system of justice, that we shouldn’t trust “a jailbird, languishing in a Baton Rouge jail cell,” with “an obvious incentive to lie,” who was, as Warren emphasized, ironically in jail on charges of jury tampering. But, his words didn’t influence the other eight Supreme Court justices or the American public. Hoffa went to prison, and my grandfather returned to Baton Rouge and ran the Teamster’s union for all of the Southeastern United States under federal protection as long as Hoffa remained in prison.
The case against Hoffa and his subsequent disappearance in 1975 became American legend, and in books and movies my grandfather was portrayed based to what Hoover had released. In 1983, he was portrayed by the charismatic and physically large actor Brian Dennehy in the film about Hoffa and Bobby Kennedy, “Blood Feud,” which led up to Bobby’s 1968 assassination; and in 2019 by the very large Craig Vincent in the 2019 film about Hoffa’s disappearance, “The Irishman.” In those films, directors cast my grandfather as Hoffa described him, “Edward Partin was a big, rough man who could charm a snake off a rock.” No one dug dug deeper, asking how he was able to call the US Attorney General from his Baton Rouge jail cell and put America’s most famous man in prison. That’s probably because most films and books about Kennedy and Hoffa are based on the 1960’s FBI reports, not the classified John F. Kennedy Assassination Report. It begins with the 1962 surveillance of Hoffa and my grandfather before Kennedy’s death, and the report remained classified until President Bill Clinton released a part of it in 1992, two years after my grandfather’s death. A few years later, men claiming to be FBI agents raided the Baton Rouge police station and removed all records of my grandfather’s time in jail and Bobby Kennedy’s intervention; the FBI denied involvement, and the records haven’t been located since, so we never learned more. By 2020, most people recall and perpetuate the 1960’s media versions of Kennedy and Hoffa.
I was a kid in the 1970’s, and only 17 years old when my grandfather passed away in 1990. At the time, He had been released from prison because of his failing health, and my grandmother and aunts cared for him. In the weeks leading to his death, FBI agents followed us and questioned us daily, asking if he had said anything new, and cautioning us not to believe everything because my grandfather had been diagnosed with schizophrenia, a mental disorder that leads to delusional thoughts about conspiracies, and that his condition was worsened by his excessive use of amphetamines while in prison. We told them everything we heard, and almost everything we knew or suspected, which was less than what was in the JFK Assassination Report, therefore presumably less than the FBI knew.
The most remarkable thing we recalled was our grandfather’s final words, “No one will ever know my part in history,” and that his words were, coincidentally, almost identical to some of the final words of Jack Ruby before he died of cancer two years after killing Oswald. I still think that coincidence is remarkable, if only for the pun on my family name; I’m Jason Partin, and I’d later joke that Ed Partin was a big man with a part in history, but I was only a small part in his story.
Because of the 1976 Freedom of Information Act, most of what I’ve shared has been publicly available at www.Archive.gov for two decades, though few people download and review it 60 years after Kennedy’s death. And, by now, the report is an overwhelming body of evidence with, a massive collection of countless documents and files with thousands of names, therefore it’s difficult for anyone to comprehend all of the information and see patterns. Few people would know to narrow their focus to the names Partin, Hoffa, Marcello, Hoover, and Kennedy. And, despite the Freedom of Information Act, part of the report is still classified, because each president can withhold information they deem critical to national security, so very few people have seen all the facts.
President Clinton was the first president to allow a part of the JFK Assassination Report to be released into the National Archives, and in 1992 he released approximately 60%, including the part about my family. That was before the internet was well known – I sent my first email in 1994 – therefore to see the report you’d have to travel to Washington DC and request a paper copy. Few people did, and many movies and books were based on what was known in the 60’s and 70’s. Since 1992, each president has released more and more of the report. Even my grandfather’s little brother, Uncle Doug, didn’t know about the report when he released his autobiography, “From My Brother’s Shadow: Teamster Douglas Partin Tells His Side of the Story.” And, like most of my family, or any family rife with whatever drama is important to them, Doug focused on my grandfather’s probable purgery against Hoffa and the effect it had on our family, ignoring the effect it had on Hoffa’s family or, as Chief Justice Warren emphasized, the effect it had on weakening America’s justice system. By 2021, approximately 99.4% of the JFK Assassination Report has been released. I don’t know what Presidents Trump and Biden saw in the final 0.4%, but I’m sure it would be remarkable.
In the 40 years that I’ve been aware of my family history, I’ve seen that most people are too biased, busy, or uninformed to care about what happened in 1963. For decades, so was I; after all, it’s history, and we see or hear presidential scandals, conspiracy theories, fake news, and countless opinions almost daily, especially now that the internet is common. But, when I was teenager, and I was asked about my family history, I would think, “So what?” or “Who Cares?” and respond, not defiantly or sarcastically, but with the sincerity of someone with a limited world view, that I didn’t see why it mattered, and I’d ask why they cared. I was asking adults why it mattered, because talking about history without a purpose or plan going forward seemed like a waste of time, but I assumed that most adults knew better. I’ve experienced more since then.
Recently, as a man with more experience and a slightly wider world view, I asked myself, “What did we learn, and what do we do going forward?” But, by now, few people know the history, therefore few of us have learned from it. Most adults weren’t even born until after Kennedy’s death, so they, too, ask “So What?” or “Who Cares?” In a way, I still agree. But, since I left Louisiana, I became a war veteran, engineer, coach, and teacher; then I retired and had time to think about my grandfather and his story. I’m biased to see it from my perspective, as a teenager when my grandfather was alive, and as a foster kid with almost every member of my family in jail or confined to home.
To save time, I’ll begin by saying that I don’t have any more insight into Kennedy’s assassination or Hoffa’s disappearance than what I’ve already shared. Most of my perspective and thought process over the past 30 years comes from something the FBI told us that assumed was true in 1990, that my grandfather was mentally ill, schizophrenic, prone to delusions and perceiving conspiracy theories, and that schizophrenia is hereditary so we should be cautious about believing too many things we hear or read. I began to pay attention to mental health news then, and read that the final bill Kennedy had signed into law was the Community Mental Healthcare Act of 1963, intended to improve mental health for all Americans, and that three weeks later, ironically, Kennedy was allegedly shot and killed by Lee Harvey Oswald, a man with a long history of mental illness who was shot by Jack Ruby, another man with a long history of mental illness. And, coincidentally, both were military veterans who came from families with histories of mental illness. In other words, there were many opportunities for intervention in public schools and military hospitals. I believe that’s remarkable, and it isn’t emphasized in the JFK Assassination Report in the more than 2,000 books about Kennedy’s assassination and Hoffa’s disappearance.
To me, what’s most remarkable is 60 years after Kennedy’s death is that no one recalls the Mental Healthcare Act, and mental illness is still rampant. Public shootings by mentally ill people are so common now that it’s practically ignored in news, just like the fact that of America’s 2.7 million prisoners, almost 1 our of every 100 citizens, more than 50% are diagnosed as mentally ill. Mental illness is hereditary, according to what the FBI told us and extensive medical research since then, and it’s created a class system of families caught in cycles. Their suffering and the cost to society is shameful, because the self-proclaimed greatest civilization in history hasn’t learned and progressed much despite access to infinite information. And I wonder what’s the point of new laws and acts if we haven’t followed through with older ones; if our democracy rules our government, but people don’t recall history, then I wonder how the intention of laws like the Community Mental Care Act could evolve and continuously improve.
If there’s any tribute to Kennedy I’d like to offer, it’s revisiting his 1963 mental healthcare act in a modern perspective. I hope what I write helps us learn and improve as a society moving forward, because most of what I’ve thought about since learning my family history is the role of nature vs. nurture in defining who we are, the freedom of choice, and the people and coincidences that help us learn and improve ourselves. And, perhaps, revisiting the role of government and a president in reducing suffering and helping all of humanity thrive.
But, in my heart, I know that I feel sarcastic and dismissive, and too lazy to write a heartbreaking memoir of significance. And I know that deep down, I’d want tell the story of how Hillary Clinton broke my finger in the 1990 Baton Rouge city wrestling finals two weeks before my grandfather’s funeral, because every time I glance down at the finger on my left hand that healed awkward angle, I remember what it was like to be a foster kid estranged from their biologic family, no matter how unique that family may be, and I fondly remember the people who helped me, and I hope that my story somehow helps people like me, regardless of their family history.