SAN DIEGO – A San Diego man claimed he was one of the three mysterious “tramps” near Dealey Plaza in Dallas the day President John F. Kennedy was assassinated.
Chauncey Holt had many skills — guns, flying, accounting and more.
Holt said those skills made him valuable to organized crime and, eventually, the CIA.
“He was an artist and according to him, a forger for the CIA. His job was to forge documents,” said former Union-Tribune reporter Valerie Alvord.
Her article, a story in Newsweek magazine and Oliver Stone’s docu-drama “JFK,” all helped to propel Holt into the national spotlight.
Holt claimed to be one of the “three tramps,” an important element in many conspiracy theories about the assassination of JFK.
He said his CIA boss sent him to Dallas with counterfeit U.S. Secret Service identification lapel pins and forged Secret Service documents. Holt explained in the documentary the lapels were worn by agents and periodically changed. The pins helped identify an agent to other law enforcement divisions.
His job was to put the “package” into a pickup truck that he said was parked in a secured lot between Dealey Plaza and a nearby railroad yard.
He said he also was instructed should anything go wrong, he was to head to the ninth boxcar in a line of cars at that rail yard, and wait inside the car until he received further instructions.
Holt said he heard the gunfire that killed JFK.
“I didn’t actually see the shooting,” Holt said in the documentary. “I was 25 yards from the motorcade but I didn’t see it.”
The ‘tramps,’ the boxcar and police
When the shots were fired, Holt said he briefly considered heading to the sound of the shots, but he said he ultimately decided to follow his orders and head to the boxcar.
Holt said inside the car, he was joined by two other men. The three of them became known as the “three tramps,” he said.
Holt said he knew who the other two men were, but did not know their missions. He said he was sure of one thing — that they all had something to do with the commotion going on in Deaely Plaza, and the death of the young president.
He recalled that police eventually found them huddled in the boxcar and marched them past news photographers for questioning. The three men were eventually released, no charges filed, and apparently no unanswered questions.
When the media asked the Dallas police what their names were, police said they didn’t have the names.
So, was Holt the real deal?
“The problem is, he never told me anything you couldn’t find somewhere else if you looked hard enough,” Alvord said.
She added that she has a nagging feeling when she thinks of what the Dallas Police did after Holt came forward.
“Chauncey Holt comes out and claims to be the third tramp,” Alvord said. “All of a sudden, after all these years, the Dallas police know the identity of the three tramps.”
She called it odd and suspicious.
Holt’s former CIA job comes out in court
Alvord also said she is stumped by another point.
Holt was on trial for murder in 1985 in Vista. During the murder case, it came out that Holt worked for the CIA. He was found not guilty.
“Chauncey beat the rap, I am not sure how, might have something to do with his CIA connections,” Alvord said.
Holt never said he knew who murdered the president, but he died claiming the true story had never been told.
“He believed it was a conspiracy because he was there that day on orders of the CIA, with forged Secret Service documents,” Alvord said.
(Editor’s note: Team 10 Investigative journalist JW August produced a documentary with Chauncey Holt, called “Spooks, Hoods and the Hidden Elite.” The sidebar below is written in the first person by Mr. August to give the reader some additional perspective on Mr. Holt.)
Chauncey Holt — was he for real?
Impressions of two journalists who met him
Chauncey Holt is an enigma. The Lemon Grove resident may have played a role in the JFK assassination or he could have been be lying. If he was, he was a very good liar.
Holt had approached me to produce a documentary about his experiences, but I was having a hard time believing some of the things I heard about him.
I did know he had been involved in a murder case. I knew he had been the subject of a Newsweek story, which was the result of an article by former Union Tribune reporter Valerie Alvord.
I heard he spent time with Oliver Stone, who directed the movie “JFK.”
But I was still uneasy about the project. So over a period of a weeks Holt and I met for lunch.
I could ask any question I wanted to satisfy my curiosity. The discussions focused on the CIA, the mob, and the murder of Kennedy.
I would prepare a line of questioning in advance of our get-togethers. Then, after every meeting, I would go to my car and immediately write down what he said.
I would change up what I would ask and how I would ask it for our next meeting. Or I’d wait a bit and come back to it a couple meetings later.
No matter the approach, he was always spot-on with his responses. He exhibited amazing recall of names, events and dates. The answers were always consistent.
In addition, I found him to be unfailingly polite, soft-spoken and intelligent.
It was hard not to be impressed by him. Which is the same experience Alvord had during her times with Chauncey.
As she told me, “I liked him; I think about him, he was someone you would remember.”
I did produce his documentary, not making any judgment about Chauncey or his claims.
I let him tell his story as I promised him I would do.
Eight days after I finished interviewing him, Chauncey Holt died.
I still wrestle with myself internally about the man and what I believe or don’t believe.
He was truly an enigma.