New Orleans District Attorney's Office interview with
Rancier Blaise Ehlinger
March 30, 1967
Today is Thursday, March 30, 1967. The time is 2:25 PM. Office of the District Attorney, Parish of Orleans, State of Louisiana. Interview with RANCIER BLAISE EHLINGER. Interviewing are: Louis Ivon, Jim Alcock, Bill Gurvich.
I. Do you work at Katz & Bestoff?
E. That's right.
I. Let me get the rest of those photographs.
A. I don't believe I met you; my name is Jim Alcock.
E. How do you do.
A. You know Mr. Gurvich?
G. We met. What is your full name?
E. Rancier Blaise Ehlinger.
G. And your date of birth?
E. August 8, 1938.
G. And your place of residence?
E. 103 Homestead.
G. Where is that?
E. In Metairie.
G. Avenue, Street, Boulevard?
G. We met before, you know my name, William Gurvich.
G. And you met Mr. Alcock.
A. Do you have a phone over there?
A. What is your phone number?
E. VE 5-0959.
G. Now, you've been up here before. Where are you from? What do your friends call you? What do you prefer?
E. Randy. R-A-N-D-Y.
G. Randy, you've been up here in the office, is that correct?
G. Do you remember how long ago that was?
E. Approximately four or five weeks, I imagine.
G. Now, when you were up here before, was the, did the meeting refer to an incident in Houma, Louisiana?
E. Yes, it did.
G. I believe Mr. Alcock and I will have to talk to you a little further about this incident. Did you come here voluntarily?
E. Yes, I did. Both times, if you want to put that in.
G. Do you know GORDON NOVEL?
E. Yes, I do.
G. How long have you known him?
E. For approximately twelve years.
G. Could you reasonably relate to us -- Mr. Alcock wasn't there at the beginning -- when you first came to this office? Would you just take it as freely as you wish and describe this whole incident to us?
E. Well, as you remember, the first time I came up to this office, GORDON was present with me, and he is more familiar with the incident than me because, well, for two reasons. I was brought into it after certain things had happened.
G. All right, now, before we get too vague, let me interrupt you, if I may, and ask you this. He was more familiar with what?
E. With the individuals concerned. He has met SERGIO ARCACHA SMITH by way of an introduction that was attended by my cousin, ED BUTLER, who is the Executive Vice-President of INCA, Information Council of America [sic] and . . .
G. He is related to you?
E. He is my cousin. He introduced GORDON to, or he had SERGIO contact GORDON for a telephone [sic]. I don't know if that was brought out in the original conversation, but that's how the association began, to raise money for Cuban exiles, and if I'm not mistaken, the particular program they were speaking of was supposed to be on Channel 4 and GORDON . . .
G. What about this telephone matter, does this telephone have anything to do with raising funds?
E. Well, the television show lasts for a period of time like a regular telethon.
G. Not telephone, telethon. I'm sorry, I misunderstood you.
A. Can you give us an approximate date on that?
E. Well, the best of my recollection is when I was here the last time we said somewhere I believe in September of '61. It could have been as far along the other way as March of '61. I'm not actually too familiar with the dates involved in it. It happened so long ago, this one incident. I came in contact with these --
G. The main incident in question occurred where?
E. Well, there was [sic] two places. The incident of the explosives happened in Baldwin, Louisiana, and the initial meeting occurred at DAVID FERRIE's house in Metairie, on Atherton Drive, the 300 block.
G. Where were you living at that time?
E. Same address that I'm living now, 103 Homestead Avenue.
A. Where was GORDON living?
E. If I'm not mistaken, he lived on Lake Avenue. I believe the address is 104 Lake Avenue.
G. Isn't it 124?
E. Yeah, it was either 104 or 124. It must have been 124, because they have three apartments in that area.
G. That's in Orleans Parish?
E. No, that's in Metairie, right across the 17th Street Wharf.
G. Where was GORDON working then?
E. At that particular time GORDON was involved in promotional activities, fooling with a number of different things. We had --
G. In New Orleans?
G. Orleans Parish?
E. Correct, we had two automobile shows in 1959 and 1960, and we operated a dragstrip concession for some four months in Hammond, Louisiana.
G. Where was DAVE FERRIE, where was he working at the time?
E. I don't know.
G. Was he a pilot?
E. I presumed as much after having met him.
G. Have you ever been to Lakefront Airport?
E. I have been to Lakefront Airport.
G. About that time?
E. No. Well, we're speaking of 1961?
E. If it occurred in March of '61, no; if it occurred in September, it's a good possibility, because I joined the Louisiana National Guard. I was a member of that unit, the 39th Aviation Company, some five years. That is the only time I went out there was for authorized and scheduled drill meets.
A. Where did you first meet DAVE FERRIE?
E. At his house. On Atherton.
A. Atherton? Was that the time you said the discussion took place? Or had you met him prior to that?
E. The first occasion that I had to meet --
G. Where was SERGIO ARCACHA SMITH living at that time?
E. I don't know. Somewhere in the lakefront area.
G. In Orleans Parish?
E. Yes. Definitely.
G. So far we've got SERGIO ARCACHA SMITH, GORDON NOVEL and yourself. That's three names, and DAVID FERRIE is four. You referred to other individuals. Can you remember any of the individuals' names?
E. By name I can't really guarantee that my memory is correct.
G. Could you identify photographs if they were shown to you?
E. I did identify one of SERGIO ARCACHA SMITH the last time I was here, and there was one other individual which I can give a description of as being blond-haired and had kind of bluish-gray eyes, and was rather thin at the time, if I remember [Layton Martens]. He said very little. In fact, I can't recollect him ever saying a word.
G. Did you go to Houma, Louisiana?
E. Yes, I did.
G. How far is Houma from here, approximately?
E. Oh, about 55 or 60 miles, I would imagine.
G. How did you get there?
E. I went by automobile, and one other individual besides GORDON and myself and SERGIO ARCACHA SMITH who was present, and that was GORDON's ex-wife.
G. What's her name?
E. Her maiden name is MARLENE MANCUSO. What name she is going under now, I don't know, because I haven't seen her in so long.
G. I see. This was in 1961?
G. Do you remember the month?
E. I'm not really too sure. It could have been anywhere, like I said, between March and April, or it could have been as late as September.
G. It was before you went into this National Guard unit?
E. I'm almost positive it is.
G. You say you went in a car. Were you alone?
E. No. These same individuals that I just named previously.
G. GORDON NOVEL and SERGIO ARCACHA and MARLENE went with you? The three of you [sic].
E. Right, and I'm almost positive that DAVID FERRIE and SERGIO ARCACHA SMITH sat in the back seat of the car. GORDON, MARLENE and myself sat in the front.
G. Whose car was it?
E. As I remember, it was GORDON's automobile.
G. Do you remember what kind of car it was?
E. At that particular time it was a Lincoln. '56 Lincoln.
G. Were there any other vehicles used at all in this whole incident?
E. Yes, there was, but there again, I'm not too familiar with it. I do remember a van truck. As to what color . . .
G. What type truck?
E. It was a van truck with a flat front on it.
G. Who drove the van truck?
E. That I don't know.
G. How many occupants?
E. I don't remember that either.
G. Were they with you, in front of you, or behind you?
E. They were behind us for the most part going out there.
G. Were they in your view?
E. No. I wasn't paying too much attention to them. They would have been right behind us, though.
G. When you left here, about what time of the day was it; do you remember that?
E. It was in the evening.
G. In the dark?
E. Yes. I would say between seven and eight o'clock.
G. And you were driving?
E. No. I was a passenger.
G. Who was driving the car?
E. GORDON was driving the car.
G. Did you all go straight to Houma?
G. Make any stops?
E. Not that I can recall. No.
G. But you had been there before?
E. Yes. We had been there before.
G. Where did you go when you got to Houma?
E. We went to an airport. It's on the outskirts of Houma. It used to be used as an old blimp base, and at this particular airport, they had -- well, they had put it on an inactive basis for any military traffic.
G. Were there any hangars there?
E. Yes. There was.
G. Can you describe the hangar or hangars?
E. It was a standard aircraft-type construction, you know, for hangars, with kind of rounded roof [sic], and if I'm not mistaken, it was covered with some type of tin.
G. Was there anything unusual about the hangars?
E. The hangars themselves? Not that I can remember.
G. Were they all together? Were they scattered?
E. Well, they were not actually put together, as I remember it. They were more or less spaced around. There were other areas around there where they had munitions bunkers.
G. Did NOVEL have any trouble getting to this base after he got into the City Limits of Houma?
G. He had been there before?
E. Yes. We had had some business there before.
G. What sort of business?
E. We had drag races we promoted and ran.
G. What was the purpose of going there?
E. Which time? The time that we were there with these people?
G. In the Lincoln.
W. We went there to secure ammunition and further explosives.
G. Did you secure it legally?
E. That I hardly would say would be legal.
G. How did you secure it?
E. There was a pair of bolt cutters, as I remember it, and --
G. Who had the bolt cutters?
E. One of these other people that were with DAVID FERRIE.
G. In the Lincoln or the truck?
E. That I don't remember, but I presume them to be in the truck.
G. Were they used in any way to get the explosives?
E. They were used to break the padlock on the door.
G. Did you break it? Did you cut it or just force it open?
E. It was cut with those bolt cutters.
G. Who used them?
E. I really don't remember, but it wasn't me and it wasn't GORDON. It must have been one of the other ones in the party.
G. What happened after they cut the lock?
E. Then we entered the room and we found these munitions, and they began moving them and loading them on the truck.
G. Was it military-type munitions?
E. There were some boxes or crates that were covered with -- well, wooden crates, and the ends of them were sealed with pieces of wood.
G. Did they have any government markings on them?
E. It was very dark at night, but there were some military stencils with the type of material that were [sic] in it. Some of these boxes contained glass, some had assorted . . .
G. Now, what sort of structure were these munitions in?
E. These were earth-covered bunkers that were set in the ground, and they were covered with earth and had vegetation growing on top of them. And they were also recessed, the doors were. There were some entrances and air passages that were covered with bars but no glass, and these were also recessed. Heavily covered with dirt.
G. Where were the Lincoln and the truck parked?
E. They were parked adjacent to the bunker. The bunker was somewhat removed from this road, the access road . . .
G. How far were the bunkers removed from the hangars?
E. That's kind of hard to say. Approximately 40 feet, 50 feet, something like that.
G. Very close, rather close, in other words.
E. That's right.
G. Were any lights used? Flashlights? Headlights? Anything like that?
E. They had some lights to use inside the bunkers.
G. Who went into the bunkers?
E. As I remember it, FERRIE was one of the persons who went in, and one or two of the people he had with him. The whole thing didn't last too long.
G. Now, who did he have with him, the people -- he rode in the Lincoln with you and GORDON and MARLENE and SERGIO?
E. And SERGIO ARCACHA SMITH. There was one, two or possibly three people who went in the truck, and those people --
G. He intended on driving it.
E. That's right. One drove the truck and the other two were passengers, but it was at least two in the truck.
A. Had you seen these people at FERRIE's house before you left?
A. What did they look like?
E. One of them I already described, and there was another one involved there that had on a Marine uniform [Andrew Blackmon].
A. A Marine uniform?
E. It was that type. It was a green khaki uniform with kind of this camouflage stuff on it. As I remember the meeting at his house, this particular character was playing with the bolt action of a rifle. He was talking about his guerrilla training. I do remember that. And the conversation got around to the point if he ever got into Cuba he could live for an extended period of time in the mountains in Cuba.
A. Was he a Cuban?
E. No, he wasn't.
A. Can you describe him physically for us?
E. Rather dark curly hair; fairly tall. That was my impression of him.
A. What do you mean by "fairly tall"? Six feet?
E. I would say he was over six feet tall.
A. Over six feet tall?
A. Did you ever hear anybody refer to him by name?
E. No, I can't say that I have.
G. How many people went into the bunker altogether?
E. It must have been those three. That's the only ones [sic] that were there. I don't remember SERGIO ARCACHA SMITH going in the bunker.
G. But you remember him being there?
E. He was there.
G. Everybody in the Lincoln and the truck knew the purpose of going to Houma?
G. And they all witnessed what occurred in Houma?
G. Now, these explosives and munitions, which vehicle were they placed in?
E. They were placed in the truck.
G. How long were you all at the bunker?
E. It wasn't too long.
G. Ten minutes? Twenty minutes?
E. Possibly fifteen minutes.
G. Fifteen minutes. What did you all do after the truck was loaded?
E. We left for New Orleans or Metairie.
G. Which vehicle left first?
E. I don't know. It was probably the truck, because we were leading the way and it was awful hard to find. I don't know if you've ever been to that airport, but it's a little hard to find your way around there at night.
G. That's why I asked you if they had any trouble finding it.
E. I'm almost positive that the Lincoln was the first car out of there.
G. Were there any maps used?
E. Not that I can recall.
G. Was GORDON NOVEL going mostly by memory, to your knowledge?
G. What time did you return to New Orleans?
E. It must have been after midnight.
G. How long would you say the trip took from the time you left until the time you returned?
E. We left here possibly at eight o'clock, and were here after midnight some time. I don't remember because I didn't have a watch with me. You see, I don't carry a watch, but it was after midnight.
G. After you all got to New Orleans, what did you do, Ranny?
E. We stopped back over at DAVID FERRIE's house. SERGIO ARCACHA SMITH and FERRIE got out of the car, we looked at the stuff we had picked up.
G. Where was the truck at the time? When you got to this Atherton Drive?
E. It was parked in front of the house. As I remember it, they had some trees around that particular neighborhood.
A. How did you look at the stuff in the truck?
E. They removed it from the truck.
A. Who did?
E. The individuals who were driving the truck, and FERRIE helped them.
G. Did anything unusual happen on the return trip from Houma to New Orleans?
E. Not that I can remember.
G. Were there any explosions? Did anybody set off any explosives at any time between the time it was stolen in Houma and the time you arrived in New Orleans?
E. I do recall blowing one of these things up or being around one that had blown up, but I can't say for sure that it happened coming back, because I remember that we -- GORDON and I -- kept a couple of these things. They were called artillery circulators, but whether or not they were exploded on the way back, I really couldn't say to that. It has been so damn long ago.
G. Where else were any of these explosives?
E. I remember one being dropped in the 17th Street Canal, and the reason I remember that is because it laid a fireball about ten feet in diameter, and it raised the water level and shook the levee a bit, and it made very little noise, surprisingly. It just blooped.
G. It was underwater?
A. Who was present when that happened?
E. GORDON and myself, to the best of my knowledge.
A. Was MARLENE there then?
E. Possibly. It is possible, because they were very close at the time.
G. They were married then?
G. If you were traveling on this highway and something was thrown out and exploded, would you remember it?
E. (No audible reply.)
G. How far behind the truck was the Lincoln when you were coming back?
E. Think that at times it was possibly 200 yards. I do remember that the trip back was a bit faster than going up.
G. That's understandable. But you do remember how far the truck was behind you coming back, but you don't know for sure how far behind you it was going over?
E. Right. I would say mainly we were talking going up there.
G. You could see the headlights?
G. Was there much traffic then?
E. Not that I recall. Not very much at all.
G. Did the truck have yellow lights on top of it? Any running lights?
E. That I don't recall.
A. Was it a new truck? An old truck?
E. It was a fairly old truck.
G. Any markings?
E. Not that I can recall.
A. Do you know the color of it?
E. It was a dark color. It could have been dark red, anywhere from a dark red to dark brown. I really didn't pay much attention to it.
G. Everyone who went to Houma returned to New Orleans?
G. The same people [in each] vehicle? The same set-up? Those who went in the truck returned in the truck?
G. How much munitions or explosives were taken altogether?
E. Several boxes that were unopened, and there were some boxes that were opened and partially filled, and the contents of this equipment that was opened varied. There were some of them that were singulators for artillery rounds, and some that were tracer bullets for machine guns. I am not too positive what the caliber was, but I would imagine it to be 30 because 50s are too big. They are about that long and that would stick out behind?
G. You think they were 30 caliber?
E. Right. Red tip on the end. And there were signal flares, and a number of them with parachutes on the little magnesium lights in them, and they just hang up in the air. They throw a lot of light.
G. Like [inaudible] shells.
G. Any plastic explosives or munitions contained in plastic?
E. No. Not that I can recall, but I can guarantee you this, that those singulators were as strong as a good concussion grenade. If you got caught within fifteen or twenty feet of it, it would put --
G. Is that what was thrown in the canal?
G. Who unloaded this stuff from the truck when you got back?
E. FERRIE and his two buddies.
G. Where were they stored after they were unloaded?
E. As I remember it, some of the stuff was in the house. I imagine that's where it all ended up.
G. In whose house?
E. In FERRIE's house.
G. Do you know how long they remained there?
E. Of that I have no knowledge, because after that particular night I never came in contact with any of the individuals concerned, other than GORDON NOVEL and MARLENE.
G. Did you ever hear what ultimately happened to these explosives?
E. No, I did not, except by way of -- I think GORDON told me that they were used -- and he had heard this from SERGIO -- that they were used in Havana. That part had found his [sic] way into Havana.
G. Did he say where the other part went?
E. No, he didn't.
G. Whose idea was it to do all this, Ranny?
E. Well, definitely it wasn't mine, because I had no interest in it.
G. Whose was it then?
E. I imagine it was GORDON's idea. I mean, it may sound funny to say . . .
G. Did anybody ever receive any money for this?
E. There again, the money situation relative to that, GORDON got no money from SERGIO ARCACHA.
G. He got no money from SERGIO ARCACHA. Was he promised any money?
E. He was.
G. Do you know how much?
E. That I don't know.
G. By whom was he promised the money?
E. SERGIO ARCACHA.
G. You heard this?
E. No. This particular conversation went on before.
G. How do you know he was offered the money.
E. I don't, other than GORDON's word to me.
G. That's what I mean. GORDON NOVEL told you.
G. That ARCACHA had offered him money?
G. He didn't say how much?
E. No. But I had the impression at the time that [sic]
G. Did GORDON say anything to you after he wasn't paid by ARCACHA?
E. No. But I had the impression at the time that this was relative to the telephone [sic -- telethon] being put on because he was -- GORDON was supposed to get a certain percentage of the proceeds as payment for putting on the telephones [sic], and it was an increase in that percentage of the projected show. Now, this show never did come about, to the best of my knowledge.
A. Where did you first hear about this trip?
E. The first time? Like I say, I'm not too sure whether it happened in March or the early part of April or in September.
A. I mean, you went over there this night, and the plan was hatched and you went down --
E. It was about a week or so intervals between . . .
A. Who first told you about it?
A. Where were you when he told you about it?
E. Probably at my home, on the telephone. That's usually where I hear that kind of stuff.
A. At home?
A. Where were you living, at the same place you're living now?
E. That's right.
A. Is that in Orleans Parish?
E. It's in Gentilly.
A. Did you talk to anybody else about this?
A. Prior to that night?
A. Had you ever met SERGIO ARCACHA before this?
A. Had you ever met FERRIE before this?
E. No, I hadn't.
A. Any of the individuals involved?
E. No. I remember remarking to GORDON after this encounter with this man that he looked very strange to me.
A. You're talking about FERRIE?
E. Correct. I remember his eyebrows and the hair that he had on his head. I remember that sticks in my mind even to this day. In fact, that's the most salient point of the whole thing that I can remember.
A. Why did you go along with it?
E. I don't know. Just out of stupidity, primarily.
G. Were you offered or promised anything?
E. GORDON said he was gonna [sic], you know, if he got any money out of it, he would divide it with me.
G. Did he divide it with anyone else?
E. Not that I know of.
G. Do you know if the others were going to gain anything monetarily from this expedition?
E. That I couldn't say, but I would doubt it, from the tenor of the activities and the way that they acted. They were just glad to get their hands on the material. That's only my impression.
A. Let me ask you this question. Who directed you to this location? Who found out that the location was there in the first place?
E. GORDON did.
A. Where did he learn that?
E. He had business at that airport before, with the race track, running drag races, and evidently he found these bunkers in the course of laying out the lights and all the other equipment that is necessary. It's not a tremendous airstrip, by the way.
A. Were you with him when he found this?
A. Did you know there were any munitions down there before you went down there that night?
E. No. Not before GORDON told me.
A. GORDON told you?
E. And he wasn't sure there was anything in the place anyway before he went in. It is the type of layout that would suggest just by its construction that it was munitions.
A. In other words, this was completely his idea, then, and these people didn't know there was anything down there?
E. No. I wouldn't say that.
A. Was he in the lead car, and he was directing the people where to go?
A. Where were these bolt cutters? Were they in the car or the truck?
E. I remember them being in the truck.
A. In the truck.
G. Do you remember who owned them?
E. No, I sure don't.
G. Do you remember who brought them? And you don't remember who used them?
E. I wasn't in the bunker itself.
G. You did not go inside the bunker? How many people were actually inside?
E. Well, as I remember it, there was SERGIO, FERRIE and his two friends. The people who were with FERRIE, and I remember there were at least two of them. Whether or not SERGIO ARCACHA was one of those . . .
A. Did you all replace the lock when you left?
E. Yeah. I do remember something vaguely to that extent. You may recall that GORDON's discussion the last time that we were up here, his memory is a lot better that this . . .
G. GORDON NOVEL is not available today.
E. I realize that. That's what I'm saying. It's a little hard for me to remember some of this stuff, because I just didn't have as much contact with these people as GORDON did, and I know this for a fact, that GORDON had talked with SERGIO prior to me coming in on the scene, and he had probably worked out the whole deal with SERGIO before he ever called me. Now, whether or not he ever fooled around with DAVID FERRIE after that night, I don't know, because I never had anything to do with him after that, and I doubt seriously if GORDON did either.
G. Were you ever a suspect in a car theft from Baton Rouge in 1959?
E. Yes, I was. I would like to explain that if you want to hear about it.
G. Yes, in a minute. Let me ask you a couple of questions, and certainly you can say whatever you wish, Ranny. Was GORDON NOVEL a suspect at the time?
E. Yes, he was.
G. Did you ever know of GORDON NOVEL to use the name, MICHAEL BRANDINE?
G. Did you ever know GORDON NOVEL renting [sic] a garage in Metairie, Louisiana?
G. Do you know if GORDON NOVEL rented this garage for the purpose of storing or concealing an automobile that was known to be stolen?
E. Yes, I have that knowledge, too.
G. You don't know if he rented this garage under the name of MICHAEL BRANDINE?
E. No, I sure don't.
G. Do you remember about what time of the year that was?
E. It was either late summer or early fall. It must have been in '57 or '58. Somewhere around there.
G. How long was the car kept there? Do you know that, Ranny?
E. It's hard to remember. It could have been a month or it could have been two months.
G. It could have been two months? Were any parts of this vehicle removed while it was in the garage?
E. In Metairie? No.
G. Were any parts of this automobile removed at any time while it was in GORDON NOVEL's possession?
E. I doubt it seriously.
G. Do you know if the motor and the transmission were removed?
E. They were removed when we found the car, and when you hear the story, you'll know why it was moved. [Text missing] because of having stolen that automobile.
G. All right, we'll get to that in a minute. Do you know if the car or any parts of it were painted?
E. Yes. They were painted.
G. Do you know who painted them?
G. Who painted them?
E. I did.
G. Did you know whose car or parts they were when you painted them?
E. Did I know whose they were? No.
G. Did you know any of it was stolen at the time you painted it?
G. Was this car or any of the parts that originally belong [sic] to the car once stored on College Court in Metairie, Louisiana?
E. Not in Metairie, no. That's right, and . . .
G. College Court in Orleans Parish?
E. Right. It's off Carrollton Avenue.
G. Is that a white or colored neighborhood?
E. It's mostly colored.
G. Who owned the property where it was stored?
E. That I don't know.
G. Who was paying for the property for the State?
E. GORDON, my aunt and myself and one other person who is now deceased.
G. Who was that?
E. Vincent Bonomo.
G. Vincent Bonomo?
E. Do you know anything about this character . . .
G. Before we go on to Bonomo, was this later moved to a street -- or a location on Focis Street?
G. Is that in New Orleans or Metairie?
E. That's in Metairie. Jefferson Parish.
G. Jefferson Parish?
G. Who rented this garage?
E. GORDON did.
E. Under his own name?
[Remainder of transcript missing.]
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