Sally Kirkland portrays alleged eyewitness Rose Cherami
(or "Rose Cheramie," as she's known in conspiracy literature)
One of the sequences that opens Oliver Stone's JFK concerns a woman named Rose Cherami, who is depicted as trying to sound the alarm about the forthcoming assassination. It is strongly implied that Cherami (whose surname is commonly misspelled "Cheramie" in JFK conspiracy literature) possesses inside knowledge of an assassination conspiracy, and details some of this information before the President is killed.
Did Rose Cherami predict the JFK assassination? Who was Rose Cherami? Here are the facts.
Rose Cherami (born Melba Christine Youngblood) was a 41-year-old drug addict and prostitute who was picked up on Highway 190 near Eunice, Louisiana, on November 20, 1963 -- two days before the Kennedy assassination -- by Lt. Francis Frugé of the Louisiana State Police.(1) Cherami allegedly told Frugé that John F. Kennedy would shortly be killed.(2)
When Cherami began acting violently, it was determined she was suffering from narcotics withdrawal. She was taken to the East Louisiana State Hospital, a mental hospital, in nearby Jackson, where she was confined for several days.(3)
The woman known to assassination
researchers as "Rose Cheramie"
During her confinement, and prior to the time JFK was shot in Dallas, Cherami supposedly spoke of the impending assassination.(4) After Jack Ruby shot Lee Harvey Oswald, Cherami reportedly claimed that she had worked for Ruby as a stripper, that she knew both Ruby and Oswald, and that the two men were "bed partners" who "had been shacking up for years."(5)
According to a 1967 statement by Lt. Frugé, Cherami declined to repeat her story to the FBI.(6) She was killed when struck by a car on September 4, 1965, apparently while hitchhiking, near Gladewater, Texas.(7)
Among conspiracy theorists, the story has been considered quite credible since 1979, when an account by investigator Patricia Orr was published by the House Select Committee reviewing the JFK assassination (HSCA). This account was based primarily on the HSCA interviews of Francis Frugé and Victor Weiss, a doctor at the Jackson hospital.
The problem is that in accounts given by Frugé and Weiss to the New Orleans District Attorney's Office over a decade earlier, in 1967, there is no indication that Cherami had made any statements about the assassination prior to the time it occurred.
On the contrary, several 1967 accounts by Frugé state only that, following Cherami's November 26 release from the Jackson hospital, Cherami informed Frugé that she had worked for Ruby as a stripper, that Ruby and Oswald had been in Ruby's club together, and that the two were "good friends" and "bed partners."(8)
In 1967, Dr. Victor Weiss recalled speaking to Cherami in 1963, but stated he couldn't remember whether she had spoken of the assassination before or after it occurred.(9) (Had Weiss heard Cherami speak of the assassination before it occurred, surely he would have found this memorable.) He would later testify to the HSCA that he had not even been introduced to Cherami until November 25th: three days after the assassination. Although he hadn't mentioned it in 1967, he now claimed that he had heard about Cherami from a Dr. Bowers. The committee never bothered to contact Donn Bowers, who says that he heard about Cherami's statements from Weiss. "I never saw Rose Cherami," Bowers told researcher Robert Dorff.(10)
What Weiss told the HSCA also contradicts Frugé's 1978 testimony that Cherami had first-hand knowledge of an assassination conspiracy. On November 25th, Weiss said, Cherami "told him she had worked for Jack Ruby. She did not have any specific details of a particular assassination plot against Kennedy, but had stated the 'word in the underworld' was that Kennedy would be assassinated."(11)
New Orleans District Attorney Jim Garrison's office conducted interviews with East State Louisiana Hospital personnel, but couldn't come up with a single first-hand witness who heard Rose Cherami speak of the assassination before it occurred.(12)
Would Cherami have made a credible witness in the first place? It was never verified that she had ever worked for Jack Ruby, or that she was acquainted with either Ruby or Lee Harvey Oswald.(13) She claimed that she had been one of Ruby's strippers, but she was 41 years old and quite haggard. (See her 1964 mug shot, above.) And her alleged claim that Ruby and Oswald were "bed partners" who "had been shacking up for years" hardly speaks well for her credibility.
It also should be noted that in her short life, Rose Cherami was arrested over fifty times in ten different states for charges including larceny, auto theft, possession of narcotics, driving under the influence of narcotics, driving while intoxicated, prostitution, arson, vagrancy, drunk and disorderly behavior, and still other charges. She committed at least one documented suicide attempt, in 1947, was "believed to be insane" at that time, and was ruled "criminally insane" in 1961. She was institutionalized several times, with "psychotic" and "psychopathic" behavior noted. On several occasions she attempted to become a criminal informant, she was turned away because her information turned out to be false.(14)
Yet this is the "witness" with which Oliver Stone leads off his movie about the John F. Kennedy assassination.
You may wish to see . . .
Source documents on Rose Cherami
Rose Cherami in the context of Garrison's Clinton, La., investigation
Back to the top
Back to The JFK 100
Back to Oliver Stone's JFK
Back to Jim Garrison menu
Back to JFK menu
Dave Reitzes home page
1. Frank Meloche, Memorandum to Jim Garrison, March 13, 1967. (Throughout her life, Cherami gave a variety of dates as her ostensible date of birth. October 23, 1923, is the date of birth entered on her death certificate, while the 1930 census lists it as one month later.) According to JFK's script, Cherami was thrown from a car by "two Cuban males," which implies that Cherami's associates were Cuban exiles linked to the assassination conspiracy detailed later in the movie. But in March 1967, Francis Frugé said that Cherami was "suppose[d] to have been thrown from a vehicle by two white males," while Frugé would tell the HSCA in 1978 that Cherami "related to me that she was coming from Florida to Dallas with men who were Italians or resembled Italians. [Emphasis added.] They had stopped at this lounge . . . and they'd had a few drinks and had gotten into an argument or something. The manager of the lounge threw her out and she got on the road and hitchhiked to catch a ride, and this is when she got hit by a vehicle." (House Select Committee Hearings Vol. X, p. 201.) Frugé said that Cherami told him "that the two men traveling with her from Miami were going to Dallas to kill the President. For her part, Cheramie [sic] was to obtain $8,000 from an unidentified source in Dallas and proceed to Houston with the two men to complete a drug deal." (Hearings Before the Select Committee on Assassinations, U.S. House of Representatives, 95th Congress, 2d session [Washington, DC: United States Government Printing Office, 1979], hereafter HSCA Hearings, Vol. X, pp. 201-02.)
The lounge (reportedly a brothel) where Cherami and her companions stopped was called the Silver Slipper. Lounge owner Mac Manual allegedly told Frugé in 1967 "that Cheramie [sic] had come in with two men who the owner knew as pimps engaged in the business of hauling prostitutes in from Florida." (HSCA Hearings Vol. X, p. 202.) According to Frugé's 1978 HSCA testimony (there is no official documentation to back him up), Manual identified photographs of two of Jim Garrison's suspects, Sergio Arcacha Smith and Emilio Santana, as the two men, although neither man had anything to do with prostitution.
Sergio Arcacha Smith was considered a suspect by Garrison primarily because he had once run an office to raise funds for anti-Castro activist groups out of a building whose address was later used by Lee Harvey Oswald on a pro-Castro leaflet (although Arcacha had moved out and left New Orleans over a year before Oswald arrived from Dallas). When questioned by the HSCA, Arcacha denied Cherami's allegations and denied knowing Cherami. He was living and working in Houston, Texas, at the time of the Cherami incident, and his employer told Jim Garrison's men that Arcacha was at work regularly that week and was with him the day of the assassination; he could hardly have been driving prostitutes from Miami to Dallas (a distance of 1300 miles) as Frugé would have us believe, much less "going to Dallas to kill the President."
Researcher Stephen Roy writes:
(Tony) Varona's choice for the position of New Orleans Delegate of the FRD [Frente Revolucionario Democrático] was a dapper man named Sergio Vicente Arcacha Smith. Born in Havana on January 22, 1923, Arcacha was already familiar with the United States and spoke English well. In April 1945 he came to the U.S. to attend college in Texas. In 1951 he returned to Cuba and secured employment with the Cuban diplomatic service. His first assignment took him to Bombay, India, where he met and married Sheila Duarte, a native of Pakistan. By 1954, Arcacha had left the diplomatic service and was working as the assistant manager of the Lago Hotel in Caracas, Venezuela. Over the next few years he lived in New York City and Miami, Florida before returning to Cuba. On August 23, 1960 Arcacha left Cuba for good, traveling first to New York, stopping in New Orleans, and arriving in Miami in late October. It was on November 11 that, in Sheila's words, Varona "sent Sergio to New Orleans as a Delegate of the Front without a penny."Until the time Arcacha retired from anti-Castro activism and left New Orleans (under a cloud of financial mismanagement), he claims to have worked closely with Attorney General Robert Kennedy's covert direction of the anti-Castro movement. He described his relationship to RFK in a strictly off-the-record interview with Life magazine editor Richard Billings in 1967. "Off the record," he insisted, "because I do not want to involve Mr. Kennedy and do not think it would be right, we used to call Mr. Bobby Kennedy whenever we had anything to report or ask advice. He knew what we were doing all the time. But please don't use this, as it's off the record. That's the way it was. We would call Mr. Bobby Kennedy and he would take care of it." (Dick Billings' Internal Memo, Life Magazine, April 1967, cited in Gus Russo, Live by the Sword [Baltimore: Bancroft Press, 1998], p. 142.) Decades later Arcacha elaborated to Gus Russo, "Whenever we needed, for example to send arms to the camps in Nicaragua, I'd call Bobby. The next day it would be there." (Russo, p. 142.) Shortly after the assassination, Arcacha said he called RFK with his condolences. "Little was said," Arcacha noted. "Bobby was a broken man." (Russo, p. 382.)
Arcacha spent much of December 1960 getting set-up as the FRD delegate in New Orleans. Arcacha established his communications with the FRD Executive Committee through a post office box in Coral Gables, Florida, not far from the CIA's JMWAVE station. Deciding that it would be wise to keep the FBI in the loop about his activities, Arcacha and his assistant Manuel Eleuterio Quesada Castillo made contact with Special Agent Warren C. DeBrueys through another exile, Rolando Zubizarreta, and visited the New Orleans FBI office on December 5.
Arcacha announced his presence on December 6, 1960 as the New Orleans Delegate of the Frente Revolucionario Democratico. Arcacha stated the objective of the FRD as the overthrow of Castro, but added that the purpose of the New Orleans branch was simply to inform the public about “exactly what is happening in Cuba.” On December 21, the new FRD office was opened in Room 207 of the second floor of the Balter Building at 403 Camp Street, apparently acquired rent-free. Joining Arcacha in the office were Quesada and Francisco J. Uriate.
After hearing Arcacha's tame description of the planned activities of the FRD, FBI Special Agent DeBrueys was startled to learn that he contacted International Export Packers in New Orleans on December 23 and indicated that "the FRD was interested in obtaining bazookas and a small boat." Arcacha also felt that the FRD would need the assistance of an experienced public relations firm to present the right image for the organization, and he chose Martin L. McAuliffe Jr. for the task. One of McAuliffe's first accomplishments was to start a regular series of FRD press releases to the New Orleans media.
To help mobilize community support for the Frente Revolucionario Democratico, PR man McAuliffe arranged for Arcacha to visit with and address a series of civic groups. On January 5, 1961, the Cuban delegate spoke before the New Orleans Junior Chamber of Commerce, declaring that “Cubans will launch an invasion sometime in 1961 to overthrow the regime of Fidel Castro…Cuban citizens are being recruited by the Frente in this country and sent elsewhere to train for the invasion.” Arcacha estimated that complete victory would come after six months of fighting. Joining him in the presentation were Oscar Higgenbotham, former General Manager of the Central Espana Sugar Mills in central Cuba, and Carlos Marquez Diaz, former Cuban consul who was “removed when Castro came to power.” Marquez said that Castro has destroyed everything that represents decency and honesty in Cuba.”
In 1967 Garrison had Arcacha arrested in Texas for an alleged 1961 burglary in Louisiana and for concealing information on the JFK assassination. Arcacha submitted to a polygraph examination and denied any knowledge of a Kennedy conspiracy; the examiner concluded he was being truthful. (Note: While this author questions the reliability of polygraph tests in exposing deception, the willingness of a subject to submit to a polygraph examination might be considered by some to be contrary to a consciousness of guilt on his or her part.) According to Arcacha, he had his one and only face-to-face meeting with Robert Kennedy following the 1967 arrest. Close Kennedy associate Walter Sheridan (best known for leading the Justice Department's prosecution of Jimmy Hoffa for corruption) reportedly brought Arcacha to Washington, D.C. "We met in Senator Kennedy's office," Arcacha told Gus Russo. "Bobby had put me up in a penthouse for a week. He said to me, 'Sergio, I know none of your people killed my brother. Why is Garrison doing this [i.e., pursuing Cuban exiles]? You know that there is nobody in the world who wants to find out who killed Jack more than I." RFK declined to speak out publicly on Arcacha's behalf, however. "It would appear like I was covering up Garrison's investigation," he reportedly said. "I can't do that." Arcacha said that he left the meeting feeling disillusioned and saddened, thinking, "He's just another politician after all." (Russo, p. 410.)
Due to his harassment by Garrison, Arcacha ended up losing his job in Dallas, and he and his attorney received death threats. "It was horrible," Arcacha told Gus Russo. "It was very rough on our families." His attorney, Frank Hernandez, recalled, "We met our kids' principals and teachers in order to work out special arrangements for their safety. Cops patroled our neighborhood every 15 minutes." (Russo, p. 410.)
The other man allegedly identified from photographs as a Cherami associate, Emilio Santana, was considered a suspect by Jim Garrison primarily because he was Cuban and had once lived near Alvin Beauboeuf, an associate of Garrison suspect David Ferrie. Jim Garrison believed strongly in what he called "The Propinquity Factor" -- his theory that one could identify conspirators because they often lived near one another.
Conspiracy-oriented researcher Larry Hancock (Someone Would Have Talked) has studied the Cherami allegations as carefully as anyone, and his conclusion about Cherami's alleged foreknowledge and the culpability of the two men who apparently accompanied her on November 20, 1963, is that "given the information available it seems very unlikely that Rose actually heard anymore than some general gossip that was running through certain networks out of Miami. It[']s unlikely the two men with here [sic] had anything to do with the conspiracy and very unlikely that they were Arcacha Smith or Santana." (Larry Hancock, Intenet forum post, July 14, 2005, Emphasis added.) It is highly unlikely, Hancock adds, that Arcacha had anything to do with narcotics or prostitution:
First off, Mac Manual commented that he was very familiar with the two men as they had been routinely transporting prostitutes on the Miami to Texas route for an extended period of time; his terms suggest for at least a year if not longer. Arcacha's movements are fairly well known during the latter part of 62 and into [']63 as he first moved to Tampa and then to Galveston and on to Dallas. One of the reasons they are fairly well known is that he borrowed a car to go to Florida, did not return it in time and the car owner brought charges against him.
Regardless of that, he had been employed in Texas for several months in air conditioning sales and unless that was a cover for transporting prostitutes then it seems unlikely that he is a fit for one of Manual's two men. . . . Beyond that, I've found nothing in Arcacha's history (which is pretty detailed as a lot of people have looked into him) that suggests he would have been a small time gangster transporting prostitutes for an extended period in 1963.
2. House Select Committee Hearings Vol. X, p. 201.
3. Frank Meloche, Memorandum to Jim Garrison, March 13, 1967.
4. House Select Committee Hearings Vol. X, pp. 200-01.
5. Had seen Ruby and Oswald together: Frank Meloche, Memorandum to Jim Garrison, March 13, 1967. Had worked for Ruby as a stripper, Ruby and Oswald "bed partners": Lt. Francis Frugé, Memorandum to Jim Garrison, April 4, 1967. Ruby and Oswald "had been shacking up for years": HSCA Hearings, Vol. X, p. 202 (from Frugé's HSCA deposition).
6. Frank Meloche, Memorandum to Jim Garrison, March 13, 1967.
7. Frank Meloche, Memorandum to Jim Garrison, March 13, 1967.
8. Frank Meloche, Memorandum to Jim Garrison, March 13, 1967. Lt. Francis Frugé, Memorandum to Jim Garrison, April 4, 1967. George Rennar Interview with William Wood, a.k.a. Bill Boxley, 1971
9. Frank Meloche, Memorandum to Jim Garrison, March 13, 1967.
10. House Select Committee Hearings Vol. X, p. 200. Weiss testified that Bowers told Weiss about Cherami's remarks on November 25, 1963.
Dr. Donn Bowers's name was known to Jim Garrison's investigators in 1967, but there is no evidence that the New Orleans District Attorney's Office or the HSCA sought to interview him. Researcher Robert Dorff interviewed Dr. Bowers in 2002, and Bowers wrote a letter for Dorff to read at the JFK Lancer organization's November in Dallas 2003 convention. I quote from it here, transcribed from the DVD of Dorff's November in Dallas Conference presentation.
Referring to Dr. Weiss's allegation that Bowers had told Weiss that Rose Cherami had predicted the assassination of John F. Kennedy, Bowers wrote:
Dr. Weiss’s statement is untrue. I was not at the hospital on Monday, November the 25th. I spent that day working at my regular job at the Baptist Hospital in New Orleans, Louisiana. My regular tenure at East Louisiana State Hospital ended in July, 1963, when I moved to New Orleans and commenced work at the Baptist Hospital in that city. I worked weekdays Monday through Friday. On weekends I would drive to Jackson to earn extra money working in the medical division at the East Louisiana State Hospital.
I never saw Rose Cherami and only found out about her allegations on Sunday, November the 24th, 1963, during a dove hunting engagement with Dr. Weiss. It was he who told me what she allegedly told Weiss and possibly others. I was never contacted by anyone from the House Select Committee on Assassinations.
When I began getting telephone calls from assassination researchers informing me about the statements attributed to me, as memorialized [in Weiss's HSCA testimony], I called Dr. Weiss and asked him why he had said these things. Weiss rebuffed my inquiry and flatly refused to discuss it. I found that very odd as I had known and respected him for many years. I still cannot understand why he made those statements.
On mature reflection I recalled that, during our dove hunting foray on Sunday, November the 24th, Dr. Weiss told me about Cherami’s allegations. That was the first time I heard any of this. I remember that incident because, while driving back to New Orleans that day, I heard on the radio that Oswald had been shot in the basement of the Dallas Police Department. Years later I personally reviewed Rose Cherami’s hospital records at the East Louisiana State Hospital and was unable to find any reference to her alleged remarks about an impending assassination of President Kennedy.
I’m sorry I was unable to attend the JFK Lancers [sic] forum in Dallas and hope this letter makes clear that I had no contact with Rose Cherami.
Donn E. Bowers, MD
In a March 2, 2017, email to myself and several dozen prominent researchers, I was very gratified to hear from Anthony Summers, who informed me that Donn Bowers' statement and my research into the Cherami story had convinced him that the tale was no longer worthy of serious consideration. Summers wrote:
I had not until now seen Dave's take on the Cherami matter, and am very impressed by it. As I wrote a couple of days ago [in another email], my misgivings on the subject were sufficient to drop it from the 2013 edition of my book on the case -- it had previously been only a footnote.
My continuing interest in the episode had been sustained especially by Dr. Weiss' comment as to what Dr. Bowers had told him. Absent any interview with Bowers -- that I knew of - what Weiss said seemed to sustain the possibility that there was something to the overall story. Now that we have Bowers' account, that possibility seems to evaporate. I now lean towards the likelihood that - though Francis Frugé appeared forthright during his conversations with me -- he too may have fabricated or at least garbled.
I think the Cherami episode should now be consigned to the junkpile - as a red herring that one could well do without.
11. House Select Committee Hearings Vol. X, pp. 200-01.
12. This does not stop author Jim DiEugenio from citing several hearsay accounts as evidence of such foreknowledge, even when such accounts are easily debunked. For example, DiEugenio cites a Madison Capital Times report that Louisiana State University intern Wayne Owen and several others "were told of the plot [by Cherami] in advance of the assassination." (Jim DiEugenio, "Rose Cheramie [sic]: How She Predicted the JFK Assassination," Probe, Vol. 6, No, 5, July-August 1999.) However, the New Orleans Times-Picayune of February 3, 1968, clarifies that Owen and his fellow students had simply, at a later date, heard a hearsay account of the Cherami story from an unnamed professor of theirs at LSU Medical School. DiEugenio also claims that several "witnesses" reported that Cherami was watching television with some nurses, and "during the telecast moments before Kennedy was shot Rose Cheramie [sic] stated to them, ‘This is when it is going to happen’ and at that moment Kennedy was assassinated. The nurses, in turn, told others of Cheramie’s [sic] prognostication." DiEugenio is incorrect in citing "witnesses," however; the source of his information is third-hand hearsay -- a rumor -- allegedly reported to Lt. Francis Frugé by an unnamed party three and a half years later. Frugé told the NODA that he would be driving to Jackson the following day to investigate. There is no further mention of the story in the NODA's "Rose Cheramie" file. (Frank Meloche, Memorandum to Louis Ivon, May 22, 1967.) (As DiEugenio acknowledges, there was no live television coverage of the Dallas motorcade or the assassination.)
Author Joan Mellen, a personal friend of Jim Garrison, presents an even more sensational version of the "This is when it is going to happen" story, complete with partially fabricated dialogue:
On Friday, November 22nd, at twenty minutes before noon, Rose was watching television in the hospital recreation area. Scenes in Dallas flashed on the screen. President Kennedy was on his way.In similarly imaginative fashion, Mellen goes on to claim that "Rose Cheramie's [sic] death certificate reads 'bullet hole in the head . . ." (Mellen, p. 207.) Cherami's death certificate says no such thing; it lists the immediate cause of death as "Tramautic Head wound with Subdural & subarachnoid & Petechial Hemorrhage to the brain caused by being struck by auto." An autopsy was performed. (Certificate of Death, Melba Christine Marcades [a.k.a. Rose Cherami], State of Texas.)
"Somebody's got to do something!" Rose shouted. "They're going to kill the president!" No one paid any attention. The motorcade pulled into view. "Watch!" Rose cried out. "This is when it's going to happen! They're going to get him at the underpass!"
"POW!" Rose yelled as the shots rang out. (Joan Mellen, A Farewell to Justice: Jim Garrison, JFK's Assassination, and the Case That Should Have Changed History [Washington, D.C.: Potomac Books, 2005], p. 206.)
Dr. Cyril Wecht, the longtime coroner of Allegheny County, Pennsylvania, and a prominent, national expert in forensic pathology (and vociferous Warren Commission critic), studied the hospital records of Cherami's death and, while he found the description of her wounds (specifically, the notation of “deep punctate stellate type lacerations posted over the right side of her forehead”) somewhat confusing, concluded, "There is nothing to suggest a gunshot wound or any other kind of penetrating injury.” (Cyril Wecht, August 29, 2001, letter to Robert Dorff, quoted in Dorff's presentation at the JFK Lancer November in Dallas Conference 2003, DVD, JFK Lancer Co.)
13. In his Memorandum to Jim Garrison of April 4, 1967, Frugé claimed he had verified that Cherami had worked for Ruby, but there is no evidence to this effect, and there is no evidence that either the New Orleans District Attorney's Office (in 1967) or the House Select Committee (in 1978) requested or obtained such evidence.
14. Dave Reitzes, "Impeaching Clinton, Part Two: Jackson."
Source documents on Rose Cherami
Rose Cherami in the context of Garrison's Clinton, La., investigation
Back to the top
Back to The JFK 100
Back to Oliver Stone's JFK
Back to Jim Garrison menu
Back to JFK menu
Dave Reitzes home page