Confusion and diverging claims have long accompanied a series of assertions that allege a French or Corsican gunman killed President Kennedy. Unlike some other areas in the case, the "French Connection" relies on some evidence but also lacks certain necessary facts to demonstrate the associated claims. Many related ideas concern three names, Jean Rene Souetre, Michel Victor Mertz, and Michel Roux. Now add to the normal confusion that assertedly Souetre and Mertz both used each other's name as their alias. Souetre also used the name Michel Roux as well. Some authors and members of the public have claimed these men were responsible, yet what does the evidence reveal and how certain are these allegations?
October 15, 1930 Jean Rene Marie Souetre was born in the Gironde region of southwest France; he is French and not Corsican. The Corsican trait was one stated as desirable in the Central Intelligence Agency ZRRIFLE documents for possible assassin candidates. In 1953, he was a captain in the French Air Force serving near Rheims. During his time in Petite Mulion, Souetre is reportedly associated with US Army Captain Dr. Lawrence Alderson. Souetre was stationed in Algiers, Morocco from 1955 until 1959 and was the commanding officer of a notable parachute group. He gained two prestigious medals for his time in the French Air Force.
In 1961, Souetre deserted his military post and joined a French anti-Communist and terrorist organization. The Secret Army Organization (OAS) was a French ultra-nationalist group who sought to prevent Algerian independence and overthrow the French government of Charles de Gaulle. Eventually French officials captured Souetre and sentenced him to imprisonment via a military tribunal in Algiers. Yet in February 1962, he and a large group of OAS members reportedly escaped from their detention camp. During 1963, he is undertaking foreign affairs on behalf of the OAS.i
In May of the same year, two members of the OAS made contact with US officials in Lisbon, Portugal to "Enlist the Cooperation of the United States for its anti-de Gaulle Activities". "The attempt was made by Captain Jean Rene Souetre...Souetre said that he foresaw the U.S. role as that of convincing other governments to cease suppressing OAS activities in their respective countries...Souetre explained that he traveled on various passports, one of them a U.S. passport...he stated that he had U.S. contacts who could arrange documentation."ii CIA officials responded the Agency did not intend to help overthrow the government of France. The Agency was likely far too busy with its efforts to overthrow Communist leaders in the Western Hemisphere to divert resources to a fledgling group with little chance of success against an established ally.
Souetre attempting to court US officials in Portugal states "...after de Gaulle, there would be only two choices in France: Communism and the OAS."iii He then offered a series of claims and bravado regarding the OAS and its belief that de Gaulle's national government was aiding the Communists. Souetre additionally states the OAS was attempting to penetrate the French army to build a counter force. The Agency seemingly dismissed Souetre's continued attempt to gain aid for the OAS.
In late November, Souetre was reportedly "...expelled from the U.S.at Fort Worth or Dallas 48 hours after the assassination. He was in Fort Worth on the morning of the 22 November and in Dallas in the afternoon." Thus, Souetre was not in just reportedly in Dallas but also might have been expelled at Fort Worth, the document does not specify. It states Souetre was in Fort Worth in the morning and Dallas in the afternoon, yet the assassination occurs at 12:30 pm. However, the document again is not specific regarding when he exactly supposedly went to Dallas.
If he was not immediately present in Dallas, armed, and in position within thirty minutes, it is unlikely he could effectively participate when the assassination occurred. Consider Souetre has no prior knowledge of the scene if he only went to Dallas on the afternoon of the November 22, 1963. He would have no time to establish a good firing position, no verifiable witness statements note him at the scene, and his expulsion would have been far more likely be related to terrorist activities and illegal entry into the United States. Yet there is little evidence to support he actually was ever expelled.
The related document states "...concerning subject stating that he had been expelled from the U.S."iv A check of official files did not support the related claim; no corroborating evidence was discovered to support the expulsion. The claim relies solely upon Souetre's assertion to the French government. Notable researcher and attorney Bernard Fensterwald regards the matter in his legal brief stating, "If, as the French believe, he was in Dallas..."v but without this belief in Souetre's claim, there is no verifiable reason to support it. Souetre later publicly denied any involvement with the assassination of President Kennedy. Notably he made further unverified claims to American tabloid the National Enquirer that further muddied the waters.vi
A different supporting claim was offered by researcher Gary Shaw that Souetre's past associate Dr. Lawrence Alderson years later claimed the FBI approached him and stated "Mr. Souetre either killed Kennedy or knew who did."vii Unfortunately, Alderson had already prior told the Bureau that he "Never knew him (Souetre) to be in the United States"viii and thus his legal statement contends his later private assertion. During an interview in 1981 Souetre was quoted as stating that he and Michel Mertz prior served together in Algeria but he did not see Mertz after 1959. Mertz reportedly according to Souetre also used the alias Jean Souetre in Dallas.ix No corroboration for these additional statements is offered beyond Souetre's repeated assertions.
Michel Victor Mertz similar to Souetre was reportedly another non-Corsican native of France despite some prior claims. He was enlisted within the German Army in 1941, and deserted two years later to assist leading the French Resistance. Following WWII, he joined the French Army and participated in counter-espionage operations. Mertz joined the External Documentation and Counterespionage Service (SDECE) a French government intelligence organization.x Notably the SDECE was an official enemy of terrorist groups that include the OAS Souetre had joined. Similar to Souetre, Mertz was given two prestigious awards for his military service. Notably Mertz was dispatched abroad by the SDECE to penetrate terrorist groups.xi
Mertz reportedly was married to the daughter of a famous Paris bordello owner who introduced Mertz to the French and Canadian underworld. During 1960, Mertz was allegedly engaged in both espionage and large-scale narcotics smuggling. Fensterwald states "Mertz was one of a great number of Frenchmen who had both SDECE and narcotics connections...In 1961, Mertz' profitable narcotics smuggling was interrupted when the SDECE ordered him back to France and then to Algeria to penetrate the OAS." He later gained intelligence that prevented a bomb attack against French President Charles de Gaulle. Mertz was later arrested for passing out OAS leaflets in Paris. This was likely to reinforce his false OAS support, and
he traveled to Canada from France with an officially provided ticket.
Following his arrival in Canada, Mertz and his criminal cohorts within North America were able to smuggle tons of heroin across the Atlantic Ocean. Mertz according to Fensterwald has several criminal associates and was connected to a related drug operation in Florida led by Mafia leader Santos Trafficante. Yet there is no evidence Mertz like Souetre was in Texas during the time of the assassination beyond the claims of Souetre that he or Mertz was involved. "His present whereabouts are unknown".xii
The final name offered in connection with the Souetre and Mertz claims is Michel Roux. While Roux is an alias used by Souetre, it also was the name of a real person as well. Michel Roux allegedly was another deserter of the French Army similar to Souetre and Mertz. He was born August 31, 1940 Soyaux, France. Roux is a room clerk at the Proust Hotel in October of 1963. Roux befriends two tourists during their stay at the hotel named the Gachmans. Roux served as the brothers Paris guide and drove them around himself.xiii Roux confided he was a Lieutenant in the French Army for years similar to Souetre and Mertz served in Algeria. Yet Roux claims he possessed an honorable discharge unlike others related to prior assassination claims. Roux tells the men he wants to operate a restaurant or hotel and during their conversations, Leon Gachman told Roux that good job prospects existed in Houston, Texas. Gachman extended an invitation to visit them in Fort Worth if Roux came to America.xiv
Michel Roux arrived in the United States on November 19, 1963. The verifiable evidence supports Roux has little time to prepare if he plans to assassinate someone. He boarded a plane in Orly, Paris and arrived in New York ironically on Air France Flight #007. Roux's travel plans mark Houston as his destination as prior suggested by Gachman.xv The evening of November 20, 1963 Roux attempts to reach the Gachmans by phone and fails. Some might suggest this is not Roux and instead was Souetre or Mertz using an alias; but would they schedule a social visit with possible witnesses? For what reason would a hidden assassin take additional chances to be spotted in the area by locals and destroy any chance of a false alibi? It seems quite unlikely if the purpose of the visit is a clandestine assassination.
The next morning Leon Gachman contacted and speaks to Michel Roux and Roux takes a bus to Fort Worth to meet the Gachmans.
On the evening of November 21 Roux is picked up by Gachman and spends the evening with the entire family. This would confirm that Roux is their former companion from France a month prior and not someone impersonating him. Roux tells the Gachmans he sought a hotel job and wants to eventually send for his wife and child in France. Roux is driven to the Fox Manor Hotel where he stays for the evening.
The following morning Leon Gachman's son Arnold picks up Roux and they attend Arnold's college classes until noon, subsequently Roux and Arnold go to a cafe for lunch and hear of the attack on President Kennedy. They later return to the Gachman home, listen to the radio, and watch television to learn further details. "The Gachmans stated that during Roux-s (sic) visit in Ft. Worth he was not involved in any matter with the local police or federal authorities and was almost constantly in their company."xvi Roux has an established alibi with multiple witnesses and was observed miles from the scene of the Kennedy assassination when it occurred. He later immigrated and became a citizen of the United States. Yet his private lifestyle and refusal to be interviewed might have added a nefarious specter to the claims regarding him. While travel records do show that a few people with the last names Roux and Mertz traveled days after the assassination, they do not match the men often associated with these claims.
Despite the nefarious speculations regarding a "French Connection", the only person repeatedly associated with the claims that substantial evidence supports was near Dallas was Michel Roux. Yet Roux was never in Dallas, and without additional verifiable evidence there is no reason to support that Mertz or Souetre were either. The story evolves and is built on several similar features attributed to contending suspects, yet ultimately none of them is the viable assassin of President Kennedy based upon the current evidence. While it is possible additional new verifiable evidence could emerge, the current record suggests the French Connection story remains highly improbable.
i. Central Intelligence Agency, Miscellaneous Series, Letter: Because of your known interest in the Kennedy Assassination/Copy of "Project currently being undertaken by the amateurs", pp. 2-3
ii.House Select Committee on Assassinations, Federal Bureau of Investigation Subject file, S-T, Jean Souetre, No Title, July 12, 1963
iii. HSCA, Segregated CIA file, Info Report- Alleged plans of Secret Army Organization in Portugal for Post De Gaulle Takeover in France, Box 52, June 25, 1963
iv. CIA, Oswald 201 File, Volume 33, Jean Souetre's Expulsion from U.S., April 1, 1964, p. 2
v. CIA, Russ Holmes Work File, New Shaw/Allen FOIA Litigation, August 8, 1982
vi.National Enquirer Article, November 22, 1983, Subject Index, Harold Weisberg Archive, jfk.hood.edu
vii. CIA, RHWF, Kennedy Assassination (I), Kaleidoscope program transcript, p. 14
viii. HSCA, Federal Bureau of Investigation Subject File, S-T, Jean Souetre, March 5, 1964, p. 2
ix. CIA, RHWF, Assorted Newspaper Clippings..., All the President's Triggermen, (n.d.)
x. CIA, RHWF, Shaw/Allen FOIA Litigation
xi. Pierre Demaret, "Target de Gaulle", MW Books, 1975, pp. 98-102
xii. CIA, RHWF, Shaw/Allen FOIA Litigation
xiii. HSCA, FBI Sub. File, Jean Souetre, No Title, March 11, 1964, pp. 1
xiv. Ibid, March 12, 1964, pp. 1-2
xv. Ibid, March 13, 1964, p. 1
xvi. Ibid, March 11, pp. 2, 3