My buddy Joe Paolella recently committed to writing a lot of his personal history in response to a questionnaire from a historical project. This is a passage from the book The Kennedy Detail followed by Joe’s narrative:
Joe Paolella and I had a lot in common, in that we both graduated from the University of Colorado, prior to the Secret Service. Joe was a traveling poster boy for Chicago and had the Chicago personality, along with agents Ron Pontius, Joe Noonan and Ed Tucker.
Joe, as did all of the Kennedy detail agents, had his share of standing watch at Glen Ora, located in the Virginia horse country. Mrs. Kennedy did quite a bit of riding and used the English style saddle. One day Mrs. Kennedy motioned Joe over to where she was standing next to her horse. Joe played football at Colorado and he also worked out and was very muscular build. Being from Chicago, he had not had a lot of experience with horses. Joe walked over to Mrs. Kennedy and she said, “Agent Paolella, could you give me a hand?” She turned towards the horse and put her foot in the air for Joe to cup his hands and give her a lift to the saddle. Instead, Joe grabbed Mrs. Kennedy by the waist and lifted her up. She giggled and said, “ No, my foot.” Agent Landis and Agent Hill were standing on the other side of the horse thinking in their minds of the old “Laurel and Hardy films where the guy lifts the lady up and over the horse and falls down.” Agent Hill and Agent Landis were on the other side of the horse and being good agents, were prepared to catch her if she fell. Thank God she didn’t fall and everything turned out okay.
Secret Service Special Agent Joseph “Joe” Paolella
I was born in Chicago in 1928, a year before the “Great Depression of 1929” and shortly after my birth we moved to Los Angeles, California. My brother Don was born in 1930. My earliest childhood memories of Los Angeles were the wide-open spaces, not too many people or cars, clean air, the smell of orange blossoms and no smog. You could see Catalina Island from the west Los Angeles area. Sadly, when the depression hit, there was no work available in California and my dad could not find any gainful work. We moved back to Chicago in 1934, where my dad was able to find work as a clothing salesman in Chicago. The main downtown area was called “The Loop,” because the elevated train circled downtown Chicago, therefore, the nick name “The Loop.” After all of these years, the name still stands as a public icon.
As rough as it was, my mother didn’t work and spent her time as a mother with her boys. We lived in an apartment building on the west side of Chicago. Although, by today’s standards, we would be considered poor. We didn’t think so, nor did our friends. We never went hungry, but I don’t remember ever going to a restaurant. My dad at that time, made $50 per week and our two-bedroom apartment was $35 per month. I remember that milk was 10-cents a quart as was a loaf of bread. You could buy a hamburger for a nickel, going to the movies cost a dime and there were no fast food restaurants. Of course, we did not own a car and we had no T.V. We’d help our mother cut the string beans, take the peas out of the pea pods and peel the potatoes for dinner. We’d then wait patiently for dinner, which was always wonderful and delicious.
In those days, it seemed like everyone was middle-class. We lived in the same neighborhood as our doctor, baseball and football players, small business owners, policemen, carpenters, butchers, salesmen, factory workers and a host of other occupations. There wasn’t that great disparity between the blue-collar worker and professionals, we all lived in the same neighborhood. Doctors would come to your house and charge $2 for an examination. Gabby Hartnett, the manager of the Cub’s baseball team at the time, also lived in our neighborhood. Chicago at the time was also multi-ethic. It was like a smaller version of Europe. There were Italian, German, Irish, Jewish, Greek, Swedish, Lithuania, Polish and Bohemian neighborhoods. If you liked German food, you would go to a German neighborhood restaurant, Swedish food to a Swedish neighborhood. If you wanted Jewish or deli food, you would go to a Jewish neighborhood and so on and so forth. Every neighborhood had its own cultures, but we all really considered ourselves AMERICAN. In fact, my dad would not let his mother and father teach us Italian, because he wanted us to speak English. He said we were, “Modigan,” which is Italian slang for American.
I had many goals when I was growing up. For a while, I wanted to be a great explorer or an archaeologist who would find a lost civilization in the Amazon. I wanted to travel and see the world. I wanted an exciting and interesting life where I could also do some good. I grew up reading “King Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table.” I often wished that I had lived in those times where I could have helped those in need and protect them from the bad guys. Becoming a Secret Service Agent seemed to fulfill those goals. I felt we were all, “Knights of the Realm” protecting the President of the United States.
After leaving the U.S. Marine Corps, I went to DePaul University in Chicago for one year and then transferred to the University of Colorado graduating with a B.A. degree in Economics and Psychology. During my time in the Marine Corp, I was on the wrestling team. At the University of Colorado, I played football and was on the boxing team while at DePaul University. I stopped boxing after I became a little “dingy” from being hit so much. Upon graduating from college, I worked as an insurance underwriter and then as a loan officer at a bank in Chicago before becoming a U.S. Secret Service Agent in 1959.
Reaching my adulthood during World War II, I believed I wanted to do something for my country and thought there wasn’t a better occupation a person could choose, than protecting the “President of the United States”, the leader of the free-world. The U.S. Secret Service hired me in 1959, and stationed me at the Chicago field office. While I was in the Marines I had gotten a tattoo and didn’t realize when I joined the Secret Service that having a tattoo was “taboo”, as far as being a federal agent was concerned. During a hot Chicago day, about six months after joining the Secret Service, I was working out of the Chicago field office at that time, we didn’t have any air conditioning, so I had worn a short-sleeved shirt. Paterni, the SAIC, had noticed my tattoo. He was astonished that I had been hired, because at that time, it was unheard of for an agent to have a tattoo. However, he needed an undercover agent and decided that having a tattoo would be great cover for me, because the bad guys would not believe a guy with a tattoo could or would be an agent. I had gotten lucky and made several good cases resulting in the arrest of many counterfeiters. Since most of the big-time counterfeiters were Italian from the Chicago area, I fitted right in. I was also fortunate to be “backed-up” by great and brave Secret Service agents from the Chicago field office, which was directed by SAIC Paterni. They were SA’s, Mike Weinstein, Dick Jordan, Bob Burke, Joe Noonan, Tom Strong, Tony Sherman, Sam Sulliman, Dale Keaner, Bob Motto and many others.
While undercover at the “Texas Ranch Club” in Chicago, a wild place even by Chicago standards, I never worried because I was “backed-up” by Bob Burke, Dick Jordan and Tom Strong who were interspersed with the other customers. We were at the club to buy counterfeit (queer money) with “marked money.” The counterfeit money was selling for $20 of good money, for $100 worth of “funny money.” Selling the counterfeit money for only $20 meant that we were getting close to the printer. After buying about $10,000 worth of “queer money,” I signaled Bob Burke, who then signaled the rest of the team on the outside of the club, which was led by Mike Weinstein. The seller of the counterfeit money and I were arrested. Naturally, the counterfeiters tried to blame Joe Parisi (my undercover name). Imagine how surprised they were when they found out that Parisi also was a U.S. Secret Service Agent. A note to that case, we never did find the printing press. Obviously, the person I bought the counterfeit money from was probably a minor Mafia figure and wouldn’t talk. In those days, these guys would rather go to jail and prison than break the “Mafia Code of Silence,” because that meant a death sentence.
Another interesting case occurred in a small town, called Peoria, Illinois. We had arrested a person passing “phony-money” and offered him a deal. He was to arrange a meeting with the person he had bought the counterfeit money from. If he did that, he might not have to go to prison. In those days, a person passing counterfeit money could get up to 15-years in prison. He eventually decided to introduce me to his seller. He was the person who sold the counterfeit money to the person we had caught and was the owner of a nightclub. From the front, the club looked like a quaint Italian restaurant. After introducing me to “Tony” (not the buyer’s real name), we went through the process of getting acquainted. “Tony” began sizing me up by asking a lot questions about who I was. Even though it was a cold February evening, I wore my T-shirt (called a “wife beater”) that had no sleeves, in order for my tattoo to be seen more easily. Since I used to live in an Italian neighborhood on the south side of Chicago, I knew the names and reputations of the “bad guys” and could talk like I was part of their group. I guess he believed me, because he asked me to follow him. At that time, there were two other agents in the restaurant and the others were outside ready to make the “bust.” The plan looked perfect, except that “Tony” took me into a walk-in freezer where I saw rows and rows of sides-of-beef hanging on hooks. I thought, “Oh, oh, I’m in deep trouble now,” imaging that I might be hooked-up along side those other carcasses if my cover got blown.”C
The other agents couldn’t follow me into the freezer and when he closed the freezer door, it was just him and me. We walked past a row of hanging beef carcasses until we reached the end of the row. At the end, was a small door, which “Tony” opened, revealing a large ballroom with a well lit bar and people dancing. I gave a sigh of relief knowing that I had, at least for the time being, escaped out of that freezer. I’m not much of a dancer, but after being in that freezer with “Tony,” I felt like dancing across that ballroom floor and having myself a stiff drink. When I glanced around the room, everybody seemed to be having fun. After a few drinks with “Tony,” I was getting to know the suspect better. We discussed the business of me buying the “phony-money” with some good money. We dickered about the price for a bit and I offered him $15 of good money for every $100 of the “phony-money notes.” After more dickering, we agreed upon $20 per each $100 note, with me buying $10,000 worth of the counterfeit money. The price came out to, $2000 of good U.S. money, for $10,000 of the counterfeit notes.
I told him that I would be interested in twice that amount if I could get it for $15 per $100 note at a later date and “Tony” agreed. Previously, I had asked “Tony” about the abundance of what appeared to be “single women.” He said, “Aside from owning the restaurant, I also run a brothel.” We cemented the deal when I gave him the $2000 in “marked money” for his $10,000 of counterfeit $100 bills. The “phony-money” was packed and strapped with a band, which looked like it just came off the press. I was able to put that $10,000 in my jacket pocket.
Just before I was ready to leave the club and before I could signal the other agents (in those days, there were no cell phones or wireless communications to signal your backup) to arrest the counterfeiter, my new found friend offered me his “head-madam,” who also happened to be his girlfriend. I was now in a real dilemma. If I went with her, I’d be committing a crime, “being intimate with a known prostitute,” which would make it impossible to testify in court after his arrest. On the other hand, if I refused, he’d get suspicious knowing that undercover agents can’t mess around with known prostitutes and I would effectively “blow” my cover.
The only thing I could think of was letting him know how much I appreciated his offer, but I had to refuse, because I was just getting over a case of the “clap” (gonorrhea). He looked at me for a moment and then grabbed me around the shoulders, saying, “Thanks Paisan, for telling me. I’ve got a wife and three kids. I don’t want my wife or me to get it from Linda (the prostitute’s name). Thanks again for telling me”. I tried to pretend to persuade him into letting me be with her, saying that, “I’m practically over it, so don’t worry, I really want to be with her.” “Tony” said, “That’s okay, you can be with her the next time we make a deal” I left after another drink and signaled the outside agents by taking my hat off. That was the prearranged signal to let them know that I had made the buy. “Tony” was arrested shortly after I’d left. We never did find the printing press. Obviously, “Tony” got the counterfeit from someone very close to the source, or, was the source of the counterfeit himself. Since “Tony” was a minor Mafia hood and about 40-years old, a possible 15-years in prison, was better than having no future if he had “copped-out” and gave up his source.
R-Joe Paolella, L-JFK
After working undercover in other similar cases, I was happy to hear that I had been transferred to the “White House Detail.” My military background included 2-years in the U.S. Marine Corps where I served in overseas tours in Argentina, Newfoundland, Halifax, Nova Scotia and the Virgin Islands.
On November 22, 1963, I was assigned to guard the Kennedy residence at Rattlesnake Mountain in Virginia. The events of the day included driving from Washington D.C. to the Kennedy residence at Rattlesnake Mountain to secure the residence from people who may try to get in, even though the Kennedy’s were not there. Every week, three men from the White House Detail were assigned different shifts at Rattlesnake Mountain to ensure twenty-four hour security. After the assassination, I was re-assigned to guard the presidential vehicle after it had been flown back to the White House garage. Several hospital staff members from Bethesda Naval Hospital entered the vehicle to remove scalp, brain tissue and bone matter from the back seat. While waiting for the Bethesda Naval Hospital attendants to arrive, I did notice what appeared to be a bullet-hole in the front windshield of the driver’s side. I do not remember if the glass remnants were on the inside of the vehicle or the outside of the windshield. If the glass remnants were on the inside of the car, it would offer some acceptance to the theory that at least one of the shots came from the front of the President’s vehicle.
I don’t remember anything out of the ordinary regarding my duties prior to the assassination other than several trips to the Kennedy residence in Palm Beach, Florida. I also recall an incident in Chicago involving a suspect who was planning to assassinate the President. However, I was not involved in that investigation and the threat was taken care of by the Chicago office of the Secret Service.
I believe Oswald was the shooter and though I am not a conspiracy buff, I believe if others were involved, I think the Mafia would be the only ones who could have pulled it off without someone later confessing involvement in the President’s assassination. In those days, Mafia members had a strict code that did not allow them to confess. It had been said that a New Orleans Mafia Don, Carlos Marcello, was heard to say, “If you cut off the head of the snake (JFK), the tail (RFK), would die.” At that time, Robert Kennedy was the Attorney General and was working against the Mafia. Shortly after the assassination, Robert Kennedy was fired and it took another 20-years before the F.B.I. made any headway against the Mafia.
I was assigned to escort the entourage to the cemetery the day of the funeral walking by the “Rider less Horse.” The look-of-shock and sadness on the faces of the people along the route showed how devastated they were, especially the Afro-Americans who believed they had just lost the person who would lead them to equality.
There was a popular song in the 70’s with a line that beautifully describes the way I felt then and perhaps, still do…”The Day the Music Died”. Whoever penned the Kennedy years as, “Camelot,” in my estimation, was completely right. The Eisenhower years were a time of stability, but somewhat stagnant. President Kennedy brought a feeling of youth, vitality and much needed change. He was at the forefront of the Civil Rights Movement, which included equality for women and helped move our country in the direction of fulfilling the “Great American Dream” of liberty and justice for all. His assassination made me realize my own mortality. I think we lived in a kind of age on innocence that was shattered when he was shot. No longer did I feel that the good guys would always win. After all, he was the ultimate “good guy;” yet, his life was cut short before he could fulfill his promises. I believe we are still feeling the after affects of his death to this day.
I always admired President Kennedy’s sense of humor, graciousness and his love for people. Wherever he went, if he saw a group of children or nuns, he would have the motorcade stop, which perplexed us, because when stopped, he would make an easier target. After he’d stop, he would shake hands and talk to them. I remember one morning at the Palm Beach residence; President Kennedy wanted to take a walk on the beach. However, there was couple on the beach wrapped up in a blanket, oblivious to everything and everybody around them. The President asked us to make some noise hoping that the couple would move. We tried, but whatever we did, it didn’t seem to faze them and they remained there. The President just shrugged and said, “Let them be” and went back into the house.
Joe Paolella guarding JFK during the Cuban Missile Crisis
Shortly after his election, while walking into the Oval Office with an old-time family friend, Mugsey O’Leary, he mentioned to him that we should be called the “Silent Service”, instead of the Secret Service, because during the Eisenhower years, we stood-at-attention without saying anything and it remained that way with President Kennedy. After Mugsey informed us of the President’s comments, we started to acknowledge him and say, “Good morning Mr. President” or “Good afternoon” or “Good evening” when we saw him passing through.
When I compare the country of today versus the country of my youth, I’m struck by the variety of my old neighborhood in Chicago. I thought I was middle-class because my dad was a salesman, there was a doctor across the street, my best friend’s dad was a carpenter, my uncle was a bricklayer and the next-door neighbor owned a business. Yet, we all lived together on the same level. There was no feeling that the doctor or the business owner was any better than the “blue-collar” worker. I remember the manager of the Cubs, Gabby Hartnett, also lived in our neighborhood. We all worked hard. As a kid, I was a caddy and I set pins in a bowling alley. When I was 16-years old, I worked as a maintenance man at Bell & Howell making the outstanding amount (or so I thought) of 60-cents per hour. I remember thinking, “Just imagine, I am making a penny a minute!” During the summer months while going to the University of Colorado, I worked as a rod carrier and cement mixer and thought that I was the luckiest guy in the world making a buck-an-hour.
After leaving the Secret Service in 1965, I returned to Chicago and worked as a loan officer for a federal savings & loan bank. However, in 1968, I became bored and wanted to return to work in investigations and personal protection. I started a company called American Security Agents. I also went to John Reid Polygraph School and became a polygraph examiner in 1969. In 1980, I sold the company American Security Agents and started a similar company called Joseph Paolella & Associates in California doing the same kind of work. In 2003, I started the American College of Forensic Studies, which is a school to train and instruct Private Investigators, Polygraph Examiners and Security Officers.
While in the Marine Corp, I became a sharpshooter and received a medal for the First Arctic Expedition in Agentia, Newfoundland. In 1987, I founded the California Organization for Private Police (COPP) and helped co-found the Illinois Polygraph Society.