The Jesus de Galindez Case

| 16 Feb 2015 | 05:41

    On March 12, 1956, Jesus de Galindez, a lecturer in Spanish and government at Columbia University, conducted a graduate seminar in Hamilton Hall on Latin American government. At 10 p.m., he entered the subway at 57th St. and 8th Ave. He was never seen or heard from again. n As Galindez was a bachelor of irregular habits, his disappearance went unnoticed for several days. The police found his apartment in order. Investigators found neither evidence of violence nor any decisive clues. However, hints and leads abounded. Most pointed toward the Dominican Republic, where Galindez had lived from 1939 to 1946 and which Rafael Trujillo had ruled since 1930. Galindez's friends knew, and a note among his possessions confirmed, that he had feared violence from Dominican sources.

    On Dec. 4, 1956, some nine months later, a Ford belonging to Gerald Murphy, an American citizen from Oregon, was found abandoned by the sea in Ciudad Trujillo, the Dominican capital. Murphy, a pilot for CDA, the Dominican national airline, was never seen again. However, Murphy had confided to his fiancee, a Pan American Airways stewardess, about his experiences in Dominican service. She in turn told his parents, who harassed Murphy's congressional representatives, Sen. Wayne Morse and Rep. Charles O. Porter. The politicians persistently lobbied the Justice and State Depts. to find out what had happened. The bureaucrats, in turn, pestered the Dominican government.

    In late December 1956, the Dominican government arrested and charged Octavio de la Maza, another CDA pilot, with Murphy's murder. Apparently, de la Maza was advised to admit the murder while pleading self-defense. The story suggested to de la Maza was that Murphy had propositioned him during a drive. De la Maza had rejected him with horror and disgust. The men had brawled and Murphy had accidentally fallen from the cliffs where the Ford had been found. The catch was that de la Maza was unwilling to go along with the story.

    Then, during the early morning of Jan. 7, 1957, de la Maza was found hanging from the showerhead in his cell. A nearby note, claiming that he had committed suicide in a fit of remorse, conveniently explained everything.

    No one believed this. The American pressure became overwhelming. FBI agents were allowed to investigate de la Maza's death. They found he had been too tall to hang himself from the showerhead. Moreover, the showerhead was too flimsy to have borne his weight long enough to permit his death by strangulation. Last, the handwriting in the note was a forgery.

    All these cases were intertwined by the hands of Trujillo.

    After Gen. Franco's victory in the Spanish Civil War, Galindez had exiled himself to Ciudad Trujillo, where he taught and provided legal advice to the departments of National Economy and of Labor. He was pleasant, charming, bookish, scholarly and something of a poet. Nonetheless, he held strong radical and democratic opinions, however politely expressed, and thus found trouble in Ciudad Trujillo.

    Christopher Columbus had originally named the city Santo Domingo. However, the Dominican Congress had recently renamed it for the dictator. Rafael Trujillo had begun his career as a petty criminal and hellraiser. In 1916, President Wilson had sent the U.S. Marines to occupy the Dominican Republic after decades of political instability. The next year, the Marines created a Dominican national police force. Trujillo volunteered. Within months, the intelligent, charming recruit had become an officer. The Marines found him useful: aside from being an instinctively good soldier, he proved an amazingly resourceful pimp. By 1924, he was a major.

    Then the Marines went home, leaving the newly minted Colonel Trujillo as chief of staff. By 1930, the National Guard had become the Army, with Trujillo its commanding general. Trujillo manipulated a coup d'etat that ended with elections that he won through terror and ballot box stuffing.

    Trujillo ruled for the next 31 years. He built highways, low-income housing, hospitals and schools, balanced the budget, repaid the entire national debt and put the Dominican peso at par with the American dollar. The price was a totalitarian state. His spies and informers were everywhere. No man and no man's family was exempt from the regime: the dictator's arrest orders for political crimes usually named a suspect "and family," requiring the arrest of him and his relatives up to and including first cousins. Oppositionists were tortured in prison with beatings; they were whipped, stabbed or shocked in electric chairs; cattle prods were applied to their genitals; some were castrated.

    Trujillo demanded abject public adulation. The country's highest mountain peak would bear his name. Robert D. Crassweller, in Trujillo: The Life and Times of a Caribbean Dictator, observed, "The anniversaries of Trujillo's election in 1930, of his inauguration, of his redemption of the national debt, of his birthday, and of his entry into the army, were all days of nationwide demonstrations and celebration." Provinces, cities and streets throughout the Republic were renamed for him and for members of his family.

    His image, in plaques, busts, statues and portraits, was everywhere. His sycophants devised such honorifics as Generalissmo, Doctor, Benefactor of the Fatherland, Father of the New Fatherland, Loyal and Noble Champion of World Peace, or Maximum Protector of the Dominican Working Class. He was declared by law an authority on all subjects. The walls of even the humblest shack bore framed cards reading, "Thanks to God and Trujillo" or "In this house, Trujillo is the Chief."

    Through his family and cronies, he monopolized or dominated the production of salt, peanut oil, shoes, matches, cement, soap, paint, glass, beer, meat, chocolate, cigarettes and flour. Through his brothers, he controlled gambling and prostitution. His personal life was tangled by compulsive lust: he had three wives, two mistresses and hundreds, perhaps thousands, of one-night stands. He was cunning and ruthless: not so much sadistic as unrestrained by conscience in working out his ideas to their logical conclusions.

    In 1946, Galindez left for New York. He taught at Columbia. He also advised clients on matters of Dominican law, wrote articles and became active in various Spanish and Basque exile groups. His obsession with Trujillo's character and career led him to write his doctoral dissertation on "The Era of Trujillo." It is a rigorously thorough, unprejudiced study of the dictatorship that discusses Trujillo's accomplishments as well as his abuse of power and reliance on terror.

    Somehow, a Dominican consular officer in New York learned about the dissertation. Common sense dictates that no one pays attention to any doctoral dissertation save one's own. Nonetheless, the officer wrote to Trujillo, suggesting that it would attack Trujillo's family as well as the Generalissmo himself and that Galindez's connection with Columbia would lend his work tremendous prestige. The dictator fell for it. By 1956, according to Crassweller, "Vanity and the need for adulation had ascended from obsession into monomania and now hovered on the fine edge of imbalance."

    Dominican agents offered Galindez $25,000 for the dissertation. Galindez refused. Then, Trujillo learned that Galindez would present his dissertation before the faculty committee of Columbia's history department on Feb. 27, 1956: Dominican Independence Day. The dictator considered this a supreme personal insult. Galindez would have to be killed.

    His operatives schemed. They needed a pilot, preferably an American, who might operate in the United States without attracting much attention. Through his agents in America, Gen. Arturo Espaillat, the gracious, engaging and utterly lethal chief of Dominican military intelligence, found Murphy, whose single-minded ambition to fly had so far been thwarted by bad eyesight.

    In early 1956, Murphy was offered a contract to fly a charter from the United States to the Dominican Republic. On March 12, 1956, Murphy landed a twin-engine Beech airplane at Amityville, L.I. Late that night, an ambulance pulled up. A man on a stretcher was carried from the truck to the plane. Only Murphy and the night watchman saw the ambulance arrive. The night watchman told at least two other people before his sudden death from a convenient heart attack.

    The plane flew to West Palm Beach, FL. There, a mechanic entered the cabin to fill extra fuel tanks. He saw a body lying on a stretcher, either dead or unconscious, and smelled a peculiar odor that he thought might have been a drug. The mechanic died in an airplane crash six days before he was to testify under oath about what he had seen. The plane then flew to Monte Cristi in the Dominican Republic. According to Bernard Diederich's The Death of the Goat, Galindez was transferred to a CDA plane and flown to Ciudad Trujillo. There, he was brought to Casa de Caoba, Trujillo's favorite residence. He was carried into the huge barroom that occupies half of the second floor.

    The dictator strode in, carrying a riding crop. In his hand was a copy of Galindez's dissertation. He extended the hand with the document. "Eat it," Trujillo barked. Still drugged, Galindez took the papers, gazed at Trujillo and then dropped his head to his chest and the papers to the floor. Trujillo cursed at him, shouting, "Pendejo! Pendejo!" as he beat Galindez over the head with the riding crop. Then he stalked out of the room.

    No more than 24 hours after his last lecture, Galindez was taken to an interrogation chamber in Ciudad Trujillo. He was stripped and handcuffed. A rope was tied to his feet and led through an overhead pulley. Then he was lowered inch by inch into a vat of boiling water. Then the remains were thrown to the sharks.

    Murphy carried out several other errands for Trujillo. In December 1956, he arranged to return to the United States. He met his girlfriend at the airport, where she was on a brief stopover. He told her that he had a 5 p.m. appointment at the National Palace. The next day his car was found.

    Galindez's disappearance has never been completely solved. Neither was Murphy's. De la Maza's brothers conspired against the dictator. Trujillo was assassinated on the evening of May 30, 1961. Antonio de la Maza was one of the gunmen. He stood over the dictator's body, took Trujillo's pistol from his hand, murmured, "This hawk won't kill any more chickens," aimed at the face and squeezed the trigger.