Recent evidence concludes that di Monti may have been a co-conspirator of Ruby, Oswald, and Travanty.
© Phil Gammage
Dallas, Texas in the early 1960s was a city of many faces. On one hand, it was known as the “Buckle on the Bible Belt” and was the home to many churches and centers of Christian life. The high society of the city resided in the Highland Park enclave and everyone supported the new pro football team, the Cowboys. However, like many American cities of the era, Dallas had a dark side. The line between law enforcement and criminals was often a blurry one. State law forbade the selling of “liquor by the drink” to its citizens, yet on an any given night of the week, a man or woman could easily buy themselves a drink of alcohol at one of the city’s notorious downtown bars and burlesques — establishments often visited by members of the law enforcement community. It was in this kind of city that Monte di Monti found himself.
For many years the exact whereabouts of di Monti during the early 60s have remained a mystery. While it is known that he lived in Las Vegas (during the pocket billiard craze) and Studio City, California during this time, there are several months that cannot be accounted for. Recently, however, the research staff of PreFab International has been able to uncover some reliable information about his activities during this time period. It is startling to find that di Monti, along with his paramour Lavonne St. John, were living in Dallas, Texas in November of 1963 — the same time and place that our thirtieth President John F. Kennedy was murdered by an assassin’s bullet in Dealey Plaza.
Here is a rough timeline of di Monti’s whereabouts during the time period from September of 1960 to May of 1964.
September 1960 – August 1961: di Monti resides with Miss St. John in Studio City, California. His activities during this time period are unknown. St. John is employed as an exotic dancer by the El Rey burlesque club circuit and performs regularly at west coast nightclubs in Los Angeles, Oakland, San Francisco, and Seattle.
August 1961 – January 1962: di Monti shuttles between Las Vegas and Reno, Nevada; his source of livelihood is believed to be pool hustling. St. John continues to reside in Studio City.
February 1962 – December 1962: di Monti returns to live for several months with Miss St. John in her Studio City apartment. His activities are unknown.
January 1963 – February 1964: di Monti and St. John move to the Oak Cliff section of Dallas, Texas, where she is represented by Premier Talent Management as an exotic dancer. She performs in nightclubs in Dallas, Houston, New Orleans, Biloxi, and Memphis. It is believed that at this time di Monti works for a Dallas-based numbers racket that is also purported to have involved Jack Ruby.
March 1964 – April 1964: Utility records show a Monte di Monti residing at an apartment complex on Hazard Street in the Montrose section of Houston, Texas. Miss St. John continues to reside in Oak Cliff until returning to California the first week of April.
Focusing on his period in Texas starting in 1963 we see that di Monti’s relocation to Dallas mostly likely revolved around the new employment of Lavonne St. John as an exotic dancer working a circuit of clubs based in Dallas and nearby cities. It is unknown what prompted her desire to relocate to Texas, but it is speculated that the reason was financially based. St. John was one of the west coast’s best-drawing and most successful exotic dancers of the early 60s and it’s believed that when her contract was bought by the Premier Talent Management booking agency she was enticed by a large pay raise to relocate to the south.
Premier Talent Management had an office address listed in the 1963 Dallas phonebook as 427 Commerce Street. This would place it just a few blocks from Jack Ruby’s Carousel Club in downtown Dallas. During the year 1963 records show Miss St. John was a featured performer at the Carousel as well as other Ruby-owned Dallas clubs/burlesques, like the Colony Club and Club Montmarte. Newspaper advertisements from 1963 show she also performed at the Tiki Room on Telephone Road in Houston, The Jade House in Austin, and Club Des Artistes in New Orleans, among others. She even made it into the movie “Naughty Dallas,” filmed along with other dancers like Jada (Janet Conforto), Kim Athas, and Peggy Steele, in the quasi docementary about the Dallas burlesque scene. Miss St. John’s uncensored performance at the Carousel is featured in the film.
What exactly was the nature of Monte di Monti’s activities during the months he lived in Dallas? Burt Dixon, an employee at Club Montmartre in the early 60s, claims to have gotten to know di Monti well during the spring and summer of ‘63. Most revealing is his assertion that di Monti was known among the local Dallas crime “players” as a “numbers man” and that he worked with and was a friend of Jack Ruby. Ruby’s connections to organized crime and in particular the Chicago mob have been well documented elsewhere, but there is also strong evidence uncovered by JFK assassination researchers that he ran a numbers racket in Dallas starting in the mid-1950s.
Two other longtime and reliable Dallas residents who we interviewed (and prefer to stay anonymous) came forward in 2006 and 2010 with information that di Monti was regularly seen in the strip of clubs on Commerce Street in the spring and summer of 1963 and that he was a regular at several all-night poker games in the back room of the Carousel, where Miss St. John often performed. What is most striking is that the other players at these late night/early morning card games included Ruby and Lee Harvey Oswald. This is confirmed by the content of several letters di Monti sent to his close friend “Jewboy Al” (see our 2009 interview with Al) of Brooklyn, New York in June of 1963, where he mentions “doing well at the table” in card games with “Jack, Randall, and Lee.”
He also mentions his card-playing acquaintance Lee Harvey Oswald to Al (in his letter dated April 20, 1963):
“…this square dude from New Orleans named Lee. He’s a crappy card player and man is this cat wrapped up in some kind of commie bullsh*t. Talks non-stop at the games about Castro-this and Castro-that. Don’t get him started on Kennedy either, man he hates him like you wouldn’t believe. In fact, alot of ‘em down here hate Kennedy’s guts. But dig, I didn’t care until Lee and I were smoking a butt out front of the Carousel and he started talking about Kennedy coming to Big D sometime in the fall and him taking target practice to get ready!”
His letter to Al about Oswald dated July 7 began to take on a much different tone:
“I’m involved in a really big project down here that will catch everyone off guard, all over the world. Lee knows everyone down here and a lot of them have serious bread and want something done about Kennedy. This Lee is a total flake and at first I didn’t want to touch it but money talks and as long as I don’t have to do any dirty work I told him I’m in. He wants me to meet up with some pilot guy in Houston named David to get info on what I’m supposed to do next so I’m going down there next week. You ever been down there…maybe when you were in the navy?”
It appears that di Monti is referring in his letter to pilot David Ferrie, a man who has figured prominently in Kennedy assassination research for decades. There are no additional letters to Al that refer to Kennedy after July 7, but Al did receive a Houston postcard from di Monti in mid-July. Did di Monti meet with Ferrie in Houston in July 1963?
There is a gap of several months regarding di Monti’s involvement in the assassination planning from that July to mid-November. Several sources recall seeing di Monti on Commerce Street in the fall of that year and at a few of the late-night card games held in the back room of Ruby’s Carousel Club. di Monti didn’t spend much time at that club otherwise, particularly when St. John was performing there. An October 1959 issue of Confidential has a blurb in its gossip column about “Lavonne’s boyfriend” getting into a fight with another patron during one of her performances at the New Follies Burlesk Theater in Los Angeles. Word around town then was that di Monti was too “wound up and uptight” to sit through one of his woman’s shows.
One of the top exotic dancers working at that time and one who was without a doubt the star attraction at the Dallas clubs was New Orleans dancer Janet ‘Jada’ Conforto (view the Jada interview video clip below). There is much misinformation about di Monti’s and Jada’s relationship, but based on the recollection of reliable sources it can be ascertained that after July of 1963 when Ruby brought her to the Carousel from New Orleans’ Sho-Bar, she soon became di Monti’s mistress. She caused Ruby many problems. In particular, she had a habit of going too far with her act and on occasion Ruby would turn the lights out on her. Local journalist Seth Kantor described her as being “supercharged with animalism” in his 1978 book Who Was Jack Ruby? According to interviews given in early 1964, she states that there was a poker game at the Carousel the week preceding the assassination (Nov. 22). Eyewitnesses have stated that Monte di Monti was in attendance and a player in that game. There is also physical evidence that backs this up. When he was arrested following the murder of Oswald, Jack Ruby was found to have a napkin from the club in his possession with the words “IOU $110 signed, di M”. Apparently di Monti took a rare loss in the card game that night and owed Ruby some money because of it.
di Monti’s whereabouts on November 22 (the day of JFK’s assassination) are unknown. The following day he called his cousin Ralph “Dino” Sorbello in Brooklyn, who recollected that “Monte was all shook up but said something like ‘he was glad it was all over with.’ I didn’t know what he was referring to or what the hell he was talking about. I was as upset as anyone else about Kennedy getting knocked off. It was like a punch in the gut.”
Interestingly, after November 22 di Monti began spending much less time in Dallas. Though he continued to live with St. John in Oak Cliff he was seen much more often in Houston, and on occasion in New Orleans. Al still has a New Orleans postcard from di Monti dated January 1, 1964. On the card di Monti talks about going to a “hell-uv-a-party in the Quarter” but many remember him as traveling there and to Houston to make connections for his numbers business. Through Jada he also met her half brother, Houston resident Syd Travanty during this time and stayed with him at his apartment on Kirby Drive when he was in town. A letter to Jada from Syd in January of 1964 mentions the two men going to the Tidelands Motor Inn at 6500 South Main Street to do some “tom cattin’.”
By February of that year St. John’s contract with Premier Talent Management was nearly over and she made plans to return to California — with or without di Monti. Though they enjoyed an “open relationship” where either one could openly see other sexual partners, Jada later recalled that St. John was “deathly jealous” of the fact that she continued to see di Monti in both Dallas and during their frequent trysts to Houston. That combined with Jack Ruby’s arrest and her contract with Premier ending gave St. John plenty of motivation to leave Texas once and for all. She departed for the west coast following a performance in Dallas the first week of April 1964 and never returned.
By that time di Monti had moved out on St. John, left Dallas, and had gone to live in Houston. City records show he resided in an apartment on Hazard Street in the Montrose neighborhood for at least a couple of months in the spring of 1964. What exactly his activities were is still largely unknown but there are strong indications based on reliable sources that he was still in the numbers rackets as well as dipping into some sports gambling ventures. Indications are that he enjoyed Houston and felt that it was a growing city with much potential for a man of his ‘talents’. di Monti mailed a Polaroid photo of himself and an unknown woman to his friend Al in the winter of ’64 with his handwritten caption “Me and Barbara at Sin Alley” on the back. Houston historians will know this probably refers to the infamous block on Mid Lane between San Felipe and Westheimer in west Houston that hosted many swinger parties during the 1960s. From all appearances di Monti was enjoying himself. This all changed with the untimely and mysterious death of of his friend Syd Travanty on April 9.
Other than being originally from Biloxi, Mississippi and being Jada’s half-brother, not much is known about the background of Travanty. City records show he moved to Houston from New Orleans in 1957, originally living on Heights Boulevard before moving to an apartment complex on Kirby Drive in 1961. Although he was indisputably involved in the criminal underworld of the city, exactly what he did remains unclear to this day as none of his associates from that time period have ever been interviewed by researchers. His only police record was a May 1961 arrest for “pandering” in Hermann Park. He was never convicted and the charges are noted in records as being dropped. What we do know based on several accounts found in the Houston Post newspaper from mid-April of 1964 is that he was mysteriously poisoned on April 9. Newspaper accounts say he arrived at his favorite night spot the Tidelands Club shortly after 10pm, became ill there, and passed out around 11:00 pm during a performance by stand up comedian Totie Fields. He was never revived and passed away at around 11:50 pm en route to Ben Taub hospital in an ambulance. Though the case was ruled a homicide by the Houston Police Department, no charges were ever filed. There were no clear leads in the case and detectives publicly felt his murder was too unimportant to pursue. However, police records made public in 1978 indicate that Travanty was an informant for the Houston police. Why then was there no proper investigation to his murder?
Sometime in mid-April of ’64, di Monti left Houston for good and moved back to California, reuniting with Lavonne St. John in Studio City.
Travanty’s death is of interest not only because of his connection to di Monti, but also his connection to a potential Kennedy assassination conspiracy. Letters he wrote to his half sister Jada were recently unearthed by our conspiracy researchers and they indicate that Travanty was planning with Jada to contact Dallas detectives in the spring of 1964 and reveal to them some important information about Kennedy’s murder. Unlike Jada, Syd Travanty was a loudmouth and told several of his friends and acquaintances in Houston that he and his half sister knew facts that would “blow the lid” off the Kennedy assassination investigation. Jada, on the other hand, was very secretive about her involvement with Ruby and his entourage and rarely discussed her relationship with him in public. Like so many people involved with the Kennedy assasination Travanty died an unnatural death.
Was the timing of di Monti’s return to California a direct result of Travanty’s murder? Did di Monti feel he was next?
The facts may never be known.
Janet “Jada” Conforto died on May 9, 1980 in a traffic accident in Albuquerque, New Mexico, where her motorcycle was struck by an empty school bus. The bus driver, Donna Beeman of Albuquerque, told police the motorcyclist turned in front of her and she was unable to stop. Jada is buried in a mausoleum in Lake Lawn Park Cemetery in Metairie, Louisiana.
Rare 1964 Television Interview with Janet ‘Jada’ Conforto