WASHINGTON — Eager to please the young leader of a promising potential ally in the Middle East, the CIA enlisted the help of billionaire Howard Hughes’s longtime fixer to find women for Jordan’s King Hussein, according to documents recently made public.
That help for Hussein during his spring 1959 trip to the United States, newly released documents from the investigation into the assassination of President John F. Kennedy show, likely turned into a relationship between Hussein and B-movie actress Susan Cabot that may have produced the son who eventually beat Cabot to death in 1986.
A CIA memo released Dec. 15 shows how the agency used private investigator Robert Maheu, a former FBI agent, to find “female companionship” for the 23-year-old King during his trip to Los Angeles in April 1959.
The document refers only to a “foreign head of state” but the timeline included in the memo corresponds to the times Hussein was in the United States. A March 28, 1959, New York Times story laid out Hussein’s itinerary and plans to increase U.S. aid to his nation.
"The foreign official was especially desirous of female companionship during his Los Angeles visit and it was requested that appropriate arrangements be made through a controlled source of the [CIA's] Office [of Security] in order to assure a satisfied visit," said the anonymously written memo.
The agency turned to Maheu, a private investigator in Los Angeles, to line up the dates, the CIA memo said. Maheu then contacted a "prominent Los Angeles attorney and Hollywood figure" whose name was redacted in the report.
An April 9, 1959, story in the Los Angeles Times said Cabot and Hussein met a party at the house of California oilman Edwin Pauley, a longtime Democratic Party donor for whom UCLA's basketball arena, Pauley Pavilion, is named.
On to New York
Cabot and Hussein got along so well during the Los Angeles portion of his trip that "he wished to meet with her during his stay in New York City from 14 through 18 April 1969," the CIA memo said.
The agency, the memo said, rented a house in Long Beach, Long Island, N.Y., for the time Hussein was in New York, while Cabot was registered at the Hotel Barclay in New York "under an assumed name."
Hussein's budding relationship with Cabot was well known at the time, and numerous news reports mentioned that the Jewish heritage of Cabot, born Harriet Shapiro, might cause a problem for the Muslim king.
"During the stay at the Long Beach site, [Cabot] discussed the publicity in the case at some length with the Security representatives," the CIA memo said. "She speculated about the possible sources of certain personal information that she felt had been leaked to the press."
Cabot's film career started in 1947 with an uncredited appearance in the film noir Kiss of Death and continued throughout the 1950s with roles in low-budget science fiction films such as War of the Satellites and The Wasp Woman.
In 1959, Hussein had been Jordan's king for almost six years. He assumed the throne of the Hashemite kingdom in 1953 after his father, Talal, was forced to abdicate because of illness. At 17, Hussein had witnessed the assassination of his grandfather, King Abdullah I, in Jerusalem.
Once a British colony, Jordan lost British military and economic aid in 1957 when the United Kingdom cut off its annual subsidy. Hussein came to United States in 1959 to ensure the continued flow of U.S. aid to his country.
"The United States officials were impressed by the King's personality," the New York Times reported on March 28, 1959. "They discussed the possibility that in time he might develop into an Arab leader comparable to his grandfather."
Hussein led Jordan until February 1999, when he died from cancer. He was married four times, and his son from his second marriage, Abdullah, succeeded him as king.
A brutal murder
Cabot was beaten to death in Los Angeles home on Dec. 10, 1986, and her son, Timothy Scott Roman, was charged with her murder.
During Roman's 1989 trial, his defense attorney Chester Leo Smith introduced evidence that showed the Cabot "received a regular sum of $1,500 a month from the Keeper of the King's Purse, Amman, Jordan. There is written indication in the handwriting of Susan Roman this money is from a trust. ... For better or worse, it looks like child support," Smith wrote.
The Jordanian government, the Los Angeles Times reported on April 13, 1989, had no comment on Smith's claims about Roman's paternity.
Roman, the Times reported on Oct. 11, 1989, was born a dwarf but had grown to the height of 5 feet, 4 inches through "thrice-weekly injections of a hormone derived from the pituitary glands of cadavers. A former attorney once called him a 'failed human experiment.'"
He was convicted of involuntary manslaughter, not premeditated murder, for bludgeoning his mother to death with a barbell.
The Hughes-Mafia-Castro connection
Hussein had nothing to do with the Nov. 22, 1963, Kennedy assassination, but various government agencies had investigated the theory that Cuban dictator Fidel Castro or the Mafia were involved in Kennedy's killing. That's because Kennedy, along with his brother, Attorney General Robert Kennedy, were actively trying to assassinate Castro in the early 1960s.
One assassination plan involved the CIA's use of Maheu to recruit "someone 'tough enough' to handle the job," reported the Senate's Church Committee in 1976. "A former FBI associate of Maheu's was employed in the CIA's Office of Security and had arranged for the CIA to use Maheu in several sensitive covert operations in which 'he didn't want to have an Agency person or a government person get caught,'" the Church report said.
Maheu contacted Johnny Rosselli, a Mafioso with connections in Las Vegas, to handle the job along with Sam Giancana, a Chicago-based Mafia leader also active in Las Vegas. While Rosselli was reluctant to handle the job, he and Maheu eventually met with a CIA official at New York's Plaza Hotel in September 1960 to handle the details.
Maheu was also reluctant to pursue the plot, because he feared it would conflict with his new client, the reclusive billionaire Howard Hughes, who also had major business interests in Las Vegas. "He finally agreed to participate because he felt that he owed the Agency a commitment," the Church report said.
An investigation by a House committee in 1976 mentioned Maheu's procurement of women for Hussein, but it did not mention any specific women.
The JFK files
The CIA's Maheu memo was part of an unveiling of more than 35,500 documents related to the JFK investigation that were required to be released under the provisions of the President John F. Kennedy Assassination Records Collection Act of 1992. Many had nothing to do with the actual assassination but with people, agencies and countries implicated in the various investigations of the killing and related conspiracy theories.
President Trump said he would release all of the documents without redactions, but FBI and CIA officials prevailed upon him to keep some still secret or to release others with key details blacked out.
Any information that is still redacted is subject to Trump's review and could be released in full in the coming months, the National Archives said.
Contributing: Alia Dastagir