315. Despatch From the Chargé in the Dominican Republic (Stephens) to the Department of State1

No. 393


  • Embtel 311, January 14, 1957
  • Deptel 239, January 15, 1957
  • Embdes 394, January 16, 19572


  • Tentative Conclusions on Murphy Case


Except for a brief acknowledgment of it, silence has enveloped the Murphy case during the past week since delivery of an Aide-Mémoire requesting further information on Murphy’s activities prior to his disappearance.3 The Dominican Government appears to be awaiting further U.S. actions, or at least more precise indications of U.S. intentions, before deciding how to proceed further. The present time, therefore, appears appropriate for an assessment of the lines of action that are available to both Governments in this matter. By its own actions, the Dominican Government has all but admitted an intimate connection with the disappearance of Murphy and related concerns. The United States, for its part, has rejected the “solution” put forth by the Dominicans attributing Murphy’s death to Octavio de la Maza. While conclusions must still remain tentative, this case appears to offer an unusual opportunity, if effectively seized upon, [Page 890] for the United States to call a halt to certain inimical activities of the Trujillo regime directly affecting the United States. Among these are: the Dominican Government’s practice of recruiting American citizens for its intelligence operations; the unlawful activities of Dominican representatives in the U.S. including the probable kidnapping of persons resident in the United States and enjoying the protection of its laws; the assigning of persons of dubious repute to Dominican diplomatic and consular missions in the United States. The U.S. posture in this case will determine, to an important degree, the respect which the Dominican Government has for the United States and the spirit of cooperativeness which flows therefrom.

Dominican Reaction to Murphy Case

The disappearance and probable death in the Dominican Republic of the 23 year old U.S. citizen Gerald Lester Murphy, and particularly the strange behavior of the Dominican Government following this unfortunate occurrence, cast into bold relief certain unsavory practices of this Government. While professing utmost cooperation on the part of its authorities in connection with the investigation of Murphy’s disappearance, the Dominican Government has shown its lack of cooperation in the following ways:

By its Note No. 254 of December 20, 1956, the Embassy requested a full police report of the investigations. This has produced, to date, only two brief acknowledgments, one on December 24, 1956 by Foreign Office Note No. 30519 and another on December 31, 1956 by Note No. 31037.4 Up to the present time, no such report has been forthcoming from the Dominican Government.
Note No. 277 of January 9, 1957 from the Embassy asked for (a) a copy of the de la Maza suicide note on loan, (b) copies of the interrogations and/or reports of interviews with de la Maza since his incarceration as a suspect, and (c) a certified copy of the death certificate. (No mention was made of an autopsy report since it was known for certain that no autopsy was performed.) The Foreign Minister5 on January 12, 1957 formally stated that his Government could not provide these documents. What amounted to the latter document, however, was handed earlier to the Chargé d’Affaires by the Attorney General on January 7, 1957 (see despatch 384 of January 15, 1957).6
Although requested on several occasions to provide copies of interrogation reports resulting from police investigations, including those of U.S. citizen employees of Compañía Dominicana de Aviación, the Dominican Government has failed to do so. The only interrogation reports received were those relating to the questioning of the father of Gerald Lester Murphy and his fiancée, Miss Celia Caire. These latter were obtained only on the insistence of an Embassy officer [Page 891] immediately following the interviews and were supplied to the parties interrogated, not to the Embassy (later loaned by them to the Embassy).
The Aide-Mémoire dated January 15, 1957 requesting a full report on the activities and associations of Gerald Lester Murphy prior to his disappearance has been acknowledged with the statement that “it has been forwarded to the competent Department for its information.”
On January 8, 1957, the Embassy was under police surveillance for several hours. Since that date, Embassy personnel have been occasionally shadowed going to and from places of recreation and their homes have been watched by plain clothes policemen. It appears that this surveillance ended on or about January 14, 1957.

All the above examples indicate a strong reluctance on the part of the Dominican Government to provide factual material in its possession arising out of investigations of the Murphy disappearance. Instead, this Government made a calculated effort to convince the U.S. Government that the Murphy case was completely solved by the alleged suicide of Octavio de la Maza and the suicide note supposedly written by him. The transparency of this deception led to its being abandoned within less than ten days after it was attempted. The Dominican Attorney General and the Foreign Office appear to have reached an impasse, not knowing how to proceed pending further instructions from Generalissimo Trujillo. Earlier efforts on their part to obtain clear indications of U.S. reactions and an idea of how much we knew about the Murphy case having been rebuffed, these Dominican officials now seem to be marking time to see what further action the U.S. Government may take on this matter.

Tentative Conclusions

As of possible value to the Department in formulating its future course of action with regard to this case, the Embassy offers below its tentative conclusions to date. These represent the consensus of views of the officers in the Embassy most directly concerned with this subject and should not be regarded as final evaluations, since many aspects of the matter remain obscure:

There is an intimate connection between Murphy’s disappearance and the secret intelligence operations carried on by the Dominican Government. These operations include, among other things, the kidnapping or elimination of persons inimical to the Trujillo regime, transporting of messages and money to dissident elements in neighboring countries, and the possible suborning of officials of other Latin American Governments. The extent to which Murphy participated in these activities is not known, although his connection with them in one form or another appears certain.
The strongest evidence forthcoming thus far leading to the above conclusion arises not only from the FBI interrogations but also [Page 892] from the extraordinary behavior of the Dominican Government following upon the disappearance of Murphy. This unusual behavior, which removes the Murphy disappearance from the category of normal deaths or disappearances abroad of American citizens, has been manifested in the following:
The intense preoccupation of the Foreign Minister with the attitude of the United States Government, the extent of its information, its usual practices in disappearance cases, the extent to which publicity is likely, how Congressional inquiries are handled, the connection of the Department of State with past press commentary and like considerations.
The unwillingness of the Dominican Government to supply requested documents which in any normal case could be considered routine.
The categorical assertion that the de la Maza death solved the Murphy case, followed by a later retraction even though largely implied. Related to this is the willingness to resort to another death to close off investigation of the Murphy affair.
The hesitation over the next step to be taken by the Dominican Government, apparently arising from a desire to see first what the U.S. position is likely to be.
It appears certain that a close relation does exist between the disappearance of Murphy and that of Jesús de Galíndez. Most persons having a direct knowledge of this latter event appear to have been eliminated already, but inferences can be drawn which lend credence to reports that Murphy was the pilot who transported Galíndez from New York City to the Dominican Republic.
On the basis of even partial evidence assembled to date, the U.S. Government is in a position to assert a strong reaction on this matter, demanding the cessation of certain Dominican actions inimical to the United States and to accepted standards of international behavior.

Possible Courses of Action Open to U.S.

The United States, having officially rejected the Dominican explanation of Murphy’s disappearance, can either (a) let the matter drop following upon a period of Dominican inaction, or (b) draw certain conclusions from the events thus far accumulated and present these in a carefully calculated manner to the Dominican Government through its Embassy in Washington. The former course of action does not commend itself for many reasons, particularly because it would represent an about face from the position thus far taken and probably result in a loss of respect for the United States and its laws on the part of the Dominican Government. The latter course of action offers an opportunity to present in a forceful and unmistakable fashion the attitude of the United States Government with regard to such matters as: (a) the recruiting of young Americans like Murphy to work in the intelligence and/or secret services of the [Page 893] Dominican Government; (b) the elimination of such individuals when they have outlived their usefulness to the Dominican Government; (c) the kidnapping of persons residing in the U.S. under the protection of its laws; (d) the carrying out of other unorthodox operations within the U.S. by officially accredited representatives of the Dominican Government. A warning to Generalissimo Trujillo to desist from the above in the future might be coupled with an assurance that the U.S. Government will make public the information available to it regarding these matters in the event such activities recur. Coupled with any other appropriate actions, this warning might produce some permanent good as a result of the unfortunate deaths of Murphy and de la Maza as well as other persons who may have had some knowledge of the disappearance of Jesús de Galíndez. This formal confrontation of the Dominican Government with the information now in the possession of the United States Government should be done with a minimum of publicity. Moreover, it should be handled, for reasons set forth below, in such a way as to insure maximum effect without further endangering innocent parties.

Besides the above Government to Government approach, sufficient information should be given to the American press to explain the actions taken by the U.S. Government following upon Murphy’s disappearance. It is not felt by the Embassy that the Department should confirm publicly its belief, and this time, that a close connection exists between the Murphy and Galíndez disappearances. There will undoubtedly be much speculation in the press and in Congress that such is the case. However, official U.S. Government confirmation of the Dominican Government’s responsibility for the kidnapping of Galíndez and for the deaths of Murphy and de la Maza should be withheld, for the time being at least, as an incentive to better behavior in the future on the part of the Dominican Government. The reasons why this course of action is being adopted could be explained privately to Members of Congress directly interested, if this were deemed necessary.

Probable Dominican Government Reaction to Strong U.S. Line

Anyone familiar with the Dominican Republic knows that whenever the words “Dominican Government” or the abbreviation GODR appear, the name Trujillo should be read in their stead. Embassy despatch No. 385 of January 15, 19577 suggests the atmosphere prevailing within the higher reaches of this Government wherein no voice of opposition on the smallest matter is raised to Trujillo. Lord Acton’s dictum about absolute power corrupting absolutely [Page 894] applies in full force to Generalissimo Trujillo. Twenty-six years of absolute power, during which time any manifestation of opposition has been suppressed by the most direct methods, have produced in the Generalissimo a state of mind that is perhaps best characterized as utter ruthlessness combined with a sense of personal righteousness. In Trujillo’s eye, after a quarter century of slavish obedience and enforced adulation, he probably appears to himself as some kind of a God-like man who is above and beyond the normal restraints of human society, all of his acts being justified to himself on the basis of what he has done for his country. Virtually all initiative and action within the country stem from him. The result is that responsibility for the good and evil that is done flows back to his doorstep as water rises to its source. The sacrifice of Octavio de la Maza, despite his known friendship with Trujillo’s son Ramfis and the transparency of the attempted deception as embodied in the faked suicide note may be taken as an indication of how Trujillo operates when his personal reputation and prestige are at stake. There seems to be little doubt that he would prefer to let the Galíndez and Murphy cases die quietly. It is apparent, however, that this will not happen. Confronted with past press campaigns directed against him, Trujillo has responded by pouring money into loud denials of the charges made against him. In addition, he has taken more direct measures to remove or influence those elements actively opposed to him. Similar conduct may be expected in this present imbroglio.

In practical terms, the above brief analysis of the man with whom the United States Government is forced to deal in this matter appears to mean that: (a) any steps taken by the U.S. Government should be calculated to “make the lightning strike” as close as possible to Trujillo with a view to influencing his future behavior insofar as this is possible; and (b) do this in such a way that no Dominicans or other innocent parties are exposed to Trujillo’s wrath. Ideally, a confrontation of the facts in the Galíndez–Murphy–de la Maza matters, as deduced by the United States, should be made to Generalissimo Trujillo alone in his own office. Any other presentation of the United States viewpoint, whether in Ciudad Trujillo or in Washington, would have to be carefully written out for delivery to Trujillo. This is indispensable since it can be safely predicted that no Dominican national would dare to communicate verbally to the Generalissimo the substance of the charges made by the United States Government. It has been found necessary in the past to communicate all official messages, no matter on how trivial a matter, to the Dominican Government in written form. This has been done not so much to assure the accuracy of transmission as to protect the Foreign Minister or other Dominican officials. These men may as [Page 895] easily as not be charged by the Generalissimo with deliberately distorting the meaning of the communication of the foreign government when it reaches him, if in verbal form. Consequently, the mode of transmission of a strong U.S. Government position must be carefully calculated in advance. While the Embassy stands ready to confront the Dominican Government with the full force of the facts in our possession, it is believed the Department may wish to do this on the highest level in Washington, D.C.

In summary, the reaction of the Dominican Government in this matter henceforth cannot be safely predicted. Stemming from Generalissimo Trujillo’s complex personality, it may extend all the way from acceptance of the U.S. posture to a violent rejection of it.

Richard H. Stephens8

(This despatch was held until the return of Ambassador William T. Pheiffer. It has been seen and approved by the Ambassador.)

  1. Source: Department of State, Central Files, 239.1122–Murphy, Gerald Lester/1–1657. Secret.
  2. None printed. (Ibid.)
  3. Dated January 15; transmitted to the Department in despatch 394 from Ciudad Trujillo, January 16.
  4. Neither found in Department of State files.
  5. Porfirio Herrera Báez, Minister of Foreign Affairs and Worship.
  6. Not printed.
  7. Not printed.
  8. Printed from a copy which bears this typed signature.