The year 1971 was still on the calendar when I was transferred to Latuna Prison in El Paso, Texas. I renewed an acquaintance with a con I'd known at Leavenworth. Johnson was an MTA which stood for medical technical assistant. I liked him because he seemed to understand my asthma problem better than the doctors and went out of his way to help me. Although he never admitted it, I'm sure he knew what was happening in regard to changing my identity.
The last time he saw me I was George "Machine Gun" Kelly; now I was John Webb. He told me an interesting story about Valachi, the famous Mafia squealer. Here's pretty much what Johnson told me:
"1 was told about a certain prison official who had been assigned to stay with Valachi, and was put in his custody each time he was transferred. They were gone for about four years before they returned to Latuna, This official's name was Gookins. I recognized him when I saw him, but we never became really acquainted.
"Shortly after they returned to Latuna, Valachi was declared dead. One day before this happened and for two days following, all of us were locked up and no normal movement was allowed by the prisoners. Before this, during the visiting time, Valachi' s family members carne regularly. They'd bring groceries and special things for him to eat.
"They didn't come the day he was supposed to have died. The next day a body was displayed on a slab in a hallway in the hospital area. They'd put a sheet over it and a tag on the toe of the cadaver, which read Valachi. All I was able to see was the top of the cadaver's head and his feet. I knew they were making this display to satisfy the curiosity seekers.
“An ambulance from the Veterans hospital, located about twenty miles away, removed the body. This was absolutely unheard of. Something was terribly fishy. What they'd done was to bring another body in the ambulance to display as Valachi for two or three days. This was no problem because there were twenty-five hundred patients at the hospital and they were dying all the time.
"I'm sure Valachi was slipped into that ambulance and hauled away right under the noses of the officials with only one or two knowing about it. This was nothing more than an elaborate ruse. Hell, I had a pretty good hold on the prison grapevine and didn't miss anything. The officials might think we're pretty dumb, but they don't fool us very often.
"If you were able to go to the grave that was supposed to be Valaehi 's, I'll bet you wouldn't even find a body in the box. They were just doing some first class staging and creating an illusion to fool everybody.
"Why didn't the Valachi family come to claim the body? They simply stopped coming and completely disappeared. My guess is that Valachi was smuggled out of the country to keep the Mafia from finding him, because if they did, they'd kill him on the spot. From a practical standpoint, this move sure saved the government a lot of money. It would have taken a lot of money to protect Valachi and his family for the rest of his life."
I don't know from personal first-hand information exactly what became of Valachi. All I know is, if Johnson said there was something fishy going on, it'd be a mighty safe bet to believe him.