According to conspiracy lore, Onassis built his fortune at first by cornering the Argentinean opium market through deals with Joseph Kennedy (John F. Kennedy’s father), Eugene Meyer, and the mobster Meyer Lansky.
He then bought every oil tanker he could in the late 1940s and early 1950s, taking advantage of the U.S. attempt to increase oil exports from the Middle East. The oil flowed, along with, the story goes, drugs and weapons to make Onassis extremely wealthy, with far wealthier and more powerful political figures beholden to him.
Financiers then poured over a half-billion dollars into a new class of supertankers owned by Onassis and his brother, Stavros Spyros Niarchos. The fleet eventually moved over 5 billion gallons of crude oil to Western Europe by 1956, a fifth of all Middle Eastern imported crude.
The “Gemstone File” conspiracy text, based on a series of letters written by a man named Bruce Roberts and summarized in a hand-circulated outline, maintains that Onassis kidnapped Howard Hughes in 1957. According to this motherlode of contemporary conspiracy lore, an international Mafia run by Onassis then held Hughes captive for ten years in his own hotels.
It put the billionaire adventurer Hughes’s assets, Hughes Aircraft, and related companies among them, under Onassis’s control. From there, the Gemstone File details the role played by Onassis and his associates in the assassinations of the Kennedy brothers and his subsequent marriage to Jacqueline Kennedy, the president’s widow.
It also traces these connections to the Watergate break-in; Ted Kennedy’s disaster at Chappaquiddick and many other mob interactions with the Rockefellers; Henry Kissinger, Richard Nixon, and many well-known figures from the 1970s; the Bay of Pigs; and the Watergate Plumbers E. Howard Hunt, James McCord, Frank Sturgis, and G. Gordon Liddy.
John F. Kennedy visited Onassis on his yacht, the Christina, after losing the vice-presidential nomination at the Democratic Convention of 1956. The Gemstone maintains that Onassis promised him the presidency at that point. Six years later Onassis invited Jackie Kennedy onto the yacht, ostensibly to help her recover from the death of her infant son Patrick.
She came back from that visit about a month before JFK’s murder, and Onassis was among the few to visit her directly after it. In 1968, they started dating. Their marriage arrangement included separate bedrooms and $750,000 allowances for Jackie and her children.
Some commentators have noted that, in marrying President Kennedy’s widow, Onassis was following an old Mafia dictum about shooting one’s enemy and taking his girl, but others have seen in the Onassis/Jackie Kennedy marriage merely a widow’s search for protection and seclusion for her children after the deaths of her husband and his brother.
Onassis never recovered from the loss of his son Alexander in a plane crash near Athens in January 1973. He descended into conspiracy paranoia about that crash, offering a $1 million reward for evidence of wrongdoing. He died the following year.