Lasting Questions about the Murder of President Kennedy
Are There any Smoking Guns in the New Records?
Researchers will hunt in vain for a memo containing the words "LeMay
to Dulles: Get Kennedy in Dallas." Anyone who expected such,
or holds it up as the standard for qualifying as a "smoking gun,"
is not serious. But if the term "smoking gun" is too strong,
then there are many shining needles of truth in the vast haystack
of chaff now available at the National Archives. Some would indeed
have qualified as smoking guns in an earlier era, but the bar has
been set very high of late by the defenders of the lone nut thesis.
That the bar is continually raised, to meet the material which continues
to emerge, is itself a phenomenon worth noting.
In any case, there is indeed much new of interest, though more of
it related to coverup activities than actual direct leads to conspirators.
Before jumping to these new finds, it's worthwhile to pause and examine
one of the starker examples from the past.
In the 1970s it came out that Nicholas Katzenbach, then Assistant
Attorney General, had written a memo to Presidential Assistant Bill
Moyers at the White House on November 25, 1963, the day of Kennedy's
memo comes the closest an official document will probably ever
come to announcing a baldfaced coverup:
"The public must be satisfied that Oswald was
the assassin; that he had no confederates who are still at large; and
that evidence was such that he would have been convicted at trial."
Of course, the silencing of Oswald by Ruby on the 24th would indicate
to most open-minded people a high likelihood of a conspiracy,
and the FBI had hardly run down its investigative leads by the next
day, when this memo was written. Katzenbach's memo was a call to coverup,
pure and simple. The concern behind it can be glimpsed in the second
"Speculation about Oswald's motivation ought
to be cut off, and we should have some basis for rebutting thought that
this was a Communist conspiracy or (as the Iron Curtain press is saying)
a right-wing conspiracy to blame it on the Communists."
The logic of the latter of these possibilities is acknowledged:
"Unfortunately the facts on Oswald seem about
too pattoo obvious (Marxist, Cuba, Russian wife, etc.)."
But the Katzenbach memo, while kept from the public for many years,
has nonetheless been known for over two decades. What about the mass
of declassified material released since the passage of the 1992 JFK
Assassination Records Collection Act? Has anything of import been
found there, or should we all be reassured that the government didn't
have really anything to hide after all?
To read the newspapers, one would have to assume the latter, that
nothing terrible or especially illuminating has come from the new
files. This assumption would be dead wrong, as it turns out. What
this says about press reporting in the modern era will be left for
the reader to decide.
Two big stories, and a host of lesser ones, have emerged in the 1990s.
One is a wealth of new material pointing to a medical coverup of previously
unsuspected proportions. The second story is the Mexico City affair
alluded to previously, about which a great deal more is now known.
Beyond these two areas, there is much new of interest concerning Oswald,
Ruby, the Garrison investigation, the HSCA's internal affairs, foreign
policy secrets of the Kennedy administration, and more.
First, some highlights from the medical releases:
- As noted earlier, the HSCA's Report lied about the testimony
it took on the nature of JFK's large head wound. Several autopsy
witnesses corroborated the Dallas doctors' observations of a large
exit-like wound in the rear of the head, something seemingly contradicted
by autopsy photographs showing a full head of hair there. Equally
amazing, HSCA investigators have revealed that the HSCA's nine-member
forensic pathology panel was unaware of these interviews. Interviewed
by the ARRB in 1996, HSCA staffer Andy Purdy, who conducted
most of these interviews, said that the failure to make them public
was "embarrassing," "shocking," and "inexcusable."
- The ARRB located a woman named Saundra
Kay Spencer, who was identified as having developed Kennedy
autopsy photos as part of her job at the Naval Photographic Center
in Anacostia. Ms. Spencer viewed for the first time the full collection
of autopsy photographs held at the National Archives. She testified,
under oath, that they were not the pictures she developed. She gave
detailed reasons why, involving both the content of the photos and
the type of film used.
- The autopsy photographer of record, John
Stringer, denied to the ARRB that there was a large wound in
the rear of Kennedy's head. This despite suffering the embarrassment
of having the ARRB play an audio tape from 1972, of a phone conversation
in which Stringer told researcher David Lifton, repeated and unequivocally,
that there had indeed been a large rear head wound. In any case,
when Stringer was shown the Archives' photographs of what is purported
to be the brain of JFK, he disavowed them. Stringer pointed to the
lack of pictures of sliced "sections," the type of film
used, the presence of basilar views, and other reasons why these
were not the photos he took at a supplementary brain exam. At one
point, Stringer was asked whether the brain photos represented accurately
his memory of what Kennedy's brain had looked like. Stringer told
the ARRB, "Well, it has to be, if that's Mr Kennedy."
ARRB Chief Counsel Jeremy Gunn's reply: "Well, that's the question."
- FBI agent Francis
O'Neill Jr., who like many believes Oswald to have been the
lone gunman, was shown the same brain photos (he was one of two
FBI witnesses to the autopsy). O'Neill's reaction: "No......it's
too much......it looks like a complete brain."
- Multiple interviews newly in the record cast grave doubt on the
story, always hard to believe, that the autopsy doctors didn't know
of Kennedy's neck wound until they called Parkland Hospital the
morning after the autopsy. Among other people, the President's personal
physician had been at Parkland Hospital and was also at the autopsy,
and had surely told the autopsy doctors about the neck wound. One
of these was the suppressed HSCA
interview of Chief Radiologist John Ebersole, who remembered
calls to Dallas on the night of the autopsy, "in
the range of ten to eleven PM." Knowledge of the neck wound
at autopsy makes even more grave the failure to dissect the neck
organs and trace the path of the bullet. But there is additional
new testimony which suggests that in fact bullet paths were traced,
and photographs taken of the body with metal probes through it.
House photographer Robert Knudsen was one person who told the
HSCA that he saw such photographs; his interview was also suppressed.
If the story of the metal probes is true, then the deceit of the
three autopsy doctors is of staggering proportions.
- One of those who spoke of the Friday night calls to Dallas was Nurse
Audrey Bell of Parkland Hospital. This nurse also drew for the
ARRB diagrams of bullet fragments she remembered were taken from
Governor Connallygreater in number and size than those held
at the Archives. Fragments of that size could also not have come
from CE399, the "magic bullet," thus invalidating the
single bullet theory and the entire Warren Report. The ARRB declined
to take her drawings back to Washington.
- The HSCA files contain "memo to file" written by lead
investigator Richard Sprague, who was soon to be forced to resign
after attacks from the media and Committee Chairman Henry Gonzalez.
This incredible memo states: "William F. Illig, an attorney
from Erie, Pa., contacted me in Philadelphia this date, advising
me that he represents Dr. George G. Burkley, Vice Admiral, U.S.
Navy retired, who had been the personal physician for presidents
Kennedy and Johnson.....Dr. Burkley advised him that although he,
Burkley, had signed the death certificate of President Kennedy in
Dallas, he had never been interviewed and that he has information
in the Kennedy assassination indicating that others besides Oswald
must have participated. Illig advised me that his client is a very
quiet, unassuming person, not wanting any publicity whatsoever,
but he, Illig, was calling me with his client's consent and that
his client would talk to me in Washington." Sprague's replacement
as HSCA Chief Counsel, Robert Blakey, apparently chose not to interview
Burkley at all, as did the Warren Commission before it. The ARRB
sought permission from Dr. Burkley's daughter, Nancy Denlea, for
the release of any relevant information from the lawyer's files,
which she at first agreed to do. She subsequently decided not to
sign the waiver after all.
released by the National Archives in 1999 tell an odd story.
They show that the ceremonial casket used to transport JFK's body
from Dallas to Washington was dropped from military aircraft into
9000 feet of water off the coast of Maryland in early 1966. This
strange event, whose implications will be discussed outside this
essay, was initiated by a latter from former Dallas mayor Earl Cabell,
and signed off by Robert Kennedy. Strange bedfellows.
- The military control of the autopsy has long been a subject for
concern, but David Lifton's book Best Evidence went far beyond
that, alleging military control over the body of Kennedy itself
en route to Washington. The rationale given by Lifton for this alleged
intervention, alteration of the body in preparation for autopsy,
has long been controversial among assassination students. New testimony
about the large head wound has lessened the argument that such alteration
took place. Nonetheless, Lifton's thesis regarding military control
of the body got stunning corroboration in an HSCA interview which
was suppressed and not made public until 2000. The
HSCA interviewed Richard Lipsey, aide to General Wehle, the
Military District Commander of Washington, DC. Lipsey told the HSCA
how General Wehle put him in charge of the body. He then related
how a decoy casket had been used, with Mrs. Kennedy and her entourage
accompanying an empty casket while a second limousine took the body
separately to the Bethesda Naval Hospital morgue.
The bullet-item list above contains allegations which are shocking
and in some cases not readily believed. That the list itself is accurate
can be determined simply by following the links in it to their sources.
That all the allegations are in fact true is of course another matter,
and several of them remain controversial even among those convinced
of a conspiracy and coverup. That said, it should be noted that in
all cases where a controversial witness statement is presented, the
person making the statement is indeed a witness to what is being alleged,
not some self-appointed person from the general population. Such persons
should be taken seriously at a minimum. It is this author's view that
even a conservative view of the "new" medical evidence has
knocked the floor out from under what is supposed to be the "bedrock"
evidence for a lone gunman (not that it was ever really that).
There are also a great many revelations and allegations outside the
area of medical evidence. A sampler of these, and it is only a sampler,
HSCA Numbered Boxes
- The "friends" of Lee Oswald continue to look less like
friends and more like intelligence contacts. It has long been known
that, before his death, Oswald's "best friend" George
DeMohrenschildt admitted that local CIA man J. Walton Moore had
suggested that George strike up an acquaintance with Oswald. In
corroboration for Marina's statement above are the released documents
showing that Ruth Paine's sister worked for the CIA, and her father
was an informant to it. Another case is Priscilla Johnson, the reporter
who interviewed Oswald in Moscow and later wrote Marina and Lee.
Documents show that she applied for a job at the CIA, but was turned
down, but was also viewed as a potential "witting asset"
for the Agency. If Lee Oswald was not a U.S. intelligence agent,
he was certainly surrounded by them. Whether or not he actually
knew Oswald, it is interesting to note that businessman Clay Shaw,
charged by New Orleans D.A. Garrison in the JFK murder, also had
a relationship with the CIA. Besides being a contact of the CIA's
Domestic Contact Division, a 1967 memo released in 1992 noted that
Shaw was granted a covert security approval in December 1962 for
"Project QKENCHANT." Another person approved for this
same project was none other than E. Howard Hunt, of Watergate fame.
- Regardless of the excess or failures of the Garrison investigation,
there is now abundant evidence that the federal government was bent
on destroying it. Walter Sheridan, producer of a highly critical
NBC White Paper in 1967, met with mobster Zachary "Red"
Strate, according to the testimony
of Strate, Judge
Malcolm O'Hara, and attorney Edward
Baldwin (the latter two disagreed as to who arranged the meeting,
pointing the finger at each other). The purpose of the meeting was
apparently to work out a deal whereby Strate would deliver anti-Garrison
witnesses in exchange for help with a pending appeal. Other grand
jury testimony supports the allegation that it was anti-Garrison
forces who were bribing witnesses, not Garrison. The Justice Department
also rushed JFK autopsy doctor J. Thorton Boswell to New Orleans
during the trial, because, according to Boswell's ARRB testimony,
[Finck, another JFK autopsy doctor] is testifying, and he's really
lousing everything up." Earlier that day Finck, after having
told the court that an Army
General had stated that he was in charge of the autopsy, was
pressed repeatedly to explain why he did not dissect Kennedy's neck
to trace the bullet path. Finck, after attempting to duck the question
several times, finally stated "As
I recall I was told not to, but I don't remember by whom."
The CIA also was very keenly interested in the Shaw trial. A series
of internal CIA memos also show great concern over the Garrison
investigation, corroborating ex-CIA officer Victor Marchetti's claim
that CIA Director Helms would begin staff meetings by asking, referring
to Shaw and his lawyers, "Are we giving them all the help we
can down there?"
Mexico City "Mystery Man", mistakenly
identified as Oswald
- A torrent of cables, memos, and other documents have been released
on the "Oswald" trip to Mexico City affair. Besides showing
that Oswald was impersonated in phone calls to the Soviet Embassy,
these documents show that the tapes were part of a broader effort,
involving CIA officers, to implicate Oswald in a Cuban or Soviet
conspiracy. There are also disturbing indications that the documentary
record now available has been tampered with. For instance, there
is reason to believe that one "Oswald" phone call was
of a more sinister nature than any of the relatively innocuous transcripts
now public. The many incredible details of these files and the stories
they tell cannot be adequately presented in such a short spacesee
The Framing of Oswald topic.
- New information on foreign policy initiatives regarding both Vietnam
and Cuba have begun to alter the Kennedy-era history of that time.
The Pentagon Papers, published in the early 1970s, had curiously
sparse information from 1963. That gap has now been filledwith
plans for the withdrawal of U.S. forces. More information has
also come to light on a "second track" of accomodation
with Castro's Cuba, as well as military plans to stage a fake Cuban
provocation as a pretext for invasion. In all, the previously-secret
records add weight to the thesis that, after the Missile Crisis
at least, the Kennedy administration was moving toward peace and
detente with the Soviet Union.
The list given above is the tip of a very large iceberg, and is hardly
meant to be comprehensive. There is much for researchers to chew upon.
Whether it is possible to make sense of the vast contradictory record,
to pull all the threads together into a coherent narrative, is as
yet unknown. The fact that the murder was never honestly investigated
by the federal government with all its vast powers is a sad legacy,
as armchair analysts can't subpoena witnesses and use the other tools
which are needed to really solve such a crime. And at this late date,
with most of the participants and witnesses dead or soon to be so,
even the exceedingly unlikely event of a new investigation would set
upon a trail long gone cold. Armchair analysts are all that remain,
but what a wealth of material they have to work with. This website
is devoted to highlighting and analyzing the assassination's documentary
base, in particular the amazing new releases. Perhaps more importantly,
its goal is to supply these documents in accessible electronic form
to a new generation of scholars.