Sunday, May 25, 2008

The Mystery of Tippit’s Clipboard

by DALE K. MYERS

On the UK’s Education Forum newsgroup, where conspiracy theorists from both sides of the pond congregate these days, questions are being raised about the “mystery” surrounding information contained in and on the clipboard mounted in Dallas police officer J.D. Tippit’s squad car.

Several members of the UK forum, who have been posting their research into the Kennedy and Tippit shootings since 2004 (representing a combined total of over 14 years of research and more than 8,300 announcements) are chatting it up over one member’s question about a crime scene photograph that depicts the dashboard of Tippit’s squad car, a “clipboard” mounted to it, and what appears to be “a photograph pinned to it.”

A number of “super” and “advanced” members (a classification apparently based on the number of postings each has made since joining the forum), have already drawn conspiratorial inferences from this supposedly new find:

“Fascinating photo! Stupid question: Is that Tippit's car? The image on the clipboard certainly looks like a photo of a person, perhaps a mugshot?...”

“Great find. New to me, as well. I'd bet [were I a betting man] the photo was who Tippit was trying to make contact with earlier and did - to his fatality. I'd love to know what happened to the clipboard and photo [no doubt physical description too] - likely down that very wide DPD rabbit-hole. May well explain how he knew who to stop on the street. Likely a trap for Tippit. For some reason he needed to be sacrificed…”

“…the clipboard and its contents (again, to my knowledge) seems to have vanished into thin air…it should be possible for someone to get an original print from the negative, or at least a near-generation copy, such that they'd perhaps be able to magnify the area in question to gain some hint of what's there. If the former, it is possible that a similar item can be obtained through the Dallas City Secretary's office.”

All of these posters seem to be completely ignorant of the fact that the question of what was on Tippit’s clipboard was answered ten years ago in the book “With Malice: Lee Harvey Oswald and the Murder of Officer J.D. Tippit,” (Oak Cliff Press, 1998) the only book ever written on the Tippit case.

It’s certainly no surprise that these educators of the Internet conspiracy crowd know little of what’s between the cover boards of “With Malice” given the fact that they regularly trash the author of the book – yours truly – calling him a charlatan, liar, and worse.

Had they looked on page 63 of this decade old publication they would have seen an enlargement of the pertinent portion of a Dallas police crime lab photograph which depicts the dashboard of Tippit’s squad car. (See Figure 1 below)




Figure 1. Detail from a Dallas crime scene photograph (#91-001/016) depicting Tippit's dash-mounted clipboard (left) and a closeup of the metal, spring clip clutching an open spiral notebook (right).

Allegations had been made for years that the Dallas crime scene photograph seemed to show a mugshot pinned to the clipboard, all of these claims based on multi-generational copies of the photograph. To answer the questions, I went to the source – the Dallas Municipal Archives and Records Center in Dallas, Texas – where I viewed original 1963 prints of the image and obtained new prints pulled from the original 1963 prints as well as new prints from the original negative.

These images clearly show that what appears to be a mugshot in the multi-generational photographs available from other sources is actually a metal, spring clip clutching an open spiral notebook. I published the results of my inquiry into this and many other questions about the Tippit murder in “With Malice.”

And just for the record, while crime lab Sergeant W.E. “Willie” Barnes testified to the Warren Commission that “We never read his clipboard,” former homicide Detective James R. Leavelle, who led the investigation into Tippit’s death, told me in 1983 that he looked at Tippit’s clipboard and there was nothing there to indicate why Tippit stopped Oswald. End of mystery.

While it may be forgivable that the so-called “super and advanced” researchers on the UK’s Educational Forum would be unaware of what was in a book they had chosen to shun, how did they miss this, posted on the Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ) page at www.jdtippit.com, and just a Google click away:

Did police ever read what was on the dash-mounted clipboard in Tippit's squad car?

Yes. Conspiracy theorists have bitterly complained about the apparent lack of interest that the Dallas police had in Tippit's dash-mounted clipboard, citing Dallas police crime lab sergeant W.E. "Pete" Barnes' comment to the Warren Commission in 1964, "We never read his clipboard." (7H274). Traditionally, the clipboard held a spiral notebook which officers could use to write notes on. Theorists speculated that Tippit wrote something on that clipboard that police didn't want the public to know, or perhaps something that contradicted the Warren Commission's conclusion about the murder.

But, in 1983, former homicide detective Jim Leavelle, who led the investigation into the Tippit shooting, told me that he did check Tippit's spiral notebook.

"I looked at some of the stuff that Tippit had in the car but, to my knowledge, there was nothing ever found - that was written - in regards to the man he stopped," Leavelle told me. "There was no reference as to why he stopped to talk to him. From my own experience, I doubt very seriously that he would have written anything on the clipboard about the man he was stopping. From the way the witnesses described it, Tippit was very nonchalant. It wasn't as though he was expecting anything. He probably figured he'd do a routine check, talk to him, look at his identification, and send him on his way. I know, from my own experience, that I have done that thousands of times - talked to people, maybe look at their identification, and then, send them on their way, and never think another thing about it. I'm sure that's what he had in mind."

The Warren Commission was also curious about one crime scene photograph taken of Tippit's car that seemed to show the photograph of a man mounted on Tippit's clipboard. An enlargement of the crime photo referred to by the Commission, however, reveals that the "photograph of a man" is actually the spring, metal clip clutching Tippit's open spiral notebook.

I’ve often said that no one will ever learn anything of importance reading the voluminous chatter from the presumed experts on the Kennedy assassination newsgroups. This latest UK Education Forum posting only reaffirms my opinion.

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