Sunday, March 2, 2014

Solving the Tippit Murder's Wallet Mystery: How the Truth Got Twisted into the Big Lie

by DALE K. MYERS


Fig. 1 – Oswald's arrest wallet. [Dale K. Myers]

It’s been all over the Internet since a Dallas television broadcast late last year – how the mystery of a wallet reportedly recovered at the scene of the murder of Dallas police officer J.D. Tippit on November 22, 1963, has finally been solved.

Taking the bows on Dallas’ WFAA-TV was former FBI analyst Farris Rookstool III who claimed during the fifty-year anniversary broadcast, “It's been picked apart for decades, but the tragedy of this is that no one has ever taken the due diligence of time to really put these pieces together until now.”

Billed as being the “world’s leading JFK assassination expert,” Rookstool proceeded to explain that a wallet seen being examined by Dallas police at the Tippit crime scene in a vintage WFAA-TV news film was in fact Lee Harvey Oswald’s wallet which had been left behind after he murdered Tippit.

The wallet was certainly not Officer Tippit’s, according to the broadcast. The officer’s widow, Marie Tippit dutifully displayed Tippit’s black billfold on camera to prove it was not the one seen in the news film.

No, according to Rookstool, a careful comparison of the wallet seen in the news film and a photograph taken at the National Archives of the wallet allegedly taken out of Oswald’s pocket following his arrest show them to be one and the same.

Rookstool claimed that Dallas police had concocted a lie about how Oswald’s wallet was recovered in order to hide the fact that “too many officers handled” the wallet recovered at the scene.

In agreement with Rookstool was retired FBI special agent Robert M. Barrett, described as “the only man alive today who saw Oswald’s wallet” at the Tippit murder scene. On camera, Barrett described how a Dallas police captain he knew asked him about the names “Oswald” and “Hidell” while holding the wallet.

“Why would he be asking me questions about Oswald and Hidell if [the names weren’t] in that wallet?” Barrett asked.

In addition, Rookstool displayed an 8x10 crime scene photograph autographed by five individuals connected to the Tippit investigation including Kenneth H. Croy, the first officer to arrive at the Tippit scene, who signed the photo and reportedly wrote near his signature, “First on the scene – recovered Oswald’s wallet there too.”

“This is the only written account,” Rookstool told viewers.

“Rookstool says both men, Tippit’s billfold, and the WFAA film prove that Oswald’s wallet was at the policeman’s murder,” concluded WFAA-TV news reporter Jason Whitely. “And more than shell casings and eyewitness recollections, it is the first hard evidence placing Oswald there that day. Significant in tying off a historical loose end and perfecting the record — fifty years later.”

How nice. One of the leading experts on the assassination and a Dallas television station worked together to solve one of the great mysteries of the Kennedy assassination fifty years later.

For the vast majority of readers of this blog and owners of my 1998 book, With Malice: Lee Harvey Oswald and the Murder of Officer J.D. Tippit, it’ll be no surprise that nearly everything that you’ve just read is pure and utter hogwash.

I know there are lots of conspiracy buffs who have been drinking the Kool-Aid so long that they’re happy to join the chorus of folks who want to believe that the wallet reportedly recovered at the Tippit scene was “a throw down” to frame the poor hapless Oswald for a murder he didn’t commit. I can’t help those poor misguided souls.

But for those of you wondering if Rookstool really solved anything, here’s a reality check – from the horse’s mouth, so to speak.


That’s because I was the person who broke the story of the wallet with the publication of With Malice in 1998 on the heels of a two year investigation that took me from Dallas to Florida to Alabama to the National Archives in Washington, D.C.

I initially drew attention to the existence of the WFAA news footage of the wallet, made the connection between the footage and a claim made by former FBI special agent Robert M. Barrett (first published in fellow FBI agent James P. Hosty’s 1996 book Assignment: Oswald), informed both Hosty and Barrett of the films existence, interviewed Barrett extensively in 1996 in an effort to substantiate his claim, and arranged to have Oswald’s arrest wallet rephotographed at the National Archives for in indepth comparison with a digital clone of the original WFAA-TV videotape containing the newsfilm. Despite Barrett’s help, and that of several others, I was unable to reconcile his latter day claims with the contemporary record – including Barrett’s own reports.

Good Lord, I would have loved to have been able to prove that police found Oswald’s wallet at the Tippit murder scene! Are you kidding me? It would have been the centerpiece of my book. However, looking at the evidence, I could not in good faith put my name on something so contrary to the official record without definitive proof – no matter how good it sounded. And I had more than one set of eyeballs looking at the evidence with me. They weren’t convinced either. I know there are some people (maybe a lot of people) who would have played it differently. But, I’m not one of them.



Fig. 2 – Contact sheet of the 52 photographs of Oswald's arrest wallet taken at the National Archives in 1996 by the author. [Dale K. Myers]

Even after the publication of With Malice in 1998, I never let an opportunity go by that might shed light on the Tippit murder story – including questions surrounding the wallet seen in the WFAA-TV news film.

In fact, additional information surrounding the wallet mystery – and much more about Tippit’s life and death – uncovered between 1998 and 2013 were included in the second edition of With Malice, published last summer.

No one – and I do mean, no one – has done more original work on the subject of Tippit’s murder, and in particular questions surrounding the wallet reportedly recovered at the shooting scene, than yours truly. And no, I don’t mind saying so because it’s true.

So, you can imagine how unnerving it was to see Farris Rookstool III, a paid consultant to the Dallas television station’s fiftieth anniversary coverage, taking bows for work I did and claiming that “no one has ever taken the due diligence of time to really put these pieces together until now.” Seriously?

Rookstool might have been able to fool the folks at WFAA-TV, but he knows damn well that the story that Oswald’s wallet was recovered at the Tippit scene was dissected, examined, and written about fourteen years ago in With Malice and subsequently updated in the second edition published in August, 2013 – which Rookstool also knew about given the fact that he purchased a copy in October, a month prior to the WFAA broadcast.

What exactly has Rookstool added that is new to this story? Nothing he couldn’t have gotten out of With Malice. According to Rookstool’s “investigation”:

  • Bob Barrett claims that Captain W.R. Westbrook asked him about the names Oswald and Hidell while he was thumbing through the IDs of a wallet he was holding at the Tippit scene. Yes, we know. This is discussed at length on pages 287-304 (1998 edition) and on pages 349-368 (2013 edition) of With Malice 
  • A crime scene photograph depicting Tippit’s patrol car was autographed for Rookstool by Jim Leavelle, Bob Barrett, T.F. Bowley, Roy Nichols, and Kenneth H. Croy – who reportedly wrote: “First on the scene, recovered Oswald’s wallet there too.” Rookstool refers to Croy’s autograph as “the only written account” of the recovery of Oswald’s wallet at the scene. I don’t know about you, but I wouldn’t call an autographed inscription, accompanied by a printed declaration, a “written account,” but then I guess that’s just me. How do we even know that Croy’s signature and the printed declaration were written by the same person? I did interview Croy in 2009 (he died in 2012) and wrote about his latter day claims which not only have many inconsistencies with his contemporary testimony, but is also at odds with Barrett’s account. This is also discussed at length on pages 356-358, 367-368 (2013 edition) of With Malice.
  • Marie Tippit is shown on-camera with Tippit’s black wallet, which is clearly different from the one seen in the 1963 news footage. Again, I wrote in 1998 that Tippit’s black billfold was on a list of personal possessions removed from his person after his death and while his revolver (left behind at the scene) was also on the list, I thought it highly unlikely – given interviews I conducted with multiple witnesses and fellow police officers – that it was Tippit’s black billfold being filmed by Ron Reiland, despite his claim that afternoon. Any doubts as to whether it was Tippit’s wallet were laid to rest in 2012 when I saw photographs of Tippit’s black billfold – a fact I discussed on page 364 (2013 edition) of With Malice.
  • Finally, Rookstool did an on-camera comparison between a frame from the archival WFAA news film – which was published on pages 293, 298 (1998 edition) and pages 355, 362 (2013 edition) of With Malice – and Oswald’s arrest wallet housed in the National Archives. Rookstool didn’t actually go to the National Archives, get permission to have the wallet pulled out of cold storage, and photograph it – as I did in 1996. Instead, he used the photograph I had taken of the wallet and subsequently published in the color plate section of the 1998 and 2013 editions of With Malice. More on that in a moment.
 What did Rookstool find after comparing the images I had published in 1998 and again in 2013? Both wallets, he claimed, had “circular snaps, metal strips and – perhaps the biggest similarity – a zipper over the cash compartment.”

Oddly, Rookstool displayed a new leather wallet that he had purchased that was similar in style to the one seen in the WFAA newsfilm which, as a prop, proved only that the wallet style was so common that it could still be purchased fifty years later.

“There is absolutely no doubt in my mind that it was Oswald’s wallet,” Rookstool opined.

But wait, look again (especially at a first generation duplicate of the original 1963 videotape in motion) – the wallet depicted in the archival WFAA newsfilm is much thinner and much more worn than Oswald’s arrest wallet, one of the principal reasons I was forced to reject the idea that the two wallets were the same.



Fig. 3 – Three WFAA-TV frames (left) show leather flap on the Tippit scene wallet is square with a metal band that runs edge to edge (yellow arrows). Two views of the leather flap of Oswald's arrest wallet taken at the National Archives (right) show it to have decidedly rounded corners and a metal band that does not run edge to edge. [WFAA-TV/Dale K. Myers]

The other reason? The metal band on the photo compartment of Oswald’s arrest wallet does not go to the edge of the leather flap, nor is the leather flap square (it has rounded corners) - both characteristics decidedly unlike the wallet depicted in the WFAA newsfilm. Again, the trip made to the National Archives, the 52 photographs taken at my direction, and the comparison I performed in 1996 are all discussed at length on pages 298-299 (1998 edition) and pages 361-363 (2013 edition) of With Malice.

As if to add insult to injury, Rookstool used – without permission - one of the many photographs I paid to have taken of Oswald’s arrest wallet at the National Archives (and which I subsequently published in With Malice) to support his contention in the WFAA broadcast report that the wallets were the same. The photograph he used is clearly captioned: “Author’s photo.” For the uninformed, that means I own it and hold the copyright.



Fig. 4 – Frame from the 2013 WFAA-TV broadcast using the wallet image from With Malice. [WFAA-TV]

Slapped across my photograph during the WFAA broadcast were the words: “Courtesy: Dale Myers.” Classy, huh?

Immediately after the report aired, I emailed both Rookstool and WFAA reporter Jason Whitely and asked for an explanation. Whitely promptly called me and explained that because it was a news broadcast, the Fair Use Law allowed newscasters to use my work without permission and that he, Whitely, was the one responsible for seeing that the “Courtesy of…” slug was placed on the photograph. He said he felt it was only fair to acknowledge that the photo was mine.

I know how television works, having worked in the industry for the better part of thirty years, and Whitely’s explanation sounded more like cover-your-ass to me. I explained to him that the fair thing to do would have been to ask for and get my permission to use the photograph - which is what “courtesy of” means. I also pointed out that the courtesy tag implied that I had been involved with Rookstool’s belated “investigation,” had granted my permission to use the photo, and sanctioned his conclusions – none of which was true.

Mr. Whitely apologized, adding that he could have handled it better. Yea, no kidding.

As for Rookstool, he never bothered to respond to my email. No phone call, no nothing. Nice, huh? It’s been four months now, and he’s still apparently hiding under his desk.

How does Rookstool address the conflicts between the official record and the recovery of an “Oswald” wallet at the Tippit shooting scene? According to Rookstool and Barrett, the official story is “hogwash” cooked up by police eager to hide the recovered wallet because “too many officers handled the crucial piece of evidence.” Huh?

Rookstool’s own account has the wallet recovered by Officer Croy and given to Captain Westbrook, who was in charge of the Tippit crime scene. How does that constitute too many officers? Not only is their explanation silly on its face, it doesn’t even begin to address all of the other problems that the contemporary record poses – problems I explored and discussed at length in With Malice.

Why in the world would police hide the most damning evidence against Lee Harvey Oswald in the Tippit shooting? Why didn’t any of the reporters who were known to have been at the Tippit scene during the period in which the wallet was allegedly recovered report the discovery of Oswald’s wallet at the scene? What would be the advantage for the police to lie about removing Oswald’s wallet from his pocket after his arrest at the Texas Theater?

Anyone with a brain knows that if Oswald’s wallet had been found at the Tippit murder scene it would have been printed in every newspaper and broadcast on every radio and television station in America before the end of the day, Friday, November 22, 1963.

More important, it would have appeared in the contemporary report prepared by FBI agent Bob Barrett that day and would have been discussed in the testimony given by Officer Kenneth Croy before the Warren Commission in 1964. Instead, there is nothing.

Flashback to early last summer – five months before the WFAA broadcast – I learned that Farris Rookstool had found documentation that “proved” that Oswald’s wallet was indeed found at the Tippit shooting scene – something I had been searching for.

Naturally, I was interested in what he had found and asked to see “the documentation” but was told that Rookstool preferred to reveal it himself during an unnamed fiftieth anniversary broadcast. I attempted to contact Rookstool directly, but he refused to return my call.

Rookstool was told through an intermediary that I would be more than happy to include his “discovery” in the forthcoming second edition of With Malice, due to be published by late summer 2013, with full credit given where credit was due. My focus was on disseminating the truth about this puzzling episode in the upcoming edition. It didn’t matter a whit to me who discovered it.

Rookstool declined to accept my offer and later again refused to take my direct call to discuss the matter. You know the rest.

“….no one has ever taken the due diligence of time to really put these pieces together until now.” Seriously?

Now comes a heavenly host of wannabe experts who crowd Internet forums riffing on Rookstool’s “discovery” and what it all means.

For those eager to lap up that kind of Internet crap or the pile of road apples offered as “proof” during the WFAA-TV broadcast in late 2013, there’s nothing I can ever say or write that’ll dissuade you.

For those interested in the truth about the wallet episode, here are a few facts to wrap your head around:

  • The wallet seen in the WFAA-TV news film is similar in style to Oswald’s arrest wallet, however, they are clearly not identical – period. It’s not even close. In particular, the newsfilm wallet has a leather flap that is square, while Oswald’s arrest wallet flap is rounded. In addition, the news film wallet is obviously thinner and more worn than Oswald’s arrest wallet.
  • Kenneth H. Croy told me in 2009 that the wallet turned over to him at the Tippit shooting scene had seven or so identification cards in it, and that none were in the name of Oswald. Why then did Croy think the wallet was Oswald’s? Croy’s belief that the wallet was Oswald’s was based on an assumption that Tippit’s killer dropped the wallet, and that since Oswald was later arrested for Tippit’s murder, the wallet must have been his. Croy told me that he had no first hand knowledge that the wallet contained anything that connected it to suspect Oswald.
  • FBI agent Robert Barrett did not know how police got the wallet or where it was found. He never handled the wallet or saw the identification cards in it. His recollection was that Captain Westbrook was holding a wallet while at the scene and asked him (Barrett) at the scene about the names Oswald and Hidell.
  • FBI agent Barrett returned to Dallas police headquarters following Oswald’s arrest to make sure the arrest report contained information that Oswald’s civil rights were not violated at the theater and subsequently was in contact with officers, including Westbrook, who had learned Oswald’s wallet contained two names – Oswald and Hidell. Was this what Barrett was recalling? Barrett says no.
  • FBI agent Barrett was known by fellow agents as being one who put meticulous details in his reports, the kind of details other agents usually overlooked. Barrett’s contemporary report of his activities on November 22, 1963, fails to mention the wallet, as does his 1975 testimony to the Senate Intelligence Committee during which he recounted his activities that day.
  • Both Barrett and Croy’s recollections are based on thirty to forty-year-old memories. None of their contemporary reports or testimony mention the recovery of Oswald’s wallet – a highly curious oversight given the significance both men now attach to the discovery. Croy’s latter claims about the wallet are particularly suspect given that he was first reportedly interview about it in 2005 by conspiracy advocate Jones Harris, seven years after the publication of With Malice.
You can’t begin to imagine my frustration at not being able to put a nice bow around this aspect of the Tippit shooting. But, that’s the way life is sometimes. As I wrote in the 2013 edition of With Malice:
“In the end, only one thing is certain - the wallet filmed at the scene by WFAA-TV cameraman Ron Reiland is not the wallet taken from Oswald's pocket after his arrest. Not only does a comparison of Oswald's arrest wallet to the one seen in the newsfilm show them to be different, but there is a wealth of evidence - both eyewitness and documentary - that establishes that the wallet with the Oswald and Hidell IDs came from Oswald's trouser pocket.

“While Croy’s somewhat hazy recollections provide some foundation for a wallet being recovered at the Tippit scene, it is the fortitude of FBI agent Barrett’s testimony that ultimately gives it bite.

“Barrett’s activities on November 22, 1963 took him to the Texas School Book Depository, the Tippit shooting scene, and the Texas Theater. In each case, photographs show Barrett doing exactly what he claimed to have done, at times consistent with his account. Over the course of more than thirty years - whether writing a report, or testifying before an investigative committee - Bob Barrett’s version of events has steadfastly remained consistent and reasonably accurate. In essence, Barrett has proven to be an excellent witness.

“His account of a wallet being in police hands at the Tippit scene is part of the filmed record, and his reasons for remembering the incident are sound and quite believable.

“On the other hand, there are a sprinkling of understandable inaccuracies throughout Barrett’s thirty-year-old recollections, which raises the possibility that Barrett - despite his insistence - may be mistaken about where he was when Westbrook asked him about the names Hidell and Oswald.

“Fifty years on, despite considerable effort to unravel this curious episode, numerous conflicts remain, which leaves this tantalizing allegation distinctly – and perhaps forever – out of focus.”
I can’t think of anything I would change about that assessment – with an acknowledgement that any new, bonafide evidence could alter my future perspective.

Until then, all the wishful thinking, pseudo television investigations, and grandstanding by so-called “assassination experts,” doesn’t solve anything. It only takes the truth and twists it into the big lie.  [END]

8 comments:

John Loonakle said...

WFAA should confront Rookstool with the points you bring up if they were a reliable organization that wants to get things right.

I admit I don't know much about the wallet situation but is it possible it belonged to one of the many witnesses and they were just getting their information from them?

Dale K. Myers said...

It doesn't seem to be connected to a witness based on the way police are handling it. The one witness who might be a chief candidate - Ted Callaway - said he was never asked for his wallet upon his return to the scene with Tippit's service revolver, nor is the wallet depicted his. Everyone I spoke with - police, witnesses, and ambulance attendants - said that no wallet was found near Tippit's patrol car. Croy said he was handed a wallet by an unknown individual but didn't no where it was found. All of this is discussed at length in With Malice.

Jean Shields said...

Have you read Ian Griggs' of DPUK in his book 'No Case to Answer' with an article on Westbrook? Ian appears to establish that Westbrook was planted in the Dallas Police Dept, appeared at all the crime scenes and could well have planted evidence. He left the police soon afterwards. I noticed in documentation that a 'Westbrook' was then linked with CIA dealings in Vietnam.

Jean Shields said...

Former detective Ian Griggs of DPUK wrote an essay about Westbrook in his book, 'No Case to Answer.' It would appear that Westbrook that he had recently been placed within the police dept, assigned to a desk job so shouldn't have been visiting all the suspected crime scenes as he did. He appears to be responsible for the 'evidence' of the wallet and the white jacket. He left the police dept shortly afterwards. I noticed that a Westbrook was mentioned within a CIA document on Vietnam not longer after.

Dale K. Myers said...

See how it works, folks? Simply toss multiple allegations against the wall and see what sticks. Above we have the claims that Westbrook was "planted" in the Dallas police department shortly before the assassination (presumably by the CIA), that he had a desk job and shouldn't have been out on the street handling evidence, probably "planted" the wallet and jacket, left the Dallas police shortly after the crime, and turned up connected to the CIA (one version mentions unspecified "documentation that a 'Westbrook' [not necessarily the Westbrook] was then linked with CIA dealings in Vietnam"; the other version claims "Westbrook was mentioned within a CIA document on Vietnam not longer after"). All this hogwash comes from secondary sources. I guess no one has bothered to read Larry Sneed's 1998 book No More Silence which contains the only interview of Westbrook conducted by anyone (to my knowledge) outside of the Warren Commission testimony that Westbrook gave in 1964. It's candid, revealing, and virtually destroys everything suggested by the questions submitted in the previous two comments. I suppose it's more exciting to speculate endlessly about Westbrook's role in Dallas, but, come on! Seriously? Why do people except forum postings and speculation as fact? I guess it's more entertaining than getting at the truth.

Barry Ryder said...

Jean,

Leaving aside the fact that there is no evidence whatsoever that Westbrook ‘planted’ a wallet – that was not Oswald’s – and a jacket - that was Oswald’s -can you suggest why it would have been necessary to ‘plant’ anything at all?

Markham, the two Davis sisters, Scoggins, Callaway and Guinyard (plus others) all saw and subsequently identified Oswald as the man who shot Tippit, emptied his revolver and fled the scene.

The spent shells recovered from the scene were fired from the very revolver that Oswald drew on his arresting officers in the Cinema.

Oswald murdered J. D. Tippit, it’s a ‘no-brainer’.

Barry

Paul C. said...

The wallet episode is the Tippet crime scene equivalent of the "three railyard tramps" photographed at Dealy Plaza immediately after the assassination. Baseless allegations swirled for decades around these men until their arrest records were finally discovered in the early 90's (which, of course, die-hard conspiracists dismiss as fake). Sadly, similar conclusive information on the wallet won't ever turn up. But we know more than enough to conclude that it's not a crucial piece of evidence.

Barry Ryder said...

Hi, Paul,

I agree.

Dale has repeatedly (and very patiently) hammered the point (in his book and the article above) that had Oswald’s wallet really been found at 10th & Patton, both Barrett and Westbrook would have, (a) most assuredly entered it into evidence and (b) written of its discovery in any and all reports that they made. They never did, of course.

I have the WFAA-TV broadcast footage from the Dallas studio which features the cameraman – Reiland – and Jay Watson. Reiland narrates the key sequence with the words’ “The gun that you see in the background here is the officer’s and is the one that was allegedly used to shoot the police officer. This is the officer’s billfold that was found lying on the ground right alongside of the car.”

Both of his observations were wrong, of course.

What I find especially interesting about the footage is that the examination of the wallet appears to be very cursory and superficial. Nothing is seen to be removed from the billfold for close inspection. (I accept that the filmed sequence didn’t cover the entire episode.)

As you say, this isn’t a crucial piece of evidence; unless you are a paid-up member of the Lee Harvey Oswald Appreciation Society, that is.

Barry