Thursday, May 12, 2016

Mark Lane, Who Asserted That Kennedy Was Killed in Conspiracy, Dies at 89

By KEITH SCHNEIDER | New York Times

Mark Lane, the defense lawyer, social activist and best-selling author who concluded in a blockbuster book in the mid-1960s that Lee Harvey Oswald could not have acted alone in killing President John F. Kennedy, a thesis supported in part by the House Select Committee on Assassinations in 1979, died on Tuesday at his home in Charlottesville, Va. He was 89. 

The cause was a heart attack, his friend and paralegal Sue Herndon said.

The Kennedy assassination, one of the manifest turning points of the 20th century, also was the climactic moment of Mr. Lane’s life and career. Before the president’s murder in November 1963, Mr. Lane was a minor figure in New York’s legal and political circles. He had organized rent strikes, opposed bomb shelter programs, was a Freedom Rider, took on civil rights cases and was active in the New York City Democratic Party. In 1960, he was elected a State Assemblyman and served one term.

After the Kennedy murder, Mr. Lane devoted much of the next three decades to its investigation. Almost immediately he began the Citizens’ Committee of Inquiry, interviewed witnesses, collected evidence and delivered speeches on the assassination in the United States and in Europe, where he befriended Bertrand Russell, the British philosopher, and one of his early supporters.

By the time President Lyndon B. Johnson appointed the Warren Commission to investigate the assassination, Mr. Lane had emerged as one of its important independent experts. He testified to the commission in 1964 and served as a legal counsel to Marguerite Oswald, the suspect’s mother.

In August 1966, Mr. Lane published the results of his inquiry in “Rush to Judgment,” his first book, which dominated best-seller lists for two years. With a trial lawyer’s capacity to amass facts, and a storyteller’s skill in distilling them into a coherent narrative, Mr. Lane asserted that the Warren Commission’s conclusion that Oswald was the lone gunman was incomplete, reckless at times, and implausible.

He coined the term “grassy knoll” to describe a green expanse of Dealey Plaza in Dallas that Mr. Lane argued was the source of several of the shots fired at the president.

The book raised doubts about Oswald’s marksmanship and the expertise of police agencies. And he sought to ridicule the Warren Commission’s conclusion that one “magic bullet” could strike and grievously injure President Kennedy and Gov. John Connally and still emerge essentially intact.

Mr. Lane’s findings were disputed aggressively by the government. Still, the financial success of “Rush to Judgment,” and its conclusions prompted the development of a new assassination genre in nonfiction — by those who believed and did not believe in a conspiracy — that eventually counted more than 2,000 titles.

Mr. Lane was among the genre’s most active contributors. In 1967, the same year he produced a documentary film version of the book, with the same title, The New Yorker magazine writer Calvin Trillin called Mr. Lane one of the foremost Kennedy “assassination buffs.” In 1968 Mr. Lane published “A Citizen’s Dissent’’ to respond to the defenders of the Warren Commission report.

In 1973, Warner Brothers released “Executive Action,” a feature film based on “Rush to Judgment” starring Burt Lancaster that Mr. Lane wrote with help from Dalton Trumbo. In 1991, Mr. Lane produced a second documentary on the Kennedy assassination, “Two Men in Dallas,” and in 1991 he published a second book, “Plausible Denial,” that argued the C.I.A. was involved in the Kennedy murder.

Mr. Lane relished the heightened national attention that came with his high-profile causes. In 1968, the comedian Dick Gregory chose Mr. Lane as his running mate in several states in a write-in presidential candidacy for the Freedom and Peace Party. The campaign collected nearly 50,000 votes.

In 1970, while working with Vietnam Veterans Against the War, Mr. Lane befriended Jane Fonda and appeared with her on “The Dick Cavett Show” on ABC. In 1974, he represented the American Indian Movement and joined William M. Kunstler in successfully defending Russell C. Means and Dennis J. Banks, who led the 71-day Indian uprising at Wounded Knee in 1973, against federal charges of conspiracy, assault, and larceny.

During this period, Mr. Lane also joined Mr. Gregory and other civil rights leaders in investigating the 1968 assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. He took on James Earl Ray as a client and unsuccessfully sought the release of Dr. King’s assassin. In the mid-1970s Mr. Lane worked with Representative Thomas N. Downey, a New York Democrat, to draft legislation that in 1976 established the House Select Committee on Assassinations, with Mr. Downey as its first chairman, to investigate the murders of Kennedy and King.

In its final report in 1979, the committee went further than any branch of government to support the central points of Mr. Lane’s thesis about Kennedy’s murder. It concluded that the F.B.I. and the Warren Commission investigations of the assassination were flawed.

The committee also found that while Oswald fired three shots, one of which killed President Kennedy, a “high probability” existed that a second gunman was present and that the president “was probably assassinated as a result of a conspiracy.”

The committee, though, was "unable to identify the other gunman or the extent of the conspiracy.” But Mr. Lane also came under criticism from the committee for providing evidence about the King assassination that they regarded as unsubstantiated: “In many instances, the committee found that Lane was willing to advocate conspiracy theories publicly without having checked the factual basis for them,” wrote the authors of the final committee report. “In other instances, Lane proclaimed conspiracy based on little more than inference and innuendo. Lane’s conduct resulted in public misperception about the assassination of Dr. King and must be condemned.”

Mr. Lane was undeterred. “It seems clear,” he wrote in 1992, “that the people of this nation have a different agenda from the politics of suppression, disinformation, perjury, and subornation of perjury readily embraced by their leaders.”

Mark Lane was born in Brooklyn on Feb. 24, 1927. He was the middle of three children of Harry Lane, an accountant, and Betty Lane, a secretary. He served in the army after World War II in Vienna and returned to Brooklyn to earn an undergraduate degree and, in 1951, a law degree at Brooklyn College.

In the 1970s, Mr. Lane moved to Charlottesville, where he practiced law.

His first two marriages ended in divorce. He is survived by his wife, the former Partricia Erdner; three daughters, Annemarie, Christina and Vita; and several grandchildren.

A man with a strong personality and a yen for visibility and risk, Mr. Lane consistently cultivated and attracted high-profile clients. In the 1960s he worked with Jim Garrison, the district attorney in New Orleans who was investigating the Kennedy assassination in a case that Oliver Stone featured in the 1991 movie “JFK.”

In late 1970s he represented Jim Jones, the head of the California-based People’s Temple. He was in Jonestown, Guyana, on Nov. 18, 1978, the day that Representative Leo Ryan was killed and when more than 900 other people died of cyanide poisoning. Mr. Lane survived by fleeing into the jungle. In 1979 he published “The Strongest Poison” about Jones and the killings.

In the mid-1980s Mr. Lane successfully defended the far right Liberty Lobby and its publication, The Spotlight, in a defamation case brought by E. Howard Hunt, the C.I.A. agent and Watergate co-conspirator. Mr. Lane’s passion about the Kennedy assassination never seemed to wane, His final book about the Kennedy assassination, “Last Word: My Indictment of the C.I.A. in the Murder of JFK” was published in 2011.

His autobiography, “Citizen Lane,” was published in 2012, with an introduction by the actor Martin Sheen. A documentary of the same name, written and directed by the actress Pauley Perrette, came out in 2013.

“I’ve earned all of the friends I have in the world — Bertrand Russell, Eleanor Roosevelt, Dick Gregory, just as an example of them,’’ Mr. Lane says in the film, “but more than that, I’ve earned every one of my enemies, every one of them, and I’m proud of that.”

11 comments:

David Von Pein said...

I disagreed with Mark Lane about almost everything, but I sure enjoyed listening to him. He was a skilled public speaker and debater. He could get a crowd stirred up about the assassination better than just about anyone else on the planet. And I'm glad that many of his TV and radio appearances were recorded and saved for future generations to listen to. I've saved many of them here....

http://dvp-video-audio-archive.blogspot.com/2012/03/mark-lane.html

P.S. --- A correction needs to be made in Keith Schneider's N.Y. Times article. Mark Lane most certainly did not "coin" the term "grassy knoll". Within literally minutes of the assassination on 11/22/63, there were on-air reporters and newsmen using the words "grassy knoll" to describe the now-famous grassy slope located on the western edge of Dealey Plaza in Dallas. Walter Cronkite, for example, uttered the words "grassy knoll" as early as 12:57 PM (CST) on Nov. 22 during one of the first bulletins aired on CBS-TV.

Barry Ryder said...

My sincere condolences go to the friends and family of Mark Lane. However, I will not mourn his passing or pay tribute to him. To do so would be hypocritical. I had a low regard of the man.

His writings, talks and broadcasts about the assassination of President Kennedy have done irreparable harm to the general understanding of the murder.

In the half century since the events of Dallas, Lane earned big money peddling paranoia and half-truth. His writings were all characterised by strategic omissions of evidence and witness testimony. His showboating before the Warren Commission (and later the HSCA) earned him public rebukes from both bodies.

Witnesses who were 'interviewed' by him often slammed him for misrepresenting what they had said (eg. Charles Brehm) or denied ever being interviewed by him at all (eg. Mary Woodward). Lane's disgraceful telephone conversation with Helen Markham showed him to be willing to stoop to any depth to advance his arguments.

Lane had no regard for 'the whole truth'. His books and pronouncements are characterised by wilful withholding of crucial information.

'Rush To Judgment' has no mention of Johnny Brewer or Julia Postal. These two witnesses were the sole reason why the DPD went to the Texas theatre to search for a man who was acting suspiciously. Lane omitted all mention of them so as to create an air of suspicion about the actions of the DPD.

His treatment of Jack Ruby's testimony was disgraceful. Whole swathes of Ruby's statements were ignored and the essential meaning of Ruby's protestations were turned on their head because of it. Ruby denied all foreknowledge of the assassination or of Oswald. Lane's duplicity painted a very different picture.

'Plausible Denial' features the Marita Lorenz deposition which was given for the Hunt v. Liberty Lobby appeal. In his usual fashion however, Lane omitted the parts of the testimony which proved that Lorenz was lying. Lane knew that she was lying but he cut-and-pasted her words to suit his purpose.

Finally, should any reader feel that I'm being unfair to a deceased man who cannot respond to my accusations, it should be noted that I have negatively reviewed the two books previously mentioned (on amazon). Firstly, my accusations were made whilst Lane was alive and as the author of the books in question he would have been advised of the existence of the reviews. Secondly, saying bad things about the deceased is something that never seemed to bother Lane himself.

He had no qualms at all when it came to insinuating the deceased J. D. Tippit into a nefarious 'plot' with Jack Ruby. The whole, shabby 'Carousel meeting' garbage that Lane peddled to the Warren Commission and the reading public was an utter disgrace.

Lane is gone but all of the poison that he injected into the public consciousness still circulates and will doubtless continue to do so.

That's not much of an epitaph.

Gus Russo said...

Barry, I couldn't agree with you more.
Lane did more to derail serious discussion of the assassination than anyone.
His book Rush to Judgment turned a generation against the CIA and other government agencies.
When I was young I was among those duped by his lies. I just hadn't yet learned that an author could be allowed by his publisher to print so many untruths. It took me at least a decade to realize the scam he had pulled off.
I knew Marita Lorenz and was not surprised that Lane would use her fantasy world to his own ends. The guy had no scruples, and innocent people were regularly harmed by his accusations in the service of wanton self-promotion.

I wish I could say something good about him, for the sake of those who loved him, but I'm just lost for words in that regard.

Gus Russo

Barry Ryder said...

Hi, Gus,

many thanks for your comment and I'm highly gratified to know that your thoughts are similar to mine.

It is indeed a sad state of affairs when one finds it impossible to summon up anything good to say about a man and his life's work. Still, Lane chose his own path and strutted his funky stuff along it, not caring one jot about all of those that he trod on along the way.

I also fell for Lane's hokum in the early 1970's. 'Rush To Judgement' - both the book and film - had me wondering for a very long time whether the WC had got it right. Along with so many others, I wondered if they had even tried to get it right. Like you, it took me about a decade to make sense of it all. The HSCA findings were reported here in the UK press (no internet then, of course) and the few books that I'd managed to get redressed the balance. David Belin's, 'November 22, 1963: You Are The Jury' was a real eye-opener. Belin took Lane to task and exposed him for the charlatan that he was.

I thought that you dealt well with Lane (and Lorenz) in 'Brothers In Arms' very well, too.

'Brothers' is still one of my favourite reads even though I can't quite believe that Oswald was aided and abetted by anyone to carry out the murder. To me, the assassination has all the hallmarks of an opportunistic crime with little or no planning.

Nonetheless, your work with Stephen Molton produced a valuable contribution to the literature and I'm very grateful for it. ('Live By The Sword' is actually my favourite above 'Brothers'.)

Many thanks again for your kind words. My thanks too, as always, to Dale for maintaining such a fantastic blog.

Regards to you both.
Barry Ryder
(London)

Jack Johnson said...

Mark Lane as a "JFK researcher/truth teller" was actually run out of England by Lord Bertrand Russell, Hugh Trevor Roper and the "British Who Killed Kennedy Committee", which is actually a play on words because they were the British who killed Kennedy.

You can find on line books by Lord Russell where he writes to Loyd Boyd Orr (another British aristocrat) telling him that Lane may turn up something embarrassing on the FBI, CIA and US Government, and urges Boyd Orr to join their committee and support Lane so they can use him to blame the US Government for the assassination and ensuing cover up of JFK. Russell and Boyd Orr were committed to world government and hated John F. Kennedy. You can find "cables" from Russell to JFK during the height of the Cuban Missiles Crisis where Russell calls Kennedy a mad man.

I don't know if Lane was duped or a willing participant but he spent his days blaming the US Government for the killing of Kennedy, worked the Vietnam war angle for Russell as well and would much later be involved in the mass killings at Jonestown also on behalf of the British.

Barry Ryder said...

Jack,

You're really 'pushing the envelope' of silliness aren't you? Bertrand Russell behind the Kennedy assassination? I thought that I'd heard them all, but that's a doozy.

By the way, the text of Russell's telegram to JFK was:

"Your action desperate. Threat to human survival. No conceivable justification. Civilized man condemns it. We will not have mass murder. Ultimatum means war...End this madness.!"

Russell didn't call JFK 'a mad man', but he did once say that he was, "..much more wicked than Hitler..".

The noble Lord was prone to say (and write) silly things from time to time. I'm afraid that you've done exactly the same.

Barry Ryder
London

Robert said...

In proving the single bullet fact, I'm curious if Dale Myers fantastic animation work was ever used to prove that Governor Connally could not have been shot in the places he was shot, unless a bullet passed through JFK's body?

It seems to me that people who keep denying the fact of the single bullet don't then offer an explanation of how the Governor was shot from behind, without JFK also being shot.

Can it be proven that any bullet hitting Connally where it hit him, and following the trajectory it did to cause the wounds it caused to him, must have passed through Kennedy's body, because Kennedy was blocking Connally?

Surely a bullet that hit the Governor at the trajectory needed to cause the injuries it did, without hitting JFK, would had to have curved around and missed Kennedy, then straightened 'in mid air' and continued on to hit Connally...if any bullet was 'magical', it'd be that one...

Dale K. Myers said...

Robert said: "...I'm curious if Dale Myers fantastic animation work was ever used to prove that Governor Connally could not have been shot in the places he was shot, unless a bullet passed through JFK's body?..."

Answer: No, since Governor Connally (JBC)'s inshoot and outshoot wounds were likely not on a straight line (JBC's surgeon believed the bullet moved in an arc along the rib line). However, since the entrance wound in JFK's upper right back and the exit wound in the throat did proceed in a relatively straight line (without striking bone) it is possible to connect those two points and determine a source trajectory as well as a destination. The source turns out to be the southeastern-most window on the sixth floor of the TSBD (the so-called "sniper's nest") and the destination was the entrance wound on JBC's right back. Furthermore, when the point representing JBC's entrance wound is connected with the point representing the exit wound in JFK's throat wound and that trajectory is projected rearward, two things are evident: (1) the trajectory line intersects the entrance wound in JFK's upper-right back, and (2) the trajectory line tracks back to the sixth floor sniper's nest window. Consequently, there can be no question that the bullet that passed through JFK's upper body went on to strike JBC, and that the source of that shot was the sixth floor sniper's nest. The only real magic in the so-called "magic bullet" theory is the notion that a bullet passed through JFK's upper body and vanished into thin air.

ericpaddon said...

There is a new book out alas, "The Reporter Who Knew Too Much" that tries to push a theory that not even conspiracy authors were willing to touch back in the 1960s, namely the death of gossip columnist and "What's My Line?" panelist Dorothy Kilgallen being connected to the assassination because she allegedly "knew" too much about the assassination from her own "investigation."

This is relevant in a post about Mark Lane's death because Mark Lane was basically the man responsible for most of what Kilgallen knew. He struck up a connection with Kilgallen in 1964 and leaked a selective version of his WC testimony to her about his attempt to discredit Helen Markham and he was also responsible for leaking the crap about the Carousel Club meeting to her before the Warren Report was published. He also made use of Kilgallen to plug other discredited stories such as Acquilla Clemmons (the phantom Tippit witness who alleged two people did it) and the "Mauser" theory about the rifle.

Yet amusingly, the "Reporter Who Knew Too Much" doesn't mention any of this in its alleged attempt to provide an overview of what Kilgallen "knew" about the assassination. Not that Lane goes unmentioned in the book, but a reader would never know just who Lane was in 1964 or what he'd done before the WC or how much he was attracting attention at the time. The casual reader would only think that Lane was just some good friend of Kilgallen she met with and traded notes on from time to time.

The author's silence on Lane's relationship to Kilgallen becomes more evident when he tries out of whole cloth (and no evidence) to spin a yarn about Kilgallen being done in by Carlos Marcello forces who were afraid she'd found some connection to the assassination that implicated them. Since Lane was never a pusher of the Mafia thesis, highlighting his connections to Kilgallen would do nothing for the author's book.

Unfortunately, I have seen how this new book about Kilgallen impacts the gullible, especially in the circles of "What's My Line?" fandom who not knowing about Lane or the assassination but who want to read more about Kilgallen get sucked into this kind of nonsense. The sad thing is that because Kilgallen let herself get used badly by Lane to peddle his junk, that set her up to be the target of worthless speculation into the tragic circumstance of her own death.

That's just one of many bad things one can say about Mark Lane in terms of the collective damage he caused to a nation's ability to understand the evidence about the assassination. It's why I have not a single redeeming thing to say about him.

Barry Ryder said...

Eric,

great post (above).

I've also read your amazon review of 'The Reporter Who Knew Too Much' and - more importantly - your exchanges with the book's author, Mark Shaw.

You've done a very thorough job of discrediting the book and it's many ridiculous theories. You've even drawn Shaw into an debate that he's fluffed very badly. Well done. You've shown just how vacuous and dishonest writers can be when they have books to sell. Shaw seems to have modelled his writing on that of Mark Lane; namely, withhold the awkward bits.

Many thanks for your review and posting, you've saved me some money.

Barry Ryder
(London)

ericpaddon said...

Barry, thanks! I'm gratified to know that a serious student of the assassination like you found that exchange worth reading.

Shaw is indeed much like Lane, Groden and many other similar writers. If you never mention the "awkward bits" then the uninitiated reader has nothing to go back and cross-check. He'll just assume the writer will have consulted everything and he can be impressed by the author's alleged "brilliance".