Friday, November 23, 2007

Anniversary Circus


About 300 people, including history buffs, conspiracy theorists, two Elvis impersonators (you read right), and artists working on a peace exhibit gathered in Dealey Plaza yesterday to mark the 44th anniversary of President Kennedy's assassination in a loosely organized ceremony that was part memorial and part circus.

On hand were Beverly Oliver (who claims to be the ‘Babuska Lady,’ prominently featured in a number of photographs of the 1963 event), who sang the national anthem and signed autographs; members of the “Coalition on Political Assassinations,” who held aloft a banner bearing the name of its organization; people wearing T-shirts that said "Who shot JFK?" on the front and "Not LHO" on the back; and of course Robert J. Groden, the self-proclaimed photo expert who has been hawking his 11 books and glossy magazines on a daily basis from a table top near the grassy knoll for the last 12 years.

Groden spent his 62nd birthday (yes, his birthday is on November 22nd) talking to the curious and the ever present media about the case that has dominated his life.
“The public still wants to know the truth and they know they don't have it,” Groden told the Dallas Morning News. Ironically, Groden himself has proven to have an aversion to the truth.

He believes the shooting was the result of an "unholy alliance" between the CIA and organized crime and that eight to 13 shots were fired that day, with several coming from the grassy knoll and the parking lot behind it. Yes, Oswald had plenty of help.

Is it any wonder that many onlookers said they didn't think Oswald acted alone in Kennedy's assassination and thought he was set up?

Asked what he thought of “Oswald’s Ghost,” the new Robert Stone (no relation to Oliver Stone) documentary (scheduled for broadcast on PBS Jan. 14) which explores the growth of the conspiracy industry and hucksters like himself, Groden responded, “ ‘Oswald's Ghost’ is a horrible, horrible piece of crap.”

Gee, what a surprise.

Groden was equally dismissive of Vincent Bugliosi’s book “Reclaiming History: The Assassination of President John F. Kennedy,” (calling it a “good doorstop”) and The Sixth Floor Museum at Dealey Plaza’s exhibit which gives no credence to conspiracy buff claims like Groden’s.

Jacquielynn Floyd, a columnist for the Dallas Morning News, observed this week, "Too often, on Nov. 22, people have gone to Dealey Plaza in a genuine and respectful spirit of remembrance, and have found an embarrassing, exhibitionistic carnival…the date has become a high holy day for conspiracy cranks, a swap meet for oddballs to peddle their strange obsessions. The grassy knoll isn't just a magnet for people who want to bend your ear ad nauseam about the Warren Commission report; now it attracts people waving banners extolling such offensive sentiments as ‘9/11 = INSIDE JOB.’ ”

Ms. Floyd wrote how David Flick, another Dallas Morning News columnist, ventured down to Dealey Plaza on the observance of the 40th anniversary four years ago and discovered a similar circus atmosphere. The plaza was packed with at least 5,000 people, Flick reported, some of them apparently expecting a formal program. Instead, there were noisy crackpots and publicity seekers, including the headliner, former Minnesota Govenor Jesse Ventura, who bellowed that he was the “only elected official who had the courage to come here today.” A marching drum band showed up unannounced. Conspiracy theorists set up microphones. TV helicopters buzzed overhead. Festive pranksters popped open umbrellas on a prearranged signal in a "flash mob" event.

“If the date and place had attracted only genuine mourners and historians,” Ms. Floyd wrote this week, “it might have been a moving, spontaneous observance. The cranks and partiers made it silly and disrespectful. That was the assassination's 40th anniversary; round numbers have powerful appeal. If the scene was this tawdry for 40, what do you suppose 50 will look like?

“Here's a promise: A lot of people are going to show up, whether there's an official observance or not: camera crews, trinket vendors, mourners, tourists, conspiracy theorists, attention seekers and possibly street jugglers and reality-show contestants.

“In the absence of any other consistent tradition, this is the one that seems to be taking hold. The way things have been shaping up in recent years, 2013 will be a major blowout for the wackos.

“Neither Dallas nor The Sixth Floor Museum is obligated to plan an "official" assassination observance, for 2013 or for any other year. Maybe it's better to let Americans observe the sad occasion as they see fit.

“But they might want to think it over. If there's going to be a public gathering, it ought to have some focus and purpose beyond grabbing some free publicity. It ought to have dignity.” [Jacquielynn Floyd, “In the absence of official JFK observance, we get a circus,” Dallas Morning News, November 20, 2007]

Right on. Years ago, I suggested to Gary Mack, curator of The Sixth Floor Museum, that the museum populate Dealey Plaza with “guides” wearing ball caps adorned with the museum logo and matching pressed shirts, who could help answer visitor questions in a respectful and dignified manner if only so that they wouldn’t become prey to the often ratty, unkempt street vendors pushing some twisted version of history. Nothing came of it, but I still think it’s a good idea, and one that should be employed – if not every day, then certainly at every anniversary.

The annual sideshow circus wasn’t limited to Dealey Plaza, of course. The news media offered it’s own brand of anniversary snake-oil.

ABC News headlines read: “44 Years After JFK's Death, New Assassination Plot Revealed.”new revelation, you ask? The sensational headline referred to the story of former Secret Service agent, Abraham Bolden, age 72, who told WLS-TV in Chicago that there was a plot to kill President Kennedy on November 2, 1963, in that city three weeks before Kennedy was assassinated in Dallas.

Two paragraphs into the story, ABC News casually mentioned that it was “...a plot that has been mentioned over the years...”

Yea, no kidding. That story is as old as my teeth. The only thing new about it is that the details will be rehashed in a forthcoming book (surprise, surprise) written by Bolden and his wife and due out next spring. Bolden promised that the book will cite another contributing factor in the JFK murder: the on-duty drunkenness of Secret Service agents. (Yawn) [ABC]

Then, there was Fox News, who dignified publisher Tim Miller’s (Flatsigned Press) claim that “...the last living words of former President Gerald Ford fingered the CIA in the orchestration a cover-up of Kennedy's assassination...” with the headline grabber: “Posthumous book claims Ford knew of CIA coverup in Kennedy assassination.”

Yep, you read right. Gerald R. Ford, the last surviving member (who died in 2006) and staunch defender of the Warren Commission and its work for more than four decades grabbed a pen on his deathbed and finally admitted the “truth." Praise Jesus!

According to Mr. Miller, who appeared on Fox and Friends Wednesday, a new book, “A Presidential Legacy and the Warren Commission,” written by Ford before his death, “finally proves once and for all that the CIA, our government, did destroy documents and cover-up many facts that day in Dallas.”

“There was a conspiracy to kill John F. Kennedy," Miller announced in a press release. “There is no doubt that President Gerald Ford knew more about the JFK death. There is no doubt President Clinton knows more. Has he or any other U.S. President since November 22, 1963 ever swore under oath that they know no more?”

According to the press release put out by Miller and Co.: “...In this book, Ford "confirms the role of the CIA in hiding and destroying information regarding the assassination and rebuts critics and conspiracy advocates but contends with interesting specificity that Oswald was the only shooter.” [emphasis added] But his publisher, who argued with Ford over what should be included in this book and who worked minute-by-minute, the many drafts and final, published words along with the late president, disagrees.” [FlatSigned Press]

So, actually, when you get right down to it, it is the publisher Tim Miller who contends that there was a conspiracy to kill Kennedy – not Ford. (I’m so shocked.)

What exactly did Gerald Ford write? To find out, you’ll have to shell out $489 for a handsigned copy (or $889 for the signed lettered copy in an oak box “with relics from the grassy knoll!”) of this momentous keepsake. Or you could just buy (or leaf through) the $18 trade edition at your local bookstore. Did I mention that this “final memoir” is actually a reprint of the 1964 Warren Report with a new foreword by Gerald Ford?

It’s a wonder Ford doesn’t reach up from the grave and put a choke hold on this clown Miller. Is there no shame left in the world?

Then there’s the New York Times opinion article: “J.F.K.'s Death, Re-Framed,” by Op-Ed Contributors Max Holland and Johann W. Rush – a shortened version of their unsupported theory that the Zapruder film captured only two of Oswald’s three shots, the first one having been fired before Zapruder began filming.

Holland and Rush floated this theory in an article (“1963: 11-Seconds in Dallas”) that appeared on the History News Network (HNN) website last February. The appalling lack of evidence for their theory was duly noted on this website last June [See: Max Holland's 11 Seconds in Dallas].

The re-publication of the theory in New York Times this week only demonstrates the newspapers’ complete ignorance of the issues being discussed and Holland & Rush’s willingness to peddle their own assassination theories under the guise of historic journalism with the full knowledge that their theory doesn’t have one stitch of genuine supporting evidence. Nice going, guys.

Is it any wonder that we continually see headlines like’s “Nov. 22, 1963: A Magic Bullet, a Grassy Knoll, an Enduring Mystery ? [emphasis added]

Or that the public is bombarded with observations like Wired columnist Tony Long’s: “...Forty-four years on and we're still not entirely sure what happened in Dallas that day. All we do know is that something changed in an instant and America has never been the same country since. It’s a dark line that grows only more pronounced as the day recedes into history...” ? []

Many thanks to all the hucksters, snake-oil salesmen, and self-appointed historians who keep the mystery rolling year after year.

It’s the circus side-show that never ends.


Thursday, November 22, 2007

Forty-four years and counting


What a wild year it’s been for Kennedy assassination enthusiasts. Here’s some of what you might have missed:

In February, "1963: 11 Seconds in Dallas", an article by Max Holland and Johann W. Rush appeared on the Internet website History News Network (HNN). In it, they detailed their theory that Oswald fired his first shot several seconds before Abraham Zapruder began filming the Kennedy limousine, and consequently, Zapruder's infamous film did not capture the entire shooting sequence as previously accepted.

A minor point to be sure, but in the final analysis, the Holland-Rush thesis had no support whatsoever in the historic record. They might just as well have pulled their thesis out of thin air. They started with a false premise, based on a generalization of the earwitness accounts which described the spacing of the shots, then backward engineered an earlier first shot which failed to pass the litmus test in every respect. When they were called out on it, they refused to acknowledge the obvious. [See: Max Holland's 11 Seconds in Dallas]

In May, Vincent Bugliosi’s seminal 2,500 page (including endnotes) work, Reclaiming History: The Assassination of President John F. Kennedy, was released and quickly ignored by conspiracy buffs. Their reason for ignoring Bugliosi’s 25-year investigation of the case? According to postings on various conspiracy newsgroups from persons admitting right up front that they hadn’t read the book and had no intention of doing so, Bugliosi’s book was full of “lies and omissions.” It’s hard to understand on anyone who admits that they hadn’t read the book could possibly know what was in it or whether it was accurate or not.

Some in the conspiracy crowd thought Bugliosi’s work couldn’t be ignored and created a website designed specifically to rebut the former L.A. prosecutor’s lengthy tome. Unfortunately, the articles featured on the website, written by various conspiracy advocates promising to box Bugliosi’s ears for one reason or another, proved to be rather sophomoric efforts – easily shown to be full of the kind of factual errors made by first year Kennedy assassination students. [ See: Twists & Turns of the Single Bullet Critics (Pt.1); Twists & Turns of the Single Bullet Critics (Pt.2); Twists & Turns of the Single Bullet Critics (Pt.3); How An Agnostic Became A Conspiracy Believer; Of Crosstalk and Bells: A Rebuttal to Don Thomas' "Debugging Bugliosi"; Fair Play for Bugliosi: John Kelin Reports] Congratulations, Vince! You’re the new Satan.

In late May, conspiracy theorist David S. Lifton came out swinging on Black Op Radio, claiming that Bugliosi’s book was actually written by a posse of unnamed and unknown co-authors – unnamed and unknown except for Patricia Lambert whom Lifton accused of writing the hundred page section on Jim Garrison. Lifton claimed that he recognized Lambert’s unmistakable writing style. Lambert vehemently denied the charge and Bugliosi’s secretary, Rosemary Newton, took the denial a step further offering Lifton a $100,000 bet that she could produce Bugliosi’s handwritten draft of the book (Bugliosi doesn’t own a computer) which Newton keyed in herself. ”Is that a deal?” Newton asked in a scathing Internet post. “If you're afraid to do this, then please shut your mouth and remove your trash from the Internet.” Ouch! [See: Lifton's Ghost] Nothing further came of the charge, Lifton apparently retreating.

In late June, Italian weapons experts announced that tests on the type of rifle used to kill Kennedy show assassin Lee Harvey Oswald could not have acted alone.” [See: Italian experts test JFK assassination gun] The Italians claimed that new tests showed it took 19-seconds (not the Warren Commissions’ reported 7 seconds) to get off three shots with Oswald’s rifle.

The story, which shamefully ran worldwide on United Press International (UPI) without a single fact check, was embraced by conspiracy theorists almost immediately. Then came access to a videotape of the actual test being conducted. The Italian rifleman was hardly in a hurry to get off three rounds. In the words of Emily Litella, "Never mind."

In July, author Dan Robertson introduced his debut book, "Definitive Proof: The Secret Service Murder of President John Fitzgerald Kennedy," which attempted to resurrect the Milton William Cooper theory that the Secret Service driver William Greer shot Kennedy from the front seat of the limousine. Get a clean copy of the Zapruder film, Dan. [See: Definitive Proof? The Secret Service Killed JFK]

On July 31st, Paul Kuntzler, President of Miller Reporting Company, Inc., a transcription and court reporting service, paid the New York Times big money to print a rambling, two-page open letter to The Washington Post Chairmen of the Board, Donald E. Graham, in which Kuntzler declared that “Lee Harvey Oswald was An American Hero.”

Mr. Kuntzler charged that: “President John Fitzgerald Kennedy was murdered by Vice President Lyndon Baines Johnson in a widespread, incredibly complex and brilliantly planned conspiracy that involved the Federal Bureau of Investigation directed by J. Edgar Hoover, the CIA directed by David Atlee Phillips, The Secret Service, elements of the United States Air Force, including General Curtis LeMay of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, the United States Army, the United States Navy, Henry R. Luce's LIFE Magazine, The Ford Motor Company, the Dallas Police, including Dallas Mayor Earle Cabel, big Oil of Midland, Texas, the Texas political establishment, the mafia, the anti-Castro Cubans, Southern racists, including retired General Edwin Walker, and others. President Richard M. Nixon was also involved.”

Whew! I half-expected to see Kohler (makers of the kitchen sink) listed among the conspirators. Kuntzler’s embarrassing rant (embraced by many conspiracy advocates, believe it or not) ranks right up there with The Onion’s satirical, tongue-in-cheek headline: “Kennedy Slain by CIA, Mafia, Castro, LBJ, Teamsters, Freemasons: President Shot 129 Times from 43 Different Angles.” Only Kuntzler wasn’t joking. [See: Lee Harvey Oswald Was An American Hero? Paul Kuntzler Speaks]

In mid-August, we were treated to veteran stand-up comic, actor, talk-show host and author Richard Belzer’s (Law and Order: SVU) laughable article, “Defaming History or, Who Didn't Kill JFK” in The Huffington Post which claimed that Bugliosi's book was a fraud and Lee Harvey Oswald was provably innocent.

Belzer’s proof? Oswald was discovered on the second floor of the Book Depository building drinking a Coke shortly after the assassination! To get around this simple “fact”, Belzer claimed that the Warren Commission “rigged” the re-enactment tests to show that Oswald could get down the stairs from the sixth floor before Baker reached the second floor landing; that there were three rifles found on the sixth floor - a German Mauser, an Italian Mannlicher-Carcano, and a British Enfield; that the single-bullet theory suspends the laws of physics; that Oswald had to have wiped his fingerprints off the rifle before hiding it behind a stack of boxes; that Oswald had to zig-zag through stacks of boxes to escape the sixth floor; that Oswald had to run down eight flights of stairs (including landings) to get to the lunchroom where he was seen calm and collected; blah-blah-blah.

Belzers foolish charges couldn’t even withstand a light-dusting of cross-examination. [See: Defaming Bugliosi: The Court Jester Speaks]

In September, two Internet newsgroups wrestled with the merits of eyewitness Lee Bowers, Jr.’s alleged testimony that he saw two men standing behind the stockade fence atop the grassy knoll, the long suspect source of the fatal shot – according to conspiracy buffs. [See: Lee Bowers: The Man Behind the Grassy Knoll]

All hell broke loose when one poster pointed out the revelations made in my report “Badge Man: A Photogrammetric Analysis of Moorman Photograph No.5 of the JFK Assassination,” which demonstrated that Bowers actually said that no one was behind the fence shooting at the president.

The thread on the U.K.’s Educational Forum grew to a whopping (even by newsgroup standards) 62 pages of endless sniping, personal insults, and trash-talking. Across the pond, the JFK/Lancer Forum contained a similar thread. Among the mindless chatter on both forums was the claim that Bowers was afraid for his life and revealed only a little of the true story.

Really? If Bowers was truly afraid for his own life and that of his family, then, why on earth would Bowers tell police that he saw three suspicious vehicles circling the parking lot behind the stockade fence? Wasn’t Bowers afraid that one of these three vehicles might have been involved in the killing? And why in heaven would Bowers, if he was truly fearful for his life and that of his family, appear on camera in a documentary film that would be seen by millions around the world? Didn’t it occur to him that Kennedy’s killers could now put a face to the name of the man who could identify them? And if Bowers was no longer afraid by 1966 (which might explain to some why he agreed to appear on camera), why in the devil didn’t he tell Mark Lane all about the two men shooting Kennedy from behind the fence, instead of the vague “something” that he couldn’t quite identify?

It just doesn’t add up – except of course for the legions of gullible conspiracy advocates who, for reasons only they know, feel the need to perpetuate a lot of B-U Double-L.

The fact remains, Lee Bowers had three chances to tell what he knew about November 22, 1963, before his untimely, sudden, and tragic death in 1965.

I believe the record shows that Lee Bowers, Jr., did tell all he knew, and none of his testimony includes two men shooting at Kennedy from behind the stockade fence atop the grassy knoll, no matter how bad the conspiracy theorists wish it were so.

This month, conspiracy theorists were treated to Jefferson Morley’s “The Man Who Didn’t Talk: And Other Tales from the New Kennedy Assassination Files,” featured on Playboy magazine’s website (they didn’t feel the article had enough dynamite to warrant placement in their prestigious printed version).

“The Man Who Didn’t Talk” is a reference to George E. Joannides, the chief of psychological warfare operations at the CIA's Miami station in November, 1963, whose contacts with Miami members of the Cuban Student Directorate (DRE) (Oswald had a close encounter with Carlos Bringuier, a Miami DRE member, in New Orleans in the summer of 1963) and whose later post as the CIA liaison with the 1979 House Select Committee on Assassinations (HSCA) raised questions about the CIA’s knowledge of Oswald prior to the assassination and whether the CIA steered HSCA investigators away from crucial information which might have shed light on the events of November 22nd.

Morley is behind the three-and-a-half year long legal battle with the CIA to have the files on George Joannides, who died in 1990, released to the public. [See: Morley v. CIA]

No matter what side of the conspiracy issue you favor, the release of any additional information on the activities and contacts of Lee Harvey Oswald is a good thing and Mr. Morley should be applauded for his efforts to shed light on this case.

However, Morley takes the long way around the barn (7,600 words to be exact) only to tell us that as of this date the questions he raises about George Joannides’ role (What did he know about Oswald and when did he know it?) “await clarification.”

So, as spokeswoman Clara Peller once observed, “Where’s the beef?”

The vast majority of Morley’s essay focuses on what we can “safely and reliably conclude” about Kennedy’s death on this 44th anniversary of the assassination.

According to Morley, “the single bullet theory, the forensic linchpin of all arguments for Oswald's sole guilt, has lost scientific validity in the past decade via both Pat Grant and Erik Randich's ballistics analysis and via the sworn testimony of FBI agents Sibert and O'Neill.

“The JFK medical evidence is much less trustworthy than was known a decade ago. Photographs have been culled from the collection. Multiple new witnesses say independently and under oath that Kennedy's body and wounds were cleaned up before being photographed for the record. Any indictment of Oswald based on the medical evidence of Kennedy's wounds has been undermined.

“The acoustic evidence remains in dispute. In my view, it has not been disqualified until an alternative explanation for the order in the data is confirmed.

“The new JFK forensic science, in short, has narrowed the limits of plausible conjecture by eliminating the single bullet theory as an explanation of Kennedy and Connally's wounds and by not eliminating the possibility that the fatal shot was fired from the grassy knoll.”

Really? Morley’s take on the state of the Kennedy case (ca. 2007) might pass muster with the neophytes, but it hardly passes scrutiny with anyone following this case for the passed four decades. You be the judge.

The Single Bullet Theory

The Patrick Grant and Erik Randich study of ballistic evidence in the Kennedy case, published in 2006 in the Journal of Forensic Sciences, cast doubt on the FBI’s technique known as bullet-lead analysis. Grant and Randlich concluded that despite the earlier assessment that the bullet fragments recovered from the presidential limousine and the bodies of Kennedy and Connally represented only two bullets, the fragments “could be reflective of anywhere between two and five different rounds fired in Dealey Plaza.” [Journal of Forensic Sciences, July 2006, Vol.51, No.4, p.728]

Conspiracy theorists were quick to applaud the new study, citing it as evidence of a conspiracy. But is it? Looking at the results in isolation, the study might seem to the simplest minds to leave open the possibility that multiple gunman were firing at Kennedy and indeed the sensationalistic news media portrayed the Grant/Randlich study in just that way. But, of course, the question of how many shots were fired and from how many sources involves a lot more physical evidence than Grant/Randlich’s bullet-lead analysis, doesn’t it?

For instance, we know that the only physical evidence recovered at the crime scene showed that three shots were fired from Oswald’s Mannlicher-Carcano rifle found on the sixth floor of the Texas School Book Depository. Two of those shots struck Kennedy and Connally, one missed. The two large bullet fragments recovered from the limousine (the base and nose of a bullet) amounted to no more than one bullet and were fired from Oswald’s rifle to the exclusion of all other weapons. The only other recovered bullet, a slightly flatten 6.5mm round discovered on a stretcher at Parkland Hospital, had also been fired from Oswald’s rifle to the exclusion of all other weapons.

So in fact, there is only evidence of two bullets striking Kennedy and Connally, which is consistent with Connally’s medical records and the autopsy performed on President Kennedy.

How do these facts conflict with the Grant/Randlich study? They don’t. The Grant/Randlich analysis found that, based on bullet-lead analysis alone, the bullet and bullet fragments recovered in the Kennedy case could represent two to five bullets. When all of the physical evidence is considered, the answer to how many bullets were fired into the limousine and recovered is – two. The Grant/Randlich study offered a range based one narrow aspect of the physical evidence. But when all of the physical and evidentiary evidence is considered, that range is reduced to two and only two.

The Grant/Randlich assertion (and Morley’s citation of it) that their findings “considerably weaken support for the single bullet theory” overstates what their study actually says and fails to address how their work fits into the whole of the physical case. It’s much sexier with a conspiracy spin, to be sure, but hardly an accurate accounting of how the Grant/Randlich study fits into the Kennedy case.

The Autopsy Photographs

According to Morley, the 1997 Assassination Records Review Board (ARRB) testimony of Saundra Kay Spencer, and FBI agents Francis O’Neill and James Sibert, demonstrates that massive cosmetic things were done to Kennedy’s body, damning photographs exposing the truth were culled from the record, photographs left in the official record were doctored and lots of general flim-flammery was done to cover-up the fact that the back of Kennedy’s head was blown out by a shot from the grassy knoll.

After all, according to Morley, “we already have the photographic evidence from the Zapruder film showing Kennedy hit by a bullet that snapped his head backwards and drove him sideways into the arms of his wife. To say that a bullet fired from the knoll would have pushed Kennedy backward is well within the limits of plausible conjecture…” Uh?

Plausible conjecture? Is Morley kidding? The only people who believe this sort of stuff are sixth graders at the Saturday kiddie matinee. Obviously Mr. Morley hasn’t talked to any physicists on the subject of wound ballistics. There isn’t a single respected physicist on the planet who would argue that a bullet weighing only a few ounces and moving at the velocities involved in this case could push a human head weighing ten to fifteen pounds any appreciable distance let alone at the speed and distance we see in the Zapruder film. It simply cannot happen – except in a Hollywood movie, which has conditioned millions of people to accept the impossible.

Couple that simple fact of physical law with the complete lack of evidence of a bullet traversing the left hemisphere of Kennedy’s skull and brain, which of necessity must happen given the location of the limousine, the position of Kennedy’s head, and the relative location of the grassy knoll area; and you have no other choice but to conclude, as every single forensic pathologist who has reviewed the Kennedy autopsy materials has, that Kennedy was not struck by a bullet fired from the grassy knoll. Apparently, the same facts that have escaped the investigative powers of the conspiracy community have eluded the journalist Morley.

Instead, he focused his attention on three people whose testimony, according to Morley’s conclusions, demonstrated that the medical record undermined “any indictment of Oswald.”

One was Saundra Kay Spencer, an E-6 photographer’s mate first class who was in charge of the White House photo lab, a small room located inside the three-story facilities of the Naval Photographic Center (NPC) at Anacostia, Maryland, across the river from Washington, D.C. In 1996-97, thirty-four years after the fact, Spencer told the ARRB that on the weekend of the assassination she developed and printed photographs taken at the autopsy of President Kennedy. After reviewing the official autopsy photographs, Spencer, according to Morley, told the board, “The views [of JFK's body] we produced at the [Naval] Photographic Center are not included [in the current autopsy collection]. Between those photographs and the ones we did, there had to be some massive cosmetic things done to the President's body.”

I would think that readers could only conclude from Morley’s carefully chosen excerpt that Miss Spencer was a witness to the tampering of the president’s body. But was she?

The testimony of Saundra Spencer was covered in depth in a seven-page endnote included in Vincent Bugliosi’s book, “Reclaiming History: The Assassination of President John F. Kennedy.”

According to the record, Spencer described the photos she saw in 1963 as “pristine for an autopsy.” There was “no blood or [open] cavities” or “matted hair” on the president’s head in these photos. In fact, his head seemed to have been washed and cleaned. “It was quite reverent,” she said, “how they handled it.” There also were no people or any measuring devices visible in any of the photographs she saw (the official photographs contain both). She remembers seeing a wound at the base of the front of the neck that was “circular,” about the size of the round end of a person’s thumb (the official photographs show a horizontal incision, the remnants of a tracheotomy) that did not look like the “large, gaping gash type” of wound in the official autopsy photos, and a “ragged hole” in the center of the back of the head, described as a “blown-out chunk” about 2 to 21/2 inches wide, located 3 or 4 inches above the hairline (the official photographs show only a small entrance wound).

Other details were unlike the official autopsy photographs. According to Spencer, the top of the head was not visible in any of the photos, and no damage was seen on the right side of the head. One photo, she said, showed a full length of the president’s body from a 45-degree high angle. Spencer said that none of the photos showed the scalp peeled back on the skull. Also, unlike the photographs in the National Archives inventory today, Spencer said that the president’s eyes and mouth were closed and that he appeared to be in “a rest position.” Spencer said that other than the wound to the back of the president’s head, she saw no other wound to the head. “The prints that we printed did not have the massive head damages” shown in the official autopsy photos.

The conspiracy community (and apparently Morley too) have been quick to suggest that a second set of photographs were taken of Kennedy’s body at the time of the autopsy (a set conspiracy theorists presume showed the “true” nature of the president’s wounds) and that this second set was squirreled away as part of the cover-up.

Of course that would depend on Spencer’s recollection being accurate. But we know that Spencer’s recollection of events was thirty-four years after the fact. And more importantly, her recollection is at odds with almost the entire official record. While the official autopsy photographs were processed, as Spencer remembered, at the NPC, the rest of the documentary record details a completely different and rather divergent series of events which is quite unlike Spencer’s account.

For instance, Spencer can’t be right when she says the photographs she saw show a “blownout chunk” in the center of the back of the president’s head. Why? Because apart from the observations of all three autopsy surgeons, the official autopsy photographs and X-rays conclusively, and without question, depict the body of President Kennedy at the time of the autopsy and show none of what Spencer described.

Extraordinary claims require extraordinary proof, and in this case, Saundra Spencer doesn’t have the goods.

One possibility that might explain Saundra Spencer’s recollections of the photos she saw depicting the president’s head in a “pristine” condition is the proposition that a series of photographs were taken of the president’s body lying in repose after the embalmers had done their restorative work following the autopsy.

But even if this were true, so what? How does this change what we know about the condition of the president’s body at the time of the autopsy or what the official autopsy photographs depict? It doesn’t.

Bugliosi concludes, “When one recognizes this reality about Spencer’s testimony, one can only conclude that her recollections after thirty-four years were either very faulty, or correct but of absolutely no significance.”

Not exactly the explosive version of events that Morley presents, is it?

The other two witnesses that Morley focuses on in an effort to undermine the validity of the medical record are FBI agents Francis O’Neill and James Sibert, who were both present at the president’s autopsy.

According to Morley, Sibert and O’Neill both had adverse reactions to the official autopsy photographs displayed to them in 1997 by the ARRB.

Morley quotes O'Neill as saying, “This looks like it's been doctored in some way. I specifically do not recall those -- I mean, being that clean or that fixed up. To me, it looks like these pictures have been...It would appear to me that there was a -- more of a massive wound...” And Morley quotes Sibert as saying, “I don't recall anything like this at all during the autopsy. There was much -- well, the wound was more pronounced. And it looks like it could have been reconstructed or something, as compared with what my recollection was.”

Morley is quick to point out that “O'Neill emphasized he was not saying the autopsy photographs themselves had been doctored but that the wounds themselves had been cleaned up before the photograph was taken.” So what? What is the point? Mr. Morley doesn’t seem to have one (aside from noting in his conclusions that “Kennedy's body and wounds were cleaned up before being photographed for the record” and that somehow – the exact reason never being explained – this undermines the case against Oswald), but the inference seems clear – something is not right with the official Kennedy autopsy photographs; a point that is almost considered carved in stone by conspiracy buffs.

Vincent Bugliosi addresses this issue head-on in his monumental work “Reclaiming History,” pointing out that Francis O’Neill and James Sibert aren’t talking about fake photographs as the conspiracy community claims, or cleaned up photographs as Morley suggests. Bugliosi writes in a lengthy endnote:

“...when asked if autopsy photograph number 42 (the photo depicting the entrance wound to the back of Kennedy’s head with the ruler [JFK Exhibit F-48, 1 HSCA 234]) depicted the head wound the way he remembered seeing it the night of the autopsy, and as depicted in the drawings he made in 1978 (ARRB MD 86, Interview Report of Francis X. O’Neill, January 10, 1978), O’Neill said, “No, I don’t see the wounds...To me, the other photographs [shown to him by Gunn, but not of the back of the president’s head] were a better depiction of the way the back of the head looked when I saw it.” Still later, O’Neill said he didn’t remember the head wound being as “clean” or “fixed up” as shown in photograph number 42, adding that there was “more of a massive wound, such as the other photographs depicted.” And if O’Neill wasn’t being clear enough, in the very next sentence he flat-out says, “I’m not saying that these [photographs] have been doctored or phonied up in any particular way at all...I [just] don’t recall anybody going ahead and cleaning up that section, just for the sake of having the photographs taken.” (ARRB Transcript of Proceedings, Deposition of Francis X. O’Neill, September 12, 1997, pp.160, 162)

“ARRB general counsel Jeremy Gunn managed to elicit similar comments from former FBI agent James Sibert, who provided the critics with even more ammunition, suggesting that the head wound might have been reconstructed for the autopsy photographs. Shown autopsy photograph number 42, Sibert said, “Well, I don’t have any recollection of it [the back of the head] being that intact, as compared with these other pictures. I don’t remember seeing anything that was like this photo.” Later, Sibert added, “The hair looks like it’s been straightened out and cleaned up more than what it was when we left the autopsy...From what I can recall, I didn’t really see anything that was this ‘neat’—I guess, is the best word to use—as compared with what I observed that night...It looks like it could have been reconstructed or something, as compared with what my recollection was, and [what is in] those other photographs.” (ARRB Transcript of Proceedings, Deposition of James W. Sibert, September 11, 1997, pp.126–128)

“So what are Sibert and O’Neill talking about? What do these supposedly cleaned and fixed-up photographs show?

“Autopsy photograph number 42, as all assassination researchers should know, was taken, according to the autopsy surgeons, approximately midway through the autopsy procedure. They intended to show the entrance wound to the upper right rear of Kennedy’s head. But in order to photograph the entrance wound properly, the surgeons were looking for a way to get an unobstructed view of the entrance hole. This was a challenge, because the president was lying on his back on the autopsy table, and in this position several long, tattered, shreds of scalp (which had been blown loose from the right front top of the head by the explosive power of the exiting bullet, yet were still attached to the back portion of the skull) were hanging back, draped over and partly obscuring the entrance wound. (Several autopsy photographs clearly depict these strips of scalp hanging from the back of the president’s head.)

“In order for the entrance wound photograph to be taken, the autopsy surgeons lifted the president’s right shoulder from the autopsy table, and rolled him onto his left shoulder. Then, per his own testimony, Dr. Boswell gathered together these loose strands of scalp between his thumb and index finger and drew them forward across the gaping hole in the right front of the skull, thereby making the entrance wound on the back of the president’s head clearly visible to the photographer’s camera (ARRB Transcript of Proceedings, Deposition of Dr. J. Thornton Boswell, February 26, 1996, pp.97, 149–150, 164). Though the act of pulling the loose scalp forward across the top right of the head made the entrance wound visible, it also briefly covered the large exit defect on the right front side of the president’s head. Consequently, the right front of the president’s head appears intact (except for a piece of loose skull attached to the right front of the skull) and less bloody than almost all the other views of the head wound. There is no evidence at all that anything has been doctored, phonied, or fixed up as conspiracy theorists want so desperately to believe.” [Reclaiming History, Endnote CD, pp.258-259]

Mr. Morley’s claim that the photographic medical record has been compromised or that it is less trustworthy than it was a decade ago is more indicative of his own ignorance of the record than anything else. After all, the argument that what might be hidden in the closet somehow trumps what we actually have in our hand cannot possibly be true.

The official autopsy photographs and X-rays were validated in 1979 by the HSCA (i.e., they do in fact depict the body of John F. Kennedy and – this is very important – have not been tampered with or doctored in anyway), and as such, any photograph record that may have existed at one time or does currently exist but is hidden (slice it anyway you want) per the conspiracy crowd, cannot – I repeat, and emphasize – CANNOT depict something that contradicts the available photographic record. It can only support or clarify it. And all the footstomping, chest pounding, and manipulation of testimony by conspiracy advocates will not change that simple fact. Period.

The Acoustic Evidence

This is easily the least understood aspect of the Kennedy case and unfortunately Mr. Morley offers nothing to clarify the issues. In fact, if anything, Morley further muddies the waters, proving only that he himself doesn’t have a clear understanding of the issues. That is forgiveable, in my estimation. It’s pretty heady stuff and not for the faint of heart.

Rather than focus on the goofy mistakes and poorly written language (hey, it’s hard enough to wrap your head around all this acoustic science without getting bogged down in poor articulation and disjointed concepts), let’s cut to the chase.

Mr. Morley seems most impressed by entomologist turned acoustic “expert” Don Thomas’ order-of-the-data argument – in short, the chronological order of the impulse sounds suspected of being gunshots matches, according to Thomas, the topological order of the microphones that produced matches to test shots recorded during acoustic tests in Dealey Plaza in 1978.

“To a scientist this sort of orderliness is very significant,” says Thomas. “There are 125 ways to sequence five events, only one of which is 1-2-3-4-5.” Thomas believes there were five shots – not four as the HSCA acoustic experts claims, but that’s another matter.

It apparently doesn’t matter so much to Mr. Morley that the National Academy of Sciences (NAS) rejected the HSCA acoustic evidence after they determined the voice of Sheriff Bill Decker (discovered by Ohio percussionist Steve Barber) making a statement known to have been uttered at least one minute after the actual shooting which appeared on the recording simultaneous with the impulse sounds thought to be gunshots, and thus, the “gunshot” evidence was invalid.

Nor does it seem to matter so much to Mr. Morley that the additional work performed by Richard Garwin, Michael O’Dell, and Steve Barber in the ensuing years supports the NAS conclusion.

No, according to Morley, “the acoustic evidence remains in dispute. In my view, it has not been disqualified until an alternative explanation for the order in the data is confirmed.”

This is high hogwash, of course. Anyone familiar with the acoustic record knows that the test recordings made in 1978 by Bolt, Berenak, and Newman, Inc. (BBN), which they used to find matches in the police recording (said to contain the inaudible sound of gunshots), did not contain a “control” recording – essential to any scientific experiment. In other words, BBN failed to record the sound of the test shots from a microphone position known to have not been along the motorcade route (i.e., a microphone located in the middle of a grassy area, or high on a building top, etc.). BBN’s entire test recording session was designed to test the hypothesis that a motorcycle with an open microphone was traveling along the motorcade route and transmitted the sounds of gunshots over the police radio.

The fact that the sound “matches” which BBN obtained seemed to follow the motorcade route is hardly significant given the fact that test microphones were not set up in any other locations other than along the motorcade route, and, most importantly, that BBN rejected a number of test shot matches for the very reason that Don Thomas cites as being scientifically significant – that is, matches were rejected because they did not follow the “order of the data” one would expect to get from a microphone moving along with the motorcade.

Even more disturbing is the fact that Morley never mentions the study I conducted of the photographic record as it pertains to the validity of the acoustic evidence - one of the most important and certainly the most recent work done on the subject.

Few seem to recognize that the conclusions of the HSCA acoustic experts hinge on a very basic assumption – a police motorcycle, with an open microphone, was transmitting the sound of the shots from four very specific locations at the time of the assassination. In order for the HSCA’s acoustic evidence of conspiracy to have validity, a police motorcycle must be present at the four specific locations and times predicted by the acoustic analysis. If there is no motorcycle at the location and times predicted by their analysis, their conclusions are, by default, invalid – plain and simple.

This is not something I invented. Numerous internal HSCA documents refer to the need to validate the acoustic evidence photographically. In fact, in 2001, James E. Barger, chief scientist at BBN wrote, “...if it can be shown that there was no vehicle or person with a police radio near the trajectory where I found it to be, then, that is impeaching evidence.” [emphasis added] And, in 2003, HSCA chief counsel G. Robert Blakey reiterated the same point, “"If you could prove to me that there was no police officer in the place where he had to be, you would falsify [the acoustics evidence].” [emphasis added]

The 179-page final report on my work, “Epipolar Geometric Analysis of Amateur Films Related to Acoustics Evidence in the John F. Kennedy Assassination,” which is available as a free download, documents the use of computer technology, epipolar geometry, and nine amateur 8mm films of the assassination to construct a synchronized photographic record of the shooting and determine the validity – photographically – of the HSCA’s acoustic evidence of conspiracy.

The result is a definitive photographic record of the last 40-seconds of President Kennedy’s life that demonstrates that no police motorcycles – including, Officer H.B. McLain’s – were near the area designated by the HSCA’s acoustic experts, and consequently, the committee’s acoustic evidence of a conspiracy in the Kennedy assassination is invalid. The conclusion supports the work of the NAS and others (like Garwin, O’Dell, and Barber) who have found the acoustic evidence invalid on acoustic grounds.

The report I produced detailing the history of the acoustic issue and the methodology I employed to definitively resolve the issue was released on June 1, 2007 – over six months ago. Proponents of the acoustic evidence as evidence of conspiracy have roundly ignored it. Ignoring it, of course, doesn’t make it go away.

Seven months before the release of the report, Mr. Morley was invited to my studio and was given a personal tour of my work on the acoustic issue during the course of doing research for his recent Playboy article.

In an email group exchange, Morley explained, “One drawback to this article is that I did not have space to include my analysis of why Dale Myers’ analysis is not dispositive. I spent a day with Dale last year as part of my reporting and I have a lot respect for his work. The short answer is that there is no direct photographic evidence to confirm or refute the position of McLain's motorcycle. Dale's inference is logical but I don't think that it is the only one. Rather than deal with dueling inferences, I chose to deal with the dueling analyses of the acoustic evidence itself.”

No direct photographic evidence to confirm or refute the position of McLain's motorcycle? This is absolute rubbish. The position of McLain’s motorcycle one-half second before the first HSCA gunshot (i.e. Z160) is irrefutably shown via direct photographic evidence to have been 174 feet from the location predicted by the HSCA acoustic experts – too great a distance for McLain to cover in the allotted time.

The evidence for McLain’s position is frame number 648 from the Robert Hughes film of the assassination which is shown to synchronize with Zapruder frame 150 (exposed one-half second before the HSCA’s acoustic shot at Z160).

It couldn’t be simpler. The actual images contained in the frames of both films – direct photographic evidence as it were – show the two films to be running in synchronization during the crucial time period. In addition, the validity of the synchronization of Hughes frame 648 and Zapruder frame 150, is supported by five additional, independent visual reference points common to both films.

The explanatory information that invalidates the acoustic evidence consumes less than 4 pages of the report. The rest of the material is supportive in nature and highly educational. Read it and judge for yourself.

Apparently none of my work constitutes “direct photographic evidence” for Mr. Morley. I suppose the only thing that would satisfy him and the cabal of acoustic proof devotees is a time stamped image of McLain and Kennedy at the exact moment of the first shot. But then, of course, there would be heated arguments about the method of time stamping, the paper it was printed on, whether that was really McLain in the background or some other motorcycle officer who sped forward and replaced him for no rhyme or reason; blah, blah, blah.

I don’t pretend to know why an entire community of so-called “researchers” would ignore a comprehensive report that purports to resolve the validity – one way or the other – of the only scientific evidence of conspiracy ever offered in the forty-four year history of the assassination debate. I would think one would have to investigate it – either to show its flaws or to champion its conclusions. But to ignore it?

There is one thing that’s certain, anyone embracing anything that knocks down the conspiracy argument is going to get booted but good from Club Conspiracy. For some, that’s too much to give up.

And so another year of endless conspiracy-debate comes to an end.

Perhaps for a moment, we can set aside the hostility, the arguing, and the prolonged rangling to remember the surviving families and relatives who lost loved ones on that sad and tragic weekend forty-four years ago today.

Lest we forget.


Friday, November 16, 2007

JFK Truthers Finally Losing Ground


Before the 9/11 truthers came the JFK truthers. Fantasies about dark machinations surrounding the death of President Kennedy laid the spiritual groundwork for today's claims of bizarre plots behind the events of 9/11. In both cases, the obviously guilty culprits are ignored in favor of more desirable political targets.

It has been forty-four years since Lee Harvey Oswald killed President Kennedy on November 22, 1963. Oswald was silenced two mornings later; but only after a bizarre getaway, cop killing, capture and brief notoriety, culminating in his televised shooting by Dallas strip club owner Jack Ruby. Not until 9/11 did live television again witness such an American tragedy.

In 1964, the Warren Commission correctly decided that Oswald was the lone assassin. The "truthers" of the era who initially challenged the Warren Commission's findings - a few having direct links to communist organizations -- were hardly taken seriously at first. But mistrust in the government's case grew as a cabal of fellow travelers, showmen, ambitious coroners and other conspiracy mongers coalesced throughout the late Sixties, taking advantage of the relatively few mistakes or inconsistencies in the Warren Report's narrative.

Despite all of the scrutiny, absent a breakthrough piece of evidence, we will never know whether Lee Oswald was (or believed he was) part of some larger plot. His service in the Civil Air Patrol and the Marines, defection to the Soviet Union, visits to the Soviet and Cuban consulates in Mexico less than two months before the assassination, and correspondence with the American Communist Party and the Socialist Workers Party, will all raise the same unanswerable conspiracy questions 100 years from now as they do today.

But there is no longer much doubt that Oswald was the lone assassin, as the Warren Commission concluded in 1964. The answer to this question should narrow the conspiracy inquiry, because the most credible of those theories rest on the assertion that Oswald could not have been the lone gunman in Dealey Plaza. Otherwise, there is scant independent evidence of any plot.

The Warren Commission Report

The Warren Commission Report was discredited primarily by claims that Oswald could not have been the lone gunman; hence, there may have been two or three gunmen. This hyperbole came to fruition in the late 1960s with the bizarre Garrison investigation in New Orleans, concluding there were gunmen all over Dealey Plaza. All of this speculation was rooted in the basic notion that the same bullet could not possibly have wounded President Kennedy and Governor Connally seated in front of him, as the Commission found probably happened.

Added support came from witnesses who honestly believed they heard two, four or even six shots rather than three shots fired in Dealey Plaza. In 1978, a congressional committee concluded (based upon an audio recording analysis now itself thoroughly discredited) that four shots were fired, more "proof" of a second gunman.

Then there is the claim that the fatal shot came from President Kennedy's right, forcing his head back and to the left.

As far as another gunman is concerned, that is about the totality of the evidence. There has never been any affirmative proof of more than one gunman, only doubt about elements of the existing overwhelming evidence pointing to Oswald as the lone assassin. Thanks to the work of careful investigators over the years, however, previously overlooked information along with modern technology have fundamentally reinforced the lone gunman hypothesis; while debunking virtually all of the conspiracy theories.

The Lone Assassin

The Rosetta Stone for conspiracy buffs has always been the Warren Commission's "magic bullet" (a/k/a the "pristine" bullet) theory, holding that the same bullet struck both President Kennedy and Governor Connally.

Almost as soon as the Warren Commission Report was released making this claim, conspiracy theorists pounced; arguing that a bullet fired downward from the sixth floor of the Texas School Book Depository couldn't physically have struck both Kennedy in the neck and Connally in the upper torso without changing directions. They also argued that the bullet fired from Oswald's location to the right of the motorcade couldn't have struck Kennedy in the throat and Connally forward of him in the right shoulder. Allegations grew that the entire Warren Report was erroneous or worse, faked.

The uncertainty was not entirely unjustified. Researchers starting with the Warren Commission simply failed to take into account what became obvious years later: Governor Connally was sitting in front of the President on a floor-mounted "jump" seat, about seven inches lower and several inches to the left of the President -- exactly in Oswald's line of sight from the sixth floor window of the Texas School Book Depository.

Moreover, as the Warren Commission noted, the Presidential limousine was moving downhill from Oswald's position, reducing the angle from his point of view, and Connally had turned slightly right in reaction to hearing the first shot. Computer reconstructions using virtual reality techniques have since shown beyond any shred of doubt that, with these facts accounted for, the "magic" bullet traveled in a straight line directly from Oswald's rifle striking President Kennedy in the neck and Governor Connally in the upper back and exiting the lapel of his suit.

Accordingly, debunking has conclusively disproved the sine qua non of the second gunman theory, the notion that the same bullet from Oswald's rifle could not have hit both men. Yet, truthers still argue about "evidence," while missing the essential point: if another gunman took a shot that day, he missed, because all of the wounds to the President and Governor Connally are accounted for by two shots from Oswald's rifle. Just as the second gunman theory rose with doubt about the single bullet theory, so it must fall, as the single bullet scenario becomes accepted fact.

Seeing is Believing

Of course, simply because Oswald could have hit both Kennedy and Connally with the same shot is not proof that it happened. However, this evidence is freely available on the Internet. There, one will find any number of enhanced, image-stabilized versions of the famous Zapruder film on display. These show in grim detail that Kennedy and Connally were indeed hit simultaneously by the "magic" bullet just as they came into view past the Stemmons Freeway sign drawing abreast of the infamous grassy knoll, a monument to World War II submariners.

There is no longer any doubt about this shot, as there was before computer enhancement and image stabilization techniques became available. Older versions of the Zapruder film were simply too difficult even for experts to analyze. In recently enhanced versions -- just as Governor Connally stated in 1964 -- one can see him glance to the right after hearing the first shot, just as he and the President are hit by the second. The simultaneous shock is obvious in both men's faces at frame 224 of the film, along with the momentary "pop" of Connally's jacket lapel -- less than 1/50th of a second -- as the round exits above his right breast.

If the Warren Commission failed in any material respect, it was by not pinpointing the exact moment this round wounded Kennedy and Connally. The Commission even theorized that the first bullet could have struck the President and the second only Governor Connally; though concluding that the single bullet theory was the most likely given the weight of the evidence.

The "magic" bullet was also allegedly "pristine" when it was later found on Connally's stretcher at Parkland Hospital. Is it possible someone planted the bullet there in the moments between Connally being lifted off the stretcher and its discovery in the adjacent hallway, to provide a ballistic link to Oswald's Mannlicher rifle? Given the facts, especially the brief interval between the assassination and the discovery of the "magic" bullet on Connally's stretcher, no conspiracy theorist has ever explained how anyone could have acted so quickly and with foreknowledge of the other ballistic evidence that would later be gathered. In fact, the jacketed round itself was hardly "pristine." Fragments of it were removed from the President and Governor Connally.

The larger question is, why incriminate Oswald? By the time the "magic" bullet was discovered, Oswald was doing a world-class job implicating himself as the assassin. Within an hour of narrowly escaping Dealey Plaza, Oswald had committed another murder in broad daylight in front of nine witnesses, the Dallas Police were zeroed in on his location, and he was cornered. Further, Oswald himself left enough damning evidence behind him to be convicted multiple times. The idea that he needed to be further implicated is as laughable now as it was in 1964.

As further "proof" of a conspiracy, truthers have convinced themselves that the fatal shot must have been fired from the President's front and right, Dealey Plaza's grassy knoll, causing his head to snap "back and to the left." The answer here lies not in conspiracy but in Newton's third law. Again, the enhanced Zapruder film shows that the President's cranium moved back and to the left because his brains and cranial matter were literally expressed forward and to the right from a massive exit wound on his right forehead.

There is no polite way to describe this. At least one witness believed the President had stood up. Others described an umbrella being opened or a pink plume. Abraham Zapruder said in an interview the same day that the President's head "opened up," pointing to his right forehead. Brain matter -- which must have weighed pounds -- hung prolapsed gruesomely over the lifeless President's right cheek as the limousine sped away toward Parkland Hospital. The enhanced Zapruder film should convince all but the purposely ignorant that the fatal shot came from President Kennedy's rear, not from his right.

There was no second gunman on the grassy knoll. The roughly one third of witnesses who claimed to have heard a shot from that direction or elsewhere were mostly to the side of the Book Depository from which Oswald was shooting, where echoes play games with perception. Those witnesses who were in front of the Book Depository on Elm Street overwhelmingly and correctly heard only three shots coming from the Book Depository.

Oswald by Exclusion

Although witness testimony differed, the overwhelming consensus was and is that only three shots were fired in Dealey Plaza on November 22, 1963. The second shot is now known to have struck both the President and Governor Connally, and the third was fatal to the President. This accounts for all of the victims' wounds, although three shots were fired from the sixth floor window of the Book Depository. The only real uncertainty on the part of the Warren Commission was which of the three shots had missed; though it correctly guessed it was the first shot. Fragments of one bullet -- probably the one that killed the President -- were later found in the front of the limousine. This round spent itself in the car's windshield before coming to rest. The other bullet, having struck mostly soft tissue passing through the President's neck, the jumpseat and Governor Connally's back and wrist before lodging in his thigh, was found on Connally's stretcher at Parkland Hospital. No third round was ever recovered; though there was reliable evidence that this first shot probably ricocheted off the curb opposite the presidential limousine down Elm Street.

Unlike the phantom second gunman, of which no real photographs exist, film footage -- notably the Hughes film -- shows a form moving around in the southeast sixth floor window of the Book Depository just prior to the shooting, as the Presidential motorcade turns right onto Houston Street toward Elm Street and the Book Depository. Several witnesses saw a gunman before and during the shooting. Others saw a rifle protruding from the window.

Two men watching the motorcade from a fifth floor window directly below Oswald not only heard the three shots but also the sound of three cartridge hulls hitting the wooden floor above them. Minutes later, the three spent cartridges, all of which were later proved to have repeatedly been dry fired through Oswald's rifle, were recovered from the spot at the window where Oswald had been seen and captured on film, and where the men on the fifth floor heard them fall. The hastily stashed Mannlicher-Carcano rifle was recovered with a live round in the breech minutes after that behind some boxes on the sixth floor of the Book Depository.

Regardless of the nonsense spread by truthers over the years, there was a clear chain of custody begun over the murder weapon, the spent cartridges, and the sniper's nest, within minutes after the shooting, all massively implicating Oswald. The Dallas Police Department's records, and the Warren Commission's documentation establishing the chain of custody over these items are freely available online.

Oswald's palm print was on the rifle and his fresh fingerprints were all over the cartons arranged as a gunrest where the empty cartridges were found at the sixth floor window from which a man matching Oswald's description had been observed with a gun. A discarded paper container Oswald brought to work that morning -- presumably with the rifle inside -- lay there as well. Though Oswald was seen walking around the fifth floor with a clipboard at 11:55 a.m. ostensibly filling orders, the clipboard was discovered on the sixth floor on December 3, 1963 stashed near where Oswald's rifle had been found the day of the assassination, the unfilled book orders from the morning of November 22 still attached. Oswald later claimed he'd eaten lunch with the men who watched the assassination from the fifth floor window; but they denied this. In fact, after 11:55 a.m., nobody at the Book Depository recalled seeing Oswald until after the assassination at about 12:32.

Within hours the FBI was able to link both Oswald's rifle and the pistol he later used against officer Tippit to a Klein's Sporting Goods in Chicago through which Oswald had ordered them under the name "A. Hidell." Oswald had a phony draft card bearing the name "Alek J. Hidell" in his wallet when he was arrested, and used the Hidell alias in one form or another repeatedly in the months before the assassination, including as the name of the only other member of the New Orleans chapter of the Fair Play for Cuba Committee Oswald had tried to found. Photographic negatives were later discovered among Oswald's documents proving that he had made the clumsily forged "Hidell" draft card in his spare time at a printing company from which he was fired before coming to work at the Book Depository.

Anybody can authenticate Oswald's quirky handwriting on the order blanks for the guns, and the FBI was eventually able to identify the magazines from which Oswald had torn the order blanks some months earlier while living in New Orleans.

In April of 1963, Oswald made his Russian wife Marina photograph him -- dressed in all black -- brandishing both weapons along with copies of The Worker and The Militant, and these photographs (recovered the day of the assassination), plus the negatives and the same cheap camera Oswald used to make the Hidell draft card, were eventually identified beyond any doubt and offered into evidence by the Warren Commission, along with Marina's lengthy testimony that she took the pictures.

Copies of The Worker and The Militant from early 1963 were even obtained to prove that Oswald was indeed holding those specific issues in the photographs. Despite the bogus claims of truthers about the authenticity of the photographs or the other evidence, there is no doubt that Oswald purchased and owned both weapons linked to the Kennedy and Tippit killings and that a chain of evidence and witness descriptions implicates only him as the lone assassin who fired three shots from the southeast sixth floor window of the Texas School Book Depository at 12:30 p.m. on November 22, 1963.

A Woman's Intuition

After the assassination, police rushed to the address in Irving, Texas listed on Oswald's job application at the Book Depository. According to her host, Ruth Paine, Oswald's wife Marina was expecting them. Though she later testified that Oswald had nothing against President Kennedy, Marina experienced a "sinking feeling" upon learning that the shots were fired from the Book Depository where her estranged husband worked. She had secretly glanced in the Paine garage, satisfying herself that Oswald's rifle was still wrapped in the blanket where she knew he kept it; however, she didn't examine the blanket to make certain the rifle was there.

When an officer later picked up the blanket, it hung limply and her heart sank once again. The rifle was gone, probably carried to work that morning in the sealed parcel fashioned by Oswald the night before using materials from the Book Depository. Oswald told his co-worker who gave him a lift to work on November 22 that the package contained curtain rods for his new room on North Beckley; but news footage made after the assassination shows the room already fitted out with shades blinds and curtains.

Marina, who had just given birth to the Oswald's second child in late October, told the Warren Commission it took her less than a week to decide her husband was guilty. After all, she knew that Oswald had taken a shot at retired Army General Edwin Walker in April 1963.

FBI examination of the bullet that nearly killed General Walker was then conducted and the ammunition was found to be identical to that used in the assassination. Though Oswald's rifle could not be matched with the Walker bullet to the exclusion of all others, a match would have been superfluous: photographs, maps and a detailed action plan were found among Oswald effects showing his careful planning of the Walker attack, including a note to Marina explaining his actions. He later showed no remorse to Marina over the nearly successful Walker shooting.

No such plans for the Kennedy assassination were ever discovered. While truthers claim this practically exonerates Oswald, absence of evidence of a plan is not evidence of absence. In fact, virtually all of the other evidence implicates Oswald; while the lack of any written plan as in the Walker case merely shows that the Kennedy assassination was probably plotted in great haste.

Oswald obtained his job at the Book Depository by chance in mid-October, 1963, before he could have known about the President's visit to Dallas. The two Secret Service agents who designed President Kennedy's motorcade route did so three weeks later, in the first week of November, 1963, about the same day the FBI learned that Oswald was working at the Book Depository. Unfortunately, those two agencies didn't share information that might have revealed Oswald's likely presence along the planned route.

Truthers have claimed that, with perfect knowledge of Kennedy's plans, Oswald could have become employed at the Book Depository in October, guessing that a motorcade would roll by there, because Franklin Roosevelt had passed that way some thirty years before. But the fact that there would even be a motorcade, let alone that it would pass the Book Depository, was not public in mid-October, 1963.

Most likely, Oswald learned about the President's motorcade in the days before the assassination, when the route through Dealey Plaza was printed in local newspapers (incorrectly, by one). It was at that point that any planning probably began.

In His Own Words

On Monday, November 18, 1963, Marina, still shaken by the Walker incident, argued violently with Oswald after discovering that he had rented his latest room on North Beckley Street using the pseudonym "O.H. Lee." She was determined that he put an end to the fancied double life he was leading.

On the evening before the assassination, Oswald came to Irving and begged Marina repeatedly to bring the children and move to Dallas with him the next day. Though he was persistent, she was adamant because of her anger over the O.H. Lee incident, and ultimately refused. Oswald was sullen for the rest of the evening, and the next morning, he killed the President.

Had Oswald really been a KGB assassin, or part of some CIA or underworld conspiracy, let alone certain about his own next move, why bother with this charade?

Marina's portrayal of her husband as a below average provider who nonetheless believed himself destined for a historic role, made the weird asymmetry of their exchange understandable to her in retrospect. Oswald had made "crazy" plans before; yet was apparently also torn by the desire to please her. When Marina refused to move to Dallas, he decided that she and the children could fend for themselves; freeing him to fulfill his "historic" destiny. In this regard, the frustrated communist Oswald was no different than frustrated actor John Wilkes Booth, or frustrated bureaucrat Charles Guiteau. All three were mediocre and self-important attention seekers who drew no boundary between their small lives and important affairs of state. All shared the seemingly overwhelming desire to make history at any price.

Oswald's grandiose self-image must have taken a pounding in the weeks before the assassination. Marina was homesick and seeking repatriation to Russia without him if necessary; while Oswald's dream of becoming another Hemmingway was dashed after he was denied both Cuban and Russian entrance visas during his late September 1963 Mexico City trip. Both consulates were clearly underwhelmed by what he portrayed as his important work for the New Orleans chapter of the Fair Play for Cuba Committee. As Oswald later wrote to the Russian embassy, he became enraged at the Cubans, who were befuddled when he showed up unannounced seeking a visa.

He had also recently been brushed off both by the American Communist Party, to whom he wrote claiming he was being driven "underground," and by the Socialist Workers Party. The Communist Party's responses were polite but terse; while the SWP declined even to offer him a membership. Oswald had believed his return to the United States would generate publicity just as his defection to the USSR had garnered him a couple of interviews; but other than the FBI, nobody seemed to care.

While Oswald's activities are also consistent with the notion that he was a trained assassin publicly cutting ties with his most likely conspirators before the act, his behavior in the months and weeks before November 22, 1963 reveals, if anything, that Oswald was a loner with no other associates with which to have conspired to kill the President.

Fleeing Dealey Plaza

Unlike Oswald's exact motives or associations, his movements following the assassination are known with near certainty. There was no reprise of his well-rehearsed clean getaway from the Walker shooting. Numerous witnesses saw Oswald in the window of the Book Depository well enough for a description to be developed almost immediately.

Thomas Dillard sitting in an open carload of reporters directly in front of the Book Depository heard fellow photographer Bob Jackson shout he'd seen a rifle being withdrawn into the sixth floor window. At least one other reporter saw the rifle poking out the window as their car rounded the corner of Houston and Elm just below Oswald. Dillard instinctively photographed the front of the Depository building and the window later found to be Oswald's perch, just after the shots were fired.

The latter image shows the two men who were directly below Oswald peering languidly from the fifth floor, the open window above them (boxes arranged as Oswald left them) already vacant. Bonnie Ray Williams, the man just below the open window in the photograph, later testified that the crack of Oswald's rifle above him shook that corner of the building so that mortar fell through the floorboards onto his head.

Marrion Baker, a motorcycle policeman following some two hundred feet behind the President heard Oswald's first shot while still approaching the Depository on Houston Street, and immediately parked his bike and charged into the building. Oswald barely beat Baker (joined by Oswald's boss, Roy Truly) to the second floor vending area where Baker confronted Oswald perhaps 90 seconds after the shooting stopped. Had Oswald lingered moments longer after killing the President, he would have run directly into Baker on the stairway.

These and many other compelling stories implicating only Oswald populate the record, along with the relatively few conflicting affidavits of those who thought they heard four shots, or believed they had seen or heard shots coming from behind the grassy knoll area or elsewhere. In contrast, those who saw Oswald -- including Dallas Mayor Cabell's wife, also riding in the motorcade -- had no doubt about the source of the shots.

Officer Baker made the fateful mistake of releasing Oswald after Truly identified him as a TSBD employee, then continued upstairs in search of the shooter. Oswald purchased a Coke, slipping through the second floor front office of the building past a receptionist down to the first floor and onto Elm Street before any cordon could be set up. Within minutes, however, a description matching Oswald's from witnesses outside the Book Depository was being broadcast over police radios from the scene. Later, Oswald was found to be the only one of the nearly 100 people in the Book Depository building unaccounted for after the assassination.

As word of what happened spread throughout downtown Dallas, Oswald hurried seven blocks up Elm street, hopped on the first bus headed back toward Dealey Plaza, and almost immediately saw his former landlady Mary Bledsoe, who disliked him. Bledsoe later identified Oswald to the Warren Commission, correctly observing that his right shirt sleeve was torn, just like the shirt Oswald was wearing when later arrested. Fibers from the shirt were later matched to the butt stock of Oswald's rifle. He rode just two blocks into the heavy traffic developing at Dealey Plaza, asked for a transfer, ran to the nearby Greyhound station, haled a cab and was home within probably another twelve minutes. This was the last thing that went smoothly for him.

The Tippit Shooting

According to Oswald's landlady at 1026 North Beckley, he dashed into the rooming house some two miles southwest of Dealey Plaza at 1:00 p.m., just long enough to run upstairs and back down. Alone in his room, he shoved a snub nosed Smith & Wesson .38 into his waistband, threw on a gray jacket, and was gone. About fifteen minutes later, nine people saw Oswald before, during or after his shooting of Dallas Policeman J.D. Tippit near the corner of E 10th Street and Patton. One of them breathlessly reported the shooting at 1:16 p.m. over Tippit's police radio.

Within a few more moments, a description of officer Tippit's shooter was broadcast from 10th and Patton matching the description of the presidential assassin to such a degree that the police dispatcher noted the similarity on the air.

Truthers have claimed that Oswald could not have covered what the Warren Commission found was nearly a mile from 1026 North Beckley to the Tippit shooting scene in fifteen minutes. But the Warren Commission presumed Oswald went south on Beckley to E 10th Street, then left on E 10th to Patton. In fact, Oswald could have cut across any side street from Beckley before it diverges with Patton and reached it directly, then turned right toward 10th Street, shortening the route to only 7/10 to 8/10 of a mile (according to Google Maps). Either way, the young former Marine could easily have covered one mile in fifteen minutes at a brisk pace.

Through the years, truthers have also maligned the reputation of patrolman J.D. Tippit, even claiming (with zero evidence) that he was Oswald's accomplice. Officer Tippit's epitaph ought to be that he acted with great presence of mind in the critical minutes after the assassination. Having been ordered into the Oak Cliff area, patrolman Tippet's known movements show that he was covering likely escape routes from Dealey Plaza northeast of Oak Cliff, across the Houston Street Viaduct.

At 12:54 p.m., Tippit's laconic drawl came over the radio for the last time from Lancaster and 8th, to the east of Oswald's rooming house. Lancaster runs parallel to Marsalis after it diverges with Houston Street beyond the viaduct into Oak Cliff. In the minutes before his death, Tippet was also spotted sitting in a Gloco gas station near the terminus of the Houston Street Viaduct only about a block north of Oswald's N Beckley rooming house. In this fashion, patrolman Tippit covered both of the most likely routes from Dealey Plaza. Though we will never know, the only logical conclusion is that Tippit spotted Oswald somewhere along the way before stopping him, perhaps even before Oswald arrived at his rooming house.

Armed with a good description; but still two miles away from the assassination scene, officer Tippit probably surprised even himself when the man he stopped turned out to be the suspect, who immediately gunned Tippet down as he exited his vehicle to question the man near E 10th and Patton. Police converged on the area and Oswald was captured a short while after the Tippit shooting, still carrying the .38 revolver later traced to Klein's and identified to the exclusion of all other weapons as the Tippit murder weapon.

There was and is little doubt as to Oswald's actual or presumed movements from two minutes after he shot the President to the moment he was wrestled to the ground at the Texas Theater. A bevy of witnesses, Baker and Truly, the secretary, the bus driver Cecil McWatters, Mary Bledsoe, the cabbie Bill Whaley who had fought at Iwo Jima, Oswald's landlady at 1026 N Beckley, nine witnesses from the shooting of Officer Tippit, and a trail of others leading from the Tippit scene to the Texas Theater, identified Oswald at each juncture of his known or suspected routes. Although his trail from the Book Depository was lost for short distances, there is no doubt that Oswald could have gotten where he did, when he did without any assistance. Indeed, the most vexing question has been where Oswald managed to secrete himself in the minutes between Tippit's shooting and the time he was spotted again just before sneaking into the Texas Theater.

Overwhelming evidence thus demonstrates that Lee Harvey Oswald was the lone assassin of President Kennedy, that he obtained the murder weapons himself, and that nobody assisted him seemingly at any point before, during or after the assassination.

The Real Conspiracy?

Hard core JFK assassination buffs continue to descend upon Dallas for conventions just as any other industry holds periodic trade shows. Pilgrimages are made from the Texas School Book Depository to the adjacent grassy knoll. Some make the two mile trip to the site of Oswald's rooming house at 1026 North Beckley and from there to E 10th and Patton, where Oswald shot officer J.D. Tippit 45 minutes after killing the President. They retrace Oswald's steps from the Tippit murder scene south a block to East Jefferson Boulevard where he discarded his gray jacket behind a gas station; then to the shoe store further west on Jefferson where he hid momentarily from a passing police car -- disheveled and breathing heavily -- before sneaking past the box office cashier of the Texas Theater where he was surrounded and arrested at 231 W Jefferson near Zang, about ½ mile from the Tippit murder scene and a mile south from the Beckley rooming house.

If any conspiracy has played out over the years, it has been to divert attention away from Oswald the self-styled communist as JFK's lone assassin. For obvious reasons, the American left scrambled to distance itself from Oswald in the wake of the tragedy; but part of this effort includes well documented attempts to turn the tables and accuse the government of involvement in some "conspiracy" to kill the President, for which there has never been even a scintilla of evidence.

Interestingly, in his only conversation with Marina following his arrest, Oswald told her that they would be "taken care of" by "friends" to whom he had written. This could have meant the Soviets, or the Communist Party, or the Socialist Workers Party. Oswald's first exposure to communism was during the trial of the Rosenbergs, with whom he sympathized. Undoubtedly, he believed that his fellow travelers would assist him the same way they had the Rosenbergs: by calling into question his guilt, and by portraying him -- in his own words -- as a government "patsy." In this assessment, Oswald proved entirely correct. By that evening, Soviet mouthpiece Valentyn Zorin was monitored on Moscow radio stating that the obviously leftist Oswald couldn't have gotten around US security, suggesting that it "was not accidental" that the killing took place in a "stronghold of racist and other fascist scum."

The stage was set for wild speculation to take over. With time, the debunkers have succeeded where the Warren Commission fell short in ruling out the other possibilities; but old habits die hard, and conventional wisdom persists that Oswald was not the lone assassin. Hopefully, the demise of the relatively few good arguments pointing to the existence of a second gunman in Dealey Plaza will ultimately refocus attention once and forever upon the overwhelming body of evidence of Oswald's guilt and the ideology giving rise to it.

John Huettner is an attorney practicing in Cleveland, Ohio
© American Thinker 2007