Saturday, December 13, 2008

Holland-aise Sauce: More Grousing From the Sidelines


There’s this term that I love, “ill-informed gadfly,” that seems as though it was coined with Internet scribe Max Holland in mind. In his latest “Gotcha!” screed, "The Underwood Hoax," Kennedy assassination buff Holland, or “Mad Max,” as I like to call him, seeks to solidify his growing reputation as a man so unable to add anything new to the assassination story that he resorts to impugning the reputations of sources he couldn’t be bothered with speaking to or critiquing while they were alive. His latest target, an advance man for Presidents Kennedy and Johnson named Marty Underwood, was a source for my new book, Brothers in Arms: The Kennedys, the Castros, and the Politics of Murder (Bloomsbury, 2008), among others.

The essence of Underwood’s story, as told to me in 1994, is that he was instructed by LBJ to travel to Mexico City in 1968 to determine what Oswald was allegedly doing there with Cubans two months before he killed the president. Underwood said he was told by the CIA station chief in Mexico City that Oswald had met with Cuban agents, one of whom may have been Fabian Escalante, a high-ranking Cuban spy who functions today as Cuba’s Kennedy assassination propagandist. Underwood gave me photocopies of the contemporaneous notes he made of the trip.

Countless times, Underwood called the station chief, Win Scott, one of his best friends, but the all-knowing Holland (who seems to have never interviewed Underwood, Scott, or their families) somehow knows differently. “Win Scott was never ‘probably the best friend [Underwood] had,’” writes the omniscient one. Actually, I have copies of six letters between the two, and saw many more that openly display their kinship.

Using breathless prose (“pathetic,” “darker lies,” “hoodwink,” “preposterous,” “fabrication,” “fairy tales,”) and a non-stop libeling-the-dead style, Holland dredges up an Underwood alleged “drinking problem,” assuming that his single-sourced, second-hand knowledge (an affectation of most actual historians) trumps first-hand knowledge. Well, if Underwood had a drinking problem [note: he never had a drink in my four years of sharing meals with him], at least he would have an excuse for his alleged miss-statements. What’s Holland’s?

In his self-Internet-published diatribe, Mad Max repeats falsehoods such as: “he [Underwood] had written the notes . . . for [Russo] to use for [Seymour] Hersh’s book [The Dark Side of Camelot, 1997].” However, elsewhere Holland correctly (!) notes that I had met Underwood in 1993. The problem is, I didn’t meet Hersh until 1997, and Mad Max knows it, because it’s right there in my new book, which cherry picker extraordinaire Holland claims he has read. Assiduously avoided by Holland is the fact that the book clearly states (but not clear enough for the reading-challenged) that Marty had given me his notes in 1994. I guess in addition to being a con man, Marty was a clairvoyant, knowing I’d meet Hersh three years hence.

Among Holland’s “proofs” of Underwood’s duplicity is Holland’s phone interview with an Underwood colleague, who claimed, “Underwood collected information on how con men operated.” Talk about slam-dunk bombshells! Years after Holland passes on, if there is any justice, one of his surviving colleagues will recall how Mad Max “read a lot about assassinations,” in order to conclude that we should wonder about Holland’s secret life.

In his hyper dismissive, not to mention misleading, style, Holland writes: “over the course of a few lunches, [Russo] quickly became enthralled with Underwood’s supposedly inside dope about LBJ and Hoover, JFK’s liaisons with Marilyn Monroe and Judy Campbell, the alleged rigging of the 1960 West Virginia primary, and, of course, the November 1963 trip to Texas.”

Of course none of this is true. I had dozens of lunches, dinners, and apartment visits to Underwood over at least four years. And as to the Monroe allegations, Underwood was happy, when pressed, to show me indisputable evidence of his close friendship with the movie sex goddess – evidence Holland could never see of course, since he just can’t seem to find a way to interview people he has preemptively chosen to pillory.

In Mad Max’s calculus, all previous interviewers of Underwood (including myself, Richard Cohen, William Manchester, and Seymour Hersh) were unable to properly vet Underwood. Only Holland, who likely never met Underwood, has the sufficient gifts to see through his elaborate scheme. This sort of self-congratulatory tripe has become a hallmark of Holland’s. (Please see for example his ludicrous article on how Lee Oswald shot a lamppost before he hit Kennedy, "1963: 11 Seconds in Dallas." Also see Dale Myers’ and Todd Vaughn’s brilliant destruction of Holland’s “journalism” in "Cherry-Picking Evidence of the First Shot." Holland’s surgical editing of key witness testimony is a memorial to bad – at best – journalism. Although his academic style has all the veneer of weighty import, his work quickly dissolves under scrutiny, as Vaughn and Myers show.)

Although Holland states that Assassination Records Review Board (ARRB) discounted Underwood’s claims to me, he chooses not to tell his vast readership that my book also quotes the former ARRB director, who told me that the board was mistaken, and that Underwood had likely told me the truth, but chose to mislead the board, as he always told me he would do. (Underwood never wanted to go public with his material, although Holland paints him as someone who “wanted to be important.” Additionally, during the years he spoke with me, I was not writing a book or a documentary; these were casual friendly conversations not intended for anything other than idle chat.)

Exemplary of Holland’s style is an email quote (he seems to have trouble traveling for in-person interviews) he obtained from LBJ aide Jack Valenti labeling Underwood “full of shit.” One has to search Holland’s footnotes to learn that Valenti had previously (1975) called Marty “affable and effective . . . a thorough-going professional.” Pick that cherry, baby! If anyone else had buried this, one could imagine how a faux-shocked Holland might gasp: “The author not only slights Valenti’s opinion when his memory was thirty-one years fresher, he buries it in a footnote!” (In typical academic style, Holland has many pretty footnotes, a tried-and-true method for giving the appearance of importance -- or is that self-importance?)

And while we’re questioning sources, it’s interesting that Holland seems to have no interest in vetting his own: Valenti, who oversaw the Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA) for four decades, turned a blind eye to the rampant offshore tax dodges and organized crime money laundering of Hollywood producers during his tenure at MPAA. Indeed, Valenti’s MPAA was a tax loophole lobbying machine for the movie industry. If I were criticized by the likes of Valenti, it would be a badge of honor. But I digress.

In truth, one could feel sorry for Holland. His brooding bitterness jumps off the pages of his numerous “revelatory” e-journalism posts, prompting the question of where he’d be without that bastion of good scholarship known as the Internet. One also wonders if he is smarting from seeing his big discovery (Oswald’s fictional lamppost blasting, which he sold to a gullible New York Times, among others) so thoroughly eviscerated by authentic investigators like Vaughn and Myers, who actually contribute breakthrough journalism to the Kennedy story. Or could it be that he is frustrated that he can’t seem to finish his Warren Commission opus, which has been in the works at least since the days of Monica Lewinsky and OJ’s civil trial?

Aficionados of hokey journalism must be salivating over that one. [END]

* * * *
[Editor’s Note: In 1997, Max Holland drove up from Washington, D.C., to meet with Gus Russo (the guy he now terms as ‘gullible’), pick through his voluminous files, and request personal contact numbers, some very confidential, that Russo had accumulated from years of working the assassination story. Russo was more than happy to help Holland, who explained that he was working on a book on the Warren Commission. In 1998, Russo ran into Holland again at the National Archives during a ceremony marking the release of the Assassination Record Review Board’s Final Report, and innocently asked when his book would be done. “It's none of your business! It’ll be done when it’s done!” Holland snapped. Russo was stunned. Apparently, Holland had been asked that question one too many times. Later that year, Holland wrote a scathing review of Russo’s Live by the Sword for The Nation. A couple of months later, Holland showed up at a luncheon meeting of the Association of Former Intelligence Officers, where Russo was speaking before a group of over 300. During a Q&A session, Holland rose from the back of the audience to give a speech about a Russo interviewee (one of over a thousand) who had also written about UFOs. He was so insistent that the audience began hissing and yelling for him to sit down. Holland apparently didn’t take kindly to that either. Holland’s war against Russo has been raging ever since. In 2006, Holland laid into a German documentary that Russo co-wrote, wherein Holland made numerous factual errors, such his restatement that Underwood wrote his notes "in 1992 for Hersh's benefit." It seems Holland never misses an opportunity to rip on Russo while avoiding (or neglecting) the obvious charlatans promoting trash in the JFK assassination genre. I found the logic in Holland’s latest Russo smear piece to be profoundly weak, especially in light of the information posted at This is no surprise, given the “evidence” Holland has produced so far to support his other pet project – convincing everyone that he has discovered that Oswald fired a shot earlier than anyone ever suspected before. Holland’s approach to evidence gathering doesn’t bode well for his forthcoming book on the Warren Commission, which we are still waiting for, or for his take on Russo’s work. I don’t profess to know the reasons behind Holland’s obvious Russo vendetta (and I don’t think Gus Russo does either), but you’ve got to wonder why Russo’s work is so personal to Holland that he is willing to go to the lengths he does to “decode” what it all means for us.]

Monday, December 8, 2008

JFK Lawsuit Tests Washington’s Culture of Secrecy


Last month dozens of public interest groups welcomed the election of Barack Obama with a call to reverse eight years of secrecy and restore openness in the executive branch.

It won’t be easy. While the non-profit National Security Archive and other groups are seeking an executive order to revitalize the Freedom of Information Act, the culture of secrecy in Washington runs deep, thwarting even the most powerful open government laws.

For example, lawyers for the Central Intelligence Agency and the U.S. Justice Department are expected to file a motion in federal court in Washington Tuesday seeking to block release of CIA records related to the assassination of President Kennedy. These 45-year-old records have been deemed too sensitive to share with the American people.

With the support of a diverse group of JFK authors, I sued the CIA for these records in December 2003. Five years later, the CIA is still spending taxpayer money to block their release, saying dozens of documents cannot be released in any form–for reasons of national security.

Such extreme claims have proven the norm since September 11. A month after the terror attacks, Attorney General John Ashcroft issued a memorandum that greatly weakened FOIA. In 2002 federal agencies went so far as to seek re-classification of records at the JFK Presidential Library that had already been publicly released.

The public interest groups are calling on Obama to issue a new executive order on FOIA creating a presumption of disclosure and a policy of releasing information without litigation.

But FOIA enforcement ultimately depends on political will as much as regulatory language and that can be difficult to summon even in a case like the JFK story where public interest endures.

The CIA records I seek are supposed to be governed by the JFK Records Act, which was approved unanimously by Congress in 1992, in response to Oliver Stone’s hit movie “JFK.” The law, one of the strongest open government laws ever enacted, mandates in no uncertain terms that all government records related to JFK’s assassination must be released “immediately.” That word, as interpreted by the CIA means, “not just yet and maybe never.”

The records concern a decorated, now-deceased undercover CIA officer, named George Joannides. As I wrote for last year, Joannides’ assets in the Cuban exile movement had contact with accused assassin Lee Harvey Oswald before Kennedy was shot dead in Dallas on November 22, 1963. At the time, Joannides served in Miami as the chief of the agency’s so-called “psychological warfare” operations aimed to bring about Castro’s overthrow.

In 1978, Joannides resurfaced out of retirement to serve as the CIA’s liaison to the House Select Committee on Assassinations. He did not disclose his activities in 1963 to investigators, prompting the committee’s general counsel G. Robert Blakey to tell the Washington Post in 2005, “the CIA set me up.”

Joannides, who died in 1990, received the CIA’s Career Intelligence Medal in 1981, according to citation declassified earlier this year. He was lauded for “exceptional achievement” in his 28-year career.

Federal judge John Tunheim, who chaired a civilian review board that declassified thousands of long secret JFK records in the 1990s, says the CIA denied the panel’s staff and members full access to the records. “There is no question we were mislead on Joannides for a long time,” Tunheim told The Washington Independent last spring. Tunheim said all the disputed records should be made public as soon as possible.

“I think the JFK story is still incomplete,” said Anna Nelson, another former member of the JFK review board who is now the historian in residence at American University. “While we may never get all the answers, we ought to do all we can to complete it. That means opening documents. The CIA is being foolishly recalcitrant.”

The CIA has spurned requests from the National Archives to review the Joannides files. A spokeswoman for Archivist Allen Weinstein said, “The National Archives has not been given an opportunity to review any CIA records related to this issue because of the pending litigation.”

Last December, a three-judge appellate court panel ordered the CIA to explain why 17 monthly reports that Joannides was supposed to file about his secret operations in 1962-64 are missing from CIA archives. A year later, the Agency has yet to comply with the court’s directive.

The CIA will file its latest motion in the lawsuit with Judge Richard Leon. A ruling in the case is expected next year.


[Editor's Note: For more on the Morley lawsuit, read: 'Denied in Full': Federal Judges Grill CIA Lawyers on JFK Secrets; The CIA vs. Jefferson Morley; More JFK Secrets in Sixty Days?; The Last Word: Bringuier, Joannides, and the DRE; CIA Response on Joannides Delayed Again; and CIA "Discovers" More Joannides Documents.]

Thursday, December 4, 2008

Cherry-Picking Evidence of the First Shot


Flash 8 or higher is required to view videos accompanying this article. Get the free plugin now.

In February, 2007, author Max Holland and Johann W. Rush posited that Lee Harvey Oswald fired his first shot earlier than anyone had ever suspected – before the famous Zapruder film even began churning through old Abe’s 8mm Bell & Howell camera.

After evidence for their theory was examined and debunked by these authors in Max Holland’s 11 Seconds in Dallas, Seattle attorney and assassination student Kenneth R. Scearce fired back with an independent article aimed at finding fault with our rebuttal and support for Holland’s so-far, unsupportable theory.

Again, Holland’s early shot theory and Scearce’s challenge were debunked in a second article titled, Holland Déjà Vu.

Apparently, Misters Holland and Scearce haven’t had enough. They’re back, this time in a joint effort titled: 11 Seconds in Dallas Redux: Filmed Evidence, which promises readers that several pieces of old evidence turn out to corroborate the suspected early shot after all and that Holland’s theory “should now be regarded as the depiction with the greatest fidelity to all the known facts.”

If it all sounds too good to be true, you’re right; especially when one begins examining the old evidence that Holland and Scearce find so compelling that we’re expected to chuck forty-five years of research into the shooting sequence right out the sixth floor window.

Instead of impressive fact-finding, Holland and Scearce treat readers to a hodge-podge of assumptions, elastic reasoning, and twisted truth – par for the course, I’m afraid, in every attempt to sell this fantasy so far.

I’ll give Holland and Scearce this much, they’re open and honest about cherry-picking the facts to build a case for their theory. More on that later.

Twenty months after first publishing their theory, and in the wake of two thorough rebuttals which pointed out the fallacy of their claims, Holland and Scearce finally decided to take “a fresh look” at all the amateur films made of the president’s limousine in Dealey Plaza and test them against their own hypothesis.

It seems a little odd to be testing one’s hypothesis after one has announced to the world that the history books should be rewritten, but maybe that’s just me.

According to Holland and Scearce, it’s all okay because the recent testing phase has “unearthed some compelling corroboration” for their early shot theory.

So, what is the earth shattering evidence that has escaped the scrutiny of everyone who has ever examined the shooting sequence so far? The evidence amounts to these four points:

  1. The Zapruder film shows three Secret Service agents reacting “in an unusual manner” by frame Z153;

  2. Amateur filmmaker Elsie Dorman reacted to a first shot before Zapruder began filming the presidential limousine (i.e., before Z133);

  3. Tina Towner’s amateur film corroborates the testimony of several eyewitnesses who say the first shot was fired as the president waved to the crowd immediately after turning onto Elm Street; a moment that could only have been before Zapruder began filming the president (i.e., before Z133); and

  4. The pattern of empty cartridge shells found under the sixth floor window is “suggestive and corroborative” of an early first shot.
None of this sounds like the kind of “compelling” evidence Holland and Scearce promised to deliver, but let’s examine each of these points just the same.

Three Agents

First, Holland and Scearce wrote that “there can be no question” that Secret Service agents John D. Ready, Glen A. Bennett, and George W. Hickey, Jr., were reacting to “a worrisome stimulus” by Zapruder frame Z153.

Why are Holland and Scearce so certain on this point? Because, according to Secret Service protocol, agents assigned to the right side of the presidential follow-up car (like Ready) are supposed to keep their eyes fixed on the area to the right of the car; those of the left toward the left side of the car.

Thus, according to Holland and Scearce, the fact that agent Ready was looking to his left (not his right, per protocol) at frame Z153 could only mean that he was responding to “some kind of stimulus” – translation: he heard a shot.

Really? Does that mean that anytime an agent breaks protocol it can only mean that he is responding to a shot? If that were true, then frames M446-M456 of the Marie Muchmore film would be evidence of a shot being fired as the presidential limousine moved up Houston Street since it shows agent Paul Landis, who is standing on the right running board behind agent Ready, looking to his left instead of his right protocol position.

Figure 1. Enlargement of a portion of Muchmore frame M446.

Isn’t it reasonable that agents aboard the Secret Service follow-up car broke protocol on multiple occasions (if only very briefly) throughout the motorcade’s 39-minute journey through Dallas? And doesn’t that mean that we can’t read too much into agent Ready’s brief leftward glance at the head of the Zapruder film? Or are Holland and Scearce the only ones who can divinely separate those Secret Service agent reactions that correspond to shots and those that don’t?

In addition to their protocol argument, Holland and Scearce assure us that we can actually see agent Ready turn to his left at Zapruder frame Z139, in reaction to their early shot. But can we?

The image of Secret Service agent Ready appears in the sprocket hole area of the Zapruder film between Z133 and Z154. In fact, with the exception of two frames – Z138 and Z139 – agent Ready’s head is not even visible, being obscured by the sprocket hole. It isn’t until frames Z153-154 that we can actually see Ready looking to his left.

So, what about the head turn? There are only two frames – Z138 and Z139 – that suggest that Ready might be turning his head from right to left. I say “might” because we can only see a third of the left side of Ready’s head for one-tenth of a second and even then the image is unduly affected by film artifacts because of its close proximity to the sprocket hole. Suffice it to say, this is hardly the kind of definitive evidence you can take to the bank.

Figure 2. Stabilized sprocket hole area of Zapruder frame sequence Z133 to Z154.

But let’s assume for sake of argument that the film does show Ready turning to his left at about frame Z139, as Holland and Scearce claim. What does the rest of the film reveal? At about Z164, Ready turned to face forward again, then at Z177 snapped his head to the right, and by Z255 had turned sharply to his right-rear (as seen in a photograph by James Altgens).

Figure 3. Portion of James Altgens photograph; equivalent of Zapruder frame Z255.

These filmed actions are consistent with Ready’s contemporary reports. A few days after the assassination, Ready wrote a detailed account of his actions in which he said that upon hearing what he thought were firecrackers “immediately turned to my right rear trying to locate the source.” [18H749 CE1024]

How do Holland and Scearce deal with this contemporary report? They dismiss it, suggesting that Ready’s report was written to conform to the official version of events, having been written after Ready had learned that all three shots had come from Oswald’s perch in the Book Depository.

Holland and Scearce don’t offer any actual evidence (written or otherwise) to support their belief that Ready fudged the truth in his after-action report or why he would even need to hide the fact that he might have looked left instead of right after hearing the first shot. It would appear that it’s simply better for their theory if Ready forgot to mention that initial left turn. How convenient.

The way Holland and Scearce see it, Ready did turn to his right-rear, as he later reported, but only after the second shot, at around Z223. In a footnote, the theorists acknowledge that they don’t really know if Ready turned to his right-rear after the second shot since he disappeared from the Zapruder film a moment earlier, at frame Z208, but thought it unlikely that Ready would have looked back between Z208 and 223. Of course, if the Zapruder film had shown Ready looking back before Z223 their theory would be kaput.

In the end, the image Holland and Scearce paint is one in which agent Ready reacts to an early shot by turning to his left, returns his gaze to the right (his protocol position), then suddenly snaps his head toward the right-rear after hearing the second shot. Later, Ready writes a report that ignores his left-turn reaction to the first shot in order to better fit the Oswald-did-it theory. Yea, sure.

Holland and Scearce’s vision of history is not only a stretch; it’s a bit disingenuous given the filmed record.

The Zapruder film shows agent Ready making a sweeping turn to his right beginning at Z177 and continuing until he disappears into the margins of the film at Z208. (See Figure 4) By then, Ready is looking to his right at a 40 degree angle relative to the midline of the car. Two and one-half seconds later (Z255), Ready had turned another 120-degrees further rearward (as evidenced by the James Altgens photograph). All of this is precisely what Ready described in his after-action report and places the time of the first shot a second or so before Z177. What is so mysterious?

Figure 4. Stabilized Zapruder film sequence - Z133-251.

According to Holland and Scearce, the actions of two other agents – Glen Bennett and George Hickey – support their early shot thesis and corroborate their interpretation of agent Ready’s actions.

Agents Glen Bennett and George Hickey were both seated in the back seat of the Secret Service follow-up car – Bennett on the passenger-side and Hickey on the driver-side.

Bennett wrote, “I immediately, upon hearing the supposed firecracker, looked at the boss’s car. At this exact time I saw a shot that hit the boss about four inches down from the right shoulder; a second shot followed immediately and hit the right rear high of the boss’s head.” [18H760 CE1024]

Holland and Scearce spend time telling us about how “remarkably accurate and succinct” Bennett’s statement is and how they, and they alone, noticed something that no one ever recognized before – Bennett mentioned looking at the president immediately after the first shot.

Turning to the Zapruder film, Holland and Scearce claim that by Zapruder frame Z153, Bennett “had turned his eyes toward the front and tilted his head markedly to the right so he could keep his eye on ‘the boss’;” presumably so he could see around the two front passengers seated in front of him. Holland and Scearce assert that Bennett’s head tilt occurs simultaneously with agent Ready’s left head turn at Z139 and as such is clear, corroborative evidence of an earlier shot.

Really? Let’s back up a minute. First, how in the devil are Holland and Scearce able to see Bennett “turn his eyes” toward the front of the car – or in any direction for that matter – during these earliest Zapruder frame sequences? One can’t even distinguish Bennett’s eyes from his nose in these early, fuzzy frames, let alone determine in which direction he’s looking. (See Figure 2) Even Holland and Scearce acknowledge later in their article, “The film’s resolution simply isn’t sufficient to discern any reflexive responses that probably occurred in reaction to the first, missed shot.”

Second, and of paramount importance, is a fact Holland and Scearce seem to forget in their zeal to break “new” ground – Bennett described how he looked at the president immediately after the first shot and “at this exact time” saw him hit in the back with the second shot.

Doesn’t that mean that Bennett’s remarkably accurate and succinct report was conveying how Bennett turned and looked at the president immediately before the second shot (the shot to Kennedy’s back at about Z223), and not four and one-half seconds earlier. The reason that we can’t ascertain exactly what Bennett did during those four and one-half seconds is because he is hidden from Zapruder’s camera view by Z165. How convenient for Holland and Scearce’s theory.

If the admittedly subtle actions of agents Ready and Bennett don’t convince you of an earlier shot, Holland and Scearce insist, then you’ll certainly be won over by the actions of agent George Hickey, whose movements “cannot be characterized as anything but extraordinary.”

Holland and Scearce assure us that beginning at Z139 agent Hickey can be seen “partially standing up” and by Z153 “beginning to lean way over the driver’s side” of the follow-up car, “almost as if he were looking for something on the ground.” Holland and Scearce believe he was looking for something at ground level, writing, “According to his later statement, Hickey said he thought the initial loud report was a firecracker, and that it exploded at ground level.”

Wait just a moment. First, agent Hickey does not “partially” stand up in the earliest portion of the Zapruder film. It simply doesn’t happen.

Second, Hickey didn’t write in his report that he thought a firecracker exploded on the ground to the left of the motorcade as Holland and Scearce themselves acknowledge in the very next paragraph of their article: “Hickey wrote not that he bent over to his left and looked at the ground, but that he ‘stood up and looked to [his] right and rear in an attempt to identify’ the source of the loud report.” [18H762, 765 CE1024]

And we know agent Hickey is not referring to the earliest portion of the Zapruder film in his report, as Holland and Scearce claim, but in the latter portion. Why? Because we see him doing what he described in the latter portion of the film.

At Zapruder frame Z193, we see agent Hickey, who is looking to his left, snap his head toward President Kennedy and begin to rise up out of his seat until he disappears into the margins of the film at Z208. (See Figure 4) By the time James Altgens snaps his photograph at the equivalent of Zapruder frame Z255 – nearly two seconds after the second shot – Hickey is looking to his right-rear, just as he described in his report.

How do Holland and Scearce explain the divergence between what Hickey wrote and what they imagine him doing? The difference “clearly is an artifact” of what Hickey learned about the official source of the shots, Holland and Scearce tell us.

In essence, Holland and Scearce believe that Hickey mixed up his reaction to the first shot, with his reaction to the second shot, just as they believe agent Ready had. Oh yes, clearly.

Elsie Dorman Reacts

The second piece of compelling evidence that Holland and Scearce offer in support of their early shot theory is the twenty year-old recollections of Elsie Dorman who told Sixth Floor Museum curator Gary Mack in the early 1980’s that she remembered that the first shot was very loud, sounded like it came from behind her (i.e., from inside the building), and that she stopped filming just after the first shot.

Elsie Dorman, who died in 1983, had filmed the motorcade from a fourth floor window of the Depository.

Holland and Scearce cite my work on the synchronization of amateur films of the Kennedy motorcade (Epipolar Geometric Analysis of Amateur Films Related to Acoustics Evidence in the John F. Kennedy Assassination) as supportive of their theory, noting that Dorman stopped her camera three times at the time of the shooting – first at a point 0.12 seconds before Zapruder began filming the limousine (i.e., Z133); a second time at the equivalent of Z228, just after the second shot; and a third and final time at the equivalent of Z411, about five seconds after the last shot.

Holland and Scearce declare that “If Elsie Dorman’s recollection from the early 1980’s is judged to be correct, Myers’s synchronization alone corroborates that Dorman heard and reacted, as she claimed, to a first shot that occurred before Zapruder restarted his camera.”

Of course, my synchronization work only establishes the relationship between the various amateur films made of the Kennedy motorcade in Dealey Plaza – not the timing of the shots or whether Elsie Dorman’s recollection is accurate.

If Holland and Scearce really thought Dorman’s recollection was strong evidence of an early shot they probably would have led their article with it. They didn’t and the reason is clear: acceptance of this “proof” hinges on accepting Dorman’s twenty year-old recollection which isn’t quite as rock solid as they’d like us to believe.

According to Gary Mack, Dorman told him that she stopped filming after the first shot. Yet her film shows that she didn’t stop filming until after the last shot. Holland and Scearce presume that Dorman was referring to the brief break in her film at about the time Zapruder began filming the limousine gliding down Elm Street, which is convenient since that interpretation would fit their theory.

But the fact is Dorman stopped her camera three times (restarting twice) in the final moments of her film. Which camera stop did she mean coincided with the first shot? The answer is not clear, certainly not as clear as Holland and Scearce wish.

Another one of the reasons Dorman’s latter recollection is questionable concerns her comment that the shots sounded like it came from behind her (i.e., from inside the Book Depository). Holland and Scearce key in on this point, noting that “this important detail” dovetails with their own belief that an early shot “would have meant that more of the rifle’s muzzle was inside the TSBD, making the sound that much louder inside the building…”

But, Holland and Scearce must know that Elsie Dorman told the FBI the day after the assassination that the shots seemed to come from the Records Building, located diagonally across the street from her – not behind her. How inconvenient.

Towner Film Evidence

The third piece of compelling evidence that Holland and Scearce offer in support of their early shot theory is the amateur film made by Tina Towner.

Towner was the only person to capture an unbroken record of the presidential limousine turning onto Elm Street and since my 2007 Epipolar Geometric Analysis report established that the Towner film synchronized to the period immediately before Zapruder began filming, Holland and Scearce hoped that it might contain visual confirmation of their theory. The way Holland and Scearce tell it, it does.

Never mind that Tina Towner is on record as saying she heard three shots fired after she stopped filming. When it comes to inconvenient facts, Holland and Scearce simply dismiss them with the wave of a hand, in this case writing, “It should be clear that statements by filmmakers about when the shots were fired must be weighed and evaluated like all other testimony, and are not to be taken at face value.”

What gives? Only a page earlier, Holland and Scearce had embraced the two decade old recollections of amateur filmmaker Elsie Dorman, despite the fact that her latter recollection contradicted her contemporary statements about the source of the shots and failed to clarify when the first shot was fired, both central to their thesis.

Holland and Scearce go on to tell us that, truth be told; there is no reason to give Towner’s recollection any more weight than Elsie Dorman’s. It’s pretty clear, however, that they prefer Mrs. Dorman’s memory over Towner’s and equally clear that the reason is because Dorman’s recollection fits their theory. But what’s important, according to Holland and Scearce, is not the recollections of the filmmakers but what their cameras recorded.

Here, Holland and Scearce claim that the statements of three eyewitnesses – Patricia Ann Lawrence, Bonnie Ray Williams, and Harold Norman – are supported by the Towner film and serve as even more compelling evidence of an early shot.

Patricia Ann Lawrence told investigators that she was standing along the north curb of Elm Street right in front of the Depository, about seven feet west of the corner, when the motorcade came by. Holland and Scearce tell us that when the president rounded the corner, Ms. Lawrence waved at him and as he raised his hand in acknowledgement she heard the first shot.

How does Towner’s film confirm Ms. Lawrence’s account? Holland and Scearce say that the Towner film shows the president waving in Ms. Lawrence’s direction, just as she recalled.

Figure 5. Towner frame showing the presidential limousine just after it passed the traffic light pole and corresponding to Ms. Lawrence’s account, according to Holland and Scearce.

First of all, anyone familiar with the Towner film knows that the president can be seen waving more than once. Holland and Scearce acknowledge this fact, noting that the film could be cited to corroborate a first shot at various points. They just happen to favor the particular wave the president made shortly after the limousine passed under a traffic light pole for an obvious reason – it synchronizes with their early shot theory.

Never mind too that the wave selected by Holland and Scearce is long after the limousine passed Ms. Lawrence’s position in front of the Depository building.

Secondly, Ms Lawrence told the FBI in 1964 something a little different than what Holland and Scearce report. In her most extensive contemporary statement, Ms. Lawrence said “that when the car in which the President was riding passed my position I was looking at Mrs. Kennedy who was looking to the other side of the car. President Kennedy was looking in my direction and I waved. A few seconds following this I heard a shot…” [22H660 CE1381]

A few seconds? If Ms. Lawrence heard a shot a few seconds after the president waved (and not simultaneously with his wave, as Holland and Scearce report) she’d be referring to a time period synchronous with the earliest moments of the Zapruder film – not the time period when Tina Towner’s camera was still recording.

Holland and Scearce claim that two other eyewitness accounts dovetail perfectly with that of Ms. Lawrence. According to Holland and Scearce, “the same correspondence between the president’s arm motion and the first shot was also noticed” by Bonnie Ray Williams and Harold Norman, two eyewitnesses looking out the windows on the fifth floor immediately below Oswald’s sniper perch.

The “arm motion” that Holland and Scearce refer to is not the wave described by Ms. Lawrence but one of the periodic moments when the president brushed his hair back. Both Williams and Norman stated that after the president’s limousine had passed their window they saw him brushed his hair back and then they heard the first shot.

The Towner film, however, shows the president waving to the crowd to his right; not brushing his hair back as he passed the area of the building occupied by Williams and Norman. (See Figure 5) Three seconds later the Zapruder film begins and we see the president brushing his hair back, just as Williams and Norman described.

Figure 6. Towner frame showing Kennedy passing the area of the building occupied by Williams and Norman, who are five floors above the president’s limousine.

What do Holland and Scearce say? In their version of events, the president’s wave (as observed by Ms. Lawrence) and his habit of brushing his hair back (as observed by Williams and Norman) are a single event.

Holland and Scearce even go so far as to claim that a color slide taken by Phillip Willis represents the same “arm motion” seen in the Towner film and described by Lawrence, Williams, and Norman.

The Willis slide, however, was taken at the equivalent of Zapruder frame Z137, two seconds after the “arm motion” captured by Towner’s camera; the same arm motion that Holland and Scearce believe synchronizes with Ms. Lawrence’s statement and marks an early first shot.

Figure 7. Willis slide (left) and Zapruder frame Z137 (right).

If anything the Willis slide and corresponding Zapruder film sequence (showing the president brushing his hair back) are vivid illustrations of the testimony of Bonnie Ray Williams and Harold Norman and serve as strong support for the belief that the first shot was fired after Zapruder began filming, not before as Holland and Scearce theorize.

The Expended Cartridges

The fourth piece of compelling evidence that Holland and Scearce offer in support of their early shot theory is perhaps the most inventive – and silliest – of the bunch.

According to Holland and Scearce, the three expended cartridges found under the sixth floor window sill – two grouped together and one a short distance away – are more than just evidence of Oswald’s terrible deed, they are evidence of the angles and timing of the shots themselves.

Figure 8. Dallas police crime lab photograph of three expended shells (arrows) found under the sixth floor sniper’s nest window.

Holland and Scearce assure us that an ejected casing from an early first shot would not have ricocheted off the book cartons stacked to Oswald’s right. In all likelihood, it would have bounced and rolled unimpeded on the floor until it came to rest at the far end of the window sill. But Oswald’s next two shots would have bounced off these same cartons and ended up together against the south wall, just as they were found.

What evidence or test do Holland and Scearce offer to support their contention? Nothing, nada, zip.

To add an air of legitimacy to their baseless conjecture, Holland and Scearce bring up the testimony of Deputy Sheriff Luke Mooney who discovered the sniper’s nest and who later testified to the Warren Commission.

While marking a photograph of the sniper’s nest for the commission, Mooney made the remark, “I assume that this possibly could have been the first shot.” Warren Commission counsel Joseph Ball immediately interjected, “You cannot speculate about that.” Mooney didn’t explain further.

Holland telephoned Mooney in the hopes he might remember what he was going to tell Ball 44 years ago. Not surprisingly, Mooney was unable to recall what he meant to say.

No problem. Holland and Scearce simply testified for Mooney, writing, “A reasonable inference, if not the only one possible is that he was going to suggest that the shell identified as ‘C’ in the photograph had not bounced off the cartons of books visible on the right side of the picture. That was why it landed much further west than the two other cartridges ejected from Oswald’s rifle.”

Wow. Maybe it’s just me, but it seems pretty lame to invent “testimony” that amounts to little more than a self-serving affirmation of one’s own theory.

Holland and Scearce go on to assure us that while the pattern of expended shells is not at all dispositive, “it is suggestive and corroborative, akin to a visual equivalent of the aural pattern the majority of Dealey Plaza witnesses heard.”

What Holland and Scearce are suggesting here is that the two empty shells casings lying close together and the one further away correspond to their theory that an early first shot was followed by two more bunched close together – just as many of the ear witnesses recalled.

But as we demonstrated in the last rebuttal, placing the first shot before Zapruder began filming doesn’t produce a three shot sequence with the last two bunched together at all. It produces what sounds like an evenly spaced sequence. In fact, Holland and Scearce have yet to address an audio recreation of their shot sequence which illustrates this very point.

Furthermore, while the three expended shells scattered below the sniper’s nest window obviously support the majority of ear witnesses who heard three shots fired, Holland and Scearce haven’t provided one scintilla of evidentiary justification for their claims that the sequence and timing of those three shots would have produced the particular pattern of scattered shells later discovered by police.

I think Joseph Ball had it right, “You cannot speculate about that.”

As a final thought, Holland and Scearce offer the testimony of Garland Slack, who told sheriff deputies on the afternoon of the shooting that the first shot “sounded to me like this shot came from way back or from within a building. I have heard this same sort of sound when a shot has come from within a cave, as I have been on many big game hunts.”

Holland and Scearce insist that Slack’s statement “compliments the logical inference” that can be drawn from the pattern of shell casings under the sixth floor window – i.e., an earlier shot by Oswald would have required a steeper angle, and because of the mounted scope would have necessitated keeping more of the barrel inside the building.

Of course, what they don’t say (and possibly don’t realize) is that none of the evidence offered would have changed dramatically had Oswald fired a first shot a few seconds after Zapruder began filming as practically everyone has believed for more than four decades – the angle to the street would have been essentially the same, the muzzle would still have been predominately inside of the building, and the shells would have kicked out of the chamber at nearly the same interval and angle.

Cherry-Picking History

At the tail of their essay, Holland and Scearce assure us that “even more evidence exists that corroborates or dovetails” with their theory (which they promise to deliver in even more future installments), but due to the passage of time no single test or proof can settle the idea of an earlier shot one way or the other.

No matter, Holland and Scearce assure us that their early shot theory is “already in accordance with more of the facts than any other theory of what happened.”

It’s hard to imagine a statement less true and more self-serving given the amount of hoop-jumping necessary to dredge up “evidence” that supports their theory.

Early on in their essay, Holland and Scearce wrote that “It’s easy to foresee the objections that will be made against the foregoing analysis. The charge of ‘cherry-picking’ eyewitness testimony is bound to be raised, either in the sense that conflicting accounts were ignored, or that the recollections of Ready, Bennett and Hickey were used selectively and even distorted.” Yea, no kidding.

So, how do Holland and Scearce defend their cherry-picking approach to history? Incredibly, they write that the judicious cherry-picking of eyewitness statements is not just unavoidable, it is “precisely what must be done.”

It’s an audacious statement and one that I couldn’t disagree with more. While no historic rendering can ever include every detail on record, we expect those who profess to be historians to make sense of it all by painting an honest, accurate, balanced portrait of human events. Anything less is an incredible disservice to future generations.

The historic record of the Kennedy assassination has been needlessly muddied with more than four decades of irresponsible nonsense. What the world craves now is clarity, not more mud.

Yet rather than working to clarify the record, Max Holland and pal Kenneth Scearce seem more focused on convincing everyone that their theory is a scholarly work of historic significance. Truth is this is the third attempt to sell us on the merits of their case and the thinnest of the three.

Don’t get me wrong. It’s not hard to imagine that Oswald might have fired a first shot earlier than anyone had ever considered before. It’s just that no one has yet uncovered any believable, cohesive evidence that it actually happened, despite bushels of judicious cherry pickin’.