Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Trial over JFK 'sniper's perch' dispute is postponed

by ROY APPLETON / The Dallas Morning News

Ownership of the "sniper's perch" from the Texas School Book Depository remains an open question.

Caruth Byrd and Aubrey Mayhew each say they possess the sixth-floor window through which Lee Harvey Oswald purportedly fired on President John F. Kennedy.

Byrd sued Mayhew almost two years ago after both had tried to sell their windows on eBay, asserting that Mayhew's offering had diminished the value of his own.

The dispute was scheduled for trial Monday. But on Sunday, Mayhew hired an attorney to represent him. And state District Judge Gena Slaughter postponed the case until March 16 to give the attorney, Paul Fourt, time to prepare a case. She also ordered both sides to mediation.

Byrd, 67, of Van, Texas, says he inherited the shooter's window from his father, Col. D. Harold Byrd, a former owner of the downtown Dallas building. The colonel, who died in 1986, had "what was believed to be" the window removed six weeks after the assassination, according to the lawsuit.

Mayhew, 81, of Nashville, Tenn., bought the depository building from Harold Byrd in 1970, intending to establish a museum for the slain president. The colonel financed the sale and regained the building in 1973 when Mayhew defaulted on the note.

But while he had possession of the building, Mayhew says he hired two men to remove the assassin's window – work described in a handwritten testament letter dated Aug. 9, 1971.

One of the workers, Leo Fernes, recalled last week how he and his boss, Andy Balcom, signed the letter after removing the window – identified as the one "from which Lee Harvey Oswald fired his rifle."

Mayhew also has a letter he says was signed by a building tenant. The letter says workers hired by Col. Byrd removed the wrong window from the building in the early 1970s.

Byrd wants the judge to declare him the owner of the shooter's window. Last April, a visiting judge ruled that Mayhew "is not the owner of the window ... from which Lee Harvey Oswald allegedly shot and killed President Kennedy." The order doesn't say Byrd owns the window.

Byrd is also asking Judge Slaughter to order Mayhew to return any window he took from the building, claiming removal of property would have violated the terms of his purchase.

"He wasn't supposed to take anything out of that building," Byrd said after the Monday hearing. "He stole it."

But Mayhew's son, Parris Mayhew, countered that Byrd is pressing his lawsuit "because he knows we have the window." Mayhew, who is ill, did not attend the hearing.

Byrd said Monday that he still wants to sell the window to raise money for a wildlife refuge he supports in Van Zandt County.

After Byrd twice listed his window for an online eBay auction, Mayhew offered his as well. Neither attracted a legitimate bid.

Mayhew didn't intend to sell the window, his son said, but wanted to confound bidders and discourage any sale by publicizing conflicting ownership claims.

"If a window sold for in the millions, everybody would think it was legitimate," he said.

Source: Dallas Morning News

Monday, February 23, 2009

Hearing Delayed: Nashville man in dispute over JFK assassination perch


DALLAS (AP) — A dispute between two men who both claim to own the "sniper's perch" where Lee Harvey Oswald positioned himself to fire on President John F. Kennedy will go to court next month.

State district Judge Gena Slaughter was set Monday to begin hearing testimony to determine the owner of the actual sixth-floor window from the Texas School Book Depository, but instead moved the hearing to March 16.

Sixty-seven-year-old Caruth Byrd of Van, Texas, has sued 81-year-old Aubrey Mayhew of Nashville, Tenn. Byrd wants the court to declare him the owner of the true window.

Byrd says he inherited the window in 1986 from his father, the former owner of the building. Mayhew says he had it removed from the building in the 1970s.

The judge delayed the hearing because Mayhew has a new attorney who needs time to get up to speed on the case.

Saturday, February 21, 2009

Which Is the Real JFK 'Sniper Perch'?

by ANN ZIMMERMAN / Wall Street Journal

A decades-long dispute over who owns the authentic "sniper's perch" -- the window where Lee Harvey Oswald propped his rifle to take his fatal shots at President John F. Kennedy -- lands Monday in a Dallas court.

Figure 1. The window owned by Aubrey Mayhew. (Mick Mayhew)

The dispute centers on the origins of windows removed at separate times from the sixth floor of the Dallas's School Book Depository, where Mr. Oswald set up his ambush of the presidential motorcade. The two men who now own the windows each claim theirs is the genuine item.

Over the decades, both men have tried to sell their windows, but their attempts to profit have been spoiled by their competing claims. Experts at the Sixth Floor Museum have never given an independent verification.

Caruth Byrd, one of the owners, filed a 2007 suit in the Texas state District Court, leading to Monday's hearing. Neither Mr. Byrd nor his attorneys could be reached for comment Friday.

The defendant and owner of the second window, Aubrey Mayhew, 81 years old, of Nashville, Tenn., said he couldn't afford a lawyer, but would attend the hearing anyway. "I have the real window and I obtained it fairly," he said.

The history of the sniper's perch is as murky as the conspiracy theories that persist around Kennedy's assassination.

Mr. Byrd is the son of the late Col. D. Harold Byrd, a wealthy oilman who owned Dallas real estate, including the building he leased to the Texas School Book Depository. Six weeks after the assassination in November 1963, saying he feared vandalism from souvenir hunters, Col. Byrd instructed an employee to remove the eight-pane window where Mr. Oswald fired his shots. Col. Byrd framed the window and hung it in his Dallas mansion.

In 1970, Mr. Mayhew, a Nashville music producer and Kennedy memorabilia collector, bought the building from Mr. Byrd. But Mr. Mayhew's plans to turn it into a museum were thwarted by Dallas officials upset at the idea someone would profit from the assassination.

After three years, Mr. Mayhew defaulted on the mortgage and the building was returned to Mr. Byrd.

Before that happened, though, Mr. Mayhew said he had learned from the owner of the school book business that Mr. Byrd's handyman removed the wrong window. He pried the window frame from the southwest corner -- not the southeast corner, where Mr. Oswald fired his rifle. Mr. Mayhew claims he had his own carpenter remove the double-window casement from the southeast corner, giving him ownership of the historical item.

Caruth Byrd, an East Texas businessman and Hollywood producer, inherited the window after his father's death in 1986 and kept it in a Dallas vault. The building was eventually sold to Dallas County, which in 1987 leased out space for the Sixth Floor Museum, now one of the city's biggest tourist attractions.

In 1995, Caruth Byrd loaned his window to the Sixth Floor Museum, where it was displayed. Two years ago, Mr. Byrd put it up for sale on eBay, which drew offers as high as $3 million.

The sale, however, was thwarted by the competing claim -- and eBay offering -- of Mr. Mayhew. Mr. Byrd filed suit to settle the matter. The suit also asked the court to award Mr. Mayhew's window to Mr. Byrd, claiming Mr. Mayhew had no right to remove it.

Experts at the Sixth Floor Museum have admitted in the past to having doubts about the authenticity of Mr. Byrd's window. Historians who have studied it noted certain features, such as a glob of paint on the glass, don't match photos of the window taken moments after the assassination.

Mr. Mayhew has never allowed his window to be examined publicly.

Museum officials confirm only that the original windows are, indeed, missing from both corners of the building's sixth floor.

* * * * * *

Letters of Evidence

A 1992 letter from the owner of the Texas School Book Depository, which leased the building where Lee Harvey Oswald shot President Kennedy, states that the original owner of the building, Col. D. Harold Byrd, removed the wrong window from the sixth floor of the building and that Aubrey Mayhew, who later purchased the building, "removed the original, actual window from where Oswald shot the President."

A second handwritten note is from carpenters who attest they removed the original sniper's perch window from the sixth floor in 1971 after Mr. Mayhew bought the building.

Source: Wall Street Journal

Saturday, February 7, 2009

Francis X. O'Neill Dead at 85; FBI agent witnessed JFK's autopsy

by J.M. LAWRENCE / Boston Globe

Retired FBI agent Francis X. O'Neill Jr., who was one of the last surviving investigators who observed President John F. Kennedy's autopsy in 1963, has died.

Mr. O'Neill, who lived in Brewster, died of a stroke Tuesday (02/03) in Cape Cod Hospital, according to his family. He was 85.

For decades, Mr. O'Neill battled conspiracy theorists about the JFK assassination. He later became a Connecticut state legislator and recently finished his autobiography, entitled "A Fox Among Wolves."

"The evidence is overwhelming and undeniable that Oswald alone shot and killed President Kennedy," Mr. O'Neill wrote, according to galleys of his book, which is scheduled for publication this year.

Mr. O'Neill and senior agent James W. Sibert were sent by FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover to meet the president's body at Andrews Air Force Base in Maryland and to begin the bureau's investigation.

"Frank was a hard-working fellow; he would tackle anything," said Sibert, who is 90 and lives in Fort Myers, Fla.

After the assassination in Dallas and the arrival of the body in Maryland, the agents joined the motorcade to Bethesda Naval Hospital, where they kept track of who entered the autopsy room.

Mr. O'Neill confiscated and exposed the film of a Navy service member who began taking pictures at the autopsy but did not have security clearance, according to author Gerald Posner, who interviewed Mr. O'Neill for his book "Case Closed."

Conspiracy theorists often point to the lost film to bolster their theories, Posner noted.

Mr. O'Neill appeared before several investigative panels over the years. He adamantly rejected theories claiming the president's body had been switched.

In an interview with Posner, he lamented a minor mistake in his FBI report, in which he wrongly used the word "surgery" and fueled speculation that somehow Kennedy's body had been altered between Dallas and Maryland. "We weren't doctors," he told Posner.

He retired from the FBI in 1978, after serving as assistant special agent in charge of the Connecticut office for four years.

He worked as chief of investigations for the Recording Industry Association of America's antipiracy division before going into state politics in 1980.

He lost his first bid for the Connecticut House of Representatives and was elected in 1982 in the 98th District. He held office until 1990 and was a staunch opponent of the state's income tax, which narrowly passed the House after he left office.

Born in Elmhurst in Queens, N.Y., he was the oldest of six. He fought in World War II as a paratrooper with the 503d Regimental Combat Team in the South Pacific and made jumps on Corregidor, an island in the Philippines.

After the war, he returned to New York and received a bachelor's degree in economics from Fordham University. He enlisted in the Air Force during the Korean War and later joined the New York City Police Department. He became an FBI agent in 1955.

He and his wife Elizabeth were married for 57 years.

"Dad was the strongest advocate you would ever want on your side," said one of his sons, Frank III of Madison, Conn.

He said his father visited the Philippines to see the graves of his Word War II buddies.

In addition to his son and wife, Mr. O'Neill leaves six other sons, Brian of Medford, Andrew of Killingworth, Conn., Colin of Nanuet, N.Y., Owen of Guilford, Conn., Damian of Okinawa, Japan, and Regis of Middletown, Conn.; a daughter, Sheila Baker of Southington, Conn.; two brothers, Joseph of Vero Beach, Fla., and Vincent of Glen Rock, N.J.; a sister, Rita Black of Indian Land, S.C.; and 18 grand- children.

A funeral Mass will be said Monday in St. George Church in Guilford, Conn. Burial will be in Massachusetts National Veterans Cemetery in Bourne.

Source: Boston Globe

Thursday, February 5, 2009

CIA Files on Covert Officer Remain Secret


According to journalist and author Jefferson Morley, CIA lawyers continue to block his Freedom of Information Act request for access to files pertaining to deceased former agent George Joannides, whose 1963 exploits allegedly crossed paths with presumed Kennedy assassin Lee Harvey Oswald.

In a Washington Independent article this week, Morley reports a sworn declaration, filed in court in November, 2008, by Delores Nelson, chief of CIA information programs, acknowledges that Joannides had worked on two “covert projects” during his 28-year career – one was running covert operations in Miami in 1963 and the other was serving as the CIA’s liaison to the House Select Committee on Assassinations in 1978.

“Joannides served undercover in both of these assignments,” Nelson said.

According to Morley, the exact nature and purpose of Joannides’ undercover mission with the HSCA, if there was one, remains unknown.

The CIA did not tell Congress about Joannides’ undercover role as liaison to the HSCA, according to G. Robert Blakey, the former federal prosecutor who headed the 1978 congressional investigation into Kennedy’s murder. Nor was Blakey aware at the time of Joannides’ connection to the DRE, a Miami-based, anti-Castro Cuban, student group that sought to publicize Oswald’s pro-Castro activities after the assassination.

Oswald got into an altercation on the streets of New Orleans in August, 1963, with DRE member Carlos Bringuier and several associates. Bringuier later debated Oswald on a broadcast radio program and sent a tape-recorded copy of the program to DRE headquarters in Miami. In the wake of the assassination, the tape was retrieved from the DRE files and given to Joannides, the FBI, and the news media.

According to the declaration filed in November, the CIA retains 295 documents surrounding Joannides’ operational activities in 1963 and 1978 that it will not release in any form. Nelson claimed that their release would threaten the national security and foreign policy interests of the U.S. government.

The 1992 JFK Records Act, which was unanimously approved by Congress and signed into law by President George H.W. Bush, mandates that all assassination-related records be reviewed and released “immediately.”

The CIA rebuffed a National Archives request to review the disputed Joannides’ records, saying it wouldn’t allow access as long as the Morley lawsuit was pending.

The lawsuit, filed in December, 2003, is still pending before Judge Richard Leon in Washington federal court.