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

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