Whodunnit xxvi: The Grassy Knoll

Vincent Salandria, with much enthusiasm but little specificity, said, “(M)any eyewitnesses, including skilled observers such as police officers and… Secret Service Agents… heard shots coming from… saw smoke emanating from… saw a man fleeing from… and smelled gunpowder in the grassy knoll area….” Salandria named none of these witnesses, though it is nice of him to show faith in the police and Secret Service, since both are agencies he elsewhere named as part of the conspiracy and/or its cover-up.
The knoll was to Kennedy’s right front. Among the other authors under consideration, David Talbot identifies the presidential aide Kenneth O’Donnell as someone who “distinctly heard at least two shots from the grassy knoll.” And James Douglass identifies a police officer who smelled gunpowder atop the knoll; Gordon Arnold, a 22-year-old soldier, who heard two shots fly over him while he lay on the grass; and Ed Hoffman, a 27-year-old deaf mute, observed a puff a smoke arise from what he realized was a rifle shot. He further observed the shooter toss the rifle to another man, who broke it down and stuffed it into a brown tool bag. The two men then walked off and lost themselves in the crowd.
Douglass is candid enough to say that it took Arnold 15 years to tell his story to a Dallas newspaperman. He omits saying that when he told it again for a TV documentary a decade later, Arnold had changed it significantly. Douglass also does not say that in film and photos of the area where Arnold says he was, he is not visible. As for Hoffman, he gave two contradictory accounts, neither mentioning the puff of smoke or the rifle – but saying the men were running from the book depository – to the FBI two days after the shooting. Ten years elapsed before he re-surfaced, adding these details and placing the men on the knoll. (Others have said no one exited from the knoll in the direction Hoffman said, and that it was jammed with traffic, bumper-to-bumper, making such an escape route unlikely. And, Buglosi explains in great detail that a modern rifle would discharge such a small amount of smoke when firing that it would be almost impossible to detect, particularly on a bright clear day like November 22, when it would blend with its background. If Hoffman saw anything, it was probably motorcycle exhaust.)

So, at best, Salandria’s “many… skilled observers” become one smeller of gunpowder, two hearers of two shots, and one spotter of smoke (and observer of but one shot). To put this in perspective, there were 4-500 people in Dealey Plaza. No one but Hoffman reported seeing anyone with a rifle in the area of the knoll. No rifle or bullet casings were recovered from there. Reverberations from the buildings in the area – not to mention hysteria and confusion – made it difficult to identify where the shots were coming from, but films of the motorcade show the Secret Servicemen immediately looking behind them when the shots are fired. Averaging two polls of people present that were taken subsequently, 35 thought the shots came from the depository; 30 thought they came from the knoll: two thought they came from both (significant, since we know shots came from the depository); 13 said someplace else; and 100 didn’t know. We have three surveys on the number of shots to consider. On overage 75% of the people heard three shots; 3.6% heard four shots; and about 10% heard two shots. So to believe there was a shooter on the knoll, since we know three shots were fired from the depository, one must believe the 3.6% and disbelieve the 86%

Whodunnit xxv: The Magic Bullet (b)

The autopsy face sheet prepared at Bethesda did provide enough inconsistencies and errors to fuel the conspiracists’ fire about a “magic bullet.” These fires continued to burn even after the doctors who’d prepared the sheet explained that it was a rough approximation and not intended as accurate. They continued to burn even though the seven doctors who reviewed the medical record for the Warren Commission, and eight of the nine doctors who, using enhanced photos and X-rays, evaluated for the HSCA agreed that one bullet did all the claimed damage. And the fires were not extinguished even though 3-D computer modeling, applied and re-applied as it improved in 1976, ‘82, ‘92, and 2003, concluded that Kennedy and Connolly’s wounds were in alignment with a single shot fired from a southeast corner window on the sixth floor of the book depository.
The conspiracists cling to their belief based on claims that x-rays have been doctored and photos altered and that someone else’s body parts were substituted for Kennedy’s, as well as a blindness to – and distortion of – the plainly observable. To make their case, they place Connolly directly in front of and on an equal level with Kennedy, when photographs show the governor on a jump seat, below the president to his left, and turned to his own right when struck. Photos show Kennedy’s back – but not his head – inclined forward, establishing a posture consistent with an entry wound in his rear and exit wound in his throat just where the Warren Commission put it. And no disrespect to Salandria’s great-grandfather, but Kennedy’s jacket was clearly bunched up over his shoulders at the time the shot was fired.
One other thing, if the same bullet didn’t hit Kennedy and Connolly, who shot the governor? Since he was struck in the back, the shooter had to have been behind the limo. From the time between the visible reactions of both men established by the Zapruder film, Oswald couldn’t have gotten off separate shots to hit each man separately. No one claimed to have seen a second rifleman behind the car. And what happened to the bullet which hit Kennedy if it didn’t end up in Connolly? The FBI swept the car and didn’t find a trace of it.
Oh, that’s right, we can’t trust the FBI not to have pocketed it – except when it comes to trusting its initially voiced separate-bullet theory. And as McAdams points out, the Warren Commission was thinking separate bullets hit Kennedy and Connolly as late as April 1964, so how could the FBI have been hiding evidence in late 1963 to bolster a theory that hadn’t yet been arrived at?

Whodunnit xxiv: The Magic Bullet (a)

Could Oswald’s second shot have entered Kennedy’s back and, as Salandria described its path – pass through his custom-tailored jacket and shirt, improbably “bunched together” in the Warren Commission’s formulation in order, the cospiracists suggest, to make the bullet holes in the garments align, and then turn in mid-air, strike Connolly in the back, travel down through his chest to fracture a rib and wrist, before ending up in his femur? (The “bunched” jacket particularly troubled Salandria, since he felt the accusation insulted the memory of his great-grandfather, a master tailor.)
The answer is “Duh, yea,” (though the actual bullet didn’t have to perform the contortions Salandria demanded of it). And I say this despite the governor and his wife believing separate shots struck him and Kennedy, and despite the F.B.I.’s having initially concluded the same thing, and despite, according to Bugliosi, the single-bullet business caused the “biggest disagreement” among the Warren commissioners. First of all, one may wonder how much credence to give the Connollys’ recall, their having been shot at – and hit – and all, while forming the memories they drew upon. Second, doesn’t it seem odd to see the F.B.I. being relied upon as a font of truth, since, according to Douglass, it had joined the cover-up by November 22. Third, the most skeptical commissioners, Russell, Cooper, and Boggs, had the worst attendance records. Russell, the record-setter, missed 88 of 94 sessions; and if anyone was going to cover things up to protect the joint chiefs, it would seem to have been he, the Chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee. Finally, “magic” or not, more than a little positive evidence says the second bullet did it.

Whodunnit xxiii: Autopsy (b)

But before we leave the autopsy, there’s the tale of Lt. Cmmdr. William Pitzer of the Audio-Visual Department of the Naval Medical School, who, Douglass says, filmed it. This story is based on the recollection of Pitzer’s wife, recounted in a book published forty-one years later, that he had left home at 4:30 p.m. the afternoon of the assassination for work, taking his camera, and did not return until the following afternoon. He never told her where he’d been, but Dennis David, a hospital corpsman, in Douglass’s reconstruction, provides the details. David said that, a few days after the assassination, Pitzer showed him film of Kennedy’s body shot during the autopsy which showed an entrance wound in the throat. No one else is known to have seen this film.
On Oct. 29, 1966, Pitzer was found dead in his studio from a gunshot to the head. FBI and naval investigators concluded he had committed suicide. (He was in a troubled marriage and having an affair.) David believed Pitzer was killed to keep him from releasing the films. Now David has credibility problems. He’d suggested in 1988 that he had been present when Pitzer had filmed the autopsy, though he’d said in 1977 he hadn’t been in the room; and he’d not mentioned until 1997 that he had actually seen the footage. (Another problem was that no one at the autopsy recalled seeing Pitzer there; and the official list of those in attendance did not include his name. Douglass gets around this by saying that since the room contained a closed circuit TV camera, Pitzer may’ve been monitoring the scene elsewhere, and got his films from there. But then why did he need his camera when he left home, huh?)
Oh, maybe, that was because Pitzer filmed Kennedy’s corpse, not at Bethesda, but at Walter Reed Hospital, where it had been taken first so that the bullet wounds could be surgically altered. This theory shows up in one of Douglass’s endnotes; and its source is again Dennis David based upon his recalling a sighting of a mysterious gray casket being delivered to the rear of Bethesda a half-hour before the official bronze one, supposedly bearing the president, arrived at the front door.
(Hey, here’s a thought. Maybe when Pitzer left home without saying where he was going, it was to ball his mistress, and the “work” and camera was a cover-story. Anyone think of that?)
Readers will not be surprised to learn Douglass believes David about Pitzer. After all, Douglass has Daniel Martin to rely on too.

Martin was a Born Again, ex-Special Forces officer, who surfaced in the early 19990s after having seen a documentary in which Pitzer’s death was discussed. This reminded Martin of a CIA-influenced training program for assassins he had attended in 1965 at Fort Bragg. There, he had not only learned that the Company had probably killed Kennedy, but he and a fellow Green Beret, David Vanek were solicited to kill Pitzer. Martin refused; but after learning about Pitzer’s fate, he assumed Vanek had accepted the job, and when his efforts to locate Vanek were unsuccessful, he assumed the CIA had killed him to assure his silence.
According to Victor Bugliosi, two conspiracists, Robin Palmer and Allen Eaglesham, spent a decade trying to verify Martin’s story. When Vanek was located, he denied knowing Martin, or being at the training session he described, let alone killing Pitzer. Douglass notes this but adds, “Vanek was apparently well-versed in CIA-cover stories.” (Right! Like “I never heard of the guy.”) Douglass does not say that, following these denials, Martin became evasive, contradictory, and refused to confront Vanek on the phone. Palmer and Eaglesham concluded Martin was a liar and warned the conspiracy community against him.
Douglass seems not to have heard this warning.

Whodunnit xxii: Autopsy (a)

I’ll skip the claims that the x-rays of Kennedy’s skull were doctored to conceal its rear exit wound, or that his body was stolen and his wounds surgically altered prior to the autopsy to fit the official story, or that his brain was removed and replaced by someone else’s whose damage more clearly fit the same story, or that he survived the shooting and lived in a special wing of Parkland Hospital, or that he not only survived but attended Truman Capote’s Black and White Ball in 1966.
Instead, we’ll resume the cover-up with the autopsy performed on Kennedy at Bethesda Naval Hospital. There, Douglass writes, “military control” prevented the true wounds from being reported. (Vincent Salandria more colorfully calls the autopsy a “sham,” saying the doctors performing it accepted “orders of generals and admirals… (that) effectively aborted it.”) Salandria does not endnote his assertion, but Douglass cites a remark by Lt. Col. Pierre Finck, who assisted Cmmdrs. James Hughes and J. Thornton Boswell, in the procedure. As a witness called during the maliciously inept prosecution of Clay Shaw by New Orleans District Attorney James Garrison, Finck said he and his fellow naval doctors had to “follow orders” from the admirals present. Douglass omits that Finck later explained that he meant by this that the normal chain of command prevailed in the autopsy room, there was “no military interference” with the medical procedures that were carried out. Cmmdr. Humes agreed. He asserted he was in charge of the autopsy and that no one told him what to do.
A more significant omission by Douglass (and, it goes without saying, Salandria) is that 13 different pathologists evaluating Kennedy’s wounds for three subsequent investigations agreed unanimously with the Bethesda findings. The wound in the back of Kennedy’s head was an entrance wound.

Whodunnit xxi: Entry Wound (b)

Perhaps suspecting that people (See prior blog) might find Dr. Perry’s explanation of “Oops! I forgot to look” for his change of opinion about the entrance wound more convincing than the conjecture that he was tricked or frightened into it, Douglass – in a bit of bridge-too-far reasoning – calls in the support of Dr. Charles Crenshaw. (Crenshaw, readers will recall, had opined, based on his reviews of photos, that Rose Cheramie had been shot in the head, not struck by a car.) Crenshaw, a junior resident at Parkland, did not have to worry about manipulation or threats because, fearing for his life, he had kept his knowledge about what went down to himself until 1992. Then apparently overcome by courage, he published his own book. It related how he had observed two frontal entry wounds which had been altered to look like exit wounds.
Douglass does not say that several of Crenshaw’s colleagues at Parkland have stated he did not even enter the room until after the tracheotomy had obliterated the throat wound and that his account repeatedly overstated his role in what had taken place. Nor does Douglass say that Crenshaw also wrote that, while on duty following Jack Ruby’s shooting of Lee Harvey Oswald, he took a call from Lyndon Johnson saying he wanted a death bed confession from Oswald. And Douglass does not reveal that Crenshaw had told others that Johnson actually wanted him to kill Oswald, but his publisher had made him tone his manuscript’s accusations down. (Needless to say, White House records show no calls to Parkland while Oswald was in surgery.)
Again one must wonder about the ethics – an admiration of Thomas Merton, notwithstanding – of an author who would present such a warts-cleansed recapitualation as a factual representation.

Whodunnit xx: Entry wound (a)

A major – if not the major – point of the conspiracists is that at least one shot was fired from in front of the Kennedy’s limousine, while Oswald was to its rear. This shot, they say, entered Kennedy’s throat below the Adam’s apple and blew out the right rear portion of his head while exiting. Most conspiracists deny that any of Oswald’s shots – or in the Douglass/Salandria version any of the shots of the Oswald impersonator in the TBD – hit Kennedy in the head. (Some believe the president was hit in the head simultaneously – and coincidentally – from the front and rear.)
The case for the frontal entry would begins in Parkland Hospital where Kennedy was brought following the shooting. According to Douglass, 21 of 22 doctors, nurses and Secret Servicemen present reported a portion of the right rear of the president’s skull was missing. (It is odd to see Secret Servicemen considered as reliable here, since Douglass earlier had named them as complicit in the assassination.) Bugliosi’s response is that most of the doctors attending Kennedy were interns and residents. (More experienced staff physicians were at a conference elsewhere.) Besides, six, whom he names and quotes, did not agree on a rear exit wound. And all were primarily concerned with saving the president’s life. They only worked on him for 22 minutes. What is more, a tracheotomy performed by Dr. Malcolm Perry had obliterated the throat wound making it difficult to assess. Finally, none of the 22 were pathologists, and studies show that, in cases of multiple gun shot wounds, trauma specialists err 74% of the time in assessing entrance and exit wounds.
Douglass’s case is bolstered by Dr. Perry’s statement to a press conference later that day that the throat wound “appeared to be an entrance wound…” He would later tell the HSCA he reached this conclusion because it was small. “I didn’t look for any others,” he said, “so that was just a guess.” Bugliosi accepts this, noting that no one at Parkland had turned the president over, so no one observed that a hole in his back aligned with the hole in his throat consistent with its being an exit wound. Douglass believes Dr. Perry was “manipulated” by the committee into this retraction. He also believes Perry was “under stress” because an ex-Secret Serviceman, Elmer Moore, has said he had been ordered to threaten Dr. Perry to get him to change his testimony. (Neither Bugliosi, McAdams, nor Posner mention Mr. Moore.)

Whodunnit xix: Truth vs. Agenda (c)

Before I let Salandria go, another episode comes to mind. In January 2012, Arlen Specter took him to lunch. Specter, who would serve 30 years in the U.S. Senate, but he is best known to conspiracists, like Salandria, for creating the “magic bullet” theory while assistant counsel to the Warren Commission, which they consider the lynch pin of the cover-up. Both Specter and Salandria were in their 80s when they dined – and Specter would die of cancer within the year. To me it seemed like Moby Dick asking Ahab out for a farewell bowl of plankton.
Some, who have read Salandria’s account of this lunch, have interpreted Specter’s invitation as his seeking forgiveness, but I don’t see it. It isn’t apparent from what Salandria reports. It doesn’t fit what I know of Specter’s character. And if he needed forgiveness from anyone, it was Anita Hill for what he did to her during Clarence Thomas’s confirmation hearings. The meeting Salandria describes seems friendly, and at the end, Specter left smiling. But mainly it consisted of Specter’s single-sentence questions (What was the reason for the assassination? Do you talk to Mark Lane often?) and Salandria’s multi-paragraph answers.
During their conversation, Salandria volunteers he told Specter that, had he been given his “assignment” “to frame Lee Harvey Oswald as Kennedy’s killer,” he would have acted similarly. “As a lawyer I would have been obliged to serve the best interest of my client, the United States government.” This is an astonishing admission. Salandria in not only wrong in his understanding of a lawyer’s role, he hovers somewhere between the comically and the criminally wrong.
The ABA’s Code of Ethics forbids a lawyer representing someone before a tribunal to offer evidence he knows to be false.” A lawyer may also refuse to offer evidence he “reasonably believes is false.” And if he later learns evidence he offered was false, he must take “remedial measures.” His obligation to “the integrity of the adjudicative process” outweighs even his duty to his client. (True, the Warren Commission may not have constituted a “tribunal,” but I doubt Salandria was making this distinction.) That someone, who was himself a member of the Bar, believed it proper for an attorney to manufacture evidence to “frame” someone of a crime is as hard to believe as… Well, as hard to believe as someone’s finding Rose Cheramie a repository for the truth. Salandria ends his article by quoting Sophocles: “Truly, to tell lies is not honorable; but where truth entails tremendous ruin, to speak dishonorably is pardonable.” This opens the door quite a bit to “the end justifies the means” thinking; and I cannot help believing, given what I have seen of Salandria’s arguments, that while he thinks he is accounting for Specter’s behavior, he is, in fact, accounting for his own.
When Arlen Specter left smiling, it may not have been because he felt redeemed. It may have been because he had confirmed he had lunched with someone with views unworthy of serious consideration.

Whodunnit: xviii: Truth vs. Agenda (b)

Another thing in Salandria’s speech that struck me was his assertion that, while Air Force One was in flight back to Washington from Dallas, the presidential party received word “‘there was no conspiracy…(and) of the identity of Oswald and his arrest…’” Salandria gives as his source Theodore H. White’s “The Making of the President, 1964.” From my reading of “Making,” White was not on Air Force One, and since his book is not foot-noted, how and when he learned of ths announcement is unknown. (It occurs in his text immediately following Johnson being sworn-in as president, which took place before the plane’s departure at 2:47 CST. It landed at 4:58.) Salandria, for no reasons I saw, concluded that the announcement came from presidential assistant McGeorge Bundy in the White House Situation Room, and that it was “conclusive evidence of high-level U.S. governmental guilt” since there was no proof yet pointing towards Oswald’s guilt and “overwhelming, convincing evidence of conspiracy…” In Salandria’s end notes this “overwhelming, convincing evidence,” existing between 2:47 and 4:58 p.m., turns out to be a news story the following day in a Dallas newspaper quoting the District Attorney as saying “‘preliminary reports indicated more than one person was involved…’” (“(P)reliminary” indications hardly indicate “overwhelming, convincing evidence” IMHO. Plus the conspiracy the D. A. had in mind – see below – isn’t the one Salandria thought was being covered up.) Still it is refreshing to see him, at least for the time being, not implicating a governmental agency in the cover-up.
Aside from raising again the question of why the conspirators would want to conceal Oswald’s leftist links, since they were hoping to start a war or two with the Reds, the Air Force One announcement is puzzling in many ways. There must have been dozens of people aboard, but with one exception (see even further below) none of them seem to have heard what White reported. Second, the responsibility of charging anyone with anything lay, not with the federal government, but with Dallas authorities so unless McGeorge Bundy controlled the local D.A., whom Salandria has just praised, what happened was out of his hands. Third, before the plane was in the air, both the Dallas police and the FBI suspected Oswald had killed Kennedy. They had eye witnesses to his killing Tippit; they knew of his links to Cuba and Russia; they knew he worked in the Book Depository where shell casings had been found; and his wife had told them he owned a rifle. Finally as late as 10:20 p.m., radio stations in Dallas were reporting he would be charged with killing the president “as part of an international Communist conspiracy,” following a leak from the assistant D.A. who expected to be assigned the case. So the blanket Bundy had supposedly thrown over the news didn’t seem to have been working.
In support of the announcement White said was made, Salandria offered that Pierre Salinger, Kennedy’s press secretary, who was on a different plane with several cabinet members headed toward Tokyo, reported in his book “With Kennedy” that he heard a similar one. Salandria doesn’t quote what Salinger said he heard or at what time he heard it. The Berkeley Public Library didn’t have that book, so I couldn’t check. It did have Salinger’s “P.S.: A Memoir,” which mentions several cables (or calls) received during that flight, none of which resemble the one White reported. Salandria also said that Robert Manning, an assistant secretary of state, who said he was on Air Force One, “reported having heard the same account of Oswald being designated as the presumed assassin.” But note that (a) the White statement didn’t say Oswald had been named as an “assassin” and (b) the Manning statement, as reported by Salandria, didn’t say there was no conspiracy. Finally Salandria end-notes Manning’s account to an oral history published in 1993, 30 years after Kennedy was killed. Perhaps Manning was White’s one and only source. Or perhaps he was interviewed by the oral historians close to their publication date. I’ll pause for a moment while I ask you to remember where and when it was that you heard that Al Queda had been accused of carrying out 9/11 and exactly how that news was worded.
And that was less than 15 years ago.

Whodunnit xvii: truth vs. agenda

That selective quoting (See blog of 8/1) stuck in my craw. Maybe it was because, as an attorney, I was taught that shit is unethical. (I don’t think it’s regarded highly by journalists or historians either.) Anyway, it turned my attention toward truth.
Here’s a minor example. In Salandria’s speech he attacked the media for publishing books which portrayed Kennedy as “a flawed and perverse person…” Salandria did not specify what perversities triggered his inner Falwell, but presumably he meant Kennedy’s sex life and drug use. Personally I think de-mythologizing public leaders is a public service. With JFK, my favorite discovery while doing my research was that, as early as the spring of 1962, he and a mistress were dropping acid. That set me wondering how much it contributed to his turning from Cold War warrior to the we-are-all-one anti-nuker which Salandria and Douglass emphasize in praising his policies.
But I digress. Salandria doesn’t care if the revelations about Kennedy are true. He decries them for being part of the cover-up, a character assassination intended to keep people from caring what happened to him by inferring “he deserved his fate.” (If so, it didn’t work. In a 2011 poll, Americans ranked Kennedy as their fourth greatest president.) Factual truth seems less important to Salandria than how these facts play within his preferred historical narrative. If they don’t advance it, he would, at a minimum, hide them.
He may also distort them. (To be cont.)