Whodunnit xvi: The Katzenbach Memorandum

A heavily smoking gun to which believers in a conspiracy cover-up point is a memorandum, written by deputy attorney general Nicholas Katzenbach, on Nov. 25, 1963, to LBJ aide Bill Moyers. It read, in part, “(T)he public must be satisfied that Oswald was the assassin; (and) that he did not have confederates who are still at large.” It also recommended that “speculation” or “hearings of the wrong sort” be headed off. Four days later, Attorney General Robert Kennedy and Katzenbach recommended a seven-man committee – the future Warren Commission – investigate the case.
Both Douglass and Salandria quote the “satisfaction” sentence as proof the commission was created to sell the public the Oswald-bill of goods, and prevent the truth of the NSS conspiracy from being discovered. Talbot, who also quotes this language, takes a more nuanced view. He is favorably disposed toward Katzenbach because he would (a) state a belief that the FBI and CIA hid facts from the committee and (b) allowed that someone besides Oswald might have been involved. (Katzenbach believed that Oswald fired the only shots but might have been backed by others. His bet was on anti-Castro Cubans. This helps Talbot’s call for the release of more records, but does nothing for the JD/VS-school which considers Katzenbach a criminal co-conspiritor.)

Significantly, neither JD, VS or DT quote the very first sentence of the memorandum: “It is important that all of the facts surrounding President Kennedy’s assassination be made public.” Nor do they quote its call to have “a complete and thorough FBI report on Oswald and the assassination” made public as quickly as possible. Katzenbach would testify to the HSAC that he had wanted all the facts on the table. If, as the FBI was saying, Oswald acted alone, that case had to be made. If Oswald was part of a conspiracy, left or right, that case had to be made. The public worldwide had to know “the true facts had been revealed…”
Now you don’t have to believe Katzenbach, but it seems at least intellectually dishonest for the conspiracists to quote selectively in order to hide an interpretation counter to their own from being arrived at. Of course, if it wasn’t hidden, the conspiracists would have had to explain why the not-yet-created committee would decide to follow a “satisfy-the-public-with-Oswald” directive rather than an “all-the-facts” one.
Additionally if, as JD?VS believe, the NSS had falsely marketed Oswald a Marxist Kennedy-killer in order to inflame public opinion sufficiently to justify an invasion of Cuba and/or nuking of the USSR, why would it want a commission to cut off speculation that the Red Menace was at work? Or was there a second peacenik conspiracy, including the FBI and Lyndon Johnson, trying to stymie the CIA/Joint Chiefs/industrialist one? (Douglass seems to suggest something like this, At one point he has J. Edgar Hoover telling Pres. Johnson that the CIA had “doctored evidence” linking Oswald with the Soviets. Johnson seeking to avoid “global war” did not take the CIA-dangled bait, but he also elected to avoid confronting the CIA, hoping equally to avoid “a war within the U.S. government.”)

Whodunnit xv: The Shootist (b)

Second, it isn’t true Oswald had only 5.6 seconds to fire three shots. The clock did not start to run until the first shot was fired. He had 5.6 seconds to fire two shots. If he had used the telescopic site he had added to the rifle, it would have taken him 2.3 seconds to fire each shot, which gave him ample, if somewhat hurried, time. But, Bugliosi argues, since Oswald was firing rapidly, it would have been more accurate to use the rifle’s iron site, in which case he would have only needed 1.6 seconds between shots. (Additionally, the 1976 House Select Committee on Assassinations’s review of the Zapruder films identified the first shot as having come earlier than originally believed, which meant Oswald had 8.4 seconds, not 5.6, within which to fire his second and third shots.)
The Warren Commission had three experts fire two sets of three shots from Oswald’s rifle, none of whom had ever used it before. All used the scope, and one of the three got both his sets off within 5.6 seconds. In 1967, for a CBS documentary, ten riflemen used a similar rifle to Oswald’s. having had time to practice with it first. They took an average time of 5.6 seconds to fire three shots. Seven fired three rounds within 5.6 seconds. Of these, one hit the “head” target, positioned where Kennedy would have been at the time, once; five others hit it twice. One hit two of three targets in under 5 seconds. Another hit all three in 5.2. In 1979 an HSCA expert hit three out of three targets in under five seconds.
Third, Oswald was no slouch with a rifle, as some conspiracists have maintained. He had qualified as a sharpshooter when in the Marines. (He scored best when rapid-firing.) Kennedy was a barely moving (11 mph) target, only 88-feet from Oswald at his final shot. And, as Bugliosi points out, if you assume Oswald was aiming at Kennedy’s head, he missed twice.

Whodunnit xiv: Status Report

Marilyn has dropped off her friend Joseph McBride’s “Into the Nightmare” (2013). I am not sure how much attention I will be able to pay it. For one thing it adds 675 pages to my pile of plow-throughs. For another, it is self-published which, call me old-fashioned, but makes me think it is not well-regarded by peers or professionals. Third, it lists a multitude of sources, but it doesn’t footnote anything. And finally, it fails my Rose Cheramie Test. (See earlier blog.) This test holds that if you are going to find Ms Cheramie credible, there is no one that you won’t.

And not only does McBride find her credible, he adds to her allegations (unfootnoted) a claim that no one else had made. Not only were Ruby and Oswald lovers, but Ruby was also involved in the heroin deal Cheramie and her traveling companions were planning to carry out while knocking off the president.

Finally, if one believes Douglass, McBride got her cause of death wrong. He writes Cheramie “died after apparently having been thrown out of another car.” Douglass says she was found lying in the highway with four suitcases “positioned to direct an oncoming car over her.” The investigating officer says a car ran over, though the driver says he did not. Douglass, believing the driver, then points to a book be Dr. Charles Crenshaw (about whom I will say more in future installments) positing she had been shot in the head.

On the plus side, I trust Marilyn. Plus the book is recent enough to rebut Bugliosi, and I had been hoping to find something to do that. (Just the other day though, I found an entire web site devoted to this task, so readers will just have to see what develops with McBride.

Whodunnit xiii: The Shootist (a)

The Warren Commission concluded that Lee Harvey Oswald, from a 6th floor window in the Texas Book Depository, fired three shots from a Mannlicher-Carcanno rifle he had purchased through the mail for $12.78. The first shot missed; the second hit Kennedy in the back and, after exiting, struck Gov. Connolly, who was riding in the limo with him, fracturing one rib and wrist. The third and fatal shot struck the right rear of Kennedy’s head. From film of the motorcade shot by Abraham Zapruder, a spectator, the Warren Commission determined 5.6 seconds elapsed between the first and third shots. The conspiracists say this couldn’t’ve happened.
Salandria dismisses as a “myth” the claim that a single “junk rifle” could have been responsible for the “fusillade” that “inflicted…(this) carnage.” Talbot regards as worth repeating the claim that Oswald could not have gotten off three shots in under six seconds. Douglass says little about the actual mechanics of the shooting, except to agree with the others that someone (or “ones”), firing from the grassy knoll in front of the limousine fired a shot that entered the front of Kennedy’s throat and exited through the rear, causing the massive damage there. I’ll get to the knoll and entry wound later.
But first, the rifle wasn’t “junk.” It was Italian army surplus, manufactured in 1940, one of a hundred Oswald’s dealer had bought $8.50 apiece. Probably it had been used. (I will resist the temptation to demean the Italian army’s fighting spirit by adding “minimally.”) But FBI experts had test fired it 47 times and found it “quite accurate.” The same model was still being used by the Italian rifle team in international competition, and it was every bit as accurate as the U.S. Army’s M-14.

Whodunnit xii: Progress report

I realize yesterday’s blog wasn’t up to my accustomed standards. I should have stuck those guys into the one before, but I had missed them. (I’m nowhere near finishing Bugliosi’s book, and while I try to use his index as a guide to responses to arguments, I miss some stuff. I’ll try to do better.
Anyway, I understand my sister-in-law and niece have joined my brother-in-law, my pals Budd and Milo (I think), and hoards of unknown others as regular readers. Welcome, aboard. And Adele told me our friend Marilyn has offered to drop by a book by her friend Joe McBride, which proves Johnson did it. I nearly fell off the toilet, laughing; but I said, “Sure!”
Anyway, so it doesn’t take me 20 years, which is how long Bugliosi spent, I’m going to discuss only a few of the conspiracists’ points. Unless it strikes me as particularly thought provoking, amusing, or gorge-raising, I’ll stick to those all (or maybe a majority) of my selected experts set forth.
I’ll begin with a no-brainer tomorrow.

Whodunnit xi: More Men in the Window

While we’re on the subject, let’s not overlook, as Douglass, Salandria, and Talbot do, Ronald Fischer and Bob Edwards, county employees, directly across from the TBD, who saw a slender, casually dressed white man, in his early 20s, in a 6th floor window, kneeling or sitting, surrounded by boxes in what-would-be-called “the sniper’s nest.” Not the 5th or 7th floor. Not with someone beside him. Not heavyset, in a hat and glasses.
Douglass does mention Howard Brennan, a 45-year-old pipefitter, who, according to Bugliosi, was 120 feet from the TDB – and farsighted. Before the motorcade arrived, Brennan saw a man on the sixth floor, seated on a window’s sill. After the first two shots, Brennan looked again and saw the same man, now standing, fire a rifle. Within the hour, Brennan described the man to the police: – slender, white, about 30 years old, and 5’10.” That evening he picked Oswald out of the police line-up. Douglass rejects this evidence because the window was only partially open, meaning the shooter had to have been kneeling or squatting, so Brennan could not have estimated his height. (The WC also reached this conclusion.)
Still, three out of four isn’t bad – and, actually, if you have seen someone’s head and torso, it isn’t out of the question, you could estimate his height. The Greeks, you will recall, believed you only needed a head to proportion someone exactly.

Whodunnit x: The Man in the Green Rambler (a.)

My favorite single law school class occurred during Evidence. The professor had us take out pen and paper. He asked us to write down his age and height and weight. He asked us to describe, without turning, what was on the wall above the door through which we exited daily. So we had him 40-to-60. We had him 5’6″ to 5’11”, from 140 to 180 pounds. Most of us knew there was a clock on the wall. No one knew there was a thermostat. Three of us remembered a non-existent painting, which, as the professor put it, “In case of a fire, you would be prepared to come into court and place a value on it.” And that was us a group of keen-eyed, aggressively competitive second-year law students paying direct attention. Imagine if someone had shot him from a nearby building before he spoke.
Memories are chemicals. They fade in or are augmented by the passage of time or other events or how we wish or expect things to be. They are shaped by wishes to conform and please and live up to expectations and out of fear. They are influenced by wishes to enhance one’s role in situations or desire for financial or other gain.
I mention all this before I discuss eyewitnesses.

It seems central to James Douglass’s theory that, following the shots that killed President Kennedy, a man closely resembling Lee Harvey Oswald coming from the rear of the Texas Book Depository Building entered a green Rambler station wagon and left the scene. It seems clear there was a Rambler. (John McAdams says photos confirm its presence.) It could be a man entered it, but it was not likely it was Oswald. (A former landlady identified him as entering a bus not far from the TBD, and a transfer in his pocket after his arrest established the time he was aboard.) For JD’s case, this man was an Oswald impersonator who, as I understand it, then killed Officer Tippit and led police to the Texas Theater where Oswald was caught.
JD leads with Dallas police sergeant Roger Craig. Craig says that 10 minutes (JM and VB have him saying 15 minutes) after the shooting, he saw a man coming toward Elm Street from the rear of the TBD, where he was picked up by the Rambler, driven by a husky Latin male, which was headed west. (VB says Craig said the driver could have been Negro.) RC later confronted this man (or, rather, someone who looked like him, the actual LHO), while he was being questioned in the office of Craig’s superior, Capt. Will Fritz, at which point O linked the Rambler to Ruth Paine, a friend of his and his wife, whom JD had previously semi-linked to the CIA.
There are problems with Craig’s credibility. For one, Fritz denied Craig was ever in his office with Oswald. (JD chooses not to believe Fritz because, for one thing, he did not follow up when presented Rose Cherabi’s tale.) For a second, as VB points out, it seems odd for LHO to have admitted any involvement in the killing, since otherwise he steadfastly denied any role in it. (And since LHO left in a bus, it would mean he knew an impostor was leaving by Rambler.) Third, JM says both the DPD and FBI confirmed that Paine owned a Chevvy wagon, not a Rambler. (JD chooses not to believe the FBI since the agent reporting that, he alleges, destroyed other evidence. He does not mention the DPD.) Fourth, Craig also placed himself on the sixth floor, where the shooter’s rifle and cartridge hulls were found, but his description of the rifle and placement of the shells conflicts with other accounts. Fifth, in 1971, Craig gave an account which had Tippit being shot at 1:06, which would have meant LHO could not have shot him, which is fine for JD, but most others say the shooting occurred at 1:15, when LHO could have; but in 1968 he had believed that the shooting had occurred at 1:40. (JD does not mention this.) Finally, Craig would later write an unpublished book which recounted five attempts on his life, including being shot at, run off the road, and having his car dynamited. He would later commit suicide – or, according to some theorists, be killed. VB has pointed out it is surprising that a conspiracy that killed a president would have such difficulty killing Craig – or why it would need to, since he had already given his evidence. (JD mentions none of this, but he does buttress Craig’s report of the Rambler man with the accounts of other witnesses.)
Stay tuned.

Fugging Around

My latest is up at http://www.tcj.com/reviews/fogels-underground-price-grading-guide/

It begins:

In the early 1970s, not having read a comic book in 20 years, my interest was re-drawn to them by the question of what gave value to art. I had considered comic books worth a dime, since this is what I had paid for them. But this was no longer the case. Value, it turned out, was affected by such factors as the amount of stain from staple rust and whether a woman was being stabbed in the eye on the front cover by a hypodermic needle.

Whodunnit ix: Line-up changes

But before I get to the evidence…
I’d mentioned dropping “Case Closed’ from my line-up because of its incompatibility with – and disparagement by – its more completely researched partner, “Reclaiming History.” I’ve now subbed in John McAdams’s “JFK Assassination Logic” (306 pp. 2011). McAdams, a poly sci professor and self-described “debunker” at Marquette, currently under suspension because of… Well, that’s another story. His book focuses on the fallacies in the reasoning of conspiracy theorists. (It mentions Douglass and Posner four times. It mentions neither Talbot nor, more interestingly, Bugliosi, whose ground it seems to track.)
I had hoped to balance McAdams with “False Mystery,” a collection of essays by Vincent Salandria, an ex-attorney and history teacher, who is the doyen of the Philadelphia School of Conspiracy Theorists, but A Libris had no copies. I settled for a speech he gave in 1998 to the Coalition on Political Assassinations, which, augmented by hyperlinks and endnotes, some as recent as 2013, prints out at 48 pp. Salandria says that, within two days of the assassination, he had determined Oswald was “a possible intelligence agent and patsy.” (If this judgment seems rushed, it was arrived at a day longer than it took Salandria to inform his 8th grade math class, in 1941, that Roosevelt had lied about Pearl Harbor being a “sneak attack” in order to thrust the country into war.) Salandria was among the Warren Report’s earliest critics, and this speech sets out what I take to be his main objections to its reasoning. (The endnotes to the “argument” portion cite 25 references, none of which are Bugliosi, McAdams, Posner, or Talbot. Six are his own works; four are Douglass’s; and eight are friends or followers of Salandria’s who share his belief.)
Which is that our national security state killed Kennedy. (Salandria considers Douglass’s the best book written about the assassination, and Douglass had dedicated his book to Salandria.) Salandria accuses, among others, McGeorge Bundy, Allen Dulles, Nicholas Katzenbach, Henry Luce, Arlen Specter, and Earl Warren of criminally conspiring to cover up the killing and blame it on Oswald. (Some may wonder at the success of this cover up, since, when the Warren report was issued, 68.4% of the public thought Oswald acted alone. Over the last several decades, somewhere between 60 and 85% report believing the opposite.) The conspirators’ aim was to undermine the American’s public’s faith in government, so it would not take politics seriously. He calls for an understanding of what happened in order to “organize the struggle through which we can make this country a civilian republic in more than name only.”

I just finished…

…Robert Roper’s “Nabokov in America.” Roper, a novelist, non-fiction writer — and friend — is a great admirer of Nabokov’s (a secret he had kept from me for over 40 years). The merging of Bud’s talents as a writer (which I did know of) and his passion has produced a work enjoyable and informative from start to finish. I learned about Nabokov, his wife, their son. I learned about Nabokov’s friends and feuds, the butterflies he caught and the crafting of his career. I learned about the family’s cross-country trips, the America they prowled and the motor courts in which they rested and how this profited “Lolita,” “Pale Fire,” and more.