* In 1977, the US House of Representatives set up a second investigation into the JFK assassination -- as well as the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King -- in the form of the "House Select Committee On Assassinations (HSCA)". The HSCA's investigation into the JFK assassination generally confirmed the work of the Warren Commission, though some HSCA members had suspicions.
* Some conspiracists who were unhappy with Jim Garrison's investigation of the JFK assassination said it set the field back for years. The reasoning behind that claim is hard to understand, since the argument for conspiracy sounded pretty much the same before and after Garrison, and if the conspiracy argument ever had someplace to go, it hasn't got there yet. In fact, it could be just as well argued that Garrison saved the conspiracy movement, giving it wider public reach when it would have otherwise faded away.
Although the Warren Commission did spend a good deal of time tracking down various rumors about the assassination, the commission never really confronted the conspiracy community, partly because it hadn't really become solidly established by 1964. When the next formal government investigation, by the HSCA, began in 1976, conspiracy theories were necessarily part of the agenda. In fact, it was conspiracist Robert Groden who got the ball rolling to set up the HSCA in the first place. Groden had been showing a copy of the Zapruder video at college campuses; through a series of links, he ended up showing it to Democratic Congressman Thomas Dowding of Virginia. Disturbed, Dowding had Groden show it to over fifty of his colleagues in the House of Representatives. Given that assassination conspiracy theories were in wide circulation at the time, the conclusion was to reopen and examine the assassinations of John F. Kennedy, Robert Kennedy, and Dr. Martin Luther King.
The HSCA was set up by House Resolution 1540 on 17 September 1976, with Dowding as overall chairman. A subcommittee was set up under Democratic Congressman Henry Gonzalez of Texas to investigate the JFK assassination; another subcommittee was set up to investigate Dr. King's assassination, but nothing was done about Bobby Kennedy's assassination, presumably because there was so little cause to think he had been murdered by a conspiracy.
Richard A. Sprague, previously a Philadelphia district attorney, was appointed chief counsel for the HSCA, with Sprague selecting Robert Tanenbaum, then a prosecutor with the Manhattan district attorney's office, as his chief deputy. Sprague and Tanenbaum were seen as aggressive and impartial -- in fact, conspiracist Mark Lane had recommended Sprague for the job. Dowding left his position as chairman in January 1977, with Gonzalez moving up to take his place.
Gonzalez and Sprague didn't get along very well, leading to confrontations; Gonzalez resigned his chairmanship on 2 March, taking parting shots at Sprague. A new chairman, Democratic Congressman Louis Stokes of Ohio, was appointed on 9 March. By that time, the HSCA's mandate had expired, as was the rule for all House committees, at the end of the current House term, which had been in January. The expectation was that the HSCA would be continued in the new term; however, the committee’s squabbling had escalated into the House. Sprague was the target of considerable hostility, and he resigned on 29 March 1977.
* The HSCA appeared to have imploded, but House Resolution 433 re-established the committee on 30 March 1977. During all the political jockeying to that time, the HSCA had unsurprisingly accomplished little; it wasn't until G. Robert Blakey was appointed chief counsel on 20 June that it started to move. Blakey was a Cornell law professor who had worked as a prosecutor for Bobby Kennedy in the Justice Department. Blakey was regarded as highly competent, energetic, and good pick for the job.
The HSCA spent more time in its investigation than did the Warren Commission, but the HSCA had a budget of about $5.8 million USD, compared to the Warren Commission's $10 million USD, and had a staff of about 250, compared to the 400 on the Warren Commission. Blakey decided that he needed to focus on forensics, writing later that the trail had become obscured since the Warren Commission's work:
It had been trampled into a state of confusion by amateur sleuths, witnesses who had died, and the memories of those who were still around had been altered by secondhand perceptions (witnesses, too, read the conspiracy books) and dimmed by the passage of time; and evidence had been misplaced or destroyed.
As noted previously, some witnesses who had little to say to the Warren Commission were much more talkative when they spoke to the HSCA, only to generate a good deal of confusion and no worthwhile leads. In compensation, forensics technology had improved during the time, and so Blakey decided to focus his relatively limited resources "primarily on the hard data of science and technology." The HSCA investigation continued through 1978 and into 1979. Everything the committee turned up through that time confirmed the judgement of the Warren Commission: Oswald had performed the assassination on his own, and there was no credible evidence of a conspiracy.
Then, on 13 July 1978, Dr. James Barger of the acoustical firm of Bolt, Beranek, & Newman INC in Cambridge, Massachusetts, called to report that he had obtained "acoustic evidence" that a fourth shot had been fired. The HSCA found the "acoustic evidence" persuasive; on the strength of that evidence, when the HSCA's final report was issued on 29 March 1979, it concluded that JFK was "probably assassinated as a result of a conspiracy."
That was an abrupt last-minute about-face. Four of the HSCA committee members -- Representatives Samuel Devine, Robert Edgar, Harold Sawyer, and Charles Thone -- felt it was much too abrupt, that the conclusion of a conspiracy was so momentous that the "acoustic evidence" needed to be given a much more thorough wire-brushing. Edgar commented that the conclusion of a conspiracy absolutely contradicted everything else the committee had learned:
We found no evidence to suggest a conspiracy. We found no [other] gunmen or evidence of a [second] gunman. We found no gun, no shells, no impact of shots from the grassy knoll. We found no entry wounds from the front into any person, including President John Kennedy and Governor John Connally. We found no bullets or fragments of bullets that did not belong to the Oswald weapon. And we found little, if any, evidence of partnership with Lee Harvey Oswald. Few credible ear-witness accounts back up the marginal findings of our acoustics experts.
The announcement of the "acoustic evidence" created a great of sensation, but as previously discussed it ultimately lost all credibility following the release of the CBA report. The HSCA had claimed the Warren Commission had dropped the ball, only to end up dropping it themselves instead. The irony was that the HSCA investigations into possible conspirators and -- aside from the "acoustic evidence" -- the committee's forensic studies were extremely valuable, specifically affirming and complementing the work of the Warren Commission. The HSCA report firmly concluded that:
The bigger irony was that the HSCA was, as far as the public was concerned, effectively irrelevant, the fuss over the JFK assassination continuing without skipping a beat. The "acoustic evidence" simply became part of conspiracy lore, with conspiracists playing it up as "proof", while completely ignoring the defects of the "acoustic evidence" and the much larger component of the HSCA's work that backed up the Warren Report.
In the course of the 1967 CBS News report on the Warren Report, CBS News had interviewed historian Henry Steele Commager, who perceptively observed that the "conspiracy mentality will not accept ordinary evidence ... it forces them to reject the ordinary and find refuge in the extraordinary ..." CBS News asked Commager if he thought that a second inquiry would clarify matters. Commager went on to say he thought not:
... if another investigation were to be held and came to the same conclusions, as I'm inclined to think it would ... it would be found just as unsatisfactory ... [conspiracists would say] they're covering things up. So I see no value, really, in another investigation.
The HSCA did manage to clarify a number of significant issues for the historical record, but as far as its public impact went, Commager was far-sighted, recognizing that it would make no difference; conspiracists would never believe any inquiry, no matter how thorough and above-board, that told them what they didn't want to hear. Indeed, all the criticisms leveled at the Warren Commission in the first place were effectively irrelevant, because no matter how good a job had been done, conspiracists still would never have believed the Warren Report. By the 1970s the conspiracy movement had become trapped in an endless loop, energetically chasing after plots that they could never really uncover because the plots never really existed. In fact, conspiracists no longer seemed to care if they did "close the case"; all that mattered was to keep the conspiracy role-playing game going.BACK_TO_TOP
* As noted above, many stories about the assassination had come out of the woodwork in the decade following the assassination, leaving the HSCA attempting to sort them out. One story was told by Marita Lorenz, a German-born woman who claimed to have been one of Fidel Castro's mistresses. There is reason to accept that claim as the truth, since there are photos of her and Castro together. However, in 1977 she came forward with an assassination story that wasn't as easy to accept. According to Lorenz, in September 1963 she hooked up with a group in Miami that involved anti-Castro Cubans, "CIA agent" Frank Sturgis, "CIA agent" Gerry Patrick Hemming, and Oswald. In mid-November 1963, the group left Miami in two cars, to go to Dallas, where Jack Ruby hooked up with them and Lorenz finally figured out what was really being planned.
Sturgis angrily told the HSCA: "She is an absolute liar." That much might have been suspected because her story placed Oswald in Miami at times he was known for certain to have been in Dallas, and there was no evidence to place him in Miami. Nothing else in Lorenz's story panned out either, and skeptics also wondered why she waited 14 years to come forward. Incidentally, Lorenz had Sturgis arrested by New York police in 1978, claiming he had made threatening calls, and she had taped them as proof; the charges were dropped when the tapes didn't reveal any threats. The VILLAGE VOICE commented on the incident:
Will the cops dig up information linking Marita Lorenz, Frank Sturgis, the [NEW YORK] DAILY NEWS and certain members of the New York Police Department? Will a conspiracy be uncovered at last? Or will the police report conclude that the whole brouhaha was the work of single dingbat acting alone? Where is Mark Lane now that we need him?
The bottom line on Marita Lorenz was delivered by Edwin Lopez of the HSCA, who told Gerald Posner: "Oh God, we spent a lot of time with Marita ... It was hard to ignore her because she gave us so much crap, and we tried to verify it, but let me tell you, she is full of shit. Between her and Frank Sturgis, we must have spent over one hundred hours. They were dead ends ... Marita is not credible."
* However, as is not unusual among conspiracy theories, Lorenz's story refused to die. In 1978 Victor Marchetti, an ex-CIA agent, published an article in SPOTLIGHT, a weekly published by the Right-wing Liberty Lobby, that claimed E. Howard Hunt -- the ex-CIA agent implicated in the Watergate scandal, discussed earlier -- had actually been in Dallas on 22 November 1963, with Marchetti weaving him into the conspiracy theory proposed by Lorenz.
Hunt had always denied that he'd been in Dallas on 22 November; he sued both Marchetti and the Liberty Lobby for libel, with the trial taking place in 1985. The attorney for the defense was Mark Lane. To prove libel, Hunt had to prove beyond reasonable doubt that he hadn't been in Dallas on 22 November 1963, and he was unable to do so, his suit being dismissed. Marita Lorenz was one of the witnesses in the case, and she repeated her story to the court, embellishing the details, in particular folding in Hunt and playing up the CIA connection.
Lane used the Hunt libel case as the basis for his 1992 book PLAUSIBLE DENIAL, which had the subtitle: "Was the CIA Involved In The Assassination of JFK?" -- and which of course answered YES, citing the verdict in the 1985 trial for support. In reality, the trial proved nothing about Hunt; it just showed he couldn't decisively disprove the bad things people were saying about him, absolutely not the same thing as saying they had been proven.
Incidentally, the HSCA also dealt with Mark Lane, though only relative to the assassination of Martin Luther King, and found him just as exasperating as had the Warren Commission:
Many of the allegations of conspiracy the committee investigated were first raised by Mark Lane, the attorney who represented James Earl Ray [King's assassin] at the committee’s public hearings. As has been noted, the facts were often at variance with Lane’s assertions. ... In many instances, the committee found that Lane was willing to advocate conspiracy theories publicly without having checked the factual basis for them. In other instances, Lane proclaimed conspiracy based on little more than inference and innuendo. Lane’s conduct resulted in public misperception about the assassination of Dr. King and must be condemned.
* The HSCA also investigated a much less spectacular tale, told by a former US Marine air navigator named Larry Huff. Huff claimed that after the assassination, on 14 December 1963, he was on a flight with about a dozen military investigators that flew from Hawaii to Japan, the mission being to look over what Oswald had been doing at Atsugi. The flight dropped off the investigators and went back to Hawaii, with Huff returning to Japan on a second flight in late December to take the investigators back home. Huff claimed that one of the investigators showed him a classified document that concluded Oswald did not have the capability to pull off the assassination of JFK alone.
The HSCA looked over the claim, and though military transport flights between Japan and Hawaii did take place in that timeframe -- they were nothing unusual -- there was no documentation showing the flights involved any military investigation, and even the relevant base commander knew nothing of such a mission. USMC intelligence knew nothing of such a mission either, and added that Marine intelligence would have had no jurisdiction to conduct such an investigation. Nobody could find any trace of the supposed report, and it's unlikely that qualified investigators would have handed a classified document to nobody in particular. The Marines did investigate the death of Private Schrand in the Philippines, discussed earlier, and as mentioned concluded he had been killed in a freak accident, with no visible connection to Oswald.
* Although it has nothing to do with the HSCA in specific, for want of a better place to put it, a story with loose similarities to that told by Huff was written up in the 2006 book FLIGHT FROM DALLAS, by James Johnston and Jon Roe. The book told the tale of Robert Vinson, who in 1963 was an Air Force staff sergeant. On the morning of 22 November, he hitched a ride home from Andrews Air Force Base in California to his duty station in Colorado on a C-54 transport.
According to Vinson, the aircraft was unmarked. During the flight, the news came in that JFK had been shot, with the plane diverting to Dallas to pick up two passengers, taking them to Roswell, New Mexico. The flight terminating there, Vinson took a bus home; when he got back, he realized from TV reports that one of the passengers picked up by the C-54 in Dallas was an Oswald "double".
Vinson could not provide any credible validation for his story, and there was the puzzle of why he had taken so long to come forward -- he said he had been sworn to secrecy on the matter. More troublesome for the tale is why the conspiracy would have taken a hitchhiker on board a covert flight, then paraded an Oswald "double" in front of him, and let him live to talk later. Only the credulous took Vinson's story seriously.BACK_TO_TOP
* There was also an interesting list of people the HSCA interviewed but never bothered to investigate. One was Beverly Oliver, discussed previously. A second was Thomas "Tommy" Beckham, who claimed he had been trained as a CIA assassin; had met with Oswald, Ruby, Ferrie, and Shaw; and that he delivered to Dallas an "informational packet" containing photos, maps, and other relevant data on Dealey Plaza just before the assassination. Beckham, it turned out, had a lengthy rap sheet, mostly listing small-time cons; a fair number of aliases; and a history of residence in mental institutions.
Beckham claimed to be an associate of Jack Martin and by all appearances was stamped from the same mold. Jim Garrison had known about Beckham and had paid no attention to him. When the HSCA spoke with Beckham, he claimed he had a "doctor of metaphysics" degree; when asked from what institution, he replied: "Oh boy, I don't know. There's so many on my wall, you'd have to take a look and see." The counsel also asked him: "You're an ordained minister, apparently, in most of the world's major religions?" "Right." When it came down to the people supposedly pulling the strings in the assassination, the counsel asked him the obvious question: "Who?" -- and Beckham replied: "If I told you, man, I'd probably be in more trouble than on Earth." Why Beckham didn't think he was getting in trouble by dangling hints of forbidden knowledge to the authorities is an interesting question.
The HCSA didn't mention Beckham in their report. Author Gus Russo hunted Beckham down in 1992, finding the walls of his office covered with fake diplomas, with Beckham telling Russo that he had written three top hit tunes. Russo, who had a background as a musician, knew who the real authors of the tunes were, and concluded: "For anyone to use him as a source of anything is staggering." However, unstaggerable author Joan Mellen made him one of the star players in her 2005 book A FAREWELL TO JUSTICE.
* Along with Oliver and Beckham, the HSCA also encountered Richard Case Nagell, an ex-US Army officer who had seen action in the Korean War. He suffered head injuries in an air crash in 1954 that rendered him comatose. He got back onto his feet and went into Air Force intelligence, but it seems he never completely recovered from the accident, obtaining a discharge on partial disability in 1959.
In 1958 he had married a Japanese woman who he brought back to the USA. By 1963, they had two kids and a marriage on the rocks. On 20 September 1963, Nagell walked into the State National Bank in El Paso, Texas, pulled out a revolver, and fired two shots into the wall. He then walked out of the bank without demanding any money, encountered a policeman, and gave himself up.
As best as anyone could ever figure out, he was trying to draw attention to his problems in obtaining custody of his kids. His behavior was so baffling that he was given a psychiatric examination to see if he was competent to stand trial; the conclusion was that he was. On 6 May 1964, he was sentenced to ten years in prison. The conviction was overturned in 1966 on the basis that he really hadn't been competent to stand trial; he was retried and convicted again, but the second conviction was also overturned, with Nagell finally released in 1968.
During his time behind bars, Nagell began to drift into the assassination conspiracy orbit. It's a little difficult to trace out the evolution of Nagell's revelations because they involved a number of retroactive and shifting claims that were generally unverifiable, when not clearly bogus. Nagell claimed that when he was in Air Force intelligence he established a relationship with the CIA, which he retained after leaving the service. He became a double agent, working with both the CIA and KGB, and claimed he ran into Oswald in various places, in particular Mexico. On finding out that some dangerous conspiracy was in progress, Nagell then staged the scene in the bank in El Paso, presumably in hopes of getting an alibi to ensure that he wouldn't be caught up in events.
Trying to nail down hard facts from Nagell's story is troublesome. There is no credible evidence that from the time of his arrest on 20 September 1963 to 22 November 1963, Nagell said a word to anyone about a plot to kill JFK. In 1967, it is known that he did write a letter to Senator Richard Russell in which Nagell said he had connected with Oswald in 1962 and 1963, detailing that while JFK had been killed by a conspiracy and that Oswald was the only gunman, Oswald was not connected to any extremist groups, nor was he "an agent or informant ... for any investigative, police, or intelligence agency, domestic or foreign."
In 1968, after getting out of lockup, Nagell met with Jim Garrison on a park bench in Central Park in New York City, feeding Garrison vague tales of a conspiracy, but providing little in the way of solid leads. Garrison didn't bother to follow up the conversation with Nagell; in fact, Nagell went to New Orleans in 1969 to offer his testimony at Clay Shaw's trial, but Garrison brushed him off.
In between his two encounters with Garrison's investigation, Nagell had spent time in lockup again. In the spring of 1968 Nagell had gone to Europe, showing up at the US consulate in Zurich, claiming to be on a "secret mission". One of the staff who spoke with Nagell described him as "seriously incoherent, in fact appears psychotic, possibly dangerous."
Possibly, but mostly dangerous to himself. On 10 June he was in East Germany, being arrested by East German security personnel, it seems for attempting to enter an unauthorized area. The East Germans were notoriously humorless, but the State Department managed to prevail on them to let him go -- presumably by pointing out that he had a history of mental instability, which was only too evident even to beady-eyed East German security. Nagell was released in late October 1968. Conspiracists thought it "suspicious" that the State Department tried to help Nagell out of his difficulties, finding it inexplicable that the US diplomatic service would try to assist an American citizen in trouble in a foreign country.
In 1975, Nagell claimed he had sent a letter to J. Edgar Hoover to warn the FBI of a conspiracy in which Lee Harvey Oswald was going to murder JFK. Nagell had no copy of the letter. In 1976 Congressman Donald Edwards, then on the HSCA, heard about the letter and contacted the FBI about the matter, obtaining the response: "Mr. Nagell's allegation is not new to the FBI. It has been looked into on several occasions over the years ... No record has ever been found of receipt of his claimed September, 1963 letter." On investigation, it did turn out that Nagell had made similar claims of sending a message to the FBI in a letter to the Warren Commission.
Nagell would eventually be the subject of a conspiracy book, Dick Russell's 1992 THE MAN WHO KNEW TOO MUCH. It appears that the HSCA had no interest in Nagell because he was perceived as knowing too little. Nagell claimed an association with the CIA; no records or witnesses bear that out, nor is there any evidence of an association between Nagell and Oswald. Indeed, Nagell said he had met Oswald in Mexico, but Nagell had been arrested in El Paso on 20 September, a week before Oswald went to Mexico for the first and last time.
Some conspiracists take Nagell's story seriously, but it's hard to fathom why. Nagell had suffered trauma from an accident that left him comatose and later caused him to shoot up a bank for no reason he could coherently explain at the time. After being put behind bars, he was released (twice) because he was judged unable to understand what he had been doing in the El Paso bank on 20 September 1963. Nagell claimed that he could produce a copy of the letter he sent to the FBI in 1963 and that he could also provide a picture of him and Oswald together -- but he never did. He died of heart disease in 1995 at age 65. An inspection of his possessions by ARRB staff with the permission and assistance of his son and niece turned up nothing of any interest.BACK_TO_TOP
* Much later, in 2003, the US Public Broadcasting System ran a biographical show on Lee Harvey Oswald and interviewed Blakey, who provided a tidy summary of the HSCA's work and conclusions. On the possibility that Oswald was a spy:
The ultimate judgment on Oswald as a recruited agent is that he was not -- either by the CIA or by the Soviets. For example, if the Soviets had recruited him in Japan, the time and place to use him was in Japan, not to have him defect to Russia to make radios. That just is not what makes sense. Take a look at his character. The KGB conducted an investigation of him in the Soviet Union by the wiretapping, the bugging, the debriefing of all of his neighbors. None of this is consistent with Oswald having been recruited.
... Would the Americans develop a false defector program and put Oswald in it? When you look at Oswald's life, he just doesn't seem to be emotionally stable enough to be the kind of candidate that our people would recruit.
... We took very seriously the hypothesis that Lee Harvey Oswald was connected to the CIA or our intelligence services. When we went to the CIA files, we took very seriously the hypothesis that they had been edited in some way. We talked to the agents who had created them, we made sure that each of the agents was given a release from their secrecy oath and was carefully instructed that if they lied to us, there would be prosecution. We cross checked the references in files to see what would be in parallel files. ... We had total access to the agents who prepared them. ... The records are as they seem.
... [However, the] CIA clearly did lie about the case. ... The CIA appear to have been not cooperative, to have put out false photographs of Oswald, to have claimed they had no photographs of Oswald, there were many cases where they seem to have tried to cover their tracks. ... When it came time to analyze the candor that the Agency had with us, and the FBI had with us, it's my judgment that it was difficult. Teeth had to be pulled, but in the end we had unlimited access.
Blakey later sent a note to PBS saying his reservations about the CIA's honesty had grown following his original commentary:
I now no longer believe anything the Agency told the committee any further than I can obtain substantial corroboration for it from outside the Agency for its veracity. We now know that the Agency withheld from the Warren Commission the CIA-Mafia plots to kill Castro. Had the commission known of the plots, it would have followed a different path in its investigation.
In any case, the interviewer then asked about the destruction of Army military intelligence file on Oswald:
In 1972, largely as a result of the investigations into military intelligence activities in the United States, the Defense Department destroyed all of the military intelligence files that they had about American citizens and things in the United States, which was shocking from the point of view of the committee. This general order resulted in the destruction of historically very valuable files.
... Again, our ultimate conclusion was that in the United States, more often than not, the better explanation for government action is not hobnailed boots, but Keystone Cops. It's incredible how our bureaucracy simply responds in a mindless way without any regard to the historical significance of what they have.
On George de Mohrenschildt's association with Oswald:
We looked very carefully into the activity of a man named George de Mohrenschildt, a Russian ... He was a sophisticated man, a very articulate man, a world traveler, and George de Mohrenschildt and his wife befriended Oswald and Marina in this country and we explored very carefully whether he could have been a contact, an indirect contact, between the agency and one of its own agents, Lee Harvey Oswald. After a careful study, we were not able to establish that George de Mohrenschildt was connected to the CIA. [The HSCA sensibly did not see his DCD contacts as a connection of significance.]
On the failure of the CIA to debrief Oswald after he returned from the USSR:
It is unusual for the CIA or military intelligence to debrief Americans. That was something that the FBI should've done. In fact the FBI did make an effort, several, to talk [to] Lee Harvey Oswald in this country. So it's not entirely true that he was not debriefed. He was very uncooperative with the agents, indeed was very belligerent with them. We were deeply troubled by the way in which he came back. The government financed him, they got him a visa, and he came back to this country with great ease, the CIA then incredibly did not debrief him as such.
In the end, we found this not to be significant. Our defector study of some 22 other American defectors indicated that it was not uncommon to facilitate a return, indeed not uncommon that they were not even debriefed at any time. We drew therefore no sinister evidence inference, in light of the pattern of the general evidence.
On Oswald's guilt:
It's an easy case. The prosecution case against Oswald is open and shut. If he'd shot his brother-in-law in the back seat of a convertible, and not the President of the United States, he would have been tried, convicted and forgotten in three days. I'm a former Federal prosecutor, I've been involved in the investigation and prosecution of criminal cases for better than 30 years. To be sure, a defense counsel could have raised issues. But the jury would have been convinced beyond a reasonable doubt. His rifle did it, to the exclusion of all others. He was in the book depository with the rifle. He fled the scene. He killed a police officer. His statements to the police are false. His palm print is on the gun.
Concerning Oswald's trip to Mexico City:
The committee took very seriously the critics with suspicions about the Mexico City trip. The suspicion was that Oswald didn't make it at all. That there was an imposter, attempting to frame him in Mexico City. Had that been established, it would indicate a sophisticated effort to frame Oswald, which would immediately draw attention to American intelligence. We obtained from Cuban officials the visa application with his photograph on it and his signature. We verified that it was Oswald's signature. Oswald, therefore, was in Mexico City.
On Oswald's connections to organized crime:
... New Orleans was corrupt, and the principle figure behind that corruption, gambling etc, was Carlos Marcello. Oswald at this time brushed up against organized crime in its worst forms. Oswald's uncle, a man named Charles "Dutz" Murret, [was] an ex-prize fighter and promoter who was also a bookie. He was under the control of Carlos Marcello, who at that time was the head of the Mafia in New Orleans. These were the people who were in the sphere of Lee Harvey Oswald's life as a child.
... We took very seriously the possibility that organized crime had a hand in the President's death. I personally did not believe it at the time. ... We did a survey of [FBI] electronic surveillance, eight months before the assassination and six months after. We were looking for some indication in these men's conversations that would connect them to the assassination - to either Lee Harvey Oswald, or to Jack Ruby. We found no evidence in it to connect them to Oswald or Ruby. On the other hand, what we did find, shockingly, is repeated conversations by these people that indicated the depth of their hatred for Kennedy, and actual discussions saying: "he ought to be killed," "he ought to be whacked."
On Oswald's actions in Dallas:
[Oswald] gets the job at the depository by happenstance. The Kennedy motorcade in front of the depository is by happenstance. It has none of the earmarks of a carefully planned assassination. His flight from the depository is by happenstance. His killing of Tippit is by happenstance.
But then, you find David Ferrie, who is an investigator for Carlos Marcello, being a boyhood friend to Lee Harvey Oswald and with him that summer, and with Carlos Marcello at that very point in time. You have an immediate connection between a man who had the motive, opportunity and means to kill Kennedy and the man who killed Kennedy.
On Oswald as a closet Rightist, pretending to be a Marxist:
The most consistent thing through Lee Harvey Oswald's life is his Marxist position. The effort to talk to the anti-Castro Cubans is an effort either by Lee Harvey Oswald, in his crazed mind, to be engaging in subterfuge activity, or it is, in fact, Lee Harvey Oswald acting on behalf of someone else, infiltrating anti-Castro activities.
The true Lee Harvey Oswald is the Marxist. Oswald engages in a number of activities in New Orleans. He distributes "Fair Play for Cuba" literature. He apparently is the head of a unit of "Fair Play for Cuba". He goes on a radio station and debates on behalf of Castro. All of this indicates his Marxist pro-Castro leanings.
At the same time, Lee Harvey Oswald makes a contact with Carlos Bringuier who is an anti-Castro Cuban leader in New Orleans, and this is documented and unquestioned. Which is Lee Harvey Oswald? Is he pro-Castro? Is he anti-Castro?
... you have him meeting with Sylvia Odio, who is, in the context, an anti-Castro Cuban. Within days, he's meeting with high-level people involved in assassinations in the Soviet Embassy. You see him meeting with people in the Cuban Embassy. You see him returning to this country. You have him having conversations on the phone with people in Spanish.
On the attempt to kill General Walker:
Marina's story is that Oswald shot at Walker. Is there evidence that can corroborate that? There are two items. One is a note found by Ruth Paine undated, but is consistent with Marina's story. Second, the bullet recovered from Walker's house. The evidence apart from Marina's testimony is substantial. The bullet recovered is consistent with Mannlicher-Carcano ammunition. We did a study on that.
[That shooting] tends to undermine his possible connections to the KGB, to the pro-Castro Cubans or the anti-Castro Cubans and indeed even to organized crime. Here is a man off shooting people almost at random. How then is he the instrument through which a sinister conspiracy brought down the President of the United States? On the other hand, that evidence can be read another way: It shows his propensity to violence and it also shows that he can be ideologically manipulated into taking this act.
... We also took very seriously the possibility that Oswald may have had companions in the Walker shooting. There are police reports of two cars driving away, and indeed a report from the Walker people that somebody in a car may have been surveilling the housing before the assassination effort. The significance here is obvious. Lee Harvey Oswald didn't have a car and didn't drive. If Oswald was in these cars and fled the scene in that fashion, he had companions. And if he had companions in the Walker assassination effort, the inference can be drawn that he had companions in the Kennedy assassination.
On the "Fascist Hunter" photos:
There are three photographs of Lee Harvey Oswald taken by Marina, each holding a rifle and some Communist Party literature. When Oswald himself was shown those photographs, he denied that he owned a rifle and denies that this was him in it. He said his head was pasted on it. The critics of the Warren Commission seized on this and did studies of shadows. The nature of his chin, with a cleft here and shadows in the background led to arguing that the photographs were composites or fakes.
We took very seriously these charges. Surely, if they were faked, it would be an indication of the most sophisticated effort to frame Lee Harvey Oswald. We had our first bit of evidence examined by the Warren Commission. Marina testifies that she took it; she identifies the camera that she used. The FBI was able, to the exclusion of all other cameras, tie that camera to these photographs.
Assuming that all that was fake, we went further with a photographic panel and studied very carefully all of the testimony about the shadows being inappropriate. Our photographic panel indicated in great detail that these shadows were not inappropriate, that the critics had simply not understood optics accordingly.
But for me at least the single most important counter indication of a faked photograph is that we uncovered in the possession of George de Mohrenschildt a third photograph. On the back of that photograph is an inscription in Lee Harvey Oswald's handwriting, including his signature. We had a panel of handwriting experts look at his handwriting over his whole life, including on that photograph, and their conclusion was without any doubt that Lee Harvey Oswald had signed that photograph.
... There are microscopic, unique indentations [on the negatives]. Based on them, if you have the negative and the camera you can -- just like you can match the grooves in a bullet to the grooves created by the barrel ballistics -- you can match a camera and a negative or a photograph. That's precisely the technique that the FBI employed. The details of it are set out for all to read in the Warren Commission hearings and report. We undertook a similar analysis on the committee and the photographic panel's report is set out in our hearings as well. This is science. This is not memory, this is not perception, and this is something that anybody with the expertise can replicate for themselves.
Blakey's comments, in sum, tend to give much more credibility to the Warren Report than to conspiracy theories. Blakey thought that Oswald might have been working with a conspiracy, but couldn't identify the players in the conspiracy; though he complained about CIA dishonesty, he didn't point a finger in that direction, instead saying that government agencies were more like "Keystone Cops" than ruthlessly efficient plotters. Blakey, despite his suspicions of the Mob, flatly said there was no substantial evidence to link either Oswald or Ruby to organized crime. The most Blakey could point to was that wiretaps and bugs recorded gangsters as saying that somebody ought to "whack" JFK -- but obviously gangsters, being violent-minded, like to talk like that.
To the extent that Blakey saw other suggestions of a conspiracy, his perceptions seem dubious, asserting that:
Blakey's suspicions were, as he admitted, vague and unpersuasive, and they were by no means shared by the rest of the HSCA. Ralph Salerno, an expert on organized crime who worked for the HSCA, told ABC TV for their 2003 special on the assassination: "I have the greatest respect for Robert Blakey, but I cannot join him in this hypothesis."
The centerpiece of Blakey's suspicions of Mob involvement was Jack Ruby and his killing of Oswald, but Salerno couldn't see anything there, pointing out the obvious that seemed to escape Blakey: Why shut up a loose cannon and just hand the law another loose cannon in his place?
In the end, Blakey could only conclude on the basis of the evidence that the case against Oswald was open and shut, "easy" -- there was no doubt Oswald was the assassin, there was nothing of substance to link Oswald to a conspiracy -- and only seemed "hard" to the extent that people were determined to contrive it into appearing so. The fact that Blakey was personally suspicious of a conspiracy only underlined his verdict on the case, since such suspicions would be exactly the opposite of what would be expected of an official engaged in a "coverup".
Again, the HSCA's work effectively backed up the Warren Report; to the extent it differed, it amounted to little in the end. On the basis of the track record, it would not be a good bet to think that any new serious investigation of the JFK assassination would yield different results.BACK_TO_TOP