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Hanky-Panky aboard Air Force One?


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#1 Ron Ecker

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Posted 16 April 2006 - 05:31 PM

I’ve been rereading some of Lifton’s book regarding the body alteration theory. That the body took a secret detour during its journey from Dallas to Washington seems undeniable considering the remarkable expansion of the head wound between Parkland and Bethesda; official documentation (the Sibert and O’Neill report and the casket team after-action report) of two separate casket entries at Bethesda; two witnesses (David and Custer) to Jackie’s arrival well after the body’s; three witnesses recalling a cheap shipping casket (David, O’Connor, and Riebe) and a body bag (O’Connor, Riebe, and Stover); and two witnesses (O’Connor and FBI agent O’Neill) attesting to an empty cranium (with a 1400-gram brain later reappearing).

With theft of the body at Parkland an apparent impossibility, theft of the body while aboard AF1, as theorized by Lifton, seems the only reasonable alternative. I decided to check the book Johnny, We Hardly Knew Ye, by Kennedy staff members Ken O’Donnell and Dave Powers, to see what it says about LBJ’s behavior at Love Field and whether there was indeed opportunity for the body to be stolen while aboard AF1.

I believe O’Donnell and Powers’s book (in which only O’Donnell is in the first person) indeed lends credence to the theory, based partly on LBJ’s lies, as described in the book, about what he was still doing at Love Field when the body got there.

The book says that after JFK was declared dead, O’Donnell went to Johnson at Parkland to urge him to go to Washington immediately for security reasons while O’Donnell stayed at the hospital with Jackie until the body was ready to be moved. Johnson suggested moving the plane (they didn’t discuss AF1 or AF2, as both planes had the same equipment and facilities) to Carswell AF Base and taking off from there. O’Donnell vetoed that idea, telling Johnson, “Get the police to seal off Love Field, and go there right now. And take off for Washington as soon as you get there” (pp. 31-32).

Johnson agreed that O’Donnell should stay behind until Jackie was able to leave with the body, and never suggested that he might wait for them at the airport. “If he had made such a suggestion, I would have vetoed it,” says O’Donnell. “Anything that would delay Johnson’s departure from Texas was a bad move. He never discussed with me whether he should use Air Force One instead of Air Force Two, a question which would have seemed highly unimportant at the time” (p. 32).

When the body was taken aboard AF1, O’Donnell and the others were stunned to learn that Johnson was on the plane. Johnson told O’Donnell that he couldn’t leave until he had taken the oath of office. “I just talked on the phone with Bobby. He told me to wait here until Sarah Hughes gives me the oath.” O’Donnell was “flabbergasted.” The oath was just a formality, and “Johnson could have waited until he got to Washington and spared all of us on Air Force One that day, especially Jackie, a lot of discomfort and anxiety” (p. 35).

That night Bobby told O’Donnell “an entirely different version” of the phone conversation with Johnson. Johnson claimed a lot of people had advised him to be sworn in right away, and asked if Bobby had any objections. Bobby was “too surprised to say anything about it,” thinking “what’s the rush?”. He turned the matter over to Nick Katzenbach, who was also “perplexed” (p. 36).

O’Donnell says “I think Johnson sensed that he might be criticized for taking over Air Force One instead of going back to Washington earlier on his own plane, as we assumed we would do. This must have been why he later made a big point of insisting in his testimony before the Warren Commission, and in interviews with reporters, that I had specifically told him to take Air Force One. . . . He was trying to shift the blame for his being on Air Force One to me, just as he insisted that he waited in Dallas to take the oath on the plane because Bobby Kennedy had him to do so, which was not true at all” (p. 37).

So what was the reason behind this LBJ lying and deceit, other than the fact that deceit was part of his nature? Why was he sitting around at Love Field, waiting for that body, instead of getting out of Dallas for security’s sake? I suspect that it was because he had been made aware by the time he got to Love Field that the body had to be altered. And there was no way to snatch the body at Parkland or on its way to Love Field, because Jackie and Kennedy staff were still with it. The conspirators would only have the control they needed once the body was aboard AF1. Even then they would have to move in a hurry. And Johnson had to be there (not aboard AF2) to give them the chance, by managing the people on board.

Of course O’Donnell and Powers in their book make no reference to possible body theft. Powers told Livingstone in 1987 that “the coffin was never unattended. Lifton’s story is the biggest pack of malarkey I ever heard in my life. I never had my hands or eyes off of it during the period he says it was unattended, and when Jackie got up to go to her stateroom where Lyndon Johnson was, Kenny O’Donnell went with her, but we stayed right there with the coffin and never let go of it.” (High Treason, p. 40)

It is Lifton’s theory that the body was stolen during the swearing-in ceremony, which everyone was supposedly attending (except possibly General McHugh, who may thus have been party to the theft). Did everyone in fact leave the body by itself (despite what Powers told Livingstone) while LBJ was being sworn in? According to O’Donnell and Powers’ book, the answer is yes:

“Finally Judge Hughes appeared, and Johnson asked all of us who were in the back of the plane with President Kennedy’s casket to come up to the front to attend his oath-taking ceremony. I found everybody standing around and waiting again, although the judge was ready with President Kennedy’s Bible in her hand. I asked Johnson why he was still delaying. He said he was waiting for Mrs. Kennedy, which bothered me because I felt that attending the swearing-in might be upsetting for her. ‘She said she wants to be here when I take the oath,’ Johnson said. ‘Why don’t you see what’s keeping her?’” (p. 36).

O’Donnell went and got Jackie, after which the book clearly leaves it understood that no one was left in the rear of the aircraft until after LBJ was sworn in. This was time and opportunity enough for the body to be snatched, to wherever it was snatched to. And this may therefore be the reason LBJ remained at Love Field, and got everyone out of the rear of the plane for a short period of time, using a completely unnecessary swearing-in as the excuse.

In closing, there is a matter unrelated to the body alteration theory that I can’t help noting. During the flight to Washington, there was always a small group with Jackie and the casket according to O’Donnell:

“Dave, Larry O’Brien and I stayed with her beside the casket until we landed in Washington. There was not much room in the rear compartment, with the casket taking up most of the space. Other members of the Kennedy staff—Pamela Turnure, Jackie’s press secretary, Dr. Burkley, General McHugh, Evelyn Lincoln, Clint Hill—came back and visited with us one at a time” (p. 37).

But that was not so according to a weird passage in Jack Valenti’s book A Very Human President (the title referring to Valenti’s idol LBJ). Valenti writes:

“(During the flight), the president asked me to find Bill Moyers who had slipped out of the cabin. I walked to the rear of the plane without knowing who was back there. Sitting, talking to General Godfrey McHugh was Mrs. Kennedy. She smiled hesitantly, her hand floated to her cheek, paused there, puzzled, surprised for a bare second. She dropped her eyes and turned to General McHugh. I murmured my apologies, stumbled backward. She smiled again, this time more positively as if she understood my awkwardness and I turned and quickly retraced my steps. As I withdrew I saw the dark coffin resting in the rear of the plane. Inside was the body of John Kennedy. I fought back strange, unsettling thoughts” (p. 49).

Am I reading too much into that? It sounds to me like Valenti wants us to believe that he caught Jackie and her old beau McHugh alone and in the act of, well, something. When I read it, it made me think of the macabre episode from some fictional work I heard about years ago (was it in the play MacBird, or where was it?), about someone making love on top of JFK’s coffin. “Strange and unsettling” indeed.

Edited by Ron Ecker, 16 April 2006 - 05:34 PM.


#2 J. Raymond Carroll

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Posted 17 April 2006 - 12:14 AM

“Dave, Larry O’Brien and I stayed with her beside the casket until we landed in Washington. There was not much room in the rear compartment, with the casket taking up most of the space. Other members of the Kennedy staff—Pamela Turnure, Jackie’s press secretary, Dr. Burkley, General McHugh, Evelyn Lincoln, Clint Hill—came back and visited with us one at a time” (p. 37).

But that was not so according to a weird passage in Jack Valenti’s book A Very Human President (the title referring to Valenti’s idol LBJ). Valenti writes:

“(During the flight), the president asked me to find Bill Moyers who had slipped out of the cabin. I walked to the rear of the plane without knowing who was back there. Sitting, talking to General Godfrey McHugh was Mrs. Kennedy. She smiled hesitantly, her hand floated to her cheek, paused there, puzzled, surprised for a bare second. She dropped her eyes and turned to General McHugh. I murmured my apologies, stumbled backward. She smiled again, this time more positively as if she understood my awkwardness and I turned and quickly retraced my steps. As I withdrew I saw the dark coffin resting in the rear of the plane. Inside was the body of John Kennedy. I fought back strange, unsettling thoughts” (p. 49).

Am I reading too much into that? It sounds to me like Valenti wants us to believe that he caught Jackie and her old beau McHugh alone and in the act of, well, something. When I read it, it made me think of the macabre episode from some fictional work I heard about years ago (was it in the play MacBird, or where was it?), about someone making love on top of JFK’s coffin. “Strange and unsettling” indeed.


Ron, Jack Valenti has always struck me as a bit of a creep, but I really think you are reading
too much into that passage from Valenti's book. How could Valenti hope to get around the fact that Powers, O'Donnell et al were on record as having said they stayed with Jackie throughout the flight (bathroom breaks presumably excepted). Their loyalty to JFK is beyond question, and I have no doubt that concern for Jackie was uppermost in their minds throughout the flight.

As far as I know Valenti was a total stranger to Jackie, and I would expect him to be embarrased on finding himself intruding on her grief, just as Jackie must have been discombobulated by this strange and rather creepy character who stuck his nose in. That is all that this passage from Valenti's book suggests to me. Valenti may not have noticed the presence of O'Donnell and Powers, mesmerised as he must have been on finding himself intruding on the world's most famous woman, and in such circumstances.

Seeing Kennedy's casket must have been "strange and unsettling" to Valenti, as it would have been to me, in those circumstances.

Nevertheless, I remain curious about Godfrey McHugh, based on Lifton's book, and I do hope that your post will stimulate a useful debate on Lifton's theory.

#3 Ron Ecker

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Posted 17 April 2006 - 03:26 AM

Gary Mack has sent me this link to a Stoughton photo taken after the swearing-in. Gary says that the man at the far right edge is Dave Powers, who claimed that he never left the coffin.

http://redbud.lbjlib...e/1A-7-WH63.htm



I remain curious about Godfrey McHugh, based on Lifton's book, and I do hope that your post will stimulate a useful debate on Lifton's theory.


McHugh’s conspicous behavior aboard AF1, demanding that the plane take off immediately, etc., reminds me of Shakespeare’s “methinks he doth protest too much.” As described by Manchester, McHugh’s carrying on strikes me as a bit over the top, like an exaggerated act to raise himself above any suspicion of skullduggery that he was perhaps about to engage in. And letting it be known loud and clear that he was going to stay with the coffin (“I only have one President”) could have had the calculated purpose of letting everyone else know they should go on into the stateroom as requested by LBJ for the swearing-in, knowing that General McHugh was on the job in back.

According to Manchester, McHugh acted as “foreman” in getting the casket aboard and in place in the rear of the plane. Manchester does not mention any straps or other means of securing the casket (which could have complicated a quick removal of the body during the swearing-in). He says only that they made “symmetrical adjustments.” Posner (p. 298) says that the coffin was “hermetically sealed, ” but he doesn’t cite any source. Wrone (p. 134) says “steel wrapping cables were placed around (the coffin) and its lid to prevent shifting . . . as must be done to cargo on airplanes for safety,” but he doesn’t cite any source. Jim Bishop (p. 305) refers to “the crew tossing bracing straps over the casket,” but he doesn’t cite any source. Kenneth Walsh interviewed flight engineer Joe Chappell for his book Air Force One, and describes how Chappell had the coffin placed “along the left side of the cabin,” where “it barely fit. Someone brought a chair and placed it next to the casket (for Jackie)” (p. 75). No mention of straps.

On the night before the assassination, McHugh visited at the home of two wealthy Fort Worth oilmen, Robert and E.J. McCurdy, who were “former employers.” (Manchester says that McHugh didn’t enjoy the visit because the McCurdys were “vehemently anti-Kennedy.” What did he expect?)

According to Fletcher Prouty (so take this with a big grain of salt), McHugh was a “close friend” of AF Colonel Howard Burris, LBJ’s military aide. Prouty also says that McHugh while stationed in Paris dated Jackie Bouvier. JFK “stole Jackie away from McHugh. Leaves McHugh happy?” (3/6/90 letter to Garrison)

In a 1976 radio interview McHugh said that he was asked to sit in a car farther back in the Dallas motorcade, rather than what he would normally do, which was to ride between the driver and SS agent in charge of the trip. McHugh apparently didn’t object.

Now get this. C. David Heynman in his biography RFK (p. 348) writes that according to McHugh, on AF1 on 11/22 “Johnson, in his state of panic, had taken refuge in the plane’s bathroom. ‘He was scared to death,’ said McHugh. ‘They’re going to kill us. They’re going to shoot down the plane, they’re going to kill us all.’ He’d gone berserk. I slapped him across the face, a quick one, and he seemed to regain his senses.” Does anyone believe that BS? Who made it up, McHugh or Heynman?

On arrival at Bethesda, McHugh took part in a protracted discussion with admirals in front of the hospital, which contributed directly to the Dallas casket being left out front in the ambulance for some 12 minutes after arrival. Was there some purpose in this delay?

McHugh was in charge of JFK’s air transportation and for the security of AF1 while it was on the ground. His White House files are in the JFK Library as part of JFK’s papers, but for some reason the “Access Log” to AF1 for 1/61 to 11/63 is “closed.” McHugh's oral history is also in the library but “not available.”

All these things make one wonder about McHugh. (Penn Jones Jr. had a definite opinion: “General McHugh was a high-ranking traitor for the military inside the Kennedy camp.”) (High Treason, p. 569).

McHugh died in 1997, and apparently the ARRB never talked to him.

#4 James Richards

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Posted 17 April 2006 - 05:23 AM

Good stuff, Ron. Fascinating indeed.

I've been trying to get a better quality version of this image below for some time but without luck. JFK and Jackie, LBJ and Lady Bird, John McCormack and wife, Earl Warren and wife.

At the back we have Gen. Chester Clifton, Godfrey McHugh and Capt. Tazewell Shepard Jr.

Clifton, McHugh and Shepard were the presidential aides who presented the bronze bust of the late president to Jackie.

James

#5 John Simkin

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Posted 17 April 2006 - 07:50 AM

I have never been convinced by Lifton’s body altering theory but this thread raises some interesting questions.

What do you make of the comments by Dr. Cyril Wecht. "Lifton gets away with crap, and no one challenges him. I could assemble a whole team of the best surgeons in the country and still not be able to accomplish in a day what Lifton says was done in a few hours. I have never bought his stuff. It can't be done."

What do you make of the John Liggett story that appeared in Nigel Turner's The Smoking Guns (2003)?

http://home.comcast....43/liggett.html

#6 Ron Ecker

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Posted 17 April 2006 - 08:37 AM

What do you make of the comments by Dr. Cyril Wecht. "Lifton gets away with crap, and no one challenges him. I could assemble a whole team of the best surgeons in the country and still not be able to accomplish in a day what Lifton says was done in a few hours. I have never bought his stuff. It can't be done."


I don't know what Wecht is talking about. Lifton concentrates on the when and how of body theft, not on what procedure was done on the body. Basically someone expanded the wound in JFK's head. Humes said there was no problem removing what was left of the brain, the fractured skull bones were easily moved about. O'Connor said it looked like someone had taken a hammer to JFK's head, breaking the skull into hundreds of pieces. How difficult is that?

What do you make of the John Liggett story that appeared in Nigel Turner's The Smoking Guns (2003)?

http://home.comcast....43/liggett.html


It certainly appears that Liggett was involved in something that day, which was covered up ever after. What it was I don't know. I would think they would have needed a surgeon, to search for and take bullets out of the brain or anywhere else in the body, and not an undertaker. There was no need for reconstruction, only destruction, prior to what was done in the morgue.

#7 Ron Ecker

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Posted 17 April 2006 - 10:43 PM

I want to bring up a major problem with the body alteration theory, and propose a possible solution.

FBI agents Sibert and O’Neill (S&O), under orders from Hoover to stay with the body, followed the gray Navy ambulance containing the Dallas casket from Andrews to Bethesda, arriving about 6:55 pm. After a delay of several minutes at the front entrance, the ambulance went to the rear of the hospital, where S&O helped SS agents Kellerman and Greer unload the casket and carry it into the morgue. S&O then witnessed JFK’s body being taken from the casket and placed on the autopsy table. The time was around 7:15 pm.

In contrast to S&O’s FBI report, Lt. Samuel Bird documented the arrival of the Dallas casket at 8 pm, unloaded at the rear entrance and carried into the morgue by his casket team and not by any FBI or SS agents. Bird’s after-action report includes the “McHugh incident” (recounted also by Manchester), in which Godfrey McHugh commandeered one of the team member’s spot to help carry the casket. Neither the FBI nor SS reports have McHugh at the scene, and only O’Neill says (years later) that they were joined by a casket team, a team that Sibert says wasn’t there.

From the above it certainly appears that there were two separate entries at Bethesda of the Dallas casket, about 45 minutes apart, by two different groups of people (the FBI/SS agents on one hand, and a casket team on the other), each officially reporting its activity.

In addition, Dennis David, Chief of the Day for the Medical School, says that he and 7 or 8 sailors received a shipping casket from a black hearse at the rear of the hospital about 6:40 pm (Lifton, pp. 571-582). Autopsy technician Paul O’Connor and Captain John Stover, CO of the Medical School, have both stated that JFK’s body was taken out of a shipping casket (though O’Connor says this happened at 8 pm, which can’t be true, O’Connor apparently mistaken about the time) (Lifton, pp. 599, 637). But even if we were to assume that the shipping casket (and according to three people--O’Connor, Stover, and Riebe--a body bag) (Lifton, pp. 595, 630, 637) was somehow a collective false memory or tall tale, we are still left with two separate documented entries of the Dallas casket.

This clearly suggests there was a casket shell game going on, having nothing to do with “security” or a “decoy ambulance,” since according to S&O the body was safely inside the morgue by 7:15 pm, 45 minutes before the same casket (presumably unbeknownst to S&O) arrived again. This shell game must have been done to cover a theft and return of the body, especially when we consider the earlier shipping casket arrival reported by David and others, and most tellingly the difference in appearance of JFK’s wounds between Parkland and Bethesda.

But there’s one big catch in the body theft theory: S&O were with the Dallas casket from the time it left Air Force One at Andrews until JFK’s body was removed from it in the morgue. This means that the body had not been stolen from that casket while aboard AF1. It could not have been taken from the casket during the LBJ’s swearing-in ceremony, because there would have been no chance to put it back (due to the in-flight presence by the casket of Jackie and/or Kennedy staff) before landing at Andrews, where the casket was promptly unloaded, then followed to Bethesda and right into the morgue by S&O. And there was no point prior to the loading of the casket aboard AF1 at which the body could have been stolen.

The body theft and alteration theory thus hinges on S&O. (There are other unanswered questions, of course, but this S&O issue is crucial.) Are S&O’s descriptions of events completely trustworthy, and, if so, could they have somehow been fooled in what they honestly reported? The answer to that last part is yes.

When the motorcade from Andrews arrived at the front of the Bethesda hospital about 6:55 pm, Jackie, RFK, and most of the Kennedy party went into the hospital via the front entrance. The Navy ambulance with the Dallas casket then sat in front of the hospital for about 12 minutes (Lifton, p. 416). During this time, according to Manchester and Lifton, Godfrey McHugh had a discussion in front with Admiral Calvin Galloway, the medical center CO, about having the body embalmed in the morgue after autopsy. O’Neill remembers Kennedy aides Larry O’Brien and Ken O’Donnell talking with McHugh in front. O’Neill told the ARRB that he asked O’Brien what the delay was about, and O’Brien said that SS agent Greer, driver of the ambulance, didn’t know where the autopsy room was. S&O knew where it was, so O’Neill said, “We drove around the back; and the ambulance drove around the back, too” (ARRB interview, p. 54). In another ARRB document (MD 189) O’Neill says, “We told them to have the ambulance follow us to the rear where the room was.”

But Sibert remembers it differently. Sibert told the ARRB that the ambulance did not follow them but that they followed the ambulance. And not only that, they apparently walked. Sibert said, “My recollection is, the ambulance went on around, and we followed it. Now, whether (we) rode in the car, or whether we went on foot—because as I recall—I could be wrong, but it wasn’t that distance” (sic) (ARRB interview, p. 43). (S&O’s own car, it should be noted, had been left at Andrews, and the man who had driven them to Bethesda, White House valet George Thomas, had gone inside the hospital, possibly taking the car keys with him. One should also recall, in terms of whose memory is more reliable, O’Neill remembering a casket team that wasn’t there when S&O unloaded the casket.) Sibert was later more definite about walking around to the morgue, as in 2002 he told interviewer William Law, “The ambulance drove out back and we got out and followed it (emphasis added) (In the Eye of History, p. 214).

Now it may not have been far to go to the morgue, according to Sibert, but it was far enough that a “decoy ambulance” was able to lose the casket team that followed it around the hospital in a truck (Lifton, pp. 404, 410-411). How much easier to lose someone on foot. If S&O did walk as Sibert remembers, they did not have to keep up with the ambulance or keep it in their sight, because they knew where to go. But it’s possible, given this scenario, that Greer proceeded ahead with the ambulance, that S&O followed on foot, losing sight of the ambulance for a time, and that when S&O arrived at the rear where the ambulance was waiting, the body that had been stolen during LBJ’s swearing-in had been returned to the Dallas casket.

After the autopsy started, the Dallas casket was then returned outside to the Navy ambulance, to be unloaded and brought in again to the cooling room, for the sole purpose of fooling the official casket team, which brought in an empty casket.

A closing note about McHugh in all this. His story gets fishier the more it’s examined. I’ve already noted his over-the-top behavior aboard AF1 in a previous post, including the ridiculous tale about McHugh slapping a panicky LBJ to bring him to his senses.

According to Manchester, the casket team found the Navy ambulance with the casket in front of the hospital, after having lost track of it, and McHugh was still there (pp. 398-399). This would be shortly before 8 pm, the time when the casket team after-action report says that the team brought the casket into the morgue, with McHugh assisting.

Are we supposed to believe that after the ambulance first drove off, with S&O following it to the rear of the hospital, McHugh either stayed there out front, till the ambulance with the casket reappeared almost an hour later, or else McHugh went somewhere and came back when the ambulance reappeared, to be found by the casket team?

If McHugh was not in on this shell game, would he not think it odd that the casket would reappear outside, to be taken inside again with the autopsy already in progress? Why was McHugh out there to meet it, and where had he gone in the interim? Why would he tell Manchester that the ambulance had never left the front, that he stayed there with it, alone, for apparently almost an hour, till found by the errant casket team? What was it with Godfrey McHugh?

Edited by Ron Ecker, 17 April 2006 - 10:46 PM.





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