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Notables belief in conspiracy


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I'm interested in compiling a list between us of people who have expressed the opinion that JFK's murder was as a result of a conspiracy or was, at least, suspicious.

By notables I mean public figures like journalists, authors, politicians and those close to the Kennedys.

I suppose they can be put into two categories, those who openly opine on the subject, and those who have expressed themselves through actions. By the latter I would mean Jackie Kennedy's behaviour in ordering an investigation into the murder would suggest that she believed in a conspiracy.

In the memoir 'Palimpsest', Gore Vidal lambastes Gerald Posner and lauds the work of Waldron and Hartman, believing Kennedy to have been murdered by Marcello, Trafficante and another mobster whose name escapes me.

Can anyone add other examples?

I will update this first post to reflect the names that we come up with to make browsing the thread easier.

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Jackie Kennedy's cousin John Davis not only believed JFK had been killed by a conspiracy, he wrote Mafia Kingfish, fingering Marcello as the mastermind.

There is also RFK and LBJ, and Alexander Haig, and Ted Sorensen, and Senators Richard Schweicker and Gary Hart. There is, also, of course, the bulk of the HSCA committee.

It's only second-hand, but it was reported by screenwriter Eric Hamburg that JFK's sister, Jean Kennedy Smith, suspected the anti-Castro Cuban crowd.

And then there's folks like Al Gore. I think Hillary Clinton also voiced some suspicion somewhere along the line.

On the other side of the pond you have Khruschev, and, apparently, deGaulle.

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The following is an excerpt from a letter to the New York Times Book Review, written in response to a review of Reclaiming History. It was signed by Jefferson Morley, Norman Mailer, Anthony Summers, and David Talbot, and published on June 17, 2007.

<quote>

Bryan Burrough’s laudatory review of Vincent Bugliosi’s book on the Kennedy assassination (May 20) is superficial and gratuitously insulting. “Conspiracy theorists” – blithe generalization – should according to Burroughs be “ridiculed, even shunned ... marginalized the way we’ve marginalized smokers.” Let’s see now. The following people to one degree or another suspected that President Kennedy was killed as the result of a conspiracy, and said so either publicly or privately: Presidents Lyndon Johnson and Richard Nixon; Attorney General Robert Kennedy; John Kennedy’s widow, Jackie; his special adviser dealing with Cuba at the United Nations, William Attwood; F.B.I. director J. Edgar Hoover; Senators Richard Russell (a Warren Commission member), and Richard Schweiker and Gary Hart (both of the Senate Intelligence Committee); seven of the eight congressmen on the House Assassinations Committee and its chief counsel, G. Robert Blakey; the Kennedy associates Joe Dolan, Fred Dutton, Richard Goodwin, Pete Hamill, Frank Mankiewicz, Larry O’Brien, Kenneth O’Donnell and Walter Sheridan; the Secret Service agent Roy Kellerman, who rode with the president in the limousine; the presidential physician, Dr. George Burkley; Mayor Richard Daley of Chicago; Frank Sinatra; and the “60 Minutes” producer Don Hewitt. All of the above, à la Burrough, were idiots.

No so, of course.

<end quote>

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The Don Hewitt reference was notable to me. I recall in a 2003 C-Span special an interview with him in which he was quite candid about his doubts about the Warren Commission.

Funny how little coverage his death received especially in comparison with Tim Russert. Now which of those two's careers were more important in the history of TV journalism in the US?

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The following is an excerpt from a letter to the New York Times Book Review, written in response to a review of Reclaiming History. It was signed by Jefferson Morley, Norman Mailer, Anthony Summers, and David Talbot, and published on June 17, 2007.

<quote>

Bryan Burrough’s laudatory review of Vincent Bugliosi’s book on the Kennedy assassination (May 20) is superficial and gratuitously insulting. “Conspiracy theorists” – blithe generalization – should according to Burroughs be “ridiculed, even shunned ... marginalized the way we’ve marginalized smokers.” Let’s see now. The following people to one degree or another suspected that President Kennedy was killed as the result of a conspiracy, and said so either publicly or privately: Presidents Lyndon Johnson and Richard Nixon; Attorney General Robert Kennedy; John Kennedy’s widow, Jackie; his special adviser dealing with Cuba at the United Nations, William Attwood; F.B.I. director J. Edgar Hoover; Senators Richard Russell (a Warren Commission member), and Richard Schweiker and Gary Hart (both of the Senate Intelligence Committee); seven of the eight congressmen on the House Assassinations Committee and its chief counsel, G. Robert Blakey; the Kennedy associates Joe Dolan, Fred Dutton, Richard Goodwin, Pete Hamill, Frank Mankiewicz, Larry O’Brien, Kenneth O’Donnell and Walter Sheridan; the Secret Service agent Roy Kellerman, who rode with the president in the limousine; the presidential physician, Dr. George Burkley; Mayor Richard Daley of Chicago; Frank Sinatra; and the “60 Minutes” producer Don Hewitt. All of the above, à la Burrough, were idiots.

No so, of course.

<end quote>

Of course you must discount Johnson, Nixon and Hoover. Being part of the conspiracy they KNEW the WCR was a lie.

Jack

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The philosopher Bertrand Russell, someone who was accepted as being one of the world greatest thinkers in 1963, was always convinced that JFK was the victim of a conspiracy.

And most of the membersip of the 'Who Killed Kennedy?' Committee Russell was so instrumental in forming...

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The philosopher Bertrand Russell, someone who was accepted as being one of the world greatest thinkers in 1963, was always convinced that JFK was the victim of a conspiracy.

And most of the membersip of the 'Who Killed Kennedy?' Committee Russell was so instrumental in forming...

Other members of the "Who Killed Kennedy Committee” included: John Arden (playwright), Carolyn Wedgwood Benn (wife of Tony Wedgwood Benn, M.P.), Lord Boyd-Orr (former director-general of the U.N. Food and Agricultural Organization and a Nobel Peace Prize winner), John Calder (publisher), Professor William Empsom (professor of English Literature at Sheffield University), Victor Golancz (publisher), Michael Foot (M.P. and later leader of the Labour Party), Kingsley Martin (editor of the New Statesman), Compton Mackenzie (writer), J. B. Priestley (playwright and author), Sir Herbert Reed (art critic), Tony Richardson (film director), Dr. Mervyn Stockwood (Bishop of Southwark), Professor Hugh Trevor-Roper (Regius Professor of Modern History at Oxford University) and Kenneth Tynan (Manager of the National Theatre).

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The philosopher Bertrand Russell, someone who was accepted as being one of the world greatest thinkers in 1963, was always convinced that JFK was the victim of a conspiracy.

And most of the membersip of the 'Who Killed Kennedy?' Committee Russell was so instrumental in forming...

Other members of the "Who Killed Kennedy Committee” included: John Arden (playwright), Carolyn Wedgwood Benn (wife of Tony Wedgwood Benn, M.P.), Lord Boyd-Orr (former director-general of the U.N. Food and Agricultural Organization and a Nobel Peace Prize winner), John Calder (publisher), Professor William Empsom (professor of English Literature at Sheffield University), Victor Golancz (publisher), Michael Foot (M.P. and later leader of the Labour Party), Kingsley Martin (editor of the New Statesman), Compton Mackenzie (writer), J. B. Priestley (playwright and author), Sir Herbert Reed (art critic), Tony Richardson (film director), Dr. Mervyn Stockwood (Bishop of Southwark), Professor Hugh Trevor-Roper (Regius Professor of Modern History at Oxford University) and Kenneth Tynan (Manager of the National Theatre).

One of the two extended pieces Trevor-Roper produced on the case:

The Sunday Times, 3 January 1965, p.9

How was the President shot? Did Oswald have accomplices?

On December 13 Professor Trevor-Roper wrote for The Sunday Times his highly critical historian’s analysis of the Warren Report on President Kennedy’s assassination. He found “discrepancies” between the report and the 26 volumes of evidence published with it. He asked why witnesses had not been pressed in cross-examination, why the police had destroyed the paper bag in which the assassin presumably carried the gun, why the doctor who examined the President did not keep his notes and subsequently “adjusted” his report. He suggested that the Commission had put up a “smokescreen.” The following week, after others had accused Trevor-Roper of bias and misjudgment, John Sparrow, Warden of All Souls, made on this page a searching assessment of his fellow Oxonian’s criticisms, accused him of, among other things, misrepresentation in regard to the doctor’s change of mind as to whether the lethal bullet entered from the front or rear, of presenting the evidence of identification by Brennan unfairly by omitting a further reference to it in the report, and of “innuendo” in regard to the paper bag, which he claimed was not in fact destroyed but handed to the Commission.

By Hugh Trevor-Roper

Mr. Sparrow contests my criticism of the Warren Report on two main grounds. He accuses me generally of seeking to undermine the Report by innuendo without offering any positive theory of my own, and he challenges my particular evidence. I certainly did not wish to gain any ends by innuendo, and if I did not advance a rival theory, it was because I have nothing so positive to advance. Lack of confidence in one set of conclusions does not require positive support for another. But before coming to the detail, perhaps it is best to recapitulate, very briefly, what I said and what I did not say.

I did not propose, or mean to suggest, a vast conspiracy. I explicitly stated that I distrust conspiratorial solutions. I did not state that the conclusions of the Warren Report were necessarily wrong: I explicitly stated that, though unproved, they could be right. I did not doubt the bona fides of the Commission. What I said was that its composition was “highly unsatisfactory.” By this I did not, of course, mean to ascribe “antecedent bias”: I meant that its members were nearly all busy politicians. One of them was so busy that he attended only two out of its forty-four sessions.

I also said that its methods were ill-calculated to guarantee the truth; that it had relied mainly on what would have been, in any trial of Oswald, “prosecution witnesses” – i.e., witnesses found by the police; and that it had shown insufficient independence of the prosecuting agencies – i.e., it had accepted with too little question their material and their interpretation. Its conclusions are, therefore, basically a prosecutor’s case. Such a case is often found to be true; but its truth would be more readily accepted if witnesses had been cross-examined, if defence witnesses had been summoned, or even if the Commission itself had pressed more heavily on the weaker joints of the evidence offered to it.

The Commission itself is obviously sensitive to this charge. It protests that although no defence counsel was allowed, adequate provision was made to ensure fairness to the “defendant.” The President of the American Bar Association, Mr. Walter Craig, was invited to participate for that purpose, and he did so, we are assured, “fully and without limitation,” being allowed to cross-examine and recall witnesses and make proposals. Mr. David Nizer, who introduces the published Report with such a flourish of trumpets, is enraptured by the “exquisite blend” of thorough probing with protection of individual rights “in accordance with the great traditions of Anglo-Saxon jurisprudence.”

Who would guess, from these statements, the real facts? For according to the official record, Mr. Craig only attended three of the forty-four sessions of the Commission, and none of the separate hearings and only opened his mouth – not on behalf of Oswald - at one of these three. It is precisely such discrepancies between the published Report and the testimony behind it which shake my confidence in its conclusions and make me wish that its procedures had been different.

Now to take Mr. Sparrow’s particular points. I said that there was “no evidence that Oswald took the gun into the Book Depository, nor that he fired it.” Mr. Sparrow contests this. But what in fact is the evidence? Only two witnesses saw Oswald enter the building. Both of them testified that he carried a parcel, but both equally testified that the parcel was such that it simply could not have contained the gun, even dismantled. The Commission accepts their evidence that he carried the parcel, but rejects their detailed and insistent description of the parcel. As Mr. Sparrow puts it, both witnesses “misestimated its length.” This begs the question. Anyway, they did not merely estimate: they described, circumstantially, explicitly, exclusively. This is what I mean by the Commission’s “choice of evidence.”

Nobody identified Oswald as having fired the gun. Admittedly one man, Howard Brennan, described the marksman in terms sufficiently precise to be, in the Commission’s words, “most probably” the basis of the search for Oswald. But it is interesting that whereas, in other connections, several persons identified Oswald (whom they had generally seen on television) in police line-ups (which he complained were unfairly arranged, and which were admitted by the police to be “unusual” in form), the one man who could not identify him was this same Mr. Brennan whose description had been so precise. (The report, on page 250, says that he did identify him, but this, as Brennan’s testimony shows, is inaccurate.) As I wrote, Oswald may have introduced and fired the gun. But there is no positive evidence that he did either and my words are strictly true.

Mr. Sparrow next takes me up on the Commission’s phrase “most probably”: words which, in the circumstances, seemed to me unpardonably vague and caused me to describe the Report as “slovenly.” He points out that, elsewhere, the Report uses the word “primarily.” This little fact had not escaped me. But I had also noticed that this word (which is anyway hardly less vague than “most probably”) occurs only in the Summary, not in the Report itself. It is merely a summariser’s faulty rendering and does nothing to correct the vagueness of the Report.

Now we come to the medical evidence. I think this is really fairly clear. It is not merely a question (as Mr. Sparrow would have it) of a “rumour” arising out of a Press Conference. This is the impression given by the Report, but for clarity we should go behind the Report to the testimony (vols. III and VI). There we see that the doctors at the Parkland Hospital were generally agreed. They regarded the wound in the President’s throat as an entrance wound, and they only allowed that it might equally have been an exit wound on the strength of outside evidence. As Dr. Perry put it, “With the facts which you have made available and with these assumptions, I believe that it was an exit wound.”

Even so, they only accepted this interpretation on condition that the bullet was “of low velocity,” so low “that you might think that this bullet barely made it through the soft tissue, and just enough to drop out of the skin on the opposite side.” And yet the Commission, having accepted the conclusion, did not accept this necessary condition of it. It could not do so, because its further theory required it to believe that this same bullet, so far from just dropping out of the front of the President’s neck, went on to pass right through the body of Governor Connally: a belief, incidentally, quite incompatible with the testimony of Governor Connally himself, who insists that, after hearing the first shot, which hit the President, he had time to turn around, first to the right, then to the left, before being hit himself. It is thus true to say that there is a discrepancy between the original medical evidence and the police theory.

By the time Dr. Humes conducted his autopsy, the throat wound had been distorted by the tracheotomy at Parkland. He was thus unable to see its original form. He also had the advantage of the police evidence. That his autopsy was “distorted” by this evidence is shown by the document itself (Exhibit 397). It is not a purely medical document. It begins with a narrative of the assassination from the Book Depository, as reported by the police and then describes the wounds in relation to it.

On one point I must eat humble-pie. In respect of the paper bag I regret that I made an error. I neglected the cardinal rule, “Always check your references,” and must pay the price. I withdraw the statement completely, and yield to Mr. Sparrow the discoloured remnants of that paper bag on which I have publicly slipped up.

Finally there is the, to me, astonishing fact that, after warning him formally that his statements might be used in evidence against him, the police claimed to have no record of Oswald’s statements in the course of a twelve-hour interrogation. I thought this so eccentric that I did not hesitate to suppose that the record must have been destroyed. Mr. Sparrow prefers to accept the police explanation, that the failure to make a record was exceptional: that in the confusion of the time “all principles of good interrogation” were forgotten.

But the police, who made this excuse, did not stick to it. On another occasion they told the Commission that they never took notes, so that their neglect of “all principles of good interrogation” was not exceptional when the President of the United States was murdered, but regular, in all the 500 shootings whose victims are brought yearly to the Parkland Hospital. So we can take our choice. We have a free choice, because here, as elsewhere when interrogating the police, the Commission did not press the point. Defending counsel, I think, would have done so.

This indeed is my principal complaint against the Commission. In the chain of reasoning constructed by the police several essential links are very weak. There is the mystery of the original message which motivated Tippit – and indeed the whole Tippit episode. There is the mystery of Oswald’s marksmanship: three rapid and deadly shots from a bolt-action rifle through an upper window. Qualified witnesses have deposed that the feat was impossible. “If I couldn’t do it myself,” declared a former naval ordnanceman, “eight hours a day, doing this for a living, constantly on the range, I know this civilian couldn’t do it.” There is the mystery of the rifle itself. Why did the experience police officer who found it - a graduate in engineering who admitted that he was familiar with rifles, having been “in the sporting goods business” – report, not casually, but in writing, both to his superiors and to the FBI that it was a Mauser 7.65 when a different make and calibre were clearly inscribed on it?

All these problems may be soluble. But the Commission never pressed these weak links. It was content with general, even evasive, answers which slid over their weakness.

Above all, there is the problem of a motive. Why should a Marxist, who expressed admiration for Kennedy, have laid so deep a plot to kill him? Unable to find a rational explanation, the Commission has accepted a psychological explanation. But it has only created a psychological mystery. If Oswald were an idealist or an exhibitionist, we would have expected him, on arrest, to have boasted of his act of justice, claimed his full publicity. In fact, he obstinately denied the fact. Such denial might be natural in a hired assassin, who reckoned on protection. It is difficult to understand in a “loner.”

If there are weaknesses within the testimony used, there are also problems about testimony that was unused or unpursued. Some known witnesses were not heard by the Commission, or at least, if heard, were heard in spite of, not through, the police. Such was Warren Reynolds, a witness of the Tippit affair, who was mysteriously shot in the head two days after being interviewed by the police. He survived and gave evidence, but it was General Walker, not the police, who got him to do so: the police sought to discount his evidence in advance.

Two other possible witnesses, one known to Oswald, the other to Ruby, died violently before being able to testify. Some evidence given to the police, on the day of the assassination, was not pursued because “it did not fit with what we knew to be true.” Of course much of the evidence which was not brought before the Commission is, by definition, hearsay. For that reason I have been careful to cite none of it. But it need not have been ignored. The pursuit of hearsay sometimes leads to the discovery of evidence. And even the evidence that did come before the Commission was not fully digested by it. How could it be? We only have to look at the dates. The Commission began its work in February. On September 15 it was still taking evidence. And yet the final Report was handed to the President on September 24 and was on the bookstalls, printed and bound, two days later. Clearly its main conclusions had been reached, and its separate chapters composed, before the last witnesses had been heard.

Nevertheless, from that mass of fascinating detail, and perhaps from other evidence, conclusions will one day be drawn. Whether those conclusions will be the same as those of the Commission is, in my opinion, an open question. Mr. Sparrow would have me believe, as the only logical alternative to swallowing the Report whole, in a vast conspiracy involving police, FBI and all their witnesses. I do not accept such an alternative, or such logic.

It seems to me that, whatever may have been established, certain specific questions have been left unanswered. Not knowing how far we can trust the police evidence, we do no know how fully we have been informed. The solid pieces of evidence, which may have been arranged in one pattern, may easily, if that is defective, have to be rearranged in another. Meanwhile, precise conclusions are necessarily uncertain. We do not know precisely how the President was shot. We do not know whether Oswald had accomplices. We do not know the real motives, or connections, of Ruby. And these, after all, are the essential questions.

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