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The Exoneration of William Sharper

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Among those men arrested in Dealey Plaza in the immediate aftermath of the assassination of President Kennedy were two occupants of the Dal-Tex Building apprehended in apparently quick succession, by different law enforcement agencies... and for the exact same allegation.

The first, and most notorious of the two, is con artist and mob associate Eugene Brading, 48 – going by his new drivers-license-assisted alias of Jim Braden when queried by his arresting Dallas County Sheriff’s officers, although sticking with his original name with his probation officer a couple hours earlier.

Brading (henceforth referred to as Braden to align with the new name he continued using in his HSCA closed-session testimony 15 years later) was reported to police by a 69-year-old Dal-Tex elevator operator named William Sharper.

According to that declassified testimony, an alarmed Sharper raced from the building where he worked with Braden on his tail, so as to confront a group of nearby County Sheriff’s deputies sometime in the first 30 minutes of the shooting. Sharper alerted police to Braden having been trespassing upstairs in the building.

Braden claimed he’d been just walking by after the shooting and wanted to make a call. However, Roger Carroll, the probation officer to whom he reported while visiting Dallas those couple days, later refused to corroborate his alibi during the shooting. When asked by police for ID, Braden produced a credit card affiliated with an oil company instead of his license, and he was promptly escorted the block away to the Sheriff’s office for further questioning.

It wasn't until five years later, after the assassination of the JFK’s brother, that journalist Peter Noyes discovered that this oilman Jim Braden (whom even the Warren Commission acknowledged as having been arrested in Dealey Plaza) was the alias of the notorious Brading – and that his release from the County mere hours after the shooting was mistakenly based on Braden apparently having no criminal record.

Police appeared to have been unaware that he was the same Gene Brading run out of town by DPD’s Bill Decker ten years earlier on a well-publicized vagrancy charge, and he enjoyed a courtesy Secret Service ride back to his suite at the Cabana Motor Hotel just on the other side of the Stemmons Freeway.

Again, this is the same Braden with a rap sheet including over 30 entries, with such notable offenses as embezzlement, receiving stolen property, mail fraud, car theft and conspiracy. His default racket in those days was seducing and defrauding rich widows, along with fellow swindler Victor Periera. But as Noyes documents in his Legacy of Doubt book, Braden was also linked with infamous mob hitman James “Jimmie the Weasel” Fratiano in a 1956 report to the Greater Miami Crime Commission from LAPD Chief of Intelligence Capt. James Hamilton.

As other researchers such as Walt Brown have similarly argued, Braden’s selective use of his new alias on Nov. 22 meant none of this criminal history was reportedly discovered by his arresting officers. Nor was Sharper ever apparently aware of this shady background of the man whom he simply found to be behaving suspiciously in a building overlooking the doomed motorcade route.

This much of the event has been generally understood for decades within the research community.

Why, then, has William Sharper himself  (misspelled as "Sharp" by arresting officer Jim Leavelle) also been widely identified as a suspect in the assassination for much the same period of time?

Namely because he, too, was detained by police, allegedly for having been upstairs in the Dal-Tex building (again, where he worked) “without a good excuse,” according to Leavelle’s subsequent write-up.

There’s no doubt about it – the matching addresses between William Sharper’s second-hand FBI statement two months later and Leavelle’s own report confirm that this is the same Sharper – his Detonte St. residence is in Dallas’s historically Black Dolphin Heights neighborhood, on the other side of the tracks just a mile past the Cotton Bowl Stadium.

In addition to arresting a worker for working in his own building – and under the same allegation that this upstanding worker had just levied against an actual trespassing, unidentified criminal, no less – Leavelle also misidentified Sharper as white when Braden confirms he’s Black in both his same-day affidavit and much-later HSCA testimony.

Further corroborating Sharper’s African-American identity is his 11/27/84 Morning News mortuary notice, which notes his career as a Pullman Porter, an elevator-operator-adjacent service trade limited to Black men.

All that we can surmise with a high degree of certainty based on a careful synthesis of these primary source documents is that shortly after Sharper turned Braden into Dallas County for trespassing in Sharper’s workplace, the city DPD separately arrested Sharper for the same allegation.

It's difficult to construe this sequence of events as anything other than retaliatory in nature.

William Sharper was by all credible accounts a model citizen, a Black family man making his way in the Jim Crow South, a service worker whose bravery in alerting a Klan-infested police force to his suspicions of a well-dressed white man has been obfuscated by his continued, knee-jerk designation across some segments of the research community as a suspect in the assassination.

Sharper deserves to have his good name cleared, once and for all, as he was clearly punished after simply trying to do the right thing in an unimaginably fraught situation.

Such an acknowledgement (along with accusers' apologies to any possible descendants of his out there) should also be coupled with some wider self-reflection – when the most routine of cross checks of Leavelle’s arrest statement with Warren de Brueys’s FBI’s reports of Sharper’s altercation with Braden reveals fundamental contradictions that point toward a far more compelling underlying story: the scapegoating of a witness from a greatly marginalized group  – whether through malice, miscommunication, or negligence – by rather nonsensically flipping his allegations back in on him.

These illuminating discrepancies, combined with the identical addresses between Leavelle's Sharp and de Brueys's Sharper, should have irrefutably removed him from the bandied-about suspect column decades ago. The fact that it hasn’t is an indication that standards within some prominent elements of the research community have fallen short of those that we should rightly expect of law enforcement and media officials. Braden’s more recently released HSCA testimony only reinforces the contradictions between de Brueys’s and Leavelle’s respective accounts and further impugns the reliability of at least one of these two distinctly untrustworthy lawmen.

There’s no way around it. This has been a defamatory breakdown of basic due diligence by some well-reputed researchers of whom we should expect better. Of course mistakes will always be made, but the fact that they can go uncorrected for decades does suggest, though, that our community might sometimes tend toward sloppy source-swapping in lieu of serious peer review. If this example is to be taken as any indication, at least.

Either way regardless, it raises the legitimate question that if many people could propagate such an avoidable error for so long, then what other givens in this case are we unwittingly taking on faith through a reflexive trust where there should be healthy skepticism? (To be fair, both Alan Ford and Steve Thomas did pick up on and note these discrepancies in posts to the Assassination and Education forums one and six years ago, respectively. As did Linda Giovanna Zambanini in a FB group around the same time. Doubtless there have been others as well – this is the very definition of low-hanging fruit as far as research goes.)

Nonetheless, however, the confusion persists with people for whom it shouldn't.

When I attended Northwestern’s Medill j-school in the mid-’90s, the term “Medill F” referred to the automatic failing grade any student would receive in any journalism class if a single factual error, however trivial, was detected in any assignments we submitted. Such unforgiving standards definitely encourage the routinization of reporting best practices which include due diligence – and I would humbly suggest that it’s a standard more of us could afford to set for ourselves. We simply can’t correct our inevitable errors if we’re unwilling to independently scrutinize each other’s work more fully in much the same the way that experts angle to make names for themselves across most academic fields.

After all, this ain’t exactly the bridge tournament scores-of-the-week roundup. We are accusing actual real people of facilitating the murder of a president here. Here's one courageous witness, at least, who deserved better from some of us.



Edited by James Wilkinson
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