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William Manchester


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Do you know if any records by him when he did his research for his book Death of a President are declassified? I am sure he may have been aware of the flaws and discrepancies in the case and chose to ignore or suppress them. Did he actually see any of the autopsy pics and x-rays and the Zapruder film? I hope to get comments from other people about him.

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Do you know if any records by him when he did his research for his book Death of a President are declassified? I am sure he may have been aware of the flaws and discrepancies in the case and chose to ignore or suppress them. Did he actually see any of the autopsy pics and x-rays and the Zapruder film? I hope to get comments from other people about him.

Steve, I do not know whether "declassified" is the right term, as he was a private author. I do know that Jackie confided certain things to Manchester with the understanding that they would remain private for 100 years, or until her children are deceasd, or something like that. What she confided has fascinated me.

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  • 5 years later...

A "GEM" out of the Manchester book DEATH OF A PRESIDENT: page 194 (he describes the head shot)

"The First Lady(), leaned solicitously towards the president. His face was quizzical.() Now, in a gesture of infinite grace he raised his right hand, as though to brush back his tousled chestnut hair. But the motion faltered. The hand fell back limply. He had been reaching for the top of his head. But it wasn't there any more."

End

VERY DRAMATIC - and complete bullxxxx...

KK

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Manchester's interviews are archived at Wesleyan University. Many of them are now accessible to those with an interest. Writer Steve Gillion quoted some of them in his book and documentary on LBJ's first 48 hours as President. That's the good news.

The bad news is that the most important interviews are still withheld in total. A number of members of the Kennedy family, and Kennedy detail, as well as Kennedy's physician Dr. Burkley, were conducted through the intervention of Jacqueline Kennedy, and touched upon the reactions and behavior of the first family. Personal stuff. It was Jackie's wish and Manchester's that these interviews be withheld while members of the first family were still living, which means most of us will never see any of them, unless Caroline intervenes on our behalf.

I discuss Manchester and my dealings with Wesleyan University in chapter 10 at patspeer.com:

Manchester Dissected

That there was a conspiracy to mislead the public about the location of Kennedy's back wound finds support in an unexpected place. In November 1966, Washington was abuzz with talk of the upcoming release of William Manchester's The Death of a President, a book written at the request of the Kennedy family, for which Manchester had been granted unparalleled access, including dozens of interviews with Kennedy's Secret Service detail. Much of this Washington chatter revolved around President Johnson's concern the book would make him look bad. (After reading the book, Jacqueline Kennedy came to agree that the book was indeed unfair to Johnson, and fought successfully for a number of edits. But these weren't the only edits. She also forced him to remove a number of segments dealing with the personal reactions of the Kennedy family to the assassination, which Mrs. Kennedy considered too personal.)

In any event, the book, when serialized in the 1-24-67 issue of Look Magazine, included the following description of the first shot's trajectory: "The President was wounded, but not fatally. A 6.5 millimeter bullet had entered theback of his neck, bruised his right lung, ripped his windpipe, and exited at his throat, nicking the knot of his tie." Now, from this, one might assume Manchester was simply regurgitating Dr. Humes' Warren Commission testimony and the Warren Report. But there's more to this than at first meets the eye.

It then explains:

"In the summer of 1966, a former Cornell graduate student published a dissertation that suggested that this first bullet followed a different trajectory. The implication was that a second assassin had aided Oswald. The issue is resolved by the X-rays and photographs which were taken from every conceivable angle during the autopsy on the President's body. Robert Kennedy has decided that this material is too unsightly to be shown to anyone, including qualified scholars, until 1971. He has turned it over to the National Archives with that restriction. Although this writer has not seen the material, he interviewed three people with special qualifications who examined it before it was put under seal. None of them knew the other two, but all three gave identical accounts of what they had seen in the photographs and X-rays. The X-rays show no entry wound 'below the shoulder,' as argued by the graduate student. Admittedly, X-rays of active projectiles passing through soft tissue are difficult to read. However, the photographs support them in this case--and clearly reveal that the wound was in the neck. Finally, the recollections of all doctors present during the autopsy, including the President's personal physician, agree unanimously with this overwhelming evidence."

When published in book form, three months later, moreover, the words in bold above had been re-written. This paragraph was now just a footnote, and read:

"In the summer of 1966, a former Cornell graduate student published a book which suggested that this first bullet followed a different trajectory. The implication was that a second assassin had aided Oswald. The issue is resolved by the X-rays and photographs which were taken from every conceivable angle during the autopsy on the President's body. Because the material is unsightly it will be unavailable until 1971. However, the author has discussed it with three men who examined it before it was placed under seal. All three carried special professional qualifications. Each was a stranger to the other two. Nevertheless their accounts were identical. The X-rays show no entry wound 'below the shoulder,' as argued by the graduate student. Admittedly, X-rays of active projectiles passing through soft tissue are difficult to read. Yet, the photographs support them in this case--and reveal that the wound was in the neck. Finally, the recollections of all doctors present during the autopsy, including the President's personal physician, agree unanimously with this overwhelming evidence. Thus the account in the above text is correct."

Well, heck, where do we begin? First of all, who were these three "professionals?" While one might at first assume they were three of the four members of Kennedy's autopsy team (the four being Humes, Boswell, Stringer, and Ebersole), who'd just inventoried the evidence for the archives, Manchester specifies both that the men conducting this examination were strangers to each other, and that they'd examined the evidence before it was returned to the government and placed under seal by the Kennedy family on October 31, 1966. He also lists no interviews with these men in the Sources sections of his book.

He does list a 7-11-66 interview with Dr. George Burkley, Kennedy's physician, however. This lends support that he spoke to Burkley on this issue, and that Burkley had, yes indeed, confirmed that the wound was on the neck, as reported. There's a HUGE problem with this, however. The death certificate for Kennedy made out by Burkley on 11-23-63 described the wound Manchester describes as a wound on the "back of his neck" as a wound "in the posterior back at about the level of the third thoracic vertebra." Back, not neck. And the third thoracic vertebra--not remotely on the neck.

So who could get to Burkley, and get him to mislead Manchester about the location of the back wound? Well, it seems a bit of a coincidence that Burkley was retained by President Johnson, and was Johnson's personal physician when Manchester asked him about the back wound. It's also quite intriguing that the only known inspection of the autopsy materials prior to their being placed "under seal" was on April 26, 1965, when they were inventoried upon transfer to the Kennedy family, and that this inventory was performed by Dr. Burkley, along with Robert Bouck, Special Agent in Charge of the Protective Research Division of the Secret Service, Edith Duncan, administrative assistant to Bouck, Secret Service agent Chester Miller, and, according to some sources, Secret Service Inspector Thomas Kelley.

And yet...not only were these people not strangers to each other, they, (with the possible exception of Dr. Burkley), failed to have the "special professional qualifications" described by Manchester.

This, then, leads to the uncomfortable possibility the "examination" cited by Manchester took place while the autopsy materials were in possession of the Kennedy family, and that three trusted "professionals," purported strangers to each other, lied to Manchester. If so, no word of this "examination" has ever surfaced.

If it even happened... It seems possible no examination of this type actually took place, and that Manchester was exaggerating both the precision of the examination he described, and the qualifications of those performing this examination.

This possibility is supported by a letter published in The Manchester Affair, a book on the difficulties Manchester faced getting his book published. This letter was written by Manchester on 7-17-66, shortly after the publication of Edward Epstein's Inquest, the book by the "former Cornell graduate student" causing Manchester so much concern. This letter was written to Robert Kennedy, and declares: "Epstein's Inquest, a really poisonous job, needn't trouble us any longer. With the help of Dr. Burkley and Howard Willens I think I've knocked out what, at first reading, appears to be one strong point in Epstein's version." (The importance of this letter was first noted by Howard Roffman.)

As we've seen, in the Sources section of his book, Manchester lists an interview with Burkley on 7-11-66. He lists an interview with Willens on 7-8-66. These are the last of the hundreds of interviews listed in the Sources section. There is no record of him interviewing three men with "special professional qualifications" at any time this month. In fact, it had been months since Manchester had interviewed anyone prior to his interviews of Willens, and then Burkley. The probability exists then, that Burkley and Willens supplied Manchester with the identities of the three strangers with "special professional qualifications," mentioned by Manchester. Burkley, was, of course, a doctor. He saw the photos and X-rays. He may have been one of the three "strangers."

But who were the other two?

A close look at Willens provides us an answer. Well, at least a possible answer. Willens had, of course, served as counsel for the Warren Commission, working as an assistant to General Counsel J. Lee Rankin. But what is little appreciated about Willens is that, unlike, the rest of the lawyers working for the commission, Willens did not come to the Commission from outside Washington, but inside. He was a lawyer for the Justice Department, strategically placed within the Commission by acting Attorney General Katzenbach, supposedly to work as a liaison between the Commission and the Justice Department.

But his actual role went further, much further.

According to Epstein's Inquest, for which Willens was interviewed, Willens was responsible for selecting most of the junior counsel working for the Commission. While some of these men, the work-horses of the Commission, were recommended by others, at least one was Willens' personal pick--Arlen Specter, an old school chum of Willens', with whom he'd edited the Yale Law Journal. As Willens was also tasked with assigning these men their duties, he was far and away the man most responsible for the strange circumstance that Arlen Specter, of all the lawyers in America, would end up being the chief investigator for the Commission on the specifics of the shooting, i.e. the man tasked with determining how many shots were fired, and from where they were fired.

And that's not all. Willens was also responsible for disseminating the thousands of FBI, CIA, and Secret Service Reports provided the Warren Commission to the lawyers responsible for the related areas of investigation. This put Willens, an employee of President Johnson's Justice Department, in the driver's seat of the Commission's investigation.

And this didn't go unnoticed. When interviewed for Inquest, Commissioner John McCloy let his distrust of Willens known. He told Epstein that Willens "was one of Katzenbach's boys. Katzenbach put him in there to keep us on the right track There was already an independent investigator (Redlich) and there were some clashes. Willens was a bureaucrat and had a different perspective. Willens had to be reprimanded several times by the chief justice. Once he kept material from us--evidence-- he locked it in his top drawer, afraid we weren't ready for it. He wanted to be the star-- thought this case would make him. He is ambitious, and will probably write a book. We finally forced him to give us the evidence. He also reported to Katzenbach, gave him a different story."

Not exactly a ringing endorsement. And this wasn't the only time Willens' loyalty to the commission was called into doubt...by a supposed colleague. In 1975, a June 3, 1960 memo in which FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover warned the State Department that someone might be impersonating Oswald bubbled to the surface. A 2-23-75 article in the Sacramento Bee on this discovery notes that "Neither J. Lee Rankin, the former general counsel of the commission, nor any of his former staff aides who were most involved in investigating Oswald's background, said they could remember seeing it. However, Howard P. Willens, now a private lawyer here, identified himself in an interview Saturday as the commission lawyer who had reviewed the F.B.I. file. Willens, who was then the special liaison officer to the Justice Department, said that 'while I do not think that anyone can state now with the necessary precision whether or not he saw the Hoover memo, it is my best recollection that I did, in fact, see that memo. I do not want to be in a public debate with my old colleagues,' Willens said, 'but I know that there was discussion of this among others on the staff concerned with the activities of Oswald abroad. I am concerned with continued public references to the notion that the commission overlooked obvious facts."

Well, yeah, of course he was concerned. If he saw the memo, but no one else did, it meant that he, as the reviewer of the files tasked with making sure they reached the appropriate counsel, screwed up, OR made it disappear. The article then quotes W. David Slawson, one of the 'old colleagues' Willens didn't want to debate: "'We were the rumor runner-downers, and we certainly should have seen this material, as we did a great deal of other stuff that we showed to be unfounded,' he said. 'It may be more significant that we did not see it, in terms of a possible cover-up and the reasons for it, than if we had seen it. I mean, I don't know where the imposter notion would have led us--perhaps nowhere, like a lot of other leads. But the point is, we didn't know about it. And why not?' Slawson said in an interview that the investigation should be reopened also 'because the interposition of an impostor, if it happened, is a political act. And, after all, this (the assassination) was not just another murder,' he said. 'It was, by definition, a political murder.'" (Slawson later clarified that his call for a new investigation of the assassination was a call for a new investigation limited to the actions of the FBI and CIA--which would put Willens in the hot seat.)

In any event, Willens was clearly ambitious and close to Specter, and was quite possibly told by Specter that Specter and Secret Service Inspector Thomas Kelley had viewed the back wound photo on May 24, 1964, the day of the re-enactment in Dallas.

Perhaps, then, Willens told Manchester they'd viewed the photo and that it confirmed the wound was in the neck. Perhaps, then, Manchester either briefly talked to them himself, or made out like he had personally spoken to them, in order to sell what he wanted his readers to believe: there was but one shooter, Oswald.

Perhaps, then, Manchester was guilty of misrepresentation, but not of the greater crime of fraud one might otherwise assume.

I have come to suspect as much. In March 2012, I contacted Wesleyan University, where Manchester's papers are stored. It had occurred to me that the restrictions placed on Manchester's many interviews applied only to interviews conducted between March 26, 1964 and April 15, 1966, and that his July 1966 interviews with Willens and Burkley were not covered. I asked an archivist if she could help me find the notes for these interviews. Alas, she told me that a thorough search through the archives' data base turned up no record for these interviews. Hmmm... This raises the possibility no notes were created, and that they weren't created because these "interviews" were little more than short phone calls in which Manchester asked, point blank, if the wound was on the back or the neck, and was told it was on the neck.

Edited by Pat Speer
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It would be nice to know which Manchester Interviews are available, and which are not. I can't find such a list on the Internet.

KK

the book lists about 300 Interview partners, but wikipedia says:

Manchester interviewed 1,000 people for the book, including Robert F. Kennedy; only Marina Oswald refused.

hu? 1000 people?

Edited by Karl Kinaski
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I know for a fact the info on Fr. Oscar Huber is wrong.

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Well the quote Manchester use regarding Fr. Huber is very wrong

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Well the quote Manchester use regarding Fr. Huber is very wrong

Can you correct it for us Mark?

How is it wrong?

I know Manchester was wrong about identifying the man in the sunglasses in the back of the swearing in photo on AF1 as being "the Bagman" when it is Bill Moyers, and I think he got a few other things wrong, but not much, other than his conclusion that Oswald shot anybody.

I just finished reading The Manchester Affair which details how the book came into being and the law suit, etc.

BK

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If one wants to know everything about the worldwide emotional impact of the murder, DEATH OF THE PRESIDENT is a good read.

A whole lot of interesting details...

The "Oswald did it"parts are just like a foreign element. The ulcer of this otherwise well written book.

Manchesters description of Kennedys last seconds make me believe: he never saw the Zapruder film. Or even frames of it.

This are, once again, Manchasters words:

quote

"The First Lady(), leaned solicitously towards the president. His face was quizzical.() Now, in a gesture of infinite grace he raised his right hand, as though to brush back his tousled chestnut hair. But the motion faltered. The hand fell back limply. He had been reaching for the top of his head. But it wasn't there any more."

c.quote

Rank Nonsense !

KK

Edited by Karl Kinaski
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The quote about President Kennedy being dead. He never said He dead all right.

This comes his letter that he family has. This letter was sent to Manchester say such far i could tell Manchester replied to Fr. Huber.

Also Fr Huber came from my home town. In the early 80's i got a chance to speak to his sister and look at the family album on Her brother Fr. Huber.

Also when he passed away Rose Kennedy sent a telegram to the family giving her condolences and thanking the Fr. Huber's family for what he did that day.

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