Recently by Jim Fetzer: Forrest Gump on the Grassy Knoll
As a huge fan of actor Tom Hanks, I have admired him in many roles, including Charlie Wilson's War and Saving Private Ryan. I am also a fan of Leonardo DiCaprio, who became a worldwide phenomenon in Titanic. But I was distressed and dismayed to learn that they had committed to films about the death of JFK — in Tom's case, one based on Vincent Bugliosi's Reclaiming History (2008), and in Leonardo's, based on Lamar Waldron and Thom Hartmann's Legacy of Secrecy (2008) — which are indefensible books. According to Bugliosi, the Warren commission got it right: Lee Harvey Oswald was indeed "the lone assassin," where he claims to have refuted alternative "conspiracy theories." According to Waldron and Hartmann, JFK was planning to assassinate Fidel, when the mob learned of the plan and took JFK out first, using its insider's knowledge of the plot against Fidel to silence Bobby and preclude his pursuit of the guilty. The problem is that both theories are false.
Not only am I a fan of these actors but I have met Vincent Bugliosi. In my library downstairs, for example, I have a framed photo of Jesse Ventura, Vince and me at dinner in a restaurant in Minneapolis, when he came to present a lecture at the Hamlin University School of Law on 7 April 2003. We had a great time, and I admire many of his books, from Helter Skelter (about the Charles Manson case) and Outrage (why O.J. Simpson was guilty of killing both Ron and Nicole) to The Prosecution of George W. Bush for Murder (for war crimes and other atrocities). I like most of his books and have greatly admired him in the past. Similarly, I enjoy listening to Thom Hartmann over our local progressive radio station, "The Mic" at 92.1 FM in Madison, including his "Brunch with Bernie" Friday segments. I share many beliefs and values with Vince and with Thom about truth, justice and the American way. But on JFK, they are trading in fiction, not fact.
I know because I organized a research group consisting of the best-qualified students to ever study the case, including Robert B. Livingston, M.D., a world-authority on the human brain and an expert on wound ballistics; David W. Mantik, M.D., Ph.D., who is board certified in radiation oncology and an expert on the interpretation of X-rays; a physician, Charles Crenshaw, M.D., who had attended the moribund president when he was brought to Parkland Hospital after the shooting and then, two days later, his alleged assassin after he, too, had been shot; a legendary photo-analyst, Jack White, who testified before the House Select Committee on Assassinations (HSCA) when it reinvestigated the case in 1977–78, explaining a dozen or more indications that the infamous "backyard photographs" were fake; and another Ph.D. in physics, John P. Costella, whose specialization in electromagnetism, the properties of light, and the physics of moving objects enabled him to help prove the Zapruder film is a fraud.
On 3 March 2010, The Huffington Post published a piece about Tom Hanks, which included his comments about producing a television mini-series based on Bugliosi's Reclaiming History: “We’re going to do the American public a service,” Hanks says. “A lot of conspiracy types are going to be upset. If we do it right it’ll perhaps be one of the most controversial things that has ever been on TV.” Whether or not he knew it, I knew that I was one of those he had in mind, having published three books on the assassination, chaired or co-chaired four national conferences about it, and given hundreds of lectures and interviews about it. On more than one occasion, I appealed to Vince not to publish his book JFK, but to no avail. Even though he did acknowledge that mine are the only three "exclusively scientific" books about the death of our 35th president — in which I publish studies on different aspects of the case by qualified experts — he sailed ahead in reckless disregard for our findings.
The Falsifying Findings
According to The Warren Report (1964), a lone, demented former Marine named Lee Oswald fired three shots from the 6th floor of the Texas School Book Depository, with a World War II vintage Italian-made, 6.5mm Mannlicher-Carcano, scoring two hits and killing JFK. Originally, the FBI and the Secret Service concluded that all three shots had hit, one striking JFK on the back about 5.5 inches below the collar, the second hitting Texas Governor John Connally in the back, and the third hitting JFK in the head. When it was discovered that one shot had missed and pieces of curbing had slightly injured bystander James Tague, the commission had to revise those findings and claim that the bullet that hit him in the back actually struck the base of the back of his neck and had exited his throat and injured Connally — a bullet that emerged virtually pristine and has come to be known as the "magic" bullet. Our research has demonstrated, however, that this account cannot possibly be true.
According to The Warren Report, The HSCA Final Report, and articles in the Journal of the AMA, our 35th president was killed by high-velocity bullets, which have muzzle velocities of 2,600 fps or higher. The Mannlicher-Carcano only has a muzzle velocity of 2,000 fps, however, which means that it is only a medium velocity and not a high-velocity weapon, as other authors — Harold Weisberg, Whitewash (1965), Peter Model and Robert Groden, JFK: The Case for Conspiracy (1976), and Robert Groden and Harrison Livingstone, High Treason (1989) — have also observed. Insofar as this is the only weapon that Oswald has ever been alleged to have used to shoot JFK, he cannot possibly have fired the bullets that killed him.
According to The Warren Report, The HSCA Final Report, and other sources, the assassin was situated in the south-west corner of the Book Depository during the assassination, which took place at 12:30 PM on 22 November 1963. William Shelly, however, saw Oswald on the 2nd floor near the lunchroom when he (Shelly) came down to eat lunch; at Noon, Eddie Piper saw him on the 1st floor, when he (Oswald) told him (Piper) he was going up to eat; at 12:15 PM, Carolyn Arnold, the executive secretary to the Vice President, saw him sitting in the lunchroom; and again at 12:25 she observed him, but on the 1st floor near the front door. Within 90 seconds after the assassination, Motorcycle Officer Marrion Baker confronted him in the lunchroom and held him in his sights until Roy Truly, his supervisory, assured the officer that he belonged there. They both reported that he was not breathing heavily or perspiring but acting normally — not what would be expected if had run down from the 6th floor.
Later, when she was interrogated, his wife, Marina, stated that Lee admired JFK and bore him no malice. During his recent Conspiracy Theory program on the assassination broadcast on TruTV on Friday, 19 November 2010, Jesse Ventura had the opportunity to talk with Marina, who did not want her face shown on television because she lives in fear for the life of her children – nearly 50 years later. Jesse had 2.5 hours to talk with her, however, and she said that, although at one time she had thought Lee had done it, she was now convinced he was innocent and had been working undercover for the government. This conjecture had even been confirmed by the Attorney General for Texas, Waggoner Carr, who had launched his own investigation and found that Lee was working as an informant for the FBI, had been assigned informant number 179, and was being paid $200 per month right up to the time of the assassination. That may be why his W-2 forms have never been released as if the IRS couldn't get ahold of them, which is a unique event in American history!
More Problems for Bugliosi
What this means is that the man The Warren Commission fingered for the crime had neither the means, the motive nor the opportunity to have committed the crime. Most of what I have just said, however, has long been known to serious students of the assassination as long ago as the book by Mark Lane, Rush To Judgment (1967). The reason why it has been so difficult to crack is that the government produced X-rays and photographs that suggested the two bullets that hit JFK had been fired from above and behind — the official location of the shooter. It would not be until 1992 when David W. Mantik began to study the X-rays in the National Archives and discovered that they had been altered and Robert B. Livingston announced that the brain shown in diagrams and photographs could not be the brain of JFK — based upon his study of the doctors' reports from Parkland Hospital — that the case the commission had endorsed began to suffer its most significant damage.
Mantik obtained permission to study the autopsy X-rays, borrowing a technique from physics known as optical densitometry that enabled him to identify regions of the X-rays that were abnormal, including a region on the right lateral-cranial X-ray (of his skull taken from the side), which had been "patched" to conceal a massive blow-out at the back of the head, which corroborated the reports from the Parkland physicians that he had a major defect at the back of his head. When he studied the anterior-posterior X-ray (of the skull taken from the front), he found a 6.5mm slice of metal, which had apparently been added to the X-ray (in the darkroom) after they were taken from the morgue by Secret Service Agent Roy Kellerman. So the reason the HSCA had discounted more than 40 eyewitness reports of a massive blow-out at the back of his head was wrong and could no longer be defeated by the X-rays.
Livingston studied the reports from the physicians at Parkland, who, unlike the pathologists at Bethesda, were well-experienced with gunshot wounds. One after another — including Charles Crenshaw, M.D., Marion Jenkins, M.D., Charles Carrico, M.D., Malcolm Perry, M.D., Robert McClelland, M.D., Charles Baxter, M.D., and Kemp Clark, M.D., the Director of Neurosurgery — they reported that both cerebral and cerebellar tissue had been extruding from the wound. When Livingston compared their consistent and detailed reports with the diagrams and photographs of a brain at the National Archives, which shows only slight damage and a completely intact cerebellum, he was obligated to conclude that the brain shown in the diagrams and photographs could not be the brain of John Fitzgerald Kennedy. Once they had "patched" the massive defect to the back of the head, where was no place for that tissue to go, so they simply substituted another man's brain.
These discoveries were astonishing enough, but an even more important discovery would follow from them: that the home movie of the assassination (associated with Abraham Zapruder) had been edited to conceal the true causes of JFK's death. There were reasons to suspect the film had been re-created — by removing some events and adding others — since there were more than 59 witnesses who reported that the vehicle either had slowed dramatically or had come to a complete stop. The back-and-to-the left motion of the body, in fact, was not reported by any of the witnesses in Dealey Plaza, even though it is the most striking feature of the extant film. And his brains had been blown-out to the left-rear and had struck a motorcycle patrolman with such force he thought he himself had been shot. Yet the film shows brains bulging out to the right-front giving the impression of a shot from above and behind.
He Should Have Known Better
What bothers me is that these crucial findings — for which we have adduced abundant proof — had been published in Assassination Science (1998), Murder In Dealey Plaza (2000), and The Great Zapruder Film Hoax (2003) at least five years before Bugliosi published his massive tome. As David W. Mantik observes in his review of Reclaiming History, although I had laid out "16 smoking guns" in the Prologue to Murder, "authentic discussion of our paradoxes was, by and large, quite off limits. There was a lot of palaver about many other things but little at all about the central 16 — or [his] 20 Conclusions [after nine visits to the National Archives]." Nor did he take up the challenge of defeating our argument about the fabrication of the film, which includes a visual tutorial by John P. Costella explaining how we know that the film has been faked. This means our major findings remain unchallenged.
Instead, Vince placed his faith in an argument about several bullet fragments that had been found in the front floor of the limousine. The claim that neutron-activation analysis (NAA) had shown the fragments to have come from allotments of WWII Mannlicher-Carcano ammunition (on the basis of the analysis of its trace mineral composition with respect to their percentage of zinc, arsenic, lead and other elements) had convinced Robert Blakey, Executive Directory of the HSCA, that Oswald had been the lone assassin. Alas, as Mantik explains, the assumption of homogeneous composition of the Italian ammunition — which used recycled lead — was seriously flawed and therefore NAA could not be used to justify claims about their common origin. (Indeed, a recent article by Gary Aguilar, M.D., "Is Vincent Bugliosi Right that Neutron Activation Analysis Proves Oswalds Guilt?" has put the final nail in its coffin.) And, as I observed in my review of Bugliosi's book, had they come from a Mannlicher-Carcano or even from the same weapon, that would not have proven the location from which they were fired or by whom. But his means that Bugliosi's principal scientific argument was misconceived from the beginning.
Indeed, Bugliosi contends that Oswald was too unstable and insufficiently reliable for the CIA or the Mafia to have depended upon him to carry off the biggest murder in American history. After all, given the official story, he had defected to the Soviet Union, slashed his wrist trying to commit suicide, behaved erratically in New Orleans, and lived the life of a loner. Why would the CIA or the Mafia have trusted him? If Lee had been part of a conspiracy, as soon as he departed from the building, a car would have been waiting to take him to his death. Instead, he becomes the first successful assassin in history to make his escape by public transportation! Bugliosi, alas!, appears unable to appreciate that the same reasons he offers for why Oswald might not have been an appropriate choice to serve as an assassin are excellent reasons why he would have made a great selection in a conspiracy to serve as the patsy! Jesse Ventura made this point with devastating effect during his stunning exposure of Vince during their confrontation in the JFK segment of Conspiracy Theory.
If the planned mini-series based upon Reclaiming History starring Tom Hanks should make it to the small screen, his own remarks (“A lot of conspiracy types are going to be upset. If we do it right it’ll perhaps be one of the most controversial things that has ever been on TV”) are going to play out in ways he no doubt did not intend. On 19 November 2010, an announcement appeared that Leonardo DiCaprio is set to star in and produce Legacy of Secrecy, a movie based on the book by Lamar Waldron and Thom Hartmann about the assassination of President John F. Kennedy. The authors claim that JFK and RFK were planning a covert coup in Cuba, that the mob got wind of it and wacked JFK, then covered its back by threatening to expose the coup plans if RFK went after them. And they insist that LBJ and the FBI were not complicit in the crime. It has received rave praise, such as the following:
"I believe Waldron’s heavy-to-lift book is actually all but the last word on these troubling assassinations which have been so wildly speculated about since 1963 . . . Lamar Waldron, indefatigable public servant and author deserves his own Pulitzer Prize for his great work." — Liz Smith, New York Post
"They've done a service by digging up the deepest, darkest, most disturbing archival evidence to support their Mob hit theory." — Ron Rosenbaum
"Staggering!" — Mark Crispin Mill
"Exhaustively researched" — New York Observer
"[Legacy of Secrecy contains] over 800 pages of intricately documented data. Their findings add pieces to one of our most perplexing puzzles, and suggest where the key missing pieces may be found." — Ronald Goldfarb, Daily Beast
Unfortunately, their scenario is completely ludicrous. (1) After the abortive “Bay of Pigs” fiasco, JFK had entered into agreements with the Soviet Union that the US would not invade Cuba, which he could not have broken, even covertly, without profoundly tarnishing his reputation and that of the US. (2) There are more than 15 indications of Secret Service complicity in setting him up for the hit. (3) The autopsy X-rays were altered to conceal a massive blow-out to the back of the head and by adding a 6.5 mm metallic slice. And (4) the home movie of the assassination was re-created to remove incriminating evidence, including that the driver, William Greer, brought the limousine to a halt after bullets began to be fired. Once JFK was dead, RFK was rendered powerless, sandwiched between his powerful superior, LBJ, and his nominal subordinate, J. Edgar Hoover, both of whom appear to have been deeply involved in planning for JFK's death and then covering it up. None of this could have been arranged by the mob.
No doubt, the mob wanted to regain control of its resorts and casinos in Havana, where it had been running the largest money-laundering operation in the Western Hemisphere. If JFK and RFK were going to take out Castro, the mob would have waited until after that had been accomplished. The book appears to have been inspired, in part, by a misunderstood contingency plan for an operation of this kind, one that was filed and forgotten. Even Robert McNamara had never even heard of it; yet its execution was allegedly only weeks away when the mob took Jack out. The idea that JFK could be planning something like this without the knowledge of his close and trusted Secretary of Defense verges on the absurd. And, as other, more qualified sources, including Robert Dalleck, An Unfinished Life (2003), have also explained, JFK was planning to promote a new era of less stressful and far more peaceful relations with the USSR, including the normalization of relations with Cuba.
Tom Hanks and Leonardo DiCaprio have now embarked upon a voyage into the unknown, which is rife with hazards of which they appear to be blithely unaware. Bugliosi is an impressive prosecutor, but he knows very little about the alteration of X-rays or the fabrication of films. He produced a brilliant brief in his zeal to convince his readers that Oswald committed the crime. If Oswald didn't do it, then the Mafia would be a serious alternative, which Robert Blakey pushed when The HSCA Final Report (1979) appeared. But the mob could not have altered X-rays under control of medical officers of the US Navy, agents of the Secret Service, or the president's own personal physician. Neither pro- nor anti-Castro Cubans could have substituted another brain for that of JFK. And even if the Soviets had the capacity to fabricate movies comparable to that of the CIA and Hollywood, it would have been unable to get its hands on the Zapruder film. These things could only have been done with complicity from the highest levels of the American government. There are books worth producing as mini-series and as films, especially ones by James Douglass, JFK and the Unspeakable (2008), and by Phillip Nelson, LBJ: Mastermind of JFK’s Assassination (2010). The situation is not unlike that of those who controlled a magnificent ship, thought to be unsinkable, steaming blissfully ahead and unaware of its destiny. They bought the wrong books.
Special thanks to David W. Mantik for his comments and suggestions on this article.
Jim Fetzer [send him mail], a former Marine Corps officer who earned his Ph.D. in the history and the philosophy of science, is McKnight Professor Emeritus at the Duluth campus of the University of Minnesota. He co-edits assassinationresearch.com with John Costella. He is the editor of The Place of Probability in Science.