Author: zacharyjendro2014

Penn Jones, Pt. 1

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Penn Jones, Jr., a Texan, through and through, was born in 1913. He was a man short in physical stature (he stood only about 5’2”), but he was a man of strong convictions who never wavered under pressure. In fact, Jones first came to national attention in 1962 when, on April 30, the offices of his small Texas newspaper, The Midlothian Mirror, were firebombed and destroyed. It seems Midlothian, a town of 1800 residents in the early 60s  (Jones had no reservations in reminding people that The Mirror had a circulation of about 800 back then) did not take too kindly to Jones’ brand of politicking. A 1964 feature about Jones in the Houston Chronicle Texas Magazine features a photograph of stickers that had been hanging in the window of the newspaper office at the time of the bombing: “Repeal the Poll Tax” and “Reelect Ralph” (referring to Ralph Yarborough, an outspoken Texas liberal who would later ride in the fatal Kennedy motorcade). In fact, an attempt to desegregate the local school system would find him square in the sights of the John Birch Society, which, according to the Chronicle, was “big in Midlothian.”  Jones was the subject of a 1962 FBI file concerning the firebombing, as well as related rumors that he was a “communist sympathizer.” By 1965, the Bureau, with uncharacteristic certainty, had declared that this gossip was “ill founded” and “malicious.”  Luckily for Jones, his self-professed liberalism was not rejected by all Americans: he was awarded the Elijah Parish Lovejoy Award for Courage in Journalism in 1963. His Herculean efforts to continue publishing 3 days after the fire had undoubtedly earned him much respect among liberal journalists and agitated the ire of his conservative neighbors.

Jones had been covering President Kennedy’s visit to Texas in November of that year and was invited to attend the speech to be given by the President at the Dallas Trade Mart on the 22nd. He was among the guests who awaited the arrival of the motorcade to be stunned by the tragic news. Along with other reporters, Jones rushed to Parkland Hospital where he asked questions and took several photographs. One of his pictures, according to researcher John Judge, may have captured Jack Ruby going into the hospital.  (The Warren Commission later denied Ruby was there. Of course, Jones would later disagree with them within the pages of The Mirror.) To a liberal Democrat who considered himself a man whose job it was “to insult those who fail… to fulfill their obligations they have inherited along with their citizenship,”   the death of a President he admired seemed to stir some emotions, for Penn Jones is reported to have returned to Dealey Plaza on the one year anniversary of the assassination and observed a moment of silence. It is claimed that this sign of respect by Jones was the beginning of an annual tradition of quiet reflection which is recognized by researchers and Kennedy admirers to this day.

Jones maintained his interest in the assassination through his part-time reporting of the Jack Ruby trial in 1964. His writing assistant for the assignment was John Freeman, a man he had met in October of 1963 at an anti-right wing speech Jones had given at the Dallas Unitarian Church. Freeman had been interested in joining the liberal cause and had pledged his assistance to Jones, asking him what Freeman could do for the movement. Jones suggested that Freeman follow in his footsteps and purchase a small newspaper to edit, which would legitimize and promote his political views. Freeman did just that, and purchased the Farmer and Miner paper of Frederick, Colorado in July of 1964, a few months after the Ruby trial had concluded. By May of 1965, their friendship took a very dramatic and strange turn when Freeman had decided to contact the FBI regarding a trip to Washington DC that Jones had taken in February or March of 1964. While in Washington, Jones was able to meet with Robert Kennedy, he said, to have a copy of John Kennedy’s Profiles in Courage autographed by the younger Kennedy brother. According to Freeman, Jones attempted to discuss some conspiracy theories regarding the assassination with the then attorney general. Kennedy was evidently not interested and suggested that Jones discuss the matter with the Deputy Attorney General, Nicholas Katzenbach. Freeman also stated bluntly to the FBI that Jones then started meeting with Katzenbach and providing him with information about assassination theories. Incidentally, Katzenbach’s role in the then-ongoing Warren Commission was no small matter, for according to Edward Jay Epstein’s 1966 account of the founding of that blue-ribbon panel in his landmark book, Inquest, Katzenbach hand-picked Howard Willens to act as liaison between the Commission and the Justice Department.  According to Epstein, “Willens took charge of the administrative function (of the Warren Commission), he divided work up among the staff, made schedules, requested assistance from other agencies, and ‘kept the investigation moving.’ Some considered him “hard-driving” and “aggressive”; others considered him ‘the hero of the investigation.’”  If Freeman’s FBI statements are truthful, Penn Jones may have, either knowingly or inadvertently, been giving controversial material to his eventual enemy, the Warren Commission, by way of his contact, Katzenbach, the direct superior of Willens, the “hero of the investigation” who “kept the investigation moving.”

However, by May of 1965, the Warren Commission had been concluded for several months and Penn Jones’ alleged contributions evidently went unnoticed by the FBI. It is certainly worth noting that the FBI’s renewed interest in Jones coincided with the upcoming publication of one of his very first critical articles concerning the assassination, titled “Meeting at Jack Ruby’s Apartment.” This article, to be published on June 2nd, would be the prototype for decades of investigation pioneered by Jones: that is, establishing “mysterious” deaths as a sinister element of the Kennedy assassination case. In this article, Jones discusses the tragic deaths of several reporters who had covered Jack Ruby: Bill Hunter, Jim Koethe, Tom Howard, and Dorothy Kilgallen. Five days before the story hit the presses, May 28, apparently tipped off by Freeman, the FBI made an appearance at the office of The Midlothian Mirror and interviewed Penn Jones in a car outside. Jones refused to give up the sources of some of his more controversial theories and stated he was going forward with his story. Jones evidently telephoned Freeman after this encounter and Jones stated that he “feared for his life.” Evidently, Jones had told his partner that if he were able to prove his theories, he and Freeman would “print the entire story in three weekly newspapers and then they would both hide out in the Rocky Mountains.”

Undaunted, Jones published his controversial Jack Ruby story on time. In an editorial, entitled “An Editor’s Credo”, which preceded the article, Jones announced his motives and intentions. “In the discharge of our duty as a newspaper editor, we must do everything possible to bring into some intelligible whole ALL the events surrounding the assassination of John F. Kennedy… Further articles will appear periodically in The Midlothian Mirror. We expect to work on the assassination for the rest of our lives- not that any action will be taken, but in the hope that historians may be able to point a more accurate finger… We thank the dedicated few who have helped in assembling the facts presented. They must have shed the same hot tears of despair this writer could not hold back.”

An analysis of the ARRB testimony of Jerrol Custer

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A crucial event in the mystery of the assassination of President Kennedy was the autopsy of his remains, which was held at the Naval Hospital in Bethesda, Maryland. It was conducted from approximately 8PM to midnight, November 22, 1963. Much has been written and reported about this autopsy and the physical evidence collected therein. It is no secret that this procedure was performed with a lack of unprofessionalism, indeed, some have said that the autopsy of the former President of the United States was carried out in a state of gross incompetence. The fact that notes were either not taken or destroyed and valuable physical evidence was removed without proper analysis or record is beyond doubt, and reasons given for these enormous oversights have never been adequately offered.  In the minds of some assassination researchers, the fact that the mortal remains of one of the most powerful men in the world at the time were not given a thoroughly fastidious examination by the finest pathologists available at the time is suspicious. This has only served to further add credibility to the theory that of some sort of cover up occurred.

Several participants to the autopsy have been interviewed and questioned in the decades since the tragedy. Perhaps one of the most crucial, yet overlooked, witnesses to the proceedings was Jerrol F. Custer, a young X-ray technician who had been trained at Bethesda. He had been performing his medical duties as an enlisted man in the Navy for three years up until that point. Custer was responsible for staging and performing the X-rays on the President’s remains, as well as assisting in the development of these exposures, a vital part of the medical evidence of the assassination. He was called before the Assassinations Records Review Board (ARRB) on October 28, 1997 to give a statement concerning his participation within the autopsy and other related events. Wh He was questioned by lawyer Jeremy Gunn, General Counsel of Assassination Records Review Board. What he recounted and described was startling, for his testimony provides enormous insight, not only into the autopsy itself, but also witness intimidation and a cover up after the fact. Much of his testimony is very technical in nature and this essay will attempt to clarify and explain, in layman’s terms, what Custer saw and did that day, so that researchers can use this information in an effective manner. A good deal of what he said is controversial. No attempt has been made by the authors of this essay to endorse or reinforce what Custer said through opinion, although some appropriate, verified additional information has been added. This piece attempts to present a neutral report on his statement. All of the statements within this article are based upon Custer’s testimony, unless noted, and all quotes were also taken from his deposition. Also, some of his statement is graphic in nature, but the authors felt that these were necessary inclusions.

Background information on Custer

Custer received his education through the Navy at Bethesda as an X-ray technician, studying in a classroom setting for two years, in addition to “sitting in” with a radiologist for an additional year, during the period of 1960-1963.  He had been present for “one or two” autopsies before Kennedy’s; however, while stationed at Quantico, Virginia, as a hospital corpsman, he had been present for the autopsy of a Marine guard who had been killed by a gunshot through the head. In all, before his testimony had been given in 1997, Mr. Custer had 28 years of experience as an X-ray technician, as well as seven years’ time as an enlisted man performing similar duties. In anyone’s estimation, 35 years’ experience would make him an expert in the area of taking and analyzing X-rays, perfectly capable of explaining and understanding such a complex subject.

It is important to note that while performing these X-rays, Custer used a personal signature that he would affix to exposures that he had taken. This marker is described as a label that states “US Naval Hospital, Bethesda, Maryland” which could also be positioned to be demonstrate the plane, or angle of view, at which the X-ray was taken. Custer explained in his testimony if this “signature” appears on an X-ray, that it is proof that it was he who had taken an individual image, thereby giving each exposure authorship and provenance.

Custer’s description of his duties on 11/22- 11/23

In a basic sense, Jerrol Custer’s duties that night were to position Kennedy’s remains on the autopsy table and take pictures with an X-ray machine that had been brought into the surgical theater area. This room was not customarily used for this procedure, so Custer made use of a large portable GE X-ray machine, over six feet in height, in already-cramped quarters. He stated, “…it was a big, cumbersome thing. It’s not like the new ones today that are a little bit smaller. They can get into small holes there… It was close enough that I – I could just get in there. Just enough to get in there, to get that film.” The exposures were saved in cassette containers, which were then brought to a developing room four stories upstairs, and printed on sheets of film by Custer and his assistant that night, Edward Reed. In all, Custer estimates he took approximately 20 X-rays of Kennedy’s remains.

Custer was first informed of his involvement with the Presidential autopsy approximately an hour before it commenced, at some point after dinner. He was brought to the operating theater approximately an hour before he took his first X-ray, as the casket was being opened. Custer said, “He had a plastic bag around his head with sheets wrapped around it. And you could see the blood on the sheets… He was still dressed in a suit.”  Custer and Reed were then removed to the main rotunda area of the building for about an hour and were told not to discuss the case. When Reed and Custer returned to the theater area, the autopsy had commenced. Before the first X-ray images were taken, a “Y-shaped” incision had already been made on the President’s torso.  In a normal autopsy, after an external examination is conducted, this “Y-shaped incision” is performed, which is basically a deep cut, starting on the front of the body at each shoulder and down to the sternum, in order to open the chest cavity. In fact, Custer noted that many of the internal organs had been removed before X-rays were performed, making an accurate search for additional bullet fragments within these organs impossible. Custer noted that having to perform X-ray duties after the body had been opened caused great difficulties, for he had to attempt to position a body that was not very stable. The condition of the skull also made his duties challenging. He stated: “I cut the bottom portion of the skull off, because I couldn’t get low enough. Every time I put blankets underneath the head, the head would actually get smaller… Crushed by the weight…Due to the instability of the bones.” He also explained that a mortician arrived to perform cossetting (the application of cosmetics to make remains appropriate for viewing) after he had completed his duties.

Custer’s description of the atmosphere in the autopsy theater and elsewhere

From the outset, Custer was skeptical of the fashion in which the autopsy was conducted, not only in the physical handling of the remains, but the atmosphere within the operating theater, including the conduct of the audience present. He stated that there were many witnesses from numerous organizations present, in far greater a number than would be customary. He described the area as “mayhem,” with people shouting orders and, subsequently, these orders getting lost in the din of the room. “The commotion was astronomical. The decibel level was extremely high. You had to scream at people at times. And when I’m taking X-rays, I placed an apron on to protect myself. I had to scream for these people to move when I was shooting in that direction.” He states further:  “…from the right-hand portion of the gallery to the left-hand portion of the gallery, loaded. Not considering the people that were milling around on the morgue floor there, going from pillar to post, and making different notes, and doing this and that and the technicians that were working.” He also stated in regards to how the X-rays were ordered, “You must remember the confusion at that time and that night. People were ordering this. ‘Well, we should take some more there. We should take some more of that.’ It wasn’t just one person doing it.”

Two witnesses were present, described by Custer as the President’s personal physician (Dr. George Burkley) and a “four-star general” from a branch of the Armed Services that Custer could not identify. He states that these two were “controlling” the autopsy by giving orders to Dr. Pierre Finck, Chief of the Wound Ballistics, Pathology Branch, US Armed Forces, and Dr. John Ebersole, a radiologist at Bethesda. When asked about what sorts of comments were made by Burkley and the general, Custer stated: “In a sense that ‘The Kennedy family would not aIlow – like you to pursue that path any further .We do not want you to go any more in this direction.” Custer evidently found this type of direction to be frustrating and suspicious, for he stated this to Dr. Ebersole, who told him to “shut up.” In turn, Dr. Finck was giving orders to Drs. Joseph Humes, Director of the Laboratories at the National Medical Center, and Thornton Boswell, Chief of Pathology, National Naval Medical School, the doctors who had been initially ordered to conduct the autopsy. Finck had been called into assist Humes and Boswell after the procedure had commenced. Custer noted an immediate change in the proceedings upon Finck’s arrival. “Dr. Finck (came) in and push(ed) Humes and Boswell out of the limelight and (took) over. He was more- how can I put it- more cohesive with directions from the gallery,” barking orders, such as: “Stop that. Don’t do that anymore.” Custer also states that Finck removed medical evidence, a “king-sized” metal fragment” that fell from the President’s back, which was never seen again. Also present were FBI agents James Sibert and Francis O’Neill. According to Custer, these agents were taking profuse notes. “I could swear they were writing a book that night. Everything that happened, writing it down.” One of the agents attempted to follow Custer into the developing room, to which Custer informed the agent that he “was not allowed in there.” Indeed, in an interview from 2005, Sibert admitted taking several pages of notes, and a follow-up report was filed with the FBI based on this information. Other unidentified individuals present in the theater gallery were also taking notes and shouting orders. Custer noted that Drs. Humes and Boswell were also making notations. Humes later signed an affidavit that he destroyed the autopsy notes he made that night. Floyd Riebe, a hospital corpsman with a minimal amount of autopsy photography training,  was responsible for taking still photographs of the procedure. He, too, was being interfered with by agents. Custer recalls, “A couple of them (rolls of film) were taken away from him. Then he’d take another camera and place it in, like, little containers. A couple of the Secret Service come over and took them away from him for some reason. I – I couldn’t figure that out. And Floyd kind of got to the point where he got upset about it. He said, ‘Hey.’” According to Custer, motion picture films of the autopsy were being taken by a “chief with a deformed hand who killed himself.” These motion pictures have never surfaced, although Dennis David, Administrative Technician at the Bethesda Naval Hospital, claimed to have seen a film of the autopsy in the possession of William Pitzer, head of the Audio/Visual Department at the Bethesda.

Custer noted that this was not an atmosphere that was conducive to performing an effective autopsy, citing interferences, noise, and intimidation. Among the incidents that were shocking to him were several phone calls that were received by Finck during the procedure. “Now, you know as well as I do, when you’re doing a forensic autopsy, you do not want to be disturbed. Your mind is following a train of thought. You’re not receiving phone calls. He received phone calls from Dallas. I know for a fact he (Finck) received phone calls from downtown Washington.” The source and subject matter of these telephone calls has never been made firmly clear, as Dr. Finck, in his deposition to the HSCA, did not confirm or deny such phone calls; in fact, stating it was possible that he received a call from Dallas concerning a bullet found on a stretcher at Parkland Hospital in Dallas, the so-called “magic bullet.” According to Custer: “The security was so tight around there, you – if you sneezed, there was somebody there wanting to know what happened.”

Custer also witnessed events that took place in other areas of the hospital, such as in the hallways, where he saw what he called the “Presidential entourage,” which included Mrs. Kennedy still wearing the pink, blood-stained dress, and one of John Kennedy’s brothers “either Bobby or Teddy” on the campus at Bethesda, but not in the operating theater.  Also noted by Custer was the presence of two caskets in the hospital, both of which were bronze in color and looked similar; one was brought in by the Kennedy entourage and the other was brought in by a “black Cadillac ambulance,” which, Custer said, was driven from Walter Reed Hospital. (Custer stated that he had heard that the body had been initially brought to the Walter Reed “Compound” from two sources that night.) One of the caskets was in the autopsy theater area (marked on a map of the room, ARRB Exhibit 201); the other was held in a refrigerated room, known to Custer as “the cooler room.” He also witnessed a second gray ambulance at a loading dock area. He also explained that he was informed by a duty officer that a helicopter landed at the hospital at some point during the proceedings, although Custer was not certain of the purpose of this flight.

Custer’s description of the wounds to JFK

Contrary to the testimonies of Floyd Riebe and Edward Reed taken for the ARRB, Jerrol Custer was asked to go into great detail concerning his observations of Kennedy’s wounds. He was quite clear and provided meticulous medical testimony from an actual participant in the autopsy. His statements on the wounds inflicted upon Kennedy directly contradict the official findings of the Warren Commission.

  • Custer’s descripiton of injuries to the head area

Custer’s basic impression of the condition of the skull is as follows: “The head was so unstable due to the -the fractures. The fractures were extremely numerous. It was like somebody took a hard-boiled egg, and just rolled it in her hand. And that’s exactly what the head was like… The only thing that held it together was the skin. And even that was loose.” The fractures throughout the skull were described in this way, “On the right side. Right anatomical position. All the fractures are here. And then it gradually snakes out to the lowest anatomical side. This is where all the trauma was (on the right side), right here… Right anatomical side again. If there was trauma over on the left anatomical side, this would all be gone. And then you’d have fractures snaking out.” He states, “He further states: “Fracture marks throughout the zygomatic arch (part of the joint of the jaw), the mandibular arch (another part of the jaw joint),  the left anterior (front) portion of the skull, the superior (top) potion of the skull.”

He describes a “large gaping hole” in the right parietal area (in the side, above the ear), which he believed was the exit to a frontal wound that entered into Kennedy’s right eye socket. Custer was asked to analyze Exhibit 206, a lateral side view X-ray of the skull to compare to his observations during the autopsy. He described a large “kidney-shaped” area that was missing from the parietal/temporal (the side of the skull above the jaw). He explains that the hole would have been large enough for him to put both of his hands , clasped together, into the skull cavity. To verify this, he explains that in the right lateral X-ray the cella Turcica is visible. This feature, known as the “Turk’s Chair”, is the portion of the skull that holds the pituitary gland within the interior of the skull. According to Custer, the only way that this feature would be visible in an X-ray was if the side of the skull was missing. In regard to the absent portion of the skull, he states, “The anatomical right side, this is all blackened in (on the X-ray exposure) – which shows there is no tissue, no bone, no nothing.” He stated that none of the bullet damage went into the occipital (back to side of head, above the neck), but that those portions were fractured. His description of the location of this damage is as follows: “The larger wound would have to be further back. This one isn’t as bad, towards the temporal region. It was open. But the more you went further back, the more destruction you had… Most of the destruction was towards the occipital area… You still had the orbital ridge (bone under the eyebrow). The frontal forehead was still here. But the further back you got, the worse the destruction became. And the more gaping the hole became.” Custer states that, in his opinion, a large piece of the temporal bone was missing, and the occipital region had significant damage, but pieces of the skull were still present.

Custer also noted damage to the temporal bone (the temple) which “flapped out” and appeared to be jagged, almost like “saw marks.”According to Custer, “you had to have a king-size force coming anterior (front) to posterior (back). Everything seemed like it was just pushed backwards.” When asked if the scalp from this region was still present, he stated “It was shredded .The scalp was shredded… And it was loose. When I – I remember, l when I first came in and saw this, everything had been drooped, like somebody bad pulled the scalp and pulled it down. I had to look twice at it.” In the X-rays he was shown, he also noted almost a total lack of brain tissue and the vascular markings that would be apparent within the skull if brain matter were present, which indicates that the brain had already been removed before the images were taken. This is important, Custer stated, as the brain tissue could have held metallic fragments that would have been visible on the X-rays. In describing the shape and dispersal pattern of the fragments that appeared in the left lateral X-ray, Custer said, “They are metal fragments. Artifacts (bone) do not come in an irregular form like this. Not in that – in that traveling projection like that. It just doesn’t – Not that many in that one area. You’re going to have somebody just go in there in that one area, and put artifacts all the way up and down this? It just doesn’t happen. You get random artifacts. May have an artifact here, artifact here, artifact here.” Custer explains these metal fragments further. “Towards the top of the skull. Here… That’s the only way that can be, this fragment. There’s no way an artifact (piece of bone) will show up like that.” When asked how these metal fragments stayed in place with no brain tissue to support them, he said, “They have to be resting on the bone itself somewhere. That’s the only thing I can possibly think of, unless there’s enough tissue there in that region to hold them. That’s the only possible thing that I can think of.” He states further: “If you look at the big portion of the scalp, those fragments are in the skin of the scalp. That’s the only logical place it could be. They went through the brain, exploded, and went out into the scalp. Perforated the scalp. Impregnated the scalp.”

Custer also noted a “cone effect” of bone damage that he described thusly: “If you’ve ever used a fragment bullet -when it goes in, it fragments. And the further it goes in, the cone becomes bigger… Like your cone starts small. And it goes -as you come out, it expands. Say, this being the front of the skull: the forehead, the orbits (eye sockets), the nasion, which is the nose, the jaw come back, the occipital region.” He is describing the effects of a bullet that came from the front, and, according to Custer, entered in the area above the eye, within the eye socket. The frontal skull X-ray (X-ray No. 1) that was presented to him featured a large, half-circle shaped metal fragment that was present in this location. He noticed that the right eyeball had protruded from its socket, which he attributed to impact force of this shot escaping from the eye socket.  Custer believed this damage, as well as the numerous irregular metal fragments were the effect of a frangible, or “dum dum” bullet, which breaks up upon impact. The use of this type of bullet in the assassination has been proposed by researchers such as Dr. Cyril Wecht, Dr. Paul Chambers, and Jim Garrison.  This is further backed up by his identification of the “half-circle” shaped bullet fragment in the right orbital ridge and numerous fragments in the temporal region that appear in the X-rays shown to him. Custer believed that most of the fragments would have been trapped in the already-removed brain tissue. He states, “… the metal fragments will get caught by the organs.”

To further reinforce his opinion that the origins of the head wounds were from the front, Custer describes air that became trapped in the sinus cavity, a feature that was apparent on the X-rays:  “Here’s another thing, too, that shows basically this is, more than likely – I’d say 80 to 90 percent – entry wound. See this air down through the sinus area, maxillary sinuses? The only way you get air through the maxillary sinuses is when you have damage to the orbital ridge and the orbital base. Air gets down into the sinuses. The sinuses are right here on the front of the face, on both cheekbones. Your eye orbit sits back in. If you ever have any damage -you get punched in the eye. A lot of times, if this fractures – the orbital ridge, you get an opening that communicates between the sinus and the eye. And this is why a lot of times they’ll take sinus films on a damaged frontal area.” He attempts to further bolster his opinion of a frontal shot: “From the right side, you notice – you see the fragmentation, how it starts to get larger and larger and larger. You have equal and opposite force. Everything being pushed forward. The brain has been pushed back, and it pops the skull out.” When asked if this demonstrates a frontal head wound, he states “Yes, sir. Absolutely.”

  • Custer’s description of the wounds to the neck and spine

Custer was much less thorough in his statements regarding his observation of the wound to Kennedy’s throat and neck. He stated that he had seen a bullet hole in the front of the throat that was approximately the circumference of his little finger. However, the tracheotomy-type surgery had not yet been performed on that area when he was taking X-rays, which is contrary to the reports given by the doctors of Parkland Hospital in Dallas, where the President received emergency treatment. He later claims to have seen an incision made to the area, but it was smaller than what appears in the autopsy photographs. Also noted were several small metallic fragments in the cervical spine (the spinal region directly below the skull), which were visible in an X-ray known as an AP Cervical Spine (the neck region, from the front of the body). Custer notes that this is one of three X-ray exposures he took that night that is missing from the collection in the National Archives. This image featured, according to Custer, “A fragmentation of a shell in and around that circular exit – that area (throat). Let me rephrase that. I don’t want to say ‘exit’, because I don’t know whether it was exit or entrance. But all I can say, there was bullet materials, in addition to fragmentations around that area – that opening.” When Custer mentioned this wound to the doctors “(He) was told to mind my (his) business. That’s where I was shut down again.” He also witnessed a metal fragment 1.5 inches in length that fell out of Kennedy’s back as the body was being positioned for body X-rays. He states that this evidence was retrieved by Dr. Finck with a pair of forceps and was not seen again.

Impropriety, intimidation, and cover up

Clearly this was not a standard autopsy procedure, if for no other reason than the amount of attention and chaos that surrounded the autopsy of the former President of the United States. It was in this environment that Jerrol Custer described an operation that was, in his opinion, full of intimidation and ineptitude that he referred to as a “total disaster.” According to Custer, the autopsy was conducted as a search for bullets rather than a standard investigation into the precise cause of death.  He says, “Their (the doctors’) basic thing was, “We’re looking for shells, bullets, fragments. They weren’t looking to what caused it? How was it done? What was the tracing… what was the path of the bullet?… They (Humes and Boswell) come right out and said, ‘You’re taking X-rays for buIIets.” In fact, when describing the carelessness that was displayed by the pathologists that night, Custer said, “There was body fluid everywhere. The body was butchered…They would puIl out an organ – a big organ, and be up there cutting it up like a piece of meat.” He had concerns about the professional conduct of Dr. Ebersole, in particular, saying, “He should have been directing me, as he viewed the films.  Each set of films I brought down to him, I put on a board. I had a certain amount of expertise that I felt should have been noticed I tried to bring this up to him, and tried to suggest different things to him. And he wouldn’t – wouldn’t listen. He kept listening to the gallery. He was being led. Plain and simple. It was right there. You couldn’t help but see it.” In fact, Custer was given an opportunity to discuss his opinions concerning Ebersole’s testimony taken for the House Senate Committee on Assassinations (HSCA) in 1978, reading from Custer’s own self-annotated copy.  A major discrepancy noted by Custer in Dr. Ebersole’s testimony was the doctor’s statement that he took all of the X-rays, alone, at 3 A.M.

Custer also discussed intimidation that took place during the autopsy, as well as during his shift  the next morning. He states that, during the autopsy itself, he was told by Dr. Ebersole that “(He) was not to speak of this. ‘Keep your mouth shut.’ Plain and simple.” These verbal orders were repeated by Ebersole after he had returned from a trip to the White House the next morning. “At that time, he made it quite clear, this came from high level that I was not to say anything, and he reiterated “anything.” If I did, I would be quite sorry.” Custer identifies the individual Ebersole spoke to from that “high level” was the “head of the Secret Service.” (In 1963, James J. Rowley was the head of the Secret Service.) Later that day, in the office of Vice Admiral Galloway, Custer and his assistant Edward Reed were forced to sign a gag order in the presence of armed military police. Custer said, “Well, that was the most traumatic. After I signed the gag order, I was told if anything -no matter what – got out, it would be the sorriest day of my life. I’d spend most of my time behind prison walls… I would not get out of that office unless I signed that signature, because there were armed guards. They were right behind me. And I know for a fact, if I did not sign that, I would have been gone. It was made quite clear… They don’t have armed MPs standing there for nothing.” This document was admitted into evidence as Exhibit 195 and verified by Custer. The order of secrecy was in place until it was lifted as part of the investigations by the HSCA in 1976.

According to Custer, important pieces of medical evidence were mishandled or stolen. As previously mentioned, at least three X-ray exposures made by him, including an important image taken of the neck, went missing and the large bullet fragment that was picked up by Dr. Finck off the operating table was never seen again. Also, that night’s entry in the log book which contained detailed information about autopsy was destroyed by Dr. Ebersole. Custer said, “Well, I had made the statement on the duty log, in the main X-ray department, that I was going to the morgue to X-ray President Kennedy. And I was told to eradicate it. In fact, I was told to tear the whole page out… I gave it to Ebersole, and he destroyed it… I asked him. I said, ‘What are you burning that up for? That’s official government property.’ And he says, ‘It’s none of your business.’ And burned it up.”  In addition, Custer describes X-ray films that were intentionally damaged by Dr. Ebersole. One was scratched up with a pencil in an attempt to highlight a potential entry wound: “This is what he was trying to say was an entry wound, here. I remember that now. On the first set of films I brought back, he put them up, and he had a ruler there, and he was penciling it in. And this is when he got a comment, “Don’t do that.” And this came from the gallery.” Custer also describes an X-ray being melted by Ebersole at a lamp: “This is where Dr. Ebersole got it too close to the heat lamp. I stated to him twice, ‘Please do not put it too close…’ It started to burn. And isn’t it funny how where starts to burn is the area that I suggested was an entry wound.” Several X-rays did not include Custer’s metal signature label after he was told by his superiors that was told not to use it.

On the morning of 11/23, or the morning after the assassination, Custer was given some skull fragments that he had heard had arrived “from Dallas” the night before. However, these bones may not have been from Kennedy’s body, for Custer did not see them during the autopsy. He was told by Dr. Ebersole to tape some metallic fragments to these skull bones. These were then to be taken to a private room and X-rayed with the same machine, at the same distance, that he used the night before. He says, “I was told by Dr. Ebersole that they were to be taken to make measurements, to make a bust of President Kennedy… He gave me three or four different metal fragments, varying in size. And he asked me to tape them to the bones… As soon as he walked in, that’s the first thing he said. ‘I want these bone fragments X-rayed with metal fragments taped.’” The only witness to this procedure, according to Custer, was Dr. Ebersole, who had just returned from his visit to the White House. Ebersole had discussed the manufactured X-ray (X-ray No. 4) with the HSCA, and stated that it was created to measure magnification levels. This procedure is performed when a piece of metal is placed on a bone and an X-ray is taken from a specific distance: 72 inches. When it is performed correctly, no magnification of the metal will be seen. Asked about the possibility of the exposure being created for this reason, Custer stated, “But he knows to get no magnification – this is part of his board certification – everything has to be taken at 72 inches. Not 44 inches. And this was all taken at 44 inches that night, which causes magnification. This was supposed to be a radiologist that knew what he was taking about.” Also, according to the Journal of Bone and Joint Surgery, the piece of metal to be used during this procedure needs to be of a standard known thickness and density (the journal recommends using a British ten pence coin, which matches these criteria) ,making the choice of random metal fragments very questionable. The exact purpose of these X-rays is unclear, but Custer’s testimony sheds serious doubt on the official explanation.

Conclusion

Custer’s testimony directly contradicts the official version of events in numerous ways. Some of his statements include:

  • Accusations of neglect on the part of the autopsy doctors, not only in the physical handling of the body, but also through performing a less than complete autopsy that focused on “a search for bullets” rather than gathering details about the cause of death. Also, the doctors were ignoring the advice of the radiologists, instead taking the advice of onlookers.
  • Accusations of intimidation that included a gag order that was signed by Custer and Reed under threat of prison, with military police present. These documents were entered into evidence and were verified by both men.
  • Accusations of poor evidence handling, as well as evidence manipulation and destruction, including a bullet fragment being taken away, an X-ray being melted, and the radiology log book being tampered with.
  • Accusations of the forgery of evidence: skull bones with metallic fragments created by Custer, as well as the X-rays made that featured these fabrications.
  • Custer’s overwhelming opinion that there was a head shot from the front, which entered through the eye area. He attempts to back this up through expert analysis of the skull X-rays which he took on remains that he positioned during the autopsy.
  • Custer’s opinion that a fragmented bullet, which explodes upon impact, was used. This was also corroborated by him, through his observation of the remains and the skull X-rays.

He also noted several important details that were not in line with previous investigations, including:

  • The remains had been taken to the Walter Reed Medical Compound before arriving at Bethesda.
  • There were two caskets present in the hospital.
  • Kennedy’s throat had not been operated on when it arrived at Bethesda.
  • A film was made of the autopsy by a cameraman who was present in the operating theater.
  • A large bullet fragment fell out of Kennedy’s back during the autopsy.
  • Metal fragments were visible in the X-rays made of Kennedy’s neck.

Jerrol Custer died of a heart attack in 2000. In 1995, he stated to researcher Walt Brown that he had given Brown “the key that will unlock a mystery that the world has been trying to solve for 32 years…”  Whether Custer was honest about what he saw, or whether or not his memory was infallible, is subjective. However, within his medical testimony, Custer raised some serious questions about the origin of the gunshots that killed John Kennedy, which, of course would shed enormous doubt on the official lone killer scenario. The fact that he was forced to sign an order of silence, keeping him silent for more than a decade, is beyond question.  He also gives strong testimony that the autopsy was conducted in a very unorthodox, indeed, haphazard and irresponsible fashion. Custer says, “Let me put it this way, plain and simple. The autopsy was something that had to be done. It didn’t have to be done correctly. It had to be done for record purposes only. Finding out facts, forget it. This is something that had to be done, but done in a way that it’s not going to implicate. And this is, basically, the opinion I got, because I made that statement, and I was told to shut up.” He did eventually break his order of silence, and quite possibly, as he stated to Brown, gave us a “key that will unlock a mystery that the world has been trying to solve.” He may have left that key within his testimony to the ARRB, leaving the lock to be opened by future researchers.

“The Curious Case of the American Bakeries Pay Voucher”

By: Trish Fleming and Zach Jendro 

Much can be said about the importance of having a fresh set of eyes reviewing the evidence regarding any cold case; this is especially true when reviewing the assassination of John F. Kennedy.  Over the years, two distinct sides have emerged from the “case of the century” and the ability to find an unbiased opinion is rare. The next generation has “received the torch” that JFK eloquently spoke of and is now the generation that is intrigued with the attempts to solve this case that has lingered for half a century.

Rule of thumb with any murder investigation is that the first 48 hours are the most crucial for gathering information- which is interesting, considering that accused assassin Lee Harvey Oswald was also killed within that time period. The evidence, interviews, media reports, and witness statements concerning the Kennedy assassination gathered during this time are of the highest importance, sometimes requiring study and clarification.  One such piece of evidence is the American Bakeries pay voucher, dated August 22, 1960, that was found on Lee Harvey Oswald at the time of his arrest on November 22, 1963. [1]

Background information

The official claim is that Lee Harvey Oswald had defected to the Soviet Union in 1959, and renounced his American citizenship on October 31. That day, the FBI began their file on this US defector and information pertaining to his defection appeared in the Fort Worth Star Telegram. Twelve additional articles were published regarding Lee Harvey Oswald’s defection by the FWST as of January 6, 1960. [2]  His mother, Marguerite Oswald, became alarmed about his personal welfare and whereabouts after three of her letters that she had mailed to him while in Soviet Union (starting on January 22, 1960) had been returned to her unopened. In addition, she received a letter from Albert Schweitzer College in Switzerland, confirming Oswald’s enrollment (application is dated March 4, 1959 and funds received April that same year).[3] She explained that when her son left, he took his birth certificate with him.[4] The FBI went to the extent of contacting the school on three separate occasions (June 3, 1960- request for Swiss authorities to conduct an investigation; August 12, 1960 and September 22, 1960 FBI discussed Oswald with Swiss authorities) to confirm any information regarding the attendance of Oswald. It seems unusual for the FBI to contact them on three separate occasions to confirm whether or not he was, in fact, attending school there.

After receiving multiple letters from the State Department with no relevant information on the location of her son, Mrs. Oswald went to the extent of travelling to Washington DC in 1961 to have a conference with three officials from the State Department. Not only was she there to confirm her son’s location; but, she had also taken the liberty of disputing his dishonorable discharge after receiving a letter stating the change from a previously honorable discharge had taken place. The Marines sent a confirmation letter addressed to her address, knowing full well Lee Oswald was not at her address.[5] She went as far as writing to Premier Khrushchev, leader of the Soviet Union, regarding her concerns of Lee Harvey Oswald’s whereabouts in Russia. This letter was intercepted by the FBI. [6]

J. Edgar Hoover was notified on June 3, 1960 regarding information that someone within the United States was potentially using Lee Harvey Oswald’s identity.[7] The fact that Oswald had taken his birth certificate with him overseas, and, therefore, unaccounted-for, made this potential deception a possibility. This issue had been confirmed when an invoice for the purchase of trucks for an organization called “Friends of Democratic Cuba” on January 20, 1961 with Oswald’s name on a contact was discussed by the Warren Commission.[8] Despite this document, the US government assured that Oswald was, in fact, in the Soviet Union and was requesting that, not only his passport (apparently never revoked due to paperwork not filed) and that his citizenship be reinstated, but also to make arrangements for his new Russian bride and their infant daughter to accompany him back into the United States. Astonishingly, his requests were met and the State Department loaned him the money for travel (he repaid in full).[9] This is highly unusual considering he was unable to maintain steady employment once back on US soil and was, more or less, considered a “free loader” to those who knew him within the White Russian Community of Dallas.  This is reflected in the opinions of this tight knit group, especially when the Oswalds discussed details about their exit from Russia and entrance into the United States. In particular, Lydia Dymitruk, a White Russian who knew the Oswalds, felt that he was not a Soviet spy, but did feel he was some sort of intelligence official. From her personal experiences of leaving the USSR, she believed it would never have been that easy for a newlywed couple to leave with their newborn child, let alone, have the State Department fund these travels.[10]

Upon his return to the United States, he was interrogated by the FBI who then continuously kept track of the Oswalds,[11] right to the very day that Kennedy was assassinated. Jack Revell, Captain of Intelligence for the Dallas Police Department (DPD), was appalled that the FBI withheld information or concerns regarding Lee Oswald until after the death of the President.  He (Revell) knew that the FBI had no legal obligation to share what was on file; despite sharing all information in the past regarding any other cases of questionable individuals.  For this observation, Revell was transferred for voicing his opinion, which was not well received. [12]

On November 22, 1963, Lee  Harvey Oswald was arrested at approximately 1:45 PM in the Texas Theatre after Julia Postal, an employee of theatre, stated that a man snuck into the theatre without paying (despite having $13.87 in his pocket upon his arrest) and was located on the balcony of the theatre.[13] Other reports stated that he was found in the orchestra, or ground-level seating. Butch Burroughs was working in the concession stand. He stated that after this gentleman purchased popcorn, he went to the balcony to watch the film . This was just after 1 PM.[14] These times contradict the assassination of police officer J.D. Tippit which  took place, according to the Warren Report, between 1:11 and 1:14 PM. Jack Davis , a Dallas evangelist, was seated beside Lee Harvey Oswald prior to Oswald apparently changed seats. He also claims that he saw another man identical to Oswald being removed from the theatre out the back door.[15]  His claims were confirmed by Bernard J. Haire, who owned a business (Bernie’s Hobby Shop) located two stores down the street from the theater, with access to the alley way where this unidentified individual was placed in a police car. Haire was apparently shocked, years later, to discover that Lee Harvey Oswald had been removed from the front of the theatre. [16]

Oswald was transported to the police station after his arrest, where he was finally searched, two hours later, at approximately 4:10 PM. Among the items he was carrying (including bullets and a bus transfer), was a pay stub voucher, which was found in his pocket, for the Cushing’s Bakeries division of American Bakeries (located in Dallas), dated Monday, August 22, 1960.[17]  In the life of Lee Oswald, employment with the bakeries at that time would have been impossible; for, according to the official account, he was reported to be in the Soviet Union during this period.  When listed in the police inventory, the name on the stub was not recorded, leaving one to assume that it may have had Oswald’s name on it or possibly no name at all. According to protocol, that identification information would have been recorded due to the possibility of fraud, especially considering it was taken from the apparent assassin of the President. This stub was either given or Xeroxed and forwarded to the FBI for review. Confusion became the norm, as the date on the stub was noted as either being on the 22 or the 27 of August (Saturday) and no name was disclosed.  As recorded by the FBI, the tax and Social Security deductions were noted; however the name, once again, was completely overlooked.  This was also a concern of the Warren Commission, when Rankin wrote a letter stating that this information had to be clarified.[18]  Whether this concern had been addressed or not has never been determined. Further adding to the mystery, the paystub was not listed among the possessions Oswald had on his person when he was arrested in New Orleans on August 9, 1963, confirming that this was, evidently, not an item that he had been carrying in his pockets since his occupancy of the Neely Street address earlier that year. Simply put, there has never been a reasonable explanation as to why Oswald was holding this document when he was arrested. If he was not carrying the paystub, no reasonable explanation as to why it was catalogued as such has been offered, either.

American Bakeries was contacted and was asked to locate information regarding this stub, based off otherwise-confidential payroll data, apparently with no name and a confused date. The likelihood of this stub not having this basic information clearly stated is extremely bizarre. However, American Bakeries did review their master payroll, which was located at the head office in Chicago. Only one employee was issued a cheque in that amount on August 27, 1960,[19] keeping in mind that the date on the cheque stub was recorded by DPD as being August 22.  The employee’s name was James Arthur Jackson, and he had been hired, according to company records, as a part time employee on August 14, 1960, which was a Sunday. (Jackson himself recalled being hired on Wednesday, August 17.)[20] . Jackson, a laborer who worked at the bakery, was evidently completely unrelated to Lee Oswald, other than the fact that he, seemingly, lived in the same apartment as Oswald (214 West Neely Street) some months prior to Oswald. In an FBI statement, it is noted that the agency also received a copy of all part time employees for the years 1958-1959 (obviously not the year in question) and a list of full time employees for 1960.[21] Jackson appeared on the latter list, as he was hired as a full time employee on October 15, 1960.  Ultimately, a list of the part time employees for the year 1960 would have been necessary to have a complete overview of this time period. Not gathering this information was, obviously, a crucial oversight.

When Jackson was asked about how his stub got in Oswald’s hands, he was unsure.  He did not recall losing it and assumed that maybe he had left this stub at a previous residence (Neely Street). Jackson’s residency at this location was approximately a year prior to the Oswalds moving there in March of 1963, although the exact dates are uncertain.[22] In fact, a man named James Stevens had lived in the apartment in the period of time between Jackson’s and Oswald’s respective residencies.[23] Neely Street was the location of the infamous “backyard photos,” which had been taken of Oswald holding the rifle he reportedly used to kill Kennedy and the revolver that he used to shoot Officer Tippit.  Later, Jackson changed his story, and claimed that it was possible he lost it somewhere on a street and it may have been picked up by Oswald.

To add more confusion to this, Special Agent William G. Brookheart of the FBI reported that the stub had been located at the Neely Street apartment when authorities searched the residence on November 24, 1963 (after the assassination), seven months after the Oswalds had moved out. [24] A report made after the search of the apartment made no mention of a stub recovered on November 24. Waldo George, the man who, according to the Warren Commission, owned the apartment, thoroughly cleaned the residence after Oswald left, although he had suspicions that someone was breaking into the padlocked apartment. George also stated that he searched the apartment the night of November 22 for potential evidence, but came away empty handed.[25]

The items in the DPD report, dated November 30, claimed that all evidence was tagged on November 23, which raises doubts about the statement of its discovery on November 24.[26]  The question, then, became: were there two of Jackson’s stubs potentially in Oswald’s possession (one at Neely, one on his person), or, rather, an error in regards to where the stub was originally found by both the DPD and the FBI?

American Bakeries pay cheques

Through the cooperation of the American Bakeries head office in Chicago,  the FBI was able to locate two cheques (one being the cheque of note) issued to Jackson, which is questionable, considering it is policy for American Bakeries to discard all cancelled cheques after two years.[27] The cheque that apparently matched this voucher (Number 82-19356), was dated August 22, 1960 (Monday), totalling $56.78, and a second cheque offered for comparison, dated September 2, 1960 (Saturday) (Number 82-19406), totalling $70.53, showing that both had been cashed as a third party cheque.[28] The cheque dated August 22, evidently cashed by Jackson at a Dallas-area A&P grocery store (Store 113), was stamped as being paid by the First National Bank of Dallas on August 25 (Thursday).[29] This in theory would confirm that the cheque’s date was in fact on the 22nd- which was not in sync with the pay periods for American Bakeries. Indeed, Norman Beaton, who was employed at American Bakeries as a tax accountant, stated that temporary employees were sometimes issued cheques at any point of the week, however the amount of the cheque does not coincide with the amount of hours Jackson could possibly have worked within such a short period of time. Potentially, it could have been a pay advance; however, one has to question why a company would issue a pay advance of a full week’s wages to a new part time employee of just days, especially when there was no guarantee that he would work enough hours by the next pay period to reimburse this “loan”.  This is curious, considering the next pay cheque would have been the Sept 2 cheque (if the loan reflected the pay period ending on August 27) that was also admitted as evidence (for comparison only), and appears to be a pay cheque, based off full time hours. According to an FBI investigation, Jackson earned $1.66 per hour. Their breakdown gives hours as worked from August 20 through August 27; however, as demonstrated by the reverse of the cheque, the funds were paid on August 25, an anomaly that has never been explained. In short, the timing and amounts of the cheques raises some issues, issues that were never followed up on.

Beaton stated that all payroll hours for all locations throughout the country were submitted to the main office in Chicago weekly on Saturday.[30] He also took the liberty of reviewing all employee records (open and closed files) from 1956 to the present date (unclear if it was 1963 or 64); specifically looking for the names Lee Harvey Oswald, O.H. Lee and, Alec James Hidell.[31] This is extremely important because it seemingly confirms that the authorities were unclear to whom the cheque stub belonged to and were using the pay amount and private tax information to locate the individual.  In the very least, authorities were concerned that Oswald may have been an employee and could have possibly been using an alias. Interestingly, personnel files were maintained on regular employees (full time) at the main office; and each company plant was responsible for forwarding any temporary or part time employee’s information to the head office in Chicago on a monthly basis.[32] Therefore, is it possible that he would have not located any information on temporary employees in the full time employee records?

The format of the dates on the cheques is also unusual. The August 22 cheque uses slashes to separate the date, month, and year.  If this cheque was produced as a standard pay cheque off a printing reel, the September cheque should have the same slashes in the date; but instead, they are separated by dashes. This would indicate that the cheque was created not by the home office in Chicago, (also the Dallas bank information located on the cheque) which would confirm that the cheque had been printed at the location that Jackson worked at (as per the procedure with part time/ temporary employees pay).  These differences in the format of the date may indicate that different employees at the Dallas location prepared them. Typically, if the same person were typing these cheques weekly, the individual would have a preferred and accepted format, and not made such an obvious change. The issuing account numbers are the same on both cheques, again indicating that they were both written from the same cheque book and only 50 cheques between the two pay periods; which would indicate that 25 employees received cheques for part time work over the course of two pay periods (August 26 and September 2). The endorsement of the signator on both cheques is the same, indicating that these were handled by the same authorized payroll employee.

Another intriguing issue is the endorsements on the back of the cheques.  The cheque cashed on August 25 has been clearly endorsed by Jackson with his name and address, whereas the second cheque is only endorsed by a signature.  This is highly unusual because if it was a “bad cheque” the third party (Hodges Grocery #408) would have wanted contact information for him.  (It has been noted that Jackson did not have a telephone.)[33]  One could argue that possibly the store knew him personally and it was not required- but why wouldn’t Jackson have cashed them both at the same location, if he knew it would be a hassle free transaction?

The processing stamps from the banks on both cheques have also been recorded and described, however there are some curious details that appear to be overlooked.  Both cheques have been issued using American Bakeries’ account, which is located at the Republic National Bank of Dallas; the cheque in question has been stamped “paid” by this home bank on August 25, 1960.  It has been endorsed by James Jackson, who wrote his address of 1204 McKee, Dallas 15, Texas.  It also bears a rubber stamp endorsement  “For Deposit Only, The GRT A&P Tea Company Store #113” and the First National Bank of Dallas, August 25 1960”. This raises the question as to how two separate banks were able to process a third party cheque on the same day, especially if the cheque is noted within FBI reports as being for the pay period ending on August 27 1960. (Other documents indicate that is was for the week ending August 20; however, he hadn’t been working there long enough to receive a full pay cheque.)  When reviewing the back of the cheque and the stamps, the endorsement stamp from “The Grt. A&P Tea Company” is present; and, beneath it, there is another stamp with only the date with the numbers “01130”. Potentially this is the “paid” stamp from The Republic National Bank of Dallas, however, it is not clearly indicated that it is, nor does it indicate that the cheque has been “paid“.  Another interesting note is that this stamp, does not reflect the comparison stamp on the cheque dated September 1960, in which the stamp is large and square; giving the Republic National Bank information, although the notations are difficult to read. The First National Bank stamp is visible; and it reads “pay order to the of any bank, banker, or trust company, First National Bank of Dallas August 25 1960.”  Unfortunately, the rest of this stamp is illegible. This appears not to be the case in regards to the August 27 date that has been indicated as a possible pay period.  There are also what appears to be perforations on the cheque in question; which appears to read “6528 35”. These punch holes are not described in the overview of the cheque; it does appear on the other cheque as well, but unclear to what numbers have been punched or why this occurred.

(A curious notation concerning the paystub within the research notes of John Armstrong, author of Harvey and Lee, lists the address of the American Bakeries facility in New Orleans, along with the names of two managers who evidently worked there; however, it is unclear how this relates to the pay stub. Some sources have indicated it was from the pay period ending on the August 20, 1960.  This would fall within the company’s policy of having all employees’ hours sent to the main office in Chicago on Saturday; and the cheque would have been issued on the appropriate pay date of the August 26.)

Further adding to the mystery, is the confusion surrounding James A. Jackson’s Social Security number.  While working at American Bakeries, he was assigned Social Security number 465-50-6916.  He was advised not to use that number by a Social Security administrator due to it being assigned to another individual. This “mix up” occurred either while Jackson was serving in the Armed Forces or when he started his employment at American Bakeries.  He had been issued another Social Security number (465-54-6916). There was a question as to whether his employee number while at American Bakeries (#757T) had also been issued to another employee within the company (an African-American man named Mr. James Johnson).  This information is unclear- however, should be addressed.

Conclusion

Lee Rankin, general counsel of the Warren Commission, made some interesting connections when questioning Marguerite Oswald during her testimony.  He was in the process of asking her of any names she may recognize as Oswald’s personal friends, one of the names he mentioned was James Arthur Jackson.  What followed is nothing less than astonishing.  Her response is “No, you know, a few of those names sound to me like they might be on the back of both these pictures. I am not sure.”  Mr. Rankin continues by saying, “They are supposed to be associated or friends of people that Mr. Ruby knew and associated with closely.”  If this is, in fact, true and the commission knew about it, it would appear that Mr. Jackson gave false information when he claimed he had no knowledge of either Jack Ruby or Lee Harvey Oswald in his witnessed statement to authorities.  Under normal circumstances, this could be considered obstruction of justice. Perhaps, this was a misstatement on Rankin’s part, but it clearly demonstrates that Rankin was fully aware of the paystub. If his statement was accurate, this would add a much deeper (and potentially sinister) dimension to the case of this paystub.

What is clear, however, is that the complete contents of the paystub have been hidden away from public view. In an interview with researcher Ed LeDoux, Jackson claimed that when he was questioned about the paystub by the FBI, he was not shown the document. Internal memos suggest that even the Warren Commission was not shown the stub. If there was, indeed, an innocent explanation as to how Oswald got Jackson’s pay document and if the stub did have Jackson’s proper information on it, why the secrecy? Other items found on Oswald at the time of his arrest have been made public, including his wallet, ID cards, bus transfer, and bullets. So, why was this paystub, which could have provided evidence that Oswald was potentially stealing other people’s pay cheques (adding credibility to the argument that he was, indeed, a criminal), scrubbed from the public record? What is also clear is that when one compares the officially recorded dates of Jackson’s earnings to the actual date the cheque was cashed, the FBI (or American Bakeries, the source of Jackson’s employment information) was, evidently, forced to fabricate a backstory for this cheque to fit someone’s new version of “the facts.” What researchers are left with, then, in regards to the pay stub, is secrecy and dishonesty. The fact that the records for temporary employees of 1960 (the year of the cheque) were completely ignored, was an oversight that was both incompetent and inexcusable. The fact that crucial dates were made confusing or seemingly changed (the date of the discovery of the stub, the dates of the pay periods) should have caused honest investigators to ask some serious questions. If the investigation into the President’s assassination had been open, transparent, and just, such apparent actions should not have occurred. Is it possible that the pay stub contains information that links directly to Oswald? If so, what information was being obstructed? The possibility, however seemingly remote, exists that this cheque stub may have shown that Oswald was not in the Soviet Union, or that there was some sort of Oswald imposter actively in the United States. In short, that would have poked an enormous hole in the official story of Oswald’s activities and the investigation would have taken on a whole new angle, an angle that would have been very troublesome to Warren Commission investigators. However, until this information is rediscovered, the mystery of the pay stub will remain just that: a mystery; one of many mysteries surrounding the tragic death of John F. Kennedy.

 

[1] City of Dallas, “Property Clerk’s Invoice or Receipt” for Lee Oswald, dated 11/30/63.

[2] Armstrong, “Description of Report” (Research notes for book “Harvey and Lee”)

[3] Ibid.

[4] J. Edgar Hoover (FBI correspondence, 6/3/1960).

[5] Warren Commission testimony of Marguerite Oswald, pp. 218- 220.

[6] CIA internal memo, June 22, 1962.

[7] J. Edgar Hoover (FBI correspondence, 6/3/1960).

[8] Warren Commission Document 75, p. 677.

[9] Warren Commission, Appendix 15, p. 773.

[10] Warren Commission testimony of Lydia Dymitruk, pp.71-72.

[11] Armstrong.

[12] Ibid.

[13] Armstrong.

[14] James Douglas, JFK & The Unspeakable – Why He Died & Why It Matters,  p. 292-294.

[15] Armstrong.

[16] James Douglas, JFK & The Unspeakable – Why He Died & Why It Matters,  p. 292-294.

[17] Vincent Bugliosi, Reclaiming History, p.132.

[18] Burt W. Griffin (FBI Memorandum, March 12, 1964)

[19] Charles Price, et al. (FBI Memorandum, December 19, 1963).

[20] William G. Brookheart (FBI Memorandum, no date).

[21] FBI document, December 19, 1963.

[22] William G. Brookheart (FBI Memorandum, no date).

[23] Dallas City Directory, 1961.

[24] Ibid.

[25] James V. Anderton (FBI Memorandum, November 29, 1963).

[26] Arthur E. Carter (FBI Memorandum, December 21, 1963).

[27] Charles Price, et al. (FBI Memorandum, December 19, 1963).

[28] Ibid.

[29] Ibid.

[30] Charles Price, et al. (FBI Memorandum, December 19, 1963).

[31] Ibid.

[32] Ibid.

[33] Ibid.

“The Devil is in the Details”

By: Trish Fleming and Zach Jendro

                Buried within the volumes of the Warren Commission Report are countless insightful nuggets of information concerning the assassination of John Kennedy. Of particular interest to many researchers are the sworn statements that were taken in early 1964. It has been widely noted that not all potential witnesses of importance were called to testify; but, a great deal were. The fact that the questioning of these witnesses was sometimes tantalizingly incomplete is beyond question.  However, when confronted with inconsistencies, some investigators were not afraid to recall witnesses and ask repeated follow up questions in an attempt to sort out the truth.

Such is the case with the testimony of one of the most important individuals of that fateful day, Texas Schoolbook Depository superintendent, Roy Truly. His role in the assassination is well known: he hired supposed assassin Lee Harvey Oswald, he accompanied Officer Marrion Baker in the building when the two of them discovered Oswald on the second-floor lunchroom[1], and he reported Oswald as being missing from the premises[2], which seemingly gave investigators one of their first major leads of the case. Importantly, he also gave officers Oswald’s name and address, which, on the surface, may have given investigators an enormous clue as to where to find this crucial and missing suspect.[3] In the minds of many, this would seem to sew up the mystery as to how Officer J.D. Tippit arrived near the boarding house where Oswald had been staying at the time, 1026 North Beckley in the Oak Cliff area of Dallas. Indeed, many documentaries and mainstream articles about the assassination have cited Oswald’s absence from the book warehouse as the crucial lead that brought about his sudden apprehension. But, this was not the case. It has been widely noted that the office of the Texas Schoolbook Depository did not actually have the Oak Cliff address as Oswald’s primary residence; in fact, according to his testimony, Truly gave investigators an address in Irving, which was the residence of Michael and Ruth Paine.[4] Oswald’s wife, Marina, had been staying there, and her husband would visit this residence during the weekend. But, the discrepancies do not end there. Upon reading Truly’s Warren Commission testimony and comparing the timing of his account with other important events, serious questions begin to appear.

Assistant counsel of the President’s Commission, Mr. Joseph A. Ball, questioned Truly, under oath, on May 14, 1964, a follow up to another statement taken in March. During this May questioning, Ball asks Truly to recount details about several important facets of this case. He inquires about two rifles that were brought into the Schoolbook Depository by one Mr. Warren Caster days before the assassination.[5] He then changes the focus to an important detail of this research: the circumstances surrounding the moments when Truly first noticed Oswald was missing and his actions afterward. Below is Truly’s account of his action, paraphrased, with quotes, taken from his testimony.[6]

  1. Truly noticed that Oswald was missing. According to his testimony, he noticed Oswald was missing “10-12 minutes” after their encounter in the lunch room. He later corrects himself after retracing his actions, and states that it was at approximately 1:05 P.M. when he first notices Oswald’s absence, or about 30 minutes. He also notes that Charles Givens, another man working on the same floor as Oswald, the sixth floor, was missing, as Truly saw Givens, as well as Harold Norman and James Jarman (who, unbeknownst to Truly at the time of the crime scene investigation, claimed to have returned to the Depository during this period) walking down Elm Street, east towards Houston Street.

 

  1. Truly calls Mr. Akin at the other book warehouse to get Oswald’s description and address. Despite his recollections that at least three other employees were missing from the building (indeed, historical research has proven that several other employees were also absent[7]), Truly focused his attention on Oswald, who he had seen on the premises several minutes earlier. What made Oswald so suspicious in his mind is vague:

 

  • BALL. Did you make a check of your employees afterwards?

Mr. TRULY. No, no; not complete. No, I just saw the group of the employees over there on the floor and I noticed this boy wasn’t with them. With no thought in my mind except that I had seen him a short time before in the building, I noticed he wasn’t there.

 

  • TRULY. That’s right, and at such time that you have information of the officers taking the names of the workers in the warehouse over in and around the wrapping tables, it was at such time that I noticed that this boy wasn’t among the other workers.

 

It was at this time that Truly, without the direction of investigators, called a Mr. Akin at the other warehouse building owned by the same corporation, to get Oswald’s personal information.

 

  • TRULY. When I noticed this boy was missing, I told Chief Lumpkin that “We have a man here that’s missing.” I said, “It may not mean anything, but he isn’t here.” I first called down to the other warehouse and had Mr. Akin pull the application of the boy so I could get–quickly get his address in Irving and his general description, so I could be more accurate than I would be.

 

  • BALL. Now, did you tell Chief Lumpkin the man was missing before or after you called to the warehouse and got the name?

Mr. TRULY. No, I called the warehouse beforehand.

Mr. BALL. You didn’t talk to any police officer before you called the warehouse and got the address?

Mr. TRULY. Not that I remember.

Mr. BALL. You did that on your own without instructions?

Mr. TRULY. That’s right.

Truly also wrote this information down to present to the authorities.

  • BALL. So, when you talked to Chief Lumpkin, you at that time had in your possession there the address of Lee Oswald in Irving?

Mr. TRULY. That’s right, I had scribbled it down on a piece of map or something so I would remember it.

Mr. BALL. That is the address that he had put on his application form for employment?

Mr. TRULY. That’s right.

Mr. BALL. And did you know of any other address

Mr. TRULY. I didn’t know of any other address at all.

 

  1. Truly notifies the investigators of Oswald’s absence and presents the address.

The timing of this detail was of particular interest to Ball, for he asks Truly several times to clarify when exactly he informed authorities that Oswald was missing.

 

  • BALL. Now, you told Chief Lumpkin that there was a man missing?

Mr. TRULY. Yes; and he said, “Let’s go tell Captain Fritz.” Well, I didn’t know where Captain Fritz was.

 

  • BALL. Where was Captain Fritz when you saw him?

Mr. TRULY. He was on the sixth floor in the area where they found the rifle.

Mr. BALL. And was the rifle there at the time?

Mr. TRULY. No, I never saw the rifle.

 

Whether or not the rifle had already been found is crucial, for it places a specific time frame for when Truly informed the police that Oswald was missing.

  • BALL. Was this after or before the rifle had been taken from the building?

Mr. TRULY. It was before the rifle had been taken from the building.

Mr. BALL. And do you know whether it was before or after the rifle was found?

Mr. TRULY. Apparently the rifle had been found before I got to the sixth floor, but just how early, I don’t know.

Mr. BALL. But you had heard that the rifle was found, had you, by your talk with Fritz?

Mr. TRULY. That’s–I don’t know–I learned it was found while I was on the sixth floor.

Mr. BALL. While you were on the sixth floor?

Mr. TRULY. While I was on the sixth floor.

Mr. BALL. In other words, you went with Chief Lumpkin to the sixth floor, didn’t you?

Mr. TRULY. Yes.

Mr. BALL. And what was your purpose of going there?

Mr. TRULY. My purpose in going there was to inform Captain Fritz that this boy was missing and give him his telephone number, and his Irving address, at the suggestion of Chief Lumpkin, who accompanied me.

Mr. BALL. Did you give Captain Fritz this name and address?

Mr. TRULY. Yes, I did.

Mr. BALL. Was it while you were there that you learned the rifle had been found?

Mr. TRULY. I don’t remember who I learned this from—-

Mr. BALL. I didn’t ask you that, I’m talking about time only.

Mr. TRULY. That was while I was on the sixth floor is when I learned the rifle was found, but I did not see it.

 

The Warren Commission Report states that the rifle had been found at 1:22 P.M., which means, as clearly stated by Truly, that he presented the possibility of Oswald as a suspect within minutes of this event, since he didn’t see the rifle, itself. A reasonable time frame for Truly’s interaction with Fritz would be between 1:22 P.M. and 1:30 P.M.

Why is this timing so important? When compared to the known actions of Dallas police, particularly J.D. Tippit, Truly’s statements should have caused an enormous problem for investigators. Tippit’s activities that day, and the activities around the Oak Cliff rooming house have been thoroughly documented by William N. Drenas.[8] A brief timeline of these events is as follows:

12:45 P.M. Squads 78 and 87 (Tippit) are ordered to the “Central Oak Cliff Area” to provide backup support for that district in case of emergency.[9] Tippit goes nowhere near that area, neither immediately or anytime that day, thereby ignoring orders.[10] (When asked in his Warren Commission testimony whether or not the area in which Tippit was shot is in “Central Oak Cliff,” Dallas Police Chief Jesse Curry does not conclusively answer.[11])

12:45 P.M.-12:54-1:00 P.M. Five witnesses placed Tippit at the GLOCO Service Station, 1502 North Zangs Boulevard, near the Houston Street Viaduct (Northeast Oak Cliff). He stays there for about 10 minutes, then tears off down Lancaster at high speed. Police Dispatcher asks Tippit’s location, he responds, “I’m about Keist and Bonnie View (within Tippit’s regular patrol district, about 4 miles away, which, according to Drenas, was “Highly improbable”)[12]

12:54 P.M. Dispatcher asks Tippit’s location, he responds, “Lancaster and Eighth.”[13]

1:00 P.M. Earlene Roberts, the housekeeper at Oswald’s rooming house states that she noticed a police car with two officers pull up in front of the house while Oswald was in his room, honk “several times”, then leave.[14]

1:00-1:05 P.M.  Tippit makes hurried phone call at The Top Ten Record Shop, 338 West Jefferson, near the corner of Bishop Ave (Northeast Oak Cliff).[15]

1:03 P.M.  Dispatcher calls Tippit, Tippit does not respond.[16]

?????  Tippit, driving erratically, forces driver James A. Andrews off the road. Tippit exits his car in a panic, and without saying a word, returns to his car and speeds off.[17]

1:10-1:15 P.M.  Tippit shot to death near corner of East Tenth Street and Patton Avenue (Northeast Oak Cliff). The exact time is in dispute. The Warren Commission Report states it happened at 1:15.[18]

If Truly was telling the truth to the Warren Commission about when he noticed Oswald missing and when he informed police, how is it that any officers would have appeared outside of Oswald’s rooming house, an area where no officers were ordered to go, before 1:25? Truly was quite clear about his actions. How is it possible that any policemen could have considered Oswald a suspect before 1:30?

It seems to be evident from the eyewitness testimony recounted by Drenas that Tippit left the Gloco Station at 12:54 with a purpose in mind, for he was seen “tearing off” down Lancaster, heading south in the direction of the Top Ten Record Store to make a phone call. This is despite the fact that police logs show no order for Tippit to move[19] and the record store was well outside his patrol district.[20] It appears by his behavior that Tippit had some emergency business that was not only unsanctioned by his superiors, but was outside of the area to which he was ordered, and that this business caused him to leave suddenly. What this business might be falls within the realm of speculation; however, after being unable to place his phone call, Tippit excitedly left the record store, headed northward in the direction of the boarding house, running a stop sign, eventually forcing driver James Andrews off the road and acting suspiciously while en route. He arrived in the area where he was to be slain (a few blocks from Oswald’s rooming house) at approximately 1:10 P.M. Through his actions, it is clear that he was not acting within standard police procedure, and apparently under some duress. Also to be considered is the testimony of Earlene Roberts, who states that a Dallas patrol car was outside Oswald’s residence, while he was there, temporarily stopped and honked repeatedly at approximately 1 P.M. The Warren Commission makes it quite clear that this was not Tippit’s car.

The Warren Commission Report states that Tippit was radioed to go to the “central Oak Cliff area” at 12:45 P.M..[21] According to Murray Jackson, the officer who made this announcement, this was not to respond to a manhunt for the assassin, but to cover officers that had been moved out of Oak Cliff as a result of the day’s events.[22] In fact, Tippit seems to have ignored this order altogether and stationed himself at the Gloco Station for some ten minutes.[23] Also, Tippit was nowhere near the “central Oak Cliff area,” as the service station, record store, and the Beckley address are in the northeastern corner of Oak Cliff. Tippit was clearly not following the orders he was given. The Warren Report also makes it quite clear that his actions leading up to this were within police regulations, but when Tippit’s overall activites of the afternoon are considered, this is quite clearly not the case.[24] It is uncertain as to how the activities that led up to the officer’s slaying occurred. The Warren Report states that a vague description of a suspect had been radioed to officers by 12:45; but, evidently Tippit was not part of a dragnet manhunt; he had very specific and unsanctioned locations that he was heading towards. It is not clear what made Oswald stand out from thousands of other young men of his general description that were in Dallas that day. The area in which he was murdered, East Tenth and Patton, is not a main thoroughfare, so it would seem that Tippit was in this area for a specific reason, a reason which will probably never be made clear. It is possible that Tippit saw Oswald acting suspiciously and pulled over to investigate, but his prior actions make this seem illogical. He was clearly heading to specific locations (the record store, Tenth and Patton) that he had no business being in, in a hurry and erratically, after disregarding orders and ignoring a request for his position. These do not seem like the actions of a patrolman performing a methodical manhunt within the rules of his job. These actions seem like the actions of a man who was performing unauthorized actions, in a hurry, and sloppily. He seemingly had activities other than his immediate duties on his mind at the time. However, this is speculation. What is beyond speculation is the presence of an additional patrol car at the Beckley address at 1:00 P.M., a half hour before Oswald should have been considered a suspect.

This raises a question that may be uncomfortable to some: How is it possible that two patrol cars were in the area of Oswald’s rooming house at 1:00 P.M. and 1:10, respectively, when he was not even considered a suspect by the police until approximately 1:22 P.M.? Even if Captain Fritz had immediate access to a radio to inform other officers of this suspect, this timing is clearly not possible.  With the evidence complied, the possibility that some members of the Dallas Police had foreknowledge of Oswald’s location and potential involvement must be considered. This possibility most certainly cannot be eliminated. The mysteries surrounding the deaths of both John Kennedy and J.D. Tippit will probably never be solved to everyone’s satisfaction, but through a careful examination of evidence, such as the testimony in the Warren Commission Report and other eyewitness accounts, we may be able to shed light on what might have happened on that tragic day.

 

 

 

 

[1] Warren Commission Hearings, vol. 3, p. 263, Testimony of Marrion L. Baker.

[2] Warren Commission Hearings, Testimony of Roy Sansom Truly.

[3] Ibid.

[4] Ibid.

[5] Ibid.

[6] Ibid.

[7] “The Ups and Downs of the TSBD,” The Dealey Plaza Echo, March 2008

[8] http://mcadams.posc.mu.edu/car10.htm

[9] Warren Report, 4 H 179 (Curry)

[10] http://mcadams.posc.mu.edu/car10.htm

[11] Warren Report, 4 H 179 (Curry)

[12] http://mcadams.posc.mu.edu/car10.htm

[13] Ibid.

[14] Warren Commission Report, Page 281

[15] http://mcadams.posc.mu.edu/car10.htm

[16] Ibid.

[17] http://mcadams.posc.mu.edu/car10.htm

[18] Ibid.

[19] Ibid.

[20] Ibid.

[21] Warren Report, 4 H 179 (Curry)

[22] http://mcadams.posc.mu.edu/car10.htm

[23] Ibid.

[24] Warren Report, Page 397

“Judyth, Lee, and the Reverend James Novelty Shop”

Voodoo2.jpg

By: Trish Fleming and Zach Jendro

Anyone who has scrutinized the claims of Judyth Vary Baker with an unbiased eye should be keenly aware that she has been less than consistent with many details of her story. Researcher David Reitzes has logged over 150 cited examples of how elements of her story have changed.[i] At the very least, this could mean that Baker’s keen photographic memory is not as reliable as she claims; at worst, it may mean that she has reworked and edited her account to suit her story, as needed. An examination of Baker’s evidence, as chronicled in her book Me and Lee, demonstrates no solid direct proof to back her claims of a romance with Lee Harvey Oswald. An historical account with such strong implications that is filled with so many discrepancies with no direct evidence to reinforce it requires a thorough analysis to attempt to set the record straight.

One element of the story of her summer in New Orleans which has been questioned is Judyth’s and Lee’s employment at a business called “Reverend James’ Novelty Shop.” In Baker’s account, “Reverend Jim’s” (as she claims it was locally known) was a multifaceted business that hired underemployed artists to paint souvenirs and trinkets, such as “ceramic alligators, maracas, and salt and pepper shakers,”[ii]  for the local tourist market, as well as decorating Mardi Gras floats. Baker claims this work was available on a daily basis: employees were paid minimum wage in the form of cash for their labor, being a way to make “honest money.” Prospective employees were made to fill out paperwork attesting to their neediness, read a Bible passage, and sign a pledge to remain “sober and drug free.”[iii] According to Baker, “Reverend Jim’s” also had a storage facility that held “shiny alligators, ten feet tall, life-sized carousel horses, and colorfully-painted dragons, devils, and dinosaurs” which were created for “floats, carnivals, and shop windows.” [iv]The retail store front, which was located at 545 South Rampart Street, sold “rubber masks, wigs, African drums, Indian headdresses, costumes full of sequins, costume jewelry, and feathers… one section was stacked with Bibles, framed religious poems, and statues of the Good Shepherd.”[v] Baker states that, among other duties, she and Oswald painted “trolls, dwarves, and carousel horses.”[vi]

In the years since her story has been made public, internet researchers have questioned her account of this store. In fact, some researchers claimed she may have invented “Reverend Jim’s,” altogether.[vii] However, this business did, undoubtedly, exist. Information concerning the store is scarce, but the best available research indicates that a “Reverend William M. James’ Novelty Shop of Religious Articles” did, indeed, operate at 545 South Rampart. According to a business card housed in the “Voodoo” file at Howard-Tilton Library, Tulane University, the location was also home to a shrine to St. Jude. (Another shrine to St. Jude at the historic Our Lady of Guadelupe Church exists at 411 North Rampart in New Orleans. This location also houses a small Catholic gift shop, but according to Father Tony Rigoli, pastor of St. Jude’s, Reverend James was in no way affiliated with the church.[viii]) In an article by author and historian Carolyn Morrow Long, it is stated that Reverend James’ was in business from the early 1960s (c. 1962) until the mid-1980s,[ix] operating as a store that sold objects related to hoodoo (or folk magic practices). It is evident, then, that this business was at the location reported by Baker during the proper time period. But, how likely was it Judyth and Lee actually worked there?

While the investigation into the assassination of President Kennedy (the Warren Commission) contained some glaring omissions, its research into the more mundane aspects of Oswald’s life was exhaustive. Numerous testimonies, affidavits and interviews were gathered in an attempt to piece together every known minute detail of his life. His time in New Orleans in 1963 was no exception. Among those interviewed were members of his mother’s family, the Murrets. His aunt, Lillian Murret, was questioned during her Warren Commission testimony concerning a brief period of time he stayed with the Murrets in the spring of that year. She refers to a job that Lee had interviewed for, doing some lettering work on Rampart Street. In her testimony, she claims that Lee had spotted this job in the newspaper and that he went down to this location, but he didn’t get the job. In her book, Baker asserts that this job on Rampart Street was doing lettering work for “Reverend Jim.”[x] (In addition, an article by John Delane Williams in The Dealey Plaza Echo, with comments by Judyth Vary Baker, makes this same claim.[xi]) An examination of the New Orleans Times Picayune for the dates in question (April 28- May 5) contains only one want ad for a lettering job (Figure 1). However, the ad is not for a religious shrine or souvenir vendor, it was for a “large advertising agency.” Research reveals that this advertising agency, The Ad Shop, was investigated by the FBI on November 29, 1963. It was, indeed, located on Rampart, 1201 South Rampart[xii].

Newspaper3
Figure 1

The official account of Oswald’s employment history, tracked through his W-2 forms, personal finances, and pay information shows absolutely no trace of employment at Reverend James’. Oswald neglected to mention this job on subsequent visits to employment agencies. It is important to note that Baker claims that both she and Oswald were required to sign paperwork to work at “Rev. Jim’s” (probably including the necessary tax forms). How is it that investigations into Oswald’s time and his sources of income turned up absolutely no trace of this job, but jobs that he didn’t receive were traced and investigated? Did Reverend James pay people under the table at his shop? Would not authorities have asked who was doing the painting work and building parade floats in his shop? This would have undoubtedly added more pressure to a situation that, if we believe Baker, would have already have been dangerous for Reverend James.

South Rampart was known primarily as an African American neighborhood located in the Central Business District of New Orleans which has been closely linked to the birth of jazz. In the early 1900s, it was the home of famous musicians such as Louis Armstrong and Buddy Bolden and was the inspiration for the jazz standard “South Rampart Street Parade.” Asians, African Americans, and Jews called this area home for decades. A survey of the businesses of the 500 block of South Rampart around 1900 shows that the area was occupied by several second-hand stores operated by individuals with Eastern European surnames. The future site of “Reverend Jim’s”(545 South Rampart) was the home of N. Cohen’s  “New and Second Hand Goods” store, which dealt in gold and “cast-off clothing.”[xiii]  However, by 1963, this area had become run –down due to years of neglect. A former resident of the area, Gerri Delome, gave an 1985 interview about her memories of the neighborhood in the 1960s and stated, “As a child, the route of my many walks to Canal Street never included South Rampart Street. I was told the area was too rough for a little girl to venture alone… White people were a rarity on South Rampart. In fact, the area was considered so tough that many Blacks would not enter it after dark.”[xiv]  Guns and knives were commonplace, and there were numerous unsolved murders and assaults. According to author Randy Fertel, by the mid-1950s, South Rampart was “one step up from Skid Row.”[xv] It was in this environment that naïve, 19-year-old Judyth claims she would walk to work at “Reverend Jim’s,” unescorted.

New Orleans of 1963 was deeply segregated along racial lines. Throughout Jim Crow-era Louisiana, schools, public transportation, residency, and employment were highly restricted until the passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. In the area around Rampart Street, the border between white and black was Canal Street.  Everything north of Canal was generally white; everything south of Canal up to approximately the 600-700 block was black. This was not only true of property ownership, but social interaction and economic opportunity, as well. This line was clearly evident to Gerri Delome, for she recalled as a child, seeing the white owned Loew’s State Theatre with its “whites” entrance at 1108 Canal St. and its segregated “Blacks only” entrance on South Rampart.[xvi] “Reverend Jim’s” was no exception. In a 1996 interview, respected jazz historian and musician Tad Jones noted that Reverend William James was an “elderly black man.” [xvii] The idea of a black man hiring young white people to paint souvenirs for him in New Orleans in 1963 may have been illegal: a 1956 statute called for employers to create separate restroom and eating facilities for blacks and whites; if these facilities were not provided, the business owner faced heavy fines and jail time.[xviii] Building new restrooms and dining rooms would have been a very costly proposition for the owner of a small religious goods store. Not only would white people working for a black man have been unheard of, it could have been possibly dangerous. This was an era in which even the trailblazing Freedom Riders, who were protected by the glare of the national spotlight and the Justice Department, were being beaten with their lives being threatened, even being harassed by the New Orleans police at the airport.[xix] On South Rampart of the 1960s, a neighborhood in which a young waitress was killed for telling a man “to kiss her butt”[xx], violence against an elderly black man for breaking the rules of de facto segregation would not have raised an eyebrow among the white lawmen of New Orleans. Baker, a woman who discusses her moral opposition to segregation in her book (even stating that she and Oswald sat in the back of a bus to make a statement), made no mention of her supposed groundbreaking work for an African American man in segregated New Orleans.

It is beyond doubt, at this point, fifteen years after her “coming out” and more than five decades after the events themselves, that Baker’s account of what actually happened during her purported time with Lee OswaId has been, in the very least, altered. Some well-meaning people take her at her word, but without solid evidence, they are relying on faith. However, even faith cannot remove the serious doubts that have come to light regarding some aspects of her story. There are many examples of “holes” being found in her account, holes that Baker has attempted to shrug off.  Her account of employment at Reverend James’ store is one of many. Her story is full of many unanswered questions. Why does Baker refer to Rev. James as “Rev. Jim?” His first name was William. It would seem unusual for a man to refer to himself as a shortened version of his own last name as though it were a first name. Why does Baker, someone who cares about civil rights, neglect to mention that the Reverend was African American? Why did she make no statement about the shrine to St. Jude or the shop’s hoodoo connections? Why did Baker make no references to the tough neighborhood in which the store was located, evidently feeling no nervousness walking alone in a very intimidating neighborhood, probably the lone white person in the area? In order to believe Baker’s story we would have to accept that Reverend James, a man who, according to Baker, made prospective employees read Bible verses before starting work, was breaking the law by paying employees at his manufacturing facility under the table, for no trace of either her or Oswald’s employment there can be found. (Baker states this was a place to make “honest” money, so it is reasonable to assume that Reverend James would have adhered to the laws.) We also must believe that Rev. James was willing to risk his own safety and livelihood by operating an integrated business in a hostile social environment and neighborhood, when running such an operation would have caused him much grief and negative attention. If he did own an integrated store, he would have had to provide expensive accommodations for both races, or he would have been breaking the law a second time. (Once again, Judyth never mentions this touchy topic.)  We must also believe that there were, coincidentally, two lettering jobs known to Oswald (a fairly uncommon occupation, as only one advertisement for such a job was run in the newspaper, the source of the job information, according to Baker), with both jobs being on Rampart Street during the exact same week. Or, is it more likely that a woman who has been inconsistent numerous times over the years, has embellished her story, a story with no direct evidence to back it up? When one takes the lack of evidence into account, along with the contemporary and thorough investigation into the life of Lee Oswald, as well as the cold, hard realities of history, all that remains for a believer of Judyth to rely upon is faith. Then, perhaps it is fitting, that she has relied upon a man of faith to bolster her story. After all, she mentions Reverend James’ store eighteen times in her book.  Evidently, Baker attempted to use the memory of a true believer to convert a whole new generation of believers to a new faith-based topic: the Judyth Vary Baker story.

[i] http://www.jfk-online.com/judyth-story.html

[ii] Judyth Vary Baker, Me and Lee (Trine Day 2010), 258.

[iii] Ibid.

[iv] Baker, Me and Lee, 257.

[v] Ibid.

[vi] Baker, Me and Lee, 258.

[vii] https://groups.google.com/forum/m/#!topic/alt.assassination.jfk/o-8C3cDNY3E

[viii] Father Tony Rigoli, correspondence with authors, 20 Mar. 2015.

[ix] Carolyn Morrow Long, “The Cracker Jack: A Hoodoo Drugstore in the “’Cradle of Jazz,’” Louisiana Cultural Vistas Magazine, http://louisianaculturalvistas.org/crackerjack/ (accessed 20 Mar. 2015).

[x] Baker, Me and Lee, 272.

[xi] John Delane Williams and Kelly Thomas Cousins with Judyth Vary Baker, “Judyth and Lee in New Orleans,” Dealey Plaza Echo, no. 1 (2007),  24.

[xii] Warren Commission, Commission Exhibit 1911.

[xiii] “500 Block Rampart,” Archives of Tulane University, Howard-Tilton Memorial Library, Tulane University (New Orleans, La.)

[xiv] Gerri Delome, “I Remember South Rampart Street,” The Observer, Dec. 1985, 12.

[xv] Randy Fertel, “The Birth of Jazz and the Jews of South Rampart Street,” Tikkun, http://www.tikkun.org/nextgen/the-birth-of-jazz-and-the-jews-of-south-rampart-street (accessed 20 Mar. 2015).

[xvi] Delome, “I Remember South Rampart Street,” 12.

[xvii] Tad Jones, interview, 19 Jan. 1996.

[xviii] http://www.africanafrican.com/folder12/african%20african%20american3/anti-miscegenation%20laws/jimcrowlawslouisiana.pdf

[xix] Raymond Arsenault, Freedom Riders: 1961 and the Struggle for Racial Justice (Oxford University Press 2007), 175.

[xx] Bill Grady, “Barren Street Belies Glory Days,” New Orleans Times Picayune, Jun. 5 1990, B-2.

An Analysis of Judyth Baker’s “Pixillation Study”

By Zach Jendro and Trish Fleming

altgens6.jpg

Within the contentious realm of Kennedy assassination research, numerous theories endure. Most are challenged immediately by veteran researchers, their debunking skills hardened by years of confronting implausible “flights of fancy.”  Some of the more plausible may continue to take on new life, and, indeed, new supporters with each public proclamation, despite efforts of skeptical investigators to sort the gold from the fools’ gold. One such theory concerns the identification of a man who appears in a famous photograph taken by Robert Altgens, known as Altgens 6 (above). The focal point of the image was the presidential limousine and was snapped as the President was grasping his throat injury, which preceded the fatal shot to his head.  That visual information, alone, is extremely valuable. However, and, for good reason, much attention has been paid to the bystanders and scenery in the background. An area within the background of the photograph that has received a significant amount of focus is the doorway of the Texas Schoolbook Depository, for it shows a man that, to some, looks like the accused assassin, Lee Harvey Oswald. This figure has commonly been referred to as “Doorman.” To those who consider that Oswald was innocent, this is a “Rosetta Stone,” for if Oswald was, indeed, standing in that doorway during the shooting, his guilt would be absolved.  Among those who believe this to be the case are members of an organization, known as the Oswald Innocence Campaign (OIC).  Indeed, this assertion concerning the Altgens photo seems to form the crux of the OIC’s argument, when one examines their website.[1] However, investigators, including the Warren Commission, came to the conclusion that this figure in the photograph was Oswald’s coworker, Billy Lovelady. [2]

In July of 2014, Judyth Vary Baker, an artist and author who has claimed to have been Oswald’s girlfriend during the period preceding the assassination, released a study that she and others stated was both scientific and conclusive. She asserted that she was able to prove, once and for all, that this figure was most certainly Oswald based upon her research involving a technique she referred to as “pixelation.”  She stated that, as a “living witness” and a “trained scientist” that this was the “most important argument that (she) has ever posted.”[3] Clearly, such a bold statement concerning this crucial piece of evidence deserved some further analysis. After reading her study carefully, some enormous flaws were quickly made apparent. Using the scientific method to hold an experiment such as Baker’s up to scientific scrutiny allows other researchers to challenge or verify such proposed findings.  Science, itself, demands that such procedures take place, for science is a never-ending quest for answers to challenges, not an open and shut investigation. It is important to state that this study is not an attack on Baker, herself, or her other claims.

 

The Scientific Method

                A basic understanding of the scientific method, which is the core of experimentation and scientific discovery, is vital to this discussion. For the purpose of this paper, an elementary explanation of this topic will be used, for many of the finer points of scientific experimentation are far outside the scope of this study. Indeed, the experiment in question is very basic; therefore, such conversation would only serve to stray from the topic at hand. The scientific method is a basic set of steps that an experiment is built around.  A simple framework using the five main steps of the scientific method will be used to clarify this experiment’s scientific merit. These steps are:

  1. State your problem or observation.
  2. Make a hypothesis. Make a basic prediction around which you would like to build an experiment.
  3. Predict possible outcomes.
  4. Perform the experiment. Carefully record your data.
  5. Analyze the data and come to a conclusion.

This paper will attempt to directly quote Baker’s experiment[4] as much as possible to retain her original meaning.  All direct quotes, unless noted, are taken from her experiment.  Additional information regarding this experiment was derived from online conversations with Baker after her experiment was shared publicly.

Judyth Baker’s “Pixelation Experiment”

  1. State your problem or observation. “…it seemed to me that a pixel analysis of Doorman’s shirt compared with Oswald and Lovelady’s just might resolve the matter (of whether it was Oswald or Lovelady in the doorway.)” That is, Baker devised an experiment to determine who Doorman was.
  2. Make a hypothesis. Baker’s hypothesis seems to be, based on her description of her experiment, that Oswald was standing in the doorway, not Lovelady. An analysis of the clothing worn by Doorman in Altgens 6 might determine identity.
  3. Predict possible outcomes. Based upon analysis, Doorman could be Oswald. Doorman could also be Lovelady. Doorman could be an unknown individual. (Although, this third possible outcome was not discussed by Baker.)
  4. Perform the experiment. This is where it gets confusing. An important part of science is providing all of the details of an experiment so others may attempt to reproduce your findings. This is not optional; it is crucial, for a scientific study must pass a rigorous testing phase, performed by other scientists who have no agenda, or it is generally not accepted by the scientific community. In order to do this, each step must be explained thoroughly, with an explanation of the equipment and materials used (in this case, computer hardware or software, a citation for the source photographs, a demonstration of the exact portion of the photograph studied) and measurements (resolution of the images). Also, the process of the experiment must be explained carefully, each step must be described so that others who are interested in reproducing the findings will be able to know exactly what the original experimenter did. None of this is present in Baker’s study. Reading her study gives us no idea of what she did, other than vague descriptions and explanations, some of which are technically unsound.  Here is a description of her methodology taken from the study which compared a small portion of Altgens 6 (Figure 2) to a photograph of Oswald taken after his arrest (Figure 3):

“Method: The original Doorway Figure is a tiny part of a much larger photograph, originally developed as a film composed not of pixels, as photos today are usually created, but of photosensitive chemicals that were then processed in a fluid subjected to a degree of Brownian motion, which distorted some of the pattern seen in the Doorway Figure’s shirt.

 Nevertheless, a consensus of observers agree that there are more features in the Doorway Figure’s face that correspond to Oswald’s face than to Lovelady’s. With these considerations in mind, it seemed logical to look closer at the shirt. A large portion of the shirtsleeve can be seen in the Altgens6 photo. It seemed reasonable to compare sections of Lovelady’s and Oswald’s shirtsleeves with the shirtsleeve in Altgens6. To do so, photos of such sections would have to be degenerated to the same degree as the Altgens6 shirtsleeve. On the Internet, the Altgens6 photo is pixelated, as are the FBI photos of Lovelady’s and Oswald’s shirts.

Pixelation: in computer graphics and digital photography, to cause (an image) to break up into pixels, as by over-enlarging the image.

Over-enlarging sections of pixelated photos of Lovelady’s and Oswald’s shirtsleeve would cause them to break up into new pixels. This would create a degeneration of the images similar to that seen in the Altgens6 photo of the Doorway Figure’s shirt sleeve. Similar sections of the degenerated images of Lovelady’s and of Oswald’s shirtsleeves could then be compared to the (similarly degenerated) Altgens6 shirtsleeve section.”

Evidently, what Baker attempted to do, was to zoom in on a bitmap (a digitized image), using image software, to the point where she could observe the rasterized elements of a small portion of the bitmap. Rasterization is a computer’s way of breaking down of an image into pixels for use in a digital format. Images can become rasterized at many different resolutions depending upon the size of the data file, that is, one image may be enlarged to 200% to see these “pixel squares”, another image may be enlarged to 1000% before these pixels are visible. Baker did not explain at what levels she enlarged the photographs to get to her particular rasterized image, nor did she give us the resolution of the image she started with. Therefore, it is not possible to duplicate her experiment. When asked which software she used to perform the experiment, Baker would not provide an answer.[5] Also, the precise portion of the Altgens image that she analyzed (it is only identified as the sleeve) had become enlarged to the point that it was no longer recognizable (Figure 4). When asked to point out which specific area of the image was used, she did not respond.[6] Therefore, without knowing which tools and initial measurements she used, as well as what she was measuring, there is no possible way to reproduce her study. It must also be noted that the effect of Brownian motion (random movement of particles suspended in a gas or fluid) on photography is, evidently, a new discovery by Baker, for no other reference to this could be found.[7]

Analyzing small portions of large photographs, as in the case of Altgens and Doorman, can be problematic. Even with high resolution scans, an image, when enlarged many times, loses much clarity and details can become muddled. This is most certainly the case with Doorman. When the authors of this paper initially examined the area of Altgens that contains the mysterious figure, it was assumed that the area that Baker identifies as his sleeve, was in fact, Doorman’s sleeve. However, appearances can be deceiving, especially when a three dimensional area in space is captured in a two dimensional photograph. There are several people standing between the camera and Doorman, each taking up a different location in physical space, but, through a loss of accurate perspective, objects in a photograph which can appear to be right on top of each other are actually separated by distance . What, in fact, appears to be Doorman’s sleeve is not actually his sleeve, it is the extended, waving arm of an unknown man standing several feet in front of Doorman (Figure 5). This becomes quite evident upon close examination.  A second unknown African American man is standing a step or two below Doorman, his face visible in profile in front of Doorman’s abdomen. The fact that this is more than likely not  Doorman’s arm can be proven by comparing lighting and shadows of the man’s face  at Doorman’s abdomen to the lighting on the sleeve. Simply put, the arm is in front of the face (Figure 6). The only way this positioning could be possible was if Doorman were hugging this African American man around the neck and casually standing there, watching the President drive by in this tender embrace. The discovery of whose arm actually appears in the area in question was made in the 1960s by Richard Sprague, who backed his evidence up with multiple photographs and motion picture stills.[8] The motion picture image of a figure standing in front of the Texas Schoolbook Depository in that position waving or shielding his face is clearly seen in the Hughes Film.[9]  In fact, no portion of Doorman’s sleeve is identifiable in the photograph. The sleeve portion of the photograph that Baker did identify as being part of her study did not actually belong to Doorman. This makes her clothing comparison analysis completely irrelevant in any identification of Doorman or Oswald.

  1. “The Lovelady shirt retains its distinctive pattern even under severe degeneration, whereas Oswald’s shirt forms surprising boxes and lines similar to what can be seen in the Altgens6 shirtsleeve, when the pattern is magnified, which degenerates the pixelation. Therefore, the shirt seen in the Doorway Figure cannot be the shirt allegedly worn by Billy Lovelady. Further, the pattern of Lee Oswald’s shirt resembles the pattern of the shirt worn by the Doorway Figure when both shirts are subjected to a similar degree of pixelation degeneration.”

 

Her conclusion is invalidated based upon her misidentification of the examined portion of the Altgens photograph. However, it is based upon her observations and opinions concerning shapes. Observation does play an important role in an experiment; however, using an opinion that something “looks like” or “resembles” something else is not conclusive science due to it is subjectivity. Observation is partial due to personal opinion. Once an observer realizes that what appears to be Doorman’s sleeve could not be his sleeve, the resulting visible area of clothing is so degraded and shadowy that an accurate comparison of Doorman’s clothing to any other subject’s, Oswald’s or Lovelady’s, is inconclusive. The lack of detail in the facial features of the figure makes a facial comparison almost impossible. Even under the best of conditions, dissimilarities of lighting and the subject’s pose can make an individual look like a different person in other photographs. Elements that are vital to identifying a person’s identity beyond a reasonable doubt (facial measurements, ear structure, teeth of a smiling person) are not distinct within this portion of the photograph. Unless the analyst is an expert in anatomy, such an attempt at identification is foolhardy at best and should not be considered without serious evidence to buttress the claims.  Therefore, trying to determine who Doorman was, using Altgens 6 alone, is not a responsible experiment because of the lack of solid evidence in that one photograph to make a reasonable identification.  The flaws of Judyth Baker’s experiment demonstrate why:  loss of necessary details and it the difficulty in gauging the exact position of three dimensional objects that appear in two dimensional photographs. A clear, high resolution photograph and a detailed understanding of the surroundings is necessary. Until a clear image of the doorway area can be found, it is impossible to prove who is standing there. Therefore, such an identification is a historical red herring.

 

Special thanks to Joseph Backes, Lancelot Upperton, and Gayle Nix Jackson.

[1] http://www.oswald-innocent.com/overview.html

[2] Report of the President’s Commission on the Assassination of President Kennedy, P.149.

[3] https://docs.google.com/document/d/1X2eD2Wl3xSmRHTuE02ntfYkb3ES2Kuo8wl3HHzzAlD8/edit

[4] https://docs.google.com/document/d/1X2eD2Wl3xSmRHTuE02ntfYkb3ES2Kuo8wl3HHzzAlD8/pub

[5] Judyth Baker, personal communication, August 5, 2014.

[6] Ibid.

[7] https://www.google.com/?gws_rd=ssl#q=Effects+of+Brownian+Motion+on+photography

[8]Richard Sprague to Beverly Brunson, April 22, 1968. Harold Weisberg Collection.

[9] http://www.jfkassassinationgallery.com/displayimage.php?pid=5877&fullsize=1