WHEN TRUTH IS STRANGER THAN FICTION - part II
STRANGE TALES TO TELL
The CIA could not face up to the American people and admit that its former employees had conspired to assassinate the President; so from the moment Kennedy's heart stopped beating, the Agency attempted to sweep the whole conspiracy under the rug.
- Jim Garrison (right)
On Nov. 22, 1963 deaf mute Ed Hoffman (below) was just one of several hundred witnesses to the murder of President John Kennedy. The event left him so completely shell shocked that for days afterward Mr. Hoffman could not bring himself to relay the story he had witnessed with his own eyes. Hoffman eventually managed to correlate what other eye witnesses like Jean Hill had already disclosed – though his story and that of the others was carefully omitted from the Warren Commission’s public findings.
In essence, Hoffman was overlooking the plaza when the shots in front of the Presidential motorcade rang out. He claims to have seen the man who fired the fatal head shot from behind the fence in Dealey Plaza. Hoffman further supports that with paralytic disbelief he observed as the man behind the fence casually disassembled his rifle, placed it into a large suitcase and then handed that suitcase to another waiting man.
This second individual physically removed the weapon from the premises before any of the Dallas police or other witnesses had a chance to climb up the grassy knoll. Hoffman’s testimony was completely ignored by the FBI, presumably because they were pressed for time and could not see the validity in interrogating a mute through sign language.
However, even more unsettling than Hoffman’s account, along with the other post-assassination testimonies that began to plentifully surface at random in the years that followed, are the steady stream of obvious precursors to that fateful day. One of the most startling involves William Walter, a night clerk on duty inside the FBI headquarters in New Orleans who came to the attention of D.A. Jim Garrison while he was preparing the trial against Clay Shaw.
By then, Garrison had become a target of federal spying. His offices had been bugged. Walter gave Garrison a copy of a Telex message that inadvertently implicates the FBI in the conspiracy and cover up prior to the actual assassination. The Telex reads, “Bureau has determined that a militant revolutionary group may attempt to assassinate President Kennedy on his proposed trip to Dallas Texas.”
After the assassination, Walters was ordered to get rid of all copies of the Telex, as it represented an obvious ‘embarrassment’ to the bureau’s lack of follow-up on this high-profile matter. Giving the FBI the benefit of the doubt on this matter, their ignoring of the Telex does not explain why a mysterious direct command was issued for the localized protective ground services – that should have combined as a military presence for the Kennedy motorcade in Dallas on Nov. 22 – to stand down.
En route to the State Hospital in Jackson Louisiana, Cheramie told Officer Francis Fruge that she had been traveling from Florida to Dallas to complete a drug deal for Jack Ruby with two anti-Castro Cubans. Functioning as a courier in trade for funds and heroine, Cheramie reported that at some point in their brief association, the Cubans decided to ditch her on the road to Galveston by throwing her from their moving car.
As Cheramie further relayed to Fruge, the men were not merely well informed of the pending assassination but were actually going to Dallas to partake. At the time, Fruge attempted to clear up inconsistencies in Cheramie’s story. Eventually, Fruge was able to collaborate all of Cheramie’s information, right down to a meeting she had been privy to between Oswald and Jack Ruby at the Silver Slipper Lounge. Following the assassination, Fruge turned over his notes on the matter to Dallas police. Fruge also offered Cheramie as a potential witness in the ongoing investigation, but neither the Dallas authorities nor the FBI were interested in what Cheramie had to say. She was never called to testify. Her body was discovered on a lonely road in 1965, the apparent victim of a car wreck.
THICKENING BLOODLINES/ TANGLED WEBS
“We have been operating a ‘murder incorporated in the Caribbean.” – Lyndon Johnson
During a 1969 interview with imminent media personality, Walter Kronkite (right), President Lyndon Johnson made several shocking revelations to the newsman, including the aforementioned quote. Johnson also hinted that some looming conspiracy theories of his day may not have been so far-fetched.
However, in the spring of 1969, as D.A. Jim Garrison was beginning his trial of Clay Shaw there was no perceived shortage of co-conspirators involved with the Kennedy assassination. Garrison’s investigation had been thorough in uncovering such snippets as Jimmy Hoffa’s rather public declaration that he would have liked to firebomb Kennedy’s home, and, J. Edgar Hoover’s more subtle insecurities, fearing the vice grip of his commander in chief more than he frequently fretted over the government’s increasing involvement with the Mafia.
But what Garrison had not considered was that his eye witness testimonies, once seeming so solid and ready to come by, especially while his office had quietly searched for truths under the radar of government scrutiny, had since become difficult to obtain immediately following the published news of his investigation that had been leaked to the press.
Some eighteen potential witnesses who believed they could identify the shooter(s) from the grassy knoll suddenly began to die. Some, like Karyn Kupcinet, were found murdered, though her killer(s) were never brought to justice. Others, like Jack Zangetti and Eddy Benavides were the ‘victims’ of ‘accidental’ gunshot wounds. Still, others like Maurice Gatlin, Lee Bowers and Jim Koethe were having their deaths explained away as accidental falls, bizarre shocks to the system and curious, though thoroughly unexplained ‘blows to the neck.’ Those who did not immediately perish were either bought off and/or disappeared without a trace.
But perhaps the most inexplicably bizarre death to occur just days after news of Garrison’s pending trial against Clay Shaw (top left: Tommy Lee Jones as Shaw in J.F.K; below, the real Clay Shaw/Bertrand) went public was that of David William Ferrie on February 22, 1967. Ferrie had been a pilot and defrocked Roman Catholic priest who suffered from a rare form of alopecia. A staunch anti-Castro militant, Ferrie supported a Cuban invasion and outwardly loathed President Kennedy for his refusal to provide air cover during the disastrous 1961 Bay of Pigs invasion.
Bay of Pigs had been a Cold War relic of the Eisenhower administration. Outwardly, Kennedy supported it. Inwardly, he was its’ reluctant participant. When he refused to provide air cover for the covert ground forces, the Cuban army – in anticipation of the coup – launched their counteroffensive; imprisoning and torturing its captors. Kennedy publicly blamed the CIA for the debacle – a move that infuriated those most closely associated with this plan of action.
But Bay of Pigs also proved a defining moment in Kennedy’s decision to splinter the CIA – a move he more clearly detailed with the aid of Colonel Fletcher Prouty and the drafting of National Security Action Memorandum No. 263, secretly published in Oct. of 1963. In essence, No. 263 ordered the gradual withdrawal of U.S. troops from Viet Nam by Christmas, a direct threat to the military industrial complex who had enjoyed an engorged spending budget since the beginning of the Asian conflict.
Meanwhile, CIA mob contacts Santo Trafficante and Johnny Rosselli - dons desperate to regain control over their casino empires relinquished with Castro’s rise to power, were conscripted into the CIA’s covert operations to kill Castro. On the other side of the world, mob boss Carlo Marcello – who had been deported from the U.S. to Guatemala was still in constant contact with Jack Ruby and it is rumored that perhaps Ruby’s assassination of Oswald had come as a direct order from Marcello.
Into this mix of cloak and dagger, David Ferrie had been involved with Guy Banister’s anti-Castro radicals. He knew Lee Harvey Oswald and Clay Shaw very well. Following an altercation between Banister and his associate Jack Martin, Martin made Ferrie’s association with Banister and Oswald a matter of public record, even going so far as to suggest that Ferrie had hypnotized Oswald into committing the assassination himself. Dispelled by the FBI as sheer hokum, curiously enough - Ferrie’s library card was discovered on Oswald’s person at the time of his incarceration for the President’s murder.
Throughout his final days on earth, Ferrie was the only alleged participant in the presumed conspiracy to outwardly show any sort of remorse for his involvement. Ferrie reluctantly agreed to divulge his information only after Garrison’s exposure of the case made it virtually impossible for him to quietly disappear. But on February 22, 1967, Ferrie did; his body was discovered inside his apartment – dead of an apparent aneurysm, and, leaving behind two very convoluted suicide notes.
COVERGENCE – WHERE ART IMITATES LIFE
“What kind of a peace do we seek? Not a Pax Americana, being enforced on the world by American weapons of war. We must reexamine our own attitudes toward the Soviet Union. We must make the world safe for diversity. For in the final analysis our most basic link is that we all inhavit this small planet. We all breathe the same air. We all cherish our children’s future…and we are all mortal.”
– excerpt from President John F. Kennedy’s American University address, June 10th, 1963.
In 1966, Dr. Josiah Thompson attempted to negotiate a deal with Life Magazine for usage of several frames from the 8-mm home movie photographed by Abraham Zapruter for a book he was authoring about the Kennedy assassination. His request was firmly denied by Life Magazine and furthering his attempt to include a visual representation of the assassination (sketched in charcoal by an artist), Dr. Thompson was sued by Life for copyright infringement – an erroneous and obvious attempt to keep the film’s graphic account a continued public secret. Instead, a U.S. district court ruled in Thompson’s favor. Shortly thereafter the Zapruter film attained cult status with various copies and duplications readily turning up on the bootlegged market.
The Zapruter film (right) plays a significant role in Oliver Stone’s filmic masterwork, J.F.K. In fact, it is at the crux of an elaborate trial sequence in which the film’s Jim Garrison (Kevin Costner) presents a chronological breakdown of those brief but telling 343 frames of film footage. The real Jim Garrison had, in fact, subpoenaed Life for the Zapruter film at the time he went to trial against Clay Laverne Shaw.
Shaw was charged by Garrison as a co-conspirator in 1967. A prominent Louisiana businessman and founder of the Trade Mart to Latin America, whose prior military record included decorations by three nations, Shaw had admitted during his routine police interrogation to Officer Aloysius Habighorst that he had used the alias of Clay Bertrand; a name repeatedly involving David Ferrie and Lee Harvey Oswald, and one that readily appears in several volumes of the Warren Commission Report.
In fact, a man using the name Clay Bertrand employed lawyer Dean Andrews Jr. (left top, and John Candy, left below in the film J.F.K) to straighten out incidents involving various gay young men convicted of selling themselves in New Orleans’ Latin Quarter. Bertrand is also rumored to have contacted Andrews to arrange for Oswald’s army discharge from the Marine Corps.
Though ultimately acquitted of all charges, the stain on Clay Shaw’s public reputation was never entirely expunged; a blemish made even more obvious with former director of the CIA Richard Helms’ 1979 testimony under oath that Clay Shaw had indeed been a CIA contact – an crucial tie-in that D.A. Garrison had uncovered during his prosecution of Shaw but that Shaw emphatically denied under oath.
Garrison eventually penned his own account of his investigation and the subsequent trial, entitled On the Trail of the Assassins – the book that serves as the grounding source for Oliver Stone’s J.F.K. (1991). Those who were particularly outraged with Stone’s perceived cheek in rehashing a thirty year old crime, readily dismissed the film as pure hokum wrapped inside Stone’s own enigma for self-delusion reconstituted as fact. The Kennedy clan left the United States at the time of the film’s premiere – presumably to avoid the hale storm of undo publicity that was sure to follow.
However, not all of press garnered by the film was negative. Though Newsweek magazine published an incendiary cover story – claiming that the film and its director were ‘not to be trusted’, inside Newsweek’s own film critic, David Ansen declared, “My advice is don’t believe anyone who tells you this film is hogwash!”
For the most part, what Oliver Stone presents in his dramatization is derived from an intense and lengthy private investigation of the facts; the resulting cinematic work, a compendium critique from several noted conspiracy theory books, vintage press and new interviews with Jim Garrison and other surviving members involved with the criminal investigation and its subsequent fallout.
At the heart of Stone’s counter-scenario to the Warren Report is the notion that the military industrial complex – fueled by an escalated budget to invade southeast Asia, and in cahoots with the CIA - were the instigators of the conspiracy; a coup d’etat in which the outcome from Kennedy’s death reversed his policies for pulling out of Viet Nam; a decision that would have put an end to excessive military spending.
While some critics of the film continue to argue against that claim as bordering on absurdity, paranoia and flimsiness, it is important to note that, though much of J.F.K. is based on indisputable facts, the film does take certain artistic liberties in its transition from fact to ‘fictions’ on the big screen; most notably with the creation of Willie O’Keefe (Kevin Bacon, below); a homosexual prisoner who alleges to D.A. Garrison (Kevin Costner) an ongoing sexual liaison with Clay Shaw (Tommy Lee Jones).
O’Keefe is a fictional characterization made up of various young men with whom the real Shaw is rumored to have had bisexual relations. Director Stone has always maintained that the character O’Keefe was based on recollections from real life Shaw associate, Perry Russo (who appears as himself, briefly in the scene at Napoleon’s bar immediately following the President’s assassination) who attended parties at Shaw’s residence and witnessed the director of the trade mart involved, not only with many young men from New Orleans’ Latin Quarter, but also with David Ferrie and Lee Harvey Oswald. Due in part to his own impassioned hatred of John Kennedy, Russo’s testimony on these matters was never considered by the FBI or CIA as anything but a very warped fallacy.
However, what rabid critics of the film J.F.K have been attacking to a large extent is Oliver Stone’s verisimilitude and artistic license – criteria employed by virtually all film makers, but that in retrospect, Stone himself has used with incredible restraint in J.F.K. On practically every level, Stone’s masterwork has debunked what the Warren Commission once presented to the American public as indisputable facts.
Stone’s hypotheses have shot so many holes in The Warren Report’s malignant simplicity that even if one discards the film’s alternate theories as far-fetched or implausible, little remains to dissuade from the fact that the film’s overall impact has helped to declassify government documentation that has supported, rather than refuted the film’s alternative theories. If it were only for the damaging discredit done to the Warren Report by the Zapruter film (which unequivocally illustrates a fatal kill shot from a low trajectory in front of the motorcade), Stone assumptions about a second assassin would already be solidly grounded.
Time and again, eye witness testimony has placed the assassin(s) behind the fence on the grassy knoll in Dealey Plaza. More to the point, the witnesses that have come forth since that fateful day in Dallas, have themselves had nothing to hide; witnesses like Marita Lorenz (right), a former CIA operative who claimed to have been told by FBI man, Frank Sturges, a front-runner in the failed plot to assassinate Castro, that “we (meaning the FBI) killed Kennedy.” Third party testimony from former Speaker of the House Tip O’Neil has suggested that former Kennedy aids Ken O’Donnell and Dave Powers were ‘persuaded’ by the FBI to fabricate their testimony in the Warren Report in order to bring an ‘intense personal drama’ to a swift and immediate close.
If the public is to continue to believe in the lone gunman theory, then the models of federal ineptitude during the initial investigation are glaring and can no longer be ignored: Lyndon Johnson’s immediate order to rebuild the motorcade limo; his initiative to have the president’s body removed before an official autopsy in Dallas was finalized, his sending of Texas Governor John Connelly’s bloody suit to the cleaners; and finally, the overwhelming discrepancies between two sets of autopsies conducted on Kennedy’s body (the first, inconclusive in Dallas; the second, doctored up in Washington) leave many gaping holes in what should have otherwise been a routine examination with conclusive documentation in support of the findings in the Warren Commission, but instead, culminated with the inexplicable disappearance of the President’s brain from the National Archives.
Then, of course, there is the most brutally inarticulate and wild speculation of them all; Arlen Specter’s Magic Bullet Theory which attempts to suggest that one miraculously bullet made all the wounds in Kennedy and Dallas Governor John Connelly before being discovered in pristine condition on a stretcher at Parkland Memorial Hospital. Common sense and a mountain of ballistic data derived from gunshots fired into human cadavers illustrate just how misguided and misleading Specter’s original theory is.
That, prosecuting D.A. Jim Garrison was repeatedly denied access to interrogate Frank Sturges, Earl Warren, Allan Dulles, or any of the other immediate contacts in the federal government who may have been able to shed light on these matters, seems more readily to suggest that these men and others in the military complex had something to hide and profit from with their silence.
The wild theories that have emerged since Kennedy’s time – everything from the lone gunman theory to Castro and the Mafia did it – have only served to further dilute any genuine investigation of alternative truths – some of which Oliver Stone brings into focus and with startling clarity in the film, J.F.K. If Stone has offered nothing but theory, his filmic contribution could have so easily been dismissed. But the facts are indisputable. Clay Shaw perjured himself on the witness stand.
In 1979, four years after Shaw died of reported lung cancer (though no autopsy was allowed to either confirm or deny that assessment), during a congressional investigation into the matter of conspiracy, Director of Covert Operations Richard Helms opening admitted under oath that Shaw had worked for the CIA. That investigation denoted a ‘probable conspiracy’ in the Presidential assassination with conservative recommendations made to the U.S. Justice Department to involve further inquiries.
Yet, until Oliver Stone’s J.F.K. the Justice Department was content to ignore the congressional committee’s findings and do nothing. Since Stone’s filmic contribution, strides have been made in de-classifying government documents pertaining to the assassination. However, often these files have not been worth the paper they are printed on, containing whole portions of content ‘officially’ blacked out and that continue to leave gaping holes in the historical record.
The files pertaining to the Kennedy assassination are sealed in the National Archives until 2029, though it is highly unlikely that even then the full extent of their contents will be made readily accessible to the curious. The mantra for the film J.F.K. is ‘complete disclosure’ – a fanciful and highly unlikely outcome in any of our lifetimes, particularly given the government’s firm denial and ongoing outward rejection of any hypothesis that does not neatly fall between the pages of the official Warren Commission Report. As Oliver Stone reiterates in the epitaph of J.F.K – ‘the past is prologue.’ Like D.A. Jim Garrison before him, Stone seeks the truth.
I always received much more satisfaction as a defense attorney in obtaining an acquittal for a client than I ever have as a D.A. in obtaining a conviction. All my interests and sympathies tend to be on the side of the individual as opposed to the state.
– Jim Garrison