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  • Matt Crumpton

Episode 2: Government Investigations, Litigation, and The Questions We'll Answer

Updated: Apr 23

To say that the study of the assassination of president John F. Kennedy is complex would be a huge understatement. The case is like a forest. There are many trees. And each tree must be analyzed up close.

But, knowing how those trees fit in to the overall forest is just as important as the trees themselves. And without keeping the big picture in mind, it’s easy to get lost in the details.

We’re about to get started on our journey of exploring the disputed issues of the case from both sides.

Before we dive in to the evidence, first, let’s talk about where we are getting most of our evidence from by looking at the history of government investigations and civil litigation related to the murder of John F Kennedy.

The case of the JFK assassination, or tangential parts of it, has been taken up by several governmental bodies. The most famous of these is the Warren Commission. Shortly after the assassination, Johnson appointed the Warren Commission to investigate the murder of John F Kennedy, which it determined in its eponymously named September 1964 report that Lee Harvey Oswald acted alone.

But, subsequent government investigations, criminal trials, and civil trials would raise new questions - and poke holes in existing arguments – generating primary documents for posterity to review along the way.

The next official government inquiry into the case involved New Orleans businessman Clay Shaw, who was arrested on March 1, 1967 and charged with conspiring to assassinate the president. In the Shaw trial, New Orleans district attorney Jim Garrison shined a light on alleged Oswald and intelligence community ties that were happening in Garrison’s own back yard of New Orleans. While Garrison uncovered many leads to be followed regarding CIA involvement in the JFK assassination, the prosecution was based on the premise that Clay Shaw was at the center of the assassination when there was not much evidence for that. A jury found Shaw not guilty in 1969.[1] Most notably, the Garrison case gave us the plot for Oliver Stone’s movie JFK, where Garrison is played by Kevin Costner and Shaw by Tommy Lee Jones.

In 1975, after years of dealing with the Watergate scandal, the Rockefeller Commission was set up by President Gerald Ford (and led by Senator Nelson Rockefeller) to investigate the activities of the CIA. In addition to Watergate, the commission was created in response to a December 1974 New York Times article that the CIA conducted illegal domestic activities, including experiments on American citizens. The primary findings of the Rockefeller Commission were related to the CIA’s illegal MK Ultra mind control program where Americans were experimented on with psychedelic drugs without their knowledge by the CIA. In addition to the MK Ultra disclosures, the Rockefeller Commission studied whether CIA Agents E Howard Hunt and Frank Sturgis were present in Dallas on November 22, 1963.

At around the same time as the president’s Rockefeller Commission, there were similar committees in the House and Senate looking in to illegal activities of the CIA. In the House, the Pike Committee investigated the CIA and in the Senate the Church Committee did the same thing.

The Church Committee’s report exposed CIA assassinations of foreign leaders in the 50s and 60s, which led President Gerald Ford to issue an executive order banning US assassination of foreign leaders. (What a nice guy!) Over 50,000 documents have been released from the Church Committee through the JFK Assassination Records Collection Act.

The revelations that came out from the Church and Pike Committees and Rockefeller Commission about the CIA doing dirty deeds in other countries and conducting experiments on its own citizens caused a public demand for a reinvestigation into the assassination of President Kennedy. But, the ultimate catalyst for the reinvestigation was Coretta Scott King’s testimony before congress that she had to know what really happened to her husband, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr, who was assassinated in 1968 – allegedly as the result of a lone gunman according to FBI reports.

“I believe that the FBI had something to do with that conspiracy. It seems to me that the surveillance that my husband underwent as he traveled around the world by the FBI and the things that have already been revealed and are on record point toward the FBI having certainly known what was happening. If there was some conspiracy there, they should have known who the people were that were involved. Because he was under constant surveillance and I cannot believe that they wouldn’t have known about all the plots and all the people and where they were at various times.”[1]

So, in September 1976, the House Select Committee on Assassinations (HSCA) was formed to investigate the assassinations of JFK and Martin Luther King. The report that finally came out of the HSCA was a head scratcher for Warren Report critics and defenders alike: Lee Harvey Oswald fired three shots at JFK as the Warren Report says, but there was also a 4th shot that came from a second assassin located somewhere in the front, who missed. According to the HSCA, there had been a conspiracy after all, but the government did not know who the second shooter was.

After the release of Oliver Stone’s film JFK, public outcry led to the passing of the JFK Records Act in October 1992. The JFK Records Act created the Assassination Records Review Board, or ARRB, to determine whether government agencies could postpone the disclosure of JFK assassination related materials. The board met for 4 years from 1994 to 1998, issuing a final report with controversial findings that will be discussed later.

The goal of the ARRB was to obtain declassification of JFK assassination related documents so that the American people could decide what happened for themselves.

While 300,000 documents have been released to date, both Presidents Trump and Biden have continued to delay the release of the remaining 16,000 documents. As of now, President Biden has committed to disclose the remaining documents by December 15, 2022. The Mary Farell Foundation – a non profit research group has filed a lawsuit to expedite the release of the records, which were all supposed to have already been released in October of 2017.[2]

In addition to the government inquiries, there are also three cases of civil litigation that touch on the JFK assassination.

In 1961, Henry Marshall, an official for the Department of Agriculture, was found dead from five gunshot wounds. The official report at the time was suicide. Twenty three years later, Marshall’s family had his body exhumed for the purpose of determining whether the cause of death was murder. A trial was ordered where a judge ultimately found that there was “clear and convincing” evidence that Marshall was murdered. What’s interesting is the evidence the judge relied on to reach that conclusion. In the Marshall case, a former Lyndon Johnson associate named Billie Sol Estes wrote a voluntary statement to the court where he claimed that Marshall was murdered by Mac Wallace, who Estes claimed was Lyndon Johnson’s go-to hit man.[3] Estes submitted a list to the judge of all of the people he personally knew LBJ ordered Wallace to kill over the years. The list included Johnson’s sister and President John F. Kennedy, whom Estes claims Wallace fired a shot at in Dallas.

The next JFK civil litigation case was in 1978 when former CIA agent Victor Marchetti wrote an article in a weekly newsletter owned by Liberty Lobby, saying that E. Howard Hunt was likely part of the plot to kill JFK. Hunt sued Liberty Lobby and Marchetti for defamation in the case of E. Howard Hunt v. Liberty Lobby. The jury ultimately decided in favor of Liberty Lobby. Relying on testimony from former Fidel Castro girlfriend turned anti-Castro Cuban Exile Marita Lorenz that she drove to Dallas from Miami with a CIA assassin squad and met with Hunt in Dallas shortly before the assassination, a jury of randomly selected citizens found that Hunt likely was in Dallas on November 22, 1963. Some jurors later said that they decided Liberty Lobby should have no liability because the legal standard of actual malice standard was not met - not because it was proven that Hunt was in Dallas that day. [4]

Finally, Doctor Charles Crenshaw, one of the Dallas doctors who worked on President Kennedy at Parkland Hospital, sued the Journal of American Medical Association for defamation after they claimed that Crenshaw was lying about his treatment of President Kennedy and was not even present in Trauma Room One at Parkland Hospital that day. The Journal had to reverse course after Crenshaw sued. It settled with Crenshaw and published a retraction of its story.[5]

These three civil cases do not necessarily prove anything about the JFK assassination. Still, to the extent they created evidence, that evidence is fair game to be considered in solving the assassination.

We’ve covered the trail of official government proceedings. We touched on the few civil cases with material revelations about the assassination. Other than Freedom of Information Act requests, the only other category of information we will look at is testimony from eyewitnesses who were not asked to testify to the Warren Commission.

This testimony is usually in the form of the witness being interviewed by an assassination researcher. Obviously, this type of evidence is difficult to assess because we do not have the witness in front of us or the comfort in knowing that the witness gave a sworn statement. Like any other testimony, we must do our best to assess the motives of the witness and the veracity of what the person is saying. Still, I am not going to disregard eyewitness testimony if I find it to be compelling simply because the Warren Commission didn’t include it.

How This Podcast Will Work

There are many deep rabbit holes to traverse within JFK Assassination research. Some of them are completely ridiculous and will waste your time. Some of them are interesting but don’t affect the overall outcome. The only way to know for sure is to take the journey down the rabbit hole.

The good news is that there is a clear starting point: The Warren Report. The central argument about the JFK assassination is over whether Lee Harvey Oswald was the lone assassin as the Warren Commission claimed. If the answer to that question is “Oswald did it alone, the Warren Report has been right all along,” then we need not even reach many of the other rabbit holes because they won’t matter if we already know that the evidence conclusively points to Oswald acting alone.

Now, if we find that the weight of the evidence is against Oswald acting alone, or that we have new questions to answer, then we’ll dive down those rabbit holes when we get there.

When you look at the events in Dallas on November 22, 1963, there are several primary scenes where everything happens. Within each scene there are disputed questions and conflicting evidence. This podcast is going to take on the hilariously gargantuan task of trying to answer those questions – and to ultimately find out if Oswald acted alone.

We’ll start our investigation inside the Texas Schoolbook Depository Building.

· Where exactly inside the Texas Schoolbook Depository Building was Oswald at time of shooting?

· Are there any fingerprints tying Oswald to the rifle or the area where the shots were fired?

· Did anyone see Oswald bring a gun in to the Texas Schoolbook Depository Building?

· Did anyone see Oswald or any other gunman in the window of the Texas Schoolbook Depository Building?

· How did the assassin escape from the Texas Schoolbook Depository Building?

Then, we’ll zoom in on the primary piece of evidence tying Oswald to the crime - Oswald’s Rifle.

· Did Oswald practice shooting? Was he ever seen at any rifle ranges around Dallas?

· Did Oswald own the rifle the Warren Report says he did?

· Was the rifle an Italian Manlicher or a German Mauser? And why was there initially so much confusion on what type of rifle it was?

· Was there a scope installed on the gun? If so, was it installed for a left-handed person or a right-handed person?

· Did the bullet fragments that were found at Parkland Hospital and elsewhere match the rifle in evidence?

Next, we’ll go to Dealey Plaza and look at the eyewitness testimony and evidence along the parade route in the moments before and after Kennedy was shot.

· Were there any abnormalities that day with the presidential motorcade and security plan?

· What did witnesses in Dealey Plaza say about the direction they believed the shots were fired from?

· Were there Secret Service Agents on or near the Grassy Knoll shortly after the shooting?

· What does the Zapruder film show?

· Could Oswald have made the shots required for the Warren Report’s Single Bullet Theory?

Then, we go to Parkland Hospital and its conflicting evidence counterpart Bethesda Naval Hospital.

· Was Jack Ruby at Parkland?

· When did Kennedy’s casket arrive at Bethesda?

· Did the doctors think Kennedy’s front neck wound an entrance wound or an exit wound?

· Where did the doctors say the location of Kennedy’s back wound, the top of his neck, or closer to his shoulder?

· According to the doctors, was the shot that hit Kennedy in the head fired from the front or the rear?

· Could the bullet that was allegedly found on a stretcher at Parkland Hospital, known as CE 399, have caused the damage that the Warren Report’s Single Bullet Theory claims it did?

· How does the Single Bullet Theory hold up against the medical evidence?

· What does the autopsy tell us?

Next, we are off to Oak Cliff to examine the mysterious case of the JD Tippit Murder.

· What was Tippit doing out of his normal patrol area in Oak Cliff?

· Who was the suspect Tippit was looking for and where did the description come from?

· Did the bullets found at the scene match Oswald’s revolver?

· What did eyewitnesses who saw the crime scene shortly before or after the crime see?

· Did Tippit know Oswald and Ruby?

· Would it have been possible for Oswald to kill Tippit based on the Warren Report timeline?

· Did Tippit honk at Oswald in front of his rooming house?

· Did they find Oswald’s jacket near the crime scene or was that not his jacket?

After the killing Tippit, Oswald supposedly goes to see a movie at the Texas Theater, where he is ultimately arrested.

· How was Oswald arrested? Where was he found inside the theater?

· What do witness statements about Oswald at the Texas Theater say about why Oswald chose to go to the Texas Theater after having just allegedly killed the president and a police officer?

· From which exit did the arrested Oswald depart in a police vehicle, the front or the rear? Was there an Oswald lookalike at the Texas Theater?

· Was Jack Ruby at Texas Theater?

Oswald spends Friday night through Sunday morning at the Dallas Police Department, before ultimately being shot and killed by Dallas night club owner Jack Ruby on Sunday morning while being transferred to the County Jail.

· What was Oswald’s state of mind when arrested? What did police officers say about him or what he was saying?

· What happened at the jail while Oswald was there?

· Oswald placed a call to some random number in Raleigh, North Carolina. Who was he calling?

· Did Jack Ruby have an abnormally close relationship with Dallas Police?

· How did Ruby get in to kill Oswald?

· Why did Ruby kill Oswald?

There may not be clear cut answers to all of these questions. But we can weigh the evidence that exists and determine the most likely answers. And we’ll encounter even more questions as we go. I suppose that’s how rabbit holes work.

Next Episode: Next time, on Solving JFK, we’ll go to the Texas School Book Depository building and look at whether it was possible for Oswald to be on the 6th floor at the time JFK was shot.

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