As the House Select Committee on Assassinations closed its doors last December, it may have taken with it the country's last hope of finding the truth about the JFK assassination. Making vague recommendations about further investigation by the Justice Department, and dropping even vaguer hints about conspiracy, the Committee failed to spend the time and effort that would have produced positive results.
Born in controversy and dissention, the Assassinations Committee almost never was. Its staff worked for two months with no pay at one point because the Committee's budget was held up. After the Committee lost its initial chairman, Representative Thomas Downing of Virginia, who did not run for re-election in 1976, Representative Henry Gonzalez of Texas was appointed chairman. Gonzalez immediately went to war with (and subsequently fired) the Committee's Chief Counsel, Richard A. Sprague, a superior prosecutor who had made national headlines by successfully prosecuting United Mine Workers President Tony Boyle in the Yablonski murders. Committee investigator and author Gaeton Fonzi was to later say, "Sprague was known as tough, tenacious and independent. There was absolutely no doubt in my mind when I heard of Sprague's appointment that the Kennedy assassination would finally get what it needed: a no-holds-barred, honest investigation. Which just goes to show how ignorant of the ways of Washington both Sprague and I were".
With the prime-mover for a thorough, effective investigation out of the way, the full House voted to give the Committee life for two years. The new Chief Counsel, G. Robert Blakey, formerly of the Justice Department's "Get-Hoffa" squad, was seemingly the opposite of Sprague. Blakey immediately set out to limit the scope of the investigation, close the Committee's press office, and make sure the Committee finished by December, 1978, regardless.
According to Warren Commission critic Gary Mack, "one of the major assignments Blakey gave the Committee's research staff was to scour the critical literature in search of errors." In this attempt to discredit those who saw conspiracy in the JFK murder, as will be seen, the Committee stumbled blindly into the one piece of evidence that more clearly than any other to date proves a conspiracy.
The end result of the Committee's efforts was described by former Chief Counsel Richard Sprague as "a charade." He went on, in a recent interview, to say, "There was not really the development of an investigative staff.... They weren't investigating a thing. I think Blakey was more interested in the points that Blakey might make with the people he thought might be helpful for his future career."
The four most important points of investigation by the House Assassinations Committee were as follows:
The Bronson Film
When the existence of the Bronson Film became publicly known in November of 1978, the press excitedly reported that, at last, proof of a conspiracy had surfaced. Charles L. Bronson's film, which was taken six minutes before the shots were fired, was discovered to exist through a Warren Commission critic's search through FBI files declassified under the Freedom of Information Act. According to Bronson's statement in the FBI files, he felt certain that "the Texas School Book Depository Building was clearly photographed" and that "the window from which the shots were fired will be duplicated in the film."
Though these FBI reports were available to the House Assassinations Committee as early as November of 1977, they made no effort to find Bronson or otherwise obtain the film. Independent investigators (of the sort that Warren Commission apologists berate for never uncovering new evidence) tracked Bronson down, found the film, and saw that it seemed to corroborate at least three eyewitnesses' testimonies that there were two men in the sixth-floor window at the time of the assassination. Earl Golz, a reporter with the Dallas Morning News, who tracked down Bronson, the film, and the eyewitnesses, published a copyrighted story about the discovery on November 26, 1978.
Suddenly motivated, the House Committee obtained the film, and proceeded to make a short study of it. According to the Report, the movement seen in the Bronson film in the two adjacent windows (which open into the same room on the Book Depository's sixth floor) "were similar to those" found in another, long-known film taken a few minutes before the assassination by Robert Hughes. The motion in the Hughes film had been referred to merely as "false images." However, the superior quality of the Bronson film made the Committee's experts urge a computer enhancement for further study. The committee failed to ask the full House for further funds for such an enhancement, and merely made mention in the Report of the experts' recommendations.
The Acoustical Evidence
Perhaps the most startling piece of evidence uncovered by the House Committee, and certainly the one that received the most press coverage, was that of a police dictabelt recording of the sounds coming from Dealey Plaza during the time of the assassination. Uncovered by (once again) Warren Commission critics in the Dallas area, the tape found its way to the House Committee in September 1977. From that time on, the fate of the lone-assassin theory was doomed.
Sources close to the House Committee report that, upon first hearing of the tape, which to the unaided ear sounds like so many pops and crackles, the staff was ecstatic. Here was to be the one piece of evidence that would show how foolish the critics were. Since the staff could hear nothing, it was decided to send the tape to be studied by the best audio firm in the world: Bolt, Beranek and Newman (the very same firm that nailed the Nixon administration on the deliberate erasures of the 18½ minutes). Later, when it was discovered that the pops were actually gunshots that would destroy the lone-assassin theory, those same staff members began to refer to the tape as "Blakey's Problem."
After an excellent quality, second-generation copy of the tape was located, a re-enactment of the shooting in Dealey Plaza was staged on August 20, 1978, for the purpose of checking the acoustical patterns of gunshots fired from known positions with those patterns found on the tape. Blakey imposed a limitation on the test which had the effect of making its thoroughness suspect at best. He ordered that test shots be fired only from two locations, the alleged sniper's nest on the sixth floor of the Book Depository, and the Grassy Knoll. This kept the experts from testing sound patterns from any of the other possible vantage points that critics have mentioned as possible sniper sites.
The final report to the Committee on the acoustical evidence, like the Bronson Film, came at the eleventh hour. On December 28, 1978, Professors Mark Weiss and Ernest Aschkenasy of Queens College, New York City, testified that there was a 95% or better probability of a fourth shot from the Grassy Knoll, thus confirming the testimony of 64 eyewitnesses, whose statements had been ignored or discredited by the Warren Commission.
The obvious Catch-22 to this, of course, is that since no other locations were tested for acoustical patterns of shots, it could not be said with certainty that no others of the seven pops on the tape were or were not gunshots. Thus, there is no way, based on evidence gathered to date, to say whether or not anyone else was firing in Dealey Plaza that day.
Further corroboration of claims made by Warren Commission critics was made unknowingly by the sonic experts. They were able to place the gunman on the Grassy Knoll in the exact place that a human figure was reported seen by critics in a photo taken by Mary Moorman and in the Zapruder film's later frames. This was also the exact place pointed out by eyewitness S. M. Holland as being where he saw puffs of smoke, the kind emitted by a rifle when fired, during the six seconds of the assassination. Once again, so much for the inaccuracy of the Warren Commission critics.
Space does not permit a detailing of the intricacies of the acoustical testing done, nor of the simple yet unalterable physical laws that make it accurate. Suffice it to say that the measurements taken and sound patterns traced on that day in August, 1978, prove undeniably that the tape was from Dealey Plaza, that there were four or more gunshots that day, and that they came from two or more locations. Congressman Richardson Preyer of North Carolina, the Chairman of the JFK half of the probe, reportedly went from open skeptic to confirmed believer in the acoustical evidence, once shown its methodology.
With its back up against the wall, the Committee admitted that there is a "high probability that two gunmen fired" at the President, and that it "was probably as a result of a conspiracy." That they chose to cling to a scenario that would have given Oswald 1.6 seconds between the first and second shots (a patent impossibility, according to the experts relied on by the Warren Commission, given the sorry shape of Oswald's alleged murder weapon) shows that the Committee really did not think about the full ramifications of its theories.
After having been told by the experts that the first, second and fourth shots came from the School Book Depository, presumably from Oswald's gun (they believed), and that the third shot came from the Grassy Knoll, the staff had to come up with an explanation fast. Everything they had done up until that December 28 report by the two professors had pointed to Oswald firing all the shots that hit, and that he alone killed the President. There was no time to do a rethink, so they took an easy way out. The Report maintains that Oswald's first shot missed; the second shot did all the non-fatal damage to both Kennedy and Connally (yes, the Warren Commission's Magic Bullet is still with us); the third shot, from the Grassy Knoll, missed everything; and the fourth shot, allegedly Oswald's third and final, killed the President.
Though this scenario is clumsy at best, it was based on the Committee's earlier decision to accept the Warren Commission's Single Bullet Theory. That theory states that only two bullets ever hit either Kennedy or Connally. It further states that one single bullet went through Kennedy's neck, exited the throat, and went on to pierce Connally's chest, fracture the radius bone in his wrist, and lodge in his thigh. Further, and more incredibly, this feat was said to have been done by a bullet that emerged in near-pristine condition, and that was found in mysterious circumstances in Parkland Hospital the day of the shooting.
This Single Bullet Theory has been the single most widely criticized part of the Warren Commission's findings. Its acceptance, however, was vital to the theory that there was only one assassin, according to the Warren Commission's analysis. That it directly contradicts the sworn testimony of Connally, Connally's wife, Connally's doctor, and the five emergency room physicians who tried to save Kennedy's life, among many others, was seemingly of no consequence either to the Warren Commission, which thought it up, or the House Committee, which decided early on to go along with it.
In pursuit of acceptance of the Single Bullet theory, the Commission had to do some fancy footwork. The House Committee had virtually to jump the Potomac, given all of the independent research that has been done since 1984. Ninety-nine per cent of all of the facts uncovered and witnesses found since the Warren Commission folded it tent (not to mention those the Commission knew about and chose to ignore) point away from this ludicrous theory.
The House Committee did do one thing to help rectify previous erroneous information given out by the Warren Commission, but they failed to point out how it helps destroy the Single Bullet Theory. In order for the President's neck wound to have entered the back and exited the font, and then go on to strike Connally, the back wound had to be higher than the front wound (Oswald was, after all, supposedly firing from above the President's position).
Ignoring the evidence of the autopsy photos, the Commission had placed the wound on the President's neck. The House at least showed drawings made from the autopsy photos, which prove that the back wound was some three to four inches below the shoulder. What they did not mention is that this makes the back wound below the front wound, making it an impossibility that they were caused by the same bullet. The critics have been saying this since 1964.
Here is a more reasonable interpretation what might have happened, as suggested by critic Robert Groden, who has studied the Zapruder Film of the assassination longer and more closely than any other individual in the country. Since it has long been thought that the President's head wound, the one which killed him, was fired from the Grassy Knoll, and since we have undeniable proof that at least one shot came from there, why not line up Zapruder frame 313 (the head shot to the President) with the third shot on the audio tape (the one from the Grassy Knoll)?
At that frame, the President's body is driven violently backward and to the left, as if responding to a high-powered shot from the Grassy Knoll area. This would make the first shot of the audio tape sequence come at Z-frame 170, or thereabouts. It would have had to come from somewhere other than Oswald's alleged window, as there was a tree blocking his view. (Remember, the Committee's version has the same problem, though they do not address it, since it would mean further complications for them.)
Then, the second shot would come at around Z-200, which would correspond to the frame at which Kennedy appears to be first hit. If we postulate that there was a shot around Z-225, where there is static on the tape and no shot could have been heard had there been one, we are in line with where Connally says he was hit — quite apart and separate from Kennedy's wound. This would then put the Grassy Knoll shot at Z-313, and another shot coming around Z-323.
Groden believes that this would account for a violent reaction that appears in Governor Connally at Z-323. Up until this time, he can be seen, in various frames, holding on to his ten-gallon hat in the hand that supposedly has the fracture wrist. However, at this frame, he "literally spins around in his seat." Groden thinks this would account for the wrist wound Connally sustained. The weight of evidence seems to point to this scenario as at least worthy of consideration. However, the Committee had to wrap things up last December, by order of Blakey, and not "open new cans of worms."
In Part Two, I will examine the one area in which the Committee did an excellent service, that of directing the research not only toward Oswald and his background, but also toward Jack Ruby and his ties to organized crime. I'll show how the associates of both of these men are interwoven into a story of crime, intrigue and "murder, incorporated." Part Two will also include a suggested list for further reading.
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