The Case for Assassination Books

By Andrew Winiarczyk
Dateline: Dallas
, Volume 1: Numbers 2 & 3, Summer/Fall 1992, page 5
(Reprinted with permission of the author)

(Andy Winiarczyk has operated the Last Hurrah Bookshop in Williamsport, PA, for nearly 20 years. The shop specializes in books on political assassinations, modern American politics, and espionage. Andy is known as a friend to all researchers of the JFK assassination.)

      The shots that rang out in Dealey Plaza set off an arsenal of typewriters and printing presses. Seemingly overnight, books appeared. First entries were Four Days and The Torch is Passed. They were full of pictures but void of controversy. These books were ordered by people everywhere and an industry was born.
I count many authors and researchers among my customers; a smaller number I regard as friends. It would be presumptuous of me to state what the best books were since I’ve never written one, so let’s focus on those that have been the most influential.
We have to begin with the Warren Report, the one volume digest of conventional wisdom. Since GPO titles can’t be copyrighted, multiple companies printed it. For the critic, it is the report’s big brother, Hearings Before the President’s Commission on the Assassination of President Kennedy (1964) that really matters. This sets forth the field of battle and provides useful leads.
Immediately, issue was taken with its findings (or lack thereof). If Edward Jay Epstein’s Inquest (1966) was a volley, then Mark Lane’s Rush to Judgement (1966) was a frontal assault. This is the volume that people, just plain folks remember.
The next year brought us two classics. Accessories After The Fact by Sylvia Meagher was a primer on the case. If some books sounded like a manifesto and others read like a legal document, then Six Seconds In Dallas by Josiah Thompson was a training manual for intellectual warfare. Though other volumes are scarcer, none is more frequently requested.
The subject of mystique reminds us of Farewell America. Published in Liechenstein (home of many an honest enterprise) in 1968, distributed in Canada, and purportedly written by James Hepburn. Hepburn was a front for the French Intelligence. Right wing oil men (ever met a left winger?) did in JFK. The U.S. Customs Service was seizing copies of this book, however, they must have been over paid because helpful Canadians manage to get it past the ‘Dobermans.’
On the other side was JFK Assassination File (1969) composed by Dallas Police Chief Jesse Curry. It is no little irony that it is the conspiracy minded who examines it. (Of course those who believe in magic bullets don’t read books; they read newspapers and magazines that tell them what they ought to know.)
If one person fed the myth of Dealey Plaza as the “killing fields” it was Penn Jones. In five volumes Forgive My Grief catalogs the unexplained deaths that befell those with knowledge of the day.
At some point it must have seemed that the struggle was truly dead and gone; it was with John Kennedy in the grave. Then came a Watergate. Suddenly, there was a door ajar. If that was a lie and Vietnam was an ambush at credibility gap, then maybe the smart guys were wrong about the death of a President. Probings into the heart of Clandestine America led to Hearing Before the Select Committee on Assassinations. When the report came out in 1979, it re-ignited old flames. Talk of organized crime and a probable conspiracy settled nothing.
Mafia books were inevitable. The pathfinder was Seth Kantor in Who Was Jack Ruby? (1978) Kantor was both a mainstream journalist and an acquaintance of Ruby. David Scheim’s Contract on America (1983) was self-published. When it was reprinted as a hardcover in 1988 it became a best-seller. John Davis would write Mafia Kingfish (1989), a remarkably comprehensive portrait of Carlos Marcello.
Others argued that Kennedy was caught in a web of mobsters, rogue spooks, and Cuban exiles. Well known English journalist Anthony Summers in 1980 rode Conspiracy to both commercial and critical success. A personal favorite has been And We Are All Mortal by George Michael Evica (1978). His work covers the unholy trinity and physical evidence. University Press publication meant it modestly sold itself around the league. With more active distribution by our shop and personal appearances by Evica it was transformed into a must.
Another hit on the circuit was Cover-Up by Gary Shaw and Larry Harris (1967). One can speculate as to how many copies would have been sold if it received wider distribution. The same could be said for the Whitewash series by Harold Weisberg.
There are two volumes about which people are quite partisan. Coup d’état in America (1975) by Michael Canfield and Alan Weberman where they alleged that E. Howard Hunt and Frank Sturgis were two of the three tramps arrested in Dealey Plaza. Rumors of suppression made it a cult item. More controversial was Best Evidence (1980). David Lifton argued that the conflicts between the medical personnel in Dallas and Bethesda could only be explained buy alteration of the President’s body. Throw in coffin switches and you have the making of a tale out of Duvalier’s Haiti.
The 25th anniversary brought retrospectives and a surge. Instead of a last post the memorials offered a call to action. Two big books took on the saddest story and hit paydirt. High Treason by Robert Groden and Harrison E. Livingstone (1989) attacked the authenticity of autopsy photos. Jim Marrs’ Crossfire (1989) provided a superb synthesis of all previous theories and made the phrase “motive, means and opportunity” into something of a mantra.
The final event in the chronology is naturally the film JFK: The Story That Won’t Go Away. It brought to light the work of Col. Fletcher Prouty, renewed interest in the character of Jim Garrison, and gave a boost to Crossfire. This last year has virtually given us as assassination book of the month club. Which will soon leave a lasting impact will be known soon enough. Let it suffice to say that William Butler Yeats could just as easily have had Oliver Stone and JFK in mind when he wrote “all changed, changed utterly. A terrible beauty is born.”