Hugh Aynesworth

News Reporter

        After attending Salem College, Hugh Aynesworth started in 1948 as a newspaperman in West Virginia and later worked in Arkansas, Kansas, and Colorado prior to joining the staff of The Dallas Morning News in 1960. Hugh Aynesworth lives in Dallas and still covers national events as the Southwest Bureau Chief of the Washington Times. He has also coauthored five books on true crime.

        “I don’t think there’s a good reporter on earth who wouldn’t give their eye teeth to break anything approaching a conspiracy. If I knew there was a conspiracy, I’d be a millionaire tomorrow and would be living on the French Riviera the rest of my life…”

      The day the tragedy occurred I was the science editor for the Dallas News and had an interview set up at SMU with a scientist whose name I have long since forgotten. But due to there being a great deal of excitement in Dallas that day, I instead decided to walk over to watch the motorcade with an assistant district attorney and another lawyer. So I was there in the center of Elm Street when the police had it blocked off observing what was to be the start of a very chaotic day.
To fully comprehend the atmosphere surrounding the Kennedy visit, it is necessary to understand the political climate in Dallas at that time, which was testy at best. There was a very small but vocal cadre of arch conservatives, and these people were helped along by the editorial policy of The Dallas Morning News, which was to the right of Genghis Khan. It was an amazing thing because I don’t think that there were over 300 to 400 of these people, but they were very vocal and did get tremendous coverage. Of course, what received the most coverage was when they spat upon and hit Adlai Stevenson with a sign on October 24th, I think it was, which made everybody fearful for Mr. Kennedy when he came because here you had, again, the person that they thought was an arch liberal or a semi-communist, thus we had a feeling that something embarrassing would happen.
There had already been a gag order which prohibited people from shouting obscenities and things of that sort. The police department and the city council had already made sure that that wouldn’t happen.
The day before the assassination I received a call from a group of people who were going to dress up and try to embarrass Kennedy at the Trade Mart. I talked with them at length and tried to fathom how many people they might have had, which seemed to be only six or eight, though they told me that they had two or three chapters in this group. I remember talking with the city editor, Johnny King, and saying, “Johnny, maybe we ought to do something on this.” And he said, “No, it’d just bring on fifty more crazies if you write it.” So we didn’t write anything about that.
But the mood was anticipatory, somewhat fearful, and yet once he got off the plane at Love Field, remember we didn’t have DFW Airport at the time, and started down Cedar Springs it was just a festive occasion. People were running to the car and shouting that they loved him which took some of the fear away in those few minutes.
There was no particular reason why I went to Elm Street other than the crowds were larger along Main Street, two or three deep, and I wanted to get a clearer view. Locating myself in the middle of the street a little toward the curb, had I looked up to my right I could have seen Oswald up there. But, instead, I was looking at the motorcade.
The first shot I wasn’t sure was a shot. I thought it might have been a backfire from one of the motorcycles since there were several in the vicinity. When you hear one, you listen more closely, and when I heard a second and then a third very clearly, there was no doubt in my mind that they were shots and that they were from a rifle. I didn’t know a whole lot about guns, but I knew that it wasn’t a pistol. At one time I thought that one was fired closer to another in time sequence, but I can’t recall that anymore.
Immediately, people started jumping and running and some were throwing their kids down. Maybe I would have run too, but I didn’t know where to run. It was a strange situation where you had about forty percent of the area open and then buildings all around the other part. Not knowing where the shots really originated, you didn’t know which way to run or how to protect yourself. I remember one woman throwing up while others were screaming, shouting, and running to protect their children. It was just total chaos! I’d never seen anything like it! I was never in the service or seen a war, but it was the closest thing that I could imagine to that.
People in the doorway and even others across the street where I later learned that the eyewitness, Brennan, was, started pointing, even then, to the Depository Building. As a result, everything converged there and a lot of people ran into the building. I don’t know why, but I didn’t. Maybe I thought, “Well, if there’s a gun in there, I don’t want to run into it,” or maybe I just didn’t think till I started interviewing. I didn’t have any paper with me; I just had a bunch of envelopes in my pocket, so I started filling the back of them with notes.
Time passed quickly. Then, of course, newsmen and police converged on the place along with everybody else. I remember people saying, “There’s a Secret Service man that’s been shot; Lyndon Johnson’s been hit. I saw him fall over,” and things like that. It was just complete chaos!
During that time span, I kept thinking, “He’s in that building!” I remember interviewing people that said they saw certain things; some did, some didn’t. Even then there were people making up things. Even then!
I remember interviewing a young couple where the guy was telling me that he had seen this and he had seen that, and his wife said, “You didn’t see that! We were back in the parking lot when it happened!” Even then! And, of course, we’ve seen that in abundance since.
We know now what everyone said. A lot of them heard four shots, some eight, and, of course, many of them changed their opinions on that. People disagreed. If you had five people who witnessed an automobile accident, I guarantee you that, if deposed, those five people that day, a week later, whatever, would have seen five different colored cars, a different time of day, a different number of people in the car, and you might even find a puppy dog in one of those cars as you did with one of the Kennedy witnesses.
I’ve always been around a police radio because you don’t miss much if you know where they’re being sent. There was an open mike somewhere in that location, and at time, the word was that so many police had run into that building that he must have been on top of the building. That’s what we thought at the time. We didn’t think that it was the fifth, sixth, or seventh floor; we just thought that he was on top because that’s what everybody was saying at that time.
I remember hearing on the police radio the transmission: “This is a citizen” or something to that effect. “A policeman’s been shot! He’s hurt pretty bad, I think!” It was obvious that it was someone who wasn’t familiar with using a radio since they didn’t know exactly what to say. I remember seeing the regular police reporter, Jim Ewell, come in that time frame. I was the science and aviation guy, but once in a while I’d be pressed into duty, so I knew Jim quite well from covering the police.
I don’t know whether Jim was standing with me or was somewhere else, but within the next two or three minutes two people from Channel 8 television station came up to me and said, “Let’s get over there!”
I said to Ewell, “Well, you’ve got one here! This is probably going to be a conspiracy situation!” A cop isn’t shot three miles away from where the President is shot unless there’s something connected.
This was long before the narcotics problems and drug addictions of crack cocaine and all that today. It was extremely rare for a police officer to be killed in Dallas in those days, and in broad daylight, rarer still. So I said, “Ewell, why don’t you stay here and get this one and I’ll go in the Channel 8 cruiser?” Vic Robertson was one of the Channel 8 reporters, the other I’ve forgotten.
The drive over to Oak Cliff where the officer was shot was precarious because the traffic was stopped in some areas, and was not in others. Vic and I were screaming “Stop! Stop!” as we went right through intersections as fast as we could.
When we arrived, we talked with one of the eyewitnesses, Helen Markham, as well as to Callaway and a guy named Guinyard. We also talked to the Davis sisters who were either half-sisters or step-sisters or something. They lived in the house right there and had seen the suspect leave the scene.
That’s one of the things you don’t catch in these conspiracy books: You don’t really see the overwhelming case in the killing of J.D. Tippit. You just don’t see that five, I believe it was, of these people picked Oswald out of a lineup that day, and one didn’t because he said that he was afraid. Maybe he was, I don’t know. Mrs. Markham described the suspect fairly well. As I wrote the next day, she told me that he was maybe chunky or something to that effect. As it happened, I guess his jacket was out and he looked a little heavier as he was running. But we also had descriptions on the police radio from Brennan; so we had some idea.
I remember seeing Assistant District Attorney Bill Alexander at the scene. Bill’s got a good nose, and after somebody had said, “I think he ran in there,” we went into an old furniture store looking for the suspect. Furniture was stacked everywhere in this old ramshackle place. I was there with Bill and five or six officers; all had guns except me. All of a sudden someone fell through the second floor. I remember screaming as I was scared to death! But it turned out to be nothing; he probably hadn’t been there at all.
Some have questioned why an assistant district attorney like Bill Alexander was there. While it’s true that he had no reason to be there with a gun looking for whoever had shot the President, at a time like that, things do change and people run after whoever they think did something.
At any rate, I then went back to an FBI car outside that place and heard an announcement, “Suspect has entered the Texas Theatre.” I’m not sure how far that was, maybe four or five blocks, something like that, so I ran to that location.
When I arrived at the Texas Theatre, I ran into Jim Ewell again. We decided that he’d go upstairs to the balcony since somebody had said that he’d gone there. So Jim went up while I decided to go down and under, and maybe I could see from there what was going on in the balcony. As luck would have it, I just got in there when I saw officers, coming off the stage on both sides. I don’t recall the exact number, but I wrote about it all 29 years ago. They paused and talked to some other people on the way up so that he wouldn’t become alarmed and try to escape. But when one of the officers, Nick McDonald, got to Oswald, Oswald hit him as he came into the row. Had it not been for the other cops coming from behind and grabbing Oswald, I think that he would have probably pulled a gun and shot and killed him.
But it was over in an instant. The thing that I remember most about that is that immediately, as soon as they got him, Oswald started screaming, “I protest this police brutality!” I’ve never forgotten his exact words, “I protest this police brutality!” Then they whipped him out front and put him in the car.
Jim Ewell had ridden over in that car, but he didn’t get to ride back in it. The strangest thing was that one of the Homicide guys, I don’t remember which one, kept putting his big Stetson in front of Oswald’s face as the cameramen were shooting pictures. I don’t know whether this was a normal arrest or not, but it was fast.
Out in front of the theater there must have been somewhere between 100 to 200 people, a lot of them shouting, “Get him! Kill him! He shot an officer!” Word got around quickly, though I don’t think that anybody thought that he’d shot the President at that time, I really don’t.
After the arrest, I talked to the concessionaire, Butch Burroughs, who had been selling popcorn. I don’t recall the exact number of people who had been in the theater, but the number was in the teens. I interviewed a couple of them, but most had left in a hurry after the arrest. I didn’t really follow up that aspect of the story since I had seen what had happened.
Later I got the addresses of Tippit and his partner, maybe from Ewell, I don’t recall. In any case, I also learned of a couple of addresses where Oswald had lived from the police officers after they had gotten back to the police station and had gone through his wallet. So I went to visit where he had lived before.
When I arrived at Oswald’s rooming house, the only thing left in his little eight by eleven room was a banana peel. I was looking for anything and everything. However, the lady there, who later died, offered me the register book signed “O.H. Lee,” but I didn’t take it. It would probably be worth $100,000 today!
I talked to her that afternoon, but then she later changed her story tremendously when some of the conspiracy theorists got to town and started offering money. When you pay money, you get what you pay for. You word your questions the way that you want a response, and people are smart enough to know that if they disagree with you, you may not come back and you may not pay them again. Sadly, many people have made a lot of money out of this thing, and it’s contorted the whole story.
She told me that day that Oswald came running in while she was watching television and that she tried to talk to him about the President being killed. He didn’t want to talk, so he went in, changed his jacket and ran out. She then saw him run off the porch to the left and that was the last time that she saw him. See, there’s no mention of what she came up with later that a police car came up and honked and all that crap. As we know, there was no police car with the number that she came up with for one thing, and secondly, it was at least three months later that she concocted that story.
But this is the way with so many of these witnesses. If you got to them that day, they were stunned and told you what they really saw, although, as I’ve said, some of them were even making up stores then. But it wasn’t all devious. Some of it is just that over the years they have seen so much conspiracy and seen so many things that, in many cases, they now believe it. In the last year or two, I’ve had two or three public officials who were involved in this tell me that “Maybe I might need to rethink this.” It’s amazing to me, but it happens. I don’t know how many people were in Dealey Plaza, but if they ever had a convention, you’d have 10,00 people there!
After I came back to the office that afternoon, I started writing. We all wrote most of the stuff which was put together into one major story by Paul Crume, who was a tremendous writer. After I’d written that and a couple of side-bar stories, it was 9:00 or 9:30. Then I was told that I had to go out to the Tippit home and do a story on the Tippit family. All the cops were there, and I talked to his partner and best friend all through the years. I asked, “Look, I don’t want to go in and bother his wife. I just don’t want to do it. Tell me what you can and I’ll just get out of here.” I was embarrassed about having to do that.
After that, I began to think that we needed to know how Oswald had gotten from one place to another and how it had transpired. So Larry Grove, a reporter for the News, and I started working on escape route stories. Five days later we did a massive story about how he had gotten out of the Book Depository, where he was, what he did, the bus, etc. We didn’t get any tremendous detail, but we disclosed for the first time the bus driver, the cab driver, and all the people that he encountered along the way. That was in the paper before the Warren Commission was ever formed, and it stood up quite well.
I remember that we chased down the cab driver, Whaley, who was off duty in Denton, and we had a little trouble finding the bus driver, McWatters. It took us time because the FBI and the local police were saying to people, “Don’t talk! This investigation’s open, It’s serious. Don’t talk to anybody!” So in those first few days it was really tough!
Meanwhile at City Hall, we had a press room on the third floor right next to Homicide. I was in and out that weekend, though not a whole lot. When I was there, it was just total chaos! It was horrible! With the 200- and 300-pound television equipment and cameras, people could have gotten crushed going down that little hallway. Why they brought Oswald through that, I’ll never understand! Every time they took him in and out of Homicide they went through that.
I thought it was rather dangerous because anybody could have poked Oswald in the nose, and some people were angry enough to do that. I thought the police chief, Jesse Curry. who was very weak and ineffective, should have blocked off that whole damn floor. That situation should never have happened. If they wanted to bring him out for arraignment or for a press conference, that was one thing, but to drag him through there all the time was inexcusable. People actually got hurt. I know of people that actually got hit in the stomach or in the head with equipment. It was just a melee!
I called into the office once or twice, but was pretty much on my own. You know, you don’t know how to cover something like that since it only happens once in a lifetime and your gut reaction sometimes takes over. But that was the strange thing about it. I did that for several days, and then after that, could never get unassigned. From then on, forget the science.
On Sunday morning, somebody at the newspaper called and told me that there had been threats to take Oswald during the night, that everybody was up in arms and that they were going to transfer him from the city to the county jail. It was about 9 o’clock in the morning and I said, “My God, you mean they didn’t move him in the night? That’s what they should have done!”
“No, he’s still there,” I was told. So I turned on the television and they were waiting to move him after 10 o’clock. I raced to my car and drove like mad to get down there.
I said to myself, “This is ridiculous! Now with the crowd anticipation, if anything’s going to happen, it might happen.”
When I arrived from the Commerce Street side down by that armored car, they checked my ID twice, and they started to a third time before I was let in. I had no idea how they were going to use it because armored cars in those days had turrets on top and you couldn’t back it all the way down and squeeze it into the basement. I just got there in time to see three or four newspeople, but nobody knew when he was going to be moved. Then, all of a sudden, the lights went on and there he was! I had only been in the basement four or five minutes at that time.
I don’t know how many people were in there, maybe 50 to 60, but as you faced that doorway where Oswald was brought out, I was standing at 7 o’clock behind a couple of cars.
As he was brought out, I just heard a pop and a couple of people go “Ahhh!” What followed was almost a comedy. You know how it is in the cartoons where they get into a fight with the road-runner and a couple of others and they’re all in a fall going crazy; there’s a foot and there’s an arm? That’s the way it almost was, briefly. I saw this gun a couple of times come up with someone’s hands pulling it back. It was amazing! Almost like the capture of Oswald, once again, it was over before I knew it.
I tried to interview people down there but it was tough to do. They didn’t want to talk about it at the time. Cops were running in different ways; newsmen were all doing their own thing. I had watched them as they had taken Oswald out, so I tried to figure where they were taking Ruby and how to get in to that situation. I remember running outside and seeing one guy who was running out of the building and somebody, BOOM, hit him and knocked him flat! He wasn’t involved in it and was just running out to call his wife to tell her what had happened.
The question that developed was: How did Ruby get into the basement? I understand full well that people say that it was a million to one shot that he could have gotten in the way he did, and I think that’s true. But had it been a conspiracy, Ruby would not have slept till after 10 o’clock when he got a call from Little Lynn in Fort Worth. He told her, “All right, I’ll eat breakfast then go down and send you a Western Union money order,” and he did. He went down, left his dog in the car in the parking lot, and sent her the money order stamped at 11:17, went out onto Main Street and saw the crowd gathering around the ramp entrance. This was when they were pushing back the crowd to allow a police car out the Main Street ramp. He saw the crowd and obviously knew what it was about.
So why did he have the gun? He always carried a gun. At that time, there was sort of an unwritten rule with the police: If you were a businessman and you carried money, you could carry a pistol. But when he saw the crowd, he walked right in and couldn’t have gotten in more than two or three minutes before it happened. And I’m sure, in his testimony, one of the cops saw him, didn’t know who he was, but saw this guy coming down the ramp. It’s been so many years that I’ve forgotten his name, but he had a choice to make: He could stop the one man who’s running down there, or he could let the whole crowd go and go after the one man. It was a judgment call.
The word in Dallas that morning was that Oswald was to be moved at 10 o’clock. That’s what the police chief told all the locals and the networks and everybody else. In fact, I remember, his saying, “Hey, y’all go home and get some sleep. We won’t move him. I promise you that we won’t move him before 10 o’clock.” He should have moved him then and not made that promise.
I didn’t like Jack Ruby at all and had known him for years. He was a whiner, a show-off, a showboat, a despicable person and not a very nice man. He was also a guy who would beat up on drunks. I once saw him beat a drunk over the head with a whiskey bottle in 1962. I was actually going to testify against him but had to be in court and the charges were dropped, and I’ve never seen those charges since. But all this guy tried to do was bum a quarter from Ruby, and he hit him with a whiskey bottle and cut his head open.
I was there that morning when Jack came into the News as he often did, about once a week to see Tony Zoppi, the entertainment editor, to try to get something about his clubs or his entertainers in the paper. About once a week you’d see him in the cafeteria about the time we all drank coffee, around 10:00 or 10:30. That morning he got some eggs and bacon and went to a table or two away from me. I’ve often thought that I could have changed history had I just grabbed him then.
As much as I may have disliked Ruby, if he was going to be involved, he wouldn’t have slept past that time, unless you believe that the police chief, the Homicide chief, and the postal inspector, Harry Holmes, who just decided to question him one more time, were involved in calling Jack Ruby with the thought: “They’re setting up something. We must hold him. Jack won’t be here till 11:17. Now we’ve got to hold up!”
And I know that there are those who would say, “Yeah, that’s what happened.”
As soon as I got back to the News, the Jack Beers photo had been printed. My God, everybody went crazy! “Look at that!” many were saying. “Two seconds before!” As I understand from Bob Jackson and others, when they saw this damn Beers photo, they thought that Jackson’s photo wouldn’t be any good because it was taken after the fact, and they almost didn’t develop it immediately. See, this was on the wire long before it was in the papers. When they saw that that afternoon they thought, “Geez!”
As a reporter, I encountered numerous rumors and allegations regarding this whole story. Again, you have to consider that people were making up stories even then. I remember another report from Houston called me and said, “I’m on to this story about Oswald being an FBI informant. I’ve been told that he was paid $200 a month. I even have his payroll number.” I was busy at the time and told him that I’d have to call him back. I talked to this reporter three or four times. One day he called and I was on a deadline, was also a stringer for Newsweek and was doing something for a London newspaper, as well. I had all kinds of telex numbers and all sorts of projects at that time and knew this reporter to be less than believable.
He had done a lot of things that I wouldn’t have and was known to take short cuts. In any case, he called and said, “I’ve got his payroll number, and I think he’s CIA.”
I said, “Yeah, I’ve got his CIA number, I think.”
“Oh, let me have that,” he said. So I gave him the S-172 number which came from a combination of a bunch of things I had to mail to various publications. After I gave him the number, he said, “By God, yes! Yeah, that’s his FBI number.” Then he gave me the FBI number. This was the week of the assassination because it was printed in the Houston Post within days. That's where the S-172 number originated. I made it up!
Later, Bill Alexander was asked about it and a deputy sheriff said that he’d heard it, too. When Henry Wade was questioned before the Warren Commission, he said that he had worked informants when he was with the Bureau and that they didn’t always have a record, but they always had a number. A rushed trip to Washington was made after this story came out in the Houston Post. Texas Attorney General Waggoner Carr, Alexander, Henry Wade, and I think Bob Storey, who was an adviser from SMU, were all flown up for a hurried conference.
I think that one must realize that there’s never been a homicide put to this kind of scrutiny in the history of the world. Circumstances being what they are now, it’s much easier to do this. In addition, we had several things in this story that you didn’t have in some others. You had a very popular president killed by a fool, a nothing, and then you had him put to death by another strange individual, who at the time, dreamed that he had Mafia ties. Those two people, Oswald and Ruby, were two that no sensible organization or person would ever ask to do anything and could imagine that they would follow through on and not tell somebody about it an hour later.
You also had the specter of Russia. When we learned that he’d been to Russia, that made everybody think: “Well, how in the world? And he has a Russian wife!” In 1963, the Russian connection was really scary.
In the immediate time period after the assassination, I don’t believe that I had any contact with Oswald’s wife, Marina, or his mother, Marguerite, since they were ensconced at the Inn at Six Flags in Arlington until Oswald was killed. But in the years following the assassination, I had many unpaid interviews with Marina Oswald. I don’t think that’s possible today. I remember talking to her during the Ruby trial, a very long interview, where she said that she didn’t want him to get the death penalty.
I felt sorry for her; she was scared to death, was in a foreign country and really didn’t speak the language that well. But she learned fast because she was interrogated a lot and made several appearances before the Warren Commission. She’s had a rough life. One of the amazing things is that she has two girls by Oswald and has raised them in fine fashion. They’re good, young, smart girls, and I can only imagine the pressures that she has had in raising them. But I’ve only talked to her once in the last year, and she didn’t want to talk to me then. She disliked me very much at one time because I printed Oswald’s Russian diary.
I’ve never told anyone how I obtained the diary. There’s been speculation that an FBI agent gave it to me, that Bill Alexander gave it to me, and Henry Wade, as well. All of them deny it. All that I will say is that it came from someone who was just a little concerned that his Russian background might not be completely given to the American people. That’s where it came from!
Marina got $20,000 for the diary. I put in an expense check to Life magazine and told them to pay my expenses which were slightly over $2,000 and said, “But Marina owns this; you’ve got to settle with her. You’ve got to agree before I give you the copy.” So they paid her the money for something that she’d never seen.
Over the years, I also became well acquainted with Marguerite Oswald, Lee’s mother. She was a very bizarre woman! She said, “ Lee Harvey, my son, even after his death has done more for his country than any other living American. “ She had that inscribed on a plaque, as well. Fifty of them were made, and she sold them to reporters that came from all over the world who felt sorry for her. Marguerite probably made Lee what he became. When he got out of the service early because of an injury to her, he stayed with her only three or four days, then took off for New Orleans and got on a ship He couldn’t stand her!
Anyone that was around her echoed the problem. She wanted money for everything. She used to call me and say, “We could to on these town hall meetings in Los Angeles. Will you go with me?” When I would tell her, no, she would then accuse me of everything under the sun.
I remember one time I wrote a book review about Oswald based on a book by one of the early French or German writers. The author said that Oswald was a CIA agent; he was an FBI agent; he was involved in the Dallas Citizens Council and all that. I said in the review, “How’s that for a guy who in his diary couldn’t even spell “wrist”? He spelled it “rist.”
Oh, she took great umbrage at that and called me for weeks saying, “I just think it’s terrible your making fun of my son because he couldn’t spell “wrist”! You know that he worked for the FBI,” and on, and on, and on. One of the best studies on Mama Oswald was Jean Stafford’s book A Mother In History.
I had dinner with Jean the night before she went over to Marguerite’s the first time. She was scared to death! And after she got back from visiting Oswald’s grave, she was still scared and called me, saying, “I’ve got to get back to New York!”
I asked, “When’s your flight?”
She replied, “I don’t know. I’m just going to the airport. I told her I was staying at the SMU Faculty Club.”
I said, “But there is no SMU Faculty Club.”[1]
“I know and she’ll still find and get me,” she said. She was really scared! She said, “I’m going to leave my tapes with Braniff. Will you pick them up and keep them for me till I get back to town?” So I sent them back to her two or three weeks later. She was that afraid of her!
The news coverage came under criticism at that time, and certainly there could have been improvements. But remember that this was the first time that this had ever happened at a time when you had cameras and press people there at the scene, and I think they did a credible job. In those days, you didn’t have as many really good television reporters. Now you do. And most of the television reporters had been newspaper reporters. This was sort of the beginning of the first decade or so of television influence. Now you have people coming right out of college and starting into television as a career, and they’re much better qualified, and a lot more competitive. But we still see television news as a dumping ground for every conspiracy, every allegation, every false report and everything else, and I don’t know how you ever get around that. I don’t think you do. We have freedom of speech and freedom of the press, and we pay mightily for them.
One of the stories which lacked credibility was the mysterious deaths of witnesses which broke in Ramparts Magazine and was done by Penn Jones. Poor old Penn didn’t know how to investigate the death of anybody. One guy was killed in a raging head-on crash which I suppose means that they have kamikazes out there to kill people. I don’t think anybody ever accused that guy of being involved in anything, but I know that some investigators in years since have said that there was no autopsy in that case, but there was.
But even then, and I can’t recall whether it was 60 or 80 deaths at that time; it’s probably 200 or 300 by now, but who are they talking about when they say “close to the Kennedy assassination”? They’re talking about all the police, the FBI, the CIA, the State Department, the people that worked at the Depository Building and all the people that they knew, everybody that ever worked with Oswald, the Paines and the people they knew, the people at the Texas Theatre, the press, the people in New Orleans, and the list goes on and on. They’re talking about thousands and thousands of people who could be said to be “close to the Kennedy assassination.” So the fact that a few hundred have died does not suggest that they’re all that mysterious. They’re talking about reporters who don’t know how to report and who don’t know where to go to get this information.
Mark Lane is a good example. Mark Lane came to me first when he hit town years ago. I don’t know why; I guess because he saw all the stuff I’d written in the Dallas News early on. He told me that he wanted to be the devil’s advocate for Oswald, which I thought was fine. He was a lawyer from New York; I knew nothing more about him, so I gave him 60–70 documents. The next thing I knew he was in Copenhagen, London, and Prague opening up Who Killed Kennedy Committees waving these sheets of paper I’d given him. They were actually eyewitness affidavits which are now all in the Warren Commission volumes, but at that time nobody in Dallas had them or had used them. This was in December 1963 or January 1964. Lane said to me, “Thanks a lot. Maybe you could be my Dallas investigator.” Then I remember very vividly what he said, “No one will have to know.” I understand that now because nobody wants to be affiliated with such trash!
I don’t think there’s a good reporter on earth who wouldn’t give their eye teeth to break anything approaching a conspiracy. If I knew there was a conspiracy, I’d be a millionaire tomorrow and would be living on the French Riviera the rest of my life. It would be the culmination of a rather good career that I’ve had. But I don’t care how much you might believe it, want it, need it or anything else, at some point you have to be honest and say, “I really don’t have it.” This is what the conspiracy theorists won’t do. As long as they can make a few bucks selling a new conspiracy theory, they’ll be with us forever. And the sad thing about it is that people that really know, the police officers who investigated it and the newsmen of those days, they’re called CIA plants, FBI informants, or cover-up artists.
If you were on the scene and investigated the crime, or you were an FBI agent, or you were somebody involved in officialdom, nobody believes you because of where you came from. There are hundreds of conspiracy books, and there are probably a hundred different conspiracy theories. People are raised in this country to believe that there was a conspiracy. When I tell people that I don’t see a conspiracy, they look at me like, “Well, you old relic, you fool. You must work for the FBI or somebody.” That’s why most don’t go back and talk with the people who investigated it. The theorists would say, “Well, what did you expect him to say?” It’s like David Belin, who’s a top notch lawyer who makes tremendously good points, but nobody believes him. He was a Warren Commission counsel, so who believes David Belin? Sad, but true.
There’s another fellow here in town, Bob Gemberling, who was a former FBI agent, who actually put all the stuff together and sent it to Washington. He was the one that coordinated it. Bob is striking out in the wilderness: “Wait, but you don’t understand!” Nobody gives a damn. He’s an FBI agent, what do you expect?
And I’ve been lumped in the same way. “Well, he was with the Dallas News and obviously he was in on the cover-up and has made some money out of this.” I’m very aware of the criticism, but I don’t pay much attention to it. I don’t see a lot, but other people tell me about it.
Other writers like Earl Golz have fared better with the conspiracy theorists. I had already left the Dallas newsroom when Earl was writing about the assassination. Earl has better vision than I; he sees people in trees and up behind culverts and things like that. I just have never seen as well as some others.
Now I do think that there are some whom I have encountered over the years that are truly, almost patriotic in their quest in believing that there was a conspiracy. I know three or four of them in particular who believe that they are doing the right thing, and I admire them. Then there is a cadre of others out there that are purely greedy and opportunistic who are a bunch of liars; they know it and so does everybody else, and they’re all on each other because they all can’t make a living out of this. So there’s a great disparity there and a great argument among them. But when you tell people, as I have done over the years and shown them where they were wrong, and still twenty years later, they use that same incorrect material, then I have to think that that’s being dishonest. As inundated as we’ve been for the past 29 years with almost nothing but conspiracy, nothing else sells. I tried to sell a book years and years ago just setting some of the story straight by showing where some of the early opportunists came from and by showing how they either falsified evidence or bought the interviews or whatever, and nobody was interested in publishing it.
While at Newsweek a few years later, I was assigned to cover the Garrison case in New Orleans. Garrison was one of the sickest people that I’ve ever known. There’s no doubt in my mind that the man was insane! Despite being brilliant in many ways, he knew the arts, famous things in history, and he was learned. The man was a devious, nasty man who committed more crimes in his investigation than anybody that he ever accused.
He charged Clay Shaw with being involved with the Kennedy assassination March 1st of 1967; he was acquitted March 1st of 1969. Garrison arrested Shaw mainly because he was pressured by mostly international and some Life magazine people to do something. When he arrested Shaw, he had one witness, one witness: Perry Raymond Russo. Garrison had known Russo eight days at that time. Russo rode in from Baton Rouge and said that he knew David Ferry, who had just died, and that he thought he knew about some pot sessions of that sort. When Garrison sent “Moo-Moo” Sciambra, his investigator, up to Baton Rouge to interview him for several hours, he came back with this long, lengthy report. Nowhere in it did he mention Clay Shaw. That only came after he was hypnotized three times the first week that Garrison knew him. If you look at the transcript of the hypnotic sessions, you’ll find that they asked, “Who is that big white-haired guy, Clay … Clay? What is that? Could that be Clay Shaw?” That is how they got him, under hypnosis, to finally say that it was Clay Shaw that he had seen. He took sodium pentothal twice in addition to the three times that he was hypnotized. On the basis of that, Clay Shaw was arrested. That whole thing was so bizarre!
Garrison did a lot to keep Perry Russo around for a while. His office had one man charged with a crime, burglary or something of that sort, when they knew they’d never be able to prosecute, but they were trying to keep him from going into the Army because he was Perry’s best buddy. Perry told me that himself, and I researched it, as well.
They also tried to get a man to plant evidence in Clay Shaw’s apartment. This man, who was a cat-burglar, passed a polygraph test. They took him out of jail; the reason being that Garrison had something on the sheriff at the time, as well as the governor. Strange case, Louisiana politics. But he was a total fraud and a criminal!
He had nothing at all! There was nothing there that withstood any cross-examination. He made it up! The jury came back with an acquittal after one vote after almost a two-week trial, longer than that counting the hearings. Almost all the witnesses have since agreed, “Yes, well, they did ask me to say that.”
Garrison didn’t have the emotional ties to the assassination that we had in Dallas. Dallas was in the throes of grief for a long, long time, and it cost the city not only financially, but in the spirit of the city for a long, long time. Nobody wanted to touch it; nobody wanted to talk about it. At the time, I was an officer in the Dallas Press Club, and we had this Gridiron Show every year where we would poke fun at politicians and newsmakers as well as the biggest things that had happened. I was head of the script committee in 1964, and we had to do one of those shows without mentioning the assassination. Think about that! It was one of the hardest things to do that I can recall. It was a real toughie because there was nothing else of any value newswise that went on at that time. Everybody acted as though it didn’t happen, and those that did talk about it were castigated by others. Then there was sort of a cleansing period. After Memphis and Los Angeles, people saw that it could happen elsewhere. They didn’t make the same mistakes, but it was in hindsight, and Dallas helped in that respect.
Now there is new leadership here along with a new influx of people, and it’s gone almost to the opposite extreme. They laid down for Oliver Stone. I used to hear people say, “Well, my God, there's nothing to hide. He’s just going to do a legitimate story on this.” But when I learned that he was doing the Garrison story, I knew there was no way that anything legitimate was going to come of it.
I think there’ll probably be more films made because people see that they can make money out of it, but they’ll never get the carte-blanche that Stone received. They opened everything to him by stopping traffic for days for three or four hours a day in about a fourth of the downtown area, and I think they learned their lesson on that, but too late. Martin Jurow, the famous producer of “Breakfast at Tiffany’s” and several other good movies, warned them, “You should see the script before you open up your wallet, your life, and your heart to these people.
I was amazed that Oliver Stone, whom I don’t care much for but thought had some sense, would choose Garrison as his vehicle in the making of his movie “JFK.” I was really amazed! I’ve always said that Stone got two things totally right: the victim and the date. After that, it goes downhill.
What Oliver Stone and the other theorists fail to realize is that everybody makes mistakes. Several years ago I talked to Mr. Kelley, who was the head of the FBI at one time, and we discussed why the FBI, and Hosty in particular, didn't inform the Dallas police that Oswald worked along the parade route, especially since the Dallas police at the time were going as far out as 75 to 100 miles to visit known dissidents to tell them not to come here and not to cause any trouble on this trip, but Hosty just let this information sit on his lap. Kelley told me, “Well, as I recall, we didn’t want him to lost his job.”
I said, “Well, Mr. Kennedy lost his!”
Everybody makes mistakes: the FBI, the Dallas police, etc. There was no way that Oswald should have been pulled through that crowd; no way that he should have been moved in public. None of that should have happened. You didn’t see it happen in Memphis of Los Angeles or in any of the assassinations. But people learned from Dallas; this was the learning ground, unfortunately.
The mistakes we now make are different. However, we still allow a president to walk among people where it isn’t safe, but what do you do? You can’t put him in a glass cage; this is America. And I'm sure that we’ll see the shooting of another famous person again because this nation is in some chaos now, both economically and philosophically. In many ways, we’re at a turning point. I think the fact that every time someone shoots someone that coverage is far more than these nuts would ever get in any other way brings out a lot of crazies. They see themselves on the cover of Time and Newsweek and the subject of documentaries for years afterward. This, to a deranged person, is a real opportunity!
I didn’t pursue this story and wasn’t assigned. I did what typically a reporter would do: I reacted, followed it, and went after it for a few months. And all during this time, I covered every manned space flight that we had in the ‘60’s, every one, as well as many other things. This was not a career for me, but I was always pressed into it. I went to Newsweek for several years where I was a bureau chief and had to cover the Garrison case and everything else. Then I went to the Washington Times and had to cover it there. I'm still with the Times and every time something comes up about Kennedy I have to cover it. People come to me all the time. I just have to be aware because it’s such a charlatan’s game. I haven’t done it by choice. That’s why I have never really written a book on the subject. I’m sick of it and would love to just say, “This is the last thing I’m ever going to do.” But as long as I’m a working newsman and people are buying my expertise and I’m told to cover this, I have to do it. But I’d love to walk away from it, and I’ve felt that way for many years.

[1] Actually, there is an SMU Faculty Club. However, it has no provisions for lodging.

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