Chapter 19d: Lost in the Jungle with Kurtz
Lost in the Jungle with Kurtz
Although I spent much of the last few chapters trying to convince myself that researchers can have honest differences of opinion, even when one of them is lying (as he might not know he is lying), I find myself forced to step back in and admit I think some of those who've written on the assassination were telling deliberate falsehoods.
It is with deep regret, moreover, that I must admit that my number one suspect for telling deliberate falsehoods is not a single-assassin theorist, or even a far-out conspiracy theorist, as one might expect, but Dr. Michael Kurtz, one of the few historians to write on the case, and someone whose work has routinely been cited by other writers on the case.
My suspicion of Kurtz is a bit difficult to explain, I'm afraid, as it involves a series of comparisons between what Kurtz wrote in his 1982 book Crime of the Century and his 2006 book The JFK Assassination Debates. But I do believe those willing to stick it out will be amazed.
First of all, let's provide a little background on Kurtz. He was born in 1941. He taught history at Southeastern Louisiana University for decades, and is currently listed as a "professor emeritus".
Our first glimpse at Kurtz comes on 11-12-1977, in an article in the New Orleans States-Item. The article reflected that Kurtz spoke before the 43rd meeting of Southern Historical Association, and that he discussed some elements of the assassination, such as the possibility the magic bullet, CE 399, was planted on a stretcher in Parkland hospital. The article stressed, however, that Kurtz "refused to express conclusions about the case. 'This is not the function of historians,' he said. 'However, I do believe the time has come for a scholarly study by historians. I would say that the evidence now available does lean toward the conspiracy theory (that there was more than one person involved) and that tests, while not conclusive, do point to possible use of more than one gun.'" Sounds pretty reasonable, so far.
The article further relates that "Asked whether he believes the confusion surrounding the case was caused by deceit or official bungling, Kurtz once more refused to state a conclusion. 'However,' he said, 'I do think it may well have been the result of the Warren Commission's irresponsible and stupid actions. These people had no special expertise in this matter and some of them did not even attend the most significant meetings.'"
The Problematic Oswald "Sightings"
Kurtz re-appeared in 1980 with an article entitled Lee Harvey Oswald in New Orleans: a Reappraisal. It was published in Louisiana History, The Journal of the Louisiana History Association. It detailed Oswald's known activities in New Orleans...but with several new additions. On page 14 it related that "Two people remember Oswald as one of the participants in a discussion of the racial issue. The discussion, which took place on the campus of Louisiana State University in New Orleans, involved Oswald and (Guy) Banister debating federal immigration policies with a number of students." Banister, we should recall, was one of New Orleans DA Jim Garrison's top suspects in the assassination of President Kennedy. Kurtz cited "Confidential Interviews" as his source for this statement.
And this wasn't the only revelation. On page 16 Kurtz presented new claims of Oswald being seen in the company of David Ferrie, another one of Garrison's prime suspects. He offered "Twice they were seen conversing in Mancuso's restaurant. They were seen at a segregationist meeting in the late Spring of that year." His source for these bombshells was, once again, "Confidential Interviews."
And the pattern continued: on page 17, Kurtz related that "According to witnesses, Oswald accompanied a prominent leader of the White Citizens' Council and of other segregationist organizations to Baton Rouge six or eight times in July and August. These witnesses met Oswald, who was introduced to them as "Leon" Oswald. Oswald's companion, who was a personal friend of two of these witnesses, stated that he was employing "Leon" to do construction work for him. Oswald, however, was not dressed in work clothes; he was wearing what appeared to be "dressy clothes." Furthermore, Oswald and his companion engaged in discussions which included criticisms of American foreign policy as being "soft on Communism" and of United States civil-rights programs. On their last visit to Baton Rouge, the two men were accompanied by two "Latins,"neither of whom said anything to them." His source for this was, you guessed it, "Confidential Interviews."
So here, Kurtz has dropped some bombshells. He's claimed that the supposedly leftist Oswald was seen in the company of segregationists and racists numerous times in his brief stay in Louisiana, and that his sources for this are all "confidential."
So how did Kurtz deal with this in his subsequent writings?
Well, to start off, Kurtz's 1982 manifesto Crime of the Century: The Kennedy Assassination From a Historian's Perspective, repeated his claims about Banister. On page 203 of the 1993 edition of the book, Kurtz once again claimed Oswald accompanied Banister to Louisiana State University in New Orleans. He stressed, moreover, that "During these discussions, Oswald vehemently attacked the civil rights policies of the Kennedy administration." For this, Kurtz cited his previous article Lee Harvey Oswald in New Orleans.
And what about Ferrie? While there are a few additional sightings of Oswald in the company of Ferrie mentioned in Crime of the Century, including one by a witness named George Wilcox, the sighting of the two at Mancuso's, so prominently featured in Kurtz's 1980 article, is never mentioned.
Well, then, what about Oswald in Baton Rouge? Strangely, in Crime of the Century, there is no mention of Oswald visiting Baton Rouge in the company of a prominent leader of the White Citizens' Council. There is this, however. On page 203 of the 1993 edition, Kurtz reported: "Accompanied by two 'Latins,' Ferrie and Oswald were observed in Baton Rouge, where they openly denounced Kennedy's foreign and domestic policies." Kurtz's source? His 1980 article, Lee Harvey Oswald in New Orleans, which said nothing about Oswald and Ferrie being spotted in Baton Rouge. So, yikes, it looks like Kurtz somehow switched Ferrie into the role formerly played by the prominent leader of the White Citizens' Council.
But wait, it gets worse. On page xxxiv of the introduction to the 1993 edition of Crime of the Century, Kurtz offered "I saw Oswald and Bannister together twice. The first time, in May 1963, Bannister and Oswald arrived on the campus of Louisiana State University in New Orleans and entered a classroom. A fellow student of mine, George Higginbotham, introduced Bannister, who, in turn, introduced Oswald to the small group of students in the room. Bannister debated students about the racial policies of the Kennedy administration and about Kennedy's Cuban policies. In both instances, Bannister took what could only be called an extremist right-wing position, vehemently advocating a return to racial segregation, criticizing the students for attending an integrated university, and insisting that the United States launch a full-scale military invasion of Cuba. As far as I can recall, Oswald said nothing throughout the forty-five minute discussion. On the second occasion, sometime during July or August of 1963, I took a coffee break from my summer job at the office of the New Orleans Times-Picayune newspaper, the side of which was located directly across Camp Street from the 544 Camp Street building. I walked into Mancuso's, a small coffee shop in the first floor and drank a cup of coffee. Sitting together at a table some twenty feet away were Guy Bannister and Lee Harvey Oswald. Bannister waved to me, and I waved back."
Well, I'll be! Apparently, the "confidential interview" Kurtz had previously cited as his source for his claims about Oswald and Banister...had been with himself!
And that's not the only change in Kurtz's story between 1980 and 1993. While Oswald had previously been an active participant in Banister's debate with the students, he was now a quiet observer. And there's more. Kurtz had previously claimed that Oswald had been observed with Ferrie on two occasions at Mancuso's. He now claimed he'd personally observed Oswald with Banister on one occasion at Mancuso's.
Well, what about Ferrie, then? Is he mentioned in the 1993 Introduction? Yes. On page xxxix, Kurtz claimed a colleague of his named Van Burns had been introduced to Oswald and Ferrie at Pontchartrain Beach in New Orleans.
He then offered: "At the time these incidents occurred, the late spring and summer of 1963, neither Burns nor I thought anything about them, but the evening of the Kennedy assassination, both of us recognized the president's accused assassin as the same man we had observed in New Orleans. Assured by the press and news media and by government officials that a thorough investigation 'leaving no stone unturned' would be conducted, we waited for official investigators to contact us. We're still waiting."
Now this is interesting. Oswald in New Orleans, an online article by researcher Dave Reitzes, described a 10-5-98 interview with Kurtz, in which Kurtz repeated his 1993 claim Oswald said nothing during Banister's debate with the students. More telling, perhaps, is this. Kurtz purportedly told Reitzes that, subsequent to Kennedy's assassination, and Oswald's arrest, he'd "contacted the FBI" to tell them of Oswald's relationship with Banister, but "was brushed off."
So, which is it? Did Kurtz wait to be contacted about Oswald and Banister, as claimed in the 1993 introduction to Crime of the Century? Or did he reach out to the FBI, only to be brushed off, as claimed in his 1998 interview with Dave Reitzes?
Now let's jump ahead to 2006, and see how Kurtz handles Banister, Ferrie and Baton Rouge in The JFK Assassination Debates, apparently his last word on the subject. Well, on page 159 he stuck to his most recent story, and claimed he'd observed Banister and Oswald together both at LSU in New Orleans, and Mancuso's. Then what about Ferrie? While Kurtz mentions a number of ties between Oswald and Ferrie, including a new witness to their being together named Santos Miguel Gonzalez, his 1980 story of their being seen at Mancuso's, and his 1982 story of their being seen together in Baton Rouge, are both no-shows in The JFK Assassination Debates. And forget about George Wilcox's and Van Burns' purported sightings of Oswald with Ferrie. George Wilcox and Van Burns are never even mentioned in The JFK Assassination Debates.
This is truly disturbing. A disciplined writer of history--an historian--should be forever building on the established facts, not presenting one set of facts in one book, and another set in his next book. The changing of all these stories--significantly, the stories in which Kurtz has inserted himself as either a witness or protector of a confidential source-- suggests that Kurtz is unreliable at best.
But that doesn't mean he lied. Perhaps he's merely lazy--in that he rarely double-checks his current impressions of an incident against what he'd previously written on the incident...and has a terrible memory...
If only it were as simple as that...
Yes, while Kurtz's inconsistent tales in Crime of the Century were eyebrow-raising, the tales he relates in The JFK Assassination Debates are positively jaw-dropping.
On page 38, for example, he claims he interviewed Dr. Robert Canada, the Commanding Officer of Bethesda Naval Hospital (the site of President Kennedy's autopsy). He claims this happened in '68. Kurtz reports that Canada told him there was an exit wound on the back of Kennedy's head, and that this was noted at autopsy. Kurtz then claims "When informed that the official autopsy protocol mentioned only a small entrance wound in the rear of the head, Dr. Canada responded that that document had to have been rewritten to conform to the lone assassin theory." According to Kurtz, Canada then named names, and revealed that Capt. John Stover, the commanding officer of the medical school within the hospital, while "undoubtedly acting on orders from his superiors," had "demanded that the autopsy protocol be re-written to conform to the lone assassin thesis." According to Kurtz, Canada further "stated that he heard through the grapevine" that Stover had also "ordered all naval personnel present at the autopsy to maintain silence on penalty of court-martial."
And that's not the end of Canada's revelations. Later, on page 86, Kurtz returns to Canada, and claims Canada also told him Kennedy's back wound was at the level of the third thoracic vertebra and that the bullet "lodged in the chest near the stomach, and did not exit." On page 87, finally, he ends his Canadian tour, and relates still further that Canada told him the autopsy doctors knew on the night of the autopsy that Kennedy's tracheotomy incision had concealed an entrance wound, but that they "could not write that in the official protocol because it would have proven the existence of a gunman firing from the front."
Now, this was mighty convenient, and quite surprising. Kurtz had been discussing the assassination in public and in print for decades, and this was the first time he'd mentioned Canada. While Kurtz, in his 1977 talk before the Southern Historical Association, claimed the autopsy report had been altered, and that he'd spoken to an unnamed official present at the autopsy, he is reported to have spent much of his time pointing out that the condition of certain organs was left unmentioned in the report, and that "We do not know what the original report said." It seems likely then that he never mentioned his speaking to a witness who'd claimed the wound purported to have been on the back of Kennedy's neck was really on Kennedy's back, or, more shockingly, that the large exit wound purported to have been at the top of Kennedy's head was really on the back of his head. Well, this seems highly unlikely should Kurtz have actually spoken to Canada and been told the things he later claimed Canada had told him.
And that's not all. In his 1982 book Crime of the Century, Kurtz used the HSCA Forensic Pathology Panel's conclusion the back wound was at the level of the first thoracic vertebra to support that a bullet had been fired from the second floor of the school book depository, and not the sixth. He then claimed this bullet transited Kennedy's neck. And yet here he was, in 2006, now citing an interview with Dr. Robert Canada to suggest not only that this bullet had actually struck Kennedy at the level of the third thoracic vertebra, but that it did not transit Kennedy's neck.
One might reasonably assume then that Kurtz had recently tracked down Canada, and had convinced the old man to confess, or recount his garbled memories, or some such thing. But no such luck. In his end notes, Kurtz claims he interviewed Canada in 1968.
On page 39 of The JFK Assassination Debates, Kurtz explains why he took so long to come forward with Canada's story. He writes: "Dr. Canada insisted that the contents of this interview be kept secret until at least a quarter century after his death. Because that time period has elapsed, I present its essential points for the first time."
But this is dubious at best. In 1995, Dr. Kurtz testified before the Assassination Records Review Board to provide leads for their investigation. He never mentioned Canada. He could have told them "Well, there's this long-dead doctor, Canada, who was never interviewed on what he'd witnessed at the autopsy. Perhaps you could contact his family and look through his papers to see if he left any notes on what he'd witnessed." Nope. Nothing. Canada died in 1972. The "quarter century" waiting period described by Kurtz ended during the ARRB's existence. But did Kurtz write them a letter telling them what Canada had told him? Of course not.
And that was not the only opportunity Kurtz had to step forward with his story. While in attendance at the 2003 Solving the Great American Murder Mystery Conference in Pittsburgh, Kurtz moderated a panel on the basic facts of the assassination. This was probably the most prominent assassination conference ever convened. It even received some media coverage. So why didn't Kurtz take this opportunity to share his story about Canada--that he'd interviewed him and that Canada had described, word for word and wound for wound, what many conspiracy theorists had since come to believe about the medical evidence?
Well, Kurtz has an answer for that, too. Sorta. On page xiii of the preface to The JFK Assassination Debates Kurtz acknowledges that his "interpretation" of the assassination has changed some since Crime of the Century. He reports that "new evidence or recent interpretations of old evidence" has convinced him to offer a new analysis. He then offers, "In addition, I have finally succeeded in collating the material from numerous personal interviews and conversations that I conducted over the past four decades. This material adds a considerable amount of evidence to the evidentiary base."
This material also smells. On page 191 of Crime of the Century, Kurtz assured his readers that the common belief Kennedy's throat wound was an entrance wound could be "discounted." He then proposed that Kennedy's neck wound had actually been an exit for a fragment of the bullet striking Kennedy's skull. On pages 206-212, far more telling, he argued against David Lifton's theory holding that the fatal wound had been on the back of Kennedy's head, but was then moved to the top of his head. Significantly, Kurtz rejected Lifton's theory not because he thought it loopy, or because he believed this wound had in fact been observed at autopsy, but because he thought Lifton had cherry-picked the statements of the witnesses saying they saw such a wound. Kurtz also questioned the accuracy of these witnesses. In short, he argued for the accuracy of the autopsy photos.
Well, why would he have done that if he'd spoken to Canada 14 years before first writing this, and Canada, by then a rear admiral, had told him that the autopsy protocol was a fake designed to hide that the throat wound and head wound proved the shots had come from the front? Are we really supposed to believe that when writing Crime of the Century in 1982 Kurtz both forgot what Canada had told him and was unable to locate his notes on his interview with Canada?
A series of emails and letters found in the Weisberg Archives only add to my suspicion Kurtz was lying. In 2000, Michael Briggs of The University Press of Kansas asked Kurtz for comment on a book Briggs was editing, The Zapruder Film by David Wrone. On April 6, 2001, Kurtz responded via email, and Briggs sent this email to Wrone. Wrone then forwarded Kurtz's response to Harold Weisberg. Well, one of Kurtz's criticisms of Wrone's take on the Zapruder film was that Wrone cited assassination witness Phil Willis as an "authentic source" regarding the timing of the first shot, even though "Willis claimed that the fatal shot blew the back of JFK's head off," and was, by implication, lacking in credibility. An April 17 letter by Kurtz to Briggs (and then forwarded to Wrone and then Weisberg) further stressed this point, only this time it clarified that the problem was not so much Willis, but with Wrone's inconsistent use of Willis, as Wrone elsewhere claimed the Zapruder film proved that the back of Kennedy's head was not blown off. Kurtz rightfully questioned how Wrone could treat Willis as an infallible witness when it came to the timing of the first shot, while being "a poor and unreliable witness" when it came to most everything else. Kurtz then confessed "I must admit that I originally had the same opinion of Willis, but now, I'm not so sure. It should also be pointed out that Willis's wife, Marilyn, also believed that the fatal shot blasted out the rear of JFK's head."
Now, first of all, Kurtz failed to realize that Willis actually testified that he wasn't watching Kennedy at the time of the fatal shot, and that his subsequent comments about the head shot were therefore almost certainly based on the recollections of his wife and daughters. And second of all... why, if Kurtz had at the outset of his investigation been told by the commanding officer of the hospital that conducted Kennedy's autopsy that there was a large exit wound on the back of Kennedy's head, would Kurtz have ever thought Willis' ultimate belief regarding the head wound-- that the back of Kennedy's head had been blasted out--revealed him to be a "poor and unreliable witness"? And why would Kurtz in 2001--33 years after supposedly talking to Dr. Canada--suddenly become "not so sure" if Willis was actually an unreliable witness? Since Kurtz, in his letter to Briggs, also praised the relatively recent work of Harrison Livingstone, Gary Aguilar, and David Mantik, all of whom focused on the medical evidence, and argued that the back of Kennedy's head had been blasted out, does it not seem plain as day that Kurtz came to his ultimate belief the back of Kennedy's head was blasted out through Livingstone, Aguilar, and Mantik, and not Canada?
One might rightly wonder, then, if Kurtz's interview with Canada was something that came to him in a dream, or even--something he cooked up for reasons all his own. When one researches Canada, one finds that he was never called before the Warren Commission and never interviewed by the FBI regarding the assassination. He was never even interviewed on the subject by his hometown newspaper. He was, however, interviewed for The Death of a President by William Manchester, and, presumably, The Day Kennedy Died by Jim Bishop.
So what did he tell them? Well, it's hard to say for sure, seeing as the bulk of Manchester's notes are still locked up, and Bishop's notes are MIA. But we can guess what he told them based upon what each writer wrote about Canada in their books.
On page 381, Manchester reported that Canada was not forewarned of the role his hospital was to play in the autopsy. This is repeated on page 382. Pages 396 and 397 described Captain Canada's preparation for the arrival of the President's remains once he was brought up to snuff, and his greeting of VIPs as they arrived before the commencement of the autopsy. Page 398 revealed that Canada had once been shipmates with Dr. Burkley, Kennedy's personal physician. On page 407, Canada commented on the softness of Mrs. Kennedy's voice. On page 415 Manchester reported that some of those waiting with Mrs. Kennedy during her husband's autopsy had attempted to enlist Dr. Canada's help in getting her to take a sedative. And finally, on page 416, Manchester revealed that Dr. Canada was annoyed by Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara's continuing to drive his own car, a Ford, when a driver and limousine were most certainly at his disposal. And that's it. Nothing of substance. Nothing at all to indicate Canada took a look at Kennedy's wounds and saw anything that would give him pause.
So what did Bishop say about Canada? On page 345, he reported that Canada had been Lyndon Johnson's doctor when Johnson had had a myocardial infarction, and that Canada had sent an ambulance to Andrews Air Force base in anticipation of Johnson's return from Dallas, just in case he'd had another one. On page 436, he described Canada's actions when Mrs. Kennedy arrived at the hospital. On page 482, he described Canada's receipt of a form signed by Robert Kennedy. And on page 498 he pointed out that Canada could have recessed the autopsy at any time so that Dr.s Humes, Boswell, and Finck could call Dallas and discuss Kennedy's wounds with his emergency room physicians, but did not. Bishop made but one more mention of Canada. On page 649, Bishop revealed that Canada had forbade his (Bishop's) viewing of the autopsy room, unless he had received "an okay from the White House." That's it.
Well, not quite "it." Within the assassination records released by the government over the past few decades are the actual orders of silence placed on some of the naval personnel present at the autopsy. Within these lies a surprise. The orders of silence to radiology technicians Jerrol Custer and Edward Reed were not written by Capt. Stover, as Canada had reportedly told Kurtz, after hearing about it through the grapevine, but were written by Capt. Canada himself. And that's not the only surprise contained within the recently-released records. The 11-24-63 letter by Capt. Stover to Admiral Galloway (which accompanied the transmittal of the completed autopsy report) reveals that Capt. Canada was shown the first draft of the autopsy protocol. Kurtz, we should recall, told the Southern Historical Association in 1977 that "We do not know what the original report said." So why didn't Canada, should he have spilled his guts to Kurtz, and only Kurtz, as claimed by Kurtz, tell Kurtz what was said in this report?
There's also this. On page 38, Kurtz claims that Canada said he'd observed a "very large, 3 to 5 cm wound in the right rear of the president's head, in the lower right occipital region, 2.5 cm below the external occipital protuberance and 3.5 cm to the right of the midline of the skull." Yikes. 2.5 cm below the external occipital protuberance places the wound at the very bottom of the skull. 3.5 cm to the right of midline puts it in the right rear corner behind the ear, where the trapezius muscle attaches to the skull. No one else at the autopsy said they saw a large wound in the bottom right rear corner of the skull. No one claimed that this wound was in the trapezius muscle. Those claiming they saw a wound on the back of the head at the autopsy claimed either that they saw a large wound across the top and back of the right side of the head, (and were quite possibly describing the wound as it appeared after the scalp had been peeled back and skull fell to the table), or saw a wound in the middle of the back of the head, (and were quite possibly describing the appearance of the skull after its reconstruction by the morticians). The description of the wound Kurtz credits to Canada is thus not only at odds with the official conclusions, but also at odds with the descriptions normally used to dispute these conclusions.
The reality, then, appears to be that Dr. Canada was a military physician and officer, with connections to both Dr. Burkley and Lyndon Johnson. After Kennedy's death, he rose rapidly to the rank of Rear Admiral, and became the Deputy Surgeon General of the Navy. There is no interview, outside the one he supposedly granted Kurtz, in which he expressed skepticism about Kennedy's autopsy. As a result, we have little reason to believe Canada harbored the recollections Kurtz ascribed to him, and even less reason to believe he would have told Kurtz about them if he had.
I mean, just think about it... The end notes in Kurtz's book reflect that he spoke to Dr. Canada on 6-6-68, the day Robert Kennedy died. Why would Kurtz be talking to Canada on such a day? "Hey, RFK just died. I think I'll call up the head of the hospital where they conducted his brother's autopsy, and see what he has to say." It's a bit strange, don't you think? Kurtz's 1968 interview of Canada, for that matter, is the earliest interview conducted by Kurtz listed in his book. Kurtz was 27 years old at the time, presumably still a student. So how does a 27 year old student just call up the head of the hospital that conducted President Kennedy's autopsy and get him to tell him things he wants kept secret for the foreseeable future? Canada didn't know Kurtz from Adam. Why on Earth would Canada trust Kurtz above all others?
Other Questionable Interviews
Now, to be clear, it's not as if Kurtz's purported interview with Robert Canada is the only smelly potato on a plate full of golden fries... In fact, it may very well be but one of a shockingly large number of fabricated interviews. Throughout the JFK Assassination Debates Kurtz repeatedly relies on interviews with men such as Hunter Leake (a little-known CIA agent who'd been stationed in New Orleans), William George Gaudet, (an anti-communist operative in New Orleans), and Richard Helms (a former head of the Central Intelligence Agency). These men purportedly told Kurtz things they never told anyone else. Both Leake and Gaudet, for that matter, were supposedly interviewed in the 1980's, well before Kurtz's 1993 update of Crime of the Century.
And yet they were never mentioned in the book.
An overview of the information purportedly gained from Leake, for that matter, proves most illuminating.
Leake was purportedly interviewed over the telephone on 3-15-81. No other interview is listed. And yet, on page 158 of the JFK Assassination Debates Kurtz relates that "In several interviews...Leake stated that Oswald came to New Orleans in April 1963 because the CIA office there intended to use him for certain operations. His job at the Reilly Coffee Company merely served as a front for his actual role." And that is just the beginning. On page 162, Kurtz relates that "Leake stated that on the day of the assassination, he was ordered to collect all of the CIA's files on Oswald from the New Orleans office and transport them to the agency's headquarters in Langley, Virginia...They proved so voluminous that Leake had to rent a trailer to transport them to Langley...Leake later learned that many of these files were, in the term made infamous by John Ehrlichman during the Watergate crisis, 'deep-sixed.'" And that's not all. On page 178, Kurtz further reveals that "Leake told me that on one of his several visits to that city (New Orleans), Robert Kennedy ordered them (the CIA) to focus on 'getting rid of Castro' and specifically declared that he did not care how that objective was accomplished." It goes on. On pages 184-185, Kurtz reveals that Hunter Leake told him that Guy Banister worked for the CIA, and that he sometimes reported to...Hunter Leake.
And that is just a sample of the things Leake purportedly told Kurtz, but no one else. On page 189, to continue, Kurtz claims "In reality, Lee Oswald had made several trips to Mexico City in 1963 to carry out missions for Guy Banister and Hunter Leake." His source? Hunter Leake, of course. But wait, there's more. On page 213, Kurtz puts the usual suspects in Kennedy's killing in the same room...in New Orleans, naturally. He relates that "Hunter Leake recalled (mafia-fixer-heavily-involved-in-the-CIA's-assassination-plots-on-Castro Johnny) Roselli meeting with Guy Banister and David Ferrie in Banister's office on Camp Street."
It's perfect. A little too perfect. From what can be gathered, Hunter Leake was unknown to JFK assassination researchers until the late 1990's, when documents and testimony from the 1960's and 1970's were released that indicated he'd been a member of the CIA's Domestic Contact Service in New Orleans, and had frequent contacts with the man Jim Garrison ultimately brought charges against, Clay Shaw. With the release of The JFK Assassination Debates in 2006, Kurtz stepped up and said he'd interviewed Leake in 1981, and that Leake had told him just about everything. Wherever there is confusion in the record--Did Oswald work for the CIA? Did Robert Kennedy order Castro's assassination? Was there any connection between the CIA's assassination attempts on Castro and the activities of Banister and Ferrie in New Orleans?--Leake pops up in Kurtz's book to show us the way. It's incredible. Nearly as incredible as Kurtz's supposedly sitting on this stuff for 25 years.
And it gets worse... While comparing Crime of the Century with The JFK Assassination Debates, I noticed something that defies an innocent explanation, IMO.
The bibliography to 1982's Crime of the Century, a book Kurtz obviously spent some time on, listed the following interviews:
Roger Craig 8-18-72 (Curiously, one of the end notes refers to a 10-6-72 interview of Craig.)
Helen Forrest (Mrs. James Forrest) 5-17-74
Jerry Herald 4-17-78
Fred Bouchard 5-18-78
George Wilcox 9-9-79
Van Burns 9-1-80
Numerous other interviews, the transcripts of which are in the author’s possession.
This bibliography listed hundreds of sources--books, articles, government reports, etc. But, of the numerous interviews Kurtz claimed to have conducted, only these six were listed. Strikingly, none of these interviews (with the possible exception of Dallas Deputy Sheriff Roger Craig) were of a well-known witness or high-ranking member of the government.
The 1993 edition of Crime of the Century, moreover, listed an additional hundred or so sources--books, articles, audio visual materials, etc... And yet, no more interviews were listed.
So who were Craig, Forrest, Herald, Bouchard, Wilcox, and Burns? Well, Herald was a free-lance news photographer in 1964. He purportedly told Kurtz the real story behind a few of the stories to come out of Dallas in the aftermath of the shooting. Bouchard, on the other hand, was a supposed ballistics expert, who supposedly told Kurtz some details about the supposed assassination weapon. Okay, we have little reason to doubt these interviews occurred.
The other interviews were more suspicious. No information is provided on Wilcox, other than that he supposedly saw Oswald with David Ferrie. Van Burns was a sociology professor at Southeastern Louisiana University. His interview with Kurtz was unexplained in the 1982 edition of Crime of the Century, but explained by Kurtz in his 1993 introduction, when he reported that Burns was yet another witness claiming he saw Oswald with Ferrie. (In The JFK Assassination Debates, of course, Kurtz fails to even mention these supposedly important witnesses that he himself uncovered.)
That leaves Craig and Forrest. Craig was a Dallas County Deputy Sheriff, one of the first to run towards Dealey Plaza. He told the Warren Commission he saw Oswald run out to a car after the shooting, but was not believed by the commission, nor by his superiors in the Sheriff's office. It seems possible he spoke to Kurtz in 1972. This brings us to Forrest. She is purported to have not only backed up Craig's story, claiming she was in the plaza after the shooting and saw a man who looked like Oswald run out to a car, but to have backed up Kurtz's ultimate conclusion the first shot was fired from the second floor of the school book depository, by telling him she saw someone with a rifle on the second floor of the depository around noon, a half hour before the shooting.
Now, this is puzzling. Kurtz claimed to have discovered a key witness who saw something no one else claimed to see, but provided no details as to what she saw (I mean, really, WHERE on the second floor did she see this man with a rifle?), and no details as to how he came to interview her. While many researchers have innocently quoted Kurtz's claims about Mrs. Forrest, for that matter, no researcher, outside Kurtz, has ever claimed to have spoken to her or been able to ascertain the validity of 1) her account, and 2) Kurtz's claims of her account. For all we know, she was a schizophrenic Kurtz met at Mardi Gras. For all we know, Kurtz had a fever dream about the big band singer Helen Forrest, in which she sang about Oswald and a man with a rifle, while backed up by the Harry James Orchestra.
Now compare and contrast the list of interviews provided in Crime of the Century to a list of interviews cited in The JFK Assassination Debates--which I have created from Kurtz's end notes. (Where I have found the date of death of the interviewee, I have added it in parentheses. Names without DODs do not necessarily mean the interviewee is still alive, only that I couldn't readily ascertain the interviewee's date of death.)
6-6-68 Robert O Canada (DOD--12-6-72, age 59)
3-6-70 Charles Gregory (DOD 4-76, age 56)
1-10-71 Clem Sehrt (DOD 6-1-74, age 64)
5-5-72 Roger Craig (DOD 5-15-75, age 39) (Note that the date of this interview fails to match either of the dates presented in Crime of the Century.)
5-17-72 Bernard Fensterwald (DOD 4-2-91, age 69)
9-6-72 Henry Kmen (DOD 9-1-78, age 62)
8-18-73 Consuela Martin
10-9-75 Milton Helpern (DOD 4-22-77, age 75)
5-15-77 Craig Craighead
5-8-78 Billy Abel
7-8-78 Jesse Curry (DOD 6-22-80, age 66)
6-8-79 Henry M. Morris (DOD 4-91, age 69)
3-15-81 Hunter Leake (DOD 5-5-93, age 82)
3-18-81 Samuel Wilson (DOD 93, age 82)
3-18-81 Bernard Eble (also cited as Eberle?) (DOD 8-19-09?, age 95?)
3-14-82 Henry M. Morris (DOD 4-91, age 69)
4-16-83 Santos Miguel Gonzalez (later listed as Miguel Santos Gonzalez)
5-7-83 Robert A Maurin Sr. (DOD 1962, age 75) (Note: He probably meant Robert Maurin II--DOD--1988, age 70)
12-14-83 George Burkley (DOD 1-2-91, age 88)
1-16-84 Roy Kellerman (DOD 3-22-84, age 69)
1-16-84 William Greer (DOD 2-23-85, age 75)
3-18-84 Jesse Curry (DOD 6-22-80, age 66)
6-8-84 Hamilton Johnson (DOD 12-12-99?, age 93?)
6-17-84 Edward Grady Partin (DOD 3-11-90, age 66)
7-7-85 Edward Grady Partin (DOD 3-11-90, age 66)
7-17-85 William George Gaudet (DOD 1-19-81, age 72)
9-3-85 Allen (Black Cat) Lacombe (DOD 7-89, age 71)
9-6-85 Seth Kantor (DOD 8-17-93, age 67)
11-12-85 William Hawk Daniels (DOD 1-22-83, age 68)
5-17-86 Robert Shaw (DOD 1992, age 87?)
6-6-86 William Hawk Daniels (DOD 1-22-83, age 68)
9-14-86 Abe Fortas (DOD 4-5-82, age 71)
9-16-86 Leon Jaworski (DOD 12-9-82, age 77)
10-9-86 Joseph R. Dolce (DOD 3-15-94, age 85)
12-7-86 Henry Mentz (DOD 1-23-05, age 84)
5-19-87 Seth Kantor (DOD 8-17-93, age 67)
8-23-87 Manuel Artime (DOD 11-18-77, age 45)
6-12-88 Joseph R. Dolce (DOD 3-15-94, age 85)
10-8-88 Henry Mason
10-20-88 Eddie Adams
4-19-89 Deborah Schillace (DOD 1-1-12, age 56)
8-12-89 Morey Sear (DOD 9-6-04, age 75)
10-13-89 Robert Bouck (DOD 4-27-08, age 89)
8-15-90 Robert Livingston (DOD 4-26-02, age 83)
9-17-90 Sidney Johnston
2-17-91 William Eckert (DOD 9-24-99, age 73)
5-5-91 Edward Brown
11-6-91 Richard M. Bissell, Jr. (DOD 2-7-94, age 84)
11-7-93 Oren Anthony (Orien Anthon on final list)
11-18-93 David Belin (DOD 1-17-99, age 70)
11-18-93 J. Wesley Liebeler (DOD 9-25-02, age 71)
10-3-94 Richard Helms (DOD 10-23-02, age 89)
8-6-95 William Eckert (DOD 9-24-99, age 73)
3-18-97 James Humes (DOD 5-06-99, age 74)
11-21-2003 Henry Lee
Kurtz's end notes also make reference to these undated interviews:
Sylvia Meagher (DOD 1-14-89, age 67)
Luis Alvarez (DOD 9-1-88, age 77)
Tad Szulc (DOD 5-21-01, age 74)
On page 246, furthermore, Kurtz provides a master list of those he'd interviewed in relation to the assassination. This includes the additional names:
Russell Fisher (DOD 5-21-84, age 67)
Vincent P. Guinn (DOD 11-7-02, age 85)
John McCone (DOD 2-14-91, age 89)
Dean Rusk (DOD 12-20-94, age 85)
Well, first note the number of high-profile interviews. While Crime of the Century boasted no interviews with prominent witnesses or high-ranking government officials, The JFK Assassination Debates laid claim to interviews with the two Secret Service agents riding in the front of Kennedy's limousine at the time of the shooting, the head of the Presidential Protection unit of the Secret Service, Kennedy's personal physician, the doctor who performed Kennedy's autopsy, the Commanding Officer of the hospital where the autopsy was performed, two of Governor Connally's doctors, the chief of the Dallas Police, two Warren Commission attorneys, a wound ballistics expert who consulted with the Warren Commission, two prominent physicists who conducted research related to Kennedy's assassination, three prominent forensic pathologists, a legendary forensic scientist, two former directors of the CIA, one of whom was a former director of black ops for the CIA, a second former director of black ops for the CIA, Kennedy's Secretary of State, two judges, and a former Supreme Court justice and top adviser to President Lyndon Johnson. Most of these interviews, furthermore, were purported to have occurred before Crime of the Century was re-issued in 1993. Well, why weren't these interviews mentioned in Crime of the Century? Or in articles or at conferences written or conducted prior to the release of The JFK Assassination Debates in 2006? To be clear, Dr. Kurtz teased his upcoming book in a 11-4-03 press release put out by Southeastern Louisiana University, and this press release mentioned but one interview--with Dr. Robert Shaw, Governor Connally's doctor, whose rejection of the single-bullet theory had been in the public record for decades. If Kurtz had actually interviewed rarely-interviewed doctors such as Canada, Burkley, Humes, and Fisher he would almost certainly have mentioned them before mentioning his interview with a more commonly-interviewed subject as Shaw. That only makes sense.
Let's get real. One would think an historian would brag to the high hills about his numerous interviews with important historical figures. And yet here we have an historian who listed "numerous interviews" in the only book he was likely to write on a subject, only to come back 24 years later and claim that among these "numerous interviews" were some of the most prominent figures of the 1960's, nearly all of whom were now dead. This doesn't ring true, at all.
Here is a promotional blurb put out by The University of Tennessee Press for the 1982 edition of Crime of the Century: "Thoroughly documented and based on the most exhaustive research carried out to date on John Kennedy's murder, Crime of the Century draws on a variety of primary source materials from the National Archives and the FBI's and CIA's declassified assassination files. It utilizes the latest source materials released by the House Select Committee's investigation. The depth of research, the rigorously objective sifting of evidence, and the incisive critique of official investigative bias make this a book of importance not only to students of the Kennedy assassination in particular, but also to scholars of government response to political violence in general."
Notice anything? By 1982, Kurtz had supposedly already interviewed both Robert Canada and Hunter Leake, two of the most revelatory interviews ever conducted, or at least claimed to have been conducted, regarding the assassination of President John F. Kennedy. And yet these interviews were not only not mentioned in Kurtz's 1982 book based on the "most exhaustive research carried out to date on John Kennedy's murder", they were not mentioned in a blurb put out by his publisher pushing the greatness of his research. No interviews, in fact, are mentioned anywhere in the blurb. Hmmm... Which seems more likely? That Kurtz's publisher forgot to add in that "Oh yeah, by the way, the good professor has been conducting his own investigation into the assassination, and has conducted some interviews that will change the way we look at Kennedy's autopsy and Oswald's possible connections to the CIA"? Or that Kurtz kept these interviews a secret from his own publisher? Or that, by golly, these interviews were never actually conducted?
Now note that, aside from Roger Craig, whose interview in The JFK Assassination Debates has a different date than the two offered in Crime of the Century, the interview subjects listed in Crime of the Century, including the mysterious Helen Forrest, who Kurtz relied upon at two key points in Crime of the Century, and the mysterious George Wilcox, who purportedly saw Oswald with Ferrie, are no longer even listed among those Kurtz has interviewed.
Now note that the first interview listed for The JFK Assassination Debates is Kurtz's interview with Dr. Robert Canada. This is more than curious. Why would Kurtz conduct his first interview regarding the assassination with Dr. Canada? Why not with Dr.s Humes, Boswell, and Finck, who'd actually performed the autopsy? Or some of the witnesses to the assassination itself? And why would Kurtz's second interview regarding the assassination not come until 1970, when he supposedly interviewed one of Governor Connally's doctors, Dr. Charles Gregory? Is it a coincidence that, much as Dr. Canada, Dr. Gregory died in 1976, at a relatively young age? (Canada died at 59. Gregory died at 56.) Is it another coincidence, for that matter, that they died at a younger age than all but one of the subjects Kurtz claimed to have interviewed prior to 1987? I mean, really, did Kurtz simply have a knack for interviewing people no one else was interviewing--before they dropped dead and no one else could interview them? Or is it more likely that, hmmm, Kurtz was just making up dates for a number of his interviews, and was forced to place the dates for those who died young in years preceding his other interviews?
Now note the date of the last interview. It's Dr. Henry Lee on 11-21-03. Well, that's the day Kurtz moderated a panel on the basic facts of the assassination at the Solving the Great American Murder Mystery Conference in Pittsburgh. Dr. Lee was also in attendance at this conference. It seems likely, then, that this "interview" was not set up in advance, with prepared questions, but was more like a discussion of two men at a conference.
Now note the date of the last interview before the one with Dr. Lee. It's an interview with Dr. James Humes, who performed Kennedy's autopsy, on 3-18-97. Well, this is nine years before the release of The JFK Assassination Debates. Are we really supposed to believe that someone claiming to have conducted "numerous interviews" relating to Kennedy's assassination in the 1970's and 1980's would fail to conduct ANY interviews while piecing together a book that is likely to be his final word on the subject? I mean, not one?
Now note the highlighted interviews. These interviews all supposedly took place when the interview subject was DEAD.
Ouch. When I first read The JFK Assassination Debates in 2007, I caught Kurtz's mistake about Manuel Artime, but wrote it off as a singular screw-up. It wasn't until I started working on this chapter, in late 2014, that I came to realize that he'd similarly interviewed the ghosts of Jesse Curry, Abe Fortas, Leon Jaworski, William George Gaudet, etc. Now, I could make a joke about Kurtz's interviewing ghosts--that it makes him the ultimate historian--but that would be a bit silly, even for me.
It remains within the realm of possibility, of course, that Kurtz merely screwed up the dates on this last group of interviews, and that his notes to these interviews will both clear up any confusion, and give us reason to believe he really did talk to all these important historical figures. On page 246 of The JFK Assassination Debates, Kurtz lists the subjects of his interviews, and assures: "Notes, tapes, and transcripts of all interviews will be deposited at a later date in the John F. Kennedy Assassination Collection, Center for Southeast Louisiana Studies, Linus A. Sims Memorial Library, Southeastern Louisiana University, Hammond, Louisiana. Interviews were conducted in person, and by telephone, e-mail, and letter."
I have searched for these notes, tapes, and transcripts in the list for this collection online. I have talked to other researchers who have contacted the Linus A. Sims Memorial Library in search of these notes, tapes and transcripts. Twelve years after Kurtz claimed his numerous interviews added a "considerable amount of evidence to the evidentiary base," the notes, tapes, and transcripts of these interviews can not be studied and are nowhere to be found.
Until they are found, and thoroughly studied, and found credible by historians with no personal stake in the matter, I propose we treat them like the ghosts Kurtz claims to have interviewed in the 80's...
In other words, we need to stop pretending they are REAL...
P.S. As of March 2019, my warnings about Kurtz have mostly gone unheeded. In 2015, Dr. David Mantik published his magnum opus John F. Kennedy's Head Wounds. In it, he not only cited Kurtz's supposed interview with Dr. Robert Canada as evidence the back of Kennedy's head was blown out, he actually quoted an extended passage in which Kurtz similarly claimed Robert Bouck, Roy Kellerman and Wiliam Greer had told him they'd seen autopsy photos in which the back of Kennedy's head was missing.
This was completely unsupported by the record, of course. And that's why Mantik used it. That Mantik knew Kurtz's claims were not reliable, moreover, is demonstrated by a singular endnote in the back of his book. There, Mantik warned "Caution: In late 2014, Pat Speer noted inconsistencies in Kurtz's JFK-related interviews." He then waved this off by claiming "What Speer does not discuss though is whether similar abnormalities occur when Kurtz (a professional historian) writes about non-JFK events. I don't know either."
Well, hello? It doesn't matter one iota if Kurtz has cited interviews with dead people in his other books and articles. His bizarre behavior could be JFK-specific, or not. It could be a sign of mental deterioration, or not. The "guilt" of Kurtz is beside the point. The point is that Kurtz has made a series of claims in his JFK-related books and articles that are erratic and smell to high heaven, and that his sources for these claims are erratic and often involve interviews with people that were already dead. Well, geez Louise, it follows from this that Kurtz's wilder claims, particularly his claims of talking to people few ever talked to in which they told him things they never told anyone else, should be thoroughly disregarded.
This is just common sense. History 101. And yet Mantik chose to cite Kurtz's claims as support for his "theories."
And no, this wasn't a coincidence, but part of a larger pattern, whereby anyone telling Mantik anything that could be spun to support his bizarre theories was worth quoting... Shockingly, but not surprisingly, Mantik also cited Joe O'Donnell's statements to the ARRB as evidence the back of Kennedy's head was blown out. Well, this avoided that O'Donnell's family later admitted he was suffering from dementia at the time he made his claims, and that this dementia seemed to circle around the Kennedy family, whereby he'd come to believe he'd been good friends with the first lady, and had personally edited the Zapruder film at Mrs. Kennedy's instruction, and whereby he later sold and signed photos of John-John saluting his father's casket--when he actually hadn't taken the photos, etc.
This leads us then to a question... Who's worse? The demented or dishonest person who makes extraordinary claims? Or the presumably non-demented or dishonest person who continues to repeat these claims to support his own extraordinary claims, long after the demented or dishonest person's claims have been exposed as the claims of a demented or dishonest person?