JAHS Chapter 13
craziness with shells Fritz and curry affidavits
Above: FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover at play in the FBI's Crime Lab. Once thought to be the pantheon of forensic science, it would come out in the 90's that the "science" performed at the crime lab was at times more suspect than the suspects the FBI was investigating, and that there was a demonstrable bias shared by many of the FBI's experts, whereas they would routinely testify beyond what was suggested by the results of their examinations.
The Sin of Pride
A storm is brewing. On 3-11, Warren Commission Counsel Melvin Eisenberg and David Belin visit the FBI crime lab. An internal FBI memo to FBI crime lab chief Ivan Conrad reflects the growing tension: "During the further course of the discussion, Mr. Belin advised that inasmuch as it appeared that almost all of the investigation in this matter had been conducted by the FBI, and since the firearms identification was crucial to the case, the Commission felt that there was merit in having the firearms evidence examined by some other organization and was considering making such a request. Under any other circumstances a comment of this kind would have been the basis for an immediate discontinuance of FBI Laboratory cooperation and service; however, Belin was merely advised in this instance that any decision as to such course of action, of course, was strictly up the Commission." To this memo FBI Director Hoover adds that it is "getting to be more and more intolerable to deal with this Warren Commission."
Two days later, he'd had enough. On 3-13-64 Hoover writes Warren Commission General Counsel J. Lee Rankin and tells him:
"During the course of the discussion of the firearms evidence in this matter on March 12, 1964, between Mr. Melvin Eisenberg of your staff and representatives of this Bureau, Mr. Eisenberg indicated that the Commission desired that the firearms evidence be delivered by this Bureau to Mr. Ronald Simmons, Weapons System Division, Fort Meade, Maryland, on a date in the near future to be specified by the Commission, for the purpose of having an independent re-examination made of the evidence by Mr. Simmons. This, of course, raises the question of similar independent technical re- examinations of other evidence in the case, such as the handwriting and fabric evidence.
Inasmuch as the apparent theory behind any such re-examination is to completely divorce the examination from the FBI, it is suggested that, in order to achieve this objective, the FBI should deliver the evidence-to the Commission and that arrangements for independent examination and delivery to the independent examiner should be handled by the Commission. This course of action will eliminate any possible subsequent allegation that the FBI exerted influence on the independent examiner selected by the Commission.
You may wish to consider this evidence delivery factor in connection with any decision made by the Commission relative to re-examination of the physical evidence."
So, yeah, ole' Edgar is mighty P.O.'d. He has told Rankin, essentially, that if he didn't like playing by his rules he could take his ball and go home. And he said this knowing full well Rankin lacked the staff, budget, and intestinal fortitude to assume control of the physical evidence.
And Hoover's irritation is infectious. A 3-18-64 memo from Dallas Special-Agent-in-Charge J. Gordon Shanklin to file (found in the Weisberg Archives) illuminates: "Inspector Malley said that the Bureau is sending a teletype with instructions re 'a bunch of real crackpots who will be in Dallas next week.' One is Hubert, a criminal law professor at Tulane University. Three attorneys on his staff are Norman Redlich, Joseph Ball, and a man named Genner (phonetic). We are to be extremely cautious in all connection with them. A loyalty investigation is being conducted on Genner and Ball. Redlich has been over in Russia and is on the borderline. Mr. Malley instructed that all personnel be told that if they have any dealings with these people, to keep quiet and not volunteer any information. The Director has said with regard to any request made by them of the Dallas Office, that it must first be cleared with the Bureau. This applies to everything, and we are to be extremely careful how we answer any questions."
Malley had it backwards, of course. Hubert, Ball, and "Genner" (actually Albert Jenner) worked for Redlich; Redlich did not work for Hubert.
And, from there, the antagonism between the FBI and the commission only grows. A 3-19 memo from Assistant Director Alex Rosen to Assistant Director Alan Belmont relates: "The Dallas Office called today and advised that United States Attorney H. Barefoot Sanders, Dallas, had telephonically advised attorneys from the President's Commission had arrived in Dallas today and were in his office. He advised they intended to interview between 50 and 100 witnesses within the next two to three weeks. Sanders requested the Dallas Office to locate six individuals that the attorneys advised they desire to interview on Friday morning and request these individuals to appear at the office of United States Attorney Sanders...The Dallas Office was advised that inasmuch as the United States Attorney's office had the names of the individuals and the addresses, this did not appear to be a matter that should be handled by the Bureau; and that Mr. Sanders should be told that the location of witnesses for the President's Commission where the names and addresses were available, was a matter that should be handled either by the United State's Attorney's office or whomever they should designate, but that it was not a matter that the Bureau should handle. The Dallas office was further advised that in the event the United States Attorney's Office was unable to locate these witnesses and it became a matter of a fugitive-type investigation to locate the witnesses, then the Dallas Office could accept a request to locate the witnesses and advise the Bureau promptly."
And it didn't stop there. A 3-24 memo from Rosen to Belmont adds: "This matter (Note: Rosen means The commission's desire to use outside experts) was discussed with J. Lee Rankin, General counsel, the President's Commission, in the early evening of March 23, 1964. Mr. Rankin was advised that in view of the action taken by the Commission concerning the firearms evidence, it was obvious the Commission does not have confidence in the FBI Laboratory, and that in view of the independent examinations being requested, it would appear desirable for the Commission to have whatever examination they desire from independent experts made and for the Bureau to step out of the picture from the standpoint of Laboratory examinations. It was pointed out to Mr. Rankin that our Laboratory was greatly burdened with a large volume of work and that if the examinations that we made were not going to be accepted, it would appear that there would be no reason for our Laboratory experts to be tied up on these examinations in utilizing the time it requires to furnish testimony concerning matters where independent examinations are being made...Throughout the discussion, Mr. Rankin seemed to be a little disturbed over the Bureau pointing out to him that the Commission obviously lacked confidence in our Laboratory and he repeatedly commented that the independent examinations of evidence were being made at the instructions of the seven members of the Commission. He gave no indication, however, whether this was the desire of certain members of the Commission and others were going along, or whether the Commission was in full agreement concerning this matter."
It is clear from these memos that the FBI considers itself above the Commission, and answerable to the "President's Commission" only as a courtesy to the President. The Commissioners, no doubt, know that dumping the FBI as their main investigative agency would be a political nightmare, and that Hoover would use his media sources to make it look like the Commissioners had gone overboard, and were wasting taxpayers' money. And Rosen knows the Commissioners know this. His threats, then, are really a warning: stop requesting outside help, which could only hurt the reputation of the FBI, or else.
(These threats were far from idle, and, although the Commission proceeded to use a few outside experts, they seem to have had an effect on the Commission's investigation. By way of example...On 3-26, while preparing for the testimony of the FBI's fingerprint expert, Sebastian Latona, the Commission realizes that there were 19 fingerprints and 6 palm prints found on the cardboard boxes of the sniper's nest that were not Oswald's prints. J. Lee Rankin then writes Director Hoover a memo and asks him if they could "please determine, as far as may be possible without the taking of new fingerprints, whether any of these latent prints were made by persons employed in the TSBD building on November 22,1963." Notice that he doesn't ask them to run the prints through their files and find out whose prints these actually are--the entire FBI's Most Wanted list could have been in the sniper's nest, and he cared not a wit--he only asks them to check them against Oswald's co-workers, and then only if the FBI already has their prints. This suggests that Rankin is more concerned with not causing Hoover any unnecessary inconvenience than with finding out who was in the sniper's nest on 11-22-63. For his part, on 3-30, Hoover writes back, and tells Rankin "For your information, employees of the Texas School Book Depository were not fingerprinted or palm printed by this Bureau, the United States Secret Service or the Dallas Police Department." He then tells Rankin that the FBI checked their files and found the fingerprints for 16 individuals believed to have been depository employees, and that none of them matched the 19 unidentified prints. And that's that. On 4-2, Latona testifies that the prints are unidentified. It's not until late August that Rankin realizes the magnitude of this over-sight, and asks the FBI to identify the prints.)
Above: an uncropped version of a famous photo taken by Associated Press Photographer James Altgens. This shows the Kennedy limousine racing off mere seconds after the fatal shots were fired. It also shows some witnesses standing on the railroad bridge...with a view of both the limousine before them, and the grassy knoll to their left.
Extinguishing Smoke Before It Starts a Fire
On 3-23-64, we see the following report: "On March 14, 1964, James L. Simmons telephonically advised SA Robert Butler that he is one of ten witnesses who, while standing on the Commerce Street viaduct, observed the assassination of President Kennedy on November 22, 1963. Simmons advised that he furnished his name as did the other people on the viaduct to a man he thought to be a reporter. He stated that none of the ten persons in the group has been interviewed concerning the assassination, to his knowledge. Simmons stated that he and his friends are all employees of the Union Terminal Company...with the exception of a Dallas Police officer who was standing with his group at the viaduct. He stated that he and his friends have not come forward since they were on duty at the time of the assassination and had not been authorized to leave their jobs to observe the parade. Simmons requested that his name not be mentioned to the other witnesses or to his employer in connection with this call. Following is the list of names as furnished by Simmons: Luke Winborn--switchman; (FNU) Potter--Hostler Helper; (FNU) Bishop--Hostler; Richard Dodd--Track Maintenance Foreman; (FNU) Murphy--Mail Foreman at Terminal Annex; (FNU) Holland--Signal Department Foreman; C.E. Johnson--Machinist; Euel (phonetic) Cowsart--Switchman; (FNU) Foster--Patrolman, Dallas Police Department." (3-23-64 FBI report, FBI file 62-109060, p124)
Well, hell, we wonder why Simmons is so gol-darned anxious to get the recollections of these men on the record. We look back to see if anyone standing on the overpass gave statements to the Dallas Police or Sheriff's Dept. in the days after the assassination. We see that three of them did, and that they had something in common.
1. S.M Holland was on Simmons' list and worked for the Union Terminal Company. (11-22-63 statement to Dallas County Sheriff’s Department, 24H212) “the President’s car was coming down Elm Street and when they got just about to the Arcade I heard what I thought for the moment was a fire cracker and he slumped over and I looked over toward the arcade and trees and saw a puff of smoke come over from the trees and I heard three more shots after the first one but that was the only puff of smoke I saw…”
2. Austin Miller was not Simmons' list and worked for the Texas-Louisiana freight Bureau. (11-22-63 statement to the Dallas County Sheriff’s Department, 24H217) “I saw a convertable automobile turn west on Elm off Houston Street. It had proceeded about halfway from Houston Street to the underpass when I heard what sounded like a shot a short second two more sharp reports. A man in the back seat slumped over and a woman in a bright colored dress (Orange or Yellow) grabbed the man and yelled. One shot apparently hit the street past the car. I saw something which I thought was smoke or steam coming from a group of trees north of Elm off the railroad tracks.”
3. Royce Skelton was not on Simmons' list and worked for the Texas-Louisiana Freight Bureau. (11-22-63 statement to the Dallas County Sheriff’s Department, 16H496) “We saw the motorcade come around the corner and I heard something which I thought was fireworks. I saw something hit the pavement at the left rear of the car, then the car got in the right hand lane and I heard two more shots. I heard a woman say “Oh, no” or something and grab a man inside the car. I then heard another shot and saw the bullet hit the pavement. The concrete was knocked to the south away from the car. It hit the pavement in the left or middle lane.” (Note that Skelton would later testify he thought the shots were dumbballs--a kind of firecracker that is thrown at the cement--because "I could see the smoke coming up off the cement.")
We then look to see if any additional witnesses from the overpass had been interviewed by the FBI. We find one.
4. Frank Reilly was not on Simmons' list but was a co-worker of his at the Union Terminal Company. (12-19-63 FBI report based upon a 12-18-63 interview, by SA William Brookhart, CD205 p.29) “He saw two cars turn on Elm toward the underpass and at this time heard three shots which he thought came from the trees west of the Texas School Book Depository.” (Note that Reilly would later testify that he was standing with S.M. Holland--who said from day one that he saw smoke come out from the trees--and that "It seemed to me like they come out of the trees…on the North side of Elm Street at the corner up there...it’s at that park where all the shrubs is up there—it’s to the north of Elm Street—up the slope.” Well, this is a really strong indication that Reilly saw smoke as well.)
Oh, no. These guys are gonna be a problem. Holland and Skelton thought they heard four shots. Miller and Skelton thought they saw a bullet strike the pavement (which doesn't fit the FBI's three-shots-three hits scenario). And Holland and Miller thought they saw a puff of smoke float over from the trees on the knoll... And that's not even to mention Reilly, who, even through the filter of an FBI agent, managed to make it clear he thought shots came from the knoll (and would later suggest he saw smoke).
Well, what did the others have to say?
Now that depends...on who you wanna believe...
First, the witnesses interviewed by the FBI at this time...that were never re-interviewed.
5. George Davis (3-18-64 FBI report by SA's Thomas Trettis and E.J. Robertson based upon a 3-17-64 interview, 22H837) “Shortly after the motorcycle escort and Presidential car came into view and was at a point just east of the viaduct, Mr. Davis heard a sound which he described as similar to firecrackers exploding. All shots were very close together and he stated it was impossible for him to determine the number of shots."
6. Curtis Bishop (3-19-64 FBI report by SA's Thomas Trettis and E.J. Robertson based upon a 3-17-64 interview, 22H834): (He said that) “when President Kennedy’s car came into view he started down Elm Street past the Texas School Book Depository Building. He heard three shots ring out. He then saw President Kennedy slump over as if he had been hit.”
7. Ewell Cowsert (3-19-64 FBI report by SA's Thomas Trettis and E.J. Robertson based upon a 3-17-64 interview, 22H836) “just as President Kennedy’s car passed the Texas School Book Depository he heard two or three shots ring out and saw President Kennedy slump forward in his seat….he has no idea where the shots came from.”
8. Nolan Potter (3-19-64 FBI report by SA's Thomas Trettis and E.J. Robertson based upon a 3-17-64 interview, 2H834) “when the President’s car…had driven past the Texas School Book Depository Building, he heard three loud reports which sounded like firecrackers. He then saw President Kennedy slump over in his car…Potter said he recalls seeing smoke in front of the Texas School Book Depository rising above the trees.”
Well, that's not very interesting. They pretty much said they saw nothing of importance.
But look again. Potter said he saw smoke, but apparently thought this smoke was in the trees by the depository. And that's interesting...because from his viewpoint the trees by the depository were obscured behind the trees by the knoll.
Well, this suggests then that maybe just maybe the FBI agent interviewing Potter had inserted his own interpretation...and had moved the smoke back towards the sniper's nest window because...y'know...he knew by now not to submit reports suggesting shots came from anywhere else.
Now, let's look at the railroad witnesses who were eventually re-interviewed, and look into the future a bit.
9. Walter Winborn (3-18-64 FBI report by SA's Thomas Trettis and E.J. Robertson based upon a 3-17-64 interview, 22H833) “As the motorcycle escort and the vehicle carrying the president approached the viaduct, Mr. Winborn heard three distinct shots ring out...his attention remained on President Kennedy. He stated, however, that the shots sounded as if they all came from the same area.”
Now here's what Winborn told Barbara Bridges on 3-17-65: "there was a lot of smoke...from out of the trees, to the left."
And here's what he told Stewart Galanor on 5-5-66: “I just saw some smoke coming out in a—a motorcycle patrolman leaped off his machine and go up towards that smoke that come out from under the trees on the right hand side of the motorcade…There was a wooden fence there.” (When then asked if he'd told the FBI about the smoke) “Oh yes. Oh yes.”
10. Thomas Murphy (3-20-64 FBI report by SA Thomas Trettis and E.J. Robertson based upon a 3-17-64 interview, 22H835) “Murphy said they watched President Kennedy’s limousine turn down Elm Street past the Texas School Book Depository and start towards them. He stated he then heard what sounded like two shots and he saw President Kennedy and Governor Connally slump in their seats. Murphy said in his opinion that these shots came from just west of the Texas School Book Depository.”
Now here's what Murphy told Stewart Galanor on 5-6-66: (When asked how many shots he heard) “More than three.” (When asked where the shots came from) “they come from a tree to the left, of my left, which is to the immediate right of the site of the assassination…on the hill up there. There are two or three hackberry and elm trees. And I say it come from there.” (When asked if he saw smoke) “Yeah, smoke...in that tree.”
11. Richard Dodd (3-18-64 FBI report by SA's Thomas Trettis and E.J. Robertson based upon a 3-17-64 interview, 22H835) “when the motorcycle escort and the automobile carrying President Kennedy approached the area where he was standing his attention was directed on President Kennedy…he saw president Kennedy slump forward and simultaneously heard shots ring out. He stated he did not know how many shots were fired, but that the sounds were very close together.” Double head shot.
Now here's what Dodd told Mark Lane in an interview filmed 3-24-66: “We all, three or four of us, seen about the same thing, the shot, the smoke came from behind the hedge on the north side of the Plaza. And a motorcycle policeman dropped his motorcycle in the street with a gun in his hand and run up the embankment to the hedge.”
12. James Simmons (3-19-64 FBI report by SA's Thomas Trettis and E.J. Robertson based upon a 3-17-64 interview, 22H833) "he recalled that a motorcycle policeman drove up the grassy slope toward the Texas School Book Depository Building, jumped off his motorcycle and then ran up the hill toward the Memorial Arches. Simmons said he thought he saw exhaust fumes of smoke near the embankment in front of the Texas School Book Depository Building.”
Now here's what Simmons told Mark Lane in an interview filmed 3-28-66: “As the presidential limousine was rounding the curve on Elm Street, there was a loud explosion…it sounded like a loud firecracker or a gunshot, and it sounded like it came from the left and in front of us toward the wooden fence. And there was a puff of smoke that came underneath the trees on the embankment. It was right directly in front of the wooden fence.”
13. Clemon Johnson (3-18-64 FBI report by SA's Thomas Trettis and E.J. Robertson based upon a 3-17-64 interview, 22H836) “Mr. Johnson stated at that time he did not know that it was shots and he could not state how many shots he heard. His attention remained on the vehicle carrying President Kennedy and he observed this car until it sped away. Mr. Johnson stated that white smoke was observed near the pavilion but he felt that this smoke came from a motorcycle abandoned near this spot by a Dallas policeman.”
Now, Clemon Johnson was not re-interviewed for many years afterward. But here's what he told Larry Sneed, for Sneed's book, No More Silence, published 1998. "I didn’t have any idea where the shots came from, not even a guess…I did see smoke, lots of puffs of smoke, but I was of the opinion that the smoke was coming out of those motorcycles. The smoke was coming up off the ground out where the motorcycles were, not on the grassy knoll."
Now, how about that? James Simmons came forward on 3-14-64. He told the FBI they should talk to some of his co-workers--railroad workers who'd witnessed the shooting from the triple underpass. The FBI then did as much. SA's Trettis and Robertson interviewed Simmons along with eight of his co-workers on 3-17-64. But here's the thing. While the reports on two of these men reflect the interviewee saw smoke on 11-22-63, and one reflects the interviewee thought shots had been fired from west of the building, only one of these reports reflects that the interviewee saw smoke come out from the trees--and it makes out that it was the trees down by the depository! So that's zero of nine saying they saw smoke come from the trees by the knoll. And yet a closer look proves that three of the four railroad workers to make statements or be interviewed before Simmons came forward, and four of the five (not previously making a statement) to be interviewed over the years afterwards, made statements indicating or suggesting they saw smoke come out from the trees.
So that's seven of nine who suggested they saw smoke come out from the trees when writing a statement or being interviewed by someone other than Trettis and Robertson, and zero of nine who suggested they saw smoke come out from the trees when interviewed by Trettis and Robertson.
And, let's not forget--the other two also said they saw smoke--but thought it was down on the street!
So that's nine of nine who suggested they saw smoke when writing a statement or being interviewed by someone other than Trettis and Robertson, and but two of nine who suggested they saw smoke when interviewed by Trettis and Robertson.
Well, it follows then that Trettis and Robertson (and almost certainly their superiors within the FBI) were blowing smoke...about the smoke...or, rather, the lack of smoke.
The reports written by Trettis and Robertson were designed to conceal, and not reveal...
And these weren't the only reports constructed in such a manner...
During this same period the FBI questions just about everyone who'd worked in the Texas School Book Depository on that dark, fateful day. Strangely, even though a number of these witnesses admit they were standing on Elm Street when the motorcade passed by, very few of them are asked what they witnessed. Based upon their statements, in fact, it seems all the FBI wanted to know from these witnesses was where they were when the shots rang out and if they knew Oswald.
Among the women not saying much of anything: Jane Berry, Gloria Calvery, Billie Clay, Mary Sue Dickerson, Peggy Hawkins, Karen Hicks, Gloria Holt, Stella Jacob, Carol Reed, Sharon Simmons, Betty Thornton, Karen Westbrook, and Mary Lea Williams.
One witness, however, tells us something. Georgia Ruth Hendrix (3-24-64 statement to the FBI, 22H649) reveals “At approximately 12:15 PM on November 22, 1963, I left the Depository Building and took up a position along the parade route along Elm Street about 150 feet west from the Depository Building entrance and viewed the presidential motorcade… I recall that just a few seconds after the car in which President John F. Kennedy was riding passed the position where I was standing, I heard a shot. At first I thought it was salute to the President, but when the second shot was fired and I saw the President fall down in the car I knew someone was shooting at him. When I heard the third shot I turned and fled back into the Depository Building.” Shot after the head shot.