Wednesday, 30 November 2022 19:43

Mel Ayton's The Kennedy Assassinations: A Review

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A new book by Mel Ayton is the latest in a long line of titles that try, in spite of overwhelming evidence to the contrary, to show that the Warren Commission was right, after all. The book is reviewed here by Jim DiEugenio.

The Kennedy Assassinations: JFK and Bobby Kennedy

By Mel Ayton

Say this about Mel Ayton, he will not give up. Seven years ago, Martin Hay reviewed his book Beyond Reasonable Doubt—co-written with David Von Pein. Martin left the authors without a leg to stand on and made a mockery of their bombastic title. (Click here for that review)

The subtitle of his new book is “Debunking the Conspiracy Theories.” In his preface, Ayton says that the bogus revelations in the John F. Kennedy case were put to rest by the late Vincent Bugliosi in Reclaiming History and the late John McAdams in JFK Assassination Logic.

This author spent 458 pages of analysis and evaluation in taking apart Bugliosi’s mammoth book. There is no other way to say this: Bugliosi lied in his introduction when he said he would present the critics’ arguments the way they wanted them presented. He then doubled down on this by saying “I will not knowingly omit or distort anything.” (James DiEugenio, The JFK Assassination: The Evidence Today, pp XII-XIII)

What was so shocking about the former prosecutor’s initial claim was how easy it was to show it was utterly and, in fact, knowingly false. For a prime example, see how Bugliosi dealt with Jack Ruby’s polygraph. (DiEugenio, pp. 267-70) It seemed to me that, with that book, Bugliosi was simply playing to the crowd. In this case, the MSM. A perfect example of this was his treatment of Doug Horne on the paradox of Kennedy’s brain, which had disappeared. Horne tried to prove that the surviving pictures of Kennedy’s brain cannot really be his. And in Oliver Stone’s documentary, JFK: Destiny Betrayed, we proved this along three evidentiary lines. Horne was on camera elucidating one of those lines: the testimony of autopsy photographer John Stringer. (DiEugenio, pp.160-65)

The book by John McAdams was reviewed by four different authors: Pat Speer, Gary Aguilar, Frank Cassano and David Mantik. The last three were on this site. (Click here to read them.) The remarkable thing about those four critiques is that there is very little overlap between them. Which confirms there was a lot of objectionable material in the book.



This book is an anthology of essays Ayton has written and published, many of them updated. Before the five essays on the JFK case and six on the RFK case, Mel leads off with his Introduction, entitled “Conspiracy Thinking”. This is his way of branding any author who disagrees with him as a heretic who does not abide by the rules of evidence and logic. To any knowledgeable person, its quite the opposite. Let us just take a few examples.

Ayton says that the guilt of James Earl Ray in the Martin Luther King case is overwhelming (p. 8). Then why did Bill Pepper win the very accurate and detailed mock trial for Ray? Why did he also win the civil suit in Memphis against Lloyd Jowers for his culpability in the conspiracy. (The Assassinations, Edited by James DiEugenio and Lisa Pease, pp. 492-509)

He then adds this: “The post-Watergate United States became intensely susceptible to conspiracy arguments.” (p. 2) Well that would happen, if the American public was to finally see the evidence in the Zapruder film, as it was allowed to do in 1975—for the first time, after 12 years. The shocking sight of President Kennedy’s body rocketing backwards with terrific force, when Lee Harvey Oswald was supposed to be behind him—well that might do the trick Mel. Especially after trusted newsman Dan Rather misrepresented what happened in the film back in 1963.

One last example: Ayton quotes historian Henry Steele Commager as saying in the new millennium, that ”There has come in recent years something that might be called a conspiracy psychology: a feeling that great events can’t be explained by ordinary processes.” (p. 11) That old Priscilla Johnson, recycled by Michael Shermer, chestnut. The idea that Oswald did not shoot Kennedy was propagated way back in 1967 by the first wave of Warren Commission critics: works by Mark Lane, Sylvia Meagher, Edward Epstein, and Harold Weisberg, among others. In December of 1967, Josiah Thompson’s book, Six Seconds in Dallas, actually made the cover of a large circulation magazine, Saturday Evening Post. Lane’s book Rush To Judgment was a number one bestseller.

These books did what the MSM did not do. As Barry Ernest says in Oliver Stone’s documentary, they compared the Commission’s 26 volumes of evidence and testimony with the original 888 page Warren Report. They found, quite often, the evidence did not line up with the conclusions in that report. The Commisioners were banking on the premise that no one would ever read those 26 volumes. Not only did some intelligent people read them, they were so outraged they felt compelled to write about the difference, at length.

But in spite of that, Ayton titles his first essay, originally published in 2004, “The Warren Commission Report: 40 Years later, it Still Stands Up.” Could anyone truly think such was the case? One of his opening sentences is that Oswald was a self-appointed champion of Castro. (p. 18) If there is one thing we know about Oswald today is that he was not in any way under the influence of Castro. As Jeff Morley has shown, that was simply the first cover story put out by the Cuban exiles in New Orleans, and paid for by the CIA. (Click here for more.) Ayton does not mention this important essay at any point in his book.

On the next page, Ayton writes something even worse. He says that if the FBI and CIA had been more forthcoming with the HSCA, some of the mysteries about Oswald would have been cleared up. (p. 19) This is ridiculous. It was the CIA that would not allow the HSCA’s report on Oswald in Mexico City to be released to the public back in 1979. Commonly called the Lopez Report, Mr. Ed Lopez—a co-author--told this writer that the CIA made so many objections to the report that it took them 6 hours to get through the first two pages. That report strongly suggests that someone impersonated Oswald in Mexico City. (DiEugenio, pp.284-300) Also, the HSCA did not include, and the ARRB did not declassify during their active years, the work of Betsy Wolf. That work indicates that someone at CIA rigged Oswald’s file from the time he defected to Moscow in 1959.(Read more.) Why would that happen? And why would Oswald be impersonated in Mexico City? And did the Warren Commission report on these events? No, they did not. Further, as Jeff Morley has written-and stated in Oliver Stone’s film JFK Revisited-- HSCA Chief Counsel Bob Blakey did not know the CIA lied to him about what George Johannides was doing in 1963 with the Cuban exiles in New Orleans. Blakey did not know that Johannides was supervising those exiles before he accepted him as a liaison to the committee. Why did the CIA lie about this?


His next essay tries to say that the mystery of the assassination can be solved by exploring the life of Lee Oswald. It would have been a breath of fresh air if Ayton had written something outside of the Warren Commission tripe. Nope. According to Mel, nothing new has been discovered about Oswald since 1964. He was a misfit, embraced by radical ideology and he took a shot at General Edwin Walker.

I hate to tell Mel, but Oswald did not take a shot at Walker. (DiEugenio, pp. 100-102) Not unless bullets can change their color and caliber. And if Oswald wanted to be an important political figure, why did he never take credit for killing Kennedy? (Ayton, p. 43)

Next up is an essay on Jack Ruby. More of the same. In this chapter there is no mention of Dr. Louis J. West and his treatment of Ruby in prison. If you don’t mention West then you do not have to reveal he worked for the CIA in their MK/Ultra program. (Tom O’Neill, Chaos, pp. 377-88)

He also writes that Ruby left his apartment at 11 AM on Sunday morning and walked down the Main Street ramp. (Ayton, pp. 48-49) First, there is plentiful evidence that Ruby left his apartment earlier that morning and was seen at the DPD headquarters. In fact, he asked three witnesses, “Has Oswald been brought down yet?” (DiEugenio, p. 224) In addition a church minister said he was on an elevator with Ruby at 9:30 AM. Further, when his cleaning lady called Ruby early that morning, she did not think it was him who answered the phone. (Ibid)

As per Ruby walking down the Main Street ramp as the Warren Commission held, that was seriously vitiated by the House Select Committee on Assassinations. Sgt. Don Flusche did not testify before the Commission. But he told the HSCA that he was in perfect position to view the ramp at that time. Because he had parked his car diagonally across the street and was leaning on it. Flusche knew Ruby and watched the entire episode; before and after the shooting. He said, “There was no doubt in his mind that Ruby did not walk down the ramp; and further, did not walk down Main Street anywhere near the ramp.” (DiEugenio, pp. 227-28). This is one of the reasons why the HSCA differed on this point with the Warren Commission. They thought it was more likely that Ruby came in through an unsecured door thought an alley. (HSCA Vol. 9, p. 139)

Now that he has—unjustifiably-- denied any kind of plot through Ruby, he goes after Mark Lane and the possibility of a CIA conspiracy. I wish I had a dollar for every time someone like Ayton says that the reason Lane prospered was because the public could not accept a misfit like Oswald could change the course of history alone. (Ayton, p. 66)

Utter nonsense. The reason Lane was successful was because he mounted powerful arguments in his book Rush to Judgment, debated his opponents in public venues, and secured both radio and TV time since he was a cogent speaker who worked tirelessly to get his message out. (Click here for more.)

Incredibly, in discussing Lane’s trial against Howard Hunt in Florida, he does not mention the Hunt memorandum. (Ayton, pp. 72-73) This was a document written by James Angleton which reporter Joseph Trento saw. Its intent was to provide a cover story for Hunt being in Dallas on the day JFK was assassinated. It was shown to Trento by Angleton himself. (DiEugenio and Pease, p. 195) Ayton implies that the whole story began with someone thinking Hunt was one of the 3 tramps. The legal proceedings began when former CIA officer Victor Marchetti wrote about the document, but he had not seen it, just heard of it. Angleton told Trento that Hunt was in Dallas that day. But further, Trento came to understand the following: “Angleton was trying to protect his own connections to Hunt’s being in Dallas.” And further, that, “It was Angleton himself who sent Hunt to Dallas because he didn’t want to use anybody from his own shop. Hunt was still considered a hand-holder for the Cuban exiles, sort of [Richard] Helms’ ‘unbroken pet.’” (ibid, p. 196). Can one imagine leaving all of the above out in any discussion of that civil trial?

His last chapter in the JFK section is entitled, “Did Castro Kill JFK?” The premise is so goofy, its not worth reviewing this part. But I must point out a school boy whopper by Ayton. He writes that Joan Mellen relies on the testimony of Madeleine Brown in her book A Farewell to Justice. (Ayton, p. 77) If one checks the detailed index of Mellen’s book, Brown’s name does not appear. How can a writer rely on a witness that he or she does not mention?


As bad as Ayton’s work on JFK is, his section on the Bobby Kennedy case might be worse. What can one say about a man who writes over 100 pages on that case and somehow leaves out the name of Dr. Thomas Noguchi? A man who, in those hundred pages, mentions the name of DeWayne Wolfer only in passing--and that is while he is quoting someone else. An author who does not describe the discoveries of Judge Robert Wenke’s Panel, which almost broke open the case. To anyone who knows the case, this is all simply inexcusable. There is no logical or evidentiary reason for these kinds of scholarly lacunae. Because those two men and that proceeding are central to the RFK case.

What does Ayton give us instead? He uses authors like Godfrey Jansen, Robert Blair Kaiser, Ron Kessler, and men like Michael McCowan and LAPD Detective Chief Bob Houghton to both smear Sirhan’s character and simplistically skew the facts of the shooting. Back in 1970, Jansen wrote a book called Why Robert Kennedy was Killed: The Story of Two Victims. Anyone who picks up the book, as I did many years ago, can easily see what kind of volume it is. It is not in any way a study or examination of the assassination. It is, plain and simple, a political tract. Jansen had lived for years in the Middle East. He was pro-Arab and anti-Israel and he built the book around those two poles. Even the New York Times could not stomach the book. The late Anthony Lukas concluded that Jansen had turned “Sirhan’s act into an object lesson in Middle East politics. Perhaps that makes good politics; it makes a bad book.” (NY Times, May 2, 1971.) If an official story book will not pass muster for the NY Times, who will it satisfy? Well, maybe Mel Ayton?

I thought no author in the RFK field would ever use McCowan again after I wrote a long review of Dan Moldea’s RFK book in the anthology The Assassinations. (Edited by James DiEugenio and Lisa Pease, pp. 610-31) Moldea did not inform the reader of very much about McCowan, except he was a member of Sirhan’s defense team. To describe that team as inept, does not begin to describe how bad they were. Suffice it to say that they never considered the possibility that their client was innocent. Which, in light of Noguchi’s autopsy—which we will get to later--is almost incredible. And for Moldea and Ayton to not sketch in the background of McCowen is, again, inexcusable.

McCowan had been drawn up on charges of theft and mail fraud. According to a girlfriend of his, he was also possibly dealing in the black market of arms. Because of all this, he was suspended from LAPD. At the time of his entrance into the case he was on probation and had appealed his sentence. (DiEugenio and Pease, p. 629) A bit fishy perhaps? Important for the reader to know? Obviously.

Then there was the fact that he offered to work without compensation. Plus the distinct possibility he had recruited an informant into the camp of leftist writer Don Freed when he was entrapped by the police on a phony explosives charge. (ibid) He tried once to categorize Sirhan as a communist. He told Sirhan he had to follow his lawyers’ disastrous trial strategy, or he was finished. This is the same McCowan who wrote a memo discouraging his legal team from calling Sandy Serrano as a witness for the defense. Serrano had seen a young woman and man running down the exterior stairs after the shooting; and the girl was shouting “We shot him! We shot him!” When asked by Serrano who they shot, the girl replied, “We shot Senator Kennedy.” (ibid, p. 586) Is this not a bit exculpatory? But McCowan’s reports were pretty much like this one: reliant on LAPD spin and lacking in insight and context. Despite all this, Moldea--and now Ayton—refuse to even consider the fact the man could have been a plant. And they do not want the reader to suspect that, so they dim the lights around him.

It is easy to see why. Moldea wrote that SIrhan confessed to McCowan. He told him that as he was looking right at him, RFK turned his head. And that is when he shot him. Neither Moldea nor Ayton explain the problems with this scenario. Noguchi’s autopsy report states that all the projectiles that hit RFK came in at close range, from behind, and at extreme upward angles. The witness reports say that Sirhan’s arm was extended horizontally. Did Sirhan stoop down and then jump forward to shoot RFK? No one saw that. Also, what about the bullets that hit RFK in the back? After shooting him in the head, did Sirhan run around the senator and then fire his Iver Johnson 3 times into Robert Kennedy’s back? No one saw that either.


In backing McCowan and Moldea, Ayton does not disclose that Moldea broke an agreement which he prints in his book. He said that he would give everyone a chance to see what he would print about them beforehand. The McCowan exchange was not tendered to either Sirhan or his late brother Adel prior to publication. (ibid, p. 630) Ayton does not inform the reader about that important piece of information. Or that Moldea wrote a letter to RFK investigator Lynn Mangan saying he would take that quote out of the paperback version due to this problem. But he didn’t. Nor does he disclose that Sirhan vehemently denies the exchange ever took place. Or that the story McCowan told to Moldea about the shooting was at odds with what Moldea had earlier said in his book was his solution to how the crime actually happened. (ibid, p. 631) How and why Ayton could not detect this—it was quite obvious—is a bit surprising. And why, without revealing any of this, he would want to introduce new materials by McCowan, praised by Moldea, is a bit startling.

Thomas Noguchi’s autopsy of Robert Kennedy has been praised by no less than Dr. Cyril Wecht as one of the finest medicolegal examinations he has read. As authors like Philip Melanson have written, that study states that all the bullets that came into Kennedy entered from behind, at very close range, and came in at rather extreme upward angles. Since Sirhan was in front of Kennedy, this has led witnesses like maître d Karl Uecker to declare that “There’s no way that the shots described in the autopsy could have come from Sirhan’s gun…Sirhan never got close enough for a point bank shot. Never!” (Philip Melanson, The Robert F. Kennedy Assassination, p. 33; see also Lisa Pease, A Lie too Big to Fail, pp. 275-76) In fact, before the grand jury, Noguchi said the fatal shot, behind the right ear, was at most no more than 2-3 inches from the skull. (Pease, p. 68)

This creates a problem for Ayton, in both distance and direction. So he employs Vince DiPierro to say that, yes I saw Sirhan and he was that close to RFK. As this writer discovered years ago, there was pressure placed on DiPierro to amend his story. If one compares Vince’s early statements to those which Ayton uses, one can make that argument. (Pease,p. 49, pp. 72-74) Before the grand jury, Vince had said that Sirhan was somewhere between 4-6 feet in front of Kennedy. And he was behind Uecker, who was a large, thick man. Ayton also tries to use photographer Boris Yaro to deny this spatial fact. But as Pease wrote years earlier, Yaro was looking through a camera viewfinder in a foreshortened sightline, and told the FBI that Sirhan and Kennedy were “little more than silhouettes.” (LAPD Case Summary, p. 25).

There are two other evidentiary arguments which Ayton either slights or simply avoids. Those deal with the number of bullet holes in the walls and ceiling of the Ambassador Hotel pantry—the crime scene—and the chain of custody issues dealing with both the handgun allegedly used and the bullets in evidence today. Concerning the former, Pease did a sterling job illustrating this serious problem, and she did it with documents and photos. She concluded there were 13 bullet holes. (Pease, pp. 257-64) As per DeWayne Wolfer’s handling of the gun and the projectiles, well the fact that, in 100 pages, Ayton pretty much avoids the man and this issue tells you all you need to know about Wolfer’s actions. (For the prurient reader I suggest Pease’s book pp. 81-84 and 91-97)

Ayton goes beyond the norm in trying to discredit the idea of Sirhan as a programmed Manchurian Candidate. Yet he leaves out the name of Dr. Eduard Simson-Kallas. Kallas was one of Sirhan’s psychologists while imprisoned. He came to the conclusion that Sirhan was not mentally afflicted, but that he may have been hypnotized into committing the crime. And he attacked Sirhan’s defense team for their pleadings on this issue. He also criticized them by saying it was not possible for a person to hypnotize himself into such a deep trance. There must have been an external programmer. He was so disgusted with Sirhan’s defense that he called it the “psychiatric blunder of the century.” (Pease pp. 381-82)

Ayton also tries to neutralize the famous Bjorn Neilson/Palle Hardrup Danish Manchurian Candidate case by saying that Hardrup later said that when the police suggested he may have been hypnotized, he used that excuse as a way of escaping liability for his crimes. (Ayton, p. 165) Again, this is dubious. Because all one has to do is read Wikipedia to see that Hardrup told several witnesses that Neilson hypnotized him several times in prison, before the crimes had been committed. (See also Pease, p. 392) Secondly, Lisa Pease traces a case in her book from Sebenico, Yugoslavia in 1923. A hypnotist placed a policeman in a trance and gave him a block of wood. He told him to fire into the crowd. Once the wood did not work, the cop pulled out his gun. He killed three people. The hypnotist was jailed, the policeman was placed in an asylum. (Pease, p. 394)

In his endless attempt to discredit Sirhan, Ayton even uses Carmen Falzone. And he bills him as a friend of Sirhan’s at California’s Soledad Prison. (Ayton, pp. 196). Falzone said that Sirhan was in a waking state during the shooting of RFK and he killed Bobby Kennedy for the Arab cause. This one is really beyond the pale. As Lisa Pease and myself wrote, Falzone was first an informant on Sirhan and then was used by the DA’s office to spy on Sirhan’s family. (DiEugenio and Pease, p. 630) He was supposed to implicate Sirhan and his family in a plot that was allegedly being run by Muammar Qaddafi of Libya. But Falzone got details of his story screwed up, like the hand which SIrhan used to fire the gun. (For the whole tawdry episode about Falzone, see Melanson, pp. 116-26)

This is an aspect of the story that Ayton wants to avoid. That is the extent which the authorities went to in order to smear, manipulate and convict Sirhan. For example, he leaves out the roles of Hank Hernandez and Manny Pena on the initial Special Unit Senator inquiry into the RFK murder. What Hernandez did to witness Sandy Serrano has become infamous in the RFK literature. She saw the Girl in the Polka Dot Dress running down the stairs after the shooting. DiPierro had seen that girl inside the pantry next to Sirhan. Serrano had to be negated since she told her story on TV with newsman Sandy Vanocur. I should not have to tell the reader how Hernandez broke every protocol in the book in conducting Serrano’s polygraph examination. (Pease, pp. 104-16). And as hostile as Hernandez was to witnesses who tended to exonerate SIrhan, he played softball with those people who should have been suspects in the case e.g. Michael Wayne. When Hernandez asked if he had been arrested, Wayne said yes. Hernandez said he could say not since he was a youth at the time.

As I have seen for myself, Pena actually wrote on lead sheets about the Girl in the Polka Dot Dress, “Do not follow.” In my opinion, there was no more important lead to follow in the RFK case. The fact that it was not shows us that LAPD was not interested in solving the case. That this goes unreported and uncommented on in this book tells us all we need to know about it.

Last modified on Friday, 02 December 2022 00:11
James DiEugenio

One of the most respected researchers and writers on the political assassinations of the 1960s, Jim DiEugenio is the author of two books, Destiny Betrayed (1992/2012) and The JFK Assassination: The Evidence Today (2018), co-author of The Assassinations, and co-edited Probe Magazine (1993-2000).   See "About Us" for a fuller bio.

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