Sunday, 28 January 2024 05:18

Edward Epstein: The Critic who Flipped

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Jim DiEugenio reviews the career of the late Edward Epstein on the JFK case, including his 2 million dollar budget for Legend, his refusal to admit to the discoveries of the ARRB, and his ties to the power elite in Texas.

The 88-year-old Edward Epstein was found dead in his apartment on Tuesday January 9th. His nephew, Richard Nessel , said the cause of death was complications from CV 19. (NY Times obituary by Sam Harris of January 11, 2024)

The obituary notes the first of Epstein’s many books was entitled Inquest, published in 1966. As Epstein wrote in his memoir, Assume Nothing, he wrote this book after he flunked out of Cornell and was trying to get back into the college. The man trying to help him, Professor Andrew Hacker, was with him on campus when the news came in that President Kennedy had been killed. Hacker said that finding the truth about the assassination would be a test for American democracy. This gave Epstein the idea of writing a Master’s thesis on the subject. Hacker wrote letters for him in order to talk to the Commissioners, and all agreed except for Earl Warren.

Inquest was published in 1966, and it helped form something of a wave effect, since it just preceded Mark Lane’s Rush to Judgment, Sylvia Meagher’s Accessories After the Fact and Josiah Thompson’s Six Seconds in Dallas. But, as Joseph McBride notes in his book on the media Political Truth, there was a difference between Epstein’s book and the others. McBride quotes from the ending of Inquest:

If the Commission had made it clear that very substantial evidence indicated the presence of a second assassin, it would have opened a Pandora’s box of doubts and suspicions. In establishing its version of the truth, the Warren Commission acted to reassure the nation and protect the national interest. (McBride, pp. 192-93)

In fact, the first part of the book is titled “Political Truth”. McBride comments on this by saying its pretty obvious that the author knew “full well that the assassination was covered up.” But it would seem that he was at least partly trying “to justify the reason for the cover-up.” Further, Warren Commissioner John McCloy told Epstein that the function of that body was to “show the world that America was not a banana republic, where a government can be changed by a conspiracy.” (McBride, p. 137)

Epstein went even further in this regard in first his E-book, The JFK Assassination Diary, and then again in his printed memoir Assume Nothing. In those two places, both published in the 21st century, he revealed that when he asked Arlen Specter how he convinced the Commission about the Single Bullet Theory, he said he told them that it was either that or start looking for a second assassin. (Epstein E book, p. 24) Norman Redlich, one of the most powerful members of the Commission staff agreed with Specter. (Epstein, The Assassination Chronicles, p. 155). As anyone should know, even without being a lawyer, that path is not 1.) Following the evidence, or 2.) A viable standard of proof.

There was also something else that Epstein knew, namely that the Commission was basing their case on unreliable witnesses. For instance, he knew that attorney Burt Griffin had told Dallas police officer Patrick Dean that he was a liar. Dean was in charge of security the day Jack Ruby entered city hall and gunned down Oswald on national TV. (The Assassination Chronicles, p. 110) The Commission also thought that Marina had fabricated a story about Oswald attempting to kill Richard Nixon. And Redlich had written this about her: “Marina Oswald has lied to the Secret Service, the FBI and this Commission on matters of vital concern.” Commission lawyer Joe Ball did not trust Helen Markham or Howard Brennan either. (ibid, pp. 142-44) In an interview Epstein did with Commission lawyer Wesley Liebeler, he referred to the Commission as Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs with Marina as Snow White and Earl Warren as Dopey. (E book, p. 17)

In reviewing Epstein’s work on the Commission in his book and diary –the latter may have been created after the fact—what is puzzling is how many important things escaped him. To point out just two: he did not find out about Commissioner Jerry Ford changing the entering location of the Magic Bullet from the back to the neck in the final draft of the Warren Report. Even though he interviewed Chief Counsel J. Lee Rankin. Rankin had this evidence in his files, and his son turned it over to the Assassination Records Review Board in the nineties. Epstein interviewed J. Lee Rankin.

Another important fact that escaped him is that there was no transcript made of the final executive session meeting of the Commission. Although he describes the debate that took place on this issue at that meeting, he relies on interviews he did for his information. (The Assassination Chronicles, pp. 154-56; p. 604) He could have gone to the National Archives and found out that no transcript of this meeting was made. That is what Harold Weisberg did. (Gerald McKnight, Breach of Trust, pp. 295-97)

If Epstein would have done that, he could have informed people like Senator Richard Russell and Senator John Cooper that they had been hoodwinked about their objections being recorded. And that could have opened up just how deeply they were opposed to not just the Magic Bullet, but the way in which the Commission was being conducted. Author Gerald McKnight later revealed Russell’s disharmony in his book on the Commission, and Cooper assistant Morris Wolff did the same about Cooper. (Wolff, Lucky Conversations, pp.103-15)

Something appears to have happened to Epstein shortly after he wrote Inquest. For instance, he appeared on the record album for the book Scavengers and Critics of the Warren Report. That book was published in January of 1967 and was clearly a cheap smear of the Commission critics, co-written by FBI informant Larry Schiller. There is further evidence for Epstein’s sudden switch in John Kelin’s fine book Praise from a Future Generation.

On November 30, 1966 there was a debate on the Warren Report in Boston. Epstein had been invited to participate, but he declined. Vince Salandria was a participant. After the debate, Salandria was surprised to see Epstein in the audience walking toward him. They had a brief discussion during which Epstein said, “I’ve changed Vince.” Salandria replied with, “You mean you made a deal.” Epstein smiled and said, “You know what happened” and walked away. (Kelin, p. 335, E book version). In fact, years later, when he made an appearance on the Larry King Show he actually said he thought “the men who served on the Warren Commission served in good faith.” (Probe Vol. 7 No. 1, p. 14). Today we have two sources telling us that Jerry Ford knew the Commission was a sham: Morris Wolff and Valery d’Estaing. (See Interview with Wolff, Black Op Radio, 1/11/2024; the film JFK Revisited)

To say that Epstein changed is an understatement. In his next two books, he now became an unrepentant defender of the official story. Because he wrote a book on the Warren Commission, he was invited by The New Yorker to go to New Orleans and write a long article on the JFK investigation being done by DA Jim Garrison. It’s pretty clear from the beginning of his “diary” entries that Epstein had a bias against any new inquiry into the Kennedy case that would lead elsewhere than where the Commission had. For instance, he distorts Garrison’s dispute with the local judges and also on how David Ferrie was initially released by the FBI in 1963. (Epstein, pp. 39-41). In fact, Epstein was accepting advice from the likes of Tom Bethell and Jones Harris on Garrison. Some people who encountered Harris, like the late Jerry Policoff, thought he was rather erratic in his beliefs on the JFK case. Tom Bethell had all the earmarks of being a plant in Garrison’s office. (Click here for that)

But that was just the beginning of Epstein’s lack of fairness. Epstein also had many contacts with Shaw’s lawyers. Beyond that he was also in contact with a lawyer who represented both Gordon Novel and Jack Ruby, Elmer Gertz. Within one week of The New Yorker publishing Epstein’s article, the CIA was circulating it as an example of how they could counter critics of the Warren Report. (Op. cit. Probe, p. 15)

To give just one example of Epstein’s objectivity: he believed Dean Andrews when Andrews said Clay Shaw was not Clay Bertrand. (Epstein’s diary, p. 46). Even though Epstein’s JFK diary was published in the new millennium, he avoids the fact that Dean Andrews was indicted and convicted for perjury on this point. But beyond that, Andrews secretly admitted to Harold Weisberg that Shaw was Bertrand. Weisberg kept that promise until after Andrews passed. And today, there are about a dozen witnesses to this fact. (See the book JFK Revisited, p. 65)

Then there was Legend. With the Church Committee exposing the crimes of the CIA, and issuing a report showing how poorly the FBI had investigated the case, there was movement to reopen the Kennedy case. Clearly an establishment lion like the Reader’s Digest would want to get a jump on such a reopening. Knowing what they wanted, they called in Epstein to do a full scale biography of Lee Oswald. Ken Gilmore, a managing editor there, contacted the FBI and told them the book would put to rest recurring myths surrounding the Kennedy assassination. Gilmore requested that the Bureau allow Epstein to access their files on the case. Epstein did visit the FBI offices at their invitation. (Op. cit. Probe, pp. 15-16)

John Barron, a senior editor, was also friendly with the CIA. Therefore, the Agency did something remarkable, they gave Epstein access to Soviet defector Yuri Nosenko. They also told him he would have access to the tapes made at the Mexico City station of Oswald at the Soviet and Cuban embassies. (ibid) The only other writer I know who had CIA assisted access to Nosenko was Gerald Posner. Before the ARRB I know of no writer who had access to those tapes. Finally, Epstein was in contact with James Angleton both by phone and in person. Epstein freely admits to this in his diary. And here is the capper in that regard. Jim Marrs interviewed a Legend researcher. He asked her why the book did not explore Oswald’s ties to the CIA, which were at least as obvious as those to the KGB, which the book accented. She replied that they were advised to avoid that area. (ibid, p. 24)

According to Don Freed, the book was budgeted by Reader’s Digest for 2 million. Epstein got a $500,000 advance, over 2.5 million today. As noted above, they also furnished him with a fleet of researchers, including Pam Butler and Henry Hurt of Reader’s Digest. All this for a book that tries to convey the almost indefensible tenet that Oswald was first recruited by the Russians, and then upon his return was now pledged allegiance to Castro and this was why Oswald shot Kennedy. The Russians then sent Nosenko over to discourage any thought the KGB was involved, since he said Oswald was never recruited by Moscow.

With all we know today, for Epstein to maintain these types of theses well into the 20th century is simply inexcusable. Because for example, today it appears that Oswald’s file at CIA was being rigged before he went to Russia. And we know that from the declassified work of HSCA researcher Betsy Wolf. And it appears that it was only Angleton who had access to all the files on Oswald at the Agency. (See this) Secondly, Clay Shaw had two CIA clearances and was employed by them as a highly paid contract agent. (JFK Revisited, p. 65). Finally, in a declassified file attained by Malcolm Blunt, it appears that Angleton was in charge of commandeering operations against Garrison. For that file, we only have the cover sheet, with several folders missing.

Let me conclude with two interesting anecdotes about Epstein. Epstein was the last person to see George DeMohrenschildt alive. He was paying him about a thousand dollars a day for interviews down in Florida. On the second day, after the Baron left, he went to a friend’s house where he was staying and allegedly took his own life by shotgun blast. Dennis Bludworth was the DA investigating the case. He wanted to see the notes of the interviews. Epstein said he had no notes or tape recordings. Bludworth did not believe that, not with Epstein paying him that kind of money. Under further questioning Epstein told Bludworth that he was also paying for the Baron’s rented car and he added that:

…he showed DeMohrenschildt a document which indicated he might be taken back to Parkland Hospital in Dallas and given more electroshock treatment. You know, DeMohrenschildt was deathly afraid of those treatments. They can wreck your mind… (Mark Lane, November 1977, Gallery)

Finally, let us make one other note as to how plugged in Epstein was to the power elite on Legend. Billy Joe Lord was on the same ship that Oswald took to Europe in 1959 on his voyage to Russia. In fact, Lord was Oswald’s cabin mate. The pair spent about two weeks together crossing the Atlantic. For this reason Epstein wanted to interview him for the book. Lord did not want to talk to Epstein since he knew he was a critic of anyone who contested the Warren Report. Lord then related that he did meet with two of Epstein’s researchers. (FBI Report of March 15, 1977) One of them said that they may have to apply pressure to Lord. And they knew two people who could do so. One was James Allison, a local newspaper chain owner and a friend of the Bush family. The other was no less than future governor and president, George W. Bush.

These are the perks you get with the equivalent of a $2.5 million advance—on a JFK assassination book.

For more on the career of Epstein on the JFK case, please click here.

Last modified on Sunday, 28 January 2024 14:40
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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