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Wednesday, 07 July 2021 04:00

Marina’s Sponsor and Oswald’s Fifth Wallet

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While researching for an upcoming article on the Fair Play for Cuba Committee, Paul Bleau stumbled upon some intriguing information concerning Marina Oswald’s immigration sponsor, so he decided to put his FPCC article on hold and document the fascinating evidence regarding Marina’s sponsor and yet another Lee Harvey Oswald wallet.

I am trying to imagine the scene. A divorced housekeeper who cannot hold a job, and whose son is in Russia having made the news for attempting to defect and who married a Russian. The mother asks an ex-boss, who had recently dismissed her, if he can sponsor her son’s Russian bride in order to help them get into to the U.S. The year is 1962, at the height of the Cold War.

On March 15 of that year, this is precisely what Byron Phillips agreed to do, thereby “guaranteeing and assuring anyone concerned that he will personally see that in the event Marina Nikolilava Oswald is permitted to come to the United States that she will not become a ward of any political subdivision of this country, and that he has ample property holdings and assets to provide for her in the event that it should become necessary.”

While I cannot confirm what the obligations were in 1962 for an immigration sponsor, we can assume they were no less strict than they are today: The Form I–864 Affidavit of Support is a legally enforceable contract, meaning that either the government or the sponsored immigrant can take the sponsor to court if the sponsor fails to provide adequate support to the immigrant. In fact, the law places more obligations on the sponsor than on the immigrant—the immigrant could decide to quit a job and sue the sponsor for support.

When the government sues the sponsor, it can collect enough money to reimburse any public agencies that have given public benefits to the immigrant. When the immigrant sues, he or she can collect enough money to bring his or her income up to 125% of the amount listed in the U.S. government's Poverty Guidelines.

The sponsor’s responsibility lasts until the immigrant becomes a U.S. citizen, has earned 40 work quarters credited toward Social Security (a work quarter is about three months, so this means about ten years of work), dies, or permanently leaves the United States.” (Legal Encyclopedia, Chapter 3)

Who on earth would take such a risk? Would he not try to first get some information from the State Department? For all he knew, Oswald was a traitor and Marina was another “godless commie!” Is there a link between Byron Phillips and the CIA’s David Phillips from Fort Worth, Texas? Was Byron Phillips ever questioned?

While making some interesting headway researching The Fair Play for Cuba Committee, which will be the subject of an upcoming article, I got sidetracked by another bizarre event. I decided to put the FPCC research on hold and dig away at this perplexing offshoot.

Marguerite in Vernon

From June 1961 to Aug 1961, Marguerite Oswald was in Crowell, Texas at Macadams Ranch working for Otis Grafford as housekeeper/cook. (Oswald 201 File, Vol 3, CD75, Part 2) Mrs. Grafford affirmed

that she liked Marguerite, but she fought with her mother Mrs. Macadams. She then went to Vernon in August 1961. Vernon is 30 miles east of Crowell, 170 miles outside of Fort Worth. Boyd is a Fort Worth suburb.

A short one-page FBI report dated 12/1/63, states that Byron Phillips was questioned by special agent Jarrell H. Davis on the previous November 25. (Click here and scroll to page 17) Marguerite worked for Byron from August or September 1961 (August 1 according to John Armstrong) to January or February 1962 as a housekeeper and practical nurse for his mother and father who lived close by. She never said anything anti-U.S.; she had told Mr. Phillips about her son going to Russia, marrying a Russian girl, fathering a child; that her employment was terminated because she talked all the time which made his father nervous. He stated that just previous to or shortly after she left his employment, she mentioned that she was having trouble getting someone to sign the sponsoring affidavit to be submitted to Immigration and Naturalization vouching adequate support for the wife and child.

On November 20, 1961, the FBI Dallas office sent one of 5 copies of a memorandum to the FBI director, reporting that Marguerite Oswald had received news from her son Lee Harvey Oswald in Russia. He was confident he would be able to return to the U.S., but expressed doubt about the prospects of such a move for his new Russian bride Marina. Marguerite’s address is listed as 1808 Eagle Street, Apartment 3, Vernon, Texas.

She reached out to the Vernon Red Cross in Jan 1962; they wouldn't float a $450 loan to him, but they agreed to copy a letter that Marguerite was sending and declare it a true copy (the pre-photocopy era). (CE 2731, WC Hearings, Vol. XXVI, p. 110)

According to Agent Davis’ further inquiries, after ending her employment with Byron Phillips, Marguerite soon found work at the Vernon Convalescent Home and moved in with Mrs. John Bishop to share expenses for three or four weeks in Vernon sometime in February or March. She then found work as a practical nurse and housekeeper for Robert S. Leonard, who also resided in Vernon, before working for Mrs. B. F. Hutchins. at 1810 Eagle Street in Vernon. Mr. Leonard recalled Marguerite saying that her son went to Russia as some sort of government agent.

In a letter to Marguerite dated March 21, 1962, Lee states that he will probably head directly to Vernon upon arrival to the United States. (Commission Document 818) The letter refers to Byron Phillips as a “business friend” of Marguerite and talks about numerous press clippings about Oswald sent to him by Marguerite which increased the odds that Oswald’s turncoat persona was knowable if not known.

Apparently, she went to Crowell, Texas and stayed six weeks with Joe Long in May-June 1962 before leaving to go back to Fort Worth at the end of June 1962 to be near Lee and his family. (Oswald 201 File, Vol 3, CD75, Part 2)

In these and other interviews with people she worked for from mid-1961 to mid-1962, Marguerite Oswald comes across as overly talkative, fussy, bossy, upset by her son being in Russia, penniless, and professionally unstable: A real Mrs. Catastrophe.

Byron Phillips

Byron Phillips signed this very important affidavit on March 15, 1962 (Warren Commission Exhibit 2653) (824) and (197) nearly two months after terminating Marguerite’s employment for being tiresome with his dad and plunging him into a world of uncertainty with a cast of misfit characters intertwined with a Cold War nemesis that he became partially responsible for. Did he ever meet, correspond, keep tabs on these brave souls he so wanted to help…? No! Did he take precautions to alert intelligence during the Missile Crisis in late 1962? It does not seem so. Was he investigated beyond this very cursory inquiry by agent Davis or by the Warren Commission? Not at all. Perhaps there was no need to.

A September 10, 1963 Memo to FBI agent James Hosty directs him to interview Byron Phillips in an effort to locate Oswald.

On November 30, 1963, at the Six Flags Inn of Dallas, with Robert Oswald present, agent Blake of the Secret Service and another unknown agent questioned Marina and asked about a black wallet containing 180 bucks and the identity of Byron Phillips, who had signed the affidavit. She said that neither she nor Lee knew him and that Marguerite was the one who had contacted him when she was living in Vernon. She also stated that the wallet was given to Lee by Marguerite when she came back to Fort Worth and that they always kept that wallet at home.

The following article gives a pretty good profile of Phillips and family:

This rancher was a distinguished gentleman who owned 660 acres of farmland, was a father, and the Deacon at the Fargo Baptist Church. He sat on the local School Board for some ten years, attended business college, was chosen “outstanding Rural Citizen” in 1962, was elected president of the Palomino Club in 1964, and the list goes on. Despite quite the pedigree, this seemingly professional, savvy businessman seems to have been quite imprudent when he put his reputation, and potentially quite a bit of money, on the line when he put his signature on a compromising legal document sponsoring an unknown Soviet bride of a “quasi defector” in order to help a housekeeper he had fired a few weeks earlier. Note that sometime around June 1961, Mrs. Otis Grafford who had hired Marguerite for a couple of months recalled Marguerite telling her of reading about her son's “defection” to Russia in a Fort Worth newspaper. Where on earth was the due diligence? Unless, of course, Byron had been reassured, or asked for a favor by someone who had an interest in sending Oswald over to Russia and now wanted him back. How could the FBI interview be so weak when it came to understanding motive and Modus Operandi of this mystery sponsor? Not even Byron’s daughter and grandson were made aware of his decision. (This, I believe is to his credit.)

Let me quote about Phillips from a Peter Newbury blog. Here is what he posted in 2012:

The American Embassy suggested he (L.H. Oswald) secure an Affidavit of Support for Marina Oswald.

Again, OSWALD asked his mother for assistance by mail; Marguerite Oswald obtained an Affidavit of Support from her former employer Byron Philips. A CIA Office of Security Memorandum generated by Ethel Mendoza noted that OSWALD’s address book contained the listing “Mr. Phillipes LI 2-22080” then showed deleted traces. [NARA 1993.07.24.10:48:22:340550] This was Byron Phillips, resident of Wilbarger County, Texas. Marguerite Oswald had mailed Byron Phillips’s Affidavit of Support to her son.

Byron Philips commented about these traces in May 1977:

Well, I didn’t know that boy. His mother worked for my mother and daddy for two or three months and that is the only connection I had with him. I never did see him. As far as CIA contact, well, it had to be local over here, I didn’t have any contact with anybody that I didn’t know. There’s a lawyer over here, I’m not sure if he’s FBI-connected or not, he called me and talked to me about him one time. That’s the only one that ever talked to me about him…that’s before it ever happened. A lawyer over here named Curtis Renfro (born April 5, 1905; died September 1984) called me. He just asked me if I knew him…

Curtis Renfro said he knew Byron Philips. As to whether he called Byron Philips in regard to OSWALD before the assassination, he remarked, “I don’t recall a single word about it, I don’t know the fellow, there’s so much going through my office since 1961 and 1962 that I can’t remember it all. I’m 75 years old. I don’t have any records on it.” Curtis Renfro was asked if he had ever had any intelligence community contact: “Not that I know anything about, if I had a call in my life from them I didn’t know it.” In 1963, Curtis Renfro gave the FBI the names of people for whom Marguerite Oswald had worked, in Vernon, Texas. Then he stated that he did not know or remember Marguerite Oswald. [FBI DL-100-10461, DL 89-43 11.29.63 p. 178]

Note how Byron shortens Marguerite’s work stint with him by three months, positions her employer as his parents, and insists on how he did not know Lee Harvey Oswald; which in a way makes his willingness to support Marina seemingly more bizarre—not less. If Curtis Renfro was, in fact, hired by the FBI to find out for whom Marguerite had worked, there is a timing problem according to FBI records, as the FBI had interviewed all of Marguerite’s Vernon/Wilbarger contacts/employers by November 26, 1963, less than 4 days after the assassination. In terms of investigating a lone drifter’s mother, the speed at which the FBI was ready to pounce was stunning, to say the least…unless, of course, they already had files on mom and son. Is it credible that a lawyer would not remember anything about the mother of the most notorious “alleged” assassin of the last century? Another key point is that Renfro inquired about Oswald before the assassination according to Byron.

A Wild Hunch

David Atlee Phillips is the Intel name that has popped up most often in the research I have conducted over the years, sharing some 20 touch points with Lee Harvey Oswald in and around the last 8 months or so of Oswald’s life. He was raised in Fort Worth, Texas, a mere 100 miles from Byron’s place of birth, Gorman Texas. Wilbarger County is 160 miles away. Marguerite had her home in Fort Worth while she worked in Wilbarger County. Why did carless Marguerite work for some 8 months more than 2 hours away from her apartment? Imagine if Byron and David were somehow related. It was this nagging thought that distracted me from the research on the FPCC I was so focused on. A long shot I admit, but still the type worth following up on.

From Gary Hill, Jim DiEugenio, John Armstrong, Larry Hancock, David Josephs, Bill Kelly, Bill Simpich, Jim Hargrove, and Len Osanic, I received interesting insights, links, and documents that helped me build Byron’s profile, but not much that could link him to intelligence. On the one hand, some of these researchers did find Byron’s vouching for Marina suspicious; one researcher, however, noted how poor tradecraft it would be for David to use a relative for such an endeavor.

Through websites such as, find-a-grave, find a person, etc., I was able to build a fairly complete family tree for both David and Byron and found no common bloodlines going back 4 generations.

Articles from Wilbarger County about community events did not reveal any social ties. Still, the decision by Byron to sponsor Marina, without performing due diligence, to help a dismissed housekeeper without follow-up interest in the midst of the Cold War deserves more scrutiny. The next area of research was to talk to living witnesses, and close ones, if possible.

Jeffrey Cantrell

According to the above newspaper article, Byron’s daughter, Jane Phillips Cantrell, was a teacher in Sherman, Texas. Based on web research, Jane is currently 83, living in Sherman, Texas. Jane has two sons: Jeffrey Don and Jerel Lynn.

With time, I was able to contact Byron’s grandson Jeffrey, who was gracious enough to answer questions for me and to relay some to his mother who also answered. During a phone conversation on June 20, Jeffrey, now in his early fifties, was able to confirm that Byron in fact lived in Fargo, a small town of 100 people, 12 miles north of Vernon where his wife’s family was based and that he was, in fact, an important rancher in Texas. He owned and operated Fargo Gin. Byron and his wife would spend late springs to mid-summers in Colorado. We were able to confirm that there were no links between Byron and David.

Jeffrey candidly admitted the following: He had tried to research the Marguerite Oswald history with the family and his mother simply confirmed the employment and never commented beyond this. Jeffrey’s main source of information on the Kennedy assassination to this point is Killing Kennedy by Bill O’Reilly and he conceded that he did not really know that much about the case. In fact, he was under the impression that Byron had refused to sponsor L.H. Oswald, because he would not want to involve himself with someone he did not know. Only when I spoke with him did he find out that Oswald, while in Russia, married Marina and that it was she and their daughter that Byron sponsored.

Jeffrey also pointed out that he, while working for Freeman’s Exhibits, was given a mandate for the TSBD. He said that he could not see how two of three shots could hit two people.

On the key question, i.e. how could a businessman like Byron agree to sponsor the Russian bride of Oswald for the benefit of a dismissed caretaker at the height of the Cold War, Jeffrey did not have a definitive answer. But he did offer that his grandparents were very trusting people. At the end of this open and cordial call, we agreed that I would send him a series of questions for his mother:

Here are the questions sent to Jeff and answers from his mother:

Jeff Cantrell <jdcantrell>

Thu 6/24/2021 7:20 PM

To: Paul Bleau <>;

1) Did she personally meet Marguerite? Yes

What are her recollections about her? She was nice. Got where she was a little domineering. Maybe that is why Byron let her go.

2) Did she know Byron sponsored Marina (Oswald’s Russian bride)? No

3) What were the reactions in her family and the larger community about Marguerite after 1) The 1962 Missile crisis 2) the assassination. It was terrible and weird that they had been associated with someone who had assassinated JFK.

4) Does she have an opinion as to why Byron sponsored Marina, some two months after dismissing Marguerite, during the height of the missile crisis? Doesn’t know about this.

5) Does she know if Byron later regretted his act (if he somehow followed up)? No -really didn’t talk about it anymore.

6) Is it possible that Byron was reassured, or asked to do a favor by someone connected to gvt…in sponsoring Marina? No

7) Whatever else she can share (documents, insights)…would be helpful.

8) Does an LI-2-2080 mean anything to you (this was found in Lee Harvey Oswald's notebook beside the name Mr. Phillipes). Nothing

Did you hear about Oswald taking Byron’s wallet and having it on him when he got arrested? (Note: this last question is from Jeff to me.)

Jeff Cantrell

(Followed by texting:)

Oswald’s Fifth Wallet

You kind of sense from Jeffrey’s email that Marguerite’s stint in Vernon and area is a bit of a hot potato…short answers, painful memories. The very last line in our email exchange, however, has me totally flummoxed.

There has been so much controversy about Oswald wallets that it is difficult to keep track of all the problems including the likely planting of an Oswald wallet at the Tippit murder scene, another in Oswald’s possession after being arrested at the Texas Theater, two other wallets and/or billfolds linked to Oswald, the “loss” of a wallet by investigators according to John Armstrong, etc.

Well, apologies to researchers. But it is about to get worse:

On November 30, 1963, Marina Oswald was questioned about a black wallet containing 180 dollars (worth $1,584 in today’s dollars) and the identity of Byron Phillips. She answered that Marguerite gave Lee the wallet and that Lee was frugal, thus explaining the quantity kept in the wallet. We shall shortly see that this is Oswald’s fifth wallet!

On December 1, 1963, Marguerite stated that she obtained the wallet from the Waggoner National Bank in Vernon, Texas. (Commission Exhibit 1787)

On June 24 and June 26, 2021, Byron’s grandson (and daughter) stated that the wallet “Oswald took” belonged to Byron.

National archives Photo of Oswald’s brown wallet during arrest and contents: Wallet from Tippit murder scene

According to John Armstrong research before this article was written, there were a total of four wallets belonging to Oswald—not one of them was black—there was attempted obfuscation around three of them! Here is what respected researcher Jim Hargrove sent me from a John Armstrong speech about the wallets:

The last example of evidence alteration I will discuss is the most difficult to follow. It involves the two Oswald wallets found in Oak Cliff and is detailed in Dale Myers’s new book With Malice. A wallet was found at the scene of the Tippit murder by Dallas Police, which contained identification for Lee Harvey Oswald and Alik Hidell. Twenty minutes later, a different wallet was taken from Oswald’s left rear pocket by Detective Paul Bentley. This wallet, the “arrest wallet” also contained identification for Lee Harvey Oswald and Alik Hidell. Both wallets remained in custody of the Dallas Police from November 22nd until November 26th. Bentley turned over Oswald's “arrest wallet” to Lt. Baker. The wallet and contents were kept in this well-worn envelope in the property room until turned over to the FBI. Photographs of the “arrest wallet” and contents were taken by the Dallas Police on November 23rd and given to the FBI and Secret Service.

The wallet found at the Tippit murder scene turned up in Captain Fritz’s desk drawer, where it remained until November 27th. On November 25th, Oswald’s possessions were returned from Washington to be inventoried and photographed. Here we begin to see how the FBI tampered with the wallets.

The FBI inventory listed two wallets—items #114 and #382—yet neither of these inventory sheets showed the wallets coming from the Ruth Paine house, but neither wallet was initialed by Dallas Police. Neither wallet was listed on the Dallas Police handwritten inventory completed at Ruth Paine’s house. Neither wallet was listed on the Dallas Police typed inventory which became Warren Commission exhibits. Neither wallet was photographed among Oswald’s possessions on the floor of the Dallas Police station. Yet two wallets were listed on the FBI inventory—where did they come from? Were they on the Dallas Police evidence film?

To answer that question, I looked at the two rolls of film returned to the Dallas Police by the FBI. (Hold up Dallas Police film) Item #114 was listed as “brown billfold with Marine group photograph.” But negative #114 showed only the Marine group photo. When a photograph is made from this negative, the “brown billfold”—allegedly from Ruth Paine's house—disappeared (SLIDE 24).

Item #382 (SLIDE 25) was listed on the FBI inventory as “red billfold and one scrap of white paper with Russian script.” But negative #382 (RIGHT 10) showed only the paper with the Russian script. When a photograph is made from this negative, the “red billfold”—allegedly from Ruth Paine's house—disappeared.

Both negatives were altered between the time the Dallas police turned over their original undeveloped film to the FBI and the FBI returned copies of that film to the police. Why cause the wallets in the original film to disappear? Because the original photos taken by the Dallas Police were probably photographs of the “arrest wallet” and the “Tippit murder scene wallet”—two wallets which contained identification for Oswald and Hidell which would have been unexplainable.

To find out what happened to “Oswald’s arrest wallet” and the “Tippit murder scene wallet,” we must again look at the Dallas Police film. The 2nd roll of film begins in the middle of negative #361 and ends in the middle of negative #451. All of the negative images after #451, with one exception, were ruined. The one exception is the negative image of a wallet. When the negative image is developed into a photograph, you can see that it is “Oswald's arrest wallet.” This wallet, along with all other items in this film, were sent to Washington on November 26th. Remember when I told you the Dallas Police were blamed for the 255 missing negatives because of “faulty technique?” Does this look like faulty technique? Or does this look like another example of the FBI splicing together and tampering with the original Dallas Police film?

With the “Oswald arrest wallet” in Washington, the “Tippit murder scene wallet” remained in Captain Fritz’s desk drawer. On November 27th, James Hosty picked up the “Tippit murder scene wallet” from Fritz and gave Fritz a signed receipt. Hosty then took that wallet and other items obtained from Fritz to the Dallas FBI office. According to Hosty, these items were neither photographed nor inventoried. They were placed in a box and flown to Washington by Warren DeBrueys. Two days later, the Dallas Police notified the FBI they had failed to photograph the wallet and contents and wanted photos. The FBI ignored this request and never photographed the “Tippit murder scene wallet.” The only known photos of this wallet are from WFAA newsreel film.

When the FBI finished altering Oswald’s possessions, Hoover sent this March 1964 memo: “The Bureau has re-photographed all of the material in possession of the Bureau and will send a complete set of these photographs to you by separate mail.” Included among the hundreds of new FBI photographs were items #114 and #382. These two wallets were substituted for “Oswald’s arrest wallet” and the “Tippit murder scene wallet.”

As crazy as this already was, now we can add a black wallet with Byron Phillips’s identity and 180 dollars in it to the mix of problematic hidden evidence!

Unanswered Questions

The research into Byron Phillips, someone who, seemingly out of the blue, recklessly sponsored Marina Oswald during the pinnacle of the Cold War, proved frustrating in that it opened the door to more questions than it answered. There does not seem to be any identifiable link between Byron and David. When he vouched, the assassination of JFK was probably not even being discussed by the lead conspirators. He seems to have been a good family man and solid community citizen. This story does stand out as another glaring example of just how underwhelming the FBI/WC investigation was or, perhaps, they already had the information they needed.

What were the real origins of the wallet? Promotional gear from the Vernon bank given to Marguerite? …or one that made its way from Byron to Lee via Marguerite? If the latter… How?

On what basis is Byron’s daughter certain that it belonged to Byron?

Does the Oswald in “Oswald took” refer to Marguerite?

What constituted the “identity of Byron Phillips” inside the black wallet?

Was the identity of Byron Phillips in the wallet placed by Lee to remind Marina of her sponsor she may need? ...soon?

Was the cash left on Marina’s dresser by Oswald really the 180 dollars the FBI reported being in the wallet?

Did this 180 bucks belong to Byron?

How on earth does a lone drifter, father of two, minimum wage earner, or often unemployed person for some 18 months since his penniless return from Russia, how does that person save the equivalent of 1600 dollars today? When he squanders some of his own money for his mindless FPCC adventure, travels to Mexico City, buys gifts for Marina, acquires expensive photographic equipment, moves several times, hires lawyers, buys guns and ammunition, pays for communist literature, etc.? White Russians even paid Oswald’s YMCA fees because he was so destitute.

What happened to the black wallet?

Did the FBI deep-six Byron’s wallet? How? When? And why?

Would Marina, not have required the sponsoring support guaranteed by Byron after Oswald’s assassination?

How was D.A. Curtis Renfro involved in all of this and what is his background?

Why was he asking questions about Oswald before the assassination?

Add to these all the mystery around Byron’s secretive sponsoring of Marina with seemingly little oversight for a dismissed housekeeper during the height of the Cold War and we have ourselves another enigma, courtesy of the Warren Commission and friends.

What is not enigmatic for this author is any question of ill intent by Byron. There was none. He sponsored too early in the game for any idea of plot participation to be considered. Based on his very laudable profile, and input from Jeffrey and Jane, he was either acting as a charitable person who was helping the needy, looking for no recognition for himself; or, unbeknownst to his close ones, he was asked to help bring an American patriot home. This part of the mystery has probably reached a dead end for now, one that underscores the complete sham of an investigation that took place back then. When independent researchers and Byron’s grandson do more research about the wallets and Marina’s sponsor than the FBI, the DPD, the CIA, and the Warren Commission combined…in two weeks, you know something is rotten in Denmark.

I do not think Jeffrey can answer many more questions than he already has. Marina, Ruth Paine, the DPD, and the FBI certainly have a lot they can offer about the wallet. And Curtis Renfro was an important figure in his town who should be easy enough to profile. But that will be for another time, perhaps looked into by other researchers.

The area I had been researching before being sidetracked by this new rabbit hole was about perhaps the most incriminating link between David Phillips and Lee Harvey Oswald. One that had them most likely playing on the same side: The FPCC!

Stay tuned.

Addendum: I would like to thank Gary Hill, Bill Simpich, Len Osanic, Jim DiEugenio, David Josephs, John Armstrong, Bill Kelly, and Jim Hargrove for their comments and research support. A special thank you to Jeffrey and Jane Cantrell (two great Texans!) for the help they provided.

Last modified on Thursday, 08 July 2021 04:32
Paul Bleau

Paul Bleau holds an MBA from McGill University; he owned and ran a leading marketing communications agency for 25 years, and supervised Canada’s first "denormalization" campaign of the tobacco industry.  Since 2006, he has been professor at St. Lawrence College. His break-through study of how history textbooks cover the JFK assassination and how their authors defend themselves, along with a series of follow-up pieces, are published on this site. He has also been a guest on BlackOp Radio.

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