Thursday, 19 October 2023 06:14

Prayer Man: More Than A Fuzzy Picture by Bart Kamp

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Bart Kamp does a minute investigation of the controversial Prayer Man figure, advancing evidence that it is likely Oswald. He then summarizes how hapless the Dallas Police inquiry was, resulting in the death of their prime suspect on national TV.

Bart Kamp’s book is the second to be dedicated to the phenomenon of the Prayer Man figure. The first was by Stan Dane in 2015. Dane’s book was called Prayer Man: Out of the Shadows and Into the Light. It had an introduction by Greg Parker. The three personages thus named are not involved by happenstance. They are all members of the Reopen Kennedy Case forum (ROKC). That group has been one of the strongest associations for advocating that Prayer Man is Oswald.

Bart Kamp is not just a member in good standing of that forum. He is also a good friend of the man who many consider the foremost archival researcher of this era, Malcolm Blunt of England. Bart has also done fine work in recovering and archiving the materials held by the late Harrison Livingstone, a significant contribution which I do not think anyone else would have done. (Click here for that)

One of the things that Kamp does in his book is to chronicle the history of the Prayer Man (PM) figure. To summarize, PM is not the same as figure that many thought to be Oswald staring out in the Altgens 6 photograph with his right shoulder partly hidden by the frame of the Texas School Book Depository doorway. That turned out to be Billy Lovelady. The PM person is standing back in that foyer area with his hands close together, which is why he was dubbed Prayer Man.

As Kamp chronicles, the suspicion about Prayer Man being Oswald was not first noted by researcher Sean Murphy, who is usually given credit for the discovery. As the book points out, there was a circle of Kennedy researchers who were looking into the Altgens 6 figure. This included photographic analyst Richard E. Sprague, writer Harold Weisberg and the young prodigy Howard Roffman. (Kamp, p 24).

The fourth member of this correspondence circle ended up being most important in this aspect. And yet today he is just about unknown in the literature. His name was Richard Bernabei, a professor at Queen’s University in Ontario. The four needed more angles on the people in the doorway and so Sprague got hold of a copy of the film originally made by Dave Wiegman, an NBC photographer who was in one of the camera cars in the motorcade. Bernabei, a skilled sketch artist, was the first to really discern the PM figure and be able to illustrate his observations with distinction. He called the figure “Man in the Shadow”. Kamp is to be congratulated for giving Bernabei—who died in 1979-- the recognition he belatedly deserved.

For decades Bernabei’s writings and sketches lay like lost gems in a treasure chest at the bottom of the sea. In reality they were at Queen’s University archive. But they were bereft because the subject did not really resurface until the new millennium and the online revolution. Kamp centers this first revival in the years 2005-07 with online commentators and acquaintances Charles Wallace, Sean Murphy and Chris Davidson, the last is an authority on the films and photos. (Kamp, p. 26). The rubric Prayer Man did not get applied until 2010 by Murphy on the JFK Lancer Forum. But most of those postings have been lost since that forum was hacked. But now the Wiegman film was supplemented by film from James Darnell who rode in camera car 3.

It was at the Education Forum that a long and fascinating debate was sprung open, initially by Bill Kelly. But Murphy then entered it and this began a fascinating public debate over whether or not PM was Oswald. Murphy resigned from the field at the 50th anniversary of the JFK assassination. But the debate he spawned continued with other followers. ROKC has taken the lead in this debate. But as the author notes, WEBS forum and the Forum Notion also have featured many postings on the subject. As Kamp writes, the Dane book was then the first to appear on the subject in 2015.

No one has been able to analyze the original films taken by Wiegman and Darnell. They are the property of NBC. And for whatever reason, NBC is not cooperating by letting anyone get access to them. (Kamp. P. 29)

Kamp begins the analysis by questioning whether or not motorcycle policeman Marrion Baker did directly go up the front stairs to the depository as many have postulated. Under analysis, Baker appears to walk past the steps and past supervisor Roy Truly.( p. 36). I will not go into that entire discussion at this point. I will just say it leads to a questioning of whether or not the second floor lunchroom episode actually happened. That, of course is the scene where Baker stuck a gun in Oswald’s stomach as he was (or was not) holding a Coke. Truly then advised Baker that Oswald was an employee, and they let him walk away.

For those who are not familiar with that controversy, please read about it here. Suffice it to say that Bart Kamp brought up many interesting details that do bring this alleged incident into doubt. Because after reading that link, one has to wonder: Did Baker actually stop another man on the third or fourth floor, as he mentioned in his first day affidavit? And if they did not sight Oswald in the second-floor encounter, then where was Oswald really?

The last issue leads to two pieces of evidence that Kamp was much responsible for both surfacing and popularizing. These are notes by both FBI agent Jim Hosty and DPD Captain Will Fritz. Hosty, and especially Fritz, were involved in the questioning of Oswald while he was in detention being held by the police. The first notes by Hosty say that Oswald went to lunch at noon. He then went to the second floor to get a Coke. He then returned to the first floor to eat. He then went outside to watch the motorcade. (p. 84) These are quite important, and we owe it to Blunt and Kamp for actually finding these notes. This set of notes had been gifted to the Assassination Records Review Board (ARRB) by Hosty in 1997. The set was not discovered by Kamp until over two decades later.

A few months after Hosty had donated his revealing notes, another set of notes--this time by Fritz--were anonymously donated to the ARRB. It said about Oswald that he was “Out with Bill Shelley, in front.” As the author adroitly asks: How did Oswald know Shelley was there in the first place?

If these two pieces of evidence had been in the record at the start, they would have given Oswald an even stronger alibi then he already had. That alibi was originally supplied of course by Victoria Adams, Sandy Styles and Dorothy Garner. Although Adams was the only one who made it into the Warren Report. These were the three secretaries on the fourth floor at the time of the shooting. As the book notes, using the material in Barry Ernest’s book, when combined, they produced powerful evidence that Oswald was not on the 6th floor at the time of the shooting. (See Barry’s book The Girl on the Stairs, and Oliver Stone’s documentary, JFK Revisited)

On the back of this evidence the author first makes his case for Prayer Man being Oswald. He does this largely by a process of elimination. He goes through the entire building floor by floor naming all the people in the edifice that we know about, and using much of their testimony. He then states that from the best renditions we have of the Darnell and Wiegman films, PM was a white Caucasian. If one throws out all the people who we know were not on that exterior foyer, plus females, African Americans, and males of color, this reduces the possibilities about the Bernabei figure quite drastically. For Kamp, its Oswald. (p. 86)

There is a second major theorem in the book. As mentioned earlier, this deals with the second floor soda machine encounter. Which cyclist Marrion Baker did not mention in his first day affidavit. This reviewer dealt with this paradox in the book, The JFK Assassination: The Evidence Today. It is stunning to behold since what Baker mentioned was not anything like the incident described by the Commission. (DiEugenio, pp. 217-18) At that time Baker mentioned going up the stairs with Truly and upon reaching the third or fourth floor he saw someone walking away from the stairway. Truly said he worked there, so Baker let him go. There is nothing about seeing Oswald through a window of the lunch room. There is nothing about his holding a Coke. They were not even in a room.

I won’t go into all the details, but the author fingers people like policeman Marvin Johnson for changing Baker’s first day affidavit and saying that Baker saw Oswald in a line up, which Baker denied. (Kamp pp. 107-08) He also uses Geneva Hine to impeach the testimony of Mrs. Robert Reid about Oswald being on the second floor right after the assassination with a Coke in his hands. Hine did not leave the building and was stationed in close proximity to where Reid said she saw Oswald right after the assassination. Hine never saw Oswald or Reid from 12: 25- 12: 35. In fact, she saw Reid return after the shooting in a group. The fact that Reid was Truly’s secretary may have had an influence on all this. (Kamp, pp. 111-14)

What the writer is saying is rather radical, but he has evidence to support it. It is this: the second-floor lunch meeting between Baker, Truly and Oswald was invented--probably between FBI agent Nat Pinkston and Truly—in order to deprive Oswald of a sure-fire alibi.

A large part of the second part of the book deals with a micro analysis of the interrogation sessions of Oswald by the DPD, along with the Secret Service and FBI in attendance. This is probably the most complete, extensive and detailed examination of that process in the literature. In fact, Kamp actually finds mini-interrogations by other persons that are not usually included in usual listings of the sessions.

But this whole second part of the book is also integrated with evidentiary examination of points, for example the DPD fingerprint and palm print exam and the paraffin test. About the latter Kamp says it was the first time DPD ever did one on the suspect’s cheek, and it was on the orders of Fritz. (p. 295). The results were not what the DPD wanted. When the FBI got the weapon, they found no prints of value on it. And since Sebastian LaTona was the foremost expert in the country, his testing carried much more weight than Lt. Day at the DPD. (Kamp, pp. 289-91) The problem was by sending the weapon back to Dallas and Day miraculously finding a palm print that somehow LaTona, with all his new and better technology and decades of skill, could not find.

I don’t even want to go into the so-called trigger guard prints which involved PBS, producer Mike Sullivan’s Who Was Lee Harvey Oswald? program and the allegedly long-lost Rusty Livingstone fingerprints. That has turned out to be a first class imbroglio that was deciphered first by Pat Speer and followed up on by Johnny Cairns. For Speer’s long detailed destruction of Sullivan, which may make you a little sick, click here.

As for the paraffin tests they were advertised as being positive on the hands and cheek, (p. 296) But, as we know, this was not accurate. At least for the cheek. In other words, due to Oswald’s denials, the unreliability of alleged eyewitness Howard Brennan (pgs. 298-303), and the failure of the two chemical tests, what was the DPD case on the night of the assassination?

What Kamp says turned the case around, and which J. Edgar Hoover took credit for, was the discovery of the Klein’s order for the alleged rifle used in the assassination from Chicago, with a coupon from a man named Hidell in Dallas/ Fort Worth. (p. 405). In fact, up to that time Hoover wrote, if John Abt—Oswald’s requested lawyer from New York had arrived--the case the DPD had would have been rocked back on its heels.

But here is what I will close the review with to show how layered in irony the book is. Because a fourth theorem of the book is this: The Dallas Police really did not have the Selective Service card with the Hidell alias on it the first day. (See the testimony on pp. 334-339) Obviously this leads to the question: was the Hidell card created after the fact? That is an answer that cannot be firmly replied to yet. But at least Bart Kamp brings up the question.

All in all, this is a credible effort which forges some new ground and replows some old ground in a new way. The matters Kamp examines go literally to the heart of the basics of the JFK case. If his theorems are true, there is no case to answer.

NBC could decide that.

Last modified on Thursday, 19 October 2023 06:50
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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