Thursday, 05 October 2023 17:31

The JFK Files: Pieces of the Assassination Puzzle

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The only reporter in America who does a regular column on the John Kennedy assassination has put together a collection of his best work on both Kennedy's assassination and his presidency. The volume includes interviews with Dan Hardway, Roland Zavada and John Tunheim, along with many others.

Jeff Meek is an anomaly of the first order. He is the only reporter in the country who is allowed to devote a monthly column to the JFK case. It is for the Hot Springs Village Voice and it apparently gets a lot of good feedback since it has been appearing there for three years, since September 15, 2020 to be exact.

At the beginning of the book, the author relates how he got interested in the JFK assassination. Like many, it was from viewing the famous Geraldo Rivera, Goodnight America program in 1975. The was the evening that electrified the country about the assassination like it had not been since the day Kennedy was killed. Rivera had Robert Groden and Dick Gregory on the program and he screened the Zapruder film, for the first time, on national TV.

This inspired Jeff to talk to Dallas Chief of Police Jesse Curry. (p. 5) Curry told him that only 35 policemen knew Jack Ruby. Which, as Sylvia Meagher had already pointed out, is a flat out deception. Ruby’s friend, Reagan Turman, told the FBI that “Ruby was acquainted with at least 75 percent, and probably 80 percent, of the police officers on the Dallas Police Department.” Which means he knew several hundred of them. (Accessories After the Fact, p. 423). But Curry did tell Meek that they probably should have investigated Lee Oswald’s friend George DeMohrenschildt more. (p.9).

This makes a good segue to the House Select Committee on Assassinations (HSCA) and the reporter’s scintillating interview with Dan Hardway. (pp. 13-19) Hardway was recruited from Cornell Law School by Professor Robert Blakey, who became the second, and final, chief counsel to that committee. Dan was teamed with another Cornell law student Eddie Lopez. A couple of their areas of inquiry were the CIA and Lee Harvey Oswald, and Oswald in Mexico City. Dan says that they often requested the identity of the case officer who the CIA appointed for the Cuban exile group, the Directorio Revolucionario Estudiantil, or DRE, in 1963. The CIA would not say who that officer was. We know today that it was George Joannides. And this is the man the CIA sent to perform liaison duties between the HSCA and the Agency. To put it mildly, he was not very forthcoming in that function.

Dan told Jeff, “I don’t think there is any doubt that they [the Agency] had operational interest in Oswald.” (p. 16) Hardway also said that he was very interested in CIA officer William Harvey. Because Harvey and mobster John Rosselli were running Cuban exile hit teams onto the island. But he and Eddie were not allowed the security file on Harvey.

Something that I have never heard Dan admit to before, he does say here. That he was actually pitched for recruitment into the Agency by another CIA liaison to the HSCA, Regis Blahut. He reported this in an outside contact report which he thinks has now been lost. (p. 19). But one of the most historically important things that Dan says is that today he does not think the HSCA conclusions stand up. And, in fact, he adds that even Blakey no longer has a lot of faith in them. One major reason being that the HSCA was misled by Agency disinformation.

This interview is followed up by one with another HSCA staffer. Except this person has not talked nearly as much as Dan. Her names is Leslie Wizelman. (p. 21) She was the third law student Blakey recruited to work on the HSCA. She did not buy the Warren Commission’s official story. But this is what she told Jeff: “Wizelman felt she had given up law school time only to discover that Blakey, initially, had a preconception that Lee Harvey Oswald killed JFK.”

In fact, she felt the committee was simply got going anywhere. To the point that she wanted to resign and return to her education. But she was discouraged from doing so by Blakey, who told her she was acting immaturely. Once this happened, she was assigned to listen to FBI tapes of the Mafia. She did not think there was much of value there. She also had doubts about Ruby being sent into Dallas at the request of the Chicago Outfit. In fact, the more she looked into this, she though it was wrong. In her opinion, the Mob connection to Jack Ruby was that they knew who he was and knew he was easily influenced. (p. 23)

Summing up, she feels that congress is not the place to do a homicide inquiry. One reason being the CIA and Defense Intelligence Agency are very obstinate, since they know they can wait you out. When Jeff asked her if they got close to anything, she replied in the negative. She says they were not given enough information and they were constrained by the politics of the committee. She also adds a fascinating observation. She lived with Dan and Ed and thought they were under surveillance. The man next door worked for the phone company.

Another interesting interview and chapter is the one on Dallas County Detective Buddy Walthers. Walthers found out that Oswald had been at the Alpha 66 meeting house at Harlandale through his mother-in-law. She also said the Cubans had moved out of this house about a week before the assassination. (p. 165) She knew since she lived on the same street, just a couple of doors down. Jeff suspected the woman’s name was Lillian Robinson, which Walthers’ biographer Eric Tagg confirmed was the case. Robinson recognized Oswald’s face on TV the night of the assassination. Look magazine editor T. George Harris had also discovered complementary information about Oswald at the address.

The man who allegedly rented out the house was Manuel Rodriguez Orcaberro, an official of Alpha 66. As Jeff mentions, although some have said Orcaberro resembled Oswald, after looking at photos of the two, such is not the case. Interestingly, the reporter notes that Walthers learned that members of the DRE also attended some of the meetings. The Secret Service knew about Orcabero, but never connected him to the house. The FBI noted that he was violently anti-Kennedy and was probably the highest official in Dallas for Alpha 66. And the FBI did connect him to the Harlandale home through his own words. (p. 167) The reporter wraps this altogether by locating an interviewing Walther’s daughter, Cheryl Cleavenger.

There are also interviews with people who were on the White House staff for Kennedy, like Sue Vogelsinger and Nancy Dutton; also columns about incidents during the Kennedy presidency like the Missiles of October and the Berlin Crisis. Meek also interviewed some of the personages Oliver Stone talked to for his film, JFK Revisited, like Jeff Morley, Barry Ernest and Jim Gochenaur. In the last, Jeff got something out of the Church Committee witness that he did not reveal to Stone. That was this: in Secret Service agent Elmer Moore’s portfolio of pictures, there was one of the infamous backyard photos. Jim said, “he could clearly see a line across the photo through Oswald’s chin area.” (p. 139) It would have been nice if Jim could have stolen that photo.

There some interviews I have reservations about. For example, with Ruth Paine and Secret Service agent Mike Howard. I wish Jeff had talked to Greg Parker and Carol Hewett before doing the first, and Vince Palamara before doing the second. But overall, Meek’s batting average is pretty high. He scores many more hits than pop flies. Especially considering the fact that there are over 40 chapters in the book.

We should all feel appreciative that there is someone doing this kind of work on a regular basis in journalism today.

Last modified on Friday, 13 October 2023 17:28
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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