The 50th anniversary of the assassination of President Kennedy brings out the hustlers --- writers who have penetrated the conspiracy, who know the secret history, who will be happy to tell all for a modest price. You can't blame them. This is their last chance at a big payday. When the Boomers were young and impressionable, they looked up to a movie star president and his goddess wife; they regard the president's murder as the first and biggest tragedy of their lives. And this is their last hurrah; they're getting old. Now, for what may well be the last time, they'll ask the questions that have have fed historians and conspiracy for five decades: Was Lee Harvey Oswald the only assassin? Why did he want to kill Kennedy? Was the government's investigation a cover-up?
In the media orgy surrounding this anniversary, I trust one writer.
I met Edward Jay Epstein in 1967, a few months after he published "Inquest: The Warren Commission and the Establishment of Truth." In his book, Epstein asked very simple questions: "What was the Commission trying to do? What resources did it have to do the job it chose? Who did the work? How was the work done, and how well was it done?"
The answers he got were fascinating. For me, Epstein was even more interesting. I was then a 20-year-old junior in college, working as a researcher and journalist in the summers. Here was a writer who, at the time he did his interviewing, was a 26-year-old college student. And yet this amateur had done what no professional journalist or historian had attempted --- he interviewed all the members but one of the government commission that investigated the assassination of President Kennedy.
Ed Epstein has written 15 books on subjects as diverse as diamonds, the CIA and Hollywood. He has returned twice to the Kennedy assassination. In 1978, he published "Legend: The Secret World of Lee Harvey Oswald." And now he has published "The JFK Assassination Diary: My Search for Answers to the Mystery of the Century."
I trust Ed Epstein because throughout his long and distinguished career he has focused on facts. In a sea of conspiracy theorists, he's a consummate researcher, a cool analyst, an unemotional writer. If you're hoping to learn about the second gunman on the grassy knoll or the CIA's plot to kill Kennedy or the Mafia hitman, his new book --- and this interview --- will disappoint you. If you're looking for a voice of sanity, read on....
JK: You began your investigation half a century ago when you were an undergraduate at Cornell. Why?
EJE: I had dropped out. When I was re-admitted in January of 1964, I had the opportunity to get both an undergraduate and masters degree by writing a thesis. As I had lost touch with political science, the only topic I could think of was the Warren Commission.
JK: You got to see almost everyone involved with the Warren Commission. How was that possible?
EJE: I simply wrote a letter to the members. To my surprise, every member answered. This was before the age of PR, before government bodies had spokesmen, before people involved in commissions like this were sworn to secrecy.
JK: It boggles the mind that a kid with no credentials interviewed these key sources --- but no journalists did. How do you explain this?
EJE: I can't. I suspect that no journalist tried because journalists assumed it was a state secret.
JK: What good deed did Chief Justice Earl Warren --- who wouldn't be interviewed --- do for you?
EJE: The Chief Justice did me an enormous service b y recommending that I see the chief counsel, J. Lee Rankin. That opened the doors to the lawyers, who gave me their files. No one had ever seen an FBI report on a sensitive subject, but I got the FBI summary reports.
JK: Did anyone you interviewed think there was a "conspiracy" to kill Kennedy?
EJE: John J. McCloy, the former high commissioner of Germany, believed it was possible Oswald acted on behalf of others, or at least that the possibility could not be precluded. He thought Oswald may have been a sleeper agent who went haywire, and he was intrigued by a letter that Oswald wrote to the Soviet Embassy 10 days before the assassination. In that letter Oswald mentioned he had a meeting in Mexico City with Valeriy Vladimirovich Kostikov, a KGB officer (Oswald referred to him as "comrade Kostin"). Oswald wrote that he had not been able to "complete our business" because he had been unable "to reach the Soviet Embassy in Havana as planned. I could not take a chance on requesting a new visa unless I used my real name, so I returned to the United States." McCloy told me the letter reeked of intrigue.
JK: Did the Commission rush to judgment?
EJE: Yes. As the memos I obtained clearly showed, the Commission rushed to meet a deadline imposed by Lyndon Johnson, even though the lawyers who were conducting the investigation told Warren they didn't have enough time to resolve important issues.
JK: What did the Commission miss?
EJE: The Commission missed the autopsy color photographs showing the path of the bullet. They failed to demonstrate how Oswald could have fired three accurate shots because, to do so, they needed to do another reconstruction in November 1964 when the foliage was identical. But they couldn't wait until November because LBJ demanded that the report be published in September 1964. And they missed finding out about the CIA plots to kill Castro.
JK: What did you learn that no one else did then, and has that information been confirmed by others?
EJE: George de Mohrenschildt --- who died an hour after I interviewed him --- told me that the CIA knew about Oswald's attempt to assassinate General Walker. The CIA never confirmed that. I learned that the Warren Commission investigation of crucial areas was truncated, which was confirmed by the payroll records I obtained. I learned the autopsy photographs were missing, which was confirmed by Congressional investigations.
JK: Your view is that Oswald killed JFK and that he acted alone. Why did he want to kill JFK?
EJE: My view that Oswald fired the fatal bullet is based on ballistics. I remain open to the possibility he shot JFK at the behest of others. After all, he was in contact with the Cuban Embassy less than 8 weeks before the assassination, and one week before he went underground in Dallas. Castro had warned the US that US leaders would not be safe if plots against him continued. So Oswald might have been carrying out Castro's threat.
JK: What don't you know that you'd like to know?
EJE: I don't know what happened in the Cuban embassy in the last week of September 1963. I spoke to Sylvia Duran, an embassy official, who told me that Oswald got in a shouting match with the Consul. According to what Castro later told an FBI double agent, Oswald talked about killing JFK. He later met with Duran outside the embassy, and his Cuban visa, 5 weeks before the assassination, was conditionally approved. So I would like to know if Oswald was informed of this approval in Dallas and what "business" at the Cuban embassy Oswald was referring to in his letter to the Soviet embassy.
The 110 pages of "The JFK Assassination Diary: My Search for Answers to the Mystery of the Century" amplify these answers. I find Epstein compelling. And credible.
[Cross-posted from HeadButler.com]