Official Irresponsibility, Neglect or Complicity in Failing to Protect JFK
from JFK: Conspiracy of Silence
by Charles Crenshaw and Gary Shaw, 1992
J. Gary Shaw was formerly co-director of the JFK Assassination Information Center in Dallas. He has written several books on the assassination of John F. Kennedy, and was co-author of Cover-Up: The Government Conspiracy to Conceal the Facts about the Public Execution of John Kennedy (1976).
President Kennedy and Jacqueline arrived at the Hotel Texas in Forth Worth at 11:50 PM on November 21, 1963. The President’s Secret Service entourage went to the Press Club for drinks but found that Texas law prevents the sale of alcohol after midnight. So they went to an all-night unlicensed club called The Cellar, where drinks are served by half-naked women.
The owner of The Cellar, Pat Kirkwood, is a close acquaintance of Jack Ruby. Kirkwood is a soldier of fortune, with his own airplane, and flies to Mexico a few hours after the assassination. Kirkwood’s father is a partner in a Fort Worth gambling house with another Ruby associate, Lewis McWillie. According to FBI documents, McWillie was employed by Cuban Mafia boss Santos Trafficante, who was involved in Castro assassination plots.
Four of the late-drinking Secret Service agents will be in the follow-up car the next day. The three agents assigned to guard the President and his wife, left two Forth Worth firemen in charge and joined their colleagues at the Cellar. One of the agents in the follow-up car attempted to run toward the President’s car after the first shot was fired, but was ordered back by the agent in charge.
None of LBJ’s Secret Service agents were drinking, and none of those who were drinking were disciplined, even though that should have been grounds for dismissal.
The Protection Research Service, the intelligence arm of the Secret Service, had received more than 400 possible threats from March through November 1963. The HSCA determined that three of these were significant.
The first was a postcard warning that the President would be assassinated while riding in a motorcade, which resulted in additional protection when the President went to Chicago in March.
The second credible threat may have resulted in the cancellation of the President’s scheduled trip to Chicago for an Army-Air Force game. On October 30, 1963, the Secret Service learned that Chicago resident Thomas Arthur Vallee, an outspoken critic of Kennedy, was in possession of several weapons and had requested time off from work on November 2, the date of the President’s planned visit. When arrested by Chicago police, Vallee had an M-1 rifle, a handgun, and 3,000 rounds of ammunition in his automobile. The Secret Service learned that Vallee was a Marine Corps veteran with a mental health history and a member of the John Birch Society. None of this information was passed on to the President’s Dallas protection group, even though a Secret Service report after the assassination noted the similarity in the backgrounds of Vallee and Oswald, suggesting that Vallee might have been the Chicago patsy.
In fact, Abraham Bolden, the first black to serve on the Secret Service White House detail, and who was assigned to the Chicago office in 1963, alleged that shortly before November 2, the FBI notified the Secret Service that it had received a teletype message stating that an attempt would be made on the President’s life by a four-man team using high-powered rifles. At least one member of the team had a Spanish-sounding name. There is no evidence of the HSCA ever questioning the FBI about such a message.
After the assassination, a report from the agent in charge of the Chicago Secret Service office detailed reliable information about “a group in the Chicago area who may have a connection with the JFK assassination”. A member of the group, Homer S. Eschevarria, an outspoken critic of Kennedy, reportedly stated that his group now had, “plenty of money” and would soon be buying more military arms ‘as soon as we (or they) take care of Kennedy”. The financial backers were reported to consist of “hoodlum elements” who were not restricted to Chicago. The FBI indicated that Eschevarria and his group were affiliated with some of the more militant anti-Castro terrorists.
Attempts by the Secret Service to continue the investigation into this group were blocked when LBJ appointed the Warren Commission and ordered the FBI to assume full investigative responsibility, thereby locking out both the Secret Service and the Dallas police department. Abraham Bolden’s information was buried.
The third significant threat occurred on November 9, when an informant for the Miami police department recorded a conversation with a right-wing extremist named Joseph A. Milteer, who outlined an existing plot to assassinate the President with a high-powered rifle from a tall building. The Secret Service was informed of this threat on November 12, and a scheduled motorcade in Miami on November 18 was canceled.
It was obvious from the recording, however, that this plot was ongoing and flexible. Milteer stated “It’s in the works…there ain’t any countdown to it. We have just got to be sitting on go. Countdown, they can move in on you – and on go they can’t. Countdown is all right for a slow prepared operation, but in an emergency operation you have got to be sitting on go.” Milteer also said that “They will puck up somebody…within hours afterward…just to throw the public off”. But no effort was made to relay this threat to the agent in charge of preparations for the Dallas trip. (Transcripts of this recording were given to the Warren Commission and are in the National Archives.)
Five days after the Secret Service was informed of this threat and only five days before the President’s death, another FBI teletype was reportedly received in the New Orleans FBI office by Security Code Clerk William Walter. It warned of a conspiracy “to assassinate President Kennedy on his proposed trip to Dallas on November 22-23, 1963, and that “a militant revolutionary group” were the plotters.
Two days prior to November 22, Louisiana authorities received information that two men were on their way to Dallas to kill the President. On November 20, Ruby employee Rose Cheramie was found bruised and disoriented, lying beside a road near Eunice LA. The state trooper who found her reported that, while driving her to the hospital, she described being abandoned by two men whom she perceived to be of Latin or Italian extraction, who said they were on their way from Miami to Dallas to kill the President. The trooper described her to be lucid and her account quite believable. Several hospital employees confirmed that Cheramie had stated before the assassination that the President was going to be murdered.
The Louisiana state police did not report this incident to the Secret Service or other officials until after the murder of Oswald, after which Dallas police Captain Will Fritz was notified. Fritz replied that he was not interested and the Louisiana authorities dropped the matter. The Chief of Customs for Houston, who had confirmed parts of Cheramie’s story, also reported this to the FBI, which similarly declined to investigate.
Rose Cheramie was killed on September 4, 1965, one of more than fifty individuals associated with the JFK assassination or its investigation who died within three years of the event. Again, she was found lying injured beside a road and taken to a nearby hospital. Her death certificate read DOA (dead on arrival) in three places, but hospital records describe treatment of her injuries over a period of more than eight hours. The records also describe a “deep punctate stellate” wound to her right forehead, which is the kind of wound produced by a contact gun shot. The driver who brought her to the hospital swears he did not hit her and there was no blood, flesh or hair found on his automobile.
At 10:30 AM on November 22, Dallas County Sheriff Bill Decker meets with his deputies outside their headquarters at the corner of Main and Houston overlooking Dealey Plaza. He instructs them to remain outside the building but to take no part in the security of the motorcade. These orders had been delivered to Decker via a phone call from a still unknown source in Washington DC.
Similarly, Dallas Police Chief Jesse Curry told his officers to end supervision of Friday’s crowd at Houston and Main, a block short of the ambush, on the pretext that traffic would begin to thin out there. In his later book, JFK Assassination File, Curry stated that he was following the orders of the Secret Service.
At 12:30 PM on November 22, after taking two unusually tight turns which require the motorcade to slow to a crawl (normal procedure requires a minimum speed of 44 mph), with no flanking motorcycle cops, no Secret Service agents on the rear bumper of the President’s car, and no typical security preparations such as sealing building windows, shots ring out from Dealey Plaza and the President’s head explodes. In the Warren Report, this is attributed to President Kennedy’s desire to be accessible to his constituents, but all cited agents later acknowledged that Kennedy was very cooperative with the Secret Service and never interfered in their jobs, and the normal high security measures were employed at every other motorcade route on the Texas tour.
After JFK was had last rites and was declared dead at 1:00 PM, Dr. Vernon Stembridge, chief of surgical pathology at Parkland Hospital, and Dr. Sidney Stewart, Parkland resident in pathology, were explaining, politely but forcefully, to Secret Service agents and Presidential staff that, pursuant to Texas law, there would be an autopsy performed on Kennedy’s body before it left the hospital (at that time, killing a President was not a federal offense and fell solely under state homicide statutes). The “men in suits” responded, even more forcefully, that they had orders to take the President’s body back to Washington DC and there would be no Texas autopsy. Talking turned to shouting, hand-waiving and finger-pointing. The doctors stormed out of the room, as it was difficult to win an argument with men with guns.
At 1:25 PM, Justice of the Peace Theron Ward arrived at Parkland Hospital, but his attempts to enter the emergency door were blocked by Secret Service agents. The judge was forced to go around to the front entrance and make his way back to the emergency room, where he was confronted by Dallas Coroner and forensic pathologist Dr. Earl Rose, who had already given orders to ready an operating room for an autopsy he thought could be completed in 45 minutes.
Walking up to, but not through, the door of Trauma Room 1 where Kennedy’s body lay, Justice Ward’s Secret Service escort, Agent Kellerman, asked him to release the body into Secret Service custody. Theron called Dallas District Attorney Henry Wade, who told him that a “missile” (bullet) must be taken into custody, and then called Dallas Police Chief Curry to confirm that. The judge, ignoring the legal advice, simply points to the exit, breaching Texas law and the normal rules of investigative procedure and chain of custody, allowing Agent Kellerman to leave with the body.
A phalanx of guards poured into Trauma Room 1 as the coffin was being rolled out with Kennedy’s body, surrounded it and escorted it towards the emergency room exit. A man in a suit, leading the group, was carrying a submachine gun. In the main hallway, Dr. Earl Rose, chief of forensic pathology, confronted the men in suits. Agent Roy Kellerman, the man with the gun, said sternly “My friend, this is the body of the President of the United States, and we are going to take it back to Washington.”
Dr. Rose replied, “No, that’s not the way things are. When there’s a homicide, we must have an autopsy.” Kellerman barked, “He’s the President and he’s going with us”. “The body stays”, responded Rose with equal intensity, whereupon Kellerman took a stance and brought the firearm into shooting position and the rest of the men in suits draped their coattails behind the butts of their holstered pistols.
Kellerman stated, “My friend, my name is Roy Kellerman. I am special agent in charge of the White House detail of the Secret Service. We are taking President Kennedy’s body back to the capitol”, and Rose responded, “You are not taking the body anywhere. There’s a law her and we’re going to enforce it.”
Admiral George Burkley, the White House Medical Officer, said “Mrs. Kennedy is going to stay exactly where she is until the body is moved. We can’t have that…he’s the President of the United States”. “That doesn’t matter”, replied Dr. Rose rigidly. “You can’t lose the chain of evidence.”
“Goddammit, get your ass out of the way before you get hurt”, screamed another of the men in suits. Another snapped, “We’re taking the body, now”. Dr. Kemp Clark, Director of Neurological Surgery at Parkland, wanted to detain the coffin, but the men in suits clearly had their marching orders and would not be deterred by the requisites of either medicine or law. The casket was loaded into a hearse, with Jacqueline in the back seat, and the President’s body left for Air Force One, on which Jackie would stay with the coffin except for the short swearing-in ceremony for LBJ. Somewhere high over the United States, the new President receives information – not from Dallas but from the White House situation room – that the assassination is the act of one lone individual and that no conspiracy exists.
While JFK was being declared dead and illegally removed from Parkland Hospital and the state of Texas before an autopsy could be performed, a medical student at Parkland had been outside the emergency room entrance with another student and noticed a bullet hole in the windshield of the President’s limousine. Upon overhearing her comment about the hole, a Secret Service agent jumped in the car and sped away. A hole in the windshield would suggest a shot fired from in front of the motorcade and would conflict with the lone gunman story. The vehicle had also been partially cleaned while parked there, a clear violation of the rules of protection of evidence.
At midnight, the limousine, which had been flown to DC and brought to the White House garage, was examined by FBI and Secret Service agents. Several bullet fragments and a three-inch piece of the President’s skull are removed as evidence. A small hole just left of center in the windshield, as well as a dent in the chrome molding above the windshield are noted. FBI agents state that the dent was made by a bullet fragment. The bullet fragments are not marked for identification but were allegedly linked to Oswald’s rifle six months later by a Secret Service agent and a White House staffer. Such broken chain of custody of evidence makes it inadmissible in any court.
Three days after the assassination, Carl Renas, head of security for the Ford Motor Company, drives the limousine, helicopters overhead, from Washington to Cincinnati, noting that the dent in the chrome windshield trim was clearly “a primary strike” and “not a fragment”. The limousine was taken to Hess and Eisenhart in Cincinnati, where the chrome molding was replaced. The Secret Service told Renas to “keep your mouth shut”, and Renas recalls thinking at the time that “something is wrong”.
The limousine was eventually rebuilt, bullet-proofed and had incorporated into it every possible protective device. However, President Johnson refused to use it until its color was changed from Kennedy midnight blue to standard black. Not only was the evidentiary value of the vehicle destroyed in the process, but so was its historical value.
At 7:00 PM on November 22, President Kennedy’s body was transferred from the casket to the eight-foot long autopsy table in the morgue of Bethesda Naval Hospitcal. There are no less than 28 people present in the room, including the President’s personal physician, agents from the FBI and Secret Service, the commanding officer of the Medical Center and the Surgeon General of the Navy. Commander J. J. Humes, the Director of Laboratories of the National Medical School, chooses Dr. J. T. Boswell, chief of pathology, and Dr. P. A. Finck, chief of wound ballistics pathology of the Armed Forces Institution of Pathology at Walter Reed Medical Center, to assist him in the autopsy. In spite of their impressive titles, none of the three was a practicing forensic pathologist or had special expertise in examining bullet wounds.
The 1979 House Select Committee on Assassinations reported that the postmortem examination was fraught with errors, including:
- The President’s body was taken out of the hands of those responsible for investigation of the death and autopsy – Texas authorities.
- Those performing the autopsy had insufficient training and experience to evaluate a death from gunshot wounds.
- Physicians who treated the President at Parkland Hospital were not consulted before commencing the autopsy.
- Circumstances at the time of autopsy were not controlled by the pathologist.
- Proper photographs were not taken.
- The President’s clothing was not examined.
- The autopsy procedures were incomplete because:
- External examination failed to accurately locate the wounds
- The bullet tracks were not dissected to determine their course through the body
- The angles of the bullet tracks were not measured relative to the body axis
- The brain was not properly examined and sectioned
- The report was incomplete, inaccurate, and prepared without reference to photographs
- Other wounds on the body were not localized with reference to fixed body landmarks so as to permit reconstruction of trajectories.
In addition to the noted procedural mistakes, there were significant inconsistencies between what was observed at Parkland Hospital by the best trauma team in the region which dealt with gunshot wounds on a daily basis, and what was reported in the official autopsy.
- At Parkland, the wound to the right side of the President’s head is a large, gaping hole extending all the way around to the back of the head. At Bethesda, the back of the President’s head is intact, with only a small puncture wound just to the right of midline near the base of the skull. The large gaping hole is only on the upper right side.
- At Parkland, a small wound of entry is seen in the President’s throat just below the Adam’s apple and slightly enlarged to accommodate the tracheal tube. At Bethesda, this wound becomes a three-inch wide gash.
- At Bethesda, pathologists discover a wound in the President’s upper back near the spine. Parkland doctors were not aware of this wound, since in their frantic attempts at resuscitation, they never turned the body over to examine his back (that would have been done, of course, during the routine course of postmortem examination).
Two FBI agents present during the President’s autopsy, James Sibert and Francis O’Neil, receive and sign a receipt for a “missile removed during the examination of the body”. The receipt is in the official record, but the bullet itself has never been entered into evidence.
Captain David Osborne, Chief of Surgery at Bethesda, was also present during the autopsy, and recalls seeing an “intact slug” fall out on to the autopsy table as the President’s clothing was moved. If the “magic bullet” passed through the President’s neck to injure Connally, and another had enough momentum to shatter his skull and produce a major exit wound, it’s not apparent which bullet this one might be.
The House Select Committee chose to verify the original Warren Commission findings concerning the medical and ballistics evidence, despite missing and poor quality autopsy photographs, unverified X-rays, missing tissue slides of the wound areas, lack of probe or dissection of the wounds, no sectioning of the brain, and the burning of the original autopsy notes by Commander Humes, chief pathologist, in his home fireplace the Sunday following the assassination.
November 23, 1963
At 3:40 AM, Kennedy’s body finally arrived at the White House. It had been expected at 10:00 PM the previous evening, but the schedule had been pushed back to 11:00, then 12:00, then 1:00, then 2:00 and then 3:00. The autopsy had begun at 7:00 PM, more than 8½ hours earlier. When asked about the delay, the President’s chief physician, Dr. George Burkley, responded “It’s taking longer than expected”. He was not asked to elaborate on what “it” was.
Jacqueline Kennedy accompanies the flag-draped coffin into the East Room. She is still wearing her blood-stained pink dress, in spite of several suggestions that she change. She told them “No! I want THEM to see what THEY have done”. She was clearly not intending Lee Harvey Oswald by the plural pronouns.
At 11:00 PM Dallas homicide Captain Will Fritz receives a person-to-person telephone call from LBJ and is ordered to stop his investigation. Fritz had continued to pursue his investigation in spite of interference and opposition from federal authorities, because “You have your man”. The Captain had ignored those requests, but felt he could not ignore a presidential order.
November 24, 1963
At 2:15 AM, Sheriff’s Officer Perry McCoy receives a telephone call from a “white male” who tells him that Oswald is going to be killed during his transfer from city jail to the county jail, and that he’s informing him so that none of deputies would get hurt.
At 2:20 AM Police Lieutenant Billy Grammar receives a telephone call from an unidentified caller who says “You know me”. The caller describes in detail the plans for Oswald’s transfer and tells the Lieutenant that other arrangements should be made or “We’re going to kill Oswald right there in the basement”. The voice of the caller is familiar to Grammar, but he can’t put a name or face to it. The threat is taken seriously and a report is filed with Chief Curry.
At 2:30 AM, an unnamed employee of the local FBI office receives a telephone call from an anonymous male, speaking in a calm and mature voice, who advises that he represented “a committee…we are going to kill the man who killed the President”.
At 3:20 AM, Dallas Police Captain W. B. Frazier receives a call from FBI agent Milton Newsom informing him that an anonymous threat to kill Oswald was received at the Dallas FBI office.
At 7:00 AM, the Dallas police begin preparations for transferring Oswald out of the Dallas city jail. The basement is cleared and guards are stationed at the ramps leading into the garage.
At 9:30 AM, Minister Ray Rushing arrives at City Hall and takes the elevator to the third floor. While on the elevator, he meets and talks with Jack Ruby. The minister is one of four witnesses who testified that they had seen Ruby in or near the police building between 8:00 and 11:00 AM.
AT 10:35, Ira Walker, WBAP (Fort Worth) television technician is inside the station’s news van outside City Hall, when Jack Ruby comes up to the window and asks “Has he been brought down yet?”
At 11:17 AM, Jack Ruby walks from City Hall to the nearby Western Union office where he sends a $25 money order to Little Lynn, one of his strippers. This behavior mimics a similar event two days earlier when Ruby made a small transaction that was time-stamped prior to showing up at Oswald’s first press conference with a gun in his pocket. This later serves as his defense against premeditation.
Upon returning to the City Hall building, Ruby enters through an unguarded door, goes down one flight of stairs to the basement, crosses the parking area and joins the group of policemen and reporters awaiting Oswald’s transfer. As if on cue, Oswald, handcuffed to Detectives Leavelle and Graves, enters the basement area, and an unmarked car backs into position to pick him up. Ruby crouches and, holding his .38 Colt Cobra tightly in an “assassin’s grip” in his right hand, fires one shot point blank into Oswald’s left midsection, and Oswald crumbles to the floor, crying out in pain.
Officers tackled, disarmed and arrested Ruby, taking him to a fifth-floor cell, where they noticed him acting “very hyper” and “sweating profusely”. Ruby requested and was given a cigarette. When word came up that Oswald was dead, and Detective Don Archer says “It looks like it’s going to be the electric chair for you”, Ruby became calm and ceased perspiring. Archer then asked Ruby if he wanted another cigarette, but his reply was “I don’t smoke”. It was apparent that Ruby’s life depended on the death of Oswald. He later tells the police that his intention was to shoot Oswald three times.
At 11:30 AM, Dallas Police Lieutenant Billy Grammar, is sleeping off his all-night shift when he’s suddenly awakened by his wife to tell him that a man named Jack Ruby just shot Lee Harvey Oswald. Then a face appears to match the familiar voice he had heard on the phone warning him that Oswald would be shot, as he had spoken with Ruby just a week before.
At 11:32 AM, Lee Harvey Oswald was delivered to Parkland Hospital and prepped for surgery, with three bottles of blood and fluid pouring in to his extremities. His abdomen was opened up and the surgical team found that the single bullet had ruptured the aorta, the vena cava, shattered the spleen, and slashed through the stomach, pancreas, kidney, and liver. Three liters of blood spilled out on the floor. As major bleeding was brought under control, Dr. Charles Crenshaw, the head of the surgical team, was called out to take a call. A voice on the other end said “This is President Lyndon Johnson. How is the accused assassin?” Johnson stated “I want a deathbed confession. There’s a man in the operating room who will take the statement. I will expect full cooperation in this matter”. There was, in fact, a large unknown man in scrubs standing in the operating room with a gun in his back pocket. Soon afterward, Oswald’s heart failed and Dr. Crenshaw told the man with the gun “There won’t be any deathbed confession today. The man disappeared as silently as he had arrived and was never seen again. The surgical team opened Oswald’s chest and attempted to restart the heart, but he was pronounced dead at 1:07 PM.
With Oswald’s death, the great cover-up became official, and the Coup d’Etat was complete.
by Robert Riversong: may be reproduced with attribution for non-commercial purposes
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