Only with time and distance will the tortured tapestry of the Great Conspiracy and Grand Cover-Up become unraveled, as aging witnesses allow their conscience and commitment to country to overcome their very real fear of the costs of “disloyalty”.
As Jim Douglass writes in JFK and the Unspeakable, the hypothesis that the CIA coordinated and carried out President Kennedy’s murder “has been strengthened as the documents, witnesses, and converging lines of inquiry have pointed more conclusively at the CIA. Yet understanding that the CIA coordinated the assassination does not mean that we can limit the responsibility to the CIA. To tell the truth at the heart of darkness in this story, one must see and accept a responsibility that goes deeper and far beyond the Central Intelligence Agency.”
History reveals that dozens of witnesses, either to the JFK assassination or to its cover-up died in tragic or mysterious ways in the years following the event. Many others were pressured to change their stories or keep quiet. And, for those who courageously took a public stance in opposition to the official narrative, character assassination and public censure was the price of conscience.
The mainstream media – particularly network television news anchors and major newspapers – played the role of mouthpiece and apologist for the power structure, which required a charade of objectivity to hold together a most improbable narrative (just as did with the attacks of 9/11 nearly 40 years later). But even book publishing houses and professional journals conspired to withhold critical perspectives and contradictory evidence from the American people.
Attorney for the dispossessed, progressive politician and Kennedy friend, Mark Lane, was among the first and most persistent critics of the Warren Report, but though his book Rush to Judgement (1966) was highly popular overseas, dozens of US publishers turned him down under pressure from the FBI and CIA. When a single American publishing house dared resist the pressure and put the book to print, it quickly became a best seller, as the American people were eager to learn the truth that they suspected from the start. His next book, A Citizen’s Dissent, recounts the vast efforts of the government and the establishment media to suppress his investigation into the assassination of JFK and to silence and destroy him for his work.
In spite of the attacks on his reputation, Mark Lane was responsible for the only courtroom revelation – a 1985 civil defamation trial brought by convicted Watergate burglar E. Howard Hunt – that resulted in a jury verdict against Hunt based on incontrovertible evidence of a CIA conspiracy to assassinate Kennedy. But, as with the equally successful 1999 civil trial on behalf of the King family, that proved a CIA, FBI, Army, Mafia and police conspiracy to kill MLK, news coverage was all but blacked out and few Americans ever became aware that these mysteries had been solved.
The only prosecutor to bring criminal charges for the JFK assassination, New Orleans District Attorney Jim Garrison (portrayed by Kevin Costner in the 1991 Oliver Stone movie JFK), was savaged in the media and had falsified corruption charges brought against him (when, in fact, he had been a crusader against official corruption for his entire public career).
Dr. Charles Crenshaw was the first of the many physicians with personal knowledge of Kennedy’s fatal wounds on November 22, 1963, to come forward and reveal, after nearly three decades of a self-admitted “conspiracy of silence”, that the deadly gunshots came from the front, not the rear where Oswald’s “sniper’s nest” lay. His 1992 book, JFK: Conspiracy of Silence, told the story of the frantic efforts of the best trauma team in the nation to save the President’s life and of the Secret Service’s gun-point insistence on having no legally-mandated autopsy performed outside of the strict control of the US government.
Truth is typically more easily spoken in the immediate aftermath of a major incident than after outside pressure and self-preservation have time to dominate. Twenty-one of the twenty-two medical witnesses at Parkland Hospital, where Kennedy and Connally were brought for treatment, agreed in their earliest statements that JFK’s massive head wound was located in the right rear of his skull, requiring a fatal shot from the front. As Dr. Crenshaw recognized, the hole in Kennedy’s throat was a bullet entrance wound. Doctors Malcolm Perry, assistant professor of surgery and attending surgeon who performed the tracheotomy, and Kemp Clark, professor and Director of Neurological Surgery at Parkland who signed the death certificate, drew the same conclusion, as reported in a press conference the following day.
Inspired by the doctors’ testimony, the historian Staughton Lynd and Jack Minnis, research director for the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC), wrote the first published critique of the JFK assassination, which appeared in the New Republic on December 21, 1963. Their article concluded: “The central problem – the fact that the President was wounded in the front of the throat – remains.”
Against Texas law and over the profound and repeated objections of Parkland Hospital’s pathologist, Dr. Earl Rose, who faced off against determined Secret Service agents and a submachine gun, Kennedy’s body was taken out of Texas and brought to Bethesda Naval Hospital, where the official autopsy was supervised and controlled by a phalanx or intelligence agents, Generals and Admirals.
The doctors at Parkland Hospital were subsequently pressured to change their stories to fit the official narrative of a lone assassin behind Kennedy’s motorcade. The Warren Commission’s staff counsel, Arlen Specter (a future US Senator), confronted the Dallas doctors with a question that contained its own answer:
“Assuming…that the bullet passed through the President’s body…and exited at a point in the midline of the neck, would the hole which you saw on the President’s throat be consistent with an exit point?”
In other words, if a bullet exited from the front would that be an exit wound? The doctors went along with the logic, and Commission member Gerald Ford (a future US president) pressed them to repudiate their initial press statements about a frontal entry wound as “inaccurate”.
Former CIA Chief Allen Dulles, (whom JFK had fired for the Bay of Pigs fiasco), then a Commission member and the Commission liaison to the CIA, insisted on counteracting the “false rumors” of the frontal wound, and “to deal with a great many of the false rumors that have been spread on the basis of false interpretation of these appearances before television, radio, and so forth.”
Dallas Secret Service agent Elmer Moore would later confess to a friend that he “had been ordered to tell Dr. Perry to change his testimony”. Moore said that he acted on orders from Mr. Kelley of the Secret Service headquarters. Moore said that “I regret what I had to do with Dr. Perry”, but we had been given “marching orders from Washington”. “I did everything I was told, we all did everything we were told, or we’d get our heads cut off.”
When Dr. Crenshaw finally broke his silence in 1992, he wrote:
“I believe there was a common denominator in our silence – a fearful perception that to come forward with what we believed to be the medical truth would be asking for trouble. Although we never admitted it to one another, we realized that the inertia of the established story was so powerful, so thoroughly presented, so adamantly accepted, that it would bury anyone who stood in its path… I was afraid of the men in suits as I was afraid of the men who had assassinated the President… I reasoned that anyone who would go so far as to eliminate the President of the United States would surely not hesitate to kill a doctor.”
In the case of Dr. Crenshaw, the cost of speaking up even three decades later was the assassination of his character.
Crenshaw’s 1992 book, JFK: Conspiracy of Silence, like Mark Lane’s before it, rose to number one on the New York Times bestseller list. Crenshaw was then attacked in print by the director of the FBI’s Dallas office, who claimed “the documentation does not show that the doctor was involved [in JFK’s treatment] in any way”. Crenshaw was also attacked by a former Warren Commission attorney, who accused him of profiting from the tragedy and demanded that the press investigate the doctor’s financial status.
But far more troubling was that the prestigious Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) published two articles in its May 27, 1992 issue, suggesting that Dr. Crenshaw was not even in Trauma Room One with President Kennedy, and JAMA’s editor promoted the articles in a press conference that was widely covered. Dr. Crenshaw submitted to JAMA a series of articles and letters responding to the charge that he was a liar, but they were all rejected.
Crenshaw pointed out that, in testimony before the Warren Commission, five different Parkland doctors and nurses had specifically mentioned seeing him working with them to revive the President. Crenshaw then sued the journal and, in 1994, court-ordered mediation resulted in JAMA agreeing to pay Crenshaw an undisclosed sum of money and to publish a rebuttal argument, which eventually appeared in an abbreviated version. Then JAMA published yet another article attacking Crenshaw and his co-author Gary Shaw, co-director of the JFK Assassination Information Center in Dallas, and their book.
Even though Crenshaw’s rebuttal reached a far smaller audience than the attacks on his character, the impact of his book coincided with the public outcry created by Oliver Stone’s film, JFK, and helped create the Assassination Records Review Board, which released hundreds of thousands of assassination-related government documents to the American public.
But at the time of the building of the false assassination narrative, strict control of further disclosures was necessary to minimize the brush fires that the establishment needed to extinguish.
On late afternoon of November 22, 1963, Dr. Robert B. Livingston made a phone call from his home in Bethesda, Maryland to the Bethesda Naval Hospital. Dr. Livingston was the scientific director of two of the National Institutes of Health, and felt responsibility for the accuracy of determination of the President’s wounds. He had learned from news reports that “there was a small frontal wound in the President’s throat”. Dr. Livingston’s call was put through to Commander James Humes, the naval doctor chosen to head the autopsy team.
Dr. Livingston described their conversation:
“Dr. Humes said he had not heard much reporting from Dallas and Parkland Hospital because he had been occupied preparing to conduct the autopsy. I told him about reports describing the small wound in the President’s neck. I stressed that, in my experience, that would have to be a wound of entrance. I emphasized the importance of carefully tracing the path of this projectile and of establishing the location of the bullet or any fragments. I said carefully, that if that wound were confirmed as a wound of entrance, that would prove beyond peradventure of doubt that a bullet had been fired from in front of the President – hence that if there were shots from behind, there had to have been more than one gunman. At just that moment, there was an interruption in our conversation. Dr. Humes returned after a pause to say, ‘Dr. Livingston, I’m sorry, but I can’t talk with you any longer. The FBI won’t let me’.”
The FBI disruption of medical investigation was a foretaste of things to come. The autopsy, itself, would be totally disrupted by government authorities. The military control over the President’s autopsy from start to finish has been described by several of its participants.
Lieutenant Colonel Pierre Finck was the Army doctor who assisted Humes and another Navy doctor, Commander J. Thornton Boswell, in the autopsy. Finck became a reluctant witness to the military control over the doctors’ examination of the President’s body. Subpoenaed by New Orleans District Attorney Jim Garrison, Colonel Finck was questioned under oath about the autopsy.
Question: “Was Dr. Humes running the show?”
Finck: “Well, I heard Dr. Humes stating that – he said ‘Who is in charge here?’ and I heard an Army General, I don’t remember his name, stating ‘I am’. You must understand that in those circumstances, there were law enforcement officials, military people with various ranks, and you have to coordinate the operation according to directions.”
Question: “But you were one of the qualified pathologists standing at the autopsy table, were you not Doctor?”
Finck: “Yes, I was.”
Question: “Was this Army General a qualified pathologist?”
Question: “Was he a doctor?”
Finck: “No, not to my knowledge.”
Question: Can you give me his name, Colonel?”
Finck: “No, I can’t. I don’t remember.”
Question: “How many military personnel were present in the autopsy room?”
Finck: “The autopsy room was quite crowded. It is a small autopsy room, and when you are called in circumstances like that to look at the wound of the President of the United States who is dead, you don’t look around too much to ask people their names and take notes on who they are and how many there are. I did not do so. The room was crowded with military and civilian personnel and federal agents. Secret Service agents, FBI agents, for part of the autopsy, but I cannot give you a precise breakdown of the attendance of people in that autopsy room at Bethesda Naval Hospital.”
Question: “Colonel, did you feel that you had to take orders from this Army General that was there directing the autopsy?”
Finck: “No, because there were others – there were Admirals.
Question: “There were Admirals?”
Finck: “Oh yes, there were Admirals, and when you are a Lieutenant Colonel in the Army, you just follow orders, and at the end of the autopsy we were specifically told – as I recall it, it was by Admiral Kenney, the Surgeon General of the Navy – this is subject to verification – we were specifically told not to discuss the case.”
Question: “Did you have an occasion to dissect the track of that particular bullet [the throat wound] in the victim as it lay on the autopsy table?”
Finck: “I did not dissect the track in the neck.”
[This led to a series of evasive answers and the judge ordering the witness to respond to the question, and finally…]
Finck: “As I recall, I was told not to, but I don’t remember by whom.”
[More evasive answers followed, with one final deliberate distortion:]
Question: “You are one of the three autopsy specialists and pathologists at the time, and you saw what you described as an entrance wound in the neck area of the President of the United States who had just been assassinated, and you were only interested in the other wound but not interested in the track through the neck – is that what you’re telling me?”
Finck: “I was interested in the track and I had observed the conditions of bruising between the point of entry in the back of the neck and the point of exit at the front of the neck, which is entirely compatible with the bullet path.”
Navy medical corpsman, Paul O’Connor, who helped the doctors with the President’s autopsy, was dismayed, he said, by “the fact that we weren’t able to do certain critical things like probe the throat wound that we thought was a bullet wound. We found out it was a bullet wound years later.”
In an interview years later, O’Connor described the situation:
“It got very tense. Admiral [Calvin] Galloway [the chief of the hospital command] started getting very agitated again, because there was a wound in the neck… and I remember the doctors were going to check that out when Admiral Galloway told them, ‘Leave it alone. Don’t touch it. It’s just a tracheotomy’. He stopped anybody from going further. Drs. Humes and Boswell, Dr. Finck, were told to leave it alone, let’s go to other things.”
Paul O’Connor’s fellow hospital corpsman, James Jenkins, who also assisted in the autopsy, confirmed that the doctors were obeying military orders. Jenkins, too, said the pathologists’ failure to probe the President’s wounds was done at the command of Admiral Calvin Galloway, the hospital commander, who directed the autopsy from the morgue’s gallery. Jenkins also thought it was odd that the autopsy would be done at Bethesda, rather than by the civilian doctors at Parkland Hospital in Dallas:
“In retrospect, I think it was a controlling factor. They could control Humes, Boswell and Finck because they were military… I think they were controlled. So were we. We were all military – we could be controlled. And, if we weren’t controlled, we could be punished and that kept us away from the public.”
Jenkins said his experience of the President’s autopsy forever changed his view of his own government:
“I was 19 or 20 years old, and all at once I understood that my country was not much better than a third world country. From that point on in time, I have had no trust, no respect for the government.”
The process of killing President Kennedy and covering up the conspiracy relied on parties whom the plotters knew in advance they could count on to enter into a conspiracy of silence. But the civilian and military doctors were hardly alone. They joined in a larger conspiracy of silence that would envelop our entire society from November 22, 1963, to the present.
Even after the outing of the FBI’s COINTELPRO domestic infiltration and disruption program in 1971 by the Citizens’ Commission to Investigate the FBI, the revelations of Watergate and the subsequent 1975 Church Commission hearings on illegal intelligence programs and actions, and the eventual release of the “Family Jewels” – the “skeletons in the closet”, as Director William E. Colby called them – of the CIA in 2007, we still face near-total surveillance by the NSA, continued infiltration and disruption of efforts like Occupy Wall Street, and a repression of government whistleblowers unlike at any time in our history.
After the official false narrative of the assassination of the President was promulgated, some witnesses to the truth who were considered unacceptable risks, were similarly eliminated by chain of command orders.
At 4:30 PM on November 22, 1963, three hours after President Kennedy was shot in Dallas, Lieutenant Commander William Bruce Pitzer received a phone call at his home in Takoma Park, Maryland. Pitzer was the head of the Audio-Visual Department of the Naval Medical School and worked closely with Bethesda Naval Hospital, where the President’s autopsy was about to take place.
Commander Pitzer abandoned his family’s supper table, took his 35 mm camera and said he was going to work. He did not return until the next afternoon, and told his family nothing about what he had done.
On the Monday or Tuesday following the assassination, First Class Hospital Corpsman Dennis David stopped by the office of his good friend and mentor, Lt. Cmdr. Pitzer, and found him crouched over a film-editing machine.
David was invited to take a look at the sixteen millimeter film, which showed the upper half of the President’s body during the autopsy. Later, David recalled to an interviewer in 1975 his and Pitzer’s conclusions: “that the shot that killed Kennedy had to have come from the front… We both noted a small entry wound here [he points to the right side of his forehead], and a large exit wound back in this area [indicates right rear of head]. I had seen gunshot wounds before, and so had Bill. I’ve seen a lot of them since, and I can assure you that it definitely was an entry wound in the forehead.”
“It is inconceivable that anyone even vaguely acquainted with gunshot wounds would conclude that the massive wound in the rear of JFK’s skull could have occurred from a rear-entry projectile, unless it was from grenade or mortar shrapnel, which tears and rends flesh and bone rather than pierces it.”
This description of the autopsy film directly contradicts not only the Warren Report but also the official photographs and X-rays of the autopsy. It would be concrete evidence of a massive official cover-up.
Lieutenant Commander William Bruce Pitzer was shot to death in his office on October 29, 1966, just before he was planning to retire from the military. Pitzer’s death occurred the same day that the Kennedy family agreed, through their attorney, to release to the National Archives several items related to the autopsy of the fallen president, including photographs and X-rays.
Following a joint investigation by the Naval Intelligence Service (NIS) and the FBI, the Navy ruled the death to be a suicide. Corpsman Dennis David said in a TV interview that Pitzer was left-handed but the bullet entry wound was on the right side of his head. Pitzer’s family was certain that he had not killed himself.
The Navy alleged Pitzer was having marital difficulties due to an extra-marital affair, but this was based on “an unsigned, undated summary report of two interviews [with an unnamed woman] conducted by unnamed NIS agents”. The interviews remained secret until they were “routinely destroyed”.
Four days before his death, Pitzer had told a colleague he was ready to submit his retirement letter to the Navy. He confided in Dennis David that he “had some very lucrative offers from a couple of the national networks like ABC, CBS, to go to work for them”.
When Dennis David was asked why he suspected Bill Pitzer had been assassinated, he said, “I think it was because, with him retiring, they – and I don’t know who they are – were afraid that he would take these pictures that he and I had seen, these 35-millimeter [slides] and the 16-millimeter film, that he would take them. And if he went to work for a major studio, that they would use them, or he would have them aired. That would have really blown some people out of the water, if that would have transpired.”
Bill Pitzer’s film of JFK’s autopsy has never been found. His wife, Joyce Pitzer, believed strongly that her husband’s death was no suicide, but she was pressured by Navy intelligence officials who came to her home “not to talk to anyone… and for twenty-five years I did not really discuss it”. Even at age 80 in 1995, Mrs. Pitzer was still afraid that if she questioned her husband’s death, “my [Navy] compensation might be stopped”.
The man to whom Joyce Pitzer revealed this fear was Retired Army Special Forces Lieutenant Colonel Daniel Marvin. He had phoned her to reveal that, in August 1965, the CIA had asked him to assassinate her husband, an assignment he refused but that was apparently accepted by another. For coming forward with this story, Daniel Marvin was denounced by, and expelled from, the Special Forces Association of retired soldiers and dismissed by skeptics.
Ironically, Daniel Marvin had volunteered for the Special Forces on November 22, 1963, “out of my respect for President Kennedy and because of my respect for the Special Forces”. The curriculum that Marvin followed at the Special Warfare School at Fort Bragg, North Carolina, included “training not only in guerrilla warfare, but also in assassination and terrorism. I believed that extreme measures were sometimes necessary in the interests of national security”.
Their top-secret instruction in assassination was conducted in a high-security compound with a double barbed wire fence and guard dogs. He told of how the JFK assassination was used as a “classic example of the way to organize a complete program to eliminate a nation’s leader, while pointing the finger at a lone assassin. It involved also the cover-up of the assassination itself. They had a mock layout of the plaza and that area, showed where the shooters were, and where the routes were to the hospital… They told us that Oswald was not involved in the shooting at all – he was the patsy – he was the one who was set up.”
Marvin acknowledged that “we did – myself and a friend of mine – form a very distinct impression that the CIA was involved in Kennedy’s assassination. During the coffee break, we overheard one of the CIA instructors say to the other, ‘Things really did go well in Dealey Plaza, didn’t they?’ or something to that effect…. and we really felt… that one of those instructors may have been involved himself in the assassination.”
Marvin said that, as a result of his CIA primer on the JFK assassination, he “had to do a lot of re-thinking… I just convinced myself, as did my friend, that it somehow had to be in the best interests of the United States government that Kennedy was killed.”
In the first week of August 1965, Colonel Clarence W. Patten, commanding officer of the 6th Special Forces Group, summoned then-Captain Dan Marvin to an office in Fort Bragg headquarters, to “meet a Company man”, which turned out to be “in the shade of some nearby pine trees”.
He flashed his ID and asked “would I terminate a man who was preparing to give state’s secrets to the enemy?” Marvin said he would, but assumed the target would be in Southeast Asia, where he was on orders to go in December of that year.
When Marvin asked the CIA man who the traitor was, he was told “he was a Navy officer – a Lieutenant Commander William Bruce Pitzer” who worked at Bethesda Naval Hospital. “The job had to be done”, he was told, “before the man retired from the Navy”.
At this point, Marvin refused the trigger role. He had no objection to killing a Lieutenant Commander, so long as the deed was done abroad. According to Marvin, “It was common knowledge in Mafia and CIA circles that Green Berets were tapped by the Company to terminate selected targets in foreign countries, whereas the Mafia provided the CIA’s pool of able assassins for hits in the US.” (In fact, in June 1966, Marvin was asked by the CIA to assassinate Cambodian Crown Prince Norodum Sihanouk, with plausible deniability, but the plan was aborted.)
Marvin and the CIA agent parted with the understanding “that the name [of the target] would be as good as forgotten”. The agent then simply turned and walked over to meet Captain David Vanek who was waiting just out of earshot. “Whether or not that agent offered Vanek the same mission or whether or not he accepted the mission is only for him to say; I have neither seen nor heard of him these past 29 years.”
In fact, Dan Marvin began trying to find David Vanek in April 1993, but was repeatedly put off by the Veteran Services Directorate of the Army Reserve Personnel Center.
While watching a TV documentary on the Kennedy assassination in November 1993, Marvin “suddenly felt extremely ill” when he saw the name William Bruce Pitzer flash across his screen. Pitzer’s name was one in a list of violent deaths linked with the JFK assassination and cover-up. Marvin was transported back to the shade of those pine trees where the CIA man in dark glasses asked him to kill the “traitor”, William Bruce Pitzer, “who was preparing to give state’s secrets to the enemy”.
Marvin redoubled his efforts to find Vanek and threatened the Veteran Services Directorate with Congressional intervention. Marvin finally received a reply in December 1994, which stated that their office had “been unable to identify a service record for the person concerned”. In 1996, the Assassinations Record Review Board located Vanek and interviewed him by phone, during which, though he admitted to working undercover in Vietnam in 1964 with a CIA front group, he denied any recollection of the incident and that he was even in the military at Fort Bragg in 1965.
Daniel Marvin understood only late in his life that the “enemy” to whom Pitzer was “preparing to give state’s secrets” was the American people.
Retired Army Special Forces Lieutenant Colonel Daniel Marvin was working on a book about William Pitzer entitled The Smoking Gun: The Conspiracy to Kill LCDR William Bruce Pitzer, when he died on January 19, 2012.
by Robert Riversong: may be reproduced with attribution for non-commercial purposes
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