On the Trail of the JFK Assassins – A Revealing Look at America’s Most Infamous Unsolved Crime, By Dick Russell (Herman Graf/Skyhorse, NY, 2008)
In his new book On the Trail of the JFK Assassins, Dick Russell recaps his experiences and republishes important articles he wrote over the course of decades on the JFK assassination trail. For most career journalists, writing about the political assassinations of the Sixties has also been the kiss of death, a subject matter that marks you, but one you just can’t touch and move on.
On the Trail of the JFK Assassins is one of two new books by Russell, the other being Don’t Start the Revolution Without Me (with Jesse Ventura), both published by Skyhorse, who also recently reissued Russell’s Black Genius as well as a new edition of John Newman’s Oswald & the CIA.
Russell also plays a role in the production of a new web based documentary film “The Warning,” all of which can be previewed and ordered at his web site
[http://www.dickrussell.org/] or via Skyhorse [http://www.skyhorsepublishing.com/.
Russell is also the author of Striper Wars and Eye of the Whale, about which Robert F. Kennedy, Jr. said, “Dick Russell has done for the gray whale what he did for the striped bass – taught us to love both the fish and the fishermen. In a riveting tale that celebrates the history and culture of the whale fishery, Russell guides us gently to a consciousness of the critical importance of the gray whale's struggle and survival to modern civilization.”
Also important to our modern civilization is the legal resolution of the assassination of President Kennedy.
While Russell is known and respected for his environmental writings, his career has been indelibly stamped by his reporting on the Kennedy assassination and his book The Man Who Knew Too Much is a classic of its genre. And this book is not so much as an extension to that as it is filling in the gaps and potholes along the road.
Dick Russell begins On the Trail of the JFK Assassins with his first story on the subject, a 1975 Village Voice magazine assignment to report on Professor Richard Popkin’s then latest discoveries - new information on Richard Case Nagel and Luis Angel Castillo and how they fit into the assassination drama.
Nagel would become the primary subject of The Man Who Knew Too Much, a military intelligence officer and double-agent, while Russell’s research into Castillo would take him into the MKULTRA mind control realm of programmed assassins.
Popkin would later warn others that looking into Castillo was a quagmire, but Russell went into the rabbit’s hole and he comes out relatively unscathed, thanks to his well honed journalistic skills that also allow us to follow him down some pretty slippery trails, where few others dare to go.
The reprinted articles, most of which I still have from the original clips, stand out today as well as they did when first published, shining even more in the light of what we’ve learned since then and show how we’ve got to where we are today.
Although some complained that The Man Who Knew Too Much was the book that told too much, I kind of like the idea of the reporter on the scene providing as much information as possible, not knowing what will become significant later on. Whereas The Man Who Knew Too Much is required reading among JFK assassination buffs, On the Trail of the JFK Assassins is less esoteric, and gives you enough basic background that it isn’t a prerequisite to have to read the earlier book. And On the Trail is compact and compelling enough for ordinary people, who aren’t assassination buffs, to appreciate it, so it might even change some mainstream thinking.
There’s not much here for those who want to believe that the President was killed by a disturbed communist, but this book will be an adventure for those who have taken up the trail of the real assassins, and like Dick Russell, are intent on tracking them down where ever they are holed up.
Unlike most JFK assassination researchers, who sit back and read among books, documents and internet sites, Russell is an investigator who also goes out and finds witnesses and interviews them on the record. Russell is, along with Bill Turner, Anthony Summers, Gaeton Fonzi, and a few others, among the best JFK assassination investigators.
Entwining updated briefs between articles he wrote for the Village Voice, Argosy, Harper’s Weekly, New Times Magazine, Gallery, Boston Magazine, High Times between 1975 and 1996, Russell weaves together his earlier articles with the latest tidbits from the records released under the JFK Act.
Richard Case Nagel and Luis Angel Castillo are just two of the more complex and bizarre characters you would ever want to meet, Nagel being a US/USSR double-agent while Castillo is a programmed zombie with ties to Cuba who is still on the lose today.
In the course of developing the yet unfinished tales of Nagel and Castillo, Russell visits both the CIA headquarters at Langly and the KGB headquarters in Moscow, takes you into the home of CIA mind bender Dr. Gottleib and attends the USA-CUBA conferences in Rio and the Bahamas, between researchers and Cuban intelligence officers.
There’s also interesting interviews with the likes of Gerry Patrick Hemming, Loran Hall, Col. Phillip Corso, Arlen Specter, Richard Sprague and Marina Oswald. Harry Dean gets his own chapter, “Memories of an FBI Informant.” And of course, Russell revisits Sylvia Odio, and takes on Antonio Veciana, Maurice Bishop and the John Paisley, fitting them in as part of the Dealey Plaza puzzle.
Exploring whether Oswald was a Manchurian Candidate and programmed assassin, Russell lays down the basic background and how he most certainly could have been, though more likely was the programmed patsy.
Among the articles is Russell’s response to Posner, which only High Times Magazine had the courage to publish, and which seems so passé now and not worth bothering over, except how people like Posner can get published when undisputed experts like Doug Horne can’t.
Russell points out that those most impressed with Posner – David Wise, William Styron and Posner all share the same publisher (Random House) and editor (Bob Loomis) and notes how Posner’s previous books include those about Nazi leader’s children, bio-assassins and Josef Mengele, the “Angel of Death,” all prepping him with preframed governmental view. Russell reports that Posner testified before a Senate committee that it was “incontestable” that the U.S. military “mistakenly released Mengele from custody in mid-1945,” despite French government documents that indicate American officials had detained and then released Mengele again in 1947. Of course these previous assignments gave Posner, the hired-gun lawyer, the job of closing the case on the JFK assassination at a time when the JFK Act ordered millions of government records released.
“Could it be that Case Closed was an effort to defuse any new revelations that might occur as the thirtieth anniversary of the assassination approached?” Russell rightly questions. “There was, in fact, no similar wave of publicity accompanying the declassification of the House Assassinations Committee’s report on Oswald’s activities in Mexico City….But the corporate media are not rushing to send a team of reporters probing these thousands of pages of fresh files. They would prefer to let Posner spare them the time, the only casualty being the truth of what really happened on November 22, 1963. In reality, there may be no better case for reopening the JFK investigation than the sham called Case Closed.”
Significantly, other than Priscilla Johnson McMillan’s blatantly dishonest biography, few reporters have had access to the accused assassin’s wife, Marina Oswald Porter. Although she has learned to distrust so many others, she trusts Russell. Besides accurately reflecting Marina’s views on things, Russell invited her to his home and meet with a room full of lawyers who try to answer her single question, “Is there some way to re-open the investigation?”
She did have another question for Russell that concerned Oswald’s Uniform Service ID card, which she suspected was a clue to something important, and is a subject that deserves further attention. Russell tries to answer that question fairly, but as for the lawyers, they couldn’t come up with very much. Not published before, the chapter on The Reflections of Marina Oswald Porter (Ch.31) is the most important, because it asks the most significant question about the assassination - how do you find a way to (officially) re-open the investigation?
Russell describes the scene, “On a Sunday afternoon, in front of a crackling fireplace in my living room, we assembled. Jim Lesar and Dan Alcorn, attorneys from Washington, were on hand. Gaeton Fonzi, former investigator for Senator Schweiker and the House Assassinations Committee, had flown up from Florida. Harvey Silvergate, a prominent civil liberties lawyer in Cambridge was there with his wife, as was another attorney friend, Joan Stanley. Marina sat in a comfortable leather-backed chair…(and) began the conversation. ‘If there is no law on the books, create one, please,’ she implored the room.”
“Lesar, who also oversaw the Assassinations Archives Research Center in the nation’s capitol, responded that it was difficult to get a foot in the door on legal action because the statute of limitations had expired in most instances. Still, he felt we had a unique opportunity over the next several years to get a new investigation moving. The Assassinations Records Review Board appointed by President Clinton to examine and release most of the still-classified files also had the power to subpoena witnesses. There is a mechanism here to enable us to keep the issue upfront and demand more of Congress,’ Lesar said.”
“‘Is there a King Solomon nowhere in the lawyer community to come up with some clever thing?’ Marina asked.”
“Lesar then suggested a report compiled by distinguished private citizens could be presented to an official investigative body.”
“Marina turned to face Fonzi. ‘Forget me, this is not a personal vendetta,’ she said. ‘I’d like to figure out a more radical approach from the legal point of view.’”
“Marina wondered about holding a trial in Texas. Lesar said, ‘But you could only try someone if you have a suspect in a conspiracy.’ The prosecutor Alcorn added would be the Dallas District Attorney, but that office’s response had always been that ‘the FBI came and took all the evidence away.’ Alcorn had looked at all the federal statutes and seen no possibilities, so Texas was realistically the only place something could happen. ‘But we don’t have a suspect right now,’ and it was ineffective to bring a legal action that was not going to proceed.’…”
“Silverglate noted that an investigative grand jury might be possible. However, Lesar said, ‘the problem is that you’d need to convince Texas to do it.’ Silverglate went on that the federal government hides behinds its ‘supremacy clause.’ In other words, Congress can override a state constitutional provision…”
“ ‘There’s maybe another possibility,’ Stanley said. ‘The murder of [police officer J.D.] Tippitt has never been solved officially. This would keep things within the confines of Texas law.’…On what grounds could a grand jury be convened? Were there any suspects besides Oswald, who purportedly committed the Tippitt murder?”
“’The best evidence on a state prosecutorial level,’ said Lesar, ‘revolves around concealment and obstruction of justice….’”
“Elsa Dorfman, Silverglate’s wife, wondered whether Marina and Mrs. Tippitt might do a joint action to try to bring the case of the murdered policeman into court. Lesar, though, was ultimately forced to conclude that he did not see the legal route as feasible. A Texas grand jury was the best possibility, but its outcome was problematical at best. Joan Stanley added that there are many problems with a grand jury – all the publicity around this particular case, and the evidence being so hard to come by….”
“….And so, basically,” writes Russell, “after several hours our discussion ended not so much further along than when it began. Some of the finest legal minds in the country had come together, with the widow of the accused assassin, in hopes of finding some way – any way- to reopen the case. Thirty years after the fact, it seemed pretty hopeless, short of someone’s deathbed confession. That night, a violinist friend played for Marina. One composition he performed was called ‘Song of the Lark.’ More than one of us had tears in our eyes.”
Well, now, ten years later, we have a new District Attorney in Texas, and there are suspects other than Oswald, and the legal route that was closed for decades is now open, if only a crack.
And in the end, the last chapter is about Doug Horne, the former Chief Analyst for Military Records of the Assassinations Records Review Board, whose new book on the JFK assassination medical records will be dynamite, and should spark a new and proper forensic autopsy that a murdered President should have.
Russell devotes his last chapter to a conversation he had with Doug Horne, which clearly speaks for itself, as it is a verbatim interview, and shows why none of the existing medical records can be considered genuine. “Summarizing, the photographs of President Kennedy’s brain, exposed by John Stringer on November 25, were never introduced into the official records because they showed a pattern of damage – missing tissue from the rear of the brain – consistent with a fatal shot from the front, and that evidence had to be suppressed. The photographs of a second brain,…by an unknown Navy photographer, were introduced into the official record because the brain employed in that exercise…exhibited damage – to the to-right-side of the brain – generally consistent with a shot from above and behind. So where did that come from?”
“An accomplished forensic pathologist who viewed the brain photos in the archives at the request of the ARRB told is in 1996 that the brain in these photographs…had been in a formalin solution for at least 2 weeks before being photographed….ensures it cannot possibly be the President’s brain, which was examined only 3 days after his death.”
“‘Shots from multiple directions’ is how I would put it….I am not convinced that Oswald shot anyone in Dealey Plaza. He was certainly involved in something – up to his neck – and was probably being ‘run’ by intelligence operatives, and perhaps even engaging in a charade by posing as a leftist Castro sympathizer, but I am not convinced that he shot anyone himself…”
Answering Russell’s question “What does this indicate to you about the forces behind the assassination?” Horne says, “Well, you can go two ways. If you accept a government cover-up as a given, then it’s either a benign or a sinister one. If it’s benign, then the people engineering the cover-up weren’t part of the murder plot, but they think for one reason or another, they can’t tell the truth – the truth might endanger the country because it might trigger World War Three if it appears, rightly or wrongly, that there was foreign involvement in the assassination. Or, there might be a real fear that the public would lose faith in our institutions, if we have to admit to our citizenry that ‘multiple people shot the president and we don’t know who they are and we can’t catch them.’ The other alternative, the sinister one, posits that the people performing the cover-up actions – let’s say the actors on the ground, Humes and Boswell and the photographers involved – believe that they are doing a benign cover-up for national security reasons. But the people giving them their orders know better, and are part of the assassination plot…I believe that the latter scenario detailed above is the most likely one…”
Horne told Russell that what he is working on, “…is my magnum opus, a book that will be so massive, and so detailed, that for me to get my message out unfiltered and in an unabridged fashion, it will have to be made available as a ‘publish on demand’ specialty type item sold on the internet, and printed one copy at time….My goal is to tell the truth as I know it, without anyone watering it down – not to make money. My manuscript is a labor of love, and will be the sharing of an intellectual journey with those who are captivated by the medical evidence, and who have a love of detail…I won’t be pulling any punches, and the final section of my book will be a treatise on the political context, and meaning, of the assassination.”
While we look forward to Horne’s book, we also hope that this book isn’t the end of the trail of the assassins for Russell, as we haven’t yet arrived at the final destination, where the full truth is known and justice is achieved.
On the Trail of the JFK Assassins is a remarkable, honest and perservering attempt to get to that elusive destination.
[William Kelly is the co-founder of the Committee for an Open Archives (COA) and the Coalition on Political Assassinations (COPA). He can be reached at email@example.com ]