Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Double Identities in Historical Research and the HSCA Records of Richard A. Sprague, Esq.

Double Identities in the JFK Assassination

Independent JFK Assassination Researcher Richard E. Sprague 

         Richard A. Sprague, Esq.- first Chief Counsel of the House Select Committee on Assassinations

Double Identities - The Bane of all Historical Research and how it has affected the disposition of the official records of the First Chief Counsel to the House Select Committee on Assassinations (HSCA)

By William Kelly

As anyone who has done historical research knows, many people have the same name and such double identities are the bane of historical research, especially when working with official records, so it’s very easy to get confused and it’s important to make sure you’re dealing with the records of the person you think you are.


While researching the background of John Barry, the first flag officer of the U.S. Navy, I found another John Barry who was also born in Ireland, lived in the same Philadelphia neighborhood, went to the same church, belonged to the same Irish Hibernian society and knew many of the same people, but rather than a sea captain he was a school master and author of the first book copyrighted in the United States.

John Barry – Father of US Navy
John Barry – Schoolmaster


Fathers and sons with the same name are often confused – as is the case of James “Jolly Jim” Fraser, an early Scottish-American golf professional and his son, amateur golfer and politician James “Sonny” Fraser, as Jim Finnigen, known for his attention to facts and details, confuses them in his encyclopedic History of the Philadelphia PGA.

James “Jolly Jim” Fraser – Father of Sonny
James “Sonny” Fraser – Son of Jolly Jim


In the course of a Watergate era inquiry I called a retired military officer who was identified as William Gulley, a former White House Communications Agency (WHCA) officer, but Mr. Gulley told me that was his name and he was an military officer of the same rank, but a different guy, - he never worked for the WHCA. But that, he said as an afterthought, explains how he got all those invitations to White House social functions.

William Gulley – WHCA officer
William Gulley – US military officer


There’s another Bill Kelly, besides me, who lived in Ocean City, N.J. when I lived there, and I’m lucky he is such a nice guy and now a Facebook friend, or I could blame him for getting me in trouble all the time.

There’s also another Bill Kelly involved in the investigation of the Kennedy assassination, a Florida policeman who is prominently mentioned in the book “The Tomali Squad,” because of his work with the Cuban refugees, and indexed in Vincent Bugliosi’s Reclaiming History.

Bill Kelly – Journalist
Bill Kelly – Florida Cop


My long time college mate and research associate John Judge – the director of COPA, once met another John Judge – a heavy metal rock guitarist, and they both looked remarkably alike, similar to the ZZ-Top guitarists.

John Judge – COPA Director
John Judge – Guitarist


The idea of double identities in historical research is an important issue that I’ve never seen realistically discussed before, so I am going to address it in relation to one specific area of historical research – the assassination of President John F. Kennedy.

Believe it or not, there are over a dozen examples of more than one person with the same name among the characters that populate the JFK Assassination story, and I will mention the most significant ones and how having the same name has confused researchers and officials and impacted what is included and not included in the JFK Assassination Collection at the National Archives and Records Administration (NARA).


Someone recently posted a document at the Education Forum that indicates former CIA director Allen Dulles was in telephonic communications with one Jack Dougherty. Now there was an assassination witness and often a suspect, but there’s apparently another Jack Dougherty, a businessman from California. The Jack Dougherty who testified before the Warren Commission talked about his presence on the fifth floor of the Texas School Book Depository (TSBD) at the time of the assassination, while the guy Dulles was in communication with was a San Diego businessman, and therefore not the Jack Dougherty who worked with Oswald moving books around the TSBD. But it still confused some researchers.

Jack Dougherty – TSBD employee
Jack Dougherty – California businessman


Then there’s Betty McDonald who worked at Magnolia Oil company and was at the party set up for the Oswalds to meet the Paines in February 1962, who I have interviewed, and the first thing she said to me was she wasn’t the Betty McDonald who worked as a dancer for Jack Ruby at the Carousel Club, who she is often confused with.

Betty McDonald – Magnolia Oil employee
Betty McDonald – Ruby Dancer


Although their names are spelled slightly different, they have a similar law enforcement background so at first I was confused by Jack Revill, the Dallas police officer in the Special Services Squad who worked informants, and Jack Revell, the ex-USMC and FBI agent who became the head of the Dallas FBI office for many years. 

Jack Revill – Dallas Cop
Jack Revell – FBI Agent


Some people believe Don Norton was one of the guys who intentionally impersonated Oswald, and I met him one night in a Dayton, Ohio parking lot, introduced to him by Mae Brussell. This Don P. Norton, who claims to have met Oswald in Mexico, and worked undercover for the US military intelligence, is often confused with another Don O. Norton, an elusive fisherman investigated by researchers as a possible Oswald impersonator who have different middle names. Yet another Don Norton wrote a book on the history of a defense contractor.

Don P. Norton – Claims to have met Oswald in Mexico
Don O. Norton – Fisherman investigated by researchers
Don Norton – Author of history of defense contractor.


There are so many Jack Martins that I can’t even count them all, but a few stand out, especially the “Jack Martin” who worked for Guy Bannister, the character played by Jack Lemon in the movie “JFK,” whose real name is Edward Stewart Suggs.

There’s also the Jack Martin who was an early suspect in the assassination, a religious fanatic from northern Louisiana who the Dallas Secret Service sent Special Agent In Charge (SAIC) of the New Orleans Secret Service office John Rice to investigate immediately after the assassination.

Jack Martin – aka Edward Stewart Suggs
Jack Martin – Northern Louisiana early suspect in assassination

Then there’s:

Jack Martin – Took films of Oswald handing out leaflets in New Orleans and Walker
Juan Martin – South American arms dealer in Dallas
John Martin – Chicago Union officer affiliated with Jack Ruby
John Barlow Martin – Interviewed RFK for JFK Library

There’s also a “Mr. Martin” who was frantically looking for Ruby on the night before the assassination, and a few other Martins turn up as well.


To confuse matters even further there were two Secret Service Agents in New Orleans named John Rice, John W. Rice, the aforementioned Special Agent in Charge and another federal agent involved in the assassination - J. Calvin Rice.

John W. Rice – SAIC New Orleans SS
J. Calvin Rice – SS Agent


There’s two Robert Morrows, one a former covert operative crank from Baltimore who wrote two books on the assassination, and the other a Texas assassination enthusiast who promotes the idea that LBJ was behind the assassination.

Robert Morrow – Baltimore, Maryland
Robert Morrow – Texas


From the files alone there are a number of cases of mistaken identity - including two Priscilla Johnsons, one the reporter, a CIA asset who knew both JFK and Oswald and another of the same name who got entwined in OSS intrigue during World War II.

Priscilla Johnson – American CIA
Priscilla Johnson – OSS Europe


The OSS files also indicate there may have been two Charles Fords, one from Atlantic City who attended Princeton and became a CIA training officer, except for a stint as RFK’s liaison to the mobsters working with the CIA to kill Castro, and another Charles Ford who served in the OSS in China, though it’s possible, and intriguing they may be the same person. The Charles Ford who served in the OSS was sent to China with J. Walton Moore, who went on to be the CIA’s Domestic Contacts officer in Dallas for many years.

Charles Ford – CIA Training Officer
Charles Ford – OSS in China with J.Walton Moore


There may be two Joe Campisis, one who served in the OSS during World War II and the other who owned a Dallas restaurant frequented by Jack Ruby, though it’s possible they may be one and the same person. If a researcher with the time could straighten that out it may prove worthwhile.

Joseph Campisi – OSS
Joseph Campisi – Dallas restaurant owner


When it was alleged that former JMWAVE CIA officer Gordon Campbell was at the Ambassador Hotel the night that RFK was assassinated, David Talbot and Jeff Morley determined that Gordon Campbell died in 1962, so it couldn’t have been him. But Army Ranger Captain Bradley Ayers remembers Gordon Campbell at JMWAVE a year after his death certificate says he died. Then I found another Gordon Campbell who worked for the Wright Company and had served in the Navy, so there were two Gordon Campbells with similar backgrounds.

Gordon Campbell – CIA JMWAVE
Gordon Campbell – USN


There are two Robert Steels among the Kennedy assassination records, one Navy Commander Robert Steel of San Diego who investigated Oswald’s defection and role in the assassination and Robert Steel from Pennsylvania, who reported on his sister’s neighbor Julio Fernandez, a Cuban newspaper editor who was acting suspiciously. When the HSCA asked the CIA for files on Julio Fernandez, they sent the files of twelve individuals with that name, but not the one they wanted.

Robert Steel - USNR ONI investigator in San Diego
Robert Steel – Pennsylvania neighbor of journalist Julio Fernandez


The CIA responded to a request from the HSCA for the CIA files on Julio Fernandez, they came up with a list of a dozen Cubans in their files named Julio Fernandez, except the two the HSCA were interested in – both anti-Castro Cubans, one being a former newspaper editor who immediately left Martinsburg, Pennsylvania as soon as he was questioned about the assassination, and the other being an JMWAVE trained maritime commando known to both Army Ranger Capt. Bradley Ayers and Clare Booth Luce, who financially supported his commando boat team.


This brings us to Richard A. Sprague, the Philadelphia attorney and first chief counsel to the House Select Committee on Assassinations who was relieved of his job after it was realized that he was conducting a real investigation, and the case of mistaken identity that sparked this essay.

Richard A. Sprague, Esq. may be the most significant case study, and the one related to the assassination that deserves the most attention, because two official bodies – the Assassination Records Review Board (ARRB) and the National Archives (NARA) apparently confused him with Richard E. Sprague, a JFK assassination researcher who collected photos, assisted New Orleans D.A. Jim Garrison in his investigation and contributed articles to Computers and Automation magazine in the 1970s.

And the result of this confusion has led to the fact that the files of the first chief counsel to the HSCA are not among the assassination records of the JFK Collection at the NARA, as the JFK Act of 1992 intended and requires.

Richard A. Sprague, Esq. – First Chief Counsel to the HSCA
Richard E. Sprague – Researcher – Photo Collector

Unlike the massive files of his replacement G. Robert Blakey, there are no personel records on file in the JFK Collection at the NARA Archives II regarding Richard A. Sprague, Esq., first chief counsel to the HSCA. When Blakey took over he was determined to write a “final report,” and then declared his HSCA records “Congressional Records,” not subject to the Freedom of Information Act (FOA) saying, “I’ll rest on the judgment of historians in fifty years.” This required Congress to pass the JFK Act to spring them.

When he left Washington Richard A. Sprague, Esq. took his HSCA files with him back to Philadelphia, where they remain part of his private records, not open to the public as the JFK Act requires.

So while the complete record of Blakey’s tenure at the HSCA is pretty much open for the public to read, there are no records for Sprague’s tenure at the HSCA among the JFK Collection at the NARA, even though I called attention to them in my testimony at the first public hearing of the ARRB. This clearly indicates that the Review Board members and its staff did not listen closely to those who testified at the public sessions and certainly their staff did not follow up on what was clearly presented to them. This was not an isolated case.

When I more recently notified the NARA that I couldn’t locate Sprague’s records among the JFK Collection today, I was politely referred to the records of one Richard E. Sprague, but as I responded to them, that Richard Sprague was not a lawyer but a researcher from New England whose extensive photo collection and papers are included in the JFK Collection at NARA.

The NARA archivist wrote to inform me that: “Mr. Kelly, Thanks for bringing Mr. Richard A. Sprague’s files to our attention.  We searched the collection and concur that the collection does not contain a record series of Sprague’s files as Chief Counsel of the HSCA.  We also searched the records of the ARRB and did not find evidence that the review board discussed acquiring his records.  We’re contacting Mr. Sprague at the address you provided regarding a potential donation of his files.”
-           Best, A. D.  Archivist Special Access and FOIA Branch

Since I was previously referred to the records of independent researcher Richard E. Sprague when I requested the records of the chief counsel to HSCA Richard A. Sprague, Esq., it is apparent that the ARRB and NARA staff checked the name file and found the quite extensive records of the independent researcher Richard E. Sprague, and assumed they were the files of Richard A. Sprague, Esq., the first chief counsel to the HSCA, but in fact they are the files of the researcher, not the lawyer.

Despite the passage of the JFK Act and fifteen years after the ARRB disbanded, Richard A. Sprague, Esq. still has his HSCA files because historical archivists were confused by the files of someone else with the same name.

The NARA then politely asked Mr. Sprague about donating his HSCA files to the JFK Collection, and Sprague was also contacted by a group of independent researchers who requested that Sprague allow them to copy the relevant records and release them to the public, but Sprague has not yet responded to either request.

Bill Kelly - 

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