Why Vincent Bugliosi Is So Sure Oswald Alone Killed JFK (Interview)Historians/History
Dallas, Texas. Friday. November 22, 1963. President John F. Kennedy died after a sniper attack on his motorcade. For many, the assassination remains a mystery. A 2003 Gallup Poll revealed that 75 percent of Americans believe there was a conspiracy behind the killing of President Kennedy.
In his massive new book on the murder, Reclaiming History: The Assassination of President John F. Kennedy (W.W. Norton), former Los Angeles prosecutor Vincent Bugliosi concludes that an unstable Lee Harvey Oswald acted alone in killing Kennedy, and incisively dissects every conspiracy theory: the CIA, the FBI, the KGB, Castro, the mob, LBJ, and others.
This weighty, 1600-plus page book—with a CD ROM of more than one thousand pages of endnotes—has been praised for its comprehensive narrative and its presentation of conspiracy theories, exposing selective use of evidence and flawed logic. The Los Angeles Times Book Review called Reclaiming History “a book for the ages.” The book is bound to stir debate, but many critics agree that it will be a starting point for future researchers.
Bugliosi may be best known for his classic true crime book Helter Skelter, which told the story of his successful prosecution of Charles Manson for murder. He also wrote a critique of the O.J. Simpson acquittal, Outrage, and condemned the U.S. Supreme Court decision in the 2000 presidential election in The Betrayal of America: How the Supreme Court Undermined the Constitution and Chose Our President.
Bugliosi’s JFK tome grew from his mock-trial prosecution of Lee Harvey Oswald for a BBC docudrama in 1986. He presented actual witnesses and evidence as noted attorney Gerry Spence defended Oswald. A jury of real Texans then voted to convict Oswald. In preparing for this trial, Bugliosi found that the “conspiracy theorists were guilty of the precise things they accused the Warren Commission of: distorting the evidence, and suppressing the truth.”
Bugliosi worked 80 to 100 hours a week for the past few years, drafting Reclaiming History by hand on legal pads. He concluded that Oswald acted alone, and said all of the conspiracy theories were “moonshine.”
Bugliosi, 72, recently discussed the JFK case from his Pasadena home.
Robin Lindley: Where were you on November 22, 1963?
VincentBugliosi: I was at UCLA Law School. I was in the hallway, and someone told me the president had been shot. I was the president of the senior class, so I took it upon myself to go inside classrooms and announce that the president had been shot, and the professors excused the students for the day. That’s all I remember about that moment.
Lindley: Were you a Kennedy supporter then?
Bugliosi: I voted for Kennedy, but I didn’t know this was an extremely unusual human being. I knew he was charismatic, and I was supportive of him, but as I have gotten into this book I realize how special he was. People talk about his irresistible charm. Nellie Connally, the wife of the charismatic Texas Governor John Connally, said, “I thought I knew what charisma was until I met John F. Kennedy.”
Author John Steinbeck was in Warsaw on a cultural mission for the State Department at the time of the shooting when he reported that he had never seen such mourning for anyone in his entire life. And he said the people in Poland had never seen anything like it. This was at the height of the Cold War, when Poland, a communist satellite country, could only hear what the Kremlin wanted them to hear. They were living in a censorship cocoon. How much could they have seen or heard to make them mourn his death like we did over here?
The charisma only takes you so far. It lassos your interest, but it’s not going to make you weep like you lost a family member. I concluded that there must have been something, even in little snippets on TV, in his face or his tone, the timbre of his voice, that they picked up this was a special, decent, sincere person, and that enabled him to pierce the Iron Curtain and reach their hearts to the point that they mourned him like we did here. Only one country in the world did not mourn Kennedy and that was China. But Russia mourned him. It’s been said that more people mourned him than any other human in world history.
John F. Kennedy’s opponents respected him. He was a war hero. He used his father’s influence to get into the war, and became a hero. Kennedy’s lieutenant commander said, “John Kennedy is in my unit, and he’s the only guy in the Navy who’s faking good health.” I talked to someone who had spent a couple weeks with Kennedy, in the Solomon Islands. Both [were] recuperating from wounds, both their PT boats had been sunk. He said everyone in that unit liked this man. It was very obvious [JFK] was ill; he was extremely thin, but he never complained. He may have been the son of a powerful, wealthy man, but everyone liked him.
So my feelings for Kennedy have increased immeasurably.
Also, everyone gives LBJ credit for passing the Civil Rights Bills. I’m not denigrating LBJ’s contribution, but I found a Look magazine article quoting the leaders of the Democrats and Republicans in the Senate and the House saying these bills were going to pass anyway. They said that the assassination expedited the passage, but all of them—the leaders of the Senate and the House—said Kennedy’s bills were going to pass. There’s a denying that in history to a certain extent. People have said he couldn’t pass them, but he would’ve passed them. And they seem to give most of the credit to LBJ.
Lindley: Did you agree with the Warren Commission findings in 1964?
Bugliosi: I was so immersed in trying one murder case after another that I had no opinion. I made the assumption that they were decent, honorable men, and they certainly were.
I had heard that the Warren Commission sealed its records for 75 years. That bothered me, but I have the answer now, and it’s in the book. They didn’t seal the records.
The records were sealed, but it had nothing to do with the Warren Commission. I found an old National Archives rule that when they got documents from a federal investigative body, as in this case of the Warren commission, they sealed the records for 75 years, which is believed to be the normal lifespan of a human. So that had nothing to do with the Warren Commission. That rule since was completely eviscerated by the 1966 Freedom of Information Act, and the JFK Act of 1992. So the records were originally sealed but it had nothing to do with the Warren Commission, even though an average person who has any view of the case would tell you the Warren Commission sealed the records. Archives representative said the Warren Commission got a bum rap on this.
By the way, the testimony from everyone who appeared before the Commission was published in the Warren Commission volumes, and is available. Hundreds upon hundreds of documents were published in Warren Commission volumes, and [others] were sent to the National Archives for safekeeping. In a cover letter [with] the documents and the records sent to the National Archives, [Chief Justice] Earl Warren said he wanted the fullest disclosure possible to the American public.
Lindley: You conclude that Oswald killed President Kennedy.
Bugliosi: Here, everything pointed toward Oswald’s guilt. All the physical evidence, all the scientific evidence. Everything he said, everything he did. In Reclaiming History, at the end of book one, I set forth 53 separate pieces of evidence pointing toward Oswald’s guilt. It would not be humanly possible for this man to be innocent and still have 53 pieces of evidence pointing toward his guilt. Only in a fantasy world can you have 53 pieces of evidence pointing toward guilt and still be innocent.
Quickly, five pieces: Oswald’s Mannlicher-Carcano rifle was the murder weapon. That’s pretty heavy by itself. Oswald was the only employee at the Book Depository Building who fled the building after the assassination. Forty-five minutes later, he shoots and kills Officer J. D. Tippit, Dallas Police Department. That murder bore the signature of a man in desperate flight from some awful deed. Thirty minutes later at a Texas theatre he resists arrest, pulls a gun on the arresting officer. During his interrogation, [Oswald] told one provable lie after another, showing a consciousness of guilt.
Lindley: Why do you think Oswald killed President Kennedy?
Bugliosi: I have a whole chapter on motive, but no one is ever going to know for sure why Oswald killed Kennedy. Even if he were alive today, he might not be able to tell us the dynamics swirling around in his fevered mind that led him to this monstrous act of murder. But there are some pieces of circumstantial evidence from which we can draw inferences, and there are many. I just want to touch on a couple.
One, Oswald had delusions of grandeur. He viewed himself in an historical way. His diary was called The Historical Diary. A squad mate of his in the marines said that Oswald wanted to be something that ten thousand years from now people would be talking about. His wife, Marina, said her husband viewed himself in an historical light and compared himself to the great figures of history whom he read about in biographies.
Getting more specific, Oswald revered Fidel Castro, and he was an ardent supporter of the Cuban revolution. Certainly he was not in favor of Kennedy backing the Bay of Pigs invasion to overthrow Castro. We know that Oswald in late September of 1963, just a month and a half before the assassination, tried to get to Havana to help Castro, and he was rejected at the Cuban consulate in Mexico City. He got very, very angry, almost in tears. I am trying to show the connection that he had not with Castro, or any Castro agents, but with the whole notion of the Cuban Revolution. He was aware that, five days before that assassination, Kennedy, in Miami, gave a foreign policy speech in which he all but urged the Cuban people to rise up against Castro, promising prompt U.S. aid if they did. And I agree with the Warren Commission and the House Select Committee on Assassinations that Oswald’s love for Castro played a part in the motivation to kill Kennedy, thinking that by killing an enemy of Castro’s Cuba he somehow was furthering the Cuban cause.
My background in the Manson case very definitely played a part in the words that I read meaning more to me than perhaps the average person. Manson did not know the people whom he was having killed, precisely who they were. But he knew they were members of the establishment, and he hated the establishment. So these were representative murders. In the Historical Diary, Oswald said that he had lived under capitalism and communism and, “I despise the representatives of both systems.” Oswald did not hate Kennedy. I don’t think he loved Kennedy, but he didn’t hate him either. But he hated the United States of America. He wouldn’t even let his Russian wife, Marina, learn English over here. Oswald may have used Kennedy as the quintessential representative of a society for which he held a blinding contempt, and when he was shooting at Kennedy, he was shooting at the United States of America. I don’t know this with any 100 percent certitude, but I have put people on death row without knowing precisely what their motive was. All I knew was that they committed a murder and they had no legal justification for it.
Lindley: You note that Oswald often failed, and he wanted to prove himself somehow.
Bugliosi: He had been a failure everywhere. He was a failure in the Marines, [and] he was court-martialed. He was a failure at work. He would get fired, or he couldn’t get a good job. He was a failure with Marina, his wife. He had been a failure all of his life, and all of a sudden now he had done something successfully.
His relationship with Marina was not the reason he killed Kennedy, but was, I think, responsible for why he killed Kennedy. Marina was his pretty, Russian-born wife, and he and she had a very tempestuous relationship. I think they loved each other, but he would beat her, she would run away, he’d go after her, and he would literally get down on his knees and beg her to come back. She would come back and then the cycle would continue. That was the relationship between Oswald and Marina. And Marina needed assurances from Oswald that he would not send her back to the Soviet Union; he would never give her that sense of security.
The night before the assassination, Oswald [went to] Irving, Texas, where his wife was living with their two children in Ruth Paine’s home. He had always gone out on Friday evening with Bill Fraser, a worker at the book depository, and then they would come back to work the following Monday morning. But here the president was coming to town on Friday, so Oswald for the first time goes out there on a Thursday evening, half asleep, to get the rifle stored in the Paine garage to kill Kennedy the next day.
Here is the important point: that intent to kill, I am almost sure, was conditional. He begged Marina to come back to him three times. When he went out there he didn’t think she would come back, and it was his intent to kill Kennedy the next day. I think it was conditional because why would he be begging her to come back to him. He said: “We can do it now. I got a job, we can get an apartment big enough for the four of us. We can get that used washing machine that you need.” They were very, very poor people. And she said, “I was smiling on the inside, happy that he was asking me to come back,” but on the outside she was tough to him, not giving him what she knew he needed. After that third time, he changed his demeanor completely. That night in bed, her leg rubbed against his one time, and he pushed her away.
Marina herself has taken responsibility for this murder. In a letter to the Warren Commission in Russian, which was translated into English, she said how much she regretted turning him down. She said, “If I would have only known what he was planning to do the next day, obviously I would have come to him.”
I am not suggesting that [Oswald] killed Kennedy because of Marina. He had that intent, for whatever reason, but I think that if she had gone back to him that night, he would not have done it.
And on the issue of conspiracy, if he was conspiring with the mob or CIA to kill Kennedy, is he going to be going out the night before the murder to his wife and begging her to come back? I don’t think so.
Lindley: And you find that Oswald was not part of a conspiracy to kill JFK.
Bugliosi: All of these theories and beliefs have turned out to be “moonshine.” I am convinced beyond all doubt that Oswald killed Kennedy. I am convinced beyond all reasonable doubt that there was no conspiracy.
Number one, there’s no credible evidence that the mob or CIA, KGB, military-industrial complex, [or others] were behind the assassination. All we have is naked speculation. I told the jury in London, I’ll stipulate that three people can keep a secret, but only if two are dead. Now here, it’s close to 44 years later, and not one word, not one syllable has leaked out that any of these groups were involved in the assassination.
Number two, there’s no evidence whatsoever that Oswald ever had any connection whatsoever with any of these groups, and we know that the FBI checked this guy out. Even [assassination researcher Harold] Weisberg conceded that the FBI checked out every breath [Oswald] ever breathed, from the moment he arrived back to the States from the Soviet Union on June 13, 1962 to the day of the assassination. They accounted for everything this guy did. They found no evidence after 25,000 interviews, that he had any connection with any of these groups.
Number three, assuming one of these groups wanted to kill the president, and I reject that out of hand, Oswald would have been one of the last people on the face of this earth whom they would have gone to kill Kennedy. Why? He was not an expert shot. He was a good shot, but not an expert shot. He owned only a twelve-dollar, mail-order rifle. He was notoriously unreliable, extremely unstable. Here’s a guy who defects to the Soviet Union pre-Gorbachev. I mean even today, who in the world defects to the Soviet Union? It’s one of the bleakest places on the face of the earth. And then he gets over there, tries to become a Soviet citizen, and is turned down. What does he do? He tries to commit suicide. He slashes his wrists and they had to take him to the hospital. Just the type of guy—I’m being sarcastic—that the CIA or mob would rely on to commit the biggest murder in American history.
Taking it to its final step, assuming that one of these groups wanted to kill Kennedy, and assuming further that for whatever crazy, bizarre reason they wanted to use Oswald to do it, and he agreed to do it, after he shot Kennedy in Dealey Plaza and the left the book depository, one of two things would have happened. The least likely thing is that there would have been a car there waiting for him to help him escape down to Mexico or wherever. Certainly the conspirators would not want their hit man to be apprehended and interrogated. The most likely thing by far: there would have a car waiting for him to drive him to his death. And yet we know that Oswald was out on the street with 13 dollars in his pocket, trying to flag down buses and cabs, and that alone tells any sensible person that there was no conspiracy here because that would not have happened if the CIA or mob were behind the assassination.
Even the motorcade route that took the president beneath Oswald’s sixth-floor window wasn’t determined until November 18, 1963, four days before the assassination. Now what rational person could believe that the CIA or mob or whatever the group it was would conspire with Oswald to kill Kennedy within just four days of the assassination?
Lindley: And you also conclude that Ruby acted alone in killing Oswald.
Bugliosi: You hear the statement that Ruby silenced Oswald for the mob, and that presupposes that Oswald killed Kennedy for the mob. Why silence him if there is nothing to silence? And there is no evidence that the mob was behind the assassination, and no evidence that Oswald had any connection with organized crime.
The Warren Commission and the FBI conducted a thorough investigation, and found no evidence that Ruby was ever a member of organized crime, or had any association with them.
He did have two nightclubs. His favorite [was] The Carousel, a strip-tease club. Undoubtedly, he ran into some low-level mobsters, but no one he wouldn’t be expected to run into in a position like his.
He also liked to intimate that he had mob connections, but they found no evidence that he was ever connected with organized crime. Incidentally, he offered to take a polygraph test. Polygraph tests are not conclusive, but the offer to take one on this issue is good evidence of innocence. He [had a] polygraph test on whether he was a member of organized crime and killed Oswald for the mob, and he passed the test.
Apart from that, he would have been, like Oswald, an extremely unlikely and bad hit man. Most people don’t know that Ruby was extremely close to Dallas law enforcement. He loved law enforcement officers, and he would hang out at the police department. A great number of members of law enforcement in Dallas were friendly with Jack Ruby, and many of them came to his club. That is not the type of guy you go to commit the second biggest murder in American history.
He also was a blabbermouth, he was known as a snitch. If he detected anything that he thought was a crime or people at the club engaging in crime, he would snitch to the Dallas Police Department. He was not the type of guy you would go to if you wanted someone to commit a crime and be silent.
Also, Ruby was a very mentally and emotionally unbalanced individual. He had a violent temper, fighting all the time with customers at the club—throwing them down the stairs. They would be talking to him and all of a sudden he would knock them down, and they didn’t know what they had said wrong.
He had organic brain damage. He had seven dogs, six of whom he called his children, the seventh, Sheba, his wife. Jack Revill was the detective in charge of the criminal investigation division at the Dallas Police Department and he testified before the House Select Committee in 1978, he said: “Jack Ruby was a buffoon, and I tell this committee that if Jack Ruby was a member of organized crime, the personnel director of organized crime should be replaced.”
By the way, people say that he silenced Oswald for the mob. Well who was supposed to silence Ruby? They don’t ask that question. He lived a normal life. He died in custody, but he died a normal death three years later.
Everyone who knew Ruby laughed at the suggestion that he was member of organized crime and silenced Oswald for the mob. Yet many of the people who read this [are] convinced that he was a big time mobster who silenced Oswald for the mob.
Lindley: Why did Ruby kill Oswald?
Bugliosi: Ruby literally idolized John F. Kennedy. His psychiatrist said Ruby loved this man. He thought he was the greatest man in history. He took Kennedy’s death very, very hard. He cried throughout the assassination weekend. His sister Eva used to live in LA and, she said that her brother Jack, quote: “Cried harder when Kennedy died than when ma and pa died.” He took the death very hard.
Ruby [also] thought that he was going to become a big hero because everyone hated Oswald. He was the typical avenger, [and] was fearful that somehow Oswald conceivably could get off.
He thought he was going to be a hero. He tried to get an agent from his jail cell. He thought there was going to be a big book and a movie about him because he viewed what he did as a heroic deed. He thought he would just get a slap on the wrist, and in a short time he would be back at the Carousel club greeting people from around the world wanting to shake the hand of the man who killed the man who killed president.
And he did get letters and congratulatory telegrams from around the world saying, “You’re a hero,” and “You did a wonderful thing.”
I agree with the House Select Committee and the Warren Commission that Ruby’s love for Kennedy and hatred for Oswald played a part in his killing of Oswald.
Lindley: In The Plot to Kill the President, Bob Blakey, staff director of the House Select Committee, and Dick Billings, editor of the House report, argue that organized crime was behind the assassination.
Bugliosi: Oswald had an uncle in New Orleans, Dutz Murret, who at one time, he worked as a bookmaker for a guy named Sam Saia who had a relationship with Carlos Marcello, the mafia chief in New Orleans. That was years earlier. The US Attorney there said Marcello was a criminal, but he was mostly involved in gambling. There is no record that Marcello was involved in [mob] violence.
But anyway, Blakey and Billings draw the connection that Marcello may have gotten to Oswald through Murret who at one time worked for Sam Saia, who had this gambling operation—the horses, the what-have-you—where he received information of a fee paid to Marcello. Extremely tenuous. There is no evidence that Murret ever met Marcello, and certainly no evidence that Oswald had anything to do with Marcello. And Blakey and Billings come out in their book saying that the mob was behind it, but all they come up with again is motive. Motive is not enough.
Lindley: You argue that the conspiracy theories rest on motive only.
Bugliosi: You’ve got to pay the piper and show that the person that you say has a motive is the person who actually committed the crime, and you can only do that by evidence. Yet book after book on the assassination comes out and spends hundreds and hundreds of pages to establish motive, and they think if they have motive, that’s enough.
You know if someone killed President Bush you could come up with all types of people who had a motive. Does that mean that they did it? Apparently, these conspiracy theorists believe, if the president of our country is doing something that a particular group like the military, or CIA, or Wall Street, or the unions don’t like, then they simply kill him. We routinely do that in this country. If the president is doing something we don’t like, we kill him. And that’s nonsense on its face.
We’ve got to go beyond motive. Dallas was extremely conservative at the time. There were people there that did not like [Kennedy], so they had a motive, right? Means? All they had to do was purchase a rifle, right? Opportunity? All they had to do was be along the parade route. So they had motive, means and opportunity. Does that mean that they killed the president? It’s silly. I can imagine a courtroom wag saying, Okay, the defendant had motive, means and opportunity, but did he do it? And these people write these preposterous books trying to establish motive, and once they think they have a motive, they think they found the killer.
Lindley: To put it mildly, you disliked Oliver Stone’s movie JFK.
Bugliosi: This silly Oliver Stone came up with ten groups that had a motive and he’s got all ten groups involved in the assassination. I go into great depth for the first time on the movie, and show what he said, and then show he committed cinematic murder. His movie is one continuous lie. I should amend that by saying he did have the correct date, location, and victims, but other than that, it was one continuous lie, and yet millions saw his movie and walked out thinking that there was a vast conspiracy.
To show you how unfair he was in the presentation of the evidence. I mentioned fifty-three separate pieces of evidence pointing irresistibly to the guilt of Oswald, and Oliver Stone in his three hour and eight minute movie could not put in one of those fifty-three pieces. I guess poor Oliver just didn’t have enough time to do that.
Lindley: Did you talk to Stone in the course of your interviews?
Bugliosi: No. There is nothing to talk to him about. I saw his movie and I read everything he has written and it is just pure nonsense. People have asked him to debate me but he has not accepted any challenges to debate, and I would love to debate him.
Lindley: You’ve mentioned that the Kennedy family agreed with the Warren Commission findings.
Bugliosi: Bobby Kennedy is on record as saying that he accepted the findings of the Warren Commission. He said that several times. [Some people] say he had doubts. I don’t know. The Kennedy family had no doubt. Ted Kennedy said we accept the findings. John Jr. had this magazine called George, and his assistants talked him into a meeting at a restaurant in Santa Monica with Oliver Stone, and Stone started talking conspiracy. John Jr. excused himself, went to the bathroom, came back and terminated it. The conversation was, he said, like talking to someone in Star Trek.
Lindley: Can you talk about the new findings on bullet fragments from the scene?
Bugliosi: That’s not a new story. These former FBI agents came up with a statement, and people are asking around the country about this new story. Here’s how new it is—it’s in my book. They’re talking about neutron activation analysis. It was simply corroborative.
Lindley: You explain how the “Magic Bullet” wounded both JFK and Governor Connally.
Bugliosi: These conspiracy theorists not only lie when they’re controverting documentary evidence, but they also lie when there’s actual photographic evidence disputing what they’re doing. In their sketches, they place governor Connally [directly] in front of President Kennedy in the presidential limousine, and then they argue that a bullet coming from the right rear, passing through Kennedy, from right to left, would have had to make a right turn in midair and then a left turn to hit Connally.
If you start with an erroneous premise, everything that follows makes a heck of a lot of sense. The only problem is that it is wrong. There’s no question that Connally was not seated directly in front of Kennedy in the presidential limousine. He was seated to his left front. I have a photograph in Reclaiming History showing exactly where they were seated, and right along side of it I show sketches that they put in conspiracy books, [with Connally] right in front and the bullet is making a right turn and a left turn. But he was seated to [JFK’s] left front in a jump seat a half-foot in so the orientation of Connally’s body vis a vis Kennedy’s was such that a bullet passing on a straight line, through Kennedy, would have no where else to go, except to hit Governor Connally.
At the trial in London Jerry Spence asked [forensic pathologist Dr.] Cyril Wecht to characterize this bullet and he said, “It’s a magic bullet.” Bullets don’t even do this in cartoons, make right and left turns. On cross examination, I said “Dr. Wecht would you concede this bullet passed in a straight line through Kennedy’s body, soft tissue, if it did not go on to hit Governor Connally, as you claim it did not, how come it didn’t tear up the interior of the limousine, or hit the driver?” He said, “I don’t know. I didn’t conduct the investigation in this case.” I said, “Dr. Wecht, it sounds like you have your own magic bullet, because if it did not hit Governor Connally, did not tear up the interior of the limousine, did not hit the driver, it must have zigzagged to the left.” He said, “No, it may not have zigzagged to the left.” I said, “Well, did it hop, skip and jump over the car?” He said, “No, it did not have to perform any remarkable feat.” Then I said, “Dr. Wecht, what happened to that bullet after it exited the president’s throat,” and he said, “I don’t know.”
If we are to believe the conspiracy theorists, after this bullet exited the president’s throat, apparently, it vanished, without a trace, into thin air. They’re the only ones that have the magic bullet, and they’ve taken this magic bullet and wrapped it around the neck of the Warren Commission for all these years.
Lindley: And you discuss the headshot and the snap of the president’s head to the rear, as stressed in Stone’s movie.
Bugliosi: Millions of Americans thought that the shot came from the right front [with] the head snap to the rear. People saw this [in the Zapruder film] for the first time in 1975 on national television on ABC’s Good Night America with Geraldo Rivera. And millions said there must have been a conspiracy. The head snapped to the rear, the shot came from the front where the grassy knoll was, not from the rear where Oswald was, and that certainly is understandable.
At the trial in London, Jerry Spence showed that segment of the Zapruder film five times. I didn’t object, and I let him do it. And he said to the jury, it looked like Babe Ruth struck the president from the front with a bat. He said, “Mr. Bugliosi is trying to convince you folks that what you saw with your very own eyes never happened.”
If I never had an answer to that I think the verdict in London would have been not guilty. It would have created a reasonable doubt. But here’s the answer. You can’t see it by looking at the film; you have to look at the individual frames—which I showed the jury in London on a screen. At frame 312, the president’s head is okay. At frame 313, which is 1/18 of a second later, you see the president struck in the head, the explosion to the head. (There are 18.3 frames per second in the Zapruder film.) In frame 313, the President’s head [is] not pushed backwards, which would be consistent with the head snap theory, but it’s pushed slightly forward, 2.3 inches forward, indicating a shot from the rear, where Oswald was. This all-important moment of impact is much more important than what you see on the film: [in frame 313] the president’s head is pushed forward, indicating a shot from the rear. That is very clearly shown in the photo section of Reclaiming History. Also, a high-contrast photo of frame 313 [shows] this terrible spray of blood and tissue all to the front, indicating a shot from the rear.
The head snap to the rear [was from] nerve damage caused by the bullet entering the President’s brain causing his back muscles to tighten, which in turn caused the head to snap to the rear.
It sounds like boasting, but all the answers are in my book. The LA Times said that finally someone put all the pieces together, that Reclaiming History is a “book for the ages.” They said that nobody can possibly read this book without concluding that Oswald killed Kennedy and acted alone. The Wall Street Journal said it is unlike any other book ever written on the assassination. I have to make this choice of speaking candidly about it and coming across as boastful, but if I don’t speak candidly about it then they think it is just another book. It’s not just another book on the assassination.
Lindley: Your book at more than 1600 pages is the longest yet on the JFK case.
Bugliosi: It is the only book to cover the entire case. It’s the only book that settles all questions about the assassination once and for all, and the only book to take on all of these conspiracy theories.
This is the first book on the assassination ever to take on all of these conspiracy theorists and destroy their theories. My editor said that it took a book of this magnitude to finally drive a stake in the heart of the conspiracy movement in this country.
The Kennedy assassination is the most fascinating story that has ever happened, that has ever been told. More words have been written about the Kennedy case than any other single one-day event in world history.
On September 11, 2001, there have only been a handful of books. And here, 44 years later, they are still writing a book or two a month on the Kennedy case. You could take ten of the best novelists in the world, put them into room, give them all the time they needed to come up with a presidential assassination as unbelievable and as intriguing as this one, and they couldn’t even come close to the Kennedy assassination in their wildest dreams.
It’s an incredible story. Among other things, the cast of characters was so colorful and unbelievable that they would compete favorably with anything in Shakespeare. Jack and Jackie alone were probably the most charismatic, glamorous first couple ever. Almost bigger than life characters, each in their own right. LBJ, and J. Edgar Hoover, are larger than life characters. Oswald and Ruby were almost fictional characters.
The main reason for [the book’s] length is the two realities in this case. One, at its core, this is a very simple case, and remains a simple case to this very day. Within hours of the shooting in Dealey Plaza, virtually all of Dallas law enforcement knew that Oswald had killed Kennedy, and when they found out what an incredible kook he was, that he had acted alone. That reality remains true to this very day.
But the second reality and the main reason for the length of this book is the unceasing and fanatical obsession of literally thousands upon thousands of Warren Commission critics and conspiracy theorists who have investigated every single conceivable aspect of this case for close to 44 years, and made hundreds upon hundreds of allegations, so this simple case has been transformed into the most complex murder case, by far, in world history. Nothing even remotely comes close.
So at its core it remains a simple case. But with these constant allegations on a weekly, on a monthly basis, I started responding to all of them. I was trying to write a book for the ages, as the LA Times says, and if you’re writing a book for the ages and someone is making a charge, you have to respond [or] you’d be asked why you didn’t. So I got sucked into the abyss. The only way I got out is when my editor said, Vince, we are going to press, and that was the end of it. If he hadn’t said that, I wouldn’t be talking to you right now because I would be responding to some of these other silly conspiracy theorists. But I finally put an end to it, and have gone on to other things.
Lindley: Were you assisted by researchers in writing the book?
Bugliosi: No. Everything I wrote was my research. Near the end I asked my secretary if there was anything on the Internet, but almost everything I got was from books, often through interlibrary loans. I spent hundreds of hours in front of microfilm and microfiche.
Lindley: What’s your next project?
Bugliosi: A series of essays on all types of things. It’s not going to be a 1600-page book.
With the Kennedy case, I learned that there is absolutely no bottom to the pile. It’s a bottomless pit. While I am talking to right now, at least a hundred people are looking at some document from the National Archives, looking for some contradiction, inconsistency, discrepancy, some hint of a conspiracy, working full time on it, and probably another thousand working part-time. When you have intelligent people like this (I think that with respect to this case they’re certifiably psychotic), they can create a lot of mischief, which they have. They have succeeded in convincing 75 percent of Americans of this conspiracy.
A shorter version of this article appeared in the July 25, 2007 issue of Real Change, a Seattle weekly.
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William Ray Charleston - 3/5/2009
Now that we know for sure that Oswald was not the lone shooter, how does Vince Bugliosi react? It was impossible for a shooter to fire two shots less than one second apart with a bolt action rifle.
Michael Calder - 11/20/2007
So Sad. To be near the end of one's life and sell your soul to the devil. I'll just comment on the "Magic Bullet." From the Hearings and Exhibits of the Warren Commission. Commander James Humes: Kennedy's autopsy surgeon was asked if exhibit #399, (Magic Bullet) could have injured President Kennedy. "I think it is most unlikely. The reason I believe it is most unlikiely that this missile could have inflicted either of these wounds is that this missile is basically intact.I do not understand how it could possibly have left fragments in either of these locations." From Dr. Shaw, Gov Connally's surgeon we have; But the examination of the wrist both by x-ray and at the time of surgery, showed some fragments of metal that make it difficult to believe that the same missile could have caused these two wounds. There seems to be more than three grains of metal missing as far as the - I mean in the wrist. The bullet has lost literally none of it's substance." So sad.
Gary L. Aguilar - 8/28/2007
Lindley asks: "Can you talk about the new findings on bullet fragments from the scene?"
Bugliosi: "That’s not a new story. These former FBI agents came up with a statement, and people are asking around the country about this new story. Here’s how new it is—it’s in my book. They’re talking about neutron activation analysis. It was simply corroborative."
Although there are myriad, similar examples of Bugliosi’s misstating or misunderstanding the data and the science, this is as useful a place as any to begin Bugliosi's high scholastic standards.
Is Bugliosi right that the new, publicized findings and statements of FBI agents are not new at all but are in Bugliosi’s book and that they corroborate his conclusions? Not even close.
But a little background first.
Neutron Activation Analysis of JFK’s Bullet Evidence
First elaborated before the House Select Committee’s (HSCA’s) reinvestigation of Kennedy’s murder in 1977, NAA is a sophisticated scientific technique. Formerly used by the FBI and police, it was said to be able to identify bullets, and to be able to match recovered fragments to specific bullets, by measuring the miniscule levels of “impurities” that are commonly present in bullet lead. Typically, the trace amounts of antimony (Sb), silver (Ag) and copper (Cu) are assayed. But other trace components could also have been used.
Vincent Guinn, an authority on bullet lead analysis, put JFK’s bullet evidence to the test for the HSCA and, against all expectations at the time, testified that NAA seemed to inextricably tie Oswald to the crime.
Since then, NAA has been championed by only two individuals, a retired atmospheric chemist, Ken Rahn, Ph.D. and Mr. Larry Sturdivan, the coauthors of two, back-to-back papers on the topic in 2004. In police circles, however, NAA has been all but abandoned as unreliable.
Drawing from Guinn, Rahn and Sturdivan, Bugliosi explained that NAA only proved useful in the Kennedy case because of an unusual feature that distinguished the bullet lead used in Oswald’s ammunition from that used in other types of hunting rounds. “When subjected to NAA by Dr. Guinn,” Bugliosi said, “all five of the specimens produced a profile highly characteristic of the Western Cartridge Company’s Mannlicher-Carcano ammunition.” Whereas with most bullet lead, said Guinn, the level of trace components are strictly controlled and so, via NAA, measure exactly the same, bullet to bullet, making them indistinguishable. But with Oswald’s ammunition, the levels of trace components vary, bullet to bullet.
Guinn said JFK’s bullet evidence showed the telltale sign it was WCC MC lead: the fragments had varying levels of antimony. Ipso facto, they were Oswald’s bullets.
But “(e)ven more interesting,” Bugliosi elaborated, “the results fell into two distinct groups … all five specimens had come from just two bullets … the large fragment found in the limousine, the smaller fragments found on the rug of the limousine, and the fragments recovered from Kennedy’s brain were all from one bullet.” Thus, the limousine fragments came from the shot that hit Kennedy in the head. But, Bugliosi continued, Guinn’s “most important conclusion by far, however, scientifically defeating the notion that the bullet found on Connally’s stretcher had been planted, was that the elemental composition and concentration of trace elements of the three bullet fragments removed from Governor Connally’s wrist matched those of a second bullet, the stretcher bullet (#399). The stretcher bullet, then, had to be the one that struck Connally … .”
In other words, the NAA “Rosetta Stone” of the JFK case had established three, central facts. First, the varying levels of trace components detected by NAA proved that all the fragments came from the type of ammo used in Oswald’s rifle. Second, the fragments recovered from JFK’s brain and from the limousine all came from a single bullet. Third, only one other bullet, #399, could have played a role, and it could not have been planted because NAA showed that all the remaining fragments, those extracted from the governor, had come from #399. Thus, Bugliosi tells us, with NAA confirming only two bullets from Oswald’s rifle were involved, the possibility of a third bullet and a second gunman had been excluded scientifically. Not only can none of these claims withstand scrutiny, Bugliosi certainly knew of the serious weaknesses.
Neutron Activation and the Kennedy Case
Regarding the "first central fact" – varying trace components prove the fragments came from MCC lead – one obvious problem with this claim is that it fails simple logic – it “begs the question.” In arguing that the varying levels of antimony in the recovered bullets/fragments proves that the ammo came solely from Oswald’s ammunition, he has assumed as true that which is in dispute. The fact there were varying levels of trace components scarcely eliminates the possibility of different types of bullets. Rather, varying levels is precisely what one would expect if different assassins had fired different types of bullets.
Bugliosi’s science isn’t much better than his logic. In a long endnote, Bugliosi acknowledges several recent studies that have cast such doubt on the value of NAA in matching bullets that the technique has been all but abandoned by crime investigators. Yet he writes that, “no one has successfully challenged the findings of Dr. Guinn in the Kennedy assassination,” as if the very studies he cited had not already eviscerated Guinn which, in fact, they had. His argument is that, while new studies show that different bullets from entirely different lots may occasionally turn out to have the same levels of trace elements, and so falsely just *seem* to be from a single bullet, Guinn had shown that the bullets Oswald used were “unlike other manufactured bullets.” Oswald’s bullets, he said, “had different elemental compositions (particularly in antimony content) from bullet to bullet within the same box (normally consisting of twenty rounds) of ammunition.” (Bugliosi’s emphasis throughout)
In other words, the proof the fragments came from the type of ammo Oswald had used, and none other, is that the recovered fragments perfectly fit the profile: the quanta of antimony content varied. Had they instead been any other, single kind of bullet, the levels of antimony would have been constant. But as is now well known from the very research Bugliosi cites, this contention is completely untrue. The lead found in Mannlicher-Carcano bullets is not at all unique or unusual. In fact, it’s rather common.
As two metallurgists from Lawrence Livermore Lab, Erik Randich, Ph.D. and Pat Grant, Ph.D., reported in an article published in the Journal of Forensic Science in 2006 (which Bugliosi cites), “The lead cores of the bullets (Guinn) sampled from WCC lots 6000–6003 contained approximately 600–900 ppm antimony and approximately 17–4516 ppm copper (with most of the copper concentrations in the 20–400 ppm range). In both of these aspects, the WCC MC bullets are quite similar to other commercial FMJ (jacketed) rifle ammunition.” Thus, they conclude, the JFK bullet fragments “need not necessarily have originated from MC ammunition. Indeed, the antimony compositions of the evidentiary specimens are consistent with any number of jacketed ammunitions containing unhardened lead.” Randich and Grant, who specifically rebutted not only Guinn’s original NAA work, but also that of anti-conspiracists Rahn and Sturdivan, said they have no opinion on the conspiracy question. Both remain entirely agnostic.
Bugliosi doesn’t ignore Randich and Grant. He dismisses their paper on the sole basis of a personal letter (which he reprints in a long endnote) from the longtime anti-conspiracist, Mr. Larry Sturdivan, the very man who came up with the idea that NAA was the JFK “Roseetta Stone” in the first place! Unfortunately, like Guinn and Rahn before him, Sturdivan had no metallurgical expertise. So it was no surprise when, in his “refutation,” Sturdivan repeated Guinn’s apparent error, saying that JFK’s bullet fragments were identifiable as WCC MC shells because they had the near-unique NAA profile typical of those bullets, a profile that the metallurgists from Lawrence Livermore Lab say does not exist. “Any number of jacketed” rounds, they said, would have produced the same NAA profile as JFK’s fragments.
But perhaps the most telling aspect of this story is how Bugliosi, who endlessly touts his high standards of scholarship, dealt with these flatly contradictory analyses. He had to choose between the personal remarks of a longstanding anti-conspiracy, NAA proponent with unremarkable credentials and those of two, conspiracy-agnostic, Lawrence Livermore Lab scientists with superb credentials writing in the peer-reviewed, scientific literature.
Given the importance Warren Commission loyalists have attached to this evidence, a scholar of any merit would have checked the claims in Sturdivan’s personal letter with someone in a position to know – if not Randich and/or Grant, then some other authority on bullet metallurgy. Bugliosi apparently didn’t do that, which I only discovered when I contacted Randich and Grant. Both told me Bugliosi had never once contacted them – whether about their paper, about Sturdivan’s “refutation,” or about anything else. And, in rejecting Randich and Grant to embrace Sturdivan’s conclusions, Bugliosi cites no one but Sturdivan, who is as demonstrably inexpert as he is interested in perpetuating NAA as the “Rosetta Stone” of the Kennedy case.
Ironically, it might have saved Bugliosi considerable embarrassment if he had gotten a second opinion. For in the very week Reclaiming History was released, a second scientific report, this one by a team lead by Texas A&M statistician, Clifford Spiegelman, Ph.D and a 24-year veteran of the FBI Lab, William Tobin, Ph.D., was published that corroborated Randich and Grant’s evisceration of NAA. Calling Guinn, Rahn and Sturdivan’s statistical analysis “fundamentally flawed,” Spiegelman et al demonstrated that, properly used, statistical models show that Kennedy’s bullet fragments could have come from more than two bullets, even as many as five. Thus, the second and third central facts of the “Rosetta Stone” have crumbled. Not only does NAA not exclude the possibility of a second assassin, it can’t even prove that all the fragments came from the sort of bullets Oswald is supposed to have used.
So, when asked (above), “Can you talk about the new findings on bullet fragments from the scene?” Bugliosi answered, “These former FBI agents (sic) came up with a statement, and people are asking around the country about this new story. Here’s how new it is—it’s in my book. They’re talking about neutron activation analysis. It was simply corroborative.”
Indeed, the two new studies are corroborative – but of each other, in refuting Bugliosi. And the second study, the one involving only a single, former FBI agent, Tobin, is *not* in Bugliosi’s book.
Citations, in the order they appear in the text:
Kenneth Rahn & Larry Sturdivan, Neutron activation and the JFK assassination - Part I. Data and interpretation. Journal of Radioanalytical and Nuclear Chemistry, Vol. 262, No. 1 (2004) 205 – 213.
Larry Sturdivan & Kenneth Rahn, Neutron activation and the JFK assassination - Part II. Extended benefits. Journal of Radioanalytical and Nuclear Chemistry, Vol. 262, No. 1 (2004) 215 – 222.
Bugliosi, p. 814.
Bugliosi, p. 814.
Clifford Spiegelman et al, Chemical and forensic analysis of JFK assassination bullet lots: Is a second shooter possible? Annals of Applied Statistics, May, 2007. On-line at: http://www.imstat.org/aoas/next_issue.html
Erik Randich et al, Metallurgical Review of the Interpretation of Bullet Lead Compositional Analysis, Forensic Science International, 2002, pp.174, 190).
* Charles Piller & Robin Mejia, Science Casts Doubt on FBI’s Bullet Evidence, Los Angeles Times, February 3, 2003, pp .A1, A16.
* Board on Chemical Sciences and Technology, Forensic Analysis, Lead Evidence, National Research Council, February 10, 2004.
* Los Angeles Times, February 11, 2004, p.A12.
* New York Times, February 11, 2004, p.A17.
* Pittsburgh Tribune Review, November 22, 2003, p.A3)*
* Erik Randich, Ph.D. & Patrick M. Grant, Ph.D. Proper Assessment of the JFK Assassination Bullet Lead Evidence from Metallurgical and
Statistical Perspectives. J Forensic Sci, July 2006, Vol. 51, No. 4, p 728. doi:10.1111/j.1556-4029.2006.00165.x. Available online at: www.blackwell-synergy.com
Bugliosi, endnote, p. 435.
Bugliosi, endnote, p. 436.
Erik Randich, Ph.D. & Patrick M. Grant, Ph.D. Proper Assessment of the JFK Assassination Bullet Lead Evidence from Metallurgical and
Statistical Perspectives. J Forensic Sci, July 2006, Vol. 51, No. 4, p 723. doi:10.1111/j.1556-4029.2006.00165.x. Available online at: www.blackwell-synergy.com
Erik Randich, Ph.D. & Patrick M. Grant, Ph.D. Proper Assessment of the JFK Assassination Bullet Lead Evidence from Metallurgical and
Statistical Perspectives. J Forensic Sci, July 2006, Vol. 51, No. 4, p 728. doi:10.1111/j.1556-4029.2006.00165.x. Available online at: www.blackwell-synergy.com
Personal communication with E. Randich and P. Grant.
Bugliosi, endnotes, p. 437 438.
Bugliosi, endnotes, p. 437.
John Solomon. Study Questions FBI Bullet Analysis in JFK Assassination. Washington Post, 5/16/07, p. A03. On line at: http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2007/05/16/AR2007051601967.html. See also: Clifford Spiegelman et al, Chemical and forensic analysis of JFK assassination bullet lots: Is a second shooter possible? Annals of Applied Statistics, May, 2007. On-line at: http://www.imstat.org/aoas/next_issue.html
Robin Lindley, Why Vincent Bugliosi Is So Sure Oswald Alone Killed JFK (Interview). History News Network. On-line at: http://hnn.us/articles/41490.html
George Robert Gaston - 8/23/2007
I think this would all be over now Had Lee Oswald been a third rate little Bircher or a third rate little klansman. However, as a third rate little communist, he just did not fit the mold.
Oswald has become a great little cottage industry. I suspect a great deal of money has been earned spilling ink about Lee Oswald’s guilt or innocence.
Gary L. Aguilar - 8/21/2007
Regarding Bugliosi's kind words about the concern the Warren Commission had that the public be given access to the Warren Commission's work, Bugliosi writes, "I made the assumption that they (The Warren Commissioners) were decent, honorable men, and they certainly were ... In a cover letter [with] the documents and the records sent to the National Archives, [Chief Justice] Earl Warren said he wanted the fullest disclosure possible to the American public."
This is not the only time the Commission trumpeted how open it was with its records. My copy of the New York Times’ edition of the Warren Report, a Bantam Book edition published simultaneously with the government's version, features a prefatory essay written by revered New York Times correspondent, Anthony Lewis. Entitled, “On the Release of the Warren Report,” among words of praise for the Commission, Lewis writes, “The Commission made public all the information it had bearing on the events in Dallas, whether agreeing with its findings or not. It withheld only a few names of sources, notably sources within evidently within Communist embassies in Mexico, and each of these omissions was indicated.” (Bantam Books edition of Warren Report, published 10/64, p. xxxii.)
And in the introduction to a book he wrote with help from the Warren Commission entitled, "The Witnesses," (publ. 10/64), Lewis similarly wrote, “[O]n Nov. 23, a year and a day after the tragedy in Dallas, the Warren Commission took a further and most extraordinary step to inform the public. It published all the evidence that the seven commissioners and their staff had seen and heard.”
The plain fact is that neither of Lewis's statements is true. It's a virtual certainty that the Warren Commission lied to Lewis about this, perhaps even Earl Warren. For it is impossible to imagine that Lewis would have manufactured these myths of whole cloth.
That they are myths is beyond dispute. On p. 2 of the Assassinations Records Review Board's Final Report, we read that, "President Johnson ... initiated a plan for the release of ('The Warren Commission's unpublished records') ... The Johnson plan resulted in the release of 98% of the Warren Commission's records by 1992. Thus, at the time that Congress passed the JFK Act only (!) 3,000 pages of Warren Commission material remained for the agencies and the Review Board review." [On-line at: http://www.history-matters.com/archive/jfk/arrb/report/html/arrb_fin_027.htm ]
In other words, after steadily releasing files from 1964 until 1992, there were 3,000 pages that were still suppressed.
This minor point reflects a major problem with Bugliosi's book: Vincent's unswerving loyalty to only those sources, official and otherwise, that support Oswald's sole guilt. As we will see in subsequent comments, Bugliosi rarely questions anything or anybody telling him something he wants to hear.
Bill McWilliams - 8/21/2007
Bugliosi says he believes in the Official JFK Assassination Story, but I'm sure he knows that Oswald didn't shoot JFK.
Bugliosi wants to sell books and he knows that the corporate media will give
his book glowing coverage ONLY if he goes along with the long-proven bogus conclusions of the Warren Commission.
You get more free press if you don't rock the corporate media's adherence to their politicized application of freedom of the press.