Postcards from the Labyrinth
Thirty Years After, J.F.K. Researchers Gather in Dallas

by Steve Badrich
From NameBase NewsLine, No. 4, January-March 1994

Tonight in Dallas, I've passed up a chance to meet Marina Oswald -- in favor of listening to a soft-spoken former research scientist named Adele Edisen tell a story that's dead-set to blow the Warren Commission Report over the moon.

Welcome to the 1993 Assassination Symposium on Kennedy (ASK), 750 professional-looking researchers and investigators, not counting the weasels of the press, meeting in the mirrored towers of the Hyatt Regency Dallas.

These days, no one much cares who shot J.R., but interest in who shot JFK seems perennial.

Nine out of ten Americans, a CBS News poll recently determined, don't believe Oswald acted alone. Five out of ten suspect the CIA had Kennedy waxed.

Much of the credit -- or blame, if you prefer -- for these astonishing figures belongs to the moving spirits of the JFK "research community," whose annual Woodstock is ASK.

As I transcribe Edisen's words, I can feel my hair bristle. It's a weird story, all right. But it's weird because of a particular spookbiz vibe I've encountered before.

I felt it years ago when I interviewed associates of an army scientist named Frank Olson, who drank a megahit of LSD slipped him in a mickey by the sinister Dr. Sidney Gottlieb, head of a CIA mind-control project called MK-ULTRA. Who knows what Olson saw before he jumped to his death, straight through a closed New York hotel room window?

For years, the government stonewalled Olson's family, then paid them some miserable blood money after Congress's Church Committee blew the cover of the CIA's drug-driven mind-control programs.

Edisen claims to have been grazed by the same weirdness that killed Olson -- and indeed, if one takes Edisen seriously, JFK.

Edisen today is a compact, tightly-wrapped college professor who saves every receipt. Early in 1963, she visited Washington to try to parlay a newly-minted doctorate and a highly-praised article into a year's grant from the National Institute of Health.

While there, Edisen dutifully schmoozed with a middle-aged NIH official named Jose Rivera, who said he wanted to help. Edisen remembers Rivera as being, possibly, Peruvian, and definitely short, obese, racist, and "not pretty to look at" -- although nonetheless "mannerly" and "very kind."

Yet even in this first encounter, there was something about Rivera's manner that seemed slightly off. Rivera seemed, as some people might have put it a few years later, to be playing a lot of mind-games.

And Edisen now believes that the Life Savers Rivera kept pushing, but never took himself, were laced with LSD.

The grant came through, but Edisen came home having flashbacks that scared both her coworkers and her husband.

Here's the part that may scare you.

During this first meeting, Rivera made a point of encouraging Edisen to get in touch with a young friend of his -- a fellow scientist, Edisen assumed -- who had just moved to New Orleans, where Edisen was then living. A very interesting young man, Rivera said.

Edisen didn't doubt it, since Rivera told her that his young friend had a Russian wife. In early 1963, Russians of any kind in this country were about as common as white tiger cubs.

Edisen did call a few times, despite the fact that the address that went with the number turned out to be in a "seedy" neighborhood on Magazine Street. The first time, Edisen got a blast of Russian from a woman. Another time, Edisen reached one Lee Oswald, who in a "very ordinary" Southern voice denied knowing Rivera, the NIH man who claimed to be his friend.

It wasn't long before "Leon Oswald" showed up on local TV talking about Cuba. By this time Edisen, still in periodic touch with Rivera, had entered a zone of serious weirdness.

In subsequent encounters, Rivera, who was still pushing the mind-bending Life Savers Edisen didn't know enough to refuse, began to talk in an oblique, coded way about a coming event Edisen now believes was the JFK assassination. Rivera even drew a little diagram, which Edisen retained, of the site of the approaching rubout.

Edisen thought Rivera was "nuts," and couldn't get away from him fast enough. So when the assassination unexpectedly happened, Edisen felt a chill cold enough to last for decades.

At ASK 1993, Edisen is telling this story for the first time in public -- if that phrase applies to a roomful of researchers, many of whom have read a pseudonymous narrative Edisen had written for the assassination newsletter Third Decade. (Edisen's gender-neutral byline was "K.S. Turner" -- from the phrase, "Know some things.")

But why would a swarmy NIH guy with weird connections spill a story like this one to a young acquaintance? A compulsion to confess -- to someone?

Edisen doesn't profess to know, beyond saying that Rivera may have misjudged the dosage in those Life Savers.

"He thought I was a lot further under than I was," she says today.

As of now, all Edisen has to work from is receipts from visits to Washington, NIH rosters and bland letters with Rivera's (very common) name on them, strained nerves, and a very cold trail.

"I can't find Rivera," Edisen says today. "I don't know if he's alive or dead."

By way of explaining her failure to confront Rivera about what Edisen calls his attempts at "mind control," she cites the mores of 1963.

"To me," says Edisen, "it was a mental rape. Like other victims, I didn't want to talk about it."

For whatever it's worth, let me record my personal impression of Edisen as a gracious, self-contained person who would undoubtedly make a more favorable first impression on almost anyone than -- well, than this reporter.

But what does one do with a story like Edisen's -- this thousandth strange bubble popping in the witches'-brew of Kennedy assassination arcana?

To generalize, how can one respond to the through-the-looking-glass quality of so much one hears at ASK?

Novelist Norman Mailer's ASK keynote address suggests one possible answer.

For Mailer, a tragedy of the dimension of the JFK assassination first needs to be approached "as myth." Oliver Stone's brutal, paranoid film "JFK" takes liberties, overshoots its mark, but nevertheless is in some sense a great film because Stone realizes this, knows he's a mythographer.

Whatever their excesses, assassination researchers, in their anti-elitist determination to get at the hidden story, are friends of democracy and truth. Some of their questions, Mailer concedes, are better than others. Mailer has been a "conspiratorialist" for thirty years without being able to prove an assassination conspiracy; but he maintains there's plenty to be learned from a coverup conspiracy we now can be sure did happen.

And even at their dismal worst, assassination researchers are preferable to those groupies of public order Mailer calls "the Washington Club."

Like everyone at ASK, Mailer has a line on the young Wall Street lawyer Gerald Posner, whose new bestseller "Case Closed" (Random House 1993) is a relentless prosecutor's brief thrown at Oswald's head.

Mailer finds Posner a hard guy to like. As a writer, Mailer has long maintained that prose style is an essential tool of thought. Posner, by contrast, writes a bludgeoning lawyer's prose that gives Mailer the creeps.

If anyone has the wrong friends, furthermore, it's Posner.

Posner's work on ballistics, for example, is both tendentious and mind-numbingly technical, not exactly the kind of thing they teach you in law school.

Says Mailer: "Here's the conspiratorialist in me speaking. But it makes one wonder whether there weren't organizations within the U.S. government that wanted their version of the story told."

Mailer's notion here isn't particularly far-fetched.

On page 505 of Case Closed, Posner claims that Random House "did not care if I came back with a book that concluded the Kennedy assassination was a conspiracy or the result of a lone assassin, so long as my work was supported by credible evidence."

But Posner's editor Robert D. Loomis seems to suggest a different story. In an interview in Publishers Weekly (May 3, 1993), Loomis opines: "All the conspiracy theories have undermined the public's belief in government. They believe that everybody's in cahoots, that we have murderers in the CIA. That's what has been accepted, and that, to me, is a crime."

Such beliefs, Loomis complains, are held with something like "religious fervor" and are "impervious to contrary evidence" like Posner's.

Loomis's listing in Who's Who in America cites him as the author of "Story of the U.S. Air Force" and "Great American Fighter Pilots," as well as the recipient of the "Roger Klein award for creative editing."

In "Case Closed" (same page), Posner notes that Loomis "believed in this book from the beginning and championed it at Random House. Our extensive discussions fundamentally affected its organization and tone several times, each for the better. His imprint is evident throughout."

Mailer, for his part, gives these devils their due. Posner's "Case Closed," Mailer suggests, may have the positive effect of helping to "clear the thicket" of assassination research of some of its sillier and more fragile growths.

Fundamentally, however, Posner is the "mirror-image" of the conspiracy theorists he mocks, and "cuts the same bloody corners" they do. Posner slips past the very problems he should be explaining.

For example, how did Oswald, a minimum-wage guy with a wife and child, manage to pay off the $400 he owed the State Department for repatriation? Seemingly trivial, this question becomes surprisingly refractory in any close investigation of Oswald's life.

"Was Oswald gay?" Mailer asks. "Is this a sign of a buried life?" For a week here and a week there, Oswald stayed at the YMCA. "But you can't hang a man," Mailer says, "for staying at the YMCA. The odds are Oswald wasn't gay."

But where did the money come from? When one consults Posner for an answer, one finds not only no answer, but no research. For Posner, there's no problem. And for Mailer, that isn't good enough.

"It takes moxie to say this case is closed," Mailer maintains. "If you're going to go that big, you have to go that small."

Mailer himself is something of a detail-man himself, as well as being one of the philosophers among the conspiratorialists.

He can cite innumerable Posner errors about Russia, because Mailer is just back from Minsk, where he interviewed, via a translator, everyone he could find who knew Oswald. Mailer came away convinced, reluctantly, that Oswald was too much of a jitterbug to be regular CIA or KGB -- Mailer doesn't rule out some other Oswald intelligence connection -- and enough of a psychopath to be a possible assassin.

The audience stirs at this; some ASK participants aren't happy to hear Mailer strike off in this particular direction.

Mailer says he's currently at work on a new novel that will take on the riddle of Oswald's personality. Its tentative title is Oswald in Minsk. When I run into Mailer later, I tell him, sincerely, that I look forward to reading it. I'm not scared that anything Mailer writes will provide much comfort to the Washington Club.

"Yeah, well," says Mailer distractedly, shaking my hand, "I look forward to finishing it. I've got a lot of writing to do." Mailer sounds tired, and more Brooklyn than he did on the podium: a working-man. And so he is. His novel, due in March, will run five or six hundred pages.

The Washington Club is already bent out of shape about Major John M. Newman, a tall, forceful, soldier-historian whom I know from Washington.

The Pentagon, Newman tells me, called him twice as he was en route to ASK, where he is a featured speaker. "I think they'd be stupid," Newman says, "to try to make trouble for me about this."

Me too. Newman is a hard guy to knock.

A career soldier, Newman is a top-level intelligence analyst with a distinguished record. He's also a historian whose doctoral dissertation at George Washington University became a study called "JFK and Vietnam," a book often maligned by people who haven't read it.

People who know only that Newman advised Oliver Stone often assume Newman's book must be an exercise in Camelot nostalgia. It isn't. Newman's JFK is an intelligent Tory realist, burned by bad CIA advice, who wants to avoid a Bay-of-Pigs-on-the-installment-plan in Vietnam.

But JFK expects to run against Goldwater, and so won't level with the public. (So much for Camelot.) JFK's double game in Vietnam must therefore be reconstructed, document by gobbledy-gook document, from the now-declassified record -- which is intelligible only to an inner circle attuned to its coded bureaucratic language.

Newman is part of that circle. The material basis of "JFK and Vietnam" is a massive private archive of declassified documents, all in apple-pie order, that Newman -- aided by his telegenic family -- spent years assembling. I've seen it.

Lately, Newman has been applying his interpretive skills to the JFK documents newly declassified under the Assassination Materials Disclosure Act of 1992. Newman's indubitable discoveries here speak well for his method.

As we might have expected, the CIA was lying when it professed a lack of interest in Oswald. Newman can prove it. At ASK, Newman shows slide after slide of partially blacked-out CIA documents on Oswald -- one of them a solid full-page rectangle of black censor's ink.

By no means everything has been released, even by the CIA. And the FBI, it should be noted, is hanging on to its massive files on organized crime, on the grounds that they have nothing to do with the assassination.

Still, someone who can read the "internal routing" marginalia on the available CIA documents has "a roadmap into the minds of the men who handled Oswald." This roadmap, says Newman, leads to those departments within the CIA that were concerned with "Cuba and the CIA." These include the dirty-tricks boys of the CIA Special Affairs Staff, whose departmental "designator" shows up on Oswald's file about the time he is allegedly in Mexico.

In today's CIA, says Newman, "no one will try to maintain" the "fiction" that the CIA wasn't interested in Oswald.

Newman himself discovered the one scribbled bit of marginalia, in CIA bureaucratese, that proves that Oswald was in fact debriefed on his return from Russia -- by a CIA man using the name "Andy Anderson."

Neither Newman nor any other researcher has yet found, let alone debriefed, "Anderson."

"This case is not closed," Newman says. "This case will never be closed until every last file is opened."

Newman dismisses Posner's claim, which he says is "not satisfactory by historical or academic standards," to have seen every document that matters. No one has. For that matter, Newman criticizes what he considers Posner's "selective" use of the documents he does have -- as well as the "obsequious and lavish" praise heaped on Posner by the media.

In part, Newman's anger is that of an old-style patriot. Newman has devoted his professional life serving a government the public no longer trusts. On the important issue of the assassination, Newman thinks the public is right.

But Newman is also angry because he wants to get at the truth, however strange, that might emerge if we did have access to all the available documents.

And Oswald's murky relationship to intelligence agencies appears to be a key to that truth.

In and of itself, Newman says, the fact that the documentary record shows that Oswald was debriefed by the CIA is "routine," and not surprising. This was the CIA's job, and they were doing it.

Rather, it's the gaps in the record that don't make sense, that seem to defy any attempt to explain them via the everyday glitches we dignify as "Murphy's Law."

"The problem I'm having," says Newman, "is that I seem to bump into Mr. Murphy every time I come around the corner."

After Oswald's defection to the Soviet Union, for example, "the CIA failed to launch a counterintelligence investigation of Lee Harvey Oswald." In fact, it's November of 1960, after Oswald's re-defection to the U.S., before the CIA gets around to opening its basic, garden-variety "201" file on Oswald.

Could Oswald, asks Newman, have been somebody's intelligence asset, in a "closely-held, vest-pocket operation" designed to leave few traces on the record, even within the CIA?

Newman concedes that the CIA documents he has seen to date "don't prove that Oswald had an intelligence function."

But Newman also clearly means: they don't rule it out, either.

At this year's ASK, there's a KGB man who can speak to this very question.

"For us," says retired KGB Colonel Oleg Maximovich Nechiporenko, in his Yakov Smirnov accent, "this visit was not very important."

Nechiporenko is talking about the day Lee Harvey Oswald came calling at Mexico City's Soviet Embassy. This was on September 27, 1963. And if this visit did happen, it's important now.

Some reputable researchers claim the "Oswald" who visited Mexico was a ringer -- sent to create a paper trail identifying the original Oswald, future assassination patsy, as a pro-Cuban flake. Certainly the Warren Commission's photograph of "Oswald" in Mexico City shows some big, never-identified galoot who would have made three of Lee.

Nechiporenko says he was called in from volleyball to deal with a distraught walk-in, a young American in a windbreaker, a tee shirt, and "not very pressed" khaki pants. On the table in front of this man when Nechiporenko came in were a glass of water and a revolver.

A moment before, comrade Oswald had been waving the revolver around, but more or less as an audiovisual aid. Back in the United States, he complained, he was being hounded by the FBI. Nechiporenko's colleagues took the pistol from Oswald and "deloaded" it.

Oswald talked to Nechiporenko briefly in so-so Russian about the visa he wanted instantly. Nechiporenko sized him up as trouble and put him off. Oswald left. The next day, Nechiporenko says, a similar scene played itself out at Mexico City's Cuban Embassy.

That's Nechiporenko's story, one many prominent ASK researchers accept. David Lifton, who's writing a book on Oswald, has no trouble believing Oswald was there, and jittery. Neither does Mary Ferrell.

"Oswald," Lifton tells me, "was doing scary stuff."

Others find Nechiporenko's surfacing, just in time for the assassination's thirtieth anniversary, overly convenient. In the ASK press room, I watch researcher Peter Dale Scott probe the odd byways of Oswald's life in a Nechiporenko interview for alternative TV.

A bearded little ex-cop in a bright red cardigan, Nechiporenko is wired for asking questions, not answering them. Oswald wasn't KGB, he says. If he was working for anybody else, finding out whom isn't "my responsibility," it's yours -- you Americans, that is.

Nechiporenko's publisher's rep pulls him out to do a book signing. Scott glances at me and sighs. "He got that part about Contreras," Scott says, referring to one of Nechiporenko's answers, "from Posner."

I know Scott slightly. He's a lanky white-haired aristocrat, a distinguished poet whose perfect manners I can only envy. This is as close as he gets to calling anybody a liar.

I've fled some ASK panel or other -- medical evidence, or photographic evidence, or the Mafia connection, or something -- to go up the Reunion Tower overlooking Dallas.

"Hey, man," a New York freelancer had said to me, "you don't go up the Tower, we pull your credentials in the Hunter S. Thompson Order of Gonzo Journalists."

I go up the Tower. From here, Dealey Plaza looks like something built with children's blocks: the last gasp of the red-brick low-tech America where I grew up.

Behind Dealey Plaza, and towering over it, glints a modernist forest of Sunbelt slab architecture, the America that succeeded my own. One slab is named for Earle Cabell, mayor of Dallas in 1963. Cabell's brother, the conspiracy-minded will recall, was the CIA dirty-tricks meister Kennedy fired after the Bay of Pigs.

The other top CIA face Kennedy fired was Director Allen Dulles, who later resurfaced to mastermind the Warren Commission, and blandly predict that a nation of non-readers would never study its report.

Creepy, no?

From the other side of the Tower, I can look out on the post-NAFTA, "Blade-runner" America Ross Perot says we're all booked for: a warren of bail bond huts, pawn shops, and "Oriental Nude Modeling" salons stretching out toward Oswald's old stomping ground, Irving, Texas, where I'm staying.

"AMMO, CAMO, AND GOOD SCENT" reads the sign outside one gun shop I pass every day.

I'm keeping body and soul together out there with big Texas heart-attack breakfasts from a round-the-clock Waffle Shop, and Lucinda Williams on their juke box. Later this same evening, the night clerk at Motel 6 notices my ASK badge, and tells me her assassination theory -- which turns out, cross my heart, to involve Earle Cabell.

At her economic level and mine, who can afford to believe the official version of anything?

Strangers are holding shotgun mikes and a camera to my head.

"All right," says one, "what's your theory?"

I'm to blame for this. I'm holding a Mannlicher-Carcano to my shoulder, and working the bolt action over and over to build up speed. This action isn't smooth as glass, I can tell you.

Gentlemen, I say, you can't interview a fellow journalist.

"Oh, I get it," says my questioner, lowering his mike. "You're a journalist. You don't know anything."

At least they're here. Channel 8 News in Dallas has been reporting exclusively from the rival Oswald-Did-It symposium across town, a love-feast for well-connected journalistic graybeards. San Antonio's KENS-TV has gone the same route.

My riflery coach is Jim Hart, a Texas computer consultant who runs a nuts-and-bolts JFK assassination forum on CompuServe. Hart is no theory man, but he's long on material facts about guns.

"Italian generals lost World War I for Italy," says Hart. "Not this rifle."

The Mannlicher-Carcano is a grunge weapon designed for "sustained mass fire" on a crowded battlefield, and as such it's not that bad. The fixed sights on the barrel are set ten inches high at three hundred yards. Aim at an enemy soldier's belt buckle at that distance, Hart says, and you'll hit him in the chest.

Or else hit the chest of the guy next to him.

The famous "sniper's nest" on the sixth floor of the Book Depository does look fishy.

For one thing, it's sealed off by a big acrylic plastic box that keeps vistors from hunkering down at the corner window to check Oswald's supposed sight-lines.

Still, one can look straight through this box and see Houston Street, which brought Kennedy's limousine slowly and in a straight line directly toward Oswald's window. This was Oswald's shot, says ASK participant Craig Roberts, a career police officer who was a Marine sniper in Vietnam.

Why should Oswald have waited until Kennedy's limousine had turned left onto Elm, with its still-blooming tree under Oswald's window, and the Triple Underpass not far beyond it?

Nervousness is one possible explanation.

Another is that Oswald, if he wasn't the "patsy" he claimed to be, was waiting for fellow-conspirators to catch Kennedy on Elm in a military-style triangulated cross-fire.

Roberts places at least one shooter on the infamous grassy knoll overlooking Elm, ahead of Kennedy and to his right. He places another in the building across Houston Street from the Book Depository: the Dal-Tex Building, as it was in 1963.

With his extensive combat experience, Roberts is scathing about the mysterious "jet force" that supposedly blows Kennedy's head backwards, towards Oswald, in the famous Zapuder home movie of the assassination. In that film, says Roberts, we see Kennedy take a shot from the front.

As usual, Posner is a hard-liner on this point. He defends the honor of the Warren Commission's magic "single bullet," which wounds both Connally and Kennedy -- which does everything, in fact, but serve tea.

Is there any chance, I ask Roberts, that an experienced sniper like you could duplicate the Zen marksmanship attributed to Oswald: getting off that many accurate shots that fast, virtually without aiming?

Roberts shakes his head.

It's late Sunday afternoon, and ASK participants are slipping out of the Hyatt, by twos and threes, to cross the railroad tracks in the direction of Dealey Plaza. Elm Street is about to be blocked off so that eye witnesses can show us where they were standing thirty years ago, and recreate what they saw and heard.

I'm about to leave too, but linger beside the piano on the Hyatt's second floor for a valedictory cup of coffee.

As I do so, a man who looks a bit like the young Alec Guiness slides onto the piano stool and begins to play, soothingly. One lapel of his seersucker jacket covers the name on his ASK badge.

Ever the fact-checker, I ask him when he stops: "Was that the theme from Moulin Rouge?"

He looks up at me and smiles ruefully.

"There are so many other questions," he says, "that we need answered."

"I know I'm blonde," says Bev Oliver, who looks as though she's taken the whole question of her hair-color into her own hands. "I know I'm dumb. But I'm going to tell you what, I'm not stupid."

When President Kennedy's head exploded, virtually in front of Oliver's eyes -- Oliver claims to be "the babushka lady" visible in photographs of the assassination -- "it looked like someone had thrown a bucket of blood out of the back of his head."

That shot, says Oliver, who comes from a family of hunters, came from the grassy knoll, across Elm Street from where Oliver is now standing.

Oliver has a lot more to say. She's a glam version of my friend from Motel 6, and Gerald Posner's worst nightmare: a prole like many of us, but one who insists on her own version of public reality.

In 1963, Oliver was a seventeen-year-old dancer at Abe Weinstein's Colony Club in Dallas and a friend of Jack Ruby's. She adored Kennedy, but his death wasn't the last shock she was destined to receive thirty years ago this week.

When Oswald's face showed up on TV, Oliver says, she recognized a man Jack Ruby himself had introduced her to two to three weeks earlier. Meet my friend Lee Oswald, Ruby had told her. He's with the CIA.

"At seventeen years old," Oliver says now, "I did not know what the CIA was. I was not impressed." (Elsewhere, Oliver has said that in part she wasn't impressed because Oswald wasn't much to look at.)

"And to be honest," says Oliver, "I still don't know what the CIA is." The ASK crowd plus assorted rubberneckers huddled around Oliver in the sunset breeze cheer and laugh.

Oliver raises her voice: "And I'm still not impressed!"

Neither are the huge purple-black Texas grackles who are screaming from the branches of the live oak tree outside the Book Depository. Oliver Stone had them cut back -- the branches, I mean, not the birds. A swirling blizzard of other grackles wheels above the trees. The sidewalks on both sides of Elm Street are pale with their ground-in droppings.

I'm headed north on Elm Street, uphill, with my fists in my pockets against the breeze.

I wave at Bev Oliver, who's getting into the passenger side of a blue-black Cadillac Fleetwood parked at the curb on Houston. She waves back, I think.

The grackles are still screaming.

"Hey, you birds!" a man at the corner of Houston and Elm screams back. He's as raucous as they are. As I overtake him, I recognize my fellow gonzo from New York, the man who sent me up the Reunion Tower. He turns toward me to interpret grackle-language.

"The birds are pissed!" he yells, waving up at them. "They're pissed because it's all been covered up!" He lowers his voice, one conspirator to another. "The birds," he says, "want the truth!"

Sidebar from NameBase NewsLine, No. 4, January-March 1994:

The ASK Answer Lady, Mary Ferrell

by Jerry McCarthy

Mary Ferrell is busier these days than ever before. On November 22, 1963 Mary was a 41-year-old successful legal secretary in Dallas. Instinctively, she began collecting information and storing it in whatever form proved convenient at the time. She did not know then that she would become the most comprehensive clearinghouse of facts on the Kennedy assassination, a source so valuable that virtually no researcher working on any aspect of the assassination can ignore her work. At the ASK symposium, Mary Ferrell was accorded the role of "consultant," and was treated as perhaps the quietest celebrity since St. Francis.

"I've never given a speech in my life," she told me, and agreed to the interview on the grounds that we focus on her database of assassination information which she is only now readying for distribution in a comprehensive, electronic format.

In thirty years, Mary has collected information on over 40,000 3x5 cards focusing on names of individuals. She began the process of entering the data into a computer in 1986, when Bud Fensterwald sent Daniel Brandt to help her with the project, and continued with the help of then Drake student and now programmer for the city of Dallas, Trafton Bogert. She estimates that, when finished, the data base will consist of approximately 8,200 names -- with information on name(s), address (current and in 1963, if relevant), current phone number, her sources, and a variable field to provide the amazing bits of information she carries in her head and on her cards. During the symposium, someone asked if anyone knew about one dim figure, and she said, "I can tell you his shoe size." I asked her if such information could be found on her data base and she said, "if it's relevant."

Her information will be available sometime this coming summer, if things work out. In her role as consultant to PBS's "Frontline" program on Oswald, Mary was able to gain access to their work in updating her own files and has promised not to publish hers until a book by the program's principal investigators is published.

And then, consistent with her work for 30 years, Mary will not ask a penny for the information above the cost of reproducing and sending it. She does not, however, judge others who make their living writing books about the assassination. In fact, Mary has nursed many writers along through their darkest periods as they prepared their material for publication. She is proud of the writers she has helped, and speaks of their upcoming work with almost a mother's pride. When I spoke with her shortly after the symposium, she was devastated by the news that a research colleague, Sue Robinson, had just died at the age of 49.

"I'll be 72 on my next birthday," she says, "and I have to do something with this information so that it is available to people." The release of the CIA documents is particularly exciting to her, and keeps her very busy. She doubts that the FBI files will contain anything of use.

"Am I optimistic that the truth will emerge in my lifetime? No. But I disagree with what Sylvia Meagher wrote 25 years ago when she said that new researchers wouldn't help. The new people will continue the work, and eventually we will know the truth."

Sidebar from NameBase NewsLine, No. 4, January-March 1994:

The Man Who Wasn't There

by Daniel Brandt

About the time that my two colleagues plotted a trajectory toward the Dallas symposium, I was relieved that PIR's telephone had stopped ringing, and there was some light at the other end of the TV specials. Yet another media feeding frenzy during yet another assassination anniversary. "I hope I'm not around for the 50th," I told researcher Scott Malone when he called a few weeks earlier to check on something or other that I've since happily forgotten.

After Peter Dale Scott's exhausting "Deep Politics and the Death of JFK," I needed a rest before starting on the other worthwhile 1993 JFK book, Gaeton Fonzi's "The Last Investigation." By now I've only a vague idea of the number of JFK books in NameBase, but the notion that it's enough already is increasingly distinct. Fortunately Fonzi's book was easy reading, and early on a zinger perked me up. Fonzi describes a visit to Vince Salandria in 1975, the earliest assassination researcher who at one time was a mentor to many starting out in the field:

"I'm afraid we were misled," Salandria said sadly. "All the critics, myself included, were misled very early. I see that now. We spent too much time and effort microanalyzing the details of the assassination when all the time it was obvious, it was blatantly obvious that it was a conspiracy. Don't you think that the men who killed Kennedy had the means to do it in the most sophisticated and subtle way? They chose not to. Instead, they picked the shooting gallery that was Dealey Plaza and did it in the most barbarous and openly arrogant manner. The cover story was transparent and designed not to hold, to fall apart at the slightest scrutiny.... We must face that fact -- and not waste any more time microanalyzing the evidence. That's exactly what they want us to do.... They'll keep you very, very busy and, eventually, they'll wear you down." (p. 29)

The name Vince Salandria was not familiar to me; I knew only that he had assisted in the Garrison investigation. Fonzie mentions that Salandria has never written a book, never capitalized on his research, and by 1975 had faded into the background. I found an address for Salandria and wrote a letter explaining that I thought his perspective deserved a wider audience. He graciously sent 60 photocopied pages of articles he had written from 1964-1977, and mentioned in his cover letter that "I still feel that shifting the analysis from a micro to a macro approach is essential to freeing the bona fide critics from a quagmire."

Half of the copies were of articles he wrote from 1964-1966, by way of showing, as he described in his letter, that "I was perhaps the earliest person to attack the Warren Report microanalytically." This isn't a boast, it's a confession. By December 1971 he described himself as "among the earliest and GUILTIEST of the researchers in my protracted analyses of the shots, trajectories and wounds of the assassination.... While the researchers have involved themselves in consuming preoccupation with the microanalytic searching for facts of how the assassination was accomplished, there has been almost no systematic thinking on why President Kennedy was killed."

In this article and another written in 1977, Salandria looks at the assassination with a fresh set of assumptions. He borrows from his friend Professor Thomas Katen, who characterized the Warren Report as a "transparent conspiracy" rather than a cover-up. The deeper you look into the evidence, the clearer it becomes. The clues are buried, diffused, and time-released so that those who look hardest become the most fragmented and demoralized. And savvy political leaders, who might normally feel that something can be done, are the very ones who get the message most clearly: "The cryptocracy is in control, so go along if you expect to get along." Then there are those who need to deny, or refuse to see, or just enjoy grotesque minutiae -- for them, bread and circuses and murder mysteries are sufficiently harmless.

After talking with Salandria in 1975, Fonzi flew back to Miami. "I didn't quite grasp exactly what he was talking about, but I had the uneasy feeling he was advancing some awesomely frightening theories. Then it crossed my mind that, perhaps this time for sure, Salandria was crazy." By 1993, of course, Fonzi is much more concerned that his friend ISN'T crazy.

I instinctively refused when my colleagues urged me to attend the 30th anniversary symposium with them. But it wasn't until I heard from the Warren Commission's first micro-critic, the man who stopped being there sometime around the 8th anniversary, that I began to understand why.

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