Denial of Justice: Dorothy Kilgallen, Abuse of Power, and the Most Compelling JFK Assassination Investigation, Mark Shaw, 2018.
Mr. Shaw has written four book on the JFK assassination and related events: (1) Melvin Belli: King of the Courtroom (2011); (2) The Poison Patriarch, How the Betrayals of Joseph P. Kennedy Caused the Assassination of JFK (2013); (3) The Reporter Who Knew Too Much: The Mysterious Death of What's My Line TV Star and Media Icon Dorothy Kilgallen (2016); and (4) Denial of Justice (2018), which integrates and updates the several story lines with prime emphasis on the Dorothy Kilgallen connection.
Shaw’s general thesis is that (1) Lee Harvey Oswald must have had help or guidance from someone to go after and successfully kill the nation’s president; (2) various powerful people had reason to wish JFK dead, including Carlos Marcello (a New Orleans mob boss); (3) Jack Ruby’s subsequent murder of Oswald in a Dallas Police Station was orchestrated to ensure Oswald wouldn’t talk; (4) Melvin Belli, who led Ruby’s criminal defense, had mob connections and saw to it that his client didn’t take the stand; and (5) reporter, syndicated columnist and TV personality (panelist on “What’s My Line”) Dorothy Kilgallen had figured things out so she needed to be silenced as well.
Whew, got all that? Never mind the FBI’s investigation, the Warren Report, the 1979 report of the House Select Committee on Assassinations (HSCA), and several authoritative books, notably Case Closed by Gerald Posner (initially published in 1993), which collectively paint a very different picture.
Before reading Denial of Justice, I purchased and read Case Closed (in the Kindle edition, with updates to 2013), which concludes that: (A) Oswald planned and carried out the JFK assassination without help; (B) Jack Ruby’s shooting of Oswald was a spontaneous action taken on his own volition; (C) Belli botched the Ruby defense, and (D) Kilgallen’s role in the action was inconsequential.
So how does Shaw’s book stack up against Case Closed, which seems to represent an authoritative statement of the generally accepted version of events? Here’s my take.
A. When it comes to understanding who killed JFK and why, Shaw doesn’t have much to offer. True, various powerful people (Russians, Cubans, LBJ, the FBI, mobsters) might have had reasons to want the president dead . . . but that doesn’t prove they came up with an assassination plan or recruited Lee Harvey Oswald to execute it. Furthermore, Posner’s analysis of Oswald’s motives, means and opportunity seems solid, whereas Shaw doesn’t consider such details.
B. As for why Ruby might have shot Oswald in a Dallas police station two days later, Posner provides a meticulous account of Ruby’s activities (where he went, who he interacted with, what was said) during this period. While one could readily imagine a mobster telling Ruby to take care of Oswald, Shaw doesn’t offer compelling evidence that this actually happened.
C. Posner and Shaw agree that Melvin Belli didn’t do a good job of defending Ruby in the ensuing murder case, although Posner seems to attribute this to incompetence while Shaw feels Belli chose an insanity defense as part of his determined efforts to keep Ruby (who wanted to testify) from taking the stand.
D. In Case Closed, Posner characterizes Dorothy Kilgallen as “a nationally syndicated reporter” who had attended the Ruby trial in 1964 and supposedly had a private interview with Ruby. He asserts that said interview consisted of speaking to Ruby for a few minutes during a court recess, “surrounded by other reporters.” Also, there “was no scoop pending by the time [over a year later] Kilgallen drank herself to death.
Shaw paints a more interesting picture. Killgallen was a celebrity (journalist and TV personality) in her own right, who had made something of a specialty of covering high profile criminal trials. From early on, she filed stories about the JFK/ Oswald killings that questioned the thinking of the authorities. See, e.g., her 11/29/63 column entitled “The Oswald File Must Not Close,” published 7 days after JFK was killed and 5 days after Ruby shot Oswald. In it, she staked out a position directly contrary to statements from Dallas police chief Jesse Curry and FBI head J. Edgar Hoover that Oswald had acted alone.
“The case is closed, is it? Well, I’d like to know how, in a big smart town like Dallas, a man like Jack Ruby – owner of a striptease honky tonk – can stroll in and out of police headquarters as if it were a health club at a time when a small army of law enforcers is keeping a ‘tight security guard’ on Oswald. Security! What a word for it.”
Kilgallen attended the Ruby trial in early 1964, and her presence was noted by all concerned. She shared several meals with Belli, and lobbied him and his co-counsel for access to the defendant – eventually succeeding. Other reporters were not standing nearby when Kilgallen spoke to Ruby in the courtroom, according to Shaw, and there was a subsequent conversation between Kilgallen and Ruby, about 15 minutes in duration, that took place in an interview room.
Nobody knows what Ruby said to Kilgallen, but she continued writing stories to the effect that further investigation was needed. After the Warren report was issued later that year, for example, she characterized it in a column as “laughable.” She also intimated to a few close friends, without providing details, that her investigation could “crack the case wide open.” Among other things she took a hush, hush trip to New Orleans and was planning a second one.
Kilgallen was writing a book about criminal cases she had covered during the course of her career, and apparently envisioned another book about the JFK/Oswald/Ruby case. Her file for the latter project kept getting fatter; it’s not known if she shared the contents with anyone.
Was Kilgallen really on to something or pursuing a will of the wisp? Whatever, one can readily imagine that various people – including the FBI and mobsters like Carlos Marcello - may have been concerned. Anyway, she died in the early morning hours of 11/8/65, after ingesting a lethal combination of alcohol and barbiturates. Was it suicide (no one thought she seemed depressed), an accidental overdose, or murder?
Reasonable minds could differ on that one, no doubt, but the death investigation was badly botched. Also a team of supposed FBI agents showed up at Kilgallen’s townhouse, barged in, and took all of Kilgallen’s papers and files with them when they left. Unless and until these papers resurface, Kilgallen’s secrets will remain unknown.
In 2017, Shaw persuaded the “cold case” unit of the Manhattan District Attorney’s Office to reopen the 1965 death investigation, but this door was mysteriously slammed shut several months later. Too bad, no one can say Shaw didn’t try to find justice for Dorothy Kilgallen.
“Quixotic Quest” review posted on Amazon, 5/23/20.