A cautionary tale about investigations

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The cardinal rule for a reliable investigation is to review the facts and see where they lead, not start with a conclusion and work backwards. Or as Francis Bacon put it, “if a man will begin with certainties, he shall end in doubts, but if he will [be] content to begin with doubts, he shall end in certainties.”

Perhaps FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover should have observed this principle after the JFK assassination by directing that any and all logical explanations for what had happened should be considered. Instead, after Jack Ruby killed Lee Harvey Oswald at a Dallas police station two days later, Hoover began a campaign to establish that Oswald was “the real assassin” and that was the end of the matter. Thus, he instructed FBI Associate Director Clyde Tolson to “prepare a memorandum to the Attorney General setting out the evidence that Oswald was responsible for the shooting that killed the president.” Denial of Justice, Mark Shaw,

Jack Ruby was tried, convicted of premeditated murder, and sentenced to death. His responsibility was undeniable, as he had shot Oswald at close range with multiple witnesses. Ruby wanted to take the stand and explain his actions, but the lead defense attorney (Melvin Belli) dissuaded him from doing so.

A “blue ribbon” commission chaired by Chief Justice Earl Warren conducted an investigation, which was clearly shaped by the “Oswald alone” mindset. The Warren Commission interviewed numerous witnesses (including Ruby) and produced a voluminous report, released in the fall of 1964, but there were some major flaws in the process. For example, the FBI withheld information from the Commission of an FBI agent’s receipt of a note from Oswald, joint efforts of the CIA and the mafia to assassinate Fidel Castro were not disclosed by the CIA, and most of the commissioners and staff weren’t allowed access to the JFK autopsy photos and X-rays. Case Closed, Gerald Posner,

After publication of the Warren report, numerous alternative theories surfaced. A House Select Committee on Assassinations (HSCA) was eventually appointed, in 1976, to review the initial investigations of the JFK (1963) and Martin Luther King (1968) assassinations.

With regard to the JFK shooting, the HCSA found “a high probability” of two gunmen firing at the president, supposedly based on “scientific acoustical evidence.” It also faulted the Warren Commission for not adequately investigating “the possibility of a conspiracy,” albeit attributing said deficiency “in part” to the fact the Commission didn’t receive “all the relevant information that was in the possession of other agencies and departments of the Government.” Summary of findings and recommendations,

The acoustical evidence taken as evidence of a fourth gunshot from a second gunman has since been thoroughly discredited – effectively negating the HCSA finding that there might have been) some sort of conspiracy to kill the president. Case Closed,
op. cit. No matter, alternative theories about the case have continued to flourish. Gerald Posner, video (1:20), 5/3/17.

Your faithful scribe was intrigued by the efforts of one investigator, who has researched various aspects of the JFK assassination and related matters including the unexpected death of a prominent reporter, Dorothy Kilgallen, who had written some outspoken stories about the case before her unexpected demise. Denial of Justice,
op. cit.

From the get-go, Kilgallen characterized the FBI investigation as a coverup She attended the murder trial in Dallas, made nice with Belli, and scored a private interview with Jack Ruby. She publicly characterized the findings of the Warren Commission as “laughable,” and intimated to close friends – without sharing details - that she was pursuing an angle that could “crack the case wide open.” Then on 11/8/65, Kilgallen was found dead in her swank Manhattan townhouse, the apparent victim of a lethal combination of alcohol and three different barbiturates.

The available theories appeared to be suicide, an accidental overdose, or murder – with Shaw inclined to the third possibility. His view is supported, among other things, by the badly botched conduct of the death investigation (the details are meticulously described). Also, a team of supposed FBI agents showed up at Kilgallen’s townhouse, barged in, and took all of her papers and files with them when they left.

In 2017, Shaw persuaded the Manhattan District Attorney’s Office to open a “cold case” investigation of the Kilgallen death, pretty unusual for a potential crime going back over 50 years. This window was slammed shut several months later, however, leading to the publication of Denial of Justice in 2018.

In my view, Shaw’s theory that someone who wanted JFK dead may have recruited Oswald to shoot him and then directed Ruby to silence Oswald isn’t persuasive since Shaw hasn’t offered any compelling evidence to support it. Maybe there was an answer in Kilgallen’s notes, but that’s just speculation since the notes aren’t available.

Bear in mind, however, that many people in this time frame suspected there might have been a conspiracy plot of some kind.

Maybe Oswald was recruited by Russians while living in that country for several years, or Cubans wanted revenge for the CIA/mafia efforts to assassinate Castro, or LBJ wanted to be president, or the FBI didn’t want to be blamed for failing to thwart a conspiracy, or some member of the mafia (e.g., Carlos Marcello of New Orleans, who had previously been deported at RFK’s direction) wanted revenge on the Kennedys.

Thus, Bobby Kennedy discussed various possibilities with CIA Director John McCone. McCone later recalled RFK saying, probably thinking in terms of a mob hit, that “they should have killed me. I’m the one they wanted.” Denial of Justice,
op. cit.

Whether Kilgallen was on to something other investigators had missed or not, she was poking into areas that some very powerful people didn’t want subjected to further scrutiny. It’s not much of a leap to imagine that she was under surveillance, her phones were being tapped, and some people were very curious about what was in her growing case file, why she had made a hush, hush trip to New Orleans and was planning a second one, etc.

Moral: Once the authorities have investigated a situation and reached conclusions, they will not readily revisit the matter even if there are strong arguments for doing so.


#I am not, by any means, an expert on the “ins and outs” of JFK's killing and ensuing investigations. Still, from my perspective, it has always seemed likely that Castro orchestrated the whole thing. Investigators should have considered that possibility thoroughly before ruling it out. - SAFE member (who emigrated from Cuba after the Castro takeover)

#Glad that you read Shaw’s book. This is very interesting, can’t wait to hear more. – Family connection

# I followed that case and also read Posner's reports and it certainly does cast doubts on the investigation. – Family connection

#Very interesting! – SAFE member (Texas)

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