The assassination of John F. Kennedy forever changed America and its politics. And yet, even in the wake of such a tectonic event, the facts around that fateful day are still in dispute. One man who can cut through the confusion is Gary Shaw, a pioneering investigator of JFK’s death. He is this week’s guest of WhoWhatWhy’s Jeff Schechtman.
Fifty-two years ago this week the world was shaken by one of the seminal moments of the 20th Century. The Kennedy assassination created a tectonic shift, the aftershocks of which we are still experiencing today. Much has changed in those fifty-two years. Where once 80 percent of the public believed the Warren Commission Report’s verdict — that JFK was killed by a deranged gunman, acting alone — today it’s less than 20 percent. Was this the tipping point in our distrust of government and its institutions?
Our WhoWhatWhy guest this week, Gary Shaw, thinks so. He has spent most of his adult life exploring, researching and trying to make sense of the assassination. His book Cover Up is one of the preeminent works on the subject. His conclusions, which he shares with WhoWhatWhy’s Jeff Schechtman, provide a bracing clarity as he brings together, and into sharp focus, the many ambiguous grainy images we all know.
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Complete Text Transcript of Audio Podcast:
Jeff Schechtman: Thanks for joining us here on radio whowhatwhy. I’m Jeff Schechtman.
52 years ago this week one of the seminal moments of 20th century history took place. The assassination of John F. Kennedy arguably forever changed the landscape of the country and of American politics. And yet even in the wake of such a tectonic event, the facts around it are still in dispute. Over the years, though the grainy images of the assassination have ever so slowly come into focus, the work of people like my guest Gary Shaw has been a kind of living camera obscura to capture the events leading up to and during that fateful day. Gary Shaw is a retired architect. He has been an associate of the Assassination Archives and Research Center in Washington DC and he is one of the pioneers of investigation into the JFK assassination. He is the author of the book ‘Cover Up’ and it is my pleasure to welcome Gary Shaw to radio whowhatwhy. Gary, thanks much for joining us.
Gary Shaw: Thank you so much. It’s great to be with you.
Jeff: It’s great to have you here. I want to begin before we talk about so many details, so many facts, to talk a little bit about you and a little bit about how you originally became immersed in this work.
Gary: Well Jeff, I live about one hour’s drive from Dallas and Dallas was the place to go when I was a young man. I was 25 when the assassination occurred, not very politically savvy as you would suspect at that age. But when it happened, I knew it was a moment in history and I had been in and around Dallas and around the clubs surrounding Jack Ruby, and knew the area. And when it happened, I couldn’t help but notice that something was wrong when Oswald died two days after the assassination at the hands of a nightclub owner who, as I’d already heard, had organized crime time. So I was suspicious and again, very early on, looking at the case real closely.
Jeff: One of the things certainly that people have talked about and that you point out in your work and in ‘Cover-Up’ is the physical scene of the crime essentially that that area in and around Dealey Plaza and the Book Depository is a much smaller piece of real estate than people realize and really that that is the key to trying to understand and piece together some of the evidence.
Gary: It certainly is. Photographs do not really do justice to it. You see a photograph and you think it’s a wide expansive area and actually it’s very small. Perfect ambush site. Perfect.
Jeff: As you began to look at what had transpired, the route the car took, and some of the events of that day first of all…
Gary: Well, first of all the motorcade wrap shouldn’t have made the type of 120 degree angle turn that slowed the… In fact, it probably stopped the motorcade. It doesn’t show that but it almost stopped it and slowed the motorcade down to much slower speed than Secret Service requirements and so it was a spot that opened up an area that shielded anybody who wanted to shoot the president from close range but also slowed the automobile down slow enough so that a shot could easily be made.
Jeff: How much of your time did all of this work take in terms of your own investigation into all of this?
Gary: Jeff, it’s impossible to answer that. Far, far more time than I like to even remember. I was in private practice, an architect, and it took a lot away from my business efforts, but I would do it again. I think still we need to know what happened and we still don’t know what happened completely.
Jeff: And as you went further and further into it, take us through your own experience in terms of what didn’t make sense first and where that took you, and then where that took you. What was that journey like?
Gary: Well, originally I ordered the Associated Press version of the Warren Report when it came out in 1964, began to read it and I thought ‘well, maybe they do have a case.’ But suspicions of multiple shots which had been in the newspapers and from areas Oswald could not have been, caused me to doubt and probably the first five years as I read everything that came out, talked to people who were there, did my own homework so to speak, I kept looking for that one item of evidence that would tell me beyond a shadow of doubt that Oswald did it. I didn’t find it. I still have not found it and that led me on this long journey of looking for the truth. I met Ken Jones Jr. of Midlothian, Texas, one of the early pioneer researchers and critics and writers in this. He and I became close and we worked together for a number of years back up until probably the mid-70s, late 70s even. And so that’s kind of my trick. I decided to write a book about 1969 and then Jones says “go ahead and write. You’ll not make any money but you’ll sleep better.” And he was certainly telling me the truth there. And ‘Cover-up’ came out in 1976 and I had to self-publish it at that time because I was turned down for probably about 12 to 15 publishing companies. So we put it out ourselves. I’m still quite proud of the book. It has got a lot of information people don’t realize is there.
Jeff: One of the things about the story, in trying to unravel it, trying to get to the truth, is really beginning to examine it as you do from really two sides. One, all of the evidence that leads from the assassination forward, all of the evidence that’s so inconsistent with what’s in the Warren Report; and then the other side is looking at the cover-up and who might’ve had the ability and the access to engage in some of that and working backwards. And it really is where these two points meet that so much information becomes clear.
Gary: The cover-up to me is the answer to… the solution to the crime of the century. You can have a lot… and in other words there are multiple suspects as to who killed John Kennedy, but when you boil it all down most of the suspects that have been named through the years did not have the ability to cover-up the crime. Only those in high places have the ability to direct the cover-up and that’s what’s so hurtful in all of this. I believe it was a coup d’état. Our own government killed our own, our leader and covered it up and really have gotten away with this. It’s very disturbing still after 52 years.
Jeff: Tell us where your original conclusions led you as you began to unravel the cover-up and how your views have shifted and changed a little bit over the years.
Gary: I looked at every suspect that had been named from the anti-Castro Cubans, though they may have been involved, they couldn’t cover it up. Organized crime, though they could’ve been involved, they couldn’t cover it up. You’re going through that and you look at the extreme right wing, you look at… they’re all people who were very right wing at that time, and even Lyndon Johnson and all of these people… Who did it, who did it… And you come to the conclusion that the only people in very, very high places could alter the body of the president before autopsy, and cover-up the true facts, manipulate evidence, misrepresent evidence, destroy evidence, and all of these things were done in this case. Provably so, and that indicates the cover-up and leads me to believe that a very high group in the leadership of this country approved the plan to kill him and covered up the crime.
Jeff: One of the things you talk about early on is the degree to which the fingerprints of the intelligence community were all over Oswald. Talk a little about that.
Gary: The fact that you can take a young marine and send him to Russia, he can get into the country with no problem whatsoever, he can live comfortably over there, marry the niece of a high-ranking Russian intelligence agent and quickly, even after denouncing his citizenship over there, get his way paid back to the United States, and no one talks to him, no one interviews him and no one interrogates him about what he was doing, what his actions were, indicates to me that he was being used by some intelligence operation and I think that as the days go by we will find out even more evidence to that effect.
Jeff: One of the questions that always comes up is that photograph of Oswald with the gun, and with the pistol and with the communist newspapers in the background, the photo that that arguably was doctored. Talk about that for a bit.
Gary: Well, I think it’s obvious that something was done. Here’s a guy with two Russian newspapers in his hand, a rifle, and a pistol on his hip. He’s posing like, you know, I want everybody in the world to know I’m about to kill the president of the United States and though there have been official laboratories look at whether that photograph was faked or not, I’m very suspicious of it and will be forever, I guess, because I don’t think a man in his position would be taking that kind of action.
Jeff: Talk a little bit about the Warren Commission itself and as you point out, and others have, that interestingly enough there was not a single friend of Kennedy’s on the Warren Commission.
Gary: Not a single friend, but more importantly, they outlined their report before they investigated. They had an original outline when they started out, was all about Oswald having committed the crime. It was not an investigation, it was simply a case built against Oswald as the only assassin and it’s the worst case I think of political lie that has ever occurred in this country.
Jeff: How did that play out, given the individuals that were part of the Warren Commission? What are your thoughts about that?
Gary: Well, I don’t know. You know one of the Warren Commission members became president of the United States without having been elected. Gerald Ford was not an elected president. He came in by accident, if you will, not by accident of course, but by the actions of the people who knocked down Richard Nixon, brought him down. I think Nixon was assassinated, but not by gun, I think. He was going in a direction the powers that be didn’t like so they were tired of blowing their heads off and got him in another fashion and Gerald Ford becomes president of the United States. He was an FBI informant during the Warren Commission hearings. The FBI had furnished him with a briefcase with a wrist-chain on it and a combination lock. And he took things out of the Warren Commission hearings and took them to the FBI so that they would be up to date constantly about what was going on in these inner circles of the Warren Commission. We could talk about J. Edgar Hoover and Allen Dulles and all of these fellas including LBJ who appointed the commission. A very, very strong, powerful man. And I think they performed the cover-up rather uniquely, if not solidly. At least it was solid enough to, with the help of the mainstream news media, to sell the American people on the idea of the lone nut did the job.
Jeff: One of the central premises I suppose of the Warren Commission was this idea, the single bullet theory, which probably more than anything else has come into such question and scrutiny over the years.
Gary: Well Jeff, I’m a longtime Texas boy and a hunter and it was very, very quickly seen by me to be a joke to have somebody perform the kind of operation that was sold to us with a single bullet theory. It’s an impossibility and anybody that has looked at the evidence knows that it’s an impossibility, and looked at the bullet impact. This is a bullet, one bullet is said to have struck Kennedy in the head and it fragmented all over the car and yet this, this bullet that performed actually seven wounds allegedly to two different people comes out unscathed. The timing, the wounds, don’t line up. Everything that could be wrong is wrong with a single bullet theory. When you try to make that happen you’re just trying to pull the wool over somebody’s eyes.
Jeff: Years later when the House Select Committee on Assassinations looked at this, and in the ‘70s, they seem to conclude that it was the mob, the Mafia that was responsible. Talk a little about that.
Gary: Well, that was an easy call. You know, everybody believes that the mob could and would do that. What the House Select Committee didn’t do was look at all the evidence and realize that they couldn’t have done it and then destroyed and misrepresented the evidence and to point at one single individual and so I think you have to discard that quickly like you have to do all the other suspects. It has to be somebody high up in our own government to perform the cover-up.
Jeff: Where does the cover-up lead in your work?
Gary: Well, that is a difficult question. It leads to… you remember I called President Eisenhower one of the first conspiracy theorists and he said ‘Beware of the military industrial complex,’ when he was leaving the presidency, after those eight years that he served and so that’s where I look. I think it had to be a conglomerate, a very powerful man and that’s where my evidence leads. It is very, very high up. The military man I would point out would be General Lemay and will not go to details about that. That would take a lifetime. I think he was pretty much at the head of it. He was on the Joint Chiefs of Staff and that’s my opinion after these years.
Jeff: And based on that, how large, how widespread was it and how has it managed to stay as covered up as it has all these years?
Gary: Well, you have to look at the mainstream media as being culpable in the cover-up. These people had managed to take control, I believe, of mainstream media where the news really is analyzed and spooned out to the rest of the nation and the rest of the world. And I’m talking about big media and they were able… I think people got to realize that these people felt that this president was a threat to – if you want to, call it worldwide peace or whatever – they considered him a treasonous threat to what they wanted that they perceived as the political ballgame that they were playing. And I don’t know how to explain it in more simple terms than that. And I think that’s what got him killed and that’s what they continue to cover up even today.
Jeff: And where did the pieces of the mob, and the Cuban exiles, where did those pieces fit into the equation?
Gary: Well, if you go back to that… people really needed to live through that particular time of the late ‘50s and ‘60s and know what was going on in the world. But communism, which was the bad boy to the United States, had moved ninety miles off the shore of the United States and Castro had taken over in that particular area and had run out the mob so to speak who were in control of the lots of money-making aspects of their little program, prostitution, gambling, all of the things that you do, and he had run them out and cost them millions upon millions of dollars. So when the CIA got their little station – I say little station, big station – there in Florida to combat Castro and the communist movement and so forth, they began to employ members of organized crime because they too wanted to get rid of Castro and acquire that island back and get back into business. And so there was a strange marriage between the intelligence agency of the United States and the United States higher-ups and organized crime. And that’s one of the even end of the training of Cuban exiles for invasion of Cuba and I think that was the plan and that day is to get rid of Castro and invade Cuba and get it back to operating as a part of the United States basically.
Jeff: Is there any material that still has not been released that can be helpful in this story?
Gary: Jeff, I don’t know exactly how much is there but there’s a tremendous amount of information still classified by the Central Intelligence Agency and perhaps other agencies. These are supposed to be released in 2017. September I believe 2017. We’ll await that date and see if that occurs and just exactly how much they release and how much redaction takes place in that release. In other words, how much they excise or blackout of the documents that they release. There is still a lot of redaction in the documents that we do have. Hopefully after all of these years that will cease and maybe it’ll shed more light on this crime.
Jeff: And on the other side of the equation have so many people died over these fifty-two years that, even as more information comes out, the fact that so many people are gone is going to make it more difficult to piece it back together.
Gary: Very much so. There are so many that we would like to question right now that are gone. Very few of the people who were involved or might have been involved in either the crime or the cover-up are deceased. It’s going to make it very, very difficult. Hopefully the documents would shed some light on what they would’ve said had they been able to be questioned in 2017. That remains to be seen.
Jeff: What is your sense of the public’s perception of this, this point that there was a time when you could find people actually defend the Warren Commission Report for example and now I think that the polls that have been done and that the public opinion on that is that very few people at this point believe the Warren Commission Report in total. There is something about the change in public perception that has to be encouraging to people that are doing the work that you do.
Gary: Jeff, if you look at the polls you find out that probably in the 70 percentile of the American people do not believe that Oswald acted alone, that there were other people involved in the crime. If you look at polls you will also find that in 1963 about 73% of the people believed the press and believed in government. Today that’s about 16 to 20% that have any confidence at all about what the media says and in what the government says. So that tells us a lot. The decline began in 1964 and has continued to this date and I think it’s one of the great faults of the major media who are supposed to be the watchdog of our society and they became basically a part of the problem rather than a part of the solution.
Jeff: Talk a little bit about what you’re still doing, the work that you’re still doing on this.
Gary: Well, I’m not doing as much. I keep up with it, I still get documents, I still talk to people involved in the investigation and critical community. I got with one of the doctors here a few years ago when we wrote a book called Conspiracy of Silence. It caused a lot of problems. He was one of the doctors that attended both Kennedy and Connolly and Lee Harvey Oswald on that weekend. So that book, we revised it, not revised, but added to it for the 50th anniversary and it came out. The name was changed to JFK Has Been Shot. It’s a good little volume if you want a quick read about what transpired in Dallas that day. It’s a quick read and has done quite well. I no longer am doing any serious writing on the case but probably would if something came up to that I felt wanted that.
Jeff: Gary Shaw, we thank you so much for spending time with us here on radio whowhatwhy.
Gary: Jeff, best of luck to you. I appreciate you having me.
Jeff: Thank you. And thank you for listening and joining us here on radio whowhatwhy. I hope you join us next week for another radio whowhatwhy podcast. I’m Jeff Schechtman. If you like this podcast, please feel free to share it and help other people find it, rating and reviewing it on iTunes. You can also support this podcast and all the work we do by going to whowhatwhy.org/donate