2013 Dallas COPA CONFERENCE summary by John Delane Williams
The 50th Anniversary in Dallas
John Delane Williams
Friday November 22, 2013
The 50thanniversary of the JFK Assassination conferences in Dallas were a special occasion-there were three conferences, The Coalition on Political Assassinations (COPA), November in Dallas (NID), and the 50thAnniversary of JFK’s Assassination, held in Arlington. At least one speaker appeared at all three conferences, Dick Russell. Beyond the conferences, there were the other attractions, at least to JFK researchers.
First, there was the overwhelming police presence preceding the observance at Dealey Plaza. Every road near the Plaza was blocked to traffic. Some four blocks away, there at least 25 motorcycle policemen visable. One couldn’t help but think, if only there was this kind of protection in 1963. I didn’t have a ticket to the observance, and had last seen it when Walt Brown was the master of ceremony. I went to my room and slept for two hours, having gone from Portland (OR) to Dallas by way of Atlanta on a red eye flight. I did get to meet persons I had only had e-mail correspondence with previously. I was to meet Ernst Titovets at the “meet and greet”, which I slept through due to the red eye flight. I met him just before the buffet banquet. He did look very similar to his picture on his recent book, Oswald: Russian Episode. It was upon reading his book that I made my first e-mail query almost two years previously. Titovets wrote the book about his being Oswald’s best friend while Oswald was in Russia. Titovets completed the manuscript in 2000, but got it published in 2010. At the time Oswald was in Russia, Titovets was in medical school. After receiving his M.D., Titovets received a Ph.D. and later, a D.Sc. His work has been in medical research with an emphasis on brain chemistry, and how the chemistry of the brain affects a person’s functioning. With us also was Gary Severson, a good friend and a person I’ve collaborated with in previous JFK research. Gary had a friend with him, Mark Newman, who I learned was quite knowledgeable about the events in Dallas 50 years ago. As it happened, the four of us spent a lot of the next three days together.
After the banquet, three keynote speakers addressed the COPA audience: Cyril Wecht, a renowned pathologist who has been a contributor to investigations of the JFK assassination as well as numerous other celebrity deaths. Just one of his numerous books is Cause of Death. He has held many conferences near his home. He is one of the best known and respected investigators of the JFK assassination, and a vigorous 88 year old, seemingly in the prime of his life. Yet he had the presence to note the need to pass the torch to a new generation of searchers for the truth. It was a pleasure to get a chance to shake Wecht’s hand and thank him for his many efforts.
Titovets’ book is a straight forward account of Titovets experiences with Oswald. He describes Oswald’s early difficulty with the Russian language. It was clear to Titovets that Oswald would have to think through his responses to Russians speaking by first thinking through the response in English and then giving his response in Russian. Titovets’ interest in Oswald was to give Ernst a chance to practice his English with a native English speaker (albeit Southern American). Oswald also had interests that corresponded to Titovets own, particularly the opera. Oswald had at least two tutors in Russian, one of them assigned by the Communist Party. In Titovets’ presentation, he wondered how John Armstrong would conclude that Oswald would not have spoken a word of Russian in Russia. It is true that Armstrong’s book came out before Titovets’ book did, but Titovets would have been available to be interviewed, as well as any number of people who Oswald had conversed with in Russian (most of whom, however, did not speak English).
Mark Lane appeared through a video feed from his home. Lane is a longtime, and perhaps the best known critic of the Warren Commission. His Rush to Judgment is a seminal work on the failings of the Commission. Lane particularly spoke of the failings of the Secret Service in Dallas. He also authored Plausible Denial.
I also met Judyth Vary Baker for the first time. Judyth seems to be a controversial person in the critical community, though she seems to be an honest reporter of her experiences and of the things she has been told. If the persons telling her information are less than honest, she can only report what she was told, and what she has experienced. She is vigilant in trying to resurrect Lee Harvey Oswald’s reputation, and some might find that offensive. She is the best witness for Lee Harvey Oswald’s activities in New Orleans for May to September, 1963. She is the author of Lee Harvey Oswald (2006), Me & Lee(2010) and the forthcoming Ferrie. I might add that she is also a sincere and giving person.
Saturday November 23, 2013
The COPA morning session began with Robert Groden’s presentation regarding his new photo book, JFK: Absolute Truth. The book did seem to have enhancements that were interesting. Perhaps just as interesting to me is how Groden’s appearance has changed. I first saw him in 1999 at a conference in Minneapolis. More recently, I saw him selling his books in Dealey Plaza. When he was introduced by John Judge, I turned to Gary Severson and said, “That’s Robert Groden?” One might suppose the continual harassment by the Dallas police regarding his selling his books in Dealey plaza had taken some degree of toll on him. I thought about buying his book until I found out that it’s price was $75 on a cash only basis. I never carry that much cash on me. I take the view that anyone who tries to rob me would find it had very little payoff.
Gary Aguilar has always impressed me as a knowledgeable and dynamic speaker. He has addressed the medical evidence in several forums and was a consultant to the Assassination Record Review Board. In his presentations he described how the magic bullet was even more magical than reported by the Warren Commission.
Daniel Sheehan has a long history as a lawyer in some of the most interesting cases in the past 40 years, including suing The U.S. government to get the Watergate Papers published, the Karen Silkwood case, the Watergate burglary case, and the Iran/Contra case. He has turned his attention to the JFK assassination, and his Rulers of the Realm: “The Wise Men”: The Assassins of President John F. Kennedy.” This book is to be published by Counterpoint Press in 2014.
Stan Weeber has researched the rather lengthy number of persons connected to Denton, Texas and their relationship to the JFK assassination. Joan Mellen, author of “Farewell to Justice”, a critique of governmental interference in Jim Garrison’s investigation and prosecution of Clay Shaw. She is updating that book and planning one on Mac Wallace. Wayne Smith reported on the machinations at the Journalof the American Medical Association (JAMA). The editors of JAMA were apparently trying to resurrect the conclusions to the Warren Report. With time, the editors lost their credibility and were replaced at JAMA. Smith wrote an article, JAMA Knows Best, which of course, was NOT published in JAMA
Russ Baker, the author Family of Secrets, a book about the Bush crime family, related in particular about the strange meanderings of George H. Bush on November 22, 1963. Though he had been in Dallas, he drove to Tyler, Texas, and contacted the FBI to inform on a seemingly unsuspecting acquaintance, but more likely, to establish he was not in Dallas. Though Baker did not discuss this, apparently George H. Bush was at a meeting, that included Richard Nixon, J.Edgar Hoover, and Clint Murchison (the party was at Murchison’s home) when LBJ waltzed in and announced that Kennedy would be eliminated the next day. This act by LBJ made each of the person’s present required to report the threat to the president, which apparently none of them did. Bush’s actions, first to report to the FBI that he was in Tyler, might render him not to be a suspect. Later, he apparently forgot where he was on November 22, 1963. Funny how certain dignitaries all had amnesia about a day that is embedded in the memories of the rest of us.
Saturday Evening (The 50th Anniversary Conference at Arlington)
This conference was arranged by Judyth Vary Baker, a seemingly enormous undertaking. She is to be thanked for her efforts. It seemed to be a very credible conference. The conference was a wonderful gesture for her. She definitely deserves a “Thank You” from the critical community.
The first speaker was Dick Russell. Russell discovered Richard Case Nagel who was the person about whom The Man Who Knew Too Much was written. Nagel was the person who walked into a bank in El Paso on September 20, 1963. He took two shots into the plaster of the wall in the bank, without endangering anyone in the bank. He drove off in his car, but seeing the policeman who was inside the bank he pulled over, onto the sidewalk and said “I guess you got me. I surrender.” In the next several weeks, he would only say that he didn’t want to go to Dallas, because he didn’t want to be found guilty of murder and treason. Nagel reportedly was directed by the KGB to kill Oswald to get the Soviets off the hook in case anything happened to President Kennedy. Nagel wanted to avoid murdering Oswald; in the case that Oswald were suspected of killing Kennedy, Nagel wanted to be in jail at the time of the assassination. Nagel had sent a registered letter to J. Edgar Hoover about the reasons for his actions just prior to his shooting in the bank. Russell also discussed three planned attempts on President Kennedy’s life in 1963. The attempts were planned in Miami, Tampa, and Dallas.
John Delane Williams and Ernst Titovets addressed the language proficiency of Lee Harvey Oswald in Russia. Williams had read Titovets’ book, Oswald: Russian Experience, which unbeknownst to Titovets, basically destroyed John Armstrong’s (Harvey and Lee) conclusion that Oswald spoke no Russian during his stay there, 1959-1962). It was Armstrong’s view that Oswald was actually someone who originated from Eastern Europe and was a false Oswald. The language proficiency of this “fake” Oswald would give him away as a spy. Titovets book gives a history of Oswald’s learning Russian. The Communist Party assigned an instructor to teach Oswald Russian. The instructor used a book based approach, which was ineffectual. Oswald struggled with the language; for some time, he appeared to think in English, before attempting to talk in Russian. Over time, he gradually became more proficient. Oswald’s apartment was bugged by the KGB, so they would have noticed if Oswald would revert to his “native” Russian language. Titovets emphasized that Oswald has been misrepresented as being a proficient shooter and a person capable of the acts attributed to him. Titovets saw Oswald as a peaceful and likable young man who seemed most unlikely to be capable of the actions described in the Warren Report.
The last speaker of the evening was Gary Severson, a retired social science teacher from John F. Kennedy High School in Bloomington, MN and an investigator into JFK assassination issues. His presentation regarded his own experiences when attending a speech at The University of North Dakota Fieldhouse as a 16 year old high school student. He and a friend, Bruce Folsom, arrived at the Fieldhouse just prior to the speech, and their being quite familiar with the Fieldhouse, they found four sets of doors open. After they got into the mens locker room after having gone through the first three open doors they then entered a third floor access that to the upper balcony seats. From the balcony, they could see that two seats were vacant in the front row, so they continued through a crowd of 12,500-15,000 persons and proceeded to the two seats directly in front of the podium in the first row. Gary was rather surprised that no one attempted to stop him. He often wondered, who was supposed to have the seats that they occupied. He learned that they were assigned to Thomas Clifford, then a Vice-President and Dean of the College of Business at the University of North Dakota, and his wife. He was scheduled to be representing the University at a meeting in Western North Dakota. He also learned from his readings that persons involved in plotting the JFK assassination (the committee, according to James Hepburn, Farewell to America (1968) p. 298) were present during JFK’s conservation tour through the Midwest and West from Wisconsin to California, September 24-29, 1963, which included JFK’s time at the University of North Dakota on 9/25/1963. As they came near the Fieldhouse, Severson and Folsom noted snipers on the roof. Later when Severson saw the movie Executive Action (1973), the movie had a scene similar to the one he saw that day, with snipers on the top of a building. Were the snipers he saw sent there by the “Committee” (from Farewell America) sizing up a possible means to assassinate President Kennedy?
There should be a word spoken about the uncooperativeness of the weather. Temperatures remained around freezing from Saturday through Monday. Judyth had scheduled a memorial service for Lee Harvey Oswald at his grave on Sunday afternoon. I had intended to attend, but no travel was advised on the local highways. I understand that 50 brave souls withstood the weather for the ceremony.
Sunday November 24, 2013
Two archivists discussed their holdings. Rex Bradford, works with The Assassination Archives and Research Center and the Mary Ferrell Foundation, whose site can be accessed at http://www.maryferrell.org. Ben Rogers, Director of the W. R. Poage Legislative Library contains the papers of Penn Jones, Jr., Mary Ferrell, Jack White, John Armstrong, Gary Shaw, John Kelin, Roy Schaeffer, Paul Hoch, Dick Russell, Gus Russo and others. Much of this is available at www. baylor.edu/lib/poage/jfk/ .
Abraham Bolden, the first black to be a member of the White House Secret Service detail, appeared through a video feed. Bolden is the author of Echo from Dealey Plaza, a telling of his being derailed when trying to be allowed to testify before the Warren Commission. Bolden helped foil a purported attempt of assassination of JFK in Chicago in November, 1962. One interesting detail that Bolden revealed during his presentation was that just prior to the Dallas trip, 11 Secret Service agents resigned.
Joseph McBride, the author of the book Into the Nightmare, looked into the murder of J.D. Tippet. McBride contends that Tippet was an underperforming policeman whose wife was on the verge of divorcing him because of his infidelities. All this has been swept under the table, and Tippet has been accorded hero status.
Dawn Meredith appeared on behalf of John Armstrong, reading Armstrong’s article, Harvey, Lee and Tippet: A New Look at the Tippet Shooting. This article has been published at least twice, once in Probe (1998, Vol. 5, No 2) and The Dealey Plaza Echo(2012, Vol. 17, No.2, pp. 8-22), as well as being available on the web at http://www.ctka.net/pr198-jfk.html. No update has been done since its original publication.
John Judge did make an intriguing comment. The interaction described here occurred at the time of an Assassination Symposium on JFK (ASK) Dallas, which Judge was directing. On addressing Oswald’s purported attempted shooting of a police officer at the Texas Theater, Judge asked two police officers who were present during Oswald’s arrest, “Did the police use a gun drop with Oswald?” A gun drop occurs when the police sometimes drop a gun and then use it as evidence against the person being arrested (or worse, killed). The gun drop allows the police to claim self defense to their actions (in Oswald’s situation, being beat up by the police). One of the police officers, replied, “Well, MAYBE.” One could argue the Oswald likely neither used nor attempted to use a firearm on that fateful day.
Two unusual things then occurred. First John Judge, noting that 11/24/2013 was the 50th anniversary of Oswald’s murder, asked that those in attendance to observe a moment of silence. Afterwards, Ernst Titovets took the podium and announced that copies of his book, Oswald: Russian Episode, which was selling for $60 a copy, would be given free to anyone interested at the conference. Titovets gave away over 100 copies, and was busy autographing them for over an hour.
That afternoon, blustery and just above freezing, Ernst Titovets, Gary Severson, Mark Newman, Christian Allgood (a young former student of Gary Severson), and John Delane Williams planned to lunch at Campisis Egyptian Lounge. But first, Ernst and John went to the Adolphus Hotel, the site of the Lancers November in Dallas Conference. We went to see Andy Winiarczyk, of the Last Hurrah Bookshop. Ernst was going to get the remainder of his books, and John went to visit with Andy. The Lancers program had more than doubled in price since 2006, making the COPA all the more attractive. But there was one presentation that seemed very interesting. Barry Ernst had sought out Victoria Adams, who was on the stairs at the Texas Book Depository; she did NOT see Lee Harvey Oswald walk past her, even though she was there at the critical time. Adams decided that it was best to take a several year powder, in the hope of living a somewhat longer life. John has since ordered Barry Ernst’s book, The Girl on the Stairs: The Search for a Missing Witness to the JFK Assassination (2013).
The five conference attendees then proceeded to Campisi’s Egyptian Lounge. The previous night they’d erroneously gone to the other Campisi establishment, only to find out that the original Campisi’s was on Mockingbird. As might be expected, Campisis was a large but traditional Italian restaurant, with its own intrigue. Jack Ruby was a frequent patron and had his own favorite booth to sit in, which of course we had to try out. It was after 3 PM on a blustery Sunday, and we were among the few diners. Before ordering, we had the waitress take our group picture. Most of us had cameras, so several shots were taken. Ernst was unfamiliar with the cuisine so we made our suggestions. As The manager came by (he was married to a Campisi), Gary inquired how did Campisi’s have the additional Egyptian Lounge in its name? The manager explained that in 1946, when the Campisi’s bought the restaurant, they weren’t long on cash. The place had been called the Egyptian Lounge. They just added the Campisi sign to it. It became a source of pride. They had started with almost nothing, and had become quite successful. Their name for the restaurant reminded them of how far they had come. After dinner/lunch, noting the lack of patrons, Gary then asked the manager to give us a tour and let us know something of the lore. He gladly obliged. One room was reserved for the VIPs back in the day. The manager proceeded to tell us some of the luminaries. Many of them were athletes or coaches from the Dallas Cowboys. Another huge room was filled with pictures. One picture was a large photograph of Rocky Marciano, given to them on a visit less than a week before his fatal plane crash. A picture of Jack Ruby, in his arrest mug shots (an odd choice), adorned another wall. Again many of the other pictures were entertainers, athletes or movie stars. Among the athletes were many boxers, several relatives of the manager. Two of his nephews were outstanding boxers in the 50’s and 60s. An uncle was on the boxing commission. At the conclusion of tour, Ernst gave the manager an autographed copy of his book. Then, though it was getting dark, we went to Dealey Plaza and went to various locations and recalled what had happened (or possibly happened) at each of them going through the various theories. It was a great time.
Published in JFK-E/ Deep Politics Quarterly, Vol 1, No. 1, 14-22, January 2014.