John Judge by Bill kelly
Into the Rabbit’s Hole with John Judge – By Bill Kelly
John Judge usually celebrated his December 14 birthday over dinner with friends at one of his favorite DC restaurants, often at an old Italian bistro near DuPont Circle.
Sometimes there would be as many as a dozen people – T. Carter, Marty Bragg and Lenny Lapan, his oldest and closest friend who once gave John a car, are a few I remember. Once it was just the two of us.
I first met John Judge outside the University of Dayton cafeteria in September 1969 where he had set up a table to distribute anti-war literature next to a USMC recruiting table. He had just graduated and I was a freshman who picked up a Playboy magazine from his table and he referred me to the interview with Jim Garrison, that sparked my interest in the Kennedy assassination and began our long and exciting adventure together. It was then I followed John Judge through the Looking Glass and into the Rabbit’s Hole.
At the time I was also friends with John’s girlfriend Kathy Engro, who was elected the first female student body president, and we engaged in anti-Vietnam war activities together.
Even though he had graduated the previous year John Judge stayed around campus to pester the administration, who he had fought to eliminate mandatory Army ROTC – Reserve Officers Training Corps, that all male freshmen were required to take, until my class. Thank you John.
While my four years at Dayton were interesting, I met Van Cliburn, the Texas pianist who won the Russian competition, Norman Mailer, Paul Krasner and Ken Kesey, a personal friend of John Judge who gave a lecture in the Kennedy Student Union theater and then slept on John’s couch rather than take a hotel room. After the Kesey lecture I went over to John’s apartment and sat around with them in the living room as they talked and I just listened. Kesey recounted how he got his first LSD from a Stanford professor who was doing interrogation research for the CIA, and how he sold the movie rights to One Flew Over the Cuckoos Nest to Kurt Douglas for $10,000 on a deal that was sealed on a bar napkin. He said he used the money to buy the bus called FURTHER and drive cross country to meet Tim Leary. Kurt Douglas, he said, then gave the movie rights to Cuokoos Nest to his son Michael as a birthday gift. But that was just one of many interesting nights spent with John Judge and his wide consortment of interesting friends.
Young JFK researchers want to hear the story of meeting the real Lee Harvey Oswald in Dayton. It was after Mae Brussell gave a long talk in the same Kennedy Union theater as Kesey, and I carried her books as she walked across a parking lot to John’s car. It was just the three of us, and I was anxious to get along with my Friday night on campus when we were approached by a man who asked for Mae.
He introduced himself as Don Norton, who was then living in Canton and came to hear her lecture.
“Why Don, it’s good to meet you,” Mae said, “thank you for your support of my work.”
“That’s my conscience money,” Norton said.
Norton then joined John and Mae as they went back to John’s apartment and sat around the living room talking into the night, as Kesey had done. While I wasn’t there, John said that Norton began talking in idelogical terms and reminded him of Oswald. Mae said she thought Norton was Oswald – the other Oswald who wasn’t killed by Jack Ruby. They tried to compare handwriting samples and Mae tried to keep in contact with Norton but he just slipped away.
John’s girl Kathy moved to New York City after graduation and I once crashed on her couch in an apartment across the street from the Dakota, where she said she often saw many celebrity residents including John Lennon. When Lennon was murdered I called her she said she arrived home in a taxi at the same time Lennon arrived in a limo. She said she heard the gun shot as she opened her apartment door and ran to the window and witnessed the arrest and first responders. The next day my story quoting her ran on the front page of the Atlantic City Sun newspaper.
John and I attended one of the first JFK Assassination conferences in the mid-1970s at NYU Law School in the Village in New York City. Walking down the street we ran into Kevin Keefe, the tall thin radical hippie and student body president at Dayton when I was a freshman. Keefe was now an assistant to the spiritual advisor to the United Nations.
At the NYU conference John introduced me to Penn Jones and Mae Brussell, and I met Sylvia Meagher and attended a lecture by Fletcher Prouty, who explained how intelligence agencies were organized and how covert operations were conducted, “something you have to know before you can understand what happened at Dealey Plaza,” he said.
I often visited John in DC and he stayed at my house in Ocean City, always sharing the latest books and research. For a few years John lived in the Germantown section of Philadelphia with some college friends while working for Quaker war resisters and we got to see each other more often, sometimes listening to Mae Brussel radio tapes, and I recall her saying something remarkable – that the Warren Commission Report was written by a US Army Pentagon historian, which I later found out was true. I finally caught up with Alfred Goldberg on his last week at the Pentagon before he retired, talking with him on the phone for awhile.
When Mae died she had asked, on her deathbed, for John Judge to continue her work. So I drove a U-Haul Truck of books from DC to California when John took over Mae’s archives and we set up the Mae Brussel Research Center.
After the HSCA folded and sealed their files for 50 years John and I co-founded the Committee for an Open Archives (CIA) that lobbied extensively and unsuccessfully to get Congress to release the HSCA records. We did research at the old archives where I met Mr. Johnson, who responded to my early FOIA requests and answered my question as to why 50 years, and not 25 or 75, and he said because that is the estimated time that the people mentioned in the records would be dead.
When Oliver Stone gave a speech at the National Press Club before his JFK film was released John and I met with him at his hotel room and discussed the idea of a trailer at the end of the movie calling attention to the sealed records much like the Executive Action film ended with the mysterious deaths of witnesses.
At that time the Assassinations Archive and Research Center was in an old building on 14th street where we would conjugate. It was there where I worked closely with Tony Summers on his book Not In Your Lifetime. Jim Lesar referred me to the Investigative Journalism Project that gave me a $3,000 grant to interview JFK assassination witnesses and researchers, that I used to buy a round trip cross country AMTRACK train ticket and spent two months traveling around the country, the only money I ever made on the assassination and put to good use.
After the second ASK conference in Dallas John discussed the idea of forming our nonprofit organization to put on conferences instead of us paying a for profit group to do it, and we held a lunch meeting at the West End bar that included Bill Turner and about a dozen researchers.
We reconvened at the Capitol Hill Quaker meeting house, arranged by John that lasted two days and included Jim Lesar, Peter Dale Scott, John Newman and Bill Davis, a former priest affiliated with the Cristic Institute. We decided on the name Coalition on Political Assassinations – COPA and would include Lesar’s AARC and our COA and after another meeting at a Chinatown hotel we were joined by Jim Deugenio’s Citizens for Truth Kennedy Assassination.
COPA had two major national conferences at the Sheraton where I met Debra Conroy and George Michael Erica, who expressed their desire to form another group “to educate the next generation of researchers,” that became Lancer.
COPA played a major role in the passage of the JFK Act and Judge Tunheim of the Assassination Records Review Board (ARRB) addressed COPA conferences and COPA is mentioned in the AARC Final Report.
Members of the Kennedy family would visit JFK’s grave at Arlington cemetery every November 22nd, but Senator Ted Kennedy was quoted in the newspaper saying that the family would prefer people remember JFK for his policies and accomplishments rather than his death, and in that spirit, over dinner together one night, we decided to hold a short vigil on June 10th, the date of JFK’s “Peace Speech” at American University, where there is an historical marker at the end of the sport’s field where he gave that speech.
Sometimes there were a dozen people, taking turns reading excerpts from the speech and saying something nice about JFK and how he affected people, other times it was just me and John and one or two others, who would stay at the monument for an hour and then go to lunch. We did this every June 10th for over a decade, but I don’t think anyone who claimed to continue John’s legacy kept this tradition going except for Randy Benson, who has promised that he will be there every June 10th if it is within driving distance, and I will too.
John Judge at the JFK Memorial at American University on June 10
On June 10, 2002 Randy Benson and his friend Lance showed up at the monument when we were there and began filming Randy’s documentary “The Searchers,” after which we went to the National Press Club for a 9/11 press briefing, and John began The 9/11 Citizen’s Watch, monitoring the work of the 9/11 Commission. We attended every public meeting of the Commission and issued our own separate report on the day the 9/11 Commission’s Final Report came out.
COPA continued holding a regional Dallas conference every November, but instead of joining the Coalition on Political Assassinations, Lancer began holding their own conferences, and it was John Judge who continued Penn Jones’ tradition of holding a minute long moment of silence on the Grassy Knoll every November 22nd, a tradition that continues today.
At some point in time, the exact year escapes me, the COPA board of directors held a meeting in Dallas over the weekend of the annual regional conference, and someone had made a motion to dissolve COPA, as there were many differences of opinion among the members, especially the leadership, but I tried to keep it together and pleaded with the board to keep COPA going. While they discarded all of my reasons for keeping the organization together, it was COPA attorney Dan Alcorn who did it by calling attention to an important FOIA appeal for the US Army After Action Reports of the week Martin Luther King, Jr. was assassinated in Memphis. Alcorn said that COPA was the name on the legal documents and if the organization disbanded the case would be thrown out of court.
COPA continued, and the appeal was heard in US District Court in Washington, and it was COPA’s best moment when Dan Alcorn made the oral arguments for the release of the records. The Department of Defense had the top Justice Department lawyers make their case before a three judge appeals panel. While COPA lost the case, the Army was so embarrassed that it leaked an After Action report summary to a friendly Memphis reporter, a document that proved that the US Army Reserves had kept a close eye on King and had him under surveillance as he was murdered.
After that case Jim Lesar pulled the AARC out of the COPA coalition, and shortly thereafter Jim DiEugenio did the same with CTKA, but John and myself, Dr. Wecht and others kept the organization together, with the tax documents listing John Judge as director and myself and T. Carter as associates, and the annual Dallas conferences were held, in competition with Lancer.
John was familiar with Congress from his work with the COA and COPA and worked for Rep. Cynthia McKinney (D-Ga.), and later with Rep. Dennis Kucinich (D. Ohio). With McKinney we worked hard to put on a Congressional Briefing on 9/11 with serious speakers like Peter Dale Scott and a former CIA analysts that went deeper than the official 9/11 Commission.
John often visited me at the Jersey Shore sometimes bringing a friend – T. Carter, John Geherity and he either stayed at my family house in Ocean City or the Flanders Hotel on the boardwalk where I worked at the time and arranged for him to stay in the penthouse on occasion.
- Carter wrote a book with James Earl Ray’s brother and Geherity, a young Irishman, worked as a summer intern with Jim Lesar at the AARC, which had moved from the historic building on 14th street to a series of offices near Chinatown. Geherity went back to Ireland and started a web site Publin, that profiled each of the pubs of Dublin, specializing in identifying the ones with the best price of Guinnis for the cash strapped college students.
Although John Judge no longer had a tight romantic relationship with his old college flame Kathy, he continued to visit her on holidays, mainly on Thanksgiving and Christmass. But then, heading towards the 2013 Wecht conference in Pittsburgh he told me he had a new girlfriend he met on-line, a poetress, who I met at the conference. John and I usually shared hotel rooms at any conference we arranged or attended, including the Chicago Third/Fourth Decade conference and many in Dallas. But this time he brought his new girl along to Pittsburgh so I stayed with my old college roommate. I was glad John found her as he was looking for love and companionship and finally found it, again.
While I was glad he found a new girlfriend I was surprised to hear her say that she had no interest whatever in John’s “Hidden History” and political side. That conference was also weird because COPA, Lancer, Walt Brown and Mary Ferrell all had tables set up outside the conference room, and John and his girl at the COPA table had to sit and look at the Lancer table with Debra Conway and her sister Sherry Feister, a forensic investigator who specializes in blood splatter analysis and wrote a book applying her knowledge to the JFK assassination.
John Judge also had a “falling out” with Walt Brown, who has written a number of books on the assassination, but wasn’t talking to Judge, so they all had to sit silently in the same room glaring at each other. Dr. Wecht couldn’t see the damage Lancer had done to COPA, and wanted to make peace, cooperate with them and bury the hatchet, but John couldn’t work with Debra.
Debra gave me a copy of her sister’s book, and asked me to autograph my byline in the conference program, as she had done with everyone who made a presentation, and later told me that she had politely asked John Judge to also sign her program and he did, so maybe that was their last sign off.
At that time I was also taking care of my 90 year old mother and could not get to D.C. or Dallas, but others stepped up especially T. Carter and Joe Green.
Around 2005, around the time my mother passed away at 92 years, the Arab Spring revolutions began and dictators started falling in Tunesia, Egypt and eventually Libya.
I had a special interest in Libya as I had written 300 Years at the Point – A History of Somers Point, N.J., home of Master Commandant Richard Somers, one of the first three mid-shipman of the US Navy who died in the explosion of the USS Intrepid in Tripoli harbor while fighting radical Islamist pirates, and is buried on the shores of Tripoli.
I started a blog Revolutionary Program keeping track of the Arab Spring revolts, especially Libya. Familiar with Quadafi I had corresponded with the Quadafi Charitable Foundation and an American professor who counseled Quadafi’s son as a college student in London.
While the son appeared to be leaning towards a more open society and experimenting with democracy, when the revolt began he sided with his father, who had executed 1,000 political prisoners in one day. The revolution began in Benghazi when the mothers and widows of those executed protested, seeking the remains to bury.
When Quadafi violently surprised the revolt in the beginning, his army’s march to Benghazi was stopped by NATO air strikes, shifting the momentum away from Quadafi.
I was pretty surprised when John and Cynthia came out in public support of Quadafi, though I understood his opposition to NATO intervention, Cynthia went to Tripoli to see Quadafi, and issued news interviews from there in his support. She apparently viewed him as a benevolent dictator like Castro and Chavez of Venezuela, saying a free college education was available to all Libyan girls, and toured that on international TV.
I told John Judge that all the free education was not going to absolve Quadafi of being a ruthless violent dictator and mass murderer.
Apparently it was at that point that John said “I am tired of Kelly’s shit!,” and removed me as one of the three officers listed on the official COPA tax forms, along with him and T. Carter. It was said I was replaced by Joe Green, a young and impressionable researcher who would do John’s bidding, as by now John was COPA and COPA was John Judge.
While it has been said over and over that I had a “falling out” with John Judge, we continued to talk at length over the phone every week until a few days before his debilitating stroke, which was similar to the one suffered by my father.
Our last conversation was about a former federal agent who had taken up the free the JFK files cause and was holding regular protests at the Kennedy Center, and had appropriated COPA’s JFK half dollar with bleeding gunshot hole in the head, designed and given to COPA by the late Gene Case. We decided to tell him to desist using the copyrighted image and ignore him.
When John had his stoke from my father’s experience I knew it would be difficult to recover and was saddened to read the frequent emails from his girl describing his condition. After he died I read his last will and testament in which he left his personal effects to his girl and the archive of books and COPA papers to the Hidden History Museum, which was still being developed.
When I asked his girl what became of John’s remains and the name of the attorney of the Hidden History museum she said I was being too inquisitive. And I still don’t know what became of John’s remains – was he buried with his family in Virginia, or was his ashes sitting on a shelf somewhere?
John’s girlfriend and execitpr of his estate then organized a tribute to John at the National Press Club, but when I asked her if Lenny Lapan – John’s oldest and closest friend would be there she said he wasn’t welcome because John and him had a “falling out,” which is quite preposterous.
John had a falling out with Jim Lesar, Jim DiEugenio, me, Lenny and apparently most of the ex-leaders of COPA so we weren’t invited to his memorial service?
Randy Benson filmed the service and after viewing it I was touched by everyone’s remarks though found Ben Murray’s tribute closest to my own, as we both knew John from college days.
I had a flashback to when Ben -who we then knew as “Bernie,” – a tall strapping guy, pick up the Marine Corps recruiting table in the hall outside the cafeteria and kicked them out.
John was non-violent but we thought that was in good form in those anti-Vietnam war days.
After the memorial service for John I learned that his girl had taken over the Hidden History Museum and COPA and combined their assets even though they were different types of non-profits – one tax deductible and the other not.
Joe Green was quoted as saying he was going to dissolve COPA even though he didn’t have the legal power to do so, but with the co-mingiling of the COPA and Hidden History funds COPA no longer existed. Green apparently thought he was doing what John Judge would have wanted him to do.
A number of former COPA members discussed these events at the 2013 Wecht conference in Pittsburgh and I reached out to others at the Bethesda conference in order to get a new organization together and talked with a number of people including Mike Nurko, Gary Aguilar and Dr. Wecht. Ben Wecht offered to host a series of twice monthly conference calls beginning in 2014 that resulted in the creation of CAPA – Citizens Against Political Assassination.
And so we are back to where we were in 1992 – twenty five years later, just getting organized to oversee the execution of the JFK Act and ensure that the last of the still sealed records on the assassination are released to the public so everyone can judge for themselves as to who killed the president and what to do about it.
As Chief Justice Earl Warren said, the last remaining records on the assassination will be released, “but not in your lifetime,” – which is the title of Tony Summers’ book, and reflects on the fact that not everyone who began this fight to free the JFK files is still around to see them.
As Jim Garrison said, he wasn’t going to be around when that happens, but he asked his son to be there and to see what they say.
And so it is with those of us who are still here, we have to be there on October 26, 2017 when the last remaining assassination records are released, and we must ensure they are, not only in the name of John Judge and Penn Jones and Phil Melanson and those who aren’t here, but for those who are yet to come. And we have to figure it all out – put the pieces of the puzzle together into a believable narrative, so the story is told and such crimes can be prevented from ever happening again.