Testimony of Joe Backes

Dallas, Texas -- November 18, 1994 Hearing
MR. MARWELL: Mr. Joseph Backes.

CHAIRMAN TUNHEIM: Good afternoon, Mr. Backes.

MR. BACKES: Thank you for the opportunity, Mr. Chairman and panel members, for allowing me to speak today. I didn't think I would get the chance.

CHAIRMAN TUNHEIM: We need you to spell your name for the record.

MR. BACKES: My name is Joseph Backes, B-a-c-k-e-s. I am from Albany, New York. I am a private researcher into the case.

I wanted to applaud the idea of lifting a gag order universally across the board for all intelligence agencies and especially Federal Commissions who have researched and looked into the assassination of President Kennedy, especially House Select Committee members who would have a lot to say on this case.

I also want to raise the issue of evidence being in the hands of private individuals and private corporations and ask the Review Board how they would go about acquiring such material. I could corroborate that Detective Lavelle does have notes in regard to the interrogation of Lee Harvey Oswald. At the Assassination Symposium on John F. Kennedy in '92 on an eyewitness panel, he said as such, and the last sentence of that panel was Detective Lavelle saying, I will not release mine. So if you start with him, I think we will see a lot of notes on that interrogation suddenly start appearing.

Several retired Dallas policemen have files and evidence relating to this case. So far there have been two books from Dallas policemen, Jesse Curry's assassination file, recently there is a book by Gary Savage, I believe, a nephew of Rusty Livingston who worked in the crime lab. This book is called, First Day Evidence. Rusty Livingston would have a lot of evidence and files relating to the case that would be worth looking at.

Specifically in that book, he worked in the crime lab, he mentions a camera which was used to take photographs of photographs, and he mentions that they were of such good quality that the photographs of the photographs could pass for originals. I find that very interesting, and I would ask the review panel if somehow they could acquire that camera. I would like people with more scientific and photographic technical expertise than I have to examine that camera. I would like to look at documents of the Dallas police crime lab, how many photographs of photographs they took, who saw them, where they went, were any used as an original photograph, did that get into the official record, and such.

I would also like to know if the review panel has been in contact with organizations that have photographic evidence like local television stations here in Dallas, the Sixth Floor Museum has a lot of photographs, Southern Methodist University, Dallas Times Herald although no longer in existence as a newspaper must have their archives somewhere, the Dallas Morning News, Fort Worth Star Telegram, and things like that. How would you guys go about getting material from that, or would you need more specific information from someone like me asking them a question?

CHAIRMAN TUNHEIM: Well, we simply are taking any input today that you might have. Those are good suggestions for us to follow-up on, and we certainly will do that. Whatever precision you can provide to us in terms of the kinds of records that you think are there is helpful to us.

MR. BACKES: Along those lines, how much of investigatory work would you do? Like if I have an opinion that there is a film or photograph at one of these places, and they come back to you or they deny it. I mean, I am not for certain that such a photograph may be there, but how much investigatory work would you do, or would you throw that back on a researcher such as myself?

CHAIRMAN TUNHEIM: We certainly would make every effort to follow-up, but it would be very helpful for us to know the basis for which you believe that there are photographs or records at the location that you are asking us to seek.

MR. BACKES: Okay. I would also ask to look into the National Photographic Interpretation Center, which was like the CIA's photo lab, basically. There are documents that they may have had the Zapruder film on the night of the assassination that is somewhat in dispute, maybe it was a few days later, or something, but that, in my opinion, would be part of their job. I would want them to look at it. You know, I am sure there are honest people in the CIA, there are honest people in the FBI, and some of them are actually trying to do a respectable job and trying to find out what happened, and some people say they are trying to mess around with the photographic evidence, but to get the documents from these organizations and to know that the names of the employees and who worked there, and what the hierarchy Washington, who was whose boss, and exactly what went on would be interesting to look at.

Also, radio is something that is often overlooked as a source of valuable information. I would ask to look at the FCC, if they have master copies of radio broadcasts that day, and similarly like CBS News is kind of difficult to get material from, basically their policy is, if they didn't air it, you can't see it. I think they have an archive in Fort Lee, New Jersey. That would be the number one network I would ask the Review Board to pay attention to, especially outtakes of interviews, like if it was ten minutes on a national program, there must be three or four hours with that person that didn't get on television that must be stored on tape somewhere.

That is basically it.

MR. JOYCE: Mr. Backes, you described yourself as a private researcher. In the course of your research on the assassination, have you identified any records either in private hands, rather, or that are restricted in government that you specifically would wish us to go after that you know exist?

MR. BACKES: The Dallas policemen that I have mentioned, and I think that could start a snowball effect because people don't want to be out in the spotlight that they have been withholding documents for a long time. It is like, you know, what about him. Don't look at me. This is something that maybe their boss, Chief Curry, or Will Fritz says not to talk about it.

Because at Bethesda also there was like a gag order to people like Floyd Reeby, and Gerald Custer that David Lifton interviewed on film, you know, you are not to discuss this and you might be court-martialed if you do. There may have been something similar to that in the Dallas Police Department.

I know for a fact that Detective Lavelle has notes on the interrogation of Lee Harvey Oswald because he said so publicly and I have it on videotape, and I will mail that videotape of that panel conference to you, and you can see for yourself. He says: I will not release mine. Well, if you don't have any, what are you talking about.

CHAIRMAN TUNHEIM: Further questions?

DR. HALL: I do have a question.

It is a question we haven't had the occasion to pose today, but I would like to pose it in a brief compass, and that is to ask you whether, not as a matter of law or a matter of statutory authority, but as a matter of principle and good public policy, whether you believe it is appropriate for Federal agency, and an agency of the United States Government, to take the property of private individuals?

MR. BACKES: I think this is going to be a difficult, probably your most difficult assignment in releasing documents. I am a little bit annoyed at how private ownership has been held up as this sacred thing, especially with the Zapruder film, almost from day one, and I question that the Secret Service didn't say, hand it over, and how the right of private ownership throughout this case, especially with the photographic evidence had been used as a barrier to prevent honest research, and I would ask the Review Board if it is possible, they can keep the rights to the photographs, but I would like them to be made more public, more available, maybe if you could somehow bend that, especially with organizations like CBS and Time-Life, because I believe there was a system set up to acquire the photographs and put them in the hands of these corporations to prevent public access to it.

No one saw the Zapruder film until 1975, 13 years later. It was shown during the Garrison trial, but I would kind of ask if there is someway -- when we have really important evidence like the Zapruder film or the Nix film, to kind of bend private ownership laws. They can have royalties or something, like a play, there are royalties to the writer, but if you pay him a reasonable amount and you produce the show any way you want it, something like that should happen with the photographs. I mean pay the royalty to the owner, but the public should have them, be allowed to look at them.

DR. HALL: Thank you.

MR. BACKES: Thank you very much.

CHAIRMAN TUNHEIM: Thank you, Mr. Backes.

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