Conspiracy buffs have, for a generation, believed that all those documents hidden away by the U.S. government contained the answer to the many mysteries surrounding the assassination. Who was Oswald? Who shot JFK? Who manipulated the shooter or shooters into position? Who in the government, exactly, ran the cover-up and exactly what did they do? When the documents are released, it will all become clear. Ray and Mary La Fontaine, authors of Oswald Talked, believe that this is exactly what has happened. They have, they think, unravelled the entire mystery. They claim in the preface to their book that:
. . . the newly released records from the FBI, CIA, and U.S. Army began to tell the true story of Lee Harvey Oswald and the assassins of President Kennedy. It soon became clear that the Bureau of J. Edgar Hoover, far from investigating the assassination, had participated in a massive cover-up about Oswald. It also became clear why: conducting a real investigation would have disclosed the embarrassing fact that Oswald . . . had been recruited in March 1963 as an FBI informant (picking him up from the CIA, the likely agency that had earlier sent the ex-Marine . . . on a mission to Russia). It was in the role of FBI informant that Oswald visited New Orleans later that year, returned to Dallas in early October, and, on November 16, warned the Bureau of an impending assassination attempt . . . by a "Cuban faction."
Explosive stuff, if true. But are the La Fontaines trailblasers using newly released documents to ferret out the long supressed truth? Or are they just two more conspiracy authors, relying heavily on unreliable sources while ignoring reliable ones, concocting far-fetched scenarios more out of speculation than evidence, and misleading readers by concealing information that goes contrary to their thesis?
Several essays discuss and dissect the La Fontaine's use of evidence:
Hearsay Is Better -- The Single Bullet
The origin of CE 399, the single bullet, has long been controversal. Conspiracy theorists have long touted the testimony of Darrell Tomlinson, the man who found the bullet at Parkland Hospital, who believed it rolled off a stretcher not connected with the assassination. The Warren Commission concluded it rolled off Connally's stretcher. Relying on "new evidence" the La Fontaines propound a different theory:
NEW EVIDENCE: Recently released tapes of the telephone conversations of President Lyndon Johnson show that he was told by FBI director J. Edgar Hoover within a week of the assassination that the bullet tagged as CE 399 was found on the president's stretcher, and was dislodged as emergency procedures were performed.It's one thing to belabor the testimony of Darrell Tomlinson, the fellow who found the bullet. Although witnesses are sometimes mistaken, Tomlinson was a witness.
But the La Fontaines go with Hoover's statement. Hoover was not a witness. How he got the impression that the bullet was found on Kennedy's stretcher one can only guess -- probably it comes from early autopsy speculation. No witness supports this account.
No political scientist, and no historian with any sophistication, will ever assume that information moves upward within an organization with stainless steel efficiency. What people at the top get is often incorrect -- and is essentially hearsay.
Hoover's statement has essentially no evidentiary value. No serious treatment of the issue can pretend that it does.
It's tempting to credit the La Fontaines with producing a new and novel conspiracy theory. But in conspiracy books, as in college logic courses, the conclusion can be no better than the premises. David Reitzes examines twelve key premises that underlie the La Fontaines' Oswald / anti-Castro Cuban / FBI / gunrunning / Jack Ruby scenario, and finds them to be based on tenuous assumptions, rather than solid evidence.
The most striking claim in Oswald Talked revolves around a man named John Elrod. Elrod, according to the LaFontaines, claimed that he had been in the jail cell with Oswald on the day of Oswald's arrest. Supposedly, he and Oswald saw a prisoner with a battered face being marched down the corridor by guards. According to Elrod, Oswald remarked that he had been with the man in a motel room a few days before the assassination, discussing a transaction involving some stolen weapons. And Jack Ruby was in that motel room, according to Elrod.
Needless to say, the story has some problems:
. . . why would Oswald, who was smirky and elusive in everything he is known to have said after the assassination, who was smirky and elusive during his time in the Marines, in Russia, in Dallas, and in New Orleans, suddenly start talking cordially and intimately to a teenage car thief and a drunk? Surely, whether Oswald was part of a plot or not, he would have suspected that anyone put in a cell with him was there to inform on him to the authorities and thus would not have volunteered that he knew Ruby. (Gregory Curtis, "The Fourth Tramp" in The Texas Monthly, April 1996)
The suspect, Lee Harvey Oswald, was to be kept in a maximum security cell in F block on the fifth floor. All other prisoners were removed from adjacent cells, and a police guard was kept directly outside of the cell opposite the door.
Researcher David Perry was one of the first to question the Elrod account of the LaFontaines. His essay "John Elrod, Does He Know Anything?" highlights several problems with his testimony and with the LaFontaines' elaborate theory of gun running -- including one fundamental slip that destroys their entire scenario.
Researcher Douglas Horne of the Assassination Records Review Board studied this issue, and prepared a memo for members of the Board. The memo and supporting documentation is now online at Deanie Richards' JFK Place web site. Jean Davison obtained the document from the National Archives, and Judy Mickle converted it to electronic form. See how the LaFontaines' claims hold up to scrutiny.
The La Fontaines emphasize that Oswald was so "spooky" he was even aware of the term "Cosa Nostra," a term "not then widely known" (Oswald Talked, 154). They write, "The term Cosa Nostra, allegedly used by Oswald in August 1963 (WC X 77), did not become widely known until Joseph Valachi's testimony in September of that year" (Oswald Talked, 413 fn.).
They quote Peter Dale Scott: "If Oswald was not being directed by the FBI, how did he [on August 5, 1963] come up to use a term current within the FBI and (because Valachi had made it up) current nowhere else?" (Oswald Talked, 413 fn., quoting Peter Dale Scott, Deep Politics and the Death of JFK, 252)
What the La Fontaines don't say is that Scott gives us a possible answer: Oswald could have read about it in that morning's New York Times or the current issue of the Saturday Evening Post (Scott, 252).
Soft-Core Porn is Evidence?
Among the sources on which the LaFontaines rely heavily is a book titled Kennedy Ripples by Marianne Sullivan. Sullivan, supposedly, was a rival of Silvia Odio (a central character in their theory) for the affections of Father Walter Machann, a Catholic priest.
The LaFontaines' Description
Reading a few lines of Marianne Sullivan's Kennedy Ripples: A True Love Story, you know you've entered a new zone. The book, though published (in 1994) by a small San Clemente press, could glibly be called the Harlequin Romance version of the assassination. In reality, and despite some naive factual confusions, it is a refreshing contribution to the Kennedy literature that allows us a firsthand look at the preassassination world of Silvia Odio, Father Machann, and their Catholic circle of affluent Anglos and rabidly anti-Castro Cuban refugees.
Oswald Talked, p. 263.
How the Book Reads
Crazy, insane, desire. Must be possessed completely by this man I love ... feel his fiery touch, the flames escaping burn and join, quickening, extinguished, then renewed, over and over. We lay alternately quiet the seethe, soaring in billows of clouds, as though above and beyond earth. A virgin in mind, until this night, when united in love our souls meet reaching depths unheralded. Take from me all humanity. Body gone. Spirit reigns. Devoured. Two in one flesh. Rise and sink, to rise again. To the summit, sustaining five glorious hours. For Michael? A virile heroic feat. A feat I hardly believe. Such virility. With each new surge of desire I wonder with awe! How has this man of the cloth ever lived alone? In a room all by himself?Kennedy Ripples, p. 100ff.