Milteer was a political activist in far-right, racist circles from Quitman, Georgia. He was independently wealthy, and traveled constantly. On one of his trips, to Miami, he made statements about Kennedy being killed. In Crossfire Jim Marrs reports that:
On November 9, 1963, a Miami police informant named William Somersett met with Joseph A. Milteer, a wealthy right-wing extremist who promptly began to outline the assassination of President Kennedy.For this, Jim Marrs calls him "The Miami Prophet."
Milteer was a leader of the arch-conservative National States Rights Party as well as a member of other groups such as the Congress of Freedom and the White Citizen's Council of Atlanta. Somersett had infiltrated the States Rights Party and secretly recorded Milteer's conversation.
The tape, later turned over to Miami police, recorded Milteer as saying, "[During Kennedy's impending visit to Miami] You can bet your bottom dollar he is going to have a lot to say about the Cubans, there are so many of them here . . . The more bodyguards he has, the easier it is to get him . . . From an office building with a high-powered rifle . . . He's knows he's a marked man." (p. 265)
Was he that? Or was he just a racist blowhard? If you read Marrs' account, you might be inclined to believe that he knew something. But even in the account Marrs provides, it's interesting that Milteer says nothing about "triangulation of crossfire," or a "kill zone" or multiple shooters. If Milteer had any "foreknowledge" he had foreknowledge of a single shooter.
Anthony Summers' book Conspiracy deals with Milteer in two places. In the text he recounts the following edited version of Milteer's conversation with Somersett (p. 404):
INFORMANT: I think Kennedy is coming here on the 18th, or something like that to make some kind of speech . . .Then, in a long footnote (p. 624), Summers adds the following:
EXTREMIST: You can bet your bottom dollar he is going to have a lot to say about the Cubans. There are so many of them here.
INFORMANT: Yeah. Well, he will have a thousand bodyguards, don't worry about that.
EXTREMIST: The more bodyguards he has the easier it is to get him.
INFORMANT: Well, how in the hell do you figure would be the best way to get him?
EXTREMIST: From an office building with a high-powered rifle. . . He knows he's a marked man . . . .
INFORMANT: They are really going to try to kill him?
EXTREMIST: Oh yeah, it is in the working . . . .
INFORMANT: Boy, if that Kennedy gets shot, we have to know where we are at. Because you know that will be a real shake if they do that.
EXTREMIST: They wouldn't leave any stone unturned there, no way. They will pick somebody up within hours afterwards, if anything like that would happen. Just to throw the public off.
Joseph Milteer, the right-wing extremist who said two weeks before the assassination that the President's murder was "in the working," told a police informant afterward that "Everything ran true to form. I guess you thought I was kidding you when I said he would be killed from a window with a high-powered rifle." Asked whether he was guessing when he made the original remark, Milteer replied, "I don't do any guessing." According to the informant, Milteer said there was no need "to worry about Lee Harvey Oswald getting caught because he doesn't know anything." The right wing, said Milteer, was "in the clear," adding that "the patriots have outsmarted the Communist group in order that the Communists would carry out the plan without the right wing becoming involved."Again, note that Milteer takes "credit" for knowing that Kennedy was going to be "killed from a window with a high-powered rifle." This is the Warren Commission's version of what happened. More to the point, it was the version that law enforcement officials and the media were publicizing when Milteer talked to Somersett.
Rather than having "inside knowledge" that the media were pushing an inaccurate account, Milteer accepts what law enforcement officials and the media were saying!
He does seem to accept that Oswald is a "patsy" that has been manipulated. But he says a "communist group" was manipulated by "the patriots" (presumably, Milteer's racist buddies) to do the killing.
Does anybody believe it happened this way?
But while a careful reading of Summers and Marrs will make one doubt that Milteer actually had any "inside knowledge" of a conspiracy to kill Kennedy, it's the stuff that these authors suppress that is the most damning.
A more complete account of what Milteer told Somersett is found in an article in the September 1976 issue of Miami Magazine by Dan Christensen. Titled "JFK, King: The Dade County Links" it provides details omitted from conspiracy books.
Somersett: ...I think Kennedy is coming here on the 18th...to make some kind of speech...I imagine it will be on TV.After a few more minutes of conversation, Somersett again spoke of assassination.
Milteer: You can bet your bottom dollar he is going to have a lot to say about the Cubans. There are so many of them here.
Somersett: Yeah, well, he will have a thousand bodyguards. Don't worry about that.
Milteer: The more bodyguards he has the easier it is to get him.
Somersett: Well, how in the hell do you figure would be the best way to get him?
Milteer: From an office building with a high-powered rifle. How many people does he have going around who look just like him? Do you now about that?
Somersett: No, I never heard he had anybody.
Milteer: He has about fifteen. Whenever he goes anyplace, he knows he is a marked man.
Somersett: You think he knows he is a marked man?
Milteer: Sure he does.
Somersett: They are really going to try to kill him?
Milteer: Oh yeah, it is in the working. Brown himself, [Jack] Brown is just as likely to get him as anybody in the world. He hasn't said so, but he tried to get Martin Luther King.
Somersett: Hitting this Kennedy is going to be a hard proposition, I tell you. I believe you may have figured out a way to get him, the office building and all that. I don't know how the Secret Service agents cover all them office buildings everywhere he is going. Do you know whether they do that or not?Before the end of the tape, the conversation returns to Kennedy.
Milteer: Well, if they have any suspicion they do that, of course. But without suspicion, chances are that they wouldn't. You take there in Washington. This is the wrong time of the year, but in pleasant weather, he comes out of the veranda and somebody could be in a hotel room across the way and pick him off just like that.
Somersett: Is that right?
Milteer: Sure, disassemble a gun. You don't have to take a gun up there, you can take it up in pieces. All those guns come knock down. You can take them apart.
Milteer: Well, we are going to have to get nasty...It seems the conspiracy books leave some things out. They usually don't tell readers about:
Somersett: Yeah, get nasty.
Milteer: We have got to be ready, we have got to be sitting on go, too.
Somersett: Yeah, that is right.
Milteer: There ain't any count-down to it, we have just go to be sitting on go. Countdown, they can move in on you, and on go they can't. Countdown is all right for a slow prepared operation. But in an emergency operation, you have got to be sitting on go.
Somersett: Boy if that Kennedy gets shot, we have got to know where we are at. Because you know that will be a real shake...
Milteer: They wouldn't leave any stone unturned there. No way. They will pick somebody within hours afterwards, if anything like that would happen, just to throw the public off.
Somersett: Oh, somebody is going to have to go to jail, if he gets killed.
Milteer: Just like Bruno Hauptmann in the Lindbergh case, you know.
He was far from the only person who did. Dallas Secret Service chief Forest Sorrels was questioned by the Warren Commission about planning for the Dallas motorcade:
Mr. STERN. When you laid out the motorcade route and drove over it and I take it you drove over it several times Sorrels was not the only person who thought about this. Presidential aide Kenneth O'Donnell recounted to the Warren Commission a conversation that took place in Fort Worth on the very morning of the assassination:
Mr. SORRELS. Yes, sir.
Mr. STERN. Did you consider or discuss with Mr. Lawson the possibility of any danger to the President from the buildings along the route?
Mr. SORRELS. Well
Mr. STERN. Did you think about any of the buildings as presenting any particular problem?
Mr. SORRELS. All buildings are a problem, as far as we are concerned. That, insofar as I have been concerned and I am sure that every member of the Service, especially the Detail that is always of concern to us. We always consider it a hazard. During the time that we were making this survey with the police, I made the remark that if someone wanted to get the President of the United States, he could do it with a high-powered rifle and a telescopic sight from some building or some hillside, because that has always been a concern to us, about the buildings. (7H338)
Mr. O'DONNELL. Well, as near as I can recollect he [JFK] was commenting to his wife on the function of the Secret Service and his interpretation of their role once the trip had commenced, in that their main function was to protect him from crowds, and to see that an unruly or sometimes an overexcited crowd did not generate into a riot, at which the President of the United States could be injured. But he said that if anybody really wanted to shoot the President of the United States, it was not a very difficult job all one had to do was get a high building some day with a telescopic rifle, and there was nothing anybody could do to defend against such an attempt on the President's life. (7H456)So did JFK have "foreknowledge" of his own assassination?
Captain Charles Sapp, head of Miami's Police Intelligence Bureau, was concerned enough with Milteer's remarks to alert both the FBI and the Secret Service. Again, apparently no word of this right-wing plot reached Secret Service agents involved in Kennedy's Dallas trip. Sapp in later years, however, recalled that plans for a Miami motorcade were scrapped and the President instead flew to a scheduled speech by helicopter. (p. 265)And Summers notes that:
While the Assassinations Committee found no reference in the documentary record, it has been reported that there was a last-minute change in the Miami program. Captain Sapp recalls that a planned motorcade was cancelled for fear of trouble from the anti-Castro movement. On arriving at Miami Airport late in the day, the President flew by helicopter to and from his speech-making at the Americana Hotel. (p. 405)Summers is vague and apparently evasive about what the House Select Committee found. In fact, anyone reading their Report should note the following:
A Miami journalist later reported that a decision was made to transport President Kennedy from Miami International Airport to a Miami Beach hotel by helicopter to avoid exposing him to assassins by having him ride in a motorcade. The committee could find no documentation for this report. (p. 230)So Christensen, who wrote the otherwise fine article quoted above, began a factoid that has been endlessly repeated in the JFK conspiracy books.
For the article written by the Miami journalist [claiming the motorcade was cancelled], see Christensen, Dan, "JFK, King: The Dade County Links," in Miami Magazine, September 1976, p. 25 (JFK Document 003360). Christensen could not document his assertion therein that a planned motorcade was canceled, other than to say that "many people" believed that a cancellation had taken place; see outside contact report with Dan Christensen, Feb. 2, 1978, House Select Committee on Assassinations (JFK Document 004434). Persons cited by Christensen as sources for corroboration of his version of the cancellation did not recall that his version was correct; see outside contact report with the Honorable Seymour Gelber, Feb. 2, 1978, House Select Committee on Assassinations (JFK Document 005533); outside contact report with Attorney Richard Gerstein, Feb. 2, 1978, House Select Committee on Assassinations (JFK Document 013458): interview of Miami field office Special Agent Talmadge Bailey, Mar. 1, 1978, House Select Committee on Assassinations, pp. 5-7 (JFK Document 009385): and interview of Miami field office Special Agent Robert J. Jamison, Feb. 28, 1978, House Select Committee on Assassinations, p. 2 (JFK Document 007063). (p. 635)
The House Select Committee seemed unaware that a couple of years earlier the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence (Church Committee) had studied this issue. On January 9, 1976 the Church Committee sent a letter of inquiry to the Department of the Treasury, outlining the basic "Milteer" story, and noting that "We are also generally aware that President Kennedy visited Miami, Florida on November 18, 1963, and that a scheduled motorcade through downtown Miami was cancelled." The Committee went on to request "A detailed explanation as to why the President's Miami motorcade was cancelled, including a statement as to whether there was any relationship between the cancellation and Milteer's threat."
An official response came from James T. Burke, Assistant Director of the Secret Service (Protective Intelligence).
There is no evidence in Service files to indicate a presidential motorcade was planned for the Miami visit. The survey reports indicate helicopter travel was planned from Miami International Airport to Bal Harbor and a motorcade was to be utilized only in case of inclement weather. The Secret Service advance agents for this visit both recall that helicopter travel was planned from the beginning of their survey on 11-11-63. There is no basis for the insinuation that helicopter travel was planned as a result of the Milteer threat.(Source: National Archives documents: 121-10002-10063 and 121-10002-10064)
More recent research has made it even clearer that no motorcade was cancelled.
Researcher Gordon Winslow found a memo dated November 1, 1963 (over a week before Milteer's statements), from William Jibb (Administrative Assistant to Senator George Smathers) to Dick Pettigrew (a Florida political operative) outlining the confidential itinerary for Kennedy's trip to Tampa and Miami. Since Smathers was a Democratic senator from Florida, his staff was heavily involved in planning the trip. Winslow found this in the Smathers collection at the University of Florida in Gainesville.
Gordon Winslow's web site, Cuban Information Archives, is an excellent source for information on Cuban exiles, and goings-on in Miami.
The schedule has Kennedy arriving at Miami at 5:00 p.m. for a rally at the Miami International Airport. Then at 5:30 it says "Departs from Miami International Airport by helicopter for Americana Hotel on Miami Beach." No motorcade mentioned.
Thus the "cancelled motorcade" factoid, which was debunked in 1976, is being repeated in conspiracy books two decades later (and counting).
One can see why. Inflating the importance of Milteer lends credibility to the notion that he actually knew something about a forthcoming assassination rather than being merely an extremist given to wild talk. And it allows conspiracy book writers to imply that it was somehow sinister that information about Milteer was not passed along to the Dallas Secret Service in spite of the fact that Milteer never said anything about a threat to Kennedy in Dallas.
Researcher John Fiorentino has established that there was a motorcade in Miami. In fact, there was both a helicopter trip from the airport and a motorcade along a few blocks in downtown Miami, as shown on this aerial photo which Fiorentino has supplied. Indeed, Fiorentino has found a photo from this motorcade.
Although Kennedy indeed departed for the Americana via air, his helicopter actually landed at Haulover Beach Park heliport. From there the President departed by automobile to the Americana.
Here is the President's itinerary beginning at 5:30 p.m.
5:30 p.m. President left speakers' stand and, after shaking hands with many in the general public area and guests in the VIP section, boarded helicopter.
5:35 p.m. Helicopter departed airport.
5:45 p.m. Helicopter arrived heliport, Haulover Beach Park.
5:48 p.m. President departed helicopter by automobile.
The presidential car, a Mercury convertible on arrival, and a Continental hardtop on departure, was driven by SA Greer. The Secret Service follow-up car, a Ford convertible, was driven by SA Rybka.
What do we make of this apparently conflicting evidence? Quite simply, as the William Jibb memo proves, a helicopter trip was planned from the beginning. Apparently, in the thinking of people making the plans, the helicopter was taking Kennedy to the "Americana Hotel on Miami Beach," since the chopper landed as close to the hotel as it could.
So the conspiracy books are wrong on two counts. The helicopter trip was planned from well before Milteer spouted off to Somersett. And the motorcade (brief as it was) was never called off.
On the day of the assassination, Milteer telephoned Somersett, saying he was in Dallas and that Kennedy was due there shortly. Milteer commented that Kennedy would never be seen in Miami again. (Crossfire, p. 265)Groden and Livingstone, in High Treason (Baltimore: The Conservatory Press, 1989, p. 408) assert:
At 10:30 A.M. on November 22, Somersett received a phone call in Miami from Milteer in Dallas, stating that President Kennedy would be there that day and would not be visiting Miami again.And Henry Hurt, in Reasonable Doubt (New York: Holt, Rinehart, and Winston, 1985, p. 411) claims:
On November 22, Milteer telephoned his "friend," the informant and told him he was in Dallas. Prior to the midday events, Milteer told the informant that Kennedy was expected in Dallas that day and would probably never again visit Miami.Damning. But is it true?
Robert Groden, in The Killing of a President, shows his readers the photo, and then claims:
Milteer stood on Houston Street, next to eyewitnesses Carolyn Walther and Pearl Springer. While the crowd about him called out greetings to the President, Milteer stood silently, his right arm held up at a 90 degree angle. Then the first shots were fired. As pandemonium erupted in the Plaza, Milteer quietly disappeared into the crowds. (p. 196)The House Select Committee was aware of the "Milteer" figure, and put its panel of photographic experts to work on it. The panel was unconvinced. First, they pointed out two facial features that clearly differentiated the spectator on Houston Street and Milteer.
All of the available Milteer photographs show the membranous portion of Milteer's upper lip was very thin. The enhanced photographs of the spectator suggest a rather full and thick upper lip. This is not a trait apt to be influenced by normal variation in facial expression.But the height of the spectator provided even more conclusive evidence:
In the earliest photographs Milteer has a full, regular hairline with no central or lateral retreat suggestive of incipient baldness. In the photograph that was apparently taken when Milteer was about 55 years old, his hairline is virtually identical to that of the earlier photographs. The latest photograph, taken about a decade after the assassination, shows Milteer with a full head of hair. The spectator, however, appears to have little, if any, hair. The extent of the balding, though, could not be ascertained; no hairline is visible, and in fact, the entire frontal crown of the head appears bare.
The only available height record of Milteer gives his stature as 64 inches. This corresponds to about the seventh statural percentile of American males. That is, about 93 out of 100 adult American men would be taller than Milteer. Also, about 35 percent of adult American females would exceed Milteer's reported height. In contrast, the spectator alleged to be Milteer is taller than 4 of the 7 other males and all of the 16 females in the line of spectators shown in the motorcade photograph. Based upon Milteer's reported height, the probability of randomly selecting a group of Americans where so many are shorter than Milteer's reported height is .0000007. Moreover, an analysis based upon actual measurements of certain physical features shown in the photograph yields a height estimate for the spectator of about 70 inches 6 inches taller than Milteer's reported stature. (HSCA Volume 6, pp. 242-257)
In short: the spectator wasn't Milteer. He didn't even particularly look like Milteer.
Somersett's AccountSo Willie Somersett's account is the only evidence of Milteer being in Dallas on the day of the assassination. Unlike the November 9 conversation, which was taped by Somersett, we have only Somersett's word for Milteer's "call from Dallas." And interestingly, his earliest accounts don't mention any such call.
Consider for example a transcript of an interview he had with the Miami Police Department just four days after the assassination.Not only does Somersett fail to mention the "phone call from Dallas," he fails to mention it in the precise context of whether Milteer had been in Texas. Milteer's conversation with Somersett included some wild and some very nasty statements, but not that particular one.
MIAMI POLICE INFORMANT INFORMATION ON MILTEER November 26, 1963PAGE 4
Q: Do you know whether this Milteer has ever spent any time in New Orleans?
A: He said that he had been to New Orleans and that he had been to Dallas Texas. This probably would have been 5-6 months ago, he didn't specify a certain time, but he was in New Orleans, Dallas, and Gulfport Mississippi, and in Biloxi, Mississippi and in Jackson, and he spent quite a time in Alabama.
Q: Do you have any idea of your own thought, what is your thought, do you think maybe Milteer could have been in Dallas, Texas in the last two weeks?
A: Yes, he could have been there, I am satisfied that he could have been most anywhere he wanted; he has two cars ready to move at anytime.
Q: You have seen no evidence that he was there?
A: No. He didn't say that he was, the only thing he said that he had been in Texas.
Q: He didn't say when he had been in Texas?
A. No, he didn't say. He had been in New Orleans, Houston, different places in Louisiana and in Texas.
The "Milteer called from Dallas story" seems to have originated in Somersett's conversations with Jim Garrison's cockamamie investigation. It can be found in "MEMORANDUM OF CONVERSATION BETWEEN [BUD] FENSTERWALD AND BILL SOMERSETT" from the New Orleans District Attorney's office. It's National Archives document 180-10099-10133. Dated June 5, 1968, it's the first known instance of Somersett mentioning this supposed incident.
Somersett had some other interesting things to say in this interview. For example:Milterr's [sic] account of the shooting in Dallas is that Ruby shot from the Mall and that Tippett [sic] shot from the top of a building. A good guess is that this was the Daltex Building. Milterr [sic] was not clear about Oswald's role although he thought he was downstairs in the book depository rather than on an upper floor. Somersett guesses that it might have been Milterr [sic] himself that fired the shots from the windows of the book depository.Somersett appears, by this time, to have become rather a buff! While it's difficult to disentangle Milteer's crackpot notions from things added by Somersett, one gets the clear impression that Somersett is "improving" on Milteer's account a bit. Certainly the "phone call on the morning of the assassination" seems to be a Somersett addition to the story, with no basis in fact. Further, Somersett's silly scenario with multiple shooters differs from Milteer's recorded account which had only a single gunman in a tall building.
How reliable was Somersett?Not surprisingly, authorities who had been receiving information from Somersett were becoming skeptical. A Secret Service memorandum of March 10, 1967, describes some of the things Somersett claimed to have heard from Milteer, and notes:The informant, William Somersett (CO-2-43,860), who has furnished information in a number of cases involving Presidential interest, has been described as overenthusiastic, prone to exaggeration, and mentally unstable.This is National Archives document 180-10091-10212.
But even in 1963, Federal authorities considered Somersett a rather suspect informant. It is true that a November 27, 1963 FBI letterhead memorandum describes Somersett as "a source who has furnished reliable information in the past, and in addition has furnished some information that could not be verified or corroborated . . . " (Record Number 124-10008-10267). However, an FBI memorandum from Rosen to Belmont written on the same day says:It should be noted that Somersett was discontinued as an informant in 1961 for indiscretions on his part which threatened to expose a reliable Bureau informant and that Somersett is regarded as a "professional informant" who is in the business of furnishing information primarily for monetary gains.Thus conspiracy authors have been ill-advised indeed to accept the "phone call from Dallas" on Somersett's uncorroborated testimony. But it gets worse. There is solid evidence Milteer wasn't in Dallas. The following is a report from the United States Secret Service Atlanta office, dated 11/27/63.
In connection with the investigation of the Birmingham bombings, Somersett furnished information bordering on the fantastic, which investigation failed to corroborate. (Archives Record Number 124-10012-10306)SYNOPSISSeveral other documents reiterate the finding that Milteer was in Quitman. For example, an FBI memorandum from Rosen to Belmont written on November 27, 1963 says:
Check on potentially dangerous
persons November 22-25, 1963.
All accounted for. PRS so advised.
DETAILS OF INVESTIGATION
Immediately after learning of the President's assassination at Dallas we began ascertaining the whereabouts of known subjects who might be suspected.
Capt. R.E. Little, Intelligence Division, Atlanta Police Department, had seen J. B. Stoner in Atlanta one hour before the assassination. He is, we feel, the most likely of the group to do something drastic.
FBI Agent Charles Harding contacted their agent at Thomasville who immediately ascertained that J.A. Milteer was in Quitman at the time of the assassination.
We also learned that Lee McCloud was in Atlanta.
Herbert Wallace Butterworth, according to FBI Agent Harding, was in Philadelphia at the time and was under surveillance. They continued surveillance until after the funeral on November 25.
Olga Butterworth, sister of Wallace, was at her home in Wallingford, Pennsylvania.
Inspector Torina called me on November 24 and a little later SA Holmes from PRS requesting that we review files and advise if any dangerous subject might appear in Washington. I informed them of our previous check. (National Archives document 180-10091-10198)Atlanta has advised that investigation indicates there is no truth in the information furnished by Somersett and that Milteer was in Quitman, Georgia, on 11/22/63. (Archives Record Number 124-10012-10306)The day before, an "Urgent" teletype from SAC Atlanta to "Director" [Hoover] and the SACs in Birmingham and Dallas said:J. A. MILTEER RESIDE [sic] QUITMAN, GA. INVESTIGATION HAS INDICATED MILTEER WAS IN QUITMAN ON NOV. TWENTYTW [sic] TWO, SIXTYTHREE. (Archives Document Number 124-10012-10384)
ConclusionRather than having any "foreknowledge" of the assassination, Milteer gave a generic assassination scenario virtually identical to one that John Kennedy himself articulated. Mixed in were wacky elements that conspiracy books conceal from their readers. No Miami motorcade was cancelled because of his ranting, and he was not in Dallas on the day of the assassination.
Given Milteer's extreme right-wing politics and his hobnobbing with potentially violent types, it's tempting to believe that he must have "gotten wind" of some real assassination plot. The problem is that there just isn't any evidence of it. The "Milteer story" has been known for over 30 years, and researchers have been unable to connect him or his associates to any of the "usual suspects" in the assassination the CIA, anti-Castro Cubans, Texas millionaires, defense contractors. He was "connected" to the FBI alright. They were spying on him.
Although Milteer's rag-tag racist associates were capable of violence, they lacked the technical expertise to pull off an elaborate assassination plot. And they lacked the friends in high places that would have been necessary to pull off a "coverup" of a killing they did.
By 1967 the Secret Service decided that Milteer was not dangerous nor a security risk. He was, quite simply, a crackpot who shot off his mouth and in doing so gained an entirely unmerited place in Kennedy assassination conspiracy books.
Gordon Winslow, Jean Davison, and Gary Mack brought key documents discussed here to the author's attention.
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