The Dallas Police Department’s Channel 1 Radio Dictabelts: The Chain of Possession
||By Chris Scally|
“It appears as though something has happened in the motorcade route, something — I repeat — has happened in the motorcade route. Stand-by just a moment, please. Something has happened in the motorcade route. Stand-by, please...”
“Parkland Hospital – there has been a shooting. Parkland Hospital has been advised to stand-by for a severe gunshot wound. I repeat, a shooting in the motorcade in the downtown area... It appears as though someone in the limousine might have been hit by the gunfire... We can’t see who has been hit, if anybody has been hit, but apparently something is wrong here, something is terribly wrong... At this point it looks as though it could have been one or two or even all of the people within the car may have been the victims – may have been struck by shots. We don’t know. . .”
“And just now we’ve received reports here at Parkland that Governor Connolly was shot in the upper left chest, and the first unconfirmed reports say the President was hit in the head. That’s an unconfirmed report. . .”
“The President of the United States is dead... President Kennedy has been assassinated. It’s official now, the President is dead.”
These excerpts from contemporaneous radio broadcasts still evoke chilling memories for those of us old enough to remember the tragic events of Friday, November 22, 1963, the day that John Fitzgerald Kennedy, the thirty-fifth President of the United States, was assassinated in Dealey Plaza, Dallas, Texas. Not only did the President die that day in Dallas, but the hopes and aspirations of many died with him. Gone are the magical days of Camelot, replaced by a world of wars and famine, of hate and mistrust. In the years which have elapsed since the Kennedy assassination, the United States has suffered the traumas of war, terrorism and political scandal, and yet we still ask why and how — why was Kennedy killed, and how did his death change the course of history? Today, more than forty years after the nightmare of Dallas, the truth about the assassination is still shrouded in mystery, and we still ask — what really happened in Dealey Plaza?
The key dictabelt — the one that ran from 12:05 to 12:40 and included the supposed shots.
The acoustics evidence is central to the question of whether or not President Kennedy was killed as the result of a conspiracy. If, as this paper suggests, the most fundamental aspect of that acoustics evidence – the authenticity of the police radio recordings – is questionable, then the very foundation upon which the question of conspiracy is based is unreliable. The authenticity of the currently existing radio recordings is greatly dependent on the establishment of an unbroken chain of possession for that evidence, from November 22, 1963 up to the present time. This paper, therefore, reflects the results of my research into the completeness of the chain of possession which can be established from the documentary and other evidence which is currently available. The research is based on official documents and reports from the Warren Commission, the House Select Committee on Assassinations (the HSCA), the Ramsey Panel and the Department of Justice, numerous recordings and transcripts of both police radio channels from November 22, 1963, as well as correspondence with many of the key figures involved in this aspect of the case.
On November 22, 1963, the Dallas Police Department (the DPD) utilised two radio channels, identified simply as Channel 1 and Channel 2. Both channels were voice activated, either by radio communications from officers in the motorcade, communications to those officers from the DPD Dispatcher, or by one of the regular time annotations given by the Dispatcher.
Channel 1, the more significant of the two in the context of this document, was the one ordinarily used to handle DPD radio communications, and was designated for the transmission of routine police radio messages on the day of the assassination.
Channel 1 transmissions were recorded onto thin blue polyester dictabelts on an A2TC Model 5 Dictaphone machine. This machine operated two drive mechanisms running off the same motor, so that a new dictabelt was in “standby” at all times. In this way, the Dictaphone could automatically begin recording on a new belt when the previous belt ended.
Channel 2 was an auxiliary channel, used to handle the additional radio traffic generated by special events, and was designated for use by DPD officers in the motorcade on November 22, 1963. The transmissions on Channel 2 were recorded onto 8.5-inch flexible discs by means of a Gray Audograph recorder.
On September 24, 1964, The Warren Commission published its report, which concluded that Lee Harvey Oswald was solely responsible for the assassination of President Kennedy. The Warren Report stated that no indication of a conspiracy had been found, and that if evidence of any such conspiracy existed it was “beyond the reach of all the investigative agencies and resources of the United States.” It is significant in the context of this document that among the 26 volumes of supporting material published by the Commission were three “official” transcripts of radio transmissions over the Dallas Police radio on the day of the assassination. While all three transcripts differed significantly, the Commission published all three without appearing to attach any significance to the many discrepancies.
Within weeks of the publication of the Warren Commission Report, and the subsequent publication of its accompanying twenty-six volumes of “Hearings,” researchers were testing the evidence and questioning the conclusions. Diligent research uncovered many inconsistencies in the work of the Commission, and unearthed many facts which the Commission had apparently overlooked or ignored. The Commission’s credibility was undermined to the extent that, at the trial in 1969 of Clay Shaw, a New Orleans businessman accused by District Attorney Jim Garrison of conspiracy to assassinate President Kennedy, the Warren Commission Report and its twenty-six volumes of evidence were deemed inadmissible as evidence in a court of law by the judge, on the grounds that they were fraught with hearsay, unsworn testimony and contradictions.
By the mid-1970s, public uncertainty about the validity of the Warren Commission’s conclusions was at an all-time high. On March 6, 1975, ABC-TV’s Good Night America programme showed the now-famous Zapruder film for the first time. Abraham Zapruder, a Dallas dress manufacturer, took the only complete motion picture film of the assassination. The tiny 8-millimeter colour home movie, consisting of 486 individual frames and running for a mere 26 seconds, which was once described by Life Magazine as “the only unimpeachable witness” to the assassination, was filmed from a vantage point above and to the right of the motorcade’s route through Dealey Plaza. The film shows, in graphic and horrible detail, the impact of the shots which struck the President. Three weeks after its first public showing, the film was shown again on television. Prompted by the public outcry for a new investigation, the United States House of Representatives began on September 14, 1976 to vote a series of enabling Resolutions into effect, setting up a fresh examination of the facts surrounding the Kennedy assassination.
Web resources on the supposed acoustic evidence include:
The final report of the United States’ House of Representatives Select Committee on Assassinations (the HSCA) was published on July 29, 1979. This second official investigation into the Kennedy assassination found the President Kennedy was “probably assassinated as a result of a conspiracy,” although Lee Harvey Oswald did fire three of the four shots, and he fired the shot that actually killed the President. The HSCA’s report stated that “scientific acoustical evidence establishes a high probability that two gunmen fired” at the President – Oswald from the Texas School Book Depository building above and behind the President, and a second, unidentified gunman from the grassy knoll in front and to the right of the motorcade. The HSCA recommended that the U.S. Department of Justice review the Committee’s findings and determine whether further official investigation was warranted. The Justice Department’s findings were to be reported to the House Judiciary Committee.
On November 8, 1979, Robert L. Keuch, Special Counsel to the Attorney General, wrote to the FBI Director requesting a review of the theory and application of the acoustical principles applied by the HSCA, and asking that the FBI make recommendations as to whether further scientific tests and analyses should be carried out. On December 1, 1980, the FBI released a report dated November 19, 1980 and prepared by its Technical Services Division, which found that the HSCA’s conclusion of conspiracy based on the acoustical analysis of sounds transmitted over channel 1 of the DPD radio at the time of the assassination by a microphone which was jammed in the ‘transmit’ mode, was both invalid and unproven.
In order to obtain a private and independent review of the acoustics evidence, the Justice Department turned to the National Research Council, the principal operating agency of the National Academy of Science (NAS). On October 1, 1980, the Justice Department asked the Council to perform a study of the methodology used by the HSCA’s acoustics experts, and the validity of their conclusion of a shot from the grassy knoll. The Council’s Commission on Physical Sciences, Mathematics and Resources created a “Committee on Ballistic Acoustics” under the Chairmanship of Professor Norman Ramsey of Harvard University to perform the analysis. The Ramsey Panel, as the NAS committee has become known, reported on May 14, 1982 that “the acoustic analyses do not demonstrate that there was a grassy knoll shot,” and that “reliable acoustic data do not support a conclusion that there was a second gunman.”
The Ramsey Panel’s finding was based primarily on evidence (developed and documented by researchers Steve Barber and Todd Vaughan) which the panel received in the first weeks of 1981, and which constituted a serious obstacle to the conclusions of the HSCA. The panel’s report devoted considerable space to an exhaustive – and highly conclusive — examination of a statement made over channel 2 of the police radio, which was simultaneously recorded on channel 1 by the open microphone at the time of the shooting. According to the Ramsey panel, the channel 2 order from Sheriff Bill Decker to “hold everything secure” was actually given at least 30.9 seconds after DPD Chief Jesse Curry had instructed the motorcade to “go to the hospital” after the shots were fired. However, since the Decker statement appears on channel 1 at the same time as the impulses said by the HSCA’s experts to represent the third and fourth shots, and since the panel established that the crosstalk from channel 2 to channel 1 occurred at the time the channel 2 recording was made (and not as a result of subsequent re-recording), the panel was forced to conclude that the impulses studied by the HSCA’s acoustics experts were not caused by the recording of shots on channel 1. Quite simply, the HSCA experts were looking at “shots” which were fired almost one minute after the assassination took place.
The panel found “no evidence” to indicate that the channel 2 order from Decker had been superimposed onto the channel 1 recording at any time after the assassination. The converse hypothesis, that the inaudible shot sounds were later recorded over the Decker message on channel 1, was also rejected by the panel, since they believed that they were in possession of the original channel 1 recording, and it contained no physical manifestation of any such over-recording. It should be noted, however, that the panel “never worked with” the original recordings. According to Ramsey Panel member Charles Rader, “nobody on our committee ever had custody of any of the dictabelts. There was always an official of the DOJ or FBI who controlled the belts and I was never alone with them.”
The authenticity of the channel 1 dictabelt recordings which currently exist is perhaps the single most important issue still outstanding. Suffice to say at this point that, if the authenticity of the channel 1 recording cannot be established beyond doubt, it is technically possible for both the HSCA and Ramsey panel experts to be correct. If that were to be proven, the acoustics evidence – officially, the only basis for a conclusion of conspiracy in the assassination of President Kennedy – would again become a live issue.
In compliance with the HSCA’s recommendation, the Ramsey panel’s report was submitted to the Justice Department for evaluation. The Justice Department’s conclusions, submitted to Hon. Peter W. Rodino Jr., Chairman of the House Judiciary Committee on March 28, 1888, stated that “no persuasive evidence can be identified to support the theory of a conspiracy,” and “no further investigation appears to be warranted . . . unless new information which is sufficient to support additional investigative activity becomes available.” The Justice Department report noted that “all investigative leads which are known to the Department have been exhaustively pursued,” and added that while further acoustical tests would not be cost justified at that time, “it is the Department’s intention to continue to review all correspondence and to investigate, as appropriate, any potentially productive information.”
3. The Early Days (1963-1964)
So what happened to the Channel 1 dictabelts in the immediate aftermath of the assassination?
Secret Service records [Fig 1] show that on or before November 29, 1963, DPD Chief Lumpkin provided the “recordings” to Special Agents Roger C. Warner and Elmer W. Moore for “transcription .” Rather than transcribing the recordings himself, Warner copied them to tape. The tape was then sent to the Secret Service Protective Research Section in Washington for “filtering, rerecording and transcription,” after which it was supposed to be returned to the Secret Service office in Dallas. In 1970, researcher Paul Hoch asked both the Secret Service [Fig 2] and the National Archives to search for this tape, but no trace of it could be found. The HSCA also tried unsuccessfully to pursue the issue of Secret Service access to the dictabelts. Staff researcher Margo Jackson contacted Tom Ferrell of the Secret Service on January 24, 1978 [Fig 3] and “inquired about material regarding the filtering, rerecording, and transcription requested to be performed on the above tapes.” Ferrell replied that he “would have to check with the Assistant Director of the Washington Protective Research Section, whose name he would not disclose,” and promised to call Ms. Jackson back. Unfortunately, there is no record of any further communication with or from Ferrell. On September 23, 1981, Paul Hoch suggested to Professor Ramsey that a search for Warner’s tape — requested by the Ramsey Panel as opposed to an individual researcher – might be worthwhile. There is, however, no evidence to suggest that such a request was made by the Ramsey Panel, or that any search was made on their behalf.
The Warner tape was copied in Washington, and a transcript was made. This transcript first came to light in 1982, when researcher Mark Allen found it among the records of the Secret Service. The transcript was apparently omitted from the agency’s material given to the Warren Commission in 1964. As a result of Allen’s discovery, I again requested both the Secret Service and the National Archives [Fig 4] to renew their search for the tape made by Warner and the further copy made by the Protective Research Section in Washington. However, no trace of either recording could be found in late 1982. The transcript itself resurfaced again in 1992, when a photocopy of it was included among assassination-related records which were transferred by the DPD to the Dallas Municipal Archives and Records Centre (DMARC).
DPD Sergeant Gerald Dalton Henslee prepared an edited transcript of the channel 1 and 2 transmissions in the first few days of December 1963, and his testimony before the Warren Commission on April 8, 1964 clearly states that the transcripts were made directly from the original recordings – “They were prepared from the tapes on the channel 1. We have a tape on channel 1, and we have a record on channel 2. Two separate tape records, but they are prepared from those records and tapes.” The record shows that Henslee’s channel 1 transcript was given to Police Chief Jesse Curry on December 5, 1963. Curry gave the transcript to Secret Service Inspector Thomas Kelley, who forwarded it to his superior under date of December 6. The transcript was later entered into the records of the Warren Commission as Sawyer Exhibit B on April 8, 1964 at the time of Henslee’s testimony.
By December 19, 1963, the DPD internal investigation into the murder of Officer J.D. Tippit and the lack of security in police headquarters at the time of Oswald’s murder by Jack Ruby was ended. All materials gathered in the course of that investigation, including “tape recordings of the Dallas dispatcher tapes” which consisted of “a tape recording and a Dictabelt tape,” were handed over to Chief Curry.
In 1990, researcher Dave Dix was browsing in the Minneapolis Public Library and found a Scotch Brand 90-minute cassette tape containing a taped copy of the DPD recordings for November 22, 1963. The label on the cassette contained little information, and had been typed over the original cassette label. According to the library’s computerised card catalog, the cassette had been placed there in December 1963, and had been published by a company called “Lava Productions.” The card simply read, “22 November, 1963: The Dallas Police Tapes Lava Publications, December, 1963.” At Dix’s request, a researcher in the Audio/Visual department of the Library of Congress carried out an archive search on “Lava Productions.” The search revealed no reference to that publisher being involved in ANY form of publication. A subsequent Combined Library Catalog title search, which searches all available electronic catalog entries in the US & Canada, revealed that the tape appeared in only one library – the Minneapolis Public Library.
Someone, it appears, had created a fictional publishing company for the sole purpose of placing the cassette tape in the Minneapolis Public Library in December 1963, and one can now only speculate as to why they might have done so. This tape copy of the dictabelts would surface again in the late 1960's. . . .
Former DPD Communications Supervisor, Sergeant Jim Bowles, was interviewed by the FBI on August 27 and September 15, 1980. The interview report [Figs 5-1, 5-2, 5-3] dated October 1, 1980, and covering both interviews, states in part:
“The original belts and discs, containing recordings of radio transmissions at or about the time of the assassination of President Kennedy were provided to the FBI within a few days of that event. Several days later an FBI Agent returned the belts and discs to Captain Bowles personally.”
In an interview with Dallas researcher Gary Mack in March 1982, Bowles corrected his statement to the FBI, and said that it was the Secret Service who “took those blue belts” out of the DPD building a few days after the assassination. Asked when the belts were returned, Bowles said, “not for a few days, we were awfully busy then.” Bowles also told Mack that he could not give any assurance that the belts which were returned were the ones which left the possession of the DPD.
In October 1983, Bowles gave me a slightly different sequence of events. He said that Chief Lumpkin gave the belts to the Secret Service, who in turn passed them on to the FBI, who then returned them to him in March 1964. When he received them back, Bowles said he returned the belts to Chief Lumpkin.
Author Larry Sneed interviewed Bowles for his 1998 book, “No More Silence.” By that time, Bowles recalled that:
The tapes themselves were in our custody until we turned them over to the FBI, which would have been in late November or early December, right after the assassination. I believe it was around March of the next year that they returned them to us where they were placed in a safe, probably in Chief George Lumpkin’s office. Eventually they came under the custody of Paul McCaghren within the police department. . . .
So, it appears that the Secret Service copied the dictabelts to tape in late November, and then either they or the FBI physically took the dictabelts away “a few days” after the assassination (or at the latest in late November or early December). The belts were then returned to the DPD by the FBI in March 1964.
The reason the FBI came back with the dictabelts in March 1964, according to Bowles, was that “they found that they couldn’t comprehend the tape traffic because they couldn’t understand the speech style used on the radio. The things that were said by the officers on the radio made complete sense to the officers, but they didn’t make a bit of sense to the transcribers. So an FBI agent brought the tapes back to the department, and the chief gave them back to me and asked me to transcribe them for him. . . .” Bowles said he made copies of the dictabelts “with a nice reel to reel tape recorder which the FBI furnished to me” before making a transcript from the original dictabelts which “were in as good a condition as you would expect considering the fact that the FBI had tried to transcribe them using a single stylus. . . .”
On March 20, 1964, Dallas Police Inspector J. Herbert Sawyer provided the Dallas FBI with another transcript of the Channel 1 transmissions, which they forwarded to FBI Headquarters in Washington on March 23. As already noted, it was prepared by Bowles following a request from the FBI on March 6, and identified the police officers using Channel 1 by their radio “call number” rather than by name. On April 7, FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover sent the transcript to the Warren Commission [Fig 6], and it subsequently became Warren Commission Exhibit (WCE) 705 on April 22, during the testimony of Dallas Police Chief Jesse Curry. It is this March transcript to which Bowles was undoubtedly referring in his 1980 interviews with the FBI, when he said that he prepared a transcript for the FBI after they had experienced “difficulty in preparing a transcript of those recordings due to a lack of familiarity with the Dallas Police Department radio parlance and terminology.”
As previously noted, Bowles made four reel-to-reel tape-recorded copies of the dictabelts prior to making the above transcript in March 1964. He recalls that the dictabelts were still in very good condition at that time, although “they were well worn when I finished.” This is hardly surprising, given the cumbersome process which he had to follow in making the transcript and his four tape copies of the dictabelts.
The DPD only had one Dictaphone machine, which used a switching mechanism to alternate between two drives so that a new belt could automatically begin recording when the previous belt ended. Using that Dictaphone machine to make direct copies of the dictabelts would necessitate disabling the switching mechanism, so Bowles obtained permission from Chief Lumpkin to rent a second Dictaphone machine, which handled only one belt at a time, and was strictly a playback machine. Then, according to the FBI:
It was necessary to stop and start the playback machine many times in order to prepare an accurate transcript. The stylus . . . was inserted into previously recorded track on many occasions and in many different locations. It is Captain Bowles’ opinion that the playback process, including the numerous placings of the stylus on the previously recorded track, may have created degradations of the original recorded material, as well as actually adding new impulses to the track. . . . Captain Bowles stated that he made a reel-to-reel tape recording of the original dictaphone belts using a Wollensak recorder provided him by the FBI.
Bowles also raised the possibility of his having inadvertently added impulses to the original dictabelts in his manuscript, “The Kennedy Assassination Tapes,” in which he wrote:
Shortly after the assassination the author made reel-to-reel tapes of the recordings for the Warren Commission prior to his using the recordings in preparing a transcript. The tapes were made with and without a scratch filter, and were necessary if the contents of the recordings were to be preserved. The belts had already been subjected to uncounted replays prior to their being preserved on tapes. Past experience had shown that multiple replays lowered the recording’s quality considerably. Moreover, the repeated lowering of the replay needle against the Dictabelt added minute dimples in the belts. It is possible if not probable that these dimples, when read by the acoustics experts’ sensitive equipment, generated “impulse patterns” present throughout the belts. Is it possible that these indentations were concluded to represent gunshots but only where it was essential for gunshots to appear? (Emphasis in original)
The DPD’s inability to copy the dictabelts to tape (or any other medium) raises another interesting question, however. If Chief Lumpkin gave the channel 1 recordings to the Secret Service on or about November 29, and they were “recorded by SA Warner” onto tape, how was that recording made? Is that when the FBI first became involved with the dictabelts?
In March 2003, Dr. Bruce Ledford, formerly on the faculty of East Texas State University (now Texas A&M – Commerce), placed a three-CD set of DPD recordings for auction on the Internet. According to Dr. Ledford:
In 1976… I consulted with a colleague from the Physics Department of the University. This colleague, who was a former FBI agent in the Dallas area, was asked, as I recall, by the DPD to transfer their transmissions… from dictabelt to audio tape. In 1963 the dictabelt was the storage medium. For some reason unknown to me, the signal was on the belt in reverse. As I understand it, because the special techniques required to make the transfer were within my colleague’s area of expertise, he was asked to make the transfer. Through him I came into possession of 1st generation audio tapes of the transmissions from Channel 1 and a portion of Channel 2… I have continued over the years to honor the request of my colleague to remain anonymous concerning this audio.”
If the FBI had the dictabelts prior to November 29 for the purpose of transferring them to audiotape, it would explain how the DPD were able to make recordings available for copying by the Secret Service on that date. It would also explain the apparent confusion in Bowles’ recollections regarding the original recordings being returned “within a few days,” or not being returned until March 1964. Did the FBI take the belts away for copying on the weekend of the assassination, and return them a few days later, after which they were given to the Secret Service on November 29, and by them to the FBI again, who finally returned them in March 1964? Dare one ask – did the FBI make tape dictabelt copies of the original dictabelts in the immediate aftermath of November 22? This would also explain the discrepancy between the dictabelts being removed from the DPD’s possession “a few days” after the assassination, yet being available for Sergeant Henslee to make a transcript from the “original” dictabelts early in December. We will return to this possibility later.
Of the four reel-to-reel tape copies he made in March 1964, Bowles kept one for his own files, one was given to Chief Curry, and the other two (one “filtered” and the other “unfiltered”) were given to the FBI. One of the FBI’s tapes, which became the Warren Commission’s official copy of the dictabelts, was later deposited with the Commission’s files at the National Archives, from where it was reported “mislaid” in 1976. The whereabouts of the other FBI tape copy of the dictabelts is currently unknown, although Bowles told Gary Mack in 1982 – and this author in October 1983 – that he understood it was sent to a laboratory for analysis, and he heard that it was or might have been in Oklahoma.
The FBI’s request to the DPD for a transcript on March 6 followed a letter dated March 3 from J. Lee Rankin, Warren Commission General Counsel, to FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover. Rankin was apparently unhappy with the Henslee/Secret Service transcript from the previous December, and was presumably aware of the early access to the dictabelts – and the transcript made from them – by the Secret Service, because he subsequently initiated contact with the Dallas Secret Service office with a similar request. On May 28, 1964, Rankin drafted a letter to Forrest V. Sorrels, Special Agent In Charge (SAIC) of the Dallas Secret Service, asking if he would “please arrange to record the Dallas Police Department tapes of radio broadcasts over police channels 1 and 2 on November 22, 1963, between the hours of 12:30 and 2:00 pm.” Unfortunately, neither the Secret Service nor the National Archives [Fig 4] could find any reply from Sorrels to Rankin when requested to do so in September and November 1982. It is, of course, possible that the letter was never sent; as Paul Hoch has correctly pointed out, it seems strange that Rankin was bypassing the FBI and Secret Service hierarchy by going directly to Sorrels.
On July 16, 1964 Rankin went back to Hoover and asked that “your Bureau obtain the original tapes of the radio broadcasts and prepare a new transcript from these tapes.” Rankin also requested that “the name of the reporting police officer be listed alongside each message.” [Figs 7-1, 7-2, Fig 8]
Five days later, Chief Curry made a series of sixteen channel 1 dictabelts (ten from November 22 and six from November 24) and five channel 2 discs (from November 22) available to an unidentified FBI agent. The agent reviewed and transcribed the dictabelts and discs at DPD headquarters during the period July 21 to July 24, inclusive. The belts for the day of the assassination covered the period 10:00 am to 3:00 pm, and the belt which was recording during the period in which the shooting took place was the fifth in the series. This belt, according to the transcript, began at 11:51 and ended at 12:40. It is perhaps worth noting at this point also that, on July 21 at least, DPD Lieutenant Doug H. Gassett was in attendance with the FBI agent. Gassett, no longer with the DPD, was last known to be working in Austin, Texas.
The FBI’s transcript, which by implication in all the related correspondence was verbatim, was completed on or before August 11, 1964. On that date, the transcript and a covering memorandum were sent from Dallas to Washington [Figs 9-1, 9-2, 9-3]. The memo related how the “dictabelts are badly worn from being played and, in many places, the dictabelt skips and some messages are garbled.”
A copy of the FBI’s transcript was obviously given to Chief Curry, because he wrote to Texas Attorney General Waggoner Carr on August 20, 1964, attaching a copy of the transcript. The letter, signed by Deputy Chief M.W. Stevenson, clearly states that the transcript is the one prepared by the FBI.
On August 21, the day after Curry sent a copy of the transcript to the Texas Attorney General, Hoover wrote to Rankin [Fig 10] confirming that the transcript had been made but adding: “However, due to the badly worn condition of the original tapes, certain portions are being checked for accuracy. The transcription will be furnished to you in the immediate future.” The transcript, which later became WCE 1974, was handed over to the Commission four days later, on August 25 [Fig 11].
Eddie Barker, News Director of KRLD, the CBS affiliate broadcast station in Dallas, requested a copy of the radio transmissions from the DPD sometime during 1964, in preparation for a CBS “Special” on the Warren Commission. While Barker cannot recall whom he spoke to at the time, he believes it could very well have been Chief Curry himself. Barker’s request was granted, although he does not know how the DPD made the copies, or from what source they were made. The existence of this copy of the radio recordings only came to light on January 4, 1979, during an interview given by Jim Bowles to Jerry Cohen of the Los Angeles Times and Patti Kilday of the Dallas Times Herald. According to the recording of that interview which was made by the DPD, Bowles said that the tape they were listening to was “a copy... made off of one CBS made for their production some years ago, and they used the Warren Commission tape” — in other words, the one Bowles made for the FBI and Warren Commission in March 1964. Researcher Gary Mack later got confirmation of this from Bernie Birnbaum, an executive producer for CBS News in New York.
4. The Lull Before The Storm (1965-1977)
Sometime prior to early 1967, either DPD Sergeants Gerald Hill or Gerald Henslee gave a tape recording of the original dictabelts to Judy Bonner who was, at the time, writing her book “Investigation Of A Homicide.” In June 1969, Ms. Bonner’s tape was given to, or copied for, Dallas researcher Mary Ferrell, from whose tape most of those in the hands of researchers until the early 1980's originated. Interestingly, examination of this version of the tape shows that it contains identical splice sounds (caused by shorter individual tapes being joined together in making the Bonner tape) to those on the recording found by Dave Dix in the Minneapolis Public Library — in other words, the Bonner/Ferrell tape unquestionably came from the same source as the one found by Dave Dix, which is supposedly of December 1963 vintage.
DPD Chief Curry retired on March 10, 1966, and was succeeded by Chief Charles Batchelor. In a locked metal filing cabinet outside his new office, Batchelor found the evidence which had been turned over to Curry when the internal DPD review was concluded in December 1963. On some unspecified date in 1969, Batchelor called Paul McCaghren, then Director of the DPD’s Intelligence Division and a former member of Curry’s investigative team, into his office and told him to “take charge of the material. Make sure no unauthorized person comes in contact with the material.” McCaghren kept the evidence in a box, measuring 2.5 by 1.5 feet and 1 foot deep, in his office until 1971 or 1972, at which time he decided to remove the box to his home for safekeeping, where it remained until 1978. According to McCaghren, he “had control of this property at all times, from 1969 until this year (1978). No one, no one tampered with that material.” But what about the three-year period between 1966 and 1969?
If this early chronology has become somewhat vague through the ravages of time, the more recent chain of possession is a monument to documented inaccuracy, if not indeed downright dishonesty. Much of the blame for this rests fairly and squarely with the HSCA.
5. The HSCA (1977-1979)
In the latter part of 1976, Gary Mack discovered the existence of Mary Ferrell’s copy of the DPD radio transmissions, and obtained a copy from her in January 1977. Mack made a detailed study of the Channel 1 recording and, with the help of a radio station engineer and sophisticated recording studio equipment, filtered out much of the identifiable background noises and interference during the period of the “open microphone” sequence. This study, conducted over a period of months, finally led to the production of a “filtered” version of the recording which showed a series of noises coinciding with what Mack believed to be the very moments of the assassination. These noises, seven in all, were not repeated anywhere else on the recording, and Mack concluded that what he had in fact discovered was the only known sound recording of the shooting in Dealey Plaza.
In August 1977, an article detailing Mack’s research and conclusions appeared in Penn Jones Jr’s newsletter, “The Continuing Inquiry.” In early to middle September 1977, shortly after the August issue of Jones’ newsletter was mailed to subscribers, Mack received a telephone call at work from a HSCA attorney. The attorney told Mack that the HSCA was aware of his research, and wanted the tape recording which he had used. Mack suggested that they obtain the tape owned by Mary Ferrell, from which his own had been made, but the attorney insisted that the HSCA had to have Mack’s tape, and would be prepared to issue a subpoena in order to get it. Several days passed before Mack had an opportunity to copy his tape; in the interim, the attorney had contacted Mack’s employers at radio station KFJZ-FM in Fort Worth, and once again threatened in a polite way to issue a subpoena. Mack duly made a copy of his tape, and the HSCA had it no later than the third or fourth week in September.
Gary Mack’s story differs significantly from that told by HSCA Chief Counsel, G. Robert Blakey. According to Blakey, the tape was first brought to his attention on September 17, 1977, at a conference of Warren Commission critics which the HSCA had convened in Washington. At about 4:30 pm, says Blakey, Mary Ferrell announced the fact that she had a recording of the DPD radio transmissions, and that she had given a copy of it to Mack, who “thought he could detect seven shots” on the recording. Blakey said that the Committee “immediately” got Mary Ferrell’s tape from her, and makes no mention of receiving a copy from Mack. Using Blakey as a source, therefore, gives no direct indication of whether or not the HSCA had both tapes before the end of September.
Chief Counsel Blakey’s chronology suggests that the HSCA’s acoustics consultants, Bolt, Beranek and Newman Inc. (BBN) received — and rejected because of its poor quality — Mary Ferrell’s copy of the Channel 1 recording sometime between October 9, 1977 and early February 1978. According to Blakey, the HSCA then assigned investigator and former homicide detective, Jack Moriarty to search for a better quality copy of the recording. The search was necessary because, apparently unaware of Paul McCaghren’s box of evidence, the DPD had told the Committee that all of their assassination evidence had been handed over to the FBI. So why did the HSCA not go to the FBI immediately?
According to Blakey, Moriarty’s search “located” Paul McCaghren on or about February 11, 1978. McCaghren’s story is slightly different, however. He said that he was sitting in on an interview, which Moriarty was conducting with a former colleague, when he mentioned to Moriarty that he had some material which might be of interest to the HSCA. The accuracy of this version is confirmed by Moriarty’s interview notes [Fig 12], which also disclose that the interview in question took place on March 10, and not February 11, as recalled by Blakey. Moriarty’s notes indicate that McCaghren gave him “the three original tapes of channel 1 and 2,” along with transcripts of those tapes. The tapes were part of a large collection of material including reports, maps, photographs and films, which Moriarty inventoried in McCaghren’s office on the following afternoon. Moriarty transcribed his notes of both interviews on March 30, and handed them over to the HSCA on April 11. The cardboard box containing the vital evidence was to become item JFK 007415 in the files of the HSCA. Other HSCA records [Fig 13] show that “Two Dictaphone Belts” which Moriarty obtained from McCaghren were turned over to HSCA staff researcher Margo Jackson, who placed them in the Committee’s Security Office on April 24, 1978.
In summary, the record therefore seems to show that McCaghren gave three tapes, two dictabelts and a set of transcripts to Moriarty on March 10, and that the two dictabelts were received by the HSCA from Moriarty on April 24, 1978.
Prior to March 10, 1978, when McCaghren and Moriarty first met, there seems to have been little question about what acoustics-related evidence existed. All references were to a series of dictabelts, totalling ten in all, covering the period 10 am to 3 pm on the day of the assassination, on which were recorded all transmissions over channel 1 of the DPD radio during that time span.
In his narration prior to McCaghren’s public testimony before the Committee on September 11, 1978, Chief Counsel Blakey referred to “the dictabelts that recorded the transmission from the motorcycle with the open mike” which McCaghren had been holding since 1969. However, three times during his testimony, McCaghren remained silent while Deputy Chief Counsel Gary T. Cornwell referred to “a dictabelt.” The HSCA’s final report refers to “dictabelts,” but Blakey’s book “The Plot To Kill The President,” published in 1981, refers to “a Dictabelt and a tape... covering from 10 a.m. to 2:15 p.m.” The issue of whether McCaghren handed over a single dictabelt, two dictabelts or a set of dictabelts, and the period of time which it — or they — represented, is an important one, so what exactly did McCaghren turn over to the HSCA?
The 2-page, 46-item inventory [Figs 14-1, 14-2] prepared by Jack Moriarty on March 11, 1978 shows that McCaghren provided (inter alia) six channel 1 transcripts, five channel 2 transcripts, and three “original” tapes which were stored in a brown envelope. Tape 1 was a copy of Channel 2 from 10 am to 5:12 pm, and tapes 2 and 3 consisted of a copy of Channel 1 from 9:45 am to 2:15 pm – the first part of the recording was on tape 3, and the remainder was on tape 2. There is no mention whatsoever of any dictabelts.
The confusion over exactly what material McCaghren had, and what he turned over to the HSCA, has been compounded in recent years. In July 1999, Jim Bowles told researcher Denis Morissette that the “dictabelts and audiograph records furnished (to) the House Select Committee on Assassinations by McCaghren were unaltered originals” – however, as noted above, the Moriarty inventory contains no reference to either dictabelts or audiograph (channel 2) recordings. So did McCaghren hand all the evidence he possessed over to the HSCA? Not according to his brother Bud, who told researcher Greg Jaynes that McCaghren “kept material that he did not give to the HSCA in a safe deposit box .” The contents of that safe deposit box might be very revealing…
The channel 1 tape recording which McCaghren gave to the HSCA was subsequently identified by BBN as an “original dub” made by the DPD. McCaghren’s testimony indicates that the tape was among the material given to Chief Curry in 1963 by his internal investigation team. [Although not supported by the inventory listing, McCaghren has subsequently claimed that there were “several tape copies of the belts” among the material handed over to the HSCA ]. Either way, however, the recording given to the HSCA by McCaghren was made from the original dictabelts, according to BBN.
The dates on which the material was handed over to BBN are also in dispute. In his September 11, 1978 narration, Blakey said that the evidence obtained from McCaghren was “promptly” handed over to BBN. The HSCA’s final report says that in May 1978 the Committee contracted with BBN to perform the acoustical analysis. The report further states:
Prior to the BBN analysis of the original Dictabelt and tapes, the firm was given a tape that had been supplied to the Committee by a Warren Commission critic... BBN determined that this tape was a second generation copy... it was not used in the BBN work. The Dallas Police dispatch materials given to BBN to analyse in May 1978 were as follows: The original Dictabelt recordings made on November 22, 1963, of transmissions over channel 1; A tape recording of channel 1 Dictabelts; A tape recording of transmissions over channel 2.
These quotes from the report seem to set the record straight. BBN was given Mary Ferrell’s tape recording sometime prior to May 1978, as implied by Blakey’s narration. Then, when the original material was received from McCaghren, BBN were contracted to perform a proper acoustical analysis, and the data was handed over to them in May. [The HSCA report’s claim that Mary Ferrell’s tape was a second generation copy is clearly incorrect. As Gary Mack has subsequently noted, Mrs. Ferrell’s tape is a fourth generation copy at best ].
BBN’s Chief Scientist, Dr. James Barger, tells a somewhat different story, however. Both during his public testimony in September and December 1978 as well as in his final report to the HSCA, Dr. Barger claimed to have received nothing from the HSCA prior to May 1978, and only received the McCaghren material two months later, in July. The following excerpts from his testimony serve to illustrate this anomaly:
- “When were you first approached by this Committee with the Dallas Police dispatch tape? I believe it was in May of 1978.”;
- “On May 12, 1978 (BBN received from the HSCA) the following material: Tape recordings reportedly made of the sounds in Dealey Plaza around 12:30 pm on November 22, 1963";
- “The first tape we received on May 12... had a very scratchy overlay of needle noise, indicating that it was a very poor or multiple-generation dub of a recording.”;
- “In July, the Committee gave us an electromagnetic tape recording that was identified as an original dub made by the DPD, as well as the original Dictabelt record.”
The July “Dictabelt record” consisted of “a plastic continuous blue colored belt that was marked as ‘Being recorded from Channel 1' in a white marking pencil... It had the appearance of having being played a great deal and being quite old. The margins of the belt were cracked and it was necessary to tape them together to prevent further deterioration.”
Throughout both his testimony and his report, Barger referred to a dictabelt rather than dictabelts when discussing the material handed over to him by the HSCA. Nothing in the public record indicated whether this was a case of simple inaccuracy, or actual fact. In an effort to clarify both the content of the material given to BBN by the HSCA and the precise date on which the evidence was handed over, I wrote Dr. Barger on January 24, 1982. His reply, dated January 29, said that “the first tape we received on May 12, 1978, covered the time span from about 10:00 A.M. until 3:00 P.M... We subsequently received a better quality magnetic tape recording of the series of dictabelts... one of the dictabelts was rather centered on 12:30 P.M.”
Thus it would appear that BBN received a series of dictabelts, one of which was fortunately centred on the time of the shooting, but not in May 1978, as the HSCA claimed. The Committee had both Mary Ferrell’s and Gary Mack’s copies of the so-called “critic’s tape” sometime in September 1977; they had McCaghren’s box of evidence in March 1978; yet BBN were not given anything until May 1978, and even then they did not get the “best evidence” until July 1978. This sequence of events is difficult to reconcile with Chief Counsel Blakey’s claim that the material was “promptly sent” to BBN.
Whatever the reason for these delays in processing the evidence, one might reasonably expect that the chain of possession of such vital material would be carefully analysed and documented by the HSCA. Not so, however. The only public record of any such study appears in the transcript of the public testimony of DPD motorcycle officer H.B. McLain on December 29, 1978. During McLain’s testimony, two Committee members asked a series of questions regarding the authenticity of the dictabelt evidence. The replies to these questions, by Chief Counsel Blakey and Deputy Chief Counsel Cornwell, were as follows:
Paul McCaghren — he was an officer in the Dallas Police Department, and he had custody of a large number of records relating to the Kennedy assassination, and he retained that custody in a large trunk, and when the material was turned over to one of our investigators, Jack Moriarty, it was taken from that same trunk. I might indicate that an effort was made to match the transcript that we have of channels 1 and 2 to the material appearing on both the Dictabelt and the tape belt that we have. Consequently, the authenticity of the tape appears to be adequate, appears to have been adequately established... the Dictabelt that was found among this material is the same kind of Dictabelt that the Dallas Police Department was using at that time. . . . What appears on the Dictabelt and the tape recording of the Dictabelt are indeed the same sounds, the same information that we have based on the transcripts that we had of channel 1 and channel 2 that go back to 1963-64. . . . The transmissions on the tapes do correspond with the Warren Commission testimony of various officers who described doing certain things and then reporting it over the radio, and therefore there is substantial corroboration of that nature, that the kinds of transmissions we have on these tapes were of the events that were actually happening on November 22.
So, the HSCA’s “chain of possession” began in 1969, and was based on the fact that the existing recordings were consistent with the DPD and FBI transcripts of 1963 and 1964, insofar as those transcripts could be roughly reconciled with the testimony of police officers before the Warren Commission!
And what about the dictabelts themselves? As noted earlier, the Secret Service had access to the dictabelts on or before November 29, 1963, and produced a transcript from them. According to SA Warner, the relevant recording begins at 12:27 on November 22. In other words, on the basis of Warner’s comments at the start of the channel 1 transcript, the dictabelt covering the period of the assassination began at 12:27 pm. Confirmation of this start time was obtained from Jim Bowles in March 1982. Bowles’ private transcript, made by him from the copy of the dictabelts he made for his own use in March 1964, indicated a belt start time of “just after 12:25 pm,” and he told Gary Mack that “the belt started about 12:25,” both of which are totally consistent with Warner’s comments. In fairness to both Special Agent Warner and Sergeant Bowles, Professor Norman Ramsey offered a plausible explanation for the start times of their transcripts being at odds with the physical belt start times. He said:
Having listened to and made copies of portions of the dictabelt and related recordings, I do not find it at all surprising that the agent would (start the transcript in mid-belt). Most of the recordings are quite dull and noisy. After spending a day or so listening to such recordings before finding anything of interest, it is not at all surprising that the person making the recording would copy only the relevant portions. I must admit that I’ve done likewise myself. For this reason I think it is easy to explain the different tape copies that begin around 12:25 or 12:27. I believe that the copies were started then simply because the person making the copy felt that the beginning was early enough to include all of the significant action.
In July 1964, the FBI was given a series of dictabelts by Chief Curry and, as far as anyone knew, these were given — and accepted — in the belief that they were originals, and not duplicates. There were ten belts for November 22, 1963 in the series, and the end time of each belt was documented in the transcript made by the FBI (WCE 1974). By implication, the start time of each belt could be assumed to be the end time of its predecessor, if the belts were continuous. The significant belt according to that FBI transcript, therefore, was number 5 in the set, beginning at 11:51 and ending at 12:40.
When I asked Dr. Barger about the material he received from the HSCA he told me, by letter of January 29, 1982, that the crucial belt was “rather centred on 12:30,” although he did not give a start or end time for the belt. I subsequently obtained a full list of the November 22 belts which were received by Dr. Barger, along with their start and end times, but rather than resolve anything, the list simply raises even more questions.
Dictabelt Start and End Times
|FBI Review — July 1964||HSCA Review — July 1978|
|Belt No.||Start Time||End Time||Duration (Minutes)||Belt No.||Start Time||End Time||Duration (Minutes)|
Note: FBI Transcript began at 10:00, and ended just prior to 15:00, 3 transmissions into their Belt #10.
Instead of ten dictabelts, we now have a total of fifteen. Belt 1 begins at 6:02 am, the fourteenth belt (which is also numbered “1") ends at 2:48 pm, and the FBI review of March 1964 indicates the existence of a further belt, ending 3 transmissions later. The crucial belt is number ten in the HSCA series, starting at 12:05 and ending at 12:40. [This anomaly, whereby the key belt was #5 in the FBI’s 1964 series, and #10 in the HSCA’s 1978 series, was first publicised by Gary Mack in 1982 ]. The difference in the number of belts is easily explained, since the HSCA appear to have received all the belts created prior to 3 pm on the day of the assassination, while the FBI had only been given those for the period in which they had expressed a specific interest (namely, from 10 am to 3 pm). The problems arise, however, when we look closely at the time periods encompassed by the individual dictabelts.
Of particular interest are the time periods encompassed by dictabelts 4 and 5. The FBI transcript suggests that Belt 4 began at 11:37 and ended at 11:51, with Belt 5 beginning at 11:51 and ending at 12:40. The HSCA’s timings would indicate, however, that Belt 4/Belt 9 commenced at 11:29 and ended at 12:05, with Belt 5/Belt 10 beginning at 12:05 and ending at 12:40.
If one looks at the transcript carefully, and compares it to the actual recorded radio transmissions, the accuracy and completeness of the FBI’s July 1964 transcript comes into serious question.
Of the last 144 actual transmissions on belt 4, only 28 (19%) were transcribed by the FBI. The final transcribed transmission on belt 4 occurred between 11:50 and 11:51, and the first transmission transcribed from belt 5 does not actually occur until 12:06 – almost 180 transmissions later. It is therefore impossible to accurately establish whether belt 4 ended at 11:50 or 12:06, with the result that the discrepancy between the FBI and the HSCA start/end times cannot be resolved. To further emphasise the inadequacy of the FBI transcript, analysis of the number of actual transmissions and the number of transcribed entries reveals that only 15% of the transmissions on belt 5 (approximately 100 out of 600 transmissions) were transcribed.
Partly to protect what they believed were the original dictabelts, but also to validate the claim that the tape recording received from the HSCA was an “original dub made by the DPD,” BBN made their own magnetic tape recording from the dictabelts provided to them. Comparison of this recording with the DPD tape recording showed the two tapes to be “virtually identical,” and Dr. Barger’s report indicates that the DPD recording was subsequently used during the BBN study.
Following Dr. Barger’s testimony on September 11, 1978, the HSCA requested a refinement of his conclusions from Mark Weiss and Ernest Aschkenasy of Queens College, City University of New York. Weiss and Aschkenasy were authorised by the Committee on October 24 1978 to conduct an independent study of the evidence relating to the shot which Barger testified had probably been fired from in front and to the right of President Kennedy in Dealey Plaza. A comprehensive body of data was given to Weiss and Aschkenasy, including BBN’s own recording from the dictabelts and the “virtually identical” DPD recording. The dictabelts themselves, however, were not given to them.
In view of the HSCA’s recommendation that the Justice Department review the acoustics evidence, it seems reasonable to assume that all the existing dictabelts were handed over to Justice sometime in 1979, following the disbandment of the House Select Committee. In a letter dated March 24, 1979 [Fig 15], HSCA Chief Counsel G. Robert Blakey told Deputy Assistant Attorney General Robert L. Keuch that he wished to hand over “the Dallas Police Department tape and dictabelt recorded on November 22, 1963,” and asked that Keuch send “a representative from the Department to my office to take formal possession of these materials.” However, according to documentation provided to me by the National Archives [Fig 18, Fig 19-2], the HSCA gave only three dictabelts to Robert Keuch on March 30, 1979 — the two obtained from Paul McCaghren in March 1978 and a third, unspecified, “dictaphone belt.” There is no mention of any additional dictabelts. The next known access to the dictabelts was by the NAS/Ramsey panel in 1981.
6. The Storm (1980-1982)
The Ramsey panel report simply states that the panel “obtained access to the original Gray Audograph and Dictaphone recordings from the Department of Justice.” It now appears, however, that it was not until December 9, 1981 that the panel had access to the original recordings , weeks after they had begun to draft their final report. Prior to December 9, the panel had been working from tape recordings provided by Jim Bowles and Dr. Barger.
Professor Ramsey arranged a meeting with the FBI for 9:15 on the morning of December 9. Among the issues to be addressed at the meeting were an examination of the “original Dallas Police Department Channel 1 Dictabelt” for “physical evidence of possible superposed recordings,” and the creation of “a fresh copy of Channel 1 from 12:28… through 12:37.” The “original Dictabelt” was brought to the meeting by Roger Cubbage of the DOJ, and retained by him after the meeting. The panel accepted the “original” dictabelt produced by Cubbage at face value — there was no review, once again, of the chain of possession of the evidence. According to information provided to this author by Michael O’Dell, a tape copy of the original dictabelt for the period 12:28 to 12:34 was made at FBI headquarters that day, given to Professor Ramsey, and returned by him on December 18. [It is possible, however, that this was not the only tape copy of the original dictabelt made for the Ramsey Panel. In February 1983, Steve Barger made available a copy of such a tape, which he obtained from a member of the panel. While the tape made on December 9 ended at 12:34, the copy given to Steve Barber ended at 12:38. ]
In his file note of the meeting [Figs 16-1, 16-2], Roger Cubbage refers to “dictabelt 11/22/63 #10” and “dictabelt 11/24/63 #8” – the first reference to the November 24 dictabelts since the FBI made their transcript in July 1964. The November 24 dictabelt was produced at the meeting to assist in determining the correct speed at which the belts were recorded, to ensure that the dictabelt machine being used was functioning correctly, and to be used as a control sample in a dictabelt ‘cleaning’ test.
One could justifiably ask how the November 24 dictabelts came to be in the possession of the Justice Department. There is no record of these belts being handed over to them at any stage, so might it be reasonably assumed that the FBI kept those belts when making the transcript in 1964? But if the FBI retained the November 24 belts, why did they not also keep the November 22 belts? Or is this an indication that a duplicate set of belts may have been made shortly after the assassination?
The handwriting on the channel 1 dictabelts is worthy of some attention. As previously noted, Dr. Barger testified before the HSCA that the crucial belt was “a plastic continuous blue colored belt that was marked as ‘Being recorded from Channel 1' in a white marking pencil.” He made no reference to any other handwriting on the belt.
The Ramsey panel reports that there was “considerable writing with a china marking pencil on the surface of the Dictabelt. The markings give in one handwriting ‘11-22-63, PL2' and an encircled ‘10'. The times 12 5 and 12 40 in a different handwriting also appear as do the letters J and H. These markings were similar to those on the other Dictabelts made that day.” No mention is made of the “Being recorded from Channel 1" notation observed by Barger, nor did the panel explain the meaning of the observed handwriting. [The date 11-22-63 is self explanatory; PL2 indicates Platoon 2; the number 10 could mean the total number of belts — as per the FBI in 1964 — or belt number 10, as per the belts received by the HSCA in 1978; the times 12:05 and 12:40 represent the period of time encompassed by the belt; and the initials J and H probably refer to the DPD Dispatchers Jackson and Hulse]. It is interesting that in addition to C.E. Hulse, there were two other dispatchers on duty that day whose name began with “H” — Henslee and Huffstutler. Henslee was operating channel 2 at the time of the shooting, and Huffstutler was on channel 1 until (ironically) about 12:26.
The Ramsey panel reported:
A photograph of the Dictabelt has been submitted to Ms. Doris Schwartz, who serviced the recorder during the period in question and who now lives in Duncanville, Texas. Although Ms. Schwartz does not recognise the other handwriting, she does identify the “11-22-63, PL2, 10" as her own handwriting. She uses an unmistakable 2 and feels that the specimen is the original belt.
The panel did not report that they sent the photograph of the belt to Ms. Schwartz via Jim Bowles, nor did they comment on the fact that the other handwriting was not hers, particularly the start and end times, which contain two “2"s, which she obviously did not write. A partial identification, based on a photograph of some handwriting passed through a third party, is hardly a satisfactory basis for making a positive identification and conclusion regarding the authenticity of such vital evidence, yet it seems to have satisfied the Ramsey panel. This is particularly true when the belt start and end times are so important.
Jim Bowles had a slightly different recollection of Ms. Schwartz’ identification of the dictabelts, however. He told author Larry Sneed:
A visual survey of the tapes indicated that they were wholly consistent with what should be there. I even took them to the retired telephone clerk who had signed on the belt, and she confirmed that that was, in fact, her signature and that the belts appeared to be the legitimate originals.
So did Bowles show Ms Schwartz the actual belts, or just a photograph of them?
Additionally, the panel’s report does not indicate if Ms. Schwartz was asked when she wrote on the dictabelt; if it was not when the belt was removed from the recorder on November 22, 1963, it further reduces the strength of her identification. And who wrote the start and end times on the belt? And when?
We have already seen how the belts had deteriorated during Bowles’ use of them between March and August 1964. The condition of the belts received by Dr. Barger was consistent with the condition they were in by August 1964 — “badly worn,” “margins...cracked,” “poor condition...shrunken and stiffened.” It is perhaps worth noting that the Ramsey panel reported that the recording tracks on the belt in the region of the impulses said by the HSCA experts to denote shots were “remarkably clear and parallel and showed no indications of superposed recordings.” Is not this remarkable clarity in the key place on the belt remarkable in itself, given the general poor state of the belts?
7. The Aftermath (1982-Today)
In March 1982, the Justice Department told the National Archives [Fig 17] that the dictabelts examined by the HSCA has been returned by them to the to the Dallas Police Department. However, the reality is that the Justice Department retained possession of the belts, and belatedly handed them over to the Archives 8 years later, in March 1990. Rather than resolving anything, however, this latest link in the chain of possession only serves to further confuse the issue.
The Preliminary Accession Inventory [Figs 19-1, 19-2, Fig 20] for the transfer of JFK Assassination Records from Robert Keuch of the Justice Department’s Criminal Division to the National Archives confirms the existence of two sets of dictabelts. The first set, which has been given Archives reference number 60-JFK.01, consists of five belts, which are officially described as “Dallas Police Department Channel I Dictaphone Belt Recordings Nos. 9, 10, 11, 12, 13. November 22, 1963.” The details of the dictabelts are as follows:
|Belt Number||Identifier||Start Time||End Time|
|1 of 5||(#9)||11:29||12:05|
|2 of 5||(#10)||12:05||12:40|
|3 of 5||(#11)||12:40||1:12|
|4 of 5||(#12)||1:12||1:44|
|5 of 5||(#13)||1:44||2:16|
The second set of belts, designated 60-JFK.03 is simply identified as “Dallas Police Department Channel II [sic] Dictaphone Belts Nos. 1-10. Nov. 24 1963. 6:10 am — 2:26 pm.” A handwritten note alongside both sets of dictabelts on the inventory simply states, “Cannot Duplicate Because of Dictabelt Deterioration” [Fig 20].
In order to ensure that there was no misunderstanding regarding the number or date of the dictabelts, I contacted the National Archives on February 14, 1999. Their reply, received four days later from Ms. Donna Wessel of the Special Media Archives Division, confirmed that “Subject number 060JFK.01 consists of 5 dictabelts from November 22, 1963. Subject number 060JFK.03 consists of 10 dictabelts from November 24, 1963. Fifteen separate dictabelts exist for these two subject numbers.” (Emphasis added)
In early August 2004, amid media coverage of plans to produce a new “digital copy” of the dictabelts, NBC was allowed to film the dictabelts in the National Archives. It is apparent from the video footage that the dictabelt covering the time of the assassination now in the Archives is the one to which the Ramsey Panel had access in 1981. Part of the hand-written date “2-63,” the encircled number “10" and the time “12 5" are clearly visible, as are the initials “J” and “H.”
The bewildering chain of possession for the channel 1 dictabelts, from the day of the assassination until the present, which raises more questions than it provides answers, can therefore be summarised as follows:
And what of the ten dictabelts dated November 24, 1963, covering the time period 6:10 to 14:26, which mysteriously reappeared in the possession of the Justice Department in December 1981, and were handed over by them to the Archives in 1990?
When the FBI transcript of channel 1 was made on July 21-24, 1963, the dictabelts for November 24 were also transcribed, for the period from 10 am until 2:18 pm. This transcript, which is part of Warren Commission Exhibit 1974, shows that only 6 dictabelts were utilised during that time period. By reference to the Bowles transcript of March 1964 (WCE 705), it can be seen that there were only a very small number of transmissions between midnight on November 23 and 10 am on November 24, when the FBI’s transcript commences. Furthermore, there were only 15 transmissions transcribed from belt #6 by the FBI , and WCE 705 shows that only 24 further transmissions occurred between 2:18 (when the FBI transcript ends) and 2:25 pm . Finally, from 2:25 pm until 6 pm on November 24, when the WCE 705 transcript ends, there were only 134 further transmissions. As there were in excess of 90 transmissions on some of the belts transcribed by the FBI (eg. Belts #2, #3 and #4), it is therefore virtually inconceivable that as many as 10 belts were used on November 24, and certainly not for the period from 6:10 am. to 2:26 pm.
8. Other Evidence of Duplication?
In an effort to determine if any further intelligence could be obtained through an examination of various taped copies of the channel 1 dictabelts, this author carried out an examination of the same two-minute segment of time on five different channel 1 recordings – the Ledford CD, from a 1963 tape of the dictabelts made by the FBI; a copy of the Bonner/Ferrell/Critic’s tape; a copy of the Dave Dix tape; a copy of one of the 1964 Bowles’ tapes; and a tape made for the Ramsey Panel by the FBI in 1981, directly from the key channel 1 dictabelt.
|Disp.||35, did you receive?||√||√||√||√||√|
|35||I got it.||√||√||√||√||√|
|Disp.||61 clear. 12:37||√||√||√||√||√|
|4||4 to 11, 1131||√||√||√||√||√|
|Disp.||21 . . . continue.||√||√||√||√||√|
|Disp.||Inwood and Stemmons and assist 24. 21, go on up there to Hines and cut that service road off there where the ambulance can go on to Parkland.||√||√||√||√||√|
|4||Yes, go ahead.||√||√||√||√||×|
|Disp.||Did you call?||√||√||√||√||√|
|4||Yes, I don't know what happened to the traffic officers assigned to Cedar Springs and Mockingbird, but they're not there and the traffic is really snafued.||√||√||√||√||√|
|Disp.0||32, on mark out, report to Cedar Springs and Mockingbird.||√||√||√||√||√|
|Disp.0||71, robbery of an individual, 2205 Cockrell. 12:38.||√||√||√||√||√|
|Disp.||51, clear. 12:38.||√||√||√||√||√|
|Disp.||80, clear. 12:38.||√||√||√||√||√|
|24||These ambulances must've done passed through Stemmons and Inwood.||√||√||√||√||√|
|58 (or 68)||58 (or 68)||√||√||√||√||×|
|24||Was an APB car supposed to be following the ambulance?||√||√||√||√||√|
|Disp.||It's unknown, 24.||√||√||√||√||√|
A = Ledford/FBI tape from dictabelts (1963)
B = Dave Dix tape (December 1963)
C = Bowles tape (March 1964)
D = Bonner/Ferrell/Critics tape (1966-7)
E = Ramsey Panel/FBI tape from dictabelt (1981)
√ = Transmission exists on tape
× = Transmission does not exist on tape
Based on this study of the recordings, and many additional hours spent listening to the tapes in their entirety, it is almost certain that the tape which author Judy Bonner obtained in 1967 was made from a reel-to-reel copy of the dictabelts, and that the Dave Dix version was also copied from that original reel-to-reel tape, although at a different time. If the Minneapolis Library records are correct, it must therefore be concluded that the reel-to-reel copy of the dictabelts was made prior to mid-December 1963, when the dictabelts were handed over to Chief Curry. In addition, the splice indications in the reel-to-reel copies are not on the Bowles tape, confirming that the Bowles tape did not originate from the same source, and probably came from the dictabelts themselves, as Bowles has stated. Furthermore, the Ledford CD almost certainly originated from a very early copy of the dictabelts, as claimed by Dr. Ledford in 2003.
This exercise highlighted the unreliability of tape recordings (and specifically, the FBI/Ramsey Panel recording made in December 1981) made directly from the now badly-deteriorated dictabelts, in that transmissions were missing only from this 1981 version of the channel 1 recordings during the admittedly brief period which this author sampled. While this outcome is hardly surprising given the age and use to which the original belts have been exposed, it equally calls into question the reliability and integrity of any findings based on such tapes, or dictabelts which may be copies of the originals, rather than originals themselves.
There is evidence to suggest that the channel 2 recordings of November 22 which now exist in the National Archives, may not be originals, either. While not perhaps directly relevant to this analysis of the channel 1 dictabelts, such evidence must be considered in the overall context of duplication of the radio recordings.
The whereabouts of the channel 2 recordings over the years is rather vague. The recordings were in the possession of DPD Chief Curry in July 1964, when he made them available to the FBI for transcription. The recordings do not appear in the inventory of material given to the HSCA by Paul McCaghren in 1978, so on the basis that the FBI/Justice Department had them in 1981, it is possible that the channel 2 recordings have been in their possession since 1964.
As with the channel 1 recordings, transcripts were made by the Secret Service, the DPD and the FBI of the radio transmissions over channel 2 on November 22, 1963. Once again, the FBI transcript of July 1964 is the only one which indicates when each Gray Audograph disc started and finished. However, as with the channel 1 recordings, there are discrepancies between the start and end times documented by the FBI, and those now quoted by the National Archives.
The FBI transcript of channel 2 shows that the discs’ start and end times were as follows:
|1||Just before 10:15 am||12:03 pm|
|2||12:03 pm||Between 12:45 and 12:48 pm|
|3||Between 12:45 and 12:48 pm||Between 1:44 and 1:50 pm|
|4||Between 1:44 and 1:50 pm||Between 2:38 and 2:41 pm|
|5||Between 2:38 and 2:41 pm||3 pm - transcript ends.|
The start and end times of the channel 2 discs which were handed over to the National Archives by the Justice Department in March 1990 are somewhat different. According to the Inventory of material handed over to the Archives, the five corresponding discs’ start and end times are:
|1||10:00 am||12:03 pm|
|2||12:03 pm||12:48 pm|
|3||12:48 pm||2:39 pm|
|4||2:39 pm||4:09 pm|
|5||4:09 pm||5:12 pm|
If the FBI and National Archives data are to be believed, the only explanation for these differences would appear to be that, at some point between July 1964 and March 1990, somebody merged the FBI discs #3 and #4 (from 12:48 to 2:39) into a new, single disc #3. There is, however, some indication that this was done prior to December 1981, when the Ramsey Panel reviewed the physical evidence.
According to the File Note of December 10, 1981 by Roger Cubbage of the Justice Department, regarding the Ramsey Panel’s examination of the channel 1 and 2 recordings:
“The audograph marked 4:09 p.m 5:12 11/22/6 (sic) was played to test the playing equipment and then viewed through a microscope. The audograph marked 12:02 p.m. 12? p.m. was played and copied. Then the audograph marked 1:40 p.m. 2:39 p.m. was also played and recorded.”
The 4:09 to 5:12 audograph is undoubtedly disc #5 of the Archives set. The audograph starting at 12:02 and ending during the same hour is obviously disc #2 of the same set, as it is disc #2 of the FBI set. The 1:40 to 2:39 audograph, however, is almost certainly disc #4 of the FBI set, but does not exist in the Archives set. Therefore, there are clear indications of the existence of two distinct sets of discs.
To ask why anybody would want to duplicate the Dallas Police recordings is to venture into the realm of pointless speculation. As is often the case, the correct answer may be a very simple one. Perhaps somebody decided to make copies, in order to preserve the recordings for posterity. However, whatever the answer, the possibility exists that the dictabelts and audograph discs now in the Archives are not the true original items, and with that possibility, the inevitable questions about the authenticity and completeness of the material must also remain.
9. What Next?
On the basis of scientific studies and an acoustical reconstruction in Dealey Plaza, Dr. James Barger and his colleagues testified to finding evidence of four gunshots on the dictabelts in 1978. Three years later, Professor Norman Ramsey and his panel of experts verified that crosstalk from Channel 2 was found on Channel 1 at the point where Dr. Barger had found the shot impulses — but the channel 2 transmission in question occurred more than 30 seconds after the assassination. Therefore, the Ramsey Panel’s findings were in clear conflict with those of the HSCA’s acoustics experts. However, if one — or even both — groups of acknowledged scientific experts were using unreliable audiotapes or copies rather than the original dictabelts…!
Given the evidence which — to this author, at least – suggests the existence of more than one set of “original dictabelts,” it is surely unfair and unreasonable to accept one set of experts’ conclusions and dismiss contradictory ones, unless and until we are certain that we are dealing with the original evidence? As Jim Bowles so correctly asked, “The question here is, ‘original’ on whose authority?”
Indeed, one could now reasonably ask — were any of the currently existing dictabelts recorded on that fateful Friday in November 1963?
A number of people have contributed significantly to the research which is necessary to compile a document of this nature. I am particularly indebted to Gary Mack, Archivist at The Sixth Floor Museum in Dealey Plaza, for his invaluable help over many years, and for his review and correction of this document. In addition, I would like to record my thanks to the following people for their assistance, co-operation and patience in dealing with my many questions: Steve Barber, Dr. James Barger, James Bowles, Dave Dix, Paul Hoch, Harry Irwin, Michael O’Dell, Professor Norman Ramsey, Todd Vaughan, and the staff at the National Archives, in particular Martha Murphy, Donna Wessel and Laura Hearn. Finally, a special thanks to John McAdams, for providing me with a forum through which my research can be made public.
The following abbreviations are used throughout the endnotes —
Warren Commission Exhibit. Thus, WCE 705 is Warren Commission Exhibit 705
Warren Commission Hearings. Thus, 23 WH 832 is Volume 23 of the Warren Commission’s Hearings, page 832
The Continuing Inquiry newsletter
Secret Service document, on file at the National Archives. Thus, SS 324 is Secret Service Document Number 324
Paul Hoch’s “Echoes Of Conspiracy” newsletter. Thus, 4 EOC 1 is Volume 4, issue Number 1, of Echoes Of Conspiracy
Hearings before the House Select Committee on Assassinations. Format of reference as for WH.
Report of the HSCA
Report of the NAS/Ramsey Panel
Record Information Form. This reference number can be used to locate the document in question in the National Archives at College Park, Maryland.