The Mysterious Death Project

I really enjoyed THE PLOT TO KILL KENNEDY: RUSH TO JUDGMENT, directed by Emile de Antonio from the book Rush to Judgement by Mark Lane. Released in 1967, it beats THE PRICE OF POWER into cinemas by two years, meaning that the spaghetti western was not the first feature film inspired by the Kennedy assassination, just the first fiction film.

One of the grislier attractions of the film is the fact that a number of the interviewees met with mysterious fates. The film ends on Mrs. Acquilla Clemens, witness to the killing of Officer J.D. Tippit. She identified two men as being involved, neither of them resembling Lee Harvey Oswald, who is officially credited with the murder. Asked if she spoke to anyone about this, she says she was visited by an armed man a couple of days later, who told her “someone might hurt me if I would talk.” Investigating the case for his book Into the Nightmare: My Search for the Killers of President John F. Kennedy and Officer J. D. Tippit, Joseph McBride was chilled to discover that Clemens had vanished shortly after this interview — her surviving family had no knowledge of her whereabouts, although there was a bathetic notion that “she might have gone to Philadelphia.” He justifiably concludes that she showed great courage in coming forward.

(McBride also discovered that the witnesses who DID identify Oswald as Tippit’s killer were mostly or all connected fairly directly to Jack Ruby, a very suggestive fact.)

Clemens seems perfectly sincere and honest, or as much as anyone in the film. In spite of her Hitlerian hairdo. Due to the filmmaker’s habit of positioning the interviewer to one side and the camera to the front, ALL of the interviewees look shifty and uncertain, as they can’t decide where to look. There’s a lesson there.

The other mystery case is L.E. Bowers Jr. He witnessed the Kennedy assassination from his place of work, the tower building of the Union Terminal Company. What he saw and heard — much seemingly official activity at the grassy knoll, and “some unusual occurrence, a flash of light or smoke or something,” at the time of the shooting. This is pretty suspicious language. In the book he says, “a flash of light or, as far as I am concerned, something I could not identify,” which is even funnier, but at least he’s consistent.

Bowers was to die when his car smashed into a concrete bridge abutment. Depending on the account, this was suspicious because there was nothing else on the road, or because he was driven off the road by a black car. Dying of his wounds, Bowers supposedly told ambulance workers that he felt his drink had been spiked at his last rest stop. No autopsy was performed.

But researcher David Perry located the surviving ambulance attendant, one Noel Coward(!), who said Bowers didn’t say anything, because “the man’s head was pretty bad.”

This one is baffling on the face of it because Bowers had already told his story. Why kill him? What’s that going to do, except lend credence to what he’d said? Unless that was the intention, or unless he was killed for reasons entirely unrelated to his status as presidential assassination witness. Bowers’ friend, Charles Good, says Bowers knew more than he told the Warren Commission. But in RUSH TO JUDGEMENT, he confirms this, and then tells everything he knows.

So maybe he wasn’t murdered, and maybe he didn’t see what he said he saw. His description of the two men and their vehicles (down to the out-of-state license plates on one car) which he claims to have seen on the knoll, behind the picket fence, are startlingly detailed when you consider that when he saw them, he had no particular reason to pay attention. The assassination hadn’t happened. It was just pre-motorcade activity. And then, when something memorable DOES happen, he’s fuzzy on it.

Cops used to set a lot of store by witnesses who sounded confident and gave detailed descriptions. Today we know that such people are less likely to be reliable than those who sound uncertain and don’t recall many details.

But Bowers tells his story well. He’s no shiftier in the questionable areas than he is on hard fact.

There are a lot more people connected to the assassination who suffered suspicious deaths. I mean, I put it to you, karate chop to the throat is suspicious. But they’re not in this documentary.

If I were going to elucidate my own conspiracy theory, I would suggest that in the case of JFK, rather than covering up the truth by actively suppressing it, someone is covering up the true nature of the crime with a lot of bullshit. Consider the case of movie actor Karyn Kupcynet (Shirley in Corman’s LITTLE SHOP OF HORRORS). She was murdered in LA a few days after Kennedy was hit in Dallas. She was definitely murdered (fractured hyoid bone, and we know how conclusive THAT is) but no one was ever convicted.

Various theorists have asserted that she was the woman who tried to make a long distance call a few days before the assassination, and was heard by the operator screaming that the president was going to be killed. But there is no good reason to assume Kupcinet was this unknown person, or that she had any connection to Kennedy, Oswald, Ruby, or any of the other principles. The best anyone has offered is that her father once lived in Chicago and might have met Ruby when he lived there.

So here we have a genuinely startling piece of information — a warning of the impending assassination — which, if true, would strongly suggest conspiracy — being smothered by a fatuous and debunkable connection to an irrelevant (but tragic and intriguing) Hollywood homicide.

Similarly, if anybody was killed off post-assassination for knowing too much — and Jack Ruby would head my list — he SAID he had been given cancer deliberately — it’s obscured and made incredible by a cloud of bullshit, a Mummy’s Curse narrative of easily debunkable and nonsensical false claims. Is Oliver Stone a useful idiot? Or just the regular kind?

It’s a theory, anyway. Just what this case is short of.

22 Responses to “The Mysterious Death Project”

  1. I’m 75 years old and I have had it with this nonsense!. Back when his inane “JFK” came out I tore current Putin Puppet Oliver Stone a new one. Goforth and Google to see what I wrote. OSWALD DID IT AND HE ACTED ALONE!!!!! (Slow Curtain The End)

  2. A friend suggested to me that, since there’s not much any of us can DO about the assassination, one should simply believe the best story, or the one that resonates with one’s worldview. Certainly Norman Mailer got a good story out of Oswald the lone gunman. Don DeLillo took another route, with more artistic success than Oliver Stone I would say.

  3. Sudarshan Ramani Says:

    You know LIBRA was the first time I got interested in the JFK thing whereas before I kept it at one side. And it’s by far the only great work of art the assassination and conspiracy has produced. I suppose “The Irishman” is a second but it keeps the JFK stuff very studiously at one side (and the mafia being credited for the hit is distinctly unpopular in conspiracy circles, hence why McBride has rejected it, so that makes it less irresponsible).

    DeLillo’s LIBRA had an antedeluvian effect on me. It was so successful in putting across Oswald’s psychology that it convinced me, quite against its author’s intentions, that Oswald was the assassin. The historical stuff with Oswald was far more believable and artistically successful than the voodoo maze of the assassination that DeLillo put in. The former felt literary and aesthetically compelling as a representation of a historical person (which is far rarer than you’d assume) but the stuff with the conspiracy elements felt like genre potboiler stuff. Oswald as this anonymous figure with a yearning for fame and greatness, but made anonymous while serving the marines, the USSR and so on, gets thrust into fame with his assassination which is a great spectacle but all things considered, perhaps not a “great” historical event (as compared to Caesar’s and Lincoln’s assassination).

    I think JFK’s death is down to American gun laws and the way Oswald could mail order a sniper rifle no questions asked, and also white privilege where an unsuccessful working class layabout like Oswald gets plenty more second chances than he would have had he not been white anglo-saxon and hetero. That’s the real conspiracy there.

  4. Sudarshan Ramani Says:

    I apologize for the misuse of the word “antediluvian” by the way I meant contradictory.

  5. Mike Clelland Says:

    I saw this maybe 20 years ago. I remember being terribly impressed by its space mood—really haunting filmmaking.

    What struck me was the tenor of the people in front of the camera. This is a time-piece of a lots era. These were not wild eyed radicals looking to stir up trouble. These people spoke with thick Texas accents, and they sat in their bland homes and offices. Their dullness was almost oppressive.

    THis was an era where nobody questioned the government, just the opposite, there was a reverence to the “father figure” of the men in charge of our society. This movie made me understand how the Warren Commission could so easily push thru its supposed findings on the case.

  6. Mike Clelland Says:

    “space mood” was meant to be “sparse mood”

    “lots era” was meant to be “lost era”

    (typos above)

  7. The entire JFK Conspiracy Myth stems from the belief in the absolute protective authority of the Secret Service. As Obama’s ppresidency has shown the Secret Service is no more authoritative than the Keystone Kops. Would-be assassins got into the White House several times during Obama’s presidency. Kennedy and his trophy wife were regarded as Perfect in on all things, so how could they be killed? Easy. I advise everyone who reads this blog to visit the SchoolBook Depository Museum in Dallas (as I did with Todd Haynes back in 1987 Shooting fish in a barrel is a lot easier.

  8. Looking at the history of people who shoot POTUS, lone nuts is the right category.

    Looking at the people who were killing heads of state at the time, the CIA is the right category.

    I like “space mood” — the whole movie happens in a trackless void.

  9. Why wouldthe CIA want tokoll Kennedy?

  10. Sudarshan Ramani Says:

    I mean the CIA isn’t the best at whacking heads of state. Look at Castro. He was a pond away from Florida, had tons of assassination attempts but managed to dodge them all outliving every POTUS until he died in Obama’s last year in office when *he* paid a visit to Cuba. And he had few resources. You look at other US enemies: Khomeini, the Kims of North Korea, Ho Chi Minh, Mandela, and so on.

    Most assassinations are usually done by lone gunmen, because the circumstances of getting access to the body are usually scattered wide enough to accommodate the known threats, so it’s the unknown figures that slip through the cracks that usually get to do it. Many people believed that the Reichstag Fire of 1933 was a “false flag” thing done by the Nazis but now the consensus after looking at the archives is that it did happen thanks to a lone nut, as did the assassination attempt on Hitler by George Elser (which came closer than the more storied one in the 1940s by fellow Nazis). Franz Ferdinand’s assassination which kicked off WW1 was a conspiracy but the organization around it crumbled at the crux moment and the only reason that guy and his wife got whacked was that their carriage stopped outside the cafe where Princip was taking a snack after having second thoughts. He saw it as a sign and took his shot.

    The reason JFK died is that a) Oswald found out from the papers that the President’s motorcade (decided just weeks ago) was passing beneath his window at his workplace, b) Kennedy ignored his Secret Service’s counsel and had an open-roof motorcade. So Kennedy does bear significant responsibility for his own assassination, the wounding of the governor and endangering both their wives. And collaterally for the death of Tippit. Had he taken a covered limo that might have been avoided but then I don’t know how common that was for Presidents before him?

    David E. I visited Dallas and saw the Book Depository myself and I agree. It wasn’t some sophisticated hitman-level thing of the kind in Seijun Suzuki’s Branded to Kill or Melville’s Le Samourai.

  11. Sudarshan Ramani Says:

    Trotsky as an exiled former revolutionary cut off from Comintern and unwilling to defect to bourgeois politics of course was deprived of many resources to protect himself. Even then it took Stalin decades to find a way to infiltrate his circle and have that person get access to him. Interestingly some new research suggests that Romy Schneider’s character in Losey’s film was also a conspirator but then again it’s done by WSWS which is a) clearly partisan, b) run by a Minnesota businessman (“David North” not his real name) who deprives his own workers the right to an union, c) sees Trotsky as an inerrant saint contrary to the real man’s own principles.

    I will say that some historians (J. Arch Getty) have pointed out how assymmetric our knowledge of espionage in the Cold War is, we know way more about USSR espionage than about USA. Snowden has his numerous flaws and blindspots but he did reveal that USA spied on Angela Merkel and so on, so that suggests that USA has infiltrated many levels of NATO civilian and domestic infrastructure, some of which we do know about (the French historian Francois Furet who promoted a counter-revolutionary history of France, got a grant from the CIA, which he did admit openly to his credit) others (like CIA promoting abstract expressionism) feels a bit like exaggeration and an attempt by CIA to disproproportionately take credit to fancy up their legacy.

    We do know a fair bit about the CIA and can infer stuff here and there but certainly nowhere near the KGB, so on that level of assymmetry I do understand where the JFK conspiracy theory comes from. Schlesinger’s The Falcon and the Snowman is one of the few responsible movies about CIA stuff in terms of what it gets up to (sabotaging the Whitlam Ministry in Australia) and has gotten up to. THE GHOST WRITER is also interesting for hinting at CIA infiltration of UK politics.

  12. The CIA was well motivated to kill Kennedy, who had threatened to break the organisation into a hundred pieces. At the very least, that makes putting Dulles on the committee investigating JFK’s death an unwise move.

    They did succeed in getting Lumumba killed, and had a hand in other successful hits. JFK would be much easier.

    The CIA was not only unaccountable, but “unvouchered” — operations could go ahead with no paper trail whatever. So any theory is unprovable.

  13. “So any theory is unprovable” SING OUT LOUISE!

  14. Sudarshan Ramani Says:

    I don’t think orchestrating Lumumba’s death is equivalent to whacking JFK, because Lumumba geopolitically was not as powerful. The CIA killing heads of state of poor nations is no great flex and even then Castro dodged death multiple times and that was a guy right at their doorstep. And again heads of state getting in dispute with national security or US interests doesn’t lead to insta-kill. Charles de Gaulle often infuriated US foreign policy folks but nobody assassinated him most likely because De Gaulle headed a rich nation. Even if JFK had disputes with the CIA he certainly didn’t have the authority to unilaterally dissolve the CIA and doing so would undoubtedly have provoked a backlash within his own party as well as the public at large. The history of espionage by its nature is hard for historians to process because successful acts of espionage by design leave no trace. The successful assassination will be disguised so well as to appear as death by natural causes (by the second criteria, JFK’s death is disqualified).

    On a certain level, you do have this sense of paranoia but at the same time, you can’t get out of the burden of proof altogether. And the JFK assassination conspiracies don’t arrive at that, outside of mountains of blind alleys and tangential connections that tell us nothing aside from JFK being a President, a playboy, a rich kid and whose life naturally involves a greater mass of people than an ordinary victim of a drive-by. JFK isn’t the protagonist of reality and at the end of the day his assassination probably more a great spectacle than a great event of the 20th Century unlike Lincoln’s assassination. Politically MLK and Malcolm X’s assassination was more consequential, and MLK and Malcolm X are great figures not JFK.

  15. Lumumba certainly wasn’t as powerful but all JFK’s power didn’t make him bullet-proof.

    Who knows what JFK’s legacy would have been if he’d lived. Not on a par with Malcolm X and MLK’s, for sure. But he’d have had the job of dealing with the civil rights movement that fell to LBJ.

    That spate of assassinations, along with Watergate, helped foster a paranoid mindset which is still with us today, and if there were a conspiracy, that would seem to have been its purpose.

  16. John Seal Says:

    I highly recommend the recently released THE ASSASSINATION AND MRS. PAINE. Ruth Paine, of course, lived with Lee and Marina Oswald in the days leading up to the assassination and has been the subject of many conspiracy theories as a result. All of which she denies convincingly in this film – she’s in her late 80s but is as sharp as a tack.

  17. Oh, that sounds great! Marina Oswald seems like an incredibly important figure. My reading has so far failed to turn up her explanation of WHY Oswald had her take those pictures with the rifle, or anyhow what reason he gave her.

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