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Sunday, 30 August 2020 04:46

Vincent Salandria: In Memorial

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Jim DiEugenio remembers and recounts the significant contributions to the JFK assassination case of Vincent Salandria, who was one of the first researchers and one who was trying to expose the overthrow of the government shortly after it happened.


In October of 1964, Arlen Specter was invited to speak at the Philadelphia Bar Association about his work on the Warren Commission. Since Specter was assigned by the Commission to work on the medical and ballistics evidence, that is what they wanted him to speak about. There were about 150 spectators in a City Hall courtroom.

After Specter was done with his address, a high school history teacher stood up and said he had some questions, except they were not really questions. The teacher essentially declared that every point Specter made that night was wrong. He especially reserved his ire for the Commission’s sine qua non, the Single Bullet Theory. He said it was a forensic fraud. He also added that if such a thing did occur then the Commission should have done a live demonstration with Oswald’s alleged rifle on moving targets, which they had not done. (Philadelphia Magazine, 2/27/14, article by Robert Huber)

That high school teacher was Vincent Salandria. Salandria was also an attorney who had graduated from the University of Pennsylvania law school, an Ivy League member. Unlike every other person in the audience, he had read the entire Warren Report in about two weeks. But prior to that, he had visited Dallas that summer to do his own inquiry. So he was ready for Specter.

After the event ended some people approached him and said he should write up his critique into an essay. Salandria did so. That first article was published in Philadelphia’s Legal Intelligencer about two weeks later. It appeared in their November 2, 1964 issue. (Almost of all Salandria’s work is available online here)

From there, he went on to compose two landmark pieces. These appeared in the magazine Liberation, in January and March of 1965. They were entitled, “A Philadelphia Lawyer Analyzes the Shots, Trajectories and Wounds.” The difference between this and his first article was that the Commission volumes had been published in the interim. Therefore, Salandria had more material to analyze and impugn the Commissions’ record with.

There had been critiques of the Commission before this one. For example, Mark Lane in The Guardian in December of 1963 and “Seeds of Doubt” by Staughton Lynd and Jack Miniss on December 21, 1963 in The New Republic. In early 1964, Salandria’s brother in law, Harold Feldman, had done a piece in The Nation on Oswald’s possible relationship with the FBI. But Salandria’s effort was singular in the sense that it took on what was supposed to be the strength of the Warren Report, that is, the forensic case in medical and ballistic terms against Oswald as the killer. In rather stark terms, Salandria was saying that the Warren Report was a charade. The only essay that even came close to it at that time was Leo Sauvage’s “The Oswald Affair” in Commentary in March of 1964.

I still recall reading the Liberation articles today. At the time, I was writing my first book, the first edition of Destiny Betrayed. (Please don’t buy it, as the second edition is much better.) Salandria’s work was not easy to find. I had to drive over to UCLA from my San Fernando Valley apartment at night. And even at that, they had the magazines archived. I had to wait about 20 minutes for their retrieval from a storage area. It was worth it. Even in 1992, the articles had an impact. They were well-written and cut to the quick of the Commission’s case against the lone assassin. What made them even more remarkable was that they were almost completely composed from the Commission’s own evidence. In other words, Salandria had sliced and diced the Warren Report using its own evidence. At that time, no one had rendered the alarming illogic of the Single Bullet Theory—to the point of rendering it a comedy—as Salandria had done.

He went on to repeat that performance for Minority of One in March and April of 1966. This time he used frames from the Zapruder film to illustrate the Commission’s violation of Newton’s Laws of Motion. He also pointed out that it was hard to accept that the bullet that proceeded through Connally’s chest then hit his wrist on the dorsal side and proceeded through to his palm side. He concluded with the absurdity that Commission Exhibit 399 could have done all the damage it did—slicing through two people, smashing two bones, and bursting seven layers of skin—and emerged with almost none of its mass missing and in almost perfect condition. In the second part of the essay, he persuasively argued that Governor John Connally must have been hit by a second bullet. In other words, there was no Magic Bullet. It was a myth created by the Commission for political expediency.

Again, one must note that virtually all of his information came from the Commission itself. Yet Salandria wrote that, not only did the Warren Commission ignore its own evidence, they frequently misrepresented their own evidence—by writing that it agreed with their conclusions, when it patently did not.

Another Philadelphian, Gaeton Fonzi, had noticed Salandria’s work. After reading it, he wanted to interview Specter. Before he did that, he talked to Salandria. (Click here for details) In this discussion, Salandria was either the first, or one of the first, to note that Life magazine broke its presses twice in order to conceal the true impact of Z 313, the violent back and to the left movement of Kennedy’s body. (Click here for details) As the reader can see, after viewing the Zapruder film at NARA, Salandria became adamant on this point. He was sure that Specter and the Commission were aware of what the Zapruder film showed, as was Life, and everyone involved deliberately chose to ignore it. As the reader can also see, he is sure there was an assassin on the Grassy Knoll and he uses Feldman’s other essay, “51 Witnesses: The Grassy Knoll”, to support his case. (Click here for details) He also uses the Moorman film to locate where an assassin could have been. It was this discussion with Salandria that Fonzi used to disarm Specter in his meetings with him in 1966. (Gaeton Fonzi, The Last Investigation, pp. 18-27; or click here for the Specter-Fonzi tapes themselves)

At this time, 1966, Edward Epstein’s book Inquest had been published, so Salandria understood there was a difference between what the FBI thought about the case and the Warren Commission version of the bullet strikes. The Bureau did not buy the Single Bullet Theory. By visiting Dallas for two summers in a row now, he also understood how the James Tague bullet strike created all kinds of problems for both the FBI and the Warren Commission. It also appears that, through Marguerite Oswald, he discovered Acquilla Clemmons, a crucial witness to the murder of Dallas policeman J. D. Tippit. Vince also tried to talk to Helen Markham, the Commission’s key witness on the Tippit case, except that after speaking to the FBI, the Secret Service, and Dallas Police, she would not be interviewed. When Vince tried to go back to her home, it was cordoned off by a fleet of Dallas Police cars. He said elsewhere that he felt he had to visit Dallas, since the Commission’s hearings were closed in 1964.

Salandria also revealed his knowledge of history during this conversation with Fonzi. He compared the assassination of JFK with the murder of Italian socialist Giacomo Matteotti back in 1924. He added that Mussolini did everything but admit his complicity in the murder and then defied the authorities to prosecute him. When they did not, he went on to declare himself dictator.

Salandria was involved with the JFK inquiry by New Orleans DA Jim Garrison. He had two major achievements as Garrison’s consultant. He had heard Bill Boxley—the alias of William Wood—speak to the staff. He immediately asked to see his work product. After reviewing it, he asked for a meeting with Garrison in his office. He told him to read a section of a small book he had brought on the issue of double agents against Lenin and Trotsky during the Russian civil war. Garrison did so. Salandria then gave him several examples from Boxley’s work. Vince chose these to point out that, in each example, Boxley would conclude that the assassination came from a different direction: the Minutemen, Naval Intelligence, the Texas oil barons. In other words, Boxley was serving up his version of the disinformation tract, the Torbitt Document, before it was actually written. As I wrote in the second edition of Destiny Betrayed, Salandria was correct on this. Boxley did not show up when Garrison called him that night. He then, apparently, left town. When Garrison visited his alleged apartment, it was empty except for one shirt hanging in the closet. (pp. 283-84)

Vince had some practice on the issue of infiltrators. In my first discussion with him, back in February of 1992, he told me about a woman named Rita Rollins. In late 1966, she had approached him and told him she was a nurse for a wealthy family in Texas and New Orleans. She said that on their ranch in Texas, they had practiced “dry runs” of the Kennedy assassination. She had read his work and she wanted him to accompany her to Canada, where she would produce witnesses to what she saw. Vince called in another prominent critic, Sylvia Meagher. They both questioned her about her experience and the JFK case. She had answers for all their questions. As she was getting ready to leave, Sylvia said that they should ask her questions about her alleged occupation, nursing. They did and she was stymied. Her cover was blown.

Six months later, Vince discovered her real name was Lulu Belle Holmes. She was an FBI agent who had infiltrated the peace movement. Vince told me that the story she was trying to sell him and Sylvia was that Lyndon Johnson and J. Edgar Hoover had arranged for the assassination through their Texas friends. After Salandria visited Canada, the idea was that the “witnesses” would then recant leaving the critics looking like suckers.

There was another achievement Salandria had with Garrison in New Orleans. He was the principal advisor at the Clay Shaw trial to Alvin Oser. At the trial, Assistant DA Oser had responsibility for the examination of Kennedy pathologist Pierre Finck. Finck was a witness for the defense. He had been called by Shaw’s lawyers because Dr. John Nichols, a pathologist at the University of Kansas, had been such an effective witness for the prosecution as to the existence of an ambush in Dealey Plaza. The defense thought they could counter Nichols with Finck. But Salandria had worked with Oser, coaching him on the key points he should ask the doctor about. Therefore, the cross examination of Finck turned out to be a debacle for not just the defense, but for the Warren Commission and the Department of Justice, which was monitoring the trial in real time through their local attorney Harry Connick.

It is almost impossible to underestimate the legal and forensic importance of Finck’s two days on the stand. In its simplest terms, it showed just what an illicit cover up Arlen Specter had achieved with the Warren Commission. He had avoided all the relevant issues that Oser and Salandria had brought up in court. It also showed how much Specter had coopted the pathologists. For the first time, Finck admitted that the autopsy was not controlled by chief pathologist James Humes. It was being controlled by the military brass in attendance. To the point that Humes had to ask, “Who’s in charge here?” He also admitted that the doctors had been stopped from dissecting Kennedy’s back wound. Finck’s testimony turned out to be such a disaster that the Justice Department sent fellow pathologist Thornton Boswell to New Orleans to try and discredit him, but at the last minute they decided he should not. (For a complete chronicle of this crucial episode see Destiny Betrayed, second edition, pp. 299-306)

During one of their first meetings, Salandria had told Garrison that he did not think he would achieve what he was attempting to do. That is, the flushing out of the lower level of the conspiracy and then building a pyramid of trials leading to the top level of the plot. He thought that the significance of his effort would lie in the efforts of certain groups to obstruct and to halt his efforts, which, of course, is what happened.

It was during this futile effort that Salandria now began to turn his endeavor into elucidating the Big Picture of Kennedy’s murder. One of this first efforts at this was a speech he gave in Central Park on June 9, 1968. He did this on the occasion of Bobby Kennedy’s death and the mad escalation of the Vietnam War. During this speech, he pointed out some of the foreign policy reversals that occurred after Kennedy’s murder. In fact, he said that the Pentagon had fired President Kennedy. Therefore, it was not at all surprising that the enemies of JFK likely killed RFK. In private, he once told me that he suspected that if Bobby won the California primary he would be assassinated.

After the Shaw trial, Salandria did not do much more of the micro analysis that had made him a pioneer. In fact, he actually ridiculed researchers, like Harold Weisberg, who did. During one of my meetings with him at his home in Philadelphia, he took out a copy of Josiah Thompson’s Six Seconds in Dallas. By rote, he immediately turned to page 246. He then pointed to the underlined passage there which said that what the previous pages had done was not prove there was a conspiracy. Vince said words to the effect that this was preposterous. Yes, they had. He had known Thompson since he had him released from jail one night after the then Haverford professor had been part of a demonstration against the Vietnam War. The ACLU had contacted him and he had Thompson and some cohorts discharged. The two struck up a friendship. In fact, in the introduction and acknowledgements to Six Seconds in Dallas, Thompson profusely thanks Salandria for his groundbreaking work. Therefore, that page 246 quotation stung Vince, as it did Ray Marcus. Having spoken with both men, they considered it the equivalent of a Sandy Koufax curveball, except it was thrown at Sandy’s teammates. In fact, in 1977 Vince wrote an essay entitled “The Design of the Warren Report: To Fall to Pieces.”

As I said, Salandria centered on the Big Picture for the rest of his life. As Fonzi notes in his fine book, Salandria was not encouraged by Gaeton’s decision to work for the Church Committee in 1975. He thought he would just be spinning his wheels. (The Last Investigation, pp. 28-29) This attitude was epitomized by his speech at the COPA Conference in 1998, which began with the USA acquiring an empire after the Spanish American War. Vince was so wound up in this view, that he had a tendency to look askance at new work e.g. John Newman’s Oswald and the CIA. Many years later though he wrote a letter to John in which he said he was wrong to write what he did about him. That endeared me to him even more.

Perhaps his last significant achievement was his cooperation with John Kelin on that fine book Praise from a Future Generation. Kelin’s book began when Vince gave him a couple of boxes of letters between the early Commission critics (e.g. Sylvia Meagher, Shirley Martin, Ray Marcus, Marjorie Field, and Vince, among others). Kelin supplemented that source material and then fashioned it into an utterly fascinating and memorable volume. That book was published in 2007 and, if the reader has not read it, then he or she should at least look at this You Tube series on it.

As I wrote about John’s book, it showed in detail a David and Goliath confrontation. It described how a small circle of friends and colleagues, with almost no power or assets, toppled a terrific fraud constructed by the CIA, the FBI, and a select group of lawyers and then promoted by the media and Washington D.C.

And that is, perhaps, a fitting way to give a final salute to Vince Salandria. In one of his later essays, he compared himself to Mark Lane. He thought Lane was standing up for civil liberties and the rule of law, whereas he was trying to expose the overthrow of the government. Lane was more popular than he was back in the 1963–66 period, since Vince did not think that the public was ready to digest his underlying message. He told me that it was only after the end of the Cold War that Americans would be ready to see that Kennedy’s murder was not really an assassination but a coup d’état. In that judgment, like many things in this case, he was correct and prophetic.

Note: Almost all of Salandria’s work can be accessed at Dave Ratcliffe’s web site, just click here.

Last modified on Friday, 04 September 2020 20:50
James DiEugenio

One of the most respected researchers and writers on the political assassinations of the 1960s, Jim DiEugenio is the author of two books, Destiny Betrayed (1992/2012) and The JFK Assassination: The Evidence Today (2018), co-author of The Assassinations, and co-edited Probe Magazine (1993-2000).   See "About Us" for a fuller bio.

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