Don Adams’ book is something of a landmark. We now have an ex FBI agent coming clean with his suspicions of a conspiracy to kill President Kennedy. This has happened before with guys like Bill Turner. But Adams is a rarity in that he was an active agent in 1963 who actually investigated a part of the Kennedy case...that being the Joseph Milteer angle. Further, in an era where a number of individuals have come forth to bear false witness to their involvement that day—as either government employees or civilians – Adams, like H. B. McClain, Abraham Bolden and Roger Craig, has a compelling and credible story. Also, due to the lack of his being unfairly compromised by his story he waited until after his retirement to tell it. He thus comes without a lot of baggage.
What worked for me was that Adams does not seek, in any discernible way, to increase his standing. He is remarkably open and honest about being inexperienced on the Milteer assignment and about his being unaccustomed in terms of research on the JFK case. Therefore, when he comes to naming who he thinks are the 'players and the patsies", he readily acknowledges that other, more informed, researchers have worked the beat before. This selflessness, once again, is something of a rarity. Often when people claim "inside info", their statements concerning participants come with a definitive air of "so-and-so said this" and/or "he said this to me". Thankfully, Adams has his ego and imagination well in check. While in the FBI, he also resisted the temptation to capitalize personally and professionally upon his father’s relationship with Cartha "Deke" DeLoach, an opportunity that a less honest individual would have utilized.
The Investigation Begins
For myself, the highlights of the book are Adams’ deductions between pages 25 to 85 where we learn of his assignment to investigate Milteer. We also learn about two figures that become the bogeymen of the book his boss, Jim McMahon, Special Agent in Charge of the Atlanta office and McMahon's pal, Royal McGraw, who ran the Thomasville bureau some 240 miles away. The story is this: McMahon had flattered a naïve Adams to work for McGraw in Thomasville, many miles away from his family in Atlanta, by saying McGraw had personally requested his transfer. What Adams found out prior to his departure was that Adams was actually the fourth person McMahon had requested. Adams’ sense of duty saw him take the job in Thomasville, much to his regret. McGraw, it turns out, was a micro-management Nazi, who regularly stomped over FBI procedure keeping Adams out of the loop. Adams also found him to be something of a redneck.
McMahon pulled Adams, along with Bill Elliot, the Chief of Police in Quitman Georgia, into the case on November 13, 1963 to interview one Joseph Milteer a resident, who had caused something of a flap in mid October with a number of his comments. While we all know about Milteer, it's often forgotten that he was surrounding himself with some serious pipe hitting, right wing nutters prior to the assassination. On the 18th of October, in Indianapolis, he had met with some 30 individuals who planned on creating a terrorist underground cell to combat the communists infiltrating the U.S. Government. More meetings took place between Milteer and other individuals over the next few days. Including the infamous meeting recorded by informant Willie Sommersett... but we'll get to that later. President Kennedy's life had clearly been threatened and so our intrepid FBI agent tracked him down. Adams finally found Milteer while he was handing out leaflets on Quitman Street on the 16th of November. After a brief discussion with the rightwing zealot, from whom he received a number of leaflets, Adams quickly discovered Milteer's vehement hatred for the president. He returned to Thomasville and filed his report expecting it to be routed to the Secret Service, local police and FBI nationwide. While this appears to have happened at first, he would later check back on his report only to discover no reference of either it, nor the leaflets in evidence.
Shockingly, Adams later found out that McGraw and Elliot had conducted an investigation into Milteer a little over a year before his own interaction with him. Yet, even this is incidental to the odd things that happened soon after. The assassination occurred, and McMahon ordered Adams back on the Milteer beat. Merely two days after the assassination, a woman who went by the name of Vereen Alexander and had studied at Tulane University in New Orleans, appeared at Adams’ house. She said she had encountered Oswald at a bar discussing the attempted assassination of Charles De Gaulle. She clearly remembered Oswald also raising the question of Kennedy being assassinated earlier that year. This story was a plausible one, for Oswald, or an imposter, indeed visited the Tulane campus. Further, Jim Garrison, John Newman, Bill Davy, Lisa Pease and Jim DiEugenio have all covered in some depth how Oswald, and other denizens of the 544 Camp Street office in New Orleans targeted that university’s students and faculty. This effort, of course, was led by Guy Banister.
Later, on page 143, Adams, after making some well observed comments on Oswald's ease of return to the United States, his communist beliefs, and his association with Banister, states that Oswald had to have been some form of intelligence agent and this was nicely hidden. Adams’ simple "no BS" take on this issue is refreshing, especially coming from a former agent of J. Edgar Hoover. But it could have been even better. He could have then tied in Vereen Alexander’s story of seeing Oswald at Tulane with Banister’s other activities of infiltrating student and leftist groups with young recruits like Dan Campbell. This additional information would have lent more relevancy to Oswald’s interaction with Alexander. Indeed he could have placed the interaction in the section in which he deals with Banister. For although the Alexander event is pivotal, his inclusion of it upsets the flow of his narrative in the chapter, which is focused in finding out where Milteer was after the assassination. If Adams felt he had no choice but to include it at the point mentioned, he should have had a mind to refer to it accurately in his text later. The problem is the Alexander report actually says nothing about Oswald discussing the assassination of JFK. The Somersett report on Milteer does allude to an assassination attempt. At the beer drinking party where Alexander saw Oswald, it appears JFK was never discussed and Alexander merely recollected Oswald being there. This is a notable mistake because later on Adams discusses the absence of his reports in the National Archives, not just their rewording and newly fraudulent replacement accounts by his superiors. Adams unfortunately makes himself look as if he is the one guilty of hyperbole and his editors should have been wise to this.
Regardless of this technical hitch, Adams eventually caught up with Milteer – who was absent from his environs in Quinton and Valdosta, Georgia in the days immediately after the assassination – on the 27th of November. The problem for Adams was that, incredibly, he was only allowed to ask Milteer five questions, and was not permitted to ask follow-ups of his own. The questions were hardly the type of in-depth ones we would anticipate seeing in an investigation dealing with the murder of President Kennedy. (Which, as the author points out, is unsurprising, since the entire FBI investigation was based on avoiding the hard questions). Yet there were two intriguing questions Milteer fielded, and some equally interesting answers he gave. Milteer denied he had been involved in the horrific fire bombing of the 16th Street Baptist Church in Birmingham Alabama on the 15th of September 1963. That he was considered a suspect in a state full of it's own racist loony tunes at the time certainly says something about his reputation. He also denied being in Dallas on the day of the assassination, mentioning he had been there in June of '63. He then denied he had ever made any threats about the President. As we all know (as did Adams), this was a lie as the FBI had recordings of him saying this to a good informant. Adams notes that, after this meeting, he never saw the man again.
The Dallas FBI Office
The book then goes on to explain Adams’ later stint in the summer of 1964 at the Dallas FBI office. Few books have actually detailed the comings and goings of the Dallas authorities at the time of the assassination. Ian Griggs’ excellent breakdown on the DPD in his tome, "No Case to Answer" (JFK Lancer, 2011) is a must read on the topic. Also, Jim Hosty’s accounts of the day to day activities in the office are also required reading for those seeking an inside track into the Dallas FBI personnel of the era. ("Assignment: Oswald" by James P. Hosty Jr. and Thomas Hosty, 1995) Adams’ entry into the foray is small but much appreciated as he is honest about Hosty and the Dallas office covering their behinds over the "Oswald threat" caper. Indeed, he voices the concern long held by conspiracy advocates, if Oswald’s note was a threat, it would have been used against him and not covered up for years. He also notes that he saw the Zapruder film In Dallas with other agents. He told his colleagues that it clearly denoted crossfire in Dealey Plaza. They understood that. But they said that Hoover had already molded the investigation around Oswald as the only suspect. His take on the dour, chain-smoking SAIC Gordon Shanklin also matches Hosty's recollections. Nonetheless, once again, Adams could have scored even more points, but fails to get the bonus point. The chapter needed more details of the office and the personnel, the tone of the field office and so on. While this sort of detail could be boring, I find this sort of thing extremely readable, and it increases a book’s use as a reference for the period if handled well. As it stands, the chapter can barely be called that as it only consists of seven pages of type. This is a problem all the way through the book; the chapters should have been sub headed under a certain theme or topic which would have helped the book's flow and organization.
A classic example of this is that instead of waiting until page 138, he should have put SA Robert Gemberling in the mix during this passage in Dallas. Gemberling is a little disclosed figure in the assassination cover up. Thanks to Adams the man now enjoys a little more time in the sun. Gemberling and Adams enjoyed good relations during his stint with the Dallas branch of the FBI, and as it turns out, we all know that Gemberling's role after the assassination was to help write the initial 800 page FBI account of the crime. He later became the FBI's JFK "go to man" in the seventies, studiously towing the official line he had helped create. Anyhow, he took umbrage with Adams, who had gone public with his opinions in late 1998 on the eve of the 35th anniversary of the Kennedy assassination. This started an exchange between the two. Gemberling who already denounced Oliver Stone’s "JFK" in 1997, in the FBI's official ex-special agent publication "The Grapevine", would then go on to further denounce Stone, and others like Adams in 2003. Adams attempted to have his side of the argument put into the publication, but his article was pulled. This did not faze him. He knew it would never see the light of day in an FBI publication.
Was Milteer in Dallas That Day on Houston Street?
As stated, there is some strong material in the book. But as previously noted, the organization of the book is awkward. It details Adams’ life and interactions with his cohorts well enough. But when it comes to the significant aspects of the case, e.g. a witness meeting a potential Oswald impersonator, the conduct of the Dallas FBI office and Gemberling, or fully describing his chief target Milteer, he is not layered, or in depth enough. The editors could have helped make even more impact with his cogent and firsthand observations. As it stands, his more in depth points are confused and needlessly convoluted for such a relatively small book.
One of the things I looked forward to was an analysis of whether or not the images taken by Dealey Plaza photographers James Altgens and Chuck Bronson captured Milteer in Dealey Plaza that day. Adams didn't disappoint with regards to discussing this angle. What the book failed to do was (A) explore this avenue in more depth and (B) organize the chapter dealing with this subject in a concise and, dare I say, rational manner. Let us deal with (A) first. The debate about Milteer being in the crowd has been around for a very long time. Its patron has long been Bob Groden. Groden believes that a figure standing on Houston Street resembled Joseph Milteer. The allegation caused such a stir that even the House Select Committee on Assassinations became involved in examining the photographic evidence. They commented thusly:
The only available height record of Milteer gives his stature as 64 inches. This corresponds to about the seventh statural percentile of American males. That is, about 93 out of 100 adult American men would be taller than Milteer. Also, about 35 percent of adult American females would exceed Milteer's reported height. In contrast, the spectator alleged to be Milteer is taller than 4 of the 7 other males and all of the 16 females in the line of spectators shown in the motorcade photograph. Based upon Milteer's reported height, the probability of randomly selecting a group of Americans where so many are shorter than Milteer's reported height is .0000007. Moreover, an analysis based upon actual measurements of certain physical features shown in the photograph yields a height estimate for the spectator of about 70 inches — 6 inches taller than Milteer's reported stature. (HSCA Volume 6, pp. 242-257)
This is rather specious and unconvincing. Like Jim DiEugenio, I am an agnostic on the Milteer photographs myself, as I am for the majority of image identification taken that day e.g. Lucien Conein. But it still makes for a fascinating discussion, in particular when Adam's challenges the official height given for Milteer—he puts his height at about 5' 8”— as opposed to FBI reports at 5 ft 4 inches. Thus he single handedly brings into question the dubious height analysis of the HSCA's panel. But he could have done more here. The HSCA previously pointed out that the individual pictured has few of the matching characteristics of Milteer. Yet anyone who is knowledgeable nowadays knows how compromised the HSCA itself was when dealing with practically any type of physical evidence. In this regard, I would ask anyone to check out the embarrassing performance of Dr. Michael Baden who, as demonstrated by Pat Speer, detailed the head wound to an awaiting public, while continually using an upside down picture of the skull. Bob Groden and others have done some nicely presented photo comparisons over the years that have given the notion of the figure being Milteer a fighting chance. On the other hand, Jerry Rose, who did some excellent work on Milteer, reported that the suspect was not actually in Texas on that day. Unfortunately, this kind of analysis was not present in the book. Some thrust and counter thrust concerning the images would have made this an important and, dare I say, entertaining part of the story. Instead, it's very much an opportunity lost.
The Pristine Bullet: The Dangers of Nutters Lurking
Jim DiEugenio's interview with Len Osanic on the 590th Black Op Radio show was an eye opener. I learned that James Tague, the witness struck on the right cheek by a fragment or piece of concrete fired by an assassin’s bullet whilst standing by the overpass, had released a weighty book. While the title, "Survivor" was slightly melodramatic, Tague has long believed there had been a conspiracy that day. Nonetheless, a witness or somebody directly involved in resultant events often has no more insight than any researcher. Indeed, it’s sometimes worse because they are often out of touch with the ebbs and flows of new information, not to mention who and what is credible and what is not. Tague, clearly ignoring these problems, has a new book on the horizon and it details the evil mechanics behind the plot. Early reports indicate that Tague is essentially going with the questionable LBJ did it theorems discussed in a new article posted here, and on forums like Deep Politics and Lancer. This is terribly dangerous territory for any credible researcher to go down nowadays. And it exhibits the serious problems witnesses have when they go beyond the realms of their experience.
It has become clear to CTKA and places like the Deep Politics in particular, that there is quite clearly an abundance of disinformation gurus operating nowadays. And they insist, in large part on ignoring the discoveries of the ARRB (not to mention the type of significant research based on those discoveries respected by serious students of the case). And these people would be eager to get an endorsement from someone like Tague, or as it turns out an old hand, but new kid on the block, like Don Adams. Leading up to the 50th anniversary of the assassination and the danger is that these opportunists will try to grab the limelight in anyway possible by attaching themselves to people like Tague and Adams, and thereby discrediting them by association. This is not idle speculation, individuals like Gary Mack, John McAdams and others will seize upon ways to discredit Tague and Adams. An easy way to do this is if they are already in the arms of specious theories or researchers. Tague is a hugely valuable witness. He can be caricatured if he begins to spout specious information, about which he has no firsthand knowledge. While one senses that Tague may be a lost cause, Adams will hopefully avoid the pitfalls of this real danger. I truly hope he does not succumb to that beckoning siren for he too is a key witness, one from the inside, for next year.
While Adams is clear in his book that he does not see Johnson and Hoover being involved in the conspiracy to kill Kennedy, he does believe they were involved in an active cover up of the facts. Which is true. But he goes too far. He buys into the false idea that it was Johnson's idea to create the Warren Commission. This piece of folklore is dangerous as the bogus "Johnson in charge of the Commission" line that is often picked up and bandied about. Even though it is not true or accurate. Adams should have read Warren Commission authors like Gerald McKnight more carefully before penning such stuff.(See also,
Adams does buck that trend slightly by mentioning the admirable work of Jim Douglass in his estimable " JFK and the Unspeakable", and he does make mention of the up and down tome edited by Jim Fetzer, "Murder in Dealey Plaza". However, we also know that "High Treason" made an enormous impact on him. "High Treason" is a decent enough book. But like a lot of Adams’ seven books he discusses in Chapter Ten, “The Pristine Bullet”, his seven publications all date from well before the creation of the Assassination Records Review Board. And four of the titles are actually periodicals. Adams uses articles from Life" magazine from 1966, like the well thought out, but lukewarm “Did Oswald Act Alone?” He also uses the famous cover story, “A Matter of Reasonable Doubt” by Josiah Thompson, Dick Billings and Ed Kearns. He even uses the "Globe’s" article from 1991 entitled “Shocking Autopsy Photos Blow Lid of Kennedy Cover-Up”. If I were to list notable pre-ARRB material to read, my list would be substantially different. I say this not to lash out at Adams, but to point out that he needed to seriously reconsider bringing out a slightly more comprehensive and organized book, with more up to date research. Again, his editors should have helped guide him more. And perhaps have furnished him with a ghostwriter, one who knew more about the JFK case, and also the overall structure and behavior of the FBI at the time. This would have filled out the book more, and given it more depth, texture, nuance and professionalism. Don Adams’ story is an immensely pertinent one, and it deserved to be presented with first class furnishings.
For the faults I have noted. Adams is a key and welcome figure and the documents he presents show a number of problems for the "Oswald did it" hypothesis.
- The book shows how lax the reportage of threats to the President's life was via the FBI. There was no due diligence done on the Milteer threat.
- Additionally, it shows how inexperienced agents were given tough assignments, and then had their work hijacked by senior staffers and twisted for their own purposes.
- Many Special Agents down South were often sympathetic towards Southern right-wing targets like Milteer.
- The Bureau's forbidding Adams to ask any questions and cross check about where Milteer was that day went against basic FBI procedure. To my mind, this is the most valuable part of Adams book. It shows two things: (a) The FBI did not want to know anything about the possible involvement of Milteer with the JFK case, and (b) The Bureau had negated an crucial step in standard agent procedure, the step called by Bill Turner, “lead follow through”. This was not accidental and it had to be approved from on high.
Another important aspect of the book is the question of Milteer's role in the scheme of things. Oddly enough Harrison Livingstone deals with this question in an "Afterward" of sorts, and for me, Livingstone did it surprisingly well. My experience with Harry has been that some of his output of late has been often unreadable. But overall, his general work on the medical evidence has always been intriguing, and at times, valuable e.g. his 1995 book "Killing Kennedy". As mentioned before, his work with Bob Groden in "High Treason” is another high point of his efforts. Nonetheless, it's been an awful long time between drinks. Livingstone's well-reasoned final summation puts the onus on Milteer being something of a red herring by actually being an attractive diversion created by the perpetrators to soak up investigative time. Was Milteer privy to some undercurrents? Most definitely. Could he have been in Dealey Plaza that day after being fed disinformation that a bunch of "patriots" were going to "get" the President? If he were there it would certainly be in keeping with the use of decoys that day. Adams had real courage and integrity printing this viewpoint. All too often interesting peripheral figures become the focus of an author’s attention, like Milteer, in this instance, invariably makes them all-powerful figures central to or organizing a plot. Livingstone gives the book some perspective.
If utilized correctly, Don Adams’ book is a necessary first step for the man. Let us hope that come next year, he stays his own man and does not get grasped into the clutches of those who will not use him correctly. In this regard I hope he reads this review and spends some time going over the articles here at CTKA and viewing the discussions at places like the DPF and Lancer.