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Sunday, 13 April 2014 17:47

Robert Groden, Absolute Proof

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Bob Groden has been a true champion of the case for the public. He has devoted much of his adult life trying to show that the Warren Commission was nothing but a sham meant to conceal the true facts of Kennedy's death. His current book is a decidedly mixed bag of virtues and liabilities. But taken as a trilogy, his last three books form what is the best photo library available in book form on this case, writes Jim DiEugenio.


Robert Groden occupies a rather illustrious position in the research critical of the Warren Commission. First, he is undoubtedly one of the very foremost experts on the photographs and films in the JFK case. From the past, only people like the late Richard Sprague were in his league. Today, only say a Robin Unger, or Richard Trask can navigate in his territory. (See Unger's collection.)

Secondly, Groden was the man who began showing first class copies of the Zapruder film in the early seventies. This culminated in his appearance with Dick Gregory on national television in 1975. On an ABC program hosted by Geraldo Rivera, Groden first revealed to all of America what was on the Zapruder film. Images that Time-Life, Henry Luce, Clare Booth Luce and C. D. Jackson wanted to conceal from the public. Namely that President Kennedy's entire body rockets backward at Z frame 313, simultaneous with him getting struck in the head from what appears to be a projectile from the front. That signal event, which Gregory and Groden deserve much credit for, was largely responsible for creating a firestorm of controversy throughout the nation. That firestorm quickly led to the creation of the House Select Committee on Assassinations (HSCA). Groden served as chief photo consultant for the HSCA for its duration.

Groden was later a consultant for Oliver Stone on his film JFK. And then he served as a chief talking head on the TV series The Men Who Killed Kennedy. In 1993, at Abby Rockefeller's Harvard Conference, he showed the complete Zapruder film, i.e. with no frames missing. That convinced this reviewer that Kennedy was undoubtedly hit before he went behind the freeway sign. Which meant the shot could not have been fired by Oswald, since his vision was obstructed by the branches of an oak tree at that time.

Groden then moved to Dallas to set up shop to sell his wares in Dealey Plaza. He was a counterweight to the propaganda put out by Gary Mack and The Sixth Floor. Since then the Power Elite in Dallas has harassed him legally by ticketing him over 80 times and actually arresting him. They have not been able to make the charges stick. And Groden has a lawsuit pending against the city at this time. Groden is clearly a heroic figure in the cause of demonstrating the truth about the JFK murder to the public.

All of which makes me really wish I could like his new book, Absolute Proof, more. Undoubtedly, there are many good things in the oversized, profusely illustrated, coffee table type of book. And I will mention some of those good things in this review. But there are also some very questionable things in the book. Ultimately, the volume comes out as a very mixed bag.

I

Groden leads off his book with what is by now the hotly debated McCone-Rowley document. He does here what he did at the Cyril Wecht Conference in Pittsburgh in October. He states that he thinks it is a genuine document. Others, to put it mildly, disagree. For example, Gary Buell has done much good work on it. (See his blog.)

Besides the document itself, in that link, please note the fax from the National Archives to attorney Jim Lesar. It says that they the archivist checked and there is no such document listed in their index with that date or title on it. Secondly, a document with this kind of information in it, namely that Oswald was trained for espionage work by the CIA and the Navy, would not be classified as just Confidential. Which this is. Because that is the lowest security clearance. Something like the McCone-Rowley document would be classified with the highest security clearance. Which, to my knowledge, is Above Top Secret, For Yours Eyes Only. Third, as Oswald expert John Armstrong has pointed out to this reviewer, in paragraph five, where McCone tells Rowley that Oswald was at Camp Peary in September and October of 1958, Armstrong's files reveal this not to be the case. Oswald was in the Far East at that time. (E mail from Armstrong, February of 2014.)

In paragraph six, McCone seems to admit that certain agents of the CIA were involved in what he calls the "Dallas Action." This is incredible. First, why would McCone ever admit to this in writing? Second, as most observers of the CIA know, McCone was not an insider, or part of the Old Boys Network. He was Kennedy's personal appointee. The idea that those involved would either 1.) Tell him they were part of the plot, or 2.) Leave a trail that he could attribute it to them, that is, for this reviewer, kind of preposterous.

In paragraph 8, a real red flag leaps out. The document reads, "It is possible that Oswald, given his instability, might have been involved in some operation concerning Hoffa..." First, as an undercover agent, Oswald displayed little "instability". From what chroniclers of his intelligence career note, he basically did what he was told. Also, what on earth could be the operation against Hoffa? Why would the FBI or Justice Department need someone like Oswald to use against Jimmy Hoffa? This is so nonsensical that, in and of itself, it should lend a pall of suspicion across the document. Finally, there is the common problem with these suspect documents: there is really nothing in the document information wise which one can verify as being new. Which would have to be the case if McCone really had unearthed the genuine secret files on Oswald.

In his text, Groden states that this document first surfaced during the Church Committee investigation of the CIA and FBI in 1975. But if the reader clicks through to the discussion of the document on the Randi forum, one will see that it seems to have first appeared in that year also. Originating with a tabloid reporter named James L. Moore. In his book, Groden proffers a document from the Church Committee requesting information from the Secret Service. (p. 8) But there is no proof he produces to show that they sent back this particular document upon the Church Committee's request. In fact, that the Secret Service would do so seems quite far-fetched. Especially when one realizes the furor that the Church Committee created at the time e.g. with its exposure of the CIA-Mafia plots to kill Castro, and Frank Church calling the CIA an "out of control rogue elephant."

In light of all the countervailing evidence suggesting the document is ersatz, the author gets a bit strained when, on page 13, he relies on the McCone-Rowley document to knock down specific "lies and denials' about Oswald's ties to intelligence. It gets worse when he then relies for corroboration upon the famous story leaked by the Commission about Oswald having an FBI payroll number of 179. (p. 15) Since many people also suspect that story to be suspect.

But if the McCone-Rowley document is dubious, it also appears another piece of evidence Groden features near the beginning of the book is also suspect.

II

For at least the last 3-4 years Groden has trumpeted a new witness who he says gives Oswald an absolutely airtight alibi. This reviewer actually heard the author talk about this person at the COPA Conference in Dallas three years ago. He again discusses this witness in Chapter 2 of Absolute Proof. Here, he calls this witness Geraldine Reid.

He begins his discussion by saying that Mrs. Robert Reid, who the Warren Commission interviewed, was named Delores Reid. He then says there was a second Mrs. Reid who also worked on the second floor of the Texas School Book Depository and her name was Geraldine Reid. (Groden, p. 20) It is important to detail from his book the importance that Groden gives Geraldine Reid. He writes that the Commission "avoided mentioning this Mrs. Reid like the plague." Why? Because she was flown to Washington and interrogated by the Commission but her testimony "was so devastating to their preconceived conclusions of Oswald's guilt that they buried all references to her." (ibid) Referring to an interview he did with her, Groden writes, "I was threatened to keep my mouth shut, or else." He then says that the Commission tried to keep Geraldine a secret and concealed the fact there were actually two Mrs. Reids. He then quotes more fully from his interview with the second Mrs. Reid which took place before she passed away relatively recently.

There were some unusual circumstances to the interview Groden did with this woman. For instance, no tapes were permitted, and Groden was not allowed to refer to her testimony before she passed away. Reid told Groden that about one minute before the shots rang out, Oswald walked into the office on the second floor across from the snack room. He needed some change for the soda machine. He went to Geraldine and gave her a dollar and asked her for change. At that moment they both heard the sound of gunshots. But, oddly, neither of them said anything about the sounds. She continued giving him change and he walked toward the snack room. She concluded her story with, "That's the last time I saw him until he passed by me a few minutes later as he was leaving the building." (Groden, p. 21) By this time she had learned what happened and told him that Kennedy had been shot.

Groden then says he was introduced to Geraldine Reid and her story by a man names David Thiess, a former investigator for the Office of Naval Intelligence. Thiess told him he knew she had been interviewed by the Commission and they had suppressed her story and wiped her out of the record. But further, he had seen the concealed documents about her. Both Reid and Theiss died, Theiss as Absolute Proof was going to press. (ibid)

After the book was published, Richard Gilbride talked about the Geraldine Reid story at Greg Parker's fine forum, Reopen Kennedy Case. As the reader can see by reading this fascinating review of the facts, it appears that, to begin with, Groden got some of the details wrong. There was no Delores Reid working in the Depository Building. The Mrs. Robert Reid Groden refers to was first named Geraldean (at times spelled Jeraldean). And she passed away in 1973. So it turns out that there was no Geraldine Reid also, at least with his exact spelling.

What appears to have happened is that in an FBI report made on November 24th, a Mrs. Sanders talked about Geraldean Reid but the FBI agent incorrectly spelled it as "Geraldine". But the giveaway is that Sanders gave the agents the phone number of Mrs. Geraldine/Jeraldean Reid, a key point Groden apparently missed. So they were talking about the same person. Obviously, if this was the only Geraldean/Geraldine Reid at the Depository, and she died in 1973, then this could not be the person that Groden talked to several years ago, and who died relatively recently.

What appears to have happened here is that Mr. Theiss, who conveniently died right before the book came out, somehow concocted a hoax to play on the research community. This is a problem that has plagued the community since 1964. And Groden did not do the proper follow-up to prevent himself from falling for the phony "Geraldine Reid" playlet. We owe thanks to Greg Parker and the frequenters of his forum for correcting the record on this issue.

III

Groden also apparently believes in the phenomenon called Badgeman. (See p. 302. I had not really investigated this issue until the 50th anniversary. About a month after that MSM pig out, Oliver Stone got in contact with me and gave me a short list of items he wanted clarified in the wake of that singular and monumental orgy of denial. One of the items on his list was Badgeman. Therefore, I actually began to investigate Badge Man in earnest for the first time.

For the record, Badge Man first came to the limelight in a big way on Nigel Turner's original series The Men Who Killed Kennedy. The first go round for the now discredited Turner was broadcast in America in 1991. On that show, the soon to be turncoat Gary Mack, and the late Jack White greatly enlarged, enhanced and colorized an aspect of the famous Mary Moorman photograph which depicts the grassy knoll at the time of the fusillade in Dealey Plaza. After spending several days researching this image I wrote Mr. Stone a memo of about 1.5 pages. I will now excerpt from that memo since Groden accepts Badgeman as an image of a Dallas cop (or someone wearing the uniform)atop the knoll.

"The last matter you wanted me to look at was Badgeman. I am glad I did since I did not understand all of the problems with this image...it is not an easy matter to decipher.

First, there is a debate about where the Badgeman figure actually is. At first glance, it appears not to be behind the stockade fence, but behind the shorter retaining wall on the knoll, but not atop it.

If that is the case, then the problem is simple: How did no one see this guy if he is supposed to be doing what he is doing: shooting at Kennedy? Clearly, someone should have seen a policeman with a rifle there on the grass. The other problem is that when one sees the image here, the top part, head and shoulders, appear too small to be a normal sized person.

Because of these significant problems at this location – and it sure does seem to me to me to be the correct location – some have said that Badgeman is not really there. He is really behind the stockade fence. In other words, one must add depth perspective. But again, this creates problems. First of all, if one postulates this new position, its not where most observers, including me, think the actual shooting location was. I for one think the actual location was further down the fence, near the triple underpass. Where the fence juts out creating a kind of crease over a sewer grate. To me, that is the best position for an assassin on the stockade fence. This adjusted location for Badgeman is much more further down the knoll, toward the Depository, allowing for a more oblique angle. So much so that I am not sure if the "back and to the left" reaction, which was a keystone of your film, would apply.

Second, if one postulates this other position, then the problem of having him too small in the foreground now becomes reversed: for now the exposed portions appear much too large to be showing a above the fence line. Therefore, some defenders have provided explanations, like the man is standing on a car bumper further behind the fence.

Although Lee Bowers did not see what he testified to at this location, but the one further down, if someone had been on a car bumper, it would have been almost right in front of him here. Hard to believe Bowers did not see that.

It is a really complicated puzzle. Because of all the work done on Badgeman photographically by Jack White and Gary Mack, I agree the photo is suggestive. But I simply do not see how it can be viable with all these inherent problems attached to it."

Groden does not even begin to mention these problems with the image. He simply vouches for it as being genuine.

All of this seems to me to bring up another problem with the book, a lack of sources. Which would be acceptable if the prose was just descriptive of the pictures, and did not relate to any other information besides the photos. But such is not the case. For example, the author places the infamous Dan Rather/Walter Cronkite CBS special in 1966. It aired in 1967. (p. 84) In discussing the treatment of Kennedy at Parkland Hospital, the author says some people turned over the body and saw the back wound. (p. 142) Something like that needed to be profusely annotated. Its not. Apparently under the influence of Philip Nelson, Groden writes that it was Lyndon Johnson who ordered Kennedy's body to be removed from Parkland Hospital before an autopsy could be performed. (p. 145) Again, this needed to be annotated. Because much of the evidence says this was actually done by the Secret Service, on orders of the Kennedy entourage, e. g. Ken O'Donnell.

Groden also writes that the Harper Fragment, which many suspect was from the rear of Kennedy's skull, was found 54 feet to the left rear of the point of impact. (p. 159) Yet in the first FBI reports about the discovery of the fragment, the description attributed to the man who discovered it was that he found it 25 feet to the south of the limousine. Which puts the location to the front of the car. (See this map for the fragment location and the Badgeman height problem.)

In his discussion of the autopsy, Groden proclaims that Robert Knudsen actually took a second series of photographs of Kennedy's body. In my opinion, as I discussed in my review of Doug Horne's book Inside the ARRB, this simply overstates the evidence for forgery. Knudsen may have done this, but it is far from a proven case. (Groden p. 162) Groden also says that Lt. Commander Bruce Pitzer filmed the entire autopsy on 16 mm black and white film. He was working on an edit when he was murdered in his office on October 29, 1966. He then adds that "the murderer stole the film and it hasn't been seen since." (ibid, p. 301) It took Pitzer three years to edit an autopsy film? But beyond that, the men Groden relies upon for this version of the Pitzer story, Dan Marvin and Dennis David, have some credibility problems. No one has done more work on the Pitzer case than the estimable Allan Eaglesham. And his final essay on the subject reveals the problems with the testimony of these two men.

Then there are the problems with Groden's macro view of the conspiracy. He writes that Carlos Marcello was part of the CIA/Mafia plots to kill Castro. (p. 199) Not according to the Church Committee. This was actually added on later by Dan Moldea, a source I would avoid at almost all costs. Groden then writes like Bob Blakey and says that Oswald and Guy Banister were being supervised by Marcello in the summer of 1963. He offers no proof of this, and this reviewer, who has done much work on New Orleans, believe its balderdash.

After this, the author now turns to Dallas. Groden buys into the whole Murchison ranch assassination party scenario. (pgs. 201-02) And he buys into the most extreme versions, that is as rendered by LBJ did it zealots like Harrison Livingstone and Barr McClellan. That is he puts J. Edgar Hoover, Richard Nixon, H. L. Hunt and John McCloy in the midst of the festivities. Along, of course, with LBJ's oh so late arrival. This is all recycled by these authors through none other than Madeleine Brown. And Groden adds that Brown's son, Steven, was LBJ's offspring. Yet, he does not reveal that mother and son waited until after LBJ was dead for 14 years to sue Lady Bird Johnson. (Dallas Morning News, June 19, 1987) That case was dismissed when Steven failed to show in court.

But years before that, Madeleine and Steven sued another man, lawyer Jerome Ragsdale, on the same charge: that Ragsdale was Steven's father. Question: What is the worth of a witness like this? Who when the first lawsuit failed, which it did, then sues a "second" father and now begins to talk about the second father's role in the Kennedy murder. I would say, it's not worth very much at all. And we should not be dealing with such tales today.

IV

As I said, there are good things in the book. Groden was the first to demonstrate--with photos of witnesses indicating the rear of the skull--where they saw a blasted out hole in the back of Kennedy's head. That is in this book also. Except the author actually extends the number of medical witnesses who say they saw this phenomenon. One which would be impossible if the Warren Commission was correct. These photos of witnesses pointing to the rear of the skull extend from page 149 of the book to page 155. Groden snapped pictures of over 20 of them who saw this damage to the back of Kennedy's skull. He then uses testimony of some witnesses he could not actually photograph, like Nurse Diana Bowron. Instead he uses a sketch by Bowron of the back of Kennedy's head. She then wrote that she saw a large wound in the lower right quadrant. She said it was so large she could almost put her fist through it. (p. 152) Another example of testimony used by the author are the words of Petty Officer Chester Moyers at Bethesda Hospital. He said, to the HSCA, that he saw a massive wound of the dimensions of 3 inches by 3 inches in the rear of the head. (p. 156) All in all, the author has collected the testimony of close to 80 witnesses in this regard. Undoubtedly, some skeptics will question some of these people e.g. Jim Tague. But the overwhelming majority of these witnesses seem to me to be credible. When one combines this work with that of Dr. Gary Aguilar on the declassified HSCA depositions on the matter, then the evidence for this gaping rear hole in the rear skull seems to me to be simply overwhelming. This might be the strongest part of the book and the most relevant to the case.

Groden is a traditionalist in his method of deconstructing the Single Bullet Theory. That is, instead of arguing the provenance of CE 399, he relies on the absurdities of the trajectory analysis. Here he adds in a piece of evidence that is very often absent from the debate: the clothing of Governor John Connally. The entrance hole in the back is way to the right of the jacket, it actually seems beyond the shoulder seam. While the exit is well below the lapel in the front. But further, the author couples these with the Arlen Specter/FBI reconstruction of the motorcade. Clearly, someone told the lawyer about the true location of the back wound, since it was marked well below the president's jacket collar. (p. 146) And the wound to the extreme right of Connally's jacket is also marked accurately. Therefore, the question becomes: How did a bullet traveling from right to left hit Kennedy near the middle of the back, slightly to the right of the midline, and then emerge going rightward all the way over to the outside of Connally's right shoulder? Connally's comments to Groden about this is quotable. He told the author that the SBT was "absolutely ridiculous". (p. 147)

Today's excuse for this bizarre flight path is the Bugliosi/Dale Myers concoction of Connally sitting inward of Kennedy by six inches. That was pretty much vitiated by Pat Speer when he got the limousine schematic diagram which explicitly showed that the jump seat in front of Kennedy was only 2.5 inches inward from the door. But Groden here goes beyond that. Through a series of photos taken throughout the motorcade, some by Dave Powers who was traveling just behind Kennedy, he shows that Kennedy and Connally were pretty much lined up in tandem to each other. And any discrepancy between the two was pretty minimal. Certainly not enough to account for the bizarre flight path outlined above. (See the photos and discussion on pages 38, 47-48, p. 249 and on pgs. 255-56. This last series of photos seem to me to be quite convincing.)

Continuing with the medical and ballistics evidence, Groden shows the document which states that there was an FBI receipt for a missile recovered from JFK at the autopsy. (p. 86) He also displays a newspaper article I had never seen before. Here, Dr. George Burkley, the White House doctor, said Kennedy died of a bullet wound in the right temple. (ibid) This was from the Chicago Daily News of November 22, 1963.

Concerning the SBT, Groden also notes that Dr. Jim Humes wrote notes from messages he got from Parkland Hospital about the diameter of the throat wound as seen by Dr. Malcolm Perry in Dallas. Those notes say the wound was 3-5 mm. (p. 86) Which, if the Warren Commission was right, make the exit wound smaller than the entrance wound in the back. If so, this was pretty much unheard of prior to the Kennedy assassination.

In more than one place throughout the book, the author shows blown up photos of Kennedy's back wound. (See pgs. 91, 97-99, p. 144) He makes an interesting argument that 1.) The actual pictures appear to show two wounds, and 2.) The HSCA doctored the original photos in their artistic renditions to show only one wound. Groden argues that the hole on top is an exit wound from the shot to the throat. The hole below it, by about 1.5 inches, is the entrance wound in the back. Groden adds that Humes took the projectile out of this wound and it's the "missile receipt" mentioned above. I must say, Groden's photos are so large and clear that this argument, which I had never really encountered before, has some cogency to it.

The author has always maintained that certain photos and frames from the Zapruder film do show a hole in the back of Kennedy's skull. He does that here again with an extreme blow up of the Mary Moorman photograph. And it does seem to show some kind of cavity in the back of Kennedy 's head during the shooting sequence. (p. 179)

Groden has always been a believer in the acoustics evidence. This was a dictabelt motorcycle tape recording made in Dealey Plaza, supposedly of the shots ringing out. Professor Don Thomas gave the acoustics evidence some ballast when he published a peer reviewed paper supporting that evidence. Since then Thomas has jousted with critics of his work several times. By any objective means, he has defended himself adequately. Groden brings up the argument that if one buys the acoustics evidence, the shots are arranged too close together to be fired by Oswald. The time interim separating two of the shots is 1.7 seconds. Yet, when the FBI tested the rifle, it took them 2.3 seconds to recycle the weapon. (p. 82)

In relation to this point, Groden prints an FBI document from the day of the murder. It was from the agent in charge in Dallas, Gordon Shanklin. This document clearly implies that Shanklin is referring to two separate bullets which struck Kennedy and Connally. It was written before the cover story about the SBT had been enacted. (p. 253)

Furthering this quandary about the ballistics evidence, Groden chimes in on the debate begun by Noel Twyman concerning just how many shells and live rounds were found by the Dallas Police on the sixth floor of the Texas School Bok Depository. Through the work of Allan Eaglesham and his interviews with photographer Tom Alyea, we know that the crime scene as depicted in the Warren Commission photos was made up after the fact. It does not show what was really there in the early minutes after the shooting. (Destiny Betrayed, Second Edition, by James DiEugenio, p. 343) Groden devotes three pages to this issue. (Groden, pgs. 273-75) He features five photos and five documents. He makes a rather interesting case that there were two spent rounds and one live round found on the sixth floor, not three shells. For this author, this point has become an issue of real and vital contention in the evidentiary record.

Another good point Groden makes is about he configuration of witnesses in Dealey Plaza, and which way they ran once the shots were heard. Propagandists like John McAdams and Dave Reitzes try to say that there really was not much of a difference between the number of witnesses who heard shots from the grassy knoll, and those who heard them from behind the president. But the problem with this is that the FBI never made a systematic attempt to track down each and every witness in Dealey Plaza and elicit their best recollection about the direction and number of the shots. Clearly, what J. Edgar Hoover and the Warren Commission did was to cherry pick the witnesses who testified before the Commission in order to cover up what the real ear witness testimony would have been. Because, as Groden shows in his book, and as he did in Black Op Radio's 50 Reasons for 50 Years segment, is that the vast majority of witnesses ran to the grassy knoll area once they heard the shots ring out. And it does not seem to even be really close in number to those who ran to points behind the limousine. (See the photos from pgs. 68-75)

There are also good things in the book about the media. Groden touches on the relationship between Bill Paley of CBS and the CIA. And he especially hones in on the recent wave of dubious documentaries (which should actually be called mockumentaries) on cable television, e.g. the Discovery Channel .

As I said, Bob Groden has been a true champion of the case for the public. He has devoted much of his adult life trying to show that the Warren Commission was nothing but a sham meant to conceal the true facts of Kennedy's death. His current book is a decidedly mixed bag of virtues and liabilities. But taken as a trilogy, his last three books – this one, The Killing of a President, and The Search for Lee Harvey Oswald – form what is the best photo library available in book form on this case. Although this volume, as demonstrated above, is not up to the standard of the previous two, the series as a whole is very much worth having.

Last modified on Wednesday, 02 November 2016 22:25
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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