William Turner passed away a few days ago. The brief obituary in our news section at the right does not do his writing career justice. So let us elaborate a bit on his achievements.
Bill Turner was originally an FBI agent. He decided to break from the FBI and began to write letters to certain congressmen complaining about certain practices by Director J. Edgar Hoover; e.g., his failure to go after, or even recognize, the Mob’s influence in America. For this, he was drummed out of the Bureau.
Thus began his writing career. One of the first notable books he wrote was called Hoover’s FBI. According to Bill, he had a hard time publishing this volume. He later found out the reason. It was that the Bureau, specifically Cartha DeLoach, had visited the publishing houses it was at and discouraged them from releasing it. When it appeared, it was one of the first major assaults on Hoover’s credibility and the Bureau’s reputation.
Turner also wrote The Police Establishment, and Power on the Right. These volumes, especially the latter, finely examined two bastions of the establishment that few writers wanted to tangle with. But Turner did; and he showed how pernicious both groups were.
The latter book came out of some research Turner did for the late, great Ramparts magazine. And make no mistake, Ramparts was the last great glossy magazine this country ever had. Along with Art Kunkin’s tabloid newspaper, the LA Free Press, it formed the pinnacle of American journalism in the sixties and early seventies.
But not only were these two periodicals journalistically exceptional, they both had large circulations.
Therefore, they were difficult for the establishment to ignore. In fact, as investigative journalist Angus McKenzie later discovered, Ramparts was a big worry for the CIA, because editor Warren Hinckle was not afraid of exposing covert operations, like the Agency’s infiltration of the National Students Association. And Hinckle was a fierce critic of America’s growing involvement in the Vietnam War. (For a riveting chronicle of the halcyon days of this magnificent magazine, see Hinckle’s beautifully written memoir, If You Have a Lemon Make Lemonade.) Angus McKenzie, who was stricken and died of cancer at the young age of 54, posthumously published his book called Secrets. There he revealed that the CIA’s covert operation MH CHAOS began as a way of monitoring and infiltrating the underground press, specifically Ramparts. Later, as Lisa Pease and myself were editing and publishing Probe Magazine, a subscriber sent us documents revealing the names of two infiltrators into Ramparts.
As Hinckle notes in his book, Ramparts was also not afraid to address the assassinations of the sixties. And since, at its peak, it had a circulation of 250,000 and was sold on newsstands all over America, those stories reached a lot of people. In January of 1967, Hinckle published a disturbing, well-documented essay by David Welsh and David Lifton entitled, “The Case for Three Assassins”. That memorable essay began with this sentence, “No less than three gunmen fired on the presidential motorcade in Dallas on November 22, 1963….” One can imagine why the CIA would be upset. I mean, they had to realize that over 250,000 Americans per month were reading this incendiary stuff.
But what must have disturbed the Agency even more was this: Ramparts was actually covering the investigation of Jim Garrison in New Orleans. Further, unlike the hatchet jobs unleashed by the MSM, Hinckle was treating that inquiry fairly and objectively. In the space of seven months, Hinckle had published two long articles about Garrison, one in June of 1967, and the other in January of 1968. Bill Turner wrote them both.
Off of these articles, Turner had become an investigator for Garrison. They were two of the very few objective pieces written in any print media about the DA. For as Hinckle wrote about Garrison in his book, “…no man I have known had more legitimate reasons to become paranoid than Garrison; there actually were people constantly plotting against him.” (p. 209) Covering Garrison fairly was not a popular decision inside the magazine. For as Hinckle notes, there were people firmly opposed to delving into the JFK case, e.g. Bob Scheer. (Turner once told me that Scheer called his JFK investigations a form of mental masturbation.)
But both Hinckle and Turner viewed it differently. Hinckle saw the sudden outburst of a re-investigation into the Warren Commission’s tenets as “an extraordinary phenomenon of an extraordinary decade.” (p. 215) But also, Hinckle had read the Warren Report and most of the volumes. He called it “impossible to believe.” He then added that anyone could see that the Commission was not out to uncover the truth about Kennedy’s murder. But to deliver a syringe of amnesia medication to the collective conscience of America. (ibid, p. 217) Or to put it another way, the Commission was the equivalent of Leslie Nielson in one of the “Naked Gun” films reciting the mantra: “Nothing to see here, run along.” As explosion after explosion is taking place in the warehouse behind him.
Turner was already familiar with that terrain. He told me that a couple of years after the assassination, Saga asked him to do an article on the JFK case. As a former FBI man, he talked to some of the agents who worked on the case. They also managed to smuggle some documents to him. After looking at these, Turner came to the conclusion that someone in a high position had deliberately short-circuited the FBI inquiry into the JFK case. As he explained to me in the living room of his Marin County, San Rafael home, there were three steps in each FBI inquiry. These were:
- The collection of all relevant leads,
- The following out of all leads to their final conclusion, and
- The collation of this information into a comprehensive report.
Turner said, obviously, you could not do step three if step two was aborted. And that is what he concluded had happened from talking to these agents and looking at their documents. (James DiEugenio, Reclaiming Parkland, p. 219)
As a result of their mutual efforts and beliefs, in 1981, Hinckle and Turner wrote a good book pertaining to the JFK case from the Cuban exile angle. It was called The Fish is Red. This was, in large part, based on information that Turner had uncovered as an investigator for Jim Garrison. That volume was later updated and reissued in 1992 as Deadly Secrets. That reissue was timed for the release of Oliver Stone’s film JFK, which was based on Jim Garrison’s book, On the Trail of the Assassins. Later on, Turner published his career memoir entitled Rearview Mirror, which devotes a long section to his service as an investigator for Garrison.
But in spite of all the above, in this author’s view, Turner should be most remembered for the book he co-wrote with Jonn Christian on the Bobby Kennedy assassination. It is called simply, The Assassination of Robert F. Kennedy. Originally issued in 1978, it was republished twice: once in 1993 and once in 2006. In my opinion, it remains the best book ever written on that case. And it will likely remain so until Lisa Pease’s long awaited and much anticipated volume is published.
A division of Random House originally issued that book. It was commissioned by illustrious editor Jason Epstein, with the encouragement of Vincent Bugliosi, who figures in the narrative. This book, perhaps more than any other, exhibits what a good writer Turner was. It is not only enlightening, but also a pleasure to read. In fact, Epstein insisted that Turner write every paragraph of the book., since he did not trust Christian’s judgment. I know this for a fact since Turner showed me the memos between him and Epstein. When Christian tried to get in a chapter on his own, Epstein immediately recognized it and said it had to be rewritten.
That book is a milestone in the field. It was so compelling that, in a power struggle at Random House between Epstein and Robert Loomis—which Epstein lost—it was withdrawn and pulped. For, several years earlier, Loomis had brought out Robert Houghton’s official LAPD statement on the RFK case, Special Unit Senator. Which the later book completely harpooned.
On the occasion of Bill Turner’s death, I can think of no better compliment to his spirit than to read that book.