Thursday, 06 April 2017 21:20

Carmine Savastano, Two Princes and a King

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Continuing in the direction marked out by The Assassinations (2003), this book is the latest contribution toward an interpretation of the assassinations of JFK, MLK and RFK not as isolated incidents but as related to each other.  Savastano has designed the book as something of a primer, a way of getting the lay person interested in all three of these momentous murders, writes Jim DiEugenio.


savastano leaderWay back in 2003, Lisa Pease and myself co-authored and co-edited an anthology volume entitled The Assassinations: Probe Magazine on JFK, MLK, RFK and Malcolm X. The title is a bit misleading, because not all the essays in the book came from Probe. Four essays and the Afterword were new and were written for that volume. I was quite pleased with the book, for two reasons. First, it was unique in the sense that it covered all four assassinations. Second, the work was distinguished in both its quality, and its originality, since much of the book was based on new information.

But third, as I wrote in the Afterword, we hoped that the book provided a new prism to look at those cases. Because Lisa and I thought it was wrong to survey them only as individual incidents. They were related to each other. Especially in their cumulative impact. First, the fact that the perpetrators got away with the JFK case made it easier to contemplate the other murders. Secondly, when the slaughter was complete, what constituted the liberal left in this country was pretty much politically finished. In fact, I would argue that it has not recovered since, even though Bernie Sanders managed to stir some of the embers in 2016.

As I hoped, the book seemed to influence some in the research community. Larry Hancock began writing on both the Robert Kennedy and the Martin Luther King cases. In 2008, Cyril Wecht’s 45th symposium at Duquesne was about JFK, MLK and Bobby Kennedy. The late John Judge began to sponsor conferences in both LA and Memphis under the COPA banner for, respectively, the Bobby Kennedy case and the King case. He even sponsored one for Malcolm X. (Click here to view it) I am gratified this happened. And I hope that ripple grows and prospers. Because I believe that is one way this polarized, and psychologically crippled nation can understand why it has ended up as it has.

Carmine Savastano is the latest person who has tried to ramp up that ripple into a wave. His memorably titled book, Two Princes and a King, surveys the JFK, MLK and RFK assassinations. Quite naturally, he takes the murders up in chronological order. He tries to deal with them in a systematic way, fitting them into a formalistic analysis of which forces were involved in each. The broad outlines of these forces he groups under four rubrics. These are, an Underworld Arm, i.e., organized crime elements; an Officials Arm, that is, elected officials who suppressed evidence; a military intelligence arm, which is self-explanatory; and finally, The Conspirators, that is, the actual operatives involved in the murders. As we shall see, this framework does not work out that well for him.


II

Quite naturally, he begins the book with a discussion of the JFK case. He first examines what he terms the underworld aspects of the crime. Like others before him, he notes the increase in prosecutions against organized crime during the Kennedy administration. In certain categories the percentage increase was simply spectacular. Attorney General Robert Kennedy had gathered all the resources in his office to battle the Mob as no one had previously.

But he then makes a curious statement. He says that the Warren Commission failed to discover plausible connections between Oswald and Mafia Don Carlos Marcello. (See p. 26: all references are to the E-book edition.) To my knowledge, the Warren Commission never even investigated this aspect, so of course they would not discover them. He then makes another curious statement. He says that both the Eisenhower and Kennedy administrations used the Mob to attempt to kill Castro. (ibid) As I, and many others, have stated, this is simply not backed up by any credible evidence. In fact, the two most lengthy and authoritative examinations of the matter both concluded that the CIA started the actions and continued them. The two examinations I refer to are the Senate’s Church Committee inquiry, and the CIA’s Inspector General report. (See The Assassinations, pp. 327-30)

The author continues in this vein by noting that two of the three Mob leaders the CIA cooperated with on the plots to kill Castro—Sam Giancana and John Roselli—ended up murdered on the eve of the formation of the House Select Committee on Assassinations. He then spends some time on the figure of Richard Cain, Giancana’s undercover agent in the Chicago Police Department. Cain was eventually fired from the department and moved to Mexico. He turned informant for the FBI and CIA, but neither thought his information was high quality, especially the latter. For example, according to Larry Hancock, Cain tried to say Oswald was in Chicago plotting to kill Kennedy in April of 1963, and that the alleged assassin actually bought a rifle there at the time. (Hancock, Someone Would Have Talked, 2006 edition, p. 13) Rumors about Cain’s involvement in the JFK assassination are undermined by his son’s research in his 2008 book entitled The Tangled Web. That book uses a credible eyewitness to place Cain at the Cook County Court House on the day of Kennedy’s murder. (Click here for a brief biography of Cain)

From here, the author goes into a concise version of how Meyer Lansky, Lucky Luciano and Santo Trafficante originally schemed to open up casinos and brothels in Cuba under the dictator Fulgencio Batista. He also notes how Lansky, Luciano and Bugsy Siegel first originated an assassination enforcement arm, which later turned into Murder, Incorporated. (Savastano, pp. 29-30)

This background becomes the author’s way to introduce the character of Jack Ruby. Like Cain, Ruby was a virtual insider with the Dallas Police (although Savastano understates how many cops Ruby actually knew.) Like Cain, he was also an FBI informant. Ruby idolized the gambler and Trafficante colleague Lewis McWillie. And there was also the relationship between Ruby and the local Campisi brothers in Dallas. The Campisis reportedly took command of Mob operations in Dallas after Joe Civello died in 1970. Civello attended the famous Apalachin national Mafia meeting in New York in 1957. Ruby had dinner at the Campisi restaurant the night before the assassination. And Joe Campisi was one of the first to visit Ruby in jail after he killed Oswald. (ibid, p. 33)

From his overview of the Mob, the author segues to some of the failures of the Secret service in the JFK case. He briefly mentions the Chicago plot and Secret Service agent Abraham Bolden, and he couples this with the destruction of the 1963 Secret Service files before the Assassination Records Review Board could see them. (ibid, pp. 36-37) He also specifically mentions the incident of several Secret Service agents drinking and partying until 3 AM at The Cellar nightclub in Dallas the evening before Kennedy was killed. These and other failures he notes made it easier for the plotters to succeed.

Jumping to the performance of the FBI, Savastano states that the Warren Commission relied upon the honesty and efficacy of the FBI for its inquiry. That trust was misplaced, and this seriously compromised the Commission’s work. (p. 41) He elaborates on this by adding that the reason for this may have been due to a relationship between the Bureau and Oswald. And here he does a brief summary of that relationship and the paper record that exists concerning Oswald and the FBI. This extends at least as far back as Oswald’s defection to the USSR. He also notes that there were no reports filed with the Warren Commission on Oswald from FBI agents Regis Kennedy or Warren DeBrueys. Which, if accurate, is odd since those two men were on the anti-Castro beat in New Orleans in 1963. (ibid, p. 45)

In his discussion of the LBJ angle, his most interesting comment is a quote from Johnson assistant Marvin Watson. He quotes Watson as saying, “…the President had told him in an off moment that he was convinced that there was a plot in connection with the assassination. The president felt the CIA had had something to do with that plot.” (ibid, p. 50) He then discusses the Billy Sol Estes/Mac Wallace angle and concludes that both men were too close to Johnson for him to contemplate employing them to kill Kennedy.

In his discussion of the Warren Commission, Savastano makes a couple of dubious statements. He first says that CIA Director Allen Dulles was not actually fired by Kennedy. He resigned. This many be a matter of semantics on the author’s part. In every discussion I have read about this issue, including Howard Hunt’s in his book Give Us this Day, after two reports on the Bay of Pigs were submitted to the White House, Kennedy requested that Dulles resign. In other words Dulles was forced out. (See Hunt, p. 215) In James Srodes’ rather sympathetic biography of Dulles, he quotes the spymaster himself as saying he learned he had been fired through national security assistant Walt Rostow. (p. 547)

The other dubious statement Savastano makes here is that somehow Robert Kennedy was responsible for appointing Dulles to the Warren Commission. This is something that Philip Shenon was pushing over a year ago. And that Robert Caro also advocated in his disappointing book about Johnson and Kennedy, The Passage of Power. As I wrote in my review of that book, it was Bobby Kennedy who was most responsible for getting Dulles removed in the first place. Because he was his brother’s personal representative in the White House review of the Bay of Pigs debacle. And, in fact, RFK was so upset with what he learned about Dulles’ duplicity during the Bay of Pigs that he then requested of Secretary of State Dean Rusk that he also fire his sister Eleanor who worked at State. The reason being that RFK did not want any of the Dulles family around anymore. (Leonard Mosley, Dulles, p. 473) Further, as David Talbot writes in his book The Devil’s Chessboard, it was Dulles who lobbied the White House to get on the Commission. (Talbot, pp. 573-74)

To argue the contrary, Shenon had used a memo from November 29, 1963 written by LBJ crony Walter Jenkins. The memo said that Abe Fortas had talked to Nicolas Katzenbach at Justice and he had talked to RFK about Dulles. The problem with this memo is that it bears a time stamp saying it was entered into the system in April of 1965! Which is 18 months past the date it should have been entered. Way past the issuance of the Warren Report and past LBJ’s discussions with Warren Commissioner Richard Russell explaining how neither man believed the Single Bullet Theory. As lawyers like Dan Hardway have stated, this document could never be entered into a legal hearing. (Click here for a full review of the issue )

By saying Dulles resigned of his own volition and that Bobby Kennedy actually proffered the idea of putting him on the Warren Commission, Savastano minimizes the facts that Dulles wanted to be on the Commission, he then became the single most active member of the investigative body, that he was very much involved in its many blunders that led to its mistaken conclusions. And then after its errors were exposed, he, along with Gerald Ford, became its two most stalwart defenders. (Talbot, op. cit., pp. 588-92) One cannot say all these things about any other member of that ill-fated body.


III

The author sidelights briefly into Nixon and Watergate in an effort to show how the JFK case managed to spill over into other presidencies. He states that Nixon wanted all files on the JFK case from the CIA. (Savastano, p. 64) This may be based on the famous anecdote by H. R. Haldeman in his book The Ends of Power. There, Haldeman was trying to get Director Dick Helms to aid the White House by taking  part in the  Watergate cover-up.  When Helms hesitated, Haldeman was instructed to allude that this may trace back to the Bay of Pigs invasion.  When Helms came unglued, Haldeman took his reaction to mean that Nixon was using the Bay of Pigs as code for the Kennedy assassination.

Yet, because of further, and belated, declassification of the Nixon tapes, it appears that it was Inspector General Lyman Kirkpatrick’s report on the Bay of Pigs operation that Nixon wanted. In Stanley Kutler’s book, Abuse of Power, he features a transcription of a tape of July 1, 1971. There, Nixon states that he wanted papers on the Missile Crisis and the Bay of Pigs. But he then adds, “these are the things that will embarrass the creeps.” Charles Colson then chimes in by saying that maybe Nixon should hire Howard Hunt, his fellow alumnus from Brown University. Because Hunt told Colson that if the truth about the Bay of Pigs were ever known it would destroy Kennedy. So the implication of the conversation is that this is an extension of Nixon’s ever enduring obsession for, and envy of, Kennedy. President Nixon was trying to dig up faults in JFK’s stewardship of Operation Zapata.

But what actually appears to be the case here is that Helms knew something that neither Hunt nor Nixon knew. Namely that Kirkpatrick’s report does not make Kennedy look bad. It makes the CIA look bad—in several different ways. Even on the issue of the so-called cancellation of the D-Day air strikes. In fact, Kirkpatrick’s report was so coruscating toward the Agency that the CIA resisted declassification for decades. And they did not release it until the nineties. (Today it is available in book form, edited by Peter Kornbluh under the title of Bay of Pigs, Declassified.)

Savastano’s other comments about Helms seem cogent and accurate. Nixon did ask Helms to pay hush money to Hunt, which the Director refused to do. Therefore, the White House did so through Nixon lawyer Herbert Kalmbach. And Nixon did request that Helms provide a false cover for illegal money going through Nixon’s campaign and to the Watergate burglars. Helms agreed to do this, but about ten days later changed his mind on it. From this, the author then postulates that maybe Hunt was actually a CIA asset who guaranteed the Watergate burglary would fail and then blow up in Nixon’s face. (Savastano, p. 64) Which is a view that more than one noted author has advocated for, e.g., Jim Hougan in his classic book Secret Agenda. In fact, the minority counsel for the Senate Watergate committee, Fred Thompson, also believed this to be the case. (See Thompson’s 1975 book entitled At That Point in Time.)

Savastano mentions the famous memo where the CIA admitted they had pulled 37 documents from Oswald’s file before the HSCA reviewed it. (p. 88) And from this and other points, he concludes that he CIA has lied repeatedly about what was in the Oswald file and what is missing from it. Which relates to Oswald, the CIA and Mexico City. The author mentions the fact that the Mystery Man photos sent to CIA HQ and given to the Warren Commission are clearly not of Oswald. And that the voice sent up by the CIA Mexico City station, allegedly of Oswald’s phone calls, are not of Oswald. He also properly scores the deception that the tapes disappeared within days of the assassination. Simply not true. He even notes that there is evidence in the Lopez Report that CIA station chief Winston Scott did not think the voice on the tapes was Oswald’s. (Savastano, p. 94) He then concludes that ultimately there is no credible evidence that Oswald was at either the Cuban or Russian consulate. (ibid, p. 95) And further, Scott likely knew who the Mystery Man really was, one Yuri Moskalev, a KGB agent under diplomatic cover. (ibid, p. 97) The author concludes that the reason there is so much confusion and misunderstanding about Mexico City is not due the researchers, but because of the CIA.

The next major section of the book deals with the more obvious indications of a conspiracy. Here, the author leads off with the impersonations of Oswald in the fall of 1963, a prominent example being the Homer and Sterling Wood alleged sighting at the Sports Drome Gun Range in Fort Worth. On November 17th, a man began firing at the target next to the Woods in a very accurate manner. When Oswald’s picture showed up on TV on the 22nd, both men thought he was the man shooting at the rifle range. (p. 101) The author then notes the HSCA report stating that the box arrangement changed in the sixth floor window within minutes after the assassination. This could not have been done by Oswald, of course, since, according to the Warren Commission, he was tearing down the stairs after the shooting. Then there are the problems with the fingerprints, which even the Warren Commission had problems with. There was no indication of prints found on the rifle before it was sent to the FBI on the night of the assassination. And Sebastian Latona found none of value at FBI headquarters. A palm print turned up after the rifle was returned to Dallas. (p. 108)

From here the author goes to the autopsy evidence. He quotes photographer John Stringer as telling Jeremy Gunn of the ARRB that photos were missing from the inventory. The author then adds that Stringer said the photos of the brain are not accurate. (p. 122) Which actually understates what the witness said. Stringer actually denied he took those photos. He based this on the fact that he never used the film they were shot with, nor the technique that was used to take them. (James DiEugenio, Reclaiming Parkland, p. 164) This, and a myriad of other evidence—some of which the author mentions—strongly indicates that the brain photographs at the National Archives are not a representation of Kennedy’s brain.

There are a couple of faults in this section that I should mention. The author writes that the covered-up scandal during the HSCA about a CIA liaison tinkering with the autopsy photos was done independently of the Agency. The liaison’s name was Regis Blahut. It was discovered that the safe holding the photo was open, some of the pictures were removed, and one was actually taken out of its sleeve. A guard discovered the missing notebook on a windowsill. Blahut was interviewed three times and it was evident to even HSCA chief counsel Robert Blakey that he was lying. The CIA refused to give the HSCA Blahut’s Office of Security file, which may have revealed if he was part of an operation. Blakey, when given four options, then picked the CIA to do its own investigation of the affair. Blahut still flunked three polygraph examinations. But this aspect was kept hushed up by Blakey. Even members of the HSCA, like Richardson Preyer, were not aware of it. Predictably, even amid all of Blahut’s deceptions, the CIA acquitted itself of any broad design against the committee. (The Assassinations, edited by James DiEugenio and Lisa Pease, pp.85-87)

That secret verdict survived for about a year, until it was leaked to George Lardner of the Washington Post. His story created such a furor that the House intelligence committee decided to open a reinvestigation. They found out, among other things, that the Inspector General did not do the CIA inquiry, the Office of Security did. They also found out that Blahut left the room with the photos. And that when Blahut was called in for his first questioning, he was waiting for a call from the CIA. That committee found that Blahut was part of an undercover program codenamed MH/Child. (Washington Post, June 28, 1979, p. A6)

In referencing people who he considers as unreliable sources, the author groups James Files and Judy Baker with Gordon Novel. I agree that the first two are not reliable. But such is not the case with the late Gordon Novel.

There are major differences between him and the other two. First, as Paris Flammonde showed in his book The Kennedy Conspiracy, Novel really did work for the CIA during the preparations for the Bay of Pigs. As Lisa Pease then demonstrated in a three part series for Probe Magazine, his knowledge about that ill-fated project was informed by his experiences through the offices of Guy Banister. The infamous Houma heist, where Novel raided an arms bunker on a Schlumberger lot north of New Orleans and transported the Interarmco munitions back to, among other places, Banister’s office, is corroborated by the other participants in the raid. (James DiEugenio, Destiny Betrayed, Second Edition, p. 106) When Novel attempted to infiltrate Garrison’s office and was later found out, his odyssey afterwards was sanctioned by the CIA. There are several indications of this. One is the fact that his four attorneys were being, as he said, “clandestinely remunerated”. They had to be since Novel was not working at the time. To take another aspect, this reviewer has it from an on-the-scene witness that Novel was ultimately safe-housed in Columbus, Ohio. And that house was being electronically surveilled. (ibid, pp. 262-63) Finally, Novel was handsomely reimbursed for his efforts against Garrison. (ibid, p. 311) The startling aspect of Novel’s information is that the things he was writing about in 1977 were still being borne out by declassified documents well into the nineties. For example, about the CIA concealing Clay Shaw’s true Agency status from the public and JFK investigative bodies. (See Joan Mellen, Our Man in Haiti, pp. 54-55)

I should add that in this section, the author makes another questionable statement. He writes that there is no proof of Oswald being an FBI informant. In the purest sense, this might be accurate, since evidence does not equal proof. But consider the following. In early August of 1963, Oswald was temporarily jailed after his altercation with Cuban exile Carlos Bringuier in New Orleans. While he was imprisoned, he asked to be interviewed by an FBI agent. When the call from the police station came into the local FBI office, the employee who answered the phone was young William Walter. At the responding agent’s request, when Walter checked the index for any corresponding files he found that Oswald had a file as an informant. And that file had agent Warren DeBrueys’ name on it, one of the two agents on the Cuban exile beat. (William Davy, Let Justice be Done, p. 287) Secondly, former FBI agent Carver Gayton told the Church Committee that FBI Dallas agent Jim Hosty told him that Oswald was an FBI informant. (Interview of 1/17/76) Finally, one has to ask: what was Oswald doing requesting an FBI interview after his arrest for disorderly conduct? And why did it last for over an hour?

Before going to the MLK section of the book, I have to ask why the author designated a military intelligence arm when what he mentions there is very minimal. But most of the information he provided in this category is actually related to the CIA.


IV

In his discussion of the King case, the author again maps out categories of involvement. The first he calls the criminal aspect; the second is what he calls the Officials Hand, the third is Military Intelligence and finally the last is the actual conspirators. But he begins his review of the case by saying that the Mob—which fits into his first grouping—likely did not participate in the MLK hit. Their involvement is mostly speculation. (Savastano, pp. 160, 163) William Pepper would probably disagree with him since he presented evidence in court that suggested they did have some involvement. To the point that a local Mob agent, one Frank Liberto, supplied money to Memphis tavern owner Loyd Jowers to go along with the plot. Pepper produced three witnesses who said they heard Liberto state words to the effect that he was involved. (Op. cit. The Assassinations, p. 493) But the author dismisses Liberto by saying he had no motive. Which might be true about Liberto, but would not apply if the orders to him came from above.

The author does a nice job describing how Ray used three different aliases, all of them real people who dwelled within a five-mile radius of each other in Toronto. It is hard to think that such was a coincidence. But this seemed to help him escape the FBI manhunt for at least an extra month. As the late Philip Melanson concluded, the access to these names suggests that either Ray, or his handler Raoul, was in contact with an identity specialist. Savastano properly notes that there is no adduced evidence that Ray ever practiced with either the rifle in question, a Remington Gamemaster, or a similar rifle, in the month leading up the King’s assassination in Memphis on April 4, 1968. (Savastano, pp. 161-62)

Savastano briefly mentions that the identity of Raoul was not known. (p. 161) But at the 1999 civil trial of Loyd Jowers in Memphis, William Pepper presented six witnesses on this issue. They all identified a passport photo that private investigator John Billings had procured as being Raoul. Both Pepper and British TV producer Jack Saltman—who was filming a mock trial presentation of the King case—both arrived at the same home in the northeastern United States to try and talk to the person in the photo. A reporter from Lisbon who spoke Portuguese also arrived at the home—since the ID passport photo depicted a man entering America from Portugal. She talked in Portuguese to the lady of the house. The woman told her that government agents had communicated with them three times in three years, and agents were monitoring their phone lines. Needless to say, the man suspected of being Raoul would not submit to a deposition or appear in court. (Op. cit. The Assassinations, p. 502) Again, I wish Savastano had made the distinction between “evidence for” and “proof of”.

The author does a creditable job in setting the background for and run up to King’s murder. He lists the major achievements that King was a major part of, e.g., the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965. He then notes how King spread out from civil rights and into broader issues like poverty and the Vietnam War. (Savastano, p. 170) He gets more specific as to time and place when he mentions the sanitation workers strike in Memphis and how King made an appearance for this cause that ended quite badly with looting and rioting. Which may have been provoked by Marrell McCullough, an undercover agent in one of the youth gangs called the Invaders. And that gang was a part of the provocations that resulted in looting. Therefore, King was intent on returning to Memphis to redeem that earlier incident. Further, a newspaper article criticized King for not staying at a black-owned hotel while he was in Memphis. This played a part in directing him toward the Lorraine. (ibid, p. 181) But upon his return, his usual black security escort was not guarding him; that detail was withdrawn. And to this day, no one knows for sure how and why this was done. (ibid, p. 172) In any case, it is clear that this made it much easier to kill King on the balcony at the Lorraine Motel.

An odd thing about his section on King is that his murder really does entail a military intelligence aspect. Yet I could find scant mention of it by the author. Savastano gives much more play to the FBI’s COINTELPRO operation against King. This largely stemmed from J. Edgar Hoover’s personal animus toward King and his innate racism. As most of us know, it included planting informants in his camp, like Ernest Withers, who was a photographer. The FBI also sent a letter and tape to Coretta Scott King in November of 1964. The tape was allegedly of King cheating on his wife, although, to people who heard it, there was no way to know if it was King. The letter branded him a hypocrite and a hoaxer. The threat was that unless he took his own life, these secrets about his sex life would be exposed.

The military intelligence aspect in the King case seems to me to be significant. In May of 1963, the Pentagon started a program that used military spies in plainclothes to monitor domestic disturbances. (John Avery Emison, The Martin Luther King Congressional Cover Up, p. 115) This program ended up with 1500 men in the field and 300 mangers at Fort Holabrid in Baltimore. The program had many leftist targets. One of them was King. They had files on King, surveillance reports on his activities, and they had wired his office at Ebenezer Baptist Church in Atlanta. (Emison, p. 122) This is quite interesting since, at the Jowers trial, Pepper introduced evidence that the Army’s 111th Military Intelligence Group kept 24-hour surveillance on King. This included his last days in Memphis. On the day King was killed, two US Army officers approached firehouse captain Carthel Weeden. They asked to be allowed to go to the top of the station. The reason being they needed a lookout point for the Lorraine Motel. (Op. Cit. The Assassinations, p. 502)

One thing I thought was lacking from this part of the presentation was a thorough exposure of how Percy Foreman essentially abandoned his client James Earl Ray by not giving him a defense and copping a plea. Something Ray’s first lawyer, Arthur Hanes, never even thought of doing. Hanes was determined to go to trial and strongly advised Ray against accepting any plea offer. This is a central part of the King case.


V

One of the most interesting parts of this section of the book is what Savastano writes about Jessie Jackson and Reverend Billy Kyles. According to one source it was Kyles who relayed a message to the police that King would not need his regular security in Memphis. Also, although Kyles claimed to have been in King’s room along with Ralph Abernathy prior to the assassination, the police surveillance logs—there is a difference between surveillance and security—place him outside. (Savastano, p. 190)

But to explain why Kyles aroused suspicion, I can do no better than to link to this video clip and urge the reader to watch it.

Recall, Jessie Jackson at that time was not a national figure in the civil rights movement. He was King’s administrator for the Chicago office of the SCLC and headed that branch’s Operation Breadbasket, which was designed to find jobs for unemployed black Americans. Jackson was in Memphis when King was killed. At the time of the shooting he was in the parking lot below. Yet Jackson later said that he was the last person to speak to King, and that King had died in his arms. To say the least, other witnesses hotly dispute those claims. But further, Jackson urged the rest of the entourage to accompany King to the hospital. This gave him the opportunity to address the media, which he did. (ibid, p. 191) In fact, he became the main TV talking head speaking about King’s death as an insider. To the point that he had the SCLC public relations director booking his appearances.

He also added that he had placed his hands in Dr. King’s blood and then smeared it on his sweater. He then appeared on TV in Chicago wearing the bloody sweater. And he used that mark to convince Mayor Richard Daley that he should speak at a King Memorial. Because of this newly acquired visibility, during a talk he had with SCLC member Don Rose at the time, he clearly implied he would now take King’s place, when in fact King had never ever said anything like that to anyone. (p. 193) Ralph Abernathy became the new leader of the SCLC. Jackson later resigned and formed his own group in Chicago, Operation Push. Finally, Jackson has never been in the front ranks promoting a reopening of the King case. During the entire nearly three year ordeal in Memphis where the King family backed the attempts by Bill Pepper and Judge Joe Brown to give Ray the criminal trial he never had, Jackson was notable by his absence.

As the author concludes, one can make the case that Jackson actually took advantage of King’s death to launch his own career. If that was his aim, he succeeded.


VI

Savastano concludes with the Robert Kennedy assassination. He begins with the familiar critique of Sirhan’s original trial lawyer Grant Cooper. Today there can be little doubt that Cooper was simply either incompetent, or he sold out his client. Because not only did Cooper not mount any kind of defense for the charges against his client, he actually stipulated to the evidence, even though the prosecution admitted to him that the bullets and ballistics evidence had a weak foundation. (The Assassinations, p. 577) Thus the trial became about Sirhan’s mental state at the time of the shooting. (Savastano, p. 205) The author properly notes that Cooper was under investigation at the time for paying a court bailiff to steal grand jury transcripts in the famous Friar’s Club case. One of the defendants in that card-cheating scandal was John Roselli, a mobster who the CIA reached out to in their plots to kill Castro. Cooper could have been disbarred for this bribery. He ended up with essentially a slap on the wrist: a thousand dollar fine. There are many, including Lisa Pease who believe that his pitiful performance on Sirhan’s behalf enabled the leniency he was shown in his own case. (p. 206)

The author reminds us that Sirhan was not a Moslem. He was a Greek Orthodox Christian. Christian missionaries brought him to America from Jordan. He did not attend a mosque and there was no library of pro-Palestinian literature at his home. Therefore, the assumed motive for the crime is dubious.

But further, there are real evidentiary problems with this case. Most of which the public has no knowledge of. The author begins his exposition of those problems with a discussion of the Stanislaw Pruszynski audio tape recording made as he followed Bobby Kennedy from the podium in the ballroom to the pantry of the Ambassador Hotel. (This link provides a tutorial on this tape) The sum total of this new evidence proves that there were more shots fired than Sirhan’s gun could carry; that the shot sounds came too rapidly to be fired by one gunman; and the sound frequency betrays two different guns being fired. When one adds in the fact that Thomas Noguchi’s autopsy showed that all the shots that hit Bobby Kennedy came from behind, and Sirhan was always in front of the senator, then clearly if Cooper had mounted a real defense, Sirhan would have been acquitted.

But it’s actually worse than that. Because all of the shots that entered RFK came from an upward angle, and the fatal shot to the head was fired at point blank range, which Noguchi specified was a distance of 1-3 inches. Sirhan was six inches shorter than Kennedy and the witnesses said that his arm was stretched straight outward. And not one witness could say that they saw the gun jammed into the back of Kennedy’s head. (The Assassinations, pp. 617-18)

The author briefly mentions the famous Girl in the Polka Dot Dress. This was the girl who was seen with Sirhan by over a dozen witnesses in the pantry. She seemed to signal him before he started shooting. Sirhan’s last memory is of her pouring a cup of coffee for him before she led him back to the pantry. She later ran down the stairs of the hotel shouting, “We shot him! We shot him!” (Savastano, p. 211) In this reviewer’s opinion, the author did not make enough of this angle to the RFK case. Because when this is coupled with Sirhan being under post hypnotic suggestion, the case for Sirhan being manipulated becomes quite strong. (Please click to this video for a demonstration)

Very appropriately, Savastano spends page after page dealing with the almost mind-boggling shortcomings of the LAPD. This includes their seemingly willful destruction of evidence before all of Sirhan’s appeals were exhausted. He also scores the manifold failures of criminalist DeWayne Wolfer who shockingly linked the recovered bullets to a different handgun! (Savastano, p. 226) Suitably, he quotes the official Krantz Report done by Deputy District Attorney Thomas Krantz to bring home Wolfer’s incredible sloppiness and, there is no other word to apply here, his negligence. As Krantz wrote, “The apparent lack of reports, both written and photographic, either made by Wolfer or destroyed, or never in existence, raised serious doubts as to the substance and credibility of the ballistic evidence presented in the Sirhan trial.” (ibid, p. 227)

The subtitle of the book is “A Concise Review of Three Political Assassinations.” In other words, the author has designed the book as something of a primer on the three cases. A way of getting the lay person interested in all three of these momentous murders rather than just the headlining JFK case. They were all clearly and demonstrably conspiracies and they all shared certain traits, which the author tries to point out. Most importantly, they resulted in a tremendous shift in power. Therefore let me end this review with the memorable quote of Congressman Allard Lowenstein:

Robert Kennedy’s death, like the President’s, was mourned as an extension of the evils of senseless violence; events moved on, and the profound alterations that these deaths … brought in the equation of power in America was perceived as random …. What is odd is not that some people thought it was all random, but that so many intelligent people refused to believe that it might be anything else. Nothing can measure more graphically how limited was the general understanding of what is possible in America.

Last modified on Tuesday, 11 April 2017 12:45
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 Reclaiming Parkland (2013/2016), co-author of The Assassinations, and co-edited Probe Magazine (1993-2000).   See "About Us" for a fuller bio.

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