Monday, November 15, 2010

The Qualitative- Quantitative Continuum: Research on the JFK Assassination

The Qualitative- Quantitative Continuum:
Research on the JFK Assassination

John Delane Williams
The University of North Dakota

     To mention the issue of the qualitative-quantitative discussion-debate and the JFK assassination in one breath seems almost too diverse to be sensible. Yet my understanding of the assassination helped me in understanding of the importance of "both kinds" of research traditions and their interrelationship.

     In that some qualitative researchers prefer that authors give a background on their perspectives on a given area, it is fair that a background be given for myself. My own research background comes out of a strong (traditional) quantitative direction, building on a background and interest in mathematics. Fairly early on, a bend in the road was made away from the traditional (i.e., Winer (1970), Lindquist (1953)) to a generalized problem solving approach (Bottenberg & Ward (1961), Ward & Jennings (1971), McNeil, Kelly & McNeil (1975), Williams (1974)). Both Isadore Newman and I have served as editors of Multiple Linear Regression Viewpoints.

     A third type of measurement that has been occasionally mentioned is geometric measurement. (Morgan, 1995) Perhaps some would classify geometric measurement as either qualitative or quantitative based on whether a numeric form is used. However one chooses to classify geometric measurement, geometric measurement plays a large role in analysis of the Kennedy assassination.  

     On the other hand, the research on the JFK assassination impressed me of the necessity for qualitative research. Like a lot of other Americans, I perused the Warren Report (1964), marveled at the implausibility of the magic bullet, and then went on with other things. Sometime in the early 1970's I read an article on the ballistics of the shooting in a statistics journal (unfortunately, I don't know the exact source). In the latter 1970's, I attended a presentation of the Zapruder film by Ross Rolston, who was writing a thesis at my university on the JFK assassination (Ralston, 1984).  I purchased an occasional book and by 1985 had acquired a modest JFK assassination library of perhaps 20-25 books. In June of 1980 I made a trip to Texas that included the mandatory stop at Dealy Plaza and surrounding environs. Still, I had an interest in pursuing this interesting mystery.

     Also around 1980, I had joined a group of persons who were interested in qualitative research; my function apparently was to be the quantitative sceptic whom they could hiss at. Around 1985, a question posed to me in the group was "What sort of qualitative research did I see as interesting and valuable?" I responded that research on the JFK assassination filled the bill for me. Then an unexpected turn of events occurred. One of the newer members of the group confided that she had met Dick Cain, who was somehow involved with the assassination. Cain had purportedly written a manuscript about his involvement. I had never heard of Dick Cain, nor had I been able to find his name associated with the assassination. Like I had done previously with things associated with the JFK assassination, I put this information about Cain on the back burner. At that point, it could have been said that I was a skeptic- of qualitative research, the Warren Commission and of the critics of the Warren Commission. Though some would claim it would be impossible, I have tried to keep an open mind about things that I've seen in a skeptical way.

     It might be appropriate to give my present orientation on the Kennedy assassination. I make no truth claims here about the case; the interest is in seeing the interrelation of qualitative and quantitative research. First, in regard to Lee Harvey Oswald, I don't think we have enough information to accurately label him as a co-conspirator, or as a deep cover government agent, or an incredibly unlucky man who got caught up in events that consumed him; indeed, he might possibly have been all three. One thing that I am sure of is that he was not the lone assassin of President Kennedy; my bet is that he wasn't even a shooter. 

I would posit multiple assassination teams, not all of which shot so much as a single bullet (Milan, note 1); I would not be surprised to find out that the several teams were for the most part unaware of each other's existence. There were likely to have been individuals involved in the various teams who could be identified with one or more entities (perhaps the CIA, the FBI, the Mafia,  Cuba, LBJ) perhaps without the knowledge of the heads of the entities. In short, I think the mystery is a long way from being solved, and perhaps never will be completely solved. The assassination can be likened to people blindfolded and touching a part of the elephant. The persons blindfolded will report very different things about the elephant; at least some of them think no one else was around.
Research Types    
Researchers working on the JFK assassination are presently broken into three types; predominately qualitative, predominately quantitative, and inextricably mixed qualitative-quantitative. In comparison to social and behavioral researchers who might tread very lightly of changing from a qualitative approach to a quantitative approach (See endnote 2), JFK researchers seem not to blink as they change research modes- purists may discard their work, but the mixing of modes can be quite productive. In addressing researchers on the JFK assassination, it is likely that my classification here might seem novel to them; they were addressing an important issue and used the skills and methods available to them. Many of them would probably consider the qualitative- quantitative paradigm issue as nabobs nattering about nothing (with apologies to Spiro Agnew). In an intuitive way, JFK assassination researchers could be said to be working on the "qualitative-quantitative interactive continuum" (Newman & Benz, 1998).

     Also, there exists are fairly large body of research on the JFK assassination. Perhaps at least 2,000 (probably considerably more) books touch on or focus on some aspect of the assassination. There have been several journals that have focused on the JFK assassination, with some of them ceasing operation. Two current more widely read journals are The Fourth Decade (we are in the fourth decade since the assassination) and Deep Politics- The JFK Assassination Quarterly. No attempt is made here to be either exhaustive or representative of any perspective taken or research method(s) used. The choices are, rather, representative of my experience as a reader, in that the choices reported here give a sense of the rich diversity of methodology.

The Warren Report- Adversarial Research
for the Good of the Commonwealth

      To address the Warren Commission in the sense of doing research is somewhat of an oxymoron. The Warren Commission functioned more as a board of directors for a publishing firm. The general orientation of that "publishing firm" can be said to be the maintenance of the status quo. To prove the lack of a conspiracy is in any event a difficult if not impossible task, whether in the JFK assassination or in general. It would appear that many of the FBI investigators were not always on the same wavelength as the principle authors of the report. The 26 volumes of testimonies and exhibits have given many an investigator leads in pursuing a possible conspiracy. To give but one example, the Odum exhibit (CE 237, XVI 638) was a photograph of a man at the Soviet Embassy in Mexico City in September, 1963. The man was originally thought to be Oswald but clearly was an older, heavier man. At least two identifications have been made of this person. Hugh McDonald (1975) called him "Saul" to have a name to place on a face. McDonald had met "Saul" in 1961 in the CIA office of Herman Kimsey. When McDonald and Kimsey were providing protection for Republican nominee Barry Goldwater in Dallas in 1964, Kimsey related the story about "Saul" being the shooter of JFK from the County Records Building. 

After reading McDonald's book, Gene Noblitt recognized the picture of the mystery man in Mexico City to be a high school schoolmate at Woodrow Wilson High School by the name of Ralph Geb. Locating a 1938 high school annual, pictures showed Geb in a photograph with football teammate Malcolm Wallace (See Sample & Collum, 1997). Geb and Wallace were said to be best friends. Wallace has been said to be a shooter at JFK (see Sample and Collum, 1997; M. Brown, 1996) Wallace has been described as a henchman for Lyndon Johnson, having allegedly murdered up to 17 people  (Caddy, 1984) on behalf of Johnson or Johnson's business interests (Sample & Collum, 1997; Madeline Brown, 1996, 1997; Walt Brown, 1998). A. Nathan Darby (1998) has identified the previously unidentified fingerprints on the sixth floor of the Texas Schoolbook Depository on November 22, 1963 as belonging to Malcolm (Mac) Wallace. 

This discursion was not to indict Lyndon Johnson (but see Williams, 1999a, 1999b) but to point out that the Warren Commission report and the 26 volumes of testimony and exhibits contains a plethora of material that potentially could be developed to disprove the main conclusions of the Warren report. The report and the 26 volumes are now inexpensively available in two CD-ROMs (The Warren commission: Volumes 1-26, 1997). The research methodology performed for the commission could be termed "adversarily interpretive" with the intent of justifying their conclusions.                      

The First Purist- Harold Weisberg

     From a methodological standpoint, one of the more interesting researchers is Harold Weisberg. Weisberg self-published many of his early works (The "Whitewash " series, 1965, 1966, 1967b, 1974), as mainstream presses would have almost nothing to do with early critics of the Warren Report.  Weisberg was limited to self-publication long after several critics had passed over to the mainstream press, though his book on Oswald's New Orleans activity (1967a) was published by Canyon Books. Weisberg has attempted to limit his universe of data to the official government files; through the Freedom of Information Act, he has forced the availability of more governmental files on the JFK assassination than any other person. He generally chooses not to use other sources. While this may seem limiting to him gaining a wider picture, the enormity of the still unprocessed files more than justifies his personal limitation. For the most part, the files represent qualitative rather than quantitative information. There are several reports of attempts to replicate the supposed feat of Lee Harvey Oswald that are quantitatively based. 

Weisberg (1994) did step outside his boundaries to write a book-length critique of Posner (1993). Weisberg's writing style is interesting in two ways. First, Weisberg's emotional response seems to at times be on his sleeve, whether he is writing about government cover-ups or about the work of other writers. He is critical of Edward Jay Epstein's (1966) Inquest: "... a work of pseudo-scholarship based on a stupid and baseless conjecture..." (Weisberg, 1995, p. xliii); regarding Mark Lane's (1966) Rush to Judgment: "...nothing new." (Weisberg, 1995, p. xliii). Weisberg's disdain for Jim Marrs' (1989) Crossfire is clear: "...the incredible trash of Jim Marrs's, (Crossfire), incompetent and grossly inaccurate compendium of all the assassination nuttiness..." (Weisberg, 1994, p. 84). On the other hand, Weisberg has complementary things to say about the work of Sylvia Meagher (1976). 

Perhaps far more importantly, Weisberg has published large raw documents, including the entire 86 pages of the executive session of the January 27, 1964 meeting of the Warren Commission (Weisberg, 1974). It is from this raw document that it can be determined that the Warren Commission had no intent of doing any investigation that might put any national icons in anything less than the best of lights. Their goal was to "heal the nation" (perhaps something akin to suturing up a cancer patient and deeming them well without removing the cancer.) The massive publication of raw documents has been a real service to the public.

Gerald Posner- Adversarial Research

     Until Gerald Posner (1993), most conspiracy theorists contented themselves with attacking The Warren Report. With the publication of Case Closed, its author, Gerald Posner, became an even more compelling target. The national media gave over the mantle of "defender of the Warren Report" to Posner. The echo of
"case closed" was heard throughout the land. What was Posner's methodology that made his presentation of evidence so compelling?

Perhaps a guide to  Posner's actual method is best described in Weisberg's (1994) Case Open. Weisberg wrote not only this book, but also a much longer treatise critiquing Posner and his work. Absent (at least by my reading) from Weisberg's critique is the simple explanation that Posner's position in writing the book was as an adversarial lawyer attacking conspiracy theorists, such things as the truth were simply irrelevant. He was presenting the best possible case for the conclusions of the Warren Commission. Weisberg seemed disbelieving that a person would do the things Posner did. Posner's presentation can be seen as an attempt to make the strongest possible case for the Warren Commission Conclusions (in particular, Lee Harvey Oswald was the lone assassin), with consideration of any points to any other conclusion presented only for purpose of refutation.

     Perhaps the most impressive aspect of Posner's book was the work of Failure Analysis Associates (FaAA), which one would suspect (incorrectly), had done their work for the express purpose of Posner's book. Weisberg claims that no mention is made of the origin of this research other than for Posner's book. Actually, the work was performed for the Litigation section of the American Bar Association (ABA) for the training of future lawyers. In fairness to Posner, attribution to FaAA and the mock trial is made, though it would be easy to misread the book as if the FaAA research was done for him. Unreported in Posner's book is that FaAA was to present both sides of the issue of a mock trial for Lee Harvey Oswald. (Posner presented only the material of the prosecution.)  Both sides were limited in the materials they could consider. They could use the Warren Commission Report, the House Select Committee Report, the book Crossfire (Marrs, 1989), and the Zapruder film. Additional sources were included when both sides agreed to their inclusion. 

Important to note is that the intention was to gather evidence for an adversarial situation rather than seek truth. The mock trial was presented on Court TV. Presumably, Posner was in the viewing audience. The mock trial ended in a hung jury, with five of the twelve jurors refusing to convict. No attribution is made by Posner to the ABA, who commissioned the analysis in the first place.

     The work of FaAA as reported by Posner uses the Zapruder film to establish cones of the position of a likely shooter. From the point of view of measurement, this aspect of the analysis is geometric- and based on assumptions about the shooting. One such assumption is that the shooting came from behind. On pages 476 & 477, Posner presents the FaAA drawings which include cones for the second and third shots (under the assumption that there were exactly three shots). Both cones include the "sniper's lair" on the sixth floor of the Texas Schoolbook Depository. While unstated in this presentation, it would appear the cones would also include portions of the building behind the Texas Schoolbook Depository- the Dal-Tex Building. Using his own photographic analysis, Groden (1993) suggests that at least one, and perhaps two shots emanated from the Dal-Tex Building. 

Craig Roberts (1994) posits that the shot that hit the curb and caused the injury to Richard Tague was fired from the Dal-Tex Building. Garrison (1988, p. 238) points out that shortly after the assassination, there was a report of gunfire from the Dal-Tex Building. Goodman (1993) posits a triangulation of fire, including the Dal-Tex Building. What the FaAA analysis shows is that it was plausible that gunfire came from the sixth floor of the Texas School Book Depository. They also establish the plausibility of the shooting coming from the Dal-Tex Building.  

      Most of the book traces the life of Lee Harvey Oswald. This process is attempted from the adversarial position that Oswald was the lone assassin and that the conspiracy theories have truth as their only casualty. As might be expected from an adversarial researcher, Posner picks and chooses his information to agree with his position (he is by no means alone in doing this), and to refute the critics. He does take positions that, if they can be disproved, they leave his conclusion (Lee Harvey Oswald acted alone in killing Kennedy) in peril. Posner makes a point that Oswald and David Ferrie were never acquainted. Were it otherwise, the probability of Oswald acting alone starts to fall. In particular, Posner tries to establish that the two did not meet when Oswald was briefly in the Civil Air Patrol in 1955. He purports to show that Ferrie had no connection to the group when Oswald was a member. The rather incredible thing is that photographic proof of Oswald and Ferrie being at a Civil Air Patrol picnic in 1955 and shown in the same picture was made public in 1992 by John Ciravolo (Groden, 1995b, p. 229), a year before Posner's book was published.

An Early and Steady Contributor- Mark Lane

     Mark Lane has been one of the more visible critics of the Warren Commission. Not only has he written extensively on the assassination, he has served as a consultant to at least two motion pictures on the subject (Executive Action and JFK); he has also served as a lawyer for causes related to the assassination. It is in the latter role that he made his greatest contributions. Lane, (1991) reviewed his defense of the group, Liberty Lobby, against libel. In August, 1978 Spotlight, a magazine published by Liberty Lobby, carried an article by Victor Marchetti, a former CIA employee. Among other things, the article stated that E. Howard Hunt was in Dallas on the day of the Kennedy assassination. In 1981, Hunt sued Liberty Lobby for libel and was awarded $650,000. The outcome was appealed. Lane then became the lawyer for Liberty Lobby. Lane was able to offer credible evidence that Hunt was present in Dallas, and Hunt was unable to neither refute the evidence nor offer an alibi for his whereabouts. 

Perhaps the most surprising bit about the trial was that, despite the sensational outcome, there was a total absence of mainstream media coverage of the result (Prouty, 1991). Lane was able to establish the willingness of some parts of the US government to lie about important events and to try to conceal information from the American public (Lane would claim that he did far more than that). Lane's research process can be described as an activist civil rights lawyer who has pursued government complicity in its dealings with congress, the courts and the American people. Though I doubt the distinction would seem trivial to Lane, he appears to have been involved in qualitative research- my hunch is that he would have just as readily utilized quantitative (or geometric) research.

Geometrics and the Zapruder Film

     Abraham Zapruder became part of the American folklore due to his happenstance in filming the Kennedy assassination. The Zapruder film was first publicly seen during the Clay Shaw trial in New Orleans in 1969. (Mantik, 1998) It has been stated that, "... the Zapruder film contained the nearest thing to the absolute truth about the sequence of events in Dealy Plaza." (Thompson, 1967, p. 6) What is now clear is that there are many versions of the Zapruder film. Several authors have questioned the authenticity of the film, including Livingston (1995), White (1998), Pinchner and Schaeffer (1998), Helper (1998), Marler (1998), and Mantik (1998).

     Helper (1998) used Connally's and his wife's testimonies to show that the movements they described correspond to Z-315 to Z-338. This would place the Connally wounds as occurring after the fatal headshot to Kennedy, which occurs at Z-313, with two separate shots wounding Connally (at Z-315 and Z-338). This interpretation is at strong variance to the conclusions of the Warren Commission. Marler (1998) uses the calculation of Kennedy being 52.8" above the Elm Street pavement, (5H133) to conclude that Kennedy's head should have been visible above the Stemmens freeway sign. Zapruder was disturbed by things no longer in the film; in particular, he remembers Kennedy's head being visible above the sign. (White, 1998) Mantik (1998) concludes that editing of the film has been done through a zooming in process (presumably done in a photo laboratory) where a magnification of 1.6 occurs before passing by the Stemmens freeway sign. A visual inspection of the Zapruder film leaves one with the impression that Kennedy's head would be visible- and then the limousine and it's occupants seem to somehow be obscured by the sign. One reason to have Kennedy be obscured by the Stemmens freeway sign could be to remove evidence for a shot at the limousine during that interval (If, in fact there was any alteration).    

     The CIA had a copy of the Zapruder film by 9:55 P.M. on the night of the assassination; a memorandum to that effect was signed by Max Phillips of the Secret Service (copies of the memo are reproduced in Weisberg, 1967, p. 138; Thompson, 1967, p. 311; and, Pinchner & Schaeffer, 1998, p. 234). Melanson (1984) argues that the CIA had the original film on the night of the assassination. If alteration took place, an opportunity to do so was afforded the CIA; the original was delivered to Life Magazine on November 23 (Melanson, 1984).

     A new version of the Zapruder film, using the original film, has recently been made available. (Image of an Assassination, 1998). The film has gone through some alteration for clarity. Some argue (e.g. Livingston, 1995) any alteration destroys the integrity of the film.

Eyewitnesses as Authors

     An interesting view has developed regarding eyewitnesses to the assassination. Van Wynsberghe (1997) lists 15 problem areas when addressing eyewitnesses to events surrounding the JFK assassination. The most relevant of Van Wynsberghe's dicta is "The source does not wait to be discovered." (p. 20) Those who had waited until the 1990's had already waited 27 years; if they continued to wait, their stories might well have been lost. Put another way, I think the writings of eyewitnesses can add to our knowledge base, despite Van Wynsberghe's admonitions. Many witnesses have waited to tell their stories; one might conjecture that a reason not to tell their story earlier had to do with the real fear of loss of life (see, for example, Roberts & Armstrong 1995, regarding the multitude of dead witnesses). 

Beverly Oliver (1994) seems to be a person who gets particular ire from assassination researchers. Beverly claims to be the "babushka lady". She may draw some of the ire because of her flamboyancy. Miss Oliver was 17 at the time of the assassination, and a bit on the wild side at that time. Van Wynsberghe (1997) has a special axiom for Oliver: "The source demands faith" (p. 21). It would appear that that Van Wynsberghe's interpretation of Oliver is an interpretation and nothing more; I don't share Van Wynsberghe's interpretation of Oliver. Jean Hill (Sloan and Hill, 1992) was the lady in red (not far from the "babushka lady" at the assassination). Over the years, inconsistencies have come into her story, a rather natural process with memory; this has been the subject of criticism.

     Other witnesses to become authors after a considerable passage of time include Howard Brennan (1987) who claims to have seen Oswald in the School Book Depository Building in the "sniper's lair" near the time of the assassination;  Michael Milan (1989), who describes killing one of the team members who were scheduled to shoot John Connally; Robert Morrow (1992), who purchased weapons for the CIA which were purportedly used at Dealy Plaza;  James Hosty (1996), who was the FBI agent in Dallas who interviewed Oswald; Ron Lewis (1993), who claimed to be a friend of Oswald's in New Orleans; and Ray Brown (1996), who purportedly gave Oswald shooting lessons in the Fall of 1963.  An attending physician at Parkland Hospital in Dallas, Charles Crenshaw (1992), disputes the autopsy claims.

     With the assassination witnesses, a distinct qualitative process seems to be evident. For the most part, their writings are reconstructions of distant events, but events indelibly fixed in their sense of reality.

Stress Analysis

        One of the more intriguing ways of addressing the culpability of Lee Harvey Oswald was provided by George O'Toole (1975) and the use of the Psychological Stress Evaluator (PSE). The PSE allows the testing of vocal stress using the tape recorder. Because a tape recording was used, stress analysis could be done on persons otherwise unavailable to the tester (Lippold, 1971). Measuring physiological tremor results in recording minute oscillations in a trace of very fine rhythmic movements in the voice. A graph that might appear similar to a polygraph is traced (Green, 1973). Kradz (1972) compared the efficacy of the polygraph to the PSE in 42 cases, which later could be determined as to guilt or innocence. The polygraph was correct in 38 cases; the PSE was correct in all cases.     

     The use of the PSE is interesting from the point of view of the qualitative-quantitative continuum (Newman, 1996). If the raw data are the utterances with all their nuances, the first transformation is the recording of these utterances on tape. Then, the PSE transforms the voices to a graph. The graph is then interpreted in a qualitative manner by persons expert in the field.
The graphs represent stress as measured by the PSE. Although the interpretation is qualitative, the use of the graphs is a representation of the speech rather than the speech itself, so that qualitative researchers might argue that the analysis is not qualitative research in the usual sense. On the other hand, no numeric process is used with the graphs. The analysis is also not quantitative. The data (graphs) are geometric. Geometric data can be analyzed in either a predominantly numeric or non-numeric form.
PSE graph of Oswald's voice, stating he did not shoot anybody

     O'Toole (1975) used PSE to evaluate several different tape recordings, not all related to the JFK assassination. Among his findings are that Oswald killed neither JFK nor Officer J.D. Tippett.  Clifford Irving, author of a bogus biography of Howard Hughes, was found to have hard stess when saying he obtained documents from Hughes. Howard Brennan, the Warren Commission's eye-witness to seeing Oswald in the widow on the sixth floor of the Texas Schoolbook Depository, was shown to have hard stress in his identification of Oswald. Buell Wesley Frazier, the man who gave Oswald a ride from and to work, November 21-22, 1963, was shown to have hard stress in relating that he took Oswald home to get some curtain rods. Two Dallas police officers, Paul Bentley and R.D. Lewis both showed hard stress in the PSE when they denied knowledge of a polygraph  examination to Buell Wesley Frazier.

Pictures are Worth a Thousand Words

     A variety of still pictures have been used in regard to the JFK assassination. Initially, their use was in a reportorial sense. There are a variety of publications that have included a significant number of assassination related photographs include Groden's (1993) pictures on the assassination, Groden's (1995) work on Oswald; Savage (1993) published pictures held in a brief case for thirty years by  a Dallas crime laboratory employee; three memorial albums, The Torch is Passed (1964) Four Days (1964) and Triumph and Tragedy (1968) contain several photographs related to the assassination. Trask (1994, 1998) has produced two archival sets of photographs regarding the assassination. These just mentioned publications are predominantly photographic. There are hundreds of other publications with reproductions of photographs.

     The photographs themselves can be the subject of research and controversy. Mary Ann Moorman (see Trask, 1994) took a picture at the instant of Kennedy being hit that some photography experts interpret as showing a shooter from behind the fence. A photograph taken by Ike Altgens (see Groden, 1993, pp. 30-31, 186-187), when blown up, appears to show Oswald in the doorway of the first floor of the Texas Schoolbook Depository Building as Kennedy went by (taking him away from the 6th floor). This controversy was apparently cleared up by the identification of the person in the doorway as Billy Lovelady, also an employee at the Texas Schoolbook Depository. Lovelady obliged Groden by putting on the shirt he wore that day. Another researcher, Johnson (1998), pointed out that the man in the doorway had a pocket on the left side of his shirt, whereas Lovelady's shirt has none.

     The Altgens photograph, corresponding to Z-255, showed an unblemished windshield on the presidential limousine; a Secret Service photograph (see Groden, 1993, p. 36) shows the windshield shattered; the magic bullet is finding more work. Another secret Service photograph shows a large point of impact from a bullet in the windshield frame (Groden, 1993, p. 41).

     Autopsy photos seem to show inconsistent wounds from one photograph to another (Groden, 1993, p. 82-85; also, many other sources). A photograph apparently taken near General Walker's residence shows a Chevrolet with its license plate obliterated (See Groden, 1993, p. 125). Yet years later, Jesse Curry (1969) published his memoirs; it shows the same picture among Oswald's effects with the license plate intact!

     While there are other pictures that have generated considerable discussion, undoubtedly other pictures will prove to be of interest in the future.  One of the curiosities that has gone apparently unnoticed is that on one occasion while in police custody after the death of President Kennedy and Officer Tippett, Lee Harvey Oswald was photographed with what appears to be a ring on his finger. The fairly well known clinched- fist photograph appears to show Oswald wearing an ornate ring on his ring finger. This version of the clinched fist has appeared in various publications, including Johnson (1998, p. 24). This same photograph also appears in Henry Hurt's book (1998, follows page 138); it also is included in  Robert Groden's photographic record of Lee Harvey Oswald (1995, p. 168) and Bob Goodman's Triangle of Fire (1993, p. 191).  Not all copies of this photograph are as clear in showing a ring on Oswald's finger; the copies in Goodman and Groden are cropped near the ring. The copy in The Fourth Decade appears to be the same copy as shown in Hurt, which shows the ring fairly well.

     A second picture much more clearly shows the ornate ring. This second picture, which appears to have been taken nearly simultaneously with the one already alluded to, was published by  American Heritage Magazine in its issue, Four Days (1964), after the photo had undoubtedly been used in a variety of newspapers through United Press International.  A large blur occurs in the lower right hand corner, making this picture less desirable to some viewers than the better known photo. The photograph in Four Days leaves no doubt; Oswald had a ring on his finger at the time of the photograph.

     Recall that Oswald left his wedding ring in an antique Russian teacup at the Paine's home in Irving. This was reportedly the only time Oswald left his ring at home. [1H, 72-73] The symbolic meaning of this might have been interpreted to be that Oswald knew that his life was drastically going to change and that his marriage was not likely to resume. Given that Oswald was photographed displaying the otherwise unaccounted for ring, that possible interpretation needs to be modified. It would appear that Oswald was trying to convey some symbolic meaning with the ring.

Oswald’s Ornate Ring

Other photographs of Oswald at the Dallas Police Station show that his ring finger is empty. Where did this ring come from? Does it have any special meaning? Why is the ring not on any inventories of Oswald's belongings? [24H, 20; 24H, 21-22] Where did the ring go? 

     One attempt at answering these questions has been made by Bob Goodman (1993), who claims to have been an eyewitness to the assassination. Goodman spent a year selling newspapers regarding the assassination in Dealy Plaza (ending November 22, 1992). Goodman developed the theory that the assassination was planned and paid for by Texas oil interests who were also right wingers  motivated both by concerns of keeping the status quo in terms of race relations and a continued inflow of money, unabated by the possible loss of billions of dollars due to the Kennedy idea of reducing or eliminating the oil depletion allowance. The assassination itself was supposedly done by the Minutemen. A FBI raid of an armed camp in Lake Ponchetrain on July 31, 1963 was said to have been a raid on anti-Castro Cubans and Minutemen.

 A woman from Louisiana reportedly told Goodman that the ring shown in the pictures with the raised clinched fists was a Minuteman ring, and that Oswald was attempting to tell the world who killed Kennedy. The woman claimed to have the ring in her possession. Goodman never identified the woman, nor reports anything further about the ring other than it was given to the woman by her father. Whatever the veracity of Goodman's story, there is clearly a ring on Oswald's finger that has never been satisfactorily explained. That he would put it on at the time he did suggests some symbolic meaning. That it disappeared from sight without being logged by the Dallas Police Department also begs for an explanation. Research with photographs can be termed interpretive geometric.

#2 unretouched still frame from film provides details of ring

Detail of Photo #2

Detail of Photo #2      (below: ) vintage Marine Corps ring


     Several types of videos have been produced that address the Kennedy assassination. Frewin (1992) documented the videography of the assassination. Documentary footage can be found in Four Days in November (1964), and JFK Assassination: As it Happened (1963). Oliver Stone's award winning feature film JFK (1991) focused on the role of Jim Garrison.  

Another type of video is witness interviews. Vincent Palmara, who has focused on the role of the Secret Service (Palmara, 1993) has produced a master list of witnesses in six and one-half hours of interviews (Palmara, 1997). His clips include, among others, Jean Hill, Mary Moorman, Charles Brehm, James Tague, Beverly Oliver, Ed Hoffman, Abraham Zapruder, Jesse Curry, Roger Craig, Clint Hill, Orville Nix, Sam Holland, Buell Wesley Frazier, Ruth Paine, Seth Cantor, Patrick Dean, Dan Rather, Henry Wade, Floyd Boring, John Connally, Howard Brennan, Jack Valenti, Dr. Robert McClelland, Rufus Youngblood, Ralph Yarbrough, Dr. Charles Crenshaw, and Patsy Paschall. Palmara (1996) also interviewed Ron Lewis who claimed to have spent considerable time with Oswald in New Orleans.  A most unusual film is the confession to his part in the assassination by James E. Files, an inmate at Joliet State Penetentiary (The Murder of JFK: Confession of an Assassin, 1996).

     After Jim Garrison "liberated" the Zapruder film, presentations began being made at many college campuses. A video of one such presentation, featuring John Judge, was The JFK Assassination (1991), made at the University of Toronto. 

     There are several compilations, often produced to advance a particular point of view. A video that features interviews with Cyril Wecht and Harold Weisberg with the intent of scuttling the single bullet theory was Reasonable Doubt (1988); The JFK Conspiracy (1978) disputes the lone assassin theory and includes interviews with Castro, Hosty, Hoffa, and  Gerry Patrick Hemming.

The Plot to Kill President Kennedy (1988) seems suspiciously like The JFK Conspiracy.  The JFK Assassination: The Jim Garrison Tapes (1992) was issued as a companion to JFK.  JFK: Best Evidence (1990) contains visual interviews with many of the principals that Lifton (1980) interviewed for his seminal work on following JFK's body from the time of the assassination to burial, focusing on the autopsy.  Many of the videos show a pro-conspiracy view. One that attempts to answer the critics is hosted by Dan Rather with an interview with Gerald Posner, Who Killed JFK? (1993).

     A somewhat different use of video was done in Fake (1990). Jack White, who has done a considerable amount of work in photography, analyzed the backyard photos of Oswald holding a gun and a copy of The Militant. White concluded that the photographs were composites, and hence not what they were originally thought to be: evidence that Oswald was a likely candidate for being a lone assassin. White concluded that the evidence was being assembled to "convict" Oswald posthumously.

     Robert Groden has long been involved with photography associated with the JFK assassination. He has used a process called "rotoengraving" to enhance the clarity of film. Groden (1995a) produced an optically enhanced film that incorporates several films made that day in Dallas.

     A film was produced in Britain in 1988 that failed to appear in any American venue for three more years. More than one assassination researcher has told of the difficulty of getting information about a conspiracy to the mainstream media. So it was for The Men Who Killed Kennedy (1991). The possibility of a professional Corsican hit squad described in the film may have slowed the screening of this film in the US, which was shown on cable on the A&E Network in a five part series in October and November, 1991. 

     The Men Who Killed Kennedy: The Truth Shall Set You Free (1995) is an extraordinary film; it contains several interviews, including Marina Oswald Porter and Dan Morris, who had served in the Green Berets. As part of his military training, he and other trainees (in assassination) viewed many films regarding the JFK assassination (in 1965). Morris was asked to volunteer to kill Wayne Bruce Pitzer who (unknown to Morris at the time) had been involved with the photographic work on the JFK autopsy. Apparently another trainee accepted the assignment; Pitzer died in 1966 in a suspicious "suicide".  Also included in the film is the work of Tom Wilson regarding computer work on the Kennedy assassination. Wilson was able to recreate frames from the Zapruder film in 256 shades of grey, then stripping the shades of grey away, allowing several new insights regarding the assassination. According to Wilson's measurements JFK was fatally wounded from in front, the shot emanating from a ground level storm sewer.
     The use of film as described in this section by definition uses a two-dimensional geometric process. In turn, much of the film-data are interpreted qualitatively, some- such as Jack White's Fake! and Robert Groden's rotoengraving stay within a geometric process, while the digitizing of data included in The Men Who Killed Kennedy: The Truth Shall Set You Free (1995) could be considered quantitative-geometric data analysis.

Critiquing the Researchers

     First, the diversity of persons involved in researching-writing about the Kennedy assassination should be addressed. There is no university major in assassination research. Perhaps the majority of writers have not more than a Bachelors degree; they would come from a host of backgrounds. Most are not academics, but use the expertise they have acquired in their prior training and their employment. For some, their writing is by virtue of their status as a witness.

     The existing journals in JFK research tend to be far more lively than most academic journals. Two main reasons for this are related to the structure of the journals. There tends to be far more book reviews than would be true of most academic journals.    The letters to the editor allow a much more visceral interaction among authors and readers. Also, the book reviews tend to be more analytical than usual. To be sure, writers of book reviews use their own knowledge base and their own perception of the Kennedy assassination. Thus book reviews often end up being more critical than publishers would want disseminated about one of their products.

     As an example, two books were reviewed in a single review by Verb (1998a). Verb reviewed Bloody Treason (Twyman, 1997) and Assassination Science (Fetzer, 1998a).  As an aside, these books deserved to be reviewed separately, both because they are significant publications and also because they are very different kinds of books.  Bloody Treason is a lengthy tome addressing the assassination as a whole. Assassination Science is essentially an edited work reporting the disparate work of several different authors whose commonality is that the research addresses the Kennedy assassination. Verb lumped them together because they both addressed probable areas for forgery that have been written about by many researchers, particularly the Zapruder film and the autopsy photos. 

     The next issue of The Fourth Decade (March, 1998) contained two letters to the editor, Fettig (1998) and Fohne (1998). Both Fettig and Fohne took issue with Verb's review of Fetzer. Fettig points out that the identification of the three tramps as Chauncy Holt-Charles Harrelson-Richard Montoya was not invalidated by the LaFontaines' (1996) search of Dallas Police Department records.  Fettig leaves the identification of the three tramps as an area of dispute, with the suggestion that more than three tramps were arrested/detained near Dealy Plaza on 11/22/63. Fohne takes issue with Verb on the autopsy photographs.

     The May, 1998 issue of The Fourth Decade contains Fetzer's (1998b) response to Verb. Fetzer addresses each of Verb's points (ten in all). Since both Fetzer and Twyman support the coup d’etat argument regarding the JFK assassination (see also Weberman & Canfield, 1992), that argument (together with the alleged photographic forgeries) may have precipitated Verb's comments. Thompson (1998) also took issue with the coup d'etat concept.

     The July, 1998 issue of The Fourth Decade had Verb's (1998b) response to Fetzer's defense; also, Livingstone (1998) commented on several existing copies of the Zapruder film and difficulties associated with considering them genuine. Much of Verb's presentation dealt with his stance that the Zapruder film had not been altered, and his disputing the data that suggests alteration. His argument is quite technical, and I am not the one to resolve the dispute.

     I would immediately admit to lack of photographic expertise- but I would offer an excursion here on my own. Twyman (1997) shows that the apparent speed of the presidential limousine from frames 303 to 330 was almost uniformly 11 miles per hour. The Moorman photo, equivalent to Z-314, shows approximately 6 feet of space behind the limousine without any indication of Clint Hill. Clint Hill can be seen in the image between the sprockets directly behind the limousine in Z-331 (Image of an Assassination, 1998). Hill had to catch-up with an automobile traveling 11 miles an hour by six feet in 17/18.6=.91 seconds. This means he had to exceed the speed of the limousine by 4.5 miles per hour, or a rate of 15.5 miles per hour in his Secret Service two-piece suit wearing ordinary leather shoes. This speed is comparable to running the 800 meters in 1:56.13. Now 1:56.13 is/was a pretty decent time; Peter Snell won the 1960 Olympics in 1:46.3 (World Almanac, 1997), and I don't recall him wearing a two-piece suit and ordinary leather walking shoes. 

Clearly, Clint Hill did catch the limousine; the speed of the limousine was probably nearer zero (stopped) than 11 miles per hour. This does not prove the Zapruder film was altered- it is entirely possible the camera malfunctioned or Zapruder momentarily stopped filming, coincidentally when witnesses reported the slowing down or stopping of the limousine. But if there were either a malfunction or Zapruder stopped filming, then his film is only partially a film of the events he purportedly filmed. Yet another caveat must be entered; while the Zapruder film yields the limousine speed of 11 miles per hour, the Nix film yields the limousine speed of 9.4 miles per hour! (Twyman, 1997, p. 150). 

Jones (1976) reports that the reason the limousine stopped-slowed down was that a motorcycle policeman, responding to gunfire, stopped in front of the limousine, making it impossible to speed up at that point. Perhaps it is situations like this that brings a smile to qualitative researchers- an obvious contradiction together with the use of the film an exact representation of what happened. It is better to admit that the film is not a complete reproduction of reality, but rather what came into the cameraman's view, together with the foibles of the machine with its and its holder's limitations. A film is but a rapid sequence of pictures; things can and do happen between pictures. Witnesses can see these inter-picture events that escape the camera. If the camera (or its holder) have any miscues, the event is lost to the camera. So also to be considered is the restricted range of the camera; the conjecture concerning Clint Hill would be more easily resolved with a full view available to onlookers.

      A point I would make about these exchanges is that nowhere do any of them address a most significant point in the Fetzer book. Dr. Robert Livingston was Scientific Director of two National Institute of Health divisions, and as such called Dr. Humes (the Bethesda autopsist) before Humes was to begin the autopsy. In describing Kennedy's frontal neck wound, "I stressed to Dr. Humes how important it was that the autopsy pathologists carefully examine the President's neck to characterize that particular wound and to distinguish it from the neighboring tracheotomy wound.'

    'I went on to presume, further, that the neck wound would probably not have anything to do with the cause of death-- massive, disruptive, brain injury--because of the angle of the bullet trajectory and the general upright position of the President's body, sitting up in the limousine. Yet, I said, carefully, if that wound were confirmed as a wound of entry, it would prove beyond peradventure of doubt that the shot had been fired from in front--hence that if there were shots from behind, there had to be more than one gunman. Just at that moment, there was an interruption in our conversation. Dr. Humes returned after a pause of a few seconds to say that "The FBI would not let me talk any further" (Livingston, 1998, pp. 170-171). Humes would later claim that no one told him of the frontal wound. Based on Dr. Livingston's statement, Fetzer (1998c) concluded that Humes lied under oath.

     A second point equally astonishing is that Twyman (1997) was able to document that only two spent cartridges were found from Oswald's supposed place of shooting. He was able to show that a document had been changed to a scenario that also fit the lone assassin theory.

     To this point, my personal fledgling efforts have been for the most part doing book reviews vis-a-vis the JFK assassination (Williams, 1997a, 1997b, 1998). Along the way, I have picked up a critic of my own (Inkol, 1998). JFK assassination researchers are passionate in their pursuit of truth (at least, as we individually perceive it). The sense of qualitative-quantitative blurs in critique research- writers appears to be more keenly aware of their own point of reference, consistent with the qualitative viewpoint. Perhaps viewpoint more clearly distinguishes between some who call themselves qualitative researchers and those who see themselves as quantitative (objective) researchers. Those who recognize their pre-existing viewpoint (and state it for the reader) more nearly represent a qualitative viewpoint, even if they use quantification. Those whose viewpoint is that they (perhaps uniquely) see objective reality might be termed objectivist researchers, even if their method is non-quantitative.      

Some Unusual Research

     Perhaps one of the more unusual reports is that of Edward Haslam (Mary, Ferrie & the Monkey Virus, 1997). Haslam had sensational information dropped in his lap as a young man in New Orleans. His father, a physician associated with Tulane University, told Haslam about research regarding Simian viruses. He was a close friend with the son of Dr. Chetta, the coroner in New Orleans. From Chetta's son, Haslam heard of secret experiments that would induce cancer, with a suggestion that Jack Ruby was a victim of viruses produced by that research. He was to learn that Mary Sherman was involved with the research project, along with David Ferrie. Years later, he became aware of a documented case of a young male who died of AIDS in New Orleans in 1969; the boy's blood was frozen, and years later, tested for AIDS (Garry, Witte, Gottlieb et al., 1988). As a graduate student at Tulane in 1972, Haslam dated a fellow student whose peculiarly smelling apartment turned out to have been David Ferrie's underground laboratory where Ferrie was studying cancer in mice. 

     Coincidences seem to be a major theme in Haslam's research. He went to a jazz festival and struck up a conversation with Alin Alcorn, who had a jazz band. Later, he learned that Alcorn was the maintenance worker at Mary Sherman's apartment building; Alcorn was one of the last person's to see Mary Sherman alive; she was murdered by stabbing with an attempt to burn her body on July 20 (or 21st), 1964. Yet another coincidence was as an advertising salesman, he was sent to the Audobon Building at 1031 Canal in New Orleans in the summer of 1982. There, he briefly was allowed to inspect what was said to be Guy Banister's files! (They were presumably confiscated shortly after Banister's death in 1964). Further, the man whom he was sent to see, and who showed him around the offices, was Ed Butler, who debated Oswald on local TV in August 1963.

     With much detective work, he was able to show that Mary Sherman died in circumstances unrelated to the apparent stabbing. He deduced that her death probably occurred as an accident with a linear particle generator, and that she might have been involved with underground cancer research. In 1961, it became public knowledge (but not common knowledge) that the then current polio vaccine contained a cancer causing live virus, SV-40, due to the culture of the vaccine having been grown on monkeys who also harbored SV-40. (Shorter, 1987). Haslam conjectured that Mary Sherman was killed at a government facility funded by CIA monies to secretly develop the vaccine when the mishap occurred. Not wanting any investigation to take place at the facility, she was moved back to her apartment; a fire was started that a simple investigation would show foul play. Haslam conjectured that the close proximity in the deaths of Sherman and Banister allowed Ferrie free rein on his own research; he may have developed a virus that ultimately was injected into Jack Ruby.

     A second research effort in the unusual category was done by Goldman (1993). Goldman claimed to be an eyewitness to the assassination, but never reveals his version of the events. After being away from Dallas for over 25 years, he decided to return- and perhaps study the assassination. As if to tempt fate, he attended the Coalition on Political Assassinations (COPA) convention in 1991. He gained the resolve to work in Dealy Plaza for a year to come to terms with the Kennedy assassination, and to make good on a promise he made to a woman he met while working at the Rose Hill Cemetery near Dallas.  There, he met Marguerite Oswald. He said that if he could, he would try to help the truth come out someday.

     Goodman's research technique was certainly unique; he would casually talk to visitors as he hawked an assassination newspaper with 60 different theories of the assassination. If someone told him there was a great book to read, he'd ask that they tell him rather than read it himself. Being at the plaza every day, he eventually met a variety of people as they educated him about the assassination. One person showed him the storm drain behind the fence and its probable significance. He met Ed Hoffman (1996) and became acquainted with his experience in Dealy Plaza. He also met  Dr. Charles Crenshaw (1992), one of the physicians who treated President Kennedy at Parkland Hospital. Crenshaw maintained that Kennedy was shot from the front.

     Goodman discovered the crisscross directory for Dallas for 1963. He had a particular interest in the Dal-Tex building and its occupants. He found the Dallas Uranium Company, whose offices were strategically located on the third floor and had a clear view for a shooter intent on assassinating the president. Goodman was told the company was owned by H.L. Hunt, whom Goodman suspects of being involved with the JFK assassination.

     Goodman moved into an apartment at 1026 N. Beckley, the last apartment of Lee Harvey Oswald. This seemed to increase Goodman's paranoia regarding his own safety rather than lend significantly to his investigation. This, unfortunately, seemed to be a pattern. Goodman ran across several good leads, but they were not followed far enough.

     The owner of record of the Dal-Tex Building at the time of the assassination was said to be Morris Jaffe. Morris Jaffe is indeed a very interesting fellow who bears further investigation. Jaffe succeeded Billie Sol Estes in his empire, buying it for a song.

     It may be that Goodman will turn out to be right in several of his assertions. If he's right, it will be due more to luck and intuition than to careful research.

Other Notable Researchers    

     By no means have all of the important researchers on the Kennedy assassination been mentioned to this point. A few more of this dedicated cadre would include Jerry D. Rose, editor of The Fourth Decade; Rose (1987) has also written about Jack Ruby. A few of the others include  DiEugenio (1992); Fonzi (1993); Jones (1974); Roffman (1975); Russell (1992); Scott (1993); Shaw & Harris, (1992): and Zirbel (1991). The Shaw & Harris book is an excellent, readable book that could serve as a primer to someone wishing to learn about the assassination. 

Interviews and Their Interpretations

     The use of quantification has at times been rightfully criticized as changing the information gathered to fit pre-chosen categories. To some extent, the same criticism can be made of the qualitative interpretations of interviews. The existence of videotapes and viewing them as a source of data seems so much richer than either of the reductionist processes. Viewing the intact videos of witnesses would seem to be preferable to reading someone else's interpretation.

 Purists in Qualitative and Quantitative Research and Their Contrast to Kennedy Asssassination Researchers

     A contingent of qualitative researchers and a perhaps larger number of quantitative researchers take a decidedly more methodological view than has been presented here. Quantitative researchers who follow the dictates of Campbell and Stanley (1967) might be oriented to limit their concept of research to experimentation or quasi-experimentation and much of the research presented here would not be seen as falling in their domain. So also those qualitative researchers following the dictates of Lincoln and Guba (1985) would similarly look at the non-quantitative research and would see it lacking from their perspective. Perhaps neither group would be willing to consider geometric research as falling within their domain per se. It is this vast area of research that falls between traditional qualitative research and traditional quantitative research that constitutes the "middle" of the qualitative-quantitative continuum. Some might consider it the excluded middle. To borrow a term, but with undoubtedly a different meaning, I would describe the JFK research as "process" (Oliver & Gershman, 1989, see Endnote 3) research. In the sense that I intend it, the collective of the assassination research, followed through time does yield to a concept of process. 

While any given researcher may be seen as a linear researcher, the methodological potpourri that has characterized the JFK assassination research together with the myriad of interpretations does give a sense of process. The JFK researchers form a community of scholars-learners-researchers that interact in ways that postmodernists espouse. This community functions without government grants and reduced often to self-publication. The non-subsidized journals are lively reading, particularly in the letters to the editors. Personal correspondence can be even livelier; if others who have had publications in the JFK assassination research journals are like mine, then we are also both learners and teachers. I have had queries from readers that make the assumption that I have expertise in diverse matters relating to the assassination. On the other hand, the JFK research community does appear to be well versed on the details relating to the assassination. Also, I have received articles and videos from other researchers without having asked for them, and indeed without having met or corresponded with them.

      The extensive use of substantive material as opposed to a simple methodological discussion is to point out the importance of the substantive to reasonable interpretations. Collectively, the JFK assassination research shows a government interest for "the saving of appearances" (Berman, 1957). For the saving of appearances leads to "plausible denial". Perhaps the grand plan of the JFK assassination will never be completely known; what is known is that the government through its various representatives have insisted on implausible interpretations (magic bullets, number of shots, discounting the observations of a large number of witnesses). When a government conducts adversarial investigations and insists upon implausible interpretations, then truth suffers.


Endnote 1: Milan (1989) relates that he was sent to Dallas on 11/23/63 by J. Edgar Hoover to kill Gerald Brinkman, a taxi driver who had been hired as one of a team of three shooters to shoot John Connally in the Presidential limousine. Connally was shot before any member of his team could get a shot off. Presumably the other two shooters met a fate similar to Brinkman.

Endnote 2: Otherwise purist feminist qualitative researchers sometimes take notice of quantitative data that suggests they are being underpaid in comparison to their male colleagues. While they may argue the techniques underplay discrimination, they are sometimes fascinated that quantitative techniques can ostensibly prove discrimination.

Endnote 3: Oliver & Gershman's (1989) concept of "process" defies a simple explanation. Applied to assassination research, "process research-learning" would seem to mean that the specifics of a particular research piece are integrated with the existing knowledge base that is interdependent on the community of researchers. The community may never completely solve the mystery, nor necessarily get close- however, a sense of meaning and interrelatedness of meaning evolves-changes as members of the community continue to rethink meaning to the larger context of society. As time goes on, the meanings within the community are likely to change. There is no sense of a consensus, or realistically, even an endpoint, though individuals may sense some sort of consensus and envision an endpoint. We may disagree wholeheartedly with another's interpretation, and yet help one another pursue their sense of meaning.


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