In my view, were it not for the pervasive influence of a handful of
individuals, there would be no plague of conspiracy theories
surrounding the Kennedy assassination.
The first of these regrettable characters was Jack
Ruby, who by stealing the executioner's role, created generations of
doubters, and not unreasonably so. It was an audacious, desperate
act that would seem to make sense only if Jack Ruby had a very
powerful, rational motive for killing Lee Harvey Oswald.
The truth is that he did not; the hard evidence in
the case supports no other conclusion.
Based on indisputable facts, I believe that Ruby
acted spontaneously in the basement at City Hall. The opportunity to
kill Lee Harvey Oswald suddenly presented itself, and Ruby acted
accordingly. He could just as well have been driving home from the
Western Union office at that moment.
The second key character was Mark Lane, for whose
predations I must shoulder some blame.
Had I not foolishly given Lane a packet of
then-secret witness statements in December of 1963, believing him
when he said his single motive was to act as devil's advocate for
Oswald ("I want to represent this boy," Lane told me.
"I don't think he did it."), I wonder if people such as
Lane, and later Jim Garrison and Oliver Stone, would be viewed today
as brave souls who fought to bring the light of "truth" to
the assassination story.
Lane, an attorney and one-term New York Democratic
state assemblyman from the JFK wing of the party, in early December
wrote a lengthy piece in The National Guardian laying out a litany
of reasons that made him conclude Oswald could not have killed
Kennedy. The story was published well before Lane ever visited
Dallas, spoke to any witnesses or investigators or contacted me. It
was riddled with inaccuracies and unsupported suppositions.
When he first called me in December, I told him I
was very busy, but agreed to meet with him at my apartment the next
"Do you know anybody who knows Jack Ruby
well?" he asked. I said that I knew Ruby well enough to
intensely dislike him. "Really?" Lane replied, his
interest plainly apparent.
"Well, there's no doubt that he and Oswald were
involved," he said, "but we don't know exactly how."
Then he mentioned he had an appointment scheduled
for the next day with a Dallas business figure who had seen Oswald
and Ruby plotting together, just a few weeks before the
assassination. "I talked with him on the phone and he sounds
like the real thing," Lane offered.
"How many people have you interviewed so
far?" I asked.
"Well, you may be the first," he said.
"Then this other source, this lawyer with an impeccable memory.
Maybe I'll get to him tomorrow. But I will share it with you if you
will help me."
"Who's footing the bill for your
"I am, completely," he assured me. "I
am certainly not in it for the money. This will cost me plenty, but
I think it's very important."
Lane came by the apartment again the next evening.
He said his good source, the one who could put Ruby and Oswald
together in the Carousel Club, had bowed out, for the time being.
"He's had some threats," said Lane,
"and he needs some time to think it over. We're going to talk
At this point, I had not yet met Carroll Jarnagin.
But I'd heard about him from Johnny King, who had said Jarnagin was
"a nice-enough guy, but a bad lush" and that he thought I
should talk to him eventually, if only to discount the story.
"He's told us other stories," King
laughed. "One about LBJ that we would have loved to believed,
another about John Tower. The guy gets around-especially in his own
At this early stage in the story, I was still
running down what at first often looked like great leads that
connected Oswald with others in the shootings. It was too soon to
dismiss possibilities. And under the general rule that even a blind
pig can sometimes find an acorn, I was deeply curious to learn the
identity of Lane's source, hardly guessing who he would turn out to
Lane tried to impress me with how much he knew about
the assassination, which wasn't much at all. I'd recall this
conversation three years later when I first sat down with Jim
Garrison. The New Orleans DA didn't know much either.
Lane would mention this source or that eyewitness,
and I would contradict him. "No, he didn't say that." Or,
"She wasn't in a position to hear that."
"But how do you know?" he kept asking.
Because, I explained, in some cases I conducted the
first interview with the individual in question, or knew something
about them that called their word into question. A lot of them
changed their stories as time passed, too.
"A few days after somebody got to them,"
Lane added, conspiratorially.
There also was another reason I was sure of my
"I know what they said to the cops, too, within
hours of the shootings," I said. "They might have
'refined' the facts later, but I know what they originally
said." "What makes you so sure?" Lane asked.
Like a dummy, eager to prove my point to this
opportunist, I went into the next room, grabbed a stack of papers,
came back and tossed them on the coffee table.
"There are the eyewitness accounts," I
said, "made the afternoon of November 22nd."
"Where did you get these?" Lane was
I could not divulge my source, I said. But the
reports were real and legitimate.
Lane began to read; we didn't speak for a long time.
"The only reason I'm showing you these," I
finally broke the silence, "is that you made many, many
misinterpretations in your article. If you are truly interested in
giving Oswald a fair shake from a historical standpoint, I think you
need to know what the investigation shows so far."
"Oh, yes," Lane agreed.
He glanced at his watch and asked, "Could I use
your telephone? I was supposed to call Oswald's mother about now.
I'm meeting with her tomorrow and don't want to miss her, or call
"Are you representing her?" I asked,
thinking back over my recent, testy confrontations with Marguerite.
"Not yet. But I intend to."
"Then be my guest," I said, pointing out
the telephone resting on a table in the adjoining room.
We lived in a small, one-bedroom apartment at the
time, so I couldn't help hearing Lane's conversation even if I
tried, which I didn't. Three or four times he said to her, "I
really don't think it will make much difference."
When he finished, I softly eased into the subject.
"I couldn't help but hearing Mark, what was all that 'doesn't
matter' stuff about?"
"Oh, she is quite an opinionated woman,"
he said. "She thinks Lee was a paid informant of the FBI and
she asked how much difference that would make. I told her it
probably doesn't matter either way."
He changed the subject.
"You know, you are an important contributor to
the truth in this case," Lane said, exuding sincerity.
"Will you help me find the truth? I have to go
back to New York in a day or so, and I was wondering if I could
borrow these statements for a few days. I want to contact these
people to see what, if any, pressure has been brought on them, and
if they have something different to say now."
All these years later, I could still kick myself for
this next sentence: "Of course. I'm not writing anything more
about the witnesses, at least not for now."
I didn't even take the partial precaution of making
Lane go photocopy the pages. In part, that was not so simply done in
1963 as it is today; public photocopy machines were not common.
Plus, I had made good notes on all the most important witnesses.
Lane, despite his promises, did not return the
witness reports to me immediately. But I was busy with other parts
of the assassination story, and saw no reason to distrust the
earnest young lawyer from New York. I did call his office a few
times. He was never in.
Then I began seeing wire service stories from
Europe, reporting the fund-raising activities of so-called "Who
Killed Kennedy?" committees across the continent. The
dispatches said that British philosopher Bertrand Russell was
involved with the committees, and reported that Mark Lane was their
executive director. I also read about Lane appearing at a press
conference, waving a fistful of documents in the air, proclaiming
that the papers proved that witnesses in Dallas contradicted the
I had made a horrific mistake.
A few days later came a telephone call from Bertrand
Russell himself in London. "First," the old man said in an
authoritative British accent, "I want to congratulate you on
stealing all those statements from the Dallas police. I don't
profess to understand how you did it, but you have done the world a
Famous as he was, I confess to little detailed
knowledge of Russell's thought processes. I knew nothing of his
politics and I had no idea why he was calling me. I wasn't even
positive, at first, that Bertrand Russell was really on the phone.
Were it not for that aristocratic accent, I would have suspected
some jokester at the paper. But nobody I knew could sustain such an
accent for long.
I told Russell that I had not stolen anything from
any investigative agency, and I didn't know where anyone would get
that idea, surely not from me.
"Oh, Mr. Lane informed me you would say just
that," he replied with a chuckle.
Russell said he had some questions for me
"about some of the stories you have written." I advised
him to submit his queries in writing and I'd be please to answer
them as best I could. This did not please him. He seemed accustomed
to people doing as he instructed them. The conversation soon ended.
Yet he did write me three times over the ensuing
months, exploring all possibilities of official chicanery,
falsification and the like. The only subject I wouldn't touch is one
I still don't touch today. I do not know exactly how to explain
Kennedy's and Connally's wounds. The Warren Commission might be
correct or might be totally wrong about its much-maligned
"Single Bullet Theory," the allegation that one shot
careened through the president's back and throat and then into Gov.
But I do know that I heard three distinct shots that
afternoon; so did several others whom I interviewed shortly
On Feb. 7, Lane finally responded to my demands that
he return the files. He also offered me a job as his investigator,
assuring me in a letter that "our communications and contacts
would be priviledged [sic.] and I need not divulge them to
I never answered his letter and thought I was
through with him at that point. But less than a month later, Lane
testified before the Warren Commission about his secret source:
Lane told the commission that he considered his
informant "a reliable and responsible" person who had been
present at an assassination plot meeting at the Carousel Club
attended by Ruby, Weissman, and Officer J.D. Tippit! The alleged
session occurred a few days before the assassination.
The lawyer told the commission that he would try to
convince his informant to testify. Of course that never happened.
The commission pleaded with him and finally paid Lane's airfare from
Europe to testify. Still he would not divulge his source.
Perhaps Lane knew of Jarnagin's attempt to sell his
ever-changing story or had been told that he had miserably failed a
polygraph given by the district attorney's office. For whatever
reason, Lane resisted.
Chief Justice Warren didn't like it.
"We have been pursuing you…with letters and
entreaties to give us that information so that we might verify what
you have said-if it is a fact or disproving it if it is not a
fact," Warren said.
The surprise to me was not that Lane would not back
up his tale; he had made many, many assertions that were untrue to
this point. I was more amazed at the commission's poor background
Several people in Dallas were well aware of
Jarnagin's tale, and that he later admitted making it all up.
Henry Wade and Chief Curry testified before the
commission, at length. No one thought to ask them about Jarnagin,
even though Wade had personally arranged for Jarnagin's polygraph
and later told me "it went off the charts-far off the
This is the sort of evidence Lane typically produced
in support of his various conspiracy theories of the JFK case and,
later, the assassination of Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr., which he
has argued was the work of off-duty FBI agents under J. Edgar
Hoover's personal control.
To dismiss Lane's imaginative scenarios as rubbish,
as I did at first, is to completely miss the point.
Lane found that he could make almost any assertion
about the assassination-even under oath-with impunity. He almost
single-handedly invented the lucrative JFK conspiracy industry.
No wonder he and Marguerite got along so well.
His book, Rush to Judgment, was a mishmash of
unproven and unlikely allegations and off-the-wall speculations.
Fifteen publishing houses turned it down, because they were too far
behind Lane on the manufactured-controversy learning curve.
Only Holt, Rinehart and Winston guessed the true
potential for profits in Rush. They issued the book as a $5.95
hardback in 1966 and sold 30,000 copies in just two weeks. It was a
publishing home run, and it showed the way for legions of other
buffs to get rich and famous.
In addition to Ruby and Lane, the third leg of the
conspiracy stool was Jim Garrison, the unhinged New Orleans district
attorney who by virtue of his office lent reassuring, mainstream
legitimacy to the wildest theories-governmental sanction for just
about any crackpot claim.
As Rush rocketed to the top of the bestseller lists
in the autumn of 1966, Garrison happened to meet Louisiana senator
Russell Long on an airplane trip from Washington to New Orleans.
Long, who always believed there had been a
conspiracy behind the 1935 assassination of his father, Huey Long,
the famous "Kingfish," harbored doubts about the Kennedy
case too, and urged Garrison to look into the matter.
In late 1966, the district attorney began checking
out volumes of the much-maligned Warren Commission report from his
Fast forward to mid-January 1967. Jack Ruby had just
died of cancer. I was just starting my new job at Newsweek in
Houston, when I received a call from Garrison. He invited me over to
discuss the Kennedy assassination.
"I keep running into your name." he said.
"I think you have information that could help me in an ongoing
investigation-and I'm very sure I have information you would
consider more than just interesting."
Jim Garrison (originally Earling Carothers Garrison)
at the time enjoyed a favorable press. A few months earlier Jim
Phelan had published an admiring profile of the hulking one-time FBI
agent in The Saturday Evening Post.
Garrison told me he was investigating the Kennedy
assassination, and thought I could "fill in some holes"
for him. Sensing this might be the start of a great story, I agreed
to what would become a long series of encounters with Garrison.