Tuesday, November 22, 2011

The assassinations

Today is the anniversary of the day America changed. Two remarkable pieces -- both published by Salon -- delve in the conspiracies to murder John and Robert Kennedy.

The Slate piece, by Jefferson Morley, does an excellent job of explaining why the JFK assassination is not just another conspiracy theory, and certainly not something to be mentioned in the same breath as the ludicrous "controlled demolition" theory of 9/11.
More likely, Kennedy was ambushed by enemies who sought to avoid detection. That is what JFK’s widow, Jacqueline, and his brother Robert believed. As David Talbot demonstrated in his 2007 book “Brothers,” Bobby Kennedy concluded within hours of the gunfire in Dallas that his brother had been killed by anti-Castro Cubans. For the rest of his life, RFK never abandoned a conspiratorial interpretation of his brother’s death.
There is a growing scholarly consensus that JFK was killed by a conspiracy. Since 2000, five tenured historians at U.S. universities have published scholarly studies that addressed the causes of JFK’s death. Four of the five concluded there was a conspiracy (though they did not all agree on who was responsible).
Morley discusses the key role of James Jesus Angleton in "running" Oswald, especially during the Mexico City escapade. Alas, Morley doesn't go far enough: For the full story -- or at least a fuller story -- read the expanded version of John Newman's Oswald and the CIA. All you really need is a close study of the additional final chapter. It might sound simplistic to say "Angleton did it," but -- well, I think that Angleton did it. At least, I believe that he, more than any other individual, ran the show.

Another extraordinary piece came out yesterday. Lisa Pease's all-too-brief recounting of the RFK assassination includes material which even I found new and stunning. In particular, I was intrigued by a recent experiment in hyponsis -- involving no less a figure than British TV personality Stephen Fry -- which gives the lie to the oft-repeated axiom that a hypnotized subject cannot be forced to act against his own moral code. (There is a theory that Sirhan was hypnotized that night. Actually, at his trial, both the defense and the prosecution stipulated that he was in a trance, albeit one that was self-induced.)
On Channel 4 in the U.K. last month, hypnotist Derren Brown tested this scenario on his TV show “The Experiments.” He took a highly hypnotizable subject and, over a two-month period, trained him to shoot and “kill” a celebrity. The subject, however, did not know this was the experiment’s goal. Brown gave his subject a two-part trigger that would send him into a hypnotic state: a polka dot pattern and a unique cellphone ring tone. When he saw this pattern and heard the tone, the young man was taught to touch his head to focus his concentration, and then fire a gun at a target on a range. But his final test occurred not at a range, but at a taping of British entertainer Stephen Fry’s show. As the subject watched the show from a back row, a hidden camera showed a girl in a polka dot dress enter and sit in front of the subject. The cellphone rang. The girl turned to the subject and whispered, “The target is Stephen Fry.” The subject hesitated a moment, then touched his forehead, opened the case, pulled out a gun loaded with blanks, stood, and fired. Stephen Fry, who was wired with squibs (the exploding fake blood packets used in movies to simulate gunshots), fell down “dead.” The hypnotized man showed no reaction at the time. When shown a video of his act later, the subject seemed genuinely surprised at what he had done.
In this light, I'd like to republish a couple of pieces I wrote on the RFK assassination some years ago. The research trail outlined here may prove a dead end -- or it may reward investigation. (When I wrote, Paul Newman was still alive.)

From March 30, 2006:

Thanks to Gary Buell, I stumbled across an interesting document pertinent to the RFK assassination, brought to you by the good folks over at the Smoking Gun. The information amounts to little more than a tale told at second- or third-hand -- but, as we shall soon see, we may be able to track down a first-hand witness.

This FBI memo from August of 1971 summarizes an interview with a lady named Lila Hurtado, who, in 1968, had worked for one William R. Huntington, an interior decorator "to the stars" who kept an office on Sunset Boulevard. (The text makes it clear that he was gay, a fact which may be relevant.) Huntington told her of a tape recording made by a friend of his, an attorney named Ronald Buck who owned or ran a club called The Factory.

A side note: A little googling reveals that a club by that name still operates in West Hollywood; apparently, it caters to a gay clientele. I don't know if that was the case in 1968, or even if we are dealing with the same place.

Back to our story. According to Hurtado, Buck had made a secret tape recording of several "wealthy individuals" hobnobbing with bigwigs from Washington. These worthies were "gloating" over the deaths of JFK and Martin Luther King, and discussed plans to deal similarly with Robert F. Kennedy, who was then running for the Democratic presidential nomination.

Buck later played the tape for Huntington, who called Robert Kennedy. (How did he get the number? Probably via Peter Lawford, who was one of Huntington's clients.) RFK personally heard the tape while in California, and responded: "I can't do anything about that until I become President."
Hurtado learned from Huntington during this time, the names of three individuals who had attended the private party; however, she could only recall the name of a Mr. Hunt, who was a millionaire from Texas.
This would seem to be a reference to H.L. Hunt, a racist fanatic long rumored to be the money man behind the assassination. (Incidentally, Ken Russell's Billion Dollar Brain features a hilarious caricature of Hunt.) The idea of old man Hunt showing up at a private party held in a gay club is more than a little odd -- but, as noted above, I don't really know what sort of patronage The Factory attracted back in '68.

Huntington later claimed that he had received threats on his life. He died of a heart attack in 1971. Hurtado, his confidant and the teller of this tale, began to feel that she might herself be in some danger. Thus, she made contact with the FBI.

An interesting story -- but, alas, no more than that. The tape would be good evidence, if it still exists. Even a first-hand "earwitness" would benefit the credibility of this account. Might such a witness still exist?

Hurtado listed the names of several individuals who, she believed, might corroborate her story. One of these names struck me as familiar:
Lea Perwin (phonetic)
Ronald Buck's former Secretary
now employed with Diamond Jim's in Los Angeles
"Diamond Jim's" was the name of a chain of ritzy steak houses in Southern California; as it happens, my mother worked for this firm in the late 1970s. At first, I wondered whether this connection might be the reason why the name "Lea Perwin" struck a chord.

Then it hit me: "Lea Perwin" may refer to the woman who now styles herself Lea Purwin D'Agostino, known to the criminal class as "the Dragon Lady," a nickname she is said to relish. (I believe she married a man named D'Agostino.) Now a respected Deputy District Attorney in Los Angeles, she became famous through her aggressive prosecution of director John Landis in the "Twilight Zone" case. I would not be surprised to learn that her legal career began with a stint as a secretary to a well-known lawyer.

I'll let you know how this tale develops...

From April 4, 2006:

Since this blog usually ignores '60s-era controversies -- readers seem more interested in today than in yesterday -- few seemed to care very much about my previous RFK post. Nevertheless, this is one assassination story which deserves wider attention, due to the thin -- but genuine -- possibility that hard evidence may yet surface.

That evidence took or takes the form of a clandestine tape recording allegedly made in 1968 by a lawyer named Ronald Buck, who co-owned a Los Angeles night spot named The Factory. On this tape -- allegedly -- were the voices of military bigwigs and H.L. Hunt, who bragged about engineering the deaths of JFK and Martin Luther King, and who announced a determination to do likewise to Robert Kennedy. This gathering occurred at a private party at The Factory.


Alas, we must emphasize the word "allegedly" so heavily because we have this tale at second hand. It comes to us by way of a woman named Lisa Hurtado, secretary to one William Huntington, friend to Ronald Buck and "earwitness" to the tape. According to Hurtado, Huntington later claimed that he had received death threats because he had knowledge of this damning piece of evidence. He died of a heart attack in the first half of 1971. Unnerved, Hurtado told her story to an FBI agent, who wrote it all up in a nice document which you can find here.

Obviously, this tape -- if ever it came to light -- could change our view of history. Even if it was destroyed, I would like to know if more than one person can confirm that it did once exist. To that end, I noted that the "Lea Perwin" identified by Hurtado as Buck's legal secretary may, in fact, be Lea Purwin D'Agostino, now a well-known Deputy D.A. in Los Angeles.

Quite a few other noted individuals may also have direct knowledge of this tape recorded evidence. If Buck allowed Huntington to hear it, he probably would have also shared it with his business associates.

Buck was not the sole owner of The Factory. He had celebrated partners: Paul Newman, Jerry Ohrbach, Pierre Salinger, Peter Lawford, Sammy Davis Jr., Peter Bren and Richard Donner.

The most famous name on this list is, of course, that of Paul Newman. Few members of the general public know that he has long had an interest in the JFK assassination. Whenever Newman visited New Orleans, he would ask for one specific cab driver -- Perry Russo, the key witness in Jim Garrison's case.

Pierre Salinger, JFK's Press Secretary, had befriended Mary Pinchot Meyer, the wife of Cord Meyer of the CIA. Her mysterious death has been tied, by some theorists, to that of JFK. As far as I know, Salinger never endorsed a conspiracy theory of the JFK murder, although he did encounter some turbulence (so to speak) when he lent his name to the "missile" theory of the downing of TWA 800 in 1996.

A couple of the people on this list of owners were not so well-known in 1968 as they later would become. Director Richard Donner, for example, broke into big-league feature film-making in 1975, with The Omen. In 1968, he was a television director.

Lawford, Ohrbach, Salinger and Davis are no longer with us. I am ashamed to admit that I do not know who Peter Bren was or is.

Paul Newman, however, is still alive and making a damn fine salad dressing, and he still occasionally shows up onscreen to teach the youngsters a few lessons. (I consider his work in 2002's A Road to Perdition a career best.) Richard Donner, in his 70s, still produces films. If you know how to get in contact with these two men, or with family members, perhaps you could ask about a lawyer named Ronald Buck.

You may also want to ask about the current whereabouts of a certain piece of oxide.

Forgive my occasional weakness for romantic scenarios, but I can't help wondering: What if these individuals had shared copies of this tape? Perhaps they engaged in a sort of tontine -- an agreement to release the evidence of conspiracy after the last member of the "club" dies, or when death seems so close as to make any threat of retaliation seem superfluous.

Just a thought.

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