The JFK Assassination At 60: New Frontiers In Scientific, Medical, Legal And Historical Research

By Steve Vertlieb: My brother Erwin and I joined friends Howard Weitz and Gary Hoffman over the past several days in order to attend this fabulous once in a lifetime event.

The legacy of Camelot still resonates for historians and the public alike. On Nov. 15-17, 2023, experts gathered in Pittsburgh for Duquesne University’s JFK Assassination at 60 symposium.

“Former Secret Service Agent for President John F. Kennedy, Paul Landis, who recently made headlines around the world with new details about the 1963 assassination, was one of the featured speakers.

Speaking with Alec Baldwin, an actor and social activist who has garnered my personal admiration and respect over the years, at the JFK 60th anniversary symposium held at Duquesne University in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, during opening night remarks on Wednesday evening, November 15th, 2023.

Rob Reiner speaks to the JFK assassination symposium via a zoom conference call.

Together with a truly courageous American hero, Paul Landis, at Duquesne University in Pittsburgh for the 60th JFK anniversary assemblage in Pittsburgh on November 16th. Paul is one of the two last living secret service agents riding with the presidential motorcade when the fatal shots rang out on November 22nd, 1963.

“Don’t Let It Be Forgot
That Once There Was A Spot
For One Brief Shining Moment
That Was Known As Camelot”

24 thoughts on “The JFK Assassination At 60: New Frontiers In Scientific, Medical, Legal And Historical Research

  1. I attended the one 20 years ago, at which many forensic experts presented evidence and analysis of that evidence. Was that also the case at this one?

  2. And while I like a good conspiracy as much as anyone, reading Gerald Posner’ book Case Closed (a Pulitzer finalist for history) convinced me that Oswald, a communist nut, acted alone.

  3. Thanks, bill. It looks like an expanded version of the one I attended. I wish I could have gone to this one. Wecht is absolutely brilliant, and very good at explaining things in plain English. He let me visit him at his office ahead of the conference and signed a couple of books of mine that he had written.

    It’s disappointing that there is so much false information still publicly regarded as “true” regarding the JFK assassination, despite all of the evidence revealed by re-investigation in the last 3 decades, include Lee Harvey Oswald still being blamed for it.

    (for example, modern audio analysis of historic recordings indicates that the shots were fired from two different places on the grassy knoll, and there is historic video footage filmed at the time of the shot, showing the “witness” who claimed they saw LHO fire the shot from the depository, and that person was actually looking in the other direction at the time of the shot).

  4. Nice photos!
    I think the worst book I read on the case was Posner’s book. There are so many factual errors in the book that the mass of them completely discredits his claim that Oswald killed Kennedy.

  5. Mm… a slighty SF connected item here re those terrible events in late Nov 1963 in Deely Plaza, Dallas,Texas. I well remember this as a child then in Ireland, where Kennedy had visited –to huge interest– only 6 months previously and had, whilst there, arranged US pre-clearance (from Dublin and Shannon: still the only 2 European Airports where this is done) prior to take off, for the States. That very same weekend as that assassination, the new BBC TV series (Dr Who) was about to start. But it was delayed by some time, on its 1st TV broadcast (then in B+W and on the old 405 lines system), due to the very lengthy news item re JFK. So these two items are now forever linked. And oddly enough, now, with the good Doctor’s 60th anniversary, BBC have kindly put on its I-Player system, all the episodes it has . But due to some legal issues, ironically, it has not been able to put that very 1st episode (“An Unearthly Child”) thereon!

  6. @JJ — can you point me to the audio analysis you are referring to? And the name of the witness who was looking the wrong way?

    Two trivial things related to the assassination:

    Actor Bill Paxton (Aliens, Terminator, True Lies) was there that day, and saw JFK’s speech.

    On the opening credits to the pilot of Gilligan’s Island, you can see flags at half-mast/half-staff. The footage was taken immediately after the assassination, while America was in mourning.

  7. @Brian — I am familiar with criticism of Posner’s book, and don’t find much of it to be convincing.

  8. bill: can you point me to the audio analysis you are referring to? And the name of the witness who was looking the wrong way?

    It’s been 20 years since I attended the symposium, and my memory has faded. There is a host of other evidence, including the fact that the total weight of bullet fragments collected (including the so-called “magic bullet”, which had not been fired from a gun but instead had been placed so as to be “discovered”) was around 4 or 5 bullets’ worth, and other evidence that neither LHO nor the Texas Book Depository were the source of the shots. I imagine you should be able to find the items referenced in the program (which you linked above) on the internet or in a published book(s).

  9. I didn’t buy his book, but I was never able to understand how Posner could dismiss the House Select Committee on Assassinations’ conclusion regarding the acoustic evidence of more shots being fired. Is his claim just that theoretically the sound of additional shots could conceivably have been the noise of something else which coincidentally sounded like gunshots, but we don’t know what that could possibly have been? Unless Posner specifically demonstrated the sound of something that is concrete and could have plausibly occurred at the same time fooling the acoustics experts, it seems a weak argument.

    The HSCA’s further conclusion that the secret service, FBI and CIA were not involved in the conspiracy seems to me more problematic. If that’s true, why has the CIA under the Trump and Biden administrations refused release thousands of pages even when compelled to by law? The best information about that we have comes from Trump’s 2018 memo explaining why he was breaking the law (by not complying with the 1992 John F. Kennedy Assassination Records Collection Act):

    I agree with the Archivist’s recommendation that the continued withholdings are necessary to protect against identifiable harm to national security, law enforcement, or foreign affairs that is of such gravity that it outweighs the public interest in immediate disclosure.

    That means it wasn’t Cuba (who is the enemy already) and it wasn’t the Soviet Union (which no longer exists). What’s left?

    My all time favorite work in the conspiracy theory genre is Joan Mellen’s 2007 biography of Jim Garrison, A Farewell to Justice: Jim Garrison, JFK’s Assassination, and the Case That Should Have Changed History. I guess it is no longer the most up-to-date reference, but she’s just a brilliant biographer.

  10. Brian Z: the House Select Committee on Assassinations’ conclusion regarding the acoustic evidence of more shots being fired

    … and that was in 1976. As of 2003, acoustic experts had obtained several different audio recordings from different locations at the time the shots were fired — including that from a motorcycle cop in the motorcade, whose mic was stuck in the “transmit” position — and had been able to triangulate locations (plural) of the several shots that were fired. I imagine the accuracy of that evidence has been further refined in the last 20 years.

  11. @Brian Z — re: acoustic analysis — short answer, the HSCA screwed up. They assumed that a dictabelt recording was from the open mike of a motorcycle officer, H. B. McLain, during the time of the shooting. McLain wasn’t able to hear the recording until after the HSCA wrapped up, and once he did, he denied it was from his radio — it didn’t include his siren, for example, or crowd noise, which McLain said was so loud he couldn’t hear his radio. The motorcycle sound on the recording was idling, while McLain’s was racing as he escorted the president’s limo to Parkland Hospital.
    Further analysis of the recording revealed the spoken phrase “Hold everything secure” at the moment of the “four” shots. This was spoken by Sherriff Decker, a full minute after the shooting. Thus, the HSCA misidentified the source of the recording, and the time it was made.

    The National Academy of Sciences reviewed all this in 1982, and agreed that the HSCA was wrong on the acoustics.
    The wikipedia article
    goes into all this in more detail.

  12. bill: The National Academy of Sciences reviewed all this in 1982, and agreed that the HSCA was wrong on the acoustics.

    That was more than 40 years ago. Posner’s book was written 30 years ago. A great deal more investigation has been done, and the science has advanced by leaps and bounds, in the interim decades.

    The House Select Committee declared in 1976 that much of the 1964 Warren Commission report was just plain wrong (I’m being generous, the WC report was mostly fabricated).

  13. Thank you bill.

    Your links led me to where the 1982 claims by the National Academy of Sciences were refuted in a 2000 peer reviewed paper supporting the HSCA conclusions.

    Though I see there is criticism of this paper in an article published online by someone who seems to have been an analyst who had worked in some capacity on the NAS research team, or do I have that wrong? It gets into the weeds about whether sound came from the direction of the grassy knoll. So I’m still wondering how carefully Posner handled all this. I watched an interview with him where he just handwaved through it.

    Also interested in your thoughts on the assassination records issue, of course.

  14. @JJ — If you will point to some specific errors it would be helpful. But to just keep repeating that Posner is wrong, and telling me to do my own research to find his errors, isn’t going to convince me, particularly since the research I do tends to confirm him.

    For example, you say “the total weight of bullet fragments collected . . . was around 4 or 5 bullets’ worth”. There were three shots fired. The first missed the limo completely, and was never recovered. The second was the “magic bullet”, consisting of Commission Exhibit 399 (found in the stretcher, 158 grains) and CE 842 (miniscule frags from Connally’s arm, < 2 gr). The third was partially recovered: CE 567 and 569, (frags from limo seat, 44.6 and 21 gr), CE 840 (frag from limo carpet, <3 gr) and CE 843 (frag from JFK head, < 2 gr). 6.5 x 52 Carcano bullets weigh ~162 grains. The recovered weight of bullets and fragments is well under two bullets’ worth. I can’t find any other bullet fragment material to include in the total.

  15. bill: telling me to do my own research to find his errors, isn’t going to convince me

    I’m not interested in convincing you of anything, I’m simply not that invested. I do remember the evidence presented at the symposium 20 years ago being quite detailed and very compelling. If you’re not interested in finding out more, that’s fine, you do you.

  16. @JJ “If you’re not interested in finding out more,”
    Isn’t obvious that I am interested in finding out more? I mean, I specifically asked you for help in finding references to the things you said.

    Normally, when you see things like “there were too many bullets” in reference to the assassination, you can write it off to run-of-the-mill conspiracy nuttery. I had hoped, that you being a filer, there was more substance to the claim. But as far as I can tell, there isn’t.

  17. bill: I specifically asked you for help in finding references to the things you said… I had hoped, that you being a filer, there was more substance to the claim. But as far as I can tell, there isn’t.

    Sorry, I’ve contributed what I remember from the symposium from 20 years ago, but I am not able to do research for you right now, given the other demands on my time. It’s up to you whether you are willing to do that research yourself.

  18. I was born in Dallas and both of my parents were on the motorcade route as teens that day, 3.5 years before I was born. They hadn’t met yet.

    Mom was from a big Irish Catholic family of seven kids who loved JFK. She was there with several friends from school, saw JFK drive by and were still mooning over that moment when they got to the car and learned from the radio that he’d been shot.

    Dad was also a teen and said he was standing at Main Street and North Houston, the second-to-last turn before JFK was shot, but he was a bullshitter who never let the facts interfere with a good story. He could’ve seen the assassination if he’d been at that corner, but didn’t make that claim. In his last years I would visit him in Dallas when his trouble walking kept him couchbound and we’d spend most of the day talking about the assassination. Actually it was mostly him talking and me listening — I’d say one thing about it and he’d monologue for as long as an hour. He couldn’t get enough of documentaries and books on the subject.

    As a kid growing up in Dallas who listened often to JFK’s Profiles in Courage on vinyl, I took seriously the accusation that Dallas killed him. It was hard to accept the concept of collective guilt or that my city deserved that.

    Probably no surprise I was a liberal by age 13 who rejected the conservative Republicanism of the Dallas County that stoked anger about JFK’s visit.

  19. rcade: I never met Kennedy, though I did try. When my family was touring DC in the summer of 1960 I got them to take me to JFK’s Senate office. He was out campaigning, not that he necessarily would have been available to greet 7-year-old visitors if he was there….

    On the day of the assassination my class was on a field trip to the Griffith Park Observatory. After we came out of the planetarium show and were back on the buses they told us the President had been shot. The radio news was played as we were driven back to school, and we waited to hear whether he was going to live. (More than likely he had died by the time they told us about the shooting, but it took time for things to be made official and reported, I expect.)

  20. bill, in the spirit of 11/22, I skimmed the various acoustics arguments, up through present day near as I can track them down, and none have answered my question above, or G. Robert Blakey’s reservations in the 2001 WP article I linked in response to you.

    The HSCA discovered the sounds of more than three shots fired, and did exhaustive test recordings of shots echoing off the buildings of Dealey Plaza confirming they were matches of location as well as timing.

    Changing one’s assumptions about how to synchronize, whether needles skip, etc., could change one’s conclusion about the time of recording or location of mike as inferred from the acoustic data itself, as you described.

    But we know when those shots were fired. No alternative has been suggested to explain those recordings, except a sort of Infinite Improbability Drive argument, that the universe decided to choose that particular moment to play a trick in the form of a mind-bogglingly improbable random malfunction causing a recording to be made that sounded precisely like what happened but wasn’t.

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  22. I looked at this again and found a podcast where Don Thomas explains the HSCA made test recordings from dozens of locations and found the acoustic matches for the assassin’s bullets with the same timing as the shots, in the sequence of locations where a motorcycle would have been, at the expected distance covered, at the expected speed.

    This podcaster also made a pilgrimage to George Blakey who relates how, on the basis of eyewitness reports and acoustic evidence of a second gunman, they went to great lengths to do test recordings of shots fired from the knoll, and did find an acoustic match for a fourth shot from that direction.

    He then acknowledges that although there is a fifth shot on the recording and eyewitnesses reports of a shot from a third direction, the HSCA ignored it, failing to perform those additional test shots and leaving the fifth shot out of their report.

    He claims that he’d thought finding one additional shooter first would have been sufficient to establish a conspiracy, and that in the end they ran out of time. Had they been able to resolve the grassy knoll faster, they would have gone back, set up dozens of microphones again, and continued doing test recordings to look for match number five.

    That it was buried due to political pressure is obvious. You can see from Blakey’s grimace that he knows in hindsight how bad he screwed up. Finding a match for a fifth shot too would have fatally undermined the sowing of doubt about a fourth.

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