Electronic Assassinations Newsletter

Issue #1 "Case Closed or Posner Exposed?"


Case Closed: Lee Harvey Oswald and the Assassination of JFK by Gerald Posner: A Preliminary Critique

Part 1

By Martin Shackelford

DEJA VU: In 1964, the Warren Commission, after 8 months of studying the JFK assassination, published a book purporting to solve the case; they got virtually uncritical media support and coverage, but they were wrong. In 1966, after three years of studying the JFK case, Mark Lane published a book purporting to solve it; he got mountains of media coverage, but he was wrong. In 1980, after 17 years of studying the case, David Lifton published a book purporting to solve it; Time magazine devoted two pages to his book, and he got a lot of television coverage, but he was wrong. In 1993, after 2 years of study, Gerald Posner published a book purporting to finally resolve the issues in the case, and U.S. News & World Report devoted 27 pages in a special issue on the book, and he is getting a lot of television coverage. He, too, is wrong, but the media seems fonder of his version than Lifton's: he says the Warren Commission was right. As he later notes, "An increasing amount of published work is a dangerous mixture of good information with a liberal dose of falsehoods. Sifting out the truth is increasingly difficult for those not well versed in the facts." (1) Unfortunately, the same may be said of his own book.

BLURBS: Posner's book is highly praised on the dust jacket by Tom Wicker, a longtime Warren Commission apologist who in 1979 wrote an introduction to the House Select Committee on Assassinations report (N.Y. Times edition) praising the Committee's vindication of the Commission, then later confessed he hadn't read the Committee's report, and also wrote the foreword in 1982 to James Phelan's attack on the Garrison investigation (2) ; by novelist William Styron, who has no particular qualifications on the subject, but has a current book with Posner's publisher, Random House (3); by intelligence analyst David Wise, whose five books have been published by Random House (4); and by historian Stephen Ambrose, biographer of Presidents Eisenhower and Nixon, whose only work on the JFK case appears to have been a survey piece in the New York Times Book Review. (5)

EVOLUTION: Posner falsely states: "In the critical literature, Lee Harvey Oswald has evolved from being the lone killer to being part of a conspiracy to being an innocent patsy to being a a hero who vainly tried to save the President by warning the FBI of the plot." (6) No such evolution can be deduced from "the critical literature." Some viewed him as a patsy as early as 1963-64; he appears as the lone killer mainly in the uncritical literature, like Posner's book (and those of Belin, Moore, Sparrow and others); the hero version came from the Jim Garrison investigation after the reported William S. Walter teletype; he leaves out Mafia hitman, Castro hitman, KGB hitman and other theories.

CONSPIRACY PSYCHOLOGY: "Public receptivity... is also fed by suspicions that politicians lie and cover up misdeeds while intelligence and military officials plot against the nation they are supposed to protect." (7) Gee, I'm glad Watergate, the S&L cover-up, Iran-Contra, etc., were only "suspicions" and not documented fact. As for military-intelligence plotting, JFK seems to have shared that concern, as evidenced by his enthusiastic cooperation with the filming of "Seven Days in May." But I don't expect Posner to be aware of all this - he's new to the field.

OSWALD THE FORGOTTEN MAN: Oswald is "forgotten in most recent studies." (8) Mr. Posner seems not to have read Dick Russell's The Man Who New Too Much, and indeed it is not in his bibliography. At the last ASK conference, Marina Oswald was the most avidly questioned person there - about her late husband. Anthony Summers and Gus Russo have been hard at work on a PBS documentary about Oswald, and David Lifton is working on a book. How forgotten can you get?

KICK YOU VERY MUCH: Apparently because he did research at the JFK Assassination Information Center in Dallas, Posner does not initially name the "shopping mall 'assassination research centers' stuffed with souvenir T-shirts and bumper stickers," (9) though he corrrects this omission much later in the book. (10) He reports "plans to expand to other cities," apparently unaware of the existing satellite branch in Niagara Falls. Anyone who has been to JFK AIC knows that the few T-shirts and bumper stickers are a tiny fraction of the contents even of the "gift shop" portion, but Posner dismisses it as "an entertainment business." He also dismisses the A.S.K. conferences as "commercialization, disguised as research." (11) He throws in the fact that "Oswald's signature commands a higher price than President Kennedy's," (12) though autograph values tend to be primarily a matter of scarcity, and available examples of Oswald's signature would be rarer that Kennedy's.

UNINFORMED: Posner correctly points out that "far too many people are content to receive all their knowledge on an important issue from a single article or a three-hour movie." (13) He seems to be hoping that his book will suffice.

ARREST: Posner says "A crowd... had gathered... the rumor circulating that the President's assassin might have been caught." (14) More than a rumor: inside the Theater, a policeman had yelled "Kill the President, will you?" (15) He says "the young man smirked and hollered back," apparently unaware of the films and photographs which show an unsmirking Oswald being brought out and placed into the police car. (16) But "smirk" is a popular term with Warren Commission apologists, probably why the cover photo of Oswald was chosen: atypical, but often said to show a "smirk." Another (unsourced) "smirk" appears on the following page. Later he discusses the arrest again (17), dismissing the account of Warren Burroughs because his IQ was low (18), and implying that Brewer quickly pointed out Oswald, and police went straight to him (19), though other accounts indicate police checked others before Oswald.

OSWALD THE CHILD: I haven't studied Lee Harvey Oswald's childhood, so Posner's account may be relatively accurate, though on one page (20) Oswald is described as a gang leader, while on another (21) he is described as "a bookworm," a combination not often found in conjunction.

STRAWMAN: Given the focus of Josiah Thompson's book, on the events in Dealey Plaza and not on Oswald's life, it is not surprising that, as Posner points out, Thompson "do[es] not mention the New York period, " (22) The other authors mentioned (23) are also not writing about Oswald's childhood. For other examples of this, see below.

TRUANCY: Though Posner quotes a social worker as saying Oswald truanted just to go home and didn't "go to the park ... or whatever it is," (24) a published photo shows Oswald at the park in New York during this period, apparently having a good time.

HARTOGS: Posner cites Dr. Renatus Hartogs for proof of Oswald's dangerousness, failing to note that Hartogs original report is less supportive of this than the testimony cited by Posner, (25) which was given after the assassination and Oswald's death. Hartogs remembers even more in his 1966 book, which doesn't appear in Posner's bibliography. He cites (26) Hartogs' explanation that the report's diagnosis of "passive-agressive" seemed to him "quite clear" in "emphasizing Oswald's potential for violence," though a college textbook definition (27) emphasizes "(a) passive dependence.... (b) ... passive obstructionism" and only a tertiary definition including "irritability, tantrums and destructiveness." In other words, violence is not what the term "passive-aggressive" normally brings to mind, but Hartogs is an "expert," so Posner accepts his explanation without question, and sneers that "many of the critics ignore Hartogs' testimony." He again lists works that do not focus on Oswald's childhood (28), and notes the absence of references to Hartogs. He quotes Sylvia Meagher out of context, and falls to note that her conclusion that Oswald was not psychotic was explicitly supported by a quote from Hartog's original report! To show that Oswald WAS "a psycho," Posner provides the "expert testimony" of a New Orleans neighbor on the point. (29) It should also be noted that, as Marina Oswald recently pointed out, "just because he had a bad character doesn't make him an assassin." (30)

COMMIE: After noting that Oswald had no close friends, Posner cites two teenage acquaintances for evidence that Oswald was "a committed Communist," (31) though definitions of this term during the McCarthy Era were somewhat less than precise - but perhaps Posner is too young to remember.

GAY?: In his enthusiasm for any "negative" information about Oswald, Posner presents some intriguing hints that Oswald may have been gay or bisexual (32) which lends support to some critics' theories more than to the Warren Commission, particularly in connection with his relationship to David Ferrie. He also notes speculation along these lines by George De Mohrenschildt. (33) Later, he suggests that Jack Ruby also might have been gay. (34)

MILITARY RECORDS: Posner seems to accept military hospital records as definitive (35), though in other cases Oswald's military records are contradictory. Posner also seems unfazed by Oswald's frequenting of the expensive Queen Bee nightclub in Tokyo without seeming to spend hardly any money. (36) He cites testimony of a Marine to refute a hypothesis proposed by Henry Hurt, but gives no name or source citation for the statement. (37)

THORNLEY: Posner cites Kerry Thornley's novel, "not published until 1991," (38) apparently unaware that material from the novel was incorporated into Thornley's 1965 book Oswald. Posner notes again that critics who weren't writing Oswald biographies (39) don't mention Thornley.

HISTORIC DIARY: Posner says later entries in Oswald's diary "appear contemporaneous", (40) failing to mention that the handwriting examinations he cites determined the diary was written in two sittings. Marina Oswald states the diary was written on the boat returning from Europe in 1962, as Oswald had been afraid to bring any papers out of Russia. (41)

U.S. AGENT?: Posner cites Vladimir Semichastny (42) to argue the KGB didn't believe Oswald could be a Soviet agent, but earlier (43) quotes Nosenko as saying KGB surveillance was partly to determine that Oswald "was not an American sleeper agent." Oleg Kalugin, another KGB official, told The McNeil-Lehrer News Hour (44) the KGB had suspected Oswald might be a U.S. agent. Posner himself later refers to KGB measures taken to determine if he was a U.S. spy. (45) At the same time, Oswald doesn't appear to have been a U.S. agent in Russia, nor to have been recruited by the KGB.

DE MOHRENSCHILDT AND THE CIA: Posner dismisses suggestions that any ties existed between George DeMohrenschildt and the C.I.A., or that De Mohrenschildt was reporting to them on Oswald (46), apparently unaware of the documents uncovered by Edward Epstein which establish the opposite. (47) That particular Epstein book doesn't appear in Posner's bibliography. Posner seeks to discredit the idea by saying only that De Mohrenschildt gave a statement to that effect to Epstein in 1977, when he "was quite mad." (48)

SPELLING: Posner consistently misspells Declan Ford's name as Delcan. (49) Silvia Odio becomes Sylvia. (50) Diana Bowron becomes Bowren. (51) Santos Trafficante becomes Santo. (52) Carlo Roppolo becomes Carl. (53) Professor David Wrone becomes Richard Wrone. (54) Life magazine writer Paul Mandel becomes Mandal. (55)

CLASSIFIED SOURCES?: Posner implies that he was given access to Oswald's income tax returns: "Copies of Oswald's tax returns show he had little money left after paying monthly expenses." (56)

OSWALD'S GUNS: Guns were "things he had wanted for some time," (57) says Posner, without any supporting documentation. He avoids a detailed description of the Mannlicher-Carcano rifle ordered by Oswald, thus avoiding having to explain why it didn't match the one found in the Book Depository in November. (58) He later focuses on the issue of whether the Depository rifle was the same as that in the backyard photos, and concludes that the two were identical. (59) Separating the two facts on separate pages (60), Posner mentions that Ruth Paine visited Marina the same day Oswald received his rifle and pistol.

THE BACKYARD PHOTOS: Posner quotes Marina as saying she took the photos (61), but there is no discussion of her statement, made elsewhere, that she stood with her back to the stairway when she took the photos - and those in evidence show the stairway on the opposite side of the yard from the camera. That issue, however, is one of the few remaining that questions the authenticity of the photos. Posner reports that The Militant found no record of receiving one of the photos (62), but Hal Verb's interviews with former Militant staffers (63) make it clear that staffers recalled receiving a photo fitting the general description.

THE WALKER SHOOTING: Posner accepts that Oswald shot at Walker, and also states that the photo of Walker's house had a hole in it when originally found, based on "a photo of evidence taken from Oswald's flat," (64) but the photo as published in Chief Curry's book shows NO hole in the photo when it was found. (65) Posner's statement is demonstrably false, which raises questions about other aspects of his account of the Walker shooting. Posner again lists critics who don't discuss the Walker shooting, failing to note that the subject matter of their books wouldn't naturally cover it. (66)

FAIR PLAY LEAFLETS: Posner makes the unsourced statement that, on the day he left for New Orleans, Oswald picked up 50 Fair Play for Cuba leaflets from his Post Office box in Dallas. (67)

ADRIAN ALBA: Posner alleges Adrian Alba didn't tell the story about Oswald and the FBI envelope until 1978, when interviewed by Anthony Summers. (68) In fact, he first told the story to Australian researcher Ian MacFarlane three years earlier. (69) Posner states Alba said the FBI car was occupied by an FBI agent from Washington. Alba told MacFarlane the car was "one of the unmarked FBI cars that parked in his lot... however, he did not claim to know the identity of the driver... " The vehicle was light green, and Alba saw it make delivery of envelopes to Oswald on two occasions, not one as reported by Posner, who cites only Summers and the HSCA. The latter is cited to discredit Alba by noting that "no FBI agents checked a car out of his garage during all of 1963. (70) As Alba said it was an FBI vehicle, but didn't know the identity of the driver, this is not a clear disproof of his account.

GUY BANISTER: Posner works hard to deny any ties between Oswald and Guy Banister. He attacks the credibility of Gaeton Fonzi, Jack Martin and Delphine Roberts. (71) Of "six other individuals who worked for Guy Banister," he notes that "none of them recalled seeing Oswald at 544 Camp." (72) Although Posner is clearly familiar with Anthony Summers' book Conpiracy, he fails to mention two brothers who worked for Banister, Allen and Daniel Campbell. (73) Two other witnesses to Banister's "interest" in Oswald are also mentioned. (74) A supply of Oswald's leaflets were found in Banister's office after his death, according to his widow, and a Banister undercover agent also implied a connection between Banister and Oswald (75), but these witnesses also go unmentioned by Posner.

CLINTON INCIDENT: Posner repeats the myth that Guy Banister was mistaken for Clay Shaw in the Clinton, Louisiana incident. (76) What he fails to mention is that one of the witnesses, Henry Palmer, had served in the Navy with Banister, and was quite firm in stating the man was not Banister. (77) On the other hand, Posner provides an interesting summary of the Clinton witnesses' early statements. (78)

VECIANA: Posner dismisses the Antonio Veciana report about "Maurice Bishop," (79) ignoring the collateral evidence reported by HSCA and Gaeton Fonzi. In fact, Posner tends to imply that Fonzi, whom he describes as "a committed believer in a conspiracy," is therefore not a reliable source. (80)

SILVIA ODIO: In a lengthy attempt to discredit the Odio story (81), Posner brings in everything from Gaeton Fonzi's credibility, to Oswald's travel records, to Odio's emotional history. He suggests that perhaps "Leon Oswald" was the "war name" of an anti-Castroite, and that Odio may have made up part of her story. He does raise significant doubts, but it is not clear that he has resolved the matter. He seems to accept the FBI's Hall-Howard-Seymour explanation, which even the FBI no longer accepts. Dick Russell has cast further doubt on this explanation, (82) and includes information which suggests an alternative one. (83) Russell's book is apparently known to Posner, though his bibliography doesn't include it, as he dismisses it in a footnote (84) and a sentence, (85) suggesting the book can be ignored because Richard Case Nagell is unreliable; this overlooks much solid research in the case which is also included in the book, regardless of Nagell's credibility either way.

Go to Part 2 of the article

1  pp. 468-9.

2  Scandals, Scamps and Scoundrels.

3  At Random #6, Fall 1993, p. 79.

4  Author's collection.

5  2-2-92.

6  p. ix.

7  p. x.

8  ibid.

9  p. xi.

10  p. 470.

11  pp. 469-70.

12  p. 470.

13  ibid.

14  p. 4.

15  Testimony of Johnny Brewer to Warren Commission, 7H p. 6.

16  Though his photo section includes an earlier photo of the Theater crowd 
by one of the same photographers, S. L. Reed.

17  pp. 281-2.

18  Footnote 1, p. 281.

19  p. 282.

20  p. 7.

21  p. 9.

22  p. 11.

23  Summers, Garrison, Lane and Groden.

24  p. 12.

25  ibid.

26  p. 13.

27  James Coleman, Abnormal Psychology and Modern Life, Third Edition,
1964, p. 363.

28  Lane, Thompson, Garrison, David, Groden & Livingstone, Blakey, Hurt, 
Scheim and Lifton.

29  p. 15.

30  John F. Kennedy Assassination Symposium, Sudbury, Ontario, August 22, 

31  pp. 16-18.

32  p. 21.

33  Footnote 1, p. 88.

34  Footnote, p. 356.

35  p. 22, note 1.

36  p. 25.

37  Footnote, p. 27.

38  p. 30.

39  Especially Groden & Livingstone, David, Scheim and Thompson.

40  Footnote, p. 51.

41  ASK 1992.

42  Footnote, p. 56.

43  p. 52

44  PBS, Nov. 22, 1991.

45  p. 59.

46  pp. 86-87.

47  Epstein, The Assassination Chronicles, pp. 558-569.

48  Footnote 1, p. 119.

49  pp. 88, 95, 100.

50  p. 175.

51  p. 288.

52  pp. 458-9.

53  p. 460.

54  p. 469.

55  p. 486.

56  Footnote, p. 98.

57  p. 98.

58  p. 104.

59  p. 108.

60  pp. 105 and 106.

61  Footnote 2, p. 107.

62  Footnote 1, p. 109.

63  Reported at ASK 91 and 92 conferences in Dallas.

64  Footnote 2, p. 117.

65  JFK Assassination File, p. 113; also reprinted in Gary Shaw and Larry
Harris, Cover-up, pp. 45-6.

66  Scheim and Lifton.

67  p. 121.

68  p. 131.

69  Affidavit of Ian MacFarlane, Dec. 23, 1975, summarizing interview with
Adrian Alba, Nov. 10, 1975.

70  p. 132.

71  pp. 138-141.

72  p. 139.

73  Summers, Conspiracy (Paragon House, 1992 ed.), p. 293.

74  ibid., p. 296.

75  Warren Hinckle & William Turner, Deadly Secrets (Thunder's Mouth Press,
1992), p. 234-5.

76  Footnote, p. 144.

77  Palmer, HSCA testimony.

78  pp. 145-8.

79  Footnote, pp. 165-6.

80  Footnote, pp. 138-9; footnote p. 176.

81  pp. 175-180.  

82  The Man Who Knew Too Much, pp. 480-3.

83  ibid., pp. 499, 539, 590, 703.

84  Footnote, p. 445.

85  p. 467.


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