Senator John F. Kennedy
John F. Kennedy
I had no idea how important this young Senator was when he addressed a California woman’s group in Pomona during a whirlwind campaign tour for the presidency. As I covered John Kennedy throughout the democratic convention in Los Angeles it became more and more obvious he would be nominated by his party as their candidate. Then, by a controversial narrow margin, he went on to beat Richard Nixon and became the 35th President of the United States.
He was a hard man to cover on his presidential visits to Los Angeles. Like the time the press waited for him in front of a Hollywood hotel–he climbed out the back window and down the fire escape to keep some secret meeting with who knows who.
Three years later his brains were blown out and I was in the Dallas hospital to record the doctor announcing the death of the President of the United States.
The press corps from all over the world descended on Dallas like a swarm of locust. We had to accept the tragedy as objectively and professionally as possible and treat it as you would any other homicide. But it was the President of the United States that was murdered, our President. Hearts were heavy, morale was low, intrigue high. Nevertheless we gathered as much information as we could.
Things began to fall into place when they arrested Lee Harvey Oswald. We no longer needed to follow leads of who the killer might be. We waited at the Dallas Police Station to capture pictures of Oswald when they marched him silently through the halls. In what seemed a desperate attempt, he once called out saying that he was “Just a patsy in this thing.” Then we learned they were going to turn him over to the county. Cops and the press jammed the basement garage. Two Dallas policemen walked from the jail elevator and entered the garage with Oswald as if they were marching him steadfastly into the muzzle of Jack Ruby’s .38. In spite of being surrounded by police and the press, Ruby was able to fire that single fatal shot silencing Oswald as millions of viewers witnessed it in horror on television.
I was inside by the elevaator where the police were supposed to turn Oswald over to county officers. I photographed Oswald being led out of the elevator right past the county officers towards the door to the garage. When I realized they were not going to make the exchange, I shut my camera off and shouted ‘let’s go’ to Ted Mann, the soundman. Glad Hill of the New York Times came with us as we ran down the hall to a door leading out of the building.
Just as we rounded the corner we heard POP. Glad, in his gravelly baritone said, “You don’t suppose somebody shot the son-of-a-bitch?” I shouted over my shoulder, “Hell no. It was just a bulb. Keep running.” We reached the door. I lunged at the cross bar to open it just as a uniformed cop outside jumped down the steps and tried to hold the door shut. I shouted, “Quick. They told us to get us of here!” He jumped back, startled. We rushed out, past him and up the stairs. We were the only press that got out of the police building.
I offered Glad a ride and we ran to where I had a car and an off duty cop waiting to drive. A TV engineer in a remote truck confirmed that Oswald had been shot. Cops were running in all directions around the building. I heard one shout, “They got a nigger around the other side.” Someone else shouted for someone to move the armored car that was blocking the garage exit. We stood a few feet away watching as two different men unsuccessfully tried to start the engine. Meanwhile Oswald was bleeding to death on the garage floor. Cars had to be moved from the entrance leading into the garage on the opposite side of the building to let the ambulance in. The ambulance could not get out until they finally got the engine started on the armored car and moved it out of the way.
The ambulance drove out within three feet of my lens. Oswald had the unmistakable gray pallor of death. We raced for our car and followed the ambulance across town on streets with huge dips, the off-duty cop tooling the rental car like a racer. Glad’s head kept hitting the roof because of his height. We skidded into the hospital entrance sideways on the lasts shred of brake lining, jumped from the car while it was still rolling and ran to the emergency entrance. The place was a bedlam of activity. Ted and I recorded aas much as we could, including the “pristine” bullet found under Governor John Connelly.
Out of the blue our cop driver came over, telling me he knew who shot Lee Harvey Oswald, but it would cost ‘whatever the freight would bear.’ I couldn’t believe it, the identity of the assailant hadn’t been broadcast. I told him I’d have to clear it with Don Roberts, the NBC deskman in Houston. An orderly showed me to a phone in a room behind a wall of diffused glass. I could see the cop’s silhouette lurking on the other side as he listened. I told Don the guy claimed he knew who Oswald’s killer was and he wanted money for the information. Don checked the wires while I waited. When he came back to the phone Don said it was just coming in. The hall door opened and the cop said in unison with Don “It was a guy named Jack Ruby!” Ruby, owner of a nightclub which featured strippers. He looked the part. We’d seen him around the police department ever since they brought Oswald in, handing out business cards for his Carousel night club, telling everyone to come on down for free. After Ruby killed Oswald we all suspected conspiracy, but with whom? Dallas turned into a nightmare of lies, subterfuge, mystery, total confusion.
Because of my involvement in Dallas I have been asked many times who I thought was behind the assassination. It is a difficult story to tell, so much happened, and complications arose at every turn. My life was profoundly affected in my dogged desire to tell the truth, with no outlet, and my opinion never varied from the one I formed the fourth day in Dallas. An opinion that is shared with many tabloids and some quality publications.
Nearly every morning a large segment of international press staying at the Statler Hilton gathered for breakfast in the hotel dining room. Carefully selected theories were exchanged. Carefully, selected theories were exchanged. Carefully, because everyone was looking for fresh leads and an exchange sometimes dove-tailed into information you already had. A French reporter came bounding in enthusiastically the morning after Ruby shot Oswald, announcing it was the American Mob who had Kennedy assassinated. Simple and logical to him, immediately raising eyebrows, including mine. The Frenchman’s theory mad more sense than anyone, including Jack Ruby’s weak explanation that he killed Oswald because he felt sorry for Jackie Kennedy, the President’s widow.
Some expounded the idea that Kennedy had pulled the plug on the Bay of Pigs invasion and sealed his doom by cutting the mob out of their Havana casinos. Another: Bobby Kennedy threatened Las Vegas gambling riches by proposing that Federal counters be installed in casino counting rooms to prevent skimming. Killing John would have direct influence on Robert was the reasoning. It would weaken Bobby’s power as head of the Justice Department.
Who was Oswald? Was he connected to the mob? No one knew, but as things began unraveling it appeared he was CIA, an agent fronting as a communist, working out of a New Orleans building that was a CIA front. Why would he want to kill Kennedy? Some thought for Castro. It went on and on.
We followed leads as rapidly as they developed. Many were unsuccessful, thank God. One such time was when Robin MacNeil and I went to Jack Ruby’s apartment to photograph and see what we could uncover. Ruby’s sister was there. The door was open. She yelled out, “What the fuck do you want?” and told us to get the hell out of there. In retrospect I think we both should be grateful. Everyone who had been in direct contact with Ruby, or his apartment, died under various circumstances. It was then network chief Bill McAndrew said if we kept up the investigative reporting we would find our heads in our hands.
NBC was the only news agency with David Ferry’s name. Ferry, a weird homosexual with heavy dark painted eyebrows, was an airplane pilot. Ferry’s name was passed on to me via the desk who got it from a Dallas cameraman who got it from his wife who picked it up from a Dallas cameraman who got it from his wife who picked it up from some back fence gossip with a neighbor. We all didded that it was kind of a “fairy” tale because we couldn’t find out much about Ferry. He was supposed to have been involved in flying two or three men out of the Dallas area right after the assassination from some airport where he hid a plane. It later turned out that he was the pilot who flew Mafia boss Carlos Marcello back to new Orleans from Puerto Rico where Bob Kennedy had him dumped by Federal agents because Marcello kept insisting he was Puerto Rican, not Sicilian.
New Orleans district Aattorney Jim Garrison launched a conspiracy trial involving Clay Shaw and a bunch of weirdos sporting leather, whips and chains, and bizarre homosexual trappings. Ferry was to be his first witness, but was found dead in his apartment the day before. I wasn’t surprised when I saw the headline. It seemed that anyone connected to the Kennedy assassination in any way were dying all over the place. After reading the story I picked up a letter with an Oklahoma return address, presumably from a newsman friend who lived there. I got a chill when I opened the simple message: “What can you tell me about David Ferry?” signed, Susan Martin.
I asked the advice of my good friend Frank Hroneck in the Los Angeles District Attorney’s office. Frank said simply, “Don’t respond unless you want to become involved.” She was reportedly a puppet for Mark Lane, the attorney who seemed to be making a living off the assassination.