A Plaza Full of Mirrors
Enduring rumors blame various famous and infamous people for the assassination of President John F. Kennedy. Prior claims based often upon speculative photographic interpretation attempts to place many alleged conspirators in Dealey Plaza. Facts, possibilities, and myths cast varied reflections within the Kennedy case, but ultimately some choose to see what they desire. Thus was born the opportunity for people to claim they and others were at the crime scene. If they are present, to some it means they "must" be responsible. In following decades four men are repeatedly accused of being present in Dealey Plaza, they are Joseph Milteer, Frank Sturgis, E. Howard Hunt, and George H. W. Bush. Some have attempted to insert these men into the Kennedy assassination but were they present in Dallas?
It is highly improbable any conspirator or related well-known figure would be at the crime scene, the entire goal of a clandestine operation is to avoid identification and capture, and those who plan it do not often attend the criminal act. They likely have reasonable alibis in distant locations to avoid the slightest inference of complicity. A conspirator attending would subject themselves to public and press photography, film recording, and legal statements. It would be complex enough for a small group to undertake a plot without having to worry about conspirators being possibly apprehended at the scene. Some demand certain men were present and responsible; the first of them is Joseph Milteer.
The House Select Committee on Assassinations (HSCA) offers, "Joseph Milteer was a "militant right-wing organizer who is alleged to have been a possible coconspirator in the assassination" by members of the public based upon his "strong resemblance" to a motorcade witness. Milteer did have a conversation less than two weeks prior to the assassination with a police informant discussing the possible assassination of President Kennedy. Yet no direct evidence supports that Milteer had definite foreknowledge, his commentary is never specific to the exact events in Dallas. Those seeking to place him in Dallas refer to unproven photographic claims to cement their ideas. This is despite no verified witnesses placing Milteer at the scene in their statements.
The HSCA conducted a photographic study using photographs of Milteer from before and following November 22, 1963. After extensive comparison and analysis of the photography by consultants, they concluded the spectator called Milteer by some was in fact another unidentified person. Officials did note some similarities "...age and general facial configuration...eyeglasses similar in general style to those favored by Milteer." However, investigators additionally state this spectator "...does not resemble Milteer in upper lip thickness; he is also partially bald, whereas Milteer apparently had a full head of hair in the photograph that was taken several years after the assassination. Most significantly, Milteer's reported stature of 64 inches places him about 6 inches under the spectator's estimated stature...the motorcade spectator could not have been Joseph Milteer."i Yet not just photographic evidence corroborates Joseph Milteer's presence feasibly elsewhere during the time in question.
The Federal Bureau of Investigation had informants who observed Joseph Milteer during November of 1963 who reported these sightings to the Bureau. Milteer traveled extensively to cities across the southern United States. Officials learn Milteer is in Florida a day after President Kennedy's assassination, the distance between his location in Jacksonville and Dallas is roughly 1,000 miles. This requires nearly fifteen hours of driving without stops for sleep and food based on current highway travel. Consider Milteer would have to stop for gas multiple times on less developed roadways and likely required food and sleep. We should also include the time used for the purpose of his journeys, meetings to recruit, fund raise, and discuss issues with militants who shared his fringe ideas. All these things add time and diminish his chances of being in Dallas a day prior.
Milteer was reportedly in route to Columbia, South Carolina from Jacksonville, Florida during the evening of November 23, 1963. It takes roughly just under four hours to reach South Carolina from Jacksonville, an informant observes Milteer at the Jacksonville train station.ii Milteer spent the night reaching a hotel room after travelling from Florida to South Carolina. This roughly four-hour trip is less than one-third the distance from Dallas to Jacksonville. Simply adding the usual eight hours most people sleep to the fifteen hours of time for travel, a few hours of meetings per city, a couple meals per day, and Milteer is likely out of time if he was racing from Dallas.iii
Most evidence supports he did not have the necessary time to make a trip from Dallas, photographic analysis supports Milteer was not the spectator claimed by some in Dealey Plaza, and yet further evidence supports he actually was at home. Three official documents confirm after investigation by agents of the FBI's Atlanta Field Office that Milteer was at home in Quitman, Georgia the day President Kennedy was shot.iv v vi Despite his private claims of knowledge and influencing the assassination, when he offers public blame for the assassination in his notes to fellow militants he claimed that Zionists were responsible. Milteer was a fringe right-wing proponent who supported violent extremist groups and did speak of the President's death preceding the event. Yet based on repeated evidence he was not in Dealey Plaza.
Another often-repeated story alleges former member of the US and Cuban military, actor, and soldier of fortune Frank Sturgis was present in Dealey Plaza. Some have claimed Frank Sturgis was one of the Three Tramps photographed in Dealey Plaza.vii He additionally would publicly fund raise for his anti-Communist groups and faced multiple arrests for attempts to violate United States neutrality laws, aviation rules, and smuggling. It is improbable conspirators would select a publicly known figure of failed operations for an important clandestine mission.
The Federal Bureau of Investigation undertook a photographic comparison of Frank Sturgis during the President's (Rockefeller) Commission, Sturgis himself provided materials and testimony pursue this end. Officials collected dozens of different black and white photographs of varying quality that presented a range of different photographs for study. Based on the facial indices, hairline differences, and varying physique Sturgis was ruled not one of the Tramps, yet officials could not fully rule him out just based on metric traits alone.viii
According to further legal evidence, Frank Sturgis and multiple witnesses affirmed he was at home in Miami on November 22, 1963.ix x Consider when Sturgis was testifying before officials and subject to legal prosecution for perjury, he repeatedly affirms being in Miami. During subsequent interviews, he makes allusions of being in Dallas while not subject to any legal consequences. Similar to Lee Harvey Oswald, without sufficient evidence, Sturgis too enjoys the presumption of legal innocence despite his later unproven assertions and those seeking to implicate him. Without tangible proof to support the Dealey Plaza claim, there is no reason to regard it.
Sturgis additionally states in the press he is not one of the men arrested and photographed in Dallas that day. He additionally offered to undertake a polygraph on public assertions of him being involved in the assassination of President Kennedy.xi Sturgis did attempt to benefit using CIA funded programs to aid his often-illegal financial schemes. The facts indicate his activities included selling arms shipments, supporting anti-Castro militants, using fraudulent pretenses to collect sponsorship funds, Cuban air raids, and military vehicle sales. It remains unlikely intelligent conspirators would directly utilize such a well-known and outspoken figure with an extensive recent arrest record to undertake a covert plot. No substantial evidence suggests Sturgis was directly part of the Kennedy Assassination.
Central Intelligence Agency Officer E. Howard Hunt is the third person some assert was present in Dealey Plaza and part of the Kennedy assassination. Public speculation is the basis for these assertions similar to prior ones.xii Agency Inspector General S.D. Breckenridge contacted the Office of Security and reviewed related files on Hunt. He then contacted the Agency Office of Finance asking for Hunt's information on the four-week pay period ending on November 23. Officials note he took only 11 hours of sick leave over multiple days during the time and no annual leave.
Further review of Hunt's travel records state he undertook no travel during November 1963.xiii Accordingly, Hunt did not have the time, nor do formerly classified documents support he was in Dallas November 1963. The Agency did not announce the results publicly; they were content in the fact that sufficient verifiable evidence did not support the public claims about Hunt.
Official photographic assessment panels also dismissed Hunt as a potential tramp after extended review of comparison photographs. Hunt further made statements in the press denying any connection to allegations linking him to the Kennedy assassination. He also filed suit against publications claiming he was part of a plot.xiv During a court battle with Mark Lane, Hunt would not honestly state where he was publicly on November 22, 1963. Some presumed this meant he was in Dallas, this assumption has proven incorrect.
Hunt's possible reasoning for being dishonest was the potential legal consequences of his covert activities. No substantial evidence links him to official assassination plots and verifiable evidence supports he was in Washington DC. Based on House Select Committee files Hunt was in Washington DC with CIA Deputy Director for Plans Richard Helms, CIA Inspector General Lyman Kirkpatrick, and Cuban exile Enrique Harry Ruiz-Williams on November 22, 1963.xv No verified evidence places him in Dallas.
Long before Hunt's later claims of involvement in Rolling Stone magazine during a serious illness, he originally stated he was in Washington DC at work and then went shopping with his wife. Hunt claimed to have been on annual leave, yet Agency records disprove this. The later cover story is likely to hide his meeting with high-ranking Agency leaders plotting illegal activities that day. It may also be possible Hunt did go shopping in Washington D.C. after his meeting.
Hunt's later claim that he was a "bench warmer" involved in the JFK assassination has no proven basis in evidence. Similar to claims made by Frank Sturgis, the other alleged suspects Hunt named without evidence of complicity are his speculation at best. He then omits these claims in later interviews due to improving health. Hunt was feasibly muddying the already blackened waters of the case for his own purposes.
Modern speculative media has attempted to link a final person to Dealey Plaza and the Kennedy assassination. Former President George H.W. Bush according to some has a link to the Kennedy assassination. His later one-year term overseeing the Central Intelligence Agency is suggested as confirmation of these claims, yet that just infers connections to the CIA not the Kennedy assassination. Additionally, unverified photographs have been prior offered as proof that Bush was in Dealey Plaza. However, some evidence contends such claims.
Former Kiwanis Club vice president Aubrey Irby was attending a meeting of businesspersons at the Blackstone Hotel in Tyler, Texas to support George H. W. Bush's political candidacy. Irby states "George had just started to give his speech when Smitty, the head bellhop, tapped me on the shoulder to say that President Kennedy had been shot." A room full of people observed George H.W. Bush in Tyler when the President was shot in Dallas. George Bush then reportedly quickly ended his speech.xvi
Bush subsequently contacts Federal Bureau of Investigation officials, "Houston on November 22, 1963 advised that George H.W. Bush, a reputable businessman, furnished information to the effect that James Parrot has been talking of killing the President when he comes to Houston. A check with Secret Service at Houston, Texas revealed that agency had a report that Parrot stated in 1961 he would kill President Kennedy if he got near him."xvii James Parrot was a fringe Republican operative who despised President Kennedy and denied ever making such a statement. This information ties Bush to the Kennedy assassination, but it is merely the role of an informant providing an unproven lead. Bush also sent a prior letter to author J.E. Hansen describing his location at the time he learned President Kennedy was shot.xviii
If Bush had any relation to a plot, why would he make any statement to officials to connect him to the plot? Any reasonable person would remain silent, take no memorable action, and thus provide no association with the crime. Additionally, George Bush signed the JFK Records Collection Act into law.xix Bush also was among those within the Central Intelligence Agency who enforced a prior moratorium on the destruction of CIA records with possible relation to the Kennedy assassination.xx It was not in his interest to aid these official inquiries if he was complicit in related illegality.
George Bush did have a long-term association with his adviser and former Agency employee Thomas Devine.xxi He did notify the FBI of a perceived threat to President Kennedy the day of the assassination. It is possible he even served as more than a business contact for the Agency prior to his subsequent role as its Director for a year. Yet none of those facts verifies the claims often made about him regarding the Kennedy assassination. This is not a proven nefarious conspirator and certainly not someone who is verifiably present in Dealey Plaza.
Milteer, Sturgis, Hunt, and Bush, each have reasons for their detractors to despise them. Multiple books and videos assert they were in Dealey Plaza and future examples may unfortunately follow. The facts support that any story that relies on these men being present in Dealey Plaza is questionable and not based on verified evidence. Some people likely shall further claim one or all of these four men were in Dealey Plaza. However, based upon the verifiable documents, they never were.
i. Report of the House Select Committee on Assassinations, Appendix Volume VI, Comparison of photographs of Joseph Milteer with that of an unidentified Dallas motorcade spectator, pp. 242-248
ii. President's Commission Document 1347, FBI Gemberling Report of 16 Jul 1964, Re: Allegations against persons other than Oswald, November 26, 1963, p. 1
iii. HSCA, Federal Bureau of Investigation Subject Files, C-D, Church Committee, No Title, January 22, 1964, pp. 13-14
iv. Ibid, No Title, February 6, 1967, p. 2
v. FBI, JFK Headquarters File, Section 16, Memo from Belmont to Rosen, November 27, 1963, p. 2
vi. HSCA, Numbered Photographs, United States Secret Service Investigative Report, No Title, November 27, 1963, p. 1
vii. FBI, JFK HQ File, Section 177, Memo from the Director, September 25, 1974
viii. Report of the HSCA, Appendix VI, The Three Tramps, pp. 259-263
ix. Senate Select Committee on CIA Activities, Boxed Files, Deposition of Frank Sturgis, 4 Apr 1975, pp. 11-15
x. Ibid, Oswald in New Orleans, Allegations and Sources Draft I, June 23, 1975, p. 7
xi. Jack Anderson and Les Whitten, (April 12, 1975),Watergate Burglar Quizzed on CIA, The Washington Post, p. E-55
xii. Central Intelligence Agency, Russ Holmes Work File, Transcript of Proceedings, Statement of Victor Marchetti, July 9, 1984, pp. 72-77 xiii. HSCA, Segregated Central Intelligence Agency file, Jaffe's Inquiry into Hunt and Sturgis Whereabouts, Box 43, September 20, 1974
xiv. Federal Bureau of Investigation, JFK Headquarters File, Section 177, Teletype from Baltimore to the Director, pp. 1-3
xv. Senate Select Comm., Boxed Files, Oswald in New Orleans, Allegations and Sources Draft I, June 23, 1975, p. 7
xvi. Kitty Kelley, "The Family: The Real Story of the Bush Dynasty, Anchor Books, May 2005, p. 212
xvii. President's Commission Document 301, FBI Gemberling Report of 18 December 1963 re: Assassination of President Kennedy, Re: James Milton Parrot, November 22, 1963
xviii. Jodie Elliott Hansen, November 22, 1963: Ordinary and Extraordinary People Recall Their Reactions When They Heard The News, Thomas Dunn Books, rear cover
xix. Background on the Collection, The John F. Kennedy Assassination Records Collection Act, The United States National Archives, archives.gov
xx. CIA, Miscellaneous Series, Breckenridge Files (HSCA), Status of Senate Select Committee on Intelligence Document Control Review, March 15, 1977
xxi. CIA, Deputy Director for Plans file, Memorandum: Messrs. George Bush and Thomas J. Devine, Subject: Thomas J. Devine, January 30, 1968