Some claim a large and expansive list of deaths related to the Kennedy assassination. This is in addition to the expansive plot that often accompanies such claims. Yet would a successful plot include the need to eliminate so many? The nature of a successful assassination is to minimize the amount of people involved and those killed. Each additional death beyond a handful would attract notice and opportunity for exposure. Thus we are left to ponder why so many deaths are necessary for a successful plot?
The idea is not a recent one. It was a favored subject by researcher Penn Jones in the 1960s, at the close of the 1973 film Executive Action one such list appears. Some have offered such lists as conclusive proof that a massive plot existed, yet these lists alone do not prove the claims. Unfortunately most figures and ideas offered contain more speculation and possible probabilities based upon little relevant verifiable evidence. In time new lists would be constructed but does most evidence support these ideas?
Richard Charnin disputes the House Select Committee on Assassination’s views of witness death calculations. Yet due to the unknown size of the crime scene witness pool the HSCA offered their best approximation. No verifiable accounting of all those present at the crime was offered by officials or conspiracy advocates. Thus all data is drawn from an incomplete witness list. Charnin can only offer his best approximation as well.
Additionally, Charnin does not use context regarding his list of witnesses. All the witnesses in the Commission investigation were not present at a crime scene, nor were directly involved in the all case elements. Most were not privy to the information a handful of officials possessed. Many testifying were experts, consultants, legal advisers, and character witnesses. A majority of them had no verifiable direct associations to the assassination itself. Their deaths are not suspicious and should not be included in Charnin’s calculations if contextual accuracy is the goal.
According to Charnin’s claims “The HSCA chose to ignore 100 to 120 highly suspicious deaths. In 1977, seven top FBI officials scheduled to testify at the HSCA died in a sixth month period”. i Charnin’s claim of greater than 100 unnatural deaths is seemingly inflated and inaccurate. Jack Ruby’s death from cancer is not attributable to anything but his own sickness. Guy Bannister’s heart attack as well is a natural death unless otherwise proven by evidence. David Ferrie’s medical condition that feasibly killed him is not suspicious. Mary Sherman’s death in a fire is unnatural but little verifiable evidence supports its direct connection to the Kennedy case.
William Pitzer and Gary Underhill’s suicides also do not have evidence of nefarious undertakings. Mary Meyer was murdered. However, any direct connection to the Kennedy assassination is in my view unsupported by substantial evidence. The confession of E. Howard Hunt was given and then omitted and Cord Meyer’s inclusion in a plot remains unproven. Why would the feasible conspirators be concerned about retrieving a diary that did not expose them? Just because a death is suspicious does not infer a direct connection to the Kennedy assassination.
Grant Stockdale’s fall from an office building is unnatural but not suspicious unless evidence offered supports the claim. Among the most unlikely death offered is “Lisa Howard an ABC reporter who worked in JFK/Castro negotiations, died from a drug overdose.”ii This death similar to many others claimed has no appreciable connections, nor was evidence offered to support it nefarious. It would appear from the information she died from a drug overdose, not any connection to the Kennedy assassination. These imprecise attribution methods do not support the claims made by Charnin.
Dallas Police Department officers “Paul Dyer and Frank Martin both died from sudden cancers.” Cancer affects millions of people yearly; the speed of the cancer does not attribute a necessarily suspicious cause.iii Rose Cherami according to Charnin was shot to death, yet the official cause of death was injuries from a car accident. Indeed her death has been called suspicious but conclusive evidence to prove such claims is yet to be offered. The local officials ruled her death offered “no signs of foul play.”iv Cheramie’s unproven claims of Oswald and Ruby knowing each other well and having a homosexual relationship offer credibility problems with her other accounts. Evidence Charnin offered but ignored allows the subtraction of nearly a dozen asserted deaths.
Charnin’s larger method now reveals problematic assumptions. “Assume the Universe of JFK-related witness in ‘Who’s Who in the JFK Assassination’, of which are in the JFK Calc database of unnatural or suspicious deaths.”v Relying on a secondary source as the definitive view without equal consideration of all the primary evidence is a grievous mistake. While some official findings and claims have been disproven, this does not negate all the official evidence and findings. Similarly the unproven claims of some researchers cannot reasonably negate the substantial work of others.
According to Charnin, “Officially from 1964-78, there were 78 ruled unnatural deaths: 34 homicides, 24 accidents, 16 suicides, 4 unknown. Of the other 44 suspicious ‘natural’ deaths, 25 were heart attacks; six were cancers, and 13 other causes. Actually, there were 90-100 homicides. But let’s assume the official numbers.”vi It is kind of Charnin to “assume” the verified numbers, since without them he has no reliable basis for his contentions.
The latest group of natural deaths Charnin finds suspicious do not support his claims. He assumes they were suspicious and this does not offer verifiable proof. How many induced cases of cancer and heart attack are we to believe without substantial evidence? In my view we can reasonably now subtract dozens of people from the various totals claimed. His further claims of many undetected homicides additionally require sufficient evidence to be compelling. Without such evidence these are probabilities built on partial speculation without full context.
Charnin then seeks relevance in comparing a high crime area with his inflated number of deaths to correlate further possible suspicious activity. Yet since his witness list is incomplete and assumes suspicion without evidence, this correlation is not reasoned inquiry. Charnin seeks to increase the number without thought to the context of specific witness inclusion. He does not just attribute what are proven to be homicides but favors what he assumes were murders despite the case file.
In the actual list of twenty-one deaths in the HSCA files Charnin offers, less than ten murders were noted. Among these no vital witnesses, nor directly connected individuals are listed. Thus why are varied and unimportant people killed? For what reason would feasible Conspirators risk everything to kill peripheral witnesses? People can be discredited or easily intimidated. Repeated murders are not often necessary, nor in this case proven.
In my view only a handful of people would be eliminated, and only when necessary. I would offer additional standards for inclusion. The circumstances must be in context, verified legal homicide should be the vast majority included for inspection. Substantial contending evidence regarding any death but murder should be offered. The person must have a verifiable connection to important elements of the case and presented a feasible threat requiring elimination. If all these criteria are met I would contend they are reasonable to consider. For instance consider the following witness.
Johnny Roselli is an underling of Sam Giancana the Mafia boss of Chicago. Roselli was first approached by Agency operative Robert Maheu to plan Fidel Castro’s assassination.vii Roselli, Giancana, and Santo Trafficante the Mafia leader of Tampa were involved. They advised on the Phase I portion of the Castro plots. After their failure to kill Castro, Trafficante and Giancana’s direct involvement ceases.viii Maheu is replaced by Agency operative William Harvey and Phase II begins.ix An assassination program sponsored by the Agency had prior enlisted the Mafia and Cuban exiles years prior to 1963. Some of these men planned for years to execute a world leader.
Harvey and Roselli collaborated with Cuban militant groups to assassinate Fidel Castro.x Harvey’s association with Roselli continued years after officials state the program ends. Harvey makes excuses and ignores warnings to desist from contact with Roselli.xi Roselli was subsequently found dismembered inside a steel drum, after he failed to appear for House Select Committee on Assassinations testimony. The Miami Dade police were investigating leads regarding Cubans of feasible Agency interest in Roselli’s murder.xii
This murder is verifiable. Roselli’s prior extensive knowledge of illegal government operations and Mafia activities made him a threat. Attempts to aid the Agency in the assassination of Fidel Castro are noteworthy. Roselli’s continued relationship with Central Intelligence Agency employee William K. Harvey ignored official demands to cease. The Agency and Mafia had extensive ties in the Cuban exile community. The manner of this brutal death is feasibly related to upcoming testimony.
To qualify as a viable death in connection to the Kennedy assassination requires a higher standard than some have prior utilized. Richard Charnin offers no significant evidence of many deaths being part of an improbable large plot of witness suppression. Indeed officials repeatedly suppressed information, yet in my view an expansive clandestine murder campaign was not among their proven methods. Without substantial evidence there is no reason to assume they did undertake such an operation. We can only prove what most evidence reliably confirms, not what probabilities based upon speculation may suggest.
i. Richard Charnin, JFK Witness: A closer look at the HSCA list of 21 deaths, Richard Charnin’s Blog, richardcharnin.wordpress.com
iii. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, International Cancer Control, cdc.gov
iv. Report of the House Select Committee on Assassinations, Appendix Volume X, pp. 198
v. R. Charnin, JFK Witness
vii. HSCA, CIA Segregated Files, Roselli, Johnny [Involvement with CIA and Castro Assassination attempt], Box 44, (n.d.), p. 1
viii. Ibid, p. 2
ix. Ibid, p. 4
x. HSCA, CIA Segregated Files, Johnny Roselli, Blind Memorandum, Box 35, August 9, 1976, p. 1
xi. HSCA, CIA Segregated Files, Johnny Roselli, Box 48, May 8, 1967, p. 2
xii. HSCA, CIA Segregate Files, Dade County Request for Agency assistance regarding the death of Johnny Roselli, Box 1, October 8, 1976, pp. 1-6