Yes, I Think He Did It Alone

In 1976, the House of Representatives established a Select Committee on Assassinations to investigate the murders of President John F. Kennedy and Martin Luther King. Among the things the Committee sought was a thorough examination of all photographic evidence in the Kennedy murder. At that time it took a mainframe computer to do what probably could be done on a personal computer today — that is, scan, enhance and thoroughly analyze the images. The image enhancement would be done at the Aerospace Corporation in California. The agreement with the National Archives, which had custody of the Kennedy assassination evidence in Washington, stipulated that the photographic records must be in the custody of the Archives or an Archives employee at all times. For two days I was that employee.

The only copy of the photographs, film, x-rays, etc., was brought by courier to California and put in a safe within a secure area at the National Archives facility in Laguna Niguel, where I worked at the time. The image enhancement was being done in El Segundo near Los Angeles International Airport, some 60 miles away. Each day we opened the safe, verified that each item was present, put the briefcase and “suit” box (think of a four-inch high pizza box) into the trunk of a rented car and I made the commute.

That first day (it was Easter week 1978) I followed the procedure carefully even taking the materials with me to lunch, thinking to myself “if the people around me only knew what I had.” It was fascinating to see the enhancements and hear the analysis of the few experts working on the project and sworn to secrecy (as was I). Late in the afternoon I packed everything back up, put it in the trunk, returned to the office and locked it all in the safe. I remember thinking on the way home, this stuff would be worth a million dollars or more on the black market. Am I being followed? Am I in danger?

The second morning we began the inventory. Everything was there, of course. Except — EXCEPT! — on one x-ray, right in the middle of the damaged part of President Kennedy’s skull, there was a bubble. I didn’t remember any damage to any of the x-rays. Now it looked as if this one x-ray had been too close to heat and the image had been burned. How did this happen? Where had I put the box that this could have happened? Was the computer console in the lab too hot? Was there a problem with the exhaust in the rental car that the trunk floor got excessively hot? My god, somehow I’ve damaged the only copy of a piece of evidence in the most important murder of the 20th century. My boss was visibly shaken. I was hyper-ventilating. My career is over. I’m a footnote in the Kennedy conspiracy books.

There was nothing to do but put the briefcase and box in the car (inside with me this time) and make the drive to El Segundo. It was a lonely 90 minutes. Once there I trudged in and immediately confessed my crime.

“Oh, that. Some doctor got it too close to a lamp years ago.”

The photographic and forensic experts I talked to were convinced the photographic evidence at least was consistent with one shooter — Oswald. As a reward for my participation in this project I later examined the other evidence including Oswald’s clothing (blood stained) and his Mannlicher-Carcano rifle.