The Worlds of the Men Who Killed Kennedy
— By Edgar Garcia | November 23, 2010
November 23, 2010
The soul of the spy is somehow the model of us all.
- Jacques Barzun
Thirty-seven years ago this week, you were arrested at the Texas Theater in Dallas as a suspect in the fatal shooting of police officer J.D. Tippit. Patrolman 78, whose initials “J.D.” stood for nothing in particular, had pulled his squad car alongside a white male about thirty, of slender build, who matched the description of a man linked to “a shooting in the downtown area involving the President.” Confirming that he was in the Oak Cliff area, Tippit’s last words to the dispatcher had been a heedless “10-4.”
At 1:08 PM, patrolman 261, C.M. Barnhart, approached a man “drunk down at the end of the north end of Laws Street” who fit the shooter’s description. Joined by patrolman 243, B.L. Apple, the two 3-W motorcycle cops approached what turned out to be local rake and “3 time loser” Lonnie Ray Wright. They were arresting this suspect – who had “a loud color jacket on” – at the end of Laws near the railroad tracks, when at 1:16 they overheard a citizen using squad car 10′s police radio to report the shooting of an officer. Three minutes later, the citizen reported that the officer was dead.
The suspect fleeing the area where the officer had been shot was described as “a white male, about thirty, five eight, black hair, slender, wearing white jacket, a white shirt and dark slacks.” Known at this time as the “Oak Cliff suspect,” it was becoming clear that this suspect might be connected to the “downtown shooting.” But as it was still unknown what the connection might be, the police pursued the suspect in the slaying of a fellow officer while remaining alert for another man connected to the “downtown shooting,” who was potentially armed with a 30 caliber rifle. (As you were arrested, several officers continued to pursue a Pontiac station wagon that was spotted in a gas station with a rifle or shotgun in its back seat.)
So when you were taken in the police had two suspects in one person. One suspect was the man wanted in the shooting of officer J.D. Tippit. The other was the man into whom the world’s response to the events of that day in Dallas had begun to recede. Led astray from the possibility of a larger conspiracy in the assassination of the president, the television cameras zeroed-in on the presentation of a suspect as if it were the identification of the lone gunman. He was, in fact, informed that he was a suspect in the assassination of the president not by investigators but by reporters. And here begins the Gemini effect for those who enter the worlds of the men who killed Jack Kennedy.
When the “Oak Cliff suspect” was arrested he had two names for investigators: a Selective Service card identified him as ALEK JAMES HIDELL and a Uniformed Services Identification and Privilege Card as OSWALD, Lee H. When questioned about the names, and what his real name was, you replied, “you have the card yourself and know as much about it as I do.” When police investigated the matter further, going to your rooming house in Dallas to better determine who the man in their custody was, he acquired another name; they found that he had been living there as O. H. Lee.
This Lee or Oswald or Hidell, initially charged with the murder of a police officer and not charged with the assassination of the president until the following day, would further disappear into this world of mirrors when theorists later speculated that the man who shot Kennedy was a Soviet agent who had swapped bodies with the original “Oswald” during “Oswald’s” defection to Soviet Russia, 1959-61, when he was known to the C.I.A. as Lee Henry.
Lee Henry had tried to kill himself with a piece of broken glass after he was denied Soviet citizenship. Having been asked to leave the U.S.S.R. by 8 PM, October 21, 1959, he wrote in his “Historic Diary” at “7.00 P.M.” that day:
I decide to end it. Soak wrist in cold water to numb the pain. Then slash my left wrist. Then plunge wrist into bathtub of hot water. I think “when Rima comes at 8 to find me dead it will be a great shock. Somewhere a violin plays as I watch my life whirl away. I think to myself, “how easy to die” and “a sweet death,” (to violins)
But not only do the medical records at the Ministry of Health, Moscow show that Oswald was admitted at 4 PM (three hours before he claims to have cut himself), the tone of the passage is itself colorful staging, dramatizing a resolution to a visa problem that he successfully translated to a real resolution: “Somewhere a violin plays… I think to myself… ‘a sweet death,’ (to violins).” Oswald’s purple suicide kept him in Russia past 8 PM when, as he wrote in his “Historic Diary,” he was found unconscious, “bathtub water a rich red color.” His blood, in a staged sacrifice to Russia, made the clear water a rich red — while, analogously, his performance guaranteed him an extended stay in that place. Oswald performed transformed the horizon of possibility for Oswald the real. And the blood in the water made it harder for us to see which was which, where one ended and the other began. Oswald looked in the bathroom mirror of his Moscow hotel room, sometime around 3 PM, October 21, 1951, and split himself in two.
Your self-splitting became a quality of reality that would calcify around you in the following years. Rather than solidify you as a person, the increasing amount of research on JFK’s killer has produced many Oswalds — that is, a matrix of multiplication for any person associated with this mirroring human, a seductive world to become lost in. Zygmunt Bauman has written that social control in the mid-20th century shifted from a model of repression to seduction. Rather than present, produce, or put forth arguments to logically dominate a discourse, the discourse of seduction, naturalized in an ideology of consumption, works by deflecting our desires to increasing invisibility. We reach out, in other words, by drawing in. And, as was the case with Oswald, we frequently draw in by harnessing the doubling power of the mirror.
The greater the multiplicity in which you are seen, the more invisible that you become.
And, in this the age of Gemini, we have a world full of corners. The southeast window of the sixth floor of the Texas School Book Depository in Dallas, Texas, was such a corner. But Oswald’s duplications did not end there. As he shot down to a target receding to the southwest, the entire space relative to the events, time, and circumstance suddenly exploded in a self-proliferating population of strangers, plotters, theorists, hidden types and others reaching for the manufacturing power of the camera shot.
An example of this populating effect is Gary Mack‘s identification of a badged man hiding in the bushes photographed in Mary Moorman‘s Polaroid. The Badge Man theory was made public in Nigel Turner’s 1988 documentary, The Men Who Killed Kennedy. This is Mary Moorman’s Polaroid:
Yes, of course he is there. And, just as certainly, of course he is not. In allowing myself to be seduced without any commitment to the logic of responsibility or even culpability, I can assume that you are guilty while presuming that there must be other men who participated in the assassination of Jack Kennedy. Oswald can and can not act alone–and we enjoy having it both ways. As my eyes follow the traced outline of the Badge Man, I have allowed the liquid world in which he lives to pour forth. I am seduced, declarified, invisible–and there are many others for me to see: the Babushka Lady, the Umbrella Man, Black Dog Man, the Oswald Double in the Doorway of the Depository During the Shooting, the Three Tramps, etc. The water, as it were, appears to us a rich, red color.
And the more that we look, the more that we’d like to see. An investigator goes rogue upon discovering that the factor of culpability is eliminated in the wake of their leads. Without consideration for where they might end up, they end up going everywhere. Researching the Kennedy assassination, one comes across strange outliers like Christian David, who in the mid 80s claimed to have been offered the job of eliminating the president by Corsican mob boss Antoine Guèrini. Serving a prison sentence for smuggling drugs into France from Brazil, he insisted on total silence until he was released from prison, hoping that he could use his information regarding the assassination to reduce prison time. Michel Nicoli, a former drug trafficker now under the American witness protection program, corroborated David’s story. But, although David was released in the 90s, upon release he said no more about the Corsican conspiracy. Stories like David’s (specifically by felons seeking to lessen prison sentences by offering groundbreaking information on the Kennedy assassination) abound; there have been at least two dozen similar claims. Actor Woody Harrelson’s father, Charles Harrelson, who was serving two life terms before he died at the Florence Supermax in 2007, claimed to have shot Kennedy–suggesting that he was one of the Three Tramps found in a boxcar behind Dealey Plaza minutes after the assassination. In 1982, he said to a Dallas radio station:
Do you believe that Lee Harvey Oswald killed president Kennedy, alone, without any aide from a rogue agency of the US govt. or at least a portion of that agency? I believe you are very naive if you do.
Do you believe? I believe that production of Other Oswalds is not only a permanent effect of the seductive conditions of the world of the Kennedy assassination, but such an inevitability that, just as Harrelson implicated himself by approaching the Plaza, every approach to the Plaza (the locus of the events) is necessarily productive of more Oswalds and implicated in production of more mirrors, evermore elaborate. And I, too, am now guilty. Because I have been seduced, I must seduce. And, in researching the events in Dallas on November 22, 1963, I can function by no principle except the observation of total proliferation and deflection. There will always be more gunmen. And, of course, you acted alone.