CAPA, JVB and Lancer Conferences and Jim Leavelle.
By William Matson Law.
Wednesday November 14, 2018.
Headed for the JFK conferences in Dallas, Texas. We have been sitting on the tarmac for some time and my wife and I were talking amongst ourselves as to why, when the captain’s voice came over the intercom: “Ladies and Gentleman, we are sorry for the delay, we had an electrical problem and we should be in the air shortly.” This comment was about as welcome as the day I heard Donald J. Trump was going to be the next President of the United States. I have always been, well, I wouldn’t say afraid, but let’s say concerned every time I have to board a plane.
My two favorite rock and roll singers, Buddy Holly and Jim Croce both boarded small airplanes to make their next concert gig. Buddy – February 3rd, 1959 and Jim – some fourteen years later in 1973, both with the honest intention of entertaining their fans, and then going home to their loved ones, their years on earth to be long and fruitful and drowned in love and admiration, to their last days. But it was not to be. All because they made the choice to fly instead of taking a bus, train or automobile. Buddy and Jim and what happened to them always flit through my brain anytime I ever look at an airplane, let alone board one headed toward the great unknown.
I have had to fly a lot in the last quarter of a century, chasing the great mystery of what happened to the 35th President, John Fitzgerald Kennedy. Crisscrossing the United States, always saying a silent prayer, as I feel the motors come to life, vibrating the plane as it starts to taxi down the runway, gripping the arm rests of my seat in a knuckle whitening grip. I have made it so far, and always say the same prayer in my head: “Fuck me!”
Thursday November 15, 2018.
We arrived in Dallas, alive and well, despite a momentary scare hitting air turbulence over Denver, Colorado. My wife Lori gripping my hand tightly as she looked at me wide eyed. I try to give her a reassuring smile, what I like to refer to as my “Bogart grin”, showing all my teeth, (which probably comes across as “Mr. Sardonicus” rather than Humphrey Bogart.) as if to say “Don’t worry sweetheart – everything is going to be okay,” all the while saying my silent prayer over and over again.
The building where the CAPA conference is being held, (I will be attending the Baker and Lancer conference over the next four days) is referred to as the Old Red Courthouse, which has stood guard over Dealey Plaza since 1892, It is now the Old Museum of Dallas County History and Culture. Lori and I walk into the building, not sure of what floor the CAPA conference is held on. We are greeted by two blonde middle-aged women, who tell us in an overly friendly way, “Sure, it is on the fourth floor,” with the same kind of tone southerners use when they say, “Bless your heart.” We are pointed in the direction of the elevators. We walked into the room in time to hear the end of a presentation given by a doctor, who knew Dr. Berkley and his children. We slide into two hardback chairs at the back of the room. I wish I could have seen the whole thing, as it appeared to be excellent and the audience received it well. There were about 65 souls in the room. I was on time, but my counterpart Jim Jenkins had not yet arrived, having granted an interview to Value Entertainment, about our new book “At the Cold Shoulder of History” and he was apparently running late.
Jim and I had spent three years of our lives on research and writing the book, and I felt momentary panic as I waited for Jim to appear. Larry Schnapf, one of the organizers of the event stopped by, after the aforementioned presentation, and said, “We won’t have time for you to show your film, RFK, or the film clips of Jenkins, due to time constraints.” The film, “RFK” now titled “June 5th, 1968” about the assassination of Robert Kennedy, of which I was a producer, as well as was my film partner in the project, Mark Sobel. The documentary film at this point, had taken us some 12 years to make, and as of this writing, is still in post production and would not be shown, nor the film clips of Jim Jenkins, that I had taken from my documentary, “The Gathering,” filmed in 2002. I shrugged, knowing that nothing ever goes as planned at conferences a lot of the time and you are left flying by the seat of your pants. I find myself somewhat relieved that I won’t have to show the documentary and film clips. There are almost no empty seats in the conference room. Jim Jenkins seems to appear out of nowhere, as the panel on the stage finishes their presentation and I am glad he is there, because I know that it is not me the audience has come to see, but Jim, who was part of history in 1963 and is making history now in 2018.
After a 15 minute break, Jim and I are ushered on stage and into our seats. After a brief introduction from me, I turn it over to Jim Jenkins and he tells his story. As Jim talks, I look out over the audience, it’s filled with mostly older gray haired men, with a sprinkling of gray haired women, not many young unwrinkled faces. So much for passing the torch to a new generation, but I will say that the audience was very attentive, paying rapt attention to what James Curtis Jenkins had to say about his participation at JFK’s autopsy.
Our part in the CAPA presentation over, we walk off the stage and down the steps and I see Dr. Cyril Wecht sitting off in a corner of the room. I walk up to him, hand outstretched, and it’s been a few years since I have seen Dr. Wecht. The doctor rises from his chair to greet me, and is a little more stooped from the passing of years – (aren’t we all) and takes my hand in his with a firm grip. “It’s good to see you again,” he tells me. “It’s good to see you, sir,.” I reply.
I notice Jim is being surrounded by the crowd, all wanting to shake his hand and ask questions, and knowing Jim is not used to this sort of thing, I start to walk toward him and the crowd, when I hear Dr. Wecht call out to me. I walk back to where the good doctor is sitting, he asks me for an autographed copy of our new book, “At the Cold Shoulder of History,” which he offers to pay me for, and I decline saying, “Dr. Wecht, you have done more for the Kennedy case than just about anybody. Jim and I would be proud to give you a copy.” (The next day at the Judyth Vary Baker conference, I see the Dr. Wecht, sitting at a table alone, eating breakfast and I present him with the book, which he graciously accepts.) I say goodbye to Dr, Wecht and walk over to Jim and his wife Jackie. We decided that Jim and Jackie would go back to the hotel room at the Doubletree, and Lori and I decided to have lunch somewhere. Given the choice, I should have stayed at the CAPA conference and heard the rest of the presentations, but my hunger won out over history.
Friday, November 16, 2018.
Sitting at the book table at the Baker conference, Jim and I have actually sold a few books. I am enjoying the presentation being given by Richard Bartholomew, on his new book, ‘In the Deep State of Texas.” The audience is listening with attention, and the room is filled to capacity. Later, I decided I wanted to purchase my own copy from the author, but I am informed he has sold out of the copies he has brought with him. I feel a twinge of jealousy. As with the CAPA conference, it’s mostly an older crowd, but I spot some younger attendees, sprinkled throughout the room – and by younger people, I mean people in their 30’s and 40’s.
People are starting to mill around, looking at the various books, DVD’s, t-shirts, and sweat jackets available for sale. Robert Groden, the longtime JFK researcher/writer is wandering in and out of the conference, and we greet each other. Groden, back in 1975, showed the Zapruder movie of the Kennedy Assassination on Geraldo Rivera’s Good Night America program to the nation, which helped to put in motion the formation of the House Select Committee on Assassinations. (HSCA). I remember sitting in front of my television as a 17 year old teenager, and being stunned watching as Kennedy’s head exploded on my television screen. I watched as the president’s head was slammed into the back of his car seat and then his body falling into his wife’s lap. Robert Groden and I had become friends over the years, after I had met him in 1996 in Dealey Plaza. Robert had even given me a blurb for my first book, the new updated version of “In the Eye of History.” As I walk away, I see that Judyth Vary Baker is now greeting him.
Next, I spy Dick Russell, author of “The Man Who Knew Too Much”, whom I first met at a conference many years before, and sat at the same table and had breakfast with him and others. As I greet him with a handshake, and “Hi Dick, I haven’t seen you in years,” he stares back at me with a blank look, I can tell he doesn’t remember me, or our meeting in years past. He has absolutely no clue who I am. I don’t blame him, as my hair is now long and gray and worn in a ponytail, and my beard like my hair, is now also gray. I look very little like I did 15 or 20 years ago. Still, I feel a little crushed.
The he next presentation is by David Denton, on New Revelations and Information on the JFK murder. During Denton’s presentation, he asks Ed Tatro to get up and make a few comments from the podium. Ed is an old friend of mine, who I have seen at many JFK conferences over the years. Tatro played an instrumental part in the series “The Men who Killed Kennedy.” Ed can rattle off facts about the JFK assassination faster than I can form a coherent thought, and now is no exception. He speaks of Jack Ruby and his statement, “I am going downtown and watch the fireworks,” meaning of course, JFK and that short, sweet ride through Dealey Plaza. Ed also talks about the mysterious Gerry Patrick Hemming, and the audience is hanging on every word.
Friday, November 16, 2018 at the Lancer Conference, Lorenzo Hotel.
Jim Jenkins and I are here to check out the presentation of Dr. David Mantik and Dr. Michael Chesser, both men have been to the National Archives, with special permission from the Kennedy family lawyer, and have seen the so-called “original” X-rays and photographs of President Kennedy’s skull and brain. Chesser has been gracious enough to let Jim and I use his groundbreaking research in our book, “At the Cold Shoulder of History.”
We stayed for their presentation and decided to hang out in the “book room.” Jim is involved in a conversation with several researchers who are eagerly asking him questions. I have spent a happy time with Dr. Cyril Wecht, who answered questions I have wanted to ask him about, mainly his involvement with David Lifton and his feelings about what Lifton wrote about him in his bestseller “Best Evidence.” Dr. Wecht and I are joined by noted researcher Gary Aguilar. While I am having a grand time here in the book room, I am vaguely aware that I am missing several presentations I wanted to see at the Baker conference. Jim, Hugh Clark and I have a joint presentation to give at the Baker Conference at 7:20pm. So Jim and I decide to wait until closer to our presentation time to go back to the Doubletree for the JVB conference. Jim is so entertaining to the people that have gathered around him, I doubt that I could tear him away.
Friday, November 16, 2018 at the Judyth Vary Baker Conference, Doubletree Hotel.
Finally we arrive back at the Baker conference to give our joint presentation on our book, “At the Cold Shoulder of History” and the book I did with Hugh Clark, “Betrayal.” The audience seemed to enjoy it, and were very attentive to the three of us. Hubie shamelessly plugged “Betrayal” – and always has a great time doing the presentations and people really seem to enjoy him. Hubie is a bubbly character, very animated and very comfortable on stage. Jim is still getting his sea legs under him as he is a naturally shy person and not a showboat, but he is a natural speaker once he gets started. Sitting between Jim and Hubie, I feel a bit like a doorstop.
After taking questions from the audience, we went to the table in the back of the room, where our books were being sold. Attendees came up to talk with us and have their books signed. They mostly asked questions of Jim and Hubie, as I have noticed at the last few conferences that I am generally ignored when I am accompanied by witnesses to history. I can’t blame people – why bother with a plain old writer who writes about historical events when you can talk to an actual historical participant.
Saturday, November 17, 2018 at the Lancer Conference, Lorenzo Hotel.
Jim and I arrive back at the Lancer conference at 11am to give another presentation on our book, “At the Cold Shoulder of History”, along with Dr. Mantik and Dr. Chesser. Their work at the National Archives blends so well with what we have written about in Cold Shoulder, that we invited them to join our presentation. After the presentation, we went back to the book room to autograph books. We talked with people in the book room until it was time for our next presentation.
At 3pm, I conducted a Skype interview with what was being billed as a “new witness” from Bethesda Naval Hospital, a man named James Rousey. Rousey was able to give some background on Bethesda, but I felt the presentation was a bit garbled. I am still not sure that he would qualify as a “new witness.” Hugh Clark and I then gave a joint presentation on our book “Betrayal” that we had written together in 2015. As usual the audience was very attentive, and we were both pleased.
Saturday, November 17, 2018 at the Baker Conference, Doubletree Hotel.
The schedule was exhausting and we had to rest. Later that evening, Jim and I hung out in the lobby signing autographs and answering questions from the conference attendees. We then attended the speaker’s dinner buffet, and I couldn’t help reflect that this must be what it is like for politicians, eating rubbery chicken and limp salad while trying to be entertaining to people who have paid to sit at your table.
Later that evening Jim and I met with Rick Russo, a very good researcher and friend who was kind enough to help us with the taped hypnosis sessions that he arranged for Jim Jenkins to participate in some 25 years before, that we used for a chapter in our book. Rick asked us to come up to his room, to discuss things in the Kennedy assassination where Rick felt he had attained some breakthroughs concerning the events of November 22, 1963. We both listened as Rick related what he felt he had discovered, and we had to admit that Russo had indeed found connections that made things , at least in the mystery of the autopsy, come together. By the time we broke for the night and returned to our own rooms, it was 1:30 AM.
Sunday, November 18, 2018.
After having suffered through Saturday’s banquet, my wife Lori and I awoke late, and since I had no speaking engagement from the stage to do, we had a leisurely breakfast in the hotel restaurant. We then met up with Jim and his wife Jackie in the hotel lobby to say our goodbyes. They were anxious to get on the road and get home. It had been a whirlwind conference, or should I say conferences, having attended and spoken at CAPA, JFK/Lancer and of course the Judyth Vary Baker conference. I had expected to have a relaxing day, as my commitments had all been met and I was looking forward to finally having the chance to listen to some conference speakers, but it was not to be.
I then received a call from a friend of mine, Glenn Bybee, who had been my official photographer at an event in Chicago, Illinois in 2015. This event featured members of the Kennedy Honour Guard and members of the Kennedy Autopsy team. I had asked Glenn if he could get me the phone number of retired police officer Jim Leavelle, who was handcuffed to Lee Harvey Oswald, at the fateful moment Jack Ruby stepped forward out of the crowd in the basement of the Dallas Police Department and shot Oswald. The moment of the event was forever captured by photographer Bob Jackson, and that image became indelible in the minds of the people of the United States in 1963 as it is to those of us who study and write about Kennedy’s assassination 55 years later. It was with some excitement that I wrote Jim Leavelle’s number down as Glenn recited it to me over the phone. I thanked him and immediately dialed Leavelle’s phone number. I hadn’t talked to Jim in 20 years, but his voice was still as I remembered it, sharp and clean with that Texas drawl. I introduced myself, and said, “I sent you a book you wanted years ago, called “The Torch has Passed”, remember?”
He replied, “ I remember the book, but not who sent it.” When I told him I was in Dallas, and would like to visit him if at all possible, he replied, “Well, if we could set it up for some time next week, I could do it then. I have a luncheon date at 1pm today.” I explained to Jim Leavelle that I was leaving Dallas early the next morning, he relented and said, “If you can be here within the next hour, I can spare you some time.” Grateful, I took down his address and I told him I was on my way. Leavelle was only 20 minutes away from my location, in a gated retirement community in Garland, Texas.
The man who answered the door was stooped with age, I don’t know what I was expecting – perhaps a man in an off white suit and matching hat, the only image I had in my head of Jim Leavelle. He met my wife and I with a smile. “Come on in,” he said and led us into the living room and where I sat on his couch. The apartment was neat and tidy, I settled into the plush couch with Leavelle on my right, my wife Lori close by in a chair, where she could get in a good position to record the interview with my phone. When I asked Mr. Leavelle if I could video our talk to show our family and friends, he cheerfully acquiesced. The Detective seemed shrunken and frail, and his crop of white hair had thinned – I had only seen him in filmed interviews and they were all several years old. I wasn’t surprised, after all, that he was 98 years old, as he reminded us at the end of our visit. I autographed two of the books I had written and brought with me, my first book “In the Eye of History” and the newest book written with Jim Jenkins. I shamelessly held the two books up for the camera, capturing the gifting, and then gave them to Mr. Leavelle. Now, looking at the images, that my wife captured on camera of me holding up the books, Jim Leavelle looks less than enthralled. We settled back and he said, “If you got a question on your brain, go ahead and get it off.” Leavelle had always made no secret of his belief that Lee Harvey Oswald assassinated President Kennedy, so I knew what his answer would be to this question, but this for me was a chance to talk to the officer that was part of the history of the Kennedy assassination, and also part of the history of the murder of Lee Harvey Oswald, the supposed assassin of President Kennedy. It wasn’t so much that I felt that he was going to tell me anything different than he had ever told anyone else over the years, that had the opportunity to ask him questions, as it was to hear his side of history, while being in his presence. The hour that Jim Leavelle had granted me came to a close, he was expecting his luncheon guests at any moment, so my wife and I took our leave.
Later, back at the JVB conference, I sat in the lobby and talked with various speakers and attendees while my wife Lori attended the presentation given by Tyrel Ventura, son of former governor Jesse Ventura. Lori was very impressed with his presentation and he later came into the hotel lobby and visited with us both briefly. In the closing hours of the conference we were in the presentation room, while JVB presided over something called, the “Reading of Deposition, and Signing before Witnesses”. Next, radio host S.T. Patrick, Jeff Worcester, Meredith Mantik, noted filmmaker and daughter of David Mantik, Ray Hall and Bonnie Faulkner gave a very interesting presentation, “The Fight for Truth in Media – JFK’s assassination, a core issue.”
I had missed a good many of the presentations at the conferences, both JVB’s conference and the JFK/Lancer conference, not to mention CAPA’s, running back and forth trying to take it all in while having to give presentations at each. It would simplify things a lot if all conferences would be combined into one big king-hell bent for truth-seeking explosion. I have been calling for this a good many years, but to no avail. It won’t happen until the folks that head these events put their egos aside, and not care who gets credit for what, but just seek the truth. But, that is like asking for an honest politician who puts the country and its people first.
I found the conferences exciting and at the end, exhausting. I was very pleased that I was able to meet personally with Jim Leavell., I wouldn’t recommend waiting until a witness is 98 years old to meet them, but as the old saying goes – better late than never.
Monday, November 19, 2018 – Dallas/Fort Worth Airport.
It was now time to board the plane for the long trip home to Oregon – and silent prayers.
William Matson Law