Six Days in Dallas.
Text and photos by: Neale Safaty.
I’ve been fascinated by the assassination since I read Tony Summers’ Conspiracy as a teenager in 1980. For decades, with the responsibilities of marriage, a career and children, I dipped in and out of the assassination by only reading the odd book. However, I had my first opportunity to visit Dallas on business in 2010 and I was able to grab literally 40 minutes at Dealey Plaza.
I spent a few minutes around the stockade fence area and then blitzed through the TSBD museum. My second opportunity arose a couple of years later when I was able to tag on a weekend to another business trip. There was a quantum leap in my knowledge as I had sufficient time to really understand Dealey Plaza, I met Robert Groden at his usual pitch, and moreover, Jerry Dealey carted me around to the key assassination sites and gave me his invaluable insight. Fast forward another seven years and I was back for the big one. Yes, six days in Dallas around the CAPA conference. Here’s a summary of my experience.
This was a flying day and given the travelling time, an opportunity to seriously catch up on past copies of the Dealey Plaza Echo and read Leroy Blevins’ Evidence of Conspiracy. Leroy Blevins sadly passed away a year ago. His work is off-piste and I was hoping to be able to validate or reject some of his ideas. With the in-transit at Atlanta, it was a hell of a journey but because of the time difference, in the evening, I was able to enjoy the delights of the West End Historic District where I had rented an apartment. Dinner at the Y.O. Ranch Steakhouse was great fun and it was to be the first of several visits for either a meal or a few drinks!
This was to be a hard-core research day. I had arranged with the Six Floor Museum’s librarian/archivist, Khrishna Shenoy to spend the day in the reading room. She had put together for me several digital files of oral histories, photographs and films, as well as hard copies of magazines and newspapers. Khrishna is a warm lady who was extremely helpful collating the material that I was interested in at short notice, and explaining about the process and her work at the museum. I was initially struck at how open she seemed to be and it felt like there had been a shift away from the museum’s lone-nut perspective of Gary Mack’s day. The museum has 8000 books and other hard copy written material and is chocker block full of conspiracy books for those interested in reading them on site.
Having said that, the new curator doesn’t seem to be too keen to act as the community’s advocate with regards to pressing NBC to make available the Darnell film to all on line, rather than it being only available for viewing on site. “It’s above my pay grade” is his stance.
I trawled through some of the films and including, upon the specific request of Bart Kamp, the Darnell film. It’s poorly classified, as, of the thirty minute film, there’s only about 90 seconds of Darnell, the rest being footage from all over the place and from other agencies. Sadly, Prayer Man is no more distinctive than any other footage one has seen on the Internet.
Regarding oral histories, what one doesn’t appreciate from the museum’s website is that there are 1900 interviews available to listen to or watch in the reading room or to request for remote use in audio/video file format or in transcript form (700 have been transcribed so far and they all will be eventually). There is only a relatively small selection for viewing on the museum’s website and they are not full interviews. In reality, they are between 30 minutes and 3 hours long as some participants have been interviewed more than once.
The night before at dinner, the staff had told me that Jack Ruby was very friendly with the Campisis, Italian restaurateurs who had a restaurant in Mockingbird Lane, and that he had dined there on the eve of the assassination. I wasn’t able to make it to the original but I had lunch at the downtown restaurant. No pesto sauce here, just good old-fashioned American Italian – pizza slices and meatballs etc. After lunch, I was able to start viewing the photographic collections more thoroughly. Krishna had put together a digital folder that included; the Dallas Time Herald, the Dallas Morning News, the George Reid Collection, the Eugene George Collection, the Rusty Livingston Collection, the Nat Pinkston Collection and the Jim Walker Collection. In many cases, the quality was outstanding and I spent the afternoon studying many high resolution images. Dinner was at a fantastic Japanese restaurant (Kotta Sushi Lounge) where the sushi was divine.
Registration at the CAPA conference at The Marriott was at 08:30. It was an interesting and windy walk from behind the TSBD, through Dealey Plaza, past Old Red and to the hotel. The views from the conference room top floor were great and it was fascinating to see the nearby assassination-related landmarks from above, such as the WFAA tower, the Dallas Morning News building and the viaduct, as well as the hinterland of Oak Cliff.
As a conference participant newbie, I was impressed with the line-up for the day and excited about the program. In the main, they didn’t disappoint and it was enlightening to learn from very experienced researchers both formally and when they asked questions of other speakers and panellists. I really enjoyed the mock court of inquiry but have to say, and bear in mind it’s a work-in-progress, the prosecution came out on top, mostly because the defence team focused on the process deficiencies and chain of custody issues. There was a break around lunchtime to enable participants to attend the memorial on the grassy knoll. I wasn’t sure what to expect but I found it a bit cheesy. In terms of other highlights, I thought John Curington who was H.L. Hunt’s personal lawyer fascinating, especially the revelation that Hunt had met Marina. I could listen to old characters like him all day. The archivist panel, which had the propensity to be very dry was actually pretty interesting, in that if pouring over original records is your bag, there’s a plethora of information out there that evidently is becoming much better organised and accessible. It was a shame that the representative from NARA didn’t turn up. After a very long day, finishing at 10 PM, I made my way to the Ranch Steakhouse for a couple of post-conference fatigue beers!
Again it was a relatively early start with an impressive line-up. I particularly enjoyed the James Wagenvoord interview. Buried in his presentation was a still photograph of Jackie on the back of the limo, seemingly taken from the perspective of the overpass. Because it was a somewhat fleeting image, my first impression was that it may have come from Oliver Stone’s film (which would be naughty) but if not, then this would be very interesting to locate and analyse the activity and the people in all the sensitive areas. I intend to follow up on this. Another interesting presentation was the Jack Ruby Trial by Judge Brandon Birmingham as this was an area of the assassination that I knew very little about. There was an hour and a half dedicated to the former CIA agent Rolf Mowatt Larsen. There were patches of interesting thoughts but my views are that he is probably bound by the U.S. version of the Official Secrets Act that prevents him from really opening up, he alleges to know significantly less about the assassination than the experienced research community which conveniently gave him a pass on tougher questions and it felt like it’s in his DNA to toe the company line. I did find his anecdote about when and how he told his kids that he was a CIA agent amusing though.
Of course, the big feature was the banquet dinner, certainly not because of the food but because one was able to mingle in the bar beforehand with fellow participants and speakers and then listen to Oliver Stone who was effectively presented with a life-time achievement award for his work and stance around the assassination. I met David Josephs and Andrew Kiel over dinner and spent a lot of time with David in the bar afterwards!
Having dealt with the hangover, I went to the Sixth Floor Museum to do the tourist bit and to also reacquaint myself with the fabric and configuration of the building. I know it’s a cliché but I find all the locations in this saga much smaller than either I thought they would be, or remembered from previous visits. It may be that many photographs are taken with lenses significantly more wide-angled than the human eye. I’m sure someone can explain it to me. What is worth noting, is that the TSBD is only 100 feet by 100 feet and less in terms of floor space. With that in mind, it wouldn’t have been that difficult for a shooter to get from the Sniper’s Nest to the NW corner stairwell quickly, if indeed there was a shooter in the SE corner, as it would not have been a matter of clambering over or around boxes as there were clear pathways. Of course, this is notwithstanding the noise that might have been made if he had sprinted!
After a relatively short visit, I got an Uber to Mansfield (about 45 minutes south of Dallas) to attend a JFK seminar at The Dirty Job Brewing. This is organised by Chris Gallop, an experienced researcher who runs, along with his wife, a stand at the conference. We got talking over the course of the conference and he had sold me enough books and magazines to keep me occupied for months to come! This seminar was a much more intimate and informal experience than the conference with an interesting array of speakers; Hank Slaughter, Bill Simpich, Dr Michael Marcades, Steve Cameron, J. Gary Shaw and Jonathan Pike – some of who had real personal stories to tell around the assassination. I purchased a copy of Steve Cameron’s book on Roger Craig and look forward to exploring this angle.
After the seminar wound down, I went to a blues/jazz Cajun & Creole bar called The Free Man in a hip neighbourhood in central Dallas called Deep Ellum. I’m grateful to Ryan Lisk, a fellow enthusiast who I happened to meet at the conference registration, for both the ride and his company over dinner. In fact, we spent quite a bit of time together over the few days discussing various aspects of the assassination. We decided to do Oak Cliff the following day with Bill Simpich who he knows quite well.
I had arranged with Khrishna to gain early entrance to the Reading Room where I went through more photos and film footage before joining Ryan and Bill and a friend of Bill’s in the Elm Street Extension for the trip over to Oak Cliff. Again, it’s a cliché but it’s very quick to get to North Beckley. I’d done the rooming house stop with Jerry Dealey before, so the goal was to get to 10th & Patton. Here the four of us were joined by an assassination enthusiast/researcher who just happened to be on the scene. We looked at photos and witness positions and had a discussion around the numerous inconsistencies. I found the scene even smaller than I remembered and especially, how close Scoggins, Markham and particularly Benavides were. And Denver Street is just a pitching wedge away!
Interestingly, whilst we were there, Judyth Baker turned up with a party of assassination buffs. We walked around the corner and chatted at what was the Callaway site before driving off to Jefferson where we parked outside the Texas Theatre. We took a look at the shoe shop (now a bridal shop) and then went round the back to view the rear door and exterior stairs to the balcony.
On our return to the car, we were fortunate enough to encounter a Japanese TV crew and a guide of some sort who was in the process of unlocking the front door of the theatre for them. Bill Simpich charmed our way in and it was really something to see the lobby, the interior stairs to the balcony and to sit in the seat where Oswald was arrested – although the interior staircase has allegedly changed and I’ve seen photos (including one of Ian Griggs) that suggest that it was another seat where Oswald was arrested. The guide’s sequence of arrest events differed somewhat to Bill’s who proceeded to enlighten the TV crew and there was a sense of coolness in the air from one participant! She did have some value as I learned where the original “concession” stand was.
We had lunch at a Mexican restaurant on Jefferson, which was much better than my expectations, and after a quick visit to the Neely Street backyard, made our way back to the TSBD where I was able to listen to a couple of oral histories before the reading room shut, and to have one final thirty minutes up on the sixth floor with Bill before he had to depart for the airport.
This was my travel back to Blighty day. My driver picked me up early (the UBER guy from Sunday) who I would recommend to any researcher who needs an airport run or as a driver to any of the other sites, and we made our way via Elm Street and the Stemmons Freeway to DFW, which seemed surreal. We stopped briefly at the Trade Mart for a moment’s reflection.
So what are my take-outs from all this?
Well, six days wasn’t enough. I could have spent numerous hours, days in fact, in the reading room going through material or listening to tapes because as you get talking to Khrishna, you think of something else and she’ll look it up and retrieve it for you if possible. Note that many physical things are stored in the basement which is probably why they need reasonable notice. This is the first time that I’ve really thrown myself into the assassination and not been distracted by anything else and there just wasn’t enough time to explore new ideas – one can so easily go off at a tangent and down rabbit holes!
I had rented an apartment in a block with a communal gym and swimming pool and naively even took a tennis racket. However, I spent every waking hour listening to somebody talk about the assassination, speaking to somebody about the assassination, reading chapters of books, or articles, browsing Internet forums or just walking around and seeing places. For example, the ramps of the Dallas Police Department building (on the anniversary of Oswald’s murder) or the Texaco garage or the Hughes Funeral Home.
I even stood on the parapet of the overpass/underpass and timed cars turning left from Houston down to my position. I did not switch on the TV once and missed almost a week of world news and any notion of visiting Southfork or watching a Cowboys game went out the window!
I found the locals, really nice and polite people and enjoyed the city more than I had expected, especially as we had some very good weather too. I also made some new friends amongst the research community. Like any other big city though, Dallas also has its fair share of drug abuse and homelessness.
As far as the conference is concerned, in my opinion, it would have been better organised over two and a half days, to reduce fatigue and to give participants more opportunity to talk to stand owners or other participants and speakers over coffee etc. For example, there was quite a crowd in the corridor questioning the former CIA agent for a considerable period of time after his presentation while the following speaker was on. My understanding is that under the Lancer organisation, it was over three days. I would definitely like to go back and view General Walker’s house, Ruth Paine’s house, go inside Oswald’s rooming house, drive or walk the escape routes (where possible) on a timed basis and generally do more digging but this wasn’t a cheap exercise and it may well be in the future, dependent upon the conference line-up and itinerary. I do agree with those who said that it would be better to have just one conference (Judyth Baker’s was held at the same time) and strive for the best quality and more current ideas rather than rehashing a chunk of older research. For the record, according to Bill Kelly’s blog, the CAPA conference video will shortly be on line.
And my final thoughts?
As we know, there’s no consensus regarding most of the issues and of course, so many of the primary “witnesses” have gone, as have so many ground-breaking researchers. As an illustration, I met credible researchers who sincerely believe that Beverly Oliver is Babushka Lady or that the Zapruder film is definitely altered or even that Harvey & Lee has true legs as there was and may still be a sophisticated doppelganger program.
From my own perspective, I have a lot of follow-up “research” to conduct – I’m specifically interested in the minutiae of the events in Dealey Plaza and the TSBD, the film and photographic records, the TSBD exit and flight and the subsequent shenanigans in Oak Cliff. But, I also have a lot of catching up on the big picture; an area that I have typically been less interested in, although I recognise that this is where it all starts. I also see myself visiting Washington but that’s another great city and another story.
If anybody is intending to go to Dallas in the future and wants some tips or has any questions, please feel free to contact me.