Books, Politics

Back And To The Left… Back And To The Left

November 20, 2015

“It appears as though something has happened in the motorcade route…”
~ Sam Pate, Dallas Reporter, KBOX Radio

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Shortly after noon on Friday, November 22, 1963, the 35th President of the United States was being driven through the streets of Dallas, Texas in a black Lincoln Continental stretch limousine. He was accompanied by his wife Jackie, and the Texas governor John Connally and his wife Nellie. They were all on their way to a luncheon where the president was to deliver a speech at a gathering of the city’s business leaders.

Moments after their open-topped vehicle turned from Houston Street and onto Elm, John Fitzgerald Kennedy entered Dealey Plaza and the history books.

On this sequence of events, anyone who has ever dived into the deep end of the research pool regarding Kennedy’s murder agrees. However, it was from this point forward that doubt and certainty diverged, and fact and fiction became Siamese twins. Within hours of the shooting speculation and hearsay filled the airwaves, and rumor and guesswork dominated above-the-fold reportage in newspapers around the world.

Who killed JFK?

While doctors at Dallas’s Parkland Hospital attended to their mortally wounded president, city police, and the sheriff’s office scoured central Dallas for their number one suspect – their only suspect.

Lee Harvey Oswald, a former U.S. Marine who had once defected to the Soviet Union and returned, was employed by the Depository where some witnesses reported three gunshots had originated. He was tracked, cornered and taken into custody in a movie theatre after a short struggle with law enforcement. By this point, barely 90 minutes after Kennedy was hit, Oswald was suspected of not only JFK’s assassination, but of also killing a Dallas police officer while escaping the scene.

On Sunday morning, less than 48 hours after the assassination, Oswald, too, lay dying, felled by a single bullet. Audiences around the world watched the shooting live on television. Jack Ruby, who at the time was considered not much more than a local strip club owner and minor mobster, was immediately arrested and charged with the homicide.

Three days later, The President’s Commission on the Assassination of President Kennedy was launched by the new president, Lyndon B. Johnson, and Supreme Court Chief Justice Earl Warren was put in charge.

The Warren Commission, as it was more popularly known, also included a future president of the United States, a retired banker, four senators, and a former head of the Central Intelligence Agency that Kennedy himself had fired. They were tasked with an investigation that aimed to ‘solve’ the president’s assassination, and bring closure to a shaken public by underscoring the ‘official’ stance that Oswald had acted alone. But what appeared to some people as an open-and-shut case, was to others murky and misguided, and the Commission’s eventual conclusions positively erroneous. Regardless, the ‘Oswald Did It’ camp filled up fast. Even though many questioned and protested the Commission’s explanations of the entire scenario, with some suggesting a massive government cover-up was at play, the ‘lone gunman’ meme had already begun to take root.

Within a year of President Kennedy’s assassination the Warren Commission’s report was released to the public, its major thesis – Lee Harvey Oswald as lone assassin – was front and centre. As battle lines were drawn on one side and the other (he did, he didn’t) alternate opinions and conspiracy theories began to proliferate.

Was JFK trapped in the crosshairs of one crazed assassin firing from the sixth floor of the Texas School Book Depository? (“I’m just a patsy!”) Or was he the victim of a conspiracy cut down by a cabal of a half-dozen hired guns firing from any number of hidden vantage points, including the equally infamous ‘grassy knoll’? (“Back and to the left, back and to the left…”) Those questions have been debated and fought over for decades by amateurs and professionals alike. The search for answers has become the Holy Grail of researchers and authors worldwide.

Hundreds of books, articles, documentaries, feature films, TV shows and websites have been devoted to ‘America’s loss of innocence’ that day in Dallas. Perhaps only the Bible has been more scrutinized. Every bullet and shell casing, each leaf and blade of grass, eyewitness testimony (both official and otherwise), photographs, films, charts, caskets, plane flights, recordings, admissions, rebuttals, reconstructions, dead ends, cul de sacs, hairpin turns, and divided highways… enough information has been collected and sifted to fill entire warehouses, and yet questions, doubts, and theories still remain. A CBS News poll asked Americans if they believed that Oswald had acted alone – 76% said they believed he had not. Some believe that’s the wrong question to ask, as it presupposes he acted at all.

‘Who killed JFK?’ became a mantra. More than fifty years later the chanting hasn’t stopped.

Into this decades-old riot of speculation and analysis comes author Barry Ernest and his book, The Girl On The Stairs – My Search For A Missing Witness To The Assassination Of John F. Kennedy.

If you’ve paid any attention over the years to the wealth of material available on the subject of the assassination, you’ll probably agree that the majority of it falls into three basic categories:

  1. The sixth floor, southeast corner window of the Texas School Book Depository and Lee Harvey Oswald;
  2. The Grassy Knoll;
  3. Cubans, Communists, Cosa Nostra, CIA, and Co-Conspirators.

With few exceptions, much of the assassination canon digs in its heels on one of these major points, sometimes just trolling around the edges. Mr. Ernest, however, followed a different path. A long and winding path, as it turned out, and the result is one of the best books available on the topic.

He has done something with his book that few before him have accomplished successfully. While many other authors have relied on brute force attacks of the entire Warren Commission Report, challenging its evidence, methodology and conclusions at every turn, Mr. Ernest has instead dug deep – very deep – into a mostly forgotten corner of the investigation: the secondary witnesses. One in particular.

That one witness is ‘the girl on the stairs’, a young woman by the name of Victoria Adams.

Why she’s the focus of Mr. Ernest’s book – why she matters at all – is quite the well-told story and a terrific read. The author spent the better part of forty years attempting to locate Vickie Adams to confront her face-to-face about her Warren Commission testimony, and to try and find corroborating evidence to support and justify her claims. His journey is fascinating, and his storytelling simple, clean and exciting. His conclusions offer a compelling and disturbingly accurate narrative account of one of the darkest days in human history told from a different perspective and observed through a unique lens.

The story begins with a bombshell comment to the Commission that almost no one grasped the significance of at the time, and most researchers have failed to recognize since.

On 22 November, Vickie was working for a small company that was a tenant in the Texas School Book Depository building. That day was special because it wasn’t every day one got to see the President of the United States and his beautiful wife Jackie. Ms. Adams and a couple of co-workers spent part of their lunch hour huddled in a stairway near a window that afforded a perfect view of Dealey Plaza and the presidential motorcade that was going to pass right by the building.

Everyone who worked inside the Depository and who was present that fateful day in 1963 was interviewed under oath by a Warren Commission investigator. According to the author’s research, witness testimony would be carefully transcribed and checked for accuracy against the stenographer’s record, and then a draft copy would be sent to the interviewee so they could check it themselves and make corrections before signing off. Vickie found some errors in her testimony, corrected them, and returned the document.

Ms. Adams thought that was that, and like most Americans got on with her life.

Some time later, after the Commission’s report was released, she decided to check her testimony within one of the twenty-six volumes of evidence while visiting a local library. According to Vickie and the author, what she read in the official record, was not what she had said to the Commission. Not only had they misstated crucial parts of her testimony, they hadn’t included the corrections they themselves had asked Vickie to supply. To make matters worse, the official record stated that her recollection of events was inaccurate and her details wrong. Vickie was horrified. She dropped out of sight and never spoke of her experiences again. Until Barry Ernest finally found her.

What had she said to the Commission?!

The issue was a not-so-simple matter of timing. She testified that she and one of her colleagues had been on the stairs of the fourth floor of the Depository watching the President drive by smiling and waving at the crowd. Then, they heard what sounded like firecrackers going off. People in the plaza started running or laying on the ground as if they were hiding. Realizing that something terrible must have occurred, Vickie and her friend ran down the stairs to the ground floor and out of the building to find out what had happened. She was quite specific in her testimony as to the time of day, their location on the stairs, and the amount of time it took for them to race down those stairs to the main level of the building. She was also very specific, under direct questioning from the investigator, about who she did and did not see during this time.

Ms. Adams’ testimony was a problem for the Commission. These were the same stairs they said Oswald himself had come down after shooting the President from the sixth floor – it was his only means of escape. Except Vickie and her friend had neither seen nor heard anyone else on those stairs within the timeframe she had testified to.

Why is Victoria Adams’ memory of those events – her official, detailed testimony, and the subject of this book – important? If she’s correct, Lee Harvey Oswald could not have been on the sixth floor of the Depository at all, as he was discovered in the second-floor lunch room by a police officer mere minutes after the shooting, and again, within Vickie’s testified timeframe. If Oswald wasn’t on the sixth floor that means he couldn’t have pulled the trigger. He could not have shot the President.

Timing. Mr. Ernest contends that she is correct.

It would be easy to disregard this book as just another unsubstantiated theory based on ephemeral allegations or as another attempt to cash in on the JFK conspiracy cottage industry that has grown like an ignored weed since 1964. Easy, except for Mr. Ernest’s astonishing discovery of corroborating evidence supporting Ms. Adams’ claims, and the re-emergence of the subject herself. Vickie speaks at length about her experiences and responds candidly to the author’s detailed examination.

Whether, through absentminded omission or calculated design (Mr. Ernest believes the latter), the Warren Commission disregarded crucial details within Victoria Adams’ sworn statements; details that would have cast, and perhaps now does cast, doubt on the conclusions of its Report. It’s not the first book to do so, nor is this an isolated example, sad to say.

I’ve absorbed the vast majority of credible JFK assassination literature over the years – certainly dozens of books, perhaps more than fifty. I’m always curious to see what each new book brings to the table, or what a new documentary might reveal. Is it something new, or merely a rehash of old theories…? A fresh perspective, or a stale reimagining…? “The Girl On The Stairs” is the real deal – new, fresh and, perhaps most importantly, illuminating.

With the entire Warren Commission library now online (yes, including the 26 volumes of evidence from which the story of Victoria Adams eventually revealed itself), as well as the 1976 House Select Committee on Assassinations (HSCA) report, perhaps we’re not done yet. Maybe there are other ‘clues’ hiding in plain site.

For some readers, perhaps, the revelations in this book will be summarily disposed of with the wave of a jaundiced hand (“Nothing to see here – move along, Johnny.”) Do we really need more independent analysis, more investigations, more articles, another documentary, another book…? As a teacher once said to me: An open mind is a terrible thing to waste.

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The Girl On The Stairs – My Search For A Missing Witness To The Assassination Of John F. Kennedy (ISBN: 978-1460979372)
is written by Barry Ernest and available in various forms from Amazon and the other usual suspects.

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