Saturday, April 20, 2013

Book Review: Hit List

Hit List: An In-Depth Investigation into the Mysterious Deaths of Witnesses to the JFK Assassination by Richard Belzer and David Wayne.

The mysterious deaths of witnesses and participants in the aftermath of John Kennedy’s assassination has given rise to much speculation over the years.  Jim Mars in his classic book Cross Fire, documented the untimely deaths of many of the witnesses.  Warren Commission defender Vince Bugliosi in his mammoth tome, Reclaiming History, just dismissed the deaths as largely from natural causes and not in any way suspicious.  Of course, for someone as biased as Bugliosi, an ardent cherry picker of the evidence, nothing is shifty in the case of Kennedy’s assassination.  However, the cases I’ve looked into show there is more going on with the deaths of these people, which Jim Mars wrote comes in waves and those waves usually center around up and coming investigations.

In Hit List, noted actor Richard Belzer, along with co-author David Wayne, have completed probably the most comprehensive investigation into the deaths of these people.  Fifty people are documented from the famous and powerful to the poor and obscure.  Each entry is broken down by name, bullet points, and the various details involving their demise.  Each entry is throughly documented from sources in print, web, and author correspondence with family or acquaintances of the victims.

There are many thought provoking chapters in the book.  Two of which caught my attention and taught me some new things are the deaths of police officer J.D. Tippet and columnist Dorothy Kilgallen.  The authors do a good job documenting Tippet’s comings and goings, curious behavior, and then the Warren Commission’s machinations in dealing with issues they couldn’t prove in their attempt to link Oswald to the murder.  It’s probably the best recording of Tippet’s movements before his death and the resulting evidence that contradicts Oswald having been his killer.

Another good accounting is the sudden death of columnist and TV game show star Dorothy Kilgallen.  (My article on her passing happens to be the most popular article on this blog.)  The authors go into exhaustive detail involving the strange and out of place events that occurred before her death and surrounding her passing, from being found on the wrong floor of her townhouse to the chemical make-up of the heavy-duty barbiturates which are supposed to have taken her life.  This chapter alone is probably one of the best written anywhere in regards to Kilgallen’s alleged drug overdose, although it does leave out a few issues that I document in my article, The Lonesome Death of Dorothy Kilgallen.  In spite of that, it’s a fascinating and very detailed accounting.

The death of Dorothy Kilgallen is important as it displays the meme for most of the deaths listed.  Since people carry on common routines in life, most of the people indexed exhibit the occurrence of doing things outside of their normal life patterns.  Such as, the person that is found death from a gunshot with the gun in the right hand--they are left handed.  It is as if the killers setting this up are not informed about all of the victim’s personal habits.  So anomalies always abound in these things.

Robert Kennedy?
I did find it incongruous that one final death on the list was that the president’s brother, Robert Kennedy.  I don’t see his death in the same category of the others since most of the deaths reported are very private in nature.  RFK’s murder was quite public with a world watching in horror of the unfolding event.  There is no display of out of place behavior as with the others on list.

Besides Robert Kennedy, there is J. Edgar Hoover and Jimmy Hoffa.  While those two men both having suspicious events surrounding their demise, never the less, either of these men could have been placed in a different accounting (meaning another book) of untimely deaths, or in the case of Hoffa, disappearing altogether. They had 50 slots so I guess the needed filler.

I was disappointed that Edward Voebel’s name was left out.  He was Oswald’s best friend in junior high and gave testimony to the Warren Commission of his time with Oswald in school.  He essentially had nothing bad to say about him.  He was just a normal kid.  What may have put Ed Voebel in the crosshairs is that he gave an account of visiting Oswald and meeting his mother at the 126 Exchange Place address.  Under the official narrative, they were supposed to be living several miles further away.  Voebel has Oswald’s mother working at bars for tips which she wasn’t supposed to be doing at the time (1954-55) either.  Voebel took ill in the early 1970’s and was at one point asked by his doctor had he been around any poisons.  Voebel replied he had not.  He took a turn for the worse and soon died.

Hit List: An In-Depth Investigation into the Mysterious Deaths of Witnesses to the JFK Assassination, is a good entry into a well trod field of dubious witness deaths.  Well sourced and documented, it makes for a good source volume for any JFK researcher delving into this issue.  Stand-out chapters are the ones on Dorothy Kilgallen and Officer Tippet.  It’s also a good book for keeping the general pubic informed on this important side-history of the assassination.  It’s an impressive effort and highly recommended.

This review is from the e-book version purchased via iTunes.

Addendum 5.7.13
There is a mistake on page 401 of Hit List claiming that country singer Jim Reeves knew Jack Ruby and Lee Oswald.  This is not correct, according to Larry Jordan's excellent biography, Jim Reeves: His Untold Story–which is sourced in Hit List.  As stated in the biography, Reeves knew Ruby but had only seen Oswald in the crowd at the Longhorn Ballroom, twice (p.885).  No dates given for this.  Reeves was known to have a photographic memory for names and faces, hence his telling friends he had seen Oswald before.  But Reeves never knew Oswald personally.