Monday, November 21, 2011
JOHN CHUCKMAN REVIEW OF BARRY ERNEST'S THE GIRL ON THE STAIRS
This is a modest book both in its aims and in its physical size, but it is a book which makes a genuine contribution to understanding the Kennedy assassination, and it is the best thing I have read on the subject in some years.
The central finding of the Warren Commission was that Oswald was Kennedy’s assassin. So while Mr. Ernest’s aims seem modest, calling into question Oswald’s movements in the wake of the shooting, they work powerfully against that central finding.
Here is a self-published book written by a man who originally had not even planned to write a book, and it contains genuinely new and significant evidence.
You will find here no unproved theories against the officially accepted explanation, nor will you find phony efforts to protect the official story. Books of both those types have been published in abundance for decades, indeed to the point where I long ago sickened of reading them.
Mr. Ernest documents his long-term, off-and-on again efforts to satisfy his own curiosity concerning the assassination and, particularly, to locate a significant witness the Warren Commission went out of its way to minimize, slight, and ignore, Ms. Victoria Adams. Ms. Adams worked in an office on the fourth-floor of the Texas Book Depository in November, 1963. From a remarkable vantage point, she and some fellow workers watched Kennedy’s motorcade enter the Plaza and approach the fatal area. Then they heard noises like fireworks and saw the president’s car begin to rush away.
As a side note here, just the fact that a group of people, only about 40 or 50 feet above the motorcade, could gather and open a window to look down on it tells us a great deal about the terribly poor security arrangements made that day by all police and protective agencies.
Ms. Adams and a co-worker suspected something was wrong and quickly sought the stairs to the ground floor – the same stairs Oswald is supposed to have taken immediately after the shots, indeed the only full-height set of stairs in a building whose elevator at the time did not operate. Her seemingly insignificant act proved to have many serious implications.
Ms. Adams saw no one on the stairs. She heard no one, even though the creaky and echoing nature of the stairs and stair well meant that you always heard other steps on them, no matter how many floors away. She was accompanied by one of her co-workers, Sandra Styles, who could thus certainly corroborate or contradict any of Victoria Adams’ testimony, yet Ms. Styles was never interviewed by any of the agencies investigating. The FBI made no attempt to re-stage and time the path of these women, as they did for a number of other people.
The author, after finally finding Ms. Adams, gaining her trust (often a requirement with significant Kennedy-assassination witnesses who have been badgered and even intimidated in the past) and having her tell her brief story in fine detail, succeeded also in finding her former co-worker, Ms. Styles, who, indeed, corroborates Ms. Adams perfectly. She also provides a detail of just what was happening in the Plaza when they decided to go down, providing an amazingly accurate time marker for their descent’s start.
Ms. Adam’s own words – recorded e-mail exchanges - tell any perceptive reader that she was (she died a few years ago) an intelligent and perceptive observer, the very kind of witness any attorney or prosecutor likes to put on the stand.
The author also discovers a transmittal letter at the National Archives that has Dorothy Garner, office manager of the same text-book publishing company for which the two women worked, seeing Roy Truly and Officer Marion Baker arrive on the fourth floor after Victoria Adams and Sandra Styles left, an important fact because these two had previously stopped on the second floor where Officer Baker had a brief confrontation with a relaxed Lee Oswald in the cafeteria as they raced up from the ground floor to inspect the building.
Ms. Adams not only saw no one on the stairs, but when she and her friend briefly went outside, she did see Jack Ruby, a man she did not know until she saw the television pictures later of him shooting Oswald.
Many of the more unhelpful and even crazed books on this subject I sometimes think likely come under the auspices of the very agencies who have worked so hard to promote the official story: lunatic books help discredit all critics of the official story. When I say lunatic books I mean books along the lines of The Man Who Knew Too Much or JFK and the Unspeakable.
Worthless books which seem to serve the opposite side include Gerald Posner’s Case Closed, which offers the pretence of tough-minded analysis, or Reclaiming History by Vincent Bugliosi, which is just a giant prosecutor’s brief supporting another prosecutor’s brief, or Edward Jay Epstein’s Legend and Counterplot, both efforts to confirm the main conclusions of the Warren Commission after the author’s having gained some credibility with his Inquest, a book which supports limited and late criticism of the Commission.
For people coming to the assassination for the first time, Mr. Ernest provides a few nice little summaries of fact, the most important being J. Edgar Hoover’s virtually immediate acceptance of Oswald’s guilt, his then having prepared within weeks a report setting out the flimsy case. Lyndon Johnson’s appointment of the Warren Commission made the publication of his report inappropriate, but that report provided the structure on which the commission report was built, the commission itself never doing any genuine investigation of its own. Indeed, since the entire Warren Report was created in a few months, there is a prima facie argument for its complete inadequacy to so demanding a task.
Readers who wish to know more after reading Mr. Ernest’s book cannot do better than the books of Joachim Joesten, the finest and certainly the sharpest of all early critics, and Anthony Summers’ Conspiracy, which although dated remains the best single book ever written on the subject. Interestingly, both these authors came from Europe. The Warren Commission Report itself offers a valuable comparison for these and any other books on the subject.
My only serious criticism of Barry Ernest’s book is that he failed to provide an index, an important omission. However, except for that fault, I recommend this book virtually without qualification to all people curious about the greatest unsolved crime of its time.
I take this opportunity to remind readers of Bertrand Russell’s penetrating question, still never answered: “If, as we are told, Oswald was the lone assassin, where is the issue of national security?”
Further, I remind them that if a matter so important as the assassination of an American president in the mid- 20th century could be handled in so careless and dishonest a way by government agencies, why would anyone expect something more with other sensitive issues and what are the limits of government’s lying? That is why the assassination of 48 years ago remains a timely matter.