The Final Conspiracy
Attorney-at-law Brad Kizzia is hardly able to contain himself. Punching his phone to put the caller on hold -- in mid-conversation -- he sputters excitedly to a visitor in his office: "Do you know who this is?"
"It's Mark Lane!" Kizzia blurts, unable to await a guess. "The Mark Lane."
When the name elicits only a blank stare, the stocky, rust-haired barrister twirls his executive chair around. "Over there on the bookshelf!" he exclaims, wagging an index finger at the overstuffed rows, a veritable library of such JFK-assassination classics as High Treason; JFK: Breaking the Silence and On the Trail of the Assassins -- one of the two books on which Oliver Stone based his movie, JFK. Among the many esteemed tomes: an autographed copy of Rush to Judgment, published in 1966 by, of course, Mark Lane, the dean of "assassinologists" -- and the very same man who is now dangling on interminable hold.
Lane is calling Kizzia, a 39-year-old insurance and personal-injury litigator at the conservative downtown Dallas firm of Strasburger & Price, to announce his plans to file a lawsuit. Not about an accident or malpractice claim, but because Kizzia shares Lane's passion: proving that the assassination of America's 35th president was the product of a sinister, and as yet unearthed, conspiracy.
It is no accident that this lawyer has pinned a poster-sized diagram of Dealey Plaza on the wall of his 44th-floor office -- and that his office offers a clear view of the assassination scene, including Dealey Plaza, the former Texas School Book Depository and the edge of the grassy knoll.
University of Houston Cougars Football vs. Louisville Cardinals College Football
TicketsThu., Nov. 17, 7:00pm
Rice University Owls Football vs. UTEP Miner Football
TicketsSat., Nov. 19, 11:00am
SWAC Football Championship
TicketsSat., Dec. 3, 3:00pm
TicketsSat., Jan. 7, 7:00pm
And it is no accident that Kizzia is at the center of the latest twisted wave of the 30-year-old controversy surrounding the martyred president: He represents conspiracy theorists who are suing other conspiracy theorists for defamation -- and who allege that the attacks upon them are part of yet another conspiracy. Jokes Kizzia: "You could call what I'm doing, 'On the Trail of the Character Assassins.' "
The assassination has inspired more than 250 books -- and at least as many theories. Dissatisfied with the Warren Commission's conclusion that Lee Harvey Oswald acted alone, serious researchers, buffs and assorted flakes have made their various cases for the involvement of the CIA, the FBI, Soviet intelligence agents, anti-Castro Cubans, the Mafia and extraterrestrial beings.
Kizzia himself blames the Cubans. He believes that exiles sent to overthrow Castro during the Bay of Pigs fiasco were angry at Kennedy for abandoning them -- and conspired to kill JFK to provoke a war against Cuba. "It didn't work," Kizzia explains. "Because the CIA and the FBI covered it up. I think a lot of well-intentioned people participated in the cover-up because they thought they were doing their country a service by avoiding World War III."
Though he admits he snatched up the office with the assassination vista when the opportunity presented itself, Kizzia insists, "I don't spend hours looking out the window, wondering." Likewise, he says he resists the temptation of a lunchtime stroll two blocks away to the scene of the crime
-- including the Sixth Floor exhibit, featuring more than 400 photos and an inside view of the sniper's perch. "I've only been there twice since it opened. Really.
"I'm not obsessed," he declares, before pausing to contemplate his words. "Of course, obsessed people would deny that they are obsessed."
Rhetorical characterizations aside, Kizzia is clearly part of the passion that keeps the controversy over the Kennedy assassination alive.
"I've been thinking for a long time about writing an open letter to District Attorney Vance," Kizzia announces brightly, "and asking him to reopen the investigation of the case. I know he lost the Railey case, and maybe he wouldn't want to take on something as controversial as this during re-election, but there were three murders in Dallas County: Kennedy, Officer Tippet and Oswald. Ruby was prosecuted for murdering Oswald, but there is no statute of limitations for the other murders.
"People have written books claiming they participated in conspiracies to murder the president. They either need to be exposed as frauds or they deserve to be prosecuted."
Just a third-grader when the president was shot, Brad Kizzia became "totally fascinated" by the assassination -- "as a murder mystery and as a cover-up" -- while a political science major at Austin College in Sherman. That's when he wrote a term paper on the case and invited Mark Lane -- the Mark Lane -- to speak on campus about his theory of CIA involvement.
That's also when Kizzia, who picked up Lane from the airport, recognized that not all his peers shared all his passion. "The turnout was disappointing," Kizzia remembers. "I guess not that many people at that time were as interested in the assassination as I was."
Undaunted, Kizzia grew to become an avid reader of JFK conspiracy theories. In 1991, he noticed a newspaper ad for the first annual "Assassination Symposium on Kennedy," or "ASK," being held in Dallas.
It was there that Brad Kizzia made the connections that would make him the man that unhappy conspiracy theorists call. It was there that he met Tom Wilson -- and heard about what we will call "The Second-Gunman-Detecting Machine."
Eureka or GIGO?
When Tom Wilson invented his device, officially called "Image Processing with Computer Analyses Systems," he harbored only mundane industrial ambitions. Wilson, after all, was a retired engineer living in Murrysville, Pennsylvania -- about as far from the 20th centuryÕs foremost murder mystery as one can get.
He had been tinkering with his machine for eight years by 1988 when a revelation struck him one crisp evening, as surely as it befell Archimedes sitting in his bathtub. "I was in my office doing repetitive tests on the machine I had invented for my work in the metals industry," Wilson, now 61, recalled in a recent telephone interview with the Observer. "It could detect bare metal, or flaws, in metal products. When that happened, the monitor would register a flash, or sparkle. But I had to run it over and over again. I was bored."
Wilson ejected the metals test tape and popped in a video of a TV documentary about the 25th anniversary of JFK's assassination. This moment of boredom would change his life forever.
When the famous Mary Moorman photograph of the grassy knoll appeared on his screen, flashes and sparkles materialized behind the knoll's wooden fence. "That meant an object behind the fence was metal," explains Wilson. "But the area behind the fence was dark. Why would something shine if there is nothing there?"
To find out, Wilson, a metals-industry consultant, abandoned all his projects and concentrated on testing the Moorman photograph. Months later, he emerged triumphant: "Yes, there was a metal object behind the fence," he recalled. "And yes, there was a person firing a weapon."
Additional studies, he insists, proved that another shooter was lurking behind the fence. "I'm not going to say I know who did it or why," Wilson says. "But it was proof there was a conspiracy."
Wilson felt certain he had cracked the case that had stumped the nation's top criminal investigators. But there was a problem: Wilson couldn't find anyone who believed him -- or would even listen to his claims. Adamant that he would not profit from his discovery or allow its exploitation, Wilson says, he turned down offers by tabloid TV shows that wanted to break the story. Instead, he solicited the attention of Dan Rather and The New York Times, among others. "I had this hard evidence," he says. "I tried to call, to write letters. I didn't hear back."
Despite the rebuffs, Wilson continued his research. But now, there were other problems. Measurements and photographs he had taken at Dealey Plaza in November 1990 didn't match his other data. So on the morning of December 17, 1990, Wilson commandeered his wife Marcelyn and several of her metal pie pans -- to which he had affixed various sizes of fabric and glass "targets" -- and jumped on a plane back to Dallas.
Once at Dealey Plaza, Wilson, a heavyset man with thinning gray hair, instructed his wife to stand holding the pie pans in front of her face while he photographed her in three critical spots: the pedestal next to the grassy knoll where Henry Zapruder filmed the fatal shots; the site across from there where Mary Moorman photographed the grassy knoll; and smack in the middle of Elm Street (and busy traffic) -- the location where Kennedy's head would have taken the fatal shot as he passed by the grassy knoll.
A bewildered Oliver Stone, then at work on JFK, watched this odd couple from the safety of the sidewalk in front of the old School Book Depository.
"Do you mind if I ask you what you're doing?" a member of StoneÕs crew asked Marcelyn as she scurried to find her next cue.
"I can't tell you," the inventor's wife responded. Eventually, Wilson recognized Stone and approached him. And soon, according to Wilson, the couple and the filmmaker were sharing hot dogs and swapping opinions about the precise location of the presumptive assassin (or assassins) who fired from behind the wooden fence. Weeks later in Murrysville, Wilson received an offer from Stone to consult on his movie-in-progress. Wilson worked, for the most part, authenticating photographs. "I never did see a movie star," he complains.
But the Stone connection did help win Wilson a feature role before the first Assassination Symposium on Kennedy, in November 1991. He says he was invited to speak and paid his own way. "It was my first chance at a legitimate forum," Wilson explains.
The annual symposium now attracts thousands of assassination buffs to the Hyatt Hotel and Dealey Plaza. "Assassinologists," as ASK organizers say their participants prefer to be called, pay a $175 registration fee for four days of panel discussions on such topics as "JFK 101: An Assassination Primer," "Intelligence Community and Defectors," "Eyewitnesses" and "New Leads and Revelations."
Although most speakers had been allotted but a single hour, Wilson's 1991 talk lasted more than two hours. "I was going to pull the plug on him," remembers an ASK organizer, "but I was told if I did, the crowd would riot. They were completely mesmerized by what he was saying."
A Dallas Times Herald reporter named Mark Potok, himself an assassination buff, covered Wilson's talk and wrote an article about it in the Times Herald on November 16, 1991. In the story, Dr. Cyril Wecht, a noted forensic pathologist and former president of the American Academy of Forensic Sciences, was quoted as calling WilsonÕs work "beautiful."
But others were less generous. Their statements, as quoted in the Herald, would incite a lawsuit.
"It's a series of massive lies," declared David Belin, counsel to the Warren Commission, according to the Herald story. "The man is basically making an outrageous claim." The Warren Commission had, of course, concluded that the assassination was the work of Lee Harvey Oswald, acting alone. Like everyone else with an opinion on the subject, Belin had offered his point of view in print -- with two books that supported the single assassin theory: November 22: You Are The Jury and Final Disclosure: The Full Truth About the Assassination of President Kennedy.
The Times Herald reporter also sought comment from Robert Blakey, chief counsel and staff director of the House Select Committee on Assassinations; the committee had concluded that Oswald most likely did not act alone. Blakey, who has offered his own conspiracy theory in a book titled Plot to Kill the President (later reissued under the title Fatal Hour: The Assassination of President Kennedy by Organized Crime), was quoted as saying about Wilson's theory: "You know the saying among computer people, 'garbage in, garbage out'? This is garbage."
Wilson, who previously had no standing in the world of assassination theorists, was unwilling to let these attacks on his newfound stature go unchallenged. "You don't have to take this, you know," Wilson says a friend told him after he'd returned home to Murrysville. A short time later, Wilson received a letter from Brad Kizzia, who had heard him speak and had read the newspaper criticism of Wilson's presentation. After mulling over the matter, he hopped on a plane back to Dallas and was sitting in Brad Kizzia's office.
Stone's movie JFK had just come out amid a storm of controversy, and Kizzia had written an opinion piece in The Dallas Morning News defending the film, for which Wilson had served as a consultant. That allied the lawyer with Wilson -- and against Belin, who had aggressively attacked Stone's film.
In most intellectual debates -- particularly the dicey business of unproven conspiracy theories -- proponents of various points of view attack one another freely without fear of litigation. Theorists, after all, are supposed to offer sharply contrasting opinions about public controversy.
But Wilson wasn't going to take it. Angered by the comments published in the Times Herald article, in November 1992 he filed a defamation suit against both Blakey and Belin. Brad Kizzia is handling the litigation for Wilson.
Belin could not be reached for comment.
Blakey, reached at his office at Notre Dame School of Law in South Bend, Indiana, where he is a tenured professor, declined to talk directly about the case. But he noted the oddity -- and potentially chilling effect -- of the litigation: "The debate on the Kennedy assassination ought to be free and robust. If people get sued every time a reporter calls them on the phone, then that severely limits that freedom."
On April 13, 1993, Kizzia, suing one conspiracy theorist on behalf of another, flew to South Bend, Indiana, to depose Blakey. Though the deposition was ostensibly being taken to determine jurisdiction Ñ whether Blakey could be sued in Texas -- Kizzia took the opportunity to quiz Blakey about CIA memos and retouched Life Magazine photos of Oswald. "Tell me how that's related to jurisdiction," Blakey demanded, refusing to answer the question.
Kizzia also quizzed Belin, in an April 7, 1993 deposition also taken to help determine proper jurisdiction, about photographs of the grassy knoll and Dealey Plaza. "Do you feel that all persons who take issue with the Warren report are liars?" Kizzia asked. Belin's attorney advised him not to answer because the question had nothing to do with jurisdiction. Kizzia pressed on: "Did you come into possession of, or did it come to your attention that there was, I believe, a CIA memo in 1967 that was distributed instructing and encouraging agents on how to counteract critics of the Warren Commission?" he asked. Belin again declined to answer.
Through an April 17, 1993 affidavit, even Oliver Stone makes a cameo appearance in Wilson's lawsuit. Stone's affidavit reads, in part: "John W. Belin has made speeches, given public appearances (including appearances on network television), and has written letters and articles that were published in newspapers and magazines around the country which have attacked me, the movie JFK, and people associated with the movie. He has unjustly called us liars and profiteers... Mr. Belin has apparently undertaken a nationwide campaign to strike back at those who voice opinions different from his own in connection with the JFK assassination.
"I, like most Americans, want to know the truth regarding the assassination of President Kennedy, but the process of determining the truth through public discussion is undermined when people are discouraged from disputing the so-called 'official' government versions of the truth because of fear that their reputations and integrity will be smeared by influential people."
Stone was not available to address the issue of how Wilson's decision to sue critics -- including a prominent Stone critic -- might promote "the process of determining the truth through public discussion." Stone's publicist, Mark Pogachefsky, says the filmmaker has no comment. "I think we'll just let the affidavit speak for itself," he says.
Wilson's suit was recently dismissed for lack of personal jurisdiction; federal judge Barefoot Sanders ruled that none of the defendants had sufficient ties to Texas. But Wilson is appealing the decision. And he says he intends to refile in Pennsylvania if the appeal isn't successful.
"I am willing to stand up under oath and say exactly what I have found that positively shows there was a conspiracy," the inventor of the "Second-Gunman-Detecting Machine" declares from his home in Murrysville, Pennsylvania. "If people want to do the same, we'll see who's telling the truth."
The doctors' dilemma
Brad Kizzia holds an elegant black-and-white book in his hands and opens it from back to front. Although the volume was a gift from the author, it is the only book in his collection that Kizzia hasn't read -- and for good reason. The book is written in Japanese. Its title, however, is in English -- JFK: Conspiracy of Silence, by Charles Crenshaw, M.D.
The English version is a different matter. Kizzia has scrutinized every word of the Fort Worth doctor's book; after all, Crenshaw is his client.
The book was published last year with help from Cleburne-based assassination researcher Gary Shaw -- who serves as director of the JFK Assassination Information Center -- and writer Jens Hansen. The book is mostly a personal account of what Crenshaw, then a third-year resident at Parkland Memorial Hospital, says happened on November 22, 1963.
Crenshaw was one of 15 doctors who played a role in attempting to save the president's life -- he helped insert and drip an IV into the president's leg. Two days later, he says, he assisted in resuscitating Lee Harvey Oswald after Jack Ruby shot him.
Crenshaw, now 60 and the semi-retired head of surgery at Tarrant County's John Peter Smith Hospital in Fort Worth, makes several controversial claims in his book. First, he maintains that two bullets struck Kennedy from the front -- a critical point for conspiracy theorists, since Oswald could have shot Kennedy only from the rear. According to Crenshaw, one bullet hit Kennedy in the neck and another in the temple near the hairline, creating a massive wound at the back of the head. Not only does Crenshaw claim to have seen the wound himself; he says the autopsy photographs have been altered to disguise the evidence.
While one other physician who treated Kennedy backs Crenshaw's published account, several other doctors who cared for the president have said they do not recall such a head wound. Much of the harshest criticism of Crenshaw's book -- and the words that would spur him to sue for defamation, according to Kizzia -- appeared in the May 27, 1992 issue of JAMA, the Journal of the American Medical Association.
David Breo, the author of one of the JAMA articles, interviewed the two doctors who performed the autopsy and four doctors who treated Kennedy at Parkland on November 22, 1963. Writes Breo: "...No one can say with certainty what some suspect -- Crenshaw was not even in the trauma room; none of the four [doctors] recalls ever seeing him in the room." Breo quoted Dr. Charles Baxter, a surgeon who treated Kennedy at Parkland, as saying: "I've known [Crenshaw] since he was three years old. His claims are ridiculous. The only motive I can see is a desire for personal recognition and monetary gain."
On April 9, 1992, the Dallas Morning News published an opinion column by freelance writer Lawrence Sutherland, who attended a press conference that Crenshaw called in Dallas. SutherlandÕs column repeated some of the statements in Breo's JAMA report and included some of Sutherland's own choice rhetoric: "Conspiracy of Silence is peddling lies."
Although Crenshaw's book stayed on the New York Times bestseller list for months, Crenshaw claims that the JAMA article and the Sutherland column defamed him. He had been carved up by many of the same critics who attacked Oliver Stone.
In March 1993, Crenshaw and Shaw filed a defamation suit against the Morning News and Sutherland. (The other author, Jens Hansen, did not file suit. He told the Dallas Observer, "I didn't sue because I didn't feel like I had been damaged.") Two months later, Crenshaw and Shaw added four more defendants to the suit: the American Medical Association, which publishes JAMA; JAMA's editor, George Lundberg; writer David Breo; and, finally, Oliver Stone's archnemesis, David Belin. Belin was named because of interview excerpts published in the News on May 17, 1992, according to Kizzia. In part, the story quoted Belin as saying: "I think that the press should demand of the Dr. Crenshaws of the world, of the Oliver Stones of the world, or the Mark Lanes of the world, full financial disclosure. Because hundreds of thousands of dollars have been made out of the assassination."
Not exactly a vicious example of character assassination. But enough for Crenshaw and Shaw, whose suit accuses all the defendants of "individually and/or in concert and/or conspiracy" making defamatory comments.
Kizzia says the published criticism of JFK: Conspiracy of Silence in JAMA and the News damaged book sales as well as Crenshaw's reputation. "In the JAMA article, it suggests that Dr. Crenshaw wasn't even there," declares Kizzia. "There is no question he was there and participated with the resuscitation efforts."
On that issue, Kizzia has a point. In fact, transcripts of the 1964 Warren Commission hearings show that two witnesses identified Crenshaw as having participated in the attempt to save Kennedy's life. The New York Times and Columbia Journalism Review also have both criticized the JAMA article for its sloppy research. It failed to note that several doctors had changed their stories over the years since the assassination; writer Breo even interviewed his own editor, George Lundberg.
Kizzia complains that Crenshaw was not interviewed for the JAMA article. But when asked if Crenshaw would comment for this story, Kizzia said his client was unavailable. "I think Dr. Crenshaw was really shocked by the responses to the book," Kizzia says. "I know it really hurt him personally and emotionally."
Kizzia notes that the American Medical Association called a press conference to promote the Breo article. "Was there a conspiracy to silence Dr. Crenshaw?" he asks rhetorically. "I don't know. I do know that there are groups and organizations that have an agenda, and Dr. Crenshaw is certainly a threat to that agenda." The AMA is one such group, Kizzia says; he declines to list others.
Through their attorneys, Lundberg and Breo declined to comment on the suit. David Belin also did not respond to requests for an interview about this matter.
Gary Shaw, a 55-year-old Cleburne architect and well-known assassinologist, insists that he and Crenshaw filed suit only as a last resort after the News and JAMA declined to publish their rebuttals and letters to the editor. The critiques of the book focus on Crenshaw. He says: "We have no problem with anyone who has a different approach to the assassination case. What we have a problem with is personal attacks."
Shaw, who grew up in Cleburne, says that, before Kennedy was killed, he made frequent trips to Dallas to drink in Jack Ruby's Carousel Club. "I heard the scuttlebutt that Ruby was Mafia and to be careful around him," he says. Shaw, who was 25 years old when Kennedy was killed, says he doesn't know who killed Kennedy. "I'm certain that if Lee Harvey Oswald was given a trial he would have been found probably not guilty. We've really not been told the truth by the government. There has been a cover up."
Lane v. Posner?
Brad Kizzia's call from Mark Lane -- the Mark Lane -- who makes his living as a Washington attorney, concerned a suit Lane wants to file against the hottest JFK author of them all: Gerald Posner, whose best-selling 1993 book, Case Closed, made the August 30 cover of U.S. News and World Report.
From his law office, Lane, declared he plans to sue Random House, Inc., publisher of Posner's book Case Closed, "for millions and millions of dollars" in U.S. district court. The basis for the suit, according to Lane: a promotional ad, published in the August 24, 1993 New York Times, that shows Lane in a photograph with other conspiracy theorists, including Oliver Stone. The photo's caption reads: "Guilty of misleading the American public." Lane says he is preparing a suit against Gerald Posner for "the incredible errors in his book."
"I'm not settling the case, either," Lane says at fever pitch. "Not unless Random House wants to give me the publishing house so we can publish books by eyewitnesses to the assassination whose books can't get published."
Lane, who says he will handle his own case with help from another Washington attorney, was calling Brad Kizzia because the Dallas lawyer has already fired his first legal salvo at Posner -- on behalf of Dr. Charles Crenshaw. Case Closed quotes "a senior Dallas doctor who is a close Crenshaw friend" in distinctly unflattering terms: "If you spend time with [Crenshaw], he starts to confabulate, or a plot or plan, and that sort of thing. We are not dealing with a normal individual.... He has had a stroke and can't operate anymore. I think it is a bag of worms of ego, going over the hill, the last hurrah." In September, Kizzia fired off a letter to Posner and Random House demanding an Òimmediate retraction and apology" for "the outrageously defamatory comments" about Crenshaw in Case Closed.
Posner's book attempts to dismantle the conspiracy theories set up by Lane, Crenshaw, and others over the last 30 years; much to the dismay of many active assassinologists, he concludes that Lee Harvey Oswald acted alone.
"It is a book filled with errors," Lane says. Then, dishing out the most stinging insult a conspiracy theorist can offer, he adds: "It's very possibly the worst thing since the Warren Commission published their report."
Posner, resting for a few minutes between endless rounds of radio and television interviews to promote Case Closed, laughs when he hears that Lane intends to sue him. "He's been saying that for two months now. Every time I turn on the radio, he's saying it.
"Let me guess: Did he say my book was worse than the Warren report?"
osner, saying that "truth is the absolute defense," insists he wasn't prepared for the response to his book. "It's created a lot more controversy than I hoped. This shows you how far our country has come. Thirty years ago, Lane was considered the skeptic. Now, when I'm the one who's backing the Warren report, I'm considered the skeptic."
Posner muses for a moment about the prospect of one author trying to silence another by going to court. "What is it about Case Closed? It's almost as if he doesn't want anybody to read it."
As this article went to press, Brad Kizzia -- appropriately enough
-- was scheduled to moderate a panel discussion of doctors and lawyers during the third annual Assassination Symposium on Kennedy. Norman Mailer, who is writing a book about Oswald, would deliver the keynote speech at the Hyatt Hotel.
It is clear that, within this gathering of conspiracy theorists, Gerald Posner has assumed the status of the assassinologists' antichrist.
Tom Wilson, for example, whose invention caused such a stir in Dallas two years ago, is devastated that a story Newsweek planned to write about him was replaced by a story on Posner's new book. "Everything Posner says is black, I say is white. It's very difficult to take."
Wilson suspects the decision to pull the story about him might have been, yes, part of an effort to conceal the truth. "I have a feeling certain interests don't want this [information] to come forward," Wilson says. Then, in a moment of self-insight, he adds: "You can get so paranoid with this."
An employee with the symposium, who didn't want her name used, said Posner had been invited to speak this year but might not come because Norman Mailer will be speaking. Posner confirmed that he wouldn't be coming and that Mailer's presence -- as well as the ASK group's hostility toward his book -- are among the reasons.
The symposium staffer said Mark Lane was not welcome. "He came to the first one to speak, and stood up and told all of us we were exploiting KennedyÕs death and trying to make money off of the assassination." Ironically, Lane's 1966 best-seller, Rush To Judgment, is considered the first commercial success for a conspiracy theorist. Hundreds of other books about conspiracy theories have followed. Hundreds more are surely to come.
So the gathering known as "ASK" -- dedicated to airing divergent views about the assassination of President Kennedy -- would take place without the presence of several key figures on both sides of one of America's longest-running historical debates.
"Some days," says the symposium staffer, "I think they are all loony."
Rebecca Sherman is a staff writer for The Dallas Observer.
Get the This Week's Top Stories Newsletter
Every week we collect the latest news, music and arts stories — along with film and food reviews and the best things to do this week — so that you'll never miss Houston Press' biggest stories.