Executive Action: JFK Witness Deaths and the London Times Actuary
Feb. 25, 2013
Updated April 14, 2013
The 1973 film Executive Action depicted a conspiracy to assassinate JFK. It was based on a book by Mark Lane, who in 1966 was the first JFK investigator to debunk the Warren Commission in his book Rush to Judgment. Burt Lancaster and Robert Ryan played CIA operatives involved in the plot. They were resisted in their efforts to have the film made by mainstream Hollywood producers. The movie reveals how Kennedy’s progressive agenda and peace initiatives were a threat to the establishment. He refused to invade Cuba, was seeking detente with the Soviet Union, planned to pull all troops out of Viet Nam by 1965, break up the CIA, eliminate the Federal Reserve and promoted the civil rights movement. Congress passed the Test Ban Treaty a few months before the assassination. In other words, he was doing his job.
At the end of the film, it was revealed that an actuary engaged by the London Sunday Times calculated the odds of 18 material witnesses dying within three years of the JFK assassination. as 1 in 100,000 TRILLION. Assuming the data and calculation methodology were essentially correct, then it was clear proof of a conspiracy and refuted the Warren Commission conclusion that Oswald was the lone assassin.
There has been much controversy about the actuary’s calculation. Apparently, no one at the Sunday Times even remembers the actuary’s name. And even more strange, the Times editor did not provide the 1977 House Select Committee on Assassinations (HSCA) the actuary’s calculation assumptions or methodology. The editor claimed that the problem was not clearly defined and therefore the calculation of the odds was suspect. This analysis indicates that the calculation was essentially correct – and that the editor’s response to HSCA was misleading and incomplete.
In fact, there were more than 18 suspicious deaths in the three years following the assassination. The actuary did not include Oswald and Ruby – and at least 20 others. The JFK witness spreadsheet database shows there were at least forty (40) suspicious deaths in the three years; at least 33 were unnatural (homicide, accident, suicide, unknown). The probability of 33 unnatural deaths is lower than 1 in 100 TRILLION TRILLION!
There are 107 witnesses who died unnaturally or suspiciously in the database. Some researchers claim there were many more. Of this group, 72 deaths were unnatural: 10 were suicides, 39 were homicides and 22 accidental. There were 31 suspicious heart attacks, sudden cancers and 4 from unknown causes.
The probability of at least 70 unnatural deaths in the 14 years following the assassination is 1 in 714 MILLION TRILLION TRILLION (1.4E-33). . There were at least 100 unnatural and suspicious deaths, so the probability must be even lower. Since the probability of 70 deaths is infinitesimal, why bother to look any further?
Some have questioned the relevance of the unnatural and suspicious witness deaths related to the assassination. . Of the 107 in the database, 24 testified at the Warren Commission, 12 were sought at the Clay Shaw trial by prosecutor Jim Garrison, 4 by the Church Senate Committee, 17 by the House Select Committee on Assassinations (HSCA). Of the 57 total, 9 were sought by two of the four groups. Therefore, at least 48 witnesses in the database are indisputably relevant.
What is the probability that 48 of 1400 material witnesses would meet unnatural deaths (assuming the 0.000163 weighted average mortality rate)?
P= 2.6E-39 (less than 1 in a TRILLION TRILLION TRILLION).
What is the probability of 40 homicides among the 1400 witnesses (assuming the 0.000062 homicide rate)?
P= 8.8E-46 or 1 in a BILLION TRILLION TRILLION TRILLION.
Warren Commission apologists have suggested that there were many more than 1400 material witnesses and therefore the probabilities are not valid – without providing a list. To refute this canard, we calculate the probabilities assuming 10,000 material witnesses using the 0.000163 weighted unnatural mortality rate.
The probability of 72 unnatural deaths in 1964-77 is 1.3E-16 (1 in 8,000 TRILLION).
The probability that 34 witnesses would die unnaturally in the three years following the assassination is 7E-18 (1 in 140,000 TRILLION).
Perhaps the problem is better illustrated if we ask: How many unnatural deaths are required in the 14 year period (assuming 1400 material witnesses) to obtain a probability of less than 1% (ONE in ONE HUNDRED)? This would meet the definition of beyond a reasonable doubt. The answer is 18. How many would return a probability of ONE in ONE THOUSAND? The answer is 22. As the number of deaths increase, the probability rapidly approaches ZERO.
HSCA statistical expert Jacqueline Hess testified that the actuarial calculation was “invalid” due to the “impossibility” of defining the “universe” of material witnesses. Her dismissal of the odds was a ruse (like the Magic Bullet Theory) to maintain the cover-up.
The fact is that there was a definable set of 552 Warren Commission witnesses. At least 20 died unnaturally in the period from 1964-1977. Only four would normally be expected.. But two others should be included. Domingo Benavides was a witness to the Tippit murder who could not identify Oswald. He changed his testimony after his brother was shot and identified Oswald. Warren Reynolds was a witness at the Tippit scene. He changed his testimony after making a miraculous recovery from a gunshot to the head.
Of the 552 Warren Commission witnesses, the probability of at least 22 UNNATURAL/SUSPICIOUS deaths and 1 attempted murder in the 1964-77 period is 1 in 7 BILLION. Three deaths were classified as suicides, 5 as homicides and 6 accidental. If the “suicides” and “accidents” were actually HOMICIDES, then the probability of at least 14 HOMICIDES is 1 in 2 THOUSAND TRILLION.
The 552 witnesses can be viewed as a subset of the approximately 1400 JFK-related witnesses named in the reference Who’s Who in the JFK Assassination.
The probability analysis is straightforward; it is not a theoretical exercise. It is a mathematical proof of conspiracy based on factual data (552 Warren Commission witnesses, at least 14 unnatural deaths, corresponding mortality rates) and the Poisson probability formula. The numbers and probabilities speak for themselves. This is a challenge to those who still claim that the deaths do not prove a conspiracy: To substantiate your claim, you must refute the data (i.e., the Warren Commission witness list), the unnatural mortality rates and the use of the Poisson formula.
There were different categories of witnesses: 1) The 121 eyewitnesses who gave depositions to the FBI (51 said the shots came from the front, 38 from the rear, 32 were unsure); 2) the 552 interviewed by the 1964 Warren Commission; 3) witnesses sought by Jim Garrison 3) witnesses sought by the HSCA; and 4) the full set of 1400+ JFK-related witnesses.
The timing of the deaths makes it all the more suspicious. At least fifteen died the year after the assassination; several died in 1967, soon after being named as witnesses in the 1969 Garrison/Shaw trial; at least 12 died in 1977 (including SEVEN FBI officials) just before they were due to testify at HSCA. Using this information, we can calculate probabilities of these unnatural, suspicious deaths for each witness category.
Hit List: An In-Depth Investigation Into the Mysterious Deaths of Witnesses to the JFK Assassination is a comprehensive study by Richard Belzer and David Wayne (published April 2013).
The following graph displays the probability of a range of unnatural deaths for 552 Warren Commission witnesses from 1964-1977. The probability declines to ZERO at 12 deaths.
But even the “natural” deaths were suspicious: heart attacks, sudden cancers, etc. Jack Ruby died just before his second trial, 29 days after being diagnosed with cancer. He claimed that he was injected with a virus.
Another mysterious death was David Ferrie who supposedly had a brain aneurysm that was ruled a suicide – the day after his release from protective custody. He had just been named as a witness by New Orleans D.A. Garrison in the Clay Shaw trial.
In spite of their efforts, the HSCA was forced in a “limited hangout” to conclude that both the JFK and Martin Luther King murders were conspiracies. Acoustic evidence indicated a 96% probability that at least four shots were fired. At least one came from the grassy knoll, indicating at least two shooters. That should have closed the book on the Warren Commission’s physically impossible, irrational Magic Bullet Theory but this 50-year old work of fiction is still presented as gospel by the mainstream media while the overwhelming scientific ballistic, acoustic, video, medical, eyewitness and mathematical evidence of suspicious deaths is ignored.
The mathematical analysis of the scores of suspicious, unnatural deaths related to the assassination is further proof of a conspiracy – beyond any doubt. This is a comprehensive spreadsheet database of suspicious unnatural witness deaths, probability calculations, Warren Commission, Garrison/Shaw trial and HSCA witnesses.
The London Times
In a response to a letter from the 1977 House Select Committee on Assassinations, London Sunday Times Legal Manager Anthony Whitaker wrote: Our piece about the odds against the deaths of the Kennedy witnesses was, I regret to say, based on a careless journalistic mistake and should not have been published. This was realized by The Sunday Times editorial staff after the first edition – the one which goes to the United States – had gone out, and later editions were amended. There was no question of our actuary having got his answer wrong: it was simply that we asked him the wrong question. He was asked what were the odds against 15 named people out of the population of the United States dying within a short period of time to which he replied -correctly – that they were very high. However, if one asks what are the odds against 15 of those included in the Warren Commission Index dying within a given period, the answer is, of course, that they are much lower. Our mistake was to treat the reply to the former question as if it dealt with the latter – hence the fundamental error in our first edition report, for which we apologize. None of the editorial staff involved in the story can remember the name of the actuary we consulted, but in view of what happened, you will, I imagine, agree that his identity is hardly material.
The actuary’s identity was hardly material? It was and still is very material. Only the actuary could speak to his interpretation of the problem and method of calculation. And no one on the editorial staff remembered his name? Really? We are supposed to believe that? Both statements made no sense; nothing else the Times editor said should have been taken at face value. In fact, Whitaker misrepresented what is essentially a simple mathematical problem: to determine the probability of a given number of unnatural deaths over relevant time intervals within a given population group.
His first error was to provide an incomplete and misleading statement of the problem. The U.S. population is not relevant; the number of JFK-related witnesses is. The “short period of time” is not specific. He misrepresented the essential goal of the probability analysis by not considering the frequency of unnatural deaths.
His second error was one of omission. He did not provide unnatural death mortality statistics and probability calculations used by the actuary. Was it because they would show that the calculation was plausible?
Whitaker claimed that he asked the actuary to calculate the probability that 15 names included in the Warren Commission Index would die within a “short” period. One must assume that the actuary assumed unnatural deaths and utilized corresponding unnatural mortality rate(s) in his calculation. Just because the Times Editor did not specify unnatural deaths does not mean that the actuary was oblivious to the distinction. Is it just a coincidence that at least 15 Warren Commission witnesses (listed below with links to their testimony) died unnaturally and/or suspiciously. Or that others died mysteriously at convenient times just before they were due to give testimony at the Garrison/Shaw trial or at the HSCA?
It is important to note that Whitaker did not specify unnatural deaths – as he should have. In any case, his response settled the matter. The HSCA’s designated “statistical expert” just added to Whitaker’s obfuscation.
The HSCA designated statistical expert Jacqueline Hess dismissed the actuary’s odds as being invalid, claiming that it was “unsolvable”. Hess testified that she consulted with actuarial experts, who told her “you cannot establish any kind of universe” of material witnesses. This was pure disinformation; a universe of 1400+ JFK-related witnesses was presented in the Who’s Who in the Kennedy Assassination reference.
And there were exactly 552 witnesses who testified before the Warren Commission. At least 14 died unnaturally and 10 suspiciously from heart attacks and sudden cancers in the 1964-77 period.. The probability of 14 homicides is 1 in 4000 TRILLION.
In her list of 21 names, Hess conveniently left out scores of mysterious, unnatural deaths. She focused on five names in the list where the deaths appeared to have been natural (heart attacks). But they were still suspicious.
For example, Thomas Howard was one of three people who met in Ruby’s apartment on Nov. 24, 1963. All died in a little over a year (two unnaturally). Hess never calculated the odds.
She did not include David Ferrie and Eladio del Valle. Ferrie supposedly died of an aneurysm within days of being called as a witness by Garrison. Ferrie was held in protective custody until Feb. 21, 1967. He was found dead in his apartment the next day. Ferrie associate Eladio del Valle was also sought by Garrison. He was murdered on Feb. 21. Hess never calculated those odds, either.
What is even more unbelievable, Hess neglected the strange deaths of a dozen prospective HSCA witnesses. She gave a convoluted excuse as to why she did not include George De Morenschildt, Oswald’s friend who allegedly shot himself with a rifle the day he was notified by HSCA.
Nor did she mention the seven (7) high level FBI officials who died within a six-month period in 1977 just before they were due to testify at HSCA. The probability is ZERO. Apparently, HSCA-related deaths were immaterial. But even the 1964-1967 analysis was incomplete.
Hess claimed that the actuary concluded that on 11/22/63 the odds of 15 witnesses being dead in three years was 1 in 10 to the 29th power (1 in 10,000 TRILLION TRILLION). That is obviously an incorrect statement. The actuary calculated the odds as 1 in 100,000 trillion (1 in 10 to the 17th power). He presumably used the Poisson probability function of rare events – the perfect mathematical tool for the problem (see below). One in 100,000 trillion is E-17, or 0.0000000000000001. Hess appears to have been anything but a “statistical expert”. If she was one, she would have done the calculations herself.
So how did the actuary calculate the probability? If he assumed 560 witnesses, consisting of the 552 who testified at the Warren Commission (10 died unnaturally) and 8 other JFK-related witnesses who died unnaturally, then applying the 0.000542 unnatural mortality rate, the probability of exactly 18 unnatural deaths in three years is 1.16E-17 or 1 in 85 thousand trillion. This is very close to the actuary’s 1 in 100,000 trillion odds! Only ONE unnatural death out of the 560 would normally be expected in the three year period.
Famed prosecutor Vincent Bugliosi tried to refute the actuary in his book Reclaiming History: The Assassination of President John F. Kennedy. He cited Robert M. Musen, vice president and senior actuary at Metropolitan Life Insurance Company. Musen calculated the odds of 15 people out of 2,479 in the Warren Commission Index dying within a three-year period, assuming a median age of 40, to be 98.16 percent or one out of 1.2.
But there are two major problems with Musen’s calculation.
1- There are only approximately 600 names listed in the index, including George Washington and several other presidents. Only 552 were witnesses who testified.
2- Musen did not consider that the deaths were unnatural. Even assuming 2479 names, approximately 4 unnatural and 70 natural deaths from the list would be expected over a three year period. Musen must have applied an approximate .01 overall mortality rate, not the .000542 unnatural rate.The odds that at least 15 of 2479 would die unnaturally within 3 years is 1 in 46,000. The odds of 18 dying unnaturally is 1 in 3.6 million.
The Correct Method: Expected and Actual Unnatural Deaths
There were 1400 JFK-related witnesses listed in the Who’s Who in the JFK Assassination by Michael Benson At least 15 died from unnatural causes in the first year, defying the odds. There had to be a plausible explanation; the 15 unnatural deaths could not have been just a 1 in 167 TRILLION coincidence. Only one unnatural death would normally be expected. There must have been a rationale and motivation for the deaths. What could it have been?
Of the 1400 witnesses, at least 70 died unnaturally (homicide, suicide, accidental, unknown) from 1964-1977 and another 34 were suspiciously timed heart attacks, cancers, etc. Normally 11 unnatural deaths would be expected.
Cause……..rate; expected; actual; prob
suicide……. 0.000107; 2.1; 7; 1 in 170
homicide…. 0.000062; 1.2; 40; 1 in 1 BILLION TRILLION TRILLION TRILLION
accidental.. 0.000359; 7.0; 23; 1 in 2.3 MILLION
unknown… 0.000014; 0.3; 5; 1 in 5 THOUSAND
TOTAL UNNATURAL..0.000542; 10.6; 70; 1 in 714 MILLION TRILLION TRILLION
Assuming 1400 JFK-related witnesses and using the mortality rates above, the probability of at least
- 15 UNNATURAL deaths within ONE year of the assassination: 1 in 167 TRILLION.
- 33 UNNATURAL deaths within THREE years: less than 1 in 137 TRILLION TRILLION.
- 70 UNNATURAL deaths from 1964-77: 1 in 714 MILLION TRILLION TRILLION.
- 40 HOMICIDES from 1964-77: 1 in a BILLION TRILLION TRILLION TRILLION.
The expected number N of unnatural deaths in time period T is approximated by a simple formula: N = R * W * T, where R is the unnatural mortality rate, W the number of witnesses and T the number of years in the study. For one year, N = 0.76 deaths = .000542*1400*1
The Poisson Probability Distribution
The Poisson function is useful for calculating the probability that a certain number of rare events will occur over a specified period of time. For instance, the probability that 10 customers will walk into a store from 10-11 am, given an average arrival rate of 5 per hour for that time period. Or that 2 accidents will occur at a busy intersection next month, given an average of 1 per month.
In the JFK analysis, the Poisson function is used to calculate the probability that a number of witnesses would die unnaturally (suicide, murder, accident, unknown cause, etc.) over various time periods. Historical mortality statistical tables show that the unnatural death rate R is approximately 0.000542 (1 in 1845).
The Poisson probability function is:
P(n) = a^n * exp(-a)/n!
where a = the expected number of unnatural deaths = R*N*T
For example, in a random group of 1400 individuals, in any given year less than ONE unnatural death (0.7588) is expected to occur: a = 0.7588 = R*N*T = 0.000542*1400*1
Using the expected number (a=.7588) of unnatural deaths and the actual number (n= 15) in the Poisson formula, the probability that there would be exactly 15 unnatural deaths turns out to be
P (15) = 0.7588^15 * exp(-0.7588)/15!
P (15) = 5.70E-15 = 1 in 175 trillion
The probability of at least 15 unnatural deaths is of course slightly higher: P (>=15) = 1 in 167 trillion!
Key witness categories
1 Unnatural deaths vs. suspicious natural deaths
2 Witnesses: Warren Commission (552), Shaw trial (60), HSCA (100)
3 Witnesses who died just before being called to testify (15+)
4 Approximate number of JFK-related witnesses (1400+)
5 Eyewitness depositions to the Warren Commission (121)
- The unnatural death rate is used in the probability analysis.
- ZERO probability of unnatural deaths in categories 2,3 and 4.
- 51 Warren Commission eyewitnesses claimed that the shots came from the Grassy Knoll, 38 from the Texas Schoolbook Depository and 32 had no opinion. Their recollections were dismissed by the Warren Commission as simply being “mistaken”. Parkland Hospital doctors initially reported entrance wounds to the neck and head which were confirmed years later in the Zapruder film.
Ruby shot Oswald on Nov. 24, 1963. But how many know that three people who met in Ruby’s apartment that day died within one year, two unnaturally and one naturally. The probability is
P = 1/(.000542^2*.01)= 1 in 340 million!
- Bill Hunter, a reporter, was shot to death by a policeman in April 1964. It was ruled an accident.
- Tim Koethe, another reporter, was killed in Sept. 1964 by a blow to the neck.
- Tom Howard, Ruby’s first lawyer, died from a heart attack in March 1965.
Mysterious FBI Witness Deaths
In 1977, seven top FBI officials died in a six month period just before they were scheduled to testify at the House Select Committee on Assassinations(HSCA). Two were accidents. If we assume only 7 FBI were called to testify and all died from natural causes within a six month period, the probability is 1 in 81 TRILLION. But the odds must be lower than that since at least two of the deaths were unnatural “accidents”.
. William Sullivan- Head of counter/espionage. Predicted his death. Hunting accident.
. James Cadigan- Document expert; previously testified to Warren Commission. Accidental fall in his home.
. Regis Kennedy- Heart attack on the day he was to testify on confiscation of home movies of assassination.
. Louis Nichols- Former #3, worked on JFK investigation. Heart attack
. Alan Belmont- Liaison to Warren Commission; Long illness.
. Donald Kaylor Fingerprint expert. Heart attack.
. J.M. English- Head of Forensic Sciences Lab. Heart attack.
Suspicious Timing of Other Witness Deaths
In 1967, David Ferrie was found dead (ruled a suicide from a brain aneurysm) in his apartment shortly after he was named as a defendant by New Orleans D.A. Jim Garrison in the upcoming trial of Clay Shaw. Ferrie was an associate of Oswald, Shaw, Guy Banister and anti-Castro Cubans. Ferrie left two suicide notes. He was held in protective custody until Feb. 21, 1967 and was found dead in his apartment the next day. Ferrie associate Eladio del Valle was also sought by Garrison. He was murdered on Feb. 21 by gunshot and struck in the head by an axe. The odds of both deaths: 1 in 453 billion: P= 1/(0.000542/365)^2. Banister, an ex-FBI agent, died in 1964 from a suspicious heart attack.
Shaw was a New Orleans businessman accused of involvement in the JFK assassination. He denied he was CIA and acquitted. He died a few years later from cancer. There was no autopsy. CIA Director Richard Helms later admitted under oath that Shaw was a CIA contractor.
Maurice Gatlin, also sought by Garrison, was a pilot who worked for Guy Banister, an ex-FBI agent in New Orleans connected to Ferrie, CIA, Carlos Marcello and Oswald. Gatlin died in a fall from the 6th floor after suffering a “heart attack”. The death was ruled an accident.
The following individuals were sought by the HSCA. All died unnaturally. Once again, the probability is ZERO…
- Charles Nicoletti, mob hit man and possible JFK shooter, was found dead from gunshots the day before he was scheduled to be contacted.
- John Paisley, Deputy Director of the CIA, was “about to blow the whistle” (shotgun ruled suicide).
- George DeMohrenschildt, a friend of Oswald with CIA contacts, had previously testified at the Warren Commission. He was found dead the day before he was scheduled to be contacted (shotgun ruled a suicide).
- Johnny Roselli, a powerful Mafia figure, was found in a drum off the coast of Miami. He told investigative reporter Jack Anderson that Ruby was ordered to silence Oswald and testified before the Senate.
The reference Who’s Who in the JFK Assassination by Michael Benson, presents vital information on each of more than 1,400 individuals (from suspects to witnesses to investigators) related in any way to the murder of President John F. Kennedy on November 22, 1963. Based on years of research, it uses a wealth of data sources and a detailed analysis of the Warren Commission’s twenty-six volumes. The volume includes entries on virtually all suspects, victims, witnesses, law enforcement officials and investigators involved in the assassination.
In Crossfire assassination researcher Jim Marrs lists 103 individuals related to the assassination who died mysteriously from 1963-1978. Lee Harvey Oswald is not on the list but should be.
Warren Commission apologists who troll the online forums jump through illogical hoops in their attempts to debunk the probability calculations. But their arguments just prove the case for conspiracy. They agree that the math is correct, but argue that the data is invalid. They claim that the 1400+ witnesses and scores of unlikely deaths were self-selected and not a random group. Of course it is not a random group – by definition. That is precisely the point.
Witnesses who were called to testify before the 1964 Warren Commission, the 1969 Clay Shaw trial and the 1977 HSCA investigation were obviously not self-selected. Neither were the 1400 in the “Who’s Who” reference; they were all related in some way to the JFK assassination – suspects, victims, witnesses, law enforcement officials and investigators. It is not just a coincidence that an impossible number of them died unnaturally. There are only a few dozen that were missed in the “Who’s Who”, but even some of these died unnaturally. The only rational conclusion is that the JFK-related witnesses had information that would lead to the perpetrators.
N witnesses, at least n unnatural deaths, T years, P odds
Warren Commission: N= 552, n=21 (exact), T= 14, P = 1 in 236 million
Who’s Who Reference: N= 1400, n>=15, T= 1, P = 1 in 167 trillion
Who’s Who Reference: N= 1400, n=33 (exact), T= 3, P = 137 trillion trillion
HSCA: N= 42 (7 FBI+ 35 others), n=7 (assume all natural), T= 6 months, P = 1 in 345 million
1400 JFK-related Witnesses
T = 3 years
p = 0.000542 = unnatural mortality rate
n = 33 unnatural, suspicious deaths; Expected a= 2.3 = p*N*T
P(33) = a^n * exp (-a)/n! = 7.3E-27
P = 1 in 137,439,196,231,656,380,000,000,000
1 in ONE HUNDRED THIRTY-SEVEN TRILLION TRILLION
To put these numbers in perspective, there are approximately 7E17 (700,000 trillion) grains of sand on the earth and 3E23 (300 billion trillion) stars in the universe.
Alphabetical List of Witnesses and Testimony
Jack Ruby died 28 days after being diagnosed with cancer in prison. He claimed that he was injected with cancer cells. In this press conference, Ruby claimed a government conspiracy to murder JFK.
“Everything pertaining to what’s happening has never come to the surface. The world will never know the true facts, of what occurred, my motives. The people had- that had so much to gain and had such an ulterior motive for putting me in the position I’m in, will never let the true facts come above board to the world.”
Reporter: “Are these people in very high positions Jack?”