JFK Mysterious Witness Deaths: London Sunday Times and HSCA Cover-up
July 1, 2013
Updated: July 30, 2014
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In 1964, the Warren_Commission ignored the testimony of 51 eyewitnesses who claimed that the shots came from the Grassy Knoll area. Just 32 said they came from the Texas School Book Depository while 38 had no opinion. In 1978 the House Select Committee on Assassinations (HSCA) was forced to conclude that there was a “probable” conspiracy based on acoustic evidence – a 96% probability of at least four shots (including at least one from the Grassy Knoll). The physical evidence indicates more than four shots. Some shooters probably used silencers.
Despite all of the evidence to the contrary, the HSCA was not about to refute the Warren Commission’s outrageous Single Bullet Theory. It still maintained that Oswald fired from the TSBD – and the other shooter(s) must have missed. Incredibly, the HSCA floated the canard that the shooters may have acted independently.
So it is not surprising that prior to the presentation of the acoustic evidence, the HSCA would use obfuscation and factual omission in an attempt to refute an actuary’s calculation of 100,000 trillion to 1 odds of 18 material witness deaths in the three years following the assassination. If the odds were essentially correct, it would force the HSCA to conclude a conspiracy. The HSCA statistician claimed – incorrectly- that it was impossible to determine a known universe of witnesses.
There was a defined universe of an estimated 1100 witnesses who were called in 1964-78 to testify: 552 by the Warren Commission, Garrison/Shaw trial, Church Senate hearings and HSCA. At least 67 died (46 unnaturally). The probability of 46 unnatural deaths is 4.9E-45 (less than 1 in a TRILLION TRILLION TRILLION).
Many died just before their scheduled testimony. For example, in 1977 seven FBI officials called to testify at HSCA died suspiciously (5 heart attacks, 2 accidents) in a 6 month period. The following table displays the probabilities of 1) 7 heart attacks, 2) 5 heart attacks, 2 accidents, and 3) 7 homicides for various assumptions of FBI officials called to testify.
FBI 7 heart, 5/2 mix, 7 homicides
8.. 6.63E-17; 8.72E-18; 1.81E-28
20. 3.95E-14; 5.23E-15; 1.11E-25
30. 6.61E-13; 8.79E-14; 1.89E-24
100 2.61E-09; 3.61E-10; 8.61E-21
There were at least 122 unnatural and suspicious deaths in the 15 year period from 1964-1978. Notice the spikes in 1964 (Warren Commission) and 1977 (HSCA).
The HSCA noted just 21 witness deaths. http://www.cassiopaea.org/cass/jfkdeaths.htm
Ms. HESS (HSCA statistician)
Mr. Chairman, members of the committee. The issue of mysterious deaths, that is, that a statistically improbable number of individuals with some direct or peripheral association with the Kennedy assassination died as a result of that assassination, thereby raising the specter of conspiracy, was first brought to national attention as the result of a promotional campaign for the movie “Executive Action” which was based on Mark Lane’s novel, “Rush to Judgment.” Mr. Chairman, I would direct your attention to JFK exhibit F-544 and ask that it be admitted into the record at this time.
Chairman STOKES – Without objection.
JFK EXHIBIT F-544
It is a blowup of an advertisement for the movie Executive Action. As you can see, it states that an actuary engaged by the London Sunday Times concluded that on November 22, the odds against 18 material witnesses being dead within a three year period were 100,000 trillion to 1. Since the publication of that figure, it has turned up in articles, letters, books, and conversation as anywhere from 1,000-to-1 to 1 billion-to-1. Very few people seem to know what it is that they are quoting, but they do have a sense of some enormous odds existing with respect to the deaths of a group of Kennedy-assassination-related witnesses.
Illustrative of the widespread concern over this issue is the query President Fidel Castro made during the interview of him by this committee in Cuba on April 3, 1978: “If I may ask you, is there anything true, or how much could be true about those publications which state that many people who could have had a part in Kennedy’s death have died in accidents and things like that?”
On April 27, 1978, the committee obtained a copy of an article printed in the London Sunday Times on February 26, 1967. Mr. Chairman, at this time I ask that the article be admitted into the record as JFK exhibit F-54], and I direct your attention to the enlargement of the article which is on the easel. The chart in the article lists 19 individuals as being the victims of mysterious deaths, including Lee Harvey Oswald and Jack Ruby. It states that the London Sunday Times asked an actuary to compute the life expectancy of 15 of these individuals. It further states that the actuary concluded that on November 22, 1963, the odds against all 15 being dead by February 1967 were about 1 in 10 to the 29th power, or 100,000 trillion to 1.
The calculation has been confirmed assuming 552 Warren Commission witnesses. The CIA said there were 418. The Warren Commission Index has 2479 names, including presidents Washington, Lincoln and hundreds of others with no connection to the case. The actuary understood the problem; it’s what he did for a living. The probability is E-17 or 0.0000000000 0000001.
In the 15 years from 1964-78, 21 Warren Commission witnesses died unnaturally (an additional 10 deaths were suspicious heat attacks, sudden cancers and other illnesses). The probability of 21 unnatural deaths among 552 witnesses is 1 in 20 million trillion.
On April 28, 1978, the committee sent a letter to the London Sunday Times requesting a copy of the actuarial study and of all documents used in the preparation of the study. I would now ask that that letter, JFK exhibit F–542, be admitted into the record.
Chairman STOKES – Without objection JFK exhibits F-541 and F-542 may be entered into the record.
JFK EXHIBIT F–541
Select Committee on Assassinations
U.S. House of Representatives 3331 House Office Building, Annex 2
Washington, D.C. 20515
April 25, 1978
London Sunday Times
P. O. Box 7
200 Gray’s Inn Road
London, England WCIX 8E2
In connection with its investigation into the circumstances surrounding the death of President Kennedy, the Select Committee on Assassinations of the U.S. House of Representatives requests a copy Of the actuarial study referenced in the attached February 26, 1967 London Sunday Times article and of all documents relating to the preparation of the study.
Thank you for your prompt attention to this request. We appreciate the cooperation of your Washington and New York offices, particularly that of Ms. Katherine Grayson of the Washington Office.
G. Robert Blakey
Chief Counsel and Director
G RB: jhd
cc: Katherine Grayson
JFK EXHIBIT F-542
On May 19, 1978, the committee received a response from the London Sunday Times. I direct your attention again to the easel, to JFK exhibit F-543, an enlargement of that letter. I would now like to read that letter into the record. It is directed to Mr. G. Robert Blakey, chief counsel and director, Select Committee on Assassinations, and it is entitled, Kennedy deaths statistics–
The Sunday Times, February 26, 1967.
The Editor has passed me your letter of 25th April. 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 and which I believe you have–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 this 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.
Antony Whitaker, Legal Manager.
There is no record of the actuary’s name? It’s “hardly material”?
Even though the London Sunday Times had not structured its actuarial inquiry properly and, therefore, the 100,000 trillion to 1 odds were invalid, the committee staff looked into the possibility of conducting a valid study, contracting with our own actuarial firms here in the District of Columbia: Edward H. Friend & Co., Towers Perrin, Forster & Co., and the Wyatt Co.
Invalid? Not true. The actuary’s calculation methodology and his name were never revealed. Ten of the 552 witnesses who testified at the Warren Commission died unnaturally in the three years after the assassination. The probability is 1 in 44 billion. The actuary’s 100,000 trillion to 1 odds were confirmed for 18 material witness deaths over a three year period. Where are the HSCA calculations?
We then had meetings with representatives of each company and each subsequently submitted a proposal, addressing both the general issue of which actuarial principles did or did not apply, and the specific issue of the practical problems which would be encountered in attempting to apply those principles to this particular case. As a result of these conversations and of a review of the proposals, we determined the following facts concerning the validity and feasibility of attempting to apply actuarial odds to the group of deaths.
Why didn’t Hess, a statistician, confirm the calculation herself? Perhaps it was because spreadsheets or personal computers did not exist in 1977. But minicomputers were available. The problem is actually quite simple. It requires use of the Poisson distribution formula for calculating the probability of rare events.
One, to compute valid actuarial statistics, one must be able to determine to a reasonable degree of specificity, the universe of individuals to which the specific group is being compared. In other words, we would have to determine the total number of individuals who exist in each of the categories into which those individuals who have mysteriously died, fall. This means that we would need to establish the number of individuals who in any manner could be considered witnesses to the assassination of President Kennedy and Lee Harvey Oswald, the number of individuals who had any contact with Oswald or Ruby or with Ruby’s nightclubs, the number of individuals who professed to have material knowledge of the case or of the major figures in the case, all news reporters who had expressed interest, taken interviews or investigated the case, and all Members of Congress who sought to introduce legislation concerning the investigation of the case. This, as you can imagine, would have been an impossible task.
An impossible task? On the contrary, we have a defined universe of approximately 1100 witnesses who were called to testify at the Warren Commission, Garrison/Shaw trial, Church Senate hearings and the HSCA. At least 67 died (46 unnaturally), most before their scheduled testimony. The probability of 46 unnatural deaths among the witnesses called is less than 1 in a TRILLION TRILLION TRILLION.
Two, in addition, for each of the individuals identified in the groups I have just listed, we would have to establish age, sex, race, occupation, geographical location, and any other extraordinary factors which have to be taken into consideration in order to compute mortality rates. Again, this was judged to be an impossible job.
An impossible job? The statement is a cop-out. There was a fixed universe of approximately 1100 witnesses who were called to testify in four investigations. The only relevant factor is that at least at least 46 died unnaturally. Just 14 would normally be expected. The Poisson probability calculation is based on two factors: expected and actual deaths.
In the 1964-78 period, the average national homicide rate was 0.000084 (8 per 100,000). The average unweighted unnatural mortality rate was 0.000818 (82 per 100,000). The 0.000247 weighted unnatural mortality rate (based on JFK witness homicides, accidents and suicides) was used to calculate the probability.
Three, we would need to determine the number of individuals in these categories who have, in fact, died and the number of individuals who, according to actuarial mortality rates, should have died.
That’s easy. Just count the unnatural deaths in the defined groups as I did and apply the corresponding mortality rates.
We had thus established the impossibility of attempting establish through the application of actuarial principles, any meaningful implications about the existence or absence of a conspiracy. Despite the fact that an inference of conspiracy, as here postulated by the critics, did not exist, we nevertheless decided not to dismiss the cited deaths out of hand, but rather, to look more closely at the nature of certain specific deaths to determine whether or not they could individually be considered mysterious or in some other manner a reflection of some sort of conspiracy.
The mathematical odds prove a conspiracy and are independent of witness connections to the case. Only the number and cause of the unnatural deaths are material, since we know the number of witnesses who were called to testify. The Poisson probability function is strictly based on the expected number and actual number of deaths. Why the witnesses died is irrelevant. It is a simple math problem.
In an attempt to investigate the circumstances of the deaths individually, we did several things. First, we compiled a more comprehensive list of those individuals whose deaths were considered by the critics to be mysterious. In some cases, it proved difficult to determine which deaths the critics considered mysterious. In many cases, instead of statements of fact, we found unsubstantiated inference and innuendo, with little concrete information provided.
For example, David Goldstein and FNU Levens are both included in Sylvia Meagher’s book, “Accessories After the fact,” as mysterious deaths. Goldstein is described as having helped the FBI trace the revolver used in the murder of Officer Tippit. Levens is described as a Fort Worth burlesque theater operator who employed some of the same entertainers as Jack Ruby. Meagher notes that both of their deaths have been officially ascribed to natural causes and lists the places of death as unknown. No conspiracy theory which would include Goldstein and Levens is put forth; it is unclear why their deaths are to be considered mysterious.
Hess cherry-picked Goldstein and Levens, both questionable. But there were at least 42 unnatural deaths in the three years – and at least 78 officially ruled in the 15 year period from 1964 (Warren Commission) to 1978 (HSCA).
And while Ms. Meagher may have had no way of knowing it, the FBI’s file on the Kennedy case includes dozens of reports and letters from citizens offering clues in the identification of the revolver in question, as, of course, there are undoubtedly a number of persons who would have employed some of the same entertainers as Ruby.
Penn Jones in his book, “Forgive My Grief,” volume I, states that Earlene Robert’s, the manager of the rooming house in which Lee Harvey Oswald lived at the time of the assassination, died. He then states that she had important evidence to contribute. The implication is that Mrs. Roberts’ death is mysterious. While it is clear that Mrs. Roberts did indeed have important evidence to contribute, there is no indication in the records relating to her death, or in Mr. Jones’ book, as to what exactly was mysterious about a 61-year-old woman with large calcium deposits and a case of pneumonia, dying of acute heart failure.
The same is the case with other deaths cited in the same book. For example Dr. Nicholas Chetta, the coroner who served at David Ferrie’s death, and Thomas Howard. Jack Ruby’s attorney, both of whom died of heart attacks.
Heart attacks can be induced. Earlene Roberts was warned by the FBI to keep silent. Howard was in Ruby’s apartment on Nov. 24 with two reporters. All died within one year. David Ferrie was named as a witness in 1967. He died from a cerebral hemorrhage (according to Chetta) the day after he was released from protective custody by Garrison. Ferrie’s associate Eladio del Valle was also due to testify. He was murdered within a few hours of Ferrie. Just a coincidence?
Despite this problem, we compiled a list of individuals from the books and articles of Meagher, Jones, Bernard Fensterwald, David Martindale, and David Welsh. We added to the list Sam Giancana and John Roselli, both of whom had died too recently to be included in most of the critical literature.
We then asked the Library of Congress to compile all newspaper articles which had appeared concerning any and all of the individuals. We further asked them to give us their evaluation of the critical literature and the press accounts on each individual and to make recommendations with respect to further investigation in each case. Independently, we sent requests to the Bureau of Vital Statistics, the medical examiners’ offices and the police departments in the jurisdiction in which each death was believed to have occurred, for the death certificates, medical records, police reports, and any other documents which might exist concerning the death. Because there were many cases in which there was no information indicating the appropriate jurisdiction, we sent letters to the pertinent offices in Dallas and Fort Worth, Tex., in New Orleans, La., and in Miami, Fla., listing all the names on which we desired information. In the case of some of the individuals, information was requested from Federal investigative agencies. In the cases of Roselli and Giancana, we requested and received a briefing on the Justice Department investigations of those deaths. In the cases in which further investigation was deemed necessary, it was initiated.
Our final conclusion on the issue is that the available evidence does not establish anything about the nature of these deaths which would indicate that the deaths were in same manner, either direct or peripheral, caused by the assassination of President Kennedy or by any aspect of the subsequent investigation.
The HSCA failed to
1) consider that an estimated 1100 witnesses were called to testify in four investigations
2) categorize a list of witnesses based on cause of death
3) consider unnatural mortality rates (homicides, suicides and accidents)
4) calculate the expected number of unnatural deaths over 1, 3 and 15 year periods
5) ignore 7 top FBI officials called to testify at HSCA died within 6 months in 1977
Chairman STOKES – Is your report completed?
Ms. HESS – Yes; it is.
Chairman STOKES – The gentleman from Tennessee, Mr. Ford.
Mr. FORD – I have no questions. I will yield back my time to the Chair.
Chairman STOKES – The gentleman from Indiana.
Mr. FITHIAN – Just one question, Miss Hess, is it your feeling, having gone through this, there is no statistical significance to this? Is that what I am to understand?
Ms. HESS – That is correct.
Mr. FITHIAN – Is it possible, then that any death which is remotely related to this gets reported more than others therefore there is an appearance of a kind of unusual gathering of deaths?
It is possible. That is one of the bases for the development of the issue; yes. You understand the problem in establishing the statistical inference is that you cannot establish any type of universe. While it may seem like these people come from a very small group of people, they come from a very, very large universe of people.
But we have several finite witnesses groups: Warren Commission, Garrison/Clay Shaw trial, Church senate – and the HSCA. There were at least 67 deaths among approximately 1100 witnesses in the four investigations.
Mr. FITHIAN – I have no other questions, Mr. Chairman.
Chairman STOKES – The time of the gentleman has expired. The gentleman from Ohio, Mr. Devine.
Mr. DEVINE – No questions, Mr. Chairman.
Chairman STOKES – The gentleman from Pennsylvania, Mr. Edgar.
Mr. EDGAR – Will you provide for the record a detailed listing of the 21 names and the evidence you have found relating to their deaths?
Ms. HESS – Yes. Do you want me to read them for the record?
Mr. EDGAR – It might be helpful.
– Edward Benavides, Albert Guy Bogard, Hale Boggs, Lee Bowers, Jr., Bill Chesher, Nicholas J. Chetta, David Goldstein, Thomas Hale Howard, William Hunter, Clyde Johnson, Dorothy Kilgallen, Thomas Henry Killam, Jim Koethe, FNU Levens, Nancy Jane Mooney, Teresa Norton, Earlene Roberts, Harold Russell, Marilyn April Walle, a.k.a. Betty McDonald, William W. Whaley, James R. Worrell, Sam Giancana, John Roselli.
Ah, the (abbreviated) list. But where is Oswald, Tippit, Ruby? They were very significant witnesses –along with at least 80 others. And no mention of the seven top FBI officials who died in a 6 month period just before their scheduled testimony at HSCA. What are the odds of that?
Mr. EDGAR – Thank you. I think it very helpful for the record that those names be included. Can you indicate why Mr. DeMohrenschildt’s name was not included?
His was one of those which deemed further investigation and became part of a great investigative effort.
This was hardly a “great investigative effort”. There no mention of De Morenschildt’s ties to Oswald and George Bush or that he supposedly shot himself the day he was to be interviewed by HSCA.
Mr. EDGAR – That was not part of the exact study?
It was in terms of the compilation of data. I compiled the data on his death and any police reports, et cetera, as part of this project. But then in terms of subsequent investigation that was done by the investigators.
So where are the investigators? No excuse.
Mr. EDGAR – I think it would be helpful in terms of our final analysis to have a chance to review the material you compiled. I thank you for your report.
It must have been a very cursory review. There was no mention of approximately 20 witnesses sought by HSCA in 1977 but died before they could testify.
Chairman STOKES – The time of the gentleman has expired. Mr. Sawyer.
Mr. SAWYER – No Questions.
Chairman STOKES – There being nothing further, Miss Hess, thank you very much for your testimony. You are excused. The Chair will suspend for just a moment. Because of a heavy schedule tomorrow of witnesses, along with the fact the committee must vacate the room at an early hour for an affair to be held in this room later tomorrow evening, the committee today will adjourn until 8:30 tomorrow morning.