By Sandy Scarmack
Herald Staff Writer
Jewell, who has studied and lectured on Kennedy’s death for many years, spoke to a crowd Thursday night at the campus, highlighting his thoughts on the accuracy of the Warren Commission’s report as well as some of the failures of all the agencies involved in investigating the famous shooting of the 35th president in Dallas, Texas, on Nov. 22, 1963.
“There have been 2,000 books written since Kennedy was killed and while I haven’t read 2,000 books, I have read most of the research that has come out,” he said in an interview earlier this week. “I thought it might be fun to do an analysis myself, looking at those who criticized the Warren Commission’s report and see where I come out. I’m a trained and practiced lawyer as well.”
Jewell was a freshman at Grove City College when Kennedy was assassinated and wrote a paper on the Warren Commission, which he presented to about 50 peers and colleagues. “And I decided then that this was something I wanted to pay close attention to and follow,” he said.
He subscribes to the same conclusion that the Warren Commission came to: that Lee Harvey Oswald acted alone and fired a bullet that struck both the president and Texas Gov. John Connally.
Over the years there has been much criticism of the report and its findings, and detractors believe there may have been more than one shooter, and that Cuban dictator Fidel Castro or the Mafia may have been involved in the murder.
Jewell said he was a very good friend of the late Pennsylvania Sen. Arlen Specter, who was a prominent member of the Warren Commission and with whom he had several conversations about Kennedy’s murder. None of the information Specter shared with Jewell was classified information, he said, and thanks to the Public Records Act of 1993, much of the Warren Commission’s report is now available to the public.
“In general, the Warren Commission got a lot right. They did a lot of investigating in a very short time. The one thing they never found was a motive. They weren’t able to posit a motive about why Oswald would kill Kennedy,” he said.
Jewell also said much of the investigative work done by former President Gerald Ford, who was the minority leader in the House when Kennedy was killed, was “very good. He was a very bright lawyer and he asked excellent questions,” he said.
No one disputes that Oswald was “a loser,” Jewell said. “In every account I’ve read about him no one seems to say anything different.”
“He changed schools 17 times before he finally dropped out to join the Marines. He couldn’t fit in there, he just couldn’t make it work. He had some smarts in him, but he wasn’t educated. He thought he was smart. He wanted to be famous,” Jewell said.
Those critics who say it was Cuban leaders who wanted Kennedy killed may be thinking in the right direction, Jewell said. But he believes that while Oswald’s thoughts on Cuba may have led to his decision to shoot Kennedy, he disputes that anyone from Cuba was involved.
“A point that I think illuminates Oswald’s motives is that he tried to kill Maj. Gen. Edward Walker, a Dallas conservative, about six months before he shot Kennedy. Walker was very anti-Castro,” Jewell said. “Oswald took a bus to where Walker was sitting in front of a window, doing his income taxes, and he shot at him. The bullet hit a piece of the window and deflected. Oswald buried the gun and took a bus back home to his wife,” Jewell said.
His wife, who spoke only Russian, was kept “pretty much in a cocoon,” Jewell said, and was the only person who knew of his attempt to kill Walker. Oswald was never charged in that crime, he said.
Jewell likes a quote he heard from news anchor Dan Rather, who was a young newsman covering the assassination in Dallas 50 years ago.
“I heard him on C-SPAN this past week and he said, ‘You know, the president was assassinated. Two days later the murderer, flanked by police, is murdered in the police station. What the hell is going on?’ ”
Jewell said one piece of information that he has deduced from his studies is that no one asked Abraham Zapruder or his assistant, who shot a 26-second silent, color film of the assassination from Dealey Plaza, about claims of a second gunman on the grassy knoll near where Kennedy was killed.
Jewell, who has been to Dealey Plaza and the site of the killing 30 times, said Zapruder had climbed a pergola to shoot the film, placing him about 9 feet off the ground. Jewell said he climbed that same pergola on his last visit to Dealey Plaza about five weeks ago.
“From there, there was no way he could have missed someone firing a rifle from 20 yards to his right. Yet there has never been a word said about if they saw anything,” Jewell said.
He also said he travels frequently to Dallas on business and has not made 30 visits solely for his Kennedy research.
“I just try to stop by when I’m in town,” he said of the site, now a national park, which has remained unchanged in the 50 years since the shooting, except for some new grass and concrete.
Jewell also touched on some agency failures that he believes increased the difficulties in determining exactly how Kennedy was killed.
Chief among them was the hurried forensic autopsy, he said.
“Jacqueline Kennedy didn’t want an autopsy. She was obviously quite upset and didn’t want her husband’s body cut up. Robert Kennedy, his brother, kept his finger on things and kept pushing to get it done quickly. He didn’t want it to come out just what physical shape the president was in,” Jewell said.
“For instance, that his adrenal glands were nearly gone, that he was suffering from Addison’s disease for years. The president was likely in a great deal of pain from his health issues. Toxicology reports would have shown he was on uppers and downers and things that are illegal today. Those close to him, who knew him best, said he was a courageous man in dealing with the pain,” Jewell said.
The CIA at the time was focused on eliminating Castro, Jewell said, and there are reports they may have been using organized crime to get it done.
“They certainly didn’t want that known, and it wasn’t something they shared with the FBI or anyone else,” he said.
Also embarrassing, he said, were reports that the FBI had crossed paths with Oswald about six weeks earlier, during a routine investigation. He came to the Dallas office and handed a hostile note to an agent there, informing him that he was not allowed to speak to Oswald’s wife again. The agent put the note in the file and when Kennedy was shot a short time later he gave the note to his supervisor.
“He was told to take the note and destroy it, because Oswald was dead and the case was closed,” Jewell said. The bureau didn’t want it known that they had let go the man blamed for shooting the president, he said.
Perhaps most embarrassing of all, Jewell said, are reports that Kennedy’s Secret Service agents were out drinking until 4 a.m. the day of the shooting.
“It was absolutely against the rules, but these were macho guys. Kennedy didn’t drink, but he was a macho guy too and that was how they did things,” he said.
Jewell, who left a job in forensic accounting in 2003 to assume the presidency of Grove City College, started his lecture circuit in 1967, the year he graduated from GCC with a degree in political science. He began lecturing in response to the interest that the assassination draws when anniversaries come around.
“I do a lot of public speaking, mostly to service clubs, on those anniversaries. There really hasn’t been anything new discovered. Kennedy died a martyr. We still think of him as 46, not 96, which he would have been,” he said.