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  • Writer's pictureFred Litwin

My Research Trip to NARA

Box 221 of the numbered files of the HSCA

I was in College Park, Maryland, last week visiting NARA which is where the JFK assassination collection is housed. This was my first trip since Covid-19, and they have changed a few things at NARA.

First, I had to replace my old NARA researcher's card:

They no longer issue nice picture cards - the cards are now just made of thin cardboard.

Once I had my card I could go upstairs and order my document boxes. You have to fill out a form, and then give them to a desk officer for them to look up the exact location of the boxes. These officers are now on a separate floor, so you have to go upstairs to get your forms signed, and then go down a floor and hand them in. It takes about 45 minutes to one hour to get your boxes.

I was at NARA for three and-a-half days, and I managed to go through 61 boxes of documents. It was a grueling pace, and I was exhausted at the end of the week.

Here is a summary of the documents that I went through:

  • The papers of Harry Connick. I had gone through his papers before, but when I first went through them, I was only looking for certain documents. This time, I did a thorough run through and I found lots of documents I had not seen on the Clinton witnesses. There were also several transcripts of taped conversations -- in particular, Jack Martin taped a lot of phone calls. He was trying to counter the NBC documentary on the Garrison investigation by proving they were paying witnesses. He didn't succeed. I also found lots of promotion material about Thomas Beckham when he was trying to be folk singer Mark Evans, and some additional material on Clyde Johnson, the fabulist who told Garrison he saw Clay Shaw with Jack Ruby.

An envelope addressed to Jack Martin with material about Mark Evans, who was really Thomas Beckham. Note that Fred Crisman was listed as Beckham's public relations director.

  • The deposition of Sam Newman, the owner of the Newman Building which was located on the corner of Camp Street and Lafayette Street in New Orleans. He also drew a diagram of the building for the HSCA which showed that Banister's office was not connected to 544 Camp Street. More to come on this, stay tuned.

  • The outside contact reports and depositions of the Clinton witnesses. I also photographed the deposition of Francis Fruge, the Louisiana State policeman who worked on the Cherami case and the Clinton witnesses.

  • HSCA outside contact reports of Dean Andrews and Howard Brennan.

  • The HSCA deposition of Bill Nitschke, who was partners with Guy Banister.

  • The donated papers of Gerald S. Blaine, who was a secret service agent back in 1963. I will soon be posting the secret service survey of JFK's Tampa trip.

  • I went through the papers of Clay Shaw. I found some very nice photos of Shaw:

  • I often wonder why conspiracy theorists show no interest in going through Shaw's papers. There is a whole box of photos, some calendar books, and many cards and letters. You'd think they would want to find clues as to the other conspirators with Shaw, no? There are also several boxes of financial records - shouldn't there be a clue about payments from the CIA?

  • I found several outside contact reports from secret service agents in Chicago in which they discuss the supposed plot in November 1963. I also found an outside contact report with Edwin Black who wrote an article in 1975 about the plot. Stay tuned for a very interesting blog post.

  • I reviewed the Department of Justice Civil Rights papers regarding Clay Shaw. I found the transcript of the Dean Andrews trial and several DOJ memos about the civil rights of Clay Shaw.

  • The unpublished manuscript of Wesley Liebeler:

  • The "Head Jerk" and "Shoulder Buckle": an analysis of some physical evidence in the Zapruder film by Professor B.K. Jones of UCLA.

  • The Secret Service Protective Intelligence file on Raymond Broshears

  • The complete Rockefeller Commission interview of Robert Groden, Stephen Jaffe, Dick Gregory, and Ralph Schoenman (480+ pages)

It's hard work going through HSCA boxes. Some boxes contain almost 100 files and a lot of them might not be that interesting. There are many files that are submissions from citizens and it's amazing that some people sent in 50+page handwritten essays. On several occasions, I was interested in a certain outside contact report only to find that it's a report where they just list that person's address.

NARA needs to produce a new finding aid. Right now, they have five spreadsheets on their website that list many of the documents. And not everything is on the spreadsheets. For instance, there are no Secret Service files listed -- my friend Robert Reynolds says that the computer disks were corrupted and so their documents are not listed.

There are over 300 HSCA boxes of numbered files. Unfortunately, only a small fraction of these documents are online. NARA has started a project to digitize the JFK collection, but it won't be finished until 2025, if then.

Stay tuned for some interesting blog posts!


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