When Jack Ruby thrust a gun into Lee Harvey Oswald’s gut and pulled the trigger, he killed the man responsible for John F. Kennedy’s death.
Or did he?
Don Adams doesn’t think so.
Adams, the retired police chief of Fairlawn, believes Oswald was a scapegoat in a conspiracy that reached some of the highest levels of government. He thinks Oswald was involved — heavily involved, he said, but possibly as an undercover operative. He doesn’t believe Oswald killed the president.
His theory is rooted in his own experience. Adams, now 82, was an FBI special agent in November 1963 and investigated a troublemaker in Georgia who he believes was part of the assassination plan. And in his 20 years with the bureau, he experienced what he believes were repeated efforts to silence him when he raised doubts.
Adams has outlined his theory in a book, From an Office Building With a High-Powered Rifle. It was published in 2012 by TrineDay, a publishing house specializing in books that pose “a challenge to official history that would tend to rock the boat of America’s corporate ‘culture,’ ” according to its website.
Adams’ first involvement in the Kennedy case came nine days before the assassination, when he got a call from the special agent in charge of the Atlanta office. It was an urgent, top-secret matter, the agent said.
He wanted Adams to investigate a Georgia man who allegedly was involved in a plot to assassinate the president.
Adams was 32 then, a Barberton native not quite a year out of the bureau’s training academy. He was assigned to the FBI’s resident agency in Thomasville, Ga.
His investigation centered on Joseph Milteer, a racist extremist who lived in Quitman, Ga., about 25 miles east of Thomasville. Adams was told the FBI had information that Milteer had attended a meeting in Indianapolis a month earlier where the four participants had discussed a plot to kill the president during a trip to Florida. They also discussed a backup plan to rent an apartment near the White House and shoot the president as he walked on the White House grounds, Adams was told.
One of the four men at the meeting was William Somersett, a lifelong friend of Milteer’s who was also an informant for the Miami police and the FBI. Somersett had furnished the information about the meeting, Adams said.
With the help of the Quitman police chief, Adams spent three days hunting for Milteer, eventually catching up with him as he handed out hate fliers on a street corner. Adams approached him in an undercover role, took a stack of papers and wrote a report that included the documents.
Later he would wonder why a rookie would be assigned to such a crucial investigation, and why his more experienced colleague — an agent who normally micromanaged the office caseload — didn’t even question Adams’ whereabouts. He also wonders why, when he acted on orders and tracked down Milteer again five days after Kennedy’s assassination, he was instructed by the agent in charge to ask Milteer five specific questions and nothing more.
He’s now convinced that “I was being used as the ‘new kid on the block,’ ” he wrote in his book.
What Adams didn’t know at the time is that just days before he started his investigation, Milteer had been secretly recorded talking with Somersett about the possibility of a presidential assassination. According to a transcript of the conversation, Somersett asked how such a killing would best be accomplished. Milteer answered, “From an office building with a high-powered rifle.”
Adams wonders why he wasn’t told about the conversation. And if security officials knew there was a plan to kill Kennedy from a tall building, he said, why would they have allowed the president to go to Dallas?
“I would have done anything in my power to stop him,” he said.
Author Vincent Bugliosi dismissed that conversation as speculation and idle talk in his book Reclaiming History: The Assassination of President John F. Kennedy, in which he debunks many of the conspiracy theories that have proliferated in the 50 years since the assassination.
Adams, however, believes the conversation was part of a serious plot. He also raises questions in his book about why the FBI started discrediting Somersett after the assassination and why it continued to accept information from him if it considered him unreliable.
To Adams, there are just too many details about the Kennedy case that don’t add up. But whenever he would raise questions about those inconsistencies during his years in the FBI, he said, he would get shut down.
One of those times came shortly after he was transferred to Dallas in 1964 and was shown the famous Zapruder film of the assassination. He saw Kennedy’s hands go to his throat and remarked that the shot must have come from the front, not from the Texas School Book Depository behind Kennedy’s car.
“Don, keep your comments to yourself,” he was told.
Another time came when he visited the book depository a few days later. Adams said he retraced the steps Oswald would have taken immediately after the shooting, crossing the building to hide the weapon and then descending four floors to the lunchroom.
Question of timing
Adams knew a motorcycle officer had reported encountering Oswald in that lunchroom less than 90 seconds after the shooting. “There’s no way in the world he could have covered that distance,” Adams told his fellow agents.
He also questioned the probability that even a marksman like Oswald could have gotten off three shots in 7½ seconds using a bolt-action rifle, which required the shooter to eject each spent round, load a new one and pick up his target in the scope.
“I commented on that fact,” he said, “and again I was cautioned by the agents, ‘Keep your comments to yourself.’ ”
In the years since, Adams has collected information on the case, official documents as well as tidbits from articles, news reports and TV programs.
He referred to a 2-inch-high stack of documents as he talked to a reporter in his home in West Akron. More were lost when his home was destroyed last year in a fire started by a cigarette, he said.
He believes his research reveals untruths and inconsistencies that support an assassination conspiracy involving Kennedy’s successor, Lyndon Johnson, and then-FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover. Johnson “may not or may have been the ringleader, as many assert, but at the very least, he would have to be on board for any cover-up to survive,” he wrote in his book. Hoover, he believes, oversaw an effort to obstruct the truth.
Adams’ evidence includes an FBI document claiming Joseph Milteer was in Quitman on the day of the assassination, even though Adams insists that’s not true. He was assigned to track down Milteer immediately, but said he couldn’t find his target until several days after the shooting. Adams also has a copy of a photo that he said shows Milteer in Dallas, watching Kennedy’s motorcade pass.
The evidence also includes a news report alleging that one of Adams’ FBI superiors had violated bureau regulations by ordering the destruction of a note from Oswald threatening harm against the FBI shortly before Kennedy’s assassination. Adams believes that report is true, because he alleges the same superior lied and destroyed documents to cover up bureau misconduct surrounding a 1965 car accident in which Adams was badly injured.
Adams thinks Oswald was a fall guy, an FBI or CIA operative who was set up to take the blame. Otherwise, he contends, the government never would have let Oswald return to the United States after defecting to the Soviet Union and renouncing his citizenship.
Similarly, he believes nightclub operator Ruby was set up to kill Oswald to keep him from spilling the truth. “How [conspirators] were able to convince him to be another ‘patsy’ in this whole conspiracy may never be fully known, but there were many people who could not let the true story come out,” Adams says in his book.
Adams insisted he has nothing against the FBI, an agency he was proud to serve and said he loves. “The agency was a terrific agency. It still is,” he said.
Nor does he believe corruption was rampant. Almost everyone he encountered within the bureau was honest and committed, he said.
To him, that’s what makes the concept of a cover-up especially disgusting.
“We really failed,” he said.
Mary Beth Breckenridge can be reached at 330-996-3756 or firstname.lastname@example.org.