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Featured Article for July 2006
--reviewed by Brian Rooney
A decade ago, Mark Fuhrman seemed to have two choices: fade completely out of the public eye, or accept the role of a disreputable D-list celebrity. His fifteen minutes of fame had not gone smoothly; picture him on a reality show with Joey Buttafuoco, Tonya Harding, Latoya Jackson, and Dennis Rodman. But from his redoubt in Idaho, Fuhrman has fashioned an unlikely second act.(1) Fueled by right-wing TV and radio shows, most recently a live appearance from Dealey Plaza plugging this book on Sean Hannity's show, the convicted perjurer, self-described racist, and cashiered detective (the book jacket describes him as "retired") has carved out a lucrative career as a "true crime" writer. (2) What this indicates about the standards of publishing and the tastes of the reading public is best left unsaid. Consider: a former law enforcement officer publicly and criminally exposed as a corrupt fraud can reinvent himself as a truthseeker and forensics expert.
Having irreparably tainted the most publicized criminal trial in recent American history, Fuhrman now seriously announces he has solved the JFK assassination. And make no mistake: Mr. Fuhrman takes himself very, very seriously.
What about A Simple Act of Murder? First, it is mercifully short. Its modest 232 pages include a source list of government publications, a professional-looking cast of participants and an impressive eighty-nine-book bibliography. The astute reader can guess which ones Fuhrman actually opened: my own list would be limited to Belin, Hosty, Bishop, Davidson, Ford, Holland, Lattimer, Mailer, McMillan and Posner (probably not Brown, although two of his are listed). Any idea the reader may entertain that Fuhrman actually did any serious research is destroyed at the beginning of Chapter Six. In a catalog of eyewitnesses who "identified" Oswald and placed him in the "sniper's nest," the author somehow includes Arnold Rowland, blissfully unaware that Rowland's rifleman was in the westernmost window of the sixth floor and that his account caused the Commission such a serious problem that he had to be discredited by any means available. Had he actually read a few of the books on his list, this would have been apparent.
The first hundred pages are a bland, cut-and paste recitation of every "fact" indicating Oswald did it alone, unaccompanied by any hint that any of these "facts" may be in dispute. The book is padded by the lifting of long passages from Warren documents, without sourcing, as if they were Fuhrman's words. The book does not have a single footnote, but William Morrow has spared no expense in including photographs and diagrams. Some old chestnuts are recycled: JFK forbad the Secret Service from riding on the limousine; Clint Hill pushed Jackie back into her seat; CE399 was found on Connally's gurney (problems with the chain of evidence are only acknowledged later). Bobby prevented a complete autopsy to hide JFK's health problems and his illegal drug use.
It is all very basic to our intrepid gumshoe. Oswald's shooting skill is apparent because of his fine Marine Corps training. (3) The rifle? "More than adequate" for the task. A friend of Fuhrman's, an expert rifleman, tested a Mannlicher and found that it was accurate, and there was plenty of time for the shots. As Fuhrman puts it, "end of story."
Fuhrman claims that seeing the Zapruder film on the Geraldo Rivera program in 1975 inspired him to read the Warren Report and convinced him there was a conspiracy. The most dramatic element of the film is JFK's violent rearward movement after the shot at Z313. Denying a shot from the front, Fuhrman regurgitates all past theories: neuromuscular reaction, jet effect, and limousine acceleration. He also adds a ludicrous idea of his own. Remember the notion that Jackie, in horror, violently pushed her husband back against the seat? Fuhrman's concept is even sillier -- that Mrs. Kennedy "pulled" the president backwards. (Did he even look at the film?) He even suggests that she should have been thoroughly cross-examined on this issue, preferably on Air Force One.
There are some fascinating flashbacks to the Simpson case. Fuhrman compares the import of the "magic bullet" to the "bloody glove" he claimed to have found on the Simpson property. Without any sense of irony, Fuhrman includes a table entitled "Was CE 399 Planted?" (p. 176). He concludes that it was not; the reader can't help feeling that unlike other aspects of the assassination, Fuhrman has given this subject some thought. After all, “…cops who cover up innocent mistakes…later find themselves accused of not-so-innocent things like planting evidence."(p. 116)(4) A common thread in the two cases is, to take the most charitable interpretation, a casual attitude toward evidence. Fuhrman dismisses as unimportant the chain of custody of CE 399; similar problems with the "sniper's nest" cartridge cases and the Tippit shells are not even mentioned. Fuhrman lets us in on his total disregard for constitutional niceties with this statement: "...when a detective is trying to solve a murder, the exclusionary rule does not apply" (p 116). In discussing Jack Ruby's murder of Oswald (5), Fuhrman comments: "...the JFK investigation started going sideways. What might have looked like a slamdunk case was now becoming a mystery." (p. 74) Sounds like what happened to the Simpson case when Fuhrman got involved.
Is there any rationale for this book, other than showing that a notorious author can attract a major publisher and peddle a conclusion acceptable to the establishment? Fuhrman wants his fans to believe that he has achieved a great innovation. Having "proved" that Oswald did it alone, he can reconcile that fact with his rejection of the despised single-bullet theory. Fuhrman's problem with Specter's concoction is not the timing or the condition of 399. And he has a ready explanation for the fact that the exit wound is higher than the entrance: Kennedy was leaning forward and the bullet yawed upward through soft tissue. Fuhrman's problem here is actually the most sensible item in the whole book -- the SBT doesn't work horizontally.
Oddly enough, he credits this theory, appropriately, to Dr. Cyril Wecht. The bullet would have to pass well left of Connally. Finally, he comes to what the book jacket bills as the "...crucial piece of evidence ...missed by all the government investigations, and even the independent researchers". What is this bombshell? It wasn't "missed" at all. The exiting whole bullet from JFK's throat put a dent in the windshield trim, ricocheted outside the car, and disappeared. Fuhrman chooses not to believe S/A Gies, who said that the trim was damaged in 1961 at a garage in New York. He also discredits Robert Frazier, who said a whole bullet (as opposed to a fragment) would have gone right through the trim. And even if he is right, so what? Fuhrman's solution depends on Oswald shooting faster than Gary Cornwell (and Annie Oakley) through foliage with uncanny accuracy.
And this is the best this genius can come up with. For my money, OJ has more credibility. This book could be ignored or dismissed as a sick joke, but that would obscure two real issues: legitimate scholars who have spent decades studying this case could never get the financial commitment from a large publisher that has been lavished on this tripe; and the Kennedy assassination is far too important to history to be left to the likes of Mark Fuhrman.
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