Monday, September 25, 2006

Remembering Phil Melanson

A good friend to the cause of Real History has passed away. Dr. Philip H. Melanson, a professor at the University of Massachusetts in Dartmouth, was the first major researcher to publish works on three of the major assassinations of the sixties – those of President John Fitzgerald Kennedy, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., and Senator Robert Francis Kennedy. He wrote important books on each of these cases, respectively, Spy Saga (about Lee Harvey Oswald’s probably career as an asset of American intelligence agencies), The Murkin Conspiracy: An Investigation into the Assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., and The Robert F. Kennedy Assassination.

I first met Phil at a Coalition On Political Assassinations (COPA) conference in 1994. I was still very much a novice researcher at that time, although I had recently stumbled upon a full set of the Warren Commission volumes in the library. I had read two of the very best books on the Robert Kennedy assassination by then – Bill Turner’s book and Phil’s. After I returned, I posted copius notes from the conference in the alt.conspiracy.jfk newsgroup. Here are the sections pertaining to Phil. Please ignore the awful grammar – I wrote this in a hurry for people who already knew me well, at least, virtually.

About 6:30 that night was the first 'official' event of the convention, a cash bar mixer where I met Bill Turner - author of The Assassination of Robert F. Kennedy as well as The Fish Is Red, now rereleased and updated as Deadly Secrets. I was complimenting him on his wonderful book on RFK and talking about how I thought it was the best book on the subject, only to find I was standing right next to Phil Melanson, author of the other wonderful book on the RFK assassination. Talk about foot in mouth! hahahha! I honestly love BOTH books, and immediately congratulated Phil on his book and he was teasing me like 'too late now'. I didn't think he believed that I had read his book so I mentioned the specific things his book had that Bill Turner's did not and said that was a valuable contribution (Melanson found tapes of the interrogation of Sandy Serrano - the major witness of the girl in the polka dot dress fleeing the scene saying "we shot Kennedy!" - tapes that showed strong intimidation of Serrano until Serrano eventually backed down and denied everything and disappeared from the scene for many years.) But I also pointed out that Turner's book had the wonderful scene hiding out in the offices of Playboy and Melanson laughed and said I was right - he couldn't top that! ;) Both are extremely, EXTREMELY nice men - so unpretentious, so knowledgeable, so interesting! ...

I ended up sitting with Jim DiEugenio ..., Dennis Effle, Bill Davy, and then Phil Melanson walked over and asked if he could join us, saying Paul Hoch had told him he was surprised to find I was a seemingly bright, intelligent woman. Phil then joked "will it hurt my credibility to be seen with you guys? Paul Hoch already invited me to join him and Gus Russo, saying 'will it hurt your credibility to be seen with us'?" DiEugenio laughed and said "Phil - if your choice is between us and Russo this will RAISE your credibility!"

For those of you who remember Dr. Bob Artwohl's lunch with spooks (Colby, Shackley etc.) Gus Russo was also there, as well as the producer of the PBS Frontline documentary that many in the community felt was a surprising about face from Russo who had previously been considered a conspiracy researcher.

Somewhere right around this time Paul Hoch walks up beside Phil and looks right at me and says, out of the blue I felt, "Are you going to call me a disinformationist now? I know you're fond of doing that on the net!" I laughed and said back "hey, if you want the label, it's yours!" At that point all I knew about Hoch was that he had worked with Alvarez [paid by the CIA for other experiments], endorsed the single bullet theory, considered me a 'fake' poster here [alt.conspiracy.jfk] and was hanging out with Gus Russo. Hmmmm! :) What am I SUPPOSED to think?

Hoch left, and Phil was asking what that was all about - I told him about the Russo lunch deal and Phil thought that was curious, but Phil absolutely did not consider Hoch to be anything other than a researcher and, I gathered, a friend. Talk turned to the CIA putting people in universities and Phil rolled his eyes and said "don't I know it!" and then DiEugenio jumped in and said "how do you know?" and Phil shook his head and declined to say more on the subject. Not long after that poor Phil started to choke on his drink and I jumped up and ran to the bar to get him a glass of water, telling the bartender a man was choking and needed water fast. The bartender couldn't have moved more slowly, even stopping to fill the glass with ice and I yelled over NO ICE! hahah! The guy might have died for all he seemed to care! Anyway - he did live, I brought him the water, and the talk turned to the RFK and MLK cases. Phil was mostly talking to DiEugenio who is one of the COPA board members, saying 'he had a bone to pick with COPA' for not drawing more attention to the other cases, I point with which I heartily agreed. I talked with Phil about the RFK case in particular, and how OBVIOUS the conspiracy there was and how it was so frustrating that others didn't want to get involved - a comment I heard from more than a few over the weekend was "I don't have time to get involved in ANOTHER assassination," even though the data about the other assassinations is pretty adequately covered through just a couple of books each, since so little else has been researched.
My online signature for a time carried a quote from Phil’s book on Oswald:
"The only variable as salient and consistent as the CIA's presence in the contexts in which Oswald appeared is the Agency's alleged disinterest in monitoring him -- as a defector who might be returning to the United States as a Soviet spy, or as a pro-Castro activist who might be trying to infiltrate the Agency's anti-Castro network. The best explanation for all this is that the "dirty rumor" is true: Lee Harvey Oswald was a U.S. intelligence agent." --From Dr. Philip Melanson's book SPY SAGA
Phil was a key driver in getting the Los Angeles Police Department’s investigative files on the RFK assassination opened to the public. It took twenty years and a lot of dogged effort, but he and others persisted. I, for one, am particularly grateful, as much of my own work on the case is based on the files he helped make public.

Although Phil and I drew different conclusions from the data at times, I respected his research. After his final book on the RFK case, I had a strange conversation with him. He sounded very sad, and told me he had “sold out.” I asked, does your book say Sirhan acted alone? He said no. “Then how could you have sold out?” I asked. He didn’t respond. After reading Shadow Play, I think I knew what he meant. He helped paint Grant Cooper, Sirhan’s lead lawyer, as a better guy than I believe the record allows, and tried to paint the cops more as bumblers than as parties to the cover-up, something else that is at variance with the record. But by doing so, he created a book that reached a lot of people, and which provided, overall, some very good information about the case. I certainly forgave him, after all the great work he has done. I hope he forgave himself. I debated with myself whether to share this publicly, but I feel his confession shows him to be a man who cared deeply about his choices, and paints him in an admirable light. Not many people would admit to something like that, and to me, that made him all the greater. I am so sorry that he is gone. He was only 61.

The family asked that rather than sending flowers, they would appreciate donations be sent to the Philip H. Melanson Scholarship Fund for students pursuing graduate and undergraduate studies in public policy at UMass Dartmouth. The address is: UMass Dartmouth Foundation, 285 Old Westport Road, North Dartmouth MA 02747.


You can also send letters of condolence to:

Mrs. Judy Melanson
18 Partridge Pl
Marion MA 02738


Blogger skeptosis said...

hi Lisa. just happened across your blogpost after googling Phil Melanson's name. (history channel's doing back-to-back episodes of 'Conspiracy?' today, and Mr. Melanson is featured prominently in both the MLK and RFK episodes)

i'm really sad to hear that he's passed away, but glad for you that you got to meet him.

and now i guess i'm looking forward to reading more of your blog...

take care,


1:28 PM  
Blogger Real History Lisa said...

Phil was a gentleman, and a tireless advocate of this case. He used to get frustrated at the small numbers of people interested in the RFK case compared to the large numbers interested in the JFK case. Even Mark Lane didn't want to go here - he had already pursued conspiracy in the JFK and MLK cases, and didn't want to appear to be just some person who saw conspiracies everywhere. Phil had no such fear, and wrote on all three cases.

3:50 PM  
Blogger Anonymous said...

I spoke with Phil once about the Canadian aliases J.E. Ray used when trying to flee and how they reminded me of those character's names from E. Howard Hunt spy novels and Hunt's own nom-de-plume pseudonyms... we'll miss him and his strict adherance to logic, reason and rationality in doing research into things most people shy away from.

5:49 AM  

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