Tuesday, June 26, 2012

My review of Peter Janney's book "Mary's Mosaic"

Jim DiEugenio asked me to review Janney's book. I didn't have high hopes, having had some communication with Janney in the past. But honestly, the book was much worse than I thought it would be. Here's a preview. Read the rest at the CTKA site.


Peter Janney wrote a book entitled Mary’s Mosaic: The CIA Conspiracy to Murder John F. Kennedy, Mary Pinchot Meyer, and their Vision for World Peace. From the subtitle, researchers can be forgiven for thinking that Janney’s book is a serious contribution to our side, as many of us believe that the CIA killed John Kennedy in part because he was trying to end the Cold War and rein in covert operations. But Janney’s book is such a frustrating mix of fact, fiction, speculation and unverifiable data that I cannot recommend this book. Indeed, I’d rather it came with a warning label attached.
Most people don’t read books the way I do. Most people assume the data presented is true unless proven false, and they give the author the benefit of the doubt. On any topic of controversy, especially the JFK assassination, which has become so imbued with disinformation that it’s hard to know whom to believe, I take the opposite approach. I pretty much dare the author to prove his case to me, and I check every fact I don’t already know from elsewhere against the author’s sources to determine whether or not I find his “facts,” and therefore his thesis, credible.
When I first picked the book up in the store, I turned to the footnotes. You can tell a lot about an author by the sources he cites. From that moment, I knew the book would not be worth reading. As I flipped through the pages, I saw Janney attempt to resurrect long-discredited information as fact. Frankly, I wouldn’t have wasted the time reading it at all had I not been asked to review it.

I cannot, in a book review, take on the task of refuting every factual error and pointing out every unsubstantiated rumor-presented-as-fact in this book, because there seemed to be at least a few per page, and it’s just too big a task. So I’ll focus on challenging some specifics regarding the three key points of Janney’s overall thesis, which are: 1) that Mary Meyer was not killed by Ray Crump, the man arrested and tried but not convicted of her murder; 2) that Meyer had an ongoing, serious sexual relationship with a President Kennedy that involved drug use; and 3) that Meyer’s investigation into the CIA’s role in the JFK assassination got her killed.

Janney believes these three conclusions to be true. After reading his presentation, and doing a little additional research of my own, I’m convinced that none of these are true.
Let’s start with Mary Meyer’s murder. If Crump was truly framed for a crime he didn’t commit, the CIA theory is at least possible, if not exactly probable. But if Crump actually committed the crime, then Janney’s thesis, and indeed, the thrust of his whole story, goes out the window. So let’s examine that issue first, based on the evidence Janney presents.

The Murder

Janney opens his chapter on Mary’s murder with witness Henry Wiggins, Jr. While on the road above the tow path where Mary was killed, Wiggins heard “a whole lot of hollerin,” followed by a shot. He ran to the edge of the embankment, heard a second shot, looked down toward the canal, and saw an African American man standing over Mary Meyer’s body. Wiggins described the “Negro male” as having a “medium build, 5 feet 8 inches to 5 feet 10 inches, 185 pounds.” Wiggins said the man was wearing a beige zippered jacket, dark trousers, dark shoes, and a dark plaid cap. What was Crump wearing that day? According to his neighbor, who remembered Crump passing that morning, Crump had been wearing, quoting Janney, “a yellow sweat shirt, a half-zipped beige jacket, dark trousers, and dark shoes.” Quoting the neighbor, via Janney, “he had on a kind of plaid cap with a bill over it.” That’s a pretty exact match.

Crump would eventually get off because his very astute lawyer, Dovey Roundtree, harped on the height discrepancy. Her client was much shorter than 5'10". His driver’s license, says Janney, said he was 5'3½" and 130 pounds. But Janney doesn’t tell us when Crump got his license. Lots of kids sprout another inch or two (or more) after getting their driver’s license. Your height isn’t verified when you renew your license. In addition, Janney tells us the police measured Crump upon his arrest and recorded his height as 5'5½". Janney says “it’s not clear” whether Crump was measured with the 2" heels he was wearing that day. Even my doctor makes me take my shoes off to weigh me and to check my height. I have trouble believing the police would do less, especially in a murder investigation, and especially when the person was not in flat-soled shoes. So I believe, from Janney’s own evidence, that Ray was likely 5'5½", wearing 2" heels, putting his overall height at 5'7½", close enough to Wiggins’ lower end of 5'8". Janney also quotes Crump’s emotionally invested lawyer Roundtree as saying Crump was shorter than her. But if she were wearing heels, and if Crump were wearing prison flats, that could explain her perspective. (At one point Janney is naïve enough to say Roundtree would never have represented a guilty man. Clearly, the woman believed Crump was innocent. But that doesn’t mean her faith in him was justified.)
In addition, Janney shows, in a picture, that Crump was a fairly normal-sized man, not skinny, not heavy. A “medium build,” just like Wiggins described. And Crump weighed in at 145 pounds, which was fifteen pounds more than the weight on his driver’s license. Does Janney want us to believe Crump had 15-pound shoes on? Or was it simply that time had clearly passed between the time the young man got his driver’s license and the time of his arrest? And if the young man had gained weight, couldn’t the young man have grown a couple of inches, too? (I knew someone who was short until he went to college, where he suddenly grew by several inches.) If Crump was only 5'3", 145 pounds would have made Crump look downright stocky. That many pounds on a 5'5½" frame, however, would look simply healthy, matching what we see in the picture Janney provides of Crump on the day of his arrest.
I asked a police officer just before finishing this review if people were measured with shoes on. “Sometimes,” the officer replied. “What if the person had 2" heels on?” “It happens,” the officer said a bit sheepishly, to my surprise. So let’s assume for a second that the police did measure Crump with his shoes on, and that Crump really was just 5'3½" tall. That still doesn’t discount Wiggins’ identification. Wiggins was looking down on him from above, and that foreshortened perspective could easily have affected Wiggins’ height estimate.

In addition, Crump lied to the officer who arrested him several times, immediately. The officer asked Crump if he had worn a jacket and cap. Crump said no, but a beige-zip up jacket was found nearby that fit him perfectly, as did a plaid hunting cap that was also found nearby. (Nina Burleigh, A Very Private Woman, p. 234). In response to the question of why he was dripping wet, Crump claimed he had been fishing and fallen in the water. But he had no fishing tackle on him, and his fishing equipment was still in his garage at home. Asked why his hand was bleeding, Crump claimed he had cut it on a fishhook (Burleigh, p.265). His pants were unzipped and when the officer asked why, Crump said because the officer had roughed him up. Crump sounded more like a pathological liar than an innocent man.

The officer concluded Crump was a likely suspect and that he had jumped in the river to attempt to swim away. Janney tells us that was impossible because Crump couldn’t swim. But plenty of people would choose water over arrest if they thought that was their only chance of escape. Anyone can dog paddle. You don’t need to know how to swim to attempt to do so. Janney explained the wetness by saying Crump had fallen asleep drunk after a tryst with a girlfriend, after which he woke and stumbled into the river. Nina Burleigh discounted this because Crump only came up with this after his fishing rod was found at his home. In other words, this wasn’t an explanation; it was just another excuse.

Janney trots out the suggestion that Crump’s arrest and prosecution were racially motivated. Yet Wiggins, the original witness, was himself a black man. Three-quarters of the jury was black. Dovey Roundtree was black. If anyone ever got a fair shake, it was Crump. Crump would later be arrested 22 more times(!) for crimes that included raping a 17-year-old daughter of a friend, dousing his second wife’s home with gasoline and setting fire to it while she and her children were inside, and threatening his second wife with a gun to the point where she jumped out a window to escape him, breaking her ankle and fracturing her collarbone in the process.
Janney tries to argue that a sweet young man was turned to a life of crime after having been jailed for a crime he didn’t commit. That is provably untrue, and Janney should have known that. Janney quotes from Nina Burleigh’s book A Very Private Woman, a biography of Meyer in which Burleigh discusses her murder in depth. But Burleigh pointed out that Crump had a criminal record before the Mary Meyer murder. Did Janney just miss that crucial bit of information? Or did Janney choose not to share that information with his readers because it would not further his argument?
And so, we get to the crux of the problem with Janney’s book. He discounts evidence that discredits his thesis, no matter how credible, and props up information that supports it, no matter how insubstantial. I find that disturbing. If it only happened a couple of times, that’s understandable. We all make mistakes. But when it becomes a pattern, there are only two possible conclusions: either Janney really doesn’t understand the evidence, or he hopes we don’t.

(This is only an introduction. There's a lot more at http://www.ctka.net/reviews/Pease_Janney_Mary's_Mosaic.html.)