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Harold Weisberg; Denounced Warren Commission Findings

by Adam Bernstein, Washington Post, 23 Feb 2002, Page B06


Harold Weisberg, 88, a prolific author and persistent critic of the official report that found a lone gunman responsible for the death of President John F. Kennedy and who was often dubbed the dean of assassination researchers, died Feb. 21 at his home in Frederick. He had a kidney ailment and sepsis.

Mr. Weisberg's career as the writer of about 10 published and roughly 35 unpublished books on the murders of Kennedy and the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. came last in a series of endeavors. He had been a journalist, a labor investigator for then-Progressive Party Sen. Robert M. La Follette Jr. (Wis.), an investigator for a World War II spy agency, a State Department intelligence analyst and a prize-winning Montgomery County poultry farmer.

In an obsession that kept him in financial hardship during the last 35 years, Mr. Weisberg collected in his home more than 250,000 government papers on the 1963 Kennedy assassination and scoured millions more at the National Archives. He produced one of the earliest books about the president's death, in 1965.

Mr. Weisberg also became a leading authority on the 1968 King killing and was an investigator on behalf of James Earl Ray, who pleaded guilty to the crime but later recanted his story.

Mr. Weisberg came to believe that neither Lee Harvey Oswald, the accused Kennedy gunman, nor Ray was responsible for the deaths of the prominent leaders. He focused on what he considered the inadequacies of the government investigations, specifically an improper probe of the available evidence. But for all his work, he never found definitive answers.

He detested many other students of conspiracy, foremost filmmaker Oliver Stone, whose 1991 JFK spun out all kinds of theories about the president's death.

"To do a mishmash like this is out of love for the victim and respect for history?" Mr. Weisberg said to The Washington Post. "I think people who sell sex have more principle."

In contrast, Mr. Weisberg presented information he gleaned from government investigative papers in an often dry manner -- even if that belied his cover tag lines promising "the end of the cover-up -- official lies exposed. Never such an investigation -- never such evidence!"

His first literary success was a self-published work called Whitewash: The Report on the Warren Report (1965). After being turned down by several publishers, he publicized the book himself and sold more than 30,000 copies. Dell then published it and a follow up, Whitewash II: The FBI-Secret Service Cover Up (both 1966).

Other books followed, including: Oswald in New Orleans: Case of Conspiracy with the C.I.A. (Canyon Books, 1967); Martin Luther King: The Assassination (Carroll & Graf, 1993); and Case Open: The Unanswered JFK Assassination Questions (Carroll & Graf, 1994).

Mr. Weisberg, a Philadelphia native, grew up in Wilmington, Del., the son of Russian Jewish immigrants. He attended the University of Delaware and then wrote articles for the Wilmington Morning News and the Sunday supplement of the Philadelphia Ledger.

In the late 1930s, he worked for La Follette, who chaired a special Senate investigating committee commonly called the La Follette Civil Liberties Committee. Mr. Weisberg was sent to look at suspected labor-rights violations in Harlan County, Ky.

During World War II, he served in the Army and the Office of Strategic Services. He joined State after the war but left in the late 1940s. He turned to farm life near Hyattsville with his wife, and they won prizes for their poultry. They also were early participants in a Peace Corps program called "Geese for Peace," in which the birds were shipped overseas to be raised in poverty-stricken countries. He turned to writing full-time after relinquishing farm life in the mid-1960s.

By that time, Mr. Weisberg's fascination with the Kennedy death was solidified. In September 1964, the President's Commission on the Assassination of President John F. Kennedy -- called the Warren Commission -- concluded that Oswald was solely responsible for Kennedy's death.

Immediately Mr. Weisberg set to work on Whitewash. His examination of the report and its appendices showed what he considered "superficial and immature" research into the possibility of a conspiracy or a different assassin.

Mr. Weisberg, friends said, had a photographic memory and a single-minded focus on his work that kept him occupied seven days a week. He once told The Post that he worried he would be judged long after his death as "a goddamn fool or Don Quixote."

Survivors include his wife, Lillian Stone Weisberg, whom he married in 1939, of Frederick; and two sisters.

© 2002 Washington Post
Reprinted for Fair Use Only.

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