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Detroit’s JFK class leads in U.S. search for answers (3rd in a JFK-50 series)

In uncovering one of America’s more intriguing crimes, Royal Oak’s Oakland Community College impressively leads the rest of the country’s campuses.

Class members of the OCC JFK history class take on the identities of actual historical figures and create exhibits to support them.
Wendy Clem

Only two schools of higher learning intensively study the 1963 John F. Kennedy assassination — the other is the University of South Carolina. Yet, with every answer that emerges, often more questions are created.

Topics in History #1654 — which is part of OCC’s History Special Topics: The JFK Assassination — is taught by instructor Ronald Burda and Social Sciences Department Head Michael Vollbach. Its uniqueness requires students to bring the characters to life over the weeks of class, and then decide on Oswald’s fate.

Enrollees receive expert input from career Kennedy researchers as well as those whose expertise has provided invaluable insights in seeking real answers and accountability for the murder. That includes forensic pathologist Cyril Wecht and authors like James Douglass, who each delved into records the government failed to destroy in its prolific, years-long white-wash of documents and records.

Three textbooks are utilized: “Head Shot: The Science Behind the JFK Assassination” by G. Paul Chambers; “Crime of the Century: The Kennedy Assassination From a Historian’s Perspective,” by Michael L. Kurtz; and “JFK and the Unspeakable: Why He Died and Why It Matters,” by James W. Douglass.

The semester wraps up with testimony from November, 1963 witnesses; class members assume the identities of various real-life characters and finish by putting accused Kennedy assassin Lee Harvey Oswald on trial. Evidence is presented by both the prosecution and defense, with jury deliberations occurring during the last two weeks.

Class members then ponder three possible verdicts: Guilty, Not Guilty or Guilty as part of a Conspiracy.

The curriculum pivots on the official investigative findings, determined by the government’s Warren Commission, which provided a pulpit for testimony that still stands. It serves as gospel to many, even members of otherwise credible, albeit, overall uninformed media.

And, it is precisely media who remain some of the biggest obstacles to a balanced public knowledge. Media also continually block further exploration of definitive proof about the conspiracy that killed our 35th U.S. president.

That’s particularly true with credibility among more respected national broadcasters, who nevertheless present themselves as experts. Yet, these talking heads continually perpetuate the tried-and-true blah-blah-blah typically found among government officials and/or those with their own agenda.

That agenda continues the myth of a lone-gunman-with-a-grudge theory.

One had only to catch media offerings of the 50th anniversary observations during November, 2013 to experience how amiss and whitewashed the “news” continuum is.

From a public perspective, it seems forensic pathologist Cyril Wecht is correct: It will take a few more generations before the whole story is actually revealed. Shadowy figures continue to circumvent retrieval of records and evidence, and the public is expected to rely on the Warren Commission’s flawed version. It’s a painful reminder of personal agendas in one of the saddest U.S. chapters.

Fifty-seven-year-old Sherry Underwood, of Northville, enrolled in the assassination study while pursuing a graduate degree in business administration. She ultimately found it life-changing.

“I took the class because, for me, this finally solves a major concern and mystery in my life: What really happened to JFK?” she said. “The fallout of finally solving the case for myself is that I am broken-hearted, sick and disgusted beyond words with the ‘government’ that carried out this murder — and the subsequent cover-up.”

Underwood lists her ultimate reasons for voting not guilty, maintaining there is clear evidence that a conspiracy to kill Kennedy existed.

“There is absolute proof that Oswald was on the FBI’s payroll from September 1962 through the assassination,” she said. “The document proving this can be found at , and supports beyond ANY doubt that if he was involved in the assassination plot, then he was part of a conspiracy. The House Select Committee on Assassinations (HSCA) also concluded this.”

Underwood cites the film captured by businessman Abraham Zapruder as behind her not-guilty contentions.

Having viewed it numerous times, she said, “Evidence shows that the kill shot did, in fact, come from the grassy knoll. And, there is plenty of suppressed witness testimony proving there were CIA imposters, men with radios on the grassy knoll — and Jack Ruby was at the scene that day, too.”

By scrutinizing footage, important details emerge in the sequence of events, some of which has been ignored by otherwise respected authorities. Although still portions of the original film were preserved for posterity in “Life” magazine, some frames were hidden for decades, primarily due to the conclusions from the gore they depicted.

Now people weigh in on those bloody revelations, including Detroit-are medical examiner Werner Spitz. He shared his opinion during the 50-year anniversary of Kennedy’s death in a November, 2013 interview with the Macomb Daily newspaper. Spitz made some curious — even questionable — comments about the event as it related to JFK’s head movements after the gunshots.

Having served for several decades in both Wayne and Macomb counties, Spitz, 87, is credited with helping to develop today’s forensic pathology. He then toiled with both the Rockefeller Commission and House Select Committee on Assassinations (HSCA).

It was during his last position that he and the panel of experts reviewed JFK assassination evidence.

Spitz acknowledges that Kennedy’s forward head pitch followed the bullet that pierced the back of his head, exiting via his throat. But, he adds the subsequent backward head pitch, predominant in Frame 313 of the film, is easily explained by the limo’s driver speeding up the car.

Deemed a “simple” explanation, he defines the “rearward jerk” after the actual fatal shot as the brief movement when the driver reacted to the tragedy unfolding. That acceleration, says Spitz, sent backward what was at that point a lifeless body.

Spitz fails to address, however, the sudden violent blood/brain matter burst within split seconds of the backward head fling. The bloody explosion is obviously caused by a separate action than the car’s mere acceleration, and is accompanied by a piece of skull that is then released.

The very colorful evidence — which showered limo occupants, according to Nellie Connally and other eye witnesses — lends more credence to a second bullet shot from the opposite direction of the first. Spitz also fails to address why Kennedy’s back skull suddenly flies off, scattering pieces so far and wide that some of it sat hundreds of yards away for more than a day before detection.

Gun experts attribute larger head wound holes to exiting bullets, not entry shots. That would also explain why skull pieces didn’t fly off until the second bullet shot.

Subsequent discussion of potential “jet effect” has followed, along with the possibility of two shots being fired simultaneously. If that happened, it may have caused skull fragments to scatter thusly.

Yet, either supposition lends less credibility to Oswald as the single gunman.

It also negates the Commission’s theory tracing a single bullet through Kennedy’s back, exiting his throat, then shooting forward to hit Governor Connally seated in front of him.

The award-winning videographer/photographer Frank Caramelli Jr. studied Zapruder’s film intensely. He lists compelling points on his website, calling them “details that were missing for 43 years,” as follows:

  • Caramelli says the film is complete for the most part, doubting that any portions have been changed. If they were, however, he says it does not change the overall impact of the content.
  • He maintains the assassination was “a nearly unsuccessful assassination attempt.” The shot that caused JFK to clutch his throat did not meet its mark to kill him, he says, adding, “The first shot did not find its mark. Maybe that is what ‘umbrella man’ is doing; signaling the backup team, as he realizes the president was not squarely hit.”
  • Caramelli speaks in great detail of the trajectory of the president’s skull pieces, which move upward and backward in the film, moving to the left of the frames, until reflected in the shiny surface of the limo’s trunk. It is those reflections that he takes credit for having noticed and which he says place an entirely new spin on much of the single-bullet theory. He debunks it because it’s clear the kill shot came from the front, sending skull pieces flying, frame by frame, to the rear.

Caramelli presents riveting insight by stressing: “The most damning thing I see in the film and other photos of the assassination is the inaction of the Secret Service, slowly gazing back at the Book Depository. And, notice this in the famed Altgens photograph: The two agents on the running board, looking back at the Depository, are not looking up! They are looking straight — straight at Lee Harvey Oswald! Yes, it is Oswald on the front steps of the Depository. The match is the shirt, another aspect of the assassination, covered effectively in Wrone's book.”

He concludes his study with this quote: “The whole back of his head went flying out the back of the car," attributing it to eyewitness Beverly Oliver — backing it up by directing readers to look at Frames 327 and 328.

See more evidence and class input in the conspiracy to kill JFK in the next installment. How did the class vote as it weighed Lee Harvey Oswald’s guilt?

See part 1, 2, 4 and 5 of this series for more in-depth info. And, view Zapruder's film to see for yourself if Spitz's overview makes any sense:

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