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Bugliosi, Bowles and the Open Mike

by (c) Chris Scally, 28 Aug 2007

The final report of the United States' House of Representatives Select Committee on Assassinations (the HSCA) was published on July 29, 1979. This second official investigation into the Kennedy assassination found that President Kennedy was "probably assassinated as a result of a conspiracy",[1] although Lee Harvey Oswald did fire three of the four shots, and he fired the shot that actually killed the President.[2] The HSCA's report stated that "scientific acoustical evidence establishes a high probability that two gunmen fired" at the President — Oswald from the Texas School Book Depository building above and behind the President, and a second, unidentified gunman from the grassy knoll in front and to the right of the motorcade.[3]

The HSCA’s “scientific acoustical evidence” was based on a study of recordings of the transmissions over the Dallas Police radio on the day of the assassination. The HSCA’s scientific experts concluded that these recordings contained a series of impulses which they believed represented gunshot sound patterns. Furthermore, the scientists concluded that the sounds had been recorded by a police motorcycle radio which was stuck in ‘transmit’ mode, and that the motorcycle was that of Officer H.B. McLain, who was riding some 120-140 feet behind the President’s limousine.[4]

However, on January 4, 1979, just two days after the HSCA’s summary findings were published, and exactly one week after his own public testimony, McLain told CBS television viewers that he was not the officer in question.[5] The dispute over the identity of the officer with the open mike has continued to this day, and it remains central to the question of whether or not the acoustics evidence merits consideration as powerful evidence of more than one gunman in Dealey Plaza.

In a 66-page endnote to his book “Reclaiming History”[6], author Vincent Bugliosi dismisses the HSCA’s acoustics evidence. Of the acoustic scientists whose work formed the basis of that acoustics evidence, Bugliosi said their “presumed expertise”, “demonstrated incompetence” and “possible zeal to become famous” led them to “unintentionally” mislead the HSCA.[7]

However, hidden away in this important footnote, but not referenced in the book’s Index, are three remarkable revelations:

  • The alleged identity of yet another Dallas Police officer as “the officer with the open mike”, which is at the heart of the acoustics evidence;
  • The claim that this officer’s identity was common knowledge in the immediate aftermath of the assassination; and
  • The very serious allegation that his identity was made known to (but apparently ignored by) a HSCA investigator.[8]

Former Dallas Police Sergeant Jim Bowles was clearly Bugliosi’s primary source of information regarding the acoustics evidence. Indeed, in the course of the endnote under discussion, Bugliosi refers to an incredible 21 different telephone interviews he had with Bowles, in addition to 3 letters he received from Bowles, and a further 16 references to Bowles’ 1979 manuscript, “The Kennedy Assassination Tapes – A Rebuttal to the Acoustical Evidence”.[9]

On December 8, 2005, during one of those telephone interviews, Bowles “casually mentioned” to Bugliosi that it was “Willie Price’s three-wheeler at the Trade Mart” that had the open mike. When Bugliosi asked Bowles how long he had been in possession of this “explosive information”, Bowles told him it was “common knowledge in the traffic division”, and that Price had admitted it to him personally.[10]

In an effort to verify Bowles’ claim, Bugliosi spoke to a total of seven former DPD officers, including five whose names and phone numbers had been supplied by Bowles. The first (un-named) officer said he “may have heard it was Price, but this was just hearsay.”[11] Officer B.J. Dale said he had not heard that Price was the officer with the open mike,[12] while Officer John Toney said, ““It was the belief [on the force] that it was Willie Price. That was the word in the department at the time.”[13] H.B. McLain, the man whom the HSCA had identified as the source of the open mike, told Bugliosi that “it wasn’t Price… we (McLain and Bowles) concluded it was Leslie Beilharz”.[14] Officer Paul Bentley told Bugliosi that he “heard it was Willie Price’s cycle that had the stuck mike... within a week of the assassination”,[15] while Officer J.W. Courson said he “heard Willie Price’s name mentioned as being the one with the open mike.”[16] Courson said he “heard other names too,” although he was unable to remember whose they were.[17] Finally, Officer Leslie Beilharz, who Bowles and McLain had “concluded” was the open mike culprit, told Bugliosi, “The first time I heard Willie Price’s name in connection with this is when Jim [Bowles] called me last week.”[18] As an aside, one might reasonably ask why Bowles was making phone calls to these officers while Bugliosi was checking out his claims.

Armed with this conflicting evidence, Bugliosi went back to Bowles in an effort to clear up the matter. He pressed Bowles about when he had first heard about Officer Price. “I believe I first heard about it being Willie’s mike by hearsay in the department back in 1963 and 1964. And it was probably in 1978, around the time of the HSCA, that Willie told me personally that it was his mike.”[19] Bowles added that one of the officers to whom Bugliosi had spoken had told Bowles that Price had told him the stuck mike was his, and the officer also knew that Price had taken his motorcycle into the repair shop after the assassination for some type of repair, the officer assuming it was to fix his microphone.[20]

Bowles explained the apparent reluctance of those to whom Bugliosi had spoken to speak openly about what they knew. “These men didn’t want to go on the public record. They’re weary and leery over the assassination and want to move on”, he said.[21]

But could Price have been the officer with the open mike?

In his 1979 manuscript, Jim Bowles identified the officer with the open mike as “Officer K”.[22] According to Bowles, this officer -

  • Was assigned to a location on the Cedar Springs / Harwood to Main segment of the motorcade route;
  • Completed his assignment at 12:23;
  • Went from there to his second assignment at the Trade Mart;
  • Does not recall moving his motorcycle after his arrival at the Trade Mart;
  • Was parked at the Trade Mart, listening to a motorcycle radio tuned to Channel 2 when the motorcade went by;
  • Said something on the radio at that point which he should not have said;
  • Followed the motorcade to Parkland, during which journey he realised his was the stuck mike;
  • Was using a relief three-wheeler motorcycle with a faulty radio, which could only operate on Channel 1;
  • Admitted later that afternoon to other officers that his radio transmitter had stuck open during the emergency.

Does Officer Willie Price fit this “profile”?

Price was using radio call number 295 on November 22, 1963. His first assignment that day was traffic control at McKinney and Harwood, and after the motorcade had passed that location, he was assigned to the Trade Mart.[23]

According to the radio transmissions aired on Channel 2 (the channel assigned to the motorcade), we can determine that the lead car in the motorcade passed Price’s location at McKinney and Harwood at about 12:20.[24] According to Bowles’ scenario, this leaves only three minutes for the entire motorcade to pass Price’s location, and for Price to set out on his journey to the Trade Mart. While I believe it unlikely that the entire motorcade could have passed Price’s location in such a short period of time, it is still possible that this could be considered consistent with Price’s completion of his first assignment at approximately 12:23.

According to Bowles’ manuscript, the officer with the open mike said something unintelligible over Channel 1 at 12:33, at a time when the motorcade would have been in the vicinity of the Trade Mart, en route to Parkland Hospital.[25] Again, this is consistent with Price’s projected movements, insofar as he was due to report to the Motor Pool at the Trade Mart at 12:30.[26]

Between 12:40 and 12:41, Price interrupted an exchange between the Channel 2 dispatcher and Asst. Chief Batchelor regarding the shooting, and said he believed the President's head was "practically blown off". When asked if he knew the extent of the injury, Price replied, "It's not for me to say" and asked for the comment to be disregarded. Asked where he got the information, Price said he was “at the car when they took him out".[27] Once again, this is consistent with Price’s known movements. However, it appears to contradict Bowles’ claim in 1979 that the officer with the open mike did not recall moving his motorcycle again after he arrived at the Trade Mart – and by 1994, Price again clearly remembered having been at Parkland as the President was being taken from the limousine.[28]

But how (and why) was Price transmitting over Channel 2, when his motorcycle was only capable of transmitting over Channel 1? It is possible that Price simply used someone else’s radio to make the transmissions in question, but there is no evidence to either support or refute that possibility.

The personal recollection of Officer Roy Higgins, however, casts a doubt over Price as the source of the open mike. According to Higgins, who was also riding a 3-wheel motorcycle that day, he was making his way towards the Trade Mart from his first assignment at the intersection of Cedar Springs and Maple when the call came to go to Parkland. Higgins continued: “I don't recall just where I was when I heard the chief order officers to go to Parkland, but I was fairly close and felt I should go. I arrived at the emergency dock shortly before the motorcade… I assisted in removing the victims from the limousine.”[29] In his Sixth Floor Museum Oral History interview, however, Price claims to have been talking to Higgins at the Trade Mart before they both headed to Parkland, arriving there before the motorcade and assisting in removing the President and Governor Connolly from the limousine.[30]

And what of the claim that the HSCA were aware of Price, and the possibility that he had the open mike?

Bowles told Bugliosi that former D.C. homicide detective Jack Moriarty was the HSCA investigator to whom he had given the information concerning Price.[31] HSCA Chief Counsel G. Robert Blakey, however, denied any knowledge of such information. Blakey told Bugliosi, “I don’t remember Moriarty telling me that Bowles thought he knew the identity of the cyclist with the open mike, and the name Willie Price rings no bell for me. Moriarty was a fine investigator, and if anything he always told me more than I needed to know. If Bowles had told Moriarty about this Price fellow, Moriarty would have told me and of course we would have contacted Price.”[32] Similarly, Blakey’s Deputy Chief Counsel, Gary Cornwell told Bugliosi that he had never heard of Price, or Bowles’ alleged reporting of him to Moriarty.[33]

Was Bowles, the man on whom Bugliosi depended so much for his acoustics-related information, telling the truth?

Unfortunately, Bowles has a history of directly or indirectly “identifying” different officers as the one with the open mike. As previously noted, Bowles identified Officer “K” as the culprit in 1979. On April 14, 1982, Bowles told Dallas Morning News reporter Earl Golz that he had "known for several years about the possibility of the stuck microphone being that of [Officer Leslie] Beilharz or another policeman in the same area".[34] Bowles said that the other policeman, whom he thought was "more inclined toward being the person that had the open mike", was now retired, and in very poor health.[35] This “other officer” could have been Price, who had suffered a heart attack, and whose wife had suffered a similar fate. Both of them were in poor health, and both sadly passed away in the 1990s.[36]

In 1996, H.B. McLain was quoted as saying that he and Bowles had determined that Beilharz was the officer who had the stuck microphone.[37] In 1997, McLain was saying that Bowles believed that the motorcycle with the stuck microphone was a three-wheeler ridden by Sgt. D.V. Harkness,[38] although he apparently reverted to the belief that Beilharz was the officer with the open microphone as recently as November 2005, when he told researcher/author Ian Griggs that he and Bowles had always believed it was Beilharz.[39]

According to Bugliosi, Bowles is a good and honorable man, who admits to having a failing memory at 77 years of age.[40] Bugliosi believes that Bowles probably alluded to Price, but never actually never gave Price’s name to Moriarty.[41] Bowles, however, insists that he gave Price’s name to Moriarty, saying he gave “Price’s name to Mr. Moriarty because he and the committee were conducting a lawful investigation. It would have been misconduct for me to withhold his name or to misrepresent any fact”.[42] Despite such determined insistence, however, Bowles’ 1979 manuscript reveals that, “This information was available to the (HSCA) investigators had they sought it”,[43] suggesting that Bowles did not tell the HSCA investigators, simply because they never asked him.

Now, with Price and Moriarty both deceased and therefore unable to defend themselves, is Bowles playing “name games” again, or was Officer Willie Price really the officer with the open mike?

[The author wishes to thank Ian Griggs for his assistance in relation to Officer Price’s Sixth Floor Museum Oral History interview, and Rex Bradford for making publication of this article possible.]

[1] HSCA Report, p.1

[2] HSCA Report, pp. 1, 41

[3] HSCA Report, pp. 1, 65, 91

[4] HSCA Report, pp. 66 onwards

[5] CBS Interview transcript

[6] See pp. 153-218 of Endnotes CD from “Reclaiming History”, by Vincent Bugliosi (W.W. Norton & Company, Inc., New York, 2007).

[7] Endnotes CD, pp. 217-8

[8] Id. at pp. 184-190

[9] “The Kennedy Assassination Tapes - A Rebuttal to the Acoustical Evidence”, by James C. Bowles (1979), the complete version of which is on file in the National Archives as RIF 124-10053-10354 (hereinafter referred to as “Bowles manuscript”). [editor's note: the Bowles manuscript is available online at |jfk-online.com]

[10] Endnotes CD, pp. 184-5

[11] Id. at p. 185

[12] Ibid.

[13] Id. at pp. 185-6

[14] Id. at p. 186

[15] Ibid.

[16] Ibid.

[17] Ibid.

[18] Id. at pp. 189-190

[19] Id. at p. 190

[20] Ibid.

[21] Ibid.

[22] Bowles manuscript, pp. 71, 103-4

[23] Lawrence Exhibit 2 at Warren Commission Volume 20, p. 492 (or HSCA Exhibit F-679 at HSCA Volume 5, p. 621)

[24] Author’s copy of Channel 2 radio recordings (Kimbrough transcript entry #345)

[25] Bowles manuscript, pp. 172, 187

[26] Id. at p. 103

[27] Author’s copy of Channel 2 radio recordings (Kimbrough transcript entries #514-530). Price confirmed his presence near the limo at Parkland during an interview for the Six Floor Museum’s “Oral History” series on September 24, 1994.

[28] Bowles manuscript, p. 103; Sixth Floor Museum Oral History interview with Price, September 24, 1994.

[29] Bowles manuscript, p. 132

[30] Sixth Floor Museum Oral History interview with Price, September 24, 1994.

[31] Endnotes CD, p. 185

[32] Id. at p. 186

[33] Ibid.

[34] “Doubt cast on theory that pair shot at JFK”, by Earl Golz, Dallas Morning News, April 14, 1982, p. 1A.

[35] Ibid.

[36] Endnotes CD, p. 185

[37] "REPOST: Dallas PD radio" by Greg Jaynes, August 26, 1996, in Internet newsgroup alt.conspiracy.jfk.moderated

[38] "Acoustics - A little deeper down the rabbit hole" by Greg Jaynes, March 27, 1997, in Internet newsgroup alt.conspiracy.jfk.moderated

[39] Author’s telephone conversation with Ian Griggs, December 1, 2005

[40] Endnotes CD, p. 186

[41] Id. at pp. 186-7

[42] Id. at p. 187

[43] Bowles manuscript, p. 60

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