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Municipal Files Fueling Debate Surrounding Kennedy Assassination

February 14, 1992

DALLAS (AP) _ New scrutiny of Dallas police files on the Kennedy assassination has given conspiracy buffs more ammunition, but detractors say they’re blowing smoke.

Since the documents were unsealed Jan. 27, researchers and reporters have stormed the City Archives, looking at the new material as well as information that had been available but unnoticed since 1989.

Interest was renewed by Oliver Stone’s movie ″JFK,″ which suggests President Kennedy was assassinated as part of a government plot.

Documentary makers Ray and Mary La Fontaine say they discovered a photograph that could indicate the Dallas police tampered with evidence involving Lee Harvey Oswald, who the Warren Commission concluded acted alone in killing Kennedy.

In addition, they said they found the first documents identifying three ″tramps″ pulled off boxcars after the assassination.

The Fontaines reported on their findings in a story published this week by The Houston Post.

The evidence involving Oswald consisted of several versions of the photograph depicting him standing in his back yard with a rifle on his hip. The Warren Commission said the rifle was the one used to kill Kennedy.

Oswald, before he was killed by Jack Ruby, insisted the picture was a fake. Some conspiracy theorists agree.

One of the newly discovered prints has Oswald’s figure cut out as it would be in a darkroom procedure called matting. The technique can be used to impose an image on a photograph.

″All we’re saying is there is a photograph with evident matting,″ Ray La Fontaine said. ″One thing we don’t want to do is overstate what it is. We found records that no one knew existed and the photo certainly is suggestive.″

Researcher Gary Mack of Fort Worth, who challenges the commission’s conclusion, said the photo could mean officers simply were attempting to find out if the photograph could have been faked.

″This is representative of why we still have so many questions,″ Mack said.

″While this may mean a whole lot, it may mean nothing. It really shows the ineptitude of the investigation.″

The La Fontaines said they also turned up arrest reports indicating the three ″tramps″ were detained for four days on vagrancy charges, according to the newly discovered documents. It had always been said the three were released hours after questioning.

A widely circulated photograph shows officers arresting the three near the assassination site at Dealey Plaza, and skeptics have long wondered why vagrants on railroad cars would have fresh haircuts and shined shoes.

Ms. La Fontaine found three arrest reports written at 4 p.m. on Nov. 22, 1963, less than four hours after the assassination.

The reports say Harold Doyle, 32, Gus W. Abrams, 53, and John Forrester Gedney, 38, were ″taken off a train box car in the rail yards right after President Kennedy was shot.″

Former Dallas police officer Paul McCaghren, who participated in the investigation of the Kennedy and Oswald murders, dismisses all the conspiracy talk.

McCaghren said he doesn’t know why the cutout photograph was in the files or why officers may have been trying to recreate the Oswald photo, but he insists police didn’t tamper with evidence.

He said identifying the vagrants means nothing because police took in dozens of people for questioning that day.

″They had nothing to do with this,″ McCaghren insisted. ″No one ever asked me anything about the tramps on the train.″

Despite the uncertain merits of the discoveries, Ms. La Fontaine maintains that the municipal files remain a great untapped mine of information on the assassination.

″There is a tremendous volume of material,″ she said. ″Much of it has been gone over ad nauseum. Some of it has not been. This is an area that has not been carefully scrutinized.″

City archivist Cindy Smolovik has been so swamped by inquiries in recent weeks that she’s stopped taking appointments to read the files.

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