IRA: My guest is Farris Rookstool, III. He’s an Emmy® Award-Winning Historian, former FBI Analyst, and JFK Expert who recently addressed key issues in the assassination of President John F. Kennedy at the JFK Exhibition, New Tropicana, Las Vegas. The exhibition open through January 3rd, showcases artifacts from a historic time in the 20th century and it features some of the most iconic memorabilia from the 35th President of the United States.
FRIII: Nice to be with you here, Ira.
IRA: What in the world got you going with the JFK Legacy? It’s not just an assassination because your brief, so to speak, is much more wider than I think most people realize. So how did you get started? And give us a little bit about your background as well.
FRIII: Ok, I was born and raised in Dallas, Texas. At the time of the assassination, I was living in Dallas and my father was out of town. On the day, the Friday that President Kennedy was killed, my father was flying back into Love Field. As so, we actually went back to Love Field that day to pick up my dad at the airport, and I can still remember all the Secret Service and out-of-town press and everyone at Love Field as Air Force One had just left.
We picked him up, and I didn’t really understand the complexity of the assassination until such time as Sunday, the 24th when Jack Ruby shot Oswald. I was watching it live on Television with my father and seeing a live murder, the first time I had ever seen a murder, period. National television. It was quite dramatic. And so I asked my dad, I said, "What did occur?" "What happened?" He said, "Well, this man, Jack Ruby, shot Lee Harvey Oswald and killed him." Well, with all the climate change of the sadness, the funeral that took place on Monday – this whole weekend left and indelible scar, a lasting lifetime impression on me as a kid. And it was something that I never, in my wildest dreams would have imagined me spending my entire adult life talking about.
IRA: So you really connect with the JFK Assassination on an emotional level as well as an intellectual level?
FRIII: I would say that is correct. And, I worked my first significant job, that I had – I was a medical artist and medical photographer at what is now know as the University of Texas, Southwestern Medical School. At that time, it was called UT Health Science Center at Dallas. And I worked with all the doctors that treated President Kennedy. And then subsequently, I was on the exhumation team as the medical photographer for digging up Lee Harvey Oswald that occurred in October, the 4th, 1981.
Well, after I left the medical school, I then joined the FBI. And in 1984, all the original files that have been in Washington DC were being returned from Headquarters to the Dallas Field Office where I was assigned. And, it’s like anything. If you show too much interest in something, you get assigned the case. So, I was assigned to be the Record Custodian, who went through all the records that were being shipped back to Dallas to see if, in fact, the complete records had been returned. So, I spent over 9 ½ years going through over 500,000 records of the FBI. And not by design, but just by an opportunity, I ended up becoming the Bureau’s Expert on President Kennedy’s Assassination and with all the records that happened. And then, subsequently, when Oliver Stone filmed his movie, “JFK”, the bureau was then tasked to respond to conspiracy allegations and things he had addressed in his movie with follow up investigative reports, in which I wrote 3,500 pages of follow up investigative reports, and then got involved in briefing the attorney general, the FBI Director, et cetera about what was in the JFK Records.
So, you take a lasting impression from childhood, you morph that into a profession where you have overlaps not only in the medical field, but then you also have the law enforcement component, and all three dovetail nicely into helping to define me, who I am. And, I also have a degree in History as well. So, you take a Historian, a Law Enforcement Investigative Analyst, Medical Illustrator/Medical Photographer and then you also take someone who was around to be able to know the principal characters – the doctors, the witnesses, et cetera and all that just neatly made me who I am today.
IRA: It is your life’s work and in an essence, the way you tell this, it seems ordained that you would be doing this kind of work.
FRIII: I never really understood what a Historian did in Junior High and High School. Having a history teacher, they were always kind of the nerdy type of teachers that you just didn’t know what they would do outside of the classroom. But, I’ve been blessed and very fortunate, that I have with this subject matter, I’ve met every living President since Richard Nixon, all the way to the current one. Additionally, I’ve gotten to become friends with the Prince of Monaco who saw me on National Television on CBS News and said, “Hey, I want to meet this guy” to being the only Historian invited by Caroline Kennedy and John Jr. to go through all of her mother and father’s belongings during the Onassis Auction in 1996, to lecturing all over the world on a topic that again, I never set out to become the JFK expert. It’s just something that there is not another me out there in the world.
There is no other person, to date who has read all 500,000 pages of classified material. There is no other historian out there who was invited by Caroline Kennedy and John Jr. to go through all their material. There is no other historian who broadcast live from Dealey Plaza during the 50th, which I was fortunate to do for ABC News. So I’ve been very, very fortunate, and I consider myself very blessed as a professional historian to be able to do these things that others have not been able to.
IRA: And the subject matter is such, that it is a life’s work and that brings the question, why the fascination with JFK and his assassination as well as his legacy over all these decades? What is it about the assassination? Is it the fact that he was assassinated, that’s the key word? Or, was it the controversy at the time that there may be a conspiracy? There clearly is an interest in him and the assassination over a long period of time. Your life’s work dovetails with that fascination that just endures. But let’s address that part of it. What is it about him or about his assassination that keeps people riveted?
FRIII: Well, for me, I started out believing in a big conspiracy before I even worked in the FBI and the medical school. I had read all these conspiracy books and the Garrison Investigation, Mark Lane’s book, Rush to Judgment, and Forgive My Grief, by Penn Jones and Sylvia Meagher’s book that she wrote on the assassination, Accessories, After the Fact, and Harold Weisberg’s trilogy of books that he wrote on the assassination. So all these works, the original, I call them the “early thinkers”, the early critics, I started subscribing to their theories. And, I started believing that perhaps, there was a conspiracy. And I can still remember my parents saying that to me, “Oh, good God, don’t tell anyone that you’re reading all this JFK stuff because people are getting killed and witnesses are dying off."
IRA: They’re disappearing.
FRIII: "They’re disappearing!" So, I would read at nighttime, under the sheets with a flashlight, in my bedroom. I’d read these books and various literature and again, I started subscribing to some of the conspiracies. Well, it wasn’t until after I went to work at the medical school and talked to the doctors who were the early witnesses to the body – to the original evidence, because you consider the body is the first piece of evidence that was examined, really, not by law enforcement, but by physicians to try to determine what kind of...
IRA: Well, there was always that supposition though, that the doctor’s were talked to in terms of what to make as a report.
FRIII: That’s an interesting thing, because the doctors, what came out was, there was a man. There was a doctor, who I worked with; he’s now deceased, named Charlie Baxter. Charlie is the one who came forward to all the doctors at Southwestern and he said, “Ok, guys, let’s get our stories straight, what occurred. We’ll write our narratives. Let’s do all this, but let’s make an agreement that we’re not going to get into that slippery slope by conducting interviews. So, let’s not talk about this any further.” It wasn’t based on a sinister position. It was based on the fact, that he wanted a cohesive medical report that is – his description of it was, that would, "stand the test of time” – to say, "We only had this patient in here for this period of time. This is all we can say, based on what we were able to treat the President, and anything outside the scope of Trauma Room One and Two is really subject to speculation and innuendo, and all that. And, we can’t as a teaching hospital and medical school in training medical professionals, we can’t get into those realms of possibilities and this and that."
So again, Charlie’s initial intent was good, but people have twisted that to believe that maybe, they were coached or in fact maybe, they were told by government people that this is what the official line should be about the bullets and how they entered and et cetera.
Now, back to your why the fascination with all of this is – It’s the greatest mystery. It’s the greatest riddle. It’s the most expensive investigation in American History. And you look at the fact that you have the KGB, you have the Mafia, you have the CIA, you have the Cuban Intelligence Force, you have a former Marine, you have a beautiful wife, a First Lady, and a very attractive President.
IRA: By our standards
FRIII: By our standards of our visual of what we deem to be visually pleasing, that we probably would have gotten over the JFK Assassination. If you look at some of our less than beautiful Presidents or visually appealing Presidents, people are such that the fact that JFK, at 46 can live on and Jackie can always be preserved as this moment in time. It’s romantic, it’s beautiful. It’s Camelot.
IRA: Well, a lot has to be attributed to Joseph Kennedy
IRA: Who made sure that the visual representation of the Kennedy Family, when he was running for President, was of a glamorous family.
FRIII: Yes, and it was a very controlled, theatrical – I mean, Joe had of course been in the movie industry as well, and you look at this couple. We have never had a couple that captured magically this attention all over the world because they were young, and they were attractive, and they had these two beautiful kids. And of course, they became more human with the fact that Jackie had a miscarriage and lost Patrick. So, you have all these dynamics that are playing into why they are visually pleasing to the world. And he was articulate. He was funny. He had a charisma about him that made him unlike anyone else. So with that, the mystery of his death, because the assassin or the accused assassin died before he could go to trial, is what compounded the entire mess. And then of course, the issue of the Warren Commission being created, a blue-ribbon panel. Many of the members didn’t want to be on the Warren Commission. They were told. As a matter of fact, one of the funniest stories is that when Lyndon Johnson called Senator Russell and told him that he wanted him.
IRA: Senator Richard Russell from Georgia?
FRIII: That’s Correct. When he told him, he said, “Dick, I want to invite you to be a member of my blue-ribbon panel, this commission that I’m going to appoint.” And Dick Russell was like, “No, Mr. President. No, thank you. I really appreciate it. No, thank you. I thank you for the offer, but no.” And the President said, “No, Dick. I don’t think you understand. I’m asking you to serve on this panel.” And in fact, what happened next was, Dick said to the President, “No. I just can’t be on it.” And he said, “Well that’s too bad, because I’ve already announced that you’re on it to the NY Times and it’s being published as we speak.”
So you had this committee of very fine individuals who all couldn’t agree and they all had been appointed by the President to try to get to the bottom of it and they had a time constraint; a time constraint of conducting the most complex investigation ever. And they had to release the report by September of 1964.
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