News from Dealey Plaza

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Here's a headline that you might have seen before: "Gunshot tape that could solve the JFK mystery." It's back (in today's Guardian), and so is the once-famous Dictaphone belt from Dallas.

The day JFK was shot, a motorcycle cop's mike was stuck open, and the sounds it picked up in or around Dealey Plaza were recorded on the belt. There's all kind of stuff on it, including what may be gunshots and/or static bursts. A sophisticated 1979 House investigation decided that the belt contained evidence of a fourth gunshot, and concluded that a second gunman had to have acted.

That conclusion was later called into question by, of all things, a Penthouse magazine stunt. As a marketing ploy, Penthouse stapled a cheap recording of the belt's contents into one of its issues, and a Penthouse reader eventually noticed some chatter on the recording that called into question the timing scheme used by the House analysts. Defenders of the scientists responded with various technical explanations to account for the apparent anomaly, but the matter has never been resolved.

Cut to 2004. The Guardian reports that "Scientists at the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory have begun work on a digital scanning apparatus" that may yet reveal the tape's secrets, if any. Gary Mack of the Sixth Floor Museum in Dallas told the paper that "with today's technology, we can get a better reading and answer the question, one way or the other." You may have seen a quote just like that one before, too.

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  1. Your history of the Dallas Dictabelt tape is not quite accurate, but close enough. Check John McAdams’ superb JFK Assassination page for a thorough account.

  2. Your history of the Dallas Dictabelt tape is not quite accurate, but close enough. Check John McAdams’ superb JFK Assassination page for a thorough account.

  3. I thought that the Smoking Man killed JFK.

  4. I seem to remember that the flimsy record was distributed in Oui, not Penthouse. I couldn’t make out anything dispositive upon my listening.

  5. And next week, we’ll be examining the residual DNA of Charles Guiteau to determine if he really did want to be the Ambassador to France.

    Is it just me, or has the Kennedy assassination passed into permanently old news? If not, why the heck not?

  6. The magazine in question was “Gallery”, and it was Steve Barber who heard and understood the significance of the faint background voice.

    The story didn’t end there. A study by a committee of the National Academy of Sciences confirmed what Steve heard and developed other information that showed there were no shots on the recording.

    That’s the way it stood until 2001 when Don Thomas published an article reviving the subject, but his points have been refuted by my own work (http://mcadams.posc.mu.edu/odell ) and by an upcoming report from members of the previous Academy panel.

    The recent stories got this all a bit wrong. They made it seem like we are waiting for the archives to produce a copy to answer outstanding questions. We have copies. Copies were made in 1964 and in 1981 from the original. They are probably better than anything that could be recovered from the aging dictabelt at this point. The stories also didn’t understand that the analyses that have been done have not been limited by supposed inferior copies.

    Getting a new copy won’t change anything. This is really only about the fact that the Archives cannot provide copies to anyone that asks for them, as Court TV did last year, and they would like to fix that situation. But people can get copies from other sources.

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