Part One-Introduction

By W. Tracy Parnell Ó 2002




Researcher John Armstrong has gained notoriety within the JFK research community for his work on a Two-Oswald theory that he calls “Harvey and Lee”. Armstrong has made several presentations in recent years outlining his hypothesis. According to the theory, there were two individuals using the name Lee Harvey Oswald and living a parallel existence. One Oswald would ultimately be framed for the assassination of JFK while the other escaped undetected, presumably with the help of whatever government agency or group was responsible for the plot. This is the first in a series of articles that will attempt to counter the Armstrong theory.


Mr. Armstrong has been presenting his ideas to the research community since at least 1996, perhaps longer. Groups he has appeared before include The JFK Lancer “November in Dallas” conferences (‘97-’98), The Coalition on Political Assassinations (COPA), and the 1996 Fourth Decade Conference. Who is John Armstrong? According to a recent article in Texas Monthly Magazine, he is a contractor and oilman who became interested in the assassination after attending a course on the subject around 1990.[1] The article mentions that he doesn’t appear to be in it for the money since he owns a fine home and at least six cars. He seems to be an honest man who sincerely believes in what he is doing.


I wrote a letter to Mr. Armstrong in 1997 when I made a decision to rededicate myself to studying the assassination and Oswald in particular. I was eager to learn what evidence he had and though I leaned toward believing the Warren Report, I was willing to keep an open mind. I was pleasantly surprised when he promptly responded with a three-page letter offering encouragement and pointing me to sources of more information about his theory. He also said, however, that I should make up my own mind about the issues and not accept other research unquestioningly. I have taken that advice to heart and the result is a dissenting opinion. I have spent considerable time in the past 18 months studying material, including one of Mr. Armstrong’s videos and substantial printed information.[2] There are some basic issues that should be examined in detail, including profundity of the evidence, motivation and reliability of eyewitnesses, and old-fashioned common sense.


A Brief History of Double-Oswald Theories


The idea of a “double” or “second” Oswald is certainly not a new one. The history of such theories dates back at least as far as 1966 when Richard Popkin, a Professor of Psychology, hit the shelves with The Second Oswald, which drew little attention. Michael Eddowes continued the tradition with his 1977 effort, The Oswald File. His idea was that Oswald had not returned from the Soviet Union at all, but was replaced by a look alike Soviet assassin. Eddowes was so sure he was right that he managed to convince Marina Oswald that the body of LHO should be exhumed and autopsied. In 1981, after some legal wrangling, the corpse was exhumed and examined by a team that included two forensic pathologists and two forensic odontologists.[3] The team concluded, “The remains in the grave marked as Lee Harvey Oswald are indeed Lee Harvey Oswald”.[4] This was enough to kill Eddowes theory, but apparently not Armstrong’s.


In the late 1970’s, the House Select Committee on Assassinations looked into the idea of an Oswald double. They used a team of anthropology consultants to examine the question of whether there was any photographic evidence of an Oswald imposter. The team examined photographs from several key periods in Oswald’s life: Marine Corps, Russia, the famous “Backyard Photos”, New Orleans, and finally photos taken after his arrest. They concluded, “There are no biological inconsistencies in the Oswald photographs examined that would support the theory that a second person, or double, was involved”.[5]


We can think of the “Harvey and Lee” theory then as a third generation of the idea. So what are the problems I have with this theory? I will address the issue of eyewitness reliability in the remainder of this article. Subsequent articles will present a detailed critique of several of Armstrong’s ideas taken from recent versions of his presentation.


Reliance on Eyewitnesses


A major problem with Armstrong’s ideas is his heavy reliance on eyewitness reports placing Oswald in various unlikely locations.  Armstrong has Oswald in such places as North Dakota, Ohio, Tennessee, and others where there is absolutely no evidence that he could have been. I studied the 39-page script for his 1997 JFK Lancer presentation [6], for example, and found that more than fifty of his assertions require you to believe an eyewitness. What’s wrong with that?


The adages “seeing is believing” or “I saw it with my own eyes” probably describe how most people feel about the subject. However, eyewitnesses have fallen under increasing scrutiny in recent years.[7] The scientific community has conducted a number of studies to determine the reliability of eyewitnesses and found that their testimony is, by itself, probably not sufficient cause to convict and send someone to jail. It seems to make sense then that the many sightings of Oswald in various places should be held to a high degree of scrutiny. I recently explained my thesis by email to world-renowned psychologist and eyewitness testimony expert Dr. Elizabeth Loftus of the University of Washington. While she was aware of no studies directly relating to eyewitness sightings of the type found in Mr. Armstrong’s research, she did tell me “the phenomenon you're studying is very real, I believe”.[8]


Let’s take a closer look at the phenomenon of eyewitness testimony.


Eyewitness Testimony Questionable


In July 1998, the CBS newsmagazine “48 Hours” aired an episode titled “Eyewitness”.[9] The program featured a segment that chronicled a staged crime experiment enacted before a group of law students. During a lecture, a man entered the room, grabbed a briefcase from a desk, and ran back out. The professor then informed the students that the scene they had witnessed was staged. During the subsequent discussion, he offered his account of the “crime”. “All I saw”, he said, “is a guy walking in…it looked like he had an earring on…he looked like he had an extraordinarily large chin…”.


Later, the students were interviewed about what they saw by Dr. Solomon Fulero, a lawyer, Professor of Psychology, and expert on eyewitness testimony. The students were shown a “lineup”, which consisted of six photos of men similar in appearance to the “perpetrator”. The six wore the same color shirt, had similar hairstyle and length, and were photographed against the same background. When the results of the experiment were given, the students and prospective lawyers were surprised to find that 80% of them had picked the wrong man. They were similarly shocked to learn that the real “criminal” had not been in the photo lineup at all.


Another lineup was arranged, and this time the real suspect was included. Only 8 out of 35 students fingered the right man. Thirteen of the students picked the man in the number five position in the lineup. When quizzed as to what feature made them focus on this particular subject, one student offered, “his chin”. The student was then shown a video clip of the Professor’s “extraordinarily large chin comment” made just after the event. While his fellow students laughed, the embarrassed young man had to admit that he might have been influenced by the comment. Fulero then observed, “This is fairly typical of the kinds of post-event information effects that we see. People may remember the information, but not remember how they got it - but now it’s a part of their memory”.


Ironically, or perhaps fittingly, the subject of the Kennedy Assassination eyewitnesses came up later in the broadcast. Not surprisingly, Jean Hill and her ever-expanding story of shooters on the grassy knoll was presented as well as discussions of Howard Brennan and the Newman family. Dr. Fulero again presented expert commentary and offered this analysis of Hill. “What we have here is a pretty good real-life case of post-event information”, Fulero later explained. “People, when they are exposed to information after an event occurs, can actually incorporate that information into their memory of the initial event and remember it as though it had occurred at the time”. When asked to sum up his analysis of Hill, Fulero said with some understatement, “I think she’s a problematic witness”.


Also featured on the program in a different segment was Dr. Gary Wells of the University of Iowa whose web site I managed to locate. On his site I learned the following information would appear in the 1999 Encyclopedia of Psychology [10] under the entry “Eyewitness Testimony”. “Eyewitness testimony research includes studies of the accuracy of witness’s first-hand reports of memory for objects, actions, time, distance, and people. Memory for people has received a great deal of research attention because the identification of suspects from lineups (and photospreads) is particularly powerful, direct evidence of guilt at criminal trials. Numerous general conclusions about the accuracy of eyewitness identifications can be derived from staged-crime experiments. False identifications are surprisingly common in staged-crime experiments. Rates of false identification in these experiments can range from 5% to 95%, depending on various other factors…”.[11]


The subject of eyewitnesses and memory has roots in assassination literature as well. In the July 1992 issue of the Third Decade, Ph. D. and critic Dennis Ford offered his views on the subject in a piece called “Assassination Research and the Pathology of Knowledge”.  Ford writes, “Researchers do not give enough consideration to memory factors. Often there is a naive belief that witnesses saw what they saw pure and simple. If skepticism is applied to eyewitness accounts, it is only to dissenting witnesses. Yet memory research has shown that memory is not a copy of an event but a reconstruction. Eyewitness reports are unreliable; contrary to common sense, stress constricts the focus of attention and reduces memory. People remember what they want. People remember what is plausible. People remember a blend of observation and conversation about the observation. People remember what interviewers put in their heads” (emphasis in original).[12]


So it would seem that a theory relying heavily on eyewitness observation is not well grounded. The next part of the series will begin a detailed look at Armstrong’s ideas.

[1] Patoski, Joe Nick. “The Two Oswalds”. Texas Monthly Magazine, November 1998.

[2] The material used in preparation of this series includes: Denial #2 by Jerry Robertson (re-titled Harvey & Lee '97) which features Armstrong’s presentation text and supporting documents, the video of Armstrong’s 1997 “November in Dallas” presentation, and miscellaneous internet material.

[3] Norton, L.E., Cottone, J.A., Sopher, I.M., and DiMaio, V.J.M., “The Exhumation and Identification of Lee Harvey Oswald”, Journal of Forensic Sciences, JFSCA, Vol. 29, No. 1, Jan. 1984, pp. 19-38.

[4] Ibid., pp. 32-33.

[5] HSCA Volume VI, pp. 274-78.

[6] JFK Lancer November in Dallas 1997 Conference Presentation Booklet by John Armstrong.

[7] The studies of eyewitness testimony relate largely to testimony provided at trial. It is logical to assume that the information provided by the studies would probably apply to eyewitness observations in general.

[8] Email message from Dr. Elizabeth Loftus, March 4, 1999.

[9] Conclusions and quotes were taken from a video of the segment.

[10] The Encyclopedia of Psychology. American Psychological Association, 1999.

[11] The web site of Gary Wells Ph.D.

[12] Ford, Dennis. “Assassination Research and the Pathology of Knowledge”. The Third

Decade, July, 1992.


Home: Exhumation: Harvey & Lee: Timeline: Content: Resources: About:
Website and Articles © W. Tracy Parnell-All Rights Reserved
Other Articles Are Copyright of the Respective Authors
Optimized For 1024 by 768 Resolution and 32 Bit Color