by Vincent M. Palamara (Copyright 1999)
During the last five years or so, I have often been asked, "What agent
or agents are you most suspicious of?" in relation to the tragic events
of November 22, 1963. I have always answered: "There are three agents at
the top of my list:
Bill Greer, Floyd Boring, and Emory Roberts." My research into Bill Greer1 and Floyd Boring2 has been well covered in the pages of several journals, and in my manuscript The Third Alternative--Survivor's Guilt: The Secret Service and the JFK Murder. However, Emory P. Roberts merits the same scrutiny, if not more so; a look at his role is now in order.
Secret Service agent Emory P. Roberts was a former Baltimore policeman3 (and high school colleague of author Howard Donahue of Mortal Error fame)4 who had recently been on President Kennedy's trip to Florida on November 18, 1963. As he was later to do on the fateful Texas trip, Mr. Roberts served as the commander of the agents in the follow-up car, one of two well-used 1956 Cadillac convertibles that sometimes served as the presidential limousine (an example is provided in JFK's summer, 1963, Ireland trip).5 On both trips, Sam Kinney served as the driver of this car.6 As one of three Shift Leaders of the White House Detail (the other two were Stewart G. Stout, Jr. and Arthur L. Godfrey, both also on the Texas trip with Roberts),7 Emory was a stern and forceful agent who took and gave out orders in a serious manner while working on President Kennedy's trips. It was during the Florida trip that some interesting things involving Agent Roberts occurred which would have a direct bearing on November 22, 1963.
The President visited Palm Beach, Miami, and Tampa on November 18, 1963;
however, only the beautiful city
of Tampa involved a motorcade, and quite an eventful one at that, as agents Chuck Zboril and Don Lawton were riding on the rear of the limousine, someone from the crowd threw a red "Powerhouse" candy bar at the motorcade, and the confection landed with a "thud" on the hood of the Secret Service follow-up car. Thinking it could be a lethal stick of dynamite, Agent Roberts pushed the object forcefully off the hood. Realizing what the object was, Roberts and the other agents shared a laugh about it.8 But they had had good reason to be jumpy: the atmosphere in Tampa was one that gave the agents cause for concern--hostility from the anti-Castro Cuban community,9 the Joseph Milteer threat,10 and an organized crime related-scare.11 As he had done countless times before, Mr. Roberts had the two agents that were riding on the rear of the presidential limousine "fall back" from time to time (sometimes based on Special Agent in Charge Jerry Behn's suggestion; in this case it was the number two agent, Asst. Special Agent in Charge Floyd Boring). This was quite often a spur-of-the-moment decision based on the speed of the cars, the size and proximity of the crowd, and the potential for threat(s) at the moment12 (often, the two agents of the rear of JFK's limousine took their own initiative in going between the two cars, as agent Clint Hill did several times in Dallas). This will become important later....
Jumping ahead to Dallas on November 22, 1963, (after friendly, enthusiastic,
and uneventful motorcades in San Antonio, Houston, and Fort Worth on November
21-22,1963), Agent Roberts assigned the other seven agents on his particular
shift to the follow-up car: Sam Kinney, Clint Hill, Paul Landis, William"Tim"
McIntyre, Glen Bennett, George Hickey, and John Ready13 -- four
of whom had only hours before participated in the in famous drinking incident
in Fort Worth. Mr. Roberts' shift was the worst offender of the three shifts!14
What makes this tragic is that Roberts had the most important shift of
all: the 8:00a.m. to 4:00 p.m. shift-- the Fort Worth/Dallas part of the
Texas trip (the other two
shifts, Agent Stout's 4:00 p.m. to midnight detail and Agent Godfrey's midnight to 8:00 a.m. shift were not actively protecting JFK during the Dallas motorcade. They were all waiting for JFK to complete the motorcade--Stout's detail at the Trade Mart, Godfrey's detail in Austin with Bob Burk and Bill Payne at both the Commodore-Perry Hotel and the LBJ Ranch).
Cover-up number one: Agent Roberts would later write (April 28, 1964)
that "there was no question in my mind as to (the agents') physical and
mental capacity to function effectively in their assigned duties."15
Like Chief Rowley and Inspector Kelley before both the WC and the HSCA,
Agent Roberts covered up the drinking incident, despite Secret Service
regulations which stated that this was grounds for removal from the agency.16
Sleep deprivation and alcohol
consumption wreak havoc on even the best trained reflexes. While leaving Love Field on the way to the heart of Dallas, destiny, and murder, Agent Roberts rose from his seat and, using his voice and several hand gestures, forced agent Henry J. Rybka fall back from the rear area of JFK's limousine, causing a perplexed Rybka to stop and raise his arms several times in disgust (Rybka would then remain at the airport during the murder, having been effectively neutralized)
--although Paul Landis made room for him on the right running board of the follow-up car, Agent Rybka did not budge.17 Although Rybka worked the follow-up in Houston the day before18 and was a gun-carrying protective agent, he was not allowed to do his job on November 22,1963 (Rybka has since died...).
Cover-up number two: Both Emory Roberts and Winston Lawson placed Agent Rybka in the follow-up car in their initial reports, only to "correct" the record later, after November 22, although Rybka was not even mentioned anywhere in Agent Lawson's Preliminary Survey Report--making it seem obvious that he was covering Emory Roberts' behind.19 As the cars approached the Main and Houston Street intersection, Clint Hill fell back to the follow-up car. Agent Hill was the only agent to ride on the rear of the limousine in Dallas and he was not even assigned to JFK (as a last-minute addition to the trip, Agent Hill was, like Paul Landis, part of Jackie's detail, and came at the First Lady's personal request). John Ready, a relatively new agent, never approached JFK's side of the limousine. Why not? Emory Roberts explained: "SA Ready would have done the same thing (as Agent Hill did) if motorcycle was not a President's corner of car"(!)20 Strange, but this posed no problem at all for Agent Don Lawton on November 18, 1963, in Tampa21 (but unfortunately, like Rybka, Lawton was left at Love Field and was not in the motorcade detail).22 In any event, there was always cooperation between the motorcycles and the agents; they maneuvered around each other countless times, including in Dallas on November 22.
Cover-up number three: The April 22, 1964 reports from Agents Behn,
Boring, Ready, Hill, and Emory Roberts, alleging, after-the-fact, that
President Kennedy had ordered agents off the rear of the limousine on November
18, 1963 in Tampa, and in other cities.23 It has to be
stated again, and with some new corroboration to boot: JFK never ordered
the agents to do anything, let alone telling the men to get off the rear
of the limousine (or to take off the bubbletop, reduce the number of motorcycles,
etc.). Agents Behn and Boring totally refuted their own (alleged) reports
in conversations with me, while agents Kinney, Youngblood, Bouck, Noris,
Bolden, Lilly, Martineau, plus two recently-interviewed agents, Don Lawton
and Art Godfrey, confirmed the fact that JFK never ordered the agents
to do anything. He was "very cooperative," they told me. Kenny O'Donnell did not "relay" any orders either, and in addition, Dave Powers, Marty Underwood, and a new contact, White House photographer Cecil Stoughton, confirmed to me what all the agents have told me to date!24
If you concentrate on the critical time frame in which these "presidential orders" allegedly occurred, November 18-21, 1963, you can see what peril they caused in Dallas: no protection--as "requested"--on JFK's side of the car (including no bubbletop, partial or full, nor the usual number of motorcycles riding next to JFK, something that occurred everywhere except Dallas.25 When I mentioned this to Agent Chuck Zboril (who was in Tampa with Agent Lawton on 11/18/63), he nervously said: "Where did you read that [JFK's alleged orders]? Do you want me commenting officially? I'm...speaking to someone I don't even know...you see...someone else testified about what happened in Tampa [Clint Hill]...(pause)... can you....send me what you have on this matter? After sending Mr. Zboril a video and a contents sheet, he declined to respond as promised.26 I have since learned that many former agents now have "caller I.D." on their phones, and were warned not to speak to me (on 6/7/96, I called the home of Winston Lawson. After asking for him, his wife called him by name and he then got on the phone and told me I had the wrong number!
It gets worse... Although Agent Roberts admitted recognizing "Oswald's" first shot as a rifle blast,27 as the Altgens photo confirms, he made a mysterious transmission via radio microphone that is not accounted for in his reports or in the official record.28 Instead of offering a shout of alarm, alert, or orders to his agents to do something that their own initiative lacked for some reason, ie., protective action, he did nothing to help the wounded President. Roberts' recall of Agent Ready is well documented,29 although we have...
Cover-up number four: The alleged speed of the limousine and the alleged
distance between the two cars (9-11 mph and five feet in reality, not the
20-25 mph and 20-25 feet stated in both SAs Roberts and Agent Ready's reports)
was used as the pretext for the recall of Ready.30 Taking everything cited to the point into account, there is still another factor that has escaped virtually everyone, and this "factor" came about quite accidentally. In Groden and Livingstone's High Treason, (pages 16 and 487 of the Berkley edition, respectively), it was noted that "Emory Roberts ordered the agents not to move", which I took to be an unintended overstatement at the time. So, I decided to read the passage to Sam Kinney who told me, "Exactly right, and I'm involved in that, too!" Besides the Love Field recall of Agent Rybka and Dealey Plaza recall of Ready, Roberts also immobilized the other agents at a critical juncture in the shooting, causing a non- JFK agent (Clint Hill) to react too late to do anything but cover the corpse of the President.31 I believe aides Ken O'Donnell and Dave Powers best summed up the situation when they wrote: "Roberts, one of President Kennedy's agents...had decided to switch to Johnson as soon as Kennedy was shot" (emphasis added).32 In addition, four other authors have noted Agent Roberts' "switch of allegiance," including Chief Curry!33
Once at Parkland Hospital, SA Roberts totally usurped his superior, number three man Roy Kellerman (on his first trip on his own for the first-time vacationing Gerry Behn, leaving Floyd Boring in charge of the Texas trip back in Washington, DC)34; Emory ordered Kellerman's agents around and confided in Rufus Youngblood, the soon-to-be SAIC, replacing the absent Behn (just as ASAIC Youngblood replaced SAIC Stu Knight in Dallas, and Henry Fowler re-placed the absent Treasury Secretary C. Douglas Dillon. For his part, Youngblood was to become the SAIC of the Vice-Presidential Detail on November 25,1963, a move planned before Dallas, but he rose much higher after Dallas). What William Manchester reports as having occurred at Parkland on page 170 of his book makes one both sick and repulsed: "Powers and O'Donnell bounded toward the Lincoln. Powers heard Emory Roberts shouting at him to stop but disregarded him; a second might save Kennedy's life [Dave, too bad you weren't on the running board of the follow-up car...!]...Emory Roberts brushed past O'Donnell, determined to make sure that Kennedy was dead. 'Get up,' he said to Jacqueline Kennedy. there was no reply. She was crooning faintly. From his side Roberts could see the President's face, so he lifted her elbow for a close look. He dropped it. To Kellerman, his superior, he said tersely, 'You stay with Kennedy. I'm going to Johnson.'"(Emphasis added)35
Need I say more? It is a shame that Emory Roberts cannot tell us more:
having never been questioned by the WC or the FBI, he died in the late
1960's, the same time an unnamed agent took his life with his own weapon
in Washington (he showed signs he was beginning to buckle)36
---was this Roberts? LBJ's chief private secretary was Mrs. Juanita Roberts37
-- was Emory her husband? I intend to follow-up on these leads (and more).
1. "47 Witnesses:Delay on Elm Street", (by the author) THE THIRD DECADE. January/March 1992. The Third Alternative. pp.22-33.
2. "Boring is Interesting" THE FOURTH DECADE, (by the author) May 1995;"More Boring Details", op.cit., November 1995.
3. Manchester, Death of a President, (Perennial Library edition), p.165
4.Author's interview with Howard Donahue, September 23, 1992.
5. From the videotape presentations "Kennedy's Ireland" and "JFK: A Celebration of his Life and Times" (the vehicle had the D.C. license plate number GG678)
6.Author's interviews with Sam Kinney during October 1992, March-April 1994.
7.Author's interview with Art Godfrey (who guarded JFK at the Hotel Texas in Fort Worth on the evening of November 21, 1963, and was waiting for the president in Austin, when the assassination occurred; for his part, Agent Stout also protected President Truman during the assassination attempt at Blair House in 1950 -- along with Floyd Boring). Their designation was ATSAIC -- Assistant to the Special Agent in Charge, a position right below the ASAIC's.
8. Author's interviews with Kinney and Agent Don Lawton.
9. Peter Dale Scott, Deep Politics and the Death of JFK (Berkeley, CA: University of California Press, 1993) see also Gaeton Fonzi, The Last Investigation (New York: Thunder's Mouth 1993)
10. Author's interviews with Robert Bouck, September 27, 1992; HSCAdocument 180- 10074-10394, an interview with agent Robert J. Jamison states that "the threat of November 18, 1963 was posed by a mobile, unidentified rifleman with a high- powered rifle fitted with a scope." In addition, HSCA document 180-10083-10419, an interview with Lubert F. deFrees, states that "a threat did surface in connection with the Miami trip", the stop right after the trip to Tampa.
11. see note 6.
12.Author's interviews with: Jerry Behn (9/27/92), Robert Bouck (9/27/92) and Bob Lilly (three)
13.18H 738. Agent John Ready may have also been mentally occupied: and unidentified "emergency leave" took Ready out of the White house detail from November 15-19, 1963, miss ing the entire Florida trip. Although he went back on duty November 21, he did not ride in the follow up car in San Antonio, Houston or Fort Worth on November 21, 1963.
14.18H665-702; Agents Hill, Ready, Landis and Bennett were the guilty parties in Roberts' shift.
17.WFAA-TV (ABC's Dallas affiliate) on 11/22/63; 25H 787
18. Advance man Jerry Bruno's notes from the JFK Library in Boston. Agent Henry Rybka was also on the follow-up car team in San Antonio on 11/21/63. In addition, the newly-released Cooper film depicts Rybka jumping out of the follow-up car in Fort Worth on 11/22/63 -- he was the first agent out of the car. In both cases, Rybka was not the driver.
19. 18H739, Lawson's final Survey Report. Incredibly, Emory Roberts made the same "mistake" twice: In the shift report of 11/22/63 (separate from the one depicted in 18H739), Roberts placed Rybka in the "center rear seat" between Hickey and Bennett! Oddly, this was not the first time Rybka was "mistakenly" replaced in the follow-up car during November 1963. The shift report of 11/9/63, written by agent David Grant, stated that Rybka drove the follow-up car in New York. The problem lies in the fact that Rybka was actually left behind in Washington, D.C. at the time, as the November 8 and 9 shift reports make abundantly clear -- bizarre indeed!
21. Cecil Stoughton photos from John F.Kennedy Library in Boston; interviews with agents Don Lawton and Chuck Zboril (November 1995)
24. Author's interviews 1992-1996, also The Third Alternative.
25. Hill: 18H 809 and 2H 136-137; Hill even reported the
11/18/63 episode on the 1995 Discovery cable channel program "Inside the
Secret Service". In fact, so did William Manchester back in 1967, allegedly
quoting Agent Floyd Boring as hearing President Kennedy tell him to "keep
those Ivy League charlatans off the back of the car" (Death of a President,
pp.37-38). However, Boring told me quite
emphatically on more than one occasion that he never spoke to Manchester, (as pp. 660-669 would indicate) and that this was totally false! Interestingly, Manchester did interview Emory Roberts twice (p.667).
26. Author's interviews with Chuck Zboril during November 1995.
27. 18H 734-735, Manchester 155.
28. 18H735-739 --the first transmission was made a full minute before the shooting, while the other was made after the shooting (see also The Third Alternative, pp. 27-28)
29. 18H 749-750; also 734.
30. see note 29.
31. Hill described the president's skull defect as located in the "right rear" with the actual missing piece of skull lying in the back of the car. This was confirmed to me by Agent Sam Kinney on two occasions.
32. O'Donnell, Ken, Dave Powers and Joe McCarthy. Johnny We Hardly Knew Ye (Boston: Little, Brown and Company, 1970.) p. 32
33. Manchester 165, Curry 36-37, Hepburn 229, Jerry ter Horst, The Flying White House, p.215
34. Manchester 232-233; interviews with Kinney and boring
in March and April 1994.. The Texas trip was apparently Kellerman's first
trip on his own in a supervisory capacity, for the November 8th and 9th
shift reports place Kellerman in New York (without Agents Behn or Boring).
This was not the more publicized trip which JFK made to the same city a
few days later (11/14 and 15 with Floyd
Boring). Evidently, the president made a low-key trip to New York before the NYC trip that was well-covered in the media. As for Floyd Boring, the agent defined his role during JFK's term to the Truman Library in 1988: "I was on all the advance work out of there. I was assigned all the advance work, sort of an administrator... I was second in charge [behind Special Agent in Charge Jerry Behn]."
35. Manchester 170.
36. Confessions of an ex-Secret Service Agent. pp.216-217.
37. Manchester 403; Jim Bishop The Day Kennedy was Shot
(Harper Perennial Edition, 1992) pp.430 and 528.