Saturday, 14 January 2012



It was on November 22 of 1963 that my association with the Kennedys began. The night before I picked my girlfriend, Marilyn Sitzman, up at the Carousel Club, and she insisted I take lunch hour off and see the Presidential parade with her and her daytime boss, Abraham Zapruder.
I liked Marilyn and admired her devotion and initiative. Two years before she badly needed work, and family connections directed her to a bustling dress factory owned by Zapruder. He hired her as a receptionist and paid her fairly. But two bad seasons in a row had cut into Zapruder’s profits and he told her he might have to let her go.

Marilyn was certain the factory would get back on the right track and liked Zapruder personally. So she agreed to take a cut in salary and sought a second job to make ends meet. Turning to her family again she was told to see Jack Ruby. He offered her work at his night club.

I was less than enthused about her night time place of work. It was a dingy hangout for creeps, in fact a strip joint. Ruby offered Marilyn a waitressing job, which she accepted. Later she found out the strippers made twice as much as she did and requested such a position at the club. Everyone opposed the idea; I thought it was demeaning, Ruby would not allow a Jewish girl to take off her clothes in public, and the strippers themselves objected—Marilyn was quite lovely, noticeably shapely, and they didn’t want the competition.

Whatever compunctions I may have had about Ruby were slowly dissipated when I saw his crowd included many of Dallas’s finest. Clearly Ruby had nothing to fear from the police, since they frequented his club on their off hours. And Ruby himself offered his hospitality and friendship in return for their welcome patronage. It was an amicable arrangement.

Ruby and I had only one thing in common, but it was strong enough to create a bond. Neither of us remember our real parents. I was raised by victims of the Nazi Holocaust who had lost their own children in Poland. Ruby was raised in foster homes when early in his life the city of Chicago declared his own parents unfit to raise children. He viewed us as fellow orphans though I resisted belonging to the fraternity. I never viewed the wonderful couple who raised me as anything but my true parents. I was proud of my lineage, he was obviously ashamed of his.

Marilyn was an insistent girl, and she was positive the Presidential parade would be memorable. So certain was she that she purchased Abe Zapruder a Bell and Howell 8mm camera to record the event. Abe had never used a movie camera before and was certain he had no talent for filmmaking. But why look a gift horse in the mouth? He’d try his hand at it if his receptionist insisted. Maybe, she told him, he’d get some good shots and make some money selling them later on. Ridiculous, he thought.
I was also a reluctant parade witness. My job at the Teamsters local consumed a great deal of time, and I usually ate at the office. Previously I organized public relations for the Teamsters, but a few months earlier I was given the added task of editing and pretty well writing the entire local newsletter. I was good at the task and was receiving citations from within the Union. I felt driven to give my all to my work after I heard rumors that I was being considered for the position of national PR director of the Teamsters. I had even received a phone call from the big Boss, Mr. Hoffa, congratulating me on my good work.
At noon I met Marilyn and Abe beside a bridge overlooking Dealey Plaza. I was in a sour mood. Why did Marilyn pick such an out-of-the-way post to view the parade? She could have found something a bit closer to both our places of employment. But she prepared a box lunch and had a thermos full of lemonade. That was welcome on such a hot, muggy day.
The conversation was dull. Abe asked what temple I’d chosen for the upcoming high holidays, and Marilyn fidgeted nervously and seemed aloof from the discussion. At twelve ten I saw an acquaintance walking down the street below. He was Police Officer Harry Olsen who came to the Carousel Club at closing time to pick up his girlfriend, a talented exotic dancer named Kay Coleman.
“Hey,” I said to Marilyn. “There’s Kay’s boyfriend, Harry.”
Marilyn looked down, saw him and said, “He’s supposed to be there. He’s on duty.”
“I’m going to go down for a second and say hello.”
“Don’t bother him, Norm. He’s on duty.”
“Oh, it’s just for a second. I’ll be right back.”
I started to leave and Marilyn grabbed my sleeve and pulled me back.
“Norman, please. Don’t go down there. Please.”
I yanked my sleeve hard and her grip loosened. She then grabbed it again.
“What’s the matter the matter with you, Marilyn? I’m sure he won’t mind, and if he sees us he’ll be a little hurt I didn’t say hello.”
“You barely know him. He doesn’t want to see you.”
“Come on. Half the time I pick you up at club, he’s there waiting for Kay. We’ve had drinks a dozen times together already. I like him, and I’m going to say hello.”
“Then I’m coming, too.”
“Look,” said Zapruder. “You dragged me here so the least you can do is keep me company. I don’t know why the place is so empty now but if a crowd comes we’ll lose each other.”
I walked away unimpeded. On the way to meet Harry I passed the Texas School Book Depository. I had never understood its purpose. Were there really so many spare books in Texas that a ten-story warehouse was needed to store them? I saw a hawk-faced young man walk towards a side entrance holding a long cardboard box. That aroused my suspicions enough to yell to him, “Hey, what you got there?”
“Curtain rods,” he yelled back.
I thought to myself, why would someone bring curtain rods into a warehouse? I caught up to Harry in an uncertain mood.
“Hey, Norm,” he said, “How ya doin’, buddy?”
“Fine. Listen, Harry…”
“Whadya think of this little parade, huh? Why d’ya think Kennedy came?”
“You know, the bickering between Connally and Yarborough, show of unity and all that. Listen, Harry, I have to change the subject. I just saw a guy walk into the book depository with a long box. It could have been a rifle. Can you check it out?”
“Just your imagination, buddy.”
“All the same, better safe than sorry.”
Harry seemed agitated and said, “I’ll let you talk to my superior here.”
As he walked away I saw a man standing curbside across the street that also aroused my attention. He was wearing a raincoat and had opened an umbrella, then closed it again. It was 83 degrees in the shade, and though it rained in the morning, there was no threat of it now. Was he hiding something under the raincoat?
I thought to myself, what is going on? I’m not a suspicious person by nature. Why am I seeing subterfuge wherever I look? The confusion became unbearable when I looked in the direction of a rolling piece of grassy tract, which later became known as the grassy knoll.
If I may diverge for a moment, I never understood how the term knoll became accepted to describe the site. Very few people use the word knoll in any context anymore and fewer even know what it means. Yet, through I testified to the area being a patch of grass, the term grassy knoll was what stuck.
At the back of the knoll a white Rambler was parked. One man was seated in the driver’s seat and started up the engine. The other was leaning against the car body, caressing a black metal pipe.
Observation and memory are now unfathomable to me. Though I could be so perceptive as to think that looks like a rifle silencer, although I had never actually seen one other than on television, I had not noticed that the Rambler was a station wagon. Yet that is what the others, who were drawn to the scene for whatever reasons, swore they saw.
Harry came back with two policemen who I later learned were Sergeant Gerald Hill and Officer Paul Bentley. Hill said to me, “You got a problem, buddy?”
“Look, officer,” I replied, “I’m not a nut or some kind of loony tune. But I swear something’s funny around here.”
“Like what?”
“Like a guy wearing a full-length raincoat in 80 degree weather.” I pointed to the man and continued, “Like a guy carrying a long box into a perfect ambush site and claiming he was carrying curtain rods. And like those two over there beside the Rambler. What’s that he’s got in his hands?”
“Looks like an ordinary pipe,” said Bentley.
“Yup. That’s what it looks like to me,” agreed Hill.
“You mean, neither of you are even going to go see what it is?”
Hill lifted his walkie-talkie and spoke into it.
“Control. Yeah, Hill here. Get Tippet away from that theatre and have him come to the Plaza plain clothed. Tell him to make it pronto. We got a little trouble here.”
As I backed away I said, “Look, officers, I’m no troublemaker. I was just trying to be a good citizen. I guess I was wrong about everything.”
When I reached the next street corner I ran for the nearest phone. I saw no public phone anywhere so I ran into a novelties store. On the shelves were displayed such ingenious items as lava lamps, crystal radios and singing yo-yos. I thought to myself, when this is over I must come here just to browse leisurely.
I ran up to the main counter and said to the clerk (or owner, perhaps), “Please let me use your phone. Someone is trying to kill the President.”
“Ah, come on,” he replied, “That gag went out with the whoopee cushion.”
“I’m not kidding. There’s four of them. Two of them, at least, have rifles.”
“You think I was born yesterday? I’ve been in the business a long time. I single-handedly brought the hula hoop to Dallas.”
Time was running too short. I looked for some sort of weapon to force him to give me the phone. The first thing that caught my eye was a slinky. No threat there. Then a Davey Crocket fur hat. Of no use. Maybe the Crocket rifle. Was I losing my judgment? Finally I did something new to me. I punched him as hard as I could in the jaw. As he lay stunned on the floor I said, “If you try and get up you get it again. I’m sorry but national security is at stake now.”
I must digress at this point. Because of my PR position with the Teamsters, I was acquainted with a few top-ranking law enforcement officials. Attorney General Robert Kennedy had, I believed then, falsely accused my personal president, Mr. Hoffa, of misusing union funds and consorting with elements of organized crime. As a result, I was spending more time clearing his and our good name in the press than attending to the urgent business of an all-inclusive membership drive. The police and FBI had ransacked our offices on three separate occasions, and I had to deal with them personally and the press after. Usually I would charge the police with illegal entry and harassment.
I called Jesse Curry, Chief of Police.
“Mr. Curry, it’s Norman Mandel.”
“What do you want? We haven’t raided you in weeks and don’t plan to for another month.”
“I’m at Dealey Plaza. They’re going to kill the President when he passes here.” There was a long pause. “Do you hear me? Kill the President.”
“I hear you, Mandel, and this time you’re going too far.”
“I’m not going anywhere. You have to stop the motorcade. Reroute it. Do anything, just don’t let it pass Dealey Plaza. Then get some men into the book depository and to the little park on Elm Street. He’ll be here in less than ten minutes.”
“And when he gets there, wave to him for me.”
Curry banged down the phone.
I immediately phoned the FBI number of Inspector James Hosty.
“Mr. Hosty, it’s Norman Mandel. I’m at Dealey Plaza, and this is no joke. I saw assassins ready to shoot the President.”
“Mandel, this is the most perverse PR stunt you’ve ever pulled.”
“Please, don’t argue. Gamble, and if I’m wrong, expose me in the press. I don’t care what you do, just get here with some armed men.”
“Why didn’t you call the police? There are hundreds of them along the parade route.”
“They don’t believe me.”
“Okay. I know a cop who might. Stand in front of the book depository and wait for Lieutenant Jack Revill.”
“How long will he take to get there?”
“Fifteen minutes if you hang up now.”
I thought, there isn’t enough time. I looked at the owner’s Mickey Mouse watch. Only seven minutes to go. I ran out of the shop and back to the Plaza. Crossing the street against the light, I was almost run over by a souped-up Edsel. I ran to the raincoated man and said, “The whole thing’s off. The FBI is onto us.”
“I thought they were in on it,” he said.
“Not everyone. Now run to the book depository and call them off. I’ll take care of the Rambler.”
Slowly and confidently, he lowered his umbrella and sauntered to the depository. I went up to the crew cut man leaning on the Rambler and told him the plan was off.
“Who are you?” he asked menacingly.
“Man…Mann of the FBI. The Bureau found out. We’ll get him next time. If we try this time all the work has been for nothing.”
The President’s limousine approached. The crew cut was handed a rifle by his partner in the driver’s seat and placed the silencer on it. He lifted the rifle butt against his shoulder and took aim.
“I don’t care,” he said. “I want him, and I’ve got him in my sights.”
I yanked the barrel downward as he shot. Mrs. Connally grimaced, then screamed as she was hit.
He pushed me hard to the ground and applied what I assume was some sort of karate chop. Helplessly I watched him aim, and then I heard a shot. He crumpled to the ground as Hosty and Revill arrived.
“Cutting it pretty close, aren’t you?” I mumbled to Hosty.
“Shut up. Where are the others?”
“Book depository.”
They ran towards the building and I forced myself to follow them. At the cafeteria drinking a coke was the man I saw with the curtain rods. “That’s him,” I told Revill.
“Oh yeah, well how was he going to kill the President, splatter him with soda?”
“I don’t know. Just believe me. If it wasn’t for him I wouldn’t have found out about the others.”
Revill handcuffed him, and we heard shots from somewhere in the building. Soon after we learned that Hosty was shot dead with an obsolete Italian combat rifle in a firefight that resulted in the death of two and the arrest of one attempted assassin.

ECC12:12 And further, by these, my son, be admonished: of making many books there is no end; and much study is a weariness of the flesh.13 Let us hear the conclusion of the whole matter: Fear God, and keep his commandments: for this is the whole duty of man.
14 For God shall bring every work into judgment, with every secret thing, whether it be good, or whether it be evil.

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