Sunday, January 8, 2017

The Hoaxster and the Conspiracy Theorists

The story of Stephen Harris Landesberg is one of the strangest in all of JFK assassination literature. Through the years, conspiracy theorists have pointed to Landesberg as an example of Lee Harvey Oswald's association with someone on the political right. But in a statement to the FBI, Landesberg recanted his allegations about Stephen L'Eandes, Earl Perry and Oswald (inferentially) and admitted that he was L'Eandes and had carried out political activities using that alias.
This article will examine Landesberg's life and history of mental problems in detail. It will also study the work and methodology of a group of researchers led by John Armstrong as it relates to the Landesberg case. Finally, I will look at Armstrong's treatment of Landesberg in his 2003 book Harvey and Lee.
First, a review of the Landesberg case is necessary.
James F. Rizzuto
On November 22, 1963, radio personality Barry Gray of WMCA in New York received a call from a man who identified himself as James F. Rizzuto and stated that he had information about Lee Harvey Oswald, the alleged assassin of the President. Rizzuto said that he was acquainted with a man named Stephen L'Eandes[1] who was a known associate of Oswald. Gray knew L'Eandes and had interviewed him on his show about two years before, and arrangements were quickly made with agents of the New York office of the FBI to interview Rizzuto and record his story.[2]
Rizzuto, who agents noted was visibly nervous during the interview, said that he had met L'Eandes and Oswald while serving in the Marine Corps at Camp Le Jejune, North Carolina in the summer of 1956. In 1960 after leaving the service, Rizzuto received cards from places such as Moscow, Leningrad and Stockholm which were from L'Eandes, who reported that Oswald and a fellow marine named Earl Perry were traveling with him. Rizzuto also thought that he had heard Oswald was considering becoming a Russian but L'Eandes said only that he liked to travel and wanted to see Europe.[3]
Rizzuto added that he next saw L'Eandes at a hotel in Florida in 1961 while the latter was looking for work in the area. L'Eandes, who was originally from Wiggins, Mississippi, said that by then Oswald had gone back to Texas. Rizzuto and L'Eandes next met in New York in October, 1961 at a Mark Lane Rally after L'Eandes had appeared on the Barry Gray radio program. At the rally, a girl who was working with L'Eandes continually disrupted the meeting and finally the police were called. Rizzuto said the heckling was done for the benefit of the "States Rights Party".[4]
In early 1962, according to Rizzuto, L'Eandes attended a rally of the American Jewish Congress and caused such a disturbance that someone struck him. Oswald was also at this rally and photographed the proceedings. Although he was not at this meeting, Rizzuto said that he had heard that Earl Perry may also have been present. At about this same time, L'Eandes was staying at the Roosevelt Hotel in New York with a man named Regan, who Rizzuto described as about 6' 4" tall and weighing around 250 pounds. Regan, who was from Memphis and worked for an ultra-right-wing organization, was in fact paying L'Eandes to create disturbances at the rallies that he attended, according to Rizzuto.[5]
In the Spring of 1963, Rizzuto heard that L'Eandes had said that an NAACP leader named Aaron Henry was going to be shot in Mississippi. When Medgar Evers was shot instead, L'Eandes was upset because he feared a loss of credibility over his failed prediction. Within the last month, Rizzuto had heard L'Eandes say that they were getting ready to lynch a white priest who was teaching black students in Selma, Alabama. L'Eandes added the chilling prophecy that this might, "be a big Christmas party."[6]
Rizzuto next saw L'Eandes on November 19 at the 9th Circle Bar in New York, at which time he mentioned that Oswald and Perry were back in Texas and Perry was working for an organization that dealt in anti-Mexican propaganda. He also said that Perry, who was from El Paso, Texas, was well known as an individual who worked for radical groups. Finally, he saw L'Eandes again the next day at a bar near Columbia University where he also met a girl named Linda Halpern who was a student at City College of New York. Halpern said that L'Eandes wanted to take her to a theatre matinee, which was out of the norm because he usually didn't have that kind of money.[7] Rizzuto described L'Eandes as 5' 10" in height, with a muscular build and weighing about 165 pounds. He also had blue eyes, black hair, a handlebar mustache and occasionally wore eyeglasses. Rizzuto then provided the names of nine other people who might have additional information on L'Eandes or know where he was.[8]
It was quite a story, and one that the FBI would certainly want to verify. Even at this early stage of the investigation, it was known that Oswald had been to the Soviet Union, that he had been a political agitator of sorts and that he had served in the US Marine Corps.[9] Rizzuto's story could prove to be an important conformation of parts of Oswald's developing biography.
But problems quickly arose when after extensive investigation, the Bureau was unable to verify any of the detailed information Rizzuto had provided, including the names of L'Eandes' alleged associates. The FBI also had to be concerned by Rizzuto's nervous manner and lack of any known address, as well as the fact that he had asked the agents not to contact him again if possible.[10] Early in the investigation, the Bureau contacted Ford O'Neal of the Mississippi Highway Patrol and a lifelong resident of the Wiggins, Mississippi area to verify L'Eandes' residence there. O'Neal related that neither he nor several other longtime residents he had spoken to had ever heard of L'Eandes.[11]
As the investigation continued, the FBI learned through an informant that a man named David Heath had photographed a meeting at which L'Eandes had reportedly caused a disturbance. FBI Agent Joseph Chapman contacted Heath who verified that he had undeveloped color photographs of the meeting. One of the photos showed a bearded man wearing a blue coat and a red scarf. This photo was shown to several of the persons previously named by Rizzuto as possibly having knowledge of L'Eandes. One of those people, Michael Dunn,[12] identified the man in the photo as Stephen Yves L'Eandes, who was his former roommate at West 49th Street from November 29, 1961 through February 8, 1962.[13]
The photograph was then shown to Bureau Agents McCoy and Moore, who had conducted the original interview with Rizzuto, and they identified the man in the photo as the man they had interviewed - James F. Rizzuto.[14] The FBI now knew that the man they interviewed was known to another person as Stephen L'Eandes and that they were apparently victims of an elaborate hoax.[15] On December 5, 1963, Agents finally located "Rizzuto" in an apartment at 66 West 10th Street, where the nameplate on the door read "Stephen H. Landes". "Rizzuto" readily admitted that his real name was Stephen Harris Landesberg and that he had appeared at his previous FBI interview under the name James Rizzuto. He also admitted that he had never met L'Eandes or Earl Perry[16] in the summer of 1956 at Camp Le Jejune nor had he received any cards from them. Perhaps most importantly, Landesberg also confirmed that the actions that he had attributed to L'Eandes were in fact his own actions using the name Stephen Yves L'Eandes.[17]
At one point in the interview, in an obvious attempt to minimize the consequences of his actions, Landesberg "began to state that the information he had furnished to the Federal Bureau of Investigation on November 22, 1963, was furnished to him by someone else" and then became incoherent and began to stutter. After obtaining additional background information on Landesberg the interview was concluded. A search of records at the Veterans Administration Building in New York was subsequently made and details of Landesberg's Marine Corps service were verified. It was determined that shortly after arriving at Parris Island in January, 1961, Landesberg was transferred to the psychiatric unit because of "bizarre and unusual behavior in recruit training". The diagnosis was a schizophrenic reaction for which he later received an honorable discharge. On December 5, 1963, Landesberg was charged with providing false information to the FBI. He was arraigned before US District Court Judge John Cannella and held in lieu of $10,000 bond. He was also committed to Bellevue Psychiatric Hospital for observation and to determine his mental competency and ability to understand the charges against him.[18] A study of Landesberg's life through the time of his false FBI statement reveals a troubled young man in need of help rather that a witness with knowledge of Oswald's "right wing activities" in New York.
Landesberg's Early Life
Landesberg was born September 24, 1940 in Beth Israel Hospital in New York.[19] He was an only child and rarely ill as a youngster except for typical childhood illnesses and outgrew a tendency toward fussy eating. By the age of 20 months he was talking well but developed, in his mother Edna Landesberg's words, "a little stutter" which he had until age thirteen. However, that stutter turned into what the Marine Corps termed "a severe stammering defect" that was with him through at least 1963. He attended speech therapy from about the ages of eight through eleven, but did not like these sessions and seemed to improve when the therapy was discontinued according to his mother.[20]
Landesberg the Student

In spite of his speech problem, Landesberg never hesitated to speak in class, although after he became older he was self-conscious about the problem when applying for jobs. He was a good student and by the sixth grade was placed in a special progress school, advancing to the equivalent of one grade ahead of his age level. In high school, he was in the top ten percent of his class and was described as "a serious conforming child". His mother said that he tended to be a loner and in later years referred to himself as "the lone wolf." Landesberg himself admitted a difficulty in relating to people and although he participated in academic specific extra-curricular activities, he did not take part in regular school activities. He considered himself a "bookworm" and grew to dislike this self-image.
After graduating from high school in June, 1957, Landesberg enrolled at Rutgers University in New Brunswick, New Jersey[21] where he majored in Philosophy. This also marked the beginning of his use of the name "Stephen H. Landes" which he would also use later to enter the Marine Corps. At first he wanted to become a college professor, but gradually became more and more uncertain about his future. He was asked to join a fraternity but didn't do so until Jews were accepted, a development that he worked to bring about. His mother said that he was always fighting for causes and saw himself as an idealist and that over the past two years he had become very critical of his parent's way of life. She also noted that he was intolerant of others beliefs and he thought that he was right and everyone else was wrong.
He surprised his parents in February, 1960 by dropping out of Rutgers during his junior year, citing a general dissatisfaction with his courses and an uncertainty about his future. Edna Landesberg suggested at that time that he see a psychiatrist, but Landesberg was assured by the college dean that he did not believe the problem to be of a psychiatric nature and that it might be a good idea to take a break from class until he had his problems sorted out.
Landesberg and a roommate left school and hitchhiked to Florida where they parted ways. Landesberg then began working his way from one place to another by taking odd jobs until he had enough money to go to the next destination. He had used this method of travel previously to take vacations even though his parents had asked him not to do so and he had sufficient funds to travel normally. During his travels he kept in contact with his parents, phoning about once a week and occasionally dropping them a card. He seemed in good spirits during these calls and related stories of sleeping in cars and abandoned mines and working jobs such as door to door salesman and migrant worker.
While in Los Angeles, Landesberg lost his money and identification and turned to a community agency for help. When the agency asked for information about his family, he was very reluctant to cooperate and instead disappeared before any arrangements to help him could be made. After changing his mind about a trip to Hong Kong, Landesberg worked his way east, returning home on July 13, 1960 - a little over five months after his departure. He had lost 25 pounds but was otherwise in good health, although he was still unsure about what to do with himself. Gradually, he again became dissatisfied with his life and began to criticize those around him. After seeing two psychiatrists and rejecting their advice to continue psychotherapy, Landesberg enlisted in the US Marine Corps on November 11, 1960 and was assigned serial number 1893702. Seen with the benefit of hindsight, this decision was to be one of the worst of his life.
US Marine Corps and Mental Breakdown
Landesberg arrived at Parris Island Marine Base on January 24, 1961 and just six days later was taken to the Provost Marshal's office after exhibiting "bizarre and unusual behavior" and refusing to obey any rules saying he "knew what was best." During his interview with the Provost Marshall he described a history of "aberrant sexual behavior" and his attitude was so "unusual" that he was remanded to the psychiatric unit before giving his official statement.
During his psychiatric interview, Landesberg "rambled from topic to topic" and "seemed suspicious, vaguely paranoid and somewhat grandiose." He told the interviewer, that he had on occasion "attempted to see the President" and had been a voluminous writer to newspapers whenever he felt his rights were infringed upon. The interviewer further described Landesberg's behavior as "at times quite inappropriate" and noted that he "demonstrated marked difficulty sticking to one topic." Although he was "well oriented" and his memory of recent and past events was accurate the interviewer noted that he had "little insight into his own condition" and his judgment was "markedly impaired."
While under observation at the psychiatric ward Landesberg behaved in a "belligerent demanding manner" and after yelling at staff was sedated with thorazine and placed in a quiet room. He did not react favorably to this change of circumstances and became "more loosened in his associations and far more suspicious." He then began to threaten the examining physician and stated that he would "demand to see the Commandant of the Marine Corps because his rights had been violated." The admission diagnosis was confirmed as "Schizophrenic Reaction N.E.C # 3007, manifested by loosened associations, tangential and concrete thought processes, paranoid ideation, grandiose ideation and a long history of nomadic wandering and poor interpersonal relationships."
On February 1, 1961, Landesberg was transferred to the Naval Hospital at Charleston, South Carolina. Though he was noted to be "alert, well oriented and highly intelligent", his speech was "under great pressure" and he "frequently lost his train of thought." He was described as "courteous and frank" but was still "inappropriate" and "suspicious." It was here that he made the somewhat startling statement that "he knew he could kill a person if he knew them well enough to hate them, but he had joined the Marines to find out if he could kill people he didn't know."[22] While at the South Carolina facility, he was kept in a locked ward where he socialized with patients and staff but remained anxious and somewhat hyperactive. The diagnosis of Schizophrenic Reaction was "maintained" and Landesberg was again transferred, this time to the Naval Hospital at Philadelphia where he arrived on February 11, 1961.
Upon arrival at Philadelphia, Landesberg's condition was predictably no better. The report states, "Psychiatric examination initially revealed a moderately agitated, emotionally labile hypersensitive and frightened youth whose attitude and verbalization were very defensive and guarded. He was suspicious of the physician's motivations and extremely apprehensive." As the interview progressed he became "tearful and assumed an entirely passive - dependent attitude toward the examiner." When asked if he could explain the reason for his hospitalization, Landesberg said, "Well I beat them fair and square down there. (Parris Island) That's how it happened."
Landesberg went on to explain that he believed that his hospitalization was all a misunderstanding. He said that he had been asked to sign a statement which stated that he had read and understood the military code of justice. He refused saying that he didn't understand parts of it, which made him apprehensive that someone would "hold something against him unjustly." He was then taken to the Provost Marshal's Office and asked many questions about his past sexual behavior and when he openly described some unusual sexual practices with women "their first idea was to court-martial me on this female homosexuality charge, and they couldn't do it and that's why I'm here."
As Landesberg's treatment at Philadelphia continued, the report states that tests on March 3, 1961 "revealed considerable evidence of psychosis." The Psychologist stated, "It is felt that the patient is a psychotic of the schize-affective type." However, after about a month of treatment and medications (up to 800 milligrams of Thorazine daily) in a closed ward, Landesberg finally began to show improvement. The report states "During the early part of April, the medications were gradually reduced and finally discontinued." The report continues, "(by mid-April) he was subsequently transferred to an open ward where he made a very successful adjustment, worked well on his detail and handled liberty privileges without incident. The patient expressed the desire to return to college and continue his education."
Landesberg had been to hell and back, but was now seemingly on his way to recovery.[23] However, his diagnosis was "retained as Schizophrenic Reaction N.E.C # 3007, chronic, moderate, in remission." It was recommended that Landesberg appear before a Physical Evaluation Board and he did so on May 26, 1961. The findings of the board were as follows:
· Unfit to perform the duties of his rank because of physical disability Schizophrenic Reaction N.E.C # 3007.
· That such disability was not incurred while entitled to receive basic pay.
· That such disability is not due to intentional misconduct or willful neglect and was not incurred during a period of unauthorized absence.
On June 27, 1961, Landesberg was discharged from the US Marine Corps with severance pay. He was no doubt advised to continue psychiatric monitoring to avoid a relapse. Unfortunately, Landesberg was to later suffer just such a relapse and gain a sort of infamy in JFK assassination lore because of it.
Stephen Yves L'Eandes
After his discharge from the service, Landesberg was back in New York and by July, 1961, was living in an apartment on East 84th Street. In October, he was examined at the New York Veterans Administration. It is unclear if this examination was a routine part of a recommended treatment program, but his condition had apparently worsened since the previous spring. The diagnosis was now "schizophrenic reaction, paranoid type, chronic",[24] with the qualifying words "moderate, in remission" omitted. As evidenced by his subsequent behavior, it is likely that Landesberg suffered another schizophrenic break around this time.
On November 17, 1961, the first documented appearance of Landesberg using the name "Stephen Yves L'Eandes" occurred when Landesberg appeared on the Barry Gray radio program from WMCA in New York. The subject was a panel discussion of "CORE Activities in the South".[25] Landesberg's L'Eandes character was apparently fully formed by the time of his radio debut, complete with a southern accent. The Village Voice would later describe him as, "a handsome Mississippi Creole, dark, with a trim mustache."[26] On November 29, using the L'Eandes alias, he moved to an apartment on East 49th Street with Michael Dunn, and was now living as a right wing extremist from Wiggins, Mississippi who would disrupt political rallies and meetings through the Spring of 1962.[27]
Landesberg's next appearance as L'Eandes happened on December 15 at a rally of 400 people at P.S 41 in Greenwich Village. The rally was organized by students to encourage State Assemblyman Mark Lane to run for Congress. Landesberg, who wore a scarf and red sweater, applauded loudly whenever a southern state was mentioned and announced in a "deep drawl" that he was "from the south." The heckling increased in intensity when Tom Hayden rose to recount his experiences during the recent protests in Albany, Georgia. Landesberg constantly interrupted Hayden declaring, "I want to get the record straight." Several times during the rally he approached the stage to challenge speakers about the south, calling their statements, "lies." Shortly before Lane appeared to thank the audience, two police officers arrived and when Landesberg continued his heckling one took a seat next to him. This quieted his antics and the rally continued without incident until a girl who had supported him nearly came to blows with another audience member as the crowd left. "L'Eandes" told the Village Voice that he was, "a former US Marine who was trying to be heard on vital American subjects."[28]
Landesberg's next adventure as his alter ego was on January 10, 1962 at a meeting at Chelsea Hall in Greenwich Village. The meeting was organized by the American Jewish Congress to protest a recent attack on Rabbi Kurt Flascher in a Village restaurant. Landesberg tried to start an argument with other audience members before the meeting, but was told to "shut up." After the meeting began, he drew the wrath of speakers by laughing loudly and then began taking notes. An audience member who was able to read the notes became so enraged that he attacked Landesberg, inflicting at least some damage. The next day, "L'Eandes" explained his behavior to Village Voice reporters by saying that he thought the meeting was, "an open forum."[29] Also in January, Landesberg (as L'Eandes) appeared at the Voice offices to place an ad commemorating Robert E. Lee's birthday. He gave reporter J.R. Goddard a card that read, "Stephen L'Eandes Your Man on Campus." The card included a Grand Central Station PO Box. He also spoke at that time of a right wing group called the "Magnolia Rifles."[30]
On March 7, 1962, Landesberg made his next appearance as L'Eandes at the "Stand Up for Democracy" rally at the St. Nichols Arena in New York featuring Senator Hubert Humphrey and Lane. This time there were a number of other hecklers and Landesberg may have been disappointed at having to share the spotlight. At one point after Humphrey responded to a female heckler's interruption, he shouted, "Why don't you let her speak?" The Village Voice reported that "L'Eandes", who told reporters to "Call me Steve", was unrecognized by the crowd despite the "interruption of two previous gatherings." He later was heard to ponder, "Why do Jews in New York call themselves a minority?"[31]
Two final incidents marked Landesberg's political activities posing as L'Eandes.[32] In the Spring of 1962, he appeared at the Judson Memorial Church's "Hall of Issues" meeting, apparently without incident. At around the same time, he attended a meeting of the NAACP in New York where his remarks again caused a fight.[33] For reasons unknown, he then dropped out of sight until the night of the assassination. A possibility is that his condition improved and the psychological pressures that caused him to act out eased, only to be rekindled by the trauma of JFK's murder. There is some evidence for this as his mother stated that he "appeared to have been very emotionally effected by the assassination of the President."[34]
The Fourth Decade Researchers
In the mid to late 1990's an informal group of researchers, fueled by the work of John Armstrong, made several appearances in the assassination journal The Fourth Decade weighing in on the Landesberg case. The 1995 publication of Stan Weeber's article, "Stephen H. Landesberg and the Greenwich Village Hoax" marked the initial offering by a member of the Armstrong group. The researchers who either published articles, conducted research or reviewed their peers work were; Stan Weeber, Sheldon Inkol, Jack White, Carlton Sterling, Carol Hewitt, Jerry Rose and John Arneson. Over the years, the group came up with several highly speculative theories. A few examples:
The FBI reported that Landesberg recanted his story and the theorists seem to have accepted that. However, because the report did not specifically mention Landesberg recanting the parts about Oswald, the group believed he had somehow told the truth about the alleged assassin.[35]
Even though Landesberg clearly recanted his story about Earl Perry, the group continued to pursue this angle. One reason for this persistence was an FBI report with a seemingly startling claim. The FBI had tried to track down Earl Perry before the extent of the Landesberg hoax became known. They found an Earl Shelden Perry and sought to get information from his military file but were told a clearance from the Pentagon was needed first. The theorists believed they had hit pay dirt and this indicated that Perry was an intelligence officer who Landesberg could tie to Oswald. But apparently, the not so exciting truth was that this Earl Perry had assaulted a federal officer and therefore his file was withheld, probably for legal reasons.[36]
One of the most speculative theories put forth by the group was that Landesberg (using his Landes alias) loaned "his" social security number to a German-American named Joseph Wiersch. According again to Weeber, "this was in the tradition of American neo-Nazis rendering assistance to Werhmacht (the armed forces of Germany during World War II) veterans." Of course, this would hinge on the fact that Landesberg was a neo-Nazis and was not just play acting due to his condition and that Wiersch was a member of the Werhmacht and Weeber provides absolutely no evidence for either assertion.[37]
The theory was based on an "analysis" by Armstrong's attorney and research group member Carol Hewitt that purports to show Landesberg "received" the number in question between the years 1955-57. It is unclear how Hewitt conducted her analysis, but it is clear that the number in question belonged to Wiersch and not Landesberg since Wiersch died in 1985 and the number is listed in the Social Security Death Index as his.[38] So even if Hewitt is correct and Landesberg used the number at some time, it was likely just another manifestation of his mental illness rather than evidence of a plot.
But the most bizarre theory involved the well-known actor Steve Landesberg of "Barney Miller" fame. It all began on an unknown date, when Armstrong was talking to former Dallas reporter Earl Golz. After Armstrong mentioned Stephen Landesberg, Gloz related a story about seeing the actor Landesberg on a TV interview in which he stated, "I'm sorry I ever got mixed up with Oswald" or words to that effect.[39]
Landesberg the Actor

That was all Armstrong needed to hear. In his mind, this was evidence that the actor Steve Landesberg was somehow involved in the L'Eandes/Oswald incidents, despite the fact that Stephen H. Landesberg admitted to the FBI that he was L'Eandes and that he had committed the acts attributed to L'Eandes. Armstrong did the same thing with Golz's statement that he did with Mrs. Jack Tippit, Palmer McBride, and Aline Mosby. He found a small inconsistency or oddity and created an entire theory out of it.
Armstrong explained his new thesis as follows:
I have been working on 1961/62 period (LHO sightings) and believe I have the Stephen Landesberg thing figured out. It is very similar to Lee Harvey/Harvey Lee; except with different names. Both men are named Stephen Landesberg, both were born in New York City (Queens, Bronx), same height, etc. In 1961/62 one (Stephen Harris Landesberg) used the name Stephen Landes. The other (Stephen Richard Landesberg-now an actor) used the name Stephen L'Eandes (almost the same pronunciation-different spelling).[40]

What was the evidence for this startling theory?
Stephen Richard Landesberg, the actor, was born on November 23, 1936, in the Bronx (birth certificate #13894). His California driver’s license (as of 1994, was N 2344676) listed his birthday as 11/23/36. His father was a grocer-the owner of Abe's Dairy at 2842 Briggs Avenue in the Bronx. There is no record of where Stephen Richard Landesberg graduated from high school, if he served in the military, or if he attended college. In fact, there is no biographical record to establish where he was or what he was doing from 1954 (high school graduation) until 1969 (working at The Improvisation in New York City).
Not a single biography of Landesberg, and I have reviewed many, lists his year of birth correctly. In nearly all cases his birth year is missing and in some cases his birthday is listed as Nov 3 instead of Nov 23. One biography lists his year of birth as 1945, another as 1944, another as 1940 and so on. One biography says "Landesberg grew up in the Bronx where he was born some thirty or so years ago, and after a period of odd jobs following his graduation from high school, entered show business via an open audition for the Tonight Show." This and other biographies avoid any reference to fifteen years of Landesberg's life-from 1954-1969.

Unfortunately for Armstrong, there is a simple explanation for the varying years of birth attributed to Landesberg. In a 1979 Washington Post article in which he refused to give his age, Landesberg was quoted as saying:
Let's just say I started late. It hurts you with casting directors.… If you tell them your age - let's say you're middle-aged - and they've never heard of you, they figure you're no good, or else they would've heard of you already. I tell my (actor) friends not to tell their ages.[41]

So Landesberg simply lied about his age to make himself younger and increase his chances for employment and was certainly not the first actor to do so. As far as the lack of biographical data from his earlier life, it was probably a simple case of not wanting to disclose details that didn't jibe with his later success. But in fact, Landesberg did give a clue about what he was up to in the days before his career took off:
Before that (1969) I worked in a lot of hotels, as an assistant credit manager. That's part clerk, cop and manager. To check out scam artists and bad credit cards, that was my early police training to train for playing a fictional cop.[42]

Back to Armstrong's theory where he provides more details on the origin of his suspicions:
I learned that Landesberg had become famous for his impersonations and especially his southern accent-which he used very effectively in TV commercials aired in Texas in the 1990's. I wondered if he could have used the same southern accent in his radio interviews on the Barry Gray radio program in New York in 1961-62. Whoever Barry Gray interviewed had a convincing southern accent. But this person was a fake-he was not from Wiggins, Mississippi, was not a member of the 'Magnolia Rifles,' was not Stephen Yves L'Eandes, and was probably not a segregationist. Yves L'Eandes was likely a professional aggitator [sic]-an actor playing a part.[43]

The research by Armstrong and his followers seems to have reached its zenith with a letter writing campaign to the actor himself circa 1993-94. Armstrong's own letter to Landesberg lays out his general theory about "Harvey & Lee" and specifically about Stephen H. Landesberg. It also notably contains the following:
I would like to know who Stephen L'Eandes and James F. Rizutto were. I would like to know why you called the FBI on November 23 (emphasis added).[44]

So as unbelievable as it may seem, Armstrong actually wrote a letter to Landesberg that seems to accuse him of phoning the FBI and inferentially of posing as Stephen L'Eandes. Armstrong's lack of discretion may be explained by his relative inexperience as a researcher. At the time the letter was written in 1993, his book was still 10 years away from publication. In any case, the not unexpected response by Mr. Landesberg was documented in "JA's Summaries":
Two researchers, including myself and Jack White of Ft. Worth, Texas, received a curt telephone call from a Mr. Tom Walker, who gave his address as PO Box 552, Bronx, New York 10475. Mr. Walker introduced himself as "the head of security for Mr. Landesberg" and ordered us to stop investigating Landesberg. Walker threatened Jack White and myself and warned us not to publish any information about Steve Landesberg "or else."[45]

It seems the phone call from Mr. Walker had all but killed one conspiracy theory. But before making the decision to finally abort the idea, Armstrong had one final thought:
As I hung up the phone, I wondered if the person I spoke with was really "Mr. Tom Walker." Or had I spoken with Stephen Richard Landesberg, the actor himself, who was using his considerable talents of impersonation to pose as his own "chief of security."[46]

When Harvey and Lee came out in 2003, unsurprisingly Armstrong did not use his theory about the actor Landesberg, which originally consisted of nearly five pages worth of material. He did, however, broadly allude to it in a single paragraph on page 372:
NOTE: The southern drawl used by Steve Landesberg (aka "L'Eandes ") was likely an impersonation, perhaps identical to the trademark southern drawl used by another young man from New York, actor Steve Landesberg, who became famous as Detective Arthur Dietrich on the "Barney Miller" television series. Two "Steve Landesbergs," both from New York, both nearly the same age, and both used southern drawls.

Landesberg in Harvey and Lee
When Harvey and Lee was published in 2003, it was obvious that John Armstrong had invested a great deal of time and money in his research of the Stephen H. Landesberg case. Consider the following:
· Armstrong employed a Private Investigator to search for "any and all" Landesbergs in the United States.[47]
· He traveled to the US District Courthouse in New York in an attempt to find the court records of Stephen H. Landesberg.[48]
· He accumulated other records on the actor Landesberg such as birth records and real estate information.[49]
In the final analysis, what are the facts about the Stephen H. Landesberg case?
· According to FBI reports (and despite some sloppy documentation), Landesberg recanted his allegations about Oswald and Perry and admitted he had posed as L'Eandes. There is no question that the FBI did not believe any part of Landesberg's story since they arrested him for providing false information.
· Parts of Landesberg's story could not have been true, such as knowing Oswald and Perry in the Marine Corps in 1956, since Landesberg did not enlist until 1960.
· There is absolutely no evidence that Landesberg was incarcerated to silence him about his knowledge of "Oswald in New York" as some theories maintain and if such evidence existed, Armstrong would have used it in his book.
· Landesberg suffered from a serious mental disorder as confirmed by an eleven page FBI report based on USMC medical records. Armstrong, to his credit, may have been the first researcher to locate the unredacted version of this crucial document which details the extent of Landesberg's illness.
· Stephen H. Landesberg and Stephen Yves L'Eandes were the same person. We know this because Landesberg admitted it to the FBI, Michael Dunn confirmed that the man he saw in a photograph showed to him by the FBI was known to him as Stephen L'Eandes and FBI Agents identified Landesberg as being identical to the photograph of L'Eandes. No doubt many others (reporters, rally attendees) could have done the same if any further investigation were warranted.
· Research by Armstrong proves that Stephen Harris Landesberg (the hoaxer) and Stephen Richard Landesberg (the actor) were two different individuals. Landesberg the hoaxer was born in 1940, while the actor was born in 1936.[50] There is absolutely no evidence that the actor Landesberg had anything to do with the activities attributed to Landesberg the hoaxer or anything to do with the JFK assassination.
After all the roads traveled by John Armstrong, both metaphorical and real, in his pursuit of knowledge in this case, what allegations did he finally deign to use in his book?
One of the most unusual "sightings" of Lee Oswald (while Harvey Oswald was in Russia) involved a New York man named Stephen Harris Landesberg, (DOB-9/24/40) who suffered from a life-long speech impediment-stuttering and stammering. After graduating from Forest Hills High School in 1957 Landesberg dropped the "berg" from his last name and used the name Steve Landes. He enrolled at Rutgers University in New Brunswick, New Jersey, and studied there until 1960 (with fellow classmate James Rizzuto).

Armstrong has admitted that Landesberg is Landes - so far so good. He adds the fact that Landesberg had a classmate named Rizzuto although as is often the case throughout his book, he gives no source. But let's accept the fact that Landesberg knew a Rizzuto. If he did, it would make sense that Landesberg might use the name of someone he knew as an alias. But what is Armstrong's motive for providing this information? Is it in the interest of completeness, or could it be to confuse a less than careful reader and make them believe that there really was a James Rizzuto who was involved in this incident?
Landes dropped out of Rutgers in the spring of 1960 and served in the Marine Corps from November 1960 thru June 1961. After receiving a disability discharge from the Marines he moved to the Greenwich Village area of New York City in the fall. It was there that Steve Landes met Lee Oswald and Stephen L'Eandes in October 1961.

Here, Armstrong takes the position that Landesberg knew a separate person named L'Eandes in spite of all the evidence to the contrary.
In December 1961 a rally was held to urge local Democrat Mark Lane to run for Congress. During the rally a girl who was working with L'Eandes caused such a disruption that the police were called. L'Eandes later told Stephen Landes that the heckling was done for the benefit of the States Rights Party. L'Eandes's roommate, who lived with him in late 1961 and early 1962 in an apartment near 8th Street and MacDougal, was Lee Oswald.

Finally we are making progress and Armstrong has provided a citation - a November 30, 1963 article from Newsday. However, in the article (which Armstrong provides on the book's companion CD) there is no mention of L'Eandes and Oswald being roommates at all and the piece says only that L'Eandes was reported to be living "on 8th Street or MacDougal."
These two people's (Oswald and L'Eandes) activities and methods of operation were so similar that it is easy to suspect that both were professional agitators, and employed by the same government agency (CIA).

It probably is easy for Armstrong to suspect this, but there certainly is no evidence of it. There is much support in his book though, for his belief that the CIA was the major player behind the assassination.
Stephen Yves L'Eandes (aka Steve Landesberg), who had recently appeared on New York radio programs to uphold the concept of segregation, was in the audience along with Earl Perry and Lee Oswald, who had a camera.

Remarkably, after previously taking the position on page 371 that Landesberg and L'Eandes were two different individuals, Armstrong is now admitting on page 380 that he has been playing a game with the reader and he knows that Landesberg is indeed L'Eandes. Or is Armstrong reverting to his prized theory that the actor Steve Landesberg was L'Eandes? That is what I thought when I first read this section (because of the use of Steve instead of Stephen), but a check of the index shows reference to the actor Landesberg occurring on page 372 only. Whatever the case, the reader is left to wonder what is going on, and that may again be the ultimate goal.
His source for the allegation that Oswald was present and taking pictures is a January 18, 1962 article from The Village Voice. Such an early report of Oswald in New York with or without a camera would be powerful confirmation of Armstrong's theories. It is not too surprising therefore, that the article contains no mention of Oswald, Earl Perry or a camera.[51]
When his (Landesberg's) notes were read by nearby attendees, who found them very offensive, he was severely attacked. Oswald, standing nearby, took photographs of the fracas and L'Eandes was escorted from the hall.

No citation for this one with good reason - Armstrong has no hard evidence that Oswald was at the meeting. And since he has apparently admitted that he knows Landesberg is L'Eandes what is the point other than to again confuse the reader?
In the spring of 1962 L'Eandes attended a meeting of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) in New York City, where he once again created a disturbance that lead to a fight. It is not known if Oswald was with him.

It may not be known to Armstrong whether or not Oswald was with Landesberg, but I think most readers will have a firm opinion by this time.
Landesberg was subsequently accused by the FBI of providing false information to the government, and committed to Bellevue Psychiatric Center in New York. The author traveled to New York City and attempted to acquire the U.S. District Court records of the case, U.S. vs. Steven Harris Landesberg. He met with Rosemary Fugnetti who was then (and remains today) archivist at the Federal District Court House at 4 Foley Square in New York City. Fugnetti discovered that all records of the case, including paper documents and two backup microfilm copies, had disappeared.

I can think of a few reasons why the records were allegedly not there. They could have been misplaced or routinely or accidentally destroyed. Perhaps Ms. Fugnetti didn't want to bother finding them, especially if she became aware of the nature of Armstrong's interest. Of course, Armstrong hopes that the reader will draw the most sinister meaning possible from his allegation that the records are missing. What shocking truth might be in the records that would cause the government to hide or destroy them he doesn't say.
In conclusion, John Armstrong conducted an extensive investigation in the Stephen H. Landesberg case. That investigation, while it provided fodder for conspiracy theories, ultimately proved that Landesberg unfortunately suffered from a serious mental condition in the years leading up to the assassination. It also showed that Landesberg alone, driven by his mental demons, hoaxed the FBI immediately after the assassination. However, there is at least some indication that Landesberg went on to lead a normal life.[52] Armstrong's extensive research turned up a record of a New York Driver's License in the name of Steven Landes. The birth date of September 24, 1940, matches Landesberg's own. The expiration date of the license was 9-24-1995.[53] So maybe there was a happy ending to the story of Stephen H. Landesberg after all.

[1] Stephen Yves L'Eandes was the correct full name. This led to different versions of the name being used on FBI documents and was probably not helpful to the FBI's cause of locating L'Eandes. Some documents even erroneously used what was a phonetic version - "Leandez".
[2] FBI File Number DL 89-43, 1963, Baylor University Poage Library, John Armstrong Collection,
[3] Ibid.
[4] Ibid.
[5] Ibid.
[6] Ibid
[7] Ibid.
[8] Ibid.
[9] This information was available from both television and newspaper sources. For transcripts of TV broadcasts see: NBC Television Network, Seventy Hours and Thirty Minutes (New York: Random House, 1966); See also numerous online sources such as: "David Blackburst Archive: Media Coverage of the Arrest of Oswald,"
[10] FBI File Number DL 89-43 Op. cit.
[11] FBI Document, Baylor University Poage Library, John Armstrong Collection,; A word regarding electronic documents; reference will be made whenever possible to the original document cited rather than the Internet address of the electronic form of the document. If it is unclear what the name of the original source document is, or if the document is a compilation of other documents, the Internet address of the document will be given instead. Many of the electronic documents used in this project come from the John Armstrong Collection at the Baylor University Poage Library.
[12] Rizzuto had given Dunn's first name as Maurice.
[13] John Armstrong, "JA's Summaries,"; This document could be part of a 3000 page manuscript that Armstrong is said to have worked from when writing his book and which has been discussed by Armstrong and his supporters on Internet forums. It could also be a source document that Armstrong used when compiling scripts for his various presentations. In any case, the document is a detailed representation of Armstrong's theory of the Landesberg case, albeit at an unspecified point in time.
[14] FBI File Number DL 89-43 Op. cit.
[15] In an email communication with me, a writer from the website who uses the pseudonym "Hylozoic Hedgehog" made an interesting point: " For me the REAL mystery of Landesberg and the FBI is very simple. The FBI could have called BOSSI (the Bureau of Special Services and Investigations -- the political intelligence wing of the NYPD) and in two seconds they would know about Landesberg. BOSSI agents made a point of keeping track of political disruption types from the far right and the far left. Landesberg had an extensive track record of such disruptions. BOSSI had to have known about him and it may even cultivated him as an informer. So why didn't they exercise minimal common sense when it came to Landesberg? The New York FBI office was one of the most sophisticated ones in America, obviously."
[16] A reasonable person would assume that since nearly everything in Landesberg's story was a lie (as is the case with many lies, there were small kernels of truth), that the part about knowing Oswald was false as well. Indeed, Landesberg was not in the Marines in 1956 and could not have met Oswald or Earl Perry (if he existed) at that time. In fact, it is very possible that Landesberg specifically recanted his Oswald statements but the Agents simply neglected to properly document this. One thing is certain- the FBI did not believe any part of his story. But as we will see, the fact that the report did not specifically mention Oswald will be used to advantage by conspiracy theorists.
[17] FBI File Number DL 89-43 Op. cit.
[18] Ibid.
[19] New York Times, 09/28/40; FBI File Number DL 89-43 Op. cit.
[20] Unless another source is given, all information in the biographical sections comes from FBI File SL: 105-3665, Report of SA Albert J. Rushing Jr., December 6, 1963. The information in this report is taken from USMC medical records, a social services interview of his mother Edna Landesberg and Landesberg himself. The report states the following regarding Landesberg's ability to provide his own biographical details; "The board considers that the patient had the capacity to narrate and recollect in a trustworthy manner and that the past history as recounted by him is reliable rather that a manifestation of his illness."
[21] FBI File Number DL 89-43 Op. cit.
[22] In all fairness, It should be noted that there is no evidence that Landesberg ever committed an act of real violence. The scuffles that he instigated during his later political activities usually ended up with him on the losing side.
[23] In the event the reader should believe that I have overstated Landesberg's mental problems, I would note that the FBI report documenting his condition is 11 single spaced pages.
[24] FBI File Number DL 89-43 Op. cit.
[25] House Select Committee on Assassinations, Administrative Folder F-8, p. 122.
[26] Leonard Rubin, "Young Audience Hails Mark Lane", The Village Voice, March 15, 1962, p. 16.
[27] FBI File Number DL 89-43 Op. cit. His mental problems notwithstanding, why would Landesberg, who his mother had said was "always fighting for causes and saw himself as an idealist" and had rebelled against his parent's presumably conservative values, choose to pose as a right winger? One explanation is that he created an extreme caricature of person on the right to demonstrate the absurdity, as he saw it, of those beliefs.
[28] J.R. Goddard, "Lane Wins Student Plaudits, as Deep South Demurs", The Village Voice, December 21, 1961, pp. 1 and 6.
[29] The Village Voice, January 18, 1962, p. 3.
[30] "Smiling Man From a Dead Planet: The Mystery of Lyndon LaRouche,"
[31] Leonard Rubin, "Young Audience Hails Mark Lane", The Village Voice, March 15, 1962, pp. 1 and 16.
[32] There is at least one other documented instance of Landesberg as L'Eandes. In his book Fug You, Ed Sanders relates that poet Al Fowler told him a story of witnessing L'Eandes create a disturbance at a meeting of the Socialist Labor Party (actually the Socialist Workers Party) at the Militant Labor Forum on University Place. Sanders also quotes Fowler as saying:
"The last conversation I had with L'Eandes prior to the big snuff (JFK assassination) took place in a diner on Sheridan Square. He talked then about Fair Play for Cuba. His whole shuck was that he was a Cajun, and that his whole family, in the main, was around New Orleans. He even gave me a dissertation on the French Quarter." ("Smiling Man From a Dead Planet: The Mystery of Lyndon LaRouche,"
[33] FBI Report of SA Henry A. Welke, November 30, 1963.
[34] FBI File Number DL 89-43 Op. cit.
[35] Stan C. Weeber. "Stephen H. Landesberg and the Greenwich Village Hoax," The Fourth Decade, Volume 2, Number 2, January, 1995, p. 16.
[36] FBI Document, Baylor University Poage Library, John Armstrong Collection,
[37] Stan C. Weeber. "More On Stephen Landesberg," Unpublished draft of May 11, 1998, Baylor University Poage Library, John Armstrong Collection,
[38] Ibid.
[39] John Armstrong, "JA's Summaries" Op. cit.
[40] Ibid.
[41] Keith Thursby, "Steve Landesberg dies; comic actor played intellectual detective on sitcom Barney Miller," LA Times, December 21, 2010,
[42] Ibid. To be fair, this article was published in 2010 at the time of Landesberg's death, while Armstrong's research took place in the nineties.
[43] John Armstrong, "JA's Summaries" Op. cit.
[44] Baylor University Poage Library, John Armstrong Collection,; In this letter which seems to accuse the actor Landesberg of being involved in some way in the Landesberg/L'Eandes hoax, Armstrong makes an error. Landesberg/L"Eandes did not call the FBI, he called Barry Gray and Gray called the FBI.
[45] John Armstrong, "JA's Summaries" Op. cit.
[46] Ibid.
[47] Baylor University Poage Library, John Armstrong Collection,
[48] Ibid.
[49] Ibid
[50] Ibid.
[51] The Village Voice, January 18, 1962, p. 3.
[52] Researcher Stan Weeber developed a theory that Landesberg returned to college, finished his degree and became a successful businessman. Stan C. Weeber. "More On Stephen Landesberg," Op. cit.
[53] Baylor University Poage Library, John Armstrong Collection,


Post a Comment

Powered by Blogger.