Monday, June 13, 2022

The Assassination and Mrs. Paine-Ruth Surveilled the Left?

Filmmaker Max Good's voiceover (1:00:48) introduces another conspiracy theory about Ruth Paine:

Painting Oswald as a lone nut may have been seen as a moral imperative [by the Warren Commission] to avoid nuclear war. But a cover-up of Oswald's supposed communist ties may actually have served as a cover-up for something even more sinister and closer to home.

Conspiracy theorist extraordinare James DiEugenio picks up the narrative:

When the Dallas police went to the Paine household, one of the detectives wrote a report about taking out several filing cabinets of notations and cards and maps etcetera of Castro sympathizers. This makes a very good case, I believe, that Michael and Ruth were involved in surveillance activities of the American left. These cabinets existed until the Warren Commission. Because there are several exhibit numbers in the Warren Commission that refer to them. But the big difference is when the Warren Commission went through them, they only found something like one letter from Ruth to one of her relatives. So in other words, if the original report is accurate, somebody fiddled with the contents of those cabinets.

But Greg Doudna, a researcher who met Ruth Paine in the early 2000s, looked into this allegation and found that DiEugenio and like-minded theorists continue to cling to this long-debunked myth despite the existence of voluminous and compelling evidence refuting it. The only source supporting the claim is a report (alluded to by DiEugenio) made by deputy sheriff E.R. "Buddy" Walthers who was one of the deputies who Mrs. Paine gave permission to search her house on the day of the assassination. Walthers stated, "Also found was a set of metal file cabinets containing records that appeared to be names and activities of communist sympatheizers."

But Doudna notes that when Walthers was questioned by the Warren Commission about the matter, he effectively refuted the accusation:

Mr. Liebeler. What was in these file cabinets?
Mr. Walthers. We didn't go through them at the scene. I do remember a letterhead--I can't describe it--I know we opened one of them and we seen what it was, that it was a lot of personal letters and stuff and a letterhead that this Paine fellow had told us about, and he said, "That's from the people he writes to in Russia"; he was talking about this letterhead we had pulled out and so I just pushed it all back down and shut it and took the whole works.
Mr. Liebeler. I have been advised that some story has developed that at some point that when you went out there you found seven file cabinets full of cards that had the names on them of pro-Castro sympathizers or something of that kind, but you don't remember seeing any of them?
Mr. Walthers. Well, that could have been one, but I didn't see it.
Mr. Liebeler. There certainly weren't any seven file cabinets with the stuff you got out there or anything like that?
Mr. Walthers. I picked up all of these file cabinets and what all of them contained, I don't know myself to this day.

The film shows an FBI document while DiEugenio is speaking that implies support of his allegations, specifically that only "one letter from Ruth to one of her relatives" was found and therefore "somebody fiddled" with the evidence. But the document does exactly the opposite by confirming that the contents of three of the boxes were "letters and photographs from Mrs. Paine's parents, relatives and friends and copies of letters from Mrs. Paine to her parents, relatives and friends." The report also noted that the three boxes contained "literature on folk music and dancing," college course information and a diary.

In fact, Mrs. Paine's Warren Commission testimony discusses the three boxes which contained correspondence. Note that attorney Jenner saw the boxes and their contents:

Mr. JENNER - And at least until recently, I don't know if you still do it, you were inclined to retain the originals of that correspondence [with her family] and also copies of your letters, were you not?
Mrs. PAINE - For a goodly portion of the correspondence; yes.
Mr. JENNER - Now, I have, which I will mark only for identification, three file cases of correspondence of your themes or writings in college. You might be better able to describe what is in these boxes than I in the way of general summary. Would you do so?
Mrs. PAINE - It also includes information helpful to me in recreation leadership, games, something of songs. It includes a list of the people to whom I sent birth announcements, things of that nature.
Mr. JENNER - It covers a span of years going back to your college days?
Mrs. PAINE - And a few papers prior to college.
Mr. JENNER - I have marked these boxes for identification numbers 457, 458, and 459. During my meeting with you Wednesday morning, I exhibited the contents of those boxes to you, and are the materials in the boxes other than material which is printed or is obviously from some other source that which purports to be in your handwriting, actually in your handwriting?
Mrs. PAINE - Yes.
Mr. JENNER - And those pieces of correspondence which purport to be letters from your mother, your father, your brother, and your sister are likewise the originals of those letters?
Mrs. PAINE - Yes.
Mr. JENNER - And the copies of letters which purport to be letters from you to your mother, father, sister, and brother, and in some instances others are copies of letters that you dispatched?
Mrs. PAINE - That is right.

The FBI report and Ruth's Warren Commission testimony jibes nicely with her own recollections from the film. Her statement also reveals what the other four boxes contained:

Mrs. Paine: I learned a lot about what is written isn’t always true, in newspapers and magazines. One magazine said the police took out seven file boxes of Cuban sympathizers’ names. Well, there were my three boxes of folk dance records [audience laughter], my three little file boxes of my college papers, and a projector for a 16 mm camera. Those were the seven boxes of Cuban names.

Indeed, a Dallas Police inventory describes six of the boxes and their contents.

When asked about the Cuban sympathizers allegation by Max Good, researcher Joe Alesi, who owns one of the original boxes (WC Exhibit no. 458), said:

Yeah I think that’s nonsense... I was a Special Agent [for the Defense Investigative Service], did background investigations for the government... so I’ve got a natural curiosity. In 2013 I found out that Ruth Paine was living right here in Santa Rosa and a friendship developed [film shows photo of Alesi and Ruth]... She wanted me to find out about this particular Warren Commission exhibit. I don’t think the Paines are hiding anything. I really don’t.

Warren Commission attorney Liebeler provided a reasonable explanation for the mistaken allegation:

Mr. Liebeler. As I was sitting here listening to your story, I could see where that story might have come from--you mentioned the "Fair Play for Cuba" leaflets that were in a [pasteboard] barrel [in the garage where Oswald's things were stored].
Mr. Walthers. That's right--we got a stack of them out of that barrel, but things get all twisted around.

Similarly, a report by Deputy Sheriff Harry Weatherford relates that officers "found some literature on Cuban Freedom affairs and some small files." It is easy to see that Walthers could have conflated Oswald's Cuban reading material with the "small files" belonging to Mrs. Paine. More proof of this likely coalescence comes from a report by J.L. Oxford which mentions "7 metal boxes which contained pamphlets and literature from abroad." But Greg Doudna points out that the only "literature from abroad" found in the search belonged to Oswald and was located in the garage and not the house where the "7 metal boxes" were found.

Additional proof regarding the content of the boxes comes from an FBI report:

It should further be noted that several metal cases of correspondence of Ruth Paine's were inadvertently taken by the Dallas Police Department on November 22, 1963, under the mistaken impression that they were correspondence of Lee Oswald's. This correspondence was examined by Specail Agents Ronald E. Brinkley, Ben S. Harrison, and Leland D. Stephens. This correspondence was examined again on December 5, 1963, by Special Agents James P. Hosty, Jr., and Warren C. De Brueys at the Dallas Police Property Room.

The report goes on to note that the correspondence reflected Mrs. Paine's desire to help Latin America and "persons less fortunate than herself."

Regarding the mysterious disapearence of the Warren Commission exhibit numbers associated with the boxes that concerns theorists, what likely happened is that once it was realized that the boxes and their content belonged to Mrs. Paine and not Oswald, the items were returned to her and the exhibit numbers vacated.

Incredibly, the Cuban sympathizer allegation has been around for so long that it was initially debunked by the Warren Report over fifty years ago:

A number of small file boxes listed in the inventory as having been taken from the Paine residence in Irving contained letters, pictures, books and literature, most of which belonged to Ruth Paine, not to Oswald. No lists of names of Castro sympathizers were found among these effects.

However, as is often the case with Good's film, the most effective refutation of this allegation probably comes from Mrs. Paine herself:

Good: Their thing [conspiracy theorists] is that you and Michael were involved in surveillance activities of the radical left. Uh, and that—
Mrs. Paine: Who would be the radical left?
Good: Cuban sympathizers.
Mrs. Paine: Oh.
Good: Communists.
Mrs. Paine: Absolute news to me. I was not aware of surveilling anybody. Or watching Oswald.
Good: "Maybe watching Oswald was a job you had to keep an eye on this ...
Mrs. Paine: "Flake."
Good: "... young communist defector who had returned."
Mrs. Paine: "Nonsense. Absolute nonsense."

Special thanks goes to Greg Doudna for his excellent work on this issue.

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