More Abuse of Psychiatry in the JFK Cover-up
The more we learn, the more inclined we are to think that a person would have to be crazy to volunteer evidence to U.S. government authorities in any high-level criminal case. The evidence might be contrary to the conclusion that the government is determined to come to, and the feds might well make you out to be crazy—or actually make you crazy—for having the temerity to insist upon your personally witnessed contrary facts.
Army cryptographer Eugene B. Dinkin had very good reason to believe that he was taking a real risk when he tried to prevent President John F. Kennedy’s assassination by revealing the plans for it that he had discovered. So he might not have been completely surprised when they ended up throwing him into a mental institution. But consider the case of poor Ralph Leon Yates, who must have thought that the information he volunteered about a man he thought to be Lee Harvey Oswald would be helpful to the government. The following account, with a couple of links added by me, is from pp. 350-355 of JFK and the Unspeakable, Why He Died and Why It Matters by James W. Douglass (2008):*
The assassination of President Kennedy continued to suck innocent people into its whirlwind. One was a man who was kind enough to pick up a hitchhiker in Dallas. He was then caught up in darkness for the rest of his life.
Ralph Leon Yates was a refrigeration mechanic for the Texas Butcher Supply Company in Dallas, making his rounds to meat outlets on Wednesday, November 20, 1963. At 10:30 A.M. Ralph Yates was driving on the R. L. Thornton Expressway. He noticed a man hitchhiking in Oak Cliff near the Beckley Avenue entrance to the expressway. Yates stopped to pick up the man.
When the hitchhiker got into Yates's pickup truck, he was carrying what Yates described later, in a statement to the FBI, as "a package wrapped in brown wrapping paper about 4 feet to 4 1/2 feet long."
Yates told the man he could put the package in the back of the pickup. The man said the package had curtain rods in it, and he would rather carry it with him in the cab of the truck.
Yates mentioned to the man that people were getting excited about the president's upcoming visit. He had broached a subject the man was eager to talk about. The man had a remarkable sense, as seen later, of what would become the government's case against Lee Harvey Oswald. The man also looked so much like Oswald that he was in effect his double. Or was he actually Oswald?
As cited by the FBI, Ralph Yates recalled the hitchhiker's comments: "Yates stated the man then asked Yates if he thought a person could assassinate the President. Yates replied that he guessed such a thing could be possible. The man then asked Yates if it could be done from the top of a building or out of a window, high up, and Yates said he guessed this was possible if one had a good rifle with a scope and was a good shot.
"Yates advised about this time the man pulled out a picture which showed a man with a rifle and asked Yates if he thought the President could be killed with a gun like that one. Yates said he was driving and did not look at the picture but indicated to the man that he guessed so.
"Yates said that the man then asked if he knew the President's route for the parade in Dallas and Yates replied that he did not know the route but that it had been in the paper. He said the man then said that he had misunderstood him and that actually he had asked Yates if he thought that the President would change his route. Yates said he replied that he doubted it unless they might for safety reasons."
The hitchhiker asked to be let off along Houston Street. Yates dropped him off at Elm and Houston, the stoplight by the Texas School Book Depository. He last saw the man carrying his package of "curtain rods" across Elm Street-perhaps into the Book Depository.
When Ralph Yates returned to his workplace at the Texas Butcher Supply Company, he told his co-worker, Dempsey Jones, about his strange conversation with the man he picked up in Oak Cliff and dropped off at Elm and Houston who was carrying the package. Dempsey Jones thereby became a supporting witness to Yates's account. He confirmed in an FBI interview that it was before President Kennedy was assassinated that Yates described picking up the hitchhiker, "who discussed the fact with him that one could be in a building and shoot the President as he, the President, passed by."
After Yates saw the pictures in the media of Lee Harvey Oswald, he said the man he gave the ride to was "identical with Oswald."
However, the FBI was not happy with the statement Ralph Leon Yates volunteered to them on November 26, repeated at the FBI's request on December 10, and repeated yet again at their further requests on January 3 and 4, 1964, finally during an FBI polygraph examination. Although Yates's statement seemed to be a thorough incrimination of the now dead Oswald, once again—as in other "Oswald" appearances—it proved too much for the government's case, even placing that case in jeopardy. As the FBI would make clear, the witness wasn't wanted. They kept recalling him only in order to discredit his story.
What was so unacceptable about Ralph Yates's testimony?
In terms of the hitchhiker's looks, itinerary, and comments, he was either Lee Harvey Oswald or a well-informed double. The Beckley Avenue entrance to the Thornton Expressway was on the same street as Oswald's rooming house, located at 1026 North Beckley. The man looking like Oswald had hitched a ride from the vicinity of Oswald's rooming house to the location of Oswald's workplace, the Texas School Book Depository.
The man's comments were, like "Oswald's" behavior in the series of self·incriminating incidents we have already seen, an obvious attempt to draw attention to himself as a potential presidential assassin.
Most significant in this instance was the package in brown wrapping paper that the man insisted on keeping with him in the cab, which he said contained "curtain rods." The package of "curtain rods" carried by Yates's hitchhiker corresponds to Oswald's notorious cover story in the Warren
Report for sneaking his rifle into the Book Depository.
As the Warren Report describes this incident, it was on Thursday, November 21, that Lee Oswald asked his co-worker, Buell Wesley Frazier, if he could ride home with him that afternoon. Frazier lived in Irving half a block from Ruth Paine's house, where Oswald's wife, Marina, and their two daughters were then staying. Frazier asked Oswald why he wanted to ride with him on Thursday rather than Friday, when Lee normally went to the Paine household to stay with his family over the weekend. Lee's answer reportedly was: "I'm going home to get some curtain rods ... [to] put in an apartment."
According to Frazier and his sister, Linnie Mae Randle, the next morning Oswald brought a brown paper package "about 2' long" with him when he rode in Frazier's car back to the Book Depository. Frazier told the Warren Commission that when he asked Oswald what was in the package, he replied, "Curtain rods."
Despite the fact that the package Frazier and Randle claimed they saw was too small to hold even a rifle that was broken down, and although no one else saw Oswald with any package at all that morning, the Warren Commission concluded that Oswald must have used such a ruse to smuggle his rifle from Ruth Paine's garage into the Depository Building. In the Warren Report, the "curtain rod story" is the critical lie that supposedly enabled Oswald to carry secretly the weapon he then used to murder the president.
What, then, are we to make of Ralph Yates's Oswald-like hitchhiker who prophetically acted out the "curtain rod story" two days before Lee Oswald reportedly reenacted it, in his ride with Buell Wesley Frazier to the Texas School Book Depository the morning of November 22?
Had there been no second curtain rod/rifle delivery by Oswald to the Depository, the first as done by the "Oswald" Ralph Yates picked up could have served the Warren Report quite well. Oswald could have been portrayed as smuggling the rifle into the Depository on Wednesday, then hiding it on the sixth floor of the building until he used it to shoot the president on Friday. In that version of the story, Yates could have been a valuable witness for the government against an already dead, media-convicted assassin.
However, just as there was once again a problem of too many Oswalds—with one working his regular hours in the Book Depository, while the other was hitchhiking with Yates—so, too, was there a problem of too many curtain rod deliveries to account for one rifle being smuggled into the building. The trail of duplicating curtain rod stories led not to a lone assassin but to an intelligence operation tripping over itself while working overtime to scapegoat Oswald.
Ralph Yates was a stubborn witness to what turned out to be unwanted evidence. On his second trip to the Dallas FBI office on December 10, 1963; he repeated and signed his statement about picking up the hitchhiker with the curtain rods. From his first contact with the FBI, Yates, who had pointed out that he was married with five children, said he "would appreciate not receiving any type of publicity from the fact he was furnishing this information.” About that concern he need not have worried. The FBI would make certain his testimony to another Oswald with a second curtain rods story would be buried from public view.
On January 2, 1964, FBI director J. Edgar Hoover sent a teletype marked "URGENT" to Dallas Special Agent in Charge J. Gordon Shanklin on Ralph Leon Yates. Hoover noted that a previous FBI investigation into whether Yates may have been at his company at the same time he said he picked up the Oswald-like hitchhiker provided insufficient evidence "to completely discredit Yates' story." Hoover therefore ordered the Dallas FBI office to "reinterview Yates with polygraph," the instrument more commonly known as a "lie detector."
On January 4 in another "URGENT" teletype, Shanklin reported back to Hoover on Yates's polygraph examination that day: "Results of test were .inconclusive as Yates responded to neither relevant or control type questions." Because his lie-detector test was inconclusive, Yates had still not been discredited. But there was more to come.
During his final, January 4 trip to the FBI office, Ralph Yates was accompanied by his wife, Dorothy. He had asked her to come with him. In an interview forty-two years later, she told me what happened next to her husband. After he completed his (inconclusive) lie-detector test, she said, the FBI told him he needed to go immediately to Woodlawn Hospital, the Dallas hospital for the mentally ill. He drove there with Dorothy. He was admitted that evening as a psychiatric patient. From that point on, he spent the remaining eleven years of his life as a patient in and out of mental health hospitals.
A crucial transition in the psychic health of Ralph Yates seems to have occurred at the FBI office on January 4, 1964. Something the FBI said after Ralph's polygraph test puzzled and disturbed Dorothy:
"They told me that he was telling the truth [according to the polygraph machine], but that basically he had convinced himself that he was telling the truth. So that's how it came out. He strongly believed it, so it came out that way."
According to what the FBI told Dorothy Yates, the data that registered on the polygraph machine, as then read in the normal way by the polygraph examiner, showed that Ralph Yates was telling the truth. His test was officially recorded as "inconclusive" (meaning the examiner wasn't sure if Yates was telling the truth) only because J. Edgar Hoover and the FBI had decided what the truth had to be for Yates. The FBI-defined truth was that Yates had not picked up the Oswald-like hitchhiker with the "curtain rods" package, because for the FBI there could be no such hitchhiker. Therefore Ralph Leon Yates, by being so definitive (as shown by his polygraph chart) In knowing that he did precisely that—picked up a nonexistent hitchhiker—could only have lost touch with reality. What for any other polygraphed person would serve as proof of truth-telling was, in the case of Yates, proof only of an illusory divorce from reality. The wrenching but undeniable truth for Yates, that he helped a man he thought was the president's assassin deliver what could have been his weapon to the Book Depository, was what compelled him to contact the FBI in the first place. Now he was being told his experience was nothing but an illusion. The FBI said so. Because of Yates's unswerving, polygraphed conviction to the contrary, that he knew what really happened, J. Edgar Hoover and the FBI knew what they had to do. They told him to report at once to a psychiatric hospital.
Exactly what happened to Ralph Yates in the following days as a patient at Woodlawn Hospital, Dorothy Yates did not witness and does not know.
She does know that early one morning about a week later, Ralph broke out of Woodlawn. At 4:00 A.M. she opened the front door of their house to find Ralph standing barefoot on the steps in his white hospital cIothes. Snow was swirling around him. Ralph told Dorothy he had escaped from the mental institution. He said he tied sheets together and climbed down from a window. He had then stolen a car and driven home.
Ralph was tormented by fear in a way Dorothy would see repeated for years. He told his wife someone was trying to kill them and their children because of what he knew about Oswald. She quickly bundled up their five sleepy children, the oldest of whom was six. Ralph drove his family away from their house in the stolen car. Within a few hours, Dorothy was more alarmed by her husband's frantic efforts to evade their murder at every turn than she was by any unidentified killers. She returned the car and reported his whereabouts to the Woodlawn Hospital authorities.
Ralph was picked up and returned to Woodlawn. He was soon transferred to Terrell State Hospital, a psychiatric facility about thirty miles east of Dallas, where he lived for eight years. He was then transferred to the Veterans Hospital in Waco for a year and a half, and finally to Rusk State Hospital for the final year and a half of his life. While a patient at all three hospitals, he spent intermittent periods of from one to three months at home with his wife and children. He was never able to work again.
In the course of Ralph's psychiatric treatment, Dorothy said, he was given the tranquilizing drugs Thorazine and Stelazine to the point where "they made him walk around like a zombie." He learned to resist the process. Just as Abraham Bolden had done in the Springfield Penitentiary psychiatric unit, Ralph faked swallowing the pills.
More difficult to avoid were the shock treatments. He received over forty of them. The impact of the shock treatments on his long-range memory was, his wife said, "evidently nothing, because he didn't forget what he was there for," his encounter with the hitchhiker he had dropped off at Elm and Houston.
Ralph told Dorothy, "I don't know if they're trying to make me forget what's happened, or what. But I'm always going to say those things happened."
To the end of his life Ralph held on to the truth of his experience with the hitchhiker carrying the curtain rods. "He never backed down," Dorothy said.
Ralph died at Rusk State Hospital on September 3, 1975, from congestive heart failure. He was thirty-nine years old.
Over three decades later, Dorothy continues to ponder her husband's stubborn adherence to a strange story that in effect made him a prisoner in mental hospitals, took him away from a family he loved, and impoverished all of them. He was haunted by an experience he couldn't forget, for which he then suffered the rest of his life because of his unwillingness to recant it. Other relatives and friends dismissed Ralph's account of the Oswald-like hitchhiker with the curtain rods package as pure fantasy.
His uncle, J.O. Smith, who went with him on his first trip to the FBI office, said of his nephew's story, "I really thought that was all just imagination."
His cousin, Ken Smith, remembers Ralph before Kennedy's death as nothing more than "a chain-smoker who watched football games." Once Ralph had what he thought was his Oswald experience, Ken said, he became a man obsessed:
"He wouldn't let it go. He believed it to be true. This consumed Ralph. His thinking didn't go beyond that afterwards. This just totally destroyed his life.
"Ralph blamed himself for Kennedy's assassination. He said, 'I was the reason the President got killed.'
"If he had shut up, his life wouldn't have been so bad'. Everybody thought he was crazy. So he became crazy."
Even Ralph's co-worker and corroborating witness, Dempsey Jones, who confirmed to the FBI that Yates told him at least one day before the assassination about the hitchhiker's talk on shooting the president, was skeptical. As the FBI liked to point out, he added a disclaimer: "[Jonesj said Yates is a big talker who always talks about a lot of foolishness."
Only the FBI knew why Ralph Yates needed to be taken seriously. Not even Yates himself, who had no sense of an Oswald double, understood the significance of what he felt compelled to say for the rest of his life. Only the Federal Bureau of Investigation recognized the importance of his testimony, with the threat it posed to the government's case against Oswald. If evidence surfaced of the Oswald-like hitchhiker, who delivered his "curtain rods" to the Depository two days before the assassination, it would have preempted and brought into question the government-endorsed curtain rods story, as given by Buell Wesley Frazier. Thanks to the bungling redundancy of cover stories, the plot to kill the president was again in danger of exposure.
There were too many Oswalds in view, with too many smuggled rifles, retelling a familiar story to too many witnesses. At least one curtain rods story, and the disposable witness who heard it, had to go. The obvious person to be jettisoned was the hapless Ralph Yates. His stubborn insistence on what he knew he had seen and heard, from the man he had given a ride, had to be squelched.
Ralph Yates then went through eleven years of hell. Yet he could not forget, and would not stop speaking about, what he witnessed when he picked up the man he thought was Lee Harvey Oswald. Without ever understanding the full meaning of the experience he refused to renounce, Ralph Leon Yates was a witness to the unspeakable.
In retrospect, we can see that another witness of an Oswald impersonator, Air Force Sergeant Robert G. Vinson, was prudent, indeed, to hold his tongue about what he had seen on the day of the assassination. Also, Patrick Knowlton, the witness who voluntarily came forward in the Vincent Foster death case may count himself lucky that government thugs apparently working in league with Special Prosecutor Kenneth Starr only tried to drive him crazy or tried to make him look crazy for complaining about the harassment he had received on the streets of Washington. Had he gotten the treatment accorded to Ralph Yates, his Christian spirit would have been sorely tested, indeed, at his chance encounter with Starr some four years ago. In fact, he might well have been locked away in a hospital somewhere, precluding any possibility of such a meeting.
*We agree with what Richard Falk, Milbank Professor of International Law Emeritus, Princeton University has to say as recounted on the flyleaf of the 2010 paperback edition:
A remarkable book: devastating in its documented indictment of the dark forces that have long deformed the public life of this country, while also illuminating JFK’s final vision of world peace and documenting beyond reasonable doubt the unspeakable assassination of our last partially admirable president. This book should be required reading for every American citizen.
April 18, 2012