One of the most challenging tasks in dealing with historical subjects, even more contemporary ones, is evaluating individuals who claim to be primary sources – but whose remarks and observations are not part of the record created at the time of an event. I’ve posted before on the issues of memory in regard to “retroactive” source information, more could be said on that and its pretty obvious that a very large body of information comes to exist based on source statements months, years or even decades after the fact – statements which are almost certainly contaminated to some extent by memory issues, regardless of the sincerity of the source. You have to pause when you find experiment after experiment demonstrating that witnesses will challenge even their own written or recorded statements prepared within minutes or hours of an event when interviewed at a later date. Their current “memories” simply override even their own earlier records.
That’s one issue, but there are a variety of others. All of them are important to me because I frequently do turn to individuals as sources – and have learned the risks of that the hard way over a couple of decades. Yet on a recent online forum post, I read an individual remarking that they had seen a name mentioned, did a Google search, and began to insert the information they found into the dialog, taking it quite literally. It had taken me some three years to parse that particular source in regard to whether they were credible or not, or to what extent – in that particular case my conclusion was not at all.
Which raises the point that sources may be credible, partially credible or not at all credible – in some instances certain things they say can be verified, while others prove to be extremely questionable. And there is the issue of “situational” sources, who provide information over a long period of time and filter it according to personal circumstances. That is one of the things that makes Richard Case Nagell such a challenging source – he did filter his story over time, in regard to both legal issues and personal ones involving custody battles over his children. Taking any single remark from him, without understanding the chronology and context of his remarks would be a mistake. He is a perfect example of what turns out to be a credible but extremely challenging source.
Some of the other challenging sources that I’ve crossed paths with are people like Fred Crisman, Thomas Beckham and Gene Wheaton. Each required years to evaluate – especially since the first two can demonstrably be shown to be both con men at certain points, to have used fake religious credentials and in Crisman’s case to have carried out a significant UFO hoax along with forging a document outlining has career as a CIA “asset”. Not to mention anonymously inserting himself into the Garrison investigation with a letter identifying himself as a suspect – and yes, the man had some serious problem while being totally sincere and personally convincing. There is no doubt that some sources are so sincere that they convince themselves of their own alternative history.
Beckham on the other hand proved to be an entirely different story, as he did indeed have certain limited but verifiable personal experiences in New Orleans and could offer some insights into both Guy Bannister and Lee Oswald. Yet being the kind of guy he was, that grew like Topsy, reinforced by his contact with Crisman, and became yet one more alternative reality. For those of you interested in either man, I have provided Debra Conway with my extensive research files on both of them and hopefully at some point they will be available on CD; I don’t think there is a body of information about them that comes close to that collection which had the benefit of work by a variety of others including people who had been personally scammed by Crisman.
Then you have a source like Gene Wheaton, who has the right credentials, was in the right places to hear and know what he claimed and shared it with the ARRB – yet the ARRB showed not the least interest in him and the staff member who worked with him for over a year eventually told my friend Stu Wexler she did not even remember his file, without doubt the most sensational she would have had go past her during her tenure there. Stu and I will be talking about that at the Lancer conference this fall and showing an interview with Wheaton – that will give those in attendance a chance to personally evaluate him as a source. And of course, as I write in SWHT, if you decide Wheaton is telling the truth, then you have a very strong insight into the people who went from Florida to Dallas to kill the President.