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Showing posts by: Tony Hays click to see Tony Hays's profile
Dec 1 2013 8:45pm

Warren G. Harding: Heart Attack, Stroke, or Murder?

President Warren G. Harding (1865-1923)What do President Zachary Taylor and Warren G. (Gamaliel) Harding have in common, other than being president? Yes, both were somewhat heavyset. But more importantly, both of their deaths have stirred the pot of conspiracy.  Taylor, who died in 1850, was believed to have died from overeating in hot weather. Harding officially died of a stroke or heart attack. But were their deaths really natural, or were they murder? In Taylor’s case, the exhumation and forensic exam of his body proved without doubt that he had indeed died of natural causes.  But the whispers of murder still float around Harding. Could the notorious womanizer-in-chief have been murdered? Or were his well-known blood pressure issues really to blame?

Warren G. Harding had his share of enemies, most of whom were self-created .  Elected in 1920 on a platform of returning the nation to “normalcy” after World War I, he packed his government with a mixture of bright administrators and Ohio cronies. His attorney general, Harry Daugherty, fought off a couple of impeachment attempts.  Probably the worst of his appointments was Secretary of the Interior Albert Falls, who accepted bribes in regards to oil rights in Teapot Dome, Wyoming, and eventually went to prison.  And most scholars agree that Harding had extramarital affairs with four women, two of them close friends with his wife, Florence.

[So what else is new?]

Nov 19 2013 11:00am

The Death of JFK, Part 3: Where We Stand 50 Years Later

Read here for Part 1: Five Things We Now Know and

Part 2: Trigger, Trigger! Who Pulled the Trigger?



At 50 years, I’m not sure where we stand. Yes, we have more information. We know that most of the CIA’s public pronouncements about their connection to Oswald were simply lies. Yes, they had more than just a passing interest in Lee Harvey Oswald, much more. We know that a great many public figures, while publicly supporting the Warren Report, privately believed few if any of its conclusions. Despite the desperate efforts of former Commission attorneys like California Supreme Court Justice Richard Mosk, the segment of the people who believe that Lee Harvey Oswald fired the shots that killed JFK shrinks with each passing year.

Authors like Vincent Bugliosi and Gerald Posner have tried with all their might to back up the Warren Report, but they have been forced to cherry pick evidence, ignoring anything that didn’t fit their conclusions, just like the Warren Commission did. Indeed, Bugliosi uses blatant character assassination to counter conspiracy theories, which is not an argument at all. As I’ve pointed out before, it just makes Bugliosi look like an eight-year old on the playground.  Bugliosi simply tries to overwhelm the reader with words–over 1.5 million on the subject as a matter of fact.

The smoking guns in the JFK assassination lie not in the streets of New Orleans or the belly of the old Soviet Union. No, the smoking guns here rest in the still unanswered questions.

1)  Lee Harvey Oswald’s motive. He had none, at least none that’s ever been found. Even the Warren Commission could only come up with “possible” motives. Journalist Peter Savodnik tries to psychoanalyze Oswald in his new book, The Interloper, to provide a motive, but applying psychoanalysis to a man fifty years in the grave on the basis of what little we know of his life in the old Soviet Union is stretching it at best.

[And there's more worth wondering about...]

Nov 17 2013 9:15pm

The Death of JFK, Part 2: Trigger, Trigger! Who Pulled the Trigger?

Read here for Part 1: Five Things We Now Know

Continuing with...

U.S. Marine Rifle Sharpshooter badgeOswald’s Weapons Training

Inevitably, in any discussion of the Kennedy assassination, the question of Oswald’s ability to make the shots that killed President Kennedy is hotly debated. And rightly so. Both sides of the argument use Oswald’s marksmanship record with the U.S. Marines to support their positions. But let’s set aside agendas and look objectively as possible at the facts.

Recently, while doing research on this post, I watched a BBC program called “Infamous Assassinations.”  It boldly pronounced, “Lee Harvey Oswald had once been a sharpshooter in the Marine Corps.”  No, not true. He was a radar operator and never served as a sharpshooter.  There is no such rating in the U.S. Marine Corps. They do have snipers, but that is a completely separate thing. Sharpshooter is the middle of three qualification levels that all Marines have to achieve–from cooks to dental assistants–at their yearly weapons qualifications. We know two facts: the first time he qualified, it was two points above the minimum score for sharpshooter. The second time, he barely qualified at all. But do not mistake that, as so many lone gunman supporters have, as some sort of sniper rating.  Neither rating confers on him any sort of special ability. It’s actually pretty common.

 Most of the critics, who hang their hats on this, apparently know nothing about the US military. Each and every graduate of basic training or boot camp, must qualify as at least a marksman or they can’t graduate. Oswald was not a trained Marine sniper. This is not sniper training, but simple, basic marksmanship. If it was that difficult, we wouldn’t have a standing army. And the concept of some trainees receiving a little “help” to get them over the hump hasn’t been unknown either.  

[And even sharpshooters can go dull pretty fast...]

Nov 15 2013 11:30am

The Death of JFK, Part 1: Five Things We Now Know

John F. Kennedy, the 35th President of the United States of AmericaThe 50th anniversary of President John F. Kennedy’s assassination is quickly approaching on November 22nd.  And we’ve already been subjected to panel discussions, new books, letters to editors defending the Warren Commission, letters to editors condemning the Warren Commission, and a spate of films yet to come.  The divide between those who believe Lee Harvey Oswald solely responsible and those who believe that a conspiracy resulted in the death of JFK has never been more gaping.  But this is a good time to step back and look at how far we’ve come since 1963, which claims/theories from both sides have been rendered null and void and which have stood the test of time.

First, we need to accept the fact that nearly all is theory and speculation about this tragic event. Regardless of how many times the late Arlen Specter tried to convince us that the lone bullet theory is now lone bullet fact, he was wrong. It is still just a theory. Just like the theories that involve the Mafia, Cuban freedom fighters, the CIA, Lyndon Johnson. They are all just that: speculation, at best, informed speculation.


Lee Harvey Oswald never went to trial. As then Dallas police chief Jesse Curry once told the Dallas Morning News, ““We don't have any proof that Oswald fired the rifle, and never did. Nobody's yet been able to put him in that building with a gun in his hand.” The Warren Commission was not a substitute for a trial by jury. It was comprised of government officials, some of whom had their own agendas. We will never know how that trial might have turned out. Too many questions remain unanswered, and too many claims on both sides of the controversy just don’t hold water.

Let’s get another thing straight: conspiracies do exist. Regardless of how many journalists, both veterans and those still wet-behind-the-ears, make fun of conspiracy theorists, people conspire every day to break the law. Yes, sometimes such theories are out there on the fringe. But history shows that they do happen, even within the government. As a primer for those who have forgotten that character assassination is no argument at all, let’s remember Watergate and Iran-Contra. They were criminal conspiracies. People went to prison.  Those who talk of “tin foil hats” to mock conspiracy theorists need to return to being legitimate journalists and quit acting like kids on playgrounds calling people names. If you want to refute a claim, do it with facts.

A trio of blog posts can only scratch the surface, but I hope they can give a hint of the vast spider-web that surrounds the JFK assassination today.  So, to get started, here are Five Things We Know Now That We Didn’t Know Then:

1) Whether Lee Harvey Oswald was the sole person responsible for John Kennedy’s death or whether he was, as he phrased it, “a patsy,” the cornerstone of the Warren Commission findings was laid on November 25, 1963 by Assistant Attorney General Nicholas Katzenbach in a memo, which surfaced in the 1970s, written to LBJ aide Bill Moyers: “The public must be satisfied that Oswald was the assassin; that he did not have confederates who are still at large; and that evidence was such that he would have been convicted at trial.”

This was the same day as JFK’s funeral. Oswald was barely cold. No true investigation had really gotten off the ground. And yet, here we have the conclusions that will be drawn by the Warren Commission all laid out.  Although Warren Commission apologists try to talk their way out of this memo, it’s nearly impossible to explain away Katzenbach’s statement, made within 72 hours of the assassination. A fair and objective reading of the memo shows that, for whatever reason, Katzenbach either knew that Oswald was guilty or was willing to accept that conclusion, without an investigation.  And that is the question.  How could anyone be so certain that Oswald alone was guilty before any investigation had really begun?

[That's curious... wonder what else might be?]

Aug 27 2013 9:00am

Fresh Meat: The Lincoln Deception by David O. Stewart

The Lincoln Deception by David O. StewartThe Lincoln Deception by David O. Stewart is the prominent historian's debut novel, an elaboration upon a deathbed confession that unravels lingering mysteries behind the 1865 presidential assassination of Abraham Lincoln by John Wilkes Booth (available August 27, 2013).

Dr. Jamie Fraser, an Ohio MD, ministering to the aged John Bingham, prosecutor of the Lincoln conspirators, on his deathbed in 1900, hears a last confession of sorts.  Bingham tells Fraser of a secret that Mary Surratt told him in the days before her hanging, a secret that could shake the foundations of the nation. But he refuses to reveal to Fraser exactly what Surratt’s secret had been.  And with that, Fraser is launched on a quest to discover the truth behind Abraham Lincoln’s assassination.

David O. Stewart’s initial foray into fiction is an interesting effort for a couple of reasons. His main protagonist is in his mid to late thirties, born around the beginning of the Civil War, but too young to have any personal memories.  Somewhat like a Kennedy researcher born after 1963. His companion in this crusade is an African-American, a former baseball player, Speed Cook. And, as it should be in 1900, their alliance is an uneasy one.

[After so long, has the conspiracy gone cold?]

Aug 15 2013 8:30am

Truman’s Secretary of Defense James Forrestal: Murder or Suicide?

James ForrestalIn the conspiracy world, the death of James Forrestal is prima facie evidence of a cover-up of…. well, something. What that something is, is generally up for debate. But was his fall from the 16th floor of Bethesda Medical Center truly the suicide of a trouble man, or the murder of a man who knew too much?

James Forrestal was the last cabinet level Secretary of the Navy, and the first Secretary of Defense. But his primary civilian career had been in business on Wall Street. However, with the coming of the First World War, he joined the navy as an aviator, eventually reaching the rank of lieutenant.  In the war’s aftermath, Forrestal became something of a prodigy at promoting Democratic candidates in New York. His neighbor, Franklin Delano Roosevelt, didn’t forget, and as World War II approached, Forrestal was appointed special administrative assistant to Roosevelt and, shortly thereafter, to the new position of undersecretary of the Navy. Upon the death of Frank Knox in 1944, Forrestal succeeded him as Secretary of the Navy.

Though an exemplary businessman, Forrestal was faced with the challenges of bringing a wartime Navy down to peacetime levels, a not inconsiderable task.  When President Truman reorganized the defense establishment in 1947 and the position of Secretary of Defense emerged, Forrestal was the logical choice to lead the new defense department.

[It's not like anyone ever made enemies while in Politics, right?]

Jul 18 2013 4:30pm

Murder or Misadventure: The Great Houdini

Europe's Eclipsing Sensation Houdini, the World's Handcuff King and Prison BreakerHis real name was Erich Weiss, and he was born in Budapest, Austria-Hungary in 1874.   Fifty-two years later, he died under the name Harry Houdini, the greatest escape artist of his age.  In between, he astounded audiences around the world with his death-defying stunts.  Beyond the expected handcuff escapes, he perfected the Chinese Water Torture Cell, where he was suspended upside down in a glass cabinet filled with water.  And he was the bane of spiritualists and mediums, having dedicated himself to exposing their scams.  But was his death in 1926 from a ruptured appendix a regrettable accident, the result of his own stubbornness, or was he killed by a stalker?

The controversy surrounding Houdini’s death isn’t something new.  It began swirling almost immediately.  The most common recitation of events has it that Houdini was performing at the Princess Theater in Montreal.  On October 22nd, 1926, before his show, three college students from McGill University, were given the opportunity to go backstage and meet Houdini.  One student, a J. Gordon Whitehead, allegedly asked Houdini if it were true that he could take a punch to the abdomen without any effect.  Houdini said it was, at which time Whitehead, without warning, socked him in the stomach.  (There is dispute as to whether it was a single blow or multiple ones.)  Houdini had been ill, and it was thought that Whitehead’s punch ruptured his appendix.

[Should've escaped playing college towns...]

Jun 18 2013 1:00pm

A Quick Hit and Run from CrimeFest 2013

The 6th annual Bristol UK’s CrimeFest 2013 has come and gone. And a great time was absolutely had by all.

I attended this year, along with some 500 other authors and fans, and it was well worth the time and expense to network with fellow writers and mystery fans throughout the United Kingdom.

The Bristol Marriott Royal, next door to the historic Bristol Cathedral, hosts the conference.    Headliners of this year’s gathering were Robert Goddard, the creators of BBC’s Sherlock series – Mark Gattis, Steven Moffat, and producer Sue Vertue – and Lincoln Rhyme's creator Jeffery Deaver.

[A promising start, to be sure]

May 15 2013 11:00am

The Murder of Franklin Delano Roosevelt

In April 1945, the end of World War II was finally in sight. Franklin Delano Roosevelt, recently elected to an unprecedented fourth term as president, was at his Warm Springs, Georgia, retreat, sitting for a painting. He reminded the artist that she only had 15 more minutes to work, then complained of a sudden, blinding headache, lost consciousness, and died.

Quite frankly, even someone as suspicious as I would have bought that story, hook, line, and sinker. Roosevelt had been in bad health for years, after a bout with polio left him dependent upon crutches or a wheelchair. The doctors, seeing no real need for an autopsy, decided that it must have been a cerebral hemorrhage.

And so, FDR was buried and Harry S. Truman became president.

[Nothing suspicious about that... or is there?]

Apr 15 2013 11:00am

The Murder of Lawrence of Arabia

He was a small man, only 5-foot-5, but he cast a shadow that stretched across the Arabian peninsula.  Dressed in the thobe and ghoutra of an Arab sheikh, he banded together the Arab tribes and led his Bedouin raiders across the desert that had never been crossed, the Nafud, to assault the landward side of Aqaba, a World War I Turkish stronghold. And, after that stunning achievement, with the aid of the British army, he took his ragtag Bedouin force and launched a guerilla campaign that cost the Turks precious manpower and equipment. 

His name was Thomas Edward Lawrence, better known now as “Lawrence of Arabia.” But was his death in May 1935 a tragic motorcycle accident or a carefully planned political assassination?

[All men dream, but not equally...]

Apr 4 2013 11:00am

The Death of Meriwether Lewis: Suicide or Murder?

He was one half of the famous Lewis & Clark expedition. He was secretary to President Thomas Jefferson, living behind canvas walls on the ground floor of the new, unfinished Executive Mansion. He was the first American governor of the Louisiana Territory. But, in early October 1809, Meriwether Lewis was found shot in the head in a room of an inn on the old Natchez Trace near present-day Hohenwald, Tennessee.

The verdict:  Suicide.

Thirty-nine years later, in 1848, an effort was launched to locate Lewis’s grave and provide a proper memorial.  The remains were exhumed and a coroner’s jury made a determination of cause of death.

The verdict: Murder.

[And the mystery begins...]

Oct 26 2012 9:30am

Robert Johnson: Murder or Bad Whiskey?

Did he sell his soul to the devil to get his talent?They say that on a dark, moonless night, he went down to the crossroads and sold his soul to the devil, just to play the guitar. He used four or five different names, traveling through the Delta, playing at juke joints and on street corners, with a girlfriend in every town. But on a fateful night in 1938 Mississippi, legendary blues guitarist Robert Johnson died.

Many say he was murdered, poisoned by the jealous husband of one of the many women who caught his eye. But companions of Johnson’s say he drank heavily, especially illegal whiskey. So what happened and what’s the evidence? Did murder take the man who was arguably the greatest of Delta blues guitarists? Or did he die by his own hand, the one holding the bottle?

Johnson was born in Mississippi in 1911. What little is known about his life is thanks to blues performer John P. Hammond, who traveled throughout the South interviewing acquaintances and companions of Johnson, producing a documentary “The Search for Robert Johnson.” It is fortunate that he did as many of those folks are now gone.

[Get ’em before they’re gone!]

Oct 4 2012 12:00pm

Murder or Misadventure: The Death of William Shakespeare

William Shakespeare’s Death Mask“Shakespeare, Drayton, and Ben Jonson had a merry meeting, and it seems drank too hard; for Shakespeare died of a fever there contracted.” The Vicar of Stratford-upon-Avon, 1661

He was 52 years old on the day he died, the richest man in his hometown, the greatest playwright of his age. But even now, nearly 400 years later, much of that life remains shrouded in mystery. The very truth of his identity is debated vigorously, vehemently. So why should the death of William Shakespeare be any different? In the 1970s, handwriting expert Charles Hamilton, who was involved in proving the famous Hitler diaries were an elaborate hoax, made the astonishing claim that William Shakespeare’s last will and testament provided evidence that the great bard had died by poisoning, perhaps even by the hand of a murderer. And the claim came with the support of famed forensic pathologist Michael Baden. In 2005, efforts were launched by American forensic scientist James Starrs to exhume Shakespeare’s remains in Holy Trinity Church to test for poisons. As recently as 2011, anthropologist Francis Thackeray sought permission to exhume Shakespeare both to determine the exact cause of his death and to find evidence to support his theory that Shakespeare indulged in smoking marijuana.

[So that’s how he got all his wild ideas?]

Aug 10 2012 10:00am

Ancient Crimes, Modern Detection

Wait, I thought YOU were going to dissect the manubrium sterni...The world is in love with methods of forensic crime detection. We have been entranced by CSI (the original) and every spin-off it has produced. Abby Sciuto and her mass spectrometer add immeasurably to the strength of the Navy-based NCIS series, not to mention the ubiquitous Dr. Donald “Ducky” Mallard and his scalpel and keen insight into the human mind. Even the popular, fictional forensic television series Bones has ventured into the JFK assassination with the episode, “The Proof in the Pudding.”

We’ve been bombarded through television with various reality shows dedicated to investigating ancient crimes. Unearthing Ancient Secrets (UAS) and MysteryQuest are just two. UAS has brought actual criminal investigators into the worlds of ancient Rome, Babylonia, Alexandria, and Victorian England to apply modern investigative techniques to such events as Julius Caesar’s murder by Roman senators; the odd, premature death of Alexander the Great; the deaths of Cleopatra and Marc Antony; and, of course, Jack the Ripper.

[Make no bones about it . . .]

Jun 28 2012 1:45pm

Civil War Mysteries in Time for the Sesquicentennial Anniversary

The first, jarring shot of the American Civil War ripped through the air 151 years ago. The last shot faded into the sky 147 years ago. But did it? In many ways, the South has risen again. Certain kinds of Confederate belt buckles can sell for as much as $3000. Sons of Union Veteran camps and Sons of Confederate Veteran camps prosper. Civil War round tables meet regularly around the world. And now we have hit a prime anniversary. The 150th, the Sesquicentennial.

It was the bloodiest conflict fought on this continent. At least 618,000 Americans died as a result of the war. The First Texas lost more than 82 percent of its strength at Antietam. The First Minnesota lost 82 percent at Gettysburg. It was a merciless war that saw as many lives lost to disease as to combat. Here in Savannah, Tennessee, where I live, typhoid fever killed so many before the Battle of Shiloh, that they ran out of wood to build coffins. And it really did pit brother against brother. In my own family, one great-great grandfather fought for the Union in Tennessee. His brother was a sergeant with the Confederate army in North Carolina. In point of fact, I had innumerable grandparents (of varying degree) and collateral ancestors that fought on both sides in that war. An old friend of mine tells the story of Bully Hysmith, who fought for the Confederacy on the first day of Shiloh, saw which way the wind was blowing and fought for the Union on the second day.

[So much devastation, the era was ripe for mystery . . .]

Apr 4 2012 12:00pm

The Stolen Bride: New Excerpt

Tony Hays

The Stolen Bride by Tony HaysAn excerpt from The Stolen Bride by Tony Hays, a Malgwyn ap Cuneglas medieval Arthurian mystery (available April 10, 2012).

Malgwyn ap Cuneglas is counselor to Arthur, High King of the Britons. When he accompanies his liege to the West to broker a deal between warring tribes they come across a scene of utmost depravity and murder to sicken even the most battle-hardened warrior. Things don’t get any better when they finally arrive at their destination to discover that King Doged is fighting to keep his kingdom safe from both Saxons from abroad and younger nobles vying for power. Doged loses that fight when shortly after Arthur and his counselor arrive, he is murdered. His young wife, defenseless and alone, appeals to Arthur to find her husband’s killer. Arthur quickly agrees and Malgwyn is given this almost impossible task.

Why would Arthur be so interested in helping keep this small region stable and under the High King influence? Perhaps because Doged’s people had discovered caves that might contain huge veins of gold. . . .

Chapter 1

My belly roiled and threatened to revolt. Bodies lay prostrate on the ground, in the lanes. Flies buzzed about them, feeding on the blood that reddened their wounds. The sickly sweet scent of death lay heavy in the air. For a moment, just the briefest of moments, I was not here, in this city of death, but staring instead at my own village, at my own cottage, at my beloved Gwyneth, freshly killed, freshly ravaged. I almost rushed into one of the silent huts to find my daughter, Mariam, but I knew that these raiders had been more thorough than the Saxons.

[Read the full excerpt of The Stolen Bride by Tony Hays]

Dec 21 2011 9:30am

Family Can Be Murder: the Hatfields and the McCoys

Was a hog the root of the Hatfield/McCoy feud?It started with a pig. Or, at least, that’s what some people say. Others claim it was just a continuation of the violence of the Civil War; indeed, one theory says that the first actual murder in the feud occurred in the last days of that conflict, and the pig, thirteen years later, was only an excuse.  And what is this “it” that we’re discussing?  Only the most famous blood feud in American history: The Hatfields & McCoys, complete with its own Romeo & Juliet mountain moment.

[Wherefore art thou, blood feud?]

Oct 14 2011 12:30pm

Shakespeare as Sherlock

Shakespeare as DetectiveWithin the last thirty years, readers have been exposed to several new versions of William Shakespeare, the Bard of Avon, versions that take us far afield from the Shakespeare that tradition has presented us.  And primarily, those variations have been seen in historical mysteries and romantic suspense.  We are given a view of Shakespeare as Sherlock Holmes, and his Watsonian counterpart(s), that are as varied as the plots our hero tries to sort out.

I came to this field honestly.  Back in the late 80s and early 90s, I was pursuing a MA degree in Creative Writing.  For part of the literature component, I took a graduate seminar in Shakespeare.  It was an intense experience-–8 plays in 16 weeks.  The midterm and the final examination included sections in which we were given Shakespearean quotes.  We were required to identify each quote by play, act, scene, speaker and its significance to the play.  Such intense study begs some relief.  So, I began writing an historical mystery that featured a kind, yet enigmatic, Shakespeare, who shared his room with a young actor who had been his apprentice.   A murder on stage at the Globe threatens to shut the theatre down.  Shakespeare and his amanuensis must sort it out.  Thus was born my master’s thesis and my first published novel.

[Hark Watson! Elementary it be!]

Sep 17 2011 10:00am

It’s Da Bomb!

A lovely package...but what’s inside?My adventure began in late July of 1997. I had been in my position as academic director for an American NGO since November 1, 1996. On this particular Wednesday morning, we had just ended a term of adult English and my children’s classes were ongoing. I was fresh from a ten day vacation in Luxor, Egypt where I had reacquainted myself with the Valley of the Kings, the Temple of Karnak, and the bustling bazaar. I had been chosen the spring before to be the founding chairman of the Overseas Security Advisory Council – Kuwait, a nonprofit group sponsored by the US State Department and comprised of members of the different segments of the American expatriate community. Our role was to assist and advise the embassy in terms of security concerns, civilian evacuations, etc. We also received training in things like identifying letter bombs or strange packages.

[And then it all goes wrong...]

Sep 10 2011 10:00am

The Best—And Worst—Conspiracy Books

A million conspiracies surround us all the time.I do not believe every conspiracy theory that comes down the pipe. I really don’t. I am not a 9/11 “truther.” I am not a “birther.” But, as Sixth Floor Museum head Gary Mack famously told Jesse Ventura, “when I go home at night, I think there has to be something more than Lee Harvey Oswald.” When it comes down to it, I believe that William Shakespeare, the man from Stratford, wrote the works of … William Shakespeare.

I read widely in conspiracy literature for one reason. Not all conspiracy theories are without merit, and not all conspiracy theorists are “wackos.” In the world of logical fallacies, this is called an argumentum ad hominem or “argument to the man.” You do not attack your opponent’s argument, the facts, or the logic. You try to undermine their credibility by calling them names. If that sounds juvenile, it is.

That said, to paraphrase George Orwell, some conspiracy books are more equal than others. Here are my choices for the top five best conspiracy books out there, in no particular order, and then the five worst.

[They’re your own choices? You’re sure you haven’t been brainwashed?]