Sylvia Meagher

Sylvia Meagher

Sylvia Orenstein was born in New York City on 22nd July, 1921. She later recalled she was brought up in an Orthodox Jewish home "with this angry God and always mournful or solemn atmosphere".

While taking evening classes at Brooklyn College she met and married her teacher, James Meagher. He was an alcoholic and they had a difficult relationship: "It was a tragedy, as he was a most talented and admirable person in every way, and a poet, but could not resist the addiction and finally stopped trying."

Sylvia Meagher was a research analyst at the UN’s World Health Organization. She took a strong interest in the assassination of John F. Kennedy and read the twenty-six volumes of the hearings and exhibits of the Warren Commission: "It was appalling to find how many of the Commission's statements were unsupportable or even completely contradicted by the testimony and/or exhibits... I began to list what is now a long list of deliberate misrepresentations, omissions, distortions, and other defects demonstrating not only extreme bias, incompetence, and carelessness but irrefutable instances of dishonesty."

In 1965 Meagher published Subject Index to the Warren Report and Hearings and Exhibits. As Meagher pointed out, studying the entire twenty-six volumes without a subject index would be "tantamount to a search for information in the Encylopedia Britannica if the contents were untitled, unalphabetized, and in random sequence."

A deep study of the Warren Commission Report convinced her that the its detailed evidence contradicted its general conclusions. Meagher therefore published Accessories After the Fact: The Warren Commission, the Authorities, and the Report (1967). Meagher was unconvinced that Lee Harvey Oswald had been a lone gunman and concluded that the Warren Commission had attempted to cover-up details of the real people behind the assassination. Meagher believed that John F. Kennedy had been killed by a group Anti-Castro exiles.

Sylvia Meagher
Sylvia Meagher

Meagher helped Mark Lane (Rush to Judgment), Léo Sauvage (The Oswald Affair - an Examination of the Contradictions and Omissions of the Warren Report) and Edward Jay Epstein (Inquest: The Warren Commission and the Establishment of Truth) in their research. In his book Sauvage commented: “I wish to express my gratitude to Mrs. Sylvia Meagher, author of an indispensable Subject Index and the only person in the world who really knows every item hidden in the twenty-six volumes of Hearings and Exhibits… With total unselfishness, Mrs. Meagher has always been available to me as to others, for any needed information, verification, or reference.”

In 1975 Richard Schweiker, who later became a member of the House Select Committee on Assassinations, pointed out that the Accessories After the Fact: The Warren Commission, the Authorities, and the Report "clearly establish Sylvia Meagher’s major contribution to understanding this tragic incident in our nation’s history... and was instrumental in finally causing a committee of Congress - with full subpoena power, access to classified documents, and a working knowledge of the nuances of the FBI and CIA - to take a second official look at what happened in Dallas November 22, 1963.”

In 1980 Meagher co-authored with Gary Owen, the Master Index to the John F.Kennedy Assassination Investigations. This book incorporated the House Select Committee on Assassinations volumes with the original Warren Commission Report. The lawyer, Russell Stetler, commented: "To the FBI agents in Dallas - who at least were doing their research on company time-the thought of plowing through thousands of pages of unindexed reference material was indeed daunting. Should we not pause to imagine how intimidating such work looked to spare-time researchers, that first generation of Warren Commission critics? Sylvia Meagher’s index to the volumes not only enabled many researchers to get to work, pushed them over the first hurdle, so to speak; her efforts also provided a model of scholarly rigor and selfless personal dedication which has only grown more stunning with the passage of time."

Sylvia Meagher died at St. Vincent's Hospital in New York City, at the age of 67, on 14th January, 1989.

Primary Sources

(1) Sylvia Meagher, Accessories After the Fact (1967)

Decision after decision, the State Department removed every obstacle before Oswald... on his path from Minsk to Dallas. The State Department's extraordinary and unorthodox decisions and the decisions taken by other U.S. official agencies in regard to Oswald fall into several general categories: (1) repeated failure to prepare a 'lookout card' to check Oswald's movement outside the US; (2) grant and renewal of Oswalds passport despite cause for negative action; (3) apparent inaction and indifference to Oswald's possible disclosure of classified military data; and (4) pressure exerted and exceptional measures taken on behalf of Marina Oswald's entry into the US.

(2) Calvin Trillin, The New Yorker (June 1967)

When the Warren Report was published, some ten months after the assassination, most Americans seemed to accept its conclusions, most editorialists praised it for its thoroughness and clarity, one or two reviewers criticized it as taking the form of a brief for the prosecution, and perhaps a dozen obscure citizens, unaware of each other’s existence, began to pore over it to prove that it was wrong. Eventually, of course, critical books were written on the Report by professional journalists such as Léo Sauvage, an American correspondent for Le Figaro, and Sylvan Fox, the former city editor of the World-Telegram & Sun; Mark Lane, the author of Rush to Judgment, and Harold Weisberg, the author of Whitewash and Whitewash II, became more or less professional critics; Edward Jay Epstein, whose book on the alleged bungling of the Warren Commission investigation, Inquest, is generally considered the single greatest contribution to making criticism of the Report respectable, entered the field through the orthodox routine of scholarship - in order to earn a Master’s degree by analyzing the workings of a governmental commission; and James Garrison, operating on the premise that the Warren Commission failed to fulfill its duties, launched an investigation of his own as district attorney of New Orleans. But in the two and a half years between the assassination and the publication of Epstein’s book, most of the hours spent examining the official version of the President’s murder were spent by people who had no professional reason for their interest and no plans to make a full-time career out of criticizing the Warren Report. They tend to refer to themselves (and the professionals) as “investigators” or “researchers” or, most often, “critics.” They are also known as “assassination buffs.”

(3) New York Review of Books (7th December, 1967)

A critic of the Warren Report, it seems to me, is obliged to apply to Garrison's evidence the same strict and objective tests which he applied to the Commission's evidence. By that yardstick, I find little merit in the testimony of Russo and Bundy, although for reasons other than those against which Professor Popkin (NYR, September 14) argues. Russo's story, quite apart from the questions raised about resort to hypnosis and sodium pentothal to elicit his story, seems to me inherently bereft of credibility. I can scarcely believe that three conspirators discussed the logistics of a plan to assassinate President Kennedy in the presence of a fourth person, whom they left at liberty to inform on them whenever the spirit moved him - before or after the assassination was accomplished. (Other objections to Russo's testimony may or may not be warranted; for example, Professor Popkin concedes that the notes of the first interview with Russo written by Garrison's aide Andrew Sciambra do not include this episode, but he does not explain why it was omitted if, as Sciambra insists, it was discussed. I have heard a number of different explanations from Garrison's supporters among the critics, none of which provided plausible reasons for the omission of what was undeniably the central part of Russo's story.)

As for Bundy's allegations, I am skeptical not because of his drug addiction in the past but because I reject an identification by any witness, however upright, of a person or persons viewed on one occasion, from a distance, almost four years earlier.

Mr. Garrison has not yet revealed the basis for his allegation that Clay Shaw met with and passed money to Oswald and Jack Ruby at Baton Rouge on September 3, 1963. Perhaps his evidence for the Baton Rouge rendezvous will be more substantial than his evidence for the meeting in Ferrie's apartment. But I must remind Professor Popkin that long before the Baton Rouge meeting was mentioned, Mr. Garrison claimed that he had established a link between Shaw, Oswald, and Ruby by decoding identical cryptograms ("P.O. Box 19106") in Oswald's and Shaw's address books which, when decoded, proved to be Ruby's unpublished 1963 telephone number. Professor Popkin's article does not mention this claim by Garrison. Perhaps he shares my view that Mr. Garrison's cryptographic "evidence" is an embarrassment, predicated on a misreading of the Oswald entry and a false assumption about the Shaw entry. If Professor Popkin does accept the "code," it is far more solid than some of the other evidence he has mentioned as indicating that Garrison is on the right track. But even if he does not accept the "code," Professor Popkin should still have mentioned it in his inventory of Garrison's evidence, since it is highly relevant to an evaluation of the district attorney's forensic skill and scruples….

The question is, can Garrison prove the theory correct and sustain his charges that the persons he has accused were indeed parties to the assassination? I am not so impressed as Professor Popkin with Garrison's procedural successes to date, nor do I regard the conviction of Dean Andrews as a triumph, since it leaves unresolved the exact nature of the perjury. Was it that Andrews, knowing that Shaw was Bertrand, failed to make a positive identification? Or was it that, knowing that Shaw was not Bertrand, Andrews failed to make an explicit denial? And what of Andrews's allegation that the District Attorney asked him over dinner not to make an explicit denial that Shaw was Bertrand? I do not find this necessarily inconceivable; nor do I forget that Dean Andrews insisted, loud and clear, in July 1964, that Oswald did not commit the assassination - almost three years before Mr. Garrison's public statement that there was no evidence that Oswald had shot anyone on November 22, 1963….

I am willing to wait with Professor Popkin for the trial, but since the known evidence on Mr. Garrison's side (the Russo/Bundy testimony, the "code," and the Baton Rouge rendezvous) is, at best, vulnerable, I find no basis for assuming that the still-submerged evidence will be convincing or conclusive. On the contrary, there is more reason to fear that it will be as contrived and insubstantial as the so-called code of Ruby's phone number….

(4) Russell Stetler, introduction to Sylvia Meagher's Master Index to the John F.Kennedy Assassination Investigations (1980)

To the FBI agents in Dallas - who at least were doing their research on company time-the thought of plowing through thousands of pages of unindexed reference material was indeed daunting. Should we not pause to imagine how intimidating such work looked to spare-time researchers, that first generation of Warren Commission critics? Sylvia Meagher’s index to the volumes not only enabled many researchers to get to work, pushed them over the first hurdle, so to speak; her efforts also provided a model of scholarly rigor and selfless personal dedication which has only grown more stunning with the passage of time.

The Warren Commission’s failure to provide an index to its twenty-six volumes - if only for the future use of the FBI - was inexcusable. An index would have cost the taxpayers some money, to be sure; but the sum could have approached one-half of the percent of what the Warren Commission had already spent. The long-term saving might have been measured in the time that the FBI could have saved in checking out future leads and rumors. The best that can be said in defense of the Commission is that it never dreamed that its volumes would receive such intense scrutiny over the years.

(5) Sylvia Meagher and Gary Owen, Master Index to the John F. Kennedy Assassination Investigations (1980)

Study of the Hearings and Exhibits has destroyed the grounds for confidence in the Warren Report. Study has shown the Report to contain (1) statements of fact which are inaccurate and untrue, in the light of the official Exhibits and objective verification; (2) statements for which the citations fail to provide authentication; (3) misrepresentation of the testimony; (4) omission of references to testimony inimical to findings in the Report; (5) suppression of findings favorable to Oswald; (6) incomplete investigation of suspicious circumstances which remain unexplained; (7) misleading statements resulting from inadequate attention to the contents of Exhibits; (8) failure to obtain testimony from crucial witnesses; and (9) assertions which are diametrically opposite to the logical inferences to be drawn from the relevant testimony or evidence.

(6) Kenneth A. Rahn, Sylvia Meagher (2003)

Meagher’s leftist leanings can be seen in quotes from her. For example, the dedication to her book reads: “This book is dedicated to the innocent victims of a society which often inflicts indignity, imprisonment, and even death on the obscure and helpless.” She wanted an “end to the cold war and a beginning of genuine peace, for equality and mutual respect among men, for the rule of law and an end to brute violence.” A passage on page xxiii of her Foreword also shows her leanings: “On the day of the assassination the national climate of arrogance and passivity in the face of relentless violence - beatings, burnings, bombings, and shootings - yielded in some quarters to a sudden hour of humility and self-criticism. The painful moment passed quickly, for the official thesis of the lone, random assassin destroyed the impulse for national self-scrutiny and repentance. Thus, the climate of cruelty and barbaric hatred was restored after what was scarcely an interruption, and it was possible for Cuban émigrés - virtually with impunity and without regard for the hundreds of people who might be killed or injured - to fire a bazooka at the United Nations Headquarters building to express displeasure at the presence there of Che Guevara. Thus it was possible for American Nazi thugs to assault peaceful citizens assembled at a public meeting in Dallas at Christmas 1965. This it is possible for Americans to look upon the napalmed children of Vietnam and listen to their terror nightly over the television tubes, and to go about their daily business as usual.”

From the minute the assassination was announced, it seemed improbable to her, and she became “instantaneously skeptical” of the official explanation. She was convinced that the government’s story was false and that they (including the Dallas authorities) would try to pin it on a Communist. This suspicion was reinforced when Oswald’s name, background, and guilt was announced. She felt that the Dallas authorities piled evidence on Oswald too fast. In response, she started to read on the assassination and save every article she could find on it. She attended several of Mark Lane’s lectures in NYC but reserved judgment until the Warren Report appeared. Feeling that she could not possibly understand the Report as is, she created her own index, a work that took several months and 152 pages. The results convinced her that the Warren Commission’s detailed evidence contradicted its general conclusions. Three years of study convinced her that she had been right.