NOW IT CAN BE TOLD ~ THE LEE BOWERS STORY
On May 6, 1992, Now It Can Be Told aired a program with the intriguing title The Curse of JFK. During that show Geraldo Rivera and his staff of reporters discussed the death of Lee Bowers Jr. Bowers died August 9, 1966 about four hours after the car he was driving drifted off a north Texas road and struck a concrete abutment.
At the time of the Kennedy assassination Bowers worked in a railroad switch tower behind Dealey Plaza. As tower operator he had an unobstructed view of the area in back of the picket fence. The House Select Committee identified that location as the probable position of a second gunman. The Warren Commission felt Bowers' observations were important enough to depose him.
Over the years investigators have related conflicting anecdotes of how Bowers died. Some individuals claim the auto accident was a murder. The account usually follows the line that someone killed Bowers because he saw too much, never told The Warren Commission all he knew and could have identified participants in the assassination.
To me, Geraldo Rivera is a sensationalist. His staff does not take time to confirm witnesses' stories. His research consultants' veracity is usually unquestioned. The search for documentation is superficial. Opinions pass as facts. With The Curse of JFK this led to inaccurate reporting.
My investigation of Bowers' death began about a year ago. I spoke with family members, friends and checked public records. During Geraldo's show a guest mentioned Lee's brother Monty. Monty died a few years after Lee. I first contacted Monty's widow in August 1991 and now because of this program called again to ask for her help. She and her family provided leads and background information concerning events of that period.
After speaking with Monty's widow, I decided to reopen my probe into Bowers' death. I would retrace the steps taken by Rivera's staff. Maybe I could come up with some names, conduct interviews and find what parts of The Curse of JFK were fact and what was fiction.
Geraldo opened the segment with the first of many inaccurate statements. He claimed Lee Bowers wanted to know who killed JFK. " . . . (He) was looking for the answer to that question until his untimely death." There is no evidence that Bowers ever attempted to learn who shot Kennedy.
Next assassination researcher Robert Groden appeared. He remarked, "Lee Bowers was heading west here on highway sixty-seven heading from Midlothian down to Cleburne and according to an eyewitness he was driven off the road by a black car. Drove him into this bridge abutment. He didn't die immediately, he held on for four hours and during that time he was talking to the ambulance people and told them that he felt he had been drugged when he stopped for coffee back there a few miles in Midlothian."
Author, researcher Penn Jones Jr. in his book Forgive My Grief II said, ". . . his car drifted, according to two eyewitnesses, into a concrete bridge abutment at 9:30 a.m. going at a speed of fifty miles per hour. The doctor from Midlothian who attended Bowers stated that he did not have a heart attack and that he thought Bowers was in some sort of 'strange shock'."
Since Groden and Jones appeared on the same show, I thought Geraldo's staff would have talked to both men. They gave conflicting versions of the same story!
Were there three witnesses? Groden found one, Jones two. Groden discovered some ambulance attendants who claimed Bowers said someone drugged him. Jones found a doctor who maintained Bowers was in a strange shock? Did the car drift or was it forced into the abutment? Who observed the mysterious black car?
I started my inquiry by examining a description of the accident. The summary appeared in Penn Jones' own newspaper, The Midlothian Mirror.
I called the Pat Martin Funeral Home. The Martin Funeral Home is now the Coward Funeral Home. Mr. Noel Coward purchased the Martin Funeral Home in 1964 retaining the Martin name for advertising purposes. Coward suffered a stroke recently and is confined to a nursing home. However, because of the notoriety surrounding Bowers' accident, he remembers the episode well. He was the ambulance driver.
If the police requested the ambulance Coward might respond alone as the police officers would help load the victim(s). If Coward had an attendant with him, it would be "Skeet" Meadows. Meadows died in 1991. Coward, through his wife, told me that stories about the ambulance attendants talking to Bowers are "bull." When Coward arrived "the man's head was pretty bad." Coward thought he was dead. He loaded Bowers into the ambulance and headed for Tenery Community Hospital. There was no doctor at the scene as Penn Jones implied.
It would have been better if Jones provided the name of the alleged physician but Forgive My Grief II has no footnotes. I found it bizarre a doctor would use the term "strange shock." Wouldn't anyone that struck a concrete abutment ". . . at fifty miles per hour" be in shock?I started my search for the doctor.
When the ambulance arrived at the hospital, Dr. R.E. Bohl met it. Bohl still works at Tenery, now Baylor Medical of Waxahachie. Over the phone Bohl stated, "I was never at the scene. The patient was in shock but not a strange shock. He had severe head injuries and was unconscious. He was unconscious all the time I was with him. I was trying to save his life. He was transferred to Methodist (Hospital) in Dallas where he died."
I asked Bohl why he remembered the details. Bohl remarked he received some unusual phone calls several years after the episode. "One was from a national magazine and another from a newspaper. The reporters wanted to know what clothes the patient was wearing and if he had a finger missing. I told them I was too busy trying to save the patient and I didn't notice."
In 1991 I interviewed Charles Good. Good was not only a friend of Bowers but a member of the Texas Highway Patrol. He claims to have investigated the accident. Good suggested Bowers was returning to Dallas from Mansfield, Texas where Lee had been showing some real estate. Good arrived at the scene hours later:
From his interview with the witness Good formed the opinion that another car forced the Bowers' vehicle off the road. I discussed the possibility that Bowers drove the car in the rear. If the driver in front wasn't looking in the rear view mirror he would not know the accident occurred. Good conceded the point a valid one.
Midlothian is a small town. After some research there, I concluded R.V. Edwards was one, if not the only witness. Roy Virgil Edwards died on January 26, 1986. Dr. Bohl verified that Edwards witnessed the accident. Bohl's medical office is in Midlothian. Edwards was one of his patients. Additional corroboration came from Mrs. Coward (both she and her husband knew him) and Barham Alderdice, publisher of The Midlothian Mirror. Bohl and Alderdice acknowledge Edwards maintained he was driving a tractor in a nearby field at the time of the accident.
Dr. Bohl claims Edwards said, "The car simply drove into the abutment." Mrs. Coward only knew Edwards was a witness. Mr. Alderdice related Edwards told him the car hit the abutment so hard it was ". . . like it was pulled into it (the abutment)." Good is the only one I can find who mentions a second car.
What about the spiked coffee story? I understand Bowers often stopped for coffee, but not in Midlothian. He would drop by the Lockwood Pharmacy in Dallas before his trips. He met with Doris H. Burns, Dr. Alfred Cinnamon and Charles Good. Doris Burns moved to Mississippi or Florida. I was unable to locate her. Dr. Cinnamon died in 1989. Good maintains Bowers told his three friends he saw more than he told The Warren Commission. Good cannot document his claim.
Then, there is Robert Groden's story about the mysterious black car. I can't find a legitimate reference to it anywhere. Good never mentioned the color of either car to me. I discovered Fort Worth, Texas researcher Gary Mack interviewed Good several years ago. He indicates Good did tell him the story of a black car forcing Bowers off the road. Mack also suggested he (Mack) related the story to Groden. Based upon my interviews with Dr. Bohl, Mrs. Coward and Mr. Alderdice, I question the authenticity of this account.
The next stop for the show is Dealey Plaza. Walter Rishel appears with a reporter (Morey Terry [phonetic]). Rishel confides that Bowers told him all about what he saw from the railroad switch tower. He explains that Lee saw two men fire shots from the picket fence. The reporter asks Rishel why he thinks Bowers was afraid to speak out.
Does this mean a sinister group hacked Lee's finger off to shut him up?
Here is what my research shows about the incident. Rishel is a self-proclaimed close friend of Monty and Lee Bowers. Monty's widow and her brothers don't recall him. I cannot prove Rishel's friendship with Lee through Lee's mother and father. Both died earlier. At any rate, the family finds Rishel's story inaccurate. They assert Lee lost only the tip of a finger, if that. Bowers injured the finger at a swimming pool party sponsored by the Green Clinic of Oak Cliff. He had his hand draped over the edge of the pool. Someone jumped into the water feet first crushing the finger against the side of the pool.
At the time of the injury Lee was the Green Clinic's bookkeeper. Family members gather Lee had his finger treated at the clinic by Doctor Tim Richard Green. Green graduated from the University of Texas, Baylor College of Medicine. He practiced general surgery and treated this type of injury previously. The damage appears minor as no one including Rishel remembers which finger Lee injured.
All the conflicting stories confused me. I decided to contact Charles Good again and telephoned him on the evening of June 17, 1992. I will paraphrase our conversation.
Perry: When we spoke the last time you said you investigated the accident, is that correct?
Perry: Were you acting officially as a member of the Texas Highway Patrol?
Good: No, in fact I don't think I went to the scene until the next day.
Perry: Did you interview anyone?
Good: Yes, there was a man working in a field near the scene.
Perry: Do you know the man's name?
Good: No, but he was either repairing fences or working on a fence in a field near the scene.
Perry: Was he riding a tractor? Good: No, but this was the next day, he may have been driving a tractor when the accident happened.
Perry: Can you tell me what the man said?
Good: He said he, "Saw two cars coming down the road. Then he turned away, heard a crash and looked back. One car had run into a concrete abutment and the other kept on going."
Perry: Did the man interpret this as suspicious?
Perry: Did the man describe the color of either car to you?
Good: No, I never asked about the color of either car.
Perry: Did you ever hear of Roy Edwards?
Perry: I believe that was the man you spoke to.
Good: Ok, but I don't remember his name.
Perry: Did you ever hear of Walter Rishel?
Perry: Do you remember if Lee ever lost a finger?
Good: I don't remember Lee losing a finger but I think he cut a finger on a table saw. He came into the Lockwood Pharmacy one time with a finger bandaged. I don't think Dr. Cinnamon was there at the time. Doris Burns and I asked him about it.
Perry: Just before Lee injured his finger, did he disappear for a couple of days?
Good: Absolutely not.
Perry: Do you recall how long before Lee's death he injured his finger?
Good: I can't remember exactly.
Back to the program. Since the reporter had discovered in Rishel a friend of both Lee and Monty, why not get an "expert" opinion on Lee's death? Rishel quickly obliged. He contends that shortly after Lee died he ". . . was in Monty's office. He (Monty) was very upset because the insurance company had refused to pay the claim. I can't recall too vividly but I believe that Monty felt that the insurance company did not believe that the death was accidental."
Walter Rishel is correct on this point. The insurance company did not want to make good on the claim immediately. Monty Bower's widow tells me Monty had to deal with the insurance adjuster's belief that it was no accident. The company thought it was a suicide. Lee obtained an accident/health/life policy within a year of his death. The insurance company was investigating under the "suicide clause" contained in the policy.
At this point, Geraldo's brother Craig declares, "Bowers also told his minister that he had seen more than he told publicly." To learn the name of this individual, I checked the Bowers' obituary. The item appeared in the Dallas Times Herald, August 10, 1966 on page 12C.
Local researcher Dr. David Murph interviewed Reverend Will Bailey. Coincidentally, David Murph is a minister who has known Rev. Bailey for several years. The two talked June 11, 1992.
Rev. Bailey commented, "Lee did discuss that day with me. He said he saw movement behind the fence. He believed something was going on, but he never got more specific than that. He did not share with me any more than he shared with the Warren Commission."
We return to the studio where Geraldo is questioning Craig. Geraldo asks, "If Lee Bowers' death was not accidental what was it? Joining me now . . . Craig Rivera. What was it?"
Craig Rivera responds, "We don't really know because the death certificate is missing!"
Craig is guilty of inaccurate reporting. The death certificate is not missing. Anyone can obtain a copy as I did by visiting Dallas City Hall, filling out an application and paying a fee of nine dollars.
Geraldo continues, "What about the official autopsy?"
Craig answers, "There is no autopsy either!"
He managed to get that right but for the wrong reason. If he read the death certificate he would discover an autopsy never took place. "Multiple head and internal injuries" caused Lee's death. The statue requires an autopsy for deaths by violent or unnatural means (i.e. gunshot). The Justice of the Peace reviewed the evidence and felt an autopsy was unnecessary.
Remember how Rishel claimed Bowers said he noticed two men shooting at Kennedy? There is yet another version of this story! In 1967 another friend and fellow employee of Bowers, James R. Sterling gave a statement to Gary Sanders of Jim Garrison's staff. Sterling said Bowers ". . . observed two men running from behind the fence. They ran up to a car parked behind the Pergola, opened the trunk and placed something in it and then closed the trunk. The two men then drove the car away in somewhat of a peculiar method." In this rendition, no mention is made that Bowers witnessed the actual shooting.
Mark Lane asserted Warren Commission counsel Joseph Ball interrupted Bowers ". . . as he was about to give that (additional) information" about what he saw. Many individuals forget Mark Lane interviewed Lee Bowers on March 31, 1966. What additional important detail did Lane get from Lee that the Commission did not?
I find it incredible that some people profess Bowers told them more than he told Lane. It would appear researchers and Bowers' "friends" have developed and sought corroboration for their own unsubstantiated stories. They lose sight of the truth as they twist and embellish the facts.
In the end, Monty Bowers concluded Lee's allergies contributed to his death. Both Monty and Lee had severe allergies and were prone to fits of sneezing. They took antihistamines that provided little relief. Monty told representatives of the insurance company his allergies bothered him that day. He assumed Lee experienced similar symptoms. Could it be, Lee took antihistamines, dozed off and struck the abutment? Is it possible a sneezing fit caused him to loose control of the vehicle? In my view the answer is YES. I will modify my opinion when someone comes forward with verifiable facts to the contrary.
Copyright Ó1993 by David B. Perry All rights reserved