DETROIT — President John Kennedy arrived in Dallas on Air Force One before noon on Nov. 22, 1963. Hours later, his body was being flown back to Washington, D.C., as radio communications crackled back and forth between the plane and various officials on the ground.
“The president is on board, the body is on board, and Mrs. Kennedy is on board,” a voice said at one point, starkly describing the just sworn-in Lyndon Johnson and the-now dead JFK.
This month, as events, books and TV specials mark the 50th anniversary of the assassination, a new piece of evidence has Kennedy researchers buzzing.
It’s an 88-minute audio recording of Air Force One radio transmissions that’s described as the most complete version of those communications yet.
And it may indicate that a longer version with fresh revelations is out there somewhere.
The recording is described on the JFKFacts.org website as among the most important pieces of assassination-related evidence to surface in the past five years. It was enhanced for sound quality and combined from two separate tapes by audio and video forensic expert Ed Primeau and his Rochester Hills-based Primeau Forensics.
Like anything new about the JFK assassination, the recording is bound to be pored over by those fascinated by what a majority of Americans consider an unsolved mystery.
Conspiracy theories still exist that cast suspicions on everyone from the Cubans and the Russians to the mob and even portions of the U.S. government.
Primeau said he believes “100 percent” that there was editing done to the two tapes that were used in the 88-minute version. And that’s bound to raise the sort of questions that keep the search for answers alive.
Kennedy’s death is a 50-year-old case where almost anything can be viewed different ways by different people. But Primeau’s expertise is driven by fulfilling the assignment, not furthering an agenda.
“I work both sides,” he said of his past experience with both prosecutors and defense attorneys.
Primeau, 55, grew up in Michigan originally wanting to be a DJ. Instead, he built a career behind the scenes in audio and video production and founded Primeau Productions in 1984, which lists Bob Seger and Billy Sims Barbecue among its past clients.
In the mid-1990s, Primeau started focusing on the growing field of audio and video forensics. He has been an expert witness for criminal and civil cases across the country. In 2012, he was asked by the Orlando Sentinel to analyze the desperate voice overheard in the 911 call in the Trayvon Martin case.
In fall 2012, Primeau was contacted by author and JFK assassination researcher Bill Kelly, who wanted technical help in combining two audiotapes of Air Force One radio transmissions: one released in the 1970s from LBJ’s presidential library and a longer one that came to light a couple of years ago from the belongings of Gen. Chester Clifton, a military aide to Kennedy.
Kelly transcribed the tapes. Primeau, working off and on starting in about January, spent time enhancing the sound quality, sharing his progress with Kelly along the way.
“I lowered the noise, equalized the recordings and added some filtering and brought them up to where they’d be more audible,” explained Primeau.
Brad Finegan of Primeau Forensics combined the two tapes in chronological order using Kelly’s transcripts and some overlapping as guides. In addition, Primeau obtained aerial video footage from a pilot friend, which Finegan and Primeau’s son, Mike, used to create a captioned video version of the Air Force One recording.
“The Air Force One tapes are sort of like the black box of the assassination. It has all the basic information there you want to know of what happened at the highest levels of government in the two hours after the assassination. And it all should be right there, but there’s some that’s missing,” said Kelly, whose website is http://jfkcountercoup.blogspot.com.
“Spine-chilling” is how Primeau describes listening to the tapes, which are peppered with code names like Volunteer (for LBJ) and Lace (for Jacqueline Kennedy) and urgent efforts to make arrangements for things like a lift to remove the casket from the plane in D.C.
Generals, Secret Service members and radio operators can be heard. Locations like the White House Situation Room and the Air Force command base are mentioned. At one point, the airborne LBJ is patched through to JFK’s mother, Rose, at the Kennedy compound in Hyannisport, Mass., to offer his condolences.
Primeau said he believes that the LBJ and Clifton recordings are “safety copies” that don’t contain the entire radio transmissions from Air Force One. “As I listen to the recordings, I can hear edits. I can actually go through and pick out spots where I believe there are pieces that were missing. And there’s lots of theories about why there would be pieces removed.”
That conclusion raises questions. “What was taken out, who took them out and where are they?” he asked.
It also points to the possibility that the entire record of the radio transmissions is somewhere out there, says author and former Washington Post reporter Jefferson Morley, who has led the charge to have the CIA release still-classified material on the assassination.
An original source tape with several more hours of content would be a big historical discovery. “It would be the record of the government’s response to the assassination itself,” said Morley.
Primeau suspects the original source tapes of the Air Force One tapes may no longer exist. “Will they ever surface? I don’t think so. I think they’re destroyed, like parts of the Watergate tapes were destroyed, permanently gone so that nobody could ever find out.”
Even so, he adds, witnesses could still be found to speak to what was said all those years ago
“I think it’s everybody’s hope that this might nudge somebody, I don’t know how else to say this, (who) is going to be around for a few more years and doesn’t care about telling the truth now, who might know something, and it might bring us another step closer to the truth.”