The Dictabelt Debacle
The Dictabelt was a method of analog recording that was most commonly used to record dictation, memos and other speech throughout the late 1940s to early 1980s. The technology was also used to record the police radio channels in Dallas at the time of the assassination.
Around the time of the assassination, a microphone on a Dallas Police Motorcycle was stuck in the “on” position, producing a 5.5 minute Dictabelt recording. Based on several audio impulse patterns which have been interpreted as the result of gunfire, it has been posited that the recording features the shots fired in Dealey Plaza. Comparing these impulses to test recordings of a Mannlicher Carcano being fired from both the Book Depository and the Grassy Knoll has been used as evidence to indicate there was another shooter firing from the knoll, seemingly corroborating the Badge Man Theory. This interpretation of the alleged recording of the assassination was the evidence used by the HSCA that their was a probable conspiracy involved in the assassination. However, subsequent analysis of the recording has revealed that this recording not only does not prove their was a second shooter but in fact was not even a recording of the assassination at all.
The House Select Committee on Assassinations
For the most part, the analysis of the evidence by the HSCA confirmed that of the Warren Commission. In 1978, the Committee was about to release a report which stated that Lee Harvey Oswald was the lone assassin of President Kennedy. At the last moment, the Dictabelt recording was presented to the committee. 7 out of the 12 Committee members were convinced by the audio evidence, 4 disagreed that evidence in fact proved that their was a second gunman and the remaining member of the Committee recommended further analysis of the recording. With a slim majority of 7 to 5, the Committee changed their findings to indicate their was most likely a second shooter from the Grassy Knoll and thus a conspiracy.
If the Dictabelt studied by the HSCA was in fact a recording of the assassination, photo evidence demonstrates it would have had to have come from Officer H.B. McLain‘s bike. McLain testified that his microphone would often get stuck in the on position. However, McLain was not given an opportunity to actually review the tape before the Committee released its findings. When he did listen to the tape, he fervently insisted that the recording in question was NOT from his bike.
Content of the Tape
Despite the considerable attention paid to this recording, little is actually discussed of what can actually be heard on it. First of all no gunshots can be heard on the recording. The sounds in question are actually “audio impulses” that essentially sound like slight blips or beeps. There are no other sounds on the recording that are consistent with what would have been heard from McLain’s position at the time of the shooting. The cheering of the crowd before the shooting as well as the loud screams afterwards are conspicuously absent from the recording. Additionally, no sound of sirens can be heard on the tape, even though McLain accompanied the motorcade to Parkland after the shooting with sirens blazing. Furthermore, additional audio clues have been picked up which indicate that Dictabelt recording is not of the assassination at all.
In a bizarre promotional effort, the adult men’s magazine Gallery included a “flexi disc” copy of the recording as an insert in their July 1979 issue. Percussionist and assassination researcher Steve Barber discovered that a voice could be heard saying the phrase “Hold everything secure” around the time of the audio impulses. It has been confirmed that those words were spoken by one Bill Decker, a Sheriff in Dallas at the time. However, Bill Decker did not utter this phrase until a minute after the assassination took place. It is therefore impossible that the recording could have been made at the time of the shooting.
Several government-sponsored and independent analyses of the audio impulses in the Dictabelt have refuted the HSCA’s findings that the evidence is proof of a second gunman. The Technical Services Division of the FBI found that the HSCA’s findings did not prove a second gunman. The Justice Department then commissioned a review by the National Academy of Sciences which also concluded that the recording contained no evidence of an additional shooter. Two other independent analyses conducted for CourtTv and ABC news also found no evidence in the recording that would indicate another shooter.
Despite the results of these studies, there are some in the JFK research community who maintain that the recording is in fact of the assassination and does indeed prove a conspiracy. This contingent is led by a man named Dr. Donald B. Thomas, who claims that two recordings were in fact tracked over each other with a one minute time discrepancy which is why Decker’s statement can be heard at the time of the audio impulses. It seems as though Thomas is attempting to frame the evidence in a way that supports his pre-determined theory rather than using the evidence to arrive at an impartial conclusion.