Editor’s note: David Minier served as the Santa Barbara County district attorney in 1967-75. He also served as the district attorney and a judge in Madera County.
The Central Intelligence Agency doesn’t want you to know the truth about Claude Barnes Capehart.
Mr. Capehart claimed to have been a CIA asset present at the assassination of President John F. Kennedy in 1963. The CIA has hidden the truth about Mr. Capehart for almost 60 years.
Surveys show that most of the public believe the crime is still unsolved, and only 20 percent believe Lee Harvey Oswald was the lone assassin. Next month, with the government’s final release of secret J.F.K. assassination documents, the truth about Mr. Capehart may finally be known.
Claude Barnes Capehart was living in Chowchilla in California’s Madera County in 1978. When most newspapers printed a government request for information about three persons of interest in a photograph taken at the assassination scene, Mr. Capehart’s girlfriend, Faye Weaver, recognized him as one of them. Mr. Capehart first denied, then confirmed it was he.
He told her he had worked as a “hit man” for the CIA on numerous occasions, retiring in 1975. He told Ms. Weaver he was present with Lee Harvey Oswald at the scene of the J.F.K. assassination. He said two others were with Oswald, and it was not Oswald who shot the president.
Ms. Weaver related this to Chowchilla’s resident deputy sheriff, Sgt. Dale Fore. She told Sgt. Fore that Mr. Capehart was “paranoid” about his photograph in the newspaper and left Chowchilla a few days later, after threatening her not to talk.
Ms. Weaver said Mr. Capehart had passports bearing his photo but assumed names, and numerous firearms, including a high-power rifle with scope and a silenced handgun. She also saw items taken from the CIA spy ship Glomar Explorer and the Soviet nuclear submarine K-129, which the spy-ship had secretly raised from the ocean floor. Capehart carried a pistol both on his person and in his car, Ms. Weaver said.
Sgt. Fore had met Mr. Capehart on several occasions, and Mr. Capehart told him he had retired from the CIA.
He operated a well drilling business, and Sgt. Fore noticed he always had “a bundle of cash.” When Ms. Weaver showed Sgt. Fore the newspaper photograph of three persons of interest, Sgt. Fore found one to be a “dead ringer” for Capehart. Sgt. Fore recorded several conversations with Ms. Weaver.
As Madera County district attorney, I also interviewed her, as did FBI special agent Tom Walsh. We all found Ms. Weaver credible.
Sgt. Fore took his evidence to Washington, D.C., where he met with Richard Billings, editorial director of the House Select Committee on Assassinations, and FBI agents.
The committee never investigated Mr. Capehart’s claims about the J.F.K. assassination because its final report was already in preparation.
A committee memo suggests Mr. Capehart be interviewed by the FBI, but it never happened.
The committee’s final report, however, released in 1979, supported Mr. Capehart’s statements. The assassination, it concluded, was the result of a conspiracy, with at least one gunman other than Oswald, and with gunshots coming from two different directions.
Later, both the committee’s editorial director Billings and its special counsel, Robert Blakey, faulted the CIA for lack of cooperation and withholding information.
In 1988, district attorney investigator Dan Poole traced Mr. Capehart to Parumph, Nev.
Mr. Poole and I planned to confront Mr. Capehart at home in an attempt to find out his true relation with the CIA. We arranged for a Nye County sheriff’s sergeant to accompany us and agreed upon a date in two weeks. A few days later, Mr. Capehart was found in his front yard, dead of an apparent heart attack.
Seeking answers, I filed a request with the CIA in 1992 under the Freedom of Information Act. I asked if Mr. Capehart had ever been employed by that agency in any capacity. The CIA refused to confirm or deny, because that information “would reasonably be expected to cause damage to national security.”
I then sued the CIA in federal court for the information. The CIA claimed national security.
The court ruled for the C.I.A., and I appealed.
In 1994, an appeals court ruled the CIA was exempt from the Freedom of Information Act’s disclosure provisions. But it observed that “concerns about the role the C.I.A. played in the Kennedy assassination have not yet been laid to rest.”
Later, an Assassination Records Review Board was created to collect all relevant J.F.K. assassination records.
In 1998, the board issued its final report. It confirmed that Claude Barnes Capehart was employed on the CIA spy-ship Glomar Explorer, but only as a crane operator. As for other involvement, the board found “no evidence … to suggest that Capehart worked for the CIA on any additional contracts nor in any capacity directly or indirectly.”
The C.I.A. still claims its only connection with Mr. Capehart was his employment on the spy ship, from 1973 to 1975. That claim is false, and formerly secret documents prove it.
Only four days after President Kennedy’s assassination in 1963, the CIA requested a “name check” on Capehart from other federal agencies. Secret government documents about Capehart include, in “one (1) sealed envelope,” information “for the inclusive dates of 1963-1975.”
And a 1973 CIA “letter of assignment and investigative transmittal” designates Capehart as “covert,” instead of “field.”
The CIA’s secret documents about Mr. Capehart end in 1975, the same year he told Sgt. Fore and Kay Weaver he retired from the agency.
Ted Gunderson, former special agent in charge of the FBI’s Los Angeles office, told me an informant, Bob Brownell, claimed he knew Capehart when both were employed by the CIA. Mr. Brownell said Mr. Capehart had retired around 1978 “with a lot of money” and was buying oil well drilling companies.
Last year, I contacted Josh Dean, author of “The Taking of K-129,” an account of the Russian submarine raising by the CIA spy-ship on which Mr. Capehart was employed. Mr. Dean then contacted a crew member who still had a copy of the ship’s “white” manifest that listed crew members by their true names. Mr. Capehart’s name was not on it. There was another manifest, the “black list,” for those aboard under “cover names,” the source said.
If Mr. Capehart’s only connection with the CIA was his employment on their spy ship, why was his true name not listed on the ship’s “white” manifest? Why did an informant tell FBI agent Gunderson he knew Mr, Capehart as a fellow CIA asset? Why did Mr. Capehart have false passports and firearms, including a silenced pistol? Why is there a CIA “letter of assignment” designating Mr. Capehart as “covert”?
What is in the “sealed envelope” about Mr. Capehart’s activities from 1963 to 1975?
Why was Mr. Capehart a “dead ringer” for one of the persons of interest in the newspaper photograph? And why, just four days after the assassination of President Kennedy, did the C.I.A. ask other agencies for a “name check” on Capehart?
In 1992, Congress passed the J.F.K. Records Collection Act, requiring all unreleased J.F.K. assassination documents to be made public in 25 years. In 2017, President Donald Trump, at the urging of the CIA, withheld from scheduled release thousands of secret documents for another three years. Until next month.
Will President Joe Biden release those documents? If he does, will the truth about Claude Barnes Capehart finally be revealed?