Ed Hoffman

Struggling with Silence

By Mark Panlener
The purpose of this report is look objectively at the primary sources surrounding the Ed Hoffman story. The sources relied on include my own interviews with Hoffman's associates, FBI documents, and Bill Sloan's book JFK: Breaking the Silence in which Sloan interviews several of Hoffman's associates, friends and family; all of whom shed some light onto the enigmatic story told by Hoffman. I went into this project with an open mind and did not seek to prove or disprove Hoffman's story. My goal was to examine these primary sources to determine the credibility of Hoffman's account of what he said he saw on November 22, 1963. Hoffman's critics contend that his story has changed radically over the years yet his friends and family are equally steadfast that his story today is exactly the same as it was in 1963.

On November 22nd, 1963, Ed Hoffman claims he stopped his car on the north-bound shoulder of the Stemmons Freeway just west of Dealy Plaza where President Kennedy's motorcade was soon to pass through. From where he said he was standing he was approximately 150 yards from the back side of the fence on the grassy knoll with a clear view of the entire area behind the fence. From Sloan's interview with Hoffman in 1992, the following is Hoffman's account of what he saw told through a sign language interpreter due to Hoffman's profound deafness and inability to speak English.

The train man was standing there behind the fence and beside the electrical box of some kind . . . He was holding a brown bag, and I thought it had something to do with his work at first. But then I noticed that he and the businessman kept walking around and they weren't staring down the street in the direction of the coming motorcade like everyone else was. They seemed more interested in the fence than in anything else.

I saw the man in the dark suit bend down and pick up something but I couldn't tell what he was doing. Then the train man came around and squatted down beside the other man for a while. A few seconds later I saw the businessman raise back up, and I was amazed to see that he was holding a gun- a long gun like a rifle. I thought 'How strange! What's he doing that for?' But then, almost in the same second, I thought, 'Well maybe he's a guard or something.' Then I noticed that the train man was armed, too. He had a pistol in his hand.

I could see that the top was down on the president's car and I could see the people inside waving to the crowds, although I couldn't make out who was who. Part of me wanted to concentrate on seeing the president, but I couldn't keep from looking back at the two men behind the fence. Just as I did look back the man in the business suit raised the gun. I saw him rest it on the pickets in the fence . . . and just then I saw spark of light and a puff of fluffy white smoke. The first thing that crossed my mind was that it might be from a cigarette but it was much too big for that.

When I realized it was a shot, I was totally shocked. I couldn't believe it!

An instant later, I saw the businessman turn back away from the fence, and as he turned around, I could clearly see the gun in his hand . . . Then, very quickly, he tossed the gun to over to the train man and started running. He ran past the parked cars and kept on going, running north into the railroad yards.

I saw the limousine with the flags coming very fast. I saw JFK and Jackie slumped down in the car as they passed right below me, and I saw the blood. I saw blood everywhere. I saw the president's foot hanging over the side of the car and I saw his head blown open. The side of the president's head looked like bowl of Jell-O.

I felt sick and I said to myself, 'Oh, my God, he's dead. With his head like that, he's bound to be dead.'

The train man was still standing there. I could see him very plainly. I watched him take the gun apart. I don't know how he did it because I don't know anything about guns, but he dismantled it and put inside a brown suitcase. Then he started running, too. He ran to the north into the railroad yards. I managed to keep him in sight until he ran behind a train. He ran right around the caboose and disappeared . . . .

Hoffman claims that he has tried for several years to tell this story to the authorities but to no avail. He maintains that he has been misinterpreted and ignored because of his inability to speak English. Immediately following the assassination, on November 22, Hoffman says he tried to explain what he saw to his uncle Robert Hoffman who was a Dallas police officer but Hoffman could not find him at the police station. He then says he went to the FBI's Dallas office but states that the office was practically empty except for a secretary who told him that no one was available to speak with him. There is no official record of this visit to the FBI.

Hoffman vs. the FBI
Three key FBI documents fail to show Hoffman mentioning a shooter behind the Stockade Fence during the 1960s: Hoffman supporters believe that he was describing a Grassy Knoll shooter from the beginning, and was a victim of miscommunication. Hoffman skeptics believe that, as was the case with several other witnesses, his story got "better" over time.

Later that day, Hoffman claims that he told several people his eye witness account of the assassination. Those cited in Sloan's book are -- his father Frederick, wife Rosie, friend Lucien Pierce, and a few days later with his father as an interpreter, he claims he told his police officer uncle Robert Hoffman. Rosie Hoffman has stated that on November 22, 1963, "Ed came home and said he had seen the whole thing. That he had actually seen the man fire the shot that killed the president . . . I could tell by Ed's face that it had really happened the way he said." (Sloan, p. 24) Lucien Pierce is also on record corroborating Ed Hoffman's story "He came straight to where I was working and started telling me about it. He told me about seeing the man shoot the gun and then seeing the other man take the gun apart. I was shocked and surprised at what he was saying but I didn't have any doubt whether he had actually seen it. He was terribly upset and he kept repeating the story over and over. I knew he wanted to tell the police or the FBI but I could tell he was afraid." (Sloan, p. 23)

Frederick Hoffman has never gone on record stating that Ed's story is true. In fact he had maintained until his death in 1976 that Ed initially did not tell him about the two men behind the fence or the shot fired. He has stated that Ed originally told him that all Ed saw was the president's car passing by and in the follow up car a Secret Service agent who pointed a gun at Ed as they drove under Ed's position on the Stemmons Freeway fleeing Dealey Plaza. Nearly everyone in the Hoffman family maintains that Frederick knew Ed's story was true but lied to keep Ed out of any danger he may have faced as an eye witness.

Robert Hoffman maintains that initially he was not told that Ed saw a shot fired. Since Robert could not understand sign language, Frederick was the person who translated the story for Ed. The version Robert remembers is the same version that Frederick had maintained. Many years later, after Robert became aware of Ed's story as it appears in this study he stated:

Maybe it is better that I didn't understand what he had seen. I know that Eddie's a very bright person and always has been, and can't think of any reason why he would make up something like this. It would be completely out of his character for him to change his story or to add to it at a later date, but all I knew at the time was that someone in a car had pointed a gun at him. I understood it to be a shotgun. His father was very, very concerned that Eddie knew anything about the assassination at all. It was time when suspicions were running high and he [Frederick] was worried about Eddie getting involved in any way . . . If I had known the whole thing I guess it would have been my duty [as a police officer] to come forward with the information and I imagine Chief Curry would liked to have known about it. But as a relative, I would have probably have felt pretty much like Eddie's father felt . . . It just wasn't a time for loose statements that couldn't be proved or backed up with any evidence. (Sloan p. 30-31)

In September, 1964, the Warren Commission reported its findings to the nation and concluded that Lee Harvey Oswald was the lone gunman and that no evidence of a conspiracy was found. Hoffman began telling his story to his co-workers at Texas-Instruments and in 1967 some of these co-workers convinced Hoffman to go to the FBI and report his story to them. Hoffman's associate Jim Dowdy set up the interview. I tried to locate Dowdy for this report but failed. Hoffman went alone to meet with the FBI on June 28, 1967. FBI Agent Will Hayden Griffin conducted the interview but now states that he has no recollections regarding it. The report says "Hoffman said he was standing a few feet south of the railroad on Stemmons Freeway when the motorcade passed him taking President Kennedy to Parkland Hospital. Hoffman said he observed two white males, clutching something dark to their chests with both hands, running from the rear of the Texas School Book Depository building. The men were running north on the railroad, then turned east, and Hoffman lost sight of both men." The FBI document continues "Approximately two hours after the above interview with Hoffman, he returned . . . and decided he could not have seen the men running because of a fence west of the (TSBD) building. He said it was possible that he saw these two men on the fence or something else. Hoffman said the only description he could furnish was that one of the men wore a white shirt. He stated he had discussed this with his father at the time of the assassination and his father suggested that he not talk to anyone about this, but after thinking about what he saw, Hoffman stated he decided to tell the FBI."

The FBI followed up this interview by contacting Frederick Hoffman and Ed's brother Fred. Both men advised the FBI that Ed, "has in the past distorted facts of events he observed . . . [Ed] mentioned to them just after the assassination that he . . . was standing on the freeway near the (TSBD) . . . he saw numerous men running after the president was shot . . . [Frederick] stated he doubted his son had seen anything of value . . . and for this reason had not reported it to the FBI." The FBI concluded that Ed Hoffman had not seen anything worth investigating further.

Ed Hoffman continued to tell his work associates at T.I. that he had seen the gunman who shot the president. I contacted Michael Blackwell who first met Hoffman in 1975 at T.I. Blackwell can speak sign language and because of this the two men became close friends. Blackwell told me he considers Hoffman to be one of his closest friends. He stated that in 1967, "Eddie went to the FBI and some people believe he gave them a completely hand written deal of everything he saw which he did not . . . in 1967 when he went he did not have an interpreter and didn't have a written account. You see, Eddie doesn't write English very well. He tried to tell them what he saw and either they (FBI) messed it up or they deliberately did that. I can see very easily where without an interpreter you couldn't get anything straight."

Once again Hoffman's T.I. associates encouraged him to return to the FBI to get his story on record. I did interview Tom Cordner who told me he first met Hoffman in the early 1970's. Cordner also speaks sign language and Hoffman began talking with him about the assassination soon after they met. "We spoke frequently . . . there is a communication barrier there and the better one gets to know someone (who signs) the less the barrier becomes. If you weren't familiar with Eddie or anyone who speaks sign language you could make some mistakes in communication . . . The puff of smoke and the men running he's told me over and over again, and very consistently. Always the same way." Because Hoffman felt he that he was misunderstood in 1967, he wanted to return to the FBI. Cordner set up this interview for April 5, 1977. Hoffman brought with him a letter written by T.I. associate Richard Freeman who translated Hoffman's story. This letter is very similar to the version Hoffman told to Sloan in 1992. However, there are some minor discrepancies in detail but overall the same story is conveyed.

Special Agent Udo H. Specht conducted the 1977 interview and later stated "He seemed very conscientious and I was convinced that he believed what he was saying . . . but I also know that people's minds sometimes register something different than what they've actually seen. Seeds can be planted in a person's mind that may fester over the years into an obsession . . . I spent quite a lot of time with Hoffman. I didn't make it my life's work, but I did devote some extra time to check out his story and taking pictures of the site, and I reported everything to Washington. That was about as much as I could do." (Sloan p.43)

Specht did however, state that Hoffman may have been suffering from some psychological disorder due to Hoffman's peculiar mannerisms and apparent communication difficulties. Cordner stated in my interview

Some people who try to communicate with him might conclude he is unstable since he does get so excited when he talks. Someone who has not communicated with deaf people might draw that conclusion. He certainly is not unstable, he has always been an intelligent individual. He was given jobs (at T.I.) that were very technical and he did a very good job. He also had a side-line business on his own time where he made picture frames. He had a real good business doing that. He was always in possession of his intellect, and he was very smart. I can not think of any motivation for him to be untruthful. Beyond a doubt, he believes what he says he saw. I don't think he's making it up, in other words. I think he saw something in that area, whether that was people running, whether that was the shooter or two shooters I don't know. He wasn't called before the HSCA because it didn't get to the right people at the right time. He was counting on them to carry the message for him but it was too late and so many people were already called they probably wrote him off as some kind of a quack.
Following his 1977 interview, Hoffman fully expected to be called before the House Select Committee on Assassinations but was never called.

Cordner continued "I wonder why they (FBI) don't have expert interpreters like they have in court . . . . I asked him why they (his father and uncle) didn't help him and he said it was because they were trying to protect him. I do know his father was very protective and looked after him very closely."

Regarding the 1977 interview, Blackwell told me "In 1977, when Eddie was getting ready to go, Richard Freeman went with Eddie to Dealey Plaza. And they went over to the place Eddie was standing on Stemmons Freeway. Richard told me that was eerie. He said from where Eddie was you could see perfectly behind the fence. Eddie never had an interpreter when he met with the FBI and apparently Freeman had called ahead of the interview and told them (FBI) the story . . . . Udo Specht forwarded the information but the HSCA was winding down by then and Eddie was not taken seriously. They did not ask the right questions. The FBI misunderstood him all along. I think he's been telling the truth and telling the same story and lost something in the interpretation. In 1967, when he returned to the FBI office they wrote that Eddie told them that he could not have seen behind the fence. He went back to tell the FBI that he had drawn the fence too short and tried to show where the men had run but they understood him as saying he could not have seen the men because of the fence. He really had a difficult time writing in English and could not communicate well without an interpreter."

Blackwell continued "Eddie will tell you that his uncle Bob knew the story all along. Eddie will tell you, 'No, Bob knew, he knew the whole story.' Either because of the family situation he kept his mouth shut and he is maintaining his original story to cover his own rear. Bob didn't do anything about it, for whatever reason. His mother insisted that his (Eddie's) dad believed him that Eddie saw what he saw despite what the FBI report states. His brother says the same thing, 'Dad believed him.' He'll tell you that.

I asked Blackwell about his knowledge regarding the initial story Hoffman told Lucien Pierce "I met Lucien Pierce a couple of years ago and I asked him 'You know you were the first person Eddie told his story to. Was it any different than the story he is telling now?' He said 'No.' If I were Lucien, I would be protesting the people who claim Eddie's story has changed through the years. Eddie originally told his story but later he realized that he saw other things. To some people that is changing your story. I feel that Eddie's story has always stayed the same. What is interesting is that I have seen translations from video tapes of Eddie where the translator has missed some things he was trying to communicate. Some people are saying Eddie keeps adding onto his story but he may have already tried to tell them but was misunderstood. I think you would be surprised at how much miscommunication there has been."

I asked Blackwell about Hoffman's character "He has always been so adamant about not accepting money. So much so that he won't even accept gas money to go assassination conferences. Eddie is the most responsible person I have ever known. He worked every day of his life and retired from T.I. after 35 years. He is one of the best friends I have ever had, he is a wonderful fella, and good friend and I want to be known for telling his story. I would be happy if someone would just say that there was gunman behind the fence whether he produced the fatal head shot or not. I don't think the basic story has ever changed. The basic story of the man behind the fence with the gun has stayed the same."

The official FBI documents, which are the legal written records of Hoffman's allegations, do demonstrate some disjointed and conflicting accounts in comparison to what Hoffman has reported in recent years to assassination investigators, such as Bill Sloan. If it can be ascertained that there may have been some serious communication barriers existing during these interviews with the FBI, then it is safe to conclude there may have been some interpretation errors. Several people in this report have attested to this possibility. If there are witnesses who will corroborate Hoffman's allegations then these allegations gain some credibility. The fact that there are witnesses (Rosie Hoffman and Lucien Pierce) who claim that Hoffman's story is the same today as it was in November, 1963, furthers Hoffman's credibility. However, there are also witnesses (Frederick and Robert Hoffman) who early on detracted from this credibility by stating Hoffman told them a different story. Robert Hoffman is quoted as saying that had he known Ed Hoffman's story as he is telling it today, he would have felt obligated to keep it from the authorities. Nearly everyone familiar with the Hoffman family, according to those interviewed in this report , say they believe Frederick purposely covered up Ed's allegations to the authorities. When questioned about Hoffman's character or motivation for fabricating these allegations it is noted that Hoffman is respected highly and certainly has not benefitted financially.

It is not the purpose of this report to intuit what Hoffman really saw on November 22, 1963. It does seem probable that Hoffman's same basic story has been told since the day of the assassination and that the FBI reports are full of misinterpretations due to communication barriers caused primarily because no sign language interpreter was present at either interview and Hoffman has only a rudimentary ability to write standard English. To further assess the credibility or incredibility of these allegations they must be compared to other evidence from the day of the assassination but that is not the purpose of this report. One must conclude Hoffman's basic story has stayed the same through the years whether it is true or not.

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