Conspiracy Theory

JFK assassination buffs who peddle their wares on the grassy knoll think there's a plot to put them out of business. They may be right.

The Park Department is presently considering turning the whole matter over to the Dallas County Historical Society's Sixth Floor Museum. If the department approves the Sixth Floor's contract to manage Dealey Plaza vendors, people fear that they will present a sanitized view of the assassination--which may be exactly what the city wants.

The Park Department already has received several letters from citizens concerned about the plaza's management being turned over to the Sixth Floor. "I believe the plaza should remain a totally open and free area for congregation, dissemination of information, and the selling of ideas and merchandise of any nature, and that you should do whatever is within your power to ensure that it remains so," wrote Pennsylvania resident Theodore Torbich Jr. in a letter he sent last June to Dallas City Council members.

Dyer addressed Torbich's concerns about the Sixth Floor's pending management contract. "Our purpose is not to restrict any freedoms; rather it is to be in compliance with regulations that protect the facilities and history of Dealey Plaza."

Kizzia is also concerned about what turning over Dealey Plaza to the Sixth Floor would mean for a balanced representation of the controversial issues surrounding the murder of JFK. "I don't think the Sixth Floor provides a balanced viewpoint," says Kizzia. "A substantial part of the exhibit space is devoted to the official view, which is the Warren Commission view. If they gave a balanced view, the vendors wouldn't feel such a need to be there."

Jeff West has heard all the criticisms before and denies that the museum supports one particular theory over another about the assassination. "I think we piss off as many people on both ends of the spectrum," he says.

As for the museum's interest in controlling the plaza, he says, "It is not our intent to remove the vendors from the plaza at all, and it never has been. It is part of our mission statement to maintain the plaza. It is a way to give tourists the historical validity and accuracy of the plaza."

Mark Oakes is a little embarrassed to be considered a street vendor, especially one who has been ticketed by police.

A former quality control engineer at McDonnell Douglas in St. Louis, he prefers to be called a JFK assassination historian/researcher, which is what is printed on his business cards.

For the last decade, the 47-year-old Oakes has been locating witnesses to JFK's murder and interviewing them on videotape. Some of them had never told their stories before. For example, he has an interview with a former Dallas deputy sheriff who says his late partner discovered a bullet in the grass after the murder, but the FBI never entered it into evidence.

Oakes was also the first person to get Patty Paschall to tell her story. From an open window in the old Dallas County courthouse overlooking Dealey Plaza, Paschall shot a four-minute film of the motorcade before and after Kennedy was shot. The film captures what appears to be smoke on the grassy knoll and some movement behind the stockyard fence atop the knoll. Paschall told Oakes during the interview that she thought at least some of the shots were fired from the knoll.

The interviews are contained in three separate videos that Oakes has been selling for the last several years on the grassy knoll, as well as through The Conspiracy Museum several blocks away and at the JFK Lancer Bookstore in Grand Prairie.

"I tell people what my work is about is capturing the history of their community," says Oakes. "I believe that, or I couldn't look at myself in the mirror in the mornings."

Oakes was still in St. Louis when he made these videos, but was interested in moving to Dallas. He desperately wanted to convince Patty Paschall to let him see a first edition of her film that had never been shown to the public. So he quit his job, put his seven-year engagement on hold, and moved here, hoping to support himself by selling his videotapes. For several months, he was doing a brisk business. But Paschall hadn't yet let him see the film, and he was getting homesick. He told her he was moving back, and she finally relented.

Oakes has been here ever since. His fiancee dumped him as he set out to help Paschall promote and eventually sell her film. But before they could find a serious buyer, Paschall and Oakes had a falling out. Oakes was left with little alternative but to try to support himself again by hawking his videotapes on Dealey Plaza. But this time it was a tough go, so seven months ago he got a job in a telephone company collections department. He sets up shop on the plaza only on weekends now, but he worries that soon he won't have that option either.

He was ticketed for vending without a license on June 19. If he paid the ticket right away, it would have cost him $150, but since he plans to fight it--his court date is scheduled for November 17--the penalty jumps to $225 if he loses. He plans to represent himself because he can't afford an attorney.

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