It wasn't Robert Groden's finest hour.
On this sunny day near Elm Street, Groden's more polished appearances on Oprah, Montel, and Regis were far behind him.
In a lot near the Sixth Floor Museum, Groden was duking it out with a stout woman. With the money they'd earned that day peddling JFK memorabilia strewn before them, the two pushed and shoved each other until Groden had enough. Raising his hand, he gave her a chop on the back of the neck. She fell instantly. Groden scrambled for the money, stuffing it in his pockets, but the woman still managed to grab some for herself.
As onlookers laughed, Groden hardly looked like a man of achievement--the one who in 1975 spoke to Geraldo Rivera on national TV and introduced to the public the Zapruder film, which captured the assassination of John F. Kennedy. Nor did he appear to be the serious researcher who had been a consultant to Oliver Stone on the movie JFK.
But it was indeed the Robert J. Groden, a Kennedy-assassination researcher who spends his weekends at Dealey Plaza presenting conspiracy theories to tourists and selling some of his videos, journals, and five books, which contend the theory that a lone gunman killed Kennedy is a hoax.
In the two years since Groden's fight with former business associate Diane Allen was caught on video by another assassination buff, the plaza's been a kinder, gentler place--at least on the surface.
Groden still comes on the weekends, usually setting up shop across from the museum, but while there hasn't been any similar Candid Camera moments, bad blood persists between him and Allen.
Last year, Groden filed a civil suit against Allen, claiming among other things that she stole thousands of his one-of-a-kind photos and slides relating to the JFK assassination and that that she was selling stolen books and videos which he wrote and produced. In March, a jury disagreed, finding in favor of Allen.
The case may be over, but not in Groden's mind; he still has a gripe with Allen, enough to get this soft-spoken, graying man worked up. She's a "monster bitch," he says, and that's one of his more restrained observations about his former associate's character. Allen is equally descriptive--and vicious.
This latest skirmis in the "War of the Roses" (as another merchant near the plaza calls it) began in September 1999 when, Groden claims, Allen stole thousands of dollars worth of inventory belonging to his business, New Frontier Publications. He says she also took his "world famous photographic archive" of 3,000 rare images, which he'd amassed in his 36 years of researching all things relating to JFK's death. He says he was going to use hundreds of those images in his next book, Inside the Kennedy Conspiracy.
In his civil suit against Allen, he claimed that she worked for him as an employee and nothing more. Groden accuses Allen of everything from assault to bank and mail fraud to forging his signature. And, he says, she signed on to his bank account without his knowledge and falsely named herelf as president and co-owner of his 30-year-old company. Groden also says Allen used a rubber stamp bearing his signature to write fraudulent checks in his name.
Allen denies all the accusations and says that what she calls a "business partnership" afforded her certain responsibilities. Groden and she were partners both professionally and personally, she says.
In 1996, when Groden left behind his estranged wife and four children and moved from Pennsylvania to Dallas, where he became a tour guide, he was almost penniless, Allen says. They met at Dealey Plaza, where she had been selling JFK magazines for another publisher. They soon became friends, and within months, he moved into her home.
There was a time when they worked side by side; she'd usually sell Groden's videos and magazine versions of pro-conspiracy books while he would do the talking.
But these days, about the only thing the two can agree on is that there was a conspiracy to kill JFK.
Groden says he lived with Allen merely for economic reasons, sleeping on her couch for a year.
Allen is more blunt, saying that they slept together, that he wanted her to have his baby, that on February 28, 1997, he took her to Club Dada, where he dedicated the Beatles' "Words of Love" to her and proposed. She said yes. ("I never proposed to her, never," Groden says.)
"My father bought all the books he's selling," says Allen of Garland Boles, who owns a small company specializing in modular housing. "No one would finance him," she adds, as she stands beneath a lamppost outside the famed Book Depository, while Groden stands just yards away, near the grassy knoll. "His credit is awful."
On this cloudy Sunday, Allen sold JFK newspapers and a magazine version of a book--The Killing of a President. Groden wrote the book, but Allen claims she collaborated with him to produce a magazine-length version of it. She and her father contributed $15,000 to print the magazine, she says.
Groden says he included her name on the magazine merely as a "courtesy credit" when she worked for him. "So help me God and let me be struck dead if I'm lying, she did not write a single word."
Groden is still standing--and fuming, especially about the loss of his slides.
The photos in question are "a national treasure that can't be duplicated," says 54-year-old Groden, who for three years in the late 1970s served as a staff photographic consultant to the House Select Committee on Assassinations. (More recently, Groden testified at the O.J. Simpson civil trial, claiming that the photo of Simpson in Bruno Magli shoes was a fake.)
But Groden's slides were the real thing. "Priceless," he says. And he says that Dallas police haven't helped get them back.
Naturally, Groden--who turned 18 the day Kennedy was shot and dropped out of high school a week later--smells a conspiracy: Police already hostile to merchants peddling their wares outside the Sixth Floor Museum have, he says, conspired with the 47-year-old Allen in withholding the slides.
"She's being protected," says Groden, who in the past three years has been issued 15 tickets for working outside the plaza. (All but one have been dismissed, he says.) Police have offered him no help other than advising him to file the failed civil suit.
As for Allen, she maintains her innocence, and says this isn't the first time Groden has accused someone of theft. He once alleged that his wife stole an archive of family photos, she claims.
And she dismisses as liars two witnesses who say they saw the purloined slides in her possession.
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"If I had those slides, do you think I'd be out here selling other people's stuff?" says Allen, pointing to her pile of JFK magazines and newspapers that she buys at a marked-down price and resells to tourists.
Groden stands by his story, all the while portraying himself as a sincere man who has devoted his life to learning the truth about JFK's death.
"I go home alone," he says as the sun sets, "and I have to reflect that the thanks I've gotten in Dallas is to be screwed again and again. It's depressing.
"It's cost me my wife, my family, my house," he says of his years of research. "That archive represented three decades of my life, my legacy to history. And that monster bitch stole what I got."