An audacious hoax or 'the missing piece' on JFK? Doubts cast on authenticity of papers

some investors said to be seeking refunds

October 12, 1997|By NEW YORK TIMES NEWS SERVICE

With a flourish suggesting secrets yet to be told, Lawrence X. Cusack 3rd waved several folders in the air, only to return them quickly to his satchel. Then he described them: enigmatic jottings on index cards, on torn pieces of White House stationery, in the margins of contracts, in President John F. Kennedy's hand.

If what he says is true, those documents -- said to have been found among papers left by Cusack's late father, a trusted lawyer to the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of New York -- are worth a fortune, since they would alter the historical understanding of Kennedy by providing proof of certain indiscretions, including a long-rumored affair with Marilyn Monroe.

If it is not, they would constitute one of the most audacious hoaxes in modern letters.

Last month, an ABC News program revealed that two forensic specialists it hired had concluded that several of the most explosive documents were fakes. The network had paid slightly more than $2 million to produce a documentary based in part on the material.

Seymour Hersh, the Pulitzer Prize-winning reporter who proposed the documentary and had planned to include the Cusack papers in a new book about Kennedy, said last week that he had been duped. His book and the documentary are being revised.

Now an inquiry by the New York Times indicates that the impact of Cusack's supposed find goes far beyond ABC and Hersh: About 140 investors, convinced that the documents are genuine and excited by what they could be worth, have bought dozens from Cusack and his associates for $4 million to $5 million.

In addition, two nationally recognized handwriting experts said they had been unwitting participants in a carefully orchestrated scheme to give the documents an aura of authenticity.

What has made the Cusack papers so alluring to investors and the news media are the tantalizing questions they supposedly answer about the nation's 35th president, a man known as much for his raffish charm as his foreign policy.

"People are always looking for the missing piece," said Megan Desnoyers, archivist at the John F. Kennedy Library in Boston who was recently shown one of the documents in question and voiced doubt about its authenticity.

That document and others she has heard about seemed to gather all the salacious rumors about Kennedy, she said, "and wrap them all up in a neat package, a neat package in JFK's own hand."

"That's irresistible," she said. "It's like you've found the Holy Grail."

Cusack insists the records are genuine. "We did not attempt to sell a single document until they were authenticated," he said, by people he described as "the best autograph and document authenticators that are known." He said Charles Hamilton Jr., a noted handwriting specialist who died last year, certified some of the handwriting on the documents as Kennedy's.

And while some investors are said to be seeking refunds, at least one said he was convinced that the documents he spent $60,000 to buy -- including one in which Kennedy supposedly writes about Monroe and Chicago mobster Sam Giancana -- are real.

Pub Date: 10/12/97

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