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One of the last photographs of the John F Kennedy motorcade in Dallas, shortly before he was assassinated. Alamy Stock Photo
7 deadly reads

Sitdown Sunday: The Secret Service agent whose claims raise new questions about JFK's assassination

Settle down in a comfy chair and sit back with some of the week’s best longreads.

IT’S A DAY of rest, and you may be in the mood for a quiet corner and a comfy chair.

We’ve hand-picked the week’s best reads for you to savour.

1. The woman on the line

Jessica Blanchard is an operator for Never Use Alone, a hotline that drug users can call if they are using by themselves. It was set up to prevent overdose deaths. This moving piece follows Jessica’s work and the impact it has had. 

(Slate, approx 16 mins reading time)

It was a turning point for Blanchard. “That’s when it hit me: ‘Just don’t die.’ That was literally the moment my brain shifted. Because even standing there, bleeding, I was looking at my baby, and she was OK. And that was all that mattered.” In that instant, Blanchard unlearned everything she had been taught in nursing school about drug addiction. “We’re taught drugs are bad, ‘Just Say No,’ deputy dog, D.A.R.E. That’s the kind of stuff we were taught. That’s not realistic,” she said. “We were taught, ‘Well, you did it to yourself.’ That was the mantra. For some reason, that didn’t feel right to me. I was often deemed a soft, bleeding-heart pushover. I thought I was just being nice.” After that, Blanchard became involved in harm reduction. “I didn’t want her to die. This whole thing—every fucking thing I do is about her not dying. Then about her and her homie not dying. Now it’s about the entire town,” she said.

2. The final witness

dallas-texas-usa-22-november-1963-one-of-the-last-photographs-of-the-john-f-kennedy-motorcade-shortly-before-he-was-assassinated-during-a-visit One of the last photographs of the John F Kennedy motorcade in Dallas, shortly before he was assassinated. Alamy Stock Photo Alamy Stock Photo

In a new book, one of Jacqueline Kennedy’s Secret Service agents who has remained silent for 60 years claims he found a bullet lodged in the limo’s back seat on the infamous day John F Kennedy was assassinated in Dallas. James Robenalt explains why this is significant if it’s true.

(Vanity Fair, approx 35 mins reading time)

Over the decades, there have been endless theories surrounding the assassination, but not one of them considered that a Secret Service agent might have brought a fully intact bullet, found on top of the rear seat of the limousine, into Parkland Memorial Hospital and placed it on the president’s stretcher. Not one. So there is virtue in looking anew at the evidence that was collected in 1963 and attempting to draw some tentative conclusions.

My own conclusion is that Landis’s story, for several reasons, is not just possible; it in fact makes more sense than the core finding of the Warren Commission, known as the “single bullet” theory. That theory posits that a single bullet caused all of the wounds in Kennedy’s neck as well as all of the serious injuries to Texas governor John Connally—who was sitting in front of the president at the time—including the shattering of four inches of Connolly’s fifth rib and the fracturing of a major bone in his right wrist.

Yet the bullet that Landis now claims to have discovered that morning emerged largely intact and only moderately damaged, its base having been squeezed in.

3. ‘You may have been poisoned’

An extraordinary first-person account by independent Russian journalist Elena Kostyuchenko about how she was poisoned while reporting on the war in Ukraine.

(The Guardian, approx 18 mins reading time)

While I was writing this, I strove to establish the chronology of events, and to remember all the important details. But which details are really important? Last November, a friend of mine came to Berlin. He is a publisher – not an activist, not a journalist, not a politician. He came over and he was horrified at the state I was in. He said: “Do you understand that you may have been poisoned? Have you talked to your doctors about that?” I said: “I haven’t and I am not going to – that’s stupid.” I said: “Don’t try to infect me with your paranoia.”

I had lied to the police when I told them the idea of being poisoned “seemed crazy” to me – it didn’t. During my time at Novaya Gazeta, four of my colleagues were killed. I organised the funeral of journalist Mikhail Beketov. He’d been a friend. I knew that journalists got murdered. But I did not want to believe that they could kill me. I was protected from this thought by revulsion, shame and exhaustion. It disgusted me to think that there were people who wanted me dead. I was ashamed to talk about it. Even with loved ones, let alone the police. And I knew how exhausted I was, how little strength I had left, and that I wouldn’t be able to go on the run again 

4. The LA photographer

oldretrocameraonvintagewoodenboardsabstractbackground Shutterstock / iravgustin Shutterstock / iravgustin / iravgustin

Over six decades, John Verzi collected 25,000 autographs and took more than 12,000 photos of the world’s most famous actors and musicians. Jeffrey Fleishman writes about his eccentric life, including some of the photographs he took throughout the years. 

(Los Angeles Times, approx 17 mins reading time)

“I’ve become obsessed with [Verzi],” said Wendy Horowitz, an archivist cataloging the pictures for the library’s photo collection. “This was his escape, and you can see on the faces of the people that a lot of them loved him. He got everyone. Movie stars. TV actors. Rock musicians. French actors. Joe Louis. Robert F. Kennedy. It’s amazing. But the historical value of this collection is the people he got who weren’t A-listers. Child actors. Obscure character actors. I mean he went to the premiere of the soft-porn ‘Flesh Gordon.’”

It was a life of getting to places fast, of tips, winks and confidences. Verzi drove a VW Beetle and traveled with cameras and colored index cards for autographs. He’d get a nod that Frank Sinatra might be in Beverly Hills having a drink or Lucille Ball was playing backgammon at Pips or Jim Morrison of the Doors had arrived at a West Hollywood theater to see “The Beard,” a play that was raided by police for a sex scene. Verzi kept tabs and followed whispers.

5. Protecting a predator

Note: This story includes detailed descriptions of sexual assaults.

A harrowing read about how Columbia University mishandled and ignored hundreds of complaints of sexual assault about an obstetrician. He was sentenced to 20 years in prison earlier this year.

(ProPublica, approx 39 mins reading time)

The disconnect between Columbia’s approach and its stated commitment to “the highest standards of ethical conduct” remains inexplicable to many people involved in the Hadden affair, including Agnifilo. “I’m struggling for words because it’s actually head-scratching,” she says. “They are the best of the best. How could they put someone back the next day after she went to the police? It makes no sense to me. It would be one thing if they just said, ‘You know what, we talked to her — we didn’t believe her.’ But they didn’t even do that.” She is referring to the fact that Columbia’s internal investigation of Kanyok’s allegations failed to interview Kanyok herself.

We attempted to contact more than 100 of Hadden’s former colleagues. Only one doctor, Jennifer Tam, would speak openly. She is no longer practicing medicine. “I would like to think if I was still at Columbia, I would go on the record, but I could see how the threat of repercussions would keep people from speaking,” she says. She recalls being surprised to learn that Hadden had been arrested — and then thinking about how easily any concerns about him could have been rationalized in the workplace she had known. She says there was an ethos at Columbia of keeping quiet about anything that could reflect poorly on the university. “If there was something that wasn’t perfect, you better not talk about it,” she says. “We don’t want to ruin the reputation.”

6. Saoirse Ronan

The actress speaks about how she deals with fame, being proud to be Irish and what’s next in her career. 

(Harper’s Bazaar, approx 8 mins reading time)

As her 30th birthday approaches, she is starting to deal with life and work slightly differently. On a professional level, she has always followed her instinct. “Because I am not, in my mind, a very intellectual person, I decide which jobs to do based on emotion– how I respond to the character, how delicious I find the dialogue,” she explains. Lately, though, she has started taking a more holistic view when considering a project: a brilliant script alone is no longer enough; the team and atmosphere on set are now as crucial. “It’s become so important that we have a nice time, that it’s fun, and people work hard – but not to the extent it becomes toxic and overbearing,” she says. With this in mind, the plan is to try her hand at directing sooner rather than later: starting with a short, to find her cinematic and operational style – though she has a fairly clear idea of what works on set. “Some directors make the mistake of thinking that one size fits all,” she says. “And while, yes, you have to be a leader, actually for the best results, you have to bend towards your actors – adjust to them, and make them feel they can do anything.”


new-york-ny-september-11-lower-manhattan-skyline-is-seen-from-long-island-city-with-tribute-of-light-on-20th-anniversary-of-terror-attack-on-september-11-2021-in-new-york-city-the-twin-lights-r The Lower Manhattan skyline seen from Long Island City with a Tribute of Light on the 20th anniversary of the terror attack on 11 September 2021. Alamy Stock Photo Alamy Stock Photo

An incredible, Pulitzer Prize-winning longread from 2021 about one family’s grief two decades after losing someone in the 9/11 attacks in New York.

(The Atlantic, approx 58 mins reading time)

Early on, the McIlvaines spoke to a therapist who warned them that each member of their family would grieve differently. Imagine that you’re all at the top of a mountain, she told them, but you all have broken bones, so you can’t help each other. You each have to find your own way down.

It was a helpful metaphor, one that may have saved the McIlvaines’ marriage. But when I mentioned it to Roxane Cohen Silver, a psychology professor at UC Irvine who’s spent a lifetime studying the effects of sudden, traumatic loss, she immediately spotted a problem with it: “That suggests everyone will make it down,” she told me. “Some people never get down the mountain at all.”

This is one of the many things you learn about mourning when examining it at close range: It’s idiosyncratic, anarchic, polychrome. A lot of the theories you read about grief are great, beautiful even, but they have a way of erasing individual experiences. Every mourner has a very different story to tell.

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