June 13, 2014

Unsolved crime highlights from Edward Jay Epstein’s Bibliocommons Q&A


The Annals of Unsolved CrimeOn Wednesday, we teamed up with Bibliocommons to celebrate paperback launch of respected investigative journalist Edward Jay Epstein’s updated and revised book, The Annals of Unsolved Crime. Here are some highlights from his question and answer session, in which he addressed some of the crimes addressed in the book — the JFK assassination, the Jeffery MacDonald case, the Amanda Knox ordeal — as well as some mysterious and unsolved cases that don’t appear in the book, including his opinion regarding the whereabouts of the Malaysian plane.


I read with interest your thoughts on the Jeffery MacDonald case. Are you convinced on the basis of Errol Morris’ book alone, or have you looked into the matter further? I admire Morris’ book, but keep hearing about people who believe in MacDonald’s guilty who say that he does not present a full picture of the case against him.

Errol Morris’s book persuaded me that there was a reasonable doubt as to the guilt of Jeffery MacDonald. In American law, a reasonable double is sufficient for a not guilty verdict. I don’t believe from other books and material I’ve looked at that Jeffery MacDonald was treated fairly by the legal system in that alternate theories were kept from the jury.

An Italian judge recently upheld Amanda Knox’s conviction and theorized that she murdered Meredith Kercher because she didn’t like her. Is that plausible? Why is Italy so intent on convicting Knox?

The theory of the judge is no more than a theory based on absolutely nothing other than a desire to build a criminal case again against Amanda Knox. There is no evidence that she was even in the room. Everything else — motives that she was in some sort of sex game — has been to deny the obvious. The obvious is that the man whose DNA was found inside her roommate Meredith, a burgular that broke into the house and was convicted of killing Amanda Knox’s roommate acted alone. It is only because Italian prosecutors have fed so much of their energy into supplying the tabloid press with alternative theories that this case has expanded unjustifiably beyond the perpetrator.

As a librarian, I am  intrigued by the amount of deep research Ed must do. What case in The Annals of Unsolved Crime was most difficult to draw conclusions on?

By the very nature of The Annals of Unsolved Crime, I acknowledged that these crimes didn’t have a conclusion. All I could do was muster the evidence of the case, give what I considered to be the credible theories in each of the 38 cases, and come to what I considered the most probable conclusion. The most difficult case remains, after 50 years, the JFK case, because here we know (or at least I think I know) that the assassin was Lee Harvey Oswald, but we don’t know if he acted alone or under the influence of others.

I began researching the JFK case by interviewing the members of the Warren Commission. I was the only person to conduct these interviews. That was 50 years ago. And since then, there has been some developments involving a parallel plot to kill Castro. I am persuaded, as I write in Annals of Unsolved Crime, that these two plots intersected and the attempt to kill Castro boomeranged and resulted in the assassination of Kennedy.

Given the two witnesses claims, it seems likely that Robert Kennedy was in fact one of the three men that came to the house of Marilyn Monroe after she was murdered… After all, his alibi (the hotel check-in) hardly seems enough evidence that he was in fact in San Francisco, especially since the flight information couldn’t be found. Do you think Kennedy was in fact at the home?

Yes. In the Marilyn Monroe case there are two questions: 1) Did she commit suicide? 2) Was there a cover up? I think the evidence is convincing that she committed suicide. But I agree with your analysis that there is considerable evidence that there was a cover up to protect the reputation of Robert Kennedy. I do not know whether Kennedy himself was in the home, but I believe that people who represented his interests were.

It’s been more than fifty years since the JFK assassination. What do you expect we’ll find out in 2017, when the review board releases its documents? Are there any questions you expect to be answered?

I expect in 2017 we will learn more details about Lee Harvey Oswald and his possible connections with the CIA, the FBI, the KGB, and the Cuban Security Service. This information will help flesh out the biography of Oswald, but may not give us the answer to why Kennedy was killed.

What’s the best theory to date concerning the Malaysian Airlines mystery? Everybody assumed it would be solved within a week of the crash, but three months on and there’s little substantial information, other than it crashed in the Indian Ocean after running out of fuel.

We actually know less now than we knew when the plane first went missing. All of the theories of where it crashed have proven unsubstantiated by the underwater search efforts. Here is what we know: a half an hour after it took off, when it reached a point in no man’s land when it wasn’t being monitored by any air controller for a few seconds, at that very point the plane diverted its course and the plane’s communications systems shut down. The plane then  reversed its course and flew over Malaysia at different altitudes which might have been meant to confuse or evade radar. These actions show that someone was in control of the plane during these diversions. We don’t know if it was a rogue pilot or a hijacker. We don’t know why the plane was diverted or what happened to it. It is my theory that it was a hijacking that went wrong. And as a result, everyone aboard was killed after the plane had reversed its course and continued on as a ghost plane crashing somewhere.


Claire Kelley is the Director of Library and Academic Marketing at Melville House.