Death BEFORE Dallas: NO press coverage (or statement from the White House) whatsoever about the sudden death of a Secret Service agent
(first, the details:)
Agent Thomas B. Shipman (White House Garage Detail, dies before the Dallas trip): A major discovery by the author was made when perusing a passage buried in Col. George J. McNally’s14 very obscure and non-indexed book, A Million Miles of Presidents. The relevant passage reads: “One of the President’s drivers, Tom Shipman, died suddenly.” Given its position in the chronology of McNally’s narrative—after discussing the death of baby Patrick Kennedy (August 1963) and the eleven-state “Conservation Tour” (late September 1963)—this would seem to indicate a time period of around September 1963 for Shipman’s death. (McNally also mentions the death of Administrative Officer Frank Sanderson who died in May 1963, as verified by an internet search at ancestry.com and at other sites. Strangely, no death for a “Tom” or “Thomas” Shipman is listed for 1963.) However, Secret Service SA Tom Shipman was on the “Conservation Tour”, as Office of the Naval Aide records for this trip reveal. In fact, Shipman rode on Helicopter #2 from the South Lawn of the White House on the way to Andrews Air Force Base on September 24, 1963 with Ken O’Donnell, SA Gerald Blaine, SA Paul Burns, and SA William Greer. Also, Shipman is listed in the Protective Survey Report (written September 20, 1963) for the September 24, 1963 Milford, Pennsylvania stop.15 Previously, Shipman had been on JFK’s March 23, 1963 trip to Chicago, Illinois, driving the follow-up car.16 Sam Kinney told the author: “[Fellow agent/driver] Deeter B. [Flohr, Eisenhower’s driver] and I were buddies—traveled a lot together; Tom Shipman, Deeter B., and myself.”17 Former agent Darwin Horn wrote: “Shipman was a driver for many years with Dick Flore [sic] and Morgan Gies.”18
If that wasn’t enough, it appears that there were two new additions to the regular White House Garage (chauffeur) detail in October/November 1963, in addition to veterans SA Samuel A. Kinney, SA George W. Hickey, SA William R. Greer, Special Officer (SO, Uniformed Division) William C. Davis, White House Policeman James M. Carter, and SAIC Morgan L. Gies: SA Henry J. Rybka19 (attending Treasury School from November 1–8, 1963, and who would go on to be recalled by Agent Roberts at Love Field) and SA Andrew M. Hutch (who doesn’t join the detail until November 18, 1963, having previously been a White House Policeman).20
From the record, then, it appears Shipman died suddenly sometime between October 3 and November 1, 1963. It would be nice to have the travel logs for this time period, but, as previously noted, the Secret Service destroyed them in January 1995 (from the Final Report of the Assassination Records Review Board):
However, in January 1995, the Secret Service destroyed presidential protection survey reports for some of President Kennedy’s trips in the fall of 1963. The Review Board learned of the destruction approximately one week after the Secret Service destroyed them, when the Board was drafting its request for additional information. The Board believed that the Secret Service files on the President’s travel in the weeks preceding his murder would be relevant.21
Why the destruction? Where is Shipman’s death certificate?
SA Tom Shipman died in late 1963, before the Texas trip. This was the extent of the author’s knowledge from 1997, the time of discovery, until 1999, when the author came across an online website dedicated to fallen officers that listed Shipman’s middle initial,22 and, most importantly, on July 26, 2001, when the following information was discovered by the author, once again via the internet: the website of the Association of Former Agents of the U.S. Secret Service,23 which lists 34 agents that passed away in the line of duty—out of literally thousands of men and women—since the late nineteenth century. The only JFK-era agent listed is White House Garage/Chauffeur Special Agent Thomas B. Shipman: “October 14, 1963: Died of a heart attack while on a presidential protective assignment at Camp David, Maryland.”
Because of Shipman’s death, Bill Greer drove JFK in Dallas and his immediate replacement, Henry J. Rybka (fresh from Treasury School) was recalled at Love Field by Roberts! Former agent Gerald Blaine told the author that Kinney, Shipman, and Greer were “the three consistent ones” that drove JFK’s car (commenting that Greer “usually” did), also adding that Shipman and Kinney drove the follow-up car, as well.24 Winston Lawson wrote the author: “Tom Shipman, also a driver, died of a heart attack while up at Camp David, prior to retirement. I don’t know the year and couldn’t find out. I believe Sam Kinney found his body. They would have roomed together in one of the cabins up there.”25 Former agent Vincent Mroz told the author that Shipman was “in his 40s or early 50s”.26
What is even more amazing about Shipman’s death is the fact that, out of the literally thousands of agents who have come and gone since the nineteenth century, as mentioned above, only 34 are listed,27 including the five agents who died tragically in the April 19, 1995 Oklahoma City bombing, Leslie Coffelt (the Uniformed Division officer who died on November 1, 1950), five others who died in the 1990s, seven who died in the 1980s, two who died in the 1970s (including J. Clifford Dietrich, who died in a helicopter crash on May 26, 1973), one other who died in the 1960s (Thomas Wooge,28 on October 17, 1968),29 one who died in the 1940s (November 8, 1940, to be exact), three who died in the 1930s, two who passed away in the 1920s, and two who died in the 1900s. That’s a very small, sad grouping to be in, indeed.30
Interestingly, advance man Marty Underwood told author Harry Livingstone, “There were a couple of suicides in the thing, with the Secret Service and every-thing ….” Livingstone: “Do you remember who committed suicide?” Underwood: “I don’t remember. I think there were a couple——” [Underwood is then cut off by Livingstone.]31 Also, an unnamed agent took his own life “… in the late Sixties, in Washington, with his own weapon. There were signs he was beginning to buckle,” as former agent Chuck Rochner explained to fellow former agent Marty Venker.32 Former agent Darwin Horn wrote: “I cannot recall the name of the SA who killed himself in the late ’60s. I seem to recall something of that nature occurring though.”33
Conclusion: One wonders what would have happened in Dallas if Shipman, not Greer, was behind the wheel of President Kennedy’s limousine during the shooting … a very convenient death, indeed.34
14 See p. 211. Col. George J. McNally was the first commanding officer of the White House Army Signal Agency, and its successor, the White House Communications Agency (WHCA) from 1941 until his retirement in 1965. Before that, McNally was an agent of the United States Secret Service (1935–41). McNally was in the midst of fin-ishing a book when he died of a heart attack on August 11, 1970 (he is interred in Ar-lington National Cemetery). The name of McNally’s book, not released until 1982 (with the help of his widow and the 1600 Communications Association), is A Million Miles of Presidents. Among countless other trips (Truman–Johnson), McNally was on the Texas trip, working closely with Chief Warrant Officer Arthur W. Bales, Jr. and Ira Gearhart, a.k.a. “The Bagman” (these two men rode near the end of the motorcade in the White House Signal Corps car). For his part, McNally stayed behind at the Love Field terminal to have lunch and to check on the upcoming Austin part of the trip to see if the communication lines were working. (McNally was interviewed four times for Manchester’s The Death of a President and appears on one page of Bishop’s The Day Kennedy Was Shot. In addition, McNally’s name appears several times during agent Robert Bouck’s JFK Library Oral History, as McNally played a critical role in the White House taping system. Finally, McNally was one of the founding members of Floyd Boring’s Association of Former Agents of the United States Secret Service in 1969.)
17 Author’s interview with Kinney, April 15, 1994.
18 Email to author dated February 25, 2004.
19 Rybka was a Special Officer and member of JFK’s Inaugural Detail: Protective Survey Report dated January 16, 1961 Re: Inaugural Activities of the President on January 20, 1961, conducted by SAIC James M. Beary (1–15 [Washington Field Office]) and SA H. S. Knight (1–16 [WHD]).
20 Secret Service Shift Reports for November 1963, including November 1, 1963: RIF#154–10001–10180; November 2, 1963: RIF#154–10001–10173; November 3, 1963: RIF#154–10001–10167; November 4, 1963: RIF#154–10001–10160; November 5, 1963: RIF#154–10001–10153; November 6, 1963: RIF#154–10001–10146; November 7, 1963: RIF#154–10001–10139; November 8, 1963: RIF#154–10001–10132; November 18, 1963: RIF#154–10001–10062; November 22, 1963: RIF#154–10001–10034.
21 See p. 149.
22 Not long after the author’s discovery, the website could no longer be accessed. As of December 1, 2003, the Federal Law Enforcement Foundation has Shipman and others listed
24 Author’s interview with Blaine, February 7, 2004.
25 Letter to author dated January 20, 2004.
26 Author’s interview with Mroz, February 7, 2004.
27 By comparison, the sister agency ATF’s list dwarfs the Secret Service’s. In addition, it was reported: “In 1973, agent Jim Connally, who’d had a drinking problem, took his own life.” [Rush (Venker), p. 216]. Agent Jim Kalafatis said: “We had two [unnamed] agents die within a month, of sudden heart attacks.” (The Secret Service, p. 264.) Donald Robinson died March 5, 1983, while George LaBarge died April 5, 1983. In addition, a spokesman for the agency stated: “As of 2003, we have lost 34 employees as a result of on-duty incidents.”
28 Wooge is pictured on pp. 64, 67, 70 of the AFAUSSS book (1991).
29 The AFAUSS (new) website had this information: “Agent Thomas K. Wooge—October 17, 1968: Died of a heart attack while protecting a Presidential candidate in Rochester, New York.”
30 High Interest Books: Secret Service, a 48-page book for young people written by Mark Beyer in 2003 (Children’s Press, a Division of Scholastic Incorporated), states on p. 33: “Over thirty people have died while working as Secret Service agents.”
31 High Treason 2, p. 439.
32 Confessions of an Ex-Secret Service Agent, pp. 216–7.
33 Email to author dated March 2, 2004.
34 A picture of Agent Shipman driving JFK’s car (alongside ASAIC Floyd Boring) can be found on p. 33 of the magazine One Dozen Red Roses: The Life Story of Jacqueline Kennedy (Washington, D.C.: Tatler Publishing Co., 1964) (kindly identified by former agent Win Lawson for the author on February 17, 2004).
A veteran Secret Service agent dies at Camp David 10/14/63 and there is NO PRESS COVERAGE WHATSOEVER- ZERO, NADA [just try Google, custom range, for example]. What is more, no statement from the White House is made.