John F. Kennedy arrived in Dallas on Air Force One before noon on Nov. 22, 1963. Hours later, his body was being flown back to Washington, D.C., as radio communications crackled back and forth between the plane and various officials on the ground.
"The president is on board, the body is on board, and Mrs. Kennedy is on board," a voice said at one point, starkly describing the just sworn-in Lyndon Johnson and the-now dead JFK.
This month, as events, books and TV specials mark the 50th anniversary of the assassination, a new piece of evidence has Kennedy researchers buzzing.
It's an 88-minute audio recording of Air Force One radio transmissions that's described as the most complete version of those communications yet.
And it may indicate that a longer version with fresh revelations is out there somewhere.
The recording is described on the JFKFacts.org website as among the most important pieces of assassination-related evidence to surface in the past five years.
It was enhanced for sound quality and combined from two separate tapes by audio and video forensic expert Ed Primeau and his Rochester Hills-based Primeau Forensics.
Like anything new about the JFK assassination, the recording is bound to be pored over by those fascinated by what a majority of Americans consider an unsolved mystery.
Conspiracy theories still exist that cast suspicions on everyone from the Cubans and the Russians to the mob and even portions of the U.S. government.
Primeau said he believes "100 percent" that there was editing done to the two tapes that were used in the 88-minute version. And that's bound to raise the sort of questions that keep the search for answers alive.
Kennedy's death is a 50-year-old case where almost anything can be viewed different ways by different people. But Primeau's expertise is driven by fulfilling the assignment, not furthering an agenda.
"I work both sides," he said of his past experience with both prosecutors and defense attorneys.
Primeau, 55, grew up in Michigan originally wanting to be a DJ. Instead, he built a career behind the scenes in audio and video production and founded Primeau Productions in 1984, which lists Bob Seger and Billy Sims Barbecue among its past clients.
In the mid-1990s, Primeau started focusing on the growing field of audio and video forensics. He has been an expert witness for criminal and civil cases across the country. In 2012, he was asked by the Orlando Sentinel to analyze the desperate voice overheard in the 911 call in the Trayvon Martin case, a task that led to appearances on CNN and MSNBC and to his being named as a potential witness by the prosecution.
Primeau's conclusion for the Sentinel? It was the 17-year-old Martin who lost his life that night, not the eventually acquitted George Zimmerman, who was screaming for help in the background.
"Bring the truth out, bring an objective opinion. I'm a third-party, non-biased person who comes into a case," he said of his approach to his work.
In fall 2012, Primeau was contacted by author and JFK assassination researcher Bill Kelly, who wanted technical help in combining two audiotapes of Air Force One radio transmissions: one released in the 1970s from LBJ's presidential library and a longer one that came to light a couple of years ago from the belongings of Gen. Chester Clifton, a military aide to Kennedy.
Kelly transcribed the tapes. Primeau, working off and on starting in about January, spent time enhancing the sound quality, sharing his progress with Kelly along the way.
"I lowered the noise, equalized the recordings and added some filtering and brought them up to where they'd be more audible," explained Primeau.
Brad Finegan of Primeau Forensics combined the two tapes in chronological order using Kelly's transcripts and some overlapping as guides. In addition, Primeau obtained aerial video footage from a pilot friend that Finegan and Primeau's son, Mike, used to create a captioned video version of the Air Force One recording.
It was Primeau's idea to use video and captions so that "anyone who wanted to hear these recordings could actually see the words and follow the bouncing ball, if you will, of what's being said."
Kelly said Primeau took the assignment for free and did "tremendous work." Last month, Kelly presented an analysis of the tapes at a 50th anniversary assassination symposium at Duquesne University's Cyril H. Wecht Institute of Forensic Science and Law in Pittsburgh.
"The Air Force One tapes are sort of like the black box of the assassination. It has all the basic information there you want to know of what happened at the highest levels of government in the two hours after the assassination. And it all should be right there, but there's some that's missing," said Kelly, whose website is http://jfkcountercoup.blogspot.com.
"Spine chilling" is how Primeau describes listening to history come to life on the tapes, which are peppered with code names like Volunteer (for LBJ) and Lace (for Jacqueline Kennedy) and urgent efforts to make arrangements for things like a lift to remove the casket from the plane in D.C.
Generals, Secret Service members and radio operators can be heard. Locations like the White House Situation Room and the Air Force command base are mentioned. At one point, the airborne LBJ is patched through to JFK's mother, Rose, at the Kennedy compound in Hyannisport, Mass., to offer his condolences.
Primeau said he believes that the LBJ and Clifton recordings are what are called safety copies that don't contain the entire radio transmissions from Air Force One.
"As I listen to the recordings, I can hear edits. I can actually go through and pick out spots where I believe there are pieces that were missing. And there's lots of theories about why there would be pieces removed."
That conclusion raises questions. "What was taken out, who took them out and where are they?" he asked.
It also points to the possibility that the entire record of the radio transmissions is somewhere out there, says author and former Washington Post reporter Jefferson Morley, who has led the charge to have the CIA release still-classified material on the assassination.
"It's not the tape itself. It's what the tape tells us. And what the tape tells us is that there was a longer
recording of the Air Force One communications on Nov. 22. That was never known before. What the tape tells us is there could be, somewhere, a recording of the reaction of the U.S. national security agencies to the president's death," said Morley, who's written about the new recording for the site he moderates, JFKFacts.org.
An original source tape with several more hours of content would be a big historical discovery. "It would be the record of the government's response to the assassination itself," Morley said.
LOOKING FOR ANSWERS
The Air Force One recording is considered significant by Morley, Kelly and others still looking for a credible explanation for the JFK assassination. But new information based on fact, not speculation, also interests conspiracy debunkers.
"Aside from what I might disagree with Kelly on, it's always a good thing to try to get the historical record in better shape, to clarify the material," said professor John McAdams of Wisconsin's Marquette University, whose JFK assassination website appeals to those who believe accused assassin Lee Harvey Oswald acted alone.
McAdams says there's probably more material online about the JFK assassination than any other historical subject -- and he stresses that plenty of it is implausible. His website notes that sophisticated conspiracy theorists "likely understand that the mass of silly nonsense in conspiracy books and documentaries does no service to the cause of truth in the assassination."
Nationally, those who believe in a lone gunman _ the government-run Warren Commission's conclusion _ remain in the minority, but their numbers are increasing, according to a 2013 Associated Press-GfK poll. It shows that 59 percent of Americans say they think multiple people were part of a conspiracy to kill Kennedy, but 24 percent think Oswald acted alone -- the highest non-conspiracy percentage since the mid-1960s.
Morley says there's no justification for continued official secrecy about the assassination. "Things are withheld on grounds of national security, and that's not very plausible for 50-year-old documents about Cuba. The secrecy around the subject remains a big problem for public understanding, and it encourages suspicion."
Primeau suspects the original source tapes of the Air Force One tapes may no longer exist. "Will they ever surface? I don't think so. I think they're destroyed, like parts of the Watergate tapes were destroyed, permanently gone so that nobody could ever find out."
Even if that is the case, he adds, witnesses could still be found to speak to what was said all those years ago."I think it's everybody's hope that this might nudge somebody, I don't know how else to say this, (who) is going to be around for a few more years and doesn't care about telling the truth now, who might know something, and it might bring us another step closer to the truth."