Forty years ago, George Miller and Vince Guinn were scientists conducting research in a small basement at UC Irvine, when a stranger walked in, a briefcase handcuffed to his wrist.
The basement was filled with a small nuclear reactor, a machine that Miller and Guinn used to conduct the atomic analysis of, among other things, heavy metals.
The briefcase was filled with fragments of the world’s most controversial bullet.
The bullet fragments were so tiny that they were “little more than dust,” recalls Miller, now 80. But, tiny as they were, the fragments were clues in one of the biggest mysteries in American history — the assassination of President John F. Kennedy.
They’d been collected 14 years earlier by government investigators, the man with the briefcase explained. Now, their government had a request for Miller and Guinn:
Would they use the school’s reactor and their scientific skills to answer the question that still loomed over the Kennedy assassination — did Lee Harvey Oswald act alone?
Miller and Guinn were to test the fragments to determine if they came from the same case of bullets. Their answer, whatever it might be, would support or undercut the official account of the Kennedy assassination that was presented to the public by the Warren Commission in 1964.
Late last month, days before the Donald Trump administration released thousands of documents connected to the Kennedy assassination, Miller recalled the weight of the mission brought to him in 1977 by the stranger with the briefcase.
“I’ve certainly never worked on something with such significance to a country,” Miller said.
Connected to Kennedy
Miller no longer sports the bushy sideburns that were stylish when he first started teaching, choosing instead to keep his beard trim while leaving his salt and pepper hair a bit wild. If the look says “mad-but-distinguished scientist,” so be it.
His peers offer praise for a man who has pioneered a branch of scientific exploration — atomic-level investigations — and continues to operate at a high level, even at an age when many others are fully retired. Jonathan Wallick, the lab engineer who runs UCI’s reactor — essentially the job Miller had decades ago — describes him as a “charismatic British man.”
And though he’s not personally obsessed by Kennedy, Miller’s career has been bracketed by two events: Kennedy’s death and, now, the release of once-classified information about Kennedy’s assassination.
The newly released material, which became public Oct. 26, is prompting a frenzy of sorts. Reporters, researchers and skeptics are poring over hand-scrawled notes and internal memos; intelligence agency correspondence and old photos.
Some documents shed fresh light on the chaos and conspiracy fears that plagued investigators from the moment the president was hit. Others offer more details about Oswald’s skills as a marksman or his trip to Mexico in the weeks prior to the shooting.
But none upend the conclusion that Oswald acted alone.
|In this Nov. 22, 1963 file photo, President John F. Kennedy waves from his car in a motorcade in Dallas. Riding with Kennedy are First Lady Jacqueline Kennedy, right, Nellie Connally, second from left, and her husband, Texas Gov. John Connally, far left. The National Archives released the John F. Kennedy assassination files on Thursday, Oct. 26, 2017. (AP Photo/Jim Altgens, File)|