Richard Bernarbei (1933-1979) was a college professor at Queens University in Kingston, Ontario, Canada.
About a year and a half ago I was wondering whether anyone else had noticed Prayer Man in the Wiegman and/or Darnell films before Sean Murphy started his quest less than ten years ago. I was already loosely checking out where this all originated from but I could not find anything from before the millennium until I came across Bernabei’s name while trawling through Harold Weisberg’s archive. I read his correspondence from the late 60’s, between them and Richard Sprague and almost fell off my chair and made mention of this after I regained my composure at ROKC. There is quite a bit of correspondence in this archive.
And by chance I came across his discovery of another person on those steps besides doorway man (a.k.a. Billy Lovelady). I shall post some of these pages of his correspondence below. These pages are the first signs of discovery of Prayer Man, although he was not named as such, that credit belongs to Sean Murphy.
Knowing that Richard Bernabei’s material was held at his workplace in Kingston I emailed Queens University in June last year and was told that the archives were not indexed nor digitised, so a dead end for me unless I or one of my fellow ROKCers made their way over there.
I left the whole thing for what it was, as I had plenty to go on until I emailed roughly 6 months ago to see if I could get a local person to investigate for me instead. Little did I know that an individual by the name of Sean Adessky had gone through all of Bernabei’s archive a few months before and had made an index. From that index one section jumped out to me.
Folder, “Man in the TSBD Doorway”
– Documents relating to the individuals seen in the doorway of the TSBD at the time of the shooting.
– Photographs, commission documents, sketches, few pages of handwritten notes.
Totalling 35 pages I was dying to get hold of all of this material, which they promptly helped me with. The whole document is more focused on Doorway Man (Billy Lovelady) but by researching it from every possible angle he also deals with Prayer Man for about 4-5 pages. These pages are very valuable since they contain sketches made by Richard Bernabei and diagrams as well of the people on the front steps of the Texas School Book Depository. This material is the first hard evidence of someone actually recognising a person in that shadowy area of those front steps of the Texas School Book Depository when JFK was assassinated and also actively documenting it. How he did this is a bit of an enigma, since the material of Wiegman he had in his collection there is not much to see there. Check for yourselves in the picture gallery below.
Bear in mind that at that time no one had gotten hold of the Jimmy Darnell film where Prayer Man is seen a lot clearer than in the Dave Wiegman film. The other sources, regarding this particular segment of the case, Bernabei had were Altgens 6 and the Hughes film.
Great stuff indeed, not just from a find p.o.v. but also what else he wrote inside that document. He followed the same ‘tactic’ Sean Murphy and Richard Hocking used. Not only did he study the film and photo material but he also looked at all the available testimonies and brought Oswald’s interrogations and whereabouts and TSBD employees Carolyn Arnold and Victoria Adams into the fold. Furthermore I plaster some scans of the images he had during his research. Two copies of Altgens 6, Willis 4, 8 & 10, Wiegman, Towner and Bell.
The letter below is from Richard E. Sprague who writes in good detail about Wiegman and his film to Richard Bernarbei.
- Sprague managed to buy a copy of the film on 35 mm, where this film is, is not known at this time. He also mentions that he has clipped some of the frames out of his film, therefor the possibility exists that the film was kept in a cut up state.
- He explains the many generations of the film.
- Wiegman had not seen his film at the time of their telephone interview.
The large format negatives Sprague is talking about are at the National Archives in Washington, we at ROKC managed to get copies of these.
And then the trail went dead, for almost 40 years………………..why?
Addendum Dec 30th 2016:
Mati Bernabei (Richard’s daughter) contacted me through Facebook and shared the following info with me, which she has allowed me to share:
She was 14 years old when he died in 1979. He was very unwell the last two years due to alcohol related deterioration of body and mind.
” I knew that he was deeply interested in JFK, I didn’t understand what he was working on. I was too young. Close to the time of his death (when he, and everyone, understood that his death was imminent), my mother and other friends of his convinced him to donate his JFK files to the Archives at Queen’s University. They didn’t want the work to be lost”
“. I’ve always imagined that his work would remain in dusty boxes in the Archives forever, so I am truly delighted that you found it useful . My father was an artist, heart and soul (before academia, he studied art), hence his drawings, and his understanding of visual perspective, light and shadow, etc. I’m sure he would be deeply gratified that his work is still of interest in some way. Very interesting for me to read your analysis too! Thank you!”
“When looking for the photo I reread a short bio of my father that my mom wrote in the 1990s when she doing a hobby genealogy project (for my sister and I). That mentions the donation to the archives, and I remembered more details. My father was a true mess in the last two years of his life. He had a heart murmur due to childhood rheumatic fever, thus the collapse of his body due to chain smoking and alcohol was accelerated. In June of 1979 my uncle (his brother) came to visit — by that time it was clear that there was no turning back – organ failure was occurring, and father would die soon (he died 2 months later). At that time my uncle and my mom convinced Pa to donate the JFK material. My father had already destroyed much of his artwork, in a fit of self loathing, I think. So, my mom and uncle rightly worried that he might do the same with his JFK documents.”
“My father’s struggles were obvious to people who knew him in the last few years, thus there was no need or purpose in in trying to create a facade. And, he talked and wrote about too. He was a kind, loving, tragically self-destructive person in those last years.”
Special thanks to Heather Home and Susan Office at Queens University.
Mati Bernabei for the portrait and the additional info.
And many thanks as well to Francesca Brzezicki for making the Bernabei correspondence and photo scans for me.
Wiegman scans by ROKC from the Richard E. Sprague archive at the National Archives in Wa.