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Speaking the Unspeakable: The Assassination and Martyrdom of Thomas Merton

in Book Review by Edward Curtin

April 27, 2018

A Quasi-Review of The Martyrdom of Thomas Merton by Hugh Turley & David Martin

Quote:"Killing a man who says No!' is a risky business," the priest replied, "because even a corpse can go on whispering No! No! No! with a persistence and obstinacy that only certain corpses are capable of. And how can you silence a corpse?" Ignazio Silone, Bread and Wine

Fifty years have elapsed since Thomas Merton died under mysterious circumstances in a cottage at a Red Cross Conference Center outside Bangkok, Thailand where he was attending an international inter-faith monastic conference. The truth behind his death has been concealed until now through the lies and deceptions of a cast of characters, religious, secular, and U.S. governmental, whose actions chill one to the bone. But he has finally found his voice through Hugh Turley and David Martin, who tell the suppressed truth of Merton's last minutes on earth on December 10, 1968.

This is an extraordinary book in so many ways. First, because the authors prove beyond a shadow of a doubt that the Trappist monk and anti-war writer Thomas Merton was assassinated and did not die in a fabricated accident, as has been claimed for all these years.

Second, because it is so meticulously researched, sourced, documented, and logically argued that it puts to shame and the lie to so many works, including academic ones, that purport to be profound but fall apart once carefully inspected, especially all those that have been written about Merton and his alleged accidental death.These false accounts of his death, obviously presented purposely by the key players that he was electrocuted by a fan while wet from a shower have been repeated ad nauseam over fifty years as if curiosity were reserved for cats and a writer's job were to repeat commonplace absurdities. And of course the mainstream media, the prime organs of propaganda dissemination, have carried out their function by repeating these lies at every turn. The transparency of Turley and Martin's presentation is greatly enhanced by the presence of footnotes, not endnotes, which allow readersto easily check sources as they read. Most footnotes refer to primary documents letters, police reports, etc. that are reproduced in an appendix that is, however,in need of enlargement, but whose contents have, for some odd or not so odd reasons, escaped the thousands of writers who've penned words about Merton.

Third, because it greatly expands our understanding of that fateful year 1968 by adding the prophetic Merton's name to the list of well-known anti-war leaders MLK and RFK who were slain that year by U.S. government operatives intent on crushing the growing opposition to their genocidal war waged on Vietnam, Laos, and Cambodia. The links between these assassinations are made manifest as one follows the authors' brilliant analysis that allows an informed reader to see the template common to them all and one that clearly leads to intelligence agencies practiced in the arts of murder and cover-up.

Fourth, because it proves that in the long run the pen is mightier than the sword, and the spiritually powerful poetic words of a God-entranced man living in seclusion can rattle the cages of men who embrace the void of violence while rejecting the spiritual essence of all religions that non-violence and love are the laws of existence. Merton may be dead for his killers, but not for those who hear his voice whispering on every page: "The very thoughts of a person like me are crimes against the state. All I have to do is think: and immediately I become guilty," Merton wrote in "A Signed Confession of Crimes Against the State."

Lastly, because The Martyrdom of Thomas Mertonmarkedly forces the reader to face its harsh truths and examine one's souland complicity in evil as one learns of the perfidy and betrayal of Merton by friends, associates, and biographers whom a naïve person might assume are beyond reproach, until, that is, one reads this book. It is a very hard lesson to accept and understand. But Hugh Turley and David Martin sequentially force the reader to contemplate such matters; to conjecturewhy some have conspired and abetted in Merton's murder and especially its fifty year cover-up.

Thomas Merton (Fr. Lewis) was a Catholic monk, poet, writer and theologian who became very well-knownin 1948 with the publication of his autobiography, The Seven Story Mountain, which became a bestseller. Over the next dozen or so years, he published many books on religious themes, mainly avoiding social or political subjects. But although he lived in a monastery, and eventually by himself in a hermitage nearby, he corresponded widely and was tuned in to worldly events. He became a friend and mentor to religious/political activists such as Martin Luther King, Fathers Philip and Daniel Berrigan, James Douglass, among many others. He was a friend of Dorothy Day of the Catholic Worker. He corresponded with Boris Pasternak and Ethel Kennedy; wrote about Albert Camus and Eugene Ionesco. During the 1960s his writing turned more overtly political while remaining rooted in a deep mystical and contemplative spirituality. He became a major inspiration for radical activists who opposed nuclear weapons, the Vietnam War, and the materialist way of life fostered by capitalism that relied on the spread of the American empire through world-wide violence. Although living far away from the din and drama of day-to-day politics, his writing, encouragement, and influence were profound, and he became a major impediment to the propaganda and policies of the military-industrial-political-intelligence complex. He was an inspiration whose spirit disturbed church and state in the most radical way. Turley and Martin say of him:

Merton saw clearly that devotion to truth could not help but bring a person into conflict with sinister special interests. The effectiveness of the truth-seeker would, of course, be greater to the extent he could rally others to his cause, but ultimately, he said, the truth seeker's strength lay in trust in God.

Merton died on the afternoon of December 10, 1968 when those sinister special interests snuck up on him. He had just given a talk, had lunch, and returned to his cottage shortly before 2 P.M., accompanied by Fr. Francois de Grunne, O.S.B. (Order of Saint Benedict) from Belgium, who shared the cottage with Merton and two others, Fr. Celestine Say, O.S.B. from the Philippines, whose room was across from Merton's on the first floor, and John Moffit, a journalist editor whose room was directly over Merton's on the second floor adjacent to de Grunne's. The walk from the dining hall to the cottage took 10-15 minutes. Say and Moffit were walking a good distance behind Merton and de Grunne and arrived at the cottage about 5-7 minutes after them. When they entered the unlocked building, they did not see Merton and de Grunne and presumed they had gone to their respective rooms.

Shortly after de Grunne and Merton entered the cottage, Merton was killed. The actions of de Grunne, a mysterious figure who, according to the authors, "seems to have fallen off the face of the earth" and whose "abbey will not even respond to our questions about him," clearly make him a prime suspect in the crime. His actions and story are not believable and are contradicted by the most reliable witness, Fr. Say,whose statements have been absolutely consistent.

Beyond speculation, however, are the facts gathered by the authors that clearly prove that from the start there was a concerted effort to make a crime look like an accident. These efforts were initiated by de Grunne, who was the first to call it an "accident," but ably assisted by many others, including the Thai police or their surrogates, whose police report was released by the U.S. Embassy seven months after Merton's death and has no title, author, date, photographs, laboratory reports, or investigators' memos, and omits the testimony of the first two witnesses on the scene, Fr. Say and Fr. Egbert Donovan, who viewed Merton lying in a position and dressed in shorts totally inconsistent with the accidental death scenario. Most importantly, this "report" omits an autopsy report since no autopsy was conducted, a dead giveaway that a cover-up was underway. When a person is found dead, the first assumptionof a competent investigation is that a crime may have been committed, and when the victim is found with a sever gash on the back of his head, is lying in a position inconsistent with an accident, an autopsy becomes essential. But none was performed in Thailand or when Merton's body arrived back at the Abbey of Gethsemani. That the United States Embassy, at the request of Most Reverend Dom Rembert Weakland, O.S.B., who was presiding over the conference, had the U.S Army take possession of Merton's body shortly thereafter, embalm it, and five days later fly it back to the U.S. aboard a military plane together with the corpses of American casualties of the Vietnam War is not only supremely ironic but downright suspicious.

The first public report of Merton's death was delivered on December 11, as Turley and Martin report:

On December 11, 1968, the Associated Press reported that Merton had been electrocuted when he touched a short in a cord while moving an electrical fan, according to anonymous [my emphasis] Catholic sources. The initial news reports did not include any important details such as whofound Merton, the names of any witnesses or officials at the scene, or who determined itwas an accident.

The Thai doctor's cause-of-death certificate and the official death certificate said Merton died of sudden cardiac failure, but failed to mention the bleeding rear head wound seen by witnesses.

Most importantly, when Say and Donovan first saw Merton lying on the floor on his back, his legs straight, and his arms straight down by his side with palms to the floor as if placed in a coffin, with a floor fan lying across a thigh to the opposite lower waist, Donovan urged Say to take photographs of Merton before the crime scene was subsequently disturbed. They were very suspicious. Through great detective work, Turley and Martin have acquired a copy of these two photos, but they have been prohibited by the current abbot of Gethsemani from publishing them or even an artist's rendering of them. The authors say:

The photographs taken by Say are the best available evidence of the actual scene of Merton's death….The reason the monks took the photographs, as we have emphasized, was to document exactly how they found the body. As we have seen, people whom they would hardly have ever suspected, have consistently done their best to suppress those images. The photographs are an essential resource to anyone interested in knowing the truth about how Merton was killed.

But it is clear that many people would like to suppress that truth and have been hard at work doing so for half a century. But since this is intentionally a quasi-review because one must read this book from beginning to end to grasp the intricacies of this murder mysteryand the cast of characters that comprise it (no review can do justice to such a detailed and brilliant investigation,and, even so, attempting one would spoil the book), I will end with the authors' words:

Contrary to the common view, there is really no mystery about how Merton died. The best evidence indicates beyond any serious doubt that Merton was murdered. It's a simple fact that the average person is far more likely to be murdered than to be killed by an electric fan, and Merton was no average person. The story that a fan killed Merton is so preposterous that a series of fantastic stories have had to be invented to make it believable….Who did it and why? The CIA had the motive and the means." 1968: It was a very dark year: MLK, RFK, and Thomas Merton martyrs all.

If we want to see clearly and revive hope, the time has come to face the faces of the ghastly gallery of liars and deceivers guilty of these crimes. Only then can we live the truths their victims suffered and died for.

Then we too can confess with Merton that we have thought "Crimes Against the State."

Edward Curtin is a writer whose work has appeared widely. He teaches sociology at Massachusetts College of Liberal Arts. His website is
They murder radicals, progressives and peace-lovers, don't they.....they long have, and they still do!
The Mysterious Death of Thomas Merton

A Review of The Martyrdom of Thomas Merton: An Investigation, By Hugh Turley and David Martin

By Phillip F. Nelson

March 22, 2018

Quote:For five decades, the circumstances of the sudden death of the famed pacifist monk Thomas Merton have remained cloaked in the confusion of assorted stories having very little commonality, except for the most basic facts of date and place. The date, December 10, 1968, and place, in a cottage located at a Red Cross conference center near Bangkok, Thailand are about the only undisputed points of yet another death of a hero in that very violent year. Even the time of death, approximately 2 P.M. local time was disputed by the police report, a fake witness statement and the biographer Michael Mottall stating the time was one hour later.

Everything else about the circumstances of Merton's death depends upon the version told by those who had any familiarity with it, a result of the absence of an autopsy and the rapidity of how his body was removed by the U.S. Army, embalmed and flown back to the United States on a military aircraft also transporting other casualties of the Vietnam War being fought nearby. Father Louis's, as Merton was known in the monastery, presence on that plane, among the bodies of soldiers, sailors and marines killed in a war which he had long opposed, added even more irony to the mystery surrounding his death.

For a single example of one version of his death, Merton's last secretary, Brother Patrick Hart, O.C.S.O., wrote, in The Other Side of the Mountain: The Journals of Thomas Merton (Vol. 7, 1967-1968) HarperOne (1999) [p. xiv], that:

Merton returned to his cottage about one-thirty and proceeded to take a shower before retiring for a rest. While barefoot on the terrazzo floor, he apparently had reached for the large standing fan (to either turn it on or pull it closer to the bed) when he received the full 220 volts of direct current. (This is normal voltage for Bangkok.) He collapsed, and the large fan tumbled over on top of him. When he was discovered about an hour later by two of the monks who shared his cottage, the fan, still running, lay across his body . . . One of the abbots tried to remove the fan at once from the body, but though he wore shoes, he also received a slight electrical shock. Fortunately, someone rushed over to the outlet and pulled the cord from the socket. Later examination revealed defective wiring in the fan.

Authors Hugh Turley and David Martin, in their new book The Martyrdom of Thomas Merton, have effectively deconstructed nearly all of the assertions of Brother Patrick Hart noted above. Not only was there no evidence that Merton had taken a shower, or collapsed into a disheveled pile onto the floor, a large cut and contusion on the back of his head was not noted at all, and photographs taken immediately after his deathwhich had been kept virtually hidden for forty-nine yearsshow that his body was lying perfectly straight, with his arms lying beside his body, just as it might be placed into a coffin.

Furthermore, their own intensive investigation into the matterit soon becomes clear that indeed, it was the only such honest and thorough examination ever done, even though limited to the few remaining artifactsled them to make the following series of assertions [p. 267]:

"The best evidence indicates beyond any serious doubt that Merton was murdered.

"The story that a fan killed Merton is so preposterous that a series of fantastic stories have had to be invented to make it believable.

[Despite being unable to solve the crime completely without having the requisite powers they state]: "We can point a finger at the most likely suspect in Merton's murder cover-up, Brother Patrick Hart notwithstanding, and that is the CIA. The CIA had the motive and they had the means. When Penn Jones and others would make a connection between Merton's death and that of the Kennedy brothers and Martin Luther King they were not just blowing smoke. All four of those people were obstacles to the CIA's war ambitions in Southeast Asia, a war that was raging right next door to the scene of Merton's death."

Only a full reading of the book, as Turley and Martin untangle the points noted above and many more fragmented pieces of a puzzle purposefully muddled from the startand the subsequent intervening machinations of many officials in Thailand and even within Merton's home monasterywill lead to a full understanding of how thoroughly his death had been mishandled. That undeniable fact is yet another marker for how the assassinations of John and Robert Kennedy, Martin Luther King Jr. and Thomas Merton are inexorably linked: In every case, their murders and the cover-ups were characterized with replicated patterns of deceit, including fabricated or missing evidence, fundamental inconsistencies in witness testimonies, faked documents and evenin Merton's casea Thai police report that is undated and unsigned.

As the authors also point out, among the strongest evidence that Merton's death was a CIA hit was the failure of the American news media to perform their constitutional function of ferreting out what should be obvious cases of governmental misconduct. The MSM have conformed to the stories set forth by John Howard Griffin (to be examined at length below) and the journalists John Moffitt in his book about the conference, A New Charter for Monasticism, and the "official" biography The Seven Mountains of Thomas Merton, by Michael Mott. In all cases, they called the death an accidental electrocution, caused by a faulty fan. In their book, authors Turley and Martin categorically reject that and provide detailed explanations for why they view it as impossible, which for our purposes will be summarized without going into the detail uniquely provided by their book.

For inexplicable, but perhaps understandable, reasons (such as the possibility that a key official of the monastery had become exposed to blackmail by "the powers that be") the leadership of Merton's home base, The Abbey of Gethsemani, in Trappist, Kentucky, picked the famed Texas journalist John Howard Griffin to write Merton's biography.[*] As described by authors Turley and Martin, that narrative included "its intentionally deceptive section on his death" [p. 270]. Evidently, desperate to bring finality to an official, albeit false, narrative of Merton's death being a freak accident by electrocution caused by a Hitachi fan that had suddenly become mis-wired, Griffin called on his old friend, newspaper man Penn Jones of Midlothian, Texas to come to Thailand to investigate the incident and pronounce his findings. Using Jones' contemporary reputation as a harsh critic of the Warren Commission's findings of "no conspiracy" in the JFK assassination, Griffin's apparent presumption was that Jones' finding that Merton's death was accidental would help finalize the "verdict" of accidental death.

While it is true that Penn Jones was long known as a maverick news reportera lone liberal voice in a Texas prairie-town populated by right-wing conservativesgenerally well respected for his honesty and independence, that reputation is not necessarily as true today as it was in the 1960s, when such CIA-created phenomena as "fake opposition" were not so well known. An ulterior motive was also advanced by authors Turley and Martin, that of fleshing out the attitudes of two other key attendees of the Thailand conference, Fr. Celestine Say, O.S.B. (Order of Saint Benedict) and Fr. Bernardo Perez, O.S.B., both from the Philippines, to determine whether they might want to aggressively challenge a finding of "accidental death." That would explain the appearance of Penn Jones in the Philippines six months after Merton's death, an intermediate stop on his way to Bangkok. Ultimately, it was determined that they would not attempt such a challenge.

That sudden trip, in and of itself, is most curious, considering that Jones was not a wealthy man and most reports indicated that he ran his weekly newspaper on a very small budget. Why he would suddenly decide to fly off to the Philippines and Thailand and then agree with Griffin's decision that the death was merely a "freak accident"but not bother to report that formally, or even write a column about it in his newspaper, or, evidently, anywhere else, simply adds more to the mystery. That enigma overwraps even more riddles when one considers that Penn Jones was closely connected to numerous people who did not share his purported views on the subject of JFK's assassination being the product of a highly-placed conspiracy.

The person Jones was arguably closest to was Gary Mack (born Lawrence Alan Dunkel) who had started out as conspiracy theorist but eventually became a "debunker" of some theories, finally settling in as a "conspiracy-light" advocate who believed that Lee Harvey Oswald was the assassin but believed that he did not act alone. Yet, after that conversion, he would spend the rest of his life refuting any and all suggestions of evidence pointing toward conspiracy. That movement was cemented when he joined the staff of the Sixth Floor Museum, located in the Texas School Book Depository Building in the early 1990s, eventually becoming the director of the museum.

Among Penn Jones' other close friends or associates were Hugh Aynesworth, a Dallas reporter and strong supporter of the Warren Commission's most ludicrous findings, and many other similarly-deluded researchers including Dave Perry, also a close associate of Gary Mack, who tried, unconvincingly, to discredit Dr. Charles Crenshaw's testimony about having received a telephone call from the new president Lyndon Johnson while attempting to save Lee Harvey Oswald's life.[†] Jones was also similarly connected to Bud Fensterwald, who many truth-seeking researchers believe was a CIA operative. Another associate of Jones was Gordon McLendon, a Dallas-based wealthy owner of major radio stations in some of the largest cities in the country, whom many researchers have connected to CIA operative David Atlee Phillips and wealthy oilman (and suspected financier behind JFK's assassination) Clint Murchison and Bobby Baker, Lyndon Johnson's conduit to Mafioso throughout the country. McLendon had also known and associated with Jack Ruby.

Moreover, Jones was also very closely connected to Mary Ferrell, whom researcher Harrison Edward Livingstone described at length in his 1993 book Killing the Truth: Deceit and Deception in the JFK Case. Livingstone summarized his opinions (with which many other long-time researchers agree) by calling her the "gatekeeper" and the head of a "sophisticated private intelligence operation . . . a de facto secret society in Texas, run by powerful people there, to protect the name and reputation of Texas and to protect those who were involved in the murder of John Kennedy." [Livingstone, pp. 386396].

The Penn Jones John Howard Griffin friendship began as near-neighbors living only twelve miles apart (Jones in Midlothian, Griffin in Mansfield, Texas). How each of them apparently became connected to the CIA is entirely speculative of course since that is not addressed in their obituaries or any other publicly available documents. However, Jones had a long history with the Texas National Guard, including service during World War II, by some accounts in Army intelligence. When he retired from the Guard in 1963, according to Wikipedia, then-Governor John Connally promoted him to Brigadier General, possibly as a favor to maximize his pension. Jones had known Connally (a well-known associate/sycophant to Lyndon B. Johnson for decades) and Henry Wade (later the District Attorney in Dallas, also closely connected to Johnson) since their days in law classes at the University of Texas, also documented at the Wikipedia website for Penn Jones.

In Griffin's case, the fact that he had attained fame as a popular author automatically made him a target for recruitment by the CIA for their Operation Mockingbird; that program, beginning in the early 1950s, had successfully put hundreds of syndicated columnists, news reporters, radio and television broadcasters and popular authors within their orbit (including many authors who may have started in non-fiction but quickly converted to the fictional genre).

Authors Turley and Martin have made an exceptionally strong and compelling argument that the "official" narrative was promulgated through sketchy, fragmented pieces of suspect documentsas more accurate documents were kept hidden. Among those were long-hidden, highly-revealing photographs (described above) of the body of Thomas Merton as it was found in a position that was completely at odds with all of the false stories of death by either heart attack or electrocution by a defective Hitachi fan. These photos were so contradictory to the purported "accidental" death thatnot only have the authors been forbidden to reproduce themthey've also been told that they cannot even publish artist drawings that depict the photos within their book. Those restrictions only strengthen their conclusion of the real cause of Thomas Merton's death, as summarized above, and for numerous reasons could only be the result of a very sophisticated assassination, planned, executed and covered up by the CIA, through the assistance of others within Merton's cloistered abbey.

In coming to this conclusion, as noted above in reference to the murder of Thomas Merton, they have repeatedly drawn parallels to the assassinations of John and Robert Kennedy and Martin Luther King Jr. A document I recently obtained, from Lyndon Johnson's White House filesapparently kept in his well-known "mean letters folders/file cabinets"was a letter dated February 20, 1965 from Rev. Thomas Merton. I believe it is but one document that might have caused the name of Thomas Merton to be added to other lists, both within the White House and those being maintained farther up, and across the opposite side, of the Potomac River, in Langley, Virginia. For Merton to have written Johnson, challenging his use of "sheer force" to contain "the spread of Communism in Asia . . . seems to me immoral and unjust, when they are used without wisdom" would be to question not only Johnson's morality and wisdom, but probably his manhood as well. There were certain boundaries that could not be crossed with Lyndon B. Johnson, and those three would have represented, to him, three strikes.

As I wrote in my own new book, Who REALLY Killed Martin Luther King, Jr., The Case Against Lyndon B. Johnson and J. Edgar Hoover:"

It should also be clear by now that all three of the major political assassinations of the 1960s were perpetrated by essentially the same men, using related resources, comparable methods of operation, and analogous motives. And they were all executed with the active provocations of the two men at the very head of the hierarchy, Lyndon B. Johnson and J. Edgar Hoover. Only the combined power wielded by them could have reasonably equippedwith the eager assistance of intelligence officials from the military, the CIA, and key members of the Dixie Mafiathe facilitators and street-level operatives with the kinds of resources, and spheres of influence in the local communities involved (Dallas, Memphis and Los Angeles), to have succeeded in accomplishing their multiple missions. The most powerful man in America circa 19631968 was Lyndon B. Johnson. That it was he who instigated all of these major treasons should by now be indisputable.

Clearly, the assassination of Thomas Merton in Thailand on December 10, 1968 was one more in that same year intended to put an end to the lives of the most powerful and influential men who he thought might one day expose his treachery and treasons. Thus, like the other 1968 assassinations, they were primarily directed to Johnson's personal enemies, only secondarily to so-called larger "National Security" interests.

[*] Griffin was author of numerous works, most famously the book Black Like Me, for which he traveled through the South as a black man, thanks to a mix of drugs, sunlamp treatments, skin creams and his shaved head. Though Griffin began the biography of Thomas Merton, in 1978 he became too ill to finish it and Michael Mott was commissioned to write Merton's biography. According to Wikipedia, "Griffin's nearly finished portion of the biography, which covered Merton's later years, was posthumously published in paperback by Latitude Press in 1983 as Follow the Ecstasy: Thomas Merton, the Hermitage Years, 19651968."

[†] He did that by overlooking Johnson's ability to go into his own office inside the Capitol building and make an unlogged telephone call to whomever he wished in the fifteen (15) minutes between his arrival there and the time of Oswald's death as JFK's body was being moved from the hearse into the Capitol Rotunda. As noted in my book, LBJ: The Mastermind of the JFK Assassination (p. 520): "At 2:00 p.m. Washington time, 1:00 p.m. in Dallas, Oswald had been in the emergency room for one hour and fifteen minutes, which is consistent with Dr. Crenshaw's statement that the call came at least an hour after the operation had begun; he would die shortly after Crenshaw returned to the operating room, at 1:07 p.m. Dallas time."

Phillip F, Nelson [send him mail] is the author of Who REALLY Killed Martin Luther King Jr.? The Case Against Lyndon B. Johnson and J. Edgar Hoover. His previous books include LBJ: The Mastermind of the JFK Assassination, LBJ: From Mastermind to The Colossus, and Remember the Liberty.