Was Butler at the Ballroom?

Were the makers of the Netflix docuseries 'Who Killed Malcolm X' played for fools by their central protagonist, the convicted Malcolm X assassin Norman 3X Butler?

In order to appreciate the sheer absence of any hesitance to lie under oath on the part of the wives of the Malcolm X assassins one need look no further than the perjurious testimony of convicted Malcolm X murderer Talmadge Hayer’s spouse, Betty. Like her husband, Betty X Hayer was an active member of Muhammad’s Mosque #25 in Newark. And yet when she took the witness stand on 23rd February 1966 to submit to examination, she unblinkingly lied through her teeth in answer to direct questions as to whether she or her husband were members of the Nation of Islam (NOI). Her shameful testimony can be found from page 2663 onwards in Vol. 4 of the ‘People v. Hagan, Butler and Johnson’ transcript.

As to the credibility of the People’s witnesses, Assistant District Attorney Vincent Dermody used his sensational closing argument (from page 3840 onwards in Vol. 6 of ‘People v. Hagan, Butler and Johnson’) to dispel any suspicion that John Farrell, Cary Thomas, Vernal Temple, Edward De Pina, George Whitney, Jasper Davis, John Davis, Ronald Timberlake, Charles Blackwell and all the other eyewitnesses who testified against the accused assassins Norman 3X Butler and Thomas 15X Johnson may have had any motive to deceive or were otherwise mistaken when they identified the two men at the Audubon Ballroom on the afternoon of 21st February 1965.  

I defy any of the Malcolm X scholars to place whatever research they’ve conducted or any sources they’ve relied upon for their hypotheses of the Malcolm X murder case up against the visceral immediacy and compelling power of the testimony to be found in the court transcripts themselves and the manner in which the damning evidence was laid out in Dermody’s dazzling summation.

There is a simple reason why the jury returned the verdict that it did: the combination of eyewitness testimony against Butler/Johnson on the one hand and the blatant lies, farcical fabrications and self-contradictions to be found in the testimony of Talmadge and Betty Hayer, Thomas and Etta Johnson, Norman and Theresa Butler, Edward and Muriel Long, Gloria Wills and Juanita Gibbs on the other. When taken together the Butler/Johnson defence case was doomed to collapse under the dead weight of its own sheer mendacity.  

If, after having read the 1965 Grand Jury and 1966 murder trial testimony of the Butler/Johnson/Hayer witnesses, one concludes that they were lying (as the jury clearly did) then one has no choice but to concede that they were doing so in order to conceal Butler and Johnson's role in the crime for which both men stood accused, namely, their participation in the murder of Malcolm X.

The simple fact remains that every scholar of the Malcolm X assassination thus far, with hardly any exceptions, has been operating within a fatally flawed paradigm which, for decades, has held as an article of faith the notion that of the three persons convicted for this crime two of them (Butler and Johnson) were ‘innocent’ men who were nowhere near the Audubon Ballroom at the time of Malcolm’s slaying. By obsessively referring to the Butler/Johnson/Hayer convictions as the 'official version' or the 'government theory' the Malcolm X scholars have sought to discredit the verdict and avoid staring the clear evidence in the face for fear of what it may reveal.  

What nearly all of the scholars neglected to do was to revisit the original Malcolm X grand jury and court case testimony in order to evaluate the strength of the Butler/Johnson alibis. Scholar after scholar instead chose to bury themselves in (heavily-redacted) FBI records and NYPD reports as though the elusive truth about this atrocity was to be found there. Nearly all of the scholars forgot that this was a criminal case that was decided in a court of law and that in order to establish the bona fides of the Butler and Johnson alibis at the time of Malcolm’s murder one would have to assess their credibility.

Fortunately for us all, Butler and Johnson were not the brightest bulbs in the chandelier and both men settled on an idiotic scheme that placed them both at home, both with contrived ill-health conditions and each man wholly reliant on a single eyewitness (their wives) as to their whereabouts at the time of Malcolm’s murder. So that all that one had to do was to revisit the testimony which those two housewives offered to the jury by way of an explanation for their husbands’ whereabouts on the wintry afternoon of 21st February 1965 in order for the prosecution’s job to do itself. 

Butler and Johnson’s role in Malcolm's assassination now appears to have been the ‘get your hand out of my pocket’ ruse which Hayer had ascribed to either ‘Ben Thomas’ or ‘Wilbur Kinley’ as can be gleaned from the testimony of Jasper Davis to be found on page 1090, Vol. 2 of ‘People v. Hagan, Butler and Johnson’.

Hayer, for his part, told so many falsehoods throughout his entire courtroom sojourn as to render his 1977-78 affidavits of zero worth. Which is not to say that the four accomplices he named in those affidavits didn’t exist. But if the fables he told in court are anything to go by then it is a damning indictment of the sorry state of the Malcolm X scholars (and their muddle-minded credulity) for them to have ever taken those affidavits at face value and relied upon them as the Magna Carta of this case.

There is, to this date, zero eyewitness evidence to support the presence at the Audubon Ballroom of any ‘Leon Davis’ or ‘Wilbur Kinley’. There are, however, enigmatic references in the case file to the person whom Hayer referred to as ‘Ben Thomas’ but whose real name appears to have been ‘Robert 16X’ or ‘Benjamin 3X’ – and who was seen entering and leaving the Audubon Ballroom with none other than ‘Lynwood Cathcart’ aka 'Lynwood 15X' aka Linward X Cathcart


Paul Bitakaramire is a freelance writer based in Manchester who has previously been published in Britain’s Spectator magazine and has launched a petition to secure the declassification of the FBI and CIA files on the Malcolm X assassination. That petition can be found here.