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Cerabino: Manalapan suicide should've been Bill O’Reilly’s unraveling at Fox

Bill O’Reilly’s career at Fox News should have been on the rocks years ago over what Reilly did — or didn’t do — in Palm Beach County.

O’Reilly has built his audience on the premise that he is a purveyor of the truth in his “no-spin zone.” And he has parlayed that into a series of non-fiction books, including one on the John F. Kennedy assassination.

READ: Jailed doctor sells Manalapan mansion for $20 million

In that 2012 book, titled Killing Kennedy: The End of Camelot, O’Reilly wrote a vivid account of the 1977 suicide of George de Mohrenschildt, a 65-year-old Russian college professor who allegedly knew Lee Harvey Oswald and his plan to assassinate Kennedy before it happened.

O’Reilly’s book detailed how de Mohrenschildt took his own life in an oceanfront home in Manalapan.

“The reporter traced George de Mohrenschildt to Palm Beach, Florida, and traveled there to confront him. At the time, de Mohrenschildt had been called to testify before a congressional committee looking into the events of November 1963. 

“As the reporter knocked on the door of the de Mohrenschildt’s daughter’s home, he heard the shotgun blast that marked the suicide of the Russian, assuring that his relationship with Lee Harvey Oswald would never be fully understood. 

“By the way, that reporter’s name is Bill O’Reilly.”

So O’Reilly is claiming that he tracked down the guy with the real hidden story about the Kennedy assassination. And as O’Reilly knocked on the door, about to unravel one of the great national mysteries, this man killed himself rather than facing tough questions from the intrepid O’Reilly.

It’s quite a story. If it’s true.

The problem is, there’s an overwhelming amount of evidence to suggest otherwise.

The suicide of de Mohrenschildt was banner-headline, front-page news in The Palm Beach Post when it happened. The Palm Beach County Sheriff at the time, Richard Wille, briefed the press on the Russian’s death.

Wille confirmed that de Mohrenschildt was feeling pressure over his role in the Kennedy assassination. But not by a Dallas TV reporter named Bill O’Reilly. The Sheriff said the Russian was upset over being contacted by an investigator for the U.S. House Select Committee on Assassinations named Gaeton Fonzi.

Fonzi had visited the Manalapan home earlier that morning when de Mohrenschildt was out, something his 33-year-old daughter had relayed to him. Fonzi left his card and said he would return that night.

But on that afternoon, before Fonzi would return, De Mohrenschildt put a shotgun to his mouth in the second-story drawing room in the Manalapan mansion at 1780 S. Ocean Boulevard and killed himself, Wille said.

“Only a maid and chauffer were in the house at the time,” Wille told The Palm Beach Post.

Palm Beach County conducted an unusual coronor’s inquest into de Mohrenschildt’s death, which concuded that it was a suicide.

The inquest included public testimony that the Russian had tried to commit suicide in three previous attempts and that he also had been bothered by contacts from Willem Oltmans, a Dutch television reporter, who was trying to get him to admit to a role in the Kennedy assassination.

O’Reilly wasn’t mentioned in the exhaustive investigtion of the suicide, or interviewed by authorities.

“I remember,” former Palm Beach County State Attorney David Bludworth told me Thursday. “But I don’t remember him.”

The only American journalist who played a role was Ed Epstein, a freelance writer who was writing a book on the Kennedy assassination. Epstein had tracked down de Mohrenschildt in Palm Beach, and on the morning of his suicide, he had talked to him. The Palm Beach County Sheriff’s Office brought in Epstein for questioning.

So where was Bill O’Reilly at the time of the suicide? Probably Dallas.

Fonzi, the investigator, is dead. But he kept recordings of his phone calls, and his widow has kept them all these years. And in one of those recordings, Fonzi phoned his friend, O’Reilly, to tell him that de Mohrenschildt had committed suicide.

“We gotta get this guy Epstein,” Reilly told Fonzi on the tape. “I’m coming down there tomorrow. I’m coming to Florida. We gotta get this guy. He knows what happened.”

The evidence that O’Reilly fabricated his role in the suicide of de Mohrenschildt is also corroborated by the local Palm Beach County cameraman O’Reilly used once he did arrive in Florida to report the story.

That cameraman, Frank Eberling, was working for WPEC Channel-12 at the time, but freelanced for O’Reilly and his colleague, Bob Sirkin.

Today, Eberling runs his own video production company and teaches at Palm Beach State College. He remembers spending two days after the suicide working with O’Reilly doing interviews in Palm Beach County.

“I don’t think he got there until the next day,” Eberling told me Thursday.

What about O’Reilly knocking on the door in the moment before the suicide?

“It’s just a Fig Newton of his imagination,” Eberling said.

Eberling said in the days after the suicide he traipsed around with O’Reilly doing interviews of de Mohrenschildt’s daughter and getting a door slammed on them while trying to do an ambush interview with Epstein at The Breakers hotel in Palm Beach.

O’Reilly’s account of his role in the suicide had been questioned by various media sources in the years after his Kennedy book was published.

But never by his employer, Fox News. And despite all the evidence, O’Reilly maintained on his TV show that he was a witness to the suicide.

“The far left attacks on my reporting continue,” O’Reilly said. “There’s nothing I can do about it.”

Which sounds a bit like his defense over the claims by the women who said he sexually harassed them.

“Just like other prominent and controversial people, I’m vulnerable to lawsuits from individuals who want me to pay them to avoid negative publicity,” his statement to The New York Times read.

The theme here: There’s nothing O’Reilly can do about people that point out dishonesty in his reporting or inappropriate contact with women at work. It’s all a plot.

The reporting question is the easier question to sort out than the he-said, she-said dynamic of sexual harassment.

O’Reilly was either at the door of the Manalapan home at the time of de Mohrenschildt’s suicide. Or he wasn’t. It has nothing to do with spin, misunderstandings, or parsing of language.

It has to do with telling the truth or being a self-promoting, shameless liar.

It’s amazing how unimportant that question was to Fox News until advertisers started bailing.

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