Audio Expert Discusses May 4, 1970, Recording at Kent State

Event part of commemoration for 41st anniversary of Kent State shootings, which continues today

New Jersey-based forensic audio examiner Stuart Allen views the May 4, 1970, shootings at as "a murder mystery" and "spy thriller" that he is committed to helping solve.

Allen, along with Alan Canfora, director of the Kent May 4 Center, took the stage at the Kent State Kiva on Tuesday as part of the 41st Annual May 4 Commemoration, which continues today.

The three-hour casual forum had audience members interacting with the men, making comments or asking questions related to the day four Kent State students were killed and nine were injured during 13 seconds of gunfire from Ohio National Guard soldiers.

Allen played for the crowd of about 75 the full half-hour tape recording made on May 4, 1970, by a Kent State student.

Allen promised to take audience members "inside of this tape as the drama unfolds … you’re going to hear sounds that are clearly disturbing."

As the 41-year-old recording played, Canfora presented a slideshow of more than 230 photographs taken that fateful day of antiwar protests. Many – including some Canfora referred to as "gruesome," such as morgue photos of the slain students – have never been published.

After playing the original recording – which Allen said "sounds like mud" – he played digitally "cleaned" portions of the audiotape. His areas of focus included what he said are the sounds of four shots being fired from a .38-caliber pistol just 70 seconds before guardsmen shot their M1 rifles, and a man giving orders to fire mere seconds before the deadly barrage.

Canfora believes that Allen’s revelation of "digital evidence" on the May 4 audiotape, combined with photographic and other overlooked evidence, should prompt the U.S. Justice Department to reopen an investigation into how events unfolded on that historic day.

However, Canfora made a request for evidence review last November and said he’s still waiting for a response from Justice Department officials. He’s preparing to "apply pressure" through personal appeals to state and federal officials, as well as petition drives and letter-writing campaigns.

Canfora said the "May 4 movement for truth and justice" is not about "seeking punishment, retribution or revenge."

"The ultimate outcome we’re seeking is simply the truth … for the sake of history," Canfora said. "The truth provides true healing."

And should the case end up in a court, Canfora said the movement has a "great ally" in Allen. As CEO and chief forensic examiner of The Legal Services Group, Allen has provided expert forensic testimony and evidentiary support in more than 20 federal districts and 40 states for law enforcement and the legal profession.

Allen said he has no financial interest in the outcome of any new May 4 investigation – just a strong desire to find answers to questions created by his digital enhancement of the 1970 audio recording. The biggest questions, he said, are who shot the .38-caliber pistol four times and who gave Guardsmen an order to fire.

"It’s 40 years old and it’s time for closure, to have the truth come out. The issue here is to find out definitively what happened," Allen said.

Since becoming involved with the May 4 movement last year, Allen said he has heard and read many comments along the lines of "let it go, give it up." But he’s not willing to do that. "If it was my kid (killed), I’d never let it go," Allen said as he choked up.

"We need a federal investigation reopened and launched … The evidence is going to speak for them (the slain students)," he said.

Kasha Legeza May 04, 2011 at 06:11 PM
Stuart Allen said last night that, based on his experience, he's concerned about the condition of the original 3 1/2-inch reel-to-reel tape, which is stored in a safe deposit box in Akron. A Plain Dealer article I read last night says the bank vault is climate-controlled. Allen is doing his work off a cassette-tape copy of the original made in the early 1970s for a court case. Allen believes the digital "cleaning" work he has done is strong enough to stand up in court -- even though it's based on an old copy.
Balertwine May 05, 2011 at 05:38 PM
Dale, If you surf around on the web you will find the enhanced audio of the .38 caliber gunshots and the Guardsmen's commander's order to fire. I tracked it down 6 months ago via Google and listened to it. It may be on KSU's May 4 web pages -- if you can't find it, send an email to Al Canfora, I'm sure he knows where it's posted.
Balertwine May 09, 2011 at 07:41 PM
OK, this May 8, 2011 news story at cleveland.com has the enhanced sound clips on the web page accompanying the news story: http://blog.cleveland.com/metro/2011/05/activists_press_government_for.html
dale thorn May 10, 2011 at 01:25 AM
Thanks to everyone for the followup. The new sound is much better than the old sound as far as the background noise and general audio quality is concerned. I'm curious if this new clip is from the cassette or from the original reel-to-reel tape. I hear the words "here" and "fire" quite clearly at 21 and 22 seconds into the clip, but then there's about a 3 to 4 second delay before mass firing begins. Does that agree with Alan's impressions? Those two words don't sound like crowd calls - they sound like instructions given by crowd control - just my impression. So far I can't make out the words before "here" but I haven't listened for that very much. I'm just a little curious why the controversy, though. Although I've always been on the side of the protestors, it seems to me that a military unit was there in firing position with loaded weapons, which would imply that they were authorized to fire on the order of a responsible officer. Maybe when it's officially established that the fire order was actually given (which seems logical), then we could proceed to find out how that would be illegal.
dale thorn May 15, 2011 at 11:35 AM
I have now extracted the audio of the order to fire, and the number of syllables does not match Canfora's list. I also cut out the word that sounds like 'fire' and played it on repeat at higher volume using the Sennheiser HD-800 and Beyer DT-48 headphones. It doesn't sound like 'fire'.


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