Gary James' Interview With The Director Of The Presley Commission
Phil Aitcheson is the Director of The Presley Commission, which looked into the death of Elvis Presley and released their findings in 1994 in a book titled The Presley Report.
Phil Aitcheson is retiring from his position as Director. And so, once again we asked that all important question to Phil: Is Elvis Alive?
Q - Phil, why are you choosing to retire now? Has the case gone "cold" against Elvis being alive?
A - Well, there's still a great deal of activity associated with the Elvis case. After sixteen years of having direct involvement with the investigative process, I've decided that my other activities require my attention. I'm the CEO of an international company that I own and operate and then two other businesses in addition to that. Plus, once the DNA findings from 1998 were derived, there wasn't much more to look at in the way of investigative evidence. That evidence alone finished our investigative activity from the standpoint of the Commission. So basically, it's been more of a question of needing to move on with my other duties after a long period of time of having a lot of contact with fans and folks that had a great deal of knowledge of what took place on that day (August 16th, 1977). As far as the case going "cold", I think you have warm spots and you have cold spots with regard to how evidence surfaces and how information becomes available through interview processes and other means. Things will continue to surface over time as to how the events occurred and what was involved, but I suspect at seventy-three years old, after all this time, even though it was considered at one time he would come forward and talk about what had happened, that has subsided and actually we're now of the feeling that won't happen.
Q - When you say "we", who are you talking about?
A - When the Commission was first formed there was somewhere in the neighborhood of thirty people involved internationally. We called in experts from a variety of different fields to work with us. There were a number of people that were able to give us assessments of the information and how we needed to disseminate it. So, over time we've worked with a great many people with regard to this case and the deliberation of what took place.
Q - Why wouldn't Elvis come forward after thirty years if he was alive?
A - Well, let's kind of go backward a little bit. There's a twenty-one year cap on people who are involved with the intelligence community and a variety of other things. We know that in 1970, Elvis was appointed as the first Federal Agent At Large in the history of the U.S. government. This was a conversation he carried on with President Nixon at the time, regarding the matter and wanted to play a role in helping the country in that capacity. Nixon at that time was diligently creating a new DEA to take over the responsibilities of drug wars and organized crime activities, investigating that. Elvis knew he could play a role in that. Elvis actually held badges, some honorary, but a good many of them official appointments from a variety of different law enforcement organizations. This was an aspect of the case that intrigued me more than anyone because I knew he was giving up a great deal to virtually go to work for the government.
Q - Phil, how much could he do? From 1970 to 1977 he was still recording and touring.
A - He was touring a great deal, but he also had a whole area beyond his musical career where he had activities he was involved with off and on during that time. Then, right around 1974, a group approached him about the Jetstar and that was his airplane. The Hound dog Two that is on display down there today in Memphis, that got tied up in a scandal that involved organized crime. The investigation went on and it was the often referred to Operation Fountain Pen by the FBI, which was the largest fraud investigation in the history of the FBI during the 70s. Presley was directly involved with that. He and his father both ended up testifying in the case. So, as a result of those activities and some other law enforcement related activities like stake-outs we were able to track, we knew this was his way out. It provided him with an opportunity to change his life. He was very unhappy towards the end of the music career. He was in a great deal of debt. He was obviously having some problems with his health, although they were considered relatively minor at the time. He was concerned with not having enough privacy with his family. He was having to work and work and work to pay off gambling debts that the Colonel had, where his name had been signed to notes for that. There were a number of things that caused Elvis to be quite dis-satisfied with his career at that point in time.
Q - As we speak today, February 7th, 2008, is Elvis alive?
A - From everything I've seen, people I've spoken with, interviews we've conducted, evidence that we have seen, there's every indication that he is. That also come down to actual communiqués I've received back in the 90s and possibly some after that, that indicated that. E-mails that came in from a variety of close contacts to the situation who indicated to me that he is still alive, still out there.
Q - Is Elvis still involved with law enforcement?
A - Well, there's an interesting rule that comes with an appointment to the DEA or any other intelligence oriented group. Particularly the DEA had a rule at that time that may still in fact be the case that if an agent, whether he's an agent at large where he's not on salary but he's like an informant to the agency or helpful to the agency in an official capacity, that duty would be considered active until the age of 80. Even if he were to retire or any agent were to retire, he would have to turn in his badges, although they could be called back up to a certain point if their health permitted that. At this stage of the game, we think he is no longer involved in that because we got some indications from some people we had spoken with close to the government channels that indicated that he departed from the DEA right around 1984 or '85. So, we're thinking that his involvement, his direct involvement, while he may still be consulting, in a consulting capacity, active duty would not be part of the menu at this point.
Q - What is so bizarre is all these letters being written to and calls coming into people like Maria Columbus (Elvis Fan Club President), if the world is to believe Elvis is dead. Why would he call Maria or call into a radio station? What's the reasoning behind that?
A - You talked to Maria.
Q - I did.
A - So, that's how you got the story on what she saw the day after the funeral in Memphis. I have no argument with anything she told you 'cause I know Maria and I know her to be an upstanding individual and is not in the habit of making up stories.
Q - What did she see the day after? I recall her saying she saw Elvis in a car two years after his "death".
A - I was stating it as the day after thinking that's what it was, but it could've been later. I've kind of been out of the loop of this for a while, so my memory is going. You have to think back to the time of the funeral, Maria was called and told not come, along with another group of people. Vernon called them, I think it was Vernon who said "Don't come to the funeral. There's no need to come out here." There was a lot of question at the time as to why that call was placed. There's no question that the important aspect of this case as it stands today is : A - Elvis was unhappy. B - He was not in the kind of condition at the time where he could continue the grueling tours. He had glaucoma. He was being treated for that. He had an impacted colon, off and on that gave him problems. He was being treated for that. They were not life-threatening, but they did prevent him from being able to continue touring for very much longer. On that basis, plus the aspect of his involvement in his extracurricular activities in law enforcement and the various activities he undertook outside the entertainment business, put him in a situation where it was over. And he knew it was over. He knew he had to move on or get very sick from what was going on with the touring. He was under a great deal of pressure at the time. He really did not like losing his privacy to a point where he couldn't even sit out by the swimming pool with is wife. Fans would be climbing the fence and bothering him. These weren't all fans. They were fanatical people who just couldn't stand not to be able to see him. This went on for a long time. There's been a lot of talk about it and there's been a lot of books delayed. My book has been delayed because of the condition of the publishing business right now. It doesn't make it probable for me to do a release here any time soon. The Elvis book market has been saturated with an enormous number of publications talking about his career and all these other things that have been controversial over the years. I eventually will put something out beyond my writings and the Presley Report that was released by the Commission in 1994. After that...we'll see. But my duties are extensive and if I don't turn my attention to these things, then it puts me in a financial bind. So, I have chosen to retire from active duty in the case. That doesn't mean I still won't talk to people about it. It doesn't mean that I'm still not interested. I'm still very much interested.
Q - Who will carry on the investigation then?
A - As you may know, Reverend Bill Beeny in Wright City, Missouri has sold the Elvis Is Alive Museum. The museum has been moved too and will re-open this month. (February 2008) if I'm not mistaken in Hattiesburg, Mississippi. The new owner, Mr. Andrew Key will be taking on any sorting out of any further information and evident that may come forth, with our blessings and Bill's blessing as well. A couple of years ago, I donated FBI files on Elvis Presley to the museum so that the fans could go in and read about Operation Fountain Pen and a number of other things he was involved with. This is the first time in Elvis history that this kid of a donation to a museum has been made where fans can go in for free and look at the files. It turned out to be a very cool way to accommodate the need for the fans and people interested in the case to continue reading information and pursuing various facets of it.
Q - You know, I just got through interviewing Larry Geller, and I brought up the whole Is Elvis Alive matter to him. Larry Geller said to me "When you interview him (Phil) next, ask him why he didn't contact Larry Geller." He thinks you're a fake.
A - Actually, we did talk by phone. Also, something else that Larry stated in his own book about the time he claims to have worked on Elvis' hair and body, he said that the body had an X incision. Well, they don't do an X incision. They actually do a Y incision. So, his positioning has changed over the years for the times. He, like Sonny West and all the other folks that worked for Elvis in those days, are sworn to protect him and that's exactly what they're doing. I can assure you, I'm not a fake. I spent sixteen years of my life and $8,000 of my own money to determine what evidence was real and what wasn't. You can tell him (Larry) I said that. I have respect for all those guys that worked for Elvis. They were really under the gun in those days to do their jobs and take care of their friend. And even now, they're taking care of their friend. That's the position I've taken from the standpoint of being Director of the Commission. I've seen the evidence and they probably have not seen most of the evidence. Even if they have, it's undisputable. We know that Elvis' handwriting was on government file pages after 1977. That's been confirmed. We know that there were voice prints and handwriting experts that did work all the way down to L.H. Williams of the Houston Police, who determined that the handwriting on the government files after the death date was in fact his handwriting. The evidence is real. It's been confirmed a number of times and it's even in the archives of The Presley Commission.
Q - Why hasn't more been made of all of this in the mainstream media?
A - Actually there was a big press conference held in Virginia at a place called Camper's Paradise. It's on Smith Mountain Lake, which is where I lived at the time. It was a very huge crowd of media people from as far away as Japan that sat in on the press conference that (the late) Debbie Wines (Presley Commission member) and I did that day regarding the release of The Presley Report and the documentation of the evidence. It was explained to them and the majority of the crowd believed it and understood it. There were a few skeptics in the crowd. We have to give them equal billing. (laughs) But, the fact remains that the evidence was confirmed. There were over 1,000 interviews conducted by members of The Presley Commission to document all of this information. His (Elvis') friends can say whatever they want to say. They have the perfect right to do so, but the fact remains, they're sworn to secrecy and they're protecting their friend.
Q - How many people would you say know about Elvis faking his death?
A - Initially, I thought it was a small crowd of people, a relatively small group. There's an old concept called Keep It Simple, Stupid, and the first rule of that concept is that you only include people in an actual plan that are gonna have direct involvement in the execution of that plan...funeral directors, doctors, police personnel, people that are trusted. People that are in the so-called "inner circle." Family members might have some awareness of what was going on, may not have had any direct involvement. But, it started out as a small nucleus of people who would have direct involvement or knowledge of what was going to happen. Then after that, it has expanded into massive numbers of people that have just taken an interest in the case, fans included. Some fans aren't interested. Some fans prefer to remember his musical career and the great things he did for the entertainment business in those days and don't want to go any further with it. But, there are a great many more who have an incredible interest in the case, and how everything went down.
Q - Larry Geller told me some things in the interview I did with him that I did not know. The last concert Elvis gave was in Indianapolis on June 26th, 1977. That was also Colonel Parker's birthday. And two years to the day, Vernon died.
A - Let me ask you this, did you know that Larry Geller had possession of the DEA Black book that Elvis name was listed in, as an agent?
Q - I had no idea of that.
A - Yeah. I'm sure he'd be willing to talk to you about it or at least mention it. I had a direct conversation with him by telephone about it and he did confirm that. He had quite a bit of knowledge of Elvis taking calls from the President Of The United States and various other people with regard to various matters that Elvis was working with the U.S. government on. There were a great many things I learned in this case that I'm not able to publicly talk about because of security reasons. But, there are a great many things we looked at, things that you and I have discussed over time or have thought about over time that can certainly be made public.
Q - How did you get involved in the whole Is Elvis Alive? story? I remember reading Elvis: What Happened? only two days before his reported death, and thinking Elvis is in trouble.
A - Of course, there's another factor in regard to his weight. At varied times he had weight gains. This issue had not been explained very well in what was being stated in books and in various resources. The fact is, in the situation with Elvis' impacted colon problem, Dr. Nick was giving him testosterone shots, which was a typical way to alleviate the pain caused by the condition and it also tended to cause bloating. As a result, the neck swells, the face swells. Best example of that is Jerry Lewis. You know what he had to undergo with his back problems. Well, Elvis had a very similar situation where he had to soak in hot tubs for long periods of time to try and alleviate the pain form the impacted colon. It was not life threatening. It could've been had it gotten worse, but it had been taken care of at a later time. But, these testosterone shots were a typical treatment for that in an effort to alleviate pain and to bloat him out a little bit so that he could pass whatever the problem was or alleviate the stress from it. So, this bloating was a product of these shots he was receiving for that condition. Yes, he liked to eat. We all like to eat. There's stories about the cheeseburgers, the peanut butter and fried banana sandwiches that didn't help him any. Whether Elvis had an eating disorder, we did not determine that specifically. So, it was very normal for the doctor to prescribe something that would alleviate that problem. And one of the known side effects is bloating. So, again his weight gains were frequent. There were times when he's pictured looking fit and trim and sun tanned, wearing his DEA jogging suit, which was against Federal policy by the way, but we won't go into that. Then there were times when he walked on stage looking pale and sick and very puffy. We know that the final concert in Indianapolis he was wearing what we call in law enforcement circles a 360 (degree) bullet proof vest under his suit. That added to the weight, the wideness of his body. And the sweating and the artificial hair on his chest that was pasted on. He had an ankle gun in his boot when he was escorted off stage in Indianapolis by the FBI, not his usual guys.
Q - I find Ginger Alden's actions on the day of August 16th, 1977 to be rather odd. I've read that she did not immediately call for help.
A - Right. Plus she claimed to wake up in a bit of a stupor because she had taken some sort of sleeping medication and said she saw two guys carrying something heavy across the bedroom, during the course of the night. We interviewed Ulysses Jones, who was one of the former paramedics in the case, who told us in a taped telephone conversation that he knew it wasn't Elvis on the floor. He had known Elvis all his life and it didn't look like him. And, in fact he and partner Charlie Crosby, who was later killed for running his mouth. Come to find out, he met with an unfortunate accident...he was actually pushed out of an airplane, and it was murder.
Q - Who were these guys?
A - They were the paramedics that were called to the house that day to work on the body. They both went back to their firehouse telling their Captain and their superiors it was not Elvis. Their knees were shaking. They were scared to death. They were told not to repeat what they said. And they take the body into the hospital for this alleged autopsy that supposed to take place, but never did take place. They were supposed to have taken out stomach contents and other bodily parts that went to the Mayo Clinic for examination to determine what the cause of death could be on this particular cadaver and it came back with "MS" scrawled across the bottom of the report. It was pictured in The Presley Report. And the fact is, Elvis never had MS.
Q - How did you hear about this paramedic, Charlie Crosby's death?
A - Ulysses said he met with an unfortunate accident sometime after. Ulysses Jones is a retired State representative for the State of Tennessee. He was a paramedic at the time. He was on the team that was called to the house. There's questions about whether Vernon was there or Vernon drove up the driveway in a car and then came into the house. Some of the accounts aren't even straight on whether he rode in the ambulance with his son to the hospital or what was purportedly to be his son. There was talk about Lisa Marie riding around in golf carts at two o'clock in the morning on the evening that her daddy was supposed to have passed away. Those stories are completely inaccurate from everything we've seen.
Q - How about this story of a helicopter landing in the backyard of Graceland at 2:30 PM on August 16th, 1977. What do you know about that?
A - There have been trackings of a green and white helicopter with specific tail numbers that I'm not able to divulge at this point. I'm not even sure I have them here on file anymore, but that indicated this was a helicopter used to remove both the look-a-like from the grounds of Graceland that day, as well as Elvis.
Q - I'd really like Sonny West and Larry Geller to respond to this.
A - I'm sure they will. The problem is, you're going to be talking to, particularly his friends and ex-employees. You're going to be talking to people whose outlook on the whole thing is shaded by their interest in wanting to protect their friend. So, there's a lot they won't tell you. And, there's a lot of things they will tell you to try and throw you off.
Q - What would happen if Sonny West and Larry Geller were to come out and say "Phil Aitcheson, Debbie Wines and Gail Brewer Giorgio were right...Elvis did fake his death!"?
A - There are others who have told us we were right. A great many people...Elvis impersonators who we befriended over the years, who we wanted to talk to about the situation because we know there'd been a great deal of interest about Elvis stylists and rumors to the effect that maybe he was hanging out with one or two of those guys over time.
Q - Phil, does it make sense to you that if Elvis faked his death, he would then start phoning people around the world and sending cards and letters?
A - Well, I think once he was gone, he obviously set the whole thing up so that he could have a way out. In other words he wanted to be able to contact people. He was quite concerned about the fans and how they would feel about it at the time this all came down. Why would they go out and buy a coffin so far in advance? That's another situation.
Q - Is that true? I've read the coffin was ordered months in advance.
A - Right after The Presley Commission released their report, we were having a meeting in Wilmington, North Carolina, my home where I was living at the time. We got a phone call from a deputy sheriff whose name escapes me at this point in time, but we've got tape on it somewhere here, where he was on location at the Underground Wax Museum in Atlanta, Georgia on the week they were closing. Vernon Presley and a couple other fellas from the Presley clan came in and bought the wax figure of Elvis, because it was all being auctioned off. They made the purchase and on the way out the door, after they loaded the truck and took the figurine, Vernon Presley turned to the guy at the museum and said "Wait 'til you guys see what we're going to do with this." And I have that on tape. This correlated right in to what we were able to determine about a wax dummy being used. Tanya Tucker, a very well known Country star in her own right, was at the viewing and knew and even stated on national TV in an interview later on that, that was not Elvis in the coffin. And there have been a number of others that have made mention of it.
Q - Have you personally talked with anyone who went by the coffin and said that's not Elvis in there?
A - I had operatives with the commission that did have several interviews with people who were at the viewing and indicated this was not Elvis in the coffin. In addition to that, Gail (Brewer - Georgio) even made mention of something in her book which we looked into as far as we could go with it regarding fans that went and maybe Maria (Columbus) mentioned it, where people walked up to Vernon and said "This isn't Elvis. Where is he?" Vernon was quoted as saying "Oh, he's upstairs. We had to show the fans something." We also did a rundown of the numbers involving the weight of the casket and the one or two people that indicated to my operatives that there was a cooling system in the coffin that would've caused what Gene Smith (Elvis' cousin) said appeared to be beads of sweat on the body, on the brow of the body. The fact remains, with a wax dummy, this cooling situation would've cause condensation to form which may have looked to Gene Smith as sweat and dead bodies don't sweat. That's been the catch line on that for years. It also explained why the casket weight 950 pounds. There was a great deal of excess weight inside the casket. In addition to that, you have the people who stated unequivocally that it was not Elvis. You have the paramedics saying it was not Elvis on the floor. There's a whole multitude of other folks that had knowledge about it. There's a whole listing published in The Presley Report about all the items missing from the house that were supposed to be on the estate list and weren't...and it was over 100 items. It was an enormous list.
Q - I brought that up to Charles Thompson, one of the co-authors of The Death Of Elvis Presley, and he assured me that Jack Soden of Graceland was pretty sharp about financial matters and other matters, including accounting of personal items.
A - That's a pretty weak answer. Luc Dione, who was well known in Canada as a Canadian official who did a lot of analyst work for the Quebec government, went down and saw Charles Thompson at his home in Memphis and asked him point blank if he knew anything about Operation Fountainpen and the fact that Elvis was working as a Federal Agent at large and Thompson knew nothing about it. Again, I would have to question his answers. The Wests and other parties try to lay this rap on Elvis about over abusing drugs, which based on his health record and what he was having to deal with at the time and the fact that he did not drink alcohol as a general rule, it's pretty impossible that he was doing the drugs they said he was doing.
Q - Sonny West told me Elvis was taking one medication, Dilaud, six times a day and one was enough to knock you out. It's something they give cancer patients.
A - The reason they're saying that is because Elvis had to take sleeping medication to get to sleep and pills to wake up because of the grueling touring schedule and the fact remains there's no evidence to indicate that he was actually taking that. As a matter of fact, we found out that the pharmacy slips were being handled by someone else in the house, but it was Elvis account 'cause he paid the bills. Those guys could go to the pharmacy and pick up things anytime they wanted to pick 'em up. All they had to do was say it was for Elvis.
Q - Are you saying they were taking the pills, the drugs and not Elvis?
A - I think it went on throughout the whole entourage. I also happen to know that Dr. Nick had to be a walking pharmacy when they went on tour, because they had to carry a lot of medications for the various problems that the various people might encounter while they were on tour. In addition to that, the DNA findings is what has ended this investigation for the Presley Commission and our acceptance of the findings. The findings dictate that the 1975 liver biopsy that was done at BMH (Baptist Memorial Hospital) on Elvis Presley and the 1977 autopsy tissues were tested in a prominent DNA lab and found not to match.
Q - You're confident that both samples were from Elvis?
A - I am very confident because I was privy to when it took place.
Q - This sounds like it's just the beginning.
A - (laughs) Well, looking back on sixteen years, it's hard for it to be the beginning. It's just the facts in the case and the fact remains those things actually happened. If all of these things were bogus or didn't happen or had facade of artificiary if you will, then I would say it's pretty hokey that he'd be alive, but the fact remains, these things really happened. The fact remains the handwriting on the FBI files on Operation Fountainpen that we located and perused over 20,000 pages of trial transcripts with Gail Giorgio, Luc Dione and others, determined that the handwriting on those files was that of Elvis Presley...after the death date!
Q - Have you, since August 16th, 1977, personally spoke to Elvis or met him?
A - I'm not aware of any direct contact, but I did receive communiqués, hand-written communiqués over the years, during the 90s that I found to be his hand-writing and I did have them checked. I received a letter from him, I think it was around '93. He wrote a note to me and it was signed Jon, as in Jon Burrows, the name he was using undercover with the DEA for a number of years and also when he would do secretive meetings that he didn't want anybody to know about at the time, where he indicated, he wrote a page long letter and that letter will be published in my book. Other communiqués, e-mails and various other communiqués that came to me in the mail indicated what he was feeling. If the guy was ever mad at the Commission or us for doing what we did...we didn't do it to expose him, we did it to protect him. We did it to determine the real facts. No matter where those facts took us, if it meant that he was dead, then so be it. If it meant that he was alive, then again, so be it. We tried to stay as objective as we possibly could in this investigation. Sometimes, we had a tough time doing that. We had to talk to a lot of people over a fairly short space of time.
Q - So, in closing, you're saying that Elvis is alive today?
A - Elvis is alive today, based on the evidence I've seen and the information I've examined over sixteen years of experience with the case.
© Gary James. All rights reserved.