Chapter 3: Looking through Arlen Specter's Eyes
The beginning of our look at the Warren Commission's investigation and analysis of the
evidence, to determine whether their ultimate conclusions were correct,
or just politically expedient.
For reasons beyond my grasp, the first image in each chapter sometimes fails to appear. If there's nothing up above, don't despair; you can still see the image here
The Vanishing Act
It is now late-January. The Warren Commission's staff has trickled in from throughout the country and quietly begun their work, which at this point entails reading through the many reports on the assassination previously written by the FBI, Secret Service, and CIA. Howard Willens--an employee of the Justice Department--is serving as General Counsel Rankin's administrative assistant and link to other government agencies. While Chief Justice Warren has had input into the selection of Rankin, and the senior staff, Willens is largely responsible for the selection of the commission's junior staff, and the assignment of their duties. He has divided the staff into pairs of senior and junior counsel, and assigned these pairs specific areas of investigation.
- Area 1: Francis Adams and Arlen Specter are charged with establishing the "basic facts of the assassination." (It's notable that Specter is an old college chum of Willens', whose loyalty to the commission would later be called into question by commissioner John McCloy.)
- Area 2: Joseph Ball and David Belin are charged with establishing the "identity of the assassin." (Assassin...singular...well, guess who that is...)
- Area 3: Albert Jenner and J. Wesley Liebeler are charged with establishing "Oswald's background." (Researcher Tom Scully would later research Jenner's own background, and come to conclude he'd had significant ties to organized crime.)
- Area 4: William Coleman and W. David Slawson are charged with investigating "possible conspiratorial relationships." They are thus tasked with investigating Oswald's actions in Russia and Mexico.
- Area 5: Leon Hubert and Burt Griffin are charged with investigating "Oswald's death," and establishing both whether Ruby knew Oswald, and if Ruby had help in killing Oswald.
- Area 6: Samuel Stern is charged with researching the history of Presidential protection, so that the commission could make appropriate recommendations.
- Norman Redlich is charged with supervising the investigations of all these areas, and with the subsequent writing of their report. His assistant--the man directly overseeing much of the investigation--is Melvin Eisenberg.
(It is rarely, if ever, noted, that this alignment gave Warren additional control over the direction of the commission's investigation. The over-all investigation, the "identity of the assassin," and "Oswald's background," were all controlled by men (Rankin, Ball, and Jenner) with a prior working relationship with Warren, who had been hand-picked by Warren in 1958 to serve on the Judicial Conference of the United States, an advisory panel created to give suggestions to Warren and the Supreme Court regarding changes of Federal Rules of Procedure.)
On 1-23 we see a “Statement of Objectives,” a memo written by Arlen Specter to General Counsel J. Lee Rankin of the Warren Commission. This memo spells out which aspects of the case Area 1 Junior Counsel Specter and Senior Counsel Francis Adams hope to clear up, and how they plan on clearing them up. Among their objectives: (my comments in italics)
- g) There would seem to be considerable amount of confusion as to the actual path of the bullets which hit President Kennedy, particularly the one which hit the right side of the back. (It would eventually be decided that the Warren Report should refer to this wound as a wound at the base of the neck or a neck wound, and not as a back wound.)
- i) Consideration should be given to taking the sworn testimony of the bystander witnesses. (Very few bystanders not already questioned by the FBI by 12-9 were identified and interviewed for the Warren Commission, and many of those who were contacted were not asked to describe what they’d witnessed. Even worse, very few of those interviewed by the FBI by 12-9 were asked to testify under oath before the commission, even though a number of those who were asked to testify disputed the FBI's reports on their earlier statements.)
- m) Consideration should be given to obtaining the camera to determine if the speed of the vehicle can be ascertained and the timing between shots from a review of the film. (The speed of the camera and therefore the vehicle had been determined by the FBI more than a month before this memo was written. Perhaps this is an indication that, as late as 1-23, the FBI was still withholding important information from the Warren Commission.)
- n) The FBI should obtain statements from certain bystanders, identified in prior reports, who have not been interviewed. (This was done selectively. Key witnesses such as James Chaney--the motorcycle officer riding in the motorcade off Kennedy's right shoulder--and Marilyn Sitzman--Abraham Zapruder's secretary--were never interviewed for the commission.)
- o) Newspaper reports of November 22nd through the next few days should be reviewed to consider questions in the public mind and to determine whether there is any competent evidentiary basis for allegations of fact which differ from the FBI or Secret Service reports. (The numerous reports of shots fired after the head shot and shots fired closely together were largely ignored by the Commission.)
- p) Obtain expert opinions from medical personnel and professionals in weaponry field to explain the path pf the bullet in President Kennedy’s body. (It was decided that the military doctors who’d performed Kennedy’s autopsy would serve as the Warren Commission’s medical experts as well. Curiously, the wound ballistics experts who served as advisers to the commission were also all affiliated with the military. A truly independent investigation would have contacted civilian experts as well as military experts.)
- q) Obtain the
transcript of the television interview by the doctors at Parkland Hospital on the evening of November
22nd. (This was not done.)
Adams and Specter are not the only two writing such a memo, of course. The lawyers representing each area of the commission's investigation have written such a memo. The Area 2 team of Joseph Ball and David Belin have written a similar memo to Rankin entitled "Outline of objectives and problems of area of study of Messr.s Joseph A. Ball and David W. Belin: the determination of who was the assassin of President Kennedy." This is pretty much an outline reflecting the evidence against Oswald. Under the subject heading of "The Whole Bullet Found," however, there is a question that Ball and Belin presumably plan on answering. They write "What about the trajectory of the bullet in the angle of striking--point of exit appears higher than point of entry."
The significance of this becomes apparent a few days later. During the 1-27 Executive Session of the Commission, General Counsel J. Lee Rankin brings up a serious problem with the medical evidence: a "picture" created at the autopsy has the back wound entrance lower than the throat wound exit, when the Zapruder film shows Kennedy sitting up in his seat when first hit, and the bullet is believed to have come from sharply upwards of the President, from the sixth floor of the School Book Depository. Rankin concludes his discussion of the problem by informing the commission he will be seeking "help" from the doctors. (Much more on this later.)
The next day a new witness is brought forward. F. Lee Mudd (1-28-64 FBI report, 24H538) “he was watching the parade from a position on the north side of Elm Street and some 75 to 100 feet west of a building, which he later learned was the Texas School Book Depository. He saw the president’s car approaching from the east on Elm Street in the parade, and he recognized President Kennedy and saw him waving to the crowd. When the President’s car was some 50 feet or more away from him, he heard what sounded to him like two gunshots, and he saw the President slump. Immediately thereafter, he observed the President’s car pull out of the line of the parade and continue west on Elm Street toward the underpass. When the President’s car came abreast of Mudd, he could see the President slumped down toward his wife, who was leaning over him…Mr. Mudd stated he definitely recalls hearing two shots probably less than a second apart…he said there may have been a third shot fired, but he could not be sure of this. He stated that immediately after the shots were fired, some of the spectators along the side of the street dropped to the ground, and he did so himself.” Double head shot.
On 1-27 and 1-28, FBI Exhibits Chief Leo Gauthier watches the Zapruder and Nix films with representatives of the Commission, along with Thomas Kelley of the Secret Service. On 1-28-64, he writes another memo to his superior Nicholas Callahan, and informs him that, while the Warren Commission staff members are in basic agreement with the location of the FBI and Secret Service's proposed first shot, they have "individual views concerning where Connally was shot" (the second shot), and will agree with neither the FBI nor Secret Service's determination as to the moment of the second shot's impact (which are "13 frames" apart) until they can "obtain a layman's report of the medical account describing the Governor's wounds in order that the turning action of the Governor as viewed in the movie can be used to more nearly fix the position he was in at the time the bullet struck him in the back." (This memo can be found in FBI File 62-109090, sec. 2, p. 248-250). In other words, they've already made up their minds that the shot came from the school book depository, and are waiting to figure out the moment in which Connally's wounds best align with a shot from the depository, before declaring that to be the moment of impact.
The next paragraph in Gauthier's report is also intriguing. He writes: "One staff member, according to Inspector Kelley, quietly spoke about the 'outside' possibility of shot one going through the President with sufficient velocity remaining to penetrate Connally's body, wrist, and leg. Inspector Kelley mentioned this to me confidentially. He was of the opinion that this was a personal remark made on the spur of the moment. Shot two under those ridiculous facts would have gone completely 'wild' according to Kelley." Thus, the single-bullet theory is already on somebody's mind, and is being ridiculed by the FBI. This confirms that, despite the FBI's knowledge of the wounding of bystander James Tague by a stray bullet or bullet fragment, neither the Secret Service nor FBI have seriously considered that one of the shots missed, and thus that one of the other shots must have struck both men. Some investigation.
Gauthier's discussion of the third shot is even more intriguing. Here he acknowledges that the FBI and Secret Service "approximations" for the head shot location "differ between one second (18 frames) and 1.5 seconds (29 frames). Staff members are endeavoring to pinpoint the third shot (frame 89) on the Parkway. The Nix film of the third shot clearly locates Zapruder across the roadway. An approximation which occurs 1.2 seconds before the FBI's approximation is being considered as a tentative location for shot three as re-enacted on the scale model again with a minus or plus factor of 1/3 second (6 feet) either direction. Attorney Norman Redlich asked Secret Service to determine from Orville Nix the exact position at the time he made the movies especially whether he was moving at the time he photographed the Presidential car."
This is beyond bizarre. Gauthier admits that the head shot is at frame 89--which one can only assume means frame 313, 89 frames after Kennedy came out from behind the sign at frame 224--and yet finds nothing strange about his earlier "approximation" of the clear moment of impact being 29 frames off the Secret Service's "approximation" of the clear moment of impact, and at least 1.2 seconds (or 22 frames) past the new "tentative location" for the clear moment of impact. Either he was banking that no one reading this report would ever see the Zapruder film, and thus know how impossible it would be for the Secret Service and FBI to disagree on the location of the head shot in the film, or he was so inept and confused that he spoke of a disagreement on the limo's physical location in the plaza at specific frames of the film in terms of the presumed elapsed time and number of frames it would take to travel the distance between these locations. This, of course, makes little sense, but it makes more sense than the alternative--that there was an actual dispute between the Secret Service and FBI over what frame of the Zapruder film displayed the moment of impact for the head shot.
There is, of course, a third alternative, previously discussed. This holds that both the FBI and Secret Service deliberately misrepresented the location of the head shot as part of an attempt to stretch out their proposed shooting scenarios and make Oswald's purported feat more believable. Under this theory, their "different" interpretations of the head shot location are just cover to hide that they knew where it was all along, and knew its proximity to the locations of the earlier shots was inconsistent with the premise that Oswald acted alone.
A 1-28 memo to FBI Crime Lab Chief Ivan Conrad on this same meeting with the Warren Commission offers another unadulterated view into the soul of the FBI. (FBI File 62-109090, sec. 2, p. 246) Here, Agent W.D. Griffith presents the perspective of the FBI's photographic expert Lyndal Shaneyfelt, who also attended the meeting, and notes that the Commission representatives "asked whether or not an examination of the Nix camera and film could establish similar distances and car speeds, as well as the location of the Nix camera during the filming which has not been determined." Griffith then notes "It is not clear just what the accurate determination of the speed of the car will contribute to the case, since it is known that the car was traveling relatively slowly; however, Commission representatives have requested that this be established as accurately as possible. SA Shaneyfelt stated that this could be done based on an examination of the films and cameras involved, accompanied by a survey of the actual site in Dallas. They requested that the FBI obtain the Nix camera and make the study of the Nix and Zapruder films as set out above."
This reveals that, amazingly, there seems to be no appreciation by those overseeing the FBI's investigation that the speed of the camera and the limousine can be used to establish the precise timing of the shots, and thus whether or not Oswald's purported shooting feat was even possible. Underlining the incredible apathy and/or malevolence of the FBI, as evidenced by their inability or refusal to accurately place the location of the shots, is a note added to the bottom of this memo by the man himself, J. Edgar Hoover. He writes: "It sounds like a lot of poppycock to me."
On 6-4-64, Shaneyfelt, would be asked to testify about these sessions, and his subsequent experiences with the Commission and the film.
Specter. Now, how many occasions were you a participant in an analysis of
these various films which you have just described?
Mr. Shaneyfelt. Seven.
Mr. Specter: And when was the first time that you were a participant in such an analysis?
Mr. Shaneyfelt:. On January 27, 1964.
Mr. Specter: And who else has been with you at the time you analyzed those films just stating in a general way without identifying each person present on each of the occasions?
Mr. Shaneyfelt:. On most occasions, Mr. Gauthier of the FBI was present, I was present, Mr. Malley of the FBI was present. Inspector Kelley from Secret Service, and Mr. John Howlett from Secret Service. Representatives of the Commission were always present--normally Mr. Redlich, Mr. Specter, or Mr. Eisenberg were present. On several occasions Mr. Ball and Mr. Belin were present. Mr. Rankin was present on some. I believe Mr. McCloy was present on one. Various representatives of the Commission were present.
Mr. Specter. And how long did those sessions ordinarily last?
Mr. Shaneyfelt: They would normally last most of the day, about all day.
Mr. Specter. And what would be done during the course of those analytical sessions?
Mr. Shaneyfelt. In each case we would take the film and run it through regular speed, slow motion, we would stop it on individual frames and study it frame by frame, trying to see in the photographs anything that would give any indication of a shot hitting its mark, a reaction of the President, a reaction of Mr. Connally or Mrs. Connally, reaction of the Secret Service agents, reaction of people in the crowd, relating it to all the facts that we felt were important. When we obtained the slides from Life magazine, we went through those very thoroughly, because they gave so much more detail and were so much clearer and analyzed again all these things about the reaction of the President and Mr. Connally, trying to ascertain where he was reacting--whether either one was reacting to being Of course the only shot that is readily apparent in any of the films, and it appears in the Zapruder, the Nix, and the Muchmore film, is the shot that hit the President in the head.
Mr. Specter. Why do you say that is readily apparent?
Mr. Shaneyfelt. Because on the film there is practically an explosion of his head and this is obviously the shot that hit the President in the head. It is very apparent from the photograph.
On 1-29-64 the FBI contacts Orville Nix and establishes the location from which he shot his film. This report notes that Nix was "about 20 feet west of Houston
Street on the south side of Main Street" at the moment of the fatal head
shot. This fact, which should have been obvious from viewing the film, proves the fatal shot occurred closer to the corner of Houston and Elm and thus closer to the first shot fired than most recently proposed by the FBI and Secret Service.
On 1-30-64, Lyndal Shaneyfelt takes some notes on the Zapruder film that establishes, finally, that the "Third Shot" impacted at frame 313. This obvious conclusion, along with the "new" information regarding the Nix film, assures us that the location of the limo at the time of the head shot will soon be re-appraised.
Also on 1-30-64, one of the Warren Commission counsel responsible for establishing Oswald’s guilt, David Belin, writes a memo regarding Oswald’s intent. He presents three possibilities: “Oswald was shooting at Connally and missed two of the three shots, the two misses striking Kennedy; Oswald was shooting at both Kennedy and Connally and all three shots struck their intended target; Oswald was shooting at Kennedy and the second bullet missed its intended target and hit Connally instead.” A bullet’s missing the limousine was not to be considered. Yet.
On 2-7-64, apparently at the bidding of the FBI, whose earlier depiction of the shots would have to be seen as an embarrassment, surveyor Robert West revises his 12-5-64 plat of Dealey Plaza, and adds a trajectory line corresponding to a bullet strike on Kennedy's position at Z-313. (West would later claim this was done on behalf of the FBI. If so, this means the FBI has finally acknowledged that Kennedy's location at the time of the head shot, which only 2 weeks prior they'd asserted was 307 feet from the sniper's nest, was really 40 feet closer.) Only adding to the mystery surrounding this plat (which West would eventually provide researcher Tom Purvis) is that the name and address on the plat are those of Secret Service Agent John Joe Howlett, who first used West's services during the Secret Service's 11-27-63 re-enactment in Dealey Plaza. (Documents in the possession of Purvis indicate that the plat used in the 11-27 re-enactment was actually commissioned by Time/Life, Inc., and created by West employees G.H. Breneman and Paul Hardin on 11-26-63.) It's hard to know what to make of this. Perhaps the revision of this plat and its shipment to Howlett indicates that, by 2-07-64, the FBI and Secret Service had finally reached some sort of agreement on the shot locations.
Ironically, this only causes more problems for the Warren Commission. As the distance between the second and third shots is now much too close together for both to have been fired by Oswald, the Warren Commission is forced to either concede there was a second shooter, or re-interpret the location of Connally at the time of the second shot.
It is also ironic that, at this late date, weeks after the public has been reassured by the media that Oswald acted alone, new evidence is still rolling in. UPI, in collaboration with American Heritage Magazine, has put out a collector's book on the assassination and its aftermath entitled Four Days. It has been available to the public since mid-January. It features a number of stills depicting Kennedy and the grassy knoll behind him at the moment of the fatal head shot. They are not from the Zapruder film. They are not from the Nix film. No, they are from a film unbeknownst to both the FBI and Warren Commission.
This is brought to the FBI's attention. A quick investigation leads the FBI to Marie Muchmore. Although her film had been shown on TV within days of the shooting, and she'd sold her film to UPI on 11-25, just three days after the shooting, and UPI published frames from her film in, amongst other places, the San Francisco Chronicle, on 11-27, five days after the shooting, a 12-4 report by the FBI's Robert Bashman reflects that she'd told him she'd taken no photographs of the shooting. (Despite what would seem to have been either total incompetence on the part of Agent Bashman, or Ms. Muchmore's deliberate deception, no investigation is performed to determine who is responsible for the inaccurate report.)
Despite the fact Mrs. Muchmore was clearly looking through her viewfinder at the time of the shots, and was thus one of the best witnesses to the shooting, moreover, her interview on 2-14 by the FBI's Robert Barrett and Ivan Lee is of little value. Marie Muchmore (2-18-64
FBI report, CD 735 p.8) “Mrs. Muchmore stated that after the car turned on Elm
Street from Houston
Street, she heard a loud noise which at first she
thought was a firecracker but then with the crowd of people running in all
directions and hearing the two further noises, sounding like gunfire, she
advised that she began to run to find a place to hide.” (As the FBI acquired a copy of her film, and thus came to know what Ms. Muchmore observed, it seems possible they'd decided not to push Ms. Muchmore for a more detailed description of her recollections. Still, as she was clearly looking at the grassy knoll at the moment of the fatal impact, and saw people in that vicinity react to the shooting, it seems possible she saw something suspicious after the shooting she was afraid to talk about. In any event, Mrs. Muchmore was never called before the Warren Commission, and never spoke on the subject again.)
On 2-21-64, Rankin assistant Norman Redlich writes a memo explaining the basic duties of Melvin A. Eisenberg. It states “The areas in which Mr. Eisenberg are working are as follows…2. Working with me on the problem of studying the assassination films to locate car position when bullets hit President Kennedy and Governor Connally.” As this had previously been considered part of Area 1, the responsibility of Francis Adams and Arlen Specter, this reveals that a decision had been made not to trust them entirely on this point. Since Adams stopped showing up around this time, and as Adams reportedly told writer Edward Epstein that “he thought the FBI Summary and Supplemental Reports should have been verified immediately,” the possibility exists that Adams simply had no stomach for second-guessing Hoover, and opted out on what he knew would be a politically nasty experience.
But if Redlich and Eisenberg no longer trusted Specter and Adams, a 3-7-64 memo from Eisenberg to Rankin reveals that they no longer trusted anything but their unjustified belief there was but one shooter.
Eisenberg begins: "Among the most crucial questions to be considered in determining the identity of the President's assassin or assassins are the number of shots fired in the course of the assassination, the spacing between the shots, and the location of the site or sites from which the shots were fired. A great deal of evidence is relevant to these questions, for example, the number of wounds, the path of the missiles causing each wound, the position of the rifle believed to have fired the recovered bullet and bullet fragments, the position and number of empty cartridge cases believed to have been fired in this rifle, the number of recovered bullet and bullet fragments and visual observations of bystanders. (Note: by the term "bystanders" I mean everyone but the assassin (s) and the victims.) In addition, a mass of evidence has been collected concerning the aural observation of bystanders. The purpose of this memorandum is to point out that very little weight can be assigned to this last category of evidence."
Well, this is disconcerting. This suggests that Eisenberg is well aware that the bulk of the witnesses believed the last two shots were fired close together, and that this rules out Oswald's having acted alone. His desire to point out that this evidence should be given "little weight" then seems as much as a confession that he knows this evidence suggests there was two shooters...and that he wants Rankin to know that he has found a way to ignore this evidence.
Eisenberg then quotes a textbook on firearms claiming that "little credence...should be put in what anyone says about a shot or even the number of shots." This is misleading in that no textbook ever written would say that "little credence...should be put in what the majority says about a shot or even the number of shots." It is also misleading in that the Commission's operating thesis--that three shots were fired--has largely been derived by what the majority of witnesses have said about the number of shots.
Eisenberg then asserts that, since "the sound of a shot comes upon a witness suddenly and often unexpectedly, the witness is not 'ready' to record his perception." He then asserts, seemingly without foundation, that "The same is usually true of subsequent shots following hard on the heels of the first." Thus, he has given himself and the Commission carte blanch to ignore any statements they don't like. He then adds insult to injury by citing anecdotal evidence to support his claim, mentioning that the firearms book he is citing (Firearms Investigation, Identification, and Evidence) presents as an example an instance where a hunter, asked the number of shots fired by a nearby hunter, said he'd heard five shots when the man had fired but two. This is offensive. That Eisenberg is so desperate to write off statements in conflict with his proposition that Oswald acted alone that he will compare the observations of Secret Service agents under fire to the casual observations of a hunter in the woods is an offense against common sense, and indicative of his naked desire to deceive.
Over the course of the next two paragraphs, Eisenberg continues to cite reasons to doubt both the witnesses' perception of distance, and their perception of the weapon fired. It appears, from this, that Eisenberg is trying to cover all the bases, and to make sure Rankin tells the Commissioners they should feel free to disregard any witness statement that conflicts with their foregone conclusion. In an apparent effort to drive this home, Eisenberg then adds "Obviously, during the assassination the surprise, emotion, confusion and noise were much greater than is even usually the case, and bystanders' aural perception of the gunshots is therefore to be accorded even less weight than is usually the case."
He then discusses how acoustics may have led these witnesses to incorrectly perceive the direction of the shots. He then relates "It must be emphasized that the above discussion is not merely theoretical, but is based upon the analysis and observations of professional criminal investigators. Furthermore, this discussion is borne out by the very fact that the testimony of the bystanders to the assassination varies enormously. (Similar variations occur in the testimony relating to the Tippit killing.)"
Wow. This is not only disconcerting, it is thoroughly misleading. Eyewitness evidence is not routinely overlooked just because it "varies". It is in fact the job of investigators like ourselves to collate this evidence and determine just what happened. Eisenberg's apparent reluctance to do so then can be taken as an indication that he knows what's coming, and is afraid that the recollections of the witnesses will prove to be at odds with what he personally has come to accept.
This is borne out by the next paragraph. Eisenberg writes: "In my opinion in examining the Secret Service agents the utmost care should be taken to avoid giving the Commission the impression that the aural perception of these agents have much validity. These witnesses may or may not be more familiar with the sound of gunshots fired in the open than the other bystanders. Probably they are not." Now, this is absurd on its face. It's hard to understand how Eisenberg could possibly believe that agents of the Presidential Detail of the Secret Service would have no more credibility regarding the number and spacing of the shots fired at the limousine than bystanders who'd never undergone their training.
Eisenberg then writes "The fact is, that the contemporaneous reaction of the two agents in the President's car does not indicate that they immediately were aware that the sounds that they heard were gunshots." Eisenberg fails to note how this affects their credibility regarding the number and spacing of the sounds they heard.
He then cites inconsistencies in the statements of agents Kellerman and Greer and the statements of these agents as presented by the FBI. Tellingly, in order to damage the credibility of these witnesses, he accepts that the FBI's reports are accurate.
He then concludes: "Even if agents do have more familiarity with such sounds, many of the other factors which sap the credibility of aural perception of gunshots would still be applicable...I do not mean to imply that the agents should not be examined on this subject but no impression should be given that their testimony is sacrosanct. I intend in the near future to analyze the recorded testimony of bystanders as to the number of shots, etc. giving particular attention to factors which may have affected their perception. In addition I think we should have expert testimony on the subjects discussed in this memorandum." (Neither Eisenberg's analysis of the eyewitness and earwitness testimony nor the testimony of any experts claiming that earwitness testimony can routinely be ignored can be found in the Commission's records.)
Well, this is disappointing. It seems clear from this memo that Eisenberg has made up his mind about what happened, and is determined to make sure the Commissioners stay on board. We thought we were through with this nonsense when we signed on with the commission. But it's beginning to look as though the commission's investigation is as much a whitewash as the FBI's initial investigation, only with more smoke and lawyers.
On 3-8-64, we are shown a memo from Assistant General Counsel Norman Redlich to commission counsel Adams, Specter, and Stern, the men tasked with interviewing eyewitnesses to the shooting, as well as members of the Secret Service. This builds upon Eisenberg's memo from the day before. Redlich suggests that they inquire of the Secret Service "if any credence at all is to be placed on the testimony of eye-witnesses concerning the number of shots" and continues "I believe that expert testimony should be called to deal with the whole question as to whether the recollection of witnesses in this respect has any validity." (No expert witnesses were called to deal with this question. It follows then that when the commission chose to ignore the testimony of the majority of its witnesses on the spacing of the shots, it was doing so without any foundation other than their own gut feeling that it was okay for them to do so.)
The next day, the Commission finally starts questioning witnesses. Confirming Eisenberg's fears, the first of the Secret Service agents questioned by Arlen Specter re-enforce that the last two shots were bunched together. Roy Kellerman (3-9-64 testimony before the Warren Commission, 2H61-112“) "So, in the same motion I come right back and grabbed the speaker and said to the driver, “Let’s get out of here, we are hit!,” and grabbed the mike and I said, "Lawson, this is Kellerman,"--this is Lawson, who is in the front car. "We are hit; get us to the hospital immediately.” Now, in the seconds that I talked just now, a flurry of shells come into the car.” Specter also asks Kellerman about the location of the wound on Kennedy's back, and is told "The upper neckline, sir, in that large muscle between the shoulder and the neck, just below it." William Greer (3-9-64 testimony before the Warren Commission, 2H112-132 “I glanced over my shoulder. And I saw Governor Connally like he was starting to fall. Then I realized there was something wrong. I tramped on the accelerator, and at the same time Mr. Kellerman said to me, "Get out of here fast." And I cannot remember even the other shots or noises that was. I cannot quite remember any more. I did not see anything happen behind me any more, because I was occupied with getting away.” (When asked how many shots he heard) “I know there was three that I heard - three. But I cannot remember any more than probably three. I know there was three anyway that I heard…I knew that after I heard the second one, that is when I looked over my shoulder, and I was conscious that there was something wrong, because that is when I saw Governor Connally. And when I turned around again, to the best of my recollection there was another one, right immediately after.” (When asked how much time elapsed between the first and second shots.) “It seems a matter of seconds, I really couldn't say. Three or four seconds.” (When asked how much time elapsed between the second and third shots.) “The last two seemed to be just simultaneously, one behind the other…” Double head shot. (Previously Too vague)
Specter then questions agent Clint Hill, who raced for the limousine from the Secret Service back up car but arrived too late. At one point Specter asks Hill to describe the sound he heard at the time of the head shot--the sound Kellerman has just described as a "flurry" of shots and the sound Greer has just described as two shots fired "simultaneously." Clint Hill (3-9-64 testimony before the Warren Commission, 2H132-144) "it had a different sound, first of all, than the first sound that I heard. The second one had almost a double sound--as though you were standing against something metal and firing into it, and you hear both the sound of a gun going off and the sound of the cartridge hitting the metal place, which could have been caused probably by the hard surface of the head. But I am not sure that that is what caused it." Specter then asks Hill about the President's wounds. He replies: "I saw an opening in the back, about 6 inches below the neckline to the right-hand side of the spinal column."
Behind the Scenes with Howard Willens
(Commission counsel Howard Willens kept a contemporaneous journal on the commission's investigation. In early 2014, he put his journal online. Let's pretend then that, in our imaginary investigation in 1964, we've befriended Willens and that he has shown us his journal.)
Howard Willens shows us his journal entry for 3-9-64/3-10-64. (I have added some comments to put the events in context. But, of course.) His journal entry reads, in part:
2. On Tuesday, four eyewitnesses appeared before the Commission and completed their testimony at approximately 3 p.m. I had obtained a copy of the prior day’s testimony early in the morning and had planned to read it but was unable to begin this job until late in the evening.
6. After lunch and a brief discussion with Jack Miller I visited with the Deputy Attorney General for a while regarding the work of the Commission. I briefed him on the report of the Nosenko interview and the schedule of witnesses set forth in the memorandum of March 6. I discussed with him briefly the stalemate between the Treasury Department and the Commission regarding the area of security precautions. Mr. Katzenbach agreed that this was a needless problem which should be resolved without too great difficulty. He suggested that I might wish to discuss it sooner or later with Mr. McCloy.
7. Shortly after I returned to the Commission offices on Tuesday, Mr. Redlich came into my office in quite a hurry and asked me to join them in the Conference Room. Apparently the testimony for the day had been completed (eyewitnesses Rowland, Euins, Jackson and Worrell) and the Chief Justice was engaging Messrs. Redlich, Ball, Belin and Specter in conversation regarding the proposed schedule of testimony and several other matters. When I entered the room the Chief Justice was expressing his opinion that more witnesses with significant testimony should be called before the Commission as quickly as possible. This was partly because the court was currently in recess and he wanted to complete as much of the Commission’s business as possible during the next week and a half. He expressed his view that the medical witnesses were among the more important witnesses to be heard. He indicated that as a corollary to this that many of the witnesses that had already been called before the Commission did not have much testimony of substance.
Hmmm... Warren's complaint that these witnesses lacked substance doesn't pass the simplest of smell tests. The four Secret Service agents interviewed the day before indicated the last two shots were bang-bang, one behind the other. Kellerman said the last two came in in a "flurry...it was
like a double bang--bang, bang." Greer said they came in "just simultaneously, one behind the other." Hill said he recalled hearing but two shots, but that the last one had "some type of an echo...almost a double sound." And Youngblood pretty much concurred: "There seemed to be a
longer span of time between the first and the second shot than there was
between the second and third shot." And these four problematic witnesses have now been followed up by a second four, ALL of whom add to the likelihood there was more than one shooter. Arnold Rowland said he saw two different men on the sixth floor before the shooting, and that the last shot was fired but two seconds after the second. Amos Euins said he'd heard four shots. Robert Jackson said "the second two
shots seemed much closer together than the first shot, than they
were to the first shot." And James Worrell said he'd heard four shots. It seems obvious, then, that Warren views witnesses who can help him sell the single-assassin conclusion as substantive and those harmful to this cause as lacking substance. If so, this makes his request the medical witnesses be brought forward as soon as possible a bit suspicious. It seems possible he is afraid the investigation is about to spin out of control, and hopes to bring the investigation--and the Washington media reporting on the investigation--back in line via the gory details of the President's death.
7. cont'd) He indicated that he wanted to get our lawyers on the road as quickly as possible to interview witnesses. In the course of stating his views on this, the Chief Justice stated that he had complete faith in all of the members of the staff and wanted them to be free to have unrecorded
interviews with the witnesses. Although he did not elaborate on his views in this matter, the Chief Justice apparently had been briefed on the staff discussions on this subject by someone, possibly Mr. Rankin or Mr. Ball.
Hmmm... Willens has told us of these discussions, and that several of the commission's staff think it improper to prep the witnesses via unrecorded interviews. Norman Redlich, for his part, had warned Rankin in a 3-4-64 memo (shown to us by Howard Willens) that "I feel that an unrecorded interview with a witness creates the inevitable danger that the witness will be conditioned to give certain testimony" and that, furthermore, "If we compound the lack of cross examination with the pre-conditioning of a witness, we will be presenting a record which, in my view, will be deceptively clean..." And yet here, Warren weighs in on the matter, and tells the staff, in so many words, to go ahead and prep some witnesses and get something on the record...pronto! We can only presume then that he wants to put some miles between the commission and its latest round of witnesses.
7. cont'd) In response to the Chief Justice’s views I indicated to him that we would make every effort to secure witnesses for next Friday and to change the schedule for the week of March 16 so as to meet his wishes. The various members of the staff then discussed their views as to the difficulty of the medical testimony and the time necessary to prepare for it. The Chief Justice indicated that he was primarily interested in hearing the testimony of the doctors from the Bethesda Naval Hospital who conducted the autopsy.
Hmmm... It seems clear from this that Warren feels confident the testimony of these doctors will bolster the case for a single-assassin. We wonder why he feels this way.
7. cont'd) I indicated that, if possible, we would try to have these doctors appear before the Commission during the week of March 16.
8. After the above meeting various members of the staff gathered in my office to make their suggestions regarding alterations in the schedule. Present were Messrs. Redlich, Eisenberg, Ball, Belin, Stern, Liebeler and Ely. As usual there was considerable debate among the members of the staff regarding the function of the Commission and the definition of what constitutes a thorough job. Apparently during the day’s testimony the Chief Justice had indicated his readiness to receive a clean record and not pursue in very much detail the various inconsistencies. Mr. Ball agreed with the approach suggested by the Chief Justice completely and Mr. Specter thought that we would have to amend our approach to correspond with that of the Chief Justice. Mr. Redlich and Mr. Eisenberg took a strong and articulate contrary view. The long and short of the meeting was that we decided to bring up Mr. and Mrs. Declan Ford on Friday and to explore the possibility of having the medical testimony on Monday and Tuesday.
Well, this confirms our suspicions. Warren wants the staff to present him with a "clean" case against Oswald, one with as few inconsistencies as possible, and he is giving them the green light to prep witnesses in unrecorded interviews in order to meet this end.
Arlen Specter, for one, appears to be ready to board Warren's Ark. In keeping with Eisenberg's 3-7-64 memo suggesting that the testimony of the Secret Service agents not be taken seriously, Specter sends a memo to J. Lee Rankin on 3-11-64, in which he asserts that "All four witnesses (Note: he means the four witnesses from 3-10-64--Kellerman, Greer, Hill, and Johnson bodyguard Rufus Youngblood) impressed me as being credible...In my opinion all these witnesses did their very best to recount the situation as they recollected it. Notwithstanding that, it is my conclusion that they do not accurately recall many of the details on the precise time or sequence of shots or their exact movements and reactions during the crucial 5 or 6 seconds."
If the testimony of the last two day's witnesses suggests there are some issues which can never be resolved, however, testimony taken on this very day positively proves it. On 3-11-64, the Warren Commission calls Buell Frazier to the stand, to see if they can succeed where the Dallas Police, the FBI, and the Secret Service have failed--that is, to see if they can get him to agree that the paper bag Oswald brought to work was big enough to have held the rifle. No such luck. Frazier tells them the bag covered "I would say roughly around 2 feet of the seat...If, if you were going to measure it that way from the end of the seat over toward the center, right. But I say like I said I just roughly estimate and that would be around two feet, give and take a few inches." Counsel Joe Ball then asked him its width. He replies: "Well, I would say the package was about that wide...Oh, say, around 5 inches, something like that. 5, 6 inches or there. I don't--". He then described its appearance: "You have seen, not a real light color but you know normally, the normal color about the same color, you have seen these kinds of heavy duty bags you know like you obtain from the grocery store, something like that, about the same color of that, paper sack you get there." Frazier later describes Oswald's walk into the depository: "He got out of the car and he was wearing the jacket that has the big sleeves in them and he put the package that he had, you know, that he told me was curtain rods up under his arm, you know, and so he walked down behind the car...he had it up just like you stick it right under your arm like that...The other part with his right hand...Right, straight up and down."
Under repeated questioning from Ball, Frazier gives a little but not enough. He testifies: "I didn't pay much attention to the package other than I knew he had it under his arm." Ball eventually shows him the bag purportedly found by the sniper's nest. Ball asks him if the bag he saw in Oswald's possession was about the same length. Frazier responds "No, sir." Ball asks him if it was about the same width. Frazier responds: "Well, I would say it appears to me it would be pretty close but it might be just a little bit too wide. I think it is, because you know yourself you would have to have a big hand with that size but like I say he had this cupped in his hand because I remember glancing at him when he was a walking up ahead of me." Ball asks him if the bag he saw was the same color as either the bag found in the sniper's nest or the replica bag created on 12-1. Frazier replies: "It would be, surely it could have been, and it couldn't have been. Like I say, see, you know this color, either one of these colors, is very similar to the type of paper that you can get out of a store or anything like that, and so I say it could have been and then it couldn't have been." Ball keeps pressing, and asks Frazier what he told the FBI on 12-1, when first shown the bag. Frazier answers: "I told them that as far as the length there, I told them that was entirely too long." He's then asked about the width. Frazier relents: "Well, I say, like I say now, now I couldn't see much of the bag from him walking in front of me. Now he could have had some of it sticking out in front of his hands because I didn't see it from the front, The only time I did see it was from the back, just a little strip running down from your arm and so therefore, like that, I say, I know that the bag wouldn't be that long. So far as being that wide like I say I couldn't be sure." Ball then pounces and asks if the bag carried by Oswald could have been as wide as the bag from the sniper's nest. Frazier admits: "Right." Ball then tries to get Frazier to admit that he wasn't sure about the length either. Frazier cuts him off: "What I was talking about, I said I didn't know where it extended. It could have or couldn't have, out this way, widthwise not lengthwise." (2H210-245). When it came to the length of the bag, Frazier hadn't budged an inch. Which meant the package he saw was still 11 inches too small to be the bag found in the sniper's nest. His story was as problematic as ever.
Frazier's sister, Linnie Mae Randle, follows him to the stand. Her description of the bag is almost as problematic as his, seeing as it confirms his opinion that the package was too small to conceal the rifle. She describes her sighting of Oswald on the morning of the assassination: "He was carrying a package in a sort of a heavy brown bag, heavier than a grocery bag it looked to me. It was about, if I might measure, about this long, I suppose, and he carried it in his right hand, had the top sort of folded down and had a grip like this, and the bottom, he carried it this way, you know, and it almost touched the ground as he carried it..." (She later compared it to the replica bag) "Well, it wasn't that long, I mean it was folded down at the top as I told you. It definitely wasn't that long...The width is about right...What he had in there, it looked too long." Counsel Ball then asks "This package is about the span of my hand, say 8 inches, is that right? He would have about this much to grip?" She responds: "What I remember seeing is about this long, sir, as I told you it was folded down so it could have been this long." He then asks: "I see. You figure about 2 feet long, is that right?" She answers: "A little bit more." Ball measures out the length on the replica sack. He asks "Is that about right? That is 28 1/2 inches." She answers: "I measured 27 last time." (2H245-251). The Warren Commission thus goes 0 for 2. Two witnesses saw Oswald with a bag on the morning of the 22nd. Two witnesses testified the bag was too small to conceal the rifle. The bag found in the sniper's nest was 38 inches long and would have appeared about 10 inches wide when holding a rifle, much larger than the bag described by Randle, and more than twice as big as the bag described by Frazier. This issue has never been resolved.
Thus, irony of ironies, Warren only yesterday expressed his desire that the
staff create a clean record without inconsistencies, and gave them
permission to prep their witnesses in advance to avoid these inconsistencies. And here, the very
next day, his long-time buddy Joe Ball presents the commissioners with a monstrous
inconsistency--the only witnesses to see Oswald carrying a bag on 11-22-63 both swear it was too small to have held the rifle!
Howard Willens shows us his journal entry for 3-11-64. It reads, in part:
sack which they saw Oswald carrying on the morning of November 22. They firmly testified that the sack carried was no longer than could fit between a cupped hand and the armpit, whereas the rifle, even when broken down, is some 35 inches, which is considerably longer than could fit in this position. This confirms, in rather a significant way, the intention of the Commission to pursue a
neutral and complete fact-finding mission as opposed to ratifying the FBI report or in fact leaving a public record without inconsistencies.
(Note: Frazier would later claim that Joe Ball did everything he could to get him to change his testimony regarding the bag and give Warren the "clean" record without inconsistencies he desired. In a 2-16-87 interview with Gus Russo first published in 1998, Frazier would complain: "They had me in one room and my sister in another. They were asking us to hold our hands apart to show how long the package was. They made me do it over and over--at least ten times. Each time they measured the distance, and it was always 25 inches, give or take an inch. They did the same with my sister and she gave the same measurement...But I don't understand what the problem is--Lee could have taken the rifle in on another day and hidden it in the warehouse. Why did he have to take it in on Friday?" Many years later, Frazier returned to this question, telling Hugh Aynesworth in a November 16, 2008 Dallas Morning News article: "I know what I saw, and I've never changed one bit" and declaring, when asked his response to the Warren Commission's disregard of his testimony, "I wasn't surprised. They seemed to have a pre-arranged agenda when they questioned Linnie and me. Our refusal to agree with their agenda simply caused them to state that we were mistaken." And this wasn't his last word on the subject. An April 1, 2013 article in the Dallas Morning News described a recent appearance of Frazier, along with Aynesworth, at the Irving Central Library, and noted "To this day, Frazier insists that the package Oswald took to work wasn’t long enough or big enough around to hold a rifle — even if its stock had been disassembled from the barrel."
Frazier's comments to Russo indicate that he failed to
appreciate that Oswald hadn't been to the Paine
residence (where his rifle was in storage) for more than a week,
and that the paper bag purportedly found in the depository on 11-22 and
believed to have held Oswald's gun had been made with paper believed
to have come from the roll of paper in use on 11-22-63. As these rolls
were replaced every few days, the commission had little choice but to
propose that Oswald had made the paper bag at work on the 21st,
transported it to the Paine residence after work, and used it to
transport the rifle into the building on the 22nd. To conclude otherwise, after all, would not only call into question the progeny of the paper bag
supposedly found in the sniper's nest, and submitted into evidence by
the DPD and FBI, but the progeny of all the evidence against Oswald. There were but two
roadblocks to the commission's selling this scenario, and avoiding this question about the evidence--Frazier and his sister--and
the Warren Commission's treatment of Frazier and his sister indicates they were well aware they were an obstacle.
It is with some pride then that I report that on September 25, 2014, at the AARC conference in Bethesda, Maryland, I asked Frazier an important question the commission failed to ask. I explained to him that the commission, and the single-assassin theorists crawling in their footsteps, not only push that the bag he saw in Oswald's possession on 11-22-63 was large enough to hold the rifle--something Frazier, by the way, once again denied at the conference--but that they simultaneously push that Oswald transported the bag out to Irving in Frazier's car on 11-21-63. I asked him if the paper used in the depository was crinkly and stiff when folded over, as I had assumed. And he said yes. I then asked him if there was any way Oswald could have smuggled more than 7 feet of industrial wrapping paper out to Irving, within his clothes or otherwise, on 11-21-63. And Frazier's face hardened. He thought for a moment, and looked down at the floor. I read his face as saying "Wow, it's even worse than I thought." He then looked me in the eyes and responded as firmly and clearly as anyone has ever responded to a question... He said "That did not happen.")
the testimony of Frazier and Randle, FBI agent Cortlandt Cunningham
testifies, and reveals yet another problem with the "Oswald brought the
rifle in the bag" theory. In order to fit the rifle in the bag, the
rifle would have to have been dismantled. If it was dismantled to fit
in the bag, however, it would have to have been re-assembled before it
could be fired. Cunningham testifies that the rifle could be
re-assembled in two minutes using a screwdriver. No screwdriver was
found in the sniper's nest. No screwdriver was found on Oswald. No
screwdriver was found in Oswald's rented room. To the Commission's
credit, they ask Cunningham if the rifle could be assembled without the
use of a screwdriver. He says it could be assembled with a dime. They
time him assembling it with a dime. It takes him six minutes. (2H251-253).
(Note: there is reason to believe Cunningham rehearsed this assembly in order to get it "right." As reported in a November 1994 article in The Fourth Decade, and in a subsequent book entitled No Case to Answer, Ian Griggs, a former policeman, bought an M/C rifle and familiarized himself with its parts before attempting to replicate Cunningham's purported assembly of the rifle in six minutes. While Griggs concluded the assembly of a rifle of this type using only a dime was possible, he reported that it was quite difficult for him to turn the screws, and that he, in fact, gave up after running overtime on several attempts and developing blood blisters on his fingers and a cut on his right thumb.)
Well, yikes, there's a big ole gaping hole in Cunningham's testimony. Cunningham worked in the FBI's ballistics department. He
test-fired the rifle numerous times. Since, as anyone familiar with
guns knows, the assembly of a rifle inevitably affects its accuracy,
why hadn't Cunningham test-fired the rifle immediately after its
re-assembly, to see if it remained accurate enough to hit the shots
purportedly made by Oswald? And, assuming he hadn't thought of it, why
didn't the Warren Commission ask him to perform these tests?
Certainly someone on the Commission realized that what they
were asking of this rifle--that it be disassembled, wrapped up in a
paper bag, carried around, re-assembled with a dime, and still fire
accurately from its very first shot--was highly unlikely? (This issue,
not surprisingly, has never been resolved.)
And yet, despite all these problems--the witnesses to the shooting itself suggesting there was more than one shooter, the bag Oswald brought to work being too short to hold the rifle, the dubious assumption Oswald put together the rifle with a dime--the commission still seems determined to pin the tale on the Oswald. Like a ball (or a Ball) rolling downhill, the inertia is just too great.
To wit, on 3-14-64, a Dallas Times-Herald article by Felix McKnight appears, in which an anonymous member of the Warren Commission is cited. The article starts off by claiming the commission is investigating Oswald's role in the murder of a fellow marine while he was stationed in Japan, and then claims this information came directly from a member of the commission. It then quotes this member of the commission. who it describes as a "prominent man in national life" (presumably Dulles, but also quite possibly McCloy, or even Warren himself), regarding his "surprise" when he discovered that the facts of the FBI's supposedly secret report had all been widely published. It then relates: "The commission member said he has formed the opinion, on the basis of the evidence and testimony received to date, that Oswald was a mentally unbalanced drifter consumed with hatred of everything around him and everyone he knew, including those close to him." The member then states: "I can't imagine a jury rendering any unanimous verdict that he was sane, everything considered. He couldn't have been sane."
Yikes. At this point, we can only assume, no amount of contrary testimony or evidence can alter the conclusion Hoover tried to write in stone in December: Lee Harvey Oswald, acting alone, killed President Kennedy.
To wit, in mid-March, a memo to Rankin from
Commission historian Alfred Goldberg regarding a proposed outline for the final
report reflects that “Part IV: Analysis
of Theories and Rumors should be relatively brief because it will deal with the
great variety of theories, hypotheses, and rumor surrounding the event. This part should communicate that the
Commission was fully aware of these questions and took due notice of them. To
explore these questions in detail would give them much more than their due”.
On the afternoon of 3-11, Warren Commission counsel Arlen Specter and Joe Ball travel to Bethesda
Naval Hospital and interview two of the autopsy surgeons.
Let's stop right there. Howard Willens told us he assumed it was Ball who convinced Warren that witnesses should be prepped beforehand. Now here Ball is, but days later, prepping the witnesses Warren most wants to hear from--even though this isn't Ball's assigned area of investigation. So, yikes, we can't help but wonder--was Ball sent to make sure the doctors provided the "substantive" testimony Warren was hoping for?
In any event, Specter's 3-12 memo reflects that he met with Dr.s Humes and Boswell in the office of "Admiral Holloway," presumably Admiral Galloway, the commanding officer of the hospital. Here is the entire memo:
March 12, 1964
TO: Mr. J. Lee Rankin
FROM: Arlen Specter
SUBJECT: Interview of Autopsy Surgeons
On the afternoon of March 11, 1964, Joseph A. Ball, Esq., and I went to Bethesda Naval Hospital and interviewed Admiral C. E Holloway, Commander James J. Humes and Commander "J" Thornton Boswell. The interview took place in the office of Admiral Holloway, who is the commanding officer of the National Naval Medical Center, and lasted from approximately 3:30 p.m to 5:30 p.m.
Commander Humes and Commander Boswell, along with Lt. Col. Pierre A. Finck, who is currently in Panama, conducted the autopsy and Admiral Holloway was present at all times. They described their activities and findings in accordance with the autopsy report which had been previously submitted as Commission Report #77.
All three described the bullet wound on President Kennedy's back as being a point of entrance. Admiral Holloway then illustrated the angle of the shot by placing one finger on my back and the second finger on the front part of my chest which indicated that the bullet traveled in a consistent downward path, on the assumption that it emerged in the opening on the President's throat which had been enlarged by the performance of the tracheotomy in Dallas.
Commander Humes explained that they had spent considerable time at the autopsy trying to determine what happened to the bullet because they found no missile in the President's body.
According to Commander Humes, the autopsy surgeons hypothesized that the bullet might have been forced out the back of the President on the application of external heart massage after they were advised that a bullet had been found on a stretcher at Parkland Hospital.
Dr. Humes and Dr. Boswell were shown the Parkland report which describes the wound of the trachea as being "ragged", which they said was characteristic of an exit rather than an entrance
wound. Dr. Humes and Dr. Boswell further said that it was their current opinions that the bullet passed in between two major muscle strands in the President's back and continued on a downward flight and exited through his throat. They noted, at the time of the autopsy, some bruising of the internal parts of the President's body in the area but tended to attribute that to the tracheotomy at that time. Dr. Humes and Dr. Boswell stated that after the bullet passed between the two strands of muscle, those muscle strands would resist any probing effort and would not disclose the path of the bullet to probing fingers, as the effort was made to probe at the time of the autopsy.
We requested that Dr. Humes and Dr. Boswell prepare or have prepared drawings of the consequences of the shots on the President's body and head, and they also elaborated upon the
facts set forth in their autopsy report.
Dictated from 11:30 to 11:45 a.m.
Well, first of all, we wonder why
"Holloway" is the one giving this demonstration? And why, if
"Holloway" was demonstrating the angle of the shot, did he place his
second finger on Specter's chest, and not his throat, where the bullet
was presumed to exit? We also note the last line: "We requested
that Dr. Humes and Dr. Boswell prepare or have prepared drawings of the
consequences of the shots on the President's body and head, and they
also elaborated on the facts set forth in their autopsy report."
The next day, Specter interviews FBI Agents Jim Sibert and Frank O'Neill, the FBI agents present at Kennedy's autopsy. Specter's 3-12-64 memo reveals that they repeated what they said in their initial report--"that the autopsy surgeons made substantial efforts" to locate a pathway from Kennedy's back wound, but could not, and concluded that the bullet fell out. Their report had also noted that "one of the bullets had entered just below his shoulder to the right of the spinal column." This location is consistent with the testimony of agents Kellerman and Greer from just two days prior. Suspiciously, however, Specter fails to call Sibert and O'Neill before the Warren Commission. Perhaps, then, Specter was thinking of Chief Justice Warren's recent suggestion he present a "clean" case free of inconsistencies to the commission, and decided it was best that Sibert and O'Neill's recollection of the depth and location of the back wound not become part of the record. (Neither the initial report by Sibert and O'Neill on the autopsy, the FBI's report repeating their conclusions on the autopsy, nor Specter's memo discussing their recollections, will be published by the Commission in its 26 volumes of evidence in November. It was not until 1966, after researchers discovered these items in the archives, that J. Edgar Hoover released a statement admitting the FBI neglected to read the autopsy report in a timely fashion, and that this led them to base their findings on the initial statements of the doctors to Agents Sibert and O'Neill at the autopsy. Sibert and O'Neill, however, never changed their minds about the back wound, and insisted till the end that the back wound was a shallow wound below the shoulder line and that there was no path connecting it to the throat wound. One can only wonder then what would have happened had Specter called them before the Commission.)
On 3-16, Specter takes
the testimony of the three autopsy doctors, Dr.
James J. Humes, Dr. J. Thornton Boswell, and Dr. Pierre Finck. As requested by
Specter on 3-11, Dr. Humes brings along three drawings created by a young Navy
artist, Skip Rydberg. These drawings portray the back wound at the base of the
neck and significantly higher than the throat wound and suggestive of a shot
from above and behind. The location of this back wound is also, most obviously, at odds with the previously received testimony of agents Kellerman and Greer, and the recently-reviewed report of agents Sibert and O'Neill. Humes testifies that "We
had made certain physical measurements of the wounds, and of their position on
the body of the late president, and we provided these and supervised directly
Mr. Rydberg in making these drawings." We have reason to believe this is
untrue. The autopsy protocol written by Humes and in our possession
reports "Situated in the upper right posterior thorax just above the upper
border of the scapula there is a 7 x 4 millimeter oval wound. This wound
is measured to be 14 cm. from the tip of the right acromion process and 14
cm. below the tip of the right mastoid process." We do a quick measurement
and see that the wound at the base of the neck in the drawing is no more than 10
cm below the mastoid process. We also look up the word "thorax" in
some medical dictionaries. Gray's Anatomy specifies that "The thorax or chest,
is an osseo-cartilaginous cage containing and preserving the principle
organs of respiration and circulation...The upper opening of the thorax is
...formed by the first dorsal vertebrae behind, the upper margin of the sternum
in front, and the first rib on each side." Blankiston's Pocket Medical
Dictionary describes it as "The chest; the portion of the trunk above the
diaphragm and below the neck."
The Human Organism defines "thorax" as "The Chest, the portion of the
trunk that contains the heart and lungs." Ottenheimer's Medical
Dictionary defines it simply as "The chest." As the wounds in
Rydberg's drawings are in the muscles at the base of the neck, and
could not reasonably be described as on the back of the chest, we
conclude Humes misrepresented the location of the back wound in the
While questioning Humes, moreover, Specter inquires
about a wound in the "upper part of the back" or "the President's back
or lower neck" and asks Dr. Finck about a "back wound." Humes, however, repeatedly describes the back wound
as a wound in the "low neck," "low neck,""low posterior neck," or as being
"low in the neck." This seems to be a deliberate ploy, on Humes' part, to sell that this wound, formally described as a back wound, was really a wound low on the back of the neck.
Something is rotten in Denmark and Specter has to smell it. Let's think about this. Warren personally hired but two of the commission's lawyers, an old friend of his from California, Joseph Ball, and noted African-American attorney William Coleman. On 1-23, Joseph Ball wrote a memo to Rankin in which he noted that the back wound appears to be lower than the throat wound. On 1-27, Rankin reported on this problem to the commissioners, and told them he'd be getting "help" from the doctors on this issue. Ball then began pushing that counsel be allowed to prep witnesses. Warren came down on his side, and began pushing that the autopsy doctors be interviewed as soon as possible. Specter was then asked to prep the doctors...while accompanied by Joseph Ball. The doctors--or more precisely, their boss, Admiral Galloway--then told Specter and Ball that the trajectory was indeed from above, and to disregard the drawings made during the autopsy. Specter and Ball then commissioned, for the commission, new drawings. These just so happened to depict the back wound at the base of the neck, inches above the throat wound, and the bullet descending within the body.
There's also this. On 3-12, Rankin wrote the Commissioners a memo in which he reported that the testimony of the autopsy doctors--originally scheduled for April--would be taken on 3-16...and 3-17. And here, this testimony, has not only been rushed into, but drastically condensed, with Boswell and Finck asked but a few questions.
Let's get serious. This more than suggests that Specter--a prosecutor by nature charged with establishing the facts surrounding the shooting, but not who fired the shots--has been, at Warren's and possibly Rankin's direction, co-opted by Ball, a high-paid defense attorney charged with establishing who fired the shots. Warren has admitted he wants a clean investigation. This means he wants Specter's investigation to support Ball's, and vice-versa. It seems more than a coincidence then that for this all-important discussion with the autopsy doctors, Ball just so happened to tag along, and that the subsequent testimony of two of the doctors would be reduced to, essentially, "yeah, what he said."
(That Specter was not conducting an independent investigation is supported, moreover, by Joseph Ball. In 1999, in his 97th year, Ball wrote an article for the California Law Journal, entitled "A Century in the Life of a Lawyer." This included a brief section on the Warren Commission. Tellingly, Ball claimed: "At the outset, I was told that the Commission had divided the
investigation into five parts, one of which was to determine the
identity of the assassin. I had been assigned to that particular job
along with staff lawyers David Belin and Arlen Specter. We worked on
that issue together as a team over the next nine months." So, there it is. Ball saw Specter as part of the team out to determine the identity of the assassin. Someone engaged in such activity would quite naturally make some of the facts regarding what they think happened fit who they think did it. Someone engaged in such activity would also quite naturally reject contrary evidence once he had his man. But that's not the way it is supposed to work, is it? Specter was supposed to figure out how many shots were fired, etc, independent of whether Oswald could fire that fast, etc.)
A Hole in the Evidence
There's another huge problem with the drawings entered into evidence by Specter, of which he seems aware. The bullet hole on the President's clothing is out of alignment with the wound in the "low neck" described by Dr. Humes, and depicted in the drawings created by Rydberg in preparation for Humes' testimony. A close look at Humes' explanation for this fact proves most informative.
Mr. SPECTER - Have you had an opportunity to examine the clothing which has been identified for you as being that worn by the President on the day of the assassination?
Commander HUMES - We believe that they conform quite well...They give the appearance when viewed separately...as being perhaps, somewhat lower on the Exhibits 393 and 394 than we have depicted them in Exhibit No. 385. We believe there are two reasons for this. 385 is a schematic representation, and the photographs would be more accurate as to the precise location, but more particularly the way in which these defects would conform with such a defect on the torso would depend on the girth of the shoulders and configuration of the base of the neck of the individual, and the relative position of the shirt and coat to the tissues of the body at the time of the impact of the missile.
Mr. SPECTER - As to the muscular status of the President, what was it?
Commander HUMES - The President was extremely well-developed, an extremely well-developed, muscular young man with a very well-developed set of muscles in his thoraco and shoulder girdle...I believe this would have a tendency to push the portions of the coat which show the defects here somewhat higher on the back of the President than on a man of less muscular development.
Mr. SPECTER - Mr. Chief Justice, may it please the Commission, I would like to mark for identification Exhibit 396...Will you describe, Doctor Humes, the position of President Kennedy's right hand in that picture?
Commander HUMES - Yes. This exhibit, Commission Exhibit No. 396, allegedly taken just prior to the wounding of the late President, shows him with his hand raised, his elbow bent, apparently in saluting the crowd...This was his right hand, sir. I believe that this action would further accentuate the elevation of the coat and the shirt with respect to the back of the President.
We try to talk to Rydberg about his drawings, but he tells us he's been sworn to silence by his and Humes' Commanding Officer, Captain John Stover. A few weeks later, however, he shows us a 3-27 commendation letter from Stover that tells us all we need to know. It says, in part "During the period 12 to 15 March 1964 you were called upon to prepare, on extremely short notice, highly technical medical illustrations, using only verbal directions given you by officers of this Command...The illustrations thus produced most accurately depicted the situation required and immeasurably assisted the medical presentation."
(While there is no reason to believe anyone working for the Commission actually saw this letter, published online by Barry Keane, an April 30 memo from Specter to General Counsel J. Lee Rankin reveals that he suspects or knows that the location of the back wound in Rydberg's drawings is inaccurate, and that he wishes to establish its actual location. Much, much more on this in the Examining the Examinations chapter.)
The Sin of Pride
A storm is brewing. On 3-11, Warren Commission Counsel Melvin Eisenberg and David Belin visit the FBI crime lab. An internal FBI memo to FBI crime lab chief Ivan Conrad reflects the growing tension: "During the further course of the discussion, Mr. Belin advised that inasmuch as it appeared that almost all of the investigation in this matter had been conducted by the FBI, and since the firearms identification was crucial to the case, the Commission felt that there was merit in having the firearms evidence examined by some other organization and was considering making such a request. Under any other circumstances a comment of this kind would have been the basis for an immediate discontinuance of FBI Laboratory cooperation and service; however, Belin was merely advised in this instance that any decision as to such course of action, of course, was strictly up the Commission." To this memo FBI Director Hoover adds that it is "getting to be more and more intolerable to deal with this Warren Commission."
This problem comes to a head a few weeks later. According to a 3-24 memo from Alex Rosen to Alan Belmont: "This matter was discussed with J. Lee Rankin, General counsel, the President's Commission, in the early evening of March 23, 1964. Mr. Rankin was advised that in view of the action taken by the Commission concerning the firearms evidence, it was obvious the Commission does not have confidence in the FBI Laboratory, and that in view of the independent examinations being requested, it would appear desirable for the Commission to have whatever examination they desire from independent experts made and for the Bureau to step out of the picture from the standpoint of Laboratory examinations. It was pointed out to Mr. Rankin that our Laboratory was greatly burdened with a large volume of work and that if the examinations that we made were not going to be accepted, it would appear that there would be no reason for our Laboratory experts to be tied up on these examinations in utilizing the time it requires to furnish testimony concerning matters where independent examinations are being made...Throughout the discussion, Mr. Rankin seemed to be a little disturbed over the Bureau pointing out to him that the Commission obviously lacked confidence in our Laboratory and he repeatedly commented that the independent examinations of evidence were being made at the instructions of the seven members of the Commission. He gave no indication, however, whether this was the desire of certain members of the Commission and others were going along, or whether the Commission was in full agreement concerning this matter."
It is clear from these memos that the FBI considers itself above the Commission, and answerable to the "President's Commission" only as a courtesy to the President. The Commissioners, no doubt, know that dumping the FBI as their main investigative agency would be a political nightmare, and that Hoover would use his media sources to make it look like the Commissioners had gone overboard, and were wasting taxpayers' money. And Rosen knows the Commissioners know this. His threats, then, are really a warning: stop requesting outside help, which could only hurt the reputation of the FBI, or else.
(These threats were far from idle, and, although the Commission proceeded to use a few outside experts, they seem to have had an effect on the Commission's investigation. By way of example...On 3-26, while preparing for the testimony of the FBI's fingerprint expert, Sebastian Latona, the Commission realizes that there were 19 fingerprints and 6 palm prints found on the cardboard boxes of the sniper's nest that were not Oswald's prints. J. Lee Rankin then writes Director Hoover a memo and asks him if they could "please determine, as far as may be possible without the taking of new fingerprints, whether any of these latent prints were made by persons employed in the TSBD building on November 22,1963." Notice that he doesn't ask them to run the prints through their files and find out whose prints these actually are--the entire FBI's Most Wanted list could have been in the sniper's nest, and he cared not a wit--he only asks them to check them against Oswald's co-workers, and then only if the FBI already has their prints. This suggests that Rankin is more concerned with not causing Hoover any unnecessary inconvenience than with finding out who was in the sniper's nest on 11-22-63. For his part, on 3-30, Hoover writes back, and tells Rankin "For your information, employees of the Texas School Book Depository were not fingerprinted or palm printed by this Bureau, the United States Secret Service or the Dallas Police Department." He then tells Rankin that the FBI checked their files and found the fingerprints for 16 individuals believed to have been depository employees, and that none of them matched the 19 unidentified prints. And that's that. On 4-2, Latona testifies that the prints are unidentified. It's not until late August that Rankin realizes the magnitude of this over-sight, and asks the FBI to identify the prints.)
On with the Show
During this same period the FBI questions just about
everyone who worked in the Texas School Book Depository. Strangely, even though a number of these
witnesses admit they were standing on Elm Street
when the motorcade passed by, very few of them are asked what they
witnessed. Based upon their statements, in
fact, it seems all the FBI wanted to know from these witnesses was where they
were when the shots rang out and if they knew Oswald. Among the women not saying much of
anything: Gloria Holt, Sharon Simmons,
Stella Jacob, Carol Reed, Karen Hicks, Gloria Calvery, Billie Clay, Peggy
Hawkins, Mary Sue Dickerson, Mary Lea Williams, Betty Thornton, Jane Berry, and
One witness, however, tells us something. Georgia Ruth Hendrix (3-24-64 statement to the FBI, 22H649) reveals “At approximately 12:15 PM on November 22, 1963, I left the Depository Building and took up a position along the parade route along Elm Street about 150 feet west from the Depository Building entrance and viewed the presidential motorcade… I recall that just a few seconds after the car in which President John F. Kennedy was riding passed the position where I was standing, I heard a shot. At first I thought it was salute to the President, but when the second shot was fired and I saw the President fall down in the car I knew someone was shooting at him. When I heard the third shot I turned and fled back into the Depository Building.” Shot after the head shot.On 3-24, we also get the sworn testimony of the one man to ever claim he saw Oswald fire the rifle. Howard Brennan (3-24-64 testimony before the Warren Commission, 3H140-161) "I told Mr. Sorrels and Captain Fritz at that time that Oswald--or the man in the lineup that I identified looking more like a closest resemblance to the man in the window than anyone in the lineup...I saw his picture twice on television before I went down to the police station for the lineup...I told them I could not make a positive identification...I believe some days later--I don't recall exactly--and I believe the Secret Service man identified hisself as being Williams, I believe, from Houston. I won't swear to that-whether his name was Williams or not...Well, he asked me he said, 'You said you couldn't make a positive identification.' He said, 'Did you do that for security reasons personally, or couldn't you?' And I told him I could with all honesty, but I did it more or less for security reasons--my family and myself...I believed at that time, and I still believe it was a Communist activity, and I felt like there hadn't been more than one eyewitness, and if it got to be a known fact that I was an eyewitness, my family or I, either one, might not be safe...After Oswald was killed, I was relieved quite a bit that as far as pressure on myself of somebody not wanting me to identify anybody, there was no longer that immediate danger... (When asked if he could have sworn that Oswald was the shooter when he saw Oswald in the line-up) I could at that time I could, with all sincerity, identify him as being the same man."
We have reason to doubt Brennan's story. First, by his own admission, he lied to the Dallas Police and Secret Service when he said he could not identify Oswald at the line-up. Second, he says he felt relief when Oswald was killed, even though Oswald's death at the hands of Ruby made a conspiracy, communist or otherwise, only more likely. Third, the whole series of events surrounding Brennan just doesn't ring true. On 11-22 Brennan had signed a statement (19H470), asserting "I believe that I could identify this man if I ever saw him again." He then refused to ID Oswald in a line-up. An 11-23-63 FBI report (CD5 p12) confirms "He advised he attended a lineup at the Dallas Police Department on November 22, 1963 on which occasion he picked Lee Harvey Oswald as the person most closely resembling the man he had observed with the rifle in the window of the Texas School Book Depository building. He stated, however, he could not positively identify Oswald as the person he saw fire the rifle." This means, if Brennan's testimony is to be believed, that he lied to the FBI as well as the Dallas Police and Secret Service.
To make things worse, Brennan didn't admit his deception until weeks after Oswald's death, after the nation had been assured of Oswald's sole guilt by the FBI's leaks to the media, and he did so then only at the urging of a Secret Service agent (Williams?) who, amazingly, has not been called before the commission to explain his actions. A 12-18-63 FBI report on a 12-17 interview (CD205, p15) only adds to our doubts of Brennan's veracity. It relates that Brennan "now can say that Lee Harvey Oswald was the person he saw in the window at the time of the President's assassination. He pointed out that he felt a positive identification was not necessary when he observed Oswald in the police line-up at the Dallas Police Department at about 7 P.M., November 22, 1963, since it was his understanding Oswald had already been charged with the slaying of Dallas Police Officer J.D. Tippit. He said that another factor which made him hesitate to make a positive identification of Oswald in the police line-up was that prior to appearing at the police line-up on November 22, 1963, he had observed a picture of Oswald on his television set at home when his daughter asked him to watch it. He said that he felt that since he had seen Oswald on television before picking Oswald out of the line-up at the police station that it tended to "cloud" any identification of Oswald at that time." Well, heck. The problem with this report is that it fails to mention a couple of the important elements of Brennan's subsequent testimony. For one, it fails to report that Brennan was coerced to come forward by a government agent. For two, it fails to relate that Brennan had failed to identify Oswald because he'd been in fear for his life. Instead it explains that Brennan had seen Oswald on television and that he was afraid that this had "clouded" his judgment. Pathetically, it even blames his viewing Oswald on his daughter. What it does not relate--which is key--is Brennan's response to seeing Oswald on television. Clearly, if his eventual testimony is to be believed, he would have to have had an immediate response to seeing Oswald on television. If he felt Oswald was the man from seeing him on television, then why didn't he say so later? And if he knew Oswald was the shooter from the first time he saw him on television, then why is his seeing Oswald on TV before the line-up even an issue?
That the FBI refused to put much stock in Brennan's latter day positive ID of Oswald is confirmed by a 1-10-64 report based on a 1-07-64 re-interview of Brennan (CD329 p7). It concludes: "Mr. Brennan added that after his first interview at the Sheriff's office, on November 22, 1963, he left and went home at about 2 P.M. While he was at home, and before he returned to view a lineup, which included the possible assassin of President Kennedy, he observed Lee Harvey Oswald's picture on television. Mr. Brennan said that this, of course, did not help him retain the original impression of the man in the window with the rifle; however, upon seeing Lee Harvey Oswald in the police line-up, he felt that Oswald most resembled the man whom he had seen in the window." (This wasn't saying much, as the other men only marginally resembled Brennan's earlier description of the man in the window.) Here, there is no mention of Brennan's telling an agent almost a month after the shooting that "Oh, by the way, I knew it was Oswald all the time!" and that he did so now at a government agent's urging. Here, there is still no hint that Brennan had been too frightened to identify Oswald on the 22nd. As a result, it seems likely that Brennan was unable to ID Oswald based on the picture he saw on television, and was unsure whether his subsequent belief that Oswald, of the four divergent men in the line-up, "most resembled" the shooter, was based on his own recollections, or by his seeing Oswald on television. This makes his subsequent positive Identification of Oswald, at a government agent's urging, essentially worthless.
Even so, Brennan proves he has some
credibility by refusing to say he heard two shots fired from the sniper’s nest
before he saw Oswald fire his last shot. When taken with the statements
of all the other witnesses, this suggests that one of the last two shots came
from somewhere else. Brennan testifies: “after the President had passed my
position, I really couldn’t say how many feet or how far, a short distance I
would say, I heard this crack that I positively would say was a backfire…Well,
then something, just right after this explosion, made me think it was a
firecracker being thrown from the Texas book store. And I glanced up. And
this man I saw previous was aiming for his last shot…it appeared to me he was
standing up or leaning against the left window sill, with gun shouldered to his
right shoulder, holding the gun with his left hand and taking positive aim and
fired his last shot. As I calculate a couple of seconds. He drew
the gun back from the window as though he was drawing it back to his side and
maybe paused for another second as though to assure hisself that he hit his
mark and then he disappeared. And at the same moment, I was diving off of
approximately that firewall and to the right for bullet protection of this
stone wall that is a little higher on the Houston side...I don't know what made
me think that there was firecrackers throwed out of the book store unless I did
hear the second shot, because I positively thought the first shot was a
backfire, and subconsciously I must have heard a second shot but I do not
recall it. I could not swear to it."
But if the commission thought Brennan's testimony a breath of fresh air, and a respite from problematic testimony indicating there was more than one shooter, they were mistaken. On 3-24, just after Brennan's testimony, two of the
three men on the floor below the sniper’s nest at the time of the shooting testify as the two men in the front seat of the
limousine had before them--and claim the last two shots were extremely close together. It's actually worse than that. The third man’s previous statements suggested this as well. James
Jarman (3-24-64 testimony before the Warren
Commission, 3H198-211) “After the motorcade turned, going west on Elm, then
there was a loud shot, or backfire, as I thought it was…A backfire or an
officer giving a salute to the President. And then at that time I didn’t,
you know, think too much about it. And then the second shot was fired,
and that is when people started falling on the ground and the motorcade car
jumped forward, and then the third shot was fired right behind the second
one…after the third shot was fired, I think I got up and I run over to Harold
Norman and Bonnie Ray Williams, and told them, I said, I told them that it
wasn’t a backfire or anything, that somebody was shooting at the President…I couldn’t
say that I saw him actually hit, but after the second shot I presumed that he
was…I saw him lean his head.” Harold Norman (3-24-64
testimony before the Warren Commission, 3H186-198) “About the time that he got
past the window where I was, well, it seems as though he was, I mean you,
brushing his hair. Maybe he was looking at the public…I can’t remember
what the exact time was but I know I heard a shot, and then after I heard a
shot, well, it seems as though the President, you know, slumped or something,
and then another shot and I believe Jarman or someone told me, he said “I
believe someone is shooting at the President,” and I think I made a statement
“it is someone shooting at the President, and I believe it came from up above
us. Well, I couldn’t see at all during the time but I know I heard a third shot
fired, and I could also hear something sounded like the shell hulls hitting the
floor and the ejecting of the rifle.” Bonnie Ray Williams (3-24-64 testimony before the Warren Commission, 3H161-184) “After the President’s car
the last thing I remember seeing him do was, you know—it seemed to me he had a
habit of pushing his hair back. The last thing I saw him do was he pushed
his hand up like this. I assumed he was brushing his hair back. And
then the thing that happened then was a loud shot—first I thought they were
saluting the President, somebody even maybe a motorcycle backfire. The
first shot—there was two shots rather close together. The second and the
third shot was closer together than the first shot and the second shot, as I
remember…the first shot—I really did not pay much attention to it, because
I did not know what was happening. The second shot it sounded like it was
right in the building, the second and third shot. And it sounded—it even
shook the building.”
There is an element to Williams' testimony that is even more problematic. He admits he ate a chicken sandwich on the sixth floor of the school book depository after 12 o'clock on the day of the shooting. Under questioning by Joe Ball, he states further that he "finished the chicken sandwich maybe 10 or 15 minutes after 12. I could say approximately what time it was." Ball then bites (no, not the sandwich) and asks Williams what time approximately. Williams responds "Approximately 12:20, maybe." Well, hello, Williams ate his lunch by a window but a few yards away from the sniper's nest. He has now testified that he was there until about 10 minutes before the assassination. He has said he heard nothing from that direction, and that, even worse, that that was one of the reasons why he left the sixth floor--"because it was so quiet." He did not hear the rustling of paper as the dismantled rifle was removed from the bag. Nor did he hear the sounds of someone assembling a rifle made of metal and wood with a dime. If Oswald had put the rifle together somewhere else in the building, why would the bag be found in the sniper's nest? And if he put the rifle together in the sniper's nest, why didn't Williams hear him? Did Oswald finish putting the rifle together just before Williams arrived, and just sit there quietly, hoping Williams wouldn't discover him prior to Kennedy's arrival? Or did Oswald, upon Williams' arrival on the floor, stop putting the rifle together, and decide to NOT KILL KENNEDY, only to have just enough time to put the rifle together after Williams suddenly got up and left? (This issue has, as one might expect, never been resolved.)
On 3-26-64, we see a memo from Assistant General Counsel Redlich to General Counsel Rankin. It is a "proposed outline" for the commission's final report. Chapter IV is titled "Lee H. Oswald as the Assassin." Under this heading, Redlich notes "This Section should state the facts which lead to the conclusion that Oswald pulled the trigger and should also indicate the elements in the case which have either not been proven or are based on doubtful testimony." While this suggests that Redlich wants a thoughtful discussion of the facts in the report, it also suggests that he's rejected the idea these facts could lead in any direction other than Oswald being the sole assassin.
That the commission's investigators think the investigation is over is not exactly a secret, moreover. On 3-30-64, the Associated Press reports (in an article found in the Dallas Morning News) that "The presidential commission investigating President John F. Kennedy's assassination has found no evidence the crime was anything but the emotional act of an individual--and the commission now feels most of the evidence is in." It then relates that "sources close to the high level panel" believe "The end is in sight, as far as questioning witnesses and examining other evidence is concerned...but writing the definitive report is expected to be a long job after the hearings close...The commission is well aware of the persistent rumors...Some of the stories represent it as a left-wing, some a right-wing conspiracy...The hope is that the report ultimately produced will dispel any such ideas--except among the irreducible number of romantics who always prefer to believe in conspiracies."
Time Out: A Quick Glimpse of the Warren Commission at Work.
Elsewhere, on 3-30-64, Dr.
Malcolm Perry testifies before the Warren Commission. Despite his stated objective of finding a
transcript for Dr. Perry’s November 22nd press conference, Arlen Specter
has failed to obtain one, and instead interviews Dr. Perry about his recollections of the press
conference. Not surprisingly, Perry’s
memory is that he made no solid statements about Kennedy’s wounds, and that the
media misrepresented what he said. While
it might sound overly-conspiratorial to suggest that Specter and the Warren
Commission would deliberately mislead the public by using the flawed
recollections of witnesses when concrete evidence was available, the fact is they
have employed this technique before. On
3-16-64, when the autopsy doctors testified about Kennedy’s wounds, they were
asked to do so without referring to the autopsy photos and x-rays taken for the
express purpose of assisting them with their testimony. Even worse, Specter asked them to create
drawings based purely upon their recollections of the President’s wounds, and then placed these drawings into evidence.
Here, then, is Dr. Perry’s testimony about the press conference:
Dr. Perry - Mr.
Specter, I would preface this by saying that, as you know, I have been
interviewed on numerous occasions subsequent to that time, and I cannot recall
with accuracy the questions that were asked. They, in general, were similar to
the questions that were asked here. The press were given essentially the same,
but in no detail such as have been given here. I was asked, for example, what I
felt caused the President's death, the nature of the wound, from whence they
came, what measures were taken for resuscitation, who were the people in
attendance, at what time was it determined that he was beyond our help.
Mr. Specter - What responses did you give to questions relating to the source of the bullets, if such questions were asked?
Dr. Perry - I could not. I pointed out that both Dr. Clark and I had no way of knowing from whence the bullets came.
Mr. Specter - Were you asked how many bullets there were?
Dr. Perry - We were, and our reply was it was impossible with the knowledge we had at hand to ascertain if there were 1 or 2 bullets, or more. We were given, similarly to the discussion here today, hypothetical situations. "Is it possible that such would have been the case, or such and such?" If it was possible that there was one bullet. To this, I replied in the affirmative, it was possible and conceivable that it was only one bullet, but I did not know.
Mr. Specter - What would the trajectory, or conceivable course of one bullet have been, Dr. Perry, to account for the injuries which you observed in the President, as you stated it?
Dr. Perry - Since I observed only two wounds in my cursory examination, it would have necessitated the missile striking probably a bony structure and being deviated in its course in order to account for these two wounds.
Mr. Specter - What bony structure was it conceivably?
Dr. Perry - It required striking the spine.
Mr. Specter - Did you express a professional opinion that that did, in fact, happen or it was a matter of speculation that it could have happened?
Dr. Perry - I expressed it as a matter of speculation that this was conceivable. But, again, Dr. Clark and I emphasize that we had no way of knowing.
Mr. Specter - Have you now recounted as specifically as you can recollect what occurred at that first press conference or is it practical for you to give any further detail to the contents of that press conference?
Dr. Perry - I do not recall any specific details any further than that--
Representative Ford - Mr. Specter was there ever a recording kept of the questions and answers at that interview, Dr. Perry?
Dr. Perry - This was one of the things I was mad about, Mr. Ford. There were microphones, and cameras, and the whole bit, as you know, and during the course of it a lot of these hypothetical situations and questions that were asked to us would often be asked by someone on this side and recorded by some one on this, and I don't know who was recorded and whether they were broadcasting it directly. There were tape recorders there and there were television cameras with their microphones. I know there were recordings made but who made them I don't know and, of course, portions of it would be given to this group and questions answered here and, as a result, considerable questions were not answered in their entirety and even some of them that were asked, I am sure were misunderstood. It was bedlam.
Representative Ford - I was thinking, was there an official recording either made by the hospital officials or by the White House people or by any government agency?
Dr. Perry - Not to my knowledge.
Representative Ford - A true recording of everything that was said, the questions asked, and the answers given?
Dr. Perry - Not to my knowledge.
Mr. Dulles - Was there any reasonably good account in any of the press of this interview?
Dr. Perry - No, sir.
Representative Ford - May I ask--
Dr. Perry - I have failed to see one that was asked.
Representative Ford - In other words, you subsequently read or heard what was allegedly said by you and by Dr. Clark and Dr. Carrico. Were those reportings by the news media accurate or inaccurate as to what you and others said?
Dr. Perry - In general, they were inaccurate. There were some that were fairly close, but I, as you will probably surmise, was pretty full after both Friday and Sunday, and after the interviews again, following the operation of which I was a member on Sunday, I left town, and I did not read a lot of them, but of those which I saw I found none that portrayed it exactly as it happened. Nor did I find any that reported our statements exactly as they were given. They were frequently taken out of context. They were frequently mixed up as to who said what or identification as to which person was who.
Representative Ford - This interview took place on Sunday, the 24th, did you say?
Dr. Perry - No, there were several interviews, Mr. Ford. We had one in the afternoon, Friday afternoon, and then I spent almost the entire day Saturday in the administrative suite at the hospital answering questions to people of the press, and some medical people of the American Medical Association. And then, of course, Sunday, following the operation on Oswald, I again attended the press conference since I was the first in attendance with him. And, subsequently, there was another conference on Monday conducted by the American Medical Association, and a couple of more interviews with some people whom I don't even recall.
Representative Ford - Would you say that these errors that were reported were because of a lack of technical knowledge as to what you as a physician were saying, or others were saying?
Dr. Perry - Certainly that could be it in part, but it was not all. Certainly a part of it was lack of attention. A question would be asked and you would incompletely answer it and another question would be asked and they had gotten what they wanted without really understanding, and they would go on and it would go out of context. For example, on the speculation on the ultimate source of bullets, I obviously knew less about it than most people because I was in the hospital at the time and didn't know the circumstances surrounding it until it was over. I was much too busy and yet I was quoted as saying that the bullet, there was probably one bullet, which struck and deviated upward which came from the front, and what I had replied was to a question, was it conceivable that this could have happened, and I said yes, it is conceivable. I have subsequently learned that to use a straight affirmative word like "yes" is not good relations; that one should say it is conceivable and not give a straight yes or no answer. "It is conceivable" was dropped and the "yes" was used, and this was happening over and over again. Of course, Shires, for example, who was the professor and chairman of the department was identified in one press release as chief resident.
(NOTE: Dr. Perry’s insistence that his words were taken out of context at the press conference is self-serving and inaccurate. Nobody trapped him into saying anything that he didn’t suggest with his own statements. Many years later, a transcript to this press conference was located at the Johnson Library. This transcript was subsequently published as ARRB Medical Document 41. From this transcript: “DR. MALCOM PERRY…There are two wounds, as Dr. Clark noted, one of the neck and one of the head. Whether they are directly related or related to two bullets, I cannot say. QUESTION- Where was the entrance wound? DR. MALCOLM PERRY- There was an entrance wound in the neck. As regards the one on the head, I cannot say. QUESTION- Which way was the bullet coming on the neck wound? At him? DR. MALCOLM PERRY- It appeared to be coming at him..")
Moments later, Arlen Specter returns to the topic of the November 22nd press conference:
Mr. Specter - “we
have been trying diligently to get the tape records of the television
interviews, and we were unsuccessful. I discussed this with Dr. Perry in Dallas
last Wednesday, and he expressed an interest in seeing them, and I told him we
would make them available to him prior to his appearance, before deposition or
before the Commission, except our efforts at CBS and NBC, ABC and everywhere
including New York, Dallas and other cities were to no avail. The problem is they have not yet cataloged
all of the footage which they have, and I have been advised by the Secret
Service, by Agent John Howlett, that they have an excess of 200 hours of
transcripts among all of the events and they just have not cataloged them and
could not make them available.
(NOTE: Specter was not telling the whole story. On 3-18-64, J. Lee Rankin, Specter's boss, wrote James J. Rowley, the head of the Secret Service, to ask for his help in acquiring a recording or transcript of Dr. Perry's press conference. On 3-25-64, Rowley wrote back telling Rankin that that no video tape or transcript of Perry's comments could be located. This letter was published as CD 678. It seems possible, then, that Specter was only pretending that the problem was that the footage had not yet been catalogued, and that he was pretending this so Perry wouldn't be unnerved by the fact all the tapes of his press conference had miraculously vanished. There's also this. When eventually published by the ARRB as medical document 41, the transcript to the press conference had an interesting stamp on its final page. It read "Received U.S. Secret Service Office of the Chief" with the date of 11-26-63, 11:40 AM. Well, hell. This could mean a number of things. None of them good. Either Rowley was so incompetent that he failed to realize he had a transcript to the press conference when contacted by Rankin, or he was so forgetful that he failed to remember giving this transcript to Johnson for his Library, or he knew damn well he still had or used to have a copy of the transcript, and deliberately withheld this information from Rankin and the commission.)
Mr. Dulles - Do
you intend to catalog them?
Mr. Specter - Yes, they do, Mr. Dulles. They intend to do that eventually in their normal process, and the Secret Service is trying to expedite the news media to give us those, and it was our thought as to the film clips, which would be the most direct or the recordings which would be the most direct, to make comparisons between the reports in the news media and what Dr. Perry said at that time, and the facts which we have from the doctors through our depositions and transcript today.
Representative Ford - Can you give us any time estimate when this catalog and comparison might be made?
Mr. Specter - Only that they are
working on it right now, have been for sometime, but it may be a matter of a
couple of weeks until they can turn it over.
(NOTE: These last few exchanges are priceless. Dulles asks Specter if he plans on going through the transcripts and he responds by saying that the Secret Service is going to help him. He then estimates that it should only take a few weeks. As stated, Rowley had already told Rankin they'd looked but that no recording or transcript could be located. It seems possible then that Dulles and Specter were putting on a show. No one knows what became of the original recordings of the press conference. Certainly someone had a tape recorder running. But none has ever surfaced. It seems possible then that they were made to disappear.)
(Discussion off the record.) (God only knows what they talked about.)
Mr. McCloy - Mr. Chairman, I
have some doubt as to the present propriety of making, of having the doctor
make, comments in respect to a particular group of newspaper articles. There
have been comments, as we all know, around the world, of great variety and
great extent, and it would be practically impossible, I suppose, to check all
of the accounts and in failing to check one would not wish to have it suggested
that others, the accuracy of others was being endorsed. I would suggest that the staff make an
examination of the files that we have of the comments, together with such tape
recordings as may have been taken of the actual press conferences, and after
that examination is made we can then determine, perhaps a little more
effectively, what might be done to clarify this situation so that it would
conform to the actual statements that the doctor has made.
Mr. Dulles - Well, Mr. McCloy, it is quite satisfactory with me and I agree with you we cannot run down all of the rumors in all of the press and it is quite satisfactory with me to wait and see whether we have adequate information to deal with this situation when we get in the complete tapes of the various television, radio and other appearances, so that we have a pretty complete record of what these two witnesses and others have said on the points we have been discussing here today. So I quite agree we will await this presentation to the doctors until we have had a further chance to review this situation. What I wanted to be sure was that when we are through with this we do have in our files and records adequate information to deal with a great many of the false rumors that have been spread on the basis of false interpretation of these appearances before television, radio, and so forth and so on.
And with that, Dr. Perry’s public and properly quoted description of Kennedy’s throat wound as an “entrance wound” is successfully disposed of as a “false rumor” spread by an over-zealous media...