A look at the Commission's attempts to get their story straight...
High and to the Right
On 3-31-64, the testimony of two weapons experts casts grave doubt on the theory that Oswald fired all the shots. Under questioning by Melvin Eisenberg, FBI ballistics expert Robert Frazier testifies that on 11-27-63 he and two other ballistics examiners fired the rifle found in the depository in order to judge both the speed at which three shots could be fired, and the accuracy of those shots. He relates that, when firing on targets but 15 yards away, agent “Killion fired in 9 seconds… (agent) Cunningham fired his three shots in 8 seconds and I fired my three shots in 5.9 seconds.” He testifies further that, after moving to a 25 yard range, he attempted to fire the rifle as rapidly as possible, and was able to fire three times in 4.6 seconds, and then 4.8 seconds. He then relates that on March 16, 1964, after adjusting the rifle to make it fire as accurately as possible while using the scope, he fired on outdoor targets at 100 yards, and was able to fire three shots in 5.9. 6.2, 5.6, and 6.5 seconds, respectively. When asked by counsel Eisenberg if firing at a moving target would have lengthened these times, he states “It would have lengthened the time to the extent of allowing the crosshairs to pass over the moving target.” When asked how long this would take, he answers “Approximately 1 second. It would depend on how fast the target was moving.” When asked if increased familiarity with the rifle would have helped him shorten his time, he replies “Oh yes” but then talks about how it would improve his accuracy. He eventually answers the question in the negative by replying “4.6 is firing this weapon as fast as the bolt can be operated, I think.”
(The date of this last test is intriguing. Let's recall that a January 9, 1964 column by Allen and Scott reported that the FBI had been asked to conduct more tests on the speed at which the rifle could be fired. Well, here are the tests, only two months later... Hmmm... This gives us something to think about. Let's reflect...should these March tests have proved that Oswald could not have acted alone, would Hoover have even allowed this information be given to the Commission? Would he have risked criticism that he'd dragged his feet while Oswald's accomplices escaped? One can only assume "No". Then what follows is that Hoover and the FBI knew that no matter what these tests showed, they were not to be used to suggest that more than one shooter was involved.)
But if Frazier's testimony raises questions about Oswald's ability to fire all the shots, and the FBI's honesty about this ability, it raises even more questions about the accuracy of the weapon purportedly used by Oswald. Frazier tells the Commission that the first six shots fired by the FBI on 11-27 hit 4 inches high and 1 inch to the right at only 15 yards. He says the next three hit 2 1/2 inches high and 1 to the right at 15 yards. He then discusses the next six shots fired with the weapon, fired from 25 yards in an effort to fire the rifle as rapidly and accurately as possible. He claims "The first series of three shots were approximately--from 4 to 5 inches high and from 1 to 2 inches to the right of the aiming point...The second series of shots landed--one was about 1 inch high, and the other two about 4 or 5 inches high..." A close look at the target used for these six shots, and a comparison of this target with the targets created from 15 yards, is most revealing, however. It shows that Frazier was way off, and that the shots he claimed landed 4 to 5 inches high in fact landed 6 to 8 inches high, and 2 1/2 to 5 inches to the right of the aiming point. This confirms that the shots from 15 yards were not an anomaly, and that the scope was, in fact, considerably misaligned.
So misaligned, apparently, that the FBI and Warren Commission felt the need to cover up. At one point in Frazier's testimony regarding the scope and scope mount, almost certainly to downplay that the rifle was so woefully inaccurate, Frazier interjects "apparently the scope had even been taken off of the rifle, in searching
for fingerprints on the rifle. So that actually the way it was
sighted-in when we got it does not necessarily mean it was sighted-in
that way when it was abandoned."
Well, this is suspicious on three levels. The first is that the scope, while being removed from the rifle in Dallas, was almost certainly never taken off the barrel with which it is aligned. Lt. Day, who inspected the rifle in Dallas, never admitted removing the scope. No one ever claimed to see him remove the scope. No report exists, furthermore, in which his removal of the scope is described. (This, of course, failed to prevent Frazier from continuing to claim Day had removed the scope. As late as three decades later, in David Fisher's Hard Evidence, a 1995 defense of the FBI crime lab, Frazier would claim "The scope of the rifle had been taken off by the Dallas police to search for latents, and when we got it, it was loose; we had to tighten the screws down. I think there were shims under the scope when it was used and the Dallas police lost them when they took it off.")
What Frazier fails to say is a second cause for suspicion. While in his Warren Commission testimony Frazier sets up his claim the scope had been removed by offering that the mount holding the scope on the rifle "was loose on the rifle when we received it," he later admitted "The mount is not screwed to the rifle in such a fashion that it points
the scope at the target closely enough to permit adjusting the crosshair
to accurately sight-in the rifle." He then claimed that one could fix this problem "merely by putting shims under the front of the
scope and over the back of the scope to tip the scope in the mount
itself, to bring it into alignment." As the problem with the rifle was that it fired high and to the right...consistently...one can hardly claim this was caused by the looseness of the two mount screws. They are mount screws, after all; they either hold down the scope or do not. If they are loosened, the scope does not automatically point downward. If they are tightened, the scope does not suddenly rise back up and align with the aiming point of the rifle. Separate adjustment screws serve this purpose.
We should recall here that Frazier's co-worker Cunningham has already testified that the bag supposedly used to conceal the rifle was too small to conceal the rifle unless it was disassembled, and that no screwdrivers were found in Oswald's possessions, and that this had led the FBI to assume the rifle had been assembled with a dime. Well, if the simple loosening of a mount screw could lead the rifle to be as inaccurate as Frazier had found it on 11-27, how can Frazier simultaneously pretend that the rifle would fire accurately after being assembled with a dime? He can't. This should make us suspect then that Frazier's reference to "loose" screws was meant not as a suggestion the scope would have been aligned if not for these screws, but that the looseness of these screws had made him suspect someone had removed the scope in Dallas, and that this someone had, in the process, lost the shims needed for the rifle to fire accurately. That he failed to come out and say this, moreover, should make us wonder if he'd been coached not to do so. Perhaps we should recall here that the Warren Commission has cut a deal with Texas Attorney General Waggoner Carr "to be fair to Texas," else risk a Texas-based investigation that might not be "fair" to the Federal Government, including the Secret Service, the CIA, the FBI, and the current President.
This brings us to the third level on which Frazier's testimony is suspicious... When we study Frazier's testimony it becomes clear that he is trying to give the Commission reasons to believe the scope had been damaged after the shooting, even though he himself suspected that NOTHING had happened to knock it out of alignment. In his testimony, Frazier not only admits that when the FBI eventually tried to sight-in the rifle and make it fire as accurately as possible, he found that the scope was mounted in such a manner that accurate shooting was impossible (as the rifle still fired 4-5 inches high and an inch to the right at 100 yards) but that it took 5 or 6 shots to stabilize the crosshairs on the scope after an adjustment. This, of course, is problematic for the Warren Commission's belief Oswald used the scope. They suspect, after all, that Oswald had only decided to kill the president a few days before the shooting, and that he hadn't practiced with his rifle. Well, this problem with the crosshairs suggests then that he'd either adjusted his scope before the shooting, and fired his shots with an unstable scope, or fired his shots without making any adjustment whatsoever. Both situations require more than a bit of luck. This makes it unsurprising then that, after dropping this bombshell, Frazier quickly offers "on the back end of the scope tube there is a rather severe scrape which
was on this weapon when we received it in the laboratory, in which some
of the metal has been removed, and the scope tube could have been bent
But there's a problem with this proffered explanation. A big problem. While Frazier no doubt understood that the bumping of the scope he'd suggested would destabilize the scope, he would later admit "When we fired on November 27th, the shots were landing high and
slightly to the right. However, the scope was apparently fairly well
stabilized at that time, because three shots would land in an area the
size of a dime under rapid-fire conditions, which would not have
occurred if the interior mechanism of the scope was shifting."
Hmmm... Let's try and sort this all out. While Frazier had fired two comparison bullets on the 23rd, he later found it took 5 or 6 shots to stabilize the crosshairs in the scope. It follows then that, absent Frazier's unstated and unfounded belief shims were removed from the rifle, the scope was at least somewhat misaligned at the time of the shooting, and that, absent both his speculation regarding the shims and the equally unstated and unfounded speculation that the Dallas Police had fired three or more shots with the rifle before sending it on to Washington, the scope was not only erratic and bound to cause the shooter problems, but was as woefully misaligned at the time of the shooting on 11-22 as it was on 11-27, when Frazier first tested its accuracy...
Questions about the scope dominate Frazier's testimony. Counsel Melvin Eisenberg eventually asks Frazier a series of questions about the sniper's having to lead his target, in order to hit his target. He gives some specifics, telling Frazier: "I would like you to make the following assumptions in answering these questions: First, that the assassin fired his shots from the window near which the cartridges were found--that is, the easternmost window on the south face of the sixth floor of the School Book Depository Building, which is 60 feet above the ground, and several more feet above the position at which the car was apparently located when the shots were fired. Second, that the length of the trajectory of the first shot was 175 feet, and that the length of the trajectory of the third shot was 265 feet. And third, that the elapsed time between the firing of the first and third shots was 5 1/2 seconds. Based on those assumptions, Mr. Frazier, approximately what lead would the assassin have had to give his target to compensate for its movement--and here I would disregard any possible defect in the scope."
Well, this is interesting. Eisenberg is telling Frazier that, in the opinion of the Commission, the limousine traveled but 90 feet between the first and third shots. This is in keeping with the findings of Secret Service Agent Howlett on 11-27, but is a total refutation of the FBI's later claim the limousine traveled 140 feet between the shots. Perhaps Eisenberg, then, is telling Frazier to play ball, or else the Commission will expose the FBI's scandalous deception regarding the distance the limo traveled.
If so, it worked. Well, sort of... Frazier at first testifies that the proper lead for the target at 175 feet would be 6 to 8 inches. But there's a problem with this. Frazier can't leave well enough alone. Dissatisfied with Eisenberg's asking him to disregard the misalignment of the scope in making his calculation, he offers: "the gun, when we first received it in the laboratory and fired these first targets, shot high and slightly to the right. If you were shooting at a moving target from a high elevation, relatively high elevation, moving away from you, it would be necessary for you to shoot over that object in order for the bullet to strike your intended target, because the object during the flight of the bullet would move a certain distance. The fact that the crosshairs are set high would actually compensate for any lead which had to be taken. So that if you aimed with this weapon as it actually was received at the laboratory, it would be necessary to take no lead whatsoever in order to hit the intended object. The scope would accomplish the lead for you."
Uhhh...there's a problem with this. It's nonsense! If the rifle was firing 4 inches high and 1 inch to the right at only 15 yards, as suggested by Frazier's own testimony, then it follows that it would fire 24 inches high and 6 inches to the right at 90 yards, the approximate location of Kennedy at the time of the head shot. If the proper lead for this shot was 6.1inches, as Frazier later specified, it follows that, in order to hit Kennedy in the head at frame 313 of the Zapruder film, the sniper would have to 1) know that the rifle was firing significantly high, and 2) aim almost 18 inches LOW, at the middle of Kennedy's back.
But there's a problem with this as well. The middle of Kennedy's back was obscured by the backseat of the limo. That's right. If one assumes that the rifle as fired on 11-22 was in the same condition it was on 11-27, one has to acknowledge that the sniper hitting Kennedy in the head was actually aiming at the backseat of the limo. This is counter-intuitive.
And it's actually understating the case. It is believed that Oswald's Mannlicher-Carcano rifle was sighted-in to strike targets at 200 meters. The bullet of a rifle sighted in at 200 meters will start out low, gradually lift above its line of sight, and then slowly drop back to the line of sight, and hopefully the center of its target, at 200 meters. Frazier testified that a bullet sighted in such a manner at 200 yards would land about a half-inch high at 100 feet, two inches high at 200 feet, and three inches high at 300 feet. This suggests that a bullet fired from 265 feet, a la the fatal bullet if fired from the sniper's nest, would land about 2 1/2 inches high.
And Frazier was probably understating the case. Ballistics calculators (such as those found online at Hornady ammunition website) and charts (such as those found in the book American Ammunition and Ballistics) suggest that the bullet fired in Oswald's rifle would actually have been around 5 inches above the line of sight at 265 feet.
And even this is understating the case. If one accepts Frazier's testimony regarding the inaccuracy of the weapon on 11-27 and the stabilizing effect of shots on the scope, and then considers that the fatal bullet was heading on a downward path, and not be subject to the usual amount of gravity, it seems likely that the fatal bullet supposedly fired from Oswald's Mannlicher-Carcano on 11-22-63 would have landed even greater than 23 inches higher than aimed (29 inches minus the 6 inches or so traveled by the limousine between the moment the rifle was fired and the moment the bullet struck) and that the only way for the sniper to have hit Kennedy in the head was for him to have aimed at the trunk of the car.
The confusion related to leading a moving target by firing below or behind the target becomes even more confusing when we consider Frazier's next statement. He added "I might also say that it also shot slightly to the right, which would tend to cause you to miss your target slightly to the right." Uhhh... he said the rifle shot but an inch to the right at 15 yards...which translates to 6 inches to the right at 90 yards. Although Frazier has supplied the Warren Commission with no information regarding the left-right lead necessary to hit the target, photos taken from the sniper's nest suggest that the left-right lead would be about the same as the vertical lead. This would be about 6 inches. This suggests that, while the rifle was firing high and to the right, the sniper would need to make a large adjustment for the former--an adjustment which Frazier denies--but no adjustment at all for the latter--which Frazier also denies.
Something is just askew with Frazier's testimony. First, he under-reports how badly the rifle performed during his 11-27 tests of the rifle from 25 yards. Then he conjures up imaginary incidents--the Dallas Police Department's removal of shims from under the scope, the scope's being damaged after the shooting--in an attempt to explain the problems with the scope. Then he under-reports the adjustment needed to overcome the problems with the scope, and actually suggests the misalignment of the scope was an advantage to the sniper. What is he doing? Is he deliberately trying to conceal that such a large adjustment for the rifle's shooting high would have been necessary? If so, then why did he turn around and make it sound like the rifle's shooting right was the bigger problem? Is he simultaneously trying to conceal that the limo was not heading straight away from the sniper, but moving left to right? Or is he just following orders to the best of his ability?
We suspect the latter. On 3-26-64, J. Edgar Hoover sent J. Lee Rankin a letter discussing the accuracy of the rifle. This letter was published as Commission Exhibit 2724. Most of the information contained in this letter was repeated in Frazier's testimony. But not all of it. While Frazier had accidentally indicated that the condition of the scope had probably not changed between 11-22 and 11-27, Hoover would have no part of it. He wrote "It is pointed out that the grouping of the shots in the targets shows an inherent capability of great accuracy under rapid fire conditions. No other significance whatever can be attached to these tests since there is no way of determining whether the present condition of the telescopic sight is the same as at the time of the assassination. It is to be noted that at the time of firing these tests, the telescopic sight could not be properly aligned with the target since the sight reached the limit of its adjustment before reaching accurate alignment." (Now here comes the spin.) "The present error in alignment, if it did exist at the time of the assassination, would be in favor of the shooter since the weapon is presently grouping slightly high and to the right with respect to the point of aim, and would have tended to reduce the need for "leading" a moving target in aiming the rifle."
Well, I'll be. Hoover said that the present error in alignment--which would mean the alignment demonstrated on 3-16 AFTER the scope had been sighted in as accurately as possible--would be an advantage, and Frazier testified that the misalignment of the rifle as received by the laboratory would be an advantage. There's a huge difference. And Hoover, for once, was right. The misalignment of the scope on 11-27, when Frazier first tested the accuracy of the rifle, was in no way an advantage. It is of no help at all to a sniper to have to aim at a car trunk to hit a man in the head. But the slight misalignment of the rifle on 3-16, after it was sighted in, would be a slight advantage to someone tracking an object moving left to right and away, provided the person is aware of this misalignment. This leads us to suspect that Frazier was given specific orders on how to testify, and screwed them up.
This gives us plenty to think about. IF the scope was severely misaligned on 11-22, as suggested by Frazier's testimony, then the shooter was either 1) a marginally talented shooter, like Oswald, who was just firing in the President's general direction and got "lucky", 2) an expert marksman well acquainted with the rifle's tendency to fire high and to the right, and talented enough to compensate for this tendency, or 3) someone familiar enough with Oswald's rifle to know the scope was nearly worthless and yet talented enough to accomplish the shooting without the use of the scope. (Testimony of Robert Frazier, 3H390-441).
(FWIW: subsequent to my writing this section, I became aware of an old letter in the FBI's files addressing some of the problems with Frazier's testimony we've examined. This letter was written in March 1969 by a Richard Bernabei on the stationery of Queen's University, London, Ontario. Bernabei's conclusions were similar to my own, with the notable exception that while I presumed the rifle--should it have been in the condition Frazier received it when fired on 11-22-63--would have fired a bit more than 23 inches high at 90 yards, Bernabei--presumably not taking into account that the president was moving away from the shooter--concluded it would have fired about 29 inches high at 100 yards. He claimed, furthermore, that he'd actually tested this using a 6.5 mm Mannlicher-Schoenauer rifle, and had found that the bullets landed 28 1/2 inches high of the point of aim at 100 yards. FBI file 62-109060 Sec 170 p 45-55.)
In the Interests of Accuracy
After Frazier, Ronald
Simmons, the Chief of the Weapons Evaluation Branch of the Ballistics
Laboratory of the Department of the Army, testifies, and things only get worse. He states that Oswald’s rifle was as accurate
as the current standard issue rifle of the U.S. Army, the M-14, but acknowledges
that his three test shooters “could not sight the weapon in using the telescope and
no attempt was made to sight it in using the iron sight. We
did adjust the telescopic sight by
addition of two shims, one which tended to adjust the azimuth, and one
adjusted an elevation.” He was thereby acknowledging that the scope and rifle as discovered were fatally out of alignment, and that this misalignment was not the result of a Dallas police officer bumping the scope or some such thing.
Simmons also discusses a simulation of the shooting performed by these shooters. He relates that they made seven attempts to replicate the shooting by rapid firing on three stationary targets at the presumed distances of the shots in Dealey Plaza. Simmons details: "All firers hit the first target, which was emplaced at 175 feet...for the first four attempts, the firers missed the second target...there were only two rounds which did not hit the target at 270 feet..." He then gives the time it took for his shooters to fire these shots: "Mr. Hendrix fired twice. The time for the first exercise was 8.25 seconds; the time for the second exercise was 7.0 seconds. Mr. Staley, on the first exercise, fired in 6 3/4 seconds; the second attempt he used 6.45 seconds. Specialist Miller used 4.6 seconds on his first attempt, 5.15 seconds in his second attempt, and 4.45 seconds in his exercise using the iron sight..."
Simmons then discusses Mr. Miller's shots in more detail: "Mr. Miller succeeded in hitting the third target on both attempts with the telescope. He missed the second target on both attempts with the telescope but he hit the second target with the iron sight. And he emplaced all three rounds on the target, the first target...On the third target he missed the boards completely. And we have not checked this out. It appears that for the firing posture which Mr. Miller--Specialist Miller uses, the iron sight is not zeroed for him, since his impacts on the first and second targets were quite high, and against the third target we would assume that the projectile went over the top of the target, which extended only a few inches over the top of the silhouette."
When asked what preparation these shooters were
allowed to undertake, before attempting these shots, Simmons then
relates: "They had each attempted the exercise without the use of
had worked the bolt as they tried the exercise. They had not pulled the
trigger during the exercise, however, because we were a little
concerned about breaking the firing pin."
(So let us now try to put this in plain English. Seven attempts were made to replicate Oswald's purported feat of firing three shots and achieving two hits in less than six seconds. Only three of the seven attempts were fired in less than six seconds. The first shot was hit on all seven attempts. The second shot was hit on but three attempts. And the third shot was hit on five attempts. Since the shooters were given all the time in the world to fire the first shot, however, the results for that shot should not be included in our analysis. This means that these expert shooters were able to hit the target but 8 of 14 times while engaging in rapid-fire, while Oswald was purported to have hit 2 of 3 shots while engaging in rapid fire. This, even at a glance, seems a bit of a stretch.)
And it's actually worse than that. Far worse. These expert shooters were firing at stationary targets. Even the slightest bit of movement of a target while a shooter is aiming and firing can negatively affect the accuracy of his shooting. When asked if these expert shooters made any comments as they fired Oswald's rifle, Simmons replies: "Yes; there were several comments made particularly with respect to the amount of effort required to open the bolt. As a matter of fact, Mr. Staley had, difficulty in opening the bolt in his first firing exercise. He thought it was completely up and it was not, and he had to retrace his steps as he attempted to open the bolt after the first round. There was also comment made about the trigger pull which is different as far as these firers are concerned. It is in effect a two-stage operation where the first--in the first stage the trigger is relatively free, and it suddenly required a greater pull to actually fire the weapon."
Hmm...we can only wonder then if this two stage jerky trigger pull would negatively affect the performance of the rifle when firing upon moving targets.
Actually, we can do more than that. When one reads the available literature, one finds it does just that. The Rifle Book, by Jack O'Connor (1950) tells us "No man ever learns to become a good rifleshot unless he develops his co-ordination to the point where he can let his shot off at the exact instant he wishes. This is as true of shooting running game as it is on the target range. The best trigger is one with a light, crisp pull. It can be a double-stage military pull or a single-stage spotting pull, but it must be crisp. If the last stage is draggy, rough, or creepy, no one can use it...If the motion that lets the trigger off is anything but a gentle squeeze, it will disturb the aim and the shot will not go where it is supposed to go."
It seems clear, moreover, that Simmons knew there was a problem for the proposition Oswald fired all the shots with the weapon in question, what with its misaligned scope, stiff bolt-action, and jerky two-stage trigger. In concluding his appraisal of the difficulty of the shooting, Simmons affirms that "in order to achieve three hits, it would not be required that a man be an exceptional shot. A proficient man with this weapon, yes." (Testimony of Ronald Simmons, 3H441-451)
Well, that's the ticket, isn't it? There
is no evidence--zero, zip, nada--that Oswald was proficient with his weapon. Prior to 11-22-63, the only time Oswald was purported to have fired his rifle at a living target was back in April,
1963. And that purported shot, fired at
a right-wing fanatic named General Walker as he sat at a desk in his home, missed. There is no record of Oswald
firing his rifle in the months leading up to the assassination. The rumors of his practicing at various
shooting ranges around Dallas were
all discredited by the FBI. Furthermore, there were no rifle-cleaning supplies or even extra
ammunition found among his possessions. Thus,
when Simmons testifies that Oswald’s rifle was substandard and that only
someone with a lot of experience with the rifle could compensate for its
shortcomings, he is unwittingly arguing for Oswald's innocence.
Particularly in that Simmons knew full well his test shooters did not fire nearly as well as claimed...
When one looks at the targets his men fired upon, Commission Exhibits 582-584, it's startlingly clear Simmons' definition of a hit is not what any reasonable person would consider a hit. Oswald was purported to have hit Kennedy once in the base of the neck and once in the head in 6 seconds or less. The targets the Army shooters fired upon were not only stationary targets, they were far larger than the small area on Kennedy hit by the sniper...twice. While one might claim the shooters were merely interested in hitting the targets, and not specific points on the targets, one cannot reasonably claim they would deliberately not hit this target in as central a location as possible. Thus, a re-examination of the Army's targets, counting as hits only those hits landing between the extended sides of the neck on the target, indicates that the Army's shooters hit the first shot 6 of 7 times, the second shot 3 of 7 times, and the third shot but 2 of 7 times, with both hits landing on the back.
When one looks even closer, and considers that the Army's shooters would also be trying to hit the center of the target vertically, and compares their hits between the neck lines on the targets to the purported location of the hits on Kennedy, it gets even worse. (Simmons, in fact, testified that he'd assumed the shooters were firing at the intersection of lines at the center of the target.) Only one or two of the hits on the first target, when the shooters had ALL THE TIME IN THE WORLD, landed as close to the center of the target as the two hits purportedly rapid-fired by Oswald. Even worse (yes, even worse), NOT ONE of the 14 shots rapid fired on the last two targets landed anywhere near as close the center of the target as the two hits attributed to Oswald.
The Army shooters' failure to replicate the fatal head shot, even though the rifle had been re-aligned just for this purpose, and even though their target was quite stationary, is incredibly problematic for the Commission, and should force them to re-evaluate Oswald's presumed ability with a rifle. They must know the public will not buy that such fantastic shots with such a mediocre rifle were fired by a man who hadn't practiced in months, and was never very good to begin with. They must know that the only way they can maintain any credibility is to stand by the incredible, and insist that, no matter how difficult the shots, Oswald somehow just got "lucky."
On 4-2-64, just two days after the FBI's Frazier had asserted that the scope had been removed by someone in Dallas looking for fingerprints, (and slyly suggested that this person had lost the shims needed for the scope to be effective), Lt. J.C. Day, who'd inspected the rifle in Dallas, is called to testify. Amazingly, however, he is never asked about the scope, let alone about the shims. He does state, however, that after removing the barrel from the wood stock and trying to photograph the palm print on the underside of the rifle barrel which had immediately attracted his attention, he was told to stop working on the rifle, and that he "did not process the underside of the barrel under the scopic sight, did not get to this area of the gun." (4H249-278) This undoubtedly suggests the scope was not removed. So much for Frazier's speculation. So much for his and the commission's belief the scope was of assistance on 11-22-63.
Later that day, in Dallas, Postal Inspector Harry Holmes, the last man to interview Oswald, testifies before the Commission. It turns out that he’d watched the assassination through binoculars from his office on the south side of Dealey Plaza. (4-2-64 testimony before the Warren Commission, 7H289-308) “the motorcade turned north on Houston and went to Elm and turned left on Elm where it started on a downgrade to what we refer to as a triple underpass. As it turned in front of the school book depository, I heard what to me sounded like firecrackers, and it was my recollection that there were three of them. I had my binoculars on this car, on the presidential car at the time. I realized something was wrong but I thought they were dodging somebody throwing things at the car like firecrackers or something, but I did see dust fly up like a firecracker had burst up in the air." (When asked where he saw the dust) “Off of President Kennedy and I couldn’t tell you which one of the cracks of the firecracker resulted in this.” Too vague. (Years later, however, Holmes would make clear that while he couldn’t remember which of the cracks of the “firecracker” brought “dust off” the President, he couldn’t remember if it was the first shot or the second shot. In Larry Sneed’s “No More Silence” Holmes distinctly recalls hearing a shot after the head shot.)
Many others are brought in to testify during March and April. For the most part, their statements are consistent with the statements they’d made in November and December. One “new” witness to testify is the motorcycle officer riding just behind the limousine on the far left. Strangely, the two escorts to the right of the limousine were never called to testify, and not even interviewed. B.J. Martin (4-3-64 testimony before the Warren Commission, 6H289-293): “one of the agents got off of the car after the first shot…I looked to my right (after the first shot)…I looked at the President after I heard the (first) shot and he was leaning forward—I could see the left side of his face. At the time he had no expression on his face” (Then I heard) “Two more shots…immediately after the first shot I saw him (the President) and after that I couldn’t see him.” Double head shot. (While many will say that “two more shots” is too vague to assume the shots came together, a better way of looking at it is that “two more shots” is too vague to assume they’re not together. Law enforcement professionals like Martin knew that they were expected to describe what happened as accurately as possible. Consequently, if there was an appreciable delay between the last two shots we can expect he would have said so, and then described what he observed between the shots.)
A 4-4-64 FBI memorandum from Rosen to Belmont reveals that the strain between the Bureau and the Commission, so readily apparent in the weeks leading up to the testimony of the FBI's experts, has failed to dissipate now that some of the experts have testified. In this memorandum, Rosen writes that J.Lee Rankin "stated that he would appreciate the Director being advised of the very favorable impression the Bureau experts made and that Chief Justice Earl Warren had made favorable comments and had asked Mr. Rankin to make known to the Director his feelings concerning the Bureau experts' testimony...Mr. Rankin advised that the testimony of the Bureau personnel was far superior to testimony received from anyone else that has appeared before the Commission, each of the Bureau employees testified with complete confidence and their testimony was given in such a manner that any possible doubt that anyone had had been completely removed by the Bureau experts' testimony." Hoover, still fuming over the Commission's use of outside experts, however, is not impressed. In the margins of this memo, he writes: "I place no credence in any complimentary remarks made by Warren nor the Commission. They were looking for FBI 'gaps' and having found none yet they try to get 'syrupy.'"
Ye Olde Switcheroo?
On 4-6-64, the Commission takes the testimony of Dallas Detective Robert Studebaker. He briefly discusses the finding of the bag found in the sniper's nest. He offers no explanation for why he failed to photograph this bag where it was found. A 3-10 interview of Studebaker by the FBI is equally unclear, stating "According to Studebaker, the paper bag was removed prior to taking photographs of the southeast corner." (FBI file 105-82555 section 142 p9) This bag, we should recall, is believed to have been used by Oswald to bring the assassination rifle in to work. The only witnesses to Oswald with a bag, however, have insisted the bag carried by Oswald was far smaller than this bag. Studebaker testifies that the bag he found was "I would say, 3 1/2 to 4 feet long" and "Approximately 8 inches" wide. (7H137-149). This catches our attention. On 3-11-64, Counsel Joe Ball had been able to get one of the two witnesses to see Oswald with a bag, Buell Frazier--who'd previously said the bag he saw was 5 or 6 inches wide--to agree that the bag he saw could have been as wide as the bag found in the sniper's nest. Ball then got the second witness, Linnie Mae Randle, to testify that the width of the bag found in the sniper's nest was "about right." Of the bag found in the sniper's nest, Ball said, furthermore, that "This package is about the span of my hand, say 8 inches." This suggests the package shown both Frazier and Randle was about 8 inches wide.
There's a huge problem with this. An FBI memo on the creation of a replica bag states that the paper used was 24 inches wide (CD7, p292). One can only assume that this paper would have been folded in half to make the bag, and that the resulting bag would be about 12 inches wide. Sure enough, photographs of the bag pulled from the sniper's nest on the day of the assassination suggest it was about a foot wide. So why was the bag shown to Frazier and Randle during their testimony barely 8 inches wide?
The words of a 12-2-63 FBI report on the showing of this replica sack to Randle are also telling. When discussing her impression of the package she saw on 11-22, it states "Her designation on the replica sack was found to be 8 1/2 inches for the width of the original package she'd seen Oswald carrying." (CD7, p299). She couldn't have designated an 8 1/2 inch width on a package only 8 inches wide, now could she? From this it seems clear that someone or some group, possibly the FBI in unison with the Warren Commission, has pulled some evidentiary origami, and has altered the proportions of the bag between early December, 1963, and March, 1964.
That someone might be James Cadigan, the FBI's paper expert, who testified only 3 days before Studebaker. When asked if he found any marks inside the bag on 11-23 that could tie it to the rifle, he testified: "I couldn't find any such markings." When asked if one could make an inference from this he testified further that: "I don't know the condition of the rifle. If it were in fact contained in this bag, it could have been wrapped in cloth or just the metal parts wrapped in a thick layer of cloth, or if the gun was in the bag, perhaps it wasn't moved too much. I did observe some scratch marks and abrasions but was unable to associate them with this gun. The scratch marks in the paper could come from any place. They could have come from many places. There were no marks on this bag that I could say were caused by that rifle or any other rifle or any other given instrument." When asked further if, assuming the rifle had not been wrapped in cloth, it should have left marks of some sort, he replied: "The absence of markings to me wouldn't mean much. I was looking for markings I could associate. The absence of marks, the significance of them, I don't know." (4H89-101). Clearly, Cadigan and his superiors were not the curious sort. They had Oswald's rifle. Within a few more days they had a replica bag. All they had to do was put the rifle in the bag and re-enact Oswald's trip to work and see if the bag was scratched or marked by the grease on Oswald's gun. That they failed to do so, and that the Warren Commission failed to ask them to do so, reveals either their incredible incompetence or deliberate negligence.
One might suspect the latter. While Cadigan has testified that the tape found on the paper bag was 25/1000 of an inch wider than a tape sample taken from the depository on 11-22, only to say that this doesn't really matter, he has failed to provide any measurements for the bag he studied, both inside and out. Why wasn't he asked this? Why has Ball asked Studebaker to guess about the size of an object he only saw for a minute, when only days before he had Cadigan, who'd studied this object in detail, at his disposal, and had failed to ask him its actual size? And is it a coincidence that Studebaker has said the bag he found in the sniper's nest was 8 inches wide, and that the bag now being shown to witnesses is 8 inches wide, when the bag pulled from the sniper's nest appeared to be much wider? Has someone pulled a switcheroo? Are the FBI and the Dallas detectives in cahoots? Is Ball in on it? The testimony on the bag couldn't smell any worse if the bag had been wrapped around day-old fish.
The next week, Nelson Delgado, a Marine who’d served with Oswald, testifies about Oswald’s proficiency with a rifle. (4-16-64 testimony before the Warren Commission, 8H228-265): “he didn’t show no particular aspects of being a sharpshooter at all…He always got gigged for his rifle (meaning that he got in trouble for keeping it in poor condition)…we were on line together, the same time, but not firing at the same position, but at the same time, and I remember seeing his. It was a pretty big joke because he got a lot of “Maggie’s drawers,” you know, a lot of misses, but he didn’t give a darn…he was a couple of targets down. It was very comical to see.”
The week after that, the Connallys finally testify,
confirming their earlier statements. Nellie
Connally (4-21-64) testimony
before the Warren Commission, 4H146-149) “I heard a noise…I turned over my right shoulder and looked back, and saw
the President as he had both hands at his neck…he made no utterance, no
cry. I saw no blood, no anything. It was just sort of nothing, the expression on
his face, and he just sort of slumped down. Then very soon there was the second shot that hit John. As the first shot was hit, and I turned to
look at the same time, I recall John saying, “Oh, no, no, no.” Then there was a second shot, and it hit John,
and as he recoiled to the right, just crumpled like a wounded animal to the
right, he said, “My God, ,they are going to kill us all”…I never again looked
in the back seat of the car after my husband was shot…The third shot that I heard I felt, it felt like spent buckshot falling
all over us, and then, of course, I too, could see that it was the matter,
brain tissue, or whatever, just human matter, all over the car and both of us.”
Governor John Connally (4-21-64 testimony 4H129-146) “I reclined
with my head in her lap, conscious all the time, and with my eyes open, and
then, of course, the third shot sounded, and I heard the shot very
clearly. I heard it hit him. I heard the shot hit something…I heard it
hit. It was a very loud noise, just that
audible, very clear…Immediately, I could see on my clothes, my clothing, I
could see on the interior of the car…brain tissue…on my trousers there was one
chunk of brain tissue as big as almost my thumb.”
In late April, Chief Justice Warren unexpectedly announces that the commission will not be publishing the testimony and evidence gathered at its hearings. The reason given is that the commission lacks the money to do so. We are relieved to hear, however, that Sen. Russell has convinced congress to appropriate the money, and that the public will thereby get to see some of what the commission has studied before coming to its findings.
(Warren's sudden decision--with the blessing of Commissioners Dulles and McCloy--to not publish the testimony and evidence was first revealed by Edward Epstein in Inquest (1966). He relied upon interviews with commission lawyers Wesley Liebeler, Melvin Eisenberg, and J. Lee Rankin. In 2013. Warren Commission counsel Howard Willens published History Will Prove Us Right, and confirmed Epstein's account, with one major change: Warren came to this decision at the end of April, not May. In 2014, Willens published his Warren Commission diary online.)
Here is Willens' diary entry for 4-30-64: "Sometime during the day, perhaps the previous day, I learned that the personnel from the Government Printing Office was scheduled to begin work on the transcript Friday, May 1. The Commission met on Thursday and discussed several of the items listed on the agenda, which I prepared after consultation with Mr. Rankin. The meeting lasted for several hours. When the meeting ended at approximately 6 o’clock, I did not immediately confer with Mr. Rankin. About 6:30, however, as I went out I noticed that Mr. Belin and Mr. Liebeler were in the conference room talking with Mr. Rankin. I joined them and was told by Mr. Belin and Mr. Liebeler that there was shocking news awaiting me and to take a seat. After doing so Mr. Rankin, in a very tired and chastened mood looked at me in such a way that I knew the Commission had reached another of their impossible decisions. Such was in fact the case. Mr. Rankin informed me that the Commission had decided not to publish the transcript simultaneously with the Final Report. Apparently the chief consideration was one of expense and there was not extensive consideration of the policy issues between members of the Commission who discussed the matter. I asked him immediately how many of the Commission were present and voted on the issue. He replied that only
three were present – The Chief Justice, Mr. Dulles and Mr. McCloy. I indicated to him quite briefly that this was a decision which could not be permitted to stand, and I could see that he felt very much the same way. The Commission members had indicated to Mr. Rankin that they would reverse themselves if the Congressional members of the Commission voted otherwise. Mr. Rankin planned therefore to contact Senator Russell and the other Congressional members as soon as possible on Friday morning."
Questions and More Questions
On 5-1-64, Marine Lt. Col. Allison G. Folsom testifies before the Warren Commission on Oswald’s military record. When discussing Oswald’s shooting scores, Folsom is asked if it’s correct that the top level is Expert, the middle level is Sharpshooter, and the bottom level is Marksman, and he agrees. Folsom then leafs through Oswald’s score book, and comments that “at 200 yards slow fire...he got out in the three ring, which is not good…As a matter of fact, at 200 yards people should get a score of between 48 and 50 in the offhand position…he got a score of 34 out of a possible 50 on Tuesday. On Wednesday he got some 38.” When asked if Oswald was a particularly outstanding shot, he responded “No, no, he was not…His scorebook indicates, as a matter of fact—that he did well at one or two ranges in order to achieve the two points over the Marksman score for Sharpshooter.” When asked if that means that Oswald had to have a “good day” to avoid being classified as a Marksman, Folsom responds “I would say so.” Folsom is not asked to comment on Oswald’s subsequent shooting scores, where his skills dropped to 1 point above the lowest level of Marksman.
The 5-9-64 Saturday Evening Post brings more bad news for the investigation. Republican Senator Hugh Scott of Pennsylvania publishes an article in which he denounces six Democratic Senators on the Rules Committee for obstructing an investigation into the crimes of President Johnson's long-time associate, Bobby Baker, some of which involved Johnson. Scott writes: "in my five months on that unhappy panel I found it increasingly clear that the Democratic majority had fashioned blinders for their own eyes, plugs for their ears, and handcuffs for their wrists. They were hoping against hope that Bobby Baker and all his works would miraculously vanish with a minimum of embarrassment to all concerned...The watchdogs spurned the scent at every chance...many of the most important and disturbing disclosures were never followed up...dissent was firmly discouraged in a variety of unmistakable ways...No Senator could foresee the full consequences of a thorough investigation. In my own case, several thinly veiled threats were transmitted through friends and associates. I was warned that the safest course would be to let the matter sleep. I was told that discretion now could prevent nasty publicity against me later. Suffice it to say that the nasty innuendos have begun to appear in print. Democratic senators must have been under even greater pressure to keep silent, for the reputation of their party was involved...Not a single witness requested by the minority was ever called...The Rules Committee is armed with the staff investigators, subpoena powers and the vast authority of the Senate itself, but it lacks the simple determination to use them fully. The result is an appalling travesty of democratic government."
(Upon reading this article, many Americans would undoubtedly have asked themselves the painful question of how they could possibly trust the Warren Commission--men hand-picked by Lyndon Johnson--to tell them the truth, when men not hand-picked by Johnson so readily covered up for his crony, Baker, and shut down an investigation that had led to testimony--AT THE VERY MOMENT KENNEDY WAS SHOT-- implicating Johnson in a kick-back scheme that would almost certainly have ended his career. In 1978, another Senator from this panel, Carl Curtis of Nebraska, when asked in an oral history "Do you think it was the assassination that changed the nature of this investigation, though, and really slowed it down, because people were reluctant to testify?" supported Scott's claims. He responded "No. No. It was ironclad political control." Curtis asserted as well that he knew who had this control. He said: "Everything would appear as though Lyndon didn't know the investigation was going on. He had the ability to direct things and not be anywhere near the scene." Should one think this was partisan sour grapes, moreover, 1978 saw the confirmation of Scott's and Curtis' claims, and from a most surprising source. In his book Wheeling and Dealing, an expert on the Bobby Baker scandal named...Bobby Baker...asserted that "LBJ had threatened to close down the Philadelphia Navy Yard unless Senator Scott closed his critical mouth.")
The Hoover Truth
On 5-14-64, a week after President Johnson waived his impending mandatory retirement, FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover testifies before the Commission. (5H96-120) Despite his taking an oath to tell the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth, he offers up the Hoover truth.
- Hoover Truth: “I have read many of the reports that our agents have made and I have been unable to find any scintilla of evidence showing any foreign conspiracy or any domestic conspiracy that culminated in the assassination of President Kennedy.” (Note: Hoover had known for three years or more that organized crime and the anti-Castro elements likely to set up Oswald were linked and were conspiring to murder Fidel Castro, Oswald’s supposed hero. Even though this information could lead one to suspect that Oswald killed Kennedy in retaliation, or that Oswald was indeed set up, Hoover failed to mention anything about this to the Commission.)
- Hoover Truth: “There have been publications and books written, the contents of which have been absurd and without a scintilla of foundation of fact." “I, personally, feel that any finding of the Commission will not be accepted by everybody, because there are bound to be some extremists who have very pronounced views, without any foundation for them, who will disagree violently with whatever findings the Commission makes.” (Note: two of the loudest voices to argue against the Commission’s findings were not extremists at all, but former FBI agents William Turner and Jim Garrison. More pointedly, the President for whom the report was written, Lyndon Johnson, never believed its findings. )
- Hoover Truth: “I don’t think you can get absolute security without almost establishing a police state, and we don’t want that.” (Note: by 1964 Hoover had long been using the FBI to infiltrate and discredit organizations he found personally despicable. These FBI-trained infiltrators would frequently encourage the targeted organizations to engage in violent activity, in order to help discredit them in the public eye. Curiously, one of the organizations targeted by Hoover under this program (COINTELPRO) was the Fair Play for Cuba Committee, an organization publicly discredited in New Orleans by the actions of Lee Harvey Oswald.)
- Hoover Truth: (When asked if he still agreed that Oswald acted alone.) “I subscribe to it even more strongly today than I did at the time the report was written. You see the original idea was that there would be an investigation by the FBI and a report would be prepared in such a form that it could be released to the public… Then a few days later, after further consideration, the President decided to form a commission, which I think was very wise, because I feel that the report of any agency of Government investigating what might be some shortcomings on the part of other agencies of Government ought to be reviewed by an impartial group such as this Commission.” (Note: Hoover failed to acknowledge that he originally told Johnson the Commission would be a “three-ring circus." Hoover also failed to acknowledge that with the FBI’s report, it was not only investigating the shortcomings of other agencies, i.e. the State department, CIA, Secret Service, and Dallas Police Department, but the potential shortcomings of the FBI itself, as the FBI had failed to add Oswald’s name to the Security Index used by the Secret Service to track possible threats to the President.)
- Hoover Truth: (When asked by Congressman Hale Boggs if he had thoughts on Oswald’s motivation.) “My speculation, Mr. Boggs, is that this man was no doubt a dedicated Communist… He stayed in Moscow awhile and he went to Minsk where he worked. There was no indication of any difficulty, personally on his part there, but I haven’t the slightest doubt he was a dedicated Communist.” (Note: Hoover was obsessed with Communism, and saw Communists as evil and everywhere. His domestic intelligence chief William Sullivan later wrote a book admitting that by the early 1960s a large percentage of American communists were in fact FBI informants.)
- Hoover Truth: “Now some people have raised the question, why didn’t he shoot the President as the car came toward the storehouse where he was working? The reason for that is, I think, the fact there were some trees between his window on the sixth floor and the cars as they turned and went through the park. So he waited until the car got out from under the trees, and the limbs, and then he had a perfectly clear view of the of the occupants of the car, and I think he took aim, either on the President or Connally, and I personally believe it was the President in view of the twisted mentality the man had.” (Note, as demonstrated by the photos of the assassination scene taken by the Secret Service, and published by the Warren commission as Exhibit 875, there was a clear shot down Houston, should a sniper have been so inclined. The only trees were to the right of the sniper’s nest, blocking its view down Elm.)
- Hoover Truth: (When discussing the attitude of the Soviet Government, and the KGB in particular, towards Oswald) “I think they probably looked upon him more as a kind of a queer sort of individual and they didn’t trust him too strongly. But just the day before yesterday information came to me indicating that there is an espionage training school outside of Minsk—I don’t know whether it was true—and that he was trained in that school to come back to this country to become what they call a 'sleeper,' that is a man who will remain dormant for 3 or 4 years and in case of international hostilities rise up and be used.” (Note: this from the man who just swore there was not one “scintilla” of evidence indicating a foreign conspiracy. It seems Hoover couldn’t help but kick a little sand in the direction of Russia when given the opportunity.)
- Hoover Truth: “Now, we interviewed Oswald a few days after he arrived…There was nothing up to the time of the assassination that gave any indication that this man was a dangerous character who might do harm to the President or to the Vice-President, so his name was not furnished at the time to the Secret Service. Under the new criteria which we have now put into force and effect, it would have been furnished because we now include all defectors.” (Note: here, Hoover almost certainly commits perjury. Hoover concealed from the commission that on December 10, 1963, he’d censured or placed on probation 17 employees (5 field investigators, 1 field supervisor, 3 special agents in charge, 4 headquarters supervisors, 2 headquarters section chiefs, 1inspector, and 1 assistant director) for what the inspector of the internal investigation, James Gale, termed “shortcomings in connection with the investigation of Oswald prior to the assassination.” When Assistant director Alan Belmont complained about this action, stating that since “all of the supervisors and officials who came into contact with this case…are unanimous in the opinion that Oswald did not meet the criteria for the Security Index…it would appear that the criteria are not sufficiently specific,” Hoover blasted him. On Belmont’s addendum to Gale’s December 10, 1963 memo, Hoover wrote “They were worse than mistaken. Certainly no one in full possession of all his faculties can claim Oswald didn’t fall within this criteria.” On September 24, 1964, the day the Warren Report, which included criticisms of the FBI’s investigation of Oswald prior to the assassination, was released, Hoover pounced again, writing that the employees who failed to properly investigate Oswald “could not have been more stupid.” He then punished these employees a second time. On September 30, 1964, Inspector Gale wrote “It is felt that it is appropriate at this time to consider further administrative action against those primarily culpable for the derelictions in this case which have now had the effect of publicly embarrassing the Bureau.” When a number of top FBI officials reacted angrily to the Warren Report’s criticism of the Bureau, and began planning ways to defend the FBI in the press, Hoover reiterated his position that the FBI was in fact to blame. On a 10-1-64 memo from Alan Belmont to Clyde Tolson, he wrote: “We were wrong. The administrative actions approved by me will stand. I do not intend to palliate actions which have resulted in forever destroying the Bureau as the top level investigative organization.” )
- Hoover Truth: “There was very aggressive press coverage at Dallas. I was so concerned that I asked my agent in charge at Dallas, Mr. Shanklin, to personally go to Chief Curry and tell him that I insisted that he not go on the air any more until this case was resolved. Until all the evidence had been examined, I did not want any statements made concerning the progress of the investigation. Because of the fact the President had asked me to take charge of the case I insisted that he and all members of his department refrain from public statements.” (Note: immediately following Oswald’s death, Hoover’s man in Dallas, Mr. Shanklin, listed all the evidence against Oswald for the New York Times. Moreover, the Times’ 11-25 description of the evidence indicates that Shanklin misrepresented the results of the paraffin tests, stating that they showed “particles of gunpowder from a weapon, probably a rifle, on Oswald’s cheek and hands.” While the tests results were consistent with Oswald firing a pistol, the test results were negative for his cheek. Therefore, there was nothing whatsoever about the tests that suggested Oswald had fired a rifle.)
- Hoover Truth: “Well, I can tell you so far as the FBI is concerned the case will be continued in an open classification for all time. That is, any information coming to us or any report coming to us from any source will be thoroughly investigated, so that we will be able to either prove or disprove the allegation.” (Note: in February 1967, Edward Morgan, a lawyer representing CIA front-man Robert Maheu and mafia strategist Johnny Rosselli, contacted columnist Drew Pearson and told him about the joint CIA/Mafia attempts to kill Castro, and the possibility they’d backfired on Kennedy. Pearson then told Chief Justice Earl Warren, who in turn told Secret Service Chief James Rowley. When Rowley told Hoover about the incident, Alex Rosen drafted the FBI response. Rosen would later testify that he was sick and that an unidentified subordinate wrote this under his name. His response: “no investigation will be conducted regarding the allegations…to Chief Justice Warren.” The letter, which was sent to Chief Rowley under Hoover’s name on 2-15-67, went on to state “The Bureau is not conducting any investigation regarding this matter. However, should Mr. Pearson, (Morgan), or (his) source of information care to volunteer any information to the Bureau, it would be accepted.” The internal memo from Rosen to White House/FBI liaison Cartha Deloach, for that matter, added: “Consideration was given to furnishing this information to the White House, but since this matter does not concern, nor is it pertinent to the present Administration, no letter was being sent.” It follows then, that if Hoover's testimony to the Warren Commission had been truthful, and that the FBI was in fact committed to investigating any leads that would subsequently come their way, well, then he had failed to tell as much to the men who would be tasked with conducting such an investigation.)
Meanwhile, back in 1964, the Warren Express rolls forward. By now, the scenario of a final shot head shot has been repeated so many times by the FBI and the media that two of Kennedy’s closest aides, Kenneth O'Donnell and David Powers, who'd been riding in the motorcade in the car behind Kennedy, go along with it. One of them, Kenneth O'Donnell, is so anxious to get along that he fails to put into the record that his immediate impression was that the last shot came from in front of the limousine. (He would later tell Speaker of the House Tip O'Neill that he thought the last shot came from in front of the limousine.) Kenneth O’Donnell (5-18-64 testimony before the Warren Commission, 7H440-457) “My first impression was it was a firecracker. And then either somebody said “He has been hit,” or I noticed the slump—he had been waving out the right side of the car and I noticed him slump over toward Mrs. Kennedy, and I realized then that they had been shots. But as fast as that realization occurred, I saw the third shot hit.” Final shot head shot. David Powers (5-18-64 affidavit, 7H472-474): “the first shot went off and it sounded to me as if it were a firecracker. I noticed then that the President moved quite far to his left after the shot from the extreme right hand side where he had been sitting. There was a second shot and Governor Connally disappeared from sight and then there was a third shot which took off the top of the President’s head and had the sickening sound of a grapefruit splattering against a wall.” Final shot head shot.But the source and order of the shots is not the only question whose answer seems increasingly out of reach. Oswald's capability with a rifle, and his rifle's capability to shoot accurately, are also still in doubt. On May 20, 1964, William Waldman testifies before the Commission as a representative of Klein's Sporting Goods, the company that sold Oswald the rifle. He testifies that the scope had been installed at Kleins's but that it was not sighted in by Klein's. (7H360-369) This raises the question of whether the scope had EVER been sighted in prior to the FBI's attempt to sight it in on March 16, 1964. (This question would never be answered.)
Questions are popping up everywhere. On May 24, 1964, the very day of the Warren Commission's re-enactment of the shooting in Dallas, The New York Journal-American runs an article on a photograph taken by James Altgens just after the first shot was fired on 11-22. Some have claimed a man in a doorway in the background of this photo is Oswald, proving Oswald's innocence. While the article features an interview with Billy Lovelady, who both claims and is claimed by others to be the man in this doorway, it raises more questions than it settles on other aspects of the shooting. It presents a series of "claims" and responds to these with "facts." Many of these facts are not quite accurate, however. Some, in fact, are absolute nonsense. To the claim more than one shooter must have fired upon Kennedy, as his neck wound was an entrance, while Oswald was shooting from behind, for instance, the article presents the "fact" that "films show that he had turned his body far around to the right to wave at someone in the crowd just as the first shot struck him. In that position, his throat was fully exposed to the sniper." Yikes. This was the bill of goods pushed by Life Magazine in early December, almost SIX months before. The FBI had long ago tried to replace this with its own bill of goods--that the throat wound was an exit for a fragment from the bullet creating the head wound.
This leads us to become even more cynical. If the press can't make sense of what happened, and continues pushing "facts" long since discredited, then what hope is there the public will suddenly see the "light" when all the evidence is before them?
And we soon find even more reason to be cynical. Commission historian Alfred Goldberg is beside himself. Warren has told Goldberg that, once the commission's report is published, he wants the commission's internal files shredded or incinerated. He doesn't want the public to ever know of the commission's internal battles. Goldberg is worried this will lead to even more suspicion than exists already. He talks to Senator Russell's assistant, who talks to Russell, who in turn talks to Warren, and convinces him to change his mind.
What's going on?
(Warren's decision to destroy the internal files was revealed by Philip Shenon in A Cruel and Shocking Act (2013). He relied upon interviews with Goldberg.)
Time Out: The Warren Commission at Work
We shall now take a look at how the Warren Commission and its staff tackled a major obstacle.
Two FBI memos on an April 14 conference
April 15, 1964
To: Mr. Callahan
From: L.J. Gauthier
Subject: Assassination of President John F. Kennedy
Examination of Visual Aids by President's Commission
Reference memo Gauthier to Callahan 4-7-64
members of the President's Commission and specialists of the armed
services, Dr.s Humes, Heany, Fink, Light and Olivia (ph.) attended a
conference on 4-14-64 for purposes of reviewing motion pictures and
slides of the assassination site. Representatives of the Secret Service
and FBI were present to assist in projecting the film and the use of
the scale model.
Dr. Humes, U.S. Navy Commander, who performed the autopsy on the President, appeared to lead the discussion throughout the 4-hour session. All of his associates were generally in agreement with previous findings of the Commission as to where shots 1, 2, and 3 approximately occurred.
The most revealing information brought out by the doctors is as follows:
That Shot 1 struck the President high in the right shoulder area,
penetrating the torso near the base of the neck damaging the flesh of
the throat but not tearing the throat wall. This bullet, according to
the doctors, continued and entered Governor Connally's right shoulder,
emerging below the right nipple. The velocity of the missile, according
to the doctors, apparently was snagged in the coat and shirt,
eventually falling out on Connally's stretcher.
2. That Shot 2 struck the wrist of the Governor, continuing on into his thigh.
That Shot 3 struck the right side of the President's head, carrying
much bone and brain tissue away, leaving a large cavity. There is
nothing controversial about where Shot 3 occurred inasmuch as the
Zapruder movie indicates with much clarity where this happened.
Heretofore it was the opinion of the Commission that Shot 1 had only hit the President, that Shot 2 had entered the Governor's right shoulder area penetrating his torso through the chest area emerging and again entering the wrist and on into his leg.
Staff attorneys of the Commission extensively questioned the doctors concerning their conclusions and their views were made a matter of record by Attorney Melvin Eisenberg.
Mr. Eisenberg advised that Governor Connally would be in Washington on Tuesday April 21, 1964, to assist the Commission in describing as to where the three shots occurred and that he, Eisenberg, would request that Shaneyfelt and Gauthier be available to assist them in handling visual aids while the Governor's views are obtained.
Mr. Eisenberg also inquired whether Special Agent Shaneyfelt of the FBI Laboratory, Special Agent John Howlett of the Secret Service and Gauthier would be able to arrange for a re-enactment of the shooting scene in Dallas using the data collected by the Commission, to make movies of the areas where each shot occurred using Zapruder's camera, to have people simulate the positions of the occupants of the President's car in a car similar to the one used by the President, which would be furnished by the Secret Service, to take ground measurements from the Texas School Book Depository from each points where shots occurred to determine the distances between gun muzzle and target, etc.
Mr. Eisenberg inquired as to whether I had any suggestions concerning his request. He was advised that, of course, the FBI would do whatever possible to assist in this matter; however, it was felt that as he, Eisenberg, had a good working knowledge of what the Commission desired it would appear to me to be the advantage to the Commission if he, Eisenberg, would be present in Dallas to insure the development of the desired technical data. He and his immediate superior, Attorney Norman Redlich, agreed to this suggestion. Without saying as much, it was felt that considerable publicity will definitely stem from this type of operation in Dallas and a representative of the Commission should be present to handle the inquiries of the press concerning the fact that this was a Commission field operation and not an operation of the FBI or Secret Service.
Mr. Eisenberg stated he would make his proposal for this field trip known to the members of the Commission recommending that the FBI and Secret Service assist the Commission's legal staff in gathering on-site data relating to the assassination of President John F. Kennedy.
RECOMMENDATION: None--for information only
SEE ADDENDUM PAGE THREE:
ADDENDUM: AHB:hw 4-15-64
It is questionable what the Commission expects to gain by an additional re-enactment of the scene of the assassination, bearing in mind that Secret Service has already gone through this exercise at least once, and Inspector Gauthier made actual models of the assassination area. It is inevitable that there will be considerable publicity attendant to the proposed re-enactment of the scene.
It is our opinion that it would be undesirable for the FBI to become involved as the speed of the car, protection measures, etc, were the basic responsibility of the Secret Service at the time. We would prefer not to become identified with the actual scene and happenings at the assassination in the minds of the public.
It is recommended that Inspector Malley advise Mr. Rankin that this proposal appears to be without merit; that the FBI has done its utmost to be of assistance by providing models of the area, technical data, and technical advice in assisting the Commission to interpret events as they occurred. Mr. Malley should advise Rankin that we suggest that if such a re-enactment of the scene is considered desirable by the Commission, it should be carried out by Secret Service which has already gone through this exercise at least once.
To: Mr. Belmont
From: A. Rosen
Subject: Assassination of President Kennedy
Request of the President's Commission
In accordance with the request of the President's Commission, Bureau personnel, including Mr. Shaneyfelt of the the Laboratory, Mr. Gauthier of the Exhibits section, and Mr. Malley were present at which time certain slides printed from the Abraham Zapruder movie film depicting the assassination of President Kennedy, which were obtained by the Bureau from "Life" Magazine, were shown. Also present at the Commission office were the following:
Commander James J. Humes, Director of Laboratories, Navy Medical School, U.S. Naval Hospital, Bethesda, Maryland;
Commander J. Thornton Boswell, Chief Pathologist, U.S. Navy Medical School, Bethesda;
Pierre A. Finck, Chief of Wound Ballistics Branch, Pathology Branch of
the Armed Forces Institute of Pathology, Washington, D.C.
Dr. A.G. Olivier, Chief of Wound Ballistics Branch, Edgewood Arsenal;
Dr. F.W. Light, Jr., Deputy Chief, Biophysics Division, and Chief of Wound Assessment Branch, Edgewood Arsenal.
The purpose of the showing of this film, as it developed during the meeting, was to give the doctors present an opportunity to see the actual movie of the shooting of the President as well as the slides which had been made which were much clearer than the actual movies. The Commission desired the doctors present in order to obtain from them their views concerning the actual manner in which the President was shot.
During this session Commander James J. Humes advanced the theory that the first shot entered the President's body in the rear in the neck region a few inches below the head and followed a pattern through the neck and exited in the front without encountering any bone or other objects which slowed the bullet to any degree. Commander Humes was of the opinion the bullet continued and struck Governor Connally in the back on the right-hand side below the shoulder and exited on the right-hand side of Governor Connally in the chest area. Commander Humes stated that here again, based on medical reports received from doctors in Texas who examined Governor Connally, the bullet met with no serious obstruction and passed through the body, merely grazing one of the rib bones. It was Commander Humes' opinion that the bullet from the first shot apparently lodged in some manner in the clothing of Governor Connally, and this bullet is the one which was found on the stretcher on which Governor Connally was brought to Parkland Hospital in Dallas, Texas. Commander Humes states this bullet was not damaged in any way and it is for this reason he feels that the first shot definitely passed through both the body of the President and Governor Connally.
explaining his feelings concerning this theory, Commander Humes stated
that another shot is believed to have hit the right wrist of Governor
Connally with such an impact that it caused the bullet to break into
many fragments and he noted that many fragments were found in the right
wrist area of Governor Connally as well as in the thigh of the left leg.
Relative to the third shot which was fired, which based on the photographic material available is believed to be the one which hit the President's head, Commander Humes advised that there is no question that this bullet separated into many fragments upon impact and many fragments were found in the skull area of the President. He noted that one fragment had apparently struck the front windshield from the inside inasmuch as the examination of the windshield did detect some lead deposit where an object had struck the inside of the windshield. Commander Humes states that the fragment which struck the windshield could have been from this shot which struck the President's head or could have been a fragment from the shot which hit Governor Connally's wrist.
The other doctors present did not completely confirm the theory of Commander Humes but felt, based on their review of the pictures, noting the movements of Governor Connally in the President's automobile and the general location of the occupants in the car, that there was a possibility this theory was correct.
Staff members of the Commission gave no indication what additional action they planned relative to this theory. It is noted that any comments made in the past by the Bureau relative to the shots that struck the President and Governor Connally were based completely on medical reports furnished the Bureau by Doctors at Parkland Hospital and the results of the autopsy of (sic) the U.S.Naval Hospital, Bethesda, Maryland.
The foregoing is submitted for information.
Melvin Eisenberg's Memo on the April 14 conference
April 22, 1964
MEMORANDUM FOR THE RECORD
FROM: Melvin A. Eisenberg
SUBJECT: Conference of April 14, 1964, to determine which frames in the Zapruder movies show the impact of the first and second bullets.
On April 14, 1964,
a conference was held to determine which frames in the Zapruder film
portray the instants at which the first and second bullets struck. Present
were: Commander James J. Humes, Director of Laboratories of the Naval
Medical School, Bethesda, Maryland; Commander J. Thorton Boswell, Chief
Pathologist, Naval Medical School, Bethesda; Lt. Col. Pierre A. Finck,
Chief of Wound Ballistics Pathology Branch, Armed Forces Institute of
Pathology; Dr. F.W. Light, Jr. Deputy Chief of the Biophysics Division
at Edgewood Arsenal, Maryland, and Chief of the Wound Assessment Branch
of the Biophysics Division; Dr. Olivier, Chief of the Wound Ballistics
Branch of the Biophysics Division at Edgewood Arsenal; Messrs. Malley,
Gauthier, Shaneyfelt, and two other unidentified agents of the FBI;
Messrs. Kelley and Howlett of the Secret Service; and Messrs. Redlich,
Specter and Eisenberg of the Commission staff.
A screening was held of the Zapruder film and of slides prepared by LIFE from the film. Each slide corresponded with a separate frame of film, beginning with frame 171. The consensus of the meeting was as follows:
The President had been definitely hit by frames 224-225,when he emerges
from behind a sign with his hands clutching his throat.
(b) The reaction shown in frames 224-225 may have started at an earlier point - possibly as early as frame 199 (when there appears to be some jerkiness in his movement) or, with a higher degree of possibility, at frames 204-206 (where his right elbow appears to be raised to an artificially high position).
If the reaction did not begin at 199 or 204-206, it probably began
during the range of frames during which the President is hidden from
Zapruder’s camera by a sign, namely, frames 215-24.
cc:Mr. Rankin Mr Belin
Mr. Willens Mr. Specter
Mr. Redlich Mr. Eisenberg
(d) The President may have been struck by the first bullet as much as two seconds before any visible reaction began. In all likelihood, however, the maximum delay between impact and reaction would be under one second, and it is possible that the reaction was instantaneous. Putting this in terms of frames, the President may have been struck as much as 36 frames before any visible reaction is seen. If the visible reaction begins at 199, the President may have been struck as early as 163, if the visible reaction begins at 204-206, he may have been strtuck as early as 168-170, if the visible reaction begins while the President is behind the sign, he may have been struck as early as 179-188.
(e) The velocity of the first bullet would have been little diminished by its passage through the President. Therefore,
if Governor Connally was in the path of the bullet it would have struck
him and (probably) caused the wounds he sustained in his chest cavity.
Strong indications that this occurred are provided by the facts that
(1) the bullet recovered from Governor Connally's stretcher does not
appear to have penetrated a wrist and (2) if the first bullet did not
hit Governor Connally, it should have ripped up the car, but apparently
did not. Since the bullet recovered from the
Governor's stretcher does not appear to have penetrated a wrist, if he
was hit by this (the first) bullet, he was probably also hit by the
(f) If Governor Connally was hit by the first and second bullets, it is impossible to say definitively at what point, or by what point, he had been hit by the second bullet.
Governor Connally seems to straighten up at frames 224-226, and may be
reacting to a wound at this point. (If so, it would be a wound from the
(h) Governor Connally seems to begin showing an expression of anguish around 242. If he was hit with two bullets, this expression may have resulted from his second wound.
(i) After Governor Connally straightened up at frames 224-26, he starts to turn to the right. As a result of this turn, at no time after frame 236 was Governor Connally in a position such that a bullet fired from the probable site of the assassin would have caused the wound in his chest cavity which Governor Connally sustained--that is, after frame 236, the Governor presented a side view to the assassin rather than a back view.*
(j) It is not possible to say whether prior to 236 Governor Connally was ever in a position such that one bullet could have caused the five wounds he sustained.
(k) As in the case of the President, Governor Connally could have conceivably been hit two seconds before he begins to react, but the maximum likely time interval between hit and reaction is one second, and the reaction may have been instantaneous. The likelihood of an instantaneous reaction is particularly great in regard to the wrist wound, since pain is usually felt more quickly in a limb than in the torso.
*/ Mr. Specter disagrees with this, and feels the Governor was in position to receive the chest wound up to 242.
Analysis of the Memos on the April 14 Conference
These memos tell us quite a bit about the mindset of the Warren Commission attorneys and FBI. The stated reason for the conferences—to decide the impact times and locations of the first two shots—reveals a built-in bias. The eyewitness evidence available so far suggests that the head shot was the second shot heard by most witnesses, and yet this inconvenient truth is not even to be considered. The attitude of everyone at the conference seems to be that “We have a piece of film that may show three separate hits. Kennedy shows a reaction between 199 and 224, Connally shows one between 224 and 236, and Kennedy is hit at 313. Therefore, those are our three shots." Never mind that a number of witnesses heard a shot after the head shot. Never mind that the majority of witnesses indicated that the last two shots were bunched together. Never mind that our study of the rifle indicates that the first two shots would have to have been at least 51 frames apart…
The memos reveal a few other wet spots on the slow-motion whitewash. On “d” of the memo by Eisenberg, he writes that everyone agrees that Kennedy could have been hit 2 full seconds, as early as frame 163, before he reacted. This is nonsense. NOT ONE eyewitness reported a two second delay in Kennedy’s response to the first shot. Even worse, Kennedy is actively waving and smiling at the crowd after frame 163. It hardly seems likely he would be waving and smiling at the crowd if he’d even heard a loud shot, let alone been hit by one. It seems likely, therefore, that these 2 seconds are a “gift” to Arlen Specter, to give him some wiggle room should he need more time to have the shots make sense.
That Specter was looking for this wiggle room is
demonstrated by his lone dissent in the memo’s “i”. Here he is bucking the crowd in an effort to pick up just 6 more frames.
Is it just a coincidence that by Specter taking 163 as the earliest time for a
hit on Kennedy, and by his insisting on 242 as the latest time for a hit on
Connally, a first shot 163, second shot 242, and final shot 313 shooting
scenario is made possible, and that this would place the last two shots closer
together than the first two? Is it
possible that Specter, who had counted interviewing all the bystanders as one
of his earliest objectives was, in fact, acutely aware that the scenario accepted
by the others after watching the Zapruder film failed to match the testimony of
the eyewitnesses? Was he, in fact,
looking for ways to make it all fit?
Point “e” in Eisenberg's memo is also intriguing. Eisenberg writes: “if the first bullet did not hit Governor Connally, it should have ripped up the car, but apparently did not.” As the limousine was cleaned up within days of the shooting, before anyone from the Warren Commission could ever get a look at its seats, Eisenberg’s skepticism is well-placed. While the Warren Report criticized the Secret Service and FBI’s performance in protecting the President, it offered few if any criticisms about their subsequent investigations of the assassination. Eisenberg’s “apparently,” however, can be taken as an indication that, behind the scenes, the Warren Commission’s counsel were less than pleased with the Secret Service’s willful destruction of evidence in the limousine.
The Gauthier memo to Callahan is also quite interesting in that it makes no secret of the FBI's deep-rooted apathy toward investigating the case. This apathy is first revealed by Gauthier's mention of a Dr. Heany, but no mention at all of Dr. Boswell; this suggests he wrote down the wrong name. It is also intriguing that Gauthier fails to report the commission's interpretation of the shooting scenario, which is quite different than the FBI's, and even notes that "There is nothing controversial about where Shot 3 occurred inasmuch as the Zapruder movie indicates with much clarity where this happened," knowing full well he'd previously placed this shot 40 feet further down the street than now proposed by the Commission. This apathy is further documented in the addendum, in which Assistant Director AHB (Alan Belmont) makes clear that the FBI feels quite comfortable with their own theory on the shooting, and would prefer not be associated with the Secret Service's solution, or the Commission's conclusion. As he specifies that establishing the speed of the limo is beyond the scope of the FBI's investigation, when this question is central to the question of conspiracy v. no-conspiracy, it seems likely he has concerns over the political ramifications of the Secret Service's having erred and driven the limousine too slow, and that this outweighs his interest in establishing if Oswald could have fired the shots as purported.
Assistant Director Alex Rosen's memo is also intriguing. Since this memo reads like a first person account, it would appear he was one of the two "unidentified agents" mentioned in Eisenberg's memo. He, as Gauthier, fails to note at which frames the attendees felt Kennedy had been hit. But he evades much more. While Gauthier admits Humes said the bullet entered "high in the right shoulder" Rosen instead claims the bullet entered the "neck region." Hmm. Mighty curious, that. And that's not the only head-scratcher. For some strange reason, Rosen not only fails to acknowledge that Eisenberg wants the FBI's help in performing a re-enactment, he claims "Staff members of the Commission gave no indication what additional action they planned relative to this theory."
This suggests either that the agents in attendance failed to tell Rosen of Eisenberg's plans, or that Rosen himself was in attendance and was trying to hide this from his immediate superior Belmont, and, by extension, FBI Director Hoover.
Excerpts from an April 16 memo of Arlen Specter
April 16, 1964
To: Mr. J. Lee Rankin
From: Mr. Arlen Specter
Subject: Remaining Work in Area 1.
1. Obtain accounts of the assassination from the eyewitness celebrities
2. Obtain further medical evidence
a. Photographs and x-rays of the autopsy should be examined to make certain of the accuracy of the artist's drawings of President Kennedy's wounds.
3. Plot the
position of the President's automobile at the times of the three shots
to calculate, as precisely as possible, distances and angles.
4. Present testimony on the clothing of President Kennedy and Governor Connally, and perhaps on the President's automobile.
5. Review and correct transcripts of my witnesses before the Commission.
6. Review, correct, and summarize transcripts of the depositions I have taken.
Analysis of Specter's April 16 Memo
It's clear from Specter's April 16 memo that he has no interest in interviewing the closest bystanders to the shooting, very few of whom have testified before the commission, and is only interested in interviewing the "celebrity" witnesses, whom he identifies as Mr. and Mrs. Johnson, Mrs. Kennedy, Governor and Mrs. Connally, Senator Yarborough, Clifford Carter, David Powers, and Kenneth O'Donnell. This suggests, then, that he is not interested in determining what happened as much as he's interested in obtaining accounts of the shooting from the people whom the Washington press might expect him to interview. Point 2 is also of interest, as it reveals that Specter does not trust the Rydberg drawings to be accurate, and would like to have their accuracy double-checked. Point 3 is also intriguing, as it does more than suggest that Specter is unsatisfied with the mock-up of Dealey Plaza provided by the FBI, and would like to perform some sort of re-enactment.
The issues raised in Points 2 and 3 would rise and rise again.
FBI memo on the April 21 conference
April 22, 1964
TO: Mr. Conrad
FROM: W.D. Griffith
SUBJECT: Assassination of President Kennedy
Request of the President's Commission
the request of the President's Commission, Inspector J. R. Malley of
the General Investigative Division, Inspector L.J. Gauthier of the
Administrative Division and Special Agent Lyndal L. Shaneyfelt of the
Laboratory on 4/21/64 were at the Commission for a review of
the Zapruder film of the assassination. Purpose of this review was to
determine from Governor and Mrs. John Connally, who were present,
whether or not it could be established at what point in the film the
Governor was shot.
The following individuals were also present:
Dr. Gregory and Dr. Shaw who examined Governor Connally at Parkland Hospital in Dallas.
Dr. F.W. Light, Jr., and Dr. A.G. Olivier from the Wound Assessment and Wound Ballistics Department of Edgewood Arsenal
Dr. Joseph Dolce, consultant to the Biophysics Division of Edgewood Arsenal
It is noted that representatives of the Secret Service who have attended past reviews were not present.
The principal fact brought out by the Governor and Mrs. Connally was their selection of a portion of the film where "he has been hit"; however, they could not pin point the exact frame of the motion picture film where the bullet struck. The portion of the sequence they selected is only one-fourth to one-half second after the approximate point where the President was believed to have been shot at the base of the neck. Allowing for variations in reaction times, this lends support to the theory that one bullet passed through the President's neck, the Governor's chest, hit in the Governor's leg, and lodged in his clothing.
Both the Governor and Mrs. Connally stated that they heard the first shot and the second shot was the one that hit the Governor, however, neither of them saw the President between the first and third shots or can state that the President was actually hit by the first shot.RECOMMENDATION: None. For information only.
Melvin Eisenberg's memo on the April 21 conference
April 22, 1964
MEMORANDUM FOR THE RECORD
FROM: Melvin A. Eisenberg
SUBJECT: Conference of April 21, 1964, to determine which frames in the Zapruder movies show the impact of the first and second bullets.
On Tuesday, April 21, 1964,
a conference was held to determine which frames in the Zapruder film
portray the instants at which the first and second bullets struck.
Present were: Dr. F.W. Light, Jr., Deputy Chief of the Biophysics Division and Chief of the Wound Assessment Branch of the Biophysics Division at Edgewood Arsenal, Maryland; Dr. Olivier, Chief of the Wound Ballistics Branch of the Biophysics Division at Edgewood Arsenal, Maryland; Dr. Joseph Dolce, Consultant to the Biophysics Division at Edgewood Arsenal; Dr. Charles F. Gregory and Dr. Robert Shaw of Parkland Hospital, Dallas, Texas; Messrs. Geuthier, Shaneyfelt, and one other unidentified agent of the FBI; and Messrs. Redlich, Specter, Belin and Eisenberg. Later in the proceedings, Governor and Mrs. Connally, Mr. Rankin and Mr. McCloy joined the conference.
A screening was held of the Zapruder film and of slides prepared by LIFE from the films. Each slide corresponded with a separate frame of film, beginning with frame 171. The consensus of the meeting was as follows:
The President had been definitely hit by frame 224-225 when he emerges
from behind a sign with his hands clutching at his throat.
(b) After the Governor Connally straightened up at frames 224-225 he starts to turn to the right. As
a result of this turn, at no time after frame 236 was Governor Connally
in a position such that a bullet fired from the probable site of the
assassin would have caused the wound in the chest cavity which Governor
Connally sustained -- that is, after frame 236 the Governor presented a
side view to the assassin rather than a back view. (1) Mr. Specter
In many frames up to 250, the Governor's wrist is held in a position
which exposed him to the type of wrist wounds he actually received.
(d) After viewing the films and slides, the Governor was of the opinion that he had been hit by frame 231.
(e) The Governor stated that after being hit, he looked to his right, looked to his left, and then turned to his right. He felt the President might have been hit by frame 190. He heard only two shots and felt sure that the shots he heard were the first and third shots. He is positive that he was hit after he heard the first shot, i.e., by the second shot, and by that shot only.
In a discussion after the conference, Drs. Light and Dolce expressed themselves as being very strongly of the opinion that Connally had been hit by two different bullets, principally on the ground that the bullet recovered from Connally's stretcher could not have broken his radius without having suffered more distortion. Dr. Oliver withheld a conclusion until he has had the opportunity to make tests on animal tissue and bone with the actual rifle.
Analysis of the memos on the April 21 conference
The memos on the April 21 meeting are also quite revealing. While
Eisenberg noted the various impressions of the moment of impact on both
Kennedy and Connally, the FBI agents in attendance once again failed to record anyone's thoughts on this subject, and instead spun the information to support the status quo. As a result, Connally's belief he
was hit a quarter second after it's painfully obvious Kennedy was hit
does not cast one bit of doubt on the single-assassin conclusion, but
instead "lends support" to the single-bullet theory holding they were
hit at the same time. This is more than a bit short-sighted. To make matters
worse, the Griffith memo concludes by claiming neither Connally nor Mrs.
Connally "can state that the President was actually hit by the first
shot." This is grossly deceptive. Eisenberg's
memo reflects that Connally felt the President was hit by the first
shot. Far worse, Mrs Connally testified to the Commission just after
the conference and related "I
heard a noise...I turned over my right shoulder and looked back, and
saw the President as he had both hands at his neck...he made no
utterance, no cry. I saw no blood, no anything. It was just sort of
nothing, the expression on his face, and he just sort of slumped down."
She was thereby testifying that Kennedy was hit by the first shot. So why the
deception? Why pretend the Connallys would be open-minded to the
contention the President and Governor were hit by same bullet with the
second shot, when Mrs. Connally had just testified that this wasn't
That Griffith or the man reporting to him was trying to hide problems with the theory is supported as well by his failure to mention Dr.s Dolce and Light's fervent belief Connally was hit by more than one bullet. Only the week before, we should recall, Dr. Humes pushed that Connally's back wound and wrist wound were brought about by separate bullets, and now here were two top wound ballistics experts claiming the same thing. But is this reported? No, not at all. Eisenberg's memo notes as well that Connally had insisted he was hit by but one bullet. But is this reported? No, not at all.
But the FBI's agents weren't the only ones failing to put on the record what they didn't want to hear... After complicating matters by insisting Connally must have been hit by two bullets, Dr. Dolce was cut out of the loop and never asked to testify.
(In 1976, Dr. Dolce wrote the HSCA and complained about his treatment. He noted that he was the pre-eminent expert on wound ballistics present at the 4-21-64 conference, and yet his impressions were ignored. He also complained that his colleagues, Dr.s Olivier and Dziemian, testified in a manner inconsistent with the tests they'd performed. He noted that the entrance wounds were smaller than the exit wounds on all the cadaver wrists they'd fired upon, but that Dr. Olivier ultimately accepted the word of Connally's physician, Dr.Gregory, that the larger wound in Connally's wrist was the entrance wound. Dolce concluded his letter by listing his interpretation of the shooting scenario: "1) The first bullet went through JFK's neck and this is the so-called pristine bullet. 2) The second bullet went through Governor Connally's chest and wrist and the film clearly demonstrates Connally's wrist against his chest wall. I feel that this is the bullet that is missing. 3) The third bullet struck JFK in the head and one fragment of this bullet struck Connally in the left thigh and also struck the windshield of the car." Apparently, Dolce just couldn't grasp that this scenario was, at least in the eyes of the commission, too reliant on Oswald's shooting ability, as it necessitated two shots being fired incredibly close together... Ironically, the HSCA, which ultimately concluded that Oswald WAS able to get two shots off within two seconds, also ignored Dolce; they failed to call him to testify, or even consult with their medical panel.)
Melvin Eisenberg and Norman Redlich memos proposing a re-enactment
April 24, 1964
TO: Messrs. Redlich, Specter, Belin
FROM: Melvin A. Eisenberg
SUBJECT: Determination of the Trajectories of the Three Shots
1. My memos of the conferences of April 14, 1964, and April 21, 1964, designate the frames in the Zapruder film which portray or may portray the impact of the first and second bullets. My memo of earlier conferences designated the frames in the Zapruder, Nix, and Muchmore films which portray the impact of the third shot. In order to translate these determinations into actual distances, it appears to me to be necessary to go to Dallas.
2. The first step to take in Dallas is to place viewfinders on the spots at which Zapruder, Nix and Muchmore were standing, and place a replica car, bearing six occupants on Elm Street. The replica car should then be positioned so that, viewed through the viewfinders, the relationship between the actual car and the landmarks on November 22, as shown in the designated frames.
3. Pictures should be made showing the car (positioned under paragraph 2) from the following vantage points: (a) the spots at which
the photographers were standing; (b) a point in the TSBD approximating
the point at which the muzzle of the rifle was located;and (c) several
point on the overpass. Still pictures, and
moving pictures taken through the cameras actually used by Zapruder,
Nix, and Muchmore should be taken from vantage point (a). Two sets of still pictures, one through a 4x telescopic sight, should be taken from vantage points (b) and (c).
4. Tapes should then be laid on Elm Street over the points or ranges at which the President and Governor were located when the three shots struck. Each
tape should be marked to show every designated frame, and at the first
tape should also be marked at the point where the President first
became visible from vantage point (b) after emerging from behind the
tree. On-the-street measurements should then be
taken of the distances (i) from the marked points on each tape to the
marked points on every other tape and (ii) from the marked points on
each tape to the mid-point of a line connecting the southeast and
southwest curbs of Elm street.
position of the tapes and all marked points thereon should then be
mapped on a survey, and the lengths of the various possible
trajectories should be measured by the surveyor on a trigonometric
basis, measuring from the point at which the muzzle was probably
located to the beginning, end, and marked points of each tape. The surveyor should also determine the angle each trajectory makes with the horizontal. Copies of the surveyor's work-sheets and calculations should be sent to us.
6. The steps outlined herein are not to be deemed as exclusive. In
particular, an attempt should be made to photograph various relative
positions of the persons simulating the President and Governor Connally
with a view to determining whether the first bullet probably did or did
not hit the Governor as well as the President.
April 27, 1964
TO: J. Lee Rankin
FROM: Norman Redlich
The purpose of this memorandum is to explain the reasons why certain members of the staff feel that it is important to take certain on-site photographs in connection with the location of the approximate points at which the three bullets struck the occupants of the Presidential limousine.
Our report presumably will state that the President was hit by the first bullet, Governor Connally by the second, and the President by the third and fatal bullet. The report will also conclude that the bullets were fired by one person located in the sixth floor southeast corner window of the TSBD building.
As our investigation now stands, however, we have not shown that these events could possibly have occurred in the manner suggested above. All we have is a reasonable hypothesis which appears to be supported by the medical testimony but which has not been checked out against the physical facts at the scene of the assassination.
Our examination of the Zapruder films shows that the fatal third shot struck the President at a point which we can locate with reasonable accuracy on the ground. We can do this because we know the exact frame (no. 313) in the film at which the third shot hit the President and we know the location of the photographer. By lining up fixed objects in the movie frame where this shot occurs we feel that we have determined the approximate location of this shot. This can be verified by a photo of the same spot from the point where Zapruder was standing.
We have the testimony of Governor and Mrs. Connally that the Governor was hit with the second bullet at a point which we probably cannot fix with precision. We feel we have established, however, with the help of medical testimony, that the shot which hit the Governor did not come after frame 240 on the Zapruder film. The governor feels that it came around 230, which is certainly consistent with our observations of the film and with the doctor's testimony. Since the President was shot at frame 313, this would leave a time of at least 4 seconds between the two shots, certainly ample for even an inexperienced marksman.
Prior to our last viewing of the films with Governor Connally we had assumed that the President was hit while he was concealed behind the sign which occurs between frames 215-225. We have expert testimony to the effect that a skilled marksman would require a minimum 2 seconds between shots with this rifle. Since the camera operates at 18 1/3 frames per second, there would have to be a minimum of 40 frames between shots.
It is apparent, therefore, that if Governor Connally was hit even as late as frame 240, the President would have to have been hit no later than frame 190 and probably even earlier. We have not yet examined the assassination scene to determine whether the assassin in fact could have shot the President prior to frame 190. We could locate the position on the ground which corresponds to this frame and it would then be our intent to establish by photography that the assassin could have fired the first shot at the President prior to this point. Our intention is not to establish the point with complete accuracy, but merely to substantiate the hypothesis which underlies the conclusions that Oswald was the sole assassin.
I had always assumed that our final report would be accompanied by a surveyor's diagram which would indicate the appropriate location of the three shots. We certainly cannot prepare such a diagram without establishing that we are describing an occurrence which is physically possible. Our failure to do this will, in my opinion, place this Report in jeopardy since it is a certainty that others will examine the Zapruder films and raise the same questions which have been raised by our examination of the films. If we do not attempt to answer these questions with observable facts, others may answer them with facts which challenge our most basic assumptions, or with fanciful theories based on our unwillingness to test our assumptions by the investigatory methods available to us.
I should add that the facts which we now have in our
possession, submitted to us in separate reports from the FBI
and Secret Service, are totally incorrect and, if left
uncorrected, will present a completely misleading picture.
It may well be that this project should be undertaken by
the FBI and Secret Service with our assistance instead of
being done as a staff project. The important thing is that
the project be undertaken expeditiously.
Analysis of the Eisenberg and Redlich memos proposing a re-enactment
These memos suggest that Specter did some talking after the showing of the Zapruder film, and convinced the others there were real problems with the shooting scenario if Connally was hit before frame 242. Their desire to test out the various scenarios is admirable. There is more (or less) to the story, however.
On point number 6 of the Eisenberg memo there is a curious statement. While it was his hope to measure the vertical angles into the car from the purported sniper’s nest (point 5) he expresses no interest in measuring the cross-angle of a trajectory connecting Kennedy’s throat wound with Connally’s wound in his right armpit; instead, he states “an attempt should be made to photograph various relative positions of the persons simulating the President and Governor Connally with a view to determining whether the first bullet probably did or did not hit the Governor as well as the President.” Surprisingly, he fails to mention comparing the positions of the men in the Zapruder film and other images of the motorcade to these “various relative positions.” It seems apparent from this that he has no plans of seeing if the single-bullet theory is likely, only possible.
The Redlich memo confirms this impression, and is interesting
from start to finish. In the second
paragraph, he reveals that, as late as this date, almost 5 months after the
beginning of the Warren Commission, the intent of the Commission is to rubber-stamp
the FBI and Secret Service conclusions. In the third paragraph, he tells Rankin,
however, that the Zapruder film shows these conclusions were wrong. In the fourth paragraph, he makes the same
mistake as the FBI and Secret Service, however, and assumes with little basis
that the third shot was the head shot at frame 313. In the fifth paragraph, he displays his
ignorance of the eyewitness evidence by accepting the testimony of the
Connallys as the gospel truth. Ironically, by
later accepting the single-bullet theory, he would show a distinct lack of
faith. In the sixth paragraph, he
incorrectly represents Frazier’s testimony as saying that a talented shooter
could get off two shots in 40 frames, but correctly adds 10 frames to what
could be expected of Oswald. In the
seventh paragraph, he spills the beans, and admits that the whole proposed re-enactment
is not to establish what DID happen, or even what most likely happened, but “merely
to substantiate the hypothesis which underlies the conclusions that Oswald was
the sole assassin.” In other words, he
is telling Rankin not to worry, that no one has any intention of upsetting anybody
by saying Oswald had assistance, but that in order for the Oswald-did-it theory
to stick they would need to come up with a better story.
"better story" was the single-bullet theory. It's mighty curious that
Eisenberg's memo to his fellow counsel ends with his suggestion they
test the feasibility of this theory, but Redlich's memo to Rankin never
raises the issue, and pretends instead that the re-enactment will be
testing whether or not Kennedy could have been shot prior to frame 190.
From this, we might conclude that the FBI was not the only house
divided, with junior members trying to get senior members to go along
with Specter's theory.
Howard Willens' Diary Entry on a 4-28-64 Meeting With the FBI and Secret Service
The meeting went on for more than two hours, certainly twice as long as was necessary to set forth the issues. Every time Mr. Specter tried to emphasize what the important issues were, Mr. Eisenberg chose to elaborate and complicate the issues and suggested that he at least wanted to make more precise judgments concerning location and timing. Mr. Rankin emphasized the inability of the Commission to make such precise judgments. Every time Mr. Rankin made such an observation Mr. Malley confirmed this and generally expressed skepticism about the entire project. I expressed myself near the end of the meeting as being in favor of asking the FBI and/or the Secret Service to return to Dallas to ascertain an answer to the single question stated above. At the end of the meeting Mr. Malley informed us that the official Bureau position was opposed to such further investigation but that if the Commission were to request it the Bureau would consider doing the work. It was decided that a letter should be drafted requesting the work be done by the FBI, upon the basis of which Mr. Rankin could again approach the Chief Justice on the subject.
April 30 memo of Arlen Specter
April 30, 1964
TO: Mr. J. Lee Rankin
FROM: Arlen Specter
SUBJECT: Autopsy Photographs and X-rays of President John F. Kennedy
In my opinion it is indispensable that we obtain the photographs and x-rays of President Kennedy's autopsy for the following reasons:
1. THE COMMISSION SHOULD DETERMINE WITH CERTAINTY WHETHER THE SHOTS CAME FROM THE REAR. Someone from the Commission should review the films to corroborate the autopsy surgeons' testimony that the holes on the President's back and head had the characteristics of points of entry. None of the doctors at Parkland Hospital in Dallas observed the hole in the President's back or the small hole in the lower portion of his head. With all the outstanding controversy about the direction of the shots, there must be independent viewings of the films to verify testimony which has come only from Government doctors.
2. THE COMMISSION SHOULD DETERMINE WITH CERTAINTY WHETHER THE SHOTS CAME FROM ABOVE. It is essential for the Commission to know precisely the location of the bullet wound on the President's back so that the angle may be calculated. The artist's drawing prepared at Bethesda (Commission Exhibit #385) shows a slight angle of declination. It is hard, if not impossible, to explain such a slight angle of decline unless the President was farther down Elm Street than we have heretofore believed. Before coming to any conclusion on this, the angles will have to be calculated at the scene; and for this, the exact point of entry should be known.
3. THE COMMISSION SHOULD DETERMINE WITH CERTAINTY THAT THERE ARE NO MAJOR VARIATIONS BETWEEN THE FILMS AND THE ARTIST'S DRAWINGS. Commission Exhibits Nos. 385, 386, and 388 were made from the recollections of the autopsy surgeons as told to the artist. Some day someone may compare the films with the artist's drawings and find a significant error which might substantially affect the essential testimony and the Commission's conclusions. In any event, the Commission should not rely on hazy recollections, especially in view of the statement in the autopsy report (Commission Exhibit #387) that:
"The complexity of those fractures and the fragments thus produced tax satisfactory verbal description and are better appreciated in the photographs and roentgenograms which are prepared."
When Inspector Kelly talked to Attorney General Kennedy, he most probably did not fully understand all the reasons for viewing the films. According to Inspector Kelly, the Attorney General did not categorically decline to make them available, but only wanted to be satisfied that they were really necessary. I suggest that the Commission transmit to the Attorney General its reasons for wanting the films and the assurances that they will be viewed only by the absolute minimum number of people from the Commission for the sole purpose of corroborating (or correcting) the artist's drawings, with the film not to become a part of the Commission's records.
Excerpt from the April 30, 1964 transcript of the Executive
Session of the President’s Commission on the Assassination of President
Kennedy. (The Warren Commission).
Present: Chief Justice Earl Warren, Chairman; Senator John Sherman Cooper, member; John J. McCloy, member, Allen Dulles, member; J. Lee Rankin, General Counsel..
(Chairman Warren is going down a list of issues that need to be discussed.)
Warren: Five, autopsy pictures of President Kennedy.
Rankin: The staff feels that we should have some member of the Commission examine those pictures. We have a very serious problem in the record now that Dr. Humes testified, as you recall, that the bullet in his opinion probably passed through the President and then through Governor Connally. And we now have the testimony of Governor Connally that that couldn’t have happened. He is certain it didn’t happen. And that the bullet that struck him is one that did not hit the President…We also have some drawings of President Kennedy which are reconstructions by the men that participated in the autopsy. And these men have not seen these pictures of the autopsy, but they had these drawings made, and we don’t know whether these drawings conform to the pictures of the autopsy or not. Now I thought we could avoid having these pictures, possibly avoid these pictures being a part of the record, because the family has a strong feeling about them, and I think we should respect it insofar as can possibly be done, and carry out the work of the Commission—because they don’t want the President to be remembered in connection with those pictures. That is their basic thought. I know that the Commission would like to respect that and not have them in any way become a part of the records which the public would get to see. But I do feel that a doctor and some member of the Commission should examine them sufficiently so that they could report to the Commission that there is nothing inconsistent with the other findings in connection with the matter in those pictures. In that way we can avoid any question that we have passed anything up that the Commission should know or that we haven’t tried to take advantage of information that should be available to us.
Dulles: Would the people who made the pictures have access to these photographs—because they would be the ones to tell, as to whether the pictures were consistent with the drawings they made?
Rankin: We, they were made, as I understand it, under the supervision of the doctors conducting the autopsy. And so they just have never been developed because of the family’s wishes. And I think that the Attorney General would make them available now—although they were denied to us before because he said that he didn’t think there was a sufficient showing of our need. But upon a showing now, I think that he would recognize the need and permit that limited examination. And then I feel that in dealing with the Attorney General, however, we should make it plain to him that if the member of the Commission who examines them, with the doctor, feels the whole Commission should see them, that there would be that reservation—because I don’t know what might appear to some member of the Commission or the doctor in connection with them.
McCloy: There is this element. In the record there is an indication by the doctor that there was a certain—he would prefer to have the pictures in connection with the charts that he was representing to us. There was a certain little note of minor inadequacy in connection with the chart which he had, without the pictures.
Dulles: Which doctor was that?
Rankin: Humes—you remember it was the doctor that made the autopsy.
Dulles: Out at Bethesda?
Dulles: Yes, I remember that. As I recall the testimony, I think it was the doctor from Dallas.
Rankin: Dr. Gregory.
Dulles: The one who said that the bullet—I understood he said might have passed through President’s throat and then through Connally. But I didn’t think he said that he thought it did. I think he said he thought it might have. Is that correct?
Rankin: That is right.
Dulles: Could have.
McCloy: I thought the chief testimony on that came from the Bethesda doctor. I remember he said “I think I could show you this better on the photographs than I could through these charts.”
Rankin: That is right.
Warren: Well, I think you can work that out, Lee, to do that, but without putting those pictures in our record. We don’t want those in our record.
McCloy: Certainly not.
Warren: It would make it a morbid thing for all time to come.
Rankin: Is that effort to proceed in that manner, without having them in the record, and having an examination by the doctor and one of the members of the Commission satisfactory then?
Warren: Only for verification purposes. Yes, I think that would be all.
Dulles: By the doctor and a member of the Commission.
McCloy: Oh yes, you would need a doctor present to interpret it to you.
Warren: All right.
If there is nothing further on that item, the next is interview of Mrs.
Analysis of the April 30 memo of Arlen Specter and the April 30 executive session of the Warren Commission
These memos and the subsequent session of the Commission reveal that the Commission was not the blatant white-wash many believe it to be. Here, Specter, who took the testimony of the autopsists on 3-16, even though they’d been inexplicably denied the opportunity to compare their memories to the autopsy photos and x-rays they’d created, finally steps up and tries to do what’s right. In light of his previous and subsequent actions, these memos are incredibly ironic. In point number 2 of the April 30 memo, Specter mentions that the angle of descent in the drawing is smaller than expected, and is suggestive that Kennedy was further down the street than believed. This indicates that Specter is convinced that Kennedy was sitting upright in the car and was not leaning over when shot. The irony of this is that, on May 24, 1964 Specter would see an autopsy photo of the back wound that showed the bullet entrance to be two inches lower than the wound in the drawing, and on a flat trajectory with the neck wound, but would say NOTHING about this to the commissioners. In 1978, the HSCA would not only decide the bullet entrance was two inches lower than in the drawing, but that Kennedy was significantly closer to the sniper’s nest when shot. For Specter’s single-bullet theory to have taken place under these conditions Kennedy would have to have been leaning quite far forward when shot. Specter knew this wasn’t true, but once again, said nothing.
Point number 3 in the April 30 memo is especially ironic. Here Specter observes (accurately as it
turned out) that the inaccuracy of the drawings HE put into evidence may come
back to haunt the Commission later. He
admits “Commission Exhibits Nos. 385, 386, and 388 were
made from the recollections of the autopsy surgeons as told to the artist.”
This indicates that he knows measurements were not used. Specter prepared and
received Dr. Humes’ 3-16 testimony, in which he said “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.” And yet here Specter
admits to his boss Rankin that the drawings were based on recollections, not
measurements. Curiously, it appears that Specter knows Humes lied, but has
failed to tell the Commission as much.
Specter’s final paragraph is also
important, as it indicates his belief that Robert Kennedy will not interfere
with this inspection, and that Thomas Kelley of the Secret Service has
discussed it with Kennedy. In 1978, Nicholas Katzenbach testified before the
HSCA that he discussed the Warren Commission’s use of the autopsy materials
with Kennedy at one point, and that Kennedy gave his permission. Ironically, Specter told the doctors that it
was Kennedy who forbade them from seeing the photos before their testimony, and
they would repeat that story for many years to come, unaware that Kennedy had, in fact, granted them permission, once someone related to the commission had explained to him why it was necessary.
The April 30 executive session is even more revealing than Specter’s memo. Here, Rankin, McCloy, and Dulles argue for the necessity of having a DOCTOR review the photos, and Warren agrees. Warren even tells Rankin that he thinks it can be worked out where the photos are reviewed but not placed in the record. These statements take on added meaning when one considers what ultimately transpired.
Howard Willens' Diary Entry On a May 5 Conference Among the Warren Commission Staff
At the end of the day, prior to going home to vote, I joined a conference in Mr. Rankin’s office. Present were Mr. Rankin and Messrs. Belin, Redlich and Eisenberg. We were later joined by Mr. Ball and Mr. Stern. Most of the discussion centered about the need to return to Dallas for further investigative work to decide upon approximations of the distances and locations of the various shots. Mr. Rankin had not yet put this matter to the Chief Justice for decision. Mr. Belin expressed his strong view that our record on the firearms testimony, particularly as to the amount of time within which the shots could reasonably have been fired by Oswald, was not as good as we might have desired. In fact Mr. Belin stated that after reading our record on this subject he was inclined to believe that Oswald did not fire the three shots within the 5 1/2 second. Mr. Eisenberg, of course, took issue with this to some extent and stated that he believed that the testimony did show that it was possible for Oswald to have fired the three shots although it would have been a difficult assignment for someone with Oswald’s degree of marksmanship. Mr. Belin desired, and I concur, that further testimony on this subject be elicited particularly if the Dallas project is completed and produces some new facts which would be the basis upon which to conduct some additional tests.
Howard Willens' Diary Entry For May 6
On Wednesday, May 6, 1964, Mr. Belmont of the Federal Bureau of Investigation testified. I did not attend, among other reasons because apparently the Chief Justice had commented at my presence in the hearings the prior day. Sometime during the day, I believe in the morning, Mr. Rankin indicated that he had secured the approval of the Chief Justice for the Dallas project. During the day he tentatively decided that this work should be done in Dallas Monday and Tuesday, May 18 and 19. At the Chief Justice’s decision, however, Mr. Rankin was to take personal supervision of the project. He reserved decision as to whether anyone other than himself and Mr. Specter should be involved with the work on the scene.
May 7 letter of J. Lee Rankin to J. Edgar Hoover and May 12 memo of Arlen Specter
May 7, 1964
Mr. J. Edgar Hoover
Director, Federal Bureau of Investigation
Department of Justice
Washington, D.C. 20535
Dear Mr. Hoover,
This commission has been making a careful study of the various motion picture films taken at the scene of the assassination. In this project we have had the valuable assistance of members your Bureau, particularly Inspector James Malley, Inspector Leo Gauthier and Special Agent Lyndal A. Shaneyfelt. As a result of the information obtained from these films, the Commission would like the cooperation of your Bureau in the performance of certain additional investigation at the scene of the assassination.
I will personally be available to supervise this work and will have such other staff members present as may be deemed necessary. We would hope to be able to perform this work in Dallas on May 18 and May 19. The purpose of this letter is to set forth the steps which we feel are necessary to properly complete this project.
I. PROBABLE RANGES FROM WHICH FIRST TWO SHOTS OCCURRED
Our examination of the Zapruder films indicates that Governor Connally was hit at some point prior to frame 240. (All references to frames in the Zapruder films are on the basis of a numbering system worked out with the FBI personnel who have been working on this project). Doctors familiar with the Governor's wounds concluded that after frame 236 his body was not in a position to have received the wound from a projectile fired from the sixth floor southeast corner window of the Texas School Book Depository Building. The Governor feels he was hit at approximately frame 230; some members of our staff feel that it could have been as late as frame 240. Governor and Mrs. Connally also testified that the Governor was hit by the second shot.
The FBI laboratory examination of the Zapruder camera establishes that it operates at a speed of 18 1/3 frames per second. Weapons experts have testified that the minimum time required to operate the assassination weapon is 2 1/4 seconds. It would appear, therefore, that a minimum of 41 frames would have to elapse between the first and second shots. (18 1/3 x 2 1/4).
The Commission is aware that it is impossible to determine the exact point at which the first two shots were fired. We request the following on-site investigatory steps, however, in order to determine whether it was possible for a person located on the sixth floor southeast corner window of the TSBD building to fire two shots at the Presidential car, the second of which occurred no later than frame 240:
(1) A point should be marked on the road corresponding to frame 199 on the Zapruder film, which is the last point at which the assassin could have fired from the window and still have been able to fire again by frame 240. A car should be photographed on this spot from the point where Zapruder was standing so that this photograph can be compared with frame 199 to make certain that the location is accurate. This should be done with the Zapruder camera, which has been retained for this purpose. A Polaroid should also be used for immediate comparison.
(2) After a car has been placed at this point on the road it should be photographed from the assassination window to determine whether the assassin had a clear shot at the occupants of the rear seat, with particular reference to the tree which at some point blocks the view from this window.
(3) If the car had passed the tree at frame 199, when viewed from the window, the car should be moved forward to the point at which there is a first clear view from the window and photographed at this point from both the window and at the place where Zapruder was standing so that we may determine what frame in the Zapruder films corresponds with this location.
(4) If the car has in fact passed beyond the tree at frame 199, it should be moved back to the point where it first cleared the tree and photographed from the window and the Zapruder location to establish the corresponding frame reference.
(5) The car should also be placed at the point where there is the last clear shot before it goes behind the tree and photographed from the window and the Zapruder location to determine the frame reference at this point.
(6) All the above points should be mapped on a survey. Lineal distances should be measured on the ground between these various points. Trigonometric readings should be taken to determine the distances from these various points to the assassination window and the surveyor should also determine the angle with the horizontal which is made when a line is plotted from each of these point to the assassination window.
II. PROBABLE LOCATION OF THE THIRD SHOT
Unlike shots one and two, the third shot has been fixed at a particular frame in the Zapruder films (frame 313), as well as a particular frame in the other two films (frame 24 of the Nix film and frame 42 of the Muchmore film). A car should be placed at the point which we believe to be the approximate location corresponding to these frames and then photographed from the point where the three cameramen were standing to establish the accuracy of this location. Distances should be measured from this point to the various points described in part I and angles and distances established between this point and the assassination window to establish the view which the assassin had when he fired the third shot.
III. PLOTTING TRAJECTORIES FROM THE RAILROAD OVERPASS
From each of the ground points established in parts I and II trigonometric readings should be taken from a point on either end of the overpass to chart the path which a bullet would travel if fired from those points on the overpass to the rear seat of the car. It should be determined whether a bullet could reach the rear seat without hitting the windshield, and the angle with the horizontal which would be made by a bullet fired from these points to a car located at each of the points to a car located at each of the points on the ground as determined in parts I and II.
A copy of this letter has been sent to Chief Rowley of the Secret Service with a request that the Secret Service provide such assistance in this work as the Commission and your Bureau may require. The Secret Service has furnished the Commission with photographs, surveys, and measurements which we have used in our examination of the films and which will no doubt be useful to your Bureau in completing this project.We would like your Bureau to make all necessary arrangements for this project. Members of the Bureau assigned to this project should contact either Mr. Norman Redlich or Mr. Melvin Eisenberg of the Commission staff if additional information is required.
Sincerely, J. Lee Rankin, General Counsel
cc: Mr. Rankin Mr. Redlich Mr. Willens
May 12, 1964
To: Mr. J. Lee Rankin
From: Arlen Specter
Subject: Examination of autopsy photographs and x-rays of President Kennedy.
When the autopsy photographs and x-rays are examined, we should be certain to determine the following:
1. The photographs and x-rays confirm the precise location of the entrance wound in the back of the head depicted Commission exhibits 386 and 388.
photographs and x-rays confirm the precise location of the wound of
entrance in the upper back of the President as depicted in Commission
Exhibits 385 and 386.
3. The photographs and x-rays confirm the precise area of the President's skull which was disrupted by the bullet when it exited as depicted in Commission Exhibit 388.
4. The characteristics of the wounds on the President's back and on the back of his head should be examined closely in the photographs and x-rays to determine for certain whether they are characteristic of entrance wounds under the criteria advanced by Doctors Finck, Humes, Boswell, Gregory, Shaw, Perry, and Carrico.
The films and x-rays should be viewed in conjunction with Commission Exhibit 389 (a photograph of the frame of the Zapruder film immediately before the frame showing the head wound) and Commission Exhibit 390 (the frame of the Zapruder film showing the head wound) to determine for certain whether the angle of declination is accurately depicted in Commission Exhibit 388.
I suggest that we have a court reporter present so that we may examine Dr. Humes after the x-rays and photographs are reviewed to put on the record:
1. Any changes in his testimony or theories required by a review of the x-rays and films, and
2 Corroboration of the portions or all of his prior testimony which may be confirmed by viewing the photographs and x-rays.
Analysis of the May 7 letter of J. Lee Rankin and May 12 memo of Arlen Specter
The Rankin letter is fairly straightforward, and indicates that, since the writing of Redlich's April 27 memo to him, he has been convinced of the necessity of the single-bullet theory. Rankin mentions that they are trying to establish whether Connally was hit before frame 240 by the second of the three shots. He fails to mention that the eyewitness testimony suggests the second shot was fired after frame 240. It may very well be he has no idea that the statements of the bystanders, motorcycle cops, and Secret Service agents almost all disagree with the Connallys, and suggest the second shot was fired very close to frame 313. Rankin shows his bias in other ways as well. He tells Hoover that they need to show that the shots were 41 frames or more apart, saying that a weapons expert testified that the shots were no closer than 2 ¼ seconds apart. Apparently, he has forgotten that this “weapons expert” was one of Hoover’s own men and that he’d testified that a half second should be added onto his time of 2.3 seconds in order to estimate the time necessary to fire at a moving target. Rankin makes another mistake as well. Along with just about everyone else, he discusses a third and final shot at frame 313 as if it were an established fact, when it is in opposition to the bulk of the eyewitness evidence as well as the visual aids packet supplied by the FBI in January. On May 24, the proposed simulation took place. (It is discussed in more detail in the Back Wound in Motion section of the Examining the Examinations chapter.)
The Specter memo is far more intriguing. Here, Specter reveals that the examination of the autopsy photos discussed in the April 30th executive session is about to take place. Specter also expresses that he is now interested in determining the exact locations of the wounds. Especially ironic is his suggestion that Exhibit 388 be compared to Exhibit 389. Any layman could look at the two and see that they were not compatible. In 1967, the discrepancy between these two exhibits led researcher Josiah Thompson to print them side by side in his book Six Seconds in Dallas. This showed that for the purported entrance and exit wounds in Kennedy’s skull to be aligned as in Exhibit 388, the sniper would have to have fired from the trunk of the Presidential limousine. Specter seems to know this and is apparently hoping to get it straightened out.
The most shocking aspect of Specter’s memo, of course, is that the examination he found so necessary, and the examination agreed upon by Rankin, McCloy, Dulles, and Warren, NEVER HAPPENED. Dr. Humes was not permitted to look at the photos he’d ordered to be created. Specter was then forced to go to Dallas and analyze the trajectories without adequate knowledge of the entrance locations. The supposed reason for this is that Chief Justice Warren took a look at the photos by himself and found them so horrible that he shuddered at the thought of the photos becoming part of the public record. This is nonsense, however…a complete fairy tale. The transcript of the April 30 executive session shows that it was agreed that a doctor would be necessary to interpret the photos. The transcript shows that it was Warren’s belief that the photos could be analyzed without being entered in the record. Since Dr. Humes had already testified, and since doctors performing autopsies are routinely entitled to view (and quite frequently retain) the photos of the autopsies they perform, there would have been no reason for the photos to be entered into the record, simply because Humes had looked at them. The only possible reason they would be entered in the record would be if WARREN looked at them, which he later admitted doing. From this, Warren’s refusal to let Humes look at the photos can be interpreted in two ways: one, Warren was senile; and two, he knew that the wounds in the photos failed to match the wounds in the drawings, and lacked the nerve or desire to open up that door and see what lay inside. (This last possibility is discussed in more detail in the Examining the Examinations section of this website.)
As for Specter, he doesn’t exactly get away clean. He would later admit that the Secret Service showed him an autopsy photo of Kennedy’s back on the day of the re-enactment. As we will discuss later, this means he KNEW that the drawings of the President’s wounds he’d placed into evidence were incorrect. It also means he knew that the single-bullet theory he was pushing on the Commission was highly doubtful. And yet, by all accounts, he failed to tell the Commission that he’d even looked at the photo. Arlen Specter was, of course, a long-time member of the Senate Judiciary Committee. One wonders if he’d have fired an underling who’d withheld such vital information.
Howard Willens' Diary Entry on a May 21 Meeting of the Warren Commission's StaffOn Thursday, May 21, after a 3-1/2 hour meeting, at which I was not present by choice, the decision was made on the matter which has been called the Dallas Project. It was agreed that Mr. Rankin, Mr. Redlich and Mr. Specter would go to Dallas to conduct an on-the-spot investigation designed to clarify the distances and locations at which the shots took place. Apparently it was a total victory for Mr. Redlich and Mr. Specter since the decision was also made to have the Secret Service ship the follow-up car there for use in the investigation.
The "Dallas Project" finally comes to fruition on May 24, 1964.
The Smoking Chalk Mark
We accompany Specter to Dallas and check out the re-enactment. We note that the chalk mark representing the back wound on the back of the Kennedy stand-in is far lower than the neck wound presented in the Rydberg drawings. We ask around and hear the rumor that Specter's wish has come true and that Secret Service Inspector Thomas Kelley has shown him an autopsy photo in which the location of President's back wound is depicted.
It passed inches away. Although Specter had the Secret Service and FBI agents working as the stand-ins lean this way and that to try to make the wounds align, it just didn't work.
On 5-27-64, Chief Counsel Rankin gets some interesting news of his own. Richard Helms of the CIA sends him a memo recounting a meeting between an unnamed source (columnist Drew Pearson) and Chairman Nikita Khruschev of the Soviet Union. According to Helms, when the unnamed source told Khruschev that Oswald had acted alone, Khruschev was “utterly incredulous.” The unnamed source described this attitude as “archetypical of every European I have ever talked to on this subject.” He “got the impression that Chairman Khruschev had some dark thoughts about the American Right Wing being behind this conspiracy." The unnamed source then “repeated that the reaction of Chairman Khruschev and his wife was one of flat disbelief and archetypical of the universal European belief that there was some kind of American conspiracy behind the assassination of President Kennedy and the murder of Oswald.” One can only speculate that news like this would inspire the Commission to re-double its efforts to convince the world that Oswald acted alone.
On 5-29-64, we see a memo by J. Lee Rankin accompanying first drafts of the final report. It includes the following passage:
3. The Assassination: President Kennedy's Agenda and Activities from Planning Dallas Trip to Autopsy. This draft, prepared by Mr. Specter, is complete except for a description of on-site tests in Dallas which are to be integrated with wound ballistics experiments.
Well, this is not surprising. The "on-site tests in Dallas" observed by Specter took place on May 24, a Sunday. And here was Rankin passing on Specter's "complete" chapter on the assassination the following Thursday. Well, this was a week before any testimony on the re-enactment could be taken. It follows, then, that Specter's conclusions (which would soon become the conclusions of the commission), including his single-bullet conclusion, were not based upon evidence presented to the commission, or discussed with the commissioners.
Specter had had a "theory" and had decided to go with it...before it could be tested in Dallas...and before it could be vetted by the men supposedly running the circus.
On 5-29, Dallas station KRLD broadcasts a scoop related to the 5-24 re-enactment. The Associated Press reports the details of this scoop the next day. "DALLAS, Tex. (AP) - Television station KRLD said Friday it has learned the Warren Commission's report on the assassination of President John F. Kennedy will show that the first bullet hit both the president and Texas Gov. John B. Connally, and that the third shot went wild. In a copyright story, KRLD said this information came from a highly placed source to the Warren Commission following last Sunday's re-enactment of the assassination. Previous thinking had been that the first bullet hit the president, the second hit the governor, and the third fatally wounded Kennedy. KRLD said it also had learned the commission's report, which it said was to be released in a few weeks, will show the following: The first bullet entered the president's body slightly above the right collar bone and exited just to the left of the tie knot, then entered the body of Connally just above the fifth rib. The second bullet struck the president in the back of the head. The third bullet followed a much flatter trajectory than the first two, because the motorcade was moving down a sloping street, and it struck a manhole cover, then ricocheted off the curb and never was found. Medical opinion in the commission's report will show that chances for the president's recovery from the first wound would have been excellent. Also, had the first hit been a fraction lower, the force of the bullet probably would have knocked the president to the floor of the car and removed him from the line of sight for the second— and fatal — shot. The first bullet traveled 168 feet before it hit, the second 207 feet. There was an interval of 4 1/2 seconds between the first and second shots, and about 2 1/2 seconds between the second and third shots, and experts contend a crack marksman could have fired all three in the time it took the assassin to fire the first two."
Well, this is most interesting. The information provided is all garbled. The source reportedly said the commission concluded the third shot missed but the shot distances provided, with the first shot being fired from 168 feet and the second shot being fired from 207, suggests instead that the first shot hit Kennedy (167 feet was the distance for this shot in the FBI's 1-20 report) and that the second shot hit Connally. This inexplicably leaves out the headshot. The purported distance for the second shot--207 feet--correlates to frame 242 of the Zapruder film, the earliest point at which Kennedy and Connally could have been hit by separate shots, and the point which Specter had been holding out as the last moment Connally could have been shot. The reported 4 1/2 second gap between the first and second shots, furthermore, is clearly a reference to the shot at frame 242 and the head shot at frame 313, which comes about 4 1/2 seconds afterward. This then indicates that the source believed the final shot came two and half seconds after frame 313, at approximately frame 358. The final shot in the January report of the FBI exhibits section, we should recall, came at approximately frame 358. This suggests that the source for this article was not simply mistaken about the commission's concluding the first shot was fired from 168 feet, and that the last shot missed around frame 358, but was inferring as much from the FBI's earlier report. Since that report specified that the last shot hit Kennedy, moreover, this suggests that the source for this article was futilely trying to correlate the contradictory information contained in that report, with subsequent information derived from Specter and the re-enactment. The result was nonsense. Who was this source?
Leaks and More Leaks
On 6-1-64, more leaks reach the public. Anthony Lewis, a writer with a close working relationship with the Supreme Court, writes an article for the New York Times with the headline “Panel to Reject Theories of Plot in Kennedy’s Death. Warren Inquiry is Expected to Dispel Doubts in Europe that Oswald Acted Alone.” Lewis would go on to claim “The commission’s report is expected, in short, to support the original belief of law enforcement agencies in this country that the President was killed by one man acting alone, Lee H. Oswald…A spokesman for the commission said that none of the critical works, foreign or domestic, had come up with any new factual information. He said that the commission had found 'just a rehash of the same material. The same questions and each man’s conclusions.'…The commission’s spokesman expressed the conviction that its report, when issued, would completely explode the theories published (abroad). He said that not even the authors would stand by them. 'We’ll knock them out of those positions,' he said.” In its 6-12-64 issue, Time Magazine jumped on board and echoed the Times’ endorsement of the commission’s conclusions months before they were even released. An article on the attitudes of Europeans to the assassination began “The most myth-filled aftermath of John F. Kennedy’s assassination is the stubborn refusal of many Europeans to accept the belief that the U.S. President could have been killed by a lunatic loner” and admitted “Last week word leaked from the Warren Commission that its report would spike each of the overseas theses and endorse with few changes the FBI’s original version that Oswald killed alone. However, this is hardly likely to end the myth-making in Europe.” From these articles, it seems likely the “spokesman” speaking to Lewis was either Warren himself or someone acting with his blessing.
If so, however, it's clear these leaks were not "authorized" by the full commission. The 6-4 executive session of the commission reflects that Congressman Ford, for one, is irritated by these leaks, as he is not at all convinced there was no foreign involvement in the assassination. He, furthermore, threatens Warren that if these leaks persist he will find it necessary to tell the press that "the Commission has not discussed these matters as a Commission" as yet, and that whoever is telling them otherwise is not to be trusted. Warren then interjects that he "personally cannot account for any of these stories", and that he has not spoken to any newspapers and that he has urged General Counsel Rankin to urge the staff not to do so as well. This, of course, leaves open the possibility that Warren nudged someone on the staff to make these calls behind Rankin's back. Perhaps sensing that Ford suspects as much, then, Warren adds "I have no knowledge of anybody talking to anybody...If I knew that anybody from the Commission or the staff has been discussing these things with the press, I would feel very badly about it. But I don't have any belief that they have." This leads Ford to refer back to the articles published around the time of the Commission's creation, and to Assistant Attorney General Katzenbach's request that they immediately release the results of the FBI's report, and the concurrent leak of this report to the press. It seems clear from this that Ford suspects Katzenbach.
In any event, after input from John McCloy, who offers "Until you complete the testimony, you cannot have a final conclusion" and voices his own suspicions of the Justice Department, it is decided that a statement should be issued announcing that the Commission is still taking testimony, and that therefore no conclusion has been reached. This, of course, is a bit disingenuous, as the commission, acting as both prosecutor and defense, has the option of taking only the testimony that will help support its already scripted conclusions.
And yet, there is something kinda noble about Ford's response to this situation. Not only did he threaten Warren about these leaks, but it seems quite clear he decided to follow through on his threats. A 6-5-64 date-lined article by Philip Warden in the Chicago Tribune reports "A suspicion that the administration wants to dictate the conclusions of the Warren commission on the Kennedy assassination is greatly disturbing commission members, it was disclosed today. The White House and state department, for diplomatic reasons, reportedly are adamant that the commission say when it issues its final report that: 1) Lee Harvey Oswald had no accomplices when the fatal shots were fired in Dallas, Tex., last Nov. 22, killing President Kennedy. 2) There was no foreign (Russia of Communist Cuban) involvement in the assassination plot. Newspapers frequently chosen by the Johnson administration for the hoisting of trial balloons began carrying stories that Oswald had no accomplices and that there was no foreign involvement before the Warren commission could even set up shop, members reported. The first of these stories which commission members said obviously had been planted, appeared last December before the commission completed the appointment of its staff. They have been appearing ever since. This week a rash of them appeared in newspapers from coast to coast. The commission met in special session and then issued this tersely worded statement: 'The commission is nearing the conclusion of the taking of testimony and is giving thought to the content and form of its report. The commission has reached no final conclusions and has not discussed final conclusions as a commission. Members said after the meeting that the commission was very disturbed over the appearance of the stories that it had reached certain definite conclusions. Some commission members suspect high officials of planting the stories as a part of the administration's present foreign policy of playing it 'cozy' with Soviet Russia."
would later become clear that in the Spring of '64 the writer of the
New York Times' article, Anthony Lewis, was working on a
book, Gideon’s Trumpet, whose main source was President Johnson’s
adviser Abe Fortas. This, in turn, raises the possibility that Johnson
and Fortas were behind the leaks. Perhaps Johnson, angered by the
Commission's failure to meet its original June 1 deadline, had simply
decided that enough was enough, and had decided to assure the world
that neither he nor the Soviets had been involved in the assassination,
and had asked Fortas to leak the story to Lewis. Or not. In his 2013 book on the Warren Commission, A Cruel and Shocking Act, Philip Shenon notes that J. Lee Rankin was another source for Gideon's Trumpet, and that he'd met with Lewis a few days before the publication of Lewis' article.)