A look at the last days of the Warren Commission
Slips and Spills
On 6-4-64, Secret Service Inspector Thomas Kelley testifies about the May 24 re-enactment (5H129-134). Under Arlen Specter’s guidance, he tells the commission that the location of the chalk wound mark on President Kennedy’s stand-in "was fixed from the photographs of a medical drawing that was made by the physicians and the people at Parkland and an examination of the coat which the President was wearing at the time.” Well, this is strange from the outset. The people at Parkland didn't make any medical drawings of the President and, with but one or two exceptions, never even saw his back wound. Maybe he meant Bethesda. Or maybe he meant only that the Parkland doctors helped with the description of the neck wound. And what does he mean by "medical drawing"? Does he mean the face sheet prepared by Dr. Boswell? Because, sure enough, the location of the hole on the face sheet matches up with the location of the hole on Kennedy's coat.
Strangely, Counsel Specter is quick to insert “Permit me to show you Commission Exhibit 386…I ask you if that is the drawing you were shown as the basis for the marking of the wound on the back of the President’s neck?” Kelley answers “Yes.” Later, Kelley slips up and says that “the wound in the throat was lower than the wound in the shoulder” and Specter leaps again “By the wound in the shoulder, do you mean the wound in the back of the President’s neck, the base of his neck?” (5H175-176) Once again, Kelley agrees. The problem is that, while CE 386, one of the drawings submitted by Specter during the testimony of Dr. Humes, shows the wound to be on the base of the back of the neck and higher than the throat wound, Specter and Kelley (as they would subsequently admit) looked at a photo of this wound on the day of the re-enactment, and this photo showed the wound to be on the BACK, at the same level or lower than the throat wound. Specter was thus coaxing Kelley to mislead the commission, and hide that the wound was in fact on the President’s back, at the same level or lower than his throat wound.
Specter and Kelley were conspiring on such a deed, unfortunately, seems quite clear. While
trying to establish the alignment of Kennedy and Connally during the
shooting--that is, while trying to establish that they were in the
proper alignment to receive simultaneous wounds from the rear in
Kennedy's neck and Connally's right armpit--Specter asks Kelley the
distance of Connally's seat from the right door, and Kelley replies "There
is 6 inches of clearance between the jump seat and the door." The
problem is, once again, that this just isn't true. (The schematic of
the limousine to which Kelley refers, Exhibit CE 872, does not have
this measurement, but a schematic obtained by the HSCA
from the same source does have the measurement, and it is, in fact, 2.5
inches, not 6.)
That Kelley mis-represents the facts on two key points, and that both
of these mis-statements (or lies, take your pick) just so happen to
help Specter sell his theory that all the wounds save Kennedy's head
wound were created by the same bullet, is undoubtedly suspicious.
After Gauthier testifies, the FBI’s photography
expert Lyndal Shaneyfelt takes the stand (5H138-165). He testifies that
the location of the President's back wound was, when viewed from the
sniper's nest, obscured by an oak tree from frames 167 to 209 of the
Zapruder film. When asked the last frame before Kennedy appears to be
hit, Shaneyfelt testifies in accord with this testimony. A hit on
Kennedy before frame 210, after all, might suggest there'd been a shot
fired from somewhere other than the sniper's nest. Shaneyfelt
testifies: "Approximately--I would like to explain a little bit, that
at frames in
the vicinity of 200 to 210 he is obviously still waving, and there is
no marked change.
In the area from approximately 200 to 205 he is still, his hand is
still in a waving position, he is still turned slightly toward the
crowd, and there has been no change in his position that would signify
anything occurring unusual. I see nothing in the frames to arouse my
suspicion about his movements, up through in the areas from 200 on and
as he disappears behind the signboard, there is no change.
Now, 205 is the last frame, 205 and 206 are the last frames where
we see any of his, where we see the cuff of his coat showing above the
signboard indicating his hand is still up generally in a wave.
From there on the frames are too blurry as his head disappears you
can't really see any expression on his face. You can't see any change.
It is all consistent as he moves in behind the signboard." (If
Shaneyfelt sounds tentative, and unsure of himself, it's quite possibly
because he's not used to perjuring himself in such a manner. In 1978, a
panel of 20 photographic scientists studied these same Zapruder frames
for the House Select Committte on Assassinations. Their report,
included in volume Appendix number 6 of the HSCA's report, reflects "By a vote of 12
to 5, the Panel determined that President Kennedy first showed a
reaction to some severe external stimulus by Zapruder frame 207, as he
is seen going behind a sign that obstructed Zapruder's view.")
Shaneyfelt also testifies
that Kennedy was struck in the head when he was 265 feet away from the sniper’s
nest. The vast difference between
Gauthier’s earlier report and Shaneyfelt’s conclusions are not discussed, nor
noted. Shaneyfelt also tells the
commission what they need to hear before they can accept Specter’s theory that
Kennedy and Connally were hit by the same shot—that the angle from the sniper’s
nest to Kennedy’s throat wound to Connally at the moment they both could have
been hit “passed through a point on the back
of the stand-in for the President at a point approximating that of the entrance wound.” To support this, Specter introduces
Commission Exhibit 903 into evidence. Suspiciously, this re-enactment photo of Specter holding a rod at the
angle from the sniper’s nest at the presumed moment Kennedy and Connally were
hit against the stand-ins in the limo was taken from the front and fails to
show the location of the back wound. In the FBI’s files, however, there are
several photos taken from the opposite angle. These show the rod passing several inches above the location of the back
wound. Well, at least Shaneyfelt was
correct in stating the wound was on the back. (This is discussed in more detail
in the Examining the Examinations chapter.)
After Shaneyfelt, the FBI’s Robert Frazier comes on and
explains that Connally was out of position to have his wounds be caused by one
bullet after frame 231 (5H165-175). This means that he must have been hit before
this point, at a point too close to Kennedy’s being shot to have both shots
fired by Oswald, unless...they were in fact hit by the same shot. This
proves that Specter knew going in, prior to taking this day's
testimony, that his single-bullet theory was essential to the
Commission's single-assassin conclusion.
Frazier drops another bomb as well. Under questioning by Commissioner Dulles (notably not Specter), he lets slip his recollection that the back wound location used in the re-enactment was established by the measurements taken at the autopsy. This contradicts the statement Specter drew from Kelley that the mark was established by looking at CE 386. So which one’s telling the truth? Well, although Specter, as either a gross oversight or a deliberate deception, failed to introduce a photo of this chalk mark into evidence, photos of the re-enactment, in which the chalk mark is shown, were published in some newspapers, including the 6-1-64 New York Times. These photos show the marked location of the President’s back wound to be…on the back, in line with the autopsy measurements and face sheet, as stated by Frazier, and inches away from the location at the base of the neck on CE 386, its source according to Kelley, and Specter.
And Specter knew the wound was marked in this location. He was, after all, the one running the re-enactment. And yet here he was, less than two weeks later, asking Thomas Kelley "Permit me to show you Commission Exhibit No. 386, which has heretofore been marked and introduced into evidence, and I ask you if that is the drawing that you were shown as the basis for the marking of the wound on the back of the President's neck." Well, do you see it? He was asking Kelley if a drawing of a wound at the base of the neck was used to mark a jacket at a location several inches below the base of the neck, and then hid from the record that this mark was in fact several inches below the base of the neck by 1) failing to introduce any photos of this mark into evidence, and 2) making out as though this mark was "on the back of the President's neck?"
So why has
Specter deceived the commission about 1) the
actual location of the back wound; 2) the location of the mark used
re-enactment; 3) the location of this mark relative to a trajectory from
the sniper's nest, and 4) the distance from the right door of the
limousine to Governor Connally's seat?
Well, when one considers that, by this time, Specter knew that 1) the FBI and Secret Service had disregarded the evidence and come to questionable conclusions about the shooting scenario; 2) Dr. Humes had lied about the use of measurements in the creation of the Rydberg drawings, and 3) Chief Justice Warren had forbidden the use of materials necessary to establishing the facts, perhaps he decided it was time he join the crowd.
The Twilight Zone
We take a closer look at Shaneyfelt and Frazier's testimony. Shaneyfelt has testified about the distance of the limousine from the sniper’s nest at relevant moments of the Zapruder film. He has submitted that Kennedy was 176.9 feet from the rifle at frame 210 of the film, and 190.8 feet from the rifle at frame 225, the frames book-ending Kennedy's disappearance behind the Stemmons Freeway sign, and representing the purported moment of the first shot. While discussing frame 313, the moment of the fatal headshot, he has testified that the “Distance to the rifle in the window is 265.3 feet. The angle to rifle in the window is 15’21’ and this is based on the horizontal.” (6-4-64 testimony of Lyndal Shaneyfelt before the Warren Commission, 5H139-164).
The establishment of this distance at 265
feet raises questions still not asked or answered. If Specter had looked back through the
records he would have seen that on 11-27-63
Secret Service Agent Howlett, using the Zapruder film, determined the distance to be 260
feet. Close enough. He would also have seen that, on 12-5-63, just after the formation of
the Warren Commission, Secret Service Agent Elmer Moore, using the Zapruder film and the same
surveyor used for the previous re-enactment, determined the distance to have been 294
feet. Something’s beginning to
smell. He then would have remembered
that on 1-20-64 the FBI had
provided him with exhibits indicating this distance was 307 feet. An
even closer look would have indicated
that, while the May 24 re-enactment determined the limo traveled no
more than 88 feet
further away from the sniper's nest between Kennedy’s receiving his two
wounds, and may have traveled as little as
74 feet, the Secret Service on 12-5 indicated it traveled 110 feet, and
Exhibits Section, after surveying the plaza and studying the films for
140 feet. Was the inflation of this distance on
purpose? Was it designed to increase the length of the shooting scenario,
to make Oswald's purported shooting feat more palatable?
Specter must have considered this possibility. I mean, he and his fellow counsel must have wondered why the FBI and SS fought so hard against the May 24 re-enactment. They must have had discussions, conveniently kept off the record, of course, of whether the Secret Service and FBI were deliberately misleading the commission about the location of the limo at the time of the fatal shot...or whether they were merely incredibly incompetent. As Specter had called Dr. Malcolm Perry before the commission and forced him to explain why he had initially described Kennedy’s throat wound as an entrance wound, he should have asked Agent Moore of the Secret Service and Chief Gauthier of the FBI’s Exhibits Section how they could be so wrong about the distance of the sniper’s nest from Kennedy's position at the time of the head shot, when the location of Kennedy at this time is easily established by the Zapruder film, Nix film, and Moorman photograph. That he is willing to leave their phenomenal errors unexplained suggests the commission is scared of undermining the credibility of its prime investigators, the Secret Service and the FBI, and hopes no one will notice the contradictory conclusions contained within the Secret Service and FBI reports.
The FBI’s ballistics expert Robert Frazier was another participant in the re-enactment. Testifying after Shaneyfelt on 6-4-64, he had related “At frame 231 the Governor is, as I saw it from the window on that date, turned to the front to such an extent that he could not have been hit at that particular frame. In frame 235, which is Commission Exhibit no. 897, the Governor…was also facing too far, too much towards the front…In frame 240 the Governor again could not have been shot.” (6-4-64 testimony of Frazier before the Warren Commission, 5H165-175). The re-enactment has thereby confirmed that Connally was out of position to receive his wounds at frame 231 of the Zapruder film, 11 frames earlier than Specter had proposed he'd received his wounds upon viewing the Zapruder film. There is no way, then, Specter can go back and claim Kennedy and Connally were hit by separate shots. The single-bullet theory has become, of necessity, the single-bullet conclusion.
Specter had, of course, already argued as much in his chapter on the shooting.
The Home Stretch
The investigation reaches its final turn.
The Justice Department's man on the commission, Assistant Counsel Howard Willens, realizes that the commission's upcoming report will never be accepted without Attorney General Robert Kennedy's signing off on it in some way. On 6-4-64 he dashes off a memo to General Counsel Rankin in which he proposes Chief Justice Warren write Kennedy a letter asking if Kennedy has "any information suggesting that the assassination of President Kennedy was caused by a domestic or foreign conspiracy" and Kennedy respond with a letter stating "I know of no credible evidence to support the allegations that the assassination of President Kennedy was caused by a foreign or domestic conspiracy." Willens notes "The Attorney General would prefer to handle his obligations to the Commission in this way rather than appear as a witness." He presents full drafts for both Warren's letter, and Kennedy's response, noting "The proposed response by the Attorney General has, of course, not been approved by him, or on his behalf by the Deputy Attorney General. It represents a revision of an earlier letter which I did show to them during my conference with them earlier today. At that time the Attorney General informed me that he had not received any reports from the Director of the Federal Bureau of Investigation regarding the investigation of the assassination, and that his principle sources of information have been the Chief Justice, the Deputy Attorney General, and myself." (Willens' proposed drafts are discussed over the next week, and Warren sends "his" letter to Kennedy on June 11.)
Now six months after the shooting, the Commission finally gets around to questioning the closest
eyewitness, the former First lady. Jacqueline
Kennedy (6-5-64 testimony before the Warren Commission,
5H178-181) “Well there must have been two because the one that made me turn
around was Governor Connally yelling.
And it used to confuse me because first I remembered there were three
and I used to think my husband didn’t make any sound when he was shot. And
Governor Connally screamed like a stuck pig.
I heard Governor Connally yelling and that made me turn around, and as I
turned to the right my husband was doing this (indicating with hand at
neck). He was receiving a bullet. And those are the only two I remember.” Unsure. Only heard two clear shots.
On this same day, the FBI reports the recollections of
another vital witness, whose photographs of the assassination were everywhere.
Strangely, they had no intention of interviewing him until a 5-25 column in the
Chicago American asked why he’d not been interviewed. James
Altgens (6-5-64 FBI report, CD
1088 p.1-6) “at about the instant he snapped the picture, he heard a burst of
noise which he thought was firecrackers…he does not know how many of these
reports he heard…After taking the above photograph…he heard another report
which he recognized as a gunshot. He said the bullet struck President Kennedy
on the right side of his head and the impact knocked the President forward. Altgens
stated pieces of flesh, blood, and bones appeared to fly from the right side of
the President’s head and pass in front of Mrs. Kennedy to the left of the
Presidential limousine. Altgens stated
Mrs. Kennedy grabbed the President and Altgens heard her exclaim “Oh, no!” as
the president slumped into her lap.”
On 6 7-64, almost three months after the conclusion of his trial, the Commission finally gets around to questioning Oswald’s assassin, Jack Ruby, about his possible role in a conspiracy involving Oswald. Ruby requests he be given a lie detector test. He tells Judge Warren “I would like to request that I go to Washington and you take all the tests that I have to take. It’s very important.” Later, he returns to this theme. “Gentleman, unless you get me to Washington, you can’t get a fair shake out of me. If you understand my way of talking, you have got to bring me to Washington to get the tests…Unless you can get me to Washington, and I am not a crackpot, I have all my senses—I don’t want to evade any crime I am guilty of…Unless you get me to Washington immediately, I am afraid…” Ruby then accuses his own lawyer of conspiring to make it look like he’d planned out Oswald’s murder, which Ruby insists was a spontaneous act. Ruby then throws in “Well, it’s too bad, Chief Warren, that you didn’t get me to your headquarters 6 months ago.” Ruby then asks Sheriff Decker and all other law enforcement officers to leave the room. After they leave, he tells Warren and his staff “Gentleman, if you want to hear any further testimony, you will have to get me to Washington soon, because it has something to do with you, Chief Warren. Do I sound sober enough to tell you this? …I want to tell the truth, and I can’t tell it here. I can’t tell it here. Does that make sense to you?” He then muses “Boy, I am in a tough spot, I tell you that…But this isn’t the place for me to tell what I want to tell…”
Ruby then gets serious, and comes straight to the point: “Chief Warren, your life is in danger in this city, do you know that?” He requests again he be given a lie detector test, which will help him clear his name, and concludes “Gentleman, my life is in danger here. Not with my guilty plea of execution. Do I sound sober enough to you as I say this?...Then I follow this up. I may not live tomorrow to give any further testimony...the only thing that I want to get out to the public, and I can’t say it here, is with authenticity, with sincerity of the truth of everything and why my act was committed, but it can’t be said here. It can be said, it’s got to be said amongst people of the highest authority that would give me the benefit of the doubt. And following that, immediately give me a lie detector test after I do make the statement.” Shortly thereafter, during a stenographer's break to change paper, Ruby corners Warren and Counsel Arlen Specter (whose 2000 memoir A Passion For Truth is the source for this story) and begs them to “Get to Fortas. He’ll get the job done…Get to Fortas. He’ll get it worked out.” Ruby then goes on to assert that the John Birch Society is trying to use that he’s a Jew to persecute other Jews, and claims “The Jewish people are being exterminated at this moment. Consequently, a whole new form of government is going to take over our country, and I know I won't live to see you another time. Do I sound sort of screwy--in telling you these things?…It may not be too late, whatever happens, if our President, Lyndon Johnson, knew the truth from me. But if I am eliminated, there won't be any way of knowing…I won't be around, Chief Justice. I won't be around to verify these things you are going to tell the President...I have been used for a purpose…”
Warren and Specter decide Ruby is insane.
While Ruby may have been unstable, the fact he acted paranoid didn't mean no one was out to get him. Warren and Specter were undoubtedly aware that the radical right, including the John Birch
Society, a prominent presence in Dallas, had been pushing the story
(in newspapers such as The Thunderbolt) that Oswald killed Kennedy on
behalf of a Jewish/Communist cabal, and that Ruby silenced Oswald on
behalf of this same cabal. One recently-released book, Legacy
of an Assassination, has offered that Ruby was a communist, and that, as a
communist, he was ready to sacrifice his life for his cause. It mused
further that Oswald, Ruby, Tippit, and others were all "concealed Reds"
and that Ruby and Oswald had previously worked together on the
attempted assassination of General Walker but were "protected from
arrest afterwards by concealed Reds in the CIA who got Attorney General
Robert Kennedy to intercede with the FBI and the Dallas Police."
A Texan Looks at Lyndon, by J. Evetts Haley, a self-published diatribe against Lyndon Johnson just coming onto the market, is also a problem for Ruby. While not specifically targeting Ruby, it focuses on Oswald's background as a communist, and shreds President Johnson for covering up the possibility Oswald acted as part of a conspiracy. It reports: "Thus the American people are convinced that the truth of the Oswald case, and its Jack (Rubenstein) Ruby connections, will never be known. At least not until they elect a President who believes they have the right to know the truth." This insertion of "Rubenstein" was not a coincidence, mind you, as it was clearly added to remind Evetts' readers that Ruby was a Jew, and thus not to be trusted. This book would go on to sell over 5 million copies, and by some estimates, 7 million copies.
None Dare Call It Treason, by John Stormer, would also sell millions of copies--reportedly more than 7 million. Released in '64, shortly after Ruby's testimony, None Dare Call It Treason notes
that Kennedy was killed by a "self-admitted communist." It complains:
"Volumes could and should be written on the press coverage of President
Kennedy's assassination by a Communist killer. Even after Oswald was
captured and his Marxist affiliations disclosed, TV and radio
commentators have conducted a continual crusade of distortion and smear
to direct the blame against right-wing or conservative groups."
as we've seen, was a lie. Sure, the press conducted a "continual crusade
of distortion and smear" but it was a crusade to convict Oswald as a
lone-nut assassin, not a crusade to blame the right-wing. This
deliberate lie, then, appears to have been designed to make None Dare Call It
Treason's readers--and there were plenty of them--believe that a communist conspiracy to kill Kennedy had
infiltrated the mainstream media, and that the enemy within was all
Ruby's concerns were very real.
Let's refresh. Ruby has admitted that within hours of the assassination he'd grown suspicious that Jews were being set-up as patsies in
the killing of Kennedy (He'd learned that the Kennedy Wanted for
Treason ads in the Dallas papers on the day of the assassination had
been paid for by a Jew named Bernard Weissman, and was so distressed by
this fact that he contacted the Dallas Post Office at 4:30 AM the next
morning in hopes they'd give him Weissman's address). It's not unreasonable, then, to suspect that Ruby had received orders to kill Oswald by a non-Jew, and was worried that his
silencing Oswald on their behalf was gonna be used against his fellow
Jews. (What else could he mean by "I have been used for a purpose?")
Ruby's cornering Specter, who was only involved in the questioning
because he was Jewish and Ruby felt he could be trusted, and telling
him to "Get to Fortas...He'll get the job done" is in this context also suspicious. Fortas was President Johnson's most
trusted and secret adviser, and a JEW, and would be the man best in
position to shut down any orchestrated efforts to deflect attention
from Johnson or other possible conspirators by blaming the assassination on Jews.
So does Warren bring Ruby to Washington and let Ruby tell his whole story? Nope. Does he have Fortas interviewed or investigated so he can determine what, if any, ties he has to Ruby? Nope. Does he even get a doctor to testify that Ruby's unstable, so he can justify his not bringing Ruby to Washington? Nope, nope and nope again. Ruby's testimony has opened a door to a room that Warren refuses to enter.
Such reluctance is now Warren's M.O. On 6-8-64 Sgt. Patrick Dean of the Dallas Police Dept. testifies before Warren and the commission in Washington. He doesn't testify as much as complain. It seems word has leaked out about what Warren Commission counsel Burt Griffin told Dean during a 3-24-64 deposition in Dallas. Off the record, Griffin told Dean that he didn't believe his testimony on two points--Jack Ruby's telling Dean he'd entered the basement where he killed Oswald via the Main Street ramp and Ruby's telling Dean he'd planned Oswald's death since the day of Kennedy's assassination. Griffin then offered his help in correcting Dean's testimony. Dean refused, and in time demanded an audience with Warren. In keeping with his agreement with Texas Attorney General Waggoner Carr (that the commission give a fair shake to Texas, else Texas be forced to conduct its own investigation), Warren as much as apologizes to Dean. He tells him: "Well, Sergeant, I want to say to you that, of course, without knowing what your conversation was with Mr. Griffin, I have never talked to Mr. Griffin about this. I didn't know that you had this altercation with him, but I want to say this: That so far as the jurisdiction of this Commission is concerned and its procedures, no member of our staff has a right to tell any witness that he is lying or that he is testifying falsely. That is not his business. It is the business of this Commission to appraise the testimony of all the witnesses, and, at the time you are talking about, and up to the present time, this Commission has never appraised your testimony or fully appraised the testimony of any other witness, and furthermore, I want to say to you that no member of our staff has any power to help or injure any witness. So, so far as that conversation is concerned, there is nothing that will be binding upon this Commission." (The HSCA would subsequently reveal that before his trip to Washington Dean had willingly undergone a lie detector test regarding his conversations with Ruby...and had failed this test, even though he'd been allowed to write his own questions. Now, no one from Dallas volunteered this info to the commission, but that doesn't exactly excuse Warren, whose reluctance to pursue this matter helped prevent this fact from surfacing, and the commission as a whole, which accepted Dean's word that Ruby had said he came down the ramp, even though the counsel investigating this aspect of the assassination, Burt Griffin, believed it to be a fabrication.)
This very day, 6-8-64,
yet another door is opened, and ignored. An internal FBI memo on this date
from Alex Rosen to Alan Belmont relates that on 6-3 the FBI was
contacted by President Kennedy's physician, Dr. George Burkley,
wondering what became of a statement, dated 11-27-63, he'd given to the
U.S. Secret Service, and why he hasn't been contacted by the Warren
Commission. Rosen relates further that he's discussed this matter with
Warren Commission Chief Counsel J. Lee Rankin, who requested he call
the Secret Service and find out what happened to Burkley's statement
regarding the events of 11-22-63. Rosen then relates that he talked to
Secret Service Inspector Thomas Kelley, and Kelley told him he was
indeed aware of Burkley's statement, "was of the opinion it had been
made available to the President's Commission," and "would see that a
copy of the memorandum was sent over to the Commission per Mr. Rankin's
(Burkley's statement is eventually published by the Commission
as Exhibit 1126. Strangely, however, despite this incident, and despite
his name appearing in the autopsy report, numerous Secret Service
reports, and in the testimony of witnesses such as Secret Service agent
Roy Kellerman, Dr. Paul Peters, and Dr. Charles Carrico, no one from
the FBI or Warren Commission was ever to interview Burkley, the only witness
to see the President's body at both Parkland and Bethesda. This oversight is made suspicious, moreover, by the fact that Warren Commissioner Gerald Ford asked Congressman James D. Weaver, a former military surgeon, to take a look at the medical testimony, and that, in an April 23, 1964 letter (found in the Ford Presidential Library), Weaver told Ford that the lack of information regarding Burkley's actions in the testimony was an "outstanding omission."
While Ford's subsequent failure to demand Burkley be interviewed may have been yet another "outstanding omission," it would eventually be revealed as an incredibly convenient omission for those hoping to convince others that Oswald acted alone. On October 17, 1967, in an interview conducted for the Kennedy Library, Burkley was asked if he agreed with the Warren Report’s conclusions “on the number of bullets that entered the President’s body.” He replied “I would not care to be quoted on that.” Similarly, on March 18, 1977, Burkley’s attorney, Willaim Illig, contacted HSCA Chief Counsel Richard Sprague and told him that Burkley had information indicating that Oswald did not act alone. While no one followed up on this letter, the record suggests that Burkley suspected both that the back wound was too low on Kennedy's body to support the single-bullet theory, and that more than one bullet struck the President's skull.)
On 6-8-64, General Counsel Rankin receives an unexpected response. On 6-2-64 he had written a letter to Lt. Col. Allison G. Folsom requesting an appraisal of Oswald’s shooting ability, based upon Oswald’s test scores while in the Marines. Folsom responds “In view of the lapse of time since Mr. Oswald was separated from the Marine Corps, it would be impossible to ascertain precisely the number of hours in which he participated in weapons marksmanship practice or how many rounds of ammunition he fired.” He then gives a breakdown of the training received by Oswald and his subsequent tests scores. These show that Oswald was tested on the M-1 rifle on December 21, 1956 and received a score of 212, or sharpshooter ranking. This was the test discussed in Folsom’s 5-1-64 testimony. The record shows that Oswald was tested on the M-1 rifle a second time on May 6, 1959, however, and received a score of 191, only 1 point above the bottom of the Marksman ranking. These were the scores reported by the New York Times on 11-23-63. The big surprise for Rankin comes in Folsom’s summary. He tells Rankin “The Marine Corps considers that any reasonable application of the instructions given to Marines should permit them to become qualified as a marksman. To become qualified as a sharpshooter, the Marine Corps is of the opinion that most Marines with a reasonable amount of adaptability to weapons firing can become so qualified. Consequently, a low marksman qualification indicates a rather poor “shot” and a sharpshooter qualification indicates a fairly good “shot.” Folsom was thus telling Rankin that Oswald was a poor shot when he left the Marines and would have been an even worse shot after 4 years without practice.
After receiving Folsom's letter, Rankin has clear reason to doubt Oswald's ability to hit the shots proposed by Specter. Specter has, after all, proposed that the assassin (Oswald) fired
three times at a moving target in a time span of as little as 5.6 seconds, and achieved two hits and one near miss (the
bullet striking Connally). Rankin has, for that matter, already given Specter's chapter on the assassination to the commissioners. This suggests Rankin's endorsement of Specter's proposal, and belief it should be presented to the public as a conclusion of the commission.
In an ideal world, Folsom's letter spurs Rankin to push for more tests, with civilians firing rifles similar to Oswald’s at moving targets on a mock Dealey Plaza.
(These tests were eventually performed, only not by the commission...)
The Tests That Should Have Been
In 1967, CBS News, realizing the Warren Commission's error in not conducting these tests, conducted some tests of their own. While the shooters used by CBS were all well-practiced rifleman, their over-all skill level was roughly that of Oswald at his best. (Of course, Oswald hadn’t been at his best since his first years in the Marines, a half a dozen years before the assassination.)
There were still other problems with the test. For one, the rifle used by these shooters was in prime operating condition, and was in no need of the adjustments performed by those test-firing Oswald's rifle for the Warren Commission. For two, the CBS shooters, unlike the man firing Oswald's rifle in Dealey Plaza, who was firing cold, were given NINE practice shots before making their attempts. For three, the target upon which these men fired, unlike the limousine in Dealey Plaza, moved at a constant speed away from the shooter, and at a constant angle.
these problems should have worked to the advantage of CBS' shooters,
and have led to their easily replicating the shots purported for
Oswald... That is, if the shots have been indeed easily replicable...
But let the test results speak for themselves…
1. Col. Jim Crossman, ret. (expert rifleman). First attempt--3 near misses in 6.54 seconds. Best attempt (of 6) ---2 hits and 1 near miss in 6.20 seconds. 2 hits or more in 3 of 6 attempts. (6.34, 6.44, and 6.2 seconds)
2. Douglas Bazemore (ex-paratrooper). First attempt—unable to operate bolt effectively to fire the shots. Best attempt (of 4)—unable to operate stiff bolt action; gives up. 2 hits or more in 0 of 4 attempts.
3. John Bollendorf (ballistics technician). First attempt—2 hits and 1 near miss in 6.8 seconds. Best attempt (of 4)—the same. 2 hits or more in 1 of 4 attempts. (6.8 seconds)
4. John Concini (Maryland State Trooper). First attempt—no record of where shots went in 6.3 seconds. Best attempt (of 2)—1 hit and 2 near misses in 5.4 seconds. 2 hits or more in 0 of 2 attempts.
5. Howard Donahue (weapons engineer). First attempt—too fast with bolt—gun jammed. Best attempt (of 3)—3 hits in 5.2 seconds. 2 hits or more in 1 of 3 attempts. (5.2 seconds)
6. Somersett Fitchett (sportsman). First attempt—gun jammed at 3rd shot. Best attempt (of 3)—2 hits and 1 near miss in 5.5 seconds. 2 hits or more in 2 of 3 attempts. (5.9 and 5.5 seconds)
7. William Fitchett (sporting goods dealer). First attempt—3 borderline hits in 6.5 seconds. Best attempt (of 3)—the same. 2 hits or more in 1 of 3 attempts. (6.5 seconds)
8. Ron George (Maryland State Trooper). First attempt—gun jammed at 2nd shot. Best attempt (of 3)—2 hits and 1 near miss in 4.9 seconds. 2 hits or more in 1 of 3 attempts. (4.9 seconds)
9. Charles Hamby (shooting range employee). First attempt—gun jammed. Best attempt (of 3)—2 near misses and 1 complete miss in 6.5 seconds. 2 hits or more in 0 of 3 attempts.
10. Carl Holden (shooting range employee). First attempt—gun jammed with first shot. Best attempt (of 3)—3 near misses in 5.4 seconds. 2 hits or more in 0 of 3 attempts.
11. Sid Price (shooting range employee). First attempt—1 hit, 1 near miss, and 1 complete miss in 5.9 seconds. Best attempt (of 4)—the same. 2 hits or more in 0 of 4 attempts.
12. Al Sherman (Maryland State Trooper). First attempt—2 hits and 1 near miss in 5.0 seconds. Best attempt (of 5)—the same. 2 hits or more in 2 of 5 attempts. (5.0 and 6.0 seconds)
Of the 12 first
attempts, only 1 shooter was able to hit the target twice in less than 5.6
seconds. Of the 43 total attempts,
moreover, these well-seasoned shooters were able to replicate Oswald’s
purported feat—2 hits in less than 5.6 seconds—just 4 times.
In fact, it's even worse. Not counting Crossman, an acknowledged rifle expert, those purportedly of Oswald's skill level landed but 25 hits TOTAL, in their 20 successful attempts at getting off 3 shots. In other words, they hit 25 out of 60 shots--far worse on average than Oswald's purported 2 out of 3.
it's actually FAR WORSE than that. You see, CBS counted any strike on
the FBI silhouettes used as targets--even those far down the back, or
out on the shoulders--as a hit. This, in effect, tripled or quadrupled
the size of the target for their shooters, in comparison to the small
area on the back and head purportedly hit by Oswald. It seems clear then
that, of the 60 shots total, and 25 hits, no more than 9 hit the target
in the small central area purportedly hit by Oswald, not once but
twice. This, then, suggests that, even IF Oswald was a well-practiced
shooter, and even IF his rifle were in optimal condition, and even IF he
had been provided NINE practice shots, the odds of his hitting the
small area he supposedly hit from the sniper's nest on any given shot
were less than 1 in 6, and of his hitting this area 2 of 3 times
something like 1 in 16.
In other words, Oswald's purported feat was highly unlikely...
fact has not escaped the attention of those continuing to argue Oswald
acted alone. In his mammoth tome Reclaiming History, Vincent Bugliosi
deceives his readers by arguing that, as Oswald was clearly aiming for
Kennedy's head, he actually hit but one of three shots. This avoids, of
course, that the vast majority of "hits" by the professional shooters
attempting to simulate Oswald's purported feat for the Warren
Commission, and what one can only assume were the vast majority of
"hits" by the amateur shooters attempting to simulate Oswald's purported
feat for CBS News in 1967, were torso hits even further from the center
of the target as the hit on Kennedy's back.)
On 6-18-64, Secret Service Chief James Rowley is called to testify. He admits that members of Kennedy's protection detail had been out drinking the night before the assassination, but asserts they were not punished for what would normally have been cause for termination because it might send the message that their actions had been a factor in Kennedy's death. Newspaper reports reflect that he is the last person scheduled to testify before the commission. This means that all the witnesses subsequent to Rowley were NEVER supposed to testify.
The investigation is now over. The remaining months are to be spent tying up loose ends, interviewing witnesses who should already have been called--so that the commission can say that they spoke to them--and finding experts to tell the commission what it's already decided to say.
One of these "missing" witnesses is Phil Willis, whose photograph of Kennedy just after the first shot has been studied extensively by the FBI. He has never been interviewed. Nor has his wife, who claimed to have witnessed the head shot... They are finally interviewed on 6-17 and 6-18. Marilyn Willis (6-19-64 FBI report, CD1245 p. 44-45) “Mrs. Willis advised when the motorcade passed on Elm Street in front of where she was standing she heard a noise that sounded like a firecracker or a backfire. A few seconds following this she stated she heard another report and saw the top of President Kennedy’s head “blow off and ringed by a red halo.” She stated she believes she heard another shot following this.” Shot after the head shot. Phil Willis (6-22-64 FBI report, CD1245 p. 46-48) “Willis advised that just about the same time that the limousine carrying President Kennedy was opposite the Stemmons Freeway road sign he heard a loud report and knew immediately it was a rifle shot and knew also the shot “had hit”…About two seconds later he heard another rifle shot which also hit, as did the third, which came approximately two seconds later. Willis said he knew from his war experience the sound a rifle makes when it finds its mark and he said he is sure all three shots fired found their mark.”
And then, on 6-20-64, President Kennedy's youngest brother Teddy, serving out his brother's term in the Senate, is seriously injured in a small plane crash in which two others--the pilot and Kennedy's assistant--are killed.
Meanwhile, behind the scenes, the Warren Commission counsel charged with writing its report are turning in their chapters and the Commissioners themselves are making changes. On 6-24-64, Commissioner John J. McCloy writes Rankin: “I think too much effort is expended on attempting to prove that the first bullet which hit the President was responsible for all Connally’s wounds. The evidence against this is not fully stated.” This indicates that McCloy has his doubts about the single-bullet theory. It will eventually come out that Senators Russell and Cooper, and Congressman Boggs, also have doubts about the theory. Which means that just 3 of the 7 commissioners—Warren, Dulles, and Ford, wholeheartedly support the cornerstone of the Commission’s conclusions, without which they would rightfully have to conclude the probability of a second gunman.
Ford at least is witting enough to understand the importance of the
theory to the Commission's conclusions. On a 6-26-64 draft of Chapter 1
of the report, Congressman Ford changes the statement “A bullet had entered his
back at a point slightly above the
shoulder and to the right of the spine" to “A bullet had entered the back of his neck at a point slightly to
the right of the spine." (The published report reflects a compromise: “A bullet
had entered the base of the back of his
neck slightly to the right of the spine." From this change it seems
clear that Ford was deliberately skewing the report to help convince the public
that a bullet fired from above could enter a man’s back and exit his throat on
a straight trajectory, a la the single-bullet theory.)
Dyeing the Grass Green
When the working papers of J. Lee Rankin were given to the Archives in 1997 and Ford’s changes were discovered, the Former President reportedly responded “My changes were only an attempt to be more precise.” While the inaccurate drawings entered into evidence by the doctors may have confused Ford into thinking his correction was more precise, a less generous interpretation is also reasonable, particularly when one notes that this very topic came up in Ford's 12-17 meeting with the FBI. Cartha DeLoach's memo on his meeting with Ford reflects: "Two members of the Commission brought up the fact that they still are not convinced that the President had been shot from the sixth floor window of the Texas Book Depository. These members failed to understand the trajectory of the slugs that killed the President. He (Ford) stated he felt this point would be discussed further but, of course, would represent no problem."
Apparently, Ford knew the caliber of men he was working with. Apparently, he knew that nothing could dissuade these men from claiming Oswald killed Kennedy. On July 2, 1967, an interview of Commissioner John McCloy was aired on Face the Nation. Although CBS' treatment of the assassination in its just-broadcast four part special on the Warren Commission was questionable, and at times quite deceptive, here Walter Cronkite actually did some digging. McCloy's answers, accordingly, are quite revealing. When asked why the Commissioners doubting the single-bullet theory claimed Oswald acted alone, even though, in Cronkite's words, it is "inescapably obvious that without the single bullet theory, the whole case made by the Commission collapses into a mass of incredibility," McCloy gave a jaw-dropping response. He said: "Well, what is the case? The case is, as--and, I think, this about right, and I can--I think I can summarize the conclusions. One. Oswald killed the President by shots fired from the sixth floor window of the school book depository in Dallas. He also killed Tippit...Now that's--that's the conclusion. Those are the essential conclusions of the Commission. They don't stand or fall by whether there was a single bullet there, or not."
other words, McCloy told Cronkite that they'd decided to blame the
shooting on Oswald, EVEN IF THE EVIDENCE INDICATED IT WAS IMPOSSIBLE
FOR HIM TO HAVE FIRED ALL THE SHOTS. The possibility that a conspiracy
existed outside Oswald, and had set him up as the "patsy" he'd claimed
to be, was not even to be considered.
Now, to be fair, it seems possible McCloy's mind on this issue was muddled, as opposed to being deliberately deceitful. Many early believers in the Oswald did-it theory, including Governor Connally and the top brass of the FBI, believed Oswald could have fired three shots, and hit Kennedy twice and Connally once, no matter what was presented in the Zapruder film. To wit, in the 1967 book When Death Delights (written by former FBI agent Marsall Houts), Dr. Milton Helpern, one of the top forensic pathologists in the country, let his thoughts on the assassination be known, and expressed muddled thinking similar to McCloy's. While rejecting the single-bullet theory, Helpern claimed it wasn't really necessary, seeing as there was "nothing in the 'open end' Zapruder movie 'timetable' to rule out the possibility or even the probability that the President was shot through the neck before Frame 166."
WHAT? The President was smiling and waving to the crowd on his right for a second and a half past Frame 166. That's an awful long time before reacting to a bullet, especially one that has just torn through your windpipe.
4th Times the Charm
The FBI, Secret Service, and Warren Commission's absolute conviction that all the shots came from the sixth floor of the depository, no matter when or how the shots rang out, is by now abundantly clear. Perhaps no one is better able to see this than Dallas County Surveyor Robert West. Between December 7, 1963 and June 25, 1964, he has created and revised four plats of Dealey Plaza, with the angles of trajectory for proposed shots from the sniper's nest All four of these plats were purportedly based on a careful analysis of the Zapruder film, and were created for a government agency. And yet, from plat to plat, not one shot has been of a consistent distance or at a consistent angle! (West will eventually testify at the trial of Clay Shaw in 1969, and acknowledge that he was in Dealey Plaza when the President was shot, and that he in fact heard four shots. This raises the question of whether or not he mentioned this fact to the Secret Service, FBI, and Warren Commission investigators employing his services, and, if so, why none of them ever interviewed him as a witness.)On 6-29-64, the Warren Commission meets and deliberates over the submitted chapters of its report. (Intriguingly, little was known of this meeting until 1997, when General Counsel J. Lee Rankin’s private papers were donated to the National Archives following the JFK Records Act. Rankin’s notes reveal that this meeting consists of his running down a list of questions, and the Commissioners’ deciding whether the proposed chapters adequately answer these questions. Over and over, on the questions of the number of the shots, the order in which the wounds were inflicted, etc, they answer “Treatment in proposed draft satisfactory.” This suggests that by May 29, when Rankin first forwarded Specter's chapter on to the commissioners, the commission's conclusions were written in stone, and that the subsequent testimony of crucial witnesses such as Jacqueline Kennedy, James Altgens, Phil Willis, Abraham Zapruder, Emmett Hudson, and James Tague was taken entirely for political reasons, i.e., to convince the American people that the words of all the prominent witnesses had been considered by the commission before they'd come to a conclusion, when in fact they had not.)
An AP dispatch from later that day only confirms that the investigation is over, and unlikely to meet any public resistance. It reads:
KRAKOW, POLAND, JUNE 29 CAP)-U.S. ATTORNEY GENERAL ROBERT F. KENNEDY SAID TONIGHT LEE HARVEY OSWALD KILLED HIS BROTHER, PRESIDENT JOHN F. KENNEDY, AND "THERE IS NO QUESTION THAT HE DID IT ON HIS OWN AND BY HIMSELF."
"I BELIEVE IT (THE ASSASSINATION). WAS DONE BY A MAN NAMED OSWALD WHO WAS A MISFIT IN SOCIETY," KENNEDY TOLD A GROUP OF CIVIC LEADERS AND STUDENTS IN THIS SOUTHERN POLISH CITY.
AIDES SAID IT WAS THE FIRST TIME THE HEAD OF THE U.S. DEPARTMENT OF JUSTICE HAS SPOKEN PUBLICLY ABOUT WHO KILLED HIS BROTHER IN DALLAS, TEX., LAST NOV. 22. OSWALD WAS SHOT BY JACK RUBY, DALLAS CAFE OWNER, BEFORE HE COULD BE BROUGHT TO TRIAL, THERE HAVE BEEN SUGGESTIONS IN EUROPE, ESPECIALLY COMMUNIST COUNTRIES SUCH AS POLAND, THAT THE SLAYINGS OF KENNEDY AND OSWALD WERE PART OF THE SAME CONSPIRACY.
KENNEDY SAID IT WAS NOT OSWALD'S PROFESSED BELIEF IN COMMUNISM THAT PROMPTED HIM TO MURDER THE PRESIDENT.
"HE WAS A PROFESSED COMMUNIST BUT THE COMMUNISTS--BECAUSE OF HIS ATTITUDE--WOULD HAVE NOTHING TO DO WITH HIM," KENNEDY SAID. "IDEOLOGY IN MY OPINION DID NOT MOTIVATE HIS ACT, IT WAS THE SINGLE ACT OF AN INDIVIDUAL PROTESTING AGAINST SOCIETY."
KENNEDY WAS REPLYING TO A QUESTION BY HIERONYM KUBIAK,25-YEAR-OLD HEAD OF, THE POLISH STUDENT UNION IN KRAKOW, WHO HAD DECLARED:"WE ALWAYS GREATLY RESPECTED PRESIDENT KENNEDY AND WE ARE VERY INTERESTED IN YOUR VERSION OF HIS DEATH, WE HOPE YOU WILL FORGIVE US FOR ASKING SUCH A DIRECT QUESTION BUT WE REALLY WOULD LIKE YOUR VIEW."
THE ATTORNEY GENERAL REPLIED "IT IS A PROPER QUESTION WHICH DESERVES AN ANSWER." HE CALLED OSWALD "A MISFIT IN SOCIETY WHO HAD LIVED IN THE UNITED STATES AND WAS DISSATISFIED WITH OUR GOVERNMENT AND OUR WAY OF LIFE. HE TOOK UP COMMUNISM AND MOVED TO THE SOVIET UNION BUT WAS DISSATISFIED THERE. HE CAME BACK (TO AMERICA), WAS ANTI-SOCIAL AND FELT THE ONLY WAY TO TAKE OUT HIS STRONG FEELINGS AGAINST SOCIETY AND DISSATISFACTION WITH THE WAY HE WAS TREATED WAS BY KILLING THE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES."
On 6-30-64 the New York Times carries its own version of this story. It takes the opportunity to throw in that the Attorney General's conclusions reflect those of the Warren Commission. It reads:
"Attorney General Robert F. Kennedy said today that his brother had been assassinated by Lee H. Oswald, “a misfit,” who took out his resentment against society by killing the President of the United States. Answering questions at a meeting of the City Council of Cracow, the Attorney General said that Oswald was "a professed Communist" but had not been motivated by Communist ideology when he shot the President last Nov. 22. It was in response to a hesitant question put by a Communist youth leader of Cracow, who attended the council's meeting, that the Attorney General spoke about Oswald and the assassination. It was Mr.Kennedy's first public discussion of the accused assassin, aides said... The Attorney General briefly sketched Oswald's life story, describing him as a man who had embraced Communism, and had gone to the Soviet Union, but found no place for himself there. He was a professed Communist," but the Communists, because of his attitude, would have nothing to do with him," he said. "What he did he did on his own, and by himself."
Discredits Plot Theories
Mr. Kennedy said that the assassination was not a racist plot, such as some persons had speculated.
"Ideology in my opinion did not motivate his act," the President's brother said. "It was the single act of one person protesting against society." The Attorney General is known to be fully acquainted with the findings of the Warren Commission. It is presumed by persons close to him that the Commission's report will reflect the views expressed by Mr. Kennedy today."
Between the Lines: a Discussion of RFK's Comments
The timing of Robert Kennedy's comments is intriguing, to say the least. His only surviving brother, Senator Ted Kennedy, is in a hospital with a broken back, the result of a June 19 plane crash. While the pilot of this plane, one of two casualties in the crash, with the other being Kennedy's assistant Edward Moss, is presumed to have been at fault, the actual cause of the accident is not entirely clear. It seems possible, then, that Robert Kennedy suspected dark forces were behind his younger brother's plane crash, just as they were behind his older brother's murder. To wit, the crash occurred as Ted Kennedy was flying home to Massachusetts after helping push through the Civil Rights Act, highly-controversial legislation first proposed by his older brother, John. It seems possible, then, that RFK felt his voicing support for the Warren Commission might help fend off these forces. In any event, there was reason for RFK to be paranoid.
It is also intriguing that Robert Kennedy's first and only public comment on the assassination during the Warren Commission's investigation comes on a goodwill trip to a communist country, where he was pretty much boxed in. If, in such a setting, he said anything suggesting he had doubts about the Warren Commission's findings, and thought a domestic conspiracy responsible for his brother's death, it's almost certain he would be crucified back home, and accused of encouraging communism worldwide. If, in such a setting, he said anything suggesting he had doubts about the Warren Commission's findings, and thought a foreign conspiracy responsible, on the other hand, he would be crucified by his fellow liberals for spreading fear of World War III, and providing fuel for the right-wing fanatics back home. It was a lose-lose proposition. This, then, left him little alternative but to pin the tail on the Oswald, and claim everything he'd seen proved Oswald to be a lone nut.
The possibility exists, for that matter, that Kennedy's being asked this question in this setting was no coincidence. While it's perfectly possible Hieronym Kubiak, who would rise within the ranks of the Polish Communist Party and become the member of its Central Committee in charge of Science and Education--only to resign in 1982 after voicing his support for Solidarity, the movement which led to the end of Communism in Poland--had a sincere interest in Kennedy's answer, or that he knew Kennedy would disavow a conspiracy and was anxious that he do so, it seems possible as well that he was convinced to ask this question by the CIA, who had a number of assets in Communist youth organizations. If so, their operation was successful. A July 6 Airgram from the American Embassy in Rome found in the CIA's files reports that Kennedy's statements "were given particular prominence in the Italian Press." As the CIA had a number of assets in the international press, this could very well have been bragging. There is a note of discord, however. The Airgram also reports that the Communist paper L'Unita has chosen to comment on Kennedy's comments, and has noted "Kennedy's declarations about the death of his brother and about the personality of Oswald seem disconcerting and...are in striking contrast not only with numerous facts but also with Robert Kennedy's attitude, declarations, and initiatives after the Dallas tragedy." While it's unclear which "declarations" and "initiatives" are being referenced in this article, it seems possible that Russian Premier Khruschev or one of his emissaries has been indiscreet about Robert Kennedy's private communication in December, and has told Communist organizations and newspapers worldwide of Kennedy's private suspicion his brother was killed by a domestic conspiracy.
While the commission itself is prepared to join Robert Kennedy and declare that Oswald acted alone in
killing his brother, it's ironic indeed that they aren't as sure as he (or at least the 'he" he was pretending to be) that Oswald's act was a "protest." In fact, they still can't figure out exactly why Oswald performed his
And for good reason... If Oswald did it because he hated Kennedy then why was
everyone close to Oswald so convinced he actually liked Kennedy? If
he did it for fame or for political reasons, on the other hand, then why oh why did he try to get
away and then deny his involvement once caught? (It's so hard to be a martyr
without a cause.) And if he was simply a raving lunatic then why was he so
calm before the cameras?
By July, the commission counsel tasked with answering this question, Wesley Liebeler, is so perplexed that he gives in and asks Oswald's brother Robert for guidance. Robert is unable to give him an answer. (In an interview published in The Nation on March 9, 1992, Liebeler would voice his continued inability to understand Oswald's motive. He revealed: "I drafted a psychological profile of Oswald for chapter seven of the report. It was reviewed by a panel including the chief of psychiatry at the Mayo Clinic, who threw my draft down and said, 'This is very interesting stuff, but it tells me a lot more about you, Liebeler, than it does about Oswald.' So how the hell do I know why Oswald killed the President?")
On 7-6, Chief Justice Warren sends yet another message that he wants to wrap things up, and leave critical questions unanswered. Tired of waiting for a finalized report, but comfortable with the conclusions he'd reached weeks if not months before, he flies off on an extended fishing trip. (His personal papers reflect that while he left on this trip on 7-6, he did not return to work till 8-1. And so...while one reads the events for July 64, one should keep in mind that while the dance was proceeding, Warren--supposedly the guiding light of the Commission, and master of the dance--was fishing.)
A few days later, we see a 7-7-64
letter from the Dallas FBI office, written in response to a 5-20 letter
from the Commission, asking they establish the chain-of-evidence for a
number of items. When discussing the chain-of-evidence for FBI
C1/Warren Commission Exhibit CE 399, a near-pristine bullet found on a
stretcher at Parkland hospital, an hour or more after the President and
Governor were admitted, and purported to have caused Kennedy's back and
throat wound, and all of Connally's wounds, it relates: "On June 12,
1964, Darrell C. Tomlinson...was shown Exhibit C1, a rifle slug, by
Special Agent Bardwell D. Odum...Tomlinson stated it appears to be the
same one he saw on a hospital carriage at Parkland Hospital on November 22, 1963, but he cannot positively identify the bullet as the one he found and showed to Mr. O.P. Wright...On June
12, 1964, O.P. Wright...advised Special Agent Bardwell D. Odum that
Exhibit C1, a rifle slug, shown to him at the time of the interview,
looks like the slug found at Parkland Hospital on November 22, 1963
which he gave to Richard Johnsen, Special Agent of the the Secret
Service...He advised he could not positively identify C1 as being the same bullet which was found on November 22. 1963...On June 24, 1964, Richard E. Johnson...was shown Exhibit C1,
a rifle bullet, by Special Agent Elmer Lee Todd, Federal Bureau of
Investigation. Johnsen advised he could not identify this bullet...On
June 24, 1964, James C. Rowley, Chief, United States Secret
Service...was shown Exhibit C1, a rifle bullet, by Special Agent Elmer
Lee Todd. Rowley advised he could not identify this bullet as the one
he received from Special Agent Richard E. Johnsen and gave to Special
Agent Todd on November 22, 1963. On June 24, 1964, Special Agent Elmer
Lee Todd...identified C1, a rifle bullet, as being the one he received
from James Rowley, Chief, United States Secret Service." We note that
the Secret Service has refused to swear by the bullet, and that an
agent of the FBI itself, fifth in a line of possession, is the first to
assert the bullet is the one found in the hospital. As this bullet has
been linked to Oswald's rifle and is necessary to demonstrate that
Oswald fired the lethal shots, this is problematic. Fortunately, the
first men to see the bullet, Tomlinson and Wright, appear to agree with
Agent Todd's identification.
By now well familiar with the FBI's inadequacies, however, we decide to do a little digging. We uncover a 6-20 Airtel from Dallas Special Agent in Charge J. Gordon Shanklin to J. Edgar Hoover telling him that "neither Darrell C. Tomlinson, who found bullet at Parkland Hospital, Dallas, nor O.P. Wright, Personnel Officer, Parkland Hospital, who obtained bullet from Tomlinson and gave to Special Agent Richard E. Johnsen, Secret Service at Dallas 11/22/63, can identify bullet." As this memo specifies that Tomlinson and Wright could not identify the bullet, and as the letter sent to the Commission indicates they believed the bullets appeared to be the same, we find yet another reason to suspect the FBI's integrity, and to seriously question the Commission's reliance upon its services.
The Switcheroo That Wasn't: a Brief Discussion In Which I End Up Defending The FBI (No, Really, I'm Not Kidding)
The apparent contradiction between the FBI's 6-20-64 Airtel and 7-7-64 letter was just the beginning of the mystery surrounding the bullet. In November 1966, Josiah Thompson showed O.P. Wright a photo of the bullet supposedly found on the stretcher (by then dubbed Commission Exhibit CE 399) and asked him if CE 399 was in fact the
bullet he'd remembered seeing on the day of the assassination. Amazingly, Wright told him that the bullet he'd handed the Secret Service on that day had had a pointed tip, while CE 399 had had a rounded tip. Wright then showed Thompson a bullet with a pointed tip like the one he'd remembered seeing. Thompson then showed Darrell Tomlinson a photo of a Mannlicher-Carcano bullet, along with the bullet shown him by Wright. While Tomlinson was reportedly non-committal, and couldn't remember if the tip was rounded like CE 399, or pointed like the bullet shown him by Wright, Thompson, and a large swath of his readers, took from Wright's statements that the stretcher bullet had been switched.
Thirty-five years passed. In 2002, Thompson and Dr. Gary Aguilar finally contacted the
FBI's Bardwell Odum, to see if he remembered Tomlinson and Wright saying CE 399 looked like the bullet found on the stretcher, per the FBI's 7-7-64 letter to the Commission, or their not identifying the bullet, per the 6-20-64 FBI memorandum. Amazingly, Odum insisted he had no recollection of ever handling CE 399, let
alone showing it to Tomlinson and Wright. Now, for some this was a smoking gun. If Odum had never shown the bullet to Tomlinson and Wright, and the FBI letter said he had, and that they'd told him the bullet looked like the one they saw on 11-22-63, then someone was almost certainly lying. Deliberately.
In December, 2011, however, I came across something that gave me great doubts about the smoke coming out of this gun. A transcript was posted on the alt.assassination.JFK newsgroup by author Jean Davison. This transcript, acquired by Ms. Davison from the National Archives, was of a 7-25-66 conversation between Darrell Tomlinson and researcher Ray Marcus. This transcript asserted that when asked if he'd ever been shown the stretcher bullet after giving it to Wright, Tomlinson had admitted "I seen it one time after that. I believe Mr. Shanklin from the FBI
had it out there at the hospital in personnel with Mr. Wright there when
they called me in." When then asked by Marcus if "Shanklin" and Wright had asked him if this bullet looked the same as the one he'd recovered on November 22, 1963, Tomlinson responded "Yes, I believe they did." When then asked his response to their question, he replied "Yes, it appeared to be the same one."
Let's note the date of this transcript. This was months prior to Tomlinson's being shown the pointed tip bullet by Thompson. And yet, at this early date, he'd thought the bullet he'd been shown by "Shanklin" (more probably Odum--Tomlinson was unsure about the name of the agent and there is little reason to believe Shanklin--the Special Agent-in Charge of the Dallas Office--would personally perform such a task) resembled the bullet he'd found on the stretcher. This suggests, then, that his subsequent inability to tell Thompson whether the bullet was rounded or pointed was brought about by his not wanting to disagree with Wright.
In November 2012, moreover, I found additional support for this suspicion. It was a 4-22-77 article on the single-bullet theory by Earl Golz for The Dallas Morning News, which reported "Darrell C Tomlinson, the senior engineer at Parkland who found the slug, told The News he 'could never say for sure whose stretcher that was ... I assumed it was Connally's because of the way things happened at Parkland at that time.' Tomlinson acknowledged he was not asked to identify the bullet when he testified before the Warren Commission in 1964. He said some federal agents earlier 'came to the hospital with the bullet in a box and asked me if it was the one I found. I told them apparently it was, but I had not put a mark on it. If it wasn't the bullet, it was exactly like it.'"
So there it is. Tomlinson told Marcus in 1966 that he thought the bullet he'd found looked like CE 399, was less certain on this point when talking to Thompson later that year, and then returned to telling reporters the bullets looked the same by the time he talked to Golz in 1977. Either he'd misled Marcus and Golz, or was momentarily confused by the bullet Wright provided Thompson. Wright was a former policeman. Perhaps Tomlinson had momentarily deferred to his expertise. In any event, Tomlinson's recollection of the bullet over the years did not support Wright's recollection, and supported instead that he'd been shown CE 399 by the FBI in 1964, had told them it appeared to be the same bullet as the one he'd found on the stretcher, and had nevertheless refused to identify it. This scenario was consistent, moreover, with the FBI's 6-20-64 memo and 7-7-64 letter to the Warren Commission. It seems hard to believe this was a coincidence. As a result, Tomlinson's recollections cast considerable doubt on Wright's ID of a pointed bullet, and the scenario subsequently pushed by Thompson and Aguilar--that the FBI had lied in its 6-20 memo and 7-7 letter about the bullet--appears to be inaccurate.
In its 7-10-64 issue, Life Magazine resumes its campaign to convict Oswald in the public eye and bolster the by-now certain conclusions of the Commission. Its introduction to Oswald's diary from his time in Russia claims that the diary "is one of the most important pieces of evidence studied by the Warren Commission in its effort to unravel the character and motives of President Kennedy's assassin." No "accused" No "presumed." Assassin. Singular. Period.
On 7-10-64, in lieu of his testimony, the commission accepts a 7-page affidavit signed by President Johnson describing what he remembered of the shooting and its aftermath. Not everyone is happy about this, as some--particularly junior counsel staff Arlen Specter and David Belin--feel he should be questioned as both a suspect and witness. (In his 2000 memoir Passion for Truth, Specter revealed that although he didn't think Johnson "complicit in the assassination...no self-respecting investigator would omit a thorough investigation of the slain president's successor" and that, as a result, he'd prepared 78 questions in anticipation he'd be allowed to grill Johnson.)
On 7-22-64, the Commission finally takes the testimony of some key witnesses.
Phil Willis took a photograph during the shooting. (7-22-64 testimony before the Warren Commission, 7H492-497) “my next shot was taken at the very—in fact the shot caused me to squeeze the camera shutter, and I got a picture of the President as he was hit with the first shot. So instantaneous, in fact, that the crowd hadn’t had time to react…I proceeded down the street and didn’t take any other pictures instantly, because the three shots were fired approximately two seconds apart, and I knew my little daughters were running alongside the Presidential car, and I was immediately concerned about them, and I was screaming for them to come back, and they didn’t hear me.”His 12 year-old daughter was also a witness. Linda Willis (7-22-64 testimony before the Warren Commission, 7H498-499) (When asked if she heard shots) “Yes; I heard one. Then there was a little bit of time, and then there were two real fast bullets together. When the first one hit, well, the President turned from waving to the people, and he grabbed his throat, and he kind of slumped forward, and then I couldn't tell where the second shot went… I was right across from the sign that points to where Stemmons Freeway is. I was directly across when the first shot hit him…I heard the first shot come and then he slumped forward, and then I couldn’t tell where the second shot went, and then the third one, and that was the last one that hit him in the head. No; when the first shot rang out, I thought, well, it's probably fireworks, because everybody is glad the President is in town. Then I realized it was too loud and too close to be fireworks, and then when I saw, when I realized that the President was falling over, I knew he had been hit.” Last two shots bunched together with the last shot head shot.
James Altgens was a photographer for the Associated Press. (7-22-64 testimony before the Warren Commission, 7H512-525) “I wasn’t keeping track of the number of pops that took place, but I could vouch for number 1 and I can vouch for the last shot, but I can not tell you how many shots were in between. There was not another shot after the President was struck in the head.” (on the head shot) “up to that time I didn’t know that the President had been shot previously. I still thought up until that time that all I heard was fireworks and that they were giving some sort of celebration to the President by popping these fireworks. It stunned me so at what I saw that I failed to do my duty and make the picture I was hoping to make.”
Emmett Hudson was the groundskeeper of Dealey Plaza. (7-22-64 testimony before the Warren Commission, 7H558-565) “the first shot rung out and, of course, I didn’t realize it was a shot… when the second one rung out, the motorcade had got further on down Elm…I happened to be looking right at him when that bullet hit him, the second shot…it looked like it hit him somewhere along a little bit behind the ear and a little bit above the ear." (When asked where the car was when he heard the first shot) “I remember it was right along about this light post here.” (indicating the first light post) (When asked if he heard three shots) “Yes, sir.” (When asked if he was sure the second shot hit Kennedy in the head) “Yes, I do believe it was—I know it was.” (When asked what happened during the third shot) “the young fellow that was sitting there with me—standing there with me at the present time, he says “Lay down , Mister, somebody is shooting at the President”…so I just laid down over the ground and resting my arm on the ground and when that third shot rung out and when I was close to the ground—you could tell the shot was coming from above and kind of behind.” (When asked if he’d “heard it come from sort of behind the motorcade and then above?”) “Yes.”
Abraham Zapruder, a dressmaker, took a home movie of the assassination. (7-22-64 testimony before the Warren Commission, 7H569-576) “Well, as the car came in line almost...as it reached about--I imagine it was around here--I heard the first shot and I saw the President lean over and grab himself like this (holding his left chest area)…In other words, he was sitting like this and waving and then after the shot he just went like that…Leaning—leaning toward the side of Jacqueline. For a moment I thought it was—you know, like you say, “Oh, he got me,” when you hear a shot…but before I had a chance to organize my mind, I heard a second shot and then I saw his head opened up and the blood and everything came out and I started—I can hardly talk about it. (the witness crying)." (When asked how many shots he heard) “I thought I heard two, it could be three, because to my estimation I thought he was hit on the second—I really don’t know…I heard the second—after the first shot—I saw him leaning over and after the second shot—it’s possible after what I saw, you know, then I started yelling, “They killed him, they killed him.” Here is one of the best witnesses to the shooting--a nearby witness watching the shooting through a zoom lens, for chrissakes, and here he is looking through stills taken from his movie of the shooting, and here he tells the commission his impression of the moment of the first shot--"I imagine it was around here"--and here the commission fails to note where his "here" is. Since Zapruder says Kennedy was waving when shot, and says nothing about Kennedy coming from out behind the sign when shot, the clear impression is that he thought Kennedy was hit just after he stopped waving and just before he went behind the sign, between frames 190 and 200 of Zapruder's film. As the commission believes a tree hid Kennedy from the sniper's nest between frames 170 to 210, moreover, and as they've already decided Kennedy was hit while behind the sign in frames 210-225, they, apparently, have no interest in telling the public Zapruder's proposed moment of impact. And so they fail to ask him to mark an exhibit indicating the moment of the first shot on his film, and allow his "here" to slip forever into "where?".
In the subsequent discussion of his famous film and camera, Zapruder makes another interesting statement: “Well, they claimed, they told me it was about 2 frames fast--instead of 16 it was 18 frames and they told me it was about 2 frames fast in the speed and they told me that the time between the 2 rapid shots, as I understand, that was determined--the length of time it took to the second one and that they were very fast and they claim it has proven it could be done by 1 man. You know there was indication there were two?” This statement indicates that someone, probably from the FBI, has been keeping him informed on the FBI’s tests on his camera. Instead of telling him that the speed of his camera calls into doubt that one man could have fired the shots, however, they have told him the opposite, that the tests revealed it could have been done by one man. One can only assume this is a reference to the tests performed in December.
And then, at the last second, a problematic witness resurfaces. The
FBI had forwarded an interview with this witness to the Commission on
12-23-63, but the Commission had not sought him out for further
investigation, or even acknowledged his existence, until a 6-5-64
article in the Dallas Times
Herald brought his story to the public’s attention. Even then, however, word on this witness moved slow. Commissioner John McCloy had sent his notes on the drafts of chapters 2 through 5 of the Warren Report to Chief Counsel J. Lee Rankin on 6-24-64. On page 8 of these notes, he had asked a question suggesting that he had never even heard of this witness. He had written: "Who was the person near the overpass who was struck on the cheek?"
James Tague (7-23-64 testimony before the Warren Commission, 7H552-558) “I was standing there watching, and really I was watching to try to distinguish the President and his car. About this time I heard what sounded like a firecracker. Well, a very loud firecracker. It certainly didn’t sound like a rifle shot. It was more of a loud cannon-type sound. I looked around to see who was throwing firecrackers or what was going on and I turned my head away from the motorcade and, of course, two more shots.” (When asked if he saw the President hit) “I did not” (When asked which shot hit him) “maybe the second or third shot, I couldn’t tell you definitely” (When asked if he heard any shots after he was hit) “I believe I did…I believe it was the second shot, so I heard the third shot afterwards." (When asked where he thought the shots came from) “my first impression was that up by the, whatever you call the monument…somebody was throwing firecrackers up there.” As Tague was hit by a fragment from one of the last two shots, his testimony cuts into Specter and the Commission’s options. If Specter says the first shot missed then he has to hold that Tague was injured by a fragment from the head shot, which many might find far-fetched.
A 7-24-64 FBI report on Mrs. Clotile Williams is also revealing. Mrs. Williams is a previously undiscovered eyewitness to the assassination. The bulk of the report is not on Mrs. Williams’ recollections, however, nor on the names of her co-workers in the building across from the school book depository, who may have seen something. The report’s focus, instead, is on trying to establish the identities of two independent researchers who contacted Mrs. Williams after someone recognized her in one of the photos of the motorcade. The investigating agent goes as far as taking a detailed description of these researchers from Mrs. Williams’ neighbor. The FBI, of course, has not found the time to interview either of the motorcycle officers to Kennedy’s right, nor Abraham Zapruder’s secretary.
Elsewhere, on 7-24-64 the Warren
Commission engages the Marine Corps in a little self-protection. To counter Lt. Col. Folsom’s description of
Oswald’s marksmanship as “poor,” they take the testimony of Major Eugene D. Anderson, an assistant head of the Marksmanship branch of the Marines, and Master Sergeant James Zahm, an NCO of
Marksmanship Training. Arlen Specter
takes their testimony.
After being shown Oswald's test scores, Anderson offers an explanation
for Oswald's lowly score in 1959, shortly before he left the Marines: "It may well have been a bad day for firing a rifle, windy, rainy,
dark. There is little probability that he had a good, expert coach. and
he probably didn't have as high a motivation because he was no longer
in recruit training and under the care of the drill instructor. There
is some possibility that the rifle he was firing might not have been as
good a rifle as the rifle he was firing in his A course firing. because
he may well have carried this rifle around for some time, and it got
banged around in normal usage." Anderson summarizes Oswald's abilities
as follows: "I would say that as compared to other Marines receiving
the same kind of training, that Oswald was a good shot, somewhat better
than or equal to--better than average let us say. As compared to a
civilian who had not received this intensive training, he would
be considered as a good to excellent shot." Specter then shows Anderson
frames from the Zapruder film and asks him if hitting Kennedy from the
distances determined at the re-enactment would be within Oswald's
capabilities, and Anderson repeatedly says the shots were within
Oswald's capabilities. He then asks him if Oswald could fire three
shots in a time span between 4.8 and 5.6 seconds, and Anderson once
again replies in the affirmative. Specter fails to ask Anderson the
more pertinent question if Oswald could be expected to hit the 2 "not
particularly difficult" shots within a 4.8-5.6 second time span while
firing at a moving target with a Mannlicher-Carcano rifle. Perhaps he
already knew the answer. After finishing with Anderson, Specter makes
point of asking Zahm about Oswald’s ability “based on the tests.” This
the most recent test was 4 years before the shooting and that Oswald
to keep in practice. Zahm tells Specter
what he undoubtedly wants to hear: “I would say in the Marine Corps he is a
good shot, slightly above average, and as compared to the average male of his
age throughout the civilian, throughout the United
States, that he is an excellent shot.” Clearly, this is the new company line.
Commissioner Dulles was especially receptive to this line. A letter from Dulles to Rankin on 7-27-64, available on the Princeton University website, asks "Where have we dealt with the evidence as to Oswald's ability to handle a rifle?" This confirms that Rankin and his men had held off writing anything about Oswald's shooting ability, until after they could get "friendly" witnesses, such as Major Anderson and Master Sergeant Zahm, on the record.
this attempt they were not particularly concerned with the truth. Only
hinted at in the testimony of Anderson and Zahm is the strange fact
that the Commission has already concluded that Oswald, who'd
received no training whatsoever on firing at moving targets, firing
elevation, firing with a telescopic site, or even firing a bolt-action
rifle, was able to rapid-fire a bolt-action rifle equipped with a
telescopic site and hit a moving target from elevation two out of three
times without one lick of practice. This is like a man with a driver's
license--who hasn't driven a car in several years--getting behind the
wheel of a dragster and winning a championship race. Also unmentioned
in the testimony is that there was a stack of books found in the
sniper's nest, and that the commission had presumed these books were
used as a rifle rest by a sniper shooting Kennedy. The use of such a
prop is not taught in the Marines. Instead, Marines like Oswald are
taught to fire from a standing, kneeling, or prone position, with the
rifle at a 45 degree angle to the body, and to track moving objects,
such as a car, by moving the site along the path of the target, even
after firing. The use of a "rifle rest", therefore, precludes such a
tactic, and suggests that, instead, the shooter waited for the target
to cross a pre-selected point. There is also a question about the angle
of the rifle to the sniper's body. The location of the box purportedly
used as a seat by the sniper, and the indentation on the "rifle rest,"
indicates that the shooter was sitting back from the sixth floor
sniper's window, aiming toward its right. Someone with Oswald's
training, on the other hand, in order to fire far off to his right,
would have to have been up near the windowsill, with his profile
clearly visible to those on the street below. No one saw such a
On 7-27-64 Chief Counsel Rankin receives yet another correspondence relating to Oswald’s marksmanship abilities, this one from J. Edgar Hoover. Someone at the Commission recalled the claim in the December 6 issue of Life Magazine that Oswald’s purported shots had been duplicated by someone at the NRA, and asked the FBI to look into it. The FBI report forwarded by Hoover is quite damaging to Life’s credibility. While Life claimed the shooter was an official of the NRA, it turned out the shooter had merely been recommended by the NRA. The shooter, Clayton Wheat, moreover, admitted that he’d had 8 or 9 practice shots and had used a 7.35mm Carcano in his tests, not the 6.5 mm Carcano purportedly used by Oswald. He also acknowledged that he’d fired on a moving deer target traveling slowly, 3-5 mph, right to left over 33 feet, and not at a human head and shoulders-sized target traveling 12 mph away on an angle over a distance of 100 feet or so. He also mentioned that that he’d fired at the target from a distance of 150 feet, from approximately 10 degrees above horizontal, as opposed to firing from a distance of 160-265 feet from approximately 22-16 degrees above horizontal for the purported shots on Kennedy from the sniper’s nest. In short, he didn’t reproduce the shots at all. While Wheat stood by his claim that he’d had three hits in 6.2 seconds on his first try, he admitted that he’d missed two shots in his five runs due to poor ammunition, and couldn’t remember the times of the other runs.
On 7-29, President Johnson finally tells Robert Kennedy that he will not be his running mate in the November election, and will not be the next Vice-President of the United States.
Polishing a Turd
On 8-1 Chief Justice Warren returns from his nearly month-long fishing trip.
On 8-4-64 Robert Kennedy finally replies to "Warren's" June 11 letter seeking any information he may have suggesting a possible conspiracy. "His" letter is identical to the draft proposed by Warren Commission Counsel Willens. He has merely signed it. It asserts that he knows of no credible evidence suggesting a conspiracy. It admits, however, that "As you know, I am personally not aware of the detailed results of the extensive investigation in this matter which has been conducted by the Federal Bureau of Investigation. I have, however, received periodic reports about the work of the Commission from you, Deputy Attorney General Katzenbach, and Mr. Willens of the Department of Justice, who has worked for the Commission for the past several months. Based on these reports, I am confident that every effort is being made by the President's Commission to fulfill the objectives of Executive Order No. 11130 by conducting a thorough investigation into all the facts relating to the assassination."
(It is curious that Kennedy specifies that what little information on the investigation he's received has come purely from Warren, Katzenbach, and Willens. As discussed in Chapter 1, it would later become clear that Warren and Katzenbach had, within a week of the shooting, been strong-armed by President Johnson and FBI Director Hoover into pushing Oswald's sole guilt. As Willens was, in the words of Commissioner McCloy, one of "Katzenbach's boys," moreover, this suggests that Kennedy was not, at this time, in touch with anyone who would keep him informed regarding evidence for a possible conspiracy.)
A Brief Discussion of Kennedy's letter and Willens
FWIW, It seems likely Howard Willens has read the previous passage. On 11-8-2014, on his website HowardWillens.com, Willens responded to some unnamed commentators. He wrote:
"Some commentators have found it “curious,” if not “suspicious,” that the
Attorney General did not send his letter back to the Warren Commission
until August 4, 1964 – some seven weeks after he received Warren’s
letter. They obviously had not read the following discussion of this
issue at page 192 of my book:
“I met with Katzenbach on June 17 to follow up on Mrs. Kennedy’s testimony and the attorney general’s response to Warren’s letter. I told him: ‘I would prefer that the letter not be answered immediately.’ By way of explanation, I mentioned that ‘I expected there would be a considerable difference of views between the Chief Justice and the staff regarding the quality of the report.’ If this situation developed, I told Katzenbach, ‘I intended to fight for a report I considered satisfactory, and indicated that a delay in sending this letter would bolster my position.’ Katzenbach said that he would hold the letter while the attorney general was in Europe from June 23 to June 30.
I had no reason at the time to believe that Warren (or the other members of the commission) might try to limit the investigation or shape its conclusions in a way that would be unacceptable to me or other members of the staff. I may have been thinking of our difficulties with the Treasury Department on presidential protection issues. But I was obviously anticipating the worst, and being able to employ the persuasive force of the Justice Department and Robert Kennedy, if necessary, was a precautionary step that seemed appropriate at the time.”
I never spoke with Katzenbach again about Robert Kennedy’s response to the Warren Commission. I do not know the circumstances under which the letter was presented to him for signature on August 4. I do know that this was an incredibly busy (and tense) time at the Justice Department as the Attorney General considered his political future, which led to his resignation from the Department in early September."
It's quite revealing, IMO, that Willens rebuts the possibility Robert Kennedy was resistant to signing a statement to the Warren Commission by admitting he himself had doubts about the thoroughness of the Commission's investigation and report, and delayed Kennedy's signing a statement in order to gain leverage over his superiors on the Commission.On 8-4-64, 8-21-64, and 9-10-64, the FBI creates reports on the “Mark Lane Security Matter” and forwards them to the Warren Commission. While ostensibly an investigation of communist involvement in Lane’s Citizen’s Committee of Inquiry, which he’d formed to unveil the truth about the assassination, these reports are really designed to feed the Commission what its critics are saying, so that the Commission can counter these arguments in their final report. (Indeed, many of Lane’s questions would be answered by the report.) There are unnerving elements to these FBI reports however. The 8-4 report details a number of Lane’s speeches, and cites ten separate confidential sources, the 8-21 report includes a complete transcript of Lane’s appearance on a radio show, and the 9-10 report details more of Lane’s speeches, and cites twelve confidential sources. This raises a few questions: Where was all this manpower when it came time to identify the unidentified witnesses in the photographs of the shooting? Where was all this manpower when it came time to interview the witnesses who were known to the media, or mentioned in the early reports of the Dallas Police? Where was all this manpower when it came to accurately simulate the conditions in Dallas, to see if Oswald could actually have performed his purported feat? Furthermore, where was all this manpower when it came time to review the autopsy report? Study Kennedy’s wounds? Study the reactions of the human body to gunshot wounds, and see if the exact moments of impact could actually be identified in the Zapruder film? And finally, where was all this manpower when it came time to match the eyewitness testimony to the proposed shooting scenario? Spying on Oswald’s mother? Watching Mark Lane?
The Commission and its remaining staff are now busy busy busy preparing for the release of their report, re-writing draft after draft, trying to be clear as heck that Oswald was guilty as heck. An 8-8-64 critique by Commission Counsel Howard Willens of a 7-21 draft of the report's chapter on "The Assassin," however, gives us reason to be pessimistic about the thoroughness of the report. Willens, the Justice Department's point man on the commission, notes "I still have a question about the validity of including as a minor finding Oswald's capability with a rifle. I think our case remains the same even if Oswald had limited or negligible capability with a rifle. In a way, we are emphasizing an argument we don't really need, which prompts controversy and may tend to weaken the stronger elements of our proof." This confirms our worst suspicion--the commission and its staff have decided that, no matter how difficult the shots, and how incredible it would be for someone like Oswald to have made these shots, they're prepared to say he made them, without any assistance. This is weak sister stuff. IF Oswald had negligible ability with a rifle, it's unlikely he fired the shots; IF it's unlikely he fired the shots, then, Willens, an attorney for the Justice Department, should be asking "how is it that so much evidence exists that he did fire the shots"? "Was he, in fact, the patsy he claimed he was?"
An 8-21-64 entry in Willens' diary gives us even more cause for pause. He writes that on this day "Mr. Rankin also told me that he had raised with the Commission the problem of Archives handling of Commission materials. There is apparently a feeling among the members of the Commission that it would be desirable if all the material of the Commission were not available to the public for a year or two after the report comes out. They suggest that the organization and the screening of these materials will take this long, but of course the principal interest here is making sure that sufficient time elapses before any real critics can get access to material other than those which the Commission desires to publish simultaneous with its report. Apparently the Chief Justice intends to talk with the National Archivist on this subject."
(Well, heck, that's as good as an admission that the commission was not the straight-ahead fact-finding committee some claim them to have been, but the politically-motivated fact-hiding committee others fear they really were. Major props to Willens--a devout commission defender--for both including this juicy tidbit in his book, and for publishing his diary on his website.)
Fortunately, at least a few members of the staff have an interest in doing their jobs--investigating the possibility Oswald was set up. On 8-23-64, Commission Counsel Wesley Liebeler writes a memo to Chief Counsel Rankin informing him that Burt Griffin, David Slawson, and himself are troubled by the circumstances under which Oswald's palm print was identified on a lift taken from the rifle...days after the FBI had inspected the rifle and concluded there was no such print on the rifle. To be specific, Liebeler seeks to clarify a number of matters with Lt. J.C. Day of the Dallas Police. (Day claimed he'd taken a lift from the rifle before handing it off to the FBI, but did not give it to the FBI along with the other key evidence on 11-22, nor analyze the lift before giving it to the FBI on 11-26). In essence, Liebeler seeks to:
- Determine whether or not anyone had assisted Day when working on the prints who could corroborate his story.
- Determine why Day covered the prints on the trigger guard (which the FBI had failed to identify) with cellophane tape, but failed to cover the print he later claimed he'd found on the barrel.
- Determine why he lifted the print from the rifle barrel, but failed to lift the prints from the trigger guard.
- Determine if Day felt certain the print was still on the rifle after the lift (the FBI claimed no such print was visible on the barrel when they received the rifle).
- Determine if Day had in fact photographed the palm print on the barrel, as he had taken numerous photographs of the trigger guard prints and had forwarded them to the FBI, and it made no sense for him to fail to take pictures of the barrel print he thought was a "better bet" for identification.
- Determine if there is any way the FBI could study the lift of the palm print and conclude it had in fact come from the rifle barrel.
On 8-28-64, General Counsel Rankin and Counsels Liebeler and Griffin meet with the FBI's fingerprint expert Sebastian Latona, and ask the FBI's help not only with the problematic palm print but in ascertaining whose fingerprints and palm prints were found on the boxes of the sniper's nest Here, only NINE MONTHS after the shooting, it finally dawns on them that not knowing whose prints were found in the sniper's nest "leaves room for the allegation and speculation that Oswald had a co-conspirator in killing President Kennedy." The FBI's memo on this meeting reflects no genuine interest on their part in finding out whose prints these were, mind you, only that they were concerned about the speculation should they not endeavor to find out whose prints, besides Oswald's, were found in the nest. In any event, Rankin makes a formal request that the FBI help "resolve this issue by whatever additional investigation was necessary." Within days, the FBI compares the unidentified prints to those of 16 current and former employees of the depository, 4 employees of the Dallas Police Department, and 5 employees of the Bureau itself. From this they discover that 14 of the 19 fingerprints, and 4 of the 6 palm prints, came from the DPD Crime Lab's Robert Studebaker, who originally dusted the boxes for prints. They discover as well that of the other 5 fingerprints and 2 remaining palm prints, all but one palm print came from an FBI clerk named Forrest Lucy. Despite their best efforts, however--over the course of the next month, the FBI checks this lone palm print against the prints of another 85 Dallas Police and FBI employees--they are unable to identify the source of this print.
On 9-1-64, in an effort to tie up loose ends, the Commission calls upon FBI photo expert Lyndal Shaneyfelt. This is the the third time he's testified. He discusses the various photos of Oswald with his rifle, and how the newspapers and magazines showing these photos had tampered with them, and accidentally created the illusion the rifle was not the rifle recovered at the Book Depository. He then discusses photos of Oswald's shirt, which essentially prove nothing other than that Oswald had been wearing that shirt when arrested. He also discusses a photograph by Phil Willis. This photo was taken, per Willis' testimony, a split second after the first shot. Egged on by Norman Redlich, Shaneyfelt testifies "it is my opinion that photograph A of Shaneyfelt exhibit no. 25 was taken in the vicinity of the time that frame 210 of the Zapruder film was taken. This is not an accurate determination because the exact location of Mr. Willis is unknown. This would allow for some variation, but the time of the photograph A, as related to the Zapruder film, would be generally during the period that the President was behind the signboard in the Zapruder films, which covers a range from around frame 205 to frame 225." Redlich then interjects "Prior investigation has also revealed that when viewed from the southeast corner window of the sixth floor, the President emerges from the oak tree at approximately frame 210." Redlich then asks Shaneyfelt if it would be possible to fix Willis' exact location, and thus the exact time of his photograph as compared to the Zapruder film. Shaneyfelt replies "Yes, it would be possible having Mr. Willis' camera, to fix his location with some degree of accuracy..." When then nudged by Redlich "You are reasonably satisfied, however, that the technique that you have used to fix his location is a reasonably accurate one upon which you can base your conclusions which you have stated today?" Shaneyfelt responds "Yes, yes. I feel that the exact establishing of the position of Mr. Willis would not add a great detail of additional accuracy to my present conclusions."
Well, wait a minute. On June 4, Shaneyfelt testified in a curious manner that Kennedy appeared to be un-hit before he went behind the sign around frame 210 of the Zapruder film. Now he has testified that the Willis photo was taken around frame 210, the exact moment, as Norman Redlich was so kind to point out, that Kennedy was first visible to the sniper's nest after passing under the oak tree. A more accurate location for Willis might mean that Willis took his picture before Kennedy went behind the sign. It might be an indication that someone fired a shot when Kennedy was hidden from the sniper's nest. It might be an indication there was a second shooter. That Shaneyfelt refused to accurately plot Willis' location, and thus the timing of his photo, when added to the fact that he and Redlich went to such great lengths to assure everyone a more accurate assessment was unnecessary, when added to the fact that this testimony is being taken in the last weeks of the Commission, suggests the possibility that both men know the photo was taken when Oswald couldn't have fired the shot, and were trying to keep this off the record. (Sure enough, it was subsequently demonstrated that the photo was taken at frame 202 of the Zapruder film, before Kennedy went behind the sign. Equally intriguing, when deposed in a Freedom of Information act lawsuit brought by Harold Weisberg in 1977, and asked about his work on the Willis photo by Weisberg's lawyer Jim Lesar, Shaneyfelt testified "I may have" three times and "I don't recall" five times, and concluded smugly that "I am sure the record speaks for itself." Yes, it does--to those who listen.)
On 9-4-64, FBI Director Hoover sends Chief Counsel Rankin a letter claiming that the FBI's examiners have studied the background marks and irregularities of the palm print lift and have been able to positively identify it as having come from the assassination rifle. Accompanying this letter is a blurry illegible comparison of a small part of the barrel with and the palm print lift. This comparison is nevertheless accepted into evidence as exhibit CE 2637. No testimony is taken from the actual examiners, and Hoover is not asked to submit under oath that his letter is anything more than a fantasy. There is nothing to indicate, furthermore, that the small part of a barrel used in the comparison was even on the famous rifle.
Cover-ups are afoot. The wound ballistics expert at Kennedy's autopsy, Dr. Pierre Finck, writes a memo to himself on 9-11-64, stating: "I am called by Captain Stover, CO of Naval Med school. He tells me that Adm Burkley, White House Physician called him. The Warren Commission Report will be released to the Press shortly. However, the prosectors involved in Kennedy's autopsy are still required not to release information to the press. Inquiries should be referred to the White House Press Office. Brig Gen Blumberg, AFIP Director, calls me within two hours, notifying me of the same White House orders." This memo suggests that Johnson himself is behind the scenes, orchestrating a hush-hush of the medical evidence. For who else could pressure the President's personal physician into making phone calls first to the boss of Dr.s Humes and Boswell (Stover) and then to Finck's boss (Gen. Blumberg) insisting that the doctors stay quiet? While one might venture that Burkley has taken this upon himself, due to his loyalty to his former patient, Kennedy, it is highly doubtful that an Admiral in the Navy would give orders to a Brigadier General in the Army without first obtaining backing from his Commander-in-Chief.
On 9-16-64, FBI Director Hoover sends Rankin more of the info he'd requested regarding the palm print allegedly lifted from the rifle. Included in this info is a 9-9-64 FBI report on an interview of Lt. J.C. Day, the Dallas crime scene investigator claiming to have lifted the print on 11-22. According to the report, Lt. Day claimed he'd meant to photograph the palm print on the rifle, but didn't have time, as he was told to give all his evidence to the FBI as soon as possible. He said furthermore that he'd tentatively ID'ed the print on the night of the 22nd as Oswald's and had told this to Capt. Will Fritz and Dallas Police Chief Jesse Curry. Strangely, however, the FBI has failed to follow-up on this, and neither Fritz nor Curry have been asked to confirm Day's account. Even stranger, Lt. Day has refused to provide a signed statement presenting his account, and has opted instead to present the commission with a strangely vague 1-8-64 report he'd written for the Dallas Police. As a result, the only evidence provided the Commission confirming that the palm print was lifted from the rifle, and that this was discussed within the Dallas Police Department on 11-22-63, come via last minute letters and reports, as opposed to sworn testimony and signed statements. (FWIW, neither Fritz nor Curry would ever confirm Day's claim he'd told them of the print on the 22nd.)
On 9-18-64, President Johnson and Warren Commissioner Richard Russell have an intriguing conversation. This conversation further illuminates Johnson's desire that the murder of his predecessor just disappear. The conversation reflects the dissent within the Commission over Arlen Specter’s single-bullet theory, as well as Russell and Johnson’s inability to understand the importance of the single-bullet theory to the single-assassin conclusion.
Senator Richard Russell: “No, no. They’re trying to prove that the same bullet that hit Kennedy first was the one that hit Connally, went through him and through his hand, his bone, and into his leg…I couldn’t hear all the evidence and cross-examine all of ‘em. But I did read the record…I was the only fellow there that…suggested any change whatever in what the staff got up. This staff business always scares me. I like to put my own views down. But we got you a pretty good report.”
President Lyndon Johnson: Well, what difference does it make which bullet got Connally?
Senator Richard Russell: Well, it don’t make much difference. But they said that…the commission believes that the same bullet that hit Kennedy hit Connally. Well, I don’t believe it.
President Lyndon Johnson: I don’t either.
Russell: And so I couldn’t sign
it. And I said that Governor Connally
testified directly to the contrary and I’m not gonna approve of that. So I finally made ‘em say there was a
difference in the commission, in that part of ‘em believed that that wasn’t
so. And, course if a fellow was accurate
enough to hit Kennedy right in the neck on one shot and knock his head off in
the next one—and he’s leaning up against his wife’s head—and not even wound
her—why he didn’t miss completely with that third shot. But according to their theory, he not only
missed the whole auto mobile, but he missed the street! Well, a man that’s a good enough shot to put
two bullets right into Kennedy, he didn’t miss that whole automobile.”
This last conversation becomes even more intriguing once one
takes into account that the minutes of the 9-18-64 executive
session of the Warren Commission fail to note Russell’s dissent, or
even that the single-bullet theory was discussed. (When researcher
Harold Weisberg pointed this out to Russell in 1968, Russell cut-off
contact with his one-time protege Johnson. While this was probably not
the only reason for his cutting Johnson off--he was also upset about
Johnson dragging his feet on the appointment of a judge--it is
symptomatic of most historians' refusal to understand the dark legacy of
the assassination and subsequent investigation that they fail to mention it as even one of many
This suggests, then, that the fix is in. The commission's report and records are to indicate that Oswald did it alone, no matter what the commissioners actually suspect. No dissent is acceptable, as it might reflect negatively on President Johnson, and the country as a whole. That the Johnson Administration and intelligence community are banking on having a unanimous report claiming Oswald did it alone, moreover, is made clear by a 9-22 CIA memo entitled "Propaganda Notes." This memo, (not released until 1976), declares "Reports from around the world indicate that there is a strong belief in many countries that the assassination of the president was the result of a 'political plot;' the unwarranted interpretation that Ruby's murder of Oswald was committed to prevent Oswald from revealing the purported conspiracy adds to this belief. Communist regimes have used both murders to denigrate American society and the release of the Report will undoubtedly be used as a new peg for the same purpose. Covert assets should explain the tragedy wherever it is genuinely misunderstood and counter all efforts to misconstrue it intentionally--provided the depth of impact warrants such action. Communists and other extremists always attempt to prove a political conspiracy behind violence. In countries accustomed to assassination by political conspiracy, American dedication to institutions of law and government with stable administrative procedures can be described, and American presidents can be shown the victim (with the exception of Lincoln) of single, fanatical individuals." The memo then explains that copies of the report have been purchased and will be widely disseminated.
It's ironic, and perhaps more than suspicious, then, that while Chief Justice Warren supposedly agreed to chair the commission so he could help prevent the right wing of American politics from convincing the public there was a communist conspiracy, his finalized report is to be used primarily to stop communists from convincing the public there was a right wing conspiracy.
That at least someone was aware of this irony, however, is hinted at in Drew Pearson's 9-24-64 newspaper column, Washington Merry-Go-Round. Pearson notes that Warren was asked by Johnson to serve as "a soldier for his country." He notes that members of Warren's court "scolded him" when he told them of his appointment to the commission. He notes further that the 73-year-old Warren was "accustomed to swimming, relaxing, and storing up energy during recent summers," but that "Warren spent most of this summer working until 7 o'clock PM each evening." In closing, Pearson offers that Warren's job was a "thankless" one, but that he had indeed "served, as LBJ asked him to, as a soldier for his country."
Pearson was the ultimate Washington insider. He almost certainly knew that, at the height of the Warren Commission's investigation, Warren had slipped out to go fishing. And had stayed out for nearly a month. Pearson was also smart enough to know that the role of a chief justice is quite different, and thoroughly at odds, with the role of a soldier. It only makes sense then that we read Pearson's column as a dig at both Warren and Johnson, as if to say "I'm not stupid; I see what happened; but don't worry, I'll play ball with you as long as you play ball with me." The Washington Merry-Go-Round indeed.
(Of course, Pearson wasn't the only one spreading the myth of Warren's long hot summer, in which he supposedly slaved day after day--including the days when he was actually fishing. In fact, no one seems to have liked spreading this myth more than Warren himself. On 12-11-72, Warren was interviewed on PBS by Brandeis University Chancellor Abram Sachar. He told Sachar that "I just wore two hats for ten months while we were investigating the assassination of the President...I would run back and forth between these two-places. I don't believe I left my work before midnight any night for ten months." Hmm... What was 7 o'clock in '64 had stretched to midnight by '72...and stayed that way for some time. In 1997, Ed Cray published Chief Justice, a biography on Warren. For this book Cray interviewed a number of those closest to Warren, including his children. He also wrote a chapter on Warren's participation on the commission. And guess what? Cray never mentioned the nearly month-long vacation taken by Warren. No, instead, he claimed that "From January to October, 1964, Warren held two full-time jobs" and that he was "putting in fifteen and sixteen hour days." Well, hell. Warren's day started at 8 in the morning with the commission. He went over to the court from 10 to 3. And he undoubtedly took breaks for lunch. If he went home at 7, as claimed by Pearson, then, he was putting in ten-hour days, not fifteen and sixteen hour days. It seems likely, then, that Cray believed Warren's subsequent boasts that he worked 'til midnight. Still, at least Cray had plausible deniability in that he may not have known of Warren's vacation. Not so Howard Willens. In 2013, Warren Commission attorney Willens pumped out History Will Prove Us Right, his defense of the commission's actions and conclusions. And guess what? He failed to mention Warren's vacation.)
In any event, on 9-24-64, at 11:00 AM, the
Commission gives their completed report to President Johnson. After receiving the report, Johnson calls Senator Richard Russell in his office for a private conversation. He then calls Governor John Connally in Texas. Neither of these conversations, which almost certainly touched upon the Kennedy assassination and Warren Report, were recorded. Or at least no recordings remain of these conversations.
Although the report's conclusions are supposedly hush-hush until the 28th, copies of the report are provided the press on the morning of the 26th, so that the release of the report can be orchestrated and the report's conclusions can reach the widest audience possible. A publisher's note in the 10-2-64 issue of Time Magazine reveals:
While printing presses ran day and night to reprint the full document in various editions, our job was different: we went to work to excerpt the report, cull its most significant detail, and summarize its meaning in a special nine-page section.
The task began on Friday morning, 54 hours before the report’s official release and less than 36 hours before this issue was to go to press. In the Indian Treaty Room of Washington’s old Executive Office Building, advance copies were being handed out to the press from three pushcarts. Near the head of the line that had formed was John Brown, a messenger working for TIME’S Washington Bureau. He placed ten copies in a suitcase and headed for the airport. Less than two hours later, copies were turned over to a team assigned to prepare the special section—Nation Editor Champ Clark, Writers Marshall Loeb and William Johnson, Researchers Harriet Heck and Pat Gordon. They closed their doors and started reading the nearly 300,000 words.
About seven hours later, they were ready for a dinner conference with TIME’S managing editor. The entire section was written, edited, checked and in type not long after our usual press time on Saturday night.
It should be noted that the 36-hour window between receipt and publishing provided Time and other prominent papers and magazines gave them little or no time to critique the report, compare its findings to the statements of prominent witnesses, or perform any kind of detailed analysis. By throwing the press a bone on a Friday morning, the Johnson Administration had bought itself a week of support and even praise. It's hard to believe this was a coincidence.
In any event, a quick look at the report reveals that there have been some last-minute changes. After Chief Justice Warren compromises with Senator Richard Russell, the Single-Bullet Theory that had once been
supported by “compelling evidence” is now only supported by “persuasive
evidence.” This, in effect, conceals Russell’s skepticism. (In
time it would be revealed that three other Commissioners--Senator Cooper,
Congressman Boggs and John McCloy--had also expressed misgivings about
Arlen Specter’s single-bullet theory.)
So, now we’re in the shoes of the Commissioners. Of the 40 closest witnesses hearing three shots, 35 have indicated that either the last two shots were close together or that the last shot came after the head shot. Only 5 have indicated the last shot was the head shot without also indicating the last two shots were grouped together. Since 3 of those indicating the last two shots came together said the last shot was the head shot, this makes a total of 8 witnesses hearing 3 shots to state the last shot was the head shot. And 2 of these were the Connallys who ducked down in the car before the head shot. And another of these was Gayle Newman, who dived to the grass after the head shot. And 4 of these were men in the Secret Service back-up car; 3 of whom made no statements indicating the last shot was the head shot until after the Secret Service had studied the film and come to its conclusion the last shot was the head shot. Which leaves just one bystander witness to assert the last shot was the head shot: a 14-year old girl who testified for the first time eight months to the day after the assassination. On the other hand there are 22 witnesses claiming to have heard shots after the head shot, including the young girl’s mother and the majority of the closest witnesses. So how do Arlen Specter (who wrote the original chapter on the basic facts of the shooting), Norman Redlich (who re-wrote much of Specter's chapter) and ultimately the Warren Commission itself (who made a few changes before signing off on the chapter) describe the shots?.
The Specter Solution: The Warren Report's Conclusions (with Comments in Bold)
Number of shots
The consensus among the witnesses at the scene was that three shots were fired. However, some heard only two shots, while others testified that they heard four and perhaps as many as five or six shots. The difficulty of accurate perception of the sound of gunshots required careful scrutiny of all of this testimony regarding the number of shots. The firing of a bullet causes a number of noises, the muzzle blast, caused by the smashing of the hot gases which propel the bullet into the relatively stable air at the gun's muzzle, the noise of the bullet caused by the shock wave built up ahead of the bullet's nose as it travels through the air, and the noise caused by the impact of the bullet on its target. Each noise can be quite sharp and may be perceived as a separate shot. The tall buildings in the area might have further distorted the sound.
The physical and other evidence examined by the Commission compels the conclusion that at least two shots were fired. As discussed previously, the nearly whole bullet discovered at Parkland Hospital and the two larger fragments found in the Presidential automobile, which were identified as coming from the assassination rifle, came from at least two separate bullets and possibly from three. The most convincing evidence relating to the number of shots was provided by the presence on the sixth floor of three spent cartridges which were demonstrated to have been fired by the same rifle that fired the bullets which caused the wounds. It is possible that the assassin carried an empty shell in the rifle and fired only two shots, with the witnesses hearing multiple noises made by the same shot. Soon after the three empty cartridges were found, officials at the scene decided that three shots were fired, and that conclusion was widely circulated by the press. The eyewitness testimony may be subconsciously colored by the extensive publicity given the conclusion that three shots were fired. Nevertheless, the preponderance of the evidence, in particular the three spent cartridges, led the Commission to conclude that there were three shots fired.
The Shot That Missed
From the initial findings that (a) one shot passed through the President's neck and then most probably passed through the Governor's body, (b) a subsequent shot penetrated the President's head, (c) no other shot struck any part of the automobile, and (d) three shots were fired, it follows that one shot probably missed the car and its occupants. The evidence is inconclusive as to whether it was the first, second, or third shot which missed.
The First Shot
If the first shot missed, the
assassin perhaps missed in an effort to fire a hurried shot before the
President passed under the oak tree, or possibly he fired as the President
passed under the tree and the tree obstructed his view. The bullet might have
struck a portion of the tree and been completely deflected. On the other hand,
the greatest cause for doubt that the first shot missed is the improbability
that the same marksman who twice hit a moving target would be so inaccurate on
the first and closest of his shots as to miss completely, not only the target,
but the large automobile.
Some support for the contention that the first shot missed is found in the statement of Secret Service Agent Glen A. Bennett, stationed in the right rear seat of the President's follow-up car, who heard a sound like a firecracker as the motorcade proceeded down Elm Street. At that moment, Agent Bennett stated:
...I looked at the back of the President. I heard another firecracker noise and saw that shot hit the President about four inches down from the right shoulder. A second shot followed immediately and hit the right rear high of the President's head.
Substantial weight may be given Bennett's observations. Although his formal statement was dated November 23, 1963, his notes indicate that he recorded what he saw and heard at 5:30 p.m., November 22, 1963, on the airplane en route back to Washington, prior to the autopsy, when it was not yet.known that the President had been hit in the back. It is possible, of course, that Bennett did not observe the hole in the President's back, which might have been there immediately after the first noise. (It is interesting that Specter accords Bennett’s observations substantial weight here, considering that Bennett was never called to testify and that elsewhere Specter completely ignores Bennett’s appraisal of the back wound and head wound. It is also interesting that Specter gives Bennett's statement substantial weight, because it was based on notes written within hours of the shooting, but ignores the notes themselves. In the notes Bennett says that after he heard the first shot and he looked at the President he saw "a shot that hit the boss" and that "a second shoot followed immediately and hit the right rear high of the boss's head." This suggests that writing skills were not Bennett's strong point, and that he may have merely seen "that a shot had hit the boss" before a second shot followed. In other words, Bennett may very well have heard only two shots and have seen the President hit by the first of these shots. This makes using him to support that the first shot missed--without ever talking to him to get a clarification--surprising, even more surprising when one considers that the commission's counsel would later deny having done such a thing. On 12-4-64, shortly after the issuance of the Warren Commission's 26 volumes of supporting testimony and exhibits, Warren Commission counsel Joseph Ball, who had worked closely with Specter on his investigation, insisted in a debate with Commission critic Mark Lane that "We didn't take a single bit of evidence into consideration unless it was under oath." Wrong.)
Governor Connally's testimony supports the view that the first shot missed, because he stated that he heard a shot, turned slightly to his right, and, as he started to turn back toward his left, was struck by the second bullet. He never saw the President during the shooting sequence, and it is entirely possible that he heard the missed shot and that both men were struck by the second bullet. Mrs. Connally testified that after the first shot she turned and saw the President's hands moving toward his throat, as seen in the films at frame 225. However, Mrs. Connally further stated that she thought her husband was hit immediately thereafter by the second bullet. If the same bullet struck both the President and the Governor, it is entirely possible that she saw the President's movements at the same time as she heard the second shot. Her testimony, therefore, does not preclude the possibility of the first shot having missed.(Specter is being disingenuous here, and is attempting to hide that the single-bullet theory he proposes elsewhere is at odds with the testimony of the Connallys. Mrs. Connally would have heard a shot from the sniper’s nest only 1/10th of a second after the bullet impacted on Kennedy. It is not reasonable to assume she would hear a shot, turn, see Kennedy’s reaction to a second shot at the same time she heard this second shot, and then attribute Kennedy’s reaction to the first shot heard more than 2 ½ seconds earlier.)
Other eyewitness testimony, however, supports the conclusion that the first
of the shots fired hit the President. As discussed in chapter II, Special Agent
Hill's testimony indicates that the President was hit by the first shot and
that the head injury was caused by a second shot which followed about 5 seconds
later. James W. Altgens, a photographer in Dallas
for the Associated Press, had stationed himself on Elm
Street opposite the Depository to take pictures of
the passing motorcade. Altgens took a widely circulated photograph which showed
President Kennedy reacting to the first of the two shots which hit him. (See
Commission Exhibit No. 900, p. 113.) According to Altgens, he snapped the
picture "almost simultaneously" with a shot which he is confident was
the first one fired. Comparison of his photograph with the Zapruder film,
however, revealed that Altgens took his picture at approximately the same
moment as frame 255 of the movie, 30 to 45 frames (approximately 2 seconds)
later than the point at which the President was shot in the neck. (See
Commission Exhibit No. 901, p. 114.) Another photographer, Phillip L. Willis,
snapped a picture at a time which he also asserts was simultaneous with the
first shot. Analysis of his photograph revealed that it was taken at
approximately frame 210 of the Zapruder film, which was the approximate time of
the shot that probably hit the President and the Governor. If Willis accurately
recalled that there were no previous shots, this would be strong evidence that
the first shot did not miss. (Subsequent
study of Willis' photo showed that it was taken at frame 202, when a
tree blocked a clear view of Kennedy from the sniper's nest. The FBI
conclusion that it was taken at frame 210, just as the limousine was
emerging from behind this tree, is more than a little suspicious.)
If the first shot did not miss, there must be an explanation for Governor Connally's recollection that he was not hit by it. There was, conceivably, a delayed reaction between the time the bullet struck him and the time he realized that he was hit, despite the fact that the bullet struck a glancing blow to a rib and penetrated his wrist bone. The Governor did not even know that he had been struck in the wrist or in the thigh until he regained consciousness in the hospital the next day. Moreover, he testified that he did not hear what he thought was the second shot, although he did hear a subsequent shot which coincided with the shattering of the President's head. One possibility, therefore, would be a sequence in which the Governor heard the first shot, did not immediately feel the penetration of the bullet, then felt the delayed reaction of the impact on his back, later heard the shot which shattered the President's head, and then lost consciousness without hearing a third shot which might have occurred later.
The Second Shot
The possibility that the second shot missed is consistent with the elapsed time between the two shots that hit their mark. From the timing evidenced by the Zapruder films, there was an interval of from 4.8 to 5.6 seconds between the shot which struck President Kennedy's neck (between frames 210 to 225) and the shot which struck his head at frame 313. Since a minimum of 2.3 seconds must elapse between shots, a bullet could have been fired from the rifle and missed during this interval. This possibility was buttressed by the testimony of witnesses who claimed that the shots were evenly spaced, since a second shot occurring within an interval of approximately 5 seconds would have to be almost exactly midway in this period. If Altgens' recollection is correct that he snapped his picture at the same moment as he heard a shot, then it is possible that he heard a second shot which missed, since a shot fired 2.3 seconds before he took his picture at frame 255 could have hit the President at about frame 213. (Specter misrepresents the minimum time lapse between the shots. FBI ballistics expert Robert Frazier, who test-fired the gun, testified that 2.3 seconds was the time lapse between shots while firing at a stationary target, and that firing 3 shots at a moving target would add a second to the overall time. This translates to 51 frames between shots; in other words, Oswald would have to have fired as rapidly as possible in order to squeeze 3 shots between frames 210 and 313.)
On the other hand, a substantial majority of the witnesses stated that the shots were not evenly spaced. Most witnesses recalled that the second and third shots were bunched together, although some believed that it was the first and second which were bunched. To the extent that reliance can be placed on recollection of witnesses as to the spacing of the shots, the testimony that the shots were not evenly spaced would militate against a second shot missing. Another factor arguing against the second shot missing is that the gunman would have been shooting at very near the minimum allowable time to have fired the three shots within 4.8 to 5.6 seconds, although it was entirely possible for him to have done so. (See ch. IV, pp. 188-194.) (Here, Specter is admitting that the majority of witnesses heard the last two shots bunched together, and that this suggests that the second shot did not miss, and was therefore most probably the head shot.)
The Third Shot
The last possibility, of course, is that it was the third
shot which missed. This conclusion conforms most easily with the probability
that the assassin would most likely have missed the farthest shot, particularly
since there was an acceleration of the automobile after the shot which struck
the President's head. The limousine also changed direction by following the
curve to the right, whereas previously it had been proceeding in almost a
straight line with a rifle protruding from the sixth-floor window of the Depository Building.
One must consider, however, the testimony of the witnesses who described the head shot as the concluding event in the assassination sequence. Illustrative is the testimony of Associated Press photographer Altgens, who had an excellent vantage point near the President's car. He recalled that the shot which hit the President's head "was the last shot that much I will say with a great degree of certainty." On the other hand, Emmett J. Hudson, the grounds-keeper of Dealey Plaza, testified that from his position on Elm Street, midway between Houston Street and the Triple Underpass, he heard a third shot after the shot which hit the President in the head. In addition, Mrs. Kennedy's testimony indicated that neither the first nor the second shot missed. Immediately after the first noise she turned, because of the Governor's yell, and saw her husband raise his hand to his forehead. Then the second shot struck the President's head. (Here, Specter is confusing the issue unnecessarily. As Mr. Altgens and Mrs. Kennedy could clearly recall but two shots, his attempts at using their testimony to establish which of the three shots missed the car is a bit strange. Why doesn’t he use the words of Charles Brehm, Malcolm Summers, or Marilyn Willis? Oh, that’s right, they were never called before the Commission…)
Some evidence suggested that a third shot may have entirely missed and hit the turf or street by the Triple Underpass. Royce G. Skelton, who watched the motorcade from the railroad bridge, testified that after two shots "the car came on down close to the Triple Underpass" and an additional shot "hit in the left front of the President's car on the cement." Skelton thought that there had been a total of four shots, either the third or fourth of which hit in the vicinity of the underpass. Dallas Patrolman J. W. Foster, who was also on the Triple Underpass, testified that a shot hit the turf near a manhole cover in the vicinity of the underpass. Examination of this area, however, disclosed no indication that a bullet struck at the locations indicated by Skelton or Foster.
At a different location in Dealey Plaza, the evidence indicated that a bullet fragment did hit the street. James T. Tague, who got out of his car to watch the motorcade from a position between Commerce and Main Streets near the Triple Underpass, was hit on the cheek by an object during the shooting. Within a few minutes Tague reported this to Deputy Sheriff Eddy R. Walthers, who was examining the area to see if any bullets had struck the turf. Walthers immediately started to search where Tague had been standing and located a place on the south curb of Main Street where it appeared a bullet had hit the cement. According to Tague, "There was a mark quite obviously. that was a bullet, and it was very fresh." In Tague's opinion, it was the second shot which caused the mark, since he thinks he heard the third shot after he was hit in the face. This incident appears to have been recorded in the contemporaneous report of Dallas Patrolman L. L. Hill, who radioed in around 12:40 p.m.: "I have one guy that was possibly hit by a ricochet from the bullet off the concrete." Scientific examination of the mark on the south curb of Main Street by FBI experts disclosed metal smears which, "were spectrographically determined to be essentially lead with a trace of antimony." The mark on the curb could have originated from the lead core of a bullet but the absence of copper precluded "the possibility that the mark on the curbing section was made by an unmutilated military full metal-jacketed bullet such as the bullet from Governor Connally's stretcher."
It is true that the noise of a subsequent shot might have been drowned out by the siren on the Secret Service follow-up car immediately after the head shot, or the dramatic effect of the head shot might have caused so much confusion that the memory of subsequent events was blurred. Nevertheless, the preponderance of the eyewitness testimony that the head shot was the final shot must be weighed in any determination as to whether it was the third shot that missed. Even if it were caused by a bullet fragment, the mark on the south curb of Main Street cannot be identified conclusively with any of the three shots fired. Under the circumstances it might have come from the bullet which hit the President's head, or it might have been a product of the fragmentation of the missed shot upon hitting some other object in the area. Since he did not observe any of the shots striking the President, Tague's testimony that the second shot, rather than the third, caused the scratch on his cheek, does not assist in limiting the possibilities. (What preponderance of the eyewitness testimony? That members of the Commission and its counsel knew this was nonsense is supported by a December 17, 1991 Washington Post article by Commissioner Gerald Ford and counsel David Belin. While trying to argue that Oswald had more time to fire his shots than proposed by Oliver Stone in his film JFK, they nonsensically argued "the most probable time span of Oswald's three shots was around 10 seconds, in light of the fact that one of Oswald's shots missed--most likely the first or the last." By citing that it was more likely that the third shot missed than the second, they confirmed that the section of their report arguing that a final shot miss was unlikely, was not a unanimous opinion.)
The wide range of possibilities and the existence of conflicting testimony, when coupled with the impossibility of scientific verification, precludes a conclusive finding by the Commission as to which shot missed. (He is clearly mistaken here. The preponderance of eyewitness statements indicates that the first shot hit. It also indicates the likelihood that the last shot missed. The problem for Specter is that, if he submits that the last shot missed, then he has to butt heads with those absolutely convinced that the last shot hit. If he goes along and states that the last shot hit, however, he can’t come to the obvious conclusion that the first shot hit, without committing the Commission to a shooting scenario he knows may not pass the smell test, particularly after Frazier’s testimony. So what does Specter do? He pretends there is just no way of knowing what happened.)
Time Span of Shots
Witnesses at the assassination scene said that the shots were fired within a few seconds, with the general estimate being 5 to 6 seconds. That approximation was most probably based on the earlier publicized reports that the first shot struck the President in the neck, the second wounded the Governor and the third shattered the President's head, with the time span from the neck to the head shots on the President being approximately 5 seconds. As previously indicated, the time span between the shot entering the back of the President's neck and the bullet which shattered his skull was 4.8 to 5 seconds. If the second shot missed, then 4.8 to 5.6 seconds was the total time span of the shots. If either the first or third shots missed, then a minimum of 2.3 seconds (necessary to operate the rifle) must be added to the time span of the shots which hit, giving a minimum time of 7.1 to 7.9 seconds for the three shots. If more than 2.3 seconds elapsed between a shot that missed and one that hit, then the time span would be correspondingly increased. (This is Specter at his best/worst. Here he sidesteps the possibility of the missed shot’s being too close in time to either the first or second hit to have been fired by Oswald, by arbitrarily adding 2.3 seconds on to either end of his shooting scenario. He almost certainly knows that the expected delay between shots while firing at a moving target is 2.8 seconds, not 2.3, and that this amounts to 51 frames. He almost certainly knows there is no eyewitness support for a shot as early as frame 173 (51 frames before the last possible moment Kennedy could have been hit by the second shot) nor for a shot as late as frame 364 (51 frames after the head shot). The only scenario he can honestly push therefore is that the second shot missed. He doesn’t want to do this, however, for two reasons: one, Governor Connally insisted he was hit by the second shot, and two, the shorter elapsed time makes Oswald’s purported shooting feat many times more difficult and probably beyond his abilities. So what does Specter do? Once again, he decides not to decide.)
Based on the evidence analyzed in this chapter, the Commission has concluded that the shots which killed President Kennedy and wounded Governor Connally were fired from the sixth-floor window at the southeast corner of the Texas School Book Depository Building. Two bullets probably caused all the wounds suffered by President Kennedy and Governor Connally. Since the preponderance of the evidence indicated that three shots were fired, the Commission concluded that one shot probably missed the Presidential limousine and its occupants, and that the three shots were fired in a time period ranging from approximately 4.8 to in excess of 7 seconds. (Let’s recall the 12-16-63 Executive Session of the Warren Commission, in which Chief Justice Warren and Congressman Boggs discussed the FBI Report’s failure to clear up which shots struck the President. Sayeth Warren: “It doesn’t do anything” Respondeth Boggs: “It raises a lot of new questions in my mind.” Isn’t it ironic, don’t you think?)
Straight Shooters or Smoke Blowers?
Since the Commission refused to decide how the shots were fired, the possibility that Oswald successfully hit a moving target two of three times in as little as 4.8 seconds had to be supported. This put the writers of the report in a bind. As a result, the section of the report on Oswald's rifle capability is among the least credible parts of the report, filled with errors and (almost certainly) deliberate deceptions. This section, from chapter 4, originally written by Joseph Ball and David Belin, and then re-written by Norman Redlich, with a few final tweaks added by the Warren Commissioners, follows... with my comments in bold (of course).
Oswald's Rifle Capability
In deciding whether Lee Harvey Oswald fired the shots which killed President Kennedy and wounded Governor Connally, the Commission considered whether Oswald, using his own rifle, possessed the capability to hit his target with two out of three shots under the conditions described in chapter Ill. The Commission evaluated (1) the nature of the shots, (2) Oswald's Marine training in marksmanship, (8) his experience and practice after leaving the Marine Corps, and (4) the accuracy of the weapon and the quality of the ammunition.
The Nature of the Shots
For a rifleman situated on the sixth floor of the Texas School Book Depository Building the shots were at a slow-moving target proceeding on a downgrade in virtually a straight line with the alignment of the assassin's rifle, at a range of 177 to 266 feet. An aerial photograph of Dealey Plaza shows that Elm Street runs at an angle so that the President would have been moving in an almost straight line away from the assassin's rifle. (See Commission Exhibit No. 876, p. 33.) In addition, the 3 degree downward slope of Elm Street was of assistance in eliminating at least some of the adjustment which is ordinarily required when a marksman must raise his rifle as a target moves farther away. (As shown on the slide above, the Commission knew full well that the limousine was not proceeding "in virtually a straight line away" from the sixth floor sniper's nest, but was heading to the right. This makes this statement suspicious. That the FBI's Robert Frazier failed to measure the lead to the right necessary to hit the limousine for his March 31 testimony, and that FBI Exhibits Chief Leo Gauthier on June 4 misrepresented a photo taken from across the street of the sniper's nest and directly behind the limo as a photo taken from the sniper's nest, suggests that the FBI was being deliberately deceptive on this issue. That the Warren Commission, which oversaw the May 24, 1964 re-enactment, measured the vertical angle of descent from the sniper's nest, but not the horizontal angle of the bullet into the car (which was subsequently shown to vary from 12 to 8 degrees during the assassination sequence), and that photos of this re-enactment show the limo at frame 313 in line with a shot from the sniper's nest, but out of alignment with the lines in the street, suggests, furthermore, that they were a witting part of this deception. This should make us wonder if some "executive decision" had been made on this point. That Legendary LAPD Chief William Parker called a press conference on 11-27-63, and told the big, fat, Canada goose-honking lie that the lateral movement of the limo during the shooting sequence was so small it would have been "imperceptible" to a shooter in the sniper's nest, should only intensify this suspicion. Should one think I'm exaggerating the damage done by these deceptions, moreover, one should consider that in 2012, nearly fifty years after the assassination, veteran CBS newsman Dan Rather wrote a book in which he repeated Parker's lie about the right-to-left movement of the limo as seen from the sniper's nest during the shooting sequence. When discussing CBS' re-enactment of the shooting and its claim Oswald could have pulled off the shots, Rather wrote: "From the sixth floor window of the Texas School Book Depository, what Oswald saw through the gunsight of his Mannlicher-Carcano rifle was his victim, first up close, then receding in a straight line, not crossing in front of him. In other words, even though the limousine was moving, President Kennedy remained in the crosshairs." Bullpucky. )
Four marksmanship experts testified before
the Commission. Maj. Eugene D. Anderson, assistant head of the Marksmanship
Branch of the US.
Marine Corps, testified that the shots which struck the President in the neck
and in the head were "not ... particularly difficult."
Frazier, FBI expert in firearms identification and training, said:"From my own experience in shooting over the
years, when you shoot at 175 feet or 260 feet, which is less than 100 yards,
with a telescopic sight, you should not have any difficulty in hitting your
target. I mean it requires no training at all to shoot a weapon with a telescopic
sight once you know that you must put the crosshairs on the target and that is
all that is necessary." (This
avoids that, according to Frazier's own testimony, the crosshairs of
Oswald's rifle were misaligned, and that his rifle, when first tested
by the FBI, fired 4 inches high and 1 to the right at only 15 yards.)
Ronald Simmons, chief of the US. Army
Infantry Weapons Evaluation Branch of the Ballistics Research Laboratory, said:
"Well, 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." (This
avoids that Simmons actually tested the rifle, using three Master
shooters employed by the Army, and that, of the 14 shots rapid-fired by
these men, not one of them hit as close to the center of the stationary head and
shoulders target as the two hits attributed to Oswald.)
effect of a four-power telescopic sight on the difficulty of these shots was
considered in detail by M. Sgt. James A. Zahm, noncommissioned officer in
charge of the Marksmanship Training Unit in the Weapons Training Battalion of
the Marine Corps School at Quantico, Va. Referring to a rifle with a four-power
telescope, Sergeant Zahm said:"...this is the ideal type of weapon for
...Using the scope, rapidly working a bolt and using the scope to relocate your target quickly and at the same time when you locate that target you identify it and the crosshairs are in close relationship to the point you want to shoot at, it just takes a minor move in aiming to bring the crosshairs to bear, and then it is a quick squeeze. I consider it a real advantage, particularly at the range of 100 yards, in identifying your target. It. allows you to see your target clearly, and it is still of a minimum amount of power that it doesn't exaggerate your own body movements. It just is an aid in seeing in the fact that you only have the one element, the crosshair, in relation to the target as opposed to iron sights with aligning the sights and then aligning them on the target."
Characterizing the four-power scope as
"a real aid, an extreme aid" in rapid fire shooting, Sergeant Zahm
expressed the opinion that the shot which struck President Kennedy in
at 176.9 to 190.8 feet was "very easy" and the shot which struck the
President in the head at a distance of 265.3 feet was "an easy shot."
After viewing photographs depicting the alignment of Elm Street in
relation to the Texas School Book Depository Building, Zahm stated
further: "This is a definite advantage to the
shooter, the vehicle moving directly away from him and the downgrade of the
street, and he being in an elevated position made an almost stationary target
while he was aiming in, very little movement if any." (It
bears repeating that the vehicle was not actually moving directly away
from the sniper in the school book depository, but away and to the
right. It is also suspicious that Zahm was shown an overhead view of
Dealey Plaza to convince him of this alignment, long after photographs
of the May 24 re-enactment, and showing the exact angle of the limo to
the sniper's nest, were available. It is also intriguing that Zahm was
only asked to testify after the report had been completed, and was
being re-written. Why was his speculation on the difficulty of the
shots considered more significant than the tests performed by Simmons?)
Oswald's Marine Training
In accordance with standard Marine procedures, Oswald received extensive training in marksmanship. During the first week of an intensive 8-week training period he received instruction in sighting, aiming, and manipulation of the trigger. He went through a series of exercises called dry firing where he assumed all positions which would later be used in the qualification course. After familiarization with live ammunition in The .22 rifle and .22 pistol, Oswald, like all Marine recruits, received training on the rifle range at distances up to 500 yards, firing 50 rounds each day for five days.
Following that training, Oswald was tested in December of 1956, and obtained a score of 212, which was 2 points above the minimum for qualifications as a "sharpshooter" in a scale of marksman/sharp-shooter/expert. In May of 1959, on another range, Oswald scored 191, which was 1 point over the minimum for ranking as a "marksman." The Marine Corps records maintained on Oswald further show that he had fired and was familiar with the Browning Automatic rifle, .45 caliber pistol, and 12-gage riot gun.
Based on the general Marine Corps ratings,
Lt. Col. A. G. Folsom, Jr., head, Records Branch, Personnel Department,
Headquarters US. Marine Corps, evaluated the sharpshooter qualification as a
"fairly good shot" and a low marksman rating as a "rather poor
shot." When asked to explain the different scores achieved by Oswald on
the two occasions when he fired for record, Major Anderson said: "...when he fired that  he had just
completed a very intensive preliminary training period. He had the services of
an experienced highly trained coach. He had high motivation. He had presumably
a good to excellent rifle and good ammunition. We have nothing here to show
under what conditions the B course was fired. It might well have been a bad day
for firing the rifle, windy, rainy, dark. There is little probability that he had
a good, expert coach, and he probably didn't have as high a motivation because
he was no longer in recruit training and under the care of the drill instructor.
There is some possibility that the rifle he was firing might not have been as
good a rifle as the rifle that he was firing in his A course firing, because
[he] may well have carried this rifle for quite some time, and it got banged
around in normal usage." (This
is classic obfuscation. The Commission offers speculation by Anderson
that Oswald's "poor" shooting could have come as a result of bad
weather, but fails to follow through and call the Weather Bureau or
check a newspaper archive to see if this was true. Well, for what it's
worth, early critic Mark Lane was a little more industrious and
found the day in question to have been a warm sunny day with
temperatures ranging from 72 to 79 degrees, with only a slight breeze.
Anderson's speculation that Oswald's rifle in 1959 may have been
inferior to the rifle he'd used earlier is also problematic. Oswald's
Marine Corps-issued rifle was without doubt in far better condition and
far more accurate than the presumed assassination weapon, a WWII
surplus rifle that had not been cleaned for months, and had purportedly
been carried to the assassination disassembled in a paper bag.)
Major Anderson concluded: "I would say that as compared to other Marines receiving the same type of training, that Oswald was a good shot, somewhat better than or equal to better than the average let us say. As compared to a civilian who had not received this intensive training, he would be considered as a good to excellent shot."
When Sergeant Zahm was asked whether Oswald's
Marine Corps training would have made it easier to operate a rifle with a
four-power scope, he replied: "Based on that training, his basic
knowledge in sight manipulation and trigger squeeze and what not, I would say
that he would be capable of sighting that rifle in well, firing it, with 10
avoids both that there is no evidence Oswald's
rifle had ever been sighted in prior to the assassination, and that it could not be
properly sighted-in when the FBI tried to do so.)
After reviewing Oswald's marksmanship scores,
Sergeant Zahm concluded: "I would say in the Marine Corps he is a
good shot, slightly above average, and as compared to the average male of his
age throughout the civilian, throughout the United States, that he is an
excellent shot." (More
obfuscation: Zahm was asked to comment on Oswald's ability based upon
his earliest test scores in the Marines, and was not asked to speculate on
Oswald's presumed abilities after falling out of practice, and firing a
rifle unlike any he'd ever been trained on.)
Oswald's Rifle Practice Outside the Marines
During one of his leaves from
the Marines, Oswald hunted with his brother Robert, using a .22 caliber
bolt-action rifle belonging either to Robert or Robert's in-laws. After he left
the Marines and before departing for Russia, Oswald, his brother, and a
third companion went hunting for squirrels and rabbits. On that occasion Oswald
again used a bolt-action .22 caliber rifle; and according to Robert, Lee Oswald
exhibited an average amount of proficiency with that weapon. While in Russia, Oswald
obtained a hunting license, joined a hunting club and went hunting about six
times, as discussed more fully in chapter VI. Soon after Oswald returned from
the Soviet Union he again went hunting with
his brother, Robert, and used a borrowed .22 caliber bolt-action rifle. After
Oswald purchased the Mannlicher-Carcano rifle, he told his wife that he
practiced with it. Marina Oswald testified that on one occasion she saw him
take the rifle, concealed in a raincoat, from the house on Neely Street. Oswald
told her he was going to practice with it. According to George De
Mohrenschildt, Oswald said that he went target shooting with that rifle. (Notice
that the Commission could not find a single witness to Oswald's
actually practicing with the rifle. Notice also that it fails to show
how practice so many months before could be of any help in the
shooting. It also avoids that neither cleaning supplies nor ammunition
were found among Oswald's possessions.)
Marina Oswald testified that in New Orleans in May of 1963, she observed Oswald sitting with the rifle on their screened porch at night, sighting with the telescopic lens and operating the bolt. Examination of the cartridge cases found on the sixth floor of the Depository Building established that they had been previously loaded and ejected from the assassination rifle, which would indicate that Oswald practiced operating the bolt.
Accuracy of Weapon
It will be recalled from the discussion in chapter III that the assassin in all probability hit two out of the three shots during the maximum time span of 4.8 to 5.6 seconds if the second shot missed, or, if either the first or third shots missed, the assassin fired the three shots during a minimum time span of 7.1 to 7.9 seconds. A series of tests were performed to determine whether the weapon and ammunition used in the assassination were capable of firing the shots which were fired by the assassin on November 22, 1968. The ammunition used by the assassin was manufactured by Western Cartridge Co. of East Alton, III. In tests with the Mannlicher-Carcano C2766 rifle, over 100 rounds of this ammunition were fired by the FBI and the Infantry Weapons Evaluation Branch of the US. Army. There were no misfires.
In an effort to test the rifle under conditions which simulated those which prevailed during the assassination, the Infantry Weapons Evaluation Branch of the Ballistics Research Laboratory had expert riflemen fire the assassination weapon from a tower at three silhouette targets at distances of 175, 240, and 265 feet. The target at 265 feet was placed to the right of the 240-foot target which was in turn placed to the right of the closest silhouette. Using the assassination rifle mounted with the telescopic sight, three marksmen, rated as master by the National Rifle Association, each fired two series of three shots. In the first series the firers required time spans of 4.6, 6.75, and 8.25 seconds respectively. On the second series they required 5.15, 6.45, and 7 seconds. None of the marksmen had any practice with the assassination weapon except for exercising the bolt for 2 or 3 minutes on a dry run. They had not even pulled the trigger because of concern about breaking the firing pin.
The marksmen took as much time as they wanted for the first target and all hit the target. For the first four attempts, the firers missed the second shot by several inches. The angle from the first to the second shot was greater than from the second to the third shot and required a movement in the basic firing position of the marksmen. This angle was used in the test because the majority of the eyewitnesses to the assassination stated that there was a shorter interval between shots two and three than between shots one and two. As has been shown in chapter III, if the three shots were fired within a period of from 4.8 to 5.6 seconds, the shots would have been evenly spaced and the assassin would not have incurred so sharp an angular movement.
Five of the six shots hit the third target
where the angle of movement of the weapon was small. (This
avoids that none of these hits landed as close to the center of the
head and shoulders target as the final hit on Kennedy, even though the
rifle, for this test, had been re-aligned, and was purportedly shooting
straight as an arrow.) On the basis of these
results, Simmons testified that in his opinion the probability of hitting the
targets at the relatively short range at which they were hit was very high.
Considering the various probabilities which may have prevailed during the
actual assassination, the highest level of firing performance which would have
been required of the assassin and the C2766 rifle would have been to fire three
times and hit the target twice within a span of 4.8 to 5.6 seconds. In fact,
one of the firers in the rapid fire test in firing his two series of three
shots, hit the target twice within a span of 4.6 and 5.15 seconds. (Note that they are discussing hitting the target, not hitting the target as close to center as the purported hits on Kennedy.) The others
would have been able to reduce their times if they had been given the
opportunity to become familiar with the movement of the bolt and the trigger
pull. Simmons testified that familiarity with the bolt could be achieved in dry
practice and, as has been indicated above, Oswald engaged in such practice. If
the assassin missed either the first or third shot, he had a total of between
4.8 and 5.6 seconds between the two shots which hit and a total minimum time
period of from 7.1 to 7.9 seconds for all three shots. All three of the firers
in these tests were able to fire the rounds within the time period which would
have been available to the assassin under those conditions. Three FBI firearms
experts tested the rifle in order to determine the speed with which it could be
fired. The purpose of this experiment was not to test the rifle under
conditions which prevailed at the time of the assassination but to determine
the maximum speed at which it could be fired. The three FBI experts each fired
three shots from the weapon at 15 yards in 6, 7, and 9 seconds (Not true: Agent Frazier later corrected his testimony and claimed the correct times were 5.9, 8, and 9 seconds) , and one of
these agents, Robert A. Frazier, fired two series of three shots at 25 yards in
4.6 and 4.8 seconds. At 15 yards each man's shots landed within the size of a
dime. (Deliberately overlooks that these shots all landed
inches high and to the right and that, by Frazier's own testimony, the
close grouping of these shots suggested that the scope had not recently been adjusted. This, of course, suggested that the sniper had shot at Kennedy with a severely misaligned scope!) The shots fired by Frazier at the range of 25 yards landed within an area
of 2 inches and 5 inches respectively. Frazier later fired four groups of three
shots at a distance of 100 yards in 5.9, 6.2, 5.6, and 6.5 seconds. Each series
of three shots landed within areas ranging in diameter from 3 to 5 inches.
Although all of the shots were a few inches high and to the right of the
target., this was because of a defect in the scope which was recognized by the
FBI agents and which they could have compensated for if they were aiming to hit
a bull's-eye. They were instead firing to determine how rapidly the weapon
could be fired and the area within which three shots could be placed. Frazier
testified that while he could not tell when the defect occurred, but that a person
familiar with the weapon could compensate for it. Moreover, the defect was one
which would have assisted the assassin aiming at a target which was moving
away. Frazier said, "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 not be
necessary to take any lead whatsoever in order to hit the intended object. The
scope would accomplish the lead for you." (While it's true that Frazier said this, it is a
completely ridiculous statement that should not have been repeated, let
alone cited. FBI Director Hoover's letter to the Commission preceding Frazier's testimony specified that the misalignment as it was in March, AFTER the rifle had been sighted-in, could have been an advantage. Frazier then screwed up, or was pressured into screwing up, and said that the misalignment of the rifle as first received by the FBI in November could have been an advantage. There's a huge difference. If the scope was as misaligned in November as Frazier indicated, the assassin would have to have fired behind Kennedy in
order to lead him while he was moving away. This is of no assistance whatsoever to a sniper.) Frazier added that the scope
would cause a slight miss to the right. It should be noted, however, that the
President's car was curving slightly to the right when the third shot was
(This is disingenuous. Yes, the car was curving slightly to the right
at the time of the head shot, but earlier, in order to sell the
relative ease of the shots, the report has claimed it was driving
"virtually in a straight line away" from the sniper's nest. Well, which
is it? One can not say that the car started out in a straight line but
then curved away, because this simply is not true. It started out
curving to the right and continued to curve to the right at a slightly
reduced angle.) Based on these tests the experts agreed that the assassination rifle was
an accurate weapon. Simmons described it as "quite accurate," in
fact, as accurate as current. military rifles. Frazier testified that the rifle
was accurate, that it had less recoil than the average military rifle and that
one would not have to be an expert marksman to have accomplished the
assassination with the weapon which was used. (Both
Simmons and Frazier were discussing the relative consistency of the
rifle, and were operating under the assumption the misalignment of the
scope was either not present on the day of the shooting, or was
something well known to the sniper. The problems with the scope were,
in fact, so severe that the HSCA ballistics panel concluded that the
sniper would not have even used the scope, and would have instead just
used the iron sights of the rifle.)
The various tests showed that the Mannlicher-Carcano was an accurate rifle and that the use of a four-power scope was a substantial aid to rapid, accurate firing. Oswald's Marine training in marksmanship, his other rifle experience and his established familiarity with this particular weapon show that he possessed ample capability to commit the assassination. Based on the known facts of the assassination, the Marine marksmanship experts, Major Anderson and Sergeant Zahm, concurred in the opinion that Oswald had the capability to fire three shots, with two hits, within 4.8 and 5.6 seconds. Concerning the shots which struck the President in the back of the neck, Sergeant Zahm testified: "With the equipment he [Oswald] had and with his ability I consider it a very easy shot." Having fired this slot the assassin was then required to hit the target one more time within a space of from 4.8 to 5.6 seconds. On the basis of Oswald's training and the accuracy of the weapon as established by the tests, the Commission concluded that Oswald was capable of accomplishing this second hit even if there was an intervening shot which missed. The probability of hitting the President a second time would have been markedly increased if, in fact, he had missed either the first or third shots thereby leaving a time span of 4.8 to 5.6' seconds between the two shots which struck their mark. The Commission agrees with the testimony of Marine marksmanship expert Zahm that it was easy shot" to hit some part of the President's body, and that the range where the rifleman would be expected to hit would include the President's head. (This is as close to the truth as the Report comes. It was "easy" to hit some part of the President. The head is a part of the President. Therefore, it was "easy" to hit the President in the head. This, of course, presumes that the assassin was not actually all that skilled, and that he JUST GOT LUCKY, a presumption that becomes difficult to swallow once one considers that the previous hit is presumed to have landed but a few inches away and that BOTH of these shots landed closer to the middle of a head and shoulders target than ANY of the 14 shots rapid-fired by the Army's test shooters on STATIONARY head and shoulders targets.)
Oswald's Rifle Capability Conclusion
On the basis of the evidence
reviewed in this chapter, the Commission has found that Lee Harvey Oswald (1)
owned and possessed the rifle used to kill President Kennedy and wound Governor
Connally, (2) brought this rifle into the Depository Building on the morning of
the assassination, (3) was present, at the time of the assassination, at the
window from which the shots were fired (4) killed Dallas Police Officer J. D.
Tippit in an apparent attempt to escape, (5) resisted arrest by drawing a fully
loaded pistol and attempting to shoot. another police officer, (6) lied to the
police after his arrest concerning important substantive matters, (7)
attempted, in April 1963, to kill Maj. Gen. Edwin A. Walker, and (8) possessed
the capability with a rifle which would have enabled him to commit the
assassination. On the basis of these findings the Commission has concluded that
Lee Harvey Oswald was the assassin of President Kennedy. ("Possessing
the capability" is, of course, another way of saying "well, it's
possible..." Well, OF COURSE, it's possible. But was it likely? The
Commission clearly felt the answer to this was "no", but was so
committed to their premise that Oswald alone fired the shots that they
saw no alternative other than to pull a Chico Marx and say "well, he
musta gotta lucky.")
In a Word: Whitewash
Let's recall that the FBI found no evidence that Oswald had been practicing with his rifle in the weeks before the assassination. They found no extra ammunition or cleaning supplies among his possessions. The re-enactments of the shots by the FBI and outside experts, which suggested that Oswald may have been able to fire the shots as rapidly as presumed, were all conducted on stationary targets. The testimony on Oswald's shooting ability was based on test scores from many years before, and not based on his presumed ability after failing to keep in practice. There was, moreover, no attempt to re-enact the shots using a rifle with the limitations of Oswald's rifle, and shooters of Oswald's presumed ability on 11-22-63, firing cold without any practice shots. It seems clear, moreover, that if such a test had been performed, the results would almost certainly have been negative, and have forced the Commission to explore the possibility Oswald did not fire the shots, and was, indeed, the "patsy" he claimed to be.
And how could they do that when the FBI, the Secret Service, and, gulp, Life Magazine, had already crowned Oswald the assassin?But maybe I'm being unfair. Maybe, just maybe, the men writing the section of the report on Oswald's rifle capability had no idea how badly they'd distorted the evidence. Maybe they honestly thought the shots they'd assumed Oswald had fired really were easy for someone of Oswald's limited experience...
Leave It to Liebeler
Nope. Not going for it. On 9-4-64, after rapidly devouring a copy of chapter 4 of the report, Warren Commission Counsel Wesley J. Liebeler had nearly had a heart attack. Sensing that critics would see this chapter, which lays out the Commission's reasons for believing Oswald was the assassin, as, in his own words, "a brief for the prosecution," he fired off a 26 page long memorandum to Warren Commission General Counsel J. Lee Rankin on 9-6. His comments on the Oswald's Rifle Capability section of chapter 4 follow... (with some of the key parts highlighted).
OSWALD'S RIFLE CAPABILITY
1. The purpose of this section is to determine Oswald's ability
to fire a rifle. The third word at the top of page 50 of the galleys,
which is apparently meant to describe Oswald, is "marksman." A marksman
is one skilled at shooting at mark; one who shoots well. Not only do we
beg the question a little, but the sentence is inexact in that the shot,
which it describes, would be the same for a marksman as it would for one
who was not a marksman. How about: the assassin's shots from the
easternmost window of the south side of the Texas School Book Depository
were at a slow-moving target proceeding on a downgrade virtually
straight away from the assassin, at a range of 177 to 266 feet."
2. The last sentence in the first paragraph on galley page 50 should indicate that the slope of Elm Street is downward.
3. The section on the nature of the shots deals basically with the range and the effect of a telescopic sight. Several experts conclude that the shots were easy. There is, however, no consideration given here to the time allowed for the shots. I do not see how someone can conclude that a shot is easy or hard unless he knows something about how long the firer has to shoot, that is, how much time is allotted for the shots.
4. On nature of the shots--Frazier testified that one would have no difficulty in hitting a target with a telescopic sight, since all you have to do is put the crosshairs on the target. On page 51 of the galleys, however, he testified that shots fired by FBI agents with the assassination weapon were "a few inches high and to the right of the target * * * because of a defect in the scope." Apparently no one knows when that defect appeared, or if it was in the scope at the time of the assassination. If it was, and in the absence of any evidence to the contrary one may assume that it was, putting the crosshairs on the target would clearly have resulted in a miss, or it very likely would, in any event. I have raised this question before. There is a great deal of testimony in the record that a telescopic sight is a sensitive proposition. You can't leave a rifle and scope laying around in a garage underfoot for almost 3 months, just having brought it back from New Orleans in the back of a station wagon, and expect to hit anything with it, unless you take the trouble to fire it and sight the scope in. This would have been a problem that should have been dealt with in any event, and now that it turns out that there actually was a defect in the scope, it is perfectly clear that the question must be considered. The present draft leaves the Commission open to severe criticism. Furthermore, to the extent that it leaves testimony suggesting that the shots might not have been so easy out of the discussion, thereby giving only a part of the story, it is simply dishonest.
5. Why do we have a statement concerning the fact that Oswald's Marine records show that he was familiar with the Browning automatic rifle, .45-caliber pistol and 12-gage riot gun? That is completely irrelevant to the question of his ability to fire a rifle, unless there is evidence that the same skills are involved. It is, furthermore, prejudicial to some extent.
6. Under the heading "Oswald's Rifle Practice Outside the Marines" we have a statement concerning his hunting activities in Russia. It says that he joined a hunting club, obtained a license and went hunting about six times. It does not say what kind of a weapon he used. While I am not completely familiar with the record on this point, I do know for a fact that there is some indication that he used a shotgun. Under what theory do we include activities concerning a shotgun under a heading relating to rifle practice, and then presume not to advise the reader of the fact?
7. The statements concerning Oswald's practice with the assassination weapon are misleading. They tend to give the impression that he did more practicing than the record suggests that he did. My recollection is that there is only one specific time when he might have practiced. We should be more precise in this area, because the Commission is going to have its work in this area examined very closely.
8. On the top of galley page 51 we have that statement about Oswald sighting the telescopic sight at night on the porch in New Orleans. I think the support for that proposition is thin indeed. Marina Oswald first testified that she did not know what he was doing out there and then she was clearly led into the only answer that gives any support to this proposition.
9. I think the level of reaching that is going on in this whole discussion of rifle capability is merely shown by the fact that under the heading of rifle practice outside the Marine Corps appears the damning statement that "Oswald showed an interest in rifles by discussing that subject with others (in fact only one person as I remember it) and reading gun magazines."
10. I do not think the record will support the statement that Oswald did not leave his Beckley Avenue rooming house on one of the weekends that he was supposedly seen at the Sports Drome Rifle Range.
11. There is a misstatement in the third paragraph under rapid fire tests when it says "Four of the firers missed the second shot." The preceding paragraph states that there were only three firers.
12. There are no footnotes whatsoever in the fifth paragraph under rapid fire tests and some rather important statements are made which require some support from someplace.
13. A minor point as to the next paragraph--bullets are better said to strike rather than land.
14. As I read through the section on rifle capability it appears that 15 different sets of three shots were fired by supposedly expert riflemen of the FBI and other places. According to my calculations those 15 sets of shots took a total of 93.8 seconds to be fired. The average of all 15 is a little over 6.2 seconds. Assuming that time is calculated commencing with the firing of the first shot, that means the average time it took to fire the two remaining shots was about 6.2 seconds. That comes to about 3.1 seconds for each shot, not counting the time consumed by the actual firing, which would not be very much. I recall that chapter 3 said that the minimum time that had to elapse between shots was 2.25 seconds, which is pretty close to the one set of fast shots fired by Frazier of the FBI. The conclusion indicates that Oswald had the capability to fire three shots with two hits in from 4.8 to 5.6 seconds. Of the 15 sets of 3 shots described above, only 3 were fired within 4.8 seconds. A total of five sets, including the three just mentioned were fired within a total of 5.6 seconds. The conclusion at its most extreme states that Oswald could fire faster than the Commission experts fired in 12 of their 15 tries and that in any event he could fire faster than the experts did in 10 of their 15 tries. If we are going to set forth material such as this, I think we should set forth some information on how much training and how much shooting the experts had and did as a whole. The readers could then have something on which to base their judgments concerning the relative abilities of the apparently slow firing experts used by the Commission and the ability of Lee Harvey Oswald.
15. The problems raised by the above analyses should be met at some point in the text of the report. The figure of 2.25 as a minimum firing time for each shot used throughout chapter 3. The present discussion of rifle capability shows that expert riflemen could not fire the assassination weapon that fast. Only one of the experts managed to do so, and his shots, like those of the other FBI experts, were high and to the right of the target. The fact is that most of the experts were much more proficient with a rifle than Oswald could ever be expected to be, and the record indicates that fact, according to my recollection of the response of one of the experts to a question by Mr. McCloy asking for a comparison of an NRA master marksman to a Marine Corps sharpshooter.
16. The present section on rifle capability fails to set forth material in the record tending to indicate that Oswald was not a good shot and that he was not interested in his rifle while in the Marine Corps. It does not set forth material indicating that a telescopic sight must be tested and sighted in after a period of non-use before it can be expected to be accurate. That problem is emphasized by the fact that the FBI actually found that there was a defect in the scope which caused the rifle to fire high and to the right. In spite of the above the present section takes only part of the material in the record to show that Oswald was a good shot and that he was interested in rifles. I submit that the testimony of Delgado that Oswald was not interested in his rifle while in the Marines is at least as probative as Alba's testimony that Oswald came into his garage to read rifle--and hunting--magazines. To put it bluntly that sort of selection from the record could seriously affect the integrity and credibility of the entire report.
17. It seems to me that the most honest and the most sensible thing to do given the present state of the record on Oswald's rifle capability would be to write a very short section indicating that there is testimony on both sides of several issues. The Commission could then conclude that the best evidence that Oswald could fire his rifle as fast as he did and hit the target is the fact that he did so. It may have been pure luck. It probably was to a very great extent. But it happened. He would have had to have been lucky to hit as he did if he had only 4.8 seconds to fire the shots. Why don't we admit instead of reaching and using only part of the record to support the propositions presently set forth in the galleys. Those conclusions will never be accepted by critical persons anyway.
Note that Liebeler's complaints about this section of the report were largely ignored, as the problems he discussed went largely uncorrected. According to writer Edward Epstein, with whom Liebeler confided regarding this matter, General Counsel Rankin at first refused to read the memo, declaring "No more memorandums! The report has to be published!" Rankin then relented and allowed Liebeler to argue his points one by one with Norman Redlich, Rankin's top aide and the man responsible for reviewing and re-writing both the chapters on the shooting and those on Oswald's likely guilt. According to Epstein, Liebeler told him that "Redlich heatedly objected to all Liebeler's criticisms" and that Redlich said the chapter had been written exactly how the commissioners wanted it written, and had even admitted "The Commissioners judged it an easy shot, and I work for the Commission." Rankin then adjudicated the memo point by point, almost always siding with Redlich.
Let's think about this for a second. Liebeler, one of the Warren Commission's top lawyers, had told his superiors in the commission that there were deceptive, even dishonest, passages in their report. And they ignored him, by and large, telling him that this was what the commissioners wanted. This makes it clear that by September, if not earlier, they just didn't give a damn. They were there to sell the public what they wanted them to believe, not lay out all the evidence and let the public decide for itself.
And they weren't the only ones pushing back against Liebeler and his efforts. In 1966, after books criticizing the Commission, such as Epstein's Inquest, had garnered some attention, Liebeler went on the defensive, and lobbied his fellow Warren Commission counsel for help in fighting the critics. Ironically, however, he also wrote the FBI asking for their help, and was refused.The key reason, as spelled out in a 10-19-66 FBI memo from Assistant FBI Director Alex Rosen (the man tasked with investigating the basic facts of the assassination), was that Liebeler was "obnoxious" and that he'd pestered the FBI during the Warren Commission's investigation with "completely unreasonable", "screwball", and "idiotic" requests that they'd failed to respond to unless specifically asked to do so by his boss, Rankin.
That Liebeler would be so offensive to Rosen, moreover, should come as no surprise. Let's recall here that Rosen had 1) failed to acquire and study the autopsy report and note that the doctors' interpretation of the wounds had changed the day after the autopsy, 2) failed to bring the FBI's conclusions in line with the autopsy report once the FBI had received this report, 3) pretended he'd done so on purpose once his failure to adjust the FBI's conclusions had become a public embarrassment, 4) tried to blame his mistakes on the Kennedy family, 5) refused to investigate the rumor there was a bullet hole in the floor of the limousine beyond calling a top Secret Service official and asking if it was true, 6) threatened to refuse the Warren Commission FBI cooperation when it sought the opinions of non-FBI experts, and 7) refused to investigate when it was subsequently brought to his attention that the CIA and Mafia had teamed up to kill Castro and that one of those involved in the operation had claimed it had boomeranged back at Kennedy.
Wow. That's quite the resume. Is it any wonder then that, with a man like Rosen leading its investigation, the FBI had failed to uncover much of anything?
And there's an even more disturbing aspect to Rosen's refusing to help Liebeler. And that's that, by 1966, Liebeler had become every bit as disinterested in uncovering the truth as Rosen had been in 1964. On November 7, 1966, Liebeler, along with fellow Warren Commission counsel Joseph Ball and Albert Jenner, was interviewed on KCBS radio by Harv Morgan. They then took calls from the audience. One of the callers asked about Oswald's rifle capability and the difficulty of the shots. And Liebeler spewed forth the very nonsense he once had found so objectionable...
When asked if firing at stationary targets, as was done in the re-enactments, was easier than firing at moving targets, as was done in Dealey Plaza, he replied: "It depends which way it's moving. If it's moving straight away from you, there's not much difference, is there? ...If the target is moving slowly and directly away from you on a line, there's little difference." (Liebeler knew, of course, that the "target" in this instance was not moving directly away from the supposed sniper's nest.)
When asked why the Army's shooters didn't replicate the shots as closely as possible, he replied: "It was probably too difficult to shoot at a moving target under the circumstances." He then offered: "We shot with a camera from the sixth floor of the Texas School Book Depository towards a moving target."
When the caller pointed out that the sniper in Dealey Plaza wasn't shooting with a camera, Liebeler responded: "The point is that the Commission did set up a situation that was quite similar to the moving target by using three still targets. Now, as indicated, it might be somewhat easier to hit a still target but when the target was moving slowly away in a direct line, as this one was, very slightly curving to the right, there's not very much difference." (Note: Liebeler had thereby admitted that he knew full well that the "target" in question was not moving in a "direct line" away from the sniper's nest, as he'd previously suggested.)
But he wasn't done. Even though the caller had by this time been cut off, Liebeler insisted on discussing the question of Oswald's shooting abilities further. In the process, he revealed just how far he'd come from the lone voice of dissent he'd been in 1964. He complained: "I want to know whether he's asking the question of the accuracy involved or the time sequence involved. The accuracy is a very subjective thing and there may have been a good deal of luck involved in the shot. The time sequence is a different matter. In the time sequence, it was clearly established that there was plenty of time to make these shots. I've always taken the position that the best evidence that you could hit this target in this way from the sixth floor of the building was the fact that it did happen. In fact it was a very easy shot and that's exactly what did happen based on the existence of all kinds of other evidence." (Note: this comes from the same man who'd previously observed that Oswald "would have had to have been lucky to hit as he did if he had only 4.8 seconds to fire the shots" and had similarly observed that the belief Oswald was that lucky entails that "Oswald could fire faster than the Commission experts fired in 12 of their 15 tries.")
When asked if the shot was truly easy, he then snapped: "Of course, it's a simple shot. It's less than 200 feet away." (Note: for the "shot" now in question, presumably the head shot, the presumed target, Kennedy, was 265 feet away, not less than 200 feet away.)
When finally asked why, if the shot was so easy, so many critics had claimed no one had duplicated Oswald's shooting, he spat: "There are all kinds of people who've duplicated it. All these people ought to go up there and look out that window and see what an easy shot it is. It's like shooting, well--it's a very easy shot." (Note: Liebeler had thereby pulled an old lawyer's trick, and had avoided answering a problematic question by answering another question entirely. What had started out as a discussion of the Commission's tests and whether Oswald could hit Kennedy two of three times in 4.8 seconds, as claimed by the Commission, had been blurred into whether it was possible for Oswald to hit Kennedy in the head from the sniper's nest when given all the time in the world.)
And Liebeler was not the only member of the Warren Commission and its staff spewing nonsense in order to sell the Warren Commission's conclusions to the public. Congressman (later President) Gerald Ford, as it turned out, had agreed to sell a story to Life Magazine on the conclusions and inner workings of the commission. This article was published in the October 2, 1964 issue, and on the stands when the commission's report was released to the public on September 28.
Within this story, moreover, were a number of claims in opposition to the commission's report, the report signed by Ford days earlier. These "mistakes" or mis-statements, if you will, all had one thing in common--they exaggerated the strength of the case against Oswald.
First and foremost, it claimed that assassination witness Howard Brennan "identified Oswald in a police line-up." This hid from Life's millions of readers that Brennan claimed in his 11-22 statement that he could identify the shooter he saw in the sixth floor window, but that he refused to identify Oswald in the line-up that evening. It also hid that Brennan only told the police he really could have IDed Oswald weeks later, after receiving a visit from the Secret Service. It also hid from Life's readers the words of the commission's report, which admitted: "During the evening of November 22, Brennan identified Oswald as the person in the lineup who bore the closest resemblance to the man in the window but he said he was unable to make a positive identification. Prior to the lineup, Brennan had seen Oswald's picture on television and he told the Commission that whether this affected his identification "is something I do not know." In an interview with FBI agents on December 17, 1963, Brennan stated that he was sure that the person firing the rifle was Oswald. In another interview with FBI agents on January 7, 1964, Brennan appeared to revert to his earlier inability to make a positive identification, but, in his testimony before the Commission, Brennan stated that his remarks of January 7 were intended by him merely as an accurate report of what he said on November 22."
And this was just the beginning of Ford's trail of nonsense most foul. A paragraph later he claimed that Oswald's absence from the depository was noted a mere half hour after Brennan's initial description of a shooter was broadcast over the police airwaves, and that a bulletin regarding Oswald was then broadcast over the airwaves. He then claimed "After this second bulletin was issued, Officer J.D. Tippit stopped Oswald on the street and Oswald shot him dead."
Well, that would be most interesting, as Tippit had been dead for at least ten minutes before such a bulletin could have been issued. According to the Warren Report supposedly studied and signed by Ford: "Although Oswald probably left the building at about 12:33 p.m., his absence was not noticed until at least. one-half hour later. Truly, who had returned with Patrolman Baker from the roof, saw the police questioning the warehouse employees. Approximately 15 men worked in the warehouse and Truly noticed that Oswald was not among those being questioned. Satisfying himself that Oswald was missing, Truly obtained Oswald's address, phone number, and description from his employment application card. The address listed was for the Paine home in Irving. Truly gave this information to Captain Fritz who was on the sixth floor at the time. Truly estimated that he gave this information to Fritz about 15 or 20 minutes after the shots, but it was probably no earlier than 1:22 p.m., the time when the rifle was found. Fritz believed that he learned of Oswald's absence after the rifle was found. The fact that Truly found Fritz in the northwest corner of the floor, near the point where the rifle was found, supports Fritz' recollection."
So there you have it, the Commission concluded Fritz first heard about Oswald's disappearance around 1:22, seven minutes after 1:15, the time they'd concluded Tippit had been shot. So much for Ford's fabricated scenario whereby Tippit stopped Oswald only after receiving a bulletin about him.
And so much for Ford's credibility. You see, he was not only blowing smoke about the timing of the bulletin regarding Oswald, he was blowing smoke about the existence of such a bulletin. None was ever issued. When asked by the Commission what he did with the information about Oswald given him by Truly, Fritz responded: "Well, I never did give it to anyone because when I got to the office he (Oswald) was there."
So why would Ford, who was in a position to know better, push total nonsense, and pretend the information provided Fritz led to the issuance of a bulletin, which in turn led to Tippit's stopping Oswald? Here's one possibility... As Tippit was killed before a bulletin on Oswald could be issued, he would, assuming he stopped Oswald due to his matching a description, be reacting to the earlier bulletin based upon the description given by Brennan; this description read "white male, approximately 30, slender build, height 5 foot 10 inches, weight 165 pounds." Well, in 1963, when the U.S. was far thinner than it is now, that could be most anyone. Tippit may well have seen dozens of men matching that description in the 20 minutes following the broadcast of that bulletin. And yet...there is no record of him stopping or pulling over anyone based upon that description. This suggests, then, that either Tippit stopped to talk to Oswald for reasons other than his thinking Oswald was a suspect in the assassination--which would be a heck of a coincidence--or that Tippit was out looking for Oswald specifically, based upon information coming from someone other than Fritz. This last possibility, one can only assume, was something Ford would not want to share with his readers. He may have felt it better, then, that he simply pretend Tippit had a clear-cut reason for stopping Oswald.
In any event, that wasn't the end of Ford's fabrications surrounding this mythical bulletin about Oswald. After discussing the initial description of the shooter based upon Brennan's description, and the description of Oswald in his imaginary bulletin, Ford wrote: "The two descriptions differed in some details...and it was this discrepancy which set off the first of the countless rumors concerning the President's assassination: namely, the story that two men were involved. Thus, both here and abroad began the cascade of innuendo, supposition, twisted fact, misunderstanding, faulty analysis, and downright fantasy that surrounded the tragic death of John Fitzgerald Kennedy."
Well, this was more smoke, of course. The public's suspicion there were multiple shooters came not from divergent descriptions of the shooter and Oswald broadcast on the 22nd, but from the statements of witnesses suggesting shots came from somewhere other than the book depository. This suspicion was then fed by the statements of witnesses describing men other than Oswald running from the building. Ford's failure to note this, and his summing up the commission's investigation with "there is not a scintilla of credible evidence to suggest a conspiracy" made his purpose most plain. He was out to discredit conspiracy theories at any cost, even if it meant misrepresenting the facts and inventing incidents from whole cloth--even if in doing so he'd damage the long-term credibility of the commission.
He proved this yet again in the closing paragraphs of the article. He acknowledged there'd been rumors Oswald had been a government agent, but wrote these off as having been started by Oswald's mother, Marguerite, who was confused and in denial. He thereby hid from his readers that these rumors were actually started by a number of prominent journalists, who felt there was something odd about Oswald's actions in the years leading up to the shooting, that could best be explained by his being an American agent. Ford then claimed Marguerite's claims led the commission to conduct "a massive search...to prove or disprove the secret agent theory" that led nowhere. Here, he hid from his readers that back in January, when the rumors about Oswald being an agent first bubbled to the surface, Commissioner Allen Dulles, a former CIA Director, told his fellow commissioners that the heads of the CIA and FBI would probably LIE about Oswald's being an agent unless they were directed by President Lyndon Johnson NOT to lie about such things, and that no one from the commission dared ask President Johnson to make such a request. Ford was thus pushing that the question of Oswald's being an agent had been resolved--when he knew for a fact it had not.
In short, he was blowing a whole lotta smoke for a whole lotta bucks...precisely what one looks for in a future president...
(Or is that too cynical?)
The Warren Commission, as we have seen, concluded that the shooting was not all that difficult for someone of Oswald's shooting ability. As ridiculous as this was, however, it was destined to be topped by a subsequent conclusion regarding the difficulty of the shooting, and Oswald's ability.
By the close of its existence, at the end of 1978, the House Select Committee on Assassinations had come to accept that the assassination of President Kennedy had been recorded on a dictabelt recording created when a police motorcycle microphone jammed in the open position. They'd been told, moreover, that
this recording captured shots from the sniper's nest circa frames 160,
190, and 313 of the Zapruder film, and a shot from the grassy knoll
circa frame 295. Well, for this to be true, the sniper's nest shooter--Oswald--would have to have gotten off two shots in about 1.7 seconds--when the FBI had concluded long before that it would have taken 2.3 seconds to re-load, aim, and fire the rifle. So how did the HSCA get around this? Well, on March 21, 1979, months after the committee had seized to exist as a committee, its two top counsel, Robert Blakey and Gary Cornwell, performed some tests to make sure that the rifle could, in fact, be fired in the time allotted.
Blakey's memorandum on these tests is included in Vol. 8 of the Committee's report. It's remarkable in a number of ways. For one, it admits that the rifle purportedly used in the assassination had deteriorated by 1979 and was not used in the tests. For two, it admits that the tests were performed by four expert marksmen on a rifle similar to the one purportedly used in the shooting, and that each was allowed to practice with the bolt for several minutes before firing. Now, Oswald, as we've seen, was not an expert marksmen, and was not believed to have practiced with the bolt for several minutes before firing. But wait, it gets worse. These four experts were allowed two series of three shots each, using only the iron sights, thereby bypassing the problematic scope the Warren Commission would come to claim was the key to Oswald's success in the shooting. The memorandum then records the results of these tests, er rather, the highlights of these tests. One shooter, Officer Masson, hit the body on the first two shots and narrowly missed the head with the third. It took him 2 seconds to fire the first two shots, and slightly less than 5 seconds to fire all three. Well, this was not bad, but was this really the best series of the eight attempted by these experts? Yep. By a country mile. The memo then offers that two shooters, Smith and Masson, were able to fire two shots within 1.9 seconds, and that ONE of their three shots--clearly not the rushed shot--scored a "kill," which, unbelievably, is defined as ANY shot hitting the silhouette of a body from the waist to the top of the head. Well, these three highlights--the other five attempts to replicate Oswald's purported shooting must have been totally embarrassing for these three to have been the highlights--leads Blakey to conclude that "it is apparently difficult--but not impossible--at least with only minimal practice with the firearm used--to fire three shots, at least two of which are 'kills,' with an elapsed time of 1.7 seconds or less between any two shots."
Well, it's difficult, but not impossible, to do many things people are not likely to do, or to have done. If you see someone walking down the other side of the street, it's possible they got there by doing a cartwheel over a moving car. But is it likely for them to have performed a cartwheel over a moving car? In any event, Blakey then acknowledges that he has come to conclude that Oswald was capable of performing the shooting as proposed "even though, in the limited testing conducted, no shooter achieved this degree of proficiency." Well, geez, the fastest any of these experts was able to fire the rifle--which was not the actual rifle, and which was presumably in better condition than the actual rifle--while using the iron sights and disregarding the time-consuming scope, was once every 1.9 seconds. So where does Blakey get off just assuming Oswald could do it in 1.7 seconds? Because...now this is key, so pay attention...he, Robert Blakey, and his assistant, Gary Cornwell, picked up the rifle after the experts had failed to fire the shots as fast as was deemed necessary, practiced with the bolt for a couple of minutes, and then fired the rifle as fast as they possibly could--and were able to do so in 1.5 and 1.2 seconds, respectively. That's it. They'd shown that the rifle could be fired faster than once every 1.7 seconds. Of course, they did this WITHOUT ACTUALLY AIMING the rifle. (They pointed the rifle in the general direction of the target, fired...and missed every time). Well, this was just ridiculous. Fabulously ridiculous. Keep in mind that the HSCA--at Blakey's urging--had already concluded that the first of Oswald's shots--the one for which he'd had the most time to aim and fire--had missed Kennedy, Connally, everything... And now absorb that he turned around and told them that Oswald had hit Kennedy and Connally with the second shot while just pointing the rifle in Kennedy's general direction. Yeah... You can't make this stuff up... Nor should you want to...
The Mysterious Mr. Moore
Should the Warren Commission's refusal to reach a conclusion on the number and timing of the shots, and its deliberate and ongoing efforts to deceive the public regarding Oswald's ability with a rifle not cause one to wonder if their entire investigation wasn't a political charade, and should Gerald Ford's misrepresentations of the evidence against Oswald not confirm these suspicions, then one needs to learn more about...Moore. Secret Service Agent Elmer Moore, that is.
After seeing Moore's name pop up numerous times in the most suspicious of circumstances, I asked researcher Gary Murr if he’d ever looked into Moore, and it turned out that he'd shared my curiosity. He sent me some of what he’d compiled on Moore. (Additional information comes from Moore’s 1-6-76 testimony before the Senate Select Committee to Study Governmental Operations with Respect to Intelligence Activities.) Here, then, is what we know about Moore...
At the time of the assassination, Elmer Moore was a Secret Service investigator assigned to their San Francisco office. A week after the assassination, 11-29-63, he was instructed to go to Dallas and assist Inspector Thomas Kelley with his investigation of the assassination. Once there, he conducted the Secret Service’s investigation of Jack Ruby, in order to establish the connection or lack thereof between Ruby and Oswald. Not surprisingly, he found no connection. On 12-5-63, he oversaw the Secret Service Survey of Dealey Plaza. The survey plat of this re-enactment, published by the Warren Commission as CE 585, and Moore’s subsequent reports, reveals that he concluded, after studying the Zapruder film, that the fatal head shot at frame 313 occurred when Kennedy was 34 feet further down the street than his fellow Agent Howlett concluded only the week before, and 29 feet further down the street than the Warren Commission would conclude 6 months later. This is a bit suspicious. Is it a coincidence that Kennedy’s traveling this extra distance would give the presumed sniper more time to aim, and make Oswald’s purported shooting feat less fantastic? The next week, on 12-11, Moore engaged in more mysterious activity. He visited the doctors at Parkland hospital who’d worked on Kennedy, and showed them the official autopsy report stating that the throat wound was an exit. This came as a surprise to some of these doctors, who’d initially believed and stated that the throat wound was an entrance, and repeated this speculation to reporter Jimmy Breslin, whose article on their treatment of Kennedy was in that week’s Saturday Evening Post. Since the doctors were giving interviews and repeating what was believed to be incorrect information, it only makes sense then that someone in the government would want to set them straight. Evidently, it was Moore’s job to set them straight.
Now here’s where things get weird. Moore’s
1976 testimony reflects that on 12-19,
he was ordered to contact Chief Justice Earl Warren and request that he accept
Secret Service protection. He had known Warren
for over 20 years. But he had never
worked in the protective detail of the Secret Service beyond temporary
assignments. Nevertheless, he
successfully convinced Warren he
needed protection, and was Warren’s
near-constant companion and bodyguard from that day until after the Warren
Report was issued the next September. In
this role, as bodyguard, he accompanied Warren
to Warren’s questioning of Jack
Ruby. But Moore
was more than just a bodyguard. He
admitted to the Senate Committee in 1976 that he had “discussions daily” with Warren. The obvious and vital question of whether or
not Moore kept anyone informed of
these discussions was
not asked. The
equally obvious question
of whether anyone thought it was a conflict of interest to have one of
Secret Service’s chief investigators act as Warren’s
personal security, when Warren was
supposed to be reviewing the Secret Service’s investigation, also was
asked. (A Church Committee document listing the names of 27 "Secret
Service Agents investigating the Assassination of President Kennedy"
lists Moore as one of three "supervisors," with 24 subordinates.)
What was discussed was Moore’s relationship with James Gochenaur. Gochenaur had come forward with the allegation that he’d met Moore in 1970, and that Moore had told him about some of his experiences investigating the assassination. Gochenaur said that Moore had guiltily admitted that he’d badgered Dr. Malcolm Perry into changing his testimony about the throat wound. Moore admitted meeting Gochenaur, and discussing the assassination with him, but denied Gochenaur’s allegation. Moore’s testimony, however, reveals he was greatly concerned about Gochenaur’s allegation. He'd arrived for questioning with a personal attorney. He expressed the opinion that “to induce any witness to change his testimony, of course that’s a felony.”
Where Moore’s testimony falls apart, in my opinion, is where he tries to explain what DID happen when he talked to Dr. Perry and the other Parkland doctors. Moore testified “I was given a copy of the Bethesda autopsy. A mimeographed copy. There were numerous copies sent to the Dallas office and it was assigned to attempt to determine the trajectory of the bullets, the missiles, from the wound, and the report I referred to covers this…Well, what happened here, when I received the autopsy reports, there were medical terms and measurements that I was not familiar with one. I recall it was the acromion which is a process of the shoulder blade, I learned through Dr. Perry. And I think the description of the neck strap wound, the first bullet in the President’s neck, was determined about 14 centimeters from the acromion process arc, and another arc from the mastoid of 14 centimeters... They’re exactly the same measurements. And I was not sure of these in medical terms. The logical thing I thought at the time was to go out to talk to these people and also to let them see for the first time the results of the autopsy because they had not had the opportunity to actually see the fatal wound at all. They had never turned the body over at Parkland. They were engaged in respiratory and circulatory, you know, the trauma actions rather than examining wounds. So I had talked to Dr. Perry and he was, as I recall, 34 years old, a very personable man. He was very disturbed, as he had been quoted, where he had performed the tracheotomy through the exit wound, which is right over the Adam’s Apple, it went by part of the tie. He was quite disturbed that he had been quoted in the press as having said that is an entrance wound, and he had denied that consistently, that he ever said that, that what he said was there was a wound there and it could have been an entrance or an exit…And then when he saw the autopsy report, which was the first occasion, they got a copy, I think, the following day or so, was sent down from Bethesda, and they had been in contact with the doctors by phone, I believe…but they were quite interested in the autopsy report. And after reading it I think it was Dr. Perry first and then Dr. Carrico came in. And after they read it they asked if there would be any objection to other staff doctors seeing it who had attended the President in some manner or another and were interested in it. And I saw no objection. So they went into a little conference room—I would say six or seven doctors—and discussed it for possibly ten or fifteen minutes, and I left.” (When asked why he went to Parkland) “(To see) If it could be determined from the wounds the trajectory of the bullets. Did they come from the sixth floor of this and could this be proven by the—(When asked what Perry told him) “Well, that was not actually for him to answer, but what he was doing for me was determining where this wound was on the body and what direction it went”.
The problem with this is it’s just not credible. I mean, really, Moore just so happens to show Perry the autopsy report, telling him the throat wound is officially an exit, to let him "see for the first time the results of the autopsy because they had not had the opportunity to actually see the fatal wound at all...They had never turned the body over at Parkland"? It was all just for Perry's general information, mind you, not to get him to shut up. And really, Moore just so happens to pick Perry, the guy who told the nation in a press conference the throat wound was an entrance, as the guy to teach him a little anatomy? His contention that he consulted with Perry about the relative locations of the wounds, as opposed to his telling Perry the official conclusion about the relative positions of the wounds, is also suspect. The measurements for the back wound on the autopsy report, 14 cm from acromion and 14 cm below the tip of the right mastoid process, as we shall see, place the back wound in the back, at the same level as the throat wound. Moore’s 12-11 report, after his meeting with Perry, however, asserts that the missile path of the first bullet to strike the President “is from the upper right posterior thorax to the exit position in the low anterior cervical region and is in slight general downward direction.” I doubt a doctor would say such a thing. The upper thorax is, by definition, below the lower cervical region, unless the body is leaning forward. And the Zapruder film studied by Moore demonstrated that Kennedy was not leaning forward before the shots were fired. The probability, then, is that Moore went to Parkland at least in part to bring Perry into line, and let him know that the throat wound was officially an exit., and below the back wound. As Moore, in his testimony, was dismissive that wound locations could effectively establish a bullet’s trajectory, he may honestly have figured an entrance on Kennedy’s back was close enough. This doesn’t explain, however, his reporting that the back wound was above the throat wound, something the measurements shown to Perry prove false. One should wonder, furthermore, if Moore noticed that the location of the back wound in the drawings created by the autopsy doctors in March was far higher than the wound location he’d mapped out with Perry, and if he told Chief Warren about this problem. Perhaps the apathetic attitude towards the wound locations and trajectories revealed by Moore in his work for the Secret Service infected the Commission’s re-enactment in May.
If so, it may have been by design. A 1-7-64 Treasury Department memorandum for the file reflects that Moore, who’d been traveling with Earl Warren since 12-19, was asked by Warren on 12-2 if “he could be available to the Commission for an indefinite period to assist in its work.” A 12-8 memo from Secret Service Chief Rowley reflects that Moore was assigned to “furnish any service, assistance, and cooperation the Commission considers necessary.” These memos fail to mention Moore’s purported role as Warren’s bodyguard. This raises the question of whether Moore was protecting Warren or helping him run the investigation. In Professor Gerald McKnight’s Breach of Trust, he discusses a document found in the voluminous archives of researcher Harold Weisberg, now held at Hood College. Among the documents recovered via Weisberg’s numerous Freedom of Information Act cases was a February 7. 1964 letter from Chief Counsel Rankin’s Secretary, Julia Eide. This letter reflects that “all the waste material” (that is, notes, carbons, tapes) of the 1-22-64 meeting of the Warren Commission, in which they discussed the possibility Oswald was working for the FBI , was to be turned over to Secret Service Inspector Elmer Moore and burned. Doesn’t sound like straight guard duty to me.
That Moore was more than Warren’s guard dog is undoubtedly intriguing. In the years following the assassination, it would be revealed that the Secret Service has been used at times by Presidents as a private intelligence unit. Richard Nixon used them to spy on his own brother, and, according to Nixon aide Alexander Butterfield, spy on other political candidates as well. This raises the uncomfortable possibility that Moore was President Johnson’s eyes and ears on the Commission, put in place, with Warren's acquiescence, to help keep the commission "in line". This might explain why Moore, a long time Warren acquaintance, was brought into the Secret Service’s investigation on the same day that Warren agreed to chair a Presidential Commission reviewing the Secret Service’s findings. This might explain as well how Anthony Lewis, writer for the New York Times, while working on a book with Johnson's close associate Abe Fortas, became privy to information that could only have come from within the Commission. It could also explain Moore’s seemingly exaggerated concerns about Gochenaur’s statements, and his willingness to lie about his visit to Perry. It could also explain why Moore, the only one working with the Commission to admit measuring out 14 cms from the tip of the mastoid process on a body, failed to alert Warren that this put the wound on Kennedy’s back, inches below the location on the drawings entered into evidence on March 16, 1964 as the official representations of the President’s wounds.
And then there’s this…On November 22nd 2003, Senator Arlen Specter addressed a crowd at an assassination conference held at Duquesne University. He told the crowd about his work for the Warren Commission and of being shown an autopsy photo of the President’s back wound on May 24, 1964. This autopsy photo, as we shall see, should have convinced Specter that the wound on Kennedy's back was inches below the level depicted in the commission's exhibits, and that it was therefore doubtful the shooting had occurred as purported. Instead, Specter stuck by his belief that the bullet causing this wound, after striking Kennedy's back on a sharply downward trajectory, had somehow exited from his throat. In his 2000 book Passion for Truth, and in previous interviews, Specter had said that Secret Service Inspector Thomas Kelley had shown him this photo. On this day, however, he told the audience it was “Elmer Moore, who was the Chief’s bodyguard.” If it was indeed Moore, it would suggest that Specter was shown the photo with Warren’s blessing. Which in turn suggests that Warren, Moore and Specter all knew the wound was on the back and inches lower on the body than as shown in the commission's exhibits. And that they'd conspired to hide this from the public...
The Warren "No-No"s
But one needn't be a believer in conspiracies to see that the Warren Commission's investigation was not all that it was cracked up to be--a tireless investigation performed by dedicated men whose only client was the truth, blah blah blah.
The year 2013 marked the 50th anniversary of the assassination. Two books on the Warren Commission--one by New York Times reporter Philip Shenon and one by Warren Commission attorney Howard Willens--were pushed upon the public. Although Shenon's book held out that Oswald may have been put in motion by some Cubans he met in Mexico, both were essentially Oswald-did-it books.
Still, included within these books were some startling facts...that only added to what we'd already come to know...
Here, then, is a partial list of Warren "no-no"s, as we now know them.
1. Chief Justice Warren was determined from the outset that the commission investigating President Kennedy's death limit its scope to the investigations already performed by the Dallas Police, Secret Service and FBI. Yes, unbelievably, the transcript of the commission's first conference reflects that Warren wanted the commission to have no investigators of its own, no subpoena power, and no public hearings.
2. When the Attorney General of Texas, Waggoner Carr, persisted in his plan to convene a Texas Court of Inquiry, a public hearing at which much of the evidence against Lee Harvey Oswald would be presented, Warren convinced him to cancel his plan by assuring him the commission would be "fair to Texas." No record was made of this meeting.
3. Not long thereafter, the commission became privy to the rumor Oswald had been an intelligence asset. Although commissioner and former CIA chief Allen Dulles assured Warren and his fellow commissioners the FBI and CIA would lie about this, he also told them the only way to get to the bottom of it was to ask President Johnson to personally tell them not to lie. Warren did not do this. And the transcript of the hearing in which this rumor was first discussed was destroyed.
4. The commission's staff had questions about the medical evidence. They were particularly concerned about the location of Kennedy's back wound, which may have been too low to support the single-bullet theory deemed necessary to the commission's conclusion Oswald acted alone. Even so, Warren personally prevented Dr. James J. Humes from reviewing the autopsy photos he'd had taken, and wished to review.
5. The commission's staff had questions about Oswald's trip to Mexico. What did he say to those he spoke to? What did he do at night? Did he actually go to the Cuban consulate and Russian embassy on the days the CIA said he'd visited the consulate and embassy? And yet, despite the commission's staff's fervid desire they be allowed to interview Sylvia Duran, a Mexican woman employed by the Cuban consulate, who'd handled Oswald's request he be allowed to visit Cuba, (and who, it turns out, was rumored to have entertained Oswald at night), Chief Justice Warren personally prevented them from doing so, telling commission counsel David Slawson that "You just can't believe a Communist...We don't talk to Communists. You cannot trust a dedicated Communist to tell us the truth, so what's the point?"
6. The commission's staff had questions about Russia's involvement in the assassination. Oswald, of course, had lived in Russia. His wife was Russian. While in Mexico, he'd met with a KGB agent named Kostikov, who was believed to have been the KGB's point man on assassinations for the western hemisphere. Shortly after the assassination, a KGB officer named Yuri Nosenko defected to the west. Nosenko told his handlers he'd reviewed Oswald's file, and that Oswald was not a Russian agent. The timing of Nosenko's defection, however, convinced some within the CIA that Nosenko's defection was a set-up. The commission's staff hoped to talk to Nosenko, and judge for themselves if his word meant anything. The CIA, on the other hand, asked the commission to not only not talk to Nosenko, but to avoid any mention of him within their report. Chief Justice Earl Warren, acting alone, agreed to this request. He later admitted "I was adamant that we should not in any way base our findings on the testimony of a Russian defector."
7. The commission's staff had questions about Jack Ruby's motive in killing Oswald. Strangely, however, the commission's staff charged with investigating Ruby and his background were not allowed to interview him. Instead, the interview of Ruby was performed by, you guessed it, Chief Justice Earl Warren. Despite Ruby's telling Warren such things as "unless you get me to Washington,
you can’t get a fair shake out of me...I
want to tell the truth, and I can’t tell it here. I can’t tell it here…this isn’t the place for me to tell what I want to tell…” Warren refused to bring Ruby to Washington so he could provide the details he so clearly wanted to provide.
8. The commission's staff had even more questions about how Ruby came to kill Oswald. It was hard to believe he'd just walked down a ramp and shot Oswald, as claimed. As Ruby had many buddies within the Dallas Police, for that matter, it was reasonable to investigate the possibility one or more of the officers responsible for Oswald's protection had provided Ruby access to the basement. Commission counsel Burt Griffin even found a suspect: Sgt Patrick Dean. In the middle of Dean's testimony in Dallas, in which Dean said Ruby had told him he'd gained access to the garage by walking down the ramp, Griffin let Dean know he didn't believe him, and gave him a chance to change his testimony. Dean was outraged and called Dallas DA Henry Wade, who in turn called Warren Commission General Counsel J. Lee Rankin. Dean then asked that he be allowed to testify against Griffin in Washington. Not only was he allowed to do so, he received what amounted to an apology from, you guessed it, Chief Justice Earl Warren. Warren told Dean "No member of our staff has a right to tell any witness that he is lying or that he is testifying falsely. That is not his business. It is the business of this Commission to appraise the testimony of all the witnesses, and, at the time you are talking about, and up to the present time, this Commission has never appraised your testimony or fully appraised the testimony of any other witness, and furthermore, I want to say to you that no member of our staff has any power to help or injure any witness." It was later revealed that Dean had failed a lie detector test designed to test his truthfulness regarding Ruby, and that the Dallas Police had kept the results of this test from the Warren Commission. If Griffin had been allowed to pursue Dean, this could have all come out in 1964. But no, Warren made Griffin back down, and the probability Dean lied was swept under the rug. (None of this is mentioned in Willens' book, of course.)
9. Although Warren was purportedly all-concerned about transparency, and wanted all the evidence viewed by the commission to be made available to the public, he (along with commissioners McCloy and Dulles) came to a decision on April 30, 1964, that the testimony before the commission would not be published along with the commission's report. (This decision was over-turned after the other commissioners objected.)
10. Although Warren was purportedly all-concerned about transparency, and wanted the public to trust the commission's decisions, he wanted to shred or incinerate all the commission's internal files, so no one would know how the commission came to its decisions. (This decision was over-turned after commission historian Alfred Goldberg sent word of Warren's intentions to Senator Richard Russell, and Russell intervened.)
11. Although Warren was purported to have worked himself day and night in order to give the President the most thorough report possible, he actually flew off on a fishing trip that lasted from July 6 to August 1, 1964, while testimony was still being taken, and the commission's report still being polished.
12. Although Warren was purportedly all-concerned about transparency, and felt the commission's work should speak for itself, he (according to Howard Willens' diary) asked the National Archives to hold up the release of assassination-related documents that were not used in the commission's hearings, so that said documents could not be used by critics to undermine the commission's findings.