Chapter 1: The Aftermath
A look at the behavior of Lyndon Johnson, the FBI, the news media, and the Warren Commission in the days immediately following the assassination.
The Delivery Men
While Chief Justice Earl Warren, the chairman of the Warren Commission, and the man tasked with overseeing its investigation of the assassination of President John F. Kennedy, is reported to have told his staff that "the truth was their only client," much evidence has arisen over the years to indicate that this simply was not so. The available record, in fact, now suggests that the Commission had another client, one whose interests were to be placed above and beyond the Commission's search for truth. This client was called... "national security" or, more specifically, President Lyndon Johnson.
One need look no further than the memoirs of Warren, for that matter, to see that this is true. There, in the final pages written at the end of his long successful life, Warren admitted that he was strong-armed into chairing the Commission only after Johnson, Kennedy's successor, told him that if people came to believe there was foreign involvement in the assassination it could lead to a war that would kill 40 million. This, one can only assume, gave Warren the clear signal he was NOT to find for a conspiracy involving a foreign power.
But when one reads between the lines--and reads other lines--a fuller picture emerges. Warren was also told he was NOT to find for a domestic conspiracy, or at least anything that could point back to Johnson.
There were signs for this from the get-go. The Voice of America, the U.S. Information Agency's worldwide radio network, had initially reported, in the moments after the shooting, that Dallas, Texas, the scene of the crime, was also "the scene of the extreme right wing movement." It soon stopped doing so. This suggests then that someone in the government was particularly sensitive to the idea that the right wing would be blamed for the shooting, and had ordered the Voice of America to downplay the possibility of a domestic conspiracy.
Above: a decidedly cold part of the mostly warm reception greeting President Kennedy at Love Field, Dallas, Texas, 11-22-63.
This "sensitivity," moreover, was in the air and spreading. Deputy Attorney General Nicholas Katzenbach, whose discussions in the days after the shooting sparked the creation of the Warren Commission, testified before the House Select Committee on Assassinations (the "HSCA") on 8-4-78 that he sensed that the rest of the world would suspect Johnson's involvement, and that this in effect "disqualified" Johnson from leading an investigation into Kennedy's death. Katzenbach then explained that this feeling had led him to believe that "some other people of enormous prestige and above political in-fighting, political objectives, ought to review the matter and take the responsibility" of identifying Kennedy's assassin.
He said much the same thing in subsequent testimony. On 9-21-78 he told the HSCA that his primary concern in the aftermath of the assassination was "the amount of speculation both here and abroad as to what was going on, whether there was a conspiracy of the left or a lone assassin or even in its wildest stages, a conspiracy by the then vice president to achieve the presidency, the sort of thing you have speculation about in some countries abroad where that kind of condition is normal."
Egads. These words suggest that Katzenbach, who was only running the Justice Department in the aftermath of the assassination, considered Johnson's involvement unthinkable, and not really worth investigating.
And this wasn't the last time Katzenbach suggested as much. In his 2008 memoir Some of It Was Fun, Katzenbach wrote that in the days after the assassination: "Among the many conspiracy theories floating around were those that put conservative Texas racists in the picture and even some that saw LBJ as the moving force."
That Katzenbach's concern about these theories influenced the Warren Commission's investigation, moreover, seems obvious. Howard Willens, a Justice Department attorney reporting to Katzenbach, was made an assistant to Warren Commission General Counsel J. Lee Rankin, and was tasked with 1) hiring the commission's junior counsel (the men tasked with performing the bulk of the commission's investigation), 2) assigning these men specific areas of investigation, 3) supplying these men with the FBI, Secret Service, and CIA reports pertinent to their areas of investigation, 4) working as a liaison between these men and the agencies creating these reports, and 5) helping to re-write the commission's own report. On 7-28-78, in Executive Session, Willens testified before the HSCA; he admitted: "there were some allegations involving President Johnson that were before the Commission and there was understandably among all persons associated with this effort a desire to investigate those allegations and satisfy the public, if possible, that these allegations were without merit."
But these allegations weren't investigated, not really. The Commission's final report amounted to a prosecutor's brief against a lone assassin named Lee Harvey Oswald, and the 26 volumes of supporting data published by the Commission contained next to nothing on Johnson or other possible suspects.
That this "clearing" of Johnson's name was a major factor in the commission's creation is confirmed, moreover, by a 2-17-64 memo written by Warren Commission Counsel Melvin A. Eisenberg. While reporting on the Warren Commission's first staff conference of 1-20-64, Eisenberg recalled that Chief Justice Warren had discussed "the circumstances under which he had accepted the chairmanship of the Commission," and had claimed he'd resisted pressure from Johnson until "The President stated that the rumors of the most exaggerated kind were circulating in this country and overseas. Some rumors went as far as attributing the assassination to a faction within the Government wishing to see the Presidency assumed by President Johnson. Others, if not quenched, could conceivably lead the country into a war which could cost 40 million lives."
Eisenberg's account of Warren's statements was supported, furthermore, by Warren Commission Counsel--and subsequent Senator--Arlen Specter in his 2000 memoir Passion for Truth. In Specter's account, Warren claimed that Johnson had told him "only he could lend the credibility the country and the world so desperately needed as the people tried to understand why their heroic young president had been slain. Conspiracy theories involving communists, the U.S.S.R., Cuba, the military-industrial complex, and even the new president were already swirling. The Kennedy assassination could lead America into a nuclear war that could kill 40 million people..."
Above: Cuban dictator Fidel Castro (L) and his new best-buddy, Premier of the Soviet Union, Nikita Khruschev (R). Cuba's embrace of Russia and Communism scared the bejeesus out of many Americans, and Lyndon Johnson used this fear to scare Chief Justice Warren into chairing the Commission that would thereafter bear his name.
Now this, apparently, wasn't the only time Warren admitted Johnson's worries extended both beyond and closer to home than the possible thermo-nuclear war mentioned in his autobiography. In his biography of Warren, Ed Cray reported that Warren once confided to a friend that "There was great pressure on us to prove, first, that President Johnson was not involved, and, second, that the Russians were not involved."
And yet Warren refused to put Johnson's fears he'd be implicated on the record. While Warren was interviewed a number of times in his final years about the creation of the Commission, he never admitted in these interviews what he'd readily told his friends and the commission's staff--that Johnson had railroaded him onto the commission in part to clear himself.
In fact, Warren claimed the opposite. When interviewed by Warren Commission historian Alfred Goldberg on March 28, 1974, Warren told Goldberg the opposite of what he'd told Eisenberg and Specter (and presumably Goldberg) in 1964. Instead of claiming Johnson told him "Some rumors went as far as attributing the assassination to a faction within the Government wishing to see the Presidency assumed by President Johnson," Warren now related "There were of course two theories of conspiracy. One was the theory about the communists. The other was that LBJ's friends did it as a coup d'etat. Johnson didn't talk about that."
It seems likely, then, that even Warren thought it improper for the President, the head of the Executive Branch of Government, to pressure the Chief Justice of the United States, the head of the Judicial Branch of Government, to head a Commission to help clear the President's name.
Above: a photograph showing the Warren/Johnson dynamic. Warren was older, receding, settled. Johnson, was younger, forward-leaning, and absolutely determined to have his way.
Now, it's not as if Warren's fellow commissioners had a problem with serving this higher purpose--that of clearing their new President. John McCloy, Wall Street's man on the Commission, told writer Edward Epstein on June 7, 1965 that one of the commission's objectives was "to show foreign governments we weren't a South American Banana Republic." Well, seeing as the expression "Banana Republic" is not a reference to countries whose leaders have been killed by foreign enemies, but to countries whose leaders have been killed by domestic enemies, who then assume power, this is most certainly a reference to Johnson.
And it's not as if this was all a big secret. The December 5, 1963, transcripts of the Warren Commission's first meeting reflect that Senator Richard Russell, Johnson's long-time friend and mentor, admitted "I told the President the other day, fifty years from today people will be saying he had something to do with it so he could be President."
And it's not as if Washington insiders were unaware of this non-secret secret. In 1966, columnists Rowland Evans and Robert Novak published Lyndon B. Johnson: The Exercise of Power. There, they discussed the creation of the Warren Commission as follows: "There was first the question of the assassination itself. Inevitably, irresponsible demagogues of the left and right spread the notion that not one assassin but a conspiracy had killed John Kennedy. That it occurred in Johnson's own state on a political mission urgently requested and promoted by Johnson only embellished rancid conspiratorial theories. If he were to gain the confidence of the people, the ghost of Dallas must be shrugged off."
Now, should one still doubt that Johnson was at least as concerned with suspicions of himself as of the Soviets, there is confirmation from an even better source: Johnson himself. In a rarely-cited interview with columnist Drew Pearson, cited in a November 14th, 1993 article in The Washington Post, Johnson admitted that, in his conversation with Warren, in which he convinced Warren to head his commission, Johnson brought up the assassination of President Lincoln, and that rumors still lingered about the conspiracy behind his murder 100 years after the fact. According to Pearson, Johnson admitted telling Warren that "The nation cannot afford to have any doubt this time."
Well, that says it all. The doubt, according to Johnson, the nation could not afford to have, was doubt about Southern and/or military involvement in the assassination. The rumors about Lincoln's death, after all, revolved largely around his being murdered by The Confederate Army as revenge for his successful campaign to re-unite the States, or his being murdered by his own Secretary of War, or his being murdered by his Vice-President, a Southerner named JOHNSON.
And Johnson acknowledged this was his concern in his presidential memoir, The Vantage Point: Perspectives on the Presidency 1963-1969, published 1971. Of the national mood on 11-24-63, after the man accused of killing President Kennedy, Lee Harvey Oswald, a purported communist-sympathizer, was shot down while in police custody, by Jack Ruby, a man with connections to organized crime, Johnson wrote: "The atmosphere was poisonous and had to be cleared. I was aware of some of the implications that grew out of that skepticism and doubt. Russia was not immune to them. Neither was Cuba. Neither was the State of Texas. Neither was the new President of the United States."
The "Smoking Gun" Document
Now, should one have doubts so many men--not only those working for the commission, but those working for the Secret Service, FBI, and CIA--would agree to give Johnson a free pass (in the name of national security, etc) one should consider that some of these same men defended the conclusions of the Warren Commission for these very same reasons...and left a "smoking gun" document in the National Archives as proof of their activities.
Here is a link to this document: The Smoking Gun Document.
One might wish to take a quick look at it before returning to our discussion...
This document, released in 1993 as a result of the 1992 JFK Records Act, which was passed in the aftermath of Oliver Stone's movie JFK, was written on January 4, 1967, at a time when questions surrounding the assassination were beginning to be taken seriously, and appear in mainstream publications like Life Magazine, the New York Times, and The Saturday Evening Post. It is a CIA document, created but six months after former journalist Richard Helms was appointed its director.
Now, here is Helms with Johnson... on 6/30/66, the day of Helms' appointment. He seems pretty happy, yes? Well, this gushing behavior isn't exactly what one would expect from the serious and mysterious man who'd been the CIA's Deputy Director of Plans (that is, the head of its black ops department) on November 22, 1963. But maybe that's just me.
In any event, the document no doubt approved by Helms in 1967 proposes that the CIA chiefs around the world to whom it was directed "employ propaganda assets to answer and refute the attacks of the critics. Book reviews and feature articles are particularly appropriate for this purpose. The unclassified attachments to this guidance should provide useful background material for passage to assets. Our play should point out, as applicable, that the critics are (i) wedded to theories adopted before the evidence was in, (ii) politically interested, (iii) financially interested, (iv) hasty and inaccurate in their research, or (v) infatuated with their own theories."
Now note that the document says "Destroy when no longer needed" across the bottom. We were never supposed to know about this. Note also that January 1967 marks the precise time the so-called mainstream media pulled back from its criticisms of the Warren Commission, and started focusing its criticism on the critics. CBS News, most pointedly, had started an investigation of the Warren Commission months before, but had changed its direction around this same time, after former Warren Commissioner John McCloy crawled onboard as a top secret adviser.
But note, primarily, the stated purpose of this propaganda push. It says nothing about the danger Americans might think a foreign power killed Kennedy. It says nothing about preventing World War III. Instead, it says, in so many words, that all this talk of conspiracy is starting to circle in on President Johnson and the CIA, and that that would be bad for business.
Here are the relevant paragraphs:
1. Our Concern. From the day of President Kennedy's assassination on, there has been speculation about the responsibility for his murder. Although this was stemmed for a time by the Warren Commission report (which appeared at the end of September 1964), various writers have now had time to scan the Commission's published report and documents for new pretexts for questioning, and there has been a new wave of books and articles criticizing the Commission's findings. In most cases the critics have speculated as to the existence of some kind of conspiracy, and often they have implied that the Commission itself was involved. Presumably as a result of the increasing challenge to the Warren Commission's Report, a public opinion poll recently indicated that 46% of the American public did not think that Oswald acted alone, while more than half of those polled thought that the Commission had left some questions unresolved. Doubtless polls abroad would show similar, or possibly more adverse, results.
2. This trend of opinion is a matter of concern to the U.S. government, including our organization. The members of the Warren Commission were naturally chosen for their integrity, experience, and prominence. They represented both major parties, and they and their staff were deliberately drawn from all sections of the country. Just because of the standing of the Commissioners, efforts to impugn their rectitude and wisdom tend to cast doubt on the whole leadership of American society. Moreover, there seems to be an increasing tendency to hint that President Johnson himself, as the one person who might be said to have benefited, was in some way responsible for the assassination. Innuendo of such seriousness affects not only the individual concerned, but also the whole reputation of the American government. Our organization itself is directly involved: among other facts, we contributed information to the investigation. Conspiracy theories have frequently thrown suspicion on our organization, for example by falsely alleging that Lee Harvey Oswald worked for us. The aim of this dispatch is to provide material for countering and discrediting the claims of the conspiracy theorists, so as to inhibit the circulation of such claims in other countries. Background information is supplied in a classified section and in a number of unclassified attachments.
Now note that, according to this last paragraph, this trend towards accusing Johnson was, in the eyes of the writer of this dispatch (undoubtedly one of the CIA's top officials), "a matter of concern to the U.S. government," including the CIA. Well, this more than suggests that this order to "employ" the CIA's propaganda assets to help clear Johnson's name did not originate within the CIA itself... but from elsewhere in the executive branch.
Almost certainly Johnson himself... In October 2007, the Johnson Presidential Library released a batch of previously withheld recordings of President Johnson's phone calls while President. Most interesting of these was a January 11, 1967 phone call between Johnson and his most trusted adviser, Supreme Court Justice Abe Fortas. This call built upon similar calls with Fortas on October 1 and October 6, 1966. It was made, moreover, just one week after the "smoking gun" document was written. Well, in this call, surprise surprise, Johnson drops his guard completely, and tells Fortas that he believes Senator Robert Kennedy--his predecessor's brother--and Robert Kennedy's supporters--are behind the recent spurt of books and articles on the assassination. He claims, moreover, that: "They've started all this stuff...they've created all this doubt...And if we'd had anybody less than the attorney general--ah, the chief justice--I would've already been indicted."
Above: John F. Kennedy (L) and his younger brother Robert (R). While Earl Warren and others claimed the Warren Commission was created as a response to Lyndon Johnson's concern about Russia and Cuba, Johnson himself would later admit the relationship he was thinking about when he created the commission was the relationship between these brothers.
Now, should one think Johnson exaggerating here, and stating something he didn't really believe, one should consider that he said similar things to others--even after RFK was dead and buried. As reported by Robert Caro, in his 2012 epic The Passage of Power, Johnson dropped his mask once more during the August 19, 1969 recording of an oral history for the Johnson Library. He declared: "I shudder to think what churches I would have burned and what little babies I would have eaten if I hadn't appointed the Warren Commission." He also offered a slightly different and no doubt more honest version of how he got Warren to chair his commission. Leaving off the bit about the Russians launching nukes should they think we blamed them for killing Kennedy, he admitted he'd actually pressured Warren through a call for domestic tranquility. He said he told Warren: "When this country is threatened with division, and the President of the United States says you are the only man who can save it, you won't say no, will you?" And that Warren responded, "No, sir!"
So there you have it, straight from the horse's--ah, President's--mouth. Johnson felt that his having left-wing icon Earl Warren chair the commission investigating President Kennedy's murder not only stopped Kennedy's brother Robert Kennedy from having him (Johnson) investigated as a suspect, but stopped him (Johnson) from actually being indicted for Kennedy's murder.
Blame it on the Bobby
Above: from L to R (literally, L to R), Lyndon Johnson (LBJ), and Robert Kennedy (RFK). In 1960, Robert Kennedy--his brother John's campaign manager--tried to prevent Johnson--who'd spread rumors within the Democratic Party that John F. Kennedy was seriously ill and wouldn't survive his first term in office-- from serving as his brother's Vice-President. And Johnson never forgave him for it... Now, here they are in 1964, after John F. Kennedy has been murdered, trying to figure out what to do with each other. LBJ considers Bobby a self-righteous little shit, and RFK considers Johnson a vulgar monster. But they need each other. LBJ needs to coddle RFK and keep the support of the "Kennedy wing" of his party. And RFK needs LBJ to stay the course and fulfill his brother's vision on civil rights--which he sees as his brother's--not Johnson's--legacy. Their Cold War re-ignites in '67, over both Johnson's fear RFK is spreading rumors about his behavior in the aftermath of John F. Kennedy's assassination, and his resentment RFK has taken to criticizing his approach to the Vietnam War. No rapprochement was possible, for that matter, as RFK was murdered within a year of his split from Johnson, and within months of his announcing he intended to replace Johnson as President...
Now...let's go back to the "smoking gun" document... Note that one of the arguments the CIA planned on using to assure the world Johnson was above reproach was that a "Conspiracy on the large scale often suggested would be impossible to conceal in the United States, esp. since informants could expect to receive large royalties, etc. Note that Robert Kennedy, Attorney General at the time and John F. Kennedy's brother, would be the last man to overlook or conceal any conspiracy."
Well, this was grossly unfair. Robert Kennedy did not participate in the investigation of his brother's murder. He never even read the report of Earl Warren's commission.
This argument was also familiar. On November 4 1966, just when critics of the Warren Commission started gaining traction, President Johnson made a similar argument at a press conference. He offered: "The late, beloved President's brother was Attorney General during the period the Warren Commission was studying this thing. I certainly would think he would have a very thorough interest in seeing that the truth was made evident." (Note that this was well after Johnson first started musing that the "beloved President's brother," Robert Kennedy, was behind all these critics...)
The lie RFK cleared LBJ was then repeated by those closest to Johnson. A January 1968 letter to the New York Times by John Roche (subsequently quoted in its January 5 edition), offered: "Any fair analysis of Sen. Robert Kennedy's abilities, his character and of the resources at his disposal as Attorney General would indicate that if there were a conspiracy, he would have pursued its protagonists to the ends of the earth." Now, Roche was a "Special Consultant" to Johnson, his so-called "intellectual in residence." Roche had written Johnson a memo on 11-23-66 urging Johnson to make countering the critics of the Warren Commission a "top priority" of his administration. Well, this argument "Bobby would have caught the bad guys" was clearly part of Johnson's, and thereafter Roche's, playbook. Was it just a coincidence, then, that it soon became part of the CIA's?
It should come as no surprise, moreover, that this sticky substance stuck to Johnson for the remainder of his days. In 1971, Johnson published The Vantage Point, his presidential memoir. On page 25, he relates: "One of the most urgent tasks facing me after I assumed office was to assure the country that everything possible was being done to uncover the truth surrounding the assassination of President Kennedy. John Kennedy had been murdered, and a troubled, puzzled, and outraged nation wanted to know the facts. Led by the Attorney General who wanted no stone unturned, the FBI was working on the case 24 hours a day and Director J. Edgar Hoover was in constant communication with me."
Well, this was bullshit of a presidential magnitude. Serious crap. Johnson knew full well that Robert Kennedy barely followed the FBI's investigation, and most certainly never "led" it. Kennedy even put this on the record, signing a statement to the Warren Commission declaring ""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." What's worse, Kennedy's statement was an understatement...a gross understatement. The June 4, 1964 memo of Warren Commission counsel Howard Willens, in which Kennedy's signing such a statement was proposed, admits "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 it's not as if Robert Kennedy later studied these materials... Deputy Attorney General Nicholas Katzenbach, in a 10-8-69 oral history performed for the Kennedy Library, admitted that Robert Kennedy "didn't approve" of the Warren Commission and never read its report. He said further that "I like to think that deep down he understood that it had to be done" and that, whatever his feelings on the matter, "he understood that he had to endorse it..." Katzenbach then added: "but he wouldn't read it."
So...gulp...President Johnson was not only so paranoid he thought Robert Kennedy was behind the rumors he'd killed President Kennedy, and so concerned about these rumors he thought that only his appointing Chief Justice Earl Warren to chair the commission investigating President Kennedy's murder had saved him from an indictment for murder (and a reputation as one of the world's most evil men), but so ruthless he was willing to use Robert Kennedy's deep remorse over his brother's murder, and resultant failure to promptly investigate his brother's murder, to suggest what he (Johnson) undoubtedly KNEW was untrue--that Robert Kennedy, President Kennedy's brother, ("Bobby"), had led the FBI's investigation into President Kennedy's murder, and cleared Johnson of all wrong-doing.
Well...would an innocent man behave in such a manner?
Perhaps. But Johnson's creation of a commission in part to clear himself is only part of the story. If one is even remotely prone to suspicion, it is also intriguing that Johnson initially hoped to avoid an independent commission altogether, and instead pressured the FBI and a Texas Court of Inquiry to investigate the crime, and, presumably, clear his name. In a 12-23-68 interview conducted on behalf of the Johnson Library, Leon Jaworski, Special Counsel to the State of Texas during its inquiry, explained the circumstances of its creation: "Here and in Europe were all kinds of speculations, you know, that this was an effort to get rid of Kennedy and put Johnson in, and a lot of other things. So he immediately called on Waggoner Carr, who was Attorney General of Texas, to go ahead and conduct a Court of Inquiry in Texas."
That Johnson would call on Texans with right-wing political affiliations to investigate a crime many suspected was committed by Texans with right-wing political affiliations was not lost on Jaworski, who clearly saw the need for something with a more national flavor. In his 1979 memoir Confession and Avoidance, Jaworski, who met with Johnson in Washington a few days after the assassination, describes the circumstances of their meeting as follows: "a problem had developed. The city was seething with rumors and accusations surrounding John Kennedy's death. Some sources in Europe had jumped on the story that Johnson himself had disposed of Kennedy in order to ascend to the presidency. Any investigation that was localized in Texas would be, to put it gently, under suspicion."
From Jaworski's words we can see that Johnson was desperate to deflect any speculation about his own involvement in the assassination, and that he created the Warren Commission in large part because it had become clear that an investigation by Texas officials and the FBI would fail to be convincing to those most needing to be convinced. But, in hindsight, this should always have been obvious. While Warren was purportedly asked to chair the Commission because as Chief Justice of the Supreme Court he had unparalleled credibility with the American public, the truth is that Warren was probably the last person Johnson would want to deliver the message that Russians were not involved in the assassination, as those likely to believe communist involvement would not believe anything Warren had to say, and considered him pretty much a communist himself. It seems clear then that Johnson drafted Warren onto the commission chiefly to convince those who trusted Warren--the liberals and intellectuals throughout the world who loved Kennedy and were most suspicious of Johnson--that there was no right-wing conspiracy behind the killing.
And this isn't just speculation on my part. A 1-19-64 New York Times article by Anthony Lewis, undoubtedly based upon a discussion with Warren himself, revealed that Warren had ultimately given in to Johnson's demand he chair the commission after Johnson spoke to him about "patriotism, about the new President's urgent need to settle the assassination rumors, about the special trust people in foreign lands would have in an investigation over which he presided."
It should be noted, furthermore, that Warren had helped push Johnson into this by publicly eulogizing Kennedy within hours of the assassination as having "suffered martyrdom as a result of the hatred and bitterness that has been injected into the life of our nation by bigots." Johnson, who counted among his biggest supporters many of these very same bigots, could not have been pleased.
And so the Warren Commission was born. The participation of the famously liberal Warren appeared to offset the otherwise inexplicable participation of Kennedy's biggest opponent on civil rights, Senator Richard Russell, and a man Kennedy had fired, former CIA director Allen Dulles. The political make-up of the commission--five Republicans and two conservative Democrats--moreover, assured that no one would follow any suspected right-wing conspiracies beyond where Johnson would want them to go.
Now this is not to say that the Warren Commissioners consciously concealed the truth. It seems clear, however, that such a commission, created under such circumstances, and comprising such men, would be unlikely to disagree with the FBI's conclusion that there had been no conspiracy, and would most certainly never push upon the public that perhaps just perhaps their current president was behind the murder of their former president.
In his book Real Answers, Gary Cornwell, an assistant counsel to the HSCA (the late '70's congressional committee that reviewed the work of the commission) asserted that in order to find a conspiracy you have to at first suspect a conspiracy, and act a little paranoid. The Warren Commission, not surprisingly, refused to act paranoid, even a little. They were, in fact, barely interested in their work. Its members attended less than half its hearings and participated in the questioning of only a small percentage of its witnesses. They relied almost exclusively on inexperienced junior counsel and the FBI, even though they acknowledged in private they didn't trust the FBI.
And there is reason to believe this was all according to plan... A 1991 article by Senator and longtime Washington insider Daniel Patrick Moynihan asserted that the Warren Commission "was Lyndon Johnson at his worst; manipulative, cynical. Setting a chief justice of no great intellect to do a job that a corrupt FBI was well content should not be done well."
This was not just an old pol letting off steam. Moynihan's comments are justified by the official record.
This record, furthermore, reflects that Johnson was not alone in his desire to put the past behind him and reassure the public that their president was not a murderer.
From the boardrooms to the newsrooms, he found plenty of support.
Shots on the Motorcade
Forget everything you think you know about the Kennedy assassination. Your mind is clear and open to new impressions. It is 11-22-63. You are sitting at home, listening to the radio, when suddenly a newsman interrupts your favorite show.
He reads from a 12:34 P.M. UPI news bulletin: “Three shots were fired at President Kennedy’s motorcade in downtown Dallas.”
These are the words of Merriman Smith, a reporter for United Press International. Smith was sitting in the middle of the front seat of the presidential press pool car—a car riding but five cars back of the Presidential limousine in the motorcade--that was equipped with a phone. Upon hearing these shots, Smith grabbed ahold of this phone, called in this report, and refused to yield the phone to his fellow reporters.
Now, to most humans, Smith’s behavior would be inappropriate, if not downright disgusting. Someone has shot at the President of the United States, and a veteran newsman has responded to this not by sharing the lone phone available to the press traveling with the President but by fighting off his fellow newsmen in order to hold onto a scoop.
Of course, in journalism circles, this is the stuff of legend.
According to this legend, Smith smothered the phone like a fumbled football in order to keep it from his chief competitor, Jack Bell of the Associated Press, as a now-diminished motorcade (a half a dozen motorcycle escorts, a lead car containing the Dallas Chief of Police and Dallas Sheriff, the President’s limousine, a Secret Service back-up car, the Vice-President’s car, a second Secret Service car, the Mayor’s car, and, finally, the press pool car) raced to Parkland Hospital.
Here, moreover, is footage of the pool car taken a few seconds after the first shot was fired. The car is turning onto Elm Street from Houston Street, heading straight towards the Texas School Book Depository, the building from which the shots were fired. (At least according to the legend... Remember, we're like Sgt. Schultz on the 1960's TV show Hogan's Heroes. We know nothing.)
This footage was created by NBC News cameraman Dave Wiegman, who was traveling in the convertible just behind the pool car. He turned his camera on at the sound of the first shot, and began filming, hoping to catch something, anything, of importance. He then leapt from his car and ran around for 40 seconds or so before climbing back into the vehicle. While the footage of this mad race is priceless, it may have cost Wiegman something even more valuable. As a result of his mad dash around Dealey Plaza—a grassy park in Dallas, Texas, the scene of the crime--the car in which he was riding fell behind the section of the motorcade racing to the hospital. And that part of history—the arrival of the motorcade at Parkland Hospital, and the transport of the President and Governor Connally into the hospital—went unrecorded.
In any event, upon arrival at the hospital, Smith grabbed another phone and updated his story. This 12:39 flash reads: “Kennedy seriously wounded—perhaps seriously—perhaps fatally—by assassin’s bullet.”
A few minutes later, a more substantive bulletin followed. It reads: “President Kennedy and Gov. John B. Connally of Texas were cut down by an assassin’s bullets as they toured downtown Dallas in an open automobile today. The President, his limp body cradled in the arms of his wife, was rushed to Parkland Hospital. The Governor also was taken to Parkland. Clint Hill, a Secret Service agent assigned to Mrs. Kennedy, said, “He’s dead,” as the President was lifted from the rear of a white house touring car…”
A 12:45 follow-up adds: "Reporters about five car lengths behind the Chief Executive heard what sounded like three bursts of gunfire…There were three loud bursts. Dallas motorcycle officers escorting the President quickly leaped from their bikes and raced up a grassy knoll."
And then, at 12:54: “Some of the Secret Service agents thought the gunfire was from an automatic weapon fired to the right rear of the president's car, probably from a grassy knoll to which police rushed."
Note that I have highlighted certain words in Smith’s last report. These words are at odds with what, first, the FBI, and later, The President’s Commission on the Assassination of President Kennedy (aka the Warren Commission), would come to conclude. These investigations held that the shots were fired seconds apart by a bolt-action rifle, and not by an automatic weapon. They also held that all three shots were fired from the sixth floor of the Texas School Book Depository, a red brick building sitting at the right rear of the President when the shots were fired—and that none of them were fired from the grassy knoll in front of Kennedy, and to his right.
Still, one might assume Smith’s reporting an anomaly, and that other reporters within the motorcade heard three well-spaced shots, and immediately suspected these shots came from a building in back of Kennedy.
But one would be wrong.
Take a gander at the bulletins sent out by the Associated Press within the first half-hour or so of the President’s arrival at Parkland. The first bulletin was provided by James Altgens--an Associated Press photographer who witnessed the assassination from the curb on Elm Street, and then ran to find a phone. Here is this first bulletin:
“President Kennedy was shot as his motorcade left downtown Dallas. Mrs. Kennedy jumped up and grabbed him. She cried “Oh, no!” The motorcade sped on. Photographer James Altgens said he saw blood on the President's head. Altgens said he heard two shots but thought someone was shooting fireworks until he saw blood on the President. Altgens said he saw no one with a gun…”
Now, the rest of these bulletins come from Jack Bell, the Associated Press reporter riding in the pool car with Smith, who tried in vain to get access to its phone, but had to settle on calling in his reports from Parkland Hospital, along with everyone else. (Note: I have corrected some spelling errors and slightly edited both these AP bulletins and the previously cited UPI bulletins.)
“AP reporter Jack Bell… said Kennedy was transferred to an ambulance… Bell reported three shots were fired as the motorcade entered the triple underpass which leads to the Stemmons Freeway to Parkland Hospital. Pandemonium broke loose around the scene. The Secret Service waved the motorcade on at top speed to the hospital. Even at high speed it took nearly five minutes to get the car to the ambulance entrance of the hospital. Bell said a man and a woman were scrambling on the upper level of a walkway overlooking the underpass…Mrs. Kennedy was weeping and trying to hold up her husband’s head when reporters reached the car…Kennedy apparently was shot in the head. He fell face down in the back seat of his car. Blood was on his head. Mrs. Kennedy cried ‘Oh, no!’ and tried to hold up his head… Gov. John B Connally of Texas also was cut down by bullets. The President was slumped over in the backseat of the car face down. Connally lay on the floor of the rear seat. It was impossible to tell at once where Kennedy was hit but bullet wounds in Connally’s chest were plainly visible indicating the gunfire might possibly have come from an automatic weapon… It was difficult to determine immediately whether the First Lady and Mrs. Connally were injured. Vice President Johnson was in a car behind the President’s. There was no immediate sign that he was hurt--in fact there was no evidence at all at what might have happened to Johnson since only the President’s car and its Secret Service follow-up car went to the hospital.”
Now, some of the surprising comments contained within these bulletins—Kennedy’s being transferred to an ambulance, Connally’s lying on the floor of the rear seat—were almost certainly the consequence of Bell’s making his report over the phone to a third party who typed it into a teletype—in other words, communication errors. But the bit about Johnson not going to the hospital? That’s either a cover story designed to protect Johnson, or sloppy, sloppy reporting. And the bit about automatic weapons? This was within minutes of Smith’s reporting that the Secret Service thought automatic weapons were fired on the President, probably from a grassy knoll. This would be quite the coincidence…if it was a coincidence.
Now note that Bell’s initial reporting made repeated references to the underpass--which had been in front of the president at the time of the shooting--and did not mention the buildings behind the president at the time of the shooting.
Now consider that an AP article published in the Christchurch Star, shortly after the shooting, declared: “Three bursts of gunfire, apparently from automatic weapons, were heard.”
Well, it’s clear then. Prior to the reporting of the roughly 1:00 P.M. discovery of a bolt-action rifle in the school book depository behind Kennedy at the time of the shooting, the suspicion among the nation’s top newswire reporters--Smith and Bell, who’d been traveling just five cars behind Kennedy in the motorcade—was that an automatic weapon had been fired at the President…from a location in front and to the right of Kennedy.
In retrospect, moreover, this should not be surprising. When one looks at Dealey Plaza, and the location of the limousine when the shots were fired, it only makes sense that the shots would come from in front of Kennedy and to his right, from a white arcade or pergola (resting atop the “grassy knoll” so named by Smith), or from the railroad yards just west of this area.
Here, see for yourself.
The red arrow on the street reflects the location on Elm Street of the limousine while it was under fire. As we’ve seen, Smith and Bell were still on Houston Street, beginning a turn onto Elm, when the first shot rang out. It’s only natural, then, that they would assume the shots came from a concealed location the President was passing or approaching, such as the wooden fence just west of the arcade, or the underpass, and not a location he’d passed seconds before.
But it wasn’t just Smith and Bell who initially suspected shots came from in front of the President. Here’s Altgens, in an eyewitness account sent over the AP newswire that evening, after the discovery of a rifle in a building behind the President. (This more detailed account was also published in the 11-25-63 issue of Stars and Stripes.):
"There was a burst of noise - the second one I heard - and pieces of flesh appeared to fly from President Kennedy's car. Blood covered the whole left side of his head. Mrs. Kennedy saw what had happened to her husband. She grabbed him exclaiming, "Oh, No!" The car's driver realized what had happened and almost as if by reflex speeded up towards the Stemmons Expressway. There seemed to be utter confusion. One motorcycle officer ran his cycle into the curb, almost falling off. Police came from everywhere as the President's car disappeared from sight. At first I thought the shots came from the opposite side of the street. I ran over there to see if I could get some pictures. But it turned out to be just more confusion. Police ran in all directions in search of the assassin. I did not know until later where the shots came from. I was on the opposite side of the President's car from the gunman. He might have hit me. The motorcade was moving along in routine fashion until there was a noise like fireworks popping. I snapped a picture of the motorcade at just about that time, still unaware of what was happening. I cranked my camera for another shot. The procession still moved along slowly. Then came the second burst of noise."
And here’s the photo taken by Altgens just about the time the fireworks popped.
Note that the southeast corner of the school book depository—the supposed location from which all the shots were fired---is far down the street, behind Kennedy.
Now, if all the shots were fired from this building, as per the Warren Commission's subsequent conclusion, does it make a lick of sense that Smith and Bell, in a car right below the supposed sniper’s nest, and Altgens, on the street a hundred yards or so to the west of them, would all initially suspect shots had been fired from the grassy knoll area across the street from Altgens?
Perhaps. But here’s the key to picking up what I am putting down: I’m not here to say this is impossible or that is impossible, or that since this is possible it must be true. I’m here to assess what is likely.
And it seems unlikely that Smith, Bell, and Altgens would all come away with the impression shots were fired from in front of Kennedy, should they all have been fired from behind.
Above: the scene outside Parkland Hospital in Dallas as the public awaited word of the President's condition.
Although much about the assassination of John F. Kennedy is in dispute, or tinged with mystery, most everyone agrees he was shot in the head on a Dallas street about 12:30 PM CST, 11-22-63, and that he was pronounced dead at Parkland Hospital shortly before 1:00 PM CST.
While this marked the end of history for Kennedy, his death marked the beginning of a bizarre new chapter in American history...that continues to this day.
CBS News, whose reporting on the shooting was to become the stuff of legend, reported so many falsehoods and half-truths in the first hour after the shooting that one might wonder why the entire news team wasn't fired. As we've seen, within a few minutes of the shooting, the Associated Press reported that Kennedy had been transferred to an ambulance before being raced to Parkland Hospital. This non-fact was then repeated by such news legends as Walter Cronkite on CBS television, Dan Rather on CBS radio, and Chet Huntley on NBC television.
The details of the shooting were especially muddled. Within a half-hour of the shooting, Walter Cronkite, once again repeating an inaccurate report from the news wire, solemnly told the nation: "Some of the Secret Service agents thought the gunfire, however, came from an automatic weapon fired to the right rear of the Chief Executive's car, possibly from a grassy knoll, and that's that knoll to which motorcycle policeman were seen racing and where the huddled figures of a man and a woman were seen on the ground with a crowd surrounding, which suggests of course that perhaps this is where the shots came from. This we do not know as yet, positively." Moments later, Eddie Barker, reporting from Dallas, compounded this mistake, declaring: "The report is that the attempted assassins--we now hear it was a man and a woman--were on the ledge of a building near the Houston Street underpass." Soon afterward, Cronkite told the nation: "Governor Connally was shot, apparently, twice in the chest."
After this rush to speculation, however, Cronkite grew more cautious, and stressed that they had unconfirmed reports that Kennedy was dead and unconfirmed reports Connally was in surgery. He then reported that a Secret Service agent had been killed in the line of duty while trying to protect Kennedy, noting that "apparently, this is correct." (Apparently, it wasn't).
But Cronkite's cavalcade of confusion was far from over. Moments later, after reading a report that Governor Connally had said he was hit from the back, Cronkite tried to correlate this information with the information previously received. He told his audience: "Governor Connally could very possibly have been shot in the back with the assassin's bullet still coming from the front of the car. He rode in a small jump seat in the center of the back of the specially-built presidential limousine." (Apparently, Cronkite thought the jump seats faced the back of the limousine.)
Above: Assistant White House Press Secretary Malcolm Kilduff announces the death of the President. Incredibly, this was not broadcast live. As a result, many of the reporters in the room raced out of the room upon Kilduff's announcement...in an attempt to find a telephone.
The cavalcade continued. After receiving word that a witness claimed to see a man fire at Kennedy from the Texas School Book Depository, which was behind Kennedy at the time of the shooting, Cronkite held up a photo of Kennedy in the motorcade and asserted: "The assassin took dead aim. He got the President, apparently, with the first shot in the head, and then Governor Connally with the next two shots." Cronkite failed to explain that CBS News now believed its earlier reports regarding multiple assassins and automatic weapons were inaccurate. He just changed the story as new information came along--whether or not this new information had been confirmed. As much as an hour after the shooting, in fact, Cronkite was still reporting that "a Secret Service man was also killed in the fusillade of shots that came apparently from a second floor window." (Ironically, he reported this canard just before reporting, affirmatively, that Kennedy had passed.)
Above: CBS newsman Walter Cronkite removes his glasses to announce the death of the President.
Should one wonder where CBS got this story that a Secret Service Agent had been killed, moreover, one should consider that 1) around this same time an AP dispatch (found in the Racine Journal-Times) reported that "A Secret Service agent and a Dallas policeman were shot and killed today some distance from the area where President Kennedy was assassinated" and 2) that ABC News claimed they'd received confirmation from the Dallas Sheriff's office both that a Secret Service agent had been killed and that four shots had been fired at the limousine.
Even worse, when one considers the subsequent refusal of the American people to believe the findings of the Warren Commission, was the analysis of Don Goddard, V.P. of ABC News. After explaining that American assassins normally use pistols and make no attempt to escape, he pronounced that "This must have been a very carefully planned terrible tragedy and conspiracy."
It was but a short time later, however, that such talk came to a trickle. The Dallas Police had a suspect--Lee Harvey Oswald--who worked in the building from which the police now claimed shots had been fired, and who was arrested in a theatre after purportedly killing a cop.
This gave the newsmen something to talk about besides how little they knew about the shooting...
Above and below: two photos of Oswald's arrest at the Texas Theatre. The cigar-chomping detective on the right below has been identified as Paul Bentley.
Within a few minutes of Oswald's arrest, for that matter, the press got a chance to redeem itself--to report on a major news event without flubbing the facts or coming to incorrect conclusions.
Let's see how they did...
But first...a little rewind.
At approximately 12:45 P.M., within 15 minutes of Kennedy's being shot, assassination witness William Newman, who was less than 30 feet to the right rear of Kennedy when the fatal bullet struck, was interviewed live on television station WFAA. This was 45 minutes before the announcement of Kennedy’s death. Newman told Jay Watson: "We were at the curb when this incident happened. But the President’s car was some fifty feet in front of us still yet in front of us coming toward us when we heard the first shot and the President. I don't know who was hit first but the President jumped up in his seat, and I thought it scared him, I thought it was a firecracker, cause he looked, you know, fear. And then as the car got directly in front of us, well, a gun shot apparently from behind us hit the President in the side, the side of the temple.”
Now here's where things get sticky. As Newman said this, Watson was leaning over his right shoulder, so Newman pointed to his left temple, with his only free hand.
Here, see for yourself...
Now, newsman Watson then did his job, and asked if non-newsman Newman thought this second shot came from the same direction as the first. Newman responded: "I think it came from the same location apparently back up on the mall, whatchacallit...not on the viaduct itself but up on top of the hill, on the mound, of ground, in the garden."
So that was what America, and the world, was told, in the moments after the assassination--that Kennedy had been shot in the left temple from a mound behind where Bill Newman had been standing. This seemed to jive, moreover, with what motorcycle officer (and supposed Kennedy bodyguard) James Chaney had just told a radio interviewer--that the second of two shots had struck Kennedy in the "face." (At the time, of course, no one knew Newman had been standing on the right side of Kennedy, and that he'd pointed to the wrong temple.)
That didn't last long.
At 1:17, about a half-hour later, Watson interviewed Gayle Newman, who'd been standing right beside her husband and had had an equally close look at the President's wound. She reported: "We were standing next to the curb so the children could see the President. And the car was just up apiece from us and this shot fired out, and I thought it was a firecracker, and the President kind of raised up in his seat. And I thought, you know, he was kind of going along with a gag or something. And then all of a sudden the next one popped, and Governor Connally grabbed his stomach and kind of laid over to the side. And then another one—it was just awful fast. And President Kennedy reached up and grabbed--it looked like he grabbed--his ear and blood just started gushing out." Now, as she said this she motioned to her right temple with both of her hands.
Here, see for yourself...
Well, alright. That's one left and one right. Shall we go for a tie-breaker?
At 1:33 p.m., when Assistant Press Secretary Malcolm Kilduff announced President Kennedy’s death from Parkland Hospital, he told the country: “President John F. Kennedy died at approximately one o’clock Central Standard Time today here in Dallas. He died of a gunshot wound in the brain…The President was shot once, in the head...Dr. Burkley [Dr. George Burkley, Kennedy's personal physician] told me it is a simple matter…of a bullet right through the head.
Now, at this time, Kilduff pointed to his right temple.
When then asked where the bullet entered, Kilduff specified "It is my understanding that it entered in the temple, the right temple.”
Well, alright, that's two right, one left. Shall we go get another?
Sure. Less than forty minutes after the announcement of Kennedy's death, at roughly 2:10 P.M., eyewitness Abraham Zapruder took his turn before the cameras on WFAA, and confirmed the observations of Burkley and Gayle Newman. Describing the shooting, Zapruder told Jay Watson: “Then I heard another shot or two, I couldn't say it was one or two, and I saw his head practically open up, all blood and everything (at this time, and as shown below, Zapruder grabbed his right temple), and I kept on shooting. That's about all, I'm just sick, I can't…”
And so...by 2:15 P.M. CST, 11-22-63, the news media had had four primary sources of information regarding Kennedy's wounds--the fresh recollections of three eyewitnesses to the shooting, and the President's Press Secretary quoting the President's personal physician. And all had indicated there was a large bloody wound on the front of Kennedy's head...
So let's see how this information was presented to the public...
A Tragedy of Errors
At 2:16 PM CST, two of the doctors who'd tried to save Kennedy--Dr.s Malcolm Perry and William Kemp Clark--appeared before the media.
Now, for a number of years following this press conference, the exact words of Perry and Clark were debated. But in 1976, a transcript (apparently discovered in late 1966/early 1967 but not revealed to the public at that time by its discoverer, CBS News) was located at the LBJ Presidential Library in Texas by researcher Roger Feinman. And this is what it said...they said...
Above: the 11-22-63 Parkland Press Conference in which Dr.s Malcolm Perry and William Kemp Clark first described President Kennedy's wounds to the public.
Dr. Malcolm Perry, who had performed a tracheostomy on the President in an effort to save his life: "Upon reaching his side, I noted that he was in critical condition from a wound of the neck and of the head...Immediate resuscitative measures were undertaken, and Dr. Kemp Clark, Professor of Neurosurgery, was summoned, along with several other members of the surgical and medical staff. They arrived immediately, but at this point the President's condition did not allow complete resuscitation...The neck wound, as visible on the patient, revealed a bullet hole almost in the mid line... In the lower portion of the neck, in front ...Below the Adam's apple." (When asked if a bullet had passed through Kennedy's head) "That would be conjecture on my part. There are two wounds, as Dr. Clark noted, one of the neck and one of the head. Whether they are directly related or related to two bullets, I cannot say...There was an entrance wound in the neck. As regards the one on the head, I cannot say." (When asked the direction of the bullet creating the neck wound) "It appeared to be coming at him." (When asked the direction of the bullet creating the head wound) "The nature of the wound defies the ability to describe whether it went through it from either side. I cannot tell you that." (When asked again if there was one or two wounds) "I don't know. From the injury, it is conceivable that it could have been caused by one wound, but there could have been two just as well if the second bullet struck the head in addition to striking the neck, and I cannot tell you that due to the nature of the wound. There is no way for me to tell...The wound appeared to be an entrance wound in the front of the throat; yes, that is correct. The exit wound, I don't know. It could have been the head or there could have been a second wound of the head. There was not time to determine this at the particular instant."
Dr. William Kemp Clark, who had examined the President's head wound and pronounced him dead: "I was called by Dr. Perry because the President... had sustained a brain wound. On my arrival, the resuscitative efforts, the tracheostomy, the administration of chest tubes to relieve any...possibility of air being in the pleural space, the electrocardiogram had been hooked up, blood and fluids were being administered by Dr. Perry and Dr. Baxter. It was apparent that the President had sustained a lethal wound. A missile had gone in or out of the back of his head, causing extensive lacerations and loss of brain tissue. Shortly after I arrived, the patient, the President, lost his heart action by the electrocardiogram, his heart action had stopped. We attempted resuscitative measures of his heart, including closed chest cardiac massage, but to no avail." (When asked to describe the course of the bullet through the head) "We were too busy to be absolutely sure of the track, but the back of his head...Principally on his right side, towards the right side...The head wound could have been either the exit wound from the neck or it could have been a tangential wound, as it was simply a large, gaping loss of tissue."
Above: Dr. William Kemp Clark (the tall man standing back by the chalkboard) and Dr. Malcolm Perry (at right) during their 11-22-63 press conference.
Now, to be fair, the newspapers rushed out in the immediate aftermath of the shooting had contained only the sketchiest of details, much of which was inaccurate. The Boston Globe's first attempt at telling the story, in its 11-22-63 Evening Edition, for example, contained two dueling inaccuracies on its front page. The UPI article on the right side of this page began "A single shot through the right temple took the life of the 46-year old chief executive." And the Dallas-datelined AP article on the left side of its page began "A Secret Service agent and a Dallas policeman were shot and killed today some distance from the area where President Kennedy was assassinated." (The story that emerged would be that Kennedy was shot at least twice from behind, and that no Secret Service agent was shot and killed, or even shot, or even involved in a shooting, beyond helplessly watching Kennedy get shot.)
And TV was no better. But a few minutes before the press conference, Dan Rather had told his CBS audience that "we've been told" that the fatal bullet "entered at the base of the throat and came out at the base of the neck on the back side."
And so this press conference served a purpose--an all-important purpose--to get the facts out there so the media would stop badly mis-informing the public.
It was not without success.
Shortly after the press conference began, less than ten minutes after Rather had made out that a bullet had entered Kennedy's throat and had exited from the back of his neck, Walter Cronkite corrected this canard for CBS' audience. He reported: "We have word from Dr. Malcolm Perry, the surgeon at Parkland Hospital who attended President Kennedy. He says that when he arrived at the Emergency Room, he noticed the President was in critical condition with a wound of the neck and head. When asked if the wounds could have possibly been made by two bullets, he said he did not know." Cronkite then described some of the care Kennedy received while at Parkland, including that he'd received a tracheotomy.
But the other networks and news agencies weren't so precise, or accurate.
It seems clear, moreover, that many of these mistakes were spurred not by these reporters understanding too little, but by their knowing too much. FOUR sources (five if you count Chaney) had told the nation prior to the Parkland press conference that the President had received a bloody wound on the front of his head.
And yet no such wound was mentioned by the doctors who'd inspected Kennedy's wounds...in a press conference designed to clear up confusion!
There's also this to consider... Prior to the press conference, three sources--United Press International, the Associated Press, and eyewitness Bill Newman--had suggested or reported that shots had been fired from in front of Kennedy...
And now Dr. Perry had joined their ranks--by describing Kennedy's neck wound as an entrance...
So, yeah, in retrospect, it's not at all surprising that much of the reporting on this press conference was wrong, or at the very least, confusing...
In his own rushed report on the press conference, NBC's Robert MacNeil summarized: "A bullet struck him in front as he faced the assailant." As NBC had previously reported that Kennedy had been struck in the head, its viewers would undoubtedly have taken from this that Kennedy had been struck in the head from the front.
And other news reports supported this belief. An AP dispatch on the press conference quoted on WOR radio at 2:43 CST claimed that Dr. Perry said "the entrance wound was on the front of the head." This dispatch, moreover, was quoted far and wide. The Albuquerque Tribune, on the stands within hours of the press conference, related: "Dr. Malcolm Perry, attendant surgeon at Parkland Hospital who attended President Kennedy, said when he arrived at the emergency room 'I noticed the President was in critical condition with a wound of the neck and head.' When asked if possibly the wounds could have been made by two bullets, he said he did not know." The article concluded, however, that "When asked to specify, Perry said the entrance wound was in the front of the head."
They were not to be outdone, for that matter. The 11-23 San Francisco Chronicle, building upon the inaccurate reports of the AP and UPI, put its own spin on the press conference, reporting "At Parkland Hospital, Dr. Malcolm Perry said Mr. Kennedy suffered a neck wound--a bullet hole in the lower part of the neck--and a second wound in the forehead."
Even the great ones got it wrong. An 11-23 New York Times article on the press conference reported: "Mr. Kennedy was hit by a bullet in the throat, just below the Adam's Apple... This wound had the appearance of a bullet's entry. Mr. Kennedy also had a massive gaping wound in the back and one on the right side of the head. However, the doctors said it was impossible to determine immediately whether the wounds had been caused by one bullet or two."
The doctors, of course, had never mentioned a gaping wound on Kennedy's back.
At 3:30 PM CST, Dr.s Perry and Kemp once again spoke to the press, this time on the phone to local reporters unable to attend the official press conference. Connie Kritzberg of The Dallas Times-Herald was one of these reporters. Her article on the President's wounds was published on 11-23.
Neck Wounds Bring Death
Wounds in the lower front portion of the neck and the right rear side of the head ended the life of President John F. Kennedy, say doctors at Parkland Hospital.
Whether there were one or two wounds was not decided.
The front neck hole was described as an entrance wound. The wound at the back of the head, while the principal one, was either an exit or tangential entrance wound. A doctor admitted that it was possible there was only one wound.
Kemp Clark, 38, chief of neurosurgery, and Dr. Malcolm Perry, 34, described the President's wounds. Dr. Clark, asked how long the President lived in the hospital, replied, "I would guess 40 minutes but I was too busy to look at my watch."
Dr. Clark said the President's principal wound was on the right rear side of his head.
"As to the exact time of death we elected to make it - we pronounced it at 1300. I was busy with the head wound."
Dr. Perry was busy with the wound in the President's neck.
"It was a midline in the lower portion of his neck in front."
Asked if it was just below the Adam's apple, he said, "Yes. Below the Adam's apple.'
"There were two wounds. Whether they were directly related I do not know. It was an entrance wound in the neck."
The doctors were asked whether one bullet could have made both wounds or whether there were two bullets.
Dr. Clark replied. "The head wound could have been either an exit or a tangential entrance wound."
The neurosurgeon described the back of the head wound as:
"A large gaping wound with considerable loss of tissue."
Dr. Perry added, "It is conceivable it was one wound, but there was no way for me to tell. It did however appear to be the entrance wound at the front of the throat."
"There was considerable bleeding. The services of the blood bank were sent for and obtained. Blood was used."
The last rites were performed in "Emergency Operating Room No. 1."
There were at least eight or 10 physicians in attendance at the time the President succumbed. Dr. Clark said there was no possibility of saving the President's life.
The press pool man said that when he saw Mrs. Kennedy she still had on her pink suit and that the hose of her left leg was saturated with blood. In the emergency room, Mrs. Kennedy, Vice President Johnson and Mrs. Johnson grasped hands in deep emotion.
In attempting to clear up confusion, Clark and Perry had only stirred the pot.
Still, the nature of Kennedy's wounds was not the only part of the story muddled up by the press. An 11-22-63 UPI article by Merriman Smith, who would win the Pulitzer Prize for his reporting, claimed Governor "Connally was hit in the head and back," at the same time CBS was telling its viewers Connally had multiple chest wounds. Neither report was accurate, of course. An 11-22 article rushed out for the Dallas Times-Herald, moreover, reported both that "Bullets apparently came from a high-powered rifle in a building at Houston and Elm" and that a witness said: "the motorcade had just turned onto Houston Street from Main Street when a shot rang out. Pigeons flew up from the street. Then, two more shots rang out and Mr. Kennedy fell to the floor of the car. The shots seemed to come from the extension of Elm Street from just beyond the Texas School Book Depository Building..."
Hmmm... Someone reading this article would quite possibly have concluded the President was shot by more than one assassin while riding on Houston Street.
Let's check back in with CBS. Around 3:40 PM EST (2:40 CST), more than two hours after the shooting, Dan Rather reported "There have been a number of suspects arrested by Dallas police, Dallas County Sheriff's Officers. One of the suspects was a 25-year old white youth. He was the first one arrested. He was in the vicinity of a multi-storied building, near the scene where President Kennedy and Texas Governor Connally were shot. On the fourth or fifth floor--it has never been completely determined on which floor of that building--four empty cartridges were found."
Ahem... This was, according to what the public would soon be told, the wrong number of cartridges...on the wrong floor. The arrested man, moreover, (Larry Florer) was quickly released.
And NBC was no better... NBC anchorman Frank McGee, after showing his viewers a photo of a sniper rifle being removed from the book depository, reported "The best we can make out now the President's motorcade had really traveled perhaps a few yards beyond this point and that the fatal shots that were fired were fired from behind and struck him in the back of the head." He then added "and then incongruously some way another bullet struck him in the front of the neck."
Incongruously, the possibility there was more than one shooter was not to be discussed.
Now, let's take a break. Study this photo. (FWIW, I believe it originated with the Ft. Worth Star-Telegram.)
This is Dealey Plaza, the assassination site of President John F. Kennedy. Within an hour or so of the assassination the American news media knew Kennedy's limousine was in the location marked by an X when he first got shot, and that a rifle was found in one of the circled windows in the building back behind him.
And within an hour after that, they knew an employee of that building had been arrested.
And yet they kept saying things to suggest a shot came in from the front...for days and days afterwards.
With all due respect, they were grasping at straws, and feeding the public crap... They should have openly discussed the possibility Dr. Perry was wrong when he'd said the throat wound looked like an entrance wound, and openly discussed the possibility that, if he was not wrong, there might be a second shooter still on the loose.
But, strangely, no one was willing to go there...
Apparently, it was perfectly okay to say "shots came from the front," and then follow that up with "but a rifle was found behind," but it was not okay to connect the dots and say maybe just maybe there'd been more than one shooter.
The early reporting was awful...an embarrassment of riches--well, not exactly riches but blithering nonsense. The Contents section of U.S. News and World Report in 1963 claimed that each issue reached the streets the Monday before its street date, after having gone to press the Friday before that. Its first articles on the assassination were in its 12-2-63 issue. This, then, suggests that these articles were written on the 22nd, just after the shooting and just as the magazine was going to press.
And they show it... U.S. News' initial article on the shooting was seriously short on facts, or at least the facts as most have come to know them. It declared "The assassin killed President Kennedy with a single shot from a powerful .30 caliber rifle. The bullet struck in the neck and emerged from the back of the head."
Yep, in light of what would rapidly become the accepted version of events, that's the wrong number of shots...coming in from the wrong direction...and fired from the wrong kind of rifle. Yes, this is what one of the top magazines in the country was telling its readers as long as 10 days after the shooting.
And yet, confused as these early accounts were, they were consistent on one thing--there was only one shooter. Yes, not only did U.S. News declare there was but one "assassin" before the writers of the article could possibly know anything about Lee Harvey Oswald (soon to be the sole suspect, who was never even mentioned in the magazine), but a companion piece on the motorcade announced in its title "A Thousand Well-Wishers--And One Assassin."
Oswald's arrest gave the media someone new to pester in the hallways of the Dallas Police Department.
Here is Oswald as first put on display for reporters... (Note that Oswald's showing the press his handcuffs was widely reported as his performing a "Communist salute," whatever that is...)
And here's Oswald a bit later, where he actually took some questions...
And here's Oswald with a camera in his face...
Oswald denied everything, of course. He did not shoot a cop. He did not shoot the President. He did not have an attorney. He had simply gotten into a scuffle with some cops who'd harassed him in a theatre. In the halls of the Dallas Police Dept., if not in the halls of justice, Oswald thereby planted a seed in the American subconscious--that he was just what he said he was: nothing but a patsy.
His case for patsy status would be fortified, moreover, by the negligence of those investigating Kennedy's murder. The numerous interrogations of Oswald over the next two days were not recorded, transcribed verbatim, or even recorded in detailed notes. They were reconstructed by the surviving participants--members of the DPD, FBI, Secret Service, and Post Office--from their memories, with the possible assistance of some skeletal notes...that they failed to provide the Warren Commission.
But that's a bit down the road...
So what was President Johnson doing all this time?
Funny I should ask...
"Sinister" and "Obscene"
While the rest of the world was worried about Mrs. Kennedy, or her children, or themselves, seeing as they no longer knew what kind of country they were living in, President Johnson (he became President upon Kennedy's death), was chiefly worried about himself.
Now I know that sounds unfair, but that's what the record shows. Johnson was afraid how it would look if he flew back to Washington without Kennedy's remains and widow. So he waited in their plane--his plane, identical in tactical ability, but lacking a private bedroom, was packed up and ready to go--on the Love Field tarmac, and refused to leave until 1) his luggage could be brought over from his plane, and 2) the Secret Service brought his predecessor's body and Mrs. aboard. He also worried about Robert Kennedy--and if he (RFK) would somehow try to block his (Johnson's) constitutionally-mandated ascent to the throne. So he arranged to be sworn into office on the plane before take-off, and then dictated a memo falsely claiming it had been RFK's idea that he do so. (He would also falsely claim he'd set aside the private bedroom for Mrs. Kennedy's use, when, in fact, she arrived to find him sprawled out on the bed, with the door shut, and only his personal secretary for company--and then let his wife use the room for the bulk of the flight.) He then asked the still-in-shock Mrs. Kennedy to stand beside him during the swearing-in--and said nothing when the media reported that she (Mrs. Kennedy) had delayed both his swearing-in and the take-off of his plane (when the truth was that it was he who had delayed Mrs. Kennedy's departure--by 20 minutes or more--by making her wait around till Judge Sarah Hughes--who'd Johnson tasked with performing the completely unnecessary swearing-in ceremony--could make her way to the plane.) And so on...
The rock bottom was reached at the moment captured above. There, in a photo taken by White House photographer Cecil Stoughton--that was subsequently disappeared from the archives, only to be found on a contact sheet at the Johnson Library--Johnson's long-time crony Albert Thomas was caught in the act of winking at Johnson, just after Johnson became President, around 2:38 P.M.
Now, this may have been innocent--an "I know you can do it" wink--but it may also have been more--an "I'm so glad you're finally on top" wink. Thomas had worked alongside Johnson for decades. He was terminally ill. A dinner in his honor was at the center of Kennedy's trip to Texas. Those prone to suspicion, then, may have seen Thomas' wink as something even more--an "I told you we could pull this off" wink.
But no matter the intention, Johnson's actions on the plane--and in the immediate aftermath of the shooting--rubbed some the wrong way. White House photographer Stoughton said he thought Thomas' wink was "sinister." Kennedy military aide Godfrey McHugh said he thought Johnson's behavior on the plane was "obscene."
In any event, as Air Force One soared back to Washington, two things happened:
1) Mrs. Kennedy was offered the choice of having her husband's autopsy performed at Walter Reed Army Hospital or Bethesda Naval Hospital. She chose Bethesda as the place where the questions would be answered. (This proved to be a mistake. The hospital at Bethesda proved as inadequate at performing forensic autopsies as America's newspapers and TV networks had been at reporting accurate information regarding the President's wounds.)
and 2) The Dallas Police and national media focused in on Oswald as the likely assassin, so much so that at 3:54 PM CST NBC's Bill Ryan would declare "Lee Oswald seems to be the prime suspect in the assassination of John F. Kennedy."
Above: former President Dwight D. Eisenhower speaks to the nation on 11-22-63.
The Great Man Speaks
Amidst all this chaos, FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover tried to do his job. He really did. Cognizant of the fact Robert Kennedy remained his boss, though his brother was dead, Hoover called Kennedy to keep him informed of the latest developments in the case...
And completely botched it up... Hoover's notes from this day reflect not only that he told Kennedy the suspected assassin Lee Harvey Oswald had run into two police officers a block or two away from the assassination site and had killed one of them in a shoot-out, but that Oswald had visited Cuba multiple times. As a solo Dallas policeman had been killed a few miles away from the assassination site without ever firing his gun, and as Oswald had never been to Cuba, these statements were quite incorrect, and suggest that either Hoover's information or his ability to grasp such information was seriously flawed.
And Hoover wasn't the only senior having a senior moment...
At 4:01 PM CST, as dusk descended in Washington, grandfatherly ex-President Dwight Eisenhower took to the airwaves and assured the masses huddled before their boob tubes that "Americans are loyal, and it's just this occasional psychopathic accident that occurs, and I don't know what we can do about it." It's unclear if Eisenhower had been following the developments in Dallas, and had already decided that Lee Harvey Oswald, an employee of the building from which shots were fired, and a suspect in the murder of a Dallas police officer, was a "psychopathic sort of accident." But he certainly prepared the American people to think as much.
In any event, by 4:58 PM (CST), the time of the Air Force One's arrival at Andrews Air Force base in Maryland, the air of uncertainty when Air Force One took off from Dallas had been transformed into an air of certainty in Washington: there was a new Sheriff in town. And his name was Lyndon Johnson.
It should be noted, moreover, that RFK was one of those, shall we say, less-than-enamored with this development. It's been reported that when Air Force One arrived in Washington, Robert Kennedy raced onto the plane and dragged his sister-in-law off the back of the plane, lest she be forced into exiting the plane arm-in-arm with Johnson.
Wait. We have pictures.
Here's RFK sneaking his sister-in-law (the First Lady, Jacqueline Kennedy) out the back door of Air Force One with her husband's body. The plane is reported to have landed at 4:58 (CST). So this would be shortly after 5:00 (CST).
And here's the tarmac at Andrews but 10 minutes later as Lyndon Johnson made his first speech as President. Always eager to share responsibility, he asked for the help of the American people "and God's."
Alas, the train of misinfo rolled on. More than four hours after the Italian Mannlicher-Carcano rifle presumed to have been used in the assassination had been found in the school book depository, and nearly as long after Oswald had been arrested in a movie theater without firing a shot, the great Walter Cronkite told his viewers that the rifle found in the depository had been a German Mauser (a story that would not be corrected until the next day), and that Oswald was accused of killing a policeman in a shootout at a theater (This was not true--Officer J.D. Tippit had been killed on a suburban street).
Now, hmmm, it might not have been a coincidence, then, that, shortly after Cronkite's mis-identification of the rifle, Lt. J.C. Day of the Dallas Police crime lab just so happened to parade the presumed assassination rifle across a room full of reporters, and photographers. This is shown below. A clock in some of the alternate shots of this photo reads 6:15.
(While Day would later claim he didn't know the room was gonna be full of reporters, this seems doubtful, seeing as Day had previously chosen to 1) dust the rifle for prints at the school book depository in front of WFAA cameraman Tom Alyea, and 2) parade the rifle before the cameramen outside the depository upon exit. More on Day and his attention-seeking later...)
Yes, darkness had descended and the Johnson Administration had more on its mind than the mainstream news media's totally confusing the public (and the Dallas Police's parading evidence before the press). Dallas District Attorney Henry Wade had let it be known he suspected Oswald was but one actor in a larger conspiracy. (The next morning's Dallas Morning News, in fact, claimed that Wade had intimated that "preliminary reports indicated more than one person was involved in the shooting" and that he'd said "Everyone who participated in this crime--anyone who helped plan it or furnished a weapon, knowing the purposes for which it was intended--is guilty of murder under Texas law" and that they "should all go to the electric chair.")
Wade's comments, moreover, were bland as milk compared to those of his assistant, Bill Alexander, who was hinting to the press that Oswald would be charged with acting as part of a communist conspiracy.
Well, this just wouldn't do. Wade was interviewed for a November 1988 article in American History Illustrated by Edward Oxford. There, he revealed: “Cliff Carter, President Johnson’s aide, called me three times from the White House Friday night. He said that President Johnson felt any word of a conspiracy—some plot by foreign nations—to kill President Kennedy would shake our nation to its foundation. President Johnson was worried about some conspiracy on the part of the Russians. Oswald had all sorts of connections and affections toward Castro’s Cuba. It might be possible to prove a conspiracy with Cuba. But it would be very hard to prove a conspiracy with Russia. Washington’s word to me was that it would hurt foreign relations if I alleged a conspiracy—whether I could prove it or not. I would just charge Oswald with plain murder and go for the death penalty. So I went down to the Police Department at City Hall to see Captain Fritz—to make sure the Dallas Police didn’t involve any foreign country in the assassination.”
Yowza. Notice how Wade stopped himself and clarified that the conspiracy Johnson was so worried about was one involving “foreign nations.” Well, who was he kidding? As District Attorney of Dallas County, Wade would be powerless to bring a case against a foreign nation. He would be perfectly situated, however, to bring charges against Kennedy’s enemies in Texas, many of whom supported Johnson. And, besides, which kind of conspiracy would be more likely to shake the nation to its foundation? A foreign conspiracy? Nope, not hardly. A domestic conspiracy. It seems clear, then, that Johnson asked Wade to focus Fritz’s gaze on Lee Harvey Oswald, and that Wade complied, and felt dirty enough about it that he was still lying about it 25 years later.
Even so, Wade's promise of cooperation was apparently not enough. An 11-14-93 article in the Washington Post revealed that, at roughly the same time Johnson was having Carter contact Wade, he was having another close associate, Homer Busby, contact Texas Attorney General Waggoner Carr, and ask Carr to convene a state "court of inquiry" that would supersede the authority of the Dallas Police and the Dallas County District Attorney's office.
Above: Dallas Police Chief Jesse Curry (wearing glasses, at right), has a talk with some unseen person, while Dallas Police Capt. Will Fritz (the gentleman with the white hat) listens in, and Dallas District Attorney Henry Wade (stroking chin) starts to worry.
But these were not the last of Johnson's power grabs. Shortly after landing in Washington, President Johnson had his own talk with FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover. According to a Hoover memo, Johnson told him to ignore the inconvenient problem that he had no jurisdiction, and to simply take charge of the investigation. According to Cartha DeLoach, the FBI's liaison with the media, LBJ told Hoover to have a report on his desk in two days, and to use whatever powers the executive branch had to offer to accomplish this task. The substance of these recollections is supported, moreover, by Dallas Special-Agent-in-Charge (SAC) J. Gordon Shanklin's statement to the House Committee on the Judiciary in the 1970's. Shanklin told the Committee: "Late in the day, on November 22nd, I was ordered, confirmed by teletype, to conduct an investigation to determine who was responsible for killing the President."
Now, coincidentally, or perhaps not coincidentally, this was around the same time the case against Oswald began falling apart. While a number of witnesses had come forward and said they saw a sniper fire from the sixth floor of the depository, only one--Howard Brennan--had claimed he could identify this assassin if he saw him again. Well, Brennan was shown Oswald in a four-man line-up at 7:55 P.M.--and he refused to ID Oswald as the assassin. Now, to be clear, Brennan said Oswald looked most like the assassin of the four men in the line-up. But this wasn't saying much, seeing as Oswald was clearly the suspect and the man Brennan knew he was supposed to identify (Hmmm...maybe it was the black eye, or maybe it was the torn shirt, or maybe it was the scowl on his face). But he refused to ID him anyhow.
Now here's where things get sticky. The Dallas Police failed to write a report acknowledging they'd had a witness who'd claimed he could ID the shooter, who'd been shown Oswald, and had failed to do so. This smells to high heaven. Oswald was yet to have an attorney. With no report in his file, whoever lucked into being Oswald's attorney would have no way of knowing that a prominent witness had said he could identify the shooter but had refused to ID Oswald.
There's an even stranger aspect to this, moreover. Here's the note on this "show-up" that turned up decades after the fact. To be clear, this comes from a small address book used by Capt. Fritz to list the evidence in this case--that was eventually scanned and put online by the University of North Texas.
So...why was Brennan, a key witness in the murder of the President, brought in by Agent Sorrels of the Secret Service? The excuse that Oswald had not yet been charged in Kennedy's murder and that the other witnesses at this line-up were all witnesses to the murder of Police Officer J.D. Tippit doesn't hold water. Not one drop. Brennan had made his initial statement to the Dallas County Sheriff's Dept. The investigation into Kennedy's murder was headed by the Dallas Police Dept. So how does the Secret Service take control of the man who might very well be the star witness for a case to be prosecuted by the Dallas County District Attorney's Office? It simply makes no sense...unless...the Secret Service, much as the FBI, had been ordered to actively investigate Kennedy's murder, and to pay no mind to the local authorities who actually had jurisdiction.
In any event, the witnesses at this show-up/line-up claiming to have received a good look at the shooter of Officer J.D. Tippit all ID'ed Oswald as that shooter, and this allowed the DPD to charge him with the murder of Officer J.D. Tippit.
Oswald's hands and cheek were then coated with paraffin, so that a nitrate test ( a primitive type of gunshot residue test) could be performed. He was then fingerprinted, and palm-printed.
Here is a photo taken by Jim Murray shortly thereafter. On the far right side Crime Lab employee Pete Barnes holds up a palm print. Fellow Crime Lab employee Johnny Hicks is in the background. (Detective Gus Rose is on the phone.)
And here is a second photo by Murray, this one a quick bit later. Barnes continues to discuss the palm print with the detectives. But Hicks is now on the phone. In Hicks' hand, moreover, is the kit he used to coat the paraffin on Oswald's hands and cheek. It appears, then, that he is on the phone with the Crime Lab specialists at Parkland Hospital, and is telling them some paraffin casts are on their way.
Meanwhile, back in Washington, the business of government, or, more accurately, the change in government, continued. At roughly 8:30 PM CST, NBC's Martin Agronsky reported that President Kennedy's secretary, Evelyn Lincoln, had already begun cleaning off the President's desk. Now, to some this might seem shocking--that the President's secretary, fresh from a plane ride with her boss's corpse, would be tasked with going into work and cleaning off his desk, but that's not how Agronsky saw it. No, he told the nation: "This swift preparation is a meaningful gesture, symbolic of the continuity of government."
And Lincoln wasn't the only one working overtime. At 8:40 PM CST, the FBI distributed the following teletype to all its field offices: "All offices immediately contact all informants, security, racial and criminal, as well as other sources, for information bearing on assassination of President Kennedy. All offices immediately establish whereabouts of bombing suspects, all known Klan and hate group members, known racial extremists, and any other individuals who on the basis of information available in your files may possibly have been involved."
Around 10:00 PM CST, the FBI sent another teletype to its field offices, this one even more instructive: "The Bureau is conducting an investigation to determine who is responsible for the assassination. You are therefore instructed to follow and resolve all allegations pertaining to the assassination. This matter is of utmost urgency and should be handled accordingly keeping the Bureau and Dallas, the office of origin, apprised fully of all developments."
By 10:18 PM Dallas Mayor Earl Cabell had had enough. While he'd mostly sat by as a parade of pundits criticized his city for its climate of intolerance and violence, he decided it was time to go on the defensive, and deflect the blame onto Lee Harvey Oswald. He told a national audience "I don't believe this event will hurt Dallas as a city. This was the act of a maniac who could have lived anywhere--a man who belonged to no city." The investigation into Oswald's possible guilt was only hours old, and public figures were already denouncing him as a homeless maniac.
And it wasn't just Eisenhower and Cabell. A film clip of Sen. Everett Dirksen, the top-ranking Republican in the government, was broadcast nation-wide on NBC around 10:30 PM CST. Dirksen told the nation: "Only someone suffering from aberrations of personality and motivated by insane passions would be guilty of the assassination of the great leader of the greatest country on Earth."
Above: the Murderer's Row of Dallas Justice, 1963. From L to R, Dallas Police Chief Jesse Curry, Capt. Will Fritz, (the lead homicide detective for the Dallas Police Dept.), Dallas County District Attorney Henry Wade, and Dallas FBI agent Vincent Drain. In time, these men would all make statements suggesting something was amiss with the investigation of Kennedy's assassination.
Around 11:00 PM, however, the already stumbling investigation of the supposedly insane maniac's actions suffered another setback. Just three hours after Howard Brennan, the only witness to say he could identify the shooter seen firing from the sniper's nest, had said he couldn't identify Oswald as this shooter, Buell Frazier, realistically the only witness who could say if the paper bag supposedly found near the sniper's nest resembled the bag Oswald carried into work that morning, said nope, not remotely. The paper used to make the bag shown to Frazier was, according to Frazier, the wrong kind of paper, and the bag itself was too large, roughly twice the size of the bag Frazier recalled seeing in Oswald's possession.
Making matters worse, moreover, is this. The Dallas Police gave Frazier a polygraph examination in part to see if he was lying about the bag, and he passed with flying colors. This polygraph then disappeared. Its results were not reported in the media. Its results were not even provided the FBI. It was only when following up on Frazier's claim the bag he saw in Oswald's possession was not the bag later placed into evidence, on 11-29, for that matter, that the FBI found out about this polygraph.
At 11:49 PM CST it was announced that Lee Harvey Oswald had been officially charged with the murder of the President. That's right. Mayor Cabell had pronounced Oswald a "maniac" and guilty of killing Kennedy well before Oswald had even been charged with the crime.
Above: Dallas Assistant District Attorney Bill Alexander with the document charging Oswald with the murder of the President. Alexander would later say he was only joking when he'd told reporters he'd planned on charging Oswald with acting as part of a communist conspiracy. But something about his face says he wasn't the joking type...
Yes, welcome to the wild, wild west...
Here Come Cowboys
Around midnight, in order to show the world that Oswald, the Dallas Police's chief suspect in the case, had not been man-handled by the police, the Dallas Police allowed him a few minutes to talk to the media, in which he told them 1) he was innocent, and 2) he'd been hit by a policeman.
This could not have been what the DPD had in mind...
Here's the accused getting yanked out of the homicide bureau so he could be paraded before the press. (That's Dallas Chief of Police Jesse Curry on the left and Det. Marlin Hall on the right.)
And here's Oswald at the so-called midnight press conference, surrounded by, from L to R, Det. Marlin Hall, Det. Richard Sims, and Det. Elmer Boyd... Note how Oswald, a man of average height, is dwarfed by the men around him.
But that wasn't the worst of it. The worst of it was that this quick Q and A in which Oswald was surrounded by a wall of grim-faced detectives was broadcast live around the world on TV, and that the long-standing tradition within the Dallas Police was that its homicide detectives wore--you guessed it--cowboy hats. Well this was just bad optics. No, check that, really bad optics. Just awful. While novels and serials and movies had sold the world that cowboys were honorable and decent, they had also sold the world that cowboys live outside the law, and would go outside the law to achieve what was popularly known as "frontier justice."
Well, this was the LAST thing people around the world wanted to see. They wanted to see that law and order had been restored and that real justice would be achieved--not frontier justice in which local goons got to beat up the suspect and then parade around in their Lone Ranger costumes.
In any event, all through the night the FBI and Dallas Police worked together in lockstep. The Dallas Police sent much of the physical evidence gathered to the FBI's crime lab. The FBI pursued a few leads of its own. By morning, the FBI had linked Oswald to the Mannlicher-Carcano rifle found on the sixth floor of his work. They had also examined his background as a former resident of the Soviet Union.
And they weren't the only ones who worked all through the night. By midnight, the autopsy of the President had been completed, and the subsequent reconstruction of his body and preparation for burial had begun.
Above: a photo taken inside Bethesda Naval Hospital on the evening of 11-22-63.
Around 2:00 AM, moreover, the FBI's Baltimore Office sent a teletype to FBI headquarters. This contained the first written description of the President's wounds...made by a Federal Agency. It revealed: ""Total body x-ray and autopsy revealed one bullet entered back of head and thereafter emerged through top of skull...One bullet hole located just below shoulders to right of spinal column and hand probing indicated trajectory angle of forty-five to sixty degrees downward and hole of short depth with no point of exit. No bullet located in body." (MD 149)
Well, that's just...strange. There was no mention of the throat wound discussed at the Parkland press conference.
In any event, after having been (mostly) reconstructed (by the staff of Gawler's Funeral Home), the President's body was placed in a casket and transported to the White House, where it would lay in state until Sunday afternoon.
Here's a photo of the arrival of the President's flag-draped coffin at the White House. This was sometime after 3:30 in the morning of November 23rd, fifteen hours after President Kennedy was assassinated in Texas. And, yes, Mrs. Kennedy was still wearing the same blood-stained dress she'd been wearing in the motorcade... (When asked throughout that dreadful day if she would like to change clothes, she'd repeatedly refused, and had added "Let them see what they have done.")
The Mourning After
In London, the chirping of birds and the the slow stir of traffic was suddenly buried beneath the slap of the Daily Mail on the front porch of many a home.
Unfortunately, however, the front page of the Mail was clouded with the same kind of nonsense being spewed across the pond. The Mail's article on the killing of Kennedy declared: "As the convoy approached a huge underpass, the first bullet, fired from high above him, hit President Kennedy in his right temple and passed down to the neck. The second and third struck Governor Connally in the chest and wrist."
Uhhh, no--this was not an accurate report on the Parkland Press conferences. Perhaps, then, someone--or some thing--had gotten ahold of the Mail's reporter, Jeffrey Blyth, and had convinced him to claim the throat wound was an exit wound when the Parkland doctors had in fact said it was an entrance wound.
If politics had stained the Mail's presentation of the killing, for that matter, it should not come as a surprise...
Early this morning, the U.S. Ambassador to the Soviet Union, Foy Kohler, met with Soviet leader Nikita Khruschev. According to a State Department cable on the meeting, Kohler told Khruschev the new company line--that Oswald must have been a "madman." Reflecting his concern that those prosecuting Oswald would focus on his alleged "Marxism", and that this would hurt U.S. relations with the Soviets, Kohler offered "While we clearly must be factual and objective in our output, I would hope, if facts permit, we could deal with the assassin as 'madman' with long record of acts reflecting mental unbalance rather than dwell on his political convictions."
And Kohler wasn't the only one itching to move on. An 8-19-70 interview of CIA Director John McCone, conducted for the LBJ Library, reflects that on the night of the shooting McCone visited Johnson at his home and that Johnson's "mood was one of deep distress over the tragedy, and grave concern over how to properly handle the men in the organization whose competence he recognized...he decided to work with the organization and to win its support, and he did so successfully. Many men who were determined to leave the next morning stayed on and served him loyally and very well--and some to the end of his Administration." While Johnson's Daily Diary, available on the LBJ Library website, demonstrates that McCone was mistaken as to the exact timing of this discussion, and that it actually took place early the next morning, on the 23rd, McCone's recollection is nevertheless illuminating. Johnson was supposedly concerned that a foreign government had been behind Kennedy's death. And yet, he met with two ex-Presidents, three top Kennedy advisers, and twelve members of Congress upon his return to Washington, and failed to meet with the head of the CIA until the next day. This suggests that Johnson's priority on his first night as President was not in finding out what had happened to his predecessor, but in political maneuvering. Perhaps more telling, McCone failed to mention any concern of Johnson's that Kennedy was killed by an international conspiracy. This would have been the expected topic of conversation.
Now, it should be noted that McCone claimed Johnson expressed grave concern about how to handle the men in the organization. Apparently, he had no such concerns about the women. To wit, upon arrival at the White House on 11-23-63, long-time Kennedy secretary Evelyn Lincoln was told her services would no longer be needed and that she should have her desk cleaned out by 9:00 A.M.
If, with his successful takeover of the White House, Johnson was preparing the country to move on, however, his plan would soon be put on hold.
Some questions remained about Kennedy's presumed assassin.
Above: FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover (L) and President Lyndon B. Johnson, friends to the end.
At 9:01 AM CST on 11-23 President Johnson called FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover for an update on the investigation. The transcript of this conversation reflects that Hoover told Johnson that "The evidence that they have at the present time is not very very strong," and that Hoover then discussed a recent trip that Oswald had made to Mexico City: "We have up here the tape and the photograph of the man who was at the Soviet Embassy, using Oswald's name. That picture and the tape do not correspond to this man's voice, nor to his appearance. In other words, it appears that there is a second person who was at the Soviet Embassy down there."
Above: the "Mexico City Mystery Man." For reasons that are still not entirely clear, the CIA Station in Mexico City thought the picture shown above was a picture of Lee Harvey Oswald on one of his September 1963 visits to the Cuban Consulate and Russian Embassy in Mexico.
Hoover then shared something that led to this transcript's being withheld till 1993. He revealed: "We do have a copy of a letter which was written by Oswald to the Soviet Embassy here in Washington inquiring as well as complaining about the questioning of his wife by the FBI. Now, of course, that letter information--we process all mail that goes to the Soviet Embassy--it's a very secret operation. No mail is delivered to the Embassy without being examined and opened by us. so that we know what they receive. Such a letter was sent to the Embassy by this fellow Oswald, making a complaint about his wife being harassed and being questioned." Hoover then admitted: "The case as it stands now isn't strong enough to be able to get a conviction." He then expressed hope that not only this would change, but that the FBI would be able to tie Oswald to a wider conspiracy. He said: "Now if we can identify this man who is at the Mexican Embassy at--the Soviet Embassy in Mexico City, the Embassy in Mexico City." He then trailed off with "This man Oswald has still denied everything."
While Hoover appears to be much more in command of the evidence in this conversation than in the previous day's conversation with Robert Kennedy, by the end of this conversation, he once again fell prey to confusion. He reported: "I think that the bullets were fired from the fifth floor and the three shells that were found were found on the fifth floor. But he (the sniper) apparently went up to the sixth floor to have fired the gun and throw the gun away and then went out." It was later claimed, of course, that both the rifle and shells were recovered from the sixth floor.
Now, all that remains of this conversation is a transcript, kept at the Johnson Library. While it is purportedly a complete transcript, moreover, it is apparently only a partial transcript. When researcher Rex Bradford tried to listen to a recording of this conversation, he found that the conversation had been erased, and that a 14-minute gap had been left in its place. The Johnson Library then hired a forensics team to study the tape. This team concluded the conversation had been deliberately erased by persons unknown. When Bradford acted out this transcript, moreover, he found it played out nowhere near the length of the 14 minute gap on the tape.
As a result, one can't help but wonder what else Johnson and Hoover talked about in the minutes unrecorded on the transcript.
Still, we can explore what they did discuss. In 1996, James Hosty, the FBI agent tasked with keeping tabs on Oswald in Dallas, published Assignment: Oswald, his take on the assassination of President Kennedy. There, he acknowledged that, as soon as he heard of Oswald's arrest, around 2:15 on November 22nd, he rushed to take a look at Oswald's file, and found a one-page communique summarizing an 11-9-63 letter from Oswald to the Soviet Embassy in Washington D.C. This letter began: "Dear Sirs. This is to inform you of recent events since my meetings with Comrade Kostin in the Embassy of the Soviet Union, Mexico City, Mexico." Oswald then complained about an FBI Agent "Hasty", who he claimed was harassing his wife. (Note: while I have not been able to find a copy of this communique, or even an acknowledgement it still exists, an 11-23-63 FBI memo from Roy Jevons to Ivan Conrad reports that this typed-up letter had been intercepted and copied by the FBI's Washington Field Office on the 18th, and that the FBI had since ID'ed the signature on the letter as Oswald's signature.)
In any event, after reading this communique, Agent Hosty rushed over to Dallas Police headquarters, to observe and assist Capt. Will Fritz in his interrogation of Oswald. After Hosty introduced himself, Oswald became quite upset. You see, the "Hasty" in the letter--the agent Oswald believed was harassing his wife--was actually Agent Hosty.
No blood was shed. After Oswald calmed down, so it goes, he apologized to Hosty, not only for getting so upset, but for leaving an unsigned note at Hosty's office on the 12th. This note, according to Hosty, had said "If you want to talk to me, you should talk to me to my face. Stop harassing my wife, and stop trying to ask her about me. You have no right to harass her." (Note: none of the reports of those in attendance at this interview made any reference to Oswald's discussion of this note. In fact, word of this note did not leak out for more than a decade, and only then because the former FBI secretary who took the note from Oswald told a reporter for the Dallas-Times Herald that the note had said Oswald was gonna blow up the FBI's Dallas office if Hosty wouldn't leave his wife alone.)
And from there things only got stranger for Hosty. At one point in the interrogation, he thought about the communique he'd just read and an earlier communique from the CIA in which Oswald's trip to Mexico was discussed, and asked Capt. Fritz to ask Oswald if he'd been to Mexico City. According to everyone present, Oswald denied having visited Mexico City. They then adjourned so that Oswald could be placed in a line-up.
Above: At center frame, Dallas Assistant District Attorney Bill Alexander (L) and FBI agent James Hosty (R) talk shop on 11-22-63.
When Hosty returned to his office, however, he found that Oswald was not the only one in trouble. Not only were his superiors upset he'd brought up Mexico City during Oswald's interrogation, but they had found the unsigned note from Oswald in his desk! While Hosty was originally told the secretary who'd received the note from Oswald had recognized him on TV, and had told Hosty's superiors about the note, Assistant Special Agent-in-Charge Kyle Clark later told Hosty a different story, one Hosty came to believe. In this story, Assistant FBI Director William Sullivan--the man tasked with investigating the significance of Oswald's contact with the Soviets--called up the Dallas office while Hosty was with Oswald and told them to make sure Hosty didn't see the communique regarding Oswald's letter to the Soviet Embassy. (Presumably, Sullivan was afraid Hosty would ask Oswald about the letter, or, at the very least, give some other sign that the letter had been intercepted--such as asking Oswald why he'd complained about Hosty to the Soviets--and thereby compromise the security of the FBI's letter-opening operation in Washington. Note that this not only explains Sullivan's call about the communique, but the subsequent concern of Hosty's superiors over Hosty's asking Oswald about Mexico...)
In any event, in Clark's version of the story (the one Hosty came to believe), Hosty's superiors came across the note from Oswald while digging through his desk looking for his copy of the communiques discussing Oswald's trip to Mexico. They then discussed what to do with this note, but made no final decision other than to move it to Special Agent-in-Charge J. Gordon Shanklin's "Do Not File" drawer.
So, with that background, let's return to the timeline. We're on the morning of the 23rd. FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover has just told President Johnson about Oswald's letter to the Soviet Embassy, and has expressed hope that the case against Oswald will become stronger once they identify the man impersonating Oswald in Mexico. Well, this would indicate that Hoover at this time believed what happened in Mexico City was central to a possible conspiracy.
RIF#104-10436-10025, a document declassified in 1998, is an 11-23-63 memo from Pete Bagley, the head of the CIA's Russia Division, to his superior in the Directorate of Plans, presumably Thomas Karamessines. It related: "According to an intercepted phone call in Mexico City, Lee Oswald was at the Soviet Embassy there on 28 September 1963, and spoke with the consul, Valeriy Vladimirovich Kostikov." Bagley then admitted this was purportedly over a passport issue. He then related "Kostikov is an identified KGB officer. He was a case officer in an operation which is evidently sponsored by the KGB's 13th Department (responsible for sabotage and assassination)." Bagley then proceeded to question if Oswald would so publicly meet Kostikov if he was in fact an agent. He then delivered the hammer: "we have top secret Soviet Intelligence documents, describing Military Intelligence doctrine, which show that very important agents can be met in official installations using as cover for their presence there some sort of open business." Bagley then reported "I called the above connections to the attention of Mr. Pappich by phone to his FBI office at 1030 hours on 23 November." (Note: this would be 9:30 AM CST.)
So let's get this straight. Although the CIA told the FBI on October 18 that Oswald had met Kostikov in Mexico City on September 28, and the FBI was aware of Lee Harvey Oswald's letter to the Soviet Embassy--in which he claimed to have met a "Comrade Kostin" in Mexico--on November 18, four days prior to the assassination of President Kennedy on November 22nd, 1963, FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover told President Johnson on the morning of the 23rd that there was reason to believe Oswald had been impersonated while in Mexico.
Now, that's a real head-scratcher. But then, only moments after Hoover told this to Johnson, the CIA turned around and told the FBI (through its liaison, Sam Papich) that they believed Kostin/Kostikov, the man Oswald purportedly met with in Mexico, worked with the KGB's 13th Department, the department responsible for conducting assassinations.
This was nothing if not a bombshell.
I mean, just think about it. If Oswald had been impersonated while visiting Mexico, as proposed by Hoover, then it would seem someone within the intelligence agencies was trying to make it look like Oswald was working with the Soviets in killing Kennedy. And that could lead most anywhere... But the alternative was no better. If Oswald had not been impersonated while visiting Mexico, well, then he may very well have been actually working with the Soviets in killing Kennedy. And that could lead to 1) an investigation into why the intelligence agencies failed to keep an eye on Oswald after taping his conversations and intercepting his letters, and 2) war.
So...if Hoover and his men started hoping Oswald was just a crank, well, one could hardly blame them...
This brings us back to Agent Hosty...
Above: Oswald's mother Marguerite (L), and wife Marina (R) at the home of Ruth Paine (M) on the morning of 11-23-63. By the end of the day, the Oswald family would be swept up "for their own protection" by the Secret Service, and Mrs. Paine would be providing materials she'd stolen from Oswald to the FBI. And the friendship would be Splitsville...
On the morning of the 23rd, around 10:00 AM, Agent Hosty visited the house of Ruth and Michael Paine, where Oswald's family had been staying in the weeks leading up to the assassination and where Oswald himself had spent the night of the 21st. As Oswald's wife Marina was out for the day, Hosty ended up questioning the Paines as to how they came to know the Oswalds. Well, this proved most fortuitous. After some discussion, Mrs. Paine suddenly volunteered that Oswald had written a letter to the Soviet Embassy on her typewriter, and that she had (ding ding ding) kept his handwritten draft of this letter. She then gave this draft to Agent Hosty. Now, this was indeed odd. The Dallas Police Department had jurisdiction over the case. The Paines had spent some time with the Dallas Police throughout the day and evening of the 22nd. And yet Mrs. Paine had failed to show this letter to the Dallas police? Why?
The content of this letter was also troubling. As discussed, it was dated 11-9-63. In it, Oswald complained about Agent Hosty and his harassment of his family. And this, when combined with the note Oswald left Hosty on the 12th (in which Oswald complained about Hosty's harassment of his wife), made Hosty look like a bully--who'd pushed Oswald into retaliating against the President.
Now, this was quite a problem...for both Hosty and the FBI. The FBI had removed the communiques regarding Oswald's letter about his trip to Mexico from Hosty's desk in order to keep him in the dark, and here he had obtained a draft of the letter itself.
It should come as no surprise, then, that Hosty decided to sit on both the note left by Oswald and the draft of Oswald's letter. He failed to tell the Dallas Police about them. And he failed to write up a report about them...at least, while Oswald was breathing... In 1975, Agent Hosty testified that Dallas Special Agent in Charge J. Gordon Shanklin ordered him to destroy the note from Oswald on the 24th, within hours of Oswald's murder. Hosty admitted, moreover, that he did so. But that wasn't the end of it. Hosty also testified that Shanklin ordered him to destroy the draft of Oswald's letter on the 27th, but that he decided not to do so after consulting with veteran agent Bardwell Odum, who was in a similar situation. To get around Shanklin, then, Hosty mentioned the draft in a report on his visit with the Paines, that was forwarded to Washington. This tactic proved successful, moreover, as a request for the draft was received a few days later.
Now, in 1975, when this story came out, Special Agent-in-Charge Shanklin was called to testify before a Senate subcommittee. While Shanklin denied ever telling Hosty to destroy anything, the vast majority of historians--not to mention Senators-- have picked a side on this matter--and it's with Hosty.
So, yeah, the historical record is clear that the head of the Dallas FBI ordered the destruction of evidence pertinent to the assassination of President Kennedy, and then lied about it under oath.
When one considers two additional documents the FBI's CYA attitude towards the assassination becomes even more obvious. The first is RIF#104-10438-10075, declassified in 1998. It is a memo bearing a stamp dated 9-2-64. It is from then CIA Deputy Director of Plans (and future Director under Johnson) Richard Helms to FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover. In this memo Helms presents Hoover with a draft of a 1-31-64 memo he'd sent Warren Commission General Counsel J. Lee Rankin, in response to the commission's questions about the "Kostin" mentioned in Oswald's letter to the Embassy. Helms tells Hoover "Please note Paragraph 5 of the draft. We shall welcome your views on this statement." Now, paragraph 5 begins "Kostikov is believed to work for Department 13 of the First Chief Directorate of the KGB. This Department is responsible for executive action, including sabotage and assassination." But that's not the most surprising part of this memo. The most surprising part is a handwritten notation beside Helms' words to Hoover. This was written by someone using an indiscernible two letter abbreviation, possibly SP (for FBI/CIA liaison Sam Papich?), and signed 9-3-64. It relates: "Ray Rocca, CIA, advised that although the enclosed was furnished to Commission in Jan. '64, transmittal was not considered official. CIA now plans to send the same info--officially. We are free to raise any comments or objections to transmittal of info as set forth in end."
Well, this suggests that the CIA was willing to let the public know the truth about Kostikov, but was also willing to defer to the FBI's wishes, should the FBI wish to keep Kostikov's connections to Department 13 a secret. And not only that, but that the FBI took them up on this offer... To wit, Warren Commission Exhibit 2764 is a re-typed one-page copy of the 1-31-64 memo from Helms to Rankin. It cuts off in the middle of paragraph 4. It thereby conceals Kostikov's connections to Department 13. This connection, moreover, is mentioned nowhere else in the Commission's records.
It seems clear then that the FBI objected to the release of this information and prevailed upon the CIA to officially withhold this information from the Warren Commission, even though the Warren Commission had known about this unofficially since January. And this leads to an uncomfortable conclusion: that there were almost certainly other instances--how many we can't say--where the Warren Commission and its attorneys became "unofficially" aware of facts pertinent to the case but chose not to report these facts due to their "unofficial" nature.
Truth was their only client, my ass!
The Warren Commission's reporting on Oswald's letter and "Comrade Kostin" was certainly less than transparent. On page 309 of their report, it is claimed: "The Soviet Union made available to the Commission what purports to be the entire correspondence between the Oswalds and the Russian Embassy within the United States." The report then listed some of the items in this treasure trove. This led to: "Oswald's last letter to the Soviet Embassy in Washington D.C., dated November 9, 1963, began by stating that it was written 'to inform you of recent events since my meetings with Comrade Kostin in the Embassy of the Soviet Union, Mexico City, Mexico.'" The report then discussed the identity of "Kostin" and concluded it was really Valeriy Kostikov, who it identified as a KGB officer operating in Mexico under cover at the Embassy.
Well, this was undoubtedly misleading. First, it inaccurately suggested that the FBI's copies of this letter came as a gift from the Soviets, and not from its reading through the Embassy's mail. And second, it failed to mention Kostikov's possible connection to a department within the KGB tasked with conducting assassinations.
So, yes, the FBI destroyed evidence in this case. And it concealed even more evidence. While this was presumably done for the illegitimate reason of protecting the Bureau from allegations it failed to keep an eye on Oswald after he'd met with a KGB expert on assassinations, and then threatened an FBI agent, and for the more legitimate reason of concealing operations in which the CIA had been tapping the phones to the Soviet Embassy in Mexico and where they (the FBI) had been reading the Soviet Embassy in Washington's mail, their presumed reasons are not as important as the fact it was done, and that we can't trust the thoroughness of their investigation as a result.
Cut and Run
Above: the casket of President John F. Kennedy, laying in state at the White House, 11-23-63.
What the FBI did next gives us more cause for pause.
Shortly after Bagley's call to Papich, at 10:20 AM CST, the FBI dispatched another teletype to its field offices, this one telling them to stop pressing for information, and to resume normal activities. "Lee Harvey Oswald has been developed as the principal suspect in the assassination of President Kennedy. He has been formally charged with the President's murder along with the murder of Dallas Texas patrolman J.D. Tippit by Texas state authorities. In view of developments all offices should resume normal contacts with informants and other sources with respect to bombing suspects, hate group members and known racial extremists. Daily teletype summaries may be discontinued. All investigation bearing directly on the President's assassination should be afforded most expeditious handling and Bureau and Dallas advised."
Well, wait a second. Hoover had just told Johnson there may be someone "using Oswald's name" and engaging in suspicious activity. And Hoover had almost certainly just been told this person met with a KGB expert on assassination.
So why does the FBI send out a teletype telling its field offices to stop pressing their sources for information? Was Hoover afraid of finding out something he didn't want to know? Even if the case against Oswald looked solid, shouldn't the FBI have pressed its sources for more information?
Or was Hoover not interested in such information, for his own selfish reasons?
Above: Dallas Police Chief Jesse Curry does his best to field questions amidst an ocean of reporters.
Just moments before this teletype went out, Dallas Police Chief Jesse Curry, reciting something he'd been told the night before, told a national television audience that the FBI had known for some time that Oswald was dangerous, but that they had failed to inform the local police. Well, this raises the possibility Hoover didn't want the investigation to expand beyond Oswald because it might cast suspicion on his own agents.
Or perhaps not. In either event, Chief Curry's statement proved too much for the thin-skinned Hoover. Hoover's top aide DeLoach asserts in his book that after hearing Curry's comment Hoover called up his many powerful friends in Texas and asked them to put whatever pressure was necessary on Curry to bring him into line. This approach, apparently, proved successful. Curry would later withdraw his statement. (This proved too little too late for Curry, however. The Dallas PD was refused the assistance of the FBI crime lab for some time afterward and only regained access to those services upon Curry's removal from office.)
Still, Hoover wasn't the only one circling in on the Oswald-did-it-all-by-his-lonesome scenario. Sometime before noon, CBS News anchorman Walter Cronkite presented his viewers with the unexpected question of whether Oswald had been aiming at Kennedy, or Governor Connally. While doing so, he read aloud a letter Oswald wrote to Connally, when Connally was Secretary of the Navy, in which Oswald had asked that his "dishonorable" discharge be changed, and had asserted that he would "employ all means to right this gross injustice." This was inaccurate, but fair. Although Oswald had, in fact, received an "undesirable" discharge, and not a "dishonorable" discharge, Oswald himself had misrepresented the discharge in his letter. What was both inaccurate and unfair, however, was Cronkite's misrepresentation of Oswald's complaint. According to Cronkite, Oswald was "dismissed" from the Marines after twice being court-martialed, once for possession of a private firearm, and once for abuse to a non-commissioned officer. Cronkite had thereby painted a picture of Oswald as a violent malcontent, and had hidden from his viewers that Oswald had in fact been given an honorable discharge from the Marines, and that his discharge status from the Marine Corps Reserves had been changed to "undesirable" only after he had moved to Russia.
If Cronkite ever corrected this mistake, moreover, well, that would be news. We do know, however, that he did try to clarify one piece of information he'd provided on the day before. Apparently reporting the speculation of some of the Parkland emergency room doctors as if it had been the conclusion of all of the Parkland emergency room doctors, he further confused the country as to the nature of Kennedy's wounds by reporting that the Dallas doctors now "said that the bullet that entered his neck came out the back of his head." Yes, you read that right. While on the day of the shooting CBS had been the one network to accurately report that Dr. Perry "did not know" if Kennedy's wounds were made by one or two bullets, it reversed itself the next day and reported that the Dallas doctors claimed Kennedy's wounds were caused by one bullet, entering from the front. Cronkite didn't even try to explain how this was possible given that the supposed sniper's nest was behind Kennedy at the time of the shooting. He just spat out the confusing information, and kept moving. You can't make this stuff up.
Nor should you need to. Yes, truth is truly stranger than fiction.
It's also crueler than we care to believe. After speaking to Hoover, President Johnson had himself a chat with the newly-born widow, Mrs. Jacqueline Kennedy. His people then began cleaning out her husband's office. The photograph below was taken of the rocking chairs JFK sat on in the Oval Office, while awaiting their exile to the dustbin of history. Another photograph was taken as these chairs were wheeled outside the White House. This second photograph was reportedly taken at 12:31 PM CST, 24 hours after Kennedy was struck down by an assassin's bullet. What a difference a day makes, indeed!
At 12:35 PM CST Johnson called Wall Street Attorney Edwin Wiesl. The transcript provided for this conversation in Max Holland's book The Kennedy Assassination Tapes has Johnson asking for Wiesl's help in keeping the economy stable, and alluding to his earlier conversation with Hoover by warning Wiesl "This thing on the...this assassin...may have a lot more complications than you know about...it may lay deeper than you think." What makes this statement especially intriguing is that the transcript of this conversation provided by the LBJ Library and available online has Johnson saying something completely different. The Library's transcript reads: "I may--have a lot more complications-- you know about them so--it may lead deeper."
There's another phone call from this day that is even more intriguing. In his May 1984 newsletter researcher Gary Mack reported that long-time Dallas researcher and icon Mary Ferrell had reported that in the 1970's one of her friends had had lunch with Dallas Police Captain Will Fritz, and that Fritz had confided to this source that on 11-23-63 he'd received a phone call from President Johnson telling him that "You've got your man, the investigation is over."
Mack's reporting, moreover, built upon that of J. Gary Shaw in Cover-up (1976), in which this phone-call was first revealed. Shaw had reported as well that the luncheon at which Fritz revealed this phone call took place in March, 1975.
Now, understandably, this was all a bit too vague for researcher Noel Twyman. As recounted in Bloody Treason (1997), he spoke to Ferrell about this and was able to ascertain that her source had been a prominent construction industry executive named Frank B. Harrell. He then spoke to Harrell and Harrell confirmed that Fritz had told him about this call from Johnson. But Harrell went even further. He said that Fritz had said Johnson had specified that Fritz should stop questioning Oswald. Hmmm...
And Twyman wasn't the last to write about this. On 4-22-03 former WFAA and CBS News correspondent Bob Sirkin wrote an article about a September 1977 breakfast he'd had with Fritz. According to Sirkin, he confronted Fritz about the by-then-widely-rumored phone call from Johnson, and Fritz responded by saying "Not now. Maybe I'll write something, someday," and left it at that.
So it appears that, yes indeed, there was a phone call from Johnson to Fritz.
Above: Capt. Will Fritz being questioned outside his office. Bill Alexander stands behind him.
Well, if this is true it helps explain Fritz's subsequent actions. Even though the only witnesses claiming to see a sniper in the sixth floor window had refused to identify Oswald, and the paraffin test for nitrates on Oswald's cheek, which if present would suggest he'd fired a rifle, had turned up negative, Fritz, who was chief of the Dallas Police Homicide Bureau, told the press at 2:05 PM CST "that this case is cinched, that this man killed the President. There's no question in my mind about it...We are convinced beyond any doubt that he did the killing." Similarly, the 11-24 New York Times quoted Fritz as saying "We're convinced beyond any doubt that he killed the President."
A UPI article found in the 11-24 Boston Globe, for that matter, explained why. It reported: "Police said Saturday they have an airtight case against Pro-Castro Marxist Lee Harvey Oswald as the assassin of President Kennedy, including photos of his holding the rifle. Police were reported to have shown the photos to the sullen, 24-year-old ex-Marine from suburban Irving, Tex., who has steadfastly maintained his innocence and has also denied slaying a Dallas policeman. The photos, police said, show him with both the rifle used to kill President Kennedy and the pistol used to kill pursuing patrolman J.D. Tippit shortly after the assassination. 'This case is cinched,' said Capt. Will Fritz, homicide chief. 'Yes, we have a picture of him with the rifle, and with the pistol,' Fritz said. Police Chief Jesse Curry wove police evidence tighter around Oswald. He said the FBI reported that Oswald bought the Italian 6.5 Carcano bolt-action rifle with a telescopic sight from a Chicago mail order house for $12.78. 'The handwriting on the mail order was Oswald's,' Curry said."
The 11-24 Washington Post, the most widely read paper by the nation's movers and shakers, went a little bit further, however. In their account of Fritz's 11-23 statements, he claimed not only that "This man killed the President," but "There were no accomplices."
Well, how could he know that? Consider the damage to Fritz's reputation should Oswald have confessed the next day, and named names. Well, why would Fritz have risked such a thing? And who, for that matter, were the "we" Fritz claimed were already convinced of Oswald's sole guilt?
As previously discussed, we have Dallas-insider gossip Johnson called Fritz and told him to limit his investigation to Oswald. But that's not all we have. A 4-7-64 memo from Warren Commission counsel Stern and Ely to their boss J. Lee Rankin on an extended discussion with Capt. Fritz provides some support for this possibility. According to the memo, when asked why Fritz broke from standard protocol and publicly revealed the evidence against Oswald, "Fritz answered that it was not his place to comment on this issue." Well, heck, these men were working for the President's commission. Who was Fritz protecting, if not the President himself?
Still, with or without Johnson, we know the identity of at least one other member of the "we" mentioned by Fritz--Dallas County District Attorney Henry Wade. In a morning news conference, after being asked by the press to describe Oswald, Wade showed his hand, stating "I can't describe him any other than--the murderer of the President, is about all the way I put on it, but I don't know anything about the accused--his psychological background or anything."
It's cute how Wade calls Oswald "the accused" after first describing him as "the murderer." It's also kinda cute how Wade says he doesn't know anything of Oswald's psychological background, but then (according to the next day's Herald-Examiner) admitted he "expected Oswald to plead insanity," and (according to the next day's New York Times) stated "I think we have enough evidence to convict him (Oswald) now." Neither Fritz nor Wade had read the as-yet-unwritten autopsy report, tested Oswald's rifle to see if it was capable of accurately firing the shots, or conducted an interview with anyone in the Presidential limousine or Secret Service back-up car. What few witness statements they had obtained provided conflicting accounts on most every point but one: most of the statements agreed that two of the three shots were fired very close together. As the FBI would soon determine, Oswald's bolt action rifle could not have been fired accurately more than once every 2.3 seconds.
Which isn't to say the FBI was any less closed-minded. An 11-23-63 memo from Cartha DeLoach to J. Edgar Hoover regarding the FBI's acquisition of the Zapruder film, a home-movie of the shooting taken by a bystander, states that the Dallas Special Agent in-Charge, J. Gordon Shanklin, who'd been provided a copy of the film by the Secret Service, "did not believe the film would be of any evidentiary value; however, he first had to take a look at the film to determine this factor." It's almost as if he were apologizing for doing his job.
Of course, he wasn't the only one with a job to do...
At 2:30 PM CST President Johnson held his first cabinet meeting. He is reported to have opened this meeting with "The President is dead. The president must keep the business of government moving," and to have been visibly annoyed at the late arrival of a visibly-uncomfortable Robert Kennedy, whose brother was murdered barely 24 hours before.
So, yeah, there's moving...and then there's moving on...
And Johnson wasn't alone... America's newspapers were moving on as well...
Unfortunately, however, they kept moving on in circles, spewing more and more manure about a series of events the writers for these papers apparently just couldn't grasp.
Harsh words, I know. So let's cite some more examples...of an over-eager press tripping all over its story.
Reversing the Trajectory
An 11-23 UPI article on the president's wounds reported: "An authoritative White House source said one bullet entered Kennedy's head and another penetrated the 'neck and chest.' The source said White House officials did not know until this morning about the second wound." Now, this is slightly strange. So let's try and work this out. The wound discovered at the autopsy was a small back wound. The existence of this wound would presumably have been brought to the attention of the White House after the autopsy was completed that morning. While Kennedy's chief autopsist Dr. Humes and his autopsy team had reportedly been unaware of the throat wound described by Dr. Perry the day before prior to his (Humes') talking to Perry this morning, there is no reason to believe Humes turned around and called the White House to report his belated knowledge of this wound. The neck wound in the story would therefore appear to be a reference to the back wound discovered at the autopsy. Since the Warren Commission would also come to misrepresent this back wound as a "neck" wound, and as this first misrepresentation of the back wound as a neck wound came from an "authoritative White House source" it's not unreasonable to suspect then that this migration of the wound came under direction of the White House. The use of the word "penetrated," however, implies the bullet did not exit, and since the only entrance mentioned at the press conference the day before was the throat wound, the article implies to its readers, regardless of the White House or FBI's intentions in leaking the story, that the bullet entered Kennedy's throat and continued down into his chest. And that the shot came from the front. Hmmm... Who was this "White House source?"
Fortunately, an 11-24 UPI article (found in the Dallas Times-Herald) helps clarify the confusing article from the day before. This article, apparently based on the the same 11-23 conversation, states "President Kennedy was shot twice yesterday by an assassin, White House sources said yesterday. First reports said the president was killed by one bullet. It was learned today that the information given the White House was that two bullets entered Kennedy's body. Staff doctors at Parkland Hospital in Dallas said only that the sniper's bullet pierced the mid-section of the front part of his neck and emerged from the top of the skull. White House sources said they understood that one bullet hit Kennedy in the neck area. He bent forward, turned his head and was struck in the skull by the second bullet." Well, okay. This confirms then that these "White House sources" had not been told of the back wound, and were revealing only that the President had been hit twice, and not once, a distinction left open by Dr.s Perry and Clark at the 11-22 Parkland press conference.
It should be noted, moreover, that this article supports that "White House sources" believed the shots came from in front of Kennedy (why else mention that Kennedy turned his head before the head shot other than to explain how a wound on the back of his head could have been caused by someone firing from in front of him?) well after it was apparent to others that, at the precise moment the shots were fired, Oswald's workplace was behind Kennedy.
Now note the reversal of the trajectory, with a similar amount of spin.
Let's begin by looking at an 11-23 UPI article on Governor Connally's wounds. It specified: "The Governor, facing the President in the While House limousine Friday, swiveled in horror when the first two bullets struck Mr. Kennedy. The quick movement probably saved his life. The next bullet struck Connally and sped downward from the collarbone through the right side of his chest. It smashed three ribs, punctured his lung, shattered his right wrist, and lodged in his left leg just above the knee."
Well, this passage is interesting for two reasons--the first being that it's basic facts are not facts. The bullet striking Connally struck him near his armpit, inches below his collarbone. It smashed but one rib. And it did not lodge in his left leg.
But that's to overlook the big switcheroo. The writer of this article was under the assumption Connally's jump seat faced Kennedy. How, then, could he explain the entrance wound on Kennedy's back? Well, he invented--pulled from thin air, apparently--that Connally swiveled in horror after seeing Kennedy struck twice, and was thereby struck in the back. Much as the "White House source" describing Kennedy's wounds, he had invented a fact to explain an incorrect assumption.
Only this time he had done so in service to his belief the shots came from behind...
This became the new normal...
An 11-23 penned article in the 11-24 Los Angeles Herald-Examiner by Warren Rogers further supports the point I've been hinting at--that White House sources reversed the direction of their spin mid-day on 11-23. It relates: "A White House source said it appeared the President was slain by two bullets, instead of one as originally reported. This source said one bullet entered Kennedy's head and, as he turned, the other penetrated his neck and chest."
Well, I'll be. This White House source was claiming the first shot hit Kennedy in the back of the head, while the one talking to UPI (one can only assume) earlier in the day had said the first shot hit him in the front of the neck. Hmmm...
It seems possible, moreover, that this was the same source, and that this source had no insight on the shot sequence, but had started out the day saying the shots came from the front and had ended up the day saying the shots came from behind, and was simply stressing to its media contacts that having an entrance wound in Kennedy's throat and a second entrance wound on the back of his head (and a third entrance wound on Connally's back) DID NOT mean there were two shooters.
If so, well, then, the cover-up was already in effect, before the investigation had truly begun. Perhaps this "source" meant well and was only trying to calm people down after being informed the bullet and bullet fragments recovered in Dallas came from Oswald's rifle, and that it seemed clear he'd fired at least two shots from behind. But this was to avoid that the witnesses had heard three shots--and that the bullet and fragments comprised but two of these bullets. What had become of the third? And from where had it been fired?
In any event, it appears that this knee-jerk response--this sudden desire to make the evidence fit the presumption the shots came from behind--was not part of a White House plot, per se, but was a mania spreading from members of the Dallas Police and national news media as well.
Let's look, now, at an 11-23 Canadian Press article found in the Winnipeg Free Press. It reported: "At approximately 12:30 p.m. CST, the slow-moving Kennedy motorcade had rounded a downtown corner to enter a freeway. Three shots-rang out. Detective Ed Hicks said one bullet from a 7.65-millimetre Italian-made rifle, fitted with telescopic sights, hit the back of Kennedy's head and emerged from his throat. 'It made a hole about two inches wide at the back of his head,' he said. Another struck Texas Governor John Connally, Jr., who was riding in the open presidential limousine. Another struck a nearby road manhole."
Oh, my... Apparently, Hicks had figured out that the supposed sniper's nest was behind Kennedy at the time of the shooting, and had simply reversed the trajectory of the bullet presumed to have entered Kennedy's throat and explode from the back of his head suggested by the Parkland press conference.
If so, well, others shared his thinking. An 11-23 UPI article on the similarity of Kennedy's death with Lincoln's found in the St. Joseph News-Press claimed "President Kennedy also suffered a fatal head wound, the bullet entering the back of his head, then out of his throat." This description was especially surprising in that the lead story on Kennedy's death, at the top of the page, claimed something quite different. This story, courtesy the Associated Press, opened with "Three shots rang out, blood sprang from the President's face. He fell face downward in the back seat of his car."
Well, heck, what were the readers of this paper supposed to believe? That he'd been shot in the back of the head, only to have blood spring from his face, while the bullet exited his throat?
Another UPI article, this one found in the 11-23 Lodi News-Sentinel, was much more careful, and suggested that yes indeed some newsmen were trying to make the president's wounds fit the assumption Kennedy was shot from behind, as opposed to simply reporting what Dr.s Perry and Clark had said at the afternoon press conference. The article related: "The fatal shot apparently came from a window of the Texas School Book Depository...Kennedy fell over sideways on his face toward the seat. Doctors said later that one shot apparently had torn through both the back of his head and his throat." Note the implication that the head wound was an entrance, when Dr. Clark had said it had been either an exit or a wound of both entrance and exit. Note also the implication the throat wound was an exit, when Dr. Perry had specified that it appeared to be an entrance.
An article in the Boston Globe, fortunately, not only shared UPI's new interpretation of the bullet's trajectory, but confirmed the thinking behind it. It admitted: "The rather meager medical details attributed to Dr. Malcolm Perry, the attending surgeon, described the bullet as entering just below the Adam's Apple and leaving by the back of the head. Since that statement Friday afternoon it is believed from determining the site of the firing that the bullet entered the back of the head first and came out just under the Adam's Apple."
Now, it might seem strange that, within a day of the shooting, members of the media would disregard the statements of Kennedy's emergency room doctors, and re-interpret the trajectory of the fatal bullet...so that all the shots came from behind, where, by gosh, the Dallas Police Departmnent's chief suspect had been employed. But it's really not so strange, once one takes into account the incredible confusion then sweeping across the nation. No one knew what to think, so some with a soapbox took it upon themselves to calm down the masses and wash away the fear.
Confusion was so widespread, in fact, that even photo captions were infected. The caption to an AP photo by James Altgens found in the 11-22 edition of the Benton Harbor, Michigan New Palladium--of Kennedy reacting to the first shot, with his arms at his neck--claimed it depicted President Kennedy "grasping his chest just seconds after assassin's bullet struck him in head." Subsequent study of the assassination films would prove, of course, that Kennedy did not receive his fatal head wound until seconds after this photo was taken. (Note that The Los Angeles Herald-Examiner would make a similar but less-forgivable mistake in their 11-24 edition.)
And the caption to the photo below the Altgens photo was no better. It read "Moments before vicious killer fired: President and Mrs. Kennedy flash their famous smiles to crowds along Dallas parade route in this picture taken just minutes before a rifle bullet struck the nation's Chief Executive." And they're smiling alright. There's just one problem: the photo depicts Governor Connally in the back seat of the limo and Mrs. Kennedy in the middle and was not even taken in Dallas.
This photo appeared in the 11-23 Albuquerque Journal as well--only there someone realized that Connally was not in the back seat of the limo at the time of the shooting, but in a jump seat directly in front of Kennedy. And improvised... After claiming "Moments Before Shooting" the writer of this caption asserted that this was a photo of President Kennedy and Governor Connally "moments before a sniper fatally shot the President and wounded Governor Connelly (sic)." He (or she) then did what should never be done--something far worse than repeating inaccurate information, something far worse than inaccurately reporting information--he (or she) made up a story to explain how this photo--which was obviously not from Dallas--could have been taken just moments before the shooting, and could therefore be deemed worthy of its position on the front page. He (she) wrote: "Connelly moved to the car's jump seat before the shooting."
The caption to a UPI photo found in the 11-23 Holland Evening Sentinel, of the Texas School Book Depository, was not so dishonest, but even more misleading. Taking its cue from an inaccurate report by UPI's Pulitzer Prize-winning reporter Merriman Smith, it crowed "A German-made rifle was found in the stairway on the fifth floor of the building by Dallas police, with three spent bullets, believed to be the two used to wound Texas Gov. John B. Connally and the one which fatally killed the President." Beyond the stark and stupid fact that the caption claimed a bullet "fatally killed" the President (I mean, how can a bullet kill someone non-fatally?), the caption misled its readers as to the make of the rifle (it was Italian, not German), the location where it was found (it was found near a stairwell, not in a stairwell), the floor on which it was found (sixth, not fifth), and the respective number of bullets believed to have struck Connally and Kennedy.
And these weren't the only mistakes made by the award-winning Smith. The front page story for the Montana Standard, under Smith's name, reported not only that a German Mauser was found on the fifth floor, but that the school book depository overlooked Main St. (not Elm St.), and that Oswald killed a policeman at the Texas Theater before being taken into custody. Officer Tippit was, in fact, killed blocks away from the theater, by a man matching Oswald's description. No shots were fired at the theater.
And this wasn't the only 11-23 UPI article with some surprising errors regarding the basic facts. Another article with this dateline, on Kennedy's relationship with his Secret Service detail, was perhaps even worse, in light of what the FBI and Warren Commission would come to conclude.
Let's count the false statements in but one small section of the article: "Kennedy was killed by a highly-skilled gunman (Assuming they meant Oswald--that's 1) who crouched at a fifth floor window (That's 2) of an unoccupied warehouse (That's 3--and in the first sentence!). Aiming a 7.65 rifle (That's 4) equipped with a four-power telescopic sight (Hey, they got one right!), he put his first bullet into the President's head (That's 5) at a range of about 100 yards (This is probably close enough), perhaps a bit more (Nope, not going for it--that's 6). The car in which Kennedy was riding was moving at between 25 and 30 miles an hour (That's 7)."
So, to recap. eight statements of fact were presented by UPI in that short passage--and seven of them would prove to be false, when compared to the subsequent conclusions of the Warren Commission!
Now, let's look back at that rare article from this day that actually got something right...
Connecting the Dots...
A second 11-23 UPI article on Governor Connally's wounds declared: "The president was shot first. A bullet smashed through his head. Sheriff's deputies who lined the route said there was a pause of several seconds before two quick shots followed the first." Now, this report (which I found in the Minneapolis Star) hit the streets more than 24 hours after the shooting. And yet it was still claiming Kennedy was hit in the head by the first shot. The "official" solution, of course, is that he was hit in the head by the third shot.
Now read again the last line of the excerpt..."Sheriff's deputies who lined the route said there was a pause of several seconds before two quick shots followed the first."
Well, who were these Sheriff's Deputies, and what did they mean by "two quick shots"?
Eugene L. Boone (11-22-63 report, 19H508) “I was in front of the Sheriff's office...when I heard three shots coming from the vicinity of where the president’s car was. I raced across the street (Main and Houston)...Some of the bystanders said the shots came from the overpass. I ran across the street (Elm) and up the imbankment over the retaining wall and into the freight yard.” (3-25-64 testimony before the Warren Commission, 3H291-295) “we heard what we thought to be a shot. And there seemed to be a pause between the first shot and the second shot and third shots—a little longer pause."
Jack Faulkner (11-22-63 report, 19H511) “I was standing on the corner of Main and Houston when the presidential motorcade came by. A few seconds later I heard three shots and the crowd began to move en masse toward Elm Street. When I reached Elm Street there was much confusion. I asked a woman if they had hit the President and she told me that he was dead, that he had been shot thru the head. I asked her where the shots came from and she pointed toward the concrete arcade on the east (note: he means north) side of Elm Street, just west of Houston Street. There were many officers going toward the railroad yard by this time and I joined them in search of the assassin.”
C.M. Jones (11-22-63 report, 19H512) “I was standing in front of the Criminal Courts Building...and awaiting the arrival of the motorcade bearing the President's party. The motorcade passed in front of us and everything appeared to be in order. A few short seconds later I heard an explosion followed in about 3 to 5 seconds later two more explosions. I am certain that I recognized the second two as being that of gunfire.”
A.D. McCurley (11-22-63 report, 19H514) “I was standing at the front entrance of the Dallas Sheriff's office...as the President's motorcade passed and was watching the remainder of the parade pass when I heard a retort and I immediately recognized it as the sound of a rifle. I started running around the corner where I knew the President’s car should be and in a matter of a few seconds heard a second shot and then a third shot. I, along with other officers who were near me, all started running and I rushed towards the park and saw people running towards the railroad yards beyond Elm Street and I ran over and jumped a fence and a railroad worker stated to me that he believed the smoke from the bullets came from the vicinity of a stockade fence which surrounds the park area."
L.C. Smith (11-22-63 report, 19H516) “I was standing in front of the Sheriff's Office on Main Street and watched the President and his party drive by. Just a few seconds later, I heard the first shot, which I thought was a backfire, then the second shot and third shot rang out. I knew then that this was gun shots and everyone else did also. I ran as fast as I could to Elm Street just west of Houston and I heard a woman unknown to me say the President was shot, in the head, and the shots came from the fence on the north side of Elm. I went at once behind the fence and searched also in the parking area.”
Buddy Walthers (11-22-63 report, 19H518) “I was standing at the front entrance of the Dallas Sheriff's office when the motorcade with President Kennedy passed. I was watching the remainder of the President's party when within a few seconds I heard a retort and I immediately recognized it to be a rifle shot. I immediately started running west across Houston Street and ran across Elm Street and up into the railroad yards. At this time, it was not determined if, in fact, this first retort and 2 succeeding retorts were of a rifle, however, in my own mind, I knew. Upon reaching the railroad yard and seeing other officers coming, I immediately went to the triple underpass on Elm Street in an effort to locate possible marks left by stray bullets. While I was looking for possible marks, some unknown person stated to me that something had hit his face while he was parked on Main Street, the next lane south from Elm, as the traffic had been stopped for the parade.”
Roger Craig (11-23-63 report, 19H524) "I was standing in front of the Sheriff's Office at 505 Main Street, Dallas, Texas, watching President Kennedy pass in the motorcade. I was watching the rest of the motorcade a few seconds after President Kennedy passed where I was standing when I heard a rifle shot and a few seconds later a second and then a third shot. At the retort of the first shot, I started running around the corner and Officer Buddy Walthers and I ran across Houston Street and on up the terrace on Elm Street and into the railroad yards. We made a round through the railroad yards and I returned to Elm Street by the Turnpike sign at which time Officer Walthers told me that a bullet had struck the curb on the south side of Elm Street." (4-1-64 testimony before the Warren Commission, 6H260-273) “I heard an explosion…I knew it was a shot, but—uh—I didn’t want to believe it. But a few seconds later, I heard another explosion and, this time, I knew it was a shot. And, as I began to run, I heard a third one.” (When asked about the spacing of the shots) “The first one was uh-about two or three seconds…Well, it was quite a pause in there. It could have been a little longer.” (When asked about the spacing between the second two shots) “Not more than two seconds. It was—they were real rapid."
Lummie Lewis (11-23-63 report, 19H526) “I was standing on the sidewalk on Main Street in the 500 block just east of Houston Street when the motorcade passed and turned the corner onto Houston Street. In a few seconds I heard 3 shots. I ran around the corner and came across Houston Street to Elm Street to the Park. I saw some people there. I began to talk to them getting names and information.”
Luke Mooney (11-23-63 report, 19H528) “I was standing in front of the Sheriff's office at 505 Main Street, Dallas, when President Kennedy and the motorcade passed by. Within a few seconds after he had passed me and the motorcade had turned the corner I heard a shot and I immediately started running towards the front of the motorcade and within seconds heard a second and a third shot. I started running across Houston Street and down across the lawn to the triple underpass and up the terrace to the railroad yards. I searched along with many other officers, this area.” (3-25-64 testimony before the Warren Commission, 3H281-290) “we heard this shot ring out. At that time, I didn’t realize it was a shot…there was a short lapse between these shots. I can still hear them very distinctly—between the first and second shot. The second and third shot was pretty close together, but there was a short lapse between the first and second shot."
J.L Oxford (11-23-63 report, 19H530) “I was standing in front of the Courthouse along with Officers McCurley and Wiseman of the Sheriff's Department and the President's car had just gone by. We stood there until the rest of the cars had passed. While we were standing there, we heard what I thought to be shots. Officer McCurley and myself ran across Houston Street on across Elm and down to the underpass. When we got there, everyone was looking toward the railroad yards. We jumped the picket fence which runs along Elm Street and on over into the railroad yards. When we got over there, there was a man who told us that he had seen smoke up in the corner of the fence. We went to the corner of the fence to see what we could find, and searched the area thoroughly.”
Allan Sweatt, Chief Criminal Deputy, Dallas Sheriff's Dept. (11-23-63 report, 19H531) “I was standing with a group of Deputy Sheriff's about 30 feat east of the corner of Houston and Main Street on Main Street. The president's caravan had just passed and about a minute or 2 (later) I heard a shot and about 7 seconds later another shot and approximately 2 or 3 seconds later a third shot which sounded to me like a rifle and coming from the vicinity of Elm and Houston Street. Several officers and myself from the Sheriff's department ran around the corner and towards Elm Street and Houston and were told that someone had shot at the President. A man by the name of "Hester" told Deputy John Wiseman that the shots had come from the old Sexton building. As we approached the building we were told the shots had come from the fence."
Ralph Walters (11-23-63 report, 19H505) “I was standing on Main Street in front of the Criminal Courts Building...and observed the Presidential procession pass by. Just after it had turned the corner and a very short time later, I heard what was shots, three in number. I ran around the corner and directly across the street across the Dealey Plaza to the Elm Street side of the triple underpass. As we were running across the street, we could see the presidential car pulling away under the underpass and we continued on to the immediate area. Some stopped to talk to people standing there as there were a number of women who were hysterical. We could not get any information except that the President had been shot. Several of the other officers in the group ran on into the freight yards.”
Harry Weatherford (11-23-63 report, 19H502) “I was standing in front of the Sheriff's Office watching the Presidential Motorcade. The President's car had passed my location a couple of minutes when I heard a loud report which I thought was a railroad torpedo, as it sounded as if it came from the railroad yard…then I heard a second report which had more of an echo report and thought to myself, that this was a rifle and I started towards the corner when I heard the third report. By this time I was running toward the railroad yards where the sounds seemed to come from.”
Seymour Weitzman (11-23-63 Affidavit to Dallas County, 24H228) “I was standing on the corner of Main and Houston as the President passed and made his turn going west toward Stemmons…At this time my partner was behind me and asked me something. I looked back at him and heard three shots. I ran in a northwest direction and scaled a fence towards where we thought the shots came from." (4-1-64 testimony before the Warren Commission, 7H105-109) “we heard what we thought at that time was either a rifle shot or a firecracker.” (When asked how many shots) “Three distinct shots…First one, then the second two seemed to be simultaneously.” “There was a little period in between the second and third shot.” (When asked which gap was longer, between the first and second or between the second and third) “Between the first and second shot.”
John Wiseman (11-23-63 report, 19H535) “I was standing in front of the Sheriff's Office at 505 Main Street, Dallas when the President passed and the car went around the corner and a few more cars had passed when I heard a shot and I knew something had happened. I ran at once to the corner of Houston and Main Street and out into the street when the second and third shots rang out. I ran on across Houston Street, then across the park to where a policeman was having trouble with his motorcycle and I saw a man laying on the grass. This man laying on the grass said the shots came from the building and he was pointing to the old Sexton Building.”
Harold Elkins (11-26-63 report, 19H540) “I was standing in front of the sheriff's office at 505 Main St., which is a block south and just around the corner from the building from which the shots were fired. Just a few seconds after the President’s car had passed my location I heard a shot ring out, a couple of seconds elapsed and then two more shots ring out. I immediately ran to the area from which it sounded like the shots had been fired. This is an area between the railroads and the Texas School Book Depository which is east of the railroads."
W.W. Mabra (11-27-63 report, 19H541) “I, and officer Orville Smith, were standing on the curb in front of Criminal Courts Bldg., appx. 40 ft. East of Houston St., when the car bearing Pres. Kennedy passed. Appx 1 min. after the car turned right onto Houston St. we heard 3 shots. Officer Smith said to me "That sounded like a Deer Rifle." We saw people running toward the parkway and ran in that direction. Officers and People were running to the parkway on north side of Elm. I went to the rail yards and parking area west of the book store and helped search this area."
Now this is interesting. Not only did these Sheriff's deputies uniformly run towards the train yards in response to the shots coming from the plaza, they uniformly clumped shots two and three together. The rifle discovered in the school book depository was, of course, a bolt-action rifle, incapable of firing shots rapid fire. Well, did one of the last two shots (or sounds) come from the train yards? And was that why so many thought shots came from there?
Let that stew for 50 years...and you'll understand why this book was written.
Here's a postcard that was sold to tourists for many years. It showed people the way they were supposed to think about the assassination. Now, I have added a few blue lines to reflect the thinking of the thin blue line--the first responders on the scene. And I have given it a new title. I hope that's okay.
Now, where were we...back in 1963... Oh yeah, we were discussing the events of the evening after the evening after...
As alluded to by Hoover in his AM call with Johnson, the CIA had provided the FBI with a photo of Oswald in Mexico that was not actually Oswald. This then led to an interesting series of events. On this evening--the evening of the 23rd--FBI agent Bardwell Odum visited Oswald's mother--to show her the photo in hopes she might recognize this man (the aforementioned "Mexico City Mystery Man") as a friend or colleague of her son's. She didn't recognize him. This man was never officially identified.
On the evening of November 23rd, moreover, President Johnson was doing some stealth work of his own. Now, let me preface this by saying some of those closest to Kennedy, including his secretary Evelyn Lincoln, immediately suspected Johnson's involvement in the assassination of his predecessor. He was almost certainly aware of this. It only makes sense, then, that he would try to convince them he was sincerely interested in finding Kennedy's true assassins. He would do this, moreover, whether or not he himself was involved. So it comes as no surprise that, as reported in William Manchester's The Death of a President, President Johnson cornered President Kennedy's top speechwriter and adviser, Special Counsel Ted Sorensen, on this evening, and asked him if he'd thought a foreign power was responsible for Kennedy's murder. Yes, you read that right. Here was Johnson, hours after the Dallas Police had taken to telling everyone it was Oswald, and that he'd acted alone, and hours after the FBI had embraced this same conclusion, picking Sorensen's brain about a possible conspiracy.
While Sorensen, near as can be gathered, never ascribed an ulterior motive to Johnson for doing so, it is nevertheless intriguing that Sorensen, in an 11-20-83 Los Angeles Times article, asserted "Anything is possible in the world as far as who shot the President" and that he later admitted, in his 2008 memoir Counselor, that, as the years passed, his suspicions of conspiracy only grew.
An 11-24 AP article found in the Washington Post supports that something strange was afoot. This article, by Frank Carey, accurately reported the statements of the doctors at the press conference--that there was a wound in the middle of the throat and another at the back of the head, and that the doctors didn't know whether these wounds were caused by one or two bullets. It then claimed that pathologists consulted for the article believed the bullet creating the throat wound would "probably" strike the spinal cord. One anonymous pathologist then asserts that that the president's having taken a breath at the hospital proved the spinal cord had not been severed, but that, nonetheless, the fact Kennedy was having so much trouble breathing suggested "the cord was probably badly damaged." The article then asserted that, due to this difficulty, the doctors consulted concurred "that the fatal bullet or bullets most probably affected vital areas near the brain stem."
Well, this speculation is really not so strange. In fact, it's exactly what one would expect doctors to say, based upon the evidence provided. No, what's strange is that here, two days after the shooting, so little evidence had been provided. The article notes "Doctors who attended the slain president at Dallas and those who later--at the Naval Hospital in Bethesda--prepared his body for burial have not given out the specific cause of death. And it has not yet been announced whether an autopsy involving a post-mortem examination of vital organs was performed at the Naval Hospital."
The story then took another turn. On 11-24 The Dallas Morning News reported:
Photographer Sells Pictures Of Assassination for $25,000
President Kennedy flinches as the first shot strikes him.
Mrs. Kennedy takes her husband in her arms.
The second shot strikes the President in the side of his head, toward the back.
His head becomes a blur.
Mrs. Kennedy crawls out over the trunk compartment in the rear of the car trying to escape the line of fire.
Her husband slumps to the floor.
A Secret Service agent runs to aid Mrs. Kennedy.
This historic picture of the assassination of President Kennedy is recorded on 8-millimeter color movie film shot by Abraham Zapruder, dress manufacturer of 3909 Marquette. Perched on a concrete pillar in a plaza a few feet away, Zapruder took perfect pictures of a terrible tragedy.
Saturday, Dick Strobel of the Associated Press, Los Angeles; Jack Klinge of United Press International, Dallas, and Dick Strolle, Los Angeles representative of Life Magazine, negotiated with Zapruder for still picture rights to his film. Rights finally were sold to Life for more than $25,000, Zapruder told one of the other men who were bidding for the film.
This article, with its reference to a shot striking Kennedy on the side of his head (at the site of the large head wound)--reveals that the press was entirely clueless about the autopsy results. This was now two days after the autopsy, and no one in America had been told there was 1) a small bullet hole on the back of Kennedy's head, and 2) a small bullet hole on his upper back. These two wounds were the best evidence Kennedy had been shot from behind. Instead, the public had been told of a throat wound and a head wound, both of which could have been created by someone firing from in front of the President.
But forget about the public. What about the Dallas Police, who were still, as of this morning, charged with investigating the crime? Amazingly, even though they could be wasting valuable man hours looking for a second shooter--someone firing from the front--there is no evidence that anyone from Washington ever called them to tell them of the two previously unnoticed wounds discovered at autopsy.This suggests, if nothing else, that someone at the federal level had already decided to cut them out of the loop.
Even so, on the morning of 11-24, the papers were filled with quotes from Fritz and Wade on Oswald's obvious guilt. And it's not as if the press were unwitting bystanders. Some of the newspapermen have misrepresented the evidence against Oswald in a manner that suggests they were far from impartial. A nationally syndicated article for UPI by John V. Young described Oswald in the following manner: "Oswald, a Marine Corps misfit, expert rifleman, and former head of a 'Fair Play for Cuba' committee who defected to Russia for three years, refused to take a lie detector test after police said paraffin tests for gun powder on both his hands were positive. The U.S. Navy disclosed that after Oswald's undesirable discharge from the Marine Corps he wrote a letter to former Secretary of the Navy John B. Connally that he would 'employ all means' to get even for the wrong he felt was done him by the Corps."
The bias in Young's reporting is blinding. First, he describes Oswald as a "misfit" without any citation, with the obvious implication that "misfits" are not to be trusted. Second he describes Oswald as an "expert" rifleman, when in fact Oswald barely qualified as a "marksman" the last time he was tested. "Expert" is the highest level for a Marine Corps rifleman, while "marksman" is the lowest. Third, he describes Oswald as the head of the Fair Play for Cuba Committee in New Orleans, without mentioning that Oswald was its only member. But it gets worse.
Young next states that Oswald "defected to Russia." Oswald, in fact, never officially renounced his U.S. citizenship. He technically, therefore, having announced an intention to defect to Russia, only visited Russia. Young is also unfair in citing Oswald's refusal to take a lie detector test as evidence of his guilt. Oswald had not yet acquired a lawyer, so his taking a lie detector test at this time would have been stupid, to say the least.
Young's bias reaches new heights, however, when he says the paraffin tests were for "gunpowder" and implies that the results of these tests indicated Oswald killed the President. Paraffin tests show positive results for many chemicals, including the components of gunpowder, but are not specific to gunpowder. As a result, the fact that Oswald tested positive on both hands, could simply indicate that he'd handled such a chemical. More likely, however, they reflected that Oswald had handled a pistol, which he had, by his own admission. Young's failure to state that the one test performed which could have indicated Oswald had fired a rifle, the paraffin test of his cheek, had obviously come up negative (or else Curry, Fritz and Wade would have cited it as evidence for his guilt), is further indicative of his bias and/or lack of curiosity.
His next few sentences confirm this bias. He correctly states that Oswald wrote John Connally after he received an "undesirable discharge." He leaves out, however, that Oswald wrote Connally after his "honorable discharge" from the Marines was blemished by an "undesirable discharge" from the Marine Corps reserves after he moved to Russia. Far worse, while Oswald indeed wrote Connally requesting that his "honorable" status be restored upon his return, and said that he would "employ all means to right this gross mistake or injustice to a bona-fied U.S. citizen and ex-service man", Young offers no reason to believe Oswald's view of righting a mistake or injustice meant killing Connally and/or Kennedy. Young's twisting of Oswald's words into a threat to "get even for the wrong he felt was done him by the Corps" is therefore without foundation, and his depiction of Oswald as a "Marine Corps misfit" who sought to "get even" with "the Corps" incredibly unfair. One wonders if a spokesman for the Navy presented the evidence to Young in such a manner. If so, this might be taken as an indication that someone in the military chain-of-command had already made the decision to lynch Oswald in the public eye.
Another newspaper story in the 11-24 New York Times gives us more cause for pause. An article on the plans for Kennedy's funeral noted "The body of Mr. Kennedy which had been flown to Washington from Dallas yesterday (sic), was carried into the White House at 4:28 A.M. after being prepared by morticians at the Naval Hospital at Bethesda, MD." What's intriguing about this article is that it stated the exact time the body was brought into the White House but omitted that an autopsy had been conducted on the body at Bethesda. One can only assume the reporters knew an autopsy had been conducted. Certainly they should have suspected as much. So why didn't they say so? The public had a right to know. When President Warren G. Harding died suddenly in 1923 his widow would not allow an autopsy to be performed. Years later a best seller suggested she'd murdered her husband for infidelity. The New York Times should have reported that an autopsy had been performed or, if they really were unaware that one had been performed, demanded to know if one had been performed. The government's initial silence on these matters and the media's apparent lack of interest only fueled suspicion later when it was revealed that the descriptions of the President's wounds in the autopsy report written by military doctors differed greatly from the descriptions of his wounds given by the civilian doctors in Dallas.
Three items in that Sunday's Times demonstrate the need for clarity on these issues. The first article was the 11-23 AP dispatch attempting to correct the accounts of Kennedy's wounds given at the 11-22 Parkland press conference. As we've seen, this dispatch, while stressing that Kennedy was hit by two bullets, reported: "White House sources said they understood that one bullet hit Mr. Kennedy in the neck. He bent forward, turned his head and was struck in the skull by the second bullet." A turn of the page, however, brought one face to face with a more substantive article by Dr. Howard Rusk discussing the President's wounds. Rusk wrote "The high-velocity bullet that entered through the neck and exited through the base of the skull tore away the bone and brain tissue, striking the vital areas of the brain." As if that wasn't confusing enough, a Polaroid photograph snapped by Mary Moorman "just as President Kennedy slumped after shot," was published alongside Rusk's article. This photo showed the grassy knoll in front of Kennedy. As the Times had already published a number of photos showing their readers that the school book depository where Oswald worked was behind Kennedy, the undeniable message communicated by the proximity of this story and photo was that Kennedy was shot from in front and that the front page stories proclaiming Oswald's guilt were a lie.
If those articles had led some to suspect there was something not right about the assassination, furthermore, what happened at 11:20 AM CST that morning would most certainly have convinced them there was something absolutely... positively... wrong... While being transferred to the custody of the Dallas County Sheriff's Department, Oswald was shot in the guts by Jack Ruby, a local nightclub owner with ties to both the Dallas Police Department and the Chicago Underworld.
Now here's the shooting as regularly shown on TV. It is a quick and chaotic--Ruby comes out of nowhere, etc.
The scene is so frenetic, in fact, that some have sought to make light of it, by presenting Ruby's attack as some sort of dance.
Still, even in these chaotic and satiric forms, the footage of Ruby shooting Oswald raises some disturbing questions... First and foremost, why was Capt. Fritz--the man most responsible for Oswald's safety--pretty much the last person to notice Jack Ruby's attack?
No, really, here's an extended clip of the death dance above.
Fritz fails to respond to the shot. He doesn't react, moreover, until Ruby is almost pushed on him, and run over by the car.
So...was he simply distracted by the car backing up--the car in which he hoped to load his prisoner?
Or...did he know an attack was coming? And refuse to be a witness?
Well, no, not the last one... The detective at Oswald's right in these images, who was handcuffed to Oswald, was Detective James Leavelle. Leavelle's report on the murder of Oswald can be found in the Dallas Police Archives, and accessed through the University of North Texas website. In this report, to be clear, Leavelle lists some of the witnesses to Oswald's murder. Leavelle first lists himself, then the detective on the other side of Oswald, L.C. Graves, and then...Capt. Will Fritz. Of Fritz, Leavelle writes: "Can testify to the summary and saw the shooting from a few feet away. Interrogated defendant Jack Ruby. Had charge of investigation."
So, yeah, it appears that Fritz both failed to see the shooting, and tried to pass himself off as an eyewitness to the shooting.
Hmm... The thought occurs that little could be more damaging to the successful prosecution of a suspect than to have the lead investigator on the case LIE and say he himself witnessed the crime, when multiple cameras from multiple angles prove he did not. Good thing Fritz was never called as a witness.
Now here's the shooting from yet another angle...
Well, heck, this shows that the CNN clip above--the way the shooting is now regularly broadcast on TV--cuts away from Oswald just before he looks to his left.
Well...what was he looking at?
Jumpin' Jehosephat... It was Jumpin' Jack Ruby... As proven by the following clip, when walking across the basement, Oswald looks directly at Ruby, the hat-bearing gent on the right.
Well, did he know Ruby? Or could he just sense something by looking at Ruby? And, if Oswald could sense something just by looking at Ruby, why didn't any of his bodyguards?
Now, the argument has been made that Oswald looked over to his left in response to a question yelled out by the reporter (Ike Pappas) to Ruby's right. And that would appear to be true.
But it's problematic, at the very least, that 1) Oswald's chief bodyguard, Capt. Will Fritz, just so happened to step forward and leave a big gap into which Jack Ruby could rush, and 2) Oswald noticed Ruby making his move, but couldn't defend himself due to his arms being held back by two detectives, James Leavelle on his right and L.C. Graves on his left, who, conveniently, oh so conveniently, just so happened to be looking in the other direction.
Now, here's Ruby shooting Oswald in a photo taken by Dallas Morning news photographer Jack Beers. To be clear, this photo was taken a split second before the shot was fired.
Well, heck, in this photo, it appears that Oswald is not looking at Ruby--that he'd looked away or averted his eyes a split second before being shot.
And, this, in turn, might very well suggest that 1) Oswald briefly looked at Pappas (and Ruby), and 2) thought nothing of them and looked away...only to have 3) Ruby spring out from his left and shoot him in the guts.
In such case, there was nothing innately suspicious about Oswald's looking at Ruby--as he did not recognize him, or immediately recognize him as a threat, when others did not.
But it's not a simple as that...
If nothing else, there's still that other problem... A composite of two of the most complete versions of the invariably-cropped Beers photo is shown below. Note that, here, as in the un-cropped Jackson photo, Capt. Will Fritz is standing at the left edge of the frame, and that here, once again, he has been cut off the photo as normally--or in this case always--shown. (Now, it could be that Fritz was cut in half on the original image but we really don't know that seeing as the full image--as far as I can tell--has never been printed.)
So, yes, it seems possible the editors of the Dallas papers publishing the Jackson and Beers photos knew how bad Fritz looked in these photos, and made a conscious decision to cut him out of the photos. I mean, what had once been photos showing a man killed when his protector inexplicably walked too far ahead of him became, with a simple flick of a razor, photos showing a man and his bodyguards taken by surprise. Fritz was cut, literally, from the story.
And that was good for Dallas...
And yes, that's a generous take on the situation. While it seems possible Fritz was cut from the photos in consideration of his (and Dallas') reputation, that doesn't mean his stepping away from Oswald in such a manner--and providing Jack Ruby his window of murderous opportunity--was equally well-intentioned.
Yes, unfortunately, the shooting of Oswald remains as curious as the shooting of Kennedy.
Although Ruby--who was not supposed to be in the garage where he shot Oswald--would later claim he just walked down a ramp to get there, none of the press or police observing Oswald's transfer saw him walk down this ramp. Well, this led some to wonder if maybe just maybe he'd used his connections to the police (he ran a strip club where many of them liked to relax) to get access to the garage.
And if that wasn't bad enough, it would later come out that Patrick Dean, the Dallas Police Officer tasked with securing the garage, was presumed to have lied in his testimony to Warren Commission attorney (and subsequent judge) Burt Griffin...
and not only that, but that Dean had been given (on the sly, without Griffin's knowledge) a lie detector test regarding his knowledge of Ruby in the garage...and had failed.
And if that wasn't bad enough, it would soon come out that the original plan had been for the Dallas County Sheriffs to handle Oswald's transfer, and that this wasn't changed until the night before.
And if that wasn't bad enough, it would also come out that the Dallas Police had received a phone call the night before the shooting warning them that a plot was in place to kill Oswald the next morning--and that Dallas Police Chief Jesse Curry had dismissed this report.
And if that wasn't bad enough, it would also come out that the FBI had received a similar warning--that Oswald's life was in immediate danger--and that they'd similarly contacted Curry to inform him of this fact, and that he'd been similarly dismissive...
And if that wasn't bad enough, the Dallas Police Officer who took the call warning of the plot to kill Oswald, Billy Grammer, would later claim he'd spoken to Jack Ruby at the police dispatch division earlier that evening--and that he'd spoken to Ruby on a number of occasions prior to that evening--and that the voice on the phone warning him of an attempt on Oswald's life belonged to, yep, you guessed it, Jack Ruby.
Yes, something strange was afoot at the Circle D...
And it's not as if no one noticed. Within moments of being told the identity of Oswald's assassin--that it was Jack Ruby, the owner of a Dallas nightclub--WFAA Radio newsman Vic Robertson told its listeners: "About the only thing that is clear at this point is that there is not a single police officer in this building who believes that Jack Ruby killed Lee Oswald, if that is proven to be the case, out of patriotic fervor. And that if he is proved to have killed Lee Oswald it was for one reason only, and that was to seal his lips."
In any event, Oswald was taken to Parkland Hospital. He was treated by some of the same doctors and nurses who'd treated Kennedy but two days before. He died at 1:07 PM CST.
Now, one might think this would lead to an expansion of interest in the case. But no, just the opposite.
Apathy spread like wildfire...
Even as the late President's flag-draped casket was placed on view at the Capitol.
It should be noted, moreover, that as the President lay in state, he was publicly eulogized by a series of speakers, among whom was Chief Justice of the Supreme Court Earl Warren. True to his theme on the day of the shooting, Warren blamed the assassination on the climate of hate in the country, but with a notable difference. While he once blamed the assassination on bigots, he now pushed, without having any information beyond what one would have from reading a paper and watching a TV, that the responsible party was a "misguided wretch." Here are his exact words: "John Fitzgerald Kennedy, a great and good President, the friend of all people of good will, a believer in the dignity and equality of all human beings, a fighter for justice, an apostle of peace, has been snatched from our midst by the bullet of an assassin. What moved some misguided wretch to do this horrible deed may be never be known to us, but we do know that such acts are commonly stimulated by forces of hatred and malevolence, such as today are eating their way into the bloodstream of American life. What a price we pay for this fanaticism."
Well, hell, it's clear by this that Warren, a former prosecutor, had been swayed by what he'd read in the papers and had viewed on TV, and was totally sold on the idea that Lee Harvey Oswald was the man who'd shot and killed President Kennedy.
At 2:40 PM, in the Executive Office Building, President Johnson met with some of his top advisers. The schedule of this meeting notes that first to arrive were Secretary of State Dean Rusk and Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara, and that CIA Director John McCone, Ambassador to Vietnam Henry Cabot Lodge, and Undersecretary of State George Ball soon followed. The topic of this meeting: the war in Vietnam. Although this meeting lasted less than an hour, it nevertheless marked a significant event in the history of that war, and of the world, as LBJ made it clear he was no JFK and would be willing to stomach what Kennedy had made clear he would not stomach--an increased American involvement in the war.
It's clear then that, on 11-24-64, within minutes of his predecessor's assassin being assassinated on television, Johnson was moving on to bigger and better things. And he wasn't alone...
At 4:00 PM EST, LBJ aide Walter Jenkins created a memo for the record in which he quoted FBI Director Hoover on the shooting. It reads, in part: "Last night we received a call in our Dallas office from a man talking in a calm voice saying he was a member of a committee organized to kill Oswald. We at once notified the Chief of Police and he assured us Oswald would be given sufficient protection...However, this was not done...Ruby says no one was associated with him and denies having made the telephone call to our Dallas office last night...he guessed his grief over the killing of his President made him insane. That was a pretty smart move on his part because it might lay the foundation for a plea of insanity later. I dispatched to Dallas one of my top assistants in hope he might stop the Chief of Police and his staff from doing so damned much talking on television. They really did not have a case against Oswald until we gave them our information... Oswald had been saying he wanted John Abt as his lawyer and Abt, with only that kind of evidence, could have turned the case around, I'm afraid. All the talking down there might have required a change of venue...The thing I am most concerned about, and so is Mr. Katzenbach, is having something issued so we can convince the public that Oswald is the real assassin ...We have no information on Ruby that is firm, although there are some rumors of underworld activity in Chicago."
The Katzenbach mentioned by Hoover is Nicholas Katzenbach. Since Robert Kennedy has stepped aside to take care of his family, Katzenbach has assumed his duties as Attorney General.
And yet Katzenbach has expressed no interest in pursuing Kennedy's enemies--those who might have both a reason to kill Kennedy, and a relationship with Ruby. No, strange as it may seem, Katzenbach's primary concern is with the public's attitude towards Oswald. An 11-24-63 internal memo from Alan Belmont to Clyde Tolson of the FBI reflects that "At 4:15 PM Mr. Deloach advised that Katzenbach wanted to put out a statement, 'We are now persuaded that Oswald killed the President, however, the investigation by the Department of Justice and the FBI is continuing." According to Belmont, Deloach was opposed to the idea. In any event, no such statement was issued.
But that didn't stop Katzenbach from trying to rush something, anything, out before the public that might quiet the murmurs of conspiracy. Another Walter Jenkins memo from this date (this one to President Johnson and found in the Johnson Library) reflects that Katzenbach had begun calling up Johnson's allies (such as Congressman Homer Thornberry) and had begun petitioning them to ask the President that something be done. Jenkins reports: "Homer Thornberry called and said substantially as follows: 'I have talked with Nick Katzenbach and he is very concerned that everyone know that Oswald was guilty of the President's assassination. Oswald is dead and the newspapers are wanting to know if he was really the one that killed the President. Katzenbach recommended that consideration be given to appointing a Presidential Commission such as the ex-Supreme Court Justice Whitaker, former Court of Appeals Judge Prettyman and someone like Dewey, to make it non-partisan. The Presidential Commission would then study the evidence and make a finding. Katzenbach thinks this would be much preferable to a Congressional inquiry and I do too.' Homer called back a little later and said Katzenbach called him again to be sure that his message had been delivered and Homer thinks in the light of what all the commentators are saying now, prompt consideration should be given to some action. Homer says that Howard K. Smith and the others are now saying we don't know if Oswald really committed the crime and perhaps we will never know."
Let's refresh. At the time of his death, Oswald had never confessed. In fact, he'd declared himself a patsy. No one could identify him as the shooter. The paraffin test of his cheek had come up negative. Several witnesses had stated that either shots were fired from someplace other than the school book depository where he worked or that men had raced out of the back of the depository building after the shots had been fired. The films of the assassination had not been studied. The First Lady, the Connallys, and some of the closest witnesses in the motorcade had not been interviewed. No motive for Oswald's purported act had been established. And there was something odd about his trip to Mexico...
Even so, some of those tasked with investigating Kennedy's killing thought it time to call it quits. Captain Fritz was quoted as saying that, with Oswald's death "the case is cleared." An AP dispatch from this day found in the archives of assassination researcher Harold Weisberg is even more problematic. It reads: "DIST. ATTY. HENRY WADE SAID TODAY THAT HE WILL NOT DIVULGE ANY MORE OF THE EVIDENCE OFFICERS HAVE AGAINST LEE HARVEY OSWALD. OSWALD WAS ACCUSED OF KILLING PRESIDENT KENNEDY AND WAS HIMSELF SLAIN TODAY. POLICE REFERRED ALL SUCH INQUIRIES FOR RELEASE OF EVIDENCE TO WADE. ASKED IF HE WOULD MAKE THE COMPLETE EVIDENCE PUBLIC, WADE SAID: "NO. WE HAD PLENTY OF EVIDENCE TO CONVICT OSWALD. FINGERPRINTS AND EVERYTHING. BUT I'VE TOLD THE POLICE, AND THE POLICE HAVE COOPERATED VERY WELL, THAT THE OSWALD CASE IS MOOT NOW AND WE HAVE TO GET ON WITH THE RUBY CASE."
Wade's refusal to go through the evidence, and pile even more dirt on the not-yet buried Oswald's corpse, however, was not appreciated by everyone. An 11-24 article by Anthony Lewis, found in the next day's New York Times, headlined "OFFICIALS DISTURBED," and reported "Federal officials, convinced that Lee Harvey Oswald was the assassin of President Kennedy, were considering tonight appropriate ways to let the public see the evidence."
Apparently, one of the ways deemed "appropriate" was to have the Dallas FBI go through the evidence against Oswald for the press, and misrepresent a fact or two. An 11-25 New York Times article recounting the evidence against Oswald reported that the paraffin tests showed "particles of gunpowder from a weapon, probably a rifle, on Oswald's cheek and hands." This, of course, was untrue. The results were negative for Oswald's cheek. Disturbingly, the Times article said this information came from Gordon Shanklin, Special Agent in Charge of the Dallas FBI.
Meanwhile, at Bethesda Naval Hospital, at 5:00 PM EST, Dr. James J. Humes turned in the final draft of the President's autopsy report. He'd concluded, after conferring with Dr. Perry the day before and discovering that a small throat wound had been obliterated by a tracheotomy incision, that one bullet entered the President's back and exited his throat, and that a second bullet entered low on the back of the President's skull, broke into pieces, and exited from the top of the right side of his skull.
Above: the blood-stained original of the face sheet created during Kennedy's autopsy. A copy of this face sheet was included with the autopsy report on Kennedy's death written up by Dr. James J. Humes and entered into evidence as Warren Commission Exhibit 397. While copies of this face sheet contain no signatures, this one, the original, instead reveals the "verification" of Kennedy's personal physician, Admiral George Burkley. And that wasn't the only paper signed by Burkley. As shown below, a letter written up by Dr. Humes in which he claimed he'd retained no papers relating to the autopsy was similarly signed-off on by Burkley. What was that about? And why was Burkley never called before the Warren Commission?
A short time later, during a 5:55 PM EST phone call with Whitney Young, Director of the National Urban League, President Johnson hatched a plan. After Johnson complained "Well, I've got to get this funeral behind me and I've got all these heads of state coming," Young suggested that in his upcoming statements Johnson should "point out that...with the death of President Kennedy...that hate anywhere that goes unchecked doesn't stop just for the week." This got Johnson thinking on ways he could exploit Kennedy's death. He told Young "Dedicate a whole page on Hate... hate international... hate domestic...and just say that this hate that produces inequality, this hate that produces poverty... that's why we've got to have a tax bill... the hate that produces injustice... that's why we've got to have civil rights... it's a cancer that just eats at our national existence." Apparently, the only conspirator Johnson seemed interested in pursuing was hate.
Not everyone shared his disinterest. Oswald's brother Robert, who'd been taken into protective custody by the Secret Service, along with Oswald's wife, mother, and children, would later relate that in the immediate aftermath of the assassination: "I began to realize there was some difficulty between the Secret Service and the FBI...Gradually the reports and rumors from various sources seemed to fit together. As early as Friday night, I had heard some speculation about the possibility of a conspiracy behind the assassination of the President...On Saturday and Sunday there were rumors in Dallas that the "conspiracy" might involve some Government agency. By Sunday night, I realized that the agency under greatest suspicion was the FBI." (Lee: a Portrait of Lee Harvey Oswald by His Brother, published 1967)
Hmmm... Perhaps this suspicion had something to do with Johnson's decision to use the FBI as his private police department. A note from presidential aide Clifton Carter to Johnson on this evening reflects that he'd just spoken to Texas Attoney General Waggoner Carr, and that Carr had expressed a willingness to create a court of inquiry that "could be used to clear up any question about the Oswald case in Dallas. He said the FBI could conduct this hearing through him in any manner they cared to complete the record on Oswald." To this Johnson added: "Good idea, but purely a state matter. Can't say President asked for it." Well, this reveals both Johnson's desire to personally oversee the investigation of Kennedy's death, through the FBI, and his even greater desire to hide this desire from the public.
And this isn't just conjecture. Within Harold Weisberg's Archives, now housed at Hood University, are a number of Dallas FBI documents not initially sent to the National Archives, and never reviewed by the Warren Commission. These documents were provided Weisberg as a result of one of his many Freedom of Information Act lawsuits. Well, one of the documents provided Weisberg, and little noted by others, is an 11-24-63 memo to file by Inspector James Malley. Malley wrote: "At approximately 8:50 PM, this date, Assistant to the Director Belmont advised that the Director has talked to the President again and the President approved the idea that we make a report showing the evidence conclusively tying Oswald in as the assailant of President Kennedy. In addition, the President wants to make a report on the killing today of Oswald by Ruby...The Director stated that the President feels there will be considerable pressure on both of these matters in the next day or so, and consequently desired that both reports be furnished to the Dept. of Justice this Tuesday. The Director noted that this would be a burden, but that we would have to put as many men as possible on at this time."
Feel free to get suspicious at this time...
And stay suspicious...
The Late-Emerging Palm Print
Above: 11-24-63...Dallas District Attorney Henry Wade attempts to close the case.
In a filmed press conference from early on the evening of 11-24-63 (presumably around 9:20 EST) that was broadcast on NBC at 10:39 PM EST, Dallas District Attorney Henry Wade gave in to pressure, presumably from the "Federal officials" mentioned in the article by Anthony Lewis, and recited the evidence against Oswald.
Now, that would be bad enough--calling a press conference to recite the evidence against a suspect who was 1) denied a fair trial, and 2) murdered due to the incompetence or complicity of the arresting agency. But this press conference was worse: a misrepresentation of the evidence against a man who could never defend himself.
According to a transcript in a 1966 book put out by NBC News, There was a President, Wade told the press "His fingerprints were found on the rifle. Paraffin tests showed that he had fired a rifle recently."
Now, both these statements are false, undeniably untrue. Oswald's fingerprints were not found on the rifle. Both the Dallas PD and the FBI crime lab found the prints around the trigger guard inadequate to make a match. While Dallas Crime Lab Chief J.C. Day later claimed he'd lifted Oswald's palm print from the rifle on the 22nd, moreover, he said he never ID'ed this print as Oswald's prior to handing it off to the FBI on the 26th, and the FBI claimed they failed to make an ID till the 29th.
And that's just the half of it. Even worse, the paraffin tests for Oswald's cheek were negative and suggested, if anything, that he had NOT fired a rifle.
Now, to be fair, it seems likely Wade was "innocent" in this last matter. The 11/24/63 Wade press conference available on myfoxdfw.com shows Wade claiming "His fingerprints were found on the gun--I've said that--"(then clarifying for the journalists)"on the rifle." (Someone then asks about the paraffin tests) and Wade replies "Yes, I haven't gotten into that. The paraffin tests showed that he'd recently fired a gun. It was on both hands. Both hands." (And then clarifying, when asked if this meant a rifle) "A gun." Wade then corrects himself from moments earlier: "It's a palm print rather than a finger print." (Then clarifies) "Yes on the gun also." He is then asked on what part of a gun the palm print was found, and replies "Under the--on part of the metal, under the gun."
Well, huh... While Wade does say that fingerprints were found on the rifle, as quoted, NBC failed to note that he later corrected himself and said it was a singular palm print. Far worse, he NEVER said the tests indicated Oswald had fired a rifle. Never. Since this is most certainly the Wade press conference quoted by NBC, then, it seems likely this last quote was simply made up by NBC for its book, which just so happened to come out in 1966, just as books by writers Edward Epstein, Mark Lane, and Harold Weisberg were beginning to receive attention, and give people real reasons to doubt Oswald's guilt. Hmmm.
While it's also suspicious that Wade cited a palm print found on the rifle as evidence, even though the lone palm print found on the rifle had not yet been thoroughly compared to Oswald's palm print, this may also have an "innocent" explanation. As Lt. Day, the Dallas crime lab employee purported to have lifted the palm print from the rifle on the 22nd, would later claim that "at a quick glance" he'd believed the palm print matched Oswald's, and that he'd told this to Police Chief Jesse Curry and Capt. Will Fritz, it seems reasonable to assume that one of these men passed this information on to Wade. If so, it seems reasonable to believe Wade said the palm print matched Oswald's without realizing that Day had taken but a cursory look at this print, and that the FBI crime lab did not even know of its existence.
If so, however, this reflects badly on Wade's competence. Here he was, hours after the Dallas Police had received a report from the FBI's crime lab in which it was declared no identifiable prints were found on the rifle, giving a press conference on the evidence against Oswald, and repeating second-hand stuff he'd heard about a palm print being found on the rifle. There's just no getting around it. He either failed to read the FBI's report on the evidence before going before the cameras to talk about the evidence, or had deliberately misrepresented the case against Oswald by telling the nation something he should have believed untrue.
So, what did Wade have to say on the matter? On June 8, 1964, Wade testified before the Warren Commission, and was asked about his previous statements by General Counsel J. Lee Rankin. As to his statements at the press conference, Wade admitted: "I think a little of it may vary from the facts but all I know is what Fritz told me. He said the Dallas police had found a palmprint on the underside of the gun of Oswald. At that time, the FBI was standing by to fly the gun to the laboratory here in Washington which incidentally, they didn't find, but I assume the Commission has interviewed Senator--not Senator--Day, the fingerprint man of the Dallas police but I have learned since that he probably can't identify the palmprint under there but at that time they told me they had one on it. They said they had a palmprint on the wrapping paper, and on the box, I believe there by the scene. They did at least put Oswald there at the scene."
Wade was then asked if he could recall the specific location of the palm print. He responded: "Specifically, I couldn't say because but he said they had a palm-print or a fingerprint of Oswald on the underside of the rifle and I don't know whether it was on the trigger guard or where it was but I knew that was important, I mean, to put the gun in his possession."
So, there it is. Fritz had told Wade about a print on the night of the shooting. Wade couldn't recall, for that matter, if the print he'd been told about had been the fingerprint on the trigger guard which both the FBI and DPD would later claim were too smudged for identification, or the palm print on the underside of the barrel for which there is no paper trail prior to 11-26, when Lt. Day sent a lift of a palm print purportedly found on the underside of the rifle barrel to Washington... unannounced.
I mean, this is suspicious right there. Are we really to believe Lt. Day wasn't told the results of the FBI's initial inspection of the evidence, and that they'd found no identifiable prints on the rifle? Well, then, assuming he was told the results, why didn't he call up the FBI on 11-24, or even 11-25, and tell them, "Uhh fellas, I got something here you better take a look at?"
It's suspicious omissions like this that have forever clouded the case.
And that's being generous. The strong probability is that Wade was thinking of the trigger guard print at the press conference, and that he'd never been told about the palm print under the barrel by Fritz, and that this was because Fritz himself had never been told of such a print. Consider: an FBI report by Nat Pinkston written on the evening of the assassination (CD5 p166) reflects that he'd spoken to Lt. Day and that Lt. Day had told him he'd processed the rifle "for fingerprints or palm prints and had been successful in raising a partial latent print." Pinkston then relates that Day said he would "endeavor to both photograph and lift this latent print." Well, this fails to mention the trigger guard print, the only print Day photographed on the evening of the assassination. It is therefore almost certainly a reference to the trigger guard print. If it was a reference to the barrel print, after all, Day would almost certainly have told Pinkston about the trigger guard print he'd already photographed. And that's not all. That Day was talking about the trigger guard print is further attested to by Pinkston's use of the word "partial," a term used by Day and others in relation to the trigger guard print, and not the palm print.
To be sure, later that evening, around 11:00, long after Day had stopped working on the rifle, and presumably told Fritz and Curry about the prints he'd found on the rifle, NBC newsman Robert McNeil told the nation: “Dallas Police Chief Jess Curry has recently reported that his men have found a partial fingerprint on the rifle believed used in the assassination. The weapon will be sent to Washington to assure proper handling of the print.” Note that Curry mentions but one print--a fingerprint--and that he describes this as a "partial" print. Note further that he says they are sending the rifle to Washington to assure proper handling of the print. Well, the trigger guard print was not only photographed, but covered with cellophane, while the purported print on the barrel was neither photographed nor protected. It follows then that Curry was talking about the trigger guard print.
So, then, how does one get from this to the probability Wade was discussing the trigger guard print at the press conference? Wade, after all, corrected himself and called the print a palm print, when the trigger guard is believed to have been a fingerprint. Well, let us also consider another FBI report, this one written by Vincent Drain on 11-26-63 (CD5, p166). This report claims: "On November 26, 1963, three negatives of a palm print were received from Lieutenant Carl Day of the Dallas Police Department Crime Laboratory, by SA Vincent E. Drain. These negatives were from photographs taken of which was believed to be a fingerprint or palmprint on the trigger guard assembly of a rifle, serial number C2766, believed to have been used by Lee Harvey Oswald in the assassination of President John F Kennedy on November 22, 1963." Well, think about it. This report proves that as late as 11-26 Lt. Day was still thinking the trigger guard print could be a palm print. This removes the mystery as to how Wade could claim as much the day before. Wade had thought it was a palm print because Day had thought it could be a fingerprint or a palm print, and had quite possibly told Fritz he thought it was a palm print on the night of the shooting.
In any event, although Wade succumbed to pressure demanding he run down the evidence against Oswald one last time before the media, even though his grasp of the evidence was minimal, he stood by his guns on another point--by re-iterating his belief the case against Oswald was closed. An Associated Press transcript of the press conference, found in the Weisberg Archives, concludes:
REPORTER: "HAS YOUR OFFICE CLOSED THE INVESTIGATION INTO THE DEATH OF PRESIDENT KENNEDY?"
WADE: "NO SIR. THE INVESTIGATION WILL CONTINUE ON THAT, WITH THE BASIS, OF COURSE, THAT WE HAVE NO CONCRETE EVIDENCE THAT ANYONE ASSISTED HIM IN THIS. THE INVESTIGATION, I'M SURE, WILL GO ON WITH REFERENCE TO ANY POSSIBLE ACCOMPLICE OR PERSON THAT ASSISTED HIM IN IT."
REPORTER: "DO YOU HAVE ANY SUSPICIONS NOW THAT THERE WERE?"
WADE: "I HAVE NO CONCRETE EVIDENCE OR SUSPICIONS AT PRESENT."
REPORTER: "THANK YOU."
REPORTER: "WOULD YOU BE WILLING TO SAY, IN VIEW OF ALL THIS EVIDENCE, THAT IT IS NOW BEYOND A REASONABLE DOUBT AT ALL THAT OSWALD WAS THE KILLER OF PRESIDENT KENNEDY?"
WADE: "I WOULD SAY THAT WITHOUT ANY DOUBT HE IS THE KILLER--THE LAW SAYS BEYOND A REASONABLE DOUBT, TO A MORAL CERTAINTY, WHICH I HAVE--THERE IS NO QUESTION THAT HE WAS THE KILLER OF PRESIDENT KENNEDY."
REPORTER: "THAT CASE IS CLOSED IN YOUR MIND?"
WADE: "AS FAR AS OSWALD'S CONCERNED."
On 11-25, the next morning, President Johnson met with Texas Attorney General Waggoner Carr, who'd flown in for Kennedy's funeral. In his book, Texas Politics in my Rearview Mirror, Carr described this meeting as follows: "Before going to the cathedral for the funeral, I talked with a White House staff member and explained that Texas laws authorized a Court of Inquiry--which I could convene as the Attorney General--to establish the facts surrounding the assassination through a public hearing. After talking with the President, and getting his approval, the staff member instructed me to call a press conference, and say only that I would hold a Court of Inquiry on the assassination as soon as I returned to Texas. He emphasized that I should limit my remarks to those simple facts and not reveal, under any circumstances, that I had discussed this with the White House or had White House approval. I agreed and called to make arrangements for what I thought would be a very short speech to a small group of Texas reporters." Carr's words confirm what should already be clear--that Johnson was anxious to avoid any suspicion he was supervising the investigation of Kennedy's murder. They also reveal a related, but less obvious point--that most everyone was looking to him to take charge of the investigation, even though his doing so represented a clear conflict of interest.
After Carr left the White House, at 10:30 AM EST President Johnson spoke to J. Edgar Hoover about the mounting pressure to create a Presidential Commission. He assured Hoover: "Now we can't be checking up on every shooting scrape in the country, but they've gone to the Post now to get them an editorial, and the Post is calling up and saying they're going to run an editorial if we don't do things. Now we're going to do two things and I wanted you to know about it. One: we believe that the way to handle this as we said yesterday--your suggestion--that you put every facility at your command, making a full report to the Attorney General and then they make it available to the country in whatever form may seem desirable. Second: It's a state matter, too, and this State Attorney General is young and able and prudent and very cooperative with you--he's going to run a court of inquiry which is provided for by a state law and he's going to have associated with him the most outstanding jurists in the country..." Johnson then proposed to Hoover that "any influence you got with the Post, have them point to them that you don't want too many things...and sometimes a Commission that's not trained hurts more than it helps," to which Hoover responded "I don't have much influence with the Post because frankly I don't read it. I view it like The Daily Worker." (The newspaper of the American Communist Party.)
Immediately after talking to Hoover, Johnson talked to influential newspaper columnist Joe Alsop. Johnson tried to build support for his plan. When Alsop questioned Johnson if somebody outside of Texas was gonna look into the shooting, Johnson slapped him down, telling Alsop "this is under Texas law and they take all the involvements and we don't send in a bunch of carpet-baggers. That's the worst thing you could do right now." (Johnson, it should be noted, was not nearly as concerned about Texas law when it required that he allow Texas authorities an inspection of the President's corpse and limousine.) When Alsop began to explain that nobody was lobbying him to create a Presidential Commission, Johnson snapped "They're not lobbying you, they're lobbying me...last night. I spent the day on it...I had to leave Mrs. Kennedy's side at the White House and call and ask the Secret Service and FBI to proceed immediately...I spent most of my day on this thing, yesterday. I had the Attorney General from Texas fly in here. I spent an hour and a half with him yesterday evening. I talked to the Justice Dept. lawyers and to the FBI and the FBI is of the opinion that the wisest, quickest, ablest, most effective way to go about it is for them to thoroughly study it and bring in a written report to the Attorney General at the earliest possible date which they've been working on since 12:30 yesterday." When Alsop proceeded to point out that there were many others demanding some sort of oversight of the investigation, Johnson insisted "My lawyers, though, Joe, tell me that the White House must not ...the President...must not inject himself into local killings." Alsop responded "I'm not talking about an investigative body, I am talking about a body which will take all the evidence the FBI has amassed when they have completed their inquiry and produce a public report on the death of the President." When asked why the FBI couldn't do this itself, Alsop explained "on the left they won't believe the FBI...and the FBI doesn't write very well." Johnson then asked if he meant that Katzenbach should oversee it, and Alsop responded "I just wouldn't put it on Bobby and Nick Katzenbach...I'd have it outside...I think it's unfair to put it on Bobby...it is his own brother's death." To which Johnson agreed: "Not going to touch it on Bobby."
From this sprang the Warren Commission. Thus, the Warren Commission was born just before Kennedy's body was buried.
Now here's where I would normally make some snarky comment about the truth being buried along with his body. But let's not go there. No, let's instead honor the dead with these photos of the march to Kennedy's funeral mass...
and the moments that followed the mass...
and compare those with these photos of Officer Tippit's funeral, at which dozens of his fellow police officers paid their respects...
and Oswald's funeral, at which the members of the press in attendance to report how no one had showed up to pay their respects, were forced into being Oswald's pall bearers...
and where the only ones mourning Oswald's death was his direct family...
and where his burial was photographed and published in Life Magazine, as if it was an outtake from Dracula...
If Oswald had been hoping that by killing Kennedy, he would somehow become a "big man", as so many would later muse, he had sorely miscalculated.
The eternal flame by Kennedy's grave was lit at 3:13 PM EST. (Oswald's casket was in the ground by nightfall...)
With his break from power concluded, and his pursuit of power resumed, moreover, President Johnson used the evening to energize some of his biggest supporters, many of whom had flown in for the funeral. Unfortunately, he was still so firmly in the dark regarding just what happened in Dallas that he told a crowd of Governors that Texas Governor John Connally, who'd been sitting in front of Kennedy in the limousine and had been wounded in his chest, right wrist, and thigh, had had his left hand blown off by the impact of Oswald's rifle.
(California Governor Pat Brown is the source of that tidbit...)
And yet, even so, the situation was clear enough to Assistant Attorney General Nicholas Katzenbach that he wrote a memo to press secretary Bill Moyers informing him that "The public must be satisfied that Oswald was the assassin, that he did not have confederates who are still at large, and that the evidence was such that he would have been convicted at trial" and, stunningly, "Speculation about Oswald's motivation ought to be cut off." The investigation into whether or not the man who murdered Oswald in front of a basement full of cops and cameras, Jack Ruby, was trying to silence Oswald was only beginning, and yet Katzenbach wanted the press to tell the American people Oswald had no confederates! Elsewhere in the memo, Katzenbach mentions the possibility of the President creating a Commission to look into the killings and concludes "We need something to head off public speculation or Congressional hearings of the wrong sort." One can only conclude from this that Johnson at least initially viewed the assassination as a political situation that needed to be controlled, and not as a crime that needed to be solved, and that the Warren Commission was a vehicle to implement this desire. How else could he be certain that the Commission would not conduct hearings of the "wrong sort?"
Above: Assistant Attorney General Nicholas Katzenbach, rounding up the cattle.
To be fair, it should be noted that the "speculation of the wrong sort" so feared by Katzenbach had already begun. An 11-25 newspaper column in the St. Louis Democrat by former Major General Thomas Lane, an outspoken right-wing critic of the Kennedy Administration, surmises that, as "the assassination of President Kennedy would jeopardize larger communist interests", "the assassin had orders to shoot Gov. Connally and that he continued to fire until he did so." It then concludes: "In summary, the available information suggests that the communist underground directed the assassination of Gov. Connally; that Lee Harvey Oswald bungled the job and killed President Kennedy by mistake; and that Jack Ruby murdered Oswald to protect himself and the communist underground." (This column is notable not only because it undermines the oft-repeated factoid that the earliest conspiracy theorists were leftists, but because it undermines the oft-repeated argument among leftists that no one on the right would want to kill Kennedy because Kennedy was, at his core, an anti-communist and a hawk. Perhaps Noam Chomsky and others holding this view and believing that, in essence, no one on the right would want to kill Kennedy because he wasn't worth killing, should have ran their "pet theory" anti-theory past the likes of Major General Lane, who so adamantly believed Kennedy was so far to the left that no leftist would want to kill him.)
In any event, it seems clear the assassination and subsequent confusion had triggered something within the country, whereby people and institutions were now projecting onto the chaotic events not what actually had happened, but what they on some deep level wanted to believe had happened. The New York Times, the premier newspaper of its day, for example, came to a journalistically indefensible decision in the aftermath of Oswald's murder, by treating it as the end of a trail, instead of the beginning of an even darker trail. Yes, in a scene straight out of Orwell's 1984, the 11-25-63 morning edition of the "grey lady" both convicted Oswald without a trial by declaring "PRESIDENT'S ASSASSIN SHOT TO DEATH" and cut off speculation about Ruby's motivation by describing him as a "Dallas Citizen" "who admired Kennedy."
An 11-25 memo about the Katzenbach memo is also quite revealing. This memo, from the FBI's Courtney Evans to his boss Alan Belmont, notes that Katzenbach said it was prepared "after his discussions with the Director (Hoover) yesterday." The memo then goes on to say that Katzenbach felt "that this matter can best be handled by making public the results of the FBI's investigation...he was thinking in terms of the end of the week if at all possible." Belmont, in turn, wrote his own memo to William Sullivan, who was leading the investigation into Oswald's Russian contacts. After referring to the investigation as the "Oswald case" as opposed to the investigation of the murder of the President, Belmont wrote "this report should include everything which may raise a question in the mind of the public or the press...this report is to settle the dust, in so far as Oswald and his activities are concerned, both from the standpoint that he is the man who assassinated the president, and relative to Oswald himself and his activities...the Director desires that it be out as quickly as possible."
And it's not as if this rush to judgment was a secret. In 1999, Russian President Boris Yeltsin supplied President Bill Clinton with a number of previously secret KGB files on the assassination. Included among these files was an 11-25-63 report written by Russian Diplomat Anastas Mikoyan on his trip to Washington for Kennedy's funeral. Mikoyan concluded: "Judging from everything, the U.S. government does not want to involve us in this matter, but neither does it want to get into a fight with the extreme rightists; it clearly prefers to consign the whole business to oblivion as soon as possible."
And the government wasn't alone in its rush to judgment. Oswald's brother Robert would later reveal that he had difficulty even burying his brother because "One cemetery after another refused even to discuss the possibility of accepting Lee's body" and that "I was astonished by the reactions of the ministers I talked to. The first one, the second one, the third one and the fourth one flatly refused even to consider my request." One of them told him that he wouldn't perform even a simple service because "Your brother was a sinner." Ultimately, after "The Lutheran minister who had promised to be there at four had not appeared, and the Secret Service received word that he would not be coming out" the Rev. Louis Saunders, who'd come out just to see if he could be of help to the family, performed the service.
And here's another head-scratcher... While only the day before federal officials were anxious to find out everything they could about Oswald and present the evidence for his guilt to the public, by the time of Oswald's burial the thinking had become that he was dead and buried, and so was the case against him. A New York Times article by Fred Powledge (found in the next day's paper) reports:
Dallas Nov. 25 — Dallas authorities were willing today to make public all their physical evidence connecting Lee H. Oswald with the murder of President Kennedy, but the revelation was postponed at the suggestion of Federal officials here and in Washington.
Two local authorities involved in the case, Chief of Police Jesse Curry and the Dallas County District Attorney Henry Wade said they would like to place the evidence before the public. Both men added, however, that they would not do so if authorities in Washington wished otherwise.
Justice Department sources in Washington said that when they discuss a subject of such grave importance as the Oswald case they must be absolutely correct.
They said no pressure had been brought on officials here. They expressed confidence that all the evidence would eventually be made public.
Hmmm. Perhaps these "Federal officials" were beginning to believe that the evidence against Oswald was not as convincing as they'd thought...only the day before. Or Perhaps they were simply trying to avoid embarrassment. The FBI, after all, had concluded there were no legible prints on Oswald's rifle. And Wade, in the press conference the night before, had claimed there was a palm print on the underside of the rifle. Placing the evidence before the public, then, might expose either that Wade had lied, or that the FBI had somehow missed the most damning evidence against Oswald. And no one wanted that.
Above: CBS Newsman Dan Rather, describing the Zapruder film on television. Rather's reporting was filled with errors, and yet his career took off like a rocket.
Meanwhile, in radio and TV land, a whole new reign of error was beginning. CBS newsman Dan Rather, after viewing the home movie of the assassination taken by Abraham Zapruder, rushed back to the studio to describe the film for CBS News' radio and television audience. His description was to have many unfortunate consequences. (This first transcript was published by Richard Trask in Pictures of the Pain.)
Dan Rather (Radio Take 1): "Well, let me tell you then, give you a word picture of the motion picture we have just seen. The President's automobile which was preceded by only one other car containing Secret Service Agents...the President's open black Lincoln automobile made a turn, a left turn off of Houston Street in Dallas onto Elm Street, this was right on the fringe area of the downtown area. This left turn was made right below the window from which the shot was fired...as the car made the turn, completed the turn--went below the window from which this shot was fired...went on past the building--keep in mind the window was on the sixth floor...it got about 35 yards from the base of the building...that is if you had dropped a plumb line from the window to the sidewalk to...the President's car was around 35 yards from that spot...President Kennedy had just put his right hand up to the side of his right eye. It appeared that he was perhaps brushing back his hair or rubbing his eyebrow. Mrs. Kennedy was not looking in his direction. In front of them in the jump seat of the Lincoln...were Governor and Mrs. Connally. The Governor, as was the President, was on the side of the car of the building in which the assassin was located. Mrs. Kennedy and Mrs. Connally were on the opposite side. Two Secret Service men on the front seat...At almost the instant the President put his hand up to his eyebrow...on the right side of his face, with Mrs. Kennedy looking away, the President lurched forward just a bit. Uh, it was obvious he had been hit in the movie but you had to be looking very closely in order to see it. Mrs. Kennedy did not appear to be aware that he was hit but Governor Connally in the seat just in front of the President, seemingly heard the shot...or sensed that something was wrong...Governor Connally, whose coat button was open, turned in such a way to extend his right hand out towards the President and the Governor seemed to have a look on his face that might say "What is it? What happened?" And as he turned he exposed his entire shirt front and chest because his coat was unbuttoned...at that moment a shot very clearly hit that part of the Governor. He was wounded once with a chest shot, this we now know...Uh, the Governor fell back in his seat...Mrs. Connally immediately fell over the Governor. Uh, I say fell, she threw herself over the Governor and at that instant the second shot the third shot total but the second shot hit President Kennedy and there was no doubt there, his head...went forward with considerable violence."
(Note: Rather's description here is quite controversial. As Kennedy's head actually goes slightly forward, and then back and to the left with considerable violence, many see his saying that Kennedy went forward with considerable violence as a deliberate lie designed to sell the American people that the fatal shot came from behind. If it is true that Rather was trying to sell the American people the single-assassin scenario, however, it back-fired, as he also claimed the film showed Connally being hit well after Kennedy had first been hit, which is in conflict with the single-bullet theory so central to the single-assassin conclusion.)
Rather then described the aftermath of the shooting: "Mrs. Kennedy stood up immediately her mouth wide open...The President slumped over against Mrs. Kennedy almost toppling her over as she was standing...Mrs. Kennedy then threw herself out of the back seat of the car onto the trunk of the car almost on all fours...stretched out over the trunk of the car...There was a Secret Service man standing on the back bumper. It would appear that Mrs. Kennedy was either trying to get herself out of what she knew instinctively was danger or perhaps was trying to grab the Secret Service man and pull him into the back seat of the car for help. At any rate Mrs. Kennedy was prone, uh face down on the back of the car on the trunk...The Secret Service man leaned over put his hands on her shoulders and shoved her back into the car. He seemed to be in danger of perhaps rolling or falling off the back. A Secret Service man in the front seat of the car uh was already on the telephone perhaps he had been on the phone all along it was not clear and the car sped away."
Rather then answered a few questions from his fellow newsmen Richard Hotelett and Hughes Rudd. When asked if the limo ever stopped, he replied "The car never stopped, it never paused." When asked the length of the film, he replied "Well, the complete scene that I just described to you covers exactly 20 seconds--that is from the time the car made the turn until the car disappeared onto an underpass." When asked if the President was hit twice, he then added: "It was very clear that the President was hit twice. He was hit, Governor Connally was hit and the Gov...uh the President was hit again." When asked the length of the shooting sequence itself, he then offered: "No more than five seconds and I...am inclined to think slightly less than that perhaps."
(Note: when all is said and done, this was perhaps Rather's biggest mistake. By assuming that the fatal head shot was the third shot, and timing the shooting sequence from the first hit to the final hit, without accepting that there could have been a miss--without studying the eyewitness testimony, moreover, to see that there very likely was a miss--Rather thoroughly misled the public.)
Rather was then rushed onto television to describe the film to Walter Cronkite during CBS News' ongoing coverage of the assassination and aftermath. The time was approximately 4:07 PM EST. (Transcript created from the video on Youtube.)
Dan Rather (TV Take 1): "We have just returned from seeing a complete motion picture of the moments preceding, and the moments of, President Kennedy’s assassination and the shooting of Texas Governor John Connally. Here is what the motion picture shows. The automobile, the black Lincoln convertible, with the top down - carrying, in the front seat, two secret service agents; in the middle, or jump seat, the Governor and Mrs. Connally; and, in the rear seat, President and Mrs. Kennedy – made a turn off of Houston Street, on the fringe of downtown Dallas, on to Elm Street. This was a left turn and was made right in front of the building from which the assassin’s bullet was fired. After making the turn, and going about 35 yards from the corner of the building – six stories up in which the assassin had a window open – and keep in mind here that President Kennedy and Governor Connally are seated on, both on the same side of the car, on the side facing the building. Mrs. Kennedy and Mrs. Connally are on the side of the car away from the assassin. About 35 yards from the base of the building, President Kennedy, in the film, put his hand up to the right side of his face, the side facing the assassin. He seemingly wanted to brush back his hair, or perhaps rub his eyebrow. Mrs. Kennedy at this moment was looking away, or looking straight ahead. She was not looking at her husband. At that moment, when the President had his right hand up to this side of his face (gestures), he lurched just a bit forward. It was obvious that the first shot had hit him. Mrs. Kennedy was not looking at him, nor did she appear to know at that instant that her husband had been hit. Governor Connally, in the seat immediately in front of the President, apparently either heard the shot or sensed that something was wrong because, Governor Connally, with his coat open, his button was undone, turned in this manner (turns back to his right with right arm extended), his hand outstretched, back toward the President; and the Governor had a look on his face that would indicate he perhaps was saying “What’s wrong?” or “What happened?” or “Can I help?” or something. But as Governor Connally was turned this way, his white shirt front exposed well to the view of the assassin, the Governor was obviously hit by a bullet, and he fell over to the side. Governor Connally’s wife, immediately, seemingly instantaneously, placed herself over her husband in a protective position, it appeared; and as Governor Connally fell back, President Kennedy was still leaned over. At that moment another bullet obviously hit the head of the President. The President’s head went forward, violently, in this manner (gestures). Mrs. Kennedy, at that instant, seemed to be looking right-square at her husband. She stood up. The President slumped over to the side and, I believe, brushed against Mrs. Kennedy’s dress. Mrs. Kennedy immediately turned and flung herself on the trunk of the automobile, face-down on the trunk, almost on all-fours. The First Lady appeared to be either frantically trying to get the secret service man who was riding on the bumper of the car - the single secret service man riding on that bumper - to come into the car or to tell him what had happened; or perhaps, from the picture, it appeared she might have been trying to get out of the car some way. The car never stopped. The secret service man in the front seat had a telephone in his hand. The car…its acceleration increased rapidly and it disappeared under an underpass. Three shots - the first one hitting President Kennedy, the second one hitting Governor Connally, the third one hitting the President – consumed, possibly, five seconds. Not much more than that, if any. That is the scene shown in about twenty seconds of film that the FBI has in its possession. The film was taken by an amateur photographer who was in a very advantageous position, and who had his camera trained on the President’s car from the time it made the turn in front of the assassin until it disappeared on its way to the hospital. This is Dan Rather in Dallas."
A short time later, he once again described the film to Cronkite. The time was approximately 4:21 PM EST. (Transcript created from the video on Youtube).
Dan Rather (TV Take 2): "We have just returned from seeing a complete motion picture of the moments immediately preceding, and the moments of, President Kennedy’s assassination. The motion picture shows the limousine carrying: in the front seat, two secret service men; in the middle, or jump seat, Governor and Mrs. John Connally of Texas; and, in the rear seat, President and Mrs. Kennedy; a single secret service man standing on the back bumper; the top of the black Lincoln convertible down. The car made a turn, a left turn, off of Houston Street, on to Elm Street, on the fringe of Dallas’ down-town area; that turn made directly below the sixth floor window from which the assassin’s bullets came. After the left turn was completed, the automobile, with only one car in front of it - a secret service car immediately in front – the President’s car proceeded about 35 yards from the base of the building in which the assassin was. President Kennedy and Governor Connally were seated on the same side of the open car, the side facing the building: Mrs. Kennedy and Mrs. Connally on the side of the car opposite the assassin. President Kennedy is clearly shown to put his right hand up to the side of his face as if to either brush back his hair, or perhaps rub his eyebrow. Mrs. Kennedy at that instant is looking away, and is not looking at the President. At almost that instant, when the President has his hand up to this side of his face (gestures), he lurches forward something in this manner (gestures): The first shot had hit him. Mrs. Kennedy appeared not to notice. Governor Connally, in the seat right in front of the President – by the way, the Governor had his suit coat open, his suit was not buttoned – perhaps either heard the shot or somehow he knew something was wrong because the picture shows just after that first shot hit the President, the Governor turned in something this manner, with his right arm stretched back toward the President, as if to say “What’s wrong?” or “What happened?” or say something. It exposed the entire white front shirt of the Governor to the full view of the assassin’s window; and as the Governor was in this position, and President Kennedy behind him was slumped slightly over, a shot clearly hit the front of Governor Connally; and the Governor fell back over toward his wife. Mrs. Connally immediately put herself over her husband in a protective position, and as she did so, in the back seat, this time with Mrs. Kennedy’s eyes apparently right on her husband, the second shot – the third shot in all – the second shot hit the President’s head. His head went forward, in a violent motion, pushing it down like this (leans forward, lowering his head as he does so). Mrs. Kennedy was on her feet immediately. The President fell over in this direction (leans to his left). It appeared his head probably brushed or hit against Mrs. Kennedy’s legs. The First Lady almost immediately tried to crawl on – did crawl on - to the trunk of the car, face-down, her whole body almost was on that trunk, in something of an all-fours position. She appeared to be either trying to desperately get the attention of the secret service man on the back bumper, or perhaps she was stretching out toward him to grab him, to try to get him in. Or perhaps even trying to get herself out of the car. But the car was moving all the time, and the car never stopped. The secret service man on the back bumper leaned way over and put his hands on Mrs. Kennedy’s shoulders – she appeared to be in some danger of falling or rolling off that trunk lid. He pushed her back into the back seat of the car. In the front seat, a secret service man was with a phone in his hand. The car speeded up and sped away. It never stopped, the car never paused. That’s what the film of the assassination showed. The film was taken by an amateur photographer who had placed himself in an advantageous position: eight millimeter color film. This is Dan Rather in Dallas."
And that wasn't the last of it. Several hours later (one source claims at 8:26 PM EST) Rather described the film to Cronkite for a third and final time, and compounded his mistakes. (Transcript created from the video on Youtube.)
Dan Rather (TV Take 3): "The films we saw were taken by an amateur photographer, who had a particularly good vantage point, just past the building from which the fatal shot was fired. The films show President Kennedy's open, black limousine, making a left turn, off Houston Street on to Elm Street on the fringe of downtown Dallas, a left turn made just below the window in which the assassin was waiting. About 35 yards past the very base of the building, just below the window, President Kennedy could be seen to, to put his right hand, up to the side of his head to, either brush back his hair or perhaps rub his eyebrow. President Kennedy was sitting on the same side of the car, as the building from which the shot came. Mrs. Kennedy was by his side. In the jump seat in front of him, Mrs. Connally, and Governor Connally, Governor Connally on the same side of the car as the president. And in the front seat, two Secret Service men. Just as the president put that right hand up to the side of his head, he, you could see him, lurch forward. The first shot had hit him. Mrs. Kennedy was looking in another direction, and apparently didn't see, or sense the first shot, or didn't hear it. But Governor Connally, in the seat in front, appeared to have heard it, or at least sensed that something was wrong. The Governor's coat was open. He, he reached back in this fashion, exposing his white shirt front to the assassin’s window, reached back as if to, to offer aid or ask the president something. At that moment, a shot clearly hit the governor, in the front, and he fell back in his seat. Mrs. Connally immediately threw herself over him in a protective position. In the next instant, with this time Mrs. Kennedy apparently looking on, a second shot, the third total shot, hit the president's head. He, his head can be seen to move violently forward. And, Mrs. Kennedy stood up immediately, the president leaned over her way. It appeared that he might have brushed her legs. Mrs. Kennedy then, literally went on the top of the trunk, of the Lincoln car, p-put practically her whole body on the trunk. It, it appeared she might have been on all fours, there, reaching out for the Secret Service man, the lone Secret Service man who was riding on the bumper of the car, the back bumper on Mrs. Kennedy's side. Uh, the Secret Service man leaned forward and put his hands on Mrs. Kennedy's shoulder to, push her back into the car. She was in some danger, it appeared, of rolling off or falling off. And when we described this before, there was some question about what we meant by Mrs. Kennedy being on the trunk of the car. Only she knows, but it appeared that she was trying desperately to, to get the Secret Service man's attention or perhaps to help pull him into the car. The car never stopped, it never paused. In the front seat, a Secret Service man was, was on the telephone. The car picked up speed, and disappeared beneath an underpass. This is Dan Rather in Dallas."
(Note: in this, his fourth and final description of the Zapruder film, Rather repeated his inaccurate claim Kennedy's head went forward in response to the fatal head shot, but retreated from his speculation Mrs. Kennedy climbed onto the back of the limo while instinctively running from danger. In his 1977 book, The Camera Never Blinks, in which he acknowledged his mistake about the movement of Kennedy's head, but mistakenly claimed that he viewed the film on Saturday the 23rd, Rather did shed some light on something of interest: the reasons for his retreat. He admitted that "an editor" in New York told him to "leave out the part about her trying to flee." And that he did.)
Now, for those not cognizant of just how wrong Wrong-Way Rather was (now that's a bit of a tongue-twister--try saying that real fast), here's a clip from the Zapruder film showing what Rather called the "violently forward" movement of Kennedy's head upon impact.
Now, in this slowed-down clip, if one really strains, one might be able to make out that Kennedy's head moves slightly forward upon impact, before exploding backwards and to the left. But that's not what Rather was talking about, was it? Somehow, he took away from viewing this film that the bullet had impacted Kennedy's head from behind, and had knocked him forward. And that's freakin' Fruitloops.
But Rather was not the only one making false assumptions and compromises. An 11-25 AP Dispatch (found in the 11-26 Milwaukee Journal) proves that Rather was not even the only one claiming Kennedy's head jerked forward upon impact long before anyone could possibly have concluded it had indeed jerked slightly forward. It read:
"Dallas, Tex.-AP - A strip of movie film graphically depicting the assassination of President Kennedy was made by a Dallas clothing manufacturer with an 8 millimeter camera.
Several persons in Dallas who have seen the film which lasts about 15 seconds, say it clearly shows how the president was hit in the head with shattering force by the second of two bullets fired by the assassin.
Life magazine reportedly purchased still picture rights to the material for about $40,000.
This is what the film by Abe Zapruder is reported to show:
First the presidential limousine is coming toward the camera. As it comes abreast of the photographer, Mr. Kennedy is hit by the first bullet, apparently in the neck. He turns toward his wife Jacqueline, seated at his left, and she quickly begins to put her hands around his head.
At the same time, Texas Gov. John Connally, riding directly in front of the president, turns around to see what has happened.
Then Mr. Kennedy is hit on the upper right side of the back of his head with violent force. His head goes forward and then snaps back, and he slumps down on the seat.
At this time, Gov. Connolly is wounded and he drops forward on his seat.
Mrs. Kennedy then jumps up and crawls across the back deck of the limousine, apparently seeking the aid of a secret service man who has been trotting behind the slowly moving vehicle. He jumps onto the car and shoves Mrs. Kennedy back into the seat. Then he orders the driver to speed to the hospital where the president died.
The elapsed time from the moment when Mr. Kennedy is first struck until the car disappears in an underpass is about five seconds."
An 11-26 article by John Herbers, published in the 11-27 New York Times, moreover, repeats this same mistake. Herbers writes:
"The known facts about the bullets, and the position of the assassin, suggested that he started shooting as the President’s car was coming toward him, swung his rifle in an arc of almost 180 degrees and fired at least twice more.
A rifle like the one that killed President Kennedy might be able to fire three shots in two seconds, a gun expert indicated after tests. (Note: this line is found in online versions of this article, but is not in a clipping of the article found in the Weisberg Archives. Perhaps it was only added for evening editions of the paper.)
A strip of color movie film taken by a Dallas clothing manufacturer with an 8-mm camera tends to support this sequence of events.
The film covers about a 15-second period. As the President’s car come abreast of the photographer, the President was struck in the front of the neck. The President turned toward Mrs. Kennedy as she began to put her hands around his head.
Connally Turns Around
At the same time, Governor Connally, riding in front of the President, turned round to see what had happened. Then the President was struck on the head. His head went forward, then snapped back, as he slumped in his seat. At that time, Governor Connally was wounded.
The elapsed time from the moment Mr. Kennedy was first struck until the car disappeared in an underpass was five seconds.”
Now this is interesting. Note that the AP article and the New York Times article make the same mistakes and repeat the same non-fact facts (which I have highlighted). Note that they both claim Connally was wounded by the third shot, for example. This suggests that the AP writer and Herbers were either sharing information or being fed some of the same questionable facts from an outside source, most probably the FBI. Well, then, was their main mistake--that Kennedy's head went forward--something told them by the FBI, and, if so, should we then assume Dan Rather was also told to say this? I mean, really, is it just a coincidence that CBS News, the Associated Press, and The New York Times, in short order, all incorrectly reported that the Zapruder film showed Kennedy's head going forward? That's pretty hard to believe.
Which brings us to UPI's article on the film. Here it is, as found in the 11-26 Philadelphia Daily News (4 star edition).
The headline on the front page reads: “Man Who Came to See JFK Makes Tragic Movie.” Beneath this, there is the following explanation: “These dramatic pictures are from an 8mm ‘home movie’ reel, shot by Dallas dressmaker Abraham Zapruder who went to see President Kennedy ride through cheering throngs in Texas city. His camera recorded one of the most tragic moments in American history. Story page 3.“ Beneath this, are four frames from a home movie of the assassination.
On page 3, the following story is presented:
Movie Film Shows Murder of President
An amateur photographer shot an 8-MM movie film that clearly shows, step-by-step, the assassination of President Kennedy.
The film was made by Abraham Zapruder, a Dallas dress manufacturer. He is selling rights to the film privately. It has been seen by the Federal Bureau of Investigation, the Secret Service and representatives of the news media.
It is seven feet long, 35 seconds in colour, a bit jumpy but clear.
It opens as the Kennedy motorcade rounds the corner from Houston Street and turns into Elm Street.
Then it picks up the President’s car and follows it down toward the underpass. Suddenly, in the film, Kennedy is seen to jerk. It is the first shot.
Mrs. Kennedy turns, puts her arms around him. A second later, the second shot. The President’s head becomes a blur on the film, lunged forward and up. The second bullet has torn into the back of his head.
He rolls towards Mrs. Kennedy and disappears from sight. Mrs. Kennedy lurches onto the flat trunk deck of the Presidential car as a Secret Service man races to their aid. She is on her hands and knees. She reaches for him. He leaps up on the bumper. She pulls him up on the bumper or he pushes her back as the film ends.
Other films show the car never stopped, but raced to the Parkland Memorial Hospital with Mrs. Kennedy cradling the President.
Well, hell. This article was clearly not written by someone using the information provided the other writers. The film here is reported to be 35 seconds long, not 15. There is no mention of Connally at all, let alone a claim he was hit by the third shot. And yet the ONE mistake the three articles have in common is the same mistake the AP and Times article had in common with Dan Rather's earlier description of the film--the strange claim Kennedy's head went forward in response to the head shot... Hmmm...
And there's something even stranger about this article. The next day's San Francisco Chronicle re-printed three of the frames found on the front page of the Philadelphia paper, and similarly specified, in a caption beneath the second frame, "In this photo from the 8mm movie strip taken by the amateur photographer, Abe Zapruder, motorcycle police are seen rushing to the car after the shots." Well, this was actually misleading on two counts. For one, neither of the two motorcycle police in the frame are rushing to the car; one of them, in fact, is slamming on his brakes. For two, all the frames presented in the article were taken from the south side of Elm Street, with the grassy knoll in the background. Zapruder's film, of course, was taken from the north side. Yes, incredibly, the film frames featured in both the 11-26 Philadelphia Daily News and 11-27 San Francisco Chronicle articles on the Zapruder film were not actually taken from Zapruder's film, but from the film of another eyewitness, Marie Muchmore. Her film had been purchased by UPI on the 25th, and shown on WNEW-TV on the 26th. The sale and broadcast of her film had even been the subject of a UPI article found in some papers, such as The Valley Independent, on the 26th, and others, such as The Eugene Register-Guardian, on the 27th.
And yet no one in the government seemed to notice. Incredibly, neither Mrs. Muchmore nor UPI thought it their duty to share her film with the Secret Service or FBI. This was especially ironic, or disturbing, take your pick, given that UPI's article specified that Zapruder had made his film available to the authorities. In any event, Mrs. Muchmore's and UPI's deceptiveness regarding her film enabled it to pass under the government's apparently defective radar for a lot longer than one might think possible. It would be, amazingly, nearly three months before those investigating the assassination of President Kennedy even learned of its existence.
Something odd was in the air. Even the noted leftist Walter Lippman over-stepped the bounds of responsible journalism and assumed not only that Oswald had acted alone, but that he knew why Oswald had acted. While Lippman's column entitled Murder Most Foul angered right-wingers across the country by blaming Oswald's left-wing extremism on the climate created by Dallas' right-wing extremists, the column is just as notable for its bold closure of the case. Lippman asserted that Oswald was "addicted to the fascination of violence in his futile and lonely and brooding existence" and that "No human feeling stayed his hand...For him the government in Washington is a hated foreign power and the President in Washington is an invading conqueror." Lippman concluded, not surprisingly, by telling his readers "I do have much hope in the healing art of Lyndon Johnson" and assured them that "We can turn to him with confidence."
And Johnson had decided to justify this confidence, or at least create the appearance of doing so. After Dan Rather described the Zapruder film on his nightly newscast, Walter Cronkite told the nation: "The White House announced a full investigation into the assassination of President Kennedy under orders from President Johnson. All Federal agencies have been advised to cooperate with the FBI." An 11-26 article found in the San Francisco Chronicle similarly reported: "The case of the murder of the President did not end after all with the slaying of his suspected assassin, it became clear here yesterday. President Johnson himself said: "The people of the nation may be sure that all of the facts will be made public." He directed a 'prompt and thorough' investigation by the Justice Department and its investigative arm, the FBI." The murder of president Kennedy had led to Johnson's becoming President, and now the murder of Kennedy's presumed assassin had led to his assuming total control of the investigation.
Meanwhile, over in Europe, the international media had done such a good job of selling that Oswald was a lone-assassin that the Nazi war criminal Albert Speer (no relation) wrote about it in his prison diary. He noted the irony that "here only one confused loner was at work, so it seems; he conceived the plan and the assassination was successful. But the attempts on Hitler's life...planned with the precision of a General Staff operation by circumspect, cool-headed people...never did they succeed...."
Meanwhile, down in Mexico, a man named Gilberto Alvarado, an intelligence asset for Nicaraguan right-wing dictator Anastasio Somoza, contacted the American Embassy and told them he had been in the Cuban consulate in Mexico on the day Oswald visited the consulate, and had witnessed Oswald discussing Kennedy's assassination with a representative of the Cuban government.
There were additional questions regarding Oswald's recent trip to Mexico. On 11-26, FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover and CIA Director John McCone discussed the fact it was not Oswald in the CIA' s photos purportedly showing Oswald visiting the Soviet Embassy. Hoover indicated he wasn't worried about this, however, because "We do find from our informant down there that Oswald did call at the Embassy that day and the informant has given us the conversation that he had." Hoover and McCone mostly discussed the FBI's upcoming report. Hoover told McCone "We are trying to do it as fast as we can so we can dispel various wild rumors that have been circulating as to whether this man was the right man etc. that fired the gun. But there is no question that he is the right man." He later offered "Mr. Katzenbach, who is handling it for the Department...he will of course go over it very carefully because it will be a report that will be released to the public, probably through the White House...It is his intention to check with the agencies, Secret Service, etc., to be sure that whatever is said in the report is conferred in and it is agreed to by the various agencies mentioned." He then concluded "So you will have the opportunity to go over it and see exactly what is said and I know he will welcome any suggestion that you care to make."
Well, how about that... The agencies whose actions and failures to act were indirectly being investigated by the FBI were given approval rights to the FBI's report--and with the full knowledge of Acting Attorney General Nicholas Katzenbach!
And that's not the only sign a whitewash was afoot, run by Katzenbach. On 11-26, another memo from Evans to Belmont quoted Acting Attorney General Katzenbach as saying "a tremendous responsibility had been placed on the FBI in this instance by President Johnson because this report, which is to be publicized, is for the purpose of assuring the American public and the world as to what the facts are in Kennedy's assassination and setting to rest the many, many rumors that have been circulating." It continued: "Katzenbach noted that it is, of course, more difficult to prove that something did not occur than to prove what actually happened. As a consequence, it is his belief there might have to be some so-called editorial interpretation." Evans concluded with the observation that "a matter of this magnitude cannot be fully investigated in a week's time," to which his boss, J. Edgar Hoover, responded "just how long do you estimate it will take...it seems to me we have the basic facts now."
Not surprisingly, given Hoover's reputation for pettiness, Evans' involvement in the case was thereafter kept to a minimum. His organized crime division should have been the division tasked with investigating Jack Ruby and his contacts with organized crime. Instead, the FBI treated Ruby's murder of Oswald as a civil rights violation, and gave much of the investigation over to men who expressed little interest in Ruby's long-time connections to Mafia enforcers Dave Yarras and Lenny Patrick, his frequent phone calls to Teamster enforcer Barney Baker, and his frequent visits with Lewis McWillie, a man described as a "gambler and murderer" in the FBI's files, whom Ruby would freely admit, in his subsequent testimony before the Warren Commission, he "sort of idolized."
Apparently, none of this was of interest to Katzenbach and Hoover. An 11-26 memo from Hoover to his assistants, including Belmont, De Loach, Evans, Rosen and Sullivan, complained:
"Dept. Attorney General Nicholas deB. Katzenbach called and advised that he had just talked with Assistant Attorney General Herbert J. Miller, Jr., who had advised that the local police in Dallas are anxious to get rid of all the evidence they have, want to make a complete inventory of it, and then want to turn it over to the Bureau. Mr. Katzenbach asked if I wanted to accept that. I said I would see no objection to accepting it.
Mr. Katzenbach suggested they may be doing it because of the Texas State Commission and, if so, he thought the Bureau should take it on the basis that it will be available to any state authorities. I said I thought that action ought to be cleared with Wade, the District Attorney. Mr. Katzenbach said Wade is all for it, wants it done.
I pointed out that this case is moot, so to speak, from the prosecutive standpoint; that people will be wanting souvenirs and the evidence will disappear.
Mr. Katzenbach then asked if he could tell Mr. Miller my people will accept it. I told him that I would talk to our office down there right away.
Very truly yours,
John Edgar Hoover
And this wasn't just talk. The 11-27 edition of the Dallas Morning News reported that after a series of meetings, Dallas Police Chief Jesse Curry and Dallas County District Attorney Henry Wade had agreed to turn over every piece of evidence in its possession to the FBI, and that they had done so by 4:00 P.M. on Tuesday, the 26th.
And wait, it gets worse. Another 11-27 article in the Morning News revealed: "The Justice Department hopes to have ready by early next week a full report of its investigation into the assassination of President Kennedy and the murder of his alleged assassin, it was learned Tuesday."
Tuesday. The 26th. A full report. That means what they hope will be a final report. The FBI took over the investigation of Kennedy's assassination on the afternoon of November 24th...and within two days the Justice Department had let it be known they were hoping to put out a final report on his assassination (and Oswald's assassination) by December 3. That's nine days. Take away two (at least) for the organization and typing up of this report. That's seven. So the Justice Department was hoping to conclude an investigation into Kennedy's and Oswald's murders within a week of taking over these investigations... Hmmm...
Let this sink in. The FBI took over the investigation into Kennedy's and Oswald's murders on Sunday. Kennedy’s and Oswald’s funerals were on Monday. And by Tuesday every piece of evidence was under the control of the FBI, which is to say Hoover, which is to say Johnson. And within minutes of taking possession of all this evidence, the Justice Department/FBI was announcing they'd have a FULL report ready within a week. That's a bit shocking...
Elsewhere, as Hoover was boasting about already having the "basic facts" about the assassination, and that the case was "moot...from the prosecutive standpoint," and as all the Dallas Police evidence was being handed over to the FBI, a memo was sent from Alex Rosen, who was to oversee the FBI examination of the physical evidence, to his superior Alan Belmont. Rosen stated "The Secret Service has advised our Baltimore Office that the photographs of the autopsy and x-rays of the President's body would be available to us..."
And this was not a one-day offer. A memo written by agents Sibert and O'Neill of the Baltimore Office reflects that they spoke to Gerald Behn, the Special-Agent in Charge of the White House detail, the very next day, and that he repeated this offer. The memo affirmed: "Mr. Behn advised that the undeveloped photographs and x-rays made during the course of the autopsy at the National Naval Medical Center, Bethesda, Maryland, are in the custody of Bob Bouck, Protective Research Section, United States Secret Service, and could be made available to the Federal Bureau of Investigation on request."
And yet Rosen told Belmont: "It is not recommended that we request these photographs and x-rays through the Secret Service Headquarters at this time as it does not appear we shall have need for this material." When one takes into account that on 11-26 Hoover and his FBI had already assumed jurisdiction over the President's murder from the Dallas Police and were lobbying LBJ not to create the Warren Commission, their refusal to look at the autopsy photos can't help but make one doubt their desire to perform a thorough investigation, or concern for the truth.
Other investigative bodies were even less concerned. While the morning's papers touted "Texas Attorney General Waggoner Carr announced in Washington last night that his top aids, prominent jurists and enforcement organizations would conduct a court of inquiry to examine in detail the assassination of the President and the killing of the accused murderer" this court of inquiry was in fact little more than a charade designed to convince Texans that their state laws were being observed whilst their state officials were merely rubber-stamping the FBI's investigation. A memo from Carr to Johnson aid Walter Jenkins found in the Texas Court of Inquiry's files (and printed in Barr McClellan's Blood, Money, and Power) implores "I want to conduct myself strictly in accordance with your organization. Am I to restrict my calls to Mr. Fortas (i.e., Abe Fortas, Johnson's most trusted adviser) even when I need an opinion from the White House itself, such as now? I will be happy to abide by your desires once I understand them. Although we are working diligently to reach decisions on such matters as this, we are publicly only cooperating with the FBI whenever needed in the making of the Presidential Report and after the report is made we will then proceed to announce details of the Court of Inquiry. Walter, I do hope that the FBI Report can be sent to us directly from either the White House or the Department of Justice so that we may continue to demonstrate to the public that the State of Texas and the Federal Government are working as partners..."
But the FBI and the Attorney General of Texas were not the only ones refusing to do their jobs and actually investigate the assassination of the President. Members of the media, perhaps desperate to communicate an authority on the assassination that they, in fact, were lacking, began making more and more assertions of fact without any factual basis. On 11-26, for example, an article in the New York Times on Governor Connally's improving condition threw in that "The Texas Governor was wounded by the same sniper who assassinated President Kennedy." There was, of course, no way for them to know this. The few small bullet fragments recovered from the governor's wrist could not be linked to the rifle found in the depository.
Other articles were even more deceptive. An 11-26 article by Jim G. Lucas of the Scripps-Howard News Service found in the Washington Star detailed "The Federal Bureau of Investigation has uncovered additional evidence linking Lee Harvey Oswald with the assassination of President Kennedy and the wounding of Texas Gov. John B. Connally...The FBI's additional evidence included: Minute particles of the clothing that Oswald was wearing when arrested 35 minutes after the shooting were found on an Italian-made rifle abandoned on the sixth floor of the Texas school book depository where Oswald was employed. Ballistic tests confirm President Kennedy was killed and Gov. Connally wounded by bullets from that rifle. Oswald's fingerprints--smudged but still identifiable--were on that rifle."
These claims, of course, were not exactly true. While the FBI had determined that the nearly-pristine bullet found on a hospital stretcher and the bullet fragments found in the front section of the limo had been fired from the rifle, these specimens were at this time linked to Kennedy's wounds, not Connally's, and there was nothing to link Connally's wounds to the rifle. The specificity of the fiber evidence was also exaggerated; while the fibers of Oswald's shirt reportedly matched the fibers found on the rifle, the FBI refused to make a positive determination that it was Oswald's clothing on the rifle. And last, but not least, not only had the FBI not identified the smudged fingerprints on the rifle as Oswald's, neither had the DPD. The palm print purportedly removed from the rifle by the DPD and later identified as Oswald's by the FBI, furthermore, was at this point unidentified by the DPD and entirely unknown to the FBI. This suggests 1 of 2 scenarios: either Lucas was getting his info secondhand from someone in Dallas not completely in the know, or he was being used as a dupe to spread deliberate falsehoods.
If he was being used as a dupe to spread falsehoods, for that matter, we can be fairly certain the Dallas County Sheriff's Department was not involved. You see, they just weren't very good at it. Yep, while most articles citing "official" sources on this date were bending over backwards to paint Oswald as a lone-nut, an article in the Denver Post, quoting long-time Dallas Sheriff Bill Decker, bent so far over it broke--and gave its readers significant reason to doubt. It read: "Sheriff Bill Decker, commenting on reports that no sniper could have fired three bullets as Lee Harvey Oswald was reported to have done with a bolt action rifle, said Tuesday it could have been done in less than 20 seconds. 'If a person was skilled,' Decker said, 'he could reload a rifle within two seconds. He could operate a bolt and reload it within two seconds. In this case, it took slightly longer because you have to include re-sighting. The whole operation could take less than 20 seconds for three shots."
Well, heck. The three shots fired in Dealey Plaza were fired in far less than 20 seconds. So said the witnesses. So said the Secret Service. And here's the weird part. Decker was himself a witness to the assassination. Within hours of the shooting, he told the Dallas Times-Herald 'It all happened so fast, I'm just not sure what happened.' He said, furthermore, that he'd heard but two shots. Now, ask yourself, if there were three well-spaced shots fired over a 20 second interval, as suggested by Decker in this article, wouldn't he have described the shooting on the 22nd with words other than "so fast"? And wouldn't he have noticed all three shots?
In any event, it seems clear from this that Decker was trying to calm down the public, and failing.
Meanwhile, on Wall Street, in what was considered to be a vote of confidence for Johnson, the stock market rallied for its biggest day ever.
That night, after finally settling into the Oval Office, Johnson returned to the Vice-President's residence for dinner. This wasn't a late-night snack, moreover, but a semi-formal get-together at which he was accompanied by a few close friends and confidants. Among his guests were his future choice for Chief Justice of the Supreme Court, Abe Fortas, and his future choice for Vice-President, Hubert Humphrey. Humphrey's memoirs recount an unusual incident. As Johnson walked past a photograph of Vietnam's recently-assassinated President, Ngo Dinh Diem, he reportedly offered "We had a hand in killing him. Now it's happening here." Humphrey did not know what Johnson meant by this. White House special assistant Ralph Dungan, however, would be more specific. He told writer Richard Mahoney that within a day or two of Johnson's statements to Humphrey, Johnson told him "I want to tell you why Kennedy died. Divine retribution... divine retribution. He murdered Diem and then he got it himself."
It seems likely, moreover, that Johnson was saying this kind of thing to most anyone who would listen. A 7-23-64 entry in historian Arthur Schlesinger's Journal notes that he'd had dinner with Robert Kennedy, and that, after discussing Johnson's behavior on the day of the assassination, Kennedy had told him "You know the worst thing Johnson has said? ... Once he told (Press Secretary) Pierre Salinger, 'When I was young in Texas, I used to know a cross-eyed boy. His eyes were crossed, and so was his character. Sometimes I think that, when you remember the assassination of Trujillo and the assassination of Diem, what happened to Kennedy may have been divine retribution.'"
Other mouths were more controlled than Johnson's, perhaps because they were more controllable. On 11-26, while Johnson was musing about Kennedy getting what was coming to him, Admiral Kenney, the Surgeon General of the Navy, figured out a way to keep whatever it was that, according to Johnson, Kennedy "got" from being told to the public. He had Capt. John Stover, the Commanding Officer of the U.S. Naval Medical School, where Kennedy's autopsy had been performed, draw up "Letters of Silence" for his subordinates, including Dr.s Humes and Boswell, and made them promise not to talk to the media, or anyone, under penalty of Court Martial. The letters read: "You are reminded that you are under verbal orders of the Surgeon General, United States Navy, to discuss with no one events connected with your official duties on the evening of 22 November-23 November, 1963. This letter constitutes official notification and reiteration of these verbal orders. You are warned that infraction of these orders makes you liable to Court Martial proceedings under appropriate articles of the Uniform Code of Military Justice." (These orders were not rescinded until 1978.)
Perhaps one or more of the recipients of this letter took umbrage, and called someone at the Associated Press to report on this "order of silence." It does seem a coincidence that the very next day, 11-27, the Associated Press reported that the White House was declining to say whether President Kennedy had even received an autopsy. It went on to state "One Washington source said, "There is some doubt whether the fatal bullet was the second shot or third shot. The first shot is believed to have hit the President, but we're not sure about the second and third."
(Intriguingly, a more extensive AP article found in the London Free Press added "Several persons here (Dallas) who have seen a strip of color movie taken by a Dallas clothing manufacturer during the assassination say the 15 seconds of film shows how the president was hit in the head by the second of three bullets fired by the assassin.")
While there may have been professional reasons not to release the autopsy report at this time, particularly since the brain had not yet been examined, it makes no sense that an administration anxious to head off public speculation would fail to acknowledge that an autopsy had even been performed. By way of comparison, the New York Times mentioned that an autopsy had been performed in its first article on Lincoln's death in 1865 (the actual results of this autopsy were discussed in an article by one of the doctors a week later); and discussed President Garfield's upcoming autopsy in its first article after his death in 1881, and the performance of this autopsy the next day. Even more telling, the preliminary results of President McKinley's autopsy were mentioned in articles on the very day of his death in 1901. In none of these prior assassinations was the president's autopsy considered strictly a military matter. In none of these prior assassinations was the president's autopsy--the fact that it occurred and the names of the autopsy surgeons--kept from the public. Perhaps just as telling, in none of these prior assassinations did the media sit around and wait for "official word" that an autopsy had been performed. They checked with their sources and reported what they found.
Apparently, someone in the White House saw how bad this all looked, and decided to end the speculation. The evening papers from 11-27 reported that "the White House disclosed today that a post-mortem examination had been performed on the President's body in Bethesda Naval Hospital." This news came in an AP article written with the help of Dr. James Beyer. Beyer stated that the large head wound reported by the doctors at the Parkland press conference could not have been inflicted by the standard ammunition for Oswald's rifle, and that Dum Dum bullets or hunting ammunition would appear to have been used.
And this wasn't the only article planting seeds of doubt about what would later be portrayed as the official story. An 11-27 New York Times article by John Herbers claimed: "Three shots are known to have been fired. Two hit the President. One did not emerge. Dr. Kemp Clark, who pronounced Mr. Kennedy dead, said one struck him at about the necktie knot. 'It ranged downward in his chest and did not exit,' the surgeon said. The second he called a 'tangential wound' caused by a bullet that struck the 'right back of his head.' 'This was the fatal wound, we feel, although it is possible that either one could have been fatal,' Dr. Clark said. Since one bullet did not exit, it is presumed that the bullet that struck the President's head was the one recovered from the stretcher that bore the President into the hospital. A third bullet was found in fragments in the car and is presumed by official sources to be the one that coursed through the body of Governor John B. Connally Jr. Connally is recovering. The bullet that did not exit from the President's body may have been recovered in an autopsy, but the Parkland Hospital said no autopsy was performed in Dallas. " Statements such as these, when magnified by Herbers' recounting, on this very same day, that the Zapruder film shows Kennedy "struck in the front of the neck," undoubtedly made an impression.
Another Times article expressed doubts about the weapon. Building upon the previous day's comments of Sheriff Bill Decker and others (the European press had pumped out a number of articles sharing Decker’s skepticism about the rifle), this article headlined "Tests Show Rifle like Assassin's Might Be Able." It then explained that a firearms expert from the National Rifle Assassination took 11 seconds to fire three shots with a rifle like Oswald's on his first try, and 8 seconds on his second try, and was only able to get his time down below 6 seconds--the time span attributed for the shots that killed the President--when he "operated the bolt and pulled the trigger without using live ammunition.” (We're thereby left to wonder if he even aimed.)
According to the article, the expert nevertheless "concluded that with some practice a person would be able to get off three accurate shots in about five seconds."
Hmmm... While the subheading to this article reads "Accurate Firing Might Be Possible" it's clear that it also might not.
The Associated Press had a more balanced take on these tests.
WASHINGTON (AP)--A GUN EXPERT SAID TODAY IT WOULD BE POSSIBLE TO FIRE THREE SHOTS IN ABOUT FIVE SECONDS WITH THE TYPE OF RIFLE ALLEGEDLY USED TO KILL PRESIDENT KENNEDY.
BUT HE SAID SUCH RAPID AND ACCURATE FIRE AS WAS DISPLAYED WOULD SEEM TO REQUIRE "A TRUE EXPERT, WHICH OSWALD DIDN'T SEEM TO BE" ON THE BASIS OF HIS RECORD IN THE MARINE CORPS.
LEONARD DAVIS, AN OFFICIAL OF THE NATIONAL RIFLE ASSOCIATION, GAVE THESE TECHNICAL OPINIONS IN RESPONSE TO A NEWSMAN'S QUESTIONS ABOUT DETAILS OF THE SHOOTING WITH WHICH LEE HARVEY OSWALD WAS CHARGED. OSWALD WAS KILLED IN DALLAS SUNDAY, TWO DAYS AFTER THE PRESIDENT'S ASSASSINATION.
AS A MARINE, OSWALD WAS BARELY QUALIFIED IN THE SHARPSHOOTER CLASS, THE MIDDLE OF THE THREE CLASSIFICATIONS IN MARKSMANSHIP.
DAVIS AND SOME MARINE OFFICERS IN THE PENTAGON SAID OSWALD WOULD HAVE TO HAVE PRACTICED CONSIDERABLY SINCE HIS RELEASE FROM THE MARINE CORPS FOUR YEARS AGO TO HAVE MAINTAINED AND INCREASED A PROFICIENCY WITH SMALL ARMS.
THE WEAPON POLICE SAID WAS USED WAS A 6.5 MM BOLT ACTION RIFLE, APPARENTLY OF ITALIAN MAKE BUT WITHOUT ANY IDENTIFYING MARKS. IT WAS ADVERTISED FOR SALE AS A CARCANO, WHICH IS A MODIFICATION OF THE GERMAN MAUSER DESIGN.
DAVIS, A FORMER MARINE, EXPLAINED THAT FOUR MOTIONS ARE REQUIRED FOR EACH SHOT WITH A BOLT ACTION RIFLE--RAISE THE BOLT LEVER, DRAW IT BACK, MOVE IT FORWARD AND MOVE THE BOLT LEVER DOWN TO LOCK THE CARTRIDGE IN THE BREACH.
THE RANGE BETWEEN THE PRESIDENTIAL CAR AND THE SIXTH FLOOR WINDOW IN WHICH POLICE SAID OSWALD STOOD TO FIRE THREE SHOTS MIGHT HAVE BEEN ABOUT 100 YARDS OR LESS.
DAVIS SAID THE CARCANO RIFLE HAS A MAXIMUM ACCURACY OF ABOUT 600 YARDS. HE SAID THE RIFLE'S TELESCOPIC SIGHT MAGNIFIES THE IMAGE OF THE TARGET FOUR TIMES.
THE CARS IN THE PROCESSION WERE MOVING SLOWLY, AT A FEW MILES AN HOUR, MAKING EASIER ONE ELEMENT OF THE SHOOTER'S PROBLEM.
BUT IT WAS POINTED OUT HE NEEDED TO SHOOT AT A DOWNWARD ANGLE, WHICH IS MORE DIFFICULT THAN AIMING HORIZONTALLY.
So, yeah. Unbelievably, a spokesman for the NRA, along with some unnamed "Marine officers in the Pentagon" had provided the public with some serious food for thought… Had Oswald “practiced considerably” with his rifle since he’d left the Marines? Was Oswald even capable of the shooting?
Perhaps it isn't a coincidence then, that on this same day, William Parker, the Chief of Police for Los Angeles, called a press conference to discuss his own impressions of the speed at which the rifle could be fired. An article on this press conference in the next day's L.A. Times reflects: "Lee Harvey Oswald would have required no more than 3 1/2 seconds to murder President John F. Kennedy and wound Texas Governor John Connally, Police Chief William H. Parker said Wednesday. He based his estimate on tests conducted here by police firearms experts with the same kind of cheap Italian-made rifle used in the presidential assassination. The experts simulated what happened in Dallas on Friday, said Parker, by aiming the weapon from an upper story window into a courtyard at police headquarters. An officer found, said the chief, that he could aim the 6.5 mm rifle, accurately, pull the trigger three times and slam the bolt into place twice within the space of 3 1/2 seconds. Three shots were fired by the president's slayer, two at the chief executive and one at the Texas governor. 'But it was only necessary to use the bolt twice,' Parker pointed out. 'It was already set for action before the first shot was fired.'" From there the article drifts into a sea of smoke, with Parker inaccurately offering that that the sniper's vantage point behind the motorcade made any lateral movement of the limousine during the shooting "imperceptible", and then admitting that the rifle in his test was not actually fired (which would mean the shooter did not have to react to any re-coil), and then finally hitting bottom with the nonsensical claim that "Experienced big game hunters tell us that this kind of bolt action rifle can be fired faster than automatics."
Even less coincidental, one might guess, is that the FBI also tested Oswald's rifle on this day, and concluded that a minimum of 4.6 seconds was needed to fire three shots at a stationary target. It concluded further that an extra second or so would likely have been necessary for Oswald to have fired three times because, unlike the target in the LAPD's test, and the FBI's test, Oswald's target was moving. This discrepancy--the LAPD says Oswald could have done it in 3.5 seconds when the FBI says it would be more like 5.6 seconds--suggests that Parker's claim and press conference was a deliberate minimization of the problem, put out for public consumption. At whose bidding, one can only guess. But it is known that Hoover hated Parker, and considered him a competitor for America's top cop, and that he also resented the CIA, and that the CIA had a special relationship with the LAPD. From this, one might wonder if Parker's claims were put out on behalf of the CIA. Or not. It's certainly possible Parker was simply jealous of all the attention provided the FBI by the assassination, and was anxious to get some for himself.
If so, his efforts failed. Instead of reporting on Parker's press conference, many newspapers the next day carried an article by Washington insider Les Whitten, on the FBI's tests. Clearly, Hoover wanted this story out. The article reads: "The FBI has run field tests proving conclusively that a rifle such as the one that killed President Kennedy can be fired accurately three times in five seconds. It could not be learned whether these tests were run on the murder weapon itself, now in FBI hands, or on an exact duplicate. The FBI refused comment pending Director J. Edgar Hoover's report to President Johnson on the case, expected Friday. European newspapers have ballooned speculation that no single man could have done the shooting - that the 6.5mm Carcano bolt-action rifle cannot accurately be fired that fast. A Milan paper said, "There must have been more than one attacker." A French journal said a nonautomatic weapon could not have been used alone and an Olympics rifle champion in Vienna said it was "unlikely" one man with one Carcano could have fired the shots that cut down both Kennedy and Texas Gov. Connally. But the FBI tests showed clearly that a rifle equipped with a four-power scope such as that found at the murder scene could readily have hit the President and Connally. The mail order Carcano reportedly was equipped with a "pre-sighted" Japanese scope, thus assuring good shot control. As to comment in one report that only a "true expert" could have done the killing, the Justice Department has received from the U.S. Marines - in which presumed killer Lee Harvey Oswald served - material showing him well-trained as a rifleman. During Oswald's 1956 boot training at San Diego, the material showed, he scored 212 out of a possible 259 in marksman's tests at 200 yards, 300 yards and 500 yards. The President was killed at some 75 yards in a slowly moving car. Oswald's rifle training took up most of 14 full days. A score of 250 would require every shot in a bullseye, or in the "critical area" of a man's silhouette (part of a rapid fire test). The 212 score meant Oswald consistently hit in or close to the bullseye. In 1958, Oswald took a refresher course, scoring 191 out of a possible 250. He was classed as a sharpshooter - a high marine rating - in the first test, and as a marksman, the lowest of three qualifying rankings in the second test. Oswald shot with an M-1 rifle which did not require him to work the bolt as was necessary with the Carcano. But with the Carcano Oswald bought a "pre-sighted" four-power scope that brings the target "so close only an idiot could miss" as one military spokesman commented. Additionally, Oswald's vantage point above the President allowed him to brace the rifle on the window sill. The Marine Corps tests required him to fire standing, kneeling, sitting and lying on the ground - and without any artificial brace such as the sill. The FBI probe is expected to show Oswald the sole killer "beyond reasonable doubt." It is understood that it will not accuse any subversive group - Oswald admitted he was a "Marxist" - of directing the killing, but will point to the indirect role played by Oswald's acceptance of the violent aspect of communism."
(The claim by the "military spokesman" that the scope brought the target so close "only an idiot could miss" was, of course, highly deceptive. The use of a scope while firing at a moving target creates its own set of problems...the seriousness of which led ballistics expert Monty Lutz, charged with investigating the shooting for the House Select Committee on Assassinations in the 1970's, to conclude the assassin firing Oswald's rifle did not use the scope.)
That the scope was more hindrance than help, moreover, did not escape everyone's attention. Cuban President Fidel Castro (pictured above), who had equipped numerous rifles with scopes while leading his troops to victory less than 5 years before the assassination, saw the scope as a red flag suggesting Kennedy was killed by a sophisticated conspiracy. In a speech delivered on 11-27-63, he claimed there were "a number of strange things which every day become more strange..an Olympic shooting champion...declared in Vienna that it is unlikely that a marksman equipped with a repeating carbine with a telescopic sight can hit the target three consecutive times in the space of five seconds, when he is firing at a target that is moving at a distance of 80 meters at a speed of 15 kilometers per hour...When we read this cable we recalled some experiences on these matters, particularly on matters of rifles with telescopic sights. When we landed in Cuba we had half a hundred rifles with telescopic sights and we prepared these rifles very well. We had practiced very much with those rifles. We know perfectly all the characteristics of that type of rifle...One of the difficulties of the rifle with telescopic sights is that once one fires on a target, the target is lost. It is necessary to find it again quickly, as a result of the shot, only from the effects of the shot, particularly when the rifle has to be levered...That type of weapon--it is really very difficult to fire three consecutive shots with a weapon of that type--but above all, difficult to hit the target, almost impossible."
Castro then discussed a shooting contest in which snipers fire three shots upon a running sheep from a distance of 200m. He then noted "It is very extraordinary when they can hit it three times while taking a lot of time and being calm and quiet...In general, this was not done with rifles with telescopic sights but with rifles with what they call Lyman sights...To fire with speed one fires much better with that type of rifle than with a telescopic sight because one does not lose sight of the target. And according to the cables they were talking about a rifle with a 4 by 18 power (sight). That is a rifle that brings a target very close. The more powerful the sight the more sensitive it is to any movement and the target gets lost....All this seems to indicate that the rifle may have appeared there as part of the plot, that they may have placed the rifle, which is not precisely the weapon for shooting 80 meters nor for firing three shots...A telescopic sight is a weapon used for firing 300, 400, 500, and even 600 meters and even more...It is the rifle of a marksman for distance firing. It is really strange that one who is going to make an 80 meter shot from a window would purchase a rifle with telescopic sight, when any other type of weapon without a telescopic sight would have been more appropriate for a shot at that distance...It is supposed that a man has a rifle with telescopic sight in order to fire with safety from a distance and assure accuracy against a fixed target, not against a moving target. When you fire against a moving target the telescopic sight becomes a hindrance. In other words, the individual who would try to use a telescopic sight would do so in an attempt to get accuracy and safety. In this case, against a moving target 80 meters away, accuracy was not sought and the curious thing is that safety was also not sought..." (Note: the translation and transcript for this part of the speech comes from CD 984, an FBI document provided the Warren Commission. The translation and transcript for the rest of the speech cited below comes from a post on the JFKfacts website by researcher Arnaldo M. Fernandez. As I do not speak Spanish and have not listened to a tape of Castro's speech, I do not know whose transcription is more reliable, and have thereby split the difference.)
Castro continued "Nobody who intends to escape...is willing to kill from his very workplace, where he is going to be identified and fiercely pursued within five minutes. He would have sought a roof on another building, or rented an apartment along the route, for positioning himself with his telescopic sight rifle at a distance which would have allowed him to escape...All these contradictory, illogical and inexplicable things lead to the alternative that either this individual is not guilty and was turned into guilty by the police, or this individual was actually the one who fired...The latter would make sense only if the individual was perfectly trained to perpetrate the crime, under promise of escape from prosecution, in order to put the blame on others...It’s quite clear the thread here. Why did Oswald go to the Cuban Consulate in Mexico City? What pretext did he use? Asking for an in-transit visa to go on to the Soviet Union, although it would have been quicker and easier to go via England or France. If this man is the real assassin, it’s clear the masterminds were carefully planning the alibi...The sitting President of the United States murdered by an individual just after he went to the Soviet Union via Cuba and returned. It was the ideal gambit for making up the mind of the American public with a suspect who was a Commie, a Cuban and Soviet agent...Why did he have to come to Cuba, except for the only and exclusive purpose of leaving a trail, of spinning a web? Why did he get angry when he was told that it was impossible to get an in-transit Cuba visa if he didn’t have the Soviet visa? Why did he slam the door? Why did he leave? No friend of Cuba, no Communist does this while visiting our consulates. Nobody behaves in such a rude manner...He did not confess. He denied everything. [But] the surprising, the incredible, what increases the suspicion that the entire world has, is that barely 36 or 48 hours later, in the basement of a jail surrounded by police agents, he was murdered. This shows that the ones responsible for Kennedy’s death needed — they were compelled at all costs — to eliminate the accused...They murdered a man for whom the electric chair was waiting. In effect they murdered a dead man. How (can) anyone believe that (Oswald's killer, Jack Ruby) did it for emotional reasons?”
(Now I know some are wondering why I gave Castro's comments so much attention. The point is not that the world should have believed Castro, but that officials like Henry Wade and newsmen like Dan Rather had mucked things up so badly in the days after the assassination that a blustering bushy-bearded Communist like Castro seems credible in comparison.)
This brings us back to President Johnson... On 11-27, President Johnson began doing what all Presidents do in a time of crisis: he wrapped himself in the flag. In a 12:30 P.M. speech before Congress, he made it clear he would continue in Kennedy's steps and use the public sympathy arising from Kennedy's murder to push for the approval of stalled civil rights legislation. He told them, "it is our duty, yours and mine, as the Government of the United States, to do away with uncertainty and doubt and delays and to show that we are capable of decisive action...This is our challenge: Not to hesitate, not to pause, not to turn about and linger over this evil moment, but to continue on our course so we may fulfill the destiny that history has set for us...John Kennedy's death commands what his life conveyed--that America must move forward."
While it's probably unfair to assume that one of the doubts Johnson considered everyone's duty to do away with was any lingering doubt they had about him, and his possible role in a coup d'etat, if one harbors such doubts, his words are undoubtedly disturbing. Here was a political figure on the verge of scandal and ruin whose career had been saved by Kennedy's death. (On the day of the shooting, not only were the pages of the most popular magazines in the country, including Life Magazine and the Saturday Evening Post, filled with articles about an investigation into the criminal activities of Johnson's close protege, Bobby Baker, but an insurance salesman, Don Reynolds, had just begun testifying before a congressional subcommittee on Johnson's own corruption...) And here was this political figure telling Congress and the country that we should not linger over Kennedy's death or, by extension, question the circumstances of his death.
It appears, moreover, that not everyone was enamored with Johnson's recent activities. At 4:05 P.M. Robert Kennedy stopped by the Oval Office for a chat with the new President. This meeting lasted but 12 minutes. It would later be reported that they argued over Johnson's behavior over the preceding days, in particular Johnson's telling the press he'd been sworn-in in Dallas at Kennedy's direction. In any event, they (the President of the United States and his Attorney General) would not talk for months afterward...